Puke on the family trip

A calm scene before Retch No. 5

A calm scene before Retch No. 5

When we booked this family vacation to Los Angeles, it was supposed to be about togetherness, birthday celebrations, and outfitter-driven activities for all ages (available through my client, Expedia). So far, however, the trip largely has been about something entirely different: puke.

As in, vomit, throm, throw-up, retch.

All of the puke has come from poor little R; she caught a flu bug from her sister the day before we left, and somehow has managed to throw up at least—I stress, at least—once a day every day of the visit. (Lucky for us, she didn’t actually throw up on our transit day, but she did poop her pants on the plane, due in part to bad diarrhea.)

Today’s episode was by far the most dramatic. After a wonderful day celebrating L’s birthday at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, we got back to the hotel and handed the car to the valet guys just in time for poor R to throm all over the porte cochere.

Both Powerwoman and I can handle the smell and cleanup of vom on the road—we both like to drink, and L puked a bunch when she was younger so we’ve had plenty of practice.

That said, what remains difficult about vom management are basic logistics. Who stays back at the hotel with sick child? How long can the free parent be free before trapped spouse starts to feel antsy? What in the hell do you feed a sick kid on the road when everything requires effort to obtain?

Another challenge: Persevering in the face of awkwardness with restaurant staffers after your kid throws up in a booth during breakfast and it takes the crew 15 minutes to respond with a mop. (Fellow traveling parents, I would have cleaned it up with individual wipes but the host wouldn’t let me! Also, um, ewwwww.)

Perhaps the biggest challenge is dealing with the sick child directly. She’s whiney. She’s pathetic. She doesn’t want to move anywhere. And if your kid is anything like mine, she probably doesn’t want to be touched, either.

I’m not complaining here, I’m just saying the whole vacation-with-a-sick-kid is a different ball of wax.

My advice? Be ready to be flexible. Discuss a backup strategy with your traveling partners in advance, just in case. Be willing to eat a lot of room-service toast. Finally, remind yourself that sick kids on family trips are the exception, not the norm; as religious folks likes to say, this too shall pass.

The moaner next door

The calm before the moans.

The calm before the moans.

Sometimes you bring the kids to family-oriented hotels and it’s all about penne with butter and crayons and stuffed animals. Other times you bring the kids to grownup-oriented hotels and the kids hear a woman moaning loudly in the next room and ask if you should call the police to help her.

Such was the case earlier this evening here at The Chamberlain, a boutique hotel in West Hollywood.

The four of us are here on assignment for Expedia—an assignment that revolves as much around activities as it does around hotel. We were excited to land such posh accommodations in such a great neighborhood. But, going in, my wife and I knew it would not be a place designed for kids.

So when we started exploring our room, we had to explain to the girls not to stick their hands through the metal mesh screens in front of the fireplace to touch the always-on gas pilot light. And when I took L to the rooftop pool, I had to remind her that meowing like a cat on the giant cabana beds probably wasn’t the kind of behavior other guests would tolerate.

Then came the moaner.

She started softly, peppering guttural grumbles with an occasional, “Oh yeah,” and “Yes!” The screams became more consistent as she and her partner humped their way toward a culmination. When Little R asked me if we should call the cops, our neighbor was screaming words my children still don’t know, and was screaming them in reference to parts of her body that my children still don’t understand.

After I managed to stop myself from laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation, I reassured my kid the woman was just fine. And I *didn’t* call the cops.

Why would I? I mean, good for this woman for having such a memorable evening. And, really, good for the hotel for facilitating that kind of escape. Could I have been outraged that the hotel would allow another guest to have sex loudly in earshot of my kids? Sure. But, IMHO, the hotel did nothing wrong.

At the end of the day, shit happens when you operate outside the typical comfort zone and bring your kids to stay in a place that deviates from the norm. It can be awkward. It can be uncomfortable. But it also can provide a great learning experience for your kids. Beside, it makes for a great story to tell friends.

Patience is a virtue on family trips

Before the eel, I saw this.

Before the eel, I saw this.

Squiggling and wriggling like a pudgy underwater ribbon, the pale-green moray eel moved along the coral reef quickly—almost too fast to spot.

