Have Kids Will Travel: Woman with Aussie roots helps families to find big adventures in a small worldMore Info
New Marlborough — Fiona Kerr has an antidote to winter in the Berkshires. Just as March roars in like a proverbial lion, burying locals’ distant dreams of an early spring in fresh snow, Kerr is poised to help you plan a getaway. After 24 years exploring the world—including 17 years traveling with her children—the native of Wagga Wagga, Australia, has embarked on a new adventure as a travel consultant with Family Adventures Await, a boutique travel agency borne of fellow traveler Jennifer Shanks’ love for exploring the world with her children. “Some of our family’s fondest memories and funniest experiences have come from our travel adventures,” explained Kerr in a recent interview. “Travel bonds us in a way that daily life experiences do not,” said the mother of three who, along with her husband, has logged months at a time on the road with her family in far-flung locales from Alaska to Africa and myriad destinations in between.
Perhaps Kerr’s biggest task is dispelling the myth that traveling with children is stressful and expensive. In fact, from her perspective, it is the antithesis. “Taking a break from the regular routine of life is always fun, [and] offering children the chance to get out of their comfort zone [while parents do the same] builds confidence, an ability to adapt to new and different situations, and the opportunity to learn through exploration and experience.” In fact, all of Kerr’s opinions on the topic were gleaned through first-hand experience. “In our travels, I aim to include an activity that each family member enjoys doing; that way, everyone feels included in the holiday,” said Kerr of her extensive experience hitting the road with her family in tow. That said, cramming the itinerary is not ideal. And she has two cardinal rules: Plan an itinerary that includes something for everyone, and “include plenty of down time to relax, read and play.”
When working with new clients, particularly those traveling for the first time with kids, Kerr employs more show than tell. “I gently persuade and show [parents] they can do things together as a family they might not normally do,” Kerr explained. In fact, this can be the foundation for successful travel. “It’s nice to spend time with your own kids when you are not in your own environment” is how Kerr sees it. Away from the responsibilities of day-to-day life, parents inevitably find the time and space to concentrate on their kids and have fun. From exploring a market in a foreign town and trying different foods to climbing a pyramid and learning to say “hello” and “thank you” in a foreign language, travel provides children and adults with memories that they will be talking about for months (and years) afterward.
That said, there is no “one size fits all” in this industry; rather, the adventure is different for each family. Some opt for a luxury resort on the beaches of Mexico with a visit to a cenote (a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes groundwater underneath and sometimes used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings); others might fancy a camping trip exploring the national parks of Utah, while another option might be exploring London while pretending to be a wizard. Regardless of the path, there are certainties Kerr employs along the way.
Kerr walks a fine line between encouraging others to get comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones and employing practicality. She has, after all, learned a thing or two along the way. For instance, she advises organization but warns against packing too much in; she has learned that kids like to know what is on the agenda down to specific details; and always, always leave plenty of down time for reading, napping and exploring. “We know every detail [when we travel]; otherwise, it is stressful,” she shared. She is sure to make suggestions for activities that she might not otherwise make, noting “if I mention [an excursion] to [my kids] enough times, they are likely to consent,” she joked. And there is always an out if someone is unhappy. “Traveling with family is actually about being together,” she reminds those less well-versed in travel with kids. “It’s not so much about the way that you travel or the style that you travel in—it’s the fact that you are out there doing it.”
Kerr, who identifies as a stay-at-home mom, has enjoyed the flexibility of traveling with her three children despite the confines of the traditional school schedule. Furthermore, it’s a very Aussie thing to do these long-term trips. “Australia is a long way from anywhere and it’s really common to travel for four to eight weeks,” she explained. “[Long trips] become habit-forming and our new normal,” she added. Not to mention the other given: “Kids learn through travel,” is how Kerr sees it, which means extended trips have become part of the family landscape. In 2011, she and her husband, Broc, took an RV trip up to Alaska for three months; more recently, the family spent one month on a self-drive safari that included the major sites of Namibia and Botswana before returning stateside via Australia, Cambodia and Egypt. Of course, Kerr fully recognizes that not everyone can do this, which means a two-week tour of Europe or a week spent camping on the coast of Maine are also doable. The most important detail? “Show [your kids] something new, give them a different experience … you don’t need to stay in a posh place.”
“We often take the kids out of school, because they are learning,” Kerr said, noting that opportunities to practice math, English, social studies, foreign language and physical activity present themselves every day when traveling. When traveling, her own kids are responsible for using maps to get them from Point A to Point B; they convert money to local currency and enjoy a practical lesson in the process: If each kid has $3 to spend each day, and a gelato costs one euro, how many gelati can you buy per day? Other highlights for her family include going to local markets where they can explore all the “weird, wonderful foods” in any given locale. Her own kids enjoy sussing out local potato chip flavors—noting that England boasts tomato sauce-flavored chips and Canada is known for poutine-flavored—while bakeries and supermarkets provide further opportunities for exploration.
Kerr has the experience, knowledge and creativity to help each client discover their unique family adventure. Have Kids Will Travel is her website, one that chronicles family adventures abroad; to employ her services, your location is unimportant. If you’re still uncertain as to what a travel consultant is and why you might need one, consider the following questions: Have you ever wanted to take your family somewhere exciting but are unsure where to start? Do you dream of a beach vacation on a tight budget? Would you like time to relax and reconnect with your family? “I would like to work with more local people,” said Kerr. “I want to encourage people to try different experiences and to see new things.” At the root of her mission is guiding people to get what they want out of their vacations while attempting to get them to try something new at the same time, which is why the work is so time-consuming. “I find the off-the-beaten-path places,” Kerr explained. “I find how you will get from A to B, and I make it fun, not stressful, while encouraging the path less traveled.”