Three’s a charm for family travel coverage

Disco-dancing in Yosemite

Disco-dancing in Yosemite

Our not-so-little-anymore pod got some nice ink this week, with three separate family travel stories in two different outlets.

The first of the stories, a service piece, appeared in our local metro daily, The (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Press-Democrat, and spotlighted 10 tips for easier holiday travel with the kids. In addition to the tips themselves, the story included six pictures of the girls from various adventures over the last few years. Oh, and if you can think of any tips that I left out, please share them in the comment field.

The second and third of the stories, both of which appeared on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, comprised photos (and related captions) from our multigenerational trip to Yosemite National Park this spring.

To read the better of the two Expedia stories, click here.

For more pieces like these three, please stay tuned. Over the next few months I’ll have family travel articles in Family Fun magazine, USA Today’s Go Escape, the Expedia Viewfinder, Alaska Beyond magazine (that’s the in-flight for Alaska), and others.

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!

Polling kids’ perspectives on family travel

I’ve got great colleagues on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, and two of them recently published a video worth watching.

The video, dubbed “Kids Talk Travel,” is two minutes of bliss in which Rick Griffin and Sandi McKenna (the duo behind Midlife Road Trip) interview a number of kids on the subject of what the kiddos like best about traveling.

Of course the video is adorable; anything that culls insight from kids is bound to be that. But some of the responses also are profound. Like when the interview subjects talk about their favorite trips. And when they list the things that make them most excited about traveling again.

(My favorite of all might be the line where one kid says he plans to stop peeing in his Pull-Ups so he can go to Disney.)

I could tell you more but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Check out the video below. And if you’re not already following Midlife Road Trip, do so here (and thank me later).

Now is the time for a family trip to South America

20 years ago in Brazil, I wrote this

20 years ago in Brazil, I wrote this

Like the vast majority of American citizens, Powerwoman and I have been watching snippets of the Olympics with the big girls these last few weeks, and the kids are loving it. While they’re interested in the gymnasts and swimmers (and their outfits, of course), they’ve expressed the greatest amount of curiosity about the backdrop, Brazil.

I’m sure part of this is because they know I lived there back in 1995 while volunteering for the International Wildlife Coalition. I’m sure it also is at least in part because they know my wife is an Andean archaeologist, and that the two of us lived in Lima, Peru, for a while back in 2005.

Still, I think the kids are genuinely eager to learn more about Rio. And the Amazon. And South America.

Their interest has triggered my wander bug and I’ve been exploring ways to get the family down south for a post-Olympics vacation.

Surprisingly, there are some pretty cool deals to be had—not just in Rio, but all over the continent. I’ve mentioned that Expedia is a big client of mine and my friends there recently shared some interesting data about trips to the region from the United States. For starters—and not surprisingly, really—ticket demand to Rio has increased by nearly 40 percent and ticket prices are nearly 60 percent higher than they usually are around this time of year.

Perhaps more interesting (to me, at least), were some of the data about ALTERNATE destinations from the United States—that is, places that aren’t Rio or Brazil. Savings on tickets to Bogota, Colombia are hovering around 10 percent. Savings on tickets to our beloved Lima are about 15 percent. And if we wanted to go to Caracas, we could save up to 30 percent.

It’s certainly food for thought. (And when we’re ready to book, we’ll book here.)

Where would we go? That depends on the conditions of your question, and whether I’m responding as travel-loving fan of South America, or the father of three kids under the age of 8.

If money were no issue, I’d sign everybody up for a trip to Manaus, the Brazilian city in the middle of the Amazon. There’s an opera house there that dates back nearly 150 years. I studied the place in college and have wanted to go there ever since. While it’s not exactly a family travel destination, it tops my list.

The sentimental choice would be Chavin de Huantar, the Peruvian town where Powerwoman conducted some archaeology field work in the early part of her career. The big potential problem here is that the site is at altitude, and we have NO idea how the kids would fare up there. (Side note: We *do* know from our experiences in Cusco that I do NOT do well above about 8,000 feet.)

