Family travel inspiration from Charles Schulz

The five of us spent the afternoon today at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, watching Peanuts cartoons and learning more about the legacy of the man behind Snoopy and Charlie Brown. During our visit, in an exhibit about the new “Peanuts” movie, I spotted this quote on the wall, which pretty much says it all…

A photo posted by Matt Villano (@mattvillano) on

Turning family travel disaster into fun

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

Airplane impersonations at PDX, Gate C5.

You probably have heard a saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons. As a family traveler, I embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly.

My commitment was put to the test today on what amounted to a 15-hour travel day to fly 600 miles after a weekend in SoCal (and Legoland California) with Little R. Yes, the day was exhausting. Yes, in the scheme of things, it was wildly irritating. But I learned some valuable lessons about being prepared, staying positive, and never letting the kiddos see you sweat—lessons that forever have changed the way I’ll approach parenting on a family trip.

So when our flight from San Diego to Santa Rosa circled the Santa Rosa airport nine times to wait out bad weather, I dug deep into my (literal) bag of tricks and gave R a brand new sheet of Melissa & Doug reusable stickers. And when R decided (and threw a tantrum because) the on-board toilet was too high for her to use, I simply reassured her that if she couldn’t hold it in and she wet her pants, I had a change of clothes ready to go.

(ICYW, she held it, then fell asleep.)

Later, when the pilot announced we were running out of fuel and needed to divert to Portland, Oregon, I made up a story about how our plane had been hand-selected by Queen Esmerelda to come and visit her kingdom of Portland and how this was a great honor bestowed only on the luckiest of passengers.

After we deplaned, when R started losing her bananas in the rebooking line, I handed her blank paper and crayons, and asked her to draw the gate agent a special thank-you card—a card that not only got her an entire sheet of (really awesome) Alaska Airlines stickers in return, but also made the gate agent smile (something I didn’t see the agent do very much in the 45 minutes of yelling she received from other passengers on our flight.)

Upon learning that we’d have to wait four hours in Portland, I told R that Queen Esmerelda sent us a credit for the gift shop, and allowed her to pick out $20 worth of toys (she got a stuffed pony, among other things).

I improvised in other ways during the wait, too:

  • When we happened upon an empty gate, we played football with my hat.
  • At another empty gate, we pretended to be airplanes and ran around in circles for a good 20 minutes.
  • Thanks to a Facebook tip from a friend, we took the moving sidewalks down to an area with kids’ games and spent 45 minutes playing with those.

Oh, and when R had to use the bathroom (always a dicey proposition in our family when “magic-eye” automatic flushers are involved), I pretended to take a call from Queen Esmerelda, who “directed” us to a special family bathroom where R was able to get totally naked, spend quality time on the toilet, listen as I read her a few books on the Kindle, and do more than her fair share of business (if you know what I mean).

After the flight back to San Francisco (on which R watched “Peppa Pig” shows the entire time; at that point in the day, I was more than happy to relax my screen-time restrictions), I even tried my best to turn the ordeal of a one-way rental car into something fun: We pretended the AirTrain to the rental car facility was the Monorail at Walt Disney World Resort, and I let R select the car (she chose a “sparkly silver” one).

On the way home, before the kid passed out in the car, I asked her about her favorite parts of the trip. Her response: “Today was really fun, Daddy.”

To say this comment made me happy would be an understatement. (Actually, I started crying the moment she said it; thankfully it was dark.) It was clear that my kid didn’t consider the ordeal a pain in the ass because I never gave her a reason to do so. To R, it all was just another part of our trip; a wonderful perspective that taught me a ton about parenting, traveling, and, quite frankly, myself.

So often when we travel, our kids feed off of us. They take cues from us. They read our body language. If we wig out, they wig out. Which is precisely why we always need to stay cool and take everything in stride.

Sure, our day today was COMPLETELY exhausting. And, yes, the delay was wildly inconvenient (in more ways than one). I’m sure I’ll be feeling the effects of it all throughout the course of the week. Thankfully, however, my 3-year-old will not. In my book, given the circumstances we overcame, that is the sign of a family travel victory.

What have been some of your worst family travel experiences, and how did you cope?

Shining spotlight on a new local gem

Fishing at the CMOSC.

Fishing at the CMOSC.

Because this blog deals with family travel on a general basis, I usually try to keep the focus as broad as possible. Sometimes, however, I can’t resist writing about local stuff. Especially when I’ve profiled that local stuff in a major metropolitan daily newspaper.

Case in point: the new Children’s Museum of Sonoma County (CMOSC), which I spotlighted in my most recent family travel column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The playground portion of the facility opened in March and the girls are OBSESSED. In fact, the day after my story about the place was published, we became members. I’m certain we’ll be headed there at least 2-3 times each month.

Things we love: the water play area, which comprises a series of water tables and a river from which kids can pluck plastic fish; the art studio, which hosts a different themed project every day; the organic garden, from which kids (under appropriate supervision) can pluck fruits and veggies; and the giant building blocks, with which kids can build giant Rube Goldberg-type machines.

Personally, I also love that after I called them out about it in my piece, the museum added a shade sail.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff we’d change about the place, too. One of the biggies: The museum has way too many rules. You can only eat in a certain spot. You can’t be barefoot. You can’t play *in* the river (you have to stand on a bridge).

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend taking the family the CMOSC. Perhaps the best plan is to combine your visit with a trip to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which is next door. There’s even an In-N-Out Burger down the street for an impromptu lunch. California Wine Country isn’t just for grown-ups anymore.

A Little Help from Some Friends

Three of the four musketeers, in a common pose.

Three of the four musketeers, in a common pose.

As much as I despise the word, “staycation,” we’re big fans of family travel to destinations within a 1- or 2-hour drive of our home.

Partly this is because we live in Sonoma County, California, IMHO one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s also because Powerwoman and I believe strongly that you don’t have to go far to experience the wonder of something new.

We put this philosophy into practice over the holiday weekend, when good friends from Central California—a family of four with two daughters, ages 5 and 3—came to visit. They arrived Wednesday night. And from that point until late Saturday, we had a Peter Pan-like panoply of adventures without ever leaving the county.

The activities themselves were fun—especially on Friday, when the eight of us took a private tour of Safari West, a private animal park with giraffes, zebras and hundreds of other animals, just down the freeway in Santa Rosa.

But what was even better was watching the girls play and laugh and bond by just being girls.

They shared cookies at a French bakery. They waved flags at a Fourth of July parade. They splished and splashed in an inflatable kiddie pool. They danced to a ragtag folk band at a local farmers’ market.

Sure, my kids had done most of this stuff before. But they’d never done the stuff with friends, and that factor enhanced each experience acutely.

This reality has been true for me, as well.

My fondest memories of that trip in high school to Acadia National Park revolve around hiking solo with a buddy who tagged along for the adventure. And as a younger child, the best parts of summer trips to Cape Cod were the lazy days with a childhood pal (and her brood).

Last night, a few hours after we parted ways, my Big Girl looked at me with sullen eyes and stated, “Doing stuff was more fun with [my buddy’s daughters] around.” In that moment, I was reminded of something we all should remember: Traveling with family can be transcendent, but traveling with family and family friends can be even better.

%d bloggers like this: