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?

6 replies
  1. Erin Kirkland
    Erin Kirkland says:

    Love this! Let’s create opportunities where families don’t feel as if frugal travel is “second class.” ALL travel, whether driving 300 miles to visit grandparents, or 20 miles to go camping, is worthwhile, meaningful, and potentially life-changing. Let’s embrace it.

  2. Carol
    Carol says:

    I’m sorry I will miss your talk. It boils down to the judgment in how people choose to spend there limited vacation time off – which my husband has, just as so many other families – with limited budget, which we all have. The idea of shaming someone for not traveling overseas, claiming that “it’s not that expensive in the end – because, deals” as if most families would stay in hostels or fly questionable airlines with 15 layovers, each 2+ hours long. Or shaming someone for choosing Disney, or shaming anyone period for how and where they choose to travel. There are so many wonderful ways to encourage other families to travel, often times without setting foot on a plane or breaking the bank, however making it “sexy” enough for magazines and other media to wake up to the fact that regular, everyday, normal families aren’t all traveling to Europe, or staying at the Four Seasons with their kids, or letting go of the ego enough to admit that were it not for the paid press trip, most travel writers wouldn’t be either? Well, that’s the whole other challenge. I know, however, that it works.

    • Erin Kirkland
      Erin Kirkland says:

      You hit on a great point, Carol. Making it appealing for media, AND DMO’s, so that attention is paid to this very important issue.
      Hell NO would I be able to do most of the stuff I do without press trips and opportunities hosted by my Alaska travel partners. No. Freaking. Way.

  3. Katrina Woznicki
    Katrina Woznicki says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s such an important, under-discussed topic. I grew up in a divorced, working class household where we rarely went anywhere. For this discussion, are we talking about travel as solely the physical act of visiting a different geographical location or travel as a destination imagined or an experience at a particular place that may be your home or somewhere you’ve never been to? Because those are different things, and so it depends on how “travel” is defined. For example, an immigrant writing about his/her impressions of NYC could read like a destination piece but is it a “travel” piece? A newly-divorced mom moving to another state with her kids could write a road-trip story that focuses on the sights, sounds, smells, landscape of going somewhere, but is that a “travel” piece? Some things to consider.

    • Matt Villano
      Matt Villano says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Katrina. I think any of the pieces you describe can be “travel.” That’s the beauty of the genre. In my book, anything that teaches readers about a place they’ve never been (but can visit) is travel. Please keep reading!


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