I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with Charlene Soelter on numerous business trips to places like Vegas, New York, and Mumbai. Business travel has always been part of her job description, but what really intrigued me about her was her ability to take her kids out of school for a week or so at a time to somewhere on the opposite side of the world. Her kids are all fully grown-up now, so it’s great to get some insight on Char’s hindsights, since she has lived family travel throughout her business career.
About Charlene Soelter, in her own words:
I am a native San Franciscan, born to parents who immigrated to the US from China. My job in the exhibit industry creates opportunities for me to travel all around the world. So many times when I’m in another country, I see and experience things that remind me of my children. I am thankful to have had many opportunities to bring these experiences to them through travel.
Our jobs as parents is to help them grow to be good, respectful adults. Meeting people from different countries and understanding some of their day-to-day challenges is one of the best ways to grow as a person, at whatever age.
Q&A with Charlene Soelter
1. Where in the world have you traveled with your kids?
We have traveled to Egypt, Paris many times, Brussels, Venice, Singapore, the Dominican Republic and in the US. A popular trip was always New York. We also traveled to Kansas, which can seem like a foreign country sometimes.
2. Which trip was the most memorable and why?
That’s a tough one. They were all great. They all had their memorable moments and that’s what I would say is the best thing about traveling with kids. Each one is an adventure and we still talk about.
In Egypt, we saw the pyramids and the kids experienced poverty for the first time which really changed their lives and made them really appreciate what we have in the US.
In Paris, the boys brought their skateboards on our third trip there. They were very comfortable in Paris and went out late one night and skated around Paris. Their stories that next morning were great. They were in middle school then and I loved that they were so comfortable. I heard them take off and honestly, I was up until I heard them return. Their adventure was less than two hours but it was certainly memorable.
When I took my youngest son with me to Venice, we got so lost trying the get a water taxi, but we will never forget how incredible the food was at the train station. A simple salami sandwich was one of the best things we ever had to eat.
3. What gave you the courage to take your kids on international trips?
It was an easy decision to make for me because I enjoy their company and it gives me incredible joy to bring them into wonderful life experiences. Our jobs as parents is to help them grow to be good, respectful adults. Meeting people from different countries and understanding some of their day-to-day challenges is one of the best ways to grow as a person, at whatever age. The fact that I gave them that makes me incredibly happy.
4. How did you balance business travel with family travel when they were combined into one trip?
To make that work well, my husband and I had to make sure that the business trip was primarily for one of us rather than us both. That made it possible for one of the parents to be there for them full-time while on the trip. When the kids got a little older, at times they would travel with me when I knew I just had a meeting to attend. That gave them the opportunity to hang out at the pool or explore the city on their own for a few hours until I returned.
5. Now that your kids are fully grown, what has been their feedback on how travel has affected their lives?
None of them have ever said, “I wish you didn’t bring us to all those different countries.” Instead, they still love to tell their friends about the experiences they had. They are all good travelers on their own now. I see a “worldly-ness” in them and I believe it makes them more interesting as people.
6. What’s your best travel advice for families?
Do it as often as you can. Check the weather to make sure it’s a good time of year to go. Especially when they are young, check to see what kinds of activities you can do with them. Then be prepared to not do any of it once you get there. Let them give you hints of what they would like to do once they arrive and BE FLEXIBLE. Remember that they are still kids so they will be affected by jet lag too. They will enjoy their experience more if they get enough sleep.
Related reading: The Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Mix Business and Family Travel