That the travel industry took a major hit amid the COVID-19 pandemic is hardly any secret. More than a few companies went out of business entirely while others decreased tour offerings, laid off or furloughed workers, or shuttered various parts of their operations.
The good news for family travelers is that many of those who survived reshaped their business models and pivoted to address social distancing protocols and more. One of the most notable examples of this has been the proliferation of hyper-local tours from travel companies and tour operators small and large. Suddenly, there's a growing emphasis on exposing Americans, including family travelers, anew to locations in our own backyards.
In addition to launching or significantly expanding the number of domestic itineraries in easy-to-reach locations, a growing share of travel and tour companies are emphasizing smaller group bookings and entirely private options in order to address any continued pandemic concerns.
Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)
What does it all mean for family travelers? When planning summer entertainment and vacations this year, you won't have to look (or journey) very far to have a memorable, engaging experience, not to mention one that's appropriate for even the youngest travelers.
Here's a rundown of some of the domestic tour offerings available for the months ahead that are not only incredibly family-friendly, but budget-friendly as well (especially when compared to the cost of an international vacation for the entire brood). You'll find both overnight tours and simple day tours among the options available for travelers of all ages.
1. Seattle Community Tours to Learn & Serve
A company that has a longstanding reputation for offering truly memorable and engaging family getaways everywhere from Africa to Costa Rica, Seattle-based Global Family Travels recently announced an exciting slate of tours in its own backyard.
Lake Union Bike Tour, GFT Lake Union Bike Tour
GFT's new Seattle Community Tours are outdoor adventures designed to offer fun and engaging ways to learn all about the Pacific Northwest—its diverse communities, natural surroundings, and history.
Do you have a budding gardener in your family? GFT kicked off its new community tour theme with the Power of Community Gardens, ($55 per person). This three-hour excursion brings visitors to the Black Farmers Collective YES Farm and the Danny Woo International District Community Gardens. "This tour offers the opportunity to learn about the power of community gardens and creative solutions to systemic land and food injustices," Global Family Travels tells Parents.
Families with a young artist among the ranks, meanwhile, may want to check out GFT's new three-hour Street Hues: Seattle Urban Art Tour ($45 per person), which brings participants on a small group walking adventure in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood to explore all manner of street art—from graffiti, tags, and "sticker bombs" to elaborate spray paint, brush work, and stencil pieces.
Yet another new option is the Explore & Color Lake Union's History by Bike tour (starting at $44). Created in partnership with the Center for Wooden Boats and Colorful Cities, the fun family adventure (for ages 11 and up) takes place via Lime Bike and explores the history of communities through the lens of the coloring book Colorful Seattle Explore and Color. There's also an option for a scavenger hunt for families with younger children.
Looking for a slightly longer experience for your family? GFT recently unveiled a slate of new three-day Pacific Northwest adventures as well. Among the intriguing options is the Olympic Peninsula Adventure: Regenerate Salmon Habitat and Experience Tribal Culture tour (starting at $945 per person). This fascinating experience allows families to take in the beauty of the North Olympic Peninsula while learning about salmon habitat recovery and engaging with the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe. Activities include guided hikes and engaging, culturally immersive experiences with the tribe, including a totem tour and carving experiences.
2. Walk & Talk Along Indiana Avenue
For those in the Indianapolis area, there are fascinating new family-friendly walking tours designed to showcase the history of the city's African-American neighborhoods. Featured just last week on NPR, the Walk & Talk tours ($25 per person, kids under 12 free) were started last June by Sampson Levingston—who has taken everyone from school children to local church groups to tourists on engaging walks around Indiana Avenue, Irvington, Martindale-Brightwood, and other local areas rich in Black history.
Walk & Talk Tours, Indy Walk & Talk tours, Indy
Levingston has rapidly developed a reputation for the remarkable depth of history he showcases on the walks as well as his passion for telling the sometimes forgotten stories of Black Indianapolis. Levingston's tours couldn't have come at a more important time for discussion about what it's like to be Black in America.
"I was really inspired to launch the tours after seeing all of the protests and unrest taking place across the country, particularly here in Indianapolis," Levingston tells Parents. "I love history. I've always loved it, so I wanted to simply walk and talk with the people in my hometown and show them how I see the city and our story."
Levingston takes particular joy in having young children on the tours, using the opportunity to show them "how to look for history and how to make things make sense for them." His goal is to help kids get excited about history. But perhaps more importantly, Levingston says he wants locals of all ages to enjoy learning more about the city in which they live.
"I hope that people find the value of walking around and exploring their hometown," adds Levingston. "Things that we may drive by every single day look completely different when we take the time to embrace them and understand them."
