Pool time at Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World

Pool time at Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

We’re watching the mango man sculpt mangos into fruit flowers to sell on the beach, as we sit under a thatched talapas eating just-caught fish that had been grilled and served up on freshly made corn tortillas.

People come to San Blas in the Riviera Nayarit area of Mexico’s Pacific Coast to see the amazing birds, surf and play on the beach alongside Mexican families. It may only be a couple of hours from the all-inclusive resort scene in Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit, but it feels like it’s light years away.

Many families aren’t comfortable visiting Mexico at all, much less leaving their all-inclusive resort. But that day proved one of the most memorable of the year for me for exactly that reason. It was so different. It was a chance to meet Mexican families having fun in the sun. And besides, the food was fantastic!

What kind of traveler are you? Maybe you are most comfortable returning to familiar climes where your gang has had fun in the past, each visit solidifying your memories. You count every penny or, once you’re on vacation, you don’t want to think about what anything costs.

Maybe you like nothing more than exploring new places and sharing new adventures with the kids and grandkids, well aware that things may not go as planned, though that can happen wherever you go, of course. Wherever you venture in 2016, give yourselves permission to get off the tourist track, at least for a little while. You’ll be glad you did.

Here are my other nine hopes for your travel this year:

  1. ALLOW THE KIDS to lead the way. Sure it can be scary — where are they going to take you! But you are guaranteed to see places and have experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise, whether your college student leads you on their favorite hike and you struggle to keep up, your teen takes you to a flea market in a questionable neighborhood or your grade-schooler chooses to explore a bizarre museum exhibit. (How about the torture exhibit at the Tower of London?) Yes, that was me.
  2. GIVE YOURSELVES PERMISSION TO RELAX — even in Orlando. No matter how much you try, you won’t be able to see and do everything, so don’t make yourself miserable trying. Quit when you’ve all had enough. There will always be another visit and there’s a lot to be said for kicking back at the wonderful hotel pools. In fact, at the new Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World, I met families whose kids begged for more pool time and less park attractions, to the adults’ delight.

    The mango man, San Blas in the Riviera Nayarit

    The mango man, San Blas in the Riviera Nayarit

  3. HAVE A SOUVENIR STRATEGY, and stick to it! Make sure the kids know how much they can spend and that no amount of whining will change that. Encourage the kids to start a collection (postcards, pins or key chains are always good) or to buy something unique to where you are visiting — a cable car in San Francisco, for example, or a Statue of Liberty in New York.
  4. MEET THE LOCALS. You can sign up in cities around the world for free tours offered by volunteers through the Global Greeter Network aimed at your family’s interest. Jamaica has a terrific Meet the People Program where locals may take you to a local school, on a hike or give you a cooking lesson. Share a meal with people at their homes through websites like www.mealsharing.com or meet locals at a playground or park.
  5. TRY SOMETHING NEW WITH THE KIDS. Have you always wanted to learn to scuba dive? The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) has courses where you can complete a course before you leave home and get certified on your next trip and Family Dive Adventures has special. Kids Sea Camp trips designed to help families learn to dive. Kids as young as 10 can enroll in the PADI Open Water Diver Course. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take an RV trip. The company Tracks and Trails can arrange it all, from the RV rental to campground reservations and activities. Trade houses with another family in another part of the country or the world through a company like Home Exchange.
  6. GIVE BACK ON VACATION. Sure you can sign on for a week-long cruise on Carnival’s new Fathom, dedicated to help families experience “social impact travel” volunteering in the Dominican Republic and share immersive experiences in Cuba. But just packing five pounds of needed supplies in your luggage can make a big difference too, according to Pack For a Purpose.
  7. VISIT A NATIONAL PARK. The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016 and the centennial will be celebrated with special events and a new Every Kid in a Park initiative that invites all fourth-graders and their families to visit free. Plan a multigenerational trip: Seniors 62 and older who are citizens or permanent residents can get a lifetime pass for $10 at any federal recreation site. Your senior pass gets you and all those traveling with you in the car in free.
  8. EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY. The kids won’t give up their devices (many teens think, an expert told me, that no experience is real until they’ve shared it on social media) so use them to find suitable apps, whether you want to identify birds or flowers, tour a new museum exhibit, navigate an unfamiliar city or find a restaurant everyone can agree on.
  9. TAKE YOUR EARNED VACATION TIME! According to Project: Time Off, Americans are leaving 429 million vacation days on the table, taking the least amount of vacation in nearly 40 years. That’s not good for anyone’s health or productivity!

Happy travels in 2016.