By Lisa Young, Product Manager with Authentic Vacations

Lisa Young is a product manager and writer for Authentic Vacations. Travel experiences involving food, wine, art, live music, wellness and engaging with locals make her heart sing.


Remember The Partridge Family, an American sitcom from the early 1970s?  The show’s theme song was, “Come On, Get Happy!”  Perhaps the Partridges were secretly Icelandic.  Iceland consistently ranks near the top of the annual “World Happiness Report”.  Let’s explore five potential reasons why:

1. Stunning and Stimulating Scenery.

Often referred to as the “Land of Fire and Ice” due to its unique dichotomy of active volcanoes and massive glaciers, Iceland’s otherworldly landscape is a mesmerizing fusion of scenic glory.

Most Icelanders maintain sunny dispositions despite the lack of winter daylight hours.

Being surrounded by magical skies, spectacular mountains, magnificent waterfalls, peaceful fjords, dramatic geysers, tranquil rivers, calming lakes, black sand beaches, geothermal pools and mossy lava fields – how could these environs promote anything other than an enduring sense of wonder and happiness?


Photo of Seljalandsfoss waterfall courtesy of David-Mark from Pixabay

2. Culture of Creativity.

Literature.  For years, Iceland held the position of publishing most book titles per capita than any other country.  Iceland claims that one in ten of its citizens will publish a book during his or her lifetime.  Reykjavik (literally “smoky bay”) was the fifth city in the world to receive the UNESCO City of Literature title.  Storytelling is apparently in the blood, dating back to the Viking sagas.  Expand your literary horizons and crack open a contemporary Icelandic novel.

Music.  For music as otherworldly as the performers’ native land, enjoy the sounds of Björk, whose career has spanned four decades, and the “avant-rock” band Sigur Rós.

Visual Art.  Iceland’s notable visual art production does not date back as far as other countries, though some incredible works of art are being produced by the country’s contemporary visual artists.


Photo of Björk courtesy of Raph_PH-Flickr

3. You Are What You Eat.

Taking a cue from the famous movie line in When Harry Met Sally and adopting an “I’ll have what she’s having” attitude when it comes to the traditional Icelandic diet could be a healthy choice.  Big homemade breakfasts, fresh seafood, and quality meat and dairy are the mainstays of a typical diet in Iceland.

Lysi (aka cod liver oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids) is regularly consumed, even given to children at preschools and daycare.  Skyr, a popular dairy product akin to yogurt, is low in fat yet high in protein and calcium.  The focus on clean, renewable, and sustainable energy results in healthier, fresher and more delicious food.

Even the famous Icelandic hot dog is, debatably, a healthy option since it is lamb-based, supplying iron and those beneficial omega-3s.

Restaurants and food shops in Iceland are increasingly catering to vegetarians and vegans, including Gló, the country’s first raw food restaurant.

Fun fact:  Icelanders have been growing vegetables in greenhouses heated by geothermal energy since 1924!


Photo courtesy of Marco Verch

4. The Active Lifestyle.

Icelandic people enjoy being active outdoors, exploring the country’s three national parks, numerous nature reserves, and hiking trails.  They place a high degree of importance on nature, treating the vast and unspoiled landscape with deep reverence and care.  Efforts are continuously made to preserve the unique flora and fauna. 

Furthermore, they remain active in other ways, often holding more than one job.  Rather than earning extra money for survival, this is primarily to keep themselves engaged and purposeful, warding off any threats of depression during the months of limited light.


Photo of Blue Lagoon courtesy of Chris Lawton from Unsplash

5. SSS.

Stable.  Iceland is an island, but its inhabitants feel anything but isolated.  The way Icelanders band together in times of crisis is truly inspirational.  Two powerful, overarching characteristics are embedded in Icelanders—optimism and resilience.

Safe.  The least populated country in Europe, Iceland claimed just under 340,000 people in 2018.  The country maintains an impressively low crime rate with only five prisons in Iceland housing less than 200 prisoners among them!

Socially Progressive.  Iceland is consistently ranked number one by the World Economic Forum in gender equality.  Proof exists in the form of a female Prime Minister and more women currently enrolled in university than men.

Let’s make like the Partridges, book a trip to Iceland, and soak up the happiness!


