Traveling with Family: Q&A with Expert Rhonda Carrier

When we started putting together the family issue of the newsletter, we knew that Rhonda Carrier had to be involved. Having written and/or edited for Frommer’s, Time Out, Condé Nast Traveller, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, and Cadogan, Rhonda is a true travel expert, especially when it comes to family trips. We asked her a few questions on the subject.

Q: Rhonda, you have three children and a flourishing career as a travel writer. Did writing about family travel become a necessity or was it a choice?

A: It was something I fell into, to be honest! Or perhaps I should describe it as a felicitous play of circumstances… I’d been working in-house for Time Out in London for several years, but when I was pregnant with my first son, an old Lonely Planet contact got in touch out of the blue and asked me to edit for Cadogan guides, which suited my new life better since I could work at home.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and an old Time Out colleague contacted me telling me that Frommer’s guides in the States were looking for a London parent to write a new ‘London with Kids’ guidebook. We’d just been forced to move back to London with our toddler and new baby son after our flat sale fell through, so it all felt a bit fated. From there I wrote a couple more family travel guides for Frommer’s and – through yet another contact – also hooked up with takethefamily who were looking for a family travel specialist to head up their content.
For part of this time we were living between London and our house in France, so having a job that I could do anywhere and that didn’t take me away from the kids but actively involved them seemed like the greatest gift, especially given the unplanned nature of it all!

Q: What are the greatest challenges when traveling with small children?

A: I always advise new parents to travel like mad with their babies, since this is the only time when it’s easy (they’re very portable, sleep a lot, and if you breastfeed you don’t even need to bring supplies other than nappies)!
For me, the sheer amount of research and planning required when travelling with kids is overwhelming –hence, I suppose, the growth in the market for the kind of information that we offer at and in Frommer’s guides. As a writer, I like to think that I can make the decision-making and planning stages much easier so that parents are not a nervous wreck before they’ve even left!
Another thing is the sheer amount of clobber that you need to take with you on holiday – getting ready to travel with three boys, one a toddler, still gives me a coronary. I try to advise people on this too – one obvious solution is rent a cottage or stay in an apart-hotel so that you can easily do laundry and cut down on the amount of clothes you need to take away with you. However, the secrets of truly travelling light with kids continue to elude me and i’m always up for tips from readers!

Q: In your years of traveling and writing what would you say are the three things parents should always keep in mind when traveling abroad with their children?

A: A tricky one… I suppose the first would be never to underestimate the power of life’s simple pleasures – playing on the beach, a stroll with an ice-cream in hand, an impromptu football match with local kids… You can spend an awful lot of money on entertaining kids when all they really want is to muck about on the sand.
The second thing is related to the first – and that is to bear in mind that luxury hotels may be your dream but they’re probably not your kids’. My boys far prefer the adventurousness of sleeping in tents, motorhomes, youth hostels and the like.
Lastly, never forget this is your holiday too – it’s not all about pleasing the kids. Many parents travel with the slogan ‘Something for them, something for us’, which might mean an art gallery in the morning and an aquarium in the afternoon. Not everyone can be happy all the time but everyone can be happy some of the time!

Q: What are the best destinations for family travel and makes them good for them
A: For those in the UK, France and Italy are the classic destinations – quick and relatively cheap to get too, with wonderful child-friendly food and, especially in the case of Italy, a truly welcoming attitude to kids, not to mention the world’s best ice cream! The Italian climate is also ideal for those with smaller children, who don’t generally cope well with intense heat.

Q: Are there books/ toys you would suggest buying before the trip (or not bringing) or during the trip? Favorite souvenirs?
A: My all-time travel favourite is a small pack of multi-coloured Plasticine – having one of these tucked away in my handbag has saved my bacon on countless train journeys and mealtimes when all hell seemed about to break loose. Even my Nintendo obsessed older boys will happily make figures and animals for hours with Plasticine, and of course it’s fantastically reusable as well as lightweight to carry around.

In terms of souvenirs, I’m always happy for the boys to bring home a tacky little 1 Euro model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Eiffel Tower, because one of the best things about holidays is sitting around at home talking about our memories of them, and such trinkets do help to keep the places they’ve been alive in their minds.

Q: Any tips for containing costs for traveling with a big family?
A: You do panic when you’ve had a third and realise the implications of having a family of five when it comes to hotel rooms. For the moment we can generally get away with a room for four plus a cot, but when the youngest is bigger it’ll be trickier to keep costs down. That’s generally only when we’re actually on the road, however – in terms of actual holidays, as with any family trip, the best bet is generally to go self-catering, whether it be a gite, an apart-hotel or a motorhome – not only for the extra space for the flexibility to cook you’ve had enough of eating out.

Thank you Rhonda!