Emma’s top tips for adventure travel with kids
White water rafting family travel

“Adventures needn’t stop because you’ve had children,” says Emma, co-founder of Undiscovered Balkans and mother of three. If you’re keen to make your family travel more adventurous and leave the hotel resorts behind, Emma has revealed her top tips for smooth sailing.

From the types of activity holidays to choose for your family to ways to motivate kids on a hike (rule #1 – never call it a hike), Emma’s advice comes tried and tested on her own family’s travels in the Balkans, and years hosting families at her villa in the wilds of Montenegro.

And so, over to Emma for her key to making family activity holidays a roaring success.

1. Look for water activities

“Kids of all ages love water. Find a holiday with plenty of opportunities for water-based fun whether it’s jumping into waterfalls, river hiking or whitewater rafting (make sure the rapids are mostly grade 2).”

Check out some of our wet and wild adventures

2. Get them excited about the trip

“Some of our guests involve their kids in choosing the holiday. We’re less democratic with our three, but we talk about the trip ahead and show them visually exciting content like photos and videos of things they’ll be doing. The social media accounts of your holiday company should have a ready supply of motivational materials. Exhibit A: our Instagram page.

“While adventures are all about trying something new, make sure it’s within the realms of your children’s interests and abilities by choosing activities you know they’ll like, that are fun. Ours, for example, love being in the water so we’ll always make sure there’s a chance to get wet when booking a holiday.”

Family travel - young guest jumping into a river

3. Book a guided group holiday aimed at active families

“Guided trips are best if your budget can stretch to it. We’ve noticed time and time again how children take notice when our tour leaders give instructions, but pay less attention to their parents.

“Give yourself a well-earned break and let someone else take charge for once. Guides will even give you reminders of what to pack each day so you don’t have to think and adapt plans to avoid all those mess-ups that can happen when you travel independently, like not knowing it’s a public holiday and the museum is shut, or worse, getting lost on a hike.

“Choose a group holiday that has something different to do every day, and ideally has other kids of similar ages on it. That way, they can make friends and they’ll motivate each other through any physically demanding activities.”

Family-friendly holidays 

4. Wow them with wildlife

“I haven’t met a kid yet who isn’t a massive nature fan and the Balkans is teeming with wildlife. Wild tortoises, lizards, snakes, praying mantis, even spiders are all fascinating to your budding Doolittle and a great learning experience.

“A knowledgeable guide is invaluable for pointing out critters on a hike but if you’re exploring on your own or don’t want to ask too many questions, use an app like iNaturalist or even Google Lens to identify plants and creatures on the go. You could even hand the phone to your kids so they can identify things they’ve spotted during a hike and get them to keep a nature diary. Tip – if you have binoculars at home, bring them. They’re great for getting a closer look at the magnificent birds we have in the Balkans like the Dalmatian Pelican at Lake Skadar and the Griffon Vulture in Serbia.”

5. Don’t call a hike a hike

“You’ll likely be met with some whining if you say you’re going on a hike. Instead, call it “wildlife spotting” or a “forest adventure” and big up any swimming opportunities, like an exciting waterfall to jump in along the way (we’ll always make time for those at UB). Many kids are reluctant to hike, but if you call it a three-swim hike, well, that’s an entirely different matter.

“Also, never tell them know how far they’re walking until they’ve completed it. Kids are capable of more than they think, so ignorance is bliss.”

6. Hand the camera over to them

Child taking photos of a wild tortoise

“Giving your child a camera to take their own photos is a great way to keep them busy and engaged with their environment. If your children aren’t yet old enough for a phone, either give them a good old fashioned digital or film camera to play with. A polaroid camera such as an Instax is brilliant because they get immediate print-outs and can have real fun with it. You can buy them second-hand if you don’t want to splash out purchase film in bulk on Amazon.

“If you’ve got a social media savvy teenager with you, challenge them to make a video for TikTok or Instagram. They’ll have great fun taking clips and piecing them together when you get home and it’s a nice way for you all to look back on the trip.”

