Aspen Times Weekly: Family travel to Scotland

by Amiee White Beazley

Now that spring is officially here, there is one thing to start thinking about — summer — and more specifically summer travel. I’ve been talking to the experts, reviewing the best plans for solo travel, adventure travel and family travel. And, surprisingly, at the top of my destination list for all three categories is Scotland.

According to Janel Georgitsis, program manager for REI Adventure in Europe, Scotland has seen an increase of 150 percent in bookings for REI trips, and family trips in Scotland is one of their most popular offerings.

“Our Scotland Family Adventure trip is truly multi-sport,” says Georgitsis, who personally designed the family itinerary in Scotland. “It has kayaking, canoeing, cycling, archery and a ranger-led hike. It’s a unique itinerary and there is nothing similar in the Scottish Highlands for adventure activity and an introduction to Scotland.”

Just a seven hour flight to Edinburgh from the U.S. East Coast, Scotland, and in the Scottish Highlands in particular, offer wild landscapes, great people and while increasingly popular, the region’s relatively small tourism numbers mean uncrowded landmarks and the ability for true immersion into local village culture.

“For first-time families traveling to Europe, it’s not as daunting of a destination,” she says. “It’s easy to travel there and the transportation and the language (is similar). It’s just exotic enough. This trip can be super adventurous and we get into castles and the cultural side of Scotland, too.”

Which means delving into a bit of Harry Potter adventure, too.

While on the The Jacobite steam train, also known as the Hogwart’s Express in the Harry Potter series of books and films, guests, outfitted with wizard and witch wands, hats and robes, get into the actual cabin seen in the film as they ride. Families also get their hands into Scottish soil, participating in the John Muir Program. Like a scavenger hunt, the kids get a roster ahead of time, and when all of the challenges — which include discovery, exploration, conservation and sharing of experiences — are complete they receive an official John Muir Award.

The Scotland Family Adventure trip is offered in July and August ($4,399 for adults and $3,999 for children) and provides expert guides to lead its small groups — of which private group departures are available. They plan and lead trips with the whole family in mind. From grandparents to children, they avoiding overscheduling.

“We don’t want to kill the surprise and delight, but we do let them know what they are doing, making them feel comfortable by showing them what each day’s itinerary looks like with a briefing the night before,” she says. “We do it all so that parents don’t have to think about it.”

In addition to handling all of the logistics, there are other benefits to traveling with a local guide, says Georgitsis. “A local guide can share insights and lead guest to spots where not every tourist goes. These people live in these areas.”

Insider knowledge is just one way to get kids excited about investing time into the locations that they visit and creating lifelong adventurers in Scotland and beyond.

“Getting outside their comfort zone of standard daily life and experiencing another culture — the food, the language, the scenery, landscapes and wildlife, gives them understanding and compassion for other cultures. They learn there is a whole way of life that is just different than anything they know,” she says.

Amiee White Beazley writes about travel for the Aspen Times Weekly. Reach her at or follow her @awbeazley1.