From the Atacama Desert to Patagonia and the Antarctic territory, plus the imposing landscapes of the Andes Mountain Range and coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean, few countries offer as much diversity as Chile. Join Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan as she scouts local activities and inclusions for itineraries from Cox & Kings, The Americas to Chile.

 

USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Adventures in Chile 

From the northern border to the very southern tip of the continent, Chile offers a huge variety of landscapes and natural wonders for outdoor adventure. From kayaking and boating to horseback riding and hiking, USTOA tour operator member Cox & Kings, The Americas takes the hassle out of travel by pairing guests with the best local guides. Discover more with Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan.

 

USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Cuisine in Chile 

The ingredients, quality and passion that go into the food in Chile is remarkable. Eat your way through this amazing destination with Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings, The Americas and discover how USTOA tour operator members provide guests with unparalleled insider access. From small organic farms to the owner’s private quarters at exclusive wineries, Cox & Kings, The Americas helps bring guests closer to the special culinary experiences they crave.

 

USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Culture in Chile 

Curious how tour operators find the most memorable, locally immersive experiences for guests to book? Follow USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings, The Americas as she discovers hidden cultural gems in every corner of Chile.

 

Interested in learning more about Rebecca’s journey to Chile? Go behind-the-scenes with Rebecca as she gets off the beaten path in Chile.

Ready to visit? Click here for details on traveling to Chile with Cox & Kings, The Americas and here for more information on the destination.

Rebecca loves to explore Latin America, searching for authentic experiences to include in every custom itinerary she creates. Her extensive travels throughout the region have given her the opportunities to craft the perfect journey for each client’s interests and tastes — she particularly enjoys building multigenerational journeys for families to explore and learn together through cultural interactions. Among Rebecca’s recent favorite destinations in Latin America: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.


By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

 

The Grand Canyon by Megan Murphy with Contiki

The Grand Canyon

One of the most magnificent and diverse places on Earth, the United States is home to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have experienced several of these spectacles on my first-ever Contiki tour.

The Western Highlights expedition ventured across Southern California and Arizona, ending in Las Vegas. There was plenty of action and excitement every step of the way, and an abundance of nature’s finest sights on display—from beautiful beaches and rocky deserts to exotic animals and the majestic Grand Canyon. Here are a few highlights from the trip that any nature lover would appreciate.

Beach Bound

There’s a reason why California is known for its beaches: they are some of the finest in America, if not the world. Our tour group soaked up some rays and Cali-beach vibes at Santa Monica State Beach and its iconic pier, and also explored Venice Beach’s lively boardwalk scene. More beach time beckoned the following day, as we cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway to stunning Mission Beach for sun, sand and surfing until the sun went down. There’s nothing like a mesmerizing California sunset to cap off your day.

Venice Beach with Contiki by Megan Murphy

Venice Beach

Mission Beach sunset with Contiki by Megan Murphy

Mission Beach sunset

All About Animals

We got in touch with our wild side at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. This sprawling wildlife sanctuary—which sits on 100 acres within Balboa Park—houses more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals in exhibits designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitats, and is especially beloved for their giant pandas. As an avid animal enthusiast, this was one of the destinations I was most excited for. Child-like giddiness came over me as I got up close and personal with all my favorites including gorillas, elephants, pandas, penguins, koalas, monkeys and flamingos.

Mama gorilla with her baby

Mama gorilla with her baby at the San Diego Zoo

Giant panda at the San Diego Zoo by Megan Murphy with Contiki

Giant panda at the San Diego Zoo

Flamingos by Megan Murphy with Contiki

Flamingos at the San Diego Zoo

Desert Destinations

After arriving in Arizona, an early morning hot air balloon ride in Phoenix was on the agenda. While peacefully floating in the air, we soaked up 360-degree scenic views of the rugged Sonoran Desert terrain and distant mountain peaks. Indigenous animals, including jackrabbits, deer and coyotes, and a variety of cacti species were spotted below as we peered down from our ballooned baskets.

Our next stop was in Sedona, a serene town with phenomenal views of the towering, vividly-colored Red Rock Mountains. After grabbing lunch on bustling Main Street, our group trekked through rocky terrain in off-road Jeep tours through seven magnificent canyons and historic Dry Creek Basin.

Ballooning over Phoenix with Contiki by Megan Murphy

Ballooning over Phoenix

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

The Grand Finale

How can I possibly describe the feeling of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time?

