Group travelers have unique needs, depending on the trip purpose. Bachelor party planners debate over which type of alcohol to consume and whether or not a stripper is appropriate. Family reunion organizers decide how big of a reunion to have and where to have it. Brides and grooms deliberate on pros and cons of a destination wedding or a home-grown wedding.
Peruse these planning guides to find tips, advice, and new approaches to planning anything from a road trip, to family vacations, to ski trips, to weddings, to girls getaways, and more.
Wedding Planning Guide: Whether the ceremony is a quick Vegas-themed affair, in a dreamy destination, or where you live and work, the devil is in the details. Here are tips to simplify the wedding planning process.
Ski Guide for Groups: Snowboarders and skiers alike can use this essential planning tool of ski resorts, checklists, and aprés ski activities before hitting the slopes.
If you've ever traveled with family and friends, you know what an enjoyable, rewarding experience it can be. Until something goes wrong of course, then everyone turns their attention to the group leader for a quick resolution.
If you're planning your own group trips, being out on an island like this can become very uncomfortable. Here's some tips to help get you through:
Prepare for the best but plan for the worst. While your co-travelers are on vacation, you're working - at least to the extent that everyone is safe and secure. Understand the logistics of your trip and have a contingency plan in case something goes awry. Collect emergency contact information for all your travelers, and a list of any medication they may be on. This way, if something does go wrong, you are prepared to deal with medical professionals and family/friends back home.
Pass out Chill Pills. True story - one group leader gives each of her travelers a sugar pill on the first day of the trip while explaining that at one point during the trip some thing's not going to go as planned, because, well that's the way travel is. She advises them to ingest the pill at the first sign of distress. It sets the mood for a relaxing trip.
Share the responsibility. Not an accountant? Somebody in your group is probably good with numbers. Assign them the task of group accountant for shared meal or drink expenses. Look for buddies that can also help arrange transportation, tours, and make sure everyone stays on schedule and is prepared for the day's activities.
Protect your investment. Travel insurance used to be thought of as an unnecessary expense that was geared for seniors. However, with today's tumultuous travel climate and tighter restrictions on private insurance policies it's a necessary evil. Look for a travel insurance policy with "cancel for any reason" options.
Go with a pro. If handling hotels, sightseeing, meals and activities is too much of a load - find a capable tour operator to plan your group's trip. This is especially true with overseas travel, with companies like Globus, Go Ahead Tours and Collette Vacations specializing in working with small groups. Another benefit? The group leader travels free with as little as 8 paying passengers (shh!).
Group travel planning can be a fun, rewarding experience if you follow these guidelines. For more group travel know-how, visit our magazine website at www.leisuregrouptravel.com
Jeff Gayduk is a 24-year veteran of the group travel industry and the founder and publisher of Leisure Group Travel magazine and InSite on Leisure Group Travel e-newsletter.
Is being able to walk to nearby restaurants, bars, coffee shops and shopping important to your attendees? What about access to public transportation?
There's a lot of talk about "green" events these days and the best way to make your event fun and green is to choose a location with convenient access to the amenities and activities your attendees want and that doesn't require them to drive long distances or wait in endless cab lines to get around.
The folks at Walk Score, which measures the walkability of any address, just ranked the most walkable covention centers. Here's the top 5:
On your next trip to Hawaii you may notice signs in local dive and retail shops supporting the "Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding" campaign. The stickers are part of a larger effort to protect Hawaii’s magnificent coral reefs by discouraging the practice of using food to attract fish for tourists to view. Several companies, including retail giants Longs Drugs and Walmart, have followed the lead of marine recreation businesses across the state and have agreed to discontinue the sale of recreational snorkeling fish food in all of their Hawaii locations.
Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding
The use of fish food by tourists and tour operators can have negative consequences for both reefs and the tourism industry, according to Liz Foote, Hawaii Field Manager for the Coral Reef Alliance, and Carlie Wiener, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Foote and Wiener spearheaded the “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign, working to convince businesses that selling fish food is ultimately a poor business practice. With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, the State Division of Aquatic Resources, Project S.E.A.-Link, and other partners, the two have spent years enlisting businesses to stop selling and using fish food, as well as educating visitors and locals alike about the effects and dangers of fish feeding.
Impacts on Fish and Tourists
By feeding the fish, humans are affecting the natural ecological relationships on the reef. For example, when herbivorous fish are fed by tourists, they eat less algae. With a reduction of grazing activity by these fish, the algae is left to flourish and potentially smother the reefs. For tourists, there are often incidents of accidental fish biting at popular tourist destinations where fish are fed by dive companies and snorkel tours.
Large Retailers Sign On
The recent effort to secure buy-in from the large retailers in Hawaii was taken up by San Francisco attorney Joshua Rosen, who learned about the project while visiting Hawaii last winter. Rosen believes that the companies decided to act responsibly because of their own appreciation for Hawaii’s marine life, and because it is in their best interest to become involved in local community efforts and support the long-term health of Hawaii’s economy, which depends upon visitors having a good experience with the marine environment.
Susan Wolf works at The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). CORAL provides tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown into the only international nonprofit that works exclusively to protect our planet's coral reefs.
Being a mom who works in the travel industry, I’m always getting questions from other parents about how they can plan a getaway with the kids that won’t break the bank. These questions range from “Where should I go to get the best value?” to “How can we save money on holiday travel?” to “What is a great family-friendly destination?”… just to name a few. And while the state of the economy has many families feeling stretched, there is a silver lining when it comes to travel. The travel deals out there are better than I’ve seen in years, making this fall a great time to take a family vacation.
I am seeing two interesting trends in the industry these days. First, people are booking their vacations closer to the actual travel dates, as they want to have the best picture possible of their life before they make the decision to book their travel arrangements. Second, I see the “power of the purse” in action, with more women making the majority of travel decisions and taking responsibility for booking family getaways. I call it the “anti-Clark Griswald effect.”
So how do you get the most for your money when booking travel for your family? Here are five ideas to make family travel affordable this fall:
1. Picking the right destination: Deals are abundant, but especially at family destinations this year, so now you just need to decide where to go. Occupancy levels at popular family resorts were already low, and with families back to school the hotels have even more empty rooms. If you can steal a break with the kids this Fall, San Diego, Orlando, Hawaii and Los Angeles all offer amazing value this season and plenty of entertainment for your family.
2. Finding flights: Prices are great right now as airlines are trying to fill seats with earlier and more aggressive fares than normal fall sales. Airline prices change constantly, so look for these low fares now and when you see a great fare, book it immediately. A handful of airlines still offer child discounts, but as a general rule, you will find a better deal if you look out for the lowest fares you can find online and special sales. These are inevitably lower than the full-priced child fares. You can sign up for sale and fare alerts with your favorite airlines and travel sites.
3. Consider all-inclusive resorts: All-inclusive resort vacations are a family’s best friend and are offering some of the best discounts I’ve seen in years. Perfect for a cross-generational family beach vacation - everyone can eat, stay and play at an all-inclusive with one set price. Plus, most resorts offer a “kids camp” so that the parents can enjoy some downtime with a fruity drink and a book by the pool—a rarity on most vacations.
4. Timing is everything: If you want to save even more money and score some incredible deals on flights or beach vacations, try between now and December 19th, when the demand and prices are low. The next few months before the holidays are a great time to visit Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean for some of the lowest rates of the year. Vacation packagers will often offer rates at 4-star All-inclusive resorts that include airfare for around $100 per day during these low-season times. Often children under 12 are able to stay and eat for free at these resorts, so check around for the best pricing.
5. Booking holiday travel: If you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet, I would suggest doing that now. October is a very good time to book travel because you will still see some good options on pricing and routes. I have a couple of recommendations to keep both your costs and stress in check. If possible, try to fly nonstop out of a popular airline hub. You will find more competition among airlines and thus better pricing. More importantly, by flying nonstop you will not get stuck at one of your connections with your tired and cranky family, nor will your luggage with all of the Christmas presents end up at the wrong airport. If you do have to make a connection, try flying on the off-peak days of the holiday and when picking your routing, avoid hubs that get frequent weather delays. Finally, treat yourself well. If you don’t want to sleep on grandma’s air mattress, check out the amazing hotel rates during holiday weekends. Business travelers who head home for the holidays leave empty hotels, which translates to great discounts to gain your business. Or even better, leave the kids on the air mattress and enjoy a hotel getaway for yourselves.
An avid traveler with stamps from over 50 countries on her passport, Barbara Messing applies her passion for travel to her role as vice president of Travel Ticker and new business development at Hotwire. Barbara is responsible for overseeing the new Travel Ticker product, which delivers handpicked, insider deals to motivated travelers. You can also find Barbara on Twitter @Travel_Ticker, where she was recently ranked as one of the top 21 travel twitterers by Condé Nast Traveler.
Temperatures have finally dropped and people are donning coats and scarves and heading out to brave the... 60 degree weather? C’mon folks, it’s not THAT cold out yet! Take off your earmuffs and enjoy the pleasant early fall weather before you need those coats and scarves for real.
Until then, how about you plan a weekend that celebrates Autumn in New York, or in Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or any other urban center where fall means finally having some fun outside in the sun.
The good thing about cities, is that they’re big. That means there’s lots of free, outdoor, fun things to do in Manhattan, and endless number of places to visit in Philadelphia, enough historic sites to keep you busy for days in our nation’s capital, and you won’t have to fight over picnic spots in Boston. These cities come well-equipped with reliable public transportation (so you can leave your car at home), they’re easy to get to, and most of all, the American big city is family and kid friendly, especially those cities that include huge parks.
And huge parks are where it’s at this fall. Many families have trimmed down their vacation budgets this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t vacation at all. Splurge on an urban fall weekend and you’ll find that “splurging” doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Especially when Mother Nature doesn’t charge a dime to show off her stunning display of fall foliage.
During your 2009 fall family weekend getaway, make sure you enjoy some fun in the shade at these free fall foliage wonderlands:
Have a fall picnic in Manhattan’s Central Park, followed by a boat ride and a visit to the Central Park Zoo.
Be on the cutting edge of NYC attractions at Manhattan’s brand new High Line Park.
Ride your bike through crunchy golden leaves at the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park.
Have a family game of ultimate Frisbee at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, followed by lunch in trendy Park Slope.
Explore the historic old city of Philadelphia, go shopping in some Center City boutiques, and then lay out with a book and a cup o’ jo at Philly’s famous Washington Square Park.
Forget about the urban jungle around you and hike through one of the largest city parks in the world at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.
Don’t let the nippiness of a cold fall day in Boston keep you indoors. Visit the Arnold Arboretum or the Boston Common to see what New England fall foliage is all about.
Gather some friends and hike the Ridge Trail in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.
Take in the color-changing dogwoods, willow, oaks, and ferns at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
Elliot Cohen is CEO of TripCart.com, a leading US Road Trip Planner. What other people do you know who are so passionate about travel that they build their own travel site? Since being an internet entrepreneur is kind of demanding, Elliot doesn’t have nearly enough time to road trip like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still organize family picnics in Central Park or a weekend boat trip to peep at Catskills and Hudson Valley fall foliage ...both things that you and your family should consider, too!
You don't travel to the Canada's high Arctic without a good reason. Aboard the Akademik Iofe, a converted Cold War Soviet spy ship, my enthusiastic shipmates and I headed north from Resolute Bay into the Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Aboard are professional photographers, geologists, meteorologists, zoologists, professors, writers and just plain lovers of the polar regions. The majority had been to the Antarctic, a large land mass at the South Pole surrounded by water. The opposite north pole is quite different. Here at the top of the planet is ocean covered with sea-ice but surrounded by land.
I joined this band of brothers in order to tweak my latest novel, No Land too Desolate, a geo-political thriller set in this semi-frozen region, populated by Inuit in scattered in distant villages. These hardy people once derisively referred to as Eskimos still maintain their traditional hunting-fishing cultures, surviving in bitter sub-zero cold without sunlight for four full months of the year. The best and only time for those of us from warmer climates to visit is during the summer when the days are long and the sun never dips below the horizon. Don't dream about the legendary northern skies. There's no darkness to view these heavenly bodies.
In the course of our short trip, it's hard to observe the effects of global warming, though experts who keep annual statistics are unanimous in their evaluation. Each winter the sea ice is thinner and each summer a great deal less survives exposure to sunlight when cold once again heralds the coming of winter.
We travel to shore twice a day to explore the tundra aboard Zodiacs. Near glaciers one can witness calving as tons of ageless compacted snow and ice tumble into the sea. This material is 100 million years old. As this ancient ice floats beside my Zodiac I snatch a hunk to nibble in my mouth, without doubt the purest water I have ever tasted. Small air bubbles trapped in this ice have survived from earliest geological time. In my mouth I sample oxygen and nitrogen older than the air breathed by Abraham 1600 BCE or by an ancient Pharoah, 2500 BCE!
My fellow explorers and I feel privileged to be here, realizing how we live only on the skin of this vast planet. Mother Earth doesn't belong to us. We are only visitors who like the native polar bear and walrus come and go, leaving this eternal legacy to future generations.
Roger Herst is the author of several novels, short stories and scholarly articles. He is an ordained Rabbi with a doctorate in Middle Eastern History, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and the Hebrew Union College. He is an avid tennis player and musician. There’s nothing outdoors he doesn’t love.
An important piece of wedding planning is coordinating transportation and trying to anticipate the travel needs of your guests. These arrangements are often dependent on the season, timing, and location of your wedding. However, wherever and whenever you wedding is, there are many great eco-friendly transportation options to choose from.
First Stop: Let Go of The Limo
According to The Wedding Report, about 75% of couples travel to and from their wedding in a limousine, at an average cost of $674. Just think about how many tons of CO2 and how much money you can save if you choose an eco-friendly option instead! For example, imagine the attention and the fabulous photographs you and your fiancée would get if you traveled to your wedding on a trolley, bus, or subway. Don’t have that far to go? Consider a more romantic option like a tandem bicycle for a farm wedding, an elegant horse and carriage ride for a wedding on a historic property, or a boat for a wedding at the water’s edge.
If you still have your heart set on a limo, see if you can rent a hybrid limo, and always ask the driver to pick up the entire bridal party in one location. This will decrease driving time and save you money too!
The hybrid, alternative fuel, and electric vehicle rental market is growing quickly and all of these options are significantly better for the environment than traditional limousines. Look online for car services and rental companies that offer electric, hybrid, biodiesel, or other eco-friendly vehicles in your area. When you find one, post a link on your wedding website to make sure your guests who are in need of rentals use them as well.
Keep It In One Place
One of the easiest ways to decrease the impact of your wedding is to have your ceremony and reception in the same location. The average wedding has 160 guests, so even if four guests pile into a car (which is unlikely; probably most cars only carry two guests), that’s still forty vehicles driving from one location to the next, which adds up to a lot of carbon emissions. A single location eliminates the problem, and saves your guests the hassle and headache of getting from one place to another. If that location is close to public transportation, you guarantee that getting there will be a snap and will have minimal impact on the earth.
Provide Transportation for Everyone
Image: Jessica Barnes
Have a lot of guests staying at a hotel, or all together in one place? Consider hiring a bus or van to move everyone en masse. If you provide snacks and drinks on board, a wedding bus can be a highlight for you and your guests. A trolley is a fun option too, and if you find a company that has electric trolleys, it’s even better. This is also a good way to decrease car travel if you have your ceremony and reception in different locations.
Carpools are a good way to decrease the total amount of pollution your wedding generates, and they give you, your friends and family the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. Cars produce the same amount of pollution whether they carry one passenger or five, so help your guests carpool by setting up a ride board on your website and encouraging guests who live in the same area to connect with each other ahead of time. A number of companies like Rideshare and Carpool World specialize in ridesharing, but you can even set up a blog and just have guests post their plans and contact information in the comment section.
Reduce What You Can, Then Offset Rest
Once you reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding as much as possible, you can use a carbon calculator to figure out the remaining impact an offset it. Carbon-offsetting can be especially useful for a wedding with a lot of guests traveling in by plane or car, or a destination wedding.
Remember that when it comes to the travel associated with your wedding, every choice makes a difference. Choose the options that work best for your celebration and your guests’ needs, and you’ll be off to a responsible, sustainable start to your news lives together.
Kate L. Harrison is the author of The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget and Founder and CEO of The Green Bride Guide, a comprehensive resource with everything you need to plan a green wedding.
Thanks to Kim Komando for recognizing TripHub as a Cool Site! Here's what she had to say: "It's difficult enough to plan a vacation for a family of four. But when you travel with larger groups, things quickly get out of hand. Fortunately, you can get some help planning group travel. Today's Cool Site provides plenty of resources to make it easier."
Getaways, weddings, birthdays, vacations. Whatever trip is on your horizon, chances are the goal is to have fun. Here are destination guides with plenty of activities and tips for all kinds of groups:
With Las Vegas dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, it's no wonder that our research at TripHub shows more groups planning trips to Las Vegas than any other destination.
Lake Tahoe and Reno
In the crook of California's elbow lies a playland of great natural beauty, world-class ski slopes, Vegas-style entertainment, and plenty of gold-rush history.
Playground for adventurers, golfers, wildlife watchers and snorkelers, the Hawaiian island of Maui attracts families, friends and romantics to her beaches, lush mountains, award-winning golf courses and moon-like national park.
Beloved by beach buffs, honeymooners, surfers, and cruisers, the Mexican Riviera — that scenic stretch of coastal communities between Mazatlán and Acapulco — entices more and more travelers to its sun-drenched shores each year.
New York City
Urbanites are drawn to this city's lights, cameras, and action like lipstick to Liza Minnelli. From Broadway shows to boutiques to world-class art and Central Park, there are plenty of ways to bite into the Big Apple.
This magical Florida mecca entices families and visitors to hop around theme parks, splash in water parks, golf, and escape realism for endless entertainment.
Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude.
Laid back and cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse, and a hotbed of social progressive movements, the City by the Bay has plenty to entertain families and groups of friends who are nature lovers, wine tasters, beachcombers, golfers, or seafood foodies.
So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.
Finding the best spot to gather with family or friends all over the map By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
When planning family reunions or get-togethers with friends, the first question is, "Where should we go?" Destinations factor heavily into travel planning.
When group travel is short in duration such as a 3-day weekend or 4-day stint, it is wise to minimize travel time and maximize time together. Soaring gas prices also contribute to a need for creative travel.
The best way to achieve maximizing time together and saving on flying time is to fly into a "hub" or "focus" city. A hub is a central airport through which multiple flights are routed—they vary according to airline. Airlines also have focus cities—a large number of non-stop flights are routed into these destinations. These focus cities tend to be major coastal cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and New York. Hub and focus cities are usually in or near large cities with plenty of entertainment options and activities—perfect for weekend getaways. Same applies to hub railway cities in Europe and elsewhere.
I recently organized a mini meet-up for a few writer friends coming from Colorado, Chicago, Argentina and New York. We figured out that Miami was the easiest, most convenient place for all of us to fly into because there were non-stop flights into Miami from everyone's origination cities.
Major Airline U.S. Hubs
Hubs: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami
Focus Cities: New York (with its 3 major airports), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington Dulles
Delta Air Lines
Hubs: Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City
Focus Cities: New York (JFK), Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando
Hubs: Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles
Focus Cities: all West Coast cities
(If the Delta and Northwest merger goes through, travelers may benefit from a larger route network. This might be true internationally. Delta has extensive operations in Europe as Northwest does in Asia. It remains to be seen if domestic options will improve.)
In Europe, hub/focus cities include: London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan and Zurich. And, the new "Open Skies" agreement should expand the offerings.
Travelers wanting to fly non-stop nationally or internationally will benefit from the recent "Open Skies" agreement. For decades, rules restricted trans-Atlantic air travel. Since April 2008, any European airline can now fly from any European airport to any point in the U.S.; all U.S. airline carriers will now be able to fly from any American city to any European city.
The high cost of fuel is throwing a wrench into the good news, but hopefully, as a result, fares could eventually drop and direct flight choices should increase.
Freak weather conditions and delays can occur anytime, any place. But when you’re traveling non-stop, you can eliminate the worry over missed connections. Less time spent at airports and in transit equates to more time spent with family and friends.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Looking straight down between my knees 6,000 feet to the blue expanse of the Frazier River, I catch a sudden gut-shot of vertigo and fear. Reality check: I’m a mile in the sky, borne forward by a soft paraglider wing that can fold up like a cheap suit when struck by turbulence. I suck in a couple of deep slow breaths, steady my gaze on the distant horizon of snow crusted peaks, and the queasy moment passes. "Okay, you wimp," I tell myself. "You paid for this ride, now enjoy it!" I lean back in my padded harness, comfortable as an easy chair, and look up at my beautiful red wing, inflated with air, bearing my weight—and life—through the winter sky. I make a slow turn to the right to look back at the sheer icy face of Mt. Cheam, where minutes before I had taken off from the gentle south side, turned back across the ridge, then flown out over the magnificent Frazier River valley. Below was a checkerboard of green pastures, in the distance lakes and mountains, as pretty as any landscape in Switzerland.
Less than four hours before I’d left Seattle by car with a half-dozen paragliding fanatics, led by Marc Chirico and his wife Lan, all of us eager to fly off of 7,200 Mt. Cheam in British Columbia. Among us were seasoned veterans with more than a thousand flights, as well as beginners, like me, with less than 100. One brave girl had just seven solo flights. Marc and Lan run Seattle’s most respected paragliding school and have trained hundreds of pilots over the last decade. Located at the foothills of the Cascades in Issaquah, the school sits at the foot of Tiger Mountain, one of the best paragliding sites in the Pacific Northwest.
Driving straight north to Bellingham we crossed the Canadian border at Sumas, then headed East on Highway 1 along the Frazier River. Near a town aptly named "Hope," we climbed aboard a small helicopter that ferried us up to the summit of Mt. Cheam, three at a time. The ride was spectacular, and harrowing, as the chopper ducked around swirling clouds and looked for clear air and a level spot near the summit to set us down. Once on the mountain, we found ourselves in a cold, alpine environment. I was worried about the clouds and poor visibility. What if we get socked in and we can’t fly off and the chopper can’t pick us up? My fears subsided as the mists rose in the warming sun and we caught a window of clear skies to launch from the steep snow slope.
Now, relaxing into my flight, I’m amazed by the smooth air—not a ripple of turbulence. I indulge myself with a series of lazy turns to better admire the view and still arrive at our grassy landing field with plenty of altitude. After a soft touch-down, we give each other high-fives and head to the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs for beers and pizza.
Too exhilarated to drive back, some of us elect to spend the night at the resort hotel, spending hours outside in the warm mineral waters, talking and reliving our winter flying adventure.
Groups these days are goin' green like other types of travelers. Sustainability means many things to many people: carbon off-setting, carpooling to save on fuel, choosing environmentally-friendly hotels, packing out what you pack in while hiking or camping.
MSN published a list of top 10 green American towns with an outdoor way of life. How is this sustainable? Green surrounds these places, living local is a way of life and developing an appreciation for nature is as easy as stepping outside and breathing the clean, fresh air.
Looking for an alternative to noisy cities and tourist-packed destinations? Gather a group together for a family or friendship reunion at any of these off-beat U.S. towns:
Lake Placid, New York
Hood River, Oregon
Boone, North Carolina
Davis, West Virginia
The top 10 list from MSN is courtesy of co-authors Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville based on research from their book "101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play."
Timeshares are becoming more and more popular; however, the long-standing stigma surrounding them still exists. There are plenty of voices in the travel industry talking about the positives and negatives of vacation property ownership and it is easy to get confused. Here are the ins and outs of the industry, the market and usage opportunities. Also, some helpful tips in case you are interested in taking advantage of the potential benefits of vacation real estate ownership.
Timeshares aren't evil. In fact, many people find that they are innovative, useful and valuable. That does not mean one shouldn't use caution when considering ownership. The concept of timesharing is inherently helpful, but the same cannot be said for every individual out there trying to make money. This is where the timeshare reputation has suffered in the past, and - although things are improving - continues to suffer today.
Timeshare history: As the timeshare industry struggled to progress in the 1970s and 80s, scams were recurrent and the bad name stuck. However, as associations like ARDA began to step in and refine the process and the amount of scamming dramatically decreased.
Resorts: Resorts are one type of timeshare and unfortunately, many resorts entice travelers into buying timeshare by using high-pressure sales tactics and deceitful information at very long, uncomfortable presentations. Furthermore, resort rates are high due to their large-scale advertising campaigns.
Resales: But there is good news about timeshares. The reason so many people still prefer vacation property ownership is that there are relatively easy ways to avoid the risks of buying timeshare. The most important way is to buy resale.
Timeshare resales can offer vacation value:
Low cost, often thousands less than resort prices
Private sales - no scams, no pressure, no falsehoods
Timeshare resale companies present the very same property that resorts do
These timeshare resellers also staff licensed brokers and closing companies to assist you
Resale Web sites allow you to search at your own pace and find what is right for you
Timeshare resales aren't perfect. But you can potentially save a ton of money and avoid headaches provided you take the same precautions anyone would when purchasing property. Timeshare resales basically succeed everywhere that timeshare resorts fail.
Timeshare resale benefits: For the money, resales are incredibly effective. You can also find good deals and timesharing can be less expensive than hotels. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about accumulating day-to-day bills. You own the timeshare, so you have a vacation every year already paid for. To sweeten the pot a little more, you can use exchange companies to trade your property and travel all over the world. All in all, if you want to vacation with freedom and flexibility while enjoying low cost and luxury, timeshare resales are something to look into.
Guest blogger Sarah Gagnon, M.A., works for Sell My Timeshare Now, a resale company, and is also known as the "Travel Lady-Bug."
Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, like the brides that are in charge. I say "brides in charge" because, let's face it grooms, once you plan that elaborate proposal and are engaged, the bride takes over from there. Yes, you help. But it usually is in reaction to requests, however subtle or overt, from your bride to be.
Ceremonies roughly fall into five major categories: Budget, moderate, luxury, elopement and destination weddings. I recently participated in my sister's wedding which fell somewhere between budget and moderate and was a bit of a destination wedding at a lakeside resort. Every detail was perfectly planned and the wedding went off without a hitch all because of the bride's event planning experience and gentle task-manager skills.
Family, friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen were excited for the wedding and geared up for an extended weekend at a lakeside resort. And we were all assigned tasks to do either weeks before the wedding, the day of the ceremony or after the ceremony. When we arrived at the wedding location two days before the event, my lovely bride sister had a three-ring binder with all her wedding coordination plans neatly organized in print. That binder contained the secrets to the most organized wedding I've participated in. If you don't want to hire a wedding coordinator and want to do it yourself, here's how my sister did it. Amend this to suit your wedding's needs/tastes and assign anyone you want to the task(s). The key is delegation and proper follow-up by the bride (and groom).
Tips and Tasks Before the Wedding
Get yourself a good checklist for wedding "to-do's" - use our wedding guide, Martha Stewart magazine's pull-out, or any other resource you can find to help you with such big items as dress and tux/suit purchases, music secured, minister/officiant reserved, ring purchases, flowers, cake, food, etc.
Set a budget and stick to it - use the checklist and decide what items are critical to you and which are flexible (example: toasts can be made and enjoyed without the expense of champagne or sparkling wine and people can raise whatever glass they have in their hand)
Before sending save the dates and invitations and doing any wedding planning, have a heart-to-heart with the groom about what should be the spirit and environment of the wedding
Use people's strengths and assign tasks they will like and can handle - know your helpers well
Rely upon both bride and groom family and friends and spread things out if needed - don't keep relying on your maid of honor for everything!
Throw a party to assemble and address wedding invitations - with all the scrapbooking and fancy paper stores around, it is easy to create a professional-looking invite at a low cost
Drinks - assign people to pick up kegs of beer, cases of wine and ingredients for mixed drinks unless bartender at receception site has those covered; assign same people who pick up those ingredients to set those items out at the reception (unless the reception site covers this)
Create notebook with contact information of vendors (for cake, food, flowers, music, minister, etc.) and set an itinerary for the wedding day (i.e., timing of bride's hair and make-up, timing of photos and who gets photos when and where)
Assign one person to the rehearsal dinner coordination and communication if necessary, etc. (perhaps place the groom's family in charge of this if they are covering costs of this meal and event)
Tasks for Wedding and Reception Set-Up
Bride reviews notebook with groom and bridesmaids of itinerary and ceremony + reception map w/ location of decorations so others can direct vendors and not have to rely on the bride for all the answers
If grandparents or others need wheelchair access to buildings or locations, keep that in mind when planning the wedding
Assign one person to the ceremony location as "site lead" for decorations and to be a runner if needed
Assign another person to the reception location as "site lead" for decorations, meeting vendors, etc. and enough people to help set up the decorations
When photos are happening, make sure at least one or two people (a bridesmaid and groomsman, most likely) can be runners for the photographer to gather the appropriate family members at picture time
Tasks for Leaving the Wedding
Make arrangements ahead of time for transporting gifts
Make arrangements for transporting extra alcohol and food
Assign multiple people to take down decorations or remaining items that may be important to keep
My sister must have had many more tasks I was unaware of, but it all happened so smoothly, I didn't notice. Next family wedding I attend or participate in, I'll be fully prepared. Thanks, sis. ;-)
And of course, using TripHub to help plan and coordinate wedding communication is also a useful tool for securing RSVPs, showing maps and giving directions of event locations, especially if there is a weekend-long gathering with multiple events.
On a group trip, even when you're traveling with family and friends, you usually find the good, the bad and the unexpected. The good—you make a new friend. The bad—one annoying person drives everybody insane. The unexpected—you visit a destination or attraction you never would have discovered on your own that blows your mind.
No matter where you go, any great trip begins with smart planning. Here are some tips to consider as you get your family, friends or wedding party ready for a trip together:
Test drive the group: Your wild friend Bob and crazy Uncle Larry may be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night but they might drive everyone nuts during a two-week trip. Before spending a vacation together, try a long-weekend group trip to see what the dynamics are like. Then, plan accordingly.
Set ground rules: It is very important to make the "ground rules" crystal clear at the beginning of the trip. It helps to have them written down and handed out (even to your family members). Ground rules can include how costs are divided up, daily departure times, who’s responsible for driving, etc.
Timing is everything: When traveling as a group, the "on-time" issue usually causes the most friction. Invariably, one or two people are always late for the morning blast-off and/or wander off at stops and are nowhere to be found when it’s time to hit the road again. Nip this situation in the bud immediately! It’s not only annoying but unfair to the rest of the group.
If a gentle (or harsh) reprimand doesn’t work, a) assign an on-time "buddy" to the person (this task can be rotated among the group members); b) simply state that the car/van/bus will take off at the appointed time and persistent latecomers will be responsible for getting to the next stop on their own. (You can put this in the ground rules memo.)
Schedule downtime: Don’t let the desire to see everything blind you to the need for daily downtime. Be sure to plan for time to relax by the pool and/or change clothes back at the hotel.
Staying connected: Even on vacation, we are all so attached to our need to check e-mail. Find out in advance from your hotels if there’s a WiFi connection in the rooms or if there’s a business center for those who don’t have or don’t want to bring a laptop. Also, check if there is a hotel "hotspot" charge to access the internet.
Provide options: You may love your family and group of friends, but spending every waking moment together for a week or two can be trying. Plan optional activities and restaurant choices so individuals or smaller groups can branch off on their own.
Activity options could include a choice of museum hopping, shopping or a sports activity. For restaurant choices, contact your hotels in advance and get three good restaurant suggestions for each place you’ll stop for meals. You might wind up eating together anyway, but it's good to provide choices for those who might need a break from a little too much togetherness!
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Germany is a wonderful place to visit for anyone who loves art, architecture, culture and history. It's also a bike rider's paradise. On a group trip with your friends, family or wedding party, there's plenty to do and see in every region of Germany.
Bike, Art and Culture - Here are some ideas for places to visit with a focus on art and architecture. You can tour these areas by bike (it's easy to rent bikes locally) or by car:
Focus on Art - Muenster and Kassel:
If you and your group of friends or family members love contemporary art, there’s a "solar art eclipse" taking place in the Westphalia region (until the end of September 2007). In Kassel, documenta 12, a prestigious, contemporary art exhibition—like the Venice Biennale—takes place every five years and the Muenster Sculpture Project takes place every 10 years—see them both now! (Trains linking Muenster and Kassel take about two hours.)
Muenster is a lovely town with cobblestone streets, historic buildings and charming churches. The Sculpture Project is not in a museum but strategically-placed throughout the town. You can tour the sculptures with a knowledgeable guide on a bike or walking tour. Even when the Sculpture Project is not taking place, it’s worth a trip to Muenster. This university town is full of pubs, restaurants and year-round cultural events. Be sure to sample some local beer at Muenster’s oldest brewery, Brauerei Pinkus and enjoy regional specialties at the oldest restaurant, Gasthaus Leve. In the surrounding countryside of Muensterland, there are 100 castles to be viewed on a bike tour or by car.
Hotels: In Muenster – Stadthotel; Hotel Feldmann. In the countryside - Hotel Hof zur Linde; Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege. In Kassel – During documenta, there are special hotel package deals.
Focus on Industrial Design - The Rhur Region:
The Ruhrgebiet area has transformed sites from its former industrial past—steel mills, coal mines, gas tanks--into incredible venues for art exhibitions and other leisure and cultural activities. As a result, the area has been named European Capital of Culture 2010.
In Essen, the Zeche Zollverein, a former coal mine, is now a UNESCO world heritage site and a vibrant arts center with space for emerging artists and an outstanding showcase for design at the Red Dot Design Museum. You and your group can hike or bike around the site as well as have a great lunch in the Zollverein Casino.
In Oberhausen, the Gasometer at CentrO used to store gas for the steelworks. An installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude made the site popular for unique art exhibitions.
Other cultural highlights in the area include Essen's Folkwang Museum (its fabulous collection is currently in the Villa Hügel). In Duisburg, stroll along the lovely Inner Harbor. The Lehmbruck Museum is a must-see, then head for Landscape Park on the grounds of the former Meiderich Ironworks, now an entertainment and recreational center. The Ruhrgebiet tourism office can help arrange tours for your group. If you'd like to discover the area on your own by bike, the RuhrTalRadweg is a signposted trail or your group can do an organized bike tour.
Hotel: Castle Westerholt is a lovely and convenient base to use for visiting the region.
Focus on Medieval Architecture – Lower Saxony:
The Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) region of Germany is a treasure trove of half-timbered architecture (similar to Tudor style with strips of horizontal, vertical and diagonal wood framing on the houses). One of the most picturesque spots is Hannoversch Münden, located at the juncture of three rivers—Werra, Fulda and Weser—it has over 700 half-timbered buildings centuries old. The town is on a few incredibly scenic routes that your group can tour via bike or car including the Fairy Tale Route and the Framework Road.
Hotels: Try Hotel Alter Packhof.
Focus on Modern Art and Architecture – Düsseldorf:
Düsseldorf: Although people often come here on business, anyone who loves art and architecture should definitely put Düsseldorf on their travel itinerary. First, it is situated on a lovely stretch of the Rhine River lined with magnificent buildings such as Neuer Zollhof by Frank Gehry and William Alsop's Colorium that have made Media Harbour a hot spot for architecture. Next, Düsseldorf has outstanding museums (Kunst means art): the Kunst Palast features old masters, contemporary art and a fantastic glass collection. K20 displays 20th century masterpieces and K21, cutting-edge contemporary art of the 21st century, while KIT (Kunst im Tunnel) is a unique exhibit space for emerging artists and the Hetjens Museum features ceramics.
After all that museum-hopping, you and your group of family and friends might need to recover with a cold brew. The best place to taste test Düsseldorf's famous Altbier is in Altstadt, the charming old section of town with more than 260 bars and restaurants.
If you like, do some designer shopping along the tree-lined boulevard Königsallee and have a tasty meal in one of the all-glass restaurants along the riverside such as the Cafe Curtiz or the Lido with a view of Media Harbour.
But don't leave the area without a visit to the splendid Insel Hoimbroich, art pavilions in a nature preserve and the adjacent Langen Foundation, a stunning museum for Japanese art designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando.
The Düsseldorf tourism office can arrange any kind of biking, city or cultural tour for your group.
Hotels in Düsseldorf: Lindner Hotel Rhein Residence; Sir & Lady Astor Hotel; Carat Hotel.
Arrival: All the above regions can be easily reached from Düsseldorf. Delta, LTU and Lufthansa have direct flights from several U.S. gateways, as well as flights to Berlin. In Germany, there's an excellent train network between cities; you can even get your tickets before you leave through RailEurope.
Focus on Culture and History - Berlin:
No trip to Germany would be complete without visiting Berlin. Not only is it a major European city, its also become a trendy spot for contemporary art. East and West Berlin now form one huge, fascinating urban scene. But you can get anywhere in a jiffy in the excellent subway system (U-Bahn and S-Bahn). If your group prefers biking, there are several biking tours or you can just rent a bike and pedal around on your own.
Sightseeing highlights include: The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by internationally-renowned architect Peter Eisenman. Sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand, with landmark status, have become a canvas for modern graffiti art. There are museums galore and contemporary art lovers can tour hot, new galleries with Go Art! Berlin.
For an authentic cabaret experience, spend an evening at the Bar Jeder Vernunft. For trendy nightlife, the East Berlin neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are the new hip spots, filled with twenty-somethings partying to all hours at the clubs.
Classical music fans will also be in seventh-heaven here as there are three opera houses and eight symphony orchestras; the Berlin Philharmonic is considered one of the world's best.
Berlin even has two zoos—one in the East and one in the West. In fact, your group should spend some nights in a hotel in East Berlin and some nights in West Berlin to fully experience this marvelous city.
Hotels: In East Berlin - Juncker's Hotel, a small, friendly place with great breakfasts; in West Berlin - Steigenberger Hotel, a pleasant spot in the heart of the shopping district.
The tourism offices in all these places can help you arrange any kind of group trip—city tours, bike tours, museum visits. Almost everyone in Germany speaks English and those that don't will still make every effort to help you. In Germany, it isn't just the art and culture that shines, even the sparkling-clean restrooms are impressive! So, no excuses. Get your group organized for a great journey to Germany.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
A playground for outdoor trekkers, golfers and beach loungers, the Hawaiian island of Maui attracts families, friends and romantics to her beaches, lush mountains, renowned golf courses and rugged volcanic crater. Discover with your group why Conde Nast Traveler dubbed Maui the best Pacific island for the 16th straight year and ranked Maui number two for all destinations in the world in 2006.
Watch the sunrise atop 10,000-foot Haleakala Crater and bike down to the Pacific Ocean from its rim. Try fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, surfing or parasailing off the coast of Lahaina or go hiking in the West Maui Mountains. With Maui being home to authentic ranches and rodeos, you can also opt for a horseback riding tour from a ranch along trails that lead to the beach. Kids will enjoy the Maui Ocean Center, largest tropical reef aquarium in the world, where turtles, sharks and other marine creatures swim, play and eat. Golfers have their pick of world-class golf courses on Maui. And you won't get a true sense of the Aloha State without feasting at a luau or taking in a Polynesian show.
Trek around Haleakala National Park, one of only a few of national parks in Hawaii. Near Haleakala tumble the Wailua Falls where hikers can stop and picnic near the oasis. Drive the road to Hana, a stunning road trip with winding paths carving around steep cliffs. Bring your camera and sense of adventure. The road to Hana cuts through lush mountains with unparalleled ocean vistas, but the curvy road is infamous for turning some passengers (and drivers) into white-knucklers. Maui is also home to authentic rodeos, ranches and cowboys, so saddle up at a ranch for a horseback riding tour through hills or along a beach. Maui Ocean Center, largest reef aquarium in the world, is a perfect way to entertain the water-logged kids. Visit Lahaina's art galleries, shops, boutiques and craft displays after eating at Lahaina's many restaurants.
Maui is consistently ranked one of the best golf destinations in the world, plus host to professional tournaments. Kapalua and Wailea golf courses draw more skilled golfers, but all levels can enjoy the links at over 15 courses around the Valley Island. Nearby neighboring island of Lanai (easily accessible by boat) also offers two championship golf courses in private, tranquil luxury. Want more relaxing golf? Try golfing on jungle-dense Molokai, with two golf courses, one by the sea and another in the deep woods. No tee times or golf pros. Just ample time to perfect your swing.
Snorkeling. Surfing. Parasailing. Fishing. Whale watching. Scuba diving. Maui offers numerous ways to enjoy the Pacific. Take a surfing lesson or just hit the waves from Lahaina. Try windsurfing near Kahului. Numerous tours offer whale-watching and snorkeling adventures, often to nearby crescent-shaped Molokini island where you can snorkel around the reefs, then head to another area to snorkel with sea turtles and peer at colorful coral. Many tours also boat past schools of bottlenose dolphins and spinner dolphins to find them leaping and twisting as if playfully putting on a show.
Maui boasts an array of beaches for every taste. Kaanapali Beach is a long white stretch of sand for beachcombers, snorkelers and swimmers. Other popular beaches include Big Beach in Makena, Black Rock near Kaanapali for renowned coral snorkeling, Black Sand Beach, Changs Beach, Hana Bay, Hamoa Beach, HA Baldwin Beach Park and many more rocky and sandy shores.
If you're putting together vacation plans with friends or family, there are great resources online for researching activities, attractions, destinations in the U.S. Many state tourism sites offer travel ideas for where to go and how to entertain your group; quality sites have useful information, beautiful photos, clean designs, give an accurate glimpse of what to expect from visiting the area, and are easy to navigate.
Type the state plus the word tourism in any search engine to find the official state tourism sites. Here are some of my favorite U.S. state tourism sites for trip planning and idea gathering:
Aside from TripHub blogging, I also write features for this site. Have a look at Washington's great outdoors, national parks, farmers markets, and one-of-a-kind Washington. If you like what you read, the writer graciously thanks you. ;-)
This is an easily usable site with useful travel ideas and descriptions of what makes Oregon unique and enticing as a place to gather the troops: wineries, culinary travel, outdoor activities, mountain hiking, urban experiences, etc.
Clean design, lots of information, easy navigation.
Clean design, good amount of information, relatively easy to navigate.
Volunteering abroad can be one of the most rewarding travel experiences. Choosing a pre-organized group trip means valuable knowledge, resources, and information will be available to help you integrate and immerse yourself in a new destination.
After living and volunteering abroad for more than three years in different countries as well as conducting years of research on the subject, here are a few tips to help you make of the most of your experience traveling abroad both as an individual and group traveler.
Think about long-term impact.
Even if you are only volunteering for a few weeks, aligning yourself with an organization means that you are a part of an on-going relationship with a community. Choose an organization that reflects the kind of relationship that you want to share with that community abroad and hopefully you will find ways to be a part of it even after returning home.
Know why you are going and align your motivations with your actions.
Not long ago, I spent 6 months helping volunteers acclimate to their new surroundings in Mongolia. I worked with a woman who espoused that her main motivation was to immerse herself in another culture and learn from intercultural interactions. Unfortunately, she spent most of her time in her tent avoiding the heat, the flies, and the very kinds of interactions that led her there. Clearly, her actions were not in-line with her goals. When volunteering abroad, you can expect to have to put more energy into situations simply because they will feel "new." Defining clearly your goals and intent will help you to reach out to more situations and opportunities so that you can achieve your goals and will lead to a more satisfying and transformative trip.
Consider your skills and the destination.
Choosing a volunteer destination is not just about where you want to go on vacation. While many of us dream of riding through Mongolia on horseback or circumambulating Mt. Kailash this is not what the volunteer vacation is about. If you really want to travel to make a difference then your skills can help you determine where we go. Consider the kind of impact you can make abroad. When you are researching groups to volunteer with tell the organization about your skills and what you have to offer and see if they have any suggestions. Making an impact will help you to have the trip of a lifetime!
Do your research.
Nothing is more important before departure than knowing what you are getting into. Talk to people who have done the trip before, learn what kind of support you will have in your volunteer experience. Learn what you can about the kinds of people who choose the trip. Often Web sites and promotional materials show the best face of an organization. Talking to people will help you to assure that this is indicative of the actual experience there. There are some organizations that don't follow through in providing the kind of relationship with tourists or the community that they say they do. Figuring this out is part of your job in ensuring an amazing volunteer experience.
Look inward and outward.
I have spent years working with international organizations and individual travelers to understand their motivations and experiences. While most of us emphasize the cultural understanding gained through travel, the truth is that our deepest insights are personal. Travel is a marvelous opportunity to come to a clearer sense of our own cultural lenses and to cut through limiting aspects of our own culture. When seen this way, time abroad can open an opportunity to live more authentically and free from cultural expectations. But it is important to not simplify the cultural codes of others. It is one thing to believe that "Life for Mongolians is simple." It is another to understand the meaning of this more closely resembles "Coming to Mongolia has simplified my life in ways that I hope to retain when I return home."
Leah Mayor holds a PhD in Adult Education from Cornell University and continues to conduct research and write about travel.
TripHub's new TripMaps allow groups to more easily plan and share trip information. If you're visually oriented, this is a dream come true. The maps are essentially a mash-up of trip elements from each group member (think wedding location, museum visit, restaurant for dinner, theater shows, hotels), plus you can easily add search results for local activities, accommodations, and more to your group's trip map.
According to a recent group travel survey by PhoCusWright, 80 percent of group travelers find maps and driving directions to be the most helpful trip planning tools. TripHub took PhocusWright's data to heart and listened to its customers and by creating maps that allow groups to see where activities, events, and accommodations are in relation to each other and to other local landmarks in a destination. You can also get driving directions to any of these locations within your trip website and print both maps and directions. Most convenient!
Note: The maps require whoever sets up the trip to use a valid city name (Las Vegas instead of Vegas, New York City instead of NYC, for instance).
If you travel for food, read on. The 11th carnival of travel is filled with thoughtful (even mouth-watering at times) commentary on food for herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores alike. Each article is fresh and flavorful.
Gillian Polack presents "Melbourne Chinese food," saying, "I spent my holidays in Melbourne (Australia) and they were all about food and food history."
Joanne presents "Camping Food for Kids," saying, "Picky eaters don't get any less picky just because you’re on vacation—just ask my youngest ones (Rachel is two and Jacob is six, and both of them want everything just so at mealtime)."
That reunion you're planning, or thinking of planning, is coming up more quickly than you might think. Studies show that while most reunions take place in summer, reunion planning goes on year-round. In a recent article for Leisure Group Travel, Edith Wagner of Reunions Magazine writes that accommodations for summer reunions are typically locked in by March so that members can plan ahead. She adds that planning and activities are becoming more organized as well, with programs often including golf tournaments or city tours in addition to the classic group picnic.
Because planning a reunion can be a daunting undertaking, Wagner urges planners to delegate and use all the help they can get. Getting others involved in planning generates "ownership" in the event's success and spreads around the gratification, as well as the workload. See our Family Reunion Guide for more tips and suggestions on planning your reunion. Have fun!
Love family vacations? Love golf? Bringing the two together has never been easier, as more hotels and resorts are wooing parents with excellent golf schools and family-minded packages. But how will you know if a resort’s family golf program is really as kid-friendly as promised?
You can tell a lot simply by reading the property’s brochure or web site, says Jerramy Hainline, director of instruction at the Hilton Golf Academy, whose three resorts welcome over 350 kids each year. Compare how the resort describes its junior golf instruction with how it portrays its adult offerings. “If there’s very little difference in how the classes are described, it’s more than likely that the resort hasn’t tailored anything for kids,” says Hainline. “If a resort or school truly wants kids there, it will have made accommodations to offer junior golfers a quality experience.”
What else should you look for? Here are 10 more clues that a resort will deliver a golf vacation that’s truly a family affair:
On-course instruction. A no-brainer, right? Far from it. You’d be surprised at how often a kids’ golf “program” turns out to be a 90-minute etiquette lesson in a windowless conference room or an hour on a driving range plus a soda break. It’s critical that a program teaches kids how to play the game, not just how to drive a ball or putt. “Kids need to experience being on the course to bring it all together,” stresses Hainline. So if a resort’s junior program doesn’t feature any on-course time, it’s a deal breaker.
Reduced green fees. Discounts for junior golfers or deals where “kids play free” with a paying adult demonstrate that a resort is serious about encouraging kids to play.
Low student-instructor ratio. Class size for kids ages 6 to 17 should never exceed six kids per instructor, says Hainline. “And for 4- to 5-year-olds, the ratio should be closer to 2 to 1.”
Inclusive instruction. Even preschoolers can learn the fundamentals of golf, including the basic rules of etiquette—whose turn it is to putt, where to stand, and that old bugaboo, when to be quiet. A family-friendly resort will have come up with ways for kids as young as 5 or 6 to participate in the game.
Child-savvy pros. “You want instructors who have experience with the programs and a history of working with junior golfers,” says Eric Alpenfels, director of instruction at the Golf Academy at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. “I think five years of experience is a good start. Junior-golf certification programs vary from facility to facility.” If you can’t find this information on the resort’s web site, call and ask.
Family-friendly tees. Most youngsters don’t have the skill and strength required to play a long course. To get kids in the game, many resorts now offer forward tees set at shorter distances. Having a variety of tees allows the family to play together, with Mom and Dad playing the long course and kids hitting from the forward tees. Some resorts even have special scorecards with more realistic pars for kids.
Kid-size clubs. “Cut-offs” are adult clubs that have simply been shortened, resulting in a heavy head relative to shaft length. They’re better than nothing, says Hainline. But it’s preferable that a resort provide kids with junior clubs, which are scaled down appropriately from top to bottom.
Big balls, little balls. Young kids are still working on eye-hand coordination. At the Hilton Golf Academy, junior golfers start off hitting beach balls. Once they’ve mastered those, it’s on to rubber balls, then tennis balls, and finally golf balls.
Designated family time. Many resorts now offer special tee times reserved just for families. Pinehurst’s “Family Fairways” program goes one better, giving parents and their kids one course all to themselves for several hours each afternoon. “Family Fairways takes the intimidation factor out of play,” says Alpenfels. “You don’t need to worry about who’s behind you, or hitting in the middle of the fairway, or going straight to the putting green.”
Non-golf kids’ activities. If family members have varying levels of skill and interest, it’s simply unrealistic to expect your whole clan to golf 24/7. Look for a swimming pool and other recreational activities to keep everyone happy. An on-site kids’ camp or babysitting service will add flexibility to your schedule.
Bio: Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the Editor-in-Chief of WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel website with resort and hotel reviews, how-to articles, readers’ tips and recommendations, and planning advice for kid-friendly vacations.
This 10th carnival focuses on the wide range of outdoor adventures - family vacations, group trips, expats traveling abroad, volunteer vacations, solo treks. The list goes on. Enjoy!
"Expats Today Have It So Easy"
Lynn Rodriguez, an expat, reflects on her expat days and compares them with the technology "insta-connection" (cheap phone calls, IM, internet, American products abroad) expat days of today. What has been lost in the technology advances is the ability to truly disconnect and immerse oneself in another culture. A nostalgic article that raises the pros and cons of being able to "check in" so easily from abroad.
