Catching Up with Jennifer Conlin

After attending the New York Times Travel Show, Rainer Jenss had a chance to catch up with Jennifer Conlin, a frequent correspondent for the newspaper’s Travel section who has specialized in family travel.  She recently relocated to Cairo with her husband and three children and he spoke with her about life as both a mother and travel writer.

You wrote a book, The Perfect Parents Handbook, so what constitutes your perfect family vacation?

I like the idea of renting a house instead of staying in a hotel when we vacation together as a family because it affords us the opportunity to relax after taking day trips and exploring the area we’re visiting. It’s also generally less expensive, especially if you travel with another family, which I also recommend since the parents have a built in social life while the kids have automatic friends to share the experience with.

When traveling with children to more “cultural” destinations, especially places like Europe, it’s important to establish a good balance between sightseeing and fun. You have to remember you’re on vacation, so make sure to build in some down time and have nothing planned. Don’t get overly ambitious and try to do too much. Kids will actually take in much more if you do less.

What is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to family travel?

Staying at hostels is probably the opposite of what you think it might be. They are actually becoming quite cool, especially in the larger cities in Europe like Paris and Berlin. Most now have Internet cafes, which are very popular with teenagers and there are bars and lounges for the adults. Also, you can get separate rooms for the adults and kids if you no longer all sleep together. Generally speaking, the people sharing the hostel with you are not just backpacking college kids, although the ones we’ve encountered are really great with our kids since many seem to have siblings back home who they miss very much. I’ve even met grandparents who are also delighted to see our children.

Have you ever been on a cruise with your family?

We have taken a boat cruise down the Nile now that we live in Egypt and the kids had a great time. I’m also interested in a Rhine River cruise, which I hear is wonderful. Otherwise, we haven’t really considered taking a cruise on a larger ship, although it’s something I know my parents would love to do with their grandchildren.

How has traveling extensively changed your children?

They’ve definitely become more adventurous, especially when traveling to new places. They may be a bit nervous when they arrive, but quickly become curious about everything and ask lots of questions. Traveling has opened their eyes to other worlds and I’ve noticed that my kids have developed a cultural and religious tolerance, especially after meeting so many other children from different backgrounds. I also remind them that they are like American ambassadors when we travel and that it’s important to act accordingly.

Last year, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons, and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. This year, he’s back with a new column that focuses on traveling with kids. You can follow him on Twitter at @JenssTravel.

Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Conlin