Showtime for FTA Summit

FTA, here we come!

FTA, here we come!

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! It’s time for the second annual Family Travel Association (FTA) summit, to be held over the next four days at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona.

I’m filing this post from the Oakland International Airport, which means I’m en route to the summit right now. My excitement is palpable—I’m on the Board of Advisors of the FTA, and we’ve been planning this summit for the better part of the last 10 months. I cannot wait to see this thing kick butt.

The agenda for the event is jam-packed with goodness. Keynote speakers. Breakout sessions (including one in which I’m speaking). Networking activities. Even some cookouts and other fun get-togethers. Because the La Paloma is in the hinterlands of Tucson, I’m sure I’ll round up some of my colleagues and drag them to Saguaro National Park, as well.

Oh, I’m also stoked to explore downtown Tucson, which recently was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

Anyway, here’s a preview post I wrote about the event for the Expedia Viewfinder. I’m doing a ton of social media for the FTA during the summit, so I probably won’t be able to blog about it again until I’m home. Until then, watch my Twitter and Instagram for updates from the field.

Why family travel is not a waste of money

This was worth every penny

This was worth every penny

Family travel haters love to complain about vacations with kids as a waste of money. The kids won’t remember it, they say, or they’re too young to appreciate it.

Naturally, I think these arguments are a bunch of horsefeathers. And I’m not alone.

To that end, my colleagues at the Family Travel Association (FTA) this week published a wonderful blog post with insights from 33 of our members about why family travel is NOT a waste of money. The post is the kind of work that will make you stand up and clap. It might even inspire you to book a trip just to show those haters they’re wrong.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the FTA’s post comes just before our annual summit, which kicks off THIS WEEKEND in Tucson, Arizona. I’ll be handling the organization’s social media from the event, so please be sure to follow along. I’ll publish updates here when I can as well.

The ultimate fall family travel destination

G watching L and R get corny

G watching L and R get corny

Fear not, intrepid family travelers. The ultimate fall family travel destination isn’t some far-flung destination such as Cuba or Botswana. It’s not an autumnal urban adventure in Amsterdam. Nor does it have anything to do with a big theme park that charges upward of $100 per person to get in.

No, the ultimate fall family travel destination likely is within a short drive of your home—no matter where in the United States you might live.

Because it’s the corn pit. At your local pumpkin patch.

You know the corn pit—the giant ball-pit style, bathtub-shaped area bound by hay bales and filled with nothing other than corn kernels. My kids discovered this attraction for the first time in their lives today. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear the end of it.

Our experience was part of a larger mission to dodge raindrops, get to the pumpkin patch, and wrap-up Halloween decorating shopping on a high note. Thankfully we got the pumpkins first, because as soon as the big girls jumped into that corn pit, they were lost for the better part of an hour (which happens often on family trips…that’s the subject of another post for another time).

During that time, the girls jumped and flopped and crawled and made snow angels in the corn. Baby G even got in on the fun, venturing into the mix with a pacifier in her mouth, then laughing at her sisters when she insisted on popping the paci out.

Perhaps the only downside of the corn pit: The corn itself. I was still finding kernels in the girls’ clothes tonight. Two particularly stubborn kernels were hiding in L’s underwear.

These stragglers are a small price to for an experience that fun. Corn pit, we salute you!

The ultimate LEGO party at Legoland California

R building her lighthouse

R building her lighthouse

If you like LEGOs, Legoland California, in Southern California, is pretty much heaven. LEGOs are everywhere. LEGO sculptures. LEGOs with which you can build. Giant LEGOs for little kids. Even humans dressed to look like characters from LEGO sets. Seriously.

Because my big kids are obsessed with LEGOs these days, I’d been meaning to take them to Legoland for a while. This past weekend, we finally made the trip.

