Tag Archives: family travel

a mom and two sons covered in mud at the Dead Sea

Trips To Make Mom’s Life Easier

Often the person least likely to get a true break when traveling is Mom. It’s just the same work in a different location. You fly to a new country and Mom feels she must manage every logistical detail. Or you rent a villa and she ends up doing all the dishes and laundry. Or you hit the water park and she’s the one who has to pack everything, remember everything, and sit on the sidelines watching everyone else’s stuff. And so, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m going to tell you exactly how to give Mom an effortless trip that allows for a true vacation: Use a Trusted Travel Expert. The traveler reviews below show the difference it makes. Read more traveler reviews to find more Mom-friendly trip solutions, and have a Happy Mother’s Day! —Wendy


Switzerland: “I feel more connected to my son, as we did activities together without worry…”

Traveler Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola with the Matterhorn in the background on the Swiss Side of Zermatt, Switzerland.

Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola on the Swiss side of Zermatt, with the Matterhorn in the background.

“I took my son (age 19) to Zermatt for a ski trip the first week of March. I wanted a special mom-and-son trip. I reached out to WendyPerrin.com for a referral to help and was connected with Nina and Simon. They took my wishes and planned an EPIC trip for me. The accommodations were amazing, the ski guide was so good I booked him an additional day, and they added to the itinerary a gorge trip and a special nighttime fondue and another evening tapas tour.

What made it more spectacular were the guides hired. We are very accomplished skiers in the U.S., living in Colorado and Tahoe. We knew Zermatt was a little more complicated of a mountain, with the lifts and the Swiss and Italian sides. They recommended a ski guide, and we are so very happy they did! Made the skiing more efficient and fun! One of the more memorable moments was a walk down into town from the evening fondue, and as we passed through one of the small hamlets, a small white one-room church—like the kind in old western towns—was lit, and our guide noticed my interest so he went over to see if it was open. It was and I was able to make a small donation in the box and light a candle and have a prayer of gratitude. I will remember this forever.

I rarely use travel services, as I do travel a lot and am comfortable booking on my own. However I wanted to have a bonding experience with my son and be stress-free. I feel more connected to my son, as we did activities together without worry. I would definitely recommend Nina and Simon when you want to be taken care of and have special moments. The guides were in direct contact with them, and it appeared to me the relationships are deep and very positive. We were the beneficiaries of those relationships for truly one-of-a-kind experiences.” —Wendy Mueller

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

Mexico City: summertime adventures with a teenage granddaughter

Helen Blumen

A balloon’s-eye view of the pyramids at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City. Photo: Traveler Helen Blumen

“My 16-year-old granddaughter and I spent 10 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca in August 2023, and we had a wonderful time! We especially loved the cooking lesson with a wonderful Zapotec lady, and the menu was adjusted for teenager tastes so that we ate quesadillas and chiles rellenos.

Another highlight was the balloon ride to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan. We are grateful for Zach‘s flexibility when our original flight was delayed.” —Helen Blumen

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since…”

Appetizer plate of Irish blended whiskey and cheeses.

Irish blended whiskey and cheeses. Photo: Shutterstock

“Having used Wendy Perrin’s WOW List last year to travel to Greece, we chose Jonathan and his team to book our mother-and-adult-daughter trip to Ireland, and they made the entire process extremely easy. We started at historic Dromoland Castle in County Clare. In Galway we took a food tour through the city to experience the best food the city had to offer. Our guide Regina was a chef herself and you could tell she thoroughly enjoyed sharing the amazing food that Ireland and Galway specifically had to offer. During this tour, we had the best raspberry croissant with red striping and a delicious raspberry puree center. We also had a whiskey tasting where we tried Irish Poitin, which is Ireland’s version of American Moonshine and it definitely made you cough on the smallest sip. The other highlight for me of the food tour was at lunch when we had local oysters. I am not usually a fan of oysters, but Regina described them as a little burst of fresh salt water, and that’s exactly what it was!

Next we headed over to Killarney and the Killarney Park Hotel. We had a very interesting whiskey tutorial and tasting with the head of spirits at the hotel. We also explored the town of Kenmare and took a chocolate-making class at Lorge Chocolates. Neither of us had ever done a chocolate-making class or anything of the sort before, and it was very fun and educational. Benoit Lorge ran the private lesson with the two of us, and he was so enthusiastic and passionate about his chocolate and the quality of chocolate that he creates.

Finally, in Dublin, we took a private cooking class with Alix Gardner’s Cookery School, and there we learned how to make all the essentials for a true Irish feast. We made scones, soda bread, shepherd’s pie with lamb, and a Guinness cake. My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since. The food was delicious and we got to take home our leftovers. We managed to bring a whole Guinness cake on the plane home with us to The States! A slice of Guinness cake after a full day of traveling was well worth the trouble of packing it.” —Robin Stone

Read more reviews of Ireland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“She and her team allowed me the opportunity to simply enjoy 10 glorious days with my daughter…priceless.”

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom.

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to create an unforgettable experience for my daughter’s 16th birthday. Words cannot express how perfect this trip was. I spoke with Jennifer before we even began the process, and she asked questions about my daughter to help tailor the trip around her preferences and interests. I did not have to worry about anything but my airline reservations. She and her team allowed me the opportunity to simply enjoy 10 glorious days with my daughter…priceless.

We stayed at the Reubens on the Palace in London, which was a beautiful hotel and very well located for walking to shopping, theater, Buckingham Palace and the Underground. The hotel provided a lovely gift and note to my daughter upon our arrival for her birthday and left a variety of treats for turndown each night. We had a very busy itinerary which included horseback riding in Hyde Park, a private guide for a full day in London, Windsor Castle, East End, theater tickets, a visit to Harry Potter studios, and even a day train trip to Harry Styles’ hometown (specific request).

Jennifer arranged a VIP Meet and Greet for us when we arrived in Paris, which was quite helpful to navigate our luggage through the train station and out to our driver.

We stayed at Hotel Madame Reve in Paris. Our room had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and a large outdoor terrace. There was a bottle of champagne and macarons waiting upon our arrival with a nice note for my daughter. We have visited Paris many times, so Jennifer provided excellent activities for us, including a Perfume Workshop, Pastry Making Class, private Louvre tour, the Moulin Rouge and a day trip out to Chateau de Chantilly to ride horses and tour the chateau with a private guide/driver.

Our departure was a welcome surprise. The driver was timely, friendly, helpful and dropped us off at the airport to another VIP Meet and Greet. This gentleman took our luggage, walked us through the airport, helped complete tax refunds, took us to VIP check-in and escorted us to the boarding gate. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of this, I think you will find that you will never do without again! We loved it.” —Lisa Semple

Read more reviews of Paris and London trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PARIS AND LONDON

“My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt!”

 

View of Nile from the dahabiya boat, Egypt.

View of Nile from the dahabiya boat, Egypt. Photo: Billie Cohen

“My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt! This was one of those trips that we will truly never forget. The end of April was a great time to go, as the weather was really lovely. It was Ramadan during our time there, but this really did not impact any parts of the trip (certain attractions closed earlier in the afternoon, but this really worked well for us as it gave us time to relax after a full morning/afternoon).

Someone asked what our favorite parts of the trip were and, to be perfectly honest, it is impossible to pick one thing. The local trip leaders and guides were so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Our guide, Abdullah, on our 4-night trip on the Nile was so passionate about hieroglyphics—we really got such a detailed instruction on how to “read” these stories within temples and tombs.

The days on the dahabiya on the Nile were so relaxing. It was nice to only have 12 tourists on the boat (which was the maximal number); this allowed for nice conversations, particularly during meal time. The meals were pretty amazing, with plenty of options for any dietary limitation/restriction. Eman, with whom we spent 3 days in Cairo, was so informative. My daughter and I really bonded with her. We would love to have her again on another trip into Egypt!

Arlene on Jim’s team really made this trip successful from beginning to end. We were so well taken care of by the drivers, trip leaders, and guides. We felt safe throughout.” —Rekha Mankad

Read more reviews of Egypt trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

“…A mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us.”

Killarney National Park with a scenic tour from Killarney Jaunting Cars.

Horse tour in Killarney National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I took our four teenage sons on a March spring break trip to Ireland arranged by Jonathan. It was a mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us. I can’t speak highly enough about our time with our private drive-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

Some favorite activities were our boat ride in Killarney National Park followed by a seven-mile jaunting cart ride. The Galway food walking tour was a hit for all. While the rest of our group did Gaelic games, I did a walking tour of Dublin and had a wonderful time learning about Dublin past and present.

This is my second trip that I have done going through your WOW List. Your trip planners make vacations memorable and special. I will never plan a trip without going through Wendy Perrin—and I freely share this advice with others.” —Jennifer Brown

Read more reviews of Ireland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“…The most wonderful, memorable trip for my 18-year-old son and me…”

A red kangaroo sitting inside the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, near the city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Kangaroo in Tasmania, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We cannot thank Stuart and Jacki enough for arranging the most wonderful, memorable trip for my 18-year-old son and me—two and a half glorious weeks running around beautiful Australia. They both spent real time talking to us about our likes and hopes. Every element of the itinerary they came back with was flawlessly executed and fun-filled, tailored perfectly to our quirky interests. We loved it—wow! It was nonstop terrific. Highlights especially were our time at Arkaba Station, our day at MONA and walking in Mt Field in Tasmania, and—so touristy, but oh boy so fun—petting all those kangaroos at the wildlife reserve near Hobart. Who knew kangaroos were like dogs, just wanting a cuddle and scratch?

My son adds that he also especially loved surfing on Bondi Beach, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and taking a cocktail mixology class at Saffire. In addition to the thoughtful itinerary, Jacki and Stuart paired us with some truly terrific guides, very well matched to us. For example, in Sydney, they found us a professor of architecture to give us a tour of the wonderful architecture there. It is such a beautiful country, and we can tell we only just dipped our toes in. We will certainly be back for more, with the whole family next time.” —Cate Bradley

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation…”

Kyoto, Japan gardens at Heian Shrine in the spring season. - Image

Cherry blossoms bloom around Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, and our guides were fantastic: They were very flexible to accommodate our interests and energy levels and very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel.

Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park.

Scott’s choice of hotels was wonderful. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes—we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season. Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Condé Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.” —Patricia Klein

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO JAPAN

“…The most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me.”

Sea lions swimming and playing, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Sea lions swimming in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Zach and his wonderful team planned the most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me. We were interested in a nature-focused experience, spending all of our time on whale watching, sea lions, whale sharks, etc. Zach was so thoughtful, spending a series of phone calls with me figuring out what kind of travelers we were and what kind of experiences would be right. He then proposed the perfect itinerary, including four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside time in La Paz on private boat excursions to key wildlife sites.

We weren’t excited about spending time in busy Cabo, and he found us an under-the-radar boutique hotel that checked all our boxes (quiet, beautiful, excellent service).  The trip was flawlessly executed, thanks to his colleague Carolina’s careful detail work and real-time monitoring. She went out of her way to figure out where we could skip logistics steps and bypass lines. It couldn’t have run more smoothly during a very crowded time in Baja.” —Cate Bradley

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“We learned so much history, ate amazing food, cooked amazing food, and saw incredible architecture and art.”

aerial view of Chapultepec Park and the Chapultepec castle in Mexico City, with green trees in foreground and city on the horizon

Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to plan a trip to Mexico City for my mom, my sister and I that we could all enjoy. I wanted us to learn, experience and spend quality time together. I think all of these objectives were met by Zach. The planning process was a bit slow initially but then went smoothly. Our transfers and day trips were seamless, everyone always on time. We felt very safe the entire time and this was a big concern of my mom’s. Our guide was very good at noticing when my mom needed to slow down a bit or take a break and she was very knowledgeable. Our driver, Alfonso, was lovely, looking out for us, showing patience and even concern at times. There were a few miscommunications between my expectations, given what was written in our itinerary/discussions, and the on-the-ground team but generally these were worked out. Our hotel was very nice and we enjoyed the location. We even had the “fortune” to experience Labor Day on our departure day. This made things hectic but we were able to figure out another meeting point with our driver, as all the roads were closed and this was not anticipated. Someone from the hotel walked with us to meet him. We learned so much history, ate amazing food, cooked amazing food, and saw incredible architecture and art. My mom even cried when I said good-bye to her at the airport because she was so happy we were able to have this special time together.” —Amy Evers

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“…A fun day at a working farm outside of Guayaquil where we made our own artisan chocolate and went tubing in a river…”

blue footed booby galapagos islands ecuador

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands. Photo: peterstuartmill/Pixabay

“Even though I started the planning process late, Allie booked the perfect trip for us to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, taking into consideration the diverse interests of my family members. She was able to secure reservations at hotels that were ideal for our family and book tours that we all enjoyed, including a fun day at a working farm outside of Guayaquil where we made our own artisan chocolate and went tubing in a river. Allie helped us find places and things to do that we wouldn’t have found on our own. And on top of her expert advice, she was a pleasure to work with. My advice for working with Allie is to give her detailed information about the specific interests and needs of each family member. She is extremely knowledgeable. Armed with information, she can work magic.” —Patty Levin

Read more reviews of Galapagos and Ecuador trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO GALAPAGOS AND ECUADOR

“She helped us take advantage of a deal for extra free days at Universal…”

Happily Ever After fireworks over the castle at Disney World

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World. Photo: Disney

“My family of four was headed to Orlando and wanted to visit Universal (staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and focusing on the two Harry Potter worlds) and Disney (since the kids are a little older, we wanted Epcot and Animal Kingdom).  Michelle definitely added value to our vacation. She helped us take advantage of a deal for extra free days at Universal that allowed us to see the parks in a much more relaxed fashion. She also wisely steered us toward a concierge floor at our Disney hotel. At first, I didn’t think this was a big deal, but after long days in the parks, it was great to have the option of grabbing food in the concierge-floor lounge instead of going out again to get dinner.” —Melissa Pollack

Read more reviews of Disney trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD

“Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special.”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Italy can be overwhelming because there is so much to do, see, and eat, but Maria planned a spectacular trip to Florence, Bologna, and Rome for me, my teenagers, and my fiancé over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal (and learned how to make tortelloni) with the family chef, had a tour of the wine cellar, and joined one of the family members for lunch. We learned of the family’s wing of art at the Uffizi, which we visited the next day. Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special. In Rome, our food lovers’ adventure on Vespas with Toni was a complete standout. My 6′ 4″ son was mortified to ride on the Vespa—and got over that fear in one minute. We were a team of five Vespas! Don’t mess with us! As for Bologna, I am a dental surgeon and am really glad Maria recommended visiting the Teatro Medica at the University of Bologna with my kids. I am sure there is no way I could’ve arranged such a trip.” —Wendy Halpern

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Machu Picchu, Peru

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

The gift we can give our graduates—and the gift they’ll give back to us

Graduation trips are among the most popular family trips we see here at WendyPerrin.com, and we agree that an academic achievement deserves to be marked with a fun, memorable—and yes, sometimes even educational—experience. To provide inspiration for your own travels with your favorite grad this year, we’ve looked back at the graduation trips arranged by our WOW List destination experts that have most delighted your fellow travelers.