For over two decades, Authentic Vacations has been crafting highly personalized, unique, and immersive experiences that connect travelers with locals.  Destinations include Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand.  Our passionate Destination Experts are ready to help you plan your next trip – perhaps to happy Iceland! Visit today.



by Kelley Ferro

Never have I been anywhere that has more “sky.” I know what you are going to say— “every place has the same amount of sky” but trust me, when you are standing in the desert of the Northern Territory, you might rethink that statement.

As I stepped onto the tarmac in the Northern Territory, I felt like I had just stepped onto a different planet. The Earth was glaringly red, sharp mountains jutted out of the expanse of desert, the trees looked like they had withstood millenniums and the sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. This place felt like it had seen the dawn of time—it felt ancient and primal. However the people of the Northern Territory could not have been more vibrant, youthful and fresh.

Kirsten, our Northern Territory guide, welcoming us at the airport.

Kirsten, our Northern Territory guide, welcoming us at the airport.

I was met at the gate with the biggest smiles and that warm, welcoming feeling continued throughout the trip. The Northern Territory Aussies were just happy to have us there. Everyone seemed so healthy and full of life and very much in tune with the natural surroundings. I was blown away by the nonchalance of Rex the Reptile Hunter, who cracked jokes while catching a lethal Western Brown Snake slithering by our feet. I listened to stories from the trio of brothers at Earth Sanctuary who knew just about everything about the sustainable living in the Outback. And I can’t leave out Mark, our cameleer and owner of the Camel Farm, whom I swear was having conversations with these leggy creatures as we rode across the plains into the sunset. This dry Outback sustained so much life and much of it was not in human form.

One of the three brothers that run Earth Sanctuary.

One of the three brothers that run Earth Sanctuary.

I had ridden a camel on a previous USTOA adventure in Egypt, so I assumed that I knew basically all that what was need to know about camels. They make funny, Chewbacca-like* sounds, they look at you as if they are unimpressed and they are really, really tall—much taller than any horse. But it wasn’t until I was plopped in the middle of Australia, in the expanse of beautiful Outback that is the Northern Territory, that I realized camels are SO much more.

Wally & I, ready for our jaunt into the desert.

Wally & I, ready for our jaunt into the desert.

Camels are not native to Australia, they were introduced in 19th century to help build up central Australia as their hardy nature makes them perfect for the harsh desert climate. When they were no longer needed, they were let go and these dromedaries flourished. At one point there were over one million feral camels across Australia. (Disclaimer: I learned all of this while watching Australia’s new hit movie, Tracks, on the plane. Tracks details the solo journey of one woman and four camels across the unforgiving outback and it’s a very good watch). All this feral camel information came in handy when I was 4 wheeling through the remote Kings Canyon. Our guide casually told us to watch out for wild camels as he sped off. I was expecting lizards or maybe a bird, but it’s not every day that you are dodging camels while racing through the Outback on a quad!

Though feral, these camels that we stumbled upon were so cute!

Though feral, these camels that we stumbled upon were so cute!

Besides being important in developing the Northern Territory, camels are also loved for sport. Alice Springs hosts an annual Camel Cup, where the fastest camels come to race for the grand prize. I once thought that these lumbering beasts could only chew their cud sideways and amble on their bony legs. I was wrong. These beasts can move! When they were speeding around the track, they were quite a dramatic spectacle. In addition to the races, there’s plenty of camel related entertainment for everyone. From the dancing camel mascot, to the human rickshaw races (we came in dead last) to the food-filled fairground atmosphere. Aussies come from far and wide to attend this camel fueled day. And the icing on the cake? While donning my most American get up, I was honored to be crowned Miss Camel Cup by Australia’s famous Big Brother star, Tahan.

Holding my winnings as Miss Camel Cup!

Holding my winnings as Miss Camel Cup!

I held a python, I took a photo of the horned lizard up close, I smiled face to face with a crocodile, and I fell asleep to the lullaby of the dingos outside of my tent, but I can’t deny that my favorite Northern Territory experience did indeed involve the camels. At the Uluru Camel Farm, I learned that each camel has his or her own personality. The owner, Mark, explained that some are mischievous while others just want to play, some are stubborn and some require humans to earn their love. The baby of the farm was named Milkshake. Unlike her fellow brethren that were caught in the wild and trained to take guests on tours, Milkshake was born on the farm and hand-reared by the cameleers. She thought she was a human and she had no qualms about getting friendly with all humans around her. She also seemed to be a bit of clotheshorse (see below).

