Children and Teenagers
Green Tortoise Adventures can be an awesome experience for young people, but there are some things you should consider if you either plan on traveling with children or allowing your child to ride unaccompanied on the Green Tortoise.
Our Policy On Children
Traveling by Tortoise is really fun and social, and young people usually have a great time on our buses! However, Tortoise-style travel is not for everyone, and this may particularly be true for minors since our trips are participatory. If traveling with your young one will inhibit you from helping out, these may not be the trips for you. That being said, the atmosphere is generally very relaxed, and while you are expected to pitch in, you are not required to help out at every meal. Since your driver will be engaged in organizing a great trip, he or she cannot be expected to look after your child/teen.
Our Yosemite or Death Valley trips are a great way for families and young adventurers to get a feel for the Tortoise environment and consider whether or not it would be appropriate to take a longer trip. We discourage children under eight years of age from going on longer trips unless both parent and child have camping/travel experience.
Since our tours are not guided, when we arrive at our destinations, you are free to explore at a pace that is appropriate for your family.
No unaccompanied minors (under 18 years) are allowed on adventure trips without first consulting our office manager.
All decisions about young travelers are made on a case-by-case basis.
Please contact us if you're planning to travel with a child or send your child.
Traveling on Green Tortoise with a Young Child
By the mother of a young Tortoise lover
This is an unsolicited essay we received from one of our passengers, who took our Death Valley trip with her four-year-old daughter. Because it answers many of the questions we get about children on the trips, we decided to post it here in its entirety.
Our adventure started when I was reading the latest Tortoise catalogue, drooling over the itineraries as I had for years, and saw one of the trips I had wanted to take when I was pregnant, but never did. "Look at this," I said to Anna, "They even go to Death Valley." The name certainly caught Anna's imagination. Four months later, we were on a Tortoise bus headed for one of the best experiences of our relationship since Anna was born four and a half years earlier.
The trip was not all easy. We experienced unseasonably cold weather with snowstorms and night winds that bent the poles of our cozy tent. As with any day in a child's life, there were trying moments. But as soon as we got home, we started thinking about where we would like to go on our next Tortoise adventure.
Not a lot of young children ride the Tortoise for longer excursions. I offer these observations about our experience for the benefit of parents who are considering bringing their kids on a trip and for the information of those who travel with them.
Although I had plenty of trepidation about taking a three-day bus tour with such a little person, I had reasons to think we would probably have a good time. First of all, Anna's personality is outgoing, and she thrives on adult attention and companionship. Second, we were somewhat seasoned Tortoise travelers. Our shorter Tortoise trips had begun when Anna was an infant and continued at the rate of about one a year, running from San Francisco up to her great-grandmother's in Corvallis, Oregon. We always had fun, and Anna much preferred the Tortoise option to flying (which cost three or four times as much). Also, Anna was interested in the desert because of books we had read about it. When she learned that I had wanted to see Death Valley since I was nine, she wanted to go too.
One of the reasons the Tortoise works for us is the nature of the people it attracts. Although we have been on Tortoise trips where one or two individuals had a negative effect on the rest of the bus, we have generally found our fellow travelers to be considerate, engaging, and open to Anna in a way that our society at large, perhaps San Francisco society in particular, is not. This is remarkable in that the majority of Tortoise travellers are not parents. Anna was all over the bus, playing cards here, talking a receptive ear off there, sharing observations on the view out the window, or sitting in the buddy seat next to the driver. As a result, I got to have some grown-up conversations. I liked that. When Anna clambered back to where I was, she was usually in a good mood, her extrovert self charged by contact with so many other souls. And I know that many of our crew were happy to have her along, too, because they thanked me after the trip for "providing the entertainment!" I want to thank everyone who became her friend in the course of those long rolling miles.
We prepared for our adventure by taking as many long walks and hikes as we could beforehand. Anna is a pretty intrepid hiker for about two miles, which is about the length of the walks on this trip, but she gets tired. When we went on hikes in the remarkable Death Valley terrain, Anna was lucky enough to have a sizeable sag team. When she got weary, one of her friends was always willing to heave her up on their shoulders for a ways, even when I was exhorting her to just keep walking. I wouldn't recommend Tortoise trips for a child who isn't excited about nature or getting out to see it on foot, and I wouldn't say that every group of passengers can be predicted to be as child-friendly as the ones we were on, but it does seem to be the norm.
Another note about bus communities. Tortoise groups have a reputation for partying, and in our experience, they lived up to that reputation. However, we were not exposed to any crazy drunks or otherwise out-of-control people on our trip. We did observe that another Tortoise crowd we teamed up with for one night had gotten pretty wild in their eight days together. Our bus had three mother-daughter duos and several over-thirty people, and these, plus the shorter length of our trip, probably contributed to the tamer quality of our gang. I was grateful. I have since thought that it would be great, for my own assurance of mutual parenting support, to coordinate travel with another family.
The most difficult aspect of our trip was dinner. Tortoise trips are about cramming as much sightseeing into your day as possible, so we got back to camp at dusk and STARTED cooking then, at about the time Anna usually goes to bed. On two of those late nights, as I tried to help with dinner, Anna confessed in a bone-weary murmur, "Mama, I'm not having much fun." The good news was that Anna is anything but a picky eater and loved such gourmet dishes (Bill, one of our drivers, is a famously good cook) as Thai curried vegetables with quinoa. A note to all who travel in the company of children: I believe that a four-year-old child who is hungry has a RIGHT to cut in line for food. If you have not had a child, this might not have occurred to you. Children's bellies are little, so they get hungry sooner than you do. Let them go first.
In summary, I would recommend that parents:
- Look at the child's temperament, eating habits, and attitude towards the outdoors in deciding whether to take a trip with the child. It is especially helpful if you have been camping together and know how your child sleeps in a tent;
- be sure you expect the child to be able either to help with Tortoise tasks e.g. food preparation or to give you space to do them;
- plan a longer Tortoise trip after a successful shorter one;
- prepare physically by hikes, and be prepared to try a few of these to gauge the child's readiness for this kind of adventure;
- prepare the child mentally by discussing, reading, and involving the child in preparations;
- pack some snacks for those late nights and long drives.
Jennifer, Anna's mom