We landed in San Diego late Friday, drove a rental car up to Carlsbad, and checked into our Kingdom-themed room at the Legoland Resort Hotel. We spent the entire day Saturday inside the park, going on rides, spending way too much money on games and food, splashing around in the water park with friends, and eating LOTS of ice cream. Sunday, after sleeping in, the girls and I stopped in Cardiff-by-the-Sea for donuts, then made our way back to the airport and eventually flew home.

One might expect that the highpoint of this trip was one particular ride or one specific water feature in the water park.

The reality: The best part was a LEGO-building party back in the hotel room Saturday night.

I’m not the only one who thinks so; both L and Little R agree, too. The three of us stayed up until close to midnight building the girls’ new LEGO sets, and that was the most fulfilling time the three of us spent together all weekend.

We loved this part of the trip for a number of reasons. First, the girls only were going to receive their new LEGO sets if they made good choices about how they behaved, so the sets represented a bit of a reward. Second, the sets themselves were super cool—L got a plane and R got a lighthouse. Third, the girls were stoked about the building party because they got to stay up late; I suspended normal bedtime for the sake of togetherness and everybody appreciated the change. The fourth and final reason: We got to build together, something that doesn’t typically happen when we all are at home and their baby sister is crawling around.

What I took away from this experience was a simple lesson I’ve learned in different ways countless times before: Often on family trips, the little things matter most.

Sure, the kids loved being inside the park. And yes, they really enjoyed the water attractions. But the combination of undivided attention from dad and a night without bedtime was MAJORLY AWESOME. Because it was so different.

Looking forward, I’d like to think this experience will change my approach with the big kids on trips. Undoubtedly I can be more lenient about bedtimes every now and again. And ultimately, I’d like to get back to a place where undivided attention from dad *isn’t* unusual. Now that I know these simple tweaks make my kids happy, I’ll do my best to replicate them again and again.

MacGyver meets family travel

There will be other posts about my weekend getaway with the big girls to Legoland and Southern California. Posts about how grown-up these kids have gotten, posts about Post-It notes in bathrooms, and posts about how the best part of our vacation involved a night in the hotel.

For now, however, mere hours after we’ve gotten home, I leave you with this demonstration of how I MacGyvered our trip:


You know MacGyver, that fictional character (who headlined a television show of the same name) who could fashion something useful out of just about anything? He would have been proud of the degree to which I kicked ass Friday as we arrived at San Francisco International Airport for our journey to San Diego and beyond.

As we unloaded the car (backpacks for the girls, a backpack for me, and a small duffel bag), I realized I needed to bring their booster seats for the rental car. The seats were within our carry-on allotment (we had purchased three tickets; the girls’ backpacks fit under the seats in front of them), but the girls refused to carry them through the terminal. Instead of fighting with the kids, I furiously searched through my back for something to lash them together. I found three hair ties. That was all I’d need.

In a matter of moments, I had fashioned the hair ties into a carrying handle. The handle did the job—both to and fro.

A total MacGyvering.

I’ve railed on these pages (and elsewhere) about the idiocy of the mean-spirited #CarryOnShame campaign that encourages travelers to shame other travelers when it appears people are violating airline carry-on policies. If one of those people had seen me schlepping the seats around the airport, undoubtedly they would have snapped a pic and shamed me.

In the end, however, my MacGyver move was both ingenious and totally in accordance with the rules. #CarryonShame, my ass.

Villanos take Legoland, part 2

Hotel lobby. Seriously.

Hotel lobby. Seriously.

One of the coolest things about my job as a family travel writer is that I get to take my kids along on some pretty kick-ass assignments.

Case in point: Our trip this coming weekend, to LEGOLAND California.

You might recall that this isn’t the first time I’ve taken one of my daughters to Legoland; back in December 2014, Little R and I went for a similar weekend excursion/assignment. This time, I’m taking R and L—just the big kids and me—while Powerwoman and Baby G go to visit one of my wife’s buddies in Denver.

R is most excited for the airplane trip; she loves airplanes and cannot wait to fly again. L is excited to see what she missed last time.

