Tags Posts tagged with "Travel"

Travel

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Dear America

 

Dear America,

I need to apologize to you the way an adult with kids of their own has to apologize to their parents for rebellious teen age years. I never appreciated you until I left home.

Last year when I “finally” packed my bags and left the country for half a year I threw you the deuces and hopped on a plane. I knew there would be things I would miss, certainly there would be people, but you? America? Unlikely. I had always felt disdain towards your flapping, bright colored flag and enthusiastic “God bless America” speeches. Any show of patriotism always seemed to me pompous, arrogant, and above all, ignorant to what was going on in the world outside of our meager four percent of the population. But I was no exception to that ignorance, and I learned something in these other countries I visited that made me strangely defensive of you. I learned that I was not the only one with this particular sentiment.

No, apparently, you are the country everyone loves to hate. Apparently I’ve been rolling my eyes at you for all these years with most of the rest of the world. Everywhere that I went people made jokes about America or Americans, somehow overlooking that I was one. The jibes about your portion sizes and ignorance of geography were just too much sometimes. The only thing more frustrating was the way that all of us, Americans, reacted to it – joking a long or staying silent – apologizing for you when we should have been apologizing to you. You don’t deserve this, and I’m so afraid that you’ve started to believe you do.

I don’t want to tell you this, but I think just beneath your enthusiastic pride, you already know; most of the world thinks that you are a highly superficial nation that never has to do anything dangerous or uncomfortable. I’m sorry that I believed that too. And I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t stick up for who you really are. If it’s not to late, listen to another perspective.

You are passionate. You are sensitive. Your heart is huge and generous and you are so much fun.

When I heard accusations for you being otherwise, I felt a defensiveness for you, but it wasn’t until I got back home that I realized how misunderstood you have been. It wasn’t until the after party for a 5k I ran for orphans in India that I realized who you are so eager to be.

The run was put on by a few college age kids that decided to single handedly take on the task of building an orphanage. Local businesses joined in to cover all the run’s expenses. Over three hundred people showed up to race. Ten thousand dollars were raised.

This might be just the kind of thing that people would mock you for. That “Americans will pull some money out of their pockets but aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.” But these are just the kind of accusations that are making you insecure and helpless and that are simply not true.

It’s not true about the young adults that did all of the work to make this run happen and who are bringing every cent of the money they raised back to India with them. And they are Americans. It’s not true about myself who literally thanked God for this opportunity to do something for a country I had visited and fallen in love with earlier in the year. And I am American. So it can not be true about you either.

Here’s what I think: I think that we are extremely aware of how sheltered and privileged we are and I think it scares us. I think we know that there is a world out their that faces things we know nothing about, and I think that this intimidates us and roots us further into our security, and our comforts and our large portion sizes. But I think that just below all of that is the heart of a nation that is aching to give, to love and to serve. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I know that it is there. We just have to stop believing the lies that are projected on us by people who have only seen our comedy TV Shows and fashion magazines. It’s not anyone’s fault. We haven’t made a very impressive show of being anything else. But that’s put us in a cycle that I want to apologize for being a part of. It’s put us into a cycle that I want to break. I want to be brave for you America. To show you that you can be. To show the world that we are.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Located in the home of the brave and the one that has been known as the city that never sleeps; say hi to New York City. The city that is usually termed as N.Y.C. offers the best things one can ever wished for, from fashion to food, from Chrysler building to chances. Whether you are looking for couture gowns or just to stroll down the park, New York will pleasantly provide them for you. The live and upbeat atmosphere of New York cannot also be denied to have inspired some of the successful people in the world; it can also include you!. People consider the atmosphere of New York as a magic seed. Everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you meet can certainly inspire you.

As you step into the city, your attitude starts to shift; not only your attitude, but your priorities too. The feeling of ‘everything is possible’ is securely held in your hand. It does not matter if you start your journey from the historical Matthew Henson’s residence and end it with eating at the famous New York street food, Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck; every activities you conduct in New York will still make you feel from ‘No’ to ‘Noble’. The bright city lights at Time Square and the trees at Central Park will generate ideas you have never come across. The energized feeling possessed by New York will make you feel brave and bold.

