siegelandsonIn 2000, single-father Jeff Siegel embarked on a spur-of-the-moment vacation with his son Spence that took them across the southwestern tier of National Basketball Association arenas.  Shortly thereafter, Siegel formulated a grandiose plan:  he and Spence would visit every NBA arena and Major League Baseball park in the United States.

What started as a series of hilarious road games and unexpected tours turned into a journey that would change everything for the Siegel and his son.  Through their quest, Jeff and Spence have re-imagined the classic road trip and invented a new model for a family vacation – the RelationTrip. 

In the coming months, Siegel will share his sage advice in an inspiring and engaging new book, RelationTrips: A Simple, Powerful Way to Bond with Your Loved Ones Through Personalized Road Trips.  In RelationTrips, Siegel provides a practical road map for building enduring family connections and creating trips filled with adventure, imagination, discovery and fun.  I asked him a few questions about his book, as well as tips for family travel this holiday season.

Culture Traveling Mom: Where did you get your inspiration to write a book about personalized road trips?

Siegel: RelationTrips grew out of road trips that my son, Spence, and I started taking together back in 2001 when he was seven-years-old. His mother and I had divorced, so the trips were an opportunity to stay close, solidify our ever-growing bond and build on our shared interests.  Initially, they were a way for a couple of sports geeks to visit as many arenas and stadiums as possible.  Over time, however, I quickly started to tap into the hidden benefits of what we were doing: it was very powerful way to become much closer to my son.

Culture Traveling Mom: Tell us about your book, RelationTrips.  Who will it appeal to homestretchand why?

Siegel: RelationTrips will appeal to anyone who has a relationship with a child to whom they want to grow closer.  The key here is the journey … and that doesn’t mean just the time spent on the road.  It’s just as much about the planning and aftermath as well.  RelationTrips are all about maximizing what I call the “Three-Way Intersection” of Adventure, Excitement and Unpredictability.  The book serves as a step-by-step guide for readers on how to accomplish this.

Culture Traveling Mom: What advice do you have for making the best possible family trips this holiday season?

Siegel: Begin by thinking about it as much more than just “a trip.”  Instead, spend time together focusing on some of the RelationTrip staples, such as coming up with a theme for your trip, creating a custom name for your journey, designing a special logo, and researching sites, landmarks, friends and family that you’d like to weave into your itinerary.  The important thing is that whatever you do during the planning stages, you do it together.  This helps build anticipation towards the trip and gets everyone involved long before your family leaves the driveway.

Culture Traveling Mom: How do you recommend parents make the most of long plane or car journeys?

Siegel: Developing personalized road games is a great way to pass the time in the car or on the plane.  These are games created specifically for your trips that cannot be played anywhere else.  Scores are kept, champions are crowned and the winner carries the title until the next trip.  For instance, years ago Spence invented a game called “Bed Ball” – a crude combination of tennis and volleyball played over a hotel bed with a beach ball.  These games can be a big part of a RelationTrip, as they add another level of common ground for families to connect in a creative, engaging and memorable way.

Down time during a plane or car ride also serves as a great time to review the highlights of previous trips, as well as to talk about future ones.  There’s nothing wrong with Mom or Dad coming prepared with some “talking points.”  Conversation is good.  It opens the lines of communications and all kinds of good things happen from there.

Culture Traveling Mom:  What ways do you suggest parents make trips sentimental – photos, scrap books, journals, etc?  What else can they do to involve the kids in the trip planning and execution of the trip to make the memories last a long time after they return?

snapshotsSiegel: Scrapbooks are great!  They provide an ongoing opportunity during the course of the trip to collect all sorts of memorabilia – from ticket stubs to menus to newspaper clippings.  It’s all about reminding your kids – and yourself – about how much fun you had during this shared experience.  Another tremendous way to do that is through digital picture frames.  When placed in a strategic location around the house (like the family room), the images provide a constant reminder of your time together.  Every time you or the kids walk by it, you smile, you dream and you look forward to your next RelationTrip.

Culture Traveling Mom: When should a family start planning their holiday vacation?

Siegel: The Holidays come with a built-in magic of their own, so ramping up the planning and discussion early in the season can help get the whole family in the holiday spirit that much sooner.  Getting the kids involved with the planning for your RelationTrip weeks, or even months, before you put the key in the ignition helps create excitement and anticipation.  Some activities or destinations book up more quickly during the holidays, so it’s really never too early to begin dreaming, discussing and researching possibilities for your time on the road.

Culture Traveling Mom: How long will a child remember a trip after they’ve been on it?

Siegel: The more the child is involved in the planning and execution of the trip, the more they will remember it.  It also helps extend the excitement of the trip for weeks, sometimes months, after you’ve arrived back at home.  With a little bit of creativity and persistence, your family trips can be transformed into something that becomes a part of the life-long fabric of your parent-child relationship.  Over time, these trips can build a closeness with your children created from a whole series of shared memories.  These days, Spence talks about taking these type of personalized road trips with his son someday and that’s a testament to the ever-lasting impact they’ve had on his life.

siegelsonCulture Traveling Mom:  How can parents plan a trip that is child-friendly but also full of activities they want to do, too?

Siegel: It’s all about coming up with a series of destinations that light a fire under both you and your child.  This also provides a wonderful opportunity for you to learn more about their interests.  The possibilities are as unlimited as your imagination – from great rollercoasters of the Eastern seaboard to the last dozen drive-in theaters still in operation west of the Mississippi, or rock-and-roll Halls of Fame.

For trips that families take over and over, such as the drive to grandma and grandpa’s, it’s about finding something unique and interesting each time you hit the road.  Sometimes it may take a little longer to get there, but making lasting family memories is worth it.

Culture Traveling Mom: Are there any particular destinations you can recommend for people living in the U.S. to visit this holiday season?

Siegel: Last Holiday season, Spence and I visited Oklahoma City.  To our surprise, they had turned the town’s minor league baseball park into a Winter Wonderland – complete with a sledding mountain, carolers, and fire pits for roasting marshmallows.  It was completely unexpected, and ranked as one of our all-time favorite RelationTrip Holiday experiences.

Here in Chicago, where Spence and I call home, it’s a holiday tradition to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo for their “Zoo Lights” event.  The entire zoo is decorated with strings of lights and bright displays.  They also have all kinds of neat things going on such as ice carving demonstrations. There’s just something very cool about celebrating the holidays surrounded by lions and tigers and seals…oh my!