Tag Archives: family vacation

Two travelers at Darling Harbour Pyrmont Bridge in Sydney, Australia

Make the Most of Your Kid Studying Abroad

With more and more students spending a semester studying abroad, we’re seeing more and more families travel to visit them. I’m just back from visiting my son Charlie in Australia, and many of you are arranging ever cooler trips to meet up with your own favorite undergrad, everywhere from Copenhagen to Botswana. So I thought I’d share some hard-earned wisdom:

  • When you reunite with your child in their foreign homebase, they won’t have jet lag, but you will. For our Australia trip, we knew Charlie would run us ragged playing tour guide. That meant we needed to get over jet lag before joining him in Sydney. So we opted to start our trip by recovering from jet lag first, at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. As it turned out, half of the people we met on Lizard Island were parents from the U.S. who had just been in Sydney visiting their student!  (And many wished they’d eased in at Lizard Island first.)
Wendy's son and other people studying at State Library in New South Wales.

Charlie studying in the grand State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Wendy Perrin

    • Consider Thanksgiving or spring break. Of course you’ll want to visit when your college student has free time and doesn’t have exams. But if you’re bringing other children who are on a U.S. school schedule, your best timing during the fall semester is likely to be Thanksgiving, and your best timing during the spring semester is likely to be spring break. Such timing works well in many popular Study Abroad cities, such as Barcelona and Florence: Prices are lower and tourist crowds fewer than in peak season (Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Europe).
    • Make advance reservations. Many college students today have a last-minute lifestyle, which might not work well if you’ve got a group of people. Let your student show you their adopted city through their eyes, but if they’re not accustomed to planning activities and meals for a group, consider using the right local itinerary-planning expert who can cater to the special interests of each family member, optimize your itinerary for the month and days of the week that you’re visiting, and reserve hard-to-get-into restaurants or activities (such as a twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, which Tim and Charlie did, below).
Two travelers climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Charlie and Tim atop Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    • Don’t forget about other nearby countries. The study-abroad kids I know are exploring a different city within their new country almost every weekend. So think about other countries nearby where your student might not travel on their own. I’ve seen parents take a Spain-based student to Morocco, for example, or an Italy-based student to Malta.

There is a vast array of study-abroad programs now, not just for a semester but for January term, “Maymester,” summer, and more. Read on to get ideas for experiences that might resonate with your own family. We’re happy to help you with more ideas if you click the black “Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation” button below.


Spain: “My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona…”

Barcelona - Park Guell, Spain

Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was the easiest, least stressful, most enjoyable trip our family has ever taken. Much of the credit for this goes to Iván. This trip came about because our oldest is spending a semester abroad at the University of Granada. My mom told us about Wendy’s WOW List, and we soon connected with Iván. My wife and I had a one-hour Zoom call with Iván where he asked about our family, what we like to do, where we wanted to go in Spain, and our ‘must-see/do’ list. Within 48 hours, he sent us a detailed itinerary that blew us away. It checked all the boxes we were looking for and then some.

The main cities we visited were Madrid, Granada and Barcelona. Since college, my wife has been fascinated by Gaudi and has always dreamed of seeing his work, so in Barcelona, Iván planned a ‘Gaudi Day,’ so she could get her fill. The day included visits to Park Güell, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia.

Some of our favorite activities during the trip were under-the-radar experiences that Iván set up for us. My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona where she created a tile mosaic of an octopus in the style of Gaudi.

My favorite was the photography workshop we did in Granada. It was run by a couple with a studio and darkroom in one of the cave houses in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada. The workshop focused on wet plate photography, one of the oldest types of photography. They took a photo of our daughters to show us how the process works and then let the kids take and develop a few photos, which are now proudly displayed in our dining room. They were such a lovely couple, and we could have spent many more hours with them. It was truly a special trip.” —Alex Kovac

Read more reviews of Spain trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


New Zealand: “We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub…”

The Hancock family on top of a glacier in New Zealand's South Island.

The Hancock family explored New Zealand’s South Island by helicopter, flying past waterfalls, high alpine lakes, river valleys, and sharp mountain peaks before landing on a glacier.

“Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately, and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had.

We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world, and Jean-Michel and his team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

Read more reviews of New Zealand trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Italy: “Our private boat ride on the Arno was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river…”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

View over the Arno river in Florence. Photo: Shutterstock

“I had Maria plan a special family trip for three family members to spend 11 days in Italy in Oct. I had some specific requests to see some things I had not seen before, as I have lived and worked in Italy 30 years ago. Maria from the outset understood my needs and she crafted an amazing trip from the start (a private transfer from Malpensa to lunch at Villa D Este & on to Bellagio on Lake Como) to finish…High-speed train back to Milan to catch our flight home. Everything was seamless and very special.

All of the hotels were perfect for us, and Maria pulled off the virtually impossible: finding a lovely quiet room overlooking a piazza without crazy noise and in the shadow of important Renaissance architecture. She also mentioned the rooftop pool and bar at the Minerva in Florence, where we had drinks each night in the soft evening light, with gorgeous views of the Duomo.  Her private excursions to the Factory floor of Lamborghini, to lunches at small wineries run by families who have been there for centuries… it was all beyond terrific. Our private boat ride on the Arno at night was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river in the evening. This is the edge Maria offers, access and know-how that only a seasoned specialist can uncover for their clients.

I can’t thank Wendy enough for linking me up with Maria, we enjoyed every day of our trip and we will certainly reach out to her again to plan some more special moments in other spots in one of my most favorite countries on earth, that I have visited more than 20 times!  Mille Grazie Maria and team!!!  —Mary Munn

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Australia: “A private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!)”

Karri Schildmeyer and her family during their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family on their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour.

“We cannot imagine our trip to Australia going any better than it did, simply because we learned about Wendy Perrin’s company from a dear friend, and their connection to Stuart and Jacki. We spent two weeks visiting our daughter, who was studying abroad in Sydney. Our trip began in Sydney, where we spent the first five days learning about the city, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hugely enjoying a private tour of the Sydney Opera House and our e-bike tour of Manly Beach. Then we ventured outside Brisbane to Lockyer Valley and the quiet, peaceful Spicers Hidden Vale. How fun to chat with the kangaroos outside our cabins! This retreat was perfectly quaint, with incredible views, meals and service.

After three days in the Valley, we flew to Cairns to spend three days at the Niramaya Villas & Spa. This leg of our trip was the most tropical, as we experienced an amazing day on the water snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and an afternoon at Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas was an incredible seaside town with fantastic restaurants and a must-see sunset at the Marina.

We flew back to Sydney for a private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!) and headed stateside after our two-week adventures in beautiful, friendly Australia. This vacation exceeded every expectation and will undoubtedly be remembered in our family as a trip-of-a-lifetime.” —Karri Schildmeyer

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Copenhagen: “We had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us…”

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner's local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cari Bender and her family with their local hosts in Copenhagen.

“We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads helped us plan a lovely vacation where we got to explore all over the area. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs, and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming.

The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us—they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special.” —Cari Bender

Read more reviews of Denmark trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


African safari: “We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife…and have a shared album of over 1,000 pictures…”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

“Thanks to Julian for arranging an absolutely fabulous trip to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Cape Town during March 2024. We had travelers on different itineraries from the USA and needed to connect with my daughter in Gaborone, which complicated our agenda, and they all met up as planned. I appreciated the extra help with arranging an additional tour in Maun while we waited for our last friend. After the tour, we were the first guests at the Great Plains lounge, which just opened that day, while we waited until our departing flight to the Delta. We were met and escorted exactly as expected and did not encounter any snags along the way—relatively amazing, given we were on a total of 14 flights in the two weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed each of the three camps in the Okavango Delta. The accommodations, service, food and animal experiences were so beyond our expectations at all three that we couldn’t pick out our favorite and wished we had another night at least to spend at all of them. We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife—lions, elephants wild dogs and more—and have a shared album of over 1000 pictures :) In Zimbabwe, the Old Drift Lodge was also very nice, and Victoria Falls is spectacular. We had animals close to our tents in each of the camps, which was amazing—elephants, baboons, hippos and others. Each of the camps had great views of wildlife from the tents and common areas.