As a relative novice snorkeler, I probably would have missed it, had I not glimpsed a small school of tropical fish dart out of the way of the creature, fleeing for their lives. I kicked my flippers and dove deeper into the warm water, inching closer to the beast with every stroke.

Finally, the eel came into full view. I could see its undulating tail, its dark-green splotches, and the ugly (horrifying, really) teeth protruding from its mouth.

In reality, the ocean was eerily quiet. In my head, I could hear the Hallelujah chorus to Handel’s Messiah.

Understandably so. Over the course of the last 11 years I’ve made 16 visits to Maui and hired local outfitters to take me snorkeling nine different times.  Before every trip, I convinced myself *this* would be the trip on which I’d see a Moray in the wild. Every time I came up empty. Finally, on a two-hour jaunt with Hawaiian Paddle Sports, my string of bad luck came to an end. And the sighting was well worth the wait.

This life-changing spectacle actually occurred last month, smack in the middle of a trip to Maui with the Expedia Viewfinder team (full disclosure: Expedia is a client). The trip was an off-site of sorts; I was surrounded by some of my favorite work friends. Noticeably absent: my kids, who have become mainstays of my Hawaii visits.

Still, the experience got me thinking about an important—and often underappreciated—philosophy we parents can espouse on family trips: To practice patience.

I mean, think about it. I had visited the islands 16 times. I had gone snorkeling nine times. And over that stretch, I had *never* seen a Moray. After a schneid like that, I had every reason in the world to give up hope or try a new activity (or, even more dramatic, start vacationing somewhere else). But I persevered. I hung in. Because I knew that sooner or later, I’d spot one.

This patience, this quiet confidence in letting the world come to you (as opposed to going out there and getting caught up in grabbing it), comprises a huge part of my outlook on travel. It also is one of the most important concepts I can pass along to L and R as they continue to explore the world.

The lessons are subtle. When we go whale-watching, for instance, I’m careful to remind the girls that the whales aren’t on a payroll and largely do their own things. When we go beachcombing, I explain how the waves always churn up different stuff, and that you really never can “count” on anything in particular hiding in the sand underfoot. Even when we’re hiking, I remind the kids to look beyond the trail map.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m *not* saying we parents shouldn’t teach our kids to be proactive about experiencing the world. Instead, I’m emphasizing the importance of not overdramatizing the choice part of a choose-your-own adventure. I’m suggesting that the best (family) travelers put themselves in a position to get the most out of a new experience, but then sit back and let that very experience run its course.

Someday, I’m sure L and R will have their own personal Moray stories. They’ll have stuff they desperately want to see in particular destinations and will find themselves faced with the same choice that faced me: Persevere or go in a different direction?

When they reach these junctures, I only can hope they decide to practice patience. In the short term, it’s a great exercise in appreciating a process. And in the long term, the results can be magical.

San Francisco getting better for families, family travelers

Koret Playground, courtesy of the Chronicle.

Koret Playground, courtesy of the Chronicle.

As a proud member of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, I’ve always known I have a very skewed perspective on San Francisco. For us, it’s the Big City, a place with endless opportunities to keep our kids occupied, one of the greatest daytrip destinations on Earth.

For people who live there, however, there’s a different reality.

A blogger friend of mine, Amy Graff, recently wrote about this reality for her blog on SF Gate, The Mommy Files. In her post, she outlined 13 things that have made San Francisco a better place for families. Obviously, her target audience was locals—people who live in San Francisco and have kids. But some of the points she made apply to family travelers as well.

Take, for instance, her mention of Koret Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park, which recently benefitted from $380 million in bonds to improve neighborhood parks. Another highlight in her piece: The new Exploratorium, which is one of our favorite museums in the entire city (and about which a blog post by yours truly is long overdue).

Also worth mentioning: A new law in March 2013 that allows baby strollers on all San Francisco Municipal Transit Association vehicles, except cable cars.

I could go on and on about Amy’s piece, but it’s probably best if you just read it here.

The bottom line: The City by the Bay may not be as wonderful for family travelers as we’ve thought it was, but it certainly is getting better.

Expressing excitement on family trips

Both girls got pretty excited about this Play-Doh booth.

Both girls got pretty excited about this Play-Doh booth.

