Best site-tour buddies ever

Checking out Timber Cove

Checking out Timber Cove

Sometimes as a work-at-home parent I’m forced to take my kids with me on professional outings. This explains why I schlepped my 5-year-old and 1-year-old assistants with me this week on a pair of hotel site tours.

Considering these types of activities usually involve wandering around hotel rooms, interviewing general managers, and taking lots of notes, I’d say R and G handled the experience like rock stars.

They also had a bunch of fun.

The first of the tours, at Timber Cove, was more subdued. G crawled around on the lobby floor while R marveled at the crackling fireplace and I chatted with the manager. Later, as we poked around to look at rooms, R took on the job of explorer, and scouted out every feature of every room we entered.

(Her favorites were the loft suites, which feature spiral staircases from the living space to the bedroom; and the oceanfront suites with patios that look out on the raging Pacific.)

There were valuable lessons learned, too. Like when R tossed a half-eaten apple into an empty garbage pail, only to learn the pail was empty because housekeeping already had cleaned the room for its next guests. And when yours truly discovered that yes, in fact, the baby does really like eating toilet paper.

In all, Timber Cove received the Wandering Pod stamp of approval: R asked when we could go back.

The second tour was actually an opening—I dragged the girls (with G in a stroller, no less) to the fancypants ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new resort hotel at Graton Rancheria Casino. Yes, people, you read that right. I’m a 41-year-old father of three, and I took my two younger children to a hotel opening at a casino.

While this particular property was infinitely swankier than the first, the tour itself was far less interactive. The three of us followed a crowd of people to the elevator bank, got on, wandered up to the eighth floor, toured some rooms, then came back down.

Excitement reached a crescendo when we did a walkthrough of the spa and R attempted to dip her feet in the hot tub, then surged again when she poured herself a cup full of snack mix in the lounge area.

I also loved our impromptu chow-down in the lobby bar, during which the three of us grabbed a table in the middle of a room full of casino executives, R ate the aforementioned snack mix, and G wolfed down two pouches from Plum Organics.

Perhaps the highpoint of this experience occurred as we made our way to the exit. One of the servers waltzed by with a tray of taquitos and R decided to give it a try. She loved them. A lot. In fact, my kid liked the taquitos so much that she proceeded to grab a dozen of them, plop cross-legged on the lobby floor and stuff her face right in the middle of the event.

You can picture the scene: A 5-year-old girl, eating taquitos on the lobby floor of a brand-new casino resort hotel. It was classic. It was epic. I don’t ever want to do a site tour without my kids again.

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.

Portland, Big Girl-style

20160909_135115One of my favorite writing treatments these days is to craft a travel story about a destination in the words and images of our Big Girl, L. She’s a phenomenal writer for her age (Exhibit A right here), she makes incredibly poignant observations, and she’s really learning how to wield the camera on a Smartphone.

I find her perspective innocent, fresh, and fun. It also usually elicits something I, alone, would not.

That’s the backstory behind my latest post for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia – a 7-year-old’s take on Portland. The piece is part of a series I’m writing for Expedia, and it presents a handful of pictures L took during our visit there earlier this fall. Interspersed with these images are glorified captions that set each scene and provide context for why she decided to take the pic. As a set, the images provide a colorful look at L’s impressions of the city, and her evolving artistic eye.

They also just make me damn proud.

You can read the piece by clicking here. Please share your feedback in the comments!

FTA Summit a smashing success

My mind is still spinning from this week’s Family Travel Association summit. The event was an overwhelming success.

I could regale you with hour-by-hour recaps of what we did and how it went, but I’ve already done that for the FTA blog here and here. I also could sum up the best and biggest moments of the week, but I’ve done that for AFAR.com here. Heck, if you really wanted to, you could check out the FTA’s Facebook page and listen to archived versions of my Facebook Live interviews with keynote speakers there.

Whatever you do, please follow up and read and listen and think more about family travel. The girls and I are headed to the coast for storm-watching and some R&R. Check back next week for more targeted impressions and more specific action items for the weeks and months ahead.

FTA Board of Advisors. I love these peeps.

FTA Board of Advisors. I love these peeps.

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:

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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.

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