The contribution from the people of New York in making this city as one of the greatest cities in the world cannot assuredly be understated; the people of New York are one of the world’s exemplars. Do you know that there is a nickname for the people of New York? Yes, there is! They are called as New Yorkers. New Yorkers are equipped with the best self-esteem, knowledge, and of course, fashion.  The competitive yet friendly vibe carried by New Yorkers inspires the people around them to become better at whatever they are doing. The fire inside the New Yorkers to become better each day is very contagious. It does not matter if it is a New Yorker you meet at Bergdorf Goodman or the one you meet at China Town, the vibe will definitely still be there.

Culinary plays a massive role in New York. You thought you have tasted the best food in the world? Wait until you go to New York. New York’s culinary ranges from a 3 US$ street foods to the world’s fanciest ice cream at Serendipity 3 restaurant, which priced at 1,000 US$…a glass. There is always a place for everyone, from those who only fancy dessert to those who fancy big meals. What about entertainment? Well surprise, surprise. New York is not a stranger to have been one of the notable places for entertainment, from the famous New York Broadway plays to the eminent location for big-screen movies; for example: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, King-Kong, Batman and so on and so forth. Your visit to New York City will be worth it since you will get a chance to visit the real location of some of the famous movies in the world.

Not only that New York will provide you with the best experience that you will ever receive, New York City will also change you as a person; braver, bolder, better. The greatest entertainments, skyscrapers, foods, fashion, and etc. await you. But let’s not forget the opportunity offered by the city as well. Tom Wolfe once said that “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and see you in New York City!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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As the temperature outside barely topped 10 degrees Celsius, and I found myself with a rare day-off, I happily spent the majority of the day at my grandma’s sitting inside with cat Sammie curled up on my knee. This was a moment that I had longingly craved whilst abroad, and in such a moment I found myself wondering if I could bear going away again.

I spent four months working and traveling across France during the northern hemisphere summer. When I returned back home to Australia in July, I was not only season-confused and flipped upside down, but also left wondering how to keep my restless feet fixed upon the ground. As I sat cuddling my cat, I thought to myself – surely this is enough. This is what I missed while I was away. Why can’t this be the reason to stay?

A similar feeling encompasses me when I take my beloved dog for a walk, or admire my horse and feed him carrots simply for being adorable. I grew up on property with sheep and chickens and ducks, being the weird horse girl at school with my best friend, and my life has always revolved around my pets. My animals are all the trusted care of someone who I know will give them the love and support they need. My sister, an avid animal lover, effortlessly looks after all the animals on our small property. And I will be eternally grateful to my grandma for taking in my cat, a decision I had to make when I moved back home before heading abroad. Giving up Sammie was tough, but I knew she needed someone more stable and settled than myself.

The wanderlust can certainly be difficult to carry. As it weighs pressingly on my mind, it always finds a way to insert itself into conversations, and encourages me to search regularly for airfare sales. This wanderlust brings with it so many sacrifices and so much guilt. Yet, it brings so many adventures at the same time. My young and restless gypsy soul can’t resist that.

Perhaps the guilt is just enhanced when I concentrate on how comfortable my life is in Australia. I know I have a good life here, a life that many desire. I have two university degrees and stable job prospects, yet I am too unsettled to know how to use it. My life isn’t perfect here, there are memories I long to move away from. But I feel guilty because I have so much to stay for but all I want to do is leave.

Aside from the pets that break my heart every time I leave them, my friendships suffer as well. I see my life moving in such a vastly different direction to my friends who have a stable life in our hometown. They see it too. They hear it in our conversations where I find a way to either talk about past travel experiences or discuss plans for new adventures. Meanwhile, they tell me about choosing tiles for their new home or progress on their weddings plans. This is a life so foreign to me. I love hearing about their exciting futures and the happiness it will bring them. But they see that I will not be settled for some time. I see it in myself as well which both frightens and entices me.

