December 5, 2011

Celebrate Globally

Celebrate Globally

Countries the world over celebrate winter holidays. Although much of Christmas has been commercialized, there are still many holiday traditions that remain unique to different nationalities, giving the world a special diversity. Many of these traditions utilize natural resources making them green by design. Mixing some of these worldly customs into your own traditions, not only adds flavor to your holidays, but can turn the season a bit greener.

The Salutations

Instead of sending holiday cards, which are a great tradition but use a lot of paper, people in parts of the British Isles go from house to house caroling. A tradition that was brought over to America in its early days, but has since fallen out of popularity, caroling parties are making a bit of a come back. Greeting neighbors with songs of joy and love for a happy holiday season is much more personal than cards and it can be a fun family or group activity. We were invited to a caroling party last year. The hostess created little song books and handed them out to all the kids and parents. We were served hot chocolate and cider and off we went a caroling. Everyone had lots of fun, and neighbors even joined as we strolled along.

Delivering of Sweet Treats

In the United States, many people exchange homemade baked goods like cookies, fruit cakes or bread, but delivering all these treasures means spending a lot of time driving from house to house and burning a lot of fuel. In Canada, they have a solution. Instead of delivering the cookies from house to house, one family hosts a cookie party. Each family brings ingredients for one type of cookie and the bowls and mixers necessary to make them. Then they meet at one house and spend the day chatting and baking cookies. A recent tradition is exchanging butter cookies for Chanukah, so this tradition can be incorporated as well. At the end of the party, each family goes away with a variety of cookies to enjoy at home or share with their neighbors. It saves gas and makes cookie-making into a fun, new family tradition.


In Nigeria, they use palm fronds to decorate the house. In fact, many cultures use greenery beyond the evergreen to decorate. In Sweden, they use apples. In the desert, we have the benefit of having green plants through most of the winter. Using some trimmings after pruning live plants outside is easy on the environment and can make for a festive house. Last year, I trimmed the citrus and sumac trees and placed them in vases around the house just before our holiday party. I have to admit, I am a sucker for tradition when it comes to the fresh cut pine tree at Christmas. But, in some parts of South America, instead of decorating a fresh evergreen tree, they decorate a large, or cluster of medium sized, dried branches. They string it with lights, paper flowers and other ornaments. It reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas trees growing up. We had decided to spend Christmas in a cabin in Telluride, CO but didn’t arrive until late Christmas Eve night. The stores were all closed and because of a large snow storm, getting off-road for a live tree was out of the question. We found a large bare branch of an aspen tree and with some help from the extra clippings from our neighbor’s pine tree, which we tied to our branch, we created a homemade Christmas tree. It wasn’t the Norman Rockwell version of a Christmas picture, but it was the one our family remembers most. The point is, Christmas trees can come in all shapes and sizes, it’s more about the love that goes into it, then the color of its leaves. We could learn a few things from our neighbors to the south…the bare branch makes for an interesting display and is much easier on the environment than a fresh cut tree or something synthetic. In the desert, many people take it a step further and go native…decorating a live cactus.


In many parts of the world, holiday gifts are handmade works of love. This tradition not only shows the gift recipient how much you care, putting in hard work and time, but it decreases the footprint of the gifts you give. If you think about store bought gifts, not only just the materials used, but the process to get the gift from raw form into its present form and the transportation to get the gift from the factory to you, and then multiply that by the number of gifts each person gives and the number of people giving gifts and you end up with a huge impact on the environment. While making your gifts won’t always be a good fit (I’m not saying no toys for the kids this year), it’s definitely something to think of when the children are giving gifts. Here are some ideas from other countries.

Plant a seed. In Malta, they plant wheat seeds weeks before Christmas, so that they sprout just in time for the big day. In that island country, they use the sprouts to decorate for the holidays, but it could just as easily make a good gift.

In Japan, they decorate with paper lanterns, which can easily be made using colorful tissue paper and small wooden rods. Painting on the tissue paper can make each gift unique.
Papier mache is always a good green project in that it uses old newspapers and water and flour for glue. In Venice, Italy, the papier mache mask is traditional and easy to make using a balloon as your form.