Our guide in Cape Town, Malcolm, was a wealth of information and really helped to show us the city and surrounding areas with a minimum of delay and made sure we had a good amount of time at each stop. We made full use of the Table Bay Hotel’s amenities, surrounding area and attached mall.” —Lori Kirk

Read more reviews of African safari trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



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Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”


We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Timing your next family trip abroad

Published in our twice-weekly newsletter on 1-24-22. For travel updates straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Smart timing is everything

For all you cooped-up families desperate for an interesting trip abroad and wondering whether to try for spring break or wait till summer, the big question to ask yourself is: Can you bear the risk (however small) of the students in the family testing positive before the flight home, needing to isolate in place, and missing a week of in-person school? Those of you choosing spring break typically have a two-week break and are traveling during the first week only, or you can live with remote schooling in isolation (been there, done that). Those of you waiting for summer should choose early summer, when a possible quarantine wouldn’t interfere with the return to school.

I say the risk of having to isolate abroad is small because, of the thousands of travelers whose trips we’ve monitored during Covid, we’ve heard of only two cases of testing positive before the flight home. Both were just before New Year’s—one in Iceland (and most of the traveler’s family members who tested negative flew home without her), and one in Belize (where the resort provided a free stay for the asymptomatic quarantine). Nobody was a minor, and nobody missed school. My own students and I (pictured above in Turkey last summer) wish you the best with your decision, and for spring-break ideas, read about the cool things that the families below did during the Christmas/New Year’s school break! —Wendy


Just back from a safari

Cheetah with babies on African safari

Photo courtesy Beth Nury

“It brought back memories of…breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!”

“Initial discussions with Cherri and her team began in July 2021 to further investigate if 2021 would be the year to go on safari. What Covid hurdles would we encounter? How would we handle a trip cancellation if a family member tested Covid positive days prior to departure? Where is the best place to see the Big 5? She and her team answered those questions (and plenty more!) enabling us to explore Kenya for 15 days. Cherri’s team guided us from the beginning and insisted on three key items to avoid possible trip derailment and an immense financial disaster.

1. Transportation: Due to Covid country entry requirements regularly changing with little notice (the U.S. changed their entry requirements two times after we booked our trip in July), Cherri recommended a direct flight from JFK via Kenya Airways. This smart strategy limited us to only one Covid test when leaving the U.S. and avoided the possibility of additional tests for connecting international flights and airports. Cherri also recommended limiting our travel to one country, Kenya, to again avoid additional, costly Covid tests in order to enter another African country.

2. Insurance: Cherri highly recommended we purchase Trip Cancellation insurance and evaluate the optional CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) endorsement. Granted, the policy was expensive and the CFAR endorsement only indemnified me for 75% (industry standard) of the total trip cost, but it provided peace of mind as the Delta and Omicron variants raced across the U.S. with me and my family as potential targets!

3. Health & Safety: Cherri recommended bringing paper copies of all travel documents: Covid vaccines, health insurance cards, Trip Cancellation policy, Covid test results, passports etc. and not rely on my phone as the only document location. This strategy enabled us to move through airport check-in quicker than others because Kenya Airways wanted to review paper copies and not documents on a phone. Cherri’s team also coordinated our return Covid tests at Saruni Mara with a Kenyan doctor prior to leaving. The day following the tests, results were emailed to me at Giraffe Manor, our final stop, and the staff was instrumental with printing the lab report with the QR Code which was required in order to board our flight home.

The accommodations recommended by Cherri were superb. The hospitality was warm, the bush guides were knowledgeable, the food was excellent and the facilities were immaculate and regularly wiped down to eliminate any threat of a virus. A special shout out to Sasaab and Saruni Mara for going above and beyond by arranging meaningful visits to local people! Cherri’s tip to bring some candy and small gifts for the village children as an icebreaker was all that was needed for smiles, giggles and an insider’s view of the locals’ homes and lifestyles.

I cannot forget to note the sleeper of the trip: Governors Balloon Safari. My husband and I were skeptical of this bucket list item, envisioning being stuffed in a basket with other random tourists prior to sunrise. Boy, were we wrong. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia overtook us as we rose high above the trees of Masai Mara, spotting elephants, giraffes, hippos and buffalo in their natural habitat for the hour ride. It brought back memories of our 1970s childhood: Sunday nights, the entire family parked around the vintage RCA console television, spellbound by the breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!

How could I conclude without mentioning the game drives, the true meaning for the trip? Our guides had us up early for good reason. We regularly viewed big cats over kills every morning. Breakfast in the wild was a chance to pause and reflect. Night drives were full of excitement as we watched the drama of life and death unfold again. Africa, as revealed by Cherri’s team, is truly the ‘trip of a lifetime!’” —Beth Nury



Just back from the ancient world

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized….”

“We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Jim and his team set up this trip perfectly—and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too—especially NYEve party!” —Bernardine Wu



Just back from sun and fun

empty Beach at Caribbean sea in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with footprints

Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside…”

“We have just returned from a trip to Playa del Carmen and enjoyed a fabulous week at the Palmaia, House of Aia. What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes to an hour south of the Cancun airport. Our trip was planned by Zach’s team. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had two beautiful rooms for our family of five and enjoyed the ocean views from the 3rd and 4th floors. This was a trip for just relaxing, so we didn’t plan any excursions. We enjoyed the beach and pools—a perfect vacation. The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside, which made it feel more comfortable. The hotel is an all-inclusive serving top-shelf drinks, and the food was mostly vegan (though you could get seafood and meat at a few restaurants). The most delicious food we have eaten on vacation. We plan to return!” —Michele and Ken Krisko




family posing on a private yacht on the ocean in Belize

A WendyPerrin.com reader and her family chartered a private boat in Belize. Photo courtesy Shelby Willets

International School-Break Trips During Covid: Safe, Easy, and Fun

Safe, easy, delightful, international school-break trips, even during Covid? These families did it. Here’s how.


Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Choosing a Galapagos Cruise: The Most Important Things to Know

There was one small box left under the Christmas tree, addressed to my husband, my son, and me. Inside was a tiny globe from the dollar store—a symbol, my mother explained, of the trip that she and my father would take us on together. The destination: TBD.

It’s part of my job here at WendyPerrin.com to read every trip review that we receive, so I knew immediately that the Galapagos Islands were a multigenerational crowd-pleaser: The low-effort/high-payoff wildlife sightings were sure to appeal to both my 7-year-old son and my 82-year-father, who bracket our small family, as would the unpack-once ease of a cruise.

The tougher decision was which of the 77 licensed vessels to book for our voyage. Hotels are becoming more and more common on the Galapagos’ four inhabited islands, but we knew that we wanted to visit a wider range of islands than we could see on day trips from land. After all, it’s how species change from island to island that steered Darwin to his theory of evolution, and that has attracted awe-struck visitors ever since—those finches and their multitude of beaks, if you remember a little of biology class. And I’m so glad we went by sea: The moments when we, our shipmates, and a colony of bold sea lions shared an empty beach, with not a single other ship on the horizon, were my favorites of the trip by far, and the time we spent in a handful of towns I found the least enjoyable.

To aid us in narrowing down the options, I reached out to Ashton Palmer, an expedition cruise specialist on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts who has spent time in the Galapagos, both with and without his own family of four kids. As Ashton helped us sort through the possibilities, here are the main factors that I learned you need to weigh when picking the right Galapagos experience for your group. Many of these factors, it’s important to note, are drastically different from the considerations you want to weigh when picking an ocean cruise:

  1. Length of cruise
Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos. Photo: Ryan Damm

Most Galapagos cruises are, for all intents and purposes, almost two days shorter than advertised; that’s because you arrive from mainland Ecuador on the first day and have only the afternoon to explore, and most itineraries don’t include any activities before returning to the airport on the final morning. Anything shorter than a five-day cruise—which includes three full days of excursions—doesn’t give you enough time to properly explore the archipelago. On the other hand, you needn’t look for anything longer than a week: Our cruise lasted six full days, and we saw every major species but one (the flightless cormorant, which is found on only two islands).

2. Itinerary/combination of islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island. This 96-passenger ship is the biggest allowed in the Galapagos, but tiny by cruise-ship standards—and perfect for our multigenerational group, which ranged in age from 7 to 82. Photo: Ryan Damm

In many parts of the world, the size of your cruise ship determines which ports you can visit; forget navigating Alaska’s Inside Passage or the hidden gems of the Caribbean on a 5,000-passenger megaship. But in the Galapagos, every vessel can access all the locations where Ecuador’s national park service allows visitors, by anchoring off the island and carrying travelers to land via pangas (small inflatable boats).

Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands - tourists get Up close and personal with sea lions.

Genovesa Island: Up close and personal with sea lions. Photo: Ryan Damm

boy takes photograph of frigatebirds on Genovesa Island in the Gapalagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Zeke takes aim at some frigatebirds. Photo: Ryan Damm

Furthermore, the park service dictates the itinerary of each vessel, and it does so with the marquee attractions in mind. So don’t worry that you’re going to end up on a week-long cruise and miss the giant tortoises or blue-footed boobies. Generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the greater the assortment of wildlife and landscapes you’ll see. Some islands are dusty and have only scrubby vegetation; others are covered by abrasive lava rock and bits of pioneer cactus; still others are cloaked in rain-soaked foliage. But beyond length (or the requirements of a serious birder), there’s not much to make one itinerary superior to another.

3. Size and features of the ship

tourists wade through mangroves on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Wading through mangroves. Photo: Ryan Damm

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos range from small yachts that carry just a dozen passengers to expedition ships holding 100. That capacity dictates the number of guides on board, as visitors must be accompanied by a naturalist on every excursion, divided in groups of up to 16. So a 16-passenger catamaran will likely have just one guide and one option of activity per outing (typically hiking, snorkeling, or kayaking). The 96-passenger ship that we settled on, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour II, had seven naturalists on board, and every day offered a range of activities to suit different abilities: beach strolls, longer walks, shallow or deep-water snorkeling, and even a glass-bottom boat, which I was surprised to find nearly as rewarding as snorkeling (and with the added benefit of a guide naming each species as it wriggled below you). This proved essential for a family such as ours with varying levels of stamina. Keep in mind, though, that none of the hikes allowed by the park service are more than two to three miles in length; my young son wilted at times in the thick and steamy air, but his little legs never once gave out.

birdwatching on Genovesa Island on a Galapagos island cruise

Genovesa Island: Framing a swallow-tailed gull. Some Galapagos walking trails, such as this one, are quite flat, while others require that you boulder-hop among volcanic rocks. Photo: Ryan Damm

The larger ships also tend to have more creature comforts; our rooms had gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows, for instance, and the kitchen staff catered to finicky eaters with ease (when the captain dined with us one evening and saw my son receive a special order of pesto pasta, he even requested a bowl for himself). Consider what you’ll actually use, though: A hot tub may sound appealing, but you’ll seldom want to jump in given the year-round humidity; and with two or even three active excursions every day, only die-hards will use a gym. Room to roam onboard can be a boon for families with young kids who might feel cooped up on a small yacht; a larger ships also brings more potential buddies for your children. By day two, my son had blown us off to eat at a kids’ table with a group of new friends.

On a smaller ship, the days unfold a bit more efficiently: You won’t have to wait in line for pangas to start each excursion, and the mandatory park and safety talks are shorter (it’s easier to succinctly convey a message—and answer questions—with a group of a dozen rather than 100). There’s also a bit more flexibility to each day’s schedule, with the opportunity to linger a few minutes longer at a fabulous snorkeling spot or on a deserted beach.

4. Quality of the naturalists

Galapagos Cruise boy spotting seabirds off coast

Espanola Island: My son enjoys a moment of silence spotting seabirds with our fabulous naturalist, Celso Mantalvo Fuentes. Photo: Ryan Damm

Some cruise operators prioritize the expertise and experience of their guides more than others; this was a factor that attracted us—and just about every other passenger I chatted with on the ship—to Lindblad. The naturalists leading our expeditions had published studies and photographs in scientific journals; started nonprofits to introduce island kids to the Galapagos’ natural wonders (which even locals can only visit with a guide); and consulted on ecotourism projects throughout Ecuador. A knowledgeable Galapagos trip-planning specialist will have cruised on most or all of the vessels they recommend and will know which attract the best-qualified naturalists (almost all of whom are from Ecuador).

5. Commitment to sustainability

hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs sourced from Galapagos farms by Lindblad cruises

Lindblad Expeditions sources much of the produce served on the ship—including these hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs—from Galapagos farms. It’s an economic win for locals, and also good practice environmentally: Invasive pests sometimes catch a ride on food shipped in from the mainland. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos are strictly regulated by the park service, but some cruise operators go above and beyond to be good stewards of this unique environment. Lindblad, for example, has partnered with farmers on the islands to grow much of the produce used on the ships. This not only creates employment opportunities for locals but also avoids introducing invasive pests to the islands (insects can hitch a ride with food shipped over from the mainland). Lindblad will also only serve beer and soft drinks that come in reusable glass bottles (their Ecuadorian craft beer selection is particularly impressive); they stock their gift shops with jewelry, chocolates, and hand-painted t-shirts that are handmade in the Galapagos; and traveler donations to a fund that the company has set up support island conservation and local education. Ask your cruise company what it’s doing to ensure that the Galapagos are preserved for the next generation.

6. Time of year

There’s no off-season in the Galapagos: Since the islands are sprinkled around the equator, you don’t get seasonal variations in weather. The ocean currents are a different story, though, and the normally tepid water gets downright chilly—and choppy—in September and October. If it’s animal behavior you’re after, fear not: Something is nesting, mating, and birthing just about every month of the year. While our April departure was dictated by my son’s school schedule, it meant that we saw the waved albatross returning to land on Española Island and great flocks of frigatebirds flouting their bright red neck pouches on Genovesa. Had we visited in December, we would have seen sea lion pups and bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the water. If you’d rather not deal with the chatter of kids on your cruise, avoid spring-break weeks and the summer months. (Of course, if you want playmates for your own children, those weeks are ideal.)

7. Your preference for privacy—or camaraderie

National Geographic Endeavour Galapagos Cruise ship cabin

Cabin Tip: The two Suite B cabins are the only ones on the National Geographic Endeavour II with these large windows. Photo: Ryan Damm

A smaller vessel feels more intimate, and you’ll likely be trading email addresses with your fellow passengers by the end of the trip. If you’d rather keep to yourself, you might actually prefer a larger ship—or, for the ultimate in privacy, a chartered vessel for your exclusive use. Chartering is best done with groups of ten to 20 family members or friends.

When I called Ashton for advice, he asked about our family dynamics and trip goals, and then presented three options: The Origin, a 20-passenger vessel that carries two guides for some of the smallest excursion groups available; La Pinta, a mid-sized, 40-passenger ship; and the National Geographic Endeavour II. We chose the Endeavour II for its extra onboard amenities and wider range of outings. And it was such a terrific fit for us that, within three weeks of leaving the Galapagos, we booked an Alaska cruise on a similarly sized Lindblad ship (this from a family that had never taken a cruise vacation before). Had my parents not been along, I might have preferred the more intimate feel of a smaller vessel, with less time spent waiting in line to board pangas or attending mandatory lectures. But for a multigenerational group such as ours, a larger ship was just the ticket.


boy watches a Galapagos hawk on Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

Espanola Island: Zeke stares down a Galapagos hawk, the islands’ apex predator.

Full Disclosure: Lindblad Expeditions provided this reporter with a reduced rate for her cruise cabin.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of editorial coverage on Lindblad Expeditions’ part, nor was anything promised on ours.

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Zeke befriends two Colombian girls at a flower farm near Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke tries on a silleta—an ornate arrangement of fresh flowers worn on the back in parades, and local to the region around Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
A coffee cherry. Photo: Ryan Damm
Our guide gives Zeke a few pointers as he plays his first round of tejo. Photo: Ryan Damm
The streets of Pijao, in Colombia's coffee country, are full of lovingly cared for Willys Jeeps from the 1940s that now haul sacks of coffee beans. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke uses a hand-cranked machine to remove the beans from coffee cherries. Photo: Ryan Damm
The main squares of Colombian towns such as Pijao turn into kid playlands on Saturdays. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke milks a cow near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
Making fresh cheese from our milk. Photo: Ryan Damm
Every great guide has a bag of tricks for befriending the youngest clients. Photo: Ryan Damm
Hacienda Bambusa, in Colombia's coffee country. Photo: Ryan Damm
A walk in the countryside near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
The Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena delivered this miniature ode to the U.S. on July 4th—the "fries" are actually mango strips, and the "burger" is a brownie! Photo: Ryan Damm
We break the ice by taking part in a dance class at the ProBoquilla Foundation, which provides after-school enrichment to children in an impoverished village near Cartagena. Photo: Ryan Damm
Demente, right on the square in Cartagena's bohemian Getsemani neighborhood, serves delicious pizzas, tapas, and cocktails. Photo: Ryan Damm
A quiet moment on the Rosario Islands off Cartagena; that's our private motorboat in the background. Photo: Ryan Damm


The way I figure it, my son is now the top-ranking junior tejo player in the United States. What’s tejo, you ask? It’s practically the national sport of Colombia; my family got to try it when we visited the country a few months ago. To be fair, though, Zeke doesn’t have much stateside competition—and it’s not simply because lead discs and gunpowder aren’t perfect ingredients for a kids’ game (confused? Read on). Rather, it’s because family travelers are late to the realization that Colombia is an excellent destination for parents and young kids. Here’s why:

No middle-of-the-night wakeups.

