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Travelers on a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

January Trip Ideas: Traveler Reviews to Inspire You

The wide array of places that are great in January may surprise you.  If that’s your time frame for a trip, take inspiration from your fellow travelers’ reviews of their favorite January trips—to locales as varied as Italy (even including Sicily), Scandinavia for the northern lights, Belize for a more affordable Caribbean vacation, Colombia for a sunny getaway for food lovers, Australia (where January is the height of summer), and the list goes on.

These travelers all booked their trips the WOW way: Their trips were optimized for the month of January by the local fixers on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts (and those whom we are testing for The WOW List).  You’ll find even more ideas in the January installment of our Where to Go When series, and you’ll find more traveler reviews here.

Unsure where to go in January? Click the black button below for our help.


Italy for art and history in the cultural capitals

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

To avoid crowds (and take advantage of post-holiday sales) in Florence, go in January. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I had an amazing trip to Italy in January! Jennifer had everything so well planned out it was one of the most stress-free and special trips we have taken. We spent two weeks in Italy, splitting our time in Florence, Milan, and Rome. We specifically chose January because the crowds would be less, and they were. It was the perfect time to go for us. Not hot or crowded.

She gave us ideas of things to see we were not aware of, such as touring the outside of the cathedral in Milan from the top. Touring the Borghese Gallery in Rome. Lunch at the special winery on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius near Pompeii. And touring a private museum in Florence where we saw original drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci and the cartoon by Raphael he did for the School of Athens painting.” —Kim and Kevin Cronin

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Portugal for beautiful landscapes and seascapes (yes, in January!)

Wanchee Lowe

Sunset at the Pousada de Sagres on Portugal’s Algarve coast in January. Photo: Traveler Benjamin Lowe

“My husband and I went to Portugal for a week in mid-January, spending two nights in Cascais (near Lisbon), then four nights in Sagres in the Algarve, and the last night in Lisbon. Gonçalo gave us good suggestions of where to go. We told him we were interested in photographing land and seascapes, especially during sunrise and sunsets.

Patricia on Goncalo’s team booked pousadas for us because we like the historic nature of the accommodations and our rooms overlooked the ocean and we could see sunsets from our rooms in Cascais and Sagres. Free breakfasts were included in all our lodgings. She arranged a rental car and accommodated our request for a hybrid car. She also booked a full day of palace and castle tours in Sintra with a private driver and guide. In Lisbon we also did a private half-day walking/food tour, which she arranged.” —Wanchee Lowe

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Costa Rica for a combo of relaxation and outdoor adventure (and cooking lessons!)

Travelers at the cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys, Costa Rica.

Geralyn, Elise, and Rob Westervelt loved their cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys.

“My husband and I, both in our 60s, wanted a vacation that combined relaxation with outdoor activities, culture, nature, adventure, and eco-friendly accommodations. We began planning with Irene who asked many questions to customize our trip. Mid-way through planning, we added our 26-year-old daughter to the trip and Irene seamlessly made the adjustments.

We visited three locations during our 8 night stay. This pace allowed just enough time in each location. Our guide, Pablo, and driver, Jenkins, met us at the airport and brought us to our first location, the Arenal Volcano area. Our activities here included a sloth visit, hike up the volcano, and our two favorite experiences, a cooking class with Dona Mara and a cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys. These are not to be missed!

Irene arranged for transport to our next location, the Senda Monteverde Hotel. We had a night walk and hanging bridges tour. With each activity, we were impressed by the vast knowledge of the guides. My daughter is in her last year of veterinarian school and she had in depth conversations about animals and ecology with many of them. We were also very pleased that every transport was punctual and safe! Our final destination was the beautiful Manuel Antonio area. The plan was to relax here, but we found ourselves hiking, zip lining, and taking a sunset tour of the property!” —Geralyn Westervelt

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Colombia for “a beautiful climate” and a peaceful vibe that’s “far from the world’s chaos”

You’ll find serenity at Hacienda Bambusa in Colombia’s coffee country. Photo: Ryan Damm

“We traveled to Colombia as two couples who were well-traveled and anxious to learn, visit, and immerse ourselves into a new destination. It was snowing here in New York, and Colombia has a beautiful climate. Boris and his team planned us a wonderful trip. We started in Medellin for three nights, where we saw great street art and learned about cacao and the complicated past of this country. We also visited a magnificent orchid and hydrangea farm. From there we moved on to the coffee area, which is lush and peaceful. Bambusa is a small, quaint hacienda where we felt far from the world’s chaos.

On to coastal Cartagena, and the pace quickened with lively streets and great restaurants. We ended in Bogota, where we could have used another two days. Bogota is cosmopolitan and rich in history, art, and great restaurants. We really saw a huge cross-section of Colombia, and the hotels were all different and well-chosen. We felt very safe and educated during our stay, and I would highly recommend Boris to any traveler with a thirst to explore and learn.” —Bobbi Malzman

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Paris for having museums (and chefs and fashion designers) to yourself

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“Our trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre. Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide: Our private half-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic!

Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers, and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners, and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.” —Kim Brown

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Antarctica for otherworldly adventure but with all the creature comforts

Travelers celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

Barbara and Larry Schoenfeld celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

“We told Ashton that we wanted a small ship with top-notch scientific experts on board. I was hyper-focused on the potential for unpleasantness crossing the Drake Passage. Comfortable cabins and good food wouldn’t hurt. And, we were not very flexible with travel dates.

