In this episode I’m joined by Kirsten Maxwell from KidsAreATrip.com.
Kirsten is a former teacher, and now runs a blog that documents her travels with her family of 3 boys. In addition to her main blog Kids Are A Trip, Kirsten runs a Facebook group and separate site for multi-generational travel planning.
In the show she shares her coronavirus cancellation story, advice for family travel, and some tips and tricks from a former teacher on how to make it educational.
Selected Links from the Episode
- Kirsten Maxwell on Twitter
- Kids Are A Trip
- Luxe Family Trips Facebook group
Show Notes & Timestamps
- How a lonely study abroad experience turned into a love of travel 00:01:12
- A travel log turns into a full travel website 00:03:08
- Dispelling the myths of being a travel blogger 00:04:50
- Kirsten’s derailed trip due to Covid-19 00:05:47
- How Kirsten is working through the refund process 00:07:13
- Lessons learned from this process 00:10:17
- How to plan travel going forward in light of Covid-19 00:11:23
- Tips for educational travel from a former teacher 00:13:21
- Kids and travel anxiety 00:16:22
- General tips for family travel 00:18:10
- Common family travel mistakes to avoid 00:18:59
- Debunking the myths of family travel 00:19:59
- Final travel advice for families 00:20:52
Damian: Kirsten, thanks for joining us today.
Kirsten: Thank you for having me.
Damian: I know that you do have a great presence online, a lot of people do see your content, but I would love it if you can give sort of a 30-second overview of what you do?
Kirsten: I have a family travel website called kidsareatriip.com, and I’ve been writing for the last six years and we basically cover different travel experiences we have, and also how to make different things educational for your own kids when you’re traveling, safety tips, how to go, and you know, see the world and not worry about things beyond your own backyard, like being open to different experiences.
Damian: And you’re a former teacher, is that right?
Kirsten: That’s correct.
Damian: And that probably plays into a lot of your experience with the website and with travel and working with your family?
Kirsten: A ton, a ton. Originally, when we started traveling, that was the main focus. I always looked at travel as an education, so before we would even leave our house, we were learning. I was having the kids learn different languages, key phrases they should know, learning about the culture, reading books, looking at maps. So it was a constant education and they didn’t even realize it.
Damian: You fooled them into it
Damian: That’s a good way to do it. When did you know that you wanted to travel a lot? Was there an event that got you interested in being a bit of a traveler?
Kirsten: Yeah. I actually, when I was in college, I went and did a study abroad program in Spain and I was there for three months and I missed my family terribly. And I came home and I said, I will never do that again. And probably fast forward two years, and I met my husband and we both realized how much we enjoy traveling together in the United States.
So then for our honeymoon we decided we would do 23 days in Europe. We went and saw 14 different cities in 23 days. We were constantly on the move, thank goodness for those rail passes and after that it just never stopped. We have always loved traveling together and as we had kids, we knew that we were going to continue to travel with our kids and that’s where we are today…17 years later.
Damian: And with the study abroad, did it take some time for you to kind of turn around on that and realize that it was, it had value?
Kirsten: Yeah, I mean, at the time I was still in college. So there’s so much uncertainty as you’re getting toward the end of your college years and what you want to do with your life and how things are going to go and how everything’s gonna play out. And I think that, it just took some time for me to come back around and realize that like, this is something that was important.
The experience was important. I missed interacting with people of other cultures because I mean, I had met people from all over the world, from Belgium and Germany and Austria and had these great moments with them that people outside of my group that were a group of Americans I was traveling with and I missed it. Just the experience of being with other people and learning about who they were, what made them tick, what foods they liked. I mean, there’s just so many layers of international travel and travel in general, and I really came to a point where I started to miss it.
Damian: And how did the website come about?
