Last summer when my family took a trip to South Dakota, pretty much everything we did was a tip from my friend Declan. He planned his family’s France trip last year, and he has convinced his family to go to Croatia this summer! I would be happy to keep following Declan’s itineraries. Now, I need to convince my parents to take me to Europe! Declan has tons of great tips on how to do that. — Oscar
By Declan Halloran
I am a sixth grader in Chinese immersion, and I am a total geography buff. When I was little, I memorized all the capitals in the United States and most of the world a few years later. I sleep under a world map and mostly read atlases and travel guides for fun, even when I am not going on a trip.
I think that my love of travel started when I started being able to read and look the map above my bed–it was from the ’90s and it still had Yugoslavia on it! For Christmas 2009, I got a Smart Globe which told me facts about the world and played music from each country, which helped broaden my interests of cultures and languages. Also, I remember when I was 8 or 9, reading my mom’s desk reference book and finding out that you actually need a passport to get to other countries. So I asked for a passport for my 10th birthday. In September of that year, we drove six hours to Canada just to “try out” the passport. On a totally different note, learning Chinese greatly influenced my view of the world and other cultures. Speaking Chinese also makes me more interested in other languages. The thing that really influenced me was one day last March, I checked out some Colorado and Arizona guidebooks, and then over lunch, our family talked about how we might instead try something international. And that just blew my mind. The next day I checked out dozens of international guidebooks and started researching immediately.
From the Black Hills to Iceland: Favorite Places to Travel
In the U.S. and Canada, I love visiting national and state/provincial parks because they are always well preserved and have beautiful nature. One of my favorite national parks is Badlands National Park. Even though it was only a seven-hour drive from my home in the Twin Cities, the landscape was so diverse. I also loved how lush the Black Hills of South Dakota are and the granite pinnacles there. In Minnesota, I love Temperance River State Park. The beginning is beautiful, but if you keep going, it gets more and more like Colorado and some of the places in the Rockies. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada is a nearly untouched park in the Thunder Bay peninsula. I love the trails they have there because it seems like a fairy tale world, with mist, moss and mushrooms on the ground. In France, my favorite place that we visited was a small town in the Luberon called Gordes because of the narrow, steep, cobblestone alley ways that run through the town, with medieval buildings and local businesses on the side. In Iceland, I have two favorite things. One is a place called Gljúfrabúi, which is a waterfall that is hidden in a cave. The second is a black sand beach called Reynisfjara, which has giant basalt columns and rock formations.
Summer Travel Plans, and How I Got My Parents On Board
This coming summer, we are flying into Venice, driving to the Italian Dolomites to hike, going to the Julian Alps in Slovenia to see lakes and mountains, and to the coast of Croatia for Roman ruins, beaches and waterfalls.
Getting my parents on board for this trip was a long process. First, I had to get them interested in the European options. Then I had to find reasons to prove that the European options were better than the California options they had been considering. The first step to proving it was budgeting out the trip and finding the cheapest flight possible. After we budgeted it out, we found that the Europe option was indeed cheaper. But my mom and dad were still not convinced. I actually ended up writing a persuasive speech to give to my parents—podium, microphone, the works! Some of my best reasons included:
- We are at the perfect age. Pretty soon, my brother and I might be teenagers looking at our phones. Right now, we still love you.
- My dad was thinking about some house projects. But you really do get more out of the experience of a trip rather than a new dishwasher!
- Travel sticks with you, and every time you travel, you learn something new…culture, language and geography as well.
Kids can really can do everything except for booking!
I love Duolingo. It is an interactive language learning app, which makes language learning like a fun and a competitive game. I also really like Rick Steves’ Europe website, which includes wonderful travel guides and tips from personal experience. The forum on that site is also great because you can hear from locals or other travelers. I love RoutePerfect.com because it maps your road trip in a way where it’s easy to change and customize your plan. And I like to use Google Earth to street view our hotels and destinations. It gives you a sense of what the location is like.
For flights, we loved Icelandair—it’s luxurious, even in coach, and has spectacular service.
I like the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler to research destinations. DK travel books are great for a visual overview of the destination. I like National Geographic guidebooks for the pictures; Frommer’s and Fodor’s are good for the information.
The last thing I would say is: ask around. Ask people who have been to the places you are going. Sometimes that is the most valuable information you can get.
- Speak the local language–try to speak it and they will like you.
- Try the local cuisine (don’t just go to McDonald’s).
- Stay at a friend’s house if you can.
- Pack light. You’d be surprised how much you have to carry your stuff around.
- Driving around is always better than any other form of transportation. You can stop along the way and you have so much more freedom.
- If you are taking a road trip, definitely listen to audiobooks. It makes a 6-hour road trip go fast.
- If you live in the Midwest like I do, start with Canada! It’s six hours from the Twin Cities and incredibly different.
Thanks for all the great travel advice, Declan! We can’t wait to hear about your summer adventures.