Off to Turkey…..

The worst part of having a travel business is that one is always busy when it is vacation time for others. We are working extra hours planning kid friendly vacations for families, while we glance across wondering if we will be able to take our children for a vacation in the summer holidays. The big question: MONEY vs PEACE OF MIND! I chose the latter. Been working since I was 16 and fortunately earning money is no big deal for me.

People working in the travel trade and other working moms might be able to relate to this blog. Firstly, I consider myself very lucky, my family is not dependent on my earnings. So it is easy for me to say no to business (well not so easy at times when there is a big juicy luxury file on the cards!) and secondly, I am quite independent and have no qualms leaving behind my working husband and taking off with my darling daughter!¬† Well, somebody’s gotta earn for the next vacation! Sorry hubby, but you know this already and must say you’re quite cool or maybe I don’t leave you any choice!

Last summer I was busy burning the midnight oil while my daughter was busy burning her eyes and the Ipad battery. Hated it and regretted it a lot, so this summer I have cut down my work and my greed to spend time with her. She doesn’t like it much and would rather keep burning her eyes, but we’ve done some amazing things already this summer being in Mumbai. Took her to the Mumbai High Court for an interesting museum walk, she attended and thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful Art Appreciation course, watched a couple of movies and explored some new restaurants.

My husband and I had planned to go the Himalayas this summer but my darling daughter shot it down as she is, what she calls, ‘a beach person’. We have a USA trip coming up this Diwali so didn’t want something expensive and also we were late in planning, so airfares had skyrocketed. What an irony, being in the travel business I always ask my clients to book their air tickets by January for summer travel and here I was in April still figuring out where to go? Lesson learnt, “practice what you preach”! She had loved our week in Crete, Greece and wanted to go back, but the airfares were too high, so I started looking for airfares to Turkey and found a good fare. So yesss, it’s Turkey this year!

Tip: If the destination you have in mind is too expensive to travel or if you are looking at a similar destination that you have been to and liked, look at the neighbouring countries on the map. You will be visiting a new country with similar terrain but maybe with a completely different culture. Of course, for those who like to keep a checklist, a new country knocked off your list too.

Husband can make it only for a week, so we are taking (dragging perhaps) him to Cappadocia & the beach. I would take time to visit Sirince (a charming village) for a day while he baby sits. Have booked Korumar Beach Resort & Spa in Selcuk which is a brand new 5* property with lots of activities and animation for kids. A small Aquapark, bang on the beach, an indoor heated pool, pools everywhere throughout the resort AND an Ultimate All Inclusive Plan, which means food and booze round the clock! That sounds like a holiday, can’t wait. After our last fiasco in France, where we lost our wallet with a lot of cash and driver’s license, we have been yearning for a drive, so we might rent a car and make use of the husband and make him drive to enjoy the scenery ūüėČ This was his idea, am not such a horrible and selfish wife.

Tip:¬†If you are looking for some ‘Me Time’ on your vacation with kids, find a resort with a kid’s club and a team which keeps kids occupied when they are not in the pool or on the beach. An All Inclusive Plan which includes food does mean that the quality of food will be average, but trust me the kids will be very happy when they can just walk up anytime and help themselves with food & soft drinks whenever they want. Let them splurge on carbs and ice creams, I bet the wicked mother in you will ensure they have one wholesome meal with protein & veggies.

In Cappadocia we will do the usual tours with hot air ballooning and am excited to stay at The House Hotel (a Design Hotel member). Looks stunning and a cave hotel. Also located away from the tourist crowds in a sleepy suburb called Ortahisar. Will write a blog on our stay here. What I am also excited about is a wine tasting tour in Cappadocia. My new obsession and love.

My daughter and I will spend 2 more days at the beach after my husband leaves, busy bonding, giggling, bitching about other guests (this is the only time when she speaks to me in Gujarati as it is ‘safe’) and am sure having arguments for sure. We will also spend 5 full days in Istanbul at The Lazzoni, again a 5* hotel. I prefer smaller hotels, though my agent was giving me a very good deal at The Wyndham, I chose Lazzoni. Love that it overlooks the water and is situated in Beyoglu (Golden Horn area) which is not too far from Taksim Square & Miniaturk is just walking distance from the hotel.

Tip: Pick local brands and boutique smaller hotels over big brands. With big brands you know what to expect, but with local brands and smaller boutique hotels, I do find the management very hands on and staff is more friendly & helpful.

