Family travel through her eyes

Chilling.

With three kids under the age of 8, it’s easy for Powerwoman and me to get caught up in planning trips around the bigger girls and not the baby.

Earlier this week, however, 15-month-old Baby G made sure I saw a family daytrip to our favorite Sonoma County beach from her point of view. The experience made me a better traveler, a better dad, and a better man. It also made me laugh.

The specifics are almost irrelevant—the big kids had off from school so I took the three of them out to Goat Rock State Beach, our favorite (despite its tendency to receive rogue waves). Because it was windy and the waves were big, I carried Baby G in the backpack while I monitored the whereabouts of her bigger sisters up the beach. After about an hour, however, the baby wanted out.

I obliged at lunch, when we set up a picnic blanket near the dunes and ate while we watched the waves.

That’s when it happened. After lunch, the big kids were clamoring to head down the beach to look for beach glass, but I didn’t want to go. I gave Baby G the option of getting back into the backpack or just hanging with me on the blanket. She very clearly slapped the blanket and grunted. She wanted to stay.

So we stayed. I sat her on my lap. We marveled at waves. We pointed at gulls. We played with sand. All told the two of us probably sat there, just enjoying the beach, for the better part of 45 minutes. She didn’t fuss or whine once. She didn’t complain about the wind. She didn’t even insist on peas, which she usually does at picnic lunches. In short, the baby was completely enraptured. As was I.

I’ve probably written about it 100 times, but this particular experience was yet another in the litany of experiences that taught me to slow down even more and take the time to appreciate life on the road.

Travel isn’t always easy—especially with kids. But I do know that in this case a little bit of extra effort went incredibly far with our baby, which is always a good scenario to cultivate.

American families set to hit the road

A whole bunch of American families are expected to travel this year—great news for us family travel bloggers and just about everyone else.

The stat comes from a recent survey report from AAA, which suggested that roughly 35 percent of American families will travel more than 50 miles away from home with at least two other family members in 2017.

The report was released earlier this week and included replies from 1,006 respondents. It also comprised a number of data points on the kind of trips family travelers plan to take. 

Leading the charge: the old-fashioned road trip (79 percent of respondents), national parks (51 percent), and theme parks (40 percent). Trips to international destinations (33 percent), guided or escorted tours (22 percent), and ocean cruises (20 percent) also made the list.

Drilling deeper, road trip numbers were 10 percent higher than last year—a curious finding, considering that gas prices are more than 50 cents higher than they were in February 2016. 

I wrote about the survey for AFAR, and a press release that hit wires Tuesday quoted an AAA executive as saying that Americans preferred the “structure and convenience” of group tours over the flexibility of a road trip. 

“Many tours are specially designed for multi-generational groups, plus there’s no better way to learn about a destination than from a knowledgeable, local guide,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing. 

Overall, survey data indicated that while the vast majority (70 percent) of respondents said they were planning to take one or two vacations this year, 28 percent of respondents said they would take three or more. AAA did not offer any explanations for this data, but it did note the number of frequent family travelers rose 13 percentage points over last year. That’s music to this dad’s ears.A

Walking like a pro

Conquering the plaza

Conquering the plaza

The big news from our world over the last few weeks is that Powerwoman and I now are the proud parents of three fully ambulatory human beings.

Allow me to translate that for you: Baby G is walking up a storm.

The littlest Villano isn’t just meandering here and there. Instead, girl is marching with purpose, often leaving her sisters and me in the dust. In practice, this can be difficult to manage, as the baby is always a few steps ahead of us old fogies. In theory, however, it’s a harbinger of great times to come, since we clearly have added a third adventuresome daughter to the mix.

Our new status as a family with three ambulating kids means our travel experiences will be completely different from here on out. Less stroller time. Less backpack time. More time with everyone on foot.

So far—thankfully, I might add—the big girls have taken to keeping tabs on their little sister, often holding G’s hands when we’re out and about. When the big sisters aren’t around to hold the baby’s hands, Powerwoman and I happily oblige.

It will be interesting to see how these trends continue on our next big trip: Disneyland. Will L and R take the time to look after their sister at a theme park? Will G be overwhelmed by the rides and crowds and not want to walk around on her own? These all are questions we’ll be able to resolve over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Powerwoman and I fully intend simply to enjoy the ride.

G is still in that wonderful stage where walking is so new that everything she sees while she’s ambulating is amazing and great and wonderful. She could see the same stuff in a stroller and not care at all. On her own two feet, however, look out!

How did your kids’ ambulation change your family travels?

New Plum video series about family travel

Note the emoji

Note the emoji

Over the years I’ve made no secret of my love for Plum Organics.

My kids—all three of them, if you can believe it—are addicted to the puffs, and Baby G guzzles at least one (if not two) pouches every day. Little R was a maniac about Shredz, Plum’s nod to Big League Chew. And every now and again, L likes to devour some Mighty Snack Bars, which basically are Plum’s answer to granola bars.

I’ve written about Plum. I’ve visited their offices. I’ve interviewed their founder and (former) CEO. In short, I’m a Plum fanboy, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

But even if I weren’t such a zealot, I’d *still* love the company’s new online video campaign.

Dubbed #TeamParent, the social media campaign uses texting as a way to show how two spouses rely on Plum to make family travel easier. The latest video focuses on having enough snacks to survive a plane trip with a baby. Another video in the series focuses on leveraging snacks to overcome a cranky toddler during a road trip. A third video revolves around snacks as a way to avoid a park meltdown—something to which every parent can relate (even those who don’t travel that much).

While the videos themselves represent a brilliant perspective on how real-world parents interact about their kids, the comments on the videos offer an entirely different kind of education, providing insight to how those same real-world parents feel about the way the campaign represents them.

Even if you don’t travel with your kids, you’ll appreciate the new campaign. But for those of you who do travel with your little ones, the videos take on even more significance.

Don’t take my word for it; see for yourself. I dare you to watch without smiling.

A new alternative to schlepping gear on family trips

Schleppers no more

Schleppers no more

Ask any family traveler to describe the most annoying part of traveling with kids and he or she will tell you quickly: schlepping the gear.

Between strollers, high chairs, and Pack-N-Plays, moms and dads often exert more energy carrying baby accessories than they do carrying the babies themselves. Trust me when I tell you this, people: I’ve had the sore shoulders to prove it.

This is where Babierge comes in. The Albuquerque, N.M.-based company rents unwieldy gear of all shapes and sizes to parents in 22 different U.S. markets. Prices usually range from $6 to about $15 per item per day. In many cases, the Babierge people will even pick up and drop off items, and (when applicable) set up items that might be too confusing.

I learned of this great company during a recent chat with a local mom. Two weeks later, after chatting with the company founder and the two women who run the Babierge outpost in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, I wrote up this Q&A for AFAR.com (one of my recurring clients).

What struck me about the interviews was the breadth and depth of thought that has gone into the Babierge product offerings. Not only does the company offer “typical” items such as high chairs and BOB jogging strollers, but it also offers “toy packages” and “book packages,” which essentially are small (and customizable!) collections of toys or books for those families who don’t want to have to worry about bringing that stuff when they travel, either.

These real-world options indicate clearly that real-life moms and dads are the people behind this company. In an age where entrepreneurs often do anything to make a buck, the authenticity is refreshing. For that reason alone, I’m happy to try out the service on our next trip.

Yosemite through the words of my 7-year-old

The journal.

The journal.

Visiting Yosemite National Park has become an annual ritual in this family. We go (usually in spring), we hike, we commune with nature, we take a continuing education class or two, then we come home.

We’ve done this sort of thing just about every year for the last six. For almost all of those years, I was the one who did most of the writing—not only in my journal, but also for my clients, on my computer, both there in the park and here back at home. (I’ve updated a few guidebooks about the park.)

Last year, however, L got in on the action, too. As part of a broader effort to get her to journal, I challenged her to write about our multigenerational experience inside the park when we visited back in April 2016. She took the task very seriously, scribbling copious notes throughout our visit. Before we began, she agreed that at some point I could use her work in an article. That article published yesterday on the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia.

The piece, titled, “Yosemite, daughter-style,” comprises whole snippets from her journal—entire passages that describe slices of Yosemite in her words. I edited the copy only for style and grammar.

In the story I quote her on a wide range of subjects, from the road trip there to shufflepuck, our room at Evergreen Lodge to my father’s wacky way of ordering salad. I also tried to preserve her cadence—this totally unique voice that falls somewhere between innocent and totally irritated; a perfect mix for 7-going-on-17.

The process of flipping through her journal to find these passages gave me a newfound appreciation for everything we experience when we visit Yosemite. I hope her words have the same effect on you.

TFW your kids are obsessed with Embassy Suites

My kids love this room

My kids love this room

We’ve stayed in some pretty nice hotels in our days of traveling as a family. Four Seasons properties. Ritz-Carltons. Fairmonts. Heck, we’ve even taken the kids to some pretty romantic five-star resorts here in Wine Country (looking at you, Carneros Inn and Meadowood).

But my girls like to keep it real. Their favorite hotel remains the Embassy Suites hotel near my inlaws’ house in Silicon Valley.

Among the things they like best about the hotel: The breakfast buffet, the indoor pool, and the fact that they can watch planes landing at San Francisco International Airport. We always (for some inexplicable reason) get handicapped-accessible rooms there, so both girls also sing the praises of the bathroom, which they describe as “super big” and “fun because of the handlebars on every wall.”

Lucky for the girls, we’re headed to their favorite hotel tomorrow night. For the third time this year.

This particular Embassy Suites has become our home away from home whenever we hang with my wife’s family. They live too far to drive there and back in the same night, and we’re now too large of a pod to crash at my inlaws’ downsized apartment.

Naturally, we’re headed down for Christmas Day. It will be the second Christmas Day we’ve checked into the good old “E.S.,” as we call it.

My wife and I like the room for its efficiency. The living area has a sofa bed and a drawing table for the kids to use when they wake up at 5:30 a.m. and we do not. There’s a mini-fridge and a microwave. The bedroom has one king bed. Pretty much everything we need for an overnight.

Our routine is simple. I drop off Powerwoman and the girls, then double back to check us in, make the fold-out bed for the big kids, and get all of the bathroom supplies ready for a lightning-fast pre-bed ritual. This way, when we get back to the hotel at 11 p.m., all we have to do is get the kids upstairs and they can crash out.

Is the Embassy Suites fancy? Not by a long shot. Is it cheap? Compared to other hotels, not really—we book on Expedia and it usually runs about $249 per night. But this particular property works for us. So when we visit family in the southern part of the Bay Area, we’re sticking with it. And if you travel regularly to see family members (or for the holidays), I encourage you to find a hotel you like and do the same.

Three’s a charm for family travel coverage

Disco-dancing in Yosemite

Disco-dancing in Yosemite

Our not-so-little-anymore pod got some nice ink this week, with three separate family travel stories in two different outlets.

The first of the stories, a service piece, appeared in our local metro daily, The (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Press-Democrat, and spotlighted 10 tips for easier holiday travel with the kids. In addition to the tips themselves, the story included six pictures of the girls from various adventures over the last few years. Oh, and if you can think of any tips that I left out, please share them in the comment field.

The second and third of the stories, both of which appeared on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, comprised photos (and related captions) from our multigenerational trip to Yosemite National Park this spring.

To read the better of the two Expedia stories, click here.

For more pieces like these three, please stay tuned. Over the next few months I’ll have family travel articles in Family Fun magazine, USA Today’s Go Escape, the Expedia Viewfinder, Alaska Beyond magazine (that’s the in-flight for Alaska), and others.

The ultimate fall family travel destination

G watching L and R get corny

G watching L and R get corny

Fear not, intrepid family travelers. The ultimate fall family travel destination isn’t some far-flung destination such as Cuba or Botswana. It’s not an autumnal urban adventure in Amsterdam. Nor does it have anything to do with a big theme park that charges upward of $100 per person to get in.

No, the ultimate fall family travel destination likely is within a short drive of your home—no matter where in the United States you might live.

Because it’s the corn pit. At your local pumpkin patch.

You know the corn pit—the giant ball-pit style, bathtub-shaped area bound by hay bales and filled with nothing other than corn kernels. My kids discovered this attraction for the first time in their lives today. I’m not sure I’ll ever hear the end of it.

Our experience was part of a larger mission to dodge raindrops, get to the pumpkin patch, and wrap-up Halloween decorating shopping on a high note. Thankfully we got the pumpkins first, because as soon as the big girls jumped into that corn pit, they were lost for the better part of an hour (which happens often on family trips…that’s the subject of another post for another time).

During that time, the girls jumped and flopped and crawled and made snow angels in the corn. Baby G even got in on the fun, venturing into the mix with a pacifier in her mouth, then laughing at her sisters when she insisted on popping the paci out.

Perhaps the only downside of the corn pit: The corn itself. I was still finding kernels in the girls’ clothes tonight. Two particularly stubborn kernels were hiding in L’s underwear.

These stragglers are a small price to for an experience that fun. Corn pit, we salute you!

A new way of talking about family travel

Picking poppies is totally free

Picking poppies is totally free

Most current family travel coverage skews toward upper middle class families, I’m at least somewhat guilty of perpetuating this shortsighted homogeneity, and now is the time to figure out how to mix things up.

If that opener jars you a bit, good—I wasn’t really sure how else to dive into a post about the accessibility of family travel coverage, and it’s a subject that’s been bugging me for a while.

Think about it. Most family travel coverage—again, admittedly including some of the travel coverage you read ON THIS BLOG—is by people with money writing for other people with money. We speak of luxury brands. We chronicle experiences on airplanes. We detail safaris. We review new rides at theme parks where admission costs upward of $100 per day. We wax on and on and on about meals that include $7 kids’ grilled cheeses and $12 cocktails.

I’m not saying this coverage is bad—for some readers, it can even be aspirational. But I am saying it’s the same stuff aimed at the same crowd.

The world of family travelers is diverse and represents families who come at travel with a litany of different financial means. To appeal to more of them, we need to mix it up. And we need to do it quickly, because the collective effect of all this privileged coverage is a message that tells the less fortunate family travel is something you only do when you have cash.

(As my friend Erin Kirkland puts it, “No one should ever feel as if they ‘just’ went here, or ‘only’ went there.”)

I’m not entirely sure how we meet this challenge.

Freda Moon’s intensely honest “Frugal Family” columns (see here and here) in The New York Times are a good start, but the publisher *is* The New York Times, which means the audience still is likely on the upper-end of the income scale (and therefore isn’t taking enough of a real-world, let-me-follow-in-her-footsteps interest in the pieces).

On the flipside, it seems way too simplistic to sit here and call for more service pieces that tell readers to drive if they can’t afford a plane ticket, visit a state park if they can’t swing Disney, and camp if they can’t justify shelling out $289 per night for a boutique hotel. The notion of providing different perspectives is more nuanced than that.

The way I see it, the best strategy for overcoming this shortsightedness in family travel coverage is a multifaceted effort.

Part of it can come from the industry side. I’m on the board of the Family Travel Association, and I intend to discuss the issue with my colleagues at our annual summit next month in Tucson. Our organization has dozens of big-time corporate sponsors, but very few of those sponsors have products designed for the layperson. We can be better.

Another big part of the effort has to come from publishers big and small. Magazines and websites need to bend over backward to publish stories about all kinds of family travel—not just the kinds packed with anecdotes about safaris and check-in amenities at Four Seasons hotels. At the same time, we content creators (we’re publishers of a different sort) can take a new approach, too, going out of our comfort zones every now and again to report and write travel pieces from a completely different (and non-condescending) perspective.

Finally, readers can play a part in this transformation, as well. How? Demand more variety. Tell us what you want to read. Help us help you by informing us where you want to go and trusting us with truth about the means you have to get there. In many ways, open dialog is the only way out of this rut the family travel industry finds itself. I’m all ears.

How can family travel writers help make family travel coverage more accessible and affordable?

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