By Chelsea Marie Alcock 

Chelsea is an adventurous globetrotter who works in marketing for the travel tour company, smarTours. She’s been to 10 different countries and explored most of the U.S. Her passion is writing about the unique places she discovers and distinctive experiences she has around the world. Follow along Chelsea’s adventures on Instagram, thetravelingfemale.

Petra Palace JordanPhoto Courtesy of smarTours

It’s no secret that Jordan was a top travel destination in 2018 and remains a desirable trip for travelers in 2019. Social media has exploded with stunning images, captivating videos, and incredible stories from those who have visited. With historical wonders, camel rides, desert aesthetics, and one-of-a-kind culture, it’s easy to see why Jordan is such a special place to visit.

Here are six reasons for Jordan’s major travel industry success—and why you should make the trip there yourself.

Culture & Society

The culture, people, and heritage of Jordan are a huge draw to the country. Although there’s western influence, the people blend together the old and new.

On Rainbow Street in the capital of Amman, there lives a modern hub of trendy restaurants, boutique shops, and vibrant nightlife. But, throughout the city you’ll still see many people wearing traditional clothes, restaurants serving classic Jordanian cuisine, and historical sights standing proud.

Handicrafts and mosaics are also a distinctive part of their society. In Wadi Seer, the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative trains women to make traditional handicrafts and products like soap, pottery, clothing, and more. This provides job opportunities and keeps their heritage alive. In Madaba, “The City of Mosaics”, the Madaba Arts & Handicraft Center employs handicapped Jordanians and trains them on the art of mosaics. This was established by Queen Noor, the American and fourth queen of Jordan.

2Photo Courtesy of smarTours

History

The country has a rich history intertwined with various dynasties and ancient empires—no matter what city you travel through, there are stories and history to be told.

In the city of Petra, a new Seven Wonders of the World, you’ll walk amongst land that Arab empires and Western and Eastern dynasties all once ruled. At the Al-Khazneh temple nearby, travelers admire the elaborate temple steeped in Bedouin history, as camels pose in front of it for a perfect photo op.

Visitors to Jerash will discover some of the most well-preserved ruins from the Greco-Roman empires during the 1st to mid-8th century before an earthquake destroyed most of it. It’s said that these ruins rival the ones in Rome.

3Photo Courtesy of smarTours

Religion

Religion is a quintessential part of the country’s DNA. People of Muslim and Christianity faith co-exist peacefully, which makes Jordan a welcoming and safe place to visit.

Throughout the country you’ll find a plethora of Holy sites, churches, mosques, and temples. In Madaba, a city of Christainity, there’s a well-preserved 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. And at Mount Nebo, the presumed site of Moses’ death, there’s beautiful views overlooking the Holy Land and Dead Sea.

Traveling from Petra to the Dead Sea, you can see where Jesus was baptized at John the Baptist’s settlement at Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

4Photo Courtesy of smarTours

Hospitality

There are inevitably misconceptions about Middle Eastern countries, but Jordan’s a great testament to how wonderful it is to explore this area of the world. A lot of that has to do with its hospitable people. They continually invite and encourage people to visit their home because they are proud of their heritage and want others to learn more about it. Their economy also thrives on tourism, so they ensure you have a unique and memorable trip.

5Photo Courtesy of smarTours

Easy Exploration & Diverse Landscapes

Jordan has range of landscapes that are not only breathtaking, but are also easy to reach. You’ll be able to wander through the mesmerizing sandstone terrain of Petra, and then with a short drive, be at Wadi Rum having a Jeep adventure over the golden desert dunes while rugged mountains surround you. Jordan’s also famous for the Dead Sea, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. Wherever you stay, you won’t be far from an afternoon of floating in the lake’s clear blue water.

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8Photo(s) Courtesy of smarTours

Jordanian Food

Jordan’s Mediterranean-based food is a delicious experience. Mansaf, a lamb dish, and Maqluba, a meat, rice, and vegetable dish are very popular, as is Turkish coffee, lime and mint juice, and Barazek cookies. Bedouin people commonly cook Zaarb, a dish of marinated meat mixed with vegetables, slowly baked in a pit of hot coals covered by sand.

9Photo Courtesy of smarTours

Interested in learning more about Jordan? Check out the new Journey Through Jordan tour by smarTours, a brilliantly curated trip for an affordable price that includes airfare and taxes!

smarTours offers 50+ one-of-a-kind tours across all seven continents. Every one of their tours include expertly curated itineraries, airfare and taxes, passionate guides, 4-star+ accommodations, and smart-sized groups averaging 23 travelers. Some of their most popular tours include Egypt, South Africa, China, Greece, and Peru


 

By: Fionna Wright, Marketing Specialist, Affordable World

 

USTOA_save time & moneyPhoto Courtesy of Affordable World

1. Save Time, Save Money

Booking trips independently can get expensive fast once hotel accommodations, activities, and flights are factored in. It can also be time-consuming when coordinating all of the travel plans, activities and itineraries on your own. When you book through a tour operator, you get the added benefit of having a one-stop shop, which includes flights, comfortable accommodations, and extensive included sightseeing activities and comprehensive itineraries all at a great value.

