April 21, 2016

An Update on Ecuador

On April 18 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador. Many communities were affected by the earthquake and the places that were hit the hardest were the coastal provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabi.

We have been in contact with our friends and partners in Ecuador and while they are all safe it is clear that this is a serious disaster affecting much of the country and we are saddened by the destruction that has been caused. We will keep the country in our thoughts as the search for people continues. We hope that you do the same.

Here is an update from one of our partners:

“Our spirit is touched so deeply and we keep seeing so much pain and misery. On the other hand, it is sooooo amazing the support we have received from other countries, but mostly the compassion, resilience and solidarity that we Ecuadorians have shown this week. People have come through in such a great way it brings everybody tears and emotions of how these terrible events bring the best in people!”

We appreciate people reaching out to check on how our partners in Ecuador are doing. We’re happy that they are ok, but humanitarian efforts are still needed.

We checked with our friends to see who was doing good work to help out and here is a list that you could contribute to:

Ecuadorian Red Cross – Emergency Fund:

http://www.cruzroja.org.ec

Support UNICEF’s Earthquake Relief Efforts in Ecuador:

https://www.unicefusa.org/

World Vision – Disaster Relief Fund:

http://donate.worldvision.org

OXFAM – Emergency Appeal Ecuador Earthquake:

https://donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/ecuador



March 15, 2016

The Best Way to Travel with Teens

One of the most difficult things to do as a parent is getting your teen excited about something that doesn’t show up on a digital screen. Teens want to be treated like adults. They want to have a say in the family’s vacation plans, they want experiences that give them some freedom, activities that challenge them, and they want to do things that they can go home and tell their friends about. This sounds like a tall order, but we’ve got it down. While there is no exact science that guarantees your teen will have fun (all teens are different) we have come across a few best practices that have proved to work time and time again.

Age Appropriate Fellow Travelers

There is nothing worse as a teenager than going away on vacation and not being able to meet anyone your age and make new friends. We make this as easy as we can. We have special trips and departures for families traveling with teens. By placing families with teens together, your teens will automatically be introduced to other kids their age that they can bond with. This is one of the best ways to jump-start their vacation and experiences.

a family with Teens Rock Climbing in Ecuador

Teens Rock Climbing in Ecuador

Have a Guide that knows How to Relate to Teens

We choose our guides carefully. We want to make sure that your guide will not only be an expert in the field and handle all of the logistics; we make sure that he or she will also mesh well with the group. Our guides do a great job of engaging with and relating to teens. They can spark conversations with them that go deeper than what kind of bird is that, or what event took place at this site. They delve into cultural differences and challenge teen travelers to look at their own cultures in relation to the new place that they are in. They will learn more about themselves and the world than they will in any classroom. The best part is they won’t even realize they’re learning!

Keep Things Active and Mellow

It’s important to keep teens busy while also giving them time to chill and relax on their own. By having fellow travelers that they can spend down time with, they can be given their own space and a sense of independence. During activities, teens can feel free to march ahead and proceed at their own pace with their new friends. This isn’t only great for the kids but for parents too. You don’t need to rush and you don’t need to make sure your child is having fun— after all it is your vacation too!

One of our traveling families with teens visiting an orphanage in Thailand.

One of our traveling teens visiting an orphanage in Thailand.

Offer Challenging Experiences

Our most successful teen trips are challenging in two ways, culturally and physically. We don’t make the mistake of planning too many museums or city tours. We’ve found that parents can have fun doing “teen things” but teens don’t always enjoy doing things that parents alone typically enjoy. In Peru, we have a family trek that involves longer periods of hiking to more remote locations in the countryside. In Thailand, we highlight cross cultural experiences with hill tribe villagers or Buddhist monks where teens can have meaningful conversations about philosophy and culture.

Family Trek in Peru!

Family Trek in Peru!

Why are family vacations with teens so important? They create a new and shared experience between them and their parents or grandparents. These are experiences that they will forever remember, make a few new friends along the way, and definitely take some great photos to share on Instagram and Snapchat when they get home!



March 8, 2016

Four Reasons for a Family Vacation in the Southwest

For the first time, we here at Thomson Family Adventures have begun offering a scheduled tour at home, inside of the continental U.S. The Southwest U.S is home to incredible geological formations, vast desert landscapes, winding canyon hikes, and some of the best National Parks in the country. There is a lot to see and learn in the Southwest. Here are four of our favorite reasons to take a family vacation to the Southwest.

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Close to Home

There is nothing like having an adventure that feels like a world away but is actually just in your backyard! Planning and logistics are easy when staying in-country. No one needs to worry about having an up-to-date passport, conversion rates, exchanging currency, or getting any immunizations. Also, if you need to stay connected to grandma or a family member who isn’t traveling, you won’t need to get an international phone plan. On the flip side, the kids will also have access to all of their devices; make sure to take them before going on any hikes!

Plenty of Adventure

There is a lot to do in the Southwest. The red sand deserts are rich with outdoor activities that are sure to pull anyone away from their screen. Any kind of activity from hiking and mountain biking to swimming and rafting can be found here. The unaltered landscape is great for exploring and the best part is that there are plenty of options to accommodate different skill levels.

A Live History Lesson

The first sign of human life in parts of the Southwest date back to 6000 B.C. To say the least, the history here is ancient! At famous sites like Newspaper Rock, your family can get a glimpse into the way stories were told and how life was recorded over 1,500 years ago. These subtle educational activities during a family vacation are the best ways to learn new things together. It’s amazing how much more interesting kids find history when they see it up close and not in a classroom!

Great National Parks

hiking SW USThe main highlight of the Southwest US is its National Parks. Two parks in particular that we happen to love are Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the “hoodoos.” Hoodoos are orange, pink, and purple sandstone spires that protrude out from the ground creating a landscape that belongs in a book or a movie. It is astounding and will get your kids curious and excited! Zion is a 299-square mile park that houses a wide array of plants and animals. It’s also the place where the Great basin, the Mojave Desert, and the Colorado Plateau meet. There are endless opportunities for exploration and adventure!

We’re excited about this new group adventure and its first departure this summer. Spots are limited, be one of the first families to explore the National Parks, red rocks, and painted caves of the Southwest with Thomson Family Adventures!

 



February 15, 2016

What I’ve Seen: Alaska Family Cruise

One of our favorite team members here at Thomson Family Adventures, Christine, went on a family cruise through Alaska with Un-Cruise. She is the best person to give some first hand advice on exactly what a small ship cruise is, let alone how much fun it can be! We were able to pick her brain a bit for some insight into this awesome experience.

Can you give us a brief overview of your Alaska family cruise?

I spent 8 days exploring southeast Alaska aboard the Safari Endeavour, which is a small expedition vessel, holding about 84 guests and 14 crew members. We traveled up and down the Icy Strait into quiet coves and bays where we were able to get off the boat and hike through the fields and woods in search for some interesting wildlife. Each day was a new adventure!

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Being out in the wilderness every day. Waking up and walking out onto the balcony, looking around and being completely surrounded by trees, mountains and calm waters. It was a very calming and peaceful atmosphere.

paddle boarding on an family cruise to alaska

How many families were on the boat?

I would guess there was about 12-15 families in total. I traveled with two Thomson families. They ranged in age from 6-18 years old. It was really a great group of people to travel with. Everyone was friendly, laid-back, and ready for adventure. By the end of the trip we were all sad to leave each other.

How was it being on a boat for that long period of time? Were people getting sea sick?

Being on the boat for 7 days wasn’t too bad. There are plenty of activities to do while you are on board, not to mention the constant wildlife scene right outside the window. Each day you have the opportunity to get off the boat and go kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and exploring on land so you really aren’t on the boat for that much of the day. The crew did a great job of entertaining everyone, especially the kids!

The water was really calm; we were never in open ocean so there was no one really getting sick. We did have one night of rough weather, but even still it was much calmer than “rough” weather out in the middle of the ocean. I think anyone who suffers from sea sickness would do just fine on one of these cruises.

What kind of things were there to do on-board the ship during this family cruise to Alaska?

While on board ship, there is a lounge with lots of board games and arts and crafts for the kids. There are binoculars everywhere, so you always have an opportunity to see the whales, sea lion, birds or jellyfish passing on by. There is some fitness equipment as well for those looking to get in a quick workout. Yoga in the morning. Presentations and group games in the evening after dinner. For those looking for a little downtime or time to themselves, there is a library with many DVD’s that you can borrow to watch a movie in your cabin.

sea lions as seen on an Alaska family cruise

How does this compare to being on a larger more traditional cruise ship?

It doesn’t compare at all. It’s a completely different experience. I wouldn’t even put these in the same category. Typical cruise ships offer a lot of on board amenities, its part of the draw. The Un-Cruise experience is very different. This ship is a place to sleep. The real draw is the great outdoors, the wilderness, the explorations, and the unwritten, unscheduled adventures you will find along the way.

Safari Endeavour - the ship used for our alaska family cruise

Safari Endeavour

Were there things to do in Alaska before or after the cruise started?

Yes, there are many things you can do before, or after your cruise. You can spend a night or two in Juneau beforehand, exploring the little town. They have some great markets, and traditional shopping centers that are great for souvenirs. You can also do some excursions like dog sledding, or a Glacial Helicopter Ride, zip-lining, snowmobiling, etc.

Best advice for someone who hasn’t been on this type of family cruise before?

Make sure you go into it with the right expectations. This is not a typical cruise, with lots of onboard entertainments, shows, concerts, room service, 24-hour buffets, etc. This is a small expedition vessel. The real entertainment is out in the wild. If you have the right expectations, this is truly an amazing experience, and I think everyone should visit Alaska this way. I’d also try and take advantage of some of the excursions before or after your trip. After all, this may be the only time you go to Alaska, right?



February 15, 2016

Why Go to Antarctica for a Family Vacation?

Antarctica, it’s a place that many people only dream of exploring. Antarctica is very much unchanged since the early days of exploration and it is home to much more wildlife than people! To really understand how beautiful, breathtaking, and dream-like Antarctica is, you need to see it. But the best we can do until you decide to take family vacation there is to share this awesome video from our friends at Quark.

Enjoy!

 



February 4, 2016

What You Need to Know about Zika Virus for Safe Travel

This article is accurate as of the time of its writing on February 29, 2016

On Monday February 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an international health emergency over Zika virus. There is daily growing concern over the rapidly spreading virus as four million people are expected to be infected by the end of the year. The CDC has advised pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant against traveling to virus stricken countries, as the CDC and Pan American Health Organization have been investigating the possible association between Zika and microcephaly.

At this time, Thomson Family Adventures is continuing to run its scheduled trips. While we are operating our trips going forward, we want our travelers to exercise caution while traveling to any destination.

Here is what you need to know about Zika virus per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of 02/29/2016:

Where have virus cases been confirmed?

Prior to 2015, the virus has been found in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health organization (PAHO) issued an alert of confirmed virus cases in Brazil.

The virus has spread beyond Brazil into several Latin American countries. Countries with active transmission of Zika virus that Thomson Family Adventures travel to are Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama.

No local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the U.S. states but there have been travel-associated cases.

How is the virus spread?

The virus is spread to humans by mosquito bites. There have been cases reported of Zika spreading through blood transfusion and sexual contact. Zika can be found in the bloodstream and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people. The virus can remain in the bloodstream for a few days but it can remain for a longer period of time.

What are the common symptoms of the virus?

About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will become ill. Symptoms of Zika virus are joint pain, rash, fever or conjunctivitis. Muscle pain and headache may also occur. While the incubation period of the virus is not known, it is believed to be a few days to a week.

The illness is mild and symptoms can last from a few days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some patients may not realize they are ill due to mild symptoms.

Is there treatment for the virus?

There are no known vaccines or medications used to prevent and/or treat Zika virus. In order to treat the symptoms, get plenty of rest and take pain reliever such as acetaminophen for joint and muscle aches, drink fluids. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.

Who is likely at risk to contract Zika?

Anybody can contract Zika.

There is more concern for women of child-bearing age who seek to become pregnant and pregnant women in any trimester. The CDC has advised pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant against traveling to virus stricken countries, as the CDC and Pan American Health Organization have been investigating the possible association between Zika and microcephaly.

For others who may contract Zika, symptoms of the virus are joint pain, rash, fever or conjunctivitis. Muscle pain and headache may also occur. While the incubation period of the virus is not known, it is believed to be a few days to a week. The illness is mild and symptoms can last from a few days to a week. Some patients may not realize they are ill due to mild symptoms.

How can you prevent infection of Zika virus?

If you are traveling abroad to countries where Zika virus or other viruses spread by mosquitos are found, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants.

Stay in air conditioning or places that have screen windows and doors.

Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items and sleep under a mosquito bed net when traveling or outside.

Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellants ONLY, as these have been evaluated for effectiveness.

Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.

How can you help prevent the spread of Zika?

If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites during the first week of your illness. Symptoms can last from a few days to a week. Zika can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.

Are you immune for life once infected?

Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.

