A first-person account of the Trans Bhutan Trail: memories of connection and community in one of the world’s most remote destinations  

By: Heidi Durflinger, President of EF Go Ahead Tours 

The beauty of Bhutan struck me before I even set foot in the country. As I flew into the town of Paro, I was awed by views of the Himalayas and fields of rice paddies—it felt like I was in a fairytale. I came to Bhutan in September 2022 as part of a travel delegation attending the inauguration of the Trans Bhutan Trail, but I found that the splendor of the country stretches far beyond the reaches of the 250-mile trail. 

For the past several years, the Bhutanese people have worked together to restore this pilgrimage and transportation route, which has connected villages and regions across the country for centuries. Joining the celebration of the site’s reopening after 60 years was an honor, and it was incredibly peaceful and scenic to walk along the trail, over bridges, across streams, through forests, and past fields. I felt a strong sense of community in every village and home we were welcomed into throughout the journey. After hiking to Lingmukha, villagers invited us to sit down for a cup of traditional butter tea paired with a lunch of red rice, peppers with cheese, and green beans. They were so kind and generous, and they shared how hopeful they are about the jobs the trail can bring to the community.   

A peaceful view of the Bhutanese landscape

The Bhutanese people have a strong belief in the value of community and helping one another, and the trail’s reopening has allowed them to stay connected and continue telling the story of their country. My favorite part of going on our tours is learning the stories behind the places we visit and connecting with the people who call those places home. Our mission at EF Go Ahead Tours is to open the world through education, and our tours aim to bring history to life and highlight how it’s shaped culture today. While travelers will soak up the country’s beauty on our guided tour of Bhutan, it’s the stories, shared meals, and conversations that make the adventure so special and immersive. Shared moments across cultures allow us to not only see a place, but truly experience it. 

Enjoying butter tea in a family home in the village of

Traveling to Bhutan with a group and following a thoughtfully planned itinerary alongside local guides allowed me to gain a deeper connection to the country. The local experts knew the best paths to hike to bring us to remote villages and connect us with the true beauty of the country: the people. As my group and I hiked along the trail on the day of the grand reopening, people in the community handed out butter tea and apples. Everyone was so giving and we ended the day dancing, singing, and celebrating a trail that connects people and brings stories of the past, present, and future to life.  

I felt this sense of community throughout my trip, but it culminated during my visit to Tiger’s Nest, which is a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site and one of the most well-known places in Bhutan. As my group and I climbed the last of the 700 steps leading to Tiger’s Nest, we rounded the corner to the monastery and saw Buddhist monks who had journeyed across the country to come here. They were all singing and chanting prayers in unison. That, paired with the view of the sacred site tucked into the Himalayan mountains, had me in tears. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. 

Seeing the world has taught me to be present and soak in these moments, and trips like this inspire me to reflect on just how much travel gives us. When traveling, it’s the beautiful connections that have stuck with me the most. I look forward to seeing how the reopening of the Trans Bhutan Trail and our new guided tour offers this same opportunity to more travelers across the globe. 

All Photos Courtesy of Heidi Durflinger

About the Author 

Heidi Durflinger, President of EF Go Ahead Tours, has 20 years of experience in the travel industry in both direct-to-consumer and group affinity educational travel. Heidi’s extensive background in the travel sector includes sales strategy and leadership, customer experience, market innovation and development, quality control, and risk management. Her interest in cultural exchange stems from childhood. Her family brought the world to her small hometown in Kansas by hosting international students for 10 years, giving her a truly global extended family. She has lived in Mexico and Spain, and is currently based out of the EF Go Ahead Tours Boston office. Wellness, adventure, food, fitness, and travel are her passions. 

About EF Go Ahead Tours

EF Go Ahead Tours offers more than 200 guided trips across six continents. Every tour is carefully planned with a maximum group size well below the industry average and has the perfect balance of guided sightseeing and free time to explore. EF Go Ahead Tours is a division of EF Education First, the world’s largest international education company, which was founded in 1965. The company’s mission is to open the world through education, and they have over 600 offices and schools in 50 countries. 

Tips for Planning Honeymoons and Destination Weddings at Sea 

By Windstar Cruises

Whether it’s a honeymoon in Tahiti or exchanging vows in the Mediterranean, a cruise delivers the perfect combination of romance and adventure. Small ship cruising caters to guests seeking intimate experiences, and from candlelit dinners to lounging on private beaches, there are endless ways to make a cruise a dream trip for two – or an entire wedding party. 

A cruise offers ample opportunities to relax, and there are plenty of activities for more adventurous travelers, like hiking in picturesque nature reserves, snorkeling in pristine coral reefs and scenic helicopter flights. A wide range of shore excursions allow guests to craft a dream trip around their interests, and many cruises offer enticing add-ons. For example, a number of Tahiti itineraries offer multi-night stays in overwater bungalows, which is the epitome of a romantic retreat — and very popular among newlyweds. 

Beyond appealing to couples seeking a romantic retreat, a cruise is an ideal way to celebrate a destination wedding. All-inclusive pricing makes it easy to control food and beverage costs for guests, and many cruises offer packages with hotels and flights, which makes travel logistics a breeze. From floral arrangements to wedding cakes, special romance packages help guests personalize all the details, and some cruise lines even have wedding planners to help with your special day. Simpler romance packages offer welcome gifts with flowers, chocolate, champagne and spa treatments, while more comprehensive packages include ceremonies, both for vow renewals and weddings. (It should be noted that wedding vows aboard cruise ships are generally non-binding, i.e., couples should make plans to legally tie the knot before or after their cruise wedding.)  

While it’s important to include key trip information on your wedding website and invitations (e.g., passport requirements, airport codes, info on ground transportation, etc.), a cruise takes most of the legwork out of the planning process. Consider reaching out to your preferred cruise lines ahead of time to get information on packages and pricing, so you can plan your dream trip — and make the most of your time with family and friends. 

When it comes to dining, guests can indulge themselves with everything from breakfast in bed to champagne toasts, plus five-star dining indoors or under the stars. Menu options offer both gourmet classics and a selection of locally inspired options, like fresh seafood, regional wines and of course, decadent desserts. With an expansive deck, a pool, a hot tub and indoor lounge areas, guests will find plenty of spots on the ship to enjoy, too. Full-service spas are yet another way to pamper yourself, and you can even get your hair and nails done at an onboard salon before exchanging vows.  

About Windstar Cruises

In 2023, USA Today included Windstar Cruises on their 10 Best Honeymoon Cruises list, and the previous year Porthole Magazine honored Windstar as the Most Romantic Cruise Line in their Readers’ Choice Awards. In 2022, Travel + Leisure included Windstar on their list of the 10 Best Intimate Cruise Lines, and Windstar is recognized for offering guests access to small ports and private tours across the world. 

Passport Delays Causing Travel Chaos 

By: Steve Diehl, Chief Corporate Development Officer – CIBT 

It is the traveler’s worst nightmare; you’ve meticulously planned a trip abroad, you’re packed and ready to head to the airport, and then you realize your passport is expired. Or it is lost, or damaged, or does not have the minimum validity required to travel overseas. And suddenly, your dream vacation is gone. 

A valid passport is the key to international travel. But most of us don’t think about our passports until we’re planning a trip or getting ready to leave. Unfortunately, the US Department of State, the body which oversees issuing passports in the United States, is currently dealing with unprecedented delays in processing passport applications and renewals. 

Photo Courtesy of CIBT

The State Department website lists the current passport processing times as 10 to 13 weeks. And this figure does not take into account the time it can take for a passport or passport application to be received by the processing center, and the time it takes for the completed passport to be delivered to you. This can add one to two weeks to the total, meaning your passport application or renewal could wind up taking 12-15 weeks, or more than three months! Even processing times for the extra-cost “expedited” service can currently take seven to nine weeks, plus added time for delivery.  

The root of the current backlog can be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a record number of Americans hit the skies post-pandemic, demand for passport services has soared, resulting in the busiest year on record.  The US State Department has acknowledged the delays and is increasing staffing levels to meet the higher demand. Unfortunately, the State Department does not expect the processing delays to ease before early 2024. Even if you have a currently valid passport, you could still find your travel plans grounded. One reason this could happen is that many countries require visitors to have at least six months of validity on their passport after their expected departure date from the country you’re visiting.  That means if your passport is near its expiration date, you may have trouble visiting some destinations. 

Additionally, the physical condition of your passport can also pose a problem. Passports that are excessively worn or damaged could be rejected by immigration authorities. If you have legally changed your name since your passport was issued, this can also cause problems. If your name has changed, it is best to have your passport reissued in your current legal name. For frequent international travelers, not having blank pages in your passport for the addition of a visa or border control entry stamp can also cause you to be turned away at the border. 

Photo Courtesy of CIBT

If you’re planning to travel internationally, check your passport and look for factors like its expiration date, physical condition, and number of blank pages. If you need a new passport, or if you need to apply for one for the first time, be mindful of the current delays at the passport processing centers, and remember these delays are not expected to ease before 2024. 

So, what if you need a passport sooner? One option is using a passport expediter. These are private companies, like CIBT, who work directly with the passport agencies to issue a passport much more quickly than the standard processing service, sometimes in as little as a day, and typically within three to five days. To qualify for urgent passport processing, travelers must demonstrate travel within two weeks from time of application or 30 days if traveling to a destination that requires a visa, too. Visit our website at: https://cibtvisas.com/passport-information to learn how we can get you a passport, fast! 

About Steve Diehl

Steve Diehl is the Chief Corporate Development and Emerging Markets Officer for CIBT, the leading global provider of immigration, visa and document services for businesses and consumers. CIBT taps the passion and expertise of nearly 2,000 immigration and visa professionals, attorneys, and qualified migration consultants located in over 60 offices in 27 countries to empower people and organizations to live, work, travel and trade seamlessly through its global reach, local expertise, and customer-focused technology solutions. 

10 Surprises from African Safaris 

By Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) 

An African safari is a lifetime dream for many travelers drawn to the wildlife, game drives, and endless vistas. 

Overseas Adventure Travel presents the safari experience through the eyes and lenses of two Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) travelers, Barbara Robert and Petra Graves. Their photos bring would-be adventurers up close and personal to the unforgettable and surprising sights of safari life. 

O.A.T.’s Ultimate Africa: Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe Safari is one of its popular safaris. The trip is 17 days, with 12 nights in tented camps and lodges, and up to 19 game-viewing drives. Travelers visit Kafue National Park in Zambia, Chobe National Park in Botswana, and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. 

1.Views from above — “Floating over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon, we witnessed a large pod of hippos gathered in the ever-shrinking pools during the Dry Season,” said Barbara Robert, who traveled with O.A.T. on its Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari  in October 2016. Safari Serengeti is a 13-day safari, including four nights in a private O.A.T. camp and up to eight game-viewing drives. Highlights include Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unflooded caldera in the world.

2. Cooling off — “Late October is the peak of the Dry Season,” said Robert.  “These zebras weren’t drinking — they were just having a spa moment! This scene was somewhere in the Serengeti of Tanzania.” 

3. It’s the little things — The “Wet Season” brings out the frogs in the Okavanga Delta of Botswana. “This fellow, balanced on a reed, was photographed while on a mokoro (type of canoe) ride through the narrow channels of the Delta,” said Robert, who traveled with O.A.T. on its Ultimate Africa in 2017. 

4. Girls and goats — Driving in Tanzania from Tarangire National Park to the Serengeti, Robert met this young Maasai herder with her goats. “The young boys tend the cattle, the girls get the goats,” she recalled. 

 © Petra Graves

5. Oh, the birds! Travelers expect to be excited to see game on safari. Discovering myriad beautiful birds with their incredible colors may come as a surprise. This photo by O.A.T. traveler Petra Graves illustrates the wonder of our winged friends. 

 © Petra Graves

6. Always keeping watch — Petra Graves’ lens captured this lion on alert, well-positioned to spot potential prey and dangers in the vast landscape. Graves has traveled on O.A.T.’s Ultimate Africa

7. Close encounters — “Out of the lush green bush appeared this large pachyderm. We paused in hushed wonder,” said Robert. She captured this scene in Botswana during the “Green Season,” which refers to the warm rainy months in Africa, a period that varies depending on the region. 

8. Luck of Mother Nature – Barbara Robert shot this photo on the Chobe River in Botswana during the rainy season. “If it hasn’t rained for four days, the elephants will come to the river to drink. There is plenty of water in the puddles in the forest, but after four days it has gone foul and not fit to drink. Smart elephants! Had we been there a day earlier, there would have been no elephants at the river.” 

9. Migration – “The wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is something to behold,” marveled Robert. “Our guide at the end of the day asked, ‘How many animals do you think you saw today?’ The answer: Not a few thousand but, tens of thousands!” 

 © Petra Graves

10. African sunsets – This stunning image by Petra Graves illustrate the striking colors of the sunset along with the serendipity of birds in flight at just the right moment. 

Plan your dream vacation to Africa at https://ustoa.travelstride.com/trip-list/africa

About Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T)

Overseas Adventure Travel is the leader in personalized small group adventures on the road less traveled. Serving all travelers over 50, the company is known for its expertise in solo travel. Each group is 8-16 travelers, with an average of 13, on land adventures and 20-25 travelers, with an average of 22, on small ship adventures. O.A.T. is committed to changing people’s lives through travel by providing immersive cultural experiences that take travelers off the tourist track to witness and participate in the real side of a destination. O.A.T.’s focus on Learning & Discovery engages travelers with new, rich experiences, such as meeting local people and learning about their lives and cultures in 80 countries. Visit oattravel.com to learn more.