Robert Q Travel Byron's Blog

Post-COVID's Biggest Travel Trend is...Small
As the world prepares to travel again, there’s a huge trend emerging: going small.
 
We know what the ingredients of travel are going to be in the immediate post-pandemic future of travel:
 
More space. More privacy. More flexibility.

The travel industry is rising to the occasion with an innovative sweep of new, and newly-important touring options that make touring with your own ‘bubble’ – whether it’s your family, extended family, group of friends or couples on their own – suddenly easy. Smaller groups. Private departures. The options for ‘smaller is safer’ travel are growing.
 
And in many cases, they’re more affordable than many travelers might think. 
 
This list of tour ingredients used to be exclusively available on only high-end touring options. But it’s not just the luxury touring options that are seeing spiking interest. 
 
More affordable touring companies are developing new options for land journeys that maintain favorite elements returning guests will love… with more space, privacy and flexibility that meet the new expectations travelers are looking for to feel comfortable embarking on a journey in this new era.
 
Here are some standout opportunities to think ‘small’ on your next journey:
 

Globus: Small Group Discovery Tours

 
This fan-favorite group touring company (pictured, top) has always offered travelers an incentive to put its own small groups together, with savings and benefits for groups of as few as 8 people travelling together within a larger tour group.
 
It also has a ‘European Private Touring’ program that makes more sense than ever, with a sliding scale of surcharges for private tours of 1-24 guests with your own dedicated Tour Director, private transportation and private guides on existing Globus itineraries.
 
There’s another timely option now: Small Group Discovery Tours on ALL of its 2021 tour departures through Central & South America, Asia, Africa and select departures in the South Pacific. It tightens up traditional group tours, with an average of only 20 guests per departure you’ll be spending most of your time with. That means a coach is less than half full, providing extra space along with its new health and safety measures along with flexible booking and changing policies so you can make informed decisions until the last minute before your departure.
 

Monograms: The best of two touring styles, now with off-season and closer to home options

 
Sister company to Globus group tours, it’s like Monograms was designed for post-pandemic travel, even though its style of touring has been around for a while. Monograms cherry-picks the best elements of private travel and group travel. 
 
You are personally picked up and dropped off, have a Local Host who gives your group its own tour of must-see sights, have VIP access to jump to the head of the line at popular attractions, like larger tour groups do. You can choose among a selection of hand-picked hotels that meet new health and safety standards, and even personalize your journey according to your interests. The company also has flexible booking and re-booking policies for your peace of mind.
 
It also recently opened up new, off-season Europe options, for Fall, Winter and Spring departures when there are fewer people (so more space and less crowding than Summer/high season), and lower prices, translating to savings for travelers of up to 40%. It’s also introduced a selection of Monograms tours in North American destinations for guests wanting their next trips to be close to home. 
 

Insight Vacations: Small Private Group Option

 
This global leader in premium guided vacations is offering travelers a ‘Small Private Group Option’ on 38 trips departing late 2020 through Spring of 2021 throughout Europe, as well as Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Jordan and Canada. It also includes Christmas Market journeys, where the company has received many inquiries.

You can create your own travel ‘bubble’ and personalize your journey. Insight provides a private, customized coach, tour director, the opportunity to tailor-make trips based on your group’s interests, all including enhanced health and safety practices and flexible change policies.

Groups of 12 qualify for Insight’s Small Private Group journeys. There’s a sliding scale of surcharges on the original price of the trip, beginning with a 30% surcharge, dropping to no surcharge once the group reaches 26 people.
 

G Adventures: Book Your Bubble Collection

 
This Active/Adventure tour company has introduced a ‘Book Your Bubble Collection’ featuring 80 tours spanning the globe from Europe, Central/South America, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
 
The company encourages people to assemble your own bubble of fellow travelers, choose a date that works for you, and offers savings for private groups, with 50% off the 8th person in a group of 8, or the 12th person in a group of 12 traveling for free. It’s easy to picture a group of 4 couples or a multi-generational family taking advantage of these new G Adventure trips that include its new health and safety measures as well as flexible booking policy.
 
The 80 tours in the Collection feature the freedom and safety found on all of the company’s private tours. ‘Book your Bubble’ applies to the new, designated bubble Collection, and in addition, your bubble can enjoy a Tailor Made private journey, or even choose any of G Adventures’ existing itineraries, and arrange for them in a private tour. Optional activities from the company’s list of tour experiences can be added to personalize any of the Bubble journeys.
 

Butterfield & Robinson: Singular Stays

 
The company whose motto is ‘Slow Down To See The World’ combines an active approach to travel, from biking to hiking to even camel rides! with luxurious lodging, insider access, extraordinary food and wine and cultural immersion. It already offered Small Group Trips and a Private Travel collection of Ready-to-Book and Bespoke itineraries, that are prepared to allow your ‘bubble’ private group to go when, how, where – and of course, with whoever you want.

It’s also recently launched a new option that provides the highest amount of space and privacy for your small bubble group. Singular Stays are a curated collection of private accommodations paired with the creativity of B&R's Experience Designers.
 
The new, Singular Stays program means you can relax in one accommodation for the duration of your trip – from private villas and castles in Europe, to ranches, resorts and glamping in the Americas, and private lodges in Africa, while the B&R team brings your destination to life with exclusive activities and events that take advantage of your setting.

(Abercrombie & Kent)

Abercrombie & Kent: Luxury Small Groups, Private Stays, Chartered Yachts and Planes and New Tailor-Made and Road Trips close to home

 
Luxury tour operator A&K is no stranger to private and small group touring, with Luxury Small Group Journeys, Luxury Family and Marco Polo journeys, offering opportunities for all-ages adventure as well as itineraries to exotic locales and exclusive festivals and events. All journeys are led from start to finish by an A&K Resident Tour Director and local guides, with an average of 14 guests on each departure, and feature hand-selected accommodations and A&K’s renowned insider access.
 
It also offers the ultimate in physical-distancing travel with its Luxury Private Stays, fully crewed chartered yachts, and chartered air.
 
What’s new are its collection of 6 new ‘Tailor Made’ journeys as well as 2 new iconic Great American Road Trips across the American West and Alaska that take advantage of A&K’s baked-in distancing and privacy, in destinations closer to home where travelers may feel more comfortable. Private guides, access to sites off the beaten path, customized itinerary, vetted accommodations that offer added space and privacy, and in the case of the Road Trips, a private luxury car and driver/guide.
 

These new and innovating touring options meet the new expectations of travelers by going small in a big world still waiting for you to discover.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon




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Places You Can Tour Wine Country Close to Home
There may be more places than you think.

California's legendary wine regions and famous wineries have the weather, the scenery, the lifestyle, and of course, the wines, that put them at the top of global wine travel lists.

But as we are planning our first post-COVID trips, wine lovers should expand their lists of wine tour regions close to home to get our fix of wine tastings, vineyard strolling, and re-stocking our cellars with one-of-a-kind vintages.

Vastly different landscapes throughout America's states and Canada's provinces have resulted in some surprising wine regions with thriving scenes and award-winning wines.

If you love discovering new wine, pack your bags for these US and Canadian wine regions, and remember to leave plenty of space in your luggage for bottles of the delicious new wines you're sure to discover!

