Tag Archives: China

Hangzhou west lake with Banyan tree and boat

What Travel in China is Like Right Now

Until the end of China’s zero-Covid policy last spring, it was difficult for travelers to enter the country. As soon as China opened back up, Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang booked flights to spend six weeks there, visiting her staff, family, and friends. We called Mei, now back home in California, to hear how her summer trip went. Here’s what travelers should know about China right now:

Prices are lower than you’d expect. Rates at luxury-brand hotels in China have long been cheaper than comparable properties elsewhere. Add to that the strong dollar and the absence of inflation in China, and the result is far less sticker shock than travelers are finding these days in Europe. For instance, rooms at the Mandarin Oriental Beijing are going for about $600 this fall, while rates at the brand’s sister hotel in Paris are usually more than $2,000 during the same period.

More flights are coming. Nonstops between the U.S. and China have been slow to resume, which has significantly increased fares. More flights are coming this fall, which will lower prices. We’ll update this article as airlines announce new routes.

The country’s high-speed train network is vast. With so many cities now connected by high-speed rail, travelers seldom have to endure domestic flights or long drives. Mei reports that the new trains are clean, spacious, and keep to the schedule; you can even order take-out food from a restaurant near the next station and it will be delivered right to your seat.

Dragonback Rice Terraces, Guangxi, China

Li-An Lodge sits atop the “Dragon’s Backbone” rice terraces in Guangxi Province, China. Photo: Li-An Lodge.

Many UNESCO World Heritage sites are becoming more accessible. Four new spots in China have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in the last five years, bringing the country’s total to 56. A lot of these natural and cultural wonders are in remote locations, but an increasing number are accessible from the 4-star hotels that are expanding deeper into China’s countryside.

The Great Wall of China.

A savvy trip planner will send you to a quieter section of the Great Wall than the spots that most tourists visit. Photo: Shutterstock

Covid is an afterthought for most locals. Mei was surprised to find that masking was less prevalent in China than it was at home. Also gone are the widespread quarantines that made news when China was enforcing its zero-Covid policy. (These days, China and most other countries do not have specific isolation requirements for travelers with Covid.)

Most financial transactions now happen digitally. It’s hard to pay for anything in China these days with cash or even a credit card. Travelers must be comfortable adding their credit-card information to a mobile-payment app like WeChat or AliPay.

U.S. travelers are warmly welcomed by locals. Relations at the top levels of government may be frosty, but the geopolitical tension isn’t reflected in person-to-person interactions. Indeed, Mei believes travel is the best way to bridge the divide between the two countries. Her English-speaking guides—who have waited for more than three years now in hopes that travel would pick back up—are quick to go above and beyond for the first wave of travelers who are eager to visit China.

Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang in China's Yunnan Province in summer 2023.

Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang sussing out the situation in China’s Yunnan Province this summer. Photo: Marina Zhang

Mei will be back in China next spring, doing field-study work for the PhD she’s pursuing through Berkeley. She will be inviting a small group of travelers to meet her for three days of hiking in Yunnan Province (where Mei grew up), to hear how development in the region has affected the culture and environment. If you’re curious to see China right now with your own eyes—or even join Mei there next year—click on the button below.



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The Best Trips to Book in April: What to Lock in Now




Whether you’re still trying to figure out your summer travel plans, have already turned to fall, or are starting to think about next spring (many bucket-list trips need to be booked a year in advance, after all), we’ve gathered here a handful of memorable options for your next trip. These are the trips you should be booking in April if you want to experience nature’s greatest marvels and cultural extravaganzas at their best possible moments.

(Don’t miss the rest of our series on what trips to book in each month of the year. If you prefer to know which destinations are ideal for traveling to in any given month, see our Where to Go When series, and don’t miss our comprehensive guide to the benefits of booking early.)

Belize: Lobsters and Last-Minute Deals

Belize fisherman showing off his fishing catch on a dock, giving two thumbs up

“Scuba Steve” on the opening day of lobster season. He speared all this himself! Photo: Rachael Wilson

For: June 2019

June is the start of Belize’s slower season, which means that there are often great deals to be had: four nights for the price of three, free resort credits, and the like. Furthermore, lobster season opens up on June 15 and there are countrywide celebrations that include fishing tournaments, live music, and lots of dancing. We even know how to get you a lobster-cooking master class with one of the country’s most acclaimed chefs.

Why book in April? These last-minute deals usually appear four to six weeks prior; start planning now so that you’re ready to snap them up immediately.

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Morocco: A Surprising Hot Spot for the Holidays

camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Wendy and family on a camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

For: December 2019 and January 2020

Most people don’t think of Morocco as a holiday destination, but December 20 to January 5 is the tippy-top of high season there: Top hotels get sold out months in advance, rates are higher, and most properties in Marrakech have four- to six-night minimum stay requirements.

Why book in April? Last year, our Trusted Travel Expert was already having trouble finding holiday availability in May. Book now to ensure your spot.

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Patagonia’s Beautiful but Short Summer

For: December 2019 through February 2020

Southern Patagonia combines jaw-dropping scenery, an edge-of-the-earth vibe, and luxurious lodges better than anywhere else. Luckily, this landscape isn’t just for the uber-fit: Options range from easy day hikes to multi-day backcountry treks—and unlike higher-altitude trails in the Andes and the Himalayas, the only thing taking your breath away will be the views.

Why book in April? Patagonia has a very limited weather window and relatively few beds. After April, availability at the big-name lodges and authentic Argentine estancias during these popular summer months will be hard to find. (You might also consider the shoulder seasons of November and March, which see pleasant conditions and fewer crowds.)

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Northern Peru’s Archaeological Wonders—with Special Access

The ruins of Kuelap, Peru

The walled settlement of Kuelap, Peru, was built in the sixth century. Photo: Aracari

For: August 2019

Explore some of northern Peru’s most interesting hidden gems—including the seat of the oldest civilization in the Americas and the highest tropical mountain range in the world—with Trusted Travel Expert Marisol Mosquera as your guide. Thanks to Marisol’s connections, you’ll be hosted by archaeologists studying significant pre-Inca ruins, witness ongoing excavations, step behind the scenes in a museum, dine in a private home, and visit artisan workshops.

Why book in April? Right now, there are seven spaces left on this special journey, and Marisol is offering a 10% discount on the land costs for WendyPerrin.com readers.

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Portugal’s and Spain’s Less Crowded Shoulder Season

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon is getting even closer, thanks to new direct flights. Photo: Shutterstock

For: October and November 2019

While the Iberian peninsula has become so popular that you’ll find foreign visitors there well into fall, the locals have returned home by then, making the crowds a bit more manageable. Plus, the summer heat has subsided but the days are still long and the sun is shining. In Portugal, smart travelers stay at one of the spectacular hotels just outside Lisbon and Porto, so that you can enjoy the cities but retreat to a place of tranquility at the end of the day. In Spain, Andalusia is absolutely idyllic in fall.

Why book in April? The most prized hotels are already nearing full occupancy for the autumn months. Moreover, the Alhambra has changed its ticketing policy, making reservations increasingly limited, and complicated to arrange; book now to ensure that you get the date and time you prefer.

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Ireland’s Autumn Sweet Spot

landscape view of green fields in Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Ireland

Ring of Kerry, Killarney. Photo: Jonathon Epstein

For: September and October 2019

Autumn hits the sweet spot in Ireland, when the summer crowds have left favorite sites such as the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry—but the fine weather remains. And there are fun events taking place too, such as the Galway Oyster Festival and the Cork Jazz Festival.

Why book in April?  Ireland is extremely popular among travelers right now, so you have to book early—even for travel during the shoulder season—if you want dibs on the most well-connected guides and prime rooms at the most atmospheric hotels (a lake-view room at Aghadoe Heights Hotel, say).

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Antarctica’s Prime Season

travelers in red winter coats rowing a zodiac boat amid floating ice and glaciers of Antarctica

There is a short season when travelers can visit Antarctica. Photo: Expedition Trips

For: November through early March, for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons

As with Patagonia, there is a short season when travelers can visit the White Continent, and a limited number of ships capable of making the journey. Whether you are hoping to experience Antarctica at its most pristine early in the season, see fluffy penguin chicks up close, or search for whales as the sea ice opens later in the summer, there are excellent options still available for both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.

Why book in April? Airfare to South America increases as the season approaches—and high-demand cabins sell out quickly—so April tends to be a sweet spot with moderate airfare and good availability. Some departures still have early booking incentives available, too.

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One of Mexico’s Most Colorful Festivals

people parading in Oaxaca street for La Guelaguetza, one of Mexico's most colorful festivals

La Guelaguetza, in Oaxaca, is one of Mexico’s most colorful festivals. Photo: Journey Mexico

For: July 2019

One of Mexico’s biggest and most colorful festivals, La Guelaguetza takes place in Oaxaca on two different dates in July (this year, it’ll be on July 22 and 29). The celebration, also known as Los Lunes del Cerro or Mondays on the Hill, includes traditional dances, music, parades, art, costumes, and folk tales from the indigenous people who make up nearly half of Oaxaca’s population.

