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Secrets of Successful Travelers | T+L Family

Livia Corona Secrets of a Successsful Travel Planner

Photo: Livia Corona

The planner Andrea Swenson, stay-at-home mom and school volunteer. Her husband, Paul, is a health-care executive. They have two kids: Lucy, 16, and Sam, 14. Home base Piedmont, California

Andrea has been toting her children to far-flung places since they were born. She took Lucy to the Cotswolds and Puerto Vallarta before her first birthday, and rented a villa outside Florence when Sam was just one (though, she admits, the 20-hour journey practically did her in). As a foursome, the Swensons have been everywhere from Botswana to Angkor Wat. There’s almost no place this gung-ho family won’t go.

Nobody does it better

We rarely use a travel agent—no one else is as obsessive as I am. Instead, I spend a ridiculous amount of time online rooting around for deals. I use Orbitz to research flights, then book directly with the airline—usually United (I’m a Premier Executive member, so I get double miles). For hotel rooms, I start on Orbitz, then go to the hotel’s Web site to make reservations—they often have deals that include breakfast or a free night’s stay. I follow up directly with the hotel for specifics, like bed sizes. We often stay on the club floor. You pay more, but you get the food and drinks they put out during cocktail hour; on occasion, after a long day of sightseeing, that’s supper.

Keeping the troops entertained

For car trips, audiobooks are terrific; we listened to most of the Harry Potter series that way. Now that our kids are older, they bring their iPods and portable speakers and we take turns sampling each other’s music. We always have a deck of cards on hand. We started with Uno, but these days we alternate between Hearts and Oh Heck! If it’s rainy, we get into these massively long games in our hotel room.

We’ll never forget…

Going to Beijing over Thanksgiving vacation. We had the Great Wall almost to ourselves. In Japan we visited Hakone, an hour west of Tokyo, and stayed in a ryokan, or traditional inn (ryokan.or.jp), that overlooks Mount Fuji. We had a 16-course meal and slept on tatami mats.

Look what we brought back!

Last February, we hit Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid in a week. Lucy and I couldn’t believe the espadrilles only cost four euros. We each came home with seven pairs!

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