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Archive for 2012


Yom Kippur; More Than A Day Off

Monday, September 24th, 2012

As we delve into the pinnacle of Jewish observance with the Day of Atonement soon upon us, for some it is a day of conflict even before it envelopes us with its true meaning. 

Yom Kippur falls on a Wednesday this year. Midweek.  For those who work in Jewish communal work or with Jewish clientele like Amazing Journeys, taking the day off to pray is a non-issue.  For many, however, the necessity of taking a day off can be lost due to the responsibilities of work, the pressures of school, or the non-compliance of a boss or administration recognizing the significance that this day is to our heritage.

Interestingly, the contrast between how society treats Christmas, for example, and how it treats the Jewish High Holy Days is apparent to some. Jewish law requires a halt to work on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, which are not legal days off. Religious strictures on working are generally looser for Christians on Christmas. Yet Christmas is a legal holiday.

Under federal law, employers in businesses of more than 15 workers must ”reasonably accommodate” religious needs unless they can demonstrate ”undue hardship.” A religious need includes taking a holiday off. An accommodation can include allowing a holiday swap.

This doesn’t mean that other veins comply with the need.  The sporting world, for example doesn’t pause their schedule.

Hall of Famer baseball players Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, both Jewish, were faced with the dilemmas of playing important games during the high holidays. Greenberg was quoted:  “The team was fighting for first place, and I was probably the only batter in the lineup who was not in a slump. But in the Jewish religion, it is traditional that one observe the holiday solemnly, with prayer. One should not engage in work or play. And I wasn’t sure what to do.” –

In 1934, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers decided not to play in a game during a tight pennant race because it fell on Yom Kippur. In 1965, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax missed a World Series game in observance of Yom Kippur.

In some industries, it can be a simple matter of tit for tat.  For many Jews, working on Christmas is payback to gentile colleagues who fill in on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. Other Jews view working on Christmas as a way to fulfill tenets of the faith. Many Jews speak of working on Christmas as obeying an unwritten rule, or upholding a social contract… or just being a mensch.

The topic is often not discussed but is rather part of the social grease that keeps society working smoothly. The practice tends to keep everyone happy and adds an underscore the words ”happy holidays.”

On Yom Kippur, may you, your family, Israel and its people be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of life and peace.

Surfer Beware!

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Have you ever had that feeling that you forgot something?  Maybe it was on that to-do list you left behind…or maybe it was from leaving home in such a hurry that you just aren’t sure that you closed the garage door. Remember the scene from the classic movie Home Alone, when Kevin’s parents realize that they left him behind in the rush to make their family flight to Paris?  We’ve all had moments like that and it ain’t pretty.  Sometimes is an irrational thought process…but sometimes, like Kevin, something very important gets left behind.

If you are a traveler, you have many important things to remember.  One thing that can easily be cast aside as an innocent act is to go into the business center of a hotel or a public internet café to check emails, pay bills, stalk facebook or see what your stocks are doing.  Well….Surfer Beware!!!

Do not…I repeat DO NOT walk away from any shared computers without logging off. If you just close your window or browser, you never know who is lurking around the corner, ready to belly up to that computer to have a look around the last user’s mailbox for log-in credentials and other sensitive information.

There are other ways travelers may unwittingly put their online security at risk while using shared hotel or internet café computers, and getting a virus in more ways than one is just the beginning. A business center computer that you have no administrative rights over can easily have spyware that records your information as you surf the web and type. That means malware can easily snap screen-shots and record your usernames and passwords.

We leave boxes checked to ‘remember me’ on this computer, which results in a cookie installed that keeps your log-in information going. Beyond spyware and malware, there’s nothing from stopping a criminal from plugging an external keycatcher into the public machine that will later be retrieved with all of your and every other business traveler’s information on it. The biggest online security risk is our own stupidity because we are in a hurry or just clueless.

So, what is the smartest alternative to this at-risk scenario? It’s simple; just follow any one of these simple pieces of advice:

-Use your own mobile device for whatever internet usage you need that would require passwords, social security numbers, or any kind of personal information

-Use a removable flash-drive

– Look at overviews rather than specifics (check out the stock market, but don’t visit your e-trade accounts),

-Get your ducks in a row before you go: Pay your bills in advance (or set up autopay)… wait until you get home to make that purchase on ebay, amazon, or ticketmaster… have copies of your important travel documents (your flight itinerary, hotel confirmation) stored with you in a safe place…. call your credit card companies if you are traveling internationally to alert them of possible charges and avoid potential fraud alerts being implemented.

-If you must use a public computer for personal means, remember Mister Miyagi: “wax on, wax off”….log in, log off!

