Embracing a new travel plan

Self portrait by the Big Girl

I’ve made no secret over the years about the fact that our biggest girl, L, struggles with anxiety issues from time to time.

Some weeks, this has no bearing whatsoever on our lives as a family of five. Other weeks, it means our individual and collective lives are characterized by aggressive behavior, wild mood swings, lousy attitude, and more.

As you can imagine, enduring these tough times on the road can be a real struggle for everyone involved. This is why we recently sat down with our (regular) family behavioral therapist to come up with a strategy for navigating any potential behavioral hiccups during our upcoming family trip to Disneyland this weekend.

The therapist worked with us to devise what she calls a “Travel Plan” for the trip. Basically, this document—and it is a physical, typed-out document—serves as a playbook that establishes ground rules and sets expectations for everyone.

The plan lists everything from specific meal times and bed times to time-out consequences for temper tantrums or what to do if someone falls ill (answer: GO BACK TO HOTEL WITH A PARENT).

Our document even has space to list out a specific itinerary for the two full days we’ll be in the park.

As our therapist explained it, Powerwoman and I are supposed to work together to fill out this itinerary on the nights before our park days, then spend five or 10 minutes on the mornings of our park days reviewing the plan with the girls. The goal: To eliminate surprises and potentially challenging transitions for our Big Girl.

If you’re reading this and you think, “That sounds completely NOT spontaneous,” you’re right. And that’s exactly the point.

You see when you travel with kids who experience anxiety, you want to eliminate as much of the unknown as you possibly can. Naturally, when you’re traveling, it’s impossible to manage EVERYTHING. But we *can* manage what we can manage. So we try.

Will it work? Will the plan make a difference? Only time will tell. It’s a good sign that everybody—including L—is excited to use it. This might just be the first trip of the rest of our lives. Wish us luck.

The family travel sweepstakes dream

Duns. OMG.

What family wouldn’t want to stay in a medieval Scottish castle for a week? The history! The secrets! The creative play for your kids (and the grown-ups)! The excuses to go out in public wearing plaid knee-length kilts!

This is what makes a recent promotion from HomeAway so incredibly awesome The offering, held in conjunction with the Family Travel Association to celebrate the upcoming Disney live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” will land one lucky family the keys to the 12-bedroom, 9-bathroom Duns Castle in Scotland, about one hour south of Edinburgh.

The promo started earlier this month and ends March 31. No purchase is necessary to participate, though it’s only open to residents of the United States, UK, France, and Germany.

Obviously, the stay at Duns is the grand prize. With five nights in the castle, transportation from your home to the Scottish countryside and back, and all meals as part of the deal, the value of the package is somewhere around $25,000. (The place normally rents for about $3,200 per night.)

Oh, and because the place is so big, HomeAway is letting the winner bring 20 family members or friends.

Five other prize-winners can win up to seven nights with four guests at another HomeAway property of their choice, with transportation included. Depending on where you stay, this prize could be pretty valuable, too.

In order to enter the drawing, click here and answer a few simple questions about yourself and your ideal vacation. Participants also must answer a question about how many lodging options travelers can find on HomeAway. I’ll save you the Google search and tell you here: It just surpassed more than 2 million.

Disney fans, take note: The landing page for the promotion also has links to all of the official “Beauty and the Beast” trailers, so you can enter and geek out at the same time.

Good luck! And if you win, take us!

American families set to hit the road

A whole bunch of American families are expected to travel this year—great news for us family travel bloggers and just about everyone else.

The stat comes from a recent survey report from AAA, which suggested that roughly 35 percent of American families will travel more than 50 miles away from home with at least two other family members in 2017.

The report was released earlier this week and included replies from 1,006 respondents. It also comprised a number of data points on the kind of trips family travelers plan to take. 

Leading the charge: the old-fashioned road trip (79 percent of respondents), national parks (51 percent), and theme parks (40 percent). Trips to international destinations (33 percent), guided or escorted tours (22 percent), and ocean cruises (20 percent) also made the list.

Drilling deeper, road trip numbers were 10 percent higher than last year—a curious finding, considering that gas prices are more than 50 cents higher than they were in February 2016. 

