Farewell to a friend and family travel advocate

So long, old friend.

So long, old friend.

Keith Bellows was a luminary. In 17 years as Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveler, he pushed his writers to write better, dream big, and allow themselves to be moved by travel. He also took a stand as a staunch advocate of family travel, writing books and essays about the importance of introducing kids to the world.

I never had the privilege of working with Bellows as an editor, never worked up the courage to pitch him a story. But I always dreamed of the day when I would.

Then a funny thing happened. We both joined the board of the Family Travel Association (FTA). Suddenly, we were equals with the same mission: To change lives through travel. We sat in on the same calls, opined on the same issues, even chimed in on each other’s Facebook pages about desultory stuff.

We were starting to become friends. Then Bellows died Saturday after a battle with liver disease.

To say I was shocked by this development would be understatement. I didn’t know he was sick, didn’t really know he was suffering. I also didn’t *really* know the guy at all. Reading the kind eulogies our mutual friends wrote on Facebook was almost voyeuristic—our colleagues poured their hearts out, and with each piece, I got a slightly more complete perspective of the man Bellows was.

Encouraging. Spontaneous. Free-spirited. Worldly. These are just some of the adjectives I took away from the essays. The list could go on for screens.

Fellow writers shared stories of Bellows enabling them to report travel features from just about anywhere, anecdotes about Bellows helping kickstart their careers because he valued hard work and determination.

Some of our mutual colleagues also shared stories of Bellows on the road with his kids—here, there, just about everywhere in the world.

One friend reminded me of this piece Bellows wrote for the FTA’s own Website.

Indeed, above all else, Bellows was a true family traveler. He cherished the relationship he had with his kids, and was committed to taking them places to put them in the position of experiencing the unfamiliar. He was undaunted in this perspective—perhaps his own upbringing in foreign countries cemented in him a love for the magic and wonder of traveling the world. In this belief, this unflagging support of exploring as a family, Keith Bellows inspired me to be a better writer, better father, and a better family traveler myself. I’m just sorry he won’t be around to read these thanks.

Great tips for improving family vacations

Tip: Have kids do research before a big trip.

Tip: Have kids do research before a big trip.

I enjoy many benefits of being on the Board of Directors of the nascent Family Travel Association (FTA). One of my favorite perks: Getting to know people such as fellow Board member Keith Bellows.

Keith, emeritus Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveler, has been an advocate of family travel for years. Covering it was a priority of his when he headed up editorial coverage at Traveler. He also wrote books and longer articles on the subject himself.

His most recent piece, which appeared today on the FTA blog, might be my favorite of his family travel pieces ever. In it, he lists 10 very simple tips for improving our family vacations. Some of the tips are straightforward—most of us traveling with children likely would share experiences with them and regale them with stories and myths about our destinations before we go. Other tips are new and life-changing; Keith’s expertise changed my entire perspective on how I’ll approach our next family trip.

My favorite tips of his promote individuality in kids. No. 1 on my list: His tip to give each kid $10 to spend on whatever he or she wants every day, so long as the purchase is a tangible good that is difficult to find at home.

Other highlights IMHO include giving kids destination-specific challenges to solve on the trip, and encouraging them to make and/or tell their own stories about the experience.

I won’t steal all of Keith’s thunder; for a more complete POV on his tips, read the whole piece here.

Once you’ve read it, feel free to add some tips of your own in the comment field below. I’ll make sure Keith sees them before our next board meeting. Who knows? Maybe you can change his life the way he has changed mine.

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