Archive for 2013

Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Cruise Lingo

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

-by Erin

Whether you’re a seasoned cruiser or a first-time sailor, there is a whole new language to use when it comes to setting sail. Add to that the fact that you may be sailing around countries where you may only know how to say “hello” and you may be in for a challenge on what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation.

Smartphone to the rescue! Celebrity Cruises has created a cell phone app that helps cruise passengers get instant translations of foreign phrases while on a ship or out on a shore excursion.

Included in the app, called Cruise Lingo, are 56 stock phrases that cruise passengers might need, such as “How do I get back to the port?” and “Is there a nice restaurant in town?” Stocked with 11 languages, including French, German, two versions of Spanish, Hindi and Japanese, you can hop off the ship feeling confident and ready to explore!

Plugged in passengers

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

-by Stacey

“Sir, I’ve already requested that all electronic devices be turned off”
“Wait, hold on, I’m just finishing this email”
“That is anything with an on-and-off switch”
“Please, I’m almost done”
“Sir, now please.”

We’ve all heard this conversation. Sometimes we are the ones having this conversation. We are so connected to our devices that it’s hard to disconnect during flights. Soon it will be a little easier to maintain your tech fix while you travel. You read that right, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is expected to relax restrictions on in-flight devices.

While phone calls, texts, email, and use of Wi-Fi will still be off limits, the FAA is considering lifting the ban of reading tablets, listening to previously downloaded podcasts and music, and watching videos. That way you can keep reading that page-flicker (is that the modern version of the page-turner?) from your home town gate all the way until your arrival.

So read, listen, and watch on, my fair travelers. You may now sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.

No more security lines

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

-by Erin
In addition to taking the guess-work out of your travel arrangements, we are happy to share information to help you make the travel process as fast and smooth as possible.  Most of your vacations include a plane ride (or 2 or 3) and with increased safety precautions, security now takes longer and longer.  Not for long – enter Pre-Check!  Pre-Check is a special quick security line that allows you to breeze through while keeping your shoes and belt on, your liquids stored away and your laptop snuggly in your carry-on. How nice is that?

There is an application process but we think it’s worth the work upfront, knowing how much time it will save at the airport. And now, the TSA is expanding its speedy Pre-Check screening program to 60 more airports, in addition to 40 where it was already available. The new airports should have the expedited checkpoint lanes by the end of the year – Click here to see a list of airports that now have Pre-Check.  There is a one-time fee of $85 for five years, to cover a background check and fingerprinting. Click here for more information on Pre-Check.

Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

-by Erin
For many travelers, anticipating a trip is almost as thrilling as actually taking it. Oh, the wonderful places you’ll see, the amazing memories you’ll create. In your mind, it’s all ahead of you; nothing will go wrong. Then why is it we almost always end up with that familiar pit in our stomach, those clenched teeth and voices raised in frustration at least once during our trips?

Vacation stress strikes for a variety of reasons, usually when we’re caught off guard in unfamiliar surroundings. While it can be difficult to avoid every situation that might cause anxiety, you can anticipate some common problems and give yourself relief from the worst of your hassles. Read on for solutions to stressful scenarios that could affect your next trip and know that by traveling with Amazing Journeys, we will be there to make the journey as care-free and relaxing as possible!

Overhead Bin Space
Source of Stress: I’m in the final boarding group. Will I find enough room in the overhead bin when I get on the plane?
Your Stress Reliever: In May 2013, American Airlines started a policy that allows passengers who gate-check their bags to move ahead of others in the boarding process. (It remains to be seen whether the policy takes hold industry-wide.) But no matter which airline you’re flying, it never hurts to ask the gate agent whether they will gate-check your bag. CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg says, “The assumption is that the oversize compartments will always be full.” He notes that when that is the case, most airlines offer to gate-check your bags at no cost. You’ll often retrieve your bag on the gangway after your flight.

