Connecting With Other Families While Traveling – What’s Wrong With That?

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Connecting with other families while traveling is an educational, fun, and enlightening experience for me. It doesn’t matter if I meet the families through a chat board, cruise seating, blog, Twitter, or foreign exchange program. A reporter from MSNBC.com recently asked me what I think about using the Internet to make play dates while traveling. In the story, For Young Travelers, Playing Knows No Borders, I said these playtimes can provide a good break during a family trip. After the story went live today, I was surprised to read the negative comments posted by people who find it horribly wrong to meet up with other traveling families. I always find it bewildering when some travelers judge how others journey through the world — as though there is a right way and a wrong way to travel.

Corvette Diner

A meet-up with Amy Querido of the The Q Family Adventures Travel Blog and our families at Corvette Diner during her visit to San Diego (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

One commenter said, “What!!?? Aren’t family vacations supposed to be with family? This is patently stupid and ridiculous.”

When I was first approached by MSNBC, I had to admit I had never heard of travel meet-up websites before like Tripping.com and Couchsurfing.org. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had personally participated in scheduling “play dates” with people I had met online.

The first time I participated in an online travel meet-up was back in 2007 when I was preparing to take a Disney Mediterranean Cruise with my husband and then 2.5-year-old daughter. In researching what to pack and plan for our trip, I discovered CruiseCritic.com and Cruisemates.com, websites that offer a plethora of useful cruise tips. On one of the site’s chat boards I joined a discussion stream for our particular sail dates. In the months prior to our sailing, I got to know many of my future shipmates online. Eventually someone suggested we all get together on board the ship for a little party of sorts. Those who wanted to participate could bring little mementos from their home town to share with the other sailing families. I brought mini decks of cards from LEGOLAND California for the kids and Hotel Del Coronado golf balls for the adults. It was fun to see some familiar faces throughout our 10-night cruise.

Disney Cruise Lilo & Stitch Breakfast

Some of our Disney Cruise tablemates dressed up like Elvis during a Lilo & Stitch breakfast (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

I wonder if those disgusted by the idea of setting up play dates in travel locations are also appalled by dining with non-family members aboard cruises. I was leary about dining with people we did not know and considered asking to be seated at a table by ourselves. I’m so thankful I did not make that request. We sat with a lovely family of four from Eden Prairie, Minnesota – which is ironically where I grew up! By our last night, we had rearranged seating positions so the moms could gab about girlie things while the husbands discussed sports and the children played together. My family looked forward to exchanging stories of our daytime travel adventures with our new-found friends over dinner each night.

Another reader said, “So these lazy women can’t even find time to mind their own kids on vacation?”

I have made a multitude of friends online since I became a travel blogger. My family has had play dates with bloggers visiting our hometown of San Diego and we have met up with far-flung Twitter friends while traveling. Typically, we just meet for one dinner or event.

The rest of our vacation is spent doing family things together. We travel together. Eat together. Play together. Swim together. Read together. See the sites together. There’s a LOT of family time during our vacations.

Go Explore Nature

A dinner with Debi Huang of the Go Explore Nature blog and our families during a visit to Santa Monica and Malibu (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

Meeting up with my Twitter and bloggy friends while traveling is a refreshing reprieve from all of that togetherness. Yes, my husband and I enjoy a break from playing with Thomas the Tank Engine and fairy figurines during dinner for a bit while our offspring are distracted by other children. But the kids have a blast, too. They tire of mommy and daddy (and each other) and crave new playmates after a while!

Would these naysayers feel the same way if they met a friendly family who happened to be sitting on the lounge chairs next to them on the beach during their vacations? Do they refuse to talk to anyone else besides their children and spouse when traveling, or is buffet line chit-chat allowed?

Corvette Diner

A family dinner at Keystone Resort in Colorado with my online and real-life friend, Laurie Cooper of Guessing All the Way blog (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

One commenter said, “too many nuts out there to be hooking up with strangers especially in a foreign county.”

Siteseeing is a fun way to get to know a city’s culture and history, but if you really want to get to know a place, then you need to get to know its people. When I was in high school my family hosted a foreign exchange student from France one summer and the next summer I went to stay with her family in Northern France. A couple of years later as a college student living in France I revisited my host family and today we remain in contact through annual holiday cards. I have stood atop the Eiffel Tower, viewed priceless works of art at the Musee d’Orsay, and shopped the boutiques in the French Riviera…but I learned more about France from this family than any tourist attraction could ever teach me.

I suppose my parents could have kept me home, worrying this French family would chop me up and eat me like fois gras on a cracker. Sure, there are dangerous people out there…in foreign countries…and in our neighborhood parks. How is anyone to interact in society if we don’t at some point trust a gut-feeling about a person and take a leap of faith to forge a friendship? I wouldn’t get together in a secluded location with someone after just one online interaction, that’s for sure. But I don’t see the harm in meeting in a populated area with online friends with whom you have communicated for months.