Jet lag can wreak havoc on young kids. When we went to Southeast Asia a few years ago, it took days for Zeke’s body to adjust—and we all suffered from lack of sleep in the interim. But that wasn’t an issue on this trip: Colombia is never more than three time zones from any part of the continental U.S., making the adjustment easy.

You won’t have to spend much once you get there.

While international-standard hotels, high-caliber guides, and private transportation cost roughly the same in Colombia as they do in more popular parts of South America, your other on-the-ground costs will be lower. A 30-minute taxi ride in Medellin cost $5, and my family of three ate out—often with drinks and dessert—for less than $50.

Yes, it’s safe.

Today’s parents might worry about bringing their kids to the country about which their strongest association is Pablo Escobar—but that era of widespread violence is over. I’ve been to countries saddled with State Department travel warnings before, but never with my son in tow. So I was extra-cautious this time, walking around with as little cash as possible and even leaving my wedding ring at home. In retrospect, I needn’t have bothered: I never once felt at risk. Colombians are optimistic about the peace accord that was recently signed with FARC (the country’s largest guerrilla group). As one expat explained to me, nowadays you really have to go looking for trouble to find it in Colombia; the same basic safety precautions you’d take in any unfamiliar place will serve you just fine there.

Coffee country isn’t just for drinking espresso.

We discovered tejo in the town of Pijao, in the heart of Colombia’s coffee country. It was a Saturday, when farmers bring their harvested coffee beans into town to sell to the regional cooperative. Many then head across the street to the tejo club, where the aim is to throw a lead disk at a board covered in clay; if you explode one of the little packets of gunpowder that’s embedded in the clay, you earn extra points. On the afternoon when we visited, the central plaza was a kids’ mecca, with a trampoline, a bouncy house, and mini electric vehicles available to take for a spin around the square. We spent that afternoon touring a coffee plantation and having lunch with the owners. But the rest of our three days in the country’s coffee-growing region were filled with kid-focused adventures: milking a cow, hiking through a forest of towering bamboo, making hot chocolate from scratch (as in raw cacao beans), and—if we hadn’t opted instead to slow ourselves down and spend an afternoon by the pool—rafting down a river. And the chef at our hotel, Hacienda Bambusa, prepared kid-friendly pizza and chicken nuggets as flawlessly as he did our five-course gourmet meals, which each night were inspired by a different region of the country.

Medellin’s fabulous public transportation network connects city and countryside.

Cities can make young kids feel cooped up, without room to run around. Medellin has a fair bit of urban green space, but it’s the ease with which you can get outside the city limits and into nature that’s most impressive. Kids will more easily tolerate a morning’s city tour when they know they’ll be spending the afternoon, say, hiking in Arvi Park, which is connected to Medellin by a public cable car. In a 30-minute drive from our hotel, we were visiting a small village where a philosophy professor showed us around his family’s flower farm one day, and hiking to a waterfall in the hills outside town on another.

There be pirates in Cartagena!

Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of picturesque colonial architecture, Cartagena has a history that reads like a children’s adventure book: tales of gold stashed away in basements, towers built for the express purpose of watching for pirates, a bridge that went up every night to keep out the riff-raff, ghosts who continue to haunt those homes where hidden treasures remain. Walking the old city walls, with their replica cannons pointed out to sea, and hearing the stories of the pirates who once lurked offshore, is a history lesson that will capture many a young imagination.

Flights are short and direct.

Book a nonstop from Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, or Los Angeles, and within three to six hours you can be just about anywhere you’d want to go in Colombia: There are direct flights from the U.S. to Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, and coffee country. Heck, it’s probably an easier trip than driving your kids to summer camp, or taking the family to the Caribbean or Hawaii.

But once you’re there, the culture feels distinctly different.

In certain parts of Mexico or the Caribbean, you might wonder why you had to go through customs and immigration just to be surrounded by American brands and American travelers. What appealed most to me about Colombia was that the short flight ended at a place that felt clearly different from what my son sees at home. Sure, there are some U.S. chains in the main cities, and plenty of English speakers. But everything from the corrugated-metal roofs to the rules of the road (or, more specifically, the lack thereof—we saw two fender-benders in our first four hours of driving) constantly reminded us that we were in a foreign land.

However, it’s not just what’s unfamiliar that was important. I like to play a game with Zeke while we’re traveling, asking him to describe what’s similar, and what’s different, from home. When he told me on our first day in Colombia, “I know something that’s similar: People are people,” every hesitation I’d felt about traveling abroad with a young child melted away. The education I hoped it would inspire was already at work.

Transparency disclosure: Some experiences described here were provided to Brook for free, or at reduced rates, by local hotels and suppliers. In keeping with our standard practice, there was no promise of editorial coverage in exchange: Complimentary or discounted travel never influences our reportage. All of these experiences are accessible to every traveler who uses Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Clue #1: We were somewhere tropical.

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

The Christmas-New Year’s school break is one of the few times of the year when families can carve out enough time to go far away. The location of my own family’s best Christmas abroad was remote, for sure—but we recommend it for an awesome holiday!  Can you guess where we were, based on the photo album below?

Our eclectic Christmas included:

  • Christmas morning at a local charity that feeds, clothes, and educates children living in extreme poverty. We brought gifts and supplies from home. Check out the videos (below) to see how much fun giving back when you travel can be.
  • Christmas afternoon at an estate built by the country’s most famous architect.
  • Santa Claus arriving not by sleigh but by WaveRunner. He brought gifts for all the hotel’s younger guests. No matter what the kids’ nationalities or faiths—and they came from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France, India, Thailand, and Qatar—they were thrilled to welcome Santa.
  • Christmas dinner of fresh-caught seafood al fresco by torchlight on the beach.
  • A Christmas-cookie-decorating contest judged by the hotel’s top chef.

Click through my clue-filled photo album, then in the comment space guess where we were.  Tell me also:  Where was your own favorite Christmas, and why?

A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
Group portrait.
Group portrait.
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
Here’s another clue for you.
Here’s another clue for you.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
The hotel’s pool
The hotel’s pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The final farewell blessing.
The final farewell blessing.


If you’d like ideas for your own fabulous overseas Christmas, I’m happy to help over at Ask Wendy.


Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Where’s Wendy: Can You Guess From These Photos?

If you’ve been following my African safari trip on Instagram, then you know that I’ve spent the past couple of weeks with my family exploring the next great safari hot spot, as well as visiting rural villages where my kids can meet other kids from a totally different culture. Yesterday we left Africa, but en route home we’ve stopped for a few days in yet another location that is both a travel destination on the rise and is introducing my kids to a totally different culture.

Can you guess where I am right now? Deduce it based on the clues below, and make your guess in the comment space!

fancy Cappucino at Emirates Palace abu dhabi


Wendy Perrin at Abaya Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi


grand mosque in Abu Dhabi with floor mosaic of a flower


child in car at Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi


Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Leave your guesses in the comments below!

Wendy Perrin and young girl from Chiawa School in Zambia

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

For me an African safari isn’t just about game viewing. It’s about meeting new people from a totally different culture. And on any trip abroad with my kids, I want them to meet local children.

So half way through our safari in Zambia, we spent a couple of days in a village in Chiawa district, visiting the school and getting to know the community. At the suggestion of Cherri Briggs, an Africa travel specialist on The WOW List who has spearheaded a number of conservation and community projects in Africa and has turned life around for many people in Chiawa, we brought with us from the U.S. a big bag full of supplies for the school and the teachers, and we gave the students a slide show about our life in the U.S. (our house, our school, our neighborhood) and the children we have met in our travels around the world.