Why book in April? Tickets for the festival go on sale in May; if you get the dates of your trip and your hotels nailed down now, you’ll be ready to snap up event tickets as soon as they’re available.

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Norway’s Breathtaking Fjords (and Slightly Lower Prices)

The Reinefjord in Lofoten. Photo: Andrea Giubelli - Visitnorway.com

The Reinefjord in Lofoten. Photo: Andrea Giubelli – Visitnorway.com

For: mid-May to mid-September 2019

Norway’s fjords are iconic for good reason: These deep valleys, cut by glaciers along the country’s western coast, combine gorgeous landscapes with picturesque little fishing villages. You can cruise into the fjords, and go hiking and biking along their edges. The flowers and waterfalls are most impressive in the spring, while mid-June to mid-August usually sees the best weather (and nearly endless days). From mid-August to mid-September, the leaves start turning, and prices can be lower too.

Why book in April? There are only a few top-quality hotels in the fjord region, making it hard to find an available room for peak season if you wait until after Easter to book. The savviest guides get booked first as well.

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China: A Place to Hike Off the Beaten Path

Yading Nature Reserve—in Sichuan Province, China—is full of beautiful mountains, monasteries and autumn views. Photo: Raymond Ling

For: October 2019

Sichuan Province’s Yading Nature Reserve is full of turquoise lakes and holy mountain peaks that are the beautiful backdrops for invigorating hiking and camping. It has been home to Tibetan monasteries for more than 800 years, but the area wasn’t familiar to the outside world until the first Westerner to visit published his photographs in National Geographic in 1931 (which some think were the inspiration for the “Shangri-La” depicted in James Hilton’s explorer classic Lost Horizon). Today you’ll find isolated mountain temples, lamaseries, and Tibetan towns. In October, the red, yellow, and green trees form a particularly dazzling autumnal vista.

Why book in April? Although Yading Nature Reserve is still off the beaten path, it’s becoming more popular with domestic travelers. Book now to ensure you’ll have the best hotels and highest-caliber guides to help you take in your own slice of serenity.

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Canada: A Polar Bear Safari

polar bear reclining in Hudson Bay in Churchill, Canada,

Hudson Bay in Churchill, Canada, is one of the best places to see polar bears in the fall. Photo: Jennifer Santoyo

For: October and November 2019

Every fall, the shores of Hudson Bay in Churchill, Canada, transform into a polar bear kingdom as the mighty mammals make their annual migration to the sea ice. There is no other place on earth where humans can see so many polar bears so easily. Experience the thrill of wildlife watching from the safety of a customized polar rover.

Why book in April? The window for polar-bear viewing in Churchill is narrow and demand is high; book now to claim a spot before they sell out.

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India’s Fascinating and Famous Pushkar Camel Fair

camel wearing colorful decorations in front of a tent at Pushkar Camel Fair india

The Pushkar Camel Fair in India draws tens of thousands of camels and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Photo: Billie Cohen

For: October and November 2019

One of the most magical festivals in a country with a calendar full of them, the Pushkar Camel Fair is a spectacle of livestock trading and religious observance, with tens of thousands of camels and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in attendance. The event ends on the full moon (November 12 in 2019), and villagers start arriving en masse about ten days prior. This year, our Trusted Travel Expert has a professional photographer leading a tour to the festival, ensuring that travelers will bring home shots worthy of that spot above the fireplace. The best time to visit is November 6-9, when the focus is on animal trading and you can stroll the bazaars.

Why book in April? The bottleneck for Pushkar is the limited number of good-quality hotels and tented encampments in the area. If you wait until May, you’ll likely be stuck in poor-quality accommodations that are quite far from the action.

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Zambia: The Highest Density of Leopards in All of Africa

An aerial view of Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia. Photo: Lower Zambezi National Park

An aerial view of Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia. Photo: Lower Zambezi National Park

For: November and December 2019

When Mfuwe Lodge’s wild mango trees ripen in November and December, entire families of elephants walk right through the lobby to snack on the fruit. Mfuwe is located in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, which also has the highest density of leopards in all of Africa and is home to immense populations of other wildlife, from wild dogs to lion and unique antelope species.

Why book in April?  During April only, our Trusted Travel Expert can get you five nights at Mfuwe for the price of four, and a highly discounted rate for a private guide and vehicle. It’s an offer that’s available only to WendyPerrin.com readers, so be sure to use Wendy’s trip request form.

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The Netherlands: Cruising through Tulipmania

a field purple tulips in bloom at Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens Netherlands

More than 7 million tulips bloom at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. Photo: Keukenhof Gardens

For: April and May 2020

Spring is tulip time in the Netherlands, of course, and one of the best ways to see the colorful display is via a barge slowly cruising the country’s canals. You’ll stop at Keukenhof Gardens, where seven million bulbs are in bloom, as well as in the canal-ringed city of Delft (once home to the painter Johannes Vermeer), and you’ll pass many of Holland’s iconic windmills set amid the photogenic spring landscape.

Why book in April? Only two of the barges plying the canals of Holland live up to our Trusted Travel Expert’s high standards, and the season is short—so you need to book early to reserve your cabin.

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empty street in Paris during coronavirus lockdown

What Lockdown Is Like in Other Countries: Life During Coronavirus

As travelers, we’re curious about how people go about their daily lives in other countries. Thanks to our Trusted Travel Experts, I’ve gotten to milk cows with a farmer in Colombia, prepare dinner with a family in India, craft pottery with a Mayan woman in Belize, and watch my son draw alongside an artist in Vietnam.

Those travel experiences seem like distant memories as I navigate week two of sheltering in place here in California’s Bay Area. But it’s made me wonder: How are people around the world handling our new normal?

So I reached out to some of our Trusted Travel Experts, spread as they are across the globe, for their perspective on life in the time of coronavirus.

In Istanbul: Earl Starkey

“They closed all 60,000 mosques in Turkey for daily prayers, and they are disinfecting everywhere. The only panic buying was on kolonya, which is an alcohol-based antibacterial that people use here. Every night at 9:00 pm everyone goes out on their balconies and applauds all the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in Turkey. Here we generally kiss each other on the cheek—even men do it. I wonder if I will go back to that after this is over. I have been through so many disasters recently in Turkey, with terrorism, bombings, and coups, that this just feels like one more thing. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel right now, but I am happy to be riding this out in Turkey.”

In Rome: Jennifer Virgilio

“All we have open are supermarkets and pharmacies. If you go out, you have to wait outside the store, take a number, stand one to two meters away from each other, wait until they call you. They give you alcohol to wash your hands, and then they give you gloves to wear. Normally Italians do not show flags of their country like Americans do, but now flags are flying everywhere. I think it’s a great symbol of unity and pride while we all get through this. At 6:00 pm one neighbor blasts his Italian music, which is lovely—especially when he plays Volare. We’re doing lots of WhatsApp aperitivos, like we would normally do in person, and Whatsapp playdates with our daughter’s friends. We’re eating as a family, which is something that we didn’t normally do, because we had such different work hours. Week one was really fun. Week two has had a downward feeling. I have some friends who live alone; they’re struggling with loneliness. Overall I think the Italian government has done a good job, but some of my friends would disagree with me. They say that the government hasn’t kept us upbeat, they haven’t been there for us mentally. It’s hard to keep people upbeat when the reality is that they don’t have the capacity at the morgues, hospitals, and cemeteries in the north. I started doing Italian lessons again. It’s something I’ve put off because I’m always too busy, so now is the time to do it. I heard a man on the Italian news say that our parents and grandparents were called to war, whereas we’re being asked to watch Netflix. It’s not that hard. The air quality in Rome is amazing. Nobody is on the roads anymore. The more we look at these things as positive, the better.”

Rome during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Jennifer Virgilio


In Hangzhou, China: Fann Feng (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang)

“Hangzhou was one of the first cities to respond to the virus. They had people guarding every local community and wouldn’t allow you to go out, but they would give you some daily supplies. After the first week, they started to give permission for one person from each family to go out every two days to buy supplies. In China we are used to following the government’s restrictions or advice. Normally I would be in Beijing, going to the office every day. It’s been two months that I’ve been working from home. One thing that many people did to pass the time during the quarantine was to watch the 24-hour live-stream of construction of the two temporary hospitals built in Wuhan in late January. We also had eight museums offering live-streams of their collections. A lot of the younger generation got through it by playing online games with their friends. Every night some people would sing together on their balconies, even do opera together. Now the restrictions are gone. Most cities have zero new cases. The schools are discussing a plan to reopen. When I first came home [for Chinese New Year], there were no cars on the streets. Now there are small traffic jams. I kind of missed the traffic jams! Now some of the tourist sites, parks, and museums are open, but you need to make an appointment in advance, and only a certain number of people are allowed in.”

