Posts Tagged ‘group travel’

My Journey Through Egypt

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Sheila Lyons is a Smithsonian Traveler from Southern California. Here, she shares her reflections on her recent travel to Egypt with Smithsonian Journeys.

A Smithsonian Traveler takes a camel ride in the Egyptian desert

The Egyptian Odyssey was the trip of a lifetime. It was clear to me that every aspect had been researched and developed thoroughly. Amal, our Egyptian guide, and Dr. Rhanda Baligh, our study leader, were incredible. Hassan, our Egyptian tour manager, had everything under control and coordinated side trips in our free time. I loved how we seamlessly moved from location to location.

We were a group of 17 which was nearly perfect. Having Amal and Randa travel with us the whole time was really a treat. They are both so personable and all around exceptional people.

Amal, our local guide, is a treasure. She added an unexpected pleasurable element to the tour. She is so bubbly and outgoing. I loved her way of describing all the sites. She has incredibly good English. Amal always seemed to time our stays at each site perfectly. Just enough lecture and just enough free time. She is worth every penny she is paid – in fact she deserves more!

Dr. Baligh’s lectures were very educational and insightful. She has excellent delivery skills that are both informative and entertaining. Randa is a lovely person and a delight to have along. She is obviously incredibly knowledgeable and I like that she is so familiar with the US that she can do comparisons and contrasts between the cultures of the US and Egypt.

Hassan is a terrific asset. He always made us feel safe. We knew we were in very capable hands. We were all aware of our security guard being present at all times but did not feel it was necessary.

The extra stops at the perfumery, rug makers, spice market, papyrus store, etc. were lovely. It was nice to have the chance to purchase locally made quality products. The Aswan Spice market was fabulous. Only a few of us made this side trip, but I think everyone would have enjoyed it! There is a lot crammed into each day, making me feel that I really got my money’s worth.

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China: Understanding Etiquette

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most, like Haute Savoie in alpine France or the Ming villages near Huangshan in China. Click here for more on Kate.

A James Cox gilded birdcage clock in the Forbidden City's Hall of Clocks and Watches, Beijing. Photo: Flickr gruntzooki.

A James Cox gilded birdcage clock in the Forbidden City’s Hall of Clocks and Watches, Beijing. Photo: Flickr user gruntzooki.

I always chuckle when I visit the Hall of Clocks and Watches in Beijing’s Forbidden City, which features gifts to Chinese emperors presented by foreign envoys. In Mandarin Chinese, the words “give a clock” (song zhong) can also mean “sending one to one’s end.” For this reason, traditionally, clocks and time pieces are not considered the best choices as gifts for Chinese friends. Diplomacy without language comprehension or an understanding of proper etiquette can pose challenges!

As a student of China, I loved using the Mandarin skills I had to navigate cultural differences with Chinese counterparts. However, language alone doesn’t always help. As with all cultures, body language, actions, and rituals convey more information than words alone. And when it comes to eating and drinking, the Chinese are emperors of protocol! Certainly, formal banquets are different from a casual meal with friends, but generally, here are some tips that help me keep my relations with the Chinese untainted by faux pas:

• At a banquet, hosts and guests have very clearly defined places at the (usually) round table. The host always sits in the seat facing the door. His or her guest of honor sits to his or her left. To the host’s right, the next important guest is seated (or the interpreter if there is a need).

• If toasts begin, make sure to lift your glass so that it touches below the rim of the person’s with whom you are toasting. This is a sign of respect.

• If you have had enough to drink and your hosts are insisting on another “gan bei” (dry your glass: a shot), say the two words “sui yi” (as you wish) and take a modest sip. This is usually something women can get away with more easily than men and it indicates that they respectfully decline to down their glass.

• Always leave something on your plate to indicate you have plenty to eat. Make it clear that you consider the meal very ample. This gives your host “face.”

• If the dinner is not a banquet, when the bill comes, it is customary to fight noisily over it with the other party, and let the party who did not pay for your last meal together pick up the tab eventually. But you need to put on a good show of it! This play-acting takes place regularly in Chinese restaurants across the world. You’ll know it’s your turn after the next mealand fight.

• When your guest leaves the banquet hall or restaurant, the host should walk them out to the door, often repeating “man zou, man zou” (go slowly).

Many of the more traditional protocols are fading with China’s more relaxed approach to relations with foreigners. However, erring on the side of formality is never a problem in a country whose pride in its heritage and traditions runs deep.

Now that you know, try these tips for yourself. Click here for travel to China.

Have you ever made a faux pas in a foreign country? Share below!

An Interview with a Group Travel Expert

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

MaryBeth Mullen is Deputy Director for Smithsonian Journeys. Here, she interviews David Parry about why he loves to travel and his favorite destinations.

David T. Parry is Chairman of Academic Travel Abroad, Inc., an international tour company and study abroad provider. David and his staff have worked with the non-profit community to create cultural travel programs throughout the world, pioneering travel programs to Russia in the 1970′s and to China in the 1980’s. Click here to learn more about David and traveling with him.

MaryBeth Mullen: How many group tours have you accompanied?

A group of Journeys Alpine hikers on a David Parry tour. Photo: David Parry

A group of Journeys Alpine hikers on a David Parry tour. Photo: David Parry

David Parry: I have been leading the Smithsonian Alpine hiking group each summer for the past 20+ years. But other than that I have left the leadership to our team of talented tour managers; they have the patience and energy one needs!

MBM: What is your favorite destination?
DP: There are too many to have just one. From the 1970′s up until 2000 I visited the Soviet Union, now Russia, as well as Eastern Europe, several times a year. Certainly Central Asia, and especially Uzbekistan with its historic caravan cities, is a fond memory. But I also treasure out-of-the way places in Central Europemost recently Eastern Slovakia and the Baroque towns of Kezmarok and Levoca. And Susan (my wife) and I have always treasured our travels in North America and are currently planning to go back to the shores of Lake Superior where we visited two years ago. The Wind River Mountains of Wyoming aren’t bad either! But of course, year after year I end up somewhere in the Alps where there is always just one more mountain or trail.

MBM: What is one key benefit of group travel that you value?
DP: Access. A well designed tour gets one into places that you can’t do on your own or takes you to out-of-way parts of the world. The fellowship of the other travelers often adds to the pleasure.

MBM: Where are you going next?
DP: After the Smithsonian hike in the Dolomites (incidentally, some of the most stunning mountain peaks in the world), Susan and I are going to the Apostle Islands on the south shore of Lake Superior followed by the annual meeting of the National Railroad Historical Society, where we will ride steam trains all over the Mesabi Range.

Whether you are interested in hiking, biking, or adventure cruising, we have plenty of active tours with space still available this summer. Click above for more info.

What’s your favorite outdoor travel experience? Why do you like to travel with a group? Comment below or click here to share your story.