Do ya Do ya Do ya Do ya Wanna Dance (and tap your toes…and smile…and sing along)?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Amidst all the stresses of leisure travel, the industry is booming at levels not seen since pre 9/11.   Why?  Because the tribulations outweigh the trials. (At least they are supposed to.)   The thrills of venturing off to another place for “a change of scenery”…a “break in the action”…some “R & R”….”downtime”, or whatever you want to call it, is a natural yearning in the DNA of most people living in the civilized world.  As much as we have, we need a break from it from time to time.

So, what does all this have to do with the title of this week’s post?  Well….it became a thought, after watching the following youtube video, that travel is so special in so many ways. It really is what you make of it. Things go wrong (lost luggage), there are stresses (rushing to make a flight connection) and there are premature moments of early onset vacation-itis (did I remember to close the garage door)….but in the end, whever you go and whatever you do can be amazing, if that’s what you want to make of it. 

This awesome video shows you one man’s journey around the world, making the most of it by meeting thousands of people…by just dancing.  Now I invite you to sing along, tap your toes, (just try not to smile)…and dance with us, all around the world:  https://www.youtube.com/embed/Pwe-pA6TaZk?rel=0

(…and then for even more smiles, check out the outtakes)

Hotels: Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

I’ve never been to prison, but I can’t help but wonder if convicts get a nicer breakfast than what you find on the breakfast buffets at most American chain hotels these days.

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of sampling the breakfast buffets at any major hotel chain–including Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt House, Westin and others–your level of being impressed might be a little bit compromised….even when the breakfast is free.

The free hotel breakfast is a decidedly mixed blessing. Its always nice to go out for a nice breakfast when traveling but the budget conscious may have a hard time treating a family of four to breakfast when there’s a free breakfast at the hotel, no matter how dreadful it may be. But on many occasions, going down to eat the free breakfast feels more like an obligation than a pleasure.

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed at an otherwise excellent Hilton in Paris and encountered one of the more pathetic breakfast buffets I’ve seen in some time.   I typically like to eat a leisurely morning breakfast after the sun gets a little warm and on this particular morning my 9am sit down time should not have warranted what I encountered.  I don’t eat sausage, but if I did, I wouldn’t have touched any of these little shriveled up dry pieces of elongated tree twigs.  The eggs were, well, I just wondered if somewhere in the process of presenting this watery yellow drippy hotplate of gelatin-looking breakfast option, they once were in fact cracked from a shell.   I really don’t think they were.  The pancakes were hard enough to crack someone’s skull with but innocently I didn’t ascertain its digestability until after it was almost too late.  A pair of tongs makes it easy to skip over the fresh-abilty of a pancake, but when you try to cut into it using only a fork…THEN the naked truth came out.  You could have laid a square of porcelain tile on my plate and painted it to look like a pancake, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. 
Hey, the coffee was good.
Sadly, bad food is par for the course at many breakfast buffets not only in the U.S. but also around the world. Here are a few ways hotels tend to ruin their breakfast buffets.

Not everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn

In places that are very busy, they might replenish the food and beverages frequently, but at places that aren’t very busy they might just set a large quantity of food and drink out at opening time and just leave it there for the next two to four hours.

Beverages are warm, Food is cold!

Some places set the milk and juices out without any way to keep them cold, and have inadequate heating to keep the food warm.

Nothing but sugary, dessert-like breakfast items

OK, I admit it: those breakfast muffins taste pretty damn good, but putting a bowl of those suckers out is more appropriate for Halloween than breakfast. Men’s Health did a piece on the worst foods you can eat for breakfast at hotels, and the least healthy things to eat are items you see everywhere: sausages, waffles, cranberry muffins and fruit flavored yogurts to name a few.

Stale Cereal

I wish hotels bought their cereal from Trader Joe’s but that’s probably a pipe dream. The reality is usually a choice between Cheerios, Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, often stale, and sometimes with lukewarm milk to boot.  Its so funny how Coco Puffs seems to be an international breakfast cereal whether you’re in Chicago, Rio, Ho Chi Minh City or in a lodge in the middle of the Masai Mara.

Wonder Bread (or worse)

Most people don’t actually require a ton of food for breakfast. In fact, I’d be content with just a bagel, if it wasn’t a machine produced product in a factory.  But hotels tend to buy the cheapest, blandest bread, English muffins and bagels imaginable and that just adds to the dissapointment of staying at an otherwise very respectable property. 

No Variety

This problem is particularly pronounced when you stay in a hotel for several days or weeks. How many days in a row can you eat runny eggs, shriveled up, fatty sausages or very lame, yet highly fattening waffles?

Do you want some coffee with that warm, murky liquid you’re drinking?

