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!

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.

Join me at the 2016 Family Travel Association summit

Westin La Paloma. PARTY!

Westin La Paloma. PARTY!

I take great pride in my involvement with the Family Travel Association (FTA)—I was one of the founding board members, and have been an active participant ever since.

With this in mind, I invite you to join me and my FTA colleagues at our annual summit next month.

The shindig takes place Oct. 23-26 at the Westin La Paloma in Tucson, Arizona. It comprises three days of inspiring presentations, interactive workshops, enlightening research, and a diverse array of networking opportunities. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

This year, I won’t just be attending the summit, I’ll be delivering some of the content. On Monday, Oct. 24, I’ll be delivering a talk about understanding millennial parents—what makes them tick, what sort of experiences they seek, and how they approach family trips once they set out to experience them. My talk will be engaging and fun! I might even make emu noises.

(Also, it’s likely that during my talk I’ll be giving away travel vouchers from Expedia, a client of mine and an FTA sponsor.)

Registration for the event is $650 for members and $950 for non-members. Considering all of the information we’re primed to share, I’d say that’s a bargain. And I’ll sweeten the deal: BOOK NOW AND DRINKS THE NIGHT OF MY TALK ARE ON ME.

If family travel is something you love, this is an event you won’t want to miss. See you in Tucson!

FAA reauthorization to include provision for families

Together! At last!

Together! At last!

In what can be described as the first big legislative win for the Family Travel Association (FTA), the latest FAA reauthorization includes a provision that will make it easier for families to sit together on flights.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, earlier this week put forth the provision to require airlines to ensure children ages 13 and younger are seated adjacent to an adult traveling with them or an older child traveling with them.

Formal groundwork for the provision actually started last year when the two Congressmen introduced similar legislation, H.R. 3334, the Families Flying Together Act of 2015.

The FTA—an organization for which I have sat on the board since the beginning—has been a huge advocate of the move and advised the legislators on this decision. What used to be a given—families seated together on a flight—is not so much the standard anymore. As airlines have added more and more ancillary fees, including fees for seat changes and seat upgrades, traveling companions sometimes get separated.

According to an article on TravelPulse, the reauthorization is expected to be approved by the House and Senate sometime before the July 15 deadline, which means FEDERAL REGULATORY PROTECTION TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER ON FLIGHTS SHOULD HAPPEN BY FRIDAY. Yes! Power!

I think my favorite part of today’s news are the official quotes from the two senators involved.

“The Families Flying Together Act will put an end to the absurdity of toddlers sitting separate or unattended on an airplane — requiring airlines to plan ahead so that families with young children can fly together,” Nadler said in a statement issued through his office. “For several years, we have tried to force the airlines to enact family friendly seating policies, and to not shift the burden onto other passengers to vacate their seats so that children can sit with their parents. Thankfully, the new FAA bill includes this common sense measure allowing families with small children to travel together safely and reliably without disrupting other passengers.”

Davis echoed these sentiments.

“Traveling with young children can already be very stressful for parents and when you can’t sit together on a flight, it only makes this process more difficult,” Davis added. “All we’re asking is for airlines to do a better job of accommodating parents ahead of time so we can make flying a better experience for families and other passengers aboard. I think most airlines have the same goal. This provision is important to updating an industry that continues to see growth in family travel. While my first choice is a long-term bill that includes major reforms that I believe are necessary to improve safety and increase global competitiveness within our aviation system, I am glad this provision and other sensible reforms are included in this extension and I look forward to voting for it.”

If you see me drinking champagne with breakfast this morning, now you know why. Kudos to all of my colleagues at the FTA, and to traveling families everywhere.

Note: The picture that accompanies this post was from Air New Zealand via TravelPulse.

Making family travel more meaningful

Making travel meaningful on San Juan Island

Making travel meaningful on San Juan Island

I’m lucky enough to serve with a bunch of great people on the board of the Family Travel Association. Jim Pickell, CEO of HomeExchange.com, is one of those folks.