Some of this information is directly copied from the CDC website. For complete information about Zika virus, please visit:

 

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html

http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11585&Itemid=41688&lang=en



February 2, 2016

Affordable Family Vacations: Big Change for Thailand, Ireland, and Canada

It isn’t often that things become cheaper but the quality stays the same, or in this case gets even better. We’ve updated our itineraries for Thailand and Ireland to show more of the places that you want to see with more fun and adventures along the way. As the US Dollar has gotten stronger in the global economy, specifically against the Euro, the Thai Baht, and the Canadian Dollar, and we wanted to pass any savings we could on to our traveling families. After adjusting for the strength of the US Dollar, some of these trips are as much as $800 lower per person. Thailand, Ireland, and Canada are three very different destinations, all special in their own way, that all make for a great affordable family vacation!

Thailand

affordable family vacation to Thailand

This is a country that is great for all travelers, but older kids tend to appreciate the cultural differences more than our younger travelers. Visiting temples, participating in traditional alms-giving with monks, and meeting hill tribe villagers are just a few of the ways that cultural exchanges take the driver’s seat on this recently-more-affordable family vacation option. Everyone also enjoys fun activities like jungle hikes, zip-lining, relaxing on the beach, and exploring the cities of Chiang Mai and Bangkok. This is an awesome adventure in Southeast Asia.

Ireland

affordable Ireland family vacation

The Emerald Isle is a great spot to take an family vacation. This is particularly great for younger travelers that are starting to get their exploration experience in.  You’ll see Ireland in ways that you never thought you would— ride a bike through the Slieve Mish Mountains on the Dingle Peninsula and learn how to sail in Kinsale Harbor. Kids will also enjoy hearing tales of pirates, taking a friendly ghost tour around Kinsale, and exploring the star shaped Charles Fort. Plus, part of this adventure is staying in your very own castle. If that isn’t enough of a reason to go to Ireland than we don’t know what is!

Canada

affordable canada family vacation

Our neighbor to the North is home to an incredible stretch of the Rocky Mountains. This adventure is great for families that like to be more active than usual on their vacations. Spend time exploring scenic Banff and Yoho National Parks. Hike to Moraine Lake and Valley of the Ten Peaks to see this awe inspiring region by foot. The adventurers in the family will also enjoy rafting down the Kicking Horse River. There’s no reason not to vacation up North for an affordable family vacation that’s close to home!

These are all just a snapshot of the fun and excitement that can come on your next family vacation.



January 26, 2016

Costa Rica: The Perfect Destination for the Whole Family

It can be difficult to find a place for your family vacation that everyone can get on board with. Your older kids may not want to do what your younger kids want to do. Or you might be looking for a bit more action and adventure for yourself and one of your kids, but not the other. Maybe you’re a grandparent or traveling with a grandparent and you’re worried about finding an active trip that you can also have fun with. Look no further, Costa Rica is the place you need to go. Costa Rica is an incredible country that has a little bit of something for everyone.

Kids

The wildlife in Costa Rica is enough to get anyone excited about a vacation. Younger kids get especially excited by the wildlife. Costa Rica is home to over half a million different wildlife species. As you leisurely kayak through mangroves or hike through jungles, your youngsters are sure to see monkeys hanging out on tree limbs, colorful toucans and bright red scarlet macaws flying through the air, and iguanas lying in the sun. These encounters will get them excited and they’ll never forget it!

TFA Trip 3-22-14 Costa Rica-204

Teens and Older Kids

We know it can be hard to convince a teenager what cool and fun is, but we’ve never had a problem getting approval for the adventures in Costa Rica. Some of the more exhilarating activities you can do in Costa Rica range from zip-lining high in the sky to white-water rafting on the rivers below. These activities are an adrenaline rush, but also very safe. It isn’t only teens that will have fun with this either, parents and grandparents also think it’s a blast!

Parents

Parents, we know you can hang on the zip-lines and paddle around in the kayaks. But sometimes isn’t it nice to just relax? One thing that our parents love is the eco-thermal hot springs. The Eco Termales hot springs are the only true natural hot springs in Arenal. The fun and relaxed atmosphere is wildly beautiful among green gardens and steamy cascades. It’s your family vacation; you should get some time to relax!

Grandparents

Chris Gamel 2

The one constant thing that we here from grandparent travelers is how thrilling it was for them to show their grandkids the world. Costa Rica is a place where grandparents can be with the family and see colorful and animated wildlife, fly through the treetops, and make memories that will last forever. Nothing compares to exploring a place with the entire family where everyone can have fun.



