This week, we welcome to a Rendezvous with Rovers on Weekend Travel Inspiration, a traveling family, Mary Solio and her husband and two children. Mary is one of those bloggers that is there to offer a helping hand when she can. When I was planning my trip to Iceland last summer, Mary’s blog posts were so informative and helpful that I emailed her and asked her some questions. Yes, she answered my questions and also offered some great advice. If you look at her blog, The World is a Book, you will notice that the Solio’s have a great time traveling and know how to have fun. I think one of her posts that I like the most is her Tacky Tourist Photos. If you want to have fun traveling with kids, do it this way.
Describe your travel philosophy. What is your style? Are you more of a luxury traveler or is backpacking more your style? Do you like to be in control and do all your own planning, or do you like to let go and go on tours or go to a travel agent to help out? Do you like to pack a lot into a day or take it easy and follow your whims?
I am my family’s travel planner. I do most of the research before trips and plan the whole itinerary including booking almost everything. My husband sometimes helps. I follow a particular tour’s itinerary when one catches my eye and do something similar but more kid-friendly. We do tours when we’re short on time in a particular city or when docked at ports for the day during cruises. I have always felt rushed on these tours or felt like I was missing out on something but it’s the trade-off for trying to see too much with a limited time.
We consider ourselves more of budget, middle-range travelers. We don’t stay at luxury hotels or hostels but stay in apartments or chain hotels. My husband and I both work full-time and the kids’ have traditional school with a lot of activities. We have a limited vacation time annually. I’m also not a very laid-back person so we tend to pack a lot into a day or during a time period. We just did a 24-day summer trip visiting 3 continents and 4 countries. Of course, we were exhausted after that trip but it was worth it.
What types of things are you interested in while you are traveling? Is it adventure/adrenalin or history/culture? Do you want to relax on the beach or hike around ruins?
We’d like to think we’re well rounded with our travels. Our family has diverse interests so we try to accommodate everyone while traveling but also ensure that we’re experiencing something new. My husband is the more adventurous, sporty person who my son took after. While my daughter and I are happy exploring castles, museums, churches and shopping malls. Our activities also vary a lot depending on our destination. We do a bit of exploring, hiking or something adventurous if it’s something with a lot of outdoor spaces like the National Parks. If we’re in city destinations and especially with a body of water, one of the first things we do is take a river/bay/canal cruise as an orientation.
We like visiting museums (the quirkier the better). We love learning about other cultures so we definitely do activities with cultural immersions like visiting an Aboriginal Park or attending luaus. We like to sample a lot of local cuisine too, so it’s always a joy to visit local street markets and grocery stores or eat where the locals recommend or hang out.
Despite my growing up on the islands and now living near the ocean, I don’t do a lot of relaxing on the beach. My kids can spend a whole day playing on the beach, but I get restless just sitting there so we incorporate a few hours of beach or pool time if we’re at a tropical destination.
I know you have two children and take them everywhere you go. How is it traveling with kids? Do they help you plan what to do? Can you give us any hints to make it easier or more fun when traveling as a family?
Traveling with kids is very challenging and a test of patience. When they’re babies and toddlers, don’t expect too much and know that you have to be more flexible with your itineraries and schedule things around nap times and temperaments. It does get easier, in many ways, as they get older.
We’ve let the kids help plan parts of trips, as they’ve gotten older. They feel like they’ve contributed something and it helps them get excited with the trips. My kids now provide input on what activities they want to do at a particular destination. My almost 12-year old daughter is a big help with researching fun places to see or things to do.
I have learned over the years to put in some down time on the beach, playground or park for the kids in the itinerary despite our not being slow travelers. I always have a stash of snacks too, because I’ve learned that my kids being well fed and well-rested means happier children ready for new adventures.
I’ve never underestimated the power of electronics. My kids can endure long plane and train rides as long as they have an iPad or iPhone with them or go on planes equipped with a good in-flight entertainment system.
It’s important to have fun when traveling as a family despite the challenges. When my kids were smaller, I created scavenger type activities in museums as a way for them to interact with the exhibits to make it a bit more engaging and fun. Take funny photos and make funny faces when you pose with those iconic attractions. You may look silly to some but I guarantee you someone is bound to smile and imitate you sooner or later. You’ll also look back at those photos and smile too.
What are some of the places that you just found enchanting during your travels? Are they in the country you are living in or elsewhere? Why would someone like to go there? What is so special about it?
We are big supporters of seeing and exploring the National Parks here in the United States. It makes me sad to see so many friends and family who have never even set foot in one. The parks have so many diverse and breathtaking landscapes from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone. There are almost 400 parks around the country to choose from and they all offer something unique no matter what your age or interests are. It’s one of the best places to take kids and some of them are free or cost very little.
I have always found Japan enchanting and fascinating. I even studied the Japanese language in high school for two years. The culture, food and attractions are so different and interesting. From traditional to modern, cities like Tokyo and Kyoto never cease to amaze me of what they can offer visitors in history and beautiful architecture and gardens. The Japanese are some of the friendliest people we have ever met and their superior customer service is unmatched. I’ve been to Japan a few times already and I would love to go back again and again.
How did you get started travel blogging? Do you think it enhances your travel experiences or makes it a little more stressful? Are there any lessons you can pass on to us about travel blogging?
I started travel blogging a little over three years ago with the initial purpose of having something for my kids to read about our adventures, as they got older. We knew they weren’t going to remember a lot and those pictures in the photo books and computer had more stories to tell. It evolved into trying to share tips and inspire family travelers to go out there and explore. Family travel doesn’t have to be on a full-time basis or with a big budget. One of the things I enjoy about it is meeting so many others who share the same passion for travel and I now have this awesome network to get tips and advice for any particular destination.
Travel blogging has tremendously enhanced my travel experience. I pay a whole lot more attention to little details. I take more and better pictures. I take notes and talk a bit more to people. I used to see things and revel in the moment and experience but now there’s an added layer of “How can I best share this attraction or experience to inspire someone to come here too?”
Of course, it has added more stress to my life. Travel blogging is a lot of work and very time consuming with very little rewards. I hadn’t realized there was so much more than writing and putting a post together with pictures. There’s also the promotional part that includes social media and networking which can get overwhelming. I have always said that my blog is my third child but lately I’ve felt like it’s a third child and another full-time job.
Don’t expect to make a ton of money as a travel blogger. There aren’t many people who do it successfully. There are a lot of disappointments and frustrations that come with the territory. Do a travel blog because you like writing, sharing stories or using it as a stepping-stone to find other work that can earn you money. Network a lot, know how to make Google notice you by mastering SEO techniques and pick one or two social media channels to focus on and be really good at. I’m still learning everyday after all these years.
One thing I enjoy about your blog is the funny photos of your family. Can you tell us a little about that?
Travel and spending time together as a family should be fun. My husband is also a bit of a comedian and my kids inherited that trait. He used to do some jump shots especially at National Park entrance signs because he thought it was fun. The kids eventually followed with jump shots and funny faces everywhere we went. They always like to do funny poses after my mandatory tourist poses. Now, everyone tries to find a way to make our tourist photos funny. We love looking at the photos afterwards and they’re some of our favorites.
What is your next destination and what are you looking forward to doing there?
Our next big trip is in late November to Madrid and Venice with quick stops in Pisa and Florence. This is the first trip for my kids to Italy. They’re looking forward to doing a lot of tacky tourist photos at Pisa and eating a lot of pasta, pizza and gelato. I’m looking forward to finally riding a gondola in Venice.
Finally, if you could inspire someone to start traveling, which place would you recommend to him or her as a good starting destination and why? Are there any places that you wouldn’t travel to your first time out and why?
For North Americans, I would recommend the Hawaiian Islands. If the image of a tropical island and paradise can’t ignite that wanderlust then I don’t really know what will. It’s a good starting point since you don’t have to worry about the language barrier, money and passports. But, the natural, tropical beauty and culture are unique enough to captivate first time visitors.
As a first time traveler, I think it would really be hard to adjust to some countries that don’t have a good public transportation system that will make it easy for visitors to get around the attractions. It’s challenging enough to adapt to a different culture and language but adding logistical issues would just be added stress. I can attest that this would be a challenge even for seasoned travelers.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.