Wandering Pod hits the LA Travel Adventure Show

What to look forward to at the show.

What to look forward to at the show.

I’m taking the family travel show on the road this coming weekend, representing the Family Travel Association on a panel at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show.

My fellow panelists: Jen Miner from The Vacation Gals, Colleen Kelly from Family Travel with Colleen Kelly, and Margalit Sturm Francus, from Autistic Globetrotting (you can read more about our panel here).

The subject of our discussion is a subject near and dear to my heart—yes, we’ll talk about family travel, but we’ll serve up “real talk” that doesn’t sugar-coat the challenges of exploring the world with kids. If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you know I’m a big believer in keeping it real. I’m excited to hear what my fellow panelists have to say on the subject, especially given their different areas of expertise.

(For those of you going to the show, again, our panel is Sunday at 2 p.m. PST in the Savvy Traveler Theater.)

In advance of our panel, Jen is participating in a Twitter party during which she’s giving away four pretty cool prizes. The party starts at 6 p.m. PST Wednesday. To get involved with the Twitter party—and to qualify for the giveaways—use the hashtag #LATravelShow and follow @TravAdventure on Twitter. I’ll be participating as well, so be sure to direct at least a few of your Tweets my way!

Furthermore, on Sunday, Tweet your questions to me at @mattvillano (again with the hashtag, #LATravelShow) and I’ll answer them live on stage.

See you there (virtually)!

Golden Gate Park by Segway on a family trip

Golden Gate Park is one of the greatest urban parks in the world. It’s even better when you explore it on a Segway.

You know the Segway; that two-wheeled transportation device made famous by the movie, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” The one that looks like a futuristic scooter. The one that simultaneously looks like the dorkiest dorkmobile in the history of humankind.

At least, I thought the things were dorky. After riding one around Golden Gate Park for half a day earlier this summer, I can safely say they are way cooler than I ever thought.

I did the tour as part of an epic two-city road trip I took with my family in June. The trip was on behalf of my client, Expedia. While my wife and kids were back at the hotel (the kids aren’t big enough to ride Segways, and somebody had to watch them), I was tooling around the park and making emu noises as I went.

I shot video as I went, and, when I got home, worked with my pals at Expedia to cut a 3-minute video of the experience. The video was published in mid-July. Finally, I have the opportunity to share it with you here.

So take a peek. Enjoy. Laugh. Cry. And whatever you do, open your mind to the coolness of a Segway. You’ll be glad you did. (And even if you’re not so glad, you’ll have fun pretending to be Paul Blart.)

Puke on the family trip

A calm scene before Retch No. 5

A calm scene before Retch No. 5

When we booked this family vacation to Los Angeles, it was supposed to be about togetherness, birthday celebrations, and outfitter-driven activities for all ages (available through my client, Expedia). So far, however, the trip largely has been about something entirely different: puke.

As in, vomit, throm, throw-up, retch.

All of the puke has come from poor little R; she caught a flu bug from her sister the day before we left, and somehow has managed to throw up at least—I stress, at least—once a day every day of the visit. (Lucky for us, she didn’t actually throw up on our transit day, but she did poop her pants on the plane, due in part to bad diarrhea.)

Today’s episode was by far the most dramatic. After a wonderful day celebrating L’s birthday at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, we got back to the hotel and handed the car to the valet guys just in time for poor R to throm all over the porte cochere.

Both Powerwoman and I can handle the smell and cleanup of vom on the road—we both like to drink, and L puked a bunch when she was younger so we’ve had plenty of practice.

That said, what remains difficult about vom management are basic logistics. Who stays back at the hotel with sick child? How long can the free parent be free before trapped spouse starts to feel antsy? What in the hell do you feed a sick kid on the road when everything requires effort to obtain?

Another challenge: Persevering in the face of awkwardness with restaurant staffers after your kid throws up in a booth during breakfast and it takes the crew 15 minutes to respond with a mop. (Fellow traveling parents, I would have cleaned it up with individual wipes but the host wouldn’t let me! Also, um, ewwwww.)

Perhaps the biggest challenge is dealing with the sick child directly. She’s whiney. She’s pathetic. She doesn’t want to move anywhere. And if your kid is anything like mine, she probably doesn’t want to be touched, either.

I’m not complaining here, I’m just saying the whole vacation-with-a-sick-kid is a different ball of wax.

My advice? Be ready to be flexible. Discuss a backup strategy with your traveling partners in advance, just in case. Be willing to eat a lot of room-service toast. Finally, remind yourself that sick kids on family trips are the exception, not the norm; as religious folks likes to say, this too shall pass.

The moaner next door

The calm before the moans.

The calm before the moans.

Sometimes you bring the kids to family-oriented hotels and it’s all about penne with butter and crayons and stuffed animals. Other times you bring the kids to grownup-oriented hotels and the kids hear a woman moaning loudly in the next room and ask if you should call the police to help her.

Such was the case earlier this evening here at The Chamberlain, a boutique hotel in West Hollywood.

The four of us are here on assignment for Expedia—an assignment that revolves as much around activities as it does around hotel. We were excited to land such posh accommodations in such a great neighborhood. But, going in, my wife and I knew it would not be a place designed for kids.

So when we started exploring our room, we had to explain to the girls not to stick their hands through the metal mesh screens in front of the fireplace to touch the always-on gas pilot light. And when I took L to the rooftop pool, I had to remind her that meowing like a cat on the giant cabana beds probably wasn’t the kind of behavior other guests would tolerate.

Then came the moaner.

She started softly, peppering guttural grumbles with an occasional, “Oh yeah,” and “Yes!” The screams became more consistent as she and her partner humped their way toward a culmination. When Little R asked me if we should call the cops, our neighbor was screaming words my children still don’t know, and was screaming them in reference to parts of her body that my children still don’t understand.

After I managed to stop myself from laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation, I reassured my kid the woman was just fine. And I *didn’t* call the cops.

Why would I? I mean, good for this woman for having such a memorable evening. And, really, good for the hotel for facilitating that kind of escape. Could I have been outraged that the hotel would allow another guest to have sex loudly in earshot of my kids? Sure. But, IMHO, the hotel did nothing wrong.

At the end of the day, shit happens when you operate outside the typical comfort zone and bring your kids to stay in a place that deviates from the norm. It can be awkward. It can be uncomfortable. But it also can provide a great learning experience for your kids. Beside, it makes for a great story to tell friends.

Ashton Kutcher feels our pain

Our new spokesperson. Credit: Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic.

Our new spokesperson. Credit: Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic.

In America, for better or for worse, nothing really is news until a celebrity deems it so. With this in mind, thank goodness we traveling dads have actor Ashton Kutcher on our side.

Kutcher was gallivanting in Los Angeles with his daughter this weekend. The kid needed a diaper change. But when Kutcher looked for a public restroom with a changing table, he came up empty. So he Facebooked about it. And his 18.7 million followers listened in a big way.

Within 24 hours, the episode was grabbing headlines on E! and other news sites. Two days after the post, his initial rant (if you want to call it that) had garnered 220,000 likes. Three days out—in other words, this morning—the subject had crept into the national discussion, popping up on morning news broadcasts and talk shows from sea to shining sea.

As the father of two girls who is out and about with them all the time, I can’t help but be amused.

I mean, Kutcher is right: More men’s rooms need more changing tables, absolutely yes. But thousands of traveling dads (including yours truly; this post was published back in 2012) have been saying the same thing for years, and nobody has so much as moved a muscle about it, ever.

Now that we’ve got this mouthpiece, here are a number of other fatherhood/travel issues I propose Kutcher espouse:

  • How condescending it is when strangers see us dads out and about with our kids on a weekday and think it must be “mom’s day off.”
  • The assumption that because we’re dads, our jobs are to schlep the family luggage through airports.
  • The proliferation of “Mommy Groups” that don’t include dads.

While he’s at it, I’d love for Kutcher to become the face of the anti-family travel hater movement. Even if he and Mila and Wyatt flew coach JUST ONE TIME and suffered the fools who assume the worst when they see parents and a young baby, raising awareness about their “hardships” could help the rest of us tremendously.

Kutcher, dude, we’re counting on you. Don’t let this opportunity disappear.

New Entry on the Family Travel Wish List

Doc + Sofia = Heaven, for my kids.

Doc + Sofia = Heaven, for my kids.

Believe it or not, my daughters keep their own version of a Bucket List—a running list of places they want to go (or go back to) over the course of their lives. The list has entries such as “Cats” (a make-believe land that L has created), and “HBG” (a local bar that R loves). It also mentions Hawaii (a destination they love). And Las Vegas (because Daddy writes about it so much).

After this past week, the list also now includes Disney Junior Play ‘N’ Dine at Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.

The reason for this latest addition: News that two of their all-time favorite Disney Junior characters—Doc McStuffins and Princess Sofia (from “Sofia the First”)—have joined the star-studded cast.

According to a blog-post release from the Disney Parks Blog (which kicks ass, by the way), the two characters, along with Handy Manny and Jake from “Jake and the Never Land Pirates,” interact with kids and sing familiar songs. The post goes onto say that Doc and Sofia actually have special roles in the musical revue.

Word on the street is that Doc and Sofia debuted on Sunday. From my perspective, the move represents another aspect of a growing effort from the Walt Disney World Resort to appeal to preschoolers and toddlers—an age group that’s often glossed over when creating immersive experiences for kids.

As the father of two kids in this age group, I welcome this push with open arms. Now Powerwoman and I just have to figure out when we can get to Florida to check things out!

Embracing Accidentally Family-Friendly Hotels

Bathroom televisions: Better than stuffed animals.

Bathroom TVs: Better than stuffed animals.

It’s one thing for a hotel to go out and declare itself as “family-friendly” and stock the rooms with all sorts of kid-oriented goodies and treats. It’s another thing for a hotel that doesn’t make a big deal about family travelers to boast the kinds of amenities that make us who vacation with kids feel right at home.

I like to consider this phenomenon “AFF,” or Accidentally Family-Friendly. As a traveler, when you experience it, it’s the best kind of surprise. Like a dollop of caramel in the center of a chocolate cupcake. Or a clutch hit from a rookie who just got his call-up to the Big Leagues.

Different families can deem different hotels AFF for different reasons. Here’s a rundown of some amenities that have made qualified properties as AFF in our recent experiences:

  • Bathroom televisions. Sure, L loved the free stuffed animal she received upon checking in to the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, but she’s still talking about the tiny television in the bathroom. The kid liked this TV so much she refused to watch the big one out in the bedroom. It also came in handy for me—while I shaved, she chilled out next to me and hung with “Sofia the First.”
  • 24-hour room service. When we travel internationally (or just cross-country), we usually reward good in-transit behavior with favorite foods. This means ordering odd items (French fries, hummus) at all hours of the day and night. It also means we’ve become huge fans of all-hours room service. The girls love knowing they don’t have to wait for their rewards. We love the good behavior this reality usually engenders in mid-air.
  • Flashlights. My kids love building forts and “camping out” (pretty much all the time at home and) in hotel rooms. The one item from home that’s always missing: A flashlight. I usually bring a headlamp for nighttime runs (yes, I’m that guy who runs at 11 p.m.), but the big boys are just too clunky to bring along. Naturally, then, you can imagine how excited the girls get when they find a flashlight hiding in the closet of a hotel room.
  • Extra space. We love hotels like Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani, where even the “standard” rooms actually are suites. When everyone’s awake, this configuration gives the girls room to spread out and do puzzles or have dance parties. When the girls go to sleep, it also gives Powerwoman and me the chance to shut the door to the bedroom and have some semblance of alone time.

The bottom line: Some hotels might be more family-friendly than you think. For an honest rundown of how other family travelers have rated a hotel, call the concierge and ask what in-room features seem to resonate with other customers in your demographic. Another, easier option: Ask friends, either in person or through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And remember, there’s more to “family-friendly” than toys and games.

To what extent have you found hotels AFF? Which amenities in particular did your kids adore?

Also: For more information about hotels and hotel amenities, join me this Wednesday, May 15, between 10:30 a.m. and noon, as I co-host a Twitter chat for Expedia. To follow along or participate, just log on to Twitter and search for the hashtag, #expediachat.

Chameleon Couture: A Daddy-Daughter Trip to Beverly Hills

Chameleon couture

Chameleon couture

I blogged extensively over at Parenting about the trip L and I took to Los Angeles this past February. Now, I also have written about the trip for “Have Family Will Travel,” a family travel blog from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

My most recent post was published today. The headline is too long and SEO-optimized to share here. Really all you need to know is this: The piece chronicles (a brief encounter with the actor, Bruce Willis, and) the morning L and I spent sketching couture dresses on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Check out the piece here. And, please, feel free to share it with friends.

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