Is School more Important than a Family Road Trip?

When you pull a kid from class for a week, you disrupt the lesson plan of the teacher and slow your child 's progress. But travel can develop strong family ties and provide a richer learning environment than any cement building in a kid's home town. If you develop an educational agenda, you can make roadtrips a fun and enriching experience.

About a year ago there was a discussion at Fodor's Forum on whether it was a good idea or a bad idea to take kids out of school for a family trip. Many thought it was fine, some others felt strongly that it was disruptive of the school routine and therefore that it was bad for the kid, bad for the teacher, and bad for the other students in your child's class.

I feel differently.

Travel presents endless opportunities for education, if you let it. My feeling is that the most important things in life are not taught at school. That’s not to say that school isn’t important, but that schools can't teach the critical lessons. They can barely afford a field trip to the science museum, let alone a trip to Europe. You learn by walking around a place, smelling the air, seeing the sights and tasting the (yuk) escargot. And asking questions.

I travel a lot for work; if it's not too far we pack up the family and head out. We feel that every road trip is an opportunity to teach our kids about this country: people; rocks and volcanoes; fish, bees, cactus and trees; government, wars...

Don’t bring the same old books from home for the kids to read, get books from the library about where you’re going. Start reading a couple of weeks before you go. And make scavenger hunt scrap books as escargot describes. We’ve had a ton of success with an old point and shoot digital camera with our son who is now six. Take some time to learn about some cultural or natural history to use as talking points on your trip.

What are the important things to learn in life?
  • Compassion, which you learn by understanding many different points of view.
  • Diplomacy, which you learn by experiencing many different cultures.
  • How to manage your money, which can be taught while traveling.
  • How the natural world works, which makes a lot more sense when you’re standing in the middle of it (it’s hard to picture the size of a glacier when you’re in a class room, but a lot easier when you’re standing in Glacier National Park or next to the Mission Mountains as in the photo).
Maybe the most important thing is learning and experiencing new things with your family.

The world needs more smart people making smart decisions and asking the right questions. Much of what goes wrong in the world is because adults do dumb things: lie, steal, ignore the obvious, and fail to ask questions about the big picture.

What do you think?

Family Roadtrip, Comin' Up!

I have to head to New Orleans for the National Green Building Conference sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders. As it happens, the show is over the Mother's Day weekend (Smart conference planning tip: don't schedule your conference for Mother's Day weekend). Oddly enough, the NAHB's International Builder's Show was in Orlando this year over Valentines Day (is the NAHB anti-sweetheart and anti-Mom?).

As luck would have it, Tinsley is fine with me going to the conference as long as I take her out to a nice Mother's Day Brunch.

In New Orleans.

Do I feel a road trip coming, or what?

Ever since we lived in Nashville, we've wanted to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. It's a 444 mile National Scenic Route running from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, TN. The Parkway follows the old Natchez Trace Trail which was a walking and horse path back in the old days.

I got to drive a small portion of it the last time I visited New Orleans, and the itch intensified. In a few weeks, we'll fly into Nashville and rent a car. We'll drive the Natchez Trace to its end and wind our way into New Orleans.

Maybe we'll take the fast way back, maybe not.

Wanted: Guest Bloggers

We've got some repeat visitors out there in places we don't get to visit often such as California, Minnesota, and Hawaii. But more surprisingly, Australia and Iceland. Surely there are things these folks can contribute to

How do we know this? We recently discovered Google's Analytics tool. Wow. Before a few weeks ago, we'd been relying on the counter to tell us how many page visit we get. This tool breaks it down by visitors, pages per visit, page visits, average time on site and percent new visitors. But again, there's more surprising stuff. It shows you where in the world people are visiting from, by country. And by state, and by city. For sheer page views, The USA wins hands down with 201; Canada is second with 10. But for time spent on site The Philippines smucks the rest with 7:15, for pages per visit, Russia wins at 4.0 with Iceland close behind at 3.5.

Who'd a thunk it?

Anyways, A man named James wrote in a little while ago wanting to post a trip review of a Vancouver to San Francisco roadtrip; look for it soon. James will be our second guest blogger, the first being 'escargot' form Fodor's Forums. We'd love trip reports, travel tips, or other write ups of family road trip adventures around America and the globe.

If you'd like to participate, email us at Writing ability isn't much of an issue as I make my living as a magazine editor coaching non-writers to write technical articles. If plumbers, electricians and architects can do it, so can you!