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host BestTrip.TV
 

Texas

The very first vineyard in North America… was in Texas. Franciscan priests in the mid-1600's toiled to grow the continent's first vines and produce its first wines in mission outposts. European immigrants brought more grapevine cuttings to continue expanding the region's wine through the 19th century. Prohibition wiped out all of America's wine production in the '20's, but Texas has reclaimed its historic wine roots – literally.
These days, the Longhorn State boasts 8 AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) producing wine from grapes that thrive in the state's unique climate and soil. The Texas Hill country AVA is the 2nd largest in America, 9 million acres in the heart of Texas north of San Antonio and west of Austin. The vast wine region is home to a range of one-of-a-kind microclimates that produce cool climate wines to Bordeaux and Italian varietals. 
Idaho's Snake River Valley

Idaho

Move over, potatoes. Idaho's most famous crop has competition. Idaho lies to the west of the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains. The terrain, explored by Lewis and Clark and a central feature of the Oregon Trail, these days is home to a fruitful wine industry you'll want to explore too.  
You may think of Idaho as a very new wine region, but in fact, it dates back to the mid-19th century. The first grapes in the Pacific Northwest were planted in Idaho by French and German immigrants. Prohibition in the 20's took out this wine region, too, but grapes are back again in Idaho. The Snake River Valley became the state's first AVA, and now covers 8000 square miles at latitudes similar to other global wine-growing regions, with a unique combination of seasonal temperatures, rainfall, and soil not only rivaling other wine regions, but even giving Idaho wines an edge in quality.
Idaho now has more than 50 wineries producing cool climate wines, especially whites like Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer, and more recently, reds like fan favorite Cabernet Sauvignon.
(Shore Lodge, McCall, Idaho)

Washington State

This newcomer on the global wine scene has been a quick learner. Washington State is already America's 2nd largest wine producer. Its wines win acclaim and awards that rank Washington as one of the world's top wine regions.
Wine has a pedigree in the state. In 1825 the Hudson's Bay Company planted the area's first wine grapes at Fort Vancouver.
The last decade or so has seen a resurgence of wine-making in Washington. Now, over 55,000 acres are devoted to vineyards. The viticulture trend is growing fast, drawing wine-makers from Europe and New World wine regions to the state's unique terroir and conditions for producing premium white and red wines.
Washington's young and internationally-influenced wine culture exhibits some of the latest trends in wine-making that visiting oenophiles will love. Hand-crafting, sustainability, as well as organic and biodynamic wines make visits to this Pacific North West wine region so unique.
Shea Wine Cellars, Oregon/ Carolyn Wells Kramer

Oregon

It's America's 3rd largest wine grape producing state. Oregon has over 700 wineries growing 72 grape varietals in a thousand vineyards. In spite of that scale, Oregon's famous for its small-batch wineries and artisan wines. Most Oregon wineries produce fewer than 5000 cases a year of an incredible range of wines from Riesling to Viogniers, Pinot noir to Syrah, with sparkling, rose, and dessert wines to tempt your palate.
For wine-loving visitors to Oregon, that means two things. In winery tasting rooms, you'll have the chance to taste small-batch vintages that will never see wide release on store shelves in your home town. And hands-on, artisan vintners love to share their passion for wine, their vines, and wine-making styles with visitors to wine estates.

(Above and Top Images Courtesy Wines of British Columbia)

British Columbia, Canada

North of the border, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is the 2nd largest-producing wine region in Canada, with over 150 wineries and nearly 10,000 acres of vines. The valley stretches 155 miles from Lake Okanagan, south along the Okanagan River into Washington State (where it’s spelled differently: Okonogan) into the Columbia River, itself a growing and renowned wine region on both its Washington State and Oregon banks.
The Columbia and Cascade Mountains shield the region from Pacific and Arctic moisture, and the Okanagan’s desert-like conditions result in slow-ripening, smaller fruit with concentrated flavors. There’s still a variety of landscapes, growing both red and white varietals, from its signature Merlot, to Cab Sauv, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as Chardonnay.

Michigan

Michigan is the 5th largest wine-producing state in the US, producing nearly 3 million gallons of wine a year. The unique, Great-Lakes microclimate that makes Michigan a famous cherry producer also nurtures acclaimed wines.  Most of the state's wine grapes are grown within 25 scenic miles of Lake Michigan, benefitting from 'lake effect' moderation of both winter and summer climate.
There are over 100 wineries in Michigan, and 150 tasting rooms where visitors can sample and buy the wide range of Michigan wines from red, white, dry, sweet, even ice wine, sparkling wine, and wines made from its famous cherry crop. Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail in the north-west part of the state is considered one of the best in the country.

(Toronto in the distance on the shores of Lake Ontario. Photo: Wine Country Ontario)

Ontario, Canada

Many people outside Canada think it’s too cold, and don’t think to add the country to their list of wine touring regions. If this is you, think again.
One Canadian wine sweeps global wine competitions by taking full advantage of those famous Canadian winters.
The granddaddy of Canadian wine regions is the Niagara Peninsula. Ontario is the country’s top wine province, with over 130 wineries and nearly 20,000 acres of vineyards that take advantage of the Great Lakes’ moderating effect on the weather to grow grapes, especially cool-climate Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, for wine.
Ice wine is Canada’s award-winning claim to fame in the international wine circle. More ice wine (originally white, but now, red, too) is produced in the Niagara Peninsula than anywhere else in the world.
The silky, sweet dessert and cheese wine has become virtually synonymous with the Niagara region, where consistently reliable cold winter temperatures allow vintners to harvest grapes after they have frozen on the vine. Freezing concentrates the juice, resulting in higher levels of sugar and an unmistakable wine. This may be the only place in the world whose annual wine harvest celebration, the Ice Wine Festival, takes place mid-winter!
As the name suggests, the wine region shares one of North America’s biggest tourist attractions, Niagara Falls, that straddles the US/Canadian border. And the Niagara Escarpment, a 650 mile-long limestone ridge that runs from upstate New York through the region, has a big influence on its wine.
Only an hour and a half’s drive from the big-city attractions of Toronto, the Niagara region also boasts a world-renowned theater scene, and the epically-charming historic town (and wine micro-region) of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  
 

#PlanNowTravelSoon


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This Company is Sending a Local Hero - and their Nominating Travel Advisor - On a Life-Changing Trip to Africa
Until June 30th, travel advisors can nominate a person from their community they feel deserves recognition.

Courtesy of African Travel Inc., a sister travel company to luxury Insight Vacations, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Red Carnation Hotels among other outstanding travel providers, the chosen hero and their guest will receive the ultimate 8-night escape to South Africa and Botswana, experiencing Red Carnation’s Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa and the new Xigera Safari Lodge as well as the Chobe Game Lodge.
 
The advisor who nominates the winning hero will receive their own complimentary spot on an African Travel educational journey to South Africa, Kenya or Tanzania.

For over 40 years, African Travel has created luxury, handcrafted safaris ensuring immersive and authentic cultural encounters across the continent with exceptional service by local experts every step of the way.

(Chobe Game Lodge is an elegant, five-star, fully Ecotourism-certified safari lodge and the only property located inside the world-renowned Chobe National Park)

From now until June 30th, 2020, travel advisors can nominate a person who they feel deserves recognition for going above and beyond in their community. African Travel wants advisors to share their stories, whether it’s about an essential worker on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic or a co-worker helping their community heal.
 
Advisors nominate local heroes by briefly explaining how their hero has positively impacted the people, planet and wildlife in their local community, which reflects African Travel’s philosophy to TreadRight.
 
The TreadRight Foundation was established by The Travel Corporation’s family of brands, that includes African Travel, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Trafalgar Tours, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, among others. The foundation sets the standard on sustainability for those travel companies, and executes its mission to #MakeTravelMatter.
 
TreadRight supports community-based projects worldwide that safeguard the planet, people and wildlife. To date, the foundation has supported 55+ sustainable tourism projects in 280+ communities worldwide, that have included WWF, Conservation International, WildAid and The National Trust in the UK, while current initiatives include WE.org, Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School, Wilderness Foundation Africa and Wildlife SOS. 
 
This contest is in gratitude for people’s efforts to make their communities better places, a theme especially powerful during COVID, which has reinforced how ‘we are all in this together as a travel family’.
 
Advisors can nominate a hero by completing the online form here.
 
