How to Prepare for a National Park Visit

By Betsy O’Rourke of Xanterra Travel Collection

Known as “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks are glorious icons of the country’s natural beauty.  And, with proper preparation, the parks — from California’s Death Valley to Wyoming’s Yellowstone — can offer some of the most spectacular and unforgettable experiences. Follow these 10 savvy tips to prepare for a visit as epic as the scenery.

Glacier NP Red Bus 5

1. Choose the right park.

 

First, choose the right park. While the famous parks are the undisputed show stealers, don’t discount the under-the-radar ones for worthwhile experiences, too.

 

The National Park Service offers useful tools to help you find the right park, plan your activities, get the right permits, check the rules, and find local tours that help you get the most out of your trip. The Find A Park site is searchable by park, state, activity, and topic. Recreation.gov is its self-service trip-planning site. FindYourPark.com, a collaboration between the NPS and the National Park Foundation, has a park finder filtered by activity, state, zip code, and park name. Xanterra Travel Collection operates the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Death Valley, Mt. Rushmore and Rocky Mountain national parks.  Go to www.xanterra.com for lodging, dining and activity inspiration.

 

2. Know when to go.

 

While spring break and summer are by far the most popular times to visit a national park, if you have more freedom in your calendar, choose the shoulder season and avoid the crowds.  Parks such as Death Valley are actually best in winter when temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s with little to no rainfall. Enjoy the spring fed pools with 86-degree water, the lowest elevation golf course in the world, and completely refurbished rooms and restaurants at the Oasis at Death Valley as well as the majestic views, amazing hikes and brilliant night skies the park offers. Other parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon are magical in winter, and at Yellowstone, the winter snow makes animals easier to spot.

 

3. Plan your activities.

 

To the extent possible, develop a plan for your visit. Pick the right activities and determine the skill level needed to safely enjoy them. Rather than racing around trying to see everything, prioritize a few key things.  Start with the park website or if you’re already onsite, go to the park visitor center. Many offer free Ranger-guided and Junior Ranger programs. There are also many tours available, like the famous Red Bus Tours at Glacier operated by Xanterra or many yellow bus tours at Yellowstone, including the family favorite old-fashioned covered wagon BBQ.

YNPL Old Faithful Geyser and Inn from Ground - Andy Austin

4. Check park regulations.

 

Learn the rules for permits, wildlife encounters, camping, trash disposal, and safety. Parks usually require permits to stay at campsites, for some activities (e.g., fishing), and even to access certain hiking trails. Bring paper versions since cellphone service can be unreliable in remote areas.

 

5. Learn about park conditions.

 

Prepare for your park’s natural environment, weather, and any risks or hazards involved in your activities. Study the trails and stay current on the latest weather and road closures via your park’s website and social media channels.  Understand the level of difficulty and technical skills required of certain hikes, i.e. Subway or Angels Landing at Zion.

 

6. Research how to get around.

 

You can drive through some parks easily; others require guests to park outside and shuttle in. Some parks are sprawling and isolated with few roadside facilities, so carry water, and even gas. If you plan to drive off road, make sure your vehicle is equipped for rugged terrain. And always bring maps; don’t count on GPS.

Pool at twilight - The Oasis at the Death Valley

7. Bring proper gear.

 

Pack strategically to guarantee your safety and comfort based on the park, the weather, and your activities. Most important is comfortable footwear — that is broken in. If you plan to hike, bring essentials such as a daypack, hat, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, flashlight, map, and first aid kit. If you plan to camp out, test your equipment in advance.

 

8. Stay at a national park lodge.

 

If you want to stay inside the park, don’t pass up a national park lodge. Many, like the lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, are beautiful, historic lodges, and most do not have in-room televisions.  Star-lit skies, fire pits and smores and family games offer a non-digital alternative. Staying in the park is the best way to experience it. Once the day-trippers leave, you can enjoy sunsets, starry nights and sunrise with fewer people around.

 

9. Reserve early.

 

Book your park lodge (or campsite) early; many fill up quickly with some as far as 13 months in advance. This is especially true of peak summer season and holidays. If a lodge is full, check back regularly for cancellations as you may get lucky.

 

Advance reservations are also essential for popular activities with limited capacity, such as the mule rides at the Grand Canyon and the Red Bus tours at Glacier.

 

10. Consider a tour group.

 

Planning a national park trip can be very time-consuming. One way to ensure you’re seeing the best offerings is to opt for a guided tour. Depending on your ideal trip length and level of activity you seek, consider a bike tour with VBT, or a walking/hiking tour with Country Walkers, or a more traditional sight-seeing tour with Holiday Vacations. Packaged tours can save you time and money and they all offer the accommodations, meals, and activities for you with local guides and can arrange air and transfers as well.

 

A nationally known executive and thought leader in travel and tourism, Betsy O’Rourke is Chief Marketing Officer at Xanterra Travel Collection, part of the Anschutz Corporation.

