Not every journey is intentional, or physical. When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences. It’s not too different from a very long road trip. This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.
Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!
The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges. It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues). It’s not merely about gear and babies. It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.
Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start! Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website. If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!
If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed. We are accidental tourists here. It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel. You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?
Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay. We know how we got here.
Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids. We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said: you should create a website and share what you know! Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim. It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website. Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned. This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite. And then we went back to the website. This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition. They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends. Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate. Then came the Twitter presence. Then came the Facebook presence. Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.
We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids. We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college. We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.
In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people. We look forward to getting to know everyone better. We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family. We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!
Sometimes, it is not necessary to travel far to have a family travel adventure. Sometimes, it is even possible to have a FREE family travel adventure. It just takes a little imagination and research.
Consider yesterday. Mother Nature gave us a gift. At midday, the blizzard eased. Mike and I were shoveling the first 18 inches of snow when we realized it wasn’t that cold or windy.
We checked the weather forecast. Indeed, we were getting a respite from the driving wind and snow for about two hours. After 18 solid hours in the house, even Teen was happy to go outside for a walk in Old Town so long as the wind was not blowing strongly. We bundled up in ski clothes in search of adventure before the wind picked up again.
The frozen Potomac River looked spectacular.
It was striking to see how the ice floes looked like surf crashing into piers.
It was the kind of day that would make polar bears happy.
Mike found something on the Alexandria docks that made us all laugh.
Familiar landmarks (like Carlyle House below) were covered in snow.
The walk back was no picnic, however. Snow was up to our knees. City plowing during the blizzard (!) created what seemed like mountains between the streets and the sidewalks.
The adventure at some point reminded us of the classic book we used to read to Teen when she was little: Going On A Bear Hunt. The tag line was all about perseverance: “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it….gotta go through it.”
We arrived back to our warm home just before the next wave of wind and snow geared up to deliver to us a fresh 8 inches of snow. We will laugh a long time about our good timing and the time that we went for a walk in the great blizzard of 2016.
The only downside is that the cold walk left all of use pining away for sunny southern California, like Laguna Beach or the Pelican Hill resort in Newport Beach or Santa Monica Beach. Worse yet, Teen is even more adamant that she is not interested in visiting the Arctic Circle in winter no matter how spectacular the Northern Lights might be.
If you were caught in the blizzard this weekend, what kind of adventures did you have with your kids?
Regular readers of our blog know that we love France. Not just Paris, but all of France with its classic villages, amazing cathedrals and legendary history.
Today, our eyes turn once again to France in order to celebrate that legendary lion of literary history, Charles Perrault. We remember fondly thinking of him with a smile as we took a leisurely and luxurious road trip through the Loire Valley with our 5-year old girl (you can read about it HERE).
Yes, THAT Charles Perrault….member of the Academie Francaise, advisor to the Sun King (Louis XIV) and, according to Wikipedia, the moving force behind the theme for the fountains in the labyrinth at Versailles dedicated to Aesop and his fables.
What? You are not sure who we are talking about?
Here is a big hint: Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation, and the Brothers Grimm owe him a debt of gratitude.
Still stumped? We have more big hints (and some good news) below.
You can legitimately assert that you are helping your kids understand classic medieval European culture if you read your child Little Red Riding Hood and every one of its more modern variations.
and every time your family movie night includes
Puss in Boots
Charles Perrault wrote all these stories in the late 1600s. If you are American, we are sorry to break the news to you that these stories were not invented by Walt Disney or his studio or DreamWorks Animation. They only embellished the plot. They made the stories come alive for a new generation.
Wikipedia says Perrault INVENTED the fairy tale literary genre 100 years before the Brothers Grimm published their anthology. You can read more about Perrault (and some of his stories from the original Tales of Mother Goose) HERE. The short version is that some of his tales were completely original (Sleeping Beauty) while others (Puss in Boots) were folk tales in Italy and possibly along the Silk Road.
So it seems you can be in tune with modern multiculturalism while enjoying those animated masterpieces and books…even when the Disney stamp is on it!
But it only counts if you tell your kids that the stories are based on revered French literary masterpieces. [cue laughter] OK…we know this won’t carry any street cred even among the pre-school set.
You need to dole out the information, bit by bit. First tell them the story is based on an old French tale. [watch them shrug] Then tell them that they take place in real locations in France. [watch their interest become ignited] And then tell them that the actual castle that inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty exists for real, is still standing and….is open to visitors daily.
If you have older kids in the audience, tell them that Walt Disney sent his animators to that castle when they were drawing Sleeping Beauty so they could also be inspired by the same castle that inspired Perrault. If you have tweens and teens, this is a good moment to talk about medieval history in France.
