What Family Travel Writing Teaches Us About Travel

by  Paul Eisenberg | Feb 8, 2012
Family packing for vacation
Family packing for vacation / Halfpoint/iStock

A bunch of travel writers sitting in a room, draining cup after cup of coffee, while exchanging tips and stories, is what our industry typically calls a “conference.” While these types of gatherings are far from uncommon, what’s a bit more unusual – actually, unprecedented until last weekend – is a meet-up of writers dedicated entirely to family travel, which was the point of the inaugural Family Travel Conference, held at New York City's Omni Berkshire Hotel this past weekend.

I was honored to be part of a panel on Better Travel Writing, for which I suggested tips to family-specialized travel writers. I encouraged them to always consider themselves a work in progress – it’s a point I was particularly inspired to make upon learning that several of the bloggers had children in tow who were themselves budding travel writers.

By association, I think it’s constructive for all family travelers – not just travel writers and their kin – to consider themselves works in progress, striving to make every vacation better than the last. Along those lines, here are just a few tips from the conference that you might find handy on your next family trip:

Talk to other families while traveling. This tip was urged by author and syndicated columnist Eileen Ogintz, who suggests talking not only to fellow travelers, but to locals, as well. These on-the-road encounters can help broaden your understanding of the destination and its people. It’s a tip that’s meant to inspire reporters to do their jobs better, but it easily applies to any of us trying to help our families derive more meaning from the destinations we visit.

Really talk, don’t just text. For nearly 35 years, Bob and Sandy Nesoff have been writing about family travel. At one point, while conferees were good-naturedly pressuring Bob to send his first-ever Tweet, Sandy fittingly made the point that however much technology elevates our ability to tell stories, we shouldn’t let messaging erode all the wonderful opportunities we have as travel writers (and as travelers) to have face-to-face conversations. I would have gotten a direct quote had I not been on Twitter, but in a way I’m glad I was able to help Sandy make her point.

Stop documenting, start paying attention. During a video workshop where I was among the bloggers videotaping the Omni Berkshire chef in action, travel video producer Kaleel Sakakeeny made a good observation. While the person you’re filming might be informative, a dutiful “show and tell” approach could very well cause you to miss out on the rich sounds and visuals all around you, which could easily make your movie a lot more interesting.

Limited-service hotels build character. As travel writers and their offspring often get VIP treatment at full-service hotels (as was the case at the Omni), it was refreshing to hear an Omni spokesperson and fellow parent Caryn Kboudi suggest that it’s useful for travel-writing parents to “level set” their kids every now and then and stay in a limited-service hotel. Again, this practice is useful for grounding not just a travel writer’s “hotel brat” (admittedly, I was one), but all traveling kids who have perhaps become too accustomed to boundless hotel amenities.

And lest anyone think travel writers have a secret recipe for crafting the perfect family trip, luxury travel writer Kim-Marie Evans reminds us that despite her success in shepherding her four children around the world, "traveling with kids is like raising them: crazy, expensive, and aggravating."

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