very few people in a shopping mall in China during the coronavirus outbreak
"I went to a shopping mall in late Feb, I think. At that time, you needed to wear masks and show your ID card and “green code” if you wanted to enter into the parking lot and the building. In the picture, people who are in yellow coats are the delivery men, some of them didn’t stop working even during the outbreak peak, as there are quite a lot of people who still need help buying daily supplies and medicine. All of the restaurants at that time, if they were open, they could only do to-go and the restaurant staff would pack everything, put the bags on the table at the entrance, and then have the delivery man take it away. And also they would attach a piece of paper on the bag, noting the temperature of people who made the food, who packed the food and who delivered the food." Photo: Fann Fang
checkpoint barrier at the entrance to a local village in China during coronavirus
"I ran into this local village shutdown in China during the beginning of the quarantine, using one priceless opportunity of my family’s to go out of our apartment. I was going to pick up something from my mom’s friend, so I went to their village, and saw the guardians. They would only allow the villagers enter, so I had to call my mom’s friend to come to meet me by the entrance." Photo: Fann Fang
Chengdu Airport on January 30 with masked, fully suited person waiting to do screenings of travelers in line
Chengdu Airport on January 30. Photo: Fann Fang


In Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Zach Rabinor

“AMLO [Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador] is telling people to kiss and hug each other, as per the norms in our culture. But there’s been a lot of leadership at the regional level; our governor here in Jalisco is a very progressive, visionary guy. The schools are closed, but there are no government rules restricting movement. The volume of people on the street has slowed in the last few days. I’m looking out on the main thoroughfare; instead of nonstop traffic, I see one car every minute. I just watched an excursion boat head out with 100 people on board, though. We are largely not leaving our home, but I’ve been taking my sons to surf breaks where nobody goes. Spending quality time with my family is the clear winner in this situation. We’re allowed to grieve the loss of social interaction. This crisis is showing the fissures and weaknesses and hollowness of our society. I’m confident we’re going to come through it stronger.”


In Paris: Andreas Eberhart (colleague of Trusted Travel Expert Jennifer Virgilio)

“The center of Paris is really rather calm, with very little traffic. The post office and courier companies are doing deliveries. The butcher, bakery, as well as supermarkets are open. Every evening at 8:00 pm Parisians go to the windows and balconies to applaud the people that are continuing to work on the frontline for the rest of us: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, cashiers at the supermarket, or our baker close to home. In the 9th arrondissement there is an opera singer, Stéphane Sénéchal, who every evening sings a song that her elderly neighbors will enjoy. The Opéra de Paris is live-streaming a few of their past shows. We are all being taught a very hard lesson here: We all take our lifestyles for granted. It’s time to come together as humans, politicians, and countries so we can fight this war all together. Stay home, self-quarantine, spend quality time together, read a book, help your neighbor in need, get creative and call [don’t visit] your grandparents. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we get the virus contained and can start traveling again, with a new perspective on life.”

Paris, during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Andreas Eberhart


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Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro; at Uluru, Australia

Where to Travel in 2018

There are so many exciting, beautiful, relaxing, delicious, educational, awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping, perspective-shifting places to see—and so little time. That’s why we’re here with our annual list of recommendations for where to go next. The following places are worth seeing in 2018 for reasons that range from blockbuster events and noteworthy anniversaries to the fact that they’re at that delicate tipping point between buzz-worthy and overrun. See them before the tourist hordes beat you to it. No matter where you decide to roam this year (and you’ll find additional ideas here, based on which month you can get away), we wish you safe and extraordinary travels.


Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Romania turns 100 years old in 2018, a centenary marked by cultural celebrations that will give travelers even more reasons to explore this underrated but increasingly popular country dotted with 13th-century villages and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mark your calendars for the Transylvania Film Festival (May 25–June 6), the Full Moon Horror & Fantasy Film Festival (August 10–13), or the annual Electric Castle music festival (July 18–22). Be sure to make time for Romania’s other homegrown activities, such as hiking in Central Europe’s largest forest or watching artisans ply their craft using the same tools and techniques used for centuries.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Romania trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Puebla, Mexico

Museo Internacional del Barroco, Puebla City, Mexico

Museo Internacional del Barroco, Puebla City, Mexico. Photo: Journey Mexico

This charming colonial city has been on savvy travelers’ radar for a while now, what with its fresh crop of sophisticated hotels (including a Rosewood and a Cartesiano) and tourism improvements such as a sightseeing cable car and a train connecting Puebla City to Cholula, where you’ll find trendy new eateries and pop-up markets that give that town a Oaxaca vibe. All of this is on top of Puebla State’s historic and cultural legacy, born from its UNESCO World Heritage monuments, its internationally renowned cuisine, and its beautiful pottery. Most visible on the city’s undamaged skyline is the undulating white façade of the new Museo Internacional del Barroco, which houses exhibitions about the artistically rich (though often underrated) Baroque aesthetic of the 17th and 18th centuries—a period that had a major influence on the look of Puebla City itself. If you’re thinking that the 2017 earthquake made all of this irrelevant, we’re happy to report that you’re wrong: The museum withstood the quake, and so did this resilient city, where hotels remained open, reconstruction began immediately, and tourism rebounded quickly. Get there soon before everyone else realizes it’s ready for them.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Puebla trip possible, contact Mexico travel specialist Zach Rabinor through our site. Here’s why.


Adelie penguins jumping in to sea in Antarctica

Adelie penguins dive into the water in Antarctica. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

New and improved Antarctica voyages are on tap for 2018, with upgraded ships, cutting-edge itineraries, and program enhancements. The tricked-out World Explorer will debut in 2018 with classic Antarctic peninsula itineraries but with the new option to fly there directly from Chile rather than brave the choppy Drake Passage by water. The recently refurbed 114-passenger expedition vessel Hebridean Sky will offer kayaking, camping, and a citizen-science program for families. For those looking for even more unusual routes, Le Boreal and Le Soleal will venture to South Georgia Island and the Falklands, and the Silver Explorer will journey to those destinations plus the rarely visited South Sandwich Islands.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the Antarctica expedition cruise best suited to your specific trip goals and needs, contact Antarctica travel specialist Ashton Palmer through our site. Here’s why.

Angra dos Reis, Brazil

boat in the water Angra dos Reis, Brazil.

Angra dos Reis, Brazil. Photo: Pixabay/gabrielvannini

Many Brazilian elites own beach homes two hours from Rio in Angra dos Reis, which is known for its beautiful coastline. The bay has more than 300 islands covered in Atlantic rainforest, many of them uninhabited, with picture-perfect beach coves and very calm emerald-colored waters. The reason more travelers don’t go to Angra dos Reis is that, until now, there has not been a hotel of the same caliber as the beach homes for rent. That’s about to change, with the opening of the Fasano Angra dos Reis in early January. The resort will have 54 suites—all with sea views—plus an 18-hole golf course, two restaurants, and nightlife options. It will now be easier to combine Rio and Angra dos Reis into one quick trip that introduces you to both Brazil’s energetic urban vibe and its blissful beaches.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Brazil trip possible, Ask Wendy. Here’s why.

Parma, Italy

winding colorful street in Parma Italy with biker on it

Parma, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Yes, this is where the famous ham comes from. But prosciutto di Parma is not the only reason to go. Parma is in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, where you can find the best of what Italy’s pantries have to offer, including Parma’s Parmigiano Reggiano, Modena’s balsamic vinegar, and Bologna’s egg pasta. A trip to Parma is delicious anytime, but in 2018 you’ll be able to sample its culture via the Festival Verdi, an annual opera series dedicated to the maestro, who helmed several of his most famous productions in Parma. This year’s fest will showcase four rarities, including an early ‘comedy,’ the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth, and Le Trouvere, a rewrite in French of one of his most popular works, Il Trovatore. “You can pair all of it with a plate of the finest Culatello di Zibello, torta fritta, and a glass of bubbly Lambrusco to fulfill an Italian opera-food-lover’s nirvana,” notes Italy travel specialists Maria Landers and Brian Dore, who are opera singers in addition to being Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Emilia-Romagna trip possible, contact Maria and Brian through our site. Here’s why.

Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

For years it was just another Baltic cruise port—one overrun with tourists and not that interesting. Thanks to recent investments, Gdansk has new hotels (the stylish Puro is already open and two four-star properties are on their way), trendy restaurants (Piwna47 and Mono Kitchen are standouts), and three new museums that have put its rich and complex history back at center stage. The Emigration Museum shares stories of Polish émigrés all over the world, especially to the U.S., while the Solidarity Center focuses on the struggle for freedom and democracy in Poland and beyond. “The collection is very interactive and not just a bunch of names and dates,” points out Gwen Kozlowski, an Eastern Europe travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List. “Poland somehow creates super-interesting museums like this (such as the Warsaw Uprising Museum, Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews).” This curatorial talent is demonstrated particularly well at Gdansk’s third new museum, the World War II Museum—where, for example, a kids’ section shows the same Warsaw apartment on the day WWII started, one year later, and toward the end. The Museum garnered a lot of attention when it opened in March 2017, as much for its exhibits about Gdansk’s former life as Danzig, the contested “free city” where Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and started WWII, as for the current Polish government’s role in trying to dictate how that history is portrayed. “Gdansk is now much more than souvenir shops, mediocre pierogi, and amber jewelry stores,” says Gwen. “It’s a city that should be on your radar.”

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Poland trip possible, contact Gwen through our site. Here’s why.

