Hit the Road Dad!

By Sam Braybon 2023-07-18 16:38:54

Acing travel plans.

The father-centric theme of this month’s issue had me nostalgically recollecting summer travels led by my dear dad back in the day. Hopping into the car at dawn, getting hopelessly lost on backcountry roads, tramping through obscure woodland paths, scrambling through rivers and streams, and being chased by an assortment of wildlife—such trips were not, admittedly, the most meticulously planned, but they were certainly the stuff that memories were made of. Even the simplest of country walks could turn into an almighty adventure by the end of the day.

Aside from being a huge amount of fun, such family escapades have been shown to have multiple benefits for kids, boosting their development and making them more empathetic and adaptable. And so, fathers of Shanghai, I implore you: get your kids out of the house and into the wild! Still, in modern-day Shanghai, even the most spontaneous of parents is going to need to spend a little bit of time planning. After all, escaping one of the world’s largest megacities can be a mission in itself, and the thought of heading into the unknowns of the Chinese wilderness with your little ones is often intimidating.

So, I called up travel enthusiast Maxime Tondeur, who has been exploring China for fourteen years, for a few tips. As both the parent to a seven-year-old son and the founder of Explore Beyond, a company that arranges custom-designed off-the-beaten-track tours for families throughout many different corners of the country, it’s fair to say that he is a dad that has well and truly earned his travel chops. “China is generally a great place for family travel. Hotels and restaurants are often really understanding and flexible when it comes to kids and won’t make you feel uncomfortable if your kids are a bit noisy or restless,” he reassures us.


Max’s Travel Tips for Dads:

1. Aim for areas where you don’t need to spend too much time traveling, and the roads are good. Distances in China can be large, and hours spent in vehicles is not fun for youngsters.

2. Bring some familiar snacks from home. Some places have great food options, while others less so. These can be deployed in hunger emergencies or even used as rewards in challenges or competitions, like reaching the summit of a mountain.

3. Ensure your itinerary is flexible. When faced with rainy days or other obstacles, have a backup plan in place so that you can switch things up easily.

4. Keep things active. Visiting temple after temple can become tedious, but get little ones involved by lighting incense or candles with the locals and really engage them.



Best Destinations for Your Family Expedition:

Shanghai Surrounds: You don’t need to fly across the country; the city’s suburbs have a surprising amount of potential for adventure. Max has arranged walks through the bamboo-lined trails of Songjiang District for wildlife-spotting, cave exploring with glow sticks, picnics, and even designed trips in which families seek out old, unused military bunkers. Another under-explored part of the city is Hengsha Island in the Yangtze River, which is reached by ferry—a real novelty for Shanghai’s mini urbanites. The island is one of the best places in the region for bird-watching and also has camping opportunities.

Yunnan Province: This is a great option for slightly longer trips, as you’ll need a few hours to fly there from Shanghai, and more time to explore the region properly. Despite its relative remoteness, the infrastructure in this part of China is good, with excellent roads linking towns and even high-speed train options in some areas, especially the northwest of the province, with its captivating mountain landscapes and moderate temperatures, even in summer. Yunnan is known for its diverse cuisine, and with plenty of tasty handmade noodles, local flatbreads, and fried potatoes on offer, it is almost certainly one of the most family-friendly eating areas of China. There are also plenty of hands-on activities for youngsters, from horse riding close to the old town of Lijiang to making ceramics and traditional painting in the Tibetan area of Shangri-la.

Guilin & Yangshuo: Reachable from Shanghai within a couple of hours by plane, this is an excellent choice for a long weekend trip. One of the advantages of this area is the excellent choice of hotels and guesthouses located among the area’s famous landscapes, studded with limestone karst peaks and water-filled rice fields. Many of the accommodation options here now include outdoor pools, which provide welcome relief during the area’s hot and sticky summers. For older kids, there are also more active options such as biking along the banks of the Yulong River, riding ATVs along country lanes, and experiencing some of the best rock climbing in China, overseen by professionally qualified instructors. While parts of the area feel incredibly remote, those missing the sights and sounds of urban China can summon a DiDi to take them to Yangshuo’s ever-raucous West Street, where a myriad of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops await.

For more information on Max’s custom-designed family adventures, look up Explore Beyond on WeChat (EBRefinedAdventures) or online at www.explorebeyondchina.com.