Six Tips for Smart Family Travel

IMG_1758Which sounds more toddler-friendly? The beach or the Louvre? What kind of a vacation would appeal to a teenager? Kayaking in whale watching territory or shopping for antiques?

The most crucial piece to planning a successful family vacation is matching the destination and the family. If you’ve traveled with another person – your husband, friends, siblings – you have hopefully learned the art of travel compromise. He hates to shop, you live for it. He spends hours and hours in museums, you like the cursory visit. Add children of varying ages and interests to the mix and you have an entirely new set of things to consider.

First, accept the fact that travel will never be the same again. Gone are the days when you could walk for hours through the labyrinth of Venice or push past meal times while you search out that historic London pub. That’s not to say it won’t be enriching, exciting, fun and stimulating. It’ll just be different. So once your mindset is adjusted, consider these tips from moms and dads whose kids have traveled so much they can find their own airplane seat, thank you very much.

  1. Convene a family council and talk travel (even if the only verbal family members are you and your spouse). Don’t take anything, or anybody, for granted and give everyone a vote. Even preschoolers have opinions. We all know families are not really democracies, so parents can maintain veto power, but your kids will appreciate being part of the discussion no matter what the outcome.
  2. Think kid-friendly destinations beyond Disneyland. Many beach resorts offer kids’ programs and babysitting. Club Med has family-oriented resorts that keep children busy all day long with educational and fun activities. Ski resorts will strap toddlers and teens on snowboards and skis, teach and feed them for most of the day. Some dude ranches have terrific riding and ranch activities designed for children. Many countries and U.S. states offer specific tips on family activities and some have “passports” your child can have stamped when he or she visits an attraction. Cruise lines have multiple options for families and are excellent because everybody can go their own direction and meet for dinner, all the happier for it.
  3. Research and ask lots of questions. If your chosen vacation spot advertises kid-friendly, ask for specifics. Find out costs and exactly what’s included. Ask for references then contact other families who’ve visited that spot. Go to and read reviews by parents.
  4. Travel off-season if possible. Spring break, the long Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas holidays and summer are prime time and are best avoided. Pretty hard to do when you have kids in school, but not impossible. Consider taking your child out of school for a few days before or after peak travel dates. Talk to their teacher ahead of time so your kids can make up assignment they’ll miss.
  5. Make it educational. Get creative and offer to have your child do a destination-specific project for extra credit. We’ve helped our kids create a Hawaiian-English dictionary, write short papers on Mexican folklore and put together a scrapbook of pictures of indigenous plant life. Sneaky way to turn a vacation into relevant education. For everyone.
  6. Flight plan. Avoid commuter flights (before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.). For long-haul trips, take advantage of overnight flights. If you’re traveling internationally, national carriers are sometimes less expansive than U.S. airlines. Reserve your seats when you make your flight reservations.

Is it worth it to get TSA Pre✓ ?

We airline travelers have become grudgingly accustomed to removing shoes and jackets, having our bodies scanned and letting strangers probe through our luggage. It’s easy to hate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and those sometimes snotty screeners, but before you get your nickers in a bunch, remember TSA screeners are doing the best they can under restricted circumstances. Budget cuts have reduced the number of TSA agents across the country by 5,600 in the last four years. More people are traveling. Terrorism is still a very real possibility. Budget cuts for TSA screeners?  – What are they thinking?  

TSATSA Pre✓ was instituted in an attempt to ease security line congestion and to date, some 12 million travelers have signed up.  Pre-checkies boarding pass is stamped TSA Approved and they are directed to the speedy line (no strollers! no old folks! no first time travelers!). Pre-checkies do not have to remove their shoes, jackets or belts, and can leave their laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in their tote bag.

Sounds cool, but is it worth it? You decide:

  1. The application process is a little laborious and involves an online application and a visit to your local Pre✓ It might be more than the casual traveler wants to deal with. Go to for more details and to apply online.
  2. Pre✓ costs $38, so if you are not a frequent traveler, it might not be worth the cost.
  3. Not all airports participate. Go to to which ones do.
  4. At this time, the following airlines participate in Pre✓: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant , American, Cape Air, Delta, Etihad, Jet Blue, Seaborne, Sun Country, United, Virgin America and WestJet. Some airports have centralized screening areas so it doesn’t matter who you’re flying, but others require you to pass through the security screening area that matches your flight.

BONUS INFO: Terrible TSA experience? Complain on #iHatetheWait, a Twitter account set up by Airlines for America, an airline rating group that loves to hear your gripe.

Have you signed up for Pre✓? How’s it going for you?


8 Ways to Take the Agony out of Airport Security Screening … Or at least not be the person who jams up the line

Brains in your headAchingly slow airport security lines are in the news for a good reason. Summer travel is ramping up, TSA is short-staffed, more people than ever are boarding planes. There’s not much you can do about the airport mess but there’s a lot you can do to make sure you aren’t part of the problem.

