Category Archives: Travel

Spotlight on Rio – A Stunning Natural Setting for the Olympic Games

Did you watch the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies? Are you still humming the sultry Basso Nova tune “Girl from Ipanema”?

Get ready for more spectacles. You all are going to be seeing some mind blowing shots of Rio de Janeiro broadcast back here during the Olympic Games. It certainly is one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited. But unfortunately, the natural beauty masks the problems there…and the neighborhoods into which travelers should not wander. It’s a true shame because it is such a vibrant city.

I was in Rio probably eight or nine years ago for work, and the beach town captivated me. It felt exotic, raw, and provided some of the most amazing topography…rugged green mountains and jagged blue coastline – the curves and colors creating dynamic synergy.

I felt safe most of the time..walking only in my Ipanema neighborhood where my hotel was.. but was told to be careful because there are so many pick pocketers and lots of crime. Beyond my hotel neighborhood, I couldn’t believe the poverty. Shanty towns lining the highways.. the sheer number of people living that way was astonishing.

I recently had conversations with people from Rio and they tell me crime and poverty have only gotten worse.

On a brighter note and for fun, I want to give you some background on the places you will be seeing in tv beauty shots..and places you should visit if the tide ever changes. And yes, I’m still grooving to Basso Nova nine years later.

1) Christ the Redeemer

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Holy holy statue. This is one amazing monument – A 125 foot art-deco  statue of Jesus Christ – or Cristo in Rio – plunked smack dab at the 2300 foot summit of Mount Corcovado… overlooking the coast and mountains.

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The best part is visitors can take a train to the top for fantastic views. There is also a chapel beneath the statue where people can get married or have baptisms.

What’s interesting is this statue took years to come to fruition. After a first proposal failed, a second proposal for a landmark statue was made in 1920, by a group of Catholics who perceived “Godlessness” in society at the time. (What would they think today?!) Donations came mostly from Brazilian Catholics.

It is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931. It’s an amazing outing.

2) Sugarloaf Mountain – A almond shaped peak on a peninsula that juts out into the ocean… but was named “Sugarloaf” because it was said to resemble a refined loaf sugar. Sugar cane trade was big in Brazil.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

It is so striking to see a mountain like this rise so close to the water’s edge. Visitors can take a cable car to the top for some more mesmerizing views.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

3) Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Arguably two of the most famous beaches in the world. Wide stretches of sand,and the epicenter of fun in Rio.  The parties doesn’t stop at either place… take a walk at night time and the lights are on, runners are jogging along the sand, and the volleyball courts are full. I was there in Brazil’s  summer, so it stayed light longer and locals were still playing on the beach well past dusk.

Copacabana Beach Promenade, Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Beach Promenade, Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Beach has more hotels and a 2.5 mile promenade to stroll..

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

What’s special about it is you have a great view of Sugarloaf ,  lots of restaurants and clubs in the area as well.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de janeiro

Ipanema Beach, Rio de janeiro

Ipanema Beach on the other hand has some of the more expensive real estate for the area. Look not only for football, and volleyball on this beach, but a game called footvolley. Unfortunately, according to reports, this is one of the beaches affected by poor waste management – large amounts of pollutants are found in the beach water.

4)Parque Lage – I always like visiting public parks wherever I travel – I find them to be more interesting than beaches, and reflect the culture a bit more also. This particular park is such a peaceful haven in this boisterous city… it almost feels forgotten.

The land was formerly the residence of industrialist Enrique Lage and his wife, singer Gabriella Besanzoni. Their mansion still exists in the park with a cafe there, as well as the Visual Arts School . I heard once you can take a painting class there, and paint right there in the garden – if so,sign me up!

Parque Lage, from littlenomad.com

Parque Lage, from littlenomad.com

There are walking trails through a subtropical forest.. and it’s just a nice place to relax and feel like you are in a different place totally. I took a cab ride here from Ipanema.

Side note: if the mansion looks familiar to you  – it was featured in the 2003 music video for Snoop Dog’s song “Beautiful.”

5) Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa, Rio de janeiro

Santa Teresa, Rio de janeiro

Ok so you might not see a lot of this neighborhood, but I wanted to include it because it’s a charming area.