Earlier this week, Jim penned a great piece for HuffPost Travel about 10 ways to make family travel more meaningful. The story was republished on the FTA’s own website, and you can read it in its entirety by clicking here.

I’m not going to summarize all 10 of Jim’s tips; y’all can read and y’all can read ‘em for yourselves.

That said, I did want to spotlight a few of my favorite suggestions. Like his call for taking travel days out of the equation and including the journey as part of the trip. Or his suggestion to embrace nature. I also really appreciate how Jim recommends giving kids a camera and getting creative with family photos. I plan to do this with L and R in Yosemite next month.

All told, I think my favorite part of the article is this: “Good times and happy moments are single instances in time, whereas meaningful experiences bridge the past, present and future, and can have a lifelong impact.” Quite literally couldn’t have said it better myself. Well done, old pal.

What are your tips for making family travel more meaningful?

Fresh take on multigenerational family travel

multigen00tr2

Heather and her peeps.

As a board member for the Family Travel Association, I get to work regularly with some pretty incredible people. One of them: Heather Greenwood-Davis, one of the best family travel writers in the biz.

I’ve blogged previously about Heather’s prowess with the pen—her piece about canal boating around England with her husband and two kids was a tour de force (and a story I dreamed about writing when we lived in London back in 2013).

Last week, HGD was at it again, this time with a piece about multigenerational family travel.

The story first appeared in The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, but was reposted everywhere, including on the FTA website (hence the weird tiles you see when you click through that link above). IMHO the piece can’t be reposted enough; as it delivered one of the freshest and sincerest perspectives on multigenerational travel I’ve ever read.

I appreciated Heather’s tips regarding who will parent the kids on a multigenerational trip—the few times we’ve traveled with family members, this has been a source of tension for us as well. I also like her note about not over-planning.

But my absolute favorite part of the story is the section where she talks about using the generations against each other and to your advantage. Here’s a snip:

“Don’t ask your parents to babysit. Instead coach your kids in the exact words they can use on Grandma. Phrases like, ‘Granny, can we have some just-you-and-me time tonight?’ or, ‘Grandpa, I love the way you read me stories. Can I have a sleepover?’ are the types of things that evenings alone with your significant other are made of. Embrace it early and create opportunities for the generations to enjoy each other while you enjoy the quiet.”

Yes, this last bit from HGD is a different way of approaching a multigenerational trip. But it’s a great perspective. And one I intend to try the next chance I get.

What are your tips for surviving multigenerational family travel?

Inspired to spread the family travel gospel

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

Inspiration is a powerful thing. It’s what lead people to vote for Barack Obama, what has intrigued people about author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and what has compelled people to come together to support Batkid.

As a full-time freelance journalist for the last 18 years, I have spent a whole bunch of my time reporting on other people’s inspiration. Earlier this week, however, as a board member who attended and participated in the first-ever Family Travel Association summit, I was delighted to be the one experiencing the inspiration first-hand.

It wasn’t difficult to be inspired; the summit brought together about 80 of the biggest and boldest thinkers in the world of family travel today. There were experts. There were representatives of big travel companies. There were owners of small travel companies. There were photographers. There were other writers. Almost all of the people present were moms and dads who have traveled with their families.

And everyone descended upon the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for one reason: To talk about how we can work together to raise awareness of the importance of family travel.

Some people moved me more than others. Like Ida Keiper and Jesemine Jones, the women behind Abeon Travel, a travel consultancy dedicated to assisting families that include children with special needs. And Randy Garfield, the former Disney VP who now devotes his time to the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off, one of the most important research efforts in the history of the American people. And Margo Peyton, who, through her company, Kids Sea Camp, strives to get children travelers SCUBA-certified so they can explore the underwater world. And travel writing icon Wendy Perrin, who’s been writing about family travel forever and simply is flat-out awesome.

