Say “YES” to trying a new experience

How is 2017 going so far? There has been a lot going on with the inauguration of our new President Trump,  the historical Women’s March on January 21 that drew thousands of women, men and children in cities all across the U.S. and globally, and the new executive order limiting U.S. immigration from 7 countries. 

Despite all the anger, protests, debates, and banter between politicians, the media, celebrities, friends, families, and foe’s, we are living in this reality that many of us just can’t wrap our heads around. So what can we do about it?

In my humble opinion, we can all try a little harder to “make it better than it was before”, a guiding principle that was adopted by my husband and has changed our lives over the last 20 years.  Nothing is perfect and will never be, but we can certainly try to improve the situations, circumstances, and impact of our thoughts and actions through whatever platform we all have. 

Personally, I would like to continue inspiring you to travel because I believe that it has a profound impact on who we are as people. Travel opens our minds and hearts in a way that brings light to how we as humanity are affecting our world. So when and if you have an opportunity to travel, say YES to trying a new experience. It will make you a better person, parent, leader & role model. 

You may remember Abigail Orosz whose story I shared in a past newsletter. Our family met her in Tahiti and she was a wonderful role model for our girls to be embassadors of our environment. Here she is again sharing why she travels.

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Why do I travel? To open my eyes and my heart. At many times in my life, when I’ve told people my plans to move to New Zealand, or to teach environmental outdoor education on Catalina Island, or to backpack through Dogon Country in Mali, West Africa, people have asked me why. The short answer is: why not?! I believe strongly in the power of saying yes to new experiences.

 

I have to say, the first few ‘YES’s were not so easy. It was scary. Should I leave my family for a whole year at 18 when I don’t speak the language, will live with a host family, and don’t know a single soul in the country? NOOOO! I’m incredibly grateful for my parents’ support and encouragement during that time, because that exchange year changed my life in so many ways and has shaped me in ways I could never imagine.

 

My traveling resulted in opening my eyes in such a way that my heart opened: to change, to differences, to growth, and most importantly, to acceptance of the unknown and unfamiliar.

 

While working seasonally on Catalina Island, I took advantage of the off- season to go to Guatemala and learn Spanish. I lived with a host family and battled communication over awkward dinner conversations and lots of hand gestures and sleepless nights.

 

 

I knew only the words my Texas upbringing would allow me to be familiar with but not understand- buenos dias and denada were familiar but foreign. By the end of the month, my confidence had grown as well as my vocabulary, and I was able to negotiate with people in the market, or have a more interesting conversation than broken sentences that grind to a halt after someone asks me “¿Como estas?” and I can only respond with: “Bien, gracias.”

 

 

Right now I’m living in Los Angeles and enjoying what a more stable life can bring me: backyard chickens who supply us with many eggs a day, a place to garden and compost, a quick escape to the mountains, and a rescue dog who requires a lot of patience and love. I still dream of that next trip because let’s face it, we can have a friend take care of our animals if Machu Picchu is on the itinerary.

Just say YES.

 

Lending a Hand: The Amal Restaurant

 

The Amal Restaurant is a project of the Amal Women’s Training Center in Marrakech, Morocco.  It was established to empower disadvantaged women through the culinary arts.

The program brings together widows, divorced or single mothers, orphans, and women with little or no education, and enables them to develop essential job and life skills so they can lead lives of economic and social stability.

In the program, these Moroccan women learn to work and manage the Amal Restaurant, from preping & cooking, to working with customers and learning about the overall operations of a sustainable business.

The Amal Restaurant also offers cooking classes in the mornings that are taught by the women in the program, where visitors can learn to prepare some authentic Moroccan dishes.

To learn more about the Amal Women’s Training Center and Restaurant, please visit http://amalnonprofit.org/.

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3 Reasons to Use a Private Guide

We’ve all been on those 40 passenger buses full of tourists (and their selfie sticks or ipads used as cameras). And don’t forget the tour guides with the microphones and flags who spew out all those facts and monotonous spiels you’ll never remember….

So before you jump on the tour bus, here are some reasons (and stories) why you should consider a private guide on your next trip.