 

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection manages lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities in the national parks including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley, Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers. Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

 

 


Heritage Travel in the UK and Ireland

By Europe Express 

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

The United States is home to a spectacular diversity of cultures—cultures that connect us to histories and communities and people across the globe. Every American has a heritage story that takes us beyond our country’s borders and into the wider world.

Fueled by television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” (wherein celebrities trace their ancestry overseas), our interest in our own genealogy has skyrocketed. We’re learning that our identities are strongly rooted in the identities of those who came before us, and that it’s important to know where we come from in order to know where we’re going.

 

What is Heritage Travel?

Heritage travel is a way for people to connect to their roots in their ancestors’ home country. Depending on how much you’d like to learn about your history, this type of travel can encompass a range of activities. Some people may choose to explore the archives of ancestry agencies, while others prefer to simply taste the foods their ancestors ate or walk the streets where their ancestors lived.

 

Heritage Travel Destinations

As part of the English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh diasporas, many Americans can trace their genealogies to ancestors across the UK and Ireland. If you’re planning a heritage trip to one of these destinations, here are some ideas for your travels:

 

Ireland

Photo by Christian Bowen

Photo by Christian Bowen

Considering that one in every nine Americans can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, the Emerald Isle is among the most popular destinations for a heritage trip. You can access Catholic parish registries in towns like Adare and Shannon, comb through records at the National Archives, or consult with a professional genealogist at the Irish Family History Centre in Dublin. Another great resource is the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, which employs a resident genealogist to help you access over 1.5 million burial records dating back to 1828.

 

England

Photo by Lea Fabienne

Photo by Lea Fabienne

In 1538, King Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell, decreed that every church in England maintain records of all baptisms, marriages, and burials. Today, these parish archives provide information about ancestors who lived as far back as the mid-1500s. The Society of Genealogists in London houses an extensive collection of published family histories, as well as census records for the whole of the UK. In Kew, the National Archives are an excellent resource for military and court records.

 

Scotland

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Nearly 50 million people around the world claim Scottish ancestry. If you head to Scotland on a heritage trip, you can visit the seat of your ancestor’s clan, get a taste of long-held cultural traditions at the Highland Games, or learn about your ancestor’s trade at museums dedicated to everything from fishing and farming to textiles and war. If you’re in Edinburgh, the ScotlandsPeople Centre at the National Records of Scotland houses a comprehensive collection of census records, marriage and death certificates, parish registries, coats of arms, wills, and more. At the National Library of Scotland, you can look through emigration lists and ship manifests, browse newspaper articles, or locate the graveyards where your ancestors are buried.

 

Wales

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Whether you’re interested in a one-on-one session with a genealogist in Swansea or you’d like to search centuries’ worth of parish records at the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, Wales is home to a wealth of family research resources. In addition to its census records, civil registrations, and newspapers, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth houses an impressive collection of tithe maps, which show the names of landowners and occupants in parishes across the country. If you don’t find what you’re looking for at the National Library, you may have better luck at a Record Office in the county where your ancestors lived. These can often provide you with photographs, sound recordings, or videos that help connect you to your roots.

 

Managing Expectations

It’s important to keep in mind that while it can be easy to get your hopes up about finding information that connects you to those who came before, you might not always find what you’re looking for. Remember that at its core, heritage travel is about making connections to your roots, whether that means hearing the languages, tasting the food, walking the streets, or learning the history of the places your ancestors called home.

 

 

Established in 1990, Europe Express provides high-quality custom travel to Europe, working exclusively with travel advisors to create unique vacations that fit the needs, interests, and budgets of each individual client. The company serves both group and FIT leisure markets and books everything from air and rail to hotels and sightseeing tours. With a well-traveled reservations team and buying offices in Europe, Europe Express provides seamless service before, during, and after each trip.

 


9 ways to preserve the polar regions for future generations

Aspiring polar explorers learn about sustainability and conservation on polar voyages with Quark Expeditions

By Doug O’Neill, Quark Expeditions 

 

It was one of those travel moments that was both Instagram-perfect—yet simultaneously soul-stirring. I stood on the deck of Ocean Adventurer as it sailed into Krossfjord, a 30-km long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Most of my fellow passengers were at breakfast so I had the deck to myself, with my camera at the ready, my eyes peeled on the horizon for my first glimpse of Lilliehöök Glacier, and my ears alert for the signature thunder of glacier calving.

 

USTOA Blog1

 

In the midst of all that anticipation of nature’s drama unfolding before me, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of quiet, a stillness that brought with it a razor-sharp clarity of my surroundings.  My mind began to run through an inventory of every stunning image I had experienced in the days leading up to this moment: the sculpted icebergs, the expansive glaciers, the snow-capped mountains, the long-abandoned historic sites, the polar bears prowling along the ice edge, the reindeers that cantered past me when I was on a shore landing, the walruses that gazed at me as I kayaked 30 metres away, of the whales spotted from the ship, and of cliff-tops covered in thousands of nesting Brunnich’s guillemots.

