September 22, 2017

5 Best Things About Taking a Family Vacation to Israel

Israel is a great place for a family vacation. This may sound like an unconventional family vacation destination, but it’s quite the opposite in fact! From ancient ruins and historic sites to diverse climates and adventures from skiing to snorkeling, Israel has something for everyone. Whatever kind of family vacation you want, you can find it in Israel!

Israel, a great place for a family vacation

Explore Different Climates

Despite being the size of the state of New Jersey, the little country of Israel has an extremely diverse landscape from the Mediterranean Coast to the Jordanian border. There is the bustling metropolitan city of Tel Aviv on the coast of a picturesque Mediterranean beach, but if you travel two hours up your family will be in the lush greenery of the nature reserves of the north. You can enjoy the breathtaking views of the Mt. Hermon (the only place to ski in all of Israel!) or float down the rapids of the Jordan River. Travel two hours south, and arrive at the historic hilltop city of Jerusalem. This windy city is covered in gorgeous Jerusalem stone that dates back thousands of years in some areas. Travel a little further south and your family will come to the epic Negev desert! From the salty water of the Dead Sea to the sandy dunes of the desert, you will be shocked to think you are just a few hours from the lush north. There are very few places that have such diverse geography within such a small piece of land. There is a perfect climate for everyone in the family!

Learn About Modern Technological Advances

Despite what many people may think, Israel is a global leader in technological, medical, and agricultural innovation! Known as the ‘Start-Up Nation,’ many electronics we use daily, like our phone and computer, contain Israeli innovation in their hardware. The popular Navigation App, Waze, was created by an Israeli start-up and bought by Google to incorporate into their self-driving car technology. Israeli hospitals and doctors have also made great contributions to the medical world. One of these inventions is a mechanical exoskeleton that helps paraplegics move independently. Probably one of the most famous contributions Israel has made to the rest of the world is the drip irrigations system that began as a home invention in an Kibbutz in the north of the country. It is now used worldwide and saves between 30%-70% of the water wasted by other farm watering systems.

Discover its Culture

Israel also has a great diversity of people. People living in this beautiful land come from all sorts backgrounds, cultures, and religions. There are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Baha’is, and Bedouins to name a few. There are people of Arabic, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Polish, Yugoslavian, Russian, and African decent all over the country. One of the most interesting populations is the continuously growing Ethiopian Jewish population of religious refugees and their children who have found a welcoming home in Israel.  The city of Haifa is considered the pioneering city of coexistence in the Middle East with a strong representation of almost all types of Israelis and a focus on community interaction, empowerment, and coordination.

enjoy a family vacation to israel

Learn About its History

There is no denying the rich and complicated history of this small nation. The city of Jerusalem is a globally historic landmark dating back to Biblical times. With its relevance in the Bible and Quran this land is packed with spiritual and traditional meaning, not to mention the many empires that have called it home since the start of human civilization. It is hard to turn around without seeing an important historic site. Israel takes great pride in the land’s history and includes much of this in its educational curriculum. Israel’s people and institutions work hard to use the lessons it has learned from the past to uphold strong societal values today.

western wall seen on an Israel family vacation

Taste the Delicious Cuisine

Finally, hands down, one of the best part of taking a family vacation to Israel is the food. There are very few words to describe the joy that is a true homemade Israeli meal. With influences from Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, Israeli food is truly amazing. It’s not hard to find a mouthwatering Falafel (deep fried chick pea balls), Shwarma (slow cooked chicken or pork on a rotating skewer) or Sabich (eggplant sandwich) at any local market. A popular breakfast favorite is the classic Shakshuka (Egg poached in a tomato and pepper paste served with bread). Of course, the best way to end a long hot Israeli day is with some delicious ice cream at one of the many Ice cream shops, called “gliderias,” across the country.



August 24, 2017

See the Galapagos Big 15 on Your Family Vacation

Take your family to one of the most exciting destinations for wildlife viewing in the world. When it comes to searching for unique, endemic species living in their natural habitat, not many places can compare to the Galapagos Islands. This remote paradise attracts visitors from all over world who come to explore the volcanic landscape of this sprawling archipelago. Spread across 53,300 square miles, the 13 major islands are all unique in their own way. “The Galapagos Big 15” are made up of the main species endemic to the Galapagos Islands that your family should keep an eye out for when visiting. Do you think you’ll be able to find them all? There’s only one way to find out! Learn about each of the Galapagos Big 15 below!

