Hiking the Blue Mountains of Australia

<a title="Travel journal date March 11, 2011 North China Sea" href="http://www Learn More Here.SoloToGroupTravel.com/family-travel/reliving-march-11-2011/” target=”_blank”>See previous post.

Once we set our GPS for the Blue Mountains of Australia  for a hike, we were on our way out of Sydney for our Australian explore.  The driving on the left took a little while to get used to, as it always does.  The bicycles that shared the highway with us also demanded some extra attention.  The time change from East Coast USA to Sydney was catching up to me, at sixteen hours difference.

The scenery was just beautiful as we drove along with the mountains in the distance.  They were named for their amazing color which comes from the eucalyptus trees and we could see why.  The drive to the entrance was only a few hours at most, but after a very long few days of travel, we had an early dinner and went to our hotel for the night.

Starting out before sunrise, our first stop was Wentworth Falls.  The fog was thick and the weather cool, but we still enjoyed a long morning hike into the forest when the sun burned it off just a bit.  The hike itself was easy to moderate and took about 2 hours.  The scenery, though, could have made this a full day hike just to enjoy nature.

Wentworth Falls Hike Blue Mountains

Wentworth Falls Hike Blue Mountains

Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains Australia Fog

Wendy at Wentworth Falls

Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains Australia

Scenic Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains Australia

Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains Australia Fog

Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains Australia

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Travel journal March 11, 2011 USA to Japan

Travel Journal Date: March 11, 2011

We’d departed Detroit about 6 hours earlier, which was still two hours late.  After dinner and watching the flight path cross over Alaska on my personal viewer, I remember shutting my eyes for the long flight ahead.  Jared was already asleep at my side.  At age 15, he’d done a full day of school before rushing to the airport to catch the flight to Detroit.  We were afraid we’d missed our connection there because we got in late, but we were lucky, as usual, and our next flight had it’s own delay.  Exhausted, we were both in a deep sleep when the lights were all brightened and announcements, in Japanese were coming fast and furious.

It seemed like a lifetime until they told us in English that our flight was currently somewhere around the China Sea but we were turning back to the states.  A major earthquake and tsunami had hit Northern Japan and the entire Far East was on alert for more disasters.  A decision was made that all US departures, if they had enough fuel, would return to the states.

Unable to sleep, it seemed like a lifetime until we arrived back in Detroit at 9 the next morning.  All passengers were asked to stay in the gate area for further details.  Eventually though, we all started drifting off to the CNN store and other locations with TVs. The devastation was just heart breaking; most of our flight had been filled with Japanese businessmen who had family in unknown places there.  Eventually, we told the gate agent to take us off the list, we wouldn’t be going to Japan anyway.

We decided to head back to New Hampshire to regroup.  Upset, tired and disappointed, I thought a 17 day vacation had just been too good to be true.  We’d never traveled for that long before.  Jared said we just couldn’t go home, when would we ever have the chance to take a long vacation again.

“Where do you want to go then Jared”.  “We’ve never been to Australia”.  In a moment of insanity, I said OK.  The next day, we arrived in Sydney.  From the airport we arranged for a rental car online.  From home, Eric, my husband, did a quick search and found a timeshare for us, but it wasn’t available for a week.  We were on our own.


After landing in Australia, which looks like  it’s the size of Bermuda on a Western Hemisphere map, got our rental car and left the airport.  We looked for a store, any store, to get a GPS; the first we found was a Target, but this one was on steroids compared to what we’d seen at home.

GPS in hand, we typed in “tourist attractions” and found ourselves driving north to the Blue Mountains.  When we got hungry, we stopped at restaurants.  When we got tired we found a hotel.  Each time we stopped, we talked to people about what we should see, where we should go.  We became obsessed with the news and watching the devastation in Japan, knowing that we had narrowly escaped being on the ground there when disaster struck.  The local Australians were so friendly and helpful I felt like we could just drive around and meet all of them.

It quickly became apparent that we weren’t on some little island when we figured out how to work our GPS.  That’s when the fun began.



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Education and knowledge vs. travel experiences for teenage learning

Wendy and Jared, enroute to Tokyo. March 10 2011
Wendy and Jared, enroute to Tokyo. March 10 2011

The only thing better than travelling is reliving the travel through the stories and new friends that follow.  The memories I’ve built through travelling with friends, family and new travel partners will stay with me forever.

My all time favorite travel partner is my son Jared; through travel we have found many commonalities and have become closer than most teen boys could be with their moms.  That’s because we have so many memories that belong only to us.

