An Interview with my Daughter About Travel

My 12-year-old daughter is by no means a “world traveler” but by most American standards for children who travel, she’s seen her fair share of the world, especially the United States. She’s been to all but 9 states in the United States and outside the US to 9 countries on 4 continents. Her first flight was when she was about a year and a half and by the time she turned two years old she had flown to three states including from the east coast to Hawaii . While there are of course American children who flew at an earlier age and have flown further and to more countries, it’s fair to say she’s a pretty well-seasoned traveled for her age.

When she first mentioned to me that I should interview her for my blog, I dismissed it. But then I started thinking about it and realized it could be really useful, especially for parents with young children who might be on the fence about traveling with their children. This is actually my second time interviewing her; the first interview was about her experience with Girls on the Run, which you can find here.

Q1. What are some of your favorite places you’ve been and why did you like them?

A1. Niagara Falls because it was so amazing to see falls that went over two countries, and I really liked when they were lit up at night. I liked Greece because the culture was so different and it was interesting to see the ruins and try their food. New Zealand was cool going to the Hobbiton movie set plus so much more there. I also liked Arizona because of Antelope Canyon.

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Boat ride in New Zealand, one of the highlights of our trip

Q2. What are some places you’re dying to go to?

A2. I want to go to France, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Q3. What are some things you’ve done because of traveling that you otherwise would have never done?

A3. I probably wouldn’t have tried some of the foods I had in Greece if I hadn’t gone there. I also got a camera because of all of the traveling I’ve done. Now I like that I can take my own pictures.

Q4. What are some places you’ve been to that you didn’t care for?

A4. None that I can remember.

Q5. What are some ways you’ve learned to occupy yourself during long flights, car rides, etc.?

A5. By listening to music, doing puzzles and games on paper and on my tablet or phone, playing games, audio books.

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Italy, one of the places on my daughter’s travel wish list that I went to before she was born

Q6. What are some travel tips for kids you’d like to share?

A6. If you’re in a foreign country, give the food a chance. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s usually pretty good. Bring things to occupy yourself. Pack for the weather, so bring pants if it’s going to be cold where you’re going. I only brought shorts once and froze even though I was told before the trip to pack pants.

Q7. Is there a place you think is more special to go to as a child versus if an adult were to go for the first time?

A7. Disney because the rides are more meant for kids and they can meet the characters like Mickey Mouse, which wouldn’t be as special for adults.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

Q8. Are there any life lessons travel has taught you?

A8. Give everything a chance because a lot of times it can end up being worth it.

Q9. What would you say to parents who say their child is too young to appreciate a place?

A9. That’s not true. Even if they don’t remember it later, they’ll still enjoy it in their own way when they visit it.

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Antelope Canyon

Q10. Do you think you’ll still travel as much as an adult as what you do now?

A10. If I have the money to, yes. If I can get a job that pays enough I could make traveling my life.

That’s it, for the interview. It looks like we have a world traveler in the making!

How do you all feel about traveling with kids? As a parent, I’d say it’s much easier in many ways to just leave them behind with a trusted family member or sitter but the experiences they gain from travel is priceless. I realize not everyone can afford to travel with their children, especially people with 3 or 4 children, but I encourage you to consider it if it’s feasible, even if it’s only for every other vacation you take.

I’ve seen how traveling as a family has brought my family together. We’ve seen and done things that have permanently bonded us, in ways that every day life would never have done.

Happy travels!

Donna

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History, Science, and Wine in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, Canary Islands- Some Rainy Day Ideas

The Canary Islands are full of places for outdoor enthusiasts like me. If you want to read about some beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I have a post here. My family and I wanted to go beyond exploring the beaches, though. We wanted to go to the Canary Islands and go hiking as much as possible. When there was a high chance of rain several days in a row I started exploring some indoor activities.

Being big history buffs, my family and I decided to visit La Cueva Pintada. The Painted Cave, in the historical center of Gáldar, is in the north of Gran Canaria (Calle Audiencia 2) and is well-marked with signposts. Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park is a site from the Paleolithic era and includes part of a village with over 50 houses and caves. For more information regarding hours, admission, and tours, see the website here.

Before we went to La Cueva Pintada, I didn’t expect the area to be that large, but the archaeological area was big enough that we spent quite a while here. The actual painted cave is only open to guided tours but you don’t have to spend the entire time on a guided tour. We pretty much just went with a group inside the painted cave and spent the rest of our time here exploring on our own. All of the areas have information in multiple languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish.