Walking In A Winter Wonderland For $1,300
The Silicon Valley Blogger, a finance writer, shared tips and stories from a recent group family trip to Yosemite. Comparing costs for a trip to the mountains to a Disney trip, he proves it's dollar wise and "priceless" to go au naturale.
"Maui - Best Island in the World"
Jennifer Miner writes of Maui: an island of turtles, dolphins, volcanos, lush hills and meadows, plus a drive to Hana, a cliff-hugging road with bridges and towns along the route that make the journey as luscious as the destination.
"Haciendas in the Yucatan"
"Working Gringos" give an historical and personal account of traversing through the Yucatan to visit haciendas. An enlightening read that blends colonialism, tourism, anthropology, and architecture.
"Support Your Parks: Take the Kids and Visit"
Sheila Scarborough writes about taking her family to a Texas CCC cabin that was built in the 1930s, reminding us that many parks still have these architectural relics, and their sturdy nature makes them a perfect way to add adventure to a trip without camping outside.
"Stay Cold, But Cozy, in Quebec's Ice Hotel"
Mary Jo Manzanares says, "At the ice hotel, you can have your outdoor adventure indoors as well!" If you choose to stay, have a cocktail in an glass made of ice, go dog sledding, and dip your toe in a steamy hot tub to warm up before resting your head on a bed framed by ice.
Our Homer Odyssey
Michelle compares two trips to Alaska; one with her mom, and another with her husband and kids. She touches on how the essence of a trip, the inspiration and beauty, are unique - never to be recaptured again. Her post reminds us to keep searching for new adventures, even when we know how fleeting they can be.
"The Contents of a Good Camping Guide"
Darlene Berkel offers tips for finding the best camping guide. It's a good hit list of things to consider: from survival tactics, to supplies, and so forth.
Many posts had a diary-style essence, so I grouped them together here.
Coconuter: Introduction / About
David Poarch passes up an Ivy League education to become a nomad in the Phillipines and find himself, calling it "An epic adventure that surpasses just travel. It is also a search for life, freedom, purpose, happiness, and the meaning to it all." Here's to finding yourself!
"Motorcycling Leads to Serendipitous Discovery"
Lisa Grissom waxes poetic about "How a recent ride on my motorcycle helped me to discover why I ride."
On Wearing a Bathing Suit
Toe blogs about beach-going in diary style, saying, "An overweight prude contemplates on wearing a bathing suit in a paradise beach resort in Cambodia."
"Mt. Field National Park"
Dan also writes in diary format also about his visiting Tasmania's Mt. Field National Parks and its various waterfalls.
If diaries consisted of photos, they'd be... scrapbooks. Soufulow offers two photojournal posts (e-scrapbooks), one on her family trip to China, and another trip to Japan. The photos are coupled with occasional commentary.
The G Cam - Trek to Kodachadri, Karnataka
Vinaya HS photographs the road less traveled, saying, "After a brief hiatus, the G Cam is back - this time bringing you mesmerizing photos from the Kodachadri Mountain Range in the evergreen Western Ghats of beautiful Karnataka." Ooh, la la. Stunning images, indeed.
That's all, folks. The 11th edition of the carnival of travel will be themed food or culinary travel (including beverages, etc.).
Organizing a large family reunion, destination wedding or meeting is a lot of work, and the process can quickly become overwhelming. Where to hold the event? How much space is needed? Which facilities can accommodate the group? Who are the good caterers and other service providers in the area? What should be on the menu?
Corporate meeting and event planners do this every day for the most demanding customers in the travel business. And thanks to MiMegasite you can benefit from many of their tips and tools, even if your budget doesn’t include professional planning help.
Read articles on food and beverage planning. Gain insight on new and improved facilities and activities in their destination guides. Use the meeting space planner to determine your square footage requirements. Looking for space options in San Francisco? The facility search tool has information and links for over 900 options, which you can narrow down based on room requirements. Photographers in Phoenix? The supplier search tool has contact and other information for 54 of them as well as recommendations in 46 other supplier categories.
Getting started is often the hardest part, and MiMegasite lowers that hurdle so you can focus on making the right choices for your group.
The holidays are upon us! We at TripHub send our warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season and a joyous new year.
Remember it's never too early to begin planning your 2007 travel. Roughly two-thirds of TripHub's customers are planning 2+ months in advance. In fact, we're seeing some groups planning more than 12 months out! What's that old saying about early birds and worms? Start planning your trip now to help ensure greater availability in lodging and transportation, and to get your event scheduled before calendars fill up.
The holidays are a great time to plan trips with family and friends. Whether you're pulling together a ski get-away, an unforgettable spring break, or a memorable summer reunion, check out these articles for useful tips and ideas:
Ski Guide for Groups includes check lists, top ski resorts, ski trivia, and other links to the best of the Web
Family Reunion Planning Guide includes extensive tips to make sure your reunion planning efforts yield lasting memories. (Note: Useful for brides and grooms too!)
Art of Delegation includes sage advice on how to get others involved so they can share the planning responsibilities for any type of group trip.
'Tis the season to have as random of an assortment of travel subjects as appetizers you can cram on a holiday plate. The 9th carnival of travel is a mix of topics. Here goes!
Travel Companions: 3 amazing stories
Rich Peluso presents You Eat What You Kill. I loved these words of wisdom from a father traveling to Rome with his family. His search for meaning in the everyday is poignant. A contemplative passage.
Michelle presents Considering A Cruise?. It is hilarious to venture into the mind of a cruiser and hear her internal dialogue about the hypothetical lives of fellow passengers.
Kelly Vaughan presents "Fotoğraf Kıraathanesi" saying, "Sometimes we have to seek out new companions, and through this, we see things we never would have seen." A camera. A will to meet others. And an unusual journey with a group of flickr photographers.
Michelle presents "Green Retreats For Scrooge." A wonderful compilation of green retreat vacation spots. Most of them can accommodate groups and all offer environmentally-friendly accommodations (alternative energy, recycling, gray water for watering plants, etc.).
Rants and Warnings: comic and tragic truths of travel
Jen presents "One Night in Bangkok," a chilling story of what can go wrong in a beautiful city.
Ms. Q presents "Airport Restroom Rant." This clever wine-infused rant is highly appropriate and should be heard around the world by toilet paper dispenser companies.
Dan Harris presents "China Air Travel: Everybody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" about internal flight delays within China.
Travel Tips: miscellaneous nuggets of wisdom
Jenin presents "How to Enjoy St. Lucia On A Budget." If you think St. Lucia might be in your travel planning future, here are budget ideas.
Alvaro presents Well-Deserved Break: Top 10 Brain Teasers saying, "How does one travel inside one's mind, and navigate through brain structures and assumptions? Well, here's one option: try these well-designed and explained brain teasers. Most of them good to print and do while traveling."
That's all for this edition. Theme for the upcoming January 15th edition is Outdoor Adventures.
With both winter weather woes and holiday cheer running rampant in December, the 8th carnival of travel is devoted to inspiration. Many of the posts below serve as ideas for group travel destinations or attractions and shining examples of why we travel.
Grab a cup of Chai, tea, or coffee and enjoy the latest travel carnival.
Joe Kissell presents The Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers: Interesting Thing of the Day, saying, "An 11th-century Parisian abbey later became the home of a fantastic museum of arts and trades, which is to say, mostly inventions. But the exhibits aren't the only interesting things about the building." This "holy grail for invention lovers" holds Foucault's Pendulum. Ooooh, I'm intrigued.
Tim Abbott presents Wild at Heart, illuminating "inspiration in wild places, large and small" whether trekking in the tracks of elephants or following children's feet. A reflective gem of an article.
Kelly Vaughan presents To Know Is to Remember That You've Seen; to See Is to Know Without Remembering saying, "Kapadokya (Cappadocia), an enchanting kaleidescope of weird geology, Christian saints, stone houses, underground cities, clay pot kebaps, tumbling pigeons, snake-design carpets, temperamental hairdressers, hot air balloons, phallic symbols, fairytales, fireplaces, and tavla. It's hard to know where to begin." Beautiful photos accompany this inspiring Turkey travelogue.
Jennifer Miner presents St. John Eco-travel and Eco-tourism and shares the extent of environmental volunteer work being done to keep Caribbean island St. John green.
Joe Donnachie presents Paul's Bike Ride from Italy to London - Part One. This first part of a 650-mile epic ride through the Alps, the French countryside, and ultimately home to the UK is inspiring for athletes or adventurous travelers alike.
Maureen O'Brien presents Lake Tahoe Vacation, with numerous stunning photos from her family's recent homeschool educational trip. Nice to see a homeschool mom take the kids to areas around the country to sights they've studied.
Travel tip entries from other bloggers
Mary Jo Manzanares offers two very different ways to approach winter vacation activities: at museums like the Seattle Veterans Museum or lying on a beach in Cancun.
Karen Brown presents Sky Nannies, a concept every airline should consider for the wee ones who squeal too much on flights.
Jake Danger presents The Charisma Man Syndrome: How You, Too, Can Be the Fonz about an emerging trend for western Chinese visitors.
San Francisco's multi-cultural artistic flair and waterfront location, combined with world-class vineyards just a quick drive away make for ideal weekend trips. This laid back City by the Bay was home to tie-dye, a hotbed of progressive social change during the 60s revolution, and is the cosmopolitan, creative center of the West Coast today.
A family-friendly town. A hip, metropolis for trendy urbanites. A strong gay and lesbian community. San Francisco truly offers something for everyone.
San Francisco has a history of producing and drawing bands to entertain all sorts of crowds. From the Dead Heads of the 60s generation to the modern mosh of musical sounds, there are clubs, bands, and famous groups galore.
Museums, galleries, theater, dance companies, performances, cabarets, and events. SFMOMA is a world-class modern art museum with paintings (Henri Matisse), photography (Ansel Adams), and more. Plus, don't miss the art galleries in Sausalito and around San Fran.
From mall-famous iconic shops like the Gap, Anne Taylor, and Tommy Hilfiger to quaint boutiques with hand-crafted scarves, shirts, pottery, jewelry, and more, San Francisco offers a trendy shopping experience for all ages and tastes.
In & Out Burgers are nearly as famous as their t-shirts. You simply must find one and indulge. Vegetarians abound in this health-conscious city so you can not only splurge on a milkshake instead of a burger at In & Out Burgers, but you'll have a wide selection of restaurants with fabulous international cuisine. From fresh seafood restaurants to Chinatown's dim sum to Mexican food with guacamole to make you cry like a baby, San Francisco dishes up delectable bites.
And the drinks are a gastronomic wonder, too. Not only does San Francisco neighbor Napa Valley, a world-renowned wine-growing region, but the city has enough clubs, bars, and hip establishments to make metro-philes swoon (without spilling a drop, of course).
Stinson Beach for road trippers, the beach by Golden Gate Park for families who want quick access to the city but also a long stretch of sand for sandcastles, the Presidio's San Francisco Bay beach for photo ops of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and beyond. Or how about Baker Beach for nudists?
Districts and Day Trips
The Mission District – Think eclectic eateries, happening nightlife, and a Hispanic history with a heart. The Mission could possibly be San Francisco's trendiest hang-out.
Haight Ashbury – Home of the Grateful Dead, tie-dyed shops, and an area made famous by the 60s, this area still has classic townhouses, funky shops, and is near Golden Gate Park. It's a sidewalk collection like a virtual shrine unto the hippie movement. Eat one of it's famous burritos and wander through the past and into the new shops that typify the revitalization of this neighborhood.
Muir Woods National Monument – Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (one of the largest urban national parks in the world), this woodsy wonder is a hiking area just north of San Francisco and named for the famous naturalist John Muir. Pay a visit to this quiet reprieve and look up at old growth redwood trees.
Napa Valley – Nestled in Napa Valley with honey-colored hills akin to Tuscany, California's wine country is famous for its grape nectar. Take a road trip from the city to Napa for wine-tasting, hot air ballooning, bicycling, spa-going, and more.
Sausalito and Tiburon – Two of the Bay Area's most quaint towns are just 20 miles north of the city across the bay. Best way to get there is via ferry on Pier 41 near Fisherman’s Wharf. Art galleries, novelty shops, boutique clothing stores, restaurants are all easily walkable and the views of San Francisco from these waterfront towns are spectacular. Bring your camera and stay for lunch. Sausalito resembles a Mediterranean seaside village and Tiburon is akin to a New England coastal town. Great for families.
North Beach neighborhood – Walk through Little Italy and taste a cappuccino and pastry from the old country. Plenty of shops and attractions to keep you occupied in this former Beatnik hub.
Berkeley – Home to University of California Berkeley, this town across the bay from San Fran is full of shops and is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Pebble Beach Golf Course and 17-mile Drive at Pebble Beach – Pebble Beach is world-famous for its golf course, luxury spa, and winding drive with several breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. If you are a golfer, plan ahead and book a round of golf at this famous course well in advance.
Monterey Bay Aquarium – One of the world's largest aquariums, this marine sanctuary is perfect for the kids or the kid in you. Plan to spend the night in this town that was the setting for John Steinbeck’s books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.
Carmel – With quaint tree-lined streets of boutique shops, cafes, and art galleries, this town is near Pebble Beach and Monterey and great for road trips from San Fran.
Sonoma, St. Helena, Calistoga - Art galleries, wineries, spas. In that order. Sonoma has art galleries, quaint shops, good eats, and a community theater not to mention the plethora of wineries in Sonoma County. St. Helena is located between Calistoga and Napa and a quaint town with award-winnning restaurants and wineries nearby. Calistoga is a spa haven for those who crave a good massage.
I've been on a handful of trips where travel companions suddenly turn into the companion from hell. Sometimes they are foreigners on a group tour, other times it is a family member or friend who I adore but drives me nuts on a particular day.
Traveling with others is a litmus test of patience, flexibility, and ability to compromise. We all have our limits. And when someone tests those limits, the results can get ugly.
I'd like to hear from you all. Any readers with quick stories that are funny, a little scary, or at very minimum just plain "story worthy?" Let's hear 'em. I'll start it off and hope to see comments with other stories. Think of it as blog therapy.
My travel companion from hell: While traveling overseas for the very first time (to Colombia, no less) for a wedding, two us went on an day trip. The excurion was a small cruise off the coast of Cartegena. The Caribbean waters and tiny droplets of islands were intoxicating. Scenery I'd only seen on romantic travel brochures floated past me. I was trippin' on the good vibes. However, on the cruise, my friend and I met two other American tourists - the only other Americans on the entire boat (probably in the entire country at that time). We gringos sat near each other to chat since we all barely spoke Spanish. The American woman of the couple was a stereotypical, unworldly, rich American. Demanding. Loud. Snotty. English only. And she pronounced "hola" with the "h." I was embarrassed to share a flag with this woman. At one point the woman grabbed my arm and said, "Will you order me a soda?" I took her money to get the drink. When I returned I handed her bottled water as that was the only non-alcoholic drink they had and she yelled at me and - here's the kicker - pinched my arm hard with fury.
I've since had many pleasant experience meeting other Americans abroad while traveling. But this woman put new meaning with the term "bad trip." I felt sorry for her husband who looked like he couldn't say boo for fear she might strike him.
Any other travel companions from hell out there? Please avoid using real names.
Are you fond of television shows where people go to an old building and have a paranormal experience? Consider yourself a history buff? Do you like cooking demos that let you taste the food? Does 45 minutes sipping wine while watching a sunset sound appealing? Virginia – the Old Dominion – is still a terrific place to sightsee and now offers ways to investigate the unknown and indulge in the here and now.
More than a family vacation spot, Williamsburg has become a town rich in visual arts, fine food, and ecotourism. Located in the Mid-Atlantic, this charming town has the good fortune of entertaining visitors year-round. It's a place where you can feel at home, get a taste of the South, brush up on American history, and feel safe.
Whether touring with a bus group (a great way to get discount attraction tickets) or with family, there is so much in the surrounding 50 miles. To get started, here is the baker's dozen of essential ingredients for your Williamsburg "to do" list (day trips included).
Jamestown Island (National Park Service) – This is the real beginning of America – 1607. Stories of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and the amazing New World colony lay here on the banks of the beautiful James River.
Jamestown Settlement – Three reconstructed ships are open to public; rebuilt James Fort (houses, church, blacksmith) and the Indian village are also open; plus a state-of-the-art museum with London to America and Africa to America journeys.
Colonial Williamsburg – An architectural wonder, this is a fully restored 18th century city with a great combination of living history, relaxing walk-about opportunities and decorator’s dreams. Take the Tavern Ghost Tour hosted by tavern employees.
Art Galleries – Merchant's Square, near the College of William & Mary, is home to 15 galleries and shops and a short walk from the historic area of Williamsburg.
Williamsburg Cuisine – Seven bistros, three colonial taverns, a theater kitchen, two nationally-acclaimed dining rooms, and great barbeque are a sampling of how this town offers something for everyone.
Ecotourism – Grab your binoculars to spot some of the many bald eagles that nest here. Bicycling, kayaking, and hiking on trails are all available as low environmental impact activities. Also, check out the nearby Great Dismal Swamp for wildlife and recreation.
Busch Gardens – Voted "most beautiful theme park" for 16 consecutive years by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, this park offers a different twist with a European theme and top-rated roller coasters, the famous Clydesdale horses, and renowned live shows.
President's Park – Think you can name all U.S. presidents? You might after a visit here. Walk the trail through busts of all presidents, a collection of first ladies' gowns, and the oval office set from Saturday Night Live.
Williamsburg Winery – There are superb wines being produced here, plus a restaurant, tastings, gift shop, and museum.
Yorktown – Take a short drive to Yorktown, historic site for the last battle (and surrender) of the Revolutionary War. York River waterfront area has shops, restaurants, and river tours.
Virginia Tidewater Plantations – See ruins, farms, majestic mansions – all captivating and part of the American fabric.
Richmond – Home to revolutions of many kinds from Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech, the capital of the Southern Confederacy, and the African-American strive for civil rights. Also, take time to visit Virginia's capitol building.
Relax – Golf (plenty of courses), shopping (from eclectic to mainstream), spas, water (Water Country, Virginia Beach, your hotel's pool), gardens, and playgrounds.
Like many destinations, there are different reasons to go at different times of the year. Virginia summers can be hot and humid, but this is a great time to plan some "get wet" activities. Winter is mild and peaceful, with the occasional snowfall to make it magical. Spring is azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and school kids. Fall may be one of the perfect times to visit. Foliage peaks at the end of October and the weather averages the high 60’s.
Andrea Deagle is a native Virginian and resident of Williamsburg. She is currently Director of Group Sales for the Hampton Inn & Suites Historic and has been involved in the travel industry for over 20 years.
Does the idea of a winter wedding complete with sleigh rides, making tracks through fresh powder, hot toddies, and friends around a roaring fire make you feel warm and cozy inside, but the idea of planning for one leaves you cold? Then try these 5 tips for simplifying winter wedding planning.
1. Choose a resort that offers something for everyone. North America is full of fabulous places to ski and snowboard, but not all of your guests will be enthusiastic about heading to the slopes. Pick a location that offers a wide range of activities and choices for everybody. Resorts like Whistler, Breckenridge and Vail offer first class nightlife, dining and shopping, as well as plenty of other relaxing and entertaining options for guests of all ages.
2. Hire a local consultantEven if you're quite familiar with the area you've chosen, finding a highly recommended wedding planner who has lots of experience planning weddings at that destination is a must. Ask for references and check them. Once you've found someone you're comfortable working with, set a budget you can live with and supply the consultant with as much information about the preferences of the guests on your list as you can. Stay in close contact as changes arise.
3. Book early. Peak times at coveted ski resorts are often booked a year or more in advance, so be sure that you get your reservations all set 12 to 18 months before your wedding. Send out invitations as soon as you've made your arrangements so friends and family have plenty of time to schedule time off and travel.
4. Help your guests planHave your consultant provide a detailed itinerary to each person attending. Be sure that it includes a map of the area, transportation arrangements to and from accommodations and events, an hourly time-line for your wedding day and the days leading up to it, as well as contact information for your consultant and local emergency numbers. In addition, guests who aren’t familiar with ski resort living will appreciate a packing list with all the items necessary for them to keep warm and safe.
5. Consider taking your photographer with you. Seattle wedding consultant Dianne Greene, of Distinctive Weddings and Events, recommends that you hire a photographer who lives near you so that you can meet and see their work before your wedding. When your photos and album are ready you'll be able to pick them up in person, insuring that you get what you paid for.
I received the 2007 travel agent edition of SpaFinder's Spa Guide magazine a few weeks ago and immediately made a pact (with myself) to plan a spa trip in 2007. This guide has 300 plus pages of day spas, destination spas, spas by region, medical spas, and plenty of reviews and information to help anyone plan a great spa trip.
My favorite feature was the "spa sorter" index. I can now find spas by Single-Friendly, Pet-Friendly, Organic, Romantic, Urban Hotels, and so forth. Perfect. No more hunting for themes. They are neatly laid out in this index.
Imagine you're on a day hike and dusk sets in a little too early. You're low on water. No food left. And no map. As dark settles on the ground, your feet quicken pace to match your racing heart. Will you make it back in time? Are you on the right trail? Can you even see the trail? Or what if an small avalanche rolls across your path in the snow on a winter hike or snowshoe adventure? How would you survive if a day hike goes wrong?
A New York Times article covered courses designed to train people how to survive with just the clothes on their backs and a sharp knife. How Survivor or Lost TV episodal! Seriously, if you're ever in the deep woods, it might not be a bad idea to know what to do. The New York Times article details a group survival trip taken by the author. Gathering nuts and wild onions for a soup over a fire made from twigs and no matches, these troopers brave the cold and learn a greater appreciation for Mother Nature and human's inventions to stay warm and fed.
This type of adventure might be a creative bonding experience for groups of friends. Not that there aren't a significant amount of women who'd do this, but I can particularly imagine this as a guys experience: "putting hair on chest" and proving to themselves they can hunt, gather, make fire, and survive under adverse conditions. A worthy right of passage. If someone can survive in the wild on minimal accoutraments, they've earned my respect.
These courses offer survival training from one-day sessions to nine-week courses:
By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part two of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take
Preparations and precautions can and should be taken when traveling in groups, especially to foreign countries. Here are the Consumer Reports on Health risks and precautions to be taken to prepare better for a trip. They go hand in hand with travel insurance to provide traveler peace of mind.
Most common illness, strikes up to 60% of visitors to developing countries
Self-help step: Avoid non-pasteurized dairy products and tap water
Self-help step: Choose foods served steaming hot
Medical supplies to pack: Non prescription loperamide (Imodium A-D)
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription antibiotics for more severe cases
Nausea as a result of the inner ear, eyes, and body sending conflicting signals to the brain while flying, boating and driving
Self-help step: Keep head still, close eyes or look at stationary objects
Self-help step: Avoid reading
Self-help step: Open vents or windows to increase air flow
Self-help step: Move to the center of the boat
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription scopolamine skin patch (Transaderm-Scop) or tablet version (Scopace)
Medical supplies to pack: OTC drugs dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizene (Bonine) are not as effective
Insomnia, irritability, and foggy-headedness caused by a sudden time-zone shift
Self-help step: Before traveling, shift activities to correspond to time zone of destination
Self-help step: After arrival, spend time in the sun
Medical supplies to pack: Melatonin (2-3mg) may ease symptoms when started on first night of travel (has not worked in some studies)
Across much of Latin America, Africa and Asia, mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fever are serious concerns
Self-help step: Use repellents containing 30-35% deet on exposed skin
Self-help step: Sleep under mosquito net treated with permethrin repellent (Duranon, Permanone)
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine is available for Malaria; ask your doctor for the best drug for your destination
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine or preventative drug is currently available for Dengue Fever
High Altitude Sickness
Headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting resulting from a rapid increase in elevation
Self-help step: Before going to a high altitude, spend a few days at an intermediate elevation
Self-help step: Until you are acclimated, avoid rigorous activity
Self-help step: Drink a lot of fluid to avoid dehydration
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription acetazolamide (Diamox) starting 1-2 days before altitude change
Blood Clots in Airplanes
Prolonged sitting increases the risk of leg clots, potentially causing a life-threatening lung embolism
Self-help step: While seated, flex ankles and knees often
Self-help step: Walk in the aisles about once an hour
Self-help step: Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverage before, during and after flight to avoid dehydration
Medical supplies to pack: If you take a drug that increases the chance of clots or have other risk factors, consider compression stockings, and/or ask your doctor about preventative aspirin or heparin
Car Accidents and Other Injuries
Accounts for about 1 in 4 travel-associated deaths
Self-help step: Don't drive at night in rural areas
Self-help step: Don't drink while swimming or boating
Self-help step: If possible, choose lodging with smoke detectors and sprinklers
Medical supplies to pack: Bring bandages, sunblock, tweezers, moleskin for blisters, water purification tablets, pain reliever, topical antibiotic
Medical supplies to pack: Carry list of medical conditions and contact numbers
Avian Influenza A (H5N1)
Transmission to humans is rare, but the influenza is widespread in birds
Self-help step: Avoid contact with chickens, ducks, geese, live-food markets, places contaminated with poultry excrement
Self-help step: Make sure food is thoroughly cooked
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine for Avian Flu is currently available
Medical supplies to pack: Risk is too small to warrant carrying anti-flu prescription drugs
Source: Courtesy Consumer Reports on Health
Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager for Travel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.*
By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part one of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take
Since the September 11 attacks, many travelers and group travel organizers have become increasingly concerned with their health and safety while away from home. As a result, many companies have launched travel protection products to give travelers peace of mind.
Here are common travel insurance options for individuals and groups, plus tips for finding what's right for you:
Medical Evacuation: Provides emergency transportation for a traveler who has a medical emergency, which is especially important when traveling to remote areas. Medical evacuation membership programs offer an array of additional benefits, such as lost luggage compensation and guaranteed hospital admission.
The fine print:
Nearest Appropriate Facility: With this coverage, you are likely not going to be transported to your home hospital, but rather to the nearest clinic or hospital that the insurance company deems adequate. You can also look for coverage that provides transportation to the home or specialty hospital of your choice. Independent medical evacuation services, as opposed to comprehensive travel protection policies, often provide this option.
Coverage Limits: If a group of travelers purchases a plan covering $20,000 of medical evacuation per person and one of the travelers has a medical emergency with a cost to evacuate of $75,000, the patient is responsible for covering the remaining $55,000. Be sure to purchase coverage that is unlimited or has a very high dollar limit.
Travel Health Insurance: These policies typically cover expenses that a traveler may incur from being in the hospital or seeing a physician while traveling. Coverage may also include benefits such as trip interruption, trip cancellation, travel delay, extreme sports and identity theft assistance. Note: Coverage may also include medical evacuation coverage, but several companies offer medical evacuation as an independent service.
The fine print:
Trip Cancellation Coverage: Before purchasing trip cancellation, make sure you know what the limitations are. For example, if a group of surfers plan a trip to Florida and a hurricane hits three days before their departure, most companies require that they cancel prior to the storm being officially named. Outside of bad weather, some policies will allow you to cancel for any reason; however, many only let you cancel for personal or family medical reasons.
Terrorism Coverage: With the recent political unrest around the globe, some companies have listened to travelers' concerns and expanded coverage to include benefits for travelers who are injured victims of a terrorist act. You'll want to ensure your coverage includes this benefit.
Although, thankfully, the majority of people travel to and from their destination with no medical emergencies or other issues, it's nice to have peace of mind and protection from unforeseen events. A tip for groups: purchase coverage together because groups usually receive discounted rates. Finally, here's a list of travel preparations and risks in various regions of the globe. Bon voyage!
Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager for Travel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.
New York is alive with non-stop action year-round. In this pulsating city of cabbies, world-class theater, chic trends, and super stars, it can be hard to find peace and quiet. But that's not why Manhattan is famous. Travelers scurry from around the globe to feast their senses on this one-of-a-kind, razzle-dazzle city with heart and soul.
Trend-setting styles. Culinary delights. World-renowned shopping (both bargains and luxury goods). Theater and shows for any audience. Classic and contemporary art. Musical genius. Financial power. The rich and famous. Architectural juxtapositions. It's no wonder visitors return again and again to soak in a city with so much life.
Holiday HooplaFor the holidays, the Big Apple puts on the ritz with over-the-top decorations (think buildings wrapped in glittery red bows), activities that people wait the whole year for (ice-skating), and a certain buzz in the middle of snowflake season that you can't find anywhere else.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade's giant hot air floats
Holiday events at The Metropolitan Museum
Christmastide at the Cloisters - traditional medieval decorations at the Met
Shopping for holiday gifts at any of Manhattan's chic shops, department stores, or neighborhood boutiques
Window shopping along Fifth Avenue to view some of the world's most elaborate window displays
Rockefeller Center's outdoor ice-skating rink and over 60-foot tall Christmas tree
Empire State Building beaming green and red for the holiday season
Rockettes in Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
Horse and carriage ride around Central Park
New York Road Runner costume contest and 4-mile run in Central Park on New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve Celebration and Ball Drop at Times Square
The Great White Way boasts musicals for an assortment of audiences. Which ones appeal to your group? Here are suggestions to get you started:
Rent or Avenue Q for trips with friends
Phantom of the Opera (which recently became the longest running show on Broadway in history) for an extended family trip or family reunion or trip with grandparents
The Lion King for family trips with kiddies
Wicked or Chicago for girls getaways
Monty Python's Spamalot for guys getaways
Mamma Mia or The Wedding Singer for bachelorette or bachelor parties - apropros for either
Activities & Attractions
Famous attractions have appeared in movies for decades and draw visitors daily for different reasons. Here's why first-time metro-loving groups visit the Big Apple and a few reasons why urban hipsters keep coming back for more.
Shops and boutiques in Greenwich Village, Soho, Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, and elsewhere
Arts & Current Culture
New York City offers some of the world's finest art collections at museums and galleries and is a hotbed of artistic and architectural innovation. It's also home to contemporary cultural icons like major league baseball stadiums and TV tours.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art**:** discover ancient relics and brush strokes of genius
Museum of Modern Art**:** pay a visit to Van Gogh's Starry Night
Soho (in lower Manhattan) is an artistic haven itself with galleries and funky architecture to give its cobblestone streets even more character.
Sex and the City tour
Sopranos TV sites tour
Sports fans can go to Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium, home of the Mets.
Nightlife: New York spoils its guests with a happening nightlife comprised of hip clubs, famous chefs satisfying restaurant patrons with succulent meals, dancing 'til the sun comes up, eclectic off-Broadway shows, live performances ranging from funk bands to soothing piano lounge acts, and so much more. Find your groove at the various bars, restaurants, and clubs around town.
While Manhattan is New York City's most famous and visited borough, there are four others that draw visitors for distinct reasons. Quick highlights:
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a famous suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and walk along New York City's first historic (and still swanky) district, Brooklyn Heights. Then stroll through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden with more cherry trees than Washington, D.C., and visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art that showcases one of the world's largest Egyptian collections. And of course, the kids will love Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
The Bronx has a surprising history (previously home to John F. Kennedy, Anne Bancroft, Tony Curtis, Edgar Allen Poe) and amount of attractions for visitors. The Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the U.S. Yankee Stadium, home to New York's Yankees, is an American icon, so plan ahead and book baseball tickets and stadium tours early. The Bronx also has a greater percentage of green space than any other borough and any other urban area in the country (24% of its 42 acres are parks). Van Cortlandt Golf Course is the first American public course and is part of Van Cortlandt Parks' two square miles of riding trails and other parkland areas.
With the bird lovers 9,000-acre Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York Mets' Shea Stadium, and the U.S. Open Tennis Championship USTA National Tennis Center, Queens is a cultural center it is own right. It's also home to two major east coast airports (JFK and LaGuardia), and boasts the Museum of Moving Images with the largest collection of moving image artifacts in the world. Plus, two film studios reside in Queens, so look sharp in case you're "discovered."
Explore the 2.5 mile boardwalk at South Beach, take the free (yes, free) Staten Island Ferry ride from lower Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through New York Harbor to arrive at the northern shore of Staten Island, visit the largest collection of Tibetan art outside of Tibet at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. And there are plenty of nature reserves, historical and cultural museums and sites, as well as national recreation areas on this island.
TripAdvisor announced their list of top 10 places for food lovers. This is a simple list of top cities around the world that offer fabulous food, but it's always interesting to think of the city and what niblets it's famous for, then drool while planning a trip to sample dishes. Mmmm....
Without further ado, TripAdvisor's top 10 places to travel for food lovers:
New York City
Shocking? Ho hum? These cities don't surprise me. They're all major tourist cities and urban centers that feed millions of visitors per year and loads of residents. It's still fun to dream up a vacation eating your way through the city.
Doing a garden tour with family or friends is a nice activity for all ages; and there are gorgeous gardens across the globe. Have a look at these sample garden tours to whet your appetite for plants, flowers, shrubs, and all things botany:
Philadelphia: Gardens Galore
Philadelphia is famous for its annual Flower Show in early March but in the greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area there are more than 25 beautiful public gardens to visit. They range from the historic Bartram Gardens to the Chanticleer pleasure garden to the rare tree specimens at the Morris Arboretum and gorgeous plantings at Longwood Gardens.
If you'd like an extra special, private tour of these exquisite gardens and the area's cultural and historic treasures, contact: Philadelphia Hospitality. Or, if you'd like to do a tour on your own, several hotels offer special garden packages. For more information, contact: http://www.gophila.com.
Washington State: Celebrate spring
The right mix of climate and soil has made Washington State a wonderland for flowers. Each year during peak bloom season, festivals are held throughout the state to celebrate the glorious variety of flora. You can walk through tulip fields, visit lavender farms, stop at nurseries and get gardening tips from professional growers.
Over 500 different species of rhododendrons grow wild in Washington State (it’s the state flower). To see how remarkable these shrubs can look, visit the annual Rhododendron Festival in May.
Some fifty varieties of lavender grow on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. In July, at the annual Lavender Festival, you can go into the fields to pick your own lavender.
At the annual Tulip Festival each April, garden lovers wander through colorful tulip fields larger than those in Holland and visit display gardens and greenhouses. If you find a few favorites for your own garden, you can have bulbs shipped home.
England: Britain in bloom
England is a divine location for garden lovers because of the wide variety of garden design styles (formal, informal, etc.). You can attend the Chelsea Flower Show in May or the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July, when the perennials and roses are at their best. Be sure to include stops at gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley gardens—240 acres with model gardens offering planting ideas.
In the Cotswolds, visit fine gardens such as Sudeley Castle with radiant old-fashioned roses, parterres and colorful herbaceous borders and Hidcote's classic English garden "rooms" with different color schemes and planting themes.
Southern England has fabulous historic and romantic gardens such as Vita Sackville West's Sissinghurst Castle Garden with color-themed garden rooms; plus, Hever Castle, complete with romantic moat, maze, Italian gardens, classical statuary and fine topiaries.
France is a dream destination for glorious gardens. Everywhere you turn, there's another botanical beauty--from the Bagatelle Gardens in Paris, filled with irises and roses, to the formal gardens of Versailles and the world-renowned gardens of Claude Monet at Giverney in Normandy. In the Loire Valley, Villandry is thought to be one of the most beautiful and authentic Renaissance gardens. On the French Riviera, the Rothschild's Villa Ephrussi, with its seven distinct gardens, is a must see and in the south of France the terraced gardens at Chateau Val Joanis are a visual wonder.
For an extra special French garden experience, try this for your group: The Prieuré d'Orsan is a spectacular, recreated medieval garden on the grounds of a restored, 12th-century monastery (now a 7-room boutique hotel). In addition to staying at the hotel and visiting this magnificent garden, you can also take gardening and cooking workshops. All the meals are prepared using herbs, vegetables and fruits and other ingredients fresh from the garden. This is a not-to-be-missed experience.
If the desert is the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Morocco, you’ll be surprised that some of the most gorgeous roses bloom in the fertile Dades Valley. The Rose Festival of El Kelaa in Ouarzazate province celebrates the flower harvest in mid-May. This event dates back to the 17th century, when roses were brought to the Dades Valley of eastern Morocco by pilgrims returning from Mecca.
In this magnificent setting, the rose crop is celebrated with music, folk-dancing and singing, handicraft exhibitions, banquets, flower-decked floats, the selection of a "Miss Rose," camel-rides and an excursion down the valley of roses.
The Caribbean: Garden jewels
Several Caribbean islands are a floral paradise. Jamaica’s botanical gardens are a showcase of showy, exotic plants. You can visit them all--Hope Gardens, the Goodson Garden, Cranbrook Flower Forest and Shaw Park Gardens.
Cruises: On-shore gardens
If you love gardens and cruises, here's a way to combine the two:
Spring Pilgrimage: Relive the glory days of steamboating with a trip down the Mississippi River. Along the banks lay the beautiful gardens and plantations of the Old South. During "Pilgrimage Open House" in the spring, local garden clubs host tours of lovely homes and gardens.
Dutch Bulbfield Cruise: There are few things more beautiful than the Dutch countryside in bloom. Cruise along the Rhine and Waal rivers and connecting canals, past historic towns such as Amsterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Utrecht, Dordrecht and Delft. Springtime in Holland means flowers galore. On this cruise, you'll visit the world famous Keukenhof gardens, with over 6 million tulip, daffodil and hyacinth varieties on display, and the grand Het Loo Palace, considered one of Europe's finest formal gardens.
Final thoughts on visiting gardens:
Booking an organized garden tour is a wonderful option. The tours are led by horticulture experts, everything is arranged for your group and you stay in lovely accommodations. But, these tours can be a bit pricey. (They range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars per person. However, most garden tour companies will give a price break if you are booking for a group.) So, in addition to selecting a garden destination, you need to factor in your group's budget.
You can always book rooms at a centrally-located hotel or resort in your preferred area and arrange day trips on your own from there to the various gardens. However, plan it so that wherever you go, a garden trip will be a delightful experience for everyone in your group. And when at a family reunion, destination wedding, weekend getaway, retreat, and so forth, don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
If you and your family and friends are garden enthusiasts—or just like to look at pretty fleurs—going on a garden tour is a wonderful experience. For garden experts in your group, it's a great way to get new planting ideas. And, for those who just like to gaze, visiting colorful gardens is a visual treat.
Go on a garden tour lead by horticulture experts or set your own itinerary. You can visit magnificent gardens close to home or as far away as your imagination (and budget) takes you! Schedule your trip to coincide with well-known flower festivals or just try to arrive when the gardens will be at peak bloom. The only rule of thumb (or green thumb) is to start researching and planning now. Don't wait until spring to arrange your trip.
How to begin researching a garden tour vacation:
Garden Clubs: Nearly every state in the union has a garden club. Many organize local home and garden tours each spring; some organize tours to other parts of the world. You'll find links to garden clubs nationwide on the National Garden Clubs' Web site.
Public and Botanical Gardens: Many gardens offer tours of their own lovely grounds as well as tours of other gardens. Here's a list (and links to) Botanical Gardens to visit in the United States.
Garden Tour Companies: There are several excellent garden tour companies. Just looking over their itineraries will inspire you to pack your bags and get your group in gear. These companies arrange everything for you and can also create custom tours for your group: Coopersmith's; Jeff Sainsbury Tours; Brightwater Holidays.
Word of Mouth: If you have friends and neighbors who love gardening, perhaps they've gone on a garden tour and can offer some suggestions. If not, just look at these garden tour destinations for ideas.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Turkey day is almost here. Families will gather across America to feast on meat, stuffing, mashed carbs, cranberries, and some form of green veggie dish. Aside from the obvious Congressional overturn, dinner table conversations will inevitably turn toward personal life, especially since relatives and/or close friends are gathered in one place.
Use the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to start planning family reunions or trips with friends. At minimum, share upcoming travel plans. You just might discover useful tips on what to do/see in an area or thoughtful advice on how to solve a trip planning issue from your wise resources at the table. Ten table topics:
Family reunion plans: Start the discussions among your immediate family and any relatives at the table on ideas for the next reunion.
Brainstorm ideas for reunion locations, (someone's house? a destination that everyone can travel to?) themes, (someone's birthday? an important anniversary?) and timing. These are three critical early planning steps for reunions. Why not discuss while you pass dishes during Thanksgiving, or are all on a walk the day after Thanksgiving, or gathered around the fireplace visiting?
Upcoming weddings: Gather ideas from decorations to music to locations if you're the bride or groom; and if you're going to attend a wedding soon, ask for ideas on wedding gifts.
Spring break trips for college students, teachers at the table, or parents who use that opportunity for a family vacation: Gather ideas, brag about trips already set, or ask to borrow items needed such as snorkel gear, binoculars, etc.
Winter or ski travel plans for the upcoming season: Thanksgiving is traditionally more than turkey, it's the start of ski season at slopes across the Northern Hemisphere. Plan a ski trip with family and/or friends. The deals are as fresh as the snow, but will be harder to get later in the season. After dinner, take a trip to the computer and research ski resorts and accommodations that fit people's budgets.
Road trips: The beauty of a road trip is the wandering nature of the journey. Because you can detour to so many tiny towns and off-the-beaten path areas, you may want to gather ideas from the brain power at the dinner table so you don't miss something.
Any travel abroad is usually planned several months to a year in advance, and sharing ideas or learnings from research about the area is great table conversation. You may even be surprised at who else around the table knows about a certain country. Some of the best conversations can be jump-started by someone saying they are traveling to a foreign country within the next year.
Trips with friends: Share upcoming plans for trips with friends (road trips, girls getaways, bachelor parties) and find out who might know about the destination and surrounding attractions. Use your family and friends as resources.
Delegation: with so many loved ones around during this holiday, this is a perfect time to delegate assignments for planning reunions or weddings to people who can help. Shuttling people to and from the airport, decorations, meals, activities, child care, rain plan alternatives, etc.
Ask for planning tips from family, relatives, and close friends at the table. Whatever upcoming vacation(s) you're planning, asking for help can yield sage advice. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Now here's the mother of all lists for anyone interested in volunteer vacations, eco-tourism, sustainable travel, or simply preserving either the environment or local economies. Who isn't in favor of at least one of those?
Get inspired by Responsible Travel's 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards. The list will make me you want to toss work aside and dream up a vacation to help the planet stay glued together. The award list gives a brief analysis of the unique qualities that made category winners win. In considering a destination with environmentally sound practices - this list can serve as a great resource.
Overall joint winner: Intrepid Travel (an organization that sets the bar for travelling responsibly and involving local communities)
Overall joint winner: Ol Malo Lodge and Trust (an eco-lodge in Kenya)
Best tour operator: Intrepid Travel, UK
Best large hotel (more than 50 rooms): Orchid Hotel, Mumbai (zero garbage hotel)
Best small hotel (fewer than 50 rooms): II N'gwesi Community Lodge, Kenya (40% of profits go back to the 600 plus families that share lodge ownership)
Best transport initiative: The Bittern Community Rail Partnership, UK (increasing visitor traffic to small communities/businesses and decreasing car traffic on roads)
Best in a mountain environment: Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Resort Ltd, Canada (exemplary habitat conservation efforts)
Best marine environment: Wakatobi Dive Resort, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia (reef preservation efforts)
Best for poverty reduction: Ol Malo Lodge and Trust, Kenya (eradicating disease, training locals to do the same)
Best protected area: Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador (national park preservation)
Best for conservation of an endangered species: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa (helped reintroduce cheetah and wild dogs to the reserve)
Best for innovation/technology: Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN), South Africa (recycling and refurbishing abandoned bikes and giving tours sans pollution)
Best volunteering organization: Biosphere Expeditions, UK
Best destination: Aspen, Colorado (for leading the environmental effort for a ski destination by pushing for affordable housing, investing in local farmland, and more)
Person who has made greatest contribution to responsible tourism: Mark Smith, The Man in Seat 61 (a man passionate for trains and other alternatives to flying)
The list was nominated by a combined total of 1200 readers from ResponsibleTravel.com, The Times, and Geographic Magazine.
When you have hours to kill between flights and are in a foreign country airport, there are an increasing amount of tours and activities to occupy your mind (and your kids, if you're a parent). Read full story at New York Times.
Amsterdam has a 4-hour tour of a clog factory with a canal ride that you and the kiddies can take for a couple hundred dollars, for instance. Great way to get a peek at a place you're just passing through but is a detour from your itinerary.
I once took the train into London and spent a day shopping and walking through cobblestone streets in between Washington, DC and Tel Aviv, Israel. It was a great way to pass the time and helped me stretch my legs. Good to know tours and activities are out there though.
Now here's a novel idea for that next trip with gal pals: themed girls getaways. The upshot is to get creative when getting together with friends and make the trip memorable and a hoot to boot! Read the full list via the link, but here are the highlights. Love them all.
TV show themes: Think Charley's Angels (mystery dinners, etc.) or "split into tribes and pull a Survivor." Perhaps Saturday Night Live skits and performances instead of charades?
History: Think about decades (20s flapper, 60s hippie, 70s disco, 80s valley girl) or go way, way back in time to the Renaissance or ancient Egypt with room for creative costumes.
It's a small world: Budgets can be tight, so rather than blowing your whole savings on one trip, rent a vacation home and pick a country or region and cook meals from Italy, France, Mexico, Thailand. You can also choose the appropriate music and activities to match the culture.
Out of this world: Space is vast, and so are the possibilities with this theme from Star Trek to superheros!
Classics: Put a new twist on classic themes such as carnivals (games?), westerns/cowgirls (pie-throwing contest?), or pirates (treasure hunt?).
I just discovered a site called BabyCenter with loads of good family and parenting articles. One of the best articles I've read in a long time about family travel is called "Family Vacation Disasters and How to Avoid Them." Classic.
Parents who are pregnant, who have infants, toddlers, or older kids will all gain some wisdom from this sage advice. There are numerous real stories from parents that teach good lessons. And anyone who travels with friends or family members who have kids, you'll also get a kick out of these stories. But overall, my favorite part was the 7 Ways to Avoid Vacation Hell. Here are my favorite excerpts:
Call ahead: A sure sign the hotel is kid-friendly is if you inquire about how friendly they feel toward kids and they say, "We've got a camp run by an art teacher." Bad sign: "I think there might be some crayons around here."
Think outside of the box: Travelwise, faster or cheaper is not always better. Your whole life you've probably sought nonstop flights, but now it might actually be easier to get out and run around halfway through. Or you might want to invest in a seat for the baby, even though you don't have to. For a short trip, you might consider taking a train — so you can cuddle and nurse the baby — instead of driving.
Do your driving at night: Plan car trips after bedtime. The kids will sleep, there will be less traffic, and you may even get to have your first adult conversation in months! Also, you can snack uninterrupted on the good chocolates you've been hiding from the children.
Have a bathroom plan: If you're traveling by car, consider bringing a potty with you so your new toilet-trainer has a familiar place to sit. Bring emergency diapers on the plane. Plan plenty of bathroom stops for any trip longer than ten minutes.
Do less: It sounds simple, and it is. You'll have years of vacations with your kids: Do less now, and enjoy your time with them. It's the one week of the year when you don't need to rush everyone — so don't. One good rule of thumb: While you're planning your itinerary, plan for half of every day to be free, unscheduled time.
Road trips conjure up images of weekend getaways to the country, usually with a campsite or remote B&B or hotel as a destination. Solo road trips are unique in that they usually involve the adventurous independent person seeking space, ready to soul search.
But group road trips are unique in that they offer stunning scenery to experience with close friends or family. Road trips are a special way to bond since they involve so much time together - in vehicles, on the trip, and then returning home. You have to be willing to give and take, compromise, pitch in (i.e., share the gas money), and bring music everyone might enjoy (rather than your cousin's college garage punk band with barely audible lyrics that scream to an indiscernible beat).
Two unique ways to travel the road with groups:
Harley-Davidson motorcycle rentals: Awww, yeeeah. Nothing beats Harley hair and the open road, not to mention the cool personas you can pull off at pitstops along the route. While you likely need a motorcycle license to rent, this type of trip could be the trip of a lifetime for the right group. I'm picturing spring break for college students, or just a group of friends reuniting for some adventure.
Model T group tours: California road trips through Yosemite National Park with stops at other notable attractions is the way to go. That's if you prefer to step back in time to yestercentury when the engines were newborn, the roads dusty, and wide open expanses of scenery were yours for the day or the week (depending on your preference - rental vs. full week tour). I'm picturing extended families gathering for a unique tour through California's back roads.
Can't leave home without Fido? Love your cat and want her to see the world and smell new air? Pet travel is becoming an increasingly popular concept. Rest assured that wherever you travel, pets are welcome in more cities than you'd imagine.
Think of the possibilities. Your dog roaming through vineyards with you and your pals in Walla Walla, Washington or accompanying you at a B&B in the French countryside, you sipping French wine, the dog lapping up French water. The possibilities are endless.
Are you the group geek? Along for the ride and prefer not to bother with trip details? Enthusiastic about one very specific element of the trip but indifferent about others? See how to use your natural talents to the fullest when planning that next group trip.
Here are common group profiles I've witnessed over the years:
Group geek: The one who must bring a cell phone, blackberry, or other widget lest they feel isolated from their real world of technology. This is also the person who brings a GPS and on camping trips, ski trips, or outdoor adventures and everyone ends up appreciating this person the most. Sound familiar? Suggestion: Careful not to geek out by tripping on the latest iPod or Zune features. Instead, think outward and perhaps suggest a GPS treasure hunt activity for the gang while traveling together. Offer your uber efficient Internet research skills for the troop leader in finding the best hotel and give your quick comments in the hotel discussion area of search results, then post it to the group's trip home page.
Troop leader: The idea person. The charismatic rally gal/guy. The motivated one who seems to have an internal compass pointing them in the right direction and helping them make decisions quickly, gather input, urge people to make reservations on time, offer activity options, and send out invites. This person is the point person of the trip, who can get as frazzled about pulling loose ends together as excited for the trip itself. Sound familiar? Suggestion: A smart troop leader delegates. If you prefer to be in control of certain trip aspects, just make sure you ask for input on key decisions such as hotel rooms, etc.
Indecisive: They love their friends, family, or the people with whom they'll travel. Or perhaps they like the ski club with whom they'll swish down the slopes. They're an open person who sees all sides of arguments and is likely philosophical. The good thing is they really don't care which mountain to ski on, what time the group leaves, which shuttle is used for transportation, as long as they're on the slopes. Problem is people sometimes need input and opinions so they can make decisions about where to stay. While the indecisive person oscillates between choice A and B because they may not want to hurt anyone's feelings who recommended either, ultimately decisions need to be made. "Whatever everyone else wants" can be a disguise for "I have no freakin' idea!" Sound familiar? Suggestion: Take a stand. Take your pick. Your flexibility and openness is appreciated, but your vote counts and is desired. In trip blog discussions, join in on conversation topics so decisions can quickly be made. Just as on election day, your voice counts.