Sometimes it isn’t even me who brings up the travel discussions; sometimes I am encouraged to talk about my plans because they ask me. But I feel guilty for always reminding people that I am leaving, one day or another. I can’t deny the selfishness in my decision to chase a life abroad. And I know that eventually I may not have these friendships to return to, because their lives will move on without me. Because I will be elsewhere.

It surprises me then, when the wanderlust teaches me about the friendships that are true and valuable. Through flittering about in other parts of the world, I’ve found the friends that are prepared to stand by me, and mean it when they say no matter what.

My anxiety about leaving my pets and my friendships are not separate entities. As my friends ask me about my travel plans, they also ask me about my pets. They know how much these animals mean to me and how much I will miss them. ‘If you ever need anyone to take care of your cat, just let me know,’ many friends have offered. My grandma is a champion for taking on the responsibility of my darling cat. But she often goes away herself on little holidays. My best friend was more than happy to stay at my grandma’s house with my cat while she was away for a week and I was in Europe. She was first in line of a number of friends who offered to do the same. At this, my heart was filled with happiness to realise it is possible to have it all.

Essentially I feel guilty for this traveling lifestyle I desire makes me a selfish person. For this reason I am unbelievably lucky and grateful to have people in my life still standing by me, supporting me in these crazy plans I have to wander endlessly.

And when I reflect upon it too much, the guilt awakens and heightens the post-travel depression. That state of mind which is only present when I find myself with moments of rare free time. My mind finds it impossible to relax so it searches through these thoughts and analyses everything it can. Here the guilt takes place and I find the only way to ease it is to plan my next runaway scheme.

And I begin to wonder: how does one achieve happiness when one is always torn between two desires. When I am here, I want to be there. And when I am there, I long to return.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Have you ever heard of Dominica?

Dominica is a tiny island in the Eastern Caribbean also known as “The Nature” island, an unspoiled paradise tacked away between Guadaloupe and Martinique.

My life was completely transformed by simply spending eight days on the island. Never before had I felt so inspired and at the same time overwhelmed by a culture with a big array of sensory stimulations that touch your soul.

Everyday I woke up in the middle of the rainforest in a place two miles off the grid reachable only by a dirt road that crossed a running river twice. Waking up to torrential rain in the middle of the night or to the deepest of silent was exciting and disconcerting at the same time. It made me wonder whether I would make it to the main road again.

In the mornings, I would allow myself to get lost wondering in thick vegetation. On the first day especially, I took a walk to the river then around a banana plantation and realized that, never before in my life. I had seen so many shades of green, not even in Oregon where I live. I lifted my eyes and I felt like a tiny creature in a vast incredible paradise of towering trees and mountains, where there were no familiar sounds, the busy and annoying freeways gone, cars gone, the sound of office keyboards gone, phone ringing gone, busy crowds gone, stress gone, it was just me, the rain forest and its concert of colors, sounds and natural beauty.

A rushing river was my only companion as it was also my only reference point to find the way back. You have to muster up a lot of courage to walk alone in a jungle without a destination or a map, not knowing much about the plants and the animals that surround you, especially at night. To be alone with your thoughts in a place completely foreign to you is to be brave. At night you can barely see your hand fully extended except when you stumble on a firefly that illuminates the path for you.

You and the immense nature and nothing else force you to go inward and take note of your fears, your joys, your emotions, and your overall state of mind. In doing so you realize that you are in the safest of places, the perfect laboratory for inspiring thoughts and ideas, the perfect time to align with your values and your passions.

Dominica did that for me. I had not expectation and not plan and found the island inspiring at every corner and every interaction with locals.

You can also test your bravery by adventuring on 2 hour hikes up stream in a river crossing water, climbing boulders and keeping your senses alert in case of flush floods. The reward at the end can be a tall majestic waterfall that you can swim under.