Portugal: “The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect.”

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola im Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna. WOW! What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris: “Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre. Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage, and delivered us to our driver. I bet we saved two hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide: our private half-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up and coming Parisian designers, and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners, and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Romania: “Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled…”

Legendary Bran (Dracula) historical castle of Transylvania, Brasov region, Romania, Eastern Europe

Bran Castle (a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle”) in Transylvania, Romania. Photo: Shutterstock

“I traveled to Romania on a last-minute graduation trip with my daughter, Amelia, in August 2023. We have done numerous trips with Wendy’s WOW List agents before and knew that finding an agent through Wendy was the only way to go. Even the destination of our trip was inspired by articles written by Wendy.

Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled. We chose Romania, and Wendy matched us up with Raluca and Ioana. Important to us was connecting with the local people and understanding the country.

Raluca and Ioana set us up with a local guide, Tavi, whose personality matched well with us, which was a good thing since we drove around Romania for 10 days with him. We started in Bucharest, which was great for my daughter to learn what can happen to a country if you vote in a narcissist authoritarian as a leader and to understand what life was like under the latter parts of communist ruling. We had a university history professor give us a tour of an apartment frozen in time from the 1980s under communist rule. We enjoyed wonderful restaurants, an amazing art exhibit, and historical sites in the city.

In Transylvania we enjoyed visiting the Cris Bethlen Castle. It was particularly fun for us since one of our favorite horror movies, The Nun, was shot there. A local man who lives in town jumped in and gave us a detailed tour, including side stories on the actors during the filming. We went on an amazing mountain bike ride (about 20 miles) primarily in the hills and forests with some fun single track as well. The mountain bike guide had helped to build the trails, which will eventually connect a large portion of Transylvania for mountain bike tours.

We saw wonderful fortressed churches and cities throughout our trip, including the beautiful Sighisoara. Always enjoying them without crowds and with a random local who had the keys to let us in the church or describe some interesting tidbit of history through our guide as the interpreter.

We met a local weaver whose family had been doing traditional weaving for generations and who rescued a loom headed for destruction. We enjoyed a visit with a local herbalist whose herb garden was expansive and whose knowledge of remedies was sought out throughout the area. Here we enjoyed a dinner in her home, again understanding her story and her life and sharing ours. We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO site Viscri, supported by King Charles, and enjoyed the views from the fortressed church over the rolling hills.

We moved on to Brasov. Here we had a private tour of Bran Castle and had the opportunity to climb into the highest turret to view the mountain pass that the lookouts would use in centuries past. When we expressed interest in a hike, Tavi took us up a mountainside where he had helped a friend build a cabin. We met one of his friends, a local shepherd, and discussed bears threatening his flock.

Bottom line our visit was filled with unique experiences where we connected with the people of Romania and attempted to understand their stories. Romania is a beautiful, relatively undiscovered country with rich medieval history and more recent history of the rise and fall of communism. It is not as restored as other places in Western Europe, but its beauty, its history, and its people are wonderful to experience. The smaller crowds allow for a much more enjoyable visit than other European countries.”—Theresa Boone

Read more reviews of Romania trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ROMANIA

South Africa & Botswana: “My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages!”

Lynn Casper

Thomas Casper celebrated his college graduation with a safari. Here, he’s atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Traveler Clare Casper

“Just back from South Africa and Botswana! My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages! We worked with Christian from Julian‘s office, who put together an itinerary that included places we had not even considered. Five days in South Africa included the awe-inspiring Grootbos Nature Preserve at the bottom of the continent. We explored ancient caves, went whale watching, hiking and thoroughly enjoyed the unforgettable cuisine at Grootbos! We loved our guide Hosea who gave us such in-depth history and cultural insight on the area. It was a small gesture, but my kids really appreciated Hosea taking them into a local market in Cape Town’s Bo-Kapp neighborhood to enjoy a mid-day snack.

After a day touring and hiking on the magnificent Table Mountain, we set off to Botswana for 6 days at 3 different safari camps. Each camp was in a different ecosystem, which was something we never would have considered and were so appreciative of Christian to plan in that manner. I knew I would see the animals but did not expect to learn so much from the guides at each camp. The magnificent birds were also an unexpected surprise. The delicious food and lovely staff will never be forgotten and really made the trip our favorite so far!

Kudos to Christian for setting up this amazing experience!”—Lynn Casper

Read more reviews of South Africa and Botswana trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA AND BOTSWANA

Switzerland: “We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible…”

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling out OHIO on top of Mt. Jungfrau.

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana….” —Andy Shafran

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

Japan: “I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation…”

Kyoto, Japan gardens at Heian Shrine in the spring season. - Image

Cherry blossoms bloom around Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, and our guides were fantastic: They were very flexible to accommodate our interests and energy levels and very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel.

Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park.

Scott’s choice of hotels was wonderful. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes—we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season. Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Condé Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.” —Patricia Klein

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO JAPAN

Austria: “I can only describe the experience as life-affirming…”

Cityscape views of one of Europe's most beautiful town, Vienna.

Vienna’s city streets, Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a 14-day family trip in Austria planned by Gwen. I can only describe the experience as life-affirming. The official occasion for the trip was my son’s graduation from high school and sending him off to music school in the fall, so we had a heavy musical focus, but there was truly something for everyone in the family. We toured palaces and cathedrals in Vienna, experienced local food, watched the Lipizzaner stallions perform and had a private tour of the stables.

We moved on to the Wachau Valley for wine tasting and breathtaking Danube scenery, then visited the abbeys of Melk and Stift-Admont. In Salzburg, we soaked up the music festival, saw the fortress and countless Sound of Music film locations, attended a Mozart opera, a Vienna Philharmonic concert, and a world-class string quartet. We learned to make apple strudel and Salzburg Nockerl, and visited the charming lake district outside Salzburg. We rounded out our trip with several days in Innsbruck and a final train ride to Munich, where we celebrated my son’s birthday at a beer hall and caught our flight home.

Gwen was helpful and responsive and understood my family’s diverse needs. She steered us away from tourist traps and embraced our interest in some off-the-beaten-path locations. She suggested lovely boutique hotel experiences and guides with extraordinary depth of knowledge of their cities.” —Katherine Stadler

Read more reviews of Austria trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA

Italy: “Our eight-day food tour was requested by our 21-year-old son who was graduating from university…”

Bologna, Italy Food store food market showcase full of food in Bologna city in Italy

Food market in Bologna, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our eight-day food tour of Italy was requested by our 21-year-old son, who was graduating from university. Milan was the starting point, next was Bologna to learn about the renowned foods of the region, and then a repeat visit to Florence—and we absolutely loved everything Maria planned. The drivers, guides, food tours, wine tasting, cooking class were all impeccable. In Milan, when our guide found out our son loved fashion, she made a call to a fashion designer, and we were able to meet with the designer. We spent an hour-plus speaking with him, trying on his designs, and buying some of his pieces.

In Bologna our guide took us on a delicious food tasting that culminated in copious amounts of prosciutto, hams, cheeses, bread, balsamic vinegar, wine. Our all-day food tour through Parma and Emilia-Romagna was incredible, as was the private wine tasting where we sat in the cellar with the vineyard owner for more than two hours, tasting food and wine pairings. The vineyard owner then asked our driver to detour us through the medieval village of Fontanellato, to view the castle and moat and to indulge in gelato.” —Deb Lurie

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Western Canada: “Our son wanted to mountain bike on Whistler/Blackcomb…”

Turquoise Wedgemount Lake and wild alpine flowers, Whistler, British Columbia Canada

Whistler, British Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently traveled to British Columbia to celebrate our son’s high school graduation. On Wendy Perrin’s recommendation, we contacted Sheri, who suggested that, given our time constraints, we limit our visit to Whistler and Tofino. That proved to be an excellent recommendation which allowed us to enjoy our vacation without being rushed. Our son wanted to mountain bike on Whistler/Blackcomb and truly enjoyed it.

Sheri suggested other activities which kept the rest of us active while our son spent the day on the mountain. Her recommendation that we stay at the Four Seasons Whistler was great. It’s a beautiful hotel with great staff and a wonderful breakfast. We enjoyed our time in Tofino as well; Sheri’s recommendations for lodging, food, and activities were perfect for us.” —John Masko

Read more reviews of British Columbia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO BRITISH COLUMBIA

Peru: “She is about to study marine biology in college, so Marisol steered us toward the right Amazon basin area we hadn’t even considered…”

Gateway of the Sun, One Day Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu. Photo: Southwind Adventures

Sun Gate, Machu Picchu. Photo: Southwind Adventures

“This was a special trip to Peru for my niece just graduating from high school. She is about to study marine biology in college, so Marisol steered us toward the right Amazon basin area we hadn’t even considered. My husband, niece, and I just returned yesterday from Peru and wanted to send a HUGE GRACIAS to Marisol and her crew for making this trip one of a lifetime! There’s no way I ever could have constructed such a wonderful journey on my own. For sure, it was packed, but we came back feeling we’d seen such a diversity in Peru.

It was a perfect balance of wildlife, culture, adventure and a bit of relaxation. And although the weather was terrible during our one-day Inca Trail hike, with rain and clouds obscuring Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, we still wouldn’t change a thing. I will of course recommend and tell everyone I know to use Marisol—and to once again trust a Wendy Perrin specialist. Over the years, I have used and vetted many of Wendy’s travel specialists—and, no doubt, Marisol and her team are top of the list.” —Jon Paul Buchmeyer

Read more reviews of Peru trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO PERU

Uzbekistan: “My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia…”

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Shutterstock

“My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia, so as a graduation present we took him to Uzbekistan. Not only would I recommend Uzbekistan as a travel destination, but I would highly recommend Zulya to anyone planning a trip there. She arranged for a wonderful guide to accompany us throughout the country; our guide stayed with us day and night, shared meals and her culture, and helped us navigate a very foreign language. Zulya even arranged for us to have lunch with her family in Bukhara. It was amazing. Her mother taught my son how to make Plov. The lunch was a true feast, with about 20 family members. After lunch we all got up and danced together. It was an experience my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and I will cherish forever.—Ron Klausner

Read more reviews of Uzbekistan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO UZBEKISTAN

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates

5 Unusual Spring Break Ideas for College Students (and Their Parents)

Hi everyone, it’s Wendy’s son Doug here.  A reader asked where to take her 21-year-old for college spring break:

“Hi. This question is for Doug:  I’m thinking about a trip with my 21-year-old son for college spring break in March. Like you, he and I (I’m the Mom) have traveled together all his life. We are looking for your best ideas/suggestions. We’ve traveled to most of Europe. I’m primarily concerned that we only have a week. Can we see Dubai during that short time?  I enjoyed your trip reports and would appreciate your suggestions. Thanks, Rosalind”

I’m happy to help, and Dubai (pictured above) is a fantastic idea for spring break!  In fact, it’s one of my top five suggestions, based on my own experiences.  As a college sophomore, I can tell you that these suggestions are well suited to college students—and kids of all ages. These are destinations where you can get the combination of relaxation and adventure that you want for spring break, plus cultural exploration too.

