This week we are focusing our attention on Jennie Helman, co-creator of Lugabug, and seasoned traveller.
First of all congratulations on launching Lugabug!
Tell us a little about you and how Lugabug started
I’m the co-creator of Lugabug – and the mom of 3 fast-growing girls, a seasoned traveler, entrepreneur, HR consultant, and the bassist of the Seattle Kindierock band, The-Not-Its!
When our first two kids were 2 and 4, Jon and I attached a car seat to a suitcase. This travel-style-easy-chair meant I, the then-pregnant wife, could rush through the airport and not leave a child (or coffee!) behind. A few years later we were cruising through the airport at 5 a.m. with one of our three children strapped into an earlier version of Lugabug. We passed by a bunch of guys in business suits who pointed to the makeshift prototype and said, ‘Now that’sa great idea.’ I recall that being a pivotal moment of validation. It was time to move the conversation to action. And voilà: A solution to the chaos of traveling with kids was born.
Where do you live and do you recommend your city as a family travel destination?
I moved to Seattle after college. Growing up in the hot, desert-like town of Yakima, a.k.a. the “Other Palm Springs of Washington” I vowed I wouldn’t stay long given its gray, rainy reputation. But after being exposed to the Olympic mountains and this progressive beer, coffee, and music-possessed city, I decided to stay – especially after meeting Jon, who couldn’t imagine a better place to live. Yep, it rains. But the weather is fairly temperate, unlike so many parts of the country these days. When the cloud cover clears it’s one of the most stunning places in the world. Seattle is an amazing place to visit.
What’s your insider tip for families coming to your hometown? What are your favorite family-friendly hidden gems?
Seattle is known as the ‘Emerald City’ because of its greenery all year long. It’s full of cool, secret gems. Here are our family favorites:
We live in the Ballard neighborhood and frequently hit the Sunday Market in Old Ballard, then head to the nearby Golden Gardens – a beautiful park with wetlands, beaches, trails, and picnic spots – or to the Locks to check out the fish ladder and the ships that pass between Puget Sound and the inland waters.
In the Fremont neighborhood sits an iconic must-see: the fearsome troll devouring an actual Volkswagen Beetle. You can walk or bike the Burke-Gilman trail nearby, or wander down the street for a tour at Theo Chocolates, the first fair trade and organic bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America.
Fly a kite at Gasworks Park with spectacular views of Lake Union and the city – a fun, hilly play area for kids – then head to Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club for lunch or a quick paddle or kayak.
Rent canoes at the University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center and paddle around Lake Washington and the Arboretum.
Spend a few hours at the Woodland park zoo then head to Green Lake – you can either walk or ride the 2.8-mile inner path or rent a paddleboard, water bike, kayak, or (our favorite) the water trampoline.
Grab a bike at the Sculpture Park and cruise along Myrtle Edward’s nice, wide trail along the water. Meander your way to Maggie’s Bluff, one of our favorite restaurants, with outdoor seating, amazing fish and chips, and a great view of the marina.
Wander through the Japanese gardens in the Madison Park neighborhood near the end of the Arboretum; follow that with a dip at the Madison Park public beach – equipped with a swim raft, diving boards and a play area – then end the day at The Cactus Mexican restaurant with margarita in hand.
Overlooking Puget Sound, you’ll find more awesome views of the city at Discovery Park on Magnolia Bluff. There are loads of hiking trails, miles of beach, a historic lighthouse – and great spots to picnic.
Check out Parent Map Seattle for Kindierock shows listed all year round and rock out with other indie rock loving families. To name a few, there’s The Not-Its! (which I am forever thankful being a part of) with the lead singer of Sub Pop’s Velocity Girl, Caspar Babypants – former lead singer of the Seattle ‘90s band The Presidents), and Recess Monkey – with Jack Forman, SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live host of “Live from the Monkey House”).
Is family travel part of your life?
Family travel is a way for me to get back to my roots. As one of five kids, we frequented the Pacific Northwest campgrounds and ski resorts in ‘Captain Caveman’ camper style. I loved road tripping, no matter where we were going.
Cross country trips to Cincinnati to visit grandparents got me accustomed to flying, but it wasn’t until I was 15 and on a business trip with my dad to Park City, Utah that I realized what it felt like to explore new terrain, independent of an agenda – and I wanted more. So before entering college, I took the road less traveled and became a Rotary Exchange Student in Brazil. I am convinced that year shaped my character. You can’t go away at 17 and not learn something about yourself and the world. It’s funny to think I did all that without the comforts of social media, only letters and a monthly phone call back home.
After spending a semester abroad in South Korea, I decided I would travel every year of my life post-college. That worked for a few years but once family and kids entered the picture, my yearly excursions to Europe and Latin America cycled back to camping and skiing (replace camper with Subaru) and trips to visit family in the Midwest. It wasn’t until 8 years ago when I joined The Not-Its! that travel became more routine, hitting both the national and international (India and China!) circuit. Nowadays, when school or soccer conflicts I get a free pass to hang with my bandmates. This year, we’re heading to Brazil to celebrate the New Year with my host family and rediscover my old stomping grounds – I cannot wait!