We’ll really only be in the park for one day. During that time, we’ll check out some of the new attractions, film some social media projects for a client, report a feature for another client, and try to have some fun (which probably won’t be hard).

Over the rest of the weekend, we’ll also get to see my aunt and some cousins, and visit a bird sanctuary.

Perhaps the highpoint of the trip, however, will be our accommodations: We’re staying in the Legoland Hotel. This is noteworthy for a few reasons:

  1. There are LEGOs everywhere, including a LEGO pit near the front desk and LEGO kits in every room.
  2. Rooms come standard with bunk beds for kids, something my daughters are going to LOVE.
  3. A breakfast buffet is included, and my kids go crazy over those.
  4. The hotel is connected to the park itself, which means convenient returns for bathroom breaks and down time.

Stay tuned here for a blog post following our excursion; I’m not bringing a computer with us on the trip but likely will write about it as soon as we’re home. You also can follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates there.

Three attributes of winning family travel

The scene

The scene

I get to meet some wonderful people through my job as a journalist, and this weekend was no exception. Powerwoman and I attended a swanky dinner in a local vineyard, and ended up sitting across the table from a fascinating couple. We got to talking and discerned that the duo value family travel as much as we do. That’s when things got really interesting.

The woman, general manager at the host winery, asked me what attributes I hoped travel would instill in my kids. Before I could answer, she shared hers with me: CONFIDENCE and CURIOSITY.

It was hard to argue with these, especially after she and her husband explained their picks with anecdotes about their kids in faraway places such as Asia and Europe, always asking locals questions about culture, always longing to explore on their own.

Still, to me, it felt like something was missing. These two attributes simply weren’t enough.

That’s when it dawned on me: While I certainly would agree with her picks, I undoubtedly would add a third: HUMILITY.

In many ways, humility acts as a check and balance for confidence and curiosity—it’s good to be confident and curious when traveling, but it’s also good to make sure you’re not so confident and curious that you offend the locals. Put differently, in the age of Donald Trump, a time during which American behaviors are scrutinized more than ever, it’s important to teach our kids to be self-aware enough to know when they might be overstepping their bounds.

I never got a chance to share my picks at dinner; conversation turned sharply and moved on to other topics. But I’m delighted to share them here. And I’m eager to get your feedback—what attributes do YOU hope travel instills in your kids? Please leave your thoughts in the comment field below.


All about the beach glass


Our haul

Every kid likes treasure hunts. There’s something about the quest, something about the thrill of the hunt. Of course there’s also the sheer excitement at those moments of discovery—the very seconds the kids find what they’re looking for and practically jump for joy.

Friends tell me this is one of the things that makes Pokemon Go so popular. In our family, it explains why the girls love combing our local coastline for beach glass.

Beach Glass Hunts are one of our favorite activities—a go-to agenda item for those days when I want to get the kids fresh air but don’t want them to realize that they’ve spent the entire day outside. Luckily, we live about an hour from the Sonoma County coast, and many of the beaches out that way are veritable goldmines for beach glass.

I took Little R and Baby G earlier today, to Goat Rock State Beach. G spent the hunt (freezing her buns off) in the child-carrier backpack and R traipsed along the beach on foot. It was one of our the most epic days ever—we tallied more than 30 pieces in all.

Granted, many of these pieces were about the size of individual fish-tank gravel. But the kids didn’t care.

Our hunt started out slowly—it took us a while to walk from the parking lot over the dunes to the water’s edge, and a while longer to head up the beach to find rocky sections of sand. Eventually, however, R honed in on a section that provided the motherlode: more than a dozen green pieces, a few clear ones, two reddish-brown specimens, and a few blues.

Every time my kid found a piece, she’d scream BEACH GLASS BEACH GLASS BEACH GLASS at the top of her lungs. Every time she screamed it, the seagulls lingering up ahead flew off, scared for their lives.