Homemade candles are a nice gift to give for Chanukah or Kwanzaa. You can make candles rolled from beeswax or get melting wax from a craft store and dip your own candles. You should make nine candles for Chanukah (eight for lighting and one shamus or lighter candle) and seven for Kawanzaa, three red, three green and one black.

For more information on holiday traditions from around the world, visit For more information on our family travel television series, which immerses in cultures from around the world, visit or "LIKE" us on Facebook

October 25, 2011

The Cyber Sharks Are Circling: Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe On-Line

Many people are surprised when they see our kids snorkeling with sharks or flying through the forest canopy on a zipline. “Isn’t that dangerous? Weren’t you worried about their safety?” they ask. The answer is no. These activities take place in a fairly controlled environment with a history of safety records. Plus, I am there looking over their shoulder making sure everything is alright. The sharks that do worry me are the cyber sharks. The tough kid at school being mean; the stranger approaching them with candy…with the advent of technology, these villains now enter our home. And with technology changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. How do I keep them safe from something I don’t even fully understand…texting, sexting, cyber bullying, cyber predators? It’s all kilobytes to me.

The first key to keeping them safe on-line is to talk to them about what is appropriate to share. Don’t share more than a first name. Don’t tell an on-line friend where you live or what school you attend. But as much as we tell them, does it ever really sink in? I was watching a YouTube video made by a child from my kids’ school. She was walking around her house, filming her room, her pet hamster, giving a constant narration about her life. It all seemed innocent enough until she held up her report card. Not a big deal right? Just a kid venting about grades and school, but the report card envelope had the school logo and the child’s address on it. When I paused the video, I could see where this kid lives. I’m sure it never even dawned on her that she was sharing information, but there it was as clear as day. Directions for any predator in cyber space to this girl’s house. As much as we tell them not share information, there are ways the information is released without them even realizing it. So what can we do as parents? According to the University of Oklahoma Police Department, who released a brochure called “Keeping Kids Safe On-Line”, parents should:

- Know their child’s email username and password
- Keep the computer in a family area where supervision is easy
- Talk to the child about what is discussed and what sites they are visiting
- Tell the child to log off and tell a parent immediately if they feel at all uncomfortable with something happening on-line
- Give feedback to sites and service providers about inappropriate content or advertisements
- Warn your child about how easy it is to pretend to be someone you are not on the Internet and the dangers that go with that.
- Tell your child to inform you if anyone ever asks them to meet in person.
- Invest in a program that provides parental controls for on-line use.

So, beyond talking about it, which is always good, how else can we protect them from technology? Travel With Kids recently partnered with a company called that offers filtering programs for e-mail, texting and social media. Parents and kids can work together to create an approved list of contacts and parents have the ability to check on their child’s activity. The filtering system also scans all the incoming e-mails, texts and social media posts for inappropriate content. If the system detects bullying, sexting or other inappropriate scenarios, an alert is sent to parents. Inappropriate emails are actually diverted to parents before they even reach their children. I am really impressed by what this company is doing to help parents keep kids safe on-line. The program allows kids to take advantage of technology while offering parents the tools to protect them from the dangers that lurk in the cyber sea.

As my kids get older and enter the on-line world, it gives me peace of mind knowing that there is someone who can stay on top of the rapidly changing technology and help me protect my kids from the cyber shark, so I can focus on enjoying my time snorkeling with the real ones who are far less dangerous in my opinion. For more information on this program, visit

September 22, 2011

Travel With Kids TV show comes to the ROKU Player: Travel With Kids Channel

Roku player users can now purchase the Travel With Kids channel from the channel store for a one time fee of 4.99 to view all 4 seasons of the show!

Roku streams netflix, hulu, amazon on demand and dozens of other channels right to your TV.