Galapagos Albatross

This bird is the largest bird on the Galapagos Islands and is exclusive to Espanola Island. They can be found during the cooler, dryer months from April-August.

Blue-footed Booby

The Blue-Footed booby - one of the Galapagos Big 15

The blue-footed booby is one of the more famous birds on the Galapagos Big 15 list. They can be found on nearly every island. Kids always love to see these birds plunge diving into the water looking for food!

Nazca Booby

This is the largest booby on the islands and also the most aggressive. The Nazca booby is competitive with all of the other booby species, fighting for nesting space along shorelines.

Red-footed Booby

Although there are more red-footed boobies on the Galapagos than any other booby, it is generally the least seen. This booby is generally only found in a few places: Genovesa, Punta Pitt, and occasionally on Floreana’s satellite islands and on North Seymour.

Flightless Cormorant

This is the rarest, largest, and most unique of the cormorant species. It lost the ability to fly so that they could grow heavier and larger, allowing them to dive for food up to 260-feet deep.

American Flamingo

This is the only place outside of the Caribbean to find the American flamingo, but we aren’t complaining because seeing these gorgeous birds is always a treat!

Frigate Birds: Great and Magnificent

One of the main differences between these two birds with their red bulging chests is where they get food. Magnificent frigate birds are pelagic and find their food out at sea while great frigate birds catch most of their food near the coast or steal it from other birds. Don’t worry though, your guide will be able to help you tell the difference between the two!

Galapagos Hawk

The Galapagos hawk is the apex predator on the islands and although nothing hunts this bird of prey, it is still very few in number. There are only about 150 breeding pairs alive today. These hawks can have wingspans as large as 55 inches!

Land Iguana

Land iguanas on the islands can weigh up to 30 pounds and live to be 60 years old. The national parks program has done a great job to increase the number of land iguana’s which, historically, was depleted by invasive animals brought to the islands by humans – mainly rats, cats, and goats.

Marine Iguana

Marin iguana - one of the Galapagos Big 15

Your family can find marine iguanas on every island in the Galapagos, but nowhere else in the world. These iguanas are fascinating, as they were land based animals that developed the ability to survive and thrive in ocean water through evolution.

Santa Fe Land Iguana

This species of iguana can only be found on one of the Galapagos Islands— Santa Fe. Even though your family will know exactly what island to look for these iguanas it still may be hard to see them because they perfectly blend into their surroundings!

Galapagos Penguin

This is the only species of penguin to live this close to the equator. They are the rarest penguin species in the world and unique in that they breed all year around and moult twice a year.

Galapagos Fur Seal

The two best islands to see these adorable seals are Fernandina and the western side of Isabela. These are the smallest of the seal species and great fun to watch dart through the water around your boat!

Galapagos Sea Lion

Galapagos sea lion - one of the Galapagos Big 15

There is nothing cuter than seeing a sea lion pup playing on the shore! There will be plenty of opportunities for your family to see these sea lions while on the Galapagos. They can weigh as much as 440 pounds and can dive 1,900 feet looking for food!

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Giant Tortoise - one of the Galapagos big 15

Arguably the most famous of the Galapagos Big 15, the giant tortoise can live to be over 500 pounds and 100 years old! Thanks to conservation efforts the amount of giant tortoises is on the rise. The more giant tortoises lumbering through forests snacking on grass, the more opportunities your family will have to find them in the wild.

The best way to see these animals is to take your next family vacation on he Galapagos Islands!



August 17, 2017

Tanzania Wildlife – What You’ll See on a Family Vacation

If there is one thing that Tanzania is famous for, and rightfully so, it’s the wildlife. Some of the most iconic and most recognizable animals in the world reside inside of Tanzania. Unlike other East African countries, Tanzania wildlife is concentrated and extremely well-protected; making the odds of showing your child their dream animal out in the wild very high. There’s a special feeling— a cocktail of emotions from excitement and wonder to disbelief and astonishment— that will come over you when you see a giraffe quizzically looking directly at you from no more than 20-yards away. That feeling will double when you see the uncontrollable joy of your kids going through the same emotions. There’s no better way to spend a family vacation. But as with any safari, the chances of seeing everything you want to see are never guaranteed. The best way to approach this family vacation is to have realistic expectations and understand that it’s all about trusting your guides, good timing, and a little bit of luck.

