It’s a Family Affair

  • Watching the sun melt into the Caribbean Sea from the front of a cruise ship
  • Riding the gondola chair ride up to the top of the Isle of Capri
  • Driving golf carts on Catalina
  • Snorkeling in St. John
  • Climbing Dunns River Falls
  • Climbing the Great Wall of China

These are just a few of the experiences that our family has shared while traveling the world for the past 25 years. We began when our son Marcus was small and we’ve gone somewhere special every year since then. Some trips were domestic, others international, but all have allowed us to share some really good times.

Our first family trip was to the Bahamas when Marcus was one year old. When we arrived at the airport he was amazed at seeing so many people. That’s when we realized that his world really had only consisted of his baby sitter, a few relatives and us. So seeing hundreds of people walking down the concourse was quite an experience. He was elated and seemed to think that they’d all come to meet him. We knew then that he had the travel bug.

Dad & marc_dunns river falls

Marcus has become a true citizen of the world and his experience has expanded his education far beyond what he was learning in school. We’ve always taken St. Augustine’s quote quite literally, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

When visiting the Island of Kiribati he saw children living in simple dwellings and playing with simple toys and realized that not all children were as fortunate as he was. While visiting the Acropolis he saw the Parthenon that he’d been studying in his world history class.

Much of our travel has been on cruise ships since cruising is a great way for families to travel together while enjoying many different activities – and there’s something onboard for every age group. So Marcus could play and go on scavenger hunts with other children while we enjoyed a little “grown folks” time. He also learned to meet and connect with other children from all over the world. On one of our early cruises our family was seated with a family from Sweden during dinner. They didn’t speak English and we certainly spoke no Swedish. But Marcus and the 2 children were able to connect because they all shared a love for ketchup. We’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean and one of our most memorable experiences was climbing up Dunns River Falls in Jamaica. Cruising also gave him exposure to fine dining and he learned to order multi-course meals at an early age. – although most of the time he preferred to eat chicken fingers & fries – and those were readily available too.

Lee family cruise pose

Our most recent adventure was spending 10 days in China where we visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. We were truly captivated by the culture, cuisine and history of that ancient country. One of the highlights of the trip was climbing the Great Wall of China together. I’ll be honest, Robert and I didn’t exactly climb all the way to the top, but Marcus and his GoPro did, so we still got some amazing photos.

lee family at great wall

As much as we’ve traveled, we’ve seldom seen other Black families. We see other races of people with their children in tow or in backpacks, and we always ask, ‘Where are our families?” Of course money is always a challenge, and the more children that a family has, the bigger that challenge becomes. But we cannot afford to deprive our children of experiencing a world outside of their own neighborhood.

When I was growing up my parents also had a love for travel – but not much money to finance that passion. So sometimes our family trips consisted of loading us 3 kids into the back of our station wagon with a lunch and driving up the coast. Even that was an adventure to our little minds. And we made some great memories.

Even if parents don’t have much money they can expose their children to historical sites and attractions, even in their own hometown. “Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.” — Hodding Carter

 

 

 

Are You Fit to Travel?

Jerry Rice is one of the all-time greatest NFL wide receivers. In addition to his on-field excellence, he was known for his incredible off-season training regimen. One aspect that was always mentioned was how he ran hills near his northern California home. Many other NFL players even came to train with him in the off- season, hoping to tap into some of the greatness that he exhibited on the field. That greatness eventually led him to the Hall of Fame.

We don’t often associate physical conditioning with travel, but there is a definite need to be physically fit to handle the rigors of travel. This applies to much more than adventure travel, even luxury travel requires conditioning. For instance, some airports are so large that you can walk as much as half a mile from one terminal to another, or from your arrival gate to the baggage claim area. This can entail navigating inclines, ramps, steps, escalators or trams – all while pulling your luggage. And since everyone is in a hurry, it also requires being able to move fairly quickly. We have had that experience in airports all over the country and around the world. We’ve done some serious trekking around Lisbon, Barcelona, Dubai and Beijing – without ever leaving the airport. So working out and staying in shape is a necessary part of our lifestyle.

