Meet Melissa Biggs Bradley – Founder and CEO of Indagare

Before launching Indagare in 2007, Melissa Biggs Bradley was the travel editor of Town & Country and the editor-in-chief of Town & Country Travel. I’ve always associated travel features in both magazines with the best-of-the-best in high-end travel, so I was not surprised to discover that Indagare’s homepage is a compelling invitation to explore and share tips about the world’s most luxurious and exotic getaways.

A membership-based travel community, Indagare offers a range of services including access to extensive destination-focused content, customizable itineraries, travel planning, and invitations to Indagare-sponsored events and forums. Subscription pricing varies from $US 250 to $US 1,200 per year, depending on the membership level of the user.

I spent a few hours going through Indagare’s content and was impressed by the comprehensive categories covered under each destination, including where to stay, eat and shop, plus insider tips from travelers and locals. The information provided is unique — it feels very much like you are accessing someone’s little black book about how best to experience a destination. I’m intrigued by this resource, particular since one of the areas covered is family. Melissa relates well to this category since she has two kids, ages 8 and 10. In our interview, she speaks about the birth and development Indagare, and shares insight on traveling with kids.

Her passion for exploring the world is infectious.

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Tell me about your background — how did you get involved in travel journalism?

I knew I wanted to be a journalist very early on. In high school and college, I spent a few years abroad and these experiences fueled my passion for travel, although I wasn’t sure it would end up being a career at that point. Initially I wrote about design, food, and film, but travel was something that kept coming up. My first job was working for European Travel and Life, and soon after graduate school I became the travel editor for Town & Country. During my 12 years there, I launched their wedding and travel magazines, got married, and had two kids.

What is Indagare and what inspired you to start it?

As a magazine editor, I was always frustrated by the one-way conversation — articles are published, but other than an occasional letter from a subscriber, there is no information back. I realized that what interested me in my own travel planning was talking to people who know a place well.  The Internet allows for a dialogue to take place, and I love the idea of a travel resource that facilitates an open exchange of information where many different opinions are heard. The more opinions there are on a given subject, the better one can make a decision about what works best for a particular trip. Also, for me, the definition of “best” varies based on who is going and the purpose of the trip. For example, the best hotel for someone who cares about design may differ from the best hotel for a family or a traveler who wants quick access to shopping and food.

Indagare is membership-based, but the application is quick and easy. It is not meant to be exclusive. We want members who are passionate about travel and share similar goals about what they want to experience through travel.

How do families use Indagare?

The common denominator for our community of families, about 20 percent of which live outside the U.S., is their desire for authentic, high-quality experiences. We don’t have a budget audience, but frequently our hotel suggestions for families are not the most expensive, as these are not always the best fit when one is traveling with kids. We receive postcards from families who travel all over the world, including Jordan, Egypt and Kenya, so there is no geographic limit to where our members go, though shorter trips, like weekend getaways, are also popular.

Our custom trip-planning service is also appreciated by families. Last year, we created signature trips with structured itineraries, including lots of kid-friendly activities, so parents don’t have to spend time figuring out the logistics.

Finally, the members of the Indagare community also inspire each other. One family will send in a virtual “postcard” about a recent trip which then motivates others to plan a similar journey. It’s a fantastic opportunity to develop and share rich content, ideas and experiences.

What is your favorite destination with your kids and why?

When our kids were very young, the best vacations were to places that offered convenience and comfort. As they have grown, we’ve gravitated towards more activity-oriented destinations, that offer animals, hiking and nature. Belize, Costa Rica, and Brazil have been big hits.

In terms of cities, London and Venice are great European starters, because of their obvious fairytale qualities. It’s harder to get into a place like Paris, since even with the best guides, kids get their fill of museums quickly. During a recent trip to the French capital, my daughter announced that Europe is “just a lot of walking and seeing.” That said, you can enliven any destination for kids by researching how to make it more accessible for them. Food, for instance, is a key to unlocking the wonder of a place, especially in a city like Paris. Of course, you have to realize that you can’t approach a trip with kids the same way you would without them.

What are the limitations of traveling with kids?

Particularly in the early days, there is a trade-off between the pleasure and pain of a given destination. Bringing a 6-month-old to Hawaii may not make sense if you have to travel a long way to get there; not only will the child not get anything out of the place, but there’s too much adjustment required to get into a routine. If the goal is to just be in a warm place, plan a getaway to a nearby destination in the same time zone, where medical attention and food that the kids are used to are readily available. Remember that a baby won’t know the difference between Florida, Hawaii, and Bora Bora. Also, be sure to evaluate how much it will cost for your family to get there and how much the children will get out of the experience.

What do you hope your kids get out of travel?

Travel has opened our kids’ eyes and minds in a huge way. One of my favorite moments with my daughter was in the Belize airport. We were on our way home and our flight was delayed for six hours. Short of a local’s food stand selling rice and beans, there were no restaurants. As the uptight American mother, I avoided the stall and bought my kids Coke and Pringles, i.e. “safe” food, instead. My daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, why aren’t we eating rice and beans like everyone else?” I realized that this was exactly what I wanted her to learn while traveling — people around the world live differently than we do and there is no “right” American way. It’s one thing to explain the differences in conversations, it’s another to show kids by example where the messages resonate. A few minutes after my daughter asked her question we were eating rice and beans. For me, travel is the most meaningful way to impart real values.

What is a must-visit destination with kids?

We have so many fantastic experiences in our own back yard. It’s about the approach you take, exploring a different neighborhood or going out for an adventure. One of our most rewarding trips as a family was Washington, D.C. Taking the train, learning about the presidents, seeing the monuments — it is a powerful experience for every age.

I liked your The Fear Factor in Travel article – are there special precautions you take or things you do to minimize risk when on the road?

You have to go where you are comfortable — I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel to Egypt if it meant they would end up being afraid the entire time.  Having comprehensive information, particularly medical, is key. An awful lot of people travel to the Caribbean without being immunized against Hepititis A. I always travel with Cipro and Benadryl. I’m also part of MedJet Assist, so in case of an emergency, I can be evacuated to a hospital of my choosing. This is crucial, since depending on where you are, even a simple thing can be a matter of life and death. We also always check with a pediatrician familiar with travel medicine before going abroad.

What are your favorite travel resources?

The gems come from other well-traveled friends who return raving about an experience. Gulliver Travel Guides do a nice job, and they have a great book about DC with kids that includes quizzes about different parts of the city — this helped get my children involved. We also use local resources like Time Out to find out about current events. I love reading books and watching movies to get the kids excited about where we’re going; it also helps engage them more effectively once we arrive.

What items do you never leave home without?

My Blackberry, a camera, and a good book to read.

For a free trial of Indagare click here and enter referral code: ind1165.

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