African Travel will shortlist the top 10 heroes and host a poll July 13-23rd, 2020 for the travel community to choose the deserving hero.
 

Nominations close June 30th.


Don’t miss this opportunity to reward a deserving local hero!

 
 
 
 
 





What's a Travel Bubble? Plus 3 Tips For Making the Most of Yours
You might see this view sooner than you think.
The world of travel has begun to re-open. But it’s not like the tap has suddenly been turned full blast. More like a trickle. And there’s a clear pattern that’s going to shape your travel opportunities for at least the rest of this year, and possibly into 2021.

Bubble Travel

Human interaction has gone from shelter-in-place, work-from-home and no contact with anyone outside your household, to health authorities laying out phases for a return to normal. Phase 1 involves ‘bubbles’. Each household selects a small group of friends or family who are taking the same level of precautions as you, you trust to stay the course, and not mix with others who might not be on the same page. And you are ‘exclusive’ with just that small ‘bubble’.
Just like bubbles for individuals, travel is re-opening in regional and international ‘bubbles.’
Here’s an example: Right now, Canadians have been asked to stay in their own province. As a first step towards re-opening travel to all Canadians, the 4 neighboring maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland have agreed to launch a travel bubble, with residents permitted to travel just within those four provinces.

(Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland)

New Travel Opportunities

Some people are describing bubble travel as restrictive.
It’s true that many international and regional borders remain officially closed. European countries, for example, have decided their ‘bubble’ includes residents of other European countries only – not even Great Britain, let alone the US or Canada – yet. 
Some borders are, if not officially, then effectively closed. Australian airline Quantas has announced it’s operating flights only within Australia or to next door New Zealand until 2021.
But I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, and I see travel bubbles as an opportunity to actually get travel started again and even create new travel experiences. Some travel companies are viewing it that way, too:

Bubble Cruising

  • Expedition cruise line Hurtigruten, a Norwegian company, become in June the first ocean cruise line to re-start cruising – BUT only in its own country, with coastal and fjord cruises only for guests from Norway and Denmark.
  • French-flagged luxury line Ponant is doing the same thing: with all its ships back in France, it's launching new itineraries just along the coasts and waterways of France beginning in July, and German river cruise line A-rosa has also re-launched select European river cruises for its bubble guests.
  • Luckily for Americans, the US has its own flagged ships able to offer ‘bubble’ cruises, too. 
Not the big ships. Most of the big cruise lines sail ships flagged from other nations, not the US, so they can’t offer exclusively American itineraries. Only US-flagged ships are permitted to sail exclusively American itineraries. Furthermore, the CDC has issued a no-sail order for all US ports that applies to ships with more than 250 on board, an order that expires in July, but might be renewed. 
But that still leaves smaller, US-flagged ships able to sail American, 'bubble' itineraries. For these cruise lines, that's what they specialize in:
  • UnCruise Adventures is one of the very few cruise lines currently able to sail in Alaska (with Canadian ports closed for the season and the US/Canada border still closed). UnCruise is picking up its Alaska season beginning August 1st.
  • American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company, which operate US river cruises, both plan a return to cruising this summer.
  • In one remarkable example of lateral thinking and creating new opportunities, American Queen Steamboat Company and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises (which operates European and exotic river cruises) have established a reciprocal alliance. AQSC offers special pricing to Uniworld guests unable to take their planned Uniworld cruise this year so they can sail in their American ‘bubble’. And Uniworld will reciprocate with a special offer for AQSC guests to cruise on their European, and exotic itineraries later. 

(Alaska, courtesy Abercrombie & Kent)

Bubble Land Touring

Land tour companies in particular have pivoted, expanding their North American itineraries to accommodate bubble travel with unprecedented speed and agility.
  • Abercrombie & Kent has launched new American itineraries, plus an innovative private driving tour series that speaks directly to the concerns of travel in the time of COVID. The company’s ‘Great American Road Trips’ series includes a private car, with a driver/ guide, customized start and end points depending on your location, local guides providing behind the scenes access and hands-on activities, and pre-selected hotels that meet the company’s high standards.
  • Last week, we learned about Globus and sister, budget tour company Cosmos’ new ‘Undiscovered North America’ tours that follow the ‘Undiscovered’ format of their European tours of the same name: focusing on ‘less-traveled highways, legendary lanes and scenic country roads to the special places and parks other tour companies don’t visit. These itineraries help travelers discover the world’s tucked-away towns, lesser-known nooks and secluded seafronts for an unforgettable – and unique – vacation close to home.’
  • And just this week, Trafalgar Tours have announced a brand new ‘Near Not Far Limited Series’ of tours ‘hand crafted by Canadians for Canadians, to further your appreciation for your own backyard, connect you to locals you wouldn’t typically meet, and support local communities by doing something that you love – traveling,’ with similar new series in other countries where it operates.

Tips for Bubble Travel

What does all this mean for your holiday plans in the immediate and mid-term future? Primarily, bubble travel offers you safe and inspiring ways to travel sooner than you thought might be possible.
Here's how you can take advantage of your own travel bubble:
Switch reservations
Talk with your travel advisor about the possibility of changing an existing travel booking outside your travel bubble to one inside, while sticking with the same travel provider. 
If you have a favorite escorted tour company, you may be able to switch your Europe reservation, for example, for a tour within your bubble area. Then you can book Europe again later when it's possible.
Explore options for your favorite travel style within your travel bubble area
With so many travel companies performing incredible feats to pivot and offer new travel options closer to home, your travel advisor may find never-before-offered, exciting new tours and cruises for you.
Along with some great offers and savings to make travel close to home even more worthwhile.
Expand your horizons
Or you could switch it up and try a new style of travel. Are you a devoted cruise lover? Maybe this is the year you re-discover the joys of heady mountain air and scenery. 
Do you look forward every summer to an extended family reunion with dozens of relatives all descending on a beach resort or cruise? Maybe this is the year you take just your family bubble on an intimate journey to discover history or natural wonders within your travel bubble area.
 
Bubble travel is not just an important next step towards returning to normal in a post-COVID world. 

It opens the doors to discover whole new ways to see, taste, learn about and experience the Nature, culture, history, and flavors in our own backyard - even before the kids go back to school this fall.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
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#LookUpTogether During Dark Sky Week and at the World’s Largest Dark Sky Preserve’s Festival in the Rockies

The COVID-19 pandemic kept everyone at home, resulting in an unexpected and heartening clearing of skies and revival of Mother Nature in surprising places. But one thing that continues to disappear from the world… is darkness.

Light pollution doesn’t just prevent you from seeing the constellations in the middle of the city. Light spilling far into the countryside interferes with nocturnal creatures’ ability to thrive, as well as the essential rhythms of nature. Many species, including the human species, need periods without light, and we hear about shift workers and peoples in the far north whose health and sleep are impacted by interruptions of natural cycles of darkness and light.
The loss of darkness by human expansion around the world is so profound, that, just as people have established reserves for wildlife and irreplaceable wilderness, spaces on earth with an unimpeded view of the stars above are being preserved, too.
The International Dark Sky Association in Arizona works to protect the night, and its International Dark Sky Places conservation program recognizes and promotes excellent stewardship of the night sky.
Over 130 Dark Sky Places around the world have been designated to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.

International Dark Sky Week

International Dark Sky Week is a worldwide annual event hosted by the International Dark-Sky Association to celebrate the night and bring attention to the problems caused by light pollution. International Dark Sky Week is held during the week of April’s new Moon, when the sky is darkest and the stars most visible. 2020’s celebrations run from April 19th through the 26th, which appropriately coincides with Earth Day on April 22.
So if you and your family have ever wondered how to find a constellation in the night sky… Or how cultures around the world, and across time, saw their place in the stars... Or what critters are exploring the night while you sleep… You’ll find presentations daily during International Dark Sky Week on the organization’s.

Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival in the Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park is the largest of Canada’s mountain parks, famous for magnificent glaciers, lakes and mountains. Jasper has also been designated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as a Dark Sky Preserve for its special commitment to protect and preserve the night sky and to reduce or eliminate light pollution in all its forms.
It’s one of 17 designated Dark Sky Preserves in Canada, the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, and the largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve - meaning there’s a town within the limits of the preserve.
As daylight hours begin to shrink, the month of October is the perfect time for Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival. Dozens of events including dark sky photography workshops, interactive experiences at Jasper’s Planetarium, black hole sculptures, and ‘Animals of the Night’ hikes, indoor and outdoor events, speakers and hands-on celestial activities celebrate the night skies that cradle the earth.
ASK YOUR TRAVEL ADVISOR ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO EXPERIENCE JASPER’S DARK SKIES.
(Jasper National Park/ Jasper Tourism)

Jasper’s Wild Beauty and Darks Skies by Train on the Rocky Mountaineer

A Rocky Mountaineer rail journey has been called one of the ‘World’s Greatest Trips’. The incredibly scenic train, with its glass-domed, panoramic cars, gets rave reviews about the magic and wonder of a train trip through the majestic Canadian Rockies.
The Rocky Mountaineer is a presenter of Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival and a visit to Jasper any time of the season, with a visit to its Dark Sky Preserve and Planetarium is a magical highlight of a rail journey through the Rockies.
Three Rocky Mountaineer journeys take you to Jasper National Park and its Dark Sky Preserve, including
  • Rainforest to Gold Rush Explorer
  • Canadian Rockies Circle
  • Journey through the Clouds Explorer

Jasper Dark Sky Festival Canadian Rockies Adventure by Globus

The highlight of this 9-day Canadian Rockies escorted tour is the natural wonder of the western skies.
From the forested seaside city of Vancouver, guests travel through mountain passes to the historic mining, rail and cattle town of Kamloops. 
The tour continues to Jasper and its Dark Sky Preserve for a special community Moon Viewing, complete with telescopes.
There’s time to explore Jasper National Park or the Jasper Wildlife Museum, then attend the Jasper Planetarium & Telescope Experience. Guests learn about this spectacular Dark Sky Preserve in a dome theater experience, complete with the most powerful telescope in the Rocky Mountains and venture outside to look for the Northern Lights. The tour includes a day at Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival and a fascinating and inspiring Keynote Presentation by guest speakers steeped in astronomic lore.
After Jasper, the tour travels to Lake Louise for an overnight stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise where guests enjoy crisp mountain air, a gondola ride up the mountain and the amenities of this world-renowned lakeside resort as well as Banff National Park in this remarkable Rocky Mountain setting.

Start your Trip!

Top 3 Images by Royce Bair, courtesy International Dark Sky Association
Top: Milky Way over the abandoned Lincoln Highway in Nevada 
Middle: North Star and Big Dipper over Grosvenor Arch, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Utah
Bottom: Milky Way star canopy over a silhouette of the ‘Wall Street’ canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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It’s been going on for 400 years. Every year ending in 0: 1990, 2000, 2010… and this German cultural tradition was supposed to happen again in 2020. read more
And Now For Some Good News In Travel We hope you are well and keeping yourself, your family and your community safe by staying at home. Now, more than ever, we all really need some good news. read more
How You Can Help Solve Overtourism - AND Still Enjoy the World's Most Popular Destinations
Amsterdam. Venice. Barcelona. Just to name a few. These are spectacular, vibrant, magical cities… reeling under the weight of tourists.

I’m very fortunate to have visited a number of cities that are now on the list of overtouristed destinations. They are magnificent and life changing. But sadly, each subsequent visit, I see the very qualities travelers go there to seek eroded a little bit more by a growing volume of tourists.

Over-touristed destinations worry about becoming artificial, ‘theme park’ versions of their charming, unique, authentic selves. They fear seeing local residents, artisans, shopkeepers and restaurateurs priced out of the cities’ historic centers by global brands and big companies buying up real estate for international brand shops and short-term housing rentals.

When the locals go, so do many of the very lifestyle elements you hoped to enjoy. Local food and craft markets collapse, inexpensive, authentic local restaurants close their doors, and the only people you meet… are other tourists.

These cities may be on your travel bucket list. Or you imagine re-living fond memories there.

I can’t bring myself to say people should no longer travel to over-touristed destinations (although some cities’ mayors sound like they’re willing to ban tourists altogether).

But I can offer 8 tips about the best ways responsible travelers can help be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And at the same time, take steps to ensure the best travel experience for themselves.

Responsible travel tips for overtourism:


Be a good global citizen. 

Practice the advice often given to park visitors: take only pictures, leave only footprints. Littering, loitering, being part of a loud group that blocks sidewalks and disrupts the peaceful enjoyment of a neighborhood, in many places outside of North America, eating or drinking on the street… some rules of good behavior are universal, and some are unique to local custom, like tipping practices.

Do your research in advance and be the person the locals welcome back.


Go off-season / shoulder season. 

I’ve written before about the benefits of off-season travel. In over-touristed destinations, off-season or shoulder season (the weeks on either side of the core ‘high season’), by definition, is less crowded. No lineups. Less expensive. The locals come back (think Paris after everyone takes the month of August away from the city). And the tourism attractions are happy to see you – and your money.

Stay in hotels.

Many short-term rentals are not real home shares by residents, but instead, units owned and managed by big corporations running what amounts to unregulated hotel businesses. Inhabitants of residential neighborhoods report being disrupted by a steady stream of strangers that can change the character of the community.

Hotels are regulated for your health and safety, they ensure local bylaws are followed, AND they are paying business taxes that support the preservation of cultural treasures visitors are coming to enjoy, and the infrastructure like streets and sidewalks and parks and public transportation tourists rely on.

Shop locally.

And especially, make a point to spend your souvenir, dining, and entertainment budgets to support local artisans, craftspeople, performing artists and venues, food and wine and spirit producers that are preserving local culture, techniques and architecture, and whose businesses 100% support the local economy. 
 

Book smaller cruise ships.

Bigger cruise ships need ports of a certain size, so that often means they all converge on major city ports – and some are already bursting with land-based visitors.

The biggest cruise ships carry thousands of people. In some places, a single ship can result in cruise visitors outnumbering locals! Imagine if two or more mega ships are in port! No wonder locals can feel like their city has been taken over by non-locals- and ‘normal’ local life comes to a halt while these immense cruise ships are in port.

There’s lots to be said for the attractions of mega cruise ships. If that’s your preferred cruise style, try to focus on itineraries that visit destinations that can accommodate you and your 5000 other cruise guests without overwhelming or changing the character of the city.

Always book a pre- or post-cruise stay.

That way, you are not just transiting through a city, you also contribute to its economy - and get to enjoy overnights and immersion in these wonderful places. Pre- and post-cruise stays - or tours - are a perfect balance to the destination sampling approach of cruising.

Book your visit with a reputable tour company.

The best tour companies understand the importance of reducing their impact on and preserving the best of local communities. They work to balance the interests of the destination with unique access to its greatest cultural, natural, and lifestyle gems for its guests.

Consider destinations in the same country that have fewer tourists.

You’ll often find the same – and sometimes, even more authentic - local lifestyle and flavors that have diminished in the most visited destinations if you leave the big cities and go off the beaten path in the same country.
 
Talk to your travel advisor about your travel interests, and they’ll be able to help you design a thoughtful and responsible travel plan that takes overtourism into account.
 
 

Start your Trip!

 
By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip TV

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It's one of the top destinations in Europe, let alone the Mediterranean. Barcelona tops everyone's travel bucket list, and for excellent reasons.

  • It has a collection of some of the world's most unique and distinctive Modernist architecture - hint: by the same local designer whose masterpiece church is still under construction 130 years after it was begun.

