Back from Costa Rica

I hope you’ve had a fabulous summer. While I took a break from sending you my newsletter this summer, I certainly didn’t take a break from exploring new opportunities to enjoy a Vacation That Matters.

I had a wonderful opportunity to end the summer with a 10 day vacation to Costa Rica. It was a time to bond and re-connect with family, to explore, experience and be utterly excited about recommending trips to Costa Rica. It was relaxing, adventurous, educational, inspiring and certainly memorable. We also celebrated our daughter’s 13th birthday and my birthday during the trip which made it even more special.

However, our vacations are not complete unless we incorporate a way to give back. And we found so many ways to do just that in Costa Rica. From a volunteer visit to an animal shelter, to planting trees and exploring sustainable ranches, to visiting a school and donating school supplies, the possibilities were endless.  

So rather than write about all the details, I’ll just share the pictures we took. I hope that you can capture the essence of a Vacation That Matters through these images. Please share your thoughts, comments or inspirations via email, Facebook, or our website.

May the new school year, fall colors, cooler temperatures, rejuvenated spirits, and planning for the upcoming holiday season bring joy and a smile to all. 

Costa Rica

A Remarkable Destination

Imagine a rejuvanating massage in the middle of the rainforest with the sounds of nature.

Imagine all the exhileration and adrenaline of adventure activities.

Imagine the bio-diversity and natural beauty of flora, fauna, & wildlife.

Imagine the educational experience of watching a sea turtle nesting on the beach at night.

Imagine volunteering at an animal shelter.

Imagine a country with a culture of environmental respect.

Imagine the education in history, geography, ecology, anthropology and a culture of “PURA VIDA” (Pure life or Pure living). Now imagine sharing this experiential, recreational and truely sensational vacation with your family & friends!!

To see all of our Costa Rica albums please visit

Vacations That Matter Recommends



 HAVE FUN, SHARE DREAMS, and GIVE HOPE!!! Try a Luxury Voluntourism trip in 2012/2013.


We have NEW itineraries for Costa Rica, Puerto Vallarta & Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Please give us a call for more details.

Our family is growing

Yes, we are adding a member to our family this holiday season and we are really excited about it. And, NO, we are not expecting a baby. But we have sponsored a child in Kenya, Africa through and we can’t wait to meet him or her. Tis the season to share gifts with each other, so this year our family decided to share the gift of education with a child who’s hopes, dreams, and an opportunity for a brighter future will be fulfilled.

The inspiration came from my recent visit to an industry conference where a presentation from Micato Safaris and the story of Alex Sharpe had me in tears. The stories they shared were so touching and life-changing, that it immediately made me feel like I wanted to do something that matters this holiday season. I couldn’t be more grateful for my family who were all on-board, just as heartened and excited about adding another family member to our lives.

Today I share the story of Alex Sharpe and I hope that it is as inspiring for you as it was for me. I also want to thank you for your continued support throughout 2012 and may all your travels in 2013 fulfill your dreams, be safe, and abundantly meaningful. Enjoy your time with family & friends this holiday season and I look forward to connecting with you in the New Year!

I have been in this industry for 16 years now and have always talked about selling dreams.  I often travel for business, but am always looking for the opportunity to bring my family back to explore fantastic places, but more often, fantastic people.  That was my experience during my trip to Kenya with Micato Safaris.  I knew they were a great operator – they had all of the awards, experience and reputation, but everything exceeded my expectations!  I was fortunate to be able to experience a Micato Safari into the Masai Mara with some industry friends as an add-on to a sales trip I planned to South Africa.  

I knew I was in for a trip of a lifetime and I was SOOOO excited to see the animals, the lodges and the landscape.  What I was totally unprepared for was the warmth and love I felt from the people and that is what drives me to take my family back and stay involved with the destination and a charity I fell in love with while I was there.  Where to start…

From the moment we arrived in Nairobi, we were greeted by smiling faces.  It became apparent very quickly, that these Micato guides were not just employees, they were family and totally invested in creating an experience that would have you remember THEIR country fondly for the rest of your life.  

Our hosts in Nairobi were none other than Felix and Jane Pinto – the owners of Micato… or better….the matriarch and patriarch of the Micato family.  They meet all of their guests, hosting them at their home where they can share stories about their family and their lifetime in Kenya.  Before I had the first morsel in my mouth, I LOVED these people.  Warm, caring, family focused and passionate about Kenya and her people.  What I hadn’t realized yet, was that they were very representative of all of the people I would meet along my journey.