Milkshake really liked to nibble my jacket and shoes.

Milkshake really liked to nibble my jacket and shoes.

Mark led us on a camel ride at sunset and these slow moving vehicles made me turn into a lower gear and breathe in the intricacies of Outback life. Sitting on top of Wally, a recently caught and trained camel, I realized how life out here was so synchronistic. Every plant, animal and human had to work together to survive in the stunning but severe landscape of the Outback. And as Wally and I ambled into the sunset, I felt like I was a part of that balance for just a brief moment in time.

Kelley_NT_7_a Kelley_NT_7_b

*Little known fact: Did you know that the voice of Chewbacca in “Star Wars” was actually made by a camel? 

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.










Ready to experience one of the UK’s most iconic regions? Enter the USTOA Travel Together Sweepstakes and you and a friend could win a 5-day journey through The Heart of England provided by Worldwide Traveler, including visits to Harry Potter Film locations, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and much more!

If you’re having trouble entering the sweepstakes above, please click here to enter.

Follow the Travel Together adventures on Twitter by using #traveltogether and joining Facebook chats at throughout the coming months. More information about Travel Together destinations can be found at and

As part of her journey in Egypt, travel expert, video journalist and contributor to, Kelley Ferro was taken on a luxury cruise on The Nile by USTOA member Abercrombie & Kent, a highlight of her experience. The vessels are equipped with an ever-accommodating staff as well as modern amenities, chic design and floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the breath-taking views as you cruise The Nile. Stops along the way include the Temple of Dendara, the Luxor Temple, the Karnak temple and more. View the highlights from Kelley’s cruise here:

For more up close and personal looks at the people and experiences of Egypt, check out these specialized videos from Kelley Ferro on Egyptologists, shopping, food and touring like a local.

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.

by Kelley Ferro

When the travel bug hits and I daydream about about traveling to far off lands, one of the first images to pop in my head has always been the temples and pyramids of Egypt. Ancient Egypt was not only intricate, advanced, and impressive, it’s one of the few historic cultures that still has such a global presence even today. I am willing to bet that the majority of “bucket lists” in the world list a visit to Egypt.

Meeting with a local taxi. Image: Kelley Ferro

Saying hello to one of the local ‘taxis’. Image: Kelley Ferro

Luckily, Egypt was our first destination for our Living Local, Traveling Global series, and flying over, I had all sorts of ideas about what Egypt would be like from classes, movies, news and stories–but it was nothing like what I had imagined.

Photographing the Great Sphinx of Giza. Image: Justin Weiler

Photographing the Great Sphinx of Giza. Image: Justin Weiler

I felt like I had entered a lucid dream. One minute I was dozing in plane seat and the next I was mouth agape, staring at the MASSIVE Pyramids of Giza. I wasn’t sure if it was my jetlag but I almost thought these world renowned sites were mirages. This complete wonderment only continued throughout the trip–from the glittering treasures of King Tut’s tomb at the Egyptian museum to the perfectly preserved hieroglyphs deep in the underground chambers. But something else amazed me that I hadn’t anticipated.

Meeting Local Egyptian Women. Image: Kelley Ferro

Meeting Local Egyptian Women. Image: Kelley Ferro

The people of Egypt were so gracious and eager to share their country with us. Everyone met us with smiles and warmth. From the moment I landed, I felt like I was taken in by Egypt, under its hospitable arm. The guides on our Abercrombie & Kent tour were great ambassadors as well, they treated us like family and were so open about their daily lives.

Making friends with the locals. Image: Justin Weiler

Making lots of new friends. Image: Justin Weiler

Of course, I looked obviously like a tourist and had a camera on me, but that only made the locals want to chat with me more.

“Where are you from?”

“How do you like Egypt?”

These phrases were common no matter what street corner, temple or restaurant we visited.

But most of all, “thank you for coming to our country.” This one truly got me. Egypt is more than just its ancient wonders. Those are truly spectacular, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an even richer beauty found within the locals.