Time on the beach went quickly; I thought we were out for 45 minutes but really it was about 90. The two (or three, I guess) of us could have kept going but the baby needed to eat and we needed to allow enough time to walk back to the car and drive back to pick up Big Sister L from school.

The itinerary didn’t matter one bit. R was happy to get time on the hunt and delighted to have a stash to show for it. G liked watching waves and birds, and hearing her sister scream and run around like a spaz.

In short, our coast time today was pure and total bliss. Beach glass never disappoints around here.

Wandering Pod hits BBVA Compass blog

This trip was cheap!

This trip was cheap!

I never shy away from acting as a family travel expert—it’s a title in which I take great pride. That’s precisely why I was eager to help friend and fellow freelance writer Katie Morell when she called me asking for input on an article.

That article, titled, “Affordable Wanderlust: Traveling with Children,” was published on a BBVA Compass blog earlier this week.

The story takes the format of a Q&A, with Katie asking me a series of questions about how families can travel as families on a budget. My favorite tips: Bundle air and hotel through an OTA (such as Expedia!) to save money, consider vacation rentals so you can prepare your own food, leverage the “lapchild” distinction as long as you possibly can.

I also really appreciated her question about how families should handle incidental spending on mementos such as souvenirs. Here’s my response:

This type of spending can really add up. We will set a limit for each child. We might tell our oldest child (the one that can do math) that she gets $50 per trip and then allow her to make choices on how she spends that money. For our middle child, we will tell her she can get three things within the same dollar amount but that we will track how much she spends. We try to make it fun and tie it into a math lesson.

What are your tips for family travel on a budget? Please share them in the comment field below.

Long lost cousins

This is us

This is us

I’ve mentioned that L and I traveled to Portland last weekend. What I neglected to mention—at least in detail—is why: We went to attend the bar mitzvah of one of my cousin’s kids.

The cousin in question is a relative I haven’t seen in 12 years. That means he’d never met L. It also means L had never met him, or any of his kids. Which means my biggest daughter was meeting some of her cousins for the very first time.

Any other kid might have been daunted by all this unknown, by the possibility of going to a party with 40 other kids and NOT KNOWING A SOUL.

My kid, on the other hand, relished the opportunity. So much that she told me to get lost.

To be honest, I couldn’t really believe my ears. It happened during the cocktail hour of the party—adults were asked to go upstairs to a rooftop deck, while kids were invited to party on the dance floor below. I wasn’t sure how L would fare, so I gave her the option of having me hang around. That’s when she dropped the bomb. Get lost, Dad. I’m fine down here. I’ll make friends.

It was a bittersweet moment for sure. On one hand, I was delighted she felt comfortable being so independent. On the other hand, I was heartbroken that she didn’t need me, especially since she previously has wanted me around for similar situations.

Still, I obliged. I got lost. Despite how difficult that was.

In the end, the kid had a blast. She made friends with her long lost cousins and some of the other kids in attendance. She hung with them at various parts of the rest of the night. She also spent time just chilling by herself, dancing and singing and watching others have a ball. She even participated in some of the games; when she was one of the three finalists for Musical Chairs, she pocketed $20 for her efforts (trust me, bar mitzvahs aren’t what they used to be).

On our way back to the hotel, around 11 p.m., L turned to me and declared it had been “one of the best nights” of her life. I couldn’t help but smile.

I’d like to think travel has played a huge part in getting my oldest daughter comfortable enough to have the kind of night she had last weekend. It’s taught her adaptability and confidence. It’s taught her how to step back and observe. Most of all, traveling has helped my kid get to know herself, an important part of any human’s personal development. It’s a fundamental part of who and what she is.

Some might say we traveled to this bar mitzvah last weekend. I like to look at it a little differently: We attended a bar mitzvah for which travel prepared us all along.

The distinction here is subtle but important nevertheless; if we are, in fact, the sum of all of our experiences, the more experiences we have, the richer our lives become. It’s true for grown-ups and kids alike. No matter how many new cousins you might meet in a weekend, it only gets better over time.

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