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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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We Show You the World and You Mean the World to Us

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

by Michele

Vacations That Change Your Life, originally, a tagline when created, was with the thought that the travel experience alone would be what changed your life.  What we have come to understand and have witnessed for decades, is that in addition to that, our journeys are changing your personal life here at home as well.


As we are now spending time at home and riding this wave together, we have felt the strength of our Amazing Journeys family.  Since we first received the “shelter in place” orders, one of our top priorities was to continue to share the power of positivity and what better way than to continue our time together even if for now it is virtually. Trivia, Lunch and Learn, Ice Cream Social, Happy Hour, Art Gallery Crawl, Shabbat and the list goes on.  We have even seen new faces online who we can virtually welcome into our AJ family until we can welcome them in person somewhere in the world.

I know from hundreds of calls I have had over the years, no one ever truly expects how their life will change when traveling with a group of AJers. Oftentimes, I find myself telling the first-time caller that I am personally still in touch and friends with several from our very first trip in 1993. We form special bonds and they have changed my life and I know have impacted many others.

After speaking with one of our newer AJ friends recently, he said something very poignant as before he traveled with us, he really didn’t know what to expect.  His personal observation was there have been some wonderful “unintended consequences”!  He thought he was just signing up for a tour but what he came back with was new friends that enhanced his world.  Looking back on many conversations from the last 20+ years, we hear all of the time:
…I met my best friend on my trip.
…All of my fellow Broadway goers I met through AJ.
…So many that celebrated my milestone birthday were my friends from AJ
…Going through a challenging time, when I looked around, I realized most
were my travel friends from AJ.


As we navigate these uncharted waters, I have learned now more than ever, there is so much to be thankful for.  Although we show you the world, we want you to know that you mean the world to us and also to each other.


Please feel free to share with us one moment or friendship that has changed your life as we would love to hear from you and be thankful together!

The Wandering Jew

Friday, August 28th, 2020

by Malori

Traveling around the world, I’m so fortunate that I get to see a plethora of amazing sights. And the experience that I hold close to my heart is sharing our Jewish heritage with our travelers in faraway lands throughout the world. Whether joining a local community for Shabbat services, creating our own community for holiday observances or bringing back prayer to a synagogue that hasn’t seen Jewish life for years, or sharing the Hora with those who may not have ever experienced it, these are the moments treasured by myself and our groups alike.

We have had the good fortune to see many of Europe’s Synagogues. The largest and most magnificent I’ve experienced is Budapest’s Dohany Street Synagogue. Built in the mid-19th century, the architectural style is Moorish Revival and is truly remarkable.  With seating for 3,000 participants in its main sanctuary, it also houses a museum, a graveyard, and sits on the site of Theodore Herzl’s home. But in addition to the glorious interior, it’s the experiences one has that is the most memorable,  Being brought up to the bima and away from the crowds of visitors, we pre-arranged the opportunity of having their world famous Cantor lead us in prayers, together as an Amazing Journeys community.  Our voices rang to the top rafters of this massive interior structure.  Just outside the doors to the most beautiful synagogue in the world, we were taken to the site where thousands of Jews were murdered during the 1930’s and 40’s.  Anyone who has been to Budapest will have vivid memories of the stories of the atrocities that happened along the river dividing Buda and Pest and elsewhere in the city.

While most of our Jewish experiences are pre-planned by our Amazing Journeys team, some are bashert or, just happens because they are meant to be. When headed to the Azores, a remote group of islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 930 miles off the coast of Portugal and 2400 miles off the US coast, I received a call from a would-be traveler.  She said her dad was on a business trip a few years prior, along with a business associate, a Catholic woman who was born in the Azores. They asked about a run-down building they saw while walking down the street and were told it was a hidden synagogue from the 1800’s.  For over 30 years, the two had decided to raise money to restore the synagogue, and took trips to Ponta Delagada on the island of San Miguel until they had restored the Sahar Hassamain Synagogue into its original look.  They also created a museum and included details of Jewish life in Ponte Delgada. Upon hearing the story, we wanted to take our group to visit as well as have Shabbat services there.  In advance of our Amazing Journeys visit, we asked employees at the museum, those running the fundraising organizations and were told it was a museum and was not used as a synagogue for nearly 60 years. We asked different times and in different ways, and still the answer was no.  We arrived in the Azores, visited the museum as part of our tour and later, at the end of our day of touring, I mentioned to the guide we had been hoping to have our Shabbat services inside the synagogue.  She said, “why not?”  I told her we had already had a long line of “no’s” from everyone we spoke to and she said, “I work for the Mayor… I can make it happen.  Give me until tomorrow (Friday)… I am certain I can get this approved.”  Sure enough, she did and we kept our secret from the group.  Later that evening, I asked everyone to meet in the hotel lobby so we could have Shabbat services together, followed by dinner.  We walked the 4 blocks to the synagogue and had a private service in this 130 year old space.  We all realized the specialness of this experience, and that we were bringing voices of prayer to these walls that had not heard songs for decades.  Many of us cried.

