Advice

February 1, 2013

The Importance of Age Matching in Family Travel

Having fun with new friends!

We loved our Thomson trip with our teenage son Phil and can’t wait to do another. He really bonded with all the teens on the trip, and still keeps in touch with them. Even now, one year after the trip, he has just returned home from a visit with one of the other kids on the trip. As an only child, having other teens to share the trip with made all the difference in the experience.

- Kate, parent, Costa Rica Teen

We’ve organized a lot of family adventures over the years, and one thing we know for sure is that age matching has some priceless benefits. It’s hard not to enjoy a family vacation loaded with activities in a new and captivating destination, but an already-incredible trip can be improved dramatically by pairing your kids up with other kids of similar ages. The chance to share the experience of learning a new culture with peers and newfound friends holds a value that shouldn’t be underestimated. Whitewater rafting is a blast for kids no matter what, but doing it with other kids their age that they can relate to adds a whole new element of excitement to the adventure! Similarly, a too-cool-for-school teenager is sure to get more enjoyment out of a hike to Machu Picchu in the company of other like-minded teens than with just mom and dad or with a little kid who can’t keep the same pace… and we all know it’s much easier for you as parents and grandparents to let loose and enjoy your own vacation when you have the comfort of knowing your children or grandchildren are having the time of their lives.

We currently have several trips with families already booked, waiting for some new friends to join! Call us and see about joining one of the following:

Panama March 23 – 10-year-old girl

Galapagos and Ecuador Smithsonian March 8 – 18-year-old boy

Costa Rica: Volcanoes & Beaches June 15 – 15-year-old girl

Peru Smithsonian June 28 – 17-year-old boy looking for another boy in his age range

And there are plenty more in addition to these! Call Nicole for more information at 1-800-262-6255!



October 11, 2012

Five Things to Think About Before You Book Online

Oh, China!

Do you wonder why experts say you should book an international adventure through a professional based in your home country? Maybe you think you will save by going direct to someone ‘at the source’? After all, the internet gives us access to millions of options. Too many! But when you travel to exotic locales it really makes a difference to plan with someone who understands your own ‘native culture’, as well as the place you are traveling to. Think about:

5) Oh the misunderstandings you can encounter! A Five Star hotel in another country is not necessarily a Five Star hotel to our North American standards. Even ‘clean and comfortable’ can mean something very different in another culture. In fact, many countries cannot even rate their hotels on any standardized system we know. (And believe me, peanut butter there is nothing like peanut butter here.)

4) Different cultures have different expectations, rules, and customs. Sometimes you don’t mind winging it, to see what you’ll find. It’s part of the adventure, especially when you are young, single and carefree. But when you’re with the kids it’s comforting to have a solid interpretation of what you are heading into – and a local guide with enough experience to manage your expectations appropriately.

3) Maybe you have a food allergy, a sleep disorder, an aversion to bugs in your room. You’ll fully appreciate discussing your concerns with a friendly expert who speaks your language and understands your sensibilities, someone who will give you straight answers and solid advice – not gloss over the particular challenges of your destination.

2) The currency, the packing list, the information on charging your iPod…don’t you want that from someone who understands what you expect and need? Don’t guess at what it will be like, or spend hours researching online. Just refer to the complete predeparture booklet we’ll send you!

1) Internet Advice? Fun to search for late at night, but does it really pertain to you? Remember, you don’t know who is reporting, what they value, and whether their comments accurately address your needs. It is so much more useful to have a conversation in your native language with a professional who has been where you’re going. Someone who can listen to your needs and interests, and deliver the right things to you.

How much risk do you want to take? You probably (hopefully) wouldn’t hand over your savings to something you read about in a Yahoo forum (no offense, Yahoo). Likewise, be sure you invest your valuable vacation dollars and time so you can get the best return available. Look for an expert who has been there. And always ask for references!



August 20, 2012

10 Things Kids Bring Home from a Family Trip

Jessie, Ed, and Lillie in their front yard.