Whiner and/or Frequent Special Requester: Surprisingly, these people may not realize they are doing this because it can be so subtle. The overt whiners are obvious and tend to bring the group down by taking every opportunity to moan about something or other. Subtle whiners can hold back key trip decisions by being slightly selfish or continually making changes to pre-set plans; for instance, saying they agree to a wine-tasting tour but later announce that they might go on a no alcohol detox diet (after the tour has been booked) so may not be able to participate. These are the special request kings/queens. The high maintenance types. We all want what we want, but consensus (which may mean compromise) on group trips is imperative. Sound familiar? Suggestion: Careful not to let negative feedback cloud the pre-trip planning process. Remember the trip is geared around everyone and remind yourself how great the rewards will be: seeing old friends and getting away. If you have a special request, you may be able to arrange that separately. Or save the most important special request to share with the group.
Group Socialite: This type of person wants to be in the heart of everything all the time. That doesn't mean they necessarily have to be the center of attention (although extreme versions exist). But they have more energy than most people and often push to stay up late, go the extra distance on physical activities, and even make new friends while traveling. This natural extrovert is an ideal person to help get the word out about the trip if you're organizing a trip where you can invite anyone. Sound familiar? Suggestion: You're a natural trip promoter and might be the best person to help organize key parts of the trip such as researching activities, etc. Let your enthusiasm bubble over into the trip planning process.
Who am I missing? Know of any other group profile that sounds familiar?
Orbitz released its second Annual Orbitz Ski Insiders Index, where stats from their site and trends in the ski industry are analyzed and the result is a top 10 list of the most popular U.S. ski destinations for the year. It's the usual suspects, although I was surprised to see Snowmass.
For 2006-2007 skier visits, Orbitz predicts these will rank top 10:
For a guy trip with a little adrenaline and other worldly experience, try an underwater poker tournament. Divester reported about a tournament to raise money for a military family, but there are tons of other good causes as well.
Here's how to organize your getaway with friends while raising money for a good cause:
Decide how many guys can make this commitment. Note: They must either be scuba certified or willing to be trained how to dive.
Arrange practice group dives before the big tournament.
Arrange practice poker matches just for fun.
Decide where to go diving and make any necessary hotel, transportation, etc. arrangements.
Set the date of the tournament, the cause for which you'll donate money, and the target amount to raise. Alert the non-profit organization, church, family, or other benefit group.
Raise funds. Make calls. Go door to door. Do email blasts. Ask co-workers. Post announcements on MySpace. And so forth.
Create a trip on TripHub to invite any who want to join the tournament and go as spectators or participants.
Discuss trip details using TripHub's trip discussion blog, organize and post everyone's info and trip details on the event schedule.
Then go on the poker tournament, win big, and feel great about donating to a worthy cause while bonding with your pals in a unique way.
It's no shock, but sooner or later we all had to realize the best global places to visit would be discovered by more tourists and eventually get overrun, threatening the natural charm and character of area and/or the site itself.
Such is the case with some of the World Heritage Sites in Asia and elsewhere. Booming global tourism industries are meeting the increased demand for travelers to go the distance and see something extraordinary. At a cost. Gadling reported on how National Geographic Traveler created their own rating of World Heritage Sites based on sustainable tourism.
Top 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:
Norway's West Fjords (rating 87)
France's Vezelay (rating 81)
Spain's Alhambra and medieval Granada (rating 81)
New Zealand's Te Wahipounamu (rating 80)
Mexico's Guantajuato (rating 80)
Bottom 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:
China/Tibet's Potala Palace, Lhasa, and environs (rating 46)
Italy's Venice and its lagoons (rating 46)
Ecuador's Galapagos Islands (rating 44)
Panama's Portobelo-San Lorenzo (rating 41)
Nepal's Kathmandu Valley (rating 39)
Every traveler should read the full list and consider the impact of flocking to see an international treasure. Then do what you can to support improvements, if possible. It's sort of a macro-economic tragedy of the commons. Food for thought.
Puget Sound Journey's Nov/Dec issue has a great article on how snowshoeing is "an escape from both urban and ski-resort crowds." As winter blusters its way in, snow fans who want to get their fill of the powder, but away from the crowds and off the beaten path, can reap magnificent rewards with snowshoeing. It's a great group sport for the following reasons:
Like skiing, you can snowshoe at your own pace. Like hiking, this often leads to good conversation with various members of the group, depending on your speed, etc. Unlike skiing, you rarely lose your group to lifts and runs and mostly stick together yet with the freedom hiking allows to stop and snack, look at vistas, etc.
Safety in numbers: Should avalanche danger exist, or one person gets injured, there are multiple people to take action and mitigate problems or help in any other way.
Orientation: If solo trekking while snowing, your tracks can easily get erased with new snow, causing some disorientation of where the trail is or which way is north; therefore, it's always good to count on at least one other to share responsibilities for staying on track.
Unique way to "walk" in nature and share an outdoors experience.
Photo ops: You won't just get scenic shots. You can get proof you were there by having a friend take your photo next to Mt. Spectacular and email it to your mom.
Green travel in action: Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience winter without noise pollution (as in snowmobiling), expensive gear (as in skiing + lift tickets), and low impact on the environment (it's essentially you, the elements, and your snowshoes).
Any other reasons snowshoeing is either neat-o in general or eco-friendly? Any other tips for people organizing group snowshoeing trips?
Ask any proud parent and they'll tell you their kid is their highest priority. That means when deciding where to go for vacation, toddlers and kiddies usually factor into the equation. Without having the finger dexterity to book tickets or cognitive development to plan itineraries or agendas, little munchkins across the world help set the pace and plan for family vacations or reunions with friends who have kids.
I recognized this when my nephew was born this year (my first nephew ever!) and our whole extended family decided to gear Thanksgiving around where he (and his parents) live. We just may decide to adjust schedules around baby for Christmas as well. Why not? As the first grandchild in our family, we're all enamored and want to spend as much free time as possible before he's grown up and it's too late. OK. So it isn't that urgent. But you get the point.
And when kids are in school with more pronounced likes, dislikes, and interests, parents can consider what types of vacations to take the kids on: nature explorations, camping trips, road trips to the national parks, beach vacations at luxury hotels, sailing adventures, overseas travel, theme parks, etc.
When organizing that next group trip with the kids, consider how much is being determined by the kids themselves. Their influence is significant.
If happiness is where you find it, and traveling inevitably brings surprises, then you can likely expect surprising joy while you travel. The 7th carnival of travel brings many perspectives on travel and the element of surprise.
In "Running in Edinburgh," Joe D. writes about whim and the provocative nature of mountains. Without a map and water, he is drawn toward Edinburgh's highest peak.
Why travel to France? PT Ford offers an illuminating historical, artistic, and anthropological reason to see the "Sistine Chapel of Pre-History," a discovery he (and others before him) made of The Lascaux Cave in Southwest France.
Vineeta gives great reason to pilgrimage to the great Machu Picchu in his article "Take a Deep Breath, You're in Peru." She says, "Nothing you know about Machu Picchu prepares you for the actual experience of being there."
Joe K. presents the surprising joy found on Saturna Island, saying, "The least populous of British Columbia's southern Gulf Islands, Saturna is a quiet and scenic getaway. What it lacks in people and businesses, it makes up for in character." I'm so there... next year maybe? Seriously, on my two-week boat trip to the San Juans, we talked of heading to the Gulf Islands next year.
Kelly at Öğretmen says, "I was in India with a friend this summer. The Indian railroad turned out to be wonderful experience...." Her journey shows how a railway ticket on the Nethravathi Express was her best (albeit silent) tour guide.
Surfer Sam goes on a group trip with friends hiking the Grand Canyon in Flagstaff, Arizona and discovers a "taste of Eden."
Melissa tunes us in to the surprising pros of business travel as a Road Gladiator.
Although Renata dislikes the Parisian treatment of tourists (I wonder if she speaks any French?), she does fall for the quintessential attractions that make Paris famous. On her family trip to the "end of the world," Renata travels to Ushuaia, at South America's tip, and sees snow for the first time in her life. The photos are impressive.
A Parenthesis: Vacation In Hawaii is Ming's version of finding her inner spirit and being one with her true self. An interesting perspective on reflections of how we perceive the world and how we experience it.
These don't fall into the surprising joy theme, but have value nonetheless:
Jennifer at Luxury Resort Travel presents three articles about Thanksgiving with stress-reducing tips, how to get a great view of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, and more Thanksgiving Day Parade travel tips.
Aaron offers Asian travel tips for exploring Southeast Asian markets and tips to avoid paying ridiculous airfares during peak season.
Uman Park Sofievka is a surprising tourist attraction in the Ukraine, an unusual suspect for tourism. Tatyana's blog highlights Ukraine's best attractions.
Thanks for participating and reading this edition of the carnival of travel.
For the ultimate girls getaway with a mission, I say take your gal pals to a town full of entertainment and plenty of good shopping to give a little something unique for Christmas this year. Find the perfect gift for your sister, mom, friend, cousin, boyfriend, husband, and so forth. Getting away before the holidays (when sales are on, travel deals abound, winter temperatures are at bay) can be worth the trip.
1. New York City
For him: The basic I Love New York t-shirt or luxury items such as shoes that turn into roller skates or a watch that doubles as a remote control (for the James Bond in your man).
For her: A handbag from a discount shop or designer shirt from quaint boutiques. Heck, if you can swing it, drop the credit card at a 5th Avenue store.
2. Los Angeles
For him: Universal Studios paraphernalia for the kid in him or hat that makes him feel like the fly boy he wants to be. If he likes fine arts, grab him something from a museum or gallery. Or get your picture taken by his favorite Hollywood star handprint and frame it.
For her: Anything from a store on the fancy, famous Rodeo Drive such as designer jeans or sunglasses the size of her head would be good. You'll feel like a star shopping and she'll feel like a million bucks receiving.
3. San Francisco
For him: Go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your man is an earthy dude, find a trippy tie dye Grateful Dead t-shirt, a drum, or incense. Wine from Napa Valley (to grab on a leisurely day trip) is always a good gift as well.
For her: Again, go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your female friend is earthy, find Haight-Ashbury District candles, incense, a woven purse, patchouli oil, the works. There are also outlet stores downtown for more "typical" shops. Wine works wonders for women as well.
For him: Find the rare book or gift he loves at flea markets in areas such as Notting Hill. Bring back some of the best tea from Fortnum & Mason (arguably the world's most expensive and best grocery store for specialty foods).
For her: What's not for her in London? Flea markets with jewelry, books, household items, scarves, etc. And shopping boutiques and high fashion stores. Then there's always Fortnum & Mason for cookies, pates, teas (expensive but worth it!).
For him: Cubs, White Sox or Bears paraphernalia (jersey, balls, bat, mug, etc.) if he's a sporto; if he prefers fine arts, the Chicago Art Museum is world-renowned and the gift shop has a bevy of nice gifts (I can attest).
For her: Home to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago, does indeed have magnificent shopping such as numerous department stores (Lord and Taylor, for instance) and shops for everything from leather gloves to perfume to cashmere wraps.
6. Washington, DC
For him: Smithsonian books or paraphernalia from the museums, books for the history buff, or a framed photo from your trip to the U.S. capital. Sunset from the Lincoln Memorial looking toward the U.S. Capitol includes the reflecting pool and Washington Monument - a classic shot with your signature all over it.
For her: Antiques and collectibles at the weekend Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, non-fiction books for the history buffs, arts and crafts at either the flea market or any of the numerous art galleries or museums.
7. Whistler, BC
For him: Any ski gear possible (guys dig this), including poly shirts for insulation. Find stores with sales if need be as there are plenty of shops at this big ski resort with Blackcomb village and Whistler village.
For her: Ski-themed t-shirts, ski gear or just about anything goes. Whistler has a slew of different shops such as soap shops, coffee houses, and more.
8. Las Vegas
For him: Win big and bring him back some dough.
For her: Outlet malls galore are here to offer discounts on major clothing, shoe, home and gear labels. Two major outlets: Premium Outlets and Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas.
9. San Diego
For him: Get him a couple 22-ounce bottles of micro-beer from local Coronado Brewing Company, and top the gift off with a logo'd pint and sweatshirt.
For her: A cuddly stuffed animal from the San Diego Zoo or arts and crafts from boutiques around town. If a Tijuana day trip is on your agenda, there are plenty of arts and crafts to buy in Mexico from wool blankets to woven baskets to sculptures.
For him: A classic belt buckle (if he's into that sort of thing) or leather belt for the hidden cowboy within.
For her: A nice leather belt is a wonderful gift for women also, but Denver also boasts several boutiques in addition to major shopping stores. And there's always the Southwest art scene if you want to splurge and purchase some hand-crafted jewelry or art.
TripAdvisor.com released its hit list for top 10 haunted hotels. For groups on last-minute trips who are looking for a little bit of freakiness in their escape, try one of these for an extended weekend.
Farnsworth House Inn, Gettysburg, Pa.
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, N.M.
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Fall River, Mass.
The New York Times ran a story on a new trend for millionaire vacations: why travel alone when you can afford to take your friends and family and pay for them? Group travel doesn't discriminate against cash in pocket, banks, investments, etc. Everyone travels for the same reason when planning a group trip: to stay connected to close friends and family.
This new luxury travel trend - dubbed as a result of the rich in America getting richer and not being shy to foot the bill to spend quality time with people - presents interesting opportunities for group travel, along with dilemmas.
Opportunities: Free time at no to little cost to enjoy a vacation, opportunity to see a new place or try out a new style of living potentially out of bounds otherwise, take the attitude of "carpe diem" and just go for it.
Dilemmas: The guilt of feeling obligated to somehow return the enormous favor, the feelings of inequity among friends, not feeling "right" about accepting such a gift. And the giftor must decide who's in and who's not invited, which can get uncomfortable with those uninvited. Ugh.
On my boating trip this summer (split the costs evenly), one of our stops was Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. We happened to arrive during a mega yacht meet-up and our 33-foot wooden boat was dwarfed by many pristine, fiberglass ships. For the size of little quaint Roche Harbor (at least that's how I remember it from my childhood) it seemed ridiculous. But after reading this NYT article (which is intriguing, and a must read) now I wonder how many people on yachts were on gift vacations.
If you have the means to plan a luxury trip with friends and family (whether you gift it or not), you can use TripHub to coordinate and share trip details.
OK, let's keep this civilized. No snickering. It's a serious question. With all the whoopla about "mancations" and guys traveling together for fun (groups of buddies/pals/friends/comrades have traveled together for getaway/bachelor/etc. trips for a while, but the travel industry just clued in) I decided to investigate.
When childhood pals, college friends, frat boys, ski club members, or just friends from life decide to get together to reconnect or bond, how do they pass the time? Whether road tripping or flying somewhere, bachelor parties, casual reunions, and sporting (golf, ski) get togethers are all part of the rituals of reconnecting.
Guy getaways can include anything from golfing, skiing, boating, fishing, hunting, club-hopping, lady-gawking, cigar-smoking, beer-chugging, gambling, or even metro activities such as meeting up in a city of choice and relaxing together at clubs.
Outside magazine recently emphasized how important the buddy system is (traveling with at least one other for safety) and listed great articles on various ways men bond, using famous figures such as Eddie Vedder, Jack Handey, and others for how to play on vacation. Plus, a few lessons for athletes who get too competitive.
Since TripHub launched, the group trip planning tools have been ideal for family and friend trips such as weddings, reunions, birthday vacations, girls getaways, and mancations/guy trips. But today there are advanced settings that allow more types of groups - clubs, teams, parent groups, religious organizations, spring breakers - to plan trips. That's right. More group fun. And more functionality.
In general, all group trip organizers now have more control over the way to structure a trip, the settings, who to invite, and how guests can access the "trip home page." New tools for planning trips that are ideal for clubs, teams, organizations, and larger groups include:
A URL for every trip to promote and publicize via MySpace pages, church newsletters, school Web sites, ski team flyers, even word of mouth. This greatly expands the possibilities for trip organizers.
Advanced settings allow trip organizers to control who has access to the trip details and who is invited to participate. Trip organizers no longer need to know the email addresses of every single guest, or even all who may join the trip. This opens the doors for clubs, organizations, and membership groups to create a trip, retreat, away game home page, promote the URL of the event, and allow people to invite themselves or request an invitation.
Email notification capabilities so trip organizers and members of the group can opt to ping people when they've started a Trip Blog discussion, or added something to the Event Schedule. This is a convenient way to keep the group informed when key changes (i.e., accommodations discussions have begun or a hotel has been booked) or announcements are made (deadlines to sign up for the trip are posted).
How can clubs, teams, organizations use the new features? Great question. Here's how:
Ski clubs can set up a trip and post the URL to the club Web site or in a monthly newsletter. Existing or potential club members can see the details and request an invitation to join the trip.
Parents can now coordinate travel to tournaments, performances, and other events with other families. Families can view trip details, join the trip, and discuss transportation options, and other travel logistics.
Religious organizations can plan events using TripHub to communicate details of a retreat or pilgrimage. Trip URLs can be publicized via a newsletter or in the weekend program. Members can request invitations. Retreat details can be hidden so only approved members can view them.
Spring breakers include college students planning to head to Florida, Mexico, Hawaii, California, Europe, or the nearest beach. Students can recruit attendees by linking to their TripHub trip from their MySpace, or via a flyer in their living space, common area, etc. Participation can be capped, but anyone who finds the URL can join the trip.
Sports fan groups can plan trips to college or pro games (or tailgate parties).
Adventure / activity clubs can organize trips around their favorite sport or activity such as kayaking, hiking, camping, scuba diving, biking and discuss details with fellow fanatics about their passionate pastime.
Alumni associations can plan reunions or tailgate parties for home games for alumni.
Tour groups can even set up trips using TripHub and plan trips using these new tools. For instance, if you are a trip leader with a women's travel group, an educational tour leader, etc. you can set up a trip and share the URL with either known participants or publicize the trip URL to recruit more participants.
Any other membership or affinity group can plan a group trip using the free group planning tools.
Planning a wedding, a milestone birthday, anniversary party, or any other organized group event? Scope out potential locations on a site specializing in helping you find event venues. Eventective is a searchable with Google maps per U.S. city flagged with event locations. Full addresses and basic overview information about each venue is also available.
Do your own digging around the site and find the ideal location for your next group event.
Gadling's Neil Woodburn blogged about his 24-hour experience in Las Vegas to see The Pogues which got me thinking. Not only was I jealous of his having gone to see one of Ireland's best, modern, and eclectic bands (in my humble opinion), but there are so many other bands worthy of traveling (road trips included) to a destination to see them with a good group of friends.
This is my quick hit list:
Grateful Dead (oh wait, not an option anymore)
Simon & Garfunkel revival concert
Belle & Sebastian
Kelly Joe Phelps
What bands or musicians would inspire you to travel with friends for a concert?
Holidays are just around the corner. Families and friends will gather to spend quality time reconnecting. While the holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year, there are several prep steps to take to avoid the typical holiday stress.
Here's how to avoid common holiday stressors by planning ahead:
Long linesAvoid long lines at airports by taking an extra day off of work (on less busy travel days), or traveling when flights are less likely to be full. Be flexible.
Travel expensesBook early to save on flights and hotels. If you see a sale price for a package deal (hotel + airfare) or hotel, or flight, you should grab it as prices are only likely to increase as the date approaches. Also, consider airports nearby but not exactly where you wanted to go and consider renting a car, taking a train, or a puddle jumper plane to your destination. Sometimes, creative planning can get you there for cheaper. Shop around on discount sites or even use sky miles to help out.
Rides to and from airportNothing is worse than standing in the cold outside an airport hoping your ride shows up soon, at that terminal, at that airport, on that day. Coordinate early and use TripHub's Event Schedule to list rides available for people in your group. If Uncle Bob is planning on picking up Aunt Sue at 8:40 PM the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, note this on the Event Schedule of your trip home page so others can hitch a ride if convenient.
Where to stayIf gathering at a relative's house, discuss or share accommodation options together. TripHub has tools to do just that. 1) You can discuss accommodation options within the Trip Blog when you set up a trip home page with your group, or 2) discuss hotels using the custom feature built for making comments within a hotel search results page, or 3) if you have set plans or can open your house up for guests, share your accommodation information with other members of your group.
No peace and quietWant to ensure you have a little solo time on your trip, so you aren't inundated with family 24/7? Here are a few tips for getting time to yourself through the joys of iPods, books, exercise, and dogs.
Missed opportunitiesTo plan ahead on attractions, shows, museums, theater events, golf tee times, and other activities that could be sold out, you can use TripHub's Trip Blog and/or Event Schedule to share ideas and information with people and avoid any confusion.
To plan your holiday group getaway, you can use TripHub to plan where to stay, how to get there, and what to do when you're together. It's an easy, free way to plan ahead and avoid the stress of the happy holiday season.
TripAdvisor issued a list of its favorite "vineyard vacations" - which are, of course, ideal for groups such as extended families (sans kids), girls getaways, bachelor parties, birthday parties, wedding events, or just getaways with friends.
This top 10 list includes all the usual suspects, and a few notable newbies. So raise a glass of chardonney or merlot and bring back new bottles of wine to dazzle your friends (or yourself) when you return from vacation.
Disney is framing their decision as a way to offer kids and parents healthy foods, with an understanding that kids associate theme parks with fun, so it'll be a prime opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits. This isn't just good news for kids. It's also good for any group traveling together to know they can get apple sauce or carrots instead of fries on the side. The healthy food changes will unfold over the next few years. With America's obesity high, this is good news.
My speculation on what's next for Disney: Putting park visitors on treadmills or giving them weights to lift while waiting in ride lines. How about yoga with Winnie the Pooh? Or stretching with Goofy? Healthy food is just the beginning, in my opinion. With Disney's budget and influence, think of the impact they could make on healthy habits of Americans.
Whether you're scoring points on the field or rooting in the stands, team sports are a bonding experience among groups of friends and like-minded jock and jills. Athletes of all levels compete in leagues of softball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, year-round.
Others choose individual sports and only race against the clock and their own athletic skill in marathons, triathlons, walk-a-thons, and race for the cure type events. Groups can occasionally join forces for training, but when it comes to the fiercest, most grueling sports, it takes a unique individual with an independent spirit.
Such is the case with the Ironman triathlon, a famous event where fit athletes swim for two miles, bike over 100 miles, and finish by running a marathon. It's inspirational for anyone who's attempted a race, played sports, or even tried to stay in shape. Ironman participants are in a league of their own. The athlete in all of us has to admire them, which is why they usually have a team of supporters cheering them along the route and ready to share in the momentous accomplishment of crossing that finish line. Groups of athletes, fans, friends, and family often travel to these events to witness a bit of athletic history.
A new movie, What It Takes, documents four Ironman participants' training and preparation for the 2005 event. You don't have to be an Ironman to appreciate the sheer physical and mental prowess it takes to do a triathlon of this magnitude. This film follows Peter Reid, Heather Fuhr, Luke Bell, and Lori Bowden (three of them previous world champions) for a year on their quest to the 2005 Ironman finish line. For an insider's look at one of the pre-eminent sports competitions, take a look. It opens in select cities across the U.S. this month. And you can enjoy the movie from the comfort of a theater seat, popcorn and drink in hand.
The 6th carnival of travel is family-themed, with a couple of posts at the end that are unrelated to family specifically; but if you stretch family a little and read between the lines (friends as family, medical advice for families) you'll see it's all related. After all, it takes a village.
GPS for Family Road Trips
In this article, Kelby Carr brings the 21st century to the time-trusted vacation tradition of road tripping. The next time your kids ask, "Are we there yet?" just reply, "We'll arrive in exactly 3 hours, 27 minutes and 8 seconds."
A Trip Too Far? When Travel with Kids Isn't a Good Idea
Sheila Scarborough travels over a lifetime with kids, exposing them to new cultures, languages, foods, and explores the philosophical question: is there an amount of travel for kids that's too taxing on their little bodies and minds?
Business Trip with Your Child
Mixing business with pleasure, Melissa Petri offers a creative perspective on being a full-time mom and worker. By turning business trips of 3 nights or longer into mini vacations, she's able to travel with her husband and child, plus retain her job AND sanity!
Exchange Homes For Your Next Vacation
Save money on your next family or group vacation and Free the Drones within. Here are tips for doing a home exchange over the Internet with a family who lives in the travel destination you are choosing. Downside? If you live in a less desirable area to travel, you may have trouble finding that idyllic vacation home swap. I can't imagine a New York City penthouse dweller swapping with a Branson, Missouri home owner. Maybe it's just my imagination.
Couples as family
How To Plan A Trip (with Humor)
Sometimes, vacation prep and going can be so stressful (or humorous - as they're often two sides of the same coin), you may just decide to rent movies and stay home. Madeleine Begun Kane offers a glimpse of what you hope to avoid on a romantic escape.
St. Kilda Mangrove Boardwalk
A boardwalk. A grove of trees. And a trip to a popular tourist attraction in South Australia, just north of Adelaide. Thanks to Trevor's Travels.
If you've ever wondered whether or not hiking to the top of a volcano is worth the trek, just ask Jim Goss. In a very thorough account of his journey, Jim illuminates the pros and discovers taking the active road traveled beats the beach bum variety.
Non-family travel related carnival posts
Travels with Kehaar: The Romanian Honor Roll
Silflay Hraka travels on an unusual journey through Romania, giving his equivalent of awards to the locals he met via this post. His travel snippets are endearing in an off-beat way. A great read!
Dr. Kavokin blogs about medical subjects that can be downright unpleasant to think about, such as yellow poo, but good to know about if you experience symptoms while traveling.
That's all, folks. Next edition (to be published on Halloween, Oct. 31) will have the theme of Surprising Joy While Traveling.
Broadway shows entice travelers from around the world. They are a great excuse to escape hot, summer days or chilly, winter nights. And the star-studded casts, Tony Award-winning choreography, and finger-snapping music turn girls getaways, family reunions, bachelor parties, and vacations with friends into more memorable occasions.
Theatre entertainment is no different from the travel industry on defining groups, in that there's no real consistency. Yet when you travel with friends or family, you're a group, no matter your size. With that, I researched several popular Broadway show theatres to get the skinney on what constitutes a group and what your group should know before booking that Manhattan trip.
Most theatres for major Broadway shows had a range of minimums for group discounts to apply, and if your group happens to be smaller than 10 (even 8 or 9 people) you likely can't get a group "deal." However, there are many other ways to bargain hunt for shows, you just need to be a little flexible (see #5 below). Here are group minimums for some of The Great White Way's hottest shows:
Avenue Q plays at Golden Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Hairspray plays at Neil Simon Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Phantom of the Opera plays at the Majestic Theatre, NYC
Group minimum: 10 tickets
Rent plays at Nederlander Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Les Miserables plays at Broadhurst Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 12 tickets
Chicago plays at Ambassador Theatre, NYC
Group minimum: 15 tickets
Beauty and the Beast plays at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Mamma Mia plays at Winter Garden Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Spamalot plays at Shubert Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Lion King plays at Minskoff Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Color Purple plays at Broadway Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Producers plays at St James Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Wicked plays at Gershwin Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 20 tickets
Often, group tickets are available for a more limited time than individual tickets. The closer to the show date, the less likely you are to get group rates. Plan to get a head count and tickets early. A couple months in advance is preferred.
Group tickets can be purchased online at the theatre's Web site, or at a consolidator site such as Best of Broadway or via phone.
Group discounts vary from show to show and theatre to theatre, but can be sizeable. Beauty and the Beast tickets as listed on Best of Broadway, for instance, are currently discounted $25 - $40 per ticket, depending on the seating section.
Last minute individual tickets are also available, but not guaranteed. If you didn't plan ahead to get group discounts or were unable to plan that far in advance (perhaps the head count wasn't finalized until one week prior to the trip) then there are a few options. You can always walk up to a TKTS box office the day of a performance to check on last-minute tickets. Or look at last minute tickets from Broadway.com a few days in advance.
So, you say you're a giver. Giving up your vacation time for a good cause could be the most satisfying way to spend a week or two of your life. But how should you spend it? Which volunteer opportunity fits you best? I've led countless group trips and have learned a few lessons along the way. Here are my tips for volunteer vacationers:
1. Core mission matches your values: Do you agree with and support the organization's mission? Consider this first before agreeing to join a group. It takes patience and commitment to volunteer with a non-profit, and altruistic as the cause may be, you should believe 100 percent in what you're doing since you're giving up free vacation time and money. There are many types of volunteer vacations: counting sea turtles, excavating a Roman fortress, tutoring children. You can also travel solo or take the family. Overall, it's important to remember that this is work. Tax-deductible work, but work nonetheless.
2. Commit to the trip: Organizers of such trips (educational tours, for instance) need volunteers to be committed and available so they can assist on the trip. Be prepared to do the work needed on the trip and sign up only when you can fully commit. It's helpful for (yourself and) the organization. If you're making cheese on an organic farm in France, spend time researching the region. If teaching English in China, head to a shelf at your library or bookstore that will enlighten you on China's history.
3. Donations, in addition to fees, help: Yes, you're giving your much appreciated free time to help a worthy cause, but often the non-profit still struggles with funding. In many instances, volunteer vacations require that you pay part or all of your way. However, for those that don't (you're lucky if you find this) you can still donate money to the cause. Most non-profits include administrative fees in the trip price to offset overhead costs, but like all "good causes," anything extra, even in-kind donations (accounting advice or an old scanner in good condition) can help. Expect to pay fees from $600 to $3500 for a volunteer vacation.
4. Sleeping situations: Get ready for an experience. You're on an adventure and chances are you'll have an opportunity to sleep anywhere from a dorm room to a tent—and you'll have a roommate if you don't travel with a friend or family. Please be kind and know that you're on a peace, educational, or environmental mission and your time, as your roommates' time, is valuable. But standards may be different than what you expect. Keep an open mind and go with the flow.
5. Keeping in touch: I don't go anywhere without my laptop. As group leader, it's not only necessary for my work, but also how I keep in contact with friends and family. Skype is a brilliant technological invention. Simply plug in a microphone and headphone and talk anywhere in the world for pennies, or even for free. When I was in Austria last May, I spoke to my parents, two friends, and a colleague for $1.50 total. If you don't carry a laptop with you, many cyber cafés around the world are Skype-ready. If you really feel adventurous, for about $12, you can acquire a local phone number where people can call you around the world for free.
6. Free time: Expect some free time. All volunteer vacations build in time to get to know your surroundings. It is expected that you'll want to do some exploring, since the destination is likely new to you. Just as you would prepare for any other vacation, research places to go during your free time. When you're at the bookstore picking up that sea turtle book, grab a destination guide, too.
7. What to wear/bring: Find out what clothing is truly appropriate for the trip from the organization ahead of time. Don't be caught in the Amazon without rain gear or in Mississippi with only long-sleeve shirts in the heat of August. Ask what you should bring and what you should leave at home. Any good organization will have a list ready and should be more than happy to pass it and other information along. They should also be willing to respond to any preparation question, no matter how small. Ask away!
Most important is being open to new experiences. There will be moments of shock and awe. You'll also become aware of your weaknesses and strengths.
There are still moments on my trips that surprise me. I spent some time in the southern U.S. this past summer and learned there was such a thing as a "flying, giant cockroach." This turned out to be a problem for many on the trip. But as we ended up laughing about our irrational fear of something so much smaller than us, I still slept with the sheets wrapped around me like a cocoon and my walkman headphones tucked tightly on my ears. It was a comical couple of days on the program. It was also the only city we left on time and the first one we laugh about at reunions. Volunteer vacations are made of lasting moments that don't fall into any itinerary or description. But you can count on them being more than worth the time or money for the unique adventure.
Suzzanne Lacey is a freelance journalist and Founder and Executive Director ofMuseum Without Walls, a non-profit that plans and gives educational tours around the world.
Holistic living: Residential villa communities where people can access spa facilities year-round.
Hawaiian wellness summits: Well-being and healthy lifestyle sessions such as organic cooking demos or "intimate seaside sessions" with local wellness experts.
Bamboo treatments: Crushed fiber from bamboo shoots is being used at eco-friendly spas for treatments.
Take your pick. The evolving spa industry has its choices from detox programs, to quick day spa treatments, aromatherapy, nutrition-based spas, hot stone massages (my personal favorite), indulgent treatments such as wine or chocolate soaks, and new eco-holistic wellness treatments. Spas really are branching out to all kinds of travelers. There's likely a spa service that even the most old-fashioned "I'm not letting anyone touch me who I don't know" grandparent of yours would appreciate.
I say take your pick and stay with a safe treatment within your comfort zone, or branch out and try something new. I'm adding to the above list mobile spas, a growing trend for those who can't seem to make it to the spa, but still crave the pampering.
Travel + Leisure released results from its annual readers poll for their World's Best Awards 2006. Since I'm enamored with spas, massages, and the relaxation they offer, I tuned in to the best spas list. There are several awards, all rated by T + L readers, including best destination spas, best Europe spas, and so forth. While those are great for honeymoons and special travel occasions, here are the U.S. and Canada spas that might be a shorter plane ride or drive away and, therefore, a little easier on the budget:
Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, Florida
Mandarin Oriental, Miami
Park Hyatt, Toronto
Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Colorado
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key, Florida
Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico
Ritz-Carlton, Naples, Florida
St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, Dana Point, California
Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina
Enchantment Resort, Mii Amo, Sedona, Arizona
Four Seasons Hotel, Las Vegas
Auberge du Soleil, Spa du Soleil, Rutherford, California
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
St. Regis Resort, Aspen, Colorado
American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin
Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia
Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, Houston, Texas
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, California
The Peninsula, Chicago
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, Florida
Four Seasons Resort Aviara, North San Diego
Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, Vancouver Island
Spas are an ideal activity for girls getaways, even an option for a guys getaways, or a way to sneak away from a family reunions for solo time.
The New York Times recently published an article on the increase in flight cancellations and the impact on travelers. It's a great read, not because the topic is pleasant, but because it gives insight and helps you realize you are not alone. It also makes me wonder why air. You should definitely read the whole article, but the upshot is:
Always, always check at least a day before your flight departure to see if your flight has been cancelled.
It sounds like airlines occasionally cancel flights if there aren't enough people on the flight, although I doubt any airline would admit to such a tactic. Imagine - letting passengers happily sprawl out on flights and gain a little elbow room. They may even gain a few repeat passengers.
Airlines have a high-tech rebooking reservation system that takes into account things like how frequently you fly with their airline, how much you paid for your ticket, etc. so your chances of getting swiftly and efficiently given a good seat are not necessarily even steven.
Be persistent if not flexible. Occasionally, open seats on other flights "magically" appear if you're persistent enough, after your flight has been canceled.
Flight cancellations are sporadic and unpredictable still. May the force be with you.
Budget Travel Online has a list of 10 Tips to Cancellation, Change, and Refund Policies that seem relatively evergreen. I say relatively, because as quickly as airlines can sell a window seat, that's how quickly a policy can change. That aside, these are ten good guidelines to consider before booking trips.
Also, there are links to major airlines' refund policies so you can see what specific airlines offer for refunds currently.
The biggest thing to keep in mind: there is no universal cancellation policy in the travel industry. Each supplier, each airline, each hotel, travel operator (Expedia, etc.) has their own version. Read the fine print on each and never be shy to ask questions.
Outward Bound has an excellent reputation for putting individuals and groups into wilderness adventures that challenging them while helping them grow and bond. If you are part of a club or team and looking for a way to share an unusual outdoors experience and come back united, this is a great option. I've never done it myself, but have heard nothing but praise from those who have.
These are the types of groups they cater to:
Students, teachers, and school administrators
Clubs and associations
Friends and colleagues
And other groups
Across the U.S., Outward Bound expedition leaders take groups backpacking, kayaking, sailing, dogsledding, and camping.
If you have experience with Outward Bound, please share your thoughts or tips. We'd love to hear!
For the second time in my life, I'm going to attend a bridal show with a good friend who just got engaged. The bride-to-be is giddy with ideas, excited for the big day, and relieved her boyfriend finally popped the question.
Friends and family kick in immediately following engagement announcements to help with wedding planning. Best man and maid of honor, along with wedding parties, are carefully selected by the couple. But brides start their research, often gathering ideas for how to celebrate and tie the knot by asking for advice and going to wedding shows.
Enter friends and family. At wedding shows, there are vendors with cake samples and wedding dresses, plus make-up artists, decoration professionals, and wedding coordinators. There will likely be wedding packages offered for destination weddings and honeymoon ideas. With a dizzying array of options, it's nice to bring friends and family along to these events so the bride can get feedback from those she trusts. If people are scattered around the country or world, weddings shows can be great reasons for a girls getaway weekend.
If you are the bride or are a friend or family member of the bride, here are links to bridal/wedding shows across the country:
Want five-star service no matter where you travel? Only the best for your destination wedding or family reunion all costs aside? Need to getaway with friends, treating yourselves with lavish luxuries savored for special occasions (or simply required as your standard of living) and can afford to spend? Here are several tips for luxury group travelers:
Escorted luxury tours by Abercrombie & Kent
Numerous tour operators provide high quality experiences abroad or within the U.S. Arrange a group escorted tour or independent tour where your group has more free time to explore the area on your own, yet still in the lap of luxury. Abercrombie is a leader in luxury group tours.
10 lavish hotels worth the splurge by A Luxury Travel Blog
Worldwide luxury hotels and resorts where you can expect the highest service, most beautiful scenery, and a feeling of utter pampering.
Luxurious destination spas by Spafinder
Pampering at spas is a given, but when you go to destination spas, the minute you step foot onto the property, the entire vacation experience is geared toward your comfort. A slice of heaven on earth.
Charter jets for groups by Flexjet
Tired of crowds, lines, and lower quality service of economy flights? Charter a private jet for your group. There are many to choose from and if you split the cost between the group, the price may not be as high as you think. Or you may decide the extra price is worth traveling together with convenient, speedy service.
Outlandishly expensive things to do in New York City by PocketChangeNYC
A free weekly newsletter features deals to drop your jaw on high pricing in New York. It's "everything you love to hate and hate that you love."
High tech portable sommelier by Vagablond
This robot sommelier can identify wines and make food pairing recommendations, so say its Japanese manufacturers. Gadget lovers can bring it along on luxury vacation for kicks.
Ready to plan that lavish trip of the century (or month, for those who can afford the frequency) with your pals or extended family?
Sustainability is an increasingly popular topic in many industries and travel is no exception. It has ecotour adventures, volunteer vacations with sustainable missions, and organizations such as the Tourism & Hospitality Institute for Sustainable Development in Switzerland dedicated to driving long-term sustainable solutions. Here's a snippet from their site:
Educators argue that it may be impossible to bring larger groups of visitors to any destination without impacting on its physical or cultural or social environment. People as visitors demand such services as attractions, accommodations, food and beverage, entertainment, infrastructure for transportation, public utilities and other public services found at home, along with friendly locals and authentic heritage. Given the many examples of destinations who have suffered from the growth of mass tourism, or even unsuccessful eco-tourism, it is easy to understand the disbelief associated with the concepts of both tourism and sustainability. If you want to learn more about a group of tourism and hospitality professionals who believe that 'moving the agenda forward' will be hard, will have little support, and will take a long time, read more about us.
I'm for this green Swiss conglomerate of travel professionals. In thinking about group travel, it seems important to plan trips with friends, family, clubs or teams that take into consideration the impact of travel on the environs. Vacations are breaks from responsibility. We all need that, which is why we have high expectations of service and entertainment when traveling. But if any association member responsible for organizing group trips, leader of group tours on a regular or semi-regular basis, or individual traveler is interested in studying green travel, this organization seems like a good reference.
For families, reunions, weddings, group getaways, and more, Orlando rolls out its magical red carpet for every guest. Castles, fireworks, movie sets, water parks, shows, roller coasters, world-class theme parks and rides, golf, and romantic activities all await Orlando's visitors. As one of the most popular worldwide travel destinations, this sunny city delivers fun on a silver platter, but not necessarily out of budget. There are several affordable ways to enjoy the attractions and activities that make Orlando a year-round playground.
Theme parks enchant every kid and the kid in everyone.
Walt Disney World Resort
Step foot on this quandrant of theme parks and walk into fairytales and animal kingdoms, parades of Disney characters, and entertainment variety for every member of the group. Downtown Disney is where the nightlife happens with Cirque du Soleil, restaurants, dance clubs, and shopping. Weddings are organized at Disney hotels and parks through Disney's Fairytale Weddings and Honeymoons. The four theme parks are world-renowned for blurring lines between dreams and reality, tales and non-fiction, and making the movies, characters, and world of Disney come to life with whimsy, rides, and a bit of pixie dust.
At Epcot, Disney proves it's a small world after all with food from numerous countries along walkway of the World Showcase Lagoon. As dusk settles, get ready for the fireworks display while enjoying desserts from Bavaria, Morocco, France, Japan, China, or any other country. Epcot is also home to rides like Mission: SPACE and Nemo and Friends.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is a world apart from the other theme parks with a safari ride that goes outside to desert areas for guests to view zebras, giraffes, and other African creatures. The flavor of this park is nature, with a Lion King parade, and more.
Disney-MGM Studios is a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, with an Indiana Jones show, Disney studio tour, and movie glitz all around. Great for adults as well as kids, this park would be ideal for girls getaways or wedding parties.
Magic Kingdom is the classic Disney theme park, complete with Cinderella's castle (ideal for group photo ops). This park's parade tops all theme parks and is where toddlers and young children get wide-eyed with glee when meeting Pooh, Piglet and all the A.A. Milne's characters, along with Snow White, Goofey, the Seven Dwarves, and the rest of the Disney characters. Relive your childhood and watch kids' faces light up at this quintessential Disney park.
Stroll around Universal Studios and you're likely to see Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood cruising around the streets. There are plenty of rides, shows, and attractions to entertain for a day or more, including a boat ride with a Jaws encounter, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, and a new Shrek 4-D ride. Thrills galore. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster is also sure to bring goose bumps and keep your heart pumping, Seuss Landing brings the Dr. Seuss books to life with rides and shops, and Universal CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex with live music, movies, nightlife, entertains romantic couples, groups of friends on a getaway vacation, and families.
Islands of Adventure take you on thrills and spills with the Hulk roller coaster, a Cat in the Hat ride with no straight lines in design (just like Dr. Seuss's books), a Jurassic Park river ride where you can splash about under the Florida sun, and an audience-participant Spider-Man 3-D ride.
Universal Studios Florida brings the movie sets to life in an entertaining, sometimes scary way, with a Jaws ride, an ET adventure, Revenge of the Mummy ride, an alien attack in Men in Black, Shrek 4-D, and audience-participating in a live Fear Factor show.
This world-class marine theme park features a new Orca whale show with Shamu, and the park's first family-friendly roller coaster, Shamu Express. Sea-themed thrills vary from the tallest and only floorless roller coaster in Orlando, the Kraken, named after the mythical sea creature, to guest feedings of sea lions and dolphins. Like Disney and Universal, SeaWorld is a family-friendly park, but also entertaining for adults who like a big splash on their vacation.
Don't let the theme park prominence of Orlando fool you. While the parks celebrate themes we value in life: movies, nature, science, culture, culinary delights, participatory entertainment such as rides and shows, you can enjoy walking around the parks, taking rides that splash through water to cool off on hot, summer days, and swim in the pools that most major hotels have. For many, this is exercise and activity enough.
For group travelers who want to break free from the parks and explore the Orlando's landscape and beyond, there are 168 golf courses to play, hot air ballooning, and renowned beaches just a day trip away. You can go horseback riding at a ranch or rent a Harley-Davidson hog and head out on the highways looking for adventure. Plus, there's a 19-mile biking, skating, and walking trail near Lake Apopka and a plethora of tennis courts around Orlando at at its many hotels and resorts. Play tennis morning, day, or at lighted courses at night.
Arts & Culture
The main draws to Orlando are the theme parks. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find an array of shopping, restaurants, theater, and other things to do. For a little culture go to the Orlando Opera, the Shakespeare Festival at Loch Haven Park, the ballet (central Florida's only pro ballet), Millenia Fine Art for an impressive contemporary art display, or Cornell Fine Arts Museum with both European and American fine arts, sculptures, and decorative arts. You can also take the kids to Celebration, a unique town, listen to Bach by Orlando's orchestra, visit the outdoor Southern-style Harry P. Leu Gardens, take the family to see a Broadway show (they regularly play in Orlando), or head for Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its showcase of the Czech sculptor's art in his home, in a gallery, and outside in the Winter Park garden.
Buena Vista Water Sports - ski doos, boat rentals, boat charters, water ski or wakeboard lessons and rides all offered by day, and weddings, parties, and other group events hosted at night. A water sports haven on Lake Bryan.
Tailgate parties conjure up images of football fans gathering near stadiums, camped out for the pre-game hours and into the game to celebrate their alma mater or favorite team. The tailgate party may be as American as applie pie, bringing college friends together for weekend reunions or regular reconnections. Clubs and teams may also gather to root for their team and toast the season.
The New York Times recently reported on the University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss) tailgate party as the pinnacle of such events. The article portrays this as more than a normal tailgate party, one of history, where the cars have been replaced with tents, and it is thee social event in Oxford, Mississippi, not just for the students or alumni, but for the whole town.
Here's an excerpt from William L. Hamilton's New York Times piece to give you a sense of the event:
"Ole Miss's stadium accommodates 60,580 people, and devotees of the Grove argue that the Grove accommodates more. It is every kind of party you can describe, at once: cocktail party, dinner party, tailgate picnic party, fraternity and sorority rush, family reunion, political handgrab, gala and networking party-hearty — what might have inspired Willie Morris, one of Mississippi's favorite sons, to declare Mississippi not a state, but a club.
The party is technically a picnic. Originally an informal tailgating get-together when most serious pregame socializing took place at Ole Miss's fraternity and sorority houses, by the 50’s the Grove started to become its own pregame tradition.
Cars have been kept out since a rainstorm in 1990 that reduced the Grove to a rutted swamp, and tents replaced them. The Grove Society, an alumni organization, posts a strict schedule for the event, which dictates that set-up will start at Friday midnight.
The Grove is a grove of generations of Mississippi families who went to Ole Miss and who send their children there. Alumni and students, fathers and sons, old friends and new acquaintances, seemed inseparable last Saturday, as if they had walked out of the halls ringing the Grove and were meeting between classes, not between decades."
Does anyone know of an equally enticing tailgate party?
Harvest time is now. Weather is cooling. Leaves are afire with color. And activities turn more indoors, often to creature comforts such as cooking, culinary tours, regular meals with families, and food in general.
Gourmet has published 50 best American restaurants of 2006, with at least 50 percent new to the list. From Honolulu (Alan Wong's Restaurant) to New York City (Masa), and everywhere in between, Gourmet lists their crème de la crème.
For special occasions (birthday parties, bachelorette parties, engagement parties, rehearsal dinners for weddings) and holiday preparation time (shopping, etc.), treat your group, family, and/or friends to a sumptuous meal. You can also treat yourself and call it "research" for new holiday meal or family reunion dish ideas. Expensive though these restaurants are likely to be, sometimes life's worth a little indulgence, especially during the colder months.
You can discuss restaurant and dining options with your group using TripHub's trip discussion blog, and list restaurant reservation info and other trip details on TripHub's event schedule so everyone is on the same page.
Welcome to the 5th travel carnival, where photos speak volumes. A few entries include photos (applause, please) while others do not. Nonetheless, there's quite a potpourri of perspectives and journeys. Read on...
Kelly Curtis presents Wish for You, with a trip to Mackinac Island solidifying the bond between mother and daughter. The last two photos in the slide show are priceless.
JoeKissell presents Neuschwanstein Castle saying, "Of the several castles built by the eccentric king Ludwig II of Bavaria, none is more recognizable than Neuschwanstein, which inspired Cinderella's Castle at the Disney theme parks."
Kelly Vaughan presents Şile: a walk on the Beach, giving us a look at seascapes of a Turkish beach town. My interpretation? Cloudy days have unique beauty if you look at them in the right way.
David presents Philanthropic Travel Worldwide, giving us a glimpse of why and how five-star travel in developing worlds can allow you to dip your toes in humanitarian work without seemingly wrinkling clothes or getting dirty. There are two contrasting photos: one of three smiling children living in a developing country, and another of two starchy, white adults hugging an elephant trunk. The photos are fascinating. My idea of a volunteer vacation is people getting a little grimy with their "up close" experiences. But who knows. Maybe the pampered approached would be my preference when I decide to book a volunteer vacation. There's also an interesting label for indigenous folk in this post: "bottom of the pyramid." Hmm. Thoughts, anyone?
Maureen O'Brien presents Lake of the Ozarks, pitching her camping trailor for condo travel at the Ozarks in Missouri.
Jennefer presents Travel to Russia: Moscow giving more recommendations (and links) to major and minor Moscow attractions, activities, and walkabouts than I think I've seen anywhere. From the Kremlin to Gorky Park to Lenin's Masouleum to the Bolshoi Ballet and beyond, she's done her research.
Tracy Coenen presents A Tour of New Orleans and the Damage Left by Hurricane Katrina. A first-hand account of the realities of the hurricane aftermath. Seems like touring New Orleans is like touring Ground Zero - doing so is out of concern and curiosity. An insightful read.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:
2-3 months in advance (minimum)
Research how group reservations work if 10 or more people are traveling together for a holiday.
Restaurants book up during the holidays and often stop taking reservations when they've reached reservation capacity. Book reservations for your group now for holiday parties and gatherings.
Holiday travel is one of the busiest times for many airlines. Start looking for flight prices and if you find one in your budget, book it now. Depending on your location, you can look into train travel as a transportation alternative.
Hotels in major metropolitan areas and beach areas see an uptick in business around the holidays, so book early.
Create or determine a budget for yourself (for Christmas gifts especially) and stick to it.
If your trip hinges around one big event such as a New Year's event, purchase tickets as early as possible.
1 month in advance
If you're hosting guests for big meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, etc., plan the courses and make food assignments if necessary (desserts, salads, appetizers, wine, etc.) to share the expense and responsibility. Most guests want to contribute.
Accommodations for those not staying in hotels or last-minute arrangements for friends/family who weren't able to book in advance. Perhaps you can make arrangements to borrow a neighbor's house while they are away, or book a local B&B that isn't easily discovered on the internet but would make the trip more enjoyable and affordable for some.
Plan group activities such as area sightseeing, attraction visits, purchasing admission tickets for events such as art exhibits at museums/galleries or theater shows.
Collect money from everyone and track shared expenses.
Shop for gifts.
1 week in advance
Confirm all flight, accommodation, activity, restaurant and train reservations and/or arrangements.
Final gift shopping.
Dust off games, borrow games from friends/neighbors, or buy new ones to make time spent with friends and family more enjoyable.
3 days in advance
If cooking a big meal, get all foodstuffs and start preparing meals early.
Wrap all remaining gifts. Buy a few extra general gifties (calendar, journal, wool socks, gift certificate to Barnes & Noble) in case someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home unexpectedly.