So, do you want to be inspired and be brave? Dominica is a destination very conducive for both.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Unknown Girl in an Unknown Place somewhere in Morocco

My travels have taken me far and wide.  I’ve been all over the world, from well-known and highly respectable places such as Rome, Italy to the not so clean and downright unsettling such as the grimy flavelas of Brazil.  I have learned much about others and myself in my experiences and I use my new found knowledge everyday to better my understandings of those around me.

            One of my favorite lessons was one I learned while visiting Marrakech, Morocco.  There I was standing in the middle of one of the worlds largest and most bustling markets all alone, looking like a stranger and feeling out of place.  I had originally planned to make a few purchases from the local people since I had heard that the products were each original and one of a kind.  What I had not expected was the local storeowners to take advantage of my innocence in knowledge of the area by forcing me to pay prices that were unquestionably too high.

In Marrakech when you wish to buy a product you have to “barter” for it.  This basically just means you have to settle on a price with the shop owner and then pay the discussed price upfront.

            Poor little me, in my inexperience with bargaining with strangers that were more than twice my age and very intimidating knew nothing of what these certain products should cost.  I basically agreed to any price without question.  I soon found out I was paying way too much as my wallet was feeling much lighter than I had originally intended.  I quickly made an internal pact with myself to not be such a pushover when buying my next item as my eye caught a beautiful handmade leather purse in the corner of the approaching shop.

            I could feel the anxiety in my chest as I took a deep breath and mustered all the courage I could find inside.  I offered what I thought to be a fair price to the grisly man standing in front of the display.  He immediately shot back with a price more than 3 times what I had offered!  All while holding my gaze with deeply piercing eyes.

            My hands were shaking slightly and I knew he could tell that I wasn’t very good at this bartering thing.  I really wanted that purse and I was not about to back down.  The voice in my head was screaming at me to respond before I gave away my fear.  That when the bravery kicked it.  It was if it had been hiding under the surface of my chest just waiting for the right time to show itself.  I took another deep breath and restated my original price with confidence paying no attention to the shaking in my hands as I stared straight back into his suddenly less intimidating eyes.

            This seemed to catch him off guard as he quickly wiped his brow and took a second to think of a proper price to shoot back.  I couldn’t believe that I had been so firm in my response!  That purse would be mine and I had no doubt in my mind that I would be paying the price I wanted this time.

            He looked over me carefully and hurriedly stated a price still much to high.  The courage was overtaking me at this point.  Once again I stated my same price and started to back away as though I was going to find a better shop to spend my money.  That seemed to get him.  He quickly reached in my direction and stopped me from leaving as he hesitantly agreed to the price I had previously decided on.

            I did it! I could believe it!  I was now officially a “barterer.” Little ole’ me, a small girl from a small Texas town was making bargaining decisions with a man who could easily overtake me.  I was so proud of myself and for the rest of the day I refused to back down on my prices and got almost everything else for half the price as my first purchases.

            I proved to myself that I was courageous and could do anything I set my mind to.  I still use this important lesson when dealing with people who are willingly taking advantage of me and remind myself internally “I am strong and I will not let myself be pushed down by people who think they can control my actions.

            Now I have a drawer full of handmade original trinkets from Morocco and my favorite purchase, the purse, is hanging on a hook in my room to remind me of the moment I felt the bravery and courage that was inside of me all along.  I will never forget that feeling for as long as I live.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Read Part 4

“The Dream Begins,” Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part 5

There are many explanations for déjà vu. Precognition, or prophecy, the overlap between short term and long-term memory, or if accompanied with hallucinations it could even be considered a form of neurological illness.  When I was eight I had a dream about an island, seven of them actually. Maybe I had heard about them, or seen them somewhere? That’s what I told myself at least, but the truth was I hadn’t. The dream was so powerful I woke up the next day and drew what I remembered. I went to my father and showed him my drawing.

As I gave him my drawing I spoke, “Dad, what is this?”

He didn’t respond verbally. He looked at me thoughtfully for a second, took the drawing and led me into his study. He took out an atlas and found the page he was looking for.

