By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

 

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Africa changes you forever, like nowhere else on Earth. I heard that time and time again from friends, colleagues, and fellow journalists who were touched by the magic of safari. But only now that I’ve been on a Kenya Private Safari with Monograms do I whole-heartedly understand how true that sentiment is.

The extraordinary continent can invigorate your soul, pull at your heartstrings, and change you in many ways—but time spent there can have the most positive impact if you fully embrace the experience. Here are a few ways you can make the most of your African adventure to help ensure that you are forever changed, in the best way imaginable.

 

Be Present. Be Grateful.

Going on safari may be a once in-a-lifetime experience, so make it a point to soak up every wondrous moment. We live in a technology-driven world, and I encourage any traveler to go on a “digital detox” while on their trip. Sure, you’ll want to snap photos of the fascinating animals and magnificent landscapes, but powering down the phone and turning off the Blackberry (you won’t get WiFi during most game drives anyway, which is a good thing!) is invigorating. You’ll want your eyes wide open to all the amazingness.

Greet your days with gratitude and wonder. Appreciate the beauty of untouched nature. Breathe in the clean, crisp air deeply and consciously. Be fearless and awe-inspired. Cherish every sunrise and sunset and Kenya’s dramatic, ever-changing skies. Slow down and get on “Africa time.” Soak. It. All. In.

2. Spectacular sunrise over Mount Kenya in Ol Pejeta

3. Taking a moment to reflect upon Kenya's beloved Northern white rhinos who have recently passed

 

Embrace the Local Cuisine

There’s no better way to experience the true culture of a place than through its food. I was pleasantly surprised by the culinary offerings, which were always fresh and flavorful and abundant. Meals included a bounty of tropical fruits, well-prepared vegetables, freshly-baked breads, fragrant Indian-influenced dishes, and decadent desserts, along with local dishes like chapati (doughy flatbread), ugali (cornmeal cake), sukuma wiki (flavored collard greens-kale mixture), nyama choma (assorted roasted meats), and Kenyan goat stew. Being on safari is the perfect time to try something new. Be open minded. And, who knows, you may just come home and miss having curry-spiced chickpeas and roasted tomatoes for breakfast. I certainly do.

4. My first Kenyan breakfast at Nairobi Serena Hotel

5. Vibrant lunch spread at Sand River Masai Mara

On the drinks front, vibrant, freshly-squeezed paw paw (papaya) juice brightened up my mornings. And savoring a daily cup or two of Kenyan coffee (often ranked amongst the world’s best for a reason), which was served with cinnamon-spiced cakes and butter cookies, was such a delight. I fell in love with the coffee’s rich, intense aroma and distinct fruity flavor; of course, I picked up a few souvenir bags to brew at home.

At dinner, why not choose a South African wine? Or try a Tusker beer—I became a big fan of this refreshing pale lager made in Kenya. And my favorite way to cap off the night? Slowly sipping Amarula. Enjoy this sweet cream liqueur made from the African Marula fruit straight over ice, poured in your coffee, or within a dessert-like cocktail. Maisha marefu! (“Cheers!” in Swahili)

6. Savoring a glass of lovely South African rosé

7. Loved trying locally-produced beverages like refreshing Tusker lager

 

Take a Stab at Swahili

Speaking of Swahili… get down with some basics. Kenya is an English-speaking country, since it was colonized by the British, but Swahili is the national language of Kenya, and is spoken by many African populations. Learning new languages—even a few simple words and greetings—is part of the fun of traveling and a great sign of respect to the locals. A warm jambo (hello) goes a long way. As does tafadhali (please) and asante sana (thank you very much).

My favorite commonly-used phrase is hakuna matata (no worries)any fans of “The Lion King” will get a good chuckle out of that one. I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear every time I heard, or uttered, that problem-free philosophy.

Fun fact: Don Hahn, the producer of “The Lion King,” arrived in Kenya the same day as I did. He originally came to Africa in the early 90s with a team of sketch artists to observe the animals in their natural habitat and get inspiration for his Disney blockbuster. Many of the characters’ names in the film are real Swahili words including simba (lion), rafiki (friend), and pumbaa (foolish).

8. Spotted so many young simbas during my safari

9. Glorious sunbeams peeking out from an overcast sky

 

Get to Know the Locals

Meeting people with a different cultural perspective is always an enlightening experience. Engaging with local residents, and getting to know their customs, traditions, and values, is a fascinating way to expand your level of understanding of the world. I went into my solo safari thinking I’d want to hang with fellow travelers, but found myself drawn to the Kenyan people—they were absolutely lovely, warm, and genuine. Ask questions. Extend compliments. Be open.

Chatting up the bartender at Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge in Lake Nakuru led to an introduction to Kenyan Cane rum and the best mojito I’ve ever had in my life. And I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my wonderful, knowledgable, and funny Monogram’s driver-guide, Julius—I learned so much during our time together, which I will always cherish. Connecting with locals was one of the best parts of my journey, and I even made some Kenyan rafiki along the way.

10. Having a laugh with my wonderful Monograms driver-guide, Julius

11. Kenya will forever hold a piece of my heart

 

Utilize a Reputable Tour Operator

Without help from the experts (like Monograms), planning a great safari itinerary is nearly impossible—especially if it’s your first time in Africa or you’re going solo. There’s an overwhelming amount of destinations to choose from, and many different types of accommodations and modes of transportation to fit your needs and budget. A trusted tour operator who specializes in African safaris will be able to handle all the details so you can have the best adventure.

I never thought I’d travel to Kenya alone. But I am so glad I did. Monograms took care of everything—from the entire trip itinerary and location transfers to meals and accommodations—to really make it a hakuna matata experience. All I had to do was enjoy every single second and let the African magic happen.

 

Interested in learning more about Megan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Monogram’s Kenya Private Safari.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food/bev and travel writer based in New York City. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Eat This, Not That!, Fodor’s, Food & Wine, PopSugar, Thrillist and more, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, but also really enjoyed her solo safari.


By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

 

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Acclaimed travel writer Brian Jackman once said, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” I can now say with certainty that after being bit—hard—by the safari bug, I will never, ever be the same.

As an impassioned animal lover and enthusiast of travel and photography, I have wanted to go on safari for as long as I can remember. So when the opportunity to turn my dream into reality—by going on a Kenya Private Safari with Monograms Travel—presented itself, I excitedly jumped at the chance to cross the African adventure off my bucket list.

The trip itinerary started and ended in the bustling city of Nairobi, with a full week in between spent in three distinct safari destinations—each renowned for its scenic landscapes and unique wildlife. Every year, thousands of travelers head to Africa with hopes of spotting the famous “Big Five” game animals—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—and this expedition didn’t disappoint. I never expected in my wildest dreams to get up close and personal with so many magnificent creatures. Here are a few animal-centric highlights from my Kenyan journey.

1. The world's last two remaining northern white rhinos, both female, are protected at Ol Pejeta

 

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

After meeting my Monograms driver-guide, Julius, we were off to our first game destination: Ole Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre preserve situated on the equator at the base of majestic Mount Kenya, Kenya’s highest mountain. For three days, Sweetwaters Serena Camp was my home base. This luxe tented retreat in the middle of Ol Pejeta is situated directly in front of a highly-popular watering hole. At any given time, day or night, guests can peek right outside their tent or the lodge restaurant and view dozens of animals staying cool with some sips, a quick dip, or a roll in the mud.

 

I learned all about how Ol Pejeta has one of the highest densities of wildlife in Kenya and prides itself on being at the cutting edge of conservation innovation. It’s home to two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos and is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa. Exciting morning and afternoon drives through the extensive plains of Ol Pejeta brought me smack in the middle of a bounty of Africa’s most iconic species including elephants, giraffes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, and zebras.

 

8. Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa

2. Reticulated giraffe flashes his dark tongue at the water hole

3. Family of African elephants, the largest land mammals on earth

4. Spotted hyena—also known as _laughing hyena_—scavenges for food

5. Grevy's zebras are the rarest of the three species of zebra

6. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to six resident lion prides

7. Lovely lone lioness lounging at dusk

 

Lake Nakuru

Our second safari location was Lake Nakuru, a lush wetland region rich with swamps and diverse wildlife, and perhaps best known for the huge migrations of flamingos that descend upon the area throughout the year. As a young girl, I was obsessed with ’mingos, so my inner child was tickled pink over seeing these fabulous flocks.

 

Game drives in Lake Nakuru included non-stop sightings of Cape buffalos, huge hippos, graceful impalas, beautiful birds, and many more. Groups of boisterous baboons and vervet monkeys offered never-ending entertainment—I could’ve spent all day watching these playful primates groom each other, act mischievous, and monkey around.

 

One warm, sunny afternoon, we drove up to Baboon Cliff, the national park’s most popular lookout point, for incredible panoramic views of sparkling Lake Nakuru. A famous scene in the movie “Out of Africa” was filmed at this picturesque location.

 

8. Entertaining vervet monkeys are often seen playing and grooming each other

1. Lake Nakuru is home to more than a million flamingos

2. Baboon mama nurses her newborn baby

3. Herd of male impalas surrounds a single female

4. Hungry hippo shows off his teeth in an aggressive display

5. Greater blue-eared starling about to take flight

6. Large eland takes a break from grazing to flash a smile

7. Cape buffalos are among Africa's most dangerous animals

 

Maasai Mara

Finally, we arrived in Maasai Mara, Kenya’s most famous game area. Part of the Serengeti ecosystem, this world-renowned wildlife reserve is located in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border, and boasts a strong permanent population of animals. “The Mara” (as locals call it) is renowned for its annual wildebeest migration and resident big cats—cheetahs, lions, and leopards. The expansive savannah wilderness features miles upon miles of rolling hills and grassy plains, which is ideal for nature viewing.

 

The game drives in the Mara were absolutely thrilling, and I spotted more animals than you can even imagine (there were many “pinch me” moments). But I was most fascinated by the fearless felines. I still get the chills thinking about the rare encounter I had with an alluring leopard whose beauty was otherworldly, and I spent an entire morning observing a large pride of regal lions—including cubs, mamas, and older males—playing, napping, roaring, and hunting. The big cats completely took my breath away.

 

8. Leopard intensely gazing with fierce amber eyes

1. Small lion cubs have spots on their legs and underbellies

2. Playful lion cubs having a chase on a beautiful, sunny morning

3. Big papa lion wakes from his nap to flash his golden eyes 4. Topi gazelles flaunt striking multi-colored markings

5. The Maasai ostrich—the largest and fastest bird in the world—strolls through the plains

6. Maasai Mara is the famed location of the annual wildebeest migration

7. High up in a tree, an elusive leopard guards his fresh kill

 

Nothing compares to getting up close and personal with Africa’s animals in their natural habitat. The Monograms Kenya safari exceeded all expectations of wildlife viewing—and it was an experience that will forever be engrained in my heart and soul.

 

Interested in learning more about Megan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Monogram’s Kenya Private Safari.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food/bev and travel writer based in New York City. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Eat This, Not That!, Fodor’s, Food & Wine, PopSugar, Thrillist and more, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, but also really enjoyed the solo safari experience.

 


This year, USTOA set out to uncover the emotional connection between travelers and the destinations they visit with the Why We Travel campaign. Through a collection of articles and videos, like the one below, you can hear firsthand accounts of guests who traveled on four USTOA tour operator member itineraries this year.

You can follow along as Bill and Janet Gorth participate in a traditional tea ceremony in Japan, Frank Albanese and Kelly Patrick hike their way through New Brunswick, mother and son duo Laurel and Jared Trimble meet the locals in the Cook Islands, and Josh and Jessica Greenberg dive with whale sharks in the Philippines, and perhaps most importantly…learn why they travel in the below video.

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Discover more Why We Travel videos here or find USTOA member trips to each of these destinations below. You also can follow the adventures on Instagram and Twitter using #traveltogether or by visiting USTOA’s Facebook page.

 

JAPAN

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THE PHILIPPINES

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THE COOK ISLANDS

1.0 Destination - One Foot Island, Aitutaki1

 

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA

East Quoddy Head Lighthouse - Campobello

 

 

 


 

New Brunswick’s famed Bay of Fundy coast, culturally-vibrant cities like St. Andrews by-the-Sea, and historic sites such as Campobello island are enticing travelers to experience Atlantic Canada in 2019.  Whether it’s a walk on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks, or a visit to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s beloved Campobello Island, USTOA member packaged travel itineraries give you a chance to dive into this diverse destination.

Here is a sample of USTOA member packages to inspire a getaway to the Maritimes next year. For more information on New Brunswick visit https://ustoa.com/why-we-travel/new-brunswick.

Bay of Fundy New BrunswickCredit: New Brunswick Tourism

Guests on Country Walkers’ “New Brunswick: Bay of Fundy & Campobello Island” trip will discover that one of the best ways to enjoy the province’s rugged coastline, fresh seafood, and cultural attractions is on foot. The active trip includes a two-night stay in a turn-of-the-century cottage on Campobello Island, a traditional lobster dinner overlooking the ocean, and a local musical performance on the beach in St. Martins. Travelers also will take a break from the trails to see the Bay of Fundy’s “locals” during a whale watching excursion. Pricing from $3,398 per person available on select departure dates June to October 2019. www.countrywalkers.com

Hopewell Rocks Night Sky

Credit: New Brunswick Tourism

Sculpted coastlines, powerful waterfalls, and stunning formations carved by billions of tons of water, are just a few of the photo-op-worthy stops on Globus’ “Maritime Adventure” itinerary. While in New Brunswick, guests will spend a night enjoying St. Andrews by-the-Sea, a historic coastal town designated as one of Canada’s National Historic Districts and one of the best-preserved examples of colonial heritage in North America. Travelers also will visit Fundy National Park and Hopewell Rocks to experience the immense power of the world’s highest tides standing at more than 50 feet tall. This trip is available June through September 2019 from $3,028 per person. www.globusjourneys.com

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Credit: Tauck

Travelers on Tauck’s “Canadian Maritimes” itinerary will spend 11 days discovering the picturesque fishing towns and distinctive Maritime culture of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Guests will visit Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy for a firsthand look at how the world’s highest tides have shaped the shoreline. Visitors also will visit the small town of Alma at the base of the Bay of Fundy National Park before spending the night in the city of Moncton. Available from June through October 2019 from $3,990 per person. www.tauck.com

Collette’s “Maritimes Coastal Wonders featuring the Cabot Trail” itinerary highlights New Brunswick’s natural beauty as well as the bustling waterfront city of Saint John. Guests will travel along the coastline to Hopewell Rocks to see the flower-pot shaped rocks carved by centuries of the world’s highest tides. Next, travelers will experience the Fundy Trail with seemingly endless stretches of coastal vistas and local food like Maritime dulse (seaweed) and fiddleheads. Guests will end their time in New Brunswick with a lesson on how to crack open a lobster and get a taste of local life in Saint John’s City Market. Available May 20 through October 14, 2019 from $3,099 per person. www.explorations.com

During Insight Vacations’ “Landscapes of the Canadian Maritimes” 12-day journey through Atlantic Canada, travelers will have the chance to walk on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks and join a lobster fisherman before enjoying the spoils of the day for a fresh lobster lunch. Guests also will explore Saint John’s vibrant past and present during a morning tour and will discover why locals affectionately refer to it as “Saint Awesome.” Available from $3,353 per person on select departures June-October 2019. www.insightvacations.com


(credit David Kirkland, Pacific Corner, Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands) View from the beach

 Credit: David Kirkland, Pacific Corner, Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Which tropical paradise is on your bucket list…Hawaii, Tahiti, or perhaps Fiji? While all these destinations offer sun, sand, and relaxation, for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience consider the Cook Islands.  Located in the South Pacific Ocean northeast of New Zealand, the Cook Islands, comprised of 15 major islands spread over nearly 850,000 square miles, offer crystal clear lagoons and enchanting Polynesian culture, and are easily accessible with nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Rarotonga.

Several members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) offer five to 15-day tour independent itineraries to the Cook Islands. Each of the following provide travelers with peace of mind knowing all the planning details have been taken care of and with the flexibility to go at their own pace.

  • Goway Travel’s “15-Day Cook Islands Vacation” independent travel package offers travelers a flexible and hassle-free vacation. This two-week trip includes roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, 12 nights in an accommodation of the traveler’s choice, and roundtrip transfers. During the trip, guests can snorkel, meet the people who call the Cook Islands home, or just unwind on the islands’ white-sand beaches. Available from November 2018 to March 2019 from $1,899 per person. www.goway.com
  • Travelers can unplug from everyday life during Down Under Answers’ “Recharge: The Cook Islands” itinerary. The 12-night independent vacation includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, stays in a villa and a beachfront bungalow, daily breakfast. Guests also will enjoy use of snorkeling equipment and kayaks and lagoon cruises through the Rarotonga Lagoon and the Te Vaka. This trip is available now through March 15, 2019 from $5,899 per person. www.duatravel.com

(credit Pacific Resort Hotel Group, Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands)Yoga on the edge

