Chatting about family-friendly spring travel

Little R, using technology.

Little R, using technology.

I’m lucky enough to have some pretty incredible friends in the family travel blogging space. Naturally, then, when a handful of them ask me to participate in a TwitterChat about something near and dear to my heart, I drop everything to make it happen.

That’s precisely why I’m participating in the next #KidsNTrips chat, scheduled for tomorrow—Thursday, March 5, 2015.

The chat kicks off at 9:30 a.m. and lasts for an hour. The subject: family-friendly spring travel.

Over the course of the hour, I’ll share my picks for best spring break trips with kids, off-the-beaten-path destinations in spring, and more. I also will share some tips about maximizing car space on spring break road trips, getting overtired kids to do homework on the road, and how to make sure you’re choosing the best hotel for everyone in your brood.

Of course I’ll be in illustrious company. Also on the line will be Coleen Lanin, of TravelMamas.com; Katie Dillon, of La Jolla Mom; and my buddy, Jen Leo, who reviews kids apps at BestKidsApps.com and also writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Did I mention we’ll be giving away some pretty amazing prizes? You can read more about the chat by clicking here.

Again, to follow along or get involved, go to Twitter, and search for the haghtag, #KidsNTrips.

Tomorrow’s chat comes on the heels of yet another spring travel TwitterChat—one I did today on behalf of my client, Expedia, in conjunction with the Expedia Viewfinder blog. This one didn’t have a family focus, but I seized the opportunity to Tweet about heaps of family stuff nevertheless. (I also embraced the chance to make tons of obtuse Spring Breakers references, as well as one shout-out to 22 Jumpstreet.)

For me, these chats are a fun way to interact with readers and get the word out about the blog. Hope to see you participating in one of these events down the road.

Understanding the science of car naps

Snoozing. On the Hana Highway.

Snoozing. On the Hana Highway.

The world is abuzz about billionaires today, as Forbes magazine has released its annual list of the richest humans on Earth.

If I were a billionaire, I’d spend my cash on running shoes, buy-ins for poker tournaments, and lots and lots of international family travel. I’d also set aside a fat wad of it to fund research into the study of car naps.

Seriously. I mean, what parent wouldn’t?

How is it that these kids of ours manage to stay awake for 85-90 percent of every road trip, only to fall asleep for the home stretch? Why is it that kids who never in a million, billion, trillion years would nap at home, actually fall asleep in a moving car? Finally, why do most kids sleep through any number of noises in the moving vehicle, then awaken immediately when you try to transfer them to their beds at home?

I’ve got questions, people. And as someone who spends a ton of time road-tripping with girls who generally don’t nap, I demand answers.

My kids would be great case studies. This past weekend, for instance, after a fun-filled day in the city, the two of them resisted sleep for 65 of the 75 miles home, then—inexplicably, really—dozed off less than 10 minutes from our house.

Last month we endured a similar scene—I was so happy to see them sleeping in the middle of the day that I sat in the parked car in my own driveway for nearly 30 minutes, just to score them decent rest.

How long must the erratic realities of car napping plague us moms and dads? Is there any hope for us at all, short of blasting music and constantly turning around to tickle our kids in the knees and keep them awake? If a billionaire can’t fund research into this area, perhaps we can get some cash on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Surely I’m not the only parent determined to find out.

Talking about adventure travel with kids

11008331_427287300759512_1056352386_nMost of the time, the virtual pages of this blog comprise my most prominent platform for discussing family travel. Sometimes, however, I get golden opportunities to present my perspective in other formats. Namely, talking. On a stage. In front of a room full of people.

That’s the way things will roll this weekend, when I participate in a panel discussion as part of The Great Baby Romp, held at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito on Sunday, March 1.

My panel, which kicks off at 11:45 a.m., will focus on adventure travel with kids. I’ll be asked to talk about our family’s experiences in faraway places such as London, Ireland, Hawaii and Vancouver Island. I likely will mention some of the very same anecdotes that first appeared here. Heck, I’ve even shared a few snapshots that many of you have seen once or twice over the years.

The other panelists certainly are esteemed. I’ll be speaking alongside Katie Hintz-Zambrano, the co-founder and editor of Mother Mag; as well as Jennifer Latch, another freelance writer. Our panel will be moderated by Erin Feher Montoya, who is the Bay Area Editor of Red Tricycle.

Perhaps the biggest treat for me on Sunday will be the audience. Organizers are expecting a crowd of mostly families. And at least one of those families in attendance will be my own, making this the first time my kids ever have heard me speak publicly (provided they pull themselves away from the exhibits long enough to see Dad on stage).

Our panel isn’t the only educational session of the day, either. Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., The Great Baby Romp will sponsor a host of other talks, covering issues such as making baby food and toddler snacks, navigating household employee contracts and California taxes, and baby sign language.

