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
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes, or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Solo travel gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.
Of course, traveling alone has its perils too—such as safety concerns, loneliness, and the dreaded single supplement. But a little preparation and common sense can save you money and get you through the rough spots.
Solo travel can be the ultimate in self-indulgence; you can rest when you want and pour it on when you’re feeling ambitious. Another benefit is that your mistakes are your own, and your triumphs all the more exciting. There’s no worrying that your insistence on trekking all the way across town to a museum that was closed ruined your partner’s day; it’s your own day to salvage or chalk up to a learning experience.
Also, you can do exactly what you want to do—all the time. Always wanted to try surfing? Sign up for a class and go for it; there’s no one sitting on the beach feeling bored while you have the time of your life. Have no desire to see Niagara Falls? Just drive right by. For more benefits of solo travel, see 11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once.
How to Travel Alone Safely
It’s perhaps the foremost question of the solo or single traveler: “Is solo travel safe?” Without a companion to watch your back, you are more vulnerable to criminals and scam artists, as well as simple health worries. But the saying “safety in numbers” isn’t always true—a solo traveler can blend in more easily than a group, and not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist is one way to stay secure.
Here are a few safety tips for traveling alone:
Do your homework before you arrive. Know how long it takes and how much it costs to get from the airport to your hotel or to the city center. Solo travelers are more likely to be “taken for a ride,” so ask the taxi driver for an estimated fare before you leave. If it’s considerably different from what you know to be true, take a different cab (or opt for a rideshare instead).
Choose the right accommodations. Book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk if you’ll be arriving late, so you don’t end up sleeping in your car or worse.
Trust yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Carry good identification—in more than one place. If you choose to wear a money belt, use it for storage and not as a purse. Constantly reaching under your shirt for money draws attention to it and defeats the purpose. Instead, keep your passport, extra stores of money, and other important documents tucked away, and use a theft-resistant bag or purse for carrying daily spending money.
Stick to open and public places, especially at night.
Exude confidence. Whether you’re on a street at home or 7,000 miles away, walking confidently and with direction is an effective technique for deterring unwanted attention, since appearing lost or confused can make you vulnerable. If you are lost, walk into a shop or restaurant and ask for directions there.
Avoid appearing like a tourist. Ditch the Disney T-shirt and don’t walk around with your face in a guidebook. (See 10 Things Not to Wear Abroad for more thoughts on this one.)
Leave valuables at home. Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy clothes or jewelry.
Lie a little. When asking for directions, don’t let on that you are alone: “Can you direct me to the museum? I have to meet a friend.”
Check your maps and transportation schedules before leaving your hotel/train/rental car/tourist office. A solo traveler who’s too absorbed in her phone can be a mark for unsavory types.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member at home, and stay in touch regularly via phone, text, video chat, or email.
Register with the State Department. For U.S. citizens traveling internationally, consider signing up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which could help the State Department assist you in case of emergency. If you’re from outside the States, see if your home country has a similar program.
Arrive during the day. Areas around bus and train stations can be scary and/or deserted, and small towns tend to shut down early. Veteran solo traveler Mara Rothman of San Francisco notes that plenty of beautiful towns can appear eerie at night, and locals who are genuinely trying to help you can appear unnecessarily threatening. Arriving during the day means you’ll be able to find a place to stay and get your bearings before dark.
Trust everyone and no one. One of the best reasons to travel alone is to meet new people, but this also makes you more vulnerable. It’s okay to hang out, travel, and share with new friends, but you might not want to ask them to hold your money. Scam artists can often be the most charming companions you’ll find; you want to be open-minded, but keep your guard up enough to ensure your safety.
Though some tips apply to just about every solo traveler, women traveling alone have their own set of safety concerns that most men don’t have to face. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself.
Exercise hotel safety. At check-in, consider asking for a room near the elevator so you won’t need to walk down long, potentially ill-lit hallways to reach your room. When filling out guest registration forms, consider using your first initial instead of your name, and skip the “Mrs./Miss/Mr.” check box. Additionally, make sure the clerk writes down your room number instead of saying it out loud. This will prevent anyone in the vicinity from knowing where to find you later. Consider packing a door stop to wedge under the door in case the lock is unreliable.
Dress to blend in. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, dress as conservatively as the women you see around you. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning the traditional dress, but a good rule of thumb is to dress modestly. Think knee-length or longer skirts. Bare arms, shoulders, and legs are considered risqué in some countries, so do the research before you go and once you’re there. Note which body parts the local women cover and do the same.
Know when to buddy up. Seeking out company can help you have a safer and more enjoyable experience. Smaller hotels and hostels are great places to find like-minded travelers to explore new places with. And even when you can’t find someone to buddy up with, there are often ways to associate yourself with others so you’ll be less likely to be bothered. In some countries, there are women-only sections in trains and women’s waiting rooms at train stations. Sticking close to families on public transportation and in unfamiliar public markets is another technique some women use.
Combat harassment. Having a repertoire of harassment deterrents can be as important to women travelers as a sturdy pair of shoes and a passport. Not engaging with people who are bothering you can make you a less interesting target. If you want to avoid being approached during lulls in activity, such as while waiting for a train, carry a novel or keep your eyes on your phone to make yourself look busy and involved.
If a situation of harassment escalates, making a scene can sometimes be effective. Many societies place a high premium on respecting social norms, so drawing attention to harassment in a loud and clear manner may solve the problem. The sentence for “leave me alone” is a handy one to learn in the language of your destination.
Avoiding the Single Supplement
Frequent solo travelers are all too familiar with the single supplement, which tour operators and cruise lines often tack onto your bill to make up for the fact that they’re not making money off a second occupant. The supplement can range anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of the trip cost, meaning that you could end up paying twice as much as someone traveling with a partner.
There are several ways to get around the single supplement. You can avoid it altogether by booking with a tour operator that doesn’t charge single supplements on most trips, such as Overseas Adventure Travel.
Many other tour operators, including G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Exodus Travels, REI Adventures, Adventure Women, and Road Scholar, offer roommate matching. By finding you a roommate, the company maximizes its own profit off each room and saves you the single supplement. The catch is, of course, that you’ll have to share a room with a stranger. If you’re concerned, contact the tour operator and see what kind of procedures it uses to match roommates. Some pair people off at random, while others will try to put travelers of similar ages together.
You can sometimes save money by booking at the last minute. Tour operators eager to sell out their last few places may be willing to reduce their usual single supplement. Insight Vacations and Road Scholar are two companies that regularly discount or waive single supplements.
It’s not for everyone, but you may also want to consider staying in a hostel, which charges per bed rather than per room. Hostelling International properties tend to be reliably clean and secure, and they’re open to travelers of all ages. You can find more hostels and read reviews at HostelWorld.com.
Tips for Solo Dining
Eating alone isn’t so bad. Many solo travelers (and frequent business travelers) hate dining by themselves, worried that they appear like some worn-out Willy Loman of the road. There’s even a name for it: solomangarephobia. (Occasionally the fear is justified—see Terror at the Table for One.) The following tips can help you overcome what for many travelers is the most unpleasant aspect of going it alone.
Chat with the service people. Waiters and waitresses are some of the best local color you’ll find.
Choose the right eatery. Cafe or outdoor dining is often attractive to single travelers; sitting alone with a book in a cafe isn’t as unusual as a table for one at a fancy restaurant. You can also opt for a counter seat or a seat at the bar. A restaurant booth can also provide some privacy.
Bring reading material. If you start to feel uneasy sitting alone and staring down at your food, you can crack open a book, whip out your phone, or read a magazine.
Eat in. If you don’t want to endure yet another public meal alone, use room service or order carry-out from a restaurant nearby.
Eat well. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for sit-down meals, a leisurely cup of coffee, or a decadent dessert.
When You’ve Had Enough of Single Travel
The constant sensory input and vigilance of traveling alone can wear you down. If you feel your attention or your body flagging, don’t be afraid to back off your ambitious itinerary, slow the pace, and kick back for a bit.
When traveling abroad, seek out an expat bar—locals will often know where these are—where you can hang out and speak your native tongue with some fellow expatriates and travelers. When traveling in more familiar locales, a hot shower and a night in front of the tube in a nice hotel room can often give you enough of a reprieve to send you out eagerly the next morning.
The Best Solo Travel Websites
Best Single Travel offers vacations, cruises, and weekend getaways for solo travelers of all ages.
Flash Pack leads small-group trips of single travelers in their 30s and 40s.
GAFFL, which stands for “Get a Friend for Life,” lets you find travel buddies to meet up with in your destination.
Intrepid Travel has dedicated solo trips as well as a roommate-matching program on the rest of its offerings, so you never have to pay a solo supplement if you don’t want to.
One Traveller is a U.K.-based company leading trips for the “mature single traveller” (aged 50+) to destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Singles Travel International offers trips for solo travelers with an average age of 48 through 65. If the company can’t find you a roommate by the time you make your final payment, you can have a room to yourself for free.
Solos is a U.K.-based company offering a wide variety of solo-only trips around the globe.
Solo Traveler offers tips, resources, and destination guides for solo travelers.
Women Traveling Together is for women travelers age 50+, most of them unaccompanied, who prefer to be with a group of like-minded women. The company offers tours, retreats, and other getaways, complete with roommate matching.
When you know the history behind Zegrahm Expeditions’ unusual name, you understand what makes this small-group tour company so different. After meeting out in the field while leading expedition trips, six friends decided to form their own adventure-travel company, taking the first letter from each of their first and last names’ to form the company moniker. And so, out of the spirit of adventure and a plan sketched out on a cocktail napkin, Zegrahm Expeditions was born.
Now, the company leads small-group tours on every continent, with a focus on small ship cruises, cultural journeys, and wildlife adventures.
Zegrahm Expeditions Review: Itineraries
On a Zegrahm Expeditions tour, you won’t be sent down the heavily touristed path—itineraries focus on unique destinations, and often include stops that would be too hard for a typical traveler to get to on their own. Zegrahm Expeditions doesn’t repeat itineraries, so each adventure is guaranteed to be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Locations are thoroughly scouted ahead of time, and local experts consulted to find the best secret spots to visit. The trips are built to have enough flexibility that itineraries can change daily, so groups can adapt plans to take advantage of a prime weather condition or rare animal sighting.
Zegrahm Expeditions hires knowledgeable guides with expertise in a wide variety of fields. The typical leader-to-passenger ration is 1:10, giving guests access to experts—there will always be someone nearby on a Zegrahm trip to answer any question you might have.
Depending on your destination, passionate guides in areas like ornithology, marine biology, anthropology, history, geology, and others will be traveling with you.
Having attended a Zegrahm Expeditions trip, I can attest that it’s clear the guides love their jobs—most of the guides have been working with the company for many years.
In addition to leading tours, driving zodiacs, and telling stories at meals, guides will hold fun and educational lectures throughout the trip, giving guests plenty of opportunities to learn and ask questions.
Zegrahm Expeditions Review: Food
Food offerings are plentiful and incorporate the local cuisine of the destination. Special diets, such as vegetarian, are thoughtfully accommodated, with plenty of options available.
Zegrahm Expeditions Review: Solo Travelers
Solo travelers are well-catered to, and many solo travelers choose Zegrahm Expeditions trips. The single supplement has been eliminated on some voyages.
Zegrahm Expeditions Review: Inclusions
Zegrahm Expedition trips are nearly all-inclusive. Trip costs include all gratuities (including porters, drivers, guides, crew, etc.), so you don’t have to worry about tipping while traveling. Medical expense and emergency evacuation insurance are built in. Trips also include a gift certificate to the Zegrahm’s online shop so you can buy recommended expedition gear before you go.
Trip costs also include: accommodations, activities, all meals (including beer and wine, and on some journeys, all drinks), and all entrance fees/taxes/landing/port charges and arrival/departure transfers.
Zegrahm Expeditions Review: Was it Worth the Money?
In my opinion, Zegrahm Expeditions tours are worth the money. The itineraries are unique, special, and hard to execute as an independent traveler. Group sizes are small, and the ratio of guides-to-guests is very low. The expertise of the guides adds a lot of value.
Zegrahm tours include many add-ons that other companies don’t offer (such as medical insurance and gratuities) that would otherwise add up at the end of your trip.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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 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 Monument, Castillo 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
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
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.
Don’t have anyone to travel with in 2020? That’s no reason to stay home. Solo travel is on the rise, and tour operators are expanding their offerings to meet the increasing demand. Below are the 12 best solo vacations for 2020, covering every corner of the globe. Some of these trips made the list because they’re specifically designed for solo travelers; others offer discounted single supplements or roommate matching so you don’t have to pay extra fees for traveling alone.[st_content_ad]
Note that all trips and single supplement discounts were available at the time of publication, but they could sell out at any time. If you’re interested in these solo vacations, it’s best to book early.
Explore Madeira, Portugal, on Foot
Sweeping coastal views, sleepy fishing villages, and sheltered forests await on Exodus Travels’ Walking in Madeira itinerary. The seven-night trip includes leisurely walks of up to nine miles a day along some of Madeira’s most breathtaking hiking trails. The trip ends with free time to explore Funchal, the island’s historic capital. Exodus will match you with a roommate, or you can pay a modest single supplement for your own room. Departures are available every month throughout 2020.
See Morocco from the Mountains to the Desert
Overseas Adventure Travel is one of the best tour operators for solo vacations, thanks to free single supplements on most trips. That includes one of its most popular tours, the 14-night Morocco Sahara Odyssey, which takes you through the narrow streets of ancient medinas, over the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the dramatic peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. Unique experiences include lunch in a Berber home and a couple of nights under the desert sky in a private tented camp. This trip has available departures between April and December 2020.
Explore Northern India’s Icons
See the Taj Mahal and much more on this dedicated solo trip to India from Intrepid Travel. The seven-night itinerary starts and ends in bustling Delhi, where you’ll discover the city’s oldest mosque and have free time to explore on your own. Then you’ll head to Jaipur to visit royal palaces and soar above the city in a hot air balloon before visiting the 14th-century village of Karauli and touring the magnificent Taj Mahal. Intrepid will match you with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid paying a single supplement. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.
Escape to the pristine mountains of Vermont on a wellness getaway, hiking each morning and enjoying spa treatments and fitness classes each afternoon. New Life Hiking Spa is the perfect retreat if you need a little R&R, drawing numerous solo travelers (mostly women) of all ages. Small-group hikes, communal meals, and friendly public spaces offer ample opportunity to get to know fellow travelers. New Life’s 2020 season runs from May 14 through October 5 and is held at Killington Mountain Lodge.
Discover Ireland Your Way
Not big on group tours? Consider Great Value Vacations’ Irish B&B Getaway package, which includes airfare, a rental car, and accommodations at bed and breakfasts around Ireland, allowing you to wend your way through the countryside at your own pace. Highlights include dramatic coastal roads, lively villages, and historic castles. The itinerary can be customized for six to nine nights, and you may depart any month of the year.
REI’s Experience Colombia tour showcases the breadth of the country’s landscapes, from the lush green highlands where world-class coffee is grown to the sandy beaches of the Caribbean coast. This eight-night itinerary starts in Bogota and finishes in Cartagena, with plenty of adventures along the way—like mountain biking through coffee plantations, hiking to a rare tropical glacier, and sea kayaking to a colorful coral reef. If you’d like to avoid a single supplement, REI will pair you with a same-gender roommate. This trip is available between June and December 2020.
Live Like a Local in Nepal
Get an intimate glimpse of what life is like in rural Nepal on a fascinating six-night journey with G Adventures. After a night in Kathmandu, you’ll travel to the farming village of Panauti to meet your host family. You’ll spend the next few days learning to make dumplings, tasting local wine, hiking to villages and monasteries, and even playing volleyball with the locals. G Adventures will pair solo travelers with a same-gender roommate so you don’t need to pay a single supplement. This trip is available on select dates through December 2020.
Eat Your Way Through Central Mexico
Flash Pack targets solo travelers in their 30s and 40s, matching each person up with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid single supplements. If you love good food and unique culture, give Flash Pack’s Cultural Journey into the Heart of Mexico trip a try. The eight-night itinerary features tequila tasting in Mexico City, a cooking class in Oaxaca, and lunch aboard a vibrantly colored trajinera boat in Xochimilco. You’ll also go swimming in natural thermal pools at the foot of the world’s only petrified waterfall. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.
Keep an eye out for lemurs, chameleons, boa constrictors, and numerous rare birds as you travel with Explore! through Madagascar: The Lost Continent. In addition to wildlife-watching treks through the island’s national parks, this itinerary also features a walk along a spectacular canyon, a visit to Madagascar’s oldest palace, and a stay in a local community guesthouse. Explore! will match you with a same-gender roommate if you don’t wish to pay a single supplement. This trip has departures between April and November 2020.
Go Off the Beaten Path in Nicaragua
Less visited than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua has its own magic to discover. Road Scholar puts some of the nation’s most intriguing spots on display in its seven-night Exploring Nicaragua: Colonial Towns to Countryside package, with highlights such as a visit to a rum factory (complete with tastings), a cooking workshop in Leon, a walk through a cloud forest, and an expert talk on Nicaragua’s history by a former guerilla. Road Scholar is currently offering single rooms at no added cost on this itinerary. This trip has several departures between September and December 2020.
Discover the Best of Tuscany and Umbria, Italy
There’s a reason Tuscany and neighboring Umbria are two of Italy’s most beloved regions. Discover them for yourself on Insight Vacations’ Country Roads of Umbria & Tuscany tour, an eight-night voyage to destinations such as Florence, Assisi, Siena, and San Gimignano. You’ll dine in the kitchen of a local chef in Orvieto, then learn about traditional textile weaving in Perugia and visit a family-run olive mill in Assisi. Single supplement discounts up to 90 percent are available on select departure dates between May and October 2020.
If you, like many female travelers, feel safer and more comfortable in the company of other women, consider booking a trip with Adventure Women, which offers active, women-only tours to destinations around the world. Most of the company’s clients come alone, so you’re sure to find common ground with your fellow travelers. Solo vacations for 2020 with availability at press time include a nine-night Tanzania safari, an eight-night sailing trip around Croatia, a nine-night culture-focused trip to Oman, and more. You can choose to be matched with a roommate or pay a little extra for your own room.
The story of the African-American civil rights movement runs from the kingdoms of Africa to the Jim Crow South, through the Black Panther movement, and into current-day events across the country. Each year, the history, present, and future of racial justice in the U.S. comes into focus with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and Black History Month in February.
10 Essential Civil Rights Movement Historic Sites to Visit
But these exceptional museums, monuments, and historic centers dedicated to the civil rights movement deserve the attention of travelers seeking the story of America all year long.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
In D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 with much pomp and circumstance and ticket lines that ran around the building. If you still haven’t gone, you’re in for an exceptional experience: Exhibits span five floors and explore topics ranging from pre-slavery kingdoms in Africa to Jim Crow Segregation, and beyond, to modern day issues and achievements. The museum does a great job of bridging the job of informing without overwhelming, but trying to do it all in one visit will be tough. Timed entry passes are required on some days; check online for advance tickets or take your chances on a same-day request line at the museum.
African American Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This dedicated museum predated Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture by 40 years, and was the first in the country to be dedicated solely to exploring African-American heritage. The African American Museum in Philadelphia is a fantastic visit for all ages, but does a particularly good job of communicating with the under-12 set who will engage with exhibits like the hands-on Children’s Wall, which details the lives of historic African Americans. The permanent “Audacious Freedom” display details the contributions of people of African descent in Philadelphia during the years immediately following the founding of the United States.
Gain insight into the rise and fall of segregation in Alabama with a visit to this well-appointed museum. Your self-directed exploration through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will take you through various timelines and details of the movement. When you’re done, cross the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where in September 1963, a bomb was set off killing four African-American schoolgirls who were attending Sunday School. The church still holds Sunday service each week at 11.
It’s been over 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: In 1968 the world-respected leader was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was shot. Since 1991, that former motel has housed the National Civil Rights Museum with a goal of sharing the lessons of the movement while also addressing the goals of equality and freedom around the world. Thanks to a $27.5 million investment in 2013, interactive exhibits have been added that enrich the visit.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington. D.C.
Frederick Douglas started his life as a slave; then taught himself to read, outsmarted his captors, and escaped. He used his newfound freedom to become one of the most famous abolitionists in history and gained the respect of President Abraham Lincoln. Cedar Hill, the home he lived in from 1877 until his death in 1895 is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Daily ranger-led tours offer a glimpse into the impressive man, his family life, and his work alongside five American Presidents.
The Missouri History Museum offers a glimpse into how one city has made an impact on the national story of civil rights. Here you’ll find exhibits on the story of the four precedent-setting Supreme Court civil rights cases that had their start in St. Louis, as well as artifacts collected during the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. Don’t miss the section of live exhibitions, where actors bring historic events and people to life right in front of your eyes. Admission is free.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.
This iconic family-owned fast-food spot opened in 1958 with a simple take on the chili dog. Today, Ben’s Chili Bowl’s half-smoke—a half-pork, half-beef sausage topped with onions, cheese, and the restaurant’s signature chili—is a D.C. must-eat. But beyond the food and friendly service, the Chili Bowl on U-Street—in a historically African-American area of Washington D.C.—also has a place as an important part of the American civil rights movement. It was at ground zero of the 1968 race riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, the restaurant—at the request of famous Black Panther Stokely Carmichael—stayed open despite curfews in place to feed protestors and police officers alike. Today, the walls of the shop hold photos of celebrities, public figures and local icons. And a mural on the wall outside features celebrated figures in the community. Though patriarchal namesake Ben Ali passed away in 2009, the property remains in the hands of his wife and children. And the half-smoke is still on the menu.
The African American civil rights story depended in part on allies from other races, communities, and countries. It’s a story that is diverse in class, age, and race. The Freedom Riders—groups of volunteers who drove into segregated areas in 1961 with a goal of desegregation—are a prime example of exactly that. Before venturing off, Freedom Riders often wrote wills and goodbye letters to their families. Many of them would be killed and none of them was older than 22. The Freedom Rides Museum shares the story of 21 of these young people who took on the nonviolent protests encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and sacrificed for the movement.
Civil Rights Memorial Center; Memorial to Peace & Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
While in Montgomery, don’t miss a chance to visit the Civil Rights Memorial and Civil Rights Memorial Center. The monument chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement, while the memorial plaza offers a contemplative place to remember those killed during this turbulent period of American history. And nearby, the massive new Memorial to Peace & Justice from the Equal Justice Initiative aims to remember the thousands of African American men, women, and children who were lynched in America.
The southern and eastern states get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to Civil Rights, but California played a role too. Famous Black Panther members Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the party in Oakland. You can still tour the neighborhood where things began, and alongside a former Black Panther thanks to the Oakland Museum of California’songoing exhibition series about the group. More exhibitions and dates can be found here.
Editor’s note:This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
Guess who’s coming on your family vacation? Grandma, Grandpa … and your new nephew, too. The family trip has evolved—multigenerational travel includes a whole cast of extended family members.
Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travel
But with needs and interests that include every life stage, multigen travelers looking for the perfect family vacation face a particular challenge. Multigenerational travel groups tend to need larger and connected rooms, more opportunities to be together in large groups, and activities and entertainment that keeps everyone happy. And quite simply, not every vacation is up to the challenge.
But some are designed around these very concepts, and deliver memorable fun that keeps everyone engaged and happy all vacation long. Here are 10 inspiring ideas for your next multigenerational travel adventure.
For: Round-the-clock activity seekers who aren’t afraid to split up until mealtime.
What to expect: The all-in-one-place entertainment factor coupled with the opportunity to explore port cities makes cruising a great multigenerational travel choice. Budgets are respected (everyone can choose the room and meal plan that works best for them) and larger ships offer options that range from champagne bars to late-night kids’ clubs. Everyone sets their own pace, making it a great option for balancing personalities and energy levels.
One to Try:Disney Cruise Lines, like the parks, promises fun for all ages. Families will find options they can enjoy together onboard, including first-run movies and interactive restaurants.
For: Wild West lovers who want horse encounters, outdoor fun, and campfire singalongs.
What to expect. Everyone bonds when you’re wearing cowboy hats. This is the trip for families that like structure and plenty of activities. Ranch styles range from early-rise/help the cowboy options to more leisurely camp-like stays. Know your intensity tolerance before you book.
Where to try it: At Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, just outside Sandpoint, Idaho, kids can spend a week with their horse in a kids’ horse camp, then meet back up with parents or grandparents for meals and quieter activities. At the Red Horse Mountain Ranch near Coeur de Alene, Idaho, days include beautiful mountain trail rides as well as mountain biking, yoga, archery and more.
For: Multigenerational adventure seekers keen on thrilling and culturally engaging activities around the world.
What to expect: Adventure is the middle name (literally at times- think G Adventures or Thomson Family Adventures) of the companies who run these tours—and they live up to their names. Trips are full of opportunities to run, jump, question, and learn. However, if you’re traveling with folks who have limited mobility or hate the idea of a schedule, this one won’t be a fit. Days are packed with new exploits, and evenings leave time for laid-back fun.
Where to try it: Consider building the family bond on a Row Adventures Family Magic Rafting trip. Trips include a Travel Jester (like a camp counselor) to keep kids entertained in between excursions. Or try Intrepid Travel’s Family tours, which include opportunities to explore Asia, Africa, Europe, and more
For: Beach lovers whose perfect vacation includes food, frolic, and fun … without necessarily straying far from the room.
What to expect: Relaxed days and easy living. All-Inclusive resorts were among the first to embrace multigenerational travelers. Pick your destination and pay attention to your included options to make sure every member of your clan has something to look forward to.
Where to try it:Club Med. Connecting rooms are standard and can be reserved at the time of booking; some locations (especially in the Caribbean) offer suites for additional living space. Everyone is catered to: Its “baby club” takes infants as young as four months, and older kids will find age-appropriate sports and creative activities. Adult lessons like tennis, archery, and trapeze run on parallel tracks to kids’, so once activities are over, you can all get back together to enjoy quality time together.
For: The family who dreams of hike-filled days and star-filled nights.
What to expect: Head to a national park with the extended family for stunning vistas, starlit nights, and days filled with hiking and biking. The parks offer plenty of activities (ranger-led and independent; at a cost and free) which means options abound for family time, both together and apart. Send grandma off to learn about the local wildlife with her mini-me, while granddad teaches your daughter how to skip stones. Memories are easy to make here. Older bones may be less keen on the tent camping experience. Consider pop up trailers, RVs, or cabin rentals to keep everyone in your multigenerational group comfortable.
Where to try it: Any of the National Parks will be worth exploring, but if you’ve got the time, plan an epic road trip to Utah’s Mighty Five. Also, consider buying an annual pass for the National Park System. An $80 annual fee covers access to all parks that charge ‘per vehicle’, which greatly reduces the cost of entrance fees throughout the year if you visit multiple parks in the year.
For: Plant the seed of common interest between the generations by taking the learning out of the books and into the world.
What to expect: Historical getaways don’t have to be ho-hum. If you’ve got family members with an interest, or school kids who are studying American history, why not tie that into a trip they’ll all remember?
Where to try it: Introduce the kids to the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Museums and Battlefield tours (by bicycle, Segway, air balloon, or horseback) are perfect for inquisitive travelers of all ages. You can easily spend a few days exploring the local area, and you’re only a short drive from Washington, D.C., for more history and museums.
For: Families who see winter as a challenge just waiting to be conquered.
What to expect: An active vacation with some quality time built in. Snow destination vacations offer opportunities for a variety of skill levels on the slopes, window shopping in the village, and the comfort of a cozy chalet in between.
Where to try it: In Whistler, British Columbia, you’ll find slopes that work for both beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders, plus spa options and wildlife tours. The Family Adventure Zone offers fun for all ages, and a wide choice of comfortable accommodations can fit the whole clan.
For: Multigenerational travelers looking to connect on a trip that traces the family tree to its ancestral roots.
What to expect: Stories and outings that bond the generations. Taking a trip to the places that helped to shape your parents (and theirs) will give the whole family a connection to personal history.
Where to try It: Everywhere. Start with your family’s photos and scrapbooks, or an online site like ancestry.com, and build from there. Will it be a reunion with the extended family in Scotland or a three-generation Vietnam family tour? Work with a travel agent to find the perfect guide to lead your family home and include the personal stops that will matter most.
For: Families who want to help make a lasting positive change in the world.
What to expect: Plenty of destinations offer volunteer options, but it can be hard to be sure your good intentions are doing what you hope. Research is key. Chat with your family ahead of time so that you choose an activity that means something to everyone involved.
Where to try it: Elevate Destinations offers luxurious eco-friendly trips to destinations that also allow you to give back in a variety of ways. The intensity of the volunteer work ranges from work with local non-profits to assisting creative artisans. The great thing is that the trips aren’t all work and no play. Fun is still a part of the equation. Plus, the “Buy a Trip Give a Trip” program means that for every trip sold, a local child is given a trip so they can see more of their home country.
For: Families intent on finding an island paradise where togetherness is the order of the day … and no one is futzing in the kitchen or worried about the laundry.
What to expect: The royal treatment with a side order of peace and quiet. Pick your island and then leave the details to your villa team. They’ll handle your meals, the cleaning, and booking any activities. Your main job? Relaxing with family. While prices can induce sticker shock (Expect $5,000 to $20,000 per week in some spots) it may still be less expensive than individual hotel rooms—not to mention the advantages of having a chef, butler, maid, ground transfers and private pools on site.
Where to try it: Jamaica. The island has a range of offerings that differ in size, vibe, and amenities. The premium luxury villas at Round Hill Villas in Montego Bay have two pools, outdoor showers, on-site staff, and access to the Round Hill Resort children’s programs.
Carbon offset companies, ecotour operators, green hotels, hybrid rental car agencies … with so many eco-friendly resources on the internet, where’s a would-be green traveler to start? I’ve cut the confusion by gathering my favorite green travel resources in one convenient spot—so whether you’re interested in renting a hybrid car or offsetting the pollution from your last flight, you can find the info you need right here.
General Ecotourism and Green Travel Resources
Learn more about the principles of ecotourism and green travel by browsing these sites.
There are a number of companies and charitable organizations that will offset your carbon emissions, not only for flights but also for car travel and household energy use. The range of projects varies widely, so I’ve explained a little bit about each organization to help you decide which offsetter is right for you.
Atmosfair: German nonprofit organization that donates funds to alternative energy projects
Carbon Footprint: British company that retires carbon offsets, plants trees, and supports international energy-saving projects
Carbonfund.org: American nonprofit organization that retires carbon offsets, plants trees, and supports renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects
No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.
San Diego, California
Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.
For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.
Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.
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Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).
Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.
If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.
Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.
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If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.
Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.
Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.
Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.
You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.
Where to Stay:The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.
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Lake Louise, Canada
Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.
Vacations are for relaxing, but to many, that includes a semi-daily workout routine. Most hotel gyms are windowless and drab, giving little motivation for you to exercise on vacation.
How to Avoid the Hotel Gym: Alternative Workouts to Do on Vacation
[st_content_ad]Here are eight different types of workouts to do on vacation (outside of the hotel gym) that’ll also help you further explore your destination.
Rooftop Yoga Classes
If yoga is one of the ways you exercise at home, why not bring your workout to new heights on the road. If you’re traveling to an urban area, many high-rise buildings with public rooftops will offer some form of exercise as part of its programming. Or, if you’re staying in a skyscraper hotel, they’ll most likely offer some sort of class as well.
Take Boston’s The Colonnade Hotel, which offers weekly Roof Top Pool yoga classes with its resident yoga teacher (free for hotel guests) during the summer, and while weather permits. Or, check out London’s Sky Garden, which sometimes offers Sunrise Yoga classes—a healthy breakfast buffet is even included in the class price.
Pro Tip: Search Eventbrite by location and the type of workout you’re looking for, whether it’s rooftop yoga or other outdoor workout classes.
If you’re a spin-aficionado, then you’re likely familiar with outdoor pop-up classes. Check your favorite studio in the city you’re visiting for upcoming events. Destination SOUL, a Soul Cycle program, might feature a pop-up studio in a vacation spot: it previously was on Martha’s Vineyard. The well-known spin chain is set to host more locations in the series moving forward, so stay tuned.
Rival studio, Cyc, also hosts a variety of pop-up outdoor classes, like at New York City’s Avenue of Americas. Follow them on Instagram for updates.
Gym and Studio Affiliations
Many hotel chains are embracing the travel-fitness trend and going beyond the typical hotel fitness center by partnering with boutique studios and gyms nearby. The Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown, partners with Balance Gym, located below the hotel, to offer guests free access and complimentary classes. It’s a win-win for both sides: The hotel doesn’t have to upkeep a fitness space, and the gym gets potential new clients and exposure.
Pro Tip: Many smaller studios or gyms will offer your first class free or give you a free trial or day pass. If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t offer any special programming, do a quick search on Google Maps for nearby gyms or studios. You can also use websites like Zeamo or Class Pass to search by location for partner gyms offering day passes.
Going for a run while you’re on vacation has plenty of benefits—it reduces jet lag, helps you get acclimated to the city, and burns calories—but you can also get a decent amount of sightseeing in on this type of vacation workout.
Tour companies like City Running Tours and Go! Running Tours offer running tours across the globe varying in distance, length (ranging from hours to days), and ability. By running with a local guide you’ll get a fresh perspective on the destination’s history and major sights, as well as a decent workout.
Pro Tip: Hotels are also jumping on board with the running tour trend; Radisson Blu now offers #BluRoutes, safe walking, running, and cycling routes that start and end at select hotel locations. Each route is planned by a hotel team member and highlights local attractions at all fitness levels.
Staying at an outdoor-focused resort makes fitting in a vacation workout a lot easier. Just surrounding yourself with nature and outdoor activity options will help jumpstart your brain into workout mode. Whether it’s a sleepy mountain town resort that offers guided hikes or bike rentals (like this one in Vermont) or a jungle resort (like this one in Costa Rica) with waterfall excursions and a zip-line course, you’ll be burning calories every day.
If you’re staying in a major city, there are probably plenty of daytime excursions to try. Look on the day-tour booking website Viator (our sister site) for active day tours that will require you to spend more time on your feet instead of on a bus. A Colombian coffee farm tour from Medellin or a full-day Yosemite National Park tour from San Francisco are active adventures that can give you a break from the city.
Whether you can get a free bike from your hotel or an inexpensive rental from a city’s bike-share program, cycling around can be one of the easiest workouts to do on vacation. While you won’t be sweating as much as you would at the gym, biking around a city or along recreation paths can be a decent workout. Check out this map to explore city bike-shares around the world.
If you’re looking for some easier workouts to do on vacation, book with a health-conscious hotel brand. Right now the hotel industry is bending over backward to cater to millennials who want an “on-demand experience,” so you can easily find a hotel with some free health amenities.
Kimpton Hotels offer free yoga mats for use during your stay, complete with free on-demand fitness programming. Yotel and Radisson Blu both have similar programming with in-room meditation videos. Hilton is even offering a new room category featuring in-room fitness centers; and don’t forget about the cult following Equinox has—so much so the gym brand has its first hotel in New York City.
Make 2020 your most adventurous year yet by signing up for one of these trips of a lifetime. Hike on drift ice in Japan, sail to one of the world’s most remote and beautiful UNESCO sites, cycle through the best of Jordan on your way to Petra: These journeys are unlike any trip you’ve ever taken before.
Ultimate Seychelles with Aldabra Atoll: Exodus Travels
Picture yourself winding your way through the exotic alleyways of Zanzibar’s Stone Town before boarding a small luxury cruise ship and sailing through the tropical archipelago of the Seychelles. Exodus Travels’ Ultimate Seychelles tour takes place aboard Ponant’s brand-new Le Bougainville ship, a gorgeous vessel with unique features such as the “Blue Eye,” an underwater lounge that allows you to see the wildlife that lives below.
This once-in-a-lifetime journey visits Aldabra Atoll, one of the most remote UNESCO World Heritage sites on the planet. Hidden away from the impact of humans, Aldabra has managed to sustain a population of 152,000 giant tortoises. This is the trip for wildlife enthusiasts: The clear waters of the Seychelles are home to 850 species of brilliantly colored fish that you’ll visit on snorkel and dive excursions.
East Greenland Arctic Safari: Natural Habitat Adventures
Most tours of Greenland barely scratch the surface of this remote country, shuttling passengers on and off of cruise ships for limited excursions. To really immerse yourself in Greenland, join Natural Habitat Adventure’s East Greenland Arctic Safari, a nine-day adventure centered around Natural Habitat’s unique luxury base camp near the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. You’ll be in one of the world’s most remote locations (with a maximum of only 11 other travelers in your group), but still have access to hot showers and gourmet meals. You’ll spend your days exploring the surrounding water, meeting the local Inuit villagers, kayaking, and more.
Highlights of the Frozen Continent: Chimu Adventures
Will 2020 be the year you finally check off your seventh continent? Chimu Adventures makes Antarctica more accessible with its surprisingly affordable Highlights of the Frozen Continent Cruise. On this 12-day trip you’ll set foot on the peninsula, delight in the company of hundreds of penguins, spot whales, and enjoy exploring relatively untouched territory.
Kayaking, snorkeling, biking, and surfing—you won’t be bored on G Adventures’ Galapagos Multisport trip (but you will have plenty of time to lounge on the beach if you choose). This adventure hits the highlights of Quito and the Galapagos, starting in Ecuador’s fun-filled capital before cruising between the islands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, and Isabela. You’ll make friends with giant tortoises, pay a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, and hike up a volcano to the world’s second-largest crater.
Jordan Cycling Holiday: Saddle Skedaddle
Slow down and see the best of Jordan on Saddle Skeddaddle’s eight-day cycling trip. You’ll ride to popular spots such as Wadi Rum, Amman, and Petra, while also exploring secret spots like the Ajloun Forest Reserve and the Madaba Plateau. Your reward for all that riding? Soaks in the Dead Sea and traditional Bedouin feasts.
A Food and Wine Adventure Through Tuscany and Piedmont with America’s Test Kitchen: EF Go Ahead Tours
Foodies, this is the tour that you’ve been waiting for. EF Go Ahead Tours has teamed up with America’s Test Kitchen for a one-of-a-kind, food- and wine-fueled adventure through Italy’s best culinary regions. You’ll sample truffles at the Alba White Truffle Fair, taste wines from local vineyards, learn how to make pasta from a Bolognian chef, and get a true sample of Italian culture. We’re already salivating.
Druk Path Trek, Bhutan: Exodus Travels
The tiny country of Bhutan has exploded in popularity recently, but fortunately, the nation’s strict restrictions on tourism mean you’ll still have an authentic visit if you go. For a real adventure, sign on to Exodus Travels’ Druk Path Trek Tour, which combines an incredibly scenic multi-day hike from Paro to Thimpu with time spent exploring the culture of Bhutan’s cities and villages. Pick one of the departures that coincides with Bhutan’s festivals for an unforgettably colorful and fun experience.
Kazakhstan might just be the most unfamiliar place you’ve ever been. This far-flung country is home to a unique culture and landscape you won’t find anywhere else. Intrepid Travel’s Kazakhstan Adventure takes you to the former Soviet space port of Baikonur, along the Silk Road ruins of Sayram and Otrar, on hikes through Altyn-Emel National Park, and definitely out of your comfortable routine.
The crowds will descend on Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Get off the tourist pack by visiting in winter, for Oku Japan’s Hokkaido Winter Tour. This self-guided adventure lets you set your own pace as you explore Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island. You’ll visit national parks, trek on drift ice, and snowshoe through UNESCO World Heritage nature reserves before unwinding in the country’s famous onsen hot springs at the end of each day.
Egypt Adventure: Intrepid Travel
For less than $900 you could spend a week cruising the Nile on a traditional felucca, exploring the ancient pyramids, and tasting everything in sight at Cairo’s bazaars. Intrepid Travel’s Egypt Adventure tour is light on cost but heavy on action. You’ll travel by train, boat, and bus through Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan, experiencing Egypt’s famous hospitality.
Croatia’s coast is one of Europe’s most stunning. Explore it at a leisurely pace, sailing on a small yacht from Dubrovnik to Split, on G Adventures’ Croatia sailing tour. You’ll spend eight days aboard a small ship with just seven other travelers. When you’re not on the boat, you’ll be taking excursions to Mljet National Park, exploring Korcula (Marco Polo’s birthplace), tasting wine at local vineyards, and much more.
Canadian Rockies Hiking Plus: REI Adventures
The Canadian Rockies were practically designed for adventure. REI Adventures’ Canadian Rockies Hiking Plus action-packed trip begins in tourist hotspot Lake Louise but quickly gets you away from the crowd, as experienced guides lead you up hidden hiking trails. Each day will bring a new, exhilarating activity—like whitewater rafting in Yoho or hiking on the Columbia Icefield.
You can still visit Cuba legally, despite new restrictions. (Backroads’ Cuba Multi-Adventure Tour falls under the “Support for the Cuban People” category.) This trip offers a much deeper look at the country, getting you outside the main cities and into less touristy areas via bike rides and hikes. This tour is designed to help you connect with locals in a meaningful fashion, giving you the chance to take salsa classes, share meals, and engage with Cubans.
New Zealand: South Island Adventure: National Geographic Expeditions
New Zealand is famed for its Great Walks, a collection of stunning trails around the country. Hike three of them on National Geographic Expeditions’ South Island Adventure, a 12-day trip that showcases the highlights of the South Island. In addition to some epic trekking, you’ll get to sea kayak in Abel Tasman National Park, helicopter into Mount Aspiring National Park, and cruise around Milford Sound.
Georgia: Walking in the Svaneti Mountains: Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel
Georgia is one of Europe’s trendiest destinations right now. This undiscovered gem has remained off of most tourists’ itineraries until recently, so you can still avoid the crowds and have an authentic adventure. Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel’s Georgia Walking Tour showcases the country’s wild side, with plenty of hikes in the Svaneti Mountains mixed with cultural experiences like a visit to the remote village of Adishi, home to just 12 families.
Alaska Rafting on the Tatshenshini River: OARS
Grizzlies, wolves, and eagles are waiting to greet you (from a respectful distance) on OARS’ Alaska Rafting Tour. This incredible adventure traverses the Tatshenshini River through the Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park. You’ll paddle past icebergs, frozen waterfalls, and amazing scenery on this 13-day journey.
Seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is a trip of a lifetime that you can make happen on Mountain Travel Sobek’s Rwanda Primate Adventure. With the guidance of expert rangers, you’ll track gorillas through Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, getting a rare chance to see these majestic creatures up close. You’ll also focus your search on another rare creature—the golden monkey.
Epic Outdoor Adventures in Slovenia: Exodus Travels
The title of the trip says it all: This vacation is all about epic outdoor adventures. Exodus Travels’ Slovenia adventure showcases this country’s extreme sports scene. You’ll paddleboard on Lake Bohinj, rappel down waterfalls in the Soca Valley, and zip-line over the Isonzo River, against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. There will also be plenty of time to bring your heart rate back down to normal, with more sedate adventures like dinner at a castle, a chocolate tasting, and a scenic train ride.
Bike Tour: Connemara and the Aran Islands: Wilderness Ireland
Get all the benefits of a bike tour (a relaxed pace, exercise, and access to off-the-beaten-path scenery) without all the downsides (having to carry all your luggage, worries about bicycle breakdowns) on Wilderness Ireland’s Connemara and the Aran Islands bike tour. On two wheels, you’ll ride around the Aran Islands, through the Burren, and along the Wild Atlantic Way. Wilderness Ireland will guide you every pedal of the way (and transport all your stuff between each stop, so you can ride light).
Chile and Argentina: Solar Eclipse Adventure: Boundless Journeys
Can you imagine anything more magical than witnessing a rare solar eclipse from the prime vantage point of Argentina’s Piedra del Aguila? On Boundless Journeys’ Chile and Argentina tour you’ll witness that phenomenon and much more. Think hiking through Patagonia, beer tasting at a local microbrewery, and dancing in Buenos Aires.
It was mid-afternoon on Maria Island, a wildlife haven off the coast of Tasmania, Australia. A group of visitors was waiting for a ferry back to mainland Tasmania after a day of hiking and spotting kangaroos, wombats, and Cape Barren geese. But the island had one last surprise to serve up: a Tasmanian devil.
These small carnivorous marsupials may be the unofficial mascot of Tasmania, but they’re mostly active at night and therefore very difficult to spot in the wild; I hadn’t yet seen one during the entire week I’d been traveling around Tasmania. And yet here was one in the flesh, scampering across the main road and chasing a baby wombat into its burrow in front of a dozen wide-eyed tourists.
“Wow,” said someone behind me. “Could there be a better ending?”
It was a fair question. My six-day Taste of Tasmania tour, run by Intrepid Travel, had already shown our small group some incredible things—thundering waterfalls, remote white sand beaches, and lush rainforests that felt hidden away from the world. A sighting of the state’s most famous animal felt like the ideal capstone on a trip devoted to Tasmania’s diverse natural landscapes.
Tasmania, an island located about 150 miles south of the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia, feels far away—and that’s partly because for most of the world, it is. Fortunately, once you’ve survived the long-haul flight to Australia, Tasmania is less than two hours by air from Melbourne or Sydney. My Intrepid Travel tour departed from and returned to Hobart, a former penal colony that now serves as the state capital.
With some 40 percent of the state protected in national parks and reserves, the rugged landscape is the primary appeal of Tasmania travel (though despite this protection, the logging of old-growth forests is still a threat). Intrepid’s nature-intensive itinerary visits half a dozen national parks and includes at least one hike every day.
Tasmania’s Wild West
The first day of our journey took us from Hobart to Strahan (pronounced “Strawn”), on Tasmania’s west coast. According to our guide, western Tasmania gets some three meters of rain (about 118 inches) a year, while the east coast gets only about 800 millimeters (31 inches). As we crossed the state, we saw it all—brilliant sunshine, gloomy clouds, drizzles, downpours, and even a bit of sleet and snow—with changes often just a few minutes apart. At times our van’s windows fogged over with condensation, until one enterprising passenger bought a squeegee that we passed from window to window for the rest of the trip.
All that rain may be inconvenient to hike or drive through, but it creates southwestern Tasmania’s deep-green temperate rainforests, where waterfalls cascade into rushing rivers. Two of the most accessible waterfalls are Russell Falls (part of Mount Field National Park) and Nelson Falls (part of Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park), each of which can be reached via short, family-friendly trails in 20 minutes or less.
The hike to Montezuma Falls, Tasmania’s highest waterfall, requires a little more effort. The mostly flat trail takes three hours round-trip along a former rail line, past tree ferns and rock walls carpeted with moss. At the end you can view the falls from a narrow metal suspension bridge that sways gently as people pass over it. While you can fully appreciate the falls’ height from the bridge, you’ll also want to take the little boardwalk path to a side viewing point to appreciate the falls’ power: Here you can feel the cool spray on your face as the water thunders down before you.
Other highlights from our time in western Tasmania included the stark beauty of Henty Dunes, a vast stretch of sand sculpted by the Roaring Forties winds that blow all the way from South America, and Donoghys Lookout, a gentle hiking trail leading to expansive views of the Franklin River valley and the mountain peaks beyond.
After two chilly, damp days in and around Strahan, we began working our way east with a stop at Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. Here we had multiple hiking options; most of the group made the challenging climb to Marion’s Lookout for panoramic views over the region’s lakes and mountains—including the famous jagged peak of Cradle Mountain itself.
I chose the easier Dove Lake Circuit, which circles the lake at the base of Cradle Mountain and offers a pleasant walk over gravel paths, boardwalks, and rocks with only one hilly section. Along the way were numerous viewpoints and picnic areas looking over the lake.
On our way out of the park, we stopped to walk along the boardwalk at Ronny Creek, which runs through a field of buttongrass where wombats often graze. We got an up-close view of one mother wombat with a joey in her pouch, its little face poking out between her hind legs.
Life on the Road with Intrepid Travel
By this point in the trip, we’d fallen into the rhythm of life on tour. Each day started with continental breakfast at the hotel (included in the trip cost), followed by an early departure—no later than 8:00 a.m. We’d stop in the morning at a bakery to grab coffee and purchase a sandwich to eat on the day’s hike. Dinners were on our own, aside from a couple of optional communal meals.
Accommodations on this trip were clean and comfortable—typically motels with Wi-Fi that might or might not work at any given time. Some members of our group had booked a “Basix” version of the tour and were staying in hostels rather than motels.
Transportation was in a 20-person van, which could get tooth-jarringly bumpy over some of Tasmania’s more remote roads. Fortunately, we were never in the van longer than two hours at a time at any point during the tour—and normally we’d only have an hour to 90 minutes between walks, scenic viewpoints, or food/coffee/bathroom breaks. (The van did not have a toilet onboard.)
Our trip leader served as both guide and driver, giving a clear rundown of what to expect from each of Tasmania’s hikes so we could choose the appropriate option for our interests and fitness level. He also offered a handful of key facts about the area’s history, wildlife, or landscape as we approached each stop. Some members of the group would have preferred more in-depth commentary, while others felt satisfied with the basics. The guide was happy to take follow-up questions from those who wanted to learn more.
Intrepid Travel is an environmentally responsible tour operator that offsets the carbon emissions for all of its trips, including Taste of Tasmania. It’s also investing in a project to restore Tasmania’s endangered kelp forests.
Eastern Beaches: Bay of Fires and Wineglass Bay
The second half of our trip brought us abundant sunshine along Tasmania’s east coast. The highlight of day four was a stop at Bay of Fires Conservation Area, a series of stunning bays and white sand beaches running from larapuna to Binalong Bay. The area was given its English name by Captain Tobias Furneaux, a British navigator who spotted Aboriginal fires on its beaches in 1773. The Aboriginal people who lived here called the area larapuna, but they were killed or forced from their ancestral home by European settlers in the early 19th century.
Today, Bay of Fires is marked by soft white sand beaches and massive granite boulders covered in red-orange lichen. Peek into the tidepools to see starfish, anemones, periwinkle snails, and seaweed moving sinuously in the currents.
Just down the coast is a stretch of sand spectacular enough to land it on numerous “best beaches” lists. Wineglass Bay, part of Freycinet National Park, isn’t easy to reach: You have to climb about 40 minutes, mostly uphill, to reach the lookout point over the beach, and then climb down about 1,000 steps to get onto the sand itself. That means, of course, that you’ll have to climb back up the steps to return to the parking lot. Alternatively, you can continue along a lengthy but beautiful trail past Hazards Beach and around the headland—a total hike of about seven miles.
For those who are able, Wineglass Bay is worth the trek. The beach is long enough that it never feels crowded, and the water is a pure, shimmering aquamarine. Keep an eye out for dolphins cruising by in the waves just offshore.
For those who aren’t up for the hike, Wineglass Bay Cruises will take you on a relaxing half-day journey through the bay for scenic views and wildlife sightings, including whales, seals, dolphins, and seabirds.
Noah’s Ark: Maria Island
Accessible only by a 30-minute ferry ride from the town of Triabunna, Maria Island (pronounced “Mariah”) was once the site of a convict probation station and is now a wildlife sanctuary and national park. It’s often called the Noah’s Ark of Tasmania because of how many animals have been introduced to its protected shores.
For example, when Tasmanian devils in other parts of the state began falling victim to a facial tumor disease, healthy animals were brought to Maria Island to help save the species. Other transplanted animals that you’re likely to see as you hike around Maria Island include kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and Cape Barren geese.
Our group did two short walks on the island—one to the Painted Cliffs, a wall of stunning sandstone cliffs banded with a mix of gold, brown, and cream swirled together like a cappuccino. The other was to the Fossil Cliffs, where clams, scallops, and other fossilized sea life have been preserved in sedimentary rock.
It was after we had returned to the visitor center and were watching a video about the Tasmanian devils on the island that we were alerted to the presence of a real-life devil on the road outside. After it dashed into the wombat burrow, we lined up nearby in case it decided to come back out.
Our hopes were rewarded a few minutes later. The devil emerged from the burrow to see a row of tourists waiting for it with phones and cameras at the ready. It paused and blinked inquisitively up at us as if to ask, “Where did you all come from?” Then it raced off down the path and out of sight—one last memorable moment in a journey full of them.
The world’s oldest cities are once-in-a-lifetime destinations, places that effortlessly inspire awe and put you in the shoes of a time traveler. To walk labyrinthine streets, marvel at crumbling fortress walls, or see kings’ tombs that have endured thousands of years is to experience a fleeting moment of what life was like for the first civilizations on Earth. Read on to be transported to 10 ancient cities to visit (without travel advisories) where you can take part in age-old rituals and learn about the legends that have been passed down for more generations than you can ever fathom.