When Jared started middle school, his breaks weren’t in sync with his sisters schools.  Presented as a problem, it soon became an opportunity for him to get some one-on-one time after years of being dragged to dance, theatre, gymnastics and music for the older girls.

I’ve travelled extensively with the whole family, with my husband etc. but having one on one with a teen-there’s just nothing like it.   We started off small, with a few weeks in South Dakota, Washington DC, Boca Raton, Las Vegas and California.  By high school, we were off to Europe, then before we knew it, our circle expanded and the world got smaller.

Pictured above was our first major trip, this is where our story begins, on March 10, 2011.  We planned for months to visit Japan.  A little scary to think that we would be so far from home with no knowledge of the language, but we were ready  to step out of our comfort zone.  Who could have ever known that we’d have the adventure of our lives.  We departed the USA on the evening of March 10, 2011 for Tokyo. We were two of the few Americans on board.  Sometime late in the night when announcements in hurried Japanese woke us, we knew there was trouble.  We just didn’t really understand what, since the hum of the plane seemed fine but the people around us were very upset. We were in for a long day.

Enjoy our stories, and the tales of travel with my other travel partners also.  Ask questions, comment and let me help you find your special places.   Travel memories will last a lifetime.

Wendy@SoloToGroupTravel.com   603-434-8100

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New resort option|Jamaica Royalton White Sands

The Royalton White Sands
Royalton White Sands Resort Jamaica pool area.
Royalton White Sands Resort Jamaica pool area.

Another resort  in Jamaica is turning heads.  The Royalton White Sands Resort in Montego Bay opened it’s doors in November, 2013.  After being closed for two years, extensive renovations have been completed on this 356 room Blue Diamond property.  This all inclusive resort has something for everyone, from the multigenerational family to honeymooners.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

1. The luxury swim out units.

2. The infinity pool.

3. A magnificent water slide.

4. All inclusive no reservation needed dining with 24 hour room service. Choose from 5 restaurants and 6 bars.

5. Blue tooth and USB recharge stations in every room plus FREE wifi.

6. Dream beds with highest quality thread count sheets and duvets.

7. Call home whenever you like with free unlimited phone calls.

8. Sports event guarantee. All major US games will be broadcast in the Sports Bar.

9. Kids Adventure Club for the 2-12 year olds. Teen lounge for the older kids.

10. Included non motorized sports (snorkel, kayak, splash pad).

About Jamaica

Jamaica, an English speaking country, is best known for it’s reggae music, water sports, beaches and waterfalls.  For those who love nature, Dunn’s River Falls is a must day trip.  For some the Royalton Resort, with it’s white sands, will be exactly the place to unwind and enjoy the beauty of Jamaica.


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Ten benefits of a cruise vacation

Ten benefits of a cruise vacation:

The Norwegian Getaway
Norwegian Cruise Lines newest ship the Getaway.

1. Unpack your suitcase once and see several different destinations.  Once you enter your stateroom, you will feel like you are at home.  At each port of call, you have the excitement of a new destination without the hassle of getting there or repacking.

2. No wasted time getting from place to place.  While the ship is moving, you are sleeping or enjoying the activities on board, there is no need to arrange your day to catch flights or trains.  Spend the days in port and let the ship captain and crew take care of the rest.

3. Choose from a large ship with 4000 people to a small intimate ship with 16 people depending on your preferences.  Think of it as city vs. country or large resort vs. boutique hotel.  A small intimate gathering in the main dining room is perfect for some, while others prefer to have several restaurant options and seating times to choose from.

4. Know your budget and costs before you travel.  The all inclusive dining feature is featured on all ships.  Many upscale cruise lines also include drink packages, excursions, and internet in their pricing.  The cabin categories allow guests to choose the stateroom that best fits their needs: choose from an inside cabin, a window view, a balcony, mini suites and more exclusive larger suites with butler services and more.

5. Design a vacation that centers around your interests.  Theme cruises are a great way to meet people with similar interests (music, quilting, lifestyle, sports and learning, to name a few).  My personal favorites offer cultural experiences such as those that have ports of call along the ancient Mediterranean coasts.

6. Gamble or shop duty free on board.  Once the ship is in international waters, the casino is open and the tables are hot.

7. Be entertained with non stop activities and shows on larger ships.  From pools to spas  and ziplines to outdoor movie theatres, the variety of pastimes on board will keep every guest busy and happy.  On a smaller ship, such as an Uncruise Adventure to Alaska, enjoy wildlife viewing, nature talks and beautiful scenery.