 

USTOA_Tour CouplesPhoto Courtesy of Affordable World

2. Safety

Traveling to a new destination solo can be daunting. You are visiting an unfamiliar place, you do not know what to expect, there are language barriers, and safety is often a genuine concern. When you travel with a tour operator, you are provided the peace of mind that you will be taken care of from beginning to end. You already have enough to consider when planning, and knowing you will be in good hands during your trip sets you up for an unforgettably pleasant adventure! Instead of journeying through the unknown alone, you get to enjoy your vacation under the care and guidance of a local tour director who will enhance your overall travel adventure and show you the best parts of each destination, help you to navigate any language barriers, and give informed recommendations of where to visit during your stay.

 

USTOA_tourguidePhoto Courtesy of Affordable World

3. English-Speaking Tour Director

While being exposed to new languages is benefit of traveling, it can be challenging when you are attempting to communicate only to be faced with a language barrier that requires you to tap into your inner Charlie Chaplin, and act out every question you have. With a tour operator, you have a dedicated English-speaking tour director to show you around, explain your surroundings, as well as answering any questions that you may have. It makes for a much smoother and pleasant experience to have someone available to assist you throughout your trip.

 

USTOA_ThailandPhoto Courtesy of Affordable World

4. Learn about New Cultures

One of the most exciting parts of travel is experiencing and learning about new cultures. Along with the already cultural experiences built into your itinerary, you will have the insight and expertise of your local tour director who can recommend the best local, immersive experiences, food, and more! Plus, generally speaking, people are proud to share their heritage and culture with visitors so it’s a win-win!

 

USTOA_group travelPhoto Courtesy of Affordable World

5. Stress-free Planning

Booking a vacation is exciting, but can also be stressful – there are tons of factors to consider and planning it all alone can be overwhelming! For a truly relaxing travel experience, using a tour operator will alleviate the stress of planning a vacation. We will take care of all the details for your next adventure including flights, accommodations, and comprehensive itineraries. All you do is select which adventure suits you best, and with just a few clicks, you are all set. Make your next adventure the best one yet and book through a tour operator. Bon voyage!

Interested in learning more about Affordable World? Visit www.affordableworld.com

With over 35 years of experience and a mission to provide the highest quality tours at an affordable price, Affordable World strives to deliver an exceptional, unparalleled vacation that will transport you to the very heart and highlights of each destination. As a business, we hold our family-run values close. We make great service, integrity, quality and affordability a part of everything we do. When you travel with us, you feel like part of the family knowing that your happiness is our top priority. We believe the best tours combine comprehensive itineraries with extensive inclusive sightseeing, top hotels and excellent value. So we’re proud to be one of the few travel companies to offer exactly this blend.

tour director


By: Paddy Hockett

 

Traveling to a new and exciting place with a group of your best friends or family can be such a rewarding experience. You’ve decided on the perfect destination, made sure everyone has their funds and updated paperwork in order, the flights are booked and your bags are packed. But how do you make sure everyone actually makes it through the trip with their wallets and sanity in check? Whether you’re planning an annual family reunion, a bachelorette getaway with friends, or a culinary tour through Europe, here are 17 safety tips to keep in mind when traveling with a large group.

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DO YOUR RESEARCH

  1. Travel with companies you know and trust, or can verify. Look for companies that specialize in group travel and are part of an organization or 3rd party that ensures quality or money back guarantees.
  2. Download the app! Most airlines have apps that let you see updated flight information in real time. You’ll know whether that connecting flight is delayed or early and can adjust accordingly. As an added bonus, you can check into your flight before you get there and everyone can pull up their boarding passes instead of keeping track of yet another stack of paper.
  3. Have everyone learn basic phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting. Even if you never end up needing them, you will be able to recognize them when someone says “Xièxiè” on your way out the door.

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GET PREPARED

  1. Send out your itinerary to the group before the trip so everyone is on the same page before you even take off. This is especially important if you are leaving from different airports or at different times.
  1. Have medication and vaccines ready to go prior to the trip, and have extra in case of emergencies.
  1. Decide on a rendezvous point for unstructured activity. At each destination, chose a place to start and end your day. Pick an easy to recognize location to avoid confusion.
  1. You insure everything else, why wouldn’t you insure your travel? Get travel insurance, which is a small investment that saves you big time if the worst should happen.
  1. Talk to your bank, let them know you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag your purchases as fraud.
  1. Stock up on RFID blocking sleeves and wallets. They’ll make it more difficult to be taken advantage of and keep your personal information…well, personal.
  1. Do not take anything you’re not willing to lose. Anything can happen when traveling and it’s not the best place for family heirlooms or irreplaceable items.

