"I'm an introvert," is not what you would expect to hear from Colleen Lanin, the high-spirited writer behind the family travel blog "Travel Mamas." The enthusiastic wife and mother of two chatted to Wide Open Roads about her story and family and how traveling plays into their relationship dynamics. But what had started out as basic questions about family travel turned into an honest, relatable, inspiring, and hilarious conversation about what traveling teaches you about yourself, the roles you play in your relationships, and opening up your mind and heart to the world around you.
Colleen's bright personality was so contagious that hearing how she began a naturally shy person was almost shocking. However, Colleen explained why traveling became so important to her personal growth, telling Wide Open Roads, "I was always shy and sort of afraid of the world, and this was sort of the kick in the pants for me. I was like, 'I'm going to be this independent person, and I don't want life to beat me down. I want to be the one choosing my destiny.'"
What Does It Mean to Be a Family Travel Blogger?
Colleen unhesitatingly carries that fire within her. Now, one would think that being a family travel blogger meant your family members are just as keen as you are when it comes to traveling. But Colleen candidly explained that her husband was not much of a traveler at all before she met him.
"He's the kind of person who is up for anything if you come up with it," she said. "But if I say to him, 'Let's go to China!" he's like, 'Okay!' If I'm like, 'Let's go to Italy!' he'd say, 'Alright!' He's up for anything, but he's not going to plan any of it."
She went on to explain how her two kids--while also showing the same appreciation her husband has for their travels--actually have no interest in choosing what the family should do on their trips. Even giving them choices, all her family members would rather Colleen plan out their trip itineraries, immersing themselves in whatever adventures she plans. She said, "If we go a trip, they're never like, 'I don't want to go,' but they're sort of like their dad in when I try to get them to be excited about it, like, 'Okay these are the different excursions I'm looking at. Do you guys want to go whitewater rafting or ATVing?' They're just kinda like, 'Whatever,' and I'm like..." She comically shrugged, continuing, "Sometimes, they'll be adamant on what they don't want to do, but if I'm like, 'Why don't you pick a place for us to eat dinner?' they're like 'Nah, it's okay, you do it.'"
How Do You Balance Traveling with Your Family and Every Day Life?
Colleen admitted that it's been much easier to travel because of her job. In detailing her journey as a travel writer and blogger, she implicitly revealed her impressive ability to endlessly stay inspired and to not see having kids as an obstacle in the way of her passions.
"The reason I started the blog- I've been writing for years, that was my hobby," she explained. "So when I had kids, I was looking for a book on how to travel with a baby. And there wasn't really anything great- I've been blogging now for 12 years so there weren't that many blogs at the time to explain things either. So I thought, 'Maybe I'll write an article and pitch it to a magazine,' and then I started writing the article. And then I realized that it was way too long to be an article, I was writing a book."
With the initial "book" turning into the travel blog she runs now, Colleen had no idea that her curiosity in trying to find manageable ways to travel more as a family would turn into her dream job. She said, "For me, it was always trying to figure out, 'How could I travel more?' It never even occurred to me that I could become a travel writer..."
Although going back and forth from the Midwest to the South, Colleen and her family now reside in Arizona, appreciating the all the desert beauty the state has to offer. When asked about how she balances traveling while her kids--one middle schooler and one high schooler--are growing up, she spoke of the natural rotation and communication her family has in deciding when and where the next trip is and who's going.
When it comes to her marriage, she and her husband take a yearly anniversary trip. (And they were actually about to head out to celebrate their 20 wonderful years together!) Colleen revealed the trick to their relationship, saying, "We do one a trip a year, sometimes for two nights, sometimes for nine nights, but just the two of us. And I swear to you thats why we've been married for 20 years. Because it really does make you remember why you chose that person in the first place."
Although it was easier to take both kids with her everywhere back when they were younger, she's recently only been able to take her son on more trips since her daughter has become busier with high school. Nevertheless, if none of her family members are able to go with her, she isn't afraid to venture alone.
"If my husband can't go, I'm not going to stay home. I want to go!" she clarified while chuckling. "I want to go as much as I can to as many places as I can. Every place is on my bucket list... I've always asked myself, 'How can I travel more? Where can I go next? How can I live in another country some day?'"
How Does One Start Planning More Family Travel Trips?
When asked what advice she would give to families who want to travel more and want to make traveling often a frequent part of their lives, Colleen offered precise suggestions on how to start. She said, "I think people can always start with doing smaller road trips, which are really easy with kids because you can pack so much in your car. Little kids have so much stuff to bring. I had a used minivan for 11 years, so we could cram that thing full of so many strollers and all this gear, all the snacks, and all the stuff. It's more affordable to do it that way."
