GeoEx Family Adventures Provide Experiences Of A Lifetime

GeoEx Family Adventures designed for all agesAdventure travel company GeoEx is one of the best in the business when it comes to organizing unique excursions to the far corners of the globe. For more than 30 years they’ve been planning trips to some of our planet’s more off-the-beaten-path locations, giving travelers experiences that simply can’t be found elsewhere. In fact, we recently shared five new destinations that the company is adding to its catalog for 2013, expanding their already impressive line-up even further.

While it is commonly known that the company caters to the experienced adventure traveler, not everyone is aware that they also offer a number of fantastic options for families. The GeoEx Family Adventures are designed for travelers of all ages, providing fun and adventurous options for everyone. These trips move at a bit more of a leisurely pace, allowing small children and older members of the family to stay together at all times. They also feature accommodations and activities that are geared for a wide range of ages, making it much easier for a multi-generational clan to enjoy traveling with one another.

Just because these trips are focused on the entire family doesn’t mean that they’ve dialed back on the adventure, however. Options include a hiking, biking and rafting excursion to Costa Rica’s rainforest, a trekking expedition to the Himalaya kingdom of Bhutan and family safaris to both Kenya and South Africa. In short, these are full-blown adventure travel experiences, complete with culture, history and wildlife, that just so happen to also be well tailored for both young and old. And just so parents can rest a little easier on these trips, GeoEx has a 24/7 safety network standing by to lend assistance should the need arise.

If you’re starting to plan options for family travel in 2013, the GeoEx Family Adventures are a great option. Check out the full list of available itineraries by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: GeoEx]

Knocked up abroad: international travel with a baby

travel with a babyThis is the third in Knocked Up Abroad‘s guide to traveling with a baby. Before you go, see tips on planning travel and flying with a baby.

So you’ve decided to travel abroad with your new family addition, well done! You’ve chosen the best baby-friendly destination, packed light, and even survived the long flight. Now that you’re on the ground, possibly recovering from jet lag and hopefully learning new foreign phrases for “what a cute baby!,” how can you ensure you and your baby have a fun and relaxing vacation? After five countries in under four months (several of them without other adults), I can say it mostly comes down to attitude and planning. Here are my tips for international travel with a baby:

-Don’t expect the world to cater to you. The most important thing to bring on a trip with a baby is the right attitude. If you travel expecting every restaurant to have a baby-changing table in the bathroom (which they probably won’t, especially in Europe) or that public transportation should be stroller-accessible, you can be sorely disappointed. Keep your expectations low and get creative. I’ve changed my baby on many toilet seat lids, on top of and even in sinks (stuff your diaper bag in to make a flat base), and occasionally in her stroller. Allow yourself to be surprised by people, too. In New York, I was prepared to carry my stroller up and down stairs at some subway stops by myself, yet I was helped by strangers every time. A restaurant owner in Italy set up a makeshift table on top of their deep freezer when she saw me struggling to change the baby on a sink top. Look at inconveniences as part of the adventure rather than a sign you should have stayed home.-Plan your logistics carefully, and then let the rest of your plans go. As noted previously, it pays to do your research before departing. Each day of your trip, plan out where you want to go, how to get there, and what you might need but realize that you might not do any of it. In Malta, there was a wine festival in the next town with cheap tastings and free food, but a cranky baby meant we stayed within walking distance of our apartment (good thing too, or we could have missed a great parade). In Slovenia, we had to make a detour back to our hotel after a diaper incident meant I had to strip my baby down to just her winter coat and diaper. Babies can be unpredictable, so you may need stop at a cafe to feed a baby, take an extra walk around the block before bed to soothe crying, or go back to your room early when the weather turns bad. While combination transit or tourist passes might be a good value, they won’t be if your baby won’t go in a museum without screaming or prefers an open-air stroll to a bus ride.

-Find favorite rest stops. When you need to take a time out from exploring to feed or change your baby, there can be some comfortable places to stop that exist in nearly every destination. Museums and large hotels tend to have nice bathrooms, sometimes with changing facilities. Large baby stores may have a private nursing room or a place to change the baby, plus plenty of gear and gadgets if you need them. Pharmacists generally speak English and carry nearly all of the necessities. At night, however, you may have to be creative again. I tend to visit the same cafes in Istanbul again and again not just for the food but for the bathrooms, the waiters who rush to coddle and play with the baby, and comfy seating while I feed her.

