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March 2006
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May 2006

We're Not Completely Dispensible

I read a poem on Guy Kawasaki's blog today that caught my attention. The theme was our dispensible nature in life. Sad, but often true, when it comes to the functions/roles we play in a companies, organizations, and the like.

But it got me thinking. Thank God for friends and family. Without them, would we all be dispensible? True, for every job there is likely at least one other person who could do it as well if not better. True, the world will still spin without us. Life does go on.

However, with friends and family, we are an indispensible part of their lives, and vice versa. While the poem was meant to stymie swelled egos and praise humility (a good lesson), there is no better way (in my humble opinion) to foster a healthy ego, build a balanced sense of self, and have fun while at it, than by spending quality time with family or friends.

Today, while walking to lunch, I saw a TV crew interviewing folks and filming their "life lessons" on camera. I didn't stop to give mine; but if I did, I'd likely say something about stopping to smell the proverbial roses and hugging those you love more often.

Whatever does this have to do with group travel? Family. Friends. Spending quality time with each other. You connect the dots.


Family Tips for Choosing Intergenerational Travel

By Tom Easthope, guest blogger

Every family has a "golden age" where the elders have the resources, time, and need to connect. Children are old enough to appreciate the experience and able to travel without hassle. Traveling together with grandparents, adults, and children provides the opportunity to separate from daily routine and form a more meaningful bond with extended family members.

When evaluating different options for intergenerational travel, here are several factors to consider:

  1. Choice - Does the travel adventure or tour provide enough choice for you to find the experience that best matches your interests and abilities? For family tours this could mean grouping opportunities by age ranges of children which allow kids to more easily form bonds with each other.
  2. Fun Factor - Many kids work very hard during the school year. A successful family travel experience should include entertaining activities with a high fun factor for the kids.
  3. Experiences that Teach - Learning new things enriches the mind and is a significant value for adult travelers. Is there an educational program integrated into the itinerary?
  4. Responsible Tourism - Does the tour practice a responsible tourism philosophy? Are the natural and cultural environments you visit treated with respect to sustain them for future generations?
  5. Family Orientation - Will your family travel experience allow you time to bond as family? This could range from meal times to free time for sightseeing and exploration, two prime bonding times.
  6. Value - What is included in the package or tour? Are there hidden costs such as escort and driver gratuities or "optional" admissions to attractions? Are discounts available?
  7. Financial Security - Are your prepayments put in a trust or escrow account? Does the company belong to a tour protection insurance plan? This can be important as many intergenerational family trips are planned months in advance and often the major vacation for the year.

Today, numerous companies are jumping into the family travel arena. Unfortunately, this creates additional confusion for those trying to determine the best match for their family. As the travel industry continues to evolve, niche companies like Generations Touring Company will emerge to address and specialize in specific types of family travel. Research and plan ahead to find a tour or travel mode that best suits the generations in your family.

Tom Easthope is a travel industry veteran, successful entrepreneur, and founder of Generations Touring Company, offering small-group travel experiences for families and their generations – kids, adults, grandparents.


Adventurous Women Tours

Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?

Women-owned tour operators such as Adventurous Wench might just be for you. This company offers escorted, small group tours tailored to women's adventure cravings. The company seems to have a solid mission of putting private tours together around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. Adventurous Wench, saucy name and all, arranges everything from lodging and meals to activities; plus, they customize trips for groups of 5 or more.

If you're looking for an escorted group tour or planning a group vacation and incorporating tours into the mix, you can use TripHub's planning tools to coordinate the trip, gather RSVPs, organize money matters, even book other components of the trip that escorted tour operators may not arrange such as airfare, airport transportation, extended stays, etc.


Spa Etiquette for Groups

When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or general getaway with friends, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.

Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.

Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):

Group Appointments
Schedule spa stays (at resorts or destination resorts) and/or appointments for service several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.

By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.

Quiet Times
When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.

Tipping
If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%.

Nudity
Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.

 


Helpful Hints for Group Spa Travel

Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.

While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some etiquette hints from Spafinder.com that apply to groups:

Mixing activities and spa-going
On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it is advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.

Pets
Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.

Cell phones
Leave phones and pagers at home or in your room; or turn them off before entering the spa.

Perfume
Because the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.

Smoking
For the most part, smoking is not allowed at any kind of spa. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.

Therapists
If you prefer either a male or female therapist, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular therapist on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.

Punctuality at day spas
Arrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and therapist) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.

Socializing at destination spas
Meals can often be arranged at shared tables, activities and evening programs foster interaction, and in general a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.

Advance booking at resorts or destination spas
As resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate the group if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Favorite spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings are the favorite times for more strenuous activities that many resort and destination spas offer.

Cancellation
Unexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.

Group discounts
Many spas may offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.

For more spa etiquette tips, visit spafinder.com.


Endangered National Park Rangers?

The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut 20% from their budgets to focus on "core operations." Aren't they already underfinanced? Trimming 20% from existing tight budgets would mean potentially closing visitors' centers, cutting back on trail maintenance, habitat and species protection services, slowing maintenance of natural and historical monuments and sites, reducing staff, or other (non-core?) services. The current administration contends that volunteers and increased efficiency will pick up the slack where park rangers, staffers, or services have been in the past.

Hmm. I understand the basics of the 80/20 rule: focus on that which drive(s) 80% of the revenue (usually 20% of your time or products). However, at a time when many political issues divide Americans, wouldn't it make sense to leave our national treasures alone, especially since summer vacation is just on the horizon?

Summer is prime vacation season for thousands of school kids, families, college students, teachers, and others. Groups travel together to visit U.S. national parks because of their accessibility, natural and historical rare beauty, sunny, warm weather June through August, and outdoor activities from camping and hiking to swimming and boating and more.

