My sons tease me about how I went bug-eyed behind my snorkel mask when I saw a (totally harmless) white-tipped reef shark off the shore of the Galápagos. And you know what? I love it that they do. At home, I’m taxi service/snack fixer/cheerleader. But on vacation, we ditch the routine and cut loose together. I show them another side of their Mom—literally—as I whiz by on a zip-line. I get to play on their level and be the paddle-splasher when we go kayaking. I turn into the person who does not coordinate our ride to the beach or what we eat for lunch. Instead, everybody in the family gets to be these people who just have fun together. It’s been years since that shark, but we still laugh about it, and I think we always will. I can’t think of a more valuable or longer-lasting souvenir that anyone could bring home from a family vacation.

As the resident Mom at Classic Journeys, I’ve talked to hundreds of parents and offered family vacation ideas about how to select trips that push everybody’s buttons. Here are my top five family vacation ideas. You can see all 20 Family Journeys from Montana to Machu Picchu at Please call me at 800.200.3887 if you have questions or want to brainstorm your next family vacation.

Provence? Really?

Oh, yes. Adults love the wine and lavender fields. But the kids really go for it too. It’s very outdoorsy—kayaking under the 2,000-year-old Roman Pont-du-Gard Aqueduct is fun and a history lesson all in one. We do great walks, eat the French version of pizza, explore caves. Our code for “this is fun” was ooh-la-la.

Get the full scoop on our Provence Family Vacation >>

Pont du Gard Aqueduct in Provence, France

Coolness in the Galápagos

Do your kids want to sit through naturalist PowerPoints on a cruise ship? No way. We stay on the islands in eco-lodges with pools. And it’s not all about tortoises and blue-footed boobies. (You can imagine the lame jokes.) When’s the last time you snorkeled, kayaked and kidded around for a solid week?

Skip the ship with our island-based multi-sport Galápagos Family Vacation >>

A boy snorkeling in the Galapagos.

Who knew they were Irish?

I’ve seen how naturally kids take to Ireland. All it takes is a day with shepherds and a farmer who cuts peat. (Peat?!) They loved our guide’s blarney and tolerated me singing in a pub. Ireland also has stuff none of us expected like a chocolate factory and belly-up sunning seals along Kenmare Bay.

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Ireland Castle with sheep

Amalfi, Mamma Mia!

We competed to see who could order gelato with the best Italian accent. We made pizza together, bobbed into Capri’s Blue Grotto, paddled to a secret beach, and had a contest to see who could get to the top of Mt. Vesuvius first. (Tip: You don’t have to get there first because having this much fun is an automatic win.)

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Coastal View of Capri, Italy

Easy Peasy Costa Rica

No Mom should have to coordinate this many activities in so few days. I didn’t and you won’t. But you will zip-line in the rainforest, count monkeys, taste sugar cane and go whitewater rafting without a hitch. I slipped in a massage at our rainforest inn’s spa. And everybody was too busy to even miss me. Nice.

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Woman ziplining.