Family Traveler Spotlight is the section of our publication where we profile families who love taking their children along on their travel adventures. In this edition, we meet Josh Bender of Travel With Bender. He shares with us how The Athenaeum Hotel in London went above and beyond, why traveling is not just for the rich and famous, and how to get started if you’ve never traveled with your kids before.
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Tell us about your family.
It’s me, Josh aged 35, Erin aged 35, Mia aged 7 and Caius aged 6.
Where do you live when you’re not traveling?
Nowhere, because we’re nomadic. We started this nomadic lifestyle in May 2012. Before that, we lived in Perth and we had done a few international trips. One day we realized that traveling with kids is not that hard, and the cost of living is so high in Australia. Since I was a web designer, I was able to work on the road.
What type of work do you and your partner do?
When we first started traveling, I had owned a web design company for about 8 years. I had a few employees who could handle most of the day-to-day stuff. Two years in, I sold the business and since then Erin and I have focused much of our time and effort on our travel blog. We put a strong emphasis on quality content and SEO and as a result, traffic grew and so did advertising income. Now the blog is our primary source of income. I also have a small software business, and we offer a range of splinter services like writing for third parties or managing marketing campaigns for brands.
Tell us about Travel with Bender.
When we started traveling, we asked a few friends whether they’d read a blog about our travels if we wrote one? The main reason is that we didn’t want to repeat the same story 10 times to our family and friends. From day one, we were just giving a log of what we did and where we were. The turning point was in Penang, Malaysia, where we stayed for two months. We were at a Chinese street festival just enjoying the festivities when a lady ran up to us, calling us by name. It turned out that she followed our blog. We decided to look at our stats and realized that there were a lot more strangers reading the blog than just our family members. So we decided to adjust the content and started including more tips for when other people wanted to visit the places we traveled to. It wasn’t just about us, but more about practical things that parents would want to know. For example, is this destination stroller-friendly? Lots of things like that that only parents would think of.
Why do you believe in traveling the world with your children?
Travel changes a person. It shifts perspectives, changes paradigms, and people’s priorities get readjusted when they realize they’re not the only type of person in this world. Different people have different views, but they’re equally valid. And that fosters harmony and collaboration. When you see the world that way, you can’t help but make the world a better place. The more I travel, the more I realize that I don’t have all the answers. With other traveling families I’ve met, I’ve seen how traveling affects their kids. I want my kids to see the world as a more friendly and more understanding place, and be able to relate to people of different backgrounds and cultures. It’s a hugely educational experience. They learn something that’s practical and tangible, and their attention rate is much higher. When we go to different places, we make education a high priority, but we still make it fun so it doesn’t feel like learning.
Luxury means different things to different people. How do you define luxury when it comes to traveling with your family?
For us, luxury means anything better than an average middle-class lifestyle in Australia. We don’t splurge on fancy hotels every single week, of course, since we could spend that same amount of money on a whole month of experiences instead. The one thing that surprised me was how the perception of most people is that traveling is only for the rich and famous; that it’s out of reach for regular people. There’s still a significant cultural belief that you have to be special to do this kind of thing. But we set a goal and stuck to it, and and we’re just a regular family. You don’t have to wait to win the lotto or an inheritance to travel – just start making travel a priority now. Other things are just not as important. Travel can be far more affordable than people think. The average person saves the whole year for 1 or 2 holidays, spends top dollar on the most expensive hotels and attractions, on top of paying all their regular bills. But when we’re nomadic, we don’t have to pay for a home somewhere else. We end up spending two-thirds less when we’re traveling than we did living in Perth.
What’s the best travel experience your family has ever had?
Each of our family members would probably have different answers. For me, it would be sitting on a beach with a drink and putting my feet up. It’s hard to beat some of the Caribbean and Greek islands. For Erin, it would be Bali where she’s been 10 times. For my daughter, it would be definitely be Finland. It was magical to see where the real Santa lives and going huskie-sledding. For Caius, he has a different answer each time. He definitely loves Legoland and other other theme parks.
What’s your favorite family-friendly luxury hotel?
Some of our favorites are the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico, the Grand Mirage Resort in Bali, Samabe Bali Suites & Villas, Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence, Italy, and The Athenaeum Hotel in London. Apart from obvious things, what sets luxury hotels apart is the service. They’re so proactive and think about things before we’ve even thought about them. They have tremendous attention to detail, and many have kids clubs, which our kids love. They make you feel like a rock star from time you walk in. At The Athenaeum, Erin had written on Twitter that she forgot her toothbrush. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on our door from the concierge, with a toothbrush for her.
What three items do you never travel without?
Since we’re bloggers, our camera and laptop are must-haves. And we always travel with Vegemite, which we stock up on whenever we’re back in Australia. But for other families, we recommend that they never travel without their passports, smartphone/laptop, camera, suitcase/backpack and back-up debit cards.
What’s your favorite online travel resource?
For booking travel, we like Travelocity, CheapOAir, Skyscanner, Mormando and Google Flights. We also use Uber quite a bit. RentalCars.com is a great one as they tend to have some of the cheaper car rentals around the world. We often use Viator for researching and booking tours. In the U.S. and Canada, we like Citypass, which is a discount booklet for different places. You can save 50-60% off many things. We’ve done housesitting before, and we use Trusted Housesitters for that. For researching before a trip, VisaHQ.com is very useful for knowing if you need a visa. Another site I use a lot is WeatherSpark. It has very accurate predictions on cities and months of the year so we know what clothes should we wear, what to pack, how to plan itinerary? We use Tep Wireless a lot as a mobile internet hotspot. Here’s a link to our favorite sites.
What’s the worst mistake you see other parents making when traveling?
The number one mistake is never stepping out the front door. The hardest part of any journey is the first step. I remember our first journey with Mia. We made it a small one, just a 3-hour drive out of town. Since she was so little, we thought we’d start with baby steps and work our way up. And that’s a sensible approach. If you haven’t traveled with your kids before, start small and once you feel confident, work your way up. The amount of planning you need to take a baby to the mall vs to another country is not that different, believe it or not.
What’s on your travel bucket list?
Some of the big ones are Bora Bora, Iceland to see the Northern Lights, and Antarctica. I also have some more obscure places on my list. There’s a place in Venezuela called the Catatumbo Delta. It’s basically place where the river meets the inland sea, and because of the humidity and mountains around it, that causes a big updraft, so that essentially it storms in the same spot every day of the year. There’s a place in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan called the Gates of Hell. It’s a big pit that has gas seeping out of it and has been on fire for nearly 40 years. We still haven’t been to Africa: Namibia, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco. We also haven’t been to India yet, though that’ll be easier to convince some family members to do rather than others. I’d also like to try Central Asia. It’s good for solo travelers but when you have kids, it’s a bit trickier.