Avoiding kids in family destinations

Swimming in the lake at Natalei Eco Lodge ... one of the backpacker-friendly places in family-holiday mecca Fiji.
Swimming in the lake at Natalei Eco Lodge ... one of the backpacker-friendly places in family-holiday mecca Fiji.

Backpackers and families: on paper they seem to be natural enemies, like Essendon and Collingwood, or the USA and dieting.

Backpackers want adventure and independence on a budget. Families want comfort and access to babysitters and attractions that will appeal to little people who like sticking their fingers in their mouths.

As a general rule, backpackers are young-ish and single and looking to hang out with people in similar circumstances. Families are a little more anti-social – when you've got kids to look after your main priority is getting everyone back to the hotel without getting chunder on your shirt, not going to a bar and... well, getting back to the hotel without getting chunder on your shirt. But that's another story.

For that reason I've always tended to avoid the destinations that would appeal to families. I don't want to hang out at the kiddie pool with hundreds of little tackers, and I'm pretty sure they don't want to hang out with me. It's understandable that when it comes to holidays we go our separate ways.

But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Recently I've been realising that there are some traditionally family-friendly destinations and holidays that can work just as well for the backpacking set as they do for families.

Fiji is a case in point. Most Australians seem to think of Fiji as one gigantic, kiddie-filled beach resort, a place where relieved parents sip pina coladas while kindly women in flowery shirts look after their offspring. And some of it really is that way. But not all.

For budget travellers of other nationalities Fiji has long been known as backpacking paradise. Have a look around: the Europeans are everywhere. They're down at the Beachhouse hostel on the Coral Coast, drinking cheap Fiji Bitters and heading out on surf trips. They're at Bounty Island hanging out by the pool or going out scuba-diving.

There's actually plenty for backpackers to do in Fiji, and at a reasonable price. If you don't fancy the hostel scene you could try somewhere like Natalei Eco Lodge, a tiny little budget option tucked into the middle of nowhere on a beach out past Suva.

This is the "authentic" experience backpackers crave wherever they go. You spend your time at Natalei not lazing by a pool with drinks in hand but hunting for freshwater prawns with the villagers, or going out spear-fishing at dawn, or even playing in the daily rugby game with the locals.

You drink kava at night with the village elders. You sleep in a basic hut by the beach. Now that's adventure.

But it's not just Fiji that works. California is another place that appeals to families, probably because of the theme parks and the general ease of travel there. Backpackers might think about visiting but they're probably going to go a different way.

You know what though? You're missing out if you don't give the theme parks a go. You want authentic Americana? Spend a day at Disneyland. And anyone who doesn't enjoy Space Mountain has lost their love of life completely.

Cruises anywhere in the world are a popular family-friendly travel option that have always made me shudder. But again, backpackers have options.

Instead of "cruises", think expeditions. I travelled to Antarctica a few years ago with Chimu Adventures on a trip that was more on the budget end of journeys to the bottom of the world, and the boat was filled with backpackers. It wasn't exactly Thailand-bungalow cheap, but it was still affordable.

It made a change from the traditional banana-pancake route too.

Another perennial family favourite is New Zealand, but again this doesn't have to be left to those with who've procreated. Queenstown is an obvious port of call, given all the avenues for adventure offered there, but if you look further afield there are still options.

The small town of Nelson on the northern tip of the South Island is the perfect place for backpackers to base themselves. There's plenty of budget accommodation, plus the opportunity to go hiking and camping in nearby national parks, or ride quad-bikes through the hills, or go ski-diving, or just head over to the Marlborough region and taste some wine like a grown-up.

You might bump into a few kiddies there. But at least you'll have a drink in your hand.

Which family destinations do you think work well for backpackers? Post your comments below.

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com

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This story Avoiding kids in family destinations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.