What is the most memorable trip you took with your kids?
I have to say, solo kid trips are the absolute best. Trips with the entire family are awesome, don’t get me wrong. But some of my favorite travels have been when I’ve taken one of my kids – just the two of us. My favorites were to Legoland over New Years, and to New York during the craziest winter storm where the city shut down and we walked Central Park in our snow pants and ski goggles.
What’s your best advice for traveling parents?
I love it when our kids help plan and research where we’re going, what we’ll to do, and learn a few words and phrases, or history, relevant to the country. While we like to keep our travel plans loose, it’s good to have a short list of recommendations. And the kids are ‘all in’ if it’s their idea.
When the kids were younger, we’d bring a small surprise bag for each kid. Mid-way through the trip, they’d get to open it – each with a snack, a small toy (often something from the house), an activity book or coloring pages printed from the internet, and a roll of masking tape to create stuff (the best!).
Ask the locals where to go eat, what to see, and what to do – some of our favorite travel memories come from places we would not have known about had we not asked around.
Get recommendations of books on tape or podcasts the whole family can listen to from friends, and download before you go.
Repack your emergency kit and dock kits immediately when you get home from your travels. You’ll pat yourself on the back when that’s one less thing to do when packing for the next trip.
What is your favorite family travel product or service?
Our YETI Mugs always join us camping or during weekend getaways – coffee in the morning and cocktails in the eve. We also love our collapsible water bottles from Hydawaybottle– and the girls don’t leave home without their Puro Sound Lab head phones.
What item do you always pack in your carry-on?
Swoop Bags are one of my favorites, made by my friend Sarah here in Seattle. I have a few of the mini-mesh and nylon/poly bags that I use for packing items in my carry-on. They’re great as a grab-and-go bag for day trips – throw in a change of clothes, snacks, sunscreen, swimsuits…whatever. It’s got a drawstring cord that can be used to sling over your shoulder and carry like a satchel, too.
How do you tackle the work/life balance (e.g., day care, babysitting, schools, etc.)?
We took Lugabug to market via a successful Kickstarter about 4 years ago. At the time my girls were 4, 7, and 9 years old. I was also working 30 hours a week as an HR Consultant and playing in The Not-Its! I stayed up after midnight every night throughout that period and while it was an exciting run – it was not sustainable. Shortly after, my job of 10-years changed to full-time. I gave it a go for a year but overtime, felt like I wasn’t doing anything well. I made the leap of faith to leave so I could have more of a flex schedule between HR contracts and Lugabug. While still a constant juggle, it’s been worth it.
I’m also lucky in that Jon can run on 6 hours of sleep, works from home a few days a week, and takes on his share of kid duty and house projects. The girls walk or bike to school and we have rotating responsibility with chores and meals. My role is to keep things in motion and fill in all the gaps! We made a team charter a few years back and when thing go south, we revisit to remind one another how we want to be as a family. My ‘can’t live without’ apps are: Evernote – helps me organize my to-do lists and spontaneous ideas + shared google calendars to manage all our ever-growing activities and keep track of who’s on point for what. We’re lucky to have a great network of family, friends and neighbors. Hands down, it truly takes a village.
What are the advantages of being a Mompreneur while raising children vs. working for an outside entity? Disadvantages?
Being a Mompreneur means you’ve listened to your instincts, taken a risk, and followed an idea that the world cannot live without. Our kids have been exposed to Lugabug everything these past 4 years. They’ve grown alongside us through the ups and downs of this journey. I see them thinking about new ways to solve problems and having the confidence to share their ideas. If you’re open to learning and leaning into life, your kids will feel the magnetic charge and be drawn to it. Maybe they won’t understand it all but they’ll get that you’re doing something that’s pretty darn cool.
The downfall is that it’s easy for the work to become all-consuming. Unless you have a team behind the product, it’s really just you making it all happen. Here are things I try to keep mindful of on a daily basis:
- You don’t have to give everything 120%. A few things Yes, but mostly 80% of your expectations will exceed the norm. Just ‘ship it’ – and be open to letting go of perfection.
- Regularly engage in meet ups or online communities to tap into resources and connect with fellow entrepreneurs. A little goes a long way. You can’t expect to know everything and what you get from others now, you’ll eventually give back.
- Keep the to do lists short. Focus on completing one thing at a time. Yep – one thing! Our minds are constantly on overdrive and multi-tasking is less efficient. I like to work in sprint segments. 45-90 minutes of total and complete focus. At the end of the day, list the thing you’ve accomplished (big or small) and be grateful. We are too quick to judge ourselves on what we fail to do and forget to celebrate the progress we’re making.
What’s your shameless plug?
Traveling opens up a new world of perspective and possibility. Through travel, we give our kids the gift of connecting with new people and places, and creating irreplaceable memories. I love that Lugabug is a product that can kick start family travel in a fun, positive direction – inspiring families to travel more.
Lugabug. A child’s travel seat that secures to luggage – creating the experience of fun, safe and efficient transport for kids. It’s a collapsible, economical and multi-purpose family travel accessory for quality-conscious buyers who prefer a compact product that minimizes their load – not adds to it – and reduces chaos while traveling.