Taylor Donovan packed for his 2 1/2-week trip to Antarctica at his parents' home in Kailua last weekend. Donovan was scheduled to leave with his parents last night for an expedition to Antarctica, the fifth continent he's visited.
Kailua teen represents trend of more youth traveling abroad
Children of well-to-do parents are traveling abroad for the first time at a younger age than did their parents
LAST NIGHT Taylor Donovan, a student from Kailua, was slated to leave for an expedition to Antarctica, the fifth continent he's visited. In June, he goes to Asia and by this time next year, when he's 16, he'll be in Africa, completing his tour of the world's seven major land masses.
"You do get a different perspective when you go to other places," says Donovan, who first went abroad with his parents at age 9 to New Zealand. "If you stay in your hometown, you see the same things every day. It's kind of boring."
Donovan isn't alone. Children of Americans with household incomes of $150,000 and more are traveling internationally for the first time at a younger age than did their parents, who went abroad at age 19 on average. Today, about two-thirds of children 17 and under in such families have already been outside the country, according to American Express Co.'s Platinum Luxury Survey of affluent U.S. households released in September.
Families like the Donovans, who are medical industry executives, see school-holiday periods as golden opportunities to explore the world together. This year they are heading to Europe, the Seychelles and offbeat islands of the Caribbean such as Anguilla. The richest rent their own villas and charter yachts, travel experts say.
"We see a real shift of the family wanting to include the kids," when going outside the U.S., says Mark Belles, executive vice president of sales at Virtuoso, a travel agents' network based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Families want to enhance their "most precious commodity, which is time spent with the people you love most in your life," he says.
THAT'S WHY Annette McEvoy, a 56-year-old vice president at Gap Inc., and her husband are taking their 11- and 19-year-old daughters to St. Barthelemy, part of the French West Indies, on Dec. 25 for five days.
"It's just being together and having a special time away," says McEvoy, a New Yorker who first went abroad at age 19 and took her daughters to the Caribbean as toddlers. "We take them everywhere."
Dorothy Polash, who didn't go abroad until her forties, initially took her two daughters on an international trip when they were five and eight years old. This year, she and husband Peter, are taking their teenagers to Brazil.
"The girls are great, great travelers," says Dorothy, who lives in Woodside, Calif., with her husband, a 59-year-old retired software developer. "They love to go everywhere, see it all, eat the food."
Virtuoso, which oversees North American bookings for Virgin Galactic's space flights, has seen a "double-digit" increase in U.S. bookings for international family holiday trips this year, Belles says.
Travel is among the first three "passions" of well-off men and women in the U.S., according to the American Express Platinum survey of 1,457 such people. Three-quarters of the adults say they include their children.
In the past two years, there's been an "amazing change" in family-travel patterns, with parents and children wanting to go further afield, says San Francisco-based American Express travel agent Maggie Eskicioglu. She planned a two-week trip that began Nov. 25 for a couple with four children aged four to 10. Their destinations: Paris; Salzburg, Austria; Budapest; and Lucerne, Switzerland.
"It used to be just London and Paris," she says, adding that trips often last a month. "Now people are visiting temples in Cambodia, seeing Hanoi, and stopping in Bali. They are looking to build cultural experiences."
Her two-week European tours for families of four start at $13,000, Eskicioglu says. Most of her clients travel in business class and stay in the best hotels, spending about $20,000, she says.
Parents want their kids to play with children from other cultures, and practice the languages they are learning in school, says Eskicioglu.
"I also get a lot of cooking class requests, like authentic pizza in Italy," she says.
To minimize the hassles of traveling with children, the well-to-do take nannies, hire private jets and reserve hotel suites, travel experts say. They also get dedicated on-site concierges.
FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Taylor, who is interested in marine biology and studies Japanese, says he found his first trip abroad with his parents to New Zealand "a little scary." Now, "I'm kind of pushing them" to go places, he says.
Other kids feel the same. More than a quarter of 1,000 U.S. teens aged 13 to 18 said they were "passionate" about travel, according to a September survey by the Harrison Group, a Waterbury, Connecticut based research firm.
That first trip Donovan took with his parents cost about $21,000. The "White Continent" voyage they were to begin last night, at more than $35,000, is their most expensive yet. It will take them to Santiago, Chile, via Dallas-Fort Worth, and then to Ushuaia, Argentina, where they will board the National Geographic Endeavour.
The ship will cross the Drake Passage between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula. Passengers will kayak through "berg fields," hear "Antarctic seltzer" -- gases that escape from dissolving ice -- and study penguins and whales.
"We want him to have a lifelong passion for learning," says Carol Donovan, 48, an administrator at a Honolulu medical clinic where her husband, Charles, 54, is a medical editor. "Travel is probably one of the purest forms of education."
"We live from trip to trip," says Carol, who traveled abroad for the first time at age 16. "Had I known, I probably would have started Taylor even younger."