  1. Experience the culture firsthand.

When our family visited Bhutan, we had the rare opportunity to visit our guide’s humble home. Him and his wife welcomed us with great hospitality and offered us a delicious, authentic Bhutanese meal as we sat on floor cushions and talked about their daily lives.

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In Vietnam, our guide named Happy, led us to a local coffee shop, where we enjoyed his company, learning about his day-to-day life as we drank our coffee the Vietnamese way – sitting on short stools. We even made a trip to a local market to purchase the best coffee for us to bring home.

  1. Create new and diverse friendships.

In 2006, our group of family & friends visited Bali for the first time where we met Iwayan, our private guide. He was so grateful for the generous tip we gave him for his great service, that he continued to stay in touch with me over the years sending holiday greetings and random updates from Bali via email. Nine years later, I returned to Bali with some colleagues and our itinerary was planned by an operator with their own guides, so I reached out to Iwayan and mentioned that although I wouldn’t need his services, it would be nice to meet up at some point during my trip. Him & his son surprised me with flowers and gifts upon arrival at the airport and insisted on driving me to my hotel so we could spend an hour together catching up. He even made a special effort to visit me again during the trip with a basket full of my favorite exotic fruits which he remembered from 2009. And because he couldn’t make it to say goodbye the night before I left, he sent his son and niece to drop off some Balinese peanuts to bring home for my family and friends who he missed seeing again.

  1. Have access to a breadth of knowledge. Customize your day, at your own pace, focusing on the things that most interest you with 100% flexibility.

On our recent trip to Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour with an Egyptologist. We had access to his incredible knowledge of the tomb inscriptions and temple murals. He even taught us how to read hieroglyphs! And as you can see, the guides always make it fun for all ages.

In Zambia & South Africa, our safari guides and trackers were extremely knowledgeable about the animals and their behaviors, habitats and possible whereabouts. They showed us how they scan the ground for footprints & scat, to identify which animals may have passed by, approximately how long ago, and their possible whereabouts so we could search for them. Our photographer guide even gave us the best tips on taking amazing pictures during our safari. We shared meals daily and met some of their family members as well.

Back from Marrakech

Morocco’s “red city,” Marrakech, was as exotic as it sounds. There was no better place to spend time with family and friends celebrating a milestone. From staying in a Riad, to experiencing the famous souk markets, tradtional folklore song and dance, tantalizing cuisine, soothing hammam spa treatments, and much more, it couldn’t have been more memorable.

The Atlas Mountains and Berber Villages along the way are a must-see when going to Marrakech, especially if you have the opportunity to see them from the charming Kasbah Tamadot Resort. Depending on when you go, the mountains are snow capped and even more beautiful.

 

There are a variety of spas in Marrakech that offer the traditional Moroccan Hammam (steam bath with scrub) so you can fully immerse yourself in relaxation, rejuvenation, and the local culture. Les Bains de Marrakech is a popular local spa, however, most accommodations also have Hammams and spas, such as our Riad.

 

When it comes to accommodations, there are a number of options from Riads to luxury resorts. Riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an interior garden or courtyard. They are unique to Morocco and reside in the main square of Marrakech. Riads offer more intimate spaces with traditional decor – some even have pools.

 

The famous La Mamounia Hotel has hosted many well-known figures and celebrities, including Winston Churchill (they have a signature cocktail named after him). It is even rumored to have been the venue for the wedding of Russian President, Vladmir Putin’s daughter in 2014. Its beautiful gardens and private villas give the La Mamounia a very regal feel.

 

I had an opportunity to visit some other accommodations: the Amanjena and Mandarin Oriental beyond the walls of the city, and Sir Richard Branson’s Resort, Kasbah Tamadot, in the Atlas Mountains.

The Amanjena

 

Mandarin Oriental

  

Kasbah Tamadot

 

A trip to Marrakech would be incomplete without a visit to the renowned souks. These marketplaces are filled with colorful stalls of tea and spices, hand-crafted jewelry, and so much more.

 

A trip to Marrakech is no exception when it comes to a signature Vacation that Matters! There are always opportunities to give back to the local communities and we found two organizations to support during our recent trip.

