Category Archives: Family Travel

How to survive traveling solo with your kids

Courtesy of Lainie Liberti

Lainie Liberti and her now 13-year-old son, Miro Sevin Siegel, at Machu Picchu.

Even with two parents, traveling with children can be a challenge. There are bags to pack, sleep schedules to maintain, and young minds to occupy during long flights or car rides. With only one adult to field pleas of “Are we there yet?,” those traveling without a co-parent might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of hitting the road. With the following tips from family travel experts, single parents can enjoy exploring the world in the company of their kids.


Courtesy of Talon Walker

Talon Walker and his son, Steven, 11, on their round-the-world adventures.

Listen to your kids
Talon Walker, author of 1Dad1Kid.com, and his 11-year-old son have been on a round-the-world journey for more than a year. Walker advises parents to “include your child in the [travel] planning and decision-making as much as possible. Not only is it a great education, but it’s so much more interesting for them when they’ve been involved in the process.”

Adjust your expectations
A mother of two children under age 3, Keryn Means of WalkingOnTravels.com usually travels with her husband, who helps with diaper changes, feedings and naptime duties. However, a business trip for her previous employer led Means to her first solo trip as a parent: two weeks in China with her then 20-month-old son. After a failed day trip to the island of Macau that left Means and her toddler sweaty and exhausted, Means came to the realization that there are some activities she shouldn’t tackle on her own.

Without another parent along to help navigate a new locale and perform childcare duties, parents may want to consider reasonable expectations for how much can be accomplished in one day — and build in extra time for play and rest.

Courtesy of Keryn Means

Keryn Means and her son, Dek, making the most of their difficult day in Macau.

Make friends on the road
Traveling without a co-parent can get lonely at times. Walker says his son “needs someone besides Dad as his playmate from time to time.” They make friends at local parks, the beach and hostels. Many assume hostels are solely for college-aged backpackers, but they are also an affordable option for families on a one-person income who want to socialize with other travelers. Learn more about hostels at the Hostelling International website.

Lainie Liberti, who has been traveling the world with her now 13-year-old son for three years, makes friends with locals through CouchSurfing.org. “The ‘groups’ feature on the site allows us to post that we are coming to a particular city, and try to arrange meetups, events and social gatherings,” she says. “We’ve met locals who are seniors, kids and everything in-between and have had some amazing experiences!” Liberti blogs about their adventures at RaisingMiro.com.

Buddy up
Just because you are traveling as a single parent doesn’t mean you need to go it alone. Invite another adult to join your vacation. It could be a grandparent or other family member, a trusted nanny or a fellow single parent with children.

Emma Johnson, a single mom and freelance business writer who blogs at WealthySingleMommy.com, recently took a vacation with her two preschoolers and another single mom’s family. Johnson appreciated splitting vacation costs and having another adult with whom to chat and share good times. Both sets of children had a ball playing together during their travels, too.

Pack light
One thing all of these travel-savvy parents agreed upon? Packing light. With just two adult hands to juggle luggage, it’s best to keep the packing list short. Purchase child-sized suitcases or backpacks and put your kids in charge of toting their own stuff.

Take a break
Even the most patient parent needs a break sometimes. Hiring a local babysitter or making use of your hotel’s kids camp can make the time you do spend together that much sweeter.

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor of TravelMamas.com, a site for anyone who wants to travel with children … and stay sane! Her book, “The Travel Mamas’ Guide,” will be available November 2012.

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Awkward baby passport photo goes viral

Via imgur.com

“The outtakes were just too funny to keep to ourselves,” said Joel, who uses the handle “Jorge Churano,” who posted this passport photo of his 5-month-old son on Imgur.com.

We know how you feel, young traveler. Welcome to the club.

Anyone who has ever been stuck with what seems like the world’s most awkward passport photo, prompting giggles from customs officials at borders around the globe, will get a smile out of this 5-month-old boy’s first try at looking suave for his passport.