Clean the house, or if everyone is traveling to a destination, make sure you have a friend or neighbor keeping an eye on your place (collecting mail, watching pets, watering plants, etc.)
Nothing beats a good hug. From your grandmother/father, mom/dad, your husband/wife, your sister, brother, best friend, child. And when groups get together for club or team events, family reunions, getaway vacations, or weddings, a few things become inevitable. You'll eat too much. Laugh a lot. Take a group photo. And hug.
If you're lucky, you'll find yourself embraced in a group hug, armed locked, joy and silliness sprouting up all around you. Family, friend, or other bonds bring you close together. Hugs are greetings and goodbyes: physical symbols of those bonds between us. They remind us that, despite our temporal existence, we're all in this together. Hugs are good.
I was browsing around Technorati today and saw this free hug campaign video on YouTube. It's worth viewing... the whole video is quite funny, and poignant. In an urban area, a man with a sign saying "free hugs" looks like a freak, but by his simple and persistent act of love, winds up drawing crowds and a growing number of hugs from others, including group hugs. Sound ridiculous? See for yourself. Then turn around and hug the person to your left. You're sure to extract a smile, from both of you. :-)
Unpleasant yet intriguing as the subject of sharks and the sea may be, I found some good data on Divester for vacationers who surf, swim, scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy all sorts of water sports. Summer may be over, but many friends and families will soon take trips to beach destinations such as Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico, or Australia where the sand is as warm as the day.
Sharks are out there. It's true. They are one of the great predators of the sea. But whales still rank higher on the marine food chain, and I've heard they can take a Great White shark down (someone correct me if I'm wrong). Nonetheless, one of the things that stirs shark fears is all the media hype coupled with ignorance about the true nature of shark attacks. How common are they? Divester examined a 200-page report called Finding a Balance. If knowledge is power, here are some statistics to help quell your fears (and mine).
The number of shark-related fatalities has dropped from 13% in the 1990s to 8%, attributed largely to advances in safety practices, medical treatment, and greater public awareness.
In 2005, surfers and boardriders composed 54% of victims worldwide; swimmers 37%; and divers 5%.
There appear to be "no causative factors" for bites.
The average depth in which bites occur is 20 feet and average distance offshore was 330 feet.
Florida, South Africa, and Australia have the highest number of shark bite incidents.
Although some degree of conditioning can occur between sharks and cage diving boats, this happens when operators do not comply with regulations and allow sharks to feed on the bait. However, this conditioning occurs between the shark and cage diving boats and cannot be linked to any conditioning with bathers as potential prey items.
And since the International Shark Attack File reported that there have have been 870 reported, documented shark bites worldwide since 1990, chances are extremely slim you'll have an issue.
Once on a snorkeling tour with my sister, she saw a 4-foot long reef shark swim about 20 feet below her, but the shark had no interest in the snorkel group. Of course, if you're intrigued by sharks enough to swim near them, there are plenty of "swim with sharks" tours out there. Go, adrenaline junkies, go. Me? I'll linger ashore sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, taking quick dips to cool off.
You're a member of a church that takes spiritual retreats. Perhaps your tennis or ski team travels for competition. Or your alma mater organizes football tailgate parties for home and away games. You could be a soccer parent planning away games with other parents. Or even belong to a swanky book club that travels to Italy after reading Under the Tuscan Sun. Whatever your lifestyle is, membership organizations (clubs, teams, associations, etc.) are great ways to stay active and pursue interests while meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends or colleagues.
For like-minded individuals who travel together, here are planning resources for organizing your next group trip.
Quick Checklist for Club, Team, or Organization Group Trips
Prepare a budget. How much will it cost? What are the shared expenses? What are deadlines for deposits, etc.? A basic spreadsheet with all big pre-trip shared expenses will help if you're organizing or on a committee for a given trip or retreat.
Collect money for shared expenses such as hotel rooms and transportation. You can track money owed using TripHub's money tracking tool.
Get release forms. If your trip is a school scenario with kids traveling with parents, coaches, and chaperones, you'll need to make sure release forms are signed.
Make dining reservations and arrangements for your group. Depending on group size, some restaurants may or may not be able to accommodate you, so book well in advance (even a couple of months). Groups get cranky when not fed, which makes for a stressful, less fun experience for everyone. Arrange for meals on group trips to people sated and/or energized.
Order custom group t-shirts. Nothing screams "team spirit" like a gaggle of people wearing matching uniforms. Geeky though it may sound to some, it's still unifying. Not only can you easily identify each other in crowds, but you'll have a memento from traveling together. You can even put a logo, photo, or pithy slogan on it.
TripHub allows you to easily plan and coordinate trip details so everyone stays informed about trip plans and itineraries. It's ideal for groups where there are varied interests, budgets, needs, etc. Here's how TripHub can help clubs, teams, and similar groups plan trips:
Determine location and destination for the trip
Create a trip home page
Invite team/club/association members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
Discuss trip details with travel companions
Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions (or share travel information if already booked elsewhere so the group knows when people arrive, leave, and where they're staying)
Carving around corners, bumping down moguls, breathing in cool mountain air and sweeping views. Ah, the essence of skiing. What a rush. Plus, there's also the company of like-minded ski aficionados. Ski villages offer whatever nightlife you crave, from a quiet family dinner to dance floors for shaking your groove thing with friends.
Boarders and skiers put their passion for powder to practice on slopes across North America from mid-November through March (later if snowfall permits). Skiing is an ideal activity for groups, fostering camaraderie and a healthy dose of competition among friends and family. It allows adventure-seekers to vacation together, skiing off on separate runs if desired and meeting up at the lift lines to swap slope stories. At the day’s end, everyone regroups for some après ski activities. Here’s a guide with tips and resources to help you plan your group ski trip with ease.
Planning Ski Trips
Find a mountain and ski resort for your group
Invite friends, family, or team/club members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
Discuss trip details with travel companions
Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions and share booking details
Ski Trip Checklist
When planning a group ski trip, there are plenty of factors to keep in mind. Does anyone in the group require child care for their kids? Is anyone interested in taking group ski lessons and how varied are the ski skill levels? Is everyone buying group lift tickets before arriving or while there? Here's a quick list of things to consider before you go:
Group ski lessons
Ski lessons for kids
Daycare for kids
Bulk food assignments made (who's bringing what?)
Hotel or rental home reservations
Pet-friendly hotel rooms, condos, or houses
Extra gear for those who may have forgotten gloves, goggles, hats, wool socks
Top Ski Resorts in North America
Take your pick of ski areas, states, and snow conditions for the upcoming ski season and start planning your ski trip. Since there are simply too many ski areas to list, but here are 10 popular ski resorts for groups for starters (in no particular order):
Ground Transportation Options
Find out what options are available at the airport and ski resort your group is heading to. If you're on a budget, shuttle services offer group rates. One of the greatest benefits of a group trip is being able to split costs such as transportation to and from venues.
Shuttle service – There are usually private services that transfer you from airports to your hotel or ski resort area. Some ski resorts themselves even offer airport transportation to and from their resort. Call ahead so you find the best deal for your group.
Rent cars, SUVs, vans
Hotel/resort transportation service
Friend as chauffer – best option if available
Ski-In, Ski-Out Accommodations
Convenient for those who plan to spend most of their trip skiing, you can save gas and glide right outside your hotel door. Hotels, condos, and resorts can all fall into this category. Examples include Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Sunshine Inn (Banff's only ski-in/ski-out hotel), and The Loft at the Mountain Village 3-bedroom condo in Park City.
Vacation Rental Homes
One of the best ways to enjoy a group ski trip is by renting an entire house. I've done this several times and it's usually been the best option.
TripHub allows you to discuss, plan, and make decisions on group activities with your trip mates all in one central location, saving you the hassle of sending a zillion emails to coordinate.
Shopping – Most ski resorts cater to skiers and the fact that you're a relatively captive audience, having traveled through snow-covered roads to the mountain. So there's plenty of shopping variety from apparel boutiques to candy shops to cafés to video rental stores.
Sightseeing – Whether driving or flying in for a weekend getaway or vacation with friends or family, ski destinations often have more to offer than just mountain with slopes. There may be historical or art museums/galleries, or nearby attractions such as lakes to explore. Find out what interests your group most and offer suggestions before the trip.
Nightlife, Restaurants & Bars – You can always find a variety of restaurants, many of them high-end, to recharge after a day on the slopes. And all major ski resorts (Whistler, Vail, etc.) have nightlife equally as invigorating as the day life (if you're in a party mood). But there are also quaint, charming pubs and restaurants as well as the cheap eateries. If your group is set on a certain type of food or restaurant, book reservations as early as possible to ensure a seat.
Wintry Activities – Numerous ski resorts give snowbirds other ways to play in the snow either before or after they ski (or when taking a day off of the slopes):
Ziptrek or ziplines through treetops
Cross-country skiing (most major ski areas have trails for this, including Lake Tahoe, Telluride, Stowe, The Canyons, Sun Valley, and smaller resorts around the continent)
Massages at spas
Ski history includes Swedes and Russians hunting on skis, Norwegians popularizing the sport in the 1700s, the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 including alpine skiing for the first time, and Austria and Switzerland developing the first ski resorts shortly after World War II.
Historical ski cartooning – who knew such a thing existed? – includes a look at ski humor from 1500 to the present. My favorite is a cover page cartoon from The New Yorker.
The U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame, located in Michigan, was born in 1956.
Ski Magazine and numerous other inspirational resources, including Warren Miller videos. Lest you forget safety, have a look at these Warren Miller wicked wipeouts. His ski bloopers are equally entertaining.
Lake Tahoe guide with links to all Tahoe-area ski resorts and après ski activities.
While summer ended with the quiet dawn of fall, winter vacations in sunny destinations are coming soon, including trips to Maui, Cancun, the Bahamas, and anywhere else you can still get a tan and splash around.
Scuba diving is one of those activities you can still do in the winter - in sunny destinations. I've heard Grand Cayman is a diver's mecca, and the Great Barrier Reef and Red Sea also rank high. Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods of time, my water activity consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore.
However, divers take note: Scubaratings.com is a site that allows you to find dive packages and rate dive trips to various destinations. It looks like a divers' community site, complete with a new "Dive Grid" where you enter in trip criteria (number of divers, travelers, dates, number of rooms needed, etc.) and see results of vacations that are specific to divers.
In doing a basic search for 6 nights, scuba diving 5 days, and traveling solo, I got results ranging from $463 to $8,011 across 11 countries (from Trinidad to Tanzania). Quite the range of budget to luxury packages. Dig around and see if the dive grid or site works for you. Summer may be over, but sun worshippers and adventurers who gear their travel around warm-weather activities can start planning now for winter getaways.
Spas offer a respite from daily stress, a transformative means to health, and boost the spirit. Massages melt muscles with seductive aromatherapy, perfect pressure points, and release knots, putting your body and mind at ease. Nothing beats a good masseur or masseuse. For a girls getaway, guys getaway (er, mancation?), or any other trip, here's a list of some of the best spas in the world.
Best destination spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
Destination spas offer a complete immersion in pampering, with setting, food, ambience, and treatments all aimed at making you feel as relaxed as imaginable (or unimaginable).
Best resort spas ranked by Travel + Leisure's readers in 2004
Resort spas are normally connected to luxury hotels or resorts, often in locations with great natural beauty, offering a wide range of spa treatments.
**Best spas for hikers by About.com
For active vacationers who like adventure mixed with pampering.
Best spas for detox by About.com
For travelers in need of a spiritually cleansing or healthy vacation.
Best spas on a lake by About.com
For spa lovers who find as much peace on a lake as during a massage.
But are any of these really the best? Such a subjective word: best. What makes a spa ideal for you? I've heard amazing things about Mii Amo in Sedona, Ariz., but from my personal experience (so far!), the best spa I've gone to was in Calistoga, Calif. Here's why it was amazing:
When I walked in, the clock was at least 10 minutes slow and the front desk clerk smiled, "Welcome. No worries about the time, we're on spa time." My shoulders dropped with relief. No stress here. After calmly slipping into a robe in the dressing room, I drank cucumber-flavored water before the masseuse brought me to my sea salt soaking tub. After the soak, I had the massage of a lifetime. The masseuse was a magician with strong, experienced hands who worked every knot out of my back and shoulders, then had me doing a breathing exercise while she released tension from my neck and left my body and mind dizzy with delight. Being on vacation in Napa Valley also helped with the carefree mood. Still, I highly recommend Indian Springs Spa. As part of your appointment, you even get free use of their outdoor swimming pool. Another cool perk.
Gadling published a photo of the day with a neo-classic shot of a wired traveler. The photo is akin to a still life painting that captures the essence of an era; in this case, our traveling culture in an age of Web 2.0 (think flickr, travel blogging, TripHub). This photo is a statement, by the photographer/traveler, about his/her traveling life. It says "I'm wired." Is this traveler's hi tech set of gadgets so extreme?
When I travel for a week or more, I usually bring a camera, guide book, iPod, books, rarely my cell phone, and all other essentials. I suppose all I'm missing is the video and computer. My style of travel is much more low key and low tech, usually finding as many ways to disconnect as I can. I still don't have a digital camera - I actually use film. (E-gad! I can hear collective gasps.) Think margarita in hand after a kayak paddle, feet up watching a sunset. And the best travel moments I often forget to snap photos because I'm too busy enjoying them. Now, that's my style of vacation. Still, if I laid out all my gear on a bed, what would it say about me? Pseudo-techie? Quasi-techie? Hmm...
TripAdvisor.com issued a list of "fall's finest escapes" and I wanted to republish the list, as it gives great ideas of where to watch the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and kick up the fallen leaves before they become mulch. The crowds happen to thin in these destinations during the fall, so this is an ideal time to go (in my opinion).
I recently wrote about culinary tours and just read a CNN article about the trend in culinary tours and cooking classes, shedding light on why we travel for food. Here are some excerpts about the growing popular movement to experience culinary delights up close and personal while on vacation.
"I think that the foodie market is related more or less to the baby boomer demographic," said Dr. Rich Harrill, director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. "You have people who are retiring, people with lots of discretionary time and income, some level of sophistication. They're educated, they're interested in wine, they're interested in food."
The article goes on to suggest that while countries like Italy, France, and Spain are "hot spots for culinary tourism," you don't have to travel too far off the beaten path or make a major time commitment to participate.
One culinary class pupil reminisces fondly, "When you travel through the world exploring food, you get this interesting window about the culture and the environment because food is the bridge between the land and the culture."
Courses are limited to Arizona, Las Vegas, Hawaii, California, Carolinas, Florida, and Mexico but those are golf hot spots anyway. The descriptions, photos, par stats, player ratings all come in handy. But the fact that you can actually book a tee time is highly convenient. Now all you need to do is practice your putt.
Nothing could be finer than to plan your ski trip using a virtual map where you zoom into all major landmarks. Ski.com offers the first of its kind. Hotelmarketing.com reports on Ski.com's new 3D ski resort maps, giving a thorough report. The gist is this:
"Travelers who wish to virtually explore ski towns such as Aspen, Snowmass, Vail and Breckenridge are able to view interactive maps featuring 3D views of the town and the mountain. With the click of the mouse, the map allows the user to rotate, zoom in and out and tilt the view down to street level revealing topographical details including runs, lifts and accommodations available. Travelers can then quickly and easily identify where each property is located in relation to the things that matter most to them, whether it is the convenience of a ski in and out location or near shopping."
They only have 9 maps live, but they are working on others. Play around and send them your feedback.
Green travel doesn't have to mean zero impact. Often, it's nearly impossible to leave no trace when you travel. Yet there are more and more ways that companies are helping travelers take baby steps toward being a little more environmentally savvy. Call it trendy. But here are a few ways to make your next trip a bit green:
Travelocity not only offers carbon dioxide emission offsets for travel, but they launched a volunteer vacation program to address many environmental issues.
Expedia's green program allows travelers to donate to TerraPass, a company that helps stem greenhouse gas emissions through clean energy initiatives.
Emerald Market blog offers tips for travel accessories, eco-friendly kid stuff, and more. Click through the travel, accessories, and kids categories to find ideas for eco-travel.
Traveling (flying in particular) has gotten increasingly more hectic over the years. TVs blare in airports, security lines wind around terminals, cell phone users chat away between "Can you hear me now?" confirmations. Airlines cram passengers in planes, getting as many sold tickets per flight possible, with budgets tight.
Now, thanks to budget airlines Ryanair, you may actually be able to talk on cell phones during flights. Yes, during flights. Whatever happened to disconnecting from it all to let yourself sleep, watch a movie, read, write, or even daydream? In my humble opinion, there's something to be said for forcing yourself to chill, to unwind. Even if the plane is the last place any of us want to do so, we're at least not beholden to the on-demand societal anchors like email, cells, Blackberries, pagers, and other gadgets.
Maybe I'm just way too low tech. But the next time you're on a bus or train and someone gabs on a cell the entire time, imagine a plane ride like that. Oy.
Mancations? You heard it right. Gadling reported on a trend CNN recently wrote about, and one TripHub has known about for a while - guys getaways, apparently now also referred to as mancations. (Men, are you cool with this term? Sounds a little goofy to me, but then again girls getaway probably sounds equally as goofy.)
Groups of guys with old friends from high school and college (or just life) traveling together is a growing trend indeed, if nothing else, evident from hotels and resorts catering to men only groups with such testosterone-infused packages including things like:
buckets of beer
race car driving
"man-friendly" spa treatments
Keeping in touch is important and doing so while traveling (away from the girls) is a way to bond in ways you can't do as a couple. I can vouch that my girls getaways (goofy as that trendy little name sounds for a vacation) are a God-send when it comes to staying connected to friends. Especially when you're increasingly busy post-college with work and life.
P.s., clearly, other bloggers think the term mancation is as ridiculous as I do. However, the concept is sound. Guys do travel together, label or no label.
No matter what destination your travels take you to, sunsets seem be a reason for people to gather, drinking in the cloud art and colorful sky. Sunsets form rituals. On my recent boating vacation sunrise and sunset were the big events of the day. We set our daily rhythm and schedule around them, and I watched other travelers and animals do the same.
Sunsets seem to be the cue for vacationers to gather for dinner, take in those happy snapshots for family photo albums, retire from the day and hunker inside boats, houses, hotels, restaurants for pre-sleep activities. 'Tis our cue for winding down. And the soft-light hues are radiant, often an explosion of colors like a big bang punctuating the day's end. No two sunsets are alike. I'm sure of it.
Best sunsets from my travels (based solely on personal opinion, as there's no way to be objective about such ethereal, transcendent beauty):
Ia on the island of Santorini, Greece
2nd Beach in the Olympic National Park
Sucia Island in the San Juans
Marinas anywhere (picture shown is at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands)
Via del'Amore in Cinque Terre, Italy
Kauai's western-most beach (I can't recall the name)
Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica
Kerry Park, Seattle, WA (amazing cityscape and Puget Sound views for sunset)
Welcome to the 4th travel carnival, where a flurry of travel articles have come in since the 3rd edition. Even during (or perhaps because of) end-of-summer vacations, travel bloggers took time to write or share their travelogues, tips, and musings. The theme this time was Nature's Bounty; however, many off-topic submissions came in and I've decided to include them. Enjoy!
David Stanley presents "Manitou Beach and Last Mountain, Saskatchewan" saying, "In the heart of the Canadian prairies, 126 kilometers southeast of Joni Mitchell's hometown Saskatoon, is a lake with a natural salinity of 12 percent, which is 3.5 times saltier than the world's oceans and 50 percent saltier than the Dead Sea."
Joe Kissell presents "The Perito Moreno Glacier / Breaking the ice rules" saying, "This river of ice in Argentina is much like other glaciers, though on average, it's neither retreating nor advancing. But it's face divides a lake into two, and dramatic, periodic ruptures reconnect the two sections." Joe believes "size matters" and that "hiking on a glacier is like hiking on a giant snow cone."
Smita presents "Igatpuri - Unchartered Territory" where two trekkers go off the beaten path in India to verdant, hilly pastures for (what is clearly) an experience of a lifetime.
Trevor presents Travels in Nepal #16: The Climb to Namche Bazar with reflections of his trek in Nepal, reminding us all to stop and smell the proverbial roses (in his case, soak in the views) and set your own pace in life. Nice photos to boot!
Kelly Vaughan presents an article on "Turkey through the eyes of a New York City teacher" about one of her first weekends while living in Istanbul for a year. This piece details a weekend of exploration and paints a colorful image of what you can expect when traveling to Turkey. Ah, Turkey. A beautiful country with a fascinating history.
Mary Jo Manzanares presents "Washington DC: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens" saying, "So much natural beauty so close to our nation's capital. It's worth the time to take a short drive to see the aquatic gardens." The sexy stills of the flowers make me want to fly back east to visit this garden that's on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jennifer Miner presents "GPS Devices and Geocaching" noting, "Geocaching is like a worldwide scavenger hunt. Taking my handheld GPS with me on a trip to Maui forced me to do more than just lounge by the pool..." discovering ancient petroglyphs on the trek. Jennifer also presents "Santa Monica Shangri-la", recommending this hotel for families who desire a 180-degree Pacific Ocean view.
Unrelated to Nature's Bounty ...but amusing nonetheless
Sheila Scarborough presents "My Top 10 Ideas for Travel Souvenirs" with great ideas for family trinkets such as "Floatie Pens... from Jerusalem with floating bread and wine in front of the Last Supper. Classic." (Note: You may need to scroll to read her post after arriving at her site.)
Georgina Kelman presents Three Days in the Desert, a story of a family road trip to Palm Springs in August. An aerial tram to hike the mountails and air-conditioned art and flight museums gave the family reunion a respite from the desert heat.
Kelby Carr presents "Road Trip Planner: Survive a Family Road Trip" saying, "The family road trip is the ultimate family vacation. That doesn't mean it has to be all the cliches of whining kids and grumpy parents." She gives several practical tips for families. Kelby also presents "Winter and Christmas Cruises" highlighting family cruises for New Year's, Hannukah, or any other holiday getaway.
Chaminda presents "Souma Nomaoi - Horse Festival of Soma" about an off-the-beaten-track Japanese festival that has taken place each July for 1033 years.
Rick Sincere presents Visiting the Speaker's House, a journey to a Founding Father's dilapidated house (and future tourist attraction) along with a historic church along Main Street in Trappe, Pennsylvania. See where the first signer of the Bill of Rights lived.
Quick post on a new trend in baggage handling and shipping. With increases in airport security and requirements to search every checked and unchecked bag, a fleet of new private baggage delivery companies have sprung up.
The New York Times covered this issue in depth. While it doesn't appear that any of these companies is striking it rich with this business model yet (except old-timers like FedEx and UPS), it does appear to be gaining popularity among travelers. Worth a read. Here are the private baggage couriers mentioned:
In addition to Travelocity going green and socially responsible, now a study by Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelovich, Inc. shows how real the trend is for travelers. In the National Leisure Travel Monitor report of 2006, an overwhelming majority of Americans indicated the primary inspiration for vacationing was "spending time with friends and family." No surprise. Family travel is common and visiting with friends keeps us all sane.
Yet a growing number of Americans, 6 percent of frequent leisure travelers, say they have taken a volunteer vacation to support a humanitarian cause during the previous 12 months. And if you extrapolate that percentage out to the overall American traveling public, the numbers are sizeable. Impressive!
No matter how humanitarian I believe myself to be, I'm not part of that statistic. Yet. There are so many volunteer vacations to choose from. And despite war times, a great number of Americans want to make a positive impact on the environment, on health, toward educating kids, and so forth.
Here are the study's "most frequently cited attributes sought in a vacation" - which highly correlate to volunteer vacation destinations.
Considered Very/Extremely Desirable: 2006
Beautiful scenery 84 percent
A safe destination 83 percent
A place I've never visited before 78 percent
A beach experience 65 percent
A place I have visited before 62 percent
A hotel with a casually elegant atmosphere 54 percent
Participating in activities with children 51 percent
An opportunity to eat different and unusual cuisine 51 percent
Volunteering while vacationing are a growing. Travelocity is doing more to bring "voluntourism" to the mainstream by launching a green travel program that gives travelers an opportunity to travel while making a positive impact on the environment. Of course, travelers can do this anyway on ecotours and by volunteering independently, but this green effort by Travelocity illustrates how mainstream volunteer vacations are becoming.
Travelocity's new Travel for Good Change Ambassadors program summary in their own words: "...from environmental work to animal rescue and habitat restoration to humanitarian and homebuilding missions around the world. Travelers can search their collections of volunteer trips and get inspired to do some good of their own. Our partners let travelers search for trips in a variety of ways: a cause that is dear to them, a place they want to visit, or dates they want to volunteer. Or one can simply browse them all and get inspired."
Travelocity also offers CO2 emissions "carbon offsets" to help offset the adverse environmental effects of traveling (the first major online agency to take this step). The upshot is that a tree will be planted on public land (where? that's not clear) if you purchase the offset when booking on the site. And since trees breathe out oxygen and soak up carbon dioxide, you can feel like you're making a small difference while traveling.
Props to any travel company who goes green. Our planet needs it.
Prepping for winter with deep lunges to get those quads in shape for swooping down the mountain? Waxing your skis? If your idea of adventure includes snowflakes, slopes, and skiing, this guide's for you.
2006-07 ski season is only a couple of months away, but there are book early ski deals already percolating, and dozens of resorts getting reading for a snowy winter. Travelocity has the most comprehensive list of North American ski resorts I've ever seen. Clean and simply indexed with links to all the key/basic info you need (including resort phone numbers, vertical feet of skiing and boarding terrain, and more). Have a look and start planning your snowboarding or skiing trip.
10 top ski resorts for groups (in no particular order):
My San Juan boat trip reminded me how many happy memories are accumulated by taking the time to play. Each year Americans let oodles of vacation time lapse or expire. What a waste! When stressed in your post-vacation daily grind (which is practically inevitable), we all need happy places to go mentally and remind ourselves that life was exquisite once, it'll be exquisite again. Vacations provide happy places. And after two weeks cruising around islands, my memory is full of smiles.
Happy place #1: From my kayak, I skimmed shallow bays, investigated reefs, met face to face with cliff embankments and dared the sea to roll me.
Happy place #2: From our wooden boat, I could sunbathe wherever I wanted and made a nice nest inside the cabin.
Happy place #3: From the top of an island, I peered out like an explorer and let the wind blow my hair into tangles as I soaked in the silent serenity of rock meeting saltwater.
Happy place #4: From the shoreline, walking barefoot in 60-degree water, I contemplated rocks and driftwood. Where did they all originate?
Happy place #5: In the company of friends and family, we shared food, caught up, played guitar occasionally, but mostly just enjoyed being with each other.
Food and wine touring is one of the best methods of travel, and a growing trend. You meet locals, often take the road less traveled, taste exquisite regional cuisine, sample rare wines, and try a culture on for size. These scrumptious tours come in all flavors and cater to groups.
Cooking classes abroad
My mom and I participated in a group cooking class while in Florence for a destination wedding. 20 guests from the wedding bonded, made new friends, and spread the spirit of the wedding through the days leading up to the ceremony. With the chef supervising, ingredients prepped, and kitchen utensils at hand, we broke into smaller groups and worked on our respective culinary assignments. Mom and I were with the tort table following a simple recipe for a lemon tort while others prepared a beef entrée, appetizers, and salads. After baking and cooking, we all feasted on our homemade Italian food and drank vino at a big banquet table. Bonus: We all got to take home the recipes and aprons. To this day, it's still one of my most memorable meals. Thanks to Apicius, the Culinary Institute of Florence.
The same destination wedding trip to Italy also gave me the opportunity to take a small group wine-tasting tour. We visited quaint, lesser-known wineries and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in a rural village just outside of Florence. Chianti's 300 acres between Florence and Siena are filled with hills and various wine-growing conditions, producing a range of bouquets. We sampled soft wines, dry wines, and robust wines not marketed in the U.S. Apparently, the American market demands certain grapes and types of wine, but often the local vintners shake their heads in wonder because they know the superior bottles don't sell well on the mass market. Reason alone to do a wine-tasting tour: rare finds. These tours are a great way to meld with the rural areas, sample the fruits of its earth, and pass the time with a little culture.
Pick and choose your favorite culinary tour. Your body, mind, and gut will thank you for it, and it's ideal for group trips. A few suggestions to whet your appetite:
After two weeks boating in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, I'm back to blogging.
What a trip! Bird watching. Kayaking. Whales diving under our boat (and me in tears with a mixture of fear and awe). Dining like royalty on freshly caught crabs. Anchoring and tying up to docks around the islands. Meeting other boaters and reveling in the comaraderie. Feeling more relaxed than I have in years. Meeting up with family and dining with friends on various stops along our cruising route. Ah, that's the life. Now, back to reality and awaiting the Visa bill.
Each island has a unique flavor, as does each harbor and bay. Although the charm of Deception Pass State Park (on Whidbey Island), Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (both on San Juan Island), Fisherman's Bay and Spencer Spit (both on Lopez Island) is specific to each locale and its inhabitants, I found Sucia Island the most mesmerizing.
Sucia is a state park unto itself without permanent residents, a fossil bed, a tranquil respite from urban sprawl, a sanctuary for birds, vultures, seals, and very possibly a mouse or two. It offered what I needed most - silent nights and a bounty of nature to explore. The abundant plant and tree diversity was pointed out to me by my forester companion (who also doubled as skipper and chef - what would I do without him?!). He identified species as we hiked along the 15 miles of trails around the island. I believe there were approximately 14 tree species alone; each time we saw a new one, our heads would tilt back to find the top (I was looking at the beauty of it all while he analyzed the tree health and age). Madrona, firs, cedar, oak, maple, juniper, aspen, alder, yew - the list seemed as endless as the seascape, viewable from various bays, inlets, rocky embankments, and beaches around the island. Sucia is a wonderland for nature lovers. I know I'll return.
Quick tips for boating trips:
Take a wearable PFD and wear it
Learn how to tie knots before the boating or sailing trip
Practice at least once jumping off the boat to the dock to secure the lines (when docking) so the vacation isn't your first time having to do it (this is to avoid looking like a novice nerd at the docks when your boat cruises in; and also for safety)
If you're not the skipper, be a great crew member by being alert for his/her instructions and thinking ahead to anticipate problems and needs
In peak boating season, plan ahead for places you must see by making reservations (and wing the rest - leave room for flexibility based on weather and whim)
Bring two cameras in case one dies or you run out of film on a remote island (trust me on this)
Boating trips - whether you charter a boat, take a cruise, or book a sail or cruise as part of a group trip, is a great way to go. You get a unique perspective on scenery from the water and have an opportunity to explore where cars cannot go.
If you're considering going on a professionally-arranged group tour, there are key things to ask about in the first ten minutes of your research. Here are the 10 most important things to consider:
1. References: Make sure the references the wholesaler gives you are for similar groups to yours. Example: if they only take European travelers, you might find group needs differ from those of Americans.
2. Small print averse? At least read cancellation penalties and figure how much you can lose if your trip does not meet its numbers. Airline ticket cancellations are usually the surprise loss. Note: a substantial group organizer will have some pull and flexibility with your hotel/airline choices.
3. Hotel quality: Google the hotel used in the capital city on the itinerary for a general flavor. If the hotel is a condition of your contract, make that clear up front. Many group contracts only specify X hotel or similar.
4. Red flag the word "from" on pricing. It means you are looking at the lowest price.
5. Trip pace: If breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, you'll be on a leisurely moving trip. I recommend usually 2 meals a day for groups over 25; it moves the trip along. Ask where the meals are held: hotel or restaurant.
6. Financial security: Most group deposits are payable by check only, so credit card acceptance will not gauge financial stability of your wholesaler. But check for travel insurance availability and, if the group tour organizer/operator offers insurance, make sure you know the name of the insurer.
7. Trip length: Forget number of days, most wholesalers include "travel days."
8. Check trade association memberships like ASTA, BBB, and length of time the company has been doing groups exclusively. Many agents doing individual reservations will tell you they also do groups. Other gauges: a 24-hour emergency number, ability to issue tickets themselves, country specialists, pre-printed customized labels, luggage tags, etc. will tell you this is a real company.
9. Prompt responses from the company mean they are group-friendly. Prompt email responses means they cater to Internet savvy travelers.
10. Customer service: Check that the company has a street address and more than one person in their group department.
Get a few quotes and don't be shy to ask for more information on any issue.
Phyllis Stoller has been a group tour organizer for 15 years and is currently President ofWomen's Travel Club*, wholesale operator and largest such group for women in North America. For 15 years Women's Travel Club has run group trips for women.*
The 3rd carnival of travel brings a kaleidoscope of perspectives on family travel, adventures into lesser known territory, solo sojourns, traveling with friends, and travel tips. The carnival keeps rolling, and the writing stays fresh and engaging, making me want to get out and travel.
So, I think I will. For the next two weeks, I'll be on a boat trip in the San Juan Islands hiking, kayaking, and doing some serious relaxing. Next carnival of travel will be in mid September. Until then, enjoy this thoroughly eclectic assortment of travel articles.
Please Pass the Olives
Food brings people together, even when they don't speak the same language. Pam brought me right back to being in Italy with one of the most enjoyable reads I've had it a while! I really must visit another Tuscan villa. It's time.
Hidden Gems: Hell
Replete with puns, wit, gorgeous photos, and one helluva sense of adventure, this trip to Hell, "a small corner tucked away on Grand Cayman's northwest corner" on the dreaded 6/6/06 is quite a tale from Willy at Gadling.
"Himalayas: Room With View, and Bath"
Basia's sense of humor and adventure took her all the way to the Himalayas, nearly to Everest, and on a brief detour to a hot, steamy experience of a lifetime. An unbelievable trek.
Beneath the streets of Paris lies a vast network of catacombs, containing the bones of an estimated six million former residents. Joe's account of his journey to the catacombs of Paris is haunting and fascinating all at once. Perhaps an idea to see the dark side of the City of Lights? A thought-provoking post indeed.
River City Food and Wine
An anniversary trip culminates in Montreal, with reviews of lunch, dinner. If you've never been to this Canadian city, this post gives a snapshot (literally and figuratively) of what to expect. The Botanical Gardens and a glass of pear cognac are first on my list, if I ever go.
"10 Tips to Help You Deal with Airport Security"
Directly from a flight attendant, here are tips to maneuver through airport security, when the code keeps changing colors. While specific requirements will change depending on circumstances, the tips are still relevant.
Because You Can't Depend Solely on William Shatner's Word"
If you've ever used Priceline or been curious how much of a deal you'll really get, Mike at Pocket Change sheds some light on a site aimed at helping Priceline users make informed bids from other Priceline users.
Hold the Mustard, Please
When a nine-year-old and her mother (Kelly) go out for crab in Maryland, they get more than they bargained for.
"Trinity Prep School - Landing Inside Our Books"
Incorporating educational travel with homeschooling, Maureen blogs about a family trip where the kids experienced the wonders of discovering the Great Lakes and Louis and Clarke path through both the eyes of the authors and themselves.
"A Journey of 13,000 Miles - By Jetski"
Two men are going for the Guinness Book of World Records, attempting to jet ski from Alaska to Florida (13,500 miles) without a support team. They're currently just reaching Mexico's waters.
"Chiang Kai Shek Memorial"
Foo Chuan describes why you should visit the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, located in Taipei City, Republic of China. This memorial honors the late President Chiang Kai-shek.
"My Forgettable Trip to Egypt - Part I"
Simonne returned from a trip to Egypt with a less than favorable impression. My take aways? Don't go to Cairo for a pleasant stroll in the big city; instead, learn how to walk like an Egyptian (and not get hit by cars). Also, there's no such thing as a free camel ride, especially by the pyramids.
Here's something shocking. Call me a Gen X traditionalist, but Gen Y kids have it easy when taking family vacations. Not only are rental SUVs equipped with DVDs so kids can substitute road trip daydreaming (something no doubt good for their brains) with spacing out blankly at a screen, now hotels are taking Gen Y travel targeting to the hilt.
Oahu's Hilton Hawaiian Village now offers YSpa with massage and other treatments for teens and tweens. I guess it isn't enough to enjoy a family vacation, snorkeling and swimming in the sun-kissed waters of Hawaii. Now kids need pampering for all their hard school work (and parents foot the bill)? If I reflect back on my teenage years (ack, don't make me!) I think I would have died to have a spa vacation. But now that I'm an adult and can afford the services for myself, I realize what a treat spa services are. If they had been handed to me as a teen, I don't think I would have the same appreciation for such an indulgence.
When these Generation Y kids grow up, what will they have to look forward to as a treat?
In preparing for an upcoming boating vacation, I got to thinking about what I needed to bring. I've never taken an extended boating trip and keep peppering my captain with questions. He's the boating veteran, chef, and navigator - but I'm the list maker. It's all in his head (flares, battery charger, food, packing essentials) and I needed to see a concrete list so I could get organized, too.
Luckily, I just learned about the Universal Packing List, a one-of-a-kind application that helps you quickly prepare for most trips. You simply fill in details about your trip, and the it spits out your list for free. Exactly what I needed.
I tried out the application for my boat trip and was impressed. It doesn't have a particularly snazzy design, but the basic list is all you really need. I selected "All items" for my packing list length (you have a choice of "normal length" "just critical items" and more) and found a plethora of things to do before leaving (from handling spare house keys to holding mail) as well as a full packing list.
Opt to view the comments. They're helpful and specific. Examples: bring a collaged photocopy of pictures of loved ones if you think you'll get homesick, leave most wallet contents at home and only bring the basic credit cards and ID (so if stolen, you don't have to also replace your library card, video rental card, and so forth).
Obviously, each trip has its specific requirements, but the Universal Packing List is about as comprehensive a starting point as it gets.
Are you a last-minute traveler? Spontaneous to the core? If so, you're probably too busy enjoying summer to think about early fall. But you may to keep a few festivals on your radar. September is a golden time of year for cooler weather, for warm, gentle breezes, for parents who get to usher their kids onto school buses or into schools, for the buzz of summer to wind down, and for people to plan those last days of summer vacations.
There are several September festivals for all spectrums of life: families, music lovers, art adorers, food fanatics, and more. Here's a snippet of what's on the horizon for late summer, early fall.
Sausalito Art Festival, Labor Day Weekend (early September)
The Mediterranean-style seaside town of Sausalito, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has hosted the world-famous art festival annually since 1952. "The best local, American, and International Artists bring their combined perspectives, virtuoso skills, and more than 20,000 original works of art — including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, fine glass, woodwork, mixed media, and photography."
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, September
"...three days of world-renowned musicians performing live on the famous Telluride Town Park stage, late night jams in the local juke joints, 50 choice microbreweries serving up their handcrafted "cream of the barrel" during Saturday's Grand Tasting, the Rainbow Kids area, free Acoustic Artist Series, Blues For Breakfast, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp."
La Tamale Festival, in Los Angeles, September
This red hot event is in its second year, drawing 60,000 visitors. You can enjoy a kids pavilion, world record-eating contests, tamale-making classes, and as much spicy Latin sauce as you can dish up.
Russian Mosaic Festival in Philadelphia, September
This free festival will be a day packed with music, dance, and entertainment. This year's seven-hour concert program is set to showcase the Russian community's original folk, classical, and ballroom dancing performers.
Plano Balloon Festival in Plano/Dallas/Fort Worth, late September
A "something-for-everyone" event, this festival is filled with plenty of hot air. Cow-shaped balloons awe the crowds from above, hot air balloons offer rides, a team of expert sky divers do stunts out of planes. All this with entertainment, food, and plenty to keep the kiddies occupies.
Visit Festivals.com to find a wide range of other arts, cultural, music, and family festivals in the U.S. and around world.
Stress-free wedding planning that reflects your personal style.
By guest blogger Blair deLaubenfels
Getting engaged brings euphoria, joy, and expectation. But all too often the initial excitement that comes from saying "yes" to the big question gets lost in the attempt to answer all the little questions like who to hire, what to wear, where to get married, and how much will it cost.
Here are five fun steps to help plan the wedding of your dreams, personal style in tact.
1. Share your deepest desires
Great partners care about each other's dreams and know how to lend support to help them come true. Before you run out and tell your family and friends your big news, sit down with your fiancé and make a list based on your deepest desires.
List ten things that you really want from your wedding and the five things that are most important to you about your honeymoon.
Number them in order of priority.
Talk about why you choose those things and make a pact that you will work together to see that most, if not all of your deepest desires will be met as you make your wedding planning decisions. This mutual understanding and trust will help you arrive at decisions and respond to all the well meaning advice you’re bound to encounter on your way.
If you start worrying over little things, check your priority list to get back to what really matters.
2. Set up your support team
With the help of trustworthy friends, supportive family members, and recommended wedding professionals, you'll be able to design a stress-free wedding. Put together a friends and family team based on love, reliability, and interest, and give some thought to the unique skills and talents each individual can bring to your day. Don't be shy to delegate.
Choose the professionals you need by recommendation. Hire an experienced wedding consultant that can share their expertise with you or ask friends who have been married recently. Talk to other wedding professionals and look for businesses that have won local and national awards and recognition. Check references! It doesn't take long and the feedback you get will be invaluable in bolstering your confidence, or steering you clear of a costly mistake.
3. Agree on a budget
This is one of the toughest parts of wedding planning. The average wedding in the United States costs between $18,000 and $25,000 depending on where you live. Use your priority list to set a comfortable budget. Splurge on the things that are really important and get creative about the rest.
Junebug Weddings image editor Kim Bamberg and her husband Adam shared their desires and set their budget in a truly inspiring way. They discovered that they had both always dreamt of getting married in France and that Kim had envisioned herself in a gorgeous gown since she was a little girl. Before anyone told them their dreams were too outrageous, they found the perfect chateau just outside of Paris, rented it for a whole week for less than the average reception cost in Seattle, and invited their friends and family to join them on a once in a lifetime vacation. With cake from the neighborhood boulangerie, flowers from a local market, and the most memorable wine on the planet from the vintner down the lane, Kim was ecstatic when she made her way down the aisle in her Madina Vadache designer original.
4. Reflect your personal style
Do what feels most like you! Most cowboys aren't crazy about tuxes with tails, and fashionistas usually aren't comfortable in anything but the very latest haute couture. Don't let magazines, advertisements, or other peoples' expectations drive your choices. There are a million options to choose from in every aspect of wedding planning. Find the elements for your wedding that are all about you and really make them your own.
5. Relax, and let the magic happen
You're in love, and this can be one of the best times of your life.
I've attended countless weddings and heard about all the little things that cause stress and worry. In almost all cases those distractions have turned out not to matter in the end. Learn about your partner's dreams, think creatively to develop a comfortable budget, involve your friends and family in unique ways, and let your style shine through. Chances are, your wedding will be perfectly you.
Ecotourism is a growing trend in travel. As our world shrinks, thanks to globalization and population expansion, sustainable travel naturally tags along as people want to help preserve communities, native habitat, and the little creatures that inhabit the planet.
Step out of the ordinary and raft down a river, tour a village, meet the locals, and touch nature without leaving too much of a mark. Here are a few eco-friendly tours and organizations to get your green trip with friends or family started.
Conservation International and ResponsibleTravel jointly launched an initiative to get travelers off the beaten path in a sustainable way by promoting community-based tourism. Here are two wonderful examples of how this program is helping travelers see the real Ethiopia or tour Thailand via locally arranged tours. They offer tours in many other countries as well.
Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation, an organization solely dedicated to marine ecotourism and habitat preservation, has naturalists aboard every snorkeling cruise, whale-watching tour, and other water activity. Great for families who seek to add a little education to their adventure and enlighten the kiddies.
Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism and one of the best places to see nature's bountiful biodiversity. Ergo, there are several ecotour operators of choice. A few that look appealing are Adventure Life, and customized adventure tours from Southern Explorations.
Sierra Club has outings across the U.S. and Canada. Outdoor adventures such as kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rafting, sailing, biking, and specific family adventures are all done in an eco-friendly manner.
Volunteer through Earthwatch Institute to help scientists in the field across the world do research that helps preserve habitat, animal species, and local cultures. This organization is a leader in sustainability, but there are plenty of volunteer vacation opportunities where you can make a positive impact while traveling.
You can plan a group ecotour or sustainable travel vacation with friends, family, or members of an association or organization you belong to using TripHub's travel planning tools.
Know of any other great ecotours or organizations that facilitate sustainable travel?
With recent arrests of terrorists plotting to target flights from London to the U.S., there is a temporary code red on flights from London to the U.S. and temporary code orange for flights into the U.S. What does it mean for travelers to travel under a code red or orange?
Smarter Travel gives insight on deciphering the codes. Here are airport security short-term changes known to be in effect:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is prohibiting all liquids, hair gels, and lotions in carry-on baggage within the United States. This includes coffee, soda, and even contact solution.
Essential liquids, such as baby formula, are being allowed.
No carry-on baggage is being allowed on any international flights.
Expect severe security delays at the airport. Television news reports are putting some security line wait times at one to two hours long.
USA Today's blog Today in the Sky gives a run down of the various airline policies for handling the temporary security situation. American Airlines canceled six flights today, United revised its ticketing policy to give travelers a break in changing travel plans and re-booking seats, and other airlines alert travelers to give even more time at airports for tightened security measures.
Homeland Security issued a release about cooperating with Britain to ensure traveler safety and stated, "These measures will continue to assure that our aviation system remains safe and secure. Travelers should go about their plans confidently, while maintaining vigilance in their surroundings and exercising patience with screening and security officials."
Nothing says vacation like a table full of drinks. At least within my circle. It's the start of a ritual, a conversation starter, ice-breaker, or at least has been that way for eons. This photo was from a trip to Hawaii with my family, so we felt obligated to get in the mood at the airport with the most tropical drinks on the menu.
I find, however, that I alter my drinking patterns according to the trip, and who I'm with. Solo sojourns often include sips of red wine to accompany my pondering while journaling. Family reunions usually involve the ol' one-two routine of microbrew then water, microbrew then water, microbrew then water (due to daily extended "happy hour" at my family reunions). And getaways with my girlfriends varies as widely as the type of trip we're on, from wine tasting to slugging beers at pubs to swirling iced Baileys around in my glass and mouth. The list goes on.
On many vacations I often drink only water, usually as part of a health kick. But parties, vacations, or getting together with friends so often center around the drinks in our society, not drinking can seem odd.
Consider throwing a bachelor(ette) party without shots of tequila, a family reunion without Uncle Jim's finest Scotch or that special bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, a wedding without the ceremonial champagne toast, or a weekend golfing with the guys (or girls) without a round of drinks. It can be done. But would it be as fun? Whether people drink or not is their own choice, but having the option at a group social setting seems standard in our culture. And I accept this. If I'm not in the mood to drink, I usually have a glass of water in hand and, if asked why I'm not drinking, sometimes make up clever reasons for drinking water and entertain myself with the responses. Good party fun.
Health or religious reasons aside, I think social drinking (especially on group vacations) is here to stay. What do you think?
Today, it just became easier to plan a vacation with friends and family. TripHub launched several new features this morning, adding to an assortment of online travel collaboration tools.
You can still invite people on trips and track who's coming (similar to Evite), share itinerary information, upload a trip photo (perhaps a prom picture for a bachelor/ette party?), search for and book flights, hotels, activities, car rentals, plus discuss hotel options within your group all in a central hub or home page.
All that helps simplify group travel planning tremendously, but two new features go the extra mile.
Trip Blogs: Now you can start discussions on any topic related to your trip such as transportation, dining reservations, what to wear, solicit votes, and more. You can upload photos in posts (as long as they are publicly available photos and not behind a firewall or from your personal computer), and the Trip Blog within your trip is private. Although private to your travel mates, careful not to give away any surprise birthday gag gifts, as all trip members can view and comment on any trip topic started.
Event Schedules: Also new today are agenda-like event schedules that offer even more structure and ease to the group travel planning process. Anyone can add an item (flight arrival times, dinner reservations, tour dates, show times, party details) for the whole group to see. It's a great way to look at all the key information in one tidy spot; plus, you can print and take it with you.
More cool tools:
Quick flight searches are another time-saving feature. You can search for flights by entering in travel dates and destinations only once, then clicking on the Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz links to do multiple searches and find your preferred flights (and fares).
TripHub also added several new travel planning guides on its home page – for family reunions, getaways, group reservation know-how, and weddings; plus, an assortment of destination guides.
You can also now preview invitations before sending them.
TripHub's travel planning service is free. If you're ready to plan a family reunion, take a multi-generational trip, go on a girls getaway, plan a bachelor party, even plan a wedding, TripHub helps simplify the planning process.
Mmmm... what a beautiful collection of travel-related blog posts! Traveling down a canal with grandparents, stepping outside your comfort zone to do a solo international trip, giving street pedalers the finger, finding yourself in a German boot camp, and making new friends while traveling. This 2nd edition carnival of travel is fresh with perspective on life and the road less traveled.
With a beautiful account of connections in our ever-shrinking world, Karen Walrond opens our eyes and hearts to the wonders of traveling and the unexpected blessings of making connections with strangers (including at the BlogHer 2006 conference). Are strangers so strange after all?
Hurrah! I’m in London!
First impressions of London and traveling solo are always interesting. What sticks with me from Cain's trip is his wit, sense of adventure, and keen observations about sometimes feeling small in a big world. Great read!
Babblogue of India
Travel to India with beautiful photos that you're likely not to see elsewhere. A snippet of Lakshmi's travelogue while traveling with her husband.
Trip Report: Visiting New York City with Kids
Great account of family travel to New York City... activities planned in advance, a lesson for us all in patience and strategic planning. If we could all be as organized as The Family CEO.
Bonjour from Paris!
A wonderful snapshot of a day in the life of Georgina touring Paris... and a sneak peek at the newly refurbished L'Orangie with the "greatest hits of Classical Modern art" (Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Modigliani)... It's been a while since I've toured a classic art museum and this post gets me in the mood for oil paintings.
Washington DC: U.S. Botanic Garden
An outdoor museum of fleurs and plants amid the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Think the U.S. capital is one big building lined city? Mary Jo Manzanares offers a rare look at what grows and flourishes near the Capitol Building; a great tip for travel to D.C.
Travel Destination - Your Friendly Travel Guide
Gaudi strikes again, and Lewis writes about one of Barcelona's most extravagant designs by the master Spanish architect that is still in construction, a century after Gaudi's death.
After All, You're My Westerwald
In Pam's own words, "A bad hotel, a surly waitress, the smell of meat, and an unhappy duck." What could be more intriguing? This post had me laughing between sips of tea. For anyone who has traveled to foreign land and encountered hall of fame characters along the way, this is for you.
Road Tripping with Yardbird
Katherine Dynes takes a solo road trip before picking up her grandmother for 1500 more miles. Three of her best road trip tips: don't stay at a hotel with a parking lot full of RVs or a staff that gets cranky when you use their ice machine to fill your cooler. Plus, find out why truckers suck in adverse weather conditions and why highways are like Starbucks.