August 10, 2011

The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward...that's what they called it when Chairman Mao pushed the Chinese populace to export more food (to the point of which the general public was starving) and melt down steel for export (which had peasants thowing everything metal...including necessary items such as cooking pots and tools into the fires) so that China could import factory and military technology to modernize their country. The plan was a fiasco ending with countless dying of starvation and many of Mao's own camrades turning on him. Too much too fast at too large a sacrafice. However, when traveling through China today...high speed trains darting through city after city of high rises past world monuments in the shadows of modern marvels, you have to wonder if this is the China Mao had envisioned. And in the process of leaping, has China missed out on something along the way? We crossed China by train this summer to find out.

We started our trip in Shanghai - a thriving metropolis with sky scrapers in quirky shapes (one with a spire engulfed by a giant ball, The Pearl Tower and one with a giant open square in the middle, The Bottle Opener) lit up in every shade of neon imagineable. Kid-friendly activities range from an aquarium with "the world's largest underwater acrylic tunnel" to a massive science museum with Disney-esque displays on rainforests and robots. Expansive concrete squares and walkways were surrounded by designer shops with neon signs and upscale eateries, but there was something missing - Chinese history and culture. There are parts of Shanghai that nod to the past...the French Quarter, the Bund, the Yu Gardens area, but most are tourist attractions, not living history.

None-the-less the kids loved strolling down the paths and feeding coi fish in the Yu Gardens and bargaining for Mao merchandise (a watch with Mao's hand waving as the second hand or a general's hat from the Red Army) by the gates. The dumplings at the stalls nearby were outstanding (Nathan - our ten-year-old's new favorite food) but the line to get them was just as outstanding...they're very popular and there are A LOT of people in China! The people of Shanghai are very Western dress, with mobile phones, eating at Western fast food chains and moving at break-neck paces...unfortunately no one has schooled them on Western manners as lines are non-existent (people just tend to surge forward in a swarm-like fashion) and spitting is rampant (although signs are posted everywhere warning against the practice as it spreads germs), but it's all part of the fun of foreign travel, right? After Shanghai, we decided to head up the Yangtze River to the interior of China to see if this modernization had spread into the countryside. We purchased China train tickets through ACP Rail before we left and they delivered them to our accommodations in Shanghai.

On the overnight train from Shanghai to Chongqing, we got a bit more of the non-line formation as the crowd pushed forward on the train platform as if Justin Bieber had just walked by. We held back a little and found that we could board the train just as easily after the rush as over and we had assigned cabins anyway, so what was the point of pushing? The kids loved the train journey! Although not many people spoke English (only one or two people and very limited at that), Westerners were a bit of a novelty...more than one person during our weeks of overnight trains asked why we didn't fly. In addition to getting to see the countryside whiz by the window

and meeting locals, immersing in the culture, another benefit to overnight trains is that the price includes a night of accommodation....and the kids thought the bunk beds were pretty cool. Everytime the kids walked through a compartment the whole crowd would turn and stare and that's when the pictures started as well...about once or twice per compartment, someone would ask us to sit and take a picture with them. The kids thought it was great...just like being famous. They also liked the bunk beds in the train compartment (we traveled on soft sleepers which were private compartments with four beds and air conditioning). We didn't pack much to eat thinking we could eat on the train, but the options were very limited. We did hit the fruit cart for bananas a few times and had Ramen noodles.

In Chongqing, we boarded a ship for a three-night journey with Sanctuary Retreats down the Yangtze River through the infamous Three River Gorges. As many of you know, one of the world's largest dams, the Yangtze River Dam, was constructed in this past decade in an effort to control flooding at produce hydro-electricity, an effort which caused the relocation of millions of Chinese people and flooded over many historic buildings and sacred places. With the change of scenery and relocation of towns, we wanted to see how this leap forward had affected the countryside. In the first stop on our cruise, the cruise director had arranged for our group to visit both a traditional home and a new home for people who were relocated. The traditional home was obviously more rustic - dirt floors, simple furnishings, limited electricity - life as always. While the modern apartment into which families were relocated had air conditioning, glass windows and tile floors, but the inhabitant said the biggest draw back was that she was separated from her neighbors - a leap away from traditional community - and she missed that. At the end of the journey, a wide slab of concrete juts a mile and a half across the Yangtze with much controversy. The Yangtze River Dam is the largest construction project in China since the Great Wall (Mao would be proud as it was he who originally suggested a large dam here during the "Great Leap Forward").

The dam has been the source of much heated discussion due to its relocation of almost 2 million locals and the environmental impact of displacing that much water. Although the soaring limestone cliffs are less soaring now (the water was raised by almost a football field) they are still spectacular and a journey through the gorges is well worth doing.

Our ship docked in Yichang where we boarded an overnight train to the political heart of China, Beijing. The center of Beijing is the vast cement slab of Tiananmen Square which is guarded over by a massive portrait of Chairman Mao (hanging from the entrance to the Forbidden City - the last home of the emperors of China and one of the few ancient sites that was not plowed over during the Communist take-over).

Tiananmen Square was originally built for the people, but today, due to riot control, security is tight, there is no filming and it is closed at night. The square is surrounded on two sides by Communist/government buildings. The third side is lined with Western fast food chains (Mao is probably rolling over in his masolaeum, which is in the center of the square) and the fourth is the Forbidden City.

The soaring red doors, colorful murals and curled up corners of the buildings in the Forbidden City is quite a contrast to the gray cement rectangles of the Communist era buildings nearby...a leap right over any local architectural tradition. The kids enjoy wandering through the narrow alleys of the Forbidden City.

They meet kids snacking on chicken feet (a common snack food here in China)

and are asked to have their picture taken over and over again. They are starting to get the idea of why famous people become reclusive. But it's short-lived so they're happy to oblige. We learn about the emperors and empresses that live here and what life was like in the royal court.

If there is a feather in the hat of Chinese progress, it's their hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games. About 45 minutes out of the center of Beijing, we visit the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube - landmarks from the games. The kids are delighted to find the Water Cube, where Michael Phellps set so many records, has been repurposed into Asia's largest indoor water park. So they hop in, sliding down two story slides, hopping around the wave pool and joining the locals as they "splash attack" various other patrons.

The other highlight to our trip to Beijing is a visit to the other great construction project in China...the Great Wall. The wall runs over 5,000 miles from northeastern China following near the Mongolian border. We had been approached in Tiananmen Square by an English speaking driver to hire a private car for four of us, which turned out to be cheaper than taking an organized tour. Badaling is the closest wall access to Beijing, but it's very crowded, so we head to Mutianyu about 50 miles from town. After weaving through trinket sellers, where Seamus enjoyed tasting amazing dried fruits, we found a chairlift to the top of the wall. The chairlift looks like something from a 1950s film set in Switzerland with rickety chairs with narrow seats, but the views are incredible and the kids thought it was lots of fun. I'm glad we decided to take the chairlift too because once you are at the top there is plenty of hiking along the wall and the kids would have been too worn out by the intial hike to do too much exploring. The kids had lots of fun imagining they were Chinese soldiers and the huns were attacking as they ran up steps to the watchtowers that connect the walls, peering out narrow, stone windows through the forest where the wall bumped and dipped along the form of the mountain terrain winding off into the distance. After a couple hours appreciating the wall, it was time to head down, but instead of hiking we took the luge.

You read it right...they have a long metal slide with go karts that wind down the mountain side back to the base. Cheesey tourist attraction...yes, but not something you can pass up with two little boys. It ended up being a neat way to get down...gliding quietly through the forest.

If Beijing is the political capital of China then Shanghai is the capitalist and financial capital, but how does Hong Kong fit into this modern country? Our last stop in China showed us that not much has changed in this British least on the surface. You still have to go through immigration to and from China, they still use different get the idea. The one thing that I noticed was different from last time we were there, which was just around the time of the British hand over, is less British pubs. We stayed at Park Hotel Hong Kong in Tsimshatsui - an area lined with mostly Chinese restaurants and great shops selling everything from fashion clothes to Chinese trinkets. The kids enjoyed a surprise trip to Hong Kong Disneyland while we were there. The park is set up very similar to the original, although it is smaller with a few rides missing. But they enjoyed the Jungle Cruise ("It's even better than the original with fire and water geysers!" says Seamus) and of course, "it's a small world", where the no-lines culture hit a feverish pace as visitors pushed to board the little boats standing back to belly, filling in every bit of space. At night we enjoyed gelato at the top of Victoria Peak overlooking the city lights.

