Tag Archives: family travel

5 Best Family Travel Books


Destinations: Beijing, Burma, Korea, Australia, Alaska

Books: Several

By Powell Berger


Every place we’ve ever visited has been made better by a book. Relatable teenage characters overcoming odds and introducing us to cultures other than our own open doors to exotic locales and make these new places familiar and welcoming. For us, travel planning goes something like this: pick the destination, book the flights, find the books.

For my first post on A Travelers Library, I’m excited to share the five best family travel books, the ones we immediately talk about when remembering our travels or planning the next adventure.

family travel book
Forbidden City: A Novel of Modern China by William Bell takes the reader on a personal trek through the political nightmare of Tienanmen Square, all through the eyes of Alex Bell, a Canadian high school student who travels to Beijing with his father, a journalist. What starts out as an opportunity to miss school and explore China becomes a harrowing story of a western teenager embroiled in one of the most dangerous political uprisings of modern times. Separated from his father during the demonstrations, Alex has to fend for himself while also helping young demonstrators find safety. A riveting novel based on the true stories surrounding the massacre, Forbidden City delivers a powerful history lesson while leaving the reader on the edge of her seat until the last page.

book cover: family travel to Burma
Elephant Run, by Roland Smith also delivers a great history lesson, drawing the reader into the world of rubber plantations in Burma and the Japanese occupation of that gentle land. Nick Freestone’s mom fears for her son’s safety in their London home after the night bombings, so sends him to live with his father on their rubber plantation in the remote Burmese elephant village. Before Nick even settles in, however, Japanese soldiers invade the village, occupy the plantation and take Nick’s father hostage. To save his father, Nick and the Burmese villagers who work the plantation stage a daring and dangerous counter-attack, depending on their timber elephants to save the day. While the story keeps the reader turning pages to know that the Freestones prevail, its real beauty is in the lovely story of these beautiful elephants, their mahouts, and the deep bonds that hold them together.


book cover: travel to KoreaA Year of Impossible Goodbyes, by Sook Nyul Choi is one of those books that never quite leaves you. My daughter and I still tear up occasionally when we talk about this one. Ten year old Sookan and her family endure the atrocities brought on their native North Korea during WWII by running a sock factory that supplies the Japanese army. The story unfolds in layers, painfully but with grace, unveiling the horror and cruelty of the Japanese soldiers occupying their village. The author handles the issue of comfort women with particular skill, remembering her audience of middle school children, but also not flinching from the atrocities endured by these gentle, proud people. Another page-turner, the book takes the reader through the double whammy – occupation first by the Japanese, then the subsequent horror that Russia inflicted after defeating the Japanese. The courage and determination of Sookan and her family to survive the horrors and ultimately escape to freedom is both inspiring and heart-breaking.

Walkabout: family travel book to Alaska
Walkabout, by James Vance Marshall is an Australian classic but rarely read by American audiences. Marshall tells the story of two American kids who survive a plane crash in the Outback and team up with an Aboriginal boy to save their lives. The author skillfully unfolds the history and tradition of Australia’s native people through these children’s fate. “Walkabout” is a treasured Australian tradition, where young people (usually men) leave home to explore and find themselves, walking about until they figure out their purpose on this planet. The story offers terrific insight into the plight of Australia’s aboriginal people and the issues of racism and discrimination that still exist today.

book cover: family travel to Alaska
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen takes the reader on an adventure through remote Alaska with Cole Matthews, an angry teenager whose rage leaves another young man fighting for his life. Out of options to rehabilitate Cole, the village leaders turn to Circle Justice, a native American tradition that attempts to rehabilitate hardened offenders through a community/victim/perpetrator program. Cole is sentenced to a one-year banishment to a remote Alaska island where he must fend for himself, under the watchful but stern eye of his Tlingit Indian parole officer, Garvey. Cole endures a gruesome bear attack that leaves him clinging to his life and survives on raw worms and other despicable foods, scenes set in gruesome, stomach churning detail. It is Cole’s encounter with the Spirit Bear that eventually sets him on a path to redemption, guided by his own demons, his past, and his determination to save himself. This coming-of-age story is poignant in both its harsh reality and depth of love and connection between an unlikely set of characters.

Note: To learn more about Powell and her family’s travels, and why she is a good judge of best family travel books, see this interview.

Links from the cover illustrations are affiliate links to Amazon.  Even though it costs you no more, when you shop through these links, you are supporting A Traveler’s Library. Thank you.

Meet Our NEW Family Travel Writer–Powell Berger

Family travel expert and family
Meet Powell, Emmi and Austin in Copenhagen.

As I sifted through the stack of names of family travel writers, and checked out their websites, one stood out immediately. I am so excited to introduce to you our new Family Travel Expert, Powell Berger. The reasons Powell caught my eye were personal as well as professional.  The professional–I loved the lively writing style Powell shows on her own family travel site: Family Vagabonding and the depth of family travel experience she has. The personal has to do with many parallels in our past history that would be of no interest to you whatsover.  Powell now lives in Hawaii, but for many years she has traveled the world with her daughter, Emmi, and son, Austin, “road-schooling” them along the way. They still go to Paris every summer and travel is still a big part of their lives. But let’s see what Powell has to say.

A Traveler’s Library: Which came first–the travel or the writing?

Powell Berger: Both I guess! I’ve been writing since I was a kid – first creative writing and poems and heartfelt stories of life-gone-wrong as a teen, then on to papers and client documents and “grown up stuff” in my career. When we started our road-school gig, I wanted to capture it in some meaningful way, so the creative writer came out of hiding after all those years.