Be aware that even if you don’t plan to gate-check your bags, you may have to if you’re in a late boarding group. Airlines often will announce a full flight before boarding to let people know they will probably have to gate-check luggage. If you’re affected, make sure you move any crucial items from your carry-on to the personal item that you will bring onboard — such as medications, keys, tablets and other valuables — to safeguard against having them lost in a checked bag.

Another tip: When you get onboard and make your way to your seat, keep your eyes open for any open bin space you pass. You aren’t stuck using only the spaces near your seats. If you are among the last to get on, any open space will do, and if it’s toward the front of the plane, you can easily snag your bag as you file off. Carry on softer luggage — rather than hardside or roller bags — if possible, so you can squeeze your gear into tighter bin spaces.

Cab Rides in Unfamiliar Places
Source of Stress: How do I know this cab driver isn’t long-hauling me? I’m not familiar with this city, but the ride seems to be a lot longer than I anticipated.
Your Stress Reliever: Do a little research before your trip to get a basic knowledge of the main roadways and routes around the city you are visiting. Use the GPS on your smartphone to track the expected route. If you know you will be using a cab for specific trips during your stay (to your resort, then back to the airport), you can easily map it. Don’t be afraid to tell the driver you want the quickest route.

Airport Security
Source of Stress: I can breeze through the airport security process when I know what not to pack and have my documents ready to go. But sometimes, long lines (“Will I make my gate on time?”) and the screening process itself leave me totally frazzled.
Your Stress Reliever: The best way to alleviate the anxiety is to make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Most major airports provide estimated screening wait times on their Web sites, and several apps provide the info too, including GateGuru and My TSA. A general rule is to make sure you get there at least 90 minutes before your flight is scheduled to depart. (Arrive even earlier for travel on busy holidays, and show up three hours ahead of your flight time for international trips.) If you end up with extra time, plan to get in some reading, Web surfing or noshing — all things that can help you relax as you prepare for your trip.

As for the security screening itself, keep in mind that you can request a pat-down instead of a full-body scan if you’re concerned about radiation from the machines — just leave yourself a little more time for manual screening.

Packing
Source of Stress: Making sure I have enough, but not too much, without forgetting anything.
Your Stress Reliever: Make a list. We’ve all overpacked at times, forgotten something essential at others. Learn from these errors. Brainstorm ahead of time and keep a tally of items you know you’ll need as the countdown to your trip begins. When it’s time to pack, take a good hard look at the list and assess whether you really need everything on it. (Gone for two weeks or more? Maybe it’s better to plan a laundry day while you’re away.) Then think about what you absolutely must bring (medication, toiletries, swim trunks, passports, other documents).

Look it over again before you zip up your bags. The key is to devise your best system. Once you find one that works — remember to save your list to use again and again! — you’ll maximize your packing efficiency and minimize your stress.

Getting Sick
Source of Stress: I seem to always get sick on my trips. I don’t want another ruined vacation.
Your Stress Reliever: Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and keep clean. Airplanes, buses, trains and shuttles are packed with people all carrying their own germs and hygiene habits. Do your best to control your environment. Keep your hands clean and use antibacterial wipes on surfaces you’ll be touching on the plane. During your vacation, do your best to get enough rest and eat regularly. Sure, you’ll often be on a different schedule (maybe you want to enjoy an afternoon nap to ensure you can stay up late). You also will be enjoying more exotic foods — in perhaps larger quantities — but be wary of food preparation conditions to ensure they are safe.

Losing Photos
Source of Stress: Oh, no! I lost my camera/cell phone on the last day of vacation. I think I just lost about 1,000 photos!
Your Stress Reliever: Get super-organized with a good personal cloud storage or social media service, and upload your pictures at the end of each day of shooting on your trip. Make it a routine right before you tuck yourself in for the night to upload your snaps to a service such as Facebook, Instagram, Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive. Amazon also offers 5 GB of free cloud storage service. Not going to have Internet access during your trip? Stock up on smaller-capacity SD cards for your digital camera and use one for each day of your trip. Remove it each night and put in a new card for the next day. Store them separately from your camera.

