Check out our Family Friendly Travel Guides
Is it me or has Lonely Planet left families behind?
Below you will find our family-friendly, country-specific travel guides and custom built itineraries designed for families with small children.
This is the master list of each destination we visited on our 365-day family gap year.
Each location links to a destination guide which shows you our exact itinerary along with all the places we stayed along the way. Our trips are designed for families with smaller children (ours are 5 and 7) and this will be reflected in our list of activities and budget friendly accommodation recommendations.
I will not recommend a hotel/homestay/hostel we did not like, and I will make sure to point out the ones we found amazing or which provided exceptional value.
Our Family Gap Year Destinations:
1. South Africa → 2. Bali → 3. New Zealand → 4. Australia → 5. Thailand → 6. Cambodia → 7. Vietnam → (back to Thailand) → 8. Hong Kong → 9. Malaysia → 10. Singapore → 11. Taiwan → 12. Japan
12. Japan with Kids
Enjoying our amazing homestay in Takayama (The Japanese Alps)
We spent 18 days in Japan as our final journey before returning home from Narita Airport. We loved Japan and it proved to be the “icing on the cake” that brought the perfect end to our journey.
Read More: Japan with Kids
11. Taiwan with Kids
Hiking the beautiful Walami Trail in Coastal Taiwan
Taiwan was not on our original gap year itinerary, but after several families raved about the heaps of natural wonder’s and activities for kids we decided to make it a stop on our way up to Japan Farm stays, surfing, hiking and some of the most friendly people we have met on our trip, made Taiwan a great place to wind down as we started to prepare for our journey back home. Is Taiwan a “must see” destination on an Asian itinerary? If you’re looking for ego building international landmarks then maybe not, but if you enjoy pristine nature, suspension bridges, bike paths, family-friendly hikes and swimming holes galore, then Taiwan is definitely for you.
Read More: Taiwan with Kids
10. Singapore with Kids
The amazingly fun and FREE Garden’s by The Bay Waterpark.
We traveled to Singapore because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After a week, it proved to be a cool, modern city that had plenty of great food and fun for the entire family. Although I wouldn’t consider Singapore a “must-see” destination on a trip through South East Asia, it provided a much needed week of respite from all the ruckus. Although it is definitely expensive be South East Asia standards we found a wonderful family accommodation at the Bettle Box for $74/night and the food was both amazing and relatively inexpensive.
Read More: Singapore with Kids
9. Malaysia with Kids
In Kuala Lumpur at MUD the Musical!
Malaysia knocked my socks off! We spent well over a month exploring both mainland (peninsular) Malaysia along with Western Borneo (Sabah). Malaysia is a true melting pot of Aboriginal, Indian, Chinese and Muslim cultures and amazing cuisines. Peninsular Malaysia is clean, modern and beautiful. With a combination of big city delights (think Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Twin Towers), small town wonders (think Penang), beautiful mountains (the National Park and Cameron Highlands) and underwater worlds of wonder (the Islands). If that wasn’t enough, Borneo just happens to be one of the oldest and most biodiverse regions in the world. Malaysia should be on the top of everyone’s list on a trip to South East Asia. I am so glad we made it a part of our adventure. Diving, mountain climbing, jungle treks, sky rises and spectacular food, there is something for everyone in Malaysia!
The view from atop Mount Kinabalu in Borneo!
Read More: Malaysia and Borneo with Kids
- Kuala Lumpur: Ceria Hotel Bukit Bintang – $49 per night for a deluxe family room (after Agoda fees)
- Cameron Highlands: Hotel De’La Ferns – a “boutique” hotel 2km up the hill from the main stomping grounds. We booked this because we were able to score a triple room at the last-minute reduced rate. The problem is that it is a 20-minute walk into the main town. The benefit is that it is quiet and provides an amazing free morning breakfast and spectacular scenery. If you have a car this would be great, otherwise, I would suggest one of the hostels in town.