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OUT & ABOUT

  1. Don’t be flashy- You can usually spot a tourist from a mile away, so can scammers. Keep your money and itinerary to yourself.
  1. Don’t carry too much cash, when possible, use prepaid and/or credit cards. Carry your valuables in front pockets and take them with you wherever you go.
  1. Wash your hands frequently. This is a new place and you might be more susceptible to things going around, better safe than sorry.
  1. Get a buddy system in place so that no one gets lost in the excitement.
  1. Have everyone in your group double check each other’s contact info and take a photo of the individuals in a group. If anything goes wrong, you have an updated picture to show if you need help.
  1. Matching outfits seem silly, but it makes your group easier to identify in big crowds. Get special hats or sweaters made to spot each other easily.
  1. Carry an extra battery pack. All those photos and videos you’re taking are going to drain your phone much faster than usual. Charge it every night.

You want to be vigilant in a new and unfamiliar place, so that everyone makes it home in one piece, but never forget the most important rule for any vacation: Take time to relax! As a group, it can get a little overwhelming and loud, coming together for a nightly meal or quick check-in will get everyone back on the same page and ready to go for the next adventure!

 

Interested in learning more about Ritz Tours? Visit www.ritztours.com

With over three decades of experience and a mission to provide “Best Quality & Value in Travel” Ritz Tours delivers an exceptional, unparalleled vacation experience, so you can feel confident you’re traveling with a highly-reputable, client-acclaimed tour company. Ritz Tours crafts each travel program so that it incorporates five-star accommodations, exceptional sightseeing, superior tour guides, exciting entertainment, flavorful cuisine, and the popular attractions and spectacular scenery that define China, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.


By: Jared Alster; Vice President, Marketing; Cox & Kings, the Americas

Jared Alster is Vice President of Marketing for Cox & Kings, the Americas, and a travel industry veteran. Before his role at Cox & Kings, Jared was co-founder and VP Marketing for StrideTravel, the largest marketplace site for multi-day tours and adventure trips. Prior to that, he was head of marketing for Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest adventure travel company.

 
The world is getting smaller. Never before in history have so many far-flung destinations been so accessible by so many travelers. The conglomeration of long-haul air routes and a desire for “social-media-worthy” experiences has led people to visit places that were completely off the map in previous generations.

This results in a challenge for tour operators: how to uncover new, untouched areas of the globe with the infrastructure to support tourism.

Armenia is one of these places.

shutterstock_1276227367Blue Mosque

Located in the Caucasus between Asia and Europe, Armenia is ripe for opportunity as a tourist destination. A similar trend was recently witnessed in neighboring Georgia, with tourism arrivals increasing to a record 8.7 million in 2018. Compare that with Armenia, with 2018 estimated total tourist arrivals of only 1.6 million, and the opportunity for tourism to play an outsized role in GDP production is obvious.

With thousands of years of rich history, beautiful and rugged landscape that begs for adventure, and a dynamic capital city, Armenia is ready for prime time.
 
Here are the top 3 reasons to visit this emerging destination:
 
1. Unmatched History: 

One could write an entire article alone on Armenia’s historical significance. With three current UNESCO World Heritage sites, and another four pending, Armenia is a history buff’s paradise, without the crowds.

First up is The Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots, the former which dates back to AD 301. The “central-dome” architectural style is common throughout the country and is on wide display in the city of Echmiatsin.

The Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, added to the UNESCO list in 1996 and 2000, respectively, are Byzantine-era structures built during the Kiurikian dynasty in the 10th to 13th century. These perfectly intact structures were once important centers of learning, with a focus on schools for calligraphers.

shutterstock_233737981Monastery of Geghard

Last but definitely not least is the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley. The monastery contains a series of churches and tombs cut naturally into the surrounding rock. The area is one of great natural beauty, with soaring cliffs signifying the entrance to the Azat Valley in Armenia’s eastern reaches.

 

2.  An Outdoor Paradise: 

With mountainous terrain, free flowing rivers, and tons of fresh air for everyone, Armenia is an emerging adventure destination in its own right. Hikers will have the trails to themselves in Dilijan National Park, which is home to the newest section of the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT). When the feet get sore, retreat to the village of the same name and soak in restorative natural hot springs.

shutterstock_681278470Tsakhkadzor 

Skiing is serious business in Armenia and the resort of Tsakhkadzor is where to carve your turns. The mountain, only about an hour from the capital of Yerevan, rises to over 9,000 feet, where the snow is plentiful and powdery.

With 300 days of sunshine, (similar to Denver, CO) good weather is almost guaranteed to enjoy Armenia’s natural riches.