First Inhabited: Around 2070 BCE
Asia’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Luoyang was considered to be the geographical center and one of the four great ancient capitals of China. It lies on the north or sunny (yang) side of the Luo River where it converges with the Yi River. Stunning mountains surround the city, where Chinese Buddhist temples and monuments are carved into the sides of hills. As a capital of several dynasties, Luoyang has become a city renowned for its culture and recognized by UNESCO for its heritage sites.
What to See: At the Longmen Grottoes, there are 2,345 niches for Buddha, 100,000 statues, and 2,800 calligraphic inscriptions. Be prepared to climb several hillside steps to see the most majestic of statues. Take a bus just outside of town for a visit to the first Buddhist temple in China: White Horse Temple, a small and uncommercialized temple with many monks.
Think of ancient Athens and likely the first image that comes to mind is the Parthenon, the 5th century BCE temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. But archaeologists say this Acropolis site on the rocky bluff was inhabited thousands of years before the Parthenon existed and thousands of years before Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle walked the city streets. The ancient home of philosophy and birthplace of Western civilization, Athens also has bragging rights as the first host city of the modern Olympic Games.
What to See: Climb up to the Acropolis on a walking tour. See displays of striking classical sculptures and watch curators restore similar marble statues with laser technology at the Acropolis Museum. Along the historic Plaka neighborhood’s narrow, labyrinthine streets, you’ll find neoclassical mansions, ancient monuments, and scores of churches. Run on the Olympic track and get your photo taken on the winner’s podium at the Panathenaic Stadium.
Previously known as Antioch and as Antep, the city of Gaziantep lies where the Mediterranean meets Mesopotamia, an area considered the center of the first civilizations. In 300 BCE, Alexander the Great’s generals founded Zeugma (now part of Gaziantep) before it was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire as an important outpost on the Silk Road to China. Several ancient sites remain in Gaziantep and 13 different museums house impressive collections of artifacts.
What to See: Check out the remains of baths and cisterns in the Ravanda citadel, restored by the Byzantines in the sixth century. Nearby are several 15th-century mosques and caravanserais, which once provided lodging, food and refuge to passing caravans. The Zeugma Mosaic Museum, one of the world’s largest mosaic museums, displays massive pieces dating from the first century BCE. Shop for baklava and yemeni (shoes made from local leather) at the city’s two well-known bazaars.
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First Inhabited: 3200 BCE
This city was the capital of the ancient Egyptian empire during its heyday. The Nile River cuts through the center of Luxor, dividing the modern city on the East Bank from the ancient necropolis and mortuary temples on the West Bank. Legends say ancient Egyptians buried their dead on the West Bank because the setting sun in that direction symbolized the journey to the afterlife. The West Bank is where you’ll find the tomb of King Tutankhamun and tombs of other ancient kings and queens. The East Bank, which symbolized life for the ancient Egyptians, boasts some of the country’s most upscale hotels and spas.
What to See: Visit the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the West Bank’s grand-scale tombs. Find hundreds of relics in the Luxor Museum, overlooking the Nile River. The Avenue of Sphinxes connecting the Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple is lined with 1,350 sphinx statues. Visit the temples at night for a completely different experience.
This timeless city and holy place of the three monotheistic religions was long considered the center of the world. Ancient maps show Jerusalem at the middle of the three continents known at the time: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Set high in the Jerusalem Hills, this is the place where the Jews built the temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Muhammad rose to heaven. The Old City’s narrow streets lead you past towering stone walls and ancient buildings that have survived centuries of destruction and resurrection.
What to See: At the base of the massive Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, write a prayer or wish and wedge it into the cracks. Follow the Via Dolorosa, the road Jesus walked that leads from the courthouse site where he was sentenced to Golgotha Hill where he was killed. Other must-see sites are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, and Yad Vashem.
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First Inhabited: 4000 BCE
About 60 miles southwest of Cairo, Fayoum is part of Egypt’s largest oasis, where the pharaohs built pleasure palaces and the Greeks built temples paying homage to the Lake Moeris (Lake Qaroun) crocodiles they believed were sacred. Fayoum, called Crocodilopolis by the Greeks, became the most significant center for the cult of Sobek, the crocodile god. Ruins of two temples dedicated to Sobek still stand today. The modern city is home to large bazaars, mosques, and baths.
What to See: Don’t miss Madinat Madi, the largest surviving temple of the intermediate period of the Pharaonic era. At the three-floor Qaroun Palace, you’ll see a king’s throne, wall drawings, and inscriptions that date to 323 BCE. The Hawwara and Al-Lahun pyramids are nearby. Other interesting archaeological sites include the Whale Valley fossil area, an open museum with whale skeletons, shark teeth, and petrified shells and corals.
Just north of Turkey, at the crossroads where Europe meets Asia, is Kutaisi, Georgia, the former capital of the country and the land of the Golden Fleece. While this city, originally part of the Colchis kingdom, dates to ancient times, it is perhaps best known for its place in Greek mythology. According to the epic Greek poem, Jason and his Argonauts were said to have traveled to Kutaisi to find the Golden Fleece. The city’s magnificent Renaissance heritage sites from the 10th to 12th centuries are well preserved and offer terrific views overlooking the city, the surrounding mountain ranges, and the Rioni River.
What to See: The Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. The monastery, where the most celebrated king of Georgia is buried, is known for its mosaics and frescoes. Not far from the city are two caves, one with dinosaur footprints and the other offering boat trips on an underground river.
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First Inhabited: 3000 to 4000 BCE
In south-central Bulgaria, near the border of both Greece and Turkey, is the beautiful “City of Seven Hills,” originally a Thracian city before it changed hands under the rule of the Greeks, Romans, and Russians. Today, you can still see the influences those cultures left behind in Plovdiv’s cobblestone streets, fortress walls, Roman amphitheater and aqueduct, and Ottoman baths. High on the naturally fortified northern hill of the three-hill massif Nebet Tepe is the site of the original prehistoric settlement.
Hundreds of prehistoric burial grounds are scattered in and around Amesbury, and Stonehenge, just two miles away, sits in the middle of them. Archaeological evidence suggests that Amesbury’s first inhabitants—who settled in England’s River Avon valley at the site of what has historically been an important river crossing—predate even Stonehenge. Amesbury, the home of Stonehenge, is also linked with the legend of King Arthur. As the story goes, Guinevere came to the convent here after leaving Arthur, and she is buried on the grounds of the former abbey.
What to See: At Stonehenge’s new visitor center, check out artifacts unearthed from burial sites and tour an outdoor cluster of recreated Neolithic houses from the period. Walk around the Stonehenge circle, listening to the audio tour on headphones to learn about the site’s mysteries and why it may have been located here. The Amesbury Museum and Heritage Centre displays huge quantities of handcrafted flint tools that predate Stonehenge by more than 5,000 years.
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First Inhabited: Around 1200 to 1100 BCE
India’s oldest city, Varanasi is also the holiest city in the world. The god Shiva is believed to have lived in the area and a major shrine here honors this lord of the universe. Pilgrims travel from as far away as 1,250 miles to visit the shrine and bathe in the city’s sacred Ganges River. Every day, thousands of locals and pilgrims immerse themselves or come to die in these waters that are said to have absolved the sins of many generations. Along the water’s edge, ghats (riverfront steps) associated with Hindu mythology are sacred sites for yoga, cremation, or meditation and worship with prayer and fire.
What to See: Don’t miss Varanasi’s various temples and ghats. The Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is closed to non-Hindus but others can recognize it by its golden spire. Visit an excavated site in the Sarnath area of town and see a large collection of Buddhist sculptures in the Sarnath Museum.