Tanzania wildlife: Elephant

An elephant spotted in Ngorongoro Crater

What Kind of Tanzania Wildlife Will You See?

While in Tanzania, it’s safe to say that you will see the following wildlife: giraffe, elephant, lion, wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, ostrich, hippopotamus, zebra, African buffalo, warthog, baboon, blue and black vervet monkey, impala, topi, bush buck, water buck.

These animals are abundant and roam freely in Tanzania so the guides know exactly where to find them. It’s more of a “when” as opposed to an “if” when it comes to seeing these animals! Monkeys will run around your hotel grounds in the same way a squirrel might. The giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest graze in the fields in the same way you might see deer in a field off to the side of the road. This is especially true at the Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge where so many of our family trips stay. You might hear wildebeest, zebra, or even elephant browsing the low-growing brush or chewing the short grasses just outside your tent at night!  As far as lions, Tanzania has more than Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia combined, so it’s one of the last places on earth where a lion sighting is almost guaranteed. In fact, the chances are you’ll see about a dozen!

Tanzania Wildlife: Zebra

Zebras hanging out in Ngorongoro Crater

What Kind of Tanzania Wildlife Will You Probably See?

This next list is of animals that are a bit more elusive, thrive in isolated places, and are fewer in raw numbers: cheetah, leopard, hyena, and the black and white colobus monkey.

You can find leopards and hyenas in both Ngorongoro Crater and in the Serengeti, but they can be elusive. If you do come across a leopard, it’ll probably be asleep in a tree or resting on a rocky outcropping, being perfectly still to capture a nice photo! Cheetahs are also in the Serengeti, and they do a great job of hiding in tall grass, so catching one out in the open, unobstructed, is a real treat! The black and white colobus monkey is an awesome animal to see. One of the best places to see these monkeys jumping around the treetops is on Mt. Meru. Our Tanzania Active Safari, which includes a hike on Mt. Meru, provides one of the best chances to see them!

Tanzania Wildlife: Cheetah

A cheetah posing for a photo in the Serengeti!

What Kind of Tanzania Wildlife You Might See?

Some of the rarest things to see while on a wildlife viewing drive are rhinoceros, bat-eared fox, aardvark, a hunt, or a predator eating its prey.

The best chance at seeing a rhinoceros is in Ngorongoro Crater, and will likely be at a distance. Make sure to have some binoculars or a telephoto lens on your camera for a good view of these critically endangered and very shy animals.  The bat-eared fox and aardvark are hard to spot because they’re nocturnal, but they are really fun to see on a night drive! The possibility of seeing a successful hunt can be chalked up to good timing. Maybe you’ll see a lion or leopard hunt a gazelle, or a hyena or cheetah eating their prey. You never know what’s around the next corner, which is what makes a family safari so exciting, magical, and captivating!

Tanzania Wildlife: Blue veret monkey

A blue veret monkey cleaning their friend in Arusha National Park

No matter what types of Tanzania wildlife you see, you will not be disappointed by the spectacular wildlife on a family vacation to Tanzania!



August 11, 2017

What Not To Do When Preparing for a Family Vacation

preparing for a family vacation

We spend so much time helping our travelers prepare for their family vacations that, admittedly, sometimes we wait until the last minute for ourselves, make mistakes, and have plain bad luck. Here are a few mishaps of the TFA staff.

Personally I have had two experiences where my luggage didn’t make it to the destination with me.  Both were results of delayed flights and barely making a connection.  Both times my itinerary left the hub city quickly and headed to a remote part of the country.  Meaning, it took several days for that luggage to catch up with me.  Of course TFA includes travel insurance with all of our departures.  And this insurance includes an allowance for buying necessities in the case of baggage delay.  However, it is not always easy to find what you need in a foreign country, not to mention being so busy that first day there is no time for shopping.  This happens.  My advice?  Be sure and pack a change of clothes and plenty of extra socks and underwear in your carry on.  And your toothbrush.  Always.

And then be sure and plan ahead for long airport layovers.  We all had a good laugh at the expense of our very well-traveled co-worker Moo.  She recently returned from a very busy weeks’ vacation.  She efficiently packed everything in her checked luggage keeping her carry on light thinking how nice it would be to not have to deal with all that “stuff” during her layovers.  Until of course she had a six hour layover at the airport in Madrid, with a dead phone and iPad, and needed the adapter that was carefully placed in the checked luggage!   The best part is she has done this at least 4 times before.  Needless to say, she has acquired quite of collection of adapters if anyone needs to borrow one.