Giving Hawkers the Finger
At India Ink, Basia gives one of the most pragmatic and insightful tips for travelers tired of getting heckled by street vendors ("Buy jewelry!" "Sunglasses cheap just for you!"). Try her peaceful protest approach and meditate on it.
Trinity Prep School - Our Erie Canal Tour
A story of a family who traveled down the New York State Canal System of waterways with all the generations, taking their homeschooling learning into action to see what western expansion helped invent. This educational tour is a great idea for summer family travel.
Birdwatching in Washington
Bird watchers keep a sharp eye on nature's small, flighty creatures like no one else. John's observations (of a D.C. guy) from visiting Washington state for the first time shows us all what we may otherwise overlook when gawking at bigger landmarks like mountains, or even visiting with people. Thanks for a reminder to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
San Juan Islands
Sweet. One of my favorite places on Earth is the cluster of islands off the northwest coast of Washington state. Rhonda at Girls Getaways shows us a great escape for any kind of traveler, mainly those who fancy adventure and activities and raw natural beauty.
When planning a family reunion or wedding, taking over a small resort for your exclusive use works wonders. Certain criteria apply to site selection: The resort (or villa or hacienda or block of rental homes) should be a superior facility, offer sumptuous food, non-intrusive service, first class accommodations, and a secluded setting away from distractions.
There are a number of properties around the country (and the world) that exemplify such high standards. Here are tips on how to research your group's idyllic casa away from casa:
Look for places that have the feel of a private estate, an ambience of another time and place and are so well run that you (the planner) can relax and enjoy yourself as well.
Pick a spot with a distinct change of atmosphere to reinforce the concept of getting away from it all. Also, make sure it's the type of place where guests are pampered and made to feel special. You can feel the difference in the level of relaxation for guests when a resort is reserved for your group's exclusive use.
Small resorts with a residential feel and hotel amenities work best for groups of friends and/or family. The sense of being on a private estate helps people let their guard down and unwind, fostering camaraderie—the reason you all wanted to get together in the first place!
Prep Steps Before You Go
Before your group arrives, send the property a detailed list of a) The names of all the people in your party, b) The names of people sharing rooms and c) Of those sharing rooms, which ones require a double bed or two single beds.
Charm also has its downside. In a hotel, most rooms are uniform but in an estate or hacienda, every room is unique, both in size and decoration. Make your guests aware of this beforehand so cousins don't get miffed because one has a nicer, larger room.
If the property offers activities (such as horseback riding or tennis) or has a spa facility (with facials and massages), check if these services need to be booked in advance. If so, let your guests know and provide a way to tally who wants what when - before you arrive!
If you are going to a resort outside the U.S., make sure everyone has a valid passport (and remembers to bring it).
Recommended Haciendas in Chile and Mexico
Hacienda Los Lingues in Chile:
Hacienda Los Lingues is about an hour south of Santiago in the heart of the wine-producing Cachapoal Valley. It's one of Chile's oldest and best-preserved estates and the same family, whose home it's been since 1599, now runs it as a hotel. The debonair Don German Claro Lyon and his family are your delightful hosts.
If you're looking for old-world, South American charm, the Hacienda Los Lingues is the spot. Shaded verandas lead to 18 rooms and suites furnished with heirloom antiques, family photos and memorabilia.
Activities for groups: a) wine tasting - there's a lovely vineyard on the property and day trips to local wineries; b) horseback riding - the stable of "Aculeo" horses, related to the famed Lipizzanas, is world-renowned.
And, if looking for a destination wedding spot, you can get married in the estate's beautiful, traditional Chilean chapel. You'll feel as if you're on the set of some fantastic South American movie.
Hacienda Temozón in Yucatan, Mexico:
In the early 1990's, abandoned (and formerly luxurious) haciendas from the economic heyday of the Yucatan region around Merida, were restored and converted into luxury hotels. Hacienda Temozón, about a half hour from Merida, is the grandest of three newly-restored properties, now part of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
As a result, you get the best of both worlds: a sense of the affluent lifestyle enjoyed during the economic boom and lovely, modern amenities. Much of the original décor, such as intricately-decorated floor tiles and beamed ceilings, has been preserved in the 28 elegantly-furnished rooms and guest quarters.
Spacious gardens, a spectacular swimming pool, and spa make this an ideal place to relax. It's also an excellent base for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Yucatan peninsula and the surrounding Mayan architectural sites.
There is also a 17th-century church on the property, ideal for weddings.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
My family has been having reunions since I was little girl with goldilocks. For the third in a row, we've gotten together on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Over the years, I've discovered a few myths that I hope will help any reunion planner in preparing for that next family reunion.
Myth 1: I won't drink too much
Be honest. Unless you're making a conscious effort to not drink at all, chances are you'll drink more than usual.
Myth 2: I won't eat too much
Family reunions are all about the food. Obviously, the reason to get together is to reconnect. But more effort goes into meals for this occasion than most other parties. Here are summertime recipes for family reunions.
Myth 3: I won't get a sunburn
Chances are you will, unless you're extra careful to apply sunblock throughout the day, and stay out of the sun during peak midday hours.
Myth 4: I will get ample sleep
It always seems that something is disrupting a perfect night's sleep: varying hours of going to bed, staying up late, getting up early for scheduled activities, kids over-excited, etc.
Myth 5: I will visit with everyone
Chances are slim that you'll have meaningful conversations with all attendees. But the connections you make are important, a link to your past, and a way to keep in touch with extended family. Make a mental list of the top three people you really want to reconnect with and make an effort to do so. You'll thank yourself.
Myth 6: Like other vacations, I'll relax as much as I want
There's an air of formality in a family reunion that is unlike friends traveling together or immediate family taking a vacation. Relatives come together who are genetically similar, but often live very different lives, in different places. You may feel the need to connect with select (extended) family members, while others are interested in visiting with you. This can be tiring, albeit rewarding.
Myth 7: Recycling will take care of itself
People tend to be much more lax about following recycling rules when at a big gathering like a family reunion. A mini tragedy of the commons. Luckily for my family, I have one highly type A uncle who takes big plastic garbage bins, labels them each with his neat hand writing ("plastics," "trash," "glass"), and strategically places them around the main eating/gathering area. We tease him, but appreciate his orderly tendencies.
Myth 8: Injuries are avoidable when family gathersAs for all other vacations (and life in general), safety is important. Have a first-aid kit and phone handy for emergencies. If you have any doctors in your family, the trip organizer may want to locate that person ahead of time and ask if they could wear a cell phone during the reunion just in case.
Myth 9: All the in-laws will fit inAll in-laws are not created equal. Pay attention to spouses or significant others who aren't socializing as much as others and make an effort to include them in conversations. Ask them about their family reunions, family dynamics, family heritage. Or learn more about what they enjoy doing in their free time. Family reunions can be intimidating for the non-genetically related.
Myth 10: My kids (grandkids, nieces/nephews) are the cutestAll kids are adorable in their own quirky or beautiful ways! Careful of becoming that obsessive family member who talks only of your kids (grandkids or nieces/nephews) and has no interest in any other subjects, or continually draws conversations back to your kids. It's wonderful to see such love and devotion to the kids, but even the kids (if they could speak up for themselves) would blush at all the gush.
What are other family reunion myths? Share your stories.
If you're looking for nude travel, don't go to Paris. The French, widely known for romance, love, and lax clothing policies on beaches, recently decreed a ban on nude, topless and bare buns (g-string) sun-bathing in the city of Paris. French beaches are still OK to bare flesh, but the city government seeks to mitigate temptations and reign the ropes on skimpy, sunning Parisians.
Defending the decree, city hall sports official Pascal Cherki told Le Parisien that indecent clothing "could have led to temptations and dangerous behavior on the banks of the river." The fine for nude or partial nude sunbathing is 38 euros ($48).
Perhaps this is a French standard for making the city more family-friendly? At least for reigning in the unruly behavior potentially caused by a distraction of bare bods. I'm surprised that Paris would issue such a decree. But then again, French (Parisians, in particular) do pride themselves on being unique and non-conformist. Perhaps nudity has become too commonplace; leave it to the French to set the record straight. Prudity is now unique?
Let's do that again! The inaugural carnival of travel was a success with several travel bloggers submitting beautifully-written pieces about subjects as varied as sailing to the Philippines, first impressions of Venice, and tips on how to inject adventure into your life. A flight stewardess even gave 12 tips for cell phone etiquette.
The 2nd edition is coming up this Friday; 3 posts already submitted. To participate, submit a travel blog post of your choosing. Wax poetic. Give us the nitty gritty of traveling across borders and boundaries. Share the wonders of traveling and open our eyes to the experience of seeing natural, cultural, and artistic beauty around the world. Or make us laugh. Whether you've traveled with friends, relatives, immediate family, or even trekked with yourself as your guide, all perspectives have merit.
Article submitted must be your own writing. (One article per person, per edition.)
Subject matter must be about travel.
Format can include blog articles with prose, poetry, bullet points, tips, anecdotes, photos (keep it clean), etc.
Reminder: You'll need to submit the permalink URL of your blog article when you submit the article using the blogcarnival.com submission form (which also has other fields such as article title, author name, etc.)
Deadline is this Thursday end of day, 8/3/06
Once I receive submissions via the submission form, I'll publish the carnival of travel (a collection of the travel submissions, or possibly all of them!) here on TripHub's Group Trip Advisor blog.
Next edition of the travel carnival scheduled to go live Friday, 8/4/06.
Beloved by beach buffs, honeymooners, surfers, and cruisers, the Mexican Riviera — that scenic stretch of coastal communities between Mazatlán and Acapulco — entices more and more travelers to its sun-drenched shores each year.
It's the West Coast's Caribbean — a hot, bright cure for the winter blues and blahs, where visitors can reliably expect temperatures in the 80s all year long. Mexico's Pacific Coast is also starting to rival Hawaii as a fashionable wedding destination, and couples wanting beachside betrothals can choose from a low-key village celebration in Zihuatanejo to a swank hotel gala in Puerto Vallarta.
This prime swath of real estate bordering the jungle-clad Sierra Madre range began booming in the 1970s, when the country's government began a push for tourism along the Pacific coastline. Acapulco started even earlier, attracting affluent jet-setters to its spanking-new hotels in the 1950s; however, Puerto Vallarta lays claim to catching the eye of the average tourist, who arrived in droves to the site where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a film and a tempestuous home in the city's cobblestoned hills in 1963. In contrast, Mazatlán's popularity grew gradually as travelers discovered the beach appeal of this working seaport. Most representative of the tourism push are the sister towns of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Only four miles apart, they couldn't be more different. Zihua maintains its fishing-village charm by government mandate: building codes are strict and therefore development is minimal. Ixtapa, on the other hand, was born fully fledged as a resort, and vacationers are beginning to flock to its high-rise hotels, trendy restaurants and bars, and the latest in water-sport thrills.
Today the Mexican Riviera sees thousands of cruisers arrive daily to its ports. But for groups vacationing sans big ship, the best way to visit is to fly in and rent a car or hire one of the plentiful taxis, many of which double as tour guides. Activities and excursions continue to burgeon as local entrepreneurs find new and novel ways to show off their region's charms. And then there's all that sand, sun, and sea.
Puerto Vallarta: The place to be in PV is on the malecón, a palm-lined beachside promenade punctuated by whimsical sculptures by various Mexican artists. From the walkway's southern end, cross over to the zócalo (town square); in sight is Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, whose gilded crown replicates that of Mexico's 19th-century Empress Carlotta. By leg power or taxi, climb the steep, narrow cobblestoned streets of the city for a glimpse of Casa Kimberley, once Liz Taylor's hideaway, and vistas of red-tiled roofs overlooking the bay. For kids, there's Splash Water Park for all things aquatic, from water rides to sea lion shows to dolphin swims. A short drive south leads to Playa Mismaloya, filming location for Night of the Iguana and now a popular site for weddings.
Mazatlán: Travelers into history should make Mexico's largest port their base camp, where they'll find nearly 500 architecturally significant buildings to admire, and most within the city center. Among them: the 19th-century Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with its twin yellow spires and baroque interior; the 1874 Teatro Ángela Peralta, a lavish Italianate theater still in use today; and the restored townhouses surrounding Plazuela Machado. Hire a taxi or stretch the legs on a walk out to Cerro del Vigía for far-reaching vistas and a view of El Faro Lighthouse, whose altitude is second only to Gibraltar. Mazatlán Aquarium treats the curious to a peek into Mexico's underwater world, with a sea lion show and tanks of sharks, eels, and other ocean denizens.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Laid-back Zihuatanejo offers few attractions, and that's the way residents and repeat visitors like it. Ideal for an intimate wedding group, Zihua offers sun, sand, and serenity on gentle beaches wrapped around a protected bay. Stroll Paseo del Pescador, a colorful bayside promenade with open-air restaurants and vendors; head away from the waterfront and experience a friendly town sans glitz and hype. A walk down Las Gatas Beach leads to El Faro Lighthouse and panoramic views. In contrast, Ixtapa is where the action is — mostly on the wide beaches and in the hopping nightclubs. Families can swim with dolphins at the Delfiniti Dolphinarium and enjoy the wave pools and water slides at Magic World aquatic park.
Puerto Vallarta: Forty miles of white-sand beaches serve as languid launching points for parasailing, banana boating, water skiing, jet skiing, and surfing. To the south is Los Arcos National Underwater Park, a prime spot for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving amid granite rock formations. The jungle's proximity to the city means that visitors can make like Tarzan by launching from a rope into a deep pool and zipping along cables set high above in the treetops at Canopy El Eden, setting for the film Predator. Great for groups are golf and mountain biking and hiking tours; in winter, whale-watching excursions sail in search of migrating humpbacks. Year-round, party cruises abound; more demure groups may opt for a sunset dinner cruise.
Mazatlán: Along with 10 miles of beaches offering the usual sand-and-surf sports, Mazatlán's waters are known for sportfishing and nature cruises — two activities perfect for groups. Glide through mangrove estuaries to spot herons, bitterns, and the elusive roseate spoonbill, or try a hand at reeling in marlin or sailfish (catch-and-release is the general rule). Take a kayak or a boat ride to snorkel the calm waters surrounding Isla de Venados, or join a horseback tour on Isla de la Piedras. Body surfing is big at Playa Olas Altas; Playa Bruja, north of the city, has the waves to host an annual surfing tournament. Hardy souls can take guided hiking trips into the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo's most popular beaches, playas Principal, La Ropa, and Las Gatas, offer palapas with hammocks for lazing and gentle waters for swimming and snorkeling, the latter best at Las Gatas. Anglers can hook up with a local guide to go panga fishing for roosterfish or head into deeper waters for marlin, sailfish, and bonita. On Ixtapa's two-mile-long Playa el Palmar, windsurfers, paragliders, jet skiers, and water skiers ply the waters. Golf enthusiasts can make tee times at Palma Real or Marina Ixtapa golf clubs, both of which offer group discounts. Canyons and reefs at dozens of local dive sites beckon to scuba divers, while Ixtapa Island's fragile coral reef lures snorkelers. Smaller beaches offer their own charms, including horseback riding through coconut plantations at Playa Linda.
Arts and Culture
Puerto Vallarta: More than 30 galleries and civic buildings around the city showcase local and international works of art, many of which can be found on a stroll through El Centro, the heart of PV. History buffs will want to visit the Museo Arqueológico and Museo Río Cuale for their collections of pre-Columbian artifacts. Plays, dance, and open-air movies take place regularly at the Cuale Cultural Center, as do theatrical productions at the Santa Barbara Playhouse on Olas Altas. At the malecón's Los Arcos Amphitheater, mariachi and ranchero grupos perform regularly; come evening, it's a popular place for socializing and listening to local musicians.
Mazatlán: Arts lovers will want to time their visit to take in a performance at the ornate and historic Teatro Ángela Peralta; events include ballet, opera, concerts, and movies. Fiestas full of folkloric entertainment take place weekly at the Hotel Playa Mazatlán and El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel's La Pergola Theater. Shoppers seeking authentic wares should avoid the touristy jewelry and souvenir stores — far better are the covered Mercado Municipal and open-air shops of Old Mazatlán, particularly on Saturday nights, when Plazuela Machado becomes the weekly Artisans' Bazaar. The Museo de Arqueológia and Museo de Arta exhibit local artifacts and artworks, respectively; the latter can be purchased at the nearby Galería Nidart.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Neither fishing village nor resort community have yet to develop an arts scene; still, there are a few places not to miss. In Zihuatanejo, the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande exhibits pottery and stone artifacts, maps, and murals dating from or illustrating the earliest peoples along this part of the Pacific. Behind Zihua's Paseo del Pescador lies the Mercado Turístico de Artesanías, an open market with more than a hundred vendors selling genuine crafts and goods. Bargaining is welcome. (A smaller artisans' market is on the main boulevard in Ixtapa.) Many of the hotels in Ixtapa host folkloric fiestas and dance performances.
Sayulita: Barely developed surfing beach less than an hour north of PV, with kayak and board rentals and beachside restaurants.
Yelapa: Rustic, laid-back beach community in a lush cove with waterfalls, accessible by boat, water taxi, or mountain bike tour from PV.
Copala and Concordia: Historic colonial towns anchored by cathedrals, one built in 1740, the other a century earlier; about an hour from Mazatlán.
Teocapán: Fishing port rife with wildlife on the verge of ecological preserve designation, 75 miles from Mazatlán.
Laguna de Potosi: Ecological preserve 15 miles south of Zihua, a birdwatcher's and kayaker's paradise.
Mexican Riviera Events Guide and Calendar
Banderas Bay International Regatta Sails fill the horizon off Banderas Bay during the day; at night, parties and performances abound, March.
Festival Cultural de Mayo Concerts showcasing pop, symphony, mariachi, and other styles of music, plus art, ballet, and theater, often around mid-May. Read more about Cinco de Mayo history.
Old Town Art Walk Meet local artists and view their work, alternate Wednesdays from late October to mid-April.
International Puerto Vallarta Sailfish and Marlin Tournament Anglers compete for big-ticket prizes as they cast for marlin and other game fish, mid-November.
Puerto Vallarta Cup Golf Tournament Amateur golfers from around North America vie at Vista Vallarta Golf Course and El Tigre Golf Club, mid-November.
Puerto Vallarta Film Festival Contemporary films, documentaries, and luminaries from the Americas, mid-November.
International Festival Gourmet Vallarta Taste specialties whipped up by international master chefs during a week in late November.
Carnaval One of the world's largest pre-Lenten celebrations, with parades, fireworks, and dancing in the streets, late February or early March.
Festival Cultural de MazatlánPerforming arts, exhibitions, literary readings, film, and more at venues in Old Mazatlán, mid-October through mid-December.
International Amateur Golf Tournament Amateurs compete for prizes during this golf tourney at the El Cid Golf & Country Club for a week in November.
Mazatlán Billfish Classic World Billfish Series Pacific division championship. Big fish, big prizes, for a week in November.
Zihuatanejo Sail Fest Regatta held for charity during a week of events such as beach games and a chili cookoff, in early February.
Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival Musicians performing classical, jazz, traditional, blues, folk, flamenco, and rock during a week of guitar virtuosity, in March.
San Jeronimito River Regatta Music, food, and racing pangas, kayaks, and rafts on this river near the town of Petatlán just south of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, in October.
Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Total Tag & Release Tournament Fly-fishers and conventional anglers reel for prizes at inshore and open ocean locations, in early November.
In the crook of California's elbow lies a playland of great natural beauty, world-class ski slopes, Vegas-style entertainment, and plenty of gold-rush history. Straddling the northern Sierras where California and Nevada meet is the region's crown jewel: Lake Tahoe, the nation's highest alpine lake of its size and its second deepest (after Oregon's Crater Lake). With a shoreline measuring 72 miles long, this brilliant cobalt lake draws sun-worshippers to its many beaches during summer; come November, ski aficionados gather into groups and flock to the slopes of more than a dozen ski resorts in the area. And it's not just deep powder and groomed runs that make this region a wintertime paradise: wide-open valleys are crossed with trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, sleigh rides, and backcountry telemark skiing. After the spring snow melt, all this open wilderness turns into prime hiking, mountain-biking, and horseback-riding terrain.
On the eastern side of the Sierras lies an entertainment capital of a different color: neon-bright Reno. Las Vegas' laid-back cousin, Reno offers casino gaming and revues in a high-desert community that has thrived since long before the first roulette wheel was rolled into town. Once known as the nation's divorce capital, Reno and its environs now are a hot destination for weddings, whether in a 24-hour chapel or on the shores of nearby Tahoe. Both industry and an arts scene are burgeoning, and visitors are increasingly discovering Reno as a year-round destination for nocturnal exploits and daytime adventure. Connected by both interstate and scenic byway, Reno and Lake Tahoe beckon to groups seeking the best of both worlds.
Nature gets top billing in this scenic segment of the Sierra Nevadas, yet not every attraction warrants strapping on ski or hiking boots. Make time on the itinerary for a trip to Carson City, Nevada's capital, for a trek down the landmark-lined Kit Carson Trail, or head to Virginia City, a one-time boom town that's home to Chollar Mine, the only remaining Comstock Lode silver-mining operation open for touring. Closer in, casinos share Reno's streets with numerous national historic landmarks, many of which can be viewed on a Historic Reno Preservation Society walking tour. High above the city, Lake Tahoe's shores are graced with architectural gems such as Tallac Historic Site, a set of opulent summer houses from the gold-rush era; the 1936 meld-into-the-landscape Thunderbird Lodge, now a popular place for weddings; and the 1929 Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian castle at the head of Emerald Bay. In nearby Truckee, the Donner Party saga is told at Donner Memorial State Park's Emigrant Trail Museum.
More contemporary attractions appeal to fun-lovers of any age, including Reno's Wilbur D. May Museum and Arboretum, a parkland complex with exhibitions, nature walks, and the Great Basin Adventure amusement park; and Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center, with star shows and weekly telescope viewing. More than 200 cars from vintage to experimental comprise the National Automobile Museum, while nearly that many animals — including a rare liger — reside at Sierra Safari Zoo. In Tahoe, admire Emerald Bay's aquamarine waters from the deck of the MS Dixie II, a restored paddlewheeler departing from Zephyr Cove. In winter, the Tahoe Queen paddlewheeler doubles as a water-borne ski shuttle by taking skiers to and from the North Shore.
With the snow pack averaging 40 feet a year, schussing down area slopes is an obvious main draw. No less than 15 resorts give skiers and snowboarders their choice of chutes and half-pipes, and a dozen or so snow parks offer groomed cross-country trails or tubing runs (many with rentals and rope tows). Resorts such as Squaw Valley and Heavenly challenge hard-core skiers with natural jumps and double-diamond runs, while Northstar-at-Tahoe and Tahoe Donner have plenty of beginner terrain to suit the family or easygoing gathering of friends.
Non-skiers in the group needn't worry about finding outdoor action. Trails that lure hikers in summer become tracks for snowshoers come winter. Many of the resorts offer frosty fun: dog-sledding at Kirkwood, ice-skating at Squaw's Olympic Ice Pavilion, and sleigh rides at both. At Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area, small groups can rent a wilderness cabin for a cozy night in-and out-of the elements.
In summer and fall, hikers head to the mountains for trails that lead to alpine meadows and panoramic views. Many start from the region's numerous state parks, from the lengthy Lost Lake Trail at Sugar Pine Point to the easy Balancing Rock Nature Trail at D.L. Bliss. For pure mountain's majesty, hike a piece of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail from one of 12 trailheads; mountain bikers tackle the Flume Trail for sweeping vistas from an 8,000-foot-high single track. Tahoe's beaches draw water-sports fans for kayaking, water-skiing, wakeboarding, and more; Reno's Truckee River Whitewater Park at Wingfield keeps kayakers close to the casinos. Outdoorsy groups can also fly-fish or raft the Truckee River, ride horseback through the backcountry, golf one of 40 regional courses, or go aloft in a hot-air balloon.
Arts and Culture
Throw a coin into the heart of Reno and you'll hit a casino offering gaming and top-notch entertainment. Among the hottest venues are the ever-popular El Dorado, with big-name performers in the showroom, rock and blues bands in the Brew Brothers pub, and sexy dance environs at BuBinga Lounge. Others on the hit list: The Garage at the Reno Hilton, featuring dual bars and a cigar lounge, and the Peppermill Fireside, its plasma screens, free appetizers, and firepit a hipster's draw. In Tahoe, Harrah's Altitude Nightclub hums with showgirls, wild lighting, and an oxygen bar; the Improv at Harvey's Lake Tahoe dishes up yuks from up-and-comers and stage vets, and Breeze at the Tahoe Biltmore brings an eclectic lineup to its stage.
For more sedate diversions, start by strolling the Riverwalk in Reno's Truckee River Arts District, an area of galleries, theaters, open-air concert venues, the 1910 McKinley Arts and Culture Center, and a third Saturday Wine Walk. Artworks that interpret the land and changing environment make the Nevada Museum of Art a must-see. The University of Nevada, Reno campus hosts concerts by the Reno Chamber Orchestra and the UNR Performing Arts Series; the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Reno Philharmonic (who also play a Summer Pops Series at outdoor venues), the Nevada Opera, the Broadway Comes to Reno series, and the surreal Magic Underground illusion show.
Arts are a mostly seasonal event in Tahoe. Summer sees the start of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor State Park's lakeside amphitheatre, the Valhalla Arts and Music Festival at Tallac Historic Site, and the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, with most concerts held at Squaw Valley. Year-round cultural fare comes courtesy of the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society, whose three-museum complex traces the history of the Tahoe area and the indigenous Washoe people.
So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.
This is not dry educational overload, however. Many of the sights can be toured with knowledgeable and entertaining guides — and many offer reserved tours and special events for groups — and intriguing opportunities for witnessing the city in action can be had, such as watching the Senate in session or money being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
At night, the suits come off and the atmosphere turns from all-business to a lively urban scene. The performing arts season lasts all year, from the National Symphony performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to jazz combos at various hip nightclubs to theater, opera, ballet, comedy, rock concerts, and children's shows at venues all around the city. A number of the metro area's museums and historic sites offer their own events: cultural film series, early-music concerts, Shakespearean theater, author readings, and lectures that discuss the latest findings in their field. There's plenty of dance clubs to satisfy the party-people in the group, and the city has become a gourmet's destination for fine fare from celebrated chefs.
Yet amid all of this culture and Capitol conduct lies a surprising amount of open green space, where visitors can clear their history-saturated heads with an afternoon of bicycling along a historic towpath, riding horseback along paths once trodden by Civil War soldiers, or simply getting the group together for an easy hike in summer or heading to an ice-skating rink in the cold months. Not bad for a city that 200 years ago was nearly abandoned for being a mosquito-infested swamp.
What's not a top attraction in the nation's capital? Yet with so many places of interest in close proximity to each other, it's easy to fill the must-see list with check marks. Start at the tree-lined National Mall, a two-mile-long grassy expanse flanked by the U.S. Capitol on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Guided group tours (reserve in advance) of the Capitol visit several floors and allow a peek into the galleries if the Senate or House is in session. Public tours are also offered at the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (when not in session). Get some fresh air by strolling the U.S. Botanic Garden; groups can reserve a 45-minute guided tour of the 4,000-plant Conservatory.
The Mall's monuments, memorials, and museums guarantee hours — really, days — of enlightening exploration. A gauntlet of Smithsonian museums lead to West Potomac Park, crowned by the Washington Monument and its photogenic reflecting pool and also site of the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, and those honoring veterans of World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War. Surrounding all that marble are the Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin's necklace of cherry trees, whose spring blossoms merit their own festival. North of the Washington Monument lies the White House, which groups of 10 or more can tour if they put in an advance request with their member of Congress.
Visiting this nucleus of historic sites and beyond can easily take up an entire vacation. One way to squeeze it all in is an Old Town Trolley Tour, accessed at any of the trolley's stops, including those on the Mall as well as the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, and the two-centuries-old houses of Georgetown. The Tourmobile follows a similar hop-on, hop-off route that also includes Arlington Cemetery, where visitors pay homage to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy gravesites, and the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial. There's no need to rent a car for self-guided explorations — public transport is comprehensive and easy to navigate, even off the tourist routes to places such as the 18th-century Octagon House and the Woodrow Wilson House and presidential museum (both offering group tours).
With more than 300 parks in this cultural hub, urban green space is easy to find. National Mall visitors can take a breather in East Potomac Park, where diversions include golf courses, a public pool, and biking paths along the river. Anacostia Park in northeast D.C. has a golf course and driving range, an aquatic center, tennis courts, and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Visitors craving wild nature should head out to Rock Creek Park, a 12-mile vale that deserves a day's exploration in itself, or at least a few hours to relax in the ample play and picnic areas, golf, hike or ride horseback on wooded trails, or bike or skate paved pathways. Combine exercise with edification with stops at the 1765 Old Stone House and the remains of the 1861 Fort DeRussy, both within park boundaries.
Perhaps D.C.'s best example of historic value meeting outdoor fun is the Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which follows the 185-mile-long canal — from 1824 to 1928, the main route for transporting coal to the city — from D.C. into Maryland. The towpath is a popular ride for bicyclists; hiking trails lead into deciduous forests where woodland creatures may be spotted. The gentle canal waters offer a view of the park from a kayak, canoe, or mule-drawn canal boat tour (summer only). In winter, birdwatchers are often rewarded with sightings of pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and hooded mergansers.
Sports fans in the group can cheer on the Washington Nationals baseball team at RFK Stadium; in fall, the Washington Redskins provide spectator thrills at FedEx Field. Come winter and early spring, park hiking and biking trails become cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and outdoor ice-skating venues can be found throughout the city.
Arts and Culture
Few cities offer so much by way of the arts: The Smithsonian museums alone warrant many hours of perusal amid African textiles (National Museum of African Art), Southwestern pottery and basketry (National Museum of the American Indian), dinosaur skeletons (National Museum of Natural History), moon and Mars roving vehicles (National Air and Space Museum), Christo and Muñoz installations (Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), and much more. All Smithsonian museums are free and most offer highlights tours. (Note that some museums may be closed for renovations; check the Smithsonian website for updates.)
Outside the Smithsonian's aegis lie many other collections sure to intrigue, with the International Spy Museum a top priority for kids and fans of James Bond movies. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, exhibitions provoke meaningful conversations (reserved group visits receive a personal orientation). Architecture buffs won't want to miss the National Building Museum's vast collection of plans, drawings, and photographs; an array of artworks spanning six centuries awaits art lovers at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Many museums offer regular events, such as the lecture and film series at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which hosts readings, plays, and early-music concerts.
Visual art gives way to that of the performing variety at some of the nation's most venerated venues. One is even a national park: the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, where performances ranging from National Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts to Irish music festivals, sketch comedy to kids' theater take place in the airy Filene Center in summer, then move into the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap come fall. The same eclectic variety can be had at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, whose September Prelude Festival kicks off nearly a year of performing arts (check on discounts and special events for groups of 20 or more). The Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park and the Frank Gehry-designed Merriweather Post Pavilion are both outdoor concert venues primed for good times in natural settings.
Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude — even in December.
The agreeable climate engenders a laid-back, welcoming aura that pervades from mountain town to beachside community. And this is truly a year-round destination: Visit in fall and winter to get a healthy dose of vitamin D on beaches offering plenty of elbow room. Come in spring for the spectacular wildflower show in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Early summer sees the city caressed by a cool marine breeze before heating up for events such as the San Diego County Fair, the World Championship Over-The-Line beach softball tournament, and the US Open Sandcastle Competition.
America's Finest City is not just one long strip of beach, however. Mountains border the county's eastern reaches before dropping into a vast desert valley; in between lie scores of diverse neighborhoods that blanket the region's tawny hills. San Diego is a military municipality, a college town, a center of Mexican-American culture; wholesome and yet tolerant of its more counter-cultural facets. And it is a city on the cutting edge of urban renewal, having taken a shambling downtown and reincarnated it as a vibrant destination for entertainment, dining, shopping, and strolling. No visiting groups should miss the Victorian charm of the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza's colorful complex of shops and cinemas, and the revitalized areas surrounding the city's architecturally distinct convention center and PETCO Park, new home of the San Diego Padres.
Thanks to San Diego's temperate climate, animal lovers can get their share of critter-viewing and then some: at the San Diego Zoo, where a pair of panda cubs delight amid Tasmanian devils, sun bears, two-headed snakes, and a kingdom of creatures; the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 1,800 acres of African-style savannah with free-ranging lions, zebras, elephants, and other beasts; and SeaWorld, home of Shamu and his orca descendants, dolphins, penguins, and the seasonal Cirque de la Mer.
For a constructive take on theme parks, head to LEGOLAND, the original plastic-brick playland, with 15,000 LEGO models built from more than 30 million pieces. Or combine old-fashioned amusements with hot new rides at Belmont Park, right on Mission Beach. Ride the restored wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, built in 1925, then hone surfing or skateboarding chops on the new FlowRider, a continual sheetwave that provides a steady supply of excitement for all ages.
Get immersed in the city's history, starting at Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and first of the California missions. At Old Town State Historic Park, original adobe buildings showcase furnishings, artifacts, and skills from San Diego's beginnings. The 1863 Star of India anchors the flotilla of historic ships that comprise the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Tour the decks and exhibits and try to catch a sailing aboard the tall ship Californian. Wrap up at Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the 1542 landing of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and, incidentally, provides commanding views of San Diego Bay. Betrothed couples take note: All of these locations, including two of the historic ships, make for popular and unique wedding settings.
Naturally, with 300 days of sunshine a year comes a wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. The Mission Beach Boardwalk provides an ideal way to people-watch while zipping along on inline blades or bike. Pick up wheels from one of several rental shops, or rent a bodyboard and surf the friendly waves. Mission Bay's mellow inlets and coves make a family sailing on a rented sloop a breeze; groups can charter a boat for private cruising, diving, and sportfishing in the harbor and beyond.
Golfers wanting seaside vistas can tee up at the 18-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course, a junior-golf-friendly set of championship greens and fairways. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians of all ages can tackle trails in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains, where meadows and woods are rapidly recovering from the wildfires of 2003 (find stables and more in the nearby gold-rush town of Julian). Closer in, 40 miles of trails traverse the oak woodlands and open chaparral of Mission Trails Regional Park, including three paths that ascend 1,400-foot Cowles Mountain.
For a break from attraction overload, pack a picnic basket and head to the park. Balboa Park, San Diego's queen of green space, surrounds cultural attractions with 1,200 acres of woods, gardens, and sports fields. Mission Bay Park is an ideal setting for family reunions, with its 27 miles of meandering shoreline, sandy beaches, and grassy swards with picnic tables and firepits. Perched high above Pacific Beach, Kate O. Sessions Park offers views, ocean breezes, and sloping runs of grass perfect for kite flying.
Arts and Culture
Playtime isn't just for the playground. San Diego's renowned theaters offer up year-round theatrical diversions of award-winning caliber. The Old Globe Theatre brings Shakespeare out under the stars during the summer-long Shakespeare Festival, while other seasons see new works and revivals on the boards. Celebrated playwrights often premiere their latest at the La Jolla Playhouse, a 1993 Tony Award winner for America's Outstanding Regional Theatre residing on the UCSD campus.
Performing within the historic confines of the 1929 Copley Symphony Hall, the San Diego Symphony pleases classically minded parents as much as it does fun-loving kids, with its occasional Family Festival (with free pre-concert activities) and annual Summer Pops series, where families can spread a blanket on the lawns of Embarcadero Marina Park South and enjoy programs like classic cartoon tunes and Tchaikovsky's thunderous 1812 Overture.
Nurturing an appreciation of the arts and sciences is easy at Balboa Park, the urban cultural oasis that mingles museums with lush greenery and a nonstop sense of fun. Kids willingly accompany mom and dad to view the collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, knowing they'll also see the cool displays at the Aerospace Museum and Model Railroad Museum, plus virtual-reality exhibits and IMAX movies at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Teens dig the WorldBeat Cultural Center's music-oriented exhibitions and drumming classes. The park also features a miniature railroad ride and a 1910 carousel, not to mention restaurants and dozens of other absorbing sights to see.
Slice a lemon five different ways, and you'd see something new with each slice. With the inaugural carnival of travel, TripHub is hosting a list of travel articles from the great big blogsphere to spotlight a slice of travel blog life.
While Group Trip Advisor is devoted to group travel, we know the passion for travel starts from individual journeys, adventures, families seeking to reunite, making new friends along the road of life, and bonding with existing friends. Future carnival of travel "editions" may spotlight more specific subjects such as family travel, adventure travel, or road tripping.
Without further ado, enjoy the first collection of travel carnival musings:
In Blue Streak, Mom and Me, Kelly Curtis, mother and founder of Empowering Youth, Inc., blogs about a 1973 Midas motor home that transported the family to 47 states in a 10-year timespan (vintage photo shown) and her journeys today with her own daughter. A short, sweet, poignant piece.
A beautifully written piece (titled To Venice for Lunch) on the trials of traveling, until you arrive in a place like Venice and fall in love with traveling all over again. Pam at Nerd's Eye View makes you want to visit the golden hues, canals, and bridge-connected sidewalks.
Mary Jo, a flight attendant (and Fly Away Cafe blogger), shares etiquette tips for cell phone use on flights so you can avoid being a travel companion from hell. Everyone should read this.
Family travel in the Caribbean from Chookooloonks.com. Trinidad, chocolate, and family.... mmmmm.... what could be sweeter? Karen, blogger for Gadling.com amother other sites, writes about: "a day-trip my family took to my uncle's farm in Moruga, a small village on the southern coast of the island of Trinidad, in the caribbean."
Janna, of S/V Dragonfly blog, chronicles a sailing trip that she and her husband took to "circumnavigate the Pacific." Get a glimpse of life on a sailboat trip to the Philippines (May 10, 2005 post; scroll down a little after the photo of the dolphin leaping out of the water). Grab a cup of coffee for this article; a longer piece, but worth the read.
Singer-songwriter Christine Kane blogs about getting out of your comfort zone in her article Have an Adventure Day. My favorite snippet from the post: "The best way to open up your mind is to apply a jolt of unfamiliar."
New Year's Eve in Prague? In "Explosions Aplenty: New Year's Eve on Charles Bridge," Jennifer paints a vivid picture of how the Czechs spend New Year's Eve. Speaking of holidays, Jennifer also journals and blogs about Belfast, Dublin, Olympia, and Salida (Colorado) as wanderlustgirl on IgoUgo.com. You go, girl!
Cullen at the Travel Guide for Your Finances blog submitted a highly relevant post for any traveler who uses credit cards or ATM cards for purchases. "Buyer Beware: Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)" offers keen insights into hidden transaction fees on foreign purchases.
Small Blessings is part of Jamaica Jones' journey from Paris to Istanbul. This article is Turkey-specific and reminds me so much of my trip there with friends a decade ago. Ah, the Mediterranean countries! A well-written piece, to boot.
Jennifer's "family trip to the Atlantis in the Bahamas" offers good insight for other families. Her husband loved the Mayan temple water slide as much as the kids apparently.
Jacquelin writes about turning a travel fantasy of going to Italy into a reality and her observations after living her travel dream. A lovingly written piece on the romantic Italian air: "Italians have perfected the aesthetic side of life."
Kevin snapshots photos of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans after his trip post-Hurricane Katrina. So many people are volunteering to help rebuild communities (including animal habitats like this zoo) in the Gulf. This is one story in a myriad of ongoing, heart-warming efforts.
Bargain-hunting (yardbird) blogger Katherine Dynes shows off photos of her road trip to Mount Shasta, California and offers a little insight into solo sojourns on a Seattle Post-Intelligencer readers blog.
Oh, the joy. A bride. A groom. A ceremony filled with romance, happiness, heart-warming vows, and wedding guests blinking back tears or counting the minutes 'til they can drink heartily and dance the night away.
Whether you're planning a destination wedding or a hometown ceremony, here are helpful tips for engaged couples, the wedding party, families, and wedding guests.
Get the inside scoop on how to book group reservations for hotels and flights, including what to look for and what to beware of and common group discount myths.
How to delegate with panache
Delegating is an art. You want as wide a canvas as possible for a wedding. Share responsibilities and only take on what you need to do yourself. These tips for delegating apply to family reunions also, but you'll see the parallels to wedding planning (aren't weddings another form of reunions?).
Why plan a destination wedding?
Benefits of destination weddings can often far outweigh the costs (or misperceived costs). Find out why the popularity of saying "I do" abroad or outside of your hometown is on the rise.
Top destination wedding hotspots
What are the best locations to get married? If your neighborhood church is booked on your chosen date, consider any destination wedding hotspots such as Las Vegas or Hawaii. They cater to weddings and offer idyllic settings for honeymoons.
Bachelor and bachelorette party inspirations
He proposed. Finally! Now the planning can begin – for the best man and maid of honor that is. Here are tried-and-true tips for successful (and classy) bachelor parties and bachelorette parties.
Getting the family together for a reunion? Going on a weekend getaway with friends? Planning a wedding? Group reservations can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are new to the process or on a tight timeline.
Here are tips to help you navigate group bookings with a little more finesse.
What defines a group?
Despite what might seem logical, a group is not commonly defined among the travel industry. Hoteliers, airlines, and cruise lines all have different definitions (10 passengers on the exact same flight vs. 10 rooms double occupancy for hotels).
Air and hotel reservation benefits
Become a bit more of an expert before you plan a group trip with friends, family, or another group. Know when to use air or hotel group reservations.
Group discount myths
Know before you go: group myths are a reality and you may not always get the best deal by booking bulk. Here are some group discount insights.
Speedy group reservation secrets
Want to get a jump on moving the group reservation process along, or making it easier on yourself and your group? Here are a few helpful tips to expedite group reservations.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Traveling is no exception. Vacations are more enjoyable with buddies from college, girlfriends from home, friends from life (soccer or baseball teams), and any other groups.
Reconnect with old friends, reminisce about the good old days, and make new memories that make you laugh 'til you cry with these getaway tips.
Ladies, start your engines. The games, the energy, the synergy, and the drinks are about to begin. Take a wild or relaxing vacation with your gal pals on a spa getaway, wine-tasting soiree, birthday celebration, or anything goes. Can't go far? Try a mini girls getaway?
Road trip planning guide
Zoom, zoom. Friends, families, and other vacationers are hitting the highways and dusty roads for campgrounds, national parks, family reunions, and zero obligations. Along with sunblock, prepare for a stress-free road trip with these tips. 10 gas and money-saving tips should help as well.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties
Are you the best man with no clue how to honor your pal with a party? If the only thing that comes to mind is a stripper, see these bachelor party tips first. Ladies, looking to make the bride smile and proud to call you her friends? Here are helpful hints for bachelorette party planning.
TripAdvisor recently released a list of their choice for top 10 U.S. beaches. How do you narrow best beaches down to 10? Most are the usual suspects; some are destinations with multiple beaches (the list isn't beach-specific, but it is still makes you drool). Reading the list makes me daydream of booking a ticket (or road tripping) to the coast, and sinking my toes into the sand after a refreshing dip in the water.
We all know proper wedding etiquette, right? Possibly not. MSN published 5 wedding guest myths. I've attended (and been involved in) numerous weddings and agree that these are commonly held beliefs. Here they are:
Myth 1: You can't wear black.
This is like saying you can only wear all black at a funeral.
Myth 2: The bride is your point person for all wedding-related questions.
Bridezilla got her name from this myth. Give her a break.
Myth 3: Shopping from the registry is impersonal.
True that giving the couple something you know they won't return has merit, but if you know the couple well enough, you can also find something lovely and fitting for their needs and tastes outside of the box.
Myth 4: An invitation means you can bring a date.
This is fairly serious as brides and grooms have budgeted for a certain quantity of food and drinks, and space. It's polite to respect their wishes to only invite you (even though you may want to bop them over the head for leaving you dateless).
Myth 5: The couple is responsible for your accommodations.
This can sometimes include the wedding party as well, so be particularly clear in understanding what is and is not being paid for.
Oh, the tension. It's a four year cycle, and I've been riding it since it was at the low point in 2002, just after the US lost to Germany in the quarters.
It's hard for most Americans to understand the tension that builds as the World Cup approaches. Soccer is a European thing. It's a South American thing. It's even an African thing. It's far from being baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet. Back in 2005, while 99.9% of the country was watching the AL beat the NL for the tenth time running in the All-Star game, I was with a dozen soccer buddies and chewing my nails. Would the US get a result in Costa Rica (even a tie would be good) and actually qualify for the tournament?
But it's not just tension. It's passion. Being a soccer fan is something that permeates your entire being. Supporting the national team goes without thinking. And after the great run by the US in 2002, I just couldn’t suppress the idea of going to Germany for the 2006 tournament. So I scored some tickets, made plans with my roomie to visit a friend in Geneva and booked an expensive flight.
I arrived a week into the tournament and a day before the US/Italy game in Kaiserlautern. Changing trains and cramming into to progressively more crowded cars – fun times. The last leg was standing room only, but it was nothing like the bedlam of the stadium.
Kaiserlautern was teeming. It took us 40 minutes to fight the crowds, get around the stadium, through the gates and to our seats. Then we had 90 minutes of standing and yelling with 50,000 fans. I've been to a lot of US games, probably 15, but I've never been surrounded by so many US fans. It was intoxicating (and it wasn't just the effects of the rosé!) The cheers were all new to me, but, you know, it's all pretty easy. Clap ten times in a simple pattern then yell "U.S." Repeat repeatedly. Whistle when Italian players fall down (which was often). Do the wave when the game gets slow. Our section was nearly silent when Italy scored, and I felt the stands move when the US got a tally. Huge cheers when an Italian got thrown out. Then booing at the ref when each of two US players got a red card. The last 20 minutes were pandemonium and the tension peaked. If they US could hold on for a tie–a valuable tie–they could still become world champions. And they did hold on. That 1-1 tie gave the US the slimmest hope that they could advance to the knock-out round where anything can happen.
That hope dissipated before I got my voice back. The US lost to Ghana five days later in Nurnberg – another raucous event– and was eliminated from the World Cup. The tension was gone. I could just enjoy soccer for the next two weeks and tour Switzerland and environs without all that pesky worry about how the US will do in the next game. I could just enjoy the tournament in bars and pick a new team to support as the last one was eliminated–which was often as I generally root for the underdog.
With the Cup now over, the four year ebb and flow of tension is rising again. Qualifiers start next year. And so does the nail biting. I'm already starting to wonder how South Africa will compare in 2010.
John's lifelong passion for soccer is equalled only by is passion for outdoor recreation that doesn't require a lot of expensive gear, catching bands while they still play in small venues, and consuming cold pilsner (or rose'). He still plays recreationally when his knees allow.
Guy Kawasaki, popular biz blogger (among other things), posted a list of mommy bloggers who blog as way to vent or rave about the experience of motherhood. Blogging also gives editorially bent moms an outlet for keeping their writing skills sharp. Pen caps off to you, ladies!
As the blogosphere grows, there are an increasing number of subjects covered, including countless travel blogs (Gadling is one of my favorites). Mommy bloggers are one of many groups, and I salute them. I can't fathom raising children and doing anything else with the teensy amounts of spare time available (before the school years) but to stare blankly into space and breathe as deeply as humanly possible.
Guy Kawasaki clearly commends mommy bloggers as well. My favorite quote of his entire post:
Note: There is a contingent of readers of my blog who do not like when I write about blogs/blogging/bloggers. I’d guess there’s also a contingent who do not like when I write about non-business, non-tech, non-male subjects. To these readers, I say in advance: "You can never support a mom, much less a mommy blogger, too much, so deal with it."
Love it! And I figured all you mommy readers might as well.
TripHub is pleased to call for submissions to the inaugural "carnival of travel" coming July 21, 2006. What's a carnival? Cotton candy aside, it is a collection of blog articles on a related topic. In this case: travel. It's a way to show off your work, for anyone who's ever written a travel blog article.
There are a plethora of travel blogs in the blogosphere; too many wonderful articles to create a "best of breed." The carnival of travel is a way of creating a list of the best of the best, submitted by you, the travel bloggers. There are already many other carnivals out there, from the carnival of family life to the carnival of personal finance.
Simply submit your best travel blog article on the carnival page (select "carnival of travel" in the drop-down if it isn't already selected). Any post that that gives you a genuine sense of accomplishment. Humorous. Inspiring. Adventurous. Scary. Stories travelers can relate to. Insights or musings that entertain or make us ponder. Tips we need to know before we travel again. Anything goes.
Have kids, but still determined to take that summer vacation? We want to hear stories, tips, rants, raves. What's beautiful about traveling as a family? What makes you pull your hair out?
Wax poetic. Give us the nitty gritty of traveling across borders and boundaries. Share the wonders of traveling and open our eyes to the experience of seeing natural, cultural, and artistic beauty around the world. Whether you've traveled with friends, relatives, immediate family, or even trekked with yourself as your guide, all perspectives have merit.
Details:• Article submitted must be your own writing.
• Subject matter must be about travel.
• Format can include blog articles with prose, poetry, bullet points, tips, anecdotes, photos (keep it clean), etc.
• Reminder: You'll need to submit the permalink URL of your blog article when you submit the article using the blogcarnival.com submission form (which also has other fields such as article title, author name, etc.)
• Deadline is 7/20/06, sometime in the morning before Noon, Pacific Time
• Once I receive submissions via the submission form, I'll compile the list and publish it.
• Inaugural carnival of travel scheduled to go live Friday, 7/21/06
The goal is to continue to publish carnivals (collections of travel blog articles) regularly. In the future, upcoming editions will include such topics as adventure travel, family travel and other travel. For the inaugural carnival of travel edition, any subject in travel goes! It's a new endeavor to collaborate on travel musings and writings and share travel experiences. Thanks for participating.
After my recent girls getaway post, I discovered some helpful tips for women who need to get together, but can't travel (whether for budgetary reasons, weather, work, or other mishaps). That shouldn't prevent women from planning outings closer to home, perhaps as a way to discuss longer-term vacations together.
GirlTrip.org has 10 mini girls getaway tips when you're squeezed on time, but still need a time out. Here are my 3 favorites:
Mental Health Day
If everyone's working hard then take a day for hardly working. Notify all the ladies that you're taking a collective mental health day. Meet up at the spa, the beach or the best shopping strip in your area and enjoy a day out of the office together.
What a delicious way to spend a day! Mental health days should be more normal for a country built on hard work and two-week long vacations per year (what's up with that?).
If your friends aren't all as close with each other as you are to them, then bring them together. Plan a night out with all your gal pals who don't know each other well and get everyone acquainted!
I love this idea. I can't tell you how often I've gone to the movie with my "movie friend" or walking with my "walking friend" or dished on guys with my "gossip boy-crazy friend" or philosophized about the state of the world and the inter-relatedness of chaos and order with my "deep friend" and I've drunk like a fish with my "party friend." Nice to gather them every so often to find the surprising similarities.
