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X Marks the Spot

If you’re doing an A-Z Challenge and your focus is family travel, it’s almost impossible to find a term more fitting for the letter “x” than “X marks the spot”.

Treasure maps and quest maps seem to be made for children and the adventurous at heart. I love them. I even made my son’s first birthday a pirate theme with a map to get to our living room to celebrate the day.

So here it is, a simple way to give your trips a little more excitement for the little ones. Turn it into a quest. How do you do it?

  1. Find an end goal (treasure) that will appeal to the whole family. Whether this is a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or a cupcake at the city’s best cupcake place is up to you.
  2. Decide if the quest is going to be for just a part of your trip (a few hours or one day) or extend longer (over the course of several days or throughout the whole trip). The rest of the instructions will be based on making the quest a part of a day, but can be used to 
  3. Plot the sites you already wanted to see on a map (google is great for this).
  4.  See if any of these spots would make a good natural progression for your treasure map. Depending on how detailed you want to be, and the time you have, you may have to get creative and zoom in really close to find the perfect arrangement.
  5. Pick a few spots, including the starting point.  When picking your stops decide if you’re going to spend time inside, or if you are just going to stay outside. How much time will you need?
    • Just stopping to look, maybe take a few photos? Allow 10-15 minutes
    • Going to stop for a snack? Allow 30 minutes to an hour
    • Spending sometime inside the attraction? You’ll likely need between 1-3 hours – this type of itinerary is better suited for an all day or several day treasure hunt
  6. List these out. What kind of treasure map do you want it to be?
    • A map only
    • Map and clues
    • Clues only
  7. I think the clues are the fun part, so I would keep that in. Now decide how you want the clues given. Go with your strengths here
    • A rhyme
    • Street signs
    • A story
  8. Write something for each spot until they’re all down, make sure they’re in the right order, and keep the answers with you so you don’t forget once your on your trip.
  9. Package up the clues with the map.
  10. Have a great trip.

As you notice, most of these steps are true for any itinerary planning. The added features are a specific map and/or clues. It’s having an end goal that is intentionally highlighted. It’s a little more work for a bigger punch.

A sample map

I wanted to try it out, so I imagined a simple walk from the Eiffel Tower’s nearest metro stop to the top of the tower. A very typical trip people will make when they visit Paris. Will it win me any writing awards? No. Was it fun and easy? Mostly. Would my kids enjoy it? I hope so!

This would be the full map with the first clue:

X Marks the Spot

And here are the subsequent clues. Simple rhymes that aren’t really clues, but fun. Not really too researched because I just wanted to get it done. You can spend as much time or as little time on something like this. I think it’s cool.

 

The biggest feature, we have here to see,
Is the big old fountain between the small trees,
It is named the Fountain of Warsaw – that’s true,
There’s a bunch of different fountains, putting on a show for you,
Let’s count them together, how many could there be?
Let’s walk to the end – come on follow me!
————————————————————————————-

Ah the Eiffel, it’s getting close now,
There’s one little stop, a ride on a cow.
No, no, I’m kidding of course.
We’ll not ride a cow. Instead just a horse.
We’ll wait in a line, not talk on our cell.
To ride what I think’s the world’s greatest carousel.
————————————————————————————-
That was fun!
We’re almost done.
But before we go up.
I want a drink in a cup.
With a side of a crepe.
Doesn’t that sound great?
 ————————————————————————————-

We made it.
We made it.
All the way to the top!
We even managed, with more than one stop!
Let’s look out below, at the whole of the lot.
And be happy we played “X marks the spot”.

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Expat Liv writes about her life in India and is participating in this year’s A-Z Challenge. Though the challenge is almost over, you can still check out what she did and follow her as she completes the final letters.

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Volunteer Trips for Families

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Here’s another type of travel to consider: volunteer trips for families.

I haven’t done this with my family, yet. I know I will when they are older. Some of my favorite bonding memories with my friends are those where we volunteered with an organization for something greater than us. I can’t wait to bond in this type of meaningful way with my kids.

This isn’t something, when the time comes, that I will go into half-heartedly. I imagine hours upon hours of researching the right fit.

In the meantime, I want to do things a little differently with this post.

First, I want to ask if anyone reading this has any experience with a volunteer trip – domestic or international. If so, please leave your thoughts in the comments, or shoot me an email.

Second, here are a list of resources I’ve found online. I will update this list and this post as I learn more about it.

Resources for Family Volunteer Trips

  • International Volunteer Program Association: Includes a list of member organizations as well as a lot of information for people interested in volunteering.
  • Global Citizens Network: Offers information about volunteer and plans scheduled or custom trips for independent travelers, groups, or families.
  • The Great Projects: Provides volunteer projects focused on wildlife around the world.
  • Outreach 360: Started in orphanages, but has branched out to include empowering children in poverty-stricken areas.
  • Me To We: Focuses on volunteer trips that provide the sustainable community development.
  • Give Kids the World: This Orlando-based company helps children with life-threatening illnesses make their wishes come true. Volunteers have to be at least 12 years old.

