July 28, 2015

What Makes South Africa so Magical?

South Africa is country that begs to be explored. It’s a magical place from its cities to its bushveld. South Africa has something for everyone, history lovers, wildlife explorers, sports fans, and everything in-between. With a troubled past and bright future, thanks to a strong and warm people, South Africa becomes more than just a destination for vacation or a trip. It becomes an experience that can be trans-formative for travelers. To begin to understand what makes South Africa a magical place, you need to understand its history, current strides toward progress, and a bit about what makes it unique.

History

It wasn’t until 1994 that apartheid, state enforced racial segregation, was officially disbanded and South Africa held its first fair and democratically held presidential election. In the first election under the new constitution, Nelson Mandela won the presidency. Nelson Mandela’s victory did not come easy. It took decades of social activism by a majority of the country and Mandela himself spent 18 years in a political prison on Robben Island. Visiting Robben Island is one way to see South Africa’s history up close. Although apartheid isn’t too far in the past, it’s the dedication and outlook toward a better future that is inspiring and kids and adults alike will have an unmatched learning experience while in South Africa.

Social and Cultural Development

Music is a great way to spur social and cultural development

Music is a great way to spur social and cultural development

When Thomson Family Adventures sends families to South Africa we make sure that it is not only educational but fun! As mentioned earlier, the past of South Africa is troubled. The effects of apartheid have not yet all been eradicated. The good news is that there are several programs that are dedicated to bettering the communities and people of South Africa. By visiting youth development programs in Cape Town’s Langa Township you can meet the people and kids working towards a better South African future through dance, music, and the arts. When staying at the Grootbos Reserve it’s rewarding to see how your travels can positively impact a community, not mention its location in the beautiful fynbos. There is no feeling like making new friends and giving back to the world while in the midst of an adventure!

Unique Wildlife

Cape buffalo spotted on safari!

Cape buffalo spotted on safari!

It isn’t just the people in South Africa that are magical and inspiring, it’s also the wildlife. You may know that South Africa is one place that you can spot the Big 5 animals in Africa. Going out on a safari to see lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinos, and leopards can be life changing. Not only can you find the Big 5 in South Africa, but also the Marine Big 5: bottle-nose dolphins, African penguins, fur seals, whales, and the great white shark. This is the only country in the world where you can find the Big 10! You’ll also get to see zebras, wild dogs, giraffes, and gazelles. These are the types of animals that most people only see on TV or in a zoo. Seeing them out in the open and in their natural habitat is a completely different feeling and will inspire awe and wonder in you and your child.

Feel the magic of South Africa on your next family vacation!



July 21, 2015

6 Things You Have to See in Brazil to Understand

Brazil is a wonderful country that has been a regular stop on the travel circuit for some time now. The great weather, beautiful beaches, scenic views, adoring people, and exciting culture are just a few of the reasons why this is the case. There is a lot of information out there about Brazil given its size, fifth largest in the world in area and population, and being the host country for major global events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. But no matter what you read (yes, including this article!), there are a few things that you can only truly understand by going to Brazil and seeing them for yourself!

Spot a Jaguar

A jaguar sitting on a log in the Pantanal.

A jaguar sitting on a log in the Pantanal.

The jaguar is a truly majestic creature that prowls the jungles of South America. There was a time when jaguars were abundant in the wild but that is no longer the case. The jaguar is elusive, stealthy, powerful, and one of the best places to spot the big cat is in the jungles of Brazil. Seeing the jaguar in its natural habitat is a rare experience that not many people have.

Experience the Pantanal

A large area of Brazil is jungle and one of the most fascinating parts of that jungle is the Pantanal region. If you mixed the Amazon rain forest with the Serengeti of Africa and sprinkled a bit of Florida’s everglades on top, you’d have the Pantanal. This is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and is home to wildlife such as capuchin and howler monkeys, jaguars, giant river otters, caimans, extremely colorful and diverse birds, and thousands of fish species. It’s hard to imagine until you see it with your own eyes.

Stand with Christ the Redeemer

Christo Blanco

One of the new Seven Wonders of the World is the Christ the Redeemer statue. This impressive sculpture overlooks the brilliant city of Rio de Janeiro. It sits atop Corcovado Hill and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. There is a certain feeling that only comes with standing next to the statue and overlooking Rio.

 

Enjoy a Churrascaria

A favorite for all travelers, this Brazilian style BBQ gives a new definition to all you can eat. In this style of BBQ, the meat is brought fresh off of the grill to your table and sliced directly on to your plate. It’s hard to find anything as fresh as that! Not a fan of meat? That’s all right too. These meals are usually full of fruit and vegetable dishes that have made Brazilian cuisine famous.

See The Beautiful Game

Brazil has won the FIFA World Cup a record of five times. No other country has done that and it may be because Brazil plays the game more beautifully than anyone else. The style of play is unique to Brazil and was even the source of a Nike campaign almost a decade ago. The passion that Brazilians have for football is unmatched and seeing a game in Brazil is enough to get anyone, even the most passive fan, excited about the beautiful game!

Learn About the Golden Lion Tamarin

golden lion tamarin

There are only about 1,500 Golden Lion Tamarin monkeys remaining in the wild in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. These tamarins are dapper and under severe threat. Take a trip to the Golden Lion Tamarin Project outside of Rio and learn about the conservation efforts in place to save these animals from extinction. Actually seeing the Golden Lion Tamarins in their natural habitat will be an unforgettable education that you can only get there!

All of these are great options for families that want to have a memorable, educational, and truly Brazilian family vacation. We’ve just updated our itinerary to make this the best possible trip for your family, call today and book your Brazilian family vacation!



July 14, 2015

Explore Italy’s Volcanoes

When you think of Italy what comes to mind? Is it pasta, wine, Shakespeare, the Vatican, pizza, gelato? While these do all shout Italy— you may not think to say volcanoes. Interestingly enough, you should! Southern Italy and especially the islands are a hot bed (no pun intended) for volcanic activity. Italy is home to over a dozen volcanoes, most of which are dormant. Currently there are three active volcanoes in Italy: Mount Etna, Stromboli, and Mount Vesuvius. Since they are the only active volcanoes in the country they are by far the most interesting! These volcanoes are fun, filled with activities, and offer unique education experiences making them great places to visit on a family vacation!

Mount Etna

After a hike on Mount Etna! Photo: M. Tomasello

After a hike on Mount Etna!                Photo: M. Tomasello

On the Eastern Coast of Sicily, between the cities of Catania and Messina, sits Mount Etna. At just under 11,000 feet tall, this is not only the tallest active volcano in Italy but on the entire European continent. To add to Etna’s ambiance, it is also the one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Staying in Catania and hiking the slopes of Mount Etna is a great way to learn how volcanoes play an integral role in their environments. The volcanic ash from Etna has made the soil incredibly fertile, boosting the agricultural output of the area, specifically, enhancing the production of vineyards and orchards. With all of its recent activity and because of the nearby population, Mount Etna has been named one of 16 Decade Volcanoes by the United Nations and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Mount Stromboli

A Stromboli Eruption Photo: C. Migeon

A Stromboli Eruption Photo: C. Migeon

For the last 2,000 years, Stromboli, one of the eight Aeolian Islands, has been in a continuous eruption. This isn’t as scary as it sounds. Stromboli regularly erupts in intervals that can last as long as minutes or hours. These are small bursts of lava fragments, ash, and stone blocks that spray a few hundred meters into the air. These eruptions are almost always explosive but there are times when a lava flow occurs. You can hike on Stromboli to see the “Stairway of Fire,” the path that lava takes to the sea, an incredible opportunity that no one should miss. Another great feature of Stromboli is its picturesque coves that are perfect to go swimming in!

Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius from the coast Photo: E. Cali

Vesuvius from the coast  Photo: E. Cali

 

Probably the most famous of Italy’s volcanoes is Mount Vesuvius. Vesuvius reached international and everlasting fame after its eruption in 79 AD that buried and destroyed several Italian cities, including Pompeii. The eruption in 79 AD spewed molten rock and lava upwards of 20 miles into the air which caused much of the destruction. The ruins of Pompeii are well preserved and a popular destination for travelers to mainland Italy. The last major eruption of Vesuvius was in 1944, making it the only volcano in mainland Europe to have erupted in the last 100 years. Vesuvius is to be respected and admired. There are great trails on its slopes and it’s a great fixture to have in the backdrop of a picture!