“This,” he said.

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It wasn’t exact, but it was pretty darn close.

“Do you want to go here?” He asked me.

“Where is it? What is it?” I replied. He chuckled.

“It’s Hawaii, and that’s a pretty good drawing.”

Seven years later he would call me to his bedside. His body was weak, ravaged by numerous tumors and ninety pounds lighter than his normal weight. The strong mind he once had was now in another place.

“Son, come here,” he managed to utter between coughing fits. I went to his side, where he waved a hand at me and with a twinkle in his eye and strength in his heart he spoke out, “closer.” I put my face next to his. He grabbed my face between his feeble hands and looked at me with a tear in his eye.

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“Son, life is too short. Go see the world.”

He then kissed my cheek and hugged me as best he could. The next day the man who taught me right from wrong, the man who gave me the greatest advice on his deathbed, was gone. One month later I began what would become a lifetime journey to see the world. It started in Hawaii and would eventually span five continents, countless countries, close calls, life, death and love.

To be a part of this world you first need to understand it. To understand it you need to live it, not just read about it. Traveling encompasses so many conditions.  Maybe we’re an art major, or we like to cook and drink wine, so we base our travel plans on those conditions. It could be the displacement of family, friends, or lovers. It might be the simplicity of just relaxing and do nothing. For me it was always the human condition and that sense of déjà vu. So many times my emotions outweighed my thought process. Wherever I went I had to go at all cost, as if my soul was calling out from ages past. As I’ve gotten older and look back at all the places I’ve been to and what has happened it all makes more sense.

Lying down in my bunk watching the moonlight on a night train from Rome to the deep south of Italy back in November of 2000 I had no real plan, but I knew it felt right. I was headed to a place that had captivated my imagination and where hardly anybody spoke English. It was the perfect place to get lost.

“The Dream Begins.” November 13th, 2000.

On a night train from Rome headed southeast all I could think about was the description of the place I would call home for what I thought would be the next two months.

“If you want to write a story come to where I am from,” said Sergio.

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I met Sergio in Florence the previous summer. He was visiting his ex-girlfriend, who I had also met through a mutual friend. This group of friends, all Italians, had become my main core of friends during my summer sojourn in the majestic Renaissance city. I won’t go into too many details here, but Sergio and I GC-QX5 Imagehit it off right away. He spoke some English, had lived abroad, was extremely intelligent and for some reason I felt he had been through some crazy things.  When he told me I was invited to his home whenever I wanted to come it was intriguing.

“You must come. The seawater is as the Caribbean.

The people are warm and the women have olive skin, long dark hair and their beauty is like no other. There is great food and great wine and the land is red. You will be inspired like a Renaissance poet was with his beloved Firenze.”

I wanted to go right then and there, but timing was everything and that summer timing was not on my side.

Coming Soon: “The Dream Begins,” Continued.

Read all the articles in this series.

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I’m sorry I forgot to conform in France

When my best friend and I were 10 years old, we used to plan out our futures. We wanted to be married by a certain age; I think it was 24 we chose. We wanted to have a house, a career, and start popping out babies before we were 30. It all seemed easy. We drew up designs of our dream houses, chose our favourite baby names, and imagined our lives with a perfectly handsome husband. The only problem for me was; I never actually wanted this. I just thought it was what my life was meant to be like.

When we were 17, my best friend started dating a guy. A few months later, I ended up dating a guy as well. Four years later, I went through the awful process of ending a long term relationship. Seven years later, my best friend is engaged and building a house with her high school sweetheart, the guy she started dating at 17. She’s 24 years old. She’s worked hard to be where she is and she is extremely happy. And literally living her dream.

I am single. I am free, independent, and the happiest I have ever been in my life. I will be 24 this year. I’m a primary school teacher and freelance writer. I am living abroad by working and traveling through Europe, literally living my dream.