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La Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park
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Inside one of the homes from La Cueva Pintada

Later during our vacation on the island of Tenerife, we also needed a rain contingency plan. There was an almost 100% chance of rain and strong winds all day during one of our vacation days so we decided to go to a museum rather than sit around in our hotel room all day.

The Science and Cosmos Museum is a great rainy-day activity especially if you have children, even older kids, or if you love science and technology and don’t have kids. I saw plenty of adults at the museum without a child in sight, so this isn’t just for kids! Admission is a reasonable €5 for adults and €3 for residents. The website is here.

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The Science and Cosmos Museum

There are tons of hands-on activities at La Ciencia y el Cosmos as well as a planetarium. All of the signs for each activity area are in Spanish so if you’re not at least somewhat fluent, you probably won’t get as much out of the museum. Also part of Los Museos de Tenerife are La Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Man) and Historia y Anthropología (History and Anthropology). We spent a couple of hours at the science museum playing before we went to a nearby winery, Casa Museo del Vino.

Casa Museo del Vino is much more than just a winery and I was lucky to have stumbled across it because honestly it didn’t come up in the usual searches. Located in Santa Brígida in Gran Canaria, the wine house museum combines the tasting and marketing of Gran Canaria Denomination of Origin wines along with a museum. While my husband and I were tasting red wines, our daughter was walking around in an adjacent room learning all about the history of the winery and the area and trying to pet the resident cat.

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Museum part of Casa Museo del Vino. Credit holaislascanarias.com

At Casa Museo del Vino, food is also available during busier months, with a speciality in Canary cuisine, an assortment of cheeses, and traditional sweets. Although entry is free, wine tastings and food are of course not free. We tried four different red wines for one euro each, and these were generous pours so there was enough of each for both my husband and myself. There are also a wide variety of bottles you can buy inside the store and we left with one bottle from the four that we had tried. More information with hours and location can be found on the website here.

Science, history, and wine are always a good combination in my book! This coming from a scientist, history-buff, and wine-lover. I was glad to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. I know Gran Canaria also has a science museum and many wineries, so there are lots of options on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Do any of you like checking out local science museums, historical sites, and wineries when you travel like I do? What are some of your favorites in or out of the United States? In the United States, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. has some fantastic museums.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Hiking Roque Nublo and Caldera de Bandama in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

While on vacation in the Canary Islands recently, one of our main goals was to hike as much as possible. We weren’t there to enjoy leisurely days on the beaches, although that’s certainly a popular option with tourists as you can read here.. There’s so much more to the Canary Islands than the beaches, however, and we found some gorgeous day hikes while in Gran Canaria, two of which we combined in one day.

We started off in the center of Gran Canaria at Caldera de Bandama. If you’re staying in Las Palmas, it’s only a 20 minute drive from there. The crater was formed by a volcano Pico de Bandama many years ago and is 216 meters (709 feet) deep, 574 meters (1883 feet) high and 1,000 meters (3281 feet) wide. We picked up our lunch from a market on the way, with the intention of enjoying our lunch with a view along the hike. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was all of the flowers and shrubs in bloom. The contrast between all of the flora with the black lava rocks was stunning.

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About an hour away from Caldera de Bandama is Roque Nublo, a natural monument 67 meters (220 feet) tall with the top 1813 meters (5948 feet) above sea level. This is an easy hike and not far from the nearby parking lot. Only the first portion is paved with cobblestones, but most of the trail is well-cleared dirt and easy to navigate. From the main road it’s about 1.5 kilometers to the proximity of Roque Nublo and Roque de la Rana. Before getting there, you go past another natural monument, el Roque de El Fraile. When we were there it was foggy when we reached the monuments but fortunately the fog cleared enough to get this photo:

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The person on the far right shows the scale of this monument.
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A foggy shot of the Roque Nublo area.

This was only one of many days full of hiking that my family and I did while in the Canary Islands but this was probably the best hiking we did during our stay in Gran Canaria.  I’ll have another post later about hiking in Tenerife.

Two things to remember if you’re hiking in the Canary Islands that we discovered:  1) caldera means it was formed by a volcano collapsing onto itself but more importantly for hikers it means there will be great scenery for hiking and 2) barranco means ravine. Wherever you see barranco on a map, chances are there will be great hiking in this area.

How many of you enjoy hiking while on vacation? What are some of your favorite places you’ve hiked?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands aren’t exactly runner-friendly at first glance, at least not the two islands I visited, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are pretty much no sidewalks and not even much of a shoulder along the roadways to run on. On my first day running on Gran Canaria, I had to run along a highway facing traffic with a tiny shoulder when I was lucky. I had to cross the road and jump over a guardrail at a couple of points. It wasn’t exactly my idea of running safely. However, I should state that I was staying at an apartment in a residential area, not in a hotel in a more touristy section; this is an important point I’ll get into later.

