Trip Recap: Jordan with Kids
Welcome to my new travel blog! I’ll be doing my best to keep you posted with my learnings from the trips I take as part of running Travel Made Joyful.
To be honest, I think blogs these days are being read less and less with the advent of podcasts and YouTube videos. However, it’s hard to argue with the fact that seeing things written out or put into a text format can be immensely helpful when putting a trip together. So, I’ll be keeping these more high-level and logistics-oriented.
Jordan! The Basics
Who: I traveled as part of a private tour led by Rabea with Go Jordan tours and Eat Smart Culinary Travel. My dear friend and former colleague, Susan Chwae, has been an incredible mentor to me as I got started in the travel industry, and I was honored to be able to learn from her. Eat Smart does small group culinary tours around the world, and as I wanted to learn more about group trips, Susan invited me along for this trip.
In addition to Susan and her mom, Joan, who started the company, there were four other people on this trip, plus my son Porter and me!
What: Our tour was an overview of Jordan – from history, to food, to natural wonders. While I felt like I saw the essence of the country on this trip, there is so much more to explore! I kept remarking how amazing it was that a country the size of our home state (Wisconsin) had so many world treasures.
When: We flew out of Chicago O’Hare on November 1st, and returned on November 10th. November was an ideal time to visit Jordan, as the weather was sunny and warm during the day, and cool enough at night where a jacket was all you needed.
Why: I brought Porter because I already have several trips planned for my daughter, Riley, and me as she gets older, and I wanted a kid’s perspective so I could more accurately plan trips to Jordan for others with kids in the future.
I also wanted to see what it was like to travel as part of a small group. I’ve never done that before, and I think group trips tend to get a bad reputation. This was the perfect size group, and we all got along fantastically well (which I think is credit to the organizer).
Finally, I was curious what it would be like to be on a trip where I wasn’t the one doing all the planning. As the trip planner for our family, I know that trips aren’t nearly as relaxing for me as they are for others, because I’m always thinking about what needs to happen and what is coming next. It was pretty awesome to just need to know when to show up each morning and then enjoy the day!
Where: Here’s where we spent our trip days.
- November 2-5: Amman, including touring Amman itself, Jerash and Umm Qais ruins
- November 5-6: Madaba, Mount Nebo, and Petra
- November 7: Wadi Rum
- November 8-9: Dead Sea, Al Ma’wa for Nature Center
- November 10: Fly home
What I’d Do Again
My absolute favorite was the Wadi Rum. This would be a must-do for any trip to Jordan in my book. I’d even consider two nights so you could explore the desert at night and during the day. The Jeep tour at sunset was perfect, but there were some sunrise options, as well as riding camels, doing a hot air balloon ride, etc. that would have been amazing, too. Plus, it’s a nice way to just relax and feel totally disconnected from the world.
Kids will love being able to climb on the rocks and explore, and if we would have had more time, we would have also paid to do one of the stargazing experiences with one of the high-powered telescopes.
Petra was really cool, too, but I would certainly recommend going with a private guide. If I would have tried to go on my own, I would have missed almost all the significance and history of what I was seeing (there aren’t signs like in a museum). Having a guide telling us about everything around us was critical, and I think part of the responsibility of learning about this place.
The Dead Sea was cool, but for me, the floating experience was a “one and done” experience. My favorite part of being there was the beautiful resorts along the shore, and the amazing tropical climate! I’d love to end a trip here with two solid days of just relaxing at the fantastic resorts.
For anyone with kids, I think a trip to Al Ma’wa for Nature was awesome – we basically had a private tour of the sanctuary, and the location itself is beautiful, too. It’s important for kids and adults alike to recognize what we can do to help with conserving and protecting our animal species. Just note that it’s not easy to get to (45 min. from Amman), so you would likely need to hire a driver if you don’t have your own car.
What I’d Change
I’m going to admit something: I’m not much of a history/museum person.
Okay, it’s out there.
That said, I think it’s important to learn about history to show respect and to learn about other cultures.
