Are you the kind of traveler who seeks vacations to the “less-explored” destinations each year?  Let the members of the United States Tour Operators Association help answer that question.

Each year, USTOA members forecast hot trends the top up-and-coming destinations that provide the opportunity to have deeply engaging experiences before they appear on everyone’s travel bucket lists.

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Credit: Avanti Destinations

Moving up one spot from last year, Iceland was named the number one emerging destination for the year. Rounding out the five leading destinations were Colombia, Vietnam, Greenland,and Laos. From visiting the hidden caves of Kong Lor in Laos to meeting locals in an Inuit fishing village in Greenland, USTOA members offer “live like a local” experiences across these up and coming destinations. For more inspiration, check out the following sample itineraries.

Iceland – Visit 2018’s most popular emerging destination with Alexander + Roberts’ “Adventures Across Iceland” seven-day itinerary. Guests will spend time with farmers, fishermen, and micro-brewers along the rugged northern coast to learn about their daily lives and traditions. The trip also features a search for the Northern Lights, a chance to sample fresh “Earth-baked”bread from the ground, among other excursions. Available on select dates through January 2019. Visit www.alexanderroberts.com for pricing.

Colombia – Goway immerses guests in one of South America’s most colorful destinations during its eight-day “Essential Colombia” tour. The journey south features a visit to the town of Zipaquira famous for its underground salt cathedral, along with a full-day journey through the stone paths of the sacred village of Pueblito. Guests also will discover the diverse city of Cartagena with plenty of free time to explore the city and discover its captivating views. Daily departures available from $2,845 per person. www.goway.com

Vietnam – A mix of culture, heritage, and stunning landscapes awaits guests on Wendy Wu Tours’ “Classical Vietnam Premier Tour” trip. On this 18-day itinerary travelers will drift on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, discover the secret tunnel network of Cu Chi, and explore the water bound world of the Mekong Delta. Guests also will travel to the Thien Mu Pagoda temple before a workshop to learn about ‘Truc Chi’, paper made from bamboo pulp. Available March 2 and October 26, 2018 from $6,420 per person. www.wendywutours.com

Greenland – Lindblad Expeditions brings guests on an adventure to the far reaches of the Artic on its “Exploring Greenland and Canada” itinerary. Adventurers will explore Greenland’s fjords and the Ilulissat Glacier, a UNESCO site and a part of the Greenland ice cap. Highlights also include cruising the famous Northwest Passage and observing whales, polar bears, and other arctic wildlife. The 16-day trip is available in August of 2018 and 2019 from $13,990. www.expeditions.com

Laos – Discover the lesser-known country of Laos with Audley Travel’s “The Hidden Heart of Laos” itinerary. Guests on the 16-day trip will discover the mysterious giant stone jars of Phonsavan, the hidden caves of Kong Lor, and the scenic waterfalls at Kuang Si. The trip also includes the chance to interact with the locals of the 4,000 Islands area in southern Laos. Available throughout 2018 from $4,355 per person. www.audleytravel.com

 

Find more trips to these emerging destinations and more using USTOA’s “Find Your Dream Vacation” section at https://ustoa.com/dream-vacation/.


By Rhiannon TaylorAFAR Ambassador 

 

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If you’ve been following along, I’ve just started on my tour of Myanmar with Abercrombie & Kent. Sanda, our guide, is the heartbeat of our trip. Effortlessly accommodating our dietary requirements and comfort, engaging us with her incredible knowledge of Myanmar, it’s sights and it’s history.

Picking up where I left off, our group has just hopped on board Sanctuary Ananda to cruise up the Irrawaddy River.

 

Day Four, Five and Six:

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Cruising along the river is very peaceful. Our rooms are generous in size and come with balconies to relax on during the afternoons. The food is excellent with the chef offering both Burmese and Western options and even offers cooking demonstrations. There’s a full day cruising and you can spend it on the top deck in the plunge pool, sunbaking, in the library or in the spa.

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At night, the boat comes in to port and we visit the U-Bein Bridge – said to be the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world. We all take a boat ride around the bridge at sunset, which is quite spectacular and Sanda surprises us with Champagne.

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On our last morning we disembark and head in to Mandalay, visiting a gold workshop, where men beat gold by hand in to gold leaf. This gold is then sold to the temples and pagodas for decoration and restoration of the Buddha.

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Another highlight in Mandalay is a visit to the Kuthadow Pagoda, otherwise known as the Worlds Biggest Book. Comprised of over 700 marble slabs of Buddhist teachings, they are housed inside white temples and it’s one of Myanmar’s most beautiful sites.

 

Day Seven and Eight:

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Our group makes its way to Inle Lake, a 44 square mile freshwater lake in the Shan State. Over 70,000 people live on the lake boarders, in villages comprising of stilted houses. It’s a unique way of life, with boat as the only means of transportation.

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We stayed at the Aureum Palace, which is a stunning resort made up of overwater villas that have views to the other side of lake. It serves as a great base for day trips to nearby villages where we witness the local thriving businesses of fishing, cigar making and the rare art of lotus weaving. Lotus fabric is used by high end designers such a Lora Piano and is a painstakingly slow process of hand rolling fibre out of the lotus flower stalk. The result is a beautiful, linen-like fabric that keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

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Last day:

Flying out from Inle Lake, we come back to Yangon and enjoy our final evening with a walk around. It is the most sacred of Pagoda’s in Myanmar for the Buddhist people and it is one of the largest, gilded in gold and sitting over 99 metres tall. Sanda surprises us again, this time with reserving 1000 candles around the base of the Pagoda for us to light. It’s an incredibly spiritual time and quite magical to see our candles flickering once they are all lit. It signifies the end of our journey and our tight-knit group is sad to see it end.

On the final morning we say our goodbyes. Sanda has gone above and beyond to ensure we have had an immersive experience in Myanmar, whilst also catering to our comfort. I wouldn’t have explored the country any other way.

 

Interested in learning more about Rhiannon’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog,  and check out Abercrombie & Kent’s Myanmar and The Irrawaddy

Australian photographer Rhiannon has a curated aesthetic for capturing design, food, and lifestyle. Her work has taken her around the world, with assignments in Sri Lanka, the U.S., New Zealand, and South America. Her popular blog, dedicated to experiential luxury resorts and lodges, is regularly updated with Rhiannon’s point of view on fascinating destinations.


 

Happy New Year! And welcome to 2018…it’s shaping up to be a great year in the world of travel.

So what’s ahead? Each year, USTOA conducts an annual travel trend and forecast survey of the association’s active tour operator members, monitoring business trends, top travel destinations, and more.  For the hottest destinations to visit, check out the results of the latest survey to start planning your dream vacation in 2018.

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Where are travelers going?

Rising to the top of this year’s emerging or “off-the-beaten-path” destinations for 2018 is Iceland, moving up from last year’s runner up position. Colombia followed in second, with Vietnam named as third.

When asked for the top five “hot” international destinations in 2018, members named Australia, Spain, followed by Iceland and Italy in a tie for third place, France and Japan. Domestically, USTOA members predict California, Florida and Hawaii (tied for second), New York, Alaska and Nevada (tied for fourth) and Washington DC will be most popular for clients this year.

Members were also asked to name the destinations/sites most “at risk” from disappearing (from over-tourism, climate change or other factors) that travelers should see now. The top three chosen were Antarctica, Cuba and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

 

Who’s traveling? 

Family travel proved important to member business with more than a quarter (28%) of tour operator members reporting that families represented anywhere from 10-25% of their annual passengers. Family travel also ranked third among the most popular types of travel in 2017.

Additionally, roughly half (46%) of those surveyed reported a growth in solo travelers in 2017 over 2016 with 39% of polled members saying solo passengers grew by 10-25%.

These encouraging results across the board could not be possible without the support of you, our valued travel agent partners. On behalf of all the members of USTOA, thank you for your continued help.  We are thrilled to continue our partnership in 2018.

What are you waiting for?

Based on the results, 2018 is the year to keep your New Year’s travel resolutions. Looking for more inspiration? Visit our Why We Travel page for videos discovering not just where fellow travelers have chosen to go…but why they travel. Visit USTOA’s Dream Vacation Itinerary Finder to find your dream vacation today.

 

Need help planning your next trip? Visit www.ustoa.com/travel-agent-directory to find a USTOA certified travel agent near you.

Cheers to 2018!


By Rhiannon TaylorAFAR Ambassador 

 

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Myanmar (Burma) is a destination that has often been forgotten to the rest of the world. It’s slowly been putting itself on the map for travelers who want to get off-grid and is one of the few countries left that offer truly authentic and mostly tourist-free experience.

Not to be ventured in to lightly, it is a country that requires expert local knowledge and planning. Forget public transport, or asking a local for directions; Myanmar is a country that doesn’t see a lot of tourism and the best way to visit is by booking with a tour company that has complete understanding and connections with the local people.

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I chose Abercrombie & Kent’s “Myanmar and The Irrawaddy” tour for my visit as it encompassed a mix of luxury accommodation, a river cruise, local experiences and sightseeing.  This ten day itinerary started in Yangon, with an Abercrombie & Kent representative meeting me at the airport arrivals gate and whisking me to the comforts of the Sule Shangri-La Hotel to rest before meeting my group and commencing my tour the following day.

Our journey together went a little like this.

 

Day One:

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Following breakfast in the Sule Shangri-La’s Horizon Club (an exclusive area for premium rooms), our group meets for the first time and we are introduced to Sanda, who is one of Myanmar’s most sought after guides. Born and raised in Yangon, she obtained a bachelor degree in Chemistry before following her passion in to the travel industry. She instantly makes our small group of five feel like family and soon we were on our way to the Reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, a 213-foot-long statue with an expressive enamel face and huge feet.

Lunch is at a local restaurant where we are treated to a traditional tea-house menu, consisting of deep fried snacks, roti and curry. Here we discover that Burmese food is much more subtle in flavor than its neighbor Thailand.

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In the afternoon we meet with a local astrologer who delves into the future decisions in our lives. Astrology plays an important part of life to the Burmese and influences their decisions on all day to day matters such as marriage, religion, prayer and even diet.

As the sun goes down, our group makes its way to Le Planteur; one of Myanmar’s finest restaurants serving up Indochine-style cuisine, overlooking the water. It’s a magical evening and sets the tone for the trip.

 

Day Two and Three:

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A short flight and we’re in Bagan, a city with over 2000 Buddhist Pagodas and Temples. Buddhism is a way of life for the Burmese and Bagan is an incredibly spiritual city.

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Here, our group visits a small village and we are able to interact with the local people. It’s our first time being able to converse with the people of Myanmar (through our guide Sanda), and they’re friendly and welcoming to our curiosity.

We checked-in to the Aureum Palace Resort, a five star luxury hotel that boasts an infinity pool overlooking a vista of pagodas. It’s the only hotel in the temple region and is simply stunning.

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Weather permitting, guests are can take a hot air balloon ride over Bagan. Unfortunately during my trip we didn’t get the right wind to permit a ride so we visited the viewing tower at our hotel at sunset. It’s a spectacular view, over a seemingly endless landscape of pagodas.

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Another highlight of this region is a visit to a lacquer workshop (the same one Barack Obaa visited on his trip to Myanmar), which makes by hand everything from teacups to chests of drawers and is a great place to stock up on unique souvenirs.

On the last evening we board Sanctuary Ananda, a small luxury boat, which takes us on to the next part of our journey: The Irrawaddy River.

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Check back soon for the second part of this blog post on my Abercrombie & Kent tour in Myanmar.

 

Interested in learning more about Rhiannon’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Abercrombie & Kent’s Myanmar and The Irrawaddy

Australian photographer Rhiannon has a curated aesthetic for capturing design, food, and lifestyle. Her work has taken her around the world, with assignments in Sri Lanka, the U.S., New Zealand, and South America. Her popular blog, dedicated to experiential luxury resorts and lodges, is regularly updated with Rhiannon’s point of view on fascinating destinations.


By Tanveer Badal, AFAR Ambassador 

 

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One of my favorite things to do when traveling to a new destination is to take a morning walk. My first-day plan is almost always the same: arrive, unpack, have a nice dinner, and go to bed early. Then, I’ll get up as the sun rises and start walking, without a specific agenda or address. I usually save the museums and palaces for later in the day. In the morning, everything is fresh and clean, the temperature is ideal, and it’s a good way to see local people go about their day. Plus, the light is beautiful.

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My favorite place to go in the morning is the market—whether it’s a vegetable market, flower market or in the case of Essaouira, Morocco, the vibrant fish market on the port. Luckily, Alexander+Roberts had arranged for a walking tour of the city, so I was able to gain insights into what I was seeing and experiencing in addition to taking photographs.

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The first thing you notice about Essaouira are the seagulls. They’re everywhere. “Seagull Airport,’” said my guide from Alexander+Roberts, Mr. Hicham, pointing to a small island across the port where thousands of gulls were roosting. The port was packed and the fishermen were so busy that they barely noticed our group snapping shots of their every move. Our group hopped over muddy puddles on the street, made way for large trucks to get through and covered our noses when the smell was fish was overwhelming. But we were in good spirits and didn’t mind going a little out of the comfort zone for the payoff of an amazing local experience.

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Our visit coincided with the peak of sardine season. We saw dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small blue boats pulling in their catches and getting packed into trucks to be shipped to other parts of the country and abroad. The sardines are used for soups, stews or just grilled with salt. There were also eels, shrimp, crab, lobster, and dozens of types of fish. A row of blue painted food stalls at the entrance of the market displays the full selection and from there, you can handpick the seafood you want to eat and it’ll be cooked to your choice. I had seafood at each meal of my time in Essaouira, and didn’t mind it a bit. We had fish kebabs on skewers during our last meal at Il Mare, overlooking the Essaouira port we had just walked through. A bunch of us agreed it was perhaps the best meal of the trip so far, topped off with an unexpected and delightful chocolate cake.

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I decided to come back to the port one more time, to capture it in the warm, late afternoon light. I watched a boat pull-in carrying some really big fish. It took several people to just load it from the boat to the small tuk-tuk-like vehicles with a truck bed in the back. Upon closer look, I realized they were carrying sharks. This time there were no tourists around, so the locals quickly recognized me snapping shots at the scene. I caught someone saying in Arabic that I was a “professional,” and the crowd parted so I could get a better view. Some of the young men even smiled for photos. It was a strange feeling because here was a thing these fishermen did every day, catch big fish like sharks from the sea and transport them in the bed of a truck, like it was no big deal at all. They did this in order to make a living, while I was the passing tourist taking photos. This is one of the reasons I love Morocco. You can visit the treasures in palaces and go shopping in the touristy souks — and you should — yet there’s still plenty of everyday life and culture to be experienced in other areas as well.

 

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Alexander+Roberts’ Morocco…From Sea to Sahara

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. His wife, Kelly, a travel writer, often joins him on these adventures.


By AFAR Ambassador Tanveer Badal 

 

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This October, I had a chance to travel to Morocco with luxury tour operators Alexander+Roberts as an ambassador of AFAR magazine. This was my second visit to a country I’d already fallen in love with during a trip in 2014. One of the reasons I was particularly excited to return was to get a chance to further explore the ancient labyrinth of the Fez medina, the oldest walled-in part of Fez, Morocco that was built somewhere between 789 and 808 AD as the capital of the Idrisid dynasty. The last time I was here, I spent a week getting lost in the medina—sometimes deliberately, sometimes not—but I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the 9000+ alleyways, narrow streets, and lanes. As a traveler, I don’t know if it’s ever possible to really get to know the medina, but I had to come back and explore. The walled city is a UNESCO site and is considered the world’s largest car-free urban area. If you’ve ever walked the lively yet ancient streets of Varanasi, India or Venice, Italy, the Fez medina is a similar experience.

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As a photographer, entering the medina is love at first sight. There’s just so much action happening all at once. I pushed my back against the wall to let a donkey carrying hundreds of gallons of water bottles pass me with inches to spare; peeked into an open door to watch sparks fly from a blacksmith’s workshop; took in the aroma of lamb and prunes cooking in a tagine pot right there on the street. There’s no point in trying to remember the twist and turns you take as you walk the streets; you can get confused in minutes. The best thing to do is to hire a local guide to lead you through the maze. (After all, I wanted to get blissfully lost, but still have a way to get back easily).

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Alexander+Roberts had arranged for a local guide to show me locations that went beyond the guide books. My guide, Mohammed, is one of these residents of the Fez medina. He seemed to know everyone we passed. He took me away from the crowded souks filled with tourists and plastic souvenirs to a much quieter part of the medina. At one point, as I was composing a photograph in a teeny alleyway barely large enough for a single person to walk through, I heard the scraping of several sets of sandals against the cobblestone. Suddenly a handful of children wearing hijab and colorful backpacks walked through my shot, smiling and giggling. After passing me, they looked back and waved to see if I would take their photo.

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Unlike the more popular and heavily touristed medina of Marrakesh, I’ve found the Fez medina to be more residential, a place where everyday life happens right in front of you. Since the residents live in such closer quarters, you can literally peek through the doorways and get a glimpse into their life — women cooking, men getting haircuts, children kicking around a soccer ball. In fact, more than 150,000 people choose to live here. One of the reasons I love exploring the medina is that it’s as far away from my everyday life in Los Angeles that I can imagine. And yet, everything just feels totally natural.

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Mohammed took me to Quranic madrasas (Islamic schools), pointed out the remains of an ancient arch, and the view of a mosque slicing through a tiny crack between alleyways. “Everyone in Fez knows Mohammed. If you’re missing your wallet, in five minutes, Mohammed will have your wallet back,” another guide from Alexander+Roberts, who had connected me to Mohammed, told me.

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After my photo walk with Mohammed, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. “Next time you’re in Fez, you ask for Abdullah,” he said. “Who’s Abdullah?” I asked. “Me!” he said. “I thought your name was Mohammed?” I asked, confused. “Oh no, that’s just easier for tourists.” I shook hands with Mohammed and promised that we’d meet again, “Inshallah!”

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Alexander+Roberts’ Morocco…From Sea to Sahara

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. His wife, Kelly, a travel writer, often joins him on these adventures.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

 

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Marvao 

Portugal is European elegance and medieval mythology, culinary excellence and fabled wine-making tradition, granite ramparts, endless rivers, and temples of skulls and bones. Portugal is a nation of quixotic charms, one best explored on foot, at a pace that allows for a deeper appreciation of people, place, and culture (not to mention wine – delicious, bottomless barrels of wine). With two feet and a heartbeat, I set out with Country Walkers on an expedition from one end of this Iberian playground to the other, on an adventure that was truly immersive, experiential, and fully Portuguese.

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Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

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 Castelo de Vide

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Castelo de Vide

Portuguese is a lyrical language, and the most common refrain is bem-vindos, or welcome. I heard bem-vindos day after day, no matter where we wandered on our walking tour. We were welcomed at cobblestone cafes in the historic heart of old Porto. We were welcomed by local farmers when wandering through the cork forests of the Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamade. And we were welcomed by the happy people of the cozy, red-tiled village of Castelo de Vide. In part, we were welcomed wherever we went because Portugal is a friendly, vibrant nation – but the fact that we spent so much time on our feet, trekking from one destination to the next, allowed us a unique opportunity to travel deeper into the essential nature of the Portugal experience.

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Quinta Nova

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 Quinta Nova

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Douro

We had time to wander Arraiolos, a postcard perfect little village known for exquisite tapestries, made locally since the Middle Ages and based on Iranian designs. We spoke with artisans, explored shops and museums, and even had an opportunity to thread some needles ourselves (pro-tip: don’t use your thumb as a thimble). Out among the sun-splashed vineyards of the Douro Valley, we wandered into medieval-era orchards on the sprawling Quinta Nova grounds, plucking from the trees oranges, pears, and cherries. And Country Walkers made time for long, leisurely dinners, the sort people have been enjoying in Portugal for centuries. We dined out among the stars, were entertained by local concertina virtuosos, and feasted on national fare, like amêijoas à bulhão pato, a type of clam stew, alheira sausage, notable for including proteins other than pork, and, of course, delicate bites of famed Iberian ham. Fabulous table wines accompanied every meal, while port put an exclamation point on each evening; we sipped on wines from legacy producers and craft artisans like Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, … and more.

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Herdade do Esporao

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Evora

My Country Walkers experience was a throwback affair, a glimpse at travel in Europe as it may have been a generation ago. It was an opportunity to disconnect, enjoy the countryside of the rolling Douro and the rugged Alentejo, and immerse myself fully in the unique tapestry of local life. I felt welcome with every step, and can’t imagine traveling through Portugal in any other way.

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Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

 

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Douro 

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Sao Pedro do Corval

Portugal is the little things. It is whistling ceramic roosters hand-made in a studio in Sao Pedro do Corval. Portugal is stomping grapes in an ancient lagares in a family-owned vineyard in the Douro Valley. It is walking miles over dusty dirt tracks between 2,000-year-old olive trees, while a towering castle stands sentinel on a nearby hillside. Portugal is grassroots agriculture and temples of skulls and bones, ancient monolithic sites and world-class cuisine, textiles and pottery and long walks over cobbled streets. Portugal is all these little things and more, little things you can only experience when you slow down and fully immerse yourself in the mystery, majesty and allure of the Iberian Peninsula. Recently I traveled to Portugal with Country Walkers, the global leader in small-group guided walking adventures, for an expedition from historic Porto to modern Lisbon, with stops to experience the pastoral bliss of the Douro Valley, the rugged hillscapes and castles of the Alentejo, and countless local wonders in between.

