Travel and Attention: The Ultimate Gifts

Yellowstone camping: Ask your kids what they want to do this summer!
Yellowstone camping: Ask your kids what they want to do this summer!

Kids and Parents want a chance to bond with nature, and to enjoy the wilderness Camping in Yellowstone

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Viewing distant wildlife, maybe wolves, in Yellowstone National Park.
Viewing wildlife, maybe wolves, in Yellowstone National Park.

When was the last time you took your family on a very special vacation?

If you can’t remember, then it’s probably time to consider making summer plans to give your kids or grandkids the ultimate gift–travel and attention.

The Jewel of US Parks

You could simply pack up the car and head out to the beach and a vacation rental, or you could be a little more creative and offer up an itinerary that will make everyone in the family happy, with an especially-designed family trip to a place like Yellowstone National Park, the jewel of the United States Park system.

We spoke with a family travel expert and asked her about family travels experiences and tips.

Kasey Austin, VP of Operations for Austin Adventures, at Yellowstone.
Kasey Austin, VP of Operations for Austin Adventures, at Yellowstone.

Kasey Austin was born into a family of travel experts. Her dad Dan founded Austin Adventures in Bozeman, Montana, and growing up she learned all about traveling the great west with families and relatives.

How long has Austin been specializing in family travel trips?  What was the first one that the company offered and how many do they offer in 2019?

Austin Adventures has specialized in running family trips since 1995 when Dan Austin got involved with the company. Dan Austin had a young family of his own (his daughter Kasey was 6 and Andy was 4) and wanted to expand the company’s offerings to include family trips.

Familiar sites like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are just a small part of this million-acre park, that the people at Austin Adventures know very well.
Familiar sites like Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are just a small part of this two-million-acre park, that the people at Austin Adventures know very well.

The first family trip we offered was our Yellowstone Family Adventure, which only made sense since our base is in Montana. In 2019, we will offer more than 50 family adventures around the world.”

What is something that few people know about Yellowstone?

When most people think of Yellowstone, they think of Old Faithful geyser – which is an iconic site in the national park that can’t be missed! What most tourists don’t realize is that Yellowstone is made up of 2.2 million acres and the park offers more than 900 miles of hiking trails.

The back way to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The back way to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone seems crowded to those who visit the most famous sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone because that’s where everyone flocks to when they don’t know where else to go to escape the crowds.

When you leave the parking lots and the boardwalks behind, it’s likely you won’t see another soul on many of the trails throughout the park!

Walking in Yellowstone National Park.
Walking in Yellowstone National Park. No Game Boys or iPads needed!

What do you do when siblings can’t get along during a trip?  Have you ever had to give a parent or a traveling kid a ‘time out?’

“Believe it or not, most kids (including siblings) are pretty dang well-behaved on our trips!

They are so stimulated by what’s going on around them in a new place whether they’re riding in the van or out on the trail that they often don’t have the time or energy to squabble like they do at home.

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There are also almost always other kids and of course, the guides (big kids at heart) to keep them occupied physically, socially and mentally throughout the course of the day.

Literally, we have kids falling asleep at dinner because they had so much fun during the day!  As a side note, I’ve never had to give a parent or a kid a “time out” – ha!”

Extended Bedtime Privileges, Undivided Attention, Special Activities and Amenities 

According to extensive research and qualitative interviews, kids aged 5-15 have a short but important must-have list for their vacations.

Kayaking a pristine lake with your kids is just about the best thing you can do with them!
Kayaking a pristine lake with your kids is just about the best thing you can do with them!

The younger children want their parents’ undivided attention— whether that means sitting next to each other on a ski lift, burying their parents in the sand, or playing games from the back seat of a car during a road trip.

Beyond attention, there are three factors kids and teenagers want on their trip. These include a waterslide/pool, wifi, and later bedtimes.

Staying up late can make or break a trip for youngsters, yes, you want them to be well rested for another day of fun, but sometimes, the gift of a late night can enable memories that may be the best of their entire trip.

What NOT to Bring

You'll see plenty of bison during your drive through Yellowstone.
You’ll see plenty of bison during your drive through Yellowstone.What NOT To Bring

What should you NOT bring on your family vacation? 

“I would recommend leaving your iPad, tablet, or electronic entertainment sources at home.

Sure, you should bring your phone to take some photos and maybe answer the occasional email (although I recommend trying to survive work-free for the week if possible to get the most of your experience!) but try to use your phone for just that – a camera.

My favorite things to see as a guide are the times I see families enjoying each other’s company talking to each other over dinner, playing a card game at the hotel or coming up with the best riddles or song choices in the van.

Leave your electronics behind and come prepared to get the most out of your family’s vacation time by spending it together and not staring at a screen.

Note: many national park accommodations don’t have televisions and many have terrible cell service and Wi-Fi connections park wide (my favorite thing ever!!)


What have you learned over the years that you can impart to parents who might be worried about taking a family trip? What is the concern you hear again and again?

“Perhaps the biggest concern we get when it comes to family trips is if someone’s family members are going to be able to do the activities. A few examples of questions: Will I be able to keep up? What if the bike ride is too long for my 7-year-old?

What if my teenager can hike a lot faster than me? What if my husband has turned into a bit of a couch potato and hasn’t done much exercise in the last couple of years?

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Kasey amidst the flowers in beautiful Montana.
Kasey amidst the flowers in beautiful Montana.

The answer is YES, we can accommodate your family, regardless of ability! We purposely keep our itineraries scheduled with plenty to do, yet flexible in timing.

Our guides are experts in handling multiple ability levels on the same trip so you can go your pace and get what you want out of each activity, whether that means getting in some extra miles on that bike ride or stopping to smell the flowers on your hike!”

Happy Traveling Families

Two generations of travelers at Yellowstone.
Two generations of travelers at Yellowstone.

Barbara and Tim Levi joined Austin Adventures on a Yellowstone trip last year with their four children, ages 6-13.

The Levis, from Kansas City, are already planning another trip with the company after the stellar reviews their kids gave the trip.

What made Austins different than other tour companies you’ve traveled with?

“The food, accommodations, excursions and general experiences were amazing, but what really made Austin stand out was the personal level of service they gave us.  Our bags were taken up to our rooms and brought down by the guides.

We needed a life jacket for our 6 year old for the pool party and they coordinated to get one from the river rafting company.

They gave us advice on what to order at the restaurants when we were on our own for dinner. They told us where to go for a walk or run or side excursion during free time. They told countless stories to our children and made each one of them feel special.

They were knowledgeable, kind, caring and attentive, which I expected.

No kid can resist the zipline!
No kid can resist the zipline!

But where they shined was their ability to connect with each member of the trip in a personal way that made you feel like you were the only one being catered to.  That is remarkable!

Up Your Game!

If you want to up your game with a family trip that will rock the heck out of your kids, think about what Austin Adventures offers for family trips.

Any one of these would make an excellent starting point and bring you closer together as you discover some of the most famous and dramatic scenery in the United States.

Max Hartshorne

Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.