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Play Date: 'Family on the Loose' Travel Writers Bill Richards and Ashley Steel

Published on: December 30, 2013

Meet Bill Richards and Ashley Steel, travel bloggers, world travelers, parents to two girls and authors of the just-published Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids. Their book, which aims to help families cultivate the next generation of global citizens through travel, is packed with practical and fun tips for surviving and thriving with kids on the road. They shared a few of their experiences and strategies with ParentMap. (One note: The questions were answered by Bill.)

1. How often do you travel as a family?


The quick answer is "not often enough." The complete answer is that our travel schedule depends on how well we can balance the demands of two parents with full-time jobs and the increasingly complicated schedules of our kids. Finances can be a limitation too, of course. We're traveling within the Pacific Northwest on weekends at least once a month — camping, skiing, karate tournaments, river rafting — that kind of thing. We try to take a big adventure at least once a year. Last year was the Czech Republic. We shouldn't really complain. Our ten-year-old has been to Europe five times.

2. What's the longest stretch you've been away?

We spent the first half of 2008 in Vienna, Austria, on Ashley's Fulbright fellowship. The kids were 8 and 5 years old, and we used Vienna as a base to visit many places in central Europe. We rented a camper van in Slovenia, took an overnight train to Poland, and sampled a one-Euro discount airline to Spain. Pre-kids we had longer adventures, but that's another story.

3.What was one of the most challenging trips you took together?

The sheer logistics of our six months in Vienna were a challenge. Tasks such as renting our own house, managing a leave of absence from work, locating an apartment in Vienna, and placing the kids into Viennese schools were hard, but being away for an extended period of time added exponentially to the overall experience.

4. You have many tips and tricks for keeping kids entertained on the road/at dinner/in the airport. What are some top tactics?

My favorite game evolved from boredom in an airport terminal and too much kid energy. I said something like "why don't you walk over to that pole, go around it three times, and come back." It evolved from there to more and more challenging dares ("walk sideways to that door, knock on it twice, then memorize the headline on the newspaper in that store, do a quick dance in front of that window, and come back").

No matter how crazy it gets, we are always careful not to impact other travelers. They're a little old for that game now, but when they were younger I could keep the kids engaged for twenty minutes or more and keep myself entertained as well.

Another fun activity involves a camera. We send the kids into the near landscape on a photo assignment - something like "get pictures of wildlife (pigeons, dogs, etc.), flowers, or architecture." We encourage them to describe what they were trying capture when they get back.

We also play a silly game while waiting for food at a restaurant. One person names an animal and the next person has to name an animal that starts with the last letter of that animal. The animal names make a chain that lasts for as many rounds as possible. In the beginning, the kids could only name a few mammals but we've accumulated a wide range of silly insects, specialized fish, and other fauna so that we can continue for many rounds. The game generally ends when food arrives or when someone says "ox."

5. Favorite recent travel moment with your kids?


As the kids get older and have more responsibility, they are always surprising us with new abilities. One such moment that comes to mind was on a trip to Spain. I was about to order some ice cream cones and one of my daughters stepped in front of me, unprompted, to order in Spanish. That was pretty cool.

6. What has traveling taught your kids?

One of the most important things they have learned is that there is rarely only one way to do things. Just because something is different and new to us doesn't mean that the way we know is any better. The principle holds true for almost anything — language, customs, food, music, religion, hotel rooms, ice cream flavors.

7. How does travel inform or change how you live at home?

The Pacific Northwest is a very special place. It combines natural beauty with a unique diversity of culture. We try to take advantage of all of it. I already mentioned that we do a lot of outdoor activities, but we also celebrate cultural differences by going to various festivals, trying new foods at restaurants, and seeking out things we haven't experienced before. There aren't many places in the world that share our rich cultural diversity.

We also have an open-door policy. We welcome guests from other cultures into our home. We've hosted UW students from Japan and Thailand, school interns from Columbia and Spain, and karate prodigies from Hungary. I like to think that we're all learning from each other.

8. What are some things you love doing as a family around Seattle?

We enjoy cultural mini-expeditions. We've been to several of the international festivals hosted at Seattle Center's Center House. The Wing Luke Museum in the International District is a special place with engaging tours and we recently became members. We attend a couple of ZooTunes concerts every summer — a perfect American picnic destination. Bellevue College hosts a Japanese festival in September that we haven't missed since we discovered it. There are lots of fun destinations just a short drive from Seattle. We love the rodeo in Twisp on Memorial Day weekend and we've had fun at the logging show in Roslyn.

We've visited the state fair in Yakima for the last couple of years and also watched the balloon festival in Prosser, WA. We also love watching the dancing and listening to the drums at pow wows. Vancouver and Portland are so close and Richmond B.C. is almost as fun as a trip to China.

9.What's on the horizon for you, trip wise?

We're hoping to go to Thailand later this year. Ashley and I lived in southern Thailand for a year before we had kids and though we haven't lost touch with all our friends there, we haven't been back. I'm eager to see the changes that the last 18 years have brought to the smaller villages we knew. And I'm looking forward to sharing that experience with my girls.

Note: This Q&A is part of a blog series that profiles some of our community’s most interesting parents and how they live and play.

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