Gunjan Prakash: “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst”

I always live by the motto “hope for the best, but plan for the worst”. That helps me focus on plan B or C when plan A doesn’t work out — and always remember to continue to move forward and live our lives. You don’t cancel plans, you change them! I try to make the best of […]

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I always live by the motto “hope for the best, but plan for the worst”. That helps me focus on plan B or C when plan A doesn’t work out — and always remember to continue to move forward and live our lives. You don’t cancel plans, you change them! I try to make the best of the situation at hand and encourage those around me to do the same. Is it disappointing to have summer vacation plans canceled? Absolutely, but this is also an opportunity to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. Go camping, visit state parks, go on a road trip. Not every vacation has to be a big trip — enjoy things on a smaller, simpler scale — and I bet you’ll enjoy them just as much! We’ve stumbled upon beautiful parks close to our house that I never would have had the time to discover in the past.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gunjan Prakash, a visual artist by profession, mother and wife by choice, and a traveler since birth! She continues to develop her passion for vacationing while running her successful Facebook group, “Families Who Love To Travel,” made in partnership with Families Love Travel. Gunjan uses both platforms to empower families and solo wanderers alike by telling her story.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have a background in the creative field and previously worked as an art director and creative director for various television networks. After having my twins, it was hard to continue working, so I decided to focus on my home life and go back to work when the kids were in kindergarten. After looking for various options, I realized that working in my field would take too much time away from my family, and I wouldn’t be able to focus on a career and bring up my kids simultaneously. At that time, I decided to take a leap of faith and follow my passion — travel. Traveling has been a huge part of my life since I was a kid, and something I enjoy immensely with my family. I started my blog called ‘Tripping with Gunjan’ a few years ago, when I began writing about my travels. Then, after researching my own family travels and coming up short on the information I was looking for, I started a Facebook group called “Families Who Love To Travel” as a supportive sounding board for other families looking for travel ideas and advice for traveling with their little ones. This group exploded and became the largest family travel group on Facebook. The group gave birth to the website, Families Love Travel, which now functions as a permanent hub for all of our knowledge and advice to live.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

I launched a travel website at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the travel industry had been shut down. Every facet of our lives changed around us quickly and ferociously — schools closed, cities and states went on lockdown, people hunkered down to face so many unknowns. Launching a website I’d put so much time and energy into was a huge risk, but ultimately, I knew that I had come too far to slow down. I took a step back and decided to focus on the positives of this situation: we suddenly had more time to focus on our content, we could experiment with various strategies, and knew that this was an opportunity to knock out our competition. With the support of my family and my team, we went ahead with the launch and pivoted our focus to concentrate on our “Travel From Home” series since the world was sheltering in place, and we managed to pull it off! Since Families Love Travel is self-funded, I was able to make my own decisions without having to answer to investors or a board, so taking this risk fell squarely on my shoulders — and I am grateful to be able to trust my gut when it comes to my business. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain is a powerful position to hold.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Working with such a creative team means we always have new ideas and projects in the works, whether back-end developments to ensure our website is functional or partnerships with other like-minded brands; our aim is to keep growing and getting bigger and better every day. One of the bigger projects we’ve been working on is a directory section of our website, which will serve almost like an encyclopedia of travel destinations, hotels, activities and more to help families plan their travels easily and quickly. We’ve been doing so much research and have put hundreds of hours into this, and I know when it’s done it will be an invaluable tool for families. Families Love Travel has been very selective with our recommendations, so we can stand by every single thing we list on our website. As parents ourselves, each member of our team has been in the position where you are struggling to find a hotel or resort with the amenities and activities you want and falling short — or not being able to check every box on your list — so we’ve taken all the legwork out of the search with our directory. Be it a hotel with nanny services, a kids club for under-4s, activities for specific age ranges, or countless other parameters, Families Love Travel takes the guesswork out of searching for your perfect destination. Being authentic and true to our own high standards will save other families valuable time when planning their own adventures.