The Eve Branson foundation in the Berber villages of the Atlas Mountains supports local women and children with vocational skills, education, healthcare, and much more. http://evebransonfoundation.org.uk/.

The Amal Restaurant in the heart of the city empowers disadvantaged women with hospitality and culinary skills. They host cooking classes and serve lunches. http://amalnonprofit.org/. I’ll dedicate a future newsletter to the amazing experience we had a the Amal Restaraunt.

To see more pictures from my recent trip, you can view my Facebook album at https://www.facebook.com/vacationsthatmatter/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1156278501094944.

 

Back from Egypt

Wow! We just got back from an incredible 16-day trip to Paris, Marrakech, and Egypt. Every time I travel, I’m even more grateful for the opportunity – not only to see the amazing sites, but to experienece the culture, meet the locals, and open our hearts and minds to better understand global humanity. Today, I’d like to share some highlights of our visit to Egypt.

Was it safe? Absolutely! The Egyptian Government is trying very hard to make all visitors feel safe and comfortable. Their tourism industry, the only livelihood for the majority of the people, has suffered tremendously since the 2011 Revolution, when the Valley of the Kings was visited by 6,000-9,000 people a day. On the day we visited, we encountered a mere couple hundred tourists. It was very disheartening to see how the locals suffer from lack of a sustainable income. I can only encourage anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting Egypt to please consider going.

What did our family think of it? It was “magical, mystical, vibrant, of unfathomable scale, unbelievable, so well preserved, rich in so many ways, luxurious…awesome!” As my daughter recalled, “Going backwards in time from Old Coptic Churches in Cairo to 3,000 year old temples and tombs in Luxor added to the immensity of everything. It was a culture built on propaganda and is amazing that the people believed in this world of preparing for the afterlife that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Below are some pictures from our journey – I hope they will inspire and encourage you to consider a visit of Egypt. It is well worth it!

A view from the Meena Hotel of the Pyramid of Khufu and Pyramid of Chephren, son of Khufu.

A valiant camel poses in front of the great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza.

Abu Simbel is the larger of two temples Ramses II built to honor himself.

A woman carries traditional Egyptian bread on her head as she walks through the Coptic area of Cairo, where Egyptian Christians used to live.

The Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, the longest ruling female pharaoh of Egypt. It lies adjacent to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where archeologists are still discovering tombs today.

The Temple of Dandara, dedicated to the Goddess Hathor, is one of the best preserved and most vibrant in Egypt.

The passageways of Dandara lead to the top of the temple and are carefully carved.

Egyptologist Mohammad Abd El-Rehim, our incredible guide, gestures at a scarab bettle carved into the wall – a symbol of the heavenly cycle of the rebirth of Ra.

Our luxurious Nile River cruise sailed north but downstream, from Aswan to Luxor.

The Hilton at Luxor offers beautiful views of the Nile and the Valley of the Kings.

Entry passes to the sites are a collector’s item and a perfect way to document the journey through Egypt. If you are interested in seeing the Tomb of Tut Ankh Amun, consider visiting within the next month, as it will be closing to the general public for further excavation and restoration.

Back from Canyon Ranch

When considering a Spa getaway, you may expect some fitness offerings, relaxing massages, and healthy food options; however, the depth of services from Medical to Spiritual at Canyon Ranch far surpasses the offerings of typical Spa resorts.

You can fulfill your continuing education credit (CME & CNE for physicians and nurses) with all their seminars, workshops, and guest speakers.

 

You can reflect, set intentions, start a new physical practice, change eating habits, enjoy artistic hobbies, or simply rejuvenate in their spa with their unique therapies and treatments.

You can improve your golf game, tennis game, challenge yourself on the ropes course or try indoor surfing, drumming, or dance classes.

You may need some time to de-stress, work on a relationship, recover from a medical circumstance or rehab.

You can do as much or as little as you like, but Canyon Ranch definitely provides plenty of opportunity to be inspired within a comfortable, friendly, and naturally beautiful environment. 

It is a complete mind, body, spirit transformational experience that is difficult to convey in words. You have to experience it for yourself in order to realize how meaningful it can be, not just for yourself, but also for those around you whose lives you touch daily.

