Author Holly Hughes, her daughter, Grace, and host Kelly Regan discuss Holly's new book, "Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up." Holly talks about how they picked 500 places in the world that kids (and their families) will enjoy. Whether you're trying to plan a dream vacation with your kids or just a weekend getaway to somewhere exciting and new, Holly provides her inspiration and practical information on how to prepare for travel with kids as a parent, how to prepare your kids, tips for preparing some background info and context, and how to make any trip with your kids into an intriguing (and more fun!) experience. We also hear from 11-year old Grace who gives us a kids' eye-view on traveling the world, and how to pass the time on long flights.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

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  • Safari: Kruger National Park, South Africa
  • Theme Parks: Playland in Rhine, New York; Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Swimming with Dolphins: Australia
  • Attraction (for younger kids): Beatrix Potter's cottage in England
  • Attraction (for older kids): Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford, England


Announcer: Welcome to the travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit
Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to a conversation about all things travel. I am Kelly Regan, Editorial Director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I will be your host. My guest today is Holly Hughes, the author of our new book, "500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up," which is on sale now. She is here to talk to us about some of her favorite destinations around the world, and about what makes for a memorable family vacation; and for some added perspective, she is joined by her 11-year-old daughter, Grace.

Holly and Grace, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Holly: Thanks for having us.
Kelly: Let's start at the beginning. Holly, I think what everyone wants to know is, why these 500 places? I know you worked with some other Frommer's authors on the project, because you haven't been to all 500 places, at least not yet. So what criteria did you use in making the list?
Holly: Well, actually I was surprised when I put the list together how many of the 500 -- I thought, "500 places, no way!" -- but I have actually probably been to over half of them, which is mind-boggling.
Kelly: Oh, that's great!
Holly: Besides talking to other Frommer's authors, I polled several of my friends who I consider really intrepid travelers, who from an early age were willing to take their kids to some unusual places, and they gave me not only great recommendations in terms of the sort of travel brochures, "it's a beautiful place," but "My kids loved this. This is the thing that they noticed more than anything else when they were there." Because sometimes a child will have a totally different take on a destination. You should always try to see it through a child's eyes.
Kelly: Sure, so it is kind of real-world feedback from people who have been through that with their kids.
Holly: And sometimes they said, "Don't do this!"
Kelly: Well, and on that note, can you tell me which place was Number 501, the destination that just missed the cut?
Holly: We had to whittle this down from about 700. There are a lot of good places that I would have loved to include. I think the final one that we decided not to include was a Kenya safari, partly because they were just so expensive, and also we already have, in there, a safari-like experience at Kruger National Park in South Africa. So we thought that, given that we could only put 500 places in here, maybe those two were so close -- geography and what you would be doing there -- that we would drop the Kenya one and stay with just the South African one.
Kelly: Right. It's funny that you are talking about "just 500 places," because that feels like so many; but when you actually start thinking of all the places you would like to go and you would like to take your kids, the list really multiplies pretty quickly.
Holly: And we had to decide not to include ski vacations, because they are generally resort-specific -- you book into one resort and you ski there; and also not everyone skis, and some people want more advanced skiing. All these factors had nothing to do with my suggestive reaction to them.

We also had to realize we were not going to be able to cover all the theme parks in America, so we made a point of not doing every Six Flags, every Great Adventure, because you tend to go to the one closest to where you are, just because your kids like a theme park.

Kelly: And I think, to a certain extent, you probably don't need to tell parents to take their kids to a theme park, because they are going to do that anyway.
Holly: Similarly, people would say, "Oh, I want to go to a nice beach." Well yeah, a nice beach is a nice thing. I know that after a day at the beach, my kids are bored and I am still only 200 pages into my nice thick novel.
Kelly: [laughs] Right.
Holly: So we tried to always, all of the outdoor places, have some kind of focus, whether it is a specific sports activity or a specific nature-watching activity.
Kelly: What I like about the book is that I think the book was essentially conceived as a dreaming book, a wish list of places to go. So I think it is meant for people to kind of page through and mark down which places really appeal to them. It is also important to note that all of the destinations in the book include very basic practical information to help you plan the trip, so phone numbers and web site, and even a few family-friendly hotel recommendations for each place.

So I think the book has a nice balance of the practical but also the sort of pie-in-the-sky, very aspirational and inspirational material.