Don’t ask me what all we’ll do in Istanbul, as I have given my daughter the task to make an itinerary for us by doing some online research. She’s almost 11 years old and hates shopping malls and theme parks, so I guess I am in safe hands. She’s been quite fascinated about the Byzantine empire and has been watching a lot of videos and reading up trivia on the subject. She definitely knows more on the subject than me. We love museums, so plan to visit at least 3 museums in Istanbul, feel free to drop in your suggestions.

Tip:¬†Involve your kids in itinerary planning and ensure they know about some historical facts if you plan to visit monuments. Most kids don’t like historical monuments as the on-the-spot history commentary is not interesting at all. Also they like to raise their hands and chip in or show off to the guides on the topic. This can only happen if they know something about the place & history. Don’t insist on just reading books. There are some amazing TEDTalks and Youtube videos which educate in a subtle way. They will be happy with the screen time. Ideally, tag along in watching the videos or reading the book, as they always like to discuss it later.

Will keep you posted on what we plan to do in Istanbul and hope to write a blog on each place.

So excited…… yay we are off to Turkey!

Advertisements

Best Travel Apps For Kids

Here is¬†a list of travel apps to keep the restless¬†“Are we there yet?” kids occupied.

3 Р6 years

  • LEGO¬ģ DUPLO¬ģ Forest: Takes ages 1 ¬Ĺ ‚Äď 5 on an exciting road-trip to help the forest animals find the hibernating Bear.
  • 123 Color¬†-Talking Coloring Book: One of Apple’s top picks for kids, this is the perfect road trip companion.
  • Marco Polo Weather: Games teaching ages 3‚Äď6 about the major climate types.
  • Fresh Paint: Thanks to digital oil paint, your kids can create art in the backseat for hours.
  • The King’s Stilts: This new Dr. Seuss app is for young children who want a book read to them. There are 3¬†modes: read to me, read it myself, and auto play.

6 Р8 years

  • Balloonimals: Every child loves balloons, your kids can create balloon animals in a safe and fun way.
  • The Amazing Quest: Interactive adventures with Caribbean pirates and in the Middle Ages, the Far West and Ancient Egypt and Asia.
  • Cut the Rope: Because it’s holiday time and sometimes kids just wanna have fun.
  • Kid Weather:¬†Kids¬†love knowing about the weather, so let them follow the weather around you while they travel with this¬†special app.

9+ years

  • KLANG: The Road Home: A wonderful challenge requiring kids¬†to help an alien stay safe from roads and cars while he fixes his crash-landed ship.
  • Lonely Planet‚Äôs Amazing World Atlas: Interactive maps, quizzes and games taking kids on a thrilling global jaunt. There‚Äôs an accompanying book with quizzes ‚Ästalso great for car journeys.
  • Wordzine (by Lisbon Labs):¬†A language-learning app for ages 9+, with colourful graphics and a choice of eight languages.

Am sure as parents we do know how to restrict screen time. But a little digital fun will just make their holiday special. You can also download movies and it can be a good 2 hour break for you and the kids. Go ahead, plan the long road trips you have been craving.

Please feel free to add any interesting apps that you know of in the comments section.

Theme Parks With A Twist!

Fortunately for us, our daughter is not a big fan of theme parks! She hates waiting in long queues and she’s not much of a thrill seeker¬†too. She would rather play with other kids from different nationalities, than go on a ride where she cannot interact with them. Hence for us, interactive museums are more fun. We love it, as we save up on the expensive entrance fees and we all know that we can never exit the park without buying some¬†overpriced souvenirs from the gift shops.

However, I have been planning a lot of vacations to Europe with theme parks like the Disneyland in Paris, Warner Bros in Spain, Lego Land in UK, etc. I am a stickler for local flavour and culture, my philosophy is ‘why go to a particular country, if you are not going to savour it’s culture, know their people and try their food’! Hence, here are some local theme parks which are a must visit:

London: 

Thorpe’s Park: This park has many tummy churning roller coaster and other thrill rides. The latest being added to the list is a spooky train ride for older kids and teens. If travelling by train it can take upto 1.5 hrs to get to Staines from Central London.

Paulton’s Park: For the young Peppa Pig fans, this park has a Peppa Pig World and for dinosaur buffs, there is the Lost Kingdom area, part of the same park. Hence, this would work best if you have 2 kids with an age gap. Getting here can be tiresome though. It can take 1.5 hrs – 3 hrs depending on your mode of transport. I would not advise this park to teens though.

Chessington World of Adventure: This has a good blend of rides, zoo, aquarium and a forest adventure. Only 30 mins drive from London, this can be a good day out. If you child is a Gruffalo lover, they have a new ride based on the story.

Besides these, there are some very interesting historical museums in Scotland and Wales which are interactive and seem like a theme park.

France: The following 2 parks are sure to make you forget Disneyland, Paris.

