The ups and downs of the pandemic have made travel more difficult, but I've managed to make a couple of trips to Southeast Alaska, one I just returned from and the other only a month earlier. I fell in love after visiting Glacier Bay National Park, where I was asked to come and experience Glacier Bay Lodge as well as the Glacier Bay tour.
While I have visited Anchorage, Seward and that general area, there is nothing like Southeast Alaska, although it did remind me of one of my favorite places: the South Island of New Zealand, with countless islands, water, and dramatic mountains in every direction.
I took the glacier cruise through Glacier Bay and saw a wealth of wildlife, not only whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, puffins, and bald eagles, but mountain goats, coastal brown bears, and even moose, all visible along the shore. Incredible. We got face-to-face with Margerie Glacier and heard the thundering sounds of iceberg calving too. On my second trip I stayed primarily around Juneau and took a guided kayak/wildlife watching tour as well as a small boat whale watching tour. I also went on a very early hike (about 6 a.m.) to Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls, a 377-foot waterfall that fronts the glacier. There were no other people along the trail or anywhere else, I was accommpanied by ravens, a bird I've since become a bit obsessed with - they're said to be at least as intelligent as monkeys and their "chatter" sounds quite a bit like human language - they can even be taught to speak. I enjoyed their company, it wasn't until making my return that I encountered anpther person. What an experience to be gazing up at the magnificent waterfall with the glacier just beside it, listening to the roar of the cascades with not a soul around.
After Mendenhall, I decided to take a scenic drive to Eagle Beach, just 25 minutes from downtown Juneau. It was already 9:30, but when I arrived, it was just me, countless bald eagles, and more ravens. They were both there for the salmon that looked almost dolphin sized, swimming up a narrow, shallow creek, with tall fins sticking out as they splashed their way through. It was there on that beach that I realized that this is truly my heaven. The remote wilderness and stunning scenery, the incredible wildlife, not to mention, delicous Alaskan king crab and extremely friendly locals.
Two times to the area still wasn't enough. I know I will be back, probably again and again.
You can read more about Glacier Bay here: Glacier Bay Lodge: A Life Changing Experience in the Wilds of Alaska
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that fully vaccinated Americans can now travel at low risk of COVID-19 infection. About the same time, multiple countries revised their COVID restrictions to allow vaccinated travelers to enter.
And, according to research conducted by Booking.com, nearly three-quarters of Americans would rather travel this year that find their true love, choosing travel over their favorite TV shows and vices like caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol. Two-thirds said they'd prefer a vacation over a promotion.
If you're ready to pack your bags you've probably been wondering WHERE you can travel now that you're vaccinated, and you've got some great choices with travel restrictions finally easing. Mexico and many Caribbean islands have been open to travelers with minimal or no restrictions at all, but the latest countries to waive quarantine and testing requirements to those who are vaccinated include the following:
Of course, with rules and restrictions frequently changing, it's always a good idea to check for the latest updates before booking.
If I was to drop everything and go now, I'd probably choose Iceland despite having visited multiple times as it's relatively easy to get to, it's not a hassle to drive there, and the scenery is out of this world. Croatia, Ecuador, and Montenegro are a few of my favorites too. The medieval walled cities and hilltop villages are spectacular in Croatia, and the food is some of the best in the world. Ecuador is incredibly diverse with everything from the Galapagos, Andes, and the Amazon, while Montengro boasts medieval charms, dramatic mountain and coastal scenery.
That said, I've decided to stick somewhat closer to home this year and look forward to a very busy year of travel in 2022. I still have some exciting trips ahead, including a short stay coming up in Cancun and Mexico City, Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, and a remote retreat in Maine! And, if Canada decides to open its borders, an Arctic adventure in Churchill, Manitoba.
Are you ready to pack your bags? If so, where will you go?
Being stuck inside for so long forced many of us to think about what really matters the most. While social distancing and masks are likely to be a part of life for some time to come, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After spending several months or more virtually locked down without going anywhere other than a once every two-week trip for groceries, I started feeling somewhat agoraphobic. It's a bit odd for someone who loves to travel and normally wouldn't even think twice about flying to the other side of the world alone. Usually I relish getting out there, living life, taking part in adventures and meeting people from all walks of life.
Eventually, I slowly got back out, carefully, going on trips to visit family. Being in Baja, I made a decision to see more of Mexico as soon as possible, with so many fabulous places right here. I enjoyed a "staycation" in Cabo and watched a hang glider fly by the window of my room - I knew I had to do that, and, it was whale season! Soaring through the sky just above the coast was amazing, but watching the mother humpback and her baby below was something I'll never forget. Next month I'll be going to Cancun to write about a new resort - I've been there before though, so I'm making a point of taking advantage of a long layover in Mexico City to visit the National Museum of Anthropology, one of the best in the world. In early June, I'll be heading to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, a place that's been on my bucket list for years.
Slowly, but surely, we're living again. It seems like time has slipped by, just waiting for life to return to "normal" and "normal," at least like we knew it prior to COVID may never come, but it highlights the necessity to be grateful for every moment. Grateful for family, friends, our beloved pets...and for me, any opportunity to see the world, not just from inside the walls of a resort but from the eyes of the locals.
The rest of 2021 may be up in the air, and my rescheduled Arctic trip from 2020 is likely to get moved forward again to next summer, but there is plenty out there to enjoy in the meantime and 2022 is looking good. In fact, it might be quite full as I have a cousin who is getting married in Greece and I need to be there too!
For those looking forward to travel experiences that will truly make them feel alive again, I recently put together this list for Trips To Discover: 15 Sensational Travel Experiences to Make You Feel Alive Again.
It's been so long since I've written here... just waiting, it almost feels like I can breathe again! How about you?
If one of your favorite things about travel is trying the delicious local foods, think about a vacation to one of these 15 destinations. The word is, many will be starting to open up again to tourists by fall if not sooner, including the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia with its medieval hilltop towns. I've had a trip planned to return in late September for awhile. I'm not sure if it's still going to happen, but the odds are looking a bit better. The food, scenery, history and people make it one of my favorite destinations, although there are many other great places too, from Italy and Greece to Mexico, Chile and of course several closer to home.
You can check them all out in my latest article for Trips To Discover: Top 15 Travel Destinations for Culinary Tours
Have you ever seen the northern lights? Watching the aurora was something that was on my bucket list ever since I can remember. I was fascinated with stories about Alaska, with my grandparents frequently making the long drive to the state every year, telling me all about their encounters with moose, the incredible wilderness scenery and the aurora. In the early 1990s, the TV show 'Northern Exposure' was my favorite, and on one episode the mood induced by the lights caused dreaming among Cicely's residents to intensify, reminding me once again that I really needed to go someday.
It was another decade or so before I made it to Alaska, and as my visit was in July it was all about the Midnight Sun with no chance of witnessing the aurora. In 2015, I made my first trip to Iceland and instantly fell in love. One of the top spots for watching the lights, I made it my mission to find them. The odds are better close to or above the Arctic Circle in Finland, Norway and Sweden, all countries "on my list," but the fantasy-like scenery in Iceland makes for a fantastic adventure, aurora or not.
As part of the first-personal travel stories series by Trips To Discover, I chronicled my journey here in Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Have you ever witnessed the aurora? I'd love to hear about it, and, pictures if you have them, please!
In the spring of 2010, I started a new life chapter by packing up my little red Mitsubishi Mirage with camping gear and other necessities, with the goal to break out of cubicle life and live my dream. A decade later, while I may not be a famous travel writer, I've accomplished more than I ever imagined, breaking free from the 9-5 grind, visiting many countries around the world, and hopefully many more to come. It all began with six months of (mostly) car camping. While there's a lot more to this story, you can read about my journey here, Adventures on the Road: 6 Months Car Camping in the West.
With travel on hold, I've been doing a lot of reminscing lately. My schedule has been incredibly busy for many years now. Documenting all my trips is something I haven't had much time for, with much of it spent creating itineraries so that others could go and enjoy. But thanks to a new series with TripsToDiscover, I've been able to put together some of those stories for the site.