That 10 year old girl who had assumed life had a script written for based on social convention had always wanted something else. I had been dreaming of otherness for a long time. As I went through school, I became fixated on learning about different cultures, the history of the world, and study cities on maps to gain a perspective of how small my hometown really was.

At high school, I started learning French. From age 15 I was dreaming of a way to get myself to France. Money, my family life, then my boyfriend, and university meant that this dream kept being put on hold. While I was in the long term relationship with my ex, I eventually convinced myself that I didn’t really want to go to France. I chose to put my money in savings so that we could move in together and we would travel later in life, together. We both wanted this. But I didn’t want it wholeheartedly. I became that naïve 10 year old girl again, wanting something else but believing there was someone I was supposed to be.

When you want something in life, you generally have to sacrifice something else. This is true. The key is to make sure that you don’t sacrifice the thing that will make you truly happy. This is what I did, while I was in a relationship.

When things ended between us, I was 21. My first reaction was to book a trip to India at the end of my university studies. I had graduated with two degree by this point, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. But I wasn’t ready to settle down and stay in one place. I was ready to see the world, at last.

At age 22, seven years after my dreaming of France had begun; I booked a ticket to Paris. While my friends were getting engaged, building houses together or getting fulltime jobs after university, I was packing my life into a backpack and boarding a plane.

There is no right or wrong direction in life. I respect and admire my friends who are settled down and living out life the way they want. Many people tell me that they are jealous of what I’m doing and would love to have these adventures abroad as well. The reality is, however, that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. My world is a chaos of cramming clothes into space bags and hoping my backpack will zip up. My next destination is planned on airfare sales and catching an overnight bus to save money. My life is made up of uncertainty, filled in with contract jobs and wondering where my next pay check will come from, barely ever staying in once place for more than three months. People forget these aspects of a life abroad, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are so many pathways of social convention. Rather than being faced with one assumed outcome, Generation Y is faced with too many options. What do we choose? Which way do we go? How do we have it all and make sure we live without regrets?

The one thing we all learn as we grow up is that there isn’t a solid answer to these questions. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to go in the direction your heart takes you. Just make sure you listen attentively to it.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Family Travel

Gone are the days when family travel was considered a luxury. With the wide-range of travel promos being offered today, and (thanks to the internet) easy online booking process of airlines, hotels, tour operators and travel agencies, families are now going places to have unique experiences together.

Family Travel

And it looks like the upward trend will continue. A study commissioned by the Embassy Suites Hotels indicates that millennial parents take trips with their kids significantly more than older generations, and 38 percent of them do so three or more times a year.

The difficulty of traveling with kids may be slowing down the trend though. The same study mentioned earlier says that 11 percent of parents surveyed find family travel stressful, and that stress was a top reason why some did not take trips with their kids more often. Dealing with child tantrums while waiting for boarding at the airport, finding ways to entertain a bored child at a resort, trying to get hot meals for the kids while away from home are just a few of the demands of traveling with children that parents need to deal with while on vacation. Who would want to travel again soon with their children after a nerve-wracking trip?

Embassy Suites Bumper

To address these family travel concerns and enhance the family travel experience, the Embassy Suites launched the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program in March 2015.

The program includes an online community that engages parents and provides fun and useful tips from family travel experts and fellow parents to help make traveling with their kids easier and more fun. After all, a vacation is supposed to be time away from the stresses of daily living!

Embassy Suites Dance Party

Here are nifty samples of the ‘hacks’ on the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks hub:

  1. Pack your kid’s outfits in separate bags.
  2. Do not pack clothes that require ironing.
  3. If you have an early flight, get the kids dressed the night before in comfy clothes so they are ready to roll out of bed and make that early morning flight.
  4. Wear your baby. It’s helpful to have your hands free in the airport when you’re lugging around two suitcases, three carry-ons, three personal items, two kids, and the overpriced lunch you grabbed in a rush on your way into the terminal. Bonus: the stroller is then free to be used as a luggage cart.
  5. A pool noodle can act as a bed-bumper on the fly.
  6. No speakers? No problem. Put your phone inside an empty glass to amplify the sound and let the dance party commence.
  7. Use the hotel garbage can as a stool. When they can’t reach the sink in the hotel to brush their teeth, flip the garbage can over and let them stand on that.

