Agent Sells Families Ideal European Vacation

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Reed Travel Features

BERKELEY, Calif. -- For more than a decade, Dan and Wendy Hallinan have advised clients how to keep the trip of their dreams from turning into "National Lampoon's European Vacation."

The Hallinans sold their restaurant business in 1986 so they could spend more time with their children -- ages 3, 7 and 11 -- and took off for a six-month tour of Europe. Their agency, Traveling With Children, was born shortly after their return.

Traveling With Children thus specializes in family travel to Europe, although Dan Hallinan said he books other types of travel, as well.

Hallinan's travel hints can benefit any agency seeking to become more familiar with the family market: "Tours generally do not work for families except those that are specifically tailored with children in mind. If you want to have a good trip with your kids, you have to restructure the trip for the things that they need," he said.

"A typical tour goes in lockstep from attraction to attraction," Hallinan continued. "One thing kids generally do not like is attractions."

Does this mean endless days of amusement parks and circuses? "You can get in the adult stuff and the kid stuff," said Hallinan, "you just have to know how to do it."

One way of doing it, explained Hallinan, is what he calls the "museum trick."

Many of Europe's great museums, such as the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris, have worksheets that help keep a child's mind occupied by providing challenges such as finding the fruit in a selection of paintings or explaining the stories behind classical sculptures.

Then there's the question of bribery.

"Child psychologists are always spouting this stuff about not bribing kids, but a vacation is a vacation. There's nothing wrong with saying, 'Let's spend some time in the museum' and then after we'll go get ice cream,' to get a little cooperation," Hallinan said.

Another crucial aspect of the European vacation is the accommodations.

"If it's the summer, families should try to get a hotel with a swimming pool," Hallinan said.

Most hotels in Europe require that children traveling with parents be booked into a separate room, but Hallinan has a list of five or six hotels in England and France that will take a family of four in one room.

However, his most important discovery during his own family's vacation in Europe was self-catering facilities. "This has become a major business for us now because it's so much less expensive than hotel rooms. We had a villa last summer outside of Florence, and it cost $1,000 a week. For a family of four, this is a major bargain," he said.

Self-catering is far more popular in Europe than it is in the U.S., Hallinan said, so prices are competitive. "Another advantage is that kids love going to the market and seeing the 'strange' foods as well as the local people," he said.

One of the biggest problems for parents when traveling in Europe is finding food kids will eat, Hallinan said. The idea of a kid's menu is rare to nonexistent on the Continent. However ...

"American food has conquered Europe. There is fast food everywhere in the cities. In the countryside, Italy is one of the best places to go because almost all kids eat pasta and noodles," he said.

The best part of traveling with children in Europe, Hallinan said, is that it combats the image some Europeans have of "the ugly American tourist."

"People treat you differently when you're with children, they see you as more real," he said. Hallinan described his experience at a museum in Italy where "the guards are infamous for being surly."

"As soon as a guard there saw my kids, she started picking up these priceless sculptures to show my daughter how the hair on the sculptures was arranged. This never could have happened, I think, if it was just me and my wife," he said.

Traveling with Children welcomes calls from other agents and will split the commission on self-catering rentals, some of which pay up to 15% commission.
Traveling With Children
Phone: (800) 499-0929 or (510) 848-0929
Fax: (510) 848-0935

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