Italy’s volcanoes are only part of the country’s beauty and personality. Taking a family vacation to the islands and volcanoes of Italy is educational, fun, and exciting. Take a look at our itinerary for Italy or give us a call today to plan the next amazing vacation that your family will have!



July 10, 2015

Four of Our Favorite Destination on Four Different Continents

One of the toughest parts of planning a vacation is deciding where to go. With so many places to travel for your next family vacation we understand that choosing a destination can be a little overwhelming. Is the place kid friendly? Will my kids have fun? Will they also learn? Will I be able to have fun and relax? The answer to all of those questions should be a resounding YES. We have a few destinations that are a firm yes to all of those questions across the globe. Here are four (each on a separate continent for variety) that are a good place to start looking to plan a family vacation!

Africa: South Africa

A view of Cape Town from the water

A view of Cape Town from the water

One of the premier destinations in Africa for all things fun, educational, and family friendly is South Africa. After holding its first democratic election in 1994, the country has come a long way. Just off of the coast of Cape Town an important spot to visit is Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 years. Apart from the political history of the country, there are also incredible sites. From the view of the magnificent Table Mountain to the wild fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom, you will always be left in awe. This isn’t even to mention what you’ll see on a South African safari (here’s a clue: think Big 5 and then way more). Also for mom and dad, South Africa has an amazing selection of locally produced wines to make for optimal evening relaxation!

 

 

Asia: Thailand

Having some fun with an elephant!

Having some fun with an elephant!

Exotic? Check. Exciting? Check. Exhilarating? Check. Other adjectives that start with ‘ex’? Check! Thailand is a great destination that offers families a great cultural experience. The streets of Bangkok are a constant hustle with tuk-tuks, food stalls, and people darting in and out of shops and work. While it is a site to see, getting around can be a bit easier and more fun on a boat! The khlongs (canals) in Bangkok are a great way to see the sites without getting caught in the traffic of the city. Thailand also has a wonderful northern region full of hiking opportunities and chances to care for elephants all day. That’s right— all day! No conversation about Thailand would be complete without mentioning the cool emerald and teal waters of the islands like Phuket and Koh Yao Noi where relaxation is not only encouraged, but guaranteed!

Europe: Ireland

A classic destination that all types of travelers want to visit and it isn’t hard to see why. Ireland is known for its friendly people with talkative personalities but the real pull to Ireland, is its rolling green hills in the countryside and its fun historical cities. Dublin is one of a kind as it can immediately transport you to medieval times as you walk through the heart of the city stopping in the famous places such as Temple Bar, O’Connell Street, and Trinity College. Crossing the country west to Connemara is one of the most beautiful rides that your family can take as you wind through the scenic hills and quaint farms out to the Atlantic. With a friendly reputation and plenty of activities for kids, Ireland is great for families!

South America: Brazil

A jaguar resting in the Pantanal.

A jaguar resting in the Pantanal.

This is a country that can speak for itself. Rio is impressive and fun for travelers of any age with unlimited venues for entertainment and gorgeous beaches that stretch for miles. This is s a passionate city full of life and excitement! Although, many may argue that this isn’t even the most exciting area of Brazil. Heading out to the amazon and trekking through the lush and diverse Pantanal region is nothing short of unforgettable. With thousands of plant species and hundreds of animals you’re sure to see something in the Pantanal that you can’t see anywhere else. This includes the quiet and mysterious jaguar! Kids will love a nighttime jeep ride to try and spot the magnificent creature!

 At Thomson Family Adventures we always have you on our minds. This is just a sample of a few places that families love to visit. Call us today to hear about them or feel free to explore our site and see the other destinations that we can help you see on your next family vacation!



July 7, 2015

What I’ve Seen: South Africa

We are getting ready to launch a new trip to South Africa and thought it would be a good idea to let you in on the experience! A member of our team, Claudia, went to Cape Town and out on safari to learn all she could about South Africa. We asked her a few questions about her trip to give you an idea of what your next family vacation might look like!

