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Zoos and Science Centers

Z copy

And here we are – 26 letters later – Z.

I can’t believe I’m going to talk about Zoos. When I first decided to restart this Travel Turtle as a family travel blog, I read a lot of like-minded blogs. There was a one or two-week period when I kept reading about zoos. I turned to my husband (we were in a car) and I said, “I don’t know why people keep writing about zoos. I mean, they’re zoos. What’s there to know? You go in and look at animals. Besides, why would people go to zoos when they’re visiting a new city anyway?”

Then a funny thing happened. Over the course of this past year, I’ve been to several zoos.

Turns out there are legitimate reasons to visit a zoo, or a science center, or a lot of other types of family friendly attractions that could exist closer to home when you’re far from home. Before having kids, I hadn’t visited a zoo since at least high school. So it surprised me that they are actually interesting.

I was kind of against them because of the cruelty to animals thing, and I’ll get to that in a second.

Zoos and science centers are not the same the world over. When you are traveling, the nearest zoo will have a large section devoted to local animals. The nearest science center will give insight into the natural and scientific story of the region – and it’s really cool.

So, don’t be like me and dismiss a zoo or a science center while on vacation because  you have an annual pass to the one in your neighborhood. You can learn a lot from both. (And, of course, your kids will love them, they have playgrounds, hand-on activities, and kid-friendly eating establishments.)

Why read a blog post about zoos?

This is where the “who writes about zoos and science centers” comes in. I never visited zoos because of fear of animal mistreatment. I never stayed knowledgeable in zoo facilities because I just never went. Then I visited one that was near me and had great reviews. That’s when I discovered the value in a good zoo. Employees are not just people who needed any job. These are competitive jobs that require some level of interest and education. These people are people who care about animals. They’re animal advocates and they’re showing the visitors why animals matter.

Not all zoos are created equally, unfortunately. I know I have some readers that may have good information for me to look into to make sure I’m visiting a zoo that really puts the animals first. I’d love to hear your opinions about this. What should I look out for, if you don’t visit zoos why not, what (if anything) would you recommend in the place of zoos?

In some of my research I’ve discovered that in the United States, the USDA is the only government organization regulating the treatment of animals at zoos and aquariums. There are various accreditation agencies, each with their own standards, but membership into those agencies are also fee-based. Be aware of that distinction when you see that a zoo has a certain accreditation.

For the zoos I have been lucky to visit the past 12 months, I’ve had a good experience. For me, this is invaluable. My son loves animals. I want to take him to a place that will foster his interest, where animals are properly treated, and employees are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. This is why I read reviews.

Now I’m putting it here, for the last letter of the A-Z Challenge. It’s an introduction to what I’ll be doing in May. One thing that has been lacking in my website are reviews about places like zoos, science centers, and tourist spots. These places often have a website filled with the practical information such as prices, directions coming from the highway or public transportation, maps, and hours of operations. That’s only part of what parents want to know, though. They want to know if the price was worth it, if the animals’ environments are up to a high standard, if the kids like it, if the food was good, and other pointers and opinions they can’t find on the official website. And since this is a family travel blog, I want to provide that information.

So please come back in May and read about a few of the zoos we’ve visited, some of our favorite science centers, and other fun vacation spots (my line up includes scenic views in Austria, Paris, and Switzerland, government buildings, amusement parks, museums, mountains, beaches, castles, national parks, and UNESCO sites)

Thank you A-Z Challenge Participants

Thank you to everyone who joined me, read along, and commented during this challenge. It was truly a challenge (I had around 70 posts before starting, now I’m at 96!). Every day I highlighted a travel blogger participant. Here’s a complete list of those blogs. Some of them have kept up, some of them are still working on it, and some of them are finished at the moment, but at some point in this challenge they provided me with fun travel information and for that – thank you!

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One last thing. I’ve started a Triberr account for anyone who participated in the A-Z challenge and wants to continue to connect. I find it to be a really easy sharing tool, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. If you want to join the A-Z Travel Bloggers tribe, click here and let me know.


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Yucky food while traveling


*** This may be a sensitive story for those with weaker stomachs***

Have you ever witnessed a pig being slaughtered? I’m not talking in movies, nor do I mean a slaughterhouse.

The first, and so far only, time I have “witnessed” a pig slaughter was when I was seven. We were two weeks into our 3 week family visit in the Philippines. It was a comfortably warm December and we were prepping for our Christmas feast. The pig on the farm, the one I had grown accustomed to seeing on my aunt’s property, was being prepared for the big roast.

As soon as the preparation of killing the pig started, I walked away. My aunt lived in was a bamboo hut, in the middle of a clearing, in the middle of a jungle. There was no way to escape the sound. That squeal. It was a sound I could never forget. It was the sound of death. I don’t know how long he squealed for, it felt like eternity, but I did know one thing. I knew I was never going to eat that pig.

