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12 Amazing Solo Vacations to Take in 2020

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

Exodus Madeira Portugal Hiking Excursion

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

Camel Back Ride Sahara Desert Morocco

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

Amber Fort Jaipur India.

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.

[st_related]11 Important Taj Mahal Facts to Know Before You Go[/st_related]

Take a Hiking Vacation in Vermont

hiker on long trail vermont.

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

cliffs of moher ireland sunset.

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.

[st_related]15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Alone[/st_related]

Have an Adventure in Colombia

colombian coffee REI adventures.

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

g adventures nepal living like a local.

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

Oaxaca City Street 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.

[st_related]16 of the Greatest Mexico Vacation Destinations[/st_related]

Spot Rare Wildlife in Madagascar

black and white ruffled lemur madagascar.

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

granada cathedral 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

tuscany italy winding road.

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.

[st_related]3 Ways for Solo Travelers to Avoid Single Supplements[/st_related]

Have an Adventure with Fellow Women

woman standing above dubrovnik.

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.

For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

More from SmarterTravel:

Sarah Schlichter wants to take every one of these solo vacations. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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10 Fun Off-Resort Things to Do in Oahu

It’s easy to soak up the sun on Waikiki Beach for a week, sampling the area’s many restaurants and taking side trips to nearby Pearl Harbor or Diamond Head. But if you limit your Hawaiian vacation to just one area, you’re missing out. There are plenty of other things to do in Oahu, an island that spans 597 square miles of golden beaches, crashing waves, deep green forests, and laid-back surf towns.

To learn about Honolulu’s most popular attractions, see SmarterTravel’s Honolulu Travel Guide. But for the best things to do in Oahu outside the capital city, read on.

Have an Adventure

atvs at kualoa ranch

Sprawling across 4,000 verdant acres on Oahu’s Windward Coast, Kualoa Ranch offers just about every adventure you can imagine, from horseback riding and zip-lining to kayaking and ATV tours. This private nature reserve is also a popular Hollywood filming spot; movie tours lead visitors past familiar landmarks from films and TV shows such as Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, and Lost.

You can also relax at Kualoa’s exclusive Secret Island Beach, where you can swim, kayak, play beach volleyball, or simply enjoy the views of Mokolii, a small island off the coast also known as “Chinaman’s Hat.”

Other adventurous things to do in Oahu include a hike or off-road expedition with North Shore EcoTours. The company operates on private conservation land, so there are no other tourists around.

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Hit the Beach

oahu beach

Waikiki is the island’s most famous (and most crowded) beach, but there are plenty of other golden stretches of sand on Oahu where you can lay your towel. On the island’s Windward (eastern) Coast is Kailua Beach Park, which spans more than two miles and includes bathroom facilities, picnic tables, and multiple parking lots. Its calm waters are popular for swimming and kite surfing. Nearby is Lanikai Beach, which some travelers find even more beautiful, despite its lack of facilities and limited parking.

On the North Shore are beaches with towering wintertime waves for surfing, including Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. Or head to the Leeward Coast on the west side of the island to catch the sunset from Keawaula Beach, also known as Yokohama; keep an eye out for dolphins or whales.

Help alleviate the environmental effects of your visit by participating in a beach cleanup. The company Travel2change offers a variety of activities like a yoga class or biking trip combined with a beach cleanup after your desired activity.

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Soak Up Local History and Culture

performer at polynesian cultural center

Oahu may be best known for beaches and natural beauty, but it’s also home to a wealth of fascinating cultural attractions. Start with the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can watch performances and visit villages representing the cultures of Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Aotearoa. The popular attraction now offers immersive cultural experiences with locals like the Umu Making Experience. Each ticket entry (when purchased online) allows you to come back for free for three days, so you can experience other parts of the center.

Learn about the island’s history at Hawaii Plantation Village, which features restored buildings from the sugar plantation era of 1850 through 1950. Follow it up with a visit to Queen Emma Summer Palace, the former royal mountain retreat that’s now a museum housing furniture and regalia belonging to the 19th-century queen. Oahu is also home to spectacular museums like the Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawaii State Art Museum, Iolani Palace, and the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.

And don’t discount Oahu’s modern art scene; street art is increasingly prominent in Honolulu and its surrounding neighborhoods. Check out Pow! Wow!’s interactive mural map of Oahu.

Taste the Island Flavors

hawaiian poke

From fresh seafood (poke, anyone?) to shave ice, Oahu offers plenty of delicious flavors to sample throughout your trip. A great place to start is at the many farmers’ markets that take place around the island, offering locally grown produce and artisan food items. You can visit the North Shore Country Market on Saturday mornings, the Windward Mall on Wednesdays and Sundays, or a number of others supported by the Hawaii Farm Bureau. If you’re in Oahu on a Saturday or Tuesday evening, check out the KCC Farmer’s Market for fresh and local food like fried mochi balls, seafood, coffee, and more.

Also be sure to explore the island’s more modern neighborhoods like Kaka’ako for juice bars, farm-to-table dining, and its own farmers’ market. And don’t leave the North Shore without trying shave ice: Visitors line up for the famed Matsumoto Shave Ice, and it’s worth it!

And, of course, you can’t visit Hawaii without going to a luau. This traditional Polynesian-style feast typically features pork roasted in an umu, or underground oven, as well as other Hawaiian dishes such as poi (mashed taro) and poke. Some of the most popular luau events on Oahu include the Alii Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park.

[st_related]10 Great Places to Try Hawaiian Food in Honolulu[/st_related]

Take a Hike

hiker on mountaintop in oahu

Stretch your legs and enjoy some of Oahu’s best views by incorporating a hike or two into your vacation. One popular, not too strenuous option is the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, located along the Kalanianaole Highway east of Honolulu. The two-mile paved trail overlooks the ocean; keep an eye out for whales in season.

Not far away is a significantly more challenging hike, the Koko Crater Railway Trail, where railroad ties now serve as steps for a steep uphill climb. The reward for all that effort? Sweeping views of Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and other landmarks in the eastern part of Oahu.

Other trails to consider include the Kuliouou Ridge Hike and the coastal trail at Kaena Point State Park.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”3326P12,20544P5,69524P11″]

Stroll Through Gorgeous Gardens

pink flowers in oahu

Nature lovers will enjoy the lush foliage and vibrant flowers in botanical gardens across the island. A particular highlight is Waimea Valley, where a walking trail winds through a mix of tropical plants and cultural sites on the way to a waterfall visitors can swim in.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is another serene place for a stroll, spanning some 400 acres of plants from various parts of Asia, Africa, Polynesia, and the Americas. Or you can wander among the native Hawaiian plants at Wahiawa Botanical Garden, located just down the road from Dole Plantation.

You can also stop by Byodo-In Temple, a scale replica of a Japanese temple surrounded by Japanese-style gardens.

Hit the Water

surfer north shore oahu

If you wanted to, you could spend the majority of your vacation enjoying the crashing waves and turquoise waters surrounding Oahu. Learn to hang 10 with a surfing lesson at Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy or North Shore Surf Girls. Or, for something a little different, go “canoe surfing” with We Go! Island Canoe in Kailua. On the North Shore, Sea and Board Sports Hawaii offers a little of everything, from stand-up paddleboarding to glass-bottom kayaking.

And don’t neglect Oahu’s underwater world. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, just a short drive from Honolulu, is one of the island’s most popular snorkeling spots, but you can also snorkel right off the beach at Shark’s Cove or Kuilima Cove on the North Shore.

The brave can book an open snorkeling session with famed marine biologist Ocean Ramsey and her company One Ocean Diving. The pelagic shark research snorkel teaches you about shark safety, biology, and conservation. And yes, you really get to swim in the open ocean with these fantastic animals.

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Play a Round

golf course oahu

The spectacular views at Oahu’s courses might ruin you for golf at home, but it’s a risk worth taking. Many of the most popular courses are on the grounds of resorts, including Ko Olina Golf Club, which features a Ted Robinson-designed course with plenty of water features, and Turtle Bay, which has two 18-hole courses on the scenic North Shore.

Non-resort courses to consider include the Ewa Beach Golf Club, a challenging course on the western side of the island, and the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, offering lush foliage and mountain views on Oahu’s eastern side.

Learn About Agritourism

giant machine cog on display at the decommissioned Kahuku sugar mill plantation on the island of Oahu Hawaii

Many of Hawaii’s former sugar plantations are getting a second life. One example is Ko Hana Distillers, which is a rum distillery set on a former sugar plantation. You can even combine a distillery tour with a hike through the company Hawaii Forest & Trail. Or experience even more agritourism with the Farm to Forest Experience, which includes a tour of a working organic farm and a hike with amazing views.

A visit to Gunstock Ranch is another agritourism experience on Oahu. The ranch is home to a Hawaiian Legacy forest and offers tours to help plant trees as well as go horseback riding or tour the ranch. 

Kahumana offers tours of its organic farm, which offers vocational training for locals struggling with homelessness or disability. You can also enjoy a delicious meal on site at the Kahumana Cafe.

Kahuku Farms offers tours as well as a cafe featuring ingredients grown on site. At the Dole Plantation, you can take a train tour, find your way through a garden maze, and sample ice cream made with the company’s famous pineapples.

Discover WWII History

uss bowfin submarine admiral clarey bridge oahu.

Of course, no visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, but there are three other Pearl Harbor Historic Sites that are also worth visiting: the Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Experiences range from guided tours to climbing aboard a real WWII-era submarine. The USS Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are located on Ford Island and accessible via shuttle buses. Here you can tour the historic battleship, see the battle-damaged airfield, and even walk inside hangars with a fleet of vintage airplanes. Tours and passes are available for all four sites.

What to Pack

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

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

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11 Underrated Africa Tours for Your Bucket List

If you’ve landed on this page you’ve either seen the Big Five already in South Africa, or you’re after a trip to Africa that’s more “off the beaten path.” But Africa is a vast continent, and finding the right trip here can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve narrowed down 11 tours to less-traveled African destinations that are worthy of your bucket-list.[st_content_ad]

The Best Africa Tours to Lesser-Known Destinations

Tourism to Africa is rapidly increasing, with over 2,800 hotel rooms added since late 2019 and another 6,600 new rooms coming in the next few years. Plus, new air routes from Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Kenya Airways, and Turkish Airlines are opening up the continent to more overseas travelers. These 11 tours and destinations are now more accessible for travelers and will be sure to gain popularity over the next few years.

Get a Taste of Food, Culture, and Coffee in Nairobi

nnairobi kenya food market

Sure, a trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara are already known to most well-versed travelers, but many skip out on the country’s lively capital, Nairobi. It’s one of the most modern cities in Africa, and its stories can be told through food and culture. One of the most underrated things to do here is to take an urban city tour. Airbnb offers a walking tour called Nai Nami, or Our Streets – Our Stories. Travelers have the chance to explore the city via a walking tour led by underprivileged youths. Other off-the-beaten-path tours in Nairobi include food tours, like this authentic Kenyan food tour (from Viator, SmarterTravel’s sister site) or a coffee farm and tasting tour (also on Viator).

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Explore Lesser-Known Senegal and the Gambia

beach in Serrekunda, Gambia.

Most travelers don’t think to visit Western Africa, but the countries of Senegal and the Gambia are building up their infrastructure to be more tourist-friendly. Traveling with a group tour operator to these countries is a reliable way to experience their deep-rooted history, coastal landscapes, and local village life. We recommend G Adventures’ 10-day Classic Senegal & the Gambia tour, as it covers a lot of the region’s highlights with a good balance of guided tours and free time.

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Safari in Tanzania with the Family

REI tanzania tour africa.

The gorgeous landscapes of Tanzania offer just as much, if not more, as the surroundings in South Africa. Plan your next epic family vacation to Tanzania with REI Adventures’ Tanzania Family Adventure & Safari. The nine-day trip takes you through multiple wildlife reserves, cycling on a forest canopy walkway, hiking with Maasai in a local village, and more.

Find Out Why Everyone Is Going to Ethiopia

woman tossing corn gondar ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Africa, and for good reason. The country offers unparalleled landscapes, delicious food, and unique history. Intrepid Travel’s 13-day Incredible Ethiopia tour covers all this and more. Spend a day in the capital city before heading out to the lakeshore towns of Bahir Dar and Gondar, continuing on to the Simien Mountains, and ending in the town of Lalibela, home to some of the region’s most significant religious sites.

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Go Gorilla Trekking in the Congo

gorilla trekking in congo

Travel to the heart of Africa on this all-inclusive safari and gorilla trekking trip with Deeper Africa. You’ll spend most of your time in Odzala-Kokoua National Park across three different safari camps. Activities include a kayak safari, a boat cruise, forest walks, gorilla trekking, and night walks with the chance to see western lowland gorillas, the guereza colobus mustached monkey, forest buffaloes, and forest elephants.

See Three National Parks on a Luxury Safari in Rwanda

silverback gorilla rainforest.

African Travel’s Discover Rwanda tour explores three national parks over the course of 11 days: Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, and Volcanoes National Park with stays at luxurious accommodations like a One&Only resort. No stone is left unturned with this itinerary, which includes game drives, canopy walks, chimpanzee trekking, hiking, gorilla trekking, and more. Rwanda is home to dozens of animals such as lions, black rhinos, shoebills, buffalo, leopards, elephants, giraffes, spotted hyenas, zebras, elands, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

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Relax with a Beach Escape to Zanzibar

stone town zanzibar.

Looking to chill out on one of the most pristine coastlines in the world? Head to the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar for a few days of pure relaxation. Contiki’s six-day Zanzibar Beach Escape includes five nights on the main island, Ungujain, in a beachfront hotel with plenty of free time to explore. Snorkel, dive, and enjoy watersports for a few days, and then explore the capital, Stone Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also attend full moon parties, eat at the Rock Restaurant, and take a day trip to Prison Island.

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Discover Africa by Train on the Rovos Rail

train on journey in south africa

While there aren’t too many ways to explore Africa by rail—yet—Vacations By Rail’s Rovos Rail journey is truly an off-the-beaten-path way to experience multiple countries on the continent. Spend six nights aboard a luxury train, as well as a night in a game lodge in Etosha National Park in Namibia and a night at Soussusvlei Lodge. Along the way you’ll see dramatic landscapes like Big Hole, Fish River Canyon, the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, Walvis Bay, and Etosha National Park. Other stops include the Diamond Mine Museum, Windhoek (Namibia’s capital), and Upington in South Africa.

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Take a Safari-Cruise in Southern Africa

croisieurope boat african dream deck.

CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa Safari-Cruise tour is truly a bucket-list experience in a relatively less crowded region of Africa. The highlights of this tour include the comfortable boat, the African Dream, built by the river cruise company, as well as game drives in Chobe National Park (home to a quarter of the continent’s elephant population). Plus, unadvertised experiences, like seeing the Milky Way every night while sleeping on the largest manmade lake in the world, can’t be beat.

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Experience Madagascar a la Jane Goodall

eastern lesser bamboo lemur madagascar.

The 14-day Highlights of Madagascar tour by G Adventures is endorsed by primatologist Jane Goodall, which means the trip not only has a low impact on the environment but also contributes to the protection of wildlife and supports local communities. You’re guaranteed to see amazing animals and landscapes on this itinerary, including lemurs, baobab trees, natural swimming pools, beaches, and rice paddies.

This tour also includes a stay at a local community guesthouse as well as visits to an artisan workshop and a traditional healer.

Spend a Week Sleeping on the Nile River

temple of karnak cairo egypt.

Most travelers visit Egypt for the epic Pyramids and don’t spend much time exploring the rest of the country’s offerings. (Did you know, for instance, that the Aswan High Dam’s reservoir capacity is five times the size of the Hoover Dam?) The 12-day Splendors of Egypt & the Nile tour by Uniworld gives you ample time both in the rising capital city of Cairo and on the famed river. Sailings are set to start in the fall of 2020 and include a full week aboard a brand-new ship, the S.S. Sphinx. Included excursions span from lesser-visited temple visits to bird-watching boat rides, and, yes, visits to the Ancient Memphis sites.

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What to Pack

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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14 Things a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You (And 6 Things They Can’t)

Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]

That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.

What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You

Save You Money

The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.

Recommend Fitness Facilities

If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.

Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available

If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.

Get Tickets for You

Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.

Keep You Safe

A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.

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Help You Celebrate

Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.

Help You Do Your Job

A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.

Help You Look Good

A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.

Fix Sticky Travel Problems

A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.

Get You a Table

Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.

Recommend Local Service Folks

Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.

Create a Custom Itinerary

If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.

Help with Special Needs

If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.

Provide Assistance Before You Arrive

The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.

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What Your Hotel Concierge Can’t Do for You

Gossip

Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.

Illegal or Immoral Activities

You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.

Babysit

A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.

Float You a Loan

They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.

Sell Stuff for You

Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.

Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows

Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.

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Tips for Using a Hotel Concierge

Don’t Be Shy

You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.

Give Them Some Time

Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.

Present the Concierge’s Card

When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.

Not All Concierges Are the Same

Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.

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3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel

20 Trips of a Lifetime to Take in 2020

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

saychelles aldabra atoll beach
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

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

Rocky coastline overcrowded by gentoo pengins and glacier with icebergs in the background at neco bay, antarctic

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.

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Galapagos Multisport with Quito: G Adventures

Galapagos multisport with quito: g adventures

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

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.

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A Food and Wine Adventure Through Tuscany and Piedmont with America’s Test Kitchen: EF Go Ahead Tours

A food and wine adventure through tuscany 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

places to visit in 2017 bhutan

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.

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Kazakhstan Adventure: Intrepid Travel

Kazakhstan adventure: intrepid travel

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.

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Hokkaido Winter Tour: Oku Japan

Hokkaido winter tour: oku japan

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

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.

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Sailing Croatia: Dubrovnik to Split: G Adventures

Sailing croatia: dubrovnik to split: g adventures

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

Hikers enjoying scenic canadian rocky mountains view in jasper national park

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.

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Cuba Multi-Adventure Tour: Backroads

 cuba multi-adventure tour by backroad

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

Nature a at mount aspiring national park new zealand south island

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.

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Georgia: Walking in the Svaneti Mountains: Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

Georgia: walking in the svaneti mountains: wild frontiers 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

Mountains of tatshenshini-alsek provincial park 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.

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Rwanda Primate Adventure: Mountain Travel Sobek

Rwanda primate adventure: mountain travel sobek

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

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.

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Bike Tour: Connemara and the Aran Islands: Wilderness Ireland

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

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.

For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.

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Active Travel Arts & Culture Cities Group Travel Historical Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

10 Timeless Cities Where the Past Comes to Life

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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.

Luoyang, China

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.

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Athens, Greece

athens-greece

First Inhabited: 5th to 4th millennium BCE

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.

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Gaziantep, Turkey

Gaziantep-Turkey

First Inhabited: 3650 BCE

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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Luxor, Egypt

luxor-egypt-obelisk

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.

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Jerusalem, Israel

jerusalem

First Inhabited: 2800 BCE

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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Fayoum, Egypt

fayoum-egypt

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.

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Kutaisi, Georgia

kutaisi-georgia

Inhabited Since: Around 2000 BCE

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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Plovdiv, Bulgaria

roman-amphitheater-bulgaria

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.

What to See: Walk through the archaeological complex at Nebet Tepe and Old Town’s museums and galleries. Go to a performance in the Ancient Theatre, a restored first-century open-air venue made of marble that was originally used for theatrical performances and gladiators’ and hunting games. Nearby in the Roman Stadium, athletic contests were held in 2 CE. The city was named the European Capital of Culture 2019.

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Amesbury, England

amesbury-england-tombstone

First Inhabited: 8th millennium BCE

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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Varanasi, India

varanasi-india-boat

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.

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

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Historical Travel Sustainable Travel

The Benefits of Visiting India and Nepal with a Group

Though I pride myself on being an independent traveler—I was in the United States Peace Corps in Paraguay for two years, have been to six continents, and spent multiple years reviewing hotels across the U.S. and around the world, by myself— India is one country that I’ve never considered visiting as a solo traveler.

I’ll book a trip alone to many destinations without a second thought, but India is… intimidating. Its reputation of crowds, chaos, and safety problems for women gave me pause. Of course I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, eat tandoori where it was invented, and experience the color, magic, and energy that makes India famous worldwide. I just didn’t want to do it alone. So, when I was invited to experience New Delhi, Agra, and Kathmandu (in Nepal) as part of a G Adventures group trip, the answer was immediately and definitely yes.

Pre-trip, as I filled out the India visa paperwork and shopped for conservative clothing, I was thrilled with the prospect of finally visiting India and Nepal, but admittedly a bit nervous about the group travel aspect. I’m used to planning my own itinerary, moving at the fast pace I prefer, and pivoting plans last-minute if I decide I want to linger at a landmark.

I also had a lot of questions. Is it safe to travel to India? Can you drink the water in India? And what about group tours in India? Would it still be a good experience if I didn’t totally click with my fellow travelers?

I need not have worried. G Adventures is a small-group travel company with an enormous emphasis on social enterprise, travel ethics, and sustainability. It offers hundreds of small group tours worldwide, all led by well-trained and English-speaking locals who absolutely know their stuff. I knew I’d be in good hands, but I had no idea just how good. After a week, I was completely sold on small group travel to India or anywhere else. Here’s how it went down.

The Easy Arrival

After a full day of flying Emirates from New York to a connection in Dubai, I arrived in Delhi. The airport arrival can be one of the most intimidating aspects of visiting India—especially for women. Can you hail a taxi? Is the driver trustworthy? G Adventures has a solution: Women on Wheels, a progressive program that has trained more than 500 female Indian drivers to provide airport pickup services.

Not only is WOW an important, empowering way to provide job training and security to women, it’s an easy service for tourists who want a welcoming face to greet and safely transport them from the airport. I was relieved to see a smiling woman holding a sign with my name on it amidst the arrival chaos at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Feeling Welcomed

After the WOW driver safely deposited me at Le Meridien hotel, I got a second dose of group travel benefits: a G Adventures representative was waiting for me in the contemporary lobby. He greeted me warmly, made sure I had a cool drink, and assisted with the check-in process. I’ve checked myself into hundreds of hotels, but it was comforting to have someone there in case something went wrong with the reservation. I also received a full itinerary for the rest of the trip.

Another foreign feeling: I didn’t have to spend my arrival day looking up directions, making dinner reservations, and double-checking operating hours and transit schedules. I could actually take a shower and unpack, knowing that all I had to do was be in the lobby on time for the first group dinner.

Meeting Like-Minded Travelers

I was starting to see that there are some perks to group travel, but still I had a big group travel hurdle to overcome—the group. I felt a bit anxious as I approached the strangers in the lobby waiting to go to our first Indian restaurant. But I had nothing to worry about. I was among my tribe: international adventure travelers! I immediately hit it off with two women, and for the rest of the trip I enjoyed sitting next to new dinner companions, trading travel stories, and making friends.

I’m still in touch with a handful of my fellow group travelers, and am happy to report that meeting new people was one of the richest experiences of the group travel experience. Who knew?

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Having a Guide

Employing local, well-trained, fun guides is where G Adventures really shines. The tour leaders on my trip (called CEOs, or “Chief Experience Officers”) were no exception.

Our trip ran like a well-oiled machine. When the itinerary said to meet at 8:30 for a New Delhi youth-led walking tour with Salaam Baalak Trust, our entire group was in taxis at 8:31. I would have been nervous about taking the subway in New Delhi by myself, but our guides had tokens in hand. They got us through the security lines and deposited the women in the women-only car without breaking a sweat.

I also loved having a guide on-hand to answer all of my India travel questions.

Sustainable, Local Travel

I’ll admit, as a solo traveler I don’t always think that hard about my impact on the local environment and culture. Of course, I try to follow local customs and research small businesses, but it’s not always the easiest to find that information using Google—especially in developing countries. G Adventures, on the other hand, comes through with its commitment to community tourism. Ninety percent of G Adventures small-group trips visit a community tourism project that supports women and kids, environmental conservation, and/or indigenous cultures.

In Delhi, we visited Kitchen with a Cause, which not only serves incredible Indian dishes, but also employs young adults who have been victims of trafficking and abuse. Another local highlight was stopping by Sheroes Café in Agra, run by victims of acid attacks, for chai and an education on how small groups of women are making a huge impact on local laws and domestic violence. I doubt I would have been able to find these small businesses on my own.

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It’s Easier to See the Big Sights

Our trip was focused on local and sustainable travel, but there was still dedicated time to see the biggest bucket list item in India: The Taj Mahal. Visiting with a G Adventures group was an absolute dream. There are loads of touts and scammers in and around the marble mausoleum, so having a friendly guide to shepherd us through security and provide factual historical information was ideal. I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of visiting the Taj Mahal had I gone alone.

Pro tip from the guides: Visit the Taj Mahal in the afternoon and again in the early morning to see how the light changes everything from the reflective pools to the gleam of the white marble and inlaid gemstones.

You Can Country-Hop

Group travel gets a bad rap for moving slow and staying in one place. That might be the case with some group tours, but G Adventures is almost always the exception to these group travel stereotypes.

After a whirlwind few days in New Delhi and Agra, my entire group hopped on an Air India flight to Kathmandu. There, we explored Hindu temples and saw Kumari (a living goddess), learned about earthquake relief projects, and experienced making momos with SASANE. We also had time to hike in the foothills of the Himalayas and made dinner with host families in Panauti town.

The sheer number of high-quality experiences I had in a well-led group tour in India and Nepal would have been impossible for me to replicate as a solo tourist. Now, I’m a group travel convert.

What to Wear on Your Trip

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Megan Wood was hosted by G Adventures on her trip to the Taj Mahal.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Family Travel Food & Drink Island Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

Why Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit Is the New Cancun

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Throughout the 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta to the brightly colored surfer town of Sayulita, there was one thing, besides the ocean views, that remained constant: New construction. The region of Riviera Nayarit, which got its name from Mexico’s tourism board of the same name, has a “made up” label of sorts, created in hope of differentiating this section of Mexico’s Pacific coast from its more popular neighbor, Puerto Vallarta.

The new construction, however, is about the only thing in common between each of the 23 distinct communities on this stretch of coastline. A vacation to Riviera Nayarit means experiencing different cultures, beaches, and activities, depending on which part you stay in.

Later this year the Conrad Playa Mita hotel is opening, and renovations are finishing at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. Also new this year is the Marival Armony Punta de Mita. Come 2020, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will open the Rosewood Mandarina. One&Only Mandarina Resort and One&Only Mandarina Private Homes will also open next year, at a location with breathtaking ocean views, cliffside bungalows, an ocean-fed pool, all on a long strip of a pristine and remote beach.

AMResorts’ Dreams Punta de Mita Resort & Spa and Secrets Punta de Mita Resort & Spa are also both slated to open in 2020. Coming in 2021 is Auberge Resorts Collection’s Susurros del Corazon. In 2022, a new development called Costa Canuva will open featuring a Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

And 2019 visitor numbers support the hotel expansion projects. According to the tourism board, the region saw a five-percent increase in North American travelers compared to last year, and the average occupancy rate was 82 percent in the southern part of the region: the Bay of Banderas.

Interested in seeing this up-and-coming slice of Mexico before the crowds arrive? Here are the best ways to experience Riviera Nayarit.

Best Places to Visit in Riviera Nayarit  

colorful banners in mexico town.

Puerto Vallarta, the closest airport, is only 15 minutes away from the start of the Riviera Nayarit. And the farthest part of the region where most tourists visit, San Blas, is about three hours away from Puerto Vallarta. Riviera Nayarit’s close proximity to Puerto Vallarta makes it accessible via many North American hubs: Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Toronto, and Calgary. And for those who want to explore more of Mexico, there’s a new toll road being developed between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta which will be about a three-hour drive. Within the region, there are also new roads being constructed to connect the towns along the Bay of Banderas.

Here are the best places in Riviera Nayarit to visit, in order of closest to farthest from Puerto Vallarta and the airport:

  • Nuevo Vallarta: A community of all-inclusive and family-friendly resorts on the Bay of Banderas; many properties have beach access.
  • Punta de Mita: A luxury development area where celebrities vacation.
  • Sayulita: A surfer-town made (in)famous by the reality show Bachelor in Paradise. It’s about 30 minutes to this section of the region, and the town is a popular place for surfing, shopping, and hanging out by the beach. It’s also one of Mexico’s famed pueblos magicos, a government designation for culturally significant towns.
  • San Francisco (San Pancho): San Pancho is what Sayulita was 10 years ago before the crowds found it. The sleepy town—about 15-minutes north of Sayulita—has a new eco-boutique hotel, remote beaches, and local charm.
  • San Blas: This is the northern-most point of Riviera Nayarit and a popular area for bird-watching. Back in the late 1700s, this was the most important port on the coastline and you can learn about its history as a fishing village. 

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Getting off the Resort in Riviera Nayarit

hidden cave beach in mexico.

While many come to the area to enjoy time at resorts, the region offers plenty of activities to enjoy off-resort as well.

For nature and water lovers, there are islands and national parks; Isla Marietas is the most famous one for its “Hidden Beach”. There are also two biosphere reserves: Isla Jaguar-Marismas and Isla Isabel National Park. And no matter what area you stay in, you’ll have opportunities to deep-sea fish, jet-ski, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, and more. During May through September whale sharks are spotted throughout the area, and the whale-watching season for blue whales, orcas, humpbacks, sperm whales, and more begins mid-December and ends in May.

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Birdwatching is a popular activity along the water, and there are also plenty of interior hiking trails and jungle walks to take that have gorgeous views of the coastline. It’s recommended to book an experience with a local guide, and you can learn more about Riviera Nayarit hikes here.

For culture visit the small towns along the coastline, like San Pancho. While perusing the towns, try a mezcal tasting class at a local mezcaleria like La Baba del Diablo. Isla de Mexcaltitan, which is often referred to as the “Venice of Nayarit” for its urban canals, is also a worthy day trip. And while resort dining is convenient and tasty, try at least one local meal off-site; the region is famous for pescado zarandeado (grilled fish) and aguachile (shrimp ceviche).

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Lastly, there’s plenty of golfing. The Punta Mita area especially is a popular vacation destination for golfers, home to two courses designed by famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. In total, the region has eight courses and is home to the only green in the world that’s on a natural island.

Best Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

stretch of beach on mexicos pacific coast.

From family-friendly properties to affordable hotels, there are plenty of hotels in Riviera Nayarit for every type of traveler.

All-Inclusive Resorts in Riviera Nayarit

All-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to check-in and forget about planning. The Nuevo Vallarta area and Punta Mita have concentrated sections of all-inclusive resorts. Here are three well-reviewed options:

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Luxury Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Celebrities have flocked to the Punta Mita area of Riviera Nayarit for years. Here are two of the most famous luxury hotels:

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Boutique Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Up-and-coming sections of the region are home to quaint, smaller, boutique hotels. Here are options in Sayulita and San Francisco:

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Family-Friendly Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Riviera Nayarit is a haven for families on vacation. Here are three well-known, family-friendly hotels in the Nuevo Vallarta area:

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Affordable Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Budget-conscious travelers will be happy to know that there are plenty of options for them as well; check out these three affordable hotels in the region:

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What to Wear in Riviera Nayarit

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Ashley Rossi was hosted by Riviera Nayarit. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Outdoors Sustainable Travel

10 Magical Canal Cities That Aren’t Venice

Everyone swoons over Venice’s celebrated canals and bridges—but did you know that there are dozens of other canal cities across the globe that are known as the “Venice of” their respective locations? (Think “the Venice of the North” or “the Venice of the East”) Sure, there’s only one real Venice, but these other watery cities offer plenty of charms of their own, from riverfront palaces to classical Chinese pagodas and even gondola rides. With overtourism at the forefront of Venice’s problems and a new daily admission fee proposed, there has never been a better time to seek an alternative.

Canal Cities Around the World

Check out 10 of the most magical canal cities around the globe.

Delft, Netherlands

delft canal and church

Fun Fact: The 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer lived in this serenely beautiful Dutch city, and his well-known “View of Delft” captures its picturesque buildings and canals.

What to Do: Delft is perfect for strolling. Wander along the canals and cobblestone streets to see sights like the Nieuwe Kerk (“New” Church, dating back to 1510) and the Oostpoort, the only remaining gate from the city’s ancient walls.

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Suzhou, China

bright lights over suzhou canal in china at night.

Fun Fact: Suzhou’s historic district, filled with narrow canals, historic pagodas, and exquisite gardens, is protected by the government of China; no skyscrapers may be built here.

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What to Do: An evening boat tour is one of the most romantic ways to experience Suzhou’s canals and bridges. By day, wander through the city’s many classical gardens, which are collectively recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Birmingham, England

brick buildings surrounding birmingham canals.

Fun Fact: Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice.

What to Do: Birmingham’s historic canals—once vital to the city’s commerce during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century—are now primarily a tourist attraction. You can walk along the towpaths, eat lunch at a waterfront restaurant, browse the shops along the canals, or take a sightseeing cruise.

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida

boats in fort lauderdale harbor at dusk.

Fun Fact: Fort Lauderdale is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000-mile network of bays, inlets, sounds, and canals that run along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

What to Do: You don’t need to go all the way to Italy to take a traditional gondola ride—you can also do it right here in Fort Lauderdale. You can also zip around this sunny city by water taxi or take a sightseeing boat tour.

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Alappuzha, India

boat in alappuzha india on canal waterways.

Fun Fact: Alappuzha (traditionally known as Alleppey) is the gateway to the backwater region of Kerala, on India’s southwestern coast. “Snake boat” races are held here every summer, featuring long, narrow boats propelled by up to 100 local rowers.

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What to Do: Take a boat tour or stay in a traditional houseboat and explore the region’s rivers, lagoons, and canals. These tranquil waters are lined with palms and offer a glimpse into local industries like shrimp farming and coir making (coir fibers are harvested from coconuts and used to produce rope, floor mats, and other products).

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Gold Coast City, Australia

gold coast broadwater boats

Fun Fact: Gold Coast City is best known for its spectacular beaches, but the city also has some 160 miles of canals—lined with thousands of waterfront homes.

What to Do: Thrill seekers can go jetboating through Gold Coast’s waterways at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Too fast for your blood? Try a kayaking excursion or take a dinner cruise.

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Bruges, Belgium

bruges belgium evening canals.

Fun Fact: This picture-perfect medieval city is often packed with day trippers, so consider an overnight stay or off-season visit to see it at its best.

What to Do: After you take a boat ride along the canals, stroll the streets to sample the local chocolates (there are dozens of chocolatiers in town) and take in the best of Flemish art at the Groeninge and Memling Museums.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

boat going through archway on canal in st. petersburg russia.

Fun Fact: On scheduled nights between April and November, St. Petersburg’s historic bridges over the River Neva are raised to allow ships to pass under them—a fascinating scene to watch, especially during “White Nights” in late June, when the sky never goes fully dark.

What to Do: You can ride public ferries up and down the Neva to see its magnificent palaces and monuments, but you’ll get a more intimate look at the city by taking a canal tour to explore St. Petersburg’s narrower waterways and beautiful bridges.

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Annecy, France

canals winding through buildings in european village.

Fun Fact: Annecy is referred to as the “Venice of the Alps” and it’s where three canals cut through the old city. Complete with cobblestoned streets, Annecy is located in the foothills of the French Alps.

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What to Do: Wander the canals along the pastel-colored buildings in the old town, Vieille Ville. The Thiou River leads to Lake Annecy, where you can walk along shoreline trails and relax on a boat in the summer.

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Xochimilco, Mexico

colorful river boats along a canal.

Fun Fact: Xochimilco directly translates to the “place where flowers grow” and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

What to Do: Take a colorful boat ride along the canal on a trajinera, or gondola. Xochimilco is a popular day trip from Mexico City and travelers rent a boat, driven by a rower, by the hour. Choose your course from the main canal, an ecological reserve, or the quirky Island of Dolls. Onboard you are served food and drink and can even buy souvenirs from boats floating by.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the most recent information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this article.

Categories
Family Travel Group Travel

G Adventures Launches New National Geographic Family Journeys Trips

Looking for the ultimate family-bonding trip? Check out G Adventures’ brand new Family Journeys, designed for multi-generational travelers.

G Adventures has partnered with National Geographic to offer 12 new trips (bookable now) with departures starting in 2020. The trips are open to families with children as young as seven years old, with cheaper pricing for children 12 and under.

All adventures will be limited to 20 people or less and will be led by two local G Adventures ‘Chief Experience Offers’ who will help plan kid-friendly activities such as sumo wrestling lessons, zip-lining, pasta making, and more.

The Family Journeys destinations include: Alaska, Costa Rica, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Yellowstone/Grand Teton.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors Solo Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends Women's Travel

REI Launches New Under-35 Millennial Trips

It’s no secret that millennial travel is a huge trend, with many group tour operators offering special budget-conscious trips, or ones with age limits. REI is the latest to join game, with nine new tour offerings across four different geographical areas.

For now, REI is focusing on a few bucket-list-worthy adventure trips. From Colombia off-the-beaten-path (think Medellin, not Cartagena) to camping in the Sonoran Desert, the trips are focused on “prioritizing experiences over things.” All of the options have an emphasis on local and active travel.

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Each trip is crafted with the millennial mindset. “Our team has taken great care to design highly active itineraries with the right balance of downtime, and most importantly that facilitate a community for younger travelers to travel deeply and responsibly with their peers,” said Justin Wood, senior manager of adventure travel at REI, in a press release.

Budget and value are front of mind, with trips offering modest accommodations, cheap meals, and no hidden fees. Prices start at $850 for REI members. And if saving money is on your mind, REI is expanding its used gear and rental programs, so you can save more by renting your active gear through the company’s retail locations.

For fun, I asked some of my SmarterTravel millennial-aged colleagues their thoughts on the matter: Nevin Spearman, who hasn’t been on an organized group tour before says he’d consider an REI trip and, “I like the active offerings, and some in the U.S. mean cheaper airfare.” His top pick is the Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids itinerary.

Cara Sweeney, who has been on an organized group tour with her family about 10 years ago says she’d consider an REI trip and, “[the options] seem really unique and awesome. I would likely want to encourage a friend or two to attend the same trip as me.” Her trip of choice is also the Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids itinerary.

Why the 35 age limit? According to the press release, 20 percent of REI members are in the 21 to 35 age range, but REI’s website says, “we won’t card you.” So if you have the mindset of millennial and these trips are attractive to you, you’ll probably fit right in.

two men white water rafting

Find more information on REI’s Under-35 adventures here, and below.

REI Under 35 Trips:

Latin America

  • Colombia Explorer – Medellin, Lost City Trek, Tayrona Beaches | Under 35
  • Peru Multisport – Machu Picchu to Rainbow Mountain | Under 35

North America

  • Sonoran Desert Stars – Hike, Camp, MTB, Repeat | Under 35
  • Backpacking Joshua Tree | Under 35
  • Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids | Under 35
  • Wild Whistler Backpacking | Under 35

Europe

  • Amalfi Coast & Sicily – Hike, Eat, Summit | Under 35
  • Greek Islands Wanderer – Hike, Feast, Explore | Under 35

Asia

  • Vietnam Multisport – Spectacular Spelunking | Under 35

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Adventure Travel Island

You Won’t Believe How Cheap It Is to Sail Around Europe This Summer

[st_content_ad]Here’s a secret: If you want to visit Europe during peak season without the crowds, take to the ocean. A small-ship sailing tour lets you explore the hidden gems of Croatia, Italy, or Greece, without having to fight traffic or cram yourself on a crowded train.

Sailing the Mediterranean on a yacht sounds ridiculously expensive, but thanks to G Adventures’ Mediterranean Sailing Sale, you can go this summer for as low as $1,072 per person. The promotion is valid on all of G Adventures’ European sailing departures through October 31, 2019, and includes tours to the Greek Islands, Croatia, and Montenegro.

These aren’t typical cruises where you’ll spend all your time on the boat—all itineraries have plenty of time for snorkeling, dining on land, and sunbathing on the beach.

Click here to book by April 24, 2019.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Food & Drink Group Travel Historical Travel

10 Incredible European Tours for 2019

Have you booked your 2019 European vacation yet? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. Whether you’re into history, hiking, or Harry Potter, this list of the best European tours offers unique adventures across the continent.

All of the following European tours for 2019 still had spots available at the time of publication, but could sell out at any time—so book soon if you’re interested.

Visit Hogwarts on a Harry Potter Tour of England and Scotland

alnwick castle

This seven-night European tour from Great Value Vacations is a must for all Potterheads. It starts in London, where you’ll take a walking tour of locations used in the Harry Potter films, from Diagon Alley to the Ministry of Magic. You’ll also tour the Warner Bros. studio to see props, costumes, and sets. A day trip to Oxford lets you explore more filming sites on your own before you’re off to Edinburgh, where you can visit the cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote the books and then tour Alnwick Castle—which you’ll recognize as Hogwarts. Departure dates for this tour are available from April through October 2019.

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Taste Your Way Through Turkey

istanbul sweets

From delicately spiced kebabs to the famous Turkish delight, Turkey is known for its tempting cuisine—and you can try it straight from the source on this nine-night Real Food Adventure from Intrepid Travel. It starts and ends in Istanbul, where you’ll sample street food and visit a spice market. From there you’ll travel to Bodrum to visit a local winemaker, pick your own produce, and learn to make gozleme (a savory flatbread). A highlight of the trip is three days in Goreme, where you’ll take an Anatolian cooking class and ride in a hot air balloon over an otherworldly landscape filled with whimsically shaped rock formations. Departure dates for this trip run from April through September 2019.

Follow in the Footsteps of Great Composers in Austria and the Czech Republic

mozart statue vienna

Road Scholar’s 14-night Great Composers of Europe itinerary is a memorable, immersive experience for culturally curious music lovers. Highlights include a private piano performance in Mozart’s Vienna apartment; visits to grand concert halls; and lectures on the lives of Mozart, Schubert, Mahler, and others. The itinerary includes stops in Eisenstadt (where Haydn lived for many years) and Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart) before ending in Prague, home to the Museum of Antonin Dvorak. This trip departs on select 2019 dates between May and November.

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Indulge Body and Soul on a Wellness Trip to Iceland

woman blue lagoon iceland

Need a restorative getaway? Consider this six-night wellness-focused trip to Iceland with G Adventures. Do yoga on a black sand beach, turn your focus inward during guided meditation sessions, and let the therapeutic hot spring waters of the Blue Lagoon relax away every ache and pain. In between wellness activities you can enjoy adventures such as whale watching, hiking on a glacier, and making rye bread in a geothermal bakery. This trip begins and ends in Reykjavik, and departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Get Off the Beaten Path in Poland

gdansk street sunset

Looking for picturesque medieval towns, stately castles, and fascinating history—without massive crowds? Head to Poland. The 10-night Best of Poland tour from Trafalgar gives you an excellent sampler of what the country has to offer, including a visit to the world’s largest castle near Gdansk. Memorable experiences include dinner with a local family in the Polish Highlands and a chance to bake your own traditional gingerbread. The itinerary also includes a haunting visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This trip departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Live Like a Local in France

aix-en-provence church

For travelers seeking a more immersive experience than a one-week vacation can give you, Smithsonian Journeys is offering the chance to live for three weeks in an apartment in the sun-soaked French city of Aix-en-Provence. The program includes a mix of free time and organized tour experiences to places like the Luberon Valley and Avignon, a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also choose one or more enrichment tracks focused on French language lessons, cooking classes, or arts and culture. This trip is available in May or September 2019.

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Look for Brown Bears in Romania

brown bear in romania

Europe isn’t known as a hotbed for wildlife, but this seven-night trip from Exodus Travels takes you to a place in the Carpathian Mountains where you can still spot brown bears. The itinerary includes a visit to a bear sanctuary as well as an evening spent watching for bears from a forest hide. During the rest of your vacation, you’ll tour Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s castle), hike along pristine alpine trails, and go bird watching outside the medieval town of Brasov. This trip departs between May and October 2019.

Bike the Back Roads of Sicily

siracusa alleyway sicily

Soak up the sights, sounds, and orange-blossom scents of Sicily on a five-night biking trip with Backroads. You’ll discover ancient cave dwellings, taste fresh olive oil on a working farm, and tour the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, a World Heritage site. And because you’re cycling at least 13 miles every day, you can sample all the pasta and gelato you want without guilt. (If that amount of cycling sounds like a lot, give yourself a boost by opting for an electric-assist bike, included with the price of your tour.) This trip departs between April and October 2019.

Discover Traditional Christmas Markets in Germany

frankfurt christmas market

There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by taking a Classic Christmas Markets river cruise with Uniworld. During this seven-night trip, you’ll warm yourself with mulled wine as you wander along cobblestoned streets through festive markets selling homemade treats and artisan crafts. Stops include the fairy-tale village of Rothenberg, Wurzburg with its stunning Baroque-era palace, and Nuremberg, famous for gingerbread and Germany’s largest Christmas market. This trip departs on three different dates in December 2019.

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Hike the Unspoiled Julian Alps

hikers in julian alps

Combine an exhilarating physical challenge with jaw-dropping mountain views on this eight-night hiking trip with National Geographic Expeditions. The trip starts and ends in the charming small city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, with stops in the cozy village of Kranjska Gora and in picture-perfect Bled, where a medieval castle looms over a pristine mountain lake. Dramatic mountain hiking trails take you across the border into Italy and Austria at various points during the trip. You’ll eat well the whole way, with cheeses from local cheesemongers and dinner at the countryside villa of Chef Ana Ros. This trip departs in June, August, and September 2019.

For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.

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

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Food & Drink Group Travel Luxury Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Travel Trends Women's Travel

Italy’s Best Local Wine Tasting Experiences

Nothing speaks more to la dolce vita than sipping and swirling your way through a local wine tasting in Tuscany. As well as providing the opportunity to sample some of the world’s finest vinos, each experience offers a glimpse into local life through the lens of the people who know the land best. Enter our exclusive Be My Guest experiences in Tuscany, each crafted with the desire to connect guests to the region and the people who lovingly produce each drop.

Join us as we venture through Italy, where Be My Guest all began, and explore Tuscany’s best local wine tasting experiences with Trafalgar.

Villa Ill Leccio with the Landi Family
Chianti, Tuscany

Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you step into the grounds of Villa Il Leccio, a storybook 18th-century Italian villa situated in the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti wine region. The Landi family have lived here since the late 19th-century and with a welcome as warm as the weather, you’ll never want to leave.

Enjoy the villa’s picturesque surroundings as host Giada takes you on a tour of her family’s Tuscan home, traditional wine cellars, olive groves and vineyards before reaching their tranquil garden of oak trees for a unique Chianti tasting. Although Chianti celebrated 300 years of ‘official’ winemaking in 2016, the famous drop has arguably been produced in the region for over 2,000 years. A blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti is a very dry red with an aroma that is similar to cherries and like most Italian wines, best enjoyed with food. Befittingly, guests can accompany their wine tasting with a home-cooked Tuscan dinner prepared by Giada herself, using ingredients grown in her kitchen garden and served alfresco.

Experience this on: Italian HolidayItalian DiscoveryEuropean Whirl  

Fattoria di Petroio with the Pallini-Lenzi Family
Quercegrossa, Tuscany

Located on the old road between Siena and Florence in Tuscany’s Chianti region, is Fattoria di Petroio – 280 hectares of Tuscan paradise, with an ancient villa at its heart dating back to the twelfth century. Originally inhabited by monks, this is one Italian relic that will charm you quicker than Robert De Niro.

Now home to the Pallini-Lenzi family – including Gian Luigi Lenzi, his American wife Pamela and their daughter Diana, a trained chef – the family are all actively involved in wine making, producing about 4,000 bottles of Chianti Classico annually. Not only are they producing highly-acclaimed red wine but the family also make extra-virgin olive oil from three different types of olive trees and a delicious, golden Chianti dessert wine.

Feel like old friends, as Diana Pallini-Lenzi takes you on a tour of her family’s home and grants you exclusive access to their winery. Watch as she demonstrates the family’s traditional wine production methods, while telling you about the villa’s rich past including a peek at the distinctive ‘hole in the wall’ caused by an unexploded bomb during WWII. You’ll have the chance to explore the villa’s ancient wine cellar, sip some of the finest Chianti, taste fresh olive oils and indulge in a unique type of chocolate spread made with Fattoria wines. ​

Experience this on: Wonders of Italy 

Agriturismo Borgo Della Limonaia with the Callistri Family
Pistoia, Tuscany

Discover what life is really like in rural Italy at the Callistri family’s agriturismo or ‘farm-stay’. Located at the foot of a natural amphitheatre and with the rolling Tuscan countryside as its backdrop, Agriturismo Borgo della Limonaia is an idyllic escape from the daily stresses of life.

Agriturismos are independently-owned farms that farmers have decided to open as accommodations for travellers across the world. The farms continue to run as they normally would and you can expect your room to be within the farm house or a converted out-building. The experience is informal, authentic and the best bit, the food is unrivalled.

As you stroll through gardens of ripe fruit and vegetables, Raffaelle Callistri shares the history of his home and local area – including stories from the great siege between the Florentine and Sienese armies during the 16th-century. With clucking hens at your feet, you’ll enjoy an authentic wine and olive-oil tasting before tucking into a Tuscan feast cooked by land lady, Daniela using organic ingredients from the farm.

Experience this on: Rome and Tuscan HighlightsItaly Bellissimo   

Castello del Trebbio with Alberto & Anna
Pontassieve, Tuscany

Listen to tales gone by as you step back in time to 12th-century Italy at Castello del Trebbio, a 12th-century fortress cloaked in history and intrigue. Here, at the height of the Florence Renaissance in 1478, the Pazzi family masterminded to kill the last remaining members of the powerful Medici family, resulting in the infamous feud that we read about today. Feel like part of the plot in the castle’s “Conspiracy Room” as you sip Chianti and revel in cloak-and-dagger mystery.

Join hosts, Alberta and Anna Baj-Macario as they unveil secrets of the castle’s past with a tour of its ground floor and cellars – which were once the castle’s dungeons – all the while explaining how the family now run the farm and winery using traditional Tuscan farming methods (including producing their wine in line with the stars!).

Feel like a king as you dine in the castle’s great hall on a delicious organic supper, with all the ingredients sourced from within one kilometre of the property. Lovingly prepared by the family, this is one meal you won’t forget in a hurry. Later, join the family in the castle gardens for an appertivo under the stars and professional tasting of Castello del Trebbio’s home-grown wine. ​

Experience this on: Italian ConcertoItalian GloryEuropean DreamEuropean Wonderland

2019 marks the anniversary of Trafalgar’s exclusive Be My Guest experiences – a travel industry first that started in Italy a decade ago. Book your Italy trip today, with Be My Guest experiences included on each and every one, and get to the heart of the place where it all began.

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5 Myths About Millennial Travel and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 2001, get a bad rap. Blamed for ruining something in almost every industry: taxis, the housing market, hotels, and even vacation time, this younger generation is, without question, shaking things up.

And when it comes to travel, the average view is that millennial travelers are cheap, selfish, social-media obsessed, and have high expectations. By definition, I myself am a well-traveled millennial (a big part of this is my job) and feel the need to set the record straight on our travel habits.

Many millennials are doing more travel than our parents did—whether it’s by studying abroad, volunteering after graduation, or stretching flight savings—all before having a family.

Why is this ‘bad’? Spoiler: It’s not. Here are the myths about millennial travelers you shouldn’t believe.

Millennials don’t like traveling with random people.

While traveling with friends and family is an important vacation-driver, differing budgets and schedules make this idyllic vacation harder to plan. But, millennials are still planning to take more vacations in the near future—10 percent more—than the amount they are currently traveling (more than any other generation), according to marketing consultants MMGY Global.

This is where solo travel and group tour travel comes into play. Solo travel has become popular among millennials, with many group tour operators capitalizing on the safety and trip planning they can provide to those going it alone.

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I’ve been on three group tours as a solo-traveler millennial, two with a group of people spanning ages 18 to 65, and one restricted to ages 18 to 29. And both have honestly been among the best trips of my life. Travel is more enjoyable with people who are there for the same reason you are, and it’s a great way to bond with people, whether they’re your own age or someone older and wiser to learn from. I’ve even added destinations to my bucket list just from talking to other travelers on tours.

I wanted to see what others think about group tours as well, so I got in touch with some fellow millennial travelers, plus tour companies and tour leaders interacting with this type of traveler every day.

“I always gain a different perspective when engaging with another age group,” says Samantha Smith, who visited Iceland with G Adventures National Geographic Journeys-Explore Iceland Tour. “In this case, since we were on an adventure trip, I was surprised at the number of other solo travelers and how many went on even wilder tours than this one. It was like looking into the future. In my mind, I thought, ‘well I’ll probably be with a lot of couples,’ but really, we were all very much alike. Everyone to some degree had left their families at home to explore a country on their own, and I was inspired by that.”

SmarterTravel’s Jamie Ditaranto echoes this experience: “If you’re worried about being too young for a group tour, consider it a chance to broaden your horizons and open your mind to hanging out with people a generation or two removed. You’ll probably learn a lot and come away with new friends.”

And if you’re worried about not having time to do things on your own, there’s typically personal time built-in (especially on millennial-focused tour operators like Intrepid’s 18 to 29-year-old trips, Topdeck, and STA Travel).

Conclusion: Myth busted. Group tours are adapting to millennials’ travel habits and there are tons of millennial travelers out there, especially solo ones, looking for the safety, ease, and security of a group trip with other travelers—whether they’re the same age or not.

Millennials are cheap travelers.

Yes, the price is a huge factor in what drives millennial travelers to book, after all, they’re old enough to have been affected by the 2008 recession. But this doesn’t mean millennials are only traveling on a budget. Instead, millennials care more about value, which is why many group tour companies are advertising prices as “per day” instead of the total sum and offering payment plan options.

Take Iceland, where tourism numbers are staggeringly high thanks in part to Icelandic airlines offering free stopovers, which millennials look at as added value. They’re willing to spend the money on activities and hotels deemed worthy of their vacation days but are also looking to save where they can and without compromising on their core values: experiences over material things. According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report by Resonance, millennials are willing to spend on experiences and save for travel instead of buying a house or making other traditional investments.

And as Millennials start making more money with age, their spending habits are changing. “Millennials have shifted from low-spending backpackers and spring breakers to being experienced, well-traveled adults,” says Jacob Marek of IntroverTravels, a small group tour leader. And many millennials (half) now have their own children and are starting to travel with their kids.

It turns out that price isn’t even the top concern for millennials. The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report found that safety (57 percent) is a more important factor when choosing to go on vacation over price (52 percent).

Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials are by no means frivolous travelers, but they do care more about value and safety than finding something that’s “dirt cheap.”

Millennials are only traveling to post on social media.

There’s no way around it: Millennials are obsessed with their phones and all the apps that come with it. But there are some different ways to look at that truth.

According to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report, free internet access and Wi-Fi is the most important hotel amenity millennials look for when booking. But, this group of travelers is checking email and texting more while on vacation than they are posting photos.

There’s no refuting the power of social media and how it influences millennials … and love it or hate it, that’s why there are influencers. According to a recent survey from Avis Budget Group, millennials (94 percent) are more likely than any other generation to be influenced and inspired by outside sources when making travel decisions—specifically by social media personalities (millennials 32 percent, v Gen-Xers 23 percent and Boomers 16 percent). The Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report also found that 24 percent consider social media postings by friends and family to be extremely important when it comes to deciding on a vacation destination.

Being this tuned into to social media isn’t always a bad thing, as Michael Muyres, founder of Amsterdam Untold says, “Thanks to the connectivity enabled by mobile phones, millennials have developed greater spontaneity … they want an experience that feels fresh and original.”

Conclusion: Myth partially busted. This generation doesn’t want to unplug, and that’s clear, but millennials are using social media to not only help their peers discover the world but also as a way to learn more about cultures and destinations.

Millennials are irresponsible travelers.

As Muyres puts it, “You might think millennials are selfish and preoccupied with how their egos look on social media, but I think that’s not true at all. Millennials care deeply about having a conversation with local cultures they visit … they also are very aware of the unique value every individual has and they are eager to learn from each other and participate on a trip in a relaxed, unconventional way.”

According to a new study commissioned by Intrepid Travel, 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds consider it important when booking a trip for the company to offer sustainable travel options, and 90 percent consider the travel company’s commitment to ethical travel important.

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Johannes Reck, CEO of GetYourGuide, says his tour company caters to millennials differently. Since millennials care a lot about authenticity, “guides speak to millennials as individuals, and try to create more of a two-way conversation vs. a one-way information dump … guides strive to make each tour unique, whether in the specific sights seen, the path taken, or facts shared. Millennials have a keen appreciation for what lies beneath the surface of a culture, and want to have the curtain pulled back for them.”

Andrea Beltran Garcia leads foodie tours with Barcelona Eat Local and caters her tours towards millennial travel behaviors when applicable. “Millennials are really interested in sustainable ways of practicing tourism … they just look for quality and real stuff. Instead of going to a Michelin starred restaurant they prefer to eat cod-fritters from the hands of a vendor who has been selling them for 50 years at a local market.” She also emphasizes that younger travelers ask more questions, interact, and appreciate personal engagement over being more observational travelers like non-millennials.

Conclusion: Myth busted. Millennials clearly care about their experiences being local or cultural activities that practice sustainable and responsible tourism.

Millennials only want to stay in an Airbnb.

Airbnb is definitely an appealing option for millennial travelers; 52 percent of respondents to the Future of U.S. Millennial Travel Report have used vacation rental sites, and many millennials consider this a less expensive way to travel in groups. The concept matches all the core values of millennial travelers: authenticity, convenience, and value.

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And while there’s no doubt that Airbnb has forced major hotel chains to rethink their amenity offerings (hello, free Happy Hours and cookies), factors like design, location, loyalty programs, and more mean millennials still greatly prefer full-service hotels and resorts over Airbnb, according to the report. When booking travel, more millennials even use a travel agent than they do Airbnb.

This could change, but it’s going to take a long time for Airbnb to replace the safety, comfort, and amenities that come with hotels and resorts. Airbnb rentals are not available everywhere due to laws and regulations, and there is some concern about the sustainability of its model since more volume of short-term rentals can contribute to housing shortages and increased rent in major cities.

Conclusion: Myth busted. The data doesn’t lie. But for now, you can thank millennials for free Wi-Fi and perks like happy hours at your favorite hotel brand. #yourewelcome

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