Joe

July 30, 2013

A Heartwarming Tale of Rescue on Safari!

The magic of an African safari is something no family can fully prepare for. Everyone’s experience is different, loaded with spontaneous cultural and wildlife encounters that couldn’t possibly have been written into an itinerary – that’s what makes a safari in Tanzania remarkable.

A prime example is the unplanned wildlife rescue mission undertaken by the Hartz family on their recent Tanzania Active Safari for Families with Teens. Jennifer, Eric, and their four teens were riding along in their safari vehicle, wildlife viewing in the Eastern Serengeti Ecosystem, in the private nature refuge that Thomson guests have exclusive privileges to visit. Suddenly, they spotted a Kori Bustard (a large, mostly ground-dwelling bird) hobbling along with something sticking out of its back.

They followed the bird in their rover, hoping to help in any way they could. Upon closer inspection, the Hartz family and their driver realized that the poor thing had been struck between the shoulder blades by a Maasai arrow. Hunting on this property is strictly prohibited, but somebody had attempted to make an illegal dinner out of this Kori Bustard. The family, along with their guide and driver, removed the arrow as carefully as possible, applied Neosporin to the wound, and patched it up to the best of their ability. Afterwards, they sat back and watched as the bird went on its way, concerned but gratified in the knowledge that they probably just saved its life.

That uplifting tale of chance and compassion is exactly the type of thing that makes a safari such a special family adventure. In addition to saving an unfortunate Kori Bustard, the Hartz family had plenty of other wonderful experiences… a bike ride into a village quarry near Gibb’s Farm where bricks are hand-made by local workers, and a rewarding encounter with friendly and enthusiastic Maasai children, to name a couple. But this unexpected act of kindness and teamwork is something that will surely stick out as a particularly fond travel memory!



July 23, 2013

Grace’s Family Adventure Tradition!

Grace’s finished quilt top, using the “French Roast” pattern!

Grace, our newest salesperson, just returned from a trip to Texas revolving around a great family tradition. She went down to her birthplace of Georgetown, Texas, to stay at her grandmother’s house and get back to her down-home roots.

From there, Grace, her grandmother, her sister, and 3 of her cousins (15, 16, and 18 years old) headed to the Compass Centre in Mount Calm, Texas for a quilting retreat. It’s a wonderful opportunity for grandmothers and great aunts to bond with their granddaughters and grandnieces, design some beautiful quilts, and enjoy an abundance of delicious comfort food – Texas style!

The first time Grace experienced the quilting retreat was in 2010, and she’s only missed one year since; it’s definitely become a family tradition that Grace, her grandmother, her sister and her cousins all cherish.



June 19, 2013

Our New 2014 Pricing Explained

For 2014, our pricing structure will be changing to a system of tiered pricing. For example, a trip may have one per-person price for groups with 10 or more travelers, another price for groups with 6 to 9 travelers, and then a third price for groups with 2 to 5 travelers.

There are some definite advantages to this new tiered pricing structure. We know that families have busy schedules, and you can’t change when your available vacation times are, so we guarantee that your trip will run, even if it’s just your small group. Unlike other companies, we don’t set large minimum traveler amounts, so small groups will essentially be getting private, or semi-private trips.

When more families join and the group gets larger, we’re spreading the costs of our guides, drivers, mentors and vehicles, over a larger group of people and passing the savings on to you – so the per-person costs will be lower.

Go ahead and take advantage of this great new pricing system by getting a large group of family and friends together for a spectacular adventure – family reunion in Costa Rica, anyone?



May 10, 2013

A Worldwide Celebration of Mothers

My mother and I in Madrid (excuse the facial hair; Mom did NOT approve)

If there’s one thing that’s pretty much universal, it’s appreciation for mothers and all that they do for us. Almost every place in the world has some sort of Mother’s Day celebration; they’re not all on the same day, and every country approaches it differently, but  the general sentiment of love and appreciation for our mothers is something unhampered by cultural differences. I’m going to highlight a few particularly noteworthy Mother’s Day traditions from some of our favorite destinations:

In Mexico, Mother’s Day is no joke. Mothers are highly venerated in Mexican culture, and people really go all out to honor the women who raised them. For example, it’s customary for kids to greet their mothers with a morning serenade – the traditional song selection for special occasions like this is “Las Mañanitas.” In addition to the serenade, Mexican mothers are given cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts, and families usually celebrate with a morning meal together; typical dishes include tamales and atole.

Costa Rica considers Mother’s Day a national holiday, so banks, schools, government buildings and other offices are closed, and mothers are showered with gifts and flowers.

Panamanians take a very religious approach to their celebration of this special day (not surprising, given the extremely strong Catholic influence on all aspects of life in Latin America). Mother’ Day in Panama is celebrated on the same day as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as a way of drawing a connection between the Virgin Mary and mothers everywhere. There are festivals, dances and religious parades throughout the day honoring the mother of Jesus and all moms in general.

Egypt and Turkey are two of the countries with the strongest historical ties to Mother’s Day, both serving as partial inspirations for the origins of the holiday. One of the earliest known records of people celebrating a mother figure as a deity comes from the ancient Egyptians, who would hold a yearly festival to honor the goddess Isis. Isis is considered the divine mother of the pharaohs, and of the land of Egypt.

Turkey, however, probably gave us the most direct inspiration for the global celebration of Mother’s Day: the goddess Cybele. She came from the Turkish region of Anatolia and is revered as a mother goddess, representing things like fertility, the earth’s bounty, and motherhood in general. Celebrations honoring Cybele have been taking place since about 250 years before the birth of Jesus.

Perhaps the most unique take on Mother’s Day is the Thai tradition. The Thais first dedicated this day to birthday celebrations for Queen Sirikit, considered the “First Mother” of Thailand. She became Queen of Thailand in 1950, and has since been held in very high regard for her tireless work and endless devotion to her people. Queen Sirikit has become a symbolic mother figure for the Thai nation, and her birthday is commemorated each year with elaborate festivals, ceremonies, fireworks, charitable activities, etc. The Thai people take the opportunity to appreciate their beloved queen, as well as their gratitude for the unconditional love shown by mothers in general.

If you know of any other interesting cultural Mother’s Day traditions, or if your family does something special, please share it with us! Happy Mother’s Day, all!



May 9, 2013

Act Now and Save Big! Book Early for 2014!

2014 may seem far away, but doesn’t each new year always creep up and take you by surprise? Stay ahead this year and plan your travel early – there’s a BIG reward! On May 15th, our 2014 trip prices will be released, and they will be increasing by as much as 5-10%. But not to worry – if you book a 2014 family adventure before the 15th, we’ll honor our current 2013 prices. Between the huge savings and the peace of mind that comes with getting the planning out of the way early, why wait?

We already have families booked; just give us a call now so we can help you find the perfect adventure for your family in 2014 at a heavily discounted rate!



April 3, 2013

A Spotlight on David Jaffe, Mentor Extraordinaire!

The legend himself, David Jaffe

Families traveling with us to Alaska this summer have the privilege of being accompanied by our friend David Jaffe, a brilliant scientist, wildlife enthusiast and all-around rugged outdoorsman. This guy’s the real deal, and his presence is a HUGE asset to the trip. So in order to effectively promote the adventure, I wanted to get some info straight from David about the kinds of things he does to engage the kids on the trips he joins. I emailed him and asked for a few words that I could use to write something up… as it turns out, the response he took the time out of his busy life of adventure to provide for me is pretty much perfect as is:

Howdy Joe,

Thanks for the thought and the enthusiasm. I just got out of a two week silent meditation retreat. Trips I have worked with TFA have really been quite remarkable with last year’s being SUPREME. The kids were awesome, the adults were so supportive and the staff on the boat amazingly cooperative. So, from my side…hmmm….As an environmental educator and outdoor wilderness-expedition guide for 13+ years, I have developed various curricula that cater to various environments to engage a diversity of backgrounds and capabilities. I incorporate fun, engaging activities that involve sensory exploration as well as a more academic side. I begin with some ‘sense of place’ activities (maps, where are we, get out and look around type games and activities). More central to the trip would be more about “interconnections” (activities that illustrate how natural environments and components of diverse ecosystems are interrelated). Towards the end of the trip, I try to instill a sense of “stewardship” (activities and games that exemplify the “so what?” of the trip. How can I bring what I learned here in Alaska, Peru, Belize…to my home city and maintain a sense of cultural and environmental stewardship and awareness)…Of course all this more curriculum based stuff is mingled with a healthy dose of riddles, arts and crafts, jokes, storytelling and jumping off the deck of the boat into glacially clad waters…

I am excited about this opportunity. Hope all is well, please send hellos to Moo and others!

David

I think David’s email speaks for itself – he’s great with kids, an expert naturalist, beyond intelligent and full of personality!



March 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Alaska (and a Cool Slideshow!)

Click to see our Alaska slideshow

I feel like I’m doing the great state of Alaska a disservice by limiting this list to five reasons, but “7,000,000 Reasons to Visit Alaska” would have been a bit excessive.

Alaska is by far the largest American state, and there is a LOT more to this place than snow and whale blubber.

1.) Great Outdoors/Final Frontier. If you’re a nature lover, Alaska is where you want to be. It’s an unspoiled wilderness boasting secluded bays and coves; lush temperate rain forest; mountains; caves and rocky islands; glowing blue glaciers; quaint fishing towns… not to mention abundant wildlife, like eagles, brown and black bears, humpback and orca whales, sea lions, seals, moose, caribou, deer, elk, otters, etc.

2.) An Active Family’s Dream-Come-True. For the outdoorsy, adventurous family looking for some fun bonding time, it doesn’t get any better than Alaska. You’ll cruise in style around floating chunks of ice in the Inside Passage, stopping throughout to explore via kayak or skiff, swim and snorkel, hike forest trails and enormous glaciers, fly over an icefield by helicopter and even ride a real dogsled.

