Family travel in 2019: Where to go and what to do

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By Christopher Elliott

Thinking about family travel in 2019? Same here. I haven’t had time to catch my breath from last year, but here I am, ready for more.

My family and I traveled nonstop in 2018, and this year is shaping up to be even busier. We had some ups and downs last year. But my pain is your gain: I have travel tips for you if you’re thinking of taking your family somewhere — and a preview of what to expect from my family in 2019.

Every travel company seems to have its list of travel trends for the year. I’ve read most of them. It’s my job. But if you have questions about family travel in 2019, the best place to look is your living room. Gather the kids, the grandparents, the in-laws and ask them: “So, where do you wanna go?”

On a side note, I’ve always had a problem with the way the travel industry thinks of “family.” It’s mom, dad and the kids, just like the 1950s. As someone who belongs to a nontraditional family, I prefer the Hawaiian definition, ohana, which is more inclusive and fluid. But I digress. “Ohana travel” doesn’t have the same ring.

Family travel in 2019
Aren and Erysse in Pacific Grove, Calif., this fall. I wish we’d taken more time to explore this beautiful part of the country.

What we learned about family travel in 2018

In case you’re just tuning in, here’s our backstory: We’re a family of four — dad and three kids, ages 12, 13 and 16 — and we’ve been traveling almost nonstop since 2010. The youngest attends homeschool and her older siblings are enrolled in a community college. We spend about a month in a new place, exploring the area before moving on.

In 2018, we started in southern Colorado and then drove north in January and February. Also on the itinerary: Utah, Washington, Arizona, South Dakota, California and Hawaii, roughly in that order.

We learned a few things about ourselves, and travel. Like the importance of listening to your family. My kids prefer vacation rentals over hotels. They like the stability of staying in a place for more than a few days. And they like making their own food in the kitchen, as opposed to eating in restaurants. Your kids might tell you the same thing. Or they might not. You won’t know unless you ask them. (Here’s what you need to know about travel health and safety.)

When I listened and planned accordingly, we had a great experience. We spent two memorable months in Sedona, Ariz., with plenty of challenging hiking and almost perfect weather. When I didn’t listen and allowed someone else to take over the schedule, things did not go so well. There were difficult days in Colorado and California when one or more of us was sick or just didn’t feel like getting up and facing the day. Had I spent a little more time listening, maybe I could have avoided some of that unpleasantness.

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So for 2019, I’m determined to listen even better. I know my family will tell me what they want when they travel, sometimes using words, sometimes with their actions. Had I spent more time hearing what they said, then we could have avoided a few missteps on our adventure.

Aren Elliott climbs Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Ariz., in the summer of 2018.
Aren Elliott climbs Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Ariz., in the summer of 2018.

Try something new in 2019

Here’s another valuable lesson learned on the road: You gain nothing by doing the same thing over and over. And there are some things you only have to do once if you’re traveling with your family. For us, that includes a visit to a railroad museum or a children’s museum, ziplining, and horseback riding. For your family, it might be something else.

Your vacation time is finite. Do a little research and find something truly unique that you can only do in that place. For example, there is only one Monterey Bay Aquarium. Visit it when you’re in Northern California. There’s only one Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Ariz. If you make it to Northern Arizona, climb it. There’s only one Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. It’s something to see before you die.

Don’t fill your schedule with things you won’t remember — a trip to the same beach, or an overpriced lunch at an overrated restaurant. Also, bear in mind that sometimes, it’s the people — not the places — that make a destination worth visiting. My kids and I love hiking trails, and it gets rid of any excessive energy — sometimes.

I’m writing this story in Hilo, Hawaii. I’ll be honest, there’s not much to do here. Once you’ve visited the volcano, a museum or two, and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation, you’ve seen everything. But some of the people I’ve met have been remarkable. They’re incredibly friendly and helpful, and almost make you forget the rude ones you occasionally bump into. Those exist in every tourist town.

Try something new in 2019 when you travel with your family. Go somewhere different and when you get there, try something different. You won’t regret it.

Ideas for family travel in 2019 from Christopher Elliott.
Aren and Erysse in front of our tiny house in Buellton, Calif.

Spend time together

My final piece of advice is even simpler. When you go on a family vacation in 2019, be together. Leave the computers, tablets, phones at home and spend time with each other. I know this sounds like common-sense advice, but in this always-connected world, it’s worth repeating. Don’t become a poster child for digital detox. Keep your electronics away from your family vacation unless you don’t want to remember what you did.

And yes, I’m guilty as charged. During our travels, there were long stretches of days where we hardly interacted except during meals. Although I got a lot of work done, I also missed part of my kids’ childhood and an opportunity to experience a place with them. That’s something I can’t ever get back.

That’s one of the things I like about vacation rentals. You can prepare your own meals and then spend time with your little food critics, regretting what you made. But at least you’re interacting. Then you can get beaten by your 12-year-old daughter at Uno. Repeatedly. It could be worse. It could be pizza and video games, which is worth absolutely zero.

So that’s my family travel advice for 2019. Listen to your family, try something new and spend time together. You probably already knew that. I thought I did, but the road teaches you these lessons again and again. I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Here’s to a great 2019 of family travels.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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