 

3. Yerevan:

Yerevan is Armenia’s capital city and the jumping off point for any tour of Armenia. Known as the ‘city of cafes,’ Yerevan does a terrific job of blending the old with the new.

shutterstock_613411871Republic Square

Founded in 782 BC, Yerevan now features areas like vibrant Northern Avenue, with high-end boutiques and boisterous cafes and nightclubs. A somber visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial is an important stop on any city tour of Yerevan. From there, travelers can visit the Blue Mosque, (the sole Mosque in all of Armenia) and Republic Square, which provides a focal point while touring and much of the city’s buzz.

Newer hotels, like the Marriott Yerevan, add a bit of comfort and familiarity to your stay.

 

Discover Armenia on Cox & Kings’ new 2019 private journey “Armenia & Georgia: Past and Present.”

With a history spanning more than 260 years, Cox & Kings is the world’s most enduring luxury travel brand. Today, the company’s U.S. business provides travelers with exquisite luxury journeys worldwide. Specialized destination teams share their extensive local product knowledge and offer extraordinary insider access. Together, they create private custom and small-group experiences to the world’s most exotic destinations. 


 

Traveling is the ultimate opportunity to strengthen family bonds and spend quality time with loved ones. Without the distraction of regular day-to-day activities, a vacation together encourages families to unplug and reconnect, creating time for children and adults alike to grow, learn, and become better global citizens.

All that’s needed for a successful vacation with loved ones is a trip designed for the children of the family and the child in all of us. Here are new educational, adventurous, and even mysterious trips for 2019 that can be enjoyed by travelers from every generation.

CIE_FamilyCredit: CIE Tours International

Medieval Myths and Storytelling

CIE Tours International’s “Lochs, Luck, and Lore” trip explores Ireland and Scotland from the countryside to the coast. Guests will “Be Irish for a Half Day” by playing a bodhran, learning hurling, and watching a sheepdog demonstration. There is ample time for visiting castles with ghostly myths and legends where knights prepared for battle and monarchs were crowned, as well as a day in the Belfast shipyards to listen to the story of The Titanic. Departures are available in 2019 for June 30-July 7, August 4 – August 11, and August 25 – September 1 from $1,950 per person. https://www.cietours.com

From gladiator schools in Rome to Carnival mask-making in Venice, Trafalgar’s “Gladiators, Gondolas, and Gold” offers an action-packed ten-day trip. Guests can explore medieval cities from the comfort of a traditional gondola or spend an afternoon watching Venetian glassblowing, and there is plenty of time to toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain and eat pizza at traditional markets. Departures are available May 31; June 7, 14, 21; July 5, 12, 19, 26; August 2, 9; September 13 from $8,658 for two adults and two children. https://www.trafalgar.com.

Rome_Trafalgar familyCredit: Trafalgar 

Learn About the Local Culture

SITA World Tours’ “Pandas, Wall and King Fu” allows travelers to immerse themselves in China’s thousand-year-old cities and villages. The nation’s long and rich history will be explored by boating through Er’hai Lake and taking part in the local tea culture in Dali. The trip includes hiking in the pandas’ habitat of Mt. Qingcheng, rafting in the Hongkou Scenic Area, and children can take a Kung Fu class while the adults experience the local culinary scene. Daily departures are available throughout 2019 from $7,325 per person, based on four people traveling. https://www.sitatours.com

Pottery demonstrations and Turkish cooking classes allow travelers to live like a local on Intrepid Travel’s “Turkey Family Holiday” trip. Children can dip their toes in the clear blue springs of Hierapolis and Travertines National Park, one of Turkey’s most photographed sites and home to natural terrace baths. The trip includes a day of exploration in the Kaymakli Underground City, an eight-story historic underground marvel, and creating artwork using traditional materials such as earth dyes and rose branch brushes. Departures are available in June, July, and August from $1620 per adult and $1458 per child. https://www.intrepidtravel.com

PandasCredit: SITA World Tours 

Take a Cruise with the Whole Crew

Tauck’s “Holiday Magic: Danube Family River Cruise” sets sail from Munich in December 2019 with an itinerary full of European holiday festivities. Guests will go to Oberndorf, Austria, where Silent Night was written and first performed, and visit 700-year-old holiday markets. Children will be surrounded with the aromas of gingerbread and cinnamon while playing medieval games in Old Town Bratislava. Departures are available December 22nd and December 23rd in 2019 from $4,190 per person and $3,690 per child, plus airfare. http://www.tauck.com

Regensburg - kids at Neupfarrplatz

Credit: Tauck

Adventuring Together

Adventurers will paddleboard with penguins, float through secluded caves, and slide down sand dunes with Audley Travel’s “Discover South Africa” trip. There’s never a dull moment with the vast collection of experiences in the city, the wilderness, and the ocean. Opportunities to work on an Ostrich farm and eat ostrich egg omelets for breakfast or watch sea lion colonies on the Robberg Peninsula are just a few of the unique experiences available with a custom itinerary. Individual departures are available every day in 2019 from $3,825 per person. https://www.audleytravel.com

Click here to find the perfect itinerary for you and your family.

