Ask an Expert: A Travel Advisor's Family Trip Secrets

Meet Julia douglas, a savvy travel consultant and mom-in-chief who jumps on a plane
with her kids every chance she gets. Read on for her family packing essentials,
must-have hotel amenities, and seasoned scheduling tips.

 Taking on the Big Apple with kiddos Slone and James in tow. 

Taking on the Big Apple with kiddos Slone and James in tow. 

Who do I turn to when I need input on a tricky family travel question? Enter Julia Douglas, a woman who has long inspired me as a professional and a mom. Douglas is the founder and president of Jetset World Travel, a travel consultancy and design firm that creates bespoke trips for families and other clients that range from long weekends in San Francisco to month-long safaris in Africa. She's also jetted with her own kiddos Slone (7) and James (5) to Wyoming, the Caribbean, French Polynesia, and beyond. 

Below, Douglas shares her insider tips on executing a successful family trip with kids of all ages.

What is the key to planning a great family trip?

Involve kids right from the start. Ask them what they’re excited about and what they want to learn. Get books and movies about the destination, as well as travel-themed toys like those from the Little Passports program. Building anticipation before taking off brings everything on the trip itself to life. 

What are your scheduling tips for families with young children?

In some ways, babies and infants are the easiest traveling companions. You can take them with you everywhere you go—often on your person—and most can sleep in a stroller, so you don’t have to change your itinerary that much.

What about with older kiddos?

Starting at age three, you have to think about your schedule differently. I plan one activity a day that is immovable, ideally mid-morning when the kids are still fresh. For the rest of the day, have ideas, but not concrete plans. This may sound trying, but it’s one of the most beautiful things about traveling with kids. You’re leaving time for spontaneity and connection, and tapping into their sense of discovery. On a recent trip to New York, riding the Subway was as exciting for Slone and James as seeing the Lion King—and you can guess which activity cost more!

What hotel brands do you think are really stellar for family travelers?

The Four Seasons goes above and beyond when it comes to family travelers thanks to welcome amenities that range from creative desserts to keepsake stuffed animals. Rosewood is also great. Their Rosebuds program is Montessori-based, so think less tech, more hands-on and outdoors. Independent properties like the Broadmoor and Greenbrier are also fantastic for families. They have loads of activities and accommodation options.

  Amenities for the littles at Firmdale's new  Whitby Hotel  in New York: Robes, slippers, fresh popcorn, and movies.

 Amenities for the littles at Firmdale's new Whitby Hotel in New York: Robes, slippers, fresh popcorn, and movies.

Parents always ask me what type of hotel room to book. What’s your advice?

So much depends on personal preference and budget, but if we’re imagining a family of four, a junior suite with a bedroom and living room pullout bed should be the minimum for comfort and space. This gives parents a place to go while kids are sleeping. Two separate bedrooms—joined by a common space or foyer—are even better. And before I had kids, I always wanted a room on a high floor for the views. With kids, it’s great to be on the ground floor, ideally in a room with a patio or garden.

What are the must-have room amenities for families with kids under three?

A bathtub for easy bathing, a fridge for things like breast milk and fresh foods, and a microwave, which you can usually request even if it’s not built into your room. A walk-in closet that’s big enough for a crib is also a bonus for naps and sleeping. These spaces can get cool and dark and you can close the door.

What about for kiddos over three?

As kids get older it becomes less about what they need and more about what keeps them interested. Rooms operated by iPads are always fun. Renting a DVD from the front desk is an adventure. And amenities like kid-sized robes and slippers that they can wear to the pool or after a bath are always a hit.

Let’s venture outside of the hotel room. What general hotel features and programs do your family clients rave about?

 Making palm frond baskets at the  Brando  in French Polynesia. 

Making palm frond baskets at the Brando in French Polynesia. 

A pool is a big one of course. Some resorts, like the Four Seasons Punta Mita, even have kid-friendly furniture around the pool, which is really cute. Fun and educational activities are also key. At the Brando in French Polynesia, for example, my daughter made traditional baskets from palm fronds. And the Atlantis in the Bahamas has a great paired-down cooking program for kids.

What kind of destinations do you recommend for families with babies?

This might sound unintuitive to a new parent, but if you have a child that isn’t walking yet, you might want to tackle a bigger trip to a city or a farther flung destination. They’re easier on the plane and you can wear them on your person. Beaches can actually be difficult with babies and infants. They don’t like the wind, and they try to eat sand.

What about toddlers?

Once your kids are fully mobile, beach destinations are hard to beat. Kids love them and, since they run around all day, they generally sleep well at night. For this age group, I often recommend the Caribbean—my kids have loved Nevis, St. Lucia, and the Turks & Caicos—as well as Seaside and Watercolor along Florida’s Emerald Coast. It’s beautiful, close, and the water is calm.

And for families with older kids?

I highly recommend dude ranches—we recently went to Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming—for families with kids ages four and above. It’s great to get them outdoors and there are activities galore, from fishing and horseback riding to campfires and s’mores. Under the age of five, my clients tend to stay domestic or stick to short-hop flights, but from five on it really depends on the family profile. We’ve been planning lots of trips to Africa and Japan these days.

 Riding horseback at  Brush Creek Ranch  in Wyoming. 

Riding horseback at Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. 

What are a few packing essentials that you recommend for kids?

For the airplane, good earphones for airplane movies, and loads of snacks. You can never have too many snacks! And we always seem to forget our swim goggles.

And finally, any favorite luggage brands these days with families in mind?

I use Patagonia pretty religiously. My choice bag is the rolling duffle. It’s a bit of an investment, but you get structure without the weight. It has a solid frame and wheels and a lifetime guarantee. That’s hard to beat!

 
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Hi kids! Want to be a big helper? Talk to your parents about what you’d like
to do on your family vacation! Here are some questions to get
you excited about your next trip.

Where are you going?

How are you getting there?
[ ] Airplane [ ] Car [ ] Train [ ] Boat
[ ] Other

What gets you excited about the airplane ride or road trip? 

What do you think your vacation destination will look like?

What do you think kids like you do for fun in the places that you are visiting?

Why are you happy to be going on this vacation?

What are three things you can’t wait to do on your vacation?

What three things do you want to learn about on this trip?

What new foods do you want to try?

What souvenir do you hope to bring home with you?

Interested in chatting with Julia and her team about your next family trip? Contact Jetset World Travel here.