The people of Chiawa could not have been lovelier or more welcoming. My sons Charlie, 15, and Doug, 13, had fun playing volleyball with the kids, pumping water, eating Zambian home cooking with their hands, even going to church. In the videos below, you can watch a group of young girls welcome us with lively dancing, and you can enjoy the glorious songs we heard during the church service. We made a lot of friends—some of whom I’ve already heard from on WhatsApp—and hopefully some of the kids and teachers in Chiawa will visit us in the U.S. someday.

Here are the videos:

First, a 30-second panoramic tour of the village. Charlie and Doug helped out at the water pump. “Water is life” is an expression we heard a lot in Zambia.


The Power Kittens is a girls’ club that is one of the empowerment efforts founded by Cherri Briggs. It’s a club for 20 upstanding girls in Chiawa (approx. 9 to 13 years old) who do good for the community. Watch how they introduce themselves. They sing, “We are Chiawa Kittens….Yes Yes Yes! You need to work hard. Yes, that is our motto. Kitten never fails in life….Our motto is to work hard in life!”


To help break the ice, I tried joining in this dance. I wiggled as fast as I could, eliciting a lot of laughs from the audience. Charlie shot video of it, but I’m not about to share it here!


Once the Power Kittens reach high school, they become Power Cats. Here they are, in their signature blue shirts, beating Charlie and Doug at volleyball.


Listen to the beautiful voices we heard in Chiawa’s Catholic church. The priest, Father Paul Sakala, is a lot of fun—and an avid world traveler who speaks Italian and English as well as three Zambian languages.


In case you can’t get enough of those harmonious voices, here’s one more song for you.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

young elephant blocking the road in Zambia Africa

Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot

If you’re like me, you like to travel to places at that optimal moment when there’s enough touristic infrastructure for a unique adventure with all the creature comforts, but not so much yet that the tourist masses and chain hotels have arrived. Zambia is on the verge of that moment. Which is why I’m there right now, doing reconnaissance for you.

I brought along my advance team—my kids, Charlie (15) and Doug (13), and my husband, Tim. We heard from Cherri Briggs, who is one of the African safari travel specialists on my WOW List and who lives in Zambia part of the year (she has a house on the Zambezi river), that because Zambia is still under the radar, you can enjoy a high-value-for-your-dollar safari there that will have you alone amid sweeping landscapes, just you and the animals, no other Land Rovers or camera-clicking tourists in sight. It sounded like a great August vacation for the family, so Cherri designed an awesome two-week itinerary for us—which we’re now halfway through.

Most people thinking about an African safari choose between the two regions that are best known for it because they’ve been doing it the longest—southern Africa (e.g., South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe) and East Africa (e.g., Kenya, Tanzania). Zambia sits smack in between those two regions and, I’m finding, combines some of the best characteristics of each. I’ll be writing in detail about the pros and cons of Zambia soon—who should go, who shouldn’t, what’s the smartest itinerary, etc.—so stay tuned. In the meantime, here are a few snapshots from Week 1.

Pretty vegetables, eh? The ladies sell these in the village near Mfuwe Lodge. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Kids I met in the village yesterday. They’re 6, 10, 11, and 12. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Like father like son. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa

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Greetings from Chamilandu, a remote 6-guest bush camp in #Zambia. #SouthLuangwa @bushcampcompany

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Zambian roadblock. #SouthLuangwa

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Why we look forward to sundown. It’s when our car turns into a bar. @bushcampcompany

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Sundowners with a view. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa #hippos

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A parade of elephants. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Shower with a view. At Chamilandu Bush Camp, the chalets have three walls. @bushcampcompany #Zambia #southluangwa

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Lunchtime surprise in the bush: Make your own pizzas! @bushcampcompany #zambia

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Can you believe this is in the remote bush? #makeyourownpizza #middleofnowhere #Zambia

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#onthetable #inthebush #Zambia

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Bush brunch. #Zambia

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“Hold still, Doug!”

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You never know what’s around the corner in the bush.

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Inspired to start your own safari vacation?


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Sonoma July 4th parade

For a Charming July 4th, Think Sonoma, California


Hi Wendy,

Can you suggest a fun family vacation on the West Coast for the 4th of July?  I’m looking for a cute town that’s not so popular.


—Elena S.



My husband won’t be happy I’m sharing this, since he wants to keep it a secret (he grew up in the next valley over), but the best July 4th we’ve found is in Sonoma, California. Independence Day parades and fairs are held throughout Sonoma County, and they ooze small-town Americana and charm.

The Old-Fashioned 4th of July Parade in Sonoma itself winds around the town’s historic plaza and ends with a celebration in the plaza park, complete with children’s activities, rides, and arts and crafts.  My own family can’t go to Sonoma without grabbing a picnic from the Sonoma Cheese Factory and an ice cream from The Chocolate Cow, riding the old-fashioned steam train at TrainTown, and stopping by Viansa Winery—a tasting room and large shop that the whole family can enjoy, what with the spacious grounds to run around in. The last time we were in Sonoma for July 4th, I even took a biplane ride at Vintage Aircraft Co.

Wendy in a biplane at Vintage Aircraft in Sonoma

Yours Truly about to take off in a biplane at Vintage Aircraft Co. in Sonoma.

Flying over Sonoma County in a 1942 biplane

Here’s the trusty pilot who sat behind me.

For an even folksier parade, head a few miles north to Kenwood, where the annual Fourth of July Kenwood Hometown Parade gives new meaning to the term “rural Americana.”  There are about as many people in the parade as there are watching it.  There’s a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Kenwood Community Church before the parade, and jazz in the park afterward, with plenty of homespun family fun as well.

The other thing my family likes to do on July 4th is the evening symphony concert and fireworks spectacular on the Sonoma State campus. Last year, sadly, the fireworks didn’t go off as planned, thanks to a computer glitch. My then-11-year-old, Charlie, was actually quoted in the local paper as saying it was “like Halloween without candy.” Given last year’s snafu, this year locals are anticipating a spectacular that truly is.

A ton happens in Sonoma County before and after July 4th too. Just check out the tourism site for a list of events and fireworks. On July 3rd there’s community fun and fireworks  in Sebastopol. Every year, Monte Rio Beach hosts the Big Rocky Games and “Water Curtain” (you’ve got to see it to believe it), as well as fireworks over Bodega Bay. And there’s the Penngrove Parade, which my kids have been in every year since they were five and three. It might not be as refined as Sonoma’s parade or as adorable as Kenwood’s, but it’s great homespun family fun nonetheless. There’s even an apple-pie contest in Penngrove Park afterward.

July 4th Parade, Penngrove, California

My kids getting ready to march in the Penngrove Parade, Penngrove, California.

Elena, one final tip: When you’re in Sonoma County with kids, don’t miss the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. We always go ice skating next door at Snoopy’s Home Ice and grab lunch at its snack bar, The Warm Puppy, where you can get your burger in a dog bowl. Kids love it. Enjoy your holiday weekend!


This article has been updated; it was originally published June 2, 2014
Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

child playing with toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris France

Unexpected Spring Break Vacation Ideas

Where to take the family for spring break? It’s a question I get from countless readers every year who are desperate for an alternative to theme parks and mega-resorts. Finding an interesting, convenient and, ideally, affordable vacation is no easy task, especially when so many schools let out simultaneously and so many families crowd the same places. Airfares and hotel prices shoot up and, if you’re not careful, so does your stress level. What kind of vacation is that? To help you and your crew escape the beaten path of family-travel destinations, here are a few alternatives—including the place I’m taking my own kids this year.


It’s one of the world’s kid-friendliest cities, and not just because of the playgrounds, carousels, and crepe stands everywhere. I took the kids for spring break when they were ten and eight, and we discovered a huge number of surprisingly kid-friendly museums. Thanks to fantastic children’s audioguides, my kids were captivated everywhere from the Musée de l’Armée—where the handheld guide took them on an entertaining scavenger hunt—to the Musée de la Musique, a collection of unique, antique, and exotic musical instruments, including some that look like they’re straight out of Dr. Seuss. Rent an apartment to get more space for your money and to give your kids a glimpse of what it’s like to live as a local. My then-10-year-old, Charlie, learned how to go to the corner boulangerie and buy croissants with euros all by himself. Consider staying in the seventh arrondissement, which is center of Paris, home to many families with children and has easy access to museums and monuments. It also has many excellent bakeries—children can pick a new one every day—as well as affordable restaurants and open-air markets.  Don’t leave home without my tips for how to skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

children listen to a historical reenactor play violin at Colonial Williamsburg Virginia

Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is an immersive history experience that enchanted my kids.