I have to say, the Masai Mara does not disappoint!  The scenery, the lodges, and the animals were everything I dreamed they would be….and more.  You don’t give up any comforts – this was truly luxury.  I don’t want to minimize this part of the trip, but quickly, my focus became more about getting to know the guides and the local Masai people.  Their stories, their garb, their love for Kenya just captures you.  We had an opportunity to visit a Masai village.  This wasn’t a staged Disney performance, this was a tribe of wonderful people, living off the land in the middle of the Mara, inviting us to their homes.  They live in what I would describe as a primitive “fort” made of branches and sticks that create a circle around their dung huts to protect them from animals and rivals (not a big issue any longer).  A dung hut….well, I guess you can imagine what its made of, but these 2 and three room homes housing entire families were just remarkable.  Watching the “community” they had there, where kids all helped each other with babies being carried and fed by their elder brothers and sisters was remarkable – my kids have a hard time sharing crayons!  I was told we might meet locals, so I packed some little presents for the kids….silly bands (light and easy to carry on Safari since there are tight luggage restrictions).  The kids loved them, but had no idea what to do with them. 

Towards the end of our trip, we transferred back into Nairobi and had a chance to visit the Makuru Slum.  The attraction there was the orphanage and school that Micato has built for the children.  What little these children have can be directly attributed to the Pinto family, Micato and the guests Micato has brought.  Unbelievable – they clothe, feed and educate these kids!  These children have so little, but are so fulfilled!  The children never stopped smiling and took a particular interest in my IPAD, where I showed them pictures of the ocean, snow and even the animals we encountered on our safari.…ALL of it was new to these kids and they just pointed and asked questions non-stop.  I have always described my marriage as a great fit of people from different worlds…my wife growing up with everything she could want, but wanting nothing.…and me, growing up with nothing and wanting EVERYTHING.  Wow, to say I grew up with nothing, after seeing these kids is positively embarrassing, yet, they want for so little.  The red school sweaters and opportunity for an education is MORE than enough if coupled with a few hugs and tons of smiles.  The perspective I gained was life changing and something I will never forget!


Our last stop was possibly the most special.  Just before my trip, as I was getting educated on Micato and their true passion for the destination and the people, I found their One for One program.  This program, amongst the many others they do, change lives.  For every safari sold, Micato, through their AmericaShare foundation is able to send a child to school for a year.  This means moving them from the slum to a boarding school.  Books, clothes, food, housing, education and a FUTURE.  As I was part of this industry function, I asked if there were a way for me to sponsor a child through AmericaShare.  Not only were they able to identify a child, but since the semester hadn’t started yet, we coordinated an opportunity to meet!  

I got to spend 3 hours with Barrack Kutwa, 12 years old, the biggest smile, and the most humble and appreciative kid you could meet.  We talked about his 5 brothers and sisters and his parents.  He knew how lucky he was to have two living parents as most kids in Makuru have one or have been orphaned by HIV/Aids (both of his parents are positive, but living healthy lives).  We talked about what his goals were and how school would open up more opportunities.  He cried when he spoke about his opportunity – one he had, but his brothers and sisters did not and how he felt pressure to not only excel in school, but make a difference for his family, Makuru and Kenya.  I just know this boy will impact many, many lives.  So, here is the selfish part – I LOVE that I’m part of that.  My kids LOVE that they have a brother in Kenya.  Think about this…we called my kids from my cell that day and spent an hour on the phone with Barrack asking questions and learning about each other.  They laughed and laughed…thousands of miles away, on a cell phone, and they made a lifelong connection.  My children, now 10, 7 and 5, give me their birthday and allowance money regularly to pay for Barrack’s school.  They are more interested in what we can do for him for Christmas than their own lists (most days!) and they scolded me last year for not including their brother on the family Christmas card.

When I think about Vacations that Matter…this trip symbolizes it for me.  Not only has it impacted me for life, but it has done the same for my wife and kids…and they weren’t even there….yet!  

People will come for the chance to see the Great Migration, to see the big five, to balloon over the Mara at sunrise….but they will fall in love with the people and will become better people themselves for having had the experience!