For more articles about family volunteering

  • USA Today lists the 10 Best Family Volunteer Travel Vacations
  • New York Times discusses some of the things families should discuss before embarking on a volunteer trip.

On another note

I have loved doing this A-to-Z challenge. It’s been fun writing new posts almost daily, and meeting so many travel bloggers. I can’t believe we’re already at V! Only 4 more (very difficult) letters to go. I’m not ready to stop these daily, themed posts. In the month of May I’m going to write a new post every week-day about an attraction (museum, park, anything) that our family has visited. I’ve wanted to write about these anyway, and this is a good time to do it. If this is something that interests you, please join me! I hope you stick around for those posts – and I’m sure I’ll still check out a lot of your blogs in the future.
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A funny thing, my A-to-Z spotlight blog of the day, the Traveling Suitcase, is also going to continue the A-Z challenge in May. Let’s see if we can get a group of travel bloggers doing the same! In the meantime, check out their blog!

 

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“Unknown” Destinations

U

The challenge in these destinations

Yesterday I wrote about touristy attractions. Today I want to discuss the complete opposite: unknown attractions. I value showing our children the popular destinations. However, there’s something fun in discovering something relatively unknown.

The problem is – how do you find out about these places?

Well, the good news is most of these places are in a guidebook. Not all guidebooks, though. Comprehensive guidebooks, focused on a smaller region, will have more unknown sites and destinations. This is actually a good thing. No one wants to spend their vacation in a place that is just “meh“. If it’s not in a comprehensive guidebook focused on the region, that might be because it’s just “meh“. (And if it’s not in a comprehensive guidebook and you still want to go – that’s ok, too!)

The bad news is that off the beaten path places are not off everyone’s beaten path. I tend to think that statement refers to sites that aren’t on a top 10, 20, or even 50 list of things to do. These are places that your circle of friends might not be as familiar with, but they’re likely a local person’s treasure. The reason this is bad news: crowds are still possible. Don’t worry we’ll talk more about that in a moment.

There are four types of unknown/lesser known destination trips.

  • A popular destination, such as Paris, with visits to sites that are off the radar.
  • Off the radar cities that are off the typical tourist trail of cities.
  • Regions that aren’t visited by many people from your circle or nationality, but have tourists from within the region or are a popular destination for people from another country.
  • Places that have tiny populations and tourists rarely go or get a chance to visit. These are much more remote, challenging, and likely expensive to get to. 

Six steps to finding and enjoying an “unknown” destination

For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on the first three I listed above. Remote, challenging, and expensive destinations aren’t something people go into lightly. I’m sure anyone going there with their family will get better resources than I can offer.

For the other three, though, I want to talk about how to find and enjoy them. Remember, the nature of the “unknown” place is they don’t get as many tourists as wherever you’re from. Hopefully, these tips will help.

  1. What kind of trip do you want? some sites within a popular city, something of the tourist trail in an often visited country, or something completely unfamiliar to you and your circle.
  2. Search online: Look up photos, websites, and social media and follow the clicking or hashtag trail until you find something appealing.
  3. Check out a guidebook: Find a comprehensive guidebook for the area of the world you want to visit. Skip the parts about places  you are already familiar with and see if you can find a place that interests you.
  4. Research: Now that you know where you want to go. Go back to the web and guidebook.
    • Know the history and geography.
    • Consider your transportation options. Remember, it’s “off-the-beaten-path” – roads and public transportation may not be as reliable as places you are accustomed to.
    • Learn some language. Don’t count on English speakers working the hotel desk, kiosks, or tours if they don’t get many English-speaking visitors.
    • Don’t forget the meals. Research the food. Don’t worry, meal selections will likely be more authentic. This may not appeal to the youngest or pickiest of travels. Knowing what to expect can help. Then you can order something you know they will like, or pack some peanut butter and buy some bread.
    • What will you do there? See what attractions, events, and festivals are there. Even if it is relatively unknown, it will likely have a list of must-sees and dos.
    • Who does travel to this place – does it have a high season? Try to find out who travels there. Is it a local favorite? Is it popular with German tourists? If there’s a chance it could be busy with their more typical tourist, consider visiting during shoulder season. Then you get the best parts of the destination, without the crowds.
    • Is traveling off-season an option?Be cautious of traveling off-season, though. In some places off-season is actually closed season and there may be NOTHING to do.
  5. Once you are there, talk to locals. What do they recommend?
  6. Wander. What kinds of things do you stumble upon when you travel without any direction? Some of my favorite trips have been because I hadn’t pre-planned anything and just took random turns as we wandered around.

Photo by Rome Cabs

 
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Every day of the A-Z Challenge I link to another participant writing about something travel-related for the challenge. I actually picked my links before I knew what I would be posting about on any given day. Today’s planned link is with Tui Snider’s Offbeat and Overlooked Travel. Lots of great information fitting in with going to places that aren’t necessarily on a typical top 20 list.Audio-Technica AT2020

Touristy Attractions

T

Iconic sites and touristy attractions are the Three O’s: Overrated, Overseen, and Overwritten about

I have no problem visiting overrated, overseen, and overwritten about sites – or as I’ll refer to them, the “three Os”. Just because 95% of the people who go to Rome visit the Colosseum doesn’t mean that I have seen it for myself. And when I want to see something for myself, I want to see it for myself. 