Mother Nature has a way of grabbing you by the heartstrings and never leaving you quite the same again. This was one of those times. I was whole-heartedly moved by this larger-than-life sight—captivated by the radiant color combinations, endless erosional forms and ever-changing ridges of light that deviated with the sunshine and movement of clouds, non-stop from morning to night. The sheer magnitude of the canyon can never be accurately depicted in pictures or by words. It has to be seen with your own eyes, and felt with your own soul. Absolutely incredible.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

I heart the Grand Canyon

I heart the Grand Canyon

Discovering nature with Contiki was a life-changing experience that gave me, and my fellow travelers from all over the world, a new appreciation for why our great nation truly is America the beautiful.

 

Interested in learning more about Megans journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Contiki’s Western Highlights tour.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food, travel and lifestyle writer based in NYC. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Food & Wine, The Daily Meal, Thrillist and Travel + Leisure, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, and her adorable dog, Cooper.

 

 


By Rebecca Rhyan, Senior Destination Specialist for Latin America & Antarctica, Cox & Kings, The Americas

 

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings, The Americas reveals her experience in Chile. So, in her words… 

Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings, The Americas at  Lapostolle Residence in the wine regions surrounding Santiago

Modern Day Explorer Rebecca Rhyan of Cox & Kings, The Americas at
Lapostolle Residence in the wine regions surrounding Santiago

I fell in love with the history and culture of Chile when I was in college, long before I had the chance to visit.  One Chilean Spanish professor brought the country to life for me, and encouraged me to read the famous works of Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende.  The dream of visiting this narrow country in South America finally came true, and I keep going back.  Every journey that I have taken to Chile with Cox & Kings has been filled with adventure in striking natural landscapes, cultural discoveries, and outstanding food and wine.

Wine tasting at Neyen Winery

Wine tasting at Neyen Winery

Late this September I landed in Santiago and headed straight for the Lastarria neighborhood to check into my hotel.   The Singular Santiago opened recently and I was excited to see this new staple of luxury perfectly located in one of Santiago’s trendiest neighborhoods.   Santiago’s easy going urban vibe is the perfect place to begin or end an adventure in Chile. My guide led me off the beaten path to the Brazil and Yungay neighborhoods to admire the 1940’s mansions and stop at La Peluquería Francesa, a barbershop established in 1925 that still offers men an old fashioned shave with a hot towel.  We then grabbed a coffee in the restaurant next door, which serves double duty as an eclectic antique shop.

Old Vines at Neyen Winery

Old Vines at Neyen Winery

The Wine Regions surrounding Santiago are an idyllic next stop, and the next day I went straight to the Colchagua Valley.  I arrived at Neyen Winery for a tour and tasting, and to see the old vines that, planted in 1889, are rooted so deeply they do not need to be watered.  That evening I had the fantastic good fortune of staying at Lapostolle Residence with just four luxury casitas overlooking the valley and a breathtaking view of the Andes Mountains.

Gorgeous Views at Lapostolle Residence

Gorgeous Views at Lapostolle Residence

I could not stay for long, however, and the next day I was off to the old port city of Valparaiso.  Wandering through the colorful streets of this unusual city I was impressed with the intricate murals and stylistic graffiti at almost every turn.  My guide introduced me to some of the friendly local artists of the neighborhood who were happy to share their craft and talk about this romantic city, beloved as well by the Noble Prize Winning poet Pablo Neruda himself.  Casa Higueras, a beautiful boutique hotel in a historic mansion overlooking the harbor was my comfortable home for the evening and I enjoyed a cup of tea up on the rooftop.

Charter Flight to Castro on Chiloe Island

Charter Flight to Castro on Chiloe Island

My next destination was the archipelago of Chiloe, and as I boarded the plane I was not sure what to expect.  Landing in Puerto Montt, I had a short charter flight to the town of Castro on Chiloe Island.  The pilot asked if we would like to fly low for views of the water and small habited islands along the way.  Of course we did!  From above I realized how enormous the archipelago is, although it seems so small on the map.  Landing in Chiloe I was immediately charmed.  The landscape is stunning, green with rolling hills and grazing sheep and the calm ocean. I met my guide, Cyril, a warm and friendly man who I soon learned is as knowledgeable as he is passionate about the island.

The view from Hotel Centro de Ocio

The view from Hotel Centro de Ocio

I never wanted to leave Hotel Centro de Ocio, one of the coziest properties I have ever visited with gorgeous views over the bay. This was my home base as Cyril and I explored the island together visiting local organic farmers, hiking in exotic rainforests, sea kayaking in the bay and horseback riding with an authentic gaucho. There are 16 UNESCO churches on the island, built without metal hardware by the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th centuries.   I tasted homemade apple cider on a local farm and steamy empanadas from a local roadside stand.  The ultimate delight was the local “Curanto” a traditional local barbeque with lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetables prepared in a fire in a pit oven, in the center of the floor of the family dining room of the original homestead that is now managed and preserved by Centro de Ocio.