We humans express excitement in different ways. Some of us get smiley. Others get giddy. My wife likes to eeek. I, a verbal person, like to scream, “POWER” repeatedly. Then there’s the Big Girl, who conveys *her* excitement by jumping over and over again and stuttering uncontrollably.

I noticed this tendency of my daughter’s on a recent daytrip to San Francisco. She already was excited to be there—my kids have grown up in the country and they love any opportunity to see tall buildings and public transit and trappings of an urban center. Then we came upon a brand new playground off the Embarcadero. The kid nearly flipped her lid.

She was so cranked up, so stoked at the notion of sliding down a new slide and swinging from new monkey bars that she bounced around like a kangaroo.

When we asked her what was up, she couldn’t respond without fumbling over her own words.

As she played, it dawned on me that I’d seen these behaviors before, almost religiously, on every single family trip we’ve ever taken. That’s when it dawned on me that the get-up wasn’t a temporary bout of insanity, but instead just my kid’s way of expressing and dealing with travel excitement.

The incident got me thinking—where do we learn behaviors for expressing travel excitement? It’s not like Powerwoman or I jump up and down and stutter when we’re on family trips. Why doesn’t my older child eeek like her mother? Why doesn’t she scream, “POWER?” From whom did she get the whole hopping thing?

This, of course, got me thinking some more. How fun it would be to swap excitement expressions a trip! How odd it would be to see a grown man jumping around and stuttering at the sight of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. How silly it would be if my kid actually did scream, “POWER.” Or eeek.

We’re headed out in the next few weeks on a number of different journeys and I plan to mention the subject to the kids then. If you see me jumping around and stuttering at an airport, you’ll know why.

How do your kids express their excitement on your family trips?

Stand by your (travel) plan

The Rossi family (courtesy of TODAY).

The Rossi family (courtesy of TODAY).

By now you likely have heard of the Rossi family—the Pennsylvania family that pulled 9-year-old twins out of school to go and watch Dad run in the Boston Marathon earlier this month.

Had they done this all quietly, neither you, nor I, nor anyone else in the United States would be talking about it. But, well…the dad is a part-time radio personality in his home region, and let’s just say the family didn’t exactly shy away from making the episode into a MAJOR deal.

I’m not going to review all the facts of the case here; you can read some pretty good rundowns online (such as here and here). The CliffsNotes: The parents, Jack and Victoria Rossi, wrote a note excusing their third-graders for the absences in conjunction with the family trip. After the race, the school principal, Rochelle Marbury, wrote a now-famous letter in which she stated that her district “does not recognize family trips as an excused absence.”

What happened next was the unfortunate part. Rossi wrote a response to the letter, posted it on his quasi-public Facebook page (again, people, even with privacy settings, FACEBOOK IS NOT PRIVATE), and the thing went viral. Since then he and his wife have been on talk shows, and the entire episode has de-evolved into a complete shitshow.

In the process, IMHO, we’ve lost sight of the major issue: Should family trips be excused absences?

I’ve blogged about this before (here, for instance), and, considering I travel for a living, I likely will blog about it again. (Heck, we’re pulling L out of a half-day of school next month so the four of us in this family can go on a vacation/assignment.) My take: Family trips are NOT excused absences. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking them if we think the trips are important and worth taking.

This means I don’t fault Rossi for taking his kids. It means I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Rossi’s rationale/reasoning for why he did it. Here’s a snip from his “letter” to the principal:

“In the 3 days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history culinary arts and physical education…They also experienced first-hand the love and support of thousands of others cheering on people with a common goal.”

Heck, as a runner, I’ll even side with the guy for taking his kids because he wanted them at the finish.

But for him to attack the district for failing to bend its own rules, for wigging out because the principal didn’t genuflect at him for being such an “incredible” and “progressive” dad—I have to ask: Who in the hell does this guy think he is?

Choosing travel over school is a personal decision. It brings with it high reward—learning about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, and all those other things Rossi mentioned in his note. It also carries high risk—kids fall behind on the curriculum, kids miss out on projects, kids may run afoul of school attendance policies. If we as parents aren’t prepared to deal with the consequences of our decisions on this issue, we shouldn’t be making such bold decisions at all.

Put differently, if Rossi was going to have such a problem with the principal’s reaction to the absences, perhaps he should have thought twice about pulling his kids out of school in the first place.