Be ready for two questions here…..kids will ask if they can see the castle and they will ask if they can visit it some day. The Internet is a beautiful thing. We have written about the Loire and the Chateau d’Usse HERE, but you can also go to the region’s official website HERE, which has the best pictures of the castle.
For good measure and multicultural balance, throw in the stunningly beautiful modern animation classic The Prince’s Quest for another view of medieval France that continues the Perrault tradition while being wholly original and modern at the same time.
Presto….you have kindled an interest in international travel (if you are outside France) AND you have sparked an interest in a culture other than your home culture. Nice double play, right?
Perrault’s stories have stood the test of time because they are about universal human values that favor good, enjoy adventure, recognize the value of working hard and creatively and, of course, shun evil.
Isn’t it nice to be able to get these themes from beautiful animated movies inspired by a different culture?
So take a minute to celebrate Charles Perrault’s birthday today. Disney princess dresses are optional, of course.
When you plan your travel, please rely on our well-known and trusted affiliates using the links below. We will receive a small commission which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running. Thanks!
Last week, we offered our loyal readers our top three tips for family travel inspiration. The short version: be daring; splurge; flexibility and balance. You can read the full post HERE.
This week, we at BWLEtravel are off on our own daring adventure. Our friends at the Twitterchat forum, #CultureTrav, have asked us to guest host this week’s chat. You can learn more about the #CultureTrav hosts HERE (culturewithtravel.com) and HERE (Jessica Lipowski).
All three of us share a passion for connecting to the places we travel through the art, music, theater, history, landscape and of course local customs.
But if your previous forays into culture travel consist of hanging out at a European cafe or an American beach, when little ones enter the picture you find more creative ways are needed to connect the kids with the location.
We are thrilled to have the chance to spend some time comparing notes with folks on Twitter on how they splurge on fabulous family trips and dare to balance the vacation with some thoughtful and fun exposure for the kids to new cultures.
Regular readers of our blog know that we believe every trip offers an opportunity for kids to have some multicultural moments. Not all such moments are daring or radical. Sometimes, a trip to NYC or LA or even Washington DC and Philadelphia (not to mention Spain or Belgium or France or Austria) can provide kids with exposure to different regional or historical cultures that are not part of their daily lives. The point is to enrich life with new experiences that are different from your daily routine.
We write about this theme frequently. But we are not the only expert on family travel to places rich in culture.
So please join us on Thursday, January 14 at 2:30 pm. We have found a world full of fun-loving family travel experts all over WordPress, Twitter and Facebook who care about connecting their kids with the local culture in a fun way, sometimes with hilarious results. We would love to share a laugh and family travel inspiration with you over epic family travel situations.
Here are the questions in advance:
Q1: What three words do you often associate with family travel?
Q2: How do you help children explore and experience the world? Share your tips!
Q3: Where did you have the best success connecting kids to local culture? What type of activities do you seek out? Share a pic!
Q4: What was your funniest adventure when traveling with kids?
Q5: What is the biggest lesson kids have taught you while traveling together?
Q6: What is the best family trip you’ve been on to date? Where did you go? What made it so special? Share a photo!
BONUS: Which place is at the top of your bucket list for the next family travel adventure?
We look forward to sharing stories, laughs and inspiration with you this week!
As we hunker down for the annual winter blast of Arctic air, our thoughts turn to the warm, sunny, utterly luxurious resort we enjoyed this past summer in Newport Beach, CA.
By the time we arrived at Pelican Hill, we had spent nearly a week running from one activity to another in Los Angeles. The plan was to spend another 4-5 days going to the beach in Newport and Laguna, playing tennis, going hiking, possibly going sailing….you get the idea. The list was long.
This place was so wonderful that we had a hard time leaving the property.
In the end, we scrapped all our plans and only left twice: once for dinner in Laguna Beach and once for whale watching that departed from Balboa Island. The rest of the time found us happily pampered and hanging out at Pelican Hill.
If you are ready for a total luxury family vacation in Southern California, we cannot recommend highly enough this wonderful property. We cannot wait to return.
Top Five Reasons to Visit
Pelican Hill in Newport Beach
1. The Pool
How did we spend four days sitting by the pool?
We know it sounds lame. But this is no ordinary pool.
The Pelican Hill pool is a destination unto itself at all hours of the day. Have a look:
Yes, that is the Pacific Ocean in plain view all day long.
It’s not just the view. On the upper deck, guests can rent private cabanas with televisions and bars. On the lower deck, there are two rows of chairs. The second row consists of alcoves for four chairs apiece. Each alcove is separated from the other by hedges. The first row is front-and-center by the pool, which is not very deep.