Kirsten: So we started traveling, like I said, with our kids, like from the second we had kids, we knew we were going to travel and as each, we have three boys, and as each one came along, we continued to travel. And when we started traveling with three kids pretty regularly, people would ask me, how do you do it? And my response was always, how do you not? And so I came to a point where I got tired of telling the story of how we do it..you know, we, we find these places in advance because I’ve always been one who planned my own trips and I got tired of telling the story. And so my husband said, well, “why don’t you put together a website?”.
And I thought about it and I met with a friend who was running a website at the time and she told me all the work that went into it and was like, Oh, no way. Not going to do that. That’s way too much work. And the more I thought about it, I thought, okay, maybe I’ll just use it as a travel journal, and my friends and family can read it and get some tips and, and then it just kind of blossomed from there.
I’ve learned a lot just. Having it and educating myself over the years about what people are looking for.
Damian: And you started a group, is that correct?
Kirsten: I did. I have a Facebook group called Luxe family trips that I co-admin with two other travel writers, and we have over 2,500 families that come there for travel advice.
Damian: it’s amazing how great of a community that can be. There’s a lot of activity, a lot of back and forth.
Kirsten: There is, there are so many good tips. I learn a ton from being in it just from questions that people are asking of us and everybody kind of shares what they know and it’s just been a great experience for everybody.
Damian: And a lot of people have this certain image of a travel blogger or a travel influencer. Are there myths about that that you can dispel?
Kirsten: Yes…Uh, we are not jet setting all over the world. Some of us are, but those with families typically are not. We’re not all homeschoolers. I know there are tons of people that do homeschool and travel and that’s their main focus. But I, having been a teacher before, knew that was not what I wanted to do with my kids.
I’d like them to have a traditional school experience. And it is a ton of work. I mean, I can not tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Oh my gosh, you have the best job ever.” And I think, do you know how much time goes into writing, editing, diting photos. I mean, just the whole thing. Promoting it on social media when you’re done with it.
There are so many behind the scenes things that happen that people don’t see. They just see that the glitz and the glam
Damian: Just the fun
Kirsten: everything’s great…yeah
Damian: So just moving on to the big topic of what everyone’s talking about right now, which is the Coronavirus and the huge effect that’s had on everything from travel to just our everyday lives. And I understand that you have a coronavirus story.
Would you like to share?
Kirsten: I do, so basically, we moved from Chicago to Texas last summer and I had a big trip plan that I was going to go live in Europe for a summer with my kids and just rent a house and write and relax and just kind of be off the grid. And of course I had to postpone that because we moved last summer. So this summer was going to be the big summer I finally got my trip.
I had planned for us to be in Greece for two weeks, and then we’re going to be in Italy for two weeks. And as everybody knows, that’s not going to happen. So I mean, Greece is so complicated to tackle on your own just because there are so many islands. There were so many flights I booked.
There were so many, you know, places to stay, transportation. I mean, it’s just all these moving pieces that I’m now having to remove from my credit card basically, and, and go through and make sure I’m checking all the boxes and getting my refunds and all those kinds of things. So it’s been quite a chore.
Damian: that’s not a small trip. Not a small vacation. As you said, this is kind of a big plan, a long awaited trip.
Damian: So now you’re dealing with all the little pieces of it and, and kind of going through the cancellations.
Kirsten: Yup. So I’ve, I mean, that’s where you come back to having to deal with European airlines, not necessarily the same as American airlines who thankfully we did have, we were flying with American airlines and they completely refunded all of our points, all of the money we paid…for every flight for everyone. No questions asked.
Then you’ve got the Greek airlines, which I laugh because they want, one company wanted to offer me a voucher I could use between now and March of next year, which really doesn’t help me because now we’re looking at doing this in June of next year, and then the other one wanted to give me the only refund they wanted to issue was the taxes that I had paid for like three different roundtrip tickets, which was literally maybe a quarter of the total purchase price.
So I went to my credit card and I went to insurance companies, and I’m still waiting for all of those things to play out. But again, trying to manage all the different moving pieces and make sure I’m following up with them.