Tourist crowds just aren't my thing. When planning a trip to Italy, I wanted to go beyond the usual hot spots, and Puglia didn't disappoint. This area in the southeast often referred to as the "heel of the boot," is far less-visited, providing an authentic Italian experience that I won't soon forget. While it's worth visiting places like Florence and Rome, getting "lost" in Puglia was the highlight. You can read all about it here: Lost in Authentic Puglia – Exploring Italy’s Least Traveled Region
Have You Ever Spent the Night in a Haunted Castle? Here's a Look Back at My Night Alone in Ireland's Ross Castle
My Irish cousin thought I was crazy to want to spend the night in Ross Castle. In a place filled with reportedly haunted castles, Ross is said to be one of the most haunted, perhaps only behind the famously terrifying Leap Castle in County Offaly that's been featured in numerous paranormal shows. Plenty of paranormal investigators have stayed at Ross Castle, located virtually in the middle of nowhere in County Meath, reached through a maze of back roads which gives it even more an eerie, "should I really be doing this?" kind of feel.
Not one to shy away from an adventure like this and the opportunity to stay in an authentic historic castle, I left my cousin's house with little containers filled with what was marked as "holy salt" and "holy water" and I took off.
I recently wrote about my night there, which turned out to be a night spent all alone, in the castle's tower room at the top. You can read all about it here, 'A Night Alone in the Tower of Ireland's Ross Castle.'
Note: If you want to check out this castle, be aware that there are two Ross Castles in Ireland, the other one is located in Killarney National Park. This one is in County Meath, about 90 minutes northwest of Dublin.
Nihi Sumba offers the chance to stay in a slice of ultimate paradise overlooking the Indian Ocean - learn more about this incredible resort that's been name the first best in the world in my latest article here: Nimi Sumba A Lavish Retreat on the Edge of the Wilderness.
But know that it's not just about luxury. As James McBride, CEO, notes, and I witnessed firsthand, it's "become a philanthropic vehicle dedicated to supporting projects of the Sumba Foundation," a foundation that's been making life better for 27,000 Sumbanese every day, including water, health, education and economic iniaties. Owner Chris Burch covers all administrative costs of the foundation, including all staff salaries, so that donations go directly to fund these projects to help ease the burdens of poverty communities on the island were living under.
The resort has had to temporarily shutter its doors because of the Coronavirus, which means family's won't be able to pay for their children's education and even their most basic needs. They'll soon begin to run out of food, unable to afford to buy what they need due to consecuitve poor cropping seasons.
As I recently wrote about my time on Sumba Island, spending time with the local Sumbanese people was the highlight - their kindness, and the joy in their hearts, it was something almost tangible. I wanted to reach out, grab it and take it back home with me. While we're all hurting in one way or another, many of us financially and emotionally, being separated from the ones we love, and some physically too, for the majority, we are comparitively fortunate. If you are able, a Sumba Crisis Relief Fund has been set up here so that you can join Nihi Sumba and Sumba Foundation to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief to families affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.
Owner Chris Burch has pledged 1:1 matching for all donations, up to a cumulative total of $200,000, to The Sumba Foundation. All contributions will directly support The Sumba Foundation and the government's health services with medicines, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, testing, and monitoring equipment, virus education and prevention, tuition support, immediate food aid (rice, eggs, flour), and to directly support the Foundation's water and malnutrition projects.
If you can help at all, it would be a wonderful way to give back. and hopefully someday when this is all said and done, you can experience this magical place and its people for yourself.
The first half of my trip to Indonesia was incredible - I recently wrote about my time on Sumba Island staying at Nihi Sumba resort. It's a place I dream of going back to, and a place whose people I will never forget - every day, I worry and wonder how they are doing, how they will survive with tourism stopped. It was, as Nihi Sumba recently noted in an update, the "backbone of the budding Sumbanese economy. Families will no longer be able to pay for their children's education and basic needs. More pressingly, over the coming months, people will run out of food and will not be able to afford to buy what they need as a result of consecutive poor cropping seasons."
While I'll be supporting the Sumbanese in any way I can, the focus of this post is the story that a number of people have asked me to write. The day the monkey broke into my room on Bali, and the anxiety of trying to get back home. It was something I'll never forget. The article isn't like most that I write - it's a bit long, but I hope you will enjoy reading it.
Here is the link, written for Trips To Discover.
Lockdown in Bali with a Monkey Burglar and the Long Road Home