Screaming Kids
Source of Stress: That child behind me on the plane/train/bus just won’t stop crying.
Your Stress Reliever: The sound of a screaming youngster — especially when it goes on for any length of time — can certainly lead to heightened stress levels for everyone within earshot (including the parents). Kids on planes usually will stop crying once the flight gets off the ground. How you deal with it depends on your personality, but consider that the child’s parents probably feel more stress than you in these circumstances. Maybe you’re an outgoing person. Sympathize with the parents and ask whether they need any help. Try to interact with the child to help calm him down. Not up for chatting? Carry noise-canceling headphones, an MP3 player or earplugs. Also, do a little deep breathing to relax while you think about your exciting travel adventures to come.

Getting Lost
Source of Stress: I always seem to go off course while driving or walking in a new city.
Your Stress Reliever: Stay calm. Locals — especially those in countries that thrive on tourism — are usually willing to help. Before you set out on your trip, make sure you know how to ask for your destination in the local language (if you are likely to encounter non-English speakers) or write it down on a card. That way people can at least read it and point you in the right direction. A good place to stop and ask for help is at a hotel, where staff are more likely to speak English.

Make sure your cell phone or GPS device has updated maps of your destination. Carry along a guidebook or map of the city. (These often are available at hotels.) If all else fails, embrace being lost for a little while. As long as you aren’t facing any danger and aren’t pressed for time, this is a chance to get in some impromptu sightseeing.

 

Original source: IndependentTraveler.com

Singles and Solos

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

– by Erin

Here at Amazing Journeys, we take pride in the fact that we have opened up the world to thousands of people.  We have tried local delicacies, experienced unique cultures and learned about our Jewish heritage on all seven continents.  Historically, our trips have been for Jewish Singles, but we now have a new category of travelers – Jewish SIngles and Solos.

What is a Jewish Solo you may ask?  Well, I’m glad you did!  A solo is someone who doesn’t necessarily categorize themselves as a ‘single’.  They may be in a relationship or may only be looking for friends, but they still have the urge to travel but don’t want to do it alone.


So if you are looking for a vacation where you can explore exotic destinations with like-minded travelers and want to travel in a group thats not geared towards families or couples, then join us in Thailand and explore with other Jewish Singles and Solos from around the world!

Wandering Jews

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

– by Malori

We are a community of nomads; the moniker “Wandering Jews” is part of who we are. Whether celebrating Purim on the banks of the Amazon River or Shabbat in the African Savannah; participating in a local service in a Cuban Synagogue in Miami or visiting a shul from the 3rd century in Barcelona, and yes, on the continent of Antarctica where we planted an Israeli flag and said a shehechianu; our Jewishness travels with us and we celebrate it where we can. You truly can take Judaism with you wherever you travel!

Here’s how an ordinary plastic Israeli flag made it from Mobile, Alabama – to Antarctica – and back:

This little plastic Israeli flag adorning my bookshelf does not appear to be unusual. They are a dime a dozen. Its pole is about 12” in length and the flag itself is about 6” by 8”. But it is quite remark- able.

Two years ago Malori Asman (a cousin of Jeff Redisch) and I happened to be in conversation. Malori mentioned that she was leading a tour to Antarctica. A travel agent, Malori is often at the fore – leading tours to familiar and also more exotic locations. This specific tour was geared primarily towards Jews. I suggested that she take an Israeli flag along with her and place it in Antarctica. She agreed. Months passed and I had forgotten our conversation. About a year ago, Malori came back to Mobile for a visit. She came by the shul and brought me this small Israeli flag.

And then she told me the following story: We arrived in Antarctica. We stepped foot onto the shores of this unique landscape, placed the flad on this southernmost point of the world’s surface, held hands around the Israeli flag and sang the Hatikvah.