And some ideas left an indelible mark on my brain. Like some of the new family travel data from FTA and Expedia. And the “18 Summers” campaign from Idaho (hint: watch the video). And Jim Pickell’s suggestion for a new equation to measure family travel—an equation that compares meaningfulness of experiences to expenditures. (Pickell, the founder of HomeExchange.com, is a pretty neat dude himself.)

Heck, the conference even provided scientific evidence behind the notion that travel makes you smarter; in an intellectually rollicking concluding seminar, Nancy Sathre-Vogel explained how new places and new experiences stimulate the growth of dendrites in our brains.

(Some of us joked that Sathre-Vogel’s presentation provided the basis for a new ad campaign that evokes 1980s anti-drug ads and contrasts a brain to a brain on family travel.)

In short, there was a lot to keep the brain buzzing.

The next step is making it all count. Technically speaking, the FTA’s mission is to “inspire families to travel—and to travel more—while advocating for travel as an essential part of every child’s education.” Now, however, with one summit under our belts, we need to codify a strategy and figure out how and where we want to be. Personally, I’d like to see the group become an information resource for consumers, a networking/best-practices group for industry insiders, and an advocate for the right issues (such as family passenger rights on airplanes).

What about you? What would you demand/expect from a Family Travel Association? What sorts of activities and endeavors do you think the FTA should pursue? Share your opinions and become a part of the discussion.

New data, new look at family travel

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Today was data day here at the Family Travel Association (FTA) Summit in Emigrant, Montana. That means a couple of my favorite people shared some pretty incredible data about family travel.

The FTA itself was up first, releasing the results of a comprehensive study by the FTA and the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. The study revealed three key data points about family travel:

  • Family travel now accounts for a full one-third of all leisure trips booked in the United States.
  • Survey respondents took an average of 3.53 domestic trips and 1.25 international trips with their children in the past year.
  • Families prefer to travel with their children when the children are between 6 and 12.

Also interesting: the data suggested that there are three distinct types of family travelers: Hassle-free travelers, who prefer travel options that require little effort and research; Cautious travelers, who are more willing to spend time researching their travels and more open to try a wider variety of travel options; and Intrepid travelers, who tend to opt for new destinations each time they travel, are most likely to take the kids out of school for vacations, value travel over material possessions, and like to travel to different cultures and unusual destinations. (If you want to read more about this, Rainer Jenss, who founded the FTA, explained these types beautifully in a recent blog post for the organization’s blog.)

After the FTA’s data came data from Expedia—data that resulted from a separate study and echoed a number of the same points.

The Expedia numbers showed that people who travel with families spend 2.5 times more than couples traveling without them. And that 80 percent of people who take vacations regularly report being happier because of those trips. Other key metrics: 94 percent of respondents take at least one trip with their family per year, and 82 percent said they get more pleasure from vacation than from possessions.

(Expedia also conducted research on what kids think about family travel; that’s worth reading, too.)

What does all of this research tell us the ways families travel? How can we make sense of so many disparate data points? In a market where the vast majority of travelers can’t afford much more than road trips, why should we even care? In a nutshell, the answer is this: BECAUSE WE GO.

The bottom line is that we, as families, travel. In a big way. And we’re traveling more. It doesn’t matter how we travel. It doesn’t matter where we travel. It doesn’t even matter why we feel the need to get away. We’re going. We’re taking our kids. And we’re doing it with increasing frequency—so much so that the trend is on the rise.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where families were an afterthought on the travel landscape, a customer base that existed but wasn’t big enough to matter. Results from these two studies make it clear that those days are over, that families are becoming a formidable market force which commands attention. The mere existence of the FTA—the very need to have a summit in the first place—is proof of this new reality. Now it’s time for the rest of the travel industry to pay attention.

For consumers, for people like you and me, the message is clear: Keep traveling. As I’ve said a thousand times (including 20 times on this blog), you don’t have to go far from home to expose your children to a brave new world. Family travel is a mindset. It’s time we all embraced this new way of thinking.

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