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.

Holiday family travel tips in local daily

R, planespotting

R, planespotting

I’m a newspaper guy at heart, so it’s always nice to get some actual ink in an actual newspaper on the subject of family travel.

That’s why I’m so jazzed about my latest article for the Press-Democrat, our local metro daily.

The story, titled “Ten tips for easier holiday family travel,” appeared in today’s edition, and offers just what the headline promises: A bunch of suggestions for making holiday travel with kids easier. My editors published the piece with a bunch of pictures from our family travels over the last few months. They included even more of the pictures in the gallery online.

Among my suggestions:

  • Embrace apps
  • Take advantage of the lapchild rule while you can
  • Stick to schedules
  • Let kids own part of the plan

One of the tips I didn’t include: Bring backups—backup snacks, backup books, backup crafts, even backup clothes for those unforeseen bathroom debacles. Because you never know when a delay or a missed connection will result in extra travel time to kill.

What tips would you add to my list?

 

 

 

 

 

Recapping a November to remember

Dadbods, unite!

Dadbods, unite!

Early last month, I published a post introducing you dear readers to my idea of participating in Movember, a social media campaign dubbed The Dadbod Challenge. The campaign aimed to celebrate the male body—especially the dad body—with daily photos (by the illustrious Kim Carroll) of yours truly in various forms of undress.

Thirty days later, the campaign ended yesterday. It was a smashing success.

First, we raised more than $6,500 for The Movember Foundation, the only charity solely dedicated to raising money to support and raising awareness for men’s health. Second, because I vowed to match all donations made on my 41st birthday (Nov. 14, for those of you scoring at home) and send the matches to Planned Parenthood, we raised an additional $2,600 for PPFA. Third, we scored some pretty sick media hits (like this one and this one).

Do the math and we raised about $9,000 overall. In 30 days. With a bunch of Speedo pix and some witty captions.

On the most basic level, I am BLOWN AWAY by the generous support of my friends, colleagues, and family members. On another level, however, I’m super-proud of each and every person who got involved. Thanks to all of you.

I’m also excited about how the campaign paid homage to family travel. Because I’m the primary childcare solution for our family, I was forced to drag Baby G with me on a number of shoots. That means many of the images were snapshots of family travel—the Villanos in a vineyard, the Villanos at a luxury hotel, the Villanos at a boutique hotel’s pool (see picture above).

Whether your star-spangled Speedo is literal or metaphoric, I hope these pictures—and the success of the campaign in general—will inspire you to support men’s health and get out there to explore the world.

Night in the city without a phone

We’re in San Francisco for the remainder of the holiday weekend, and tonight I found myself alone with the big girls and no smartphone. Instead of panicking, the three of us got resourceful and saw a movie, found and booked a dinner reservation, and got around just fine.

The takeaway: Technology is awesome but grossly overrated.

The phone snafu was a pretty dumb mistake on my part. The five of us drove down in our minivan together, but Powerwoman and G dropped the big girls and me off at our hotel before continuing down to see some family members in Silicon Valley. When we arrived at the hotel, I was so fixated on getting L and R out of the car safely that I forgot to take my phone. We didn’t realize it was in the car until Powerwoman already was effectively out of the city.

This could have been a disaster. We were planning to Uber all over town, find a movie theater showing Moana at a reasonable time, then use Yelp to find a good restaurant before the show.

Instead, we did it the way I did it when I was a kid and the way countless others did it when they were younger: We winged it, we flew by the seats of our pants. And it worked. Masterfully. Almost without a glitch. (The glitch: NO PICTURES TO DOCUMENT THE NIGHT.)

To meet the challenge of picking a movie theater, we fired up the old laptop and I wrote (with pen on paper) some options down. To find a good restaurant, we used our voices to ask the concierge. Finally, to physically get ourselves from one part of town to the other, we shot our left arms into the air and hailed taxis.

Admittedly, the girls were a bit confused. HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET FROM HERE TO DINNER, asked a befuddled L, the Uber addict, when she learned Mommy had my phone. R was more concerned about no music.

But we did it, people. And you can, too.

Poetically, our night in the big city without a phone came on Black Friday a day when REI and other big companies encourage people to ditch technology and “opt outside.” We opted outside all right. Not internationally, but we did. And it made for a holiday gathering I’ll remember for a long while.

Remembering holidays abroad

Thanksgiving dinner. In England.

Thanksgiving dinner. In England.

As Thanksgiving 2016 approaches, I can’t help but think back to Thanksgiving 2013—when our family (then there were only four of us) was in England.

We took a long weekend from our apartment in London for Thanksgiving that year, vacationing at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire while I completed an assignment there. We didn’t expect much of a traditional American Thanksgiving because we were abroad.

Then the chef at the on-site restaurant learned of our visit, and made us a feast with all the trimmings.

Turkey. Stuffing. Brussels Sprouts. Cranberry sauce. Dinner rolls. You name the Thanksgiving staple, we ate it then and there. Chef even made the girls a little marzipan turkey, and filled the rest of the plate with jelly beans. While the food wasn’t as good as it is when we cook it here at home, it *was* delicious. And it made us feel welcome in a way for which we were incredibly thankful (see what I did there?).

Remembering the wonderful Thanksgiving meal got me thinking about some of the other factors that contributed to a successful Thanksgiving-away-from-home celebration that year. Here, then, in no particular order, are three of them.

Decorations from home

When we left for London that summer, we remembered to bring with us decorations for all the holidays we’d be celebrating abroad. This meant bringing birthday decorations for our September and November birthdays. It meant bringing Halloween decorations. It also meant bringing construction-paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. (We also brought stockings and Xmas decorations, FWIW.)

For the girls, seeing the very same decorations they knew and loved from home helped make the holiday seem more “typical.” L went so far as to declare that her decorations made everything feel exactly the same.

Traditions

Most specifics of individual holidays don’t matter as much as the traditions. I’m not talking about the “tradition” of having turkey with all the fixings; instead I’m talking about traditions such as sharing what you’re thankful for, watching the live broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York, engaging in a post-meal walkabout, and so on. For us, THESE were the activities that we strived to replicate abroad. We did a decent job. For the kids, that was more than good enough.

Family touchstones

Extended family is a big part of our annual Thanksgiving ritual when we’re home, and Powerwoman and I were worried about how we’d replicate that for the girls while we were away. Thanks to Skype, we didn’t have to worry at all. On the actual day of Thanksgiving (back in California), we Skyped over to my sister-in-law’s house and had a fabulous conversation with everybody who was there. The technology was nothing new at the time and it’s nothing new now. But it works. And it’s made a HUGE difference.

The bottom line: A little familiarity goes a long way, especially when you’re traveling with young kids. If you plan to be abroad—or just away from home—for a major holiday, go out of your way to make the kids feel like nothing is out of the ordinary. Even if they don’t seem appreciative in the moment, they’ll appreciate it. As parents, that’s all we can really ask for anyway.

What are the most far-flung places you’ve spent holidays?

Best site-tour buddies ever

Checking out Timber Cove

Checking out Timber Cove

Sometimes as a work-at-home parent I’m forced to take my kids with me on professional outings. This explains why I schlepped my 5-year-old and 1-year-old assistants with me this week on a pair of hotel site tours.

Considering these types of activities usually involve wandering around hotel rooms, interviewing general managers, and taking lots of notes, I’d say R and G handled the experience like rock stars.

They also had a bunch of fun.

The first of the tours, at Timber Cove, was more subdued. G crawled around on the lobby floor while R marveled at the crackling fireplace and I chatted with the manager. Later, as we poked around to look at rooms, R took on the job of explorer, and scouted out every feature of every room we entered.

(Her favorites were the loft suites, which feature spiral staircases from the living space to the bedroom; and the oceanfront suites with patios that look out on the raging Pacific.)

There were valuable lessons learned, too. Like when R tossed a half-eaten apple into an empty garbage pail, only to learn the pail was empty because housekeeping already had cleaned the room for its next guests. And when yours truly discovered that yes, in fact, the baby does really like eating toilet paper.

In all, Timber Cove received the Wandering Pod stamp of approval: R asked when we could go back.

The second tour was actually an opening—I dragged the girls (with G in a stroller, no less) to the fancypants ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new resort hotel at Graton Rancheria Casino. Yes, people, you read that right. I’m a 41-year-old father of three, and I took my two younger children to a hotel opening at a casino.

While this particular property was infinitely swankier than the first, the tour itself was far less interactive. The three of us followed a crowd of people to the elevator bank, got on, wandered up to the eighth floor, toured some rooms, then came back down.

Excitement reached a crescendo when we did a walkthrough of the spa and R attempted to dip her feet in the hot tub, then surged again when she poured herself a cup full of snack mix in the lounge area.

I also loved our impromptu chow-down in the lobby bar, during which the three of us grabbed a table in the middle of a room full of casino executives, R ate the aforementioned snack mix, and G wolfed down two pouches from Plum Organics.

Perhaps the highpoint of this experience occurred as we made our way to the exit. One of the servers waltzed by with a tray of taquitos and R decided to give it a try. She loved them. A lot. In fact, my kid liked the taquitos so much that she proceeded to grab a dozen of them, plop cross-legged on the lobby floor and stuff her face right in the middle of the event.

You can picture the scene: A 5-year-old girl, eating taquitos on the lobby floor of a brand-new casino resort hotel. It was classic. It was epic. I don’t ever want to do a site tour without my kids again.

Celebrating travel, fatherhood with #dadbod

The #dadbod

The #dadbod

For better or for worse, dads’ bodies—with all our love handles, all their blemishes—are the vessels through which we live our busy lives. As much as these bodies have changed over the years, they’re still ours, still us. And they still can help us accomplish incredible things, such as raising awareness and money for an important cause.

That’s why I developed The #Dadbod Challenge—a fun social media campaign that kicked off this week as part of Movember.

You know Movember—the annual month-long effort to raise awareness of and money for a variety of men’s health issues specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. Well, the #Dadbod Challenge directly supports the Movember Foundation, the only global charity focused solely on men’s health.

The #Dadbod Challenge is a campaign in which any dad can participate. Inspired by travel selfies (here’s the family travel connection, people), #Dadbod aims to celebrate the male body in all of its forms—a self-deprecating mash-up between Alicia Keys’ campaign to embrace her make-up free self and the Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014.

The rules of engagement are simple.

  1. Don a Speedo or another outfit that shows off a dad bod
  2. Snap a pic (it can be a selfie or someone else can take it)
  3. Share the pic on social media with the #Dadbod hashtag
  4. Tag other people to accept the #Dadbod Challenge
  5. Donate to the Movember Foundation

While the pictures themselves will help spread the message, the donation part is the most important step on the #Dadbod list. Since 2003, the Movember community has raised more than $710 million and has funded more than 1,200 men’s health projects in 21 countries.

With this in mind, the primary goals of the #Dadbod Challenge are no different from the goal of Movember as a whole: To spark conversations and raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health. By sharing pictures of our imperfect selves, dads will broaden those conversations and raising awareness in new (and admittedly sometimes ridiculous) ways. Hopefully they’ll also inspire people to give.

To follow the campaign through my images on Instagram, which will chronicle everything. You also can visit the official Movember #Dadbod launch page. To donate, click here. Thanks in advance for supporting this great cause.

Portland, Big Girl-style

20160909_135115One of my favorite writing treatments these days is to craft a travel story about a destination in the words and images of our Big Girl, L. She’s a phenomenal writer for her age (Exhibit A right here), she makes incredibly poignant observations, and she’s really learning how to wield the camera on a Smartphone.

I find her perspective innocent, fresh, and fun. It also usually elicits something I, alone, would not.

That’s the backstory behind my latest post for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia – a 7-year-old’s take on Portland. The piece is part of a series I’m writing for Expedia, and it presents a handful of pictures L took during our visit there earlier this fall. Interspersed with these images are glorified captions that set each scene and provide context for why she decided to take the pic. As a set, the images provide a colorful look at L’s impressions of the city, and her evolving artistic eye.

They also just make me damn proud.

You can read the piece by clicking here. Please share your feedback in the comments!

FTA Summit a smashing success

My mind is still spinning from this week’s Family Travel Association summit. The event was an overwhelming success.

I could regale you with hour-by-hour recaps of what we did and how it went, but I’ve already done that for the FTA blog here and here. I also could sum up the best and biggest moments of the week, but I’ve done that for AFAR.com here. Heck, if you really wanted to, you could check out the FTA’s Facebook page and listen to archived versions of my Facebook Live interviews with keynote speakers there.

Whatever you do, please follow up and read and listen and think more about family travel. The girls and I are headed to the coast for storm-watching and some R&R. Check back next week for more targeted impressions and more specific action items for the weeks and months ahead.

FTA Board of Advisors. I love these peeps.

FTA Board of Advisors. I love these peeps.

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