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 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.



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!



March 7, 2013

Gray Whales in Baja – Our Video Contest Winner!

Check out the video here!

Congratulations to Remy for winning our most recent video contest! We had some really outstanding entries this time around, but we selected this exciting footage for the way it showcases some of the close-up interaction families get to have with the gray whales on our February departures to Baja. It also brilliantly captures the magical atmosphere of family fun on all of our adventures!

Great job, Remy! And to all our traveling families, keep the videos coming!



March 5, 2013

Have Baby, Will travel

Ready to hit the road....

We have some very special friends in Costa Rica, and we are so thrilled their family has just grown by one. When we sent them a gift card we figured they’d go for a play pen, baby clothes, maybe even diapers….. But nooooo! We should have known a travel accessory would be the top pick for an adventurous family. Enjoy their thank you note.

Hola TFA!

I’m sorry it has taken so long for me (& Alexa) to send this email…

When we received your really nice gift card,  Alexa & I went shopping together, and she decided to invest on her very first travel bag. (Picture attached!)

She’s got lots of travel dreams for her future, and will start with a short trip to San Jose this upcoming week… so she is now all set with a her own cute travel bag to fit all of her little outfits and toys.

Muchas gracias to all of our friends at Thomson Family Adventures…  now while Diego and I surf the madness of our sleepless nights, our little Alexa will keep on dreaming about new and exciting adventures to take her bag along.

PURA VIDA,

Alexa, Diego & Sole



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!