Northeastern France

WWI war cemetery in Verdun, France

Verdun, France. Photo: Pixabay

November 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of WWI, which will be commemorated across Europe. But Northeast France is where the Armistice was signed—at the Clairière de l’Armistice in Compiegne—so that’s a good place to include in an itinerary focused on “The War To End All Wars.” Verdun is a must, so you can see where the largest and longest battle on the Western Front was fought between the German and French armies. Today, you can walk through the fort and what’s left of the trenches, comparing the beauty of present-day farm country with wartime fields that were so heavy with shells that it made the mud bounce. Other stops might include the Museum of the Great War, in Meaux, which has Europe’s largest collection of artifacts from WWI; the open-air Montsec American Monument, which features a bronze relief battle map of military operations in that area; the Thiepval Memorial, which pays tribute to the thousands of missing soldiers of the Battle of the Somme; and the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon: It’s the largest American cemetery in Europe, not far from the 200-foot granite American Memorial that commemorates the U.S. army’s victory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best France trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Hoh Xil, China

Wild horses in Hoh Xil, China

Wild horses in Hoh Xil, China. Photo: Wild China

Out in China’s western province of Qinghai, Hoh Xil remains one of the last untouched natural landscapes on Earth. This plateau, which is the largest and highest in the world, was just named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a smart time to see it because foreign passport holders can now visit the edge of the national park with an exclusive permit. Be among the earliest adventurers to explore this wilderness—home to more than 230 rare species of animals.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best China trip possible, contact China travel specialist Mei Zhang through our site. Here’s why.

Uluru, Australia

Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro; at Uluru, Australia

Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro at Uluru, Australia. Photo: Mark Pickthall

Iconic Uluru and its ancient outback landscapes are perennial traveler favorites, but now is a compelling time to move them to the top of your bucket list. Travelers to Australia’s Red Centre will now be treated to something special at Ayers Rock: internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light installation. The rock and the surrounding Red Desert were the original inspirations for Munro’s sprawling outdoor artwork, after a visit in 1992, and this iteration (which was supposed to close in March 2018 but was just extended to 2020) is the most expansive in all the years since—a carpet of 50,000 solar-powered stalks illuminating the landscape.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Australia trip possible, contact Wendy here.

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

The Monteverde Cloud Forest, in the mountains of northwestern Costa Rica, is a lushly biodiverse reserve that nature lovers like to spend days exploring. For years the hotel and restaurant options in the town of Monteverde were limited, making it a destination for backpackers and die-hard naturalists only. But recently a range of new places to stay and eat have opened. Monteverde now has several local craft beers, galleries where you can meet the artists, and local artisanal chocolate. Visit now before it becomes overcrowded.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best Costa Rica trip possible, contact Wendy.

Tbilisi, Georgia

aerial view of Tblisi Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Georgian Tourism Ministry

It’s quickly becoming Eurasia’s creative and cultural center of cool. In fact, it’s hardly under the radar anymore, what with magazines reporting on its annual Fashion Week (Vogue wrote that Georgia is where the world’s best knitwear is being woven these days) and Anthony Bourdain touting its food and drink (Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world). “At the turn of the 20th century, Tbilisi was a vibrant capital city that attracted artists, musicians, writers and travelers, and it has now returned to its roots,” explains Zulya Rajabova, a travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW List for Central Asia, where she grew up. “It began with the lure of fabulous food and wine, and now this relatively untraveled city is attracting more and more visitors.” Go while you can still get tickets to the city’s annual jazz and art festivals, sample its more than 500 varieties of wine in peace, or stroll its curving cobbled streets without being overwhelmed by parades of tour groups.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get a superlative Georgia trip, contact Zulya through our site. Here’s why.

The Northwest Passage

Arctic Ice Bridge, Canada

The Canadian Arctic has jaw-dropping views including this ice bridge. Photo: David-McEown

As climate change progresses, media attention on the Northwest Passage has increased—and so has traveler interest. First traversed in 1906 by professional explorer Roald Amundsen (also the first person to later reach the south pole), the route through the Arctic Circle above North America has become increasingly popular for cruises. “Space is filling up at a record pace,” warns Ashton Palmer, expedition-cruise specialist on The WOW List, so book now. Of what’s still available, Ashton recommends the 92-passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov’s itinerary through the Northwest Passage and Greenland, the larger 240-passenger MS Fram’s eastbound route, or the just-renovated Ocean Adventurer, which will loop from Ottawa to Greenland following in the footsteps of early Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. More ice-ready ships are expected to launch in 2018 and 2019, so interested adventurers should expect more availability—and more people—heading through the Passage in the near future.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the Northwest Passage expedition cruise best suited to your specific trip goals and needs, contact Ashton through our site. Here’s why.

Cabo Pulmo, Los Cabos, Mexico

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

Diving in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Los Cabos Villa Vacations

The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula will be turning heads in the coming year, thanks to the highly anticipated debut of posh new resorts such as Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in San José del Cabo; Montage Los Cabos, on Santa Maria Bay; and a Nobu Hotel in Cabo San Lucas. But savvy travelers should look east of the tourist corridor, toward the less flashy East Cape area, home of Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. This protected stretch of the Sea of Cortez is home to one of only three living coral reefs in North America, and its clear waters offer some of the best diving in all of Baja; the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005. In 2018, a Four Seasons resort will open a little farther up the coast at Costa Palmas, a two-mile beachfront campus that will include a yacht club, a marina, private villas and residences, a hotel, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed golf course, and a beach club. Cabo Pulmo is an easy day trip from Los Cabos, but now visitors will be able to stay near the park in five-star digs. “This is definitely going to change the laid-back atmosphere of this untouched area,” says Julie Byrd, Trusted Travel Expert for Cabo on Wendy’s WOW List. “It will make the park more crowded but will also offer a high-end option in the area.”

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best possible trip, contact Julie through our siteHere’s why.

Sri Lanka

Elephants swimming during the Gal Oya boat safari, Sri Lanka

Elephants swimming during the Gal Oya boat safari, Sri Lanka. Photo: The Fabulous Getaway

In 2018 Sri Lanka will celebrate 70 years of independence, as well as 70 years of cricket. But the main reason to go soon is that a big tourism boom is coming that will likely change the undeveloped feel of the island. For example, right now, there is one lodge with access to Gal Olya National Park, where you can take a boat safari to watch elephant herds swimming in the Senanayake Samudra. Wendy and her family visited Sri Lanka a year ago and spent part of their trip at the island’s first big five-star beach property, the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort. (That trip was her family’s best Christmas vacation abroad.) More luxe hotels have been popping up around the country—including the Wild Coast Tented Lodge, a Relais & Chateaux property near Yala National Park—and a Shangri-La beach resort is coming soon to Colombo. Wendy’s family found still-unspoiled landscapes, rich local culture and traditions, delightful people, and even opportunities to give back. Go now.

To be marked as a VIP traveler and get the best possible trip, contact Miguel through our siteHere’s why.

St. Helena

Sandy Bay, St. Helena island

Sandy Bay, St. Helena. Photo: Ed Thorpe

Given its location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean 1,200 miles west of Africa and 1,800 miles east of Brazil, St. Helena is one of the world’s most isolated islands—which is why, back in 1851, it made an ideal place to exile Napoleon to. Today, the 47-square mile British territory has a population of 4,600—who call themselves “Saints”—and they want you to know that there’s a lot more to do on St. Helena than just visit the house where the French emperor lived and died. You can dive to shipwrecks, swim with whale sharks, go on picturesque hikes to see some of the 500 endemic species of flora and fauna, and get to know them personally. And now that South African Airlines recently launched flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town—shortening the journey from five days at sea on a mail boat to five hours by air on a 76-seat Embraer—all of that’s going to be a lot easier. Plus, the long-distance trip will make for some pretty cool stories to tell your friends when you get back home.

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.

The Great Wall of China

WOW Moment: A Helicopter Ride Over The Great Wall of China


We take our jobs very seriously here at WendyPerrin.com—to report on and recommend the best travel solutions and trip-planning help out there. After all, if we’re wrong about anything, we must answer to you—an audience of the most experienced and discerning travelers around. That’s why the review process is such an integral part of Wendy’s Trip Support System. In fact, it’s the main reason we ask all of you who use The WOW List to use the black CONTACT buttons on it when you contact a Trusted Travel Expert. That way, we can stay in touch with you and, after your trip, find out how everything went. Your feedback is enormously helpful to your fellow travelers—and, in turn, their reviews are enormously helpful to you, when you come back to use The WOW List again.

But don’t listen to us when we tell you the benefits of using Wendy’s WOW system to plan your trips. Listen to Lisa and Scott Dettmer, frequent travelers from the Silicon Valley area who’ve been using Wendy’s travel specialists for years. They recently returned from their latest adventure, arranged by Mei Zhang, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for China. Since this was the Dettmers’ third trip using the WOW system, they earned something special: a surprise insider experience curated by Wendy and added to their itinerary for free. We call these WOW Moments, and anyone who uses our trip-planning system can earn one if they simply use our WOW List buttons and review their Trusted Travel Expert after their trip. (Here’s more info on how to get your own WOW Moment).

