Smarter family travel: Review of Family on the Loose

Here I am, a little stressed out at the Louvre in 2012. Happy 2013 from me and Venus! I’m sorry to be almost a week behind on my New Year’s greeting, but a horrendous virus has taken me (and the rest of my family) down this past week. I’m happy to say that before it felled us, we were able to enjoy five of the best days of Christmas week skiing that Mad River Glen has seen in a long time. So I guess it was a courteous little bout of pestilence, respecting our family travel if not my work schedule.

As I move into 2013 (and am staring down my fifth anniversary of blogging in June) I find myself reflecting on my skills as a parent who travels. And I’ve got a confession to make: Although we took some amazing trips in 2012 (Colorado, Switzerland, Bordeaux, and Chincoteague were just some of the destinations on the list), I don’t feel like every decision I made about our travel was a stellar one. In fact, I’m willing to own up to having gotten a bit sloppy, perhaps resting on my laurels as a family-travel-know-it-all without always doing the legwork I needed to make our travel successful or even get out the door as often as we should have. And I’m pretty certain that I could have made some better budgetary decisions too.

So with that in mind, I’ve decided to make 2013 the Year of Smarter Family Travel here at the Mother of all Trips for me and for you. I’ll be starting in January in a variety of ways: By making some changes in how I do my family travel planning for the coming year (and sharing what those changes are), by improving the Resources section on my site so that it is even more of an informational toolbox for your family travel, and by reintroducing the Travel Questions feature where I’ll explore some of the trickier aspects of family travel (on my mind lately: traveling with a tween – a whole new territory for me and my family).

And don’t worry: In between all this great stuff I’ll still be offering lots of stories about our travels that are really the bread and butter here. In fact, I’ve got a backlog of stories from 2012 to share, including the better part of our trip to France last summer. It won’t all be pretty, since our week in Bordeaux was the site of my biggest family travel fail ever – that one will serve as a cautionary tale for sure.

So without further ado, let’s start our year of smarter family travel together with a new resource that can help us all achieve it, a book chock full of practical suggestions and an educational approach to traveling with kids that got me excited about family travel all over again. Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids by inveterate travelers and parents Bill Richards and Ashley Steel is the perfect New Year’s tonic for family travelers and a great place to start your next round of trip planning. The stated family-travel tenets that Richards and Steel live by are “no guilt” and “have fun” and the book is a great guide to help you achieve both things while also planning phenomenal experiences for your family.

Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids

There are lots of practical tips in this book, many of them things you’d expect to find in a family travel resource. The opening chapters offer information about how to plan an itinerary, where to find cheap plane tickets, what you should pack (with lists for every member of your family), and even a budget worksheet that should be helpful for any family planning to travel.

But it is the sections of the book that deal with actually traveling with children that I think are the most eye-opening and helpful. There are numerous suggestions about how to entertain and engage kids at those fraught moments that every traveling family faces (highlighted sections include “Twelve Active Activities for the Airport,” “Fourteen Quite Activities for the Plane,” and “Mealtime is Family Time: A Dozen Games for the Table”).  I love the no-nonsense approach and seasoned advice, which includes such gems as “when there is a chance to pee, everyone has to try” and “while a long flight is a challenge, think of it as forced quality time with our kids.”

The chapter titled “Living on the Loose” also offers tons of great tips for handling the challenges of being on the road from jet lag (“It’s easier to make kids stay awake than it is to make them go to sleep”), to choosing what to do – whatever it is, don’t overschedule!, to parenting on the road. The friendly reassuring tone is reminds us all that no traveling parent is perfect; for that reason, this would actually be a great book to bring with you on a trip and re-read in your hotel room (glass of wine in hand of course) after you’ve had a rough day on the road.

Of particular value is that the second half of the book addresses what I would consider the often-overlooked aspect of family travel how-to: How to make family travel into something more than just a vacation. Richards and Steel don’t want you to just go places with your kids, they want you to experience them in a meaningful way together. To that end, the book offers a plethora of suggestions for engaging kids on the road including:

  • How to make a scavenger hunt for any city you are visiting (with sample pages that you can use as a guide).
  • How to make the most of museum visits (again, with sample activity pages for you to copy and use with our own kids).
  • How to enjoy local music, art, and culture with your children.
  • How to help your children make “the world’s greatest travel journal” with loads of questions, suggestions, and examples as well as sample pages.

I think it is in the book’s subtitle that its genius lies. Traveling with children involves as much energy and creativity as making art – and when it’s done well, it can shape your children in ways that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Family on the Loose offers creative, energetic, and specific ways that you can make the most out of every trip – long or short – that you take with your kids.

You can learn more about Family on the Loose and it’s authors at The book is available in both print and ebook
editions. And be sure to check out my interview with Bill.

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  1. says

    Thank you Mara! The aspects of our book that you like best are exactly those that I am most proud of. I too need to travel smarter with family in 2013 and also cheaper. I look forward to your tips and hearing about the “fail” in Bordeaux.

  2. says

    I’m intrigued! Especially by creating a scavenger hunt in any city. As my brain spins I think about how I could use that in other ways… Heading to Amazon now. Love that I can get it on my Kindle!

    • says

      Jody – I don’t know if you read my post about St-Emilion, but we did a scavenger hunt there that was provided by the tourist agency and it made the entire day so much more fun for all of us. I think it’s genius that Ashley and Richard have provided a template for a make-your-own scavenger hunt! That way you can be sure to include sites you want to visit. Total win-win.

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