  • One of Europe's most famous local markets, and restaurants serving the abundant harvest of Catalonia's land and sea.

  • One of the world's most picturesque pedestrian promenades (where you'll find the tongue-in-cheek bronze 'Thinking Bull' statue that plays on the iconic 'The Thinker' by Rodin, pictured above).

  • And a lifestyle any visitor is loathe to leave.

We never depart on a cruise from Barcelona without taking time to indulge in one of our favorite cities, and of course, any tour of Spain or the Western Mediterranean wouldn't be complete without an immersion in Barcelona's culture and way of life.

See the best of Barcelona come to life in the BestTrip video above, and...

Start your Trip!




How You Can Help Now in Australia - Hint: It's Not Knitting Another Koala Cozy
Maybe you’ve donated to wildlife rescue or the Red Cross funds to help. Maybe you’ve been one of the crafters who have knitted pouches and mittens for injured and orphaned koalas, kangaroos and other iconic Australian wild animals hurt in the fires.

Welcome and much-needed rains have come that are helping to put out the fires. New green buds are even peeping out of the charred landscape.

Now what?

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip TV’s producer/host spoke with officials from Tourism Australia as well as owner/operators of local tourism businesses who came on an urgent trip to North America to provide an update.

It’s not just the actual wildfires themselves that have been damaging to Australia. Misinformation reported about Australia’s wildfires online is hurting the country’s tourism industry. 

That directly impacts Australia’s ability to rebuild and to support and protect its famous wildlife.

Debunking Myths about Australia’s Wildfires


Tourism officials and local Australian tour operators explained that bushfires are a natural part of the seasonal cycle in Australia. This year, they admit the annual fires took place on an ‘unprecedented scale’. 

But everything you may have seen online about this year’s wildfires is NOT true. Here are 3 of the biggest falsehoods:

Myth #1: All of Australia is on fire.

Online maps that show the entire country ablaze are misleading and false. Fires are focused in specific areas and 97% of Australia is open!

Correct maps, real-time information about locations of fires and updated advice about travel to Australia can be found on this official source: Australia.com

In one example, famous Kangaroo Island was on the news for many days. But as officials pointed out, the part of Kangaroo Island that is NOT burned is still three times the size of the entire country of Singapore!

 ‘We’ve taken a big hit, but tourism experiences on Kangaroo Island continue… just modified.’

Myth #2: Sydney is on fire.

Australia’s capital is not on fire. Images of the iconic, harbor-side Sydney Opera House under scaffolding have nothing to do with wildfires. It’s a scheduled renovation!


Myth #3: All the animals are dead.

As in the case of any bushfire in any country, there has been a terrible impact on Australian wildlife in the affected areas. 

As a Kangaroo Island tour operator pointed out, ‘The humane 1st response to the wildlife in crisis was better than anything we’ve ever seen in Australia’s history.’ In 4 days, they built an animal hospital. A call for 80 volunteers to help care for rescued animals received 13,000 applications.

Now, the focus is conservation and habitat restoration.


How Can Travelers Help?


Reschedule, don't cancel.

Keep travel plans you already have to Australia.  Cruise lines and tour operators are proactively modifying itineraries and experiences to ensure you will still see the beautiful scenery, meet those only-in-Australia creatures, and take part in the ‘mate-ship’ lifestyle the country is known for and which the wildfires have not affected.

Talk to your travel advisor about how to modify your trip if you are booked to go to affected areas, or reschedule it so you can still support affected communities.

Book a Trip

You can support Australia’s recovery and rebuilding by:

  • supporting their tourism industry, 
  • sharing positive images of your trip to help counter false online stories, 
  • spending locally to support local economies to rebuild, and 
  • visiting wildlife parks and sanctuaries who rely on admission fees to carry on their essential work of preserving habitat and the one-of-a-kind creatures who call Australia home.

 
Volunteer During Your Trip

Tourism locals are developing ways you can volunteer to help rebuilding and conservation efforts during your vacation in Australia.

Examples of some of the voluntourism programs include

Placing artificial habitats
On Kangaroo Island, for example, endangered cockatoos reside in hollows in trees, and since they are big birds, only mature trees will do. Until large trees are available again, the project is planting boxes at the right height for the cocktaoos to carry on.

Tree planting and habitat restoration
In Australia, the tree-planting window is June-September. Tree-planting projects will be springing up in affected areas all summer. 
One example of a specific project is in Melbourne, where small group wildlife tour operator Echinda Walkabout is organizing volunteers to help restore koala habitat.

Protecting remaining wildlife
In an eco-system, the wildlife tour operators explained, ‘if you look after the small things, the big things take care of themselves.’  One project involves establishing tunnels for small mammals that shield them from predators like (non-native) feral pigs and cats that can wipe out surviving small mammals after a fire destroys the undergrowth where the animals usually hide from predators.
 
Local tourism operators in Australia are working to incorporate volunteer activities into their tours offered by companies like Kensington Tours, Goway, Butterfield & Robinson, and others.

Contacting your travel advisor today to book a trip to Australia is the best way you can be part of the solution to a terrible year of Australian wildfires.
 

Start your Trip!

 
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A visit to the Juno Beach Centre is life-changing. Walking in the footsteps of young, Canadian soldiers who landed on this stretch of beach in Normandy, France on DDay is emotional, eye-opening, and never-to-be-forgotten.

Some Canadians do more than visit. They work here. Permanent staff and young Canadians greet and guide visitors at the Centre, through the restored bunkers, and on Juno Beach itself, and work on programs that tell the story at the Juno Beach Centre of DDay from a Canadian point of view.

Many of the young guides are about the same age as the 19- and 20-year old soldiers who landed on Juno Beach in 1944 - and that's by design. It helps keep in perspective how young most of those Canadian soldiers were.

Here are some thoughts and insights of Juno Beach Centre team members about their daily presence in such an important and evocative place for Canadians.

Start your Trip!

Everyone experiences travel differently, and this may be most true of historic sites. Standing on the spot where history was made is a profound experience that transcends any amount of studying, reading, watching documentaries or films. When you are actually there, the sights, sounds, perspective and your historic imagination all combine for a more meaningful understanding of moments that changed our world.

The Juno Beach Centre provides visitors today with the opportunity to visualize first-hand the WW2 DDay Landings in June, 1944, from a Canadian point of view. No matter what you thought you knew or understood coming to the Juno Beach Centre, its interactive displays, stories, interpretive tours of the restored bunkers and beaches themselves speak to each visitor differently.

It's a pilgrimage all Canadians should undertake.

BestTrip asked staff and visitors which aspect of visiting the Juno Beach Centre impacts them the most. You'll have your own favorite experience after you visit Juno Beach, too.

Start your Trip!




Top 10 Souvenirs from a Trip to Hawaii

You'll come home with a million sun-drenched memories of a holiday in Hawaii. Here are 10 mementos you can take with you.

 

ANYTHING PINEAPPLE



They may be the most common symbol of Hawaii, and you'll find pineapples, pineapple products, and pineapple motifs everywhere. Pineapples are actually native to South America, and their Hawaiian name 'halakahiki' means 'foreign fruit'.  They arrived in Hawaii in the 1500's, but it wasn't until James Dole, the 'Pineapple King' came to the islands in 1899, that Hawaii became synonymous the world over with pineapples.


At one time, Hawaii produced 75% of the world's supply. Hawaii is no longer the world's big kahuna of pineapple production. But the second most visited attraction in Hawaii is the Dole Pineapple Plantation Experience. Roadside stands sell delicious, perfectly ripe pineapples you'll enjoy during your stay, and that's where they'll have to stay. You can't take fresh fruits off the islands. But you can take candied and chocolate versions of pineapple with you – as well as an unlimited selection of items with pineapple motifs that will remind you of lazy days in the Hawaiian sun. 
 