Here's Claudia and her friend Ivy at the Cape of Good Hope

Here’s Claudia and her friend Ivy at the Cape of Good Hope

Can you give us an overview of your trip to South Africa?

I spent two wonderfully busy weeks there in late April, early May. We stayed 5 nights in glorious Cape Town, one night at Grootbos in the scenic Western Cape, three nights in bustling Johannesburg (a.k.a. Joburg) and four nights in the bush. We drove six-and-a-half hours from Joburg to Timbavati Game Reserve, which provided great perspective from the Highveld to the Lowveld.

South Africa has a troubled history that’s not too far in the past; could you still signs of this as a traveler and did it affect your trip in any way?

I was amazed how far the country has progressed since apartheid. For example, in 1950, the South African government banned marriages between whites and people of other races. The Population Registration Act of 1950 provided the basic framework for apartheid by classifying all South Africans by race, including Bantu (black Africans), Colored (mixed race) and white. A fourth category, Asian (meaning Indian and Pakistani) was later added. In some cases, the legislation split families; parents could be classified as white, while their children were classified as colored. In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world, the first in Africa, to allow legal marriages between same-sex couples. Pretty impressive! (The ban on interracial marriages was lifted in 1985.)

What was the best part of this trip for you?

Wild dogs spotted on Safari

Wild dogs spotted on Safari

It’s difficult to pick my favorite part of the trip, as there was something special in each location. Cape Town is unbelievably beautiful and the bush (safari) is tough to beat with opportunities of being a stone’s throw away from rhinos and wild dogs. For me, Joburg was an unexpected highlight. I had the opportunity to visit a few inspirational museums that exhibit and display the hardships of apartheid in a way that leaves you craving to learn more about this tumultuous period. In addition to perusing the museums, I was able to explore two townships – Soweto and Kliptown – two very different communities all striving for the same thing – a better life. The people of Johannesburg are prosperous people and the spirit of entrepreneurship is everywhere.

What part did you like the least?

Flying. I’m not a big fan.

South Africa isn’t typically thought of as a safari destination but you went on one there. How was it?

Stopping for a sip of water!

Stopping for a sip of water!

Actually, South Africa is a popular destination for safari-goers. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to experience a handful of safaris in Tanzania, which is completely different than the safari experience in South Africa. In Tanzania, it’s like stepping into Noah’s Ark. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope and the vastness of the country is grand; whereas, in South Africa, the experience is intimate. You’ll see a few rhino, wild dog and lion in an up-close and personal way. The experience is quite exhilarating! I truly feel like people seeking a 10-plus day trip filled with extraordinary wildlife viewing should consider our family safari to Tanzania. If you and your family are seeking a little bit of everything – including marine life – family South Africa is the trip for you.

Would you take your kids or niece and nephew on this trip?

You betcha! I have a poster pinned on my cork board at work that reads, “Seek Adventures That Open Your Mind”.  South Africa will open your mind! South Africans are strong, curious and aware people. The older generation had to be this way in order to survive, and it’s places like South Africa that the next generation must experience to understand how history has shaped the world we live in today. Apartheid cannot be forgotten.

What about your parents or grandparents?

You betcha! South Africa is very diverse. Come learn about the Land Big 5, the Marine Big 5, South Africa’s turbulent history, its vibrant cultures, and tasty wines all while being awed by its surrounding natural beauty!

Did you feel culture shock at any point, why? If not, why do you think you didn’t?

I did not and that’s probably due to my trips to Tanzania and other underdeveloped countries in the world. There are considerable differences between the US and South Africa, but I never felt inconvenienced. I could connect to WiFi at the hotels, I could easily access money at ATMS and I had no problems conversing with people in English as is commonly spoken throughout Africa, along with 11 other official languages.

Did you feel safe in South Africa? Whether it was your time out on safari or walking around Cape Town?

The Gardens at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town

The Gardens at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town

Truthfully, I never felt unsafe or in harm’s way. I may have had my adrenaline rise as a pride of lions walked by our safari vehicle, but I never felt unsafe.

How were the flights getting to and from South Africa?