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Running after my aha! moment because I didn’t want my first photo to be of a sidewalk!

On my second day of running in Gran Canaria, I decided to go a different route and run along the walkway near the beach, namely Playa de Las Canteras. While this was safer, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I had to constantly dodge people and swerve around people when I was running. At least I wasn’t dodging cars, though. I do have to say the drivers in the Canary Islands are extremely pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Every single time when I was running along the roadside and a car would come, they would change lanes to give me more space. I saw this happen to cyclists and other runners all the time as well.

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A typical sidewalk in Gran Canaria. Not exactly my idea of runner-friendly, although fine for walking!

Not one to give up easily, I decided to try a different strategy for my third day of running in Gran Canaria. When we were driving, I watched for any signs of places where I could run that would be close-by the apartment where we were staying. I happened to see a bunch of people walking along an area that curved along the beach and it seemed to be a designated walkway (not a sidewalk because as I mentioned earlier there are no sidewalks of any real substance in Gran Canaria Island).

I ventured out the next morning running the direction of the walkers I had seen the previous day, and it was my aha! moment. This was what I had been looking for. This was the perfect running route for the rest of my time in Gran Canaria. I only had to go a short distance alongside a road to get to this runners’ oasis so it was perfect.

After staying for a week in Gran Canaria, we took a ferry to Tenerife and stayed there for another week. I found Tenerife to be even more hilly than Gran Canaria (the Canary Islands were formed by volcanos so they are all very mountainous with sometimes very steep hills). We stayed at a resort in Tenerife a little less than a mile from a beach so I would just run down the hill to the beach on the tiny sidewalks and run along the broad walkways there. It was great until I had to run back up the hills, but I have to say it did get easier by the end of the week so I think it was great training for me.

Tenerife also has many walkways along the beach with shops and restaurants like Gran Canaria so as along as you can find one of these, you at least have a mostly flat area to run and it will keep you off the roads. I also noticed some wider sidewalks in Tenerife so if you had to, you could run on the sidewalks at least until you came to a beach area. I did run on the sand once in Tenerife for about 5 or 10 minutes, but I’m just not a fan of running on the sand, and Tenerife is no exception. For me, the sand is either too soft or too hard. In Tenerife I came across many rocks so there’s another reason to not run on the beach.

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Running in Tenerife

Over the course of two weeks, I ran 10 times and never missed a training run. I adjusted my running schedule so that on travel days I would have a day off. Honestly, I’m surprised I was able to run that much and not miss a day. It rained once or twice but never anything too bad. The worst was the wind on one day where it felt like it was pushing me backwards.

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My daughter and running partner for many runs in the Canary Islands

I think the scenery was my biggest motivator in getting me out the door for my runs. I would go out every morning looking forward to my run and what I would get to see that time along my running route. Now that I’m back home, I have to say I miss running in the Canary Islands and am envious of people who live along a coast and get to run with ocean views all the time!

How many of you are lucky enough to run along a coastal area? Does it get routine or do you still love it?

Also, if any of you are fans of Honey Stinger or would like to try some, I have three one-use codes for 37% off for anyone not already part of the #HSHive. Email or message me if you’d like one of these codes and I’ll happily send one to you.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Beginner’s Guide to Airbnb- Misconception versus Truth

For those of you that consider yourselves world travelers and stay at properties through Airbnb all the time, you may think everyone else also uses Airbnb all the time. Lately I’ve discovered more and more people who have never stayed anywhere with Airbnb. While I don’t consider myself an expert, I have stayed at multiple properties around the world and would like to hopefully shed some light on the company for newbies.

Since Airbnb was founded in 2008 it has grown to include over 3 million properties worldwide and over 200 million people have stayed at an Airbnb property. Airbnb is in over 191 countries and is constantly expanding. From what I’ve been told by people who have never stayed at an Airbnb property, there seem to be some common myths or misconceptions.

First misconception: it’s easier to just stay at a hotel. Truth:  it’s just as easy to make reservations through Airbnb as it is with a hotel. Simply go online, put in your destination and dates and see what’s available. You can even tailor your inquiry with specific requests but more on that later.

Second misconception:  I’ll be staying at someone else’s house. That would be weird and uncomfortable to me. Truth:  you have the option of choosing the entire property (house, apartment, condo for example), a shared space, or a private room in someone’s house. Some options work better for some people than others.