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

This was us dune bashing in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter.  Photo: Timothy Baker

You can easily experience both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in one week!  You can go dune bashing (above is our thrilling 4×4 ride in Abu Dhabi), sandboarding, snowboarding (there’s an indoor ski slope), and still have enough time for the beach. You can drive a test Ferrari, take a hot lap in a Formula 1 car, or ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. Dubai is so technologically advanced that it lets you see and experience what the future will be like, which any college student wants to do. It’s also a big airline hub, so there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

BELIZE

Two people scuba diving

That’s me earning my scuba-diving certification in Belize. Photo: Timothy Baker

One week is more than enough time to get your scuba diving license in Belize. (That’s me above, following the instructor, during my certification course there.)  On the barrier reef, you can snorkel with stingrays, dive with sharks, adventure into a cave filled top to bottom with lobsters, and explore the Blue Hole. On Ambergris Caye, you can bike or drive a golf cart around the island, and at night you can go to beach bars and sip your favorite drink while sitting in a pool or eat in restaurants with your toes in the sand. You can read about our family trip to Belize here.

PANAMA

Two kids on a boat in Panama.

That’s me and my older brother, Charlie, on a boat in the Panama Canal. Photo: Timothy Baker

Panama is known for its biodiversity. You can hike and zipline through the jungle, see the incredible wildlife by boating down the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats (my brother and I are doing that above), visit the Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry, explore the Old Town, or hit the beach. It’s on East Coast time, so there’s no jet lag to cope with when classes start again, and there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

WHISTLER, CANADA

Doug watching Charlie riding Olympics bobsled in Whistler, Canada.

When I was in Whistler, I was too small to ride the Olympics bobsled, but I watched Charlie do it. He says it went so fast it felt like a blur. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whistler is a place for thrill seekers and extreme sports lovers. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding to be had are in these world-class mountains less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver. You can also go snowmobiling, ziplining, and bungee jumping in winter. My older brother, Charlie, got to zoom down the 2010 Whistler Winter Olympics bobsled course (I was too small), and he says it happened so fast that it felt like a blur—which is how the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi felt too—but it was still amazing.

MOROCCO

family picture at dades gorges Morocco

Here, I’m with Mom and Charlie in Morocco’s Dadès Gorges during spring break when I was 12.

You can go sandboarding and ride camels in the Sahara, hike in the mountains, and still have time to go surfing in Essouaira and enjoy a hammam. With its incredible architecture, markets, and cities, Morocco provides many experiences that are Instagram worthy, especially the rainbow of spices they put on their food. And it’s just across the Atlantic Ocean. You can read more about our spring break in Morocco here.

The reviews below from other travelers attest to how well these places work for everyone in the family. Happy spring break!

START A SPRING TRIP

Dubai and Abu Dhabi: “We visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to the U.A.E. for 10 days. Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, ‘this is really cool!’

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened Sea World. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson. The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. We were definitely able to experience a ‘trip of our lifetime’ for our grandsons and us!” —Diane Thormodsgard

Read more reviews of Dubai and Abu Dhabi trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Belize: “Relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands…”

empty white sand beach with a few green trees and light turquoise water in Belize

A white sand beach in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“In a matter of days, Patricia organized a world-class 12-day trip for our family to Belize, with features that kept our three kids (ages 17, 17 and 20) engaged and happy, including climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, lounging at the pool, and snorkeling. Lots of snorkeling. Christmas Day was spent relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands near the village of Placencia.

New Year’s Eve was spent on a ‘catch and cook’ adventure off the coast of Ambergris Caye with dive master and boat captain extraordinaire Carlos Cordova. We fished for bait, dove for conch and lobster, and went fishing. Then we cooked our catches on the beach. The highlight was ceviche made with fresh conch, lobster and fish. We particularly enjoyed the accommodations at Hidden Valley Wilderness Ranch and Naia Resort & Spa in Placencia. We couldn’t have asked for a better family trip.” —Robyn Smyers

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

Panama: “It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde…”

Old hanging bridge in a rainforest.

Old hanging bridge in the jungle of Panama. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, 21-year old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We also visited Monkey Island (taking a boat next to big ships in the Canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for three nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngädri restaurant, hanging bridges, and a tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All three of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PANAMA

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”

 

We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Brook posing above Lysefjord with snowy mountains in the background.

Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2024, February 5–9

UPDATE: WOW Week 2024 is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter

 


 

This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  We’re seeing more travelers booking trips farther in advance than in past years, as well as travelers taking more family and friends along.  Based on these bigger groups locking more trips in place earlier— especially to Western Europe—we’re predicting that Europe’s iconic locales, from Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the Greek island of Santorini, will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from May through early October.  Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-pandemic demand for travel, what with Europe’s summer season coinciding with events such as the Olympics in France in July, the G7 Summit in Puglia, Italy, in June, and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe from May through August.

Not to worry:  We’ve got solutions, and Brook (pictured above in Norway in November) and Hannah and I, plus special guests, will be sharing them during WOW Week, February 5-9, when we’ll host a Travel Talk every day at 7 pm EST.  Bring your burning questions!

NOTE: If you have trouble signing up for our Travel Talks, make sure you have a free Zoom account that is associated with the email address you are using. 

 


 

Where and When to Travel in 2024

Monday, February 5, at 7pm EST

Last year broke travel records, and you should expect—and prepare for—more records to fall in the year ahead. Wendy, Brook, and Hannah reveal what’s shaping up for 2024: opportunities to take advantage of, challenges to zap, and the coolest under-the-radar places, off-season values, foodie experiences, and more.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

Tuesday, February 6, at 7pm EST

Wendy and Brook explain why the continent should be on your list for 2024, and WOW List experts for South America share what’s new, what’s best, what you haven’t thought of, and how to ensure your trip goes smoothly.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Successful Family Travel in 2024

Wednesday, February 7, at 7pm EST

WOW List experts with the latest intel for maximizing your travels and minimizing stress—in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and beyond—will share solutions. Learn how to keep everybody in your travel group happy, whatever their ages or conflicting needs and interests. Bring your questions!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Travel Insurance and Emergency Assistance: How to Protect Yourself

Thursday, February 8, at 7pm EST

Learn how to prepare for the unexpected, from surprise injuries to natural disasters to political unrest. Experts explain and simplify how to minimize your risk, both financial and medical, and they’ll take your questions live, so bring your list of what’s been perplexing you!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone!

Friday, February 9, at 7pm EST

Photojournalist Tim Baker (a.k.a. Mr. Wendy Perrin) reveals simple tips to help you take much better travel photos with your smartphone–better action shots, group shots, food shots, night shots, video, and more. Tim’s advice is device-agnostic: Apple and Android users welcome!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet:

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions (via our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature) and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you (see Wendy’s WOW List).

Don’t miss this special WOW Week discount:

Medjet is offering our WOW Week audience an exclusive discount of up to $50 off New Medjet Annual Memberships. The deal is available from Monday, February 5 at 9am EST till Monday, February 12 at 5 pm EST. You can learn more about Medjet and get the deal by clicking the red button below. 

GET THE DEAL

 

A few dream trips destinations selected by our travelers.

10 Top Dream Trips for 2024

Many of you are thinking ahead this year and booking trips much farther in advance than in the past—which is smart, given the travel rush we saw last year: Many people waited too late and got shut out of the most charming places to stay and less-discovered locales.

These ten travelers are especially on top of things:  Their dream trips are already booked and on their calendars. They’ve worked with destination specialists on The WOW List to design their trips, some of which they’ve dreamt of for many years, and all of which they’ll remember for a lifetime. For the rest of us, we hope these trips provide ideas and spark inspiration.

Hoping to make a dream trip a reality this year? Click the button below to get started.

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

Puglia: Italy regulars head to a lesser-known region to practice their Italian

Beautiful town of Alberobello with trulli houses among green plants and flowers, Puglia.

The town of Alberobello, in Puglia, with its iconic trulli houses. Photo: Shutterstock

Dana Perry and her husband, Charles, have been to Italy many times, where they put the Italian language they are learning to good use—most recently to Sicily with a WOW travel expert. They love slow travel and off-the-beaten-path activities—and are serious foodies. They wanted to head somewhere new to them.

“Italy has a perfect mix of cultural attractions, history and beautiful scenery—we chose Puglia for our 2024 trip because it’s a bit under the radar and got such positive reviews from travelers. I think we keep coming back to Italy due to the mix of attractions and to go deeper. We’ve hit the major cities on previous travels—by getting to some of the less touristy destinations we have more authentic experiences and can slow down the pace. We’re looking forward to a nice mix of historical sites, food and wine tours, cultural things, and relaxation.” —Dana Perry

This trip was arranged by WOW List Puglia experts Antonello Losito and Alison Pike. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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India: “the people, colors, sounds, and food…”

Women servants dressed in sari.

Some of the people and colors you might see at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India. Photo: Shutterstock

Ron Klausner and his wife stay home in the summer, where their family joins them by the beach. In the wintertime, they often head to warmer climes. After a trip to Sri Lanka, India sparked their excitement.

“We are hitting the major tourist sites in Northern India: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur. We may also add in Varanasi. After those major sites we are taking a seven-day Brahmaputra river cruise in northeast India. We’re so excited to experience the unique culture—the people, colors, sounds and food. I can’t imagine there is anywhere else in the world quite like it. Anticipation is one third of the joy of travel, the trip itself is a third and the memories are the last third.” —Ron Klausner

This trip was arranged by WOW List India expert Sanjay Saxena. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway and Svalbard: unique scenery, fjords, polar bears, midnight sun…

Polar bear, Svalbard, Arctic

A polar bear relaxing on the sea ice in Svalbard, in the Arctic. Photo: Shelley Fry

Tom Redburn, his wife Lisa, and their friends are retired journalists and nature photographers. Prolific travelers, Tom had wonderful memories of hiking in Norway in college and has always wanted to return.

“The trip is to fulfill a long-standing dream for both of us, a return to a place Lisa loved visiting with a close friend (who tragically died a couple of decades ago from breast cancer), and for me, to add to our great outdoors adventures by witnessing the stunning natural landscape of Norway. We’re looking forward to a different way of traveling this time. We’ve never taken a cruise (apart from a small 16-passenger adventure cruise to the Galapagos) and we’re not likely to ever take a conventional cruise. But as we’re getting older (we’re both 73), we found the idea of expedition cruising through a gorgeous remote landscape very appealing and are expecting the adventure-seeking atmosphere on the NatGeo expedition ship.

I’m probably most excited about two aspects of the trip: the spectacular scenery of the fjords and enjoying them both from the deck of our ship and exploring by small boat, kayak, and short hikes; and the chance to see polar bears in their natural environment. I also think it will be very exciting to be traveling to the land of the midnight sun during the very long daylight hours of June.” —Tom Redburn

This trip was arranged by WOW List Expedition Cruise expert Ashton Palmer. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Scotland: green rolling landscapes, country castles, Scotch tastings…

Kinnoull Hill tower ruins, Perth Scotland, overlooking the River Tay on a clear day

Overlooking the River Tay from Scotland’s Kinnoull Hill tower ruins. Photo: Shutterstock

Sue Paolucci was ready for her third WOW trip after heading to Spain in 2019 and Greece in 2022. Our team helped her and her companions land on Scotland for their next trip, chosen for its unique mix of history, landscapes, and culture.

“My husband and I are recently retired physicians, and worldwide travel has always been on our bucket list. Although admittedly in this age of COVID, and global unrest, leaving the safety of our home base gives us pause. So, we decided to travel intelligently and safely (and this is where you and your colleagues come in!) and decided that our raison d’etre would be as ambassadors of goodwill and peace as we represent our country going forward. We knew we wanted to experience local flavor, not just the usual touristy sites…and if we went to a ‘touristy site,’ we would like to see it from a different, exclusive angle. We are most looking forward to wonderful green rolling landscapes, tasting Scotch, of course, and trying to decipher the Scottish brogue.” —Susan Paolucci

This trip was arranged by WOW List United Kingdom expert Jonathan Epstein. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Southern Africa: a bucket-list safari to celebrate a high-school graduation

Namib Desert, Namibia

Namibia’s Namib Desert is right on the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Shutterstock

This family of four—mom, dad, and two boys ages 16 and 18—are celebrating their eldest’s high-school graduation with a trip they’ve long dreamed of.

“South Africa and safari has been on our bucket list for decades. But we just never made it happen—other trips, finances, time, distance from L.A., etc. All sorts of excuses. But with our older son’s high-school graduation this June we realized that if we were going to do it as a family, we needed to finally pull the trigger. And we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate him than to take this dream trip. It will be the first time to Africa for all of us.

Namibia is what we are most excited about. It has been on our list—its isolation, alien beauty, remoteness, uniqueness. We thought that we would have to wait for another trip once we had the traditional safari under our belts. So, we were extremely excited when Julian was able to include Namibia.” —Julie Heimark

This trip was arranged by WOW List African Safari expert Julian Harrison. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Vietnam and Cambodia: Off-the-beaten-path experiences and time with locals

small rowboats in Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is home to thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Photo: Shutterstock

Molly O’Neill-Emmi and her husband, Tom, love to travel. Before the pandemic, they had pushed off many of the bigger trips for later. The pandemic changed their philosophy: “No more thinking ‘one day’ we’ll get there—now‘s the time,” Molly said.

“We didn’t want to limit ourselves to just one region in Vietnam, so Sandy provided expert guidance and recommendations for a comprehensive and diverse itinerary. We’ll start in Hanoi, travel to Hue and Hoi An in central Vietnam, and then spend time in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. From there, we fly to Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat and temples off-the-beaten-tourist-path, as well as engage in hands-on experiences with locals.