This is the view from our alcove last summer:
The Grill is right upstairs if you want to get up to dine. But the pool staff will bring lunch and any drinks you might want all day long. Show up in the morning with a novel, some sunscreen, a newspaper, and a smart phone and there is really no need to leave all day long. The view keeps changing as the light plays on the ocean. We saw kids with their parents in the main swimming pool having fun well into the night.
The kids club and the kiddie pool is nearby, just in case you have little ones that require more activity.
We were in heaven.
2. The Rooms
It’s a shame the pool was so enticing. It took us away from the spacious, elegant and oh-so-comfortable room. Have a look through the video we found on YouTube. We regret we did not have the foresight to do this ourselves!
Our favorite part of the room was the patio with a view of the ocean. Mike would get the coffee and we would have a lovely quiet moment watching the Pacific Ocean gently wake up for the day.
From start to finish each day, we felt completely pampered.
3. The Restaurants
We have three magic words here: delicious, elegant and….gluten-free!
Kate will write a separate post about the GFree! experience at Pelican Hill. The short version is that we dined in two of the three main restaurants, with the majority of time spent at the Grill overlooking the pool and the Pacific Ocean. Everything was perfect, from the fine dinner at Piccolo to the casual dining at the Grill.
We only ate dinner off the property one night. We debated long and hard whether we really wanted to make the effort to drive the 20 minutes to Laguna Beach. We were that relaxed and contented. We are glad we rallied….and you can read about our adventures in Laguna Beach HERE.
4. The Activities
Assume for a moment that you can drag yourself away from the pool. Pelican Hill offers more activities than you can reasonably do in a trip. Kate LOVED the yoga classes in the morning. What a marvelous way to start the day.
The resort offers multiple activities each day, many for free. In addition, you can rent bicycles or the concierge can help you rent a sailboat for the day. Our impression is that whatever activity you seek, the concierge will help you find it. If one is a golfer, the course would be irresistible:
Yes, that is Catalina Island on the horizon.
The resort offers kids clubs not only for little kids but also for tweens and teens including hiking and some activities for kids at night.
The only downside to the hillside property is that it has no tennis courts on site. But the concierge can help arrange access to tennis courts if you can tear yourself away from the resort.
The truth is that we were so seduced by the swimming pool and we were having so much fun as a family that we did not do justice to all the activities offered by the resort. This means we need to return.
5. The Views
The views from everywhere on the property are stunning at all times of the day. The first picture below was taken from the pool Really.
But mostly the day is just a tame warm-up act for the real show that starts at the end of the day. The sunsets are spectacular.
The resort provides a list of best spots to catch the sunset. We only made it to a few:
Yes, we will return.
When you plan your travel, be sure to rely on our well-known and trusted affiliates using the links below. We will receive a small commission which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running. Thanks!
For us, the year always ends in an 8-week flurry of work-related year-end obligations, holiday events and family travel.
January brings with it a moment to catch our breath and start thinking about all the possibilities for family travel. In the United States, if you have kids in school, this means the following windows open up for family adventures near and far:
- 6 Three-Day weekends (Jan., Feb., May, August, October, November)
- 2 Two-Week Breaks (March and December)
- Summer Vacation (June, July, August)
January is the time we plan for most of these trips. So in our first post of the new year, we share with you our top tips for planning a year’s worth of family travel, based on our 10+ years of experience.
If you are just starting out on the family travel adventure, don’t worry. It can be fun!
BWLEtravel’s Top Three Tips for 2016 Family Travel —
Be Daring, Splurge, Balance
1. Be Daring
Challenge your kids to explore new places and ideas. We are not talking about risk-your-life adventure travel necessarily.
Asking a five-year old to venture to a place where noone speaks her language can be just as daring as taking an eight-year old to a modern art museum. Your kids will grow by playing on new playground equipment and learning to adapt for to new ways of doing things even if it is just for a few days.
Some people might think that traveling with teenagers by itself is daring. We see it differently. Dare your kids to think differently and to see the world from a different perspective. Involve them in the planning process to see what they might find interesting. We did this last summer in Los Angeles and spent a delightful half day exploring Little Tokyo, including our first trip ever to a Buddhist temple. We wrote about it HERE.
Be daring in how you approach the travel experience with your kids as well. Take the time to give them a great book or movie about the location you will be visiting. We provide suggestions on our Pinterest boards for great books that kids in different age ranges can use to “visit” a place before you arrive. For early readers, we used one blog post to match up the marvelous Magic Treehouse books with specific travel locations around the world. You can see the post HERE.
