alive logo

Fun Uncle

Get the most out of travel with kids


So many of my favourite childhood memories come from adventuring with my awesome aunts and uncles. The trips were often challenging, but they were also fun and enlightening. They were my first opportunity to pose as an adult and break out of the mould I was living in at home.


Returning the favour

Now that I’m the uncle and my nieces and nephews are old enough to enjoy what I do, nothing makes me happier than to share my adventures with them. As their mentor, my goal is to encourage them to think and care for themselves while I enjoy the delicate dance of determining when to push them to take risks and to challenge themselves, and also when to back off.


Building a plan—and anticipation

When the kids are involved in the planning, the more they enjoy themselves, and the more they get out of the trip. Before our adventure, I like to build their excitement with stories of the outrageous fun we’re going to have, while I also lay some important ground rules to help make the experience safe and enjoyable for all of us.

I also create a text message thread with my nieces and nephews to share the fascinating things I learn while researching our intended location. I send links to all the adventures we could try and teach them how to read and assess both good and bad reviews. I share the apps I’ll download for weather conditions and language translations, if we’re going to need them, and teach them how to read other apps for things like surf reports or ski conditions.

Choosing gear with a purpose

These days, airports can be a disaster, packed with crowds, long lineups, and endless wait times. I prefer to stay mobile, so we limit our luggage to one carry-on and one personal item each. We measure and weigh everything beforehand so there are no surprises or delays when we arrive at the airport.

The most important items I bring are those that serve more than one purpose. When I’m travelling, I’ve always got the following items close at hand.

  • stretchy, water-wicking pants with zippers or pockets that fasten shut to protect valuables—comfortable for the airplane, for riding horses, or even when trekking through the jungle
  • waterproof jacket—for storms and nighttime bugs that like to bite
  • comfortable athletic shoes—good for running through an airport and surviving a good hike
  • backpack small enough to qualify as a personal item at the airport—also useful for trips to the beach and grocery store
  • first aid kit tailored for local activities and resident creepy crawlies
  • sun shirt, sun hat, and sunscreen
  • self-cleaning water bottle


Sticking to a budget

When it comes to vacation spending, my strategy is to buy my nieces and nephews all the healthy food and water they’ll need. Any extras, like junk food or sugary drinks, are on them. I want them to experience what it’s like to have to choose, say, between three virgin margaritas a day that quickly disappear, or a beautiful new surfboard or other souvenir to take home and keep forever.

But I also “pay” them upfront for all the chores I expect them to perform on the trip such as cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash, making coffee in the morning, and keeping our space tidy.


Avoiding danger

When planning a vacation in a new place, it’s important to do your research, especially if you don’t speak the local language! For example, find out all insects and animals that can harm you and what to do if it happens.

During a trip to Costa Rica, I was stung by a scorpion for the first time. Because I’d done my research, instead of panicking when my lips turned numb, I knew their venom wasn’t lethal and that an antihistamine would help me recover.

It’s also important to always take a buddy on adventures, so you can keep an eye on each other. It only takes a moment of complacency to be swept out to sea, unnoticed in a rip current.

Learning how the locals do it

  • Test local cell carriers when you arrive to see which one works best/fastest for your phone.
  • Print a map ahead of time that contains locations, directions, and any other pertinent information in case your cellphone (GPS) doesn’t work.
  • Get familiar with the parking and taxi payment policies and fees to avoid being taken advantage of.
  • Keep photos of your passport in your phone along with phone numbers for the nearest hospital and police station.
  • Make sure you always create a plan of action in the event the kids get separated from you or get lost for any reason.


Beating the heat

My teenage companions are all about returning home with a kiss from the sun in the form of a tan. But sun safety is crucial, so my rule is one hour maximum in the sun for the first couple of days of our trip with sun shirts and hats mandatory for the rest of the day. I also limit surf and snorkelling sessions to one hour; it’s easy to sunburn your back while swimming face down in the water.


Surfing early

It’s no secret that the early bird surfs the best waves. A lazy start to the day often means missed opportunities. Heading outside to play while the sun rises, whatever it is you want to do, makes every experience more enjoyable. It’s less hot, the photos always turn out better, and you’ll beat any lineups.


Eating healthy

I like to demonstrate that, even on vacation, it’s possible to eat healthy by preparing food that tastes incredible. I challenge the kids by giving them the responsibility for planning for and cooking on one day.

We plan the day’s menu together, making sure to create a meal with at least three colours (in addition to white and brown) on the plate. I also challenge them to learn how to say the ingredients in the local language before we do the shopping. I play the role of sous chef and help them bring their vision to life.


Preparing a backup plan

Most trips will involve a few disappointments, so I always have a backup list of alternative adventures to run with. When the waves are too small to surf, or the wind is onshore, for example, opt for horseback riding or ziplining through the jungle. My advice? Always have a list of things you can book last minute so you aren’t wasting valuable vacation time searching for something to do.

Wishing you—and your travel buddies—safe travels!



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe