By John Newton, AFAR Ambassador

Collette's Canada Winter Wonderland

In almost 20 years of working as a travel writer and editor, I’ve often been reminded that a good strategy for experiencing any destination like a local is to visit in the off-season. Paris in July is wonderful, no doubt, but there’s also something appealing about it in November, when the museums and restaurants are less crowded; waiters and shopkeepers are less harried and have more time to stop and chat. It is part of why I jumped at the chance to join the Collette Winter Wonderland trip to the Canadian Rockies in January. While I know that Banff and Jasper Park in the summer must be unbelievably stunning (they are in the winter too), I’ve also heard that along with long summer days come long queues of buses and tourists outnumbering the bears. Here are six lessons in traveling like a local from this trip which I intend to practice on my next one too.

1)     Let a Local Be Your Guide. While the guide on this Collette trip, Daniel Boghen, is Canadian he isn’t from Alberta itself (he’s from Montreal). But having repeatedly led trips in the Canadian Rockies, he knows all the right people. He was able to arrange experiences that aren’t available to most travelers, like an off-hours visit to the Alberta provincial legislature, and knew the best places to stop for postcard perfect shots along the Icefields Parkway.

2)     Opt for Local Transportation. Traveling by train or bus is often a better way to experience a destination the way residents do than exploring in your own rental car. In Alberta in the winter, traveling like a local means putting on a pair of snowshoes or hopping in a dog sled. A snowshoe walk through the woods on this Collette trip was a chance to experience Jasper National Park in all its majesty without any crowds.

Dog Sledding on Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

3)     Do Your Homework. Having some context for the sights you see makes every trip richer, and I try to make time to read a history of any country I’m visiting, as well as fiction by one of its leading writers. Daniel made the homework part of traveling easier, providing us with printouts on the geology of the Rockies and explaining, in his lively way, aspects of Canada’s culture and history.

4)     Try Local Foods. From Nanaimo bars (a custard bar with a chocolate base) at the Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper to Alberta bison at the elegant Fairview at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the trip offered a number of opportunities to try local specialties. Sample them, though you may want to beware of eating too many maple candies and desserts unless you follow them with some cross-country skiing or a glacier hike.

5)     Join the Party. Alberta’s winter calendar is crowded with events to help residents get through the cold days till spring returns. Visitors are definitely welcome and our trip coincided with Banff’s SnowDays, complete with illuminated ice sculptures including a castle that served as the entrance to an ice-skating rink on frozen Lake Louise.

Ice Sculpture Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

6)     Get Up Close with the Locals. In winter, you won’t be able to see one of the Rockies’ most famous residents, its bears (as they are hibernating), but it becomes easier to spot many other animals—elk, foxes, wolves, mountain sheep, and mountain goats among them—thanks to the white backdrop of snow. Just remember to keep a respectful distance.

Elk Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

Interested in learning more about John’s journey? Read more about it on, the USTOA blog and check out Collette’s Canada’s Winter Wonderland 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. His 2016 plans include Ireland, Manitoba, Japan, Netherlands, and California.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


Today’s travelers want more than to just see a destination and check the major attractions off their bucket list. They want an intimate look at authentic experiences off the beaten path.

From a river cruise around “The Golden Land” of Myanmar, to wading in the geothermal waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) reported Cuba, Iceland, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, Africa (South Africa and Morocco), Cambodia and India as the top emerging destinations for 2017 in a survey released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in December. Here are a few sample itineraries to peak your wanderlust for these fascinating countries:

Cuba (Credit: Brandon Widener)

Cuba (Credit: Brandon Widener)

CubaAlexander + Roberts“Classic Cuba” itinerary is an exploration of this year’s top emerging destination. Island visitors will visit Ernest Hemingway’s home where he lived and wrote for almost 20 years, browse Cuba’s vibrant local markets and learn about Old Havana’s architectural history, Afro-Cuban art, and music. Guests can enjoy this seven-night trip from $5,595 throughout 2017.

Sri Lanka – Guests on Trafalgar’s “Wonders of Sri Lanka” journey will visit some of the country’s most enchanting sites like the Temple of Tooth and Udawalwe National Park, as well as a train trip to Sri Lanka’s tea country to learn the art of tea tasting. This trip also provides travelers with insider moments like dance lessons in the village of Habarana and lunch at a family home in the village of Katugastota. Beginning in April 2017, this 11-day trip is available throughout 2017 with prices from $2,385 per person.

Iceland – Travelers on Contiki’s “Iceland” trip will discover Iceland’s Nordic landscape and explore the vibrant capital city of Reykjavik. The four-day itinerary includes a stop at Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon and a search for the Northern Lights. Available throughout 2017 with prices from $875 per person.

Myanmar – Avalon Waterways’ “Golden Myanmar & The Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary is offered northbound or southbound along the Irrawaddy River and includes walking tours through local villages. Among other activities, guests will visit a monastery where they can offer alms to the monks and witness their lunch ritual. This captivating 14-day river cruise is available throughout 2017 and into 2018 from $3,659 per person.

To find your dream vacation, click here.

Sri Lanka (Credit: Trafalgar)

Sri Lanka (Credit: Trafalgar)

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.

A version of this post originally ran in the February 2017 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.


Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, features larger-than-life luxury and exotic desert landscapes. Join Modern Day Explorer Max Aly as he scouts local activities and inclusions for itineraries from SITA World Tours to Abu Dhabi.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Adventure Awaits in Abu Dhabi

Adventure awaits you in Rub al Khali, one of the largest deserts in the world. Go camel riding, fat biking and dune bashing with  Modern Day Explorer Max Aly of USTOA tour operator member SITA World Tours and discover his expert tips for exploring this incredible destination.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Discover Luxury in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi redefines the concept of luxury with fabulous hotels, elegant restaurants and splendid shopping. Go behind the scenes with USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Max Aly and discover the luxurious accommodations and experiences available to SITA World Tours guests.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Explore the Desert Culture of Abu Dhabi

Ancient traditions and modern luxury coexist in perfect harmony in Abu Dhabi. Get an insider look at the culture that awaits you in this modern metropolis with Modern Day Explorer Max Aly as he scouts experiences and inclusions for itineraries from USTOA tour operator member SITA World Tours.


Interested in learning more about Max’s journey to Abu Dhabi? Go behind-the-scenes with him as he uncovers a modern metropolis with desert flavor.

Ready to visit? Visit here for details on traveling to Abu Dhabi with SITA World Tours.

Max joined SITA in 1993 & has worked in various capacities from sales to operations to product development. Possessing a vast range of experience in the field of tourism, he is ideally suited to serve as SITA’s ambassador in the Modern Day Explorer role. Max started his career in tourism in India as a tour guide and has since traveled widely throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, North & South America and the South Pacific. His destination knowledge is of immense value not only to the organization but also to many of the clients whom he comes in contact with.

Discover more destinations with our team of Modern Day Explorers here.