And, last but not least there is always a way to make a difference. Please visit www.canyonranchinstitute.org to learn about how Canyon Ranch Institue promotes individual and community well-being through collaborating with partners who share their vision of a healthy world.

Lending a Hand: The Ability Bhutan Society

 

ABS supports special-needs children and their families. It provides early and direct intervention and assistance to children with various needs, to help them live independently in Bhutanese society. To learn more, visit http://www.absbhutan.org.

The message on the wall when we entered ABS read, ” If people with disabilities can’t believe in themselves, or if others don’t belive in them, WE will believe in them and hopefully our positivity will spread and encourage more Positivity!

How We Helped

We reached out to ABS in advance of our visit to ask about their needs. They provided a list of items that would be useful but they are unable to source in Bhutan. In partnership with Tarsadia Foundation, Vacations That Matter donated Occupational Therapy kits, several other items and some cash to the organization in person during our visit to Bhutan.

ABS shared a wonderful presentation with us about everything they do, how donor funds are utilized and the lives they have changed.  

Each kit had portable equipment and skill-building toys designed for children with special needs, so that the therapists can help children who are housebound, and unable to visit the ABS facility.

We only brought items that would fit in our luggage and could not be sourced locally. The cash donations were used to purchase chairs, tables, and other items that could be purchased locally, in order to support local businesses as well. 

It is so nice to see pictures of how ABS is using the items we donated. Seeing the direct impact inspires us to want to do more, so we will continue to support ABS through various travel partners who bring tourism to Bhutan!

 

 

Back from Bali

 

Bali is the “island of the gods.” The Balinese practice of Hinduism is quite different than that of India. They do believe in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and you will see Ganesha and Shiva everywhere; however, the Balinese do not worship any deities. Their temples are simple structures with no idols. Life for the Balinese revolves around rituals, ceremonies, and daily offerings of flowers and rice. Homes and businesses, cars and cows…everywhere you go, these offerings decorate the land.

Bali’s views are spectacular: sunrise on the east coast, sunset on the west coast, and jungles, rice fields and volcanic mountains throughout the island.

 

Don’t forget the food! Bali’s culinary options are impressive, ranging from the traditional Balinese cuisine served in banana leaves to the finest French cuisine prepared by renowned chefs.

 

Adventure or relaxation: how about both? Every desire can be fulfilled in Bali, from hiking, biking, and whitewater rafting to yoga, spa treatments and complete relaxation. You can even experience what it’s like to plough a rice field!

So, whether you prefer simplicity or indulgence, Bali is an inviting and remarkable destination for everyone.

To see the entire Album click here!

 

New Fathom Philanthropy Cruises

Fathom, Impact + Travel is Carnival Corporation’s new Voluntourism based cruise line that has launched itineraries to the Dominican Republic and Cuba for 2016. Here is a link to their website: www.fathom.org.

The VolunTourism Institute shared their opinion on Carnival’s bold move. Here is their perspective.

And if you’re interested in seeing a sample itinerary for the inaugural cruises, here is one of the Dominican Republic itineraries. Dominican_Republic_Journey_2_pg

We’d love to hear what you think of these cruise itineraries and whether you are likely to make this your next cruise experience. Share your comments below.

Back from Bhutan

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Ever told yourself you just “want to escape?” To be surrounded by nature’s beauty, unblemished by our modern world? Such heavenly escape can only be found in Bhutan, the Dragon Kingdom in the valleys of the Himalayas.

Isolated from our fast-paced world, Bhutan is where tradition and culture are immaculately preserved.

 

Nature and society are one.

 

Spiritual awareness and practice permeates the land.

 

It is community that makes the Bhutanese some of the happiest people on earth. Where else can you measure GNP “Gross National Happiness“!

 

The Bhutanese believe in hospitality; they invite strangers into their humble homes, cook up a storm from the freshest organic produce grown on their farms, and engage in conversation like we are all family and old friends.

 

Their dedication to humanity is unwavering.

If you’re adventurous and wish to experience spirituality, community, and the ancient culture of the Dragon Kingdom, you will love Exploring Bhutan. 

CLICK HERE to see more pictures