Ashley Steel and Bill Richards are parents working two full-time jobs and living in the suburbs (of Seattle, which is an incredible launching place for all kinds of travel). They travel with their kids every chance they get and have just finished an extraordinary book about family travel, entitled Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids.
This book is told from an educator’s AND a parent’s perspective – the definitive guide to family travel. It’s full of excellent suggestions that will change your life. It will open the world to your family in a way that you never thought possible. And, it will chart a new course for your family – and your kids, and their lives. It’s that powerful. Visit Family on the Loose online at http://www.FamilyOnTheLoose.com
Tell me about your book. Why did you write it – and how is it different from other family travel guidebooks?
We wrote the book to help more parents have fun with their kids on the road (or plane or train). I hope that experienced travelers will find creative ideas, lists of games, reminders of opportunities, and a new twist on smart family travel. I hope that new or timid travelers will find motivation and enthusiasm, enough ideas to get them through the tough spots, and a fresh perspective on how fun traveling with kids can be. Our book is different from other guidebooks in that it isn’t a guidebook for a place. It’s a resource book on how to travel. For example, we’ve got ideas for what to do while waiting for the bus. Maybe give your kids the digital camera? To really get them engaged, give them an age-appropriate journalistic assignment such as “take 5 pictures that express the essence of this place” or “capture 5 emotions without shooting a living thing.”
Where have you traveled as a family? Do you practice what you write?
Our first trips with kids were to scientific conferences. Each daughter went to a scientific conference at six-weeks old by coincidence. After that, we expanded to family visits and then international adventures. We’ve spent time as a family in many regions of the U.S.A, several Canadian provinces, Japan, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Italy, France, Denmark, England, and The Netherlands. Before kids, we lived in Thailand for a year and also traveled in Guatemala and Honduras. I spent a semester in Denmark living with a Danish family. Bill worked and traveled through Australia and also traveled extensively in Asia before we met.
I guess we started by writing what we practiced. In the book and in our real travel, we divide the trip into three phases – planning, traveling, and returning home. A good planning example is how we prepared for our first big adventure to Japan. We hired a college student to teach us Japanese – even our 18-mo old. It was a bit of overkill. We made clay maneki-neko (beckoning cats) and giant nylon koinobori (“carp streamer” or fish-shaped wind socks). We read hundreds of library books, learned about Shintoism and Buddhism and poured over maps of Japan. Our friends thought we were crazy but it worked! The kids spoke Japanese – only a few words but wow did that help them engage the locals. They screamed when they saw maneki-neko and koinobori. They were respectful in Shinto shrines. All that preparation was fun; it paid off; and it taught us that we could prepare the kids for a trip as a teacher might prepare a class for a field trip.
What else do we practice? We play every single one of the games listed in our book while waiting for dinner to be served at a restaurant. We also help the kids create insightful and creative journals. Each trip we need a slightly different journaling strategy to keep up with how much they grow and change between trips and to prevent boredom. Returning home, we always try to plan a country dinner to share our trip with friends. It’s our best strategy for keeping the memories alive. Every country has something delicious to share.
I love the fill-in journal pages and museum activity sheets! Tell us how you started doing that…
Like all good ideas, the idea for fill-in pages was born of desperation. As a teacher, I needed to keep 18 or so kids engaged in a wide range of museums or chaos would break out. But how? I gave them scavenger hunts, puzzlers to be solved by reviewing the exhibits, and open-ended questions. I noticed that kids liked to draw more than they liked to write. Some liked cartoons, others liked to sketch or color. I started adding boxes to my museum sheets for sketches, cartoons, and art “assignments.” So, when I traveled with my own kids, I sketched similar pages to help them stay focused. We tried creating similar journal pages on the computer, printing them out, and taping them into their journals. The kids loved it. Now our kids make fill-in pages for themselves, for each other, and for their friends.
The whole last section of the book is about “travel” activities close to home. What kind of travel can you really do without leaving home?
I am continually amazed at how far we can travel from our living room. Last week, we hosted “Cuba Night.” I made Cuban food and found frozen banana leaves to decorate the table. We listened to Cuban music and arranged a Cuban movie to watch. We were supposed to see slides from a friend’s trip with kids to Cuba but the flu struck. I guess we’ll have to visit “Cuba” again soon. We’ve had Austrian nights, international birthday parties, and a one-day trip to Japan. In one Saturday and for only about $50, we saw taiko drums, fished for koi, made crafts, cooked yakisoba noodles for dinner, and watched a fabulous animated film. It wasn’t quite the same as our original trip to Japan but it was a lot easier, a lot cheaper, and plenty of fun. We regularly combine food, local festivals, films, friends’ photos, crafts, music, board games, and local destinations to create international “trips”. We are lucky that there are hundreds of cultures represented in our local community.
Where can readers purchase Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids?
It is available at Amazon.com
All photos courtesy and copyright Family on the Loose, used with permission