With the massive construction (cranes on almost every building it seems) and cities popping out of what used to be farmland, and two more dams in the works, even bigger than the Yangtze River Dam, it seems China is still taking a huge leap forward. Where it will end up, especially in this world's economy, is yet to be determined. But if you want to see ancient China with its winding hutongs and rice fields, and travel through a foreign country where few speak English and squid on a stick is a popular snack (even in Disneyland) then you best go fast as they may soon leap right beyond the cultural divide.

May 13, 2011

Travel With Kids on

Around the World in Six Fabulous Bits of Nature

With all of last month's earth celebrations, I took time to reflect on all the natural highlights this globe has to offer. From lush green rainforests to fish-filled tropical reefs to grassy savannahs dotted with herds of elephants and giraffes, our globe has a bountiful feast of natural features. It used to be that global exploration was for the well-to-do only, but in this modern day of budget travel, it’s easier than ever to explore these natural wonders on your own. One of the best ways to do it is on a trip around the world, which is easily accomplished by piecing a series of one-way tickets together using a consolidator like Airtreks or by purchasing a single airline’s, or airline group’s, around-the-world-fare. This travel experience is possible on a budget by staying in locally-owned small hotels and taking local ground transport. In some areas you can get by on just a few dollars a day, including fantastic food!

I was lucky enough to take my own trip around the world….I won’t say how many years back. After graduating college and working for a few years, I traded in my briefcase for a backpack and took an eight-month sabbatical, which included visiting five continents. I would love to repeat that trip with my kids so they can get a sampling of all the natural paradise the globe has to offer. Here are a few of the natural wonders I discovered along the way.

Hat Noppharat Thara-Ko Phi Phi National Park, Thailand

Tucked in the Andaman Sea off Thailand’s south western coast, Ko Phi Phi’s tall limestone crags, white sand beaches and turquoise waters are the stuff of postcards, and movies…most specifically, The Beach – a tale of backpackers attempting to create the ideal island civilization. Deep caves punctuate the cliffs around Ko Phi Phi, which are ripe for exploring by kayak and rock climbing. Shallow bays are lined with powder white sand beaches where floating market boats sell fresh fruits and supplies. And beneath the water, tropical fish swarm coral heads in a massive underwater society.

My favourite part about Ko Phi Phi is that you could walk just minutes through the jungle to reach three different incredible white sand beaches. I spent my days sitting on the flour-like beaches, nibbling on pineapples bought from local vendors and climbing through the rocky caves backing the beaches.

Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia

The island of Sumatra in Indonesia hosts a lush jungle habitat unbroken for miles on end. This park, named after its highest peak, Gunung Leuser, which reaches over 10,000 feet in elevation, encompasses a diverse area of mountains, lakes, jungle and coastline. It is also home to the Bukit Lawang Animal Sanctuary, which cares for the Sumatran Orangutan, a critically endangered ape whose numbers are limited to about 7,000 animals left in the wild. These orangutans are endangered because their habitat is disappearing – an area equal to six football fields every minute of every day according to the Sumatran Orangutan Society. Visitors to Sumatra have the opportunity to see orangutans, elephants, gibbons and more.

This is where I met Abu, a two-year old orangutan who had been rescued from captivity, where he had lived since birth. He was being taught to survive in the wild by trainers at the sanctuary. I walked through the verdant jungles with the trainers as they taught Abu to climb trees. To my surprise as we walked along the path, Abu reached up to hold my hand and on the way back into the sanctuary, he opened the gate for me. After so much human interaction, Abu will never be able to live completely on his own, but the scientists at Bukit Lawang hope to release him into their semi-wild program to breed. His amazingly human hands and expressions made me wonder how much we really do have in common with apes.

Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal

It’s said the Himalayas are the gateway to the heavens, and with six peaks in the Annapurna Conservation Area alone, reaching over 23,000 feet in elevation, it’s easy to see why. The rolling green hills around Pokhara, the base town of the region, are backed by soaring white capped peaks piercing the blue skies. The area is renowned for its trekking…the most famous of which is the Annapurna Circuit. The entire circuit climbs steep mountain passes, cuts through terraced fields and deep valleys, passes by Hindu and Buddhist holy sites and takes about two to three weeks to complete.

