Family travel blogs may be ubiquitous today, but the subject of family travel was relatively virgin terrain when the journalist Eileen Ogintz, then on the staff of The Chicago Tribune, took her first assignment on the subject in 1987.
Chaos ensued when her then 3-year-old son pushed a Wisconsin property owner’s cat into a pond. “He thought it wanted to swim,” she said of the episode that resulted in their eviction and her first now-syndicated “Taking the Kids” column.
“It had resonance because a lot of baby boomers had traveled in college and didn’t want to apologize for having kids.”
Though her three children are now adults, Ogintz continues to cover family travel. She has just completed the ninth in her “Kid’s Guide” series of city guidebooks with “The Kid’s Guide to Denver,” for which she interviewed about 100 children.
Recently, Ogintz discussed the risks and rewards of family travel. Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Ogintz.
Q: What are the benefits of traveling with children?
A: Obviously I think it’s important for kids to see that everyone in the world doesn’t live the same way.
Also, anytime you travel as a family, things inevitably go awry, and it’s a good life lesson for kids to know and see that they can handle it when things don’t go as planned.
Educationally it’s important. A lot of learning goes on outside of the classroom. Travel is a great way to zero in on what kids are passionate about, whether it’s baseball or theater or art, and celebrate that.
It’s also a great way to share your passions with them, whatever that may be.
Q: What are the biggest hurdles in taking children on vacation?
A: You have to be prepared that it’s not one Instagram moment after another. We have incredibly high expectations and, just like having kids, it’s not perfect. It’s a messy experience and aggravating. The second hurdle is that we plan too much. I tell people to cut the itinerary in half. Orlando will be there next time; so will New York and Paris. What matters more is the journey. So what if you don’t make it to the end of the hiking trail? The next time you will. Focus on the experience.
Q: With different opinions about how to spend vacation, how can you get everyone in the family excited?
A: The more you have kids involved in planning, the more they will get on board.
Give everyone a say in the itinerary. Allow the kids to each plan a day. You want to make sure each day everyone gets to plan a top pick or ride at a park or food. It’s amazing the direction in which kids will lead you if you let them.
I think cruises are good for multigenerations because everyone can do their own thing. You don’t have to be in lock step the entire time.
Q: What was your favorite trip with your family?
A: There are so many. I climbed Kilimanjaro with my daughter when she was 18. It was one of the first times I saw her as an adult because she was more adept than me.
Our family ski trips, which we still continue, are really great times together even though the kids don’t like to ski with us anymore.
We’ve done a couple of sailing trips where we sailed a rented yacht around the British Virgin Islands. Anytime we’ve had an experience where we’ve shared an adventure, I think that’s been great.