Santa Teresa is the name of a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is located on top of the Santa Teresa hill, by the center of Rio, and is famous for its winding, narrow streets which are a favorite spot for artists and travelers.

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Traditionally Santa Teresa is a renowned gathering place for intellectuals, academics, artists, and politicians, who are inspired by its historic character, and doses of culture.

I am sure the beauty shots on television the next couple of weeks will seduce you, and will contribute to the magic of the games. I love that we can learn about places and people around the world through the games..and last night’s exhibition was just the beginning.

Go Team USA!

 

 

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Summer Kick-off Begins! My Tips for a Smooth Getaway

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Thursday is the new Friday when it comes to getting away for a holiday weekend. So if you are leaving to go kick off the start of summer this Memorial Day, here are some little extra tips based on my own experiences for a smooth getaway. Remember, there are more people traveling this Memorial Day than in the past 11 years! So there will be traffic on the roads, and crowded airports. Fun, fun! Just take a deep breath, and remember when they say “it’s all about the journey,” for the most part, I don’t think they are referring to travel. Then, it is actually the destination.

From Syracuse.com

From Syracuse.com

1)If you are flying somewhere, and the security line is long, be sure to ask either an airport employee or TSA agent if there is another line somewhere that leads to your gate. Doing so has shaved much time off my wait in lines, and travelers won’t know unless they ask.

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu

2) If you are flying, you know you don’t want to stand in two lines- one to check bags, and another for security. So, pack smart. How you may ask? If you are traveling with children, remember they are entitled to a “personal carry on item” too, so give them a backpack if you need more room for extra clothes, stuff, etc. My golden rule about packing is you will never need as much as you think you do, so this time of year when the weather is nice, you’ll be packing lighter clothing and should be able to fit in a check in bag, with some good editing.

3) Download all entertainment before you go. DO NOT assume you can do it with the WiFi on a plane. (Can you feel my frustration from past situations? ) I can’t tell you how many planes I’ve been on where the WiFi went down. If you are driving, and have to get on the road with no time to download, plan a stop or  a bathroom break at Starbucks or other places where there is free WiFi to download (This is mostly for the kids’ entertainment since you are driving!)

4) Check the TSA guidelines for flying – there are obscure rules that may answer some of your questions about packing diving gear for example, or checking gravy in your luggage (seriously) that may save you time in security lines if you pack contraband. Also – the TSA may not say it, but some airlines are not allowing checked or carry on hoverboards  -probably due to the fire hazard. http://blog.tsa.gov/2016/05/tsa-travel-tips-memorial-day-summer.html

5) In security lines – remember kids under 12 do not need to take off their shoes! And… don’t know if this is official or not, but every time I travel with my kids I am not required to go through the body scanner, only the metal detector which saves time too. This may have changed however, with word of tighter security.

Also – since you adults do have to take off your shoes, put them on the conveyor belt last… Its going to be crowded and you may feel rushed, so you don’t want to walk away forgetting anything on the belt. If you shoes are the last thing, you won’t walk away without them and will remember to grab everything else.

6) If you have downloaded a mobile boarding pass for your flight, read the fine print! Recently I downloaded one and it said at the bottom, “the gate is unable to accept this mobile pass -please print.” Which means, you will need to get to a printer before your flight, or check in at a kiosk, which adds time.

7) Living in Los Angeles, I can’t even go to the grocery store without my traffic app, Waze. I am sure you must know of it by now,but here are some tips to make Waze work best for you: If Waze tells you to take a toll road – that is a red flag. Make sure you understand the pay requirements to taking this toll road – look for signs that give you websites to pay later if you don’t already have a pas to use it.

Also – if Waze reroutes you because traffic is building on your current route, there is a “routes” button to compare other routes. Many times Waze has kept me on the same route that is longer than another way that maybe would have taken me off the freeway or something. I can’t figure it out.

8) If you think you are allowing enough time to travel, or to get to the airport, add another half hour. I know this doesn’t seem like an awe-inspiring tip, but I can’t stress it enough this holiday weekend. There are airports where there is construction that ties things up… accidents on the road… So if you mediate, this is a good time to do it..or start 🙂

From CapJaluca.com

From CapJaluca.com

Most importantly – be safe, and have a great time! It’s the beginning of travel season!

