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my family travel stories: a guide through the forest


One of the biggest takeaways from the amazing TMS Family Travel Conference I recently attended in Niagara Falls was an impassioned quote from Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, who stood up and declared, “Passports are the new diplomas.”

He was preaching to the choir. I agree there’s nothing more valuable for kids than travel, and, if you need a rationalization to take your children out of school for a long weekend away, a new study totally backs that up.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, kids who took learning-focused trips between the ages of 12 and 18 achieved higher grades and, as adults, earned higher incomes than those who didn’t travel.

We’ve been taking our kids around the world since they were little. They’ve seen great works of art, relived history, tried new foods, and spent time with people of different nationalities and cultures.

They’ve learned how to leave their comfort zones and figure out how to communicate despite language differences.

And, above all, they’ve learned to be flexible and keep an open mind because going on family trips is always full of unexpected adventures, many of which turn out to become the stories that are told over and over again, resulting in treasured memories – and, often, hysterical laughter.

This is the one that really does it for us.

Not long after we moved to California, when the kids were maybe 8 and 10, we took a family trip to Idyllwild, a beautiful small town in the San Jacinto Mountains. Idyllwild is surrounded by national forests so one morning we decided to take a hike.

As we walked over, we read out loud from the guidebook, which mentioned free guide dogs.

Now, we are huge dog lovers so that’s all any of us needed to hear. We were pretty much all jumping up and down, squealing:

“Oh my God, they have dogs to guide you through the forest! And they’re free!”

“Ooh, can we take a dog? Please? Can we? Can we?”

“How can a dog guide you through the forest? That’s so awesome!”

“Hurry up! We don’t want them all to be taken!”

We started running. Seriously, this was the best thing ever! We had never heard of anything like it before, and just could not believe we were going to be lucky enough to be led through the forest by a dog! How great was that?!

We literally ran all the way to the entrance booth. Out of breath, but sporting gigantic grins, we told the cashier we were interested in a guide dog. We just couldn’t stop smiling, we were so overwrought with anticipation.

She looked at us with a blank stare and tilted her head the way our own dog did when she had no idea what we were talking about.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“The guide dogs!” my husband prompted, pointing to the sign. “You know, the free ones.”

She was speechless.

It hit all four of us at the exact same time – right before she said the words that made us hang our heads in complete embarrassment (and, worse, complete disappointment).

“We don’t have guide dogs,” she practically spat at us. “That’s for people who have them because they need them.”

“Yes, well, the sign says, ‘Guide dogs – free,’” my husband tried to explain. “We thought that meant we could get one to take us around … Never mind. Uh, thanks.”

The four of us were stunned at our own ridiculousness. We walked away, sheepishly, convinced the cashier was calling her friends, telling them, “Can you believe how stupid these city people are?”

To this day, we laugh until our stomachs hurt every time someone brings up that story. We still can’t believe that all four of us went there with our interpretation. Talk about seeing what you want to see!

Although we’ve been to dozens of other, more exotic places since then, I have to admit we’ve never been as excited about an activity as we misguidedly were for that one.

So, if you happen to know a place we can get a dog to take us around, please let us know. Honestly, we don’t even care if it’s free.


  1. When I come back, may I be one of your kids? I love the way you guys live! Always laughing. Clearly the cashier needs to find her sense of humor! xoxo

  2. This was hysterical! I’ll never look at a guide dog sign again without laughing now!

  3. Edee Lemonier says:

    Holy crap!! I’m laughing so hard right now I might have wet myself a little!!! Know what’s sick? I had to read this a second time before I realized people who showed up with guide dogs got in free, because I was thinking, “Geez, Lois, you only get a free guide dog if you have a physical limitation!” I was picturing a bunch trained, vest-wearing yellow labs lying around in a cashier’s hut waiting for this woman to determine who was worthy.

    In other words, you are not alone in your ability to misread things and take them literally. I’m not ashamed. Much. xoxo

  4. What Elin said about coming back as one of yours.

    Truthfully, I grew up in a very similar environment. My parents started all 9 of their kids traveling young. Trips to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, to name a few, turned all of us into “pseudo nomads.”

    With their good training under my belt, my husband and I have raised our children with the same love of travel and adventure. Introducing children to the world instills a confidence that can’t be found in any book.