Oh and perhaps the most important reminder of all— check the dates of your flights.  The best example of “do as I say not as I do” happened just last month.  A colleague in our sister division had been juggling a busy personal life, including home renovations and a family wedding, with a busy work schedule, finalizing summer departures before heading out on one of the trips herself.  Her last task of the busy day in the office before going to the airport for her overnight flight she proceeded to check in online.  Until the words “ALREADY DEPARTED” stopped her in her tracks.  Apparently the flight was the night before.  Luckily some quick thinking and a helpful attendant from the airline got it resolved with just a change fee.  This one could have been much worse!

Traveling is an experience and unfortunately sometimes things happen.  Having the right attitude, being flexible, and finding the humor in mishaps helps take the sting out when it does.   But better yet, learn from our mistakes and don’t do what we did!



May 19, 2017

International Family Vacations: A Good Idea for Young Families?

I read an article recently that said there was a science behind not taking kids under the age of 12 on international family vacations. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I can’t say I agree, or at least, that has not been my experience. My boys are now 17 and 20 and we have been traveling as a family since they were babies. Being the general manager of a family travel company I can say my experience has been different than the author of the story. I am sure most of you will take what I say with a grain of salt as I would if I were you.

a family on an international family vacation to the Galapagos Islands

Jim and his family exploring the Galapagos Islands.

I will try and be as transparent as possible.  Until the age of 5 or 6 I would agree that it is difficult for children to really enjoy “the strange smells of a Moroccan souk.” The flights and the moving about from hotel to hotel are unsettling for most children. We took our boys to Tanzania when they were 4 and 7 to visit friends there and to go on safari.  They both did well on the long flight thanks to all the pre-trip planning my wife did in bringing along games, toys, and video machines to distract them.  In Tanzania it was a mixed bag. My 4 year old (Joshua) didn’t have the attention span to be watching wildlife from a vehicle so we were cutting our game drives short and heading to the pool at the hotel before the scheduled time.  On the other hand, my 7 year old (Christian) was very ready and happened to learn to read sitting in the back of a land rover.  He read the 1989 Animal Family Series from Jane Goodall.  This made his parents very proud and maybe he will brag about it when he’s older.  At another point on this trip, there were four boys from 4 to 8 years old sitting beside a pool in one of the premiere game parks in Tanzania and all they wanted to do was build things with Legos. Their focus was the enjoyment of the Legos.  Getting them out on safari did take a bit of convincing and maybe some arm twisting.

We continued to do adventure trips as a family year in and year out and the boys learned a lot and really did enjoy themselves.

Where I think I do agree with the article is that children do have simple pleasures and like consistency. As parents I think that we need this as well. In addition to our overseas adventures we went camping in Nickerson State park on Cape Cod and went on a long weekend ski trip during the February school vacation to New Hampshire.  These two family vacations did allow our boys to ski and sled the same slopes, swim in the same pond, and watch the Cape Cod League ballgames every year.  My wife (Kim) and I found these traditions important in our family.  We are still doing these two family vacations although the scheduling is much more difficult with one kid in college and one in high school!

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but maybe it was these repetitive vacations that allowed our boys the “intellectual space” to explore the more exotic spots of the world like Turkey, the Galapagos, and Cuba. I know as parents, watching them spend hours with our guide Natalia in Ecuador identifying the fish of the Galapagos was something we will never forget.  They were between 7 and 10 but they took in every second of it. A few years back we went on a trip to Cuba and at the end the boys spent a day at the beach with two Cuban teens as part of a cultural program. The Cubans didn’t speak English and one of my boys spoke basic Spanish, yet the four of them were able to talk “music” for three hours.  Where there is a will there is a way. This is another great memory that will always be with us.

Most of the trips that they did with us were “scouting” trips for Thomson Family Adventures.  There was an element of work involved as we asked them to rate all of the hotels, meals, activities, and more. That is different than what most families are doing. That being said we were able to introduce our boys to new horizons and I don’t think that they will need counseling because of it. They might for other reasons related to all of our parenting mistakes, but going on adventures to Guatemala or Portugal or Belize won’t be the reason.

