Janelle Diller grew up the daughter of adventure travelers.
In the summer of 1962, the family took a bush plane to the interior of Brazil, traveled through Brasilia and Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the middle of a political coup, then made it back to the U.S. in time for Diller to finish third grade.
"We vacationed many times in Mexico, but my dad couldn't sit on a beach for more than a few hours so I never came home with a tan," Diller said.
What she did come home with was a more profound understanding of the world and her place in it. Those youthful travels made Diller into the woman and mother she is today, both in nature and inclination.
"Travel is an amazing teacher. It's about building a sense of adventure and fascination with other people and other places," said Diller, a published writer of industry manuals, textbooks and historical fiction for middle readers who now leads international corporate leadership seminars.
When Diller's longtime friend and former colleague Lisa Travis approached her with an idea for a travel adventure book and toy series for girls ages 7 to 9, the partnership - and the project - seemed a natural fit.
"I think travel changes you as a person. It puts things in perspective," Travis said. "Plus, for any mom that's been on a plane with a screaming child, having something to keep them engaged is critical."
The Colorado Springs residents spent five years ushering forward the concept, called Pack-n-Go Girls, in the free time left after full-time jobs and family. Diller's first book in the Pack-n-Go Austria series, "Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost," is available in softcover and as a digital download, which the company is offering for free on its website through Wednesday.
The book follows 9-year-old Brooke Mason, who has spent her life on a ranch in the Colorado Rockies, as she heads with her mother to Austria to stay in an ancient, haunted castle. The 91-page, illustrated book includes facts and travel tips about Austria, as well as a brief guide to common German words and their pronunciations. The website includes kid-friendly packing and travel tips, links to sites about yodeling and links for teachers who want to build lesson plans around the book. A second book in the Austria series is nearing publication; later series will introduce additional characters and focus on adventures in Mexico and Thailand. The accompanying toys are still in the development stage.
For Travis, the idea for the Pack-n-Go Girls came while traveling with her son and daughter, now 12 and 8.
"He had Matchbox cars and a travel Matchbox case that opened and a castle would pop up," Travis said of her son. "They were great and compact, and he could take it with him. I wanted something like that for girls."
For daughter Sarah, though, there were mostly dolls - including Barbie, with her historical gender stereotype issues, and American Girl, with a hefty price tag and oversized body ill-suited for cramped commercial travel. Those options didn't work for Travis.
"We wanted something small, compact and smart. I wanted it to be about travel, and I wanted a book because I wanted it to be educational," said Travis, who owns Peak Seven Consulting in the Springs.
To be sure the book would resonate with its target audience, Travis and Diller turned to a youthful focus group, the "original Pack-n-Go Girls," to hone everything from the logo and book cover design to the language in the story, including the title of the first chapter, "Austria! (Not Australia!)."
"Even if they can't go somewhere in second or third grade themselves, Pack-n-Go can bring that place to them," Travis said.
Download the Kindle edition of "Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost" free through Wednesday at packngogirls.com