This spring break, my family and I made the bold decision to travel from DC to Taiwan for a nine-day whirlwind trip. We braved the 12-hour time difference and 18 hours of travel time each way, hoping our two boys would get some sleep on the plane and adjust to the radical time change. Well, the sleeping-on-the-plane part just didn’t happen on the flight over (too much excitement!), so we had two very overtired kiddos in tow when we landed. Thankfully, recovery was pretty quick.
After a good night’s sleep in one of my favorite boutique hotels (Les Suites Taipei Ching-Cheng), all four of us were off and running to explore Taipei. Our boys are both still in elementary school, but we travel quite a bit as a family. You can do more traveling with kids than you think – they’re pretty resilient when it comes to time changes, and with a couple clever itinerary hacks, you can keep everyone happy most of the time.
We had wonderful experiences in Taipei, Taichung, and Tainan: Taiwan’s high-speed rail system makes it so easy to get around the island. Between the three cities, four hotels, and lots of activities every day, we were on the move quite a bit.
Taiwan is a travel destination that lends itself to lots of exploring, but how to do this with kids while balancing kids' and adults' interests? Passive sightseeing and long walks are not really on the agenda when kids are in the mix. Here are some strategies that worked well for us on this trip:
Have the kids help with navigating. Getting around the metro system, counting off rail stops, and reading maps made our sons feel engaged in the journey.
Hands-on activities are key. During a private one-day tour that started in Taichung and brought us to Puli, Sun Moon Lake, and the surrounding beautiful countryside dotted with temples, our first stop was at a traditional paper mill. The kids got to make their own paper, transforming the liquid wood pulp mixture into an actual sheet of paper. Then they crafted a scroll and a fan out of the paper, making souvenirs that they treasure far more than any store bought item. They were so busy and happy!
Movement, movement, and more movement. Whether moving by metro, train, suspended gondola, or an elevator to the 89th floor at Taipei 101 (Taipei’s incredible 101-story skyscraper), moving around in and of itself was a welcome activity for our young ones. We also took the time to just let them run around in city parks: kind of like a mini-recess to burn off extra energy. While I initially thought our frequent hotel changes would be a bit much, it turned out that moving to the different cities and hotels was actually like hitting the reset button in our kids’ interest levels, an unexpected bonus.
Family fun. The weirdest place we experienced in Taiwan? Modern Toilet Restaurant in Taipei. We laughed our way through the toilet-themed menu (soda in a portable urinal, anyone?) and had a great time. Haute cuisine it was not, but it was a fun and quirky way to make lasting family memories.
Smart hotel choices. Don’t assume that kids won’t do well in boutique or luxury accommodations. So many properties now cater to families and multigenerational travelers. When we travel together, we go for a large family suite or split up into two rooms. In Taipei, it was my husband’s and my third time staying at Les Suites Taipei. We love the stylish ambiance, delicious western and Asian breakfast choices, and complimentary evening happy hour. As it turns out, the kids loved all those same things! (Happy hour for them was some iPad time in the cozy sitting area with a soda.) In Taichung, we stayed at the super cool art deco themed 1969 Blue Sky Hotel – the lobby looks like it is straight out of a movie set. Asia has so many unique smaller hotels, it’s worth trying something a little different. In Tainan, we went more traditional with the five-star Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza: the spacious accommodations and luxury touches made for a nice haven.
My top tips for Taiwan specifically, whether you are a solo traveler or a family: 1) venture beyond Taipei, especially to the countryside (Taroko Gorge, Beitou hot springs, Sun Moon Lake, Kenting…), 2) stay at unique boutique hotel properties, 3) eat your way through the country – bubble tea, dumplings, scallion pancakes, world class tea, sweet native pineapple, pastries…yum! 4) do some private guided touring for an insider’s cultural perspective and easy logistics – we did a street food tour in Taipei and a full-day tour in the towns and countryside around Sun Moon Lake, 5) use public transportation to get around, especially the easy and quick high-speed rail system.
The above general family travel tips apply to custom family travel in many destinations. There's an art to getting the pace and activity mix right for multi-generational and extended family travel, but the real "secret sauce" is going with the flow during your travels and being OK with some spontaneity. Get out there - the world awaits you!
Happy Travels Always,
Photos copyright Bluetail Travel 2019.