 

Mexico Tourism is Up – But Beware The Most Common Crimes Against Travelers

With Punxutawney Phil predicting an early spring (forget that El Nino has not even surfaced as predicted) it is high time to plan spring break if you intend to travel!

One of the most popular spring break places, Mexico, has definitely seen a rocky road in recent years… but is rebounding tremendously.

From mexicanbusinessweb.mx

From mexicanbusinessweb.mx

In Cabo San Lucas, new roads have been built and the international airport has been upgraded since 2014’s Hurricane Odile…Tourism was up  by 14.7 percent  in 2015 from 2014 according to travelmarketreport.com, & there are a plethora of enticing hotels opening all over the country this year to motivate even the most hesitant of border crossers to take the leap.

Mar Adentro by Encanto, Los Cabos

Mar Adentro by Encanto, Los Cabos

A new “W” in Punta Mita… One&Only Mandarina along the Riviera Nayarit … and Mar Adentro by Encanto in San Jose del Cabo are just a few properties that are opening this year or the next.

But, let’s not forget, the US State Department still has a travel warnings out for areas of Mexico. El Chapo may be behind bars again, but there were more than 100 US citizens murdered in Mexico in 2015,  and plenty of crimes and violence committed against travelers. It’s funny how what was seemingly a sketchy place two years ago, has now receded in our memories because of  threats and acts of terrorism from ISIS in other countries like Paris, and Turkey.

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But millions of people still travel to Mexico safely – and Mexico offers so much to travelers – tropical weather, outdoor activities, a different culture – and fabulous food. So how to make sure you are safe? Especially traveling with a family?  Exercise common sense.. and remember there are locations within Mexico where the traveler should exercise extreme caution or avoid if possible.

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I consulted with Tom Bochnowski , Vice President with Redpoint Resolutions  – a company that offers high end individual services  and travel insurance to enhance client safety – including evacuating clients from high danger situations, medical consulting services,  and web-based intelligence sharing. The photo below is from a 2015 excavation after the Nepal earthquake.

RIpcord mission in Nepal, 2015

RIpcord mission in Nepal, 2015

Here is our advice for anyone traveling or contemplating travel to Mexico based on what Bochnowski’s group within Redpoint – Ripcord Travel Protection – has seen, along with my own observations.

1) We sometimes hear of the “Federales” pulling over people roadside, or foreigners getting kidnapped or robbed out of their cars. So what are some precautions? Attempt to schedule your arrival in Mexico during the day so any ground transfer from airport will take place when it is light. If possible, always book airport transfers and other transportation ahead of time with a reputable company. The hotel or resort concierge can be a good transportation resource.  Avoid flagging a simple taxi from the street or the airport. If taxi is the only option, get the name and, if you can, photo of the driver, never share a taxi with people you do not know, and never enter a vehicle if you’re uncomfortable with the driver.

When renting a car, again, try to keep a low profile. Flashy cars like expensive off-road vehicles will earn you the wrong kind of attention in Mexico. And yes, staying on well lit, major roads is good advice, but even then – stay alert.

2) Understand the geography so you can make sense of the travel warnings and the news about regional dynamics. For example, know the Mexican state of your destination so you know if you are close to any dangerous area. Seriously – we don’t often say “I’m going to Jalisco” but that is the state where Puerto Vallarta is located, and some of travel warnings refer to Jalisco.

3) The drug cartels are responsible for most of the violence in Mexico. They are trying to move drugs north into the United States..so the border areas between the two countries are the most dangerous. Bochnowski says because of the high cartel concentration there, fighting for access, travelers have gotten caught up on cartel violence accidentally. It’s advised that  travelers avoid the Mexican side of the Mexico / US border region whenever possible.

4)  Don’t attract unwanted attention. Many travelers have been attacked and robbed by attracting attention beforehand. Here’s one recent example: A group of SCUBA divers were traveling by bus from Tikal, in the southern Yucatan, to Guatemala City. As they waited at a bus stop cafe in broad daylight, the three young men accidentally tipped over a table of empty beer bottles when the bus arrived, causing a loud crash and drawing everyone’s attention to them. The divers handed off thousands of dollars’ worth of new dive gear to the driver to be loaded into the luggage hold and boarded the bus. When they arrived in Guatemala City, surprise! Their gear was gone.

At cafes, restaurants and night clubs in particular, it’s easy for seemingly wealthy and careless foreigners to stand out and attract the attention of those with criminal intentions. Have fun, but keep a low profile and do not display wealth.

5) Is it safe to rent a house after that 2012 incident where Spanish tourists were raped and robbed at a rental home right near the hotels in Acapulco?  For every one tragic and publicized incident such as the one in Acapulco, there are dozens of less dramatic incidents, usually involving theft. For example, thieves regularly steal passports and currency from rental homes in popular resorts, especially Cabo San Lucas. Even though the chances of being robbed are low, when preparing for a trip to Mexico, travelers should prepare ahead of their trip.  Ask about security in any rental home before deciding which to choose, use common-sense measures such as locking windows and doors when on vacation. Have a solution for a stole passport or lost medication.

Experienced travelers always think ahead and leave a copy of their passport photo page, birth certificate, plane ticket, backup photo ID, medication prescriptions, and insurance card with a reliable and trustworthy person back home that can quickly email or fax the documents in an emergency.  Before travel they also purchase travel insurance with primary medical expense coverage and medical evacuation services to their home country hospital of choice that do not require local attending physician authorization.

Large hotel chains are usually safer in Mexico because they provide security staff and other precautions. However, no hotel can guarantee the safety of its occupants. Here are a couple of basic tips: pick rooms away from the hotel foyer and other public spaces, meet visitors in the lobby, and only open the door to your room when you know someone is supposed to be there.

In times of dangerous events, sometimes the US embassy closes first. If you are going to regions where you have any concerns, purchasing travel insurance or evacuation services is always an option.

Remember these tips, exercise basic common sense, and be alert and most travelers will stay safe. To check the latest government warnings, which can change with world events, go to https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html

For more about Ripcord’s services: www.ripcordtravelprotection.com

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Tip: How to Maximize Your Frequent Flier Miles & Beat the Airlines

It’s hard enough to find seats to a desired destination using your frequent flier miles, right? It seems every seat costs more and more miles. Sheesh! Well here’s a little trick that you may not realize to maximize your miles – and even use less than the airlines want you to! Watch this video – When you try to use your miles, DO NOT just take the first mileage ticket offered to you. Click around to the different mileage award levels. As you see, while I was exploring an upcoming trip, the economy ticket cost MORE miles than business. Economy class costs 30K…Business class costs – 25 K! Make sure to check the more premium ticket level because it can cost you LESS miles! The airlines don’t tell you that. Hopefully this will help you- happy travels! ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎frequentflier‬ ‪#‎airlines‬

 

My trip to Istanbul: The Perils & Treasures of Being at the Crossroads of East and West

It’s with a heavy heart that I read the reports about the bombings this week in Turkey – and especially the one that killed 11 people, mostly German tourists, in Istanbul.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

I was in Istanbul a little over a year ago. I remember people asking me if I felt safe since Turkey is so close to Syria. At that time, Istanbul hadn’t really been affected, and most of the violence was with the PKK was outside Istanbul…or involved the civil war in neighboring Syria. So although I was mindful, I also believed I had no reason to feel I was in danger.

To be honest, what made me feel less safe than being close to terrorist organizations operations, was the way I was treated on the street by local men. I was traveling with three girl friends, and we couldn’t walk down the street without multiple comments -men trying to sell us stuff , making catcalls – one even yelled asking about our “dowery.” Now there’s something you don’t hear often in the United States. I am not sharing this to flatter myself – it was uncomfortable and irritating. Women should go prepared.

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul

The above photo was taken in the vicinity of the recent bombing – Sultanahmet Square – right in the heart of the tourism industry – a blade right through the city’s soul. Can’t get much more of a soft target than that, nor a travel buzz-killer. I stayed at a hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood near where the bombing took place, and spent much time in that Sultanahmet Square visiting all the remarkable sights, many visible right from the bomb location. I would like to share these places with you, as it looks that travel there might not be a good idea for a little while. (I hate to say that, but I wouldn’t go back right now. It’s a personal choice for everyone. )