Stunning Views in Chiloe Island

Stunning Views in Chiloe Island

After every journey to Chile I return with new experiences and ready to help our clients plan a customized journey, whether they are looking to visit the iconic sites like the Atacama Desert and Patagonia or to veer off the beaten path and discover a place like Chiloe.

Interested in learning more about Rebecca’s journey to Chile? Go behind-the-scenes with Rebecca with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Chile, launching later this month here.

Ready to visit? Click here for details on traveling to Chile with Cox & Kings, The Americas and here for more information on the destination.

Rebecca loves to explore Latin America, searching for authentic experiences to include in every custom itinerary she creates. Her extensive travels throughout the region have given her the opportunities to craft the perfect journey for each client’s interests and tastes — she particularly enjoys building multigenerational journeys for families to explore and learn together through cultural interactions. Among Rebecca’s recent favorite destinations in Latin America: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

As the one Wyoming resident on my recent Go Ahead National Parks tour, I had a grand old time talking local lifestyle with my new touring friends while visiting Jackson, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone National Park. It’s not every day that I get sent out on assignment in my own backyard, and the opportunity to explore the great wild Wyo with a group of unfamiliar faces was part of the reason I accepted this assignment in the first place; the Cowboy State is one of the country’s most spellbinding destinations, and it’s always thrilling for me to be with people experiencing its wonders for the first time.

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

As our bus motored through Grand Teton NP, our tour director, Adrian, tossed me the microphone, and I proceeded to rattle off a few facts about the local atmosphere.

Bison are less friendly than elk, moose are less friendly than bison, and bears are least friendly of all. Except for badgers. And wolverines. They’re worse than bears. Cows are cool, but bulls are mostly ornery. More on bulls later.

Mountains are for climbing, woods are for hiking, and rivers are for traversing. And yes, Surf Wyoming is a real thing.

Geyser gazing is a great pastime, rodeo is a real sport, Rocky Mountain oysters (those poor ballless bulls) are not at all what they sound like, and you should wear your best boots and spurs when you visit the Million Dollar Cowboy.

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

As I wrapped our Wyoming Q&A, we arrived at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, and thrust ourselves into the throngs of onlookers eagerly awaiting the great geyser’s eruption. Adrian’s clever anecdotes and inside knowledge of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone lent the parks a feeling of familiarity and deepened the sense of spectacle, and left each of us charged to explore on our own. Many of us used our time to wander the boardwalk and gaze into bubbling mud pits, fumaroles and geysers, and a few were lucky to spot bison and coyotes playing in the muck.

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

We rolled on, deeper into the park, taking in the spellbinding views and ancient majesty at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where silence fell upon our party like a blanket. We hiked String Lake together, marveling at the towering Tetons, so close we could reach out and touch them, and floated down the serpentine Snake River with the good folks from Solitude Float Trips, who graciously shared the water with us (and a few of woodland creatures for good measure). In the evening we wandered the streets of picturesque Jackson, huddled under the elk antler arches in the town square, feasted on rustic pub grub at The Local, sampled quintessential craft beers at the iconic Snake River Brewing Co., and went all the way nouveau-Wyo at Thai Me Up and Melvin Brewing. Jackson’s sensational food scene is certainly its robust food scene.

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

The Wyoming segment of our Go Ahead tour was a remarkable three day stretch that blended into one epic experience. I live and play in Wyoming, and I know this part of the state well – and I know that Go Ahead delivered an immersive, experiential adventure, with plenty of time for solo exploration. As far as glimpses at the Wyoming way of life go, this was a great one.

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

Wyoming (Credit: Flash Parker)

Interested in learning more about Shawn’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Go Ahead’s U.S. National Parks tour.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

The Grand Canyon with Go Ahead (credit: Flash Parker)

How can I accurately describe in words an adventure that takes me through five states, six national parks and a legendary Navajo tribal park, up and over desert mesas, deep into bottomless canyons, out into the rugged backcountry of the Mountain West, and through the very heart of the American Road Trip Experience? A lofty goal, to scribble prose about such an experience – an experience so grand that even photographs fail to capture its essential essence.

That said, it sure is fun to try.

Go Ahead U.S. National Parks Tour (credit: Flash Parker)

This was my first time on the road with Go Ahead tours, but it was obvious from day one that I was late to the party – it seemed as if more than half of or touring party had been on two, three, ten, twelve tours in the past, and while we exchanged pleasantries during our introduction dinner in Santa Fe, they raved about the good times ahead for us all (spoiler alert: the trip was every bit as remarkable as advertised). Yet instead of a lengthy debrief – a thinly-disguised effort to guard against a diary-style diatribe, if I’m being honest with you – I thought I’d write about a few of the experiences that truly touched me during this adventure.