So that’s kind of where I’m at right now.
Damian: Now with American, you said that they were great. Was that within their standard policies or were they making exceptions for the situation?
Kirsten: I’m not exactly sure because my husband was actually the one that called, I think they must have made some exceptions because usually they will not allow him to cancel flights that he’s not booked on because I was flying separately from him and they allowed him to go in and cancel everything.
So I think that they’re just, you know, realizing that this time it’s not really in their best interest to make things difficult for people.
Damian: Yeah. I think they’ve realized that they need to get ahead of it, and this is just going to be a big financial problem for them, but they might as well come out the other end as doing the right thing
Kirsten: Right, exactly.
Damian: So just stepping back a little bit. As far as the timeline of events, it’s kind of been like Domino’s falling.
When did you know that you had to cancel? Was there a kind of a trigger that made you realize that this was not going to happen?
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s very interesting being in the travel space, you talk to a lot of other people around the world, and just, I started hearing probably early April, these rumors of Europe being close to outsiders, you know, being close to Americans, possibly being close through the end of the year. And I was about mid-April and we were going to fly early June.
So I was kind of within the 60 day window and on a couple of the airfares, regular flights, I was pushing up against a cancellation deadline. So that was kind of what forced my hand. I canceled all the hotels and accommodations right off the bat because I knew that I could always reschedule those. Like if things change and we could go, then I could just find new hotels. But…
Damian: easier to just cancel…
Kirsten: Absolutely. Absolutely. So that’s kind of the whole process of what we did.
Damian: And this is certainly a unique situation, but looking back, did you take any lessons from it as far as booking trips in the future, would you do anything different when you plan travel again?
Kirsten: Wow. I think I learned a lot about travel insurance because I thought I was covered on a lot of different things that turned out not to be the case, so. You know, they, they have, they have nothing in their clause for pandemic. And you know, as you know, there’s just all these different things. I had bought additional insurance through third party vendors and like, “Oh no, sorry, that doesn’t cover it”.
Or through my credit card, I thought I might have coverage through them because they say we offer travel insurance on your purchases. Well, not in this case. So yeah, those kinds of things where I’m like, well, is the insurance really worth it? I mean, I think most of the time it is, but obviously in this situation, that didn’t work in
Damian: It’s definitely, it’s definitely shown some holes in travel insurance because it does cover a lot of stuff, but this is one of those things that insurance should be made for because it’s, it’s unforeseen, unexpected…you know, something that just happens and it’s not anybody’s fault.
Kirsten: Right, right.
Damian: It’s shown a little hole there.
Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah.
Damian: And then how about going forward and planning in the future as far as knowing when it’s okay to book again. What are your, what’s your strategy as far as dealing with coronavirus and planning going forward?
Kirsten: So you’re asking a person who travels for a living. So mine might look different than, you know, the average consumer out there. We’re actually looking right now at possibly, and I don’t want to commit to anything buying plane tickets because American is actually offering, I think refunds through the travel book through a certain time, up until the end of the year.
And don’t quote me on that cause I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I need to look into what their policies are. And so if, if these different airlines are having flexible booking policies, I think that I don’t have any issues with booking…looking kind of at places that are already starting to open up or had few cases.
Definitely looking at us only US travel at this point, because in talking to my friends in Europe, they’re closing their borders to anybody from the US because they do not want us bringing anything to them.
So it’s just kind of making sure that anything we book would be refundable. And probably looking at not traveling any time before mid July.
Damian: I know some of the airlines, as you said, are relaxing some of their terms as far as getting you to book something knowing that you can change it or cancel it…so it’s utilizing that a little bit and then maybe picking some destinations that, that you’d know a bit more about
Kirsten: Yup. Or within driving distance even. I think that’s what…I think a lot of the summer will be for anyone who decides to travel, it’s going to be road trips. I know people are looking into RVs like nobody’s business and you know, “Hey, what’s that look like?” That’s something we could do. And so I think that’s going to be travel for a while in the U S is going to be road trips, national parks and staycations
Damian: Yeah. I think the desire is still there. It’s just picking a different way to do it.