 

USTOA Blog2

 

And in my private polar epiphany, I was overcome not only with an intense appreciation for this pristine polar wilderness before me but also with a desire to protect it for every future visitor who came after me.

 

USTOA Blog3

 

This realization was by no means unique to me—it’s a moment shared by many who visit the Arctic or Antarctic. And this raised a fairly basic question: what can guests do to help preserve the pristine polar regions?

 

 USTOA Blog4

 

For this answer, I turned to my colleague, Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager at Quark Expeditions, a long-time sustainability advocate and one of the forces behind Polar Promise, Quark Expeditions’ holistic sustainability framework for protecting the polar regions.

 

USTOA Blog5

 

9 ways to be kind to the planet on your next polar voyage 

By Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager 

 

  1. Pack and use only reusable bottles (the only option when on a voyage with Quark Expeditions), coffee cups and reusable bags that you can take home with you.
  2. Choose refillable toiletry containers or non-plastic packaging that are free of microbeads. Your Quark Expeditions cabin is equipped with refillable dispensers of body wash and shampoo.
  3. Don’t introduce non-native species. Pack clean gear, including clothing, footwear, and bags. Decontaminate boots before leaving and upon returning to the ship by using the provided Virkon disinfectant bath.
  4. Bring a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera and/or phone from the elements. (Avoid single-use plastics at all times.)
  5. Don’t dispose of waste during shore landings. Where waste is unavoidable, bring along a reusable bag and carry the waste back onto the ship to be disposed of properly.
  6. Support local communities in the Arctic: Purchase goods from local artisans during community visits in the Arctic, but don’t purchase important goods like groceries and supplies as stock is limited and deliveries are rare.
  7. Follow the environmental and conservation guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), who outline strategies, policies and behaviors to protect the polar regions.
  8. Place a bid during our onboard auctions: proceeds from our onboard auctions support polar research and conservation groups.
  9. Become a Polar Ambassador. Talk to one of our Expeditions Team about becoming a Polar Ambassador.  This program teaches you how to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint every day. It’s also your way of educating your respective communities on the importance of protecting the majestic polar regions.

 

USTOA Blog6

 

Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.


Updated on March 27, 2020: The new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

Updated on March 24, 2020: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the October 1, 2020, deadline has been extended. No new implementation date has been set. USTOA will provide updates as soon as they are announced.

Updated on February 20, 2020: The Department of Homeland Security has made the decision to allow electronic submissions of the documents that are required to obtain a REAL ID, a positive step ahead of the deadline.

In order to board a commercially regulated aircraft on October 1, 2020, travelers must possess a REAL ID compliant travel document. In order to obtain a compliant REAL ID or to ensure that your current travel documentation is REAL ID compliant, please visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize your state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

REAL-ID-feature

Airline travel can be stressful for new and experienced travelers alike. Perhaps the most important part of any trip is ensuring that appropriate documentation and identification is in hand. For domestic travel, this generally means a valid U.S. driver’s license, or state identification card, while passports are required for international travel.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency housed within the Department of Homeland Security, has been speaking to an issue relating to “REAL ID”. REAL ID represents the federal government’s attempt to create uniform minimum security standards for all U.S. driver’s licenses and identification cards in order to access Federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, and board federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Creating these uniform standards is laudable and will ultimately make travelling throughout the U.S. safer. However, it is important that Americans are aware that their current form of identification, whether it is a driver’s license or state identification card, may not suffice to move through airport or other security settings, particularly with regard to traveling within the U.S. or elsewhere. The traveling public needs to be aware that updating travel documentation in the coming year will be necessary for those who are not already compliant. Otherwise, it is possible that come October 1, 2020 travelers could risk being turned away at the airport. To reaffirm, every American is currently required to possess a REAL ID compliant license or identification card by October 1, 2020 in order to, among other things, board a commercially regulated aircraft. Travelers without compliant identification could be turned away at the airport.

In the past, deadlines have been set on REAL ID compliance, and those deadlines have been kicked down the line. For the current deadline, recent reports indicate that this deadline of October 1, 2020 may hold. It is recommended that American travelers proactively check to see whether their identification is compliant to eliminate the possibility of added travel-related stress.

The good news is that anyone who holds a valid U.S. passport already has a REAL ID compliant form of identification. As of September 2019, 47 states, the District of Columbia, and three United States territories are compliant. Oregon, Oklahoma, and the Northern Mariana Islands are currently under an extension to update their licenses while New Jersey and American Samoa are under review. All states and territories are on track to be compliant before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

The bad news is that many of the states have only just begun issuing compliant licenses and state identification cards, meaning that many travelers may still hold a non-REAL ID compliant license. Therefore, it is imperative that all travelers visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize their state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline to ensure that their travel driver’s license or identification card is compliant for domestic travel. Again, it is important to note that a valid passport is REAL ID compliant.

