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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Sense of Place: Why Travel With Kids Matters

My friend recently faced a fresh challenge. With her son’s 4th birthday approaching Jane decided to launch Ben overseas to experience new climes. Feeding Ben’s natural curiosity for different people and places, she’d figured, was a fundamental parental responsibility. Just where to take Ben on holiday was more difficult to fathom.

In this age of  kid's clubs, summer camps and ‘time to ourselves’ on spa and golf breaks - the idea of booking a holiday where it's just you and your brood seems to have become so uncool. If we do venture overseas ‘en famille’ it’s oh-so-tempting to book a homely resort that caters to our undeniably frazzled cravings to lounge in a poolside chair, being waited-on, and without ever venturing off the resort grounds. The children, meanwhile, are charmed away by nannies and nurtured in a corner of the resort well out of ear-shot.

No, the sort of  family holiday Jane wanted was one where she, her husband and son had each other to themselves; an exotic location where Ben would be immersed into another culture; a chance to talk more, laugh more, see more and take the time to strengthen the bond that connected mother, father and son.

It wasn’t by chance that Jane reached for my phone number asking for advice. Researching a series of guidebooks over the last 16 years - my own sons George, Jack and I have made scores of overseas trips, largely alone, and often to places as virgin to me as they are to him. For us the question of whether to travel had never arisen, only the question of  when.

Aged just 6 weeks George joined me transatlantic for the first time. Contemplating the drawn-out flight and change of time zones, admittedly my spirits had slumped. Still my work as a travel writer revolves around travel (a lot of it) and I had entered parenthood knowing that wherever I went in the world next, George would have to come too. Thankfully, as it turned out, those early months were actually the optimum age to travel. Incredibly portable, a virtually free ticket, still on a controllable diet, and the perfect size to stretch out in a car seat, George enlisted himself amongst the jet set by snoozing the entire way.

Some sixteen years on and George and Jack have scaled mountains, soared over rainforests and volcanoes in tiny planes, voyaged in air boats, in kayaks, on the shoulders of cheery guides; they've tried sandboarding, diving, lit a camp-fire with sticks, herded goats, helped dart wild dogs and tracked alligators.
Despite the added hassles and obvious hiccups it’s the laughter and tears, the mistakes and joyful discoveries we share that makes travelling overseas with my sons such an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience - for us both.

First and foremost, children have a wonderful way of opening doors and breaking down cultural barriers. However different our language, our customs or our lifestyle, universally - as parents - we share a common empathy. Inherently undaunted, inquisitive and (for the most part) uninhibited George and Jack lead me into the sort of encounters with strangers I would never have imagined possible.

A few years ago at Negernde airstrip in the depths of the Maasai Mara our bi-plane was delayed. Safari-suit clad clich├ęs distanced themselves from the tribes people and sat impatiently in a lean-to shelter. Instead 6 year old George plonked himself down in the midst of a circle of giggling women and children and got on with the not so onerous task of filling-in time. We sat cross-legged, we played, we grinned gleefully and spontaneously exchanged gifts. I offered one mum a washed-out Gap tee-shirt I’d grown tired of; she insisted on handing me back an intricately carved rhino. George showed a saucer-eyed toddler how his toy car worked, left it in his clutching fingers and was instantly presented with a tiny, beaded bracelet. Unable to reach them with language I felt an insatiable need to touch their hands, their arms, to reach out to them physically. I was overwhelmed by the experience. And eternally thankful to George.

Away from home comforts too, travelling with George and Jack has meant them confronting situations far outside an established norm. Both boys have learned to face predicaments they don’t fully understand, let alone feel in control of (mixing with children who don’t speak his language, for example, or having to trek in areas where there’s no transport)  Of course the boy’s subsequent understanding and sense of accomplishment far outweigh any temporary setbacks. In today’s world where success is so often equated with the accumulation of all things material and where success at school is measured by percentages it’s these kind of real-life challenges that present junior travellers with a whole new criteria for achievement.

