As the founder of the travel website Indagare.com, Melissa, a mom to 11- and 13-year old kids, has the dream job: She travels for a living. Here’s a window into the intrepid traveler’s (and tastemaker’s) family life and adventures, and some pearls of wisdom she has collected along the way.
Tell us about what you do: I don’t know which I have loved longer—traveling or writing. From as long as I can remember, I have loved both so it’s probably predictable that I would become a travel journalist. Even in high school I lived abroad in France. After college, my first job was at European Travel & Life and a few years later I was hired as the travel editor at Town & Country. I launched their spin off titles on Weddings and Travel and four years ago decided that I wanted to have a more interactive travel conversation than the one that you can have in print so I launched Indagare.com, which has quickly blossomed from an online magazine and community into the premier custom travel planning company.
Can you please share some travel wisdom? My advice for parents who love to travel with really young kids: stay close to home in first few years and explore in your backyard. You could use this rule—change time zones for every year that your child is, I.e. Don’t go to Europe until kids are at least five. Sleepy kids don’t make great sightseers. My worst travel nightmare as a parent was when I broke this rule and brought my nanny and one-year-old to Paris and didn’t have a visa for my nanny who had to turn around when we arrived at Charles de Gaulle and return to the US. Other travel nightmares have included concussions on ski slopes and strep in Brazil.
On the home-front, do you have a go-to dinner that appears weekly? What’s in the breakfast rotation? Any food-based family rituals? Our most devout weekly food rituals are chicken curry at least one night a week; bacon on weekend mornings and pizza on Sunday nights. We also make a lot of smoothies and banana muffins.
Regarding screen time, would you say you’re very conservative, easy breezy, or completely confused as to what is appropriate… I am a big believer in moderation. We have a no-TV-on-weeknights rule that has been somewhat subverted by Hulu but I am aware of what is being watched. I think the best thing to do is to try to watch with them so you can have conversations about the subject matter. We have had some pretty great discussions inspired by confusing or controversial moments in movies.
Tell us about how you celebrate birthdays in your house… I think birthdays are a great opportunity for kids to express themselves and what and who matters to them. My daughter generally likes to have two friends for a weekend of baking and beach time but this year she decided to invite a lot of friends for a tour of NBC Studios in New York. It was her idea and her friends and our whole family will be seeing a new side of New York because TV and film production are something that she is interested in. My son’s birthday always falls during spring break so he’s celebrated in Africa in a hot air balloon and South America with a paint ball fight and as exciting as those things were, he always misses his friends back home so he celebrates with them for birthday part deux.
Any family rituals you carry on, or that you have created? My father’s family had a ritual where siblings earned bosses over each other and we sometimes use those but in our house people tend to prefer holding on to the threat of using a boss to actually ever using them.
Favorite indoor activities? We love watching family movies. Among our favorites: Gallipoli, Charade and Driving Miss Daisy.
Do you listen to music or are you stuck in what you liked post-college and what your kids listen to? I am definitely stuck listening to what my kids term “old people’s music like Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Dire Straits, but we now have a pretty healthy exchange. They have introduced me to the Fray, Pink and Jesse J and now, thanks, in part to Glee, they are appreciating some of my old music.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you? I am always planning the next family trip but am usually behind on photo albums that document them, though iPhoto has helped me catch up because I start them even during the trip. I leave holiday cards way too late and last year didn’t even do one.
Top 3 favorite books—for your kids, top 3 for yourself? Last book you read?
Favorite books for my kids: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy, and the Nicolas series by Rene Goscinny.
For myself: Tender is the Night, A Soldier of the Great War, and West with the Night.
Last book I read: The Social Animal by David Brooks.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine or something that just makes you feel armed for the day when you leave the house, or do you have a routine before you go to bed? I love Creme de la Mer’s Tinted foundation. It has an spf of 15 and hydrates and conceals and comes in a great plastic tube that is ideal for traveling. I also love the powder sunscreens that come in brushes with powder in their bases. I like to start my day with yoga (even five or ten minutes) and try to end my day with camomile tea and a few pages in a good book—both rituals slow me down before or after a hectic day.
Your favorite family trip ever? On our most recent one, spring break, I went to places that I had been before but rediscovered them because I was with my kids, which is one of the best parts about traveling as a family. In LA we went to Universal Studios and went on the back lot, which was totally fascinating to see the costume warehouse, sound stages and sets, and in Hawaii we went to Pearl Harbor, which was unbelievably moving. But my favorite family trip was going on safari with my kids in Tanzania. There is something about being in the wild and sharing awe over the animals and the landscape that is incredibly unifying and humanizing. I hope that we will get to do it again.
Do you have any personal a-ha tip that you want to tell us about? I am a super advocate of traveling with carry-on luggage only. When we go skiing, I ship all of the bulky clothes ahead FedEx Ground so we never check bags. Not only does this make traveling to and through airports easier but if you edit carefully before you go, you realize how little you really need and living with less becomes part of the freeing experience of being on vacation. We have gone on safari and really adventurous two-week vacations with no more than a roller bag and back pack each. My friends are always stunned and want my list. The key is a uniform and fun accessories.
You feel your best when? I am with people who I love, especially when they are happy.
Favorite clothing item and why? I have a great jacket that I bought in Marrakech that is my go-to travel blazer. It’s the perfect weight (can be worn over a t-shirt in spring or layers of sweaters in winter), it’s very comfortable yet tailored looking. We now sell it in different colors on our Indagare Souk site.
Proudest moment in parenting? When I tried to get my daughter to change into something dressy to go to a party when she was five and she refused and finally declared in defense of her position, “You say it doesn’t matter what you look like but what kind of heart you have.” That was when it hit me just how much I had to learn from her.
Guiltiest pleasure? I love afternoon naps when I can snatch them, and even better if I can get a dog or child to join me, but I do always feel like I should be doing something more productive.