Hi there! I’m Gina Vercesi–a mother, teacher, writer, runner, hiker, gardener, foodie, and nature girl, with an adventurous spirit and an unyielding sense of wanderlust. These passions–for the outdoors, for other cultures, for exploration, for the written word–inform everything I do and push me to seek out new experiences for myself and my family as often as possible.
I am NY State Certified teacher with a Master’s Degree in secondary social studies education. I taught middle school social studies and English language arts in New York City as well as working in literacy staff development for several years before leaving public education to raise my three daughters, now ages 9, 11, and 13.
In 2009 I created Kids Unplugged, a family nature club whose mission it was to give kids, and their parents, a break from screens and other media and technology, as well as from the chronic busyness of everyday life and get them outdoors, enjoying the natural world and each other. Kids Unplugged was an instant success. I found that lots of families loved outdoor adventures but that the challenge came in motivating their kids and making a plan. I solved that by offering families a weekly hike at a predetermined location with the promise that there would be opportunities for kids to meet up with their friends and parents to socialize with other adults.
As my girls grew our family focus shifted and I found I didn’t have as much time to lead hikes as I did when they were younger. At the same time, unplugging and getting outdoors continued to be a passion of mine. The solution was to relaunch Kids Unplugged as family travel site–a place where I could share with other families fabulous, off-the-grid travel destinations out there waiting to be explored–places that really allow families to take a tech break and recharge their human batteries.
As avid travelers, our family has visited destinations in the United States and abroad and we are always seeking out great spots for our next family vacation adventure. Because we have traveled so extensively with our kids from the time they were very small, I have first hand experience schlepping strollers and car seats on trips, entertaining the brood on long flights or while delayed in airports, or finding 24-hour pharmacies in relatively obscure places!
One of my favorite aspects of travel is the planning and it’s a passion of mine to discover fabulous destinations where families can unplug from their digital lives and truly connect. I love to do the all the sleuthing about places, seeking out great spots to stay or to eat, finding the most reputable place to rent a car or learning about available public transportation, creating the perfect packing lists, outlining the best area attractions, discovering less-touristed local jewels and much more. And I love sharing all of that information here so that families can focus more of their energy on the adventures that lie ahead!
Why Kids Unplugged?
Kids Unplugged began as a free, family nature club whose motto was Relax, Play, Explore. I had been thinking about and planning Kids Unplugged for several years before it actually took shape. As an educator, I often felt there was a connection between kids’ screen time, their attention spans, and their overall health–and this was a good 10 years before social media and smart phones launched kids into the technology-based world in which we all presently live. As a mother, I quickly became aware of the amount of time children spend connected to some form of technology from a very young age–my own included. Many a Maisy Mouse video helped me get dinner on the table during those early years when I had three kids under four! Still, I knew some kind of balance was necessary. It was around this time that I started bringing my girls to a parent-child class at our local Waldorf school, where electronic media of all types, including recorded music, is eschewed for children in the primary grades and below. It was also around this time that I read Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, a call-to-action to stop what Louv termed Nature-Deficit Disorder and get kids back outdoors. So, I turned off the boob tube and hit the hiking trails, often on my own, with my semi-resistant toddlers in tow. This was challenging and I started Kids Unplugged as much for my own family as I did for others.
In the years that followed, I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of balance and moderation in all things. While I was far more vigilant about my girls’ screen time when they were younger, as they get older, the draw of pop culture, exposure to the world around them and the very natural desire to “fit-in” with their peers cannot be ignored. One of my favorite quotes, the origin of which escapes me is, “I learned that wood and wool would have to live in harmony with plastic and polyester.” I love this. It’s such a metaphor for the moderation we all need to have in our lives.
A tech-free life is impractical–and unnecessary, yet the pull of screens and social media is strong, for adults as well as for kids, and a balance needs to be found. This is where Kids Unplugged and family travel comes in. As a family nature club, the goal of Kids Unplugged was to get families out onto the trails enjoying the outdoors together–think mini-vacation. As a family travel site, the goal of Kids Unplugged is to share resources about fabulous destinations, providing the details and information families need in order to have a stress-free family vacation, and to connect with one another through these travels and adventures.