The Best First-Time International Trips for Families, According to a Travel Expert

Mother and toddler playing at Arcos de Valdevez historic center in Portugal.Photo:

Joao Inacio/Getty Images

As Global CommUnity Travel’s co-founder, I love fielding the question, “Where should I take my kids on their first international trip?” While exploring the options (there are many!) is exciting, it can also feel overwhelming.  

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To help narrow your choices, consider a few questions. Are you longing for rugged (or tame) outdoor adventures? Does a culturally focused, urban journey pique your interest? Or are you after a beachy paradise with plenty of room for watersports? I’ve found most families enjoy destinations with activities from two or more of these categories. 

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In fact, Global CommUnity’s three most requested first-time family vacation destinations — Costa Rica, Portugal, and Italy — check all three boxes. Here’s why family travelers love these destinations.

Two children watch the sunset on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.

Getty Images

Outdoor Adventures in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an ideal destination for families on their first international trip. Flights from the U.S. are short, affordable, and within two (or fewer) time zones. English is widely spoken, and American dollars are welcome. 

Outdoor adventure and chances to observe wildlife prove plentiful, from lush rainforests to towering waterfalls and pristine beaches. Family-friendly activities include kayaking, river tubing, rock climbing, wildcat feeding, night frog walks, wildlife sanctuary tours, and more. 

Visiting Costa Rica means experiencing its life-changing local culture, Pura Vida (the pure or simple life), firsthand. And Costa Rica’s uber-fresh cuisine satisfies even the pickiest eaters. Pro Tip: Our half-day chocolate tour and waterfall adventure is a smash hit with kids and adults!

Cultural Discovery in Portugal

Portugal is a quick flight from the East Coast, yet you’ll feel transported to another world.  Candy-colored villages, rugged Atlantic coastline, golden-hued beaches, and time-honored cities welcome visitors. 

With firm borders since A.D. 1139, Portugal is the oldest country in Europe, boasting a cultural heritage to prove it! Crack the secret recipe for pastel de nata, Portugal’s iconic egg tart, with a renowned baker in Mafra. Explore ancient and medieval Lisbon, the nation’s capital, on a tour steeped in history and legend. 

Savor the wine country at São Lorenço, a pastoral 200-year-old estate near Lake Alqueva. Besides tastings, wine country affords myriad cultural activities for families, including custom bike tours, archaeological guided visits, hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, fishing, and boat tours. 

Two children on the shore of the Liguria region, Italy.

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Beach Time on the Italian Riviera

Italy has it all when it comes to outdoor adventure, cultural exploration, and luxurious beaches. Dynamic cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice overflow with cosmopolitan culture. And the pastoral countryside invites families to discover organic farms and vineyards that fuel the nation’s delectable cuisine and delightful viticulture. 

The Italian Riviera means endless beaches, watersports galore, and resort-style living. From stunning cliffside towns to posh resorts and the colorful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, you’ll never run out of kid-friendly places to explore. 

Beaches entice sunbathers, swimmers, and sandcastle builders. The clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean encourage snorkeling and sailboat trips to sunny, remote islands. Incredible cuisine (hello gelato!) and a warm, family-friendly atmosphere provide the exclamation point to an unforgettable first-time family vacation.

Christie Holmes is a Travel + Leisure A-List advisor. To contact her, email

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