7. Never. Ever. Forget. Snacks.

‘There’s no reasoning with hangry kids and they hate everything, especially anything outside their norm. Bring along some snacks to keep their energy topped up and something they consider a treat like sweets to motivate and reward them during hikes and other activities.

Family travel tips kids
Emma’s youngest enjoys a packet of crisps while kayaking at Lake Skadar.

“While we’re on the subject, it’s important to stay hydrated – kids especially, as they’re more susceptible to heat stroke than adults. Pack water bottles (ideally refillable to cut down on single-use plastic) and remind them to drink regularly during physically demanding activities in hot weather. If they struggle with drinking plain water, consider adding some squash or cordial – the homemade pomegranate and blueberry ones you can get in the Balkans are delicious.”

8. Leave history lessons to the guides

“Even if the history and culture of your holiday destination is the bit that gets you excited ahead of your trip, it won’t be for your kids, sadly. It’s best to focus on the adventurous elements of the trip leading up to it and leave the history lesson to your expert guide who is skilled at bringing the “boring” bits to life for younger travellers.

“Kids are much more receptive when they’re out on tour and they have what they’re learning about in front of them, whether it’s visiting a castle, tasting new foods with a local family or visiting a skilled artisan. This is where guided holidays like ours come into their own.”

Meeting the coppersmiths of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

9. Minimise time on the road

“No-one likes long travel days, least of all kids, so my top tip is to find a holiday that avoids this. Look for a single or two-centre holiday like our multi activity weeks in Lake Skadar  and Kosovo, or a multi-centre holiday that only has short journeys between the different destinations like our North Albania adventure.

‘There’s no avoiding a long trip on arrival and departure days, so just relax and don’t beat yourself up if your child has that one day glued to screens and snacking. On that, make sure they’ve remembered to download content to watch offline before departure to avoid disappointment and moaning later on.

“Another really important reason for keeping car journeys short is travel sickness. The Balkans are mountainous with winding, twisty roads, so bring along some medication if your child is prone to travel sickness and make sure they get a front seat in the tour vehicle if they’re tall enough. Again, a holiday with little car time is going to be best for this situation.”

10. Pack smart

“Practical clothes and shoes are essential for a successful trip outdoors, but you will need far less than you think. During the summer, your child is likely to spend most of their time in shorts, t-shirts and swimwear which they can get multiple wears out of, so it’s easy to pack light. Even better, let your kids do the hikes in clothes they can swim in which saves on clothes and faffing around getting changed during hikes.

“Specialist outdoors clothes aren’t widely available in the Balkans, so these are the things you really don’t want to forget. Make sure you all have comfortable footwear for hiking, not new shoes which are bound to cause blisters if not worn in. On that, don’t forget your first aid kit with some blister plasters just in case. Our guides all carry first aid kits, but it’s best to bring your own with the products you prefer to use.

“Your travel company should provide you with a packing list and if they haven’t, ask for one. We send trip-specific packing lists to all of our guests once they’ve booked but we’ve also posted sample packing lists and tips to give you an idea.”

11. Do your research

“Check your travel company is experienced with hosting children on adventurous activities (e.g. by looking at reviews online) and has all the right licences and insurance in place. As a UK registered travel company and member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, we only use activity providers with all of the knowledge, qualifications and insurance to run their activities and all of the outdoor equipment we use – from our canoes to our vehicles – is regularly checked for safety.

“It’s equally as important to check if your own travel insurance has the right level of cover for things like canyoning or zip lining for the whole family.”

12. Relax and have fun!

Emma and family on a canyoning adventure in Montenegro

“And finally, relax, you’re on holiday! Try not to be that helicopter parent and give your children space to enjoy the thrill of exploring the outdoors. This is one of the great boons of paying for a guided trip – you get to let your hair down a bit knowing an expert is with you keeping an eye.”

Feeling inspired? Browse our most popular family holidays and contact us if you have any questions.


Leave a Reply