I asked if she had thought about leaving the flag there as a permanent market. She retiieved it and handed it to me and explained that people are very devoted to removal of all items so that Antarctica could remain as pristine as possible. Plus, she thought that I would enjoy having an israeli flag that had visited Antarctica.

It’s a remarkable little flag: just a small piece of plastic with the design that you and I know so well, yet it gives voice to the indomitable Jewish spirit. This extraordinary little flag, that looks fairly typical, escorted a group of Jews to one of the most remote locations on the earth’s surface and assisted that group (and all of us) in proudly demonstrating our presence and our identity. Truly remarkable! Every one of us has an opportunity to make his or her journeys remarkable. Each of us has the power to mark the world in which we live. How will you make your mark as a Jew on our world? Travel in peace. Travel with pride.

L’Shalom,
Rabbi Steven Silberman
Congregation Ahavas Chesed
Mobile, Alabama 

Home Home on the Range

Monday, July 15th, 2013

…where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day!

Herein describes our just completed Amazing Journeys tour of the National Parks of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons. Nary a white puffy cloud in the sky….an abundance wildlife grazing on the open range….a landscape to make you want to just sit and stare….adventures in hiking and river rafting that exceeded all expecations…and a terrific group of travelers who all made this trip an everlasting memory.

Nature lovers were in their Garden of Eden on this tour.  There are few places on earth that conjure up the bountiful beauty of the open ranges in Wyoming and Montana.  Life in these parts are quite different than the concrete jungles of the highly populated, fast-paced deadline-oriented Big City USA, and an experience that gives one thought for a different way of spending their days.  One cannot help but to stop and watch a grazing bison or take a photo of a snow capped mountain in July.  To hike along The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not too unlike that of the more familiar natural wonder in Arizona. For some, a bucket list experienced was checked off when Old Faithful erupted “right on time”.  To all, the compilation of a great group, fun times and a majestic landscape provided a week’s getaway that calls for more. (Can you say “Alaska”????)

But no rest for the weary as Amazing Journeys heads off for Italy and Croatia in just a day.  Sixty-four strong, we are soon to embark on a journey through Venice, Rome, Sicily and Naples as well as Dubrovnik, Split and even Montenegro.  Not quite the open ranges of Yellowstone but a treat of culture, history and culinary indulgences that will capture everyone’s sense of travel.  If, however, you covet a gem of Mother Nature, the aformentioned Alaska calls.   Amazing Journeys heads to Alaska in August and yes, you can too.  Give us a call and we’ll tell you more.

Our recent tour to Italy was packed full of pleasures and treasures!

Monday, June 24th, 2013

by Malori

The images of Italy in one’s mind are as different as the individual themselves. One may visualize a Tuscan villa set amongst gently rolling hills covered with vineyards and lavender, some picture the greatest art treasures such as Michelangelo’s “David” and fresco covered cathedrals, others see an outdoor café where locals are sipping cappuccino, and some imagine themselves shopping for some of the world’s best leather shoes, handbags and gloves, or amazing ceramic pottery, high fashion or Murano glass. Italy is all this and more! 

Last week, 21 Amazing Journeyers returned from an experience in the Northern Italian countryside, cities, villages and lake districts. We experienced Italy “off the beaten path” as we visited such amazing places as Stresa on Lago Maggiore; Lucca, Siena, and Florence, all in Tuscany; Bologna and the always fascinating city of Venice.


We began the tour with a tasting event with vintage wines and aged balsamic vinegars from Rosario, a local woman who has experienced life in Italy from the time of WW II to today, as she shares her passion and knowledge of the foods, spices and wines of Italy. That was only the beginning of more surprises we had in store for us on our journey.

One of the highlights for many of the group was our day spent in a Tuscan villa where we had a cooking class and got our hands into the pasta, which we then rolled out like pros and enjoyed at lunch. We watched a demonstration by our personal chef of a fabulous dessert, which we also enjoyed later, along with the wines we saw them make and then tasted.