We have wonderful memories from both types of family vacations and, looking back, I don’t think I would change anything.  We were happy to be able to do both.

Maybe the key is that each family needs to figure out what works for them.  I doubt that one size fits all. There are probably plenty of families with children that can really enjoy two or three adventure trips per year and there are others that need to limit it to once every other year.



April 28, 2017

Which Galapagos Family Vacation is Best for You?

The “Galapagos” has been one of the most popular destinations asked about since Thomson Family Adventures started offering trips for families in 1998, and with good reason. This unique volcanic archipelago is home to numerous marine species, birds, volcanic rocks, and gorgeous scenery.  An idyllic destination for families, kids and parents alike are fascinated by something when they visit.

photo of the skyline taken on a family vacation to the Galapagos

There are a lot of different ways to experience a Galapagos family vacation and looking at all the options can be overwhelming at first.  The first question is if your family wants to visit just the islands, or do they want to also experience the culture and people of mainland Ecuador.  Our Friends Across Borders program here is one of the best, along with incredible hiking, cooking lessons, and some of the nicest people you will have the pleasure of meeting!   Several itineraries combine the best of both options with 3 nights in the Andean Highlands and 3 nights in the Galapagos Islands.

Your next decision is how you want to experience the Galapagos themselves.  Many people opt for a cruise, allowing you to unpack once and settle in.  Because the boat moves throughout the days, it allows your family to see the maximum numbers of islands in a short time.  However, it is good to know that the boats have to adhere to strict guidelines set by the national parks.  So the visits to the islands are limited in time and activity.  On average there are (2) excursions daily, each about 2.5 hours long.  The remainder of the time will be spent on the boat.  Be ready to spend some time on a boat and don’t expect to be active for 8-10 hours a day when seeing the Galapagos on a family cruise.

Alternatively, your family can choose a land based Galapagos vacation. The amenities may be more limited but there is much more flexibility in terms of activities. While you may not see as many islands compared to a boat trip, you will see so much more of the one or two islands you do visit.  Activities can be more active such as biking, longer hikes, and snorkeling in more remote parts.

However you choose to experience this amazing destination your family will be amazed.  Call and speak with one of our family travel advisers to help find out which Galapagos adventure is best for you and your family!



April 13, 2017

Easter Traditions Around the World

Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead. The origins of the word “Easter” are largely unknown but there are several common theories. Some claim that “Easter” comes from Eostre, a Germanic goddess of spring and fertility. Others account the origins to hebdomada alba, white week, in Latin, for people who wore white when they were baptized. Easter is an entire season of celebration and observance, from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Monday. Easter is celebrated all around the world and you can take a family vacation in one of these countries to take in the traditions!

Italy: Pasqua

There aren’t set traditions in Italy. It’s more about where in Italy you are that sets the stage for the traditions and celebration you will encounter. The Vatican is a mecca for Catholics and all pilgrims who wish to attend the Pope’s mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday. After the evening’s mass, the Pope goes on a candlelit procession at Palatine Hill stopping fourteen times along the way to remember the walk of Christ and pray, ending at the Colosseum. Mass is held every day from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Another tradition in Rome is the food that is traditionally served: pizza sbattula (sponge cake), hard boiled eggs, ham and salami, and colomba (dove-shaped cake).

Peru: La Semana Santa (Holy Week)

One of the most well-known Easter celebrations takes place in Cuzco. The city’s celebration circles around Señor de los Temblores, Lord of the Earthquakes. The King of Spain had sent a statue of Christ to Cuzco to convert the locals. The statue was placed inside the church in Cuzco but during a major earthquake in 1650, the locals removed the statue from the church and the earthquake stopped. Since then, the statue has remained in the Plaza de Armas as a symbol of their Savior. One of the celebrations falls on Holy Monday when there is a six-hour procession around the plaza. There is mass during the rest of Holy Week. Another Easter tradition involves food as it represents a time of rejoicing and gratitude after an extended period of fasting. On Good Friday, is it common to eat twelve main dishes like soup, fish, potatoes, and dessert like mazamorra.

Canada: Easter

Easter in Canada is much like that in the United States. The celebration of Easter is preceded by Lent, during which Christians practice penance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. In French Canadian communities, Lent is interrupted by Mid-Lent. This is mostly celebrated in Quebec and Acadia. Otherwise, Easter is celebrated in the same manner as other Western countries.

Canadians mark the holiday with family gatherings and food. Lamb is a common dish, as well as ham and hot cross buns. Consumption of the buns dates to the British tradition of making the cross buns incised with a cross as a symbol of Christ. In modern times, icing is used to mark the cross on top of the buns. There are many symbols of modern Easter that have more to do with the beginning of Spring than with the religious holiday itself such as egg hunts, the Easter Bunny, chocolate, and more.

The messages of rejoice and gratitude are the same while celebrations in these countries can be different. This is a time of the year to celebrate new life and a fresh beginning of the season. You can travel to any one of these places and see these celebrations and traditions up close and personal. Seeing traditions play-out in a different culture is one of the best parts about travel!



March 16, 2017

Best Destinations for your Next Family Vacation

Are you struggling to figure out where your next family vacation will be? Not sure you’d like to leave it up to the “fate” of “close your eyes and stick a pin on the map, that’s where we’ll go!”? With over 18 years of experience in the family vacations game, we’ve been to some of the best destinations in the world for families, some more exotic than others but all with something really special to offer. Below is a quick snip it of some of the best destinations for a family vacation!

Baja

Baja may be “close to home” but for many of us, will feel worlds away! Bright blue skies, crisp clear turquoise waters, rugged, pristine coastline and an eclectic group of locals make Baja a truly unique destination. In Baja you can also go glamping, which is basically the best and most comfortable form of camping that you could imagine. Add in swimming with sea lions and whale sharks and everyone will have a good time!

kayaking on a baja family vacation

Panama

Panama may be small in size but there is no question the country is bursting with adventure and flavor! From exploring the monumental giant, yes the Panama Canal, to spending an afternoon with a local indigenous tribe, relaxing on white sandy Caribbean beaches and even hiking through the jungles teeming with wildlife. Panama has something special to offer any adventure seeking family.

Thailand

The home of bustling Bangkok, quiet countryside, and picturesque beaches- there is something for everyone. Visit the night markets, spend a day caring for Elephants, give alms to Buddhist Monks, and snorkel alongside James Bond Island. Action, culture, oh and did I mention delicious, authentic Thai cuisine? Whether you have a family of older kids, millennials, or pre-teens; the long flight is well worth it to experience Thailand, an amazing country.

South Africa

It’s quite the commute to get here, but trust me; it’s totally worth it! A family vacation to South Africa is bursting with cultural differences, varied economic backgrounds, breathtaking scenery, and incredible wildlife viewing. The history within Cape Town, the stories of the struggle, and the vibrant, flourishing metropolis it is today provides a humbling feeling as you walk through the streets. The beautiful private nature reserves, the hospitality, and the flora is just “wow!” And finally, who doesn’t want to see elephants, lions, leopards, and the rest of the Big 5 up close and personal? The private game reserves allow you to see some of the most incredible animals at a distance where you don’t need to zoom in on your camera. It’s an experience like nothing else!

Croatia

Any history buff would appreciate the elegance and colorful beauty steeped within this amazing country. From architecture dating back to the 15-century Gothic-Renaissance era to 12th century churches. The charming cities of Dubrovnik and Split tell beautiful stories of the past, present, and future. For those that appreciate that perfect Instagram backdrop will have so many options here! I mean, you are exploring the Dalmatian coast, the epitome of the Mediterranean dream – bright blue waters, old stone fortresses and buildings lining the edge of the sea, and big dramatic cliffs overlooking white sandy beaches. Croatia is truly an amazing destination.



March 2, 2017

Irish Folklore and Legends

If your family is interested in history and folklore as well as adventure, where should you look to go on a family vacation? No further than Southwest Ireland! A Southwest Ireland family vacation is full of gorgeous countryside, quaint towns, dramatic coastline, and friendly people. There are plenty of opportunities to ride bikes, hike, and be active and also plenty of places to explore with deep ties to mythology and folklore.

Southwest Ireland - a beautiful place for a family vacation

The Slieve Mish Mountains

The Slieve Mish Mountains in Country Kerry are actually named, Sliabh Mish, and were named after Mish the Milesian Princess who was slain in the battle of Sliabh Mish. This was a great battle in prehistoric times between the early settlers.  Caherconree a mountain peak in the Slieve Mish Mountains is home to a stone ringfort called Bóthar na gCloch (“road of the stones”) which is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs and was the fort of Cú Roí mac Dáire, a magical warrior and master of disguise in Irish Mythology. Today, the mountain range is great to explore and ride through on horseback.