8. Learn about different cultures on shore excursions with an English speaking guide.  Choose the excursions that interest you, from scuba and snorkeling trips to cooking lessons and walking photography tours.

9. Family reunions and multigenerational travel are the latest trends in vacationing. Enjoy meals together at a designated time, treasure one on one time at other times, there is something for absolutely every age range on a large ship.

10. Relax and unwind.

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Travel Solo On Norwegian Cruise Lines Studio Cabins

the Norwegian Getaway
Norwegian Cruise Lines newest ship the Getaway.

Solo travel on Norwegian Cruise Lines just got better!  Norwegian Cruise Lines, in February will introduce the Norwegian Getaway with weekly sailings from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean.  The Getaway will be the third Norwegian ship with “studio cabins” specifically designed for guests who are travelling solo.

It will join the Norwegian Breakaway, which sails out of New York year round to Bermuda or the Caribbean and the Norwegian Epic.  The Epic will sail to the Western Caribbean from Miami.  This innovative idea for solo travelers to get the best value for their travel budget with a smaller room adds to the vacation by bringing the solo travelers together.

Not only will solo travelers have a 100 square foot cabin especially designed for them, these very special guests will have  a welcome gathering, their own lounge and other ways to meet fellow solo travelers on board.  Notice that I am saying “solo travelers”, who will not necessarily be “single travelers”, but people who want to take a cruise and are traveling alone.

The three things I love most about this concept:

There is no single supplement!  That means a great savings in comparison to several other ships that charge for two guests in a room, even when only one person is going.

There is a white board in the lounge that guests can use to set up dinner plans, land excursions, night club companions, poker pals, etc.

There are a lot of people who’d like to travel but don’t have a travel buddy.  What a great way to meet a travel companion for future travel.

The Getaway will leave South Hampton England in a few days enroute to New York City, where it will do some introductions prior to sailing to its new home in Miami.  Once it arrives in Miami, the new year round home of the Getaway, departures each Saturday will take guests on  7 day Eastern Caribbean cruises.

This new ship will also appeal to families because of the endless activities available for all ages.  The Haven will appeal to adults and those seeking a luxurious vacation where they will be treated like royalty.  For guests who enjoy entertainment, they can look forward to seeing Legally Blonde and kids will love being with Sponge Bob.

Norwegian still offers four and five day sailings from Miami for those who are limited on time or maybe for first time guests who want to understand why 34 million people a year take a cruise.

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Fishing for Catfish on the Amazon River

This is one of the many fishermen who paddles the Amazon River each morning in search of catfish.  Villagers are dependent on fishing for their livelihood.
This is one of the many fishermen who paddles the Amazon River each morning in search of catfish. Villagers are dependent on fishing for their livelihood.

In December, Eric and I went on an Amazon River Cruise.  On one of our excursions in a skiff, we came upon some local fishermen who had a stuck net.  They were in a dug out canoe, about 4 guys, and we stopped and watched as they tried about everything to get their catch out of the water.

At one point, another dug out canoe, this one with a bigger motor, tied up and tried to help get this massive net out of the water. Another guy jumped in the water and tried to free the net. They all worked tirelessly to bring in the catch.

Eventually, they asked us our native guide we could help them out with our powerful boat.  We tied up to their canoe and pulled them this way and that until the net came loose, netting them hundreds of catfish into their tiny canoe.

We passed them all bottles of cold water from our cooler before setting off in search of more excitement.

This catfish was caught with a spear from a canoe that paddles along the river's edge.
This catfish was caught with a spear from a canoe that paddles along the river’s edge.

A short time later, we saw someone fishing for catfish with a spear.  That man let me hold one of his fish for this picture.  The other passengers got such a laugh over the catfish that the fisherman passed his spear in for me to pose with too.

In the Amazon villages, catfish is one of the main sources of food.  It only made sense for us to experience the local dishes, so catfish was served almost every day as one of many options on the buffet. It was cooked up differently each time and each distinct flavor was exciting to try.


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Spotting the Caiman Alligator on the Amazon River

A caiman alligator is spotted in the underbrush along the Amazon River waters edge.
A caiman alligator is spotted in the underbrush along the Amazon River waters edge.

Some would say it was pure luck that we spotted a caiman alligator while cruising on the Amazon River.  Our expedition skiff is gliding along at about 10 knots on an Amazon River inlet, when a fellow passenger, Vic, shouts out that he spotted a Caiman.  Caezar, the native driving our skiff, slows and turns the boat back to a wall of green jungle.  At the same time, our naturalist guide, Lois, works his magic with his binoculars to find the exact spot where the elusive caiman waits for his prey.  The dozen voyagers look in the branches for a Caiman Lizard but see nothing, and Vic points to the water where the Caiman Alligator is lazing on the water’s edge, eyeing us for breakfast.  Vic is a hunter at his home in Vancouver, and has developed an eagle eye for spotting wildlife during our Amazon River Cruise.