Tasting the meats of Bologna (I searched for the statue of Oscar Mayer but he was nowhere to be found!) and the cheeses of Parma were unparalleled. Along with wines, our tour of Bologna was nearly complete. We also saw the University of Bologna where the oldest Torah scroll in the history of the world was just found and dated. It had been in the library there for centuries!

Walking tours of Lucca, Siena, Florence and Venice provided us the insight to experience the rich history of the people of Italy and their culture. With lots of free time in each, we filled our days with exploration, shopping and photography, along with enjoyable lunches in some of the best Trattoria’s, where “Mama” still does the cooking.

Portofino and the Cinque Terra were enjoyed by the entire group. Five fishing villages spread out along the Ligurian Coast as they have been for centuries, connected only by train. Some in the group visited two villages, others three and a few saw four villages. This was true and untouched Italy.

Many in the group vowed to taste the flavors of Italy on a daily basis: some swore to have a gelato every day, others began each day with a cappuccino, some decided to have a pizza-a-day, while others honed in on wine each and every day. Whether your passion was tasting the unusual or comparing the typical, none of us went home disappointed. The foods and wines of Italy are always amazing! 

For those who just returned from our Italy’s Treasures tour, your experiences will provide memories you will never forget. If you are heading to Italy with us on our Cruise the Med trip next month, get ready for an opportunity to fill your senses with amazement! Our advise to you—leave room in your suitcase…you’ll be coming home with lots of new-found delights!

The Baseball Game of Life

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

“And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville-mighty Casey has struck out.”

Those lines have echoed through the decades, the final stanza of a poem published in the June 3, 1888, issue of the San Francisco Examiner. Its author, Ernest Thayer’s poem has taken a well-deserved place as an enduring icon of Americana. Christopher Bing’s magnificent version of this immortal ballad of the flailing 19th-century baseball star is rendered as though it had been newly discovered in a hundred-year-old scrapbook.

And what does this have to do with Amazing Journeys?  Last week a bunch of baseball enthusiasts – aficionados, if you will – went on a road trip of their own, to visit some of the most iconic baseball venues in the history of the game. It was a smorgasboard of baseball; an endless horizon of becoming one with the diamonds of yesteryear as well as today.  We met Dwight (Doc) Gooden of the Mets and Yankees….we ate peanuts and Cracker Jacks at Yankee Stadium…we swung (and hit very well) a few fastballs at the batting cages…we remembered the past in Cooperstown…and we became part of the past with a Fenway experience in Boston that words alone cannot describe.

Baseball teaches us so much about ourselves.  It is a game of life; a game with so many metaphorically similar lessons to learn that it’s a wonder we all don’t fall in love with the game.

Just think about it.

A player is surrounded by teammates, coaches, fans as well as opposing players, and their advocates. A person in life is surrounded by siblings, parents, cousins, co-workers, acquaintances and friends, as well as those who compete against them for jobs, parking spots, short lines and other competitive routines of daily living. Like the pitcher who just gave up a grand slam and needs to be replaced, he still gets a pat on the tush from his coach and the support of his teammates.  In life, our inner circle of family and friends – real friends – support us even when we fail.   Together, the team and family learn about the joys of succeeding, the trials of failing, the challenges of improving and the results of their efforts.

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball – an illness, a bad evaluation at work, a car accident or perhaps Mother Nature reaps havoc.    This is where life can be like the impossible baseball game; sometimes the game seems like it can’t be won, but miraculously it often can.  In 2004 the perennial losers of baseball, the Boston Red Sox were about to embarrassingly bow out yet again to the mighty Yankees having lost the first 3 games of the best of 7 in the American League Championship Series.  Down by one run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 4, and only moments before their curse would continue….history changed forever.  The Sox tied it, went on to win the game in extra innings and then all the rest of the games in the series.  They then went on to blow out the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series win in 86 years.