There are so many elements of this trip that have us excited. True hands-on experiences with locals, including spending a day gaining insight into elements of rural Vietnamese life, such as planting rice, paddling a bamboo basket boat, etc. Exploring a war-time tunnel complex and a secret bunker. Meeting a former North Vietnam fighter pilot. Attending sunrise meditation with monks. The list goes on and on.” —Molly O’Neill-Emmi

This trip was arranged by WOW List Southeast Asia experts Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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The Galapagos Islands for giant tortoises, playful sea lions, and scuba diving

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

Andrea’ Phillips’ family of four—two adults and two teenage daughters—wanted to see and interact with as many sea lions, sharks, turtles, and penguins as possible. They learned that securing a Galapagos trip a year in advance is crucial to ensuring that their preferences are met.

“We are most excited about the extraordinary wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and unique ecosystems. We love nature and creating unforgettable experiences, so to have the opportunity to meet giant tortoises, interact with playful sea lions, and dive alongside hammerhead sharks in crystal-clear waters is nothing short of a dream come true for us! In fact, we’ve arranged a trip to the Philippines this April, also planned by a Wendy-Perrin-recommended expert, specifically to prepare for scuba diving before our Galapagos adventure.” —Andrea Phillips

This trip was arranged by WOW List Galapagos expert Allie Almario. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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France: biking, hiking, cooking lessons, exploring with grandkids…

A colorful and old town street of Aix in Provence, France.

The ancient town of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. Photo: Shutterstock

Karen Dalfen planned this trip with the intention of sharing fun and lifelong memories with her grandkids, ages 13 and 16. They love being active and have limited patience for museums and historical sites.

“I usually plan a vacation many months ahead as I want particular rooms, restaurants, entrance tickets and plane seating. This becomes particularly important when traveling alone with grandchildren. It’s important that plane seats are close by, that rooms are either next to each other or a family suite, that meal times are spaced properly. Given that Paris is an extremely busy city, planning way in advance is a must.

We will spend half our time in Paris, and the other in the region of Aix-en-Provence. There will be cooking lessons, site seeing, craft visiting, some hiking and biking, a food tasting day, and my favorite, a night at Versailles. I have discovered that it is not important to see everything on a vacation. In fact, this can be exhausting. The deeper and richer the experience is, will in turn help to create the long-lasting memories.” —Karen Dalfen

This trip was arranged by WOW List France expert Jennifer Virgilio. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Argentina and Chile: meticulously preserved nature in Patagonia and legendary wine estates

snowy mountains reflect perfectly in a blue lake in Torres del Paine park in Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, in Chilean Patagonia, brims with mountain peaks, glaciers, and lakes. Photo: Knowmad Adventures

Andy and Marci Shapiro have used WOW List experts to plan trips to India, Sicily, Croatia, Mexico, and Thailand. Next up: wine tasting in Mendoza and breathtaking mountains in Patagonia.

“Patagonia, as well as both Argentina’s wine country/Mendoza and Chilean wine country, has been on my wife’s and my bucket list for a long time. We love nature and we love wine. Patagonia is one of the most preserved places on the planet with incredibly dramatic natural scenery. With man’s impact on earth, we’re concerned our natural wonders are being adversely affected and want to visit these places sooner than later. As for wine, Argentina and Chile produce some of the most iconic wines anywhere in the world. We’re looking forward to visiting the estates of some of our favorite wines that we’ve been drinking for decades, including but not limited to Catena Zapata, Viña Cobos, and Clos Apalta. As my wife and I enter our 60s and with the pandemic behind us, our life approach is ‘If not now, then when?” —Andy Shapiro

This trip was arranged by WOW List Chile, Argentina, and Patagonia expert Jordan Harvey. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Belize: snorkeling with stingrays, watching manatees, sailing with young kids…

aerial photo of Tobacco Caye with sailboat and blue green ocean

Tobacco Caye, a tiny tropical island in Belize. Photo: Absolute Belize

For Kim Segal and her family, Belize—where they can fly direct from their hometown—seemed a great international travel option with young children, ages 4 and 7, without the challenge of jet lag. They planned highlights for the whole family, including a night walk to look for nocturnal creatures and creepy-crawly bugs and spiders.

“I can’t wait to introduce my older son to great snorkeling. He was so excited to see fish in the ocean when we were in Croatia last year, but those fish were pretty boring compared to what we will see in Belize! I hope that my kids enjoy all the activities, and I really hope they like Shark Ray Alley. Watching them experience all these cool places and things—it’s as fun as experiencing them myself. I’m excited to watch them play on the beach; they spent hours doing that in Croatia and they just had a blast. Also, they got super into shell collecting in Croatia and in Cabo San Lucas, so hopefully they can do some beachcombing as well in Belize. Mainly, though, I’m just excited because travel allows me to focus solely on enjoying time with my family, something that is harder to do at home when I have a household to run and we all have busy and hectic lives. I set my email on out-of-office, let the organization I volunteer with know I’m unavailable, and I focus on having fun times together as a family.

Personally, I’m also hoping to see a manatee (haven’t seen one of those yet in the wild!), and I’m looking forward to cruising around on a catamaran checking out the views, maybe lounging on the trampoline of the boat with a good book and a glass of wine in hand, and of course I’m looking forward to a week of sunshine in the middle of winter!” —Kim Segal

This trip was arranged by WOW List Belize experts Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Wendy and sons at the Pont des Arts in Paris

European Vacations for Winter School Breaks

Hey everyone, Doug Baker here, Wendy’s youngest son. Mom used to take us to Europe during our winter school breaks (such as Paris, above) when I was growing up. Now, I’m a college sophomore, and when my friends talk about where we should go for March break, I tell them Europe—and not just to avoid the summer rush.

Europe feels more authentic to me in winter. It’s easier to be part of the local scene. The weather might be colder and the days shorter, but there are so many fun activities, opportunities, and foods that are totally different from what you will find in summer.

A lot of people ice skating on an ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Doug Baker

In winter, I’ve ice-skated on rinks from little town squares in Brussels and Bratislava to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (above). It’s a great way to meet local people! In winter, I’ve tried hot chocolate as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar everywhere from Demel in Vienna to the ski slopes of Spain, and street food such as piping-hot kürtőskalács in Budapest, schupfnudeln in Germany, and this in Salzburg:

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria.

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria. Photo: Tim Baker

In winter, you must spend more time indoors, but museums and castles are more fun when you have them to yourself. I was able to do a scavenger hunt with my brother inside the Centre Pompidou in Paris that took us through every floor of the museum, and in Bratislava there was nobody in the ancient church, so I was able to play one of the world’s oldest pipe organs.

Most of all, people are much nicer to you in winter because the tourist crowds aren’t there to annoy them. It is much easier to have conversations and build connections with the local people. One more thing I tell my college friends when they suggest the stereotypical spring-break spots (and maybe I shouldn’t share this with their parents): The drinking age is 18 in Europe!

You’ll find more—and more serious—reasons to experience Europe in winter in the traveler reviews below. First up: A 19- and 16-year-old get educated in Eastern Europe about the Holocaust and Ukraine.

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Eastern Europe: “Making pierogi with Marta in her home…she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war…”

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague's Strahov Monastery.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury

Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Italy: “On our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild!”

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome.

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome. Photo: Shutterstock

“There were six of us: me, my husband, our three children (15, 13, 10), and my mom. It was a lovely time to be in Rome because, while still busy, it was not anything like what we would have experienced in the summer months. The weather was perfectly moderate for walking around, between 55° and 60° most days. Jennifer listened so closely to what our interests were and how we wanted to divide up the trip between time in and outside of Rome. She developed the perfect itinerary, even paying attention to timing of morning excursions so as not to start too early after a late night.

While we enjoyed all of our excursions, the ones we enjoyed most were not the main tourist attractions. Collectively, we all loved the cooking classes: one a pizza and gelato class, and the other a pasta and tiramisu class. Perfect for all six of us! Our other favorite excursions were Pompeii, Villa Adriana on the way to Tivoli, and our day spent in the Jewish neighborhood and former Jewish ghetto. I was extremely pleased that Jennifer’s team only works with Jewish guides in the Jewish neighborhood. I think that is a very important detail. Having all private tours made it easy to adapt tour and timing to all of our needs, which is particularly helpful with three kids/teens.

Timing worked out that on our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild! My husband and oldest son are HUGE sports fans. Even though the rest of us are not as much, it was still really terrific to be part of an event that is so important to European culture.” —Aimee Kleiman

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway & Copenhagen: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation Giacometti, we had an amazing time.

Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.

We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne Goldberg

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Austria & Czech Republic: “The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave…”

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above.

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above. Photo: Julius Silver

Gwen planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Both hotels—the Sans Souci in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague—were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

Our private guided walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable. The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable: We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.

The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague—Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov Monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure—we could have spent hours there.

Gwen suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague. It was a wonderful vacation—the days spent in each location were just right.” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Austria and Czechia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Portugal: “Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip…”

A winter sunny day with clear blue skies at Riberira beach in Ericeira, Portugal.

A winter day with clear blue skies at Praia de Ribeira, Ericeira. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Sofia created an itinerary that was perfect for our family. And, they gave us a trip that we will always remember! Some highlights…

The hotels were AMAZING!! We typically stay at the same hotel chain when we travel and were so grateful for their suggestion of boutique hotels. Not only did they provide our family plenty of space, but they each felt warm and welcoming every time we walked into the room. My daughters LOVED the set-up and decor of The Lumiares hotel in Lisbon, stating they never wanted to leave. The Rebello’s views of Porto were breathtaking (unless the fog rolled in) and the access to an incredible running path along the water made it the perfect place for us to stay. Our final hotel stay at the Immerso was exactly what we needed after a very busy trip. Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip; we only wish we had a few days to explore the area. : )

The guides they found for us were exceptional!! The tours provided us with interesting historical and present-day content. They were all engaging and ready to shape the tours to match our family. Tiago, in particular, was amazing!! The tour of Sintra could have been a disaster due to the weather, and he made it one of the most fun with his depth of knowledge and witty humor! For a family who loves to travel, Goncalo could not have put together a more perfect trip for us.” —Shannon Jones

Read more reviews of Portugal. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Spain: “Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable…”

Placa Reial on a winter evening, not too crowded with people, Barcelona, Spain.

Placa Reial on a winter evening in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Luis and Silvia did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.

Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable. We were able to see all of the popular sites without lines or overcrowding. Our favorite parts, however, were more off-the-beaten-path excursions. Silvia arranged for Alex, our tour guide through the Catalan neighborhoods, to cook paella and drink vermouth with him and his mother Lourdes in a flat with a rooftop deck. This was a highlight of the trip.

In addition to sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the culture, we were interested in recommendations for restaurants, nightlife, and vintage stores. Silvia provided detailed recommendations for each and arranged nightly restaurant reservations. Our favorite meal, a 17-course tasting at the Michelin-star Loco in Lisbon, was a very special night!” —Lisa Powers

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

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Waterfall Agua Azul, Chiapas. Located in Mexico

Best Multigenerational Trips: Reviews from our Travelers

We see it all the time: Grandparents want to take three generations on a memorable trip—but they don’t know where to go. So we’ve compiled below reviews of our favorite multigenerational trips. Our Trusted Travel Experts know how to negotiate the particular challenges of a group that spans decades: varied interests and activity levels, reduced mobility for some, the logistics of a large group, and more. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip. If you’re not sure where you want to go, Ask Wendy—we’d be happy to give you a personalized recommendation for your next multigenerational getaway.


Australia: boating on Sydney Harbor, bridge climb, koalas & kangaroos…

View of Sydney from the Harbour BridgeClimb Australia

View of Sydney from the Harbour BridgeClimb. Photo: Destination NSW

Stuart and Jacki prepared an amazing itinerary for our trip to Australia in December. Jacki and the driver met us at the Sydney airport on a Sunday morning at 7am—how amazing to be met by the person who made our arrangements! She suggested the Langham Sydney, and we would be using it as a home base, as we went to Uluru (Longitude 131—an amazing hotel that even prepared a bed outside if you wanted to sleep under the stars), back to Sydney, followed by a trip to the Blue Mountains (Spicers Sangoma Retreat), and then a final 5-night stay in Sydney. Our guide in the Blue Mountains was Tim, and he knew every back road and all the locations for a beautiful view. Our WOW Moment was a sunset boat ride with drinks, and the weather was perfect for it.

The children and grandchildren arrived for the last 4 nights, and she planned a great itinerary for all of us, ages 2 to 70: a Christmas carol concert at the Opera House, drivers for everything (the driver even took a video of us from above taking the Bondi Beach walk—all 9 of us), a harbor boat trip with lunch and swimming, the Sydney Bridge Climb, a private tour of the Rocks, an Aussie Backyard Tour at the zoo, and a lovely day in Hobart, visiting Russell Falls and Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our granddaughter needed a doctor, and Jacki provided a list of doctors (outside of regular hours and during the Christmas holiday!) and Tyler (the Langham’s concierge that day) made repeated calls to get us an appointment. Both Jacki and Stuart followed up with her status. The parents were very impressed with Children’s Hospital in Sydney where she was treated, and we went on with our trip. We will be using Stuart and Jacki again for our next trip to Australia—they just made it so easy!” —Denise Staal

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Galapagos, Andes, Amazon: island wildlife, countryside hacienda, remote eco-lodge…

Travelers and a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family catch up with a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Allie did an amazing job planning our 13-day multi-generational family trip to Ecuador for Christmas 2023. We started planning almost a year in advance. Most accommodations are smaller, with about 20 rooms total, and I would definitely suggest planning this trip well in advance, as availability dictated the outline of our trip from the beginning of the planning process. And we LOVED all of the places we stayed!

Allie suggested destinations she thought were right for us, based on our travel style and age range. In the Galapagos Islands we opted for a land-based trip rather than a cruise, and although we didn’t get to see as many islands as we would have if we’d stayed on a boat, we were very happy with our choice. We spent four days in the Galapagos (two on land exploring Santa Cruz Island—so much to see and do) and two at sea exploring multiple islands in the archipelago. Allie even arranged for a private family photo shoot on the most beautiful beach!

Next stop was in the Andes mountains back on the mainland at an amazing hacienda where we really got a feel for the culture of the country. After a couple of days here, it was time for the grand finale, the Amazon rainforest. We all thought the Galapagos would be the main highlight of a trip to Ecuador, but the Amazon was just mind-blowing. Allie sent us to the most amazing eco-lodge in a very remote location where we spent three nights. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Ecuador was very unique in that we were able to spend time in the Galapagos, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon all in one trip! Just be aware, we had a lot of very early mornings and very little downtime (naps during transit were common). Some of the excursions can be physically challenging if you don’t have great balance or stamina, especially combined with the strong equator sun. And there is a lot of moving around and time spent traveling from one place to another. However, it was all 100% worth it! Allie planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of eight!” —Lauren Schor

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Kenya: a safari camp all to themselves & beach time on the Indian Ocean

Robin Carlson

Robin Carlson and family at Instinct of the Mara, where they had the entire camp to themselves.

Julian planned a memorable trip to Kenya for our extended family of 11 people, including grandkids ranging in age from 11 to 17. We planned to arrive in Nairobi a day before we needed to leave for our first camp, to give ourselves a little time to recover from the flights. Although we thought we had plenty of time to make our connection in Amsterdam, a long delay caused us to miss our flight to Nairobi. Because we were expected in Nairobi for a morning visit to the Giraffe Center, I contacted Julian and Lisa to let them know of our arrival changes. They were able to change the Giraffe Center visit to our last day in Kenya instead of the first.

Julian suggested we start at Sweetwaters Serena Camp, so we could see rhinos. It was a perfect start. There was a water hole opposite the tents, so animals were coming and going all day and night. Meals were buffet-style, which provided plenty of options for everyone, including kids and vegetarians.

Then we flew to Instinct of the Mara for four days. We had booked two 2-bedroom suites, as well as a room for my husband and me. We were lucky to arrive in time for the beginning of the Great Migration, which was awe inspiring. Except for one day when we saw a few other vehicles, we were alone among the animals. One evening we had a sundowner with lamb roasted on a spit by the Maasai while we watched the sun set.

Our final stop was Cardamom House on the Indian Ocean. It’s a beautiful, very private spot. We enjoyed relaxing and swimming. I had requested a birthday cake for my granddaughter, and the staff went all out. The chairs were decorated with balloons. They brought cake and ice cream and sang to her. She said: best birthday ever.

Without Julian we would never have found these places. The trip was paced well, and Julian and his people were there to help us through the bumps.”—Robin Carlson

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Iceland: ice caves, geysers & waterfalls with 2 teens

Foggy day on an ice cave tour in Iceland

Barbara Fierman, her husband, and their grandsons geared up to explore an ice cave.

“The timing, both time of year and number of days, was perfect for a trip with our two 14-year-old grandsons. We knew that the boys would love adventure and Chris provided ample opportunity for that. We explored caves, a geyser, and many waterfalls, hiked in national parks and in an ice cave, and kayaked at sunset through a glacial lagoon.

Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks. Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences.” —Barbara Fierman

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Azores: easy access to volcano hikes, whale watching, lava tubes…

Family hike up the mountain to Lagao do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and family on a hike to Lagoa do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

“For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas, The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach. We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream. Throughout the trip we had excellent local food and wine, including ultra-fresh seafood and excellent beef (cows outnumber people on the islands). A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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Kenya: celebrating a 50th anniversary on safari, with grandkids aged 6 to 13

A cheetah in the high grass of Masai Mara, Keny

A cheetah in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo: Korin DeAcetis / Hippo Creek Safaris

“To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to take our two daughters and their families on an African safari. The trip Daniel planned for us was fantastic. Since we and our daughters live in 3 different U.S. cities, we met in Nairobi and stayed for 2 nights. The accommodations at the House of Waine were outstanding and the staff very accommodating, given two of our arrivals were very late and the 4 grandkids varied in age from 6 to 13. This gave us time to get over some jet lag and see some of Nairobi. We then flew via private charter for 4 nights to a Saruni camp in Samburu, followed by another private charter to a Saruni camp in Maasai Mara for 4 nights, before returning to Nairobi for our flights home.

The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. They had a special celebration for our anniversary at all three locations. They also celebrated one of our son-in-law’s birthdays while we were on the trip with a cake and singing at each location..

Samburu is semi-arid and Maasai Mara lush and green. It was great to see the two different areas and experience the different as well as similar animals in each. Daniel is the one that recommended the two different areas and we are quite happy he did. The pace of the trip which he planned was good; having 4 days at each camp gave us the time to truly experience and appreciate each area.

Our experience suggests that other travelers should pace their trip similar to ours. Two of our international flights were extremely late and having 2 nights in Nairobi before going to the safari camps allowed us to catch our breath. Also spending 4 nights at a camp allows you to settle in and appreciate the uniqueness of the location.

Seeing all the animals with our extended family at each location made this a special travel experience. Some of the most outstanding were seeing the 5 animals unique to the Samburu area, lions along with some cubs, leopards, cheetah, elephants, giraffes and hippos. The sundowners and meals in the bush also were very special times. Of these, the most memorable was having a bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang. They encouraged the kids and adults to participate and we all had a grand time. We would not have had all these wonderful experiences if it had not been for Daniel.” —David Magdanz

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Switzerland: hiking, rafting and wine tasting with an infant in tow

Laura Roberts

The Roberts family hiking in Wengen during their WOW Trip to Switzerland. Photo: Traveler Laura Roberts

“We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days with the help of Ana in Nina’s office. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our four grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all eight of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelight cave, rafted, mountain biked, wine tasted, and much more! We had three major destinations: Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town.

However, the true highlight was in the mountain near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions—cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there, and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!” —Laura Roberts

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Iceland: road trip with “action-packed days” and “hikes galore”

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Chris must live on Iceland time at his home in upstate New York. Far as I can figure, there is no time you cannot reach him. He boasts concierge service for his travelers, and he delivers. When we texted at 2 a.m. East Coast time with a query, Chris was on it immediately.

Not only did he create a well-planned self-driving itinerary for us with action-packed days, but he was available throughout our trip, whether we needed to sort out a glitch or decide where to eat dinner.

There were so many highlights: transiting a glacier cave via criss-crossing planks above roaring glacial runoff; a private sanctuary tour that had us inches from two beluga whales; experiencing tolt, a unique gait of the flowing-maned Icelandic horses; Zodiac-ing among icebergs to the face of a glacier.

I would encourage anybody who loves the outdoors to visit Iceland. There are hikes galore: you can transit behind a towering waterfall, ascend to the rim of an active volcano, or visit an extraordinary black-pebble beach. We boated by Surtsey, the newest island on earth, a dozen years younger than I am.”—Susan Crandell

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city tours, desert adventures, theme parks…

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to UAE at the end of July for 10 days. We told our grandchildren many years ago they could pick any place in the world for a trip. Dubai was the choice! Although we were skeptical about going there during the summer when it is very hot, Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. He listened to our desire to give the boys an unforgettable experience and delivered.

We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the “top of the Burj Khalifa,” had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, “this is really cool!”

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened (May) Sea World. All of the parks are covered so the hot weather was not an issue. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson.

The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. The guides and drivers were always early, very professional and top-notch. They readily adjusted our tours (like less shopping time) to cater to our interests. Nicholas was available during the trip for any issues or questions we had. He started working with us to plan the trip 7 months before we traveled and never hesitated to make himself available.

I would highly recommend Nicholas and staff if you are planning a trip to UAE. It was very obvious he has strong relationships with local service providers and is very knowledgeable about the area. We were definitely able to experience a “trip of our lifetime” for our grandsons and us!”—Diane Thormodsgard

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French Polynesia: a private catamaran charter and overwater bungalows on Bora Bora

yellow fish underwater in tahaa Island Tahiti

An underwater view off Tahaa Island, French Polynesia. Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

“Our family enlisted Kleon to plan our trip to French Polynesia, where we spent a week on a catamaran sailing between the islands and a stop in Bora Bora for several days.

Because there were six of us, and three generations, Kleon suggested a number of activities that would suit us all. We snorkeled with manta rays and sharks, kayaked and paddleboarded. There were also visits to a pearl farm, vanilla farm, and rum factory, all of which we truly enjoyed.

The catamaran was a perfect choice for us. There was a very professional and cordial captain, and Virginie a perfect hostess and incredible cook. Because of them, we enjoyed spending time on the cat just relaxing, reading, snoozing, etc., as much as we enjoyed our excursions.

On Bora Bora, Kleon suggested the Pearl Resort, which suited us fine. We all had overwater bungalows with patios and direct lagoon access. It was also interesting to be able to feed the myriad of fish from an opening at the bottom of the bed! Kleon’s efforts and organization made this trip very easy, seamless, and special for us!” —Vanessa Hulme

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New Zealand: Family of 6 celebrates dad’s 80th birthday

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Photo: Rob-Suisted/New Zealand Tourism

“My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!

We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.”—Alana Jacobson

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Costa Rica: new experiences in a familiar destination

Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery

Monteverde Hummingbird Gallery, Costa Rica. Photo by Sergio Pucci/Courtesy Costa Rica Expeditions.

Priscilla planned and executed a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for my multi-generational family. The needs and wants of teenagers, adults, and seniors were all addressed. We saw too many ‘creatures’ to list, including a breaching whale, dolphin pod, sloths, quetzals, trogons, etc. —something for everyone, which isn’t easy, given the age difference and some dietary restrictions. Thanks, Wendy, for the marvelous WOW Moment—a multi-hour sea voyage that enabled us to visit with the dolphins while learning the area’s history from the charming captain.

Priscilla ensured we saw the area highlights yet had sufficient time to just relax and enjoy where we were. I was able to reunite with guides I had first met in the early 90s. Also spoke with the owner of the local coffee company established in 1994 and selling me beans ever since. In thinking about highlights, the hanging bridges at Monteverde and the breaching whale rise to the top of the list, unless you count the smiles of the grandchildren throughout the day… every day. Who says you can’t relive the past? We did!” —Linda and Joe Rothman

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Malta: private villas and outdoor adventures

William Fisher

William Fisher’s grandchildren making pastizzi in Malta.

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —William Fisher

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Belize: Family of 10 celebrates a 50th anniversary

palm tree and beach overlooking turquoise Caribbean Sea South Water Caye Belize

South Water Caye, Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be!  Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!” —Judith Rodwell

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Morocco: Family of 8 over Christmas/New Year’s

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

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

Radia and her team put together a trip of a lifetime for our multi-generational family of eight. Our 10-day trip to Morocco over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was one of the best we have ever taken together. It was the perfect combination of cultural experiences, food experiences, sightseeing, shopping and adventure! We spent three nights in Fes, one night in the Sahara, and six nights in Marrakech. Highlights included a hike in the Atlas Mountains, followed by a cooking class at a local Berber family’s home in the mountain village. We also loved the sidecar tour around Marrakech—such a fun and different way to see the city beyond the medina, where most tourists spend all their time.

But everyone’s favorite day of the trip was the time we spent in the Sahara. We felt like we were in the pages of National Geographic as we drove ATVs over the gorgeous sand dunes—so fun and thrilling, with the most unbelievable scenery. And we drove the ATVs right to where our camels were waiting to take us on an unforgettable sunset ride and then on to our luxury tented camp for the evening, where our belongings were waiting for us. It was truly a dream come true.

We also had another surreal experience in the Sahara when we had tea with a nomadic Berber family who lives in tents without electricity or running water. We were able to talk to them and ask them questions about their life (through our guide, who translated for us)—it was a very educational and eye-opening experience, especially for our teenagers. Morocco is a feast for the senses. Even just walking around the medina and souks, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells you will experience will leave a lasting impression on you.” —Lauren Schor

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas/New Year’s

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

“Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain.

Gonçalo and Patricia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted!  It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect.

Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!” —Michelle Bodine

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London: Chelsea Stadium, royal history, museum scavenger hunt for a family of 10

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom.

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently returned from a trip to London with our family of 10 people that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and 4 grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a 2-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of 4. We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families.

Our guide, Alex, was with us for 4 days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.” —Ellen Weiner

Read more reviews of London trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands: wildlife trip for a family of eight

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador.

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were looking for a multi-generational, active vacation—with a strong nature component—for a group of 8 ranging from 8 years old to 75, with two very keen birdwatchers. Ecuador fit the bill, and Allie organized an outstanding vacation for us. We started in Quito with a trip up the cable car where we had views of all the volcanoes surrounding the city, then lunch on the edge of a caldera, a visit to a museum on the equator (granddaughters loved this) and a quick tour round the old town.