When his father posted the picture online this week, he seemed to tap into a universal loathing of passport photos, which, as every flier knows, always seem to capture you at your most geeky and unattractive.

The equally cute and hilarious image has received more than 800,000 views so far and more than 600 comments on the online community Reddit.com.


“I posted it before we went to bed, woke up the next morning and had friends from the U.K. saying congrats on making the front page of Reddit,” said Joel, who lives in Vancouver, B.C, and asked that his last name not be used for privacy reasons. Joel uses the handle “Jorge Churano.”

“My wife took our 5 month old son to get his first passport photos taken — NAILED IT!” he wrote as the caption for the picture, which shows the baby with his mouth agape and one of his eyes closed sleepily.

Joel told NBC News that he went to get the passport photos taken because the family is exploring a job opportunity that has arisen in South America. Some of the pictures turned out fine, but he couldn’t resist sharing this set — which will not be used in the baby’s passport — with the world.

“The outtakes were just too funny to keep to ourselves,” he said.

Why does a baby need such a grown-up travel document in the first place?

Just like the United States, Canada requires that all children who fly internationally — including newborns and infants — have their own passport.

Thankfully for the family, the country isn’t too fussy about the emotions babies project in their photos: Passport Canada is “lenient” about the expression of a newborn, the agency says on its website.

The U.S. only asks that the baby’s eyes are open and looking straight ahead toward the camera in the picture.

Requirements for adults are a bit more strict. Travelers should have a neutral expression in their passport photo, with both eyes open and directly facing the camera — “unusual expressions” and squinting will not be accepted, the State Department warns.

Canada goes somewhat further, asking that adult travelers keep their mouth closed and put on a poker face. Smiling is not allowed so that the image is a better match for facial recognition systems, according to Passport Canada.

No matter where you get your passport photo taken, the resulting image seems to terrify travelers everywhere, with many venting online about looking old or unsightly. The “I hate my passport photo” Facebook page, for example, has 159,000 “likes.”

You’ll also find plenty of complaints on travel forums.

“(I) look like a convicted, unrepentant mass murderer in my passport pic,” a traveler wrote in a Lonely Planet discussion on the topic.

“I looked like a very happy pig. I was smiling so big and wide, my cheeks looked huge and for some reason my face looked really round that day,” another poster wrote.

Does your passport photo look like it’s time for you to go home? Send it to us today; we’ll put together a gallery of your funniest, most awkward passport pics. 

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Cheers! Disney’s Magic Kingdom to serve wine

Wine and beer will be on the menu this November when Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., opens its newest dining venue, the French-themed Be Our Guest restaurant. The restaurant, shown here in an artist’s rendering, is based on Disney’s

Be our guest, be our guest, put our sommelier to the test?

Starting this November, visitors to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando may be tempted to rework the popular song from “Beauty and the Beast” when the park opens its newest dining venue, the French-themed Be Our Guest restaurant. For the first time in the park’s 41-year history, daily visitors will be able to order a glass or bottle of wine (or beer) with their dinner.

“You cannot walk into a French restaurant and not get a glass of wine or beer,” Maribeth Bisienere, vice president of food and beverage for Walt Disney Parks, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It made more sense to do it than not to do it.”

The decision represents a significant shift for Disney, although the company has long offered alcohol at other parks, including Animal Kingdom, Epcot and at the private Club 33 at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Related: Where a dad at Disney gets a brew: An oasis of craft beer

“The Magic Kingdom has always been considered more of a family-oriented park,” said John Gerner, managing director at Leisure Business Advisors LLC. “It’s the park that’s always tried to follow Walt’s wishes the most closely.”

Which, perhaps, explains the reaction among the park’s most ardent fans. “Our fans are split about 50-50,” said Disney expert Deb Wills of AllEars.net. “There are some people who are purists who want to keep the park alcohol-free. The rest are excited about it.”