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View from our airbnb in Chile

Third misconception:  wouldn’t it be cleaner to stay at a hotel than through Airbnb? Truth:  Airbnb owners thoroughly clean their properties (most pay for a cleaning service rather than cleaning the place themselves), just as a hotel would. I’ve found just with hotels, you get what you pay for. If you go for the cheapest property on Airbnb, it’s not likely to be nearly as clean or in as good of overall shape as a more expensive property.

Fourth misconception:  it costs more to stay somewhere with Airbnb than to stay at a hotel. Truth:  sometimes it can be cheaper to stay at an Airbnb property than to stay at a hotel. I always check both and compare my options.

Fifth misconception:  the host is only there to take your money and won’t be available to help you if you have questions or problems during your stay. Truth:  in my experience, the hosts have always gone out of their way to help make me feel comfortable, offering advice on things to do in the area, places to eat, etc. One time the heat wasn’t working where I was staying and I sent a message to the host through Airbnb, and she responded within a few minutes, with step-by-step information how to turn on the heat (I was in another country and the system wasn’t one I had ever used before). She followed up several times after that to make sure everything was OK.

Now that we’ve cleared up the most common misconceptions, let’s move on to actually making a reservation. The first step of course is to go to the website, Airbnb.com. You should see choices for “Homes,” “Experiences,” and “Restaurants.” Choosing “Restaurants” allows you to make reservations at restaurants throughout the US. The “Experiences” option includes a plethora of options that basically put you in-touch with someone from the local area to do anything from go hiking, biking, surfing, wine tastings, cooking lessons, and the list goes on and on. “Homes” is just what it sounds like and includes single-family homes, apartments, cabins, and even camping sites.

Let’s start simple and choose “Homes” first. Then put in dates, how many guests,  and room type to start. You can fine-tune your search by putting in minimum and/or maximum rates per night and selecting from the list of options under the “More filters” button at the top. If you’d like to bring your well-behaved dog along with you, choose the Pets allowed option. If you really want a swimming pool, check pool under Facilities options. Just know that the more filters you check, the fewer your options will be. I suggest only choosing filters that are extremely important to you, or your dream property might not show up because of something you checked that really wasn’t a big deal to you.

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One of many beautiful sunsets taken from our airbnb in Chile

There is also an option for “Instant book,” which means you don’t have to get approval from the host before booking. I don’t usually check this, but it is an option. If you’re not sure where you want to stay, you can also search using the map and zoom in and out of areas around the world. You may also notice some hosts are listed as “Superhost.” This means the person hosted at least 10 trips, has a 90% response rate or greater, has 5-star reviews the majority of the time, and didn’t cancel reservations that were confirmed.

Finally, to give you a little peace of mind, if there is a problem during your stay that you can’t work out with your host, you can contact Airbnb to have them help you resolve the problem.

For those of you that are now convinced they should join the millions of other people who have used Airbnb, I have a little incentive for you. If you use the following code, you’ll get $40 towards your first rental and I’ll get $20 in travel credit after you travel. This is only for first-time Airbnb users.

link to airbnb with $40 discount

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

“Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida

I have a dear friend that used to live where I do and she moved to Miami several years ago. The last time I went to see her was around 6 or so years ago so I was long over-due for a visit to see her. When I was planning my vacation to Malta, I was curious to see how much more it would cost to go through Miami on my way home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a single penny more (in fact it was a bit cheaper to go through Miami) so after making sure she would be available in late November (she was) I booked our airfare.

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I’ll admit, I’m a huge planner and always have been. It’s nothing for me to have tentative plans for vacations or races a year or more in advance. It may all be in my head, with nothing purchased, but it’s still more or less planned. However, for my time in Miami, I didn’t plan a single thing. I didn’t go online to check out restaurants. I didn’t go to TripAdvisor to choose things to do. Since we would be staying with my friend and she would be driving us around, I didn’t even have to make hotel and/or rental car arrangements. This is truly unusual for me, to trust another person with all of the details for my vacation.

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I’ll also admit our time in Miami may not be how many of you would choose to spend time there. We didn’t go to a single club or bar. When we went to South Beach, the only things we did were go to lunch and spend the rest of the day on the sand and/or in the ocean. We also went to my friend’s neighborhood pool and my daughter had a grand time there. Most of all, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoy ourselves as my friend went out of her way to make us feel truly welcome.

