Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Traveling Dad's Simple Guide to staying connected with Family

Parts of my job may seem pretty glamorous to some. Over 30 countries, countless dinners, hotels, parties with the rich and sometimes famous.  An experience that few may ever know.  On one hand it IS fantastic that unlike most Americans I can honestly say I have been around the world, in fact I have been around the world several times.

I have a great appreciation for the various cultures and people I have encountered while traveling. I also have an appreciation on how the world views the US, it's government, its leaders and Americans in general. I also see how Americans traveling internationally view other cultures. But all this is for another post.

There is a very real downside to all this travel - being away from friends and family, missing out on base hits, A's on exams, a new tooth, a new friend and all the other little milestones that happen everyday in the lives of those we love.

Over the years I have tried to plan travel in such a way as to not miss those important milestones, of course that has not always gone according to plan. Still, if I can't be there physically, I do try to use planning and technology to manage as best as possible.

Here my top TEN to stay connected while on the road.

The Traveling Dad's Simple Guide to Staying connected w/family:

1. Set a time each day to connect home. You may be in a different time zone and even a different day. It is important to set a plan on when to call or chat so everyone is ready and eager to connect.

2. Use technology  - Webcams are a great way to make everyone feel closer. Nothing makes the road less lonely than the smile of your spouse and kids. Online video and soft-phone products like SKYPE are free to use with any internet connection. 

3. Make time - dont rush the call.  Your kids may have nothing to share or they may have a whole host of great experiences to tell about. Be in the moment, don't be thinking about the meeting you have to rush off for.

4. Have a set of open ended questions ready.  If your kids are young like mine, they really only want to say hello, see your face and hear your voice. And unless something special happened that day they won't have much or know what to say.  Ask specific questions that have them recount what they have done while you have been gone or want to do when you return.  Asking "how was your day?" will only result in "good" as the response.

5. Make even more time for your spouse and listen, listen, listen.  Address all things big and small. Even those items that can't be handled while you are traveling at least make and agree to a plan.  Your traveling does not and should not be allowed to put our family life on hold. Your time on the road means the spouse is now doing double duty, not to mention they have lost their partner in parenting and that sounding board.

6.  Email, text, Tweet, send phone photos about your day. -  As my boys get older and they adopt today's technologies I have begun to send them texts and emails. Soon it will be our own family tweets. that way they we can all keep up with each other throughout your time away, while maybe not being able to directly connect.

7. Send them a postcard.  You are probably visiting places they have never been or may never get a chance to visit. A post card is a fun and memorable way for them to see the sites and know that you were thinking of them.

8. Bring home unique items.  NO not gifts. but something small and unique to where you have been. I don't recommend this for every trip, but certainly for those times when you see something that you know they would love and is very unique to the locale.

9. Bring home a story.  Each trip find something about the destination that makes it special and different from home. Let the family learn from your experiences.

10.  Come home ready to be part of the family.  Even after a long flight or extended trip it is very important to get back to being a Dad and husband.  Try and plan in advance what you will do when you get home. And most of all make every moment count!

 Dad Said it's OK to travel on business


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Theme park vacations

Search for disney world guideWe're just back from a great family vacation.  We spent a week-plus at Disney World. It's not a trip we can take often at the price of park entrance, but I must admit it was a pretty fun time.

Besides the 90+ temp and 90+ humidity Florida is a nice place to visit. I am sure for those that happen to live there you can get used to that sort of heat but for us it was a bit overwhelming. The good news is that there are enough indoor shows at all of the Disney parks that allow you a cooling off period before having to stand out in the heat.

We happened to go on an off week, so the crowds were actually pretty light, no lines longer than 15 minutes. Any that were, we solved the issue by getting Fast Passes-Yes they really do work.

Disney park visits are by no means cheap. Our family of five spent nearly $2,000 for our week of passes alone. This did include park hopping, water parks and Disney Quest entry.  My wife did a great job of planning and researching the parks - the Unofficial Guide to Disneyworld had some great tips and even provided access to a great iPhone app with updated wait times, combined we navigated all the parks like pros!

The water parks were a huge hit with our kids, we spent a full day at each of the two water parks. Both parks are visually very Disney and are worth seeing just to take in the sights. Blizzard beach was the favorite amongst all of us, primarily for their slides. Typhoon Lagoon was fun too but the wave pool is the big attraction there. Unfortunately the waves never really form a crest so don't think of it as an actual wave pool more like a place to get splashed.  Also the pool bottom is very rough and our six year old got a nasty scratch on his back from the current, ending his day in the water.

The other non-theme park draw for our kids was Disney Quest, 5 stories of video game heaven. Maybe better stated as an interactive experience with many virtual full scale games for the whole family. One amazing ride was a roller coaster simulator where you actually create your own ride and then you and your partner climb into a pod which follows your course of spins, loops, dives and climbs. My thrill seeking wife and oldest son really got a kick out of that one.  Besides that and a few other full scale games it is a unlimited play arcade.  Fun for a while for the adults then the rest of the time is spent keeping tabs on the kids - bring a book if you are not into video game. On the nights we ended our park adventures before midnight this was the place of choice to visit.

At the parks we tried to see it all, and then go back for those rides and shows that we most enjoyed. To do this we really had to manage the fast passes and show times. You can try and just "wing it" but you won't get your full value of the day. The crowds, show times and fast pass management is so key to being able to experience each park if you don't have a plan, you will need several days to really experience and enjoy all of what each park has to offer. And if you don't have a plan you will spend half of each day waiting in lines, something I just can't manage with my ADD.

We did have to bribe and coax each of the boys to go beyond their comfort zones on a few rides, in all but two cases they had a blast - space mountain was probably the only ride that left a few of them in tears.

We really had no down time, no time at the hotel or just hanging out. probably a two week trip would have allowed for more relaxation. Something to consider in the future.

Post the trip each of us rated the parks and rides differently. Some liked the thrill rides, others liked the waterslides, and of course our Video game lover would have been happy going to Disney Quest for the entire trip.

As for overall vacation value the boys rated Disney World above our Ski vacations which they rate above our tropical trips to the islands.  I assume this is because this was our first time to Disney in 3 years. I am hoping we can wait another 3 before going back.  Not that I didn't enjoy spending the time, just not very relaxing as a parent.

Next trip will probably be something tropical... Mom and Dad need to relax, sorry kids.

Dad said it's OK to go to Disney