OTHER TROPICAL FRUIT

The Hawaiian islands are America's tropical paradise, with market and roadside fresh guavas, papayas, mangos, bananas, lychees, passionfruit as well as pineapples. Like pineapples, they are not native to the islands, although bananas were one of the dozen staple crops brought on the first journey to Hawaii by Polynesians. Other tropical fruit came later and many have even gone wild, even becoming invasive in the wilderness. 


The same no-fresh-fruit in your luggage rule applies. Fresh tropical fruit juices make delicious toppings on Hawaii's favorite refreshing treat: shaved ice. And look for tropical fruit preserves to take home to relive your vacation every morning with your breakfast toast.
 

LOCAL WOOD



Sustainable local woods, especially local, fast growing and immense acacia koa are turned in the hands of artisans into both beautiful and useful memorabilia of your Hawaiian vacation. From salad tongs and bowls, fruit and nut bowls, platters, yes, even in ubiquitous pineapple styling, Hawaiian tropical wood products make a warm and heart-warming souvenir for yourself or family and friends.
 

ANYTHING TIKI



Much of the world associates tiki culture with the Hawaiian islands. Tiki culture is not actually a real 'thing', in fact, it's a mash up of elements, some real and some imaginary, of stylized elements of the Pacific tropics, like statues, sweet and complex cocktails, tropical décor including bamboo, flaming torches, brightly patterned fabrics (see: Hawaiian shirts), rattan furniture, and bead curtains. Tiki culture developed in the mid-1900's, and picked up speed with a post-war fascination with the romantic and exotic - brought home by returning US troops from the Pacific war theater and exaggerated by Hollywood. 


Now, tiki has a fun, retro vibe, and is a perfect theme for a back yard barbecue, complete with mai tai's garnished with fresh fruit and tiny umbrellas.
 

HULA GIRLS - OR GUYS

The adorably kitschy, wiggling, dash-top décor is a fun and retro memento of one of Hawaii's most powerful, unique and authentic traditions: the hula dance. Accompanied since the 19th century by western-influenced instruments like the ukulele, Hawaii's hula is a complex and ancient dance tradition, where hand movements can represent the swaying of a tree or wave in the ocean, even an emotion, along with unmistakable foot and hip movements. 


Hopefully, you'll experience a hula performance live in Hawaii. The hula girl (or guy) on your dashboard gives you fond memories and a little hipster credibility.
 

HAWAIIAN SHIRT



Channel your inner 'Magnum' or Don Ho with the modern man's loudest item of clothing, worn un-tucked and cool in the tropical heat of Hawaii. Traditional and local Aloha shirts are more muted in tones and style, and are considered formal wear locally, equivalent to shirt, tie and jacket in all except the most formal of scenarios, perfect for the local climate. The Aloha shirt is the top textile export from the islands, so you'll be in good company if you add one to your wardrobe at home.
 

ALOHA ACCESSORIES



Not everyone can pull off an Hawaiian shirt. The rest of us may have to make do with more subtle expressions of Aloha style: plumeria/ frangipani flower hair clips, and shell or silk flower leis. The custom of lei floral and leaf garlands was brought to the islands of Hawaii by settlers who made the incredible journey from Polynesia in canoes.  They've become the symbol around the world of welcome to America's 50th state.
 

MORNING JOE AND AFTERNOON TEA

The word in coffee in Hawaii is 'Kona'. Various efforts on the islands in the 19th century to grow coffee failed, but the slopes of the Kona or west side of the island of Hawaii, where sugarcane was unsuccessful, is ideally suited to coffee production. The Kona district became the center of coffee production in Hawaii and is Hawaii's coffee designation of origin; it must be grown in a two-mile-wide belt of terrain at 700-2000 feet of elevation to be labeled Hawaii's most prestigious coffee.


Kona coffee grows on west side slopes, and the opposite, east side has conditions conducive to growing tea. Tea production in Hawaii is much more recent, and growers are experimenting with black, green, oolong teas, scented with local flowers and fruits, so tea drinkers also have a local hot beverage to enjoy on island or to take home.

GET NUTTY



The pale, round and incredibly rich macadamia nut – sometimes even called the Hawaii nut - is also associated with classic Hawaiian snacks and cooking. But it, like the pineapple, originates elsewhere. Macadamia was introduced to Hawaii from Australia in the 1800's, and a local macadamia nut plantation just after WW2 helped spread the popularity of Hawaiian macadamia nuts through the US.  Enjoy them freshly roasted and take them home in cans, made into brittle, chocolates and countless other reminders of the flavor of Hawaii.

SALT



Hawaiians have been living off the land since their brave Polynesian ancestors made their way by celestial navigation thousands of miles across the Pacific. Harvesting sea salt has always been a fundamental part of island tradition, and continues today, with varieties of sea salt highlighting different flavors and unique characteristics of the areas they are harvested. The perfect foodie souvenir!
 

UKULELE

The soundtrack of any trip to Hawaii is the one-of-a-kind tunes of a ukulele. Looking like a miniature guitar, the ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of string instruments brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. The word has a whimsical meaning: 'jumping flea', thought to reflect the movement of a player's fingers. Ukulele music was popularized by the patronage of King Kalakaua in Hawaii, and it spread to the US and the rest of the world in the early and mid-20th century, along with post-war fascination with the South Seas and 'tiki' culture. Even Elvis famously played the ukulele in Hawaiian-themed performances.


You too can buy a ukulele in Hawaii, even visit an artisan workshop where they're made from traditional acacia koa, and take lessons, to liven up your next summer barbecue with the ultimate sounds of the Hawaiian tropics.
 

START YOUR TRIP!


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New Wellness Cultural Journeys from Abercrombie & Kent Enrich Mind, Body, Spirit
Run and train like a warrior with the Maasai or hike to a vantage point high above Machu Picchu.

Feed your spirit with inspiration at a home for underprivileged girls in India, or a silent alms ceremony in Luang Prabang, and feed your body with healing, Ayurvedic herbs in India, or fresh local produce at a cooking demonstration on Krabey Island. 

Re-orient your mind through guided meditation with a local teacher at Kuang Si Falls, or learn about the meaning of tribal beading traditions in Kenya.

Now you can take your commitment to your wellbeing and desire for authentic experiences in global cultures to another level. Luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent has debuted wellness-inspired journeys that immerse travelers in the local traditions of some of the world's most influential wellness cultures and practices, and provide uplifting visits to philanthropic projects where tourism directly supports local wellbeing.

Groups are limited to only 18 participants, and the pace is slower, with experiences and travel over 9- 13 days to allow you to stretch your mind, body and spirit, and linger in the deeply personal experiences. You'll stay in wellness-focused deluxe hotels, boutique lodges and luxuriously-appointed camps in one-of-a-kind locations. 


The first A&K wellness cultural journeys depart in Fall 2019, and explore the rich cultural traditions of bucket-list destinations Kenya, India, South-East Asia, and Peru. Imagine how enriched you'll feel after these journeys:

Wellness India: Ancient Traditions & Inspiring Icons
Explore India’s rich spiritual heritage, from the temples dedicated to Shiva and Lord Vishnu to the Taj Mahal. Participate in a guided meditation and bike ride through the countryside in Udaipur. Privately consult with an Ayurvedic doctor during a leisurely stay at Amanbagh. Explore the countryside of Rajasthan visiting local artisans. Visit an A&K Philanthropy-supported residential school for young girls. Spend two nights in the spiritual heart of India, Varanasi, where you stay in a former palace on the banks of the sacred Ganges, and take an evening boat ride to experience the pitru tarpana, a moving ceremony that honors the memory of a loved one.
 
