Teens

June 5, 2014

Spotlight on a Stellar TFA Family

Larry zip lining in Costa Rica

Larry zip lining in Costa Rica

Since Thomson Family Adventures first came into existence over 15 years ago, it’s been clear that our adventures attract a special breed of family travelers. Thomson travelers are the type of families open to new and exciting experiences; they love to learn from the great, big world around them, and they’re committed to the people, wildlife, and natural landscapes of the countries they visit.

I’d like to highlight a man whose family epitomizes that special something TFA clients have, and the reason we love what we do: Larry Taylor. Larry and his wife, Mina, brought their teenage grandson on one of our adventures to Costa Rica in March of 2013 – a trip that provided us with one of our all-time favorite photos of Larry zip lining through the jungle. We just received another batch of fun photos from the Taylor family’s recent trip to Belize, along with some heartwarming anecdotes of cross-cultural interactions with local Maya children.

Larry and his family are the type of people that have that inspiring spirit of adventure we love to see. I had initially intended to make a quick Facebook post about one encounter they had in Belize, but decided instead to go a little deeper and give the consistently cooperative, enthusiastic Larry Taylor a call to find out a little more about him and his family and how travel and adventure play into their lives.

The Taylors live in San Diego, which has proven to be the perfect location for a family as physically active and ecologically conscious as they are. Larry walks two miles every morning, and loves to meet friends at a café by the beach at the end of his walk. His wife runs six miles every other day, spends two hours at the gym on her “off” days, and has been known to run marathons– not exactly a couch potato! The mellow, 17-year-old grandson they brought to Costa Rica and Belize is a true Southern California boy who loves to surf, snorkel, swim, and lifeguard.

Larry was born in California and lived all over the U.S., growing up in an Air Force family. He met Mina after she moved out west from her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, and it didn’t take her long to evolve into a lover of the outdoors amid gorgeous West Coast weather and scenery. They’re an ideal pair of world travelers; Larry’s a naturally curious history buff, into the people-to-people politics of things, geography, culture, nature, and geology (which is actually what his undergraduate degree was in). He worked in government for 18 years, taking measures to eliminate air pollution. In his personal life, Larry is still admirably active in fighting the ill effects of climate change and trying to protect the environment – he’s currently working to install solar panels in his home, and he recently ripped out his front yard and replaced the grass with rocks as a way of saving water.

Mina worked as a clinical psychiatric social worker in a hospital, helping patients who were going through crises, so she’s very much a people-person. Ever since she retired from that career four years ago, they’ve made it a point to travel as often as possible, and they never miss an opportunity to get out there and meet the locals, snorkel the reefs, test out the zip lines, and seek out those truly special travel moments that happen organically and unexpectedly. Larry loves both the structure and flexibility of our Thomson Family Adventures, as well as the unique chance to bond with his grandchildren while someone else handles the logistics and arranges a solid collection of activities for them to engage in together, instead of just dropping the grandkids off to do their own thing.

He shared several phenomenal examples of that togetherness making for some special memories, and of the beauty of unplanned events during his past family adventures. In one such anecdote, Larry told me:

“In Belize, the local guide took us out to a reef (all three of us love to snorkel; our grandson is a surfer and a lifeguard, so he’s a great swimmer, and we still love to get out there and join him!) He took us out to a spot where he said he’d show us some turtles, but what we didn’t know was that when we got there, the ocean floor would be covered with literally thousands of conch shells under the 40 feet of crystal clear water. The guide dove down and grabbed two conch shells and started banging them together. He told us that works as a dinner call for the loggerhead turtles, because the fishermen pound them against the decks and sides of the boats to get the meat out, so the turtles know when they hear the banging that bits of meat will fall out into the water for them to eat. The dinner call worked, and some beautiful loggerhead turtles showed up, and soon after eight to twelve harmless nurse sharks came over. That type of knowledge is what’s so great about the local guides we’ve had on Thomson trips — they can take us places and show us things non-locals wouldn’t know about.”