Futuroscope: Welcome to the future. Very chic and modern with a lot of glass and steel, the rides here are not your ordinary roller coasters. Be wowed by virtual reality and 4D stimulation rides with a French touch as Le Petit Prince take you on an intergallactic journey. The food here is also futuristic with Heston Blumental style molecular gastronomic dishes. This park is very popular with the locals and neighbouring countries, hence during their vacation period expect crowds.

Puy du Fou: Absolutely at the other end of the spectrum compared to Futuroscope. Puy du Fou feels like a mega Hollywood set with mega gladiator fights, chariot races, vikings and medieval castles. They have made this park with a lot of passion and the shows are simply jaw dropping. Fortunately, translation headsets are available, hence you do not miss out on the commentary. The grand show in the evening lasts about 1 hr.40 mins (a bit too long for the little ones) but it is nothing short of an opening act of Olympics. The pyro-techniques and projections on the water have to be seen to be believed.

The above mentioned parks are situated in the Loire Valley region, about 2.5 hrs from Paris. This region is renowned for it’s many castles and a very interesting 1 week long itinerary can be designed here post your Paris stay.

Germany:

Europa Park: Visit The Netherlands, Italy, England, Scandinavia and of course Germany all in a day or two. This 95 hectares park has iconic landmarks of 13¬†countries across Europe. The best thing is that it has rides for all ages and is one of the most popular parks in the region which doesn’t cost a bomb. For the tiny tots, there is a water play area and they also have entertainment shows. If you are visiting Germany and your kids love theme parks, ensure you visit the Europa Park.

Phantasialand: This is based on more exotic locales like China, Mexico and so on. It has a more Indiana Jones vibe and has a good mix of rides and shows. However, this is further north and may not fit in the usual Black Forest, Rhine and Bavaria tours most Indian families plan. The drive from Frankfurt will take about 2 hours.

Vogtsbauernhof: This living museum is in the Black Forest region and is a wonderful delight. It has a good mix of interactive activities as well as shows to please all members of the family. This could be a very good edutainment stop set in a stunning backdrop.

Spain:

Tibidabo, Barcelona: This is one of the oldest functioning theme parks in the world. Set on the ridge of Mt. Tibidabo, getting to this park is half the fun. A funicular¬†ride overlooking the city, brings you to some of the oldest rides in the world. Though in terms of thrills, this park doesn’t match up to others, but the nostalgic value and the spectacular views are worth a visit.

Poble Espanyol (The Spanish Village): If you want to see the different architectural wonders and craftsmen of different regions of Spain then do visit this place. They often have performance and you can witness the skills of the craftsmen and savour culinary delights of different region. This can be a wonderful day trip from Barcelona.

There are many more which I can add to the list, feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com for more information. Happy holiday planning!

Sojourn to Greece with kids

family vacations

Adventure awaits you in Greece and its idyllic islands! An action packed holiday which will bring you closer to the historical heritage and fascinating local traditions of the country.

Greece is not just about ancient ruins and piles of stones which translate B-O-R-I-N-G for most people, especially kids. A holiday to Greece can be very enriching and exciting for adults and children alike with a host of active life experiences – something you will remember forever.

The best time to plan for a vacation in Greece is to generally make it part of summer holidays (mid April to mid June) or in the fall (September to mid October). This way you will avoid the summer high season crowds and peak season rates. As far as possible avoid August totally.

Athens is a must visit ‚Äď that‚Äôs a no brainer. There are many interesting ways of exploring this city steeped in ancient culture, bursting at its seams with history. How about discovering this city through clues and directions, solving riddles, interacting with locals, learning about local food and people? Sounds interesting, right? It is ‚Äď it’s fascinating!!

Some of the experiential things to to soak in the Greek culture are visit the Hellenic World foundation, which is a museum of Greek history and culture, and the Athens Planetarium. These are both especially interesting if you have curious kids in tow.  A walk around the Monastiraki Flea Market and dinner at one of the quaint cafes at the Plaka is a quintessentially Greek experience. Athens at night with all the monuments lit up is truly a magnificient sight.

There are 175+ islands in Greece, each one characteristic in its own way, can be explored individually or you can base yourself at a central island and make day trips to the other islands. Travelling with kids can take a toll on their moods, but this will keep them happier with a familiar room every night and you will be thankful not to pack and unpack bags very night. It is an excellent idea to have your holiday base in an area which is located in the centre of the Cyclades, which is easily accessible from Athens ports with frequent schedules to and from there to take boat trips to nearby islands. Some of the unique island activities include visiting an olive oil making unit or see how the famous feta cheese is processed in a farm. Biking around fertile green landscape and playing on the golden sandy beaches with clear waters and restaurants by the beach make up for a very relaxed vacation. All of these can be enjoyed with your kids, and will keep them engaged and busy. Quaint traditional Greek villages are magical and on the less touristy / crowded islands, the locals are very warm and love kids.