Our spring-break getaway when the kids were seven and nine was an interactive immersion in early American history.  In Colonial WIlliamsburg the flowers were blooming, turning the grounds in front of the Governor’s Palace into a riot of color, and the village was not nearly as hot and crowded in April as it gets during the summertime. You can read more advice from me (how long we spent there, where we stayed, etc.)—and even read my then-9-year-old’s trip review—in this article I wrote for Condé Nast Traveler. Go to History.org and click on “Kids” for a slew of games and activities to get your children excited about their trip and educated about colonial villages even before you arrive.

Anza-Borrego Desert, California

You can always find inexpensive airfares to Los Angeles (LAX), where it’s easy to rent a car, drive south along I-5 to Oceanside, then turn east toward Borrego Springs and the spectacular badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The wildflowers here usually explode into bloom in March, and that bloom continues for weeks afterward in different parts of the Desert (check for wildflower updates here). California’s largest state park is a tranquil wonderland of geological phenomena including canyons, mesas, buttes, badlands, dunes, washes, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas that give new meaning to the phrase “purple mountain majesties.” Family fun includes checking out Split Mountain, ruptured and contorted by earthquakes and flash floods; squeezing into The Slot, a narrow sandstone canyon; finding prehistoric fossils and ancient pictographs in sacred rocks; and looking for shooting stars after sundown.

Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo: National Cherry Blossom Festival

When cherry-blossom season coincides with spring break (the peak bloom is forecast for March 19–22 this year), Washington, D.C., is a super destination for families. The Smithsonian Museums have free admission (as does the National Zoo), and several fun family-friendly events take place in early April, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Blossom Kite Festival (April 1) and Parade (April 8) and Opening Day for the Washington Nationals (April 3). There’s also the Smithsonian Craft Show (April 27–30) and the Wine and Food Fest just down the Potomac River in National Harbor, Maryland (April 29–30).

Andalusia, Spain

children look at crates of oranges during the orange harves in Andalusia Spain

Our trip to Andalusia when the boys were five and seven coincided with the orange harvest.

For spring break when the kids were 5 and 7, we rented a villa in the rolling countryside outside Granada, in southern Spain. Temps were in the 60s, it was orange harvest time so the aroma of oranges wafted through the air, and there were fiestas around the region. We explored everything from the ancient white villages of the Alpujarra mountains to the Moorish palaces and gardens of the Alhambra. Just keep in mind, when your spring break coincides with Easter, that Holy Week in Andalusia can be crowded, with processions day and night.

Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Too many families consider national parks only for summertime trips. If your kid’s spring break falls in April, Yosemite is a great option. As you know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks To Visit Each Month, its sparkling waterfalls are at their peak flow in springtime. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, you’ll find it in Yosemite, along with massive granite walls and a lush valley full of wildlife.


young tourist boy feeds pigeons in Cartagena, Colombia

Here’s Charlie feeding pigeons in the Old Town of Cartagena, Colombia, during spring break last year.

There’s a lot of new airline service to Colombia, and in March and April you’ll find sunny days, clear skies, a fresh breeze that keeps the temperature comfortable, and reasonable prices, since the low season is about to start. More and more families are visiting Colombia nowadays—and exploring well beyond the beaches and colonial Old Town of Cartagena. They’re visiting Bogota too—for its art, architecture, and food—and Colombia’s coffee country, which abounds with outdoor and cultural activities.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Yes, it takes time to get to—it’s in a remote part of southwestern Texas, a three-hour drive from Midland/Odessa airport—but temps are in the 70s in March and April, and it’s the best time to see the cactus and wildflower blooms. As we know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks to Visit Each Month, Big Bend has three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains:  You can navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars.

A cruise leaving from a port that’s cheap to fly to

kids snuba diving underwater

The boys have tried SNUBA (a combo of snorkeling and scuba) in Caribbean cruise ports during spring break.

Here’s one of my tricks for avoiding those sky-high spring-break airfares: Instead of flying my family to a destination that’s in peak season, I fly us to a city that’s in low or shoulder season and has a cruise port where we can board a ship and sail to a place that’s in peak season. For example, we’ve flown to ports such as New Orleans and Los Angeles, where we’ve then boarded ships for the Caribbean or Mexico. Last year we flew to Panama (there were cheap airfares on United because Panama City is a hub) for a Panama Canal cruise. The Panama Canal fits the bill when you’ve got kids for whom a cruise is nirvana but you want to avoid the same old overbuilt Caribbean ports.

Where I’m going this year: Morocco

camel in the desert in Morocco

To avoid high prices and crowds, I looked for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. We’re going to Morocco!

Since the kids are now 15 and 13, they’re old enough to appreciate more exotic spring breaks. This year, eager to avoid the crowds and high prices that accompany Easter in many countries, I decided to look for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. And, since my goal is to raise global citizens, I wanted them to experience a completely different culture. So I chose Morocco, which is close enough—it’s a seven-hour flight from New York City (JFK)—yet otherworldly.  And the five-hour time difference (which is the same as the time difference between NYC and England) won’t mean too much jet lag. (Here’s a full report from when we got back from our trip.)

Busy parents, if you wish you could snap your fingers and find the perfect travel agent to design and deliver the best trip possible to any of these places, click over to Ask Wendy.  Because family travel memories are too precious to jeopardize with bad logistics.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

pink flowers and green plants blooming along a road with a mountain in the distance in Denali National Park Alaska

Your National Parks Calendar: Which Park to Visit Each Month

National parks are not just for summertime. The United States national park system offers so much diversity—climates range from tropical to subarctic, and from arid deserts to lush rainforests—that in every month of the year you can find a park worth visiting.



January: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

snowy scene of hot spring steaming in winter in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in winter. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

This usually crowded park is almost deserted in winter, so services are quite limited, but the wildlife viewing is amazing, and the steam and ice create stunning scenes. You can go cross-country skiing, showshoeing, and riding in snowmobiles or heated snow coaches. If you don’t score a room at the one hotel inside Yellowstone that’ll be open this winter, you can visit on a day trip from Jackson, Wyoming.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Yellowstone

February: Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro cacti, desert national park Arizona

Saguaro cacti, Arizona. Photo: samuriah/Pixabay

This park’s two sections—the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District—lie in the Sonoran Desert to the west and east, respectively, of the city of Tucson. The weather there is not as extreme in winter, when daytime temperatures range from the low 50s to the high 70s (it can get up to triple digits in summer). Explore its trails by foot or horse to see the continent’s largest cacti, the namesake of the park.

March: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo: NPS Photo/Ann Wildermuth

With three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains, this remote area has much to offer: Navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars. The park is a mecca for birders too, with more species observed here—over 400 at last count—than in any other U.S. national park. March and April are the best times to see the cactus and wildflower blooms.

April: Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Sparkling waterfalls (which are at peak flow in springtime), massive granite walls, and a lush valley full of wildlife make Yosemite a great option for your family’s spring-break adventure. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, Yosemite fits the bill—and you can easily combine a visit there with a few days in San Francisco.

Related: Watch: How to Make Family Trips Fun

May: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Marty Behr

It’s natural to visit these two nearly adjacent parks in a single trip: In Zion, you look up at stunning vertical peaks, while in Bryce you look down from the plateau’s rim onto hoodoos and other mystical rock formations. And they’re readily accessible, just a half-day’s drive from Las Vegas. In spring, wildflowers burst into bloom, providing a gorgeous contrast to the red, orange, and yellow stone. At this time of year, the temperatures are generally moderate and the crowds thin.

June: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon view of the watchtower.

The watchtower in Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

The peak of summer sees crowds almost as huge as the Grand Canyon itself, which is up to a mile deep and 18 miles wide; go in June and you’ll have much more breathing room, as well as access to the far less visited North Rim (which is open only from mid-May to mid-October). Ask Wendy about who can arrange helicopter flights over the canyon, mule rides down to where the rocks are 1.8 billion years old, float trips along the Colorado River, and behind-the-scenes tours of sites not accessible to ordinary travelers.

July: Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo: NPS/Tim Rains

High up on the Canadian border, Glacier has a very short season: The entire Going-to-the-Sun Road (the park’s star attraction, cut into an immense, craggy cliff with amazing vistas) is only open for a few months, typically from late June to October. In July, there will still be snow, but the weather is pleasant. These days, sadly, you’ll find only a few dozen glaciers left from the 150 that were here back in 1850. There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails to choose from, some of which skirt waterfalls and glacial lakes.