Finding a good cup of coffee at a hotel breakfast buffet is often difficult indeed, although this area of importance tends be a lesser worry as many (not all!) hotels have brought in a product worthy of a finicky coffee palate.  The bigger question, though, is why in the world does the hotel have a higher quality coffee in the room (that you would have to make in your room with bathroom tap water) than down at the breakfast buffet?

Quantity, Not Quality

Most hotels feel like they need to provide a visual spread of food, but not a lot of variety or freshness.  One buffet for two different kinds of eggs. One buffet for three different kinds of fruits. One buffet for all the cereals…etc.  I’d rather see a hotel provide a few high quality items that can be maintained fresh and honest, than a dozen mediocre ones.

Bottom line

You get what you pay for, right? But is the “free” breakfast really free? Not really, because hotels build the cost of it into your room rate. Recently I stayed at a small bed and breakfast and as you would expect, this ranked up there as one of the best.  What could be better than a freshly made egg with french toast made by a hospitable homeowner in her own living room?

Personally, I’d rather have lower room rates and go out for breakfast. What about you?

Wanna Get Away? A Sneak Preview for 2013

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Boy, does Amazing Journeys have a lineup for the ages!  If you are starting to think about traveling in the next year, just you wait and see what we are going to be offering!   We are aware that the information that follows will fill your plates with so many exciting possibilities that you’ll be asking your boss for extra vacation time.  This is why we are letting you know NOW what’s in store for the coming year.  Get those vacation request days in before your co-workers and lock in what we proudly proclaim will be one of the best–if not THE BEST–vacations of your life! 

You may have traveled with us in 2012 or maybe in 2011…..or maybe not for a few years. Or, dare we say….not yet at all?  In any case, you’ll need to hold on tight as we tempt, tantalize and treat you to a lineup of Jewish singles trips for 2013 that you will want to start planning for now.  We are in the throes of putting the final touches on many journeys that are amazing throughout next year, but its not too early to start planning for them. 

Firstly, check out our website (www.amazingjourneys.net) for details on Jewish singles trips that are currently available and sizzling hot:

-Northern California (August 26-Sept 3, 2012); Just ONE spot left!

-New Mexico and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (October 12-17, 2012); Only 7 spaces left!

-New Year’s Southeast Asia Cruise (December 23 – January 6, 2013); Over 70 people booked!

-Brazil including Rio, The Amazon and Iguazu Falls (February 21-March 2, 2013)

Now that’s what we’re selling today.  In the days and weeks ahead, stay tuned for this AMAZING array of 2013 AMAZING JOURNEYS….and start making plans to join us!

Israel: May 2 – 13

Irresistible Italy by Land:  June  6-16

Italy/Croatia Cruise: July 19 – 31

Alaska: August 16 – 23

Heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies: Summer

Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons: Summer

Baseball Lover’s Dream Weekend: Summer

African Safari to South Africa and Botswana:  Fall

Australia and New Zealand:  Fall

Granted that some of these trips are well over a year away, but there are benefits to starting the planning process now.  Send us a note that you are interested in any of our destinations and we’ll place your name and email address on an “interest list”.  Interest Lists receive advanced and priority notice of all trips when they become available, and allow those individuals to capture what is sometimes very limited space or, as in the case of our cruises,  the very best stateroom location.

Amazing Journeys; going strong for over 22 years and heading towards even more amazing destinations.  We hope you’ll join us!

Doing Your Part To Save The Planet; Traveling Green

Monday, August 6th, 2012

How many people realize that by simply stepping on piece of land where bears roam, or by tossing piece of gum into the ocean or leaving lights on the hotel ‘because you’re not paying for it’…you are effecting the environment. Or shall we say infecting it!

Just because you’re out of your element, doesn’t mean the elements should be out of you. Our land is being tormented by pollution, overuse, global warming, tapping of resources and abusive behavior.  With the advancements of so many technologies and the incredible population growth that yearns more and more each day for more and more from the what our planet has to offer, there’s no mistaking it; we gotta go green.  Somebody please Save The Planet!

As a traveler, you can do your part.  At home, its easy to recycle and turn off lights when not in use.  But while being a visitor to another state or country, just a little common sense can go a long way in helping to reduce our impact on the world. 

Here are a few tips on how to make a positive difference in your travels:

1. Go paperless! Use online resources to plan and book your trip.

2. Unplug before you go! Appliances, computers, chargers, televisions and microwaves can waste as much as 10% of your electricity when idling by.

3. Book “New”! New hotels, cruise ships and motor coaches are more likely to feature state-of-the-art energy-saving features.

4. Lighten Up! Packing lightly not only makes it easier on your own personal “schlep factor”, it has a significant impact on the environment. Imagine how much fuel could be saved if every suitcase on a plane or a motor coach weighed 5 lbs less.

