Clean water. Poverty alleviation. Sponsored education. And...Hammocks??
On a recent service trip to the Dominican Republic, I was blessed to connect with a righteous dude named Tim. He is the Managing Director at a revolutionary place called Doulos Discovery School (check it out). More than that, Tim is co-owner of a SoCo Hammocks. SoCo stands for Socially Conscious because they are exactly that. Twenty percent of their net profits are donated to help the poor around the world through clean water, poverty alleviation, and sponsored education via different non-profits.
These handmade hammocks are simple, durable, lightweight and set up in about 60 seconds. They come in a variety of colors from Sky Blue to Classic Red to Vintage Yellow. I had the pleasure to try one of these out during my time in Jarabacoa. The second I fell into the hammock it was like: "Holy understatements, Batman! This thing is more comfortable than it looks!" I thought maybe they should have called it SuCo for Super Comfortable, but Socially Conscious is probably more fitting. I've listed some of my favorite features below. Global impact has never been more relaxing.
~ Each hammock comes with two free 6 ft. hanging straps
~ The Bomber Buckles attached to SoCo Hammocks are the best solution for fully adjustable suspension ~ The name "Bomber Buckle" sounds bada$$
~ Hammocks have a 450lb weight capacity but only weigh a pound in it's attached pouch!
~ The silk nylon material is breathable, mildew resistent, triple stitched, and feels absolutely blissful
~ You have a choice in the cause you want to support
Find out more at www.socohammocks.com
Vacation Savings: 9 Easy Summer Travel Tips Spring fever has slowly subsided, but summer fever is swinging into full effect. While summer is always the big travel season in the United States, Americans are changing the way they take vacations. For example, look at the new partnership between Groupon and Expedia. They’re following the increasingly popular deal-of-the-day model and offering significant discounts on travel packages that can include airfare, hotels, activities, car rentals and more.
That’s not the only way to get to your destination for less, though. Try using these 9 thrifty travel tips to save some money on your next vacation.
1. Discover Off-Peak Destinations
With nearly four-million square miles of land area, the U.S. is a big country. This means there are nearly unlimited places to travel. Destinations in California, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, are some of the most popular spots, but they’re also the most expensive. If you think outside the box, you’ll find some really cool locations to have a unique vacation without the crowds.
2. Shop at Auctions
Is your heart set on luxurious accommodations, but your bank account doesn’t match up? The auctions at travel sites like LuxuryLink.com can help you find accommodations, spa credits, meal vouchers and free drinks for as much as 65 percent below the typical retail price. Auction king eBay also offers a variety of discount vacation packages in their travel section.
3. Go Back to Campus
Traveling with a large group? Often, hotels will offer discounts to large groups, but staying a whole week is still very expensive. Many colleges and universities rent out empty dorms during the summer, which can save everyone a bundle. It generates a little extra money for the college and the price is typically significantly less than hotel rates. If you’re traveling with a soccer team or church group, a college campus offers more space and freedom for the kids to play outdoors, instead of running amok around a hotel.
4. Use Discount Gift Cards
Most major travel companies are on board with gift cards. Purchase gift cards at sites like GiftCardGranny.com for serious savings on rental cars and airfare. Discount gift cards for airlines like Southwest usually sell out within minutes, so signing up for email alerts can help put you at the front of the line.
5. Make Your Own Food
Eating out at new restaurants is one of the best parts of traveling, but there’s no need to eat out three meals a day. Instead, plan to eat only one meal out. Many hotels and even hostels offer some sort of free breakfast, typically consisting of fruit, cereal and pastries. Also consider booking a hotel that offers a mini kitchenette so you can prepare meals to enjoy in-room or pack as lunch for a day exploring the city.
6. Enjoy Membership Perks
Membership in clubs like AAA or even credit cards can provide some unexpected travel benefits. AAA members can find discounts at hotels, restaurants and local merchants. They’ll also hook you up with complimentary tour books and travel maps.
Many credit cards will help with affordable travel insurance, baggage protection, rental car protection and even travel-delay protection. Find out what your card covers before you go so you don’t end up shelling out extra cash.
7. Giving Back to Get Away
If rest and relaxation are less of a priority than simply getting out of town, there’s always an abundance of volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to connect with other people who care about the same causes. It also provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Sites like VolunteerGuide.org can help you find opportunities all over the world. Many times, food and lodging are included when you commit to a term of a week or two. All you have to do is get there.