The event will conclude with an all-ages dance party.

If you’re in the neighborhood, come check us out! If not, stay tuned for a recap post and some pictures from the event.

Travel adventure as a state of mind

R, beachcombing.

R, beachcombing.

Our family is always seeking new adventures. Near, far—we don’t care where we travel, we simply make habit out of striving for something out of the ordinary.

Nevertheless, we have developed some travel favorites over the years. We love vacationing in Hawaii, largely because nobody wears clothes. We love public transportation, because the girls always can find something at which to marvel. We love shopping at farmers’ markets, because the produce is so fresh.

We also love spending days at the beach—not so much because we like to surf or swim (both girls actually are afraid of the ocean), but because we LOVE to go beachcombing. We don’t have preferences about what we hunt—beach glass, sea shells, pretty rocks, and more. If we’re on the beach with a mission to find cool stuff, we’re a happy crew.

With this in mind, we usually try to incorporate a beach visit into each and every one of our coastal vacations.

And when we’re not traveling, we try to drive the 45 minutes from our house to the coast once a month.

I went earlier today with R. Our mission: To find beach glass for L (who is an avid collector). She has an extensive collection of green glass, but lacks diversity in her stash. Specifically, she asked us to look for glass that was red or blue.

The fact that we achieved our mission was irrelevant; R and I just loved the challenge. At one point, she was so enthralled with our search that she jumped up and down screaming, “BEACH GLASS!”

What’s more, this was the first visit on which my little girl worked up the courage to brave the loud and scary crashing surf and walk up and down the beach to hunt (previously she would just pick a spot to sit and only investigate the sand in her immediate vicinity).

Wherever and whenever we have them, our family beachcombing experiences are proof that you don’t have to travel very far outside your geographic area or comfort zone to take a meaningful journey together.

My advice? Find something you and your family enjoy together and seek it out wherever you are. This enables you to have life-changing experiences at any place and any time, to turn the sense of travel adventure into a state of mind. It also means you’re never too far from a great day out and about. Or new items for your beach collection.

What sorts of family travel adventures do you like best?

Free park time for fourth graders, families

Little R, enjoying some park time of her own.

Little R, enjoying some park time of her own.

The National Park Service today unveiled a new program through which fourth graders and their families can get one full year of free admission to U.S. National Parks, federal lands, and federal waters.

The program, (appropriately) titled the Every Kid in a Park initiative, aims to provide an opportunity for each and every fourth-grade student across the country to experience their public lands and waters in person throughout the 2015-2016 school year.

That means the program starts in August and September, depending on where your kids go to school.

According to literature, the initiative was conceptualized by President Obama himself as a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s unparalleled outdoors. Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.  At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside.  A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week—more than a full time job.

The new program also is part of a larger effort launched earlier this year. This effort—Open OutDoors for Kids—aims to expand nature programs for all children, especially kids who grow up in the inner city and may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience nature on their own.

(Through this latter program, you can donate money to help directly; every $10 helps one child.)

Personally, I cannot say enough good things about these programs. I support them wholeheartedly, even though my kids won’t even qualify for the free passes for another four years (L is in kindergarten now). For those families with children who *are* 9 or 10, these initiatives are HUGE. They help families save money. They increase accessibility. And they’re just darn cool.

The National Park Service turns 100 years old in 2016, making next year the perfect time to cash in on those free passes and take a family trip to a park. I strongly recommend starting planning now. I know we will. Maybe we’ll even see you on the trails.

Which National Park have you always wanted to visit and why?

Sharing the word about Four Seasons Orlando

The kids club at Four Seasons Orlando (photo courtesy of Trips + Giggles.

Kids’ club at Four Seasons Orlando (photo courtesy of Trips + Giggles).

I’ve lamented since last summer that I wasn’t able to check out the Four Seasons Orlando when we visited Walt Disney World Resort last summer. The new luxury property formally hadn’t opened yet, and I couldn’t find time (or, quite frankly, a rental car from my Disney-owned hotel) to break away and take a tour of the construction site.

Thankfully, Juliana Shallcross, my (former editor at VegasChatter.com and HotelChatter.com, and) buddy over at Trips & Giggles, went recently, and wrote a definitive post about the place, which she published earlier today.

If I may summarize, her post basically says that the Four Seasons Orlando KICKS MAJOR ASS. Especially for family travelers.

I love J’s post for its simplicity—she talks briefly about the design and service that made the hotel so special for her, then gets right into a host of pictures (one of which I pilfered to accompany this post), with descriptions of each. My favorite of her observations: The Four Seasons Orlando is especially great at the end of a hot day when you want to leave the parks and escape the Mouse for a while. My second favorite: Her reminder that the Kids for All Seasons kids club is included in the room rate.