Sometimes synagogues appear in the most random of places, nevertheless, they are houses of prayer.  Cochin, India was once known as ‘Jew Town’ because they were located along the Spice Route and had many Jewish families who settled there.  Cochin is filled with many synagogues, some being currently brought to their original beauty as houses of worship by congregations in the US and other countries who want our Jewish history not to be lost forever. We visited several synagogues in the once bustling area.  My favorite was one synagogue visit where we had to pass alongside of several aquariums filled with fish to reach the entrance of the synagogue.  Not very fitting for a house of worship, it reminded me that having a defined prayer space is a gift.  People in different parts of the world will make sacrifices so that they can pray as Jews.  While in Cochin, we met Sarah Cohen, the last Jew in Jew Town.  We spoke to Sarah, then in her 90’s, who still produced handmade challah covers.  Sarah recently passed away at the age of 95, leaving the former Jew Town devoid of Jews.

We have celebrated Shabbat in synagogues in Cuba where in Havana there are still two shuls, and as always, there is the one you “don’t go to.”   We have prayed with 400 visitors and Jewish business people living in the area in Shanghai, China and said prayers in a tiny underground hidden shul at Auschwitz in Poland.

 

One of the most sobering was in Linz, Austria where we had Shabbat services at The Linz Synagogue.  This meaningful symbol of our Jewish religion and our heritage sits just one block away from the balcony where Hitler gave one of his earlier hate speeches.  On the tiny balcony in front of the Rathaus in the main square in Linz, Hitler proclaimed the Greater German Reich on May 12, 1938.  He called Linz “my home.”  It was so important that here, we came together to pray as one.  This reconstructed Synagogue was both architecturally meaningful and hauntingly spiritual. Our voices during services were loud and proud as we aimed them to reach the heavens.

Whether one is Jewish or not, most likely a Jewish wedding is associated with dancing the Hora to Hava Negela.  On our travels, we have created the fun and fervor of the hora in many spaces and places on earth, including the most remote spots imaginable. We taught a local dance troupe in Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal in an archipelago comprising four islands off the northwest coast of Africa, to dance the hora.  Even more remote, our Amazing Journeys travelers to Antarctica did an impromptu singing of Hava Negila around an Israeli flag, after doing the Shehecheyanu blessing, a common Jewish prayer to celebrate special occasions. On a recent trip to Tanzania, we met the Hadzabe people, an isolated tribe who still hunt for their meals with poison arrows and spears. They live under bushes and move about Tanzania, following the game. Here, after this tribe taught us their dance, we showed them ours!  Although we couldn’t communicate through verbal language as they still use the “click language,” the language of dance was our connection. Although we weren’t 100% sure our movements would translate favorably, we’re still here to talk about it!

In India, just outside of Varanasi, the holiest city in all of India, we celebrated Tu’ BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees.  I asked our guide to provide me with a space under a tree, so that we could say some prayers and experience this holiday. He was proud to bring us to the Bodhi tree where Buddha was enlightened. Nearby, we found a tree we could sit under as a group and celebrate Tu’ BiShvat.

