Why Ban Children From Hotels? In Defense Of Bringing Family On The Road

child cryingNo dogs, no children, no lepers please. It’s hard not to feel like an undesirable when a hotel you want to bring your family to says, “Sorry, we don’t allow children.” In America, and many other countries, it’s illegal for hotels and other public establishments to deny service based upon a client’s race, color, religion or national origin.

And it would be unthinkable for any business to exclude senior citizens, homosexuals or the disabled, for example. But it’s perfectly legal for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, resorts and even restaurants to ban children. A growing number of childless couples, singles and empty nesters are seeking out hotels and resorts that exclude children, but are kids really the greatest threat to rest and relaxation?

These issues came to the fore for me last week while I was planning a trip to Costa Rica for my family of four, which includes two boys, ages 3 and 5. Almost every nice hotel anywhere near a beach in this country is booked over the long President’s Day weekend, and several of the places I contacted, including a couple that had vacancies, noted that they don’t allow small children (though most allow teens).A website called Leave Them Behind has a modest list of adults-only establishments and according to stories that have appeared in Yahoo, ABC, Ad Week and other media outlets, the travel industry is moving to meet a growing demand for child-free holidays. According to Ad Week, there are more childless couples in the U.S. now than ever before, and 20 percent of American women never have children, compared to just 10 percent in the 1970s.

Moves by Malaysian Airlines to ban children from first class in 2011, and from the upper deck of its Airbus A380 in 2012, also promoted debate on the issue of traveling with children. Spud Hilton, travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, defended the move and went so far as to claim that “with the exception of a family emergency and moving to another state, there is almost no good reason to take a baby on the road.”

Hilton referred to babies, not children in general but I think that a lot of parents don’t travel, or for that matter even bring their kids to restaurants or other public places, precisely because they fear that other people will find their children annoying. But I’ve found that the more you expose your children to hotels, restaurants and the like, the more they learn how to act in public. If we shut our children off from these experiences, they’ll never learn how to act in polite society.

I’m a parent but I can understand why some people want to patronize establishments that ban children. And I agree that in some ways, our kid-centric culture, where some parents allow their children’s activities to rule their lives, is out of control. But I question the notion that children are so disruptive that one can barely enjoy a holiday with them around and I can’t help but wonder what truly motivates those who seek out places where children aren’t welcome.

I estimate that I’ve spent somewhere between 500 and 1,000 nights in hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns around the world over the last 20 years. Out of all those nights away from home, I’d say that I’ve been disturbed by another guest or guests at a hotel perhaps a few dozen times. By disturbed, I mean occasions where someone caused me to lose sleep, made me want to leave the pool or other common area, or something along these lines. Out of these few dozen incidents, only one of them involved a small child or baby.

Several years ago, at a bed-and-breakfast in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a crying baby kept us up half the night. That incident occurred before we had children and it has colored our own travel habits – we never stayed in small bed-and-breakfast places, especially ones with hardwood floors where noises seems to echo, when our children were very young.

Of all the other instances of annoying and obnoxious behavior I’ve encountered in hotels, I’d say about 25 percent of the offenders were teens, most of them members of school or sports groups, and the rest were adults. Most of the obnoxious adults that have caused me to lose sleep or sanity on the road were also parts of groups – wedding parties, teams, family reunions and the like – and many were intoxicated.

Unfortunately, some people have no regard for other guests in a hotel and think nothing of slamming doors, shouting in the hallways, partying in their rooms, and blasting their television sets at odd hours. Two years ago, I stayed at a Westin in Mexico that allowed wedding receptions to rage until 6 a.m. with music loud enough for a rock concert and drunken guests rampaging around the hotel on consecutive weekends. This summer I stayed at a Westin in suburban Chicago where a family reunion got so out of control that the police had to actually make arrests in the middle of the night. And at an upscale hotel in Philadelphia last winter, members of an out-of-control wedding party actually brawled in the hallway outside our room at 3 a.m.

A certain percentage of all travelers – children, teens and adults – are going to behave poorly at hotels but I would argue that children are no more likely to cause other guests grief than teens or adults. In fact, I might assert that small children are less likely to be disruptive than teens or adults because they don’t get drunk and they aren’t up late at night when other guests are trying to sleep.

