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Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Oddities

10 Foreign Fast Food Chains We Want in the U.S.

How can America, home of the KFC Double Down, Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, and Carl’s Jr. Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, not have these amazing foreign fast-food chains within its borders? Here are 10 delicious and forbidden fast-food chains that we wish would move stateside—ASAP.

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At Home Experiential Travel Family Travel Fashion & Beauty Holiday Travel Travel Technology Travel Trends Women's Travel

The Best Gift Ideas for Mother's Day

Check out the best gifts for your favorite female traveler to give this Mother’s Day—bonus, most of these Mother’s Day gifts are under $100.

Travel-Related Mother’s Day Gifts

Bellroy Travel Folio

Help your mom stay organized while traveling with this chic passport holder and travel wallet. She can keep the whole fam organized since it fits two passports, four to eight cards, cash, and multiple boarding passes. This zip-up style also has RFID blocking technology, which protects documents, cards, and passports from RFID skimming, i.e. electronic pickpocketing. The environmentally-certified leather wallet also comes with a three-year warranty.

LifeProof Wake Phone Case

Give mom a protective and sustainable phone case, no matter what model phone she has. This case is both drop-proof (from two meters), easy to grip, and helps the environment through a donation on the company’s behalf to select charities.

iLive Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds

If mom isn’t the most tech-savvy, then these affordable wireless earbuds might just be the perfect gift. This pair supports true wireless and Bluetooth capabilities and comes with a charging case of its own.

Keebos Crossbody Phone Case

Go totally hands-free with this useful and inexpensive phone case; it’s a crossbody bag, wallet, phone holder, and protective case all in one. This Mother’s Day gift is perfect for walking the dog, circling the park, or grabbing a coffee.

Mother’s Day Gifts for the Home

YETI Lowlands Waterproof Outdoor Blanket

From beach picnics to lining the back seat of the car for your family pooch, YETI’s outdoor blanket is an ideal gift for the no-fuss mom. It even comes in a convenient carrying case and is machine-washable. Other standout features are that this comfy blanket has a waterproof layer and that it easily shakes off pet hair.

Artifact Uprising Wood Block Prints

gift ideas for mother's day

Gift mom a personalized photo album with this simple yet beautiful woodblock stand. Send 12 of your favorite travel photos to Artifact Uprising and the company will print them on thick card stock and voila—you’ve got a personalized gift within days.

Other places to shop customized prints include Etsy, Framebridge, and Shuttterfly.

COSORI 12-in-1 Air Fryer Toaster Oven

Whether she’s cooking for additional family members in quarantine or perfecting some of her favorite recipes, this multi-purpose toaster oven will be a delightful surprise. Not only is it reasonably priced, but it serves as an air fryer, toaster oven, broiler, rotisserie, and more. The 12 presets include: pizza, roast, airfry, toast, bagel, bake, broil, cookies, rotisserie, dehydrate, ferment, and keep warm. Plus, there’s an included recipe book (featuring over 100 ideas) for even more cooking inspiration.

EcoVessel Wine Tumbler

Take your favorite drink on-the-go with these triple-insulated, stainless steel tumblers. Priced under $20, it’s an ideal gift for the mom who loves a park picnic or day at the beach.

ChappyWrap’s Places Blanket

While the jury’s still out on our summer vacations, remind mom of one of her favorite places with an ultra-plush blanket from ChappyWrap. With maps of locales like Cape Cod and San Francisco, you can keep her cozy during stay-at-home orders.

Mother’s Day Gifts, Clothing & Accessories

Keds Women’s Clipper Jute

This pair of stylish slip-on shoes from Keds make for the perfect understated, yet practical gift for mom. Wear them now around the house and save them for the next family beach vacation. The versatile style means they match with almost anything and the slip-on style makes them ideal for errand running and city walking.

Rothy’s Bag Collection

We’ve already expressed our love for Rothy’s latest bag collection, and we think the line of bags and pouches also make for great Mother’s Day gifts. All of the accessories are stylish and practical for both future travel and use around town.

Hari Mari Sydney Slides

Keep mom comfy and fashionable with these spring and summertime sandal staples. Between the premium leather, memory foam footbed, and on-trend style these shoes have it all. Not only do they match almost everything, they’ll be her go-to pair of shoes all summer long.

Plaka Slipper Socks

I’ve already raved about these in my review, but these slipper socks are the perfect inexpensive gift for mom this Mother’s Day. The sock-like upper is flexible and soft while the cushy rubber bottom lets you grab your mail, take the dog out, etc. without having to put real shoes on.

Cotidie Evelyn Drape Waist Shirt

Gift mom this classic shirt, with a twist. The moisture-wicking and stretchy material mean this shirt is the queen of double-duty. Whether she’s a frequent flier or just likes to look chic (but make it comfy) at the grocery store, this athleisure brand has got you covered.

Ministry of Supply Swift Wide Leg Pants

These lightweight pants are the stylish ideal travel pant, but can also be worn easily around the house. The stretch crepe material is airy and breathable and will look good with either a sweatshirt or blazer.

Bleusalt

Fair warning, you may want to steal this gift, but know it will bring the utmost coziness to your mom. So, let her enjoy it. Bleusalt’s environmentally-friendly and sustainable beechwood fabric is literally a dream, so anything you pick will be a win. But, if you need help choosing, The Classic Shirt and The 2 Yard Wrap are my go-tos.

MZ Wallace Metro Pouch

It’s a clutch, it’s a pouch, it’s a diaper holder, it’s anything you need it to be. We adore this line of bags (also available at Nordstrom) for its waterproof nylon quilted material and packability.

State Cashmere

Spoil mom with high-quality cashmere, but not at the expected price tag. State Cashmere offers dozens of styles under $100 as well as a wallet-friendly and lightweight spring line, made with cotton cashmere. Or pick something out from the travel section, think socks, blankets, and wraps.  

Mother’s Day Gifts, Beauty

Dyson Airwrap Hair Styler

Gift mom the latest in hair styling innovation, with Dyson’s minimal heat hair styler. It’s a smoother, curler, styler, and dryer all in one.

Pro Tip: Also check this product’s Amazon listing for potential price reductions and Dyson will price match.

TULA Skincare Best Sellers Travel Kit

Cult-favorite skincare brand, TULA, offers some of their best-selling products in a convenient and reasonably priced, travel-sized kit. It’s a perfect way to test out the facial cleanser, day and night cream, sugar scrub, and moisturizing primer. And while you’re at it, throw in the brightening eye balm and sunscreen to your cart for yourself (we won’t tell).

DW Home Candle

Remind mom of her favorite scent with a budget-friendly candle from DW Home. We love the Calming Waves and Tranquil Lotus scents for uber relaxation during this crazy time.

Athena Club the Go-Tos Set

Help mom make her skincare routine healthier with Athena Club’s the Go-Tos set. At just $25 this gift set includes the brand’s Dewy Body Lotion, Soft Face Wipes, and All Day Deo. Each product is made with good-for-you ingredients and smells fantastic.

Subtl Beauty Stack

Mom will thank you for this life-changing makeup gift. Meet Subtl Beauty’s stack, the ultimate travel-friendly makeup on the market. Build her a custom stack by choosing a lip stain, concealer, highlighter, bronzer, and/or shine control powder and voila, all her makeup’s in one place.

More from SmarterTravel:

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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At Home Experiential Travel

Virtual Vacations: Meditative Audio Tours Around the World

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

Paris: Settle in, close your eyes, and imagine yourself exploring the City of Light. We’ll wander from the Left Bank over the Ile de la Cite, along the Ile Saint-Louis, and across to the Right Bank. (8 minutes)

Vietnam: Let’s take a peaceful cruise up the Mekong River in Vietnam. Along the way, we’ll admire the scenery and see local life as it unfolds along the sloping banks. (6 minutes)

Zion National Park: Imagine the towering red rocks, hear the gurgle of newly formed streams, and feel the cool mist of waterfalls on your face as you wander the winter canyon. (7 minutes)

Guided Forest Bathing Session: Whether you choose to wander the twists and turns of a deep jungle or stroll the well-worn paths of a childhood wood, allow this mindfulness practice to transport you to where the air is fresh and the trees reach up toward the sky. (9 minutes)

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

More from SmarterTravel:

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Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

9 Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms We're Dreaming About

You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.

