Park passes latest addition to Colorado libraries

"Check-out" this pack!

“Check-out” this pack!

As a staunch advocate of getting kids outside, I was delighted to read news recently about a program at select Colorado libraries through which patrons can check-out 7-day passes to the state’s parks.

The “Check-Out State Parks” program is a partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and eight libraries across the state. The program offers residents the ability to check out one of two seven-day hang-tag park passes (the king that hang on your vehicle’s rearview mirror) at each library.

Each pass comes with a backpack that contains a wildlife viewing guide, a camping guide, a compass, a binoculars, a magnifying glass, and more. There also is general park information, as well as educational activities. (It sounds like the packs are pretty similar to ones I spotted at Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in Nevada, and wrote about in this Expedia Viewfinder post.)

The Colorado passes are good for entrance to all 42 state parks. The passes can be reserved and renewed. The state also is encouraging people who check out the passes to share photos or Tweets from their trip with the hashtag, #CheckOutColorado.

The first eight libraries are part of a pilot program that started Oct. 1 and will run through March 31, 2016. The full program will launch to all 260 libraries in the state April 1, 2016.

Of course programs like this are AMAZING for family travel. They open up the great outdoors to families FOR FREE. What’s more, the educational information in those backpacks can help teach kids lessons about the environment they’ll remember forever. Hopefully my home state of California will adopt a similar program sometime soon.

San Juan Islands family travel recap

Sisters. Eagle Cove. Beachcombing.

Sisters. Eagle Cove. Beachcombing.

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you undoubtedly already have read all about our family trip to the San Juan Islands. Now, however, there’s a place where you can read a recap of the entire adventure IN ONE POST.

The spot: The Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia (a client). The post: This piece, titled “Summer in the San Juans.”

My story, which published earlier today, summarizes our time on the San Juan Islands in about 1,400 words. It includes details about our marine animal sightings, our beach time, the fun we had at Roche Harbor, and even our side-trip to Orcas Island. It also chronicles some behind-the-scenes color from the downtime we spent as a family at the incredible house we rented.

I am especially proud of the photos that accompany the piece; I took hundreds of shots during our two weeks on the island, and was delighted to be able to publish a few of them somewhere other than Instagram.

(If you’re not currently following me on Instagram, by the way, you should.)

Even if you think you’ve read everything about our trip, I encourage you to take the time to give this story a read as well. Thanks in advance for the support.

More tips for road trips with kids

Sleeping beauties. In the car.

Sleeping beauties. In the car.

We take a ton of road trips in this family, and I’m always eager to share some of my tips and lessons learned with the masses. Case in point: My latest piece for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, which outlines five can’t-miss tips for road-tripping with kids.

The post was inspired by our recent road trip from Portland, Oregon, to the San Juan Islands, and back down to Seattle. All five of the tips relate directly to the experiences we had on the trip.

At least two of the suggestions echo some of the pointers I laid out in an interview with Juliana Shallcross of Trips + Giggles earlier this month. The other three are brand spanking new, and feature anecdotes that I’ve never shared anywhere else. (Gotta keep you regular readers on your toes, you know.)

We certainly will be calling upon some of our own suggestions again later this month, as we’ll be road-tripping down to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to report another family travel piece.

(There also is a potential road-trip to LEGOLAND California in the works; stay tuned for details on that.)

We even are open to new road-trip tips; if you’ve got advice to share, please feel free to do so in the comment section below. And in case you missed the link the first time, check out my Expedia Viewfinder piece about road-trip tips here.

Best spots in Portland for family travel

Playing with water funnels at OMSI,

Playing with water funnels at OMSI,

We’re still in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, enjoying days full of beach time, wildlife-watching (all Orcas, all the time), and lots (and lots) of locally made ice cream.

Before we got here, however, we spent a few days exploring Portland, Oregon, to the south.

The real reason for that part of the trip was to see some old friends. Naturally, however, because this family travel writer likes to hunt down good stories wherever we go, I also reported a story for the Expedia Viewfinder blog (and, potentially, other outlets) about the very best Portland has to offer for kids.

That piece, titled, “Portland for kids,” appeared on the Viewfinder blog earlier this week. In it, I chronicled our experiences at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, on the Portland Aerial Tram, and at one of the city’s best donut shops, Blue Star Donuts.

I also gave some serious props/love to the Hotel Deluxe, the fabulous boutique (and restored turn-of-the-century) hotel where we stayed.

We packed a ton into the 48 hours we spent in Portland. Still, there were a number of sights we actually *didn’t* get to see. Among the stuff I’ve got on my list for next time: the Portland Children’s Museum, the Oaks Amusement Park, and a trip to Pok Pok, supposedly one of the best Thai restaurants in the entire country.

I’m already looking forward to our return.

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.

Getting real about Disneyland

L takes on Disneyland, like a boss.

L taking on Disneyland, like a boss.

As fun as it might seem to take the kids to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” a.k.a., the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, the experience can be exhausting, too.

That’s the gist of my latest piece for the Expedia Viewfinder blog, which published today.

The story, titled, “Daddy does the Disneyland Resort,” outlines precisely why a trip to see the West Coast Mouse can be so tiring—especially for dads. Among the reasons I outline in the article: physical demands of walking all over the (500-acre) place, psycho-emotional demands of keeping kids happy in line, and under-hydration (even in winter).

In the article, I also list a number of ways dads (and moms) can avoid what I liken as the “Disney stupor” the next time they visit.

Among my solutions here: Utilizing Rider Switch, embracing technology, and, of course, drinking booze (Which you only can do in Disney California Adventure Park).