Happy trails!

Family Adventure Spots in New England

From Yankee Magazine recently...

Family Adventure Spots in New England

Whitewater Rafting Deerfield River, Northwestern Massachusetts>Mountain Biking Kingdom Trails, East Burke, Vermont
Sea KayakingWickford Harbor, Rhode Island
Camping Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Biking Province Lands, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Canoeing Umbagog Lake, New Hampshire

Stephen Jermanok, travel writer and father of two young children, reveals his favorite family adventure spots. Some of them may surprise you. Get ready for New England's best adventures in whitewater rafting and biking in Massachusetts, mountain biking in Vermont, sea kayaking in Rhode island, camping in Maine, and canoeing in New Hampshire.

Family Travel all about 'Quality Time'

From the Chicago Tribune a while back

Family travel all about 'quality time'
BY ALFRED BORCOVER Special to the Tribune November 18, 2007

It's all about QT. Kids are busy with soccer, basketball, baseball, music lessons, video games and camp, not to mention school. Parents are overburdened at work and equally busy on weekends trying to hold lives together. QT -- quality time -- with children seems to be catch-as-catch-can. And pretty soon months have rushed by without the family having fun together.That's where family travel comes in. Not just jumping in the van and sightseeing helter-skelter, kids rolling their eyeballs every time you drag them into a museum. But doing things kids want to do, having a shared adventure blended with an educational experience. Or just splashing around together at a lake or ocean beach.

Travel with children has been on a steady climb since 2000, and even more so in the last seven years. According to Washington-based Travel Industry Association figures, the number of leisure vacations with children has risen nearly 14 percent, to 208.3 million trips in 2006 from 183.1 million in 2000. Some of these trips are taken with grandparents.
"From 2001 through 2004, the primary reason [for the growth] was the residual psychological impact of 9/11," said Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Ypartnership, an Orlando-based travel research and marketing firm. "People became far more introspective. Money, which was the focus of the late 1990s, was no longer all important. All-important was quality time with loved ones, a sense of parental guilt.

"Yesawich continued: "We began to see another reason [for family travel]: work habits that have become increasingly frenetic. The workday has gotten longer because of technology -- cell phones, PDAs and ceaseless e-mails. If you look at households where you have mom, dad and kids, 60 percent of those are where mom and dad are both working full time."

Yesawich said a pressure-cooker basically has evolved because mom and dad are struggling to keep up with their work obligations, "which means they feel guilty they don't have time to spend with their kids, which in turn translates into the conclusion, 'well, when we get three or four days to take a vacation, the kids are coming along.'"About those vacations. Yesawich said the No. 1 family getaway involves visiting friends and relatives. Beyond that, he said, priorities include anything that has to do with water -- beach and lake vacations and water parks, followed by theme parks and cruises, increasingly popular with families.

About 80 percent of vacationers in the U.S. take at least one trip a year by car, especially true for families who are cost conscious. Only half of vacationers fly. When you're traveling with kids, you look for the best deals, he said.

But what's truly essential when planning a family vacation is involving the kids. What you don't want are bored children and constant kvetching. When Yesawich conducted his annual National Leisure Monitor survey in January, sampling 1,882 leisure travelers, he found that kids play a significant role in determining where the vacations will be taken, where the family will stay and what they're going to do. "Kids go online and help plan vacations," Yesawich said. "

Kids save part of their allowance to participate in vacations. They are invested emotionally in the trip. One out of every two decisions is influenced by children, which is quite remarkable."For families looking for special shared-experience vacations, package vacations are growing as quickly as the whole travel-with-children boom. While growing, tours and family adventure packages are a "very thin slice" of the family travel market, Yesawich noted. Overwhelmingly, people are packing up the family car for their trips, he said."

