December 22, 2014

Sometimes It’s OK To Splurge And Do Nothing

By: Noemi Gamel

Long-term travel is not always glamorous. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, or as if I am complaining about this wonderful opportunity to travel around the world for one year, but the fact is that traveling constantly gets tiresome sometimes. We have no structured routine. Each time we arrive somewhere new we have to figure out where to buy groceries, where to do laundry, how to use public transportation, and I need to learn how to find my way around the kitchen. When you are on a long-term travel adventure, especially when on a budget, taking time to do nothing but rest and relax is essential in order to give yourself a respite from the stress of travel.

Fortunately, we found a way to do just that. We decided to split our flight between Easter Island and New Zealand with a one-week stop in Moorea, French Polynesia. It was a rough decision, but someone has to do it!

We spent the first three days in a cabin away from the tourist area, but then splurged for four nights in an overwater bungalow at one of the resorts in Moorea. We spent the week doing nothing but resting on the beach or by the pool. Beautiful sunsets, breathtaking vistas, and bright fish among the coral were our entertainment. We totally blew our budget, but we did not regret it. Of course, when you are on a long-term trip, only you can make decisions about your budget, but honestly, but sometimes you need to give yourself the wiggle room for one splurging adventure




December 16, 2014


By Rodica Woodbury 

For many of us, treasured holiday celebrations extend beyond the borders of our home. They can take the form of a fragrant, tasty dish that originated in a kitchen in a faraway land … or of a festive decoration that has delighted generations of family members. No matter which holiday we celebrate, or how, our family rituals remind us that we share a global connection and that the traditions we honor at home are the real gifts of the season.

Here are a few favorite holiday traditions of our staff at Thomson Family Adventures.

(Visit our Facebook page and tell us about yours!)


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CLAUDIA- It wouldn’t be Christmas morning at the Dunn household without a glass of Smithwick’s, an Irish red ale style beer from Kilkenny, Ireland, in hand while opening presents. The tradition came about once my sister and I came of age and when my Father replaced the egg nog with Smithwick’s delivered by Santa himself. Then, once the presents are opened and we’re feeling jolly, we retreat to the dining room table for a steaming bowl of Mexican pork posole (po-SO-lay), a spicy pork/hominy stew that is known as a ceremonial dish for celebrating life’s blessings made by my mother. Christmas morning is a true representation of my background and the blend of two different cultures coming together to satiate us!

GRACEOne of my favorite family traditions is making old fashioned hard candy in the forms of drops, candy canes, and lollipops. All the recipes, equipment, and hands-on knowledge has been passed down from my great-great grandfather, who opened a candy shop in Crystal Beach, Ontario in the 1860s when he moved to Canada from England. The 16-inch copper pot, marble slabs, candy-pulling hook and “drop-chopper” are all original from his shop, and now located in my grandfather’s basement. In December, you can always tell which flavor is being made by the delicious smells throughout the house: citrus, mints, and licorices!

JIM – My wife and I have blended a few Christmas traditions over the years, and now my kids consider them etched in stone! Although I can’t really trace their origin back to a specific place, I do know that they have been passed down through at least a few generations. Every year my wife makes block Christmas cards to send to friends and family, creating a new design for that year. She carves the design into linoleum blocks, rolls paint over the design, and “stamps” card stock to make the cards. The card production can be seen on a clothes drying rack in the den and sometimes on the basement clothes line! It’s a labor of love that we thoroughly enjoy and I think people enjoy receiving as well.  Also, our Christmas morning breakfast tradition is cinnamon rolls with baked egg cups (recipe below). Very very yummy! We usually open our presents and eat afterwards. Our kids look forward to this breakfast every year!

SARAH – Christmas always makes me think of two things: making cookies and Stollen bread (the good fruit cake!). A week or so before Christmas, we would help mom make sugar cookies, ladyfingers, and chocolate spritz log cookies dipped in chocolate and walnuts. Decorating the sugar cookies was always the best; trying to figure out what visuals would make each other laugh. It was always a challenge to keep the cookies and bread around long enough to make it to Christmas! I’m looking forward to creating equally delicious gluten free versions in the coming years.

