If you’re of a certain age, Melissa Joan Hart has likely been charming you from a small screen your entire life. She was the coolest tween on the block in Clarissa Explains It All, then the most magical teen at school in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. With about a million more projects in the middle, she is now the queen of Lifetime’s Christmas movies—this year, she stars in Dear Christmas and directed Feliz NaviDad. In the middle of filming (and, lest anyone forgets, in a pandemic), she also moved with her husband and three sons to Nashville.
Amid the holiday madness, the Heluva Good! Dips spokesperson chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about getting to know her new city, raising well-traveled kids, and her beloved travel pillow.
Her typical Christmas, and what she’s doing instead:
We usually have Christmas at home, but we have a home in Lake Tahoe that we’ve had since we first got married and we love to spend our holidays there, so sometimes we mix it up. Sometimes we go for New Year’s. Since we just moved, we’re actually going to spend Christmas in Nashville, our new home. But we do love our Tahoe place. We keep that as our little paradise.
How she’s getting to know Nashville during a pandemic:
I haven’t been able to do a lot of the music scene stuff, and also because we have small kids we’re not big on going out. We’re doing more outdoor family stuff. We’ve explored Cheekwood, which is a mansion and big property, like a botanical garden, but they have a huge light show right now. We walked around and toured the mansion, and they’ve got a Chihuly exhibit along with their holiday lights, which is really lovely. We’re trying to keep it outside, but it has gotten really cold and we had snow here, which I was so excited about! I thought it was a very rare occurrence [but] it’s already happened. I love snow.
How she prioritizes big international family trips:
I really wanted to have four kids, but when [my husband] Mark was like, “We should just have three,” I agreed only because I was ready to start traveling with them. We got started with a trip to Australia, luckily through a Comic Con I was invited to. We took the kids out of school for a month and traveled all of Australia, pretty much every place but Darwin and the Red Centre. This trip took us to Perth and Adelaide and up the Cairns and a place called the Green Island, which was one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Because of that, we decided hey, let’s do Europe next year, which was not as great with the little kids. We went all over Italy and Paris and Portugal. Any place there was a pool or water, the kids were happy; any museum or church, they were not. Last year, I did this amazing trip with World Vision to Zambia, which is where my cousin lives, and we took our oldest with us because we were going out to the rural areas and doing a lot of driving and a lot of translating. Not only did we get to visit the capital of Lusaka, we got to go to the rural parts like Choma, and then we ended up at Victoria Falls and spent a day on the Zambezi. Just the most epic week of our lives.
On raising a family of travelers:
We actually have a huge map, one of my favorite things—and I have to probably get a new one now that we moved—but this huge map on the wall that my mom gave me for Christmas years ago and was mounted on foam core and then framed. It hangs above our kitchen table. We sit there at breakfast and we have pins in it, looking around at where we have pins, where we don’t have pins, where should we go next? Not only are the kids learning geography, we’ll be like, “Oh, our friends right now are in Sweden, which one’s Sweden?” Or when we went to Zambia, “Where is Zambia?” [But] we noticed we don’t have any pins in South America. Maybe that’ll be our next adventure.
How she spends her flight time:
I consider one of my true talents sleeping. I’m really good, especially in moving vehicles. Trains, boats, cars, I am passed out, mouth open like a Venus flytrap. But I do try to be productive. I imagine that I’m going to be very productive. I always try to bring along a few downloaded TV shows I’m trying to catch up on. I always bring along books, always have a magazine. What I mostly do is play Sudoku on my phone and pass out.
What’s in her carry-on bag:
I am a little bit of a planner, so I over pack. I always have extra everything: extra hair bands, extra hairbrush, extra tissues, extra Chapstick. I always have to have gum. It used to be Big Red, but it’s getting harder and harder to find. I just want to have all those essentials, like if my lips are dry or I need lotion or a tampon, any sort of beauty or physical emergency. Never forget your charger, that’s a big one on my list. I always have a nice neck pillow. I like the Total pillow. It’s the circular one with the little bumps so it looks like a Bundt cake.
The destinations she’s been dreaming about during the pandemic:
I mean, honestly, anywhere right now. I would take the Outer Banks, in warmer weather. This summer, I was really hoping to do an RV trip across the country, because I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon except, I think, from an airplane.
The one escape she and her family got in 2020:
We went to Wyoming, to a dude ranch, and it was awesome. My kids became little cowboys, and my older son did a lot of fly-fishing. We were on trail rides every day, all day, trotting, doing barrel racing. That was incredible. Getting called to meals and jumping on your horse. A lot of outdoor activities, which is great for right now, and just relaxing. There was no Wi-Fi—we were like back in the Old West.
Her favorite hotel amenity:
I like the pre-order-your-breakfast-at-night thing. You don’t really get those at all hotels—mainly in the bigger cities and whatnot. You don’t even have to call, you just put the little thingy on the door and the next morning you’re woken up by your breakfast. I usually use that as my wake-up call. They knock on your door and there are your freaking poached eggs and your hot tea and your banana, and you’re ready to go.
Her travel pet peeve:
I’m really scared of flying, so I get really upset when people are using their cell phones, like when you know they’re not in airplane mode and you’re taking off. I actually got in a fight with a girl once. I said, “You know, I really want to get home to my children safely. The captain asked us to turn off our phones. Would you mind following the rules?” I was a little Karen. I’m a rule follower, especially when it comes to safety. Like, c’mon—put on your seat belt and wash your hands, please.
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