Sometimes it’s the remoteness and serenity of nature that connects us most to God. In my favorite spot on the planet, our heli-hiking lodge in the Bugaboo Mountains in eastern British Columbia, Canada, our group celebrated Shabbat with a setting filled with glaciers, mountains and granite spires. It’s the most majestic backdrop to a memorable Shabbat.  Equally so, perhaps my favorite Shabbat ever was facing Uluru, formally known as Ayers Rock, in the Outback of Australia.  Here, we perched ourselves on a large, red rock, indicative of the landscape of this desert area, complete with challah, wine and candles as I led the group through Shabbat services. As the sun set and the colors of Uluru changed with the changing sunlight, surrounded by our Amazing Journeys community in song and prayer, it brought us to tears.

Of all the exploration we do on our Amazing Journeys, it’s our visits to explore our Jewish heritage, see synagogues and visiting Jewish communities throughout the world, and  it’s the Jewish celebrations in which we participate that are always the most memorable part of the trip and our travelers remember for years to come.

What Happens When Tourism Stops

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

by Malori


Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world and is included on any list of the Top 10 Employers globally.  It’s hard to fathom just how large this industry is until you begin to break down the numbers.  In 2019, travel and tourism directly contributed nearly 3 trillion dollars to the GDP.  And in the US, it was the largest contributor to the GDP with a total of over 580 billion US dollars last year. Tourism employs 330 million worldwide.  Sometimes these numbers can be difficult to understand until we break it down further.

Tourism is on the brink of disaster.  Tour guides we have been working with for years in India, Africa, China and Vietnam and have developed friendships with are looking outside of tourism for other work.  Imagine, when we visit Tanzania and hire a Masai Mara guide, the ones we love to jump with and who takes us into their dung huts to show us life on the Mara– this one-day guided experience will feed 10 others in his community with this one encounter.  We recently visited Thailand.  The absence of visitors can change the life of vendors who are on the streets with their food carts, t-shirt sellers, elephant sanctuary workers and tuk-tuk drivers who cannot see their way to bringing home payment so their family can survive another day.  The Moroccan carpet sellers, the mustache-festooned doormen at our hotels in India, our Jewish tour guides in Rome, the jovial bartenders on your last cruise, the ferry captain in the fjords of New Zealand, hiking guides, olive oil tastings in Greece… it all shuts down.  Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with the Vice President of a major worldwide hotel chain who told me 50% of his hotels will shut down in Europe next month… and they currently have occupancy rates in the single digits. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of people will be out of work in that scenario? Only a handful of cruise ships are sailing.  That’s another 1.1 million out of work employees from around the world. Add to that, it is expected that 50% of the more than 60,000 travel agencies just in the US will be out of business by September.  When tourism stops in its tracks, the ability of millions of people to put food in their mouths stops, too.

As the Chief Amazement Officer at Amazing Journeys, I take my job very seriously.  Because I know that not only am I crafting tours that include highlights within each destination we visit, I am also taking care of the locals… small business owners who can provide experiential memories, sure to make your trip that much more enjoyable, while feeding their local community at the same time.  Whether it’s a surprise tuk-tuk ride to see the sun set over the Taj Mahal, a food tasting tour, shopping at the local market before attending our cooking school in Vietnam, wine tasting in Israel, tasting whiskey in Ireland and scotch in Scotland… it’s all part of putting money into the local economies and more specifically, the individuals who are feeding several members of their community.

At Amazing Journeys, not only do we take great pride in creating a tour that you will remember for the rest of your life, we also take seriously our responsibility to take care of those who take care of us.  And we do this by generating opportunities for local populations.  We know that tourism is a force for good. Those of us working in tourism and those who travel… we are all in this together – we are one community.

Tips for sleeping at 35,000 feet

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

airplane

With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, everything makes it tough to sleep on a plane – not enough legroom, people climbing over you, noise from movies and video games and screaming children., sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet.

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone – but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight.

Choose your seat wisely

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well, or how poorly, you sleep on your next trip. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket.

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the bathrooms where both noise (and odor) could be an issue.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane and sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there – and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

Cut down on your carry-ons

If you have two full carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag – a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you. Keep the items you stow in the seat back pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the caffeine

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

Blankets and pillows – stake your claim

There are never enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Bring a neck pillow

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows. Experiment a bit and see which ones will work best for you.