HAGIA SOPHIA

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

What I think is the granddaddy of the sights – it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world because of it’s classical Byzantine architecture. The outside is impressive, but it is the inside that is the true star. Hagia Sophia was built in the year 537. Pretty amazing. DSC01375 It has Christian and Islamic influences, as it was built as a Greek Orthodox church, converted to a Roman Catholic church, then in 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks,Sultan Mehmed II  ordered the main church of Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. DSC01350 It was interesting to me to see the layers of Christian influence peaking through the aging plaster… most signs of Christianity were ordered to be covered when it was converted to a mosque. DSC01436 DSC01359 It now operates as a museum, not a place of worship. Although you can take an audio tour, I would recommend hiring guide or taking a tour. There’s just simply too much to wrap your head around . DSC01369 One of the most popular places in the Hagia Sophia is the Weeping Column. Strangely enough, it is always a little damp – as if it is perspiring – some say it is the Virgin Mary’s tears. Legend has it that the pillar was blessed by St Gregory the Miracle Worker and that putting one’s finger into the hole  in the column can lead to ailments being healed if the finger emerges moist. (I’m still waiting…)

CISTERN BASILICA
Cistern Basilica

Cistern Basilica

Hands down my most loved attraction in Istanbul. One of my favorite favorite favorite experiences in all my travels, probably because the expectations were low. From the outside it doesn’t look like anything. Seriously, it doesn’t look like anything is there because it’s all underground!
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The Cistern Basilica is an underground reservoir for water that was once under a basilica – thus the name. It is incredibly large – 105,000 sq feet. What makes it so mystical is that it is built with a forest of columns that have been recycled from old important buildings. So you have these gorgeous Ionic and Corinthian style columns in this underground cave of sorts, lit just perfectly to bedazzle the ambiance.
The cistern, built in 532, used to supply water to the Great Palace in its day, but then was forgotten about and rediscovered again in 1545. Don’t miss it.
TOPKAPI PALACE
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace was the imperial home of the Ottoman emperors for four centuries. Lavishly decorated, with all sorts of ancient items from the Ottoman rule on display…
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What I found most fascinating were the clothes the emperors wore and how they changed through the years… and also found slightly disgusting in its opulence: the gifts other rulers around the world gave to the Ottomans. Some of the gifts’ monetary worth could feed entire countries. Why did the rulers need them besides serving their egos?
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BLUE MOSQUE
Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

If you are thinking this will be like Hagia Sophia, you have another thing coming. Worth the visit, although yes, it is another stunning display of religious architecture. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.
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But – it is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls – more than 20,000 tiles total.
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It is still an active place of worship, so visitors must take off their shoes and women must cover their heads.
Again, these are just a few of Istanbul’s treasures in one area of the city. It is a dynamic place to visit –  at the crossroads of Europe & Asia, it’s exotic & stimulating at every turn. Perhaps it seems a bit unsavory to visit at the moment, but hoping for some peace for travelers in this crazy world right now.

A Tried & True Way To Connect With Your Kids While Traveling

It’s a new year… full of hope and resolutions.

Maybe one of them is to learn something…try something…or branch out? If so, traveling is a fun way to accomplish those goals with some kind of learning vacation, and a way to connect with your children when you include them in the experience. While many families take trips to spend quality time together without the hassles and pressures of real life… or venture out to see important & interesting sites, I have found learning something together deepens the experience for the whole family.

Doing it on vacation also takes the “chore” factor out of it.  Also – it is bonding, and often levels the playing field between parents and children because both are entering a new endeavor.

For instance – last summer I took some surf lessons with my children in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Not only was it fun… but we were enjoying some of the best of what our destination has to offer – a pleasant beach and great waves for beginning surfers. And most importantly, we felt we accomplished something – the kids felt great about that.

I have to admit, they conquered the learning curve better than I! But the last party wave we took together was a highlight of my life. Ty Gurney Surf School in Waikiki does a nice job or teaching all levels. tygurneysurfschool.com I have used them many times.

If surfing isn’t your thing – try a cooking class in a region that has different cuisine… or we even took an art class in France. There is even a family space camp in Alabama where you can train together to become astronauts – that kind of trip seems like it would be your final destination however, where some other options like surfing is something you can do n the side in a place where there is also much more to do.

Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg, PA

Yet, it doesn’t have to be in a classroom environment – For instance, visit a historical site like the U.S. Mint in Washington DC or Gettysburg in PA and hire a family friendly tour guide. It is good for the kids to see you interested in what they will be learning about in school while also emphasizing history that is important. Discussions that take place afterward can drive home how much you all learned.