I do have a limit though, and I begin to tune out – it’s like I’m a sponge that has hit maximum absorbency. In that way, I sympathize with my kids, who are incredibly patient and try their best in these settings. Porter and I both felt that we hit our ancient ruins limit, and would likely try to trim this portion in future trips (especially for those who have kids).
For example, I think seeing Jerash would be plenty, and you might not need to see Umm Qais if you have limited time (or are like me and are a ‘museum-light’ person). You might even consider just seeing the Citadel and Roman Theater in Amman and calling it good.
As with Petra, I think a trip to Jerash warrants a private guide, otherwise it’s just an impressive collection of Roman ruins. If you’re going to go, do it properly and hire a historian to guide you through it.
Otherwise, here’s what I’d allot for a first-time visit to Jordan, along with what I’d recommend for an itinerary:
- Fly in to Amman – half day to adjust
- Explore Amman – 1 day
- Petra – 1 day
- Wadi Rum – 1-2 days
- Dead Sea – 2 days
- Fly out of Amman in the late morning or early afternoon
There’s a lot more you COULD do, but if you’re hoping to see some of the major sites in Jordan, I think it’s a great starting point.
Tips for Travelers to Jordan
- Don’t be afraid or worried when people come up to your kids and pat their heads or talk to them. I know in the US we aren’t huge fans of unwanted touching (and I specifically talk with my kids about their right to maintain their own physical boundaries), but I have to say – this is harmless and well-intended. The Jordanians are such family-oriented people and love children, and you could literally see how much they wanted to make sure that we both felt welcomed. Trying to prepare kids in advance is a good idea though, so they don’t get freaked out.
- Try to learn a bit of Arabic. I know this is a standard tip, but honestly, I think learning please, thank you, good morning, hello, and goodbye was very much appreciated. You could see people’s faces light up when my son said “Shukran” (thank you) and after asking people at restaurants or hotels, we learned how to say a few basic phrases. People were happy to teach us, which was fun for both parties.
- Be a respectful representative of your home country and dress modestly. I’m not saying you need to dress as the locals do, but I never wore shorts (other than in the gym, and I was usually alone in there), and wore shirts that covered my shoulders all but one time (bad layering for the weather on my part!). It’s just a nice gesture.
- Have more local currency than you might think. While credit cards are accepted, sometimes cashiers are a bit quick with processing in USD vs. JD, and you’ll get charged a hefty markup fee. I only had 65JD on hand, and should have had a few hundred.
- At the Dead Sea, if your kids have any cuts, the salt is going to get in it and STING. Porter hated the feeling, and the salty rock crystals as we were getting in were the last straw. We had bandages to cover his few cuts (and they were small cuts, y’all) and it didn’t help one bit. I find it best to prep kids in advance, and make sure they go in slowly and make sure they don’t splash water in their eyes or mouth.
- In Petra – know that you are going to be asked (I would more accurately say harassed) about having camel rides, photo ops, donkey rides, etc. from many people who are trying to earn a living. Be firm, know it will happen, and be okay with saying no repeatedly. That said, I paid for Porter to ride a camel from the Treasury to the start of the hike to the monastery, and I think it saved our day. His little legs put in 26k steps that day, and that was with a nearly 2-mile camel ride! A one-way ride was enough, but it might be worth it if you want to explore and don’t want to deal with hot, cranky kids the entire walk back. Bottom line: know what is included with your ticket, and be prepared with how much you should expect to pay vs. what is overpriced. Our YouTube videos tell you what we paid and what our guide said was standard, and your guide can, too.
Thank you to everyone who made us feel so welcome in Jordan. I’m already working on bringing the rest of our family back next year, and would love to help more people explore this beautiful and friendly country. We created a few videos (below) to share with kids (or others) who are interested in learning more.
Also, I just have to say that my favorite part of this trip was being able to spend one-on-one time with my son. I’ve never had more than a day or so with him by myself, and the dynamic was so fun. I got to see who he is on a much deeper level, and our relationship and bond certainly deepened after traveling together. I will treasure this experience with him always, and highly recommend taking trips (big or small) with your kids individually when the chance arises.
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