January 11, 2016

See the Whale Migration in Baja

There are a few things in the world that we can look forward to once a year. These are mostly events like holidays, birthdays, and vacations from school and work and aren’t always acts of nature. But maybe it should be! One of our favorite times of the year comes around every February in Baja— when one of the largest whale migrations takes place. Getting close to the curious, friendly, enormous gray whale is a very special experience that people don’t just forget and can make a family vacation spectacular. What is as amazing as seeing these animals is learning about why thousands of them make this journey each year.

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The Gray Whale

Let’s start with who. The gray whale is an amazing animal. Fully grown they can be over 50 feet long, although the average length is around 44-48 feet, and they weigh nearly 40 tons (80,000 pounds!).To put that into perspective, one gray whale generally weighs as much as five grown elephants.  Gray whales are, you guessed it, gray in color and are often covered in parasites giving them the look of crusty ocean rock. This helps them hide from predators and they’ve done a pretty good job considering the gray whale has existed for over 30 million years!

The Migration Route

Gray whales spend most months of the year in the North Pacific Ocean as far west as Korea and as east as Alaska. October is when the migration from Alaska down to Mexico begins.  Whales will travel in small groups called pods to make the journey. They will travel day and night, sticking close to shore lines for protection, at an average speed of five miles an hour. Most whales travel close to 6,000 miles one-way over 3 months to get to Baja! This is one of the longest migration trips of any animal in the world.

Why do they make this Trip?

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There’s mainly one reason the gray whales head to Baja, it’s mating season. Nearly 20,000 gray whales make the trip for mating and calving season. The waters around Baja are a protected and safe space for these marine mammals— which makes it the perfect place to give birth. The curious baby whales often will swim right up to boats to say hello, giving lucky travelers a chance to pet them! There are so many whales in Baja in February that it’s hard not to spot one.

This happens once each year and the best time to go is in February. With this information your family can go into Baja sounding like season pros on the gray whale migration!



December 29, 2015

Five Great Reasons to Visit Tanzania in March

One of our favorite countries in the world here at Thomson, and a top destination in the world, is Tanzania. To start, Tanzania is the premier safari destination in East Africa.  After being in Tanzania for just a short time it’s easy to understand why the country is so great. The people are incredibly kind and friendly, the landscape is vast and gorgeous, and the opportunity for wildlife viewing is breathtaking. This is something that families can experience any time of year when traveling to Tanzania. But just as anything in life, there are upsides and downsides when choosing what time of year to take a family vacation. One of the best times to visit Tanzania is during March. While the list of reasons is virtually endless, we’ve narrowed it down to five of the top reasons to visit Tanzania in March.

Tanzania Culture

Zebra and Wildebeest Migration in the Southern Serengeti

Wildlife is always abundant in Tanzania; it’s one of its biggest draws. But in March the herds of zebras and wildebeest follow the light rains to graze on the tiny shoots of grass that sprout up just after the rain falls. This makes the herds predictable and always in a high concentration which draws out the nomadic predators like lions, hyenas, and cheetahs. It makes it near impossible to miss out on an amazing wildlife experience.

Calving Season

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March is the tail end of calving season for wildebeest. Seeing the thousands of young gnus (baby wildebeest) is very special. Watching them get their legs underneath them and trotting around new to the world is a sight that not many people who go to Tanzania, get to see. This is truly unforgettable.

Everything is Cheaper

During March flights to Tanzania can be anywhere from $500 to over $1000 cheaper. The same goes for hotels, camps, and parks. This all helps bring the price of your trip down by about $3000 per person. Also, hotels, flights, camps, and parks are always more enjoyable with less of a crowd!

Europeans Tend Not to Travel to Tanzania in March

One of the worst parts of traveling to an astounding country with some of the best photo opportunities that you could find is battling other travelers for the perfect shot or trying to set the perfect frame with no one in the background. This is what makes traveling during low season or at off-peak times so desirable. The only reason March is less crowded is because Europeans tend not to travel to Tanzania, for no specific reason, in March. Your family can go to a popular destination like Tanzania and feel at ease knowing there won’t be a ton of tourists.

Timing is Great

Many schools have one or two weeks off in March. This makes the timing for a safari great. When the kids are off from school and most other activities also on a hiatus, what better thing is there to do than go on safari? Whether you have a shorter break or a longer break we have a safari that will fit into your schedule!