The demand for off-the-beaten-path holidays
Whilst relaxed family holidays by the beach are, without a doubt, the key to our sanity, our curiosity surrounding experiential travel is peaking! Off-the-beaten path holidays are in huge demand, but whilst we’re constantly on the lookout for the next travel trend, ‘unexplored’ itineraries can be a little trickier with the little ones in tow. Though booking trips to foreign lands is exciting, we’ve got to make sure that the treasure trove of experiences is the right fit for the whole family. After all, holidays are about making memories!
We spoke to Lucy Jackson, founder (and travel expert) of luxury tour operator, Lightfoot Travel for her take on the ever-growing search for adventure, and how it works within a family setting. As a new mama herself, she knows a thing or two about family holidays (her little one has travelled more than I have in the past nine months!). Plus, we’re beating the crowds with Lucy’s top recommendations for the hottest trips for Summer 2017…
Tell us a bit about your background. What ties do you have to Hong Kong? What inspired you to set up Lightfoot Travel?
My connections to Hong Kong hark back to the late 1800s when my Great, Great Grandfather became Chairman of HSBC. Having visited friends in 2008 and being attracted to the energy of the city, I found myself on a plane just two month later, following my seven year career path creating bespoke itineraries for discerning clients. The opportunity to establish and launch the development of Lightfoot Travel’s second office in Hong Kong came at the perfect time back in 2010.
Experiential travel has become increasingly popular. Why do you think there’s such a demand for unique experiences?
With so many travel opportunities out there, it can be difficult to qualify what ‘off-the-beaten-path’ really means. Guests want to be re-inspired and re-invigorated about where to explore. They’ve travelled a lot before but want a new angle of approach – and often, it’s one that works for the whole family! Parents now have more willingness to immerse themselves in new cultures (whilst avoiding the unnecessary hassles). Experiential travel is all relative to what you view as a ‘normal’ trip. Hong Kong is really lucky to have such a prime location for travel. Many families here view a trip to Phuket as a “norm”. Whether you’re after private jets to local homestays, ‘off-the-beaten-path’ is really anything that allows you to engage in the culture and get a true sense of the place and people. With that said, this ‘style’ of travel in Hong Kong is still in its infancy, really, so it’s a very exciting time!
Which family friendly locations would you recommend to our readers looking for a truly bespoke experience?
It really depends on the ages of the children and the guest appetite for exploration. I’ve had clients happy to trek up to Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan with their 10 month baby strapped on their backs. However, I’m a real believer in a good babysitter (which can make or break a trip!). We have a portfolio of nannies who we recommend throughout Indochina. For me personally, I think nothing beats a private villa in Sri Lanka and exploring during the day, whether shopping in Galle, taking a boat out on the Koggala Lake or just doing lunch trips to Wijaya. To keep it simple, the less of a time difference the better, in which case, Abaca in the Philippines with a baby for a short-break, or even Dedon Island for those with older kids who want to SUP, kayak and explore a bit more.
As a new mama yourself, what is the one key travel tip you’d give to other parents?
When it comes to family trips, you really have to be more militant about your planning. But being a parent should never hold you back! My little one, William, is now 9 months old, and I’m already making sure he gets his travel exposure in nice and early. He’s already been Australia, Phuket, UK, Bali, and Sri Lanka twice! I’m very grateful for that. About 40% of clients are actually families, and I’ve learned that the best thing you can do as a parent travelling is to know what you want – and ask for it! We manage all the little things that can get a mum worried. From getting the cot and high-chair sorted in advance, to flying in formula directly to the Maldives (true story!), we work to make sure that parents AND kids get a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Lightfoot travel offers up an incredible range of tailor-made holidays, how has the company stayed relevant and up to date with the ‘off-the-beaten-path’ travel trend?
We have the best global contacts and scope compared to any other travel company within Asia. We are ahead of the trend due to our connections – we hear of the hot-spots because we have region specialists that have personally ‘tried and tested’ the experiences that they recommend. For families, it’s especially important to make sure all requirements fit within the final itinerary. We love meeting clients face to face, pinpointing places on a map, and making sure that we’re providing the exact experience they’re after. Our clients tend to travel with us quite few times in a year, so they really do a get a sense of how we work. About 50% of our clients book trips around Asia, and about 50% book around the rest of the world. Ultimately, people want personalisation and Lightfoot travel is all about making sure you and your family is taken care of every step of the way.
Tell us about one especially memorable ‘off-the-beaten-path’ experience you’ve had…
Kayaking down the ocean fjords of Chilean Patagonia – 150 nautical miles to get to Laguna San Rafael over the course of ten days in relentless rain! Thankfully the clouds parted once we reached the glacier. The magic of those translucent blue icebergs and kayaking amongst the mirror like waters was completely mesmerising and it’s etched in my memory forever.
If money and time were no object, what would your first trip be?
The White Continent – Antarctica. Nothing says exploration like Antarctica – it’s the most alien and austere environment you can go to on the planet. Until space travel is a reality, Antarctica is still one to tick off my hit-list. I just need to be prepared to be offline for a little while. This one may call for a babysitter.
Travel is clearly one of your passions. What do you look for when planning your own trips?
Precision itinerary planning – I like to maximise any day off I have with new experiences. It’s become a running joke in my family that I give them itineraries for any trip that I’m doing. In terms of destinations, I like a range from fly and flop beach chilling over a long weekend with my baby boy and husband, to big villas filled with friends and then the odd adventure thrown in for measure. Next up is likely to be Russia!
What words of advice would you give to families exploring a new country?
Expect the unexpected and roll with any changes – it’s those chance interactions with locals that make the memory of holidays live on. Whether it’s pottering through a village and having a cup of yerba mate (drink) with the Argentine gauchos, playing volleyball on the beach with Cariocas (Rio de janeiro) or being part of a Buddhist ceremony (Sri Lanka / Bhutan experiences). Experiential travel is really just about having an authentic experience and one that does justice to the beauty of a place. And as a parent? Be prepared with endless snacks and back up food. Find the best local coffee shop in a city to see you through those sleepless nights or nappy changes (can you tell I’ve just had small child?).
Which places/itineraries are currently trending for 2017? We want to beat the crowd!
Namibia – Those wild landscapes, tracking lions through the Namib desert and seeing the Skeleton coast.
Mongolia – Culture untouched by Westernisation eg. Eagle Hunters combined with vast landscapes and still in its infant stages of tourism.
Cuba – Before it changes and on topic following Castro’s death.
Tibet – Location of mythical ‘Shangri-la’. Go now, while it’s still authentic.
Iran – Why not? Rich cultural tapestry. Easy to access.
Where do we start? How would you recommend planning and organising your ‘not-so-typical’ trip?
Get in touch with our knowledgeable travel designers who can walk you through how to book an ‘off-the-beaten’ track adventure, taking you through the pitfalls and speak with brutal honesty to manage your expectations. From packing advice and booking the best guides in country, to making sure the fussiest little ones are well fed… family travel doesn’t have to be tricky!
All images via Lightfoot Travel