An Ode to River Cruising

Riverboat_159120184January through March is known as Wave Season, a time when travelers to book both ocean and river cruises. While ocean cruises have great perks (can you say big-time onboard entertainment), there’s been a recent boon in the river cruising industry. The personalized feel of a smaller ship, ability to tour the interior of many countries, and a dedication to showcasing several unique cultural experiences, make choosing a river cruise a unique and unforgettable travel experience. Here are a few of the benefits to partaking in a river cruise:

Experience the Interior of Many Countries with One Trip

Because the vessels used for river cruises are small, cities that would otherwise be off the beaten path are easy to visit. Imagine visiting towns in Germany, Slovakia, Croatia or Moldova while you make your way down the Danube River or stepping into the cultural lore of China at port calls along the Yangtze River. Each port becomes personalized as the cost of your cruise usually includes a guided tour of each city (should you opt to participate), the area’s local art, history, cuisine or wine.1

Dedication to One Topic

Many river cruises are dedicated to exploring specific topics. It’s not unusual to have an entire cruise focused on art, food, a specific heritage or lifestyle. For example, a river cruise may focus on art and the impressionist era, offering guided excursions through places like Auvers-sur-Oise, which Vincent Van Gogh painted, and Claude Monet’s gardens.1 There are even river cruises dedicated to fine dining and the Christmas markets in Europe.

Smaller Vessel

Typically housing approximately 200 passengers, river cruise ships tend to be smaller than their ocean-going counterparts. Their small size allows them to easily navigate narrow waterways and show off smaller towns, villages and cities along the interior portions of several countries. The intimacy of the ship allows you to get to know those who are traveling with you – talk about a personalized touch to your vacation! Who knows, you may even feel like family when you depart.

Meet the Locals

While river cruises don’t often include the glitz and glamor of big-time merrymaking that is often found on their ocean-cruising counterparts, many river cruises offer their own unique forms of entertainment. River cruisers can enjoy things like eloquent music or local cultural performances featuring performers from the town where the boat is docked.

When exploring the town, many people enjoy cooking classes featuring local fare, art classes and lectures about a topic of cultural interest.

For more cruise news you can use, click here.

 

Source:

1 http://www.marketwatch.com/story/whats-behind-the-river-cruise-boom-2013-02-01

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How Travel can Fulfill a New Year’s Resolution

Holding Hands in Bora Bora‘Tis the season for resolutions. According the U.S. government some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, volunteering to help others, becoming more educated and managing stress. 1  Did you know you could fulfill all four simply by making a goal to travel more in the new year? (By the way, traveling more often is also a popular resolution.) With voluntourism, travel for fitness and cultural travel opportunities on the rise, getting out of the house and away from a hectic and all-too-often busy life can help you stress less and focus on what’s important in the New Year.

Voluntourism Rising in Popularity

An interesting travel phenomenon is occurring worldwide. More and more people are traveling not to indulge themselves, but to volunteer in orphanages, help to build schools and teach English. It’s called voluntourism and it’s one of the fastest growing trends in travel.2 While destinations like Peru, South Africa, India, Kenya and Australia are popular places to volunteer abroad, stateside destinations also exist. California is the most popular place for health-related voluntourism in the U.S.3

Worried about cost? Voluntourism isn’t always expensive. Some volunteer organizations ask that volunteers fundraise to pay their way to volunteer travel.

Get Fit with Adventure Travel

You don’t have to be a die-hard adrenaline junkie to incorporate fitness into your travel plans. You can, however, fulfill two New Year’s resolutions at the same time if you travel and include fitness into your trip. Now more than ever before, with popular culture geared toward health and fitness, (who hasn’t heard of the Biggest Loser®, Fitbit® or downloaded some sort of diet plan or fitness app) it’s no wonder that the travel industry has caught on. You don’t have to look far to sign up for travel fitness boot camps in various places around the world. Boot camps incorporate fun, camaraderie and exotic sights and experiences all in one trip.

Boot camp isn’t for everyone but there are still plenty of adventures to be had while traveling. Try incorporating a hiking, biking or other mobile activity into your agenda while you travel. It can be just that simple.