I’m not one of these blind parents who is incapable of seeing that kids can be annoying and I hate clueless parents who fail to control their children as much as anyone else. I know that kids can be disruptive and downright infuriating and I recognize that some businesses, especially intimate bed-and-breakfasts, aren’t a good choice for families with young children. But I think that most children are pretty well behaved and the adults-only movement is a kind of collective punishment that penalizes parents who do a good job with their kids.

Even before I had kids of my own, I never felt the need to seek out hotels that ban children. For me, kids are an integral part of the world and I wouldn’t think to try to avoid them any more than I’d try to avoid birds or squirrels or any other living thing.

I don’t tend to take these kinds of trips, but if people want to spend a week sitting by the hotel pool and can’t bear the thought of having kids splashing about, then by all means, go to an adults-only resort. I certainly wouldn’t legally compel all businesses to welcome children, but I find the ban-kids trend a little misguided and indicative of how intolerant and self-absorbed we’re becoming as a society.

I’ve noticed when we bring our kids to other countries, like Mexico and Greece, for example, that they are valued, cherished and fussed over. Those societies still view children as a blessing, not a nuisance. Yes, there are unbearably annoying kids out there, and we’ve all sat near crying babies on planes, but in most cases, it’s their clueless parents who are to blame. And if you’re looking for R & R, watch out for youth sports teams, wedding parties and drunks, not little kids.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Pink Sherbert on Flickr]

Tourists Mistaken For Illegal Immigrants Beaten By Greek Police

Greek authorities have been cracking down on illegal immigrants to the country but a number of tourists have been detained as part of the sweep. Some of the travelers have even been beaten so badly by police that they ended up in the hospital, according to the BBC.

Greek police patrolling the streets are stopping anyone who looks foreign and asking to see their ID. However, many tourists claim to have been arrested and taken to a police station despite showing authorities their passport.

One tourist from Korea says a police officer punched him in the face after he handed over his passport when stopped in the street in Athens. He was then taken to the police station where he was attacked again in a stairwell.

Another man traveling with his family on a US passport says he was beaten so badly after being detained that he fell unconscious. He woke to find himself in a hospital.

“I went there to spend my money but they stopped me just because of my color. They are racist.” Christian Ukwuorji told the BBC.Greece has been clamping down on illegal immigration as the country’s economic woes make it increasingly difficult to support the growing numbers of immigrants. It’s believed that as much as 10 percent of the country’s population is living there illegally.

Greece is also under pressure from the European community because the country is viewed as a gateway to the EU – almost 95 percent of Europe’s illegal immigrants enter via Greece.

More than 60,000 people have been stopped in the streets since the operation began in August last year. The US State Department has updated its travel advisory to warn tourists of the potential harassment.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user George Laoutaris]

12 Offbeat Travel Ideas For 2013

valetta maltaMy annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to reflect on all the places I visited during the year and plot out where I want to go in the New Year. 2012 was a banner travel year for my family because we put all of our things in storage for five months and traveled extensively in Europe and North America. We gorged ourselves on donuts and thought we got scammed in Western New York’s Amish Country, learned how to flatfoot on Virginia’s Crooked Road, were heckled and intimidated at a soccer game in Italy, and drank homemade wine with the only two residents of the village of San Michalis, on the Greek island of Syros.

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For those of you who have made resolutions to hit the road in 2013, here are 12 travel experiences and destinations, most of them a little or very offbeat, that I highly recommend.


amish donuts12. Donut Crawl in Western New York’s Amish Country

Unlike Lancaster County and other more well known Amish areas around the country, Cattaraugus County’s Amish Trail is a place where you can experience Amish culture, and let’s be honest here – candy and donuts – without all the tourists and kitsch. I love the Amish donuts so much that I went in January and again in July. Because there aren’t many tourists in this region, you’ll find that many of the Amish who live here are just as curious about you as you are about them.

11. Soak Up Colonial Era History in Marblehead, Massachusetts

I’ve been visiting family members in Marblehead for nearly 20 years and I never get tired of this beautifully preserved, quintessential New England town. Marblehead gets a steady trickle of day-trippers from Boston – but don’t make that mistake – book a B & B in this town and dive into one of America’s most historic towns for a full weekend.