Tic Tac Toe Napkin

Aside from the online community, the Embassy Suites is adding new family-focused amenities as part of the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program. Families can expect coloring books and crayons upon check-in and cocktail napkins with family-friendly games during the evening reception, among other stuff on the house. Select hotels are even providing baby care amenities such as baby wash, wipes and other essentials this summer. These are on top of their usual family-friendly two-room suites, free made-to-order breakfast each morning and complimentary drinks and snacks for two hours every night.

Embassy Suites Buzz Lightyear
Photo: Lisa Niver, We Said Go Travel

 

And, further to the all-suite brand’s commitment to providing families with a great guest experience, the brand is incorporating family-specific training into its orientation program and on-going team member training sessions. This is to equip its team members with the necessary skills to ensure families staying with them can focus on enjoying their vacation time together, discovering awesome places and building beautiful memories.

*****

Photo credits:
Family Travel: Colleen Kelly via Flickr
All other photos: (c) 2015 Embassy Suites

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Big Rocks and a Brave Heart

By Nicole Dacanay

I am not a brave person. I like comfort. I like warm tea and blankets and happy movies. But I also have a fierce desire for wanderlust in my soul. The need to travel and experience new things is something my husband and I both feel within us, so for our honeymoon last summer, we decided to take a road trip. One of the stops on our road trip was Zion National Park, a high desert paradise located in Springdale, Utah. Among many things, Zion is famous for its extreme hikes, from a trek through an endless river to a trail that leads straight to the sky. That trail is named Angels Landing, and when we arrived at Zion National Park, my husband and I placed it at the top of our “to do” list. But the more I studied the hike, and the more I learned about it, the more terrified I became. The numbers made me nervous: 5 miles, 1488 feet in elevation gain, and a peak that hits over 5,000 feet. Hours after studying, I felt lost. The “once in a lifetime opportunity” tagline no longer made me feel inspired – I felt my confidence beginning to spiral as I considered excuses to tell my husband. “I can’t do it” wasn’t enough.

The following morning, I was too awestruck to complain. Mornings in Zion are unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever seen. The luminous orange landscape contrasts starkly with lime green trees that line the banks of the Virgin River. High above, sheer cliffs beg to be climbed, and trails cry out to be explored. And I couldn’t say no – not to Angel’s Landing, my husband, or myself. So we hopped on the shuttle and I crushed my hands into fists, facing the fact that I was about to attempt something I truly thought I was incapable of doing. The trail pulsed with a river of people, up and up toward switchbacks that looked like they belonged in an Indiana Jones film. I felt my stomach churn. I can’t do it.

We wound through the switchbacks steadily. The hot desert sun threw orange light from the rocks into our eyes, and the cool breeze spread dust over our faces. But as we climbed higher, we remained in a constant ebb and flow of other hikers seeking the same prize. Despite the sweat, sand, and sun, I focused on the man at my side and the trail at my feet.

Finally, the switchbacks ceased. We were met with a cool, quiet canyon punctuated with trees. For a few glorious minutes, we breathed easily. As I stood still beneath the shade, I suddenly realized something: my fears were slowly dissipating. I’d been so focused on keeping one foot in front of the other that I’d completely forgotten to be afraid! And just like that, the most strenuous part of the hike was behind me. All I had to do was focus on the present.

A second set of switchbacks led us to our ultimate goal: the road to Angels Landing, and a rest at Scout’s Point. At first I stood my ground, frozen by the fear of looking down and seeing the endless drop to Zion’s floor. I couldn’t move. I looked up and saw crows and vultures circling like veteran acrobats, their eyes on the ground far below, and I felt my heart race. The cool, gusty wind was urging me forward, reminding me that I did not come this far just to shrink beneath fear and self-doubt. I’d already conquered so much – what was a few more feet? So I took a deep breath, strode forward, and stood beside my husband. Together, we surveyed the vast desert land below Scout’s Point. It was a singularly inspiring moment, and one that I will never forget. Standing at what felt like the edge of the earth and facing my fears with a thrilled smile, I finally felt like the adventurer I always wished I could be. I’d taken my fear of heights and stared it down, challenged it, and overcame it. I was finally brave.