Every family has different interests, but there is always something you can learn. I hope I’ve inspired you.

For more ideas that run a HUGE gamut try learninvacation.net or shawguides.com

Giving Back: Donate Your Frequent Flier Miles to Charity

Alaska Airlines 737-900ER ArtworkK65104

If you are looking for ways to give this season, one area that you may overlook is your stash of frequent flier miles.

There are many organizations that accept and need your unused miles – if the miles are going to expire before you can use them, or you have so many you’d like to share, consider some of the following places to donate them to help others in need…and brighten some lives.

(Sometimes there is a minimum donation, but that minimum can be something like 500 miles…which in today’s world, won’t cover much of a trip, and would barely put a dent in your account.)

1) Check with your airline, as many partner with charitable organizations to transfer your miles. For example American has a relationship with organizations that serve vets, children, or medical institutions. On the airline’s website the choices are broken down by category of those they help. http://hub.aa.com/en/ju/donate

Delta Airlines offers a wide group of charities as well – From Canine Assistance, helping train service dogs for those with special needs… to St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital..to Habitat for Humanity. http://www.delta.com/buygftxfer/displayDonateMiles.action

Check with the airline with which you have a mileage account to see where your miles can go.

2)Help make the wishes of  children come true: The “Make a Wish” Foundation grants thousands of travel-related wishes to children with life-threatening diseases. Wouldn’t you rather create a wonderful opportunity for a sick child instead of letting them expire in your account?

According to the organization, kids’ travel wishes can range from visiting far-away family to swimming with dolphins in Hawaii. Whats more, you can donate through a nearby branch so local children can benefit.  wish.org

3) Help vets get the treatment they need by supporting their lodging when they have to travel for services. Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving care for a condition. www.fisherhouse.org

4) The Red Cross – Probably the best known organization that needs to travel to locations to help those in a recent disaster or facing an emergency. They can always use miles. redcross.org

There are so many other groups – Salvation Army, American Cancer Society – do a little research and perhaps one that is near and dear to you that would appreciate the miles in your account. (Unfortunately the IRS does not consider miles property so they are not a tax deductible gift.)

Hopefully you can consider this ..chances are that you may never get to use your miles the way seats are so infrequently available these days. Don’t let them go to waste, when some worthy organization can put them to good use. Happy Holidays!

 

Unique Places In The USA To Get Your Holiday Spirit On

I am always looking for special ways to celebrate the holidays with my family. Exposing them to the lenghts others will go to be festive – whether it be with over the top decorations, or a devotion to Christmas tradition – they all inspires us.

That holiday beauty isn’t only found locally  – if you are traveling this time of year to visit relatives, why not explore something new and take advantage of the festivities in another destination?  I know it’s easy to just relax and do nothing over a family vacation, but there are some cool places to visit in our country around the holidays.

Newport, Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Newport, Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Mistletoe in the Mansions:

Some of the famous mansions in Newport Rhode Island, once “summer cottages” for the wealthy families during America’s Gilded Age, are gloriously adorned for the holidays. Take a journey back in time and explore the late 1800s and early 1900s to see how  many of America’s wealthiest families lived .. during the holidays these homes sparkle with opulent seasonal decorations.

Newport Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

Newport Rhode Island Mansions at Christmas

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House–three National Historic Landmarks   – are open and host special activities like Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions – a great night for families with holiday music playing and refreshments being served while you wander through the rooms of these extravagant homes. Going on until Jan. 3, 2016  http://www.newportmansions.org/events/christmas-at-the-newport-mansions

Breckenridge CO : The Torchlight Parade

Breckenridge, CO Torchlight Parade

Breckenridge, CO Torchlight Parade

Something I’ve always wanted to do is spend New Year’s at Breckenridge ski resort, watch the town’s hallmark of the holidays – The Torchlight Parade – and then enjoy a cozy night at a restaurant near the mountain to catch the fireworks later in the evening.

The Torchlight Parade is definitely a one of a kind event:  Ski instructors will set off in the dark with torches in-hand to skiing down the mountain. They create a beautiful snake-like light display  in perfect formation.   Then, just after the lights show, kids can partake in the parade magic. Kids will sport glow sticks and go down the easier slopes.