The blog post itself was based on “research” Powerwoman and I conducted on one of our last visits to the theme park, back in 2012. At that time, L was 4 and R was 1. (Now, of course, L is 5 and R is 3; though my philosophy on approaching the visits hasn’t changed much.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the effort is the main picture, which captures L walking through Downtown Disney like she owns the place, and Powerwoman pushing R in the buggy with abandon. Check it out!

What are your tips for surviving theme park visits with *your* young ones?

 

Rise of the ‘famfie’

London famfie, Williams-style.

London famfie, Williams-style.

Even in today’s digital age, there’s nothing quite like an all-inclusive snapshot to commemorate a great moment from an epic family trip. The whole gang! In front of (insert famous site here)! Not only is the image a great memento, but it also serves as a badge of awesomeness that you can post on social media to show your friends.

In the olden days, lining up these pictures was complicated: You had to identify a seemingly trustworthy passerby, hand him or her the camera, and hope to goodness the person didn’t take photos like my Grandpa Al (who was notorious for chopping off people’s heads).

Today, however, with Smartphones, it’s easy: You fire up the camera app, shoot with the forward-facing camera and—voila!—a group selfie.

Or, more specifically, a “famfie.”

You read that correctly—the nom du jour for this group selfie on a family vacation is a FAMFIE. Say it five times fast. Now forget that you sound like a bunny when you say it so frequently. And embrace a word that is sure to be added to the dictionary before our next Presidential Election in 2016.

I was introduced to the concept only recently, when Kara Williams, one of my fellow Expedia Viewfinder contributors (and a top-rate family travel blogger as well), used it in a Facebook post about her family’s three-month tour of Europe. So I did some digging. And learned that it’s a growing trend.

Most families, like Kara’s, take famfies the traditional way—with everybody looking into the camera.

In our family, the whole notion of a famfie will play out a little differently. Because I don’t believe in showing my kids’ faces on the Internet, any group selfie we take will have to capture the *backs* of our heads. Something tells me our approach might not go over as smoothly as a famfie from the front. We’re headed to Lake Tahoe for most of next week. I’ll try it out there and let you know.

What are your secrets for taking good famfies?

All Princesses, All the Time

My girls, en route to Kensington Palace

My girls, en route to Kensington Palace

Princesses are a big theme in our house these days. The girls are obsessed with “Sofia the First.” Every morning, they come up with princess nicknames for themselves—nicknames that Powerwoman and I are supposed to honor until we hear otherwise.

Of course L and R each also have (far too many) princess dresses, which they wear with pride.

There are days when the princess theme is so prevalent in our house that I think the children truly see themselves as royalty. What this means to them, however, is something we grown-ups still are trying to divine.

Clearly it means something. During our time in London, L requested special trips into Kensington Gardens so we could gaze upon Kensington Palace. The way she spoke of these trips, it seemed she was convinced we were going to run into Duchess Kate Middleton, strike up a conversation with her and get invited in for tea. (In case you’re wondering, no, oddly enough, this never happened.)

I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t spent time wondering what our daughters would do if they ever actually had the chance to be princess. These waking fantasies have increased in anticipation of the upcoming DreamWorks Animation film, Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

In the film, P&S take a most excellent, Bill and Ted-like adventure and travel through time with the help of a device called a WABAC (pronounced “way-back”) machine. DreamWorks is partnering with one of my clients, Expedia, on a promo for (and giveaway in conjunction with) the film; as part of that, I and my ExpediaViewfinder team members have gone from travel bloggers to time-travel bloggers until the movie debuts March 7.

Some of my colleagues have written on the blog about using a WABAC to travel to Paris in the 1920s, Egypt in the 1950s and Klondike Alaska in the heart of the Gold Rush. My post, about transporting back to 1850s Lahaina (on Maui), is here.

In the meantime, I’ve got another time-travel daydream: Because of my girls, I’d take the family back to Medieval times, to the era of princesses.

Back then (we’re talking the 1200s, people), just about every daughter of a high-ranking noble was considered a princess. They practically lived in fancy dresses. They had tea. They lived the high life. And they lived privileged lives at court—dancing and laughing and doing all the stuff my girls (likely) think princesses do.

Upon returning to this era, I’d hope to find a princess who would be willing to take L and R under her royal wing and teach them how to dance the carol, survive a formal dinner and treat others with dignity and respect.

Of course I’d also hope to connect my girls with a princess who had lots of dresses with lots of tulle (preferably in their sizes).

Heck, it’d be swell to find a princess willing to share her chambermaid and give my kids a makeover.

I know, the chauvinistic and misogynistic Middle Ages were no place for a modern girl. And I’ve done enough research on the subject to understand that most of these princesses were horribly unhappy—with their fathers, with their husbands (or their betrothed), and with their lives. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t use the WABAC to transform my kids into Medieval princesses forever; I’d just want them to experience a taste of princess-hood. For a finite period of time.

I’d hope that like Peabody & Sherman (or Bill and Ted, for that matter), my kids would return from their time-travel extravaganza with one-of-a-kind insight and knowledge into the past, and a renewed appreciation for the present.

After all, if they’re going to be this into princesses for the next few years, we might as well put them in a position to base their passions on fact.

If you had a WABAC machine, where would you visit, and what time period would you visit there?

Making a Splash

I’m proud to announce my involvement with a new travel blog from Expedia.

The blog, dubbed Expedia Viewfinder, launched today, and aims to give readers extensive coverage from around the world, as well as insights for travelers across a variety of categories. One of those categories is family travel; I’ll be covering it from a dad’s perspective.

(Of course I’ll be covering other stuff too—adventure travel, gambling, and more. For an archive of stories I already have written for the blog, click here.)

You’ll notice a box down in the “Partners” section of this page advertising the program. Please feel free to click through and check things out. Also, please help spread the word by telling your friends and family members about it. I’m excited to be a part of the Expedia Viewfinder team, and look forward to bringing you with me on this adventure.

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