Touristy attractions are a good thing for kids. Don’t let travel cynics stop you from giving kids something relatable. The iconic images that they’ll see in their textbooks and in movies are part of the fabric of travel that will connect their memories with what they’re learning. It will get them to continue to be interested in seeing the world. And that’s ok.

Ways to make a visit to the Three O’s a pleasant one for your family

That said, I do think there are some positive and negative ways to handle visiting the three Os. So, here are some things for your consideration.

  • Research it in advance
    • Learn the story
      • What’s the history leading up to the creation of this iconic site?
      • Why is it still so popular today?
      • What are some tidbits that may be interesting to your kids?
    • Consider the responsible tourism angle
      • One of the problems with overrated sites is that they’re crowded. In the short-term, this is bad because no one wants to spend a lot of time in line visiting a place that’s over crowded. In the long-term, it can have negative effects on the resources in the community. Find out when high season is – and do your best to avoid it.
      • Make a plan to visit the site in a responsible way when considering any hotels, tours, and even souvenirs you may purchase.
    • Figure out the logistics
      • How can you maximize your visit? Is it better to buy tickets online to avoid the long wait, or do you have to book a tour to get decent access?
      • What’s the best way to approach the site? The first time I visited the Eiffel Tower, we drove right up. It wasn’t quite the “moment” I was looking for. The next time, we took the metro at night and I turned a corner and all of a sudden – wow! I mean, I’d already seen the thing before, so you could imagine my surprise to actually be wowed by it.
      • Know your kids. If you’re visiting a field in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of old stones jutting out of the earth and touching those stones is illegal – are your kids old enough to understand this or will they be tempted to touch? Find an alternative place to see.
      • Think about the length of your visit. Know that you may have to cut it short if the kids get antsy.
      • Make sure everyone has eaten before you go.
      • When’s the best time of the day to visit to avoid the crowds?
      • Do they offer guides (people or audio) that are aimed towards kids?
      • What else is there to do in the area that would be interesting for the family?
  • Share the information with your family
    • Talk about the history of the site leading up to the trip. Look for those popular images in movies and books.
    • Talk about the history the day of your trip as you head to the place. Remind them of what life was like back when this was made and why it is still popular today.
    • Encourage them to look out for something that they’ll only see there.
    • Remind them of the things they should do to be responsible travelers, especially in these places that get so many visitors.
    • When you leave, give them some time to reflect on what they saw.
  • Don’t do too many of the Three Os in one day. The key to enjoying the uniqueness of some of these destinations is to balance it with something completely different.

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Thee Getaway Gal is talking travel in her A-to-Z Challenge. In fact, within this challenge she’s issued a fun Instagram Challenge to encourage everyone to travel locally. I love it (and I’ll be launching a separate site soon focused just on the local-to-me travel opportunities, so this is close to my heart. Please visit her site and join the challenge.english to malay translation googleoutdoor car cover nzusb hub

Queues with little ones

Q

While most people with young kids will say that flying is the hardest part of traveling, I disagree. I think it’s queues. They’re everywhere. Perhaps a good way to prepare for a trip, especially to theme parks, is to stand in the longest line you can find for 30 minutes and see what happens.

Let me know, though, as I really hate lines and will never force myself into one without any benefit.

So, how do we deal with this?

The culture of the queue

First – queuing is a cultural thing. Here’s a sample of different types of queuing cultures.

  • First come, first served.
  • Loudest is first.
  • Survival of the fittest.
  • Whatever, we’ll all eventually get helped.
  • Pick a number.
  • Show me the money.
  • What’s a line?

Now that we have that out of the way, figure out what the line culture is where you’re going. Then remember that what may be considered rude where you’re from, might not be rude where you are going. So, get over any feelings of being polite or you’ll still be standing in line as I’m posting the Z for this challenge.

Very basic queue etiquette

Regardless of the above, there are still some line rules that you just don’t break.

 

  • Don’t push pass people in any line that is roped off.
  • If people are going in or out of a place (subways or elevators), let the people out before going in.
  • Don’t look at the reservations book to find the last name of someone else and pretend you are them.
  • Actually, never pretend to be someone you aren’t just to get preferential treatment.
  • In dangerous situations – women and children first

 

Dealing with long lines and waits

Kids aren’t good waiters, so prepare some spur of the moment games and distractions to keep everything fun. Here are some ideas:

  • Play two truths and one lie
  • Talk about what’s around you via the game I spy
  • Take turns with the game 20 questions
  • Recap the things you’ve done and discuss what you will soon do
  • Take selfies on your phone, post them to IG #queueselfies
  • Eat a small snack

If you have any fun line anecdotes, tips on how to queue in a country you’ve visited, or suggestions for keeping wait times somewhat fun, let me know in the comments!

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Adventuring at Home‘s blog is about life in Charlottesville, VA. Her take on the A-to-Z challenge are things she wants to do in her 20s. Check it out!

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