Have Kids Will Travel
By Meda Kessler
Photos courtesy of the Neffs
A professional writer learns that taking the kids along means transforming her job into a true adventure
Travel without kids: checking out hip boutique hotels. Spending lazy days by the pool. Lounging with beach reads. Drinking mimosas in the morning and champagne at midnight. Travel with kids: checking into family-friendly hotels. Scheduling a nap in the itinerary. Packing backpacks with toys, travel games and books. And, always, having snacks handy.
Austin-based Stirling Kelso Neff has been writing about travel for major publications, including this one, for about 12 years. She and husband Josh now have three children, ages 7, 5 and 1. So it follows that she has started a website called Half Pint Travel devoted to traveling with little ones, because her focus has shifted but her wanderlust remains.
“With Josh able to work from just about anywhere, we used to joke that it was the ‘mooch vacation’ when he traveled with me. Once we had children, it’s now the ‘manny vacation,’ ” says Stirling, with a laugh.
But her husband also has been a solid travel partner with and without kids. “We believe in travel on a philosophical level. You learn about other cultures, empathy and walking in someone else’s shoes. Once children are involved, it opens up a new layer of exposure and understanding.”
While pregnancies did slow her down a bit, the pandemic caused a full stop. Stirling and her family happened to be in New Zealand at the time of lockdown, one stop on what was to be a six-month adventure around the world. Scrambling and reaching out to any and all contacts, they were stuck there with two kids. But they made the most of it. And Stirling is the first to admit that there were worse places to be in lockdown. “We took long walks in the parks, enjoyed nature and slowed down.” The lessons learned have been filed away, just like so many others in the past eight years. “I’ve always been determined to make traveling with the kids work, and not because it’s my livelihood,” says Stirling.
“People get bogged down thinking they have to take so much stuff with them, and yes, babies are easier than toddlers. Put them in a stroller and you can take them anywhere. I get it if you want to take a break when they become mobile.” For elementary school-age children, Stirling suggests planning one activity and letting the rest of the day unfold naturally. “Having too many expectations puts pressure on everyone.” One pleasant surprise was how accommodating many countries are to families and little kids. “People are so receptive and encouraging when you travel. They’re supportive, kind and helpful.”
Short trips vs. long
“With all the packing and preparation you have to do when traveling with kids, it’s better to stay for a while rather than pack and unpack over a few short days. Build in time to enjoy the trip.”
Child care on the road
If you can bring along someone to help watch your children, do so, says Stirling. She also says many properties have vetted locals who can be hired to watch your children. “But be upfront and ask a lot of questions. And remember that many resorts often have scheduled activities for children on the property.”
When you have little ones in tow, gone are the days when you’re able to dash through an airport to try and make a connecting flight. If plans go awry, Stirling suggests that you find a quiet spot in the airport, pull up a movie for the kids and allow yourself time to decompress and make alternative plans.
“It’s better to not be bogged down by heavy luggage. You can buy almost everything you need at your destination.”
Make time for yourself
“It’s restorative to travel alone or with friends. Even if you’re with family, break away to do something that makes you happy.”
Splurge on accommodations
The nicest ones have a lot of amenities for adults and kids. Stirling is partial to Four Seasons and Rosewood properties, thanks to things like separate family and adult pools, fantastic spas and good restaurants. And most home rentals provide kitchens and laundry rooms.
Stirling is excited that the world is opening up again. The family is headed to the Netherlands and England this summer. Italy is on next year’s list, as well as Germany.
“And don’t forget, champagne should still make the itinerary.”
New York There’s plenty to do for kids of all ages. They are enthralled with everything, from the city’s public transportation, parks and cafes to the major attractions.
Charleston It’s a beautiful city to walk around with a stroller; big kids love the carriage rides. Nearby beaches such as Kiawah are lovely.
San Francisco/Napa The wine country is more family friendly than you’d expect. Check out Beltane Ranch for its gardens and animals as well as Healdsburg for lots to do and eat.
Oregon We love the active beaches and family-friendly vineyards.
New Orleans There is so much to do, from Audubon Park to French Quarter ghost tours.
London From the Tube to the fantastic museums and parks, it’s hard to top London for a city trip with kids.
Spain Jet lag works in your favor, as things get started later in the day. And the locals are very warm toward families.
Mexico There are so many direct flights from Texas, the people are wonderful and the food is delicious.
Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec The weather in the summer is divine, the cities are clean and easy to navigate. And there are fabulous family-owned resorts such as Elmhirst, which is 90 minutes outside of Toronto.
New Zealand We spent three months on the South Island. It’s hard to beat NZ for its natural draws — lakes, forests, beaches and animal life.