August: Denali National Park, Alaska

pink flowers and green plants blooming along a road with a mountain in the distance in Denali National Park Alaska

Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo: Shutterstock

Denali is mainly a summer destination, and August sees less rain than June and July; you’ll also benefit from the long days, with up to 21 hours of light. Here you’ll find some of the greatest wildlife on earth—grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, golden eagles—as well as the highest peak in North America, for which the park is named. Make one of the area’s remote wilderness lodges your base, and you can explore the park by helicopter, foot, and kayak.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Alaska

September: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming. Photo: NPS

Autumnal foliage, warm days, cool nights, and fewer crowds make early fall a lovely time to visit Grand Teton, its jagged peaks rising straight up from the plains with no warning. Hear what sounds like the rusted hinges of a screen door in the middle of the wilderness? It’s the bugle of a male elk, its mating call during this rutting time. Don’t make Grand Teton an afterthought tacked onto your trip to Yellowstone; whether you’re interested in summiting the Grand or fly-fishing on the Snake River, there’s plenty here to keep you busy for a few days.

October: Olympic National Park, Washington

Sunset from Mt. Olympus, Olympic National Park in Washington

Sunset from Mt. Olympus, Olympic National Park, Washington. Photo: NPS

In October, the weather is usually pleasant across all three of the park’s environments: the Olympic Mountains, the temperate Hoh Rain Forest, and the rugged Pacific coastline. There may be snow at the high elevations and some rain lower down, but the waterfalls will be flowing, and the area is very lush. Sunsets also tend to be spectacular at this time of year.

November: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

volcano erupting in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. Photo: skeeze/Pixabay

November is shoulder season on the Big Island, so both crowds and prices are down. While it’s a bit rainier on the side of the island where Hilo and the national park are located, it’s typically dry and sunny on the Kona side. When you’re done exploring the park’s two active volcanoes, there’s plenty else to do: hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling with manta rays at night, zip-lining, sampling Kona coffee, and visiting one of the world’s premier astrological observatories, atop Mauna Kea.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Big Island, Hawaii

December: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park

Southern California is full of adventures, including a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Visit California/Myles McGuinness

It can get cold at night in December, but the days in Joshua Tree are sunny with temperatures in the 60s (versus 110 or more in summer), making it ideal for hiking, with no crowds in sight. The park has two very distinct ecosystems: the low desert of the Colorado and the high desert of the Mojave, each with its own flora and fauna. The Mojave section also has some impressive granite monoliths and rock piles. Palm Springs is less than an hour away, so you won’t have to rough it while exploring the park—unless you want to.



Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Family Getaway Tips for Labor Day Weekend

I can’t believe it’s nearly Labor Day Weekend. My kids go back to school soon, as do most kids in the Northeast—though in other places around the country, school has already started. Either way, we all have one last gasp of summer left. Wherever you might be headed with your family this Labor Day weekend to savor it—even if it’s just a day trip to an award-winning aquarium—I’ve got hard-earned advice to save you money and headaches. Over at TripAdvisor, I’ve often shared such family trip tips, and I’ve gathered some for you in the links below. Happy Labor Day weekend!


Georgia Aquarium

Charlie and Doug at the Georgia Aquarium Photograph by Timothy Baker

Tips for Trips to Zoos and Aquariums

If a stellar zoo or aquarium is within your reach this weekend, this advice will help you make the most of your visit, including turning it into a scavenger hunt….


Tips for Trips to Amusement Parks

The cost of spending a day (or two) at these places adds up very quickly: admission, parking, food, souvenirs. Here are ways to keep costs under control, including checking the right social-media feeds for deals and making your child C.F.O. of the family trip.

Jelly Belly jellybean flavors of toothpaste rotten egg and skunk spray

Jelly Belly flavors of toothpaste, rotten egg, and skunk spray. Photograph: Timothy Baker

Tips for Family Road Trips

If you’re hitting the road this weekend, avoid traffic jams by taking America’s backroads. Here’s advice for finding quirky roadside attractions, embracing the kitsch, and keeping the kids content without having to stop at any wacky food factories.

What tips and tricks do you use on your own family vacations?

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

people canoeing in British Columbia Canada

Summer Vacation Idea: British Columbia for Every Type of Traveler

The skiing in British Columbia may be world-class, but if that’s all you know of the westernmost Canadian province, you’re missing out on one of the smartest summer vacation ideas for U.S. travelers right now. As Wendy discovered when she took her family there last summer, British Columbia has it all: Spectacular unspoiled scenery, first-rate farm-to-table food, one-of-a-kind activities, high culture, pristine wilderness, hip city neighborhoods, indigenous cultural communities, colorful festivals, charming inns, characterful lodges….Plus it’s nearby, it’s Zika-free, and the exchange rate is a relief. Whatever type of traveler you are, there’s more for you in B.C. than you realize. So we asked Marc Telio, who lives in Vancouver and is Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, to detail some of the lesser-known opportunities for five different types of traveler. Here’s what he recommends.

horseback riding in british columbia at clayoquot wilderness resort

British Columbia’s wilderness lodges put you right in the middle of the great outdoors. Photo: Clayoquot Resort

Outdoor Adventurers:

British Columbia is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Just pick your adrenaline-boosting preference: sea kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, glacier hiking, helicopter hiking, river rafting, jet boating, rock climbing, kayaking on lakes, rivers or oceans—the possibilities are vast, like the wilderness here. And you can set your vacation right in the middle of it all at any number of wilderness lodges, inns, and resorts where Marc negotiates special benefits for his travelers. When you need a minute to rest from all the excitement, just enjoy a relaxing picnic—on a glacier, a clifftop, or an uninhabited island,

Cultural Explorers:

British Columbia is about the indigenous culture and people too. First Nations communities in B.C. have started to step up their tourism game, and an insider like Marc can arrange for visitors to experience these indigenous people’s culture and traditions in the most authentic way. For example, he can arrange for you to tour the islands and villages of the Haida Gwaii archipelago with a Haida guide, and for you to stay overnight at a locally owned and operated lodge. Or stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, where the lodge gives you access to a local aboriginal village and authentic culture, and you enjoy bear-viewing while learning about local conservation efforts.

grizzly bears in river in atlin british columbia

Summer is a great time for bear viewing in British Columbia: grizzlies, black bears, and more. Photo: Phil Timpany

Wildlife Junkies:

 Marc shares a secret: “My favorite part of B.C. is the northern coast because that’s where you’ll find grizzlies, black bears, spirit bears, and all of the species of whales, seals, and sea otters.” You can cruise the region’s waterways looking for humpbacks in the water and grizzlies along the shores, or head into the Great Bear Rainforest to spot spirit bears—rare black bears with white fur—plus eagles, and more. August, September, and October are the best months for all of the above.

Family Trippers:

Want to sneak a few life lessons into a family vacation? Take your kids out of their comfort zone. That could mean zip-lining through the forest canopy, canoeing down a river, or hiking across a glacier. You could spend a few days enjoying Vancouver’s cultural attractions, then immerse your children in wilderness at a remote lodge. Getting them ten feet from a breaching killer whale or a wrestling match between black bears just might make you the coolest parents around. Continue to engage the kids over dinner: Marc can arrange for your family to pull up crab traps with local fishermen and then help a chef prepare the haul for lunch, or to go behind-the-scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium with one of the beluga whale trainers.

canoeing at whistler british columbia

Whistler may be British Columbia’s most famous ski resort, but it’s also an ideal destination for summer activities too.

Multigenerational groups:

B.C’s ski resorts transform into ideal summer destinations for family members of all ages. As Wendy discovered when she took her family to Whistler last summer, the sheer variety of activities means there’s something for everyone. Grandparents can stroll around at their leisure, take vehicles to go bear-watching, or ride a gondola to the top of the mountain, while more active family members can try kayaking, canoeing, hiking, or mountain climbing. For family groups wanting more privacy, Marc has chartered a flotilla of seaplanes to the coast and taken over wilderness lodges. Talk to Marc to plan a trip that is guaranteed to make everyone in your wide-ranging group happy.

If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Fireworks over London's Tower Bridge on New Year's Eve

The Rewards of Spending the Winter Holidays in London

London is magical during the holiday season. There’s a festive atmosphere everywhere you go, and the city is lively and vibrant with seasonal events, cultural goings-on and, of course, world-class shopping.