Treat yourselves to a little luxury while on the road. We are fond of 5-star hotels for the splurge, as regular readers of our blog will know.
But the reality is that if both parents work, kids will often find uninterrupted time and attention from both parents and regular family dinners a major luxury. They will never tell you this, of course, but it is a major luxury for working families. One of our first blogposts focused on the importance of the family dinner, particularly during summer vacation. You can read it HERE.
Not every splurge needs to be expensive. The trick to a luxurious splurge is to think expansively about time and visually stunning experiences that your kids will always remember.
- If you live on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, buying expensive Broadway tickets and going to NYC for the night on the cheap can be just as much of an adventure and a luxury as a suite at a fancy hotel.
- If you are in California, ditching the expensive restaurant to have a picnic dinner on Santa Monica beach while watching the sunset can be the ultimate splurge with the most spectacular sunset as a free light show.
- If you are in Paris, plan for a picnic lunch in a park on the Ile St. Louis overlooking the Seine. If you are in Paris with young girls, spark their imagination with some quality time at the Cluny Museum looking at unicorn tapestries….have her tell you a story about the unicorns and princesses in front of her.
- If you are in London, use your LondonPass tickets to catch a ride on a boat to Greenwich.
We wrote about our favorite Broadway show for Tweens and Teens HERE. Spoiler alert: it is all about Alexander Hamilton and it is certain to receive multiple Tony Awards this spring. We wrote about NYC’s Art Deco District (and fabulous tours of it) HERE. We wrote about Los Angeles HERE. We wrote about the Cluny Museum HERE. We wrote about London HERE.
3. Balance and Flexibility
Over the course of the year, you have a total of 11 different opportunities for family travel. Some travel windows are short, some are long. Working parents usually will not be able to take a full three months off in the summer, but they can usually manage three long weekends in the USA around the respective holidays (Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day).
Balance out the travel adventures. Take a day trip to go hiking the woods one weekend when sports schedules permit, preferably in the crisp autumn air. We tried this a year ago, but were rained out. We will be certain to try again this year!
Be sure to include a little bit of history and culture in every trip…your kids will thank you later. Just remember that you are not the teacher and the goal is not to provide a substitute for schooling. The goal is to have fun.
Most importantly, remember that cultural experiences are not limited to museums and foreign countries. Every time you step outside your bubble to travel, you enter a different culture and a different universe.
Some non-museum options include:
- a rodeo out West or an Old West steakhouse (we wrote about one in New Mexico HERE)
- an afternoon treasure hunt in Lower Manhattan (we wrote about it HERE)
- a walk around the monuments in Washington DC (we wrote about it HERE)
- an afternoon at Heidelberg Castle in Germany (we wrote about it HERE)
- a day in Bruges, Belgium (we wrote about it HERE)
The point is to embrace a different culture briefly while having fun. Your kids will learn valuable life lessons along the way: flexible thinking and tolerance. Not a bad lesson to learn while playing tourist, right?
Here is our humble homage to the City of Light that we love so much.
|This digital slideshow made with Smilebox|
This city has withstood revolutions, war, occupation, and hard times for over 2,000 years. It has always also found beauty, strength, courage and determination along the way. Remember to tell your kids about the light and the joy, the fun and the beauty of Paris….not just the sorrowful stories from this weekend.
The Eiffel Tower may be dark tonight, but the beauty and the spirit of Paris still shines strong in our hearts and in our eyes.
Greetings loyal readers! Mike and I have been busy with back-to-back business trips. More on that later.
While we were busy with our day jobs, we reached out to the helpful folks at http://www.fiver.com for some help in creating an animated video to help describe our book.
We will be sharing the video with the world over the next week in our social media channels.
You, loyal readers, get a sneak peek at the short video.
Let us know what you think!
Looking forward to your feedback! Let us know if you have any glitches with the video or the book download.
We know you share with us a passion for family travel executed with style, grace, verve, and good humor. Please help us share the word as the holiday travel season approaches!
When Teen heard that Los Angeles had a Little Tokyo area, she identified it immediately as a top priority for her, alongside Hollywood and the beach.
Let’s be clear that we are not Asian-American. We are a plain, boring, classic American family. Like other Americans, our heritage can be traced to almost half a dozen different parts of Europe. We have no particular connection to Japan. We have never visited Japan.
But Japan has visited our house frequently since our daughter was small. Japan’s entertainment industry has helped make our daughter’s upbringing decidedly multicultural.