The practical option: Lima, largely because we know it well and it’s easy to get around with kids. See you there?

New family travel fave: Flathead Lake Lodge

Sunset at Flathead Lake Lodge

Sunset at Flathead Lake Lodge

No, I didn’t have my family with me on a recent trip around Glacier Country, Montana. But I didn’t need three kids in tow to appreciate the family travel awesomeness of Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge (FLL) in Bigfork.

I stayed at the lodge two nights as part of the week-long #PictureMontana summit through my client, Expedia. I walked away with a new addition to my travel-dream list.

Much of what makes FLL kick-ass appeals and applies to guests of all ages. Horses you can ride every day. Boats you can take out on Flathead Lake. Communal meals in an authentic western lodge. S’mores by the campfire every night of the week. The fact that the place is all-inclusive means you don’t have to fumble around for cash or credit cards, and don’t have to worry about the a la carte pricing on activities. The fact that it’s been there for more than 70 years means it’s oozing with history.

(True story: Chase Averill, who’s my age, runs the place now. His dad, Doug Averill, ran it for years and still plays a pretty important and visible role today. His grandpa, Les Averill, started the place in 1945.)

But the lodge also is PERFECT for families. My accommodations—Cabin 2—had two bedrooms, one with a queen-sized bed and another with two twins (which would have been perfect for L and R). During the summer season, kids have dinner together 30 minutes before the grownups, then head out on horseback rides to give the grownups some time to themselves. There’s cornhole and beach volleyball and board games galore.

Heck, on the night of the weekly steak fry, everyone gathers ‘round to hear a cowboy sing folk music.

(Also, the beach at the lodge was made for skipping stones. See the slo-mo video of me doing that here.)

The reality is that absolutely everything is included in the one-week stay—lodging, food, activities, and more. The only thing that’s not technically part of the package is alcohol; instead, FLL encourages you to bring your own and help yourself to it whenever you desire.

I’m not going to lie—at $3,808 per adult, $2,842 per kid ages 6-17, $1,546 per kid ages 3-5, and $182 per infanct, the place ain’t cheap. It would cost our family of five $12,236 plus airfare. But when you consider what seven days of this experience would cost if everything was priced individually, the rate is reasonable. What’s more, when you consider that FLL serves up a dude-ranch experience unlike any other in the West, it seems even more worthwhile. The only question left for us: When do we return?

Family destinations in Missoula

Hissing cockroaches. Yuck.

Hissing cockroaches. Yuck. (But cool!)

Even when I travel without the kids, I’m always on the hunt for awesome family travel destinations. That explains why I just spent two hours of my (solo) afternoon here in Missoula, Montana, poking around two of the city’s most family-friendly spots: the Missoula Insectarium and the University of Montana’s spectrUM Discovery Area Downtown.

I’m here in Missoula for the next five days on behalf of a client, Expedia. Every year those of us who contribute to the Expedia Viewfinder blog get together in a faraway place for a week of strategizing and bonding. Last year’s summit was in Maui; this year’s is in one of my favorite places on the planet: Western Montana (a.k.a., Glacier Country). I arrived earlier this afternoon and had a few hours before our first official #PictureMontana meeting. So I hit the streets to explore.

I didn’t have to go too far from our hotel to find kid-oriented stuff; the Insectarium and spectrUM share a building that was literally two blocks away.

The Insectarium was first on my list. After paying the $4 admission fee and grabbing a magnifying glass at the front desk, I perused the exhibits, marveling at some of the arthropods (not just insects!) on display in 18 terrariums that ring the room.

I’ve detailed how much L and R despise bugs, but I had to think they would have found parts of this place really neat. Like the habitat full of butterflies. And the millipedes. They probably also would have enjoyed the touch table where visitors can interact with walking stick bugs (and a variety of other critters).

(Without question, they would NOT have liked the habitat with a dozen Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Or the one with the scorpion.)

The kids also would have adored participating in the Insectarium’s scavenger hunt, which anyone can do.