    Oh, and as for the guide dogs…If you find yourself in Colorado, I’ll take you on a tour, and we can even take the guide dog puppy we are raising with us. It’s kind of the same, right?

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Agree — travel definitely gave my kids so much more self-confidence. Your parents deserve a medal for taking 9 kids around the world. That is impressive! And I will make a special trip to Colorado to visit you and the guide dog puppy. So awesome that you’re doing that.

  5. Ruth Curran says:

    The unguided misadventures of the Mark family!!! Thank you for ending my day with side splitting laughter!

  6. Funny story.

  7. Great story! I love to travel, and you’re so right, the stories are the best souvenirs. Who wouldn’t want a free guide dog? The gifts you’re giving your family by traveling will stay with them a lifetime, makes me long to hit the road, Ahhh money….

  8. Too, too funny. You nutty people!

    I’m with Estelle: I want to join your family. Need a grandma in any capacity?

  9. Well, maybe it could have been a bit more descriptive. Or maybe you just really, really wanted to be shown around by a dog!

  10. I adore this kind of social stupidity that happens in a group of people! The kind of thing that Candid Camera used to make fun of! I take things literally all the time as well. This story was hilarious! I will be smiling all day.

  11. Where’s Alan Funt when you need him? Oh, sorry Alan, RIP.

    Did I ever tell you I discovered we’re related through very distant cousins? Cathy Chester Mark? YES! I can travel with you now. Please, oh please.

    You are funny. BTW, when I read this, I felt you were reading it out loud to me in your giggly Lois Mark voice. I loved it. xoxo

  12. Haha, that is a GREAT story! I love that it still makes your family laugh.

    My husband and I have done a lot of traveling (including a 5-month backpacking trip around South America when we first got married), and it’s our intention to take our future children traveling as much as possible. It’s such a great hands-on way to learn about the world. That is awesome that your children have had these experiences!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Wow, would love to hear about your backpacking. Have you written about it? My husband just came back from weeks walking the Camino in Spain!

  13. it is great that you are able to expose your kids to the world through travel.

  14. Joyful, honest, hilarious–those adjectives sum up your blog! Thanks for sharing your quirky, fun perspectives. My family also loves Idyllwild, and we hike Suicide Rock almost every year. We have great, funny memories of our hikes there, too! I’m happy to vote for you, and hope I’ll meet my old friend Amy’s dear friend soon!

  15. Yo, Marks … I told your story to Barney, my cairn mix … and
    he was shocked – SHOCKED! that they didn’t have a “GUIDE”
    dog for you. So, he said he’s available, because he knows where
    the good stuff is, y’know, on the sidewalk, in the gutter, etc. BUT,
    it’ll cost ya’ – – – 🙂

  16. As someone who has taken first my hairy child (my first Newf Dakota) around the world with me, and now travel and live abroad with my three human children, this story really resonated.

    One of my favorite travel stories is evidence of how deeply travel and living in another culture can change perspective. We recently spent 6 months homeschooling and living on a remote island off the coast of Honduras called Isla de Utila where my husband is developing an eco-resort. It was breathtakingly beautiful and rustic, like Swiss Family Robinson, or as J called it, “Little House on the Prairie on the Beach,” since that’s what we were reading at the time.

    My kids were coming from a typical suburban American upbringing, so some parts were a culture shock, but it was amazing how quickly they adapted, and learned to appreciate aspects of our new life and the importance of conservation/green living.

    One day, we participated in a beach clean up on another part of the island, and Piper, who was five, carried home a plastic bottle cap. When I asked her what it was, she said, so matter-of-factly, “Oh, it’s the back-up cistern for my fairy house I’m making.”

    That her reality had shifted, that she was naturally incorporating water conservation devices into her imaginary constructions, blew me away. My husband and I shared another one of many, “this is why we do this,” looks.

    Thanks for sharing your love of travel and your fun-loving family, Lois!

    • Lois Alter Mark says:

      Now that is an awesome story, Chandra, my fellow Newfy lover. You probably have tons of them with all your adventures. Thanks for reading, and for sharing. How awesome that you took Dakota around the world with you. Would love to see those pictures! xo

  17. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I am laughing out loud at this story! OMG, how hilarious. I will never be able to see a guide dog again without remembering this!