 


By Kelly Anne Gould, Travel Impressions

An avid traveler with a background in writing and literature, sharing her love for cultures foreign and familiar alike is what fuels Kelly Anne Gould’s passion for writing. As copywriter for Travel Impressions, she does just that across numerous channels for travel agents, from social media to marketing and editorial. When not traveling, she pretends she is anyway with frequent museum visits and an ever-expanding reading list.

 

Set your imagination to go.

 

Art may imitate life, but with this year’s roundup of exhibitions and cultural events already off to a fierce start, you’ll want to follow their lead. From special commemorations to envelope-pushing installations, these seven showcases will have you planning a trip faster than you can say “travel.”

 

1. “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” / “Tim Walker,” The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England
With two standout exhibitions planned at London’s V&A, you can’t go wrong no matter which season you want to explore the Town in.

On display through July 14, the Dior exhibition lets us get as close as most of us can dream of to real couture. Numbers like the imperial red silk dress with floral brocade and the coy blush tulle gown are not to be missed.

Just in time for fall fashion, the Tim Walker collection will be unveiled September 21. Photographs, films, and more from the innovative photographer promise to be a fascinating ride, if the teaser image of models in insectile full white coats is any indication.

Tickets for Christian Dior: €20 – €24 (timed entry). Tickets for Tim Walker available spring 2019.

 

2. “Wild Things: The Power of Nature in Our Lives,” Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, Canada

A hands-on exhibition offering some fantastic Instagram pics, “Wild Things” encourages visitors to examine how our relationship with nature defines us. Open until September, its immersive look at Vancouver’s “wilds” makes for an eccentric, but powerful, reminder of the importance of cohabitation.

Museum admission from $9.75 CAD for children and $20.50 CAD for adults.

Vancouver Tourism Aerial Sunset Vancouver

Beautiful land-and-seascapes give Vancouver half its charm.

Credit: © Vancouver Tourism

 

3. “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY

Few female artists can claim the same level of fame Frida Kahlo has earned around the world. Paintings, drawings, and personal artifacts from the iconic Mexican artist are making their way to the Brooklyn Museum February 8 to May 12.

The biggest collection of her works to hit the U.S. in a decade, fans and newcomers alike won’t want to miss their chance to see so many of her once-lost works.

Timed tickets from $10 for children and $16 for adults; untimed tickets from $35. Member discounts available.

 

4. “Kaldor Public Art Projects,” Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Fifty years in the making, this world premiere spotlights Australia’s groundbreaking public arts project. Contemporary works like Jeff Koon’s Puppy and Marina Abramovic’s In Residence get a second life September 7, 2019 to February 16, 2020 at one of Sydney’s most popular museums.

Free admission.

Tourism Australia HarborPanorama

Sydney, Australia, where first-of-its-kind Kaldor Public Art Projects got its start in 1969.

Credit: © Tourism Australia

 

5. 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

November 9th marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin—the starkest symbol of the Cold War.
Commemorative events have already begun, but the exhibition of previously unpublished photographs by Daniel Biskup of life after the Wall, on display at the Museum in the Kulturbrauerei February 14 to August 25; German Unification Day street party on October 3; and “Insight into Secrets” at House 7, one-time headquarters of the Stasi, are sure to be highlights.

Free admission.

 

6. Daks Over Normandy, Normandy, France
Another turning point in history reaches a landmark anniversary this summer: the D-Day Landings and Battle of Normandy. And a big anniversary means a BIG celebration.

In the greatest gathering since World War II, over 30 DC-3s and C-47s will take to the skies June 5 to June 9 for Daks Over Normandy. Caen Carpiquet Airport will offer an up-close look at the aircraft, making this unique experience one for the books.

 

7. Year of Festivals, Caribbean

Yes, an entire region made the list. The Caribbean Tourist Organization has named 2019 the “Year of Festivals,” and for good reason. From food and spirits (rum, anyone?) to dance and crafts, it doesn’t get more jubilant than the islands. A small sampling of upcoming events:

  • Bon Bini Festival, Aruba: Held every Tuesday year-round, it’s a mini Carnaval, complete with music, dance, and art. Entrance fee: $5 for children, $10 for adults.
  • Crop Over, Barbados: A 200-year-old tradition returns June 1 to August 5. Craft markets, street food, and, of course, costumes make sugar cane season that much sweeter. Admission varies by event.
  • Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival, Saint Lucia: This May 5 to May 12 brings one of the Caribbean’s most “noteworthy” festivals to one of its most romantic islands for another round. Admission varies by event.

Aruba Bon Bini Festival 9

 A dancer entertains the crowd at Aruba’s weekly Bon Bini Festival.

Credit: © Aruba Tourism

 

Interested in learning how to build a custom itinerary around one of these events? Visit www.travelimpressions.com or call 800.284.0044.