8. Find Secret Savings
Travelocity is taking a new approach to finding great hotel prices with their Top Secret Hotels. Give them a little information about when and where you’re traveling and they’ll give you a list of hotels with ratings and prices. Once you pick one and book your stay — saving up to 50% off the original price — they’ll reveal the name and details of the hotel you selected.
9. Travel With Apps
Smartphones go where you go, meaning they can help you save while you’re on vacation.
If you’re taking an old-fashioned road trip, the GasBuddy app can find the lowest prices on gas for every leg of your journey. After fueling up the car, Meal Ticket will help track down coupons and reviews for nearby restaurants.
When you still have work to do before you relax, don’t bother paying the ridiculous Internet fees at hotels. The Free Wi-Fi Finder app tracks down local hotspots in 144 different countries.
Andrea Woroch is a consumer savings expert. She has presented various consumer savings tips on NBC’s Today Show, FOX & Friends, MSNBC, ABC News NOW and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @AndreaWoroch to receive daily savings tips.
A current study has found out that the reason why travellers pick Belize to spend their vacations is because of the diversity of experiences that it offers. The culture, the scuba diving, the cave tubing, the Maya ruins -- you name it! We have it! I am not trying to brag here but take a look at the story below and find out for yourself why Belize has become a top pick for travellers.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s Larry Waight said an increasing number of travellers are looking for a combination of experiences to get the most out of their holiday dollar, and this trend is creating greater interest in Belize.
“When I ask our guests what brings them to Belize and Chaa Creek, more and more of them answer that it’s the variety of different experiences they can have on one vacation. For example, we’ve lately had several people asking how to combine an Easter break with a chance to see the annual Belize whale shark migration and visit Maya temples as well.
“Fortunately, given Belize’s small size and our network of colleagues we’re able to that quite easily,” he said.
The annual whale shark season in Belize, beginning in March, runs through April, May, June and sometimes further into the summer. Once known to relatively few people, exposure in nature publications and media such as National Geographic has made whale shark watching more popular in recent years.
With a recorded length of 12.65 metres (41.50 ft) in length and weighing in at more than 36 tonnes (79,000 lb), whale sharks are the world’s largest fish and the third largest living animal. Although a true shark and largely unchanged over 60 million years, whale sharks are peaceful, allowing divers to touch them as they lazily strain plankton and other food during their annual stopover in Belize.
Only a handful of places in the world, including Belize, Madagascar, South Africa, Australia, Mozambique, Indonesia and the Yucatan host annual whale shark feeding and mating seasons.
Mr Waight said that the chance to see the giant fish in the water, combined with exploring ancient Maya temples and archaeological sites while celebrating Easter is irresistible to some travellers.
“Easter is widely and exuberantly celebrated in Belize, so it’s a great time to be here, and while that may not be reason enough to travel to Belize, people see it as icing on the cake when considering all the other things you can do during a spring vacation in Belize.
“People are looking for more ‘bang for the buck’ when booking holidays, and we’ve responded to that trend with more variety in our all-inclusive Belize vacation packages. With specific focuses such as Maya, families, romantic getaways, inland adventure and the popular rainforest to reef packages that combine a rainforest experience with a Caribbean island holiday, we’re giving travellers the opportunity to do as much – or as little as they want when they come to Belize for vacation.
The time to reminisce about all the amazing travel memories we made with our families over the last year has passed. It's time to get moving and start planning for an exciting year of new destinations and adventures ahead! We've read through many of your recommendations, researched, and drawn from our own experiences and favorites to put together these family-friendly vacation ideas that are particularly worthy choices for 2012. Some will appeal to the budget-minded, while others are more tantalizingly extravagant. You'll find something for adventurous thrill-seeking families, as well as for those who prefer to spend lazy days on the beach with a cocktail while the kids are happily entertained.
A topnotch aquarium, a famously cool science museum, as well as a rich history and sophisticated New England charm have long attracted families to Boston, and the city that always tops the travel lists promises not to disappoint in 2012. In the summer, the new and improved Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is scheduled to reopen, 11 years after the original museum was struck by lightning and burned down in 2001. The new museum will have replicas of the three merchant ships: the Beaver, the Eleanor, and the Dartmouth, and new exhibits featuring Samuel Adams and King George III. For families with younger kids, the Boston Children's Museum is a must. Everyone will love the new "Remember When" exhibit (which runs through February) where you can dress up in vintage clothes and play with toys from the past.
In addition, Fenway Park, America's oldest ballpark, celebrates its 100th birthday in 2012. There are dozens of cool events planned at the Red Sox stadium, including a free open house on April 18th where you can check out historical artifacts and photographs and meet some of the Red Sox legends.
