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Originally published Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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Family trips beyond theme parks

Making a more adventurous vacation work with kids.

The New York Times

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Deborah Dickson-Smith has traversed the world researching family vacations for, a website about traveling with children. But her real education began when she and her partner, Simon Mallender, combined their families and began traveling with their five children.

Ranging in age from 9 to 17, the children have joined them on trips to destinations as far away as Thailand. They have discovered that a great summer holiday doesn't have to include mouse ears or wands (though a water slide never hurts). And although getting to far-off places is always a challenge, it's worth it for the learning experience, Dickson-Smith said.

Here are excerpts from a conversation about family vacations that aren't built around theme parks.

Q. What's the most important thing to look for when planning a family trip?

A. Make sure the destination is a crowd-pleaser. There should be balance between what the kids will enjoy and what you will enjoy.

Q. Should the majority of your budget go to an airline or hotel?

A. That's a toughie. A budget airline, especially on long-haul flights, can put you in a bad mood at the start and ruin any restorative effects. But ultimately, you're going to spend more time in the hotel.

Q. Which hotel amenities are essential?

A. Laundry and a fridge. A fridge is essential for sandwich making.

Q. How do you manage kids on a flight or in airports?

A. The in-flight entertainment and services provided for kids are key. Buy premium economy seating; more space, priority check-in and use of the airport lounge are worth a little extra.

Q. Where should families go if they want to skip the theme park?

A. Kanchanaburi province, in Thailand's west. It's best known for the bridge across the River Kwai. We used River Kwai Jungle Rafts — bamboo huts floating way up river in the jungle. Having the elephants wade up to the veranda each morning was the highlight of the trip. There's no electricity, so no television or Internet. Nearby, River Kwai Resotel has thatched cabin-style accommodations, a gorgeous pool and free bikes.

Q. What would you recommend in the U.S.?

A. The Badlands in the Rocky Mountain states are rich with wonderful museums and tours that allow you to get your hands dirty digging for dinosaurs.

On Montana's famous Dinosaur Trail, kids can get a Prehistoric Passport that includes fossil facts, a section for field notes and space for stamps they get at each of the trail's 15 facilities.

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