We'll Always Have Coffee
When all else fails and you just can't squeeze in a date with the ladies, find a quck thirty minutes for a cup of java or a smoothie. It just enough time to do some quick catching up while getting out of the house or away from the office for a breather.
Everything's better with coffee. I couldn't agree more.
Men are hunters. Women are gatherers. This is who we are by nature (just ask Rob Becker in his Defending the Caveman comedy act). Women have long been highly social beings, capable of multi-tasking (something that mystifies men to this day) and nurturing. Doesn't it then seem natural that we'd also want to travel together? We can talk freely, giggle openly, be our silly girly (or rugged, not-so-girly) selves together. We accept each other for who we are, emotionally supportive and all.
Part of the fun for me in going on a girls getaway is the gossip. I don't mean the bad gossip. I mean the good gossip. The dish. The latest. How my friends are doing and how they feel about their jobs, relationships, life, hobbies, etc. And while I also enjoy vacationing with guys, girls (only) getaways have their merit. Girls can be 100% unabashed girls.
Here are some special types:
1. Dude Ranch - The men are gone, but the dudes aren't. What better way to reconnect with the girl friends than by riding horses just like you know you all did in your dreams. Make it even more fun with cowboy hats to match - they'll shade the sun, you'll look about as country chic as can be, and you can knock your man over with a nod of your cowboy hat head and a wink when you return.
2. Spa Haven - As cliché as "girls getaway to the spa" is becoming, I say turn that word into an acronym for each girl who fully deserves the pampering. CLICHE is Caress Lovingly: I Can Have Everything. Make this your motto. There are countless services and an increasing number of spas recognizing the girls getaway trend as a way to offer discounts, special accommodation, etc. Work it. Call or book well in advance and shop around until you find the atmosphere, cost, and spa services just right for your group.
3. Theater - There are three premier places to see sophisticated, highly elaborate shows. Take Manhattan by storm on a theater extravaganza and walk down Broadway cherry-picking your shows (better yet, plan well in advance to ensure you get a good seat to Spamelot or other shows). London is another world-famous theatre-going city. The theatre district is a bustling, gentrified area with restaurants, bars, and a bevy of classic plays as well as long-running popular shows such as Phantom of the Opera. Las Vegas seems to be Cirque du Soleil central with Mystere, O, Zumanity, as well as other shows and concerts.
4. Shopping Spree - Take the ladies to outlets that make wallets squeal with delight (or at least the girls clutching them). There are plenty of outlets in major metropolitan areas, usually just a quick road trip out of town. Or go glitzy on New York City's Fifth Avenue, Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive, at Chicago's Marshall Field's department store, along London's streets, inside Las Vegas resort casinos shoppies, and nearly anywhere else. Do a theme and take your friends antique shopping, or to flea markets in the Big Apple, Washington, DC, or Sunday markets in other cities such as Seattle or San Francisco.
5. Outdoor Adventure - Take a vote and decide on which outdoor sport suits your crew best. Whether toting firewood from car to campsite is recreation enough or white water rafting is desired, find the activities you love but have little time for, and plan a weekend escape from everything - work, men, bills, cars, cities. Live in the elements by biking, kayaking, canoeing, or parasailing. Rent a cottage or house by a lake or water body and spend all your free time swimming. Whatever the group energy level, a girl trip like this inevitably brings friends closer together, leaving great stories to tell for those who couldn't make it (ahem, or weren't invited). When the boys aren't around, there's less tension about looking good or not screwing up. Especially if bathing suits are involved.
I've adored traveling with my friends for get-togethers over the years. I raise my glass to any girl planning a getaway with friends. May traveling with girl friends bring you great joy, a wee bit of luck, no hangovers, and many reasons to continue staying in touch. What other types of girls getaways are out there?
He's a last-minute person. She's a type A organizer. However do you go on trips together and still stay married (happily)?
Terry A., who works with TripHub after a 20-year career with Alaska Airlines (including part of her time at the group travel desk), reveals how TripHub helped her and her husband strike a balance in travel planning.
When it comes to planning friends and family get-togethers, I am a compulsive organizer and my husband is a "whatever" kind of guy. I want to know who, what, where, when, and how many are coming. He just wants to invite anyone who happens to show a slight interest. We've managed to enjoy life together for more than 25 years, but we've had our moments.
This summer I started using TripHub's collaboration tools for vacation planning. What a difference the site has made. We've survived two road trips already and have a very large camping trip with friends and family planned for just a few weeks away.
I've been able to coordinate travel plans, book hotels, correctly calculate numbers of guests and stay in touch with everyone all online! No more passing the word via (sometimes unreliable, though well-meaning) spouses or friends. No more wondering if we would end up with an extra person sleeping on our floor or squeezed in the middle seat of a vehicle. No more "I didn't know you were bringing your kids" on an adult activity weekend.
I can finally look forward to our trips together without all the stress. I'm quite relaxed about being the vacation planner in the family now.
Family life is full of major and minor crises -- the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce -- and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It's difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.--Thomas Moore
Even sad events such as illness or funerals can bring families closer together. I was recently reminded of this while attending a relative's funeral and visiting with extended family this past weekend. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Truly.
Once we all got the news, one family passed around itinerary info in one big email string so they all knew flight arrival info for coordination. My family used about 5 phone calls to coordinate. ("Are you going? Which flight? How much did it cost?") Who knows how many other families and friends did the same thing. I got to thinking that TripHub's group travel coordination tools would save time for families gathering under these circumstances. Maybe next time. Wait. I hope there isn't a next time... sigh.
Losing a loved one or going through any rough patch together makes us acutely aware of what's important in life and strengthens relationships.
Over the last several days, I carefully observed how extended family and friends kicked into high gear to help those most in need, ordering food, grocery shopping, playing waiter(ess), coordinating transportation, organizing church services, catering, telling story after story and listening intently as others shared theirs. Laughter and tears blended to reveal kindred spirits and compassion.
New bonds were created among old family connections. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, moms, dads, grandparents. Despite the circumstances, we were able to catch up, play a few games, distract people who needed distracting, hug those who needed more hugs than usual, and in general express what we forget to so often. I came away feeling uplifted.
I think the late French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin summed it up best when he said (or wrote): We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits, having a human experience.
Weddings rock. The sentimental journey of watching your friend or family member walk down the aisle is wonderful. The decorations, the picturesque setting (and sometimes dreamy destination), the flowers, the cake, the food coma, the dancing. It's all enough to send you into a dream state, forgetting a few key things you meant to accomplish.
1. Pick out the top 3 people you want to catch up with and find time to visit with them. It can be easy for the night to fly by without your having gotten a chance to visit with people you'd meant to be sure to visit with. Even if you visit with each person for 10 minutes, it makes a big difference. Catching up with old friends or relatives is half the reason for going to weddings in the first place.
2. Cake. I'm a sucker for a good wedding cake. Even though they are calorie rich, wedding cakes are usually culinary masterpieces, so it's easy to have a bigger piece than necessary (or multiple pieces). The wedding I just attended this past weekend had doughnuts instead of cake (a great budget alternative). If you're watching your weight and really want to be good, plan to have a small piece of cake and no more. By thinking about this ahead of time, you'll save yourself the guilt and bloated feeling (trust me, I can attest).
3. Say something meaningful to the bride and groom. How many weddings have we all been to where the same robotic comment comes tumbling out: The wedding was beautiful, You look gorgeous, You look handsome, I almost cried during your vows, Nice reception location. Oh, come on! These newlyweds have been preparing for this single day for at least a year (sometimes longer). Every detail was purchased and pre-conceived. Find something original about the food, cake, ceremony, dress or vows and comment on that.
4. Don't miss the dancing. There are too many societal rules that constrain us in our everyday lives. Be free on the dance floor and shake your groove thing. If you're self-conscious, just smile and no one will fault you for having a good time. If you look like a vertical fish out of water, who cares! Join one of the dance circles that inevitably forms and clap as others make spectacles of themselves so you realize you're not alone. If you're married or dating someone, you have no excuse. What better way to get in the mood than spinning each other around on the dance floor.
It's official, you're old. You just received an email from a former classmate that it is time to start planning your next high school reunion. Once the shock wears off, the next question settles in. Where do we begin? Fortunately, I have assembled a to-do list that will help you organize a successful reunion (sorry, I can't do anything about your age).
Don't panic. Planning a high school reunion is a lot of work, but if you follow these simple steps, the process can be a lot of fun and virtually painless.
Plan early for your reunion. Begin at least 9 months or more in advance. (Trust me, you will wish you had started a year ago!) Planning a reunion is a big production; make sure that you have ample time to complete all the important tasks.
Enlist classmates to help. The more help you have, the less stressed you will be. Make sure that the committee is a diverse group from your class. You don't want the reunion to be focused on one group of people with one set of interests. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Budget wisely. When setting your ticket price include all the costs of the reunion, not just the meal. This includes the cost of entertainment, venue rental, tax, gratuity, postage, printing, decorations, Web site hosting, long-distance phone calls, etc. Be conservative when estimating attendance. You don't want to be stuck footing the bill because an item was omitted from your budget or fewer classmates attended than expected. Set up a bank account to deposit payments and pay bills.
Pick a location and date early. Weekends fill up quickly with weddings and social events, so availability can be hard to find if you wait to book the event. Make sure to ask about deposits, caterers' food and beverage minimums and extra costs. Pick a menu with variety.
Assemble and manage the guest list. Put a complete list of your classmates together using your commencement program, senior annual and information from previous reunions. This list should be in a database or spreadsheet that is easy to update and manage throughout the process. Include a method to track RSVPs, orders, payments, meal choice, etc.
Start locating your classmates now. I cannot stress this enough. This is a huge, time-consuming process. You may have to call parents, siblings, old roommates, etc. to track them down. Use the Internet. Online phone books, alumni Web sites, and community Web sites are all beneficial.
Create a fun, simple, and easy-to-read invitation. Make sure to list all the essential information (date/time, location, ticket price and attire). Also, include contact information of the committee member in charge of answering questions and responding to complaints. Don't forget to let your classmates know where to return the reservations and make their checks payable to. Include payment deadlines to encourage early registration.
Get the word out early. People are busy during the summer months, so make sure your event is number one on their calendar and get the invitation out at least 4-6 months in advance.
Make time for the "extras." The memorabilia displays, event program, name tags, memory books and table decorations are the things that people will remember years down the road. This will help make your reunion special, giving it character or charm (depending on theme, setting, decorations).
Collect personal information on your classmates. You can compile it into a memory book for each alum to take home as a memento of the reunion.
Remember, this is your reunion. Don't get so caught up in the details that you lose sight of what is really important. Reunions are about reconnecting with old friends, reminiscing about the good ol' days and looking forward to the future.
If all this prep work isn't up your alley, consider the alternative of hiring a professional reunion planner. Many companies provide reunion management services, handling all the behind-the-scenes details such as coordinating with vendors, locating your classmates and managing the database, paying bills, covering liability insurance for the event, staffing the event, and more. You can find a professional reunion planner at the National Association of Reunion Managers. Happy reunion planning!
Andrea Turk works with Reunions with Class, Inc., has been in reunion planning since 2001, and has helped more than 400 reunion committees organize successful reunions.
This weekend I volunteered at Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival on Lake Union. While there are countless festivities taking place across the country to celebrate America's birthday, the goal is the same: take time to play with family and/or friends. One big party from sea to shining sea.
Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival is unique to this city, but the energy, sentiment, food booths, kids activities, and arts and crafts show nature could be found in any other city or small town.
Celebrating 30 years, the Center for Wooden Boats has been involved in preserving maritime history and a maritime lifestyle with sailing lessons, rentals, an outdoor museum where you can walk the docks to view the boats, and an annual festival that culminates on the 4th of July. Classic wooden boats from around the Pacific Northwest anchor into about 10 to 12 different docks with shiny varnish, impeccable interiors (well, most of the boats, at least), and designs as varied as the owners.
After cruising on the 1922 Virginia V steamboat (one of two remaining steamboats of its kind in the U.S.) and going from upper tier deck to middle deck to lower deck (about 5 times each) I finally stood still, leaned against the railing, and took it all in. 30-ish feet above the water I peered down at houseboats and across the lake at the skyline, Space Needle and all. Complete peace.
Gliding into the dock, the hubub of a festival full of families, friends, boat-lovers, water-lovers all greeted us as we stepped off the boat back onto shore.
Holidays are great. We need more in this country. Until then, I'll be back at the festival tomorrow enjoying recess as long as I can.
Want to speed things along when blocking off rooms or booking group flight reservations for a wedding, family reunion, or special occasion with friends? Believe it or not, so do the group reservation agents. Plan ahead with these basic steps, so the group reps can speed things along.
Familiarize yourself with the benefits of group booking such as same rates for every member of your party, potential room upgrades, and more, so you know what to expect.
Educate yourself about some basic hotel group policies so the questions you ask are more specific and tailored down to your group's needs.
Educate yourself about standard airline deposit terms and lingo so you're as prepared as possible when it comes time to make a group reservation.
Use the "who's coming" (RSVP/invite) feature of TripHub to correctly estimate the number of group passengers who will travel will help avoid penalties for falling below the minimum number needed for a group rate. Give the group representative a number as close to accurate as you can.
Flexibility on dates and times is key. If your group can travel at different times or on different dates, this will assist the group desk in finding the best rates.
Discuss alternative airports or destinations with your group and give that information (in comment fields on online forms) to the group reservation desk. This could result in additional savings for the trip.
When traveling with friends and family, you may qualify for group reservations. Hotels often require a 10-room minimum (of double occupancy which equals 20 people) and airlines typically require a 10-passenger minimum. If your group fits into those criteria, the booking process differs from booking reservations as individuals. And while there are a few cons to booking this way (including some discount myths), there are also numerous benefits.
You get a real human helping you out through the process.
You get the fairness of everyone paying the same rate.
You get the benefit of being able to get rooms at the same place and seats on the same flight.
If your group is only a little bigger than the number of units (seats/rooms) available at a low price, the supplier (or a good group representative) may open up a few more in order to ensure they get the group booking.
Full price isn't due until (usually) 30 days prior to departure. By booking air reservations in bulk (and often hotels as well), you'll be able to make a deposit and pay the remainder as you get closer to traveling. This helps with planning so you can send reminders to people, do fundraising activities, and folks don't have to pay for big expenses too far in advance.
Some hotels will offer additional amenities such as morning papers, room upgrades, or fruit baskets when booking a big block of rooms.
Special requests: These can often (but not always) be accommodated, including making sure the entire group has rooms/seats near each other or on the same floor of a hotel.
Locking in availability: Hotels and airlines have their room/seat inventory management down to a science and their goal is to maximize profitability. By booking in bulk, you can lock in a certain rate and ensure you have enough space for your group. Group room/seat availability varies by hotel/flight; just plan early (several months in advance).
Remember, hoteliers want to put heads in beds just as much as airlines want butts in seats. The same goes for cruise lines and activity operators. A half-full ship sailing to the Caribbean is a sad ship sailing to the Caribbean in the supplier's mind. Groups are the industry's way of helping manage their inventory and ensuring they meet their sales numbers.
Group reservations may not work for every group trip, but if it's good to know the rules of engagement and some of the pros and cons to expect.
Everyone wants to save a few dollars, even a few hundred dollars when traveling. Travel deals, airfare sales, hotel specials (3rd night free, kids stay free) all entice us to vacation with saving money. But is it really cheaper to book in bulk? Sometimes. But not always.
There are numerous group reservation benefits. But here are common myths:
Myth #1: Groups discounts are commonly defined across the travel industry
Airlines generally define a group as 10 or more passengers. Hotels tend to define a group as 10 or more rooms of double occupancy (20 people). Cruises and activity operators have their own criteria for groups. Restaurants vary on whether or not they can accept group reservations, and if they do, less likely to offer discounts unless you have a coupons already. Many activity operators (snorkeling tours, river rafting, etc.) can accept groups, but the number of people varies widely depending on vehicle occupancy, type of tour, etc. You get the idea. Your group may qualify for a discount at a theater (7 girls on a getaway weekend), but not for a block of rooms at the hotel closest to a friend's wedding.
Myth #2: If a group has fewer than 10 people, it is not a group
Not true. What about the group of 7 guys who goes golfing for a weekend? Or 9 girls on a spa getaway? Or an extended family traveling together: parents, kids, grandparents, aunt/uncle? They are absolutely groups. Groups don't have to be industry-defined to travel together. Friends and family travel in groups all the time and aren't necessarily considered traditional groups by the travel industry. See more on what defines a group.
Myth #3: Seasonality doesn't affect group reservations
Travel industry prices are highly tuned into the seasons, regardless of how many people in the party. Caribbean is cheaper than ever in the Spring and Fall (during hurricane-prone seasons), while Hawaii is most expensive during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It doesn't matter how big your group is, you'll pay more for a European summer trip than you would in a lower season month (such as October). And the same applies to other destinations and their peak seasons. Planning well in advance can help, you aren't immune from the seasonal pricing fluctuations. Seasonal rates apply to airlines, hotels, activity, cruises, and tour operators.
Myth #4: Black-out dates don't apply to groups
Groups can travel any time, but all travel is subject to peak times and black-out dates (which vary by destination). Fares are higher, deadlines for things like deposits are more restrictive, and space is more limited not just for peak travel, but also for black-out dates, such as major holidays. While destinations and suppliers vary for black-out dates, U.S.holidays are when availability is most limited for the majority of suppliers including airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and many activity companies.
Myth #5: Booking group reservations guarantees a discount
First, the number of units (seats/rooms) your group needs may exceed the number available at the cheapest rate, so even with a discount off the lowest rate available for your group, at least some members of your group could find a lower price by booking individually.
Second, prices do not necessarily go up as you get closer to the travel date, so contracting early enough to ensure that there's enough space available for you puts you at risk of missing out a potential lower price later. Just as with individual purchases, deciding when to buy is a trade-off between price and availability, and a bit of a bet.
Myth #6:Deposits for group flights and hotel rooms are fully refundable
Restrictions occur (and vary) for any group reservation. Normally, if people cancel and the total number of passengers falls below 90% of your original estimated number of passengers, you'll lose the deposit for those passengers. If the final number of people who go on the trip is below the pre-set minimum, all existing tickets/rooms must be reissued and penalties may apply (such as flight change fees).
Armed with this reality check of group discounts, go forth and travel the world together. Discounts do exist. They just aren't as easy to secure as we'd all like to believe, and it does take a little vigilance to manage a group contract. Just be sure to ask the group reservation representative, as they're usually willing to be helpful to make sure your group is accommodated.
Ah, cities with water. Whether its lakefront, oceanfront, bayfront, or riverfront, living in or visiting a city with water access can be bliss in the sultry summer months.
Dangling my toes from the bow, I went on a boat ride this past weekend with a few others. A potpourri group of friends and family. This activity is highly group-oriented, especially in a city known for having the highest number of boats per capita. Seattle waterways were jam-packed on Sunday with kayakers, power boaters, wooden boaters, canoers, rowers, floaters, pedalers, sailors, wake-boarders, water skiers, and the list goes on.
Watching other boats pass our boat, I noticed that regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status (believe me, you can tell a lot by someone's boat), everyone had a perma-grin. Water can be the great equalizer. People on boats of all shapes and sizes (passengers to match) waved and smiled as they floated by each other.
With so many people crowding the waterways, I felt privileged to help the skipper navigate by yelling, "Canoers on the port side!" and other super official-sounding lingo. I was luckiest girl in the world, for the day. Warm breeze, water splashing, scrumptious food and drinks, all in good company.
I highly recommend some form of a boating this summer, kicking your feet up, and letting the wake be your guide. Even within city limits, you can be miles away.
With Las Vegas dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, it's no wonder that our research at TripHub shows more groups planning trips to Las Vegas than any other destination.
Surprised? Don't be. Las Vegas has long been popular for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, weekend gambling getaways (and gawking) for guys, easy-bake wedding ceremonies or full-blown weddings, and a launch pad for visiting the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and other area attractions. And when conventioneers converge there, attendees often extend their stay and invite family or friends to join them.
Vegas continues to evolve, offering world-class shows (think Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, O, Zumanity, plus a bevy of Broadway, magic, and variety shows that thrill 'til dawn), concerts by renowned music artists, and more high-rolling resort casinos than anywhere else on Earth.
Even the anti-glitz travelers (ahem, like myself) who prefer tamer, more au naturale vacations, often admit that Las Vegas is good for entertaining and best enjoyed with a group of friends when you can double dare them to keep betting on the roulette table or give them a dollar bill to tip the dancer (that would be for the guys). The sweeping view from the top of Mandalay Bay is worth seeing, the Bellagio waterworks display dazzling, a massage at any of the luxury hotel spas relaxing, and other activities can fill your every waking moment. Sleep when you return home.
Planning a trip to Las Vegas with family or friends? Here are ideas to get you started:
Plan a weekend getaway with friends, bachelor(ette) party, family vacation, or wedding using TripHub by setting up a home page for your group, inviting guests, discussing hotels, sharing itinerary information, and more
Book a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip
Soar above Las Vegas on a helicopter night flight
Hover over the Grand Canyon by air, helicopter, or tour via bus
Tour Hoover Dam, engineering masterpiece
Catch Las Vegas shows from Splash to Blue Man Group
I'm not sure if it's the thrill of traveling, alcohol shared among friends, a romantic new setting, or the free feeling of being away from home and responsibilities. My guess is it's a combination of all that can convert travelers to accidental romantics, leading to travel trysts and even some long-lasting relationships.
But be careful. Traveling can also raise toxic levels of flirtation. Enough to make any travel companion gag.
How can group trips increase your chances of meeting that Mr. or Ms. Right Now (or, better yet, that special someone for longer)?
Meeting up for drinks or activities with other like-minded travelers is a great benefit of traveling when you're still single. When traveling solo (especially as a woman), it's not necessarily as easy to meet someone (or safe). However, when with a group of family or friends, you can meet other travelers, knowing you're in the safe comfort of traveling with those you trust.
Destination weddings are naturally themed with romance. Attending a destination wedding as a singleton is a sure fire way to meet at least one eligible bachelor or bachelorette. Be proactive or non-chalant. Ask your friends to introduce you to anyone "special" they know who's attending. Or casually scan the ceremony for singles, and then find yourself next to them in the buffet line at the reception.
True story: A bride groom and groomsman at a destination wedding of a friend of mine met at the wedding and struck up a long-distance relationship for over a year. They also toured around the destination immediately after the wedding day with other wedding guests. Last I'd heard, after taking a 6-month break, they are back together and may try to live in the same city.
3. Vacationing with friends opens doors to meeting someone. Whether camping, skiing, road tripping, gambling in Las Vegas, or just doing a weekend getaway, friends of friends usually come well-recommended or at least well-researched.
True story: A good friend met a woman who was equally as crazy about skiing as he was. Shortly after they met through friends, a big group of them planned a European ski trip in January, where they got closer and have been dating seriously ever since.
4. Friends serve as "wing men." If you're single and traveling with a group of friends and you meet someone intriguing, chances are your friends will be encouraging. And they'll have your back in case things go awry. This makes it all the more fun to flirt and get to know someone at a bar in a different destination than when at home, you may be more likely to play it safe and stay in your comfort zone of just visiting with friends. If nothing else, you can come home and brag about the best kiss you've ever had while on the London Eye with a saucy Brit you and your friends met while on vacation.
True story: Being as vague as I possibly can be to protect a friend of mine, let's just say I've heard the Italian Riviera is a great aphrodisiac. Limoncello helps.
5. Travel where singles travel. Club Med caters to groups such as golf pals, sewing cirlce (many singles, too). Hedonism resorts in the Caribbean have singles activities and welcome groups. And we all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Beaches around the world are also laden with possibilities. Plus, ski resorts and towns during the winter months are group gathering meccas and ideal for warming up with a cozy kiss.
In general, when traveling with friends or families, have fun, be yourself, and get into the groove of the trip. Play it safe. And be cool. In no time, the natural relaxation of the destination and comfortable group could lead to a romance of a lifetime.
Any other ways group trips can add a little romantic spice to a trip?
In the follies of my twenties, I co-led a trip to Brazil for 12 martial art students.
I was hot and heavy in the study of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. I had spent three months living in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years earlier, familiarizing myself with the language and country.
A friend and I "organized" (and I use this term lightly) a trip for fellow students who wanted to train Capoeira in its motherland. I was used to traveling light and without lots of plans, so I didn't imagine that it would be a very big deal. I was wrong. Participants for the most part were college students with no money, so we wanted to keep things as cheap as possible.
Here's what we did wrong that I encourage you to avoid:
To save money,we lodged 12 people in a single-room apartment for a few nights. It didn't seem like a very big deal when we arranged it, but it quickly became evident that 12 people had important bathroom needs that could not be met by one commode. Uncomfortable, to say the least.
We left plans too open and flexible. It is one thing to have no plans when you are travelling alone or in a twosome, it is quite another when you have a gaggle of students. Imagine the adult equivalent of 12 kids constantly asking "Are we there yet?" and "I'm bored, what are we doing today?" for three weeks straight. We should have made more concrete plans so our group knew what to expect.
I didn't factor in a charge for my services. I paid the same amount as everyone else, and spent most of the three weeks frantically organizing the next leg of the trip, acting as tour guide and translator and trying to quell student frustrations. I was exhausted by the end and frustrated that people didn't enjoy it more.
We made the trip too long for such a large group of people. We stayed for over two weeks. Tempers started to flare and nerves got raw. If we had provided comfortable rooms where everyone could relax and get away from each other, it would have been different. But our operating on a shoestring with everyone together all the time type of trip dragged on for too long.
We didn't get to the airport early enough for the flight home. The Brazilian airline attendants informed me that there was no way everyone could make it on the flight, even though we had reserved seats. My friend was a native Brazilian with a terrible temper, and he played an excellent "bad cop" to my "good cop." Finally they pleaded with me "If you can make that man shut up and go away, we will put you all in first class."
On the upside, we did get interviewed by a national Brazilian television station who did a story on our visit to their country to learn a native art form. They filmed an interview with me in Portuguese, and capped the segment off with footage of us doing the national "booty shaking dance" of Samba. Apparently, I had good hips for a gringa. At the airport, I got called up to the counter by a pair of serious-looking airline managers. Fearing visa troubles or more cancelled flights, I solemnly asked what was wrong. One leaned over and whispered to me, "Was that you on television today? Man, you can sure Samba!"
Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach who helps frustrated creatives in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. You can find her at her own blog,Escape from Cubicle Nation. Don't worry, she doesn't lead trips anymore.
With Al Gore's new documentary on global warming, an inconvenient truth indeed, people are privvy to evidence of this phenomenon known by scientists for years. Even some non-tree huggers admit that we all contribute in some ways to the effect.
Luckily, as travelers, we can help. Think globally, act wherever we plant our feet. That extends to travel destinations. Ecotourism is a growing niche of the travel industry. Costa Rica was a pioneer in building a tourism industry that was founded on sustainability of its flora, fauna, and community.
The International Ecotourism Society offers the following basic principles that help define ecotourism so you can identify companies that practice the principle. This can serve as a checklist to find an ecotourism company or tour/activity when you plan your next trip:
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
Support international human rights and labor agreements
Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation is a snorkeling, whale-watching, and ecotourism organization that serves as a shining example, living up to these criteria.
Of course, it can be hard to travel entirely with ecological matters guiding your vacation decisions. But rather than driving all over Napa Valley, why not consider doing a half-day bike tour? That day of not driving would cut down on CO2 emissions, which will likely save the planet. I'm sure of it. Plus, your vacation will be that much more adventurous.
Going along with my previous post on the rising nude travel trend, the next logical question is "where are the nude beaches?" since it seems like a natural combination - beach and bare buns. (Unless, of course, the subject makes you uncomfortable as hell and you'd rather go to your happy place and pretend you aren't intrigued. Understandable.)
The Travel Channel has compiled a list of what they call the best beaches for naturalists. Have a look. Then walk, don't run, to plan a trip with friends (even family), if you dare to go bare.
Centre Helio Montalivet in Bordeaux, France
Best for purists
Couples Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Best for couples or groups of couples new to going nude
Wreck Beach in Vancouver, British Columbia
Best for young adults
Samurai Beach in Port Stephens, Australia
Best for anyone
Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica along the famous 7-mile beach
Best for hedonists and swinging singles (pun very much intended)
Pinho Beach (Praia do Pinho) in Santa Catarina, Brazil
Best for anyone
Red Beach in Crete, Greece
Best for rustic naturists
Haulover Beach near Miami, Florida
Best for organized group activites such as nude volleyball, nude swimming
Red, White, and Blue Beach in Santa Cruz, California
Best for groovy, bohemian nudists
Little Beach in Maui, Hawaii
Best for body surfing in the buff
Any other note-worthy nude beaches? How do y'all feel about nude beach-going?
Don't get me started on the appeal of this massage treatment. It's as if my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasy of living amid treats and sweets grew up with me.
If you're in love with chocolate (enough to smother yourself in it), head to The Spa at The Hershey Hotel in Hershey, Pennsylvania for chocolate treatments sure to melt the soul. Perfect for a birthday party celebration or girls getaway (think bachelorette party). Men with chocolate fever can also enjoy spa treatments there as well.
Health benefits of chocolate are good news. Here is more information from Fine Dark Chocolate on wellness attributes such as possibly staving off heart disease, high blood pressure, and helping with anti-aging. Hmm... perhaps there's more to cocoa beans than meets the mouth?
Wine spas. Chocolate spas. What's next? Snickers spas with peanut wraps and nougat facials? Why doesn't the spa industry just splash us with Chardonnay and dip us in dark, dreamy, drippy chocolate syrup until we're so sick of our guilty pleasures that we seek wholesome, back-to-the-basics activities like dinner with the four food groups or jogging.
Experiencing the World Cup in Germany is a completely different level of soccer satisfaction than glueing oneself to a TV for weeks on end.
Johnny G., a friend of a friend of mine and all-American soccer fanatic, is living the soccer dream and blogging from Germany about the World Cup. Peek into the European borders to catch a glimpse of life on the road at a world sporting event with Johnny G.
Sunday, 18 June 2006
Italy 1 -1 US
I just got back to Geneva after what feels like 24 hours on trains. Omigosh! But what fun! Anders, Eugie and her friend Mahmet are awesome travel partners. We started drinking wine as soon as we got on the train yesterday and emptied four bottles before we got to our first stop. We played cribbage all afternoon and picnicked on bread and ham and cheese -- and wine. Actually, we slowed considerably. The third train was jam packed and we just didn't deal with the wine. The game was awesome! Did you watch? I'm sure most of America is looking at a 1-1 tie and thinking "where is the scoring?" But the game was way more exciting than any sports event I've ever witnessed. The crowd was on its feet for the entire game, chanting, clapping, cheering, whistling, booing. It was electric. I started losing my voice in the first 30 minutes. I relied on my whistle for the rest of the game, except when it really counted. That final 30 minutes were a complete emotional drain. Hoping -- praying to the soccer gods -- for the US to prevail. 1-1 isn't a win, but it felt like it. And because of the surprise result in the other game in our group yesterday (Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic) we still have a real fighting chance. We have to beat Ghana and we need some help in the other game (Italy/Czech Republic). Stranger things have happened in the world of soccer...
Johnny goes on about his post-game celebration and return to Geneva, summarizing the journey with this:
Now it's a beautiful June morning in Geneva, and I need to take a nap.
E-gad! The world is really shrinking. London's radical innovation in hotel rooms shrinks the price of hotels, along with the room to a 10' x 10' space. While targeting business travelers now who need to rent a room for a few hours in between flights (or during flight delays) or for the night on a lay over, what's to stop other hotels from shrinking space for regular vacationers?
Yotel Hotel, the company making this move, has a quote on their site from CEO Gerard Greene saying, "A wake up call for the hotel industry. We have been bold enough to take steps that no other hotel has taken before, allowing us to offer luxury accommodation at an affordable price." For now, these mini-hotel rooms ("capsule hotels" as Diversion Travel labels them, but Yotel calls them cabins) are slated for Gatwick and Heathrow airport areas in 2006 and then in London proper for 2007.
I'm curious what others think of this phenomenon. I can see it being useful for the business traveler, but I wouldn't want to stay in a shoebox while vacationing. My guess is they would arrive as an efficiency technique, at a reduced price, but then shortly thereafter, regular "big rooms" would increase in price because they'd be relatively "spacious" when compared to a 10' x 10' space. Too skeptical?
Gadling raves about it. I do have to admit when having a long layover in London on international flights, it'd be nice to have a luxurious place to chill, iPod lulling me to sleep.
OK, not literally. Gawkers, stay calm. But nude travel has tripled in the last decade with nude cruises, nude resorts, and an increasing number of clothing-optional travelers flocking to areas where they can bare all. Here's what the American Association for Nude Recreation has to say:
As any kid who breaks loose from you at bath time to go romping through the house can tell you, it's just fun to enjoy your birthday suit once in a while.
When you're nude you're the way you were meant to be: completely natural. Many who enjoy clothes-free recreation and living refer to themselves as naturists and with good reason. Being naked, especially in the great outdoors within appropriate settings, draws one inherently closer to nature.
Yahoo reports on the growing trend, and how Florida's Pasco County (south of Tampa) is turning into a "nudist Mecca" in the United States.
Three of Pasco County's six nudist resorts are taking off the gloves and everything else as they attempt to attract more of the worldwide clothing-optional market, which has tripled in size since 1992.
The American Association of Nude Recreation estimates nudists pump about $400 million into the global tourism economy, up from $120 million in 1992. The association says its ranks have grown 75 percent to 50,000 members in that time.
Nudists can choose from 270 clubs, resorts and campgrounds in the United States.
Why the growing trend in nude travel? Your guess is as good as mine. I've heard about European topless or nude beaches and wonder if the increase in American nude travel is a result of relaxed moral standards from our puritan past or just groovy attitudes toward being more au naturale. I'm curious if the baby boomer hippies from the 60s, now retiring after being in the work force, are fueling this trend. You know, the generation that invented "free love" and peaked at Woodstock? But with rising trends in natural recreational activities such as spa travel and ecotourism as well, I tend to think that for many, it is not a fascination with being surrounded by naked bods, but a draw of being natural and real. Spa industry has boomed over the last decade as well, and spa appeal has long been self-pampering, often in the nude (while scantily clothed in sheets) for ultimate relaxation. Any other ideas on why the trend is growing? (Keep your comments clean or they'll get deleted.)
I highly doubt you'd find me at the flashy new Florida nudist resort and spa called Caliente. I'm more likely to hit a rustic hot springs in a galaxy far, far away from civilization and other people. Hat's off (er, clothes off) to an industry for innovation, though.
How long is a cruise? You can go on a voyage for three months or three days. Most people take a cruise for a week or 10 to 14-days.
Where to go? Some of the most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
Themes to consider: The cruise industry has cruise lines, individual cruises and more with specialty cruises to suit nearly every interest: photography, gay/lesbian cruises, nude cruises, family cruises (think Disney Cruise Line), and more.
What to wear? Pack as you would for any resort. Cruise vacations are casual by day, whether you're on the ship or ashore. In the evening, attire is a bit dressier. But, it's really up to you. At the "Captain's Gala," you'll probably want to wear something formal; for other occasions "suit" yourself. As you cruise from port to port, you won't have to worry about packing and unpacking. The hassles of an ordinary vacation are practically eliminated.
Staying in touch: Today, most cruise ships are equipped with telephones with long distance capability, fax machines, e mail access, computers, in-cabin data lines for laptops, even laptop rentals.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Cruises offer a unique opportunity to spend quality time with family. You can get pampered, take part in your favorite activities and try new feats, all while visiting some of the most beautiful or exotic destinations in the world.
Here's what you have to look forward to:
1. Quality Time: A wonderful aspect of being on a cruise is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family. Cruises slow down the rush of day to day life. While floating at sea, there's plenty of time to lounge on the deck, visiting like there's no tomorrow.
Cruise ships provide a unique environment for families. The varied activities allow you to spend time together (and apart!) making this kind of trip ideal for a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or family reunion). You'll get to be together in a way you never had time for before.
2. Total Relaxation: Bliss. Utter bliss. Nothing gives you the sense of being away from it all as a cruise. You can walk onto the ship a frazzled heap of nerves; and, after a week of sun, relaxation, a little exercise, and a few spa treatments, emerge a new person.
A cruise ship is a floating resort with all the things a fine resort has to offer and more. While you can just relax and do nothing, today's ships are well-equipped to keep sports oriented travelers busy from sunrise to sunset.
3. Built-In Value: The ticket price includes all of your meals and in between snacks onboard; your stateroom, activities, parties and entertainment; plus, an exciting voyage to interesting places.
Since you pay for almost everything up front, you'll know pretty much what the trip will end up costing before you go. (Your only extra expenses will be drinks, optional shore excursions, and personal services such as a massage or a new hairdo.)
4. Divine Destinations: One of the many benefits of the cruising experience is the ability to visit more than one place during a trip. Some of the most popular cruise destinations are: the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
On a cruise, you don't really notice the traveling because you spend the day exploring an interesting port and, while you sleep, the ship takes you to the next day's destination.
5. Enriching Experiences: As well as the discoveries you'll make in the various ports-of-call, many cruise lines feature seminars hosted by distinguished, guest speakers. Along with lectures on the sights you’ll be visiting, you can attend presentations on topics ranging from Renaissance art to financial planning to the secrets of French cooking.
6. Theme Cruises: Do you and your family have a particular interest or hobby such as golf, photography or architecture? You can go on a cruise filled with other enthusiasts and experts offering seminars and demonstrations on your favorite topic. Whether your passion is for gardening, wine tasting or 50's music, there's a theme cruise that suits your interest(s).
7. Activities for Kids: If you bring your children along, you can truly relax while the kiddies have a blast because all the activities for children are specially supervised. These fun and educational activities are designed with specific age groups in mind.
8. Food, Glorious Food: Cruises are known for their elaborate meals from bountiful buffets to midnight menus. You'll have the opportunity to "taste test" new specialties or enjoy some favorites such as roast beef and lobster. Each meal is a savory, multi-course affair.
For those with special dietary requirements, there are spa-cuisine offerings, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, kosher and vegetarian meals. There are even special children's menus to suit the tastes of the pickiest eater in the family.
9. Entertainment: On a cruise, the entertainment is practically non-stop. There's dancing, cabaret shows, feature films and parties. After dinner, there's often dancing to Big Band sounds and, for the night owls onboard, there’s entertainment in the nightclubs and lounges. Many ships also have casinos.
10. The Art of Sitting Still: Besides the food, the entertainment, and various on-board activities, one of the best things about being on a boat is just sitting still and looking out at the horizon. With the sun glistening on the water and the work-a-day world far away, there is something deeply soothing about it.
With the busy lives we all lead, it's difficult to make the time to connect with family (and friends). However, cruises make connecting with people natural. And that's what makes it perfect for a family reunion or any kind of group trip.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Gathering the generations together at one time is challenging. So many siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.
But family bonds grow stronger, stories accumulate, shared activities unite all age groups, and celebratory occasions (Uncle Bob's 50th birthday, etc.) entertain, making family reunions worth every ounce of effort.
Simplify the planning process with these family reunion tips and free the planning guru within.
Family Reunion Checklist 101: Budget, Guest List, Dates
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens of relatives are counting on you. Don't stress out. Early essential steps will lead you to success (and peace of mind).
Checklist 102: Location, Accommodations, Activities
Location. Location. Location. And all other critical considerations you simply can't forget. Where will guests stay? What will the main events or activities be? These big ticket items set the pace, timeline, structure (and budget) for any family reunion.
The Art of Delegation
Delegate projects, tasks, "to do" lists with pizzaz and be an expert family reunion project manager by sharing the responsibility. No one is an island.
Make Every Communiqué Count
He said. She said. Who's on first? Communication is vital for a family reunion to succeed and that starts the very first day of planning. Here are tips to avoid over or under-communicating.
World Cup mania has taken over the global airwaves. Like the Olympics, it's a time when the world can unite (and compete) via celebration, triumph, and hope. It's a time when national news covers spirited international sports figures, reminding us there is a world outside our offices and home towns.
Whoever you're rooting for, whatever country you call home, chances are you or someone you know is tuned into the World Cup. A good friend of mine from Microsoft has Tivo, cable, direct TV, and multiple televisions in his super tech home all ready to maximize his soccer/football pleasure.
Even if you didn't get to travel to Germany this time, you can gather in groups to watch World Cup games for the next month, and raise a glass of frothy beer to cheer for your team.
Want to plan a last-minute get together with friends for the final days?
Whether we road trip with family in tote, flee the city with friends, or travel solo to meet up for a destination wedding, oceans continuously lap the shores to welcome summer visitors, swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, scuba divers, fishers, boaters, kayakers, and the lazy rest of us who gaze wistfully at the scenery.
You? What beach activities lift your spirits? Thanks to Vagablond for pointing out Caribbean group scuba dives and other activities through Red Sail Sports Aruba, Grand Cayman operations.
Airfare is one of the great unpredictables in travel. Sure there are well-known seasonal factors (Hawaii is most expensive over Christmas and Las Vegas is rock-bottom cheap in the sweltering summer months). Travelers forever have planned vacations around airline prices. But predicting airfare is about exact a science as astrology.
Enter Farecast, a new site that takes complex bits of airline data and gives you a way to predict airfare from point A to point B. Ah, the ease of knowing (approximately) how much your family vacation, wedding, weekend getaway with friends, or any group trip will cost (at least airfare).
John Battelle got a sneak preview of the site soon to launch later this year:
The basic premise is neat - Farecast pays attention to the market price of all airline fares out of particular cities (it only does Boston and Seattle for now) at all times (it uses an industry data feed that, unfortunately, does not include Southwest). It then uses this data to help forecast when the right time might be for you to buy your ticket (and get the best price). In short, it's a rip off detector for flights. Farecast leverages the power of data to put you back in charge, or at least more in charge.
No matter what kind of vacation is on your itinerary - family reunion, bachelor party, wedding of your dreams, high school or college reunion, or camping with lifelong friends, sun burns while playing and splashing around in the happy sun are part of every trip.
Here's the skinny on how to best protect your skin from a new site for anti-aging techniques called RealSelf. Sunscreen is one of the most widely used methods of protecting skin from the sun's rays. Little-known SPF insights from RealSelf include:
Ratings above SPF 30 do little if anything to provide further protection, which has led the Food and Drug Administration to examine unrealistic claims about sunscreen.
Labeling is key. To block out as many as 98% of UVA rays, you should choose a sunscreen with any of these FDA-approved ingredients:
More tips for decoding SPF and choosing the right sunscreen for you. Here's to youthful skin, and vacations filled with youthful activities!
A European trend is quickly spreading. Two heavenly pleasures - spas and wine - are now joined in a marriage of grape bliss. Vinotherpy is the new term for bathing in wine-infused baths, cocoon wraps of grapeseed oils, grape extract facials, massages with oils and grapes. Perfect for a group girls getaway.
Les Sources in Bordeaux, France, was the pioneer in vinotherapy. Kenwood Inn in California was the first United States spa to dedicate all spa services to the grape and its derivatives. Why drink the elixir of centuries when you can swim in it? I say dive in. The water (bubbly, blush, red, or white) should be divine.
You're thinking it. I'm thinking it. The kids are definitely thinking it. Summer's virtually here and a flurry of warm-weather activities are on the mind as peak travel season to and within the United States has arrived.
TripAdvisor just announced the top 10 United States attractions based on traveler popularity on TripAdvisor.com. Drum roll, please...
Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla.
Universal Studios Orlando, Orlando, Fla.
Discovery Cove, Orlando, Fla.
South Beach, Miami, Fla.
Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif.
Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas, Nev.
Epcot Center, Orlando, Fla.
Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.
Hana Highway, Maui, HI
Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Ga.
Many will flock to these hot-spots, but many others will flee to avoid crowds and escape to quiet retreats such as national park wilderness and memorable beaches of their own. We won't hear as much about the latter because they'll flee to disparate destinations.
Why are these top 10 attractions so popular? They offer insta-fun for people of all ages, they hold the "wow" factor (biggest canyon, biggest theme park, most intense roller coaster, largest aquarium... super size phenomena) and accommodate groups well, welcoming friends or family who gather in one central location. I'm not surprised to see Disney top the list. But I was surprised to see Hana Highway in Maui (partly because I'm relatively new to Maui) even though it is increasing in popularity as a vacation destination for weddings, honeymoons, family escapes, and other trips. Maui has much to offer, but here's hoping it doesn't sprout an over-crowded area like Oahu's Waikiki. (Sorry, Waikiki fans!)
Whatever attractions bring your group of family or friends together, planning the trip is made simple with TripHub's online collaborative tools.
Friends, families, and other groups of like-minded vacationers will hit the road this summer for campgrounds, national parks, attractions, family reunions, and other adventures. Memorial Day was just the beginning.
In planning a road trip with a group of friends recently, I was reminded of the need for services like TripHub, where you can coordinate, collaborate and centralize any type of group trip information easily. In the spirit of simplifying planning, here are helpful tips to make any road trip stress-free.
1. Designate a point person
This person may or may not be the same person who initiated the trip. Usually, one person in the group enjoys coordinating plans and doing research on where to stay. When there are multiple type A personalities in the group, making one point person clear to all becomes critical to avoid confusion and duplication. However, delegating is wise when planning any trip. You can funnel all major and minor questions to the point person. (Of course, it helps to have someone willing to be point person… so preferably this person will volunteer.) This person can send out the initial invitation for the trip and create the trip home page.
2. Decide who's driving
Determine how many vehicles and when those vehicles are leaving and returning. If Dick and Jane are each taking their cars, you'll need to know how many people can they fit in their cars comfortably (don't forget room for bags, equipment, etc.), and get a commitment from drivers on day and time of departure so the other passengers can plan their schedules accordingly.
3. Decide who brings what
Create a checklist of "must-haves" such as water, cooler, Oreos, first-aid kit, car maintenance kit, pillows, certain CDs or an iPod full of music, and other accoutrements. Camping trips require bringing your accommodations and food along for the ride, so getting a list of what people have to bring/contribute is helpful. Someone can then consolidate the list to determine what's missing. Food, tents, firewood, tarps, folding chairs, age-appropriate games for the group, binoculars, coolers, and lighters/matches all come to mind. For any other road trip, think about car games (including kid games for families), cooler full of ice + water + snacks, maps, travel books on nearby points of interest, etc. All shared costs can be divided among the group (and the organizer can track money owed using TripHub).
4. Split the cost of gas fairly and tactfully
How? Discuss this well in advance of the trip so expectations (and budgets) are clear for all road trippers. The record gas price spikes are challenging for everyone and splitting the cost of gas is perfectly acceptable. If you're traveling with a group of friends, factor gas costs into overall budgets. For instance, big ticket items such as hotel room(s), activity entrance fees, and food are typically split in groups. Drivers especially should speak up to remind people that sharing the cost of gas should also be considered in the overall cost of the road trip. Agree with your group how the cost will be divided and when. Nothing's worse than getting stuck with a bigger bill than necessary due to lack of communication. TripHub makes it easy for the main trip organizer to include gas as a shared cost factor. Three ways to share gas costs:
Barter and trade. If one person buys food for the group, another buys gas, and yet another gets one night’s hotel room. This can be hard to track when groups get larger (5 or more), but I’ve found it works well in smaller groups, especially if shared costs are tracked and tallied daily or with a close-knit group of friends with built-in trust are on the road trip.
Determine cost for gas ahead of time per vehicle (calculate miles per gallon by approximate tanks of gas by mileage – mathematicians in your group can create the best calculus algorithms). Geeks in your group will derive much pleasure out of figuring gas costs using this method (and everyone will love them for accurate and reliable results to the penny!).
Drivers gather all gas receipts during the trip, total up the amount at the end, and collect money or let the group organizer collect money from the group for gas along with other shared expenses. TripHub's money owed tool can help organize who owes money before, during, and after the trip.
5. Make your road trip fuel-efficient
…with 10+ vital gas-saving tips; a little prep will go a long way, especially on longer road trips. Gas prices will affect every road trip, but if you do a little homework and find the cheapest gas station near you (thanks to Gas Buddy), plus share the cost of gas with friends or family on road trips, you're less likely to break your piggybank while winding through stunning scenery on an unforgettable vacation.
7. Agree on flexibility before leaving
Rain may spoil a camping road trip, so doing a little pre-trip research to find nearby B&B's or hotels may save you headache along the journey. Make sure everyone is in agreement to be flexible. Trip organizers can do a little research before the trip to give recommendations and alternatives to original plans (local festivals, for instance). If your group is set on hiking a certain Rocky Mountain trail along the road trip, the group may discover another trail off-the-beaten path or bag the hiking idea in favor of relaxing with a picnic and majestic Rocky Mountain skyline.
8. Get and give personal spaceCramming yourselves in a car is fun for a weekend getaway or longer trip, but everyone eventually will crave some solo time. I recommend agreeing on one or two stops along the drive where people are free to explore a town or area, iPod in hand.
What are best road trip tips you've experienced? Any lessons learned on simplifying? What types of people make the best road companions?
Every American should bookmark Gas Buddy. As gas prices skyrocket with no end in sight, finding cheap gas can make a wallet full of difference on road trips.
Gas Buddy makes it easy to locate the least (and most) expensive neighborhoods for gas and individual gas stations. Simply enter your zip code at the top of the home page, hit enter, and you’re on your way to a wealth of up-to-date (within the last 48 hours) pricing on gas stations near you. Stations are conveniently ranked by lowest price to highest.
Also, consider Gas Buddy's 10 essential tips for saving money on gas.
Avoid High Speeds: As your speed increases, your aerodynamic drag increases in an exponential fashion. Driving 62 mph (100 km/h) vs 75 mph (120 km/h) will reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.
Do Not Accelerate or Brake Hard: By anticipating the traffic and applying slow steady acceleration and braking, fuel economy may increase by as much as 20%.
Keep Tires Properly Inflated: Keep tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. A single tire under inflated by 2 PSI, increases fuel consumption by 1%.
Use A/C Sparingly: When the air conditioner is on it puts extra load on the engine forcing more fuel to be used (by about 20%). The defrost position on most vehicles also uses the air conditioner.
Keep Windows Closed: Windows open, especially at highway speeds, increase drag and result in decreased fuel economy of up to 10%.
Service Vehicle Regularly: Proper maintenance avoids poor fuel economy related to dirty air filters, old spark plugs or low fluid levels.
Use Cruise Control: Maintaining a constant speed over long distances often saves gas.
Avoid Heavy Loads: Remove the sand bags from your trunk in the spring and pack lightly for long trips.
Avoid Long Idles: If you anticipate being stopped for more than 1 minute, shut off the car. Restarting the car uses less fuel than letting it idle for this time.
Purchase a Fuel Efficient Vehicle: When buying a new vehicle examine the vehicle's rated fuel efficiency. Usually choosing a small vehicle with a manual transmission will provide you with great fuel economy.