Granted, the price point at a luxury hotel such as this one is way too high for the majority of visitors to Walt Disney World Resort (or Florida, for that matter). Still, if budget is no issue and you’re looking for a property that treats kids—and their families—like royalty, it sounds like this is your place.

Consider yourselves warned.

What are your lodging strategies when you visit Walt Disney World Resort?

Romancing a return to Cusco, Peru

My bride and me, on the Inca Trail (circa 2005).

My bride and me, on the Inca Trail (circa 2005).

More than anything, what I remember most about the time my bride and I spent in Cusco, Peru, are the headaches.

Those damn altitude headaches. That simply wouldn’t go away.

The year was 2005; the two of us were there on a “vacation” from a four-month stint of living in Lima while my wife, an archaeologist, researched her dissertation. The city sits somewhere around 9,000 feet above sea level. I, a chronic sinus sufferer, had serious problems with sinus pressure the entire time.

Still, this did not derail our fun. Over the course of five days, the two of us tromped all over the city, hiking from one archaeological site to the next (including Qurikancha and Saksaywaman), strolling through vendor booths near the Plaza de Armas, sampling coca leaves and choclo from a variety of different storefronts, and marveling at all of the hand-crafted art.

(Then, of course, we did a 3-day, 3-night trek to Machu Picchu.)

I’ve often thought about how much I wished our children were with us in the ancient Incan capital, how much they would have loved the colors and sights and sounds (and super-sweet cookies).

These fantasies—along with a promotion and travel deals from Expedia, a client, and LAN Airlines—have inspired a vivid daydream for a return.

In my daydream, we take the girls down for a week and stay at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a hotel that incorporates pre-Inca architecture and is now arguably the swankiest property in town. From there, we fan out for daytrips around the city, showing the girls the giant boulders at Saksaywaman and the different architectural eras at the Quirkancha. We take our 5-year-old along for some Spanish immersion classes. We have the 3-year-old learn how to weave. And we eat ceviche. Lots and lots of ceviche.

Granted, the visit would be more of a family trip than a sexy, sultry getaway. But because my wife and I would be returning to a place that meant so much to us once before, it would be romantic in a totally different kind of way.

Expedia has a great new ad campaign that revolves around the concept of “No excuses” for taking the trip of your dreams. It’s time we stop making excuses and get back to Cusco with our kids. The trip likely won’t happen this year, but perhaps it’s time to start planning it for 2016. Who knows? By then maybe they can hike the Inca Trail, too. And maybe I won’t have any more headaches.

If you could take a romantic trip with your partner in the near future, where would you go and why?

No toys? So what!

When life gives you leaves and sticks, make fairy houses.

When life gives you leaves and sticks, make fairy houses.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling with the girls is put them in a situation that forces them to be creative—then sit back and see how they roll.

Sometimes they’re too tired to play along and they whine for crayons and paper (or, more commonly, pens and pages from my reporter’s notebook pads). Other times, however, they’re totally into it, scouring the area for twigs and rocks and any other “treasures” they can use to entertain themselves (and, of course, us).

During a recent weekend excursion to the Big City, I needed the kids to kill about 20 minutes in a park while I interviewed a source on the phone. I set them up in a (safe and) particularly vibrant corner. Five minutes later, L had found enough grasses and leaves to fashion a fairy house.

On another trip, a few weeks back, R was disappointed that I didn’t have any sidewalk chalk (because, you know, I don’t travel with that), so she improvised with a Starbucks stir stick and some water.

The best part: She called it “painting.”

These moments, these examples of my girls using nothing but their imaginations, are wonderful reminders that less can be more—especially when we travel. Sure, it’s always nice to have traditional entertainment methods on hand for our kids when we’re away from home. But it’s even nicer to have kids who reliably can create their own entertainment, no matter what.

How do you cultivate this proclivity? Necessity, I suppose. The first time L and R used their imaginations on the road, they had no choice, as Powerwoman and I had left traditional “toys” at home.

Since then, our other secret has been practice—we make sure the kids entertain themselves at least one afternoon on every trip. The more they engage in creative play, the easier it becomes, for everyone involved. Don’t take my word for it, though; try it yourself.

What sorts of creative play do your children like when you travel?

Don’t let the anti-vaxers win

Fear of contracting measles could have stopped this trip.

Fear of contracting measles could have stopped this trip.

I try as much as possible to stay away from politics here on this blog—those sorts of discussions are insidious, incendiary, and, most of the time, just plain irritating.

That said, it’s hard to ignore the recent hullabaloo over the resurgence of the measles virus, the role the anti-vaccination crowd has played in this resurgence, and the degree to which traveling with young children could put your family at risk of becoming one of the statistics.