The next day it was off to the Napo wildlife center in the Amazon basin, where Allie had arranged for two private guides, one the top birder in the Amazon region of Ecuador and the other a more general guide for the rest who wanted a more varied trip (including a visit to the parrot clay lick and views of the many species of monkeys).

Then came Mashpi, an outstanding luxury lodge in the middle of the cloud forests. Again we had two different guides, so everyone could participate in the activities they wanted. The final leg of our trip was in the Galapagos, where the remaining six of our group went on board a luxury catamaran with 10 other passengers and 12 crew, including an excellent naturalist. With a combination of snorkeling and land-based excursions, we had great views of most of the Galapagos wildlife. Think hammerhead sharks, penguins, sea lions and turtles swimming next to you, and birds galore and giant tortoises on the land.

Our final night was in Hotel del Parque in Guayaquil and finished with an outstanding meal on the terrace at Casa Julian, surrounded by the sounds of an Ecuadorian wedding. All transfers worked perfectly, all flights were on time and no lost luggage. Thank you, Allie!” —Anthony Ford-Hutchinson

Read more reviews of Ecuador trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway: Fishing, hiking, RIB boating in the Lofoten Islands…

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“Part of our Norway trip included three generations: my husband and me, our daughter, and four of our grandchildren. Jan encouraged us to stay at Reine, in the Lofoten Islands. We stayed in Robuer cabins, which were exactly the right fit for the families. Jan set up a full day with a RIB boat, including a shore lunch and a hike to a cave. The next day, he set up a fishing experience and a private chef to come to our room and cook the fish for all of us.

Following the multi-generational portion of our trip, my husband and I cruised from Copenhagen up the west coast of Norway and back to Copenhagen. Jan arranged for private guides to meet us at four different stops on the cruise. These guides were more than happy to tailor the day to our needs. While the ship offered excursions, having the private guides and drivers worked best for us, enhancing the trip with their knowledge and making each destination personal.

Covid was not an issue. Norway had been closed tight for two years and opened only a few months before our trip. It was the SAS pilot strike that made some of our travel plans most worrisome. Jan and his staff were literally at our service day and night as we tried to navigate the travel concerns brought on by the strike.” —Peggy Schuemann

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Austria and Germany: Christmas markets and more, to suit ages 9 to 79

Christmas market and decorations in Vienna park next to City Hall (Rathaus), Austria,Vienna.

Vienna Park Christmas Market, Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

“Took a multi-generational family trip to Germany and Austria during the 2022 Christmas holiday. Cannot say enough good things about planning a trip with Gwen. She is by far the best we have ever experienced!  Our guides — and we had a ton of them — all were fantastic. They were able to provide for and entertain everyone from our 9-year-old son to my 79-year-old mother. This was a special feat in the cold Christmastime chaos!

Gwen had all the right advice — we felt safe and cared for throughout our train and car transfers and adventures. Our initial idea was to see the Christmas markets, but what we got was so much more — the markets were almost an afterthought. She knew where to go — Munich, Salzburg, Vienna — and what to do there. When she heard that we had a 15-year-old car fanatic with us, she made arrangements for a side trip to Stuttgart as well. Just take her advice on where to go, and you won’t be disappointed!” —Theresa Sandoval

Read more reviews of Germany and Austria trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Portugal: A four-day stopover for a family of eight…

the colorful yellow and red turrets of Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

The Pena Palace, in Sintra, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Goncalo and Patricia planned the perfect four-day stopover in and around Lisbon for our multi-generational family of eight. Spending a day in Sintra was a must on our list, and after being told that we would likely have to wait hours to get into Pena Palace even with advance tickets, they planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed, and we had the entire place to ourselves! This was a true VIP experience and a very memorable one for all of us!

We love trying all different local cuisines when we travel, so we did a food tour/food shopping in the morning that evolved into a cooking class in the afternoon, which everyone enjoyed. All of the restaurants Goncalo recommended were perfect, from the casual places while we were still fighting jet lag to the amazing dinner and Fado music show experience. And, visiting Lisbon around the holidays, we had the added bonus of all of the beautiful lights and decorations around the city!” —Lauren Schor

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Mexico: private villa in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta beaches, sunsets and scenic ocean views near Bay of Banderas coastline Mexico

Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me, we wanted to make sure we navigated all the ins and outs of dealing with COVID while feeling safe and still having fun. Zach and his colleagues came through on both counts.

The first stop for my husband and me was San Miguel de Allende. While we had initially hesitated to stay at the Rosewood because it was not in the center of town, Zach convinced us this hotel would be excellent, and he was correct. Thanks to him we were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator, three outdoor patios, and two butlers! Everything about this hotel was magical, and we cannot wait to return. The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent and included a market tour and cooking class with a chef, and an in-depth tour of San Miguel and Guanajuato. (Zach had difficulty convincing us to spend the time on the day tour of Guanajuato, but we are so glad he did; it is a lovely, interesting city, and we were sorry we had not allocated an extra day or two to explore there.)

The remainder of our trip was spent in Puerto Vallarta with the entire family. We had very specific requirements for a private villa: directly on the water, large enough so we would all have our own space, fully staffed, close to activities, and located an easy distance from the center of Puerto Vallarta.

Our villa, Casa Demae II, is in a gated complex, and was exquisite and outstanding in every way: spacious bedrooms (all ensuite, and most with balconies) with views of the pool and Banderas Bay, incredible common areas, infinity pool with a swim-up bar, jacuzzi, outdoor dining areas (from where we saw whales most days), streaming services—you name it, it was there! The staff were excellent and always helpful; what a treat to always have, without asking, coffee ready in the morning and (for the adults), margaritas ready in the evening!  Our chef was fantastic—we actually cancelled two dinner reservations because the food at the villa was so wonderful. Another very nice touch was simply putting the dirty clothes in the closet basket, and having clean ones reappear that afternoon. This was like having our own private hotel…but better.

As in San Miguel, the activities planned were second to none. Everyone is still talking about the whale watching tour and the day on the private catamaran around Banderas Bay with complete crew and a chef. Also, because we had the benefit of entry to the Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away. There is no way we could have put together this trip on our own. From the moment my husband and I landed in Guanajuato until the entire family boarded our flight home, absolutely everything was handled efficiently and worked smoothly.” —Vanessa Hulme

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Costa Rica for four active teenagers and mobility-challenged grandparents

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling to Costa Rica with ten people, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

Read more reviews of Costa Rica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Atlantic Canada: A trip “about which my three grandchildren never stop talking”

boats in the town Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin

Read more reviews of Atlantic Canada trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Colorful empty adirondack Chairs lined up on a sunny Beach

How to Use Thanksgiving to Improve Your Summer Vacation

If you’re gathering with family this Thanksgiving and could use a safe conversation topic, we’ve got a suggestion:  If those are the same family and friends you travel with for summer vacation, then while you’re passing the turkey and cranberry sauce, go around the table and ask everyone what sort of travel experience they’re dreaming about for next summer.

Why start thinking about this now?  It might feel like summer 2024 is a long way off, but it’s going to be busy out there, especially in Europe.  Remember, many people are still catching up on two to three years without any overseas travel—so it will take at least that long to resolve all that pent-up demand. If you can figure out now what sort of experience you and your family would enjoy most, it can save you money and headaches later.

Family summer-vacation options with limited inventory—villas on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, African safaris, Galapagos expeditions—are already surprisingly full.  But there are smart alternatives that are on savvy travelers’ radar and do still have plenty of availability, and we’re happy to help you find them and plan for them.  So use your Thanksgiving get-together to create a travel wish list for 2024, read our compilations of traveler reviews to brainstorm ideas, then go to The WOW List or our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature to make those wishes come true. By using our WOW approach to trip planning, you can avoid the crowds, minimize logistics, and enjoy WOW trips like these.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

In summer 2021, when many travelers were making their first trip back to Europe since the pandemic hit, Wendy chose the perfect vacation for her family: a private-yacht sail on the Turquoise Coast.  They spent almost all day, every day, in the open air, luxuriating on the plush shaded deck, enjoying delicious coast-to-table food, sightseeing privately on shore where they were almost the only tourists, and jumping in the water if it ever got too hot.  The whole family agrees this was one of their best vacations ever and plans to do it again.  Here’s the article Wendy wrote at the time:

My husband says I chose “the perfect anti-pandemic vacation.”  We’re on a private boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey, in a Covid-safe bubble. When we anchor in a new harbor each day to check out a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, our exploration is always in the open air, and social distancing is easy.   Enjoy photos from my trip on a gulet along the Turquoise Coast. It’s a “cruise” option you may not have thought of, and it’s safe, easy, and spectacular.

We love the Turquoise Coast!

Here we are in Turkey, fighting off jet lag with sea breezes and reinvigorating dips in the (surprisingly not too chilly) water, and spending virtually all day, every day, in the open air.  And trying out Tim’s new drone; check out the aerial shots!

 

A family milestone

Today the boys did their first-ever Open Water dive together (now that all three are PADI-certified). The water in this part of the Mediterranean is surprisingly clean and clear.

 

Discovering under-the-radar villages

Each time we anchor at a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, we’re the only Americans there. Sometimes we’re the only tourists there. We anchored in Bozburun and took the dinghy into town for sightseeing and again for dinner at the Bozburun Yacht Club. We made a lot of friends there, probably because there was a piano for Doug to play. (He’s played many a piano in many a country, and it’s always a great way to meet the local people.) Here’s what else we found in Bozburun, on Turkey’s Aegean Coast.

 

 

On a gulet, the market comes to you!

They row up to your boat, make small talk (“Where are you from?”), toss you their wares so you can try them on, reduce their price even though it didn’t occur to you to bargain, then wish you well and row off to the next boat. They’re polite and respectful—none of the hard sell you might find in a touristy spot.

 

Special private access to a “museum hotel”

This Ottoman mansion and “museum hotel” is Mehmet Ali Aga Konagi. It’s been closed because of the pandemic, but the WOW List specialist for Turkey who arranged my trip, Karen Fedorko Sefer, was able to get us in!  Deniz Ikizler showed us its treasures and treated us to “plum sorbet” in the garden, and Doug found another piano to play—an historic C.J. Quandt, Berlin.

 

Exploring the historic ruins of Knidos

In the ancient Greek city of Knidos on Turkey’s southwestern coast, there were more goats than people.  We also were not far from the wildfires. We’re lucky to have a boat to go back to where cooling off is easy: Just jump in the water. If you’d like to contribute to the relief effort, I’m told good places to donate to are Türk Kızılayı (Turkish Red Crescent) or Turkish Philanthropy Funds.

 

A beach town almost entirely to ourselves

Sailing into a new harbor is like waiting for a gift to be unwrapped: What will we find? In Datca we found a beach lined with restaurant tables almost up to the water’s edge for toes-in-the-sand dining; streets of boutiques and bakeries and artisan gift shops; an Old Town of winding cobblestone alleys, car-free and dotted with outdoor cafes for coffee and ice cream; Ottoman mansions and olive farms a short drive away; and barely anybody there to enjoy any of it. Datca has everything except tourists. It’s also the biggest beach town in my memory where there are no American chains—no Pizza Hut, no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.

 

Bodrum good-byes

Because Turkey is considered a safe, smart destination choice during the pandemic, so many yachts are converging on Bodrum that berths at the marina are hard to come by. Check out the narrow slot our boat squeezed into, right in front of Bodrum Castle. It’s hard to say goodbye to our trusty captain and crew, but it’s time to fly to Istanbul. Görüsürüz, dear new friends!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Read reviews of more private yacht trips in Turkey.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Turkey’s Aegean Coast on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for a reduced rate on a gulet.  Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Karen via my WOW questionnaire.  Thanks to my WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler. 

 


 

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Wendy’s husband, Tim, diving with their sons, Charlie and Doug, in the Red Sea.

Trips That Dads Love

Looking for unusual trip ideas for Dad?  You’ll find plenty in this collection of father-son and father-daughter trips that your fellow Dads have loved.  Some of these celebrations of Dad even included the whole multi-generational family.  These travelers all used The WOW List to find the right trip planner who could deliver the maximized experience and VIP treatment that Dads deserve when celebrating special milestones.  Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.


From test-driving Ferraris to fly fishing in Italy

Panorama of Roman Forum (Foro Romano) in the Morning, Rome, Italy

The Forum, Rome, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water. Execution was flawless, and it was huge value having a digital personal itinerary (w/ contacts and maps) and Cristina, our local operations manager, a text away for any last-minute needed changes.

After the overnight flight to Milan, we literally hit the ground hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, keeping our active boys moving while acclimating to the new time zone. Although a little risky with potential jet lag, this was a highlight hiking through the high serene hills for a couple of hours, with only the sounds of birds and a young wild boar and descending upon Portofino on foot. Portofino was a treat and the next full day at sea on a captained 40-foot boat to swim and visit the coastline at our leisure was awesome! Having lunch and snorkeling at San Fruttuoso was fantastic.

Additional memorable experiences included:

    • Visiting the Ferrari museum and test driving Ferraris on the streets of Maranello
    • Touring the Accademia sculptures, the Uffizi and cruising the Arno river with a renaioli and our private guide Elvira
    • Leisurely driving through Tuscany with our lively driver Francesco, stopping for a wonderful private tour and lunch at a vineyard with its owner Diana
    • Staying at a palazzo in Montefalco: Maria was right—this is the balcony of Umbria, and the views are unforgettable!
    • Fly fishing (and catching/releasing brown trout!) in tranquil Borgo Cerreto with a very fun guide named Luca
    • Sightseeing through ancient Rome—including the Forum, Colosseum and Vatican museums—with very knowledgeable private guides (Valerie) and no lines!
    • Riding on the back of Vespas, seeing unique neighborhoods and parks in Roma
    • Learning to row a Batela in Venice w/ our own rowing instructor and having cicchetti (appetizers) and wine
    • Touring and climbing to the top of the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco

Maria chose excellent hotels for our stays, and the rooftop bar lounge and pool in Florence was a great way to end every fun day. We thought having private guides and transportation (car and water) made the trip much more memorable, as we received personal attention/treatment and allowed for personal interaction with locals to better understand the culture and way of life.

South of Rome, Sicily and the Lake region are next!” —Mark Mazzatta

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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A 3-generation family adventure in New Zealand

aerial view of Queenstown New Zealand on water

The adventure mecca of Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

“My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!

We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.”—Alana Jacobson

Read more reviews of New Zealand trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Amazon river exploration for a dad and two kids

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador.

Exploring the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo: Shutterstock

Allie was essential to creating our trip to the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador’s Amazonia. She found the right lodge for our family (two kids, both around 10 years old) and got the perfect rooms at a time that was ideal. It was tough because we did not start planning long enough in advance, but Allie’s knowledge of lodges and the region made it possible to get everything lined up in an instant.

Napo Wildlife Center is a world-class lodge owned and run by the small local Añangu Kichwa community. They have committed to using ecotourism to save their community and their corner of the Amazon rainforest. Bottom line: They are knocking it out of the park. I cannot express how impressive their work and commitment is. In 1998, they were a small community, dealing with acute poverty, threatened by development, oil exploration, and the contamination of their water and forest. In that year, with little knowledge or experience in tourism, they decided they’d stave off the despoliation of their corner of the rainforest by starting a five-star ecotourism program. I am just brimming with awe and admiration for the Añangu and what they have accomplished.

The lodge itself was magical. The staff was as friendly and helpful as could be. Really made us feel at home. In the TV room out back where the employees live, my son and I watched the World Cup finals with a bunch of staff and locals who had paddled in for the game. We were welcomed warmly, and we joined in and cheered with (or against) the rest of the crowd.

In hyperdiverse Amazonia, wow did we ever see wildlife. We saw six species of monkeys, and so many parrots, macaws, grebes, flycatchers. We saw snakes, frogs, and crazy-looking crickets. We watched caimans and paiche (400-pound river fish) from the boardwalk in front of our room. All to the spectral drone of howler monkeys in the distance, like a cold north wind gusting outside your door. And Napo Wildlife Center has nearly no biting insects! Magical place. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.” —John Strachan

Read more reviews of Ecuador trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Spring break on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo—for a family of 9

William FIsher

William Fisher’s family quad-biking on the Maltese island of Gozo. Photo: Traveler William Fisher

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —William Fisher

Read more reviews of Malta trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Hiking, kayaking, and Trottibiking in the Swiss Alps

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling “O-H-I-O” (where they’re from) during a private kayak trip on Lake Brienz. Photo: Traveler Andy Shafran

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana….” —Andy Shafran

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Costa Rica wildlife and boogie boarding with 3 kids

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica.

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in the Costa Rican rainforest. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife and I, along with our three children (elementary, high school, and college age), worked with Priscilla in the planning of a trip to Costa Rica in March. We were able to mix in plenty of activities with some relaxation.

Our first stay was at The Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal Volcano area. The hotel offered plenty for the children to do beyond swimming. The waterfall rappelling excursion Priscilla recommended was very fun. At the hotel we spotted sloths and toucans, and the view of the volcano from the hotel room was spectacular.

Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula. The Sunset Rancho offered a fantastic view of the ocean, and the meals were great. Our excursion to Corcovado National Park was a highlight and we were able to see Howler Monkeys and troops of both White Faced Capuchin and Spider Monkeys. We also saw an arboreal anteater, Coatimundis, and a saltwater crocodile. Priscilla set up a wonderful night tour where we were able to see snakes, frogs, spiders, a scorpion, and even a fleeting glimpse of a Kinkajou. Cocolito Beach by the lodge offered some great waves for boogie boarding and never felt crowded. From beginning to end, Priscilla and the team provided a lot of details/organization so we could just enjoy the trip.” —Nelson Mongiovi

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Eye-opening journey through Morocco for a father and two daughters

Argan trees and the goats on the way between Marrakesh and Essaouira in Morocco.

Tree-climbing goats are one of Morocco’s many surprises. Photo: Shutterstock

“This trip was for myself and two daughters, aged 50 and 46. We went the first part of April 2023 during Ramadan. All three of us concluded that the trip was beyond expectation. The weather was perfect this time of year, the Riads were exceptional, the sights were amazing, and the Moroccan people were very warm and welcoming. The trip was paced perfectly, but definitely the highlight for us was our absolutely wonderful guide Mohamed and driver Majid. They were such a pleasure to travel with, always on time, always with a smile or a joke, always with our safety a priority. We felt completely safe and pampered.

Our favorite cities were Fes and Essaouira. The ceramic work and tannery in Fes were especially interesting and dinner at a local host was most enjoyable. The Medina was fascinating. The cooking class was so much fun going to the market with our chef. In Marrakesh we had the honor of being invited to Mohamed’s house to break fast with his lovely family. We learned so much about Islamic architecture and religion, and we were very impressed how our two guides were able to fast all day and still be bright and cheerful without ever complaining.

In Essaouira we got to see the goats climbing the Argon trees and visit a woman’s cooperative where they processed the oil. Also of interest was visiting the old Jewish quarter and the synagogue. Every city and place had interesting things to see. My daughters went home after 10 days, and I went on to Tangier and then took the one-hour ferry over to Spain. We all agreed it was an exceptional trip, and we left with hundreds of photographs and wonderful memories. We would definitely recommend a trip to Morocco arranged by Hicham and Radia, and many thanks to Wendy for the recommendation.”—Leon Malkin

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Paragliding, jet boats, and canyon swings in Switzerland

Start of paraglider at Mannlichen top point above Grindelwald, Switzerland. - Image

Paragliding above Grindelwald, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina created an itinerary that included many excellent suggestions that we were not aware of, even though I had done a fair amount of research on my own to know what Switzerland had to offer. Paragliding in Grindelwald, a canyon swing, a jet boat in Interlaken, a private cave tour, glacier trekking, a helicopter transfer from Jungfraujoch to Gstaad, the Via Ferrata in Mürren-Gimmelwald, the Gorner Gorge adventure in Zermatt….AWESOME! The execution of the trip was flawless: When the helicopter landed in Gstaad in a grassy field, the driver was right there waiting for us. There would have been no way to plan this trip on our own and have everything run as smoothly as it did.” —Travis Schmitt

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A week in Portugal wining and dining

Vineyards in the Valley of the River Douro, Portugal

Vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Photo: Shutterstock

“We submitted Wendy’s questionnaire and then had a very substantive call with Goncalo to talk about what we particularly enjoyed about prior trips and specific likes and dislikes. Our travel dates were totally inflexible because they were dictated by our kids’ summer camp schedules. This meant we had only one week for Portugal—in peak season. Our goal was to somehow thread the needle between exploring a country we’d never visited, having deep and personal experiences, avoiding tons of crowds, not bouncing around too much, and relaxing. Got it? Goncalo put together an itinerary that fit exactly what we were looking for. He had us stay in three different, small, unique, hotels—Areias do Seixo (on the coast an hour north of Lisbon), Barrocal in the Alentejo, and Santiago de Alfama in Lisbon—and each really enriched our experience of the location.

Our favorite stop was the Alentejo region, and we would highly encourage others to include it in their plans. It’s beautiful, serene, has very special medieval towns, is extremely welcoming to visitors, and is much less visited than Lisbon, Porto, and the Douro Valley. Barrocal, a farm converted into a 5-star hotel, was a phenomenal home base there. Our single favorite experience was visiting Herdade de Esparao winery, where we somehow spent almost six hours on a sweltering 104-degree day. Our private tour was followed by a private tasting and then an amazing five-course lunch with wine pairings. It was probably the best meal we had in Portugal.” —Jeremy Silverman

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“The right mix of adventure, nature, fun, and relaxation” in Western Canada

Turquoise Wedgemount Lake and wild alpine flowers, Whistler, British Columbia Canada

Whistler, British Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of four had an amazing time in Vancouver, Whistler, and Sonora Island, British Columbia. Marc put together an itinerary that met the various wish-list items of everyone in the family, with the right mix of adventure, nature, fun, and relaxation. For an active family there is no end to the amazing experiences that can be had in Whistler, where we particularly enjoyed the zip-line, whitewater rafting, and tree-top adventure course. The second half of the trip was at the Sonora Resort, which was everything Marc said it would be and more. From the hiking to the photography, fishing, eco-tours, and fine dining, it was a wonderful experience and a relaxing time to reconnect as a family.” —Jay Matthews

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A father-son quest in Vienna and Prague

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - mathematical hall of the Strahov convent library

Get special access and go behind the velvet rope in the Strahov Library in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us. Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks!” —Adam Amsterdam

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Castles and horses in Romania for Dad and daughter

The Corvinesti castle also known as the Hunyad castle, is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara (Transylvania), Romania.

One of Transylvania’s many castles, Corvinesti. Photo: Shutterstock

Raluca found us extraordinary accommodations in Romania. She tracked down a private residence in Bucharest where we had a private suite and were treated like personal friends of the family. We had three nights in Brasov in a lovely three-room hotel and four nights in Maremures in our own house on a 70-hectare property. The house was probably 100 years old and had been saved from destruction in the local village, moved to the host’s property, and completely remodeled inside. Raluca even arranged for a cook to come to the house and make us breakfast and dinner—truly special. Greg, our guide, made adjustments to the itinerary on the fly to accommodate our requests and suggested activities as he came to know us. For example, he arranged a trail ride for our daughter at a horse ranch. And Wendy, thanks for the WOW Moment. We really enjoyed getting to visit the highest tower at Bran Castle, an area generally off-limits to the public. Our very experienced guide had never been there.” —George Stephens

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Southeast Asia for spring break

Ancient statues outside South Gate of Angkor Thom at sunset in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunset at Angkor Thom in Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We used Andy and Josh to plan our two-week trip to Cambodia and Laos during our kids’ spring break. We had many amazing adventures, from giving alms to the monks as they walked down the street, to being blessed by the elder monk and meditating in a monastery before sunrise, to ox cart rides through a local village and swimming below a waterfall. We spent hours on a river boat visiting floating villages where not many tourists venture; we had a specialized cyclo-ride architectural tour in Phnom Penh, which helped us understand the history of the capital as well as the politics of the country; and we did a tuk-tuk dine-out city tour. We were able to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, and for the most part the guide avoided the crowds, which we very much appreciated. We took our kids to a couple of night markets—which was fun and far from the tourists—and visited the restaurant Villa Chandara, where Andy has created an oasis in the midst of cow fields and a local village for a truly memorable afternoon and evening. We had fantastic family time and loved both Laos and Cambodia—their people and their sights!” —Elliot Laskin

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A family celebration for 10 in Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

This trip for ten included a sky walk through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling to Costa Rica with ten people, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

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Summertime fun in Atlantic Canada for Granddad and grandkids

boats in the town Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Newfoundland is made for boat excursions.

“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin

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Big family beach trip to Belize

Belize

The Lerner family in Belize.

“We worked with Patricia to plan a special vacation to Belize with our adult children and a girlfriend. We loved literally every minute but, if there is one aspect of the trip that deserves special mention, it is our WOW Moment at Naia Resort in Placencia, on the Caribbean coast. We really didn’t know what to expect as we were escorted down to the beach… until we could hear the beating of the drums and see the flaming bonfire awaiting us at sunset. Richard and his family taught us about the indigenous Garifuna people and their very interesting history and culture. The entire resort came out to watch and dance with us.” —Stephen Lerner

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Private, custom-tailored itinerary through Egypt and Jordan

two tourists Riding camels to the pyramids in Egypt

Riding camels to the pyramids. Photo: Traveler Stephen Behnen

“We often book small group tours, but were unable to find any single tour that covered everything we wanted in Egypt and Jordan. After consulting Wendy’s list of travel experts, we decided on Jim. He listened carefully to our desires and then put together a trip plan that met our needs. But Jim didn’t stop there. Based on his understanding of our interests, he suggested several additions: Jerash, an ancient Roman city nearly as impressive as Ephesus; a stay in a Bedouin camp at Wadi Rum where we found the best scenery of our trip; the Temple of Philae, one of the single nicest temples we saw in Egypt; and the Tombs of the Artists, which provide a perspective on Pharaonic Egypt not available in the better-known Valleys of the Kings and Queens.

In addition Jim suggested adjustments to our requests. We asked to include a one-week cruise down the Nile. Jim suggested that we would be better served by taking a three-night cruise instead, and then spending the extra days on land in Aswan and Luxor. His advice was spot on. We also told Jim that although we wanted first class lodgings, we weren’t interested in paying for luxurious hotels that cater to the jet-set crowd. Jim encouraged us to allow him to make one exception during our visit, and as a result we found ourselves in premium suites at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Each oversized suite featured 26 foot wide balconies with a spectacular panoramic view of the Nile and Elephantine Island. Our three-night stay there was a highlight of our trip.