It’s those surprises – the unforgettable occurrences that can’t be written ahead of time into any itinerary – that keep the passion for travel alive in the Taylor family, and in all the wonderful families we’re lucky to have had on our family adventures.

The family ready for action in Belize

 

The Taylor family in Costa Rica

The Taylor family in Costa Rica

Maya children in Belize

Maya children in Belize

Teen grandson canyoning in Costa Rica

Teen grandson canyoning in Costa Rica

 



October 25, 2013

The Wild Wonders of Brazil – Part two

Jaiburu, the largest stork in the world, nesting in the Pantanal

The Pantanal. I know you’ve never heard of it, but this is the coolest place you’ll ever go. I’ve ruffled a few feathers here in the office with my suggestion it just might be more awesome than the Serengeti….

For starters, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland covering as much as 75,000 sq miles, 80% of which is submerged during the flooding season. All of this water nurtures an astonishing collection of flora and fauna. Without the dense jungle of the Amazon, your ability to actually witness this population is guaranteed. Imagine 1000 different kinds of birds, 300 types of mammal, 480 reptile species…. right in your back yard.

On the drive from the city of Cuiaba to the lodge we didn’t have to go far before stopping to gasp at  hundreds of caiman and storks and egrets, just enjoying life right there on either side of the road. When I arrived at the lodge a Hyacinth Macaw swept in as if to greet me.. A wild one. Hundreds of birds – cardinals, parrots, finches, chacalacas,  currasow, herons, jacana – flit through the property. Five paces outside my cozy room was a marshy pond overflowing with caiman and capybara. One of those capybara kept moseying on over to the pool area for a nap on the warm pavement. And all around was an open vista of fields, with towering termite mounds, palms, and many trees in brilliant bloom. Somewhere out there were deer and tapir and bats and jaguar and puma and armadillo and giant anteaters, and I got to see many of these species over the next couple of days. This is magic-land!



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

On a Scale of 1 to 5, our Guides are Often a TEN

A Great time at the Great Wall.

Our friend Linda from Ohio just returned from a big family trip to China, her first with us. We try to call everyone when they get home, but we didn’t have a chance – her email came in almost immediately:

“You were right.  It was a great trip for a family.  We LOVED it. Tom and I have taken many trips but this one for us will always be the very special one. It exceeded any expectations that I had.

To see the eyes of our children as we traveled each day was incredible. They were filled with such excitement. I know that I was very nervous about taking the children to China and realize I could not have been more wrong. It was a trip of a lifetime for our family. All ages loved it and we loved learning about the Chinese culture and most of all we loved our new Chinese friends. Chuck and Ping were exceptional. They did everything possible to make our trip special for our family. They became part of our family almost immediately. They took very good care of us all. Chuck was the “magician” of the trip, making good things happen constantly and Ping was “Pied Piper and “Mary Poppins” all rolled into one. The children ( and adults) adored her. She had an endless bag of goodies and always kept the children amused.

The trip was a perfect blend for all ages (8-73) . China will always be a very special place for our family. We have so many wonderful memories and over 2000 pictures to share. It was a well documented trip! Many thanks to all of you for making this trip possible for our family!”



May 28, 2013

How a Family Adventure Feels at 17

Hannah and Frank

We received this email  from 17 year old Hannah whose family lives in New Jersey. We know how our guides can impact adults and children alike, and we never tire of hearing about it. These are the life changing experiences we travel for!

“I’m writing to give you feedback on one of your Tanzania staff members, Frank Julius.

I went on a family safari in Tanzania over the December holidays (2012) with my mom, dad and 15-year-old brother, and Frank came along as a mentor. We met up with a family we hadn’t met before with two kids, ages eleven and eight.