Bravery should be boxed in by any one definition. To me, bravery was staring my fears face to face, and overcoming my perceived limitations. Bravery meant that I was taking a new step, conquering a new challenge, and sharing an experience with my husband. Zion National Park helped me feel brave, because it gave me an opportunity that I’d never be given at home. Even now, when I’m writing or running, I consider my moment in the sky, staring at the earth below. And every time I think I am not enough of anything, I remember what I conquered on Zion’s peaks last summer.

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            Pedaling through Amsterdam

Timothy Tang

 

The last time I had ridden a bike, YouTube hadn’t existed and people were still using pagers. It had been so long, that I had forgotten what it even felt like to speed down a hill with no brakes on, or even the resulting fall. Fast forward more than a decade and I find myself in the middle of Amsterdam, Netherlands. It’s the country of tulips, windmills, and where nearly every one of its almost 17 million citizens pedals to school and work.

 

            “I don’t think I’ll want you riding my bike,” said Else, my local Dutch friend and guide, motioning for me to hop onto the rear rack. I had met Else two years prior while on a tour in Israel. We had stayed in contact since, and in the summer of 2014 I jumped on the chance to see Amsterdam from a local’s perspective, and I was lucky to get just that.

           We met up by Amsterdam Centraal, and the two of us made our way in tandem on a single bike. She looked so cool and natural, while I fumbled around riding side saddle on the poor excuse of a second seat.  Not knowing how to ride a bike in Holland is like not knowing how to walk, and without Else, I don’t think I would’ve known where to go. Perhaps I would take an awkward stroll between the narrow lines of ethics in the Red Light District, or would I join in the orange carnival and drunken inspired escapades of the King’s birthday? Thankfully, I wasn’t alone.

            We rode alongside the city’s canals atop cobblestone and underneath clear skies, her at the pedal and me calming myself in Else’s ability and my balance. We stopped by one of the food trucks gathered by a tourist dock for the canal ferry. She got me to try Soused Herring, a sort-of Vinegary, Dutch Sashimi—preserved herring topped with onions, also raw. To me fresh, uncooked fish was less fazing and more seducing. Her eyes went wide as I wolfed down the last few bites with ease. I think she was hoping for more disgust and less enjoyment, and she seemed genuinely impressed.

            We continued onward on the bike to Museumplein, a green public space in South Amsterdam. Along this bike route, I saw a different part of Amsterdam, one without crowds of holidaymakers and partiers all painted and doused in orange for King’s Day. There were no festivities to be found at the green quad, just pockets of students and families enjoying the weather. There were children playing tag, darting in between picnics and beach towels, parked bikes and couples. In the backdrop were the Rijiks and Van Gogh museums, towering over the greenery. There was a sense that we needed to sit and enjoy it with everyone else.  The scenery looked like it had been painted on: Else—blue eyed and beautiful, the city’s houses that had stood firm in the face of disaster and occupation, even the red and white letter statue that spelt ‘Amsterdam’.  We talked about her internship at a woman’s magazine and my Non-Fiction writing classes—maybe she would visit Vancouver one day, and I’d play host.

            “Amsterdam isn’t always like this. Most of the locals escape the city on King’s Day. I’m actually going back to my parents’ town tomorrow,” Else assured me. So what is true to Amsterdam and her people, to Else and the Dutch who live in a place where foreigners can only dream of even visiting? I had only gotten a taste of herring and what it is like to balance on two wheels, and I’m looking for more. “Do you want a ride on the back again?” she asked one more time before we went our separate ways. 

             “Another time.”

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