Sampling some of the local cuisine. Image: Kelley Ferro

Sampling some of the local cuisine. Image: Kelley Ferro

Our purpose was to travel deeper, experience a destination through its people. In this case, it was to see the Egyptians living their day-to-day lives. Because we had a reason to go deeper, ask more questions and get more involved with the locals, we were able to capture these little golden moments of connection. The Sphinx is great, but learning about spices from a shopkeeper in the Luxor market or joking with a young girl speedily weaving a rug made an even more lasting impression on me.

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.

by Alison Cornford-Matheson, AFAR Ambassador

There is a myth that group travel sets you apart from local experiences. Tucked away in air-conditioned buses and luxury hotels, travellers are distanced from the country they are visiting. However, on my recent tour of Egypt with Abercrombie & Kent, coming in contact with passionate locals was one of the highlights of my trip.

The local experience began as soon as I set foot in Cairo Airport. Three members of Abercrombie & Kent greeted me at the gate and immediately welcomed me ‘home.’ The legendary Egyptian hospitality was in full force as they whisked me through customs to the waiting car.

While many tour operators hire internationally, the A&K team in Egypt are all Egyptian, and all of them are happy to offer perspectives on their country. Their local knowledge is vast and no topic ever felt off limits.

Karnak Temple, Egypt - Living Like a Local In Egypt

Karnak Temple

Egypt’s rich and timeless history is one of the main reasons it tops many travellers’ ‘must visit’ list. There are countless sites to explore, from temples to tombs, to the vast collections of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. While they are all fascinating, it can be easy to lose sight of their importance and local context, without the help of a trained Egyptologist.

Egyptian Museum Collection - Living Like a Local in Egypt

Egyptian Museum Collection

Abercrombie & Kent’s guides have an encyclopedic knowledge of Egyptian history. But, unlike some guides, who spew facts and figures without context, A&K’s Egyptologists share their passion for history and bring it to life.

Mohamed at the Pyramids - Living Like a Local in Egypt

A&K guide, Mohamed Osama at the Pyramids

I was fortunate to have Mohamed Osama as my A&K guide in Egypt. Mohamed’s face lit up each time he told us a story about a particular tomb or temple. His anecdotes about the past kings and queens, and his passion for the artistry and ingenuity of the artisans, who built these masterpieces, transported me back in time and gave me a deeper understanding of Egypt’s fascinating history.

Mohamed in Karnak - Living Like a Local in Egypt

Mohamed in Karnak

The A&K team members certainly weren’t the only locals I encountered in Egypt. I had the chance to interact with people from dramatically different spheres of society.

During my tour, A&K organised a dinner with guest speaker, Mona Makram-Ebeid, one of Egypt’s most influential women. Despite her established career in politics and academia, she answered our questions with patience, candor and a touch of humor, helping us to understand the complex political situation in Egypt today.

Mona Makram-Ebeid - Living Like a Local in Egypt

Mona Makram-Ebeid

A powerful advocate of women’s rights in Egypt, Makram-Ebeid explained how young people and particularly women fueled the revolution. “Women are ready to resist,” she told us. “And I believe that in the next elections they will participate, forcefully so, and they will not sit back and wait to be given that right; they will take it.”

She also explained how dramatically Egypt has changed over the past 40 years. People used to be afraid to speak out in public, she told us. Now everyone is ready to share his or her opinion. Indeed, after her talk, the Egyptians at our table immediately began to discuss their thoughts on what Makram-Ebeid had to say. By the evening, I had a deeper understanding and respect for what the people of Egypt have experienced over the past few years, and what their hopes are for the future.

At the other end of the spectrum, our group had the opportunity to interact with the young students of a carpet school in Sakkara.

Egyptian carpet detail - Living Like a Local in Egypt

Egyptian carpet detail

In addition to learning to read and write, children here learn the ancient art of carpet making, for several hours each day. Their education gives them the opportunity to stay in their town and earn a good wage for a skilled trade, or continue their schooling elsewhere.

Carpet School - Living Like a Local in Egypt

Carpet School

They were all smiles when showing us how they create these beautiful carpets from delicate silk thread. The speed and precision of their fingers as they knot the colourful carpets is hard to believe and mesmerising to watch.

These types of experiences would be difficult to have in Egypt, as a solo traveller. Touring with Abercrombie & Kent offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience Egypt in comfort, while engaging with locals who are excited to share their country with visitors. I can’t wait to be welcomed ‘home’ in Egypt again.