As a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, my brother and I weren’t in need of the same type of mentoring as the other kids were. Instead, Frank became a friend to us. He played soccer and goofed around with the younger ones, but Frank and I also had interesting intellectual conversations, discussed our lives and compared cultures. He has incredible people skills, is able to shift seamlessly between adults and children, and developed lasting relationships with each person on our trip, regardless of age. The two families went in separate trucks, and we always hoped Frank would end up in ours.

I was also incredibly impressed by Frank’s intellect. He is so well read, world-aware and ambitious. I was amazed to hear that he speaks six languages, and we enjoyed practicing Spanish together throughout the trip. As I observed with all the other Thomson staff members, he was very knowledgeable about the animals and wildlife. He went beyond just facts about the animals, permeating our observation with jokes and anecdotes.

Without Frank, this trip would have been a completely different experience for my family and I. We had amazing luck with sightings in all the parks, took incredible pictures and had wonderful stays at all of the camps, but what was most impactful to me were the people I met along the way. Everybody was lovely, but I developed an amazing friendship with Frank. We continue to keep each other updated through Facebook today, and I hope to keep in touch with him for the rest of my life. Anybody who gets to go on a Thomson Family Safari is in for an amazing experience, but a trip with Frank is guaranteed to be all the more unique and memorable.”



October 15, 2012

17 to Infinity: It’s a New World of Travel

Wachirathon Waterfall, Thailand

Family celebrations don’t stop just because the kids get older. Think of all the reasons: High school graduation. College graduation. Admission to college. College graduation. Admission to graduate school! Graduating from grad school. A job offer! Before they go to work for 80 hours a week. Celebrating a job well done…..

Or it’s Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary… the 25th. The 50th. The 60th.

Or big birthdays! Their 21st, or 25th. Our 50th. 60th. 70th. 80th.

All of these occasions are times we want to gather together with family, to share and appreciate the memories we’ve built over the years. And to make new memories to carry forward. Maybe you want to be with just your family, or maybe you want to join other families at the same stage of their life. Either way, it is a pleasure to have someone else do the dirty work, while you relish the anticipation of the adventure ahead.

As our kids get older we have more flexibility to travel at the fringe of peak season, and to enjoy more sophisticated encounters. Why not take advantage of this new stage of life and learning, and explore the world together?

Family adventures are not just for kids anymore.



July 31, 2012

Look Who is Multi Sporting in the Galapagos…

Karen, Elaine, Rachel, and Ben - Let's Go!

Meet Karen and her fabulous kids Rachel, Ben, and Elaine. They’re excitedly getting ready to explore the Galapagos Islands in December. They’ll fly into Quito and spend a few nights on the mailand. They’ll horseback ride, hike, and visit the Equator, small villages and famed Otovalo Market. Then off to the Galapagos Islands for a unique land -based discovery: kayaking, snorkeling, communing with fascinating sea life and watching soaring birds like they”ve never seen before. With two nights in a hotel and two nights camping under the Southern sky, plus a private catamaran to cruise the best spots for snorkeling this is a fantastic, up-close way to play in these islands. They’re looking forward to being a small flexible group, avoiding the crowds, finding unique adventure in out of the way places.

Now, who wouldn’t want to join them?

You can!!! December 25 – January 2. Call us now!

800-262-6255



February 26, 2012

Top Five Destinations for your Graduate. And You.

Who's bold enough to try grasshopper?

Many popular destinations are just plain fun for a young child, but can be revisited – or seen for the first time – with very different eyes once your child is out of high school. Here are our picks for the most sophisticated and exciting places to visit, or visit again, with your graduate.

5) Alaska. It’s pristine, and so different from the rest of the continental USA. And it’s changing so fast, there may well be species, habitats and glaciers that will be disappearing in the future. Take your graduate to explore up close, with plenty of physical activities to challenge you both while you all learn about how climate change is affecting this part of the country.

