8 Ways to know if your child could handle a family trek in Nepal
Let’s be clear. I'm not suggesting that you and your child hike Mount Everest, the highest peak on the planet. Not even close. However, it is possible to book a family trek with a Nepalese trekking outfitter that will get you close enough to see the famous peak at a distance or its equally impressive cousins along the Annapurna range. But this adventure should not be undertaken lightly.
I should know. My sons, ages 10 and 13, and I attempted this trip. And while we never did see the Himalayas (read on), our experience holds many lessons for you.
Here are 8 things to consider before booking a family trek in Nepal.
1/Does my child travel long distances well
It is a long way to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and starting point for all treks, involving multiple flights and multiple layovers in gateway cities like Dubai, Bangkok, and Seoul. Plan on traveling two days with some major jet lag on the back side.
2/Has my child traveled internationally?
Kathmandu is a much larger city that you might imagine, and it can be an assault on the senses: lots of people, lots of chaotic traffic, and unfortunately, lots of trash. And keep in mind, the Nepalese people are still recovering from one of the most devastating earthquakes in history. It’s a lot to take in. That’s why most foreigners head to Thamel, a touristy area of the city that caters to backpackers. Give in and do the same. And despite it being a touristy area, you’ll find prices in Thamel to be favorable. For example, six pairs of quality Columbia hiking socks will only cost you $17!
3/Can my child go with the flow?
And can you? Know that a three-star hotel in Nepal is not equivalent to a three-star hotel in the United States. The cable may not work, because the hotel didn’t pay its bill; the WiFi will likely be down; and those little green bugs on the sheets… we just couldn't seem to get rid of them. My point here: work with your tour provider to book the nicest hotel that you can afford. This advice is especially true when it comes to your accommodations on the trek itself. A mountainside teahouse sounds quaint, but after five hours of hiking, you may be disappointed to find yourself with four walls, three cots with thin mattresses, and one light bulb. The bathroom will likely be a hole in the floor with a faucet for rinsing hands in a closet around the corner. Yes, it’s all part of the experience. Just be sure that your child is ready for that kind of experience.
While you’ll find food of all sorts in the Thamel area (I highly recommend La Dolce Vita for real Italian and a nice terrace view, plus Himalayan Java is an outstanding cafe with free WiFi), as you continue your travels, you will be eating like the locals. The Nepalese eat dal bhat at least twice a day. It’s a platter dish with rice, lentil soup, potatoes, cauliflower, and other vegetables. It’s good and filling, but if your child is a fussy eater, you’ll be hard pressed to find alternatives on your trek.
4/Does my child suffer from altitude sickness?
You likely won’t know if your child is susceptible to altitude sickness before the trip, so it’s best to go prepared. I’d recommend getting a prescription for Acetazolamide from your travel clinic before you leave. In addition, drink a lot of bottled water, avoid heavy foods, and for adults, skip the alcohol. Also bring some powered Gatorade, in case you get sick and need to rehydrate.
Speaking of getting sick, my youngest son got violently ill the day before we departed on our trek. Though we tried to be very careful about not drinking the water, we believe that he ate something at the guesthouse restaurant that caused him to vomit 20+ times over the following seven hours. No, it wasn’t fun, and in fact, it was downright scary. Intensely dehydrated, he didn’t fully recover for several days.
5/Can you travel outside the summer months?
Because of our overall trip itinerary, we went to Nepal in July. You shouldn’t. The best time to plan a trek is September or October. Yes, it’s high season, and yes, you’ll pay a little more, but to come all the way to Nepal and not see the Himalayas (more on that to come) because of monsoon rains and cloud cover is a shame.
When you do plan your trip, be sure to pad the backend. In other words, leave your sightseeing in Kathmandu until after the trek. That way, if you trek gets delayed, you can cut short your sightseeing and still make your return flight home.
Yes, there can be delays. From Kathmandu, you’ll be flying to either Lukla for the Everest trek or Pokhara for the Annapurna trek. While we were originally booked for the Everest route, we had to change plans with the tour operator at the last minute. The flight to Lukla had been canceled for the three previous days because of a storm. Even if we could fly out, the chances of returning to Kathmandu on time were slim, meaning we’d miss our flight to Bangkok. Again, being flexible is key.
6/Does your child love to hike?
This may seem like an odd question, but in order to enjoy a trek in Nepal, you and your child not only should like to hike, you should love to hike. You’ll be doing a lot of it: 4+ hours a day for five days. My older son does. With his long legs and non-stop endurance, the guides joked that he was part sherpa.
On the first day, the scenery was beautiful. The forest was lush and green. The river was brimming with cold mountain water. We walked through countless villages, where people greeted us with “namaste” and folded hands. It was a wonderful glimpse into how the people here live.
But my younger son, still recovering, was miserable. He isn’t the hiker that my older son is. And while exerting himself, it was difficult for him to get ahead of his dehydration.
7/Does your child have the physical ability to do a trek?
Our guide, Rosan, classified the four-hour hike on the first day as “easy.” It was nothing of the sort. It’s important to understand that the Nepalese are born to hike. They do it every day. It is a way of life. For tourists, these treks can be grueling. Before you bring your child along, be sure that they’ve successfully completed multi-day hikes in high altitude areas as training. The trail was steep, rocky, and wet, and my youngest really struggled.
To be honest, even if he had been completely healthy, the trek was too difficult. He was near tears several times. I tried to remain encouraging – “just focus on getting to that tree. Ok, now let’s get to that rock.” He started cramping. Then came the monsoon rains. (Since we’d left the hotel later than scheduled due to his illness, we hit the afternoon rains.) At that point, he just couldn’t go any farther, and we still had an hour before reaching the teahouse, where we’d be spending the night. So I did the only thing I could. I had him jump up on my back, and I carried him uphill in a monsoon.
Sound dramatic? It kinda was. The trek was truly beyond his physical ability. Upon arriving at the teahouse, I explained to our guides that we would not be able to continue. The following day, we descended and spent the next four days in Pokhara before returning to Kathmandu, never seeing the Himalayas.
8/Choose your tour operator wisely
Do your research in advance before choosing a tour operator. Be clear on exactly what you’re getting. Discuss with the operator your intention to bring your child. Ask about accommodations, food, and evacuation procedures. Remember, you get what you pay for, and this is not the place to skimp and go with the lowest-priced outfitter.
I highly recommend Outshine Adventure and its director, Gokul Sapkota. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of our trip - my son’s illness, the abandoned trek, and no mountain sightings - Gokul and his team were flexible and provided great service. He could have easily refused to refund any of our money and would have been in his right to do so. Instead, he arranged for us to stay in a beautiful hotel with Western amenities and a pool in Pokhara for four days, while my son recovered.
Nepal is a country with breathtaking scenery and kind-hearted people. It’s worth visiting but with your eyes wide open to the challenges.