The Grand Canyon, Go Ahead U.S. National Parks tour (credit: Flash Parker)

I’ve been a journalist for more than 10 years now, and I’ve been fortunate to have been sent out on assignment to some of the most remarkable places in the world, to do some of the wildest and strangest things imaginable. Sure, a few of those places are probably best characterized as terrifying, and a few of the situations I’ve put myself in have made for less than ideal travel memories, but I hope, I believe, that each new experience helps me appreciate the next deeper, and allows me to live in the moment each time I set out to do my job.

Wildlife on Go Ahead's U.S. National Parks Tour (credit: Flash Parker)

Enter the tour company Go Ahead and their National Parks tour. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, peering out over an endless expanse of ochre and rust and cinnamon, condors diving to un-seeable depths, and clouds retreating toward a shimmering horizon, I quietly reflected on my entire career, and was charged with the realization that this moment ranked among the most moving.

Grand Canyon Views with Go Ahead (credit: Flash Parker)

Adrian, our energetic and informative Go Ahead guide, had slyly enriched our experience prior to our arrival by telling us stories about the architect Mary Colter and her efforts to design and build the Desert View Watchtower (as well as the Lookout Studio and the Hermit’s Rest). By the time we climbed the steps of the 70-foot stone monolith ourselves, it felt like we somehow deeply connected to the place, and that we knew a little something of the secret history of the Grand Canyon itself. Adrian’s thoughtful commentary – whether flecking conversations with anecdotes about mule trips into the Grand Canyon, or bear safety in Yellowstone – helped transform a sightseeing tour and into experiential travel expedition, and for his knowledge on geography, wildlife and history, I know I’ll be forever grateful.

Desert View Watchtower with Go Ahead (credit: Flash Parker)

I’ll remain grateful also for Adrian’s brilliant on-site recommendations. I knew I wanted to set off on my own for a more rigorous hike. I peppered him with constant questions about rim walks and hikes to great viewpoints; art galleries and artists in residence; and the best gift shops through which to procure walking stick medallions (in case you’re into that sort of thing…), and each time he responded with thoughtful commentary and useful references. And when he suggested that we embark upon a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon on our free day, I thought he was a certifiable genius.

Artist at Work in the Grand Canyon (credit: Flash Parker)

What could I possibly say about a helicopter ride of the Grand Canyon that I couldn’t convey in photographs? Here’s a quick glimpse at this once-in-a-lifetime experience, courtesy of the folks at #FlyTheCanyon.

Grand Canyon Bird's Eye View with #FlyTheCanyon and Go Ahead (credit: Flash Parker)

By the time my feet were back on solid ground, I was so energized that I truly believed I could conquer the canyon – so I gave it my best shot by racing down the legendary Bright Angel Trail. Notorious for its unforgiving incline (10% for much of the trail) and extreme weather variations – it can be a cool 60F on the canyon rim and a blazing 105F on the floor – the Bright Angel is best tackled over two days. Since I was working with a little less than half a day, I decided to tackle the 12-mile round-trip journey to Plateau Point, rather than the 20-mile march to Phantom Ranch.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon with Go Ahead (credit: Flash Parker)

At times my odyssey was grueling, but it was rewarding throughout – views from deep in the canyon itself are unparalleled, and there’s nothing like the sensation of trekking along until the hustle and bustle of the South Rim is muted, and all that remains is ancient rock and raging Colorado River. When I arrived at Plateau Point, I thought of my new Go Ahead friends, and how the trip had been designed with something for everyone in mind – my free time allowed me to get out into the wild and challenge myself, create a story to call my own, and a few memories to share when I returned to civilization. Go Ahead had delivered on their promise to immerse me in the National Parks experience fully and completely.

Go Ahead U.S. National Parks Tour (credit: Flash Parker)

Go Ahead U.S. National Park Tour with Flash Parker

Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Go Ahead’s U.S. National Parks tour.  

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


By travel writer Lisa TE Sonne

Austin Adventures’ weeklong guide training is held in Billings, MT each spring for both returning and new guides alike. The training involves classroom and field trip time in which the guides learn skills as varied as creating a beautiful picnic lunch spread, knowing what a guide should carry in her backpack, and specifics like the Austin Adventures signature “WOW Factor”. This year, the group toured Yellowstone National Park to put their skills and training to the test, and invited travel writer Lisa TE Sonne.

The Austin Guides - veterans and trainees - celebrate a good training week! (Photo by Andy Austin)

The Austin Guides – veterans and trainees – celebrate a good training week! (Photo by Andy Austin)

While I am feeling carefree, gleefully riding a bike hands-free through a forest, there is a guide up ahead checking the route and ready to answer questions. Another guide (we are blissfully unaware of) is making sure our next activity is set up, the dinner location is prepared for any special diets in our group, and the hotel rooms and keys are all set for our arrival.