I’m not going to rehash all the facts; for a solid rundown of how this mess got started, you can click here. I’m also not going to argue the science—if literally tens of thousands of doctors (and children’s book author, Roald Dahl) say vaccines are good, I don’t really understand how anyone could disagree. Still, because some parents believe vaccines are bad, the vulnerability they’re perpetuating in their kids essentially puts the rest of us with young kids (especially those who are too young to be fully vaccinated) in the line of fire to contract some pretty major health problems.

In recent days I’ve read a number of articles (such as this one) quoting parents who have canceled trips to Disneyland and other family trips out of fear of their kids contracting the disease.

Every time I read one of these stories, I want to scream: WUSSIES!

Don’t get me wrong; the threat of illness is real. And for families with babies who are too young to receive the measles vaccination, the decision of whether to go or not is, as the CDC tells us, serious business. But for those of us with kids over the age of 2 (or 4 or 6, depending on which researchers you choose to believe) to let this threat—or just about any other threat, IMHO—stop us from living our lives, THAT is the real tragedy of all.

So much of family travel is about setting examples for our kids. Do you want them to mimic your tendencies to live in fear?

The reality is that we all take significant risks the moment we leave the house every morning. You could be in a fatal car crash. My kids could be abducted. I could have a heart attack. Heck, in today’s day and age, any one of us could be the victim of terrorism or just a really violent temper-tantrum by a madman.

Whether you like it or not, anti-vaxers are among us, which means all of us are at risk of coming into contact with the measles virus at pretty much any time. Traveling may heighten this risk a little, but the risk is there nevertheless. In other words, scary shit is everywhere. So why stop traveling?

There are a lot of things in this life that can put us in danger of illness and eventually death. Travel, on the other hand, enriches us, nurtures our souls, teaches us about the world around us, and helps us strengthen a foundation of understanding in ourselves and our kids. Travel heightens the living parts of each of us. It’s the absolute last thing we should relinquish.

And so, I beg you: If you’ve got plans to travel and one of your kids hasn’t been vaccinated for measles, don’t freak. Instead, get the kid a vaccine, get some face masks. Get some gloves. And be diligent about keeping your child’s hands out of his or her mouth and face.

If you don’t have plans to travel and are shying away from doing so because of this issue, get over yourself and get out there. The world won’t wait for anti-vaxers. And it certainly won’t wait for you.

Standing up for family travelers

The smoking gun.

The smoking gun.

We family travelers have to stick together. That’s why I get outraged when haters lambaste us for bringing kids on planes. It’s why I wig out when people (usually people without kids) try to convince me that my children won’t remember anything about the trips we take until they’re at least 5.

It’s also why I support other family travel writers when they speak out against some of the idiocy others throw at globetrotting families around the world.

Naturally, then, I was happy to rally behind this recent blog post from writer, Zach Everson.

In the post, Everson (whom I’ve never met IRL) calls out #CarryOnShame, a hate-filled campaign about which I’ve ranted previously. In a nutshell, at least on paper, this hashtag was devised by a well-known newspaper editor as a way to shame airlines for not enforcing their own policies regarding carry-on luggage. The reality: Most of the shamers actually end up shaming other travelers.

To prove this ignominy, Everson essentially punked Spud Hilton, the man behind this shameful exercise in bad behavior.

A little while back, Everson Instagrammed a picture of a purported violator and tagged it with Hilton’s hashtag of hate. Earlier this month, Hilton included the photo with a clickbaiting roundup on the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel blog, adding some directed mockery of his own.

That mockery, of course, represented a smoking gun in Everson’s case against #CarryonShame. Among other things, Hilton poked fun of a “woman” who actually was Everson (a male human), and condescendingly snarked about a) the number of bags Everson was holding and b) a Hello Kitty design on one of the pieces.

Everson used these missteps to make two incredibly valid points concerning carry-on items and family travelers: 1) For us family travelers, it is common to have one parent bear the brunt of luggage-lugging, and 2) When we families purchase seats for each kid, we are entitled to bring along one carry-on and one personal item PER TRAVELER, just like everyone else on the plane.

(Also incredibly helpful was Everson’s link to a Consumer Reports piece about carry-on restrictions, and how some airlines exempt kid-related items such as medical equipment, diaper bags, and food.)

I won’t summarize the entirety of Everson’s piece here; I encourage you to click through and read it for yourself. Bottom line: It was brilliant. It railed on behalf of all family travelers. And it proved the hypocrisy, stupidity, and venom of this ill-conceived effort to make others look dumb.

I encourage you to fight this mean-spirited #CarryonShame campaign, and see shaming in general for the passive-aggressive hatemongering it is. I also encourage you to take positive and constructive action when you see carry-on violators. Quietly ask gate agents to enforce airline policies. Write letters to airlines about specific violations you’ve witnessed. This is the way to respect others and engineer change. Anything else is just trolling for attention.

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