Ashton quickly produced a short list of recommendations, despite the availability constraints due to the surge in demand for travel to Antarctica. We sailed on the Seabourn Pursuit. It is a luxurious new ship and is outfitted with stabilizers, which softened the rocky ride across the Drake. While in Antarctica, there were two excursions via Zodiacs daily—usually involving a hike on land or an island. They included walking among penguins and seals, floating among jaw-droppingly beautiful sculptural icebergs, traversing the rim of a caldera, and seeing ruins of former explorers and whalers.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Belize for a Caribbean vacation that combines jungle, beach, and culture

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

Travelers Salena and Allen Kern during lunch with their WOW List trip-planning expert Patricia Johnson

“My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Belize and Patricia. And we were off…. Patricia recommended a few places to stay, and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize. Both resorts were beautiful but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

We climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee ‘factory’ amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures.

On our first full day, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. And Patricia met us there for lunch.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost, as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism.” —Salena Kern

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Tahiti and Bora Bora for a boat charter and the ultimate beach resort

Hammock in a beach in Tikehau, Tahiti

French Polynesia is great for snorkeling, diving, birding, or just relaxing in a hammock. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of six adult children and a four-year-old grandchild recently returned from a trip to Tahiti (December 29 to January 12) organized by Kleon. Kleon did such a good job getting quotes for various options from chartering a boat to picking out the best resort for our family for the week stay. The Conrad Bora Bora Nui was perfect for this holiday adventure with the entire family. My husband and I added a five-night stay at The Brando, which was an incredible resort, especially for the privacy, the beautiful units, and numerous activities offered there. The most unique travel experience was observing 80 or more baby turtles being released twice during our stay at The Brando.” —Carol Powell

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Peru for adventures at Machu Picchu and in the Amazon

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“My granddaughter and I just returned from our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie. This trip’s primary objective was the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Our base in the Sacred Valley was the Sol y Luna Hotel. Could not have asked for better accommodations. We visited many Inca sites. We also had a day of whitewater rafting. The Urubamba market is open twice a week, so we took the opportunity to shop with the locals. Being the new year, the flowers were aplenty, yellow, a color of note to the Peruvians at New Year. The highlight of the trip was Machu Picchu citadel. Pictures do not do it justice. The vastness of the site in the clouds and the river far below. It was beautiful!

On New Year’s Eve we had good intentions on staying up to ring in the new year, but Allie had other plans, gratefully and thankfully. The next morning we returned very early to the citadel. Allie was able to obtain tickets for Huayna Picchu. Tickets are in a limited number. We were very fortunate, as many people are disappointed when they find out tickets are not available. Allie had procured ours well in advance. My granddaughter climbed Huayna Picchu, also known as ‘the stairs of death,’ an experience she will never forget.

We returned to Cusco for a day, then it was off to the Amazon. Our flight was followed by a 45-minute powered canoe ride to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco lodge and our home for the next three days. We had a riverside cabana on the Madre del Dias River. In the mornings, we could hear howler monkeys and other unknown critters. It was the rainy season, so we had rain and thunderstorms daily. The weather did not hamper our activities, actually the weather was part of the experience. Although we had a twilight boat excursion and jungle canopy walks, our highlight was fishing on Lake Valencia. We went piranha fishing, followed by a shore lunch.” —Jim Stock

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Dubai for perfect weather for desert safaris

Bernirene Ramos

Bernirene Ramos and friends in Dubai’s Heritage Desert.

“Our group chat was called, ‘Dubai, Here We Are!’ Nick planned my ‘ladies’ trip,’ from accommodation to our daily itinerary. January was the perfect time. It was sunny, low-mid 80s during the day and low 70s in the evening. It was Dubai’s winter season, therefore popular sites were not crowded. We were able to capture great photos without being blocked by others.

We were in Dubai for 7 days and we made every day count. The itinerary was well coordinated to cover all the amazing ‘must-sees’ and still allowed for daily free time. We had to switch our visit to Abu Dhabi to a different day because of a last-minute intel of a private event at the Qasr A Watan. And, we wanted to add a couple of ‘must-sees and photo-ops’ during our trip. Nick was able to rearrange our schedule and coordinate with our tour guides seamlessly. It worked out perfectly. He was accessible 24/7. We were taken care of from the time we disembarked the plane at arrival to the time we departed Dubai. Our drivers were great, tour guides were knowledgeable, friendly and fun to be around. We did the Heritage Safari Desert trip on our last day. It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip! Thank you Nick!” —Bernirene Ramos

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Norway for the northern lights (plus dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saunas)

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Alta, Norway, is one of the best places for spotting the northern lights in January. Photo: Shutterstock

“Truly a trip of a lifetime. My family of 4 (me, my husband and two adult boys) went to Alta where we went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights. In Oslo we went on a very interesting architecture tour. The highlight was relaxing in the lodge sauna after a day spent snowmobiling and getting called by the lodge staff to come outside to watch the northern lights!

The staff at all of the places Torunn and Mari sent us to were exceptional and would go out of their way to provide assistance. We can’t wait to go back sometime in the summer now and see the same location again.” —Neha Vyas

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Panama for the legendary Canal and an “amazing” private-island resort

Bungalow of a private resport in Panama.