My international flights were smooth. I flew roundtrip on Delta Airlines. On the outbound flight I flew from Boston to Cape Town via Amsterdam, a flight I’m very familiar with. On the return, I flew from Joburg to Boston via Atlanta, the largest airport hub in the world. The flight from Joburg to Atlanta was slightly under 17 hours long.

Is there something about South Africa that you could really only know from being there? Something you won’t find in a guide book?

The entire experience. To learn, read a book. To experience, go travel.

The view from famous Table Mountain

The view from famous Table Mountain

There you have it— South Africa in a nutshell! If you have any lingering questions just give us a call and we’ll be happy to answer them for you and set your family up with an incredible vacation experience!



June 30, 2015

Three Great Cultural Exchanges to Have in Cuba

Although Cuba is just 90 miles off of the coast of Florida, not many people have ever been or even know much about this Caribbean island. Much of that has to do with the political tensions of the U.S. and Cuban Governments over the last few decades. With those tensions shrinking and relations becoming better, it is only a matter of time before the tourism floodgates in Cuba burst open. After that happens, Cuba, for better or worse, will never be the same. If you can get to Cuba before this happens, here are a few cultural exchanges you should take part in on your family vacation.

Go See a Baseball Game

Baseball is known as America’s pastime. But it also has that reputation in Cuba. Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students returning from studying in America and American sailors who ported in Cuba. Baseball replaced the Spanish bullfights as a source of entertainment. Still under Spanish rule, the government took this as a sign of disrespect and outlawed baseball in Cuba. This transformed baseball from a game to a symbol of freedom and independence. Baseball is important in Cuba and watching one of these games and organizing time to have your kids join a little league practice or to have catch with local Cuban youth can be an amazing experience. This will be an exchange that your kids will not only have fun doing, but will also educate them in immeasurable ways!

Cuba baseball

Visit a Potter’s Studio

Cuban pottery is a popular form of art in Cuba and the works of pottery produced are incredible. The details of the designs are fun and intricate. No two pieces of this ceramic art are the same as they’re all made by hand; making them unique to the artist and to the process. Watching the potter’s while they work will give you and your kids a new appreciation for what it means to “work with your hands.” Take time to speak to the potter and learn from his process, the best case scenario is arranging to visit a potter and share a meal together. There is no cultural exchange like those over a delicious meal!

Play Dominoes

Almost as important as baseball in Cuba, is the game of dominoes. As you explore the streets, alleyways, and parks of Havana you’ll be sure to see one thing over and over again— a table of people playing dominoes in the street. Dominoes is the game of choice for people to play after work for a bit of competition and fun! The game is a bit different in Cuba than here in the U.S. In Cuba, dominoes is played in teams of two, similar to bridge. The other main difference is the dominoes in Cuba go from 0-9 (double 9) opposed to other places that usually play 0-6 (double 6). Meet a local who can show you the ropes of dominoes and teach you a few tips and tricks to improve your game!

Domino Lesson 10

These three cultural exchanges are just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to ideas for your family to have the best Cuban vacation possible. You can also visit community art projects, learn to dance to the Mambo, and join locals for a traditional village roast. With Thomson Family Adventures we can make sure that you have a people to people exchange that you can’t get anywhere else!



June 26, 2015

Four Ancient Sites Around the World That You Need to See

The world is full of amazing things from animals and architecture to jungles and restaurants. While these are all great things to work into any travel itinerary, sometimes the best sites are ancient. There are a few places that contain incredible feats of human ingenuity from thousands of years ago. When traveling to places such as Egypt, Turkey, China, or Croatia it’s important to take in as much history as you can through your travels. At Thomson Family Adventures we truly appreciate the past and embrace the beauty in those things ancient. Here are a few historical sites that everyone should see in their lifetime.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

giza

Another very popular site among world travelers is the Great Pyramid of Giza. This is the oldest and the largest of the pyramids in Giza. It is also the oldest of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and the only one that still remains. This single pyramid was built between 10 and 20 years and was finished around 2560 BC. For over 3,800 years this was also the tallest man made structure in the world! Although there is plenty of tangible evidence about who the builders of this temple were, like inscriptions from the workers on the inside of the stones, many people still believe that an alien source is responsible for its construction. What do you think— human strength and ingenuity or aliens!?

