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This September, the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) marks its annual Travel Together Month with more than 100 exclusive savings on bucket list destinations and experiences around the globe.

Travel Together Month showcases a curated selection of offers from the country’s leading travel companies with dates available through 2019. Offers can be found through September 30, 2017, at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month, featuring travel to all seven continents with countless “live like a local” and bucket list opportunities.

photo credit Hurtigruten

photo credit Hurtigruten

Exclusives include the following offers:

  • Abercrombie & Kent: Save up to $10,000 per couple on a 2017-2018 Luxury Expedition Cruise to Antarctica. Book Category 1-3 and save up to $5,000 per person on Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands for travel through January 2018.
  • Ritz Tours: Save $500 per couple on the “China Scenic” 12-day tour to experience the natural landscapes in Guilin, archeological sites of Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xi’an, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Beijing, and the cosmopolitan Shanghai for travel in 2018.
  • Hurtigruten: Save up to $1,000 per couple on cruises to Antarctica, South America, Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Central America for travel from April 4, 2018 to April 3, 2019.
  • Islands in the Sun: Enjoy two bonus nights and all meals on Islands In The Sun’s 8-Day Fiji Romance in Matangi Private Island trip with prices from $2,829 per person for travel until March 31, 2018.
  • go-today: Save $100 per person on Cape Town Escape with Great White Share Encounter. From $1,499 per person after discount using promo SHARK at checkout. Travel available through June 5, 2018.
photo credit Asia Answers

photo credit Asia Answers

Travel agent incentives can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month. Highlights include the following:

  • Lion World Travel: Travel agents earn $100 per person booked on the luxurious “Discover East Africa” tour for travel on April and May 2018 departures.
  • GOGO Vacations: Travel agents have the chance to win a $1,000 gift card on any new GOGO Vacations’ itinerary booked during the month of September. Winners will be announced on October 13, 2017 in the GOGO Vacations’ Travel Agent Insider email.
  • Asia Answers: Travel professionals can earn bonus commission of $50 per person booked on a China vacation lasting seven days or longer for travel through August 31, 2018.
  • Celtic Tours: Enjoy an Italian vacation with the travel agent exclusive of the five-night “Tuscan Villa” independent package with car rental or transfers, net rates from $449 per person for travel by December 15, 2017.
  • Zegrahm Expeditions: Receive a $100 gift card for each new guest booked on “Across the Antarctic Circle: Voyage to the 7th Continent” for the January 22, 2018 and February 4, 2018 departures.
  • CroisiEurope Cruises: Sell three double cabins (or six passengers) on the 11-day safari cruise itinerary and be entered to win an 11-day safari cruise for two people for travel in 2018 based on availability. Prize drawing December 20, 2017.
  • Alexander+Roberts: Earn $50 per person “Booking Bonuses” on all Private Tours, Small Ship Cruises and Small Group Journeys (never more than 16 guests) when clients pay-in-full for travel through April 2019.
photo credit Alexander+Roberts

photo credit Alexander+Roberts

Note: offers can be booked September 1-30, 2017. 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.

 

 


The ancient treasures and modern wonders of China span 5,000 years of culture and history. Join Kelley Ferro, travel expert and video journalist, as she journey’s through Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing with USTOA tour operator member Wendy Wu Tours.

Catch a Glimpse of Ancient China

As one of the oldest ancient civilizations, China boasts a rich and long-established history and culture. Wendy Wu Tours gives Kelley Ferro a glimpse into the ancient culture of China from a visit to the Forbidden City and Shanghai Old Town, to an one-on-one lesson with a Tai Chi master.

Explore Modern Day China

China is a mix of old world tradition and new world sophistication. While traveling with Wendy Wu Tours, video journalist Kelley Ferro got an insider look at modern day China from meeting locals to exploring up-and-coming neighborhoods featuring hip cafes and bars.

Bucket List China

With sought-after experiences like climbing the Great Wall and walking amongst the Terracotta Warriors, China is a destination that appears on many traveler’s bucket lists. With the help of Wendy Wu Tours, video journalist Kelley Ferro gained unparalleled access to these legendary sights.

Experience China’s Vibrant Food Scene

From dumpling making lessons to exploring exotic street foods, Wendy Wu Tours itineraries provide travelers insider access to China’s vibrant food scene. Join travel expert Kelley Ferro as she eats her way through Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing.


By Sherry Ott, AFAR Ambassador

The older generation square dancing outside the Xi’an Old Wall

The older generation square dancing outside the Xi’an Old Wall

The single burnt out speaker crackles and pops as a high-pitched voice fills the thick night air in Xi’an. Mandarin sung is just as confusing as listening to it spoken, and now it’s blaring out of a single speaker that should have been retired about 15 years ago. However, it’s appropriate that a group of retirees are lined up in front of the old speaker square dancing on the new side of the city. At the same time, on the other side of Xian’s 40 foot high city wall in the old part of the city is another group of people lined up doing movements in unison. This group doesn’t have music and the average age is probably 23 years old. They follow the lead of a trainer as he shouts out stretching instructions as they prepare for a group run. I’m amused by this young and old culture in such proximity and it seems to be an ongoing theme I run into all over China.

Old/New, Ancient/Modern whatever you call it, opposites attract. China, maybe more than any other country, lives in this world of opposites. With a culture that dates back 4,000 years, China is considered one of the ancient civilizations along with Egypt, Babylon, and India. Today, however, its years of traditions are clashing up against the modern world and an economy growing at a rapid rate.   It’s a petri dish of old and new intermixing, elders and hipsters co-mingling, braided together in a complex waltzing partnership; one in which you never quite know who is going to take the lead.

Many things and world famous sites stand out when you visit China; the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall, the architecture of Shanghai, and the billions of people. However, what I was fixated on was the relation between old culture and new. And I found it was this relation between ancient and modern that was the lens through which I viewed the famous sites of China during my tour with Wendy Wu Tours.

Shanghai Markets

Shanghai new architecture, and an old barge, viewed from the Bund

Shanghai new architecture, and an old barge, viewed from the Bund

I was expecting Shanghai to be completely modern and architecturally stunning, but when I walked to the Bund district to view the sleek skyline from the river, the first thing I saw was an old barge chugging down the river in front of skyscrapers.

In addition to the busy pedestrian shopping street with familiar brands like Apple, TopShop, H&M and Starbucks, our local guide, Ling, took us to a street in Nanshi Old Town surrounded by old buildings painted in red with traditional Chinese rooflines. Don’t let the term ‘old town’ fool you though, its façade is old, but its goods are new. Bins of selfie sticks and the latest craze of plastic flower sprouts that people wear in their hair were found at every shop and vendor. Nestled among the latest fads though were a few old items; I was entranced by the old Chinese comic books.  And by old I mean 1980’s old.

China’s latest craze sold on the streets of the Old Town – flower sprouts

China’s latest craze sold on the streets of the Old Town – flower sprouts

But it was also here in Nanshi where we found the Yu Gardens, an oasis of calm and feng shui among the chaotic shopping streets. We walked around the beautifully manicured gardens and Ling told me about the 4 pillars that are required of any Chinese Garden; rocks, water, pavilion, and plants. As I walked through the gardens I forgot that outside of the walls was a chaotic crowded new square with dumpling vendors and people with selfie sticks.

And of course don’t forget the 5th pillar of a Chinese Garden…the garden cat

And of course don’t forget the 5th pillar of a Chinese Garden…the garden cat

Xi’an Old City Wall

The city of Xi’an oozes ancient tradition; it’s one of the most important cities in Chinese history. It’s been the capital of 13 great dynasties and was the starting point to the Silk Road. Today it holds one of the most famous archeological finds in the world, the Terracotta Warriors; an army of 8,000 soldiers that were created and buried to protect Emperor Qin in the afterlife. As I pushed my way through what felt like an army of people to see the warriors, I was getting a feel for what modern day China is really like; bursting with people.

A crowd gathers around a warrior

A crowd gathers around a warrior

However, what captured my attention in Xi’an was the Old City Wall standing 40 feet tall and 40 feet wide; a giant square cube running 8.5 miles around the old city. It was originally built to protect the city and Dynasty from invasion; however, it was never actually attacked. I guess the look of it was protection enough. Today the wall is this division of old and new.  Inside sits the old city and Muslim quarter, bell towers, and parks. It’s quiet inside of the walls as only electric motorbikes are allowed, while outside the walls is a bustling metropolis of new buildings, high-rises, and traffic! Going up on the wall and walking or biking is a great way to place yourself between the old and new China.

The City Wall in Xi’an

The City Wall in Xi’an

Beijing Hutongs

Beijing’s culture was built in the hutongs, old courtyards forming tightknit neighborhoods where you find day-to-day life. Not many hutongs remain these days as most have been leveled to make room for the new China, but ironically, many tourists prefer to visit the few remaining hutongs rather than the city’s new modern buildings. It was my walk through the South Gong and Drum Lane hutong that made me love Beijing. I meandered through the narrow streets and alleys and got a feel for the old life of Beijing. I was even able to enter one of the homes and eat lunch with a local family.

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I easily became distracted looking down every little lane, finding old men playing Mahjong. But the part I loved the most is that nestled among the connected homes, public restrooms, and men playing Mahjong, were young men and women with tattoos and piercings sipping coffee in small, hip coffee shops. This was the ultimate mix of old and new in Beijing. We stopped in at Si…if Bar on North Luogu Alley Dongcheng District, which labeled itself the ‘first bar in the hutong’.  It was an oasis of calm during the day with its clever wood design, bar dog that would lay by your feet, and self-proclaimed “F!*cking Good Coffee”.

There was also a mixture of old and new at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, an hour outside Beijing. You can take a gondola up to the wall and walk on the ancient steps where warriors once protected China from Mongol invasion and then opt to take a more modern route down the wall – a toboggan slide that wound like a snake down the steep hill.

The Great Wall represents a very old time in Chinese history

The Great Wall represents a very old time in Chinese history

Getting Off the Beaten Path

While many travelers tend to focus on the older, ancient sites of China, local guides will take you off the typical tourist trail and introduce you to today’s ‘new’ China.

Sherry Ott is a long term traveler, blogger and photographer without a home. She spent a year living in Vietnam, hiked the Annapurna Circuit, did cultural exchange programs in the Middle East, drove 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia, and walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. She seeks out adventurous opportunities to inspire people to overcome their fears and reap the benefits of travel. Hear more about her journey to China with Wendy Wu Tours at AFAR.com.


By Kelley Ferro

I craned my neck to look into each doorway that we passed. We were moving along at good clip on a bike taxi, or “bike rickshaw,” through the narrow streets of a Beijing neighborhood. The streets were lined with high walls and intimidating doorways. These imposing facades gave very little insight into what lay behind…but I knew. They were hiding courtyards with bird cages, children playing, cats basking in the sun, old ladies hanging laundry. I was welcomed into one of these homes just moments before, to have lunch with the Fan family. This family welcomes travelers, entertains them with music and allows them to peek into this otherwise hidden daily life. I only had a taste of what was on the inside and I wanted to see more, so desperately I tried to catch glimpses through open doorways as we bounced by.

Bike rickshaws are a great speed for seeing a lot in a short amount of time

Bike rickshaws are a great speed for seeing a lot in a short amount of time

This neighborhood of Beijing is known as the “hutongs,” or what the locals refer to as “slums.” That word is a bit abrasive and I had a very different idea in my head of what we were going to find before we came here. As we bounced down the cobbled streets, vines crawling up impressive walls, old men playing mahjong on plastic tables down side streets, this didn’t feel at all like a slum. Sure, it was a little worse for wear in some areas, but these one story buildings were over a century old. It felt like one of the first times that I actually got a real insight into China’s culture.

They seemed to be having the best time

They seemed to be having the best time

Thus far I had been exposed to the clean, precise streets of orderly Shanghai, the modernized historical city of Xi’an, with its manicured parks, and the hyper modern downtown area of Beijing which could have been New York City or Paris if you looked quickly. Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Burberry and Apple lined the streets and the busy crosswalks were filled with well-heeled Chinese carrying smartphones. Here in the sleepy, tree-lined hutongs, there were more birds chirping than car horns. Life was slower and moving at the same pace of the Chinese ancestors that lived here generations before. China’s door to personal life was left ajar.

Stunning doorways in the hutongs

Stunning doorways in the hutongs

Hutongs used to dominate Beijing but they’ve now been bulldozed to give way for the city’s rapid development. However, there are still several century old hutongs that have been preserved and exploring these will take you back in time. We went to the Nanluoguxiang hutong, one of the more popular in the area near the Forbidden City. Though it isn’t as wealthy or modern as other areas, there was energy there. A resurgence of youth had come back to these hutongs, choosing to appreciate the past instead of plow forward to the newer, faster, the shinier. On one block, old men were playing mahjong outside but on the other, a young couple shared headphones as they poured over their laptop, drinking chai lattes at a laid-back cafe. We hopped off the rickshaw to browse the kitschy shops selling minimalist homewares, succulents and vintage handbags. A number of restaurants and cafes caught my eye, and I typed their names on my iPhone, hoping for the chance to try them out on a return trip.

Chill cafes in the Nanluoguxiang hutong

Chill cafes in the Nanluoguxiang hutong

But Bar Si…if grabbed our attention immediately. Two millennial men sat on wooden benches in front, wearing black t-shirts, eyeliner and smoking cigarettes. The unusual name is open-ended, giving the sense of “what if” or endless possibilities. It seemed appropriate for a hipster coffeehouse meets clubby bar located on a centuries old street. It also was decidedly quiet on this Friday afternoon. Understandably so, as it was crowded until early morning and is one of the nightlife destinations on this trip. Many of these sleepy cafes and bars morph into the city’s new in-the-know going out spot. After dusk, music flows from the open windows until daybreak. We grabbed a delicious coffee, ordered via a tablet menu, and we considered grabbing a cold beer from their impressive list (Brooklyn beer in Beijing, what!). But we had at least nine more hours of shooting, so we forged on!

Sherry Ott, equally impressed by Bar Si...if and its second level

Sherry Ott, equally impressed by Bar Si…if and its second level

Each coffee shop had personality

Each coffee shop had personality

Hutongs were originally created by the Mongol Empire, the word meaning “water well.” They were designed to center around water and now that sense of community continues. The bathrooms of the hutongs are communal, with one shared single sex bathroom every few blocks. This feature was something I had never seen before and to be honest, was a bit hesitant about trying. But nature called and to my thankful surprise, they were very clean!

A glimpse down the narrow alley separating the courtyard houses

A glimpse down the narrow alley separating the courtyard houses

We continued to meander through the alleys around the districts notable Drum Tower. These maze like streets continued to baffle me with one seeming like a replica of Abbot-Kinney, another like it was 1915. It pains me that one of the most historical parts of the city has been diminishing. Back in 1990, 600 hutongs were destroyed each year. However, there’s been an effort to preserve more and more of these culturally significant, personal homes. The gentrification by the shops, cafes and bars like Si…if, may serve to help this preservation by bringing in more awareness from the local and tourist population as well. The authentic local life is what many of today’s travelers are looking for and for the sake of the remaining residents; I can only hope that they continue to flourish. My best tip is to go spend a day there, chat up the locals and enjoy this living history. And I’d suggest, don’t wait too long.

Mrs. Fan, performing a hauntingly beautiful song for us after lunch

Mrs. Fan, performing a hauntingly beautiful song for us after lunch

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in California. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month. She is also a contributor to Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s  FacebookTwitter and Instagram pages.


By Sherry Ott, AFAR Ambassador

Dumplings you eat with a straw!

Dumplings you eat with a straw!

My first memory of international cuisine was when I was 12 years old.  I’ll never forget going to a Chinese restaurant in Peoria, Illinois for the first time. It was darkly lit, with big round tables and little cups for tea. I was fascinated with these cups because they didn’t have handles – unconventional for my Midwest life.  My dad ordered some dishes for our table; sweet and sour pork, wontons, egg foo young, and pork chow mien. I remember being that awkward age that hated eating anything that I didn’t know, but wanting to try new things. I had no idea how to use the chopsticks in front of me – they seemed as confusing and impossible as solving my Rubik’s Cube – but that was the first of many Chinese dinners I had in my hometown of Peoria. Chinese food reminds me of my childhood and exploration of new things, so when I landed in China for my 8 day trip with Wendy Wu Tours, I was excited for one thing – I wanted to eat!

Eating in China

Though China may seem daunting due to the language barriers, your local guide can lead you through all the tough decisions – like what to eat! They can help you order and work your way through the maze of menus. Most of the restaurants that we went into were gigantic, with big round tables and a lazy Susan in the middle for easy sharing. The menus tended to be the size of an old Sears Catalog and include pictures and English, which made things a little easier. These are great places to eat but it you want to throw caution to the wind and find some restaurants that are smaller and don’t have pictures or English menus, then just ask your guide and they’ll lead you deep into the alleys of China to eat. After all, travel is about going local and exploration of new things!

A super thick menu with pictures

A super thick menu with pictures

Dumplings

I quickly learned that dumplings are a staple in Shanghai, little bites of flavorful goodness; but in Shanghai you get something extra in your dumpling – soup.  I had my first soup dumpling at breakfast (yes, dumplings for breakfast). I was startled when I bit into what I thought was a normal dumpling and soup came out and subsequently went all over me! I pretty quickly learned that Shanghai dumplings need to be eaten with care. Shanghai is known for 2 main kinds of dumplings: Xiao Long Bao, a dumpling made of wheat dough that is steamed, and Sheng Jian Bao, made of a thicker dough first fried in a cast iron skillet and then steamed. Both are typically made of pork and have a gelatin soup inside that gets heated and liquefied when steamed. Dip them in a vinegar soy mixture and try to poke a hole in it first so that you can ‘drink’ out the soup or at least let it cool before you bite into it!  My favorite way to eat them was with a straw.

Xiao Long Bao – or XLB as the cool kids refer to them!

Xiao Long Bao – or XLB as the cool kids refer to them!

Sheng Jian Bao – or SJB

Sheng Jian Bao – or SJB

In Xi’an we not only ate dumplings (jiaozi), we learned how to make them.  Our teacher, Chef Jin, makes about 3,500 dumplings a night, which explains why her super power is to make dumplings lightning fast. Seriously, if you blink you’ll miss it and will all of a sudden have a butterfly shaped dumpling in front of you. Chef Jin works at the Shaanxi Sunshine Lido Grand Theatre (and in the time it took you to read that title, she made 4 dumplings). She makes dumplings every night for customers who come to the cultural theater show. Her dumplings are in the shape of butterflies, roses, swans, cabbages, and ducks.  However, for teaching purposes she kept the shapes simple and slowed down long enough to show us how to roll out the dough, spread in the filling, and then form them into shapes.  Mine didn’t turn out too shapely, which made me conclude that I’d rather eat them than make them.

Rolling out dumpling dough in Xi’an

Rolling out dumpling dough in Xi’an

Milk

In our quest for local food, our Shanghai guide took us for a traditional breakfast enjoyed by the fast paced business workers in Shanghai – warm, sweet soymilk and a fried breadstick. Yon Ho is a fast food chain that started as a street stall in Taiwan and now sells their soybean milk all over China. The drink sort of tastes like what’s left in the bottom of a cereal bowl once all the cereal is gone and immediately won me over! It was fun to be the only foreigners in the restaurant and watch a steady stream of young business professionals come in and eat before work. Sort of like the Chinese Starbucks – a cool (and tasty) view of daily life in Shanghai!

Warm soy milk and fried bread

Warm soy milk and fried bread

Noodles

Have you ever heard a noodle? In Xi’an if you listen carefully you’ll hear why the Biangbiang noodle got its name. It is named after the sound of dough being thwacked on the chopping board so it can be stretched into one very long belt-like lasagna noodle. We stopped at a local food court inside the old city in Xi’an and saw the noodles being made and then slurped them down in a delicious broth mixture with soy, peppers, and scallions. And if you are wondering, in China it’s perfectly acceptable to slurp your noodles!

Biangbiang noodles in a soupy broth

Biangbiang noodles in a soupy broth

My other favorite noodle was the Peking noodle dish found in Beijing.  The noodles are long, cylinder shaped, and delicious. My favorite part was that the noodles, vegetables, and sauce were brought out in separate bowls and it was up to us to mix the three items together at the table…with chopsticks.  Good luck…the taste is worth it!

Peking Noodles is a dish you need to put together yourself!

Peking Noodles is a dish you need to put together yourself!

Peking Duck

It might look slightly unappetizing to have a whole duck brought out to your table, but trust me on this and say ‘yes’ to Peking Duck when in Beijing! The duck is best known for its breeding and roasting process; plus it was once the food of Emperors.

We went to Da Wan Ju, a small, local restaurant near the Wangfujing night market. Once the duck is carved by your table, you eat it in a pancake with scallions, cucumber and sweet bean sauce all rolled up like a taco. However, I’m not sure what I liked the most – the duck breast ‘taco’ or the crispy skin! For pure decadence, try dipping the crispy skin in sugar – the ultimate treat!

Carving Peking Duck at our table

Carving Peking Duck at our table

Street Food

If you want to get a little bolder, then try the street food in China!  Don’t get scared away by Beijing’s Wangfujing night market, which tends to cater to tourists more than locals. It’s a market with split personalities – it has a bunch of great traditional street food such as noodles, dumplings, and soups mixed with creepy crawlies on a stick. It’s definitely worth a visit to see how daring you are!  I decided to try dessert there after our Peking Duck dinner, sweet sticky rice ‘pops’ on a stick were the perfect ending!

Luckily I was already full when we came across these delicacies!

Luckily I was already full when we came across these delicacies!

Sticky rice pops – more my speed!

Sticky rice pops – more my speed!

There are plenty of other street markets selling food all over China’s cities that are geared to locals and your guide can help you find. Our guide led us to the Chang li neighborhood in Shanghai to try some local street food.  Nestled among retail stores, the market smelled of durian and was filled with businessmen and women stopping to get dinner on their way home from work. The food is cooked right in front of you and I suggest you just pick the stand with the biggest line! The other great thing about local street food is it’s cheap; I had a giant noodle and veggie dish for only $1.20 USD.

What About the Fortune Cookies?

If you are looking for those crispy sweet fortune cookies at the end of you meal in China, you’ll be waiting forever. In fact 90% of Chinese people don’t even know what they are.  One of my biggest surprises was learning that fortune cookies aren’t really from China at all; they are from the United States, created in San Francisco.

The food in China was nothing like what I grew up eating at my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant in Peoria; instead it was infinitely better. And like most things in the world of travel, it’s even better when you can get out and explore the local scene, because it’s all about the journey.

Sherry Ott is a long term traveler, blogger and photographer without a home. She spent a year living in Vietnam, hiked the Annapurna Circuit, did cultural exchange programs in the Middle East, drove 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia, and walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. She seeks out adventurous opportunities to inspire people to overcome their fears and reap the benefits of travel. Hear more about her journey to China with Wendy Wu Tours at AFAR.com.


The world’s fifth largest country in both size and population, Brazil has much to offer, from beaches and mountains, to cities and nature.  Join Kelley Ferro as she journeys through Brazil giving viewers a taste of the all diverse experiences encountered while on tour with a member of the United States Tour Operators Association.  Videos in partnership with EMBRATUR and Adventure.com.

Let Your Adventurous Spirit Run Wild in Brazil

Brazil is a country filled with adventure and active pursuits. With the help of USTOA, EMBRATUR and Adventure.com, Kelley Ferro spends three days ziplining, grotto swimming, cave snorkeling, mountain hiking and photographing waterfalls in Chapada Diamantina National Park located in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia.

Taste the Food Culture of Brazil

 A melting pot of ethnicities, accents, and cultures, the food of Brazil is truly unique, offering a variety of dishes.  Join Kelley Ferro as she explores all the local flavors of Brazil while on tour with a member of the United States Tour Operators Association.  Videos in partnership with EMBRATUR and Adventure.com.

Capture the Beat of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is a large seaside city in Brazil, famed for its energy, beaches and Christ the Redeemer statue. With so much to see and do, members of the United States Tour Operators Association provide travelers with local guides to ensure guests don’t miss a beat of this lively city.  Tripfilms.com contributor Kelley Ferro gives an insider look at the nightlife, neighborhoods, shopping, locals and more in Rio. Videos in partnership with EMBRATUR and Adventure.com.

Experience the Brazilian State of Bahia

Video journalist Kelley Ferro starts her Brazil tour in Salvador, the capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. With the help of USTOA, EMBRATUR and Adventure.com, Kelley is immersed in the local Bahia culture from participating in the Brazilian tradition of the “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia” wish bracelets to learning how to make Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.


By Colin Roohan, AFAR Ambassador

The mention of Rio conjures up images and emotions for everyone. A funky, hip, fun city, it is a mix of Mother Nature’s paradise and man-made amenities. It’s a place where coastal roads hug the huge craggy mountain faces that jut up towards the sky, and a place that throws one of the biggest parties on earth! I had the pleasure of visiting Rio de Janeiro with EMBRATUR, Adventure.com and LATAM as a part of AFAR’s partnership with USTOA, and although we only had about a day to zip around the city, our itinerary took us to some of Rio’s timeless attractions along with a few that fly under most travelers’ radars.

Our group woke early and took a bus up a winding, densely forested road to Corcovado Mountain, home of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. It was early enough that we beat the crowds, but unfortunately on this morning, we also beat the sunshine. Clouds, rain and haze surrounded the platform in front of Christ the Redeemer barraging the statue in a cloak of grey. After roughly 10 minutes, the cloud hovering overhead passed and revealed the statue in its full grandeur. Those that were present on the platform below began frantically taking pictures and selfies before another ominous cloud slowly rolled in, replacing the previous. As nice as it was to see the statue in front of a blue-sky backdrop, the quickly moving storm clouds made the statue even more impressive – all 98 feet of Christ’s form seemingly floating through a mass of haze.

From Corcovado, our local guide, Rodrigo, and I split from the rest of the group and headed to one of Rio’s better known areas, the Lapa neighborhood – the yin to Copacabana and Ipanema’s beach-scene yang. Lapa is a playground of motion and we quickly got caught up in the morning commuters buzzing about the streets, briefcases and aromatic coffee in tow. What I loved about Lapa was the eclectic mix of artistic influences from graffiti and murals to colonial architecture and oddly futuristic buildings – the embodiment of Rio, albeit on a smaller scale.

Undoubtedly, and for good reason, the coolest thing in Lapa is the Escadaria Selarón, a colorful, mosaicked set of steps embellished with bits of tile, ceramics and mirrors created by artist and former local Jorge Selarón. The Chilean-born Selarón began his beautification of the steps as a dedication to the Brazilian people, but what started as a small scale mosaic blew-up in scale and popularity through the years becoming an obsession for Selarón. In the later years of the project, visitors from all around the world donated tile to Selarón’s art piece. Walking up the steps, I found spotting the various cultural references fascinating as they really show how many people Selarón inspired with his art.

Later that afternoon, the same clouds that earlier graced the hem of Christ’s garment had relocated to Copacabana Beach. Fortunately, after a while the rain stopped and pedestrians started to emerge, repopulating the cycling lanes and walkways lining the beach. The little cafés brushed water off of their chairs and readied their bar stations, and even though the weather wasn’t ideal, it was easy to see why these beaches are so appealing. I sat down with a coffee and watched groups of men juggle a soccer ball while others competitively pummeled a volleyball back and forth. I didn’t get the picturesque beach-scene sunset that is often depicted in travel shows and movies but just being present and enjoying the distinctive vibe was rewarding enough.

Later that evening our group headed back to Lapa to get a taste of the night life. As I suspected, the night crowd around Lapa was as energetic as the commuters I had encountered that morning. You could tell Rio de Janeiro is a city where citizens work and play equally as hard. As we walked toward a boulevard full of cafes and restaurants, we were sidetracked by a rhythmic raucous coming from inside a dimly-lit warehouse. We peaked inside and were greeted by the sound of drums thumping heavily while a circle of musicians swayed along to the beat. We watched for a while then headed back outside where tables and chairs began filling the sidewalks, making it tough to discern where one restaurant ended and another began. The whole area was filled with a cheery air, such as that of a family function. It was the perfect way to cap off a day in Rio de Janeiro, and surprisingly, I didn’t regret that I had only been able to explore for one day. It is such a charming city that it made a very vivid and lasting impression, one that will stick with me until my next visit!

Colin Roohan is a travel photographer interested in documenting experiences with culture and life. In addition to his work with AFAR, Colin has been published in Travel + Leisure, The Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys, and Groove Magazine, amongst others. In addition to journalistic pursuits, Colin captures portraits and documents events around Southern California. Hear more about his journey to Brazil at AFAR.com.


Papua New Guinea is one of the last frontiers of adventure travel, providing an unparalleled array of natural beauty, exotic wildlife and cultural tradition. Join Kelley Ferro, travel expert and video journalist, as she journey’s through Papua New Guinea with USTOA tour operator Swain Destinations to discover the vibrant collection of cultural possibilities found within this truly unique destination.

Inside Highland Life of Papua New Guinea

Travel expert and video journalist Kelley Ferro starts her customized journey of Papua New Guinea in the Highlands. Swain Destinations gives Kelley an insider look at Highland life from a visit to the bustling Mt. Hagen Market located in one of Papua New Guinea’s largest cities, to learning the fascinating cultures, traditions and beliefs of the Huli people.

Experience Food Culture of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea may not be known as a foodie destination, but travel videographer Kelley Ferro found each meal on her journey to be fresh, local and satisfying. On each customized itinerary, USTOA tour operator member Swain Destinations provides an education on what the locals eat in each region from farm to table. Watch as travel videographer Kelley Ferro is immersed into the local Papua New Guinea food culture.

Environmentally Friendly Lodging

USTOA tour operator member Swain Destinations arranged for travel expert Kelley Ferro to stay at environmentally friendly lodges in each point of her customized tour of Papua New Guinea. Join Kelley for an insider look at the three breathtaking lodges featured in her itinerary, each one embodying the spirit of its location within this breathtaking destination.

Experience the Lowland Rainforest Region

Travel expert, video journalist and contributor to Tripfilms.com, Kelley Ferro, jumps on a private charter plane to explore the expansive tropical lowland rainforest region of Papua New Guinea. Join Kelley on her customized tour with Swain Destinations as she travels by riverboat to meet locals and explore villages along the Karawari River, as well as discover the local wildlife of the lowland region.


by Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

Everything changes for the traveler when he’s afforded an opportunity to become an active participant in his own getaway. Walking through museums, touring (but not touching – never touching!) sites of historic importance, or zipping around on a bus, boat, or car while the landscape whizzes past at 65mph: each is well and good in its own way and enjoyable from time to time, but nothing can replace the sensation one feels when engaging a local on their own turf, and at their own game. For me, this is how experience comes to life, and this is how I most feel connected to a place, a space, and people.

The Karawari River, seen from on high.

The Karawari River, seen from on high.

I felt very much alive while standing on a fallen tree out in the middle of the Karawari River, a hundred miles removed from nowhere. A cadre of local Papua New Guinean kids had caught the attention of our Swain Destinations crew while we enjoyed our riverboat lunch, and encouraged us to join them for swim. Without really thinking about what might be lurking in the water, we went for a dip. We had spent the morning visiting villages in the Arambak region, notorious the world over as the site of ancient crocodile scarification rituals, headhunters, and cannibalism. But none of that had me as a scared as that unsteady branch dangling ten feet above the river. Still, I was afraid of looking like a punk in front of the kids (and my Swain cohorts) than the water, so I took a deep breath and dove in. I popped up downriver to the unabashed cheers of my new friends, and before I knew it, I was up on that branch and ready for another death-defying bit of acrobatics. I suppose that one brief moment out on the river represented my time in Papua New Guinea in miniature – excited to be present, unsure of my footing, but eager to dive in just the same.

Hanging out with local kids on the river, and ready to jump into new experiences.

Hanging out with local kids on the river, and ready to jump into new experiences.

I think that’s how you have to approach a place as wild and as unique as PNG; with an open mind and a willingness to experience a way of life totally foreign to you. I’ve never known what it feels like to have to fish for my own dinner, plant my own crops, raise my own pigs, or carve my own canoe, and really have my life depend on it. Visiting villages along the Karawari and glimpsing at people living their lives in a way that would surely render me as useless as a screen door on a submarine in half a day was at once both humbling and beautiful.

A friendly face at the Kundiman village.

A friendly face at the Kundiman village.

I’ll never forget our visit to the Kundiman village, where the Yokim tribespeople greeted us in their finest traditional costumes – the women wore spectacular shell necklaces, colorful grass skirts, and elaborate headdresses decorated with flowers and ferns, while the men donned clay body paint, skirts of banana leaves, and fierce face paint. Men showed us how villagers along the Karawari have harvested the sago palm for centuries – I’m certainly not strong enough to smash sago fibers, and I probably never will be – while the women put on a cooking demonstration, treating us to traditional village fare.

Processing sago palm is a labor intensive task, one that local villagers do not take lightly.

Processing sago palm is a labor intensive task, one that local villagers do not take lightly.

The kids laughed as our Swain crew sampled sago pancakes, and delighted in sharing with us their river games. We visited another village where we tried our hands at basket weaving; mine was originally supposed to hold live fish, though it’s unlikely I’d have been able to use it to catch a cold. We were treated to local lore inside a spirit house, and sat back in awe as Konmei villagers engaged in a spirit dance.

A Konmei villager in traditional costume, preparing for a ceremonial spirit dance.

A Konmei villager in traditional costume, preparing for a ceremonial spirit dance.

Each village visit was a snapshot in time, and a showcase for a quickly fading aspect of traditional life – and when and where we were asked or given an opportunity to join an activity or speak candidly with local folk, our experience was that much more enriching.

A lesson in basket weaving from a young girl.

A lesson in basket weaving from a young girl.

We spent our nights at the beautiful Karawari Lodge, a rustic river outpost outfitted with more amenities than one would expect to find in this very remote part of the world. I treated myself to a South Pacific lager out on the balcony, where I kept watch on the setting sun. When the light burned out dozens of tiny fires came alive in the distance, each signaling the beginning of evenings of song and dance in the villages. I wasn’t worried about WiFi or email anything else but what stories were being exchanged down below me. I knew then that Papua New Guinea had captured my heart, and that I’d someday soon be back for more.             

A snapshot of life along the Karawari River.

A snapshot of life along the Karawari River.

A glimpse inside an ancient men’s house.

A glimpse inside an ancient men’s house.

Flash Parker is an AFAR Ambassador, photographer, travel writer and author from Toronto, Canada. His work has been published by Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Canadian Living, USA Today, Get Lost Magazine, GQ Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine and more. Follow Flash Parker on TwitterFacebookInstagram or on his website.


by Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

September is Travel Together Month!

To celebrate the breadth of experiences offered by our tour operator members, USTOA has curated a collection of value-packed savings for travelers and special travel agent offers available throughout the month of September.  Featured on https://www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month are special prices, premium offers, bonus commissions and more to destinations across the globe from the country’s leading providers of independent and escorted group travel.

Kelley Ferro traveling with Swain Destinations in Papua New Guinea.

Kelley Ferro traveling with USTOA member Swain Destinations in Papua New Guinea.

Travel Together Month is a highlight of USTOA’s Travel Together campaign…a growing collection of videos and blog posts that celebrate “live like a local” experiences around the world accessible through USTOA tour operator members. There’s a wealth of content that is yours to view and share…and if you do, use #traveltogether to join the conversation.

A tour group lead by USTOA member VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations takes in the view from high above Brac, Croatia.

A tour group lead by USTOA member VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations takes in the view from high above Brac, Croatia.

Here are some highlights of the special Travel Together Month offers, which can be booked throughout September. All travel details, restrictions and booking instructions can be found on the Travel Together website.

For consumers:

  • Abercrombie & Kent: Save $4,000 per couple on the 10-day “Egypt & the Nile” Luxury Small Group Journey. Available on select 2016 departures.
  • Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic: Free round-trip air from Miami to the Galapagos (up to $1,250 per guest) on select 2015 departures aboard the National Geographic Endeavour and National Geographic Islander.
  • Mayflower Tours: Receive free airfare on the “Enchanting India with a Ganges River Cruise” itinerary departing 3/15/16, a value of $2,500 per couple.
  • Quark Expeditions: Save up to $2,300 per person on the following three Ocean Endeavour voyages including Buenos Aires flights: “Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent,” “Falklands South Georgia and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings” and “Crossing the Circle: Southern Expeditions.”  Available on select departures through 12/31/15.
  • Swain Destinations: Book the “Baillie Lodges Australian Luxury Defined” itinerary  including an island-inspired barbeque lunch with premium wine and a 15-minute scenic helicopter flight over Uluru and get upgraded to the next luxurious suite category at Southern Ocean Lodge, a savings of $2,000 per person, plus 15% off travel gear at the Swain Destinations Travel Store. Valid on travel from 1/1/15 – 12/24/15.
  • Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: Save up to $1,600 per couple on select 2016 Europe boutique river cruises when you pay-in-full at time of booking.

And for travel agents:

  • Alexander + Roberts: Earn an extra booking bonus of $100 per couple on top of full commission every time clients take advantage of pay-in-full savings ($600 per couple or $300 per solo traveler) on 95 original Small Group Journeys, Small Ship journeys and go-any-day Private Journeys to Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America, the Middle East and Antarctica. Commission available on departures through April 2017.
  • Celtic Tours World Vacations: Enjoy a land only FAM rate of $499 per person sharing on a 5-night independent Tuscan experience. This travel agent exclusive includes accommodations at Villa Casagrande, breakfast daily, a welcome dinner, and car rental to explore the region. Book 9/1/15 – 12/15/15 for travel through 3/30/16.
  • Down Under Answers:Earn a $50 bonus commission when you book any Virgin Australia air/land inclusive vacation to Australia. Commission available on departures from 10/1/15 – 6/30/16.
  • Goway Travel: Book one Shongololo Africa train trip and earn a free 14-day train journey; your partner travels with you for 50% off. Valid for travel on any 2015/2016 journey.
  • SITA World Tours: Book clients on the “Peru: Ancient Civilizations” journey and earn a 20% commission plus an $82 appreciation bonus in the form of a SITA American Express Gift Card; clients receive room upgrades in Cuzco to oxygenated rooms and a Shaman Blessing ritual at Machu Picchu. Valid on daily arrivals through 12/10/15.

Note: deals can be booked September 1-30, 2015. All travel details, restrictions and booking instructions can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month.

Videos and blog stories can be found at www.youtube.com/user/ustoanyc and www.ustoa.com/blog, as well as www.ustoa.com/traveltogether. Follow the adventures on Twitter and Instagram by using #traveltogether and by joining Facebook chats at www.facebook.com/USTouroperatorsAssoc.

For more information about tours and packaged vacations, visit www.ustoa.com.  And, remember that when booking with USTOA Active Members, you also get the assurance of knowing that they are held to the highest standards in the industry with our $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program.  Visit www.ustoa.com for complete details.