Families Love Travel is unique in that we provide regular content to share experiences, tips, and tricks for destinations worldwide in addition to the practical side of travel. All of our articles are designed to help families solve their travel problems. Being experienced travelers ourselves, the team is always coming up with new article ideas to serve our community and answer questions we had when we started traveling with our families. When we have an article on the “top 5 hotels” or “the best of” anything, you can trust that every single thing we’re recommending has been vetted by a discerning group of travelers. Additionally, having a Facebook group as a counterpart to our website allows us to answer our members’ questions in real-time; be it with help choosing a destination, helping parents prepare for travel with kids, or how to select travel insurance — and everything in between — we have the means to answer questions with a very quick turnaround. Likewise, if we see trends of the same questions asked, we compile our research into articles so that the information is readily accessible on our website.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. He believed in me, encouraged me to follow my passion, funded this company, and has supported me every step of the way. Additionally, Families Love Travel would not be where it is today without the incredible team that has been with me from the beginning. I’m lucky to work with a group of incredible women, most of them mothers, who have put so much energy into making Families Love Travel the best family travel website it can be.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I raised my kids without phones, computers, iPads, and television. I wanted to hold off on technology as long as I could since I knew it would be a big part of their lives as they got older. But due to COVID-19, my kids’ school moved to remote learning and they started using computers for school and afterschool programs. Now, the camps they participated in this summer are also virtual. They communicate with their friends via video games and technology — we’ve had to embrace FaceTime and Zoom calls to enable them to see their friends when in-person play dates were not possible. This is the biggest obstacle we had to overcome as I was not ready or prepared for it at all. Additionally, for people like myself who have parents in other countries, not being able to visit has been a challenge and we’ve had to schedule regular calls to keep connected. We usually visit my family in India every year and we have been unable to this year which has been difficult for our whole family.

Logistically, there have been challenges when two working parents have meetings and kids have Zoom calls with their schools. Being on calls every day with my team can be challenging when you have little kids at home — you never know when you’ll hear them complaining or fighting in the background. I’ve even resorted to taking calls from a hotel bathroom when our family had to relocate after a major power outage this summer! Luckily, Families Love Travel is run by an all-women, mostly parent team, so it is easier to overcome the challenges together. Everyone has been in a situation where your kid can’t connect to a Zoom call or they’re fighting over a LEGO — it gives us something to laugh about and bond over rather than making it stressful!

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

My family thrives on a set schedule, so I have had to take my planning into overdrive. I make sure to schedule all my work calls when the kids have school so we can all focus individually. When work and school calls are done, we have outdoor time scheduled so there isn’t too much screen time — my kids need physical activity to maintain a sense of normalcy. We schedule calls with friends and family on a regular basis to make sure we don’t feel like we’re missing out on too much, even though being apart is hard on everyone.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The first challenge was operating a travel business in a time when travel was impossible. That, coupled with stay-at-home orders in our state, put me in the position all working mothers suddenly found themselves in of having to work and handle remote learning for my children from home. My kids and Families Love Travel — my other baby — both demanded time and attention from me. Additionally, with kids at home now instead of at school during the day, I don’t have the uninterrupted time to work during the day which I used to count on to get through my task list. The logistics of having my family at home all day have to take priority — which is something you don’t usually have to think about during the week.

Overall, getting into a new routine of having everyone at home all the time and finding a balance between work and home life has been the biggest challenge during the pandemic, something I believe all women face when juggling the many roles we have. Since our team is so hands-on, I can’t just take a day off because my kids have a school project they need help with. Being an entrepreneur has many upsides, but the main challenge has been that if I don’t do something — it doesn’t get done.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Scheduling everything we have to get done as a family has helped us all stay on track. From work time to outdoor time and family time, everything has a place on our schedule. I make sure to schedule enough time for myself to complete my to do list every day, and work late after my kids go to sleep when I need to finish urgent tasks. My husband also has specific parenting duties he handles on his own, and our parenting is very much 50/50. It’s the only way things keep running smoothly at home with two working parents.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Making a weekly schedule for kids is critical to our success as a family. I’ve been making a weekly schedule every weekend for my kids so everyone knows what we have going on for the upcoming week. It includes all their activities, reading time, remote learning, online camp, family movie time, and plenty of outdoor time. It has been a game-changer for us and keeps everyone on track and much calmer knowing what to expect, especially with so much uncertainty in the world — my kids have started calling me home camp! We have been lucky to be able to stay on a lake in the countryside since COVID started, which has helped me balance work and home immensely.Sitting under the umbrella getting through my task list while they play in the water makes me feel less guilty about working during their time at home. I also make sure we all switch off and have time together as a family so we make the most of our time at home — as hard as it is for everyone to handle so much change and disruption, I want my kids to have positive memories of these times.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Schedule, schedule, schedule! It helps everyone know what we have going on to retain a sense of control and security in these uncertain times. That, and Outschool providing virtual classes for my kids has been a game-changer. Online activities, access to the outdoors where possible, and maintaining regular contact via phone and video calls to friends and family have helped us stay sane.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