Travel requires good upper body strength. After all, you have to be able to pull and lift your luggage. Now that airlines charge baggage fees, people are packing as much as possible into their carry-on bags. That means that you have to be able to lift those bags over your head to cram them into the overhead bins. You gotta be strong.

You need to be strong enough to hoist your luggage onto tour buses and up onto airport and rental car shuttle buses. Sometimes the driver will help, but if he doesn’t, you’re on your own. You gotta be strong.

You need to be able to walk and sometimes even run to catch a bus or keep up with a guide. When we went to Athens we took a guided tour to the Acropolis. The guidebook said, “The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens.” The operative word in the description is “high”. We had to climb a steep hill to get to the top. Since it is such a popular tourist destination there were literally thousands of other tourists there at the same time. So our guide rushed our group so that we could get ahead of the other groups and it was hot. That man almost walked us to death!

We had a similar experience in Santorini, Greece. We’d booked a walking tour of the town of Fira, so we expected a leisurely stroll around that picturesque little town – not. Our guide walked us at a surprisingly fast pace for a lady in her condition (she was pregnant). Fira is perched on the hillside above the caldera so there are lots of steps to negotiate and I think we hit all of them that day.

santorini

Often these “travel workouts” can be unexpected. On a trip to Montego Bay we decided to zipline for the first time. I knew I’d have to exert some effort and was ready to do that. However, I didn’t know how much walking we’d have to do before reaching the first platform…..down several hundred uneven steps…through the rainforest. My quads were shot…talk about feeling the burn.

bob flies closeup

Proper training requires proper equipment. Another aspect of travel fitness is having the right travel attire – especially footwear. You can always tell a seasoned traveler by looking at their feet. They wear shoes that can withstand the rigors of ancient cobblestones and uneven surfaces. Any city that has withstood hundreds of years has done so because it has very sturdy buildings and very hard walking surfaces. Those flip-flops and cute little kitten heels are no match for 500 year-old cobblestones. So do yourself a favor and wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.

Our most recent challenge was last month when we climbed the Great Wall of China. I have several friends who’d been there and told me about climbing some steps then taking a ride on a gondola, so that’s what I expected to do. However, our guide took us to a section of the wall where there was no gondola, only steps. There were hundreds of uneven steps that went straight up. What a workout! If I hadn’t been in shape I’d have tapped out early in the climb. But it was an exhilarating experience and the view from the top was spectacular….well worth the effort.

lee family at great wall

Our travels have taught us to expect the unexpected. So we train 2-3 times each week so that we can continue to pursue our passion…travel.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

 

passports

“Do you know where you’re going to?

Do you like the things that life is showing you?

Where are you going to, do you know?”

These are the opening lyrics to the “Theme from Mahogany”, as sung by Diana Ross in 1975. Even though the song is 40 years old, the message is still relevant – especially when it comes to travel. There is no substitute for preparation before taking a trip. Whether you’re going around the corner or around the world, you should be prepared. If you are traveling locally you may only need to know about weather or traffic. But if you’re going farther, you’ll need to know much more.

Here are some things to consider before taking your next trip:

Climate/Weather-In order to pack appropriately it is good to know what the average temperature will be. If you’re traveling to a different hemisphere, you may even encounter a different season. So your summer wardrobe may not be sufficient if you’re going to South Africa or Australia in June. Even San Francisco, although it is in sunny California, can get quite chilly in the evening when the fog rolls in. As the famous quote says, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Travel Documents -Will you need a passport? Some countries require travelers to have passport that will be valid at least 6 months after entry. Will you need a Visa? Some countries will allow you to apply for a Visa upon arrival at their airport; others require you to apply for it before you leave home. Be sure to allow enough time to get the necessary documents. There are agencies that can get rush documents for you, but they can be costly. We learned the hard way when we neglected to examine our son’s passport before a trip to Europe. We didn’t realize that it had expired until ~6 days before we were scheduled to leave. By the time we’d paid the rush fees and overnight shipping fees, we were out of several hundred dollars.

