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.

Epic family travel passport fail

Evidence. (From Tomonews.us.)

Evidence. (From Tomonews.us.)

If you really think about it, our passports are just begging to be scribbled on. The compact size! Those horrible photos! Heck, here in the United States, the watermark could even qualify as sparkly and colorful.

In this family, considering how frequently our kids see our passports, I’ve often marveled at the fact that the identification documents have escaped kid-graffiti for so long.

Unfortunately, a Chinese man recently vacationing with his family in South Korea wasn’t as lucky.

The news hit the wires this week—the guy’s toddler scribbled all over his passport and officials in South Korea wouldn’t let the dude back into his home country without some serious questioning. From what I can clean online, it sounds like the situation ultimately was resolved. For a while, however, it looked as if one kid’s Pablo Picasso moment was going to cost dad a return trip with the clan.

When I read the story, I had to laugh. No, neither L nor R has defaced a passport. But the girls have mistaken some of my steno pads for coloring books.

There was that time I was on assignment in Hawaii, opened up my pad to scribble some notes, and found a pad full of marker scribbles—so many of them that I couldn’t find a clean piece of paper on which to write.

Then there was that day back here in California, when I came out of a very brief trip to the bathroom to find the kids actively painting on the only copy of critical collateral for a major ad campaign.

Thankfully, in both cases, I was able to recover.

Those incidents, coupled with this week’s incident in South Korea, serve as good reminders that these little geniuses of ours have minds of their own. In their worlds, little square books with lots of empty pages are meant for artwork. And if Daddy needs a goatee and simply won’t grow one on his own, it’s just easier to draw one in.

Where is the wackiest place your kids have scribbled while on a family trip?

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: