Resistance in the name of family travel

My three, at Disneyland

It’s a weird time to be in the travel industry.

On one hand, we’ve got a number of media outlets (including the AP) describing what they’re calling a “Trump Slump,” a potentially crippling blow to our local tourism infrastructure due to all of the foreigners who don’t want to come here because of how our new president rules the roost.

On the other hand, we find ourselves on the brink of an all-out visa war with Europe, with both sides considering reversing the commitment to visa-free travel between regions and requiring visas for everyone. (As much as it pains me to say this, technically the new president isn’t responsible for this one; the brouhaha started back before he took office.)

The current climate would make any travel writer—really any American who travels for a living—paranoid.

For us family travel writers, however (and for those of us in leadership positions at the Family Travel Association), the stakes are even higher; not only must we navigate these quagmires on our own, but we have to figure out a way to do it with our kids—all without disillusioning them completely and forever.

This challenge is not easy. First, simply explaining the current situation to an 8-year-old and 5-year-old is difficult, especially since the very last thing I want to do is undermine their faith and trust in our leaders at such an early age. What’s more, the visa situation requires even more preparation than ever before—a reality that is downright exhausting for a family of five.

Then, of course, there’s the process of navigating new travel rules abroad.

With all this in mind, I’m not going to let the current climate deter me from my goals of exploring the world at large and teaching my daughters through travel. We haven’t been scared of traveling after acts of terrorism, and we won’t be scared of traveling now.

Here, then, is my step-by-step guide to resisting the threat of chaos in travel, and to doubling-down on travel as a form of exploration, education, and fun.

  • Reverse the “Trump Slump.” Now more than ever we must travel around our own country and spend money in other local economies. New York says they’re feeling a pinch? We’ll book a trip there this fall. Central California is struggling to recover from floods? We’re headed there for a week later this month. It’s not hard to be smart about maintaining pre-Trump spending levels and be tactical about where to dump travel dollars back into the economy. Like any good form of protest, it just takes thought.
  • Plan ahead for visas. Contrary to popular belief, travel can still be spontaneous if you’ve been planning a trip more than six months out. Given the uncertainty about visas for travel to Europe, at this point it’s probably best to get in touch with the embassies of where you’re hoping to go and line up all the paperwork for what you need or might need to make it happen. Obviously in order to do that you need to make sure your kids have current passports. So be on the ball about that, too. (Full disclosure: Both L and R have passports that have expired; renewal is on my to-do list.)
  • Don’t be scared. With all the uncertainty in the world right now, it’d be understandable to declare that you’re not going anywhere. But this is precisely the kind of sentiment the fearmongers and hatemongers in government hope to spark. Instead—and this is SUPER important, y’all—leap outside your comfort zone. Commit to traveling abroad, commit to exposing your kids to differences in the world around them, commit to being a de facto ambassador for the America that still gives a shit about kindness and tolerance and compassion and all of those other good things.
  • Get real. It’s easy to cite your kids’ ages and decline to *really* explain to them what’s happening in the world right now and why it’s so cataclysmically important. That’s a cop-out. I’m not suggesting that your sit down with your second-grader and enumerate all the reasons you’d like to punch our president in the face. What I am saying is that it’s important you explain how international perception of Americans is changing, and how it’s important you and your family go out and make good impressions so people realize not all Americans have lost their minds.

IMHO, as my colleague Joe Diaz at AFAR magazine put it so eloquently at the end of 2015, it’s more important now than ever before to round up the kids and get out there to see the world. At a time when our leaders are thinking narrowly, the right play is for the rest of us think more broadly and approach the world with the same degree of curiosity and respect we always have. I’m proud to embrace this philosophy at this moment in history. I’m also proud to pass it along to my girls.

Jim Gaffigan on traveling with five kids

The challenges of traveling with multiple children are real. Powerwoman and I are reminded of this whenever we leave the house these days with L and R and (now) G in tow. But, really, we’ve got nothing on Jim Gaffigan.

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from "The Jim Gaffigan Show" website).

The Gaffigans meet Rapunzel (from Gaffigan himself).

Yes, THAT Jim Gaffigan. The comedian. The guy who played my favorite role on the television show, “My Boys,” back in the day. The guy who made millions on the “Hot Pockets” skit.

You see, Gaffigan has five kids. And apparently, as we call can watch on his new reality show, “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” he and his wife take them on the road when Gaffigan is touring. Ostensibly to promote the show, Gaffigan opened up to Kelly DiNardo in a recent Q&A for The New York Times about the rigors and realities of traveling with a handful of offspring. If you read nothing else about family travel today, you should read this piece.

Why did I love the story? For starters, it’s funny, just like Gaffigan. Example: “Traveling with 3- and 4-year-old boys is like transferring serial killers from a prison. You have to be constantly aware.”

The piece also offers some really useful tips. Like the part where Gaffigan says he makes his older kids write a single-page diary entry about every city they visit. (I’m *totally* trying that with L.) Or the part where the comedian admits that his kids—like all kids—struggle on international flights.

But my absolute favorite snip from the piece is where Gaffigan defends international family travel. His perspective: “There’s this perception that with international travel it’s not worth it because [kids] don’t get it. I think they do. And I think they see their parents behave differently in different cultures. My kids are pretty good travelers. I think they’re more sturdy because of it, more resilient.”

All told, the piece will take you five minutes to read. Check it out.