Get Cultured in Education

Education isn’t lost in travel. Traveling overseas can help you learn about cultures, heritage and traditions long since forgotten by most of the world. Enrich your senses and invigorate your mind. Reading books is one thing, but experiencing life first-hand in a foreign country is quite another. Up-and-coming 2015 travel destinations to engage your mind can be found in Corsica, Columbia, Japan, Romania, Haida Gwaii or Hyderabad, India.4

No matter where you decide to travel in the new year, make sure to plan ahead and in such a way that your trip away from home allows you to unwind and de-stress. The purpose of travel for so many people is to relax and indulge the senses. Focusing on helping others through voluntourism, getting educated through experiencing different cultures or traveling for fitness can help you do just that. Of course, remember, that even the most prepared travel plans sometimes go awry. Flights get cancelled, luggage gets lost and medical emergencies happen. Why not take the “what-if worry” out of your 2015 travel with a travel insurance plan that has 24/7 assistance services?

Sources:
1 http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/New-Years-Resolutions.shtml
2 http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/07/31/336600290/as-volunteerism-explodes-in-popularity-whos-it-helping-most
3 http://www.voluntourism.org/news-studyandresearch33.htm
4 http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/best-trips-2015/#/citadel-corsica-france_85217_600x450.jpg

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How to Stress Less While Traveling with Kids

Review TSA website for Expectations: Let’s face it; the airport can be a scary place for young children. Review the latest TSA expectations here. Then, make sure you share with your child what they can expect while they are at the airport and inside a plane. For example, making the time to explain machines like a body scanner can help alleviate confusion and make airports a much more peaceful place for kids.

A Change of Clothes in Carry-on: Stop worrying about what will happen if an airline loses your luggage. If you plan to check bags, make sure you also take a carry on with one change of clothes for everyone in the family. That way, if your luggage does get lost or one of your kids needs an extra pair of clothes you will be prepared.

Double check bags that your kids packed: It’s great to give your kids some independence to pack their own luggage. But, just make sure to double-check what they pack to avoid inadvertently taking along items that are not allowed on an airline.

Pack a Goodie Bag for the Kids: If your destination is hours away, pre-make binders for each child that include a coloring book, blank paper, crossword puzzles and activity sheets. Also include a zipper bag of crayons and writing utensils. Free printable coloring pages, stories and activities can be found here and here.

Don’t forget the meds: The last thing you want to experience while traveling is a family member not feeling up to par. To be prepared, don’t forget to pack ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal and other important medications in your purse or carry-on in case someone in your family needs it. This can be a lifesaver on a flight or mid-road trip.

Save your budget; participate in free activities: What family doesn’t like a good deal, especially while traveling? Before you hit the road, take the time to do a little research on family deals in the area to which you will be traveling. Call the local Chamber of Commerce and ask about events and attractions that are free and child-friendly. This way, you won’t have to stress about money while on the road.

Pack a travel insurance plan: Lost luggage, flight delays and medical emergencies can happen no matter where you travel. It helps to know you are covered for the unexpected with a travel insurance plan. Most plans even include 24/7 travel assistance services which can take the stress out of your travel by rebooking flights and hotels (and much more!) on your behalf. Concierge services can even recommend family friendly restaurants and activities in the area to which you’ll be traveling. Still not convinced? Check out these frequently asked questions about travel insurance.

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Vacation Destinations for the Whole Family

Looking for some kid-friendly vacation destinations? Well you’re in luck! Below, we’ve gathered some of our top choices for the best kid-friendly destinations to help you in your brainstorming of where to take the kids on vacation next.

 New York City, USA[1]

Many people may not think “kid-friendly” when they hear New York City but the big city has a lot to offer than just the hustle and bustle. Roughly 40 percent of today’s Americans’ ancestors came through Ellis Island, making it an excellent place to visit to track down your family history. For just $5 at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, you can peruse through millions of documents to search for the exact date of your relatives’ arrival, which ship they sailed on and even check who else they were traveling with. You can also check out the American Museum of Natural History which holds some of the world’s best dinosaur skeleton reconstructions and a model of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling. If you want get away from history while in NYC, you and your kids can stop at Carnegie Deli for a meal, pass by the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry, or experience the bright lights and performances of Times Square.

