Category Archives: Family Travel

Book Review: National Geographic Guide to National Parks, Eighth Edition


National Geographic Parks

Though its release marks this book’s eighth edition, National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States is a timely one. 2016 marks the centennial of the U.S. National Parks, which Nat Geo seemed to have a bit of a hand in.

The introduction to this latest version shares a story involving Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, National Geographic’s first editor, who fell in love with the beauty of the sequoias in California’s Sierra Nevada. His vacay inspired him to dedicate the April 1916 issue of his magazine to America’s natural wonders — and give copies out to elected officials in Washington. Apparently, D.C. got the message. That August, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service.

Now, the 2016 edition of National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States has been updated with on-location research to determine the best spots in each of the 59 national parks for views. Other additions include travel tips, itineraries, contact information, and a list of places to stay. Geographically, the guide is broken down by regions: East, Midwest, South Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountain, Pacific Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. Plus, of course, the scenery is shown through 80 full-color maps and more than 220 photographs. It’s priced at $29.95.

For youngsters, The National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. Centennial Edition (ages 8-12, $14.99) offers a minor take on exploring these parks. Produced in partnership with the National Parks Trust, the book is designed to encourage readers to put down the iPad and go through photos, lists, maps and other attention grabbing pages. Plus: through the Every Kid in a Park program, every fourth grader can visit any national park for free though August 2016!



My Travel Plans (So Far) for 2016

New PhotWe are now five days into 2016, and already I have some travel plans and goals for this year. Of course, I’m hoping to visit new destinations, but there are other areas that I want to head into. Here is what I’m hoping to accomplish this year.

My first solo work trip.
Last year, my travel writing got a big boost. I landed five freelance assignments that brought me to Wyoming, Michigan, and California, had me revisiting New Haven, Connecticut, and fulfilling a wish to visit Costa Rica. Though the locations differed, one thing they had in common was that I was in a group of other travel writers and bloggers. But I have some news to share: this month, I’m working on plans to go to Texas on my own for a piece for a new outlet I hope to do more writing with. I have ties to the Lone Star State and haven’t been there for 30 years, so I’m looking forward to going back.

Expanding search options.
My method of picking flights centers on mainly route, schedule, and cost. Unfortunately I’m still new to figuring out airline mileage programs, and, because of my budget and other reasons, I only belong to two of them: Southwest and JetBlue. I have a lot to learn but recently I’ve been checking out more of another source for savings: third-party search engines. In choosing a soon to use flight, I gave Kayak a try and found a direct, neither too early or late morning flight for at least $100 less than going through the airline’s website! So I booked. For comparison, I now do an initial search through Google Flights, another search engine.

Making time for family travel.
Although my interest in solo travel perked up a lot last year, it’s still nice to have someone come along. My younger sister and my cousin are my main plus ones, and they’re joining me on some excursions this year. I’m heading back to Jamaica with my sis this month, specifically to Montego Bay, where we hope to get in some bonding over swimming and bike riding. (Her flight in is way earlier that mine, so might give her some distance for recovery). I’m also excited about returning to Europe this summer. Part of my family is based there, and for years, I’ve been exploring parts of the continent with my European cousin. For 2016, we’re going to see Scandinavia – specifically Denmark, Norway, and Sweden! And within the U.S., I’ll be joining the younger set of my family for an April trip to Walt Disney World (which I haven’t been to since I was a teenager).
What do you have planned for 2016? Let me know.

Visit New and Familiar Places During Connecticut’s Open House Day June 8

If you’ve grown up in Connecticut, it’s most likely that you visited the state’s major attractions through family outings. You went to landmarks and museums for a homework assignment or with your classmates on a field trip. Even more so, you probably explored a state park, nature preserve or family-owned farm.

Yet there are still many hidden gems throughout its regions that deserve a second look.

OpenHouse150_lg_130131118233619201Each year, the CT Office of Tourism organizes Connecticut’s Open House Day, a marketing promotion that encourages CT residents to stop by or spend more time at the diverse public offerings across the state. This year, the open house falls on Saturday, June 8.

As of this writing, 188 locations are providing free or discounted admission, gifts or special activities. From Coastal Fairfield County up through River Valley, long-time favorites and local names are scheduling tours or sample tastings, offering giveaways or unveiling new exhibits.

With attractions suitable for many ages and personal interests, here are some spots worth a visit (or revisit):

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo: From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., admission will be free for the first 100 visitors. Bridgeport, (203) 394-6565.

Spa at Norwich Inn: From 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., the Spa is offering a 15 percent discount on day spa treatments and dining. Also, free tours of the historic property are scheduled. Norwich, (860) 886-2401.

Westford Hill Distillers: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., this distillery, which is not generally open to the public, will offer free, guided tours. Ashford, (860) 429-0464.