I wrote about the survey for AFAR, and a press release that hit wires Tuesday quoted an AAA executive as saying that Americans preferred the “structure and convenience” of group tours over the flexibility of a road trip. 

“Many tours are specially designed for multi-generational groups, plus there’s no better way to learn about a destination than from a knowledgeable, local guide,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing. 

Overall, survey data indicated that while the vast majority (70 percent) of respondents said they were planning to take one or two vacations this year, 28 percent of respondents said they would take three or more. AAA did not offer any explanations for this data, but it did note the number of frequent family travelers rose 13 percentage points over last year. That’s music to this dad’s ears.A

Walking like a pro

Conquering the plaza

Conquering the plaza

The big news from our world over the last few weeks is that Powerwoman and I now are the proud parents of three fully ambulatory human beings.

Allow me to translate that for you: Baby G is walking up a storm.

The littlest Villano isn’t just meandering here and there. Instead, girl is marching with purpose, often leaving her sisters and me in the dust. In practice, this can be difficult to manage, as the baby is always a few steps ahead of us old fogies. In theory, however, it’s a harbinger of great times to come, since we clearly have added a third adventuresome daughter to the mix.

Our new status as a family with three ambulating kids means our travel experiences will be completely different from here on out. Less stroller time. Less backpack time. More time with everyone on foot.

So far—thankfully, I might add—the big girls have taken to keeping tabs on their little sister, often holding G’s hands when we’re out and about. When the big sisters aren’t around to hold the baby’s hands, Powerwoman and I happily oblige.

It will be interesting to see how these trends continue on our next big trip: Disneyland. Will L and R take the time to look after their sister at a theme park? Will G be overwhelmed by the rides and crowds and not want to walk around on her own? These all are questions we’ll be able to resolve over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Powerwoman and I fully intend simply to enjoy the ride.

G is still in that wonderful stage where walking is so new that everything she sees while she’s ambulating is amazing and great and wonderful. She could see the same stuff in a stroller and not care at all. On her own two feet, however, look out!

How did your kids’ ambulation change your family travels?

New Plum video series about family travel

Note the emoji

Note the emoji

Over the years I’ve made no secret of my love for Plum Organics.

My kids—all three of them, if you can believe it—are addicted to the puffs, and Baby G guzzles at least one (if not two) pouches every day. Little R was a maniac about Shredz, Plum’s nod to Big League Chew. And every now and again, L likes to devour some Mighty Snack Bars, which basically are Plum’s answer to granola bars.

I’ve written about Plum. I’ve visited their offices. I’ve interviewed their founder and (former) CEO. In short, I’m a Plum fanboy, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

But even if I weren’t such a zealot, I’d *still* love the company’s new online video campaign.

Dubbed #TeamParent, the social media campaign uses texting as a way to show how two spouses rely on Plum to make family travel easier. The latest video focuses on having enough snacks to survive a plane trip with a baby. Another video in the series focuses on leveraging snacks to overcome a cranky toddler during a road trip. A third video revolves around snacks as a way to avoid a park meltdown—something to which every parent can relate (even those who don’t travel that much).

While the videos themselves represent a brilliant perspective on how real-world parents interact about their kids, the comments on the videos offer an entirely different kind of education, providing insight to how those same real-world parents feel about the way the campaign represents them.

Even if you don’t travel with your kids, you’ll appreciate the new campaign. But for those of you who do travel with your little ones, the videos take on even more significance.

Don’t take my word for it; see for yourself. I dare you to watch without smiling.

Yosemite through the words of my 7-year-old

The journal.

The journal.

Visiting Yosemite National Park has become an annual ritual in this family. We go (usually in spring), we hike, we commune with nature, we take a continuing education class or two, then we come home.

We’ve done this sort of thing just about every year for the last six. For almost all of those years, I was the one who did most of the writing—not only in my journal, but also for my clients, on my computer, both there in the park and here back at home. (I’ve updated a few guidebooks about the park.)

Last year, however, L got in on the action, too. As part of a broader effort to get her to journal, I challenged her to write about our multigenerational experience inside the park when we visited back in April 2016. She took the task very seriously, scribbling copious notes throughout our visit. Before we began, she agreed that at some point I could use her work in an article. That article published yesterday on the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia.