Berlin, Germany[2]

Taking a family trip to the German capital of Berlin may not have come to mind but the city has so much to offer with its mix of old and new. Rather than going through the city by car, take the opportunity to see the sights by bike. Roughly 500,000 in Berlin go by bike so if such a high volume of locals choose this as their means of transportation, there must be something great about it! You can use a free route planner that will route you through Berlin using the 400+ miles of bike paths available so that you can see all of the sights of the city at your own speed and comfort. While biking through Berlin, make a stop with the kids at Zoo Berlin, one of the most diverse zoos in the world with nearly 18,000 animals. Get the most out of visiting the pandas and penguins by stopping by during their feeding times or, if budget allows, spend a little extra on a 20-minute private visit with a zookeeper and your favorite animal.[3]

 Washington D.C., USA[4]

Washington D.C. is an extremely kid-friendly city with so many sights to see for little to no cost at all. The city is rich with some of the country’s most famous monuments and museums, many of which are free. You can take a long stroll through the National Mall, starting from the Lincoln Memorial, winding up to the White House, hitting the Smithsonian National Museum then visit the U.S. capitol. There is also a 90-minute duck tour that goes through the city by land AND water. This is a great alternative to the typical walk and adds that touch of adventure your kids might be craving. The tour will lead you through National Mall, hitting all of the main spots, then it will take you in to the river stopping at Gravelly Point, which is only a short distance away from Reagan National Airport, letting you and kids see planes take off and land up close.

Barcelona, Spain

The coastal city of Barcelona, located in the region of Catalonia, is culturally and linguistically different from other parts of Spain, offering you family fun from both land and sea. Barcelona is well known for its beautiful architecture and buildings so take the kids on an architectural tour of the city. La Sagrada Familia Basilica is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions and its immense amount of highly ornate architecture will drop the jaws of kids and parents. You can also take the kids through the many alleys and squares like the Gothic quarter (Barri Gòtic) and Las Ramblas. As you make your way to the shore, don’t forget to stop at the Church of Santa Maria del Mar – another major attraction for its architectural and artistic beauty. Once at the sea, you and kids can make your way to Nova Mar Bella beach for some fun at the beach before making your way to back to your hotel for a traditional Spanish siesta. During a siesta, many shops throughout the city will close down between 12pm and 2pm for people to indulge in a large lunch and nap before heading back to work or school.

For more on traveling with kids, be sure to check out these tips.

 

 

[1] http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/family-travel-vacation-ideas-12-kid-friendly-destinations,12765/?page=3

[2] http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/family-travel-vacation-ideas-12-kid-friendly-destinations,12765/?page=2

[3] http://www.zoo-berlin.de/zoo/visit-tickets/guided-tours/tours-for-adults.html?L=1#c10167

[4] http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/family-travel-vacation-ideas-12-kid-friendly-destinations,12765/?page=1

 

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Great Kid-Friendly Travel Destinations

After a long winter across the United States, it’s refreshing to watch as cars make their way down the freeway with kayaks, bikes and other active family vacation gear in tow. As the summer travel season gears up, many people are considering where to go. Of course, the perfect family getaway might be a place that includes attractions to captivate the interest of children and adults alike. No matter where you are at with planning your next family trip, here are a few kid-friendly locations for you to consider.

– Mount Rushmore: South Dakota George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Theodore Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. These past presidents of the United States will be forever remembered for their place in time during a 150 year span of American history. This larger-than-life destination can be fun and educational for the whole family. Learning about each of the presidents can be a fascinating history lesson for children, because of the mountain’s sheer magnitude and size.