10. Save The Turtles, Eat the Fish Tacos and Ride The Waves in Safe, Scenic San Pancho, Mexico

If you want a low-key beach vacation in Mexico but aren’t into big resorts or large cities, look no further than San Pancho, which is only an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. It’s about as safe as Mayberry, and you can volunteer to help preserve marine turtles, eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever had and surf and frolic on a huge, spectacular beach.



sicilian man in gangi nicola seminara9. Visit Gangi, Italy’s Most Charming Hill Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Italy is filled with enchanting hill towns, but many of them are besieged with tourists. If you want to check out a lovely hill town in Sicily’s interior that hasn’t changed much in centuries, check out Gangi, where you’ll find everything you could want in an Italian hill town: a perfect central piazza, a medieval street plan you will get lost in, and perhaps the world’s best gelato at the Seminara Bar (no relation to me).

freiburg germany8. Eat the Real Black Forest Ham in Historic Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg is a gorgeous, highly underrated city in Germany’s Black Forest region that is a pedestrian and gourmand dream. Here in the U.S., companies can get away with calling any old ham “Black Forest ham” but in Freiburg, you can sample the real deal and you will taste the difference.




7. Discover Old Time Music on Virginia’s Crooked Road

Southwest Virginia has a 253-mile music heritage trail that’s a glorious little slice of Americana where you’ll find terrific homespun music played by passionate locals who have Old Time Music in their blood. Don’t miss venues like the Fries Theater and the Floyd Country Store and bring your dancing shoes.




enzo ferrari museum modena italy6. Check Out Evita Peron’s Ride at Italy’s New Ferrari Museum

I’m not even a car buff, but I loved visiting the new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, a picture-postcard small city in Emilia-Romagna, near Parma, that doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as it deserves. The museum pays tribute to the founder of Ferrari, who was born in the house next to the museum, and the automotive heritage of the Motor Valley, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati and other companies that make vehicles suitable for rap stars, professional athletes and others who like to be noticed.




5. Eat at the World’s Best Greek Restaurant in San Michalis, Syros, Population:2

Syros is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos but it gets only a tiny fraction of the tourists and I’m not sure why. It’s a gorgeous little island, with a thriving port, great beaches and To Plakostroto the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to, located in a striking, end-of-the-world village where you can see six neighboring islands.




4. Experience Bluegrass Nirvana at the Rosine Barn Jamboree in Kentucky

Every Friday night from March through early December, local musicians gather to jam at an old barn and general store in Rosine, Kentucky, the tiny little town where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music was born. This might be the best free music jam in the whole country and best of all, the regulars are the sweetest people you will ever meet.




samos3. Patmos & Samos Not Santorini and Mykonos

I’m obsessed with the Greek Isles. If I could spend my holidays in just one place anywhere in the world, it might be here. But I get a little frustrated by the fact that most Americans visit only Santorini & Mykonos. Both places are undeniably beautiful, but there are dozens of less expensive, less crowded islands that are just as nice. Patmos and Samos, in the eastern Aegean, are absolutely gorgeous and aren’t as crowded or expensive. Samos is known for its wine & honey, while Patmos is home to one of the most interesting monasteries in Greece.




obama pasticciotto2. Eat an Obama Pasticciotto in Italy’s Heel

The fact that Salento, a peninsula in Italy’s heel, has a chocolaty, gooey desert named after President Obama is just one reason to visit this very special but relatively off-the-radar part of Italy. Lecce is a baroque dream, a lively place with a great passegiata, unforgettable food and wine, very friendly people and fine beaches in the vicinity.




1. Make Friends in Valletta, Malta

I had but one day in Valletta and I spent a big chunk of it trying to track down a retired Maltese civil servant who chided me for misrepresenting the country at a school model U.N. in 1986, but I saw enough of this city to want more. Valletta is a heartbreakingly picturesque port, with gently decaying sandstone buildings, warm people, dramatic Mediterranean vistas and artery-clogging pastizzis, which were my favorite treat of 2012.

How To Stay In A Castle On Your Next Trip

castle When trying to make your travels extra special, the accommodation can really make or break the ambiance of your vacation. Vacation rentals can help with this by allowing you to stay in all types of unique properties, from the bizarre and architecturally innovative to luxurious and historical castles.