-Breast is best when traveling. While it’s a personal choice how you feed your baby, if you can and want to breastfeed, there is evidence both anecdotal and scientific to support that breastfeeding is preferred while traveling. According to the CDC, it provides needed immunities, nutrition, and hydration for the baby. Even if the mother gets traveler diarrhea, breastfeeding can help to protect from contaminants and rehydrate the baby. It’s also convenient: perfectly packaged, the right temperature, and nothing goes to waste! Nursing mothers may still want to carry a manual pump and store a spare bottle or two. So far, I’ve found every country to be friendly to breastfeeding mothers, though I carry and use a scarf for modesty and spit-up. La Leche League has resources in many countries if you need help, check their map for local groups.

-Document your baby’s trip. It goes without saying that you’ll take plenty of photos and perhaps journal, blog, or tweet your trip, but it helps to document the more mundane activities too. When my baby was born, I got a set of cute notebooks to help me keep track of her feeding and sleeping schedule and diaper changes. I maintained it faithfully only for the first month or two, but now try to revive the records when I travel. Especially if you’re dealing with a big time change, it can help you to figure out how the baby is adjusting by keeping track of how often they eat and how long they sleep at a stretch. It’s also useful when deciding how many diapers to buy so you don’t get caught short or hauling around a mega pack. In the event that your baby gets sick (fingers crossed that they don’t!) during or after your trip, you can tell the doctor if anything is out of the ordinary and help pinpoint causes. You don’t need a fancy notebook either, you can jot down notes on the back of a museum ticket or restaurant receipt while you’re making a pit stop.

-Pack “in between” clothes. If your baby has clothes that he is about to grow out of, bring them along on your travels. If they have only one or two more wears left in them, you won’t mind if they get left behind in a hotel room, will have less to launder or carry, and you’ll probably take many photos of your baby so you can remember a favorite outfit before it gets too small. Keep a spare in your diaper or day bag in case of a changing emergency.

-Know your conversions. Do you know your baby’s weight in kilograms? Does 39 degrees sound hot or cold to you? If you’re American, you probably suffer from the disadvantage of not knowing the metric system used by the rest of the world. You’ll need to know measurements when buying diapers as size numbers might change between countries. My baby was born weighing 3.4 kilos (about 7.5 pounds) and wears a size 2 Pampers in every European country, but wore a size 1 in the same brand of American diapers. In case of a fever while traveling, you should know what temperatures require a visit to a local doctor or just a dose of Children’s Tylenol (which is called Calpol in many other countries, by the way). This info is all online, of course, but it can’t hurt to jot it down in your wallet just in case.

-Carry lots of bags. One of the more useful items to pack and/or collect on your trip is bags disposable, resealable, and reuseable. Bottles can be kept clean and stained clothing can be kept separate from the rest of your stuff in a Ziploc bag (bring a stash from home, they are harder to find in some countries). Supermarket store plastic bags are useful for laundry and diapers until you can deal with them properly. You’ll be going to the store more than usual for baby supplies, and many countries don’t supply bags for free, so bring your own reuseable tote for groceries, carrying gear from your luggage on an outing, or bringing souvenirs home. Bags are useful even without a baby but can also make a huge difference if you have a wet baby miles from your hotel.

What are your secret weapons for traveling with a baby? Leave us your success stories (and mistakes) in the comments.

Ten tips for choosing the right haunted house

When picking out a haunted house to go to for Halloween fun with kids, it helps to know your child. Even then, it may not be a guarantee of a good time. When we headed into the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World a few days before my son’s 6th birthday, I envisioned a shriek or two followed by chortles of glee–the mark of a delicious and welcome fright.

After all, his sister loved that ride when she was five, and she’s the one that dressed up like a pink fairy princess for Halloween when she was his age. He was Darth Vader that growled out, “Beware of the dark side” in between his “Trick o’ Treats.”

But from the ride’s first scream that pierced the dark, and every one of the floating, dancing holograph ghosts, he hid his eyes in my armpit and kept them there until the very end when we clamored out of the car–him, in relief that the ordeal was over. Happily, he immediately bounded back, ready for a different ride. When he remembers that day, he sees the Magic Kingdom as a good dream come true. That bad mother moment did not last long.

Bad mother (or bad dad) moments seem hard to avoid when accessing the various Halloween options. “How haunted is too haunted?” one wonders.

One the other side of the age spectrum are older kids who might want more than the Casper, the friendly ghost version of ghoulish. Anything less than heart-pounding fright is a big yawn.

Here are 10 tips for picking out an age appropriate haunted house experience so that no one is disappointed and your money is well spent.

1. Look for the guidelines provided by the haunted house attraction. For example, the Ohio State Reformatory’s Halloween Experience in Mansfield, Ohio will not allow anyone under 13.