In offering two pieces of simple advice, she illustrated what it looks like to dive into planning family trips. She specified first, "Let the airfare choose the destination and not the other way around. Instead of saying, 'I really want to go to Paris,' say to yourself, 'I'd love to go to Paris, so I'll set a fare alert for that.' Go to Kayak and set a fare alert for that, so if the prices really drop, then go. You can also sign up for Scotts Cheap Flights, and it's a newsletter that tells you all the different airfare deals. So a lot of times, we choose our destination based on flights."
Colleen laid out her second piece of advice: "The little things are doable. If you go away for a four-day weekend, you'll make all these wonderful memories, and it's all the excitement of planning the trip and all the excitement of being there, and all the fun memories crammed in a small space of time. It's such a happiness boost. If you did a few of those throughout the year as opposed to, 'Oh I got to save up forever so I can go on a month long trip,' if you do four of those a year, you'll always have something to look forward to."
Why Is Traveling Important for Families?
Colleen also touched on why she thinks traveling is important for families, even for those who aren't as ambitious about doing so. "I think there are all sorts of different people in the world and some people feel more comfortable at home... It's hard for me to say to somebody that they should do something, because if they're happy where they are, they should stay where they are," she said.
Her tone changed when adding a slight seriousness to the animated discussion we were having, as she opened up more about what traveling has taught her and what she believes it can do to help alleviate modern society's issues.
"But it's nice to get out of your own bubble and interact with people who are a little different than you even if that means driving two hours away to that town up in the mountains or at the beach or wherever, I think it's eye opening, and I think the U.S. has been struggling with that "us versus them" mindset over the past several years. You get an idea of who people are in your head. But then when you're up close with people- it's hard to hate people up close. Because I have opinions about people who have different political views and they have opinions about me, but guess what? If I just met them at a coffee shop and I start talking to them and we're just connecting on a human level, then we're not judging each other and hating each other just because we have different ways of looking at the world."
As she eloquently continued on about opening up to different cultures and the importance of doing so, she reminded us that kids see the world differently than adults. And she elaborated more by explaining what traveling has taught her own kids.
"Travel kills prejudice," she quoted, while mentioning how her kids are worldly for their ages. In having experience living in different countries for a month at a time, her kids are able to understand what being an outsider and a foreigner is like and what it's like to struggle speaking another language. The exposure helped them become more empathetic and understanding of foreigners they would encounter in the U.S., seeing how other people live makes them more open-minded and open-hearted.
"When kids are little, they don't need to have a language in common or anything. They don't care what language you're speaking or what color the person is. They don't care- there's a swing set and a sandbox. And they just go and make a new friend even if they can't say two words to each other."
Why Is Traveling Around the U.S. So Great?
"You have to make choices in life, so maybe you're not going to do all the updates to your house that you wanted to do," she said, followed with a laugh. "We could get the house painted or we could go to Mérida [Mexico]... Really within your own state, there's so much, no matter where you live. There are adventures everywhere around you. You can find interesting people everywhere you go. Even in our state of Arizona, living in Scottsdale is very different from going to little tiny towns in rural areas. The people there are very different than the people who live in the city, and the way they live their lives and just sort of experiencing that and how they live is interesting too."
Colleen talked about taking advantage of the places that are near us here in the U.S., and why traveling in our own backyard can be fulfilling and satisfying for all:
"The United States is just so huge, it's so varied and vast, and there are just so many different cultures. There are so many people who have come from all over the world just to move here and live here and were still having different immigrant populations. It's really the only place where you move there and become that. You know what I mean? You can't move to Russia, and after 10 years, say that you're Russian. You're not going be Russian. But you can move to America, and in 10 years you can say, 'I'm American.' We become part of this eclectic group of states. There are so many places to explore within this country- desert, mountain, skiing, beaches. We have places like Hawaii that have their own unique culture and history and learning about that- like going to a big city in New York is different than going to a small town in Texas."
She also confronted the realities of raising kids: that one day, they'll grow up and leave the house. She talked about her future plans as a travel blogger and admitted to the anxieties of what the future could hold. "It is freaking me out... 'Travel Mamas' is primarily a family travel blog... as my kids are getting older, I'm realizing that I have about five more years with children in my house. And so I'm really trying to figure out if I'm trying to rebrand or if I'm going to launch a different website and keep 'Travel Mamas...' I might go back to hiring writers to write things about traveling with kids. I'm really trying to figure it out. It is a challenge."
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