Micato Safari was PERFECT and their integration with the people of Kenya, ALL of the people of Kenya, opens up opportunities for people to truly experience Kenya and everything it has to offer.

That’s why Vacations Matter!

Alex Sharpe

Marina Del Rey, CA


Vacations That Matter Recommends



Micato Safaris in 2013


Private Invitation Safari & Heart of Kenya and Tanzania

Please give us a call for detailed itineraries and pricing.

One for One Program

 Lend a Helping Hand on Safari, spend a day  at Harambee Community Centre

Sponsor a child through

Family Vacations

We recently celebrated our daughters 8th birthday and although she was really excited, it wasn’t as memorable as her 7th birthday which we celebrated on a short family vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Celebrating with the girls from a shelter where we volunteered for an afternoon was an experience she will cherish forever.

With summer upon us, and kids out of school, I got to thinking about Family Summer Vacations and decided to share some tips on what to do with all that togetherness. Please share any tips you may have from your family vacation experiences.

Family Vacations
What To Do With All That Togetherness 

Vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times. Exploring new places together, sharing time and goofing-off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives — family vacations can be the best thing since summer was invented.

On the other hand, interminable plane trips, boring hotel rooms, exhausting hours together in the car, funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain — family vacations can be difficult and stressful for adults and children.

So how can you have more of the best of times and less of the worst? Here’s a list of things to consider when planning family vacations:

1.  Watch out for great expectations. Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, letters, share them all. Make check-lists and packing lists, too, with responsibilities for everyone.

2.  Allow plenty of time. Don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, stop often, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for long stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs recharging. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out. Strive for balance.

4. Choose appropriate activities based on age and interests for everyone. At Vacations That Matter, we recommend incorporating volunteer service activities.  One of the easiest connections for children is other children or support of animals. Imagine taking care of elephants in Thailand, or lion cubs in South Africa, or interacting with children of a similar age via sports or reading programs. Choose programs that will educate, inspire, and be fun for the whole family. Consider age and physical fitness requirements.

5. Choose destinations based on seasons.  The best time of year to travel  to your desired destination may not be during the hot and humid summer months. Or our summer may be their winter, so consider the weather and avoid complaints, fussing, and a miserable experience.

6. If possible, choose accommodations that are spacious and provide plenty of various age group activities with minimal safety concerns. Comfort adds greatly to your overall vacation experience. For large parties or families with small children who may spend most of their time at a pool or beach, consider All-inclusive resorts or cruises where all your meals and snacks are included. It takes the stress out of trying to please everyone & deciding where and what to eat and making reservations.

7. Take tips and advice from friends or families who have been to your desired destinations, but be aware that your family is unique, has its own opinions and feelings on things, and, therefore, requires your due diligence in selecting a program that meets your personal family needs. Consulting with a travel specialist will save you time and provide peace of mind.

8. Try to allow a day or two to re-coup before you go back to work and the children return to their routine. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Make homecoming part of the vacation, too.

We all want family vacations to be the best of times with everlasting memories, so consider doing something that could shape the way your children will travel for the rest of their lives. The values that may have guided you in your own life journey can be instilled in your children through Voluntourism experiences. Try it with your family and share your inspiring stories with us.

Family Philanthropy that Doesn’t Compromise Luxury

I often talk to people who wonder how you can combine a traditional family vacation with volunteering. In many cases, the perception is that volunteering abroad can only be done if you have weeks or months to dedicate to a cause or project, and that you have to stay in very basic accommodations. Although this can be true, there are many opportunities where you don’t necessarily have to have a lot of time or settle for basic accommodations.

Most people have not heard of luxury voluntourism which simply means that you can combine all the comforts and amenities of a luxury vacation with an opportunity to give back to the people and communities you visit. And you can do this even if you only have a few hours to dedicate to a worthy cause while you enjoy your limited vacation time.

I truely believe that everyone has good intentions and wants to make a difference given the opportunity within their capacity. And you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing what you have worked so hard to achieve, whether it is your time or your lifestyle in order to fulfill your good intentions.

So today I’d like to share an article written by Hills of Africa Travel which illustrates the concept of luxury voluntourism. I’d love to hear how you feel about this type of travel. Feel free to share your thoughts with me at

Family Philanthropy that Doesn’t Compromise Luxury

Imagine a luxurious family vacation that opens your eyes to some of the world’s most unique cultures, astounding history, and inspirational people; a vacation that enables your family to partake in life-changing philanthropic activities while staying in exceptional accommodations. Africa is one of the places that can offer your family this remarkable and highly rewarding experience.