Serving travel agents only since 1974, Travel Impressions is one of the nation’s largest leisure tour operators, offering packaged and FIT vacations to over 1,300 destinations in the Caribbean; Asia and the Persian Gulf; Mexico; Central and South America; Europe, including the Eastern Mediterranean; Africa; the South Pacific; Canada; the Continental U.S.; Alaska; and Hawaii. An extensive portfolio featuring more than 250,000 resorts, hotels, and over 2,500 luxury villas, plus more than 30,000 tours, attractions, and transfers, provides global options for every traveler.


By Daven Hafey, Quark Expeditions

Wildlife guide and documentary producer Daven Hafey has a passion for all things related to wildlife, weather, tides and Indigenous culture. He has guided on more than 40 polar expeditions, in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Alaska and the Antarctic. 

 

The Arctic. Just speaking the name evokes a wide array of thoughts and emotions, of daydreams, and longing for those who seek wildlife adventures in the tundra and barren lands of the surreal landscape under the midnight sun. It’s this urge to explore the pristine wilderness of the High North that draws visitors to Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, an off-the-grid base camp built to withstand the Arctic climate.
Arctic Watch-Lodge- -courtesy-ArcticWatchLodge

 

Located on the northern edge of Somerset Island, nearly 800 km north of the Arctic Circle, Arctic Watch is small, family-run, remote land-based lodge that enables visitors to explore the wilds of Canada’s Nunavut Territory.

One of the most popular draws to Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge is the prospect of witnessing the annual beluga whale migration to Cunningham Inlet on the island’s northern shores each summer. There, in the waters of Cunningham Inlet, the majestic belugas socialize and reconnect with hundreds of their species in the quiet and pristine waters off Peel Sound. Few wilderness experiences rival the vision of mother belugas and their calves playing in the shallows of Cunningham Inlet.

Belugas_CunninghamInlet-Arctic-courtesy-ArcticWatch

 

I’ve encountered so many other wildlife species during my visits to Arctic Watch Lodge. Muskox abound in the tundra and talus slopes of Somerset Island, along with Arctic hare, Arctic fox, and occasionally caribou. The King of the North, the polar bear, is often seen in the region, as the McClintock Channel on the west coast of Somerset Island is home to one of the more stable populations of polar bears in all of the Arctic. Migratory birds also take advantage of the short Arctic summer, congregating en masse to feed, breed and rear their young before returning south for the winter. Arctic terns and eider ducks are plentiful. The chance to observe such wildlife in their natural habitat is the appeal of the Arctic.

Muskox-Arctic-courtesy-DavidMerron

 

The active traveler has multiple wildlife-viewing options while staying at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge:

 

By water: kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and rafts

Sea kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are popular ways to explore Somerset Island. Imagine gliding through the pristine Arctic waters with sea ice on one side of you and dozens of belugas on the other, or propelling yourself forward on a stand-up paddle board in Cunningham Inlet while watching and listening to the belugas as they congregate in the same waters.

Kayaking-CunninghamInlet-courtesy-ArcticWatch

The expert team at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, operated by Richard Weber and Josée Auclair along with their sons Tessum and Nansen Weber, do their best to ensure guests get a fully immersive wilderness experience. That can mean navigating the rivers upstream of Cunningham Inlet to check out the water-filled canyons and waterfalls while on the look-out for musk ox, Arctic fox, and other iconic wildlife.

 

Exploring faster and further on a fat bike or an ATV

In the absence of developed trail systems, fat bikes provide an excellent means of exploring rocky beaches, hillsides, and ridgelines inhabited by myriad Arctic wildlife. Guests can also hop on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to explore a distant ridge or plateau land and then explore on foot. Lodges guides are available to drive should a guest prefer not to operate an ATV on their own.

Arctic-birds-David-Merron

 

Let’s Go Fishing

The team at Arctic Watch includes experienced fishing guides who can equip you with gear if you don’t bring your own.  It’s hard to imagine a more pristine freshwater environment than the rivers, streams, and meltwater ponds of the High Arctic. Thawed and free-flowing for brief periods every summer, the cold, clean rivers and streams of the Far North are paradise for fish, especially Arctic char, which sometimes weigh more than ten pounds.

 

Take a leisurely approach to the Arctic wilderness

Visitors who feel the urge to absorb the wonders of the Arctic at a more leisurely, relaxed pace can go on a hiking or photography-themed outing – or they can simply choose to enjoy the Arctic wilderness in solitude. Joining a guided hike means you have the benefit of listening to staff recount endless stories and northern experiences, which provide historical, ecological, or cultural context. What better way to learn about the intricate, resilient, and delicate ecology of the Arctic wilderness.

 

Interested in learning more about Quark Expeditions? Visit www.quarkexpeditions.com.

Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.


 

Drum roll please…the hottest destination of 2019…is Italy!

