What I expected: The Middle East. Why would I want to go there? Even if I hadn't written countless news stories with the words "war-torn," "embattled," "grisly execution," and the like, it's a long way in an economy seat from LAX. Did I feel duty-bound to visit? Only if I wanted to be considered a good mom. That's right: Flying for eons and braving terrorists = good mom.

What I found: Last year, my adult son took part in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem and fell in love with the place. He wanted to return and this time, he invited me.

We decided on the trip with only a few weeks to plan, so we didn't get the best prices, and once in Israel, there were a couple of incidents that smelled of rip-off. But there were also wonderful explorations of the walled Old City, seeing traditional Christian holy places and feeling that we were living on the edge when a taxi driver took us to Bethlehem. The Dead Sea? Awesome. We floated. We also got pepper sprayed during a protest of a parking lot that is open on Saturdays. And seeing folks around the city with rifles or pistols, we weren't that worried about terrorism.

Good mom points? Still waiting.

Monica McGarva, Encino

West Coast road trip

What I expected: We dreaded the road- trip for six months. The thought of 60 hours on the asphalt over a two-week span was enough to make me curse Henry Ford. Someone once said, "It's the journey, not the destination." I don't think they were talking about a 3,000-mile road trip with a 2- and 5-year-old, though. Or were they?

What I found: Our itinerary from Los Angeles: Portland, Ore., Seattle, the Washington Coast, Livermore, Calif., and Monterey. Did I mention we have two kids under the age of 6?

Preparation was essential: Michael Jackson and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in the CD player? Check. Travel bingo? Check. DVDs? Check. The dime/nickel bribe jar? Check. It would be the four of us, in our moving bubble, with nothing to do but relate.

But much to my surprise, the intense planning worked. The kids were riveted by the passing countryside. The restaurant pit stops were like a trip to Disneyland. Our 5-year-old was so taken with Harris Ranch that she requested we stop there again on Day 2 . We informed her that unless we drove backward for seven hours, it wasn't happening.

Someday soon, our kids will disappear into Leapsters, iPods and any number of electronics that will shut us out. But we will always have the memory of the American ritual we loathed, even feared. Turns out, it will probably be the vacation we cherish most.

Sondi Toll Sepenuk, Los Angeles

Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

What I expected: My husband and I always meant to visit Brazil. His mother was born in Germany but grew up in a large family in Rio de Janeiro. There were many relatives still living there. Some we had met on their visits to the U.S. and some we only knew by name. But now some were elderly and there was even a new baby. Maybe it was time to go. We'd heard all the old stories, but we'd always thought Rio was far and maybe even dangerous.

What we found: We finally made the trip this summer (their winter). Aunt Celia's first words to us when she and Uncle Jack met us at the airport were "You went to Africa before you finally came here?!?" Nonetheless, there were hugs and smiles and aunts, uncles and cousins drove us all over. We saw Ipanema and Copacabana and marveled at the views from the tops of Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado. As they drove, they pointed out the homes where relatives had once lived, offices where they worked and we even visited the cemetery where my husband's grandparents were buried.

Rio is magnificent, even with clouds and some rain. It is a city of mountains and beaches, bays and rain forests, fancy hotels and the shabby rainbow-colored houses of the favelas.

After less than a week filled with sightseeing, family dinners and visits, we moved on to other parts of Brazil, promising ourselves we would return to Rio. Our travels took us to see the amazing waterfalls of Iguaçu, up to the Amazon where we stayed in an eco-lodge, on the immense Amazon River, walked in the jungle and adopted a monkey. Last, we flew to Salvador da Bahia where we walked in the old streets of Pelourinho, savored the African influence in the music and food and enjoyed the best caipirinhas (an alcoholic drink)[this necessary?] of the entire trip.

We now wish we had not waited so long to visit Brazil. We plan to take our two adult children with us or, at least, to encourage them to visit on their own. Brazil has a special spirit we thoroughly enjoyed. It is a photographer's paradise, and as such, we have an album full of photos to enjoy until the next trip.

Elaine Feuer-Barton, Encinitas

Athens