Gadling also has money and gas-saving tips, including road tripping with friends to split the cost of gas as a wise money-saving plan.
Any other helpful hints for saving money at the gas pumps?
Need your space when traveling en masse? Socialites and introverts alike all need a little solo time to recharge. Here are easy ways to politely find your own space while still enjoying the group parties, meals, events, activities, and hoopla.
A family reunion, bachelor party, or weekend getaway group agenda doesn't always have to be your agenda. One thing rings true on group trips, especially family reunions. There can be a lot of hanging out time or slower pace in doing things to accommodate for the slowest group member and herding the troops. After a couple of days, finding ways to get some personal space is just fine. Good friends or family should understand. Many will likely copycat your actions (or have already scheduled solo time for themselves). It's quite natural.
So, take that leap. Get the most out of any group vacation by returning relaxed (not revved) using these tips, ideas, and resources.
iPod independence: Bring iPod, put earpieces in ears, close your eyes and tune out others and into yourself. Shuffle or create a travel play list ahead of time. Play list ideas:
i. songs that inspire you
ii. songs that fit the mood of the destination you're visiting
iii. work-out songs for running along that Caribbean beach
iv. comedy acts downloaded
v. walking tours downloaded (see podcast tours below)
Podcast tours are a growing trend in travel sightseeing, a great way for individuals to absorb the rich history, culture, and get insider tips for exploring.
Journal. Who wouldn't respect your request for a little alone time to jot down memories, thoughts, rants, raves of the trip?
Arts and crafts: Draw, paint, knit or whittle. So much scenery, so little time. So many crafts to make, as well.
Comforts of home: Bring at least one comfort of home along on your trip… animal slippers, aromatherapy candle, your favorite bubble bath, nail polish for painting your toes or nails (men, feel free to do the same if that’s your bent)
Books: Most people bring books for plane rides, down time between transfers, and down time in general. A basic for down time which can double as nap time if you read with sunglasses (no one will be the wiser if you position your book and head on a pillow just so). How about books with Sudoko, crossword puzzles, and other mind games? Or are you the trashy romance novel type? John Grisham or Michael Crichton fanatic? See also Gadling's recommendation of classic books available in audio format for iPods.
Dog therapy: When retreating temporarily at any group event, nothing's better than throwing a stick for a dog or taking pouch for a walk. Your companion doesn't require conversation and will be loyal all day.
Yoga or jogging: Yes, two polar opposites on the yin yang spectrum of energy, but both can give you the same thing – time to yourself while staying fit.
Just say NO. While the main objective of any group trip is to be together, taking time for yourself shouldn't catapult feelings of guilt into your conscience. Learn the delicate art of politely declining for certain activities.
Space out. Walk the city, beach, destination and let your thoughts and imagination be your guide. One of the most relaxing elements of travel can be finding quiet time to ponder your current situation (career, lifestyle, health, relationships) or simply letting go of it all and fully immersing yourself in the now to contemplate lapping waves, patterns in the sand, or the origins of Pina Coladas. Our uber tuned-in lives taking over every waking moment (even podcast tours can be invasive if your vacation goal is to fully relax without much stimulus).
Contact home base. Step away from the group to stay in touch with kids, family, others at home. Lifehacker comments on a USA Today article that highlights how easy it is becoming to call home from abroad. Even if you’re traveling in the U.S. with easy access to a phone, you may be able to use "an urgent phone call" as an excuse to duck out of a group event. The group can head off for hiking that day while you meet up with them after a tall, cool beer and the paper.
Any other ways to step aside from group gatherings to recharge with solo time?
Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.
Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner in small-ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek (operating since 1969), writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.
These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).
For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?
Parents can spoil themselves when traveling with infants or toddlers by renting baby supplies, such as cribs, jogging strollers, gates, baby rails, rather than lugging them through airports or hassling with them en route.
Baby's Away is a site that seems to simplify family travel involving young kids. While it may not solve all your problems ("Are we there yet?") perhaps it can be another stress-reducer for traveling families. You can rent supplies from numerous metropolitan and resort locations throughout the U.S.
Ladies, this bud(get)'s for you. There's a lot of buzz lately about Budget Travel's new magazine for ladies only. That's right, men. Step aside. This doesn't mean women don't adore traveling with you - it just means quality girl friend time is like nothing else; so when women gather in giggly gaggles or small, serious groups, the travel industry takes notice and rewards women with a nice glossy periodical to peruse for travel ideas. (A higher end magazine for "savvy, sexy, and sophisticated" women "and the men who travel with them" is Travel Girl.)
Budget Travel's 40 Best Girlfriend Getaway Packages is an enticing start for their launch. Summer 2006 edition is on newstands now or available for online order after May 23 (I can hear the clip clop of heels and shuffling of hiking boots now). My guess is this magazine will attract working women, college chicas, and a range of ages alike.
Men: who knows? You just might find your girlfriend becoming more passionate about travel (and life) on her adventure away with the girls, which should spilleth over to your relationship. Concerned about couples traveling separately on vacation? Here are tips on how healthy it can be.
Who doesn't dig beaches? They vary by destination (Hawaiian sand and rock beaches vs. Caribbean powdery white beaches) and season, even from vacation to vacation. Depending on who you're traveling with (group of friends, family or college pals) you get (and likely want) different things from each beach trip.
Beaches that stick out in my mind as personal favorites hold their titles from the experience of the visit - some for fond memories they conjure up, others for sheer beauty, and still others for a desire to return to the sights, foods, and local culture surrounding the shores.
A few of my memory-making beaches to whet your summer appetite include...
First Beach, Olympic National ParkWhy? I've had great conversations with family members and enjoyed spotting eagles from shore. Just spotted about 10 adult and adolescent eagles recently!
Red Beach on the Greek island of SantoriniWhy? It was my second trip abroad and my friends and I had this beach all to ourselves in the spring; gorgeous, crescent-shaped beach that took a mini-hike to get down to the water's edge. We spent an afternoon reading by the water. (Hint: Only way to get this popular beach to yourself is to go off season and non-peak hours.)
Monterosso, ItalyWhy? Cinque Terre is one of my favorite areas of Italy (made famous to most Americans by Rick Steves) made doubly delightful with family and friends. More people with whom to sip wine or limoncello (local lemon liquor). Mmmm.
West side of San Juan Island, Washington State
Why? It's where you can (environmentally responsibly) sight Orca whales. While visiting the island with friends, we drove around and stopped when we spotted approximately 50 at once. Gorgeous and a rare treat to see so many (now endangered) Orcas together.
Poipu Beach, Kauai, HawaiiWhy? Snorkeling there is a wonderful treat - so much just under the surface very close to shore so it's great for all ages, family, etc.
Isla Baru, off the coast of Cartagena, ColombiaWhy? Tiny droplet of an island (as part of the Rosario Islands Park) with shallow shorelines for swimming in bathwater temperatures. On my tour, we were served grilled fish and veggies from the locals. I highly recommend tours that take you to multiple outer islands off of Cartagena. It's an authentic Caribbean experience.
By guest blogger and professor Hazel Warlaumont, Ph.D.
Thinking of an escorted travel tour? Sharing pleasurable and positive travel experiences with others can bring lasting memories . . . and lasting friendships! Researchers investigating group dynamics agree that group synergy; that is, increased benefits from a group experience, can far surpass the experience of acting alone. Escorted tours not only have economical and practical advantages, but they can satisfy members' interpersonal needs such as inclusion and the need to develop close, caring relationships by sharing interests in common.
But horror stories abound from seasoned travelers and tour guides who relate unpleasant situations that can create tension and even ruin a trip. When you get 35 people from different backgrounds and often with different agendas in close quarters for the first time, there's bound to be some tension. Understanding how groups interact and process a new group situation can help alleviate many of the difficulties and make group travel work for everyone.
Stages of group dynamics on travel tours:
Upon meeting for the first time, tour members enter the orientation phase of the group interaction process. Members naturally feel some primary tension marked by the expected uncertainty of meeting for the first time. This often happens on the first night when many tour directors gather their flock for a welcoming dinner or reception. Tour members tend to be polite and formal with one another and do their best to avoid controversy. They engage in surface-level chit-chat during this period of "social reconnaissance" while they get a sense of each other's interests and personalities.
Group dynamics form
The second or conflict phase is often marked by some secondary tension when members become aware of individual differences within the group. This may take place during the next few days as members ease into the routine of traveling together. Tension during this period can come from a number of situations, some identified by people's behavior and key personality traits. For instance, tour members might encounter
the recognition seeker, who spends time boasting about accomplishments thereby distracting others from the travel experience;
a self-confessor might distract the group by disclosing personal problems and by using the group for personal therapy;
the special-interest traveler has an individual agenda and might try to steer the tour in that direction (wants everyone to go fly fishing as opposed to touring the local castle); and
the dominator refuses to allow others to express their opinions and dominates discussion.
Showing patience with this initial posturing and knowing it will diminish as the tour progresses, is usually a winning strategy.
Personal spaceTension during the second stage of group integration can also arise from perceived violations of personal space. Territoriality is a basic human need and excessive invasions of our space can create heightened arousal and anxiety that may lead to verbal and physical aggression. A tour guide told me on a recent excursion that she had witnessed pushing and shoving over seat and room assignments, and instances of some members leaving a tour because of space issues. While rare, these situations are often the result of insensitivity to another's need for personal space and the inability of the offenders to make a commitment to the group experience. Expecting and accepting that you may need to share space on the bus or at your table, is a soothing strategy here.
Harmony and group unityWith a helpful tour director, secondary tension can be alleviated and even prevented through effective leadership and establishing a protocol for touring. In most cases, this happens right away, allowing the group to pass into stage three, the emergence phase of the trip where members begin to feel harmony. Potential problematic members have backed down, sensing the disapproval and counter productiveness of their behaviors or attitudes, leading the group into the final or reinforcement stage. At this point, members bolster the group experience through favorable comments and positive reinforcement. The spirit of unity pervades and group members are jovial and focused on the purpose of the trip and the travel experience.
Lasting friendships through traveling togetherAlthough many escorted tours experience some tension, the best way to handle it is to keep a positive attitude and allow each member some room for personal adjustment. Anticipating periods of conflict and knowing that in most instances, these situations will resolve themselves quickly, is probably a healthy strategy. Most tour directors and tour members will recognize the value of a positive climate and set this as the primary goal. In most cases, travel excursions result in very special bonds and lasting friendships among members for having worked through minor periods of tension, and from sharing the fun of traveling together.
Hazel Warlaumont is a professor of communication at Cal State Fullerton and the University of Washington, and draws from her teaching and travel experience to share some observations about escorted group tours.
What was your first vacation memory? Visiting grandparents in a distant city? Building sand castles on the beach with siblings and parents? How did the family vacation memories changes as you aged and now as you're an adult - perhaps with kids and/or nieces and nephews of your own? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids?
Family Travel Files offers some insights into making the family getaway stress free for parents, depending on the age of the kids. Infants, toddlers, teens all have different needs and interests. Here are some quick tips (below) from Family Travel Files's article on family travel phases and how to plan ahead to optimize the fun for everyone.
In general, less is more. Jam-packing too much into a travel schedule can ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Build in plenty of free time between activities, meals, group gatherings, and family reunions to walk around, soak in the scenery, relax, nap, read, and so forth.
Traveling with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old
Baby-proofing kit: Think about socket plugs, corner tabs, plastic glasses, room guards, nightlights and other typical portable protection devices.
Keep familiar scents: Resist the temptation to wash everything just before leaving home. Babies and toddlers are particularly comfortable with the smell of their things. They are also sensitive and often cranky when their own things, complete with odors, seem to be missing.
Traveling with kids ages 6 to 12
Pack a surprise: In case the plane is delayed or a child becomes ill along the way, pack a couple of vacation surprises well suited to alleviating boredom. Audiotapes from www.boomkids.com meet the boredom challenge for this age group.
Do less: One of the biggest challenges for vacationing families is learning to do less and enjoy it more. Often parents return to work feeling just like they need a vacation. They intended to relax and catch up on sleep. They intended to enjoy free time with the kids. Instead they found themselves over scheduled and in a self-created time crunch. Anyone in charge?
Traveling with teens
Pack less: This is a reality check. Teens want to be seen as cool by their peer group, yet not look obvious as they do so. The result is over packing. Why take one pair when six will do? Over packing comes from a lack of information about what is needed. Every family with teens should invoke the rule of all seasoned globetrotters: “Ye shall carry what you pack…all of what you pack.” Given the security concerns that now exist, less is will be less hassle.
Determine who is in charge: Power struggles result when guidelines are not clear. Communicate expectations before buying tickets or making deposits. If sleeping until noon is not option say so early. If every one gets to choose a favorite activity say so early. If in reality grandpa is in charge then do not keep it a secret.
What do you think? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids? Was there an ideal age of travel for you? My favorite childhood vacations were spent at a lake with white sandy shores and tons of relatives for our family reunions. Lots of cousins to play with and plenty of munchies and scrumptious food to boot.
A college pal of mine is off on a 3-month African safari and emails a group of us every couple of weeks with stories from the field. While I hover over a keyboard living vicariously through his travels, he's out in the wild with his girlfriend on group tours, then traveling independently as a couple, then meeting up with friends. Basically, he rocks.
Here's what my friend recently did in Namibia, Africa while I surfed the net:
"Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
"...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
"...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
"...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
"...visiting Etosha National Park (some animals seen: 2 elephants; 6 lions; 4 or 5 warthogs; tons of giraffes; tons of zebra; tons of wildebeest; tons of antelope; all kinds of birds including a bunch of ostrich, vultures, a stork, a goshawk, some kory bustards - the largest flying bird in Africa, and lots more)."
He surfs, too. But I admire his ability to plan, save money, and pick up and travel adventurously. Don't we all have at least one friend we live vicariously through? The guy or gal who one-ups us on adventure. We plan a multi-day hike while they zip through tree canopies and scuba dive with sharks. The travel bug is everywhere. If you don't have a friend like this, you can easily find a blog that speaks to your adventurous spirit.
However the adventure traveler in you likes to play, TripHub's planning tools can be helpful in organizing a group trip geared around kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, scuba diving, or trekking in places where English is a foreign language.
Will wonders ever cease? I discovered a caretakers organization that prides itself on being the "number one" property caretaking source around. Caretaking in this context doesn't mean changing baby's diapers or live-in help for aging seniors; that's caregiving. Think travel, think vacation, think free. Can this be an actual industry?
If you've ever dreamed of playing host(ess) at a quaint inn, housesitting at a beachfront home, watching the condo and cat for someone who lives in a swanky loft with a cityscape vista, or being innkeeper for a small retreat center, take note.
Caretaker.org connects people willing to donate their time and sometimes skill or service with people in need of them. Families, couples, and individuals are all caretakers who travel for various lengths of time to plant themselves in a new locale and temporarily try on a new lifestyle. Free accommodations to boot. Of course, you'd have to figure out how to afford it. But if you apply for one of the caretaking "jobs" and time it with a family reunion in the same destination, in between jobs, or in an area where friends can easily visit for a weekend getaway, you just might have found nomadic nirvana.
If I find a European castle in need an innkeeper for a month, I might reconsider my current situation and start packing. Alternative travel. Gotta love it.
Or does this sound like pure hell? Anyone ever done a trip like this? Would you recommend it to others? Are there other sites or resources to find this type of opportunity?
Whoever said you can't take it with you is NOT hip to the 21st century. It turns out you CAN take it with you - your pet, that is. Taking dogs along on vacation has turned into a "thing." I've recently read more articles on hotels that accept pets, leaving that play and movie You Can't Take It With You in the dust of yester-century.
Journey, a AAA membership magazine, had a cover story recently titled "Dogs on the Go: 4 Fun Destinations for Pet-Loving Travelers." And I've seen other stories elsewhere.
I'm a bit surprised at this phenomenon. Perhaps that's because of my No Pets Allowed lifestyle and homestead. I adore visiting my mom's dog (shown proudly in the photo after a day chasing balls and seagulls at the beach) and treat her as if she's my own kin, but not sure I'd be up for a hotel full of pets. Sounds too much like a Gary Larsen cartoon in living, panting, barking color.
What about bringing pets to family reunions? Or a trip with friends? How common is the pet travel wave?
I ran across Sunset magazine's top camping spots in the western U.S. and couldn't help but drool over the cover photo and idea of escaping the city for s'mores, campfire-cooked grub, and snuggling up in a sleeping bag. Ah, summer. Close enough to smell in the air and start making plans for camping trips.
Sunset's favorites read like the greatest hits of America's western frontier, so I couldn't help but point them out as ideas for group camping trips. Highlights:
Washington: Olympic National Park1,442 square miles offer a constellation of landscapes no other national park can match
California: Yosemite National ParkGet up close and personal with Yosemite's grandeur at one of 13 park campgrounds
Wyoming: Yellowstone National ParkDiscover a world's worth of attractions: geysers, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the best wildlife-watching anywhere
Arizona: Grand Canyon National ParkAbsorb the park's immense beauty by spending a night there, beneath the stars
The West's other National Parks
Find great intimacy with the outdoors at Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Zion
Where's your favorite place to camp with friends and family? This is a hit list of the best in the west. But what about the east coast or midwest? I've camped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and along the beaches of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Any tips for great campgrounds for outdoor escapes?
No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. Apparently, shocks, wrist pads, sleek biker wear and other cool upgrades flew past me while my mountain bike collected dust.
I mountain biked on off-pavement trails with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. It's been years since I've been on a bike or off-road trekked. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world (he's much more advanced than I am), I realized this is a whole new world of exploring for me. I've biked before, but not like this.
Of course, like usual, I'm late. I got into Pearl Jam after the grunge era had died, so it's no surprise that I'm "discovering" the joys of off-road mountain biking long after most others have. It's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?
Weaving through trees on a trail of soil, bare roots, and other forms of earth, my rigid bike frame left my wrists a wee bit jarred this weekend. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.
Here are ideas for mountain biking travel with groups:
Mix camping and mountain biking. Mountain biking is a great way to justify sitting by the fire or campsite the remainder of the vacation. Plus, camping already brings you to the great outdoors; might as well pedal through more of it.
Family reunions are great for visiting with family, eating way too much potato salad, and sometimes can be daunting. Perhaps organize a group of adventure-minded family members together to rent bikes for a few hours.
Plan a mountain biking excursion with friends. Gas prices keep rising. You can road trip to an area then keep exploring (without the petroleum price tag) by bike.
Book an escorted bike tour through Tuscany, the French countryside, or anywhere else with gentle slopes, lush scenery, and flavorful food when stopping for breaks.
Join a mountain biking club such as Washington-based Backcountry Bicycle Trail Club to meet others that share your passion for pedal power, puddle jumping, hill climbing (ahem, or pushing your bike up steeper hills, like I do), and go on group biking adventures this summer.
Sound like fun but a hassle to plan and organize? TripHub can help simplify the trip planning process by giving you tools to organize RSVPs, money matters, and ability to discuss hotel room options, for example.
I'd love to hear of any other mountain biking clubs or quality tours (or any other ways to incorporate mountain biking into a vacation). What did I miss?
Nothing is worse than going on a group trip and discovering an incompatibility with your roomie. Traveling can become a bit of a petrie dish for issues, psychology, life - you never really know someone until you've traveled with them (or shared a room on a trip).
How do you survive an escorted group tour or trip with close traveling companions without throttling each other? For starters, it goes both ways. You may be a perfect travel companion in your own mind, but not in someone else's. Your passion for shopping might be bore or exhaust others. Their passion for fragrant perfume may give your gag reflexes a work-out. What to do?
Communication is key.
Listening skills are a must.
Compromise when you can.
A quick way to ruin an otherwise fabulous trip is to find resentment building as you throw pillows, socks, apples at a roomie who snores, or roll your eyes each time your travel "buddy" wants to settle in late... showering and/or loudly fumbling through luggage and bags to find some long lost earring at 2 a.m. while you are jet-lagged as hell trying to nap.
Here are some helpful hints for common problems faced when sharing rooms and space. While Women's Travel Club wrote these for women travel, they also apply to any group travel scenario (co-ed and all). I've replaced most of the "she" pronouns to "they" and so forth.
Solution: Ask if this is an issue. Caveat: if your friend lives alone he/she might not know or agree on what to do if either of you snores. Consider ear plugs, window ajar for street buzz, a scarf around your ears, or take a new room. Proper etiquette is for the person who wants to change to pay for their new room.
Solution: Strong cologne or perfumes can be intrusive to others; best left at home. Go through routine personal products to make sure you are both happy with the steam wafting from the shower or the acetone from the nails.
Sharing with a smoker means a smoking room, a smoking floor and smoking tables at meals. Smokers will also be handicapped even isolated on tours as buses do not allow smoking.
Solution: Take separate rooms and talk about the consequences; there is no other way out.
Solution: Compare walking, step climbing, ability to carry luggage, deal with lack of sleep or dietary changes. Compare how long you like to linger over meals, need to get organized each day etc. Toleration works to a point, but if you are a marathon walker and she is taxi-er, this trip will not end in friendship. Spend a long day together to see where you differ and work out compromises. Example: if only one of you is taxi dependent, she should pay that expense. Same with porterage, excess baggage on tour, etc.
Solution: Be honest about the budget. Do you use porters? Always tip? Expect to take taxis instead of public transportation? Order expensive drinks? Each choose 2 splurges that add up to the same money and time. And compromise on those. Put all your joint expense money in a zip lock bag and pay from the bag. When the bag is empty, refill it together. Do not keep a ledger and settle up later on complicated overseas trips, either both use frequent flyer tickets or neither use them; if a flight is changed, you will at least be in the same situation.
Seeing vs. shopping
Solution: Every one hopes for different things from a trip. What you expect should be agreed on before you book. "Walk" through the trip, decide how you will use the free time. You each get to choose two options. If shopping annoys either of you, make a specific time to reconnect and part ways for a bit. Do not ask your room share to help you with your additional cumbersome packages. You bought it, you carry it.
Scared or feared
Solution: Make a list of your fears and absolutely 'will not do's'. You really don't want to find out your friend will not use elevators when you arrive at a high rise hotel!
ShmucksPeople who don't pay their fair share, who drink most of the wine, order the most and pay half.
Solution: Share expenses in a zip lock as above and speak up the very first time it happens.
I read a poem on Guy Kawasaki's blog today that caught my attention. The theme was our dispensible nature in life. Sad, but often true, when it comes to the functions/roles we play in a companies, organizations, and the like.
But it got me thinking. Thank God for friends and family. Without them, would we all be dispensible? True, for every job there is likely at least one other person who could do it as well if not better. True, the world will still spin without us. Life does go on.
However, with friends and family, we are an indispensible part of their lives, and vice versa. While the poem was meant to stymie swelled egos and praise humility (a good lesson), there is no better way (in my humble opinion) to foster a healthy ego, build a balanced sense of self, and have fun while at it, than by spending quality time with family or friends.
Today, while walking to lunch, I saw a TV crew interviewing folks and filming their "life lessons" on camera. I didn't stop to give mine; but if I did, I'd likely say something about stopping to smell the proverbial roses and hugging those you love more often.
Whatever does this have to do with group travel? Family. Friends. Spending quality time with each other. You connect the dots.
Every family has a "golden age" where the elders have the resources, time, and need to connect. Children are old enough to appreciate the experience and able to travel without hassle. Traveling together with grandparents, adults, and children provides the opportunity to separate from daily routine and form a more meaningful bond with extended family members.
When evaluating different options for intergenerational travel, here are several factors to consider:
Choice - Does the travel adventure or tour provide enough choice for you to find the experience that best matches your interests and abilities? For family tours this could mean grouping opportunities by age ranges of children which allow kids to more easily form bonds with each other.
Fun Factor - Many kids work very hard during the school year. A successful family travel experience should include entertaining activities with a high fun factor for the kids.
Experiences that Teach - Learning new things enriches the mind and is a significant value for adult travelers. Is there an educational program integrated into the itinerary?
Responsible Tourism - Does the tour practice a responsible tourism philosophy? Are the natural and cultural environments you visit treated with respect to sustain them for future generations?
Family Orientation - Will your family travel experience allow you time to bond as family? This could range from meal times to free time for sightseeing and exploration, two prime bonding times.
Value - What is included in the package or tour? Are there hidden costs such as escort and driver gratuities or "optional" admissions to attractions? Are discounts available?
Financial Security - Are your prepayments put in a trust or escrow account? Does the company belong to a tour protection insurance plan? This can be important as many intergenerational family trips are planned months in advance and often the major vacation for the year.
Today, numerous companies are jumping into the family travel arena. Unfortunately, this creates additional confusion for those trying to determine the best match for their family. As the travel industry continues to evolve, niche companies like Generations Touring Company will emerge to address and specialize in specific types of family travel. Research and plan ahead to find a tour or travel mode that best suits the generations in your family.
Tom Easthope is a travel industry veteran, successful entrepreneur, and founder ofGenerations Touring Company*, offering small-group travel experiences for families and their generations – kids, adults, grandparents.*
Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?
Women-owned tour operators such as Adventurous Wench might just be for you. This company offers escorted, small group tours tailored to women's adventure cravings. The company seems to have a solid mission of putting private tours together around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. Adventurous Wench, saucy name and all, arranges everything from lodging and meals to activities; plus, they customize trips for groups of 5 or more.
If you're looking for an escorted group tour or planning a group vacation and incorporating tours into the mix, you can use TripHub's planning tools to coordinate the trip, gather RSVPs, organize money matters, even book other components of the trip that escorted tour operators may not arrange such as airfare, airport transportation, extended stays, etc.
When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or general getaway with friends, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.
Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.
Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):
Schedule spa stays (at resorts or destination resorts) and/or appointments for service several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.
By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.
When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.
If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%.
Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.
Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.
While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some etiquette hints from Spafinder.com that apply to groups:
Mixing activities and spa-going
On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it is advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.
Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.
Cell phonesLeave phones and pagers at home or in your room; or turn them off before entering the spa.
PerfumeBecause the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.
SmokingFor the most part, smoking is not allowed at any kind of spa. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.
TherapistsIf you prefer either a male or female therapist, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular therapist on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.
Punctuality at day spasArrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and therapist) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.
Socializing at destination spasMeals can often be arranged at shared tables, activities and evening programs foster interaction, and in general a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.
Advance booking at resorts or destination spasAs resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate the group if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Favorite spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings are the favorite times for more strenuous activities that many resort and destination spas offer.
CancellationUnexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.
Many spas may offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.
The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut twenty percent from their budgets to focus on "core operations." Aren't they already underfinanced? Trimming 20% from existing tight budgets would mean potentially closing visitors' centers, cutting back on trail maintenance, habitat and species protection services, slowing maintenance of natural and historical monuments and sites, reducing staff, or other (non-core?) services. The current administration contends that volunteers and increased efficiency will pick up the slack where park rangers, staffers, or services have been in the past.
Hmm. I understand the basics of the 80/20 rule: focus on that which drive(s) 80% of the revenue (usually 20% of your time or products). However, at a time when many political issues divide Americans, wouldn't it make sense to leave our national treasures alone, especially since summer vacation is just on the horizon?
Summer is prime vacation season for thousands of school kids, families, college students, teachers, and others. Groups travel together to visit U.S. national parks because of their accessibility, natural and historical rare beauty, sunny, warm weather June through August, and outdoor activities from camping and hiking to swimming and boating and more.
Many journalists, environmental organizations, newspapers, and bloggers are writing about the national park budget woes. It's a hot topic because parks are so fundamental to the American landscape, history, and culture.
The National Parks Traveler points out a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial calling for an "end to ritual neglect" of national parks. Here's a quote:
National Park Superintendents are running out of tricks, and visitors will eventually notice. Beyond basic services, long-term needs are ignored. Some parks cannot catalog or restore precious artifacts. Most cannot preserve habitat. Invasive species are taking over. The Park Service is putting on an inexplicable happy face.
"The most endangered species in many of America's national parks today is the park ranger."
Question: Should we place national park rangers on the endangered species list? The largest amount of protective measures possible come to a species' rescue when placed on the endangered species list. Preservation efforts immediately get underway for the species and surrounding habitat. Protective laws are comprehensive and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can return a species back to thriving health.
If we want to maintain national parks complete with garbage service, restrooms, drinking water, maintained trails, flora, and fauna, and interpretive tours, perhaps we should get rangers listed.
Comments? Agree (partially)? Disagree (partially)? I'm curious how others feel about this topic.
Festivals are perfect for enjoying vacations with friends or family. You can incorporate a festival into a family or class reunion, or organize a group for a road trip around a theme (such as a music or film festival).
Here are several summer festival ideas:
Portland Rose Festival, Portland, Oregon
Two parades, a rose show, two sports car races; Oregon's biggest and oldest festival.
Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, Illinois
The world's largest blues festival; great acts on six stages in the heart of downtown Chicago.
Texas Folklife Festival**, San Antonio, Texas**
Belgian, Italian, Swedish, German performances; all proud Texans! A great festival.
Huck Finn's Country and Bluegrass Jubilee, Victorville, California
Family fun and games, bluegrass performances in a small town setting.
Seafair, Seattle, Washington
A full month of neighborhood events, parades, unlimited hydro-racing and air shows.
Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee**, Mammoth Lakes, California**
Hot and cool jazz high in the mountains.
Finger Lakes Wine Festival**, Watkins Glen, New York**
New York wines, food, fun at historic Watkins Glen race track.
Country Thunder USA, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin
Country music; headline performers; overnight accommodations for motor homes, camping.
Fisherman's Feast of Boston**, Boston, Massachusetts**
One of America's oldest festivals in downtown Boston; started by Sicilians in 1910 and still going strong annually.
Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival**, St. Cloud, Minnesota**
Bluegrass and other acoustic music in the Minnesota forest; camping, of course.
Jim Shanklin is founder of Festivals.com, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.
Summer through fall, America's festivals offer attractive, low-cost, weekend-long activities for groups. Here are ideas for planning summer vacations or road trips with family, friends, relatives, college classmates, and more.
Choose a festival that fits your group's interests.
America has some 50,000 festivals a year. With a little research, you'll find one in a town you want to visit, along the route you want to travel, or at the core of your personal passion. Most community festivals are free; music festivals range from free to expensive and many offer weekend camping as a part of the ticket.
Find a festival close to home.
Your own state or region can surprise you—festivals you've never heard of that are fun and often seasonal or theme-based, and within a day's drive or less. Check out your state's (or a neighboring state's) tourism bureau Web site to find a wide range of diverse local festivals).
Plan the festival weekend.
Before you go: Throw a few items into a backpack or shoulder bag like sun block, water, sun glasses and hat; it's summer and hot. A festival day can run longer than you might think, and sometimes water is farther away than it looks. A simple first-aid kit (Band-Aids, antibacterial cream, etc.) is a smart to pack, too.
Upon festival arrival: Set up a meeting place for the end of day. The group can wander all day through the festival, then gather at a gate, a stage or other central location at the end of the day. This makes things simpler for the "designated adult" in the group.
While there: Look for venues to take a break. Festivals have a laid-back "attitude" and a kid-friendly venue within the festival or a beer garden can offer a place to sit, catch your breath and get ready for the next part of the busy weekend. For some people, taking breaks from group activities is a necessary way to recharge and re-group.
Jim Shanklin is founder of Festivals.com, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.
Whether you're engaged to be married or plan to attend (or be in) a wedding soon, one great way to prep for the big day is to rent films that imitate life, summoning the flavor of organizing, planning, and producing weddings and all the mental and emotional hoopla that goes with them.
I've noticed some important wedding themes that many movies do a good job of addressing. Here they are:
1. The GraduateWedding issue addressed: parental "involvement" gone very bad
2. Much Ado About NothingWedding issues addressed: misunderstandings and fixing up friends
3. Runaway BrideWedding issues addressed: cold feet and Julia Robert's character's insecurities
4. My Big, Fat, Greek WeddingWedding issues addressed: being Greek, eating lamb, multi-cultural weddings, family melodrama... couldn't this also be Italian, Jewish and a number of other weddings?
5. A Midsummer Night's DreamWedding issues addressed: outdoor settings and wedding fantasies
6. My Best Friend's WeddingWedding issues addressed: being secretly in love with the groom or bride, how hot Dermot Mulroney looks in a tuxedo and Julie Robert's character's insecurities
Any other movies that shed unique perspectives on issues related to weddings or marriage? Post a comment below. Don't be shy.
I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.
National parks are ideal for group travel.
Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.
Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.
When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.
Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.
Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:
Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid) in you busy.
Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).
Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.
Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.
With summer on the horizon and national park visits peaking in summer months, now is the perfect time to plan your family summer vacation or road trip so you get the hotel, campsite, or RV spot you want. The national park pass offers family, senior, and disabled discounts. Not a bad way to spend a summer, year, or lifetime.
Here are highlights:
Families – The National Parks Pass, for only $50, provides entrance into any national park for one year, plus your spouse, kids, and parents if they accompany you on the trip. And 80% of the funds go directly back to programs that help preserve the national parks such as habitat restoration, endangered species protection, educational exhibit creation, and historical site preservation.
Seniors or Disabled Persons – A series of golden passes are available to people 62 or older or persons with permanent disabilities that appears to be like a pass to all federal land for life. The passes can be used at any national park for your lifetime and also admits your spouse and children when they are with you. Plus, access to sites managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U. S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management is also included. Quite the bargain.
A good friend of mine called to ask if I had ideas or advice for a bachelor party he is organizing for a mutual friend of ours from high school. As we talked, several ideas emerged that seemed fit to share.
1. Sports theme
Does the groom like a particular sport? If so, you can center the bachelor party around a game/sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) or incorporate it into a day, weekend or evening event. Plan to buy the tickets at least a month ahead of time; you may be able to get group rates depending on the group size.
2. Outdoor enthusiast
Although it depends on the location of the party and season, an outdoor activity is an instant way for guys to bond while enjoying the elements. This is especially true if the groomsmen and other friends of his don't know each other well. Nothing brings people together like a ski day, kayaking adventure, golf outing or sailing.
Nothing screams bachelor party louder than a group of guys parading from bar to bar getting progressively drunker. It's a classic that can be folded into a medley of activities or the focus of the evening. Consider hiring a limo with designated driver. The benefits far outweigh the costs and everyone should be able to pitch in.
4. Activity + spa day
Don't laugh. Some of you aren't laughing, but for those who are or who don't know, an increasing number of spas are catering to male clientele. Why? Because men are going to spas more and more. Sports massages are a common form of massage and combining a day of golfing, fishing or white water rafting with sports massages for the crew could be a fun way to go.
Where else but in Las Vegas (a.k.a. Sin City) is adult entertainment so readily available. Shows, concerts, alcohol anytime, gambling 'til your heart's content, and yes, strippers. The city seems built for bachelor parties. Since this trip is likely to be a weekend getaway, you can also spend a day sightseeing, swimming, etc.
There are plenty of other gambling areas around the country: Atlantic City, Reno, etc. Or you could spend a day at the horse races betting on thoroughbreds.
6. Stripper quandary
A friend of mine quipped, "the only difference between a classy bachelor party and trashy one is the classy one has a stripper and other activities." I couldn't tell if he was joking.
Some men want a stripper involved in their bachelor party, no question. Others may be up for a stripper, but not going to a strip club for hours on end. And still others might find it a bit too crass or cliché. Or they might be engaged to a woman who forbids it. Ask the bachelor how he really feels about it before planning an event that could put him in an uncomfortable position. If he says, "My fiancé would kill me," he either means it (translation: don't mess with his marriage) or he's using it as an excuse to avoid a stripper altogether (translation: move on and plan another activity for his party).
7. Multiple events in one day
Often the groom's father, father-in-law, and others may want to join for part of the day. In this case, it makes sense to incorporate a dinner or other all-ages into the party. I've heard of a bachelor party that involved paint ball during the day with the groomsmen and dads, a fancy dinner in the evening, then groomsmen only hitting the town for the pre-nuptial bar-hopping ritual.
8. Budgets vary
Because there will be a range of salaries among the attendees, you might consider coming up with 3 good bachelor party options and putting it to a vote. Take into consideration what the groom wants, what the others vote for, then choose the option that best suits the greatest number of people. Likely the groom helped hand-select the invitation list and the more who can attend, the better for him and everyone else.
9. Season and location considerations
Above all, if you're planning a bachelor party, ideas of your own should flow from the season and location of where the groom lives and where the wedding events will be held. Then you'll know if the event is during snow season, in the green hills, along a lake, at a beach, in a city with easy access to nightlife activities, during opening day of baseball season, around basketball play-offs. I'd advise to pick the date and location first, then plan the bachelor party around that.
Other ideas? Feel free to post a comment.
If you're planning a bachelor party, consider TripHub's planning tools. They can simplify the coordination and planning process through money-tracking, hotel/air/activity booking, and a home page "hub" as communication central for everyone invited to the event.
Ever planned a group gathering such as a family reunion, weekend get-away with friends, or classmate reunion and needed to cut back on costs? Or helped a friend plan a wedding and needed inexpensive activity ideas for guests? As all trip expenses are taken into consideration, it can be nice to have some budget activity options so everyone can enjoy the trip.
Here are activities each for under $30 (from TripHub) so you can budget accordingly. Some of my favorites (in no particular order):
Elvis Presley's Graceland Tour, Memphis, Tennessee
See Graceland Mansion, the King's planes, cars, and personal memorabilia.
Walking Tour of Ancient and Old Rome, Rome, Italy
A guide takes you to some of Rome's greatest hits: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and more.
Diamond Head Crater Sunrise Adventure, Honolulu, Hawaii
Enjoy an educational, guided walk to the 760-foot summit of Hawaii's most famous crater.
San Francisco Bay Cruise, San Francisco, California
Cruise along the waters for spectacular views of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz island, and the San Francisco city skyline.
Monuments by Moonlight, Washington, D.C.
Tour the U.S. capital when its famous buildings and monuments are brilliantly lit up. Includes the Capitol, the White House, Iwo Jima, Lincoln and Vietnam Veteran's Memorials, and more.
Elephant Trekking, Phuket, Thailand
Ride through forest areas on an elephant... it's one of those photo ops of a lifetime.
Old Town Trolley Tour, Boston, Massachusetts
Kids go free and you can take your time seeing the many Boston sights. Unlimited hop-on, hop-off trolly rides to Bean Town's most famous sights: Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Little Italy area, USS Constitution, and elsewhere.
Also, if your group trip takes you to a greater metropolitan area (or you invite family and friends to visit your home town), nine major U.S. cities offer city passes with deep discounts to popular attractions. The City Pass booklets cost around $50, but save nearly 50% on the combined cost of entrance. Not a bad deal if you want to send your parents off to see the sights, or you want to plan scheduled activity days for wedding guests or as part of a reunion. Or if you're traveling to an event in another city, state or country and want to do a bit of sightseeing on a shoestring.
Since my earlier post on dieting on vacation, here's the dark side of food on the road. A New England Journal of Medicine study of fast food chains around the world found that trans fat content in food varies widely in fast-food restaurants by country, by state, by city, and sometimes within cities.
Visit Denmark to eat fries. That's the bottom line. They use the least amount of trans fat (the kind that clogs arteries, raises bad cholesterol), which must mean if you travel to Denmark, you'll live longer. Yes, I exaggerate. But compare fat content of fast foods to see for yourself.
Perhaps dieting while on vacation is something we should all take up. After reading this article, I tend to think so. Seems safer than grabbing quick meals at some of the fast food restaurants (McDonald's and KFC are mentioned in the study). When traveling as a group, you can always find a smarter way to plan meals on the trip, including at airports, train stations and the like.
At one point or another, haven't we all wanted six-pack abs, buns of steel, or people on the street to drop jaws when we walk by? In the 80s it was aerobics that took the masses to the gym. The 90s' return to nature brought people back outdoors to get fit via skiing, boarding, hiking, biking, maratons, walk-a-thons, water sports, and more.
The first decade of the 21st century seems to be a hybrid of
extreme sports (Ironman races, extreme skiing, diving with sharks)
a kinder, gentler retreat to alternative activities getting mind, body and spirit to achieve balance (yoga, Tai Chi, spa-health retreats) and
gym activities for the 80s die-hards with a new twist: Pilates and more personal trainers.
And I haven't even started to mention all the diet fads. Low or no carb diets seem to be the biggest hit for shedding pounds quickly.
Whether it is for health reasons, vanity reasons, self-esteem reasons or any combination, dieting and exercise have a place in our lives; but vacations can make sticking to any regime a bit more challenging. Especially when with a group of good friends, old college pals, at a family reunion, on a golf trip with the guys (who might consider you a wimp for ordering a salad as an entree), bachelor or bachelorette party, wedding, you name it.
Special occasions like this seem ripe for indulgence. One of my aunts sticks to a dieting plan while at home, but lets herself cheat a bit on vacation, knowing she'll work extra hard when she returns. A sound philosophy. But she also cuts back more than others at our reunions since her mind frame is focused on health and diet. I admire this.
Any other tips or philosophies on dieting or exercise while traveling?
Volunteering can take you far: to Africa, Mexico, Europe, and anywhere else that there's a community or societal need.
Simply find a cause you believe in, choose an area around the world to explore up close, and give your time and talents on the vacation of a lifetime. Plan the trip with a small band of like-minded folks (religious group, alumni group, family members, poker club), and the trip will be even more memorable.
Here are organizations that give you a chance to make a difference while on vacation:
1 to 4 weeks of volunteer vacations from teaching basic math to a rural African classroom of kids to helping scientists ensure endangered species survive through Charity Guide.
Just for groups, Earthwatch customizes trips to fit the needs of the group. Help sustain the environment by working with scientists on expeditions in the field. Group leaders go for free (on select expeditions with 6 or more people going).
Stop child poverty and raise literacy rates, do plant conservation, sustain economy building. You name the issue (or country) and the Global Volunteer Network has it. From Alaska to China to Costa Rica to Russia to Tanzania and beyond, great programs await.
Tutoring, health care, construction, teaching English, environmental protection or research is all done abroad through Global Volunteers. There are also U.S.-based programs as well. All programs take 1 to 3 weeks, depending on your schedule.
Through Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program, you can travel to another country and work in partnership with people in need and communities to build homes. Requires a 2-week commitment. Habitat also offers a Collegiate Challenge program for students 16 and older in groups of 5 or more (an alternative way to spend spring break).
Join professional leaders on a "group quest" volunteering opportunity of a lifetime to gain cross-cultural field experience for humanitarian causes with United Planet. Expand orphanages in Romania or teach English to tsunami-affected Thai kids (both urgent volunteer projects) and more on 1 to 12-week programs.
i-to-i.com offers experiences for families volunteering, paid teaching programs in Asia and Europe, 2-week summer programs for high school kids, and many more opportunities for any group to build homes, preserve the environment, even teach sports for kids in developing worlds.
Thousands of international volunteer opportunities abound via Responsible Travel for those who've had enough of mass tourism and want a distinct holiday (vacation) to write home about.
Student volunteer travel is a great way to spend summer breaks, spring breaks, and post-graduation down-time.
What are people saying about some of their volunteer vacations? Here are first-hand, candid accounts of volunteering abroad from GoNomad.com. Voluntouring around the globe. Global Volunteers volunteers.
Save your money. Some non-profit organizations may be able to provide volunteer stipends, but most need you to pay your own way since non-profits are just that – not profiting. That means your help is all the more critical to their mission.
Any other organizations like this out there? Has anyone volunteered and found it rewarding? Post a comment and tune us in. This kind of a vacation is definitely on my hit list for things to do in the coming years.
I can't think of a better way to give back to communities, society, public welfare or the environment than by doing a volunteer vacation. I don't mean voluntarily taking unpaid days off (OK, those are often mental health days that we all need, but let's classify those as "personal care") but rather, vacations with a greater purpose where you volunteer for a cause while seeing the world.
Why bother? The benefits are immeasurable. You help a local community in need. You help scientists make progress. You gain insight into cultures and industries that would otherwise be hard to obtain. One of the most impressive volunteer vacations I've ever heard of was a co-worker going to Vietnam with a group to plant trees where landmines had formerly been. There are countless other ways to volunteer.
A friend of mine went on a couple of trips through Earthwatch, a non-profit that offers one-of-a-kind experiences where you do hands on field work to help sustain the environment. Hearing her stories inspired me. She went to Greece with a group of friends to preserve Greek ruins by documenting artifacts on an archaeological dig. Go her.
The idea stuck with me and I still plan to either go count butterflies in the mountains of Spain (I'm not making this up - scientists actually need this data to determine the health of a region's ecosystem) or help little baby turtles safely get to the ocean from their hatched egg on the beach (keeping animals of prey at bay).
Another friend of mine runs a non-profit that takes students to areas where social injustice has occurred to educate them on racial inequality via historical accounts by those who lived through them. Volunteers join her as escorts to help organize the group while on the road. Go them.
I volunteer for causes I believe in and donate money when I can. But I'm not surprised organizations have started soliciting volunteers to help fight noble causes on the ground or help with scientific research. And I'm not surprised that people are converting their hard-earned vacation time (and money) to improving society.
Globalization makes the world seem smaller (theoretically). And when the world shrinks, its needs become more real to us all.
Remember the man or woman at your last reunion who sat quietly in the corner, eyes glazed or buried in a book a bit too often? Is this person you?
Family reunions are great events, ways to touch base with old family members, visit with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. And if it's your family, most likely people will be stealing your attention as you will be with them.
For spouses, day after day of socializing with in-laws, while not necessarily boring, can get old. Here are some helpful tips to keep the doldrums away, make yourself look like a bit of a star, and survive your mate's family reunion.
Have a spouse who might benefit from these tips? Pass them along. After all, if you both enjoy yourselves fully, the whole trip looks brighter.
More is better - The more people at the reunion, the more likely you are to find someone with tastes and interests similar to yours.
Cook a meal - This makes you the star for an evening and gets you out of doing the dishes.
Develop carnival skills - Find a way to win kids a cool gift at an arcade (or similar location) and you'll be the talk of the reunion.
Wine and song - Bring a set of CDs or an iPod programmed with tunes you know the whole group will love. Alcohol, groups and music make the time fly by.
Having just spent a weekend away with friends, I'm reminded why taking time out of my routine to see these friends is so important. We spent three days together at a friend's house in Portland for her baby shower. It was like a big slumber party. We ate, laughed, drank, and caught up on each other's lives. Such a great experience that a core group of us vowed to plan a vacation together each year to ensure we stay in touch (kids and husbands invited).
Groups are as diverse as the individuals in the group. My friend's baby shower included family members (her mom, sister, niece, grandmother), new friends (neighbors, co-workers, pals), high school friends, and the group I fell into: college friends. It was a slice of life; a family-friend combo reunion. Some of us traveled from other cities (by air, train, and car) while many lived nearby.
It didn't really matter (that much) what brought us together. It was the act of getting together that was significant. The baby shower was the icing on the cake (since there was a decadent cake served, we got our cake and ate it, too!). It was our excuse to celebrate friendships and family ties by congratulating our friend on her upcoming baby.
The weekend left me more grounded and self-assured. The whole trip put life in perspective, as only spending time with loved ones can.
The type A geek in me is excited to start planning now for our beach reunion (and I just might!). I figure, if I plan it, shouldn't I get the best room? You know, the one with the king bed and sweeping ocean view.
Groups of friends or extended family traveling together is a growing trend. There's even a catchy term for this trend called "togethering." Yet there's no universal travel industry definition for groups. Airlines define a group as 10 or more people traveling on the same itinerary; hotels define a group as 10 or more rooms (which can hold 20 or more people). Cruise ships vary, too.
A group, as defined by TripHub, is anything outside the immediate nuclear family. This may be a group of five women taking a spa vacation to Phoenix, eight guys going skiing in Colorado, or a multi-generational family reunion with 50 participants. Essentially, if there's more than one payment mechanism (i.e. two different credit cards), it is a group. TripHub is re-defining group travel (for small leisure groups, that is) based on the way consumers actually travel.
Groups redefined: Today, the travel industry looks at groups as having the same airplane itinerary or block of hotel rooms. Yet if friends or family depart from different cities or at different times, even stay at different places (Jim might stay with his friend, while the rest rent rooms at various places) the travel industry doesn't count them as a group.
Because travelers going on the same trip may leave at different times, depart from different airports or cities, and stay at different places upon arrival, this doesn't mean they aren't a group of friends or family vacationing together. TripHub allows groups flexibility to define their own trip by creating dates and sharing itineraries all on the same trip home page.
Beyond blocks of hotel rooms and blocks of seats on a flight, there are many other unmet needs for groups planning trips such as tracking money owed for shared expenses, inviting people and getting RSVPs, sharing itinerary information, discussing hotel options, and other planning parts of trips. TripHub also helps solve these problems by offering tools to simplify the group travel planning process.
Group discount myths exist. There are a number of factors that impact the availability of discounts when groups are traveling together or are staying in the same hotel. Do't assume that just getting the right size group together automatically entitles you to discounts. Look for a post on this topic soon.
Spas are my life. OK, not exactly. But if I could afford a massage daily, I'd schedule them. My favorite massage thus far was at Indian Springs Spa. The raw talent of the masseuse, the relaxed, unpretentious setting, outdoor pool, and fact that I was on a Napa Valley (read: wine country) vacation all helped bliss me out like never before. Closer to home (in Seattle), the Zen-like spa at Salish Lodge & Spa offers tranquility amid a mountain setting. And overseas, I sampled a famous eastern European-style spa in the Czech Republic (a little more clinical than I'd expected).
Nothing's better than experiencing a spa get-away with friends. Pedicures, facials, decadent settings, cucumber eyes, laughing and relaxing all at once. Ah, that's the life! The spa industry is finally catching on and offering deals and packages just for small to medium groups.
Summer is fast-approaching, a prime time to gather the family, invite the grandparents, and host or attend a family reunion. One thing is a given at family reunions of any size: the food. Are you hosting a family reunion? In charge of cooking a meal for the whole group? Impress the family with a scrumptious recipe that leaves everyone sated and singing your praises.
Here are tips for planning meals (for family reunion organizers) and recipe ideas:
1. Potlucks - If many family members are near the reunion host's home, a potluck is the perfect way to feed the clan, sharing costs and meal-prep time with those who can whip up a dish.
2. BBQs - Nothing is more classic for family reunions than a good old-fashioned summertime barbeque feast with steaks, seafood, veggies, chicken, and burgers fresh from the grill, dripping with succulent sauces and smokey flavoring.
3. Family-hosted meals - Simplify meals and cut down on costs by rotating meal responsibilities between families. Reunion planners can plan ahead by coordinating on meals using TripHub's "send a message" feature.
4. Low calorie dishes – Many people watch their weight and may dread the idea of a family reunion breaking their healthy eating habits they've worked hard to attain. Keep temptations at bay by hosting a low-cal meal or having low-cal side dishes at each meal.