Over the last three years alone, the family travel end of our business is up 30 to 40 percent," said Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, an outdoors adventure-oriented tour operator based in Billings, Mont. "It makes up about 50 to 55 percent of our business." Austin-Lehman's family tour packages focus on the Pacific Coast and Northwest, California, the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern U.S. A few go to Central and South America, and one to Africa. All have physical components such as biking, hiking, kayaking and rafting as well as cultural activities."It's a way for families to maximize what little time they have," Austin said. "

Whether it be with us or whomever, a package tour, where you've got experts who have vetted the places to stay, the proper trails and routes so you're not taking a lot of misdirections, is going to give you the most bang for your buck."As for kids, Austin said, they're in the outdoors and experiencing new things. "We wear them out a little bit. They may go for four or five days before they realize the place their staying doesn't have TV." (; 800-575-1540)

Paula Weissman, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom from Long Grove, said she found Austin-Lehman on the Internet while searching for family vacation ideas when her children -- now 15, 13 and 11 -- were too young for such adventure trips. When the time was ripe, Weissman and her husband, Ken, now 47, a businessman, took their kids, who love the outdoors, to Yellowstone. "It integrated physical activity, a diverse itinerary with seeing, learning and doing. We didn't know what to expect. We were exhausted at the end of each day." Undaunted, the following year they went to Alaska and then the Canadian Rockies, trips etched in their family memories.Tauck, a tour company since 1925 and most notably for seniors, jumped into the family travel pool in 2002 with six offerings, said Joanne Gardner, marketing manager for Tauck Bridges, its family brand. The family market has been growing by 15 percent a year, she noted. Starting in 2008, the Norwalk, Conn.-based firm will add four more programs, bringing its portfolio to 13 all-inclusive multigenerational packages on four continents. ( ; 800-788-7885.)

At the high end of the family market is Oak Brook-based Abercrombie & Kent. "We've seen a 22 percent increase in the number of families traveling with us in 2007 compared to 2006," said George Morgan-Granville, president of A&K in the U.S. Its biggest increases have been to the Galapagos and Egypt. But its newest 2008 tour, especially hot for kids, is the Lewis & Clark Montana Adventure, which includes a night in a canvas tepee, and canoeing and hiking in the White Cliffs region with a local Blackfeet historian and guide. ( ; 800-652-8607.)

Butterfield & Robinson (; 866-551-9090), best known for its bicycle tours, and Country Walkers (; 800-464-9255) now offer a wide variety of family trips geared for children -- with their parents or grandparents, of course.

Pet-Friendly New England Travels

There's a cool guide to pet-friendly travel guide at the Boston Globe's web site, here. Places to roam with Rover, dog-friendly parks in Boston, pet-friendly lodging, pet-friendly attractions, dog parks and trails, and Boston kennels.

Also, a photo gallery of travel pals.

Children's Museum, West Hartford, CT

On a day off from school recently, Tinsley found herself with two kids to entertain and no help from Dad (I had to work, it's good Friday, not great Friday). She decided to spend the day at the Children's Museum in West Hartford. She didn't bring a camera as she already had her hands full, but we did convince Tom to write it up for our blog.

Here's Tom's write-up:
In the yard of this really awesome place in West Hartford called the children's museum, I saw and went inside a hollow concrete whale that said facts about its self. But every time I went inside, it fell silent.

Inside the museum there was a room called turtle town. And no wonder! There were turtles everywhere! Turtles! Turtles! Turtles! there were big turtles, little turtles, snapping turtles, box turtles, tortoises, every one you could think of! Eventually we had to leave turtle town.

In the next room, I almost fell down -- practically every thing was made of LEGOS! Boy did I have a fun time in there! But, sadly, we had to leave; my annoying sister convinced us to go back to turtle town.

After that, I got to pet a snake with really scaly skin. I didn't miss my turn! Later on there was this really awesome thing where I saw a scorpion underneath an ultraviolet light. (It looked white.)

After a while something even cooler came to my eyes.
I actually saw a fake dinosaur that moved and roared! The last room was the gift shop. I bought a little lizard, a “grabit”, and a rock called snakeskin. They were all awesome! I sighed.

On the way home I had quite some fun thinking about all of the fun stuff I did at the museum. It was really fun, and I wish I could go there again.
Sounds like a good time.
Here are a couple of tips from Tinsley:
  • Bring hand sanitizer to swab the kids down with after they pat the turtles and snakes and swarm the LEGO pit.
  • Parking can be a little difficult in west Hartford, so looking for lunch before going to the museum may be challenging. I recommend the Subway on Farmington Avenue.

A Scenic New Hampshire Drive

Yankee Magazine featured a loop around Mount Monadnock recently.

The Many Views of Monadnock: A Driving Tour
There's a slower pace and evidence of bygone eras in southwestern New Hampshire.

We haven't road tested this route yet, but we will soon enough.
Have you road tested this route?
Download the directions here