My favorite part of the Insectarium? The Goliath Bird-Eater Spider, which is a species of tarantula. When I was there, this spider was hidden at the bottom of a flower pot in its habitat. Even though it was motionless, even though it was all scrunched up, I could tell the thing was HUGE. My mind was blown.

(I also enjoyed learning that Roly Poly bugs are actually not bugs at all; they’re crustaceans—cousins of crabs and lobsters.)

After hanging with the bugs, I ventured downstairs to the spectrUM facility—one of the cleanest, nicest, and most approachable museums I’ve ever seen. Technically the museum is a science museum, not a kids’ museum. Whatever you call it, the place is perfect for kids ages 12 and under, and you can plan on spending at least an hour there.

The modest museum is broken into two main parts—the main museum and a hands-on area, which is dubbed BrainLab. Today in the BrainLab, visitors were learning about brain maladies during Shakespeare’s time, part of a week-long celebration surrounding Shakespeare’s First Folio, which is on display in Missoula until the end of the month. I watched long enough to see kids playing with plastic brains.

In the main museum, an exhibit on large river ecosystems gave kids the chance to soar (via virtual reality) above the Clark Fork River, create their own virtual floodplain, and more. Another exhibit, the SciGirls DigiZone, offered the opportunity to play with different kinds of technologies. A third exhibit, the Discovery Bench, encouraged hands-on play with science.

What struck me about spectrUM was how engaged and satisfied all the kids seemed. It’s truly remarkable how much more palatable learning is when you’re having fun. Clearly, here in Missoula, they know this better than most.

What are your favorite museums for families and why?

5 things I’ve learned in 48 hours of multigenerational travel

Grandpa Power and the girls, making art.

Grandpa Power and the girls, making art.

Considering how much we Villanos travel, it’s hard to believe this weekend’s trip to Yosemite National Park marks the first time my big girls ever have traveled with one of their grandparents. Perhaps that explains why they’re LOVING having Grandpa Power along for the ride. Perhaps it also explains why I’m getting such a kick out of watching my dad interact with the kids in our typical travel vibe.

Don’t get me wrong—assimilation hasn’t been painless. It takes my father FOREVER to get ready to go anywhere, and I already struggle getting my 6- and 4-year-old prepped for the day on time. Still, for the most part, the experience has been a delight. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far.

  1. Co-parenting is non-transferable.

When Powerwoman and I are together with the kids, we are equal parents with equal responsibilities for discipline. When one of us is missing, it’s really impossible to have someone else just slide into that role. I learned this the hard way today—I needed my father to talk to L about using hands on her sister, and he did…just not the way I would have liked. I quickly realized I couldn’t blame him. He might be my dad, but he’s no substitute for the girls’ mother.

  1. I am a second-string storyteller to the all-star starter known as Grandpa.

I’ve spent the last six years thinking my stories were the best stories these kids ever have heard. They have demanded the stories everywhere when we travel: in the car on road-trips, in foreign bathrooms, even on hikes. Until this weekend. Over the last two days, whenever the girls have wanted stories, they’ve asked for grandpa. In the car. On trips to the bathroom. And on our hikes. It’s like I’ve been replaced by my mentor. And it hurts! (OK, maybe not really. But still.)

  1. It’s OK to bend rules on vacation.

Generally speaking, I can be a bit of a hard-ass about rules and routines. My dad, on the other hand, is about as loosey-goosey as they come; he never met a rule he didn’t try to bend. Though my instinct on this trip has been to enforce typical edicts such as one sweet a day and pre-bed at 6:45 p.m., I’ve relaxed the rules a bit and can sense the positive repercussions. The kids are happier. They’re listening better. And they’re actually appreciative. WTF?!?

  1. Grandparents make great babysitters on the road, too.

We live close enough to the girls’ grandparents that the kids get to see the old folks on a regular basis. Grampy and Grammy (my parents) and Pop-Pop and Tiki also are fantastic babysitters when Powerwoman and I need to go away or get a date night here and there. So far my dad has been an amazing child-minder at Yosemite, too. He’s overly cautious because of the new surroundings. He communicates well (via text). He even picks up the tab on snacks, just because.