Thanks to Jessie Voigts, our special Guest Blogger for this excellent perspective on family travel:

You spend a lot of time planning family trips – and coordinating said trips! Between teens off with their ipods to dealing with toddlers and diapers, how do you KNOW that these family trips are worth it? But wait – your kids bring home a lot more from family trips than you think. Take a look…

1) Memories. Of course! But it might not be the memories you suspect – of whitewater rafting, or seeing the Eiffel Tower, or hanging with their cousins. It might be the cute squirrels at the local park, the best meal ever, discovering a new food they love, or learning something new.

2) Photos. Be sure to give your kids a camera to take photos. You will be surprised at both the angles (closer to the ground? Or super high, if you’ve got a teen taller than you are!), and the subject matter. Our daughter takes a little stuffed ugly with her, and photographs it wherever we go. Little Ugly has been in a lot of strange places.

3) Humanity. Whether your kids are upset about the stray or mistreated dogs in Nepal, Barbados, or Bahrain; or visibly learn about animal and human rights wherever you are (we’ve all fielded the homeless question), travel is a great chance to teach about humanity. By learning that others are less fortunate than we are, and trying to act on such knowledge, they are on their way to becoming good global citizens.

4) Funny stories. Nothing brings a family together more than camaraderie, which is, in turn, fostered by going through experiences together. From the funny assistant at the airport, to ordering a meal in a foreign language (mostly via sign language), to finding out that people in a certain country just LOVE babies and will hold them for hours and parade them around like a rock star, travel is packed with experiences that will provide great stories…for life.

5) A desire for peace. Our daughter, when seeing cultural differences up close, has gained a strong desire for peace and people to get along. She thinks that intercultural differences are fascinating, and has pledged to learn more about different people and cultures around the world, firsthand.

6) New Experiences, new friends. Whether it’s ziplining, scuba diving, hiking, camping, snorkeling with turtles, or viewing great art, new experiences bring people together and can foster a lifelong fascination or hobby. As well, you can make new friends from group travel, or through meeting locals. These can become friends for life.

7) Learning more about your family. You can learn a lot about people from being in close proximity to each other for an extended period of time. You can also learn about how people react in any situation – often surprising us, how well they can deal with a crisis. By learning more about your family, everyone becomes closer due to these shared experiences. Your teen might ask you to read and talk together about a book about a place you’ve visited, or your 5 year old might surprise you by painting, from memory, a piece of art they saw in an art museum on your travels. You might surprise your kids and husband by jumping first off the cliff into the deep water below, or your father might show unexpected depths while riding a chicken bus.

8) New cultures. Our daughter’s best friend, when asked this question, noted that in Hawaii, she was amazed to learn of the Hawaiian culture. She loved the luaus, the colorful fabrics, and how they utilized the hibiscus flowers in welcoming people. Our daughter loved watching kids tv shows in Ireland – she learned some Gaelic, as well as how kids learn and play in a different country.

9) Love of new foods. It might be roasted tarantula (doubt it), Thai food, boiled peanuts in the south, new jams and pickles, or recipes. Wherever you go, I’m sure you’re eating locally – and shopping at the grocery store whenever possible! You’ll find new foods you love (and probably new foods you dislike). Bring them home, and incorporate these new foods into your meals and snacks!

10) A desire to travel more. Long after the sand has disappeared from your swimsuits and suitcases, and the special candy you brought back is digested, you’ll find something not so surprising. Your whole family will have a desire to travel more – to learn and play and experience the world together. And that’s what family travel is all about – having new experiences, and discovering new cultures and people – together.

Jessie Voigts is a mom who loves sharing the world with her daughter. She has a PhD in International Education, and is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, especially with kids (it’s never too young to start!). She has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She founded the Family Travel Bloggers Association, and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. She’s published two books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. You can usually find her family by water – anywhere in the world.



January 3, 2012

Five Fabulous Family Multi-Sport Adventures

Surf's Up!

When we talk about Multi Sport Adventures we mean something active with plenty of variety. This helps kids – and parents and grandparents too – to try new activities, learn new skills – and maybe discover a new passion to pursue. What have our kids loved best for lots of action to compliment the cultural and wildlife opportunities? In alphabetical order….

1) Baja. A true adventurer’s paradise, Baja is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking. Get out there with our expert instructors for some exciting action, then replace those calories with some awesome Mexican food.