Consider staying at the Hotel Commonwealth or the Fairmont Battery Wharf.
2. San Francisco
Kids (and grownups) of all ages will get a thrill out of riding the cable cars through the hilly streets of San Francisco, watching performers along touristy Fisherman's Wharf, chocolate-tasting at Ghirardelli Square, and taking a winding drive down famous Lombard Street. I dare anyone not to be impressed with the stunning vistas across the San Francisco Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. The number of kid-friendly attractions (don't forget the zoo, museums, Alcatraz and Union Square) are endless.
2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge; and the tourist board didn't pass up the opportunity to commemorate the occasion a variety of family-friendly events planned throughout the year. The highlight will be a two-day celebration at Golden Gate State Park in May, where there will be live music and entertainment, exhibits and bridge memorabilia on display. The celebration will go well beyond the park, where attractions like The Bay Area Discovery Museum and the Exploratorium have related events and exhibits planned, many of which will be free.
For families looking to escape the bustle of the city at the end of the day, consider staying at The Claremont; just 15 minutes outside the city, you'll get to roam across 22 acres and have access to three pools and a kids' club.
3. The Mediterranean
Caribbean cruises have grown steadily in popularity amongst families, and with good reason. They offer an affordable, convenient means of getting around the islands, with plenty of organized activities for kids and parents. Until recently, fewer families have opted to venture into Mediterranean waters, perhaps because they assume it's going to be a budget-buster. In reality, many Mediterranean itineraries are comparably priced; it's just the airfare that is expensive. But if you travel in shoulder-season and search out bargain airfares, it can be more affordable than you might think.
As more families look to discover this region, the major cruise lines are adding itineraries in record numbers. In 2012, dozens of kid-friendly ships will make their rounds through Mediterranean waters. The colossal Norwegian Epic, which has 21-dining options, Blue Man Group entertainment and a water park, will sail out of Barcelona in 2012 with 7-day western Mediterranean cruises from April 29 to October 14. Royal Caribbean is also sending more ships than ever before, 12, to the region for the 2012 summer season. Not to be outdone, Princess will also make its biggest presence ever in the region, with seven ships sailing on 57 itineraries to 116 destinations between April and December.
Central America's only English-speaking country is a great destination for adventurous families who enjoy diving and snorkeling, as well as those interested in learning about the archeology and history of this culturally rich (and affordable) country. While probably not ideal for the youngest travelers, Belize has so much to offer older kids. Caving, tubing through the stalagmites of an underground river, or zip lining through the rainforest are memories your children will never forget.
Belize is a relatively young country -- in fact it just celebrated its 30th birthday last year. The past 12 months have seen many hotel deals, festivals and activities in celebration. 2012 is an equally important year for the Maya people of Belize, as it's the year the Maya calendar comes to a close. Some have interpreted this to mean the world will end on December 21, while most are celebrating 2012 as a year for spiritual rebirth and new beginnings. There are related festivals, concerts and cultural events scheduled for every month of the year in 2012.
Looking for kid-friendly accommodations? Try the eco-friendly (and Family Vacation Critic favorite) Inn at Robert's Grove, where visiting families can stay on a private island while exploring the rainforests and Mayan ruins.
A host of outdoor activities, public parks and incredible vistas in every direction make Denver a great choice for families. In winter, hit the slopes at several nearby mountains, and in summer visit the city's Botanical Garden and let the kids wander down the Children's Secret Path. The Children's Museum of Denver and the World of Wonder Children's Museum are tons of fun any time of year.
2012 is the perfect time to visit the Mile High City. The new and greatly anticipated Elephant Passage ($50 million in the making) exhibit at the Denver Zoo is set to open in the spring 2012. The Elephant Passage will be a 10-acre complex that will house several animals including Asian elephants, Indian rhinos and leopards. When it's complete, it will be the largest bull elephant habitat in the world.
Nearby Breckenridge Ski Resort is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this ski season. Families can participate in all kinds of fun activities at Breckenridge, and take a ride on the new Gold Runner Alpine Coaster, a super-speedy, 2,500-foot mountain roller coaster that's open in summer and winter. Cool!
Set to host the 2012 summer games from July 27 to August 12 2012, London is an excitingly glitzy destination for families this year. Although most of the major events have already sold out, there are loads of free events and festivals scheduled around the city, including the triathlon and marathon races. If you're determined to get event tickets, the 2012 ticket resale program starts on January 6. People who have already bought tickets that they are unable to use can sell them at face value. London promises to be teeming with excitement, celebrities and fun, but don't expect any bargains. Hotels and flights will be expensive and hard to come by; if you haven't started planning already, get going!
