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The Real[ist] Family Travel Writer is Born

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I have always loved to travel. The problem is, travel has not always loved me. I once journeyed to France for a wedding, only to get lost and miss the entire celebration.

I built a career as a travel writer by writing a humor column about my mishaps. During a meeting with my editor, I made reference to one of my misfortunes on the trail and he professed, “You mean this stuff really happens? I thought you were making it up because there is no way all that could happen to one person!”

Welcome to my life.

When I had a family, there were understandably even more challenges. My recent solo trip home with my children confirmed it: I am the Real[ist] Family Travel Writer. While so many writers expound upon their tried and true tips for “The Perfect Family Vacation,” I keep it real. Family travel is about survival. The only two things that keep me sane are my sense of humor and a huge dose of denial. Maybe Prozac would help, too.

And so as the Real[ist] Family Travel Writer, here are some insights I gleaned from my trip that I summed up as follows to my husband: “Hell is assuredly an easier commute than flying solo to Canada with two young children.”

Case study #1

I hate DIA (Denver International Airport). This trip had some new doozies: baggage problems with “easy” check-in that forced me to wait 20 minutes for an agent; an online reservation that never reserved my son Bode’s ticket as a lap child and resulted in even more delays; those many hours we were stuck in the plane on the runway because Denver’s drought chose to end during that three-hour window and the floodgates were opened.


Case study #2

I took a big risk this trip and brought my double-wide Chariot jogging/biking stroller instead of my stream-lined Graco. Navigating The Beast was tough enough at the airport but I faced a whole new set of problems in Calgary. Do you know that adage “What comes up must come down?” Evidently, this does not ring true at Calgary’s C-Train station as my dad and I tried to board the train to go downtown to the Stampede. We scaled the huge ramp up to the ticket station, only to discover there was not a ramp going down to the platform. Huh?

After carrying The Beast down two flights of stairs, it would not fit through the doors. I thought that was the end of it until we tried to board the train and we ran into the same problem. We kicked the kids out and tried to cram it in sideways. Nothing. We finally had to disassemble the #%&*# stroller completely and catch the next sardine-packed train where my poor dad had to stand crammed up against the wall to keep all the parts in place.

The most ironic thing of all? The Chariot is made in Canada and it does not fit through their standard-sized door.


So, why do it? As a recent New York Times headline put it, “Sure it’s frustrating and expensive, but travelers just have to travel.” The article went on to say that many people consider leisure travel to be essential, not discretionary.

My “essentials” included seeing my children play with my parents in my childhood home, holding my Great Niece for the first time, cookouts under the stars, a daytrip to the Canadian Rockies, lazy afternoons at the lake and hanging out with a longtime friend on my parent’s deck under a canopy of lilac bushes and stars. And yes, even going for walks with that #%#& stroller along my beloved Fish Creek Park trail. These make up for all the ulcers.

Mind you, my return flight to Colorado is tomorrow and next month my husband, children and I are braving the 13-hour journey to Yellowstone.

Suddenly, that Prozac is sounding better and better….

What are some of your tried and true “real[ist]” family travel tips?

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  • comment avatar hyperactive lu July 14, 2008

    I can’t believe y’all had to disassemble the stroller?! I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the moment! I have no family travel tips….. Traveling with kiddos is tough.

  • comment avatar Dana July 14, 2008

    Sorry I’m just catching up…so you are still in Canada? I thought you were home already!! I cannot believe that about the width of the doors and the thing is made in Canada. That makes no sense!!!

    And you are right, those memories you are making are all worth the hassle…but then again, you already knew that :)

    Have a great week.

    Sorry I don’t have any real travel tips…

  • comment avatar Dana July 14, 2008

    oops – forgot to add my blog address:

  • comment avatar Jdude July 14, 2008

    Tips … aren’t we all flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to traveling with our families!?! But here’s my tip: send your husband to his family reunion that is 24 hours away with your 3 youngest kids while you stay home with your oldest teenage daughter who doesn’t want to be with you and then you get to do whatever you want for 7 days! Wha-hoo! I’ve been waiting for this for 16 years!

  • comment avatar nikko July 14, 2008

    We’re flying with four kids on Saturday to California for a reunion. Right now I have no tips. I’ll let you know what chaos ensues. :o)

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson July 14, 2008

    Jdude–I am definitely liking your tips.

    Eveyrone else–thanks for the sympathy. :-)

  • comment avatar Mel @ A Box of Chocolates July 14, 2008

    I’m with your editor in thinking how the heck can all this happen to one person. You poor sould. But I’m glad it is you beacuse I sure do love hearing all of your mis-adventures!! BTW…I gave you award today on my blog!!!

  • comment avatar Kagey July 14, 2008

    My biggest thing now that I have kids is to stay more than one night in one place. I never liked having to pack up every day while traveling solo or as a couple; it’s really crazy when packing for kids. Things seem to explode out of the luggage – I never manage to pack like things together so getting ready for bed requires all 7 bags be opened!

    Oh, and we drive rather than fly anytime it is feasible. I haven’t flown anywhere with all three kids yet. Now I’m dreading the day that happens. :D

  • comment avatar Beth - total mom haircut July 14, 2008

    Wow. The stroller saga. Just wow.