We’re not sure all of you have heard about WOW Moments yet, so we called up Lisa and Scott to let them share, in their own words, their experience working with Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts, and what they thought of their WOW Moment surprise.

Q: How often do you two travel?

Lisa: We do one significant trip each year—like a two-week, far-away trip—and then we do quite a few smaller trips throughout the year. Our first trip [using one of Wendy’s travel specialists] was to Africa when Wendy was at Condé Nast Traveler. The planning worked so well, and the trip was so tailored to our needs, that I’ve continued to use her specialists throughout the last four or five years. Every single time we’ve had just wonderful experiences. I wouldn’t plan a trip without doing it that way—because it works.

Q: You recently returned from China. Was this a special trip?

Scott: We wanted to approach it a little differently. We didn’t want a traditional tourist approach to China, and it was nice that [Mei and her team] were able to do something we thought was unique and customized to our preferences.

Q: Can you give an example?

Scott: We like to hike and be outdoors, and we like animals, and a lot of travelers would not think you would go to China to have those experiences. Most think it’s going to be an urban experience: You’ll see the Great Wall, the terra-cotta warriors, and the Forbidden City, and that’s it. But WildChina delivered. Lisa’s experience of being up close and personal with a panda made the trip for her, and the other was being able to hike out into the forest in the southwestern area of China to find the endangered snub-nosed monkeys and hang out for hours watching them play around in the trees. They did a nice job of giving us the urban experience and the rural experience.

Q: Walk me through your WOW Moment: What happened?

Scott: It was a ton of fun and a great surprise, and the lead-up to it was amusing. We were in Beijing and had already gone out to one portion of the Great Wall, at Mutianyu, and had a great visit there. The next day I was supposed to visit my office in Beijing, but when our tour guide found out that I wasn’t going in, he started making a bunch of texts and phone calls. Then he said, “Since you’re not going to the office, we would really like to take you to another portion of the Great Wall.” We thought, “Well, we’ve already seen the Great Wall.” I should back up and explain that our guide was such a gentle and accommodating guy—really nice—but now he was like, “No, I think you should go to this other section of the Great Wall.” So we said, [adopts a skeptical voice] “Okay…I guess we’ll follow your good judgment.” [Laughs]

Lisa: That morning I started to put on my tennis shoes, thinking we’re going to hike, and our guide gets this big smile on his face and says, “Oh, you won’t be needing your tennis shoes.” And as soon as he told us that, he told us this was our WOW Moment.

Scott: I have a special affinity for helicopters because I started taking lessons in the past year—and we went up in one of the types I’ve flown, or kind of flown. [Laughs] And what a kick! Flying over different portions of the Great Wall! It certainly is a very different perspective. And to see the wall winding in its serpentine terrain across that mountainous terrain—it was gorgeous. The guide got to go up with us, and he’d never been up in a helicopter before. It was a ton of fun, and everyone had giant smiles.

Q: Lisa, you’re the one who worked with our Trusted Travel Expert to plan the trip. Did you have any idea what the WOW Moment was going to be?

Lisa: It was a total surprise, and that makes it really fun. I’d thought the WOW Moment was another thing that wasn’t in the original itinerary: WildChina had added in a sidecar ride through Shanghai. So, in my mind, since we’d never talked about what the WOW Moment would be, I assumed that’s what it was—I thought we’d already had it. So [the helicopter ride] was really a surprise, even though I was the planner of the trip!

Q: What’s your take on working with a Trusted Travel Expert to plan a trip? We’d like your honest opinion.

Lisa: It was neat that we felt like [Mei’s deputy] Jenny Zhao was constantly monitoring us throughout the trip and always knew where we were. She was our air-traffic controller on this trip. We also appreciated her on-the-spot analysis of our options: At one point, the weather was going to be pretty cold, and they were predicting snow in an area that was a significant drive away, and we thought maybe we should not do that portion. So we contacted Jenny to talk about alternatives, and she very quickly did the research to let us know what our options were. She encouraged us to go because if we canceled it we’d miss out on [a connecting portion] of the trip, and this way we could use the day to relax if the weather wasn’t that good. But it was a lovely day: We went on a hike with our guide, and we are so glad we didn’t make the changes. She encouraged us to stay the course, and that worked out really well.

Q: What should other travelers know about Wendy’s WOW system?

Scott: Our view is why wouldn’t everyone in the world do this? Using the sort of approach we do with your organization and with the local travel experts—why wouldn’t everyone do that? It makes so much sense. It really is terrific.

Lisa: For me, it was doing one trip and making a mistake before I found Wendy. One time we went to Belize, and I booked us at a resort that had just recently opened. It looked awesome on the website, but we got there and they had not worked out the kinks yet. It was an expensive trip, and it was really a bummer because that would never have happened with a Wendy specialist. I did a couple trips where it felt like we spent a lot of money and took time, and they were fine but they were not great. And then we did our first Wendy trip, and I was amazed. It’s not that it’s more expensive [to use one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts]. I feel like it’s a great deal: the resources that the travel specialists provide and for what we spend on these trips. If I think about the total trip cost, it’s so worth it to have that guaranteed. Basically, it’s a guarantee that the trip is going to be successful, that the places we stay and the activities are going to be good. I feel like it’s an insurance policy for us.


Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

On every third qualifying trip, Wendy will add to your itinerary a surprise WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is an exclusive insider experience that helps make a trip extraordinary. Each WOW Moment is totally different. They vary depending on a huge range of factors, including the country you’re headed to, the timing of your trip, logistics, availability, and more. You can read a sampling of the more over-the-top WOW Moments (those most conducive to editorial coverage) here. Learn which trips qualify, and how the process works, here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

The city wall and gate of Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

What Crowds? Yunnan Is the Secret China Has Been Keeping

We’ve all seen pictures of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing. The flashy skyline of Shanghai, the crowds and traffic of Beijing, the touristy waterfront light show in Hong Kong.

Those modern cities are what a lot of people think of when they think “China”—and unfortunately, that thought is usually followed by the specter of crowds, noise, and pollution. But there’s a very different world just beyond those buzzing cities, and it might change the way you think about traveling in China.

In Yunnan Province you can experience an alternate version of the most populous country in the world—a version where nature rules over crowds, the food is farm-to-table fresh, the air is clear blue and clean, and the people invite you into their homes instead of elbowing you out of their way.

With the help of Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China, I had the chance to dive into Yunnan Province, specifically the region of Dali where Mei grew up, to experience a very different side of China. Here are ten reasons why it should be included on any itinerary to the country.

1. You will learn that Yunnan’s “rural” is different from American “rural.”

Farmland is right up against people's homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Farmland is right up against people’s homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

In the U.S., farmland is a wide stretching expanse of planted ground. If people live on it at all, they live far apart. But in China, people live in rows of houses along what looks, for all intents and purposes, like a suburban street. And directly across from their house is a small plot of land, which they farm. They might have other family plots around the area too.

2. You will find the natural beauty astounding.

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali, Yunnan, China

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali. Photo: Billie Cohen

A short drive from the hotel took us to the base of Cangshan mountain range, where we hiked a rock-paved trail up past temples, tucked-away altars, waterfalls, a tea plantation, beautiful vista points, and even a few historic family grave sites, which led to fascinating conversations about cultural traditions and beliefs.

3. You will meet people who surprise you.

Cangshan mountain hike

On our hike, Mr. Tian pointed out flowers, leaves, and plants commonly used in local cooking and medicines. Photo: Billie Cohen

The hike was led by botanist Mr. Tian, a former hotel-uniform designer who’d been successful in Beijing but had retired and moved to the countryside to teach environmental awareness to kids. As we walked, he pointed out flowers and leaves used in traditional cooking and medicines, and our guide Frank (a passionate flower-gardener himself) added his own personal stories eating those foods in his childhood home. Even though Mr. Tian didn’t speak any English, there was rarely a lull in the conversation—and we had plenty of laughs too. My favorite part: Despite some shyness on this particular topic of conversation, I discovered that both Frank and Mr. Tian had hidden talents. Frank has a beautiful voice and we convinced him to sing us a folk song as we walked through the woods. That loosened up Mr. Tian, who later revealed that he is a talented artist who draws Audubon-like illustrations of flora and fauna. He showed us some artwork he had on his phone and let drop that he was holding his first exhibition in a few weeks. Sadly, I was going to be gone by then.

4. You will eat well—and healthily.

Dali Yunnan China local lunch woman cooking

The ingredients at a local lunch spot were so fresh because they were farmed nearby. Photo: Billie Cohen

It is a myth that all Chinese food is greasy and oily. In Yunnan, where the food is truly grown locally and served farm-to-table (you’ll pass farms wherever you go), everything I ate was fresh and healthy. Mixed vegetables and meats are often simply sautéed with a little bit of oil (rapeseed is what’s most commonly used) and a lot of delicious spices and flavors. As a vegetarian, I was able to eat well and deliciously—lots of tofu, lots of greens, and several new vegetables to try.