Unfortunately, not every state and territory have the same requirements for a REAL ID, meaning that the licenses or state identification cards will still not look completely uniform and the documents necessary to attain a REAL ID compliant license or identification card may vary. As mentioned previously, each traveler should visit their state’s or territory’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what documentation is required to obtain a REAL ID. At a minimum, travelers must provide documentation showing:

1)     Full Legal Name;

2)     Date of Birth;

3)     Social Security Number;

4)     Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and

5)     Lawful Status.

REAL ID compliant licenses and identification cards are identified by the presence of a star in the top right-hand corner of the card similar to the below:

USTOA urges individuals across America to ensure their identification is compliant and to take the appropriate steps to achieve compliance, if necessary. We strongly caution against reliance on the possibility of an extended deadline.

More general information on REAL ID can be found here.

More information on each state can be found here.


10 Passport and Visa Tips For Hassle-Free International Travel  

By Fatemeh LeTellier, Chief Marketing Officer of Travel Document Systems and co-founder of Pinnacle Travel Documents

passport-cover-.-1024x680

  1. Make sure you have at least six months validity on your US passport!  Most countries require six months validity because they don’t want any traveler to get stranded in their country and be burdened with their expenses.  Further, most airlines require the six-month passport validity.
  2. If you travel a great deal, consider obtaining a second US passport valid for four years.  This will allow you to obtain visas on one passport while you travel on another. A second passport gives provides flexibility for the frequent traveler.
  3. Make sure you understand which countries require a visa for US citizens to enter. This way you are not barred from boarding your flight and missing your vacation or business trip.
  4. Make sure your name on your passport matches your name on your airline ticket/itinerary.  With heightened security measures at US airports and abroad you could be denied boarding.  If the name on your passport must be corrected, then you must renew your US passport as the US passport agency no longer amends names on US passports because of the new electronic chip passports.
  5. There seems to be confusion regarding the Passport Card.  The Passport Card can only be used at border crossings when driving between the US to/from Mexico and Canada.  You cannot use the passport card for flying! The Passport Card can be issued when the Passport is renewed for an additional government fee of $50.00. It is best to do both at the same time needed to save money and time.
  6. Many countries have gone to electronic visas which means the visas are e-mailed to the traveler. These visas are different than the traditional visas that are stamped in the actual passports.  E-visas can have a shorter validity and at times only valid for tourist travel and not for business travel. It is imperative that the traveler check to see that they apply for the correct type of visa based on their trip.  What we do at Pinnacle is assist the traveler in selecting the correct visa type for their specific travel needs. Some countries that issue electronic visas are India, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Oman.
  7. Children under 16 years of age are issued passports that are only valid for five years. The reason being that children’s features change so the picture needs to be changed every five years. Once they become 16 the passport is issued for 10 years. Both parents must be present to get the child’s documents sealed and if one parent is not available then the absentee parent must provide the accompanying parent with a notarized consent letter to apply for their child’s passport. The Passport Agency is very strict because of child abductions cases so they want to make sure both parents have given permission for a child to be issued a passport.
  8.  It is imperative that the signature on passport and visa applications match the exact signature on the US passport!  If the signature doesn’t match the application could be rejected which could delay the issuance of the US Passport or visa for international travel.
  9. The Passport Office and countries that issue visas require the photographs submitted for processing to follow specific guidelines.  The Chinese do not want the applicant to wear any glasses, jewelry or smile in the photo.  The US passport office doesn’t want glasses or smiling in photos. Further, The Indians don’t want any glasses on the photo. There are specific photo requirements that must be fold for smooth passport and Visa processing!
  10. Make sure you don’t apply too early for a Visa!  If you apply too early, then your Visa will not be valid for entry which could cause you to be denied entry to that country. For example, The Kenya E-visa is valid for 90 days from date of issue. The Visa for Laos is valid 60 days from date of issue and the visa for Rwanda is valid 30 days from date of issue.  We advise all our clients about visa validity requirements for business and tourist travel.

 

Pinnacle Travel Document Systems, one of the largest passport and visa service companies in the world, prides itself on providing exceptional customer service by taking the guess work out of travel documentation. Their experienced staff will streamline and simplify the process for any travel document, passport and Visas. Services include speedy, even 24 hour, passport renewal and second passport issuance, applications for minors, and passport cards, as well as precise visa application assistance to ensure the correct documentation is delivered accurately and in a timely fashion.


