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July 16, 2014

5 Reasons Guatemala is Ideal for Traveling with Children

agua volcano- antigua

Antigua Guatemala

The travel bug is incurable – that’s a simple fact. So when you’ve lived a life of exploration and can’t imagine it any other way, you’re not going to stop when you have children. Sure, the dynamic of your adventures with change, but family travel is an absolute blast with its own invaluable benefits.

Does having kids mean you have to shift from off-the-beaten path journeys around the world to purely domestic travel and uneventful beach vacations? NO WAY. Bringing your children along makes international travel and meaningful cultural interactions even better than they were when you were single.

One destination that’s particularly well-suited for traveling with children is Guatemala. Why? Here are 5 reasons (There wasn’t enough space for infinity):

Endless opportunity for outdoor activities and hands-on engagement: Every parent knows kids need to be actively involved to be entertained; Guatemala is the perfect place for that sort of involvement. There’s an opportunity at every turn for you and your kids to explore the wild outdoors and to roll up your sleeves and jump into the action, from kayaking around Lake Atitlan to hiking a path to Pacaya Volcano, learning to make chocolate from scratch and enjoying painting workshops to ziplining through lush jungle… and so much more!

Warm people and rich local culture: The most rewarding aspect – by a longshot – of introducing your children to a new culture is through unplanned interaction with regular people. Guatemalans are a pleasant, inviting bunch, eager to share their customs and traditions with visitors. Impressionable kids soak up these experiences in a way adults just can’t do quite as well, and every little encounter can make a world of difference in their development as open-minded citizens of the world. Whether they’re meeting local children they’ve written to ahead of time, taking a Spanish lesson in Antigua, or helping their parents barter for indigenous crafts at Chichicastenango Market, the little interactions will mean the world to them.

Excellent nature and wildlife: A child that isn’t fascinated by monkeys is about as common as an ice cream shop that doesn’t carry vanilla. Not to worry – Tikal National Park’s dense rainforest is teeming with spider monkeys and howler monkeys, as well as 52 other species of mammals and 333 species of birds, including a whole host of vibrantly colored exotic birds.

Amazing landscapes: In addition to the aforementioned rainforest in Tikal, Guatemala boasts a myriad of other enchanting landscapes. The brilliantly blue Lake Atitlan is the deepest in Central America and is considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in the world. Atitlan was formed by volcanic activity long ago, as evidenced by the three striking volcanoes that still surround it. If the kids are enthralled by the papier-mâche and baking powder volcanoes they make in class, they’ll be blown away witnessing the real thing!

Ancient Mayan archeological sites: A child’s imagination is powerful and limitless. Kids have a certain something many of us adults have somewhat lost along the way – an ability to put themselves in a vivid imaginary moment. When an adult stumbles upon the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal or Iximche, he/she will be thoroughly impressed and probably cherish the moment forever. But when a child discovers a site like this and learns a bit about the history of this once-glorious civilization, it resonates in a realer, more poignant way. Visions of the elaborate ceremonies, games, and rituals that once took place here will take over and bring that little mind on a journey us grownups may be too jaded to experience in quite the same way.

Let those 5 reasons hold you over for now… if you want to discover the rest of the infinite list of reasons Guatemala is the ideal spot to bring your kids, you’ll have to go see for yourself!

 



July 11, 2014

Who In the World Are the Gamels?

around the world

The Gamels all set to begin their journey!

Our friend Chris Gamel, professional photographer and educator, is officially off on his yearlong journey around the world with his family. While Chris documents the adventure in photography, his wife, Noemi — a pediatrician and children’s fantasy writer — will be providing weekly blog posts for all you adventure lovers out there to follow along! Below is the first of many:

Standing at the passenger drop-off curb at Cincinnati Airport with just a carry-on backpack and small shoulder bag, I turn to wave goodbye to my sister. My husband, two children, and I are left on the curb feeling excited and terrified at the same time. We are catching the evening flight to Miami, and then headed to Lima, Peru on the red eye. I am filled with a sense of irony knowing that the day after celebrating America’s Independence Day, we leave the country to embark on a year-long trip round the world (RTW). We will not step foot on American soil until next July.

I will be writing a weekly blog post for Thomson Family Adventures documenting our adventures. Chris, my husband, will provide the photography. Before we embark on this journey, we wanted to introduce ourselves.

Chris is an award-winning nature photographer and digital media educator. His varied skill set and PhD in wildlife biology will provide a unique perspective of the natural history and cultural experiences we encounter on this trip.

Kara, our 12-year-old daughter, is an aspiring filmmaker who loves science, writing, and drawing. She is looking forward to visiting Japan.

Tristan, our 7-year-old son, is an avid tree climber who loves futbol (aka soccer). He is looking forward to seeing the Great Wall of China.

Noemi (that’s me) is a pediatrician taking a break from the rat race to write diverse children’s fantasy novels, travel the world, and reconnect with family.

I hope you will virtually join us on our RTW experience. Who knows? You may just catch our wanderlust bug!

