An Extraordinary Family Travel Resource: Mother of All Trips

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

As parents, we know it is so very important to share the world with our kids, in whatever ways we can. I've got a great resource for traveling families - a wonderful site called The Mother Of All Trips: Bringing the world to your kids - and your kids to the world.  Created by Mara Gorman, this site shares places, day trips, family travel tips, dreams and memories, and our very favorite section, eating on the road. My favorite article this summer has been "the great custard comparison" - which not only brings back fond memories of excellent frozen custards we've had, but also has redefined the route of a future road trip to Minnesota! We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Mara about traveling with kids, seeing the world anew, and more. Here's what she had to say...



WE: Please tell us about your site, Mother of All Trips...

MG: The Mother of All Trips is part travelogue, part memoir, and part meditation on motherhood. I share stories about trips I’ve taken with my children and those I hope to take. Along the way I try I offer ideas and insight that parents who want to travel with their kids will find useful, what I call a “how-to” but without lists. Most of all, I hope it’s a lot of fun to read.
An especially popular feature on the site is Mondays are for Dreaming. These are posts where I write about places I’ve been and places I’d like to go with my children. It’s fun to remember our travels or imagine a new place. I recently added a feature that allows users to link to their own Monday dreams; I’m hopeful that this will become a creative outlet for other would-be travelers.

Other posts describe great places to take a day trip, offer tips for planning or taking a trip, or simply make a case for traveling as a key aspect of family life. I’ve broken my content up into categories (We’ve Been Here, Daytrip Adventures, Family Travel Tips, Dreaming Of, and Eating on the Road) so that my readers can browse my stories; or they can use the search to find information about a specific place or topic.

I want inspire my readers to go on their own adventures, whether they may be large-scale trips or day trips in the next town.  With over 200 posts, I hope there’s something there for everyone who is interested traveling with kids.


mother of all trips - eiffel tower

Tommy at the Eiffel Tower



WE: What led you to start this site?

MG: Between June of 2003 and July of 2004, I traveled with my husband and then one-year-old son. We lived in eight places during those thirteen months. Needless to say I learned a great deal about both traveling with kids and parenting in general since my child learned to walk, talk, and eat solid food while we were on the road.

I’m a writer and had always planned to write a book about our journey and started working on it while we were still traveling. (I wish now that I had blogged the entire trip, but this was back in the early days of the blogosphere and I didn’t even know what blogs were.) I then took the traditional print publishing route of finding an agent and shopping the manuscript. In mid-2008, when the search for publication proved fruitless, some of the other women at an online parenting community I spent time on suggested that I start a blog. I was just leaving on a two-week trip to Paris with both my children, and so I decided to write about it and publish my writing online thinking that when I got back, I could also use the blog as a place to post parts of the book.

The funny thing is that I’ve done so much traveling since then that I haven’t used much of the book on the site at all. Blogging turned out to be a great creative outlet for me, and I realized that my experiences gave me something to share with other parents. And it also gave me a reason to keep taking trips - not that I really needed one. We average a trip about every six weeks, with lots of day trips in between.

I haven’t decided yet what the future of the book will be – I may publish it as an e-book or create a special section of the site dedicated to it.


mother of all trips - WI

All of us goofing on a big chair on the Union Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin



WE: How do you define travel?

MG: I try to define travel as broadly as possible. For me, it encompasses everything from going around the world to going around the corner. I’m a big fan of being a tourist in one’s own home town, of checking out the museum or restaurant or park right up the road that you’ve driven by a million times and never visited. But I also am a believer in going on long trips and would love to do more extended travel with my family.

My definition of travel is that in some ways it is a state of mind:  a willingness to step outside the easy, everyday boundaries that comfortably circle my life.



WE: What are the challenges and rewards of traveling with kids?

MG: I don’t want to dwell too much on the challenges of traveling with kids, because I think that’s pretty well-trod ground. Obviously, the single biggest challenge is that travel is about leaving your routine, and most children (and many adults) thrive on routine. To travel successfully with children one must learn to balance that need for routine with all that the world has to offer in terms of experience and education.