The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms

Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Spring flower blooms

Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.

Death Valley, Southern California

spring flower blooms

Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.

The California Parks Department offers a poppy live-stream here.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

spring flower blooms

If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.

Western Australia (September)

spring flower blooms

Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.

Valley of Flowers National Park, India

spring flower blooms

India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.

Monet’s House and Gardens, France

spring flower blooms

Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.

Texas Hill Country, U.S.

spring flower blooms

Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.

Kew Gardens, London, England

Spring flower blooms

Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.

Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

washington monument with cherry blossoms tidal basin.

Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.

Share Your Virtual Vacation or Travel Inspiration with Us:

Are you itching to travel? So are we … that’s why we started the #GoLater campaign on social media. We want to see which destinations YOU are dreaming of. Head over to our Instagram channel (@smartertravel) to learn more. 

Working From Home? Make it Comfy

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel

8 Hard-to-Plan Dream Trips to Research at Home While You Have the Time

In stressful times like this global pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in fear, confusion, and the never-ending news cycle. But perhaps the best way to escape it all is to mentally dive into a good vacation. Researching your dream trip of choice is a helpful reminder that the world will go back to normal again—and when it does, you’ll have a decisive plan of action for a trip you’re excited to take. Whether it’s a new type of travel for you (sailing, hiking, train itineraries, or road tripping) or a destination you’re unfamiliar with, now’s the time to tackle all your wildest travel ambitions.

Here are the dream trips we’re researching while we’re stuck at home, and where to look for the most reliable and up-to-date information on each.

Island Hopping Greece’s Far-Flung Islands

aerial view agios sosts zakynthos greece

While Greece’s main hot spots get a break from the overtourism they’ve faced for years, explore the country’s thousands of islands online to find out which groupings are best for your travel style.

There are the easily accessible Ionian Islands of the north (think Corfu and Zakynthos), more remote North Aegean options near Turkey, and, of course, the famous Cyclades: hard-partying Mykonos and picturesque Santorini included. But you also won’t want to miss their smaller siblings either: Folegandros, Milos, Amorgos, and more are among the lesser-known Cycladic gems. There’s simply not enough time to see them all, so why not choose now which ones you want to see later?

Where to look: Visit Greece’s guide to the Greek Islands is the perfect place to start. Here you can download brochures, guides, and maps, and sign up for their newsletter.

An Off-the-Beaten-Path African Safari

zebras botswana okavango delta khwai.

Go beyond the standard South African romp by extending your dream trip into even more untouched areas like Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where you can safari via canoe, or Zambia’s Liuwa Plain, one of the oldest nature reserves on the continent.

Where to look: African Parks is a 16-park nonprofit organization that advises travelers on up-to-date travel information, including travel advisories and which parks are leading in balancing conservation and tourism. You can find information about visiting each park here, and sign up for their good-news newsletter here.

Hiking Jordan Top-to-Bottom

camels Wadi Rum desert Jordan.

Petra is far from the only site to see in Jordan, which recently opened its new 400-mile Jordan Trail to hikers’ delight. If you’re not aiming to tackle the entire route, you can opt instead for mapping out the sections you would like to conquer, like the southernmost part of the route from Petra to the Red Sea’s world-renowned snorkeling and scuba sites.

Where to look: You can virtually explore the Jordan Trail and monitor when its sites will reopen here.

Meeting Penguins on Antarctica

chinstrap penguin antarctica.

Watching nature documentaries at home can certainly make your travel bug act up. And there’s perhaps no wilder adventure than heading to the southernmost continent for untouched beauty and penguins.

Where to look: Read about one SmarterTravel editor’s Antarctic adventures at sea, and bookmark our 12 Amazing Ways to Explore Antarctica for when tour companies heading to the icy continent reopen.

A Grand Wildlife Tour of the Galapagos

darwin's finch galapagos islands.

A warmer wildlife adventure than setting out for the South Pole, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are an adventure of a lifetime that you’ll need to plan to a tee considering environmental regulations limit access to government-trained tour guides. Species unique to the islands include Galapagos penguins, tortoises, sea lions, rare birds like waved albatross and blue-footed boobies, and more.

Where to look: The Galapagos Conservancy offers travel information like its sustainability restrictions/park rules, where to plan a dream trip, and corporate travel partners that enforce policies in line with the islands’ standards. You can sign up for their newsletter here for updates on all of those topics.

Seeing Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Bullet Train

cherry blossom japan bullet train.

With Japan’s cherry blossom festivals canceled this year, many travelers vying for this dream trip during peak season start planning up to a year in advance to ensure they’ll get their ideal hotel during what’s usually the busiest time of year for the country’s tourism. The fast and affordable bullet trains, which were recently updated to accommodate the now-postponed Olympics, are the best way to get around the mainland.

Where to look: The Japan Rail Pass website is perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with Japan’s regions and transportation options, and it provides cherry-blossom-season information here, including information about the typical timing of peak blooms for different regions and major cities.

The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip

Road Lake Wakatipu Queenstown New Zealand.

Not familiar with New Zealand’s North Island and South Island geography? Most people aren’t aware you can drive both in their entirety if you plan out an appropriate route and spend at least two weeks. That’s a lot of pit stops, hikes, and hotel stays to plan: Check out SmarterTravel’s best places in New Zealand and How to Do New Zealand’s North and South Islands in Two Weeks.

Where else to look: Pure New Zealand provides detailed itineraries and background information on road tripping around the country’s otherworldly landscapes.

The Towers of Pain: Patagonia via Buenos Aires

Patagonia Torres del Paine Three Giant.

Patagonia’s Torres del Paine (or Towers of Paine) National Park is a bucket-list item for hikers, skiers, and just about any outdoor enthusiast. The best way to conquer a trek in 800,000-square-kilometer Patagonia is with a seasoned tour company that can show you the way, but you’ll still need to figure out which season you want to see this spectacular scenery in, how to get there, and if you want to tack on some time in romantic Buenos Aires since most air routes will include a stop there. See our story on planning a trip to Patagonia and check out one SmarterTravel editor’s experience of conquering the challenging paths in winter.

Where to look: The South America Tourism Office has lots of background information and recommended tour providers specific to Patagonia.

Working from home? Make it comfy with our top products for your home right now:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Share Your Virtual Vacation or Travel Inspiration With Us:

Are you itching to travel? So are we … that’s why we started the #GoLater campaign on social media. We want to see which destinations YOU are dreaming of. Head over to our Instagram channel (@smartertravel) to learn more. 

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Island Luxury Travel

10 Rules for Sailing the Seychelles

Remote, wild, lush—when the first European explorers discovered the 115-archipelago that is the Seychelles, they thought they had found the Garden of Eden.

Upon arriving at these pristine, white sand, palm tree-fringed islands populated with gorgeous creatures that don’t roam the earth anywhere else, I wasn’t sure that they were wrong.

On my island-hopping cruise around the Seychelles with Zegrahm Expeditions, I learned a few valuable lessons that apply to the Seychelles or any adventure.

Always Get Off the Boat

Our Zegrahm Expeditions cruise director wanted to manage expectations. The snorkeling wasn’t as good as some of the other times, the announcement warned. There was a light chop in the water, and we might not see as many fish as before. Not needing more of an excuse to stay in bed for a long post-lunch nap, many people opted to stay on the boat. I dragged myself out and had one of my favorite snorkels of all time, thanks to two sea turtles that joined me (apparently they didn’t get the announcement). Sure, I swallowed some seawater due to the waves, but I would have always wondered what I’d missed if I didn’t go out.