Gratitude and kudos to great guides!  They can take us to places that aren’t in the guidebook, help us tour the most tourist-popular parks, cities and iconic sites in novel ways, and share memorable non-touristy waterfalls and watering holes.

IMG_0653 (2)

Hikers round the bend and the advance guide has set up a delicious “Wow” moment and a chance for all to catch their breath and take photos.

As a travel writer, I’ve thanked guides on every continent for sharing their expertise and tips. A tour operator can plan fantastic-sounding itineraries and secure well-vetted accommodations, but it is often the on-the-ground/horse/kayak guides that make or break the experience-memories of guests.

Sonne wouldn't have been able to cover ash-boarding down a volcano in Nicaragua without the help of a good guide.

Sonne wouldn’t have been able to cover ash-boarding down a volcano in Nicaragua without the help of a good guide.

That photograph of the Amazon anteater in a tree with his long tongue sticking out? That was thanks to a naturalist guide who asked the boat driver to kill the engine and let us float.   My getting to “ash board” down a volcano in Nicaragua and write about it for American Way, the inflight magazine?  Wouldn’t have happened if a guide hadn’t carried the heavy board up the steep slope so I could take pictures of the steam rising up through vents in other-worldly looking terrain.  And I salivate thinking of all the goodies I have tasted because a guide arranged for a local specialty.

I appreciate good guides even more after spending several days last June with a dynamic group of 27 handpicked guides as they went through “Guide Training” in Montana and Wyoming for Austin Adventures, an award-winning member of USTOA.

Austin Guides make guests feel even more at home "where the buffalo roam" as the song goes and let visitors know that technically there are no buffalos in the United States - they are bison.

Austin Guides make guests feel even more at home “where the buffalo roam” as the song goes and let visitors know that technically there are no buffalo in the United States – they are bison.

Half the guides were Austin veterans with 1 to 20 seasons, quite familiar with both the guiding basics and the signature Austin touches, like a red carpet from the van.  The newbies ranged from guides who had been experts with other companies to people with diverse, relevant experience that wanted a career change – including ski instructors, river-raft captains, a medic during the war in Iraq, and people who ran outdoor programs for the handicapped and inner-city youth.

Being good with people and loving the outdoors are obvious qualities needed. But after spending several days with these chosen guides, it became clear that good guides also have to be logistics and time-management experts, good drivers, cooks, accountants, psychologists, cheerleaders, teachers, fixers and finders… as well as naturalists and fun-loving fitness-folk.

VP of Operations Kasey Austin Morrissey teaches the guides in situ as well as interviews all the candidates and makes selections. She was distinguished as the world's best family guide in 2014 by OUTSIDE Magazine.

VP of Operations Kasey Austin Morrissey teaches the guides in situ as well as interviews all the candidates and makes selections. She was distinguished as the world’s best family guide in 2014 by OUTSIDE Magazine.

Indoor sessions were held ranging from how to speak well and learn everyone’s names and interests, to good accounting and paperwork practices. Outdoor sessions in gorgeous settings included bicycle repair, how to pace a hike for multiple generations, practice creating the Austin “Wow” moments, and how to build “WAM” into the day – Water Appreciation Moments – so no one gets dehydrated.

Part of this phase of Austin Adventures’ guide-training was to let the new guides work with their partner for the upcoming season. This relationship is one of the deepest pairings they will have in their lives – more intense than marriage for some – because they need to keep each other going 24/7 and decide who does what behind the scenes so that guests can have a seamless, pampered vacation.

Working with your partner guide can be a complex dance of well planned choreography and some cool spontaneity (aka prepared plan B,C, D) to make sure the guests only have pleasure, not problems.

Working with your partner guide can be a complex dance of well planned choreography and some cool spontaneity (aka prepared plan B,C, D) to make sure the guests only have pleasure, not problems.

Throughout each trip, the Austin guides tag-team — one leads an activity while the other secures advance logistics/supplies, and then returns the multi-functioning van to the end of the trail site so when guests finish their walking, canoeing or horseback riding, they are met with fresh drinks, towelettes, cut-up fresh fruits, and other snacks.

Guides don't just drive the van. During training, guides learn how to organize, clean, load up and hitch trailers to the multi-functioning van as well as make sure the inside has guidebooks, drinks and fresh flowers.

Guides don’t just drive the van. During training, guides learn how to organize, clean, load up and hitch trailers to the multi-functioning van as well as make sure the inside has guidebooks, drinks and fresh flowers.