Venture somewhere exotic, of course, and children like George and Jack profit equally by witnessing the sort of things that otherwise exist only in the pages of a text book.

Back in Kenya at first-dawn (around 5am), a bush-breakfast beckoned; George and Jack were already standing at the door, binoculars in hand. To start with we saw little. A few impala, the occasional dik-dik. All hell broke loose when George spotted Pumbaa in the flesh. It reached a crescendo when Simbaa himself strolled past the jeep (thanks due to Disney’s ‘Lion King’  for baiting their fascination for all things creepy, crawly and cuddly) The task of reeling them in on our game drive was expertly managed by a young Maasai tribesman named Fred. Just two hours into his first bush-drive and my youngest son was already recounting the life cycle of the wildebeest, camouflage techniques and tracking signs.
Scrambling from the jeep and before I could even say ‘kuhari’ (Swahili for bye!) they disappeared with Fred - reemerging hours later with a hand-made bow and arrow and a self-styled toothbrush hewn from a twig.

There’s no doubt the chance to witness Maasai children walking to school barefoot through the plains, the wildebeest gathering for their annual migration, to talk to, to touch and to be touched by the villagers are holiday opportunities unlikely to survive George and Jack into adulthood. Yet they will live with them for a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Top Three Kid-centric Vacations to the Med

Scattered around the Med are a few breezy alternatives to the all-contrived 'hi-de-hi' holiday resort. Far from the madding crowd and with an understated elegance reserved for pure pleasure seekers - these are the sort of spots that quietly attract the literati and glitterati with their families. It’s comforting to know that they, like us, are as keen on a holiday with the kids that is short on compromise and won’t send you stir crazy.

And be sure to pack with a purpose.... here are five surefire ways to help your kids travel green..
1. Fair-trade, handmade cushions, purses, bags and travel toys that benefit the local communities in which they're made at Shared Earth 2. Green Baby's wash savvy tee shirt is designed to reverse in a variety of ways allowing kids to wear it as four different shirts. 3. Available at Ethical Babe, a natural, organic sunscreen 4. A recycled backpack featuring a jungle scene that can be colored over and over again with washable markers at KatesCaringGifts.com 5. This eco-friendly travel pillow from ZiaSleep.com is the perfect size for children. 


The five-star Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa is offering bags of fun for children this summer thanks to the introduction of a new Very Important Kids (VIK) club.

Throughout July and August, VIK children, aged four-12 years-old, can take part in a host of complimentary activities from 10am to 7pm, including creative workshops, various sports and team games, trips to the surrounding area and swimming lessons with qualified instructors.
 While the children are exhausting themselves, parents have the chance to relax and unwind by the pool or in the first-class spa and wellness centre, visit the nearby UNESCO town of Ragusa, lounge on the resort’s private beach or stride the fairways of the resort’s two championship golf courses.
From July 1-August 31, a week for a family of four staying in the five-star hotel on a bed-and-breakfast basis starts from €3,570, with an upgrade to two interconnecting deluxe rooms, with private balcony, available on request at the time of reservation, from €945.
Breaks include free access to the VIK club (Tuesday to Sunday), for children aged four to 12, access to the private beach and a 50 % discount on all food for children up to the age of 18 during July.
What’s more, children aged seven to 12 years have the chance to learn from the resort’s golf coaches, with specially organised golf and sports camps running between July 23-29 and August 13-19, including the chance to play on the same fairways that European Tour golf stars Matteo Manassero and Eduardo Molinari graced during last year’s Sicilian Open. These camps have limited availability and are priced at €450 per child.

The five-star Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa lies near to the town of Ragusa, the cradle of Sicilian Baroque architecture, with its neighbouring towns listed among the pearls of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Modica, Scicli and Noto.
Donnafugata offers two championship golf courses, the signature Parkland Course, designed by Gary Player, and the testing Franco Piras Links layout, a spa and wellness centre, swimming-pools and three restaurants and is the ideal destination for a holiday focused on sport and relaxation in a truly exclusive setting.
The resort has 202 rooms – each with terrace or balcony, Wi-Fi access, satellite television and coffee maker. Each is elegantly furnished in keeping with its status as a five-star hotel. The three restaurants and various bars of the hotel offer a wide assortment of dishes prepared with top-quality local products, creatively presented and accompanied by perfect wines to enhance their flavours. It also boasts a golf academy complete with a 70-bay driving range, putting/pitching greens, and a highly qualified multilingual golf professional. 


