Kim-Marie Evans lives a pretty envious lifestyle. Not only is she a travel writer who gets paid to holiday, her specialty is luxury travel (hence her fabulous name for her website Luxury Travel Mom). She travels at least 2 weeks a month and has been to 23 countries including Cuba, Haiti and Rwanda. Better yet, she gets to do almost all of it with her four kids Macie (15), JJ (14), Wilson (11) and Keaton (8). She tells suitcases&strollers all about the realities of luxury family holidays. (And yes, you will be jealous.)
How did you start your amazing travel writing career?
I travelled as often as I could. My girlfriends and I would take advantage of Southwest Airlines’ US$39 fare specials and hop on a flight to anywhere, anytime. When I had kids I suddenly felt very trapped. I had all four children in 7 years and hardly travelled at all.
When the baby was finally a little mobile I started trying to travel but my husband could never plan ahead. I finally just started booking trips for the five of us and sending him the itinerary. He would often just join us for as much of the trip as he could, fly in late, leave early, that type of thing. Travelling alone with four small children seemed to be fascinating to people and that's how I started travel writing. I have a degree in broadcast journalism so I had a writing background but had to learn about the web and social media.
Before you had kids, where was your favourite destination to travel to?
Before I had kids I loved any place that had a party scene, Cabo [San Lucas in Baja California Sur, Mexico], Squaw Valley [in Lake Tahoe]. Before I had kids I was basically looking for fun. My favorite party scene was on the island of Ios in Greece. We would dance on tables until 4am and then sleep it off on the beach the next day. It's a little hard to recreate that kind of fun with four kids in tow and a diminished alcohol tolerance.
How has traveling with kids changed the way your travel?
Travel with kids is like preparing for military battle. You have your supplies, your transportation plan, your list of orders for the troops. Every bit of it when they are small is a lot like crossing a mountain range barefoot. Now that they can carry their own suitcases and wipe their own bottoms, travel is getting fun again.
How do you manage to travel with kids so frequently?
I find that it's hard to take all of them all the time so I seem to be doing a lot of trips with one or two children. Which is like swinging a cork bat. I took my 15-year-old daughter to Cuba with me for a week, came home and then took the boys (I have 3) to Deer Valley for a week. There are apparently truancy laws that some people take quite seriously.
I also do freelance magazine writing that is not family specific so those trips I take alone. And yes, they are glorious.
Why is it important for kids to travel?
It makes their world bigger. I wish I had travelled as a teen when I felt so teased in school and as if this was all there was. My teen daughter realises that the drama in the high school cafeteria is so not important in the real world. My 14-year-old son is going with his school to Rwanda this summer to build a school. The other parents and kids felt comfortable with the trip because my son had already travelled to Rwanda with me. For my kids the world is a big, amazing and safe place that is begging to be explored. They are undaunted and it thrills me.
What do kids get out of travelling that they don't get staying at home?
You can tell your kids that they are "starving children in Africa". My son has met them, he has sat in their homes, with no running water, electricity and one bed for 5 people. He has visited the hospitals where they treat malnourishment.
My daughter has visited a currently Communist country and can see with her own eyes that the idea of socialism has failed. You cannot teach these things with books and videos in the classroom. Travelling internationally can be far less expensive than a trip to Disney, truly. There is a fear of the unknown I think that keeps people home.
Luxury travel. Is it REALLY possible with kids? And how can you afford it?
Research shows that millenials would rather save up and take one fabulous trip than take several average trips. I'm looking at going to southern India next November. The cost for the trip is just over US$2,000 for 10 days. You can spend that in two days at Disney. I'll use miles to get there since I know that was your next question.
Where is your favourite destination to travel to now?
Paris has always been my favourite and always will be. No matter how many times I go, if someone were to offer me a ticket tomorrow, it would always be Paris.
Where has been your kids’ favourite destination to travel to?
They love places that have some adventure to them. They like to explore and discover new things. Keaton loved Mauritius because of the exotic fruit, sea life and learning to water ski. Macie is still overwhelmed by Cuba. Wilson got to go to Hawaii in the fall and learn to surf and took a helicopter ride over a volcano. JJ is a scientist and likes to analyse wherever he goes. He's very excited to go back to Rwanda. We don't really like vacations where there isn't a culture to explore.
Where has been the most surprising destination you’ve been to?
Cuba. It's such a mixed bag. It's still very Communist and very desperate but at the same time the government is loosening its chokehold and small businesses and restaurants are opening. The people are amazing, resilient, joy-filled and hopeful. They LOVE Americans and made a point of telling me at every turn. The history of the country goes back much further than the revolution and I am hopeful that their future will be bright.
Make us jealous. Where is the most luxurious and once-in-a-lifetime place you've been with your kids?
We rented a villa in the south of France with so many bedrooms we couldn't count. It had an infinity pool that overlooked the glorious Provencal countryside. The church bells rang every hour, it smelled like lavender and we ate hot pain au chocolat from the local bakery every morning. It came with staff who would clean while we were gone, including ironing our underwear. We toured a different small town each day and had a local guide who organised dinners for us at the most out-of-the-way little restaurants.
Do you have a regular family holiday destination?
We went to Kiawah Island in South Carolina so often that we bought land and built a house. I'm writing this from my back loggia with a view of the pool and water beyond. I know, I'm a jerk, right? It has the most gorgeous beaches, the water is warm in the summer and we all surf and boogie board all day long.
Where is the one place in the world that you want to take your kids that they haven’t been?
We want to go on safari. I, of course, dream of having Robert Redford wash my hair and having tea on real china. The kids just want to chase big game. We are hoping to make it happen this Christmas. I'm going to have them all use their allowance money to buy good cameras and teach them how to shoot great photos before we go.
[To read about some family-friendly South African safaris, see the suitcases&strollers stories Madikwe Game Reserve, Nambiti Private Game Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park. For more travel tips on taking the best travel photos, see the suitcases&strollers interview with a professional photographer here.]
Where is the one place in the world that you want to go to that you haven’t been?
I want to go to the Middle East or at least Morocco. The culture, the food, the Bedouins – it all fascinates me in a way that defies explanation.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would not recommend for kids?
Any place that is truly currently dangerous. The Sudan, for example. I just read a great story about a trip with the President of Abercrombie & Kent to Egypt and why the media makes us feel like places aren't safe, but truly they are. There are very few places in the world I wouldn't take my kids.
If parents have the budget to spend on one truly luxurious, once-in-a-lifetime holiday, which are your top 3 don't miss family-friendly vacation destinations?
1. Hawaii is so much more than you think it will be. We swam in the open water with spinner dolphins, hiked into secret waterfalls and helicoptered over volcanoes. Do not stay in a cheesy hotel and go to their luau; search out the authentic Hawaii and you will be blown away.
2. Though I have not done a safari with my family, this is our big once-in-a-lifetime idea. I imagine it will be life changing.
3. Galapagos Islands. Another trip I haven't taken but many families have. The animals have no predators and will let you walk right up next to them. Another destination that may not always be as it is now, so go! [For more travel tips on how to visit the Galapagos Islands with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
What are your top 3 tips for planning a successful and memorable family holiday?
1. Involve the kids so that they have some buy in. They have ideas you might not have thought of.
2. Be sensitive to their body clocks. They will have a happier and more memorable time if maybe you skip that last afternoon tour and let them swim instead.
3. Don't bring any electronics for you, for them, for anyone. Be in the moment.
To read about another suitcases&strollers mum who is lucky enough to get paid to travel, see our interview with Getaway host Catriona Rowntree.