  1. Be early. Don’t take the admonishment to get to the airport well ahead of your flight lightly. An hour before departure is barely enough in some airports and two hours is a good idea. If lines are moving at glacier speed, you’ll be glad you have time to spare. According to The Active Times, the worst airports for slow security screening are JFK, Newark, Orlando, Los Angeles and Lousiville.  But that doesn’t mean you should take your small town airport for granted. Bottlenecks can happen anywhere.
  1. Be ready. Once you hit the front of the line, have your travel docs in your hand. The TSA screener, your new Security Fiend (typo! That should be Friend), needs to see your boarding pass and ID (driver’s license or passport). That’s all. Have them in your hand. Another hint: check the expiration date on your driver’s license and passport. If your primary form of ID has expired, you are in deep do-do.
  1. Be nice. Smile at your Security Friend and say hi. It can’t hurt to be nice to people who have one of the world’s most belabored jobs. And fer cryin’ out loud, take your sunglasses off. Your Security Friend needs to see you whole face and you’ll just annoy him/her if they have to remind you to remove your sunglasses. You never want to annoy your Security Friend.
  1. Know the rules. TSA screeners report thousands of utterly clueless people wander up to the luggage inspection line, plop their bags on the table, don’t take liquids and laptops out of their carry-ons, and don’t remove their belts, shoes and jackets. Immediate bottlenecks occur as those folks unpack and remove what they’re supposed to.
  1. Wear slip on/off shoes. Nothing slows you down and frustrates everybody in line behind you more than waiting while you balance on one foot or crouch down and untie your shoes. There are better ways to make you way through TSA security and they are called loafers, flats, flip flops, slip-ons.
  1. Toiletries. If they are in your carry-on bag and not your checked suitcase, containers must be regulation size (less than 3.4 ounces) and stowed all together in one clear quart-sized plastic bag. A Zip-lock bag will do or but you might want to spring for something sturdier with a zipper, find it at the drug store. Do not ever try to smuggle something oversized or questionable in the bottom of your carry-on. Your Security Friend will just find it and you and your bag will get searched and frisked like you’re a potential terrorist.
  1. Gifts. That lovely bottle of wine you want to give your friends at the other end? You cannot carry it on board. Don’t carry-on anything that’s on the no-no list. And don’t plan to wrap your gift until you get to your destination or all that pretty wrapping paper will just become a bright pile of trash after TSA opens the package.
  1. Sure-fire line stoppers. Don’t be an idiot think you can sneak through security with a gun, knife, ammunition, aerosols, blasting caps, firecrackers, lighter fluid…the list goes on (for a complete array of no-no’s, go to TSA reported that in 2015, 2,653 firearms (83 percent of them loaded!) were discovered in passengers’ carry-ones. So don’t be that guy, not only will you slow your progress through security, you will be flagged as someone possibly dangerous and obviously stupid and could get hauled to the questioning room.

Or you could sign up for TSA Pre✓ See next weeks’ blog post for how-to and pros and cons.

Great Books for Travelers


There’s nothing like books to inspire us to look deeply into other cultures, motivate us to get off the beaten path, offer a new perspective on foreign lands and the people who live there. Here are some of my favorites:

Travelers’ Tales: A Woman’s World
Edited by Mary Beth Bond. Published by Travelers’ Tales, Inc.
This book gives chick lit a kick in the pants. Fifty-six stories by top female writers who’ve circled the globe and loved every minute of it. Even during the “worst” of times.

Monkey Dancing
By Daniel Glick. Public Affairs Books.
Dan Glick chose an unusual way to work through divorce and single parenthood. He packed his suitcase, gathered his two kids, and took off for a five-month journey around the world. As others have said before him, “the journey is the destination.”

The Gift of Travel – The Best of Travelers’ Tales
Published by Travelers’ Tales, Inc.
Travelers—as opposed to tourists—journey for the thrill of it, knowing they are learning new things about the world and themselves with each trans-ocean flight, each jitney ride, each person met, each new food sampled. Jump aboard this wonderful anthology of stories from the road.

Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures
Edited by Jennifer L. Leo. Published by Travelers’ Tales, Inc.
Sarah Vowell, Sandra Tsing Loh, Anne Lamott and over 20 other women travelers share their misadventures from Abu Dhabi to Zambia.

Honeymoon with My Brother – A Memoir
By Franz Wisner. Published by St. Martin’s Griffin.
Franz Wisner wasn’t just left at the altar, he was left holding prepaid tickets for a Costa Rican honeymoon. Most of us would have a good cry then attempt to ring a refund out of the airlines and hotels, but Wisner decided to go anyway. With his brother. The pair had so much fun they quit their jobs and extended the “honeymoon” into a 53-country, two-year adventure.