Throughout the summer and until 30 October 2012, accommodation specialists Mallorca Farmhouses are discounting properties by up to 50 per cent on last-minute bookings.  Ideal for those looking for a luxury getaway for less, Mallorca Farmhouses offer a selection of exclusive villas, traditional farmhouses and country cottages all with a private pool and maid service.

Established on the island for 23 years, Mallorca Farmhouses offers traditional fincas, country cottages and rustic retreats for holiday rentals.  Many of the company’s properties are located within or near rural villages on the Spanish island. The company operates a simple tiered discounting procedure where customers save more the closer to the departure date. 

 The discount process works like this:

                          book four weeks in advance and save 10 % 
                            book three weeks in advance and save 20 % 
                         book two weeks in advance and save 30 % 
                       book one week in advance and save 40 % 
                                            book the same week as departure and save up to 50%  


The Sardinia Villa Collection is a small, specialist company with an exclusive portfolio of glamorous retreats and heavenly destinations on the Italian island of Sardinia. Studded across the idyllic sandy beaches, majestic coastlines, breathtaking mountain ranges and bustling towns of the island are a collection of family friendly properties to suit you, whatever your budget and specifications. With jaded parents in mind the company will arrange anything from babysitters to X-box and have a full range of baby equipment including cots, highchairs, Bumbos, sterilisers, baby monitors, child gates, bed rails, toys, baby baths and children's DVD's available to hire. They will even stock your villa with baby food and diapers before your arrival to help avoid those pesky baggage allowances on some airlines. 

VILLA THALASSA This little villa sleeps up to six guests. Surrounded by lush Mediterranean gardens and with a private swimming pool, some of the most stunning beaches in Sardinia are within easy reach of the front doorstep


Prices from:
€ 3500 pw


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Get Them While They Last: Worldwide Vacations Support Endagered Species Day

Endangered Species Day (in the USA on May 18th) coincides with both the recent release of the films 'Chimpanzee' and ‘African Cats' as well as new figures from South Africa indicating rhino horn and ivory poaching are their highest levels since bans were introduced in 1990. 

Now PlanetWildlife is promoting experiential group and tailor-made safari itineraries aimed at increasing public awareness and support. Apart from the black rhino of Africa, some of the most threatened creatures on the planet include the Asiatic Lion of India, the Chinese Panda bear (now bred largely in controlled environments) and the spectacular Blue Whale, most commonly seen in the waters off Sri Lanka.

Priced at £1,327 per person, the eight-day tailor-made Kenyan Safari and Explore Kenya (for small groups)  from £1,555 per person, allow wildlife lovers to get up close and personal and to and observe lion, elephant and even the threatened black rhino which can be spotted in the Nakuru National Park. Statistics from South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs indicate that 170 rhino have been poached since January this year. Last year a total of 252 animals were poached in the Kruger Park - up from 146 in 2010.

In Asia concern is being directed towards the Asiatic Lion (which are thought to number just over 300) It can be found in its natural habitat only in Northern India's Gir Forest National Park. PlanetWildlife offers an extensive 15-day Royals in the Jungle itinerary priced from £1,897 per person which departs from Mumbai to Gujarat and takes in Velavadar National Park, Gir National Park, and Kanha National Park, where elusive Indian leopards can also be spotted.

PlanetWildlife's seven-day Images of China itinerary offers superb opportunities to observe the Giant Panda at close quarters. The nation's most famous native mammal thrives in over 60 designated reserves in South-West and Central China, mainly the Sichuan province. Although numbers have gradually increased over the last few years due to raised global awareness (current estimates of around 1,600 pandas in the wild) the Giant Panda is still listed as an Endangered Species. The programme, priced from £1,893 per person, commences in Sichuan's capital, Chengdu, and includes visits to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve, and the Dapingyu and Foping Nature Reserves where both the endangered Giant Panda and Golden Monkey species are protected.