Breckenridge on New Year's Eve from Colorado AAA

There’s lots of merriment in town ..leading up to quite a firework show over the Rockies…You can arrange a special experience by grabbing some friends and going cross country skiing at night to watch the fireworks.  Either way… make a reservation well in advance.

Season’s sights in South Carolina 

Night of 1000 Candles, Brookgreen Gardens

Night of 1000 Candles, Brookgreen Gardens

In Myrtle Beach South Carolina,  the town’s lovely public garden – Brookgreen Gardens -comes to life during the presentation of “A Night of a Thousand Candles” – Amid the soft glow of more than 5,500 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights in the moss-filled gardens ,visitors walk the paths with a warm cup of cider, to the sounds of  bells ringing, and carolers singing. But hurry – there are limited dates. www.brookgreen.org/calendar_dec.htmlss-

Ripley's Aquarium

Ripley’s Aquarium

A different kind of celebration in Myrtle  Beach happens at the Ripley Aquarium believe it or not…This one is for kids – Learn about marine life while enjoying the beautifully decorated and themed Christmas trees each representing one of our 50 United States… from a Mardi Gras tree with masks and beads to a Las Vegas-style tree with a feather headdress. The South Carolina tree is over 18 feet tall and features sea shells, magnolias, and golf balls. Kids will like the free scavenger hunt that tests your knowledge about each state’s tree.
Through Dec. 31.  www.myrtlebeach.com/myrtle-beach-events/show/festival-of-trees/#dDvgCt8q4oLmBjDU.99

Happy Holidays with Hearst

Hearst Castle at Christmas from Hearstcastle.org

Hearst Castle at Christmas from Hearstcastle.org

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA is interesting enough without the embellishments of the holidays, but the venue’s special holiday tours showcase abundant holiday decorations with numerous Christmas trees, including two towering 18′ trees, and a one of a kind poinsettia tree. View Mr. Hearst’s celebrated art collection in the warm glow of thousands of holiday lights. Your guide through the castle will share stories of holiday festivities during the estate’s heyday as docents dressed in 1930s period attire bring the Castle to life. This tour replaces the other evening tours until Jan. 2  www.Hearstcastle.org/wp-content/uploads/Wreath-1-e1447370663740.png

I think the Castle is better for older kids, but if you don’ t have any kids with you, check out nearby Paso Robles wine country. I love how the wineries get decked for the season..and the spirit in this cute little once-farm town is quaint.

Happy Holidays everyone  – the spirit of the season is wherever you find it!

 

 

That Holiday Road Trip with Kids….

A large percentage of us will travel to visit family over the holidays… both by air and by car. It can be a big undertaking if you have children, on top of the sometimes frenetic pace of holiday planning, gift giving, party attending, etc!

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So here are some ideas from my own family trips to make that road trip more fun & less stressful. (Tips on air travel later.)

Most importantly, try try try to remember these are memory making opportunities for your family, even when things temporarily get out of control! You get your kids in an enclosed area  for a set time to talk with them & share ideas.

Entertainment:

1) Old fashioned games: A deck of cards can go a long way. We play black jack in our car – the person in the passenger seat is the dealer and posts the cards on the radio area/dashboard… You can play for pennies or points. This can kill a good hour if your kids are engaged….(I understand it may seem like I am promoting gambling but if they lose, it’s a good lesson against it!)

Also – Mad Libs are fun for the younger set.

2) There are so many electronic games that can be interactive with another person so you don’t have that teen in the back completely vegging out on his or her own games with earphones. Try Mastermind or Words with Friends. It can be front seat vs back seat as teams.

3) Competitions: If you have kids who love a challenge, make some learning activity a competition. To avoid sibling spats, you can even have them work on it together – like challenge them to memorize the order of the presidents.. or their multiplication tables. I know you are thinking “yeah right” but for some reason when they are on the spot, many kids like to show what they know and “win.”

Packing:

1) Pack strategically with kids’ bags on top in case they want to reach something, or if you need diapers for changes.

