Eric Stoen is a writer and photographer specializing in family travel, based in California. His goal is to encourage everyone to take their kids to unique destinations, and he provides first-hand information through travelbabbo.com to make it easier to plan those trips. He’s traveled with his three kids (ages 7, 10 and 11) to 47 countries on 7 continents, with destinations including Antarctica, Kenya, Easter Island, the Maldives and much of Europe. Every year each of his kids gets to choose any destination in the world (literally) for a one-on-one trip.
1.)Where was the first place that you traveled that made you think WOW—travel is amazing (think history book come to life or …)
I traveled to several countries in Europe and the South Pacific as a kid, but I don’t remember specific cultural interactions, or anything that really made me want to see more of the world. It was when I studied in Florence my sophomore year of college that I delved into Italian history, culture and art, and took trains all around Europe on weekends. Seeing new counties and interacting with different cultures every week made me want to never stop traveling. And I haven’t.
2.) If you had unlimited resources, where would you go and what would you do?
Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I like Southern California and having a base here, and my kids love their school. We still manage to travel to 15-20 countries a year during school breaks, using miles to fly for free as much as possible. Someday I’ll retire and we’ll spend a lot more time every year in France and Italy, but for now I feel like I have the perfect balance of time at home and fun travels.
3.) What were you afraid to do and how did you find the courage to overcome it?
It took me a while to leave my old job, even though I didn’t have a passion for it, because the unknown is scary. But then one day three years ago I made the snap decision to quit. I just had a feeling that I would be able to create a new career doing something that I was passionate about – even if I didn’t have a plan at the time. It’s worked out better than I ever thought it would.
4.) What apps do you use regularly that make your life easier?
So many! The iPhone apps that I use most often are Instagram and Facebook since that’s where I’ve built a business, the normal Camera app since I love always having a camera with me, Lightroom Mobile for photo processing, Podcasts, Netflix, Kindle and Music for when I need entertainment on planes, Kayak for broad flight searches, and United’s travel app since I do most of my flying on United and I use their app for booking, changing seats, checking upgrade status and even watching movies.
5.) What place do you wish more people have seen?
Mexico City. It’s an amazing, dynamic, cultural city, and too many Americans either travel only to Mexico’s beaches or they’re scared to visit Mexico at all. Mexico City will give people an appreciation for Mexico overall.
6.) Best advice you have been given and by whom?
Always learn basic phrases in the local language…and use them! I don’t know where I got this advice the first time – maybe it’s just come from traveling – but we make sure that our kids do it everywhere we go. It’s the difference between just being a tourist and delving into the culture a little – and really cool things can happen when you cross that barrier.
7.) When were you surprised by the kindness of strangers on a trip?
It didn’t surprise me necessarily, but I’ve lost my daughter twice in foreign countries (a long story) and strangers were amazing at finding her, comforting her, and helping us reconnect both times.
8.) What inspired you to travel for extended periods of time or live in a new country?
Because it’s different! How boring would life be if you never explored, and never met people who lived differently than you? The world is amazing. My kids have been to 47 countries now and every country, every meal, every interaction has changed them in tiny ways, adding up to make them the amazing people they are today. They’ll never stereotype. They’re empathetic. When they start voting, they’ll choose candidates who are inclusive rather than divisive.
It’s a really cool world and I love seeing it through my kids’ eyes.
10.) My favorite book is… My favorite hotel is…
I’ve read a lot, and my favorite books are probably the Harry Potter series. Such a great story to read and re-read, whether you’re a kid or an adult, and I love visiting Universal Orlando with my kids and interacting with JK Rowling’s fictional world. My favorite hotel is either the Peninsula Bangkok or Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives.
Lastly, can you please recommend a resource for up-and-coming travel writers; this could be a course you know, a book, conference etc.
The best book out there is the Six Figure Travel Writing Road Map by Gabi Logan. She also has workshops.
In 2012, Eric won Conde Nast Traveler’s Photo of the Year award, and in 2017 Forbes named him the World’s #4 Travel Influencer. He is an ambassador for Travelocity, AFAR Magazine, Thomson Family Adventures and Universal Orlando.
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