Now is the time for a family trip to South America

20 years ago in Brazil, I wrote this

20 years ago in Brazil, I wrote this

Like the vast majority of American citizens, Powerwoman and I have been watching snippets of the Olympics with the big girls these last few weeks, and the kids are loving it. While they’re interested in the gymnasts and swimmers (and their outfits, of course), they’ve expressed the greatest amount of curiosity about the backdrop, Brazil.

I’m sure part of this is because they know I lived there back in 1995 while volunteering for the International Wildlife Coalition. I’m sure it also is at least in part because they know my wife is an Andean archaeologist, and that the two of us lived in Lima, Peru, for a while back in 2005.

Still, I think the kids are genuinely eager to learn more about Rio. And the Amazon. And South America.

Their interest has triggered my wander bug and I’ve been exploring ways to get the family down south for a post-Olympics vacation.

Surprisingly, there are some pretty cool deals to be had—not just in Rio, but all over the continent. I’ve mentioned that Expedia is a big client of mine and my friends there recently shared some interesting data about trips to the region from the United States. For starters—and not surprisingly, really—ticket demand to Rio has increased by nearly 40 percent and ticket prices are nearly 60 percent higher than they usually are around this time of year.

Perhaps more interesting (to me, at least), were some of the data about ALTERNATE destinations from the United States—that is, places that aren’t Rio or Brazil. Savings on tickets to Bogota, Colombia are hovering around 10 percent. Savings on tickets to our beloved Lima are about 15 percent. And if we wanted to go to Caracas, we could save up to 30 percent.

It’s certainly food for thought. (And when we’re ready to book, we’ll book here.)

Where would we go? That depends on the conditions of your question, and whether I’m responding as travel-loving fan of South America, or the father of three kids under the age of 8.

If money were no issue, I’d sign everybody up for a trip to Manaus, the Brazilian city in the middle of the Amazon. There’s an opera house there that dates back nearly 150 years. I studied the place in college and have wanted to go there ever since. While it’s not exactly a family travel destination, it tops my list.

The sentimental choice would be Chavin de Huantar, the Peruvian town where Powerwoman conducted some archaeology field work in the early part of her career. The big potential problem here is that the site is at altitude, and we have NO idea how the kids would fare up there. (Side note: We *do* know from our experiences in Cusco that I do NOT do well above about 8,000 feet.)

The practical option: Lima, largely because we know it well and it’s easy to get around with kids. See you there?

Romancing a return to Cusco, Peru

My bride and me, on the Inca Trail (circa 2005).

My bride and me, on the Inca Trail (circa 2005).

More than anything, what I remember most about the time my bride and I spent in Cusco, Peru, are the headaches.

Those damn altitude headaches. That simply wouldn’t go away.

The year was 2005; the two of us were there on a “vacation” from a four-month stint of living in Lima while my wife, an archaeologist, researched her dissertation. The city sits somewhere around 9,000 feet above sea level. I, a chronic sinus sufferer, had serious problems with sinus pressure the entire time.

Still, this did not derail our fun. Over the course of five days, the two of us tromped all over the city, hiking from one archaeological site to the next (including Qurikancha and Saksaywaman), strolling through vendor booths near the Plaza de Armas, sampling coca leaves and choclo from a variety of different storefronts, and marveling at all of the hand-crafted art.

(Then, of course, we did a 3-day, 3-night trek to Machu Picchu.)

I’ve often thought about how much I wished our children were with us in the ancient Incan capital, how much they would have loved the colors and sights and sounds (and super-sweet cookies).

These fantasies—along with a promotion and travel deals from Expedia, a client, and LAN Airlines—have inspired a vivid daydream for a return.

In my daydream, we take the girls down for a week and stay at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a hotel that incorporates pre-Inca architecture and is now arguably the swankiest property in town. From there, we fan out for daytrips around the city, showing the girls the giant boulders at Saksaywaman and the different architectural eras at the Quirkancha. We take our 5-year-old along for some Spanish immersion classes. We have the 3-year-old learn how to weave. And we eat ceviche. Lots and lots of ceviche.

Granted, the visit would be more of a family trip than a sexy, sultry getaway. But because my wife and I would be returning to a place that meant so much to us once before, it would be romantic in a totally different kind of way.

Expedia has a great new ad campaign that revolves around the concept of “No excuses” for taking the trip of your dreams. It’s time we stop making excuses and get back to Cusco with our kids. The trip likely won’t happen this year, but perhaps it’s time to start planning it for 2016. Who knows? By then maybe they can hike the Inca Trail, too. And maybe I won’t have any more headaches.

If you could take a romantic trip with your partner in the near future, where would you go and why?

Family Travel Dreams, in a Jar

Our jar of travel dreams (not the Skippy).

Our jar of travel dreams (not the Skippy).

Some households have a bucket list. Others have a corkboard brimming with ideas. At our crib (pun intended), we keep all of our family travel wishes in something called a Dream Jar.

And it’s overflowing with vacation fantasies we’ve saved over the years.

There’s a magazine clipping in there about beluga whale-watching near Churchill, Manitoba (my pick), and handwritten notes about a family-friendly trek through the New Zealand bush (Powerwoman’s). Other destinations in the mix: Hermanus, South Africa (both of us); Dubai (totally me); Petra (my archaeologist wife).

Even L, who is no stranger to maps of North America, has stuffed the Jar with a Nebraska piece from one of her many puzzles of the U.S. (She is obsessed with the Cornhusker state because of Bruce Springsteen. I admit: I am very proud of this fact.)

With our upcoming stint in London (we’ll be there from August to December of this year), we recently have stuffed the Jar with all sorts of information about our new home. L’s contributions focus mostly on parks. Powerwoman’s are almost exclusively museums. As for mine? Well, they’re bars.

(By the way, I’m not ignoring R here. She’s just too young to have opinions about this stuff yet.)

The Jar has a commanding position on our kitchen counter. Whenever we decide it’s time for another family trip, it’s the first place we go.

Over the last two years, we’ve probably sorted through the snippets and scribbles dozens of times. Still, every time we pop the top, it’s like we’re seeing our dream destinations for the first time again. South Africa! Nebraska! The possibilities are intoxicating.

I’d be remiss without noting the jar’s provenance; we got it from an artist whom I met while reporting a story in Lima, Peru. Powerwoman and I lived there for a few months back in 2005, well before our girls were even on the agenda.  Looking back, that experience still ranks as one of our family’s greatest adventures; it’s fitting that the Jar now plays such an integral role in the adventures to come.

How do you keep track of your family travel dreams? Let me know in the comment field above.

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