Sri Lanka's second largest wildlife destination is the Yala National Park, home to a variety of animals and birds including elephants and leopards. Sections of  Yala are home to some of the greatest concentrations of leopard in the world and therefore offers the best chance of close-up viewing. However, it is the spectacular Blue Whale (and Spinner Dolphins) that many wildlife enthusiasts come to Sri Lanka to see. PlanetWildlife's nine-day Blue Whale and Leopard Experience priced from £1,738 schedules days on the ocean at Weligama where Blue Whales - and sometimes the Sperm Whale - can be observed.

PlanetWildlife is committed to responsible tourism, and in particular: minimising negative environmental impact; contributing to the conservation of natural and cultural heritages and embracing diversity; providing rewarding experiences for visitors through meaningful interaction with local communities to the economic benefit of those communities; and promoting a greater understanding and respect for local cultural, social and environmental issues. It is part of PlanetWildlife's corporate policy to fund selected awareness drives and wildlife conservation programmes. 

PlanetWildlife is an international travel company based in India with sales offices in UK, India, Australia, Hong Kong and Sweden. It is managed by a professional team who are passionate about wildlife and have been involved in a variety of nature conservation activities over the years. Their website features over 300 itineraries to Africa, India, and South America comprising a diverse range of photography safaris, hiking expeditions and bird-watching adventures, including ocean cruises to the Arctic and Antarctica.
Most tours offer daily departure dates and each is well-organised, competitively priced, environmentally responsible and tailored to suit the requirements of group or individual travellers. In all instances they are led by highly qualified and experienced leaders.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Once in a Lifetime Vacations To Bring out the Geek in You

Follow In The Footsteps Of BBC’s Planet Earth Live


As the BBC’s epic new project ‘Planet Earth Live’ begins its broadcast from the Kenyan outback, you can follow in the wildlife documentary’s footsteps at Governors Camp in the Masai Mara.  The camp is hosting TV presenter Richard Hammond with an entire film crew and have so far captured some amazing footage for the Big Cats Of The Masai Mara section of the programme.

Getting There

Africa Odyssey is offering you a chance to stay at Governors Camp from £2,750 per person (saving £210). Available for travel from 1 July to 31 October, the price includes flights from LondonHeathrow with Kenya Airways, internal transfers and five nights’ accommodation on a full-board basis as well as park entrance fees.



The Transit of Venus Eclipses HRH's Big Day


As the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee on 6 June, she will be eclipsed by a once in a lifetime phenomenon: the Transit of Venus. Amongst the rarest of astronomical spectacles, with only two occurrences happening eight years apart every century, the Planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth highlighting Venus as a small black disk moving across the face of the Sun. 

The Cook Islands in the South Pacific offer the perfect perspective to view this spectacle. Made up of 15 islands scattered around the Pacific Ocean, they feature some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in the South Pacific.

Getting There

Bridge & Wickers offer a 12-night package from £3,945 per person combining six nights at Little Polynesian, Rarotonga, including breakfast and six nights at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, including breakfast. The package includes international flights with Air New Zealand from London Heathrow, all transfers and domestic flights between Aitutaki and Rarotonga. Price is based on travel up to 30 June, 2012.

Bridge & Wickers offer a 12-night package from £3,350 per person combining seven nights at Little Polynesian in their Pia Tiare Garden and five nights at Pacific Resort Aitutaki in their Premium Beachfront Bungalow. The package includes international flights with Air New Zealand from London Heathrow, domestic flights between Aitutaki and Rarotonga, all airport transfers, a special Rarotonga Island Night and an Aitutaki Lagoon Cruise. Price is based on travel up to 30 June, 2012.

For further information on the Cook Islands visit www.cookislands.travel