Understanding a New Option for Vacation Rentals

KCLogoSquareOnWhite-703c666b90bed46938544a8c8603a272In the world of vacation rentals, there’s a new “kid” on the block: Kid & Coe. The company, which launched in October 2013, not only lists rentals but also vets them, offering users pre-qualified references in cities all over the world. The endeavor is the brainchild of Zoie Coe, a mom who travels frequently with her kids (and who also happens to be the wife of DJ Sasha, from Sasha & Digweed). Following a small feature on the company in a recent issue of Travel & Leisure, I caught up with Coe to understand a little more about her approach.

Tell us more about your inspiration for the company.
We were on tour in Sydney as a family and were lucky enough to be checking into the Four Seasons, planning to stay there for a few weeks. Nothing against Four Seasons, but within two days we realized it wasn’t going to work for us as a family; once Luca was asleep at night, we were tiptoeing around him in the dark, whispering so we wouldn’t wake him. We realized he wouldn’t be eating any healthy home-cooked meals and we just needed more space to enjoy our family time together. I think all parents that have stayed in hotel rooms with their kids know this scenario!

When I started the process of looking for an apartment to rent, it took days. Most were unsuitable for a young child. I had to go and personally check them all out. When we found somewhere that did work, I then had to source a baby equipment rental firm to kit us out with high chairs, stair gates and the rest. It took a whole week out of our trip just getting to that point.

But then everything opened up. As soon as we were situated, it felt that all of Sydney was our Sydney: We had a base to find local fresh grocers, nearby playgrounds, farmers markets, and cafés.

That’s how it started. From that I realized that staying in a house as a family was the way to go. Spending too much time going through uninspiring websites looking at uninspiring houses that claimed they were family-friendly made me realize there was a real lack in the market for people who need the space of a home the most. And Kid & Coe is an elegant solution for traveling families.

How can a family know if it is better suited for a rental over a hotel?
I think that for anything over a few days, a self-catering property would prove to be the better option. That’s primarily because it comes down to space, unless you’re in the lucky position of taking two adjoining hotel rooms, it becomes difficult to navigate a hotel room with two young children. Homes provide the opportunity to stretch out yet still be connected at the same time. They also offer a more authentic experience—you can really get stuck into a neighborhood, with farmer’s markets, fresh grocers, etc. [Rentals] provide a great base to explore.

Where is the line in terms of what you should expect a rental owner to provide? For instance, if an owner doesn’t offer outlet covers, should you look elsewhere?
From a host perspective, we’re looking for properties that tick a few boxes. Is it in a fantastic location? Does it provide any family amenities? Is it safe and spacious enough to accommodate a family comfortably? There are many variables that we take into consideration when evaluating a property—we wouldn’t turn one down for not having outlet covers!

Our aim at Kid & Coe is to present the specific information that a family needs for their own unique needs. What’s child-friendly for a parent of a 2-year-old is very different from what’s family-friendly for a parent of an 8-year-old. We don’t try to make the decision for the family, but we aim to present all the information clearly so parents can make the right choice for their family.

What do you consider to be the must-haves for an ideal family rental?
For my own family, we take into consideration the location. If we’re in a city, we want to be right in the thick of it, if we’re by the beach, we want to be very close to the water. Location is key. I’m personally less concerned about the level of toys that a home might provide because I have older kids now and we want to be out exploring the destination. But when I traveled with my 1-year-old, I was definitely concerned about stairs, high chairs and cribs etc. So again, it comes down to what those family’s unique needs are at the time.

We’ve had a range of requests, from a mom and teenage daughter wanting to explore London, to groups of families holidaying together. Families come in different shapes and sizes and we hope to provide suitable accommodation suggestions for all of them.

How many rentals currently are in your program? How do you evaluate them? Do you see them all in person?
We have about 200 live on the site [spanning international destinations from Oakland to Umbria]. More are being added every day. The first step is that we ask hosts to fill out a quick application and a paragraph detailing why their property would be a good fit for our family community. We request photos so we can get a feel of the space.

Once they’ve been accepted, our team takes a lot of time working with the host to make sure all the information provided is relevant and clear. We currently don’t see them all in person—those that we do, have a yellow ‘verified’ stamp on the page. We work so closely with the hosts we accept that we feel we really get to know them that way.

To what extent do you pre-qualify family customers?
We’re working hard on building out more community features on our website. For example, I’d love to be able to see the Instagram feed of the family that’s coming to stay in my home, if they want to share that information. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s very much a case of like-minded families sharing with other like-minded families and we’ve seen the idea of community really taking shape. We’re working hard to develop more features on the site that really grow that community.

Tell me a little about yourself. What did you do before Kid & Coe?
I worked in various jobs, the most recent was that I managed my husband’s music business which granted me the opportunity to travel extensively, both before the kids and after. I’ve been working on this concept full-time for the last year and a half.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Kids’ Passports (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Don't mess around.

Don’t mess around.

My debut article in Scholastic Parent & Child magazine hit newsstands this week. The subject: Kids’ passports, and everything you ought to know to prepare for taking your little ones abroad.

The story, titled, “A Parent’s Guide to Passports for Kids,” offers advice on everything from custody issues to renewal timing. It hinges on the expertise and insights of Brenda Sprague, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for passport services. It also includes a few anecdotes from some family travelers I know (and respect).

The story even includes a bunch of helpful links.

If you never have traveled abroad with your baby or toddler, consider the piece a must-read; if you travel regularly with the youngsters, please use the piece as a CliffsNotes-style refresher course.

Also, if you feel I’ve left out anything important, feel free to add tips in the comment field below.

Most important, please don’t think this is advice you can ignore or follow selectively. Few international travel stresses are more acute than those involving your kids. Take it from someone who has learned a few of these lessons the hard way.

%d bloggers like this: