Planning a successful family vacation is work—but not if you let a packager do the work for you. Buying a vacation through a tour operator frees you from the tedious details of deciding where to stay, what to eat, when to visit each attraction, and how to get to each place. Travel packagers take care of all the logistics, and truly expert ones know their destinations deeply, so their inside knowledge may even be able to provide you with special perks. We like these seven tour operators’ family trips—they cover a variety of destinations, styles, group sizes, and prices, and they have proven themselves with families over the years.
Austin Adventures keeps groups small: It aims for a 6:1 guest-to-guide ratio and vets those guides for charisma, making sure the leader has a personality kids will want to follow. Its family groups explore Europe, the Galapagos Islands, Latin America, Africa, and North American national parks (a company specialty). Austin excels in outdoorsy outings such as horseback riding, glacier trekking, kayaking, and bicycling (always on trails, never on highways) but it also strives to add excitement with what it calls unexpected “wow moments” —like the ice cream and brownies reward that is served after a hike to the top of Angels Landing in Bryce National Park. Many trips follow a 6-day/5-night schedule plan, although international tours are longer. On departures for families with teens, expect more pedaling, paddling, and hiking to panoramic views, such as in the San Juan Islands, Yellowstone National Park, and the Kenai Fjords region.
Kids’ ages: 7–12; 13+ for family teen trips
Group size: 12–18
Adventures by Disney
The constant among Adventures by Disney’s 50+ itineraries in 40+ countries: hands-on local experiences, guides (two per trip) with a gift for storytelling, and time built into the schedule for parents and kids to be both together and apart. Together, you and your children might craft bento boxes at a Japanese cooking school, try archery at a Scottish estate, and learn hurling in Ireland. At other times, the adults might sample wines at a farm winery in Tuscany while kids are taken to pick herbs for infusing olive oil. During adults-only dinner nights, kids grab a meal and watch a Disney movie.
Daily activities are focused on local culture, not Disney characters—although you may expect a few surprise appearances of those along the way. Its tours of Southern California also grant private access to the Walt Disney Studios & Archives and Jim Henson Studios, which are normally closed to public tours. In Europe, Disney also partners with AmaWaterways for river cruises. Overall, many ABD trips are 8 days/7 nights, but it also operates 2–5 day Escapes that can be booked on their own or added to an itinerary.
Kids’ ages: 6+, with kids as young as 4 allowed depending on the trip
Group size: 38–40
Sierra Club Outings
The Sierra Club, one of the oldest U.S. conservation organizations, calls its trips “adventures for a cause.” By leading organized rafting, hiking, canoeing, and volunteering vacations for families, the Sierra Club connects kids to the outdoors, hoping to turn them into future protectors of the environment. Family excursions explore the United States: Wind down rivers in Utah, Oregon, and Idaho (pictured); or base your brood at an Adirondacks’ lodge for hiking, canoeing, swimming, and mountain biking. On service trips you might do things like clearing trails in the Tahoe National Forest or working with animals on a Pennsylvania farm. On Sierra Club Outings, the naturalist leaders are volunteers.
Kids’ ages: 6+, depending on the trip
Group size: 12–15; raft trips up to 24
National Geographic Family Journeys
National Geographic Family Journeys (in partnership with G Adventures) were launched in 2020 as a subset of Nat Geo’s 300-odd vacations for a general audience. These family-specific itineraries are developed alongside experts such as scientists and researchers, who emphasize sustainability and supporting local culture. On its trips, you and your kids might taste-test noodles cooked by teens learning culinary arts in Hoi An, Vietnam (pictured); plant seedlings at a tree nursery in Costa Rica; or fashion your own Carnivale mask in Venice. Pre-departure, parents receive field guides with advice on sparking children’s interest in the area, and kids get tips on photographic storytelling. Two “Chief Experience Officers” (a.k.a. enthusiastic guides) lead families through the 8- to 13-day itineraries that explore Vietnam, Cambodia, Iceland, France, Costa Rica, Peru, Alaska, and other adventurous places.
Kids’ ages: 7–17
Group size: 20