So when his head showed up as the centerpiece on the Christmas Eve dinner table, surrounded by dishes that included other parts of him, I happily skipped my meal.

One week and two days later, it was my birthday. We were leaving the next day. My Filipino family threw a second feast. Instead of a pig, though, they killed a chicken.

I watched in mixed horror/fascination. With the head still hanging by a small piece of neck skin, that chicken ran all over the farm. I don’t even know if he made a sound. Whereas the pig made every other noise in the jungle disappear, this chicken made every other sight and sense disappear. An eternity later, he stopped.

I watched as my grandmother plucked its feathers and drained its blood.

And that night, the chicken was the star event on the dinner table. And that night, I happily ate it up.

Many, many years later I spoke with my dad about these two events. He told me he thought I would never eat the chicken. I told him I was starving.

So – what does this have to do with yucky food and travel? Well, seven-year old me was not an adventurous eater. I was definitely a burger and fries kind of girl. The only dishes I attempted to eat while in the Philippines were ones I was already slightly familiar with because my mom made them. I ate adobo, rice, pan de sol, and lumpia. The diversity in Filipino dishes goes well beyond those more famous dishes. It was not yucky, I just didn’t know it.

But, after 3 weeks of getting by with the minimum. I would eat anything.

These days, one of my favorite reasons to travel is to try the food. I’m still pretty picky. But, I remember my childhood experiences, I try to approach the subject differently with my kids. If I can eat that chicken – my kids can at least taste a food I’m also willing to eat.

How to get your kids past the” yucky” foods.

Whether traveling or not, there are foods kids don’t like and will automatically classify as “yucky food”. Most of the time, they haven’t even tried the food, they just don’t like that it looks different from what they are used to, or maybe it’s because they wanted tacos not fajitas, or maybe they’re just being negative.

Like all other things travel and/or kid related, preparation goes a long way. It starts at home. With some small adjustments willingness to at least try new foods while abroad should be ever-so-slightly easier – if the kids have had their naps, and had time to get the wiggles out, and aren’t mad at you for not buying them the souvenir paperweight they’ve always wanted.

Here are a few tips that will hopefully help  dealing with a pickier eater by slowly introducing new flavors and dishes to them.

  • Get them into the habit of trying new foods. If they’re always eating the same thing at home, it may be difficult for them to want to even open their mouth to a new food experience. But, by making it part of your normal routine, it’ll be something they expect. The best way for this to work is two-fold: always introduce and reintroduce new foods to them, but don’t pressure them into eating more if they don’t like it after they’ve tried it.
  • Make their favorite meals using some of the flavors of the new place they are visiting. Perhaps they really love chicken tenders, maybe add some curry to the ketchup if they’re visiting the UK or India. Or put some mediterranean spices in the coating if their trip will take them to Greece.
  • Go a little deeper with fusion meals. Combine the components of various culinary traditions to a meal that is more heavily influenced by another culture than just switching out the seasonings. A good example is a thai chicken pizza.
  • Try new recipes of the places they’re going. This kind of coincides with the first point – let them try new foods. But, this is specific to where they’re going so that they can get a sense of what the foreign dishes might look like. My favorite source for good recipes and international food is “Food by Country“. I’ve tried recipes on that site from Hungary, Brazil, and Germany and they’ve all been delicious. I’m not sure how authentic they all are, but it’s definitely a change from what’s in our normal rotation.
  • Let them help you cook. This is more of a general tip for picky eaters. Sometimes being part of the process helps the kid want to eat the meal.
  • Figure out the local foods, and what might most appeal to your kid. My son loves sausage and noodles. If I can find him a sausage or noodle dish while we’re on vacation, he’ll generally be happy.
  • As a last resort, go with old standbys. Pack a jar of peanut butter, and make some sandwiches. Get fruit and cheese at the grocery store. Go to chain restaurants that have made their way overseas where the kid is guaranteed to like something. Do so without shame or disappointment. As an adult I spent two weeks in China. Every meal was noodles, sautéed veggies, meats, rice, and a grand gesture. It was exhausting. On the 10th day, we ate at McDonald’s. It was so relaxing to have a different style meal – to eat without ceremony. It was a nice break that helped us all appreciate the last few days of Chinese meals we ate. Sometimes you just have to do what works with your family.

 Photo by Geoff Peters 604

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Guide and Travel has dedicated their A-Z Challenge to Romania. Lots of great information on what I believe to be a beautiful country. I haven’t been, but it sits near the top of my list.IKEBANA W2359trading psychology 2.0 epub

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


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


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