In Celebrity Travel Chat with Colleen Kelly, Colleen interviews fellow travel experts and celebrities about their areas of expertise and their own personal passion for exploring the world.
Stephanie Miles is all about travel, whether as part of her job or in her personal life. She is AARP’s vice president of member value, products and platforms, and her responsibilities include developing new online member experiences for several areas, including travel. She oversees AARP’s travel site, travel.aarp.org, which helps users pick destinations and plan their trips, and she serves on the board of the U.S. Travel Association. Stephanie also loves to travel with her family. In fact, she and her husband and teenage sons are on an ambitious mission — read below to find out more![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
- Your recent AARP travel survey found that 87 percent of leisure travelers 45-plus have taken a road trip in the past year. Why do you think road trips are so popular among this age group? What are the benefits of road tripping?
Road trips are a great way to see the country—on your own terms. It gives travelers a lot of flexibility—the survey found that the most popular reason why people choose road trips is that they have their own vehicle on the journey and at their destination. Road trips are also cost friendly and allow travelers to take in the local sights, sounds and tastes along the way.
- Since your survey shows that Baby Boomers are embracing the road trip, do you think it makes sense for families to incorporate grandparents into their road trips? How can hitting the road together be a good way to bond and make memories across generations?
Absolutely! Road trips are a great way for generations to bond. It’s easy for road trippers of all ages to experience local culture together—they can make memories together not just at their final destination, but also at places along the way. And car rides are a great way to make memories, too—they give road trippers a great opportunity to talk with one another, play games and share family memories! There is also the opportunity to begin and sustain a wonderful family tradition. The time together is priceless.
- What are other benefits of multi-generational travel with grandparents and grandchildren?
The flexibility that road trips provide also makes it easier to have multiple experiences that make every generation happy. Interim stops may include the restaurant that grandparents have found, as well as the amusement park that the kids will love. And of course, multi-gen travel means that generations get to have these experiences *together*—so there are so many great bonding opportunities. So with road trips, everyone wins!
- What other interesting travel trends did the AARP travel survey uncover?
I think this survey highlights our increasing reliance on the internet, digital apps, social media and other technology as essential tools in our travel planning, during the journey and sharing the memories. Over 70% are using GPS navigation and over 20% are using Google to search for information while on the road. Waze (a community-based traffic and navigation app) is emerging, as are gas apps. The smartphone is clearly an essential travel tool.
- I understand that you’re on a mission to travel to all 50 states with your family and that you’ve already been to 38, with New Mexico being next on the list. On average, how many states does your family visit each year, and what is your preferred means of travel? Do you have a plan and a timeline for meeting your 50-state goal, or do you simply hit the road whenever the opportunity presents itself?
I love this question. The decision to visit all 50 states as a family has allowed us to plan special journeys each year that allow us to discover and enjoy the best of each state. My kids have learned so much about this country by experiencing life as a local and sampling travel treasures. We hope to complete our 50-state tour by the time the boys graduate from college. This means I have 11 states and roughly 7 years to go. The number of states by trip varies. Some states are large geographically and we may visit only one at a time (though we always try to stretch!). We are also bound by the school calendar and juggle that with weather. (Yes, we visited Alaska in the summer, not the winter!) This goal requires some planning to get to the state. If this is a place far away from where we live, we fly in and pre-plan some key activities, but once there, we rent a car and hit the road. We also make it a goal to research and try the local food favorites.
I should add we also take many local road trips for college visits, baseball games and family events. These trips require much less planning. A recent trip to visit Virginia colleges took us on some beautiful roads and terrific diners!
- What are some of your favorite states and experiences you have encountered on this journey? How has this been a valuable experience for your family?
We have debated this question many times as a family. Each state has a top memory. My favorite trip included Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. We enjoyed Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons, white water rafting, being bugled awake by a herd of elk, hiking and incredible food. My oldest loved Alaska, particularly salmon fishing and four -wheeling in the Yukon. My youngest loved Arizona with a Phoenix Resort, Sedona, Grand Canyon and more. My husband will not commit to choosing one favorite trip. This has been incredible for our family. We plan together, have amazing memories, create great moments to truly be together and talk, relax and dream. Creating this time apart is the best part of all.
As you can see, everyone has different tastes in what they’re looking for in a trip. AARP’s Trip Finder is a really great resource for helping travelers determine where to visit, based on what they’d like to do on their trip and how long they’d like to travel. The Trip Finder can guide you to destinations you may not have considered before! The Trip Finder can be found at travel.aarp.org.
- Do you have any tips for families who would like to start traveling more before their children are grown? What’s the best way to get started and continue to make travel a priority?
I do. My top suggestion is to bravely jump in and plan. You will never get these moments back. You will create great shared memories that will serve you well for a lifetime. AARP’s Trip Finder can help you choose a great travel destination tailored to your tastes and interests. Once your destination is set, your trip planning is off and running! I think it is essential to immediately accept that every trip has its own “adventure.” You may get lost, lose luggage or end up at a minute clinic with a spider bite (Seattle has a great minute clinic near the Space Needle). But if you realize this can be one trip of many and each “adventure” will come with its own funny memory, it works out just fine.
I also suggest that you get everyone in on the planning. My sons picked out a fantastic cabin resort in Minnesota, and we canoed the boundary waters between the US and Canada. If everyone gets involved in the planning, there are far fewer complaints and a great pride of trip ownership.
- What are some items you would not leave home without when taking a road trip?
I do not leave home without my phone, iPad and chargers, and my purse. I also bring an eye shade and white noise machine so that I can sleep absolutely anywhere. I have also found that having snacks is especially helpful with very tall teenage boys.
- What’s your favorite travel app or website and why?
It is not truly a travel app, but I have grown to love Siri on my sons’ iPhones. We can ask Siri almost anything we are wondering about, where to eat, some historical detail, etc., and it adds a great deal of knowledge to our adventure.
And, of course, I highly recommend starting your trip planning with a visit to the AARP Travel website—travel.aarp.org. There, you can:
- Access the Trip Finder to help pick your travel destination
- Read guides to hotels, restaurants and attractions
- Create and save your trip itineraries
- Find travel tips
- And even book trips!
It’s really an all-around great tool that makes trip planning so much easier!
- Do you have a guilty pleasure when you’re traveling?
Yes. I have two. I love to find and enjoy local food and try to find the “best of.” I also love to walk and explore. So the drive to get there is complemented by a walking tour. It is wonderful to people watch, sightsee and think “what would it be like if we lived here?” We enjoy thinking about this as a family and crafting our theory.