ANDREW – I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii where the sun is usually warm and shining in December. I would grab my surfboard and walk down to Ewa Beach or head to Ala Amona Beach to join everyone else in the waves. Spending a few hours out in the ocean, riding the rollers under the big sky, made me feel relaxed and at peace, and grateful to be where I was on Christmas Day.

The Kackley Family Recipe for Baked Sausage Egg Cups

Take muffin pans and line the cup with ground sausage.  Make sure that the top forms a little lip to hold the egg in the muffin tin.  Place one egg in each cup. We usually use about 2 lbs and make around 10 eggs. I then bake the cups at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.  Check for preferred doneness. Enjoy!

December 15, 2014

Easter Island: Land of Mystery

By Noemi Gamel

Easter Island-1I have wanted to visit Easter Island for many years, and I admit that it is because of my fascination with anthropology. The significance of the statues known as moai was a complete mystery which intrigued me.

Traveling to this volcanic island, one of the most remote places on earth, has emphasized to me that traveling makes places that are exotic, familiar. After visiting the museum and the Rapa Nui National Park, I understand the significance of the moai as tributes to the family heads of the Rapa Nui people. I understand the strength, time, and effort it took to carve the maoi from the rock quarry in the hills and bring them down to the beach to stand watch over the land. I understand the importance of these statues to the local Chileans as they continue to bring hundreds of visitors each day to support the local economy.

We hiked within the quarry in Rano Raraku Volcano and basked in the sun in the beach of Anakena. We witnessed the stunning views from Orongo, from which the Rapa Nui men would compete in the Bird-Man Ritual. In this competition, the men would climb down the treacherous cliffs, swim 1,400 meters to the neighboring island of Moto Nui, where one man would bring back the first egg of the sooty tern. Sometimes, they would have to wait for weeks before they found an egg. The victor would be declared king for one year.

I am leaving Easter Island much less ignorant about this land of mystery than I was before visiting it. Though some of the sense of mystery may be gone after learning more about the place, my appreciation for it has not dissipated.  In fact, it has increased. Easter Island is beautiful. I learned a lot about it and I am grateful to be able to visit this “bucket list” destination.

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December 8, 2014

Bariloche: Chocolate and Vistas

Bariloche-2While we have enjoyed every place we have visited during our round the world trip, Bariloche, Argentina currently holds the favorite spot in our hearts. Not only was it a beautiful, clean city with charming architecture and breathtaking, panoramic views, it is also a chocolate lover’s haven.

Bariloche is one of those places where you can do nothing or do everything. There are ample hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and mountain biking opportunities amongst the trails in the mountain forest and around the lakes. One of our favorite hikes was around Cerro Otto, where we took a cable car up to the mountain. We also hiked the trails around Hotel Llao Llao, which also offered stunning views.

I have to admit, my favorite part of Bariloche was the chocolate. A group of Swiss families came to Bariloche many generations ago, and they brought their chocolate recipes with them. Some of the chocolate shops that line the streets of Bariloche have been around for seventy years. They have spent that time perfecting their chocolate recipes and the results are evident upon first taste. We ate chocolate every day while we were in Bariloche. Sometimes we ate it in the form of a dessert, other times as a truffle, or in a drink. Even though the city has so many activities to offer the adventure-seeking traveler, my favorite thing to do was to go to a coffee shop to eat chocolate and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Bariloche, and Argentina in general, left me a feeling of wanting more. I want to come back and explore the country further. Chris and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of traveling in Argentina, and we both want to visit Bariloche again some day. No other country we have visited so far has had this pulling effect on us. It may have been the amazing vistas…or it may have been the chocolate.


December 1, 2014

Wildlife in Antarctica

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By Noemi Gamel

Last post I discussed the breathtaking landscape vistas available in Antarctica. This week, I wanted to focus on the unique wildlife opportunities the frozen continent has to offer.

Antarctica is a birder’s paradise. Skuas, terns, and albatross are some of the pelagic bird species found here. There is something humbling about seeing some of these amazing birds ride the winds and hunker down during a storm.

While Antarctic wildlife is not particularly diverse, given that few species have adapted to survive in these harsh conditions, the animals found here are abundant. We were fortunate enough to visit several different colonies of penguins and observe a few seals. Because they have no land predators, these animals are not afraid of people. While we respected the rules regarding keeping a respectable distance from the penguins and seals, the animals are not aware of these rules, so they often come up to the people for a closer look (closer as in touching distance).