Like writing, I’ve been traveling since I was a kid, mostly road trips in the family Cadillac, then eventually on planes to exotic places like LA and Boston, where we had family. I didn’t travel internationally, though, until I was in my thirties, a business trip to Paris and London. I saw Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, and I knew instantly. If the little girl from Mississippi could see those places – places she’d only heard about – then she could see the world.

Family Travel Expert in Scotland
Austin and Powell leaning on a canon — Edinburgh Scotland.

ATL: How does your family travel style differ from the way your parents (and siblings?) traveled when you were young?

PB: Our family travel was all domestic, and was almost all to see family. We did a lot of road trips in the family Cadillac, and my mom always said “swimming pool” were among my first words, my announcement that I’d seen a Holiday Inn sign along the highway and that it was time to stop for the night. My mother’s wanderlust was passed on to me, though, without me even realizing it. She left the farm in Mississippi to work as a civilian during WW II, riveting airplanes just like Rosie the Riveter, and eventually landed at Hickham Air Field in Hawaii. Like so many of that generation, her eyes were opened to a much larger world, and while she returned to Mississippi after the war, her love of place and people in the world never diminished. It’s no coincidence that both of her children now live in Hawaii, some sixty years after she returned to Mississippi to continue her life.

Family travel expert and family
The three of us on the back of a boat in wetsuits and flippers at Exmouth Australia where we swam with whale sharks.

ATL: Have you made the travel plans and decisions, or has it been a democratic process?

PB: I believe travel works when everyone is vested in it, so we all get involved. Once we settle on a region, everyone picks something special they want to see or do while we’re there, and we build the itinerary accordingly. On a family trip to Paris once, my now-grown son really wanted to see the D-Day beaches. I was slightly irritated since that’s not exactly Paris and took some Houdini work to make it happen in our already over-packed schedule. But we did it, and you know what? It was everyone’s favorite part of the trip!

We’ve discovered the beauty of Western Australia because Austin (16 year old son) wanted to swim with whale sharks. We know the ends and outs of Germany’s King Ludwig’s and his distant cousin, Austria’s Empress Sissi because Emmi (13 year old daughter) became fascinated with their royal lives and castles and antics.

The kids and I also create a “Trip Book” for every adventure, where they dig into each destination and write about it – what to see, where to go, what’s cool and what’s not. In doing that homework, they become experts of sorts on the destination and become the de facto family tour guide once we get there.

ATL: Where would you like to go WITHOUT your kids?

PB: I’ve never done any of the great wine tours, since there’s not much fun in that for them. I figure I’ll get that done with girlfriends one day.

I do believe in solo travel, too, though. I try to do something solo every year. It’s my ‘me” time, where I read, meditate, make long term business plans and goals. Last fall, I spent five days on Lanai at the glorious Four Seasons there and loved it. I’ve also done a couple of cruises solo, including a Pacific crossing where I had no conversations with another human being – other than “yes, I’ll have a glass of wine,” or “yes, please turn the room down for the evening” – for six glorious days.

ATL: What do you wish someone had told you about family travel before you went on a trip with your kids?

PB: I think I bought into the mainstream media hype that traveling with kids was difficult, that they need constant entertainment, and that I was restricted to “kid friendly” destinations. We’ve done our share of Disney and kid friendly, but I had to learn on my own how to really travel with kids and broaden their world view in the process. Treat kids like partners in the experience, vest them in the itinerary, and set guidelines and expectations for everyone, and the experience is a much more rewarding one.

Americans share a belief that travel is difficult and expensive. We find it exactly the opposite. There are places in the world where we live much more cheaply than we do at home, and once you have a grasp on DIY travel logistics, it’s all pretty simple.

Family travel writer Sardinia
Emmi and Powell in front of the grafiti wall — Calgieri, Sardinia (Italy)

ATL: What have your kids taught YOU about travel?

PB: My kids have taught me that we can find home anywhere in the world. They’ve taught me to slow down and enjoy playgrounds and fountains and street art just because it’s there. They’ve reminded me again and again that meals don’t have to be in restaurants, and that every experience doesn’t have to be guidebook perfect.

ATL: How has “book-larnin'” fit into your vagabonding life?

PB: Our roadschool curriculum is pretty similar to a standard school’s, just with our travel experiences layered on top. [Note: Powell wrote about her home schooled family in this magazine article.]They have their standard grammar, math, literature, etc and are expected to do their work every day, regardless of where we are. That doesn’t mean we don’t have days where the books are tossed aside for some magical experience, but the time is made up later. (Long plane trips are great for that.) We then build their curriculum around where we’re going. Literature might come from the region, or be steeped in the history of the culture. History and Global Studies bubbles up organically based on our travels, and the curious learner in all of us is sparked when we come upon a new place.

See more about Powell Berger and her traveling family at this page of Family Vagabonding, and at A Traveler’s Library Contributors Page.


American Girl Saige Paints the Albuquerque Sky

Family Travel

By Jennifer Close

Destination: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Book: Saige Paints the Sky  (2012) by Jessie Haas and Sarah Davis

American Girl

Saige and her pony, Picasso. Photo courtesy of American GirlGolden green grass and brightly colored hot air balloons floating against a blue background is how Saige describes her Albuquerque, New Mexico. Saige Copeland is a fourth grader in Albuquerque and just happens to be the Girl of the Year for American Girl.  Continue reading American Girl Saige Paints the Albuquerque Sky