If you take a cruise that begins and ends at a U.S. port, passports are not required – but are highly recommended. If something unforeseen happens and you miss the ship or are detained in port for any reason, you’ll need proof of your U.S. citizenship.

Currency – If you’re planning to spend cash, you’ll need to have local currency. We prefer to get foreign currency from our bank since they do not charge fees. You can change money at the airport, since there are currency exchange kiosks in international terminals, but you will pay a fee. We have also exchanged money in other cities, but again there was a fee involved. Most major credit cards are widely accepted, but your credit card company may charge a foreign transaction fee. Be sure to notify your credit company of your travel dates so that they don’t block any transactions. If you live in New Jersey, and they see a charge to you card in Sri Lanka, they may block it because they suspect that it could be fraudulent.

Cuisine – Experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture. But if your have dietary preferences or restrictions you’ll want to know what to expect. For example, the Serrano ham in Spain is some of the best ham in the world. But if you’re not a pork eater, you won’t have much to choose from at the tapas bars.

Cruising is a good option because it offers a wide variety of food choices – and they are all included in the cruise fare. Even the pickiest eaters can find something to please their palates.

Electricity– Voltage can vary depending on the country that you’re in. Many travelers to Europe have had difficulties with their electronics, because European and American power systems are run differently. Most of the world, including Europe, uses a 220 volt/50 hertz system. A handful of other countries, including the United States, have 110 volt/60 hertz electricity, which is believed to be safer. As a result, appliances in these nations are designed to connect to a specific type of power source, and using American devices in European outlets and vice versa can result in havoc.

Many nations also use different plugs, and a number of plug adapter kits are available for connecting to foreign plugs. However, use of these plugs without a transformer or voltage converter can result in fireworks. The voltage in Europe is twice that of the voltage in the United States, and while many electronics are designed to adapt to voltage changes, it is crucial to check. If the device is not capable of handling 220 volts of electricity, it will fail. In addition, some electrical devices cannot handle the lower 50 hertz cycle found in much of the world, and may experience difficulties.

Style of Dress– It is good to be familiar with local style of dress. Although western clothing style is widely acceptable, there can be certain restrictions. For example women may need to cover their heads in certain churches, temples or mosques. We’ve seen young ladies turned away in Vatican City when they tried to enter St. Peter’s Basilica while showing too much skin. I always carry a light pashmina that I can tuck in my bag, wear as a scarf or use to cover my head and shoulders. During a recent trip to Abu Dhabi I dressed modestly on the day that we planned to go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque….but apparently it wasn’t modest enough and I was asked to wear an abiya into the mosque. Actually it made the experience even more meaningful. But I’ll admit, it’s not easy to survive that 100-degree desert heat while wearing a long black frock.

Men were required to wear long pants and sleeves, and were not allowed to show tattoos.

Travel Protection Insurance is always optional, but I recommend it highly. Many travelers refuse to purchase it, thinking that it’s just an upsell. But as the travel industry becomes more unstable and unpredictable, having insurance is a wise choice. In the case of lost luggage or a missed connection, it is the only chance to recoup lost money. Policies vary, so it is important to buy the one that fits your needs. A good travel agent can help you make the right choice. You may need “a cancel for any reason” policy. Or you may need medical coverage while in another country. This is especially true for adventure travelers. If you break a leg while skiing in the Alps and have to be lifted out by helicopter, you’re looking at thousands of dollars in medical bills. Even if you have insurance, you’ll have to pay at the time of treatment, then file a claim after your trip.

Travel can be one of life’s most rewarding (or frustrating) experiences. It all depends on being prepared. It is important to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.