– Cayman Islands Nothing spells family fun like a vacation on the beach and a chance to interact with tropical sea life. If your family plans to visit the Cayman Islands, you’ll want to make sure you take the opportunity to swim with tropical fish and sea turtles. There are also powerboat tours, opportunities to kayak on the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, wave pools, skate parks, and more. 1

– Grand Canyon: Arizona Talk about a grand experience! One visit to the Grand Canyon and your family will be hooked. Visitors can view the canyon from various viewpoints or they can take a mule-ride into the canyon. Kids 7 and up can ride for an hour, 10- and 11-year-olds for half a day, and 12 and up can take a full-day journey.2

– Statue of Liberty: New York City What’s the one of the most recognizable symbol of American freedom? If the Statue of Liberty came to mind, you’d be correct. Why not take your kids to see Lady Liberty in all of her glory? Back open in summer of 2013 after extensive repairs, this monument has never shown so bright. Families can add to the experience by viewing the statue from a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry.2

– Colonial Williamsburg: Virginia Remain “true to the crown” or undermine the king’s authority? This was the question many New Englanders had to answer if they lived during the Revolutionary War in America. A family visit to Colonial Williamsburg is a living history lesson, with a whole town of shops and activities straight out of the late 1700’s. The people who walk the streets even dress up in period clothing and conduct reenactments of events that happened during that time.3

Whether it’s a flight across the country or a road trip to a nearby state park, it pays to make family memories this summer. Wherever you decide to go, make sure you click here for helpful travel tips about what to pack, airport advice, international travel and more.
1 http://www.parents.com/fun/vacation/us-destinations/7-places-to-take-your-kids-before-they-grow-up/
2 http://www.parenting.com/article/best-national-parks-families?page=0,1
3 http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/do/revolutionary-city/

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How to stress less while traveling with kids

Traveling with family can be a very memorable and fun time to bond for parents and kids. Unfortunately, sometimes kids can sometimes cause a bit of stress. But, never fear – here are a few tips to help take the stress out of traveling with kids so you can focus more on enjoying family time and creating memories.

 Prepare

Depending on your destination, try to plan different activities to satisfy the varying interests among your family members. Not every activity will be enjoyed, by everyone but having a few different options that makes everyone happy can really make a big difference. Include all members of your family, especially the kids, so that everyone feels like they contributed and some sense of control in the trip. These different activities can also be used as a reward system to reinforce good behavior while traveling.

 If you plan to fly for your family trip and it’s the first time for your child will experience an airport and flying, it can be helpful to explain some things that your child may experience. While flying can be exciting for some kids, it may be terrifying for others, which is why it is important to prepare them for what to expect. Even if your kids are a little older, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick run through of the security and boarding procedure. And don’t forget to talk about what to do should you get split up in the airport. Have your kids take a carry-on backpack which includes a copy of the itinerary and your contact information so that even your youngest child can get reconnected with you should you be seperated.

 Snacks

Having a “hangry” (hungry + angry) child, or any traveling companion at that, can really put a damper on your trip. Packing portable snacks can help stave off hunger and keep everyone calm. Kids can also be pickier eaters than their adult counterparts so having something familiar for them to eat when other options are not so familiar can reduce both their anxiety and yours. Try to pack healthy snacks like vegetables, fruits, and low-sugar beverages. Traveling will limit meal options, especially for kids, so having alternatives ready can help simplify things in times of need.

 Keep the Kids Occupied

Whether it’s during a long car ride or wait in the airport, kids will get bored. Consider bringing along some portable entertainment that won’t necessarily bog you down with weight nor drive you crazy due to noise. A tablet or portable gaming console are great options to keep the kids entertained for long periods of time with the added benefit of a headphone jack so you don’t have to listen to whichever noisy game they may choose to play. If you want to keep things, encourage your kids to bring a book or two to indulge in across the miles or suggest some road trip activities that like keeping track of all of the different state license plates they see.

 Kids are as capable as their parents allow them to be, so why not assign them some titled jobs so that they feel like they are contributing and being adult-like (with parental supervision as needed, of course). There are many little “jobs” that can be done while traveling such as navigator, time checker, or bag checker. Traveling and keeping track of all the details can be hectic enough so giving your kids some responsibility will not only occupy them but also make them feel that independence and can help you out along the way.

 Check out this article from our Travel Lounge.

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Interesting Festivals Around the World

Searching for something new and exciting to experience? Whether it is art, music, dance or throwing tomatoes, these festivals may spark that itch for a new trip you’ve been thinking about.

Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA[1],[2]

Burning Man is an annual event, hosted in Black Rock Desert of Nevada, focusing on “the spirit of community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” Their motto is “No spectators,” meaning everyone must contribute something, whether it’s a piece of art or a performance. This event started almost 20 years ago and has grown from an art exchange among eight people to tens of thousands of participants. Organizers and participants of the event claim that in order to truly understand this festival, you have to experience and participate in it.

Burning Man is unique in that its main focus is on the creation of community, relationships and respect for your surroundings. Larry Harvey, founder of Burning Man, has ten principles, defining the culture and atmosphere of this inclusive and participatory art festival. There is a major emphasis on reconnecting with those around you and ensuring that people leave the festival without a trace.

 Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil[3],[4]

The Carnival of Brazil is an annual festival held during the Friday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. Because of Lent traditions, Roman Catholics and some other Christians traditionally abstain from eating meat on certain days, which is where the word “carnival” came from – originally the Latin word carnelevare, which means “to remove.”

Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and as a result, most non-festival related stores shut down for the festivities. There are celebrations all day and night with many parades, costumes, music, dance, and food. In particular, Rio de Janeiro’s carnival drew 4.9 million people in 2011, with 400,000 being foreigners.

Rio de Janeiro originally adopted the European style of carnival but eventually incorporated elements from Native American and African cultures. Samba schools, sponsored by major organizations, work year round to prepare for the carnival parades and dances. These samba schools are very important to carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, as they typically set the standard for parade style, costumes and music.

La Tomatina, Buñol, Valencia, Spain[5]

In the Valencian town of Buñol, they get their tomato throwing on during La Tomatina. Although the real story behind how tomato throwing got started is unclear, there are a few fun and mysterious legends to share. One story says that during a parade in 1945, a tomato (aimed for a rabbit) accidentally hit a person, causing a slew of people throwing tomatoes at each, and eventually the police had to intervene to break it up. The story continues with the young people repeating the tomato fight on the same Wednesday of August in subsequent years but the town banned it for nearly a decade. Finally, after considering the high demand, the tomato throwing festival became official in 1957, with explicit rules and guidelines to ensure the safety of participants.

The festivities begin late morning, with the palo jabón or greasy pole. The goal of this is for someone to climb a greased pole with a ham on top, and once someone is finally able to get to the top and drop the ham in to the crowd. After this, the tomato fight begins, signaled by water being shot in the air with trucks rolling in, loaded with about 150,000 tomatoes. At about 11:00 a.m., the fight commences and lasts for exactly one hour, after which the whole town square is covered in red and tomato juice flows down the streets.

In 2013, Buñol limited the fight to only 20,000 participants, allowing 15,000 non-locals and 5,000 locals to participate by purchasing tickets online, costing about ten Euros per person.

 Holi Festival, India[6]

Similar to La Tomatina, the Hindu Holi Festival of India also celebrates by throwing things but what’s being thrown is colored powder and water. This festival is observed on the last full moon day at the end of the summer season, which is typically around late February.

There are many reasons for celebration for Holi, such as celebrating the new season of spring for good harvest and fertile land as well as the religious aspect. It is also said to be a time marking the New Year to many Hindus, a time during which conflicts should be resolved and relationships renewed.

The festival begins with bonfires on the eve of Holi around which people gather around the fires to sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, is celebrated by youth by throwing colored powder and water. Elderly people also participate in the colorful celebrations but instead smear colored powder on each others’ faces.

All of the festivals are unique, not only in regard to their histories but also the practices that occur during celebrations. It is always exciting to try something and venture out beyond the borders of comfort. Perhaps you’ll participate in one of these festivals and make one of these places your next destination. If you’re feeling the itch to start planning, check out our travel destination planners.

 

Sources

[1]http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/about_burningman/principles.html#.U0amPKhdUnY

[2] http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/

[3] http://www.rio-carnival.net/

[4] http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-entertainment/carnival/carnival-in-rio-a-short-history/#

[5] http://spanishfood.about.com/od/holidaysfeasts/a/latomatina.htm

[6] http://www.holifestival.org/significance-of-holi.html

 

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