First and foremost, we know that this will come to an end. History has taught us that the world recovers after every major disaster — and we are resilient. Things have already started opening up and people have made changes towards fighting the pandemic. We are living in times with unprecedented access to the world’s best scientists and the technology to help people work together to combat the virus. People have learned to adapt to the changes in their lives and we will come out of this more resilient and hopeful for the future.

I always live by the motto “hope for the best, but plan for the worst”. That helps me focus on plan B or C when plan A doesn’t work out — and always remember to continue to move forward and live our lives. You don’t cancel plans, you change them! I try to make the best of the situation at hand and encourage those around me to do the same. Is it disappointing to have summer vacation plans canceled? Absolutely, but this is also an opportunity to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. Go camping, visit state parks, go on a road trip. Not every vacation has to be a big trip — enjoy things on a smaller, simpler scale — and I bet you’ll enjoy them just as much! We’ve stumbled upon beautiful parks close to our house that I never would have had the time to discover in the past.

Focus on hobbies and look at this as the gift of time. My mother, for example, has had much more time to spend at home and has been able to grow her own fruit and vegetables. She has taken up art, and has never felt so personally fulfilled exploring her new hobbies. Identify those things in your life that you always say “one day” or “when I have time” to — and do them now.

For families, this is a wonderful opportunity to slow down, refocus, and evaluate your lifestyle. Choosing to embrace the time at home as a chance to reconnect with one another, to turn to those closest to us and enjoy the little things once more, is a gift I am thankful for — even if it is one I didn’t choose! When the world turns upside down, your priorities become very clear. For me, embracing my family is number 1 and always will be. Without the distractions of everyday life, we have been able to be silly and enjoy new routines at home.

Speaking of distractions, with different focuses this is an opportunity to go on a journey of self-exploration to discover what truly makes you happy. As I mentioned above, in times of crisis you are forced to focus on very basic things. Am I happy in my home set up? Do I want to make changes? Is my career fulfilling? This is a “pause” button that we can all try to use to our advantage. Is this the lifestyle I wanted for myself? If not — how can I make this better?

It has been proven that hard times nurture creativity and are a breeding ground for inventions and innovations. With time at home to focus on solving problems, I am excited to see what amazing products and technology comes out of this crisis.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I’m old-school, in that I prefer calling to emailing or texting for a personal connection. People who know me, know that I reach out to them on a regular basis via phone to feel connected. Try picking up the phone and calling people — especially now when we can’t visit in person — it’s a much better way to feel more normal than communicating via text or email.

Keep a notepad with you as well. I like to write things out — everything from my daily ‘to do’ list to ideas I have for the future. It helps me feel organized and checking items off as the day goes on feels good. It helps bring a sense of accomplishment to my day and is helpful for anyone feeling anxious and out of control during these times.

I have always lived my life with plans and backup plans. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Now, with so much unknown, we are forced to be flexible with our planning. Always be open to new plans and focus on the end goal. Just because plan A doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you have failed; it means you are taking a different path to get to your destination.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Do something well or don’t do it at all. I do not make space for mediocrity in my life. I knew that by taking the plunge into the entrepreneurial world I would have to hold myself accountable for everything, and that ultimately, I am responsible for every failure along with every success.

How can our readers follow you online?

Our website is Families Love Travel, Instagram is Families Love Travel, those of you on Facebook can follow our page and join our group, which I am very active in.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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