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So what did we do other than go to the beach and pool? Well, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. We wanted to also go to Everglades National Park but because of a recent hurricane, they were closed. My friend has gone on multiple airboat rides in the Everglades over the years with visiting friends and relatives and she likes Everglades Safari Park the best. For $28 per adult or $15 per child you get a 30-40 minute airboat tour, a wildlife nature show, and you can walk along the “Jungle Trail,” observation platform, and exhibits on your own after the airboat tour. There’s also a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online.

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I’ve been on airboat rides before through the Everglades but I had forgotten how much fun they are! My daughter had never been on one and she loved it as well. During our tour, we saw multiple alligators, a few birds, and our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the area such as some so poisonous you would be dead within 20 minutes of touching it. After the airboat ride, we watched the wildlife nature show, where they had a boa constrictor and alligators. You could also get your picture take with a baby alligator after the show for $3 (we didn’t). We finished up our time at Everglades Safari Park with a walk around the “Jungle Trail,” which was nice but we didn’t really see much of anything of note.

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One of a few alligators seen on our airboat tour

Two things of note come to mind when visiting the Everglades: this is apparently an entirely different experience if you come during the warmer versus cooler months. My friend has been here during all seasons and said the mosquitoes will eat you alive during the warmer months (most of the year in Miami) and you may not even see a single alligator on the airboat ride. More reasons to go to Miami during the winter.

This vacation was a nice break after being so busy and active in Malta the previous couple of weeks. Normally you wouldn’t think of a long weekend in Miami as being quiet and relaxing, but like I’ve said many times, my family and I don’t vacation like typical Americans do.

How many of you have been on an airboat ride through the Everglades? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe)

On our final day in Malta we decided to check out some of the beaches a bit further away than the one across the street from our hotel. Although we had walked along this beach in St. Paul’s Bay a couple of times, we hadn’t attempted to get into the water and it was a rocky beach so it’s not one where you would sit on the sand and relax. Still, it was nice to walk along the water in the evening and watch the beautiful sunsets.

I had read that Ghadira Bay Beach is Malta’s largest sandy beach and that even in November the water could be warm enough for some people to swim in. I also knew that Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay were also worth checking out. Popeye Village, the movie set for the movie Popeye that was left permanently after filming ended on Malta is also close to Ghadira Bay Beach, so I thought we could make a day of it going to all of these places.

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Popeye Village, movie set from the 1980 movie “Popeye”

First we went to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and were blown away by how beautiful the view was. The water is this mixture of turquoise, greens, and darker blues that’s mesmerizing. It’s all surrounded by these huge limestone cliffs that just add to the beauty of the area. We hadn’t packed our bathing suits or towels because we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than taking in the views but our daughter begged my husband and me to drive back to the hotel and put on our swim suits and get beach towels. We agreed on the condition that we could first check out Ghadira Bay Beach and if we didn’t like it as much we’d go back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

Ghadira Bay Beach is beautiful but we didn’t think it was nearly as beautiful as Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Honestly, I don’t have nearly as good of photos of Ghadira Bay Beach as I do of Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, so I’m only going to show Ghajn Tuffieha Bay here. After having lunch at Ghadira Bay Beach, we drove the short drive to Popeye Village. We decided it wouldn’t be worth the 30 Euro it would have cost to go inside the village, especially since we didn’t want to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes there. After admiring the view and snapping some photos, we drove back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

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Just look at this water!

My husband and daughter who are both more cold-tolerant than I am got in the water and swam around for quite a while before they both got out to warm up on the soft sand under the warm sun. I kept thinking to myself that this was a very nice way indeed to spend our holiday. I felt very fortunate to be here in this beautiful country with such rich history, awesome scenery, and friendly people.

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One unexpected thing that we discovered in the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gneja Bay area were all of the trails there. We explored the many paths that wrapped around the bays and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both bays.

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Stopping on one of the trails to take a photo

After leaving Ghajn Tuffieha Bay we went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner (which happened to be Thanksgiving Day for us Americans). So what did we decide to have for our Thanksgiving dinner in Malta you ask? We actually got take-away from a Chinese restaurant and celebrated back in our room. It was our last day in Malta, since we would be flying out the next morning to continue our vacation in Miami, Florida.

As we were driving to the airport bright and early the next morning to leave Malta, I started thinking about what was my favorite part. Usually I have an answer to questions like that pretty quickly, but here, I’m not sure. I loved Gozo and the salt pans there. I loved Dingli Cliffs and the views from there. I also loved Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and the beautiful water. I think in this case, I’ll have to go with my top three.

You can find other posts about Malta here:

Where in the World is Malta?

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

How many of you have been to Malta and have been to these beautiful beaches and bays? What is your favorite part of Malta?

Happy travels!

Donna