Warm Up to a World of Winter Travel

 By Tauck 

If thoughts of winter leave you cold, traveling might be something you’ll warm up to. Sun-kissed islands from Cuba to Hawaii are the draw for snowbirds longing to migrate to a culturally rich tropical paradise during the winter months. Sailors will enjoy charting a course for Latin America’s waterways and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas, always in season for seaworthy adventures. And travelers with a taste for someplace exotic may want to head to faraway shores where upside down climates invite outdoor enjoyment year round.

Of course, the definition of ideal weather is purely subjective and ultimately personal. A beach bum’s disdain of snow-covered surfaces is nirvana to winter sports enthusiasts. Rain dampens hikers’ spirits but lush landscapes like the soggy Pacific Northwest are a naturalist’s dream. Some like it hot. Some like it cold.

But no matter your preference or destination, wintertime travel promises red-hot advantages that summer trips don’t have.

solo_in_sistine_chapel_LIGHTER

Fewer crowds. When cooler temperatures prevail and the kids are back at school, iconic sites in destinations around the world are enjoying their annual vacation from summer’s crowds. Consider visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, among the most visited cities in Europe, taking in landmark sights, without being rushed or wasting time on long lines. Check out the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Trevi Fountain, spontaneously stopping in a local trattoria in charming Trastevere, less busy in fall and winter. Admire Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, take in the views of Florence and its river from the Ponte Vecchio and climb to the top of the Duomo, lingering longer as you wish. And in Venice, stroll easily in St. Mark’s Square, savor the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica and stop for a prized photograph at the Bridge of Sighs without groups of photo-bombing tourists.

VW: Near Old Faithful Winter Lodge

A new perspective. Wintertime enables you to rediscover places you’ve already been in a completely different way. If the national parks are a favorite summer vacation destination, consider seeing them in a new light. Take Yellowstone National Park for example, a geothermal wonderland with 10,000 hot springs, thundering waterfalls, two thirds of all the geysers in the world and evergreen trees by the thousands. Winter turns it otherworldly, transforming the wilderness into an ethereal playground sculpted by ice, steam clouds and snow and blanketing it in sounds of serenity and silence you have to see to believe. Those who have braved the weather can’t say enough about the experience or the cozy lodges that remain open for the privileged few. Highlights range from sharing stories and camaraderie in front of the fire; hearty home-cooked fare, served family style, that nurtures body and soul; and outdoor adventures on snowshoes, sleds and snowmobiles that warm hearts with sightings of elk, bison, bighorn sheep and the occasional wolf, seen more clearly and abundantly in a barren landscape.

Sydney_Featherdale_Wildlife_Park

Seasonal switches. If it’s winter here, it’s summer someplace else. Depending on which hemisphere you’re in, summer may be in June or December. Southeast Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere turn the calendar upside down, making our wintertime the best time to experience their summer-like climates. Outdoor adventures, from game drives on African safaris, boat, tuk tuk and cyclo rides in Thailand and Vietnam to cruises to the Great Barrier Reef and throughout New Zealand’s fiord-lined waterways and zodiac expeditions to Arctic islands cloaked in ice, await on bucket-list winter escapes.

Holiday fairs. ‘Tis the season to celebrate the holidays around the world. Hop aboard a riverboat in Europe in December when city squares, town centers and bucolic villages are decked out and dressed up with festive decorations that glitter and glow with twinkling lights and timeless traditions. Who can resist the smell of gingerbread warm from the oven, cinnamon spiced ciders and steaming mulled wines, and carolers voicing cheer and goodwill with their spirited songs? The fragrances alone are enough to make river cruisers smile no matter the temperature.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov famously said “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

That’s especially true for travelers, which makes any time the best time to go someplace new.

 

With more than 140 journeys across 7 continents in over 100 destinations and 70+ countries, Tauck offers a choice of wintertime travel options around the world, from exotic journeys and small ship cruises to family vacations and river cruises during the holidays in Europe. Find all the details at tauck.com.

 

Named to Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” list for 22 consecutive years, Tauck has been a leader in enriching travel since 1925.

 

 


Top Destinations for Family Learning Journeys

By Carol Dimopoulos of Perillo’s Learning Journeys

As President of Perillo’s Learning Journeys and in my role as an adjunct professor for SUNY Empire State College, I believe that both travel and education are investments in a child’s future.  When my children were young I realized we could combine the two. Incorporating classes in the destinations we traveled to deepen their course work and bringing the learning to life. When planning family travel, I always consider an experience which moves beyond the realm of the traditional.

Perillo’s Learning Journeys offers a unique collection of customized family journeys designed to combine cultural immersions with hands-on education to ignite learners’ passions in a certain area of discipline or interest.  Meet with other students and their families to learn about life in their respective cultures, forming new relationships.  Participate in a community project as to learn about cultural responsibility.  The experience provides a platform for families to learn something new, which lasts far beyond the physical experience of the journey.

IMG_6444

1. Italy

Family-friendly Italy invites you to explore its beautiful cities and soak up its regional culture, history and cuisine. The learning possibilities are endless!