Wills counts herself among the latter, citing the fact that alcohol will only be served at one venue and only at dinner. She also suggests that the park’s food-service reputation could use a boost.

“The Magic Kingdom has always been one of the worst parks to have dinner in unless you want characters or all-you-can-eat food,” she told TODAY.com. “A lot of people tend to leave the park, go to one of the [adjacent] resorts for dinner and then come back.”

As part of the park’s Fantasyland expansion, the new restaurant could change that, although it also raises the specter of sauvignon-soused diners staggering away from the table back into more public areas.

Top 10 free hotel breakfasts

Courtesy of Marriott International

What’s better than breakfast? Free breakfast.

There’s no question that mid-range hotels, including extended stay suites, are doing more to lure in family travelers, particularly on the weekends. Indoor pools, Wi-Fi access and in-room refrigerators are the norm. Most chain hotels offer free breakfast, too. But when it comes to getting the family off to a great start, which hotels offer the best free breakfasts?


“We put a lot of emphasis on breakfast. There’s just something special and fun about having a treat for breakfast that you don’t normally have at home,” says Diane Mayer, Residence Inn vice president and global brand manager. “Food plays a big role in your energy level, too. One of my favorite quotes comes from a leisure traveler who said ‘You’re only as happy as your crankiest kid.’ ”

“My kids are used to waking up and eating right away,” says Lissa Poirot, executive editor of Family Vacation Critic, an online family travel resource. “Having a breakfast buffet means I can slip downstairs and grab something to hold them over until we’re all ready to eat.” She also suggests looking for hotels with concierge levels, which offer complimentary snacks, drinks, hors d’oeuvres and sometimes meals.

Here are 10 hotels, including three independently owned properties, with the best free breakfast spreads sure to please everyone in your crew.

Hyatt Place
The new a.m. Kitchen Skillet includes breakfast sandwiches, waffles, French toast, pancakes and steel-cut oatmeal. You’ll also find more upscale options like cinnamon-glazed French toast, even a Santa Fe bagel sandwich with ham, eggs, spinach and chipotle mayo.

Embassy Suites
You’ll find free, cooked-to-order breakfast options, like omelets and scrambled eggs made on the spot. Menu items vary, but look for kid favorites like pancakes, bacon, muffins, juices and cereals.

Hampton Inn
The first mid-priced hotel brand to offer a free continental breakfast keeps families top of mind with waffles, oatmeal, eggs, sausage and fresh fruits. On the Run breakfast bags packed with fruit, a muffin, box of mints and a cereal bar are also available weekdays.

Homewood Suites
The Suite Start Hot Breakfast features favorites like scrambled eggs, bacon and sweet rolls. Look for fresh homemade salsa and guacamole along with sautéed vegetables and hash browns. Quiches and make-your-own-waffles are also kid favorites.

Residence Inn
Enjoy waffles, even flavored varieties like strawberry and chocolate waffles, with quite a topping bar. Breakfast burritos, sausage and egg biscuits and eggs Florentine rotate throughout the week.

Country Inns Suites
You’ll find waffles, build-your-own breakfast burritos and omelets, as well as standard continental options. Got a family on the go? Head to the grab-and-go station for a drink, fruit and a granola bar as you head out the door.

Element Hotels
Starwood’s eco-wise brand offers a daily complimentary healthy RISE breakfast to help families start their days right. Look for hot wraps, smoothies, granola, fresh fruit, gourmet coffee and pastries.

Hotel Hershey – Hershey, Penn.
Select family packages come with free breakfast from the buffet or the menu. You’ll find omelets, Belgian waffles and pastries at the buffet. Or look to the menu for three egg frittatas with broccoli, chorizo and cheddar cheese, even chocolate-chip brioche French toast.  

Rochester Hotel – Durango, Colo.
Gourmet breakfast includes a daily hot entrée, like asparagus and Swiss scrambled eggs, as well as fresh fruit, homemade granola, yogurt and cereals. Homemade muffins, scones and coffeecakes round out the selections.

