Follow Sarah Pittard’s website, Solo Mom Takes Flight, for advice on traveling as a solo parent. // © 2015 Sarah Pittard
Feature image (above): Amy Whitley travels regularly with her three sons and husband; look for tips on her website, Pit Stops for Kids. // © 2015 Amy Whitley
The age of the Internet offers an endless supply of travel advice, but as a relatively new parent, I want family adventure suggestions straight from the horse’s mouth — that is to say, from mothers and fathers who have already bravely gone where I want to go, and with wiggly toddlers, angsty teenagers or trying tweens beside them.
To help travel agents and their family clients wade through the sea of blogs that are out there, I selected a few of my favorites in hopes that they will inspire a vacation that’s memorable for the entire family.
Erin Gifford of Washington, D.C., thinks family travel should and can be fun, adventurous and educational. She tests out trip ideas with a varying number of co-travelers — she’s a mother of four, but she likes to mix it up: sometimes exploring with the entire gang, and other times traveling with just one or two of her children.
“I like to incorporate learning and new experiences into our travels whenever I can, such as stand-up paddleboarding, going one-on-one with a king penguin or climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty,” Gifford said. “And rarely do we venture to the same destination twice.”
When browsing Gifford’s website, Kidventurous, it’s clear that she’s a wizard at making useful lists. She had my tummy rumbling as I read her “One Food Your Kids Must Try In Every U.S. State” piece (po’ boys and peach pie, anyone?), but her lengthy catalogs of what to do with kids in Philadelphia; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and beyond pack a mighty punch, too. She also goes out of her way to promote free activities in a given destination, proving that families can connect without spending much cash.
Personal Favorite: A three-week home exchange in Cork, Ireland, which allowed for daily excursions and plenty of time to get to the know local culture.
Dream Trip: A cross-country road trip.
Pro Tip: “If you're driving, bring along portable chargers such as iGo Charge Anywhere, as well as those that plug in to your car’s cigarette lighter — you don’t want gadgets in the backseat to run out of power, just an hour into a day-long journey,” Gifford said. “If you’re flying, be strategic when seating your kids on an airplane. Seat those most likely to spill their drink, go to the bathroom or get air sickness on the aisle with the quickest and easiest access to the lavatory.”
Pit Stops for Kids
Oregon-based writer Amy Whitley plans trips for five — her three sons, her husband and herself — and she’s skilled at sticking to a budget without skimping on adventure. Whitley and her troops are on the road at least once per month, and she shares tips on her website Pit Stops for Kids, which she launched in 2009 after a particularly frustrating road-trip experience. What I like best about Whitley’s stories is that they don’t gloss over the everyday realities of parenting, from sleep deprivation to the gold that is a great diaper bag.
“My first goal is to inspire parents and to give them the confidence they need to set off on their own trips,” Whitley said. “We also want to offer truly useful information on both budget and luxury travel. Like us, most families take all kinds of vacations, depending on their group size, their budget, their interests and the kids’ ages.”
Personal Favorite: Exploring the Inside Passage of Alaska.
Dream Trip: An African safari.
Pro Tip: “Make a daily itinerary, especially if you're short on time — that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it, but making plans is part of the fun, and it creates a greater sense of anticipation for everyone before departure day,” Whitley said.
Solo Mom Takes Flight
Sometimes splitting travel tasks between two parents can seem challenging. But even so, Sarah Pittard does the majority of her journeying solo. The Toronto, Canada-based writer of Solo Mom Takes Flight embarks on frequent vacations with her young son and daughter. Through her website, she aims to connect and inspire parents like herself.
“My blog tackles the challenges of traveling as a solo parent, no matter the reasons people do it,” Pittard said. “I always include important issues such as safety, cost and ease of travel for a solo parent. I want to show similar families that it can be done.”
I love how she treats her hometown as a place fit for exploration — see her “In and Around Toronto” page — as well as her city guides, located on the “Kids’ Corner” page. In “Mom’s Corner,” she even tackles tougher issues, from mom guilt to talking to kids about 9/11.
Personal Favorite: A 10,000-mile road trip across the U.S.