  18. That is so funny that ALL of you thought the same thing. Birds of a feather, right, lol!

  19. Ha! Thats great. I didn’t travel much as a kid, but I want my kids to. As soon as they are old enough to remember going on a trip we plan on traveling the world with them.

  20. Hilarious!! I definitely was able to absorb more by seeing and doing rather than just reading text.

  21. Okay, that’s so funny! I think you just need to starting taking a dog with you on trips LOL

  22. I wish we could travel more, my parents take my kids a lot of cool places, but they don’t go with me. I would love to be your kid, you guys sound like a lot fun.

  23. I have always been a firm believer of hands on learning. I love taking my children to places they have never been and making sure to incorporate an little history into each vacation.

  24. Oh what a story! and a great marketing tool too, positives from the little moment of embarrassment….
    I totally agree with you. Traveling is such an educational tool for everyone!

  25. Since I am so used to seeing those types of signs around here I have been laughing the whole way through your story. I love it though and the fact that all of you had the same thought cracks me up harder. Well needed for today 🙂

  26. Oh gosh, what a funny travel story! I would be excited to have a dog to guide me through the forest, too. Someone should really start that kind of business.

  27. HA! That is a good memory! I was thinking the same thing you were that a guide dog would be a great tour guide!! Who wouldn’t want a FREE dog to lead them through the forrest!?

  28. I’ll admit that I got a laugh out of this, your family sounds amazing and hilarious!

  29. How funny! I hope your kids appreciate all the wonderful experiences you treated them to over the years. I would love to travel with the kids more, but we just don’t have the means currently.

  30. I would have been excited about a free guide dog too. Talk about a d’oh moment, but at least you can still laugh about it!

  31. hahahah!! that’s awesome!! i hope the cashier finally found humor in it

  32. Even though my children are little, we love traveling together as a family. Great way to learn and see new places!

  33. LOL! Some people are so silly! Open foot insert mouth!

  34. Love your photos. I am sure you will have many memories to cherish.

  35. The statistic about kids who took learning-focused trips at 12-18 achieving higher grades is good to know! What a funny story!

  36. You are such a hoot! I never had problems taking my kids out of school to travel either.

  37. Too funny! I am sure there will be some forever memories through this experience

  38. LOL! How funny! Hey, I would have loved a guide dog :D!

  39. Hahah! That was a hilarious story. I can’t wait to travel more.

  40. That is one hilarious story! Makes me want to make more trips now 🙂

  41. That is so funny! I can just picture you all running to ask for one with such delight. LOL this is something i would do as well. I love how your husband tried to explain. HA I love it thanks for the laugh.

  42. Too funny! I’ve never had issues taking my kids out of school for travel but we only ever took them out for a day or so and left for the weekend.

  43. Aww! That’s a funny one (probably not to the lady). 😉 We were in Paris once and my husband went into a hotel that had ‘opera’ on the sign. He thought it’d be a nice little treat to surprise us with an opera while on vacay, hahahahhaha I’m sure the lady thought he was nuts. I did, but it was still funny. 🙂

  44. Sounds like an awesome adventure and a story you will share forever 🙂

  45. That guide dog story is so funny! I could totally see our family doing the same thing 😛

  46. That is too cute of a story. I know I would totally love a guide dog to take me on a tour of a location… hahaha

  47. haha….what a great story! Free guide dogs sound awesome!

  48. What a great memory! Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

  49. Ann Bacciaglia says:

    What a great story. Thanks for making me laugh it has been a stressful week of moving. I need a vacation now.

  50. LMAO. Love that story. That is just too funny. I can see where you made that mistake. I agree, travel is wonderful for kids of all ages.

  51. Oh gosh that is amazing! I have to admit, I would have been right there with you if I thought you got a dog to guide you round for free 😉 x

  52. Melissa Smith says:

    Oh my goodness, that is hilarious! Of course, I probably would’ve done the same thing!

  53. What a funny story!! I am sharing this with my husband right now- totally seems like something we would have done. Thanks for sharing a much needed laugh tonight!

  54. You post is hilarious. I cannot stop laughing. As for travel I agree with you, traveling for kids is awesome way to discover and appreciate different cultures and societies.

  55. Travel does provide such neat opportunities. Guide dog may not be one of them… fun story.

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