23 Feb, 2023 | Admin | No Comments
Amsterdam Price Guide | Calculating The Daily Costs to Visit Amsterdam
The daily costs to visit Amsterdam on a budget. How to much to budget for food, accommodation, attractions, and more.
The post Amsterdam Price Guide | Calculating The Daily Costs to Visit Amsterdam appeared first on Guide To Backpacking Through Europe | The Savvy Backpacker.
15 Feb, 2023 | Admin | No Comments
The Backpacker’s Guide To The Best Hostels in Amsterdam | Our Favorite Amsterdam Hostels
Our favorite hostels in Amsterdam based in price, location, and overall quality.
The post The Backpacker’s Guide To The Best Hostels in Amsterdam | Our Favorite Amsterdam Hostels appeared first on Guide To Backpacking Through Europe | The Savvy Backpacker.
An honest evaluation of the Amsterdam Pass to determine if this new city pass is worth the money.
The post Amsterdam Pass Review | Is The Amsterdam Pass Worth The Money? appeared first on Guide To Backpacking Through Europe | The Savvy Backpacker.
30 May, 2022 | Admin | No Comments
The Best Party Hostels in Amsterdam | Where To Stay When You Want To Party in Amsterdam
The best hostels in Amsterdam if you’re looking to party.
The post The Best Party Hostels in Amsterdam | Where To Stay When You Want To Party in Amsterdam appeared first on Guide To Backpacking Through Europe | The Savvy Backpacker.
1 Jan, 2020 | Admin | No Comments
20 Places You Should Visit in 2020
2019 is now officially over, thank goodness, and since this is the start of the New Year I thought I would share some of my top travel picks for 2020. Some are obvious choices, others a little more unexpected but all are amazing places to discover for one reason or another. Also, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I don’t want to see anyone complaining that one destination is ranked higher or lower than another one; they all have my love and admiration.
It’s been a few years since South Africa has been the star
of travel media coverage, which is unfortunate. After making some incredible
headway in travel and tourism, the nation took some steps backward making
planning a trip there more challenging. What never changed are the many reasons
to visit, which is why I’ve included it on my 2020 travel list. With new
direct, non-stop options from the US and other points around the globe, getting
to South Africa is easier than ever, and once you’re there you’ll be spoiled
for choice. If you’re an urban explorer then cities like Johannesburg and Cape
Town won’t disappoint thanks to their unique histories, great places to eat
and, in Cape Town, the natural beauty that is found everywhere. It’s that
nature though which draws most first-time tourists to South Africa, and getting
out of the cities is absolutely essential for all visitors. The winelands are
amongst the oldest in the world, and new hotels and restaurants are constantly
popping up to cater to the oenologically minded. Safari however is arguably the
most popular natural experience to enjoy, and there are seemingly countless
ways to enjoy the country’s wildlife and at every budget level. South Africa
really is the total travel package and is a trip no one soon forgets.
I feel as if I’m running the risk of talking about the
National Parks too much, but I can’t believe that would ever be possible. Very
accurately called America’s Best Idea, the 419 sites included in the National
Park Service system aren’t only unparalleled in the country, but the world.
Most people only consider the 61 major National Parks, but the entire system is
much more expansive and if you do some research you’ll probably realize that
there’s one closer to you than you may think.
For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I
love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I
usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold
doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi,
deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams,
but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant
marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa
Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa
Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with
sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish
obsession with both sauna and nature.
It may seem silly to include the most popular tourist
destination in the country on this list, but hear me out. Yes, the theme parks
have added many new and fun features, but Orlando is on this list for
everything there is to do outside of the parks. While visiting Orlando in 2019,
I had the opportunity to explore more of the city itself, and I found some
really lovely and fun spots everywhere I went. What might be most notable
though is its food scene – much more dynamic than one would think. Home to one
of the largest Vietnamese communities in the country, the opportunities to
enjoy authentic Vietnamese cuisine is nearly unparalleled in the country. More
than Southeast Asian delicacies though, many creative chefs have opened their
doors in recent years, creating what is a surprisingly varied, dynamic and
delicious foodie experience.
Most people don’t associate Germany with islands but, as I
learned this year there are some fairly incredible islands just off the coast
of Germany, including Juist. To be clear, Americans may be surprised to learn
about Germany’s islands, but they’ve been well known to European tourists for a
long time, and with good reason. Juist in particular is a remarkably special
place thanks in large part to the absence of any motorized vehicles That’s
right, motorized transportation is not allowed on Juist, which means that the
only way to get around is by bike, foot or horse-drawn carriage. Rather than be
an annoyance, it’s a wonderful way to slow down and truly connect with the
destination in a way that’s normally impossible to do. Add to that great food
and beautiful beaches and this is one vacation spot for your travel to-do list.
Italy is a perennial favorite destination for tourists from
around the world, but there’s a lot more to the country than the most popular
spots like Rome, Florence and Venice. One of my favorite regions is one that I
call quietly famous, Emilia-Romagna. Home to some of the world’s most favorite
foods, this is one of the best places to visit if you like to eat. Parma ham,
balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, lasagna, ragu sauce and much more all hail
from this region. There’s much more to enjoy than food though, including
learning about Emilia-Romagna’s impressive automotive history. Legendary
manufacturers like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Ducati can all be found here, also
offering unique tours options for visitors. If you’re like me though and enjoy
a nice city to explore, there are a few to include, most notably Bologna. The
largest city in the region, its history goes back to before the Romans and its
university has been one of the most important in Europe for centuries. Yes,
head to those famous cities in Italy but also be sure to explore other areas of
the country, like Emilia-Romagna.
I was on Nevis to spend some time at the incredible Four
Seasons Nevis – as idyllic a retreat as one come hope for. I discovered a lot
more than a luxurious resort though, I very quickly became entranced by the
island itself. Although Nevis is not a large island, the landscapes do vary
widely but no matter where I found myself it was always beautiful. There are
plenty of spots throughout the US, Mexico and Caribbean if all you want is a
sunny beach. If you’re like me though and want an experience that feels unique,
personalized and even adventurous, then Nevis is one of the best options.
Thanks to the small size of both the island and the Four Seasons Resort Nevis,
nothing feels prepackaged or formulaic because, well, it’s not. This is not
your massive industrial-style resort experience, this is a calming and
restorative travel experience that is unlike many others in the Caribbean.
An equal opportunity traveler, I enjoy mixing up how I
experience the world, which is why I like the occasional cruise – including
river cruises – to see new to me spots. Unlike their ocean-going cousins, river
cruising is a much more individual and intimate experience. The ships are smaller,
with anywhere from 100-200 people on board, and the access to the towns and
cities along the rivers are much more convenient than deep-sea cruise ports.
The most popular river cruises are found along the waterways of Europe, but you
can find fun river cruises all around the world including in Egypt, Myanmar and
Hong Kong has sadly been in the news a lot lately for all
the wrong reasons. In spite of those images we’ve all seen on TV though, it
remains a fantastic destination to visit whether you have a day or a week. At
first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But
once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that
lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong
Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star
Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk
away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting
Lantau Island and even the newish PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the
best emerging creative minds in the city.
Let me just say straight up that no, I didn’t do the
four-day Inca Trail hike. I have massive problems with both my knees and spending
four days in pain and suffering was not high on my to-do list. No, instead I
visited the famous ancient city like thousands of others, by taking the luxury
train to the weird mountain town of Aguas Calientes and then a short bus ride
up to Machu Picchu itself. This new world wonder surprised me in a lot of ways,
most notably how beautiful almost every part of it is in person. All we tend to
see is that ONE iconic photo overlooking the long forgotten mountain outpost of
the Inca, but there’s so much more to it than that one angle. Spending a few
hours exploring it I developed an appreciation not only of how it looked, but
the skill it took to design and build. There are many fantastic Inca sites to
explore in Peru, but it’s really only at Machu Picchu that you begin to
understand the true genius of this sadly long lost civilization.
Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland
When I was planning my return to Ireland with Tourism
Ireland, there was one experience I knew that I didn’t want to miss, a day
living out my Game of Thrones fantasies in Northern Ireland. I’d seen photos of
the special tour for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I found myself in
County Down, Northern Ireland when I finally had the chance to participate. Winterfell
Tours offers a number of different ways to learn more about the Game of Thrones
filming locations, from spending a few hours at Winterfell, Castle Ward, to
exploring more sites around the county. Game of Thrones isn’t for everyone, I
get that. But this experience in Northern Ireland is so much more than visiting
spots where they filmed the fantasy series. It’s about learning the history of
the county and experiencing its gorgeous natural landscapes. If, along the way,
you happen to meet a direwolf and throw an ax, then all the better.
My only regret with visiting Portugal is that it took me so
long to first visit what is an extraordinary destination. It’s not that I
avoided Portugal, far from it, but the stars just never aligned until I joined
a river cruise through the Douro River just a few weeks ago. To be clear,
Portugal is a very unique and distinct destination that is thankfully unlike
any other spot in Europe. I think I
thought it would be like Spain, but that’s certainly not true. The people are
the nicest I’ve ever met in Europe, the food is incredible, the cities vibrant
and alive and the natural beauty incomparable. Whether you decide to take a
river cruise or explore on your own, just make sure to explore sooner rather
I have spent a fair amount of time exploring Canada and
almost never have I had a bad experience. But not all parts of the country get
equal attention by international tourists, which is one reason why I want to
highlight the provinces that comprise the Maritimes. Specifically, over the
last several years I’ve had the great opportunity to explore two Maritime
provinces, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia. Made famous by the
ultra-luxury hotel on Fogo Island, Newfoundland has had its fair share of press
lately, but there’s so much more to the province than a nice hotel. Whether
it’s St. John’s or taking a coastal road trip, the scenery, food and people
will quickly endear you to the province. Many of those qualities aren’t endemic
to Newfoundland though, they’re part of the overall Maritime experience, as I
learned this year spending a week in Nova Scotia. Those same kind and very
curious people made the trip remarkable, accentuated by natural wonders like
the Bay of Fundy and a surprisingly high level of great food. So skip some of
the more flashy provinces and instead plan to spend some time along the
gorgeous Atlantic seaboard of Canada.
Ever since my first trip to Thailand many years ago, I have
truly loved this part of the world. Also traveling around Laos and Myanmar,
that love has only grown over the years and was expanded upon last year when I
visited the Chinese side of the Golden Triangle in Xishuangbanna or just Banna.
Thanks to its spot in extreme Southeastern China, Banna is completely unlike
any other spot in the country. Located adjacent to the Golden Triangle,
neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are very close and, other
the years, that’s meant a fluid border with a lot of cross-cultural sharing.
Exploring more of the region, the buildings all look Thai, the smells are Thai
– everything about the place screamed Chiang Mai instead of China. It was an
odd sensation, one that I never expected but one that I dearly enjoyed.
So much of the travel love in Croatia seems to go to
Dubrovnik, that I thought I should highlight a lesser-known area of the country
– Istria. This region found in the northwest portion of the country is as
unique an area as you can imagine. It’s actually shared by three countries,
Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, and has a rich history and culture all of its own.
In fact, if you ask residents where they’re from, they’re most likely to say
Istria first and Croatia second. There are many great towns and cities to visit
here, but two I recommend are Rovinj and Pula. Each city has its own unique
appeal and no matter what you do, make sure not leave Istria without sampling
some of the famous olive oils and truffles cultivated around the peninsula.
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Otherwise known as Nevada State Route 375, this is a 98-mile
stretch of road that starts at the intersection of U.S. 93 and the
Extraterrestrial Highway and continues west to the intersection of the Highway
and U.S. 6. Thanks to the fact that Area 51 rests along the highway, this area
has long been known for alien sightings and a fierce belief in life from other
worlds visiting the remote Nevada desert. Over the years the road has developed
into what it is today, one of the quirkiest but also one of the loneliest
stretches of road in the country. Visitors should go to admire the desert
landscapes, enjoy fantastic blueberry pie at the Little A’Le’Inn, visit (sort
of) Area 51, and spend the night at a haunted hotel in Tonopah, Nevada.
I vacillated over whether or not to include Egypt, but I
think that it’s such an important country to visit it simply has to be on this
list. The first modern tourist destination, the wonders of Egypt have called to
travelers around the world for generations. And with good reason, the monuments
and sites so well preserved aren’t just nice to behold, they are world wonders
in every sense of the term. Traveling through Egypt, the entire experience from
Cairo to Aswan was much better than I had expected, but the real highlight of
course was visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. Located close to modern day
Cairo, these massive monuments to power have been amazing visitors since the
moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel
guides of the day. Standing there immediately in front of them it was hard to
mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Having seen them in
books, magazines and movies all of my life, it was hard to consider the fact
that I was there at that moment in time. Since tourism is so low right now,
there weren’t many other tourists around me, creating a special and rare moment
of privacy, allowing for some introspection and time to fully grasp the
importance of the moment.
The quirky island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean has a
long and important history, but it’s one not many people actually know a lot
about. Long considered by Europeans as a sunny getaway, others from around the
world are learning about this small country not just for its beaches and
turquoise blue waters, but also for its art, architecture, cities and
I’ve explored a lot of my own country in recent years,
travel experiences that I didn’t know I needed. These trips though were perhaps
my most important of the year as they brought into focus the realities of the
US in 2019. As it turns out, things aren’t nearly as bad as those of us who
live along the coasts think and driving across America was one of the most
gratifying experiences of my life. While I have had the opportunity to visit
many different parts of the country, the most memorable adventure was driving
the entirety of Route 66. More than enjoying the kitschy appeal of decades long
past, the most important aspect of the drive was meeting new people along the
way. Turns out the country isn’t the seething cauldron of anger that the news
media would have us believe, far from it. No, instead I found people living
their lives just like anyone else, and also taking pride in the communities
they call home. It’s important I think for everyone, American or not, to leave
behind them the glittering cities along the coastal edges and instead delve
deeper into the US, to learn what really makes us tick and to have a lot of fun
along the way. Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and
many other cities are all fantastic places to spend some time exploring, and
they’ll teach you more about what it means to be American along the way.
If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special
moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the
last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And
my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades.
Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the
seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a
snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most
impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon
and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to
go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there
on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity
of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age
when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if
the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful
planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had.
The post 20 Places You Should Visit in 2020 appeared first on LandLopers.
26 Nov, 2019 | Admin | No Comments
Amsterdam Travel Guide — How To Visit On A Budget
What to see, do, eat and where to stay while visiting Amsterdam.
The post Amsterdam Travel Guide — How To Visit On A Budget appeared first on Guide To Backpacking Through Europe | The Savvy Backpacker.
25 Jan, 2019 | Admin | No Comments
Unlikely Food Destinations I Love to Visit
The other day I saw an article declaring how strange it was for a certain destination I love to actually have incredible food. I’d visited there several times and already knew how amazing the food scene is, but I was surprised that they were surprised. The fact is, that some cities, regions and even entire countries have terrible reputations when it comes to the culinary scene. Usually, although I admit not always, these reputations aren’t fair, especially in 2019. In the last 15 years or so, nearly every spot on the planet has realized that creating incredible food experiences isn’t just nice, but it’s healthier and better than what it replaced. Most cities have new chefs designing restaurants all the time, vintners and brewers are opening up new establishments and the average tourist is much more food literate than at any other time in history. (Can you imagine asking for quinoa 20 years ago?) In an effort to help destigmatize some spots around the world that I know to offer delicious food experiences, today I want to share some of my favorites that you might not expect. These are countries and cities that may have had bad food offered in the past but, thankfully, those days are largely gone forever.
This post started thanks to Ireland actually. It was a piece I saw by some journalist who said Irish cuisine is actually delicious. The truth is, not only is traditional food in Ireland amazing, but the new wave of chefs have established Ireland as one of the world’s great foodie destinations. While I truly do love traditional Irish cuisine, that’s not what has surprised me on successive visits to the country. No, instead what has left me intrigued is both the diversity of culinary influences as well as fine dining offered by some truly enterprising young (and not so young) chefs. I saw this most recently while on a slightly unusual food tour of the Stoneybatter neighborhood in Dublin. From coffee shops to small markets to thriving cafes, the many stops shared not only some of the best traditional food in the city, but the edgy ways in which the culinary scene is quickly changing. Covering everything from twists on the traditional sausage roll to coffee slushies and even black pudding, the time spent on the food tour was fun, educational and delicious. We ended our day at a gastropub, as famous for its menu as its beer selection. Trying yet more traditional Irish food reimagined, it was the ideal way to end the walk. It’s an exciting time to be in Dublin for sure, best seen on a leisurely walk through what’s new and exciting in the food scene of the city.
To be fair, many people already know that Colombia is a great foodie destination, but after my trip I learned that there are certain misconceptions about what it’s like to eat in the country. To be fair, there is a lot of fried everything, which I loved but I also understand that it might not be for everyone. Instead, I recommend learning about the different regions around the country. There is no single national Colombian dish though. As with the more snacky foods, even the most popular meals vary dramatically throughout the country. Soups in Bogota are popular, if not incredibly hearty, but in the coffee growing regions these morph into stews with rice, meats with plenty of avocado on the side. In Cartagena the meals are heavily influenced by the city’s position on the Caribbean, so if you’ve traveled around the West Indies before these are flavors well known to you. No matter what you decide to try, try it you must. These traditional and more rustic meals, although different around the country, are at the heart of the Colombian food experience.
I think that the misconception about German food is finally changing and, to be honest, it’s about time. I’m fairly certain that I’ve spent more time in Germany than any other country in Europe and what I’ve learned over the course of those many visits is just how dynamic the country is, and that is certainly reflected in its cuisine. A large country with very distinct regions, the culinary staples shift depending on where in the country you visit and if you’re looking for those hearty German meals that for many people define the country, you’ll find them. But if you look a little harder, you’ll discover a delicious and expansive food scene, like the one I found in Munich. The heart of the Bavarian food experience, many visitors travel here just for the pretzels, beer and sausages. Munich isn’t only about its traditional food though, it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with a lot to offer. This is very well reflected in the current food scene and some very creative and innovative cooks are creating delicious bites. A local food writer spent an evening with me, sharing some of his favorite up and coming spots around Munich, but the one that resonated most with me was an unlikely discovery in southern Germany, a traditional American BBQ joint. There are actually several of these popping up all around Munich; I guess the food from my childhood has made it across the Atlantic. It was a welcome find though and as soon as I stepped into the popular restaurant Meisterstück, I knew I was in for a great evening of delicious food. Low and slow is the name of the game here and the restaurant features a number of BBQ classics, served alongside their equally fabulous beer. It was a surprising discovery, but a welcome one.
Not unlike the US, the United Kingdom has long been the butt of food related jokes and, for a long time, it was in part deserved. A lot has changed though and the culinary scene in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland couldn’t be better, as I’m reminded of whenever I visit. My most recent foray into England was yet another culinary lesson as I ate my way around Manchester. There were many fantastic foodie moments, but for first time visitors I think a more casual introduction is the best way to see what the city is all about, starting at Mackie Mayor. A reclaimed Victorian market hall, this is the exact sort of establishment that the shift in food tastes has created. Inside you’ll find a variety of stalls, permanent food trucks of a sort, offering a little bit of everything, again with a fierce creativity and sense of style. It also doesn’t hurt that the space itself is gorgeous; light and airy but preserving the architectural bones from the 19th century.
Most famous for its many casinos, the historical and traditional side of Macao is too often ignored by visitors. That’s a shame because, as I learned on a brief visit, it’s an incredible city to explore and the food traditions here are as interesting as that history. Loosely based on Portuguese traditions, Macanese cuisine uses spices and ingredients from Africa, Southeast Asia and India – including curry, coconut milk, cloves and cinnamon – which are combined using Chinese culinary skills in a wonderful potpourri of tastes and aromas, giving birth to the uniquely delicious Macanese cuisine of today. African chicken is perhaps the most famous dish, but my favorite was a hash of sorts called Minchi. Originally made by using what was around the kitchen, it’s a combination of meat, potatoes, spices, rice and egg and was usually cooked by parents looking to feed their large families. It’s been embraced again though by traditional restaurants in the city and for me, is the star of Macanese cuisine. UNESCO has even recognized Macao for its very unique culinary history and to enjoy it in person is just one of those experiences everyone has to try at least once.
The Northern Lights, Santa Claus and epic natural adventures are all things that come to mind when one thinks of Finland. Food is not but, as I learned, as long as you avoid their dreadful licorice there are some incredible bites around the country. Like most national cuisines, the unique history of Finland still in large part defines traditional food culture. Centuries of intensely cold winters and remote locations means that meats, hearty stews and anything preserved were the go-to staples in Finland. I experienced this almost immediately when I sat down to my first lunch in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. Fish stews and plates of reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam were the popular choices. I didn’t know it at the time, but on that table were some of the most iconic plates in traditional Finnish cuisine. They’re also flavors I became very familiar with, at least in the northern part of the country, finding variations of reindeer filet and stews at almost every meal. Finns though are design-conscious and creative, which means that even up in Rovaniemi there are some new and exciting food trends underway.
My own country too often is the subject of culinary derision around the world, which is a shame. Those who call the US home understand best our complex and delicious culinary history, but visitors to our fair land don’t see the same landscape. Instead they opt to believe often-repeated stereotypes, many of which are completely baseless. That’s a recurring theme actually and something I’ve found throughout my travels. We all have stereotypes about every place we visit, and this extends to the food culture as well. So most times we seek out those dishes that are the most iconic, even though they may not be the best bites. Instead when you visit the US, be sure to match the regions you visit. It may be heavy, but in the South please do try BBQ obtained from a small shack, preferably one without a sign. Aside from that stereotype, the South is also home to some of the most innovative chefs in the nation, preparing intricately prepared meals with an expert touch. But more than anything, when you visit the US please look at the country with a fresh set of eyes. If all you expect is heavy foods served in huge quantities, then that is all you will find. Instead look beyond those misconceptions and you’ll find the real heart and soul of modern American cuisine.
What are some other countries you’d add to this list?
The post Unlikely Food Destinations I Love to Visit appeared first on LandLopers.
2 Jan, 2019 | Admin | No Comments
19 Places You Should Visit in 2019
2018 is now officially over, thank goodness, and since this is the start of the New Year I thought I would share some of my top travel picks for 2019. Some are obvious choices, others a little more unexpected but all are amazing places to discover for one reason or another. Also, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I don’t want to see anyone complaining that one destination is ranked higher or lower than another one; they all have my love and admiration.
I explored a lot of my own country in 2018, travel experiences that I didn’t know I needed. These trips though were perhaps my most important of the year as they brought into focus the realities of the US in 2018. As it turns out, things aren’t nearly as bad as those of us who live along the coasts think and driving across America was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. While I had the opportunity to visit many different parts of the country, the most memorable adventure was driving the entirety of Route 66. More than enjoying the kitschy appeal of decades long past, the most important aspect of the drive was meeting new people along the way. Turns out the country isn’t the seething cauldron of anger that the news media would have us believe, far from it. No, instead I found people living their lives just like anyone else, and also taking pride in the communities they call home. It’s important I think for everyone, American or not, to leave behind them the glittering cities along the coastal edges and instead delve deeper into the US, to learn what really makes us tick and to have a lot of fun along the way. Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and many other cities are all fantastic places to spend some time exploring, and they’ll teach you more about what it means to be American along the way.
I’ve been to Iceland several times now, each trip focusing on a different region of the country. It has very quickly become one of my favorite places to visit for any number of reasons, including how much fun it is to explore. For the best experience though in Iceland, I firmly believe that visitors need to leave the capital city and venture out into the countryside, especially the somewhat-remote northern areas. The northern regions, particularly the Lake Mývatn area, are rich with natural wonders no matter the time of year, but in the winter months the landscapes are covered with sparkling snow and ice, very much turning it into a scene from Game of Thrones. That’s no surprise, since the show has filmed in the northern reaches of Iceland for years, the real life landscapes mimicking the fantasy world perfectly. Whether you drive yourself or take a tour with a local, there are plenty of natural sights to enjoy from waterfalls and lava fields to natural baths and mountain landscapes. Spending time in the northern tier of Iceland feels like standing on the edge of the world because, well, you are.
A year ago I would never have imagined that I’d be adding India to this list, but my first experience there earlier this year convinced me that everyone needs to visit at least once in their lives. Like many other would-be tourists, I was nervous about the experience. I’d heard such mixed opinions from friends that I didn’t know what to expect. Traveling with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent though, not only did I enjoy the trip of a lifetime, but I did so in style and comfort. Based on the many accounts of traveling to India I’d read over the years, I was prepared for a level of chaos akin to a dystopian novel. So, imagine my surprise when I instead discovered a country like many others around the world. Is it chaotic? Yes. Is it loud? Yes, and if I never hear another car horn again I’m ok with that. But it’s no different from many other countries I’ve visited around the world in Africa, Central and Southeast Asia. It’s not as fearsome as I thought it would be. India is a developing nation of 1.3 billion people. There is a stark divide between the rich and the poor, although the middle class is growing like gangbusters at the moment. There are issues, I’m not disputing that and I’m not trying to portray a Pollyannaish image that’s inaccurate. No, instead I do believe that some accounts of India have been grossly off the mark and I think I know at least one reason for that. Many people visit India only briefly, there to see top sights like the Taj Mahal. If your only experience visiting India are the cities of Agra (where the Taj is located) and the capital city of Delhi then no, you won’t have positive impressions of the country. However, if you veer off into other areas of the country like I did with Abercrombie & Kent, then a more complete and robust image of the country will start to form. As a result, I enjoyed nearly everything I did during my 9 days in India and firmly believe it’s a destination everyone should try to experience.
Aran Islands, Ireland
Ireland will probably be on this list every year that I write it, but this time I want to add a specific destination within the Emerald Isle, the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Largely isolated throughout the centuries, their remote location has defined culture on the islands even up to today. There’s a reason why thousands of tourists visit Inishmore every week during the high season – it’s amazing. Due to its location and history, Inishmore remains a destination that honors its past in a way that is almost unique in Ireland. This is experienced through language and culture, but also the preserved thatched roof homes and ancient stone walled farms dotting the island. Although my time in the Aran Islands was all too brief, it was the highlight of my most recent trip to Ireland. I love visiting small, remote islands, to enjoy both unique cultures as well as gorgeous landscapes. Inishmore is one of the most impressive I’ve seen around the world and instead of satiating my curiosity, my first visit has only fueled a strong desire to return and explore even more.
Swabia and Bavaria, Germany
I’ve been fortunate enough to have explored many different regions of Germany, enjoying every new adventure. I’ve spent the most time though in Southwest Germany, and it’s a part of the country I have come to know and truly love over the years. Starting in Frankfurt there are many large cities and small hamlets that are perfect for visitors, from Stuttgart and Munich to Augsburg and Freiburg. The history and architecture always interests me, but so does the food and in Swabia you’ll find something a little different, but also comforting and delicious. Located in southwestern Germany, Swabia is no longer a distinct political unit, but instead is a cultural region. Its roots go back for centuries and even though the area is now divided between two different states, the people who call it home absolutely identify first with being Swabian. Stuttgart is one of the best places to experience Swabia, but you can also find elements of the culture throughout southwestern Germany including Freiburg and even Augsburg. Language, culture and naturally food help form the basis of this identity. Traveling in Germany always means great food experiences, but in Swabia I think it’s a little extra special thanks to these dishes and snacks.
One of my first vacations as a very young professional was a cruise and since then I’ve been on scores of sailings in nearly every part of the world. It’s not how I always travel, but I do enjoy taking at least one a year. Cruises can at times have a bad reputation, mostly from people who have never been on one which is unfortunate, but I understand their concerns. As an independent traveler I shared their worries, but cruise after cruise has shown me that the experiences can be both fun and immersive. That’s because there are so many different types of cruises that, yes, there really is one for every type of traveler. Not every ship is a 4,000-person megaship – far from it. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been on small and medium sized ships as we explored different corners of the world. From rough and tumble expedition cruising in the polar regions to Christmas market river cruises to a luxury cruise in warm, languid waters, cruises take many different forms but, I think, they’re a great travel option and I would encourage you all to consider taking one in the not-so-distant future.
Honestly, I never expected to enjoy Macao as much as I did. I wanted to visit because I hadn’t been there, but that’s about it. As I learned though, there’s a lot to love about the city as long as you leave behind those gaming tables and massive casinos. I think it’s a great addition to this list because of the incredible history waiting to be discovered, as well as some of the best meals you’ll ever enjoy. I’m a history buff and I especially love visiting new-to-me UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is probably why I enjoyed my time exploring the historic center of Macao so very much. The entire old town is designated as a UNESCO site for a variety of reasons. Once a Portuguese territory, the foreign presence has thankfully been preserved throughout the centuries, presenting visitors with a city that feels more like Europe than Asia. Macao was also a strategically important city for a very long time and a center of trade between Europe and Asia. This history and the traditions that accompany it are thankfully all very much alive in Macao, and easy for the casual visitor to experience.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
I enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland more than I thought I would and a lot of that is thanks to the fascinating city of Belfast. Twenty years ago, Belfast was as far away from being a tourist destination as any place could be, but today it’s enjoying a revival as more and more visitors discover what makes it truly special. The Titanic experience is fascinating and an entire day could be spent exploring the museum on the site of where the doomed ship was originally built. But there’s a lot more to the city than the Titanic, and taking a walk through Belfast’s many neighborhoods is a fun way to learn more about the city. Visitors should take a Black Cab Tour to learn about the history of The Troubles, visit the Titanic Museum and try some of the new restaurants that keep popping up featuring some of the best food anywhere in the British Isles.
I know, I know, I’ve been talking about my two experiences at Disneyland this year a lot, but there’s a reason for that. My first time at any Disney property, I enjoyed myself far more than I would have expected and while I recognize visiting may not be for everyone, I would encourage you all to consider one of the many different Disney experiences around the world. Because, although I haven’t tried them all yet, I am positive that they too are able to capture something that is rare in the travel experience – true joy. Life as an adult in the 21st century is hard. Mortgages, jobs, responsibilities and our electronic-tethers otherwise known as phones all conspire to make even our vacations more stressful than they should be. When I travel, I can’t escape anything, but in Disneyland that all changed. For a brief few days, I was able to forget almost everything challenging in life and instead just have fun. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the real Disney experience as a kid, but I threw myself into the moment and was richly rewarded as a result. I’ve never had that much pure and innocent fun in my life. The honest and wholesome enjoyment that is Disneyland isn’t kitsch or corny; it’s fun at a base level. I’ve been to every corner of the planet and while I enjoy most trips, that level of fun is unheard of. It goes well beyond the attractions though, it’s about a feeling. For those two days I was able to be a kid again. I was able to have fun and to amuse myself without concern or fear. I think that’s what drives so many adults to visit in the first place, and most if not all are well rewarded as a result.
This is the one place on the list that I haven’t personally visited yet, but I hope to in 2019 for many reasons, not the least of which is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Normandy landings were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history and since this is an anniversary year, the region is doing a lot to celebrate. In addition to D-Day though, I’ve always wanted to visit Normandy for its quiet towns, incredible history, gorgeous landscapes and sites like Rouen and Mont-Saint-Michel, which look stunning. If Normandy has also been on your travel to-do list, then this just might be the year to visit.
Most people think that Iceland is the only place to experience the Northern Lights, but in Norway’s Arctic Circle is the real Northern Lights Capital of the world. The small town of Alta is like visiting a real world Northern Exposure, and the beautiful landscapes and active adventures draw thousands to this town every year. If you visit in the winter, then be sure to book at least one night in the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, where everything is made of ice.
Ever since my first trip to Thailand many years ago, I have truly loved this part of the world. Also traveling around Laos and Myanmar, that love has only grown over the years and was expanded upon this year when I visited the Chinese side of the Golden Triangle in Xishuangbanna or just Banna. Thanks to its spot in extreme Southeastern China, Banna is completely unlike any other spot in the country. Located adjacent to the Golden Triangle, neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are very close and, other the years, that’s meant a fluid border with a lot of cross-cultural sharing. Exploring more of the region, the buildings all look Thai, the smells are Thai – everything about the place screamed Chiang Mai instead of China. It was an odd sensation, one that I never expected but one that I dearly enjoyed.
I love Australia, a lot. So much that more than once I’ve seriously looked into relocating to the Land Down Under. Until I can figure out the immigration rules I’ll just have to manage with visits to this remarkable continent, including one of my favorite states – Queensland. Queensland is what I usually call Australia in a nutshell. The state has everything a visitor could want from the dusty outback and rural ranches to stunning coastlines and even rainforests. There are also some fun cities and towns to visit including Brisbane, Cairns and Port Douglas. Visitors should go to Queensland to swim along the Great Barrier Reef, enjoy some fun in the sun on the Gold Coast, trek into the Daintree Rainforest and be amazed by the stunning surprises around every bend in the road.
No, Colombia probably isn’t what you think it is; it’s so much more. I’m not entirely sure what I expected before first visiting, but I was pleasantly surprised at almost every turn. Delicious food (and coffee), gorgeous landscapes, vibrant cities, there’s a lot to love about Colombia, but when you visit you have to visit more than one place. Spend time in Bogota and Cartagena, but also in the rural coffee growing regions with small but colorful villages dotting the hills. You’ll leave just as enamored by this South American country as I was and also vowing that your first visit won’t be your last.
The South Pacific has been on my own personal travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. Those crystal-clear waters and verdant green mountains called to me in the same way as the fictional Bali Hai called out in “South Pacific.” I braced myself for disappointment, to have my dreams dashed but that never happened. No, if anything Tahiti surpassed even my own lofty expectations. But Tahiti is Tahiti for a reason, and I realized that almost immediately upon arriving into Papeete. Over the course of a week my appreciation of how just idyllic and perfect the islands are grew, and the experiences I enjoyed there really were a dream come true. Visitors should go to enjoy a cruise around the islands, spend the night (or 7) in an overwater bungalow on Bora Bora and take the time to look past the beach chairs and learn more about real Polynesian culture.
I vacillated on whether or not to include Egypt, but I think that it’s such an important country to visit it simply has to be on this list. The first modern tourist destination, the wonders of Egypt have called to travelers around the world for generations. And with good reason, the monuments and sites so well preserved aren’t just nice to behold, they are world wonders in every sense of the term. Traveling through Egypt, the entire experience from Cairo to Aswan was much better than I had expected, but the real highlight of course was visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. Located close to modern day Cairo, these massive monuments to power have been amazing visitors since the moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel guides of the day. Standing there immediately in front of them it was hard to mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Having seen them in books, magazines and movies all of my life, it was hard to consider the fact that I was there at that moment in time. Since tourism is so low right now, there weren’t many other tourists around me, creating a special and rare moment of privacy, allowing for some introspection and time to fully grasp the importance of the moment.
The state doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves and now ranks as one of my favorite destinations on the planet. It has everything I love: it’s a little remote, it’s incredibly gorgeous and interesting in a way that is very unique. While I’d love to visit and do a land-based journey, cruising is the perfect way to experience as much as possible in a short time frame. Alaska is immense and seeing it from a ship enables visitors to experience a variety of different towns and remote outposts. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing and admiring the views. All together, that makes cruising around Alaska the ideal first introduction to the state.
To be fair, there’s just such an incredible diversity of places to visit in Northern England that a trip could be enjoyed assembling any number of different cities and towns. I just happened to visit Manchester and York, which is what I want to share today. Although they’re separated by a short and easy 1.5-hour train ride, the two cities could not be more different, offering a great balance for would-be travelers. York I always knew I’d love but Manchester won me over when, frankly, I wasn’t so sure. Together they’re a fun way to explore Northern England as a stand-alone trip, or added to a longer adventure.
I was fortunate early on in my blogging career that I had the opportunity to visit South Africa on several occasions, creating a deep love for the country in the process. It’s been several years since my last visit but that love certainly hasn’t diminished; if anything absence has only made it grow stronger. While I’ve enjoyed every area of the country I’ve visited, there’s one city that has an extra special place in my heart – Cape Town. Calling the tip of Africa home, the Mother City is one of the most popular cities in the world for a reason, it’s amazing. Routinely named to the Best in the World lists, Cape Town is unlike any other city you’ve visited before. In a quirky mix of European and African sensibilities, it’s easy to forget that you’re in southern Africa as you stroll around this colonial city. Days could be spent exploring the historical and cultural treasures of The Mother City, as well as admiring the natural beauty that is all encompassing. From the omnipresent Table Mountain to Chapman’s Peak Drive, your jaw will drop many times as you survey the beautiful landscapes that define this area of South Africa. Travel umami is something that is impossible to define, but rather the combination of all elements of a destination that culminates in a sort of perfection that has to be felt to be properly understood. That’s Cape Town and that is certainly South Africa. Long before my first trip to Southern Africa I was told that there is something in the air, something that latches onto your soul and refuses to let go. I naturally didn’t believe them until my first time experiencing it firsthand and then I understood, I got what they were talking about – this special travel umami. That’s simultaneously my top reason why everyone should visit but also the only one I can’t prove. So just trust me, plan a trip and go, go see and feel and taste South Africa and then I dare you to come back and say I was wrong.
What is on your 2019 travel wish list?
The post 19 Places You Should Visit in 2019 appeared first on LandLopers.
31 Dec, 2018 | Admin | No Comments
Travel to Eat: My Favorite Food Moments of 2018
I write about food a lot on this site, but with good reason. I firmly believe that it’s the most important aspect of the travel experience, forming some of our strongest memories through taste and smell. It’s also the fastest way to learn about a new culture and what the people value. More than anything else though, it’s just a lot of fun. There’s nothing better than snacking your way through a foreign market, or tentatively ordering a meal, not quite sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. It can be adventurous, sometimes disastrous but almost always rewarding. Not all food experiences are made the same though and today I want to recognize those special travel moments that were more than just nice things to eat, they came to define entire cities, towns and even countries and created a lot of fun for me along the way.
Icelandic hot dogs
Food in Iceland runs that gamut from the bizarre to warm and homey. But if you want to feel like a real Icelander, don’t miss their famous hot dogs. The meat itself is the first thing that separates this comfort food. Made from free-range and impossibly well taken care of animals, the meat is a mix of lamb, pork and beef. But, it’s what you put on them that makes all the difference. The Icelandic way is to add raw white onions along with crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard and a slightly tangy remoulade. You’ll find these delicacies everywhere, but one of the most famous is in downtown Reykjavik, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand.
San Diego tacos
Located just 17 miles from the Mexican border, there has long been a near constant sharing of cultures, languages and food between San Diego and Mexico. Waves of immigration over the decades has created a food scene that has strong roots in traditional Mexican flavors and what may be at the heart of that experience, other than avocados, is the taco. When asked, San Diegans suddenly drop their laid back veneer when the topic of Mexican food comes up; everyone seems to have very strong opinions on the matter. Luckily, I seriously doubt many of them are wrong when it comes time to identify the best tacos in the city, the options are all fairly amazing. One though in particular stuck out in my mind and the experience of enjoying a robust lunch at the restaurant ¡SALUD! in Barrio Logan was one of the many culinary highlights of my trip. Housed in a heritage 1910 building, the restaurant is pure Southern California from the tattoo inspired murals to the pinstripe car hood on the wall. Barrio Logan has a long and colorful history making this delicious taco shop the perfect addition. With a traditional taco for any taste the highlights are the Birria, Al Pastor, Carnitas, Carne Asada and the Barrio, which is Carne guisado topped with frijol nopal & sour cream wrapped in a hand pressed flour tortilla. A true local took me here and honestly, it really is one of the best in the city and probably the country.
Street food in India
I was very nervous about eating in India, and with good reason. Without taking certain precautions it can be far too easy to become sick during a trip to the subcontinent. I was very careful though and while I did have some tummy issues towards the end of the trip, I was able to enjoy a couple of different food tours before that happened. I’ve visited a lot of chaotic neighborhoods around the world, but nothing quite compares to Old Delhi. Almost as if I had crossed an invisible border, the crowds, the smells, the sounds, everything was instantly magnified. Following my guide like a lost puppy, I was amazed how she effortlessly navigated the bazaar, clearly knowing her way through the jumble of backstreets. Before I knew it we were at our first of many stops that morning, my first time enjoying the sweet pastry known as jalebis. One of many culinary influences from the Mughals, it was still glistening with ghee as I bit into it, instantly falling in love with the treat. Although modern day Delhi is very much like any other world capital with food influences of a global variety, locals still descend on the crowded lanes of Old Delhi for authentic bites like the jalebis, as well as the many other dishes I tried that morning.
Comfort food of Route 66
I was excited to drive Route 66 for any number of reasons, but the great comfort food of America was one of the most important. Whether a snack, full meal or dessert, the country is famous for the many regional favorites found in only a few spots and I was excited to try as many of them as I could. That meant an Illinois “shoe” sandwich, incredible hamburgers in Oklahoma and amazing BBQ in New Mexico, but one state in particular may have been my favorite – Missouri. Finding great food was never a challenge on Route 66, but the meals and snacks I enjoyed in Missouri I think were my favorite. It started in St. Louis where I returned to my favorite ice cream place in the country, Ted Drewes, which is actually frozen custard and not ice cream. They’ve been an important fixture on Route 66 for decades and even have a special dessert devoted to it, which I of course had to try. Keeping with the dessert theme, I had made a special note to stop at a small café in Rolla famous for one thing – pie. I’m glad I did too, because the massive slice of pie at “A Slice of Pie” was probably the best I’ve ever had. They’re actually world-famous and every day sell a variety of different pies, all freshly made in the back kitchen. It wasn’t all desserts though, before leaving Springfield we skipped breakfast at our hotel in order to visit a local institution, Gailey’s Breakfast Café. Moving to its current location in the 1940s, Gailey’s has been a critical stop for Route 66 drivers since the day it opened. I’m thankful I only spent a couple of days in Missouri otherwise I know I would have gained a lot of weight eating my way around the state.
Dublin Food Tour
On my most recent trip to Ireland, I made sure to include an extra day so I could spend some time in one of my favorite cities – Dublin. Although I’ve visited the country a number of times in recent years, it had been a very long time since I stayed the night in Dublin and I was excited to revisit some favorite spots. I was also excited though to discover new-to-me parts of the city, including taking a unusual food tour through one of Dublin’s neighborhoods. Definitely not your typical tourist haunt, I soon came to appreciate the quiet neighborhood of Stoneybatter and learned to appreciate the entire city more than I thought possible, all thanks to an afternoon enjoying some of the best bites in the city.
I love great soul food, which is why I was so happy my first stop in Myrtle Beach was at the locally famous institution Big Mike’s Soul Food. Known for some of the best homemade food in the area, there were a lot of items on the menu that sounded great, but my eyes immediately went to something new to me – chicken bog. If I find a local dish that is foreign to me, I almost always try it and I’m so glad that I decided to order this mysterious Low-Country classic. Like most great comfort food, chicken bog is also incredibly simple. Thanks to centuries of rice production in the region, you’ll find it as the basis of many dishes, including bog. Made with a generous amount of wet rice, chicken, sausage and seasonings, it’s a hearty but delicious meal and – for me at least – was the perfect introduction to Myrtle Beach.
Macanese Egg Tart
The one thing I knew before first visiting Macao was that I had to try one of their famous egg tarts. While similar to the Pastel de Belem of Lisbon, they are not the same dessert at all and are a true Macanese original. Lord Stow’s Bakery opened in 1989, introducing the egg tart with a pale filling and caramelized top to locals and a new tradition was born. A creamy custard filling and flaky, hand-made crusts are truly what separate these pastries from others and from personal experience I can attest to just how delicious they are. What started in a small shop now very much defines the city, just make sure you try the original version when you visit.
One of the best aspects of visiting Disneyland this year was the food, especially the snacks. Sure, if you eat every meal in Disney then the costs can easily skyrocket, but be sure to enjoy at least a few of the park’s many iconic menu items. Mickey shaped everything from pretzels to beignets are fun snacks, as are the park’s now famous churros and ice cream treats. One of the most popular snacks though in Disneyland has also attracted a cult following, the Dole Whip. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. At Christmas their food offerings are even more robust, including churros in a variety of different flavors and special food stations set up in Disney California Adventure. Personally, I’d skip a sit down meal and instead just snack your way around the happiest place on earth.
Frankfurt green sauce
I usually shy from anything in this part of the color spectrum, but I knew I couldn’t visit Frankfurt without trying the city’s most popular savory dish. Made from seven different kinds of herbs, this culinary staple of the city first entered the scene in the 19th century and has been popular ever since. Normally served cold over hard-boiled eggs and boiled potatoes, I was shocked as soon as I took my first bite. Not only did I like the green sauce, I loved it and quickly finished my small portion. Tasting a lot like a flavored sour cream, it’s especially good when served with schnitzel, a combination I tried on my second visit to the locally famous restaurant Lorsbacher Thal.
Burger and milkshake onboard a luxury cruise
My last trip of the year was with Crystal Ocean Cruises, one of the best luxury cruise lines in the world. Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal onboard from the specialty restaurants to their main dining options, but my favorite bite was much more basic. I’m sure the cruise line would prefer I highlight something else, but the Trident Grill adjacent to the pool area was my go-to spot. Open from lunch until early evening, it was also one of the most popular spots onboard the ship. Here guests can order hot dogs, chicken, steak sandwiches and, of course, hamburgers. I’m extremely picky when it comes to the ideal cheeseburger, but the ones onboard the Crystal Serenity were nearly perfect in every way. Even better, the ice cream stand is adjacent which meant I could easily order a chocolate milkshake to accompany my burger, which I may have done on more than one occasion.
Travel and food go hand in hand and for me, these were my favorite bites of the year. What were some of yours?
The post Travel to Eat: My Favorite Food Moments of 2018 appeared first on LandLopers.
26 Dec, 2018 | Admin | No Comments
My Favorite 2018 Travel Experiences
It’s that time of year again, when we all reflect on the previous 12 months and for me that means reflecting on the great travel experiences I was fortunate enough to enjoy. This list is more than just about far-flung locales, it’s about travel experiences that were special, many times unique and oftentimes just a whole lot of fun. Sure, we learn and grow as people when we travel, but the experience is also supposed to be fun and for me, these moments were amongst the best I enjoyed in 2018.
Iceland is one of my favorite places to visit and it’s a destination I never get tired of exploring. On my 2018 trip, I ventured deep into the north of the country in the middle of winter; a daunting experience, but also a fun one. The northern regions, particularly the Lake Mývatn area, are rich with natural wonders no matter the time of year, but in the winter months the landscapes are covered with sparkling snow and ice, very much turning it into a scene from Game of Thrones. That’s no surprise, since the show has filmed in the northern reaches of Iceland for years, the real life landscapes mimicking the fantasy world perfectly. Whether you drive yourself or take a tour with a local, there are plenty of natural sights to enjoy from waterfalls and lava fields to natural baths and mountain landscapes. Spending time in the northern tier of Iceland feels like standing on the edge of the world because, well, you are.
I had long wanted to visit India, but in all honesty I was nervous. I had heard so many mixed opinions on what it’s like to travel there that I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not. However, when luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent invited me to join one of their subcontinent adventures, I knew I couldn’t say no. The entire trip far exceeded my expectations but of course one of the highlights was visiting the Taj Mahal. Like many other visitors, I spent the night in Agra and enjoyed seeing this incredible building complex at two different times of day. For me though, my favorite time to be at the Taj Mahal was during the quiet morning hours. As it turns out, there’s a reason why my guide insisted on visiting at two very different times of day. The experiences could not have been more different from one another. While there was a short line, the crowd entering the Taj complex that early morning was nothing like the night before. With so few people there, it was an intimate and almost private experience. Don’t misunderstand, there was still a 5-minute wait to sit on the so-called “Diana bench,” and to grab that one famous selfie also required a wait. But overall, the crowds were negligible and as I waited for the perfect morning light, I walked right into the main mausoleum itself, skipping the hour-long wait that was there the night before. The tomb perhaps was the one aspect that was disappointing, a simple nod to a great love affair. But the complex isn’t about that one final resting place, it’s about a love so deep and profound that it inspired one of the most remarkable structures that the world has ever seen. And, for the most part, it looks just as perfect as it must have the day it was finished.
Another important bucket list experience for me in 2018 was driving the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. In partnership with Marriott International, I spent nearly two weeks driving the Mother Road and loved nearly every second of the trip. This epic drive was near the top of my bucket list for years, and the actual experience of tackling Route 66 was everything I had hoped it would be and more. From the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the top in the world. Yes, I wanted to see and experience all of those things but I also wanted to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I wanted to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I never knew existed.
Aran Islands, Ireland
Visiting Ireland is always a treat and I honestly have never had a bad experience wandering around the Emerald Isle. Some experiences though naturally rise to the top, and this year spending a couple of days exploring the Aran Islands was one of those special experiences. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Largely isolated throughout the centuries, their remote location has defined culture on the islands even up to today. There’s a reason why thousands of tourists visit Inishmore every week during the high season – it’s amazing. Due to its location and history, Inishmore remains a destination that honors its past in a way that is almost unique in Ireland. This is experienced through language and culture, but also the preserved thatched roof homes and ancient stone walled farms dotting the island. Although my time in the Aran Islands was all too brief, it was the highlight of my most recent trip to Ireland. I love visiting small, remote islands, to enjoy both unique cultures as well as gorgeous landscapes. Inishmore is one of the most impressive I’ve seen around the world and instead of satiating my curiosity, my first visit has only fueled a strong desire to return and explore even more.
Although I’ve visited most of the 50 states, Alaska had eluded me until this year when I joined a Holland America cruise touring the coastal highlights of the 49th state. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing. Different from most other cruises, every second onboard the Westerdam featured incredible views and stunning scenery. Unlike the Caribbean or the Mediterranean where it’s common to lose sight of land for long spans of time, throughout the sailing adventure in Alaska, getting there was as incredible as the featured stops. Once we did arrive in port, we were met by even more opportunities to get out and explore the wild expanses of the state. Whether it was taking an old train through scenic mountain passes or soaring high above the trees on a floatplane adventure, the experiences shared the enormity and beauty of the state in stunning detail. While you can easily sail around Alaska on a larger ship with all of the amenities it affords, it very much feels like an expeditionary experience and that is all too rare.
Eating Around Germany
Like Ireland, Germany is another country I never get tired of exploring and that was especially true this year when I essentially ate my way around a huge swathe of the country. One of my favorite culinary experiences was in the great city of Stuttgart, a place I have come to know and love. We’ve all heard of Bavaria, that German state best known for oompah bands, lederhosen, beer and pretzels. But it’s just one of many states and distinct historical regions around the country, most of which aren’t widely known to non-Germans. There are many reasons for this odd discrepancy, which I won’t go into today, but there is one region I want to highlight and which has been important in my German travels over the years – Swabia. Located in southwestern Germany, Swabia is no longer a distinct political unit, but instead is a cultural region. Its roots go back for centuries and even though the area is now divided between two different states, the people who call it home absolutely identify first with being Swabian. Stuttgart is one of the best places to experience Swabia, but you can also find elements of the culture throughout southwestern Germany including Freiburg and even Augsburg. Language, culture and naturally food help form the basis of this identity. Traveling in Germany always means great food experiences, but in Swabia I think it’s a little extra special thanks to these dishes and snacks.
Exploring Rural China
Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines and working with them again in 2018 I was able to experience new-to-me spots in Asia, including a region in China I had never before heard of. Globalization certainly has both its advantages as well as disadvantages. One of the cons in our shrinking world is that, sometimes, travel doesn’t feel like exploration. Don’t get me wrong, the trips I take are all nice, but many are too easy. I love the sense of adventure and discovery that I get from a true exploratory travel experience, and so far China has provided those opportunities in abundance. On my most recent trip this same spirit revealed itself again, especially in Xishuangbanna. My first night in town, I visited the local night market where attendance was light due to some scattered storms. It provided me the chance though to explore without being bothered, learning more about the region in the process. I looked down at the wriggling bugs and then back up again at my guide and then back down at the bugs. Roasted corn, meat skewers and diced pineapple were all fine, but the worms I just couldn’t do. Just as I couldn’t ever manage to eat them in Thailand, where the night markets mirror the one I found in Jinghong almost completely. Set up in front of a massive, and I later learned new, temple, that religious site put into visual terms what I had been thinking all day. The overall design was Burmese, but the accents were a strange mix of both Lao and Thai elements. It was as if someone picked up the pieces from the region’s temples and smashed them all together. That’s what all of the temples in and around the city were like, a beautiful cross-cultural comingling of traditions that is actually rare to see, especially among temples in China. That night was a simple one, but the effect on me was profound. I once again felt like an adventurer, like I was learning something and it encouraged me to get out there and experience as much of this remarkable part of China as possible.
I like cruising and have been on a fair number of them over the years in nearly every corner of the world. Very recently though I enjoyed an experience that was new to me, a true luxury cruise with top-ranked line Crystal Ocean Cruises. While I have sailed on a few premium cruise lines, this was my first honest-to-goodness luxury experience and the trip was extraordinary in every way. Sailing from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles, we experienced the best of the Mexican Riviera – a part of the world completely new to me. Between exploring the vibrant destinations, I enjoyed unparalleled comfort and service onboard the newly refurbished Crystal Serenity. Enjoying a very spacious cabin, the accommodations were the best I’ve ever had at sea. Add in butler service, an all-inclusive experience and incredible attention to detail and you have a cruise experience that is totally unique. Now that I’ve experienced a true luxury cruise I understand the appeal and the difference between that and a more run of the mill cruise couldn’t be more extreme. Crystal creates trips that are memorable for all the right reasons and I can’t wait to sail with them again.
If you’ve been reading the site for a while then you already know that this year I became quite suddenly obsessed with Disney. I had my first Disney experience a few months ago at Disneyland and loved it so much I returned during the Christmas season. So much more than a simple theme park, Disney has come to mean a lot to me and it’s a phenomenon I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Life as an adult in the 21st century is hard. Mortgages, jobs, responsibilities and our electronic-tethers otherwise known as phones all conspire to make even our vacations more stressful than they should be. When I travel, I can’t escape anything, but in Disneyland that all changed. For a brief few days, I was able to forget almost everything challenging in life and instead just have fun. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the real Disney experience as a kid, but I threw myself into the moment and was richly rewarded as a result. I’ve never had that much pure and innocent fun in my life. The honest and wholesome enjoyment that is Disneyland isn’t kitsch or corny; it’s fun at a base level. I’ve been to every corner of the planet and while I enjoy most trips, that level of fun is unheard of. It goes well beyond the attractions though, it’s about a feeling. For those two days I was able to be a kid again. I was able to have fun and to amuse myself without concern or fear. I think that’s what drives so many adults to visit in the first place, and most if not all are well rewarded as a result.
I’m very thankful for all of my 2018 travel experiences and can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for me! Where do you plan to travel in the New Year?
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