Gary Hall Jr., Travel Tips

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One of the greatest American swimmers in history, Gary Hall, Jr. lapped the earth competing in three Olympic Games. Now he shares his love of travel with his kids & travel tips with you.

Gary Hall, Jr. Olympian
Gary Hall, Jr., Olympic swimmer

Gary Hall, Jr. dove into travel early in life. His grandparents brought him along on many international trips, touring Europe and Africa. He remembers his grandfather sharing this wisdom with him, “The more you see, the more you are.”

Gary spent much of his youth competing in Europe, Asia, and Australia on the elite swimming circuit, winning ten Olympic medals: five gold, three silver, and two bronze. He was well known for his pre-meet antics that frequently involved strutting onto the pool deck in a star-spangled boxing robe and shorts and shadow boxing for spectators. The former fastest swimmer on earth is now a sports science expert who travels the world as a keynote speaker.

Hall’s favorite way to bond with his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, and 11-year-old son, Charlie? Exploring the world together. Destinations over the past year include Australia, Austria, Budapest, and Slovenia. And not surprisingly, the California-based Hall family gravitates toward water.

Where’s your favorite place to travel with your kids?

The kids love the Florida Keys and its warm, clear waters. I have family ties to South Florida dating back generations. I grew up on the water down there, vacationing when I wasn’t in school. It’s where I learned to swim and where I fell in love with swimming. Indoctrinating my kids into our aquatic heritage is an important rite of passage for a long line of watermen and waterwomen. My 11-year-old son, Charlie, pilots an 11’ Boston Whaler on his own. Being out on the water with that broad horizon and those cumulus clouds, it's total freedom. The best part of the Keys is what's beneath the surface. It’s another world. You can find more pristine waters - say in Belize - but the convenience and proximity of the Keys is a major factor - less travel time and more boat time! It’s a very important consideration when traveling with kids.

Garry Hall Jr and family, Olympic swimmer

What’s your favorite thing about traveling with your children?

Traveling is how I connect with my kids. Each year for my child’s birthday, I gift a trip - just the one kid and myself. My son or daughter has to choose the location and research it beforehand, mapping out a plan for activities and pit stops. It’s a tricky way of sneaking in a bit of a geography and history lesson as they research these places. 

Gary Hall, Jr. and son Charlie Hall

What’s your top destination recommendation for families?

If your kids are “water safe,” take them to the beach. It’s relatively affordable. You can let them run wild and scream as loud as they want. They go to sleep early, exhausted from playing. And it’s a nice place to imbibe adult beverages and soak up some salt water and vitamin D. Also, the "summer body" is a great motivator to not let our waistlines slip too far!

As a dad, what’s the one thing you never travel without?

An iPad. It’s a brainless way to kill time on the plane. As soon as we touch down at the destination, the iPad goes away. I’m not opposed to the iPad. It’s finding the right balance; that’s a parent’s responsibility.

What’s your favorite travel tip for parents?

Always have food on hand. When one of those kids gets hungry, things become a lot more difficult. Also, don’t panic at the security checkpoint. You have kids. It’s going to take you a little longer to get through it. People behind you are just going to have to deal. I think that "moment of TSA hustle" causes anxiety in a lot of parents.

What’s been your biggest travel fail with kids?

We were on the final leg of a long road trip to Arizona with the kids. Driving back to Santa Barbara through Los Angeles, we were all starving, and the kids were over it. It was stormy and about 5 p.m. We hit that point of desperation, where you decide that you’re taking the next exit - no matter where that exit leads. That exit for us ended up being at the doorstep of Universal Studios Hollywood. The kids had "bad energy" and just needed to run, after sitting in the car for days.

Seems like maybe it could have been a bad decision - the spontaneous purchase of tickets - but it actually ended up being the best theme park visit ever! With the crummy weather, no one was at the park. No lines! We had the entire place to ourselves. Anyone else that had planned the trip would have been bummed out by the drizzly weather, but it ended up being the best experience after a rough car ride.

The lesson: be spontaneous! It could turn your worst travel experience into the best.

Gary Hall, Jr. is co-founder of The Race Club, swimming camps and lessons for every level of swimmer. Follow Hall on Instagram at @garyhall.jr.

And follow four-time, Emmy Award-winning KidTripster parent journalist Wendy Thies Sell on Instagram at @wendythiessell and on Twitter at @wendythies.

Gary Hall Jr., Olympic swimmer