Outside of the Olympics, London has an amazing array of family-friendly sights. Take the kids for a ride on the London Eye -- they'll be able to see Big Ben and Parliament as they rotate 135 meters into the sky -- awesome! (For great views of the London Eye, The Savoy hotel offers plenty, in a luxurious setting.) Older kids will enjoy a visit to the famous Madame Tusuad's Wax Museum, and all ages will get a kick out of the double-decker bus tour and the changing of the guard. Hyde Park is an excellent place to spend a warm day with the family; there's a great playground, ponds with paddle boats, and even a carousel.
Think you've been there done that and seen it all in Orlando? Think again! 2012 will bring several new attractions and events to the theme park capital of the world. Universal Studios, which has grown enormously in popularity amongst families since the addition of Harry Potter, will open a cool new attraction in 2012: Despicable Me. Despicable-Me riders will be transformed into the movie's famous little minions and take a 3-D ride featuring Gru and his lair, the adorable orphans, and an interactive dance party.
LEGOLAND Florida is expanding in 2012, with the addition of a new water park adjacent to the current attraction, scheduled to open by summer. It will have a wave pool, a LEGO-themed raft ride, water slides, and an interactive water-play area for younger children.
In the Magic Kingdom, the massive expansion of Fantasyland continues. Over the course of the next two years, this area of the park will more than double in size. Several new attractions are scheduled to open in 2012, including Under the Sea -- Journey of the Little Mermaid, Storybook Circus and the Great Goofini.
8. Nova Scotia
Having spent several childhood summers exploring the salty tide pools of Peggy's Cove, I highly recommend sea-loving families visit this region of Canada. While you won't find the shiny resorts and pre-packaged activities you will find in other popular family destinations, sometimes making your own fun is the way to go. Greater Halifax is a must; there's a beautiful harbor, shops and cafes, as well as outdoor activities galore, including swimming, camping, hiking, sailing, and whale watching.
2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking off the east coast of Canada. There is a long list of events planned in and around Halifax as part of Titanic 100, a project to commemorate the occasion. The goal, according to its creators, is to create a legacy in Halifax. As part of the program, there will be a marine-art festival, several concerts, a monument memorial on the waterfront, and a film festival with showings of Titanic movies. In March, The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic will host "Built in Belfast -- Remembered in Halifax," a guided tour which takes visitors through a history of events, and pays a visit to the graves of some of the 150 victims who are buried in Halifax cemeteries. The museum is also expanding its permanent Titanic exhibit this year. There's another Titanic exhibit at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, which shows a model of what the wreck site looks like now.
Hawaii's third-largest island, Oahu, isn't new to family "Best Of" lists, so seeing it here should be no surprise. But a recent arrival to the island makes it an even hotter destination for 2012. Last April, the kid-friendly Mecca welcomed the master of all things family: Disney! Aulani Resort is located on the west coast of Oahu, and is Disney's first and only resort not connected to one of its theme parks. Since it's been open for several months now, they've had a chance to work out many of the kinks, making 2012 the perfect time to visit. Young families will love this beautiful 21-acre oceanfront resort, which has an awesome water park, complete with zero-entry pool and lazy river, as well as a super-cool snorkeling pool right on the property called Rainbow Reef. There's also a kids' club and a variety of family-centric activities scheduled day and night.
Of course, Disney is by no means the only reason to visit Oahu. This island offers so much above and beyond Aulani. Try snorkeling in the world-famous Hanauma Bay, lounging on the beautiful beaches, or visiting attractions like the Waikiki Aquarium and the USS Arizona Memorial.
10. The Grand Canyon
The southwestern United States is home to one of the most awesome landscapes in the world: The Grand Canyon. For those who have yet to visit this spectacular national park, it's located in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada. It's an area of the country you must see at least once in your lifetime, and it's super family friendly. Like many of the country's national parks, the Grand Canyon offers the Junior Ranger program for kids 4 to 14. Children can pick up an activity booklet at the visitor center and complete a series of activities and assignments to receive their very own Junior Ranger Badge at the end of their visit.
For 17 days in 2012, admission to Grand Canyon National Park (along with more than 100 of the country's other national parks) will be free. The free days are: Jan. 14 to 16 (Martin Luther King Jr. weekend); April 21 to 29 (National Park Week); June 9 (Get Outdoors Day); Sept. 29 (National Public Lands Day) and Nov. 10 to 12 (Veterans Day weekend).
Looking to make an affordable vacation even more budget-friendly? Stay at Yavapai Lodge on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and kids 16 and under are free.
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