Participate in a pizza and gelato course in Rome and a mask-making class in Venice. Immerse your family in Italian culture by learning some language skills and enjoy a hands-on studio art program that provides a better understanding of the masterpieces you’ll see. Participate in culinary sessions using regional techniques to make craft pasta, pizza, and ice cream. Visit a local farm to learn about the region’s food and wine production.  Visit the interactive Children’s Museums in Rome and Florence. Take an art or mosaic class to deepen art appreciation.

Italy is a land rich with festivals.  Plan your experience around a festival and you are sure to become immersed in the local life!

2. Greece

The land of mythology, Greece is the perfect destination for family learning travel.  Visit the mythological islands of Santorini and Crete, the seat of muses, gods and goddesses. Learn about the historical sites, visit a volcano, enjoy a Greek dance class, experience a scavenger hunt, cook with a local Greek Yia Yia (grandmother), and experience vibrant Greek community and culture.

3. Peru

Peru is a privileged land of endless opportunities: nature, adventure, culture, history, archaeology, handicrafts, native textiles, fabulous gastronomy, and trekking.  Experiencing an authentic adventure exposes travelers to the local customs and warm people who welcome your family into their homes and share their family’s traditions. From textile and music workshops where you learn how to play traditional instruments and even build your own zampoñ to bring home, to visiting the sacred Machu Picchu, and taking part in the Inca practice, Kusi Runa,  your family will be immersed in Peru’s history, nature, and living culture.

4. Iceland

Stir your family’s imagination for Viking lore and introduce them to fun aspects of geology in Iceland.  Learn about the first Parliament while visiting Thingvellir National Park. Experience the world of whales and seabirds during a whale-watching cruise near Reykjavik. Discover the wonder, beauty, and science behind major geological sites as you stand before powerful waterfalls such as Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skogafoss; watch geysers spout 100 feet in the air; witness the site where two tectonic plates collided, and see the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara. Go inside of an Ice Cave, a virtual volcano and even bake Rye bread using geothermal methods.

5. London and Paris

London and Paris are the perfect destinations to bring your family’s learning to life with an immersion in history, arts, and culture. In London, explore British history at the Tower of London with a Beefeater and visit the tombs of monarchs and poets at Westminister Abbey. Learn stage fighting techniques at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, take a walking tour of Harry Potter’s “hometown,” and a cruise along the Thames, and view the city from the London Eye. In Paris, engage with art during special programs at the Louvre and the Musé d’Orsay. Ascend the Eifel Tower, take walking tours of the Latin Quarter and Montmartre, join a cooking class and learn how to blend your own perfume.

 

Learning Journeys offers cutting-edge travel experiences powered by Perillo Tours’ 74 years of travel planning expertise.  More than a traditional vacation, Learning Journeys’ itineraries focus on enhanced immersion in a specific interest or passion, such as yoga and wellness, cooking, photography, watercolor painting, bird watching, dance, language study, conservation, and much more. All journeys incorporate elements of culture, nature, culinary traditions, community service, and meeting with locals.  Programs to worldwide destinations include Italy, Bali, India, Malta, Peru and more. 


6 Cities for Art and Architecture Lovers

By Hayley Warner, Monograms Marketing Coordinator

Art and architecture, created long before us and preserved to last long after us, offer a glimpse of the past – of how people looked, how they lived, what they enjoyed. And these 6 cities gave rise to those creators, to the world’s most legendary architects, painters, sculptors and innovators. Their masterpieces continue to provide a portal through which we are able to better understand life long ago. If you travel to see the world’s greatest masterpieces or to marvel at intricate architecture, these 6 swoon-worthy cities are for you!

Madrid

From the surrealism of Salvador Dali to Pablo Picasso’s cubism, Spain gave rise to many 20th century legends. The capital city of Madrid claims many of these masterpieces as her own, housing the likes of Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez in three major art museums – the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen. Though much of Madrid’s infrastructure is modern and her sister city of Barcelona is a bigger hit with architecture enthusiasts, be sure not to miss Plaza Mayor and Parque del Buen Retiro.

Barcelona

Barcelona

Known for the abstract works of Gaudi, Barcelona is a city where art and architecture merge into one. Influenced by nature, Gaudi incorporated curves, color and mosaic patterns into his design in an unprecedented way. Barcelona is marked by his architectural statements – from La Sagrada Familia which took more than 140 years to complete, to Parque Guell. Barcelona is also widely considered to be the childhood home of Pablo Picasso. Although he spent most of his adult life in France, the city pays homage to his early upbringing by displaying thousands of his work in the aptly named Picasso Museum.