Bill Bryson’s African Diary
By Bill Bryson. Published by Broadway Books.
Always irreverent and insightful, Bryson goes one better in his Kenya journal. He’s profoundly moved by the people, the landscape and the poverty; you will be, too. All royalties and profits from the sale of this book are donated to CARE, International.


Passion Alert

Locks of Love cover 11 bridges in Paris.

Locks of Love cover 11 bridges in Paris.

“In marriage you trade intense heat for continuing warmth.” I do not know who said that, but I do know it is true. I also know that even the warmest relationship could do with some fire starter now and then, and travel to romantic locals can definitely kindle the flames.

Places for Passion

Places for Passion published by travel expert Frommer’s, lists 75 over-the-top romantic destinations around the world, from the Amalfi Coast to Zion National Park along with guidelines on finding the ideal spot for you and your partner.

Sidewalk cafe. Relax and watch the world go by.

Sidewalk cafe. Relax and watch the world go by.

My husband and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary in France – we walked Paris, then drove to the Normandy Coast, the Loire Valley and the Dorgone. I will be the first to admit that traveling can be stressful (Where are we? I thought you had the passports! Kinda small bathroom, huh. The toll booth ate my credit card!), but, given some humor, flexibility, a sense of wonder and the ability to laugh at yourself, travel can be igniting and wonderfully bonding.

A little wine, a little cheese, fruit and non-GMO meat.

A little wine, a little cheese, fruit and non-GMO meat.

You are a team on the road – maybe he has an uncanny sense of direction and you are the organizational wizard that put all this together. Maybe he couldn’t figure out how to buy a Metro ticket and you could. Maybe he saw how quickly you adapt to the tiny bathroom and decided it wasn’t worth bitching about after all. Travel gives you a chance to appreciate your mate’s strengths and to be appreciated for your own. And that extra respect goes a long way toward lighting those fires.

Scam Alert

scam-alert_medium_1_mediumTravelers have reported this inventive scam, so I’m passing it along to you. Beware –

You check into your hotel, give the front desk your credit card and they run it through their system for any charges you may add to your room.

You go to your room and settle in. All good.

Then someone calls the hotel and asks for room 620, which happens to be your room, and they are connected. The person on the other end identifies themselves as so-and-so from the front desk. They tell you there was a problem with your charge account info and ask you to read your credit card number back to them and verify the security code on the back.

You think the call is legit, it came from the front desk, right? But sirens should be going off in your head. Some shrewd scam artist has been calling hotels, asking for random room numbers and getting credit card information from unsuspecting travelers. Bingo, they’re off running up charges to your account.

What to do: tell the caller you’ll be right down to the front desk to clear up the problem. Then hustle yourself to the front desk and check it out. Ask for the manager and let them know what happened. They may be as bewildered as you are, but at least your credit card hasn’t been compromised.

What did you learn from your worst travel experience?

ordeal or adventureWhat’s your worst travel experience? Lost luggage…crappy hotel room…missed flights…Montezuma’s revenge? I once spent a night on a roll-away in a hotel meeting room in Hong Kong l because there were no rooms at the inn. Got so sick on Malaysian food that I lost five pounds in one day. Tagged along on a fishing trip to Alaska where nearly everything went wrong. But you know what? It all made for great stories, insight into my flexibility and my traveling companion’s ability to go with the flow. What’s your worst travel story and what did you learn from it?

10 Travel Safety Tips

The opening pages of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida describes an American tourist checking into a hotel in Morocco. She lays her backpack at her feet, fills out the registration form and chats with the desk clerk for a moment, then she leans down to pick up her backpack. It’s gone.

Unfortunately, there are bad guys (and gals) the world over. The Eifel Tower a and Times Square are plagued with pickpockets. Street urchins in Mexico and San Diego act as foils to get your attention so their partner can snatch your purse.  Pedicab drivers in the Philippines drive unsuspecting tourists down a deserted street and demand money.

Fortunately, incidents like this are not the norm in most countries. I’ve traveled for three decades in Asia, the Pacific, Europe, South America and Africa and have never been a victim. You don’t need to be paranoid, just vigilant, no matter where you are. Here are some pointers to keep you, your cash and your stuff safe:

  1. Blend in. Dress like a local. Find out the cultural norms and expectations and when its hotdress accordingly – even if that means long pants, covered shoulders or a headscarf.
  2. Maps. Keep your map tucked in your bag, not hanging out of your pocket. Step to the side to discreetly consult it.
  3. Cameras. If you take a camera, keep it close to your body at all times. Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous, so snapping pics will not necessarily brand you as a tourist anymore. Again, discretion rules.
  4. Phones. Do not lay your cell phone on the table at a restaurant (easy for a passer-by to snatch) or turn it over to someone else to take your photo. Selfie, anyone?
  5. Cash. Figure out the currency as soon as you start handling it so you understand what you’re being charged. And handle cash inconspicuously – don’t lay it all out on the table to sort it or examine the pretty pictures on the bills.
  6. Purses. Carry a small purse with a cross-body strap. Do not hang it on the back of your chair or put it on the floor.
  7. Backpacks. Make sure all the zippers are closed. If it’s not on your back, put it between your feet.
  8. Suitcases. Keep your suitcase in sight at all times. If your luggage goes into the trunk of a cab or the back of a van, watch it go in and jump out soon as the vehicle stops so you can retrieve your suitcase.
  9. Hotels. Know where the exits are. Use the peephole if someone knocks and don’t open the door if you’re unsure of the person on the other side. Call the front desk to confirm if the person says he is a repairman. Leave the TV or radio on when you are out of the room. Don’t use the doorknob hanger at all. “Do Not Disturb” says you’re sleeping and “Make Up The Room” says you’re out. A room thief can use either piece of information to their advantage.SimplyNatural.Honoka'a
  10. Small talk. Talking to people you meet on trains, boats and in restaurants can be delightful and a great way to get to know the country you’re visiting. Just use your head and don’t divulge too much personal information. Keep in mind if you’re in a public place, anybody could be eavesdropping.

Got any safety tips of your own to add?

Just You, Babe — Advice for Solo Women Travelers


Two things keep women from traveling solo. Fear for their safety and fear they won’t have a good time alone. Take a gutsy-pill and a deep breath and you’ll thank yourself for the rest of your life. Above all remember, danger does not lurk behind every corner. But some really good pasta might.

Imagine you’re a petty thief who preys on tourists and you’re looking for your next victim. Who catches your eye?

Middle-Aged Woman Number One. She has a map in her hand, is wearing shorts and sandals, has a camera on one shoulder and a bulging tote on the other.

Middle-Aged Woman Number Two. She’s wearing slacks and a plain shirt, no jewelry and her purse rides bandoleer-style across her chest. She’s standing tall, walking briskly and appears to know where she’s going.

It’s obvious that the first woman is a tourist. The second? Maybe she’s a visitor, however, that stride will make a thief turn away from her and head toward easier prey. Here are some tips on how to travel like the second woman and take yourself out of a thief’s line-of-sight.

Pare Down and Pack Up
Women are notorious for packing more than they need into multiple suitcases. Believe me, nobody cares if you wear the same pair of slacks several days in a row. I do and believe me, I am no frump. Traveling solo means traveling smart and the pointers in What’s in Your Suitcase can turn you into a savvy traveler.

Walk Like a Flight Attendant
Flight attendants have a “look” that has nothing to do with appearance. Their self-assured demeanor is underscored by a subtle friendliness and a “you wouldn’t dare mess with me” attitude. Practice the flight attendant walk – shoulders back, straight spine, composed but alert gaze, purposeful steps – and you’ll give off strong, competent vibes that will deter assailants looking for an easy mark.

Ditch the Giant Tote Bag
You do not need a tote bag the size of a VW bug when you’re tooling the ruins of Pompeii or the souk in Istanbul. You need a mini-purse that will hold cash, passport, cell phone, glasses, one credit card, a tiny hairbrush and some lipstick or gloss. Wow, don’t you feel lighter already?

Before you go, buy a small, lightweight bag with a strap you can wear across your body.
Lots of possibilities on line at  Baggallini, PacSafe, Magellans or check your local REI or AAA travel gear sections.

Table for One
Sitting alone in a restaurant for breakfast and lunch isn’t nearly as intimidating as having dinner by yourself. Some women solve the problem with a big lunch and have a snack for dinner in their room. Others take a book. Seasoned solo travelers just do it. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you dine alone? People will stare? Doubtful. You’ll get a lousy table and worse service? Probably not. Somebody will flirt with you. Maybe. (Hey, wouldn’t that be fun?)

Talking to Strangers
If you mind your mother’s advice (and for that matter, the mantra of security personnel the world over), you won’t talk to strangers. This will deprive you of some of the most memorable experiences of your life. The elderly couple sharing your compartment on the train is unlikely to mug you. The old man in the market might prove to be delightful. Just use your head and you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of the world and its people that no guidebook, museum tour or city stroll will ever reveal.

Woman Power
If you do find yourself in a sticky situation – an overly aggressive would-be suitor or nasty street vendor, for instance – enlist the help of a local woman. Preferably an elderly one. There’s an international language of gestures and expressions that women share, and all you need to do is hurry to a mama-san, ask for help and point at the pest. She’ll give the guy what-for and he’ll leave with his ego dragging.