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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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Holiday Travel Travel Trends

Travel Gift Cards and Other Last-Minute Gifts for People Who Hate Stuff

Don’t panic yet; if you have any travel-lovers on your list this year, they most likely don’t want more things cluttering up their jet-setting life. Luckily, travel gift cards and experiences can be purchased last minute and are sure-to-please.

Here are 12 travel gift cards to help fund their next vacation, and some other thoughtful ideas, because no matter how much they hate stuff, who wouldn’t want a four-course meal prepared by a chef on their next vacation?

Airline Gift Cards

If your favorite traveler has a favorite airline, purchase an airline gift card to help them afford his or her next flight. You can purchase gift cards for major airlines like Delta, Southwest, and American Airlines, as well as customer-favorite Hawaiian Airlines. Or purchase a general, airfare gift card through a website like flightcard.com.

You can also gift a “skyhour”, which is a website that lets you book flights by paying per hour, so one skyhour equals one hour of flying time.

[st_related]10 In-Flight Essentials You Should Never Travel Without[/st_related]

Airbnb Gift Card

For a millennial traveler—or anyone who likes alternative accommodations—grab an Airbnb gift card. You can purchase one that gets delivered via email or a physical one (that’s also Amazon Prime-eligible).

Rideshare Gift Card

Rideshares are a convenient and quick way to get around a new city, plus they’re a simple way to save on airport transportation. Any traveler can make use of an Uber or Lyft travel gift card.

[st_related]10 Things to Pack That Will Save You Money[/st_related]

Amtrak Gift Card

You can now purchase Amtrak train fare gift cards, making a weekend destination decision that much easier. Gift cards are available on Amtrak’s website in digital or physical form, and are redeemable online, on the app, and at Amtrak ticket offices.

Lounge Buddy Gift Card

Send your loved one off in style with a VIP airport lounge experience. Lounge Buddy is a platform that lets you book airport lounge access at almost any airport. Gift cards are printable or can be emailed to the recipient directly.

[st_related]4 Ways to Get into the Airport Lounge[/st_related]

Eatwith Gift Card

Give an unforgettable meal for their next trip, with an Eatwith gift card. The platform offers dining experiences you can’t get anywhere else. Once you know your destination, you can search for locally-hosted culinary spectacles, like dining on an old Tube train in London or watching a flamenco show with tapas in Chicago.

DNA Kit

DNA and genetic testing kits are one of the hottest gifts to give this year. The results could even inspire the recipient to take a trip of a lifetime to discover more about their heritage and ancestors.

[st_related]The SmarterTravel Shopping Guide[/st_related]

Kindle Unlimited Subscription

Travelers have a lot of downtime on the way to a destination, and many like to fill that time with reading. A Kindle Unlimited subscription gets you access to over one million titles and thousands of audio books for just $10 per month. With this gift, unlimited truly means unlimited.

Intrepid Foundation Global Gift

Donating to a charity on behalf of your recipient is truly a selfless gift. This year, Intrepid Travel’s foundation is offering global gift purchases to a handful of its supported projects, like elephant conservation in Sri Lanka and for refugee opportunities in Turkey.

[st_related]5 Companies That Will Help You Be a Better Traveler[/st_related]

Game of Thrones Tour

Still mourning the finale of Game of Thrones? Gift your token GOT-lover an experience they won’t forget. Our sister site Viator offers a variety of tours through filming locations across Europe in countries like Croatia, Ireland, and Spain.

Travelzoo Experiences

Give the gift of a spontaneous travel experience with one of Travelzoo’s travel gift card deals. It could be a ticket to your recipient’s favorite destination, an interesting tour, a hotel deal to a destination they’ve already booked, or even a staycation experience they can take advantage of at home. You can browse by region and available deals and choose items like spa days, brunch buffets, cooking classes, and more.

Xperience Tours

Book a tour for someone special on their next U.S. vacation by giving a travel gift card to Xperience Days. They’ll be able to search choose from exciting activities by city, featuring options from as simple as walking tours to as extreme as skydiving.

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More from SmarterTravel:

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.

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

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Security Travel Etiquette Women's Travel

6 Important Rules of Travel, Rewritten for Women

With more women traveling than ever before and the growing availability of low-cost flights, female solo travel is a relatively new fixture of today’s travel landscape. Women are no longer waiting to take their dream vacation until they find someone else to come along—they’re doing it by themselves.

However, that doesn’t mean the part of the world they’ve set out for is ready for them. Even in the United States, street harassment and other dangers are ubiquitous for women. There are many places in the world, including at home, where women are still struggling to be heard and respected and even tourist attractions where women aren’t allowed to enter.

Spoken or unspoken, at home or abroad, there are always rules for women to follow.

Nevertheless, there’s not one rule that says women can’t travel and travel alone. There may be rules for female travelers that don’t exist for men, but the good news is that the number of things women can do far outnumbers the things they can’t.

[st_related]8 Inspiring Women’s Travel Escapes to Take[/st_related]

Follow the Rules of Cultures That Aren’t Yours

As outsiders traveling to foreign countries, all travelers need to respect the customs and the cultures of the people who live there, even if they don’t align with our own beliefs—and often they’re different for women. There are many religious sites in the world where women are not allowed to visit, such as Thailand’s Silver Temple or Greece’s Mount Athos. In Thailand, female visitors are allowed to enter the grounds of the temple, but only men are allowed to enter inside. On Mount Athos, women are not allowed within 500 meters (1640 feet) of the coast.

These travel rules for women might be tough to stomach, but part of opening yourself up to new cultures is observing the world as it is. Kiona, the founder of How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, a website which publishes diverse perspectives on travel, believes “Whether or not we agree, changing and challenging those rules are not roles for the outsider. A traveler’s position is merely to learn and attempt to understand the places we travel to, not to judge or change. Respect is the first and foremost responsibility for visitors, even if that means our travel privilege is removed.”

Travel with Your Guard Up

Any person traveling in an unfamiliar place should take precautions to stay safe, but female travelers are often especially at risk, even close to home. Apps like bSafe allow you to share your live location with someone you trust at home, and there are plenty of other tools women can use to feel safer as they travel. Self-defense devices are also good for getting out of a dangerous situation, but the best tool in any female traveler’s arsenal is her intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t take a chance. If you’re uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation—even if that puts you at risk of seeming cold or impolite.

In her final installment of her year-long project to travel the world for the New York Times, journalist Jada Yuan wrote about the experience: “It’s good to know what people who live in a place have to say about safety, but also realize that the rules that apply to them, who know where they are going, and can blend in, don’t apply to me.”

[st_related]7 Discreet and Portable Self-Defense Tools Under $20[/st_related]

Know That Sometimes Women Can Do What Men Can’t

With tour operators answering the demand for women-only travel, new opportunities and experiences have been revealed with the explosion of female-only travel. In some countries, a women-only group is an asset that offers travelers access to experiences they wouldn’t ever have if they were in a group with men. For example, on Intrepid Travel’s Women’s Expedition to Iran you can visit female-only spaces like parks, hair salons, and even take a female-only yoga class with locals. Going beyond the striking places to see like the ruins of Persepolis and the colorful Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, this tour offers insight into Iran’s culture that would never be experienced on a co-ed tour.

Solo Women Can Travel Together

If you don’t have someone to travel with and you don’t think you’d be comfortable traveling solo, female-only tours might be the way to go. Many large tour operators like REI and Intrepid Travel offer women-only trips, but there are also small female-only tour operators that might be able to cater to your particular niche. For example, WOAH Travel is a female-owned company that organizes women-only adventure tours which incorporate fun themes like summiting Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer solstice or paragliding in Bavaria during Oktoberfest.

Women Can Travel Alone

It doesn’t matter if you’re booking a tropical bungalow for one or setting out for a transformative trek through the Himalayas, you can travel solo wherever and whenever you want. Although there are some destinations where women need to practice more caution, there are also plenty of countries that have excellent reputations for safety when it comes to solo female travel such as New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, and Rwanda, just to name a few.

Solo travel can be more expensive, but smart travel companies are starting to adapt their prices to accommodate the influx of solo travelers. More and more tour companies are getting rid of single supplement fees, and some even offer roommate matching services, so you can be matched with someone of the same gender and avoid paying the single room supplement. Many cruise lines like Norwegian, Celebrity, and others are also adapting by building more affordable studio cabins on their ships, which are perfect for solo travelers who don’t want to pay for that empty extra bed.

[st_related]The 27 Best Apps for Solo Travelers[/st_related]

Women Can Travel Anywhere

Every destination is worth visiting, even if it doesn’t make the list of most female-friendly destinations. There are certain destinations that could get you some funny looks when you announce your travel plans. Friends, family, and even total strangers often have no inhibition to express their concern, and might even ask you something along the lines of, “But aren’t you scared to go there?”

Of all the challenges for female travelers to overcome, doubt is one of the biggest—and most of the time it’s entirely unfounded. Just ask any solo female traveler who has ever visited a far-off place alone; you never really know until you go.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next vacation. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Experiential Travel Group Travel Travel Trends

Your Alternative Guide to England

There is much more to England than its illustrious capital. Venturing outside of London’s crowds and into England’s rolling green countryside, up into the industrial Northern cities and out to the jurassic coastlines, will allow you to see the diversity and beauty of the country’s rich heritage. When you’re not exploring the below spots on your Trafalgar Britain tour, make the most of your pre and post departure time based in London with our alternative guide to England.

Get Cultural in Liverpool

CS-VB - liverpool do not use

Made famous around the world by ‘The Fab Four’, Liverpool has undergone a modern evolution. Becoming synonymous with popular culture after being awarded European City of Culture in 2018, every year the city hosts various art and music events. For example, the month of May sees Liverpool host its annual Liverpool Sound City music festival. With a vibrant culinary and bar scene to explore by night, Liverpool has transformed itself from its industrial past into an edgy metropolis. Take a historic Beatles tour of the city, or explore one of the more modern art or culture installations taking place.

Visit Liverpool on: Britain and Ireland Grandeur

Visit the Romans’ Version of a ‘Wellness Retreat’ in Bath

Bath do not use

Wellness travel may be a relatively modern concept, but the Romans were onto something, even way back then. Boasting the only thermal hot springs that you can bathe in in the whole of Britain (not to be confused with the traditional Roman baths), Bath has long been a tourist attraction. Set amongst the rolling English hills, the city is lined with beautiful Georgian buildings, housing independent gin bars, restaurants and retail stores.

Visit Bath on: Britain and Ireland Panorama

Go Punting in Cambridge

Cambridge punting do not use

For an easy day-trip out of London, take a short train-ride up to Cambridge where you can visit the world-famous University, responsible for educating the likes of Stephen Hawking, Sir David Attenborough and Charles Darwin. Weather permitting, spend the afternoon punting along the River Cam for a quintessentially English day out.

Discover the Historic City of York 

York do not use

The ancient walled city of York harks back to a Roman era, but with strong Viking influences in its past. History-buffs will revel in York’s periodic stories and admire the Roman city walls and 800-year-old Minster, while foodies can enjoy York’s booming restaurant scene, with York’s Food and Drink festival taking place in September.

Visit York on: Real Britain

Enjoy Lunch on a Cornish Farmstead

Cornwall do not use

In the very South Western point of England, Cornwall has its own unique identity. Home to England’s longest coastline, Cornwall’s laid-back, rural way of life is far removed from the buzz of the inner cities. After a day of exploring the dramatic Cornish coastline of smugglers coves and fishing villages, stop for an exclusive Be My Guest lunch in a family farmstead. Learn about the 18th-Century farm heritage over a local meal and friendly ‘Cornish’ hospitality.

Visit Cornwall on: Best of Devon and Cornwall

Visit the Resting Place of King Arthur and Guinevere

Glastonbury do not use

Surprisingly, Glastonbury Festival is not responsible for making this area of England legendary. Since Medieval times, Glastonbury Abbey has been a popular religious site, attracting visitors from far and wide because of myths, legends and historical links. It’s said that King Arthur and Guinevere were buried at this site, and the ancient abbey is one of the longest standing Christian sites in England. Visit this tranquil abbey on your trip around Somerset (which, includes an exclusive Be My Guest lunch) and England’s West Country.

Visit Somerset on: Best of Britain

Wave to the Royals at Windsor Castle

CS-VB - windsor do not use

England has many famous castles and palaces to explore, but following the two recent Royal Weddings held here, Windsor Castle has taken its spot in the limelight. As one of the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castles, take a walk around the surrounding grounds, hire a boat on the River Thames or explore the English pubs and restaurants in the pretty town.

Visit Windsor on: Delights of London and Paris

Get Artsy in Bristol

Bristol do not use

Famous for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Balloon Fiesta and Banksy, the bohemian, easy-going city of Bristol was voted the best place to live in Britain in 2017 – and it’s easy to see why. With streets full of independent businesses, colorful houses, quirky street art and leafy green parks, Bristol has a very relaxed vibe compared to England’s other main cities. With two major universities housed here, the city is awash with arts and culture, but the city also houses Brunel’s SS Great Britain, a 19th Century steamship.

Visit Bristol on: Amazing Britain

Feeling inspired? Book your trip to England with Trafalgar today and discover many more alternative destinations away from the bright lights and busy streets of London.

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Booking Strategy

Is Wonder-Lost? How To Take The Stress Out Of Travel

This year, we carried out a study to discover what living ‘The Good Life’ meant to you and whether travel contributed to it. To many people, ‘The Good Life’ meant being able to relax and enjoy a time without stress or anxiety.

Our study showed that in today’s high pressured and connected world, people are finding it stressful to plan and enjoy their travels, and even struggle to switch off when away from home. Sound familiar? Here’s how to put the wonder back in your wanderlust and travel stress-free with real ease.

Travel has become… stressful to plan

“The main causes of stress and lack of excitement before embarking on a trip are: 50% time and research needed and 39% pressures of social media”

Our passionate Travel Directors take care of planning your trip to the finest detail meaning you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the journey. Thanks to their extensive knowledge, every trip has been designed to offer you the best possible service, experience and value. All of our selected hotels are hand-picked to fit seamlessly with your itinerary and our comfortable, air-conditioned coaches with ample leg room and reclining seats mean you can forget about navigating foreign roads and expensive tolls. Thanks to our Travel Directors’ honed skills, passion and local knowledge, your trip will run as smoothly as possible without the stress of planning the details yourself.

Travel has become… no different to being at home

“63% check the news, 57% check social media, 51% stay on top of emails”

We aim to bring you a more tactile, enriching journey; a mosaic of exceptional experiences. For example, dine with the Lenzi family on their Tuscan wine farm located on the ancient road between Siena and Florence. On this exclusive Be My Guest experience, you’ll feel like part of the family as Mrs. Lenzi gives you a tour of the vines, teaches you her traditional wine making process and treats you to a glass or two of Chianti. We’ll take you into the heart of each destination so that you feel fully immersed in a world completely different to your own.

Travel has become… an overwhelming checklist of things to do

“47% of people (close to half) admit to feeling guilty when they haven’t seen all the sights”

We’ve created trip styles that are designed as the ultimate way to discover a destination. Whether you want to focus on one place and tick off all the sights, hop borders and see more than one country or take your time exploring at leisure, we’ve got the trip style for you. What’s more, we maximise your sight-seeing time with free airport transfers to pre-booked accommodation, meaning no hassle on arrival. You can rest easy knowing that all of our itineraries are thoughtfully created to showcase the must-see sights, so you won’t miss a thing!

Travel has become… overcrowded

“61% of people agree that being in places with large crowds is a negative aspect of travel and 66% of people have experienced this during their last trip”

Nobody likes crowds. That’s why we go above and beyond to create on-trip experiences that feel intimate, exclusive and off the tourist trail. For example, we skip the queues at The Vatican Museums with our priority access and enjoy a guided tour with our Local Specialist. You’ll be able to soak up Michelangelo’s exquisite frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel in a crowd-free and peaceful environment.

Editor’s note: This sponsored article originally appeared on Trafalgar’s website under the headline, Is Wonder-Lost? How To Take The Stress Out Of Travel.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Family Travel Group Travel Weekend Getaways

Beyond the Theme Parks: How Adventures by Disney Opens a Whole New World of Travel

I wasn’t always a Disney person. Anyone who knew me in my twenties or thirties knows this. I mean, sure, I knew other people might enjoy traveling with Disney, but it definitely wasn’t for me. I liked hiking, trekking, camping; not crowds, not theme park rides, not Disney.

Or so I thought.

[st_content_ad]When I visited Walt Disney World with my kids for the first time, I realized: “Maybe this isn’t so bad.” As the trip progressed, that turned to: “Actually, I’m enjoying this quite a bit.” After a subsequent Disney cruise with my extended family, the needle moved again, all the way from “Disney World was fun, but I still don’t want to travel around the world with Disney,” to “please, sign me up for another Disney Cruise immediately.”

So when I had the opportunity to experience the third pillar of the Disney travel experience, a guided vacation with Adventures by Disney, I leapt at the chance. And the trip—a “Short Escape” to New York City—did not disappoint.

If you’re not quite sure that traveling with Disney is right for you, or even what it means to travel with Disney, here’s what you need to know about Adventures by Disney’s guided vacations.

What It Means to Travel with Disney

 I often tell people that Disney vacations can be as much or as little about “Disney” as you want them to be. Not into princesses and tiaras? No problem. Don’t like Star Wars?—What’s wrong with you?—But still, you’ll be fine on a Disney vacation. It’s not like the theme park experience at all. Adventures by Disney is all about the Disney way of doing things, not the Disney entertainment brand.

When you travel with Disney, here’s what you’ll get: friendly staff, VIP access, and unique experiences. All the other Disney stuff—super heroes, Jedi Knights, princesses—are just window dressing that you can either soak in or set aside, depending on your preferences.

Adventures by Disney and Disney Cruise Line are travel companies that consistently deliver quality trips with one-of-a-kind experiences. They’re not all-Disney, all-the-time, immersive experiences—unless specifically billed as such (e.g., a Star Wars Day at Sea on a cruise).

 

[st_related]What to Expect on a Disney Cruise: A First-Timer’s Guide[/st_related]

VIP Access

The biggest thing I didn’t understand about traveling with Disney before I did was the value-added experiences you can only get by traveling with them. My recent trip with Adventures by Disney to New York City is a perfect example: I used to live and work in New York, and I continue to visit the city at least three or four times a year for business. But seeing the city on Adventures by Disney’s New York Short Escape was, to borrow a line, a “whole new world.”

Over the course of a few days I saw parts of the city that most New Yorkers probably never do: I went behind the scenes at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater, where Disney’s Aladdin is currently playing, to explore the set and try on original costumes from past productions like Mary Poppins and The Lion King. I had front row seats for a live taping of Good Morning America and toured the ABC television studio. And after a live performance of Frozen: The Musical on Broadway—with front-row orchestra seats—I met several of the cast members after the rest of the crowd had gone home.

This was not a typical New York City getaway. It wasn’t something I ever could have put together on my own. The Adventures by Disney experience was essentially a VIP pass to the city’s hottest attractions.

[st_related]Disney Unveils Toy Story Land, Here’s What to Expect[/st_related]

Exceptional Service

Nowhere is the Disney difference on display more than in the people you meet in your travels. Whether it’s the staff on Disney Cruise Line or your two Adventures by Disney guides, you get the sense that the people accompanying you on vacation actually enjoy doing their job.

Compare that with, say, literally any encounter at an airport, and you start to get the picture. Being around people who enjoy what they do can be contagious, especially when what they do is ensuring you have a great trip.

Unique Travel Experiences

Adventures by Disney tailors each trip to its destination. My New York getaway had a very Manhattan vibe to it: Broadway shows, TV studio access, a Times Square hotel, high-end dining.

My wife and I spent an afternoon learning dance steps in a Broadway dance studio, but in Wyoming you’ll hit the trails on horseback; in Peru, you’ll visit Machu Picchu; in Japan you’ll get a lesson is wielding a samurai sword; in Tuscany you’ll make pizza in a rustic farmhouse; and in Rome you’ll have private after-hours access to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum.

These are not experiences you’re likely to have on another vacation.

Dozens of Destinations

Adventures by Disney offers vacations on six continents. There are long trips, and there are short escapes. Disney Cruise Line sails from both U.S. coasts and travels as far and wide as South America, the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, and Canada and New England. If there’s someplace you’ve always wanted to visit, chances are Disney can get you there in a unique way.

New for 2019, Adventures by Disney is introducing Short Escapes to Boston, Vancouver, and London. Other quick getaways include trips to New York City, San Francisco, Southern California, Wyoming, Barcelona, and Rome.

Everything Is Included

And finally: It’s all a package deal. Hotel accommodations, tickets and admissions, transportation on the trip, luggage handling, snacks, most meals, and two guides—everything is already baked into the price of your trip.

Josh Roberts visited New York City as a guest of Adventures by Disney. Follow him on Twitter @joshwritesYA.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Group Travel Money Road Trip Student Travel

5 Ways to Stay Sane When Planning a Trip with Friends

You haven’t eaten because your friend didn’t wake up in time for breakfast. Now your train is delayed and you missed out on the one tourist destination you really wanted to see. This is not the vacation you wanted when you imagined planning a trip with friends.

For friends to stay friends before, during, and after a trip, it’s vital to have both complementary travel styles and clearly defined expectations. This checklist for planning a trip with friends will minimize headaches and maximize quality time.

Questions to Ask Before Planning a Trip with Friends

Ask yourself these questions before committing to a trip with friends: 

  • Do your travel styles align? Figure out if you’ll be happy doing the same activities, staying in the same type of accommodations, and generally moving at the same speed. Comparing travel styles also means considering transportation preferences; for instance, are you OK with taking a connecting flight to save some money, or do you only travel nonstop?
  • What is the most important thing you want to get out of the trip? When planning a trip with friends, think about what you most want to get out of the trip. Are you longing for plenty of low-key beach time, or do you want to see every museum on your route? Figure out what your goals are before you agree to a trip with another person or group.
  • Do you have the same budget? Money is a big deal when it comes to travel. Don’t book a trip with someone if you know they’ll want to spend significantly more (or less) than you overall.
  • Do you have the same budget for different things? Your budget also encompasses what you’re willing to spend money on, like splurging on a hotel room vs. staying in a hostel, or going out to a nice restaurant vs. saving money on food by cooking in your vacation rental.
  • Who will take charge of booking and reservations? There’s a lot of leg work that goes into planning a trip with friends. If you don’t have the time, patience, or organization to take charge of these details, don’t volunteer to plan the whole trip.
  • How many vacation days are you willing to use? Before you book a trip, make sure you know how many days people are willing to take off from work so you know how flexible you can be with dates.
  • Do you want to book everything in advance? Some people like to travel with flexibility, while others prefer to have a set plan, so discuss this beforehand.
  • Do you have the same level of physical fitness? Many trips include long days on your feet or some sort of physical activity. If your friend is notorious for lagging behind, you might not want to go on a walking tour or volcano hike with them. Make sure you’re on the same page about just how much activity you want to do on your trip.

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Things to Consider When Planning a Trip with Friends

Here’s what to discuss when you’re planning a trip with friends:

  • Type of accommodations. Don’t book a five-star hotel if you’re trying to save on accommodations. But also keep in mind that hostels and budget hotels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Make sure you agree on what type of place you’ll stay at and a rough budget.
  • Type of transportation. Decide if you’ll fly, drive, or take a train ahead of time. It’s important to weigh the cost benefits of each option, i.e. saving money by taking a long train ride or spending more to get to a destination quicker.
  • What you can’t miss at the destination. Make a list of what you each want to do at the destination and allow time for everyone’s top activities.
  • On a road trip, who will be driving? Driving for hours on end is tiring. If you’re taking a road trip with a group, plan on switching off and taking breaks. If you’re renting a car, make sure everyone who is driving will be on the contract.
  • Eating schedules. Some people need to eat first thing in the morning while others can go hours before needing a meal. Discuss this ahead of time to avoid any hunger-induced arguments.
  • Sleep schedules. Jet lag and fatigue will vary by person. Make sure you don’t plan a bunch of activities right when you land if people want to rest or nap during the first few days of your trip.
  • How you’ll split up costs. Decide ahead of time what you’ll split expenses for, including meals, accommodations, and transportation.
  • What you’ll pay for individually. Decide ahead of time what you’ll pay for individually, such as flights, tickets, alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi, travel insurance, etc.
  • Tipping habits. Read this handy tipping guide together before you travel so you’re on the same page about tipping expectations in your destination.

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Tips for Splitting Expenses

Splitting expenses is one of the biggest problems you’ll encounter when planning a trip with friends. Use these tips to help alleviate money tension:

  • Book on Airbnb. You can now split the booking costs on Airbnb. This is a great way to split expenses on accommodations without anyone fronting the whole reservation.
  • Use rideshares. One of the reasons people love Uber is because of the built-in split cost feature. No more keeping track of who paid for which cab.
  • There’s an app for that. There are countless expense apps out there, but tricount is a great tool when planning a trip with friends.
  • Jar fund. Another alternative to tracking expenses is to create a “jar fund.” All members of the group contribute a set amount of money that goes onto a credit gift card. You can then use the card for meals, drinks, and other agreed-upon expenses.
  • Book accommodations or trips where you can pay in installments. This way if one person has to front the costs for accommodations, you can either divide the payment with installments or book with no deposit down so the other members of the group can pay the person back ahead of time.
  • Take out cash. It can get annoying if one person is always borrowing cash for tips or not exchanging enough money, so visit the bank before your trip.

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Important Tips for Traveling with Friends

Following these tips can help keep everyone on the same page and prevent offense:

  • Know what annoys them, and tell them what annoys you. When I travel with friends, I let them know that I always need to have something small to eat in the morning before we go out and do anything. The sooner they know that something will bother you, the better.
  • Raise issues before anything builds up. You’re more likely to reach a breaking point or get angry if you let little annoyances build up.
  • Be flexible and have patience. This helps you realistically manage expectations. Group trips are all about give and take. And hopefully if you go out of your way to go to a restaurant someone really wants to go to, then you’ll get your moment, too.
  • Don’t say “we’ll figure it out later” when paying. Keep track of expenses when they occur by using an expense app.
  • Pack well. Make sure you both pack things like chargers, adapters, proper footwear, and outerwear. It can get annoying when your friend asks to borrow your phone charger for the 10th time when you’re also trying to use it.
  • Have your alone time. Take some time every day to separate yourself from the group if you need to. It can be as simple as walking to a coffee shop or going to a museum by yourself.
  • Take turns. It can be exhausting if you’re always the one in charge of navigating or choosing a restaurant. Switch off being the group leader.
  • Limit phone time. Take time to be with your friends rather than on your phone. This also goes for taking photos: While it’s great to have your friends as photographers, it’s annoying to take 40 photos at every single monument.

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Trip Planning Help for Traveling with Friends 

If planning a trip with friends is too overwhelming for your group, look to these alternatives.

  • Go on a cruise. Cruising is a great way to travel with friends. There’s no planning involved once you’re on the trip, and everything is priced per person. Plus, you’ll have plenty of time to do your own thing.
  • Go on an organized tour. If you don’t want to do a cruise but want something preplanned, look at a guided tour. Intrepid Travel and G Adventures have great options for younger people, as do Contiki, STA Travel, and EF Ultimate Break.
  • Look into all-inclusives. If you want some flexibility with your trip, book an all-inclusive resort so your drinks, meals, and some activities are included in the up-front price.
  • Use a travel agent. This isn’t the cheapest option, but a travel agent will be able to plan and book a great itinerary for your group travel while keeping in mind everyone’s budget and must-do activities.

View the checklist:

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10 Exotic Dream Trips You Can Take in 2018

For many of us, the new year brings dreams of new travel destinations. And even if your other dreams and resolutions for 2018 have already fallen to the wayside, it’s not too late to make this the year that your dream trip becomes a reality. Whether your ideal getaway involves sun-soaked beaches, fairytale castles, epic long-distance hikes, or exclusive safaris, there’s an adventure for every taste and budget.

The Best Dream Trips for 2018

Here’s a sampling of the best dream trips you can take in 2018—many of them newly designed for the year ahead.

Visit an Exclusive Private Game Reserve at Thanda Safari in South Africa

[st_content_ad]Imagine a place where Africa’s famed Big Five game animals—lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, and Cape buffalo—roam freely in a spacious natural habitat, protected from hunters and poachers yet easily accessible to curious travelers. Imagine yourself there in the foothills of South Africa’s Drakensburg Mountains, led by a seasoned tracker and armed not with a hunting rifle but a camera. Now imagine you have an expert wildlife photographer at your side to teach you the secrets of capturing these magnificent animals up close in the African Bush.

At Thanda Safari, a five-star World Tourism Award-winning private game reserve in South Africa, you don’t have to imagine it. You can live it with a stay at the luxury reserve’s upscale lodge, luxury camping tents, or private villa. This African outfitter combines all of the traditional elements of a once-in-a-lifetime safari with a commitment to supporting the local Zulu culture and caring for the environment. There’s no better time to visit than in 2018, when South Africa celebrates Nelson Mandela’s centenary.

Important Information: Local staff and guides enhance the experience and provide cultural immersion opportunities. Guests can opt to stay in a traditional safari lodge, a luxury safari camping tent, or a private villa.

Provider: Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve

Price: ‎$687 to $1,389 (based on average rates for a standard room)

Sail the Coast of Sri Lanka with G Adventures

Sri Lanka, an island nation in the emerald waters of the Indian Ocean, is the up-and-coming destination for international travelers in Southeast Asia. But more interest naturally means bigger crowds, too, which is why G Adventures‘ intimate new seven-day sailing trip around the southern coast of the island is a perfect way to discover this rising destination in 2018. In addition to exploring ancient forts, remote beach towns, and tiny fishing villages, you’ll also have ample time to relax, surf, and snorkel.

This is a brand-new itinerary for G Adventures in 2018, making it a must-book dream trip for avid travelers who want to be the first to see a hot destination that’s high on rewards and low on crowds.

Important Information: Travelers must be at least 16 years old to book this trip. Light physical activity, including hiking, kayaking, rafting, and walking, is required. This is a small-group trip with a maximum group size of eight people.

Provider: G Adventures

Price: Starting at $1,359 from G Adventures

Hike Japan’s Long-Distance Paths with Walk Japan

Beyond the bright lights and sensory overload of Tokyo, Japan’s rural past lives on in its serene long-distance walking routes, many of which are offered as guided trips by tour operator Walk Japan. Nakasendo Way, one of the five established routes used during the Edo period, once connected Edo—modern day Tokyo—to Kyoto for pedestrian travelers. Today you can take a guided walking tour of Nakasendo Way for a taste of old Japan—while still benefitting from a few modern amenities, like baggage transfers between stops.

Important Information: Walk Japan’s five-day guided tour of Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road can be booked for travel in March, April, May, June, September, October, or November. A longer and more strenuous alternative is also available.

Provider: Walk Japan

Price: Starting at 216,000 YEN (about $1,900 USD at time of publication) from Walk Japan

Uncover the Mysteries of Easter Island at Explora Rapa Nui

A far-flung and mystical destination hundreds of miles off the coast of mainland Chile, Easter Island (called Rapa Nui by its indigenous people) often finds its way onto the bucket lists of passionate travelers. Just 63 square miles in size, Rapa Nui packs a lot of adventure into its small stature: Think volcanos, beaches, wild horses, and of course moai statues—the famous “Easter Island heads” that have confounded explorers and archeologists for centuries.

There’s no better way to see all of Rapa Nui than with a stay at the famed Explora Rapa Nui lodge, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018. At Explora, you can select from more than 30 guided explorations of the island based on your personal interests and fitness level. And at the end of the day, you’ll return to the lodge for a glass of Chilean wine or a frisky pisco sour, or perhaps indulge at the spa amid a luxe environment with waterfront views.

Important Information: Local staff and guides enhance the experience and provide cultural immersion opportunities.

Provider: Explora Rapa Nui

Price: $996 to $1,754 (based on average rates for a standard room)

Animate Your Summer at Disney’s New Toy Story Land in Florida

Last year it was Pandora—The World of Avatar. Next year, it will be Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. But don’t overlook this summer’s big Disney Parks reveal: Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Featuring new rides like the Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers, as well as a carnival-themed 4-D arcade, Toy Story Land is primed to be the hottest ticket in Orlando this summer.

Important Information: Final dates have yet to be announced, but Toy Story Land is expected to open in time for the summer travel season. Some Disney hotels will also feature Toy Story décor this summer.

Provider: Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

Price: Starting at $99 for a one-day pass to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Relax at a Floating Hotel Off the Coast of British Columbia

Located in the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, the spectacular Ocean House floating hotel offers isolation-seekers the ultimate opportunity to experience a remote part of the world in virtual solitude.

Newly opened in 2018, the Ocean House offers three-, four-, and seven-night adventure travel packages highlighting the culture and natural environs of the local Haida people—all with unexpectedly luxurious touches. Activities include guided rainforest hikes amongst old-growth forests and up-close explorations of ancient Haida villages now returning to wilderness. Pair a stay at the Ocean House with the floating hotel’s sister property, the Haida House, located in the village of Tlell on Haida Gwaii’s east coast, for even more opportunities to explore and relax.

Important Information: Packages include return flights to Vancouver, as well as helicopter transfers to and from Ocean House. Meals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and adventure activities are also included.

Provider: Ocean House in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Price: Starting at $4,410 per guest

Discover Cyprus, a Mediterranean Alternative to Croatia, with Intrepid Travel

Tourists love the Mediterranean Sea so much that Europe’s most popular coastal countries become a sea unto themselves every summer—a sea of tourists, that is. But that’s not the case in sunny Northern Cyprus, a dream trip candidate that remains gloriously unspoiled by mass tourism. One of the best kept secrets in the region, Northern Cyprus delivers peaceful beaches and plenty of sunshine, sans crowds.

Intrepid Travel‘s new eight-day Northern Cyprus guided trip lets you explore ancient monasteries and fairytale castles (including Saint Hilarion Castle, said to be the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Snow White and Seven Dwarfs), swim along the coast, and relax against an idyllic Mediterranean backdrop. It’s relatively inexpensive, too—especially considering what you get for the price: private transportation, seven nights’ accommodations, bread and cheese making experiences, a day cruise, and multiple castle and monastery visits.

Important Information: This eight-day trip runs four times between May and October 2018. The minimum age of participants is 15 years old. Maximum group size is 12 people.

Provider: Intrepid Travel

Price: Starting at $1,054 from Intrepid Travel

Witness Iceland’s Northern Lights with Wilderness Travel

Once ignored considered more of a stopover than a destination in and of itself, Iceland is now among the top dream trips for adventure seekers and casual tourists alike. Yet even with its recent surge in visitors, the country shows no hint of being spoiled by its popularity. Perhaps that’s because the best parts of this sparsely populated island nation remain inaccessible except to the hardy few who venture into its vast and icy wilderness.

New for 2018, upscale adventure outfitter Wilderness Travel has assembled what might be the ultimate Icelandic experience: eight days of hiking, snowshoeing, and star gazing during the darkest months of the year in search of the elusive Northern Lights. If snowshoeing across lava fields and spelunking through lava tubes is your jam, this is the trip for you.

Important Information: This eight-day winter trip is recommended for those who are physically able to complete all excursions. Departures are offered in February, March, and November 2018.

Provider: Wilderness Travel

Price: Starting at $7895 from Wilderness Travel

Explore the Galapagos by Catamaran with Exodus Travel

The Galapagos Islands need no introduction, but this new-for-2018 dream trip offers a whole new way to see this remote archipelago with popular adventure travel company Exodus Travel: onboard the Nemo II, a First Class Motor Sail Catamaran with room for the whole family.

This brand-new itinerary is the perfect trip for those looking to bring a dream family vacation to life. The itinerary includes snorkeling, guided walks through the islands, and plenty of up-close photo opportunities in Exodus Travel’s trademark responsible travel style.

Important Information: This is a leisurely trip appropriate for most fitness levels. The minimum age for participants is eight years old. Maximum group size is 14 people. Departures are available in April, July, and August 2018. A local leader accompanies travel parties on their adventure.

Provider: Exodus Travels

Price: Starting at $5,655 for adults and $5,385 for children from Exodus Travel

Experience Europe’s Last Great Adventure with Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

You have to be a certain kind of traveler to hear about a place called the “Accursed Mountains” and think to yourself, “Yes, that sounds like a dream trip to me.” If you’re just such a traveler, then a) we are kindred spirits, and b) get yourself to the Albanian Alps—the so-called Accursed Mountains—to discover a seemingly endless wilderness of alpine lakes, rugged river valleys, secluded villages, and staggering limestone gorges.

This is, in many respects, the last underexplored wilderness in Europe, and Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel‘s eight-day guided trip takes you there for a week’s worth of hardcore hiking against an indescribably spectacular backdrop.

Important Information: This trip requires a high level of physical fitness. All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included. You will spend five nights in hotels and two in local guesthouses. Departures are available in June and September 2018.

Provider: Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

Price: Starting at $1,349 from Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

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Josh Roberts believes the best trips involve long hikes and muddy boots. His life goals haven’t changed much since he was a kid: He still wants to be Indiana Jones when he grows up. Follow him on Instagram at @jauntist and on Facebook @JoshRobertsBooks.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Experiential Travel Outdoors Sustainable Travel

Watchmen, Orcas, and Matcha Green Tea: What It’s Like on the ‘Canadian Galapagos’

Tucked away somewhere just below Alaska and off the coast of northwest Canada lies Haida Gwaii. Wander the west coast beaches and you’ll find Japanese ramen containers and other “tsunami trash.” Try to sail through its passages and you could be stuck in seconds. This place is not for the unadventurous. A trip here requires patience, a willingness to unplug, and an urge to trust and connect with the local people.

To the west is nothing but ocean until you reach Japan. With no land masses between them, the Haida Gwaii islands are met with a very powerful ocean and an uninterrupted force of nature. An ocean so powerful, that the west coast is one of the most dangerous for mariners, and trash from the 2011 Japanese tsunami still washes ashore.

Haida Gwaii Will Get You to Unplug

There’s no cell service in most parts, and accommodations have limited bandwidth on their Wi-Fi. Coming here is a forced (and often welcomed) digital detox. You won’t be trying to post to Instagram because you literally can’t, and after just a few hours on the island, you’ll appreciate that.

What Haida Gwaii does have is immense wildlife, an insane coastline, and a fascinating native population.

Haida Gwaii, Islands of the People

The Haida people are to thank for the pure experience. Native to the island chain, the Haidas have lived on Haida Gwaii (which translates to “Islands of the People” in Haida) for over 12,500 years, with some recent discoveries dating the population as far back as 17,000 years ago. They established trade with Japan, Hawaii, California, and even Mexico thousands of years ago, and passed down their culture through oral history. Right now there are about 1,400 Haidas (the total island population is about 4,500) living on the islands who continuously work to protect their land and culture.

Haida traditions run strong on the islands, especially their connection to nature. Haida art is recognized worldwide, and can be seen in wooden carvings or totem poles, jewelry-making, and cedar basket weaving. Haida art materials come directly from the earth, using elements like red cedar trees for totem poles and naturally pigmented paints—to get the color red, they use deer blood.

But the most important relationship within Haida culture is that of man to sea. In the Haida language they have 54 words alone just to describe the movement of the ocean. A Haida diet consists mostly of food from the sea, like salmon, kelp, seaweed, crab, halibut, and roe.

Meal at Keenawaii’s Kitchen

On the islands, you can eat at Keenawaii’s Kitchen—a restaurant inside chef Roberta Olson’s home—for a traditional welcoming meal.

Protecting Haida Gwaii

As a First Nations people, they’ve struggled (like many) to maintain their identity, but have done so by protecting their environment and culture politically, and now with culturally responsible tourism.

In order to preserve not only the environment and oceans, but also their culture, the Haidas created a “watchmen” program. This helps protect important Haida Gwaii sites, as well as teaches visitors about the history and importance of their heritage. The concept of the watchmen is taken from traditional Haida clan structure, where three members stood watch over the land, sky, and sea. Now, the watchmen oversee five important sights on the island—K’uuna (or Skedans), T’aanuu (Tanu), SGaang Gwaii (Anthony Island/Ninstints), Klk’yah (Windy Bay), and Gandle K’in (Hotspring Island)—and ensure their environmental and cultural preservation.

A totem pole at the Haida Heritage Center

Make sure to visit the Haida Heritage Center before you go off on your own, for an overview of the Haida Gwaii culture and a chance to talk to Haida people and even some watchmen. You’ll find the five watchmen sights in Gwaii Haanas, the national park reserve on the Southern part of the island. Another highlight of the national park reserve is the wildlife. Known as “the Canadian Galapagos,” you’ll find everything from orcas to falcons to black bears on this archipelago.

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When visiting the national reserve, Gwaii Haanas, or “Islands of Beauty”, visitors must first go through an orientation. You’ll learn about the watchmen, things to do (how to camp, where to sail and kayak, etc.), and safety tips. Other ways you can enjoy the island and culture include via sea plane, on ocean excursions or fishing trips, by hiking, and more. Go at it on your own, or take an organized tour through different parts of the park via boat, kayak, plane, and overnight hiking tours.

Travel Tips for Haida Gwaii, Where to Stay, Eat, and Transportation

The Haida House is a great place to stay for a glimpse at Haida culture and for an all-inclusive experience. It offers traditional (and delicious) meals, helps organize tours, and has its own cultural ambassador. Plus, the sunrise view is killer. The resort has a good relationship with all the locals on the island, and on my trip we took a boat tour with Haida Style Expeditions. At the end we pulled up the captain’s crab traps and brought about 20 crabs back to the Haida House to have on the menu for dinner.

The Haida House at Tllaal

For transportation on Haida Gwaii, it’s best to rent a car—unless you arrange for different tour operators to pick you up. There are a few taxis, but service outside of the two main towns, Masset and Queen Charlotte, is limited. Note, you’ll most likely have cellphone signal in these areas.

Meals will vary depending on your accommodations, but there are a variety of no-frills coffee shops and restaurants in both Masset and Queen Charlotte. Head to Jag’s Beanstalk for an Aussie-style cafe with terrific coffee and sandwiches; or hit up Queen B’s in Queen Charlotte for the world’s best matcha green tea latte—at least the best I’ve ever had. (You can Instagram it later.)

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These small towns prove that there is more to the islands than just old-growth forests and campsites. There’s a thriving population adapting to modern-day technology and pop culture that’s still willing to sacrifice almost anything for Mother Nature.

Come for the wilderness, stay for the people. And remember yah’guudang, which means “respect for all things.”

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Ashley traveled to Haida Gwaii courtesy of Destination BC. Follow all of her adventures (big and small) on Instagram and Twitter.

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14 Tips for Choosing the Right Group Tour

Finding the right group tour is a mix of persistence, research, and a bit of magic. You’re not just looking for a great tour, but a great tour for you. For example, an active 40-something single woman might not be happy on the same tour that a couple in their 70s would enjoy.

Below are 14 tips to help you choose the right group tour for you, including important questions to ask and decisions only you can make.

Understand the Variety of Group Tours Available

[st_content_ad]Many travelers picture a week on a motorcoach when the hear the words “group tour,” but this is only a fraction of the group tour landscape. Sure, you can book a big bus tour to hit the major attractions in Rome, Florence, and Venice, but you can also book an intimate photo tour of Tuscany or a hiking vacation in the Italian Alps. If you have a dream activity or vacation, there’s probably a tour operator that offers it.

Understand What Type of Traveler You Are

It’s your responsibility to understand yourself as a traveler and to make sure you are the intended customer of any given tour. If you are a young person looking for fun and you end up on a bus full of retirees, or if you are traveling solo and end up surrounded by families with kids, it is absolutely on you.

Comb the tour operator’s website; do the people in the pictures look like travelers you’d want to hang out with? Does the itinerary appeal to your interests? Is there a “frequently asked questions” section that offers information about fellow travelers (such as average age and where they’re from)?

Finally, reading reviews may be more critical for tours than almost any other travel purchase. A dingy hotel for a night is one thing, but 10 days completely out of your element is another entirely, and reviews can make a big difference.

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Figure Out the Right Size Group for You

While most folks lean toward smaller groups, bigger tours have some upsides as well—including greater diversity of group members, more opportunities to find “your people,” and sometimes lower costs. The drawbacks include doing everything with a ton of other travelers, which can create instant crowds, and having to take more time to do simple tasks such as checking into hotels and eating meals.

Small groups, meanwhile, tend to move more quickly and can sometimes access experiences that can’t accommodate large numbers. It’s easier to get to know everyone else in a smaller group, and you’ll have more chances to interact with your tour leaders and guides.

The downside? Traveling in smaller groups means there are fewer people to talk to and makes it more likely that one or two strong personalities could have an outsize effect on the overall experience.

Check the Activity Level

You’ll want the physical demands of the tour to match your preference and capacity. If most of the time is spent on a bus and you want to walk around—or vice versa—make sure you ask before you book.

Check How Open the Itinerary Is

Do you feel more relaxed having your entire day planned out for you, or would you rather have some free time to break out on your own? Most itineraries are fairly clear on which approach they take, so look for it.

Understand the Pace of the Tour

Some people want to feel like they’re seeing as much as possible, while others find bagging attractions in rapid succession unfulfilling or even punishing. Does the itinerary have you exploring big cities like Beijing for only a day, or packing three European countries into a week and a half? How many sights and activities are listed for each day? Are there slower days that you feel would be time wasted? Look carefully at the itinerary and read past reviews to get a sense of whether the tour’s pace would suit you.

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Research Transportation

How will you get from one place to the next—an air-conditioned motorcoach? A crowded local train? A ferry? A plane? Any of these options might make a difference in your comfort and enjoyment.

Consider using Google Maps or a similar service to check the distance between stops on the tour. If you’re going to be spending four hours on buses every other day to get from one city to the next, that’s worth knowing (and, perhaps, avoiding).

Understand the Meal Plan

Some tours offer elaborate sit-down dinners, while others take a more casual approach or even leave you to find your own meals from time to time. Understand which you prefer as well as what is offered.

Use Travel Agents with Care

Travel agents can be very helpful, but occasionally they might steer you toward tour operators with whom they have a relationship, including incentives to steer customers in their direction. Once you have decided on the things you want from a tour, don’t allow yourself to be sold something considerably different; stick to your guns.

Consider Booking with a Foreign Tour Company

Though it may somewhat complicate your search for a tour company, you might want to consider booking with a company based in the country or region you plan to visit. So long as language barriers are not an issue, locally based tour operators can sometimes offer intense immersion in a place, as you may not only be visiting local establishments, but also traveling with locals.

Understand the Role of Group Tour Guides

Some tours use one or two guides to do everything; others employ different local guides at each attraction or location. Having only one or two guides can means travelers can get to know them well throughout the trip; however, one guide can’t be an expert on everything, while a series of guides absolutely can be.

Understand also what the guide will do. On an art tour, does the guide take care of the big logistics but then release you at the museum door? Or does he or she accompany the group into the museum, providing commentary and expertise on the art?

There does seem to be some correlation between the reputation of a tour company and the quality of the guides, for two reasons. First, the top companies can attract the best people, and second, that very reputation is often based on the experience the guides create.

Look for Experiences, not Attractions

Anyone can book a reservation at a great restaurant; not everyone can get the chef to come out and teach you how to make paella. Many tour operators offer “experiences” of just this kind, which are sometimes the entire reason to hire a tour company in the first place; keep an eye out for these distinctive offerings.

Price It Out

Because of the economies of scale that a tour operator enjoys, it can get many things below market rate. The company might not pass on all those savings to you, however, as that is how it makes a profit.

There’s a way to understand the value a tour operator is offering: Price out the itinerary yourself. See how much it would cost you to book the hotels and attractions on your own. (If air is included in your package, check out that cost, too.)

Many tour customers have found that the price of booking everything themselves isn’t significantly different from the cost of the tour; in this case, it may be worth booking the tour for the additional value of convenience and expert guides. If the cost of a group tour seems far beyond what you could book on your own, however, you might want to consider a different company.

See What’s Included

Things like gratuities, admission tickets, and meals may or may not be included on a group tour. A trip that looks affordable for you might be less so once you add in all the extras.

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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.

Categories
Adventure Travel Budget Travel

Win a ‘7-Day Essential Kenya’ Tour for 2

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Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Group Travel

Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

Author: LSKahn
Date of Trip: May 2005

This was an elderhostel tour as opposed to my usual method of travel in Europe — home exchanges combined with independent travel using the home exchange house as a base.

I have to say that the scenery on this trip was just spectacular and I took more photos than I have ever taken on a trip times 2. I had to stop at one point and have a photo shop put my two film cards on a CD so I could start over. Unfortunately, I had to delete some photos I took before I did that when I ran out of room.

Sicily and the Aeolian Islands are not places many Americans go on vacation unless they have relatives there or are living in Europe. Put in a few golf courses and Sicily could easily become a prime destination for those looking for a resort type vacation. In this observation I exclude the city of Palermo which, from what I saw, is dirty and not at all scenic. The rest of what I saw, however, was drop dead gorgeous. It was blue sea, brightly colored flowers, white or pastel colors on the homes. Choosing where to shoot was difficult, so you shot everywhere.

Friday, May 20th
I left Dulles Airport on time for my flight to Milan with a connection to Catania, Sicily. Sicily has two airports: Catania on the East side and the capital of Palermo. I flew into Catania and left from Palermo. The flights were on Alitalia which has those centralized movie screens making it difficult for short people to see. Since I generally read on flights and/or nap, it did not bother me, but it might be something you would want to consider if seeing the films is important to you.

Saturday, May 21st
While waiting for the connecting flight from Milan to Catania, I began to meet members of my elderhostel group. There were 18 in the group about 2/3rds of whom were on the same flight from Milan to Catania. After arrival in Catania, we were escorted to our ship in the Catania harbor and assigned to our bunks. There were two bunks in a cabin and I was very lucky to get my own cabin. That resulted when the woman who was supposed to room with me announced she wanted her own cabin. The strange thing is that she ended up being the nicest person on the trip and we would have been roomies just fine. It was her first trip to Europe and I think she was just nervous. I took the smallest cabin and left her with the larger one.

Now the boat was The Flying Dutchman, a Dutch schooner with a crew of 4 (captain, his wife, Anika (age 23, a terrific sailor!) and a young man who was our cook. This was not to be confused with a luxury boat. The food was not gourmet but I have no complaints about it either. Our cabins were spartan and teeny. This was not a cruise ship; it was a sailboat; there was no dressing for dinner. But, we all knew the score from the information provided ahead of time and largely chose the trip because we wanted to be on a sailboat. The main problem for me on the ship is that I enjoy reading when there are long sails. It was often hard to get away into a quiet corner because people were busy chatting. Some whiled away the hours at sea playing bridge or dominos. I read 3 books, 6 New Yorkers and assorted other magazines left around by others on the boat. One of my books went home with another participant, which was fine with me.

On the first day we had free time until dinner when we were given some information about the boat and ate the first of our many meals on board. We then all crashed sound asleep very quickly.

Information about The Flying Dutchman can be found at flying-dutchman.com. It is heavily chartered by elderhostel but is available for other groups.

Sunday, May 22nd
We sailed to Siracusa after some free time in the morning.

We had a walking tour of the town and the Greek theater. The theater is spectacular and the best preserved in Sicily. My biggest regret of the trip was that we could not see a performance of a play there as the one day we could have, we got in too late to go. The performances are in Italian, not Greek, but I presume that plot summaries are available in other languages if you do not speak Italian.

We were going to spend the night in Siracusa, but the captain changed his mind do to weather predictions about up coming rough seas, so we departed for Riposto. Riposto is the harbor south of Taormina where most boats for Taormina dock. It is my understanding that the only alternative in Taormina is to dock in the harbor and use dinghies to get to short (time consuming and not much fun).. At Riposto, unlike other moorings, we were able to dock alongside so we could just hop on and off the boat. At other ports we either used a narrow gangway or dinghies (2 ports). We quickly got adept at using whatever was needed to get on shore.

Those who wanted to could help raise the sails. It was not required. There were two masts and the largest of the sails was hydrolic. I have searched for a website to link with this report (I know there is one) to answer all the questions about the size of the boat, etc., but have not yet found it. When I do, I will come back and add the link.

Monday, May 23rd
The morning was free in Riposto and and an afternoon excursion was planned to Naxos to see some ruins and a small museum. This was improvised as we really were supposed to still be in Siracusa according to the schedule. Schedules have to be frequently negotiated on a sailboat.

Instead of remaining with the group, I took off on my own to take the circumvensa railroad around Mount Etna. This involved taking a bus from Giarre/Riposto to where you pick up the train and then spending a little over 4 hours on the train circling the mountain (plenty of photo ops). There is a place where you get off and wait about a half hour for the next train. This is a very small slow train–fine for sightseeing, but also used by locals as the school bus back and forth to school, for shopping, etc. You arrive back in Catania, but, as I discovered, not at the train station where the train leaves for Giarre/Riposto (figures). I asked a few people and finally figured out how to get the bus to the central station. As in all of Italy, bus tickets are purchased at any tabacconist, kiosk, etc. Arriving in Catania I at first went to the queue to buy tickets and then saw the automatic ticket machine (bigletteria). I went there and charged my 2.25 euro ticket home.

On board the train I met a delightful young man who was studying English. His English was so letter perfect that I thought he was British–complete with an upperclass accent! We had a nice chat and he ended up driving me back to the port in Riposto. I was home about an hour before the group returned from Naxos.!

Tuesday, May 24th
Today we went to Taormina. We had a walking tour of the town before lunch. For lunch some of us took a cab to Castelmollo on the top of the hill. After an “interesting” cab ride, we found a restaurant and had spaghetti there. The setting overlooking Taormina (spectacular enough from Taormina’s level down below) could not be beat. After lunch, some hiked down, but I looked at my watch and figured that, if I did that, I would keep too many people waiting, and opted to take a taxi. We ended up waiting for the hikers. I spent some of the time shopping and bought a small painting that could fit in my suitcase and a figurine of a woman lawyer for my office (I am an attorney).

Then it was back to the ship to relax. I do have to report that on this trip I discovered Sicilian granita. It is what we Americans often refer to as lemon ice, but in Sicily it is definitely much better and there are oh so many flavors that don’t exist here. After being tipped off by my English student young man on the train, I tried the granita at the restaurant in the Riposto harbor. I had pistachio granita. It was to die for.

Wednesday, May 25th
Today we sailed through the straits of Messina to Scilla in Calabria. We had to use dinghies to get ashore but landed right smack in the middle of a Corpus Christi religious procession. It was the first of two such processions we were to see. An even larger one awaited us on the island of Lipari in the Aeolian Islands (more on that later). A walk around the town and up to the castle (unfortunately closed for the evening) ended, of course, with a gelato.

Thursday, May 26th
Today we sailed for our first Aeolian Island, Stromboli. The chief attraction in Stromboli is the volcano. It is best seen at night when you can see the red flares. Some hiked up to the top, but, hey, this was an elderhostel. The boat moseyed on over to the best viewing point and watched in comfort rather than climbing up. I bought a t-shirt which says (in Italian) “On Stromboli even the cats are on vacation.”There is a nice drawing of a sleeping cat in a window well.

Friday, May 27th
We headed for the island of Panera. Many of the jet set have summer homes there. We took a hike to a prehistoric site. Not everyone did the hike. I made it to the top of the hill but did not walk into the site. I was able to take plenty of good photos from that vantage point and, mindful of an ankle I broke last year that was reinjured two weeks before the trip, I did not walk down into the site. Enough was enough and I did not want to take unnecessary chances with turning it over on the uneven ground. I did have the ankle in a brace for much of the trip and occasionally used a stick on uneven ground as a safety measure.

Saturday, May 28th
If it is Sunday it must be Salina. Salina was the quietest of the Aeolian Islands we visited (we did not go to Filicudi or Alcudi). There was a bar and a ceramics shop in the harbor but not much else. During the day, we had a tour of the island which included a caper farm and a winery. I bought some capers which I ended up giving to the boat when I thought about the damage that could be done if they plastic bag they were in decided to open in my luggage. I also bought a bottle of grappa at the winery which was eventually consumed on the boat. Given the weight and trouble, I no longer bring wine or liquor back from Europe.

Sunday, May 29th
We went first to Volcano where a hike to the top of the volcano was offered. At this point we were all fairly chilled out and only 3 tried the hike. Two completed it. Some swam off the boat. The rest of us took the dinghy to shore and explored the town on foot. Eventually we all met up at the inevitable bar in the harbor for limoncello and/or gelatti. Unfortunately some of the group found out how much those fancy ice cream concoctions cost when you sit down at a table in a major tourist destination.

The boat then moved on to Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Island, where we anchored for two nights.

The evening was free for ambling and shopping or whatever. A group of the men went to dinner in a restaurant. The rest of us remained on board. My understanding was that a number of the men more or less drank their dinner. I heard about it afterwards. A highlight of the day was the Corpus Christi relgious procession in Lipari. Unfortuantely, it was in the evening when it passed by and and I missed some great photo ops. I thought the locals took the procession rather casually. One of the musicians in the band immediately picked up her cell phone and began talking as soon as the music stopped. She talked as she continued walking in the procession. Some of the children needed adults to remind them to keep their minds on what it was they were supposed to be doing. Kids are the same everywhere!

Monday, May 30th
The morning was free for ambling, shopping or relaxing by the port. I used my time to finally put my film cards on a CD so I could freely shoot photos again. I did some shopping, buying a ceramic tile from a shop in the harbor that had the most intense colors of any ceramic shop I saw. I was sorry I had purchased things elsewhere. The tile is out at the framers being simply framed so I can hang it on the wall.

The afternoon was spent on a tour of the island by bus which finished with a walk up to the castle and the Aeolian Museum. The museum is full of pots and the guide spoke about the different ways the pots are dated, the styles, etc. If it had not been so hot in the museum I would have paid better attention. There were also masks from Greek plays that had been discovered and were displayed. Interestingly, there was no museum shop. Plenty of replicas of those masks were available all over Lipari in the shops.

After dinner, the guide, one other woman and I walked over to the beach and collected pumice stones. Italians use these to rub dead skin off feet. We brought ours back to the boat and left them for anyone who wanted them. They are volcanic in origin and actually float if you throw them in water! We tried it!

Tuesday, May 31st
I spent the day sailing to Cefalu, just east of Palermo on the northern coast. Cefalu is a charming town, but the boat had to dock a good distance away from the downtown so we got in a walk after dinner to earn our gelato. I had limoncello gelato which, alas, turned out to taste suspiciously like lemon custard. The cathedrale is very interesting inside with a huge mosaic of Christ over the altar.

Wednesday, June 1st
In the morning we double confirmed our flights and then set sail for Palermo. Arriving in Palermo, we had a few hours and I finally succeeded in seeing a Sicilian puppet show where Orlando and Rinaldo slugged it out and the Saracens were left in a heap on the floor. We got a chance to try to pick up the puppets afterwards and I can tell you that they were extremely heavy. I also saw the cathedral in Palermo. My one regret is that there was no time to go to Montreale, but I have learned that you never get to see everything on these trips.

Thursday, June 2nd
We were awakened at 4:00am to tumble onto the bus for the ride to the Palermo airport and our connecting flights home. I had a window seat on a blissfully uncrowded transatlantic flight. As we flew away from Milan, I could almost touch Mont Blanc out the window. When we reached Canada, there were great views of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia! You do not get that often!

Our wonderful trip to Sicily was over and I had a wonderful tan to cause much jealousy in the office!

Some Notes
I have enjoyed traveling in Europe either through home exchanges or on group trips. Each way has its plusses and minuses.

When you are independently traveling and something goes wrong, you have to figure it out. The upside is, of course, you do what you want to do when you want to do it. That is a huge advantage, but it does mean that YOU plan every detail of your trip.

A group tour removes all the uncertainty. If something goes wrong, the tour director deals with it. The disadvantage is that you may not care for some of the people or you may want to do something else than what is planned for the day. I did go “off tour” twice but was always careful to be certain to return when I needed to so as not to inconvenience anyone. There is nothing more annoying than have to wait for someone who gets “lost” on a tour and holds everyone else up (usually over haggling in a market in my experience). In Palermo, I was 5 minutes late for dinner (which was on the boat, so I inconvenienced no one by being 5 minutes late). You cannot believe how many said they were worried. The tour organizer told them all he had seen me and I was fine (He ran into me at the Palermo Cathedral and I assured him I would be back on time, etc.). When I walked onto the boat, I did get applause! The one who was worried the most, by the way, was the woman who did not want a roommate! We became good buddies on the tour and would have roomed together just fine. Many individuals have never traveled independently and get worried when they can’t see the guide. They were amazed I took the bus back to the boat from the cathedral and survived!

On my Russia trip with elderhostel, I tuned to CD’s when people started complaining. Most group trips–even non elderhostel ones for which you must be a minimum of age 55–attract older people. Unfortunately, many of them are not used to the petty inconveniences of travel. The food is a frequent source of complaints. Toilets are another. I have to say that on the boat I had my own toilet and I never used a public toilet in Italy as I could always return to my private moving hotel (the boat) except at the Milan airport when I was coming and going. In any event, you do have to learn to turn that stuff off or the kvetches will drive you nuts!

On the boat it was difficult also to find private space when we were sailing, say, to read. There were groups that formed to play bridge and dominos, but I was not interested in that. I preferred to read. Reading in the cabins during the day was not comfortable as the cabins were basically bunks and a closet (mine had no closet because I took the smaller cabin to allow the older woman to have the larger one–and avoid any unpleasantness). There were no chairs and no air conditioning. When the boat was not moving, there were fans to cool the air down below, but during the day it could be quite warm. Finding a quiet space on top was difficult because there seemed to be “talkers” everywhere when I wanted to read. I did usually find a spot but sometimes I rotated to different places around the boat to find quiet.

Having said all of this, I did know what I was getting into and was glad to have had the experience, but we really spent too much time on the boat. Looking back on it, I would have preferred more land time. However, it was just great not to have to move hotels all the time and the whole idea of the sailboat was just grand. The hotel moved with you. On balance, I am glad I took this trip, but, if I took another elderhostel cruise sometime, I would look for a boat with larger cabins and a bit more place for personal space.

If you are interested in elderhostel, they do have all sorts of trips — and something for everyone. I particularly have enjoyed the active outdoor experiences in the US where you get the more active seniors. Please note that most people on the trips that are NOT labeled as “active outdoor” tend to be well over 55. As someone just a “tad” over 55, however, I always find some people to hang with no matter what their age. Many times the oldest person on the trip is the one with the most spunk. There is no telling.

By the way, if you wanted to go to the Aeolian Islands by yourself, you could easily base yourself in Lipari for a week and take boats between the islands. Another great place as a base would be Cefalu, which is a very cute town on the Sicilian mainland.

Categories
Solo Travel

Travelling through Asia with Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Author: John M.
Date of Trip: April 2006

I was in Cambodia touring the temples of Angkor. My guide Ry, was staring at me with a look of utter horror on his face. I was smiling broadly before the penny dropped, and realised I had made one of life’s awful tourist gaffes.

It was a hot morning, and I had been at the temples since 5.30 to capture the magical moment when the sun rose over one of the ancient world’s most amazing complexes — Angkor Wat.

By 11.30 am, Ry could see I was struggling with the heat and humidity.

“Sir,” he enquired, “Would you like to walk back to the air-conditioned car and go to a restaurant for a late breakfast? You are looking very hot.”

It sounded an excellent idea, so I willingly agreed. We returned to the car and, as we began driving towards the restaurant, I decided to invite Ry and the driver to join me because I was travelling solo and disliked eating alone.

After some 10 minutes, the driver pulled into a small car park and we got out. Ry pointed to a cute little bridge over a small stream and a winding path that led through the trees to a vague sort of stone building. He nodded enthusiastically and gestured for me to cross the bridge.

I beamed, and said: “Ry, I’d like you and the driver to come with me. It will be so much more fun if we go together. I really don’t like going by myself.”

It was at the this point that Ry blushed profusely, looked stricken and stammered “No, Sir…”

But I was not to be so easily put off. I jocularly grabbed Ry and the driver by the arms and began theatrically pulling them over the bridge, chuckling, “Come on guys, let’s all go together! It will be so much more fun!”

It was at that point Ry explained the car had stopped at the Angkor public toilets so I could have a comfort stop. Apparently, the restaurant was still several kilometres away. I wished the bridge would collapse and the stream would carry me away.

I am good at creating embarrassing moments for myself. But, in a strange country, many of us are prone to the tourist foot-in-mouth statement.

As I wandered through Indo China, my embarrassing moments continued.

In Hoi An, on Vietnam’s central coast, I made enemies with a female solo traveller. Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Vietnam, and has about 400 tailor shops. Take tear-sheets from fashion magazines, and the tailors will copy anything for you — at dirt cheap prices.

My initial thoughts, as I wandered through streets filled with tailor shops was that the clothing looked very 1970s-ish. The styles and colors were, in the main, diabolically awful.

While sitting at a coffee shop, a female solo traveller asked to join me. As we chatted about our Vietnam experiences, she commented about how cheap the Hoi An clothing was. I nodded, and looked diagonally cross the road to one of the tailor shops. I thought most of the clothing on show looked utterly hideous.

“I agree, it is very cheap,” I said to my coffee companion, “but most of it looks like rubbish.”

I pointed to the shop opposite.

“Look at that shop,” I said with a chuckle, “who would be seen dead in most of the outfits it has on display, especially that dreadful looking furry jacket!”

My companion looked startled and replied more than a tad angrily, “I have just spent almost $1,500 in that shop, and at the top of the list is the furry jacket.”

As I tried to regain my composure, she stared icily at me, stood, turned on her heel and left.

While I make numerous gaffes, it is also wonderful to see others do the same thing.

While cruising the Mekong aboard a magnificent and luxurious vessel called the RV Mekong, an American woman opposite me at the dining table looked at her evening meal and deftly pushed to one side of her plate some delicious and very innocent looking grilled aubergine.

“I have no idea what it is,” she said haughtily, “but it looks foreign and I am not going to eat it.”

The next morning we did an on-shore excursion to a snake wine factory. It was hot and steamy, and by the time we tied up at a wharf, stepped ashore and walked several hundred metres along the riverbank to the snake wine establishment, my American friend looked frightening overheated.

As we entered the place, a young factory employee handed everyone a glass of snake wine. The American grabbed hers and quickly tossed it down. “God,” she said, “I really needed that.”

I stared at her in amazement.

“I can’t believe what you just did!” I said in astonishment. “You won’t eat aubergine, but you have no hesitation in drinking snake wine!”

The woman visibly paled. “Snake wine?” she gasped in horror. “I thought it was rice wine!”

I watched as she scooted past scores of full wine bottles, each containing one or two pickled reptiles, and regurgitated her breakfast into the Mekong.

Just as interesting is watching people about to blunder into embarrassing moments – and being helpless to stop them.

While waiting for a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh City, I met some very posh women from Sydney and chatted with them briefly, discovering they were also heading for Ho Chi Minh City to join a tour operated by Peregrine, one of the more up-market adventure travel companies.

“We always travel with Peregrine,” they chorused. “They have such a nice class clientele.”

About 15 minutes later, a short rotund woman wearing a mini skirt that looked at least one size too small plonked beside me and introduced herself.

“I shouldn’t have worn this bloody mini skirt,” she said. “All the bloody men have been perving on me.”

She told me she was also headed for Ho Chi Minh City – to join a Peregrine tour, presumably the same one as the posh Sydney-siders.

She was the total opposite to what the posh Sydney-siders, and I noted she was clutching a well-worn paperback called “Naughty Housewives.” I smiled pleasantly at her and said: “I think those two women (I nodded in the direction of the Double Bay duo) are on the same tour as you.”

“Bonzer,” she said, “I’ll bloody well go and make myself known to them.”

I sighed and watched helplessly as she bustled over and was given extremely short shrift.

“That didn’t work,” she said dolefully as she returned. “They really aren’t my type at all. In fact, I don’t think they have anything in common with me.”

I wondered how the trip would go, but kept my mouth shut.

Sometimes fellow tourists can deliberately go out of their way to actually cause embarrassment to others.

The last night of my Mekong cruise, one of the Australians on the trip – and who had a delightful sense of humour – deliberately sat at a table with four Mormon couples who, until that moment, had never shared their table with anyone during the 8-day voyage. The Mormons looked startled and uncomfortable as he pulled up a chair and beamed at them.

“I suppose you are wondering why I am sitting with you,” he said wickedly. “But as Mormons, you must understand that in Australia your disciples always knock on my door at the most inopportune times. This is payback time and I am exacting my revenge.”

The Mormons continued to look non-plussed and sank deeper and deeper into embarrassment as throughout the meal he regaled them with extremely bawdy and steamy stories.

Categories
Family Travel

China With Globus Travel Company

Author: surroundedbyboys
Date of Trip: June 2007

June of 2007 my family- which includes myself (36), husband (37) and our two sons 15 & 12- took a Globus Travel trip to China. We flew from San Francisco straight into Beijing- a 12 hour flight. The flight went very smooth and was pretty uneventful. Just make sure you take a lot of books, magazines, etc. to keep you busy. The planes from San Fran to Beijing don’t have the little TV’s in the seats!

When we landed in Beijing, the pollution was unbelievable. It looked like it was socked in with fog. Getting off the plane, the heat just hits you. It’s hot, very humid and the pollution makes it hard to draw a complete breath. Your clothes are instantly stuck to you. Getting through the airport was very easy. Our Globus representative greets you as soon as you get your luggage and get through customs. We were bused to our hotel and left for the day to relax, sleep or sightsee. There was a mall connected to our hotel (Trader’s Hotel). Our first meal was at a French Deli! (All the way to China for a French meal…) It was delicious and we looked back fondly at that meal over the next 11 days. We had ice cream at Baskin Robbins in the mall afterward. We were warned that we would be approached by college age students and asked to go to their “shop” located behind a building. Sure enough, our family of 4 was immediately approached. Luckily we had been warned because the couple were very clean cut and seemed like nice people. (Our guide told us that had they gotten us in the back they would have demanded our money and not allowed us to leave until we gave it to them.) They weren’t overly aggressive, when we said no they followed us for a while and then found someone else.

Our first day we went to the Forbidden City. Be prepared to be surrounded by locals and hounded endlessly to buy their souvenirs. A firm NO and making no eye contact does help some. The Forbidden City is amazing. It’s huge. People should do some reading about China and the sights before going. They mean a lot more when you know about them in advance. My kids got tired of me reading about China before we left but were definitely grateful when we got there.

The Great Wall was the best day for all of us. You can hike up a long ways before it falls into disrepair. To see this famous structure and climb it is really a highlight. We also really enjoyed the HUTONG (neighborhood) rickshaw ride, the Tang Dynasty Dinner show in Xi’an; a tea farm and the Terra Cotta Warriors.

We ended up in Shanghai. It’s a very modern city with malls lining the street. At night it looks like Vegas.

The food on this trip was…interesting. There was a lot of sweet & sour veggies, fish (with the heads on, gaping at you) and chicken feet in the soup. My family loves Chinese food and some meals were good but by the 3rd day we were all craving some food from home. I took some crackers, jerky, fruit leather, granola bars, etc and we wiped them out by the 2nd to the last day. One of our hotels had some OREO cookies in the gift shop and our bus bought them out.

Overall we had a wonderful time! Knowing what I did at the end of the trip I still would have done it. You just have to be prepared for the pollution (mainly in Beijing, as you get outside of the city it’s not as bad); the heat- stifling!; the food and the very pushy vendors. I’ve never had my arm tapped so many times!! The sights you see are spectacular and we got some beautiful pictures.

Categories
Group Travel

Traveling to Japan

Author: shannon w.
Date of Trip: May 2004

The tour began 5/8/04 in Tokyo so I actually left Dallas on 5/7/04 and it ended 5/27/04. Price was $5,000 that included airfare from Los Angeles. I paid a single supplement of only $500.00. I expressed a wish to fly direct from Dallas to Tokyo and they readily agreed to this and arranged the ticket for slightly less than I could have obtained it from a discount company on the internet.

First I want to say that the reports of the enormous expense involved in visiting Japan are simply not true. The department store prices I saw compared with those in the nice department stores in the U.S. There was always a very well stocked 7-ll or Lawsons store near the hotel and in some instances their prices were less than those in “convenience” stores in the US. There are very nice l,050 Yen stores in many areas where things such as beautiful Geisha type dolls as well as many other nice items can be purchased for approximately $l0.00. The prices for normal souvenir type things were in no way outlandish—certainly not as cheap as China or Thailand but very reasonable.

The people were unfailingly courteous and friendly. They are delighted to have their photo taken and often asked to take pictures of us in return. The country is beautiful beyond description. I had no idea it was so lovely. And thanks to the excellent planning of AA, we saw many, many areas.

A tour to Japan is unique in a way as almost all travel is done by public transportation. The subways, the magnificent Shinkansen, and the regular JR trains are very comfortable and they are always on time. Even the city buses which we actually used a few times were right on time no matter how far we were out from the city center. Contrary to what I’d read, there are escalators in most of the stations. I only recall having to carry my 22″ bag up or down stairs about 3 times. Also, I never thought the stations were “very crowded” as had been reported in travel books. They are usually like malls with all sorts of shops and amenities.

Another thing I found to be exceptional in Japan were the many clean toilets conveniently located for tourists no matter where we were. Japan is actually a very tourist friendly country and I adored it. You can drink the water anywhere.

I heard about Adventures Abroad through the Message Board at ITN. They offered much the most comprehensive tour I could find as well as buffet breakfast and dinner each day. I was impressed with the trouble free handling of my tour arrangements and actually received a phone call to let me know when my plane ticket and tour documents were being sent so that I would be at home to sign for them. They arrived over two weeks Before my departure.

The tour began in Tokyo and on the first day we were able to attend an interesting festival as well as the Imperial Palace and Museum. The next day was spent in Kamakura, the location of the 2nd largest Buddha in the world and a truly beautiful Rain Forest.

We moved on to the Hakone area where we visited the wonderful Outdoor Sculpture Garden then on to Odawara into the National Park. We finished this day by Gondola ride to a mountaintop where we could see Mt Fuji clearly. Our hotel was way up in the mountains among blooming Azaleas and the view of Fuji. Our trip to Takayama took us through the magnificent Japanese Alps. We visited the old section of the city and the Hida Folk Village as well as the Float Museum where we were amazed by the ancient intricate floats of gorgeous colors.

Kyoto is a wonderful city with its treasures left untouched by WWII. Some of us saw a delightful Geisha Show in the old section which included a lovely tea ceremony for an up close look at the Geisha costumes and makeup. The next day we visited the Golden Pavilion with its gorgeous, typical Japanese style gardens. This is truly a National Treasure, breath taking as it seems to float on the lovely lake. We were fortunate to be in Kyoto during the Hollyhock Festival and our tour director managed to work it into our schedule. Wonderful sites in Kyoto are too numerous to list but we did our best to see them all.

I wont elaborate on each place visited but the tour included Nara to see the largest bronze Buddha in the world along with many other wonderful things. We moved on to Hiroshima, a truly moving experience, Miyajima, one of the loveliest sites in Japan, Beppu where you can have a hot sand bath and where “Hell” is a lovely park with smoke rising from the pools of water and from the earth. This was the only place where we stayed in a typical Japanese Inn and slept on pallets on the floor. All our other hotels were very nice, comfortable western style hotels.

We continued to Kagoshima by train. Most of the train trips are really lovely with rivers running over rocks beside the tracks and mountains in the distance. One highlight of this area is the amazing Iso Koen Garden. Then to Kumamoto where among many other wonderful things we saw the Mt Aso Park. Fascinating to look down into a live volcano and buy bright yellow colored lumps of hardened sulphur.

We next crossed the Ariake Sea to Shimabara on a nice, clean ferry. Some of the Japanese people seemed to wonder what a small group of Americans was doing there but were very friendly and wanted their photos taken with us. The site of the buried houses and the shrine to the victims of the last eruption of Fugendake that began in l990 and continued for several years is sobering. I was surprised when our guide said that 70% of Japan is mountains and 90% of this area is mountainous. Very beautiful. We walked along plank paths across actual boiling water and mud in the “Hell” of this area. It reeks of sulphur and there is smoke rising everywhere.

Arriving in Nagasaki we went directly to the Peace Park with its many beautiful sculptures donated by different countries. Nagasaki hangs onto a mountainside and sort of slides down to the sea. The first night we were treated to a colorful fireworks display in honor of a huge ship in the harbor near our hotel. We just hung out our windows to enjoy the excitement. The next morning we visited the Glover Gardens, a large collection of colonial style homes of westerners who resided there and contributed to the history of this region. The lovely strains of the aria from Madame Butterfly is heard in one of the homes where there is a small museum devoted to this opera. A statue of Pucini and one of Madame Butterly and her son is nearby.

From Nagasaki to Fukuoka we traveled by bus along winding roads through beautiful areas. We stopped at two kilns, one deep in the lovely woods. We had shopping time at a huge group of wonderful ceramic shops that are more like museums as there are so many beautiful things. We paused at Karatsu for a walk on a beach, collecting shells, time for afternoon tea or a little shopping at a small one-man ceramic booth.

At Fukuoka we visited two very old temples, half forgotten maybe but moving to see. Then to the magnificent Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine with its lovely multiple raised red bridges over ponds of colorful carp. We were able to actually witness a baby blessing ceremony with everyone in full ceremonial kimono dress. A lovely quiet moment.

Our hotel adjoined a huge mall with a canal running through it and dancing water shows several times a day, usually to the music of Glen Miller which seemed sort of nice and homey.

Our guide, Stephen Scrogings, did a wonderful job. He somehow was able to shepherd 20 people onto and off of mass transportation in the rapid time necessary with quiet, courteous efficiency. He arranged many small additions to the tour for us and was always friendly and cheerful. This tour is a bargain for the price. We saw so many wonderful things and had so many great experiences that I cannot begin to tell it all.

The hotels were very nice, in most places the rooms were small but always had a fridge and coffee maker, robe and slippers. In most of the hotels hot thermal baths were available, many of them absolutely gorgeous baths. Breakfast was a huge buffet usually with plenty of western food as well as Japanese. I do not care for Japanese food but those who do like it said that the dinners were usually very good. I know they were arranged in different nice restaurants and there was a lot of variety of types of food and ways of serving it.

I sincerely recommend that people give Japan a chance and that they use Adventures Abroad to do it. It’s a wonderful tour.