Holly: Oh, I think that whenever you go on a web site, when you list a web site, that helps people to dream a little more.
Kelly: Exactly.
Holly: But I think we also realized that every one of these destinations has a backup book, which is the Frommer's guide to that destination.
Kelly: To talk a little more about the practical stuff for a minute, in your opinion, how can parents best prepare kids for taking a trip? What are some of the general pieces of advice you can give?
Holly: I think you need to do your homework as a parent, so that you can come to the kid and say, "Look, here's a book that would be really good to read before we go there." Or, "Let's rent this movie, because it is set in that city, and if you see it you will have a little more idea of what you are going to go." Before you go to a historical place, you as a parent need to read a little bit, so that you can say, not, "We're going to Notre Dame Cathedral today, " but, "Do you know when this was built?" So by the time they walk into the place they can have a little more context.

I tried to provide that in the write-ups, so that people aren't having to go to the library too much.

Kelly: Right, right, right.
Holly: It's just a handle to remind us what a kid doesn't necessarily know.
Kelly: What a kid doesn't know, but also what a kid is going to be really intrigued by. With Notre Dame it might be the gargoyles and things like that. One of the things that I really enjoyed is that, in the acknowledgments in the book, in the beginning of the book, you really have a lovely passage in which you thank your husband and three children for being the best travel companions that you could ask for, and you specifically congratulate the kids for being able to amuse themselves on long plane flights, and being experts at negotiating crowded train platforms.

Do you feel, as a travel writer and someone who does this for a living, that there are specific things that you have done to sort of train your children, if you will, to be good travelers?

Holly: Well I love traveling, and I have tried to teach them some of the things that I like to do, which is: one, don't over pack. So we all think about this. We also think about what to put in your carry-on so that if you lose your luggage, you can still do stuff until you get it.
Kelly: That's great.
Holly: Always have something to play with, something to read, and something to write on, when you are on a train or a long car trip or a plane, so that you don't begin to get bored. And good walking shoes; always have band-aids if you are going to be doing a lot of walking so you don't get blisters. Have the batteries, and the camera and the sunscreen before you get to the place, so that you don't waste your first three hours running around buying high-priced ones.
Kelly: Right, looking for AA batteries, yeah.
Holly: Right. Well that is kind of basic travel sense that I think gets magnified when you are with kids, because they have a shorter attention span than we do. But I think, also, just to cap the whole thing, my attitude as I travel is not, "Oh my gosh! This train is running late! How can we make our connection?" It's an adventure. We were coming back from Venice, we had to make a connection in London, the plane in Venice was delayed an hour and a half, we only had an hour and 35 minutes to make the connection in London originally. We jumped off that plane, British Airways snatched us up into a little shuttle van, raced across Heathrow. We came screaming... it was the most fun! We were such intrepid travelers, and we made the second plane, and it was an adventure instead of being, you know, "Who's in charge here?"
Kelly: Right, right, and I'm sure that the kids are going to always remember that. "Remember when we ran through the airport to catch our plane?"

Let's dig into some of the specific places on the list. One of the things I love about this book is that it is organized, the chapters are broken up by themes. Some of the chapter titles include things like "Rides and Thrills," "Holy Places," "Lost in the Mists of Time" -- which is a great subject matter. But I think my favorite is probably the chapter called "Weird and Wonderful." Let's talk about that one for a minute. I was intrigued because the places on your Weird and Wonderful list were not just unusual natural wonders such as Devil's Tower in Wyoming or Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but you also had some really interesting choices, like Alcatraz, and there is even a New Jersey diner hunt in that chapter, which I love.

So can you talk a little about what kind of places made your Weird and Wonderful list, and why?