The Barbary Pirates

Barbary Pirates attacked the small fishing village of Baltimore in County Cork, in 1631 and kidnapped most of the villagers under the cover of darkness. A popular poem entitled The Sack of Baltimore, as well as books have been written about this terrible night. When visiting Baltimore you’ll learn more about the fascinating tale of what happened to this village.

Charles Fort

Charles Fort is one of the largest military forts in Ireland and it is also said to be haunted by a tragic figure. The White Lady, as she is known, was the bride of a soldier who tragically died on their wedding day. When she learned of his death, she leapt to hers jumping off of the wall of the fort. She has been seen wandering not only the fort, but also the streets of nearby Kinsale. If you don’t runinto the White Lady in Kinsale, you’re sure to run into some up and coming restaurants on the culinary circuit! Kinsale is getting quiet the reputation of a food hub for travelers.

Leprechauns

There have never been female Leprechauns! While modern holiday decorations show female leprechauns, in traditional Irish folk tales, there are none!  Leprechauns are considered “tall fairies” and some people believe that these elusive little guys still exist. The last supposed sighting of a Leprechaun happened in 1989 and because of this the area where he was sighted is “now a protected area for flora, fauna, wild animals, and leprechauns.”

The Shamrock

The shamrock, a well known symbol of Ireland, comes from the Irish Gaelic word Seamrog. This is a word that refers to the plant’s most noticeable feature, its three leaves.

Our family vacation through Southwest Ireland is a great way to experience this folklore and investigate the mythology! It is not only a fun, active family adventure but also a great opportunity for the whole family to learn about the history and culture of a magical country.



February 16, 2017

The 6 Things I Love Most About Japan

Japan is a fascinating country and makes for a great place to take a family vacation. Between its ancient history and cutting edge technology, you can get a look at the future and the past. Here are some of my favorite things from when I traveled on a family vacation to Japan.

Efficiency

It’s the most efficient country I have ever been to.  I remember standing in awe at a train platform with its three tracks all empty.  Suddenly one train arrives and the doors open.  I watched as a businessman walked at full speed into the open door and not slowing down as he exited the other door.  At that very moment another train appeared in the middle track.  He continued walking at a normal pace, exiting its other door only to have a third train arrive the exact second the door opened.  He casually took a seat on that third train as the doors closed and it departed the station.   There was no hesitation, he just knew those trains would arrive at the exact same second as they did every single day.  The MBTA in Boston could take a lesson from the Japanese Rail system!

Vending Machines

Yes, vending machines!  Literally everything can be found in vending machines, which are located throughout the country.  They can be found in train stations, near public parks and gardens, and sometimes on an alley seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Some of the most interesting items I observed purchased from vending machines included a fresh hot pizza, hot and cold sake, heads of lettuce, flip flops, umbrellas, live crabs, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Cleanliness

It’s the cleanest place I’ve ever been.  No trash, zero.  I cringed as a Western tourist casually dropped some paper waste on the ground, but then immediately two teens (with their bright neon colored hair and rock band t-shirts) ran out to the street to clean the trash and properly dispose of it.

The Food

Not only the fresh and colorful sushi, but everything you can find.  Often the meals are an art form in and of themselves.   My favorite was the okonomiyaki, a savory pancake – it is just as fun to say as it is to eat!

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Karaoke Bars

If you’ve ever been to karaoke in any bar in the U.S. you know it can be fun, but it isn’t for everyone.  However in Japan the experience is entirely different.  It’s an essential part of the culture and often there are private rooms – called karaoke boxes – for just your group to sing as loud and get as crazy as you want – without feeling self-conscious because you aren’t singing in front of a room full of strangers.

The Cherry Blossoms

Sakura: literally translated to the “cherry blossoms” which bloom for just a couple of weeks each spring.  The cherry blossoms symbolize spring and renewal so while they are in bloom Japanese people enjoy numerous parties and barbecues under the trees in a custom called “hanami,” or watching blossoms.  It reminds me of the American saying “stop and smell the roses” but in Japan the entire country actually does this for two weeks every year.

This is only the beginning when it comes to some of the best things about Japan and what your family can see on your next vacation together!