I took the Royal Trek made famous by Prince Charles, who hiked it in 1981. I figured if a prince could do it, then so could I. So I strapped on my hiking boots, hired a guide, and headed up the hills through tiny villages where children came running from school houses to greet us. The views of the snow-capped peaks of Annapurna and Macchupucchre, the "Fishtail Mountain", were incredible their white jagged edges cutting through skies so blue they would make Prince Charles envious. The trek ended by cutting through verdant fields of rice, terraced into the hillside for miles in every direction.

The Red Sea and the Dead Sea, Middle East

Very different, these two seas of the Middle East: one teeming with unique marine life and one…well…dead. The Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea because of its high salt content, is a great blue dot in the vast brown of the Israeli desert. Because of the high salinity, almost 34% (about the same as the ocean), you are very buoyant. The water is warm, almost too warm, and feels a bit slimy, but the area around the sea is famous for its biblical historical sites. The Red Sea, which also has its share of biblical history, is a living ecosystem with over 1,200 species of fish. It has coral reefs and atolls and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.

I went on a night dive in the Red Sea. The warm waters swayed around me like a comforting blanket protecting me from the darkness beyond. Fish swarmed my light as spiny lobsters twitched their antennae warning me to keep my distance. The colors and variety in this desert surrounded sea are spectacular.

Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya & Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Located in the Great Rift Valley, with a protected area of almost 400 sq. miles of Savannah grasslands dotted with acacia trees, Masai Mara Game Reserve hosts a multitude of animals: zebras, giraffes, elephants, leopards, lions and cheetahs to name a few. The much larger Serengeti National Park, which covers about 7,500 sq. miles is immediately adjacent.

I visited Masai Mara and the Serengeti during the wildebeest migration in summer when the rain dries up and thousands of wildebeest move towards Lake Victoria to the west. The wildebeest trailed off in lines into the dusty plains like ants inching along a giant dirt pile. Along with the migration, come the predators – following their prey to greener pastures - and a whole slew of other animals. There were leopards and lions, huge herds of elephants and giraffes, zebras striking their pattern against tall grass and rhinos blocking the road.

The Amazon Rainforest

Often called the lungs of the earth, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest forest on the globe covering over three million square miles. It spans the borders of nine countries and hosts trees reaching over 200 feet tall, which house entire ecosystems in their branches. The Amazon has the highest biodiversity of anywhere on the planet with over 400,000 species of plants alone. This is one nature-thrill we have taken the kids and they loved it. Zipping up and down the river in canoes looking for capyberas, monkeys and alligators and trotting through the forest at night searching for bugs...a boy's dream come true!

According to the National Academy of Sciences, a typical four square miles in the Amazon contains over 100 mammal species, 400 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles, 50 species of amphibians, and 150 different kinds of butterflies; and I believe it. When I visited the Amazon in Peru, the lush green foliage dripped with insects – caterpillars dangling from thin threads, spiders burrowing holes, butterflies flitting past, ants marching along the forest ground. Along the river banks there were mammals such as capybaras – huge rats – and in the trees spider monkeys swung and screeched.

The earth is filled with natural wonders and beautiful landscapes hosting a huge array of wildlife. With Earth Day ever present on the horizon, this is the perfect time to make a commitment to see it all. And, even if you can’t make it around the globe this year, remember there are plenty of national parks and wonders to explore right here in Arizona.

Star Alliance Round the World Fare
Hat Noppharat Thara-Ko Phi Phi National Park
Sumatran Orangutan Society
Annapurna Conservation Area
Masai Mara Game Reserve
Serengeti National Park
Amazon Rainforest

Carrie Simmons is the producer of Travel With Kids, a family travel documentary series airing on television around the world and has traveled to five continents in search of adventure. For more information on the series, visit

Article originally published in Green Living Arizona magazine.