Enjoy some of the luxuries of this beautiful continent at one of the many opulent, family-friendly sustainable camps or lodges. Here, you can partake in exceptional safaris, philanthropic programs, relish in exquisite meals, and take advantage of luxurious amenities at your convenience, all while giving back to the community and conserving the environment.

Below is a sample itinerary for a family that wants to enjoy the many luxuries of Africa while allocating time for philanthropic activities:

Days 1 – 4: Zimbabwe 

Spend the first portion of your family vacation in one of Africa’s most beautiful and wildlife-dense countries, Zimbabwe. Here, you can immerse yourself in sheer luxury while supporting revolutionary sustainable efforts at one of Zimbabwe’s finest eco-tourism camps, Wilderness Safaris’ Little Makalolo. Founded on responsible tourism principles and the desire to introduce travelers to the wildernesses and beauty of Africa, Little Makalolo offers families an experience that uniquely combines sustainability with adventure.

Specifically, Little Makalolo’s electricity is generated by solar panels that dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, while having no negative effect on the comfort and convenience that guests experience. The safari excursions are also sustainable since the camp employs local certified guides to take families through their wilderness adventures on foot and by vehicle.

During your stay at Little Makalolo, your family will be able to explore the vast wildernesses of Zimbabwe on adventurous game drives and guided walking tours, where they can view residential game such as the Cape buffalo, elephant, mongoose, leopard, spotted hyena, baboon, and so much more. Little Makalolo’s premier location on the border of Botswana in Hwange National Park, is celebrated for its various eco-systems and the unique wildlife found within these unique habitats.

Days 5 – 9: South Africa

After an inspiring stay in Zimbabwe, spend the last segment of your family vacation at the Grootbos Nature Reserve in South Africa. During your stay at this lavish hotel, equipped with private cottages that are ideal for families, take part in the ultimate family-friendly activity, an AWOL bicycle tour through Cape Town’s neighboring Masiphumelele town.

On this tour, you and your family will learn about the Xhosa people’s unique customs and traditions from a highly-knowledgeable and certified local guide and have the chance to view a traditional Xhosa dance performed by a Sangoma (African traditional healer). Through this tour, you and your children not only have the unique opportunity to immerse yourselves into an ancient culture, but you’re also supporting the AWOL organization, which works to sustain the local economy by assisting locals to start their own business and by employing locals to become qualified guides.

Another organization that offers exceptional eco-tourism programs for curious and philanthropic individuals and families, alike, is the Uthando South Africa organization. Offering over 30 different Philanthropic Cultural Tours, Uthando enables families to choose programs based on their individual interests and personal preferences. Some of these tours include Dance for All (dance instruction to underprivileged kids), Hout Bay Music Project (musical instruction to underprivileged kids), Volcano Arts Project (community theater program), and NOAH (aid to the elderly), to name a few.

Generally speaking, these tours offer a deep insight into South Africa’s social, political, economical, health, education, and housing issues, as well as its historical background—a rare and inspirational opportunity. There is nothing more satisfying than engaging in rewarding philanthropic work as a family and growing together through that insightful experience.

Leaving a Legacy

Happy New Year!

This year for me has started with thoughts of leaving a legacy as I cherish memories of my grandma and two friends who just lost a battle with cancer this week.

As my brother shared,”To live in the hearts of those you leave behind is to live forever, ” so we can all live forever in the hearts of those we touch. Whether family, friends, associates or complete strangers, if we can give with a heart, we will be paying it forward and leaving a legacy as my grandmother did.


Today’s Inspiring Story

In the spirit of leaving a legacy, today I’d like to share an excerpt of an essay titled, “Less is More”  written by my 12 year old daughter over the holidays.

At first I thought it was going to be a typical family vacation but soon after we arrived in Vietnam,  I realized it was going to be much, much more.