2) Belize. Mayan ruins for climbing, river caves for tubing (sometimes scary for the younger set!), barrier reef for snorkeling and diving. Paradise!

3) Costa Rica. Not boring! Rainforest, beaches, volcanoes and monkeys. Rafting, zip lines, kayaking, canyoning, SUP (know what that is??), surfing. You can try just about everything here, and meet some of the nicest people ever.

4) Galapagos. Between the highlands of mainland Ecuador and the volcanic Galapagos Islands your family can try horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, biking, snorkeling – and real camping for a couple of nights too! Seeing that Southern hemisphere sky from your beach front campsite is about as awe-inspiring as it gets.

5) Panama. The canal, of course, and the great story that goes with it. But also a fascinating native culture to learn about. Then rafting, zip lines, awesome snorkeling and pristine beaches, birds and wildlife galore, biking … and the thrill of going someplace not many have been before. Come discover Panama!!



December 7, 2011

Is it the Right Time to Visit Egypt? If You are the Right Family, YES!

kids at the pyramid

How big is the Great Pyramid?

We had a family visit Egypt over Thanksgiving. Just a mom and a daughter, determined to realize their dream of witnessing history as it stands, as pyramids and temples and desert. They were just plain old excited to be going. When they got back, this is what mom Liz had to say:

“We had a FABULOUS trip to Egypt!

In a nutshell — NOW IS A TERRIFIC TIME TO GO TO EGYPT! It seems counter-intuitive with demonstrations so frequently in the news but it’s true! The demonstrations tend to take place only in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. My 10 year old daughter and I were actually in Egypt during the most recent demonstrations and we NEVER ONCE felt the least bit concerned or nervous. First of all, the first few days of our trip we were staying at the Mena House Oberoi in Giza outside of Cairo. One day we drove through Cairo to see the Citadel, the Alabaster mosque of Mohammed Ali and the Khan el-Khalili bazaar — none of which is near Tahrir Square. On another day we went to the Egyptian Museum to see the mummies of the pharaohs and treasures of Tutankhamun. The museum is right off of Tahrir Square but our excellent driver was clever and took us to/from the museum on a small side street. My daughter didn’t even know there were people in the square and we had the museum practically to ourselves! In the room full of the actual Tutankhamun treasures there were only 2 other tourists! We had a similar experience at the pyramids of Giza. When we climbed up inside the Great Pyramid to the actual tomb we were the only ones there! We saw two other tourists as we were climbing back down. I have pictures of Abu Simbel, the pyramids and other famous sites without a single tourist in them.

All of the Egyptian people were incredibly friendly and gracious and English was spoken by practically everyone we met. Some of the highlights for us were dinner with my daughter’s pen pal in their home, climbing up inside the Great Pyramid, sailing in a felucca at sunset on the Nile, seeing the treasures of Tutankhamun in a quiet and relaxed environment, and the visit to the carpet school where we got to do a few stitches ourselves and my daughter played soccer with 4 or 5 Egyptian girls.

Our guide, Amira, was TOTALLY AWESOME. Her English was outstanding and her knowledge of all things Egyptian was incredible. Moreover she was thoughtful. For example, realizing that we were totally exhausted one day she suggested we get some Egyptian koshari (a type of macaroni casserole) for dinner in containers to take back to our room. Another example — I said I was interested in buying some spices and she called ahead to a local store that she knew of to make sure it was open and then we swung by for 15 minutes where I bought my spices and took several pictures. She even negotiated the prices of our souvenirs for us!

Roughly 50% of Egypt’s economy is driven by tourism. One way to help Egypt get back on it’s feet is to go there!”

What more can we say?



June 29, 2011

Lessons from an Awesome Packer

What's in Your Suitcase?

My family has had the great pleasure of traveling with the two Friedlanders many times. Such fun traveling companions, and every time I have been secretly, obsessively jealous of their tiny canvas bags.

No matter what the length of the trip, they each carry something small enough to be a carry on. As I am packing for a three week trip and not interested in hauling around a huge suitcase full of so much stuff I can never find anything on the road, I thought I would go to them for some tips. Yes, I actually asked for help and guidance from a client! This is what they said:

‎1. Take only left-foot sneakers. They are smaller.

2. If you are going some place cold, such as the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania, pack nothing warm.

‎3. If you are hiking, such as in Morocco in the High Atlas Mountains, bring no raincoat; instead, take an odd-looking green plastic wrapping that makes you look something like a Christo art project. Rely on family and friends for cover.

When I registered something akin to sarcasm to their response, Sam said “Moo. clearly we have mastered the art of packing. did you not just read the list?”

Really?

What is your best packing secret?



June 27, 2011

Listen to Me!

Always good to check in at a travel clinic before you travel

I’ve worked in travel for over 16 years, and I’ve been to Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. So you might think I have this travel thing down, right? Heh.

I leave for Cambodia and Thailand in 10 days. I’m asking people for packing tips. Worrying about exchanging money. Wondering how long my shorts need to be. Thinking about vaccines. So I called my trusty travel clinic. I like using the travel clinic. Usually covered by my health insurance, they have everything you need right on the spot and the specialists know everything. Of course it’s a bit of a downer too – it is, after all, their job to protect you from every conceivable deadly disease and most of them you just don’t really want to even know about. I often wonder what they would recommend for travel to my neighborhood. But I digress….

Long story short… No available appointments until after I return. Beth (who is headed to China) uses a different clinic that doesn’t have anything until August. If you’re interested in learning from my mistakes (I encourage this) you will not put off making that appointment until it is too late. Please call WAY in advance, and make an appointment for about a month before you travel.

As for me, I’ll take plenty of bug spray along with me and muddle through.



June 5, 2011

Why you DON’T want to join a Tour Group

Terra Cotta WarriorsEvery day we field calls from families who say: ” We’ve never traveled on a group tour before, that’s not who we are”. To which we say: You’ve come to the right place! All of our loyal clients are families who are not inspired by large, generic tour groups. So, why us?

Thomson Family Adventures is not a traditional tour company. Do we arrange for group travel? Yes, but with some important differences…

Our groups are small and personal. We leave room for our adventures to be flexible and creative from the moment you sign up, to the moment you travel, to the time you return home.

Even a terra cotta warrior is unique from all the rest; your family is too. We know who you are. In our USA office, as we help you find your trip and then prepare you for travel, you communicate with someone who knows who you are and knows what you are looking for. We don’t have phone banks or voice mail. Just friendly, welcoming staff whose goal is to to help you have the trip of a lifetime.

When you arrive in-country you’ll meet up with our local Thomson colleagues, professionals we’ve worked with for years developing our itineraries and programs designed to ensure all ages have a fabulous time. Their enthusiasm and generosity of spirit shines through as they guide you through their country. There is no question, the right guide makes the right trip.

Safety? It’s our number one priority. We know nothing is more important than the welfare of your family. So your adventure is planned with every security in mind. You’ll have tons of fun with all precautions in place, and we include trip cancellation insurance in all of our packages.

We don’t have fixed schedules, huge busses, or red flags. You’ll travel in a small group of a few like minded families who will likely end up as lifelong friends looking to travel together again. We’ve seen this over and over again.

OR – if you prefer – we are always happy to arrange for a private and personal adventure for just your family. No matter if there are 2 or 20 or 30 family members, we can make the same awesome arrangements for just you so you have nothing to worry about. Please, just show up and have a wonderful time!

You don’t need to travel with 40 strangers, or merge your precious family reunion with a larger, unknown group of tourists. You deserve something thought out and unique! This is what Thomson Family Adventures does.

What does a group offer you can’t find on your own? Well, our guides for one, and the benefit of our expertise. You get a real vacation. No logistics, no struggling to find your way, or wondering what to do next. Like minded companions. No meal planning! Just blissful enjoyment. With your family. Together!

Remember, a small company can have even more experience in family travel than the larger, better advertised tour companies. And we offer it in a more personal format. Just because we don’t have a big marketing budget doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing!

Give us a call and see what a real trip of a lifetime looks like. Dial 800-262-6255; we’re ready to take the pressure off of your family plans.



