How to plan an overseas trip for the extended family

Image credit: iStock

Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

The short answer is I plan for myself, then tweak the itinerary to cater to the diverse interests of my family members. How diverse the group is depends on how large it is. My wife has a large family – she is the eighth and youngest child – and the group of travellers comprising sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law and their children can number from 15 to 20 on a typical trip.

When I plan for such family trips, I make sure the following preconditions are met:

Sticking to a budget that everyone is comfortable which means most of our trips are centred on Southeast Asia with short-haul flights. Every minute counts, and why waste precious time in the air when we can hit the ground running within two to three hours?

The holidays are for the kids. There is a common understanding that when the kids have fun, so will the adults. Most of my suggestions revolve around the interests of the kids. It helps that there is a big kid inside me. No (boring) shopping and no waiting in line for famous food. Cue wide, open spaces, unusual rural experiences, or exciting activities – for example, horse-riding, water-tubing, volcano-climbing – that everyone can participate in.

The trips are about spending quality time together, and about character-building. What better way to achieve that than to rough it out in the jungles or mountains?

Our first overseas trip was a road trip to an organic rice farm in Kahang, Johor. Since I was born in Johor Bahru, the responsibility of putting together this trip naturally fell on my shoulders. I think the success of the maiden trip bolstered the family members’ confidence in me. And thus ‘Wong’s Travel Agency’ was born, as they like to joke.

After meeting the three preconditions, I would consider the specific needs of the various groups – the fathers, the mothers, the kids and teens. There is another common understanding among the fathers and brothers-in-law that when the wives enjoy, so will we!

My wife has five elder sisters and a sister-in-law who is a regular on the tour circuit. They grew up in kampungs so they gravitate towards places or activities that bring back fond memories of those days. All I have to do is mention phrases like “fruit farm”, “vegetables and fruit market”, and “organic produce”.

By adopting this strategy, we have experienced the majestic beauty of Mount Bromo, the cool air of Batu and the unbeatable fun at Batu Secret Zoo, and visited more volcanoes and hot springs and tea plantations in Bandung. We went on one of the last few KTM train journeys to a town in Pahang and spent Christmas morning eating our fill in a market in Temerloh, observed semi-wild orangutans up-close in Gunung Leuser National Park and went river tubing in Bukit Lawang.

All these sound fun, but not many people know that it is a very stressful and thankless job to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of a touring “village”.

Unlike travel agents who are familiar with the places they bring tourists to, it was my maiden visit to many of the above destinations. I had to live and die by the decisions and choices I made.

For example, the bungalows I booked for the Bukit Lawang trip received very good reviews online. I did not pay much attention to the few comments about the steep climb up the hill to reach the bungalows. It turned out to be disastrous for the aunties used to a sedentary lifestyle. We were barely halfway up the hill when they wanted to give up and change bungalows. As for the 10km trek through Khao Yai National Park to spot wildlife? We had to call our drivers to pick us up at the 5km mark because some of them were experiencing muscle spasms.

These are part and parcel of travelling. As embarrassing as they were, they made for memorable stories that were retold over and over at the dinner table to our amusement.

The extended family members might complain now, but I bet they will sign up eagerly when I propose some intriguing new destination for our next trip.


KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.

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