Follow these simple guidelines and you're sure to dodge trouble and get a (figurative) U.S. governmental stamp of approval on your wedding certificate from another country.
The U.S. State Department recognizes that a marriage abroad is valid if you follow the country's laws in which you are married. No American diplomat or consular office representative need be present at the ceremony. If you have any questions, you should direct them to the attorney general of the state in which you and your spouse will reside. Big caveat: If you are applying for a foreign nationality of another country (naturalization) you may lose American citizenship status. See the U.S. State Department's rules on loss of U.S. nationality in the link below.
Legalese. Legal low-down. Rules and regs. Whatever you call them, they’re essential if you want the destination wedding of your dreams. Here’s the skinny on rules, regulations, and any necessary paperwork needed before the ceremony at some of the top destinations for away-from-home weddings.
Destination weddings are on the rise. Whether all the guests travel abroad, or a select few are invited, an increasing number of couples are heading to the altar (or beach) away from home.
I had the great pleasure of being a guest at a handful of destination weddings. The most obscure was in Bogotá, Colombia, the most picturesque was in Tuscany, Italy. Due to their exotic locations and the experience of going with a group, they were some of the most memorable occasions.
Here are some of the top places to exchange vows (other than home).
1. Las Vegas – Vegas is entertainment central with seemingly more wedding chapels than anywhere on earth. You can plan a complete wedding with chapel, flowers, officiant, photographer, and coordinator all for a few hundred bucks. Many chapels offer packages to suit your budget and taste. Get a video, have Elvis preside over the ceremony, arrive in a limo – you name it, Vegas has it.
2. Caribbean – Jamaica tops the list of Caribbean islands for weddings, but there are numerous island countries to choose from, rich with cultures and traditions and unique ways to experience a beach wedding. Set your budget, figure out which island best suits your love and plan an idyllic wedding that will leave your guests thanking you for getting married.
3. Hawaii – The Hawaiian islands seem perfectly poised to host wedding ceremonies with that famous aloha spirit of family, community, and tranquility. You can find intimate comfort at a number of beaches in Hawaii… dreamy, rugged rocky, long expanses of sandy, and other styles of shore all embrace couples with a warm charm. Hawaii is well known as a destination wedding mecca with plentiful wedding services.
4. Florida – Two things stand out about Florida for newly engaged couples: white, sandy beaches and fantasy-come-to-life Walt Disney World® Resort. Couples who prefer sand in their toes, lapping waves, and sun are all set: beaches line the Florida coast. Choose your favorite Florida beach. Couples attached to the kid inside them can plan a fairy tale wedding at Walt Disney World.
5. Mexico – The spicy south of North America not only has blissful beaches for the vows, but resorts as destinations unto themselves for the whole festivity. While legal requirements may seem a little more cumbersome than other destinations, Mexico offers an experience all its own for you, the wedding party, your guests, and your honeymoon. Olé!
6. Europe – An increasingly popular destination for weddings. Europe is in a bit of a renaissance with a strong euro, European Union formed, and tourism booming. Brides and/or grooms with familial roots in Europe may want to reconnect with their heritage via the wedding ceremony. Italy alone has numerous wedding sites to help you coordinate the big day. Examples: http://www.weddingitaly.com and http://www.weddingsitaly.com.
Ready to plan your destination wedding? TripHub can help you and your guests communicate about and coordinate hotels and activities.
Find other beach wedding ideas at The Wedding Experience. Any other dreamy destinations perfect for weddings? Post a comment and let people know.
Ah, the delight of traveling abroad. Whether it’s a wedding in Mexico, European trip with college pals, dream trip to Asia, or a beach vacation to the Caribbean with your family, your coolness factor may be at stake.
Being "cool" (elusive and subjective as that may be) in your home town, state, country or state of mind shifts dramatically when you’re lugging a backpack, relying on a map or guidebook, and surrounded by unfamiliar territory.
With globalization on the rise and an increased need for cultural sensitivity, traveling abroad can be a make or break adventure, assuming you plan carefully and take some simple precautions. Here are tips for blending in and getting the most out of your trip abroad:
1. Step out of your glaring, white shoes and into stylish, yet comfy shoes (unless your podiatrist requires special shoes for your knees or back). For foreign city trips (Rome, etc.) walking around in a nice pair of leather sandals or closed toed shoes makes all the difference. Nothing targets a tourist like bright, white sneakers.
2. Be culturally sensitive. You're on foreign turf. Respecting local customs, culture, services offered by this particular country is a must. Find out if wearing shorts in a church is acceptable or forbidden. When in doubt, cover your skin. I found this out the hard way in Israel when I was nearly tackled by an Arabic man in an Arabic village for wearing shorts in a Christian church.
3. Learn 10 basic phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, passport, please…) in a language before traveling there. What better way to make the trip more exciting than practicing speaking a new language. Even go beyond the basics and take a class in a foreign language for a few weeks or months prior to traveling. I've done this and it makes the trip all the more enjoyable (not to mention my travel pals appreciated my knowing how to quickly and politely ask where to find the nearest restroom). Berlitz classes are perfect.
4. Respect their language.
If a foreign word sounds funny or like a "bad" English word – don't laugh. When someone is communicating in their native tongue in their native country, remember who the foreigner is.
Even in countries where English is prevalent, some people may not speak it. Best not to assume they do and politely ask if they speak English.
If you're going to a country where English is spoken secondarily or a little, accents or local phrases can still throw you off. Be prepared to speak clearly and think of simpler or different ways to say the same thing, so they can respond to you in a different way. It's amazing how many things are lost in translation. Don't assume anyone speaks American slang, ya dig? For that matter, Americans have widely different pronunciations depending on their home region and you may have an accent to someone and not realize it.
5. Keep the volume down. Nothing makes me cringe more when I'm traveling abroad than hearing an obnoxious group foreign to the country. Because I'm American, I'm especially sensitive to other Americans being insensitively loud. I distinguish from Canadian and British English speakers because they don't seem to be as loud, or perceived as crass as Americans. Keep it cool and use your "inside voices" 24/7. Unless, of course, you're at a sporting event and the local team wins.
6. Absorb the culture using all five senses. Breathe in the air. Taste spices and culinary combinations. Step outside of your safe hotel and eat where the locals do. Don't ask the hotel staff where to go – they likely have a deal with a restaurant. Ask someone in a shop or just stroll the streets until you find an eatery filled with local patrons. Discover a tradition new to you but common to locals. Flamenco in Spain? Wine-tasting in Italy? Siesta in Mexico?
7. Study up on the city/region/country.
Read books, look online and talk to anyone who's traveled there – get insights on best and worst experiences so you know what to do and what to avoid before you go. Even 30 minutes of prep can help you avoid pitfalls, save you money or time, and make the trip more enjoyable.
8. Be sensitive with camera in hand. While the country may look like a fairytale to you, this is other people's home. If you take photos of people not in your group, be as inconspicuous and non-chalant as possible. If you sense someone is uncomfortable with your attention on them, take heed and respect their privacy.
9. Handle money matters smoothly. Don't fumble around with money or forget where you placed it and do the pocket pat. Organize your money and documents in private (hotel room, etc.) before you walk out in public. Buy a money pouch that can go around your waist and under clothing for your essentials like passport, bulk of cash, cards, etc. Diversify with an ATM card, credit card, foreign currency, and a couple of travelers' checks. You can keep each of these in different locations (suitcase, socks, money pouch) for security.
10. Group travel abroad has its special consideration. By nature, you are likely a group of like-minded individuals excited for the journey and happy to be traveling together at last. It can be extra easy to be a little careless in group mentality. In addition to all of the above tips, if you're the trip planner, here are basics to prepare and share with the group:
Provide a link to a trusted travel guide online for the region/country months in advance of your trip. Think Lonely Planet's world guide.
Languages – find out which languages are spoken and how frequently you can expect English to be used. Embassies can help.
Create a list of ten most useful phrases or words in the country’s language such as: 1) Thank you. 2) Please. 3) My name is _____. 4) Where is a bathroom? 5) How much does it cost? 6) Tickets. And whatever else you think might be helpful for your group.
Know your group – if they would get more excited about cultural icons than shopping, find out the operating hours and days of major sites. Nothing is worse than going to Rome to see the Sistine Chapel and being in town when it's closed. If you match your group to the activities, it’s more likely for people to be in awe of what they're doing/seeing – and be on their best behavior.
Splurge on at least one exceptional meal that typifies the region. Prepare your group so they know what they can expect for the meal and why it is a local tradition.
Blending in doesn't mean being unauthentic or unoriginal. It simply means respecting other cultures, religions, beliefs, and living conditions. Through careful observation, you just might find an understanding not only of how people in other countries move, work, eat, talk, but how you cope and operate in unfamiliar territory. That alone is an invaluable life experience. And putting yourself at the mercy of foreign driving rules, customs, food specialties inevitably will also expand your horizons, giving you a greater appreciation for those who travel on your turf.
When renting a charter bus, you are making the decision for many people. You want a competitive price, but also a safe and dependable company. How do you shop smart and make good decisions when renting a bus for a school group, college event, church group, wedding event, cruise terminal transportation, company event, senior tour, or any other group trip?
Keep in mind not all bus companies are created equally. Don't be tempted to shop on price alone. Some companies don't spend enough money or effort on maintenance, driver training, or driver screening. Often, it's these same companies that have the "really good prices."
Here's a quick checklist of questions to ask the bus company:
1. How many years has the company been in business? I, personally, will not work with a company that has been in business less than five years. I want to know that they can make good choices over several years. I don't want a bus company learning lessons on my trip. The more experience, the better.
2. How many buses are in the company’s fleet? I like to see at least five charter buses in the fleet. It shows an investment in their business provides back-up transportation.
3. Can they provide proof of insurance? Any reputable company will happily have proof of insurance faxed to you within 48 hours.
4. Are they U.S. Department of Defense certified? Not all companies go through the effort of passing this test. There are good companies that are not DoD-certified. But if you book with one that is, it should give you added confidence that they are credible.
The U.S. Department of Defense certification test is conducted at the bus company facility. Since it’s optional and the majority of companies do not have this certification, the certification gives added credibility by indicating a government entity’s stamp of approval on quality.
5. Are they a member of Trailways or International Motor Coach Group (IMG)? Only one or two companies in each city are members of these two franchises. Typically, members of these organizations have a proven track record and are leaders in their region. However, there are many good companies not affiliated with these two organizations.
Shopping for charter bus transportation is a little different than shopping for airlines or hotels. You should do your homework. Don't be afraid to ask these questions because every reputable company is used to it and happy to help you make a confident and responsible choice.
Dylan Peterson is CEO and Founder of Charter Bus America. CharterBusAmerica.com provides price quotes for charter bus rentals for customers in seconds, along with pictures and bus company information.
If you're considering having a destination wedding, you're likely imagining a romantic or exotic location: a place that provides an experience by its mere existence. What makes a destination attractive? Why do so many brides and grooms tie the knot in certain hotspots?
Here are some answers to those questions that can also serve as a checklist to help you determine if a destination is right for your wedding.
1. Honeymoon moonlighting – By day it's a wedding, by night it's a honeymoon. Exotic locations away from home can also double as your honeymoon spot, possibly saving you money.
2. Vacation-ready – It's in a popular area that many guests would consider traveling to as a vacation, thus giving guests double the reason to attend the wedding.
3. Activities galore – There are enough activities, entertainment options, restaurants, etc. to entertain large crowds (in groups or on day excursions in smaller numbers). TripHub's planning tools work well for planning activities for wedding guests during their stay. You can search for and book activities on TripHub.
4. Hotels abound – In popular destinations, guests will have a wide range of prices to choose from for accommodations, which makes it doable for many families and friends (not to mention the wedding party itself). TripHub can help with this process, allowing you to find and book hotels and request a group hotel rate for blocks of rooms, among other things.
5. Group discounts – Common destinations for weddings are not only some of the most popular vacation spots, they are also accustomed to hosting weddings, so hotels in these areas likely will consider giving group discounts.
6. Cost considerations – It can sometimes be cheaper than "producing" a local wedding. Fewer guests are likely to attend, so the guest list may shrink (which translates to fewer dinners to pay for, less space to rent, etc.). Plus, if you get married on a beach or in a chapel, there are affordable ceremony packages available. Examples: Red Rock Las Vegas wedding, Maui wedding on the beach.
7. Priceless experience – There's an intangible quality to a wedding in a dream destination. It's like being in a fairytale or movie and makes a lasting impression not just on the bride and groom, but everyone invited. I went to a wedding in Tuscany a couple of years ago. Sipping wine at the Italian villa reception, love was definitely in the air. Guests were giddy over the occasion and over being in Italy. And while the newlyweds batted eyes at each other, I was falling for the scenery.
Now, here's a trendy trend in the wedding industry that I just discovered (OK, I've seen contribution tables at weddings long ago, but this has now turned into a "thing").
With the cost of weddings skyrocketing and an increasing number of people planning destination weddings (which are very often more expensive than local weddings) it seems natural that there would be a wedding gift to help offset costs. The bonus is that there is a way to give such a gift and not have it look like a charity donation.
When planning any group trip—a family reunion, wedding, friends get-away, or other trip involving multiple itineraries and opinions—one of the most frustrating things can be deciding on the best hotel for everyone.
I’ve gone to weddings, family reunions, and traveled with friends in and out of the country and in each instance, finding the right hotel was a key part of our trip planning. Allowing each person to weigh in is important. Most people want a say in where they stay – room type, amenities, food service, location, price.
TripHub makes communicating around hotel selection extremely easy and convenient by offering a “discuss” tool for each hotel as you’re searching for them on the site. Here’s a sample screen shot to illustrate. (My comments are just after the little gold star.)
Once you know how to interpret hotel star ratings, you can easily skim hotels, photos, prices, etc. for the right hotel, make a comment to others invited in your group, and they can do the same (on that hotel or another). Communicating together in one central location (your trip “hub” page) does not get sent to the hotels – it simply stays on your trip hub page.
Everyone has a favorite high school movie. To fully prep for your next reunion, or just for kicks, rent a flick that conjures up the sentiments of high school – whatever they may be. From gag reflexes about your former hairdo, to fond memories of your first love, take a couple hours to watch a film or two that gets you in the reunion mood before you slap that "Hello, my name is" sticker on your shirt.
Were you the class geek? Class clown? Most likely to succeed? Least likely to get married? My guess is we can all relate to at least one character in one of these movies.
Ferris Beuller's Day Off
Rock 'n' Roll High School
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
When you’re ready to reunite with old high school friends, you can use TripHub to coordinate things to do, lodging, flights and rental cars for your high school reunion.
What did I miss? Feel free to post a comment. I realize the frivolous nature of this post, but thought it might be fun to think about movies that get you in the mood for reunions.
Imagine having your own Web home page for a trip where you and everyone invited can all go to coordinate and communicate plans for the family reunion, wedding, bachelor party, baby shower, college reunion or any other group gathering that involves people traveling.
The "hub" of your group trip is an Internet space mainly for the trip planner, but also the travelers, to convene online and simplify the trip planning process.
I recently used TripHub for planning a friend’s baby shower when several guests would be flying in for the occasion. From the trip hub page, it’s easy to:
Discuss hotel options online and book a hotel within the same page (it’s quite convenient that way – more on how this works in a later post)
Book flights (or if guests already have flights booked, enter in their itinerary info to coordinate picking people up at the airport or sharing car rentals)
Book activities in the city or region
Rent a car (or multiple cars)
Track who’s coming (RSVPs), track money owed (if applicable) and send messages whenever you need (to everyone invited or a select few)
Edit group trip details (i.e., description, dates, etc.) as the trip planning progresses
Add and change the group trip photo anytime (there’s a standard graphic, but I chose to add a photo of flowers for the baby shower as a nod to spring buds and new life… just a nice photograph for me and my friends to look at when we arrive at our trip "hub" and also because I didn’t have any baby photos).
Where do the expert golfers go? You know – the smooth swingers with enviable handicaps. Don’t we all long to tee off at a place of undisputed beauty and repute? And nothing’s better than sharing such a grand moment with friends.
Here’s a list of group-friendly golf meccas (listed alphabetically - who can rank these?) for you to plan a group golf get-away with friends and put your link lovin’ ways to practice.
The greater Phoenix and Scottsdale region is one of the biggest golf areas in the U.S. due to the combination of quality and quantity of golf courses, making it an ideal place for group golf travel. Plus, there’s plenty of après golf entertainment: shopping, nightlife, desert tours, a botanical desert garden, spas and more.
The Greater Phoenix visitors bureau boasts that their "courses deliver with playable, diverse designs and dedication to course maintenance, relaxed environments and professional customer service."
Scottsdale, a close neighbor to Phoenix, rivals (and may beat) its Southwest sister city in golf quality and quantity.
2. Hawaiian Islands
The Aloha State is a brilliantly natural spot for golf. With the sea as scenery (and course hazard) and a naturally hilly landscape to challenge any golfer, it’s no wonder Hawaii boasts so many glorious courses.
Other Hawaii golf courses to explore (all bookable on TripHub):
Maui's renowned Makena South Golf Course - One of the islands most prestigious courses in Hawaii has unobstructed views of the blue Pacific, neighboring islands, and humpback whales breaching during whale season.
Oahu’s famous Ko’olau Golf Course - Considered to be "The World's Most Challenging Golf Course" from the back tees, Ko'olau promises a memorable golf experience for golfers of all skill levels. Rated in Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses to Play" and named the "#1 Golf Course on Oahu" by Golf Digest.
3. Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, serves as a fairway haven to numerous golf courses. With the first course opening in 1961, and slowly building 20 more over the past few decades, Hilton Head has earned its title "The Golf Island," through careful craftsmanship.
Groups shouldn't have any complaints at Hilton Head, with numerous year-round tours, golf excellence, and sweeping Atlantic Ocean beauty. With a variety of accommodations, numerous restaurants, shops and services, Hilton Head seems built for groups, however small or large.
4. Myrtle Beach, SC
This self-proclaimed Seaside Golf Capital of the World lives up to its name with 100 golf courses laid out over undulating low country land and the majority of the Myrtle Beach golf courses being open to the public. Plus, many host professional and amateur tournaments. If you want a golf challenge and picturesque beauty, Myrtle Beach offers both with courses crafted by a host of world-renowned architects.
In 2002, the Myrtle Beach area was designated "Golf Destination of the Year" by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. This giant outdoor playground is also great for families. With 60 miles of beach, a plethora of courses and numerous accommodations (hotels, villas, etc.) you could also plan a family reunion here and incorporate golf into the mix.
5. Pebble Beach, CA
Four stunning courses make up the Pebble Beach Resort: Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Del Monte Golf Course. They all either hug the Pacific coast or have spectacular views of the water. There are hotels and resorts close to the courses and in nearby seaside towns such as Monterey and Carmel.
At each course, a pro staffer offers individual and group instruction, clinics and group tournaments. Pebble Beach Resorts has this to brag about itself:
Pebble Beach Resorts, ranked the No. 1 golf resort in America by Golf Digest Magazine in 2004. Each of Pebble Beach Resorts' four courses offers a unique heritage, breathtaking beauty, and a once in a lifetime experience.
I’m an amateur golfer and haven’t (yet) golfed Pebble Beach, but I’ve cruised along its famous 17-Mile Drive. Brief but memorable, it’s a gorgeous way to drink in California’s rugged coastal beauty and stop for those classic vacation photo ops.
Birthplace of golf, motherland of the green, a trip to Scotland is not out of the cards if you’re a true golf believer. The classic that comes to mind is St. Andrews. Here you’ll find six golf courses all open to the public (as are the clubhouse and golf practice center), and all worth a visit for historic purposes, if anything else. Older than most other sports, golf got its start here 600 years ago.
There are many other glorious golf spots or courses for a group gathering. If you know of any you think others should discover, please post a comment and share your insight. Any questions? Just post it online and I’ll answer.
Now, here's a hassle-free way to go for a golf get-away, ski trip, or other active vacation.
Let your clubs, skis, board, kayak, bike or other sporting equipment get picked up (valet style) with Sports Express, now Luggage Forward, a new company that shuttles your gear (and luggage if you desire) between your front door and your vacation destination.
What a nice way to simplify the traveling process and offer peace of mind. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.
Here are some quick highlights of their service:
Luggage Forward may be able to take any size of equipment. You'll need to provide the dimensions to them first (either online or via phone). If the package is more than 150 pounds or if the length +(2 x width) +(2 x height) is greater than 130 inches, you won't be able to order the service online, but can call their 800 number.
They offer free insurance for $500 per item shipped.
They deliver mainly in the U.S., but also some international destinations such as Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Caribbean.
They use world-class courier service providers such as FedEx Express, UPS, and DHL.
Prices are not cheap - $125 to ship standard-sized golf clubs from Seattle to Honolulu. But if you're going on a personal golf (or ski or kayak) junket with pals and can spend a little extra cash on convenience, it seems like a great service.
She's engaged. Your best friend. Your sister. Your cousin. Hard to believe the day is coming when she may take a new last name, have babies, and will settle into a home with her husband.
Send the bride-to-be off to married life with a bang or celebrate quietly. You be the judge of her taste. Ask her for input so you don't find her yawning through a theater show when she'd rather be doing Jell-O shots and giggling at "pleasure props," or vice versa, rolling her eyes at strippers when she’d rather have gone for pedicures and wine-tasting with her best girlfriends.
Here are some ideas I've seen (or helped organize) to punctuate the bride's last days (or night) being single with an all girls get-together.
1. Go gambling – Take the girls to Vegas with themed hotels, jackpot potential, concerts and shows galore, spa splendor, and outlet shopping. Walk down the Strip and take your pick of pleasures in Sin City. Book a hotel in any of the themed hotels on the Strip such as Wynn Las Vegas (newest Strip hotel with 18-hole golf course, spa, Cirque du Soleil shows and more), MGM Grand Hotel (tropical oasis created with multiple pools, and a river for tubing), Caeser's Palace (a tribute to the Roman Empire's decadence) and others. Find a Vegas hotel that's right for your group.
Other gambling hot spots with casinos, entertainment, restaurants, bars, and more for the bridal gathering include Atlantic City, New Jersey or Reno.
2. Spa day – Spending a day at a spa is one of the best ways to bond. Many spas offer packages with a multiple services combined (pedicure, massage, facial, manicure, etc.) for a discount. Still a spendy affair, but worth it for a special occasion like this and a great way to let girls be girls. Ask a spa if they have specials for bachelorette or bridal groups.
3. Swanky slumber party – Plan a weekend "get-away" to a local, luxury hotel for a night. Rent a big suite-sized room (or two, depending on your group size) to split costs while still enjoying luxury. The concept is ripe for variation. When I helped organized an event like this, my friends opted to bring food to the room and our own spa accoutrements to cut costs. We painted our nails, toes, and rented chick flicks, then swam in the hotel's pool before drinking and visiting in the room.
4. Wine-tasting – Women are a sophisticated and silly lot. Nearly every woman I know roars with wisdom on every subject under the sun: life, men, work, current affairs, gardening, the latest fashion fads, whathaveyou. All we need is a few good bottles of wine and the company of other women to let the laugher and conversation unfold organically. Give the bride a night (or entire weekend) of this quality time with the girls. Napa Valley is ideal for this flavor of weekend get-away.
5. Pub crawl in style – Create a map of the top five (or so) pubs, designate a limo driver for your group, and hit the town. Don't forget the playful props that will properly embarrass the bride (you know, that candy necklace for guys to take a bite of and pay her a dollar, or a tiara worn proudly to direct attention to the bride, and so forth). This tends to work best for younger brides and bridesmaids, of course.
6. Do lunch – Simply pick a favorite local restaurant of the newly engaged woman and make reservations. This is a classic way to involve co-workers or family friends and multi-generations. Create a festive air by making arrangements with the restaurant to decorate the table an hour ahead of time so when the bride walks in, the seating area is festive with streamers, her favorite colors, etc.
7. Camping and the great outdoors – Ahhh, the great outdoors. I've always found that camping with a group of my girl friends is a great way to relax, get some much-needed time away from city stress and obligations, and focus on each other. Some of the best friendship bonding time has been while camping or doing something else outdoors such as kayaking, hiking, or biking. If your bride is highly active and her closest friends are, organize an outdoor adventure. The options are endless. Ask her for suggestions and then plan the trip or day excursion. Campgrounds: http://www.koa.com
8. Lingerie party – Prep the bride for her new bedroom and give her something pretty in pink or bad-ass black. You know her personality – pick something fitting. Careful not to embarrass the poor girl too much if her mom or grandmother is attending the shower.
9. Dinner theater – Options here are nearly endless, but are best geared for something that suits the bride's tastes and can offer a chance for group interaction. Do dinner before a show (Cirque du Soleil, comedy club, or a touring Broadway show), or find a dinner theater event such as a cabaret (Teatro Zinzanni) in SF or Seattle) or restaurant that has live entertainment. If you're anywhere near New York, I highly recommend Mamma Mia! on Broadway. The wedding theme and disco dancing lend themselves perfectly to a bridal party.
10. Traditional bridal shower – Shower the bride with stories (funniest story about her), photos (funniest picture – everyone brings one and tells the story behind it), and focus the day on the bride. Whereas the wedding is all about the couple, this event should be solely focused on her and why she's such a great friend, sister, cousin, roommate, person. Traditional showers usually include a lunch or appetizers by the hostess at someone's house. Silly games are played like creating wedding dresses out of toilet paper and having the bride be the judge or opening gifts and tying the bows together to create a faux bouquet for her to hold while walking through the dress rehearsal. It's always a bonus when small door prizes are given out.
If you're organizing a bachelorette party or bridal shower before your friend's wedding, TripHub's group planing tools work well for collaborating and coordinating the event in one central location (or "hub"). You can discuss hotel options, talk timing of itineraries, plus plan event details.
I'd love to hear other bachelorette party ideas. What's hot? What's not? What's worked well? Any comments?
Ladies, long to spend a get-away weekend of massages and wine-tasting with your friends? Guys, want to play unlimited golf with your old college friends guilt-free on vacation? Even while you’re in a relationship, it can be important to get some space.
Maintaining friendships outside of a relationship are often healthy ways to sustain not only the friendships, but your relationship or marriage. How comfortable are you taking off to join friends on a vacation without your honey? What are the best types of vacations with your friends vs. your mate?
Dr. Ruth Peters, Ph. D., in an article on MSNBC, offers advice to anyone considering taking a separate vacation from their spouse or partner. She also notes that “there is safety in numbers — group travel is significantly more secure than traveling alone, especially in locations foreign to you.”
Traveling with friends in a group is a safe way to go exploring and return home feeling rejuvenated, ready to share the excitement of your travels and plan the next vacation with your sweetie.
What works? Any tips on ways to get away with friends, while still preserving happy coupledom? Any ideas for group "girls only" or "guys only" get-aways? Post a comment below.
The most common airfare shopping behavior today among online travelers is to shop with an online travel agency, like Expedia or Orbitz, and book direct with an airline site, such as AlaskaAir or jetBlue. In fact, travelers convert (from shoppers to bookers) twice as well at airline websites than at online agencies. The value in booking direct is clear.
When booking at airline websites you:
Never pay booking fees – ranging from $5-$17 with online agencies
Earn valuable bonus miles – generally 1,000 miles, worth up to $20
Always see their lowest fares – not all agencies have access to airlines' web fares
Get exclusive features – upgrades, web check-in, special offers
Deal direct for customer service issues – no more calling an agency just to be redirected to an airline
Given that booking with airline websites provides the most value, the best place to shop for airfare is with travel search engines.
Benefits of shopping with travel search engines include:
Breadth of fares. You can see all the airfare options available on airline websites with one search.
Ease of use. Click through to the airline site to book direct instead. With online agencies, you need to open another browser and retype your search to book at an airlines' websites.
The savings in booking with airline sites really stack up when planning group travel. If it's a group of 10 or more, it makes sense to start with a group flight request form. Airlines will give additional discounts along with the benefits listed above.
Happy airfare shopping!
Mike Fridgen has worked in the online travel industry, as entrepreneur and marketing leader for such companies as Expedia, AlaskaAir, and others for 10 years.
Star ratings are the hotel industry's way of indicating standards - for amenities, quality, service, and often for location. But what do they mean? They can vary across the globe (a 4-star hotel in one country may vary widely in another). The measurement depends on who gives the star rating.
Online travel companies rate hotels, AAA rates them, Zagat rates them, Forbes (formerly Mobil Travel Guide) rates them, even hotel customers write user reviews and give star ratings. While methods and results do vary slightly, the qualifications for a rating boils down to the same main elements. Star ratings, if used as guidelines, provide a good baseline for overall quality and cost.
Once you know your budget or your group's budget, then it's a matter of shopping around to find the right hotel for you. Those little gold stars are a good start at an at-a-glance sense of hotel quality, but be sure to also look at room photos, descriptions, and user ratings (if available).
Whether you're organizing or traveling to a wedding, family reunion, or college reunion with old pals, star ratings can help with trip planning.
Here's the skinny on star ratings:
Luxury, top-of-the-line hotels that are often resorts near the sexiest scenery with the highest standards of service and cleanliness. Think personal pampering, fine art as décor, sumptuous meals, and quality linens. Example: Ritz Carlton.
Upscale, high-class hotels with a host of convenient amenities such as pools, valet, and bellhops. These are often near other hotels of the same caliber and have happy hours and signature dishes by well-trained chefs. Example: Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.
Mid-scale full-service hotels are often near major business centers or attractions, have pools, quality breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spacious accommodations. Think standard hotel with simple, yet clean furnishings. Example: Holiday Inn.
Mid-scale limited-service lodging often belonging to big chains known for standardized service. Properties are smaller-scale and room service is typically unavailable. Usually quite clean and comfortable. Example: Comfort Inn.
Economy or budget hotels are generally located near major intersections or affordable attractions. Think bargain basics with furnishings and service, but usually walking distance to cheap eats. Example: Motel 6.
In this day and age of computer-savvy kids, iPod-tuned-out teens and easy burn-out, good old-fashioned family fun at the beach can be just the ticket to bring everyone closer together. I've had so many family reunions at the beach, I've started naming starfish.
Ah, a field trip to the beach. Soul food and family time. There’s no greater good. In the spirit of creating family memories without all the hoopla of our modern age, here are classic beach activities, (mostly) no purse strings attached.
1. Sand castle contests
Pile it up high and sculpt a castle fit for royalty. Then challenge your family members to do the same and have an objective person be the judge.
2. Body surfing
Fling yourself on a wave and ride it board-free to the shore. It sounds easy, but can be surprisingly challenging. Stay safe by body surfing in areas where you can touch easily. With little kids, you can make the lapping waves fun by sitting in them and letting the water gently toss you ashore.
3. Beach soccer
Shed the shin guards, shoes and kick the soccer ball down the beach in a family-friendly game of soccer with sand as your field. This leisure sport seems to be gaining popularity as there’s an annual tournament for kids ages 9 to 18 from around the world: North American Sand Soccer Tournament.
4. Row, row, row your boat
Boating, kayaking and canoeing are all great ways to experience the beach with your family. Water activities are half the reason we scramble to the beach anyway. Bring inflatable rafts, rent a paddle boat or kayak, or take an excursion that’s often available at popular beach destinations.
5. Picnic on the beach
Eating is its own activity, especially with families. At family reunions, it can often feel like a circus. Yet some of the best family conversations take place while gathered for a meal. The necessity of eating, the pleasure of food itself, along with the social nature of dining together all make beach picnics great as a mellow, yet bonding, family activity.
6. Rock stacking
A time-honored art going as far back as Stonehenge (probably farther), it’s easy to take rocks and make art formations, assuming you’re at a beach with rocks. I’ve recently discovered the Zen-like satisfaction of stacking rocks and found that there are many rock stackers who make it a big part of their lives. Give it a try.
7. Skipping rocks
How many skips can one rock make? That’s for you to find out. Grab a handful of as many skipping rocks (round-ish, flat-ish) as you can, angle yourself toward the water, and toss each stone so it bounces, leaps or skims across the surface just right.
The Brits call it stone skimming. The Irish call it stone scuffing. The French call it ricochet. There’s even a stone skipping association. Join the multitudes of people who skip beach rocks and develop your own, unique technique.
8. 50-yard splash dash
Mark start and finish lines in the sand, just above the surf line, have someone stand at the finish line as objective judge (if your family members are competitive) and go for the gold. You can adapt this to a relay race, handing off driftwood as a baton. Reward all "winners" with ice cream!
9. Kite flying
A family staple at the beach, kite flying has been around since the dawn of kites. Want to find any kind of kite, learn its history and see how it operates? Check out this Smithsonian article on how kites fly.
10. Playing Frisbee or catch
Nothing beats a classic. Something as simple as a driftwood bat knocking a ball out of the sandy ballpark or a Frisbee gliding smoothly into your hands turns the beach into your own, personal playground.
Did I miss a great family beach game or activity? Post a comment at the end of this article and let me know.
Family reunions often require more than a single notice. Reunion planners commonly communicate with their families numerous times during the planning process. That’s a lotta family! Even before you reunite. Here’s how to make every communiqué count:
1. Include family in early decisions about date and location. By including more family members in the early, pivotal decisions of location and date, other details become secondary. Any decision you make about transportation, food, activities, etc. become part of the bigger decisions they helped select. It also builds interest and momentum. Plus, the bigger the consensus on location and date, the more people you’re likely to get by giving them a chance to plan their travel schedules well in advance. Points for you!
2. Send a "save the date" reminder. Once the key decisions of date, location and budget are made (via the first, exploratory communications), send out a "save the date" reminder email (made easy with TripHub.com's free planning tools) with the reunion dates, location and, if known, lodging info.
At this point, you can also ask people whether they plan to attend to get an estimated head count.
"Save the date" reminders are also great opportunities for enlisting volunteers to help with planning. See The Art of Delegation for ways to get the most out of your volunteers.
3. Lost in email translation. Spam, work and personal emails all create mounds of cyber-data that can be overwhelming. In group planning, I’ve found sending details out in bulk after key decisions have been made mitigates questions and headache for you, the organizer.
4. Written invitations. While email works well for many communications, a written invitation for a family reunion can do wonders - something colorful, eye-catching and postcard-sized that can easily be put on your fridge or bulletin board. This also helps for great-grandparents or others less likely to use email regularly (or at all).
What to include on your invitation:
Times of scheduled events or activities
Location (with full address or map)
Lodging options (including phone numbers and room block details)
Overall trip agenda (if confirmed) so attendees can plan their free time accordingly
5. Highlight volunteers. You might want to highlight volunteers who are helping to plan particular activities. This increases visibility to those helping, shows appreciation and stirs interest in the reunion by alerting the family of fun that will be had by all. This also gives you a way to steer communication to the volunteers in charge of them, freeing up your time to focus on other projects.
6. Get RSVPs back on time. Whether using the "save the date" or written invitation to get RSVPs, give your group a specific deadline. Provide both an email and phone number for people to RSVP. I also recommend picking one key contact per nuclear family to get their family’s RSVPs back on time. This simplifies things and leaves the burden of communication to a head of household or ultra-organized family member (anyone come to mind?).
How TripHub helps track RSVPs:
You can easily track response rates using TripHub, including regular reports on who has booked hotel rooms, who has RSVP’d and more.
Attendees can RSVP right on TripHub or call you and you (as group organizer) can alter their status.
If response rates are low, you may need to send out another email or follow up with people individually. TripHub allows you to filter and alert all or only those who haven’t yet responded. If they don’t respond by email, you might try calling.
7. Final family reunion reminder. Send a final reminder email several weeks before the reunion. This is your opportunity to communicate any updates or changes and to reconfirm key details. This email can also serve as a "last call" to those who have not yet confirmed their plans. Using TripHub.com free planning tools, everyone can see who else is coming. This will get people excited and give them a chance to schedule their own "side events" (i.e., golfing with Uncle Bill). Other helpful items to include are maps, destination information, important numbers (one cell phone number per nuclear family, etc.) and a "what to bring" list.
8. Post-reunion wrap-up. Finally, you can send a wrap-up letter/email to the whole family (everyone who was invited, not only those who attended) with your favorite stories, pictures from the reunion, and a family contact list. A family Web site is great for this as well.
Do you know of other ways to make communication efficient and easy? Share your thoughts by posting a comment.
You shouldn’t have to plan a family reunion (or wedding) all alone. Here are 10 tips for delegating with panache, keeping your finger on the pulse, and stepping aside for others to share the planning responsibilities.
Since weddings often turn into family reunions, many of these planning principles will also work for brides and grooms.
Tip 1: Make a checklist. Create a checklist of everything that needs to get done including deadlines and who is responsible for given tasks. Check this list often. As you get closer to the event, be sure to confirm the details with your service providers.
Tip 2: Start a chain reaction. When individuals get involved, they’ll become event champions who will promote the reunion to their respective branches of the family tree.
Tip 3: Enlist volunteers early. Right from the start, enlist volunteers to help with everything from creating and distributing "welcome kits" to planning specific events and activities. It lightens your load and allows you to tap into the creativity of your group. If planning a destination wedding, early help is critical.
Tip 4: Choose help wisely. You know your family. You know the flakes and leaders. The dreamers and doers. The bakers and candlestick makers. While everyone has talents and skills, I recommend choosing people with some planning experience for bigger projects. Those less likely to tackle bigger projects well would be perfect for a smaller, specific task (find and bring a cake for grandma’s birthday dinner). Match tasks delegated to those best suited for the task to create the most efficient use of everyone’s time.
Tip 5: Connections count. But use them carefully and don’t impose on anyone. Always ask. Never assume. Does Aunt Betty work in catering? Ask if she can find a good caterer. If a wedding or family reunion is in a major U.S. metropolitan area such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. or Chicago and Uncle Fred’s best friend can score a deal in baseball tickets, ask Fred if block of seats are possible to get.
Tip 6: Tap the creativity of your family. You’d be surprised what talents lay dormant in your family’s gene pool. Get help on projects or tasks where others have expertise such as building an up-to-date family contact list (for Excel or database wizards), designing a family Web site (for the graphically-inclined), organizing entertainment for an evening (use a family musician, perhaps), negotiating the best rate at hotels (think sales skills), chefs in the family can provide a "guest meal" one night (mmm… Uncle Bob's barbequed Asian salmon special), and so forth.
Tip 7: Avoid getting spammed. To avoid getting "cc'd" on every email communiqué, encourage the volunteers to make decisions on their own with the group and communicate that you just need to know the final details of their particular task(s). If they have problems/questions along the way, they can contact you. But giving them authority saves you time and gently ensures they’re held accountable, increasing chances they’ll complete the task(s).
Tip 8: Give credit where credit is due. Someone once told me that many who succeed "Delegate and take credit." While this was half-truth and half-joke, you should always give credit to those who help or lead a project. You may be organizing, orchestrating or rallying the troops, but many make it a success. Thank the academy.
Tip 9: Solicit ideas from those helping plan. There is a fine line between directing and delegating. I’ve learned people respond better when their own ideas are heard and carried out. They become invested and feel a personal sense of pride and accomplishment. That said, pay attention to quality and don’t be afraid to guide the process. Your feedback is helpful, as is theirs. Incorporate the best ideas from others and know when to (carefully) suggest alternatives to other ideas.
Brides, you have your ideas and your fiancé has his. So do your families. Use the best ideas, but ultimately the call is yours (and his).
Tip 10: Stay tuned and connected. You're still the leader of the group so once a task is assigned, it's important to follow up regularly to make sure everything's getting done. Schedule a weekly check-in with yourself and/or others to get a status of tasks completed and things that need a follow-up. The more organized you are, the more smoothly things will run.
Have any of your own tips or lessons learned? Care to add to any of the tips listed above? Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. Please post a comment below.
Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.
Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation spots such as Hawaii or the Caribbean, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:
Can the majority of folks easily get to the location without a huge expense (or are they willing to pay to travel that far)?
Does the location provide fun and engaging activities for all ages from kids to seniors?
Does the location have multiple activity options both indoor and outdoor (for those who need to get out of the sun, rain, or cold)?
Is there anyone in your family or extended family that may have difficulty in a location (wheelchair considerations, health issues, etc.)? If you choose a theme park as your major destination, can everyone or most participate?
Parents with infants have a special set of needs (nap times, feeding times, diaper changes) and may require easy-access to a quiet room.
Will in-laws (who may not be as excited as y'all about the prospect of spending an entire weekend sitting around listening to old family stories) have interesting things to do?
Check with the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) before setting a date to ensure there isn’t a major event in town to avoid filled hotels and a location busier than normal. On the other hand, you could make a public festival or event part of the fun!
Explore the advantages/disadvantages of having the family reunion in the same location as a previous year. There is comfort for people in being on familiar ground; plus, you can always try new activities, food and places to stay in that same location. Survey your group and find out if they prefer a new destination or an old favorite.
Be flexible and you’ll have the greatest chance of securing a better rate. Keep in mind peak or off-season for various locations. For example, occupancy rates in Florida are very high over spring break but typically much lower in August. Granted, Florida is much hotter in August, but prices are significantly lower.
Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:
Your group's per night budget
Number of rooms required
Amenities required (on-site restaurant, pool, in-room kitchens, etc.)
Meeting space and catering services available (if required)
Shuttle service and parking
When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):
Budget (typically 1-star and some 2-star hotels)
Moderate (mainly 3-star and some 2-star hotels)
Higher-end and luxury (4-star and 5-star hotels)
Suite hotels, houses for rent, villas, condos with in-room kitchens (often ideal for groups with young children)
Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.
Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:
Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking/hiking, shopping and visiting museums and historical landmarks provide great entertainment for family members young and old.
Be creative and leverage the talents and skills of your group when thinking about food, decorations and entertainment for these activities.
Schedule two events per day as well as "optional" choices such as a golf tournament or a hike so people can participate or opt out.
Everyone may not know each other (spouses, for example) so think about ways to introduce people to each other. Nametags with names and favorite villain, cartoon, sport, animal, kitchen gadget, dessert or vacation spot (you choose!) is sure to spark conversation.
Make sure that there will be enough space and food per activity.
Alert the group when meals are incorporated or provided with activities. If a stop at a world-famous milkshake joint follows a white-water rafting excursion, you might entice more people to go rafting.
Have a Plan B in case of rain.
Family reunions are designed to bring people together so plan events and activities that encourage group interaction. Something as simple as a potluck brings everyone to one place for mingling.
Provide games (Scrabble, cards, other board games) so people can sit down and relax without feeling anti-social.
Bring a first-aid kit on excursion-type activities such as hiking, biking, touring.
Provide a list of what to wear and bring for each activity.
Have any tips for family reunion activities that have worked especially well? Post a comment.
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.
Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.
Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.
Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.
Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:
If you're scheduling the reunion around a particular event (i.e., a grandparent's birthday or 50th wedding anniversary), holiday or school break then your options may be limited. If you're not date constrained, and if there are particular family members who absolutely must be there, speak with them first.
Next, talk to key family members (i.e., Uncle Bob who keeps in close contact with many people in and beyond his branch of the family tree) to determine if there are other events that might create a conflict for a number of possible attendees.
Then select 3-4 dates that provide sufficient planning time, and send these dates to the family.
Ask people to let you know which dates work best for them of the 3-4 options you provide, but make sure to emphasize that the majority rules so no one feels singled out if they are not able to attend.
Many people may not be able to fully commit six or more months in advance so you may need to request guesstimates. To increase your response rate and make decision making easier, give people a deadline and ask them to rank their date preferences.
Finally, stick to your decision. Changing dates mid-stream can create a phenomenal amount of additional work.
Give us feedback and your lessons learned by posting a comment. Read Part 2.
One of the most memorable yet tiring aspects of family trips is planning for and adapting to the needs of child travelers. Some people decide to delay involving children until they are "older" ... usually teenagers. Yet others travel near and far with little ones in tote.
Bear in mind is that children are generally much more flexible and adaptable than you think. Encourage them to try everything once (whether it's an unfamiliar dish or activity). By exposing your kids to other cultures or traditions you just may foster in them a greater appreciation for things outside their comfort zone of home.
Among the myriad of things to consider when planning and booking a group trip, don't forget about safety. Before traveling abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's Web site for up-to-date information on your chosen country's travel policies, including vaccination requirements and more. Embassies are also a great resource when planning your trip.
If you are traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department's has 10 tips for a safe trip:
Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.
Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, the U.S. Constitution does not follow you! While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
Make 2 copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.
If you plan to stay abroad for more than two weeks, upon arrival you should notify by phone or register in person with the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting. This will facilitate communication in case someone contacts the embassy looking for you.
To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.
In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.
If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy.
Under current U.S. air rules, kids under the age of two can fly free if they sit on a parent's lap. While the choice still remains with the parent or guardian, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the industry to require the use of child safety seats. Today, most airlines accommodate families who choose to use a car safety seat if they buy a ticket for their child. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends the use of child safety seats to improve child safety during flights; however, they have not made their use mandatory.
FAA Tips for Safe Air Travel with Children:
Make sure your Child Restraint System (CRS) is government approved and has "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. Otherwise, you may be asked to check the CRS as baggage.
Measure the width of your CRS. It should fit in most airplane seats if it is no wider than 16 inches.
Ask your airline for a discounted fare. Many airlines now offer discounts of up to 50 percent for children less than two years old. Buying a ticket for your child is the only way to guarantee that you will be able to use a CRS.
Reserve adjoining seats. A CRS should be placed in a window seat so it will not block the escape path in an emergency. Do not place a CRS in an exit row.
If you do not buy a ticket for your child, ask if your airline will allow you to use an empty seat. If your airline's policy allows this, avoid the busiest days and times to increase the likelihood of finding an empty seat next to you.
Ask your airline if they can provide a CRS for your child. If so, you may not be permitted to bring your own CRS on board, and may need to check it as baggage.
Arrange for your airline to help you if you need help making a connecting flight. Carrying a CRS, a child, and luggage through a busy airport can be challenging.
Pack a bag of toys and snacks to keep your child occupied during the flight.
The FAA also recommends that a child weighing:
under 20 pounds be placed in a rear-facing CRS;
from 20 to 40 pounds use a forward-facing CRS;
over 40 pounds may safely use an airplane seat belt, just like an adult.
Golf is one sport that you can play year-around... at least if you're willing to travel. So, there's always an opportunity to get out the clubs and enjoy the sunny fairways on a challenging course. It's tee time somewhere.
Tips for planning a memorable golf trip with friends:
Reserve your tee times before you leave home. If you plan nothing else, plan ahead on this. It's no fun waiting around for a tee time if you want to be first to tee off.
Make sure your rental car has enough capacity to pack in all your clubs and luggage. The best bet is a minivan or a full-size SUV. Plan ahead and match the vehicle(s) capacity to your group size.
Save money and double your fun by sharing hotel/condo rooms. Your golf trip instantly becomes more memorable when you share sleeping space. It makes the trip more like camp. Take ear plugs in case your roomie snores.
Pre-arrange a second daily activity. For some of you, this is another 18 rounds. But, most people want a break at least half of one day. Consider a sightseeing activity/tour or fit in time for "required" shopping for those left at home.
Set an overall budget and stick to it. This will help you from overspending and regretting it later. It will also help you think about how many top Zagat restaurants you want to visit. You can easily coordinate food and meal preferences among your group using TripHub.
Get a massage. Golf and spa often go hand in hand as many golf destinations are also spa havens. If you're traveling to a golf resort, chances are you'll find a premier spa on site. Unwind from an active day of swinging clubs with a pampering massage (or a quick short neck/shoulder chair massage if you're on a budget).
Throw in a swimsuit. Ahhh... it just might help to soak in the hot tub after those seldom-used muscles are re-discovered.
Whether you're planning a family reunion, bachelor party, wedding or spa weekend, there are common challenges in organizing group travel. Group communication and decision making are two of the biggest headaches that group travel planners face. TripHub can help you streamline the group travel planning and purchasing process. While using the tools, keep these tried-and-true tips in mind:
Plan in advance. Whether it's deciding where to go, what to do once you arrive, or simply coordinating everyone's calendars, group travel planning always takes longer than expected. TripHub can help! By giving you trip organizing tools and handling the booking process, TripHub will save you time and money.
Include the group in decision making. Although you may be rounding up the troops, it's their trip, too. While it may be impossible to satisfy everyone's requests, it's important for everyone to have the opportunity to voice their travel preferences. Taking a group vote often helps facilitate decision making. TripHub's message-sending feature allows you to communicate with all or part of the group.
Keep it simple and make it fun. The anticipation leading up to a trip, as well as the follow-up and story telling post-trip, are a big part of the travel experience. When you need to assign tasks to the group or individuals, keep it simple so positive vibes stay with the trip from beginning to end. For example, provide a clearly defined set of options to consider or items to research. Make it easy for someone to say "Yes, I'm in!"
Stay organized. Details, details. In travel, it's the little things like the timing of a layover, the cost of a cab ride from the airport to the hotel, or the quality of a meal that will have a huge impact on a trip. Understand and focus on those details that matter most to you and to your group.
Be especially clear about budgets. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the cost of the trip up front and that everyone understands how much they owe and when. Collecting money from friends and family can be awkward. Inevitably, there will be someone who pays late (or not at all). But communicating early and often can help. TripHub's money-management tool helps simplify this issue.
If you have any tips, feel free to post a comment.
Welcome to Group Trip Advisor, a weblog solely devoted to group travel. Here you’ll find tips, hints, resources, and lively commentary all aimed at simplifying the group trip planning process and inspiring anyone who travels with groups.
Anyone planning a trip needs a little help now and then (myself included). I plan to cover topics such as road-tripping with girlfriends, skiing with your pals, jet-setting to a destination wedding, gathering for a family reunion, negotiating group contracts, volunteering for a cause, spring break tips, travel companions from hell, blending in abroad and so much more.
Eventually, I'll feature guest bloggers on subjects of their expertise, photo contests and "lessons learned" from you, my fellow group trip planners. And I'll solicit ideas for subjects of interest to you. Stay tuned….
It's your blog, too. Whether you've organized one group trip, one thousand, or it's your first one, we can all learn from each other. If you see an article or post on this blog that strikes you, please respond by posting a comment at the bottom of that article. I’ll monitor and do my best to answer questions as swiftly as I can.
A little background on me: I’ve worked in online travel for the last eight years (including producing and managing content at Expedia for nearly five years), traveled the globe (from Hawaii to Israel), helped organize events (from presidential campaigns to local auctions), planned numerous group trips (family and friend get-togethers mainly), and have felt the pain of using inefficient methods of planning a trip or an event with groups involved – email after email, endless phone calls, trying to keep track of RSVPs, accommodating changes. So many wasted hours keeping all the details straight! My hope is to help create group travel efficiency in any way possible by sharing and stimulating discussions. Bear with me as I evolve the blog.
Lastly, since this blog is also a content gateway to TripHub, I will occasionally make a plug for its group trip planning services when relevant. Yes, I’ve used the tools and services and find them quite helpful with planning group trips. Peruse the site and see for yourself how to make your next group trip a breeze.