Meet: Tavia Carlson, National Parks Ace - The Expedition
Big Brave Nomad Family in Grand Teton

Meet: Tavia Carlson, National Parks Ace

Many families can say they’ve visited a national park or two. In addition to visiting 23 countries and 38 U.S. states, Tavia Carlson’s clan has been to 40 U.S. National Parks. 

The Carlsons are a military family with two kids, and have been traveling since their oldest was just six months old. Tavia runs the travel site Big Brave Nomad and owns a business that deals with government construction contracts. 

The Carlsons are currently living in California while dad attends language school, but Tavia says her heart is in Florida, where they lived for 10 years. We caught up with her to chat about the best national parks for families, their must-have travel gear, and how to save money on travel.

In three words, our travel style is…

Planned, fast, and fun

The first big trip we took was…

A two-week trip to Europe when our firstborn was six months old.  We went to German, Austria, and Italy. 

I have always had…

A bit of wanderlust, but in college I went to Europe for a 30-day trip one summer and I was hooked.

We absolutely loved and want to go back to…

Budapest.  We’ve gone to Italy three times as a family and I can’t wait to return.  Another place we all love and miss dearly is the Emerald Coast of Florida.

I am obsessed with getting to…

Mongolia.  Their lifestyle leaves me wanting to know more and to experience it for myself.

We decide where to travel by…

Convenience.  Where is the cheapest flight?  Where do we know people?  Where can we go in the time we have?

The person in our family who does all the planning is…

Me. It depends on the destination, but I usually spend several days or weeks writing down everything I want to do. Then, I sit down and mark it out on an actual map to be sure we aren’t backtracking. Then, I compare all the details on whether or not to book a guide, book a hotel or Airbnb, should we rent a car or hire a driver, etc.

Our favorite national park for families is…

Grand Teton National Park because it’s close to Jackson for creature comforts, but also offers extremely scenic views with minimal efforts. The wildlife scene is unmatched.  The hiking options can be strenuous or very easy, but there is something for every single ability.

Our military experience makes it easier to…

Get up early and get through a packed schedule.  We are used to that go-go-go lifestyle and we seem to fit more into each day than the average traveler.

My best budget-travel tip is to…

Pack your own snacks/food. And don’t be bougie with your airline—they all are the same.  Book the cheapest flight and learn how to pack light.

We are a little spoiled with…

“Hidden gems” in our area. We currently live 20 minutes from Big Sur, less than 8 blocks from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 1.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and in the same county as “wine country.”

Other families who want to travel like us should know…

It is a lot of work. It is not what Instagram shows. There are fights and tears and sleepless nights. I work almost the entire time we travel; getting photos, responding to messages, creating content.  It isn’t just gallivanting around eating delicious food.

My must-have travel gear is…

Good Shoes.  Nothing will ruin a day or hike worse than blisters and hurting feet. 

What’s the best travel advice you ever received?

A friend of mine told me once “A good traveler knows when to go and when to stay.”  That has always stuck with me when I feel pulled to do more than what I know we can do or are comfortable with.  It also gives me peace when I decide NOT to travel.

I don’t judge how…

Other people travel. Some like to book a hotel and never leave the room—that is perfect. Some, like me, book a hotel and use it solely for sleep—that is perfect too.  

I want my children to learn that…

The world is so much bigger than the U.S.A.  I find, especially recently, that so many people have a very narrow view of the world.  They can’t be happy with what we have here, but what we have here in the United States is absolutely amazing compared to most other countries.  I’ve seen some devastating things across other cultures that really opened my eyes and made me grateful for everything we have here.  I want my children to understand that simply being born in the United States is a privilege unlike any other.

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.

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