 Credit: Pacific Resort Hotel Group, Pacific Resort Aitutaki, Cook Islands

  • GOGO Vacations’ “Luxury Cook Islands Vacation Package” lets travelers explore the Cook Islands in style. Vacationers will spend five nights at the five-star Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa, enjoy a bottle of wine upon arrival as well as a snorkeling cruise for two. The trip includes roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles and hotel transfers. Guests who book now through September 30, 2018 for travel by March 31, 2019 can receive the fifth night free. This package is available from $2,095 per person. www.gogowwv.com
  • Guests on Islands in the Sun’s “7-Day Two Island Getaway: Rarotonga & Aitutaki” trip will enjoy two of the Cook Islands’ most picturesque destinations. The week-long trip includes time at the Pacific Resort Rarotonga and the Pacific Resort Aitutaki in a Premium Beachfront Bungalow, as well as transfers between each. Honeymooners also will receive a bonus bottle of wine, small gift and flowers in the room on both islands. This romantic getaway is available through March, 25 2019 from $3,429 per person. www.islandsinthesun.com

 

For more USTOA member packaged travel to the Cook Islands, visit https://ustoa.com/why-we-travel/cook-islands.

 

 


By John Newton, AFAR Ambassador

 

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Travelers with Quark Expeditions photographing belugas in Cunningham Inlet on Somerset Island

Every year, thousands of travelers head to Africa in the hope of seeing the famous “Big Five” animals—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—during a stay at one of the continent’s safari camps. Far fewer, only a couple of hundred each summer, travel to Somerset Island, with the goal of spotting the wildlife there. Few places in the world are more remote than Somerset Island, located in Canada’s newest province, Nunavut, carved out from the Northwest Territories in 1999. When I was offered the opportunity to travel there and stay at the Artic Watch Wilderness Lodge on a trip with Quark Expeditions, I knew it was one I couldn’t pass up.

My last trip to the far north of Canada was in 2016, to northern Manitoba, and while I was there I picked up a copy of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, which I’d recommend to anyone interested in the flora, fauna, and people who live at the edge of the world. Ever since finishing it, I was determined to see the Arctic—and with Lopez’s appreciation for how even the most apparently desolate landscapes are teeming with life, if you learn how to look with a different perspective. Now I would have a chance to travel 500 miles beyond the Arctic Circle, far past the end of the tree line and where the midnight sun doesn’t set from the end of May until the middle of August.

Coming up with a Big Five for Somerset Island is a challenge—there are only three animals that are truly big: beluga whales, polar bears, and musk oxen. My safari check list would be rounded out by some smaller species too: arctic foxes, hares, and lemmings.

My journey to the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge required a stop in Yellowknife, where I saw the animals of the Arctic in taxidermy states at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. The following day, our group of 23 travelers flew just over three hours north of Yellowknife, to a landing strip on uninhabited though immense (it measures some 9,500 square miles) Somerset Island.

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Our Arctic safari camp consisted of two rows of guest tents, a main tent where we gathered each morning and evening, and another tent for dining. Every morning we chose from different expeditions, and my focus was on the wildlife. On the first day, I headed out with a group of ten to Polar Bear Point, where our guides were able to spot a tiny white dot on the horizon—a polar bear. Despite the name of the point, it’s not teeming with polar bears. We got within 100 meters or so of the young male polar bear thanks to a quick lesson from our Quebecois guide on how to keep low and approach it as a compact group. Once the bear heard us, he stood up on two legs, sniffed in our direction, rolled on his back, and then wandered away. One down.

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Muskoxen on Somerset Island

If Polar Bear Point is an obvious place to look for polar bears, then Muskox Ridge seems like a logical place to search for muskoxen, one of the iconic animals of the Arctic. Though the beasts are skittish, our group that day was led by Tessum Weber, the son of Richard Weber and Josée Auclair, the owners of the lodge. Having spent his childhood summers on Somerset Island, he brings decades of experience to the challenge of approaching muskoxen, and we got close enough to see one stand up on a small hill, in a Lion King like moment, before it continued on its way.

The belugas were both the easiest animals to spot and the most impressive. Each year some 2,000 gather in Cunningham Inlet once the ice breaks. On our third day at the camp, the sun was shining and temperatures in the low 60s, and the belugas seemed to be enjoying the pleasant weather as much as we were. Hundreds of white dots filled much of Cunningham Inlet, and whether sitting on the shore hearing their chirps or kayaking alongside, the sight was breathtaking.

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Even when they centuries old, arctic willows grow low to the ground.

While much of my focus was on the animals of the island, the flora is fascinating as well. Exploring Somerset Island was like walking through the early chapters of my botany textbook. It is a landscape of mosses and lichens, the most primitive plants, while other species reflect unique adaptations to the Arctic conditions. Arctic willows that were a hundred years old were still only an inch tall, with no need to grow above other plants competing for sunlight.

