Connecting across generations on a family trip to Borneo that I didn’t have to plan

written by Dianne Bortoletto May 9, 2024
a group of people standing in the borneo forest

Dianne’s no stranger to arranging reunion-style family travel for her parents, siblings, kids and niblings, but the logistics can turn into a nightmare. On an Intrepid family holiday in Borneo, she got to ditch the prep work and just enjoy the moments.

We were deep in Borneo’s Kinabatangan jungle, no power and no wi-fi. I was on a small group family trip with my 75-year-old mother, my sister’s family, and two other families, seven adults and a total of seven kids between us aged between 8 and 15 years.    

It was day three of our Borneo Family Holiday and we were spending the night in a treehouse you can only reach by boat. Our surroundings were a lot more rustic than I’m used to. Bucket showers, mosquito-netted beds, pebbled floors – a new experience and one the kids relished. Tiny grey squirrels darted up trees while curious silver-leaf langurs watched from a careful distance. And because our treehouse is intentionally off-grid, there was plenty of time to bond with each other. 

‘The only time the kids pulled out their phones was to take photos, which I loved,’ said my sister Susie, mum to 12-year-old Sam and 14-year-old Indi. ‘Watching the kids make friends with the other kids over a game of Uno felt like the kind of childhood I had. No one was distracted with screens.’

I’m somewhat of an expert when it comes to multigenerational travel. My family and I live in Australia but in different states. My parents are 4200 kilometres (or two flights, eight hours of travel) from where I live in Western Australia. My sister is in Melbourne, which is 3500 kilometres away or a four-hour flight. So, we travel together. 

We’re not the only ones. There’s been an uptick in multigenerational travel, fuelled in part by retired baby boomers looking to make memories with their grandchildren instead of buying them stuff.  

Our first taste of multigenerational travel was in 2012 with my parents, who were both 65, my sister, my brother-in-law and their young children. We spent a week in Umbria and a week in Sicily – it was wonderful, especially the gorgeous old farmhouse where we stayed in Umbria. 

The following year, I organised a trip for my husband’s side of the family, which included his sister and their 11-year-old triplet boys, my 70-year-old mother-in-law and my parents. Ten of us in total and three countries in three weeks: Cyprus, Greece and Italy.  

We planned it all ourselves. It was a nightmare to manage.  

I had to worry about accommodation for a big group, find places to eat that could fit us all, figure out configurations for hired cars and mediate discussions on activities that suited different interests and varying levels of fitness and mobility or budgets.  

Plus, travelling with in-laws adds another layer of navigation when it comes to multigenerational travel. It’s not as easy to be blunt with the in laws as it is your own family. 

Still, despite the challenges, travelling together is such an enriching experience, and we relive the memories and laugh at stories every time we catch up.  

In 2022, my sister and her family booked Intrepid’s Borneo Family Holiday and invited me along. I was desperate to travel, so I immediately said yes. The idea of Intrepid’s small group approach, local leader, off-the-beaten-path experiences with none of the hassle of organising travel was very appealing.  

I paid a deposit, booked flights and didn’t give it another thought for a couple of months. It was a breeze compared to some of the other big family trips I’ve planned, like 2023’s girl’s trip to Italy with my mum, sister and niece, which took about 80 hours of research and prep, possibly more. 

The only stressful part of my trip to Borneo was trying to pack to cater for the internal flight in Sabah that had a 15-kilogram luggage restriction. Packing for ten days in the steaming jungle and four days in chic Singapore wasn’t easy. I weighed each t-shirt on kitchen scales and based my clothing choices on grams rather than outfit coordination. 

Soon enough, I was wearing my gear along the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. I saw proboscis monkeys, hornbills, kingfishers, silver langur monkeys, catfish and a crocodile.  

We did a short hike to an area that had be deforested and worked with local volunteers to plant trees. It was hot and humid, but we were happy to dig holes. Despite it being quite laborious, the kids didn’t complain once. My mother also enjoyed the experience. It felt good take part in a community project towards regenerating the forest that had been our home for the past few days.  

Travelling on the ground in Borneo with Intrepid was a breeze. Unlike other trips, all I had to do was get up for breakfast at a certain time and everything else was arranged. It made the trip so easy, comfortable and stress-free. 

Free of logistics and itinerary planning, I was able to be fully present with my family, rather than distracted with a mental to-do list of booking taxis, contacting the next accommodation, booking restaurants, day tours and so on.  

Our trip had something for every member of the family, regardless of age and interests – a blend of adventure, culture and relaxation.  

I didn’t need to worry about a thing. Stephanie, our local leader, ensured we were all looked after and she was great at explaining things so the kids would understand. Even on our ‘free’ nights for dinner, Stephanie would share her insider tips on where to get the best seafood or best roti.  

And, as it turns out, the treehouse in Borneo was an unexpected highlight and a great place to spend quality time as a family. It’s where we could truly disconnect from the wider world and reconnect with each other. 

Discover more family adventures with Intrepid.

Feeling inspired?

You might also like

Back To Top