Jim’s deep roots in the area paid off in several ways.  He was able to secure upgrades at our hotels. He got us top-deck suites on the Sonesta Star Goddess cruise ship.  His long relationship with the owner of the Sakkara Carpet school landed us an especially good price for an Egyptian rug after only a little haggling.  Finally, Jim was able to secure the best guides for us.  Our guides were uniformly excellent.  Each was knowledgeable about all aspects of the areas we were visiting. For example, our Egyptologists could read hieroglyphics.  Our guides worked hard to get us to locations either before or after the cruise ship crowds arrived. For example, when we visited Tutankhamun’s tomb, we were the only people there. When we decided at the last minute to add a hot air balloon ride, our Luxor guide made special arrangements with the operator to insure personal attention, including securing the best spot in the balloon basket for viewing the monuments as we glided by. When the ride took longer than expected, our guide worked with the ship captain to make sure we still had a hot breakfast awaiting our return onboard after everyone else had already departed.

And then there was our WOW Moment. I am guessing that Wendy had some input from Jim on what would make a good WOW Moment for us, because it was inspired. Our planned trip included almost everything a visitor might hope for, with one exception. We had not included a visit to the tomb of Nefertari, generally considered to be the nicest tomb in all Egypt. That turned out to be our WOW Moment, and it was perfect. The tomb has restricted access, with a vault door at the entrance to enable better climate control than at the other tombs. Signs everywhere note that stays are limited to 10 minutes. Not only were we able to stay for 15 minutes, but we were the only people there. It was a magical moment, a perfect capstone to our trip.  —Stephen Behnen

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Book and family at Tad Yuang Waterfall in Laos, Southeast Asia.

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

When you use our Trip Questionnaire to get a WOW trip, you start by articulating your trip goals and challenges. That’s what Brook did when planning her kid-friendly adventure in Southeast Asia. You can find the right Trip Questionnaire for you via The WOW List’s CONTACT buttons.



My biggest goal

My family wanted to spend our school break in Asia, avoiding crowds whenever and wherever possible.

My biggest challenge
Finding ways to keep our 11-year-old engaged and learning about the vast world around him—which meant we needed plenty of hands-on, interactive experiences.

The itinerary
This was my fifth trip to Southeast Asia, and my husband and son’s second. This time, we chose to focus on Vietnam and Laos, with a dash of Thailand. In Vietnam, we based ourselves in Hue, the Mekong Delta, and Ho Chi Minh City. In Laos, we focused on Champasak (my favorite spot of the entire trip), Vientiane, and Luang Prabang. We capped off our adventure with two blow-out nights in Bangkok.

Zeke in Wat Phou

Zeke in Wat Phou temple in Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

What made it WOW
Our savvy private guides and the local people they introduced us to.

The broad outlines of my trip were drawn by WOW List Southeast Asia specialists Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley, but they left it up to their hand-picked, English-speaking guides on the ground to manage the details.

Adaptability is the most valuable asset in a private guide: someone who is experienced and knowledgeable enough to adjust things on the fly, revising the day’s events to match weather, energy levels, and the group’s specific interests. Not every travel company is willing to empower their guides, though. As one of my Vietnamese hosts told me, “When I work for other companies, I have to get permission for any change to the itinerary. With Sandy, the traveler’s happiness is the number-one priority.”

Take, for example, our time in Hue. While our written itinerary had us visiting the city’s historic pagoda and walled citadel, as soon as our local guide heard that we enjoyed active and interactive experiences, she quickly brainstormed ways to further personalize our days in her city: We made paper flowers with deaf women at a quaint café on the outskirts of town, shaped fruitcakes once prepared only for the Imperial Court, carved art out of bamboo pulp in a clever and easy-to-pick-up amalgam of ancient and modern techniques, and caught the sunset from standup paddleboards on the Perfume River.

Deaf women at Lavin Home in Hue, Vietnam teach Brook and Zeke how to make paper flowers.
Brook and Zeke learn how to make paper flowers.
Zeke making candies with another women.
Zeke learns how to make fruitcakes from a descendant of the Imperial Court.
Brook and Zeke learning paper making.
Brook and Zeke make art out of bamboo pulp.
Brook, her family, and a guide Paddleboarding on Perfume River.
Paddleboarding on the Perfume River (and making finger hearts, as is popular for photo ops in Vietnam).

 

Of course, some things do require more advance planning, like the lunch we had in Hue with a sociable, retired couple who welcomed us into their home, sharing not just a meal but welcoming our help in the kitchen, opening up their wedding album as we sipped tea, and showing us the garden where they grew the figs, jackfruit, tamarind, and even black pepper we’d just enjoyed. We toasted our new friendship with rice whiskey and left calling our host “Uncle.”

Zeke having a chopstick lesson.

Zeke getting a chopstick lesson from a new friend during lunch. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Best surprise
Laos New Year. We landed in southern Laos during the multi-day holiday; families and neighbors congregated in driveways, drinking beer and—because water provides cleansing for the coming year—aiming garden hoses and Super Soakers at passersby. Kids strolled along roads, their hair braided and dyed for the holiday, their cheeks smeared with baby powder, and their clothes completely drenched. We could have safely enjoyed the festivities from inside our van, but I didn’t want to just spectate and asked our driver to stop at the next party. The teens there were initially nervous to aim their firepower at these foreigners, but before long we were dousing each other with bowlfuls of water (welcomed by all in the triple-digit temperatures), and they were refilling our glasses of iced Beerlao faster than we could drink them. A granny soon beckoned us over to the party next door, where the older generation displayed no concerns about emptying their buckets of water down our backs. It was these serendipitous moments, and the immediate welcome we received at every roadside party we strolled into, that will stay with me for years.

Brook getting water-splashed by a local during Songkran Water Festival.

Watery celebrations for Laos New Year. Photo: Ryan Damm

Worst surprise
The haze that typically descends on much of Southeast Asia from late February through March, but extended into April this year and seriously obscured the region’s natural beauty. Back when weather patterns were more predictable, the first rains would have fallen by our mid-April trip dates and cleared the air of the smoke created by slash-and-burn farming. While I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience of being in Laos during New Year, next time I’ll plan my trip for the beginning of dry season (see “Timing tip,” below).

Thank goodness I packed
A handheld fan took the edge off the 100+ temperatures.

Zeke holding a handheld fan.

Zeke cooling off with a handheld fan in Hue, Vietnam. Photo: Ryan Damm

Timing tip
October, the beginning of dry season, offers advantages in the form of both cooler temperatures and greener landscapes. But also consider traveling in the first half of the “rainy season” (May through July), when crowds are minimal, rates are lower, and the heaviest storms hit overnight so you can still sightsee by day between the occasional showers.

Best daytime ride
Biking in Bangkok. This didn’t require navigating the city’s hectic traffic on two wheels, but rather traversing a gentle, 13-mile loop around Bang Krachao, an island just south of the city that is peaceful and forested but within sight of the skyscrapers. We negotiated elevated boardwalks that spanned canals, met a women planting lotus flowers in front of her home, stopped for iced coffee and fruit shakes, saw egrets, storks, and a monitor lizard, hopped off our bikes for a short paddle in kayaks, and learned traditional methods of batik dying on handkerchiefs that we strapped to our handlebars to dry. It was an unexpected way to see this megacity, and one that brought it down to a human scale. I never would have known such a thing was possible without Daniel Fraser, the Thailand specialist on The WOW List who arranged my short stopover in Bangkok, where he lives.

Brook on a bike and a local woman outside her home in Bangkok

Brook biking near Bangkok and connecting with locals. Photo: Ryan Damm

Best nighttime ride
Seeing Saigon on vintage Vespas. This evening tour is half about the delicious food that appears at each stop moments after you arrive (the organizer takes all your food preferences at the start and then calls in orders of the dishes he knows you’ll most enjoy), and half about cruising the city on two wheels in the thick of the seemingly chaotic motorbike traffic that is expertly navigated by your driver. It’s one thing to see the current of two-wheeled vehicles that dominate Saigon’s streets, and another thing entirely to be part of it. We whetted our appetites with fizzy drinks flavored with chunks of ginger, lemongrass, mint, pepper, and lime, filled up on street-food favorites at restaurants with no other Westerners in sight, listened to a trio of Vietnamese singer-songwriters at a hole-in- the-wall club populated by local Millennials on dates, and capped off the night with decadent hot chocolates made from farmed-in-Vietnam cacao. The experience perfectly encapsulated the after-dark vibrancy of this flourishing city.

Brook on a Vespa in Saigon, Vietnam at night.

Vespa night ride in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo: Ryan Damm

Best public transit
A new high-speed train line opened in Laos in 2021, and I tested out the section from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. The business-class seats recline to nearly flat, and portions of the route are quite scenic. But I think the train’s biggest impact will be in the volume of travelers it is now bringing from China (where it connects to the national rail system) to northern Laos—and, as the railway expands, beyond. Be prepared to encounter many more regional tourists in Laos in the coming years.

Smartest shortcut
The drive from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi tunnels—where North Vietnamese fighters hid from South Vietnamese and U.S. forces—can stretch past two hours, depending on traffic. Going by speedboat instead gives you a different perspective on the city (check out the $5 million mansions with private yachts docked out front) and then takes you along a pretty stretch of the Saigon River dense with foliage. Arriving in Cu Chi, I expected the vibe at this site of so much destruction to be somber, but it is oddly cheerful, with tourists even laughing as they emerge from tunnel entrances expertly hidden under a carpet of fallen leaves. Don’t miss the propaganda film that runs on loop, which simplifies the war’s actors to American “devils” and “gentle, simple peasants” (some of whom were smuggling weapons into Saigon in preparation for the Tet Offensive. You can now visit the impossibly narrow house in the city where the weapons were stored and descend through a hidden panel in the floor to an underground storage room).

Zeke going downstairs to enter in a weapon cache in Saigon.

Zeke entering a secret weapon cache in Saigon. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Animals not to miss
The elephants cared for by MandaLao, a conservation organization based outside Luang Prabang. The project’s aims are to shelter elephants rescued from logging and riding work, and to reintroduce wild elephants into Laos’ protected areas. This work is partially funded by the ethical, non-riding experiences with these magnificent, endangered creatures that the program offers to visitors. As the elephants used their nimble trunks to pluck the finger-length bananas from my hand, they came close enough that I could hear their exhalations, which sounded like breath through a snorkel tube.

Zeke feeding elephant.

Zeke and Brook feeding elephants at MandaLao, outside Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

People not to miss
With such a young population in Vietnam (more than half its citizens are under 35), it’s increasingly rare to encounter people who actually lived through the war. But there are still plenty of connections to the past: One woman told us about her grandfather’s seven years in a reeducation camp (he had worked for the South Vietnamese government). Another described her childhood in the late 80s, when she caught fireflies in a jar to have enough light to do her homework; today her daughter has a laptop at home.

The Azerai Can Tho Restaurant Pool in Vietnam at night

The Azerai Can Tho’s restaurant and pool, Vietnam. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Best hotels for affordable luxury
After his first hotel brand, Aman, made him famous, Adrian Zecha founded Azerai to offer luxury and elegance without four-figure room rates. Think of Azerai as Aman-lite. Its three properties are all in Vietnam, and I loved the two I stayed at. In Hue, Azerai La Residence’s French colonial building dates to 1930, with plenty of art deco touches still intact. Our fan-shaped suite had a wraparound patio that overlooked manicured grounds, a handsome pool, and the Perfume River. The staff here manages to show a genuine interest in your welfare, without the service ever feeling cloying. The Azerai Can Tho is the first high-end property situated in the Mekong Delta, allowing travelers to see more than they can on a day trip from Saigon, and giving access to a working (not just for tourists) floating market. The hotel is on a private island that is five minutes by speedboat from Can Tho, a city that shows off Vietnam’s fascination with LEDs and amplified karaoke—it’s a fascinating place to stroll in the evening, but the Azerai provides a welcome respite from the noise and lights. Book one of the lake-view villas, which are less expensive than the river-view ones but have a prettier view (the Mekong is the main industrial artery of the region, after all).

Night lights at Can Tho.

Night lights in Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo: Zeke Damm

Best family-friendly urban resort
With its water features and local art, the Four Seasons Bangkok delivers a strong sense of place and lower rates than many of its luxury-brand competitors in the city. Its 299 rooms are set on a very large footprint right beside the Chao Phraya River; the extra-large family suites mean you won’t be stumbling over your kid’s cot or crowding each other in the bathroom. My 11-year- old didn’t fit in the room’s tipi, but it could work well for both play and rest time with younger kids—and he devoured the chocolate surprise left just for him.

Best hotel that’s a steal
In southern Laos, The River Resort is a solid three-star on the banks of the Mekong and the best available accommodations in the region. The rooms are spare but spacious and cost less than $150 in high season. We paid $19 for a tasty dinner for three, including a few local beers, and just $12 to clean a week’s worth of laundry.

The River Resort in Champasak surrounded by nature.

The River Resort in Champasak, Laos. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Word of warning
Tourism in Laos does not run like a well-oiled machine—and that’s part of the charm. Drivers occasionally miss pickup times, craft villages empty out for a resident’s funeral, local kids grab all the bikes set aside for tourists. But it’s all forgiven for the spontaneous moments of human connection, which are warmer than I’ve experienced anywhere else. And outside of Luang Prabang—a town that woos backpