New data, new look at family travel

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Today was data day here at the Family Travel Association (FTA) Summit in Emigrant, Montana. That means a couple of my favorite people shared some pretty incredible data about family travel.

The FTA itself was up first, releasing the results of a comprehensive study by the FTA and the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. The study revealed three key data points about family travel:

  • Family travel now accounts for a full one-third of all leisure trips booked in the United States.
  • Survey respondents took an average of 3.53 domestic trips and 1.25 international trips with their children in the past year.
  • Families prefer to travel with their children when the children are between 6 and 12.

Also interesting: the data suggested that there are three distinct types of family travelers: Hassle-free travelers, who prefer travel options that require little effort and research; Cautious travelers, who are more willing to spend time researching their travels and more open to try a wider variety of travel options; and Intrepid travelers, who tend to opt for new destinations each time they travel, are most likely to take the kids out of school for vacations, value travel over material possessions, and like to travel to different cultures and unusual destinations. (If you want to read more about this, Rainer Jenss, who founded the FTA, explained these types beautifully in a recent blog post for the organization’s blog.)

After the FTA’s data came data from Expedia—data that resulted from a separate study and echoed a number of the same points.

The Expedia numbers showed that people who travel with families spend 2.5 times more than couples traveling without them. And that 80 percent of people who take vacations regularly report being happier because of those trips. Other key metrics: 94 percent of respondents take at least one trip with their family per year, and 82 percent said they get more pleasure from vacation than from possessions.

(Expedia also conducted research on what kids think about family travel; that’s worth reading, too.)

What does all of this research tell us the ways families travel? How can we make sense of so many disparate data points? In a market where the vast majority of travelers can’t afford much more than road trips, why should we even care? In a nutshell, the answer is this: BECAUSE WE GO.

The bottom line is that we, as families, travel. In a big way. And we’re traveling more. It doesn’t matter how we travel. It doesn’t matter where we travel. It doesn’t even matter why we feel the need to get away. We’re going. We’re taking our kids. And we’re doing it with increasing frequency—so much so that the trend is on the rise.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where families were an afterthought on the travel landscape, a customer base that existed but wasn’t big enough to matter. Results from these two studies make it clear that those days are over, that families are becoming a formidable market force which commands attention. The mere existence of the FTA—the very need to have a summit in the first place—is proof of this new reality. Now it’s time for the rest of the travel industry to pay attention.

For consumers, for people like you and me, the message is clear: Keep traveling. As I’ve said a thousand times (including 20 times on this blog), you don’t have to go far from home to expose your children to a brave new world. Family travel is a mindset. It’s time we all embraced this new way of thinking.

Golden Gate Park by Segway on a family trip

Golden Gate Park is one of the greatest urban parks in the world. It’s even better when you explore it on a Segway.

You know the Segway; that two-wheeled transportation device made famous by the movie, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” The one that looks like a futuristic scooter. The one that simultaneously looks like the dorkiest dorkmobile in the history of humankind.

At least, I thought the things were dorky. After riding one around Golden Gate Park for half a day earlier this summer, I can safely say they are way cooler than I ever thought.

I did the tour as part of an epic two-city road trip I took with my family in June. The trip was on behalf of my client, Expedia. While my wife and kids were back at the hotel (the kids aren’t big enough to ride Segways, and somebody had to watch them), I was tooling around the park and making emu noises as I went.

I shot video as I went, and, when I got home, worked with my pals at Expedia to cut a 3-minute video of the experience. The video was published in mid-July. Finally, I have the opportunity to share it with you here.

So take a peek. Enjoy. Laugh. Cry. And whatever you do, open your mind to the coolness of a Segway. You’ll be glad you did. (And even if you’re not so glad, you’ll have fun pretending to be Paul Blart.)

Visiting the special family place, without kids

Maui. With my loves.

Maui. With my loves.

Hawaii is a special place for everyone in our family. It’s where Powerwoman and I got married, where L said her first word (the word was, “again;” she said it at the ocean waves), and where R fell in love with the beach.

It’s also a place to which we’ve traveled as a unit multiple times.

For this reason, it’s hard for me to think about Hawaii without thinking of my family. The two go together like light rum and dark rum in a Mai Tai, like palm fronds and tropical breezes.

That’s the main reason this week has been particularly odd. I’m on Maui all week on behalf of my client, Expedia. We’re here to participate in an off-site for the Expedia Viewfinder team, to run a number of contests (like this one), and to report on all things sun and sand and surf in this part of the world. All of my favorite colleagues are here. The only thing missing: my brood.

Trust me—I’m having a blast. And I’m enjoying the restful sleep at night. But everywhere I look, every sight and smell and sound I experience, I’m wishing the girls and Powerwoman were here, too.

This morning, for instance, I joined a colleague for a run along the beach in Wailea and we spotted a giant snail inching along in a pointy seashell—notably different from the snails we see at our home back in Northern California. When I saw the creature, I couldn’t help but think of the girls. They would have been talking about that thing all day.

Later this week, when I take some of my fellow Viewfinders on a run to get malasadas (i.e., fried donuts) from my favorite bakery on the island, I’ll be thinking of L, since malasadas comprise one of her favorite food of all time.

The phenomenon has taught me that solo travel to one of the destinations you usually frequent as a family is a variation on family travel as a whole.

They’re not here, but they are. It’s magic. It’s amazing. And it makes perfect sense.

If nothing else, the last 48 hours have inspired me to come back before the end of this summer, with my loves in tow. Maui is wonderful no matter what the circumstances of the visit. But for me, it’s especially wonderful with my kids and wife. As any favorite family travel destination should be.

What is your favorite family travel destination and why?

Previewing the family road trip of my dreams

Come June, this will be us.

Come June, this is how many days will end.

It’s easy to make excuses to put off big trip. We lead busy lives. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Especially for family travelers, it seems there’s always a convenient excuse to cite as the reason for NOT taking the vacation of your dreams.

Which is precisely why it’s so liberating to finally say, “No excuses,” and take the leap.

This concept of “No Excuses” is the basis of a major advertising campaign from Expedia, one of my biggest clients. And because I’m the senior editor of the Expedia Viewfinder travel blog (a great source of inspirational travel content, by the way), the concept also was the basis of a recent blog post, which was published on the site earlier this weekend.

In the post, I essentially preview what will become our big trip of the summer—a three-week (and maybe longer) road trip from our home in Northern California to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

As I note in the post, the SJIs hold a special place in my heart, and I’ve dreamed of taking my family there for more than a decade. Finally, with the support of Expedia, we’re making the trip happen in a big way.

Our plan is simple. We’ll rent a house. We’ll explore. We’ll watch for whales. I’ll run a half-marathon. And we’ll just relax.

Sure, we’ll book some day trips (I mention a few of them in the post itself). And, as of right now, it looks like my inlaws will join us for part of the time. But there’s no grand scheme. We try to take one big trip every summer, and the goal of that trip is to assimilate, to become part of the local zeitgeist. This trip to the San Juans will be no different.

I’ve made excuses for years—the girls were too young, they wouldn’t appreciate it, blah blah blah. The truth: The time for excuses is done. I’m delighted and excited to finally have the opportunity to take my family on this adventure. To be honest, June can’t come soon enough. (Oh, and stay tuned for updates.)

Where have you always dreamed of visiting and why?

‘Storybook’ Yosemite post comes to life

Little R, seeking a cozy hideaway.

Little R, seeking a cozy hideaway.

As I have noted here in the preceding weeks, we’ve just come back from our biggest trip of 2014—a family excursion to Yosemite National Park.

We took the trip as part of an assignment from Expedia, for whom I serve as (senior editor and) a contributing writer to the Expedia Viewfinder blog. Now—finally, IMHO—my main narrative piece from the trip has been published for all to read.

The piece, titled “Family adventure in Yosemite” appeared on the Expedia blog today—just one day after Earth Day.

It kicked off the blog’s “Storybook” campaign.

In the story, I detailed the best parts of our four-day excursion from our home in Northern California to Yosemite. Some of these highlights:

  • Our day “hiking” with the girls to Mirror Lake
  • Our game of “Pooh Cones” in Tenaya Creek
  • Our trip to Lower Yosemite Falls
  • Our rock-tossing session on the banks of the Merced
  • Our nighttime stroll under the starry sky

Perhaps the biggest personal milestone: The trip was the first time the four of us had visited a national park as a family, and the first time my lovely bride ever had stepped foot in the park (considering she has spent nearly half of her life in California, this is a big deal).

Yes, regular readers of this blog have read portions of the Viewfinder recap before. But there’s new stuff in there, too. And there’ll be more; I plan to publish two additional installments over the next few weeks. Please give it a read! Please check back often! And please follow along with the rest of the campaign, as my colleagues will be writing their own “Storybook” posts between now and July.

All about the storybook(s)

AAcover

Inside spread, Alaska Airlines magazine

This is shaping up to be the biggest week of the year for those of us here at Wandering Pod, and it’s all about the placements.

First, on Tuesday, the April 2014 issue of Alaska Airlines magazine hit seat-backs with a cover story written by yours truly. The story, which runs nearly 4,000 words, spotlights family travel in Hawaii. In it, I pulled together anecdotes and experiences from five years of visiting the Aloha State with (at least one of) the girls.

Check it out by clicking here (and then scrolling to page 34, where the piece begins).

Next, later this morning, Powerwoman, L, R, and I will hop in the Prius and head out to Yosemite National Park, where we’ll spend the next four days disconnecting from the world and exploring as a family.

This trip is part of a HUGE package of articles I’ll be writing for Expedia’s Expedia Viewfinder blog. The effort is in conjunction with Expedia’s new “Find Your Storybook” advertising campaign; during the promotion, each Viewfinder will create content about a dream trip.

The first of *my* storybook stories is slated to run on the Expedia Viewfinder later this month. I’ll be creating oodles of content for this site, too. Stay tuned!

Aloha Mickey, Here We Come!

R getting ready for the flora of the Islands

R prepping for the flora of the Islands

I mentioned in my last post that we leave Sunday for two weeks on Oahu. We’re spending the first part of the trip at Aulani, a two-year-old resort that represents Disney’s foray into the Hawaiian market.

No-one in our family has visited Aulani yet, but a number of reviews have helped me get a sense of the place from afar.

This piece, for instance, from Babble, offers a good overview. And this one, by my friend and fellow Expedia Viewfinder contributor, Kara Williams, is particularly good for budget-conscious travelers. Finally, this one, from Inside the Magic, does a great job of walking would-be visitors through portions of the resort.

We’re headed to Aulani for three main reasons.

  • Together, my wife and I have visited Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island a total of 13 times since we got married on Maui in 2004, but we’ve only been to Oahu once.
  • L and R (and Powerwoman, for that matter) are big fans of Disney Parks and Resorts, and since our last Hawaiian vacation comprised a lengthy stint on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, we figured the girls would appreciate a completely different type of experience.
  • I’m under contract to write a few pieces about Aulani, and I also am updating the Hawaii 2014 guidebook for Insight Guides.

As it turns out, this Wednesday (June 12), I’m also hosting a Google+ Hangout on Air from Aulani. I’m hosting the event on behalf of Expedia. The subject: Disney Parks and Resorts. During the 45-minute event, I’ll be interviewing three Disney ambassadors about three resorts:  Aulani, Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

For more information about the Hangout on Air, click here. To participate in the event, simply go to Expedia’s Google+ page on Wednesday from 1 p.m. until 1:45 PDT; there, you’ll be able to watch the event live and comment to ask questions.

Meanwhile, stay tuned throughout the next two weeks for dispatches and insights from the field!

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