The piece, titled, “Yosemite, daughter-style,” comprises whole snippets from her journal—entire passages that describe slices of Yosemite in her words. I edited the copy only for style and grammar.

In the story I quote her on a wide range of subjects, from the road trip there to shufflepuck, our room at Evergreen Lodge to my father’s wacky way of ordering salad. I also tried to preserve her cadence—this totally unique voice that falls somewhere between innocent and totally irritated; a perfect mix for 7-going-on-17.

The process of flipping through her journal to find these passages gave me a newfound appreciation for everything we experience when we visit Yosemite. I hope her words have the same effect on you.

Awesome amenity for kids who lose teeth on the road

Mmmm, cupcakes

Mmmm, cupcakes

Spend enough time traveling with youngsters and it’s bound to happen sooner or later: Your little one loses a tooth (naturally) away from home.

Of course if your kids believe in the Tooth Fairy, this occurrence puts a burden on mom and dad—how do you perpetuate the rituals you’ve established around celebrating or commemorating these sort of life events at home?

A recent Twitter post from the folks at Four Seasons Orlando answered this question in a fun way. The post, which was accompanied by a picture of adorable cupcakes (see above), read: “Our pastry team created this adorable amenity for little guests who lost a tooth during their stay & await a visit from the tooth fairy!”

In other words, the swanky resort hotel gives sugary cupcakes to kids who just lost teeth.

This is awesome for a number of reasons:

  • CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.
  • It totally takes that aforementioned burden off Mom and Dad, providing a kick-ass option/reward to ascribe to the Tooth Fairy herself (that crafty minx).
  • That little tooth character is bound to make little ones smile, which could come in handy if your kid is like my oldest child and *freaks out* at the sight or thought or idea of blood.
  • DID WE MENTION CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES?

Our little family never has visited this particular property but hope to get there the next time we visit the Walt Disney World Resort. Sure, the place has a bunch of other pretty swanky attractions. But this particularly amenity is one of my faves, and it makes me kind of hope one of the girls loses a tooth (the old-fashioned way; not like this) when we go.

What are the most creative in-room amenities you’ve encountered on your travels?

Recapping a November to remember

Dadbods, unite!

Dadbods, unite!

Early last month, I published a post introducing you dear readers to my idea of participating in Movember, a social media campaign dubbed The Dadbod Challenge. The campaign aimed to celebrate the male body—especially the dad body—with daily photos (by the illustrious Kim Carroll) of yours truly in various forms of undress.

Thirty days later, the campaign ended yesterday. It was a smashing success.

First, we raised more than $6,500 for The Movember Foundation, the only charity solely dedicated to raising money to support and raising awareness for men’s health. Second, because I vowed to match all donations made on my 41st birthday (Nov. 14, for those of you scoring at home) and send the matches to Planned Parenthood, we raised an additional $2,600 for PPFA. Third, we scored some pretty sick media hits (like this one and this one).

Do the math and we raised about $9,000 overall. In 30 days. With a bunch of Speedo pix and some witty captions.

On the most basic level, I am BLOWN AWAY by the generous support of my friends, colleagues, and family members. On another level, however, I’m super-proud of each and every person who got involved. Thanks to all of you.

I’m also excited about how the campaign paid homage to family travel. Because I’m the primary childcare solution for our family, I was forced to drag Baby G with me on a number of shoots. That means many of the images were snapshots of family travel—the Villanos in a vineyard, the Villanos at a luxury hotel, the Villanos at a boutique hotel’s pool (see picture above).

Whether your star-spangled Speedo is literal or metaphoric, I hope these pictures—and the success of the campaign in general—will inspire you to support men’s health and get out there to explore the world.

Remembering holidays abroad

Thanksgiving dinner. In England.

Thanksgiving dinner. In England.

As Thanksgiving 2016 approaches, I can’t help but think back to Thanksgiving 2013—when our family (then there were only four of us) was in England.

We took a long weekend from our apartment in London for Thanksgiving that year, vacationing at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire while I completed an assignment there. We didn’t expect much of a traditional American Thanksgiving because we were abroad.

Then the chef at the on-site restaurant learned of our visit, and made us a feast with all the trimmings.

Turkey. Stuffing. Brussels Sprouts. Cranberry sauce. Dinner rolls. You name the Thanksgiving staple, we ate it then and there. Chef even made the girls a little marzipan turkey, and filled the rest of the plate with jelly beans. While the food wasn’t as good as it is when we cook it here at home, it *was* delicious. And it made us feel welcome in a way for which we were incredibly thankful (see what I did there?).

Remembering the wonderful Thanksgiving meal got me thinking about some of the other factors that contributed to a successful Thanksgiving-away-from-home celebration that year. Here, then, in no particular order, are three of them.

Decorations from home

When we left for London that summer, we remembered to bring with us decorations for all the holidays we’d be celebrating abroad. This meant bringing birthday decorations for our September and November birthdays. It meant bringing Halloween decorations. It also meant bringing construction-paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. (We also brought stockings and Xmas decorations, FWIW.)

For the girls, seeing the very same decorations they knew and loved from home helped make the holiday seem more “typical.” L went so far as to declare that her decorations made everything feel exactly the same.

Traditions

Most specifics of individual holidays don’t matter as much as the traditions. I’m not talking about the “tradition” of having turkey with all the fixings; instead I’m talking about traditions such as sharing what you’re thankful for, watching the live broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York, engaging in a post-meal walkabout, and so on. For us, THESE were the activities that we strived to replicate abroad. We did a decent job. For the kids, that was more than good enough.

Family touchstones

Extended family is a big part of our annual Thanksgiving ritual when we’re home, and Powerwoman and I were worried about how we’d replicate that for the girls while we were away. Thanks to Skype, we didn’t have to worry at all. On the actual day of Thanksgiving (back in California), we Skyped over to my sister-in-law’s house and had a fabulous conversation with everybody who was there. The technology was nothing new at the time and it’s nothing new now. But it works. And it’s made a HUGE difference.

The bottom line: A little familiarity goes a long way, especially when you’re traveling with young kids. If you plan to be abroad—or just away from home—for a major holiday, go out of your way to make the kids feel like nothing is out of the ordinary. Even if they don’t seem appreciative in the moment, they’ll appreciate it. As parents, that’s all we can really ask for anyway.

What are the most far-flung places you’ve spent holidays?

Celebrating travel, fatherhood with #dadbod

The #dadbod

The #dadbod

For better or for worse, dads’ bodies—with all our love handles, all their blemishes—are the vessels through which we live our busy lives. As much as these bodies have changed over the years, they’re still ours, still us. And they still can help us accomplish incredible things, such as raising awareness and money for an important cause.

That’s why I developed The #Dadbod Challenge—a fun social media campaign that kicked off this week as part of Movember.

You know Movember—the annual month-long effort to raise awareness of and money for a variety of men’s health issues specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. Well, the #Dadbod Challenge directly supports the Movember Foundation, the only global charity focused solely on men’s health.

The #Dadbod Challenge is a campaign in which any dad can participate. Inspired by travel selfies (here’s the family travel connection, people), #Dadbod aims to celebrate the male body in all of its forms—a self-deprecating mash-up between Alicia Keys’ campaign to embrace her make-up free self and the Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014.

The rules of engagement are simple.

  1. Don a Speedo or another outfit that shows off a dad bod
  2. Snap a pic (it can be a selfie or someone else can take it)
  3. Share the pic on social media with the #Dadbod hashtag
  4. Tag other people to accept the #Dadbod Challenge
  5. Donate to the Movember Foundation

While the pictures themselves will help spread the message, the donation part is the most important step on the #Dadbod list. Since 2003, the Movember community has raised more than $710 million and has funded more than 1,200 men’s health projects in 21 countries.

With this in mind, the primary goals of the #Dadbod Challenge are no different from the goal of Movember as a whole: To spark conversations and raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health. By sharing pictures of our imperfect selves, dads will broaden those conversations and raising awareness in new (and admittedly sometimes ridiculous) ways. Hopefully they’ll also inspire people to give.

To follow the campaign through my images on Instagram, which will chronicle everything. You also can visit the official Movember #Dadbod launch page. To donate, click here. Thanks in advance for supporting this great cause.

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