Inn on the Alameda – Santa Fe, N.M.
The signature Breakfast of Enchantment features baked goods from several local bakeries. Gluten-free and vegan travelers can enjoy organic farm-to-table gluten-free frittatas, gluten-free breads and vegan cookies, even non-dairy milks and yogurts. 

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5 family cruises not on your radar

Courtesy of Tauck

Young passengers learn to make Viennese strudel onboard a Tauck ship as they cruise through Austria.

When families think about cruise vacations, the big cruise ships often come to mind. All have fantastic programs for kids, but there are many more lines offering family experiences that go beyond the typical all-you-can-eat buffets and shore excursions, instead offering bird watching, scavenger hunts and guided tours with certified naturalists.


“Kids get immersed in rainforest ecology,” says Jacquie Whitt, who heads U.S. operations for Adios Adventure Travel, which offers a family cruise in Ecuador. “They’re not just looking at wildlife, but the wildlife in context. They see the system that supports wildlife, how important it is to have fresh water, a food source. Kids gain insights and get a travel experience they can’t get on an ordinary family trip.”

Rainer Jenss, founder of Smart Family Travel, recently took his family on a cruise of Alaska’s Glacier Bay with Alaska Dream Cruises. “We were able to go to the bridge anytime. My son, Tyler, even had the opportunity to steer the ship. You can’t do that anywhere. The captain spent time talking to him about how the ship operates. He got an education in seafaring,” he says. He also noted that a small ship makes the location the main event, while on larger cruise ships, it can be more of a side show.

Here are five cruises that should be on your radar when planning your next family cruise:

Mountain Travel Sobek – Galápagos Islands
See the Galápagos from a 16-passenger yacht as part of the Galapagos Wildlife Adventure Cruise along with top guides, including a geographical ecologist and a professional nature photographer. Take a volcano hike on Bartolomé Island, investigate tide pools on James Island and learn about giant tortoises, land iguanas and blue-footed boobies from naturalist guides. Then get in the water for a look at marine life in the Pacific Ocean. Prices start at $4,595 per person for an 11-day trip (eight days of cruising).

Alaska Dream Cruises – Alaska
Hop aboard the Admiralty Dream, which caters to no more than 66 passengers. Enjoy up-close glacier viewing, even bear watching, and keep your eyes open for whales, sea lions and sea otters. Daily programs on where you’ll go and what you’ll see expand on the marine life, geography and geology of the area. Spend time getting to know the crew as you explore towns out of reach of larger ships, like Wrangell and Petersburg. Prices start at $1,516 per person for an eight-day cruise.

Adios Adventure Travel – Ecuador
Float down the Napo River on a 30-passenger riverboat as you take in the jungles, wildlife and river communities of Ecuador aboard the Smart Voyager. Experience Ecuador through the eyes of local guides who take guests bird watching and on hikes to learn about medicinal plants. Children even learn first-hand how native communities support themselves with fruit and coffee plantations. Prices start at $1,672 per person for an eight-day cruise.

Tauck Bridges – Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Germany
On the Blue Danube Family Riverboat Adventure, you’ll sail through Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Germany on a 118-passenger river cruise. Go on an interactive scavenger hunt in Slovakia, visit a traditional palace in Austria and giggle at the trick fountains that spray at random at Hellbrunn Castle. Even try your hand making marzipan candy and strudel. Prices start at $3,490 for an eight-day cruise.

American Safari Discoveries – Hawaiian Islands
Climb aboard the 36-passenger Safari Explorer for snorkeling in coral gardens, exploring organic macadamia nut farms and making ti leaf leis. Sail in a hand-carved voyaging canoe like early Polynesian warriors and learn about the history of Moloka’i and Kailua-Kona from local guides eager to share tales about the islands. Prices start at $4,995 per person for an eight-day cruise. 

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