These days, some people are tempted to organize and guide their own trip via internet clicks, but then you are often looking at a screen instead of savoring the setting and must always be in “responsibility mode” instead of just being able to respond to the beauty and pleasures around you. With a tour operator who has great guides, you can hand off any headaches to someone who specializes in good planning and flexible spontaneity.  After my guide training days, two advantages in particular stood out:

*Accommodations:   I don’t have to have reservations about reservations.  Someone else booked my room with my requests.  A guide hands me my key. My luggage is already in the room. And on an Austin Adventures trip, the room may even have a personal note or gift waiting for me. In the case of the National Parks, Austin Adventures connection with Xanterra means they could have blocks of rooms even when the web shows everything is booked.

Usually parents are expected to have all the answer. A good guide can ask and answer questions: Do you know what animal rubbed up against this tree and left it's fur? (Answer: some people would call it a buffalo, but you know it's a bison!)

Usually parents are expected to have all the answers. A good guide can ask and answer questions: Do you know what animal rubbed up against this tree and left it’s fur? (Answer: some people would call it a buffalo, but you know it’s a bison!)

*Questions:  Questions are part of all good travel, but it can be more fun to ask and learn than always be expected to have the answers. A good guide’s knowledge ranges from the names of plants and the years and yarns of battles to where the nearest bathroom is (or where the nearest answer is). You don’t have to bury your nose in a book or screen and miss the chick hatching under the penguin. You can listen to the guide tell you why the whales are jumping straight up out of the water… while they are surging up. And instead of being annoyed when you hear, “Are we there yet?” you might be entertained. The clever guide might pipe in “Not yet. It will be about half an hour, but see that tall mountain over there? Have you heard the legend about it?”

Yes, kudos and gratitude to great guides who help us make our own legendary memories.

 

Lisa TE Sonne is a travel hyphenate (author- writer- photographer- videographer- possibilitator) who has written for an Academy Award-winning documentary and Emmy-winning PBS series. She loves adventure and cultural travels and has enjoyed guided activities on all 7 continents and from many great ocean, river, canal and sea cruises. She received a Gold for “Best Destination” writing from NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association). Her current books include THE HAPPINESS HANDBOOK: Simple Ways to Change your Life for the Better, GREAT OUTDOORS: A Nature Bucket List, and MY ADVENTURES: A Traveler’s Journal.  She and her husband run a nonprofit that offers Giving Certificates that can help any charity (and make great gifts for travel lovers). For more information, visit www.LisaSonne.com and www.CharityChecks.us


Located only eight hours from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui, The Islands of Tahiti are pure paradise in the heart of the South Pacific. In addition to natural beauty and tranquility, the islands offer diverse outdoor experiences and rich Tahitian culture. Join Modern Day Explorer Bronwyn Hodge as she scouts local activities and inclusions for itineraries from Goway Travel to The Islands of Tahiti.

 

Modern Day Explorers: Luxury in The Islands of Tahiti

Only eight hours from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui, the Islands of Tahiti are a secluded, yet surprisingly accessible, paradise. Get an insider look at how luxurious accommodations and experiences are arranged for Goway Travel guests as USTOA Modern Day Explorer Bronwyn Hodge discovers the best of the Islands of Tahiti.

 

Modern Day Explorers: Culture in The Islands of Tahiti

Known for its idyllic blue water and French Polynesian culture, The Islands of Tahiti offer a tranquil and enriching island escape. Modern Day Explorer Brownyn Hodge of Goway Travel takes you behind the scenes in Huahine, Tikehau and Rangiroa to showcase the insider access provided by USTOA tour operator members.

 

Modern Day Explorers: Cuisine in The Islands of Tahiti

Curious how tour operators find the most memorable, enriching experiences for travelers to book? Follow USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Bronwyn Hodge of Goway Travel as she eats her way through the Islands of Tahiti, visiting a vanilla bean plantation, fishing, tasting spirits at a local distillery and enjoying a private Motu picnic.

 

Discover even more at http://ustoa.com/blog/finding-paradise-lesser-known-islands-tahiti/ and www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers.

Ready to visit? Visit https://www.goway.com/trips/dest/australia-and-south-pacific/cntry/tahiti/ for details on traveling to The Islands of Tahiti with Goway Travel.

Growing up in a family travel business, Bronwyn has been traveling from a very young age. Her favorite experience was three months spent backpacking through India and Southeast Asia. She counts many countries among her ‘favorites,’ but is especially fond of Australia for its lifestyle, Cambodia for its culture and resilience, and Japan for its contrasts. She holds the proud distinction of being Goway’s only former Bollywood star – having once starred in a Coke commercial in Mumbai.


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

September is Travel Together Month (Credit: Celtic Tours)

This September, USTOA kicks off its celebration of world travel during the third annual Travel Together Month. Throughout the month travelers and travel agents will find more than 100 special offers and exclusive savings to explore the globe.