The Great Wall of China

Great Wall

This is one of the most visited destinations in the world and not by accident. The Great Wall of China was built in sections that date as far back 220 BC. Once the wall was fully completed, it stretched 13,171 miles across China and is still the largest man made structure in the world. This is an impressive feat considering the technological advances that the world has seen. Although it is no longer used as a main defense system, it is still awe-inspiring and should not be missed!

The Old City Walls of Dubrovnik

dubrovnik

Croatia is a beautiful country and the city of Dubrovnik has been around since the beginning. As long as Dubrovnik has been around so have the old city walls. During Byzantine rule in the 7th Century, these walls were built to defend the city and they were quite effective. In fact, it is considered one of the greatest fortification systems of the Middle Ages since the walls were never breached during that time. The walls were continuously expanded and fortified up until the 17th Century.  In 1979 the Old City of Dubrovnik, which contains most sections of the Old Walls, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Underground City of Kaymakli

turkey

In the middle of Turkey in Cappadocia is a large network of underground tunnels and rooms that together comprise the city of Kaymakli. This intricate system contains hundreds of tunnels and goes eight stories deep into the ground. The tunnels run to caverns that were turned into meeting places and chapels; some rooms could hold as many as 300 people! Thousands of people used this city as a hide out during times of war. Today Kaymakli’s tunnels are not just a tourist attraction; a town built in the area still uses parts of the underground city as storage space, stables, and cellars. Can you imagine living underground for months at a time!

Call us today to find out how you can see these sites and so much more on your next family vacation!



June 23, 2015

What I’ve Seen: China

A couple of weeks ago we sent Grace, a member of our team here at Thomson Family Adventures, out to China to do some exploring and get a firsthand experience of traveling through China. We asked her a couple of questions about her trip so that you can get a better sense of what spending a family vacation in China with Thomson Family Adventures will be like!

Biking around Yangshuo

Biking around Yangshuo

Can you give us a brief overview of your trip in China?

I spent five nights in Beijing and three nights in Yangshuo, which means I was lucky enough to see two completely different parts of China! On the one hand, Beijing is a major bustling city with amazing historic sites dating back thousands of years. This includes the must-see spots like the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven (an icon of Beijing), and the disappearing hutongs that define the old city, accessible by foot and pedicabs. Alternatively, in Yangshuo, the beautiful karst formations are the main attraction, to which Chinese and international tourists alike flock to for vacation. Here, you’ll more than likely spend your days on a bike, bamboo raft, or on your own two feet exploring the area.

In Beijing, I was also invited to participate in seminars, lectures and experiences involving Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is super interesting stuff. I took a tai chi lesson at the Temple of Heaven, explored the ancient concepts of yin and yang (in both your body and the universe) and life balance. I also visited local TCM hospitals and even experienced a traditional reflexology treatment.

The inner moat of the Forbidden City

The inner moat of the Forbidden City

China is pretty far away, how was the flight?

Not bad at all! My direct flight from Boston to Beijing lasted just under 14 hours, but somehow I managed to sleep for about nine of them on my way there! Crossing the International Date Line means that you lose a day on your way, though…  I left at 5PM on Sunday night Boston time and arrived in Beijing on Monday night, 7PM local time! This still boggles my mind – the closest I’ll ever get to time travel, I imagine. The great news about this particular jetlag is that I was alert and awake without an alarm early every morning, which is not always the case in everyday life. Coming home was also not a problem, surprisingly. If you can, take advantage of the time you have on a flight – it’s quiet, it’s simple and it’s uninterrupted. All you can do is be in the moment.

What was your favorite part of the trip? 

My two guides were amazing! My guide in Beijing grew up in the hutongs of Beijing, studied English at college and found himself in the tourism industry when China was just starting to open to visitors. Now, he’s a master-guide and interpreter, still calling Beijing “home.” My guide in Yangshuo was a young guy about my age who is also a Buddhist vegetarian, which was great news for me! We ordered all of his favorite vegetarian Chinese dishes.

What was your least favorite part of the trip?

No dessert! For some reason, dessert isn’t a typical course in Chinese meals… and with my sweet tooth, I certainly missed it. Good thing I packed an emergency dark chocolate, roasted almond and sea salt chocolate bar in my luggage.

