Sara Isley reclining with baby in lap

Meet: Sarah Isley, Boutique Traveler and Entrepreneur

This summer, Sarah Isley’s family stayed at a luxurious guest ranch in southern Colorado and a bohemian-chic boutique hotel in Tucson, Ariz.

The best part wasn’t the stylish rooms or abundant activities—it was the “simple pleasures and a sense of peace,” said Sarah, who lives in Washington State with her husband, Jacob, and their daughter, Catalya. “You didn’t need to go to town, or a restaurant or a museum, because everything was super special just where you were.”

The destinations were “conducive to just being there,” Sarah said. They were also operating with safety protocols that provided privacy and the opportunity to interact with other guests in socially distanced public spaces.

Sarah and Jacob hope to create a similar experience for other families with their new endeavor, The Hotel Cataleya. The “experience design service” will start hosting week-long, all-inclusive experiences for families in 2021, collaborating with local businesses.

“We want our daughter growing up knowing how to connect with other cultures, and to experience the growth and diversity and learning that comes with travel,” Sarah said.

We spoke to her about why Italy is so family-friendly, her childhood memories of traveling in “Wild West” and the gear that changed their trips.

My biggest learning curve with family travel…

came in learning to change my expectations. I always traveled when I was single, and once we had Cataleya, I had to learn to just slow down and be okay with all the things that come along with traveling with a child. Slowing down was a key lesson. Once I was able to enjoy traveling with her in the picture and from her perspective, it was really helpful for me on future trips.

Our family’s travel style…

is led by curiosity. We’re spontaneous, but we also tentatively plan things now that we have a child. We love to connect with local cultures and people everywhere we go. We love finding the spots that are “off the main,” and really treasure the unexpected joys of travel. We do like a touch of luxury and comfort in the places we stay, unless we are intentionally on a trip where roughing it is part of the fun.

The first place we took our daughter…

was to Denver when she was four months old. Then, when she was nine months, we did a bigger trip to Italy. What an amazing country. They really roll out the red carpet for kids and families; I think it comes from the emphasis on the value of family there—they act like children are God’s gifts to everyone. Nobody every seems bothered by them, which made it so much easier traveling there with a baby. I remember once we had a blowout diaper situation on the streets of Rome with no stroller to change her in. A restaurant proprietor invited us to come in and change her in the dining room. Needless to say, we ended up having dinner there.

Maybe this year has given us the permission to slow down, stay longer and change our expectations

One of my earliest travel memories…

was when we traveled from Denver to Cottonwood, Ariz., when I was about seven years old. Back then, a lot of the route still had a Wild West feel. I remember my dad walking up to the chief of the Hopi Tribe in a restaurant once because he recognized him from a newspaper article. My parents were adventurous, and they took us on road trips throughout the western United States a lot. That’s how I fell in love with the desert and got addicted to discovering hidden gems on road trips.

The gear that changed our travels was…

the Zoe stroller. It’s the lightest, easiest stroller I have ever found. It’s absolutely amazing in airports, cities and just about everywhere. The wheels are a little small, but that’s also part of why it’s so lightweight. And we still took it all over the cobblestone streets of Italy.

I would love to get from The Expedition…

just connecting with other traveling families and finding out about new places. I have loved travel my whole life. When I read Sara Clemence’s article about being more present while you travel in Afar magazine a few years back, it really resonated with me.

With other members of The Expedition, I’d love to share…

ways to travel to have a positive social and environmental impact while still getting all of the fulfillment that comes with connective and transformative travel. The storytelling part of travel is what teaches you to be accepting of people who are different than you. I feel it’s important to keep traveling now, but to do it in a better way. It’s easy to want to just see everything. But maybe try to find somewhere small but where other people are, and just stay for a while. Maybe this year has given us the permission to slow down, stay longer and change our expectations—to enjoy where we are and forget about what we’re missing.

Terry Ward is a Florida-based freelance journalist and travel writer.