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Quinta Nova 

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Quinta Nova 

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Quinta Nova 

I knew that my Country Walkers expedition was going to be a different sort of travel experience from the moment our party stepped foot in the Douro. A UNESCO World Heritage darling, the Douro Valley region has become a tourism darling in recent years, and it’s easy to see why – from our elevated position high above the river, the Douro is a postcard-perfect vision of Old World Europe. We spent our first day walking among a verdant carpet of old wine vines, and stopped to visit an olive oil mill, and, of course, a family-run winery with a history that stretches back centuries (all the way to Britain). Too many trips are focused on checklists, when they should be focused on experiences. Country Walkers doesn’t want their guests to “see this, this, and this,” and is instead focused on “experiencing this, fully, and completely.” Our group dinners at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo epitomized this ethos – our candlelight dinners were characterized by Chef Jose Pinto’s unique take on traditional fare, and included extended wine tastings, wonderful conversation, and concertina music.

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Herdade do Freixo

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Mosteiro do Crato

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Evora 

I knew that we would spend considerable time walking through vineyards and olive orchards, but I didn’t expect to wander through one of the world’s only skeleton temples, which we experienced at the Igreja do Sao Francisco, a 12th century Gothic wonder in the heart of bustling Evora.  I knew we would visit castles and ancient kingdoms, but I didn’t know that I’d stand in the center of a bullring in the castle of Reguengos de Monsaraz. I knew there would be wineries and Port and table wine, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about agriculture and eco-farming at the Herdade do Freixo do Meio, a sprawling agricultural co-op known for producing artisanal meats and vegetables. I knew there would be charming boutique hotels, but I didn’t know I’d spend my mornings in beautiful gardens and atmospheric crypts of converted monasteries, like the Pousada Mosteiro do Crato, for centuries known as the Flor de Rosa Monastery. And I knew to expect cultural marvels and historical allure, but I had no idea that we would flit between rock giants at the Cromlech of the Almedres archaeological site, where 5th century (BC) monoliths still call out to the stars.

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Capela dos Ossos

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Cromeleque dos Almendres

POR - Cromeleque dos Almendres (2)

Cromeleque dos Almendres

Portugal is all the things I love about Europe – the pace, the grace, the idyllic countryside and the atmospheric medieval cities – and a thousand surprises I could have never anticipated. Country Walkers gave me an opportunity to go beyond guide books and become fully immersed in local culture, lore, and legends. I can’t think of any other way to experience Portugal.

 

Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


 

The first question people typically ask when planning a vacation is “where do I want to go?” But really…shouldn’t the question start with “why?”

Video produced by: GET Creative, a division of USA TODAY
 
Knowing what travelers want to get out of their trip is equally as important when helping them plan for it. The tour operator members of USTOA believe it’s critical to uncover “why,” the emotional connections people seek when exploring the destinations and cultures they plan to visit.

USTOA embarked on a journey to answer that very question – “Why do you travel” – through a collection of videos and articles that followed travelers on four tour operator member itineraries. We hope their testimonials will inspire you to ask yourself the same question. Find out some of their reasons below.

Go Ahead Tours’ traveler Ann Girres shared, “I travel for many reasons – for fun, for adventure, to better understand history, to experience other cultures, to see wondrous sites – but mostly because it helps me understand the world better.” Girres traveled recently on Go Ahead Tours’ “The Wonders of Ancient Israel, where guests tour the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv before traveling to holy lands, including one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem. The trip also includes visits to Mount Zion and the Dead Sea.

Roberta James, a guest on Audley Travel’s “Journey Along the Silk Route” China itinerary explains she travels to expand her horizons and knowledge. “I love meeting new people, eating new foods and visiting historical buildings. For me It’s about trying to absorb the whole picture of a country,” James said. Audley Travel’s 21-day Chinese adventure follows the ancient Silk Route taking travelers through stunning desert, mountain and countryside scenery, along with fascinating architecture and cultures.

Tauck’s “Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel” 11-day itinerary, promises guests like Diane Buchanan views of Switzerland’s famous soaring panoramas and serene beauty. During the trip Buchanan said, “I travel because the world is a huge and amazing place. It makes you feel alive because you’re touching as much of it as you can.” Her trip also included a train ride to Gornergrat to view the Matterhorn, a wine-tasting cruise on Lake Lugano, and time to explore Bern, Lucerne and more.

African Travel, Inc. guest, Diane Rankin says, “Travel helps me be a better person. It gives me perspective on what’s important to other people and why.” Rankin was part of a custom trip to South Africa where she climbed to the top of Table Mountain via cable car, searched for “the Big Five” on a safari through Sabi Sand Game Reserve, visited a winery in the Cape Winelands, and more.

Whether it’s personal growth, meeting new people or gaining some perspective, USTOA encourages you to ask yourself – why do you travel?

Daniel 2- credit GET Creative

Credit: GET Creative

Visit www.ustoa.com/why-we-travel and www.youtube.com/user/ustoanyc for more information. Travelers can follow the adventures on Instagram and Twitter using #traveltogether or by visiting USTOA’s Facebook page.

 


Adventures by Disney

Credit: Adventures by Disney

With an increasing number of USTOA tour operator members offering families exclusive pricing and family-focused on-board activities, river cruising is no longer just an adult’s vacation. These special European river cruises offer parents an alternative to large cruises and traditional land vacations. Multiple stops along the way with child-friendly experiences in history, cooking, culture and much more enhance the trip for children and their parents.

Check out some of the family experiences offered by USTOA tour operator members below or visit www.ustoa.com/dream to find your next dream vacation.

Tauck - Castle on the Rhine

Credit: Tauck

Families can take French lessons, ride bikes along the Rhine-Moselle cycling route and much more on Tauck Bridges’ “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventure.” The eight-day cruise down the Rhine river from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, includes a ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel train to the summit of Mt. Pilatus, walking tours in Koblenz and Cologne, a canal boat cruise in Amsterdam, and a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.  All shore excursions, meals and gratuities, all onboard beverages (adult and otherwise), airport transfers, and luggage handling are included from $4,490 per person, plus airfare. This cruise is available June 27, July 4, 23 and 30, 2018. www.tauck.com

Adventures by Disney - Cruise

Credit: Adventures by Disney

Adventures by Disney invites families to enjoy a cruise through Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary on the eight-day “Danube River Cruise.” Families can participate in a private marionette performance and strudel making demonstration at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, zoom down a mineshaft slide at the Salt Mines of Hallein in Austria, and test their skills at archery and other medieval activities during a visit to Devin Castle. Kids also enjoy movie nights with snacks and drinks and cultural games and traditions based on each destination. Families can get $700 off select staterooms or $350 off per person through October 20, 2017. Starting at $4,789 per person and available in June, and July 2018. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Children 16 and under sail free on CroisiEurope River Cruises’ family-focused “Family Club: Venice and its Lagoon” cruise. The itinerary features stops in Venice, Padua, Ferrara, Verona, and Burano where families have the chance to participate in walking and biking tours of various cities as well as visits to the lagoon islands of Murano and Burano. A tour of the Doge’s palace and its mysterious passageways and an optional gondola tour in Venice await passengers of this six-day European cruise. Just in time for summer break, this cruise is available for June, July, and August 2018 departures from $1,243 per person. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com

AmaWaterways welcomes families this holiday season with Christmas Markets themed cruises available on four itineraries from November 23 through December 23, 2017. Families will marvel at the fairytale-like beauty of the Danube during wintertime, sailing through Budapest and Vienna, where guests can explore up to six different markets and one of the world’s most famous Christmas Markets in Nuremberg. Guests sailing the Rhine visit bustling Christmas markets in Basel, Amsterdam and Strasbourg, as well as the quaint village markets of Riquewihr and Rüdesheim. Onboard festivities for the whole family include tree-trimming contests, gingerbread decorating, a Captain’s Christmas party, a traditional holiday dinner, carolers and more.  Prices start at $2,317 per person. Guests choosing to embark on the December 23 Rhine sailing will enjoy an AmaWaterways special holiday gift – two free nights in Amsterdam.  For more information, visit www.AmaWaterways.com.

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.