Wellness Southeast Asia: Timeless Rituals of Indochina
You won't have to chose among your favorite Southeast Asian country, as the wellness traditions of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are all part of this journey. Take part in inspirational ceremonies such as a baci ceremony in Luang Prabang and tak bat, a silent food offering to local monks. Witness sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Luxuriate on a private tropical island at the new Six Senses Krabey Island. Enjoy a Khmer cooking class, spa treatment or sunset cruise. Discover the difference that clean water makes during a visit to a remote village, where A&K Philanthropy is building wells.

 
Wellness Kenya: Cultures & Wildlife
Discover tribal traditions and learn about conservation efforts on an active safari in the Masai Mara and Tsavo National Park. Hike through the cloud forests of the lush Chyulu Hills and learn about traditional warrior training from the Maasai, and wonder at game drives and your mythical surroundings during sunrise and sunset yoga. Gain a new perspective on giving back at an A&K Philanthropy-supported school and see how sustainable tourism is providing safe drinking water.
 
Wellness Peru: Spirit of the Incas
From the Sacred Valley and Cusco, discover local traditions in remote mountainside villages and working farms. Learn about a traditional Amazonian medicine, and hand-feed llamas and alpacas. Kayak in a secluded lagoon 12,464 feet above sea level and hike up to a birds-eye view of Machu Picchu. Overnight at the only property located on the ancient Incan site to explore the sanctuary at sunrise. Have your coca-leaf fortune read by a shaman.
 

Start your Trip!

 
 


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We can't get enough of the Monograms way of travel. Have someone else do the legwork while you get to have all the fun? Count us in.

All Monograms tours give guests the VIP treatment: a Monograms Local Host and driver to pick you up and drop you off when you're arriving and departing from the city (no matter how you travel – we arrived by cruise ship and departed by air); a private guided tour of the city to see the highlights and get your feet under you; a selection of experiences integral to life in Rio or any of Monograms' world-wide destinations; plus your Local Host is available throughout your stay to provide tips and advice to make sure you get the very most out of your trip.

Watch the video above to see how we got the VIP treatment on a Monograms' tour of thrilling Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It's the perfect combination of independent traveling and having an expert local friend in town.

You can even cherry-pick from a number of optional experiences and excursions to customize your visit to your own personal interests. And you didn't have to do any of that research to find or check reviews to ensure you'll have a quality experience; the local experts have already done that for you.

And here are our top picks of optional experiences in other Monograms South America tours:

Argentina Highlights

See exciting Buenos Aires and some of the natural wonders of South America's most southern country. Your local host ensures you experience the best of one of South America's most exciting cities including the grave site of Eva Peron, heroine of the musical Evita!, the majesty of the world's widest boulevard, and the vivid colours of the port area La Boca. Fly to Patagonia to the foothills of the Andes to experience some of the world's most breathtaking vistas, then further south to a glacier park UNESCO World Heritage Site to see one of the world's few advancing glaciers as it 'calves' with chunks breaking away into the water.

Don't Miss these Optional Tours: the world's sexiest dance, a traditional Tango show in Buenos Aires, and the opportunity to visit a working Argentine ranch to see authentic gauchos at work.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Click here to see our Monograms Tour of Buenos Aires and optional Tango show.

Magical Columbia

Columbia is one of the world's travel hot spots and Monograms provides you with the insider guidance and local expertise to help you see the best of Columbia in this 8-day tour. Your local host connects you with local food and colonial architecture in Bogota, and also takes you up a funicular car ride 10,000 feet up to the best view of the city. In the coffee triangle area, you'll visit a coffee farm for a tasting and exploration of the coffee production process, and enjoy views over the Andes mountains. And you'll also get a private tour of the can't-miss sites of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled colonial historic district and get an insight into the area's Pre-Columbian culture, too.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Go 600 feet underground to a Columbian pilgrimage site and architectural masterpiece, a church unbelievably constructed in multiple tunnels of an old salt mine.

Ecuador Discovery

From the Pacific coast to Amazonian tropics to the heights of the Andes, Ecuador is one of the most geographically and ecologically diverse countries in South America. Your local host helps you get a taste of it all, beginning with Quito, near the equator, with its colonial Old Town, a fascinating local market and a nearby local school. You'll get into the countryside for a visit to a highland national park, a natural hot springs at your hotel, and a plantation that grows one of Ecuador's most famous and sweet-smelling export: roses. And you'll take a mountain top train ride of a lifetime to visit Incan, sun-worshipping ruins. Your visit also packs in a cocoa plantation, a panama hat factory.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: to the Middle of the World.There's a monument in Ecuador at latitude 0 where you can literally straddle two hemispheres. It's a can't-beat photo op!

Peru Highlights

Peru's lost mountain top city of Machu Picchu is on every travel bucket list, and this Monograms tour even gives the opportunity to overnight in this mystical location. Start in Lima with a city tour with your Local Host and experience the 16th century Spanish colonial historic and modern sides of Peru's capital. After you fly to Cusco, you'll also get a guided tour that includes monasteries, ruins, an amphitheatre and a red fortress. You'll visit the sacred valley of the Incas and learn about the importance of alpaca/llamas in Inca culture as well as modern weaving and craftsmanship. Then a train takes you to Machu Picchu, the 'Lost City of the Incas' with your Local Host ensuring you see all its secrets.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Lima is home to the largest electronic water fountain complex in the world, and you won't want to miss the spectacle of the water, sound and light show in its Park.

Amazonia Voyage with Rio and Iguassu Falls

This will be 10 of the most memorable days of your life, including 3 days on a ship on the Amazon river. Monograms' Local Host takes you to Rio's mountain-top Corcovado, just like in our video. Then you'll fly to the record-breaking Iguassu Falls for a private guided tour of this 2-mile wide falls. You'll also get a private tour of Manaus' spectacular architecture constructed during the incredible 19th century rubber boom before boarding your Amazon river cruise ship where you'll experience jungle and wildlife and local river communities and their connection to the jungle around them

Don't Miss This Optional Tour: A Panoramic City Tour and Visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you more view points over spectacular Rio and its waterfront as well as one of the best cable car rides on the planet.

- Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

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5 Little-Known Facts about Africa's 'Big Five' Animals

'Safari'. It's a Swahili word simply meaning 'journey'. But for travel lovers, the word 'safari' ignites our imaginations of exploring vast Sub-Saharan landscapes and encountering majestic creatures in their natural environment .

Africa's 'Big Five' list dates from a time when human/animal encounters ended badly for the animal. The Big Five were the hardest to hunt on foot and therefore the most valued trophies.

Today, the Big Five remain essential African animal encounters on safari to capture through your camera lens. 

Here are some things you didn't know about Africa's Big Five:

Lions:

Possibly the most iconic of African large animals, this big cat is unmistakable. Lion sightings are even more impressive as lions are very social and live in groups called 'prides' so you may well see more than one at once. Although they are 'apex' predators – the top of the food chain! – they don't spend a lot of time hunting. Lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day! But when they are awake you'll know about it.  A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away! This helps communicate with the rest of the pride; calling for stray members back, declaring territory, and for females, communicating with cubs and calling for help when threatened.

Leopards: 

This famously spotted creature is the least seen of the Big Five as it's the most nocturnal. Unlike lions, leopards are not social and spend most of their lives alone. They are like the superhero of the big cats: they are sleekly graceful and almost perfectly camouflaged in the dappled shade of trees; they have excellent night vision and are incredibly powerful, able not only to regularly climb trees, but to drag prey 3 times their own weight 20 feet high into trees to protect their dinner… and they are even strong swimmers who sometimes fish! Even feline superheroes need a break, though. Leopards are known to take naps in the treetops.