VENICE,ITALY - credit Insight Vacations-resizedCredit: Insight Vacations

That’s according to a recent survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) for the tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). With Italy leading the pack, the top 10 “hot” destinations for this year include Iceland, which ranked second, followed by Japan, Vietnam, Australia, France, Spain, Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal.

USTOA tour operator members also identified their top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations that they see gaining popularity in 2019: Iceland ranked first, Cambodia ranked second, followed by Croatia, Colombia, Vietnam, Portugal, Bhutan, Bolivia, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.

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Who is Traveling This Year?

When asked about the guests traveling, respondents said that about half (48%) of their customer base are 51 to 70 years of age. The next largest category was age 36 to 50 years representing 20% of customers…a growing segment of travelers.

Your 2019 Itinerary

“It’s interesting to see five destinations – Iceland, Cambodia, Colombia, Vietnam and Portugal – appear on both the hot destinations and emerging destinations lists,” added Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “This tells us that off-the-beaten path travel experiences continue to grow in popularity amongst travelers.”

The demand for experiential, immersive travel programs continues to remain high. Roughly 82% of members offer art and culture travel experiences. The art and culture category is also the highest ranked experiential program for travelers in 2017, based on volume of sales. Two thirds of membership offer honeymoon and romance programs, 63% of members offer adventure programs, and more than half (56%) offer multi-generational family programs.

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How’s Business?

According to the study, USTOA tour operator members projected to close out 2018 with sales reaching $18.7 billion dollars, representing 9.8 million individual travelers. Even more individuals are expected to travel in the upcoming year, with one hundred percent of USTOA tour operator membership anticipating growth in sales for 2019.

Travel opportunities to all these destinations – and more – can be found at USTOA’s Dream Vacation Itinerary Finder. For help planning your dream vacation, visit www.ustoa.com/travel-agent-directory and find a USTOA certified travel agent near you.


By Ryan Neal Cordwell, AFAR Ambassador

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Just as Galileo had made headlines with his findings of the universe, some seven-thousand kilometers away, the great unifier Zhabdrung had just tossed a replica of the sacred Buddhist relic into the Mochu River. This implausible gambit, midst a grim and unflattering outlook, had effectively ended the Tibetan invasion. The Tibetans’ efforts were subsequently rendered useless, as that which was sought had then been believed lost, and they vacated the land that would resultantly become known as Bhutan.

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But the seventeenth century was really just a domino in the methodical Rube Goldberg contraption of this country, as well as its neighboring powers. Bhutan and Nepal are respectively, two, remarkably and alluringly ornate lands, built on tales as unremittingly unbelievable as they are true. They are places that upon touring, and upon experiencing first hand, remind one of the sheer, enormity of Earth and the perpetual motion that is time’s ability to craft a culture. I was met with this sort of awe each moment of my journey with Luxury Gold, as our traveling concierge kept my journal occupied, and my camera at the ready. It isn’t only the absorption of undiluted insight, but the ability to participate interactively, that stamps this page of the world with gold.

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Surveying outward from Swayambhunath Temple, one has a radial view of Kathmandu. It’s one of those views that elicits speechlessness for its beauty, as much as it haunts you with its endlessness. This was one of those moments that generate that awe; it ushers in your understanding of the world. The tenor of prayers compete only with the bicker of Nepali Assamese monkeys; and the sensation of uneven stone beneath your feet is only offset further by the entrancing spinning of the stupa’s wheels. I had been intercepted by such awe repeatedly, not only by magnificent and blatant demonstrations of culture, but also by those which one would be so quick otherwise to pass by. I cannot help but remain confident in the success of these moments as a direct result of the Luxury Gold itinerary. To spin a globe and flip an atlas is merely preparatory; to subscribe to a program so vivid in its strokes of any one culture is scholastic in itself. Our small group was provided truly unique insight into Kathmandu Valley and the countryside of Western Bhutan; from vetted views of the famous Punakha Dzong, sharing the sanctity of silence in Paro’s holiest temples with the Buddhist masters, to meandering a nearby rice-terrace village, and even hearing firsthand, over a french-prepared Nepali meal, the hurdles of scaling Everest from Shailee Basnet. Pacing a quiet Punakha corridor, observing nothing too blaring but the everyday of a riverside collection of facades, muted in color and calm in chatter at an early dusk— this window into a culture’s ordinary is, to me, just as consequential in one’s self-realization and that of our planet’s many other inhabitants.

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You have no idea. You think you do. You don’t. The magnitude; the incomprehensible, immeasurable vastness of resources; humans, the hands they tool with, exchange with, and love with. Everything, everyone you see; it all exists, and always has, concurrently and withstanding of your input. You were not here to witness it, but the tree does in fact fall. Billions of souls in the first person, in millions of places, and trillions of routines, all contribute to the awe; transoceanic, and antipodean.

