Matt Gross, author of travel memoir The Turk Who Loved Apples, has travelled the globe for his famed columns "The Frugal Traveler" and “Getting Lost” in The New York Times and his blog The Minor Glories. He tells suitcases&strollers about how travel has changed for him since the birth of his kids Sasha (4) and Sandy (8 months) and why these days travelling with kids, he tries not to get lost.
How frequently do you travel with your kids?
The older one has a well-stamped passport – Taiwan four times, Germany once, Italy twice – and has been to California, Minnesota, Cape Cod and Maine. The younger one's adventures will begin this summer. But for work, I travel alone.
How has having children changed the way you travel?
For work, it's made me want to take shorter trips, simply because I want more than ever to be back home with them. Until a year ago, I was away from home at least two months (non-consecutively) out of every year, sometimes as much as six months. Since April 1, 2012, I was away maybe one night, although I've got a couple of small trips coming up.
For fun, we definitely travel differently. We rent apartments, we don't stay out late, we downsize our ambitions, we pick destinations where we know other parents with kids. Those are constraints, sure, but the trips are still loads of fun.
Is it important for children to travel?
That depends on whether you think travel is important. For my kids, travel is always going to be part of their lives – my wife, Jean, is from Taiwan and her family is there, so we're always going to be going back and forth. And my family is scattered across the States, so it's just going to be planes and road trips for, well, forever. Is this important? I don't know. Do people live any other way?
You specialised in writing about travelling on a budget in your “Frugal Traveller” column in The New York Times. Is it possible to travel a budget with kids?
Apart from airfare, kids don't really add that much cost to travel. They don't eat much, they get in free lots of places and, since they go to sleep early, you won't be blowing money at nightclubs. So yeah, once you get past the airfare issue, it's totally doable. [For more tips on travelling with kids on a budget, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
What are some of the disadvantages of travelling on a budget with kids?
What are your top 3 ways to save money when travelling with kids?
Cook meals at the apartment: This makes life easier – kids aren't always great at restaurants, especially unfamiliar foreign ones – and is also, for those of us who like to cook, lots of fun. You get to experiment at the markets and learn about new foods.
Keep your days open and go to local parks where the kids can play with other kids. They're free and good ways for you to meet other local parents, who can clue you in to other goings-on. [For other ideas for free activities to do in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Are there places in the world that you wouldn't take your kids?
There are certainly places – Cambodia, maybe, or Poland – that I don't think my kids would appreciate right now, when they're little. And taking care of them there might be more trouble than it's worth. But when they're older, sure, they can – and should – come with me everywhere.
Where is your favourite place to holiday?
Anywhere the grandparents happen to be so they can watch my kids and give me and my wife a bit of free time together! It doesn't hurt that that means Cape Cod and Taiwan, two places I'd happily go anytime anyway.
What are your top 3 must-do travel experiences for kids?
Camping for the pure excitement of cooking outside and sleeping under the stars. [For tips on how to camp with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The circus. The fun needs no translation.
The beach because we all need an excuse to up our daily ice cream intake.
What are your top 3 must-visit places in the world for children?
Italy because it's the most child-friendly country I've visited.
Hawaii because from its volcanoes to its waters, it's utterly unreal.
Disneyland or Disneyworld because it's going to happen eventually, might as well embrace/confront it head-on.
Images: Jean Liu