I was able to snap a few pictures and imagine the size of this beast for a minute or so before he dives and disappears with a big splash.  Only then do I realize the size of this creature and the damage he could do to an unaware swimmer or hiker.  I’m glad that my naturalist, Lois, is escorting us through his homeland while we search for birds, reptiles and fish during our Amazon River Cruise.

The reward for sighting a creature before the guide is 20 points this time.  Most points have been awarded for bird sightings until now.  The first guest to reach 50 points will receive a complimentary piranha pedicure.

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Spotting birds and wildlife during Amazon River cruise

Spotting Wildlife

Each morning, we began the day at sunrise with a skiff exploration.  The birds were particularly active in the early morning, with parakeets and toucan often flying overhead.  A number of species, new to North Americans, were spotted each day.  One of our guides carried a birding book and could easily identify and locate descriptions for us.

Heron on the shore of the Amazon River
Heron on the Amazon River

The white heron, no matter how often I see it in my backyard at home or in the Amazon River will always be the most beautiful and graceful creature in my mind.  Most mornings, I was able to spot at least one and enjoy it’s tranquility.

We normally got back to the ship at about 8 a.m. for breakfast.  Sometimes,we had another expedition, either on the skiffs or on shore, later in the morning.  As much as I loved coming upon colonies of monkeys, I was also obsessed with the sounds of these creatures playing and squawking in the trees.  They moved so quickly that it was likely the first evidence of their whereabouts, after the sound, was the tree branches flailing from their jumps.

If there could possibly be a slower animal than the turtle, it has to be the three toed sloth.  We saw them again and again in the trees and they always just looked like blobs.  Only once did we see one on the move, but we saw dozens just hanging out.

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Vacation packing checklist for foreign travel


Below is a packing checklist, it can be used for all types of travel in and out of your home country.  Some to-do items are no brainers (pack a bathing suit) and others require significant forethought (checking passport expiration date). Next week’s adventure will require more than the usual planning, since they probably don’t have a Walmart of Gap along the Amazon River. Even if they do, I’m not sure the local Shaman will want to take me there in his canoe. So, planning is key.

Help me out and leave additional items in the comment box for other readers.

Paperwork Checklist

Passport and Visa if needed.

Yellow card that proves I’ve had the required shots for the country. I bring it even if they don’t required proof, that way I know what I’ve had in case of illness.

Travel itinerary, proof of travel insurance, and the 24 hour contact info for your travel agent.

Electronics Checklist

Camera, extra battery and memory cards, charger.

Cell phone and Kindle with chargers.

Fitbit. The new pedometer battery and memory last a week. I keep it in my pocket, not only to see how much walking I’ve done in a day, but as a guilt remover so I can eat all I want on vacation. After all, I’m not sitting at a desk all day, so my steps and calories burned is always way up. An unintended benefit is the clock that’s built in; even on the plane, I can see the time.

Computer, mini or ipad. Use to download and share pictures daily, this is a really fun way to relive the day with new friends too.

Universal power converter.

Toiletries and Medical Supplies

Daily use personal items, always in 3 ounce or smaller containers. Even if I check my luggage I like to keep those things on my person to use on the flight.

Bug spray and sun block.

Neosporin and band aids. Any open wound, no matter how small, should be treated like I germ magnet when in foreign lands.

Prescription medicines should stay in your carry on. Also carry: Imodium, Aleve, Tylenol, and Pepto Bismal. I never use any of them, but it’s the peace of mind that comes with having them.

Dramamine. For me, my ticket to travel. If I’m on a moving vehicle, like an Amazon Rive Cruiser, I take a half tablet each morning for the first few days to get used to the motion. This keeps my mind and body ahead of any upsets.

Water bottle. Hydration is proven to help with motion sickness, wrinkles, joint pain, hang overs and to most importantly, to quench thirst.

Clothing checklist

A light jacket that can serve as raingear, sun protection, bug protection and for warmth. I like to have zipper pockets, to keep my phone and passport dry if needed too.

Two pair of shoes, one will be on my feet when I board the plane and the other might be hiking sandals that can get wet.

One dress, made of a synthetic fabric, that can be used for a dress dinner, or can be a backup for a hot day.

The usual shorts, pants, tops under things and swim suit, also one white long sleeved tshirt.

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