And, of course, traffic in Beijing is just one of those inevitable parts of a trip that you have to embrace – it’s uncontrollable. Every time we sat back down on the bus, we knew the drive was going to be “twenty to thirty minutes, Beijing time.” Or, “We’ll get there when we get there!” Take the time on the bus to cool off, people watch out the windows or take a cat-nap.

For the ladies, squat toilets are certainly something to be aware of ahead of time… if you’re not expecting them, they will be a surprise.

How was the food? What kind of things did you eat?

Being a vegetarian, my stomach was on high alert going to China! Though I was worried, I found that I had absolutely no basis for these fears… the food in China is delicious and also varies from region to region. Just as we have local specialties, like clam chowder and lobster here in Boston, so does China. In the north, they eat more starches like noodles and dumplings whereas the Sichuan province is renowned for their spicy cuisine! Of course, if you’re in Beijing, you’ll likely try the Peking Duck as well. For vegetarian dishes, I enjoyed a huge variety of sauteed veggies in different sauces, including vegetables that I’d never tried before – Chinese eggplant, lotus root, garlic shoots, celery root, bamboo shoots – and timeless favorites – tomatoes, green beans, squashes, radishes, leeks, beets, broccoli and all sorts of greens. Also, you must try the fresh mango juice in Yangshuo- and the dragon fruit! The Guangxi province, where Guilin and Yangshuo are located, is known for its rice noodle bowls. My guide brought me to a local restaurant where we had ours with tofu, toasted soy nuts, chili oil and pickled veggies. If you can, give it a try!

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

Did you notice any families traveling in China? If no, why do you think that was the case?

Definitely. On my last evening in Yangshuo, we had dinner next to an American family – three generations with three kids ranging from three to about eight years old. I also had a great chat with an American father who had been touring with his wife and teenage and early-twenties daughters, but had to leave a few days before them to go back to work. He LOVED the pandas in Chengdu.

Also, we saw Chinese school groups of all ages at the major sites as well – the Forbidden City and Great Wall in particular.

Did you feel safe being in and walking around China?

I certainly felt safe walking around Beijing and Yangshuo if we’re talking about “violent crimes,” though you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times, of course. More than anything, the traffic is overwhelming, whether it’s vehicles, scooters, bikes or crowds. Pedestrians do not have the right of way.

Can you name one thing that you can only know from being in China? Something that you won’t find in any guidebook or on any website?

I love meeting local people when I’m traveling and asking all sorts of questions. These back and forth, genuine, spontaneous conversations are completely individual, unique and absolutely cannot be “out of a book.” For example, chatting with Duan, my guide, about his life growing up in China on our way to the airport for my flight to Yangshuo remains one of my favorite conversations from my trip. It’s a chance to connect with people, to find common ground and leave a piece of yourself behind as well.

Just hanging out on The Great Wall

Just hanging out on The Great Wall

If you’d like to learn more about China give us a call and Grace would be happy to speak with you! Or check out the different family vacation options we have for China here!



June 22, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

When it comes time to book your family vacation there are a lot of factors that come into play and one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is: when should I book? Lucky for you our travel experts here at Thomson Family Adventures have sat down, brainstormed, and came up with the perfect answer- as soon as possible! Here are the top ten advantages that come with booking your vacation as early as you can!

1: Discounts

No matter your destination, booking early with us almost always comes with a discount. These discounts can be up to $1,000 off per person- that can add up quickly to a lot of savings for your family!

2: Price of Flights

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The economy is getting better and because of that more people are traveling. The number of travelers between June and August of 2015, compared to the summer of 2014, is set to jump to over 100,000 people per day. As demand increases, so will prices. If this summer is any indication of next, prices will be even higher. The best way to avoid this is to book now for 2016- simply put, if you do you’ll have cheaper flights. We’ve seen last minute flights to Costa Rica cost up to three times more than early booked flights.

3: Anticipation

The New York Times reported back in 2010 that having an experience to look forward to increased happiness levels in people. More recently, The Atlantic found the same. The longer that you have to look forward to a vacation and the more anticipation you build the happier you’ll be. There is no time like now to start getting excited for 2016!

