family beach vacation

National Dance Company of Jamaica, Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts

Travel snobs will tell you that a tropical beach vacation is not really traveling. If it involves umbrellas in your drinks, all-you-can-eat buffet and a swim-up bar it doesn’t qualify. I disagree. All traveling is fulfilling even if it is just about relaxing. And there are many ways to turn that beach vacation in a cultural education for the whole family.

Experience the Culture Before You Go

Next month we are heading to Jamaica for the first time. Performing arts are not something you think about when you think of this island on the Caribbean Sea, but when I saw that the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) was coming to the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, I thought it was a great opportunity to expose my family to art and the culture of Jamaica.

family beach vacation

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Learn a Few Words from a Foreign Language

Even if you are only going for a week, if the island or country you are visiting speaks a language other than English, learn a few words or phrases.  Challenge your family to use them and make a game of it or offer a prize to the child who speaks the most words to locals.

Use Your Internet Research Skills

Are there any festivals, parades, fairs or open-air markets that are happening in the area at the time of your stay? Anywhere people are celebrating is bound to be fun.

Art is the heart of most cultures. Contact the hotel or tourism office to find out if there are local art galleries, street art or authentic artisans nearby.

While You are on your Family Beach Vacation

  • Instead of taking a taxi everywhere you go try acting like a local and walk, bike or take public transportation to see the sights. Many tourist destinations have free or low cost buses, streetcars or trains. Cancun, Mexico has buses for under a dollar that take you to the many restaurants and bars are along the hotel zone or into downtown Cancun. Ask your hotel which are dependable and safe. My family once took a “bus” from our hotel in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico to a nearby natural water park and it turned out to be a random guy with a van that did not look particularly official and drove a bit recklessly. It was definitely an experience and we still laugh about it but it’s one we would not want to repeat.
family beach vacation

Photo: Angela Tiffin, HistoryBuff Traveling Mom

  • Step out of your comfort zone and seek out restaurants away from the hotels. Avoid chain restaurants (especially American chains).  Most destinations have family friendly privately owned restaurants.

Bring a Book!

Even if you are kicking back in Miami Beach, find a novel or historical biography set there. Every city in America has a story, a scandal or a historical figure to read about and it will make you feel connected to your destination.

  • has a search function in the Listopia feature that will provide you with a list if you type, “books set in [destination].”