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Meet the Mende Family

The Beginning of a Family Tradition

The Mendes’ VBT story began six years ago in New England, not too far from our headquarters in Bristol, Vermont. A few members of this Rhode Island family took a small bike trip around Maine to visit some of the state’s famous lighthouses. It was a short trip, but a good time was had by all and it wasn’t long before Lori Kelley, a second generation Mende, was brainstorming about a full-on family biking vacation.

With a fun-loving father who has always been a bit thrifty, Lori may have had her work cut out for her. After a friend recommended VBT, Lori simply asked her dad, Richard, what he thought of taking a biking vacation through Europe. To Lori’s surprise, without a moment’s hesitation he responded, “I’d do it in a second.” That was about all it took to begin making plans for a family vacation with VBT.

Where to Next?

The family decided that it was important to explore their heritage as they traveled. So they landed on a bike tour of The Czech Republic, Germany & Austria. In the fall of 2009, Lori, her husband Charlie, her sisters Jeanne and Nancy, her Uncle Bob and her father all headed for central Europe with high hopes for a great family vacation.

As it turns out, everyone was thrilled with the time that they spent together, riding, connecting and laughing. “My Uncle and my dad just had smiles pasted on their faces the whole time,” said Lori. The days were so enjoyable that upon returning home the question on everyone’s mind was, “Where to next?”

It’s that very question that has prompted four family vacations with VBT over the past four years. In addition to their first vacation through the Czech Republic, the Mende family has biked in Slovenia, Austria & ItalyHungary & Slovakia: The Best of the Danube and Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast. And coming this Fall, the family will join VBT again in Italy: Cycling the Dolomite Valleys.

The More the Merrier

In an effort to spread the good times, the Mendes have done a bit of recruiting since their first vacation together. With each new trip, more and more family members have joined in on the fun. In fact, on their next adventure, the group size will almost have doubled since their first trip, making 11 family members in all. With ages ranging from 23 to 81, three generations will be thoroughly represented as the family rides through Italy’s Dolomite Valleys.

For the Mendes, the joys of biking vacations with VBT vary for each different member of the family. Lori’s father and Uncle Bob genuinely enjoy getting in touch with their heritage through historical exploration, regional cuisine and the occasional pálinka tasting. Her son is partial to cultural encounters in the cities that they’ve visited along the way. For Lori it’s hard to pick one favorite aspect of her vacations, but she fondly notes that she has gotten to know her extended family in a way that she had never known them before.

Lasting Memories

In Lori’s memories of all of her family vacations, one theme seems to clearly emerge: laughter. Whether it’s riding through Austria singing songs from The Sound of Music, her dad and Uncle Bob indulging in their accommodations’ luxurious bathrobes or a quirky communication with a local while biking up a German hill, each recollection for Lori is accompanied by an enthusiastic chuckle or even an all-out belly laugh. As Lori looks back on her travels, she admits that these are just a few of the many, “memories we’ll have for the rest of our lives.”

At VBT, we’re all about making connections as we travel. That’s why we couldn’t be more thrilled to have helped the Mende family get in touch with their roots, connect with locals throughout Europe and strengthen their own family bonds. With family vacations that grow in numbers every year, it doesn’t look like they’ll slow down anytime soon!

VBT Travelers Pitch In

Responsible, ethical travel practices are very important to us at VBT. We respect the destinations that we explore and we’re very pleased to attract travelers who do the same. The following account was shared with us by Bill B. A frequent VBT traveler, Bill was so affected by his recent biking vacation through Vietnam and Cambodia, he and his companions took a bit of action. We thank Bill and his group, and hope that you find some inspiration in their experiences.

In March and early April of 2012, 15 bikers went to Vietnam and had a remarkable time. I don’t know how we could have seen more of Vietnam unless we had done a biking tour of the whole country. I have taken many VBT trips and have come to the conclusion that for a trip in its totality, Journey through Vietnam now ranks number one for me.

ecotourism, eco travel, world travel

For the post trip, 13 of us went to Siem Reap in Cambodia to spend some time at Angkor Wat and other areas of interest nearby including Tonle Sap, the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. There is no question that Angkor Wat met all of our expectations; it is truly one of the wonders of the world, but the Ta Prohm Temple is also special, with all the huge trees growing out of the temple walls.

On the second day in Cambodia, we traveled outside of Siem Reap to visit Ban Teay Srei. On the way through the countryside, we witnessed some of the worst poverty I have seen in travels around the world over many years. The very poor sanitation in many of the villages including a lack of fresh drinking water, water for basic hygiene and cooking contributes directly to the low life expectancy in Cambodia. Our group also began to notice distinctive signs in some of the villages beside fresh water wells that had been constructed.

On one of our stops to visit a school, we inspected some of these wells more closely and found that many of them had been funded by individuals including quite a few Americans. The U.S. government is also involved because several of the pumps had the USAID logo displayed. There is an organization in Cambodia called the Angkor Well Project that coordinates the construction of these wells. The web site is We decided that as a group, we would collect the necessary money to have one of these wells constructed. We did that and provided the funds to a well project representative. The name we selected for our group is “USA Friends.”

ecotourism, eco travel, world travel

After we returned home, one of the organizers kept us informed on the progress of the construction until the well was completed. He then sent us some photos of the villagers who benefit from the well including the actual pump in operation. I know that our group feels good about this effort to improve the sanitation facilities for at least a small number of Cambodians. We certainly don’t want to take any credit as a group because we have already received our rewards, just being involved.

-Bill B.