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Back on my pursuit of the animals on my Arctic checklist, Tessum also took us to two fox dens, where young pups were playing. With the foxes we had to maintain a significant distance and could only watch them through binoculars—a reminder that not every moment needs to be recorded on Instagram. On my last full day on the island, a hare hopped up just a few meters from me before darting off up a hillside. All that remained was the elusive lemming, and despite the guides looking in every lemming hole, I had to leave without seeing one. My exploration of the Arctic isn’t over yet.

 

Interested in learning more about John’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog, check out Quark Expeditions Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge itinerary.

John has almost 20 years’ experience in travel, both on staff at Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure and writing for other magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is AFAR’s Branded Content Advisor and the founder of Signal Custom Content, a travel branded content consulting company. In addition to his trip to Nunavut, his 2018 travel plans include Austria, El Salvador, Guanajuato in Mexico, Hungary, Vancouver, and Vietnam.

 


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During this year’s Travel Together Month, the members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) are putting the world on sale with nearly 100 offers on bucket list trips to all seven continents.

The month long celebration showcases offers like free airfare, direct savings, and complimentary add-ons from the country’s leading travel companies. Book by September 30, 2018 to take advantage of these exclusive offers and make your dream vacation a reality.

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Photo courtesy of YMT Vacations

Exclusive offers include:

  • YMT Vacations: Save $500 per couple on the “National Parks of the Golden West” tour for available for travel from May to July 2019.
  • SITA World Tours: Save $200 per couple on the eight-day “Uganda Wildlife Safari” tour available for travel by December 31, 2018.
  • Lindblad Expeditions: Free roundtrip airfare between Miami and Costa Rica or Panama City, or a free overnight and sightseeing in Panama City on select “Costa Rica & The Panama Canal” itinerary departure dates in 2018 and 2019.
  • Gate 1 Travel: Save $400 per couple on the “Antarctica Cruise with Buenos Aires” itinerary including an 11-night Antarctica cruise and three nights in Buenos Aires for travel November 2019 – March 2020.
  • International Expeditions: Kids under 18 sail for 25% off the published fares on the June 28 or August 9, 2019, Galapagos Islands expedition cruises.
  • CroisiEurope Cruises: Save $1,000 per couple on “Southern Africa: Journey to the Ends of the Earth” with an unexpected cruise on Lake Kariba, Africa’s largest man-made lake, available for travel through 2019.
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  • Collette: Enjoy a free three-night Fiji extension on South Pacific Wonders tours with May-August 2019 departures dates.
Click here to start planning your dream vacation.

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Photo courtesy of Gate 1 Travel

And for our travel advisor partners, there are special bonus commission opportunities and savings for you this month as well. For more, visit www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month-agents to see all the travel advisor offers.

Note: offers can be booked September 1-30, 2018. All travel deals, restrictions and booking instructions can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month.

 

For further inspirations or to search for dream travel itineraries and destinations, visit www.ustoa.com/dream.


By John Newton, AFAR Ambassador

 

Churchill, Manitoba

In March 2016 I traveled to the north of Canada—Manitoba, and specifically the town of Churchill, on the edges of Hudson Bay. The trip was centered around a dinner at a fort once used by the Hudson Bay Company where the meal would, according to the plan, conclude with the luminous display of the northern lights.

Celestial phenomena don’t follow schedules set by human, and that night the famous lights did not dance across the skies. Still, Manitoba—like the meal itself—was dazzling in other ways. Having seen where the tree line ends and experienced the vast and open spaces of northern Canada and staring across frozen Hudson Bay, I wanted to see more. So when I was offered the opportunity to join Quark Expeditions on a trip to the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island in Nunavut, I jumped at it. If Churchill felt like the end of the world, I wanted to see what sat some 1,000 miles to the north, beyond the Arctic Circle.

Even just reaching the start of the trip required three flights: From New York to Calgary to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. I had a day to explore Yellowknife, dining on pan-fried trout for lunch at Bullocks’ Bistro and visiting the excellent (and free) Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. That night our group from Quark gathered at our hotel to be fitted out with muck boots and parkas, and then the following morning we departed on the final leg of our journey aboard an ATR, bound for Somerset Island.

Our goal was the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, perhaps more accurately a camp as all the accommodations are in tents, run by Richard Weber, who has made several trips to the North Pole; his wife, Josée Auclair, a fellow polar explorer, and their two sons.

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The enormous island is roughly the size of Vermont, yet it is uninhabited except for the employees and guests of the lodge which operates only in the summer. One plane arrives each week, bringing in a new group of travelers with Quark (ours included 23 people), and then picking up the previous group and returning them to Yellowknife. The flight also carries in all of the camp’s supplies, while flying out its trash.

Simply getting to the lodge from the gravel landing strip was an adventure. We rafted across a small stream and then walked with the camp’s polar bear guard dog, Fury, leading the way. The guest rooms are two rows of tents, heated and with electricity, on a bluff overlooking Cunningham Inlet. Tents where meals are served and another that is sort of a great hall— complete with couches and blankets, board games, and books on Arctic history—round out the camp.

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We didn’t spend much time there, however, at least during the day. At 8 a.m. we would assemble as several of the camp’s guides presented several activities—hiking, kayaking, ATV trips. After breakfast, we’d depart on our excursions. (An aside about the breakfast, and all the meals: I would have been content, and was expecting, freeze-dried eggs and when I bit into the melon they served at breakfast, I expected a hearty, and disappointing, crunch. Instead it was perfectly ripe, while lunches included thermoses of homemade soup, freshly baked rolls, and artisanal dried meats. Every dietary requirement was accommodated. You may be on the edge of the world, but you aren’t roughing it at Arctic Watch).

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I mostly wanted to see the landscape and know what the world looked like at 74° North, some 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The list of things I wanted to see or experience at the lodge was relatively short: the midnight sun, belugas, polar bears, and musk oxen. If I was able to spot an arctic hare or fox, I’d consider those bonuses.

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The midnight sun was, of course, the easiest to check off the list. While I was at the camp in mid-July, the sun came closest to the horizon at 1:16 a.m. but still remained significantly above the sea. Eye masks were provided in each tent, though after a day hiking and a satisfying dinner, I never found it hard to sleep even with the sun shining.

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The belugas were also relatively easy to spot. The ice had begun to break up on the Cunningham Inlet, where some 2,000 or so beluga gather each summer, drawn to the relatively warm waters where the Cunningham River meets the sea. Sitting on the shoreline and hearing their chirps and kayaking among them were experiences that justified the journey alone.

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Getting close to polar bears and musk oxen was more challenging then I understood before the trip, but on the first day our guide taught us how to crouch and move as a compact group towards a polar bear, approaching it from upwind. We were within 100 meters before he stood, took a look at us, rolled on his back like a dog looking for a belly rub, and then wandered off. The musk oxen were more skittish, but an ATV expedition on another day brought us within a few hundred meters of these majestic Arctic animals with their dreadlock-like coats.

On our final day, while I was waiting for the rest of our group before heading out on a kayak trip, a hare suddenly appeared out of nowhere, roughly five meters away. We exchanged looks, before one of the camp’s dog spotted him as well and they both bolted off (the hare won this race). It felt like a fitting conclusion—I’d seen more than I had hoped for and could begin the journey home.

 

Interested in learning more about John’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, and check out Quark Expeditions Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge itinerary.

John has almost 20 years’ experience in travel, both on staff at Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure and writing for other magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is AFAR’s Branded Content Advisor and the founder of Signal Custom Content, a travel branded content consulting company. In addition to his trip to Nunavut, his 2018 travel plans include Austria, El Salvador, Guanajuato in Mexico, Hungary, Vancouver, and Vietnam.

 


By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

Can I be honest? In my early years of travel photography I didn’t have much interest in visiting Europe. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where nature was a stone’s throw in any direction. That accessibility made it the topic of much of my early work. Growing up my family’s version of a summer vacation growing up was hopping into our minivan, driving mostly forgotten highways, eating at roadside diners, and stopping to read every historical placard we could. The places to be explored in my very own part of the country felt endless. Why would I need to spend all kinds of money getting to a place full of people, buildings, and (what I thought was) very little nature. How wrong I was.

My wife and I are newly married, having tied the knot in early June, and we struggled to peg down a honeymoon destination. There was a list of criteria that needed to bet met before we’d settle on a location: it couldn’t be overly touristy, it MUST have great food, and it should be easy to navigate. A large cruise would never be something that either of us would ever suggest, but our interest was piqued when an opportunity to travel the Seine from Paris to the mouth of the river for a week with boutique river cruise line U By Uniworld came up. Each ship had a maximum capacity of 120 guests and focused on “iconic sites, hidden gems and authentic adventures.”