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So, just as we scroll headlines here, somewhere on some side of some sea, someone else is making them, while the reciprocal remains true. It won’t always be shaping kingdoms or dodging invasions, and that’s okay. These are the sort of journeys that live to tell, that are survived by our study, and make the ongoing clock of our history on Earth, a bit softer.

 

Interested in learning more about Ryan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog, and check out Luxury Gold’s Magnificent Nepal and Bhutan itinerary.

Ryan is a filmmaker, first and foremost, with 12 years’ experience. But he keeps his hands callused by a number of other projects, including: photography, branding initiatives, city guides, and community organization. He’s a passionate storyteller and believes if you aren’t having fun, it’s not worth doing and that easy roads are seldom worth the tales to which they take you.


By Ryan Neal Cordwell, AFAR Ambassador

 

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“Chilis,” Dorji responded. I hadn’t yet asked the question, but drawing from the gaze I wore at the passing valley as our tour descended unto the mountain Kingdom of Bhutan, he’d preemptively and accurately answered. Why are the roofs painted red? They weren’t painted, of course. Their otherwise galvanized grayness had been extinguished by drying reams of red peppers. This agriculturally thriving, and carbon-negative Himalayan country, employ this crop as a staple of their daily intake; each Bhutanese, sometimes breakfast, always lunch, and with great inexorability, dinner. While the greatly unknown people, are known greatly for their untaxed happiness and elevated beliefs, they aren’t without a proud captivation of Capsicums.

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Our Luxury Gold adventure was led by Dorji, our traveling concierge. Spanning Kathmandu, Thimphu, Paro and Punakha, this was effortlessly as much a VIP experience as it was one which invited an educational harvest, permitting myself and my small group to absorb each and every drop of insight with which this magnificent place showered us. Once in the kingdom, we’d learnt quickly of Bhutan’s customs and traditions; its global history and localized future. We functioned seamlessly within its sustainability, admired its coniferous awe, and opened ourselves to its religion and its keepers’ hospitality. In all of this, in all of this rapid adaptation and navigation of such a far, far land, there was one thing that none of us could have foresaw— these chilis. Be it a fortress, be it a monastery, a dwelling or field; chilis laid and chilis hanged, patriotically, from the beams, plaster and boards. Like flags of faith, they dried along strands, and in troves, they dried atop the roofs and awnings. Sun-kissed, rain-drenched, raked and fallen, these Bhutanese chilis became something of the pages by which we read the story of Druk yul. They served as a precious commonality of the Bhutanese people, rubies of Bhutan.

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I awoke one morning to considerately soft birds at a very blue dawn. I’d fallen subject to a particularly luxurious evening of dining and relaxation at the property of one of our scheduled stays. Dorji had arranged with me the evening prior, to lead me up the country’s most well-attended trail; to Paro Taktsang, (Tiger’s Nest). This excursion had merely been one example of his attentiveness to ensuring our experiences were thoroughly tailored to our individual preferences. Being from Arizona, I had shared my advocacy for hiking with him, and in this, he had completely gone above and beyond in awarding me a personalized trek up the mountain. The two of us managed to cut the anticipated six-hour mountainous march to the ten-thousand-foot sacred site nearly in half. This afforded us the opportunity to rejoin the group for a home-hosted lunch in Paro Valley below.

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With legs strained and mouths parched from the sparse air above, this was a meal we were not positioned to pass. We abandoned our dusty heels at the threshold of a traditional, timber door, and sat along the floor of warm and well-lit wooden walls. Our host, fluent in English, (as her fourth language, unsurprisingly), proceeded with her mother to prepare in front of us, Ema datshi— what some would know as the national dish of Bhutan. While she carved away at home-prepared cow’s cheese and tomatoes, she quite practically shared with us that these chilis, the star of this, (and as I’ve mentioned, every), dish were also grown within her plot. This famed and national intercrop, seen across land, peak to peak and valley to river, consumes ninety-percent of her garden— and its yield? Seemingly, not enough.

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The dish, of course, was remarkable. The heat of the pepper, not something my English-American tongue had been privy to, was in this case rather consoling. I really can’t say as to whether my ability to tolerate the pepper at each meal was a case of my desire to fit in, or the simple fact it’d been prepared so inherently and successfully within every plate. Greater than this vegetable, there lies a larger symbiosis of Bhutan’s chili and those who grow it. The exchange between the two is a direct reflection of a people excited of their culture, and a culture grown by those who tend to it.

The following morning, preceding our return to Nepal, I met with my new friend. Good morning! What did you have for breakfast, Dorji? “Chilis,” Dorji, responded.

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Interested in learning more about Ryan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog, and check out Luxury Gold’s Magnificent Nepal and Bhutan itinerary.

Ryan is a filmmaker, first and foremost, with 12 years’ experience. But he keeps his hands callused by a number of other projects, including: photography, branding initiatives, city guides, and community organization. He’s a passionate storyteller and believes if you aren’t having fun, it’s not worth doing and that easy roads are seldom worth the tales to which they take you.