2. If the attraction’s description says “PG-13, no one under 13 admitted without an adult” like the Bludzwurth Casket and Urn Company Haunted House in Davenport, Florida, don’t assume that just because an adult is along, the attraction might be appropriate for a 4-year-old. This one looks pretty gory. Consider what you want your child’s experiences to be like.

3. Ask yourself this question: How much is my child able to distinguish between fantasy and reality? Young children, and even children over five have a blurred line when knowing the difference. Even if the child knows the haunted house isn’t real, his or her imagination can turn the experience into something troubling after wards.

4. Pay attention to how the haunted house is described. The 13th Door in Denver, Colorado’s website says, “If you want to be really scared, then experience the terror of the 13th Door.” If you don’t want your kids to be really scared, or perhaps you don’t want to be really scared, give this one a pass. Even though the 13th Door has the distinction of being voted the #1 haunted house in Colorado, perhaps the best isn’t really the best for you and yours.

5. Is the haunted house one that comes with warnings? Look for words like “strobe lights,” “fog machines” and not good for people with heart problems or who are pregnant. These warnings are there for a reason. The Darkside Haunted House in Wading River, New York also suggests people with back or neck injuries stay away.

6. Is the haunted house one where you’ll be touched? Most seem to be the type where you won’t be touched even though, the characters might come too close for comfort. You could assure you’re child beforehand that he or she won’t be touched.

7. Find out if an attraction has different versions of scary. At EnterTRAINment Junction near Cincinnati, Ohio, during the day, the haunted house is the kid-friendly, scary light version, while at night, the scary factor has the volumed turned up.

8. If you’re not sure if an attraction will be good for your child, call and ask someone who works for the attraction. This is particularly true if the attraction doesn’t have a website. Some haunted houses are local events put on by fire departments and community clubs as a fundraiser.

9. While going through an attraction, keep your eye out for the emergency exits in case you’re in the middle of a bad choice. Netherworld in Atlanta, Georgia is one such attraction. If you child gets upset, you can leave. Don’t insist that he or she persevere. Why create a bad mom or dad moment with your stubborn behavior?

10. And. to make sure you aren’t disappointed once you decide, find out before you go if you can still get tickets. Some haunted houses sell tickets beforehand. They can sell out. Because it’s close to Halloween, be ready for longer lines. Show up early and bring money for hot chocolate or a snack.

Nativo Lodge offers New Mexico State Fair Package

New Mexico’s State Fair kicked off Friday and to celebrate, the Nativo Lodge is offering a special package. For $129 per night, families of up to four people will receive accommodations (with one king or two double beds), daily breakfast, four one-day passes to the Fair, and one parking pass.

The Nativo Lodge offers spacious rooms decorated with Native American touches. The property features a pool and Jacuzzi, free (and reliable) wi-fi, free parking, and a weekday Happy Hour reception. Rooms with breakfast normally start at $119 per night, so if you plan to visit the Fair, this is a good deal.

The New Mexico State Fair runs through September 27 and costs $7 per day for adults. The Fair showcases Native American, Hispanic, and African American cultures, and includes live music performances, livestock competitions, horse shows, and a rodeo. The Fair is held in northwest Albuquerque, less than 10-minutes by car from the hotel.

The Abbey Resort and Spa: Luxury on Lake Geneva

Billing itself as “the only full-service resort” on the shores of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, The Abbey Resort and Spa is one of those places where you can almost feel the ghosts of the past whispering around you. The resort was completely renovated in 2005, but its timber A-frame and low-slung bungalow style buildings look much as they did when it was built nearly 50 years ago, when the Midwestern elite made it their summer playground.

There’s plenty of nostalgia for the “good old days” here – the nearby Geneva Grand Resort proudly boasts that it was a Playboy Club in the 1960’s and 70’s. And money. Lots and lots of money. The houses that front Lake Geneva, the 9-mile long lake that is the centerpiece of the area, are multi-million dollar affairs that bear the names of families like Borden, Vicks, and Wrigley. Yet despite the vast wealth of the “haves”, those who aren’t descendants of the Midwest’s titans of industry can still share in the benefits of area. There are several public beaches and marinas, and every lakefront property is required to have a public walkway so that all area residents can enjoy a stroll around the lake. And in the towns of Lake Geneva and Fontana, more modest homes and affordable restaurants lines the streets where wealthy summer residents mingle with the local families who live here all year round.