French Foreign Exchange Family

My host family, the Tissots, during my foreign exchange summer in France (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

I could barely understand a word of French during that month with my foreign exchange family and they overheard me crying to my sister on the phone one day. I missed my friends, family, the familiarity of home, and the ability to communicate.

My host family took me for a day trip to the beaches of Normandy. We spent a day walking those infamous beaches. Then we visited a cemetery, where I stared, overwhelmed by the seemingly endless rows of crosses upon crosses of Americans who had died in the name of freedom in that region of France during World War II.

Afterwards, we stopped for lunch at the home of la grand-mere of the family. Over tuna salad served in fresh tomatoes, this grandmother dabbed at her tear-filled eyes. She had long before vowed that she would always strive to help any American visiting France, for it was Americans that had saved her family and her country from being destroyed by Nazi Germany. She felt she had failed because she’d heard I was having a difficult time during my stay. She did not fail. In that moment she taught me the profound power of connecting with people from different backgrounds and cultures. It was a life-altering lesson I will never forget.

What do you think about meeting up with other families while traveling? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Amy @ The Q Family says

    I think the negative commenters are the ones who also afraid to travel and go beyond their comfort zone. One of the beauty of traveling is the chance to meet new people and what’s the best way to go than meeting up with local who we have known virtually online.

    I was glad we met up in San Diego and I’m looking forward to many more meetups in the future wherever we travel. 🙂 Thanks for including us, Colleen!

  2. The people who criticize seem to fail to understand the amount of due diligence that goes into your connections. I’m sure they are leery of meeting someone they find randomly on the internet and I’m sure you would too. But, the times we have been able to connect with residents of foreign lands are some of the most memorable of all of our travel experiences.

  3. Pre-kids I definitely didn’t understand the desire to mingle with anyone aside from my travel companion(s) when on vacation. Now I can’t imagine NOT doing so. I think what’s changed is that I’m more open to experiencing all that travel has to offer — not just the place you go, but the people who live there, too.

  4. Kara @ The Vacation Gals says

    Fascinating!

    I would not register at Tripping.com or another “playdate making” website, but I do love it when my kiddos make friends their at resorts. And they do often.

    I also love meeting up with other families that I *know* across the country (even if it’s just a family I’ve met via travel blogging, Twitter or friends of friends). But to make a date w/ strangers… probably not.

  5. As always, you tackle an important subject with eloquence and grace. I can’t imagine not meeting up with someone that I have become close to via social media if I was in their neighborhood. Do these people not socialize/make friends with the mother of the child playing next to theirs at their neighborhood park? There is no better way to learn about the culture and connect with a city than to see it through the eyes of a resident.

  6. Sue Canfield says

    We are currently making plans to meet another traveling family when we’re both in Arizona in a week or two. We ‘met’ on Twitter. I find it exciting to think about meeting another family. What things we can learn and share!

    Unless you plan to go down some dark alley at midnight to meet, I see nothing wrong with meeting a family in a public place during the day – especially when you’ve gotten to know one another already online.

    One reason we travel is to meet in person many of those we’ve only met online – those we’ve done business with or participate in forums we are members of.

    Caution is necessary of course no matter where we go or who we meet. But meeting new people and cultures is something everyone should do.

  7. Erin Cole says

    I think it makes perfect sense to meet up with those who you network with via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I have some Basset Rescue friends all over the country, and if one of us is ever in the other’s neck of the woods, there is an understood agreement that we are to contact each other to meet up. I think it would be a shame not to! You make great points.

  8. Heather Zenzen says

    I love this post. There will always be people who disagree; you’ve just got to do what feels right for you and your family. Families are not a one-size-fits-all thing. What’s right for one might not be right for another.
    That said, I love meeting others on vacation, and my children are ALWAYS happy to find others to play with. That’s part of the fun, right? Expanding your boundaries, your experiences, to grow broader? What’s the fun of traveling to a foreign country when you just cocoon up inside yourselves?
    My in-laws disagree. Traveling is dangerous. You could get your head cut off by one of the locals! There’s crime!
    (There’s crime here too, but I guess that doesn’t count.)
    The most favorite part of our girls’ latest trip to Mexico was playing with a little Mexican girl in between their ages in the pool. They hardly spoke each other’s languages, but that didn’t stop them from playing, laughing, having fun. And, lo and behold, no one got their head chopped off.

  9. Wow, I’m actually stunned at the negative comments you received. Meeting other families while traveling is a blast! Arranging a play date isn’t being a lazy parent, it’s exposing your child to other cultures, teaching them how differences can be a positive thing & to work around communication issues, meeting new people and building new friendships. It shrinks our world even more which is only a positive thing in my book. And it gives my child a break from always having to be around me as well. Sometimes our kids need a bit of a break from us parents as well. 🙂

  10. Great post! I did a similar query when I considered adding sharing to my mobile travel app. I queried a bunch of parents and also received strong responses – both positive and negative. There are people – like me – who like to mingle with the locals and don’t mind so much having their children interact with people they don’t know. Others consider people they don’t know as strangers and want to be sure that they know who their children are hanging out with. Still others just want to be left alone while – its their family time. It’s a personal choice that some feel strongly about. Which is what makes these apps – and this blog – great! More options for us family travelers is always a good thing. Great post. Thanks Colleen!