London

Though a buzzing metropolis, London’s art scene was slow to develop – Galleries were not a city staple until the late 1980s when the Young British Artists, a group of visual artists including Damien Hirst, decided to shake things up and add contemporary art to the city’s portfolio. London has since evolved into a dynamic and influential player in the art world with renowned museums dominating the city’s West End and emerging artists rising in ranks south of the Thames. Most notably, London has shaped the contemporary art scene, with museums like the Tate Modern, White Cube and the Royal Academy of Arts attracting visitors from around the globe. If you prefer to admire masters from the 17th century or before, check out the National Gallery.

Paris

The City of Light is home to some of the most celebrated single pieces of art in the world. Famous museums like The Louvre and Musee D’Orsay house works including the Mona Lisa, collections of Degas’ dancers, and Monet’s water lilies. France was also a prominent source of inspiration for Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, and the Picasso Museum in Paris showcases much of his personal collection. Beyond an extensive art collection, Paris is loved for its opulent architecture. It gave birth to the Gothic style, characterized by flying buttresses and the extensive use of stained glass. Sainte-Chapelle is a perfect example of this style!

Rome

Rome

Following in the footsteps of their Greek predecessors, the Romans were architectural masterminds and unparalleled innovators, becoming the first to construct the arch and to create the first concrete-like building material by mixing volcanic ash and lime. No single city on earth possesses more architectural ruins or ancient wonders than Rome. From the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, each preserved ruin reveals something about the way Romans lived and what they valued.

Florence

Florence

Though the city itself is somewhat of an open-air museum, with piazzas displaying sculptures designed by Michelangelo, Florence is predominantly known as the city that gave rise to the Renaissance, and thus, some of the world’s most remarkable, forward-thinking artists. Masterpieces like Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus were created here and still live on display at the Uffizi Gallery in the center of the city. Beyond master painters and sculptors, Florentine architects were equally advanced. At the time of its design, Brunelleschi’s Duomo was the largest dome in the world and a true architectural wonder – how was it going to stand without support structures? It took more than 140 years to complete the original design and the Duomo remains an engineering feat.

 There are different ways to travel. You can choose to go with a group… You can choose a do-it-yourself vacation… Or, you can choose something in-between. Something that’s better than going it alone. It’s called Monograms and there’s nothing else like it. Monograms invites you to travel the world independently, with expert help.

 


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

Safety has always been the top priority for USTOA members so we’re particularly sensitive to State Department travel alerts and warnings, which can cause more confusion and uncertainty among travelers than guidance. We’re constantly monitoring these alerts and found Everett Potter’s overview of what they mean in USA Today this week particularly helpful and informative, so wanted to share it with both travelers and our travel agent partners as a resource:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2016/01/18/state-department-travel-alert-warning/78637736/

In addition to monitoring State Department travel alerts and warnings, our members are uniquely positioned to monitor situations around the world. With eyes and ears on the ground in destinations, our tour operator members have access to real-time information that allows them to act in the best interest of both guests and employees.

We are hopeful that the U.S. traveler continues to be resilient and keeps exploring new cultures…it’s the best antidote to the misunderstanding that plagues world events today.


by Kelley Ferro

“Okay, now make a wish,” said Deniza, a Bahian beauty and a press officer from Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Institute), as she tied one of three knots of a Bahia wish bracelet around my wrist. I had been familiar with a colorful Brazilian tradition of the “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia” bracelets on my first visit to Rio de Janeiro, but it wasn’t till I was standing back in Brazil that I realized that these wishes do come true.

Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia bracelets outside the patron saint’s church in Salvador: translated it roughly means In Remembrance of the Savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia

Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia bracelets outside the patron saint’s church in Salvador: translated it roughly means In Remembrance of the Savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia

Brazil is one of those special places that after you go once; you’ll want to go back again and again.  My wishes were granted sooner than I expected when USTOA said they were sending me back to shoot our Live Like a Local series this past August. Back in 2013, I had spent a one week vacation fully immersing myself into the lifestyle of Rio de Janeiro. My days consisted of late breakfasts, runs along Ipanema Beach, boutique shopping in Leblon, slurping cool Acai in the afternoons and admiring the talented Brazilians play soccer during my tanning sessions on the beach. In my mind, Rio was as close to paradise as I could imagine.

With the help of USTOA, Embratur, Adventure.com and our talented guides and ambassadors, my return trip to Brazil was equally as magical, and way more jam-packed with adventure. In just six days, we covered three cities, met a slew of locals and filmed our way through some of the country’s most epic sites.

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

We started out in Bahia, a Brazilian state in the Northeast which has a distinct Caribbean flavor. Historically, the capital city of Salvador was the epicenter of the slave trade and it was the first stop on our itinerary. Approximately two million slaves helped grow Bahia’s booming sugar industry at that time. Thankfully, slavery was abolished there in the late 1800s, but the African influence still remains infused in the region’s personality. I saw it in the capoeira lesson that I took, a Brazilian martial art that was created and secretly practiced by the slaves of that time. I saw it in the food, like Brazil’s national dish feijoada which developed when slaves added leftover scraps of meat to their usual meal of rice and beans. I even saw it in the art such as paintings of the Afro-Brazilian religious deities that are as prominent as their Catholic counterparts.