- Penang: Star Lodge – A very basic, no thrills accommodation but we were able to score two rooms right in the heart of Georgetown for a total of $40 per night. They had decent WiFi and there was a wonderful hostel next door where we ate French toast every morning. It is definitely a “flashpackers” hostel, but you can book by the night and they had availability when the entire town was full because of the labor day holiday.
- Perhentian Islands: Shari-la Island Resort* – Probably one of the nicest resorts on the small island. Right next to Quivers Divers dive resort, it offers a protected bay for snorkeling (with wonderful fish), cheap rental gear and discount snorkeling expeditions. The daily breakfast buffet is worth $20 US and is included. At $69 for our family of four per day, it was the perfect stay. We also heard good things about Coral View on the big island so that may be worth checking out.
- Sepilok (Sandakan) The Orangutang Sanctuary, Sun Bears, and Borneo Rain Forest: Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat** – This is one of the coolest places we stayed on our trip with budget bungalows overlooking the Borneo Rainforest and the most spectacular shower you may ever have. Don’t miss out on a very memorable experience. If you are staying in Sandakan, stay here!
- Kinabatangan for the River Safari: Sukau Backpackers – a great budget spot for the entire family. Very friendly staff.
- Semporna: Sea Fest Hotel – A great mainland stay prior to beginning your hop to Mabul.
- Mabul: Four days as part of our Sipadan Diver package: Scuba Junkie
- Kota Kinabalu: Hotel 54 – A Lonely Planet top pic, Hotel 54 is a superb place to stay while you are planning a climb, recovering from a climb, or simply enjoying a day of activities in the city. They have a great communal dining room and the owner is a gem who can help you with planning treks and tours.
8. Hong Kong with Kids
Up top the peak tram in Hong Kong
No place surprised me more than Hong Kong. Clean is an understatement – hell I was even kicked off the playground for taking a nap because it wasn’t sanitary. We loved every single second of our one week stay in Hong Kong. It is expensive, but this can be circumvented with some careful planning and being OK sleeping in a space the size of a walk-in closet. The city is buzzing with activity, and sites that will blow your socks off. Full of natural and modern beauty, it is the gateway to China, a gate that did not open sadly for us since we were not able to afford mainland China Visas for the family. Oh, China why do you shut me out? We will be back and this time with Visa’s in hand. But, boy was we glad we got to spend time in Hong Kong!
Read More: Hong Kong with Kids
Where we stayed in Hong Kong with kids:
- The Mira Inn (Not the Mira Hotel) $69 for a triple room with a pair of bunk beds and a queen for the parents!
7. Vietnam with Kids
Touring the Mekong Delta on a traditional longboat
Despite the fact, my wife was hit by a motorbike in Vietnam and had to be airlifted from Hua Hin to Bangkok (long story) Vietnam stole more than my limited time visa, they stole a bit of my heart along with it. The trip from HCM city up to Danang by bus was beautiful, fun-filled and getting better by the minute. We will return to finish our trip someday as I cannot die without seeing Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Sapa, But until then I am just happy my wife is OK.
Read More: Vietnam with Kids
Where we stayed: family friendly Vietnam accommodations
- Ho Chi Minh City: Dragon Palace Hotel District 1 $35 per night
- Mekong Delta: Hung family Homestay
- Mũi Né: Huang Kim Hotel $26 per night for a family room
- Nha Trang: LeSimoLe Boutique Apartments $60 per night for 8-bed family room with a kitchen
- Hoi An: Starfruit Homestay
6. Cambodia with Kids
At Angkor Wat with our amazing guide for the day.
Angkor What? Exactly, Cambodia has so much to offer as a family destination. We spent only 2 weeks here, but we wish we had more. Cambodia is a land steeped in so much history (much of it dark) yet through all this, it has come out a stronger people. With elephants and temples and some of the most beautiful natural countryside, I have seen in South East Asia. Cambodia shouldn’t be missed.