We are not talking about Pokemon or Hello Kitty. We are talking about the lovely and bittersweet Miyazaki films like the well-loved “My Neighbor Totoro.” We are talking about the lovely and gentle cherry blossom trees that bloom annually in DC, blanketing the Mall with floating clouds of pink and white. We are talking about soba noodles, ramen noodles, and sushi. We are talking about the tiny erasers that were all the rage in the second grade. And, finally, we are talking about manga and anime comics that captivate the video/iPad generation.
We at BWLEtravel believe that kids should be involved in vacation planning from an early age. It’s their vacation also. This means that the adults need to compromise as well. Take the back seat and let your kids lead for a change. See how much they grow in the process and how much you learn from them. See our book for more details.
So Kate gave up on the second movie studio (Paramount Studios, you are at the top of our list for the next visit!). We went to Little Tokyo to explore and, of course, find the perfect bowl of ramen. We were not disappointed. We found much more than we intended.
You can find Little Tokyo at stop 38 on the Starline hop-on, hop off Purple Route. Cash saving tip for frugal families: when you book your Starline tickets online, you save $5!
BWLE Travel’s Top 5 Reasons to Visit LA’s Little Tokyo
1. The Ramen
Teen’s first priority was to sample authentic Japanese ramen, so we built our trip to Little Tokyo around lunch. We owe a debt of gratitude to TimeOut for this excellent article. We relied on it heavily when we planned our lunch.
Our first stop was Daikokuya. TimeOut was right. We could tell you to look for the classic drape in front of the door
but often the drape is obscured by the line that snakes out the door and down the block at lunch time. We went inside to put our name on the waiting list and were immediately transported to Japan. The restaurant was warm, humid, noisy, crowded, and redolent with the fragrant aromas of ramen soup. Bamboo and low lights completed the experience. We loved it! But teen was too hungry to contemplate a 90 minute wait for lunch.
So we followed TimeOut’s advice and went next door to Manichi Ramen.
If Daikokuya replicates Old Tokyo, then Manichi Ramen is all about the urban, neon-lit 21st century Japan. The food did not disappoint. Teen and Mike were in 7th heaven. Here is Teen’s classic lunch before she got started (she insisted I take a picture):
The picture does not do justice to the size of the bowl. Neither Mike nor Teen one could finish the portion. Kate, sadly, could not touch a thing in the restaurant due to celiac disease. Don’t even think about asking for gluten-free options here folks!
2. The Japanese American National Museum & the Go For Broke Monument
America’s history with Japan is a difficult one, particularly during World War 2. We stumbled across part of that history accidentally farther south, in Newport Beach at Crystal Cove State Park. We wrote about it HERE.
One of the great things about America is that we are open about everything, including the ugly things. In Little Tokyo, an entire large modern museum documents the history and experience of Japanese Americans.
The history is not all negative.
In 2010, Congress awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor to the Japanese-Americans that fought in World War 2. You can see the monument dedicated to their memory (the “Go For Broke” Monument) in Little Tokyo. It was created the 1980s by surviving veterans of that company.
The Japanese American National Museum was also created in the 1980s. It is now an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. If you are taking the Starline hop-on, hop-off bus you cannot miss it: the bus stops right at the museum. It has a strikingly modern design:
The museum’s video best explains its focus:
We know what you are thinking: this is right up BWLEtravel’s alley! You are right. We would have loved to spend more time here. But we had booked a tour of the Getty Villa in Malibu (a 45-60 minute drive away) that afternoon. Entry to the Getty is timed and we had the last entrance of the day.
Our regular readers will recognize a familiar theme. Everywhere we went in LA, we found we were skipping across the tip of a very rich iceberg. We left Los Angeles with a much longer to-do list than when arrived! The Japanese-American Museum and the Go For Broke Monument are part of this list now.
3. The Space Shuttle
Every good trip includes surprises. We had not expected to stumble over the Space Shuttle in the middle of a pedestrian area near a shopping mall.
And so our world was broadened further by Teen’s curiosity.
We learned about the first Japanese-American astronaut, Dr. Ellison S. Onizuka. He died in the 1986 Challenger disaster, when he was 40. He was born in June 1946, just weeks before the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and ended the war in the Pacific. We cannot think of a more fitting symbol of “rising above” history than this story.
Little Tokyo may look and feel like it is in Japan, but this Space Shuttle monument highlights how very American this place is. This is not an immigrant community. This is a community of Americans that contribute to the fabric of the nation while remaining true to their heritage. It is something we have been doing in the USA since the Pilgrims arrived, although sometimes we fall far short of our ideals.