To Rossi’s credit, he told TODAY that he’s not angry at the school for writing the note and recognizes that the principal is “doing what she has to do,” but instead is taking issue with the district’s inflexible attendance policy.

Again, to that I say this: The rules are the rules, and they apply to everyone. Even local celebrities who qualify for Boston.

The lesson here for traveling parents is twofold. First, do your homework and investigate your district’s attendance policy before you pull your kids out for a trip. Second, take ownership of your decision, whatever that decision might be, and be prepared to deal with the consequences gracefully (especially since your kids will be watching).

The Rossi children—like most Americans—probably see their mom and dad as heroes. Sadly, at least from my perspective, the mom and dad are nothing more than a pair of whiners. You made your bed, people. Now lie in it.

Back in action

Site for sore eyes.

Site for sore eyes.

Just about the last thing a family travel writer wants to hear from his kid is a request for a year off from flying.

Yet this was our reality in August of 2014, after we followed up five months of living abroad (for the last half of 2013) with family trips to Hawaii and Walt Disney World, and the Big Girl informed us that she needed a break.

Powerwoman and I wanted to be sensitive to L’s wishes; as major travel advocates, the last thing we wanted was to push our daughter to the point of resentment.

Still, we were bummed. Handcuffed, really. And concerned.

We responded by emphasizing road trips to local national parks and elsewhere around the state, as well as a greater frequency of daytrips to destinations less than three hours from our Northern California home. For a while, this strategy worked. But (being the inveterate travelers that we are) we yearned for more.

Then a funny thing happened. I went to Maui on behalf of the Expedia Viewfinder blog. I called home with reports every day. When I returned in person, I regaled the kids with stories of smooth flights, and the neat new personal entertainment devices passengers can rent aboard Alaska Airlines planes.

And, unprovoked, L declared that if she could have her own device, she was willing to shorten her moratorium and agree to fly again.

We were stunned. We clarified her statement four times to make sure we heard it correctly. We had.

Then, of course, we did what any travel-obsessed parents would do: We got out the laptop, pulled down the calendar, and started booking trips. When the hour ended, we had purchased plane tickets for the whole family to spend a long weekend (reporting some stuff) in Los Angeles. We also bought plane tickets to convert our full-on road trip from home to the San Juan Islands and back into a halfsie road-trip from Portland, Oregon, to the San Juan Islands and back to Seattle.

In all, we’re taking three separate plane trips as a family this summer, making the absolute most of the extra three months L gave us by rescinding her ban.

In short, thanks mostly to L, we’re planning to fly again this summer. And it feels good to be back.

Celebrating Earth Day with a camping blitz

Big Girl and BFF hiking to celebrate Earth.

Big Girl and BFF hiking to celebrate Earth.

Tomorrow is Earth Day, which means it’s a perfect opportunity to teach kids about the wonder of nature what it means to respect the planet. We usually commemorate the occasion with a walk in the woods (which I’m doing with L, on a field trip through her school). This year, we’re taking our celebration one step further: We’re booking a number of summertime camping trips up and down the West Coast.

At least one of these campgrounds will be up on San Juan Island, where we’re headed for a three-week road-trip family vacation in June. Another one will be about 10 miles up the road, at a campground near our home in Northern California.

The others, however, are all over the lot: Eastern California, the Trinity Alps, even the Sonoma County coast.

The tilt for tents is the latest step in our ongoing push to get our girls more comfortable with being and sleeping outdoors. It’s also part of a concerted attempt to make them well-rounded travelers; we usually blow it out by staying in places such as Four Seasons and Fairmont resorts (many of which we book on Expedia), so Powerwoman and I want to make sure our kids can appreciate a breadth of overnight experiences.

We certainly aren’t one of the only families expecting to go camping at a higher frequency this coming year. Looking ahead to the 2015 camping season, a majority of campers plan to spend more nights camping, according to the 2015 North American Camping Report, an independent study supported by Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA).