Take a Trusted Guide (or 14)

Me, on this trip: “I saw a fish; it was shaped like a potato but a bright yellow color.” “What’s that crazy thing that looks like it’s embedded inside a rock but has teeth and moves?” Rich Pagen, a conservation biologist and one of our designated marine life guides/”fish guys” onboard always had an answer for me, no matter how odd my description sounded.

We had a team of 14 expedition guides on this trip, with expertise in microbiology, ornithology, anthropology, and more—it was like having access to a highly specialized (and fact-checked) Wikipedia of the Seychelles. The experts dined with us at every meal and were always socializing in the ship’s lounge at night, so we could corner them with more questions at any time.

Perhaps most importantly, we had Gemma Jessy, a naturalist and native Seychelloise. Gemma grew up on the island of Praslin and was invaluable for her knowledge of the Seychelles’ history, culture, and best places to go.

If you try to do this trip alone, you’ll miss out on the knowledge, stories, and expertise that make it so memorable.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid of looking dumb. Ask the question. The experts onboard won’t judge you, and you’ll learn things in a way that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. It’s better to say “hey, what’s that?” any time you see a unique bird or animal and get an instantaneous answer (usually along with a few fun facts) rather than try to Google it yourself later.

However, if you’re the person who asked (while we were on a boat) what elevation we were at, the other guests might judge you a little. Blame your mental lapse on the altitude sickness.

Never Miss a Sunset

On a cruise, your daily life can be a bit regimented. There are set times for meals and activities, with repeated announcements to get you to the right place at the right time. But sunset is an extracurricular that you’ll have to plan for on your own.

Make it a priority to figure out what time the sun sets each day and which side of the boat will be best for viewing. Be settled in well before the sun dips below the horizon, so you can watch the sky gradually change from a golden glow to a fiery red—the show is spectacular, wildly unproductive, and different every night.

Saving time for simple joys in life like a sunset can remind you to slow down and appreciate each day.

Bring SPF 50…

…and a sun shirt, swim tights, and a bandanna. The Seychelles are only a few hundred miles from the equator, and the sun is merciless down here. Any inch of exposed skin gets sunburned after an hour or two in the water, so covering up is the way to go. Just make sure that any sunscreen you wear is reef-safe.

Covering up is a reminder that sometimes, there’s an easier and simpler solution to what you’ve always done (slathering yourself in sunscreen).

Don’t Forget to Look Up

Change your viewpoint from what’s in front of you and you’ll find more stars than you’d know the sky contained. Birds you won’t see anywhere else on the planet, eyeing you with confusion and curiosity but no fear. Clouds lit up by the setting sun. Stunning, clear blue skies with an unbroken horizon that you could lose yourself in.

Sometimes in life, we’re so focused on what’s in front of us, or watching our feet so we don’t trip, that we forget to look up and appreciate the bigger picture.

Minimize Your Impact

The Seychelles are special because they are so untouched by humanity. Follow the “leave no trace” rule by packing out anything you bring in and never stealing anything (like sand or shells) for a souvenir.

Protect the wildlife by keeping your distance from animals, who can catch diseases from humans or learn bad behaviors. Never touch a coral reef (the oils from your skin can cause destruction), and avoid kicking or walking on coral, which can kill it.  

Many of our Zegrahm guides on this trip made their own reef-safe sunscreen, picked up marine trash, and even took home plastic water bottles for recycling—emulate that behavior. 

Don’t Give up the Moment for the Photograph

I could have taken a million photos and videos and never quite accurately recreated the delicate light here, the sparkling emerald-turquoise color of the waves, or the softness of the sand. If I spent the whole time trying, I would have missed out on the real-life moment.

Snap a photo or two and then put the camera down, so you can fully embrace this moment in time that you’ll never have again. Feel the heat of the sun warming your skin. Smell the unpolluted fresh air. Taste the salt spray on your lips. Run the sand through your fingers and marvel at its softness. Be fully present, and the memory will stick with you much longer than any photo.

Leave Your Plastics at Home

The Seychelles have banned plastic bags, cups, plates, and cutlery. Remember that as you’re packing and leave your Ziploc bags behind—and think about how you can replace them with eco-friendly alternatives. It was an eye-opening lesson to me as I was packing for this trip just how much I rely on one-time use plastic bags for travel, and I’ve now replaced them with reusable alternatives.

Be Flexible

The Seychelles are wild, and you can’t plan your trip down to the minute, unless you want to miss out on an amazing snorkel because you refused to wait for the right tide. No matter where you go, you can’t plan every minute of your trip, or you’ll lose the chance for spontaneous adventures to occur.

Be flexible in your plans, release your expectations, and give yourself up to the flow of the islands—you’ll be rightly rewarded.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Zegrahm Expeditions on its Ultimate Seychelles Tour With Aldabra Atoll. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for pictures of the tour and more.

Categories
Arts & Culture Entertainment Experiential Travel In-Flight Experience Travel Technology Travel Trends

12 Popular Podcasts to Discover Right Now

Podcasts are perfect entertainment. Pop in your earbuds and you can keep up with the latest headlines, learn something new, or have a laugh. Here are 12 of the best podcasts to binge on next time you find yourself with some down time.

Armchair Expert

Armchair Expert

Join celebrity actor/comedian Dax Shepard as he interviews famous actors, actresses, comedians, and more public figures from, you guessed it, his armchair. Armchair Expert is nearing its 200th episode (at the time of writing) and has featured guests from Ashton Kutcher to Monica Lewinsky.

The Daily

The Daily

The New York Timesmost popular podcast makes it easy to stay up to date on U.S. politics on the fly. Journalist Michael Barbaro interviews a different Times reporter every podcast to talk about the latest news in 20 minutes or less. From updates on the White House to environmental disasters, The Daily provides expert news analysis and tells you everything you need to know. 

The World Wanderers

The World Wanderers

This travel podcast features two young adventurers who share their advice for making the most of a trip. If you’re looking for more destinations to add to your bucket list, this is the perfect podcast for you. Each episode highlights a new location (think Iceland and Guadalajara) or discusses how travel can lead to a happier life. 

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

Queer Eye fans, take heart. Jonathan Van Ness brings his curiosity and delightful sense of humor to this informative podcast. Van Ness explores a new topic in each episode, from female entrepreneurship with Reese Witherspoon to what white people need to know about racism with Andrew Ti. Listen carefully and you’ll also hear Van Ness’ hilarious attempts to speak in British and Australian accents.

Science Vs

Science Vs

Are vitamins effective? Is veganism good for the environment? Science experts answer all these questions and more with witty commentary and interesting stories. This podcast makes science easy and fun to learn on the road. You might even find that the conversations about vaccines and the Zika virus are helpful during your travels.

Skimm’d from the Couch

Skimm’d from the Couch

The two co-founders of theSkimm, a popular daily newsletter for young people, discuss female leadership and entrepreneurship. From interviewing Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, to Arianna Huffington and the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie, theSkimm’s founders will make you want to start a business as soon as you get home from your trip.

Death, Sex & Money

Death, Sex & Money

There are some conversations that are rarely discussed in public, and those are the focus of the podcast Death, Sex & Money. Host Anna Sale talks to journalists, a Supreme Court justice, and actors about tough topics like fertility and heroin addiction. This award-winning podcast will make you think deeply during and after your travels.

Invisibilia

Invisibilia

Invisibilia will leave you contemplating the meaning of life, relationships, and more. This NPR podcast explores the unseen forces that control human behavior. From how we create emotions to the societal expectation to pursue money and happiness, this podcast will change how you see the world.

The Habitat

The Habitat

Imagine giving up everything you own for one year to live in a tent on a remote Hawaiian mountain. That’s what six strangers did when they pretended to live on Mars for a NASA experiment. Discover the difficulties, triumphs, and evolving and devolving relationships of these strangers isolated on a fake planet. After you finish the episodes, check out the other addictive podcasts from Gimlet, the company behind this series.

[st_related]The Best Audiobooks for Road Trips or Plane Travel[/st_related]

Serial

Serial

With three seasons available to binge, this riveting series is the podcast that started it all. As one of the first podcasts of the modern podcast era to earn critical success, Serial talks you through unsolved murders, the story of Bowe Bergdahl, and more. Host Sarah Koenig engagingly narrates tales of deception and desertion. Give it a listen and see why millions of fans tune into this hit podcast.

Wild Ideas Worth Living

Wild Ideas Worth Living

The podcast brought to you from outdoor retailer REI Co-op takes a deep and thoughtful look at what it means to be outdoors and travel. Most episodes are interviews that tell a unique story about the outdoors, whether it be singer Mike Posner’s trek to walk across the U.S. or a man who trains a donkey to be his running partner.

Women Who Travel

Women Who Travel

What started as a Facebook group for female travelers to connect and share stories has become Conde Nast Traveler’s wildly popular podcast. Women Who Travel tells the stories of female entrepreneurs, travelers, and pioneers in the industry. Episodes are released weekly by staff editors.

How to Listen

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated with the latest information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on NPS.gov.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Experiential Travel Money Packing Travel Etiquette

7 Bad Travel Habits and How to Quit Them

When you travel a lot, it’s natural to develop habits that work for you. For me, the few days before a trip tend always to follow the same pattern: I review my itinerary, make a mental list of what I want to pack, plan accordingly, and make my bed before I leave the house. Unfortunately, I’ve also developed a few bad travel habits along the way.

Bad Travel Habits and How to Quit Them

One habit that’s proven particularly hard to break is refusing to splurge on cabs when I’ll be out all day. Because I try to walk everywhere to save money, my feet are the ones paying the price at the end of the day.

We’ve all got our bad travel habits, but the good news is that you can break them with a little bit of effort. Whether you’re a workaholic walker like me or a packing procrastinator, here are some ways to break even your most persistent travel habits.

Not Learning Basic Vocabulary

If you frequently land in a new country and realize you never learned how to say hello or thank you, you’re probably with familiar with how silly it makes you feel. Learning new languages is difficult and might not seem worth it if you’re passing through many different countries or staying for a short amount of time, but knowing the basics can make all the difference when it comes to how comfortable you feel and how well you connect with local people.

Solution: Of course, there are plenty of language apps and tutorials you can use to learn a language, but there’s an easier solution if you don’t think you’ll have time to practice. Instead, make it a point to look up the basic words of the new language at least once before your trip and write them down. Keep them somewhere handy, like saved on a note on your phone, and when you get there, you’ll have them at your fingertips.

Booking at the Last Minute

You can tell yourself that you’re waiting for the prices to drop, but unless you’re very flexible, that can backfire: The longer you wait, the fewer options you’ll have. Whether you’re booking flights, accommodation, or a tour, you’re almost always better off booking well in advance and having everything organized before your trip.

Solution: If you still want to hold out for low rates, set a “book by” date for yourself at least a week or two before you leave for your trip. Consider it a self-imposed deadline and do whatever you need to do to hold yourself accountable. I like to schedule my personal deadlines into my calendar to make them feel more official.

Not Giving Yourself Enough Time to Pack

If you’ve got packing problems, it’s likely you’re a repeat procrastinator. This is one of the most common travel habits and it can be tough to break when life is busy. If packing lists have no effect on you, there’s one thing you can do that you probably have to do anyway.

Solution: A few days before you leave, do your laundry. Instead of putting your clothes away in your closet, pack the fresh clothes right into your suitcase. Not only will this ensure that the clothes you wear most often are fresh and clean, but it will also help you get a start on planning your outfits before and during your trip. After you put in your first load, pull out your luggage and start researching the essential items for your destination.

Packing More Than You Need

If you’re a chronic overpacker, you’ve probably had your fair share of struggles with the check-in luggage scale and bags that just won’t close. You might think you need to take advantage of your airline’s full luggage allowance, but the truth is you shouldn’t be filling up your luggage just because you can.

Solution: Use a smaller suitcase. Take into account how long you’ll be traveling and how many of your outfits can be reused, and then find the appropriately sized luggage for the length of your trip. You’d be surprised how little you’ll need.

Not Splurging When You Should

This one varies from traveler to traveler, but everyone has that one thing they hate to spend money on. Personally, I’m very stubborn when it comes to paying for cabs or public transportation and often choose walking instead. The downside of this is that I’m often too tired to enjoy a night out or I suffer from aching feet. For others, being too stubborn to spend might mean booking accommodation far from the center of town or missing out on a special food because it’s a little pricey.

Solution: Give yourself a budget to splurge. This small act of premeditation can make a huge difference in your travel experience. Knowing you’ll have a little money set aside to live a little will help you feel more comfortable spending spontaneously. Remember, this should be a set budget totally separate from your emergency fund to remove any guilt you might have.

Not Learning the Exchange Rate Ahead of Time

If this is one of your bad travel habits, you’ve probably found yourself wondering over and over again if you’re paying a fair price whenever you’re confronted with a new currency.

Solution: Keep a currency exchange app on your phone. Take out all the uncertainty at the cash register by keeping a reference ready. What’s great about the apps is that they are constantly updating, which means you’ll always know the most recent rate.

Overbooking Yourself

Ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? It’s probably because you’re signing on for too much. When you’ve only got a set number of days somewhere, it’s tempting to try and do it all, but that’s no reason to treat your vacation like one long to-do list.

Solution: Make peace with not being able to see everything. And if you can’t do that, make a list, identify your priorities, and book only those priorities. Leave everything else up to the moment. Trust me: That cooking class probably won’t seem like such a good idea after you’ve actually completed the three-hour walking tour. 

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Luxury Travel Outdoors

Tips for Planning an African Safari

An African safari is a true adventure—imagine thousands of zebras migrating across emerald grasslands, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining lake, and lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.

With 54 different countries more than 11 million square miles between them, Africa is a very large and very diverse place. The types of safaris are endless. And while there’s no right way to go on safari (it all comes down to personal preferences), there is a lot to consider when it comes to picking out your perfect experience. Here’s how to make the right choice.

Many travelers trek to Africa in search of the “Big Five”: buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses. The chance to get close to these animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but your trip to Africa is anything but a trip to the zoo. Safaris can be physically taxing and strenuous, and you may not see all the animals you expected. Since most safari destinations are in developing sub-Saharan nations, travelers must take certain safety and health precautions. If you’re planning a safari (or just dreaming about it), be as prepared as possible. Get some good guidebooks, talk to friends who’ve been to Africa and research, research, research. We’ve outlined some important African safari tips, from choosing a destination to getting vaccinated, to help you start planning a successful adventure.

Types of Safaris

For the most part, safaris are a costly kind of vacation. But as with any other type of travel, you can tailor your safari to suit your personal budget. The length of your safari will affect its cost—although you may want to cut your trip short to save cash, the longer you stay, the less you will probably pay on a per-night basis. If you’re looking for luxury digs (think private butler or plunge pool) on your safari (or even just hot water and a comfy bed), prepare to pay more. Budget-minded adventurers should seek self-drive or overland safaris (see below) as opposed to all-inclusive package tours—but be prepared to camp in tents or navigate a 4×4 through the African bush. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.

Also don’t be afraid to extend your vacation in Africa to include an island vacation in Zanzibar, a chance to see the thundering Victoria Falls, or discover ancient history in Egypt—many tour operators will offer extension programs to their safari offerings.