4. The Temples and Gardens
Little Tokyo is not a television set. It is a real Japanese community with a long history in Los Angeles. The first businesses in this part of Los Angeles date to 1884. Large numbers of Japanese citizens immigrated to California during this period to escape the upheaval from the Meiji Restoration in Japan. The official website for Little Tokyo notes that by 1908, over 40 businesses were located in Little Tokyo.
The area serves as a cultural and heritage center for many Japanese-Americans, complete with multiple Buddhist temples.
These are NOT tourist attractions. They are active houses of worship. Only take your kids here if they are ready, willing, and able to be respectful of the religion and its traditions.
Just as Japanese and Chinese tourists visit the great cathedrals of Europe, this American family visited the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, which was the first Shingon temple in North America. It dates to 1912.
This was our first visit to a Buddhist temple. The monks were kind and welcoming. They showed us how to light the incense and offer a quiet prayer. It was a lovely multicultural moment for this American family.
We had heard that Little Tokyo also had lovely Japanese gardens, but could not find them. Materials from the Visitors Center made clear why they are so hard to find. One garden is on the roof of the Doubletree Inn. Advance reservations are required to visit the garden. The second garden is located at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, which stages exhibitions and performances that share Japanese heritage with Los Angeles.
5. The Shops
Kids interested in anime, manga, Miyazawa, Pokemon and Hello Kitty will find bookstores and shops brimming with with everything they could possibly want. Might it inspire a child to learn Japanese? Certainly. But many will just be happy to wander the aisles considering the possibilities.
The shops are not limited to comic books and tourist items. A number of lovely small shops can be found featuring fine Japanese porcelain and other things for the house. We wandered through a few of these shops, entranced by the items and their loveliness.
The melting pot is also alive and well in Los Angeles.
Check out this “Japangeles” booth at the central mall.
It was closed when we visited, so we Googled it at home. Here is how they describe themselves: “Japangeles is a collaboration of Japanese culture and Los Angeles lifestyle through unique and clever designs. It is a way of presenting the hybrid in all of us while giving props to the city we love. Our clothing are designed and screen printed in Los Angeles.”
We LOVE this, and regret that it was closed when we were there. We might just have to order an item online.
Little Tokyo is a fantastic family travel spot if you are interested in exploring more of LA’s culture beyond the beach and beyond Hollywood. Plan to be there at least 4 hours.
When you plan your travel, please be sure to rely on our well-known and trusted affiliates using the links below. We will receive a small commission which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running. Thanks!
Let’s be honest. Family travel comes at a price. Exploring the world (near and far) with your kids can be expensive. Trust us, we feel your pain.
But here at BWLEtravel, we see the family vacation as a valuable investment in your kids’ futures and the family. Every trip you take strengthens the bonds you have as a family. Every trip increases the creativity, resilience, independence and open-mindedness of your kids. They will connect better with novels and the history they learn in school once they have seen the concrete places that writers describe with words. The experience is amplified if you give them a good book before or after the trip. Often, the family vacation is the only time that the family consistently has dinner together as a whole. As we wrote last year, working parents + busy sports and music schedules for the kids + business travel for one or both parents can create real logistical challenges for everyone to sit down for dinner together nightly. The family vacation gives everyone a chance to bond together.
But it should not break the bank.
This post shares with you our Top 5 Tips for how to save money while still treating your kids to amazing travel experiences in legendary places.
1. Visit Legendary Cities
We know what you are thinking: London, Paris, NYC, Washington DC, Los Angeles…..these are NOT low cost destinations. These are luxury destinations. You are right.
Getting there can be expensive (see our tips below for how to minimize the cost). But once you are there, each of these (and other) major tourist destination urban centers shares a key common feature.
All great cities have many FREE attractions that make it possible to experience the vibe of a place without adversely impacting your ability to pay college tuition in the future.
Here are some examples which we have featured in our blog and website so far:
- Paris, NYC, London: the playgrounds and parks are FREE and unique in each place. Just walking through the streets on the way to a museum or lunch provides plenty of photo ops and enjoyable opportunities to absorb the ambiance without spending a penny. With small kids in Paris, few things are more wonderful than enjoying a French coffee while the kids play on equipment in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or jump on the trampolines near the Louvre.
- Los Angeles: visiting the beach and enjoying the sunsets are both FREE
- Washington DC: the Mall and the Smithsonian Museum are both FREE
The bonus here for parents: experiencing the city like a local. The bonus here for kids: not only do they have fun, but they will get a real feeling for the unique place they are visiting.
2. How to Save on Airfare
For many of us, airfare will be the largest expense of a trip. Parents who travel frequently for business can cash in frequent flyer miles at least to buy some plane seats. But not everyone travels enough by plane to have enough miles to cover a transatlantic or cross-Pacific flight for a family of four. You will have to be very disciplined (and you would have to spend a great deal of money on credit cards) to accumulate sufficient miles to generate free tickets.
We have three tips for you here, compliments of our carefully selected affiliate partners.
First, check out the best flight deals on TripAdvisor. You can click on the link below. They will often have the best deals on airfare for any given trip.
Second, if your trip involves a visit to Paris, check out Air France. They will often have the best fares to Europe from all over the USA. Find your city’s deals today by clicking on this link! Not only will they often have the best flights to Paris but they will also provide onward tickets to a broad range of places in Europe and all over the world (via Paris of course).
Third, check out Groupon if you are willing to be flexible on the location and/or the dates. They will often post incredible deals in major European and US cities as well as major resorts. Parents with small kids who are not yet in school will have the most flexibility and may get the most out of this option initially. But if you plan in advance, even holiday deals can be found on Groupon for all-inclusive (air + hotel) vacations.
You can click on the affiliate links below to get started when you plan your travel. We will receive a small commission, which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running. Many thanks!
3. How to Save on Hotels
Getting a good deal on a hotel is the easiest challenge to meet! There is no reason to pay a full rack-rate for a hotel room unless you are traveling at the last minute during a major holiday. We love TripAdvisor and Booking.com because you can see reviews from real people before booking your stay. They have slightly different property offerings, but both will include options that include 5-star luxury hotels as well as apartments. Groupon also has many hotel options
4. City Passes and Entertainment
Parks, playgrounds, and soaking up the sidewalk vibe is nice, but you won’t have traveled to a major city only for these reasons. You and your kids will want to see a few landmarks while you are in town.
The most expensive way to visit local landmarks is to visit each one and pay full price at the door every single time. Unless you pay for a private guide, in which case you will pay even more.
Regular readers of our blog know that we are big fans of the City Pass system. Every major city has them. They provide discounted and fast-track entry into the top tourist attractions in any given city. You save time and money. We have used the five major pass systems below (for London, Paris, NYC, LA and DC) from our various affiliate partners, but we have not tried out all of the 11 major US cities covered by the GoPass…yet. We love them and we know you will also!
Less well-known, however, is that you can save 70% or more on events and activities in the city you will be visiting….via Groupon and other vendors.
A wide range of vendors advertise on this platform that might not be on the city pass system. For example, when we visited Los Angeles this summer, we found an amazing outfit through Groupon that provides sunset horseback riding in the hills above Los Angeles! If Mike had not still be recovering from a broken leg (and if Kate were not allergic to horses) this would have been at the top of our list this summer. Groupon also offers restaurant deals which are not available through the city pass system. They are not alone. An “NYC Dine for Less” card can also be acquired from our affiliate partners that provides up to 20% off the entire food portion of the bill for up to 4 people at some of the finest restaurants and experiences in New York City with unlimited usage for up to 30 days.
You can pair your city passes with Groupon and other deals on restaurants and activities in order to save significant sums while still giving your kids a fantastic vacation in a major city.
4. Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tickets
Regular readers of this blog also know that we are big fans of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus options in major cities. They are great ways to hand off to others the logistical hassle of getting around a new city and learning something in the process. This saves you plenty of money on taxis, Uber and parking fees. As we mentioned in our Los Angeles post HERE, even teenagers will listen to the information provided by the tour company if they can plug into cool earbuds. In NYC, the pass system includes….ferries! This is a fun way to travel between Manhattan and the other major boroughs like Brooklyn and Staten Island.
THE KEY IS THAT YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO GET OFF THE BUS AND EXPLORE THE NEIGHBORHOODS THROUGH WHICH YOU TRAVEL.
Less appreciated is this little fact: the bus pass includes coupons and discounts on shopping and entrance fees to selected vendors.
That’s right folks. You need to do your homework to save money. To maximize your savings, you need to figure out which attractions are included in the city pass, which are included in Groupon and which are included in the hop-on, hop-off bus ticket. It’s worth the effort when you can splurge on a big last-night-in-town dinner….and when you get home still solvent.
We hope these tips help you Explore the World With Your Kids! Let us know how it works out.
A myth exists about family travel to legendary places with small kids. We have heard it often and it sets our teeth on edge every single time. “It would be a waste to take small kids to [insert legendary city or metropolitan area]. They won’t remember anything.”
Oh please. This is why we started this blog and wrote a book. You CAN and you SHOULD take kids to these places when they are little. We DID and it was marvelous.