An eco-friendly private-island resort, Isla Palenque is located on Panama’s Pacific coast. Photo: Isla Palenque

Pierre organized a great trip to Panama for us—two 60-plus-year-olds who were looking for some cultural moments as well as some serious relaxation. We started in Panama City and with Pierre’s guidance organized our vacation dates around a fascinating partial transit tour of the Panama Canal, which is only available a few days each week. We also enjoyed our visit to the Embera indigenous village, especially the boat ride to the waterfalls. I was worried that this might be exploitative, but the tours are run by the Embera themselves. Lunch of fish and plantains in a palm leaf was delicious.

Our city tour the next day was hindered by the fact that it was a national holiday, but Pierre’s team came through and organized a hike to the top of Ancon Hill for great views over the city and a visit to the fish market, with lunch. Our hotel, La Compania, in the old city was amazing, and Pierre wisely booked us a courtyard room to avoid the street noise. We loved being in the old city with its restaurants, bars and ambiance.

We then enjoyed the relaxation part of the trip, six nights at the amazing Isla Palenque. This very small resort where everybody knows your name was everything we wanted: peaceful, beautiful, great food and drinks. When we felt the urge to move a bit we went hiking in the rainforest, kayaking and did an island-hopping trip with snorkeling and lunch on a deserted beach that was wonderful.” —Christine Zufelt

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Australia for Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

The Bengtzen family on a private yacht at Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

The Bengtzen family spent a day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef from a private yacht.

“New Year’s in Australia had been a dream of mine since I was 14. We began in Sydney, where we stayed at the Shangri-La hotel. It gave us an amazing view for the fireworks, which were absolutely incredible. It was perfect for us and our adult kids to watch and not have to fight the crowds.

From Sydney we went to Hayman Island in the Whitsundays islands. This was a one-of -a-kind experience. From here we were able to have a private snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef—both the inner and outer reefs. Restaurants on the island were fantastic, and the beach is heaven. From Hayman we went to Noosa, where we had an incredible experience kayaking on the ocean. The shopping and food were wonderful and gave us a great end to our trip.

None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t found Wendy Perrin and her referral of Stuart. Stuart and Jacki then took our dates, our family info, and planned a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us. I cannot recommend them enough.” —Keri Bengtzen

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Sicily for meeting “wonderful people” over archaeology hikes and culinary experiences

Mt. Etna, Sicily.

Mt. Etna stands out from a dusting of snow in winter. Photo: Pixabay

“While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castelbuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa dell’Acqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortigia to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb.

Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a volcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nave Winery for a tour, wine tasting, and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found every day during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.” —Barbara Gross

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Sri Lanka for an exotic (yet affordable) island with welcoming people and delicious cuisine

Travelers surrounded by village kids on their Tea Trail hike in Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter meeting village kids on a Tea Trail hike.

“We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka planned by Miguel. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon.

Miguel ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Our driver, Thissa, could say, ‘Let’s stop and see that bird,’ or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Miguel had us stay in wonderful places, including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Chile for Patagonia’s unique nature and wildlife

Travelers on a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

Bill Livingood, Lynn Woodhouse, Sandra Quinn, and Stephen Thomas walk through a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

“My husband, two friends and I have just returned from our trip to Chilean Patagonia, and once again, we were in the expert hands of Maita and her team. We began with a 3-night stay at the Singular Patagonia, outside of Puerto Natales. What a stunning and unique small hotel in a gorgeous setting overlooking a fjord. One wall of our room was a window onto the fjord and the activity of so many birds. We loved our bird-watching excursion there. With our great guide, we spent literally the entire day hiking through forest, pampa and the wetlands, spotting 41 species of birds. When we got to the end, and were pretty spent, our guide and driver served wine, water, tea, lentil soup and cheese, sausages and crackers. That certainly refreshed us. We enjoyed an afternoon empanada class and an interesting trek to three different caves. The Singular is definitely worth the stay.

From there, we drove to Tierra Patagonia, just outside Torres del Paine National Park. Magnificent view from our huge window in our room!!! We seized the opportunity for multiple excursions, as well as enjoying massages in the spa, taking a swim, and braving the wind for the outdoor hot tub. We saw lots of wildlife, wildflowers, stunning sunsets, and on our last morning, the entire dining room was abuzz when we saw a puma saunter across the property in front of us.

We spent our last night in the Singular Santiago, our second stay there, and it is a lovely hotel in a great location. Before our departure for the US, we had an extraordinary WOW Moment: Maita and team had arranged a cooking class and dinner with Tatan, a chef who hosted us at his home overlooking the city and mountains. He was gracious, interesting, and charming. We began with luscious appetizers on the balcony, and moved to the kitchen where he had organized work stations and assignments for each of us as we made ceviche and pisco sours. In addition to having fun, we learned new cooking skills. Gary, our escort to the airport, had to drag us away as we enjoyed our meal and delicious cheesecake on the balcony. With Tatan and Gary, we learned more about life in Santiago and Chile. By the end of the evening, we had begun questioning whether this trip, our third to Chile, would be our last, as we learned more about other places and things to do.” —Sandra Quinn

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Finland for the northern lights and other Arctic adventures (ice fishing, dogsledding…)

The cozy and warm Glass House Suite at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finland.

Between outdoor adventures, Michael Ruma warmed up in his Glass House Suite. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and, with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh, who created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

We hopped an easy flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our Glass House suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood-burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! Intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up and hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the Arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky.

Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. On our last day in Helsinki, we splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do. Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.” —Michael Ruma

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam and Cambodia for blow-your-mind history, street food, and Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat

It requires careful planning to have Angkor Wat to yourself like this. Photo: Traveler David Wertheimer

“Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Sopisith prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations. Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!) There were multiple ‘wow,’ bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.” —David Wertheimer

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

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The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

How to Never Wait in Line at a Tourist Attraction Again

Why waste your precious vacation time battling crowds and waiting in lines? Popular tourist sites the world over grow more congested every year and, sadly, the typical fixes—reserving an entry time, booking a “skip-the-line tour”—are not always a good solution. So I thought I’d share the best fixes I’ve found.

Reserving a time slot might make sense at an indoor museum (I wouldn’t show up at Rome’s Borghese Gallery or Florence’s Uffizi without one), but not necessarily at an outdoor monument. When I go to Paris, for instance, I want to hit the Eiffel Tower on a sunny, clear day; what if my entry time, reserved weeks in advance, coincides with rain and fog? Furthermore, I want to take my kids to the Louvre on a rainy day; what if I book skip-the-line tickets for what turns out to be a gorgeous day that we’d rather spend in the Jardin du Luxembourg? As for “skip-the-line tours,” aside from the fact that you can end up herded around in a big group with an annoying guide, they’re often not what they claim to be. A skip-the-line tour of the Vatican might get you past the ticket-buying line but not the security line. I’d rather be one of the handful of travelers who gets to eat breakfast at the Vatican and see it before it opens to the public.

By far the best way I’ve found to avoid crowds and bypass lines is to book your trip through the right travel fixer—someone who knows every insider trick at your destination and can leverage his/her superlative relationships there on your behalf. Such destination specialists can get you into sites at off-hours when they are empty and even into places that are off-limits to the public. The right person can get you past the mobs at Angkor Wat or ensure a crowd-free sunset at the Taj Mahal. You can even have Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia all to yourself. These Trusted Travel Experts can, in fact, arrange an entire trip that spares you from every line. And all you need to do is show up.

But if you prefer to D.I.Y. your trip, here are strategies that have worked well for me:

Find out if there’s a side or back entrance.

Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History

To avoid long lines, try an alternative entrance, like through the Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo: ©AMNH/D

Sometimes there is an alternate entrance with a shorter line or none at all. In Paris, my family entered the Louvre via the Porte des Lions and saved ourselves from an hour-long line at the Pyramid entrance. At the Museum of Natural History in New York City, if there’s a line at the Central Park West entrance, you can enter via the Rose Center for Earth and Space or via the 81st Street subway station.

Go at sunrise.

A lot of people assume sunset is best, but at many outdoor iconic monuments—Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Mount Sinai in Egypt, Petra in Jordan—sunrise is better. You get equally great light for photos but fewer crowds to spoil them. Sunrise is better for seeing neighborhoods too. In popular destinations that are touristy from 9 am till midnight, it’s from 6 to 9 am that you can see the locals living their everyday lives—green grocers opening their stalls, kids going to school, fishermen delivering their catch to the fish market, etc.

crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France

Visit museums on a night they’re open late and you’ll likely avoid mobs like this one, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Go at night.

Not all landmarks are accessible at night, but those that are are usually worth seeing at that time. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for instance, is beautifully lit and especially poignant at night. Park rangers are actually there to answer your questions until 10 pm. Remember that world-class museums are usually open on at least one night of the week. London’s Tate Modern, as just one example, stays open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Eiffel Tower admits visitors until midnight in summertime—and sparkles at night too.

night skyline of Washington DC with Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument and Capitol building

Some famous attractions, like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. are more beautiful at night—and less crowded. Photo: Pixabay

Take the stairs.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower. Photo courtesy Tim Baker.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower elevators—which we skipped by taking the stairs. Photo: Tim Baker.

I’m no athlete, but I’ve climbed to the tops of dozens of bell towers, fortresses, palaces, and cathedrals, and I am here to tell you that the effort has always been well worth it, not just because of the views but because the great majority of visitors don’t make it there. Sometimes the journey itself is a highlight. If you’ve ever followed the circuitous, increasingly narrow route into the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you know what I mean. My family saved at least two hours at the Eiffel Tower by climbing the 670 steps to the second floor and taking the elevator from there to the top, rather than waiting in the scary elevator line at the base.

Buy the right pass.

aerial view of Venice Italy and surrounding water

Venice, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

Some cities sell city museum passes that let you bypass the line. For instance, the Paris Museum Pass and the Vienna Pass let you skip the line at dozens of museums and monuments in those cities. If you don’t need a multi-day museum pass because there’s really only one museum you want to see, sometimes you can buy a combination ticket for just three or four related museums (the world-famous one you want to see, plus other lesser museums you’re not interested in). Buy the combo ticket at one of the lesser museums with no line, then use it to skip the line at the museum you want. For example, in Venice, a ticket to the four Museums of St. Mark’s Square allowed me to skip the line at the Doge’s Palace.

Arrive at the visitor center before it opens.