3.) Rich History and Native Culture. Alaska is brimming with fascinating history and unique culture. The place hearkens back to an exciting time in American history, when ambitious people ventured west to the great frontier in search of gold and great fortunes. And your family will get a taste of some of Alaska’s indigenous culture, visiting the authentic native Tlingit village of Klawock and learning about the traditional art of carving colorful totem poles.

4.) Pleasant, Refreshing Summer Climate. The summers in Southeast Alaska are typically pretty mild, with temperatures often in the high-50s to mid-60s. It can be very nice to get away from the heat and humidity of your home city and enjoy the comfort of a mild coastal climate with crisp, clean air and ocean breezes.

5.) David Jaffe – Mentor, Expert and Outdoorsman. With Thomson, your family will have the privilege of traveling alongside an expert mentor, our friend David Jaffe. He’s a rugged adventurer and veteran outdoorsman with a contagious love of travel and cultures. David has a long, impressive list of accomplishments, from extensive marine and avian research to experience as a research consultant for the Nature Conservancy and as a biological research technician at Yosemite National Park. He’s been a TFA mentor since 1998 and is excellent with children. With David onboard, your kids will be constantly enthralled and intrigued.

Bonus: The Special Privilege of a Smaller Ship and Secluded Spots! I couldn’t resist; I just had to mention the perks of traveling on the M/V Wilderness Discoverer. This is a comfortable 76-passenger ship with a friendly, knowledgeable crew. Her size allows for some extra special experiences, since we have the opportunity to navigate and drop anchor in secluded, pristine coves that large cruise ships aren’t even allowed to enter! The Wilderness Discoverer really makes for a wonderfully intimate adventure!



February 19, 2013

The Beauty of Flexible Departure Dates

Young adult siblings on an elephant in Thailand.

We have plenty of prearranged departure dates to choose from, but there’s always the possibility that none of the dates you see listed fit with your busy schedule. Luckily for you, that’s not a problem; we can always organize a custom date just for your family.

We’re in this business because we want to deliver the ideal family adventure for each and every one of our valued clients, and we’ll never let rigid scheduling issues get in the way of that mission. You can even work with us to create your own private, custom itinerary or villa-style vacation if you’re not totally satisfied with what we already offer.

We find that the fact that we can always arrange custom dates is especially vital to emphasize when dealing with families with older teen and 20-something kids. Since this particular age group encompasses a wide range of life stages – high school, college, and the working world – what works for one young adult may not work for another. Older teens and 20-somethings have different school breaks and different opportunities for time off from work; this isn’t news to us, and we’re fully prepared to work with you to organize something that fits with everyone’s schedules.

Just give us a call and we can work through all your departure date concerns together.



February 14, 2013

You’re Never Too Old to Learn from Travel

An action shot from the game

When I consider the significance of travel in my own life, the clichéd-but-apt adage “Don’t let school get in the way of your education” comes to mind.

Three years ago, I was a junior in college; I was in the middle of a wonderful classroom education that, unbeknownst to me, couldn’t hold a candle to the 5-month practical learning experience I was about to dive into. I left in early January of 2010 for a semester abroad in a small city outside Madrid. Now, I’ll be honest here – I spent very little of those next 5 months attending classes or doing homework… but I also gained a concentrated dose of real-world knowledge and insight worth about 5 years of highlighting textbooks and attending lectures.

In addition to the 5-month period of culture shock and adaptation that was my semester abroad in general (that’s a long story for another day), I had opportunities for some incredible shorter travel experiences afforded by my proximity to surrounding countries. The most memorable of these was a week spent in Morocco with a small group of friends.

One vivid memory in particular that will stay with me for as long as I live took place on a humble little beach frequented by Moroccan locals. As a few of my American friends and I were walking along the beach, a young Moroccan man – probably about 26 – approached us. Seeing that we were white and out-of-place, he assumed we were probably from Spain and asked us somewhat shyly in soft, shaky Spanish: “¿Queréis jugar con nosotros?” (“Do you guys want to play with us?”) He motioned to a group of about fifteen Moroccans of various ages kicking a soccer ball back and forth and setting up makeshift goals with sticks and rocks. My friends and I looked at each other a bit uneasily, ignorantly considering all the worst case scenarios in our heads (locals running off with our valuables, etc.) as most sheltered First World kids can’t help but do when presented with the unfamiliar. Then we shot a mutual glance and shrug, as if to say “How often do we have the chance to play a game of pickup soccer on the beach with a bunch of Moroccans?” and I told the man we’d love to accept his gracious offer.

The friendly game that followed was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life; we laughed, high-fived, and congratulated each other’s athletic accomplishments through smiles and body language. I was ashamed to have ever – even if only for a brief moment – doubted these hospitable people’s genuine intentions. After a few hours of soccer, we shook hands and the Moroccans placed their fists over their hearts as a gesture of peace as we parted ways. Forcing myself to let go of ignorant preconceptions and embrace the new and different taught me that you get as much out of a travel experience as you put into it, and that you’re never too old to learn from the world around you. Do any of you have stories to share from your own experiences that highlight travel’s profound teaching power?



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!