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

We continued our Bahia exploration with a stay in Lençóis, the jumping off point for a slew of natural wonders and outdoor adventures. This sleepy backpacker village was our laidback home, perfect for relaxing evenings. And we needed them, after spending our days spelunking, ziplining, grotto swimming, cave snorkeling, mountain hiking and photographing waterfalls.

Swimming in the Poço Azul

Swimming in the Poço Azul

To conclude our Brazil adventure, we spent our last day in Rio. Arriving late in the evening and with an impending flight out at 5:00am the following day, my Rio de Janeiro repeat trip was condensed into 24 hours. And I made sure to make the most of each hour.

Up well before dawn, I prepped for our last and only day in one of my favorite cities.  Hair done and good walking shoes on, it was “go time” at 6:00am and off we went to beat the crowds at the top of Corcovado. If I can give one tip to any first time visitors, go to see Christ the Redeemer AS SOON AS the doors open (8:00am) Besides a few other valiant travelers, we were the only people at the top of this world famous site.  I felt like I spent a lot of time with Jesucristo, dividing my gaze between the majestic statue and the equally majestic view of this coastal city.

Christ the Redeemer, on top of Rio

Christ the Redeemer, on top of Rio

But time was ticking and down we went to check out the Santa Teresa neighborhood, and area springing up with new cafes, art galleries and outdoor bars along the cobbled streets. Our local guide told us the backstory of this previously Portuguese aristocrat area as we poked our head in the shops.  A quick pick me up of Brazil’s signature caffeinated beverage, and we were off to see the Selaron Steps, an explosion of colorful tiles from hundreds of cities and countries around the world.

Coffee in Santa Teresa

Coffee in Santa Teresa

Rio’s enviable sunshine decided to take a pausa, so we did too for a refueling session at a Brazilian buffet while the rain cooled down the city. Lucky for me, the restaurant was next to a Havaianas store and Deniza, press officer from Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Institute) and local Bahian beauty, gave me a rundown of the best flip flop styles that weren’t found in the USA. I now have enough flip flops for the rest of my life.

Havaianas Shopping!

Havaianas Shopping!

Without skipping a beat, it was time to explore a favela, something I hadn’t done in the past. Our local guide brought us to the Santa Marta favela, a relatively small hilltop “slum” that has had one of the biggest positive transformations. We met Veronika, a local resident who guides visitors through her home community. Through a translator was needed, Veronika and I chatted about life here, her kids, Michael Jackson and about her thoughts for the future of her community. I could have spent all day here but it was on to the next part of the day, Rio’s famous beaches.

Veronika, our local guide in the Santa Marta Favela

Veronika, our local guide in the Santa Marta Favela

The rain had passed but the clouds continued to hang out over Rio. Either way, Copacabana Beach still looked lovely and there we filmed some of the city’s favorite drinks, coconuts and caipirinhas. After my first bite of a dulce de leche churro (WOW!), we transferred to the city center by subway. Traffic is brutal so the surprisingly clean and efficient underground metro was the fastest route. We arrived at an outdoor square where Monday night samba dancing takes place, to the tune of a live band. We weren’t the only ones camping out for this free show. However, the band canceled and so the dancing was postponed.

Groupie hot, waiting for Samba Dancing

Groupie hot, waiting for Samba Dancing

Undeterred, we headed to Lapa to tour some of the bars of this neighborhood popular for nightlife. Rodrigo, our Brazilian guide, introduced us to a special aged cachaça and after a few rounds and many “saúdes” later, we were starving. Where to eat in Rio when you only have one night? A churrascaria of course. This carnivorous restaurant was jam-packed even at 10:00pm. The churrascaria tradition is like a meat buffet that comes to you. Since I’m not a big meat eater, I enjoyed their insanely huge salad bar as our group tucked into to almost every type of meat that came out.

Men eating meat at the churrascaria

Men eating meat at the churrascaria

As our manic day came to end right before my 2:00am transfer to the airport, I felt like we had really sucked the juice out of Rio. This city is non-stop and we did our best to keep up, from dawn… till dawn again.

This trip was entirely different than my first leisurely week in Brazil. However, my love for the country has only grown. We did more in one day in Rio than many people do in a week, and I can say the same is true for each day on the rest of the trip. My knowledge of Brazil’s culture, hotspots and people has improved dramatically and from that, I only have a longer list of where I want to go when I return again.

On that first wish bracelet back in 2013, I had wished to return to Brazil. Now, as I write this I am wearing my latest bracelet, given to me from Deniza. It’s my daily reminder that wishes come true and that I’ll be going back to Brazil on another adventure before long.

To see a video behind the scenes of my wild 24 hours in Rio, click this link→ Rio in 24 hours

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.