Travel Together Month showcases a curated selection of offers from the country’s leading providers of independent and escorted group travel with travel dates available through 2018. Offers can be found through September 30, 2016, at www.ustoa.com/travel-together-month, featuring travel to all seven continents and countless “live like a local” opportunities. Travel agents will also find exclusive incentives, free trips and bonus commissions.

Cuba (Credit: International Expeditions)

Cuba (Credit: International Expeditions)

Highlights include the following:

For consumers:

  • Alexander+Roberts: Couples can save as much as $1,000 ($500 solo) on all Small Group Journeys and Private Tours for the traveling party – including Japan, China, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, and all across Southeast Asia. Available through April 2018.
  • Australian Pacific Touring: Travelers save $2,000 per couple on select worldwide Small Ship Cruising itineraries. Valid on select itineraries; departure dates through 2017.
  • Globus: Guests on the 11-day “Best of Italy” itinerary visiting Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Naples and Capri save up to $646 per couple. Available on select 2017 departures.
  • Goway Travel: Savings of up to $12,000 per couple on select Antarctica sailings featuring destinations such as the Drake Passage and the Arctic Peninsula. Travel available during the 2016-2017 season.
  • Gate 1 Travel: Receive savings of $200 per person on the 12-day Classic South Africa trip, including, Cape Town, Hluhluwe, Swaziland, Hazyview and Johannesburg. Travel available through 2017.
  • Insider Journeys: Savings of $713-$1,547 per person on their choice of 17 departure dates between 9/1/16 and 12/31/16 for the Indochina Explorer 19-day trip in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Vietnam (Credit: Insider Journeys)

Vietnam (Credit: Insider Journeys)

 For travel agents:

  • Lindblad Expeditions: Travel agents receive a complimentary double cabin aboard the National Geographic Endeavour or National Geographic Endeavour II to Galápagos when six full-paying guests are booked aboard the same departure. Offer valid on a September 2016 – April 2017 departure.
  • Alexander+Roberts: Travel agents earn a $50 per person booking bonuses every time clients pay-in-full, and save $1,000 per couple ($500 solo), on three new Small Group Journeys, with never more than 16 guests, including the following trips: Our Pacific Northwest; Canada by Land, Water + Rail; and Stories of the Old South. Travel through April 2018.
  • Celtic Tours World Vacations: Receive a 16% commission plus $50 per person discount on all European self-drive tours, with a minimum of six-nights. Departures between September 1 – November 30, 2016.
  • African Travel, Inc.: Travel agents earn 15% commission for each Scenic Cape Town & Kruger Safari Vacation package booked. Clients will explore Cape Town, experience a Big Five safari near Kruger, and receive international and internal air. For travel January 1, 2017 – December 1, 2017.
  • Austin Adventures: Receive 12% commission plus an additional $100 per person booking bonus; applicable on all itineraries and destinations for departures within 2016.
  • Cox & Kings, The Americas: Travel professionals receive a $150 bonus commission when booking guests during the early booking incentive—save $500 per couple when travelers book any Custom Private Journey in the 2017/2018 brochures or on the website.
  • Collette: Travel agents can earn more with “Book Your Own Bonus”—agents qualify for the program with their first booking, can earn $50 for the second booking, and $100 for the third. Any additional bookings earn $100 per booking with no limit. Valid on new retail bookings made between September 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017 for departures in 2017.
Antarctica (Credit: Goway Travel)

Antarctica (Credit: Goway Travel)

Note: offers can be booked September 1-30, 2016. 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.


Yellowstone National Park was set aside in 1872 for its abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes and fascinating geothermal features. Join Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin as she scouts experiences, activities and inclusions for Yellowstone National Park itineraries from Austin Adventures with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

Modern Day Explorers: Adventure in Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone National Park was set aside in 1872 to protect its abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes and fascinating geothermal features. Explore the first National Park with Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of USTOA member Austin Adventures as she puts together the ultimate adventure vacation with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

Modern Day Explorers: Nature in Yellowstone National Park

Sunrise is always the best time of day to be out in Yellowstone National Park. Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of USTOA tour operator Austin Adventures with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts shows you why with a variety of wildlife sightings, from bears to bison.

Modern Day Explorers: Relax in Yellowstone National Park

Want to visit an increasingly popular national park without the crowds, hassle or planning? Modern Day Explorer Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures takes you behind the scenes in Yellowstone National Park with the support of Xanterra Parks & Resorts to showcase the insider access provided by USTOA tour operator members.

 

Discover even more at www.ustoa.com/blog/experience-yellowstone/ and www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers/yellowstone.

Ready to visit? Visit www.austinadventures.com/destinations/yellowstone/  for details on traveling to Yellowstone National Park with Austin Adventures.