Damian: So just shifting away for a little bit. I think it’s interesting too, you know, not only do you write extensively about family travel and traveling with three children, but then the teacher background I think is interesting.
And you mentioned a little bit before, but what else has that brought to just how you plan trips and how you deal with being on the road and unexpected occurrences that happen. How has that helped?
Kirsten: Sure. I think, you know, as I mentioned, we always kind of educated our kids about destinations before we traveled with them. And as they’ve gotten older, it’s kind of shifted to more of like making sure that they’re addressing any needs at school before we go. Because we came from a school district that was very non-regulated when it came to family travel and they encouraged it…to one that’s very rigid and you have X number of days to travel a year, and if you don’t, you’re going to detention basically.
And so I’m always mindful of what teachers are going through if my kid is missing school, especially in high school, because it’s a lot more difficult to make up the content, but I think it’s all about having that open line of communication with teachers, making sure they know what I do or what my background is and what I do now for living.
And I took a kid out for six days this year and we went to Morocco. But I mean, as I explained to the teachers, it is so educational. It is a bucket list trip. It is a once in a lifetime experience. And they were all on board. But I mean. While we’re there, I’m having my kid make notes and write down what, you know, why other kids might like this trip or what kids will like about Morocco in general. I just, I’m constantly trying to be in their head and make them think about it outside of like, this is a great vacation.
What are they learning? Who are they making contact with? What are their takeaways?
Damian: Do you have a trick to not let them know you’re switching into teacher mode?
Kirsten: Hm,? That’s a great question…I think my kids are just so used to it at this point because we’ve been traveling forever. They know it’s coming. It’s, you know, they just kind of sit and wait for it. And sometimes I’ll let some time pass after the trip and then circle back around and be like, “Hey, do you want to put together a video for me about the trip?”. Or, you know, write some, an outline that we can work through together. They don’t love it, but they still know that it’s coming.
Damian: They know it’s the price that they pay
Kirsten: Yeah, exactly. I mean, hello, you got to have something come out of this.
Damian: And then you mentioned you do take some time off of school occasionally for trips, but you utilize vacation time. Otherwise it is kind of a mix between the two?
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, yeah…now we try to travel during their breaks. But that’s difficult. I mean, it just, you have crowds, you have airfare issues. So, but we’re finding ourselves in this situation where that’s really the only time we can travel. We used to travel all the time and not worry about taking them out of school, but it’s just shifted now and just kind of try to find when you can get the best deals and not miss too much school.
Damian: And you mentioned a little bit about your study abroad experience and how for you, that was a scary thing. And I know it’s different with your kids traveling with their parents, or you know, with a parent at least…so it’s a little bit different, but do you see a bit of that with them?
Are they, can they be overwhelmed by travel at times? Have you ever noticed that?
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, like they say all kids are different. My oldest one just did a study abroad program last year to the Netherlands and loved it so much. He can’t wait to go again and doesn’t want to go to school anywhere near home cause he thinks he just wants to explore the world. So I have that child.
Then I have the middle child who’s kind of a homebody, but likes adventure. And then my youngest, he suffers from a little bit of anxiety both in life and in general and travel and school. And I see that coming up. Not often, but sometimes they’ll pop it set up during trips.
And we went to Mexico over Christmas, and we did this tour of the cenote days, which are like these natural pools of what swimming pools kind of. And there was a zip line and they just made him feel uncomfortable and he just was like, Nope, not going to do it. And I’m sitting there thinking, wait, you’ve done zip lining in Costa Rica. I mean, this kid’s done zip lining all over the world, but yet something about that didn’t feel right to him. So I have to step back and accept that.