May 11, 2011

Travel With Kids DVDs

Hello readers. We just returned from an amazing Travel With Kids production trip to Tahiti, Moorea & Bora Bora. Head over to our facebook/travelwithkids to become fan ("like") and check out the photos.

Don't forget, All DVDs are available at Our new Scotland with Kids was recently released.

May 9, 2011

Dude, Where's My Bag?

As any parent knows, when you are traveling with kids, you are traveling with lots of luggage. In the chaos of leaving airports and boarding trains, I am constantly counting to make sure we have everything. I perish the thought of arriving somewhere without one of the bags, or strollers or baby backpacks. But, it happens.

When our youngest, Nathan, was a baby we took a six-week trip to Spain, Morocco and Ireland. After surviving our first overseas flight with infant in tow, we thought we were doing pretty well. One early morning layover in Belgium, and we arrived in Madrid, where we were immediately taking the train south to Sevilla. As we deplaned, Nathan still sound asleep in my arms, and bags hanging from every limb, we picked up our stroller and headed to baggage claim. As each piece of luggage (we had a lot as this was our first trip with baby) came off the carousel, I made a mental note…1, 2….and then the conveyor belt stopped. A million questions flooded my brain. What happened to bags #3 and #4? What was in bags #3 and #4? How were we going to get bags #3 and #4 when we were taking a train four hours away?

After speaking with representatives at the airport baggage desk, we found that they could forward our baggage to our hotel in Sevilla; however, it would take a couple of days. A couple of days without efficient baby supplies? Without adequate changes of clothes? Have they never seen a baby blow-out? I need those extra clothes!! I have to admit, I was not the coolest cucumber and I was not a happy Momma! What a way to start our first family trip! But, luckily for us, and the airline clerk, we had travel insurance. And it was baggage delay to the rescue!

When we got to Sevilla, we called the insurance company and they confirmed that we had baggage delay reimbursement of $200 per insured person who was affected, which means I had $400 to buy alternate clothing and baby supplies. In the end, I was able to get Nathan and me some new clothes, which became after-the-fact souvenirs from the trip, and purchased diapers, baby food and other supplies I needed until the luggage arrived two-days later. And, yes they do sell diapers and baby food in other countries that are just as good, sometimes even better, than the ones from home. The trip turned out to be a wonderful first-step to traveling with kids and I have amazing memories of touring the pedestrian streets and churches of Sevilla, playing on a camel-strewn beach in Morocco and roaming sheep-filled hills in Ireland. And I even still own one of the replacement shirts I bought in Sevilla. It reminds me how I did not all…when our bags were delayed.

To find out more about Baggage Delay coverage and travel insurance in general, visit
CSA Travel Protection

January 5, 2011

Mexico: Safe, Sunny and So Much Fun!

Our most recent trip to Mexico was last month during the filming of Travel With Kids Baja Mexico. When we first proposed filming there, we got a lot of questions about whether we felt safe visiting Mexico and our unequivocal answer is Yes! The Los Cabos area is incredibly tourist friendly and with sunshine and beaches is a great family destination.

We stayed at Dreams Los Cabos Resort in the Corridor...the strip of beachfront between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the peninsula. On this trip we did something a little different for us, we booked an all-inclusive trip with Apple Vacations. While we don't usually book package tours, we decided to give it a try and it definitely has its benefits. We were picked up at the airport by an Apple representative, so we didn't have to figure out what transport to take to the hotel or negotiate prices. Simplifying the process is always nice, especially with kids and lots of bags (I swear we pack light, but it just seems to multiply in the suitcase!). As we wound our way through the swarms of timeshare salespeople at the airport, we were relieved to be able to say, "No thanks, we already have our ride and activities booked."

Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort and Spa is a great place to stay for families. Even though it is an all inclusive resort, which is a great way to go with kids...when they want ice cream or to play mini-golf, you don't have to reach for the wallet, you can just say yes...the food was incredible. No same-old, same-old buffets here. There is a seafood restaurant, a steakhouse, an Asian restaurant (the kids loved the sit-on-the-floor table) and an Italian restaurant. If you are in a hurry, or prefer the buffet set up, they have that too. As for entertainment, the kids always had something to do.
A beachfront infinity edge swimming pool with water slide and swim-up bar (which serves excellent smoothies) is the center of the resort. Nearby, there is monster size chess, mini-golf, croquet, beach volleyball and, our boys favorite, Euro Bungee, a trampoline that you are strapped to with elastic bands and are slingshot 20 or so feet into the air.
For those parents that are thinking "this all sounds great, but I was looking for some downtime myself", not to worry. Dreams Resort offers Explorer's Club for Kids with activities like iguana hunts and campouts with marshmallows on the beach, which allows parents to enjoy some relaxation at the pool, at the spa, at the beach or playing golf. At night there was beach parties with live bands and large screen movies on the beach. And, if you are here at the right time of the year, you can participate in a turtle release...letting baby sea turtles crawl into the ocean after they hatch. What a memory for kids and a lesson in conservation!

With all the amazing activities on property, it's a wonder we found anytime to explore the Cabo area, but there is so much to see and do, we had to check it out. We booked all our activities through Apple, and their activities company, Amstar so they provided transportation to and from the hotel as well. We were in Cabo during whale watching season (about December to March), and on the first day we actually saw whales as we sat in the pool at the resort. The boys were eager for a closer look, so we went out with Cabo Adventures on a photo safari. The naturalist guide gave us lots of detailed information on the whales that frequent the waters near Cabo (Gray whales, blue whales and humpback whales are the most common) and the captain got us within shouting distance of the whales (humpbacks in our case). We could actually hear their spray as they surface, their black bodies rolling along the ocean. Back at Cabo Adventures, we get a feel for one of the areas most popular sea creatures, dolphins.
At Cabo Dolphins, we can get in the water with the dolphins, feed them, pet them, kiss them and even ride them. The center is dolphin focused though...each dolphin is limited to less than two hours a day with guests on a voluntary basis. If the dolphin does not seem interested, they are not forced to play.

With dolphins and whales on the brain, we decide we'd like a closer look at more wild animals. With its location at the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, Cabo San Lucas has an amazingly diverse line-up of underwater life. We head out to the El Arco area (the famous arch of Cabo) to explore under the surface with Sunshine Dive and Charter.
The boys were raring to go, and the dive instructors, Lars and Jonathan, are great with kids. They made sure we were comfortable with the gear, then took us down into the shallow waters where we saw huge schools of fish, giant parrot fish, Christmas tree worms and sting rays. The kids were amazed by the incredible underwater scenery! And they liked watching the sea lions on the rocks nearby.

Back in town, we decide to set out on our own for a little exploration. We peruse little markets(negotiating of course...the kids have become great little bargain hunters) filled with wood carvings, weavings, jewelry and other hand-made items along with t-shirts and other tourist paraphernalia. Everyone is very nice, and although we try to use our Spanish, most of the vendors speak English as well.

In addition to the ocean, the desert in Baja is a big draw. This is the terrain of the famous off-road race, the Baja 1000. So, we decided to check it out at Wild Canyon Adventures where we rode Tomcars with Green Zebra Adventures through the desert and out to the beach. We got an overview of the desert on Wild Canyon's zip lines...they have eight lines one of which soars almost 300 feet in the air for the length of almost nine football fields! For a more natural look at the desert and beaches around Cabo, we also set out on horseback at Rancho Carisuva. The ride was lots of fun and as we trotted down the beach we saw whales breaching tying the whole environment together!

The trip was lots of fun for the whole family and we felt entirely safe the whole time. Would I wander around a border town in Mexico by myself? No. But, do I think Mexico is still a safe place to travel? Yes. The tourist areas of Mexico have been largely unaffected by the recent wave of drug-related violence and after visiting a couple of tourist hot spots, I am happy to report that I felt as safe as I ever have visiting the sunny shores of this exotic, culture rich country.

With its sunshine, beaches and exciting, kid-friendly activities, Cabo San Lucas turned out to be a great family vacation spot. For more information on the Los Cabos area (Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the beachfront in between), visit Apple Vacation's Los Cabos page. For more information on the Travel With Kids television series, visit