Something funny happened on my way to motherhood: The rounder my belly got, the pickier I felt about my trips and accommodations. All of a sudden I had the strong urge to go luxury, fly business class, and reside in 5-star hotels. That was a bit unlike me as in the decades I’ve spent on the road, exploring and living in places like Australia, Switzerland, and Austria or being sent to exotic destinations like Borneo or Bali as a travel writer, I always judged myself as someone who is equally happy plopping down in 5,000 thread count sheets as in a hammock on the beach. Those days are over.
Traveling with an infant or toddler changed everything for me and certain high-end standards became non-negotiable. Much to my own surprise, I no longer need a hotel room, but rather a whole suite to accommodate all the stuff I need to bring for my little boy. And I need a door to an extra room I can shut on sleeping beauty at 7pm, so we can talk or watch TV if we’d like. We need reliable and vetted babysitting available at the hotel. (Read here why we picked the Occidental Grand Xcaret for our latest travel with our toddler to Mexico). And sipping champagne in business or first class on a long distance flight while tending to my child certainly beats the diet coke in economy.
As a traveling mom I want to make my life easier and the experience as joyful as possible for the whole family. And I am willing to spend more on creating experiences than on buying stuff. Turns out, I am not alone.
Some 100-115 million trips per year taken by Americans include children. Family travel is strong and within this market segment luxury family travel is a growing market in and of itself.
To get the Luxury Family Travel Trends for 2015 I spoke to industry veteran John Golicz, CEO and founder of the famed US Travel and Adventure Shows. Here are his top 5 travel tips to create lasting memories in style:
1) Bring the grandparents. “40% of families went on a multi-generational trip last year, 77 % of them planned their getaway around a milestone event”, says Golicz, who himself recently vacationed in the Dominican Republic with 14 family members. Spending time together may be the biggest luxury we have in our day and age, because at no time in our history have parents and grandparents lived further apart and had their time together be so rare and constrained. “Vacations are seen as the one time when families can get together and bond” says Golicz, “And because of the internet and smartphones, it never has been so easy to get multiple generations on the same page with flights, booking accommodations, and so forth.” Grandparents seem to be especially mobile these days, as they are traveling almost 25% more than the overall leisure traveler. Best side effect of multigenerational travel: Parents may get the downtime they so desperately need. And just in case you need some tips for navigating the waters with your extended family, read up here. I did.
2) Book private homes. One of the travel industry’s hottest trends is the rise of vacation rental sites. While many of us are familiar with private lodging provider sites like AirBnB or Homeaway.com, here are Golicz favorite luxury rental providers (initially published on 1000traveltips.com) geared towards sophisticated families.
Just recently, Tzell Travel Group rolled out a vacation site that includes an option specifically for luxury villa rentals. The site gives you the option to filter by destination, price specials and different vacation themes such as sports and activities, family travel and even lifestyle. You even have the option to search for properties that are unique such as private islands, historic estates and celebrity hot-spots.
Produced by Booking.com, Villas.com offers travel enthusiasts more than 240,000 vacation rentals worldwide. From cottages and apartments, to chalets and condos, users can filter results by extra amenities such as pet friendly, transportation options, pools and local attractions. You can even narrow down your search results by user ratings, price and number of bedrooms among other options.
An older site but just re-designed, WorldEscape.com specializes in providing lodging options for short stays in private properties around the world. With new features such as 24-hour customer service and search options, including everything from supplies (coffee, movies and books) to services (tours and housekeeping), this booking outlet includes apartments, villas, timeshares, cottages and houseboats. What separates this site from the rest? WorldEscape.com sends a staff member to the properties to ensure that you’re getting the best experience possible.
Preferred Hotel Group, which represents over 650 properties around the world, introduced this outlet to offer luxury seeking travelers options for villas, bungalows and condo rentals at upscale hotels and resorts without paying the membership fees. Filtered categories include options for style (hip, romantic, etc.) to interests (pets, honeymoon and LGBT), and include destinations such as Ireland, Spain, Hawaii and even African destinations.
As any parent can tell you, traveling with children is no easy feat. Hotel rooms can get messy, crowded and noisy, which can create a headache after a long day. Introduced in 2013, KidAndCoe.com offers child-friendly rentals complete with children’s rooms and amenities. The site’s listings are geared towards parent’s interests with options such as number of kid rooms, toys, books, strollers, even a guide full of kid-friendly attractions nearby.
3) Use Concierge Services for kids. “To differentiate themselves from their competition, more and more prestigious hotels now offer special services to their young jet-setters”, says Golicz. There are special spa treatments for older kids, culinary experiences for younger kids or yoga retreats for children who appreciate the calm. Here are a few examples of programs:
At The Peninsula Hotel Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, pint sized future chefs – adorned in The Peninsula Beverly Hills-monogrammed chef’s coat, apron and chef’s hat – learn from the hotels pastry chefs how to make “Cookie Monsters” (for kids four years and up) or indulge in “The Joy of Cupcakes” suitable for children six years and older. You are looking for something a little different? The concierge will create a personalized hotel-wide treasure hunt upon check-in. Each check-point produces a lead or gadget needed to get to the next hint. Finding your own room will never be that fun again!
The Four Seasons Hotel New York offers a Family Fun package that may make Steven Spielberg, himself a father of six, proud: Have the entire family star in their very own short film, complete with costumes, red carpet press interviews and a premier screening. Movie-making magic at its finest.
The hotel partnered up with NYC entertainment and event company Red Carpet Kids to offer their guests (up to five per family) a glimpse into Hollywood, including hair, makeup and costumes, learning lines and acting scenes out in front of the green screen, watching the end-result in the on-site private movie theater (popcorn included I am guessing) and sending the little stars home with their keepsake DVD.
Kids will feel like VIPs when arriving at the Beverly Hills Montage hotel, where they can choose toys from a whole wagon filled with stuffed animals, pick their own plush robes, and fancy slippers. But the best part of the hotel’s kids service is their Paintbox retreat, which offers the children an enjoyable way to experience culture, art and a little adventure seven days a week. How about a Western-themed scavenger hunt on Wild West Wednesday or learning magic tricks on Magic Monday?
OK, so this is really for all ages. The Hot Chocolate Doc at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago is a huge hit for all young and young-at-heart (“kids” over 21 can add a variety of liquor). And so is the hotel’s Ice Cream Man, who also makes the rounds at the hotel every afternoon.
4) Make culture and history fun. There is a growing focus— especially among families with annual incomes of $125,000 or more — on international travel. Exotic destinations and experiences such as Mediterranean cruises and trips to Africa, Turkey, Peru or Ecuador are hot right now and offer children a whole new perspective on life.
“Anytime you expose your children to new cultures you help them later on in life, because this exposure breaks down barriers and stereotypes and opens their eyes”, says Golicz, who recently took his three children to Paris and London. Golicz and his wife had them actively involved in planning the trip and setting the itinerary. Sure, the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben was a “must see” on the trip, but the kids also picked what they were interested in, which brought the family to Churchill’s War Rooms in London and on the Sewer Tour in Paris. Surely, the kids will remember this trip for years to come.
5) Hiring a professional tour guide. Another way to engage the little one’s mind and curiosity? Hiring your own Tour Guide at your destination and experience a new city or nature hike with local pros. Personally, I am a strong proponent of hiring your own guide for half-a-day, as you usually discover hidden gems and learn more about your destination in a couple of hours than you would in days by yourself. There are several websites, such as Privateguide.com and LocalGuiding.com, designed to help you locate a qualified chaperon. If you are a family of six or more, you will usually get a group rate.
Now I would love to hear from you! Do you have any other suggestions on creating a memorable in-style experience on the road? Did you visit a hotel or destination we should know about? If so, please comment below or reach out to me personally at bettina (at) bettinagordon.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!