The kids loved the penguins. They are cute and cuddly but also awe inspiring because of the innate toughness that they must have to survive in Antarctica. We were there during mating season, so of course the kids got a kick at watching the penguins’ mating rituals. If you take your kids to Antarctica, make sure you have “the talk” with them first to prepare.

I was surprised with how much wildlife viewing we had during our Antarctica trip. My preconceived notion that it was a frozen wasteland was quickly dissipated when I saw the pelagic birds, penguins, and seals that made this place their home. 

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November 24, 2014

Antarctica: The Landscape of the Frozen Continent

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By: Noemi Gamel

I never planned to go to Antarctica. Going there was never on my bucket list and I thought setting foot on Antarctica was as likely for me as setting foot on the moon. So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself on a boat across the violent Drake Passage on my way to this frozen continent with Chris and the kids.

We booked a last minute deal to Antarctica while we were in Ushuaia, Argentina, and I am so glad we did. I had imagined that Antarctica was a flat land mass covered in snow and surrounded by a charmless ocean. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Character and color define Antarctica’s dramatic landscape and the surrounding ocean. The sapphire blue icebergs floating on the surface of the ocean like jewels on a velvet blanket are breathtaking. The snow-covered mountains and awe-inspiring glaciers tower over the ice and mist with a soul-stirring mood. I actually sat on the boat looking out at the landscape and wrote poetry.

If you ever have a chance to visit Antarctica, take it! You will feel like you are visiting another planet without leaving the atmosphere.

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November 19, 2014

Don’t forget the camera—and your travel insurance!


Ushuaia 3It’s pretty easy to talk yourself out of buying travel insurance, especially when you’ve just spent a substantial amount of money on travel. When I was a young traveler, I never gave it a second thought. Now though, with a longtime career in travel under my belt—and after a few unavoidable travel pitfalls and 20/20 hindsight—I wouldn’t dream of heading to the airport without a travel insurance policy tucked away with my travel documents.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a family that loves to travel. My boys took to it right from the start, and now they’re practically pros at every part of it. I’m proud to say I’d take a trip they planned out any day! Whenever we set out on our trips, at the top of our packing checklist is: travel insurance—whether we’re headed to St. Louis to spend Thanksgiving with the kids’ grandparents, or heading to Turkey to explore the underground cities of Cappadocia.

As we veteran travelers know, unpredictability might be the only predictable thing about travel. No one plans on coming down with the flu the night before you’re due to fly to Costa Rica for your family vacation. Or, your dad, who isn’t traveling with you, takes a fall and you have to stay behind to help him out. What if your flight to Miami is delayed and you were supposed to catch that last connection to Lima, Peru? There are an infinite number of Murphy’s Laws that can get in the way of that perfect trip… lost luggage and no change of clothes for a week, an accident on a wilderness trail that nothing short of an air evacuation can fix, or that trip-of-a-lifetime that gets completely cancelled because a volcano erupts or a hurricane blows in. I hardly mean to sound like doom and gloom here, because there is little that will keep me, and my family, from traveling as much as possible. But a basic, inclusive policy can, and does, go a long way toward making things “better” in the long run if it’s needed.

Here at Thomson, whenever one of our staff heads out on the road, we require that they have travel insurance—it’s our company policy (pun intended!). And, because we feel so strongly about it, we include it in every one of our adventures for every family that travels with us.

So, when you’re making your personal plans to go anywhere—a flight a few hours away here in the U.S. to visit friends, or a group tour with another company that doesn’t include trip insurance—be sure to purchase that coverage for you and your family. If everything goes smoothly (and likely it will), you may momentarily feel bad about those few extra dollars spent. But if something should happen and that wonderful investment you made for your family vacation goes awry, you can take all the credit for your brilliant decision to purchase travel insurance.

October 6, 2014

Wildlife in the Amazon Selva and Las Pampas

A spider monkey up close

A squirrel monkey up close

By: Noemi Gamel 

In our last post, I described our remote, ultra-rustic camp and all the unplugged activities we did in the jungle, or “selva”. This week, I want to focus on the wildlife we saw in the selva as well as the “pampas” or swamp section of the Bolivian Amazon.

In the selva, finding wildlife is not easy. While we heard a lot of wildlife like wild pigs, howler monkeys, and birds, we did not actually get to see many animals. As we hiked through the selva, Adalid, our guide told us that there were probably animals watching us through the trees. The canopy is so thick, that you cannot see the animals even if they are just a few feet away. Nevertheless, we were thrilled when we woke up to the sound of howler monkeys every morning, even if we did not get to see them.

Our experience in the pampas was completely different. One hour into the 2-½ boat hour ride to get to our camp, we saw hundreds of alligators, multiple capybara, pink river dolphins, countless birds, and a band of very friendly squirrel monkeys. The vegetation is a lot more open, so the animals are much easier to spot.

The camp was a little more “upscale”. We had flush toilets and running water and actual honest to goodness mattresses on the beds! I felt we were staying at the Ritz. There was a deck at the edge of the river from where we could watch the animals. At night, however, I was unnerved going to the toilet hearing the grunt of the alligators and seeing their eyes shine just a few feet away.

I actually enjoyed the selva more than pampas even though the conditions were more rustic and we did not see many animals. I loved being in such a remote area with no other people except the cook, the guide, and us.



Enjoying the wild jungle setting

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Lounging in front of the jungle lodge on the river

September 29, 2014

Surviving in the Amazon Jungle

Learning to drink water out of tree branches in the jungle

Learning to drink water out of tree branches in the jungle

By: Noemi Gamel

We spent three days in the Amazon Jungle in a remote corner of Bolivia. We arrived to our camp on the Tuichi River via a 3-hour boat ride from the gateway town of Rurrenebaque.

Our camp had no electricity, running water, Internet, or even mattresses. We slept on sleeping bags thrown over a “bed” made of slabs of tree bark under a plastic sheet roof. The toilet was a pit latrine under a thatched roof with no walls. Using the toilet in the jungle knowing that monkeys are probably staring at you is a rather humbling experience. During our time in the jungle, we did not encounter any other people. The howler monkeys woke us up each morning.

Our guide, Adalid, and our cook, were knowledgeable and friendly locals. We spent the whole time going on hikes in the Amazon jungle. The kids did not miss Wi-Fi one bit as they marked their faces with “war paint” made from the juice of leaves and swung from swings that our guide made from tree vines. Adalid taught us all about the important trees and plants of the jungle that the South American natives used for survival. They used the plants for food, medicine, clothing, and shelter. Most important, they also used plants to find water. Some of the tree branches, such as the one in this picture, are a valuable source of clean water in the jungle. A quick cut with the machete, and fresh water flows out. Just be careful, because some branches look similar to this one but carry toxic water that can make you very sick. Fortunately, the one Kara drank from was sweet, non-toxic water.

During your travels, what has been the most impressive fact you have learned from the local flora? Let us know in the comments below.

September 23, 2014

The Day the Motors Did Not Run

An impromptu game of soccer in the street

An impromptu game of soccer in the street

By: Noemi Gamel

What would happen if the mayor of your city declared that for one day motor vehicles were not allowed on the road? You could not drive or ride a bus, car, or motorcycle. The only way you could get from one place to the other was walking, biking, or skating.

I can tell you that this would not have flown over well in any of the cities where I have lived in the US. Revolts would certainly have ensued. Nevertheless, that was not the case in Sucre, Bolivia. One fine, sunny Sunday morning, we walked into the main square for Salteñas and noticed there were no cars on the street. People walked in the middle of the roads. Children rode their bikes on the street without a care in the world. We thought perhaps there was a race or event so the streets were closed off. When we got to the main plaza, we found out what was happening. The city was celebrating “Día del Peatón” or Day of the Pedestrian. No motor-operated vehicles were allowed until 6 pm that day!

In the Main Plaza, the festivities went beyond simply not driving a car. Music, food stands, street soccer games, and jump rope competitions turned the main square into one big party. Tristan joined one of the soccer games and had a blast. After he got a few kicks in, we walked to the Cemetario General where we learned about the history of Sucre in the context of the families buried in the cemetery.

We had a lovely time that day. I was left with the feeling of wishing that in the future, any city where I live can do something similar.