 

African Elephants:

These vegetarians are the largest land animals… whose closest relatives are rodents! Elephants have shock-absorbing pads on their feet that allow them to walk much more quietly than you'd believe of such enormous creatures. They also have rather delicate skin than can sunburn and get irritated by even an insect! That's why you see elephants using their trunks to throw sand over themselves to protect against the sun and bugs. They are also avid swimmers and can swim long distances using their trunks as built-in snorkels. Those trunks also come in handy for drinking and grabbing food – even something as small as a single grain of rice. Elephants can communicate with each other across great distances by making sounds in frequencies lower than humans can hear. And these social creatures mourn dead members of their herd with rituals that can last days. 

Cape Buffalo:

Africa's Cape Buffalo has never been domesticated even though it's the only type of wild cattle in Africa. It's probably due to the danger factor. These unpredictable and aggressive animals are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other, and still kill over 200 people every year, earning them nicknames like 'Black Death' and 'Widow Maker'. Cape Buffalos use attack as their first line of defense, circling back at anything hunting them. That's a lot of rock-hard muscle and horn and surprisingly, brains coming at you. They have excellent memories, even ambushing creatures who have previously attacked them. Lions are their number one natural predator. But it will still take several lions to take down a Cape buffalo, risking the fury of the rest of the herd, which will ferociously defend and rescue fellow buffalo and kill lions who have attacked one of their own.

Rhinoceros:

The rhino is the most endangered species on the Big Five list. Poachers go to shocking lengths to kill protected rhinos, just for the horns that are said in Asian cultures to hold medicinal properties. Rhino horns are actually similar in composition to human fingernails or horses' hooves. Rhinos look fierce, almost armored, and like an immovable wall. In fact, they run much faster than you'd think – and they run on their toes! Rhinos have three hoofed toes on each foot, and they graze on leaves and twigs, just like their relatives: horses and zebras. Rhinos don't have any front teeth and use their lips to pick up their food. Much more dainty than they look.


Africa's Big Five are so much more than poster children for safari tours or wildlife conservation. They, and other unique African creatures like giraffes, cheetahs, gorillas and chimpanzees, zebras, hippopotami, birds and marine creatures, are complex, fascinating animals with beauty and characteristics incredibly evolved to this unique environment. 

Many reputable safaris and river or ocean cruise + land safaris in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia know the best places and times of the year for different wildlife experiences; some even guarantee you'll see the Big Five plus some of your other favorite African animals.

Encountering any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that transforms any traveler forever.

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Top 3 Souvenirs from Venice

Venice is not just the 'City of Canals'.  It's also always been a city of merchants, and modern Venice is a showcase for iconic Italian craftsmanship and uniquely Venetian works. 

You'll find the cheap and touristy items right alongside more expensive items that reflect traditional craftsmanship.   The Frezzeria not only leads to St. Mark's Square, it's also the city's busiest shopping street.  You'll find boutiques as well as souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones.

So leave room in your suitcase for our top shopping finds in Venice.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host, BestTrip.TV

1. Murano Glass

Less than a mile from the main city, the Venetian island of Murano for centuries has been famous for glassware.   It was a European pioneer and leader in the miraculous art of glassmaking, and Murano glass is an essential Venice souvenir. 

Although you can buy Murano glass throughout Venice, take the time to visit the island, packed with factories and some artists' studios, some of which are open to visitors to see how it's made.  You'll find some more unique pieces that appear less 'mass-market' off the beaten track.

You'll have plenty of different expressions of the glassblower's art to choose from. Among the most recognized 'Murano' glass is multi-colored, especially in bright primary colors (millefiori) and glass beads that are often made into jewelry, or even rosaries for the devout in your life. 

After you've stocked up on beads and items made from beads, it gets less easy to pack.  Glassware, vases, figurines or contemporary glass sculpture, even chandeliers, require more planning, or even better, the studio or shop to arrange shipping for you.  But I guarantee that a nice Italian prosecco sipped from a Murano wine glass at home has a taste of your travels that makes the effort all worthwhile.

Tip:  Don't miss Paropamiso on the Frezzeria.  The owner collects glass 'Venetian pearls' and also travels around the world collecting items to bring back to Venice to his shop, where he also practices the Venetian craft of threading them into jewelry. 

2. Masks

Venice may be the world's spiritual home of Carnival, a celebration of decadence in the time leading up to the fasting and somberness of the pre-Easter season.  An elaborate mask and historic costume stands in our visual memories as code for 'Venice'.  And one of the most important events of the Venice Carnival is the contest for the most beautiful mask.

Masks have become the symbol of Carnival and of Venice itself. They have been a large part of the city's culture even back to the 12th century, when historians believe being wearing masks in the streets permitted Venetians some freedom from the city's rigid class divisions. 

You may not be in Venice for Carnival, or invited to one of its masked balls. But every visitor to Venice can participate in Venice's love affair with masks.  They are everywhere and made from leather, porcelain and even – as is tradition – from Venetian glass.  You'll find masks from the cheap and cheerful for the kids or your next Hallowe'en costume, to works of art you'll want to display.

Tip: Look especially for cat masks. Venice's colonies of cats are storied, and you'll see a number of cat-themed souvenirs in Venice, including portraits of cats in Carnival costumes.

3. Fine Fashion

We're not just talking about the household name Italian luxury fashion houses. Luckily when you're in Venice, you don't have to be a member of the 1% to participate in Italy's renowned sense of style and way with traditional fine fabrics and leather.   

Top picks as souvenirs of this Italian specialty: gloves and ties, belts and scarves. Why? They are easily packable, completely practical, and utterly beautiful.  A silk tie or a pair of fine leather gloves from Venice may be the perfect gift for anyone on your shopping list from hipsters to grannies… and of course, yourself.

Tip: For ties and scarves, look no farther than Trevisan on St. Mark's (San Marco) square. Displays resemble a silk rainbow with dizzying subtleties – this blue, or this blue or this blue? you will ask yourself.   In spite of its proximity to the tourist center of Venice, prices are remarkably sensible, so you may not have to pick between your favorites.  The store also sells other accessories for men and women.

Sermoneta is like a candy store of gloves, with over 5 dozen colors for any occasion: driving gloves, winter, fur-trimmed gloves, elbow length evening gloves, in various types of leathers.  They say it takes 10 artisans nearly 30 steps to make each pair and yet they are still reasonable enough to gift yourself and your favorite stylish loved ones.

A pair of sky blue or tangerine orange kid gloves will brighten dreary winter days for any woman (or confidently stylish man).  Add a silk tie from Venice to a gentleman's suit and it will instantly up his fashion game in an indefinable but noticeable way. Plus earn the wearer compliments and questions about where such a glove or tie of beauty was discovered.

Ah, Venice. More and more Mediterranean cruises embark, disembark, or have overnight calls in the City of Water, and group, small-group, or private tours give you the opportunity to experience one of the world's most extraordinary cities.  Let us help you find the perfect way for you to travel to Venice.

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A night time market in the grounds of a castle. Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens.

Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type... Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany. And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all.

You can explore a number of Germany's best Christmas markets on itineraries of seasonal river cruises as BestTrip.TV did.

Not to mention the delightful Christmas markets in other countries along the Danube like Austria, as well as France, Italy, Spain and the UK.

So it's not just river cruises; escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries. You can get your fill and fill your bags with iconic local Christmas tastes and treats, as well as other local all-season gems. A child will never forget the handmade wooden toy you picked up in Germany. Or the signature Christmas chocolates from the Netherlands. Grown-up loved ones will cherish the hand-made 'santon' ceramic figurines of everyday life in traditional Provence that the French use in their nativity scenes. Or the ever-popular local wine from, well, anywhere in Europe.

We know families who have made a trip to a famous Christmas market a family gift. All members of a family, from grandparents, parents, single aunts and uncles and every kid ever! find joyful memories together at a European Christmas market.

We love the idea of celebrating the season with travel, and Regensburg's Romantic Christmas Market - or any European Christmas market visit will warm anyone's heart.

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Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.