Think back to some of your favourite travel memories from childhood: there’s a good chance they involved being buried in sand up to your nose, splashing through mud or literally mucking about. After all, where’s the joy in good, clean fun without getting absolutely filthy?
Ditch your dirty laundry hangups and swap screen time for not-so-clean time with our round-up of the world’s most marvellous messy adventures.
Celebrating colour during Holi Festival, India
The world calendar is jam-packed with messy festivals but none quite make a mark (or leave a stain) like the Hindu spring festival of Holi. Aptly known as the Festival of Colours, the final day of Holi is celebrated by kids and grown-ups alike, who run joyfully through the streets hurling lurid gulal (powder) and dumping buckets of dyed water on anyone in the vicinity. It’s a rainbow riot that nobody can escape… but who would want to?
Parental pointer: Pack white clothes so the colours really pop but avoid wearing your favourite threads – gulal is washable, but removing stains may take more effort than it’s worth. Coconut oil works wonders in cleaning post-revelry rainbow skin.
Making a squelch in Sabeto Mudpool, Fiji
It’s almost impossible to read anything about Fiji without stumbling across words like ‘pristine’ and ‘pure’, but this paradisiacal island nation has a dirty secret: Sabeto Hot Springs. Home to three geothermal sulphur pools and one slurpy mud pit, this natural outdoor spa on Fiji’s ‘big island’ (Viti Levu) offers grubby giggles by the bucketload: wrestle in it, splash it on your travel buddies or indulge in some good old-fashioned mud-wrestling. Don’t fret, mum and dad: the mud is said to be therapeutic, and besides, it all washes off in the springs!
Parental pointer: Tons of tours depart from Nadi each day, or catch a taxi (about FJ$50 return) and go it alone. Don’t forget spare clothes!
Digging for dinosaurs in Colorado, USA
One of only eight US states to have an official dinosaur (in this case, the Stegosaurus), Colorado is the perfect place for budding palaeontologists. The Museum of Western Colorado operates frequent kid-friendly dino digs, fossil scouting hikes and palaeo lab experiences throughout the summer, all run by professional dinomaniacs. There’ll be dirt for days; fortunate fossil hunters may uncover bones from Jurassic giants such as Apatosaurus and Allosauruseven or even unearth remnants of one the smallest dinosaurs in the world – the tiny (just 65cm) Fruitadens.
Parental pointer: Bending over a prehistoric bonebed all day is sweaty work. But digs like these are a great gateway to science, not to mention a wonderful way to develop patience and enhance concentration.
Going gaucho in Argentina
Muck out the stables, frolic with farm animals and giddy-up on a real-life dude ranch (estanciadonjoaquin.com.ar/en). This working cattle station in Argentina’s southwest has a whip-cracking array of activities ideal for the cowpoke-in-training, including all-abilities horse riding, lassoing, livestock herding and cooking on a campfire oven. It’s rousing, rugged, fresh-air fun, and all of it is led by authentic gauchos, Argentinian cowboys who have been honing their skills for centuries.
Parental pointer: Though the kids may end up smelling of eau de horse, this estancia (estate) offers a wealth of grown-up luxuries; indulge in a spa treatment, try your hand at polo or saddle up to the bar to sample fine Argentine vinos.
Barefoot walking in Cornwall, UK
Mud squelching, sand squeaking, leaf crunching... going barefoot is a universal delight. In recognition of the joys of unshod schlepping, the UK’s National Trust have set up their first ever dedicated barefoot walking trail at Cornwall’s historic Godolphin Estate (nationaltrust.org.uk/godolphin). Introducing kids to nature literally from the ground up, the trail takes little feet across everything from scratchy woodchips and pinecones to smooth stones and sloppy mud; there are 20 textures to explore, with plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the daisies.
Parental pointer: Resist the urge to cover up your little one’s soft soles: podiatrists recommend lengthy stints of footwear-free time for kids, citing everything from muscle development to good posture as benefits.
Caving in Costa Rica
Creep and crawl through the tunnels and waterways of the Venado Caves (cavernasdelvenadocr.com) in Costa Rica’s tropical north. A limestone labyrinth winding beneath the earth for almost three kilometres, Venado gives young spelunkers a truly immersive introduction to caving: while some caverns soar to 35 metres, others require squeezing through super-snug passages (one is called The Birth Canal, so you get the idea). Besides the obvious thrills, Venado is chock-a-block with vampire bats, giant spiders, crabs and eyeless fish. Gross, grubby and totally great.
Parental pointer: A change of clothes and a towel are essential. The caves are best suited to kids aged eight and up, and aren’t appropriate for anyone with even the mildest case of claustrophobia.
Doll decorating in St Petersburg, Russia
A matryoshka (wooden nesting doll) is the classic Russian souvenir. But why settle for shop-bought when you can paint your own? Kids visiting St Petersburg can smock up and splatter away in a four-hour workshop hosted by a matryoshka master. Often called babushkas, these iconic dolls usually depict women in traditional dress, but creativity is encouraged: after all, this is the city that gave the world Dostoyevsky, Fabergé eggs and one of the world’s largest art museums, the majestic Hermitage.
Parental pointer: Allow time for a later pickup of your completed doll; the paint should dry for at least two hours. While you’re waiting, head to the nearby Museum of Zoology: kids go wild for its collection of 500,000 taxidermied critters.
Learning to cook in Rome, Italy
Never mind the piazzas: for kids, Rome is all about the pizzas. The Eternal City is packed with places hawking the local style of pie – crispy with simple, scrumptious ingredients – but why leave your hungry youngster to simply mangiare when they can make their own? Held in a luxurious 17th-century palazzo, kids-only cooking classes give aspiring gourmands the chance to create their perfect pizza from scratch; kneading dough, splashing on sauce, crumbling cheese and loading up on toppings from prosciutto to Nutella. Getting messy – think flour in the hair and sauce-smeared smiles – is half the fun.
Parental pointer: Classes also include gelato-making, traditional Italian snacks and, of course, the devouring of completed pizza creations. Come hungry!
Grubby gardening in Melbourne, Australia
Plant, paddle and play dirty in Melbourne at the Royal Botanic Gardens’ famously hands-on Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden. Educational and inclusive, the huge garden is packed with interactive places for kids of all ages to explore. Clamber under rocks in the Ruin Garden, make a splash in the water spout at the Meeting Place and go bug-hunting in the Wetland pond. Aspiring agriculturalists (or anyone who just loves dirt) will dig the Kitchen Garden, filled with seasonal fruits, veggies and herbs.
Parental pointer: The Children’s Garden is a safe place to let little ones wander, with a childproofed exit/entrance. Gardens are accessible to wheelchair users and parents with prams.
Pottery making in Siem Reap, Cambodia
If your mini-me is ready to make the jump from mud pies to something a bit more advanced, it’s time to take the pottery wheel for a spin. Held just down the road from one of the world’s great masterpieces – Angkor Wat – Siem Reap’s ceramics workshops help pint-sized potters create their very own Angkorian bowl, complete with Khmer flower carvings. You’ll get the clay out from their fingernails eventually, but mucky memories – and an impressive ‘potter’s diploma’ – will last forever.