More posts from the Gamel family:

Serendipity in Huacachina, Peru

Shopping at the “Mercado” in Cusco, Peru 

Axo Pachamama! 

Cristo Blanco in Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu

Wait! I Thought I Spoke Spanish!

Welcome to the Witches’ Market

Why We Loved Salar de Uyuni



June 3, 2014

Cap and Gown—and A Map of the World

rodica daughter graduation

Rodica and Emily at graduation

As I watched my daughter Emily walk across a flower-bedecked stage in New York last week, dressed in cap and gown and surrounded by fellow students and professors, I flashed back to her very first steps… taken in her grandparents’ backyard at a barbecue, to the similarly excited applause of our family. Twenty years between these two momentous “first steps”—–a blink, it suddenly seemed.

We traveled a lot as a family during Emily’s childhood and teen years—to national parks, Alaska, the Sea of Cortes and Baja, Costa Rica, and to Europe to visit family. My work took me traveling, too, and whenever I could, I brought her with me. It was part of my goal as a parent to show her that she was part of a larger world, that travel builds bridges and friendship, and that the goodness of people prevails in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

A few months ago, she told me that she and a friend were planning a trip to Thailand shortly after graduation and when I asked if there was something I could contribute as a graduation gift, she grinned at me sideways and said, simply: “miles.” Girl after my own heart!

It made me so happy that our earlier travels together whetted her appetite to explore and learn more about our big, beautiful world… those of us addicted to wandering share a special secret: the world doesn’t get smaller the more you travel, it gets bigger. Traveling with our children opens up their world to them—with the added bonus for us of that tried, and ultimately true, cliché, “a lifetime of family memories.”

There are many milestones between that first step as a child and the one that leads to the edge of the known world that Shel Silverstein so marvelously described as, “where the sidewalk ends.”  And that’s where I expect my own daughter’s story awaits to unfold … where her imagination meets the horizon, somewhere out there on the map we all call home.



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 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!



March 20, 2013

3 Ways My Family Has Bonded by Traveling Together

Family trekking

It is incredible what a simple change of location can do.  In each new place you travel with your family, you get the opportunity to see the same people, but with a totally fresh perspective.  While traveling can be intimidating at times, it can also offer once in a life time experiences you will never forget and forge strong bonds between the people you go with.

1.) Getting lost and finding a new destination:

In the days before GPS units and smart phones, road trips meant leafing through road maps and atlases — and if you made a wrong turn, a lot of potential confusion.  When my family went on a long trip up to Maine, we became extremely lost in a seemingly totally unpopulated area late in the evening.  As the night wore on, we finally realized where we were — several hours in the wrong direction from where we had started.

This tends to be the kind of mistake that can put a damper on a road-trip; fortunately, we had a flexible schedule and chose to make the most of it.  We decided it would be better to change our plans on the fly and keep on driving through the night to Acadia National Park, which is the first place the sunrise is visible from in the country during parts of the year.  Because of a wrong turn somewhere we never quite figured out, I got to stand on the top of Cadillac Mountain with my family at dawn.  After a dreary night of driving, and more than a little bickering about whether or not to get a hotel, everything worked out.  Bundled up in kids robes to protect us against the morning nip, my family was the first in the United States to see the sunrise; and that is truly a family experience we will never forget.

2.) Exploring our family history:

Visiting your grandparents’ house is one thing.  Visiting your great-great-great-grandparents’ house is a whole different ball game.  After spending part of a summer with my parents and siblings, tracing our history and heritage, I had visited 3 different states and as many countries.  There are few things that will bond a family like seeing where your ancestors lived centuries ago and making the same journeys they made while migrating.  Although on our trip we traveled by car and plane, rather than by foot and boat like my ancestors, retracing these steps and snapshots of our own lineage was a powerful experience.  The climax of my trip was when my whole family made it to the little stone house my ancestors abandoned when they left for America during the Spanish Civil War.  Looking back so far through our family’s generations, we had the unique opportunity to view our shared history that had tied us together through countless years.

3.) Togetherness:

With each sibling in my family of six living several states away from the next, opportunities to all come together have become few and far between.  When the whole family does get together, the logistics of getting everyone to our parents’ home — and where we will sleep once we are there— seem to get more and more confusing each time.  As a result, my family has turned to travel for family reunions. From spending a week of June in Jackson Hole to camping in the Vermont mountains, every time my family goes on a vacation, we try to go somewhere totally new, where none of us have ever been before.  Through these experiences we have all seen each other at our best and worst.  To this date, I don’t think we have had a family vacation that doesn’t leave each of us with a powerful memory about everyone else on the trip.

Traveling with your family takes you to new parts of the world, and as a result, offers new opportunities and adventures.  If you want to find ways to bond with your family, the excitement, learning and discovery that come from traveling with your family can be the perfect solution.


About our guest blogger, Ryan:

Ryan has just started blogging and enjoys writing about family travel, the wilderness, punk music, and mountain biking.  When not helping families find new ways to travel and places to see, he can be found camping or riding his bike.



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?