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IMG_1127Having never traveled along the Seine and only once passing through France on a rushed and unorganized work trip a few months before, I came into this region green. However, where I’d once feel concerned about going to a foreign destination with very little planning done, I found relief in the loosely structured itinerary our “U Hosts” provided. During any given day, opportunities to explore a small town or neighborhood on your own or with a small group during an excursion were plentiful.

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Paris was a combination of so many of the things that get my gears going while traveling and shooting. Much like the ever-changing landscape from one natural environment to another that I’d grown up capturing, the diverse variety of architectures and art was eye candy for this photographer. History breathes out of every corner. The smell of fresh pastries and pungent Camembert poured from quant shops on Montmarte. World class galleries lined the streets of Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Modest cafes serve delicious chilled wine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The magical and allure of the city was no falsified story.

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Our journey from Paris took us through the Normandy region of France, all the way to the brackish waters of the Seine and English Channel. Each town along the way offered its share of charm and history. Rouen gave us our most delicious meal, perfectly prepared Ossobucco from La Couronne. Giverny took us back in time to the days of Claude Monet as we bicycled its narrow streets. The Cliffs of Étretat rivaled the most beautiful shorelines I’ve ever seen. There was something to appease every travel desire I possess.IMG_1498

As we shared with friends about our adventure, there’s no doubt that there’s more to be seen and explored in each town we stopped in. Of course, we didn’t see everything we’d like to in Paris. However, traveling the Seine by river cruise was undoubtedly the best way to see the amount of France we did in the time we had.

 

Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog, and check out U by Uniworld’s The Seine Experience.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


 

With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines has become a bucket list tropical destination in 2018. The Southeast Asian country boasts more than 22,000 miles of coastline with pristine beaches, cosmopolitan cities, rich history, and welcoming locals ready to share Filipino culture with visitors.

(credit Pixabay) beach-74755Credit: Asia Answers

Here is a sample of USTOA member itineraries to inspire a hassle-free vacation to the Philippines with exclusive local access. For more USTOA member packaged travel to the Philippines, visit: https://ustoa.com/why-we-travel/philippines.

 

SITA World Tours’ “Manila & Boracay Sojourn” itinerary mixes the history and modern energy of Manila with one of the world’s most beautiful beaches on Boracay Island. During the six-day tour, guests will enjoy a half-day tour of Old Manila before traveling to the paradise of Boracay. Whether it’s a massage or yoga lesson on the beach or a boat ride through the crystal-clear waters, Boracay is the ideal place to disconnect and enjoy the untouched beaches. Available throughout 2018 from $695 per person. www.sitatours.com

Intrepid Travel’s “Philippines Palawan Island Getaway” is a nine-day adventure of island hopping and snorkeling among the coral and tropical fish. Guests will interact with the Batak tribe in their village to witness their daily life with a local guide. The package includes two nights on a private beach, sleeping in beach cottages, and will enjoy local cuisine at Kainato, a local restaurant which supports the community and employs people with disabilities. Departures available bi-weekly from December to May in 2018 and 2019 from $1,630 per person. www.intredpidtravel.com

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New for 2018, Avanti Destinations’ “Philippines Escapes” itinerary is an eight-day vacation to some of the island’s most alluring beaches. With year-round accessibility, the islands feature stunning tropical waters, otherworldly rock formations and coves. The trip includes four nights at the Miniloc Resort located in the remote Bacuit archipelago. In addition to snorkeling and other water activities, guests can participate in a private tour with tribal foot massage and choice of massage treatment at the Nurture Spa Village in Tagatay, and all meals at the Miniloc Resort. Prices from $2,475 per person, double occupancy (land only). www.avantidestinations.com

Goway Travel’s “Palawan El Nido” four-day itinerary to the Philippines provides the flexibility of an individual worry-free vacation with a tour operator. Travelers will spend the trip relaxing in El Nido, an almost untouched site with white sand beaches, clear waters, and stunning cliffs. Considered “The Philippines’ Last Frontier,” the waters are full of marine life and dive sites for adventurous travelers to experience. Available through October 2018 from $961 per person. www.goway.com

(credit Pixabay) manila-1709394Credit: Asia Answers

Discover a diverse vacation of the Philippines’ city life and spectacular beaches during Asia Answers’ “A Perfect Week in the Philippines” itinerary. The first part of the week includes a tour of Old Manila rich in history and mixed with contemporary skyscrapers or an optional day trip to Pagsanjan Falls. End the trip at one of the world’s most serene beaches with two days of leisure time in Boracay. Departures are available daily from $1,449 per person. www.asiaanswers.com

 

Find your dream island vacation to the Philippines here.