    I have to hand it to you, since having children my days of spontaneous travel have definitely decreased. To me, it’s often not worth the trouble. I’ve been trying to get over that lately though and accept that it’s hard work no matter if we are at home or on the go, and our last mini-trip actually went remarkably well. So much so that I found myself suggesting to my husband the other day that we might go camping in a few months with the kids…then I bit my tongue as soon as he said, “That’s a great idea!”

    can I buy some of that Prozac of you?


  • comment avatar Ashley July 14, 2008

    Oh wow, I love reading your posts and knowing that I am not alone in my crazy travel mishaps. I’ve had SO many things go wrong too, it’s unbelievable! I’m glad you had a wonderful time in Canada though to make it completely worth it. It sounds like it was heavenly!

  • comment avatar Lamont Cranston July 14, 2008

    Where can I read more of your travel writer stuff?


  • comment avatar Richelle F July 14, 2008

    Wow, those are quite the experiences. My latest (and probably worst) is flying while pregnant. I just wrote about that on my blog.

  • comment avatar Lauri July 14, 2008

    Frustrating but sounds like in the end it has been delightful!
    Hope you are having fun, and we’ll keep you in our prayers for your return trip home!!
    My fav cartoon is the one of the wild kid holding a cup at a door saying my mom wants to know if she can borrow some Prozac. Funny

  • comment avatar Lori July 14, 2008

    Prozac for the grownups; valium for the children.

    Seriously (don’t call social services), we sometimes take the JetBlue red-eye flight to get to Grandma and Grandpa. The kids sleep, and the grandparents are happy to watch them the next day while the parents sleep.

    Of course, it requires that someone pick you up at the airport at 5 am :-(.

    Love your writing.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson July 14, 2008

    Ahhh, love hearing all these coping skills. And Lauri–I must get my hands on that cartoon!

  • comment avatar Wendi July 14, 2008

    We are THAT family too.
    I am still sitting in front of the computer with my mouth gaped open over the whole stroller story.
    That stuff only happens to me.
    I am so glad I am not alone.
    Maybe we could start a support group.
    I nominate you to be the President!

  • comment avatar Monica Benson July 14, 2008

    Believable about the flight because I’ve been there.

    Unbelievable about the stroller!

  • comment avatar Monica Benson July 14, 2008

    P.S. Can’t wait for all the details of Yellowstone.

  • comment avatar Monica Benson July 14, 2008

    Not to mention the flight home. :-)

  • comment avatar Lauren July 14, 2008

    I love that even your editor thought that your mishaps were fiction. Many things in my life I feel are, “stranger than fiction”…I feel very close to you now.

  • comment avatar yvonne July 15, 2008

    Denver Airport does seem to have some problems, eh? But I’d rather fly than drive!!!!

    Oh yes, seeing the Canadian Rockies, are worth it–is there anything more beautiful than Glacier National Park?

    Coping skills when I travel: Just knowing it is all worth it ; )

  • comment avatar serf 'rett July 15, 2008

    You want travel tips from someone who has lost each of his 3 kids more than once?

  • comment avatar serf 'rett July 15, 2008

    My only contact with our northern neighbor was three hours in Gander(?) while in route to Italy (courtesy of Uncle Sam). Would like to wander up that way sometime.

  • comment avatar Heidi Ahrens July 15, 2008

    Wow, you do get around and have many adventures. When I brought my Chariot to San Diego I did not have too many problems.

    I went to Canada with my three month old daughter. It should have been four plains but the fourth airplaine propeller broke so we had to emergency land and wait two hours for a connection. It took at least 18 hours of travel and i hardly ate a thing. When I got to my destination in Moncton New brunswick my mother brought me a shake to eat. i had called her to ask her to bring me a meal since i was breastfeeding and about to fall over.

    Was it worth it? Yes, my grand mother got to see her first great grand child before she died a week later.

    Would I do it again? Yes

    YOur writing makes me sad though because we were going to go home and spend some time in French canada for my daughter to practice her french but we don’t have money so we could not go.
    for more travel stories.

  • comment avatar Guinevere Meadow July 16, 2008

    That must have been SO frustrating!! I’m glad you and the stroller made it in one piece!

    I could tell you about the 10-hour flight to England when I was 5 months pregnant and barely fit in the “economy class” seat and couldn’t sleep, so I moved a few rows back where there was an empty seat in the front row, and my seat neighbors were middle-eastern middle-aged men who looked at me as though I was contaminating their air…but it’s not as good a story as disassembling a stroller to get on a train for a stampede.

  • comment avatar Jenn July 17, 2008

    Reminds me of my last trip coming back from Texas, solo with the two kids — somehow carrying one car seat, two roller bags, my Mary Poppins purse and 1 ton of snacks/juice (because can a child really survive four hours without snacks??), all the while loudly hissing like a demon-possessed woman for my children to stay with me and not walk off. I’m sure passersby thought I was Mommy Dearest, but I was not having a good day after a two-hour flight delay, a one-hour bus delay, only to realize my husband had been tied up at work and couldn’t pick us up so we’d have to wait an additional hour for a cab to take us home from the Park N Ride! Come on, folks, maybe Joan Crawford wasn’t a bad mommy but had really just been traveling solo with children!

  • comment avatar Anna Maria Junus July 18, 2008

    Fact: When you’re travelling with two babies (yes two) on a plane, they will both have diarreah. You will be out of baby wipes and the airport bathrooms will only have those air dryers.

  • comment avatar Scattered Mom July 19, 2008

    No matter how hard you plan, something will always go wrong-be it a bad hotel, lost reservations, or a car accident.

    This year we did the car accident.

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