Ravishing Santorini lives up to the postcard-perfect photos you’ve seen, perhaps calling you to Greece in the first place. You can explore this island on foot hiking to the caldera and making a picnic out of it. The picture perfect sunset at the end of the day leaves a lasting impression of this renowned island. Also they get to tour a volcano that they have only read about in their science books.

Another exciting way to explore the islands is by hiring a yacht (with crew or self helmed!). You don’t need to be an expert sailor, just do a short pre-course and join a group of sailboats. There are some really good luxury yachts with jacuzzis and all the luxuries of a modern 5* hotel.

For the little nature and animal lovers, like my daughter, there are superb farm stay options not far from the idyllic beaches.

Whether it is a cooking course to learn delicious Mediterranean delicacies, or an art class to learn ceramic or textile painting, wine tours, snorkelling, hiking or biking or a sunset cruise ‚Äď Greece has so much to offer for you and your little ones, to make your holiday a memorable one.

Feel free to write to me at: info@soltrips.com

Where to go for a vacation? The big question…. – Part I

disney

We all have our bucket list of places to visit, which just keeps on growing each time we see a travel documentary, a movie or read about a new place. On the other hand, most of us have also been blessed with some wonderful memories of vacations we’ve had with our loved ones and families and wish we could re-visit those places to relive the memories. Here comes the big question, should we go to the place we know we love and enjoy or start ticking off our bucket list?

Being a parent we are also faced with another big question whether it would be worth the money spent on a vacation aimed to please the kids or are they too young? Honestly, the parents can only answer this question, as they know their kids best. However, being a travel consultant I do give some pointers to my clients, which I would like to share with a series of blogs:

Places with theme parks like Hong Kong or Singapore:

We all want to take our little ones to meet Mickey, Minnie and all the wonderful Disney characters at some point or take them to an international zoo or safari park. However, what I realized with my daughter is that theme parks can be quite tiring; especially with Asian weather and for a kid less than 8 years you have to give more time if you want to see the entire park. Pick a season when the locals and neighboring countries’ schools do not have school holidays to avoid huge crowds at the park. If you can afford, buy the fast track pass to skip the huge queues. Figure out in advance the timings to meet the characters you think your kid would like to meet. Merchandise within the park are super expensive (of course they are originals, hence the price), so think twice before you take your kid into the shop. I always give a budget to my daughter and she picks whatever she wants with that money. Helps them learn the lesson of spending wisely and make their own choices. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience with your child rather than going berserk clicking pictures and shooting videos.

Most parks like Ocean Park & even the ones in Singapore like the zoo & bird park have special educational and interactive experiences that can be booked at a fee. If you think you have a Jr. Zookeeper in the making, ensure you book these encounters where the kid gets a chance to get within the enclosures and spend quality time with the rangers.

Because there are so many themed parks on offer, all geared towards kids edutainment, we tend to spend days visiting one park after the other. My daughter doesn’t enjoy many organised activities and with so many kids around her, she would actually just want to gather all of them and have her own party going… but most kids are rushing to the next ride and hence she has to make do with just making friends in the queues! I remember at a park in Bangkok she found a wall where kids could draw with coloured chalks on a wall and though we had a planned schedule to see one animal show after the other, my husband and I just sat there chatting & relaxing over a cup of coffee while our darling was happy colouring the wall! We did exchange a glance, which said did we spend so much to come all the way to Thailand to draw on walls, but when we saw her having fun and us time to just chill, we didn’t mind it at all.

Vacations are about having fun and relaxing too besides checking out the sights. Do take time to just roam around the streets, mingle with the locals and take some public transport rather than packaging your trip so much that you are just rushing all the time. You and your kids will get a better insight about the lifestyle and people of the country when you use public transport and eat at local joints.

Big cities like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur & Singapore may end up giving you similar experiences unless you opt for non-touristy tours. Opt for walking tours rather than seat in coach city tours where you just whizz past places. Sample a bit of tradition by visiting religious places with a knowledgeable child friendly guide. Opt for a local activity like dim sum making class or a short Kung Fu or Tai Chi lesson with locals. Light an incense stick at a local monastery and make a wish on the wishing tree… Yes, I am still referring to Hong Kong & Singapore, the cities renowned for shopping and theme parks.

Feel free to writ to me at: info@soltrips.com