While some of these properties feature rich history, others are more modern with medieval architecture and luxurious amenities. Either way, these castle vacation rentals will make you feel like a king or queen.

For a more visual idea of some top castle vacation rentals from around the world, check out the gallery below.

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[Image above via Airbnb; Gallery images via FlipKey, HomeAway, OwnerDirect, Airbnb, Gary Heatherly, Cottages and Castles, Think Sicily, Beautiful Places]

Can’t Afford To Travel? Bollocks! You Can’t Afford To Stay Home

budget travel“How do you afford to travel so much?” This is the question I get all the time from disbelieving friends, colleagues and relatives who want to travel more but think they can’t afford it. No one’s ever come right out and said it, but I know some must wonder if my wife and I are drug mules, or if we have some other illicit source of income we’re not owning up to (the answer is no).

After returning from a three-month working trip in the Mediterranean a couple months ago, I told a good friend that we were heading off for a camping trip on Cape Cod and he quickly shot back a text, which read: “I don’t understand your lifestyle. Please explain.”

We are fortunate to be able to work from just about anywhere because for those who want to see the world the problem is always time, not money. The other day, after spending around $200 at Target on a whole cart full of random items, it suddenly dawned on me how affordable travel can be. When we were traveling, I didn’t need most of the items that were in my shopping cart. We put all of our things in storage prior to our long Mediterranean trip and cut out a lot of non-essential items we wouldn’t need while out of the country. So while we were traveling, we were paying $248 per month to store about 7,500 pounds worth of household goods (for a family of four), but we had no rent/mortgage, utilities, mobile phones, cable, or Internet service bills.

In calculating how much a trip will cost, we tend to estimate our total expenses and then consider that the cost, but that’s not really fair because it’s not as if you spend nothing while you’re at home. If you live in an expensive city in the U.S., like us, you might actually save money by being somewhere else.

When I looked through our cart at Target, there were so many items in there that we either didn’t need while on the road, or simply didn’t bother to buy, because we like to travel as light as possible. Napkins, paper towels, household cleaning products, light bulbs, zip-lock bags, condiments, snacks of all sorts, toiletries, toilet paper, spices, Kleenex, hair spray (for my wife), coffee and humidifier filters, a printer cartridge and a dozen other miscellaneous things at least.

When traveling, especially without a car, you have to carry all your belongings, so every time you consider a purchase you are forced to ask yourself if you really need it and if it’ll fit in your suitcase. But while at home, we can accumulate as much junk as we like, so we tend to buy more random stuff we don’t absolutely have to have.

I can’t tell you how much we would have spent had we remained in the U.S. for the three months we were in the Mediterranean, but I’m pretty sure we spent less while in the Greek islands and about the same or perhaps slightly more in Italy. In Greece, we spent about 50€ per night to rent budget hotel rooms with kitchenettes or apartments and we could have gone cheaper than that. We also traveled by ferry and lingered in each place for at least a week, which is usually the key to getting a good deal.

If you look online, renting apartments by the week in many destinations both here and abroad can seem very expensive, but if you spend a night or two in a hotel and then negotiate in person, you can often get a much better deal.

To be fair, there are some expenses, like laundry and car rental, for example, that crop up on the road but not at home. But the bottom line is that travel, especially overseas travel, can be cheaper than staying at home if you travel smart and eliminate your rent or mortgage by renting your place out or putting your things in storage while you’re away. And even if you can’t or don’t want to give up your base, even temporarily, don’t forget that your utility bills will be cheaper while you’re away.

Now for the hard part: finding the time to travel. The truth is that these days, many of us have jobs that can be done anywhere via the Internet. The problem is that many bosses are control freaks and they want to have your close by, supposedly to facilitate communication, but maybe also just to keep an eye on you to make sure you aren’t slacking off.

Here’s my suggestion. If you want to try a working holiday somewhere, start modest and tell your boss that if he feels that your work suffered while away, you’ll consider those days to have been vacation days upon return. It might not work, but it’s worth a shot, and if that fails, make the case for unpaid leave.

And when it comes time to plan your next trip, look around your house and just think about all the things you aren’t going to need while you’re away. It’ll make you feel great about getting the hell out of town.