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of, a resource for expats, locals, and travellers in Belgium. She landed in Belgium in 2005 and became passionate about this quirky little country. She is an AFAR Ambassador and founding member of the PTBA. She is obsessed with travel, food, and local experiences. You can follow her on Google+, on Twitter as @Acornn, on Pintrest or check out her Facebook Page. See more highlights from Alison’s trip at

by Anita Mendiratta, CNN Consultant and International Tourism Strategist

“Have you ever been to South Africa?”

“Yes, I was there in the early 1990s.”

“But then you have not been to South Africa.”

It is a familiar exchange. The response is often given to people who have not visited South Africa since 1994 – the year of the nation’s liberation. Or 2010, the year of the FIFA World Cup with all of its infrastructure mega-projects to support the mega-event.

Like all nations around the world, South Africa has experienced the passing of years. However, like nowhere else in the world, South Africa has experienced profound changes that have literally redefined the nation. Which means, for a traveler, if you are not up to date in your understanding of the story of South Africa, you have never really been to South Africa.

For this reason, South Africa has become one of the most exciting places to not just visit, but to return to. Especially now, as the nation celebrates its 20th year of democracy. There could be no better time to see, and feel, South Africa, and the people of this so often misunderstood and overlooked destination.

Making appearances on Top 10 lists of travelers across the globe – bucket lists, lists of places to see before you die, lists defining you have not lived until you have been, lists of the world’s best – South Africa has become a “must see” destination. With the ideal array of travel choices and combinations, from the “Big 5” of Kruger National Park, to the finest offerings from breathtaking Cape Town with its iconic Table Mountain and Robben Island sites and sensations not to mention its stunning cliffs and coastline and the Cape Winelands, the funky vibes of Jozi’s city rhythm and beat, the majestic peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains and warm waters of the Indian ocean gliding onto the sandy beaches all home within KZN – the Zulu Kingdom, South Africa is beyond compare. Picture perfect, perfect value, lifetimes of stories to share and memories to hold dear. Its natural beauty is breathtaking. Its playground of things to see and do is beyond all wish lists.

This is a country continuously on the move. The South Africa one might have visited in the early 1990s is a world apart from the South Africa of post-1994 liberation, which is a world away from the South Africa of the post-2010 FIFA World Cup. This is a nation continually working to shape, proudly and inclusively, a nation for all South Africans to call home to all travelers of the world to come and visit.

Similarly offering a rich array of travel offerings, history-making Egypt is truly timeless. Top of “must see lists of millions of travelers across the globe, the opportunity to directly experience the site of the Great Pyramid and legendary Sphinx of Giza, the legendary Valley of the Kings and Tomb of Tutankhamun, the Karnak and Luxor Temple, and cruising along the Nile, continue to excite the imaginations of travelers.

The desire to visit now, however, has sadly been put on hold as a result of political changes that have been underway in the country over recent past. A necessary change in systems and ideologies, as was the case in South Africa, the “new Egypt” has been making history once more. And, as the future unfolds for this nation, one that, like South Africa, recognizes the critical role of tourism to the social and economic wellbeing of all people that depend on tourism, and tourists, for their jobs and future opportunity, Egypt is starting to make inroads to bring tourism back. The country is “open for business,” ready to host travelers from the Red Sea to the great historical ruins. As travelers arrive, they find their ability to realize their dreams a quest fulfilled. As always, the Egyptian people are welcoming, embracing, and proudly sharing of all that their country has to offer tourists.

Across the globe, no destination stands still. As people and societies advance, so too do their offerings to tourists. South Africa and Egypt stand tall today as two destinations reflective of the joy of not just visiting, but revisiting – seeing and feeling all of the energy, excitement and joy of changes, for the better for all.

And it is why travelers continue to dream of coming back once more to rediscover these destinations.

A noted author, Mendiratta’s recent book, “Come Closer: How Tourism is Shaping the Future of Nations,” released in March 2011, was nominated for the Financial Times 2011 Business Book of the Year Award. She is a strategic advisor to CNN International in tourism and economic development, a lead consultant of CNN’s T.A.S.K. (Tourism Advertising Solutions and Knowledge) Group, and an advisor to the World Bank and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.