Dream Trip: An African safari.
Pro Tip: “Take a deep breath and go,” Pittard said. “There is nothing holding you back, and as long as you are together, it will be an incredible journey.”
Travel With Bender
Though Erin Bender hails from Perth, Australia, she’s currently playing the role of a nomad. Along with her husband and two children (ages 5 and 6), Bender has been on the road for more than 1,000 days and has seen more than 55 countries. And the family has no plans to settle down anytime soon.
“We only write about places we have been,” Bender said. “When you read our article about abseiling a cliff in Malta, my 5 year old did it. When you read about visiting Dracula’s castle in Romania, we did it. And we continue to do these things to and bring family travel into the limelight.”
For Bender, the ultimate reward is to remind parents that their life with children doesn’t have to have limits. The fun began on her family’s first day in Bali — the Benders had booked one-way tickets from Australia, and the blog, Travel With Bender, was intended to keep family back home aware of their travels. Today, the website offers everything from product reviews to interviews with fascinating travelers that the Benders have connected with while abroad. For first-person stories, visit Bender’s blog page.
Personal Favorite: Rovaniemi, Finland — hometown of Santa, adorable huskies and reindeer sleighs.
Dream Trip: Iceland.
Pro Tip: “Juggling luggage and children at the airport can be a nightmare, so make it easy on yourself by packing less — you will have just as good a time without all the stuff!” Bender said.
Walking on Travels
Keryn Means founded Walking on Travels to give hope to active parents who don’t want to stop traveling once they’ve started a family. In her opinion, every vacation should be as much fun for grown-ups as it is for the kiddos. A resident of a Washington, D.C. suburb, Means, her husband and their two sons explore our nation’s capital and Maryland extensively. They’re also regular road-trippers, and they venture on international trips several times a year.
“Moms and dads shouldn’t feel like they are restricted to the playgrounds of the world,” Means said. “Kids of all ages — even babies and toddlers — can enjoy museums, palaces, gardens, beaches, historical sites and local cuisine. Parents just have to give them the chance. My goal is to give families the tools they need to stop making excuses and get out the door. I also hope to give them a bit of inspiration to plow through the tough times, because they will arise.”
Look for her “Friday Postcards” series — weekly posts that highlight a smaller moment on a given adventure, from discovering New Orleans’ Garden District to experiencing the sunrise at Carolina Beach in North Carolina. And don’t miss the “Travel Tips” page, which is stocked with useful ideas on topics such as potty training on the road and top photo apps for travelers.
Personal Favorite: “A trip to China with my 14 month old,” Means said. “Watching him practice walking on the Great Wall is a memory we still talk about years later.”
Dream Trip: A journey in Argentina that includes tango, Iguazu Falls, steak and “helado” (ice cream).
Pro Tip: “Stay flexible,” Means said. “When our plans need to change or there is a hiccup in the itinerary, we just roll with it. You never know what adventures those hiccups will bring.”
Tamara Gruber straddles three jobs at once — she’s the mother of a tween, a writer and a marketing consultant. She launched We3Travel in 2013, and one of her original aims was to rouse parents to try new things, especially trips that get beyond theme parks. On a recent trip to Sonoma, Calif., Gruber even came back with pointers on how to go wine tasting with kids in tow. Another thing I love: Her 10-year-old daughter is sometimes a guest blogger, giving readers a glimpse of what kids her age are into when on the road.
“I'm an obsessive planner, but I know how hard it is for many families to find the time to do the same,” Gruber said. “I share my itineraries and our experiences with readers to help make their family vacation planning easier. I also aim to show that anything can be a family vacation with some careful planning, not just amusement parks or big resorts.”
Personal Favorite: Waking at dawn to the call of the birds outside a “hale” (hut) at (the now-closed) Kona Village Resort on the Big Island and then taking a sunrise walk on the beach as sea turtles slowly made their way out of the ocean.
Dream Trip: Seeing penguins in Antarctica or visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Pro Tip: “Involve kids in the planning process and prepare them for what they will see and experience,” Gruber said. “This helps the trip resonate more and helps the memories stick around longer.”