4: Guaranteed Departures

As with every Thomson Family Adventure, we guarantee departure no matter what happens. Once you book with us, your trip is happening. No minimum sign up required and no cancelations. That should help you rest easy! Speaking of getting more people on a trip though…

5: You’ll Attract Fellow Travelers

It becomes much easier to find travel companions after the first booking. When your family is the first to join a trip, families with kids similar in age to yours, will seek to join the same trip. Everyone loves to travel with new people that they can get along with!

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6: Planning

Once you know where you want to go and your departure is guaranteed, you can spend the rest of time researching your destination and planning what you want to see and do. This also puts less strain on getting visas and any necessary vaccinations because you’ll have plenty of time to do it all. It’s also easier to schedule activities around a vacation. We know how quickly the summer can get busy with sports, camps, and other activities. Have one less thing to worry about by booking now!

7: Stronger Pen Pal Connections

The sooner you book, the sooner we can set your kids up with pen pals. The more letters they can exchange and the longer their correspondence goes on, the stronger a connection they’ll make. Meeting pen pals is one of the most enriching experiences that we offer and giving your child more time to speak with their pen pal makes it all that much more rewarding!

8: Flexibility on Trips and Dates

Booking a year in advance gives you and us tons of flexibility in choosing what vacation is right for your family and when. You can have the perfect trip on the perfect days with early booking. If you wait, trips may fill up and dates may become unavailable.

9: Payment Plan

Setting up a payment plan takes the stress out of having one bulk payment. You can plan accordingly and figure out what works best for you!

10: Peace of Mind

Knowing that your family vacation is booked and that we’ll handle all of the logistics will give you a peace of mind like no other. While we work behind the scenes to make sure everything goes off without a hitch- you’ll spend this year dreaming of your 2016 destination!

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We have our early booking discount running until July 31st, 2015. Don’t miss out on earning thousands in savings for your 2016 family vacation!



June 19, 2015

Photo Contest Winners Donate Prize Money to Peruvian Community

Chan Family in Peru

In every destination and on every Thomson Family Adventure, we care deeply about the relationships we’ve formed with you, our travelers, as well as the people we interact with around the globe. After all, you’re part of our family — and we want to offer you the many wonders of the world. We also want to “give back” to each culture and country we work with and visit. It makes us very proud when our traveling families share the same philosophy. The Chan family of Wayne, PA, is one of them.

Edward Chan, his wife Shobana Sood, their 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son visited Peru last December with us. When they returned, they entered — and won — our photo contest, and with it a $500 prize. Rather than use the money to treat the family to something special, the Chans very generously decided to donate their winnings to a Peruvian community that touched their lives.

On April 4, 2015, the remote Cachicata community in Peru received the Chans’ $500 donation. The small neighborhood is located near the quarry where the Incas extracted and carved the boulders used for the construction of some of their fortresses, such as Ollantaytambo. Although off the beaten path, Cachicata is an easy hike out of Ollantaytambo, and en route during our Peru Family Trek, that winds its way up the mountain and past some half-finished stones. However, in its heyday, Cachicata was abuzz with activity when hundreds (or maybe thousands) of Incan men worked relentlessly to construct their amazing works.

Community leaders in Cachicata haven’t determined the final use of the money, but they have the authority to decide what to do with it. Ideas being considered are maintenance of the trails that give access to the quarry and camping areas or opening trails to homes that are close to the main path to the quarry. That would give visitors better access and the opportunity to see the homes and learn a little more about Peruvian life.

Thomson Family Adventures has donated to Cachicata in the past; contributing money for things such as school books and supplies, pick axes, shovels, and irrigation canal maintenance.

At Thomas Family Adventures, we believe that travel wields incredible power and offers countless opportunities, a myriad of perspectives and lifelong memories. It’s also one of the greatest gifts you can give your family and yourself. Engaging, entertaining and educating families with kids of all ages through travel is something we feel is essential to enhancing our travelers’ experience in a destination.

Every time we — and our traveling families — make a connection with local residents, we not only learn about them, but we learn a little more about ourselves. For our children in particular, it means exposing them to different ideas and ways of life, making them much more aware and respectful of our multi-cultural world.

We thank you, Chan family, for being part of our family and touching the lives of others.