Many journalists, environmental organizations (such as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), newspapers, and bloggers are writing about the national park budget woes. It's a hot topic because parks are so fundamental to the American landscape, history, and culture.

The National Parks Traveler points out a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial calling for an "end to ritual neglect" of national parks. Here's a quote:

"[National Park] Superintendents are running out of tricks, and visitors will eventually notice. Beyond basic services, long-term needs are ignored. Some parks cannot catalog or restore precious artifacts. Most cannot preserve habitat. Invasive species are taking over. The Park Service is putting on an inexplicable happy face.

"The most endangered species in many of America's national parks today is the park ranger."

Question: Should we place national park rangers on the endangered species list? The largest amount of protective measures possible come to a species' rescue when placed on the endangered species list. Preservation efforts immediately get underway for the species and surrounding habitat. Protective laws are comprehensive and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can return a species back to thriving health.

If we want to maintain national parks complete with garbage service, restrooms, drinking water, maintained trails, flora, and fauna, and interpretive tours, perhaps we should get rangers listed.

Comments? Agree (partially)? Disagree (partially)? I'm curious how others feel about this topic.


10 Hot Summer Festivals for Groups

By Jim Shanklin, guest blogger

Festivals are perfect for enjoying vacations with friends or family. You can incorporate a festival into a family or class reunion, or organize a group for a road trip around a theme (such as a music or film festival).

Here are several summer festival ideas:

Portland Rose Festival, Portland, Oregon
Two parades, a rose show, two sports car races; Oregon's biggest and oldest festival.

Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, Illinois
The world's largest blues festival; great acts on six stages in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Texas Folklife Festival, San Antonio, Texas
Belgian, Italian, Swedish, German performances; all proud Texans! A great festival.

Huck Finn's Country and Bluegrass Jubilee, Victorville, California
Family fun and games, bluegrass performances in a small town setting.

Seafair, Seattle, Washington
A full month of neighborhood events, parades, unlimited hydro-racing and air shows.

Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee, Mammoth Lakes, California
Hot and cool jazz high in the mountains.

Finger Lakes Wine Festival, Watkins Glen, New York
New York wines, food, fun at historic Watkins Glen race track.

Country Thunder USA, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin
Country music; headline performers; overnight accommodations for motor homes, camping.

Fisherman's Feast of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
One of America's oldest festivals in downtown Boston; started by Sicilians in 1910 and still going strong annually.

Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Bluegrass and other acoustic music in the Minnesota forest; camping, of course.

Jim Shanklin is founder of Festivals.com, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.


Seasonal Festivals Are Ripe for Groups

By Jim Shanklin, guest blogger

Summer through fall, America's festivals offer attractive, low-cost, weekend-long activities for groups. Here are ideas for planning summer vacations or road trips with family, friends, relatives, college classmates, and more.

Choose a festival that fits your group's interests.
America has some 50,000 festivals a year. With a little research, you'll find one in a town you want to visit, along the route you want to travel, or at the core of your personal passion. Most community festivals are free; music festivals range from free to expensive and many offer weekend camping as a part of the ticket.

Find a festival close to home.
Your own state or region can surprise you—festivals you've never heard of that are fun and often seasonal or theme-based, and within a day's drive or less. Check out your state's (or a neighboring state's) tourism bureau Web site to find a wide range of diverse local festivals).

Plan the festival weekend.

  • Before you go: Throw a few items into a backpack or shoulder bag like sun block, water, sun glasses and hat; it's summer and hot. A festival day can run longer than you might think, and sometimes water is farther away than it looks. A simple first-aid kit (Band-Aids, antibacterial cream, etc.) is a smart to pack, too.
  • Upon festival arrival: Set up a meeting place for the end of day. The group can wander all day through the festival, then gather at a gate, a stage or other central location at the end of the day. This makes things simpler for the "designated adult" in the group.
  • While there: Look for venues to take a break. Festivals have a laid-back "attitude" and a kid-friendly venue within the festival or a beer garden can offer a place to sit, catch your breath and get ready for the next part of the busy weekend. For some people, taking breaks from group activities is a necessary way to recharge and re-group.

Jim Shanklin is founder of Festivals.com, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.


6 Must-See Pre-Wedding Movies

Whether you're engaged to be married or plan to attend (or be in) a wedding soon, one great way to prep for the big day is to rent films that imitate life, summoning the flavor of organizing, planning, and producing weddings and all the mental and emotional hoopla that goes with them.

I've noticed some important wedding themes that many movies do a good job of addressing. Here they are:

1. The Graduate
Wedding issue addressed: parental "involvement" gone very bad

2. Much Ado About Nothing
Wedding issues addressed: misunderstandings and fixing up friends

3. Runaway Bride
Wedding issues addressed: cold feet and Julia Robert's character's insecurities

4. My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding
Wedding issues addressed: being Greek, eating lamb, multi-cultural weddings, family melodrama... couldn't this also be Italian, Jewish and a number of other weddings?

5. A Midsummer Night's Dream
Wedding issues addressed: outdoor settings and wedding fantasies

6. My Best Friend's Wedding
Wedding issues addressed: being secretly in love with the groom or bride, how hot Dermot Mulroney looks in a tuxedo and Julie Robert's character's insecurities

Any other movies that shed unique perspectives on issues related to weddings or marriage? Post a comment below. Don't be shy.


Why Are National Parks Ideal for Group Travel?

I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.

National parks are ideal for group travel.

  1. Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
  2. Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
  3. Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
  4. National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
  5. Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.

Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.

When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.