Hope!  Never give up. 

If not today, there’s another game tomorrow where you get to start all over again.   Perseverance can pay off in big ways if one can get up, dust themself off and figure out a new way.  Just like the player getting thrown out trying to steal 2nd base. He’ll get another chance. Skills such as determination, focus, ambition, patience, practice,  sportsmanship, and respect enhance the meaning of the word “hope”.  To sit at home and hope that the love of your life will knock on your door is futile.  But by getting out and doing things, you put yourself in position (notice the baseball lingo here) to make a catch.

As they say “even the longest journey begins with just one step”.  Think of career minor leaguer John Lindsey.  He spent 16 years in the minor leagues before getting his break in September of 2010 when he was called up to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers; his first stint ever in the Majors.  He played in 11 games that season and is now still a prospect with Major League credentials with the Detroit Tigers organization.

Hope springs eternal.  One never knows what can happen….if they continue to hope.

Such as in life, a player will only succeed over a period of time if he wants to; if he truly desires to.  As Babe Ruth once said – “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

Slicha, Bevakasha

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

If you thought New Yorkers were tough, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve been to Israel. One of the first phrases we learned in Hebrew was “slicha, bevakasha”, or “excuse me, please”. So anywhere we went, we were saying “slicha, slicha, slicha”. It’s hard to move around without bumping into people… Israel is a wonderfully crowded place.

 

We squeezed our ways past people, cars, and bikes as we went on our food tasting tour in Tel Aviv. We wiggled our way into the Western Wall, passing all of the orthodox who came from near and far to pray. We even ventured to the shuk (market) in Jerusalem on Shabbat! Yes, on Shabbat. What are we, crazy? All of Jerusalem goes to the shuk to shop for their challah, fish, and vegetables for Shabbat, not to mention their chalvah, wine, dried fruits, and more, oy! I think all of Jerusalem was there at the same time! So we “slicha-ed” our way through the shuk, going from stall to stall for our “Shuk Bites” where we tried everything from cheese and burekas to ice cream and fruity drinks. It was definitely an experience!

Unexpectedly, most of the group decided that our visit up north to the Golan Heights was the favorite part of our trip. Why you ask? It was so relaaaaaxing! We stayed at a wonderful kibbutz. A kibbutz? “So you woke up at 4am and picked oranges?” No no, don’t be silly, it was a beautiful kibbutz with a lot of smaller buildings on their luscious, green property. Meals there were plentiful and delicious, the rooms were lovely and best of all, we had an AJ exclusive party!


The Golan Heights were amazing! We went on a jeep ride through the fields and right next to the Syrian border where we saw IDF Reservists who had just been called into action. We saw the former borders and how the land had been transformed since becoming part of Israel. We went rafting on the River Jordan and enjoyed the beautiful greenery as we floated down. Okay, it’s more like a lazy river with some tree obstacles. One of our highlights? We were lucky enough to have dinner with some current IDF soldiers! These are 18 and 19 year olds who are in Intelligence, protecting the Jewish homeland. That dinner was so special; it brought Israel close to home. We imagined our friends, our nieces, nephews and our children in their shoes and we quickly understood how amazingly brave and mature these teenagers are.

Overall, our Golan Heights experience was life-changing. It’s a different way of life, different from the “slicha, bevakashas” that we did in the big cities. Don’t get me wrong, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are “must-sees” on any trip to Israel and there is so much to do. Part of traveling is getting to know the people and culture through small interactions. But there was just something special about the relaxing nature of the Golan Heights. Being so close to Syria and Lebanon yet feeling safe, peaceful, and relaxed is an amazing feeling. Israel has that effect – you know it’s a political hot-spot, but you feel safe, like you belong.

So “slicha” if I’m coming off too forward, but if you haven’t been to Israel yet, you must go. And while you’re there, “slicha” your way through the cities and then up to the Golan Heights. “Beavkasha”. You’ll be glad you did.