Plan now for exotic travel when the kids are ready

If you’re a parent, you know the importance of having college and wedding funds. Now, if you want to be on the cutting edge of financial planning, you’ll also want to invest in a travel fund.

“We’re looking at a generation of parents who have been lucky enough to travel themselves, and they want to have that for their children as well,” said Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell, co-owner and director of the bespoke travel agency Cazenove+Loyd. These parents don’t want to put their bucket lists on hold for 20 years until their children fly the coop. Instead, they’d rather bring their kids along for extreme, educational adventures as soon as they’re ready for it.

Legacy Travel, Cazenove+Loyd’s newly minted program, aims to take the guesswork out of long-term family travel planning. The basic premise: Agents learn about the children in a family – what they enjoy, what they’re learning in school, and what their parents want to see and do – then create a long-term travel schedule that outlines the family’s trips for the next three to 10 years.

Big costs, big benefits

“Without being a sentimental softy about it,” Wilmot-Sitwell said, exposing children to a lifetime of travel “can be a way to input into someone’s development … certainly a lot more than what a beach holiday could do.”

In his 25 years as a travel specialist, he said, he has watched kids develop interests in photography, medicine, politics and more as a result of global vacations. They grow up with an awareness of the world that can’t be gleaned from textbooks. And, he said, well-traveled children often find more meaningful careers in their adult lives.

It’s one thing to plan travel 10 years down the line, another thing entirely to plan financially for it. A typical trip to far-flung places with Cazenove+Loyd goes for $10,000 to $12,000 per person, Wilmot-Sitwell said. To accomplish one each year for 10 years requires an investment of nearly half a million dollars for a family of four.

As a result, most families need to plan. Kathy Sudeikis, a family travel specialist based in Chicago who noticed more families wanting to plan their travels several years at a time, joined forces three years ago with a financial planner.

“My job is to help them create their bucket lists,” she said. “Financial advisers are providing an outlet to help them fulfill those dreams.” She advises families on trips according to their children’s ages and creates a travel calendar that stretches several years ahead.

More travel agents are joining her in teaming up with financial advisers. In fact, it was a recommendation that agents affiliated with the high-end consortium Virtuoso get on board with a wealth management professional to help realize their clients’ bucket lists – and retain a loyal clientele for many years.

“The growth of the travel industry is pegged exactly to this: educational experiences. Not frivolous travel, but trips that shape you into a world citizen,” Sudeikis said.

When and where to go

At Cazenove+Loyd, trip planning is limited to three (very big) regions: Africa, Central and South America, and South and Southeast Asia. For the company’s largely European clientele, it’s easy enough to take a weeklong trip to Kenya or Sri Lanka.

Many travel professionals, including Wilmot-Sitwell and Sudeikis, say that kids begin to be ready for those big-ticket trips at around 8 years old. “That’s when they start having meaningful experiences of destinations – when they start learning about history and literature,” Sudeikis said.

Sam McClure, an Austin, Texas-based travel adviser who works exclusively on family travel, disagrees.

“Even at 3 to 4 years old, kids start understanding the differences between time zones, food, accents … they will get something out of it at that age.” She recalled her son, at 4, getting ready for bed and wondering about the people in Europe who were just waking up. “Every family has a different map and a different timeline,” she said.

McClure said those who start young become more flexible travelers. She recommends trips to Europe for the youngest set, interactive wilderness trips to places like Australia and the Galapagos Islands for 7- or 8-year-olds, and places like Greece and Egypt for pre-middle-school kids learning about ancient civilizations. Preteens have the highest tolerance for museums, she said, while teenagers are looking for active and exotic experiences.

Her most epic suggestion: a round-the-world trip. “You want to do it between the ages of 8 and 12,” she advised, explaining that she has hired tutors and organized yearlong logistics for families who might be able to take a year off between jobs. It runs an average $10,000 per week, or $520,000 per year, for an entire family.

You can make everyone happy

No two families are alike, and ages and interests vary even within one family. That’s why Wilmot-Sitwell recommends booking a few “separate but equal” trips – his term for trips for just one parent and child. For instance, one mother he worked with took her teen daughter to learn southern Indian cooking in Kerala and took her 10-year-old son to see prehistoric rock carvings in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“The tricky dynamic is when you have multiple kids, and the oldest, a 7-year-old, is really ready to travel, but the youngest one, a 3-year-old, just isn’t there yet,” says Sudeikis. “Even a trip to Disney can be utterly exhausting in that case – you have to wait until the youngest child is mobile and can do without the nap.”

If you must travel with toddlers and teens, beaches can be an easy way to please everyone.

Be realistic – or be flexible

Though most family travel specialists are indulging their clients’ wish lists with plenty of advance planning, few think it realistic to put travel plans in ink when they’re still 10 years away. Kids change, personalities change, and the world changes. Especially with political uncertainty and such phenomena as Ebola or Zika, agents know that nothing is set in stone until the flights and hotels are booked.

“When your 16-year-old decides she wants to learn Spanish or become a doctor, there may suddenly be different trips that pop up.” Wilmot-Sitwell said. “Even if you’re planning six months out, there’s always wiggle room.”