For Chicago residents, getting to The Abbey couldn’t be easier. It’s about 80 miles from the city (50 miles from Milwaukee), but the Metra Rail will get you there in less than two hours from downtown. You’ll get off at the end of the line, at the Harvard Station, where a shuttle will pick you up and drive you the remaining 15 minutes to The Abbey. You can also request service from the resort to anywhere in Lake Geneva, making a car completely unnecessary.

The Abbey is family-friendly – there are childcare services, organized kids’ activities, free games like bags and croquet, two outdoor and one indoor pool, and a 2,000-square foot arcade complete with Wii system – but it’s also perfect for a romantic or relaxing retreat. The rooms have all been updated and feature pillow-top mattresses, LCD wall-mounted TVs, mini-fridges, and patios or balconies.

I saw a few families, but mostly couples in their 30’s to 50’s, during my stay. My room was comfortable and spacious and the bed soft and inviting. My only complaint was with the wi-fi service. It was free, but I had a very hard time getting a signal. When I did, I was bumped offline every 15 minutes or so, and web pages loaded very slowly. I can’t say if that would be the case all over the resort, or just in my location, but it was inconvenient when I needed to get some work done.

If you don’t plan on working while at The Abbey, you’ll find plenty of things to do to keep you busy. The resort rents bikes and fishing poles and there is a golf course nearby. The 35,000-square foot AVANI Spa offers treatments like facials, massages, body wraps, waxing and manicures. It features a pool, whirlpools, inhalation spa, steam room, sauna, sundeck, and spa menu for dining. Guests can also take advantage of the Spa’s fitness center or full line-up of exercises classes liking spinning, yoga, zumba, and pilates, which are geared towards any fitness level. I found there was always equipment available for use, the yoga class was just difficult enough to challenge me (but not hard enough to make me feel like an uncoordinated idiot), and the spa staff was always friendly but unobtrusive.

The resort borders a marina, but the small beach isn’t suitable for swimming. There is a nicer, sandy beach less than a five-minute walk off the property, or you can take the shuttle into Lake Geneva proper to visit the beach there. In town you can rent a boat or wave runner, water-ski, or take a cruise past the historic mansions around the lake. Nearby parks offer hiking trails and horseback riding, two wineries offer wine tasting (a wine festival is held in September), and there are farms where you can pick your own fruit just a few miles away. You can also soar above the lake in a hot air balloon or small airplane. In winter, locals hit the frozen lake for ice fishing and skating.

The Abbey offers an impressive variety of delicious food, all made from scratch in the resort’s kitchen. Meals are served at one of two restaurants, and there is a coffee shop, gazebo grill, cocktail lounge, and cigar bar. The resort also offers catering and meeting spaces, and hosts many weddings throughout the year. The weekend that I visited, a wedding was being set up on the lawn in front of the marina. For a resort-style destination wedding close to Chicago, I can’t think of a more beautiful place in the Midwest at which to get married.

To be honest, when I hear the word “relaxing”, I think “boring”. I prefer my vacations to be packed with sightseeing, learning, experiencing, and of course, eating and drinking. This makes me generally shun resorts where I think I’ll feel as though I’m held captive and at a loss for things to keep me entertained. I’m also very budget-conscious. Since I spend so little time in my hotel room, I don’t like to spend too much on it. And I can’t stand when resorts jack up their prices for food, drinks and activities just because they know guests will pay rather than head off-site. So I was a bit worried that The Abbey wouldn’t be my style. But I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the things that I liked about The Abbey was that leaving isn’t a hassle for guests without their own wheels. The shuttle will take you anywhere you want to go, and there a few restaurants and shops within walking distance of the hotel. And The Abbey doesn’t gouge its guests on food and drink just because it can. Management knows that it isn’t just the hotel guests who keep the resort in business, especially in the off-season. They aim to attract local customers too, and keep the prices reasonable so that everyone can enjoy The Abbey.

Despite any initial reservations, I found myself enjoying The Abbey immensely, and trying to convince my husband that returning for a “relaxing weekend” (in my case, meaning one chock-full of wine-tasting, boat tours, horseback riding, and cooking classes) at The Abbey would be the perfect fall trip. And as it turns out, fall is one of the best times to visit. Weekend rates start at $216 per night, and include free breakfast buffet and a 25% discount on spa services.

Disclosure: The Abbey Resort did cover the cost of my stay, but don’t think they had an easy time wooing me with spa treatments and Pelligrino. Freebies are nice, but they won’t make me forgive a hotel’s shortcomings. My review of the resort represents my own views and experiences as a guest and were not influenced in any way by fancy cheeses or free champagne.