Kasey works with ground operators around the world as well as domestic guides on the home front when it comes to the details of planning a vacation. She grew up in the business learning about adventure travel from a kid’s perspective and now puts what she’s learned since she was six years old to use both in the office and out in the field. Kasey has guided trips across the western United States and gets out to travel abroad whenever she gets the chance.

 

 


By Kasey Austin, Vice President of Operations, Austin Adventures

 

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Kasey Austin of Austin Adventures reveals her experience in Yellowstone National Park. So, in her words… 

 

One hundred years… On August 25, 2016 the National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial, its kick-off to a second century of stewardship, its 100th birthday…whatever you call it, it’s a BIG DEAL! At Austin Adventures, we’re fortunate to host adventure vacations in the United States’ most precious gems, the national parks. This year is the most special year in the national parks’ history to date as we celebrate the big 1-0-0-TH birthday of the National Park Service. As our beautiful, precious parks grow their reputations as memorable vacation destinations, my job as an itinerary developer is to figure out ways to provide our guests with extraordinary experiences in these parks that rapidly grow in popularity each year. My week spent as a United States Tour Operators Association Modern Day Explorer gave me the chance to explore new places, meet old and new faces and show off a side of Yellowstone National Park that most visitors never see. Here are a few national park vacation planning tips I thought of along the way!

Blog - Kasey jumping_YL Sign

Access to National Park Lodging

First things first, like any great itinerary creationist, I’m going to first review local lodging and make sure I can secure it before I move on to any other steps of the itinerary building process. When traveling to Yellowstone, you’ll notice that Xanterra Parks & Resorts is the official in-park provider of all lodging, whether you’re looking to stay at the historic Lake Hotel or the famous Old Faithful Inn. In the peak summer season, it can be more challenging to find last minute accommodations, especially as the popularity of our national parks continues to grow. But, as a tour operator, we’ve been planning for two years prior to your vacation date, so even if you’re not able to secure room space for your get-away, all it takes is a simple call to see what lodging and itineraries we have available in the national park you want to visit. We’ve already done the planning for you (what a piece of cake!)

Blog - Old Faithful Inn

Finding New, Unique Ways to “Discover” Old Favorites

So you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone and you want to visit the iconic spots – Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River… the list continues. Go on your own during the busy summer months and risk visiting these beautiful places with hundreds of your closest friends if you choose to walk in from the parking lot and stick to the boardwalks. With a tried and true adventure itinerary and knowledgeable guide, you’ll discover these old favorites by hiking into the Grand Canyon “the back way” through flowery meadows, lodgepole pine forests and secret backcountry geyser basins. You’ll “happen” upon Old Faithful after having taken a fascinating walk past bubbling hot springs and goopy mud pots where you won’t see another tourist just a mile from the main boardwalk. Our jobs as adventure professionals require us to find those hidden attractions, just outside the public eye, and combine these experiences with the “gotta see ‘em” icons to create a one-of-a-kind adventure vacation.

Blog - Grand Canyon

There’s More to Yellowstone than Yellowstone Itself

Alright, so that heading is a bit confusing…! What I’m trying to say is that even though Yellowstone is the number one attraction on your Wyoming/Montana vacation, sometimes you’ve got to head just outside the park’s borders to truly add rich experiences and appreciate the region’s majesty. We combine our Yellowstone Vacations with zip lining outside the park’s west entrance in the Gallatin Canyon; horseback riding outside the park’s north entrance in Paradise Valley; and rafting outside the park’s south entrance in Jackson Hole. No trip to Yellowstone is complete without some exhilarating adventure activities – as a tour operator, we’ve scoped out all the options and picked the best of the best for your vacation out west! Plus, you won’t be dealing with the same magnitude of crowds if you wish Yellowstone au revoir for a few days (don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you return!)

Blog - Horseback riding

We are a tour operator who is proud to operate in our national parks. Heading into century number two of a dedicated National Park Service, places like Yellowstone will be dealing with the challenges and growing pains of an ever-increasing tourist population. However, with a USTOA member, your vacation to a national park can be one you’ll remember, without the crowds, hassle or planning that goes into creating the ultimate adventure vacation. We do all the work for you and love what we do!

 

Interested in learning more about Kasey’s journey to Yellowstone National Park? Go behind-the-scenes with Kasey with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Yellowstone, launching later this week.

 Ready to visit? Visit http://www.austinadventures.com/destinations/yellowstone/ for details on traveling to Yellowstone with Austin Adventures.

Kasey works with ground operators around the world as well as domestic guides on the home front when it comes to the details of planning a vacation. She grew up in the business learning about adventure travel from a kid’s perspective and now puts what she’s learned since she was six years old to use both in the office and out in the field. Kasey has guided trips across the western United States and gets out to travel abroad whenever she gets the chance.