World-famous sites with visitor centers tend to attract a lot of tour buses. You want to arrive long before they do. At Gettysburg, for instance, be the first inside the Museum and Visitor Center when it opens at 8:00 am (April 1 – Oct 31). If you have no reservation for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, get there before it opens at 7:00 am because that’s when tickets for that day are available on a first-come first-served basis.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia

WOW Experience: Sunrise Ceremony with Cambodian Monks

sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley Cambodia
After our private ceremony with the temple's monk, we watched the sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley. Photo: Billie Cohen
young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia
A young monk prepared a special water blessing for us at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Cambodia. Photo: Billie Cohen
beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom outside Siem Reap Cambodia
Another beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom. Photo: Billie Cohen
temple painting at Phnom Krom pagoda outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The pagoda was painted with intricate medallions. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap are more than a thousand years old. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom Cambodia outdoor shrine
The Phnom Krom mountaintop complex is dotted with statues and shrines. Photo: Billie Cohen
buddha statue with monks and a banyan tree at Phnom Krom temple in Cambodia
A statue of Buddha sits under a real-life banyan tree. Photo: Billie Cohen
tamarind juice and lotus yogurt breakfast in Cambodia
My favorite parts of our picnic breakfast: tamarind juice, lotus and bean yogurt, and croissants. Photo: Billie Cohen
pink lotus flower in a field near siem reap cambodia
Bright pink lotus flowers stood out in a field of green, outside Siem Reap. Photo: Billie Cohen


Travel often involves a lot of running around. In an almost compulsive effort to see, do, eat, and experience as much as we possibly can, we go all out, nonstop. But on one wonderful morning in Cambodia, I was reminded of the immeasurable value of sitting still. And, ironically, it took one of the most accomplished travel planners in Southeast Asia to make it happen. Sandy Ferguson has lived in Asia for most of his life and he’s been planning people’s trips throughout the region for more than four decades. Maybe that long-lived experience is what helps him think past the usual sightseeing checklists and identify the intangible wonders that his longtime home has to offer. It’s definitely what helps him know where to find them.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special-access opportunities you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Sandy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

A sunrise meditation at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Siem Reap. The early-morning drive to the temple takes you through a lovely village, then up a winding road to a hilltop overlooking the Tonle Sap Lake and miles of fields. The temple complex includes pagodas, terraces, some working buildings used by the monks, several statues and artworks, and the preserved ruins of a ninth-century temple, similar to what you’d see in Angkor, but in a very different (and very tourist-free) context.

The Where and When:

Phnom Krom Pagoda is about a half-hour drive outside central Siem Reap. The experience is available year-round; since sunrise is generally the same no matter when you visit (around 6am), you’ll be picked up at your hotel at approximately 4:30am.

The WOW:

I am a frequent solo traveler. I like to explore by myself, at my own pace, and on my own schedule. But by no means am I a solitary traveler—I talk to everyone: The gentleman scooping my gelato in Locarno, the young woman running a wool shop in Lisbon, the ticket taker at the La Chaux-de-Fonds history museum, the playful little kids from Dubai in my train car, the Azerbaijani family on the funicular at the Reichenbach Falls. I’m a sponge, and my main goal (and joy) when I travel is to soak up everything else and everyone else.

So I admit I was a little nervous about the morning activity Sandy Ferguson recommended for me during my stay in Siem Reap: meditating with the monks of a historic temple at sunrise. He met the former abbot of this mountaintop temple back in 1989, very soon after tourists were first even allowed into Cambodia, and it’s one of the exclusive experiences he’s able to offer as a result of such relationships (which he’s developed extensively in Asia over the years, in addition to all his family and friends). His excitement was contagious, but nevertheless I was daunted. Sure, watching the sun come up over the valley of the Tonle Sap Lake after a morning of meditation sounded lovely in theory, but I was already feeling my legs twitch and my restlessness get the better of me. How long would I have to be silent for? What if I couldn’t sit still for the whole time? And I have to wake up when?

Despite my trepidation about our 4:30am pick-up time, I ended up feeling wide awake as the car drove through the pre-dawn darkness. Around us, Siem Reap was silent and unmoving; it was such a rare view of a destination that is usually buzzing with people and activity.

When we arrived at the hilltop complex, the early morning was still dark, and inside the pagoda, all was quiet. A young monk was already kneeling on a rug in front of a giant golden Buddha statue, waiting for us next to a pile of fresh flower petals and a bowl of water. The scene was beautiful, serene, and also a little thrilling. The world hadn’t woken yet, but here we were on top of a mountain. We settled ourselves on the rug and, through our guide’s translation, learned some background about the monks’ lifestyle and traditions, how to sit for meditation, and about the upcoming water blessing ceremony, meant for purification and good fortune. And then it was time. The monk showed us a few options for how to arrange ourselves comfortably and what to do with our arms and legs, and we began.

You know those times during a trip when you’re hyper-aware that this is a moment and you know you should try to imprint every detail on your brain so you can remember it forever? That’s what was going through my mind as we crossed our legs and closed our eyes and tried to concentrate on our breathing. Of course, the pressure of the moment was exactly what kept popping my eyes open; I was so eager to look around, to take in the murals on the painted walls and the shapes of the statues, to observe my fellow travelers, to watch the intriguing young monk who yawned once or twice himself. I had so many questions about what I was seeing that I spent the first few minutes just cataloging them in my brain so I could ask them afterward; there was so much to see and learn that shutting my eyes seemed (to the reporter in me) like a waste of an opportunity. And then my guide caught me with my eyes open, and I felt like a kid who’d disobeyed the teacher. He smiled knowingly (he must see this stubbornness in so many of his guests) and gently motioned for me to try again.

So I did. Honestly, my compliance was more out of duty and respect than anything else, but as my eyes finally relaxed and breath finally steadied, I became more and more surprised by what I’d been missing:

I heard the roosters crowing outside.

I sensed the growing lightness in the room as the sun rose.

I heard the shuffling of my fellow meditators as they too struggled, and I felt a kinship with them.

I felt the stillness of our leader who despite his very young age had so much more practice at this.

I felt my head clear and my breath even out, and for a brief second, I allowed myself to let go of the constant pressure to experience everything. A pressure I didn’t even realize I was putting on myself so heavily.

When I opened my eyes, I was refreshed—and no one was more dumbstruck than I. Because somewhere in that pre-dawn temple, as the sun rose through the windows, I realized the gift I’d just been given: the opportunity to simply stop. On a trip where I’d done nothing of the sort for weeks on end, this was a pretty powerful revelation—a reminder to experience the destination around me, rather than trying to wring an experience from it. I laughed to myself, because obviously Sandy knew this.

Once we completed the meditation, I sat in wonder as the monk intoned a blessing, sprinkled each of us with water and flowers and tied a string around our wrist while he chanted in Pali, the language of Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism. The string, which is traditional throughout the region, is a way to take the monk’s blessing with you, to remind you of it no matter where you are. “Everything that comes out of the temple is designed to be a blessing,” Sandy explained to me later. “Whether they’re feeding people or teaching people, that’s the prime drive.”

The sun had started to come up, and we strolled outside and around the complex to watch the sun rise and enjoy a picnic breakfast next to thousand-year-old temple ruins. From the hilltop we could see all the way to the horizon—field after field after field, dotted with villages that were now waking up below us.

As we drove back through the now-bustling village, we saw residents preparing food and decorations for a wedding, and we stopped at a lotus field to admire its hot pink flowers. That afternoon, we returned to our more active pace of sightseeing, but the peacefulness of the morning never left me. I’d been given an uncommon glimpse into a key part of Cambodian culture, and a reminder to slow down enough to truly experience it.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience is organized exclusively by Sandy Ferguson, who is one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia; you can read his Insider Guides to Southeast Asia, to Bangkok, and to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and the Best Beaches, and read reviews by travelers who’ve used him to understand the caliber of trips he arranges. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits, request your trip here.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Have Angkor Wat To Yourself: A Cambodia WOW Experience

Angkor Wat is the most famous of Cambodia's temple—the park is named for it, after all—but it's usually the most crowded and, in my opinion, it's not even the most interesting. With ABOUTAsia, we got to see several temples off the beaten path. Photo: Billie Cohen
Barely another tourist was in sight when we began our day of temple visits. Photo: Billie Cohen
Ta Prohm—alone! Photo: Billie Cohen
We entered Ta Phrohm through this little-used gate, and avoided pretty much everyone else. Photo: Billie Cohen
Kanha helped us understand what we were looking at, which made us appreciate it that much more. Photo: Billie Cohen
Another tourist-free temple. Photo: Billie Cohen
We stopped for a picnic breakfast amid a garden. Photo: Billie Cohen
Fresh croissants, fruit, tea, and juices. Don't miss the tamarind juice—very refreshing in the heat. Photo: Billie Cohen
The view from the top of Ta Keo. That's Kanha in the tan shirt at the bottom, and just one other guide with a few visitors. Photo: Billie Cohen
Bayon Temple, one of my favorites. Photo: Billie Cohen
Pheakdey picked a fresh mango right off the tree for us. It was much juicier and sweeter than the ones we get in Brooklyn! Photo: Billie Cohen
Rice, beans, and coconut are baked inside a bamboo shoot. When it's done, you peel back the bamboo and enjoy! Photo: Billie Cohen
The journey to Villa Chandara, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The journey to Villa Chandara includes an oxcart ride and, when the weather cooperates, a boat trip. When I visited, the area was suffering unusual drought conditions, which meant I couldn't take the boat trip, but the oxcart was fun. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara dining, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Thanks to all that open space, the sunset at Villa Chandara is stunning. The fields were pretty brown when we visited due to the drought, but this is what it usually looks like. Photo: Ethan Crowley, ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara private circus performance, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In addition to a musical concert, your Villa Chandara experience might include a circus performance. Ours did not, but I was convinced to check out the Phare circus on another night and was blown away—do not skip it. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel


Angkor Wat is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, which also means it’s one of the most crowded. But you don’t have to battle your way through this bucket-list experience with the more than one million visitors who converge on it each year. There is a better way: One of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia has figured out how to avoid the worst crowds of the Angkor Archaeological Park. Now, that’s a bold claim but, as I found out when I tested this WOW Experience myself, it works like a charm.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special experiences you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Andy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

Touring Angkor temple complex without the usual onslaught of tour groups and noisy crowds that ruin the monument’s majesty, not to mention your photos.

The Where and When:

Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 20 minutes outside of the small Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The 150-square-mile park includes the famed Angkor Wat temple, but also dozens more—dating from the 9th to 15th centuries—that are just as magnificent, and in varying states of preservation.

Our Trusted Travel Expert can accommodate you whenever you visit Siem Reap, but for the best chance to have some temples all to yourself, he recommends visiting between late May and early September, during the green season. As he explains in his Insider’s Guide: “Sure, it rains two days out of three, but the mornings are almost always sunny and bright, with rain clouds gathering toward the late afternoon; get out of bed early to explore when Cambodians are most active ahead of the midday heat, and you’ll enjoy far fewer crowds and vibrantly green rice paddies.”

To be fair, I road-tested this WOW Experience outside that recommended window, toward the beginning of May, which was still very hot as the rains had not yet started. The temperature inside our comfortable air-conditioned SUV was kept in the cool 70s, but the outside temperature was well above 100. As a result, my timing wound up as both the best and the worst for being in Siem Reap. It’s hot and sticky, but it’s much less crowded. Cold bottled water and icy washcloths kept us cool enough, and the occasional juicy mango picked fresh off a tree kept us energized.

The WOW:

Andy Booth is an Oxford-trained physicist who found an incredibly logical and fool-proof way to tackle the challenge of touring the megapopular Angkor complex: He used science. Andy founded ABOUTAsia, a travel firm that has earned a coveted spot on The WOW List, and his team periodically collects data on the number of tourists visiting each temple at various times of year in order to ensure that ABOUTAsia guests can find sweet spots of solitude and quiet. Those sweet spots are very rare things, considering that Angkor is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions—so popular, in fact, that in 2017, authorities nearly doubled park admission prices in an attempt to control the crowds and imposed strict rules for dress codes and behavior (because the hordes of visitors wearing short shorts and carrying selfie sticks were taking too many liberties). You can therefore imagine the immeasurable value of spending your day with an experienced guide who knows exactly how to avoid all moment-spoiling bus groups.

Our guide to the temples, Ms. Kanha, was wonderful, warm, funny, and full of information—along with interesting personal stories. Private guides make the experience at Angkor Wat (yes, any tuk-tuk driver can take you around for about $25, but to transform the piles of ancient rocks into living history with connections to past kings and current events, you need a well-trained guide). Kanha smartly had us enter one of the most popular temples, Ta Prohm, first thing in the early morning (we got picked up at 6:30am), knowing that the crowds peak there later in the day—and she took us in via an alternate entrance so that even if we did encounter other people, we’d be touring the temple in the opposite direction. Astonishingly, we nabbed photos of the temple’s famous wall-straddling giant tree roots with no one else around, and we didn’t run into any group until we were more than halfway through that temple. From there, Kanha led us to various other beautiful temples, some literally off the beaten trail, where she illuminated artistic details and architectural themes that served to differentiate the structures from one another (all those ruins can blur together after a while) and to link them together into a story that reflected not just Cambodia’s history but the history of Southeast Asia too. At most sites we saw only a handful of other tourists, and at one little-visited monastery, Ta Nei—accessible by an offshoot path you have to know about to find—we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Even for Angkor Wat itself—the park’s main attraction, which we visited on our own on another day—Kanha had insider tips for us: what time to get there for sunrise, which side of the walkway to sit on for the best views, which direction to turn once we entered the temple so that we’d beat the queue to climb the central spire’s staircase, and what spots to view first so that we’d skirt most of the noisy tourist flock.

On the second day of our tour with AboutAsia, we saw an entirely different Cambodia. Leaving behind any other tourists and the usual sites you’d expect to see here, we were instead granted access into the local lives of the area’s farmers, out in the countryside not far from Siem Reap. We visited a family home where we sampled a tasty bamboo-rice-and-bean snack the kids were cooking in an outdoor oven; we ate juicy mangoes picked fresh off a tree; we bumped along in an oxcart through a farmer’s dusty field; and all the while, we got to know another excellent guide, Pheakdey, who grew up not far from there and could pepper the day with his own personal stories and experiences.

We ended the day feeling like royalty, watching the sunset at ABOUTAsia’s private villa Chandara, a traditional home overlooking green fields. Here, a private chef prepares a gourmet multicourse meal, while musicians serenade you with traditional Cambodian instruments. The dinner party can be enjoyed privately, ABOUTAsia’s general manager Ethan Crowley had told me earlier, but sometimes guests enjoy pairing up with other ABOUTAsia travelers. We dined alone due to scheduling, but it was easy to see how a slightly larger dinner party could be a fun and fulfilling end-of-trip experience: You’d get the chance to talk with other travelers about the amazing things you’d seen and done during the week, swapping stories and experiences over cocktails and good food—a little going-away soiree to send you back home in style.

How to Make it Happen:

Such experiences are customizable to your specific interests and are available through Andy Booth, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia, whose trips start at $400 per day for two travelers. Read Andy’s Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get special benefits, request your trip through our site.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Great Wall of China

Rookie Travel Mistakes to Avoid in Asia

Rookie travel mistakes happen more often than you think. In the excitement of preparing for a long-dreamed about escape or a last-minute getaway, even the savviest of globetrotters can forget the basics. A common one is not thinking about the best time of year (or time of week) to experience a destination; another is failing to allot enough time to visit each point on your itinerary. To be sure you don’t fall into any traps (tourist or otherwise) during your own adventures, we asked our Trusted Travel Experts to weigh in on the most important things to know—and the most common rookie mistakes to avoid—when traveling to China, Japan, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

What would you add? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.


Expecting idyllic white-sand beaches. Bali’s beaches are mostly too rough for swimming (but good for surfing), and the quieter ones have little or no sand. I listen carefully to what every client is looking for in a beach—and tell them if they’re better off in the Caribbean. —Diane Embree, Trusted Travel Expert for Bali

Read Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali


Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan. Photo courtesy Antonia Neubauer.

Not knowing that there is only one east-west road in the entire country, meaning that every tourist (and there are many, despite what anyone else says) who is not trekking is driving back and forth along that same road. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Bhutan and Nepal

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Bhutan


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo courtesy Molly Fergu

One big rookie mistake that travelers make is assuming you’ll ride through the jungle on an elephant and “discover” Angkor Wat! It’s best to be realistic that this is a major international destination and plan accordingly. You can avoid the crowds and have a more special experience if you get an early start and begin at the back entrance to Angkor Wat, or visit lesser-known temples. If you head in unprepared, you’ll be in the middle of packs of tourists and you won’t really get to see anything. —Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to Angkor Wat and Cambodia


Dragonback Rice Terraces, Guangxi, China

Dragonback rice terraces, Guangxi Province. Photo courtesy Lian Lodge.

Seeing only the famous sites, such as the Great Wall and the Terra-cotta Warriors. China has so much to offer, and major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are only a slice of the entire country—and an overdeveloped, crowded, and sprawling one at that. I urge you to spend from five days to a week focusing on a lesser-known province, such as Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, or Guangxi. Visit some smaller villages, enjoy the beauty of terraced rice fields, and get away from the most popular places and the wonderful diversity of the culture will come to life. —Mei Zhang, Trusted Travel Expert for China

Read Mei’s Insider’s Guides to China’s Big Cities and Small Villages, Yunnan Province, and Beijing

Cruising in Asia

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar.

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar. Photo courtesy the Cruise Professionals.

A rookie mistake is planning to board the ship the same day you fly into port. You’ve probably booked an Asia cruise because you want to pack a lot of destinations into a single trip—so why waste your time and money spending the first few days of your itinerary jet-lagged? Even if the ship spends the first night in its departure port, arrive a few days early so that you can properly acclimate (and not risk missing the ship due to airline or weather delays; Hong Kong in particular can get fogged in). —Mary Jean Tully, Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises

Read Mary Jean’s Insider’s Guide to Asia Cruises

India: Agra

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India. Courtesy Sanjay Saxena

A rookie mistake is forgetting to buy tickets to the Taj Mahal in advance. Tickets are not sold at the entrance: The ticket office is actually located in the East Gate parking lot about a mile from the monument entrance. Tickets to the Taj may also be purchased at any of the other monuments in Agra—but be sure that the date stamp is for the day that you will be visiting or is an open-ended ticket. —Sanjay Saxena, Trusted Travel Expert for India

Read Sanjay’s Insider’s Guides to Delhi and Agra and the Taj Mahal

India: Rajasthan

Amanbagh, India

Amanbagh, India. Photo courtesy Amanbagh

Travelers to India—and especially to Rajasthan—love to shop for fine jewelry because the prices are so good, but you need to go somewhere reputable, otherwise you may be sold glass instead of diamonds. (One of our favorite shops is the Gem Palace in Jaipur.) —Bertie and Victoria Dyer, Trusted Travel Experts for India

Read Bertie and Victoria’s Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan


Monk and flowers, Nepal.

Monk and Flowers, Nepal. Photo Courtesy Toni Neubauer

Not paying attention to altitude gain when trekking! People like to believe they are immortal and want to rush up mountains, but they need to study the rules for altitude acclimatization and follow them carefully. Altitude sickness is no joke. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Nepal

Sri Lanka

Sunset in Tangalle

Sunset on a beach in Tangalle.

Sri Lanka looks small on a map, but it can take hours to get from place to place, and there are definite no-nos. For instance, don’t try to travel from Kandy to Yala National Park in one day, or from the Cultural Triangle to the beaches of Tangalle, or from Jaffna to Colombo. On the map (and on Google Maps), distances and approximate travel times are misleading. Sri Lanka offers great diversity and looks like you can tick all the boxes in one week—you can’t. If you want to speed things up a little, try flying on certain segments. Two local operators offer scheduled flights around the country: Cinnamon Air and Helitours. —Miguel Cunat, Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka

Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka


Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Visiting Bangkok first. This sprawling metropolis of some 18 million people can be overwhelming, so I don’t recommend it for your first encounter with Thailand. It’s much more enjoyable to recover from jet lag someplace relaxing and traditionally Thai, such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Sukhothai. By traveling upcountry (or to the beach) first, you’ll experience traditional Thai culture, have time to acclimate to the time zone, and appreciate Bangkok much more when you visit it at the end of your trip. —Sandy Ferguson, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Sandy’s Insider’s Guides to Bangkok, Southeast Asia, and Thailand

Uzbekistan and The Silk Road

Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand. Photo courtesy Zulya Rajabova.

Some travelers opt to fly from one Silk Road city to another, and there is a high-speed train from Tashkent to Samarkand, but travel by car is most rewarding. There are many cultural, architectural, and archaeological treasures to find outside the main cities, as well as rural villages to visit, the ancient towns of Jizzakh Province, local bazaars, and amazing photo opportunities. —Zulya Rajabova, Trusted Travel Expert for Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

Read Zulya’s Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan


Do you have tips on avoiding rookie mistakes? Share your advice in the comments.