Luxury Safaris

A luxury safari offered by a well-known tour operator typically costs thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars per person, per week, with all-inclusive prices covering tours, food, drinks, and excursions. Fully catered luxury packages offer travelers the comforts of home in the wilderness. Accommodations range from air-conditioned suites to stylish tents (you’ll feel almost like you’re camping—aside from the hot running water, rich linens, and first-rate service). Ultra-luxurious safari lodges can cost more than $1,000 a night.

Belmond Safaris offers luxury safaris packages in Botswana. Orient-Express offers three safari camps, each with its own distinct character: Khwai River Lodge, Eagle Island Camp, and Savute Elephant Camp.

Book a tour with Abercrombie and Kent if you’re looking for a wider range of destinations, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, and more. This company has been operating upscale African safari tours since 1962.

African Travel, Inc. works in 17 destinations in Africa, the majority of which you can find the Big Five, as well as endangered species. For an affordable luxury safari trip, look towards Lion World Travel; at a $5,000 price point, you can enjoy luxurious lodges and incredible wildlife experiences.

Overland or Mobile Safaris

Overland (also known as mobile) safaris are generally the cheapest type of organized tour safari. An overland safari will involve campsite accommodations, and you will most likely travel in a group with other travelers. Overland safaris are usually participatory—you may be expected to pitch in with chores such as cooking meals or setting up camp.

Intrepid Travel sells a number of participatory camping safaris, including the Kenya Wildlife Safari with trips to tiny Tanzanian villages, the Masai Mara National Reserve, Lake Nakuru, and more. Tours range from seven to 27 days and can include game drives in Botswana, sliding down sand dunes in Namibia, a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, among other stops. G Adventures offers similar trips, including coasting along South Africa and trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Acacia Africa is a reputable overland safari provider that offers a variety of affordable packages for different budgets and travel styles.

River Cruise Safaris

A river cruise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re considering a safari, but spotting wildlife along the river banks is an amazing sight to see. The Chobe and Zambezi Rivers in Southern Africa are teeming with wildlife and are home to the largest elephant population on the continent. There are plenty of companies that sail on these rivers, but CroisiEurope’s African Dream boat and Amawaterway’s Zambezi Queen stand out as two of the most luxurious river cruise options in Southern Africa.

Self-Drive

Are you the adventurous sort? Pick a public game park, rent a car and tour the African bush on your own. Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you need not worry about getting lost in the plains of Africa or becoming food for a hungry lion. For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can pay for a la carte for meals, tours, and accommodations, enabling you to opt for the most inexpensive lodging you can find or tour the bush on your own instead of hiring a guide.

One potential drawback of a self-drive safari is that without a knowledgeable local guide, you may miss some wildlife. To remedy this problem, read guidebooks on spotting wildlife in your destination, bring a field guide or stop and ask other travelers where they’ve seen the best game (this is easier to do in the popular public parks).

National Parks vs. Game Reserves

Whether you’re selecting a tour guide or planning the trip yourself, you’ll need to get more specific about the type of environment you want for your safari. You can’t just vaguely drive into the wild, so it’s important to know the difference between a national park and a private game reserve.

A national park is landmass protected by the government and can be quite large, like South Africa’s Kruger National Park (which is the size of Israel and has six different ecosystems). With a place like this, there’s no way you’ll be able to see it all on a short trip, so you’ll have to do your research to make sure you’ll be visiting the regions of the park that you want to see. The benefit of visiting a landmass of this size is the potential to see large herds of animals in their migration, like the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

On a private game reserve, the fenced-in land is much smaller than the national parks (though it should still be large enough for the animals to happily roam) and the population is mostly controlled by the owners. For example, the Karongwe Reserve offers 21,000 acres of land. Your game drives are included in the price of your lodging, and because the reserve works as one operation, the safari guides communicate with one another about the animals’ whereabouts, ensuring that you’ll see as many animals as possible. Private reserves also do not operate under the same rules as national parks, which means an opportunity to safari in an uncovered vehicle and even stay out past sundown.

Where to Go

Each country in Africa is different. We acknowledge that it is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started. The best and most popular areas in Africa for safaris are East and Southern Africa, which offer vast plains and roaming packs of extraordinary wildlife. We talked to specialists from Lion World Travel, African Travel, Inc., and smarTours for their recommendations and tips.

Kendra Guild, Director of Operations & Product at smarTours breaks down where to go based on what wildlife you want to see: For elephants, head to Chobe National Park in Botswana; for gorillas visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda; for lions go to Serengeti in Tanzania; for rhinos go to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and Kruger National Park in South Africa; and for rare birds, Kruger National Park has the largest and most diverse collection of birds in South Africa.

East Africa

Kenya: Kenya’s most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve (a part of the vast Greater Serengeti), where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. But beyond Masai Mara and the Serengeti lie plenty of other quality parks with abundances of wildlife, including the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, where thousands of colorful flamingos reside. You can also find the “Samburu Special Six” in northern-central Kenya which are Grevy’s zebra, the Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, the long-necked gerenuk, Guenther’s dik-dik, and the beisa oryx. Though Kenya is one of the more popular safari destinations, be sure to check State Department advisories before planning a trip to Kenya or any other developing country.

Tanzania: Like Kenya, Tanzania houses part of the Serengeti National Park—the best park in which to see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro; marine parks off the coast; and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, site of the Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge (also known as the Cradle of Mankind). The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world.

Uganda: The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country’s many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.

Rwanda: Most people safari in Rwanda for the country’s outstanding gorilla trekking as well as for the over 600 bird species. “There’s also the incredible comeback Rwanda has made after the genocide 25 years ago—that in itself, is reason to visit,” says Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, Inc.

Southern Africa

Botswana: Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government’s push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous “big five.” You can also visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana—look for crocodiles, buffalo, zebras, hippos and many other animals in the delta’s tangled waterways and islands.

Lucille Sive, president of Lion World Travel says her ultimate safari trip would be to Botswana, “it’s a bit rawer than South Africa or Kenya and Tanzania. Special experiences there include gliding along in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta, or hanging out with meerkats at Jack’s Camp, or staying at the ultra-luxurious Xigera Lodge. Probably the ultimate ‘second safari’ trip for anyone who has already been to Africa!”

Namibia: Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers—expect less upscale game parks—and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert. You’ll find more than 100 species of mammals in Etosha National Park, including endangered animals like the black rhinoceros, as well as the largest cheetah population on the continent. Desert elephants and zebra roam the arid landscapes of Skeleton Coast National Park in Nambia—the driest place in Africa.

South Africa: This is a particularly popular destination for safari travelers, so you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure—as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season. Sive recommends South Africa as an ideal family destination since the game drives are shorter and there are malaria-free lodges and game parks. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world. Go to a private game lodge if you want a less-traveled safari, but prepare to pay—these pricey digs can run well over $500 per night. Other parks outside of Kruger include Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve and the Shamwari Private Game Reserve (located in the Eastern Cape).

When to Go

Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. Overall, it’s best (but most expensive) to travel in the dry season, which corresponds with the region’s winter. Since safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons run opposite of North America. Winter is from June to September, and summer is from December to March. You’ll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya. Annual patterns of animal migration often vary, so it’s a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.

Some insider tips from Sive: “If you love baby animals and don’t mind hot weather—go to Cape Town, South Africa from December to February. But if you don’t mind the rain—go to Kruger National Park to experience its lush, wet season—balmy but perfect conditions for spotting migratory birds and newborn wildlife. Africa’s winter (June through August) brings just the opposite for both places.” And for those looking to go on a safari on a budget, Guild recommends traveling during the shoulder or low season, which for South Africa is in May and October. 

If you’re a bird-lover, it will be best to visit during wet-season (December to March), which is when birds make their nests and are more likely to be seen at home.

But if nothing could make you happier than seeing the adorable babies of the animals you’ve traveled so far to see, it’s best to time your trip accordingly. Most babies are born in November, so peak baby-watching season is December to February.

Also, ask about the “green season” for good value when you’re safari planning. This varies by each reason but “for East Africa, it’s the low season and a great time to avoid the crowds and the value of the dollar is higher so overall you can stay longer,” advises Banda. “Also, not all the animals are migratory so you will see wildlife and spend more time with your guide viewing animals. While there can be rain, it is scattered and that is why you work with a safari outfitter like us to tailor other experiences like high tea or spa treatments.” African Travel, Inc. even waives solo traveler supplements during the low season on certain trips, like this journey to Botswana and Zambia.

Visas and Vaccines

Of course, you’ll need a passport to travel to Africa. But for some other countries, like Kenya or Tanzania, you will need a visa too. Visit the State Department website for more information on visa requirements. Apply for a visa at least two months before your departure date.

Find a doctor who specializes in travel health care and tell him or her about your African travel plans, or visit a travel clinic. You’ll need to get certain immunizations before heading to Africa. Malaria is common there, but there is no vaccine for the disease. You can protect yourself from malaria by taking an anti-malaria treatment or avoiding mosquitoes; use a mosquito-repellent spray and mosquito nets. You will need a yellow fever vaccination for travel to East and Southern Africa. Other vaccinations you may need include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid. Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for destination-specific health information. Keep in mind that many vaccinations take several weeks to provide full protection, so don’t put off your shots until the last minute.

Staying Safe on Safari

You may imagine that hungry crocodiles or packs of ravenous lions are the biggest dangers of a safari. The truth is that humans rarely get attacked by wild animals (just watch out for baboons if you have open food), but they routinely fall victim to safari scams, dehydration, illness, or crime while traveling to Africa.

Safari Scams

When selecting a package, beware of safari scams. Research your prospective safari package provider; ask them for references and if they belong to professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents or the United States Tour Operator Association. Also, look for user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) before you book. And keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true (like a $50-per-night safari in luxury bungalows), it’s likely a scam. Finally, always be aware of your package provider’s cancellation policy (or lack thereof).

Staying Healthy on Safari

Safaris can be physically strenuous and mentally taxing with early morning wake-ups to see active wildlife and unpredictable weather. Travelers to Africa are at risk for dehydration while on safari; your body may not be accustomed to the hot sun and dry air of the bush and you may not even realize that you’re becoming dehydrated. Drink lots of water, protect yourself from the sun, get the proper vaccines, and wear bug spray. For more on staying fit and healthy on your travels, read our guide to health care abroad.

Sive recommends a rain jacket, a safari hat with neck cover or flaps, and to wear neutral colors, like khaki, brown, or safari green, to blend in with your surroundings.

Politics and Crime

Political unrest is an unfortunate fact of life for many African nations. Crime and violence plague many cities, so be aware of your surroundings when staying in major cities on either end of your safari trip. When traveling to populated areas, familiarize yourself with local customs and take measures to keep your money and valuables safe. And always check State Department advisories before planning a trip to another country. Also, be sure to ask about the company’s emergency assistance program so you’re aware in case of any emergency situations and register with STEP.

Insurance

Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is a necessity on an African safari. (Many safari tour operators actually require customers to purchase travel insurance in order to reserve a package.) Be sure to look for emergency medical coverage and financial protection when booking your policy. For more information, read our guide to travel insurance.

What to Pack for a Safari

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Quotes have been edited for clarity. Jamie Ditaranto and Ashley Rossi also contributed to this story.

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The 8 Best Tour Companies to Trust with Your Bucket-List Trip

Far-flung, bucket-list adventures are typically the dream vacations you need a little extra help with to make them worth the journey. Whether you’re going on an African safari, hiking South American mountain ranges, sailing the Mediterranean, traversing Middle Eastern deserts, or wandering Asia’s mega-cities, a seasoned guide is perhaps the best help you can have, and the smartest way to find one is on a group tour. But not all tour companies are created equal.

The best tour companies for you will of course depend on the type of adventure you’re seeking. Does it include the stops you want on your itinerary? Is it the travel style you prefer (flights, trains, active options like hiking or biking)? And then there are considerations like budget vs. luxury tours, group vs. small group, and bonus-point factors like optional add-ons and sustainability efforts the tour company champions.

The Best Tour Companies According to Travelers

Traveler reviews are the best way to get a peek into what tours are really like. TourRadar, a group tours website for reviews and booking that lists over 40,000 multi-day tours with over 1,500 tour companies, ranks the best tour companies based on real travelers’ reviews. Based on TourRadar data, here are the current top-five best tour companies:

  1. Kiwi Vibes
  2. One Life Adventures
  3. Egypt Best Holidays
  4. Sweet as Travel
  5. Mango Vacations

These five companies are all relatively small and niche, and there are certainly larger, better-known, and equally esteemed tour operators to consider as well. To round out this list, I compared some of the top tour companies that travel experts love, and came away with a top-three collection of broader options to consider for your next bucket-list trip, no matter where it is:

The 5 Best Tour Companies According to Travelers

TourRadar’s ranking of its top five operators is based on its Tour Score, which combines ratings for accommodations, transportation, meals, guides, an overall star rating, plus “operator response rate to customer inquiries, departure dates, and availability.” TourRadar also tells me that: “As an aggregator, TourRadar does not take payment to get tours listed further up in our search engine. The search ranking is solely based on organic traffic and individual tour score. This means smaller and often lesser known tour operators compete on the same playing field as larger ones for visibility.”

With that in mind, here are the best tour companies according to TourRadar among both big and small tour operators, and what stood out about their ratings.

Kiwi Vibes

Kiwi Vibes tour company 4 people in ocean waving

At number one, Kiwi Vibes is a New Zealand-only tour operator that has a Tour Score of 91 out of 100 thanks to its high ratings across the board: Accommodation, transportation, meals, and guides all got five-star ratings. Its average star rating is 4.9 out of five, and 95 percent of reviews are five-star ratings.

TourRadar notes that Kiwi Vibes’ New Zealand Tour was named its New Zealand Tour of the Year for 2019. (You can see every Tour of the Year organized by country here.)

One Life Adventures

One Life Adventures group tour posing for photos in front of building

In second place, One Life Adventures provides multi-day trips to destinations in Asia. It has a Tour Score of 84 out of 100 for high marks in accommodation and meals, with transportation getting a perfect score (likely thanks to the company’s use of high-speed trains). Its average star rating is 4.8, with 92 percent of reviews being five-star ratings. One Life Adventures’ 10-day Japan tour was TourRadar’s number one overall tour of 2019.

Egypt Best Holidays

Egypt Best Holidays tour guides posing for photo in front of pyramids

If you’re looking for a top-tier tour company in Egypt, which can be difficult to navigate as a tourist, Egypt Best Holidays has a Tour Score of 83 and snagged TourRadar’s number three spot thanks to 4.5 (out of five) ratings across the board, plus an average review score of 4.5—with 95 percent of reviews being five-star ratings. TourRadar notes that Egypt Best Holidays “has four tours listed on TourRadar that have a perfect average review rating of 5 [out of 5].”

Sweet as Travel

Sweet as Travel hikers walking down path at cape reinga

Another New Zealand-only tour company, Sweet as Travel has a tour score of 82 and 4.5 (out of five) ratings or better across the board; 91 percent of its reviews are five-star ratings. TourRadar notes that all of the company’s listed tours are instantly bookable, so you can confidently choose a trip with no back and forth about availability.

Mango Vacations

Mango Vacations tour group explores outdoors

A Sri Lanka tour operator rounding out TourRadar’s top five tour companies, Mango Vacations has a Tour Score of 81 thanks to 82 percent of its reviews being five-star; ratings are all 4.5 (out of five) or better across the board. TourRadar notes that two of Mango Vacations’ tour options are rated five-out-of-five: its 10-day Sri Lanka Nature, Culture, and Wild tour; and its 10-day Sri Lanka Cultural Adventure tour.

The 3 Best Tour Companies According to Experts

With those destination-specific winners in mind, there are also plenty of broader, worldwide tour operators (that keep group sizes small) to consider. Here are some expert-loved tour operators across the globe, what they’re rated on TourRadar, and what they’re best-known for.

Best for Affordable Sustainability: Intrepid Travel

Hikers on Choquequirao trek in Peru

With 7,640 traveler reviews on TourRadar (and many more on its own site) and a 4.6 overall star rating, Australia- and Canada-based Intrepid Travel is a favorite among seasoned world travelers for its rare commitment to both affordable options and sustainability and social efforts across the globe. Intrepid Travel has been operating since the 1980s, offers over 1,000 itineraries in more than 100 countries, and is a certified B Corporation, meaning it balances profits with environmental and community investments. Its guides are always locals who will get you off the beaten path, and trip styles range from super-affordable “Basix” trips to higher-end “Comfort” options, so there’s something for everyone. Plus, there are active cycling, hiking, and multi-sport itineraries. Perhaps the biggest perk: Intrepid Travel groups have an average size of 10 people (and typically a maximum limit of about 15), making it the largest “small group adventure” tour operator in the world.

Best for Adventure: Exodus

tourist pausing at Petra

With a whopping 13,000 reviews on TourRadar and a 4.4-star rating, Exodus is a veteran adventure tour provider that’s been operating since the 1970s, and offers tours in over 100 countries across the globe. It was voted the Best Small/Medium Tour Operator in National Geographic Traveller’s Reader Awards in 2019, and bills itself as “the original active adventure company.” It also focuses on responsible travel initiatives and has active offerings like cycling tours. Group sizes are also small, and typically range from eight to 16 with a limit of 20 people.

Best for Value: G Adventures

Costa Rica tour G Adventures group throwing coffee with CEO

With 6,198 reviews on TourRadar, G Adventures has a 4.6-star rating and a reputation for bucket-list trips with a lot of value. With its aim to keep costs down, its multi-city itineraries, and the fact that half of travelers are typically joining the group solo, G Adventures has long focused (it’s been operating since 1990) on both education about sustainability and uniting like-minded travelers. Group sizes are typically around 10 people and max out at 15, similar to Intrepid Travel.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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10 Best Places to Go in Florida

The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.

The Best Places to Go in Florida

From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.

Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

Disney Magic Kingdom

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.

Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:

Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.

With multiday passes, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket’s flexibility: Admission to Magic KingdomEpcotDisney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is included.

For some Florida visitors, it’s not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass. You can also combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an additional fee.

Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.

With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.

South Beach, Miami, Florida

lincoln road miami beach.

Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.

Actually the southernmost tip of Miami Beach, South Beach is one of the best places to go in Miami Beach and home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City BalletNew World SymphonyHolocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you’d be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach’s world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach’s celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.

Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).

Everglades National Park, Florida

everglades national park

A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.

Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.

Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.

Fort Lauderdale

canals with large boats in florida

Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.

But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.

Key West, Florida Keys, Florida

Key West Florida street.

The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.

While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.

Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
(Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.

Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.

You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”

With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island

The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”

Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.

While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.

You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National MonumentCastillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)

St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
(Photo: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida via Shutterstock)

For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.

Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.

All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.

Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island, Florida

Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.

Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.

Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 1, 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the top attractions and best places to go in Florida. 

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The Tuscany Tradition You Don't Want to Miss

Anghiari, in the far east of Tuscany, is in many ways a traditional Tuscan hilltop town. It’s beautiful but not particularly intent on commercializing that beauty, it’s more local than tourist most of the time, and each year Anghiari puts on an annual series of community events.

Late every summer, Anghiari welcomes its theatrical tradition of Tovaglia a Quadri. Tovaglia means tablecloth and quadri means square, so literally the term means checkered tablecloth. But quadri also means stage, a double meaning that really delivers here.

The play is not in a theater—though the town has a beautifully restored one—but in a tiny piazza surrounded by 800-year-old buildings. The piazza is filled with tables covered in checkered tablecloths, at which theatergoers, during the play, eat a four-course meal that often includes the town’s signature pasta dish—a thick spaghetti called bringoli.

The apartment buildings, garages, and shops that surround the square are all part of the action. Actors hang out of windows, gossip in doorways, and shout declarations from balconies.

In Anghiari, Tovaglia a Quadri is a big deal. Would-be theatergoers line up early in the morning weeks in advance for tickets, and getting one is an adventure all its own. Performances run in the evenings for just two weeks each year, and to get a ticket, people wait hours for the chance to hunch over seating charts and negotiate with event organizers for an ideal vantage point.

The 2019 play featured shepherds, migration, and crumbling bridges (a concern of many in this part of Italy after a 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa). In years past, the play has taken on topics like the refugee crisis and the Amazonification of the world. Each year for the last quarter century, the play is written—by the team of Andrea Merendelli and Paolo Pennacchini—just a few months before it’s performed, so it has that right-here-right-now feeling. 

In scope, Tovaglia a Quadri always draws on a mix of local, national, and global issues, and is performed in a seamless blend of Italian, the local dialect, and—helpfully for people who don’t understand much Italian—a lot of easy-to-interpret physical theater.

Tovaglia a Quadri delivers a lively mix of heart, politics, singing … and Italian grandmas. Pro tip: Get the scoop on the plot in advance, and if you don’t speak Italian, sit next to someone who can keep you in the loop.

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10 Best Places to Go in New Zealand


For many travelers, New Zealand is both a dream destination and a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. If you’re planning your first trip to New Zealand, or if you’re planning a return trip to see more of this beautiful and wild country, you may want to know which places in New Zealand are at the top of the must-see list. Here are our picks for the 10 best places to go in New Zealand.

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Bay of Islands

Bay of islands new zealand

The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to go in New Zealand for fishing, sailing, and other watersports. The Bay of Islands is about three hours by car from Auckland. This gorgeous region is made up of 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula.

What’s there to do in the Bay of Islands? Get on or in the water! Try scuba diving with Paihia Dive‘s intro-to-diving course. You will be ferried far out into the bay to explore a whole new underwater world.

[st_content_ad]Or get up close and personal with the marine life in the Bay of Islands on a Fullers GreatSights Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise. On a good day, you’ll see both whales and dolphins on this cruise.

The cruise will take you to one of the Bay of Islands’ most famous sights, the Hole in the Rock. You can sail through this unique opening in a rock formation when the tide is right.

Where to stay: Spend a night at the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which has the distinction of holding the oldest pub license in New Zealand and is located on a peninsula that sticks straight out into the middle of the bay.

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Fiordland

Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the “eighth wonder of the world,” and if you visit this region of New Zealand, you’ll see why. Formed by glaciers during the Ice Age, the landscape around Milford Sound still bears evidence of its creation in the form of epic scenery: Cliffs rise from fjords crowned by mountains and waterfalls.

The best way to see Milford Sound is via boat. Take a sightseeing cruise on the fjord to see waterfalls and wildlife such as dolphins and penguins. Or navigate the waters under your own steam on a kayaking tour.

Once you’ve experienced the water from the surface, go underneath with a visit to the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. This is the only floating, underwater observatory in New Zealand, and visitors can go more than 30 feet deep (while staying dry) and get 360 degrees of the underwater environment.

Where to stay: There are not a lot of places to stay close to the Sound, but if you’d rather not drive the three and a half hours from Queenstown, consider The Milford Sound Lodge. The lodge offers several packages for hiking and boat tours, and there really is no beating this spot in terms of access to the Sound.

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Auckland, New Zealand

As both the largest city in New Zealand and its international air travel hub, Auckland is one of the best places to go in New Zealand. Many international flights arrive in New Zealand through Auckland Airport, which makes it an ideal city from which to start your exploration of New Zealand.