Read More: Cambodia with Kids
Where we stayed: family-friendly Cambodia accommodations
- Siem Reap: Siem Reap Rooms Guesthouse $25 – $35
- Phnom Penh: King Grand Boutique Hotel $45
- Sen Monorom lodge and elephant trek: The Nature Lodge check prices
5. Thailand with Kids
Climbing as a family in Krabi
We ended up spending more time in Thailand than any other place on our trip. This was not necessarily planned but, if you have to spend a couple months somewhere it might as well be Thailand. Thailand has world-class beaches, great food, accommodations to fit all budgets, endless massages, cooking classes, temples, the best place on earth to learn to dive or rock climb and Bangkok just so happens to have a world-class hospital (which is good to know if you are hit by a moped and need surgery like my wife did). Thailand is a bit more “touristy” than the rest of Southeast Asia, but there is a reason for this. Join the crowds, throwback some $1 Chang Beers and enjoy the easy life for a bit. From north to south there is plenty to please everyone. And our kids loved every second of it.
Read More: Thailand with Kids
4. Australia with Kids
Hangin “2” at Coolangatta beach on the Aussie Gold Coast
Australia! Could I live here Yes! OK, I am a surfer, so Australia was like a chocolate ice cream lover taking a job at Baskin Robbins. But, beyond the surf, Australia had it all – Amazing wildlife, hikes, diving, snorkeling, iconic cities, rainforests, scary snakes and flesh eating crocodiles. And to top it off they have places like Pretty Beach! We love Australia, and if I could afford to I would return every year. To bad your food is so expensive and your accommodations can break the budget. Despite this, we love you Australia!
Read More Australia with Kids
3. New Zealand with Kids
Hiking the famous Hooker Valley Track at the base of Mount Cook
If it weren’t for the expensive food, New Zealand may just be my favorite place on planet earth. Why? Because every direction I turn it looked like a page ripped from National Geographic Magazine. Stunning would be an understatement. NZ is so full of natural beauty, they may hold the patent on it. Go here with your kids, hike, get in touch with nature and cozy up in an RV or Holiday Park. I was afraid our kids wouldn’t have enough adventure in them to handle NZ, boy was I wrong.
Read More: New Zealand with Kids
2. Bali with Kids
Family surf lessons on Kuta Beach. The perfect beach break for beginners.
The Balinese are a Hindu people holding onto their heritage in a swarm of tourist activity. They do it with such grace and style it will leave you in awe. The Balinese are some of the warmest people on earth, they love children, the food is spectacular. Just about every hotel or hostel will leave you speechless and still below budget.
- Jimbaran: Hotel Puri Bambu **** Spectacular budget-friendly hotel accommodation in Jimbaran that will make it hard to leave your hotel.
- Kuta: Satriya Cottages – Nice, well priced, central location – pull some cushions from the poolside lounge chairs at night and save money on the extra bed for your kids.
- Sanur: Prima Cottages – Great budget family friendly hotel in the heart of Sanur with lots of decent eats nearby
- Balian Beach: Pondok Pitaya * One of the best places we have ever stayed!
- Pemuteran: Amertha Bali Villas – When it comes to finding the perfect place in Bali for kids, snorkeling, beach, and relaxation, it is hard to beat the Amertha Bali Villas.
- Ubud: Gayatri Bungalows – The Gayatri Bungalows are simple, clean and conveniently located hotel right in the center of Ubud. It’s a family-run business with a traditional feel. If you can’t find an apartment to rent in Bali this is a great alternative and gets big points in my book for its prime Bali real estate and great pricing.
1. South Africa with Kids
African Safari at Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park just
Oh, South Africa, you stole my heart in so many places. This was the very first stop on out trip. Thank God, because the first bit was hard for my kids to adjust to being away from home, school, family, and friends. Luckily, South Africa was there to welcome us with open arms. When people ask me where was my favorite place on the trip, I will often name other destination, but honestly I think it may very well have been South Africa. With nature, beauty, history, animals and budget accommodations it may very well be the perfect family destination.
Read More: South Africa with Kids