  1. It’s natural to worry about those you love.

I’m used to being concerned about L and R when we’re having adventures all over the world. Here in Yosemite, I’ve got a new family member to be worried about: Dad. Will he twist an ankle on those rocks? Why is it taking him so long to use the bathroom? Can he drink coffee after 4 p.m.? Bandwidth isn’t a problem; I’ve got plenty of agita to go around. Still, it’s been an adjustment to spread the worrying around.

I’m sure I’ll learn another five things in the next 48 hours on this multigenerational trip. IMHO, that’s the beauty of family travel: You always learn something new.

Travel, technology, and the children of St. Jude

There are lots of reasons why I love working with Expedia on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, and the company’s commitment to supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital tops the list.

Naturally, then, I was blown away by this piece, in which my colleague Sarah Gavin shares her story about how Expedia recently leveraged technology to enable patients to “travel” without ever leaving Memphis.

No, the initiative isn’t family travel in the traditional sense. But considering that many of these terminally ill cancer patients will never leave the halls of St. Jude, Expedia has, in a sense, brought the wonders of travel to them and their families. I can’t think of a better use for technology. I also doubt there’s a better kind of travel.

Once you’ve read Sarah’s story, check out the video below. I dare you to keep your eyes dry.

Planning adventures for Yosemite 2016

We'll be learning from the man who painted this

A Steve Curl original (from his site)

The family trip to Yosemite National Park has become a bit of an annual tradition around these parts, and I’m in the process of lining up specifics for this year’s adventure. This year, however, there’ll be some major changes:

  1. Powerwoman and Baby G are heading to Denver, so instead L, R, and I are taking my dad (who we’ll refer to as GRANDPA POWER), making this year’s trip a multigenerational one.
  2. Because of the ridiculous name changes inside the park (for more on that, click here), we decided to stay outside the park this time, in a two-bedroom family cabin at the Evergreen Lodge in Groveland.

The four of us also have signed up for a half-day art class—a workshop in watercolors. I was hesitant to sign up L and R for a five-hour class, but considering how much both of them love art, I figured I’d give it a try. The instructor, Steve Curl, seems pretty laid back, and we can pull the plug whenever the kids are ready. (I’m guessing that will be around noon, since that’s usually when they get hungry).

In addition to the art class, we plan to do some waterfall-spotting, lots of rock-tossing into the Merced, and lots of hiking. The girls also have been fantasizing about a return to the pizza deck at (the spot formerly known as) Curry Village.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write about the adventure for Expedia. My coverage will comprise part of the company’s #ExpediaLovesParks campaign to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. It also will be featured on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, a site for which I serve as senior editor.

You’ll hear more about our trip between now and when we go in April. Of course I’ll blog daily when we’re there, too. In the meantime, what family-friendly activities have you enjoyed in national parks?

Family travel in AFAR

AFAR is paying attention. Are you?

AFAR is paying attention.

It’s always nice to see one of my clients give family travel some love, and I was especially tickled this week to read TWO separate pieces of content about traveling with kids in AFAR magazine.

(Full disclosure: I write a weekly column for AFAR titled “The View from AFAR.” It runs on Fridays.)

In the first effort, an article titled, “These Four Trends are Good News for Family Travel,” friend and editor Jeremy Saum recapped the highpoints of the recent Family Travel Association Summit in Montana. Saum boils down takeaways into easy-to-digest bullet points about why people should care about family travel at all. (In his last point, he quotes another one of my clients, from Expedia. Small and serendipitous world!)

In the second piece, a slide show titled, “Seven Outfitters for Kid-Friendly Treks,” the editors pulled together seven suggestions for outfitters worth patronizing when traveling with kids. I love that one of the picks in the slideshow is Country Walkers, which arranges walks all over the world. (In case you’re wondering, most of the treks in this slide show are for older kids.)

Both stories are worth a read; neither will take you more than five minutes to get through.

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