Happily, the positive aspects of traveling with my kids almost always outweigh the negatives. Oh sure, travel is definitely less glamorous, harder, and sometimes more costly with children than without, but it is also more deliberate and meaningful. When I travel with my kids, I spend virtually every minute doing things that are interesting and new, at least to them. And even experiences that aren’t new (or interesting) to me,  say staying in a hotel or visiting a park, are revealed in a completely new light because my children enjoy them so much. In a way, I am forced to live life on the same terms as a child – moment to moment, completely in the present, with little thought for what came before or what will come next.  And yet I also need to have a plan. I guess that’s where the challenge comes in again.

I also see my children grow with every experience that we have. They ask questions, learn things, meet new people, and try new food. When we come home, they want to read about the places we’ve been so that they can learn even more. It’s thrilling to see their capacity for information and new experience.


Matt, Tommy, Teddy hiking in Vermont

Matt, Tommy, Teddy hiking in Vermont



WE: One of the challenges of traveling is finding good food - any tips?

MG: I rely heavily on the Internet to find good places to eat, both using Google searches and also asking for tips from my friends on Twitter and Facebook. I’m lucky that my kids don’t have allergies and aren’t picky, so it’s usually pretty easy for me to find places that please everyone.

A big goal of mine is to try and support local economies as much as possible, so we rarely eat in chain restaurants. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re eating healthy food, but at least all of those French fries we eat are being paid for with dollars that go directly into the pockets of local business owners!
And restaurants aren’t always the only (or best) option. I love finding local farmers markets, which can be a great source of food for both breakfast and lunch. On a recent road trip we even found one at a rest area along the Pennsylvania turnpike. I stocked up and the next day we had a great breakfast of ripe cherries and blueberry bread in our hotel room.



WE: Learning while traveling is exciting - how do you prepare your kids for experiencing different places, cultures, etc?

MG: We are a family of talkers and since I make a point for us to have dinner together every night, we spend a lot of time at the table discussing our future trips. We talk about what we’ll see and do. I try to offer them some opportunities to help with the trip planning as well by giving them some choices and asking their opinion about the places I’ve suggested. I use their excitement and enthusiasm (or lack thereof) to make final decisions about what to visit.

I use books as a way to introduce new places as well. The library is a great resource, and I will often check out a bunch of books relating to the place that I simply leave lying around for the kids to discover.

A good example of how well this worked was when we went to Claude Monet’s house in France.  We read the book Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork many times and brought it when we flew to Paris. By the time we actually got there, it was a place the children knew – they were both so excited to see the house and garden that they had read about. Tommy actually did a drawing of the Japanese Bridge, just like Monet himself.

The other thing I do is try to find places to go and things to do that relate to the boys’ interests and also to the things Tommy is studying in school. Whenever I can make a connection, I do. This summer that meant a trip to a museum where we could walk through a tunnel that was once part of the Underground Railroad. Last fall, it was a visit to Mount Vernon. And since Teddy is crazy for dinosaurs, pretty much any natural history museum is a must-see.


mother of all trips - giverny

Tommy drawing at Giverny (Monet's garden)



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

MG: People often say to me “I’d love to be able to do what you do.” My response always is, but oh you certainly can! There’s nothing all that special about me or my family. Now granted, my husband and I both have a lot of flexibility in our schedules, but even if I didn’t, I would still find ways to get away for weekends or day trips.

Travel doesn’t have to be about taking six months off. Start small and see how you like it. Look for local adventures and then branch out to longer trips. And remember that by doing so you are creating a rich and meaningful set of memories for you and your children.

When I first started traveling with my children I flattered myself that I was going to show them the world and teach them to love travel, but in hindsight I’m humbled to realize that they have done these things for me.  I’m so grateful to them for giving me all of these wonderful stories to share.



WE: Thanks so very much, Mara. Your words - and travels - are inspiring!

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All photos courtesy and copyright of Mara Gorman.