Holly: Well I think traveling with a sense of humor is important when you are with kids, and a lot of these kitschy places are some of the places we would just stand in and laugh, and say, "This is just so crazy." Like down in Florida, the Coral Castle, or Watts Tower in L.A.
Kelly: Watts Tower in L.A.
Holly: Just some person with a real vision, some huge piece of goofy folk art that you can't believe. Similarly, when we were up in Bemidji, Minnesota, going around through Paul Bunyan country, where every third town has an immense statue of Paul Bunyon.
Kelly: And Babe, the Blue Ox.
Holly: Yeah.
Kelly: Yeah.
Holly: Great roadside kitsch, which is kind of fading from American society, and I think it is great to hunt it down.
Kelly: Obviously there are places all around the world. You also mentioned things like the catacombs in Paris, and you even recommend taking kids to the souk in Morocco, which I think is really an interesting, that is an interesting choice as well, because talk about a cultural immersion experience...
Holly: Yeah. Well, I think it is one of those places that if you get tips about who to hire for your guide, and that you are not really there to go shopping, you are there to take in the atmosphere, that makes it a little bit easier because you are not always worried about, "Am I making a good deal?" You are just walking about the swirling colors and the noise and smells.
Kelly: And taking it all in.
Holly: That's what you are there for, and then you are not thrown off by them.
Kelly: One of the other chapter titles that collects some of these trips is called "A Dose of Culture." We talked a little about that before, but some parents might shy away from a trip that focused on museums because they are wary that the kids might get bored. So do you have any tips for keeping kids engaged for a destination or a trip that might be slightly more contemplative than some of the more active vacations or, as you were saying, kind of kitschy, humorous destinations?
Holly: Well, "A Dose of Culture" is kind of organized by art, and if your child really loves art museums -- my older one in particular really likes to go to art museums, so we kind of go with that and we hunt places out -- but I think with art museums you have to know, "These are the six paintings you should see. Don't look at everything." You need to have enough nerve to say, "We're doing this one in an hour. We are going to miss a lot of good stuff, but we are going to see the six great ones." That is what they will remember.
Kelly: Sure.
Holly: If a kid is interested in music, then they are going to have a lot more patience for doing the Beatles Tour of Liverpool, or going down to Nashville and seeing the country music sights. If you are interested in the theater, yes, you really do want to go to the Globe Theater in England, and then go up to Stratford. Then on another vacation you say, "Oh, I also see in that same section, where I enjoyed those places in England, if we go to Greece I could see where this all started, and go to amphitheaters."
Kelly: Right.
Holly: So I think the idea, too, is that if you hit a list and you like a few things on it, you should try to work your way through all the things in that category in the next five or six years.
Kelly: Yeah, I think that is a fantastic idea. You are sort of carrying this theme, so they can see, what it's like to see a play at the Globe, versus going to an amphitheater in Greece or even in Turkey, and seeing how it was performed thousands of years before that.

I think one of the other wonderful tools in this book is that you include recommended age ranges for each destination. So I wanted to talk a little bit about a few specific recommendations on the list. For example, name a few places that would be best for toddlers.

Holly: When I was writing about nature things, when your kids are young, you don't want to take them up the Amazon yet, but there is Puerto Rico, a wonderful rainforest, very manageable with a nice visitor's center. It's a day trip. That is your trainer trip. If they love that, then you know, a few years from now, "Let's actually try to do the Amazon trip." Then, in the Rides and Thrills, I felt like, if you are a roller coaster nut, you will probably want to tick off these six great roller coasters. They aren't necessarily at the theme parks that are better for toddlers, so I also tried to put in some kind of retro places like Playland, up in Rhine, New York, or Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, which are softer, gentler theme parks with a great deal of charm, that won't overwhelm a toddler.

I also looked at places that were easier to get to, like swimming with the dolphins down in Australia, it's probably a wonderful place to go to do that, but maybe a younger kid is not ready for that long plane ride.

Kelly: Right.
Holly: So maybe similar things that are closer to home. Another thing with younger kids is you have to remember that they don't know certain history yet or certain literature. So for example, you might take a younger child to England to go see Beatrix Potter's cottage.
Kelly: Sure.
Holly: It is really charming and they love this, and it is so full of the spirit of Peter Rabbit. So save it until they are older to go to Stratford and see Shakespeare's birthplace, which is also charming, but when you are ten you get it, when you are six you don't.
Kelly: Well, speaking of that, what about some places for kids who are maybe six and up, like grade-schoolers.
Holly: A lot in this book is for them. I think that, kind of six to twelve, is the age range that just about everything applies for, unless it is a very few things where I really think you need to be 12 or older. Luckily if you have got younger kids you can look at those things and say, "We are working toward it! We'll be there someday." But there are only a few places for which the travel is so demanding that you would probably want to wait until a kid was a teenager before you do it.
Kelly: Sure. Like, you were talking about the Australia trip, that's a marathon plane flight.
Holly: Right, and some places are simply more challenging to travel in. Egypt, for example. Fabulous to see all the great antiquities there, but you do have to be a savvy enough traveler to deal with the cultural things in Egypt, otherwise you just get sort of on the package tour route in Egypt. But if you really want to go a little off the beaten track, you have to be a traveler who has sort of heads-up street smarts.
Kelly: Sure, sure. I mean, and I imagine that once kids get older, into kind of tween and teen years, you have a good sense of what things they are interested in and you can, as we talked about earlier, you can tailor the trips to their interests.
Holly: Exactly. My oldest son is very interested in sports. He will go see any stadium with any kind of history for a great team, so we have gotten to tailor our trips to include those. I didn't put it in the book, but he even found a cricket grounds in England, and gets that, that is important to him.

My second son loves military history. So that is why there are so many battlefields in this book, because...

Kelly: Yeah, there are a number of battlefields.
Holly: He loves it! He will stand on a hillside and visualize the whole battle.
Kelly: Wow!
Holly: It's something that really is important to him. So as we see that, we go to more of them.
Kelly: OK. Well, I thought we would take a minute and hear directly from the source. I wanted to ask a couple of questions of Grace, your daughter, who is 11. So Grace, are you there?
Grace: Mmhmm.
Kelly: Hi, Grace. Grace, I wanted to ask you, of all the places that you have been so far with your folks, which place is your favorite and why?
Grace: I really liked the Cliffs of Maur in Ireland, because it was cool to see them go straight down and see the water.
Kelly: They're pretty dramatic, aren't they?
Grace: Yeah.
Kelly: Yeah. If you are familiar with the places that your mom has written about in the book, is there a place that you are really lobbying for her to take you next?
Grace: I really want to go to the Amazon, because it looks cool, and I have read a few books on it.
Kelly: Uh huh. Do you like it because of the different kinds of wildlife, or things like that? Do you want to go fishing? What do you want to do in the Amazon?
Grace: I want to see the wildlife because I like animals a lot.
Kelly: Uh huh, that's cool. So tell me, you have obviously been on a lot of trips with your mom and dad and your brothers. What is your favorite thing about traveling, and then after that tell me what is your least favorite thing about traveling?
Grace: I really like comparing the atmosphere, the food, the hotels.
Kelly: You mean comparing it from place to place when you are on the same trip, or from one trip to the next?
Grace: One trip to the next.
Kelly: Oh, OK. Do you have a favorite kind of food?
Grace: I like Japanese food and a lot of Asian food.
Kelly: Wow, OK. That's great. And you eat sushi?
Grace: Some.
Kelly: Some, yeah. That's how...
Holly: We're not up to the eels yet.
Kelly: I eat some sushi, too, I admit that. Well, what is your least favorite thing about traveling, Grace?
Grace: I don't like the airplane rides.
Kelly: Oh, yeah. Especially the long ones, yeah.
Holly: She's a good trooper.
Kelly: She's a trooper, huh? Well, Grace, what do you do to pass the time? Do you read on the plane, or do you sleep, or do you listen to your music, or what?
Grace: I read, I sleep, I listen to music. Sometimes I watch the movie.
Kelly: Yeah, sometimes you watch the movie, but you can never know what you're going to get with the movies. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is really boring. Well that's great. Holly, I guess I wanted to close with a final question for you. You have been through the process of writing this book; you have been to so many of the places that are on the list. But is there a place that you wrote about or that you have heard about from people, that is in the book, that you are just dying to go to next?
Holly: We hope that in the next few weeks we are going to go up to Ohio to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame.
Kelly: Wow.
Holly: We got pretty interested in those. I would actually like to go back to Nashville with the kids and see a lot of the country music stuff, maybe even go down to Mississippi to see the birthplace of the blues down along Highway 61. That would be a great trip.
Kelly: That would be a great road trip. I think that is probably all the time we have for today. I have been talking with Holly Hughes and her daughter Grace. Holly is the author of Frommer's "500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up," which is on sale now. Holly and Grace, thanks for talking with me today, I really enjoyed our conversation.
Holly: Oh, we had a lot of fun.
Kelly: Thanks, Grace.
Grace: You're welcome.
Kelly: OK. So join us next week for another conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, Editorial Director of the Frommer's Travel Guides, and we'll talk again soon.

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