3.Farm and Food Experience Tour in Oregon
Launched in September 2020 to showcase the all-new Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail, the three-hour Farm and Food Experience Tour will delight the foodies among family travelers.
Peoria Road Farm, Oregon Peoria Road Farm, Oregon
The goal of the tours ($125 for a private party of fewer than four people), and the new food trail itself is to help local family farms diversify their revenues, while also supporting culinary partners that feature locally grown ingredients. The experience takes guests through the countryside and to explore area farms (and what young child doesn't enjoy a farm visit?). Fun interactions with farm animals and education about life on the farm can also be arranged.
"As a husband-and-wife team, we understand the mental craziness that COVID-19 has brought about for families and also small businesses," Tesh Whipple, the tour's co-creator, tells Parents. "Running a farm of our own, raising our biological children and two foster teens, we have learned that community is everything—and we take pride in sharing the Willamette Valley with guests."
4. Mystic Revealed in Connecticut
An easy drive (or fun train ride) from either New York City or Boston for families, Mystic, Connecticut is home to Mystic Revealed, a company offering incredibly kid-friendly tours that cover everything from sea captains to shipbuilding. In response to the COVID pandemic, the company has shifted to private tours only, which may make these local history tours even more enticing for family travelers.
As an added bonus for families with a variety of interests, because the tours are now private, they're also fully customizable. Depending on the passions of your young travelers, it's possible to opt for more or less focus on history, more food stops, or stepped-up focus on all things boats and marine-related. Tour prices range from $150 to $260 per group of six people.
5. McKenzie Regenerative Travel Project
A second option for families in the Oregon area (or those who don't mind embarking on a fun road trip to Oregon). Communities along the McKenzie River Corridor have come together to create new three-day, two-night trips for vacationers of all ages focused on ecotourism, adventure, and giving back to the local community.
McKenzie River Corridor Communities Tour McKenzie River Corridor Communities Tour
Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, the McKenzie Regenerative Travel Project will bring travelers to the corridor to spend a weekend volunteering and enjoying all that region has to offer, including the family-adventure favorite activity, whitewater rafting. (Prices start at $775 per person).
The getaway was inspired by the realities of COVID-19 and the catastrophic devastation caused by the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020, which burned nearly 175,000 acres along the river.
"These regenerative travel programs provide a means for engaging on a deeper level with both local communities and our local ecosystem," experience curator and destination specialist, Kieron Weidner Wilde, of First Nature Tours, tells Parents. "After a year-plus of quarantine, people are in desperate need of reconnecting with both other humans and with the healing power of nature."
The forest restoration portion of the tours gives children and families a chance to learn about forestry, nature, and the impact of wildfires, while also giving back to the land. Accommodations for the trip meanwhile are at Horse Creek Lodge, which is particularly ideal for families with its fun cabin guest rooms that accommodate anywhere from four to 16 people. The lodge is about 50 miles east of Eugene, Oregon, and offers stand-up paddleboard and mountain bike rentals for adults and children of all ages.
6. Domestic Tours Nationwide with Intrepid Travel
Global travel company Intrepid is known for its unforgettable tours that span the world. But in light of the pandemic, the company has significantly bulked up its domestic offerings in the United States, launching 16 domestic tours during the past year aimed at the American traveler.
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Among the intriguing new options is a five-day Zion Family Ranch stay ($1895 per person) featuring two nights of wagon glamping (a true Wild West experience for the kiddos), stargazing at Zion National Park complete with hot chocolate and S'mores, and kayaking on Lake Powell. Another popular family option is the six-day Yellowstone and Grand Teton Family Holiday ($2390 per person), which includes bear and wolf viewing with an expert guide, floating down a river on a Snake River float, and a chuck wagon dinner with singing and stories.
"Intrepid's tours in the U.S. pre-Covid were created with international travelers in mind. With travel warnings and border closures still rampant around the world because of the pandemic, the business has focused on re-inventing its trips to be more interesting to an American traveler who may already be familiar with the destinations they're visiting," Intrepid's Dyan McKie, family product manager for Intrepid Travel tells Parents.
The new closer-to-home tours from Intrepid are designed to be more immersive than simply sightseeing and truly appeal to travelers of all ages who are seeking respite and adventure in their own backyards. This effort has included embedding exclusive, engaging and family-friendly experiences within itineraries such as sharing a meal with an Indigenous Navajo family on a Zion National Park trip and oyster shucking with a sustainable farm in Sonoma as part of a trip to that region.
"There is a yearning for human connection after months spent in quarantine and the postponement of travel plans—sure with friends and family, but also with people outside of our usual social groups," says McKie. "It's been a long year of limited interactions, and getting outside and exploring places near your own home facilitates great memories and great friendships that can last long after the trip is finished."