Lime Rock Park: Open from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., each visitor get a free hot dog and Coca-Cola drink. Come in the morning to watch Lime Rock Drivers Club travel over the tracks and the afternoon, the Eastern Motor Racing Association. Lakeville, (860) 435-5000.

The Glass House: Visitors will receive a complimentary hard cover coffee table book, “Modern Views,” and can explore the interior of this iconic house and its 47-acre landscape. The two-hour tours leave at 9:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., noon, and 1:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required. New Canaan, (203) 594-9884.

To get a full list of participants in Connecticut’s Open House, visit As for me, I’m going to hit up the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport and Stamford Museum & Nature Center.

New York Travel Festival Breaks Consumer Show Mold


Bohemian National Hall was the venue for Saturday’s portion of the New York Travel Festival.

I got involved in helping with the promotions for the New York Travel Festival, and I’m glad I did. The inaugural event, held last weekend (April 20 and 21), ushered in travel experts and explorers from New York City and beyond.

Produced by RW Social, this new festival was to redesign the concept of the consumer travel show with an innovative program. Focusing on tech-savvy travelers already seeing the world, the event catered to them by inviting travel media’s elite to share insights and perspectives on why we travel, and how we should.

Attendees came out for the festival’s first day at the Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side. Andrew Evans, National Geographic’s Digital Nomad, began the morning with his keynote, “Why Your Bucket List Sucks & I’m Gonna Tell You Why.”

Evans isn’t fond of the idea of bucket lists because they sound as though “we’re setting specific travel goals” and not leaving ourselves open to other potential opportunities.

“If we only travel on our bucket lists, we will never get out of our comfort zone,” he said.


Andrew Evans, National Geographic’s “Digital Nomad,” talks to a show attendee.

Evans had a similar scenario happen after having to stay in Tennessee when the plane he was on had an emergency landing. The next day, Evans decided to go see Graceland, a place he admitted he never wanted to see at first. After spending a few hours there, and seeing Elvis’ personal items like clothes and learning more about him, Evans said he “gained this deep appreciation for who Elvis was, and I started liking Elvis.”

Evans also changed up his talk to reflect on the recent tragedy in Boston, which fit in understandably, and how travel has been impacted by terror in many ways such as with TSA policies that bewilder us all.

Breakout sessions on niche travel along with local/regional topics highlight specific scenarios for women, families, LGBT, and those seeking other alternatives. Here are some highlights:

–  A great talk on women’s travel, led by Go! Girl Guides Founder Kelly Lewis and Christine Maxfield, a former editor at Budget Travel magazine. The ladies offered common-sense safety measures all girls can take. Here’s one: buy a doorstop to securely lock your hotel door in place.


From left, Rainer Jenss, Charu Suri and Carol Cain share their advice and experiences on traveling with children.

– Yes, it’s possible to successfully navigate family travel. A session on this topic offered solid proof from speakers that were parents of children ranging in age from months old to teens. They were: Carol Cain, travel writer and blogger of; Charu Suri of Butterfly Diary; and Rainer Jenss, founder of Smart Family Travel, Inc. and a 13-year veteran of National Geographic.

– Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to have visited every country, was a contestant in a travel trivia “show,” and got stumped a bit by the audience. He was a good sport.

– Jason Cochrane, now the soon-to-be the editor of, warned his audience about current travel scams such someone “spilling” mustard on you and shared important tips on how to dodge them.


AnneLise Sorensen throws travel questions at Lee Abbamonte, and takes some from the audience.

It was also nice to see and listen to bloggers and experts whom I’ve met virtually, through social media, in person. Plus, as travel circles go, I got to catch up with friends and meet fellow writers that I already followed via Twitter or through Facebook Groups.

With a visit to the Mexico tourism area, I enjoyed samplings of authentic dishes provided by the restaurants, El Mitote and Café Frida. Translated as “drowned sandwiches,” tortas ahogadas are a Guadalajara favorite, in which a sandwich is submerged in a sauce made of a dried chili pepper or tomato sauce. Mini tortas and ceviche tostadas were also on the tasting menu.

Beverages were included, with agua fresca (watermelon water) and tastings of several kinds of Mezcal, a liquor made from the heart of the maguey plant, the piña. La comida Mexicana es deliciosa!


Guests savored flavors from Mexico and New York’s Hudson Valley Saturday afternoon.

With New York State, a “Taste of the Hudson Valley” showcased the culinary and cultural offerings in this attractive region.  Taking up one of the show floors, the area hosted a restaurant grouping of The Artist’s Plate, Madava Farms, Gigi Hudson Valley, and Zitoune. Dishes of pasta, cheese and duck highlighted regional fare. Wine and spirits samplings from Millbrook Vineyards & Winery and soon-to-open Dutch’s Spirits were also offered. And on the first floor, a range of New York beers from Shmaltz Brewing were available to sip.

Sunday’s schedule focused on food with guided tours around NYC’s five boroughs. In all, the inaugural New York Travel Festival was off to a good start. See you next year!