Spend at least a day or two in Auckland to get over your long flight and explore the vibrant metropolis before venturing farther afield in New Zealand. Here are our suggestions for what to see and do in Auckland:

  • Get some culture by visiting one of the many museums in Auckland, such as the Auckland Art Gallery. This is the largest art institution in New Zealand, featuring more than 15,000 works of historic, modern, and contemporary art.
  • If the weather is nice, take a stroll through the 185-acre Auckland Domain park. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, include a stop at the nearby Parnell Farmers’ Market, which sells fresh produce in the morning.
  • Auckland is also home to a host of multicultural bars and restaurants serving up all types of cuisine, so be sure to dine in downtown Auckland (and go out for a cocktail or two to check out the nightlife).
  • If you’re looking for adventure activities in Auckland, consider the Auckland Bridge Climb. And if you’re really brave, try the Auckland Bridge bungee jump.
  • If you’re looking for guided trips in Auckland, book an Auckland City Tour or an America’s Cup sailing experience on Waitemata Harbour.

Where to stay: No matter where you stay in Auckland, you will be close to something interesting. Try the accommodations at CityLife Auckland, which is within walking distance of several Auckland highlights like the harbor, both North and Princes Wharf, and the SkyTower.

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Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Just a little more than 30 minutes by boat from downtown Auckland is Waiheke Island, one of the best places to go in New Zealand for wine lovers. For a small island in the middle of Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island sure is home to a lot of vineyards. To sample as many of them as you can on your visit to Waiheke Island, you’ll want to find someone else to drive. Our pick is Waiheke Island Wine Tours, whose expert local guides will shuttle you around to three vineyards to sample 14 different wines.

All that wine from the vineyards of Waiheke Island will make you hungry. When it’s time to eat, book your lunch or dinner at the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant, a gorgeous eatery with sprawling views of the vineyard and the sea. For a really special meal, book the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant’s tasting menu, a seven-course event with wine pairings.

Of course, there’s more to do on Waiheke Island than just drink wine! Waiheke Island is also famous for its vibrant art community, beaches, forests, and olive groves. We recommend booking a culture tour, scenic flight, or hiking trip while you’re there to really see why Waiheke Island is one of the best places to go in New Zealand.

Where to stay: It’s definitely worth staying overnight on Waiheke Island, too. Choose the Delamore Lodge, one of the best-reviewed Waiheke Island hotels on Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company). The hotel also offers some great packages featuring everything from wine and food to spa treatments for couples.

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Aerial view of the christchurch gondola and lyttelton port from hills in new zealand

Despite being rocked by four large earthquakes between September 2010 and December 2011, Christchurch has made a true comeback. Visitors to Christchurch will see evidence of the city’s rebirth everywhere, including new buildings made out of old shipping containers and other unique materials like the Cardboard Cathedral.

Of course, many of Christchurch’s original attractions are still standing. One of the best places to visit is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a sprawling network of conservatories, walking tracks, and horticultural displays. The gardens also feature some of the largest, tallest, and oldest trees in New Zealand.

Take in the new and the old of Christchurch from above with a journey on the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car lifts you on a scenic ride to the top of Mt. Cavendish.

Where to stay: Pick Heritage Christchurch for its central location and status as a World Luxury Hotel. It might cost a little extra, but it will be worth it.

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown from the skyline luge at sunrise

Located on the southwest side of the South Island, Queenstown has a well-deserved reputation as the adventure capital of New Zealand. During the winter and spring months (June to October), Queenstown is known for world-class skiing. Of course, there’s plenty to do in Queenstown year-round. Adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and river rafting will let you experience the region from dizzying heights and at breathtaking speeds.

Queenstown is also home to the world’s highest cliff jump, the Shotover Canyon Swing, where you can hurl yourself off a cliff in a number of different ways—including backward or tied to a chair.

If you haven’t lost your appetite (or your lunch) on these adrenaline-pumping activities, enjoy the dining scene in Queenstown—it’s one of the best in New Zealand. As locals and tour guides alike will tell you, one of the best places to eat in Queenstown is Fergburger, which CNN says “may be the best burger joint on the planet.”

Where to stay: Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel is located on the edge of town, giving easy access to the restaurants and other shops but also letting you sleep in relative peace away from the hub of activity.

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Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, New Zealand

Whakarewarewa geyser at te pui thermal park in geothermal valley of rotorua

No list of the best places to go in New Zealand would be complete without mentioning Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. At this Maori heritage center, you can get an authentic “steambox” meal prepared using ancient geothermal cooking techniques. You’ll also experience a Maori welcome ceremony and traditional song and dance performance.

The Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is also home to a number of active geysers, including Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Mud pools are another natural attraction in the geothermal valley: These boiling pools reach temperatures of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where to stay: The Aura Accommodation in nearby Rotorua is located on the coast of Lake Rotorua. The entire facility is powered by geothermal heat to give you a better appreciation for the valley.

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Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Waitomo glowworm caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, naturally illuminated by thousands of glowworms, are among the most unique places to go in New Zealand—and a visit to the caves is one experience you’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate anywhere else. You can take a boat ride through the caves to learn about the history and science behind the phenomenon.

Or, if you really want a unique adventure, try black-water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, which will float you on an inner tube down a subterranean stream. It will be pitch-dark (except for the glowworms), and you’ll get to do everything from jumping off waterfalls to rappelling down cave walls. Choose your own adventure when you book the tour.

There are other (non-glowworm) caves in Waitomo, too. Aranui Cave features ancient cave decorations; Ruakuri Cave has an awesome spiral entrance and unique limestone formations—and, okay, more glowworms, but in this cave, you can do a walking tour rather than a water-based excursion.

Where to stay: The Waitomo Caves Hotel is minutes from the famous glowworm caves. It offers a spa as well as cave tour reservations through its website.

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz josef glacier

You can hike an actual glacier in New Zealand. The Franz Josef Glacier plays host to both guided walks and jaw-dropping helicopter tours. Tours offer everything from ice climbing to a more relaxed hike on the 6.8-mile-long glacier.

Won’t you be freezing on top of a giant glacier? Nope! The Franz Josef Glacier receives a lot of sunlight, and temperatures on the ice are usually only a few degrees colder than in the nearby town.

Cap off a day touring the Franz Josef Glacier with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools. The pools are fed by the waters from the Franz Josef Glacier, and you can use one of the three warm pools or get a private pool.

Where to stay: Franz Josef is a small enough town that precise location won’t make too much of a difference (you’ll be close to everything no matter where you are). Consider the Aspen Court Franz Josef, which has received some of the best ratings in the area.

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Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

mount cook new zealand.

See New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking here, no matter what your skill level. For experienced climbers, there are 23 peaks over 9,800 feet. For those looking for something a little more low-key, there are lots of walks along paved trails or boardwalks that still offer spectacular views.

Make sure you stay past sunset for a visit to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, where light pollution is strictly controlled for amazing stargazing opportunities.

Where to stay: Located inside the national park, The Hermitage Hotel will put you close to everything you want to see and do. Splurge on a room with a view of Mt. Cook—it’s worth it.

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What to Pack on Your Trip

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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10 Best Things to Do in Aruba

The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.

The Best Things to Do in Aruba

Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.

Visit Arikok National Park

boca prins aruba.

Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.

Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.

Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.

Explore Caves

guadirikiri cave aruba.

At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.

Discover San Nicolas

baby beach aruba.

Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.

The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.

Go Snorkeling

sea turtle and snorkeler in aruba.

The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.

The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.

Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.

Celebrate Carnival

carnival performers in aruba.

Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.

Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.

Taste Aruban Flavors

mahi mahi meal in aruba.

The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.

For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.

Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.

Learn About Aruban History

fort zouman aruba.

Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.

Go Sailing

tranquilo tours sailboat aruba.

Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.

Hit the Beach

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.

Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.

Buy Local Goods

shopping in oranjestad aruba.

A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.

Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on Aruba.com.