  11. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Thanks for sharing your opinions, everyone! And for doing so respectfully, without name-calling or anything. 😉 (I checked the original MSNBC article again today and there are some new doozies in the comments!)

  12. Elizabeth says

    I’m with you, Colleen. I, too, am surprised by the negativity of the comments. To be open to connecting with others on our travels is part of the point. For me anyway. I commend you for opening it up for discussion.

  13. All parents naturally protect their children from taking part in activities that could be unsafe. When children are playing with other kids at a playground the parents in both families keep a watchful eye so there is no bullying or aggressive behavior. The same would be true at a vacation setting. Subtle observation is what is required, intervening if necessary. This exposure helps kids learn who can be trusted and who can’t. When they become teen-agers this can be a powerful lesson when parents will not be around to intervene.

  14. Twentynine Palms Hotels says

    Connecting with other families while travelling is what I want to do always. I think it best to mingle with other people and to be able to learn about them.

  15. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Beautifully said, Anis!

  16. I too am in disbelief of the negative reactions to online travel meet-ups people expressed in the comments. You give wonderful rebuttals to a number of ridiculous comments, so I’ll just chime in with my personal experiences. I also had wonderful experiences engaging with families and other youths when I traveled overseas without my parents as an adolescent. I remember my mom being on the verge of tears as she saw me off at the gate, but she realized that traveling and making connections with people from other places was an amazing experience that would positively impact me for the rest of my life. Therefore every family vacation, though we got lots and lots of attention from our parents, we were also encouraged to make friends – share our toys at the beach in Hawaii, play tag with the kids in the playground in Mexico.

    It’s clear engaging with other families is something parents have been doing all along. Sure if you went back a couple decades and suggested to parents they interact first with other families on the internet before meeting them in real life, it would have been scary. But that was before the internet became such a big part of our lives. A significant part of most people’s lives now involves the online world in one way or another, and we all know what to do to mitigate any potential dangers inherent in being online.

    If you don’t ever go on the internet, have never signed up for anything online, then clearly you should not venture into the online world just to set up play dates. But if you’re like most of us, for whom the internet is such a significant part of our lives, then I don’t see why you wouldn’t take advantage of opportunities to connect with other families while traveling. For a few, an online travel meet-up for their family might be a scary thing; but for the rest of us, it just means that we can readily enrich our family travels and create memories and even friendships for a lifetime.

  17. I can’t imagine not enjoying getting to know other people on a vacation unless my family had decided to have special family time without distraction. But through out our travels (we are currently in month 5 of a 7 month trip) we treasure the other families we’ve met. We always learn something from them, whether they have done different research about the area we are visiting or if they are local to the area and can share the true essence of the place we are visiting we are always happy to enrich our travel experience.

    These new families usually end up making a trip to visit us in our hometown and we do the same. Our kids have made lasting pen pal friendships and learned so much more.

    I haven’t read the comments from the opposing opinion but I am not sure I would leave my children with someone else I’ve just met without being present myself however, if our families are enjoying each others company (having fun) then goal accomplished!

  18. Stephanie says

    We travel frequently with our toddler (just turned 3) and she is incredibly social – if we didn’t try and have her meet and play with other children while away from home, she misses it!!! We just spent a few weeks in Florida, and she would approach other children in the pool, at the park, literally anywhere and introduce herself, and ask if they wanted to play with her. So meeting other moms/families while away from home is critical for us, and makes her incredibly happy. We now have a family in Paris and one in Florida who have made it clear we would be welcome for a visit – there is nothing wrong with that!!!

  19. I find the idea so great! I thought that we should create a group of people interested in sharing their time with others while travelling and, at the same time, when they are at home, to devote part of their time to travelling families.
    Giovanna from Italy

  20. What a bunch of idiots, these people with negative comments! How short sighted and xenophobic. I spent part of my childhood overseas and then later worked overseas as an adult. I have met so many wonderful people and made lifelong friends by just chatting with people. Now I travel with my daughter a lot. She’s an only child and finds new friends everywhere we go. I was actually looking for more ways to find families to meet when we travel when I ran across this article.
    Closing ourselves off to the world doesn’t make our families any stronger and does nothing to heal the rifts between humans. I and my daughter have learned we have so much more in common with the people that we meet than we have differences. I am proud that she is learning to be curious, kind, and tolerant, and to love traveling.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      LOL! Best of luck in finding some adventurous and kind families with whom to connect during your travels!

  21. I thing it would be great to have a fb group or similar of families traveling with kids in order to meet know who could we meet when going in a certain location. It is very nice to get to know other traveling families and share moments together.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Great idea! I keep thinking about starting a Facebook group for Travel Mamas — this would be different from our Facebook page. It would be a place where like-minded family travelers could connect with each other and share meet-up threads and the like. But…I keep putting it off because I know that hosting such a page requires a lot of monitoring and work. Maybe someday!!

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