4) Galapagos. On select dates we offer families with older kids the opportunity to explore the islands from a 16 passenger catamaran. Or, if you prefer, you can join our MultiSport Adventure with real beach camping and up close experiences with those frigate birds, seal ions, and blue footed boobies. In both options you’ll also have the chance to learn something about rock climbing, early Incan ruins, and the delightful culture of mainland Ecuador.

3) Peru. Whether you like to camp in remote mountains with no one but your camp crew nearby, or you prefer, thank you very much, to sleep in a comfortable hotel…Peru offers mystery and culture you can dive into, and breathtaking scenery to explore. Both versions, the Trek and the Land of the Ancient Inca offer great hiking and plenty of time to contemplate the wonders of Machu Picchu.

2) Turkey. Whether you choose a photographic journey, our Secrets of Turkey, or the special Smithsonian Adventure, Turkey is full of inviting people, scenery, and culture. Oh, and the food! Turkey is an adventure of history and art, Roman ruins, miraculous landscape, and the smooth Mediterranean. So much more than just a vacation!

1) Thailand With a fascinating culture, gorgeous temples, and a philosophy that invites conversation…. plus verdant forest to hike, retired elephants to care for, and rivers to raft…. here is an adventure to change your life forever.

0) It’s hard to stop when I’m on a roll.. how about Morocco? Wander the souks, watch a snake charmer, trek in the High Atlas Mountains, and ride a camel on the beach… Practice your Arabic as well as your French, and tantalize your taste buds in this exotic land of couscous and fragrant tagines.

The truth is, any one of our destinations can be sophisticated and enriching for your older kids, and for you too! Our expert guides are ready to talk up to your level, and challenge you to take home in your heart a piece of their country. Come join the like minded and similar aged families traveling with us in 2012 and beyond.



June 24, 2011

A Rite of Passage with Aunt Nancy

Sometimes I just want to write about the wonderful people we get to know via phone and email – and sometimes in person – in our work. Nancy Wilkinson is certainly one of them, a gem we have known for more than 10 years as she has taken her 5 nieces and nephews, one at a time, on a 14th birthday adventure.

I LOVE these photos! And we look forward to finding the right thing for nephew Michael in 2012.

Nancy and James in Egypt, 2000

Nancy and James in Egypt, 2000

Nancy and Evan in Guatemala, 2003

A family safari

Nancy and Brett in Tanzania, 2005

Nancy and Ben in Venice, 2006

Nancy and Hannah in Istanbul, 2009



June 23, 2011

Graduations: Love them and Weep.

A gift from kindergarten

When my #2 child Mira was in kindergarten, she painted this little clay pot which held just one spindly piece of cactus. It has been my treasure for, oh, the last 16 years (this pot is only about an inch across, and the cactus is bursting out of it). And so now, as my #3, and last, child Leo graduates from high school and I contemplate a long over due repotting – I find an analogy!

Yes, our kids are like plants you love, water and nourish. And yes, they will grow even if you don’t buy them the next size up. But eventually you see they get pretty stifled if not given their freedom to blossom at their own pace.

This is what I thought about after witnessing Leo’s high school graduation. We just dont have a choice.

In our family, travel has been our gift to each other. Opportunities to see a bigger world, to learn new languages and new cultures. Through these opportunities I’ve seen Milo, Mira, and Leo gain coinfidence, be open and curious about people different from themselves, and be welcoming to all ages from all walks of life. As a client said recently, a family adventure is not just a vacation, it’s an experience. We have been so lucky to have those experiences.

And now, perhaps as my pay back for instilling the love of foreign lands, I’ll send this boy off to Madrid for his freshman year of college. I have no doubt is he far more ready than the average 18 year old to drop into a country where he doesn’t speak a word of the language. Thank you ThomsonFamily Adventures, and all of the guides, mentors, and travel companions who have given him, and all of my kids, a great education over the last 8 years.

After I drop him at the airport in August I think I’ll go home and re-pot that cactus.