5. You’ll eat like a local.

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

After our hike up Cangshan mountain, and the bonding it encouraged among our little group, we decided to change plans and eat at a local village spot recommended by Mr. Tian, where we found a crowd of regular folks digging into their daily lunches. At the counter, we picked out our main ingredients (a variety of vegetables and meats) and then headed upstairs to dine like locals, on low benches at a low table, sharing the dishes family-style. Pro tip: The typical way of eating is family-style, right down to the practice of allowing everyone to serve themselves from each platter with their personal chopsticks. If that’s going to bother you, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a serving spoon—no one will mind. (Though my new friends were impressed that I didn’t.)

6. You will meet artisan craftsmen who don’t live in Brooklyn or have beards.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

One of the many interesting artisans that Mei knows in Yunnan is a local potter who lives in the hills above a tiny village. After a ten-minute easy walk through winding streets, we reached Mr. Yung’s pottery compound, a few earthen shacks arranged next to a long dirt ridge that reached quite far down the hill and turned out to be, as he called it, the Dragon Kiln. That kiln could fire 1,000 vases at once. Mr. Yung’s work is that in-demand.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter and although his rustic studio didn’t look like much from the outside, it turned out to be a small museum when I walked inside—packed with beautifully shaped vases and bowls, some in progress and some finished. Make sure you ask for a lesson at the wheel. Mr. Yung (who doesn’t speak any English) lit up when I asked and we shared quite a laugh when my bowl turned out lopsided. If you have enough time in Dali, you can even take your creation home.

7. You can prepare and eat lunch with a Bai family.

Bai minority woman cooking lunch in Yunnan Province China

Yang Mama prepared lunch with us in her own kitchen. Photo: Billie Cohen

Mei and our local guide, Frank (who also grew up in Dali and nearby Kunming), arranged for us to have lunch with a local Bai family. There are 56 ethnic groups in China; the Han people make up about 92% and the rest are small pockets of minority groups, including the Bai people, who number about 180,000. They live primarily in the Yunnan province, and you can see them going about their business in various markets that your guide will lead you through. In one special afternoon, after shopping for greens in the local Dali market, we took them to a Bai family’s home where Yang Mama (pictured) cooked them up in a giant wok heated by bricks, along with other regional dishes. Ask to help, and you’ll get the chance to try out the wok. After lunch, Yang Mama prepares three different kinds of teas, each with a symbolic meaning. And yes, the Bai women wear their colorful costumes all the time—not just for the tourists. However, we did learn from Frank that they’ve modernized a little bit. Look for the braided lanyard pinned near their right shoulder and hidden in a chest pocket; it’s usually connected to glasses or a mobile phone.

8. You’ll get to see handicrafts up close and learn how they’re made.

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Chinese government has funded some traditional handicraft schools to help keep those arts alive. With Frank, we got to visit two: an embroidery school and a batik school. Though we did run into another tour group at the silk embroidery school, my experience still felt separate: The big group did not get a private meeting with the woman who ran the small school (of only a dozen students), nor a guided tour through the gallery—and no matter where we went, there was never any pressure to buy anything. (Check out the baskets in the picture: They’re full of silk worm eggs!)

Dali Yunnan Province China embroidery school

The baskets are filled with silk worm eggs! Each produced miles of silk that is dyed and used for embroidery by the students at this school. Photo: Billie Cohen

9. You’ll learn about local architecture from the inside out.

Inside a local's home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

Inside a local’s home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

Thanks to Frank’s and Mei’s deep roots in Dali and the time they’ve spent building relationships with interesting people, we were able to stop into a few local homes to see what they looked like, say hello, and even glimpse some behind-the-scenes real-life moments (like a pair of tween boys watching TV while their mom did laundry, or a wife cooking dinner as the husband led us around). This was so much better than having architectural details pointed out from the street as we walked by, as I saw other tourists doing.

10. You’ll have WOW experiences that weren’t even scheduled on your itinerary.

Undoubtedly the most “wow” moments of WildChina’s Yunnan itinerary were the ones that happened organically: The teachers at the handicraft schools who dropped surprising factoids in response to my many questions, the fascinating botanist Mr. Tian, the Bai woman who cracked up when I threw back a shot of spicy tea way too fast, the potter who laughed with me when I failed miserably at the potter’s wheel, and, most of all, our guide Frank.

Frank certainly didn’t have to tell us stories about his adorable young daughters (named after flowers) or show us pictures of all the plants he and his wife have stuffed into their home, or sing two folk songs for us (we had to beg for a few hours to make that happen). He was just a nice guy, with the unique local insight that comes from living in a place your whole life and wanting to find ways to help visitors see it the way he sees it, with all its wonders.

Those seemingly random human moments are the ones you end up talking about most when you get home. Ironically, though, they don’t really happen entirely by chance, do they? They happen because of the connections you make when doors are opened for you, and because someone with exceptional local knowledge put all the people and pieces in the right place and then stepped back to let the magic happen. That’s what Mei can do. Without all those people, Yunnan still would’ve been amazing and worth a stop on any China trip, especially as a fascinating juxtaposition to the country’s bustling cities, but the region and culture wouldn’t have opened up to me the way they did.

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.



*Disclosure: WildChina provided me with a ten-day trip through China, mostly free of charge (we split the cost of domestic China airfare, and United provided the long-haul flights). In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. Our goal in taking sponsored trips from travel specialists is to evaluate the services we recommend for our readers and ensure that they remain up to Wendy’s standards. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and WildChina here.

Visiting The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China: Secrets to Seeing It Right

Great Wall, China
The view of the Wall one way.
Great Wall, China.
The view the other. Note that there aren’t a lot of other people here with me.
Mutianyu shuttle bus
Most tourists arrive at the Mutianyu welcome area and have to take an official shuttle bus up to the Wall entrance. Traveling with WildChina meant I didn’t have to.
Mutianyu, Great Wall
As you can see from this map, you can hike among 23 watchtowers on the Mutianyu section of the Wall.
Cable car at the Great Wall
Bill Clinton rode this exact cable car up to the Great Wall in 1998. Billie Cohen rode it in 2016.
Mutianyu Great Wall of China chairlift
I visited Beijing in late March, which meant the trees had only just started to wake up from winter. In a few weeks, the view out the back of the cable car will be greener but it will also be more obscured. Also, notice the lack of haze. This is a great time of year to visit Beijing for clear skies.
Great Wall of China part that juts out
See how the Wall curves to the right? Legend has it the foreman was a little tipsy when he gave the construction order.
8 lotus shaped arrow hole Great Wall of China
Lotus-shaped arrow holes were added to the Wall in the 1580s.
9 The Brickyard Mutianyu courtyard
The Brickyard resort and restaurant is a repurposed glazed-tile factory. In a few weeks, these bare trees will be full and the onsite culinary garden will be blooming.
10 Chairman Suite at The Brickyard Mutianyu China
The Chairman Suite at The Brickyard at Mutianyu maintains the feel of the original factory, and also has some retro 1960s touches.


Everyone’s seen pictures of the Great Wall of China. And it’s been around for nearly 3,000 years. But if you’ve only seen the photos or only remember the basics from your school lessons, you’ve hardly scratched the stone surface.

I walked the famous stretch of barricade in Mutianyu, with my history-buff guide Chris from WildChina (the company run by Mei Zhang, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for China), and he worked three bits of magic. First, without WildChina’s special access, I would not have been able to roll right up to the entrance. I would’ve had to ride the crowded shuttle bus with everyone else from the gift shop mall at the bottom of the hill. Instead, we drove nearly all the way up to the ticket booth and didn’t have to wait for anything or anyone.

Second, he timed our visit so that we were not surrounded by massive crowds. Granted, the Great Wall is China’s biggest tourist attraction, so it’s never going to be completely empty—but by scheduling my visit on a Monday around 11am, we missed the morning tour-bus crowds and were able to stroll the Wall freely, rather than crammed in among swarms of other people. Third, the history and context that Chris knew made the Wall come alive. I almost felt bad for others at the Wall—for them it was just a spot for a bucket-list selfie.

Here are nine secrets about the Great Wall of China and how best to experience it.

1. It doesn’t all look the way it does in the photos you see online.
Various tribes contributed to its growth, building different parts out of clay, earth, stone, and wood at different times as far back as 700 B.C. The Han tribe’s Wall (as in the predecessors of Atilla) was the longest, at about 11,000 miles, but it’s almost all gone.

2. But a lot of it does.
It was Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty (the first of unified China, around 220 B.C.) who effectively stitched together the tribal sections into the more familiar stone barrier we still see today. Subsequent dynasties added to it and reinforced it, and China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) extended them. There are more than 9,000 miles of the Wall left, and about 4,000 of them look the way we imagine it: built out of stone bricks. These sections were constructed during the Ming dynasty.

3. It extended beyond modern-day China and Mongolia.
There was even a stretch of the old Wall in North Korea, but Kim Jong-Il tore it down out of national pride.

4. Construction didn’t always go as planned.
If you look downhill from where the cable car lets you off in Mutianyu, you’ll see a stretch of Wall that oddly loops out from the main path. Legend has it that, in the 1500s, the guy in charge of construction got a little drunk and gave the wrong order. To this day, the Wall still juts out unexpectedly.

5. War and peace really do go together.
In the 1580s a general added lotus-shaped arrow holes to the Wall, in a reference to the Buddhist blessing for peace. In Mutianyu, look for them near your feet, where the steps meet the Wall.

6. History is still living…nearby.
The residents of the village of Mutianyu are the descendants of those who built the Wall. And during the Cultural Revolution, farmers stole stones from the Great Wall to build their houses. Even today, some of the village homes still have Walls made of appropriated bricks.

7. The Mutianyu section of the Wall has its own Hollywood sign.
In the 1960s, a giant stone sign was laid on the side of the mountain in honor of Chairman Mao; it says “Loyal to Chairman Mao.” Over the years, the brush overtook it and it was lost to sight. Seeking a way to bring attention to his village, the Mutianyu mayor in 2008 had the sign cleaned and fixed up. Look for it to the left side of the Wall as you gaze uphill.

8. You can stay overnight near the Wall and not feel like a tourist trapped in a low-budget motel.
American Jim Spears and his Chinese wife Liang Tang have long roots in Mutianyu, and are partners in The Brickyard hotel and restaurant. Built in a repurposed factory that used to make glazed tiles for palaces and temples, the whole spread was redesigned by Jim about ten years ago as a way to showcase the beauty of the area and to give back to the community he and his wife had become a part of. All 25 rooms have views of the Wall, 80 percent of the staff is local (and most are women), and 80 percent of the food is local too (with about a quarter grown onsite). Chef Ranhir Singh let me know that the tofu in my vegetable dish was crafted by a nearby villager.

9. When it comes to visiting the Wall, distance makes all the difference.
If you’re staying in Beijing, you have a few options for which part of the Wall you visit:

• The sections closest to central city are Badaling and Juyongguan. They’re also the most crowded and commercialized.

• The next step up is Mutianyu: This section is about 1.5 hours from central Beijing by car. It winds across low mountains at roughly 2,000 feet and you can climb stairs, take a cable car (as Bill Clinton did), or ride a chairlift up to it. From there, you can hike a stretch that connects 23 watchtowers. For those brave enough, you can ride a toboggan back down. This makes Mutianyu sound like an amusement park, but I found it to be not that crowded and, therefore, decently serene.

• The “advanced” option is Jinshanling. This piece of the Wall, a combination of restored and wild stretches, is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Beijing. Because of the distance, it’s usually the least crowded, and because of its elevation, the views can be stunning. But if the air quality isn’t great (therefore limiting vistas), and you don’t have time for more than a day trip, it’s not necessarily worth the effort.

• Remember that it’s illegal to hike wild sections not regulated by the Chinese museum system—and they can be dangerous if you try. Visitors have fallen from rougher areas to their deaths.

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.

Disclosure: Wild China and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on Wild China’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. We agreed to this arrangement so that we could test out the services of one our Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts and report back to you on it personally.

Beijing sunrise

The Three Most Important Things to Pack for China

As I prepared for my trip to China—where I’ll be spending ten days with our Trusted Travel Expert Mei Zhang—Wendy had some good packing advice for me.

1. Pack cold medicine

“In China, it’s relatively easy to get clean bottled water and to get hot fresh cooked vegetables and food,” she told me. “The problem is all of the bad air and the germs and the people spitting and coughing. So bring medicines in case you get a cold. In China it’s the respiratory issues, not traveler’s diarrhea. You don’t need extra clothes, you can buy good quality things like silk pajamas for like ten bucks. You need cold medicine.”

On her list:

Vitamin C
Sudaphedrine or similar decongestant
Sore throat lozenges
Saline spray for your nose
Artificial tears for your eyes

2. Bring comfortable shoes

This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s more important than usual in China. Thanks to all the construction and uneven roads, you’ll want comfy walking shoes that you can spend the whole day in—whether you’re hiking the Great Wall or exploring hutongs.

3. Get a good data plan for your devices

This one is from my own research, as I knew I’d want to stay in close touch with WendyPerrin.com HQ, continue working, and post to our social media platforms.

Remember that the Internet doesn’t work in China like it does at home. No Google services—neither Google search, nor Gmail—are supported. Likewise, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter won’t load if you’re using the Internet (whether by Wi-Fi or a landline). However, if you use your phone or tablet’s cellular data (meaning 3G or 4G), the system recognizes your non-Chinese phone and lifts the gate. So I ended up being able to use my phone for anything (it simply switches to 4G) but can’t use my laptop. This is incredibly useful, but if you don’t have a good overseas data plan, this could also be incredibly expensive. T-Mobile offers free unlimited international data and texting included in its Simple plan, and Google Project Fi offers free texting along with international data at the same rates you’d pay at home (meaning your monthly bill is the same no matter where in the world you use your data) so those could be options if you’re a frequent traveler. (Full disclosure: I’m testing Google Project Fi while I’m in Asia, using a loaner phone from the company but paying for the service myself.)

Have you been to China? What were the most useful things you packed?

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.

Great Wall of Chin

How to Solve China’s Two Biggest Tourism Problems

Hi everyone, this is Billie, coming to you from Beijing. I’ll be traveling this week and next in China and sharing with you all the cool things I’m seeing, doing, and eating—and all the ways the right travel planner can make all the difference. Especially in a challenging destination like China.

That’s right, on this trip, I’m traveling with WildChina, run by Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China. Wendy keeps constant tabs on the travel planners she puts on her WOW List to ensure that they are delivering on “wow” experiences that live up to your (and her) standards, and Mei is doing some interesting work over here that we wanted to check out and share with you.

We were inspired to set up this trip, because we were hearing from readers and from travel planners that many people think China is a hard place to visit or not worth it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Beijing skyline from Rosewood Hotel

The Beijing skyline on a late-March morning, from my room at the Rosewood Hotel—and there’s no smog! Photo: Billie Cohen

Everyone talks about Beijing’s smog like it’s the monster in a horror movie. But the trick to avoiding it is simply to know when to visit. Mei knows: early spring (right about now) when the weather is mild and beautiful (high 60s, low 70s) and the seasonal winds keep the air quality nearly as low as in other international cities.

Forbidden Palace China

The skies were blue and the smog nonexistent on the breezy spring morning I visited the Forbidden City. Photo: Billie Cohen

As for crowds, I haven’t been part of one yet. That’s because Mei’s guides have insider knowledge and special access. The first means they know things like what time of day to hit the Great Wall so that you’re not swallowed up by tourist hordes; the second means they can whisk you past queues and ticket takers so fast you’ll feel like a VIP. And of course you are.

Forbidden City Chin

My guide Chris found us a completely tourist-free nook in one of the Forbidden City’s gardens. The peace and quiet was wonderful. Photo: Billie Cohen

To remind travelers that there’s more to China than traffic-clogged Beijing or crowded Shanghai, Mei likes to take them way off the beaten path. So in addition to urban touring, she encourages travelers to explore rural areas, like Yunnan Province, where I’m headed in a few days. Mei grew up in that region, and therefore has deep local connections—connections that her travelers get the benefit of.

That’s what I know to start, and that’s what I’ll be checking out on this trip. Follow me for the next two weeks as I share my experiences (on instagram too a @billietravels). Leave any questions below and I’ll try to get them answered.

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.

Monteverde Costa Rica

12 Ways to Improve Your Next Trip

Meet our writer: Geri S. Krauss is a New York-based attorney, a savvy traveler who has been to all seven continents . . . and, for a travel agent, she can be one tough customer. Geri was unknown to me until a few weeks ago, when she reached out after a trip that bowled her over, designed by one of my Costa Rica specialists. We ended up meeting for lunch in Manhattan. Geri does so much research for every trip, and is so knowledgeable about online travel tools, that I asked her why she doesn’t just book her trips herself. When she shared her perspective on the benefits of working with my Trusted Travel Experts, I found it fascinating and thought you would too. Here’s Geri:

My husband and I are full-time attorneys, so our travel time is limited and precious. We want to make the most of it by having an experience that is tailored to our interests and budget and gives us a true sense of the people and places we visit. After much research, I’ve come to rely on Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for this.

These trip experts would be the first to confirm that I am not an easy customer. I ask a ton of questions, do my own research into the suggestions made (which generates more questions), and scrutinize itineraries, questioning every detail.

There have been some tough moments. There was the email I got with the subject line “Throwing up my hands in horror” when a trip expert had to tell me that our carefully planned trip had been thwarted because room availability suddenly vanished. There was the time another expert recommended a “hike along partially flooded terrain, mud, rocks, exposed roots with high humidity and temperature around 90 F (30 C),” which left me questioning why on earth I would want to do that. “For the wildlife” was the expert’s answer—and I’m glad I gave in because it turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip.

Even for someone as challenging as I am, working with these trip experts has been special. Why? They consistently give you personal attention, offer unique opportunities, have a deep knowledge of the country in which they are located, give candid evaluations of what to see and do, and move you through the itinerary so seamlessly that the hassles and waiting that are often a part of traveling just seem to disappear. In short, here’s what they deliver:

1. A private, personalized itinerary

Our itineraries have always come with top-notch guides, accommodations, and experiences. The guides and drivers are extremely knowledgeable about their country and customs, speak excellent English, are wonderfully gracious and accommodating, and navigate with an insider’s knowledge of where to go and the best time to get there.