2) I don’t like to promote one commercial thing over another, however… To save you from loading the car with gifts, Amazon Prime is the greatest thing if you are a mom – $99 a year gets you FREE two day shipping on most items..& access to kindle library to check out books & access to video streaming. So… if Santa has to deliver to another house for the holidays, it is so worth it to subscribe to Amazon Prime instead of shipping via UPS or Fed Ex or even regular mail depending on how much you have. Not to mention – you can download movies for the road trip. There is also a special discount program for diapers worth researching.

In the old days, we would pack the gifts in the car 7 hope the kids didn’t see…Thanks Jeff Bezos. Now parents can send ahead easily without waiting in line at the post office.

3) Pack lollipops. Enough said. Long lasting and minimal sugar.

4) Pack external hard drives so your electronic devices are already charged, as well as phone chargers for multiple devices – there is even a “10 in 1 Multi Phone USB Charger Cable Car Charger ” that can be useful www.amazon.com/Multi-Phone-Charger-Cable-Wall/dp/B008OBT3UK

Apps:

1) Goes without saying – Waze. I don’t go to the grocery store without it. It still has its faults, but by and large you are a more informed driver using it, with warnings about traffic, accidents and police cars along the way. It gives you your trip time and changes it in real time, as well as gives you the fastest way to your destination.

2) Gas Buddy – users report cheapest gas prices along your trip.

3) Audible – for audio books the whole family can enjoy.

4) Sit or squat – Pretty self explanatory right? Restroom finder that rates the cleanest rest stops.

5) TV Food Map – Fun one for foodies – leads you to restaurants that have been featured on Food Network.

Obvious tips:

Just in case you don’t already think of these… Pack healthy snacks… If you have young kids with lots of energy take breaks at places where they can run around. Pack a soccer ball or football to encourage burning off some energy.

Last tip: We are all here for the journey right? Take a deep breath, drive safely, and try to enjoy the ride…and  when the squabbles in the back seat get out of control, break out the lollipops. Always works. Happy Holidays!

 

Volunteer on a Winery in New Zealand..or Just Sample the Goods :)

Auckland, NZ

Auckland, NZ

Let me just be honest and say…. well.. When I was in New Zealand, I visited the wineries near Auckland for the wine tasting, not the volunteer vacation this time. But I ended up learning about the possibilities when I was there….& hope to do it someday.

Waiheke Island, NZ

Waiheke Island, NZ

While New Zealand is well-known for it’s Sauvignon Blancs in the southern island… a novel way to wine taste in New Zealand is on the islands around the north, where Auckland is. I spent time on Waiheke Island – a quirky, very progressive island, oozing with character, known as “the island of wine.”

IMG_7538The wineries I visited were gorgeous!

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Think about it – wineries on an island means many of them have ocean views! THAT is new to me, and my travel group absolutely appreciated every last golden drop of sunshine, and wine just minutes from the sand.

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There are more than 30 wineries on this 19 mile long island. What is fascinating about New Zealand wineries is that 95% of them are following sustainability guidelines.  It is a goal of the Kiwis to be good stewards of the land- and what dedication. Think about how much more expensive it is to not use pesticides, or to collect rain water as irrigation.

A mere 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island. known as “the island of wine”. There are about 30 growers on the island with 8,000 full year residents. During the summer months, though, that population blossoms to more like 40,000.

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My personal favorite was Cable Bay Winery.

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The art… the design… the patio…

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The bean bag type chairs laid out on the grass facing the beach…

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Mudbrick Winery was a great stop for lunch – you can sit on a casual outdoor patio, or graze on gourmet fare inside. This is where we ran into an American who came to work on a winery and she was loving it.

Now for the volunteering part: There is an organization  – “WWOOF” – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms –  that places volunteers at New Zealand wineries. You can help tend to the grapes, learn about winemaking, and even at some, work in the wine bar. Volunteers are usually given a place to stay with room and board… not to mention the chance to form bonds with new friends from a foreign country. (Although – be warned, sometimes you do have to pay a small price to stay while volunteering.) I have found that the best travel experiences happen this way, because you get off the tourist map, and get great recommendations of places to see from your hosts.

While this may not be the neediest of causes, giving back helps the local economy, & you foster bonds with people from other countries.

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To learn more about New Zealand wines, Waiheke in particular, and how to volunteer – here are some links…

www.wwoof.net

www.cablebay.nz

www.mudbrick.co.nz