The one thing that I really loved about Hanoi was that early in the morning there were groups of up to 100 people of all ages gathered to do Tai Chi or a dance routine, and people playing badminton on courts painted onto the sidewalk. The city and people were so alive…

What also amazed me was the overall happiness of everybody, especially in Cambodia. They were engaged in a brutal civil war which lasted for 20 years… The people instead of being depressed and bitter now, are just happy to have peace… They don’t need a lot to be happy. This is a really good lesson to learn because for lots of us in the United States we have too much stuff. I don’t think I should feel guilty about owning it, but instead help out and share when I can. I just need to be grateful that I am more fortunate than others.

For me the perfect example of sharing was in Vietnam when we were graciously invited into the home of a local village family. We were asked to sit down while they served us food and drink. They gave us a tour of their tiny home. I was amazed at how hospitable the family was even though we were complete strangers. It was a great example of how happy you could be no matter how much you did or didn’t have.

In Cambodia, we had gone to a village to distribute water filters for families without filtered water… We were greeted by a very big but happy family living with just a water pump, and drinking straight from the well. I was amazed because at home, we are all stressed out about our machine and alkaline and purified water. They were getting along pretty well with their pump and it was a good reminder that you don’t need lots of things to be happy. Sometimes, simplicity is the key.

This vacation turned out to be a lot more than I expected. This is the first time I have written an essay about any one of our trips and even though it has been more than a month since we came back I wanted to write so that I could remember just how thankful I felt.

Happy Thanksgiving from Cambodia

Dear Recipient,

I’d like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that you are enjoying your time with family, friends, and loved ones as I am here in Cambodia. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for as I spend time with my family experiencing the sights, sounds, culture, and history of Vietnam and Cambodia this Thanksgiving. We left home a week ago and have had an amazing time here in Southeast Asia.

Since I plan Voluntourism itineraries for families and groups, there is no better way to ensure that they are worthwhile than to share my personal experiences. I will share these amazing experiences with you in more detail in my next few newsletters, but for today, I’d like to share the pictures from the last few days of this incredible journey.

Today’s Inspiring Story

Although we did not have a traditional Thanksgiving meal and we didn’t share this year’s holiday with extended family, we ate dinner together and reflected on our experience on this vacation and all the things that we are so grateful for. For us this family vacation has been inspiring, thrilling, awesome, educational, cultural, culinary, authentic, vivid and definitely gratifying. It has felt like a dream and yet it has been so real. See for yourself…..


Newsletter-Back from Puerto Vallarta

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Elly’s Back from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Elly and family are back from our short, fun filled and most gratifying trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Elly enjoyed packing for the trip. We spent the first two days enjoying our resort pool, the beach, golf, a relaxing facial and massage, a dolphin and sea lion encounter, and an unforgetable ziplining experience. The 3rd day was dedicated to a half day city tour and then an afternoon with the girls at the AGAPE.

We were greeted by the staff and shy girls who were ready to start working on baking cookies, making crafts, and clearing a storage room with us. We got a quick tour of their home before we got started. We switched from one project to another so that everyone had an opportunity to experience all of them.

The most touching moments were when the girls surprised my daughter and dad with a birthday cake, singing to them and giving them cards they had made. They all wrote beautiful thank you notes to all of us. The special messages were heart warming.

We took pictures with the girls and said goodbye. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces by the end of the day. We were touched, emotional and grateful for the experience. We wished we could have stayed longer.

Even though we are back home and into our routines, we keep talking and thinking about the girls at the AGAPE. Hopefully we will be able to go and visit again someday.

To read more about this amazing long weekend getaway which included lots of fun, sun, a little giving and a whole lot of gratitude stay tuned for our next newsletter, Matters of the Heart coming later this week.

Vacations That Matter launches Blog

My family is visiting Puerto Vallarta in a couple of weeks and we are going to spend an afternoon visiting a women’s shelter . We will be baking and packaging cookies and making crafts which they sell locally to raise funds for their shelter. I asked them what they could really use since we were coming and had some space in our luggage. The initial response was, “you don’t have to bring anything, just spending time with the girls will be great.” I just told them I understood but my girls would like to bring a small gift to share as gratitude for allowing them to enjoy such a fun activity with them, so they suggested that the shelter could use personal items like toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo. Then they sent another message saying it would be too heavy for us to bring all the way from here, so easier items for us would be new underwear and socks to wear with their school uniforms. (Usually they get clothing but no donations of underwear and socks). So we’re off today with the girls to shop for our trip. I never imagined that just knowing what they could use and being able to go out and shop for it could be so gratifying……