The report, which was released earlier this spring, also noted that the heart wins out over the wallet, as more people today see camping as a way to escape the stress of everyday life than as an affordable vacation option. More interesting tidbits:

  • According to campers, reconnecting with nature (55 percent), reducing stress (54 percent), and spending more time with family and friends (49 percent) are the key reasons they camp. Economic and practical values were only identified as reasons for camping by less than 35 percent of those surveyed.
  • Campers are likely to say that camping improves family relationships; in fact, 41 percent “completely agree” with this.
  • Additionally, almost four out of 10 campers (39 percent) suggest that camping has “a great deal of impact” on allowing them to spend more time with family. Another third of campers say that camping has a positive impact on their relationships with family and friends (35 percent) and their emotional well-being (36 percent).

Another fascinating finding from the report: Camping rates among nonwhites (those who self-identify as African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander or Hispanic) have doubled from as recently as 2012, jumping to 23 percent from 12 percent.

I won’t get sidetracked with specifics from the KOA report (for more, click here). The gist: Camping is becoming more popular—not just with our family, but with many families across the country.

As you and your family celebrate Earth Day 2015, ask yourself how many opportunities you’re giving your kids to connect with nature. Camping is a great way to build more of this into your life. It’s cheap. It’s outdoors. It’s easy. Best of all, it’s fun. For everyone.

Where have you stayed on some of your most memorable camping trips?

Visiting the special family place, without kids

Maui. With my loves.

Maui. With my loves.

Hawaii is a special place for everyone in our family. It’s where Powerwoman and I got married, where L said her first word (the word was, “again;” she said it at the ocean waves), and where R fell in love with the beach.

It’s also a place to which we’ve traveled as a unit multiple times.

For this reason, it’s hard for me to think about Hawaii without thinking of my family. The two go together like light rum and dark rum in a Mai Tai, like palm fronds and tropical breezes.

That’s the main reason this week has been particularly odd. I’m on Maui all week on behalf of my client, Expedia. We’re here to participate in an off-site for the Expedia Viewfinder team, to run a number of contests (like this one), and to report on all things sun and sand and surf in this part of the world. All of my favorite colleagues are here. The only thing missing: my brood.

Trust me—I’m having a blast. And I’m enjoying the restful sleep at night. But everywhere I look, every sight and smell and sound I experience, I’m wishing the girls and Powerwoman were here, too.

This morning, for instance, I joined a colleague for a run along the beach in Wailea and we spotted a giant snail inching along in a pointy seashell—notably different from the snails we see at our home back in Northern California. When I saw the creature, I couldn’t help but think of the girls. They would have been talking about that thing all day.

Later this week, when I take some of my fellow Viewfinders on a run to get malasadas (i.e., fried donuts) from my favorite bakery on the island, I’ll be thinking of L, since malasadas comprise one of her favorite food of all time.

The phenomenon has taught me that solo travel to one of the destinations you usually frequent as a family is a variation on family travel as a whole.

They’re not here, but they are. It’s magic. It’s amazing. And it makes perfect sense.

If nothing else, the last 48 hours have inspired me to come back before the end of this summer, with my loves in tow. Maui is wonderful no matter what the circumstances of the visit. But for me, it’s especially wonderful with my kids and wife. As any favorite family travel destination should be.

What is your favorite family travel destination and why?

Growing green kids


Petting a mossy rock in Yosemite.

My wife and I like to think we’re growing green kids in this family. That doesn’t mean we’re raising aliens. It also doesn’t mean we’re trying to keep them as innocent as possible. It means we’re bringing up our girls to appreciate every aspect of the environment in which they live.

Most of the time, this is a quiet quest. We have them pick up trash. We encourage them to conserve water. We go for hikes and teach them how to distinguish between a black oak and a live oak.

Sometimes, however, we make our commitment public.

That was the thinking behind my latest piece for Alaska Beyond, the (recently) rebranded in-flight magazine from Alaska Airlines. The story is a personal essay about our drive to raise our kids to be mindful of the environment. In the piece, I recount some experiences we had during our April 2014 trip to Yosemite National Park. The headline says it all: “Growing Green Kids.”

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember posts from (or about) that trip. This essay starts with an anecdote I haven’t told anywhere—a recollection of the night L and I almost bumped into a bobcat on the prowl for dinner.

From there, the piece waxes philosophical, but not overwhelmingly so. I won’t spoil the message here, but instead invite you read the piece. If it resonates with you, please share it with others.

The only way we’re going to preserve our environment is to get our kids excited about doing so. That challenge starts with us.

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