Free your feet

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your feet and wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Try a sleep aid

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on what drugs you should take as sleep aids. That said, here are a few products that have been used with some success:

Melatonin: This is a naturally occurring substance – it’s the compound that triggers our sleep patterns, and it’s as natural as eating. The level of melatonin in our bodies declines as we age; this is why older folks often sleep less as they advance in years. As it is a gentle approach, melatonin doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Dramamine: This motion sickness remedy is a pretty common over-the-counter drug, but beware; it will knock you out, and the advice not to operate heavy machinery (like, say, a car) is to be heeded. If you are on a shorter flight or need to be alert when you wake up, you may want to avoid this one.

Use headphones with discretion

Save yourself the $4 – $5 and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent fliers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Recline your seat – but be courteous

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seat backs will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table. Simple common courtesy applies here.

Make sure you won’t be disturbed

Notify your flight attendant that you want to sleep – that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

Stay away from the light

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight – all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When it’s time to wake up…

The worst part of sleeping is waking up. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to bright lights, luggage carousels and sunshine so bright you can hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination and walk off the plane fully awake.

Reaching your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a short and sweet nap or a full rack en route, always beats lurching around an airport tired and crabby. Grab your winks in flight and you’ll be a happier traveler.

 

Originally posted on Independent Traveler

Apps that make your trip more fun and less frustrating

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

rickshaw asia

You’ve booked your vacation and are counting down the days before you leave.  Take a few minutes to check out some of these awesome apps that can save you time, frustration and even embarrassment when traveling.

Postale
This app combines the fun of old-school postcards with the modern convenience of social media. You can use your own just-shot vacation snaps to create your card and the whole process takes mere minutes: Choose a layout and background, add photo, title and message, then finish it off with an artsy postmark. Send it straight from the app using e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. A unique stamp is automatically added that shows from where and when your card was transmitted. It’s a personal way of updating family and friends on your how your vacation is going. Click here for app

TripLingo
You’ll never be lost for words with TripLingo, a free app that’s part phrasebook, part phonetics coach. Search the word bank in 13 languages – including German, Italian, Hindi and Japanese – for everything from body parts and emotions to weather conditions and restaurant-relevant vocabulary. A handy slang-slider translates must-know questions and pleasantries in four different ways, from a formal approach to the most colloquial. An automated voice coach can even fine-tune your accent. Click here for app

JetPac City Guides
This free iPhone app analyzes details of more than 100 million Instagram images to point travellers to the world’s hippest hangouts, happiest places and best views. It ranks publicly shared digital photos by such details as the amount of blue sky, the number of smiles, evidence of coffee cups or wine glasses, and so on, to come up with Top 10 lists. The results are hit and miss. If you’re heading to Paris, and want to know where the city’s best museums are, you’ll be offered the usual (Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay). Searching for the happiest places, however, leads to a list of nightclubs, restaurants, bars and an office tower. Stay away from gimmicky recommendations and instead look for coffee shops, dog-friendly places and where parents go with kids.

Rove
Having trouble retracing the steps of your recent Roman holiday? This free iPhone app uses GPS data to track all the places you’ve been. It works in the background to create a travel log of sights, restaurants, hotels and shops that you’ve visited. The part calendar/part map layout is easy to read and tracks whether you got somewhere on foot, bike, bus or taxi. You can tailor things further by adding notes. Click here for app

Symbolic App
Looking for a pair of chopsticks in Tokyo or a cut of sirloin in Argentina? Symbolic App can help you find the right words. The iOS app is loaded with more than 3,000 symbols in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese, depicting everything from basic food and drink and health-related matters to hard-to-decipher settings on foreign washing machines. Use the search function to find the right word or phrase. While the pictorial dictionary includes a wide range of categories, it takes a while to navigate the pages. Under “Security,” for instance, you have to scroll randomly through symbols like bomb and battery explosion before finding a way to say “immigration.” Click here for app

Travel List
Get your suitcase in order! This app takes the guesswork out of packing. Start by setting up a series of lists based on the type of vacation you’re taking (beach, safari, city weekend, and so on) and populate them from the preset menus. Within minutes, you scroll through categories that include personal care, clothing, gadgets and documents, and pick must-have items from GPS and mosquito repellent to bikinis, belts and sunscreen. Specify quantities of each item and tick them off once they’re packed. While there are other packing-list apps out there, this one has a simple layout, is easy to navigate and it allows users to copy pre-existing lists, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time. Click here for app

Originally posted on The Globe and Mail