It’s okay. I mean, that they’re going to have, he’s going to have, especially these moments that he’s just not a hundred percent sure. And that’s okay. And so you kind of have to balance that out with your expectations and what your child feels comfortable with doing and just kind of respect them.
Damian: Well, that almost seems like a positive, where he’s learning to, to assess the situation and be able to make that decision for himself…
Kirsten: Yeah, absolutely.
Damian: Any general travel tips, with family travel?
Kirsten: You know, I think it’s, Oh, it really just depends on the ages, right? I think for all of the kids you’re traveling with, you need to be really the mindset that you have to work on a different schedule. They’re not going to travel, you know, full throttle. Let’s go see everything. Let’s check off all the museums.
Know that you have to build in the downtime for them. Time to run around in a park or a square, but just that you have to realize that they don’t function on the same time schedule as adults do. So make sure you’re always building in time to your vacations where they can just decompress and relax and be a kid.
Damian: Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot. I think that’s important just to have some open time and unscheduled time and it’s amazing how they can fill it.
Kirsten: Yeah, absolutely.
Damian: And how about mistakes? What do people commonly mess up when they’re trying to travel as a family of travel with children?
Kirsten: Number one, I think they’ve put a lot, parents in general, put a lot of pressure on themselves. When you’re flying on a plane to have these perfectly well behaved kids. And I always tell people, the odds of you seeing any of the people on this plane again are so slim, you should not worry while you’re on a plane.
I mean, yes, you should keep your kids like, you know, respectful and peaceful if you can, but like a crying baby. I mean, that’s just going to happen and yes, you might get some bad stares or whatever, but you’re never going to see those people again. Like 99% of the time. That’s just, that’s it. You know? So don’t be so hard on yourself and, you know, let kids be kids because that’s what they’re there to do.
It’s just, yes, they’re traveling, but they, you can’t hold them to the same expectations you’re holding the
Damian: Maybe lower the bar a little
Kirsten: Yeah, absolutely.
Damian: For behavior.
Kirsten: Yep, yep.
Damian: And what are the assumptions or myths about family travel that you can debunk?
Kirsten: I think there’s a lot of assumptions that it’s going to be easy. It’s just not. No, I mean, there’s so many. I think about just family just trying to be comfortable with space. And you know, we tried so many times to squeeze us all into a hotel room and you know, you really have to find what works best for your family.
And not everybody fits into the same box. So I think what might work for one family is not going to work for the next. And you know, just be open minded about everything because we’re all kind of living a different life and you can’t tell what one person’s gonna like versus the next. And you know, there will be bumps along the road, but you know, you can obviously take things to, you know, to do as a parent, to keep them from getting out of hand.
Damian: And is there a final, if you could boil it down to one final piece of advice for worry-free travel with families, what would that be?
Kirsten: Aside from it having insurance. No, I’m kidding. That’s because…that was actually my big lesson that I learned.
But the, you know, the final piece of advice I would say is, you know, don’t be afraid to explore beyond your backyard. There’s so much in this world that just, you know, down the road I mean, being new to a community after living somewhere for 14 years, I’m really learning that.
Start with you own neighborhood, your own city, and learn about things that are close to you and take baby steps if you need to. But there’s a whole world out there to explore. And I think as we’re learning, when we’re inside this whole time that we really want to get out and explore it.
And so take those steps to show your kids the world. You know, whether it be down the street or on the other side of the world, because they will grow so much just from the experience.
Damian: Great advice.
You have a few places where you live online, where would you like to point people? Where can they find you?
Kirsten: So my website is kidsareatrip.com. I also run another site called multigenerationalvacations.com and that’s where we do large family trips, giving advice for how you do that.
You can also find me on Instagram at kidsareatrip and Facebook kidsareatrip and multi gen vacations.
Damian: That’s great. We’ll put together a list of all of those links in the show notes. I appreciate it very much. This has been very helpful. I think we’ve had some great advice and insights and I appreciate your time.
Kirsten: Thank you so much. I’m so glad I was able to be a guest.