5. Bring your own water bottle! More than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in theUSalone….EVERY DAY.

6. Purchase handicrafts from local artists when possible; buying cheap, mass-produced souvenirs undermines traditional cultures. But, don’t buy products that may be made of something endangered like elephant ivory or reptile skins.

7. Stay on the trail! It can be tempting to venture off the beaten path but such a veer can cause erosion to the soil, degrade animal habitats and water quality, destroy wildflowers and frighten or injure animals.

8. Lend a hand! Its ok to pick up a piece of trash that’s not yours, or to turn off a light in the public restroom as you leave (assuming no one’s still in a stall)

When traveling, live by this adage:  Take nothing but pictures….Leave nothing but footprints.

Our first few days on the Black Sea

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Amazing Journeys and 65 amazing travelers have started our vacation, exploring the countries surrounding the Black Sea.  Starting out in Istanbul, Turkey we sailed on the Azamara Quest to Varna, Bulgaria on Monday and are exploring Constanta, Romania today.  We have had beautiful warm weather so far and are looking forward to a few days in different cities of Ukraine coming up next.  Here’s a few pictures of our amazing journey so far!

Tales From the Alaska Trails (if a picture is worth a thousand words, then these memories from our latest AJ is worth millions!)

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Lonesome George, the giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Lonesome George, the giant tortoise who had become an unofficial ambassador for the Galapagos Islands, and friend of Amazing Journeys, passed away on Sunday at an estimated 100 years of age.  The Jurassic-looking creature had become a symbol of the islands scattered off the coast of Ecuador and is believed to be the last of his species, the Pinta tortoise.  Various mates had been provided for Lonesome George after he was found in 1972 in what proved to be unsuccessful attempts to keep his subspecies alive.
The pen where George lived was visited by thousands of tourists every year, who often had to scramble with each other to take pictures of one of the rarest creatures on Earth.  Around 180,000 people visit the islands every year to see animals up close and have their picture taken with the giant tortoise who became known as one of the rarest creatures on Earth. Amazing Journeyers have had the opportunity to visit him three times, twice in 2007 and once in 2010.

Wanna Get Away?….Wanna Stay In Touch?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Getting out of town these days is much more than a luxury. Whether its just for a weekend or for a full-on vacation, the need for a mental and physical break-in-the-action is as important to one’s psychy as a good nap when you’re sleepy or a good sip of water when you’re thirsty.  It goes without saying that there are a lot factors that go into making or breaking a good vacation, but one factor often thought about as an after-effect can be a tool for having peace of mind for back home.  Staying in touch.

With smart phone technology ruling our communication means these days, one needs to be careful with a gliche (sure, we’ll call it a gliche) in the system – a horrible auto-search that your phone initiates when out of network; called “roaming”.  Many unsuspecting smart phone users have been snagged with outrageous roaming and data charges while traveling abroad as their device actively (and chargingly) searches for new towers. This is especially prominent on cruises and multi-country tours where accessible towers can change with the wind.

What to do?   You may be able to add a feature from you provider that will allow you to use the device internationally; phone, texting and email capabilities for a fee.  If you do not turn off this feature and leave your phone on (or it turns on in error), you could potentially sustain recurring charges while your phone continuously searches for international signals.   Even if you are hanging out in one locale, regular roaming charges can be exorbitant.  There are very inexpensive and reliable options on the market today that can allow you to stay in touch with loved ones, dog sitters, plant waterers and fish feeders back home without paying the price equal to another airline ticket.  Check out a few of these options:

Skype: for NO CHARGE whatsoever, you can connect to someone else on skype using a smartphone device or laptop.  For mere pennies, you can make actual phone calls from Skype to someone’s landline or mobile phone.  If you are not using Skype, you need to.  Download it at www.skype.com

Onesuite:  for mere pennies a minute, your friends & family at home can call you in your hotel room or on your mobile device.  Onesuite is a virtual calling card that you can recharge online instantly anytime.  From the US, one simply calls a toll free access number then keys in PIN and then the number they want to call.  Cheap Cheap Cheap!  Visit: www.onesuite.com

PennyTalk: No Wifi, PINs or access numbers required.  You can download this app on your mobile device for free and then you simply use your contact list or app keypad for easy calling.  Canada = 1¢ per minute.  Spain = 2¢ per minute. UK = 1¢ per minute. Over 200 countries available and most are 2¢ per minute or less. Visit www.pennytalk.com

Whatever you choose, don’t get ripped off by the ease of roaming charges. With a little effort, you can save a LOT of money…and have peace of mind to stay in touch with those at home so that you can enjoy your holiday time away.