May 26, 2011

Top Five: Things about Travel in December

Escape the Snow!

How can you make the most of a December school vacation? Now is the time to think about it!

1) Enjoy the True Pleasure of Getting Away. At a time when you think you might just crack from the stress of every day life; give up trying to organize everyone’s entertainment. Become one of the guests, and really enjoy the pleasure of being taken care of. Yes, you too!

2) Is Your Weather Dicey in December? How nice to escape to someplace not just interesting, but warm and inviting too. How nice to be snorkeling when those at home are shoveling or hiking a mountain when your neighbors are commuting to work. Don’t forget your bathing suit!

3) Perfect Family Reunion Time. Every family has time off and wants to be with family, but we’re spread across the country – and who has a home big enough for everyone to congregate? Let someone else plan your reunion! You can all travel to the same destination to be together and have no hassles or worries once you get there.

4) Step Away from the Rush and propaganda of the holidays. Tired of the crush and craziness? Decide to do it differently. Invest in your memories and shared experiences rather than more obsessive accumulation of things you don’t need. Show your children the value of learning new things and meeting new people. Have some fun too!

5) Plan Ahead. December is a month of celebrations: Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve or just an escape from the dreary beginning of winter. Everyone with kids in school has a break in December. There is possibly no better time to want to travel! Be first in line to make your plans, and you’ll have first choice of options for a perfect family adventure.

Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Thailand, Tanzania… so many wonderful, dreamy options await you in December. Call us now at 800-262-6255




May 24, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Travel in Summer

Go for it!

Well, Well, Well. Why should you travel in the summer months? I mean June , July, and even August if you don’t begin school again that month. And maybe I mean the month of May, if your kids are out that early. The point is, this is an extended break from a school calendar and you have more flexibility, more time on your family’s schedule, to get away.

Some families want to shoot out of town the moment school is done; some families plan for camp first, then vacation. Regardless, these reasonable reasons apply:

1) You have time. Why not take 2 or 3 weeks and explore the world? You can travel further, and take more time to recover once you’re home before the kids have to ‘perform’ again. You, the parents? Well, you can make do, right?

2) In some regions this is ‘low season‘. In Central America – Costa Rica and Panama for instance – it is still a great time to visit, but it will be less crowded and flights will be more reasonable. Come see whales migrating, or Green Sea Turtles nesting on the ‘off season’.

3) You can reach faraway lands. Maybe it is too hard to think about an 18 hour flight over your precious February or March break, but in the summer, not so bad. Destinations like Tanzania, China, Thailand, Turkey, Morocco become a more relaxed and reasonable goal.

4) Christmas, Hanukah, Easter, Passover…. you probably have a focused family plan for the holidays. But what do you do in the summer? When there isn’t a specific focus to your vacation, an adventure plan can be just the right thing.

5) Big celebrations. OK, I myself am suffering from thinking about my last child heading off to college. Do I want to plan something for all of us together? You bet. This feels like a last chance – I have several family adventures planned for this summer! Why don’t you?

6) But maybe it’s an important anniversary or another milestone… summertime can be a less expensive and more convenient time to gather the family together for a kind of celebratory reunion. This is the best time to ask us to plan for something person and precious just for you.

7) Are you looking to escape the heat of your hometown? Destinations near the Equator like Ecuador and Peru in South America, or Tanzania in Africa, offer wonderful family adventures in a moderate climate – warm days and cool nights. Hike, swim, commune with unique wildlife…it’s just waiting for you.

8) I admit, I’ve run out of ideas. All I can say is, summer is an awesome time to pull the family together and go for it. What a time of discovery and growth, from end of one school year stretching to the beginning of the next. Be it your garden, or your family together — Just like me, I know you have time for both.

9) Oh, one more thing I’ll add here – you’re not too late to pull something together for summer 2011. We’ve gotten used to the ‘last minute’ calls so come along and add your request. There might just be the family adventure of a lifetime waiting for you this summer.

10) And you have just until May 31 2011 to secure some serious early booking savings (up to $500 per person!) for 2012. Call us now and we’ll tell you how 800-262-6255