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Volunteer vacations enable parents to model their most deeply held values while demonstrating compassion for others who share our place on the planet. Develop new talents, brush off rusty skills and make a difference as a family.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

I-to-I .

Choose from volunteer experiences in India, Costa Rica, Thailand and other destinations where sustainable, locally run community, environmental and educational projects will expand your family’s view of the world. Trained travel advisors share information about each country and specific projects to insure a suitable match.  Find a trip working with kids, the environment or wildlife that will blend well with the ages, interests and levels of experience within your family group. Contact: 800-985-4852; www.i-to-i.com.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. Cortez, CO.

Channel the Indiana Jones vibe and assist  professional archeologists on excavation sites  and in the lab as the quest to uncover mysteries surrounding the ancient Anasazi and Pueblo cultures continues. Ask about Family Archeology Weeks during which kids learn to make fire and sharpen skills needed for fieldwork. Pair your volunteer experience with one of a handful of educational adventure trips offered in the region by the same outfit. Contact: 800-422-8975; www.crowcanyon.org

Crooked Trails.

Learn about community-based tourism through this cross-cultural exchange that includes home-stays, family-style meals, exploration, adventure and time with locals in indigenous communities. Your trip will be fully-supported by a North American guide but you and your family members will have plenty of time to engage in service activities that range from building schools to assisting with the need of the moment in Peru, Guatamala, Kenya, India and beyond. Create a custom trip or join a scheduled outing. Contact: 206-383-9828 www.crookedtrails.com. 

You might also enjoy this teen's tale about her family's volunteer vacation.

Getting away without the kids? Consider San Francisco!

 Ten Romantic Things To Do In San Francisco

Those of us who love words were thrilled a poet was asked to participate in the Inaugural ceremonies. Richard Blanco became the fifth poet to read at a Presidential inauguration. Reports emphasized he was the youngest, first Latino, openly gay poet to act as an inaugural poet.

With the magnificent McDowell Mountains as a backdrop, families relish this oasis in the desert.

By day, keep cool within the 6000 square foot Sonoran Splash complex, featuring a zero deck area for the youngest set. Kids wade right into the water, just like at the beach.

Hit the slopes in Beavercreek where every generation of your family will have a grand time.

Kids reign supreme in this Rocky Mountain resort where plenty of ski-in, ski-out lodging simplifies the ground game. 

Consider the Osprey where the closest chair is a mere 26 paces from the door. The popular ski-school offers programs for kids of all ages.  A magic carpet and junior-sized gondola make it easy for newbies to practice their skills on the slopes. New this year is Ski Girls Rock, inspired by Olympian Lindsey Vonn and designed to instill confidence in girls seven to 16 through sports. 

Apres-ski, access family-friendly music, complimentary warm chocolate chip cookies and the chance to take a few spins around the Village ice skating rink. Don't miss the Buckaroo Bonanza Bunch, a children’s theater story time at The Ranch. This complimentary, fun, and Wild West-themed theater group puts on a quick-paced show ideal for ages 3-6.

Contact: www.Beavercreek.com

I don’t know why knowledge of this problem eluded me for so long. But I distinctly remember the moment, more than a decade ago, when it came front and center.

You might think I was deep in the African bush.

water.org family travel.com

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Bozeman, Mt. when a young man shared with me his passion for raising money to help others have access to safe and clean water. 

“Water?"I recall asking. I’d helped raise money for food, clothes, schools, books  and medicine in the past. 

But water? Truthfully, I am embarrassed to admit I hadn’t really thought about it. 

And, you know how when you learn a new word, suddenly that letter combo seems to pop up everywhere? Well that is how it was for water

In short order I learned that more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world – in places like Haiti. 

And that lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours. 

Now I can hardly fathom that of the 60 million people added to the world's towns and cities every year, most move to informal settlements (i.e. slums) with no sanitation facilities. And women and girls spend the most time collecting water.

In today’s world, how is it possible that 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people. 

I now understand that the water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. 

The next time you take a shower consider that an American taking a five-minute rinse-off uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day. 

Then consider that 2.5 times more people lack water than live in the United States.

And what does this say about our culture?

More people have a mobile phone than a toilet. 

So recently I raised some money for Water.org. (co-founded by Matt Damon) And you can too. 

Even if it is only ….one drop at a time.

PS: And if this water crisis was not on your radar before, just know, that now you are in the global loop when it comes to this five letter word. 

Ready to relax? Maybe unplug?

Visit this laid back, but luxurious, family-owned resort in Antigua for an all-inclusive experience that includes extensive water sports including water skiing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, paddle-boating, tennis, yoga,  and sailing.

As the kids burn off energy after another delicious meal, relax in a hammock you’ll find tucked within the palm trees. Spend an afternoon at the spa where open air massages provide a perfect end to a sports-filled day. 

Does your family have a bucket list?

Before you get busy creating a list of destinations, consider these questions first.

Movie magic and travel combine for family fun in Virginia with  The Lincoln Movie Trail.

“LINCOLN,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was shot in its entirety in Virginia at sites in Richmond and Petersburg. 

The state tourism office has created a self-guided trail and interactive Web site to help your family’s movie and history buffs visit the actual film locations as well as restaurants, bars and shops that were favorites of the stars and crew.

The trail experience includes special “LINCOLN” movie tours by Segway, trolley and guided walking tours.You can also stay at The Jefferson Hotel and dine at the same restaurants as the “LINCOLN” stars. 

Visit www.Virginia.org/LINCOLN to learn more about The Lincoln Movie trail. 

At the turn of the century, America's wild bison - which at one time numbered 60 million - had dwindled to about two dozen animals. Strong, sturdy and resilient, they’ve made a comeback, thanks to public and private conservation efforts.

On the range, in refuges and national parks, this symbol of our wildlife heritage is magnificent to observe. Despite their seemingly docile ways, don’t ignore ranger warnings. This large, grass-eating creature has been known to charge the too close for comfort curious tourist.

Snap a shot of this American icon – with a zoom lens:

1.Wildlife Expeditions, an educational outreach program of Teton Science Schools, a nonprofit organization, provides year-round wildlife viewing and natural history interpretation to those interested in a close-up, ethical view of Greater Yellowstone’s wild animals in their natural habitat. Experienced biologists use their knowledge and skills to locate bison as well as elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and coyotes amongst the towering Teton Mountains.

Contact: 1 (888) 945-3567; www.wildlifeexpeditions.org

2. The National Bison Range, 40 miles north of Missoula, MT, sprawls across 18,000 acres on one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the nation. Established in 1908, it is a scenic home to hundreds of bison as well as 200 species of birds and other native wildlife.

Contact:1( 406)644-2211; http://bisonrange.fws.gov.

3. Yellowstone National Park is home to approximately 3,500 bison, many the descendants of the few who survived near-extinction. Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, you’ll likely spot them in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. Also, be on the look out near Pelican Valley, the Lower Geyser Basin and in Gibbon Meadows.

Contact: Yellowstone National Park; 1 (307) 344-7381; www.nps.gov/yell.

4. Terry Bison Ranch, Cheyenne, WY: This family friendly ranch offers bison viewing year round in an environment dubbed “the west the way you want it” by its owners. A popular reunion spot, families can spread out into eight cabins, 17 bunkhouse rooms, as well as RV sites on the 27,000 acre spread. Home to nearly 3000 bison, the ranch also features train rides, horseback riding, a restaurant and a Trading Post.

Contact: (307) 634-4171; http://www.terrybisonranch.com.

5. Established in 1901, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, in Indiahoma, OK, maintains a bison herd of approximately 600 animals. The 59,020 acre Refuge provides habitat for additional large native grazing animals, including Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer. Texas longhorn cattle also share the Refuge rangelands as a cultural and historical legacy species. More than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species thrive on this important refuge.

Contact: 1 (580) 429-3222; www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/wichitamountains/refhist.html;