Meet travel writer Eric Stoen of family travel blog Travel Babbo. If you think you’re well traveled, Eric is about to make you feel like a positive home body. This dad has been to 81 countries and 24 just last year. 19 of those he traveled to with his three kids Evelyn (11), Henry (9) and Sadie (7). He has been to such faraway places as Myanmar, Ethiopia, Oman and even Antarctica. His goal is to get to 5 new countries every year and he usually manages to set foot in at least 15 in total. He shares his expert family travel tips with suitcases&strollers.
How frequently are you travelling now?
I traveled to 24 countries last year, and 19 of those were with my kids – either one, two or all three. It’s rare that I’m at home more than two weeks before I’m packing again.
Before you had kids, where was your favourite destination to travel to?
I’ve always been partial to Florence. Since studying there for a year in college, I’ve attempted to go back at least once a year. I love the food, history, art and architecture and I feel at home there.
How has travel changed for you since having kids?
Travel now is all about the kids. Everything from destinations to hotels to activities is planned around the kids. That’s not to say we go to theme parks or hotels with crazy kids’ clubs or pools – we simply make sure that they’re going to have fun since, if they’re having fun, we’re having fun. We’re only with them for 18 years, so it’s not much of a sacrifice!
Where is your favourite destination to travel to now?
Greece has become a favorite summer destination – we’ve gone twice the past three years, and will be there again this summer. We love the island ambiance (especially the islands that don’t get cruise ships), the food, the beaches and the culture.
Is it important for kids to travel?
Yes! It’s a cliché, but the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Their decisions will be far better if they’ve seen the world, if they understand how nations and people interact and if they understand that people are basically the same everywhere.
What do kids get out of travelling that they don't get staying at home?
They get a feel for other cultures and an appreciation for the people [in other places]. They won’t associate Mexico with a stereotype based on headlines – they’ll remember the Mexican kids that they played with on the beach. If there’s an earthquake in the Philippines, the kids remember the Filipinos that they’ve met.
Where has been your kids’ favourite destination to travel to?
I let each of the kids choose anywhere in the world to travel with me one-on-one every year, so it’s been fun seeing what goes into their destination decisions and which places they’ve loved and want to go back to. My oldest daughter loves everything about Bali – we’ve gone two years in a row and may return this year.
My son liked Easter Island a lot (he loves remote islands) and Croatia (Plitvice and Zagreb were highlights). My youngest daughter loves animal encounters. Australia was her favorite, mainly because of the echidnas, wombats and koalas.
Where has been the most surprising destination you’ve been to?
It was surprising just how kid-friendly Antarctica was – basically a winter wonderland with penguins. And it’s not all that cold in summer (December/January) or even very difficult to get to. Far more families should have it on their lists.
Do you have a regular family holiday destination?
Every summer we go to Italy, Greece and/or France – at least to two and, sometimes, all three. We simply love the cultures and each one of them in the summer is magical.
Where is the one place in the world that you want to take your kids that they haven’t been?
The Galapagos Islands. Our kids love animals and it’s supposed to be exceptionally kid-friendly. We just haven’t been able to make it work yet. Maybe 2018?
Where is the one place in the world that you want to go to that you haven’t been?
I have two dozen places on my list! Cartagena, Colombia is at the top – I’ve wanted to visit since first seeing Romancing the Stone. Again, hopefully 2018.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would not recommend for kids?
Every country and culture has kids, so it’s feasible to travel anywhere with kids. I’d stay away from active war zones, but that’s about it.
Which are your top 3 don't miss family-friendly vacation destinations?
1. Europe as a whole – there’s nowhere in Europe that isn’t family-friendly.
2. Bali. We have a great time whenever we visit. There’s an island vibe, gorgeous scenery, really cool sites, a unique culture, amazing resorts and great food.
3. Colorado. It’s great in the summer with hiking and rafting and in the winter with skiing and sledding. We go back every year – sometimes twice a year.
What is your most essential family travel product that you can't leave home without?
We love packing cubes – they make it easier to split up people into multiple hotel rooms, and limit what each person can bring.
What are your top 3 tips for planning a successful and memorable family holiday?
1. Plan well in advance. We sketch out travel a year in advance to be able to book the best hotel, classes, tours, guides, etc…
2. Always fly early in the morning. Those flights are rarely delayed, so you’re less likely to miss connections or have other issues getting to your destination on time.
3. Plan all activities around the kids. I know you’ve always wanted to see the Louvre, but dragging a 4-year-old through there for four hours would be miserable. So either book a kid-friendly museum tour or skip the museum and go the next time you’re in Paris.