Take Paris. Did we take our 5-year old on a forced march through the Louvre? Of course not. That museum overwhelms ordinary adults and art lovers alike. Did we take our daughter to museums in Paris? Of course we did! So for #ThrowBackThursday we take a trip down memory lane to Paris when our daughter was 5……
Why BWLEtravel Loves the Cluny Museum
Welcome to the Cluny Museum, on the Left Bank. This is one of the world’s preeminent museums, focused on the Middle Ages. We will always think of it as the Cluny, but its new formal name is the “National Museum of the Middle Ages.”
Why is it perfect for kids? Think about this for a second. Small kids do not draw a bright line between fantasy and reality. To them, the stories in the picture books and fairy tales are as real as you and I. At some point as they enter elementary school, they learn to make the distinction. They know that certain things are only imaginary.
In the United States and Europe, much of the children’s literature and toys revolve around the European castles that formed the center of society back in the day. They were real.
Giving your kids a concrete reference point for the things they read about in their books will spark their imagination and add texture to the reading experience. It will enrich their lives to know that some things are real.
Maybe you can’t travel to see the great castles of the Loire (we wrote about them HERE) or the great castles in Germany (we wrote about one HERE). But if you are in Paris, you can take your kids to see REAL knights in shining armor and other tangible relics of those olden days.
Visit all the other exhibits first, then save the best for last.
The Cluny is not merely a collection of exhibit cases with items safely displayed behind glass. The building is a modern take on a classic castle. When we were there, a central courtyard lit by natural light displayed statues from the era. Regal heads, displaced from their bodies, still wore crowns. Despite erosion and age, the personalities of the people still can be seen in their faces:
The courtyard also features statues missing their heads, arranged artfully, complete with a turret.
The scale is BIG! The courtyard mimics the feeling of being inside a castle, particularly for imaginative little eyes that read marvelous books about knights and magic. We are not talking about ornamental party castles. We are talking old, fortress castles designed to keep the people inside safe from marauders and thieves. The statues are life-size, but to the little eyes in your traveling party they will look giant. Ask your kids to guess which heads belong to which bodies.
And yet, this is not the best part of the Cluny Museum.
How many of your girls go through a unicorn phase? How many castle and fairy tale stories involve a unicorn? The myth of the unicorn was expressed artistically and famously in a series of intricately woven tapestries that still exist today. They are on display at the Cluny Museum. They are HUGE.
The display space is guaranteed to generate wonder and magic in the eyes of a small child and not a few adults.
When we were there in 2008, the tapestries were displayed in a circular room in very low light that invited little eyes to believe that the elegant ladies in the tapestries really sat with actual unicorns in order to model the scenes for the artist. We understand the exhibit and the tapestries were renovated in 2013 to highlight the brilliance of the colors (muted by centuries of dust) and to hang them more appropriately. Due to the fragility of the fabric, we have to believe/hope that they are still displayed in the magical low light. ArtDaily reviewed the new exhibit (with pictures) HERE. The audio guide in 2008 was excellent, but small kids won’t care about that. All they will care about is staring at fantastic creatures woven from ancient fibers.
This is the perfect museum to take kids when they visit Paris. It is not too large. It features exhibits within the existing frame of reference for small kids. And it will help them process what they read as they grow older.
In the United States and Europe, a visit to this museum can be an important way to introduce your kids to part of their heritage. But for families visiting from Asia and Africa, a visit to this museum takes on significant multicultural characteristics. It is an excellent way to show kids how a different culture organized itself, what it valued, what it considered to be beautiful. Even for Americans that have ancient heritage in Europe, the museum shows kids how Europeans lived long before the United States was settled. It can be a multicultural moment for American kids as well as a consequence, particularly if you tell them that when the tapestries and suits of armor were made America was only a wilderness inhabited by Native Americans who culturally did not value tangible items as much as Europeans.
To get the most of this visit, be sure to give your kids some timeless classics about castles and unicorns. Our favorites appear on our Paris Pinterest book board. They include these books for early readers and tweens
Or treat your kids to one of these classic movies before visiting the museum so they have a frame of reference for unicorns and castles, chivalry and princesses and knights in shining armor.
The museum is only steps away from one of the most wonderful playgrounds in Paris. Kids require unstructured playtime in order to process what they have learned during the day and in order to let off steam. There are few better places to do this than the Jardin de Luxembourg nearby. Enjoy!
COST SAVING TIP
Entry to the Cluny Museum is included in the Paris Pass! You can discover more and spend less by checking out the extensive list of attractions included by our affiliates at The Paris Sightseeing Pass.
When you plan your travel, please be sure to rely on our trusted and well-known affiliates using the links below. We will receive a small commission which will help us cover the costs of keeping this blog up and running. Thanks!