Room-service breakfast FTW

One of our favorite places to stay: the Fairmont San Francisco

One of our faves: the Fairmont San Francisco

Powerwoman and Baby G are headed out of town next week so my wife can conduct some research at a major university, which means I’ll be flying solo with the big girls for quite a while.

Most of this time will be spent winding down their respective school years here at home. I also have promised L and R we can spent at least part of the time doing something we Villanos do pretty well: Traveling. We won’t go far, just from our home in the northern reaches of Sonoma County down to the big city of San Francisco for a few nights. The only must on our agenda: A visit to the new SF MoMA.

As I started contemplating what to do for the rest of our time away, I decided this time I’d let the girls choose. And so, after snack time, I asked each of them individually to name three activities or experiences she would like to see on our agenda.

Both kids tabbed “room-service breakfast” at No. 1.

On the surface, this was completely shocking in the absolute best way—room-service breakfast is one of my very favorite guilty pleasures when traveling, and I love that my two oldest girls agree.

The more I thought about it, however, the less shocking this selection really was. Whenever Powerwoman and I want to celebrate something special on a family trip, we splurge for room-service breakfast and make a big deal out of it. We reinforce this ritual by talking about how much we love it, even when we’re not, in fact, having room-service breakfast ourselves. The fact that L and R chose this means they’ve learned from our examples and appreciate the choice.

Put differently, it means we’ve taught them well.

Lest you think we’re going to spend the entire time eating omelets and French fries in bed, the other two items on their respective lists were carousel time and the California Academy of Sciences (which they love because of the exhibit where butterflies can land on your head).

Throw in a trip to the sushi boats restaurant for dinner and it sounds like a pretty awesome family getaway to me.

What are your favorite things to do on a family vacation?

4 Family-Friendly Aspects of Life in London

R, at a London coffee shop, with some house toys.

R, at a London restaurant, with some house toys.

We’re nearing the end of our time here in London (we leave Dec. 23; I can’t believe it either), and I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on some of the most family-friendly aspects of life here.

Yes, I know the health care is free and higher education is dirt cheap (especially for residents). But I’m not talking about that kind of stuff. I’m talking about the family-friendly aspects of life that make visiting this great city with kids easy. Here, in no particular order, are my faves of the faves.

The playgrounds are awesome.
I’ve chronicled the awesomeness of the playgrounds here before, and I’ll do it again and again (probably until I sell a story about it to a major glossy newsstand magazine). Play areas are well-kept. Play structures are new. Ground surfaces are soft so kids don’t get badly hurt when they fall. And each playground boasts activities we simply don’t see at home: the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Hyde Park has a pirate ship kids can play inside, while the one at St. Stephen’s Church Garden has a zipline. Of course my favorite aspect of London playgrounds is that many of them have on-site cafes. This means we moms and dads are never too far from a hot black Americano.

Coffee shops give kids free stuff.
Did somebody say coffee? One of my other favorite things about London is that almost every coffee shop in this fair city treats kids like royalty. So long as the grown-ups in your party buy drinks, the kids in your party receive a free drink of their choice. Most places—Pret a Manger and Caffe Nero among them—offer something called “babyccinos,” essentially warm milk with a splash of cocoa. Other places will go so far as to make the little ones pint-sized decaf cappuccinos. When I’m out and about with L and R, I usually opt for simplicity, and just request child-sized take away cups of cold milk. Whatever you order, these freebies are a nice touch.

Public transit treats parents with kids like rock stars.
The vibe toward families on buses and trains in other cities is simple: You’re on your own. Here, however, whenever I board the bus or the Tube with the girls, people are incredibly accommodating and eager to help. They give up their seats. They help carry the stroller up steps. They actually make eye contact with us, and they smile. Overall, I have found the bus system more child-friendly than the Tube; every bus has a separate area for buggies—a nice amenity, especially on those days when I’m schlepping all over town with both of my kids. (Of course when I’m traveling with only one of the girls, and I’ve left the buggy at home, double decker buses also offer the best attraction in town: Watching the city pass by from the front seats of the top level.)

Restaurants are prepared…and welcoming.
So what if kids aren’t allowed in most pubs after 7 p.m.? Most restaurants in this city are incredibly welcoming toward families with young kids, and just about all of them are prepared with kids’ menus and crayons or colored pencils to keep the little ones happy until their food comes. Heck, one of our favorite places in our neighborhood even has toys for kids to play with. Back in the U.S., I’m notorious for lugging a backpack full of paper and pencils everywhere, just to make sure we’re covered. Here, so many places have it covered that I’ve actually started leaving the art supplies at home. It’s nice to have one less thing to worry about. It’s also nice to know Powerwoman and I can count on enjoying at least a few moments of every restaurant meal in peace.

What sort of family-friendly features do you look for in a travel destination?

Why Traveling with Kids Makes Me Fat

Please! Anything but fries!

Please! Anything but fries!

We’ve only been in London for a week at this point, but if I eat another French Fry (or “chip,” or whatever you want to call those crispy demons), you might have to roll me down the stairs to catch the Tube.

Yes, traveling with kids is wonderful for a host of reasons. How this dad eats while vacationing with those little people definitely isn’t one of them.

My first problem is the food.  Whether they’re munching on the aforementioned French Fries, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks or tortilla chips, our little humans love consuming fried stuff. It’s the only thing they’ll devour every time. And when they’re “all done” (as R likes to say) with their dinners, the leftovers are just sitting there, staring at me, tormenting me, daring me to resist.

(I know there are some moms and dads out there who won’t let their children go near fried stuff. Powerwoman and I are not those people. The reality: We encourage healthy options whenever viable, but turn to fried stuff in a pinch because we have found that during meals in unfamiliar restaurants, the goals are to order something a) we know they like, b) we know they’ll eat, and c) we assume will arrive relatively fast.)

The second problem is my own guilt.

If you’re like me, wasted food equals wasted money. This mindset comes in handy when we’re cooking at home—I reuse everything, including turkey carcasses on holidays. On the road, however, I can’t help but assign a value to every uneaten chicken strip and half-finished side of peas. Once this happens, the only way to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth is to eat the scraps—even if I’m no longer hungry.

Case in point: One dinner this week comprised a bowl of red curry, two pieces of fish from L’s fish ‘n’ chips, and two-thirds of R’s mashed potatoes. I’m not bragging here, folks; I felt gross when all was said and done. One thing I didn’t feel was wasteful.

(In other news, I know other moms and dads may not admit it, but lots of traveling parents suffer from this affliction. Maybe as a follow-up to my reality television show in which Dads compete to see who can schlep the most stuff through an airport, I can produce a show that pits pops in a contest to see who can eat the most kids’ meal leftovers. Joey Chestnut and Juan More Bite, you have been served.)

Thankfully, at least for me, both of these poor habits usually are offset by a good run (which I try to squeeze in every day). Still, I acknowledge that they’re not the best habits to have, for me or my waistline.

How do you manage to eat healthy food (in modest portions) when you travel with your kids?

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