And, when you’ve got family in tow, there’s no better way to experience the holidays in London than by renting the right apartment. You can simultaneously feel at home and on vacation. You get more space for your dollar (remember that most London hotel rooms are tiny), a communal living area for family gatherings, and even a kitchen for preparing your own holiday feast.

To help you pull together a London winter getaway, here are ideas for things to do and where to stay, whether you’re bringing the whole family or just escaping for a romantic weekend alone.

What to Do

• Take a twirl around the Natural History Museum’s ice rink and then warm up with a hot cocoa. There are ice rinks across London, but this one is popular, as it’s only a short stroll from South Kensington.

• Check off a few people on your holiday shopping list with a visit to the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum gift shop. They have an excellent Christmas display for a bit of artistic gift-giving inspiration.

• Join the crowds for holiday shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. The hustle and bustle combined with the glittering Christmas lights makes this a classic London experience during the holidays. Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are also extremely festive for shopping leading up to Christmas.

• Don’t forget the department stores! Get into the holiday spirit by visiting the holiday displays at Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Liberty and Harrods.

• November through the end of December, take a stroll along the Thames at the Southbank Winter Market. Get a glass of mulled wine and explore the wooden chalets selling gifts, sweets, and festive food and drinks.

Where to Stay

South Kensington is a top choice during the winter holidays, thanks to central location, excellent transport options, and great sights and dining. Walk to the ice rink at the Natural History Museum and spend a day visiting the sights along Museum Row. Shopping and the West End are just a hop, skip and jump away on the Tube or a bus. It’s a wonderful area for feeling like a local and enjoying cozy evenings in a comfortable home setting.

To find the right travel specialist for London apartments, reach out to Ask Wendy.

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Villa di Torno, Lake Como

Yes, It’s Possible: A Villa Vacation That Keeps Every Member of the Family Happy

You already know the benefits of choosing a rental villa over a hotel for your family vacation: More space, more privacy, more local flavor, and—if your group is large enough to fill every room in the house—significant savings. What you might not know though, is just how much the property itself—its layout, location, amenities—will affect the group dynamic. So will decisions ranging from which activities you pre-plan to which type of car you rent to whether the fridge is already stocked when you arrive on a Sunday and the grocery stores are closed. As someone who has rented homes for multiple generations of my own family in locales from Tuscany to Jamaica, I am here to tell you that renting through an expert who will level with you about the pros and cons of the neighborhoods and homes at your destination is a priceless advantage.

Mara Solomon, my Trusted Travel Expert for large Italian villas (read her Insider’s Guide to Italian Villa Vacations) does even more than that. Part magician, part psychologist, she can predict potential conflicts within your group…and make them disappear via smart planning. Mara, who specializes in properties that have four or more bedrooms, has compiled 11 tips for a successful villa vacation, and they’re a must-read as you start to plan your summer villa trip:

1. Manage everyone’s expectations. Travel might be the ultimate test of relationships (besides politics according to my mother). We all do it differently and spend time and money according to our own priorities. Manage everyone’s expectations for time together and time apart, for planned activities versus kicking back, very early on. Use Skype or a similar tool to bring the relevant decision-makers together, hash out the basic structure of the holiday and get everyone on the same playing field. A well-structured villa vacation ensures an elder is not over-taxed, a sporting parent gets the exercise they seek, and the kids are well engaged.

2. Divvy up the work and establish authority. Group travel—whether an extended family or group of long-standing friends (with or without children)—does take planning and it is essential for each group to decide who is making the decisions. Then make sure everyone gets behind them and sticks to the agreed upon plan. It’s also important to decide how the planning work is being shared. One person, maybe two if they work well together, is best for spearheading the choice of villa, but there are other tasks. The wine enthusiast can be put in charge of provisioning wine for the house and selecting wineries to visit, for instance.

3. Determine what really matters to your group. If your first conversations are less focused and people are less than candid, that is ok. Listen closely and you will have the keys to success. One person may need nothing so much as a fabulous bathroom. Be sure you have a plan for mornings out walking or taking coffee up to your own balcony or terrace if you need alone time. Maybe your nuclear family runs at a different speed and needs an excursion without the entourage of in-laws and cousins. Americans are used to enjoying their freedom. Be sure to rent enough cars so someone can make a quick get-away if tension mounts.

4. Make the most of the intelligence and insight of the people who have seen the house and know the area. Villa travel is, by definition, different from any other form of travel. The point is to have space as well as time and experiences together. The house matters greatly, even if you are a get-up-and-go group. Sooner or later your paths will return you home. Get this figured out in the early stages. How? Talk to the person or people who have been there and know the house. The accumulated wisdom of their experience can mean you avoid any nasty surprises. We greatly appreciate a chance to share our knowledge and our talents with our clients. This is what we are paid to do and besides the villas themselves, it is what our clients most appreciate.

5. Build into the structure of your holiday as much service as you can afford. You may think you don’t want a full-time cook but we can say from 20 years travel experience cooking services in the house are the amenity our guests appreciate the most and derive the most value. Inevitably people cancel restaurant meals and stay home because the food is so good. And enjoying it all in the privacy of your own Villa in black tie or pajamas (as you prefer) is a priceless gift to share with people you love. Meal organizing, shopping, preparation and clean up is an every-day responsibility for most of us. It becomes a true vacation when you can be at home without the everyday responsibilities.

6. Plan organized group-wide events or activities. Creating joy-filled moments elevates a get-together to the status of life-long shared memory. An excursion of interest to everyone, a special meal with a well-chosen menu or some fun and easy activity local to your destination generates enthusiasm and excitement. But don’t overdo the planning. In Italy, as with so many destinations, the most transcendent moments are often unplanned, so you want to leave room for those as well.

7. Consider seriously the layout and amenities of the property you are selecting. Quality time for relaxing and playing together in various combinations is essential for successful villa travel. The point is to come together in different times and different ways. Where will you gather for apperitivi before dinner? Are there enough chairs? A friendly bocce competition makes great fun all week long and you can end with a tournament complete with prizes.

8. Staying in one place longer makes for a richer, more rewarding experience. One week is most always not quite enough. Ten days is much better but two weeks is really recommended. I know, you may be thinking people will be bored, but I encourage you to give it consideration. A two-week stay means you sink in and get to know the place, find yourself unwinding in ways you may have forgotten. Your group of teenage boys will be transforming a mound of potatoes into that night’s gnocchi. Maybe you find yourself deep in a long conversation that is years overdue. You will have more flexibility in group configuration and size, as not everyone has to be together the whole time. And a well-located villa will have more to do than you think. We hear this quite often when our guests return: “I wish I pushed for that second week in the villa…”

9. It is Your Vacation too. We do not believe in ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’. A visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa could be a highlight or the worst day of the holiday. It depends. It depends both on things you control and those you don’t. Make sure you work with people who are listening closely to what matters to you and are facilitating that experience for you. If you are working with someone who really understands your group, the necessary insights, contacts and arrangements can be deployed in a way that meets your needs. And, that travel consultant will have you prepared for the variables beyond your control that are an essential part of the villa experience. Yes, the Blue Grotto is special, but we think having your own boat and exploring the other relatively deserted grottos around Capri is much more rewarding. And if you want to skip Capri altogether, that is fine too.

10. Success is in the details. Location, location, location counts when planning villa travel. With villa travel you might not know what questions to ask, so we suggest you work with people who know the house, setting and local area well enough to tell you what you need to consider. The Amalfi Coast is not well suited to those who cannot manage steps. Do you need running room for rambunctious children with soccer balls? Do you have shoppers or fitness buffs or serious scholars? What about food allergies? Can the staff find gluten-free pasta and almond milk easily if needed?

11. Plan on enjoying yourselves and having fun together. We invite our guests to plan on enjoying themselves and doing things differently. Use your phone or tablet for photos, not for email with the office. Eat gelato at least once every day. Have fun getting lost –you will be rewarded with at least a great story to share over apperitivi back at the house. You are sure to encounter an awe-inspiring moment, great memento or new friend for life. Remember what it is to have a day to fill as you like, without an agenda. This is what we strive for at Homebase Abroad–a well-structured trip whose cadence best matches the needs and preferences of your family and friends. We promise you will be rewarded with an exceptional experience. Maybe even the best vacation of your life.

Thanks, Mara, for letting me share your tips with WendyPerrin.com travelers!


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