2. Flexibility: The traveler calls the shots all day every day

Everything is tailored to our interests. We travel at a pace that works for us. We can decide whether we want to be accompanied by a guide and/or a driver, or whether we would rather spend time on our own. The time we spend at each activity is geared to us—with flexibility to stay longer than planned if we are very much engaged or leave early if we are ready to move on. We can stop to eat when and if we choose—or skip a meal so that we can squeeze in one more thing to see or do. Our guides and drivers are always ready to help us in whatever way they can —and to adapt our schedule if weather or something unexpected requires a change. It is the perfect combination of independent travel and extraordinary planning and expertise.

3. VIP treatment at check-in

When we were traveling in India, every time we arrived at our hotel, we were met and greeted at the entrance, by name, and welcomed in traditional Indian fashion. We were shown to a comfortable sofa, where a drink and a cool towel were waiting for us. A concierge immediately came over to us, checked us in, and guided us to our room. When we got there, our luggage was already waiting for us. After this had happened on several occasions, I asked our guide how it was that every hotel was ready and waiting for us the moment we arrived. I learned that this was not happenstance. It was because the trip expert made sure that the guide called each hotel at a certain time while we were on our way there to tell them exactly when we would be arriving and assure that we would be cared for so promptly and graciously. Never a line, no searching for a room to assign, no waiting!

4. Hand-picked hotel rooms

Our rooms have always been terrific, as the Trusted Travel Expert knows which are the most desirable rooms for views or location or amenities (in any given category), and then they make sure that the room they select is reserved for us.

5. Special dining arrangements

In Costa Rica we were impressed that the waiters in the various lodges’ dining rooms told us as soon as we sat down that they were aware of certain food preferences we had made known to the Trusted Travel Expert. We didn’t have to say a thing! Two lodges arranged for us to have a private dinner in a special location—one with a menu planned solely for and with us the evening before—just because of the relationship the Trusted Travel Expert had with the lodges. In some countries we’ve even had the pleasure of meeting and dining with our trip expert shortly after our arrival.

6. Visits with locals from all walks of life

In Australia we were the only guests at a beautifully restored homestead surrounded by miles of outback. We were invited to dine with the owners and their friends—Australians and New Zealanders. During the fabulous home-cooked meal, we were treated to stories about life in the outback, the restoration of the house, and the rivalries between Aussies and Kiwis. We ended up talking for many hours and covered virtually every topic of current events, including some very interesting observations by those “down under” with respect to the American presidential election that was taking place that day. Their perceptions were fascinating. Indeed, given the influence that the President of the United States has over world events, our hosts questioned whether the world could trust leaving the choice of the President solely up to the American electorate! On another day, we visited with the owner of a private rainforest sanctuary who introduced us to the many resident animals that came right up to greet us. Later, we sat by the side of a stream in the forest and were treated to a delicious lunch of salads and fresh fish—which he perfectly cooked on a camp stove in the back of his truck.

7. Access to places that are off-limits to the public

Many of the must-see sights in China and India are filled with crowds, but our Trusted Travel Experts have been able to arrange special access for us to avoid the crowds or see things not generally open to the public. In China we had an amazing opportunity to feed and play with the baby pandas in Chengdu Panda Reserve. We viewed the Xian terracotta warriors from a special gallery located right on the floor and learned about how the warriors are restored through access to the curators’ restoration room. In India we were able to view the Taj Mahal from a special access point and remain for a short time after all the crowds had left. We visited beautifully decorated rooms in private areas of the Jaipur City Palace still used by the royal family for entertaining. We were invited to attend the Holi ceremony hosted by the Maharajah of Udaipur. All very special.

8. Guides with specific expertise

Not only have our guides been excellent generally, but our trip planners have been able to provide us with guides with particular knowledge. I have an interest in photography, and in India our guide was a terrific photographer who made sure to show me the best spots to get interesting shots and, if possible, to time our visits to get photos in the best light. He also greatly assisted me in learning the local etiquette to take pictures of people. In Costa Rica I again requested a guide who was a photographer, and he made sure we approached photographic subjects from the right angle and in the right light. He taught me many new techniques, and I was thrilled with the results. While I was busy trying out those techniques, he tutored my husband in bird watching, then quizzed him on each identification.

9. Meaningful experiences where you give back to the community you’re visiting

Because of their deep relationships and connections in the countries where they live and operate, trip experts are often involved in environmental or community development activities. We had the rewarding opportunity to participate in one of these initiatives in Costa Rica. Our Trusted Travel Expert had set up a program to help the children who lived in a local village with English lessons and pronunciation by offering them the opportunity to meet with English-speaking travelers. We spent one afternoon at the village assisting the Costa Rican teacher who had been sent to the village to conduct this enrichment program, which the children enrolled in by choice. What a wonderful time we had interacting with these children (aged 10) who were so bright, enthusiastic, and fun. While we were there to help them with English, they insisted that we learn some Spanish words from them as well.

10. Transportation shortcuts and efficient logistics

As we tend to cover a lot of territory in a short time on these trips, the trip expert’s knowledge of local transportation options and obstacles has been invaluable. In Costa Rica, for example, many of the roads are poor, and some travel is best accomplished via privately chartered four- to six-seater planes. There is no way we could have made these arrangements on our own. It requires knowing which planes (by size or engine number) are allowed to fly to which places at what times of the day and in what weather conditions. Furthermore, our trip expert uses only certain planes and specific pilots, based on safety records and experience. In one location in Costa Rica, I had decided to pass on the trip expert’s suggestion that we book a driver; I said we’d rely on taxis instead. Shortly after we arrived, however, I found that getting a taxi was neither easy nor reliable. I called the trip expert, confessed that I should have heeded her advice, and in less than an hour we had a car and driver at our disposal for the rest of our stay there.

11. Addressing the unexpected

Sometimes not everything goes as planned. Yet our trip experts have always been instantly available to address any issue. In China, when we arrived in Lijiang, my husband experienced altitude sickness. We were scheduled to go for a couple of days to Zhongdian, a town located at an even higher altitude. Obviously, that was no longer an option. Within a day, our trip expert had made alternate arrangements and rescheduled our flights without our having to pay any cancellation fees.

12. Help is only a phone call away

In rural India, when I needed to see a doctor, I called our trip expert and within 15 minutes an English-speaking doctor was at our door. Whether I am looking for a restaurant reservation, seeking the best place to shop for a particular item, or needing to resolve any hiccup in the plans we encounter, help is only a phone call away.


Geri Krauss and her husband Dan’s next trip is to New Zealand, booked through Jean-Michel Jefferson. We can’t wait to hear all about it!

If you want a trip like the ones Geri Krauss describes, contact the right Trusted Travel Expert via WendyPerrin.com:
(1) Go to The WOW List to find the right destination, cruise, or villa specialist.
(2) Click on that travel specialist’s CONTACT button to reach his/her WendyPerrin.com trip-request form.
(3) If you’re not sure who is the right specialist, Ask Wendy.

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.

forbidden city, china

Is 2015 the Year to Travel to China?

Is this the year to finally take that trip to China? One of the big findings from TripAdvisor’s 2015 TripBarometer study, the world’s largest traveler and accommodation survey, is that China will see the greatest reductions in hotel prices this year—a year when most countries will be hiking their prices. Half of all properties worldwide—and 59% of U.S. hotels—plan to up their room rates this year (with the biggest increases expected in South Africa, Austria, and Brazil).

There’s value for your dollar in China, for sure, but only if you’re careful. As someone who has spent six weeks of her life road-testing China every which way, I am here to tell you that China is one of those countries where, if you want to avoid unexpected hassles that eat up significant time and money, you’re better off having a China travel specialist orchestrate and book your itinerary. Factors that can foil the best-laid plans include:

* Places that were charming a year or two ago have been overbuilt and overrun with domestic Chinese tourists.

* Things in China change overnight, which means it’s tough to get reliable logistical information or accurate opinions as to which places are still worth seeing and which have been spoiled.

* The ingrained tourism infrastructure inflicts a mass-market agenda that will turn off sophisticated travelers. Without help from the right sources, you can easily get trapped at mediocre sights, with detours for forced shopping, tasteless meals at tourist restaurants, and layers of middlemen extracting cash from you at every turn.

The solution is a stellar China travel specialist with up-to-date intel, reliable taste, special access, and well-trained, flexible English-speaking guides who can get you past the lines and crowds and who understand the difference between authentic, photogenic experiences and tourist traps. My Trusted Travel Experts for China fit the bill. They know this year’s must-dos and must-skips, and they’ve shared that intelligence in their Insider’s Guides (for example, Mei Zhang’s Insider’s Guide to Beijing or Yunnan Province). So, if you’re thinking about China, reach out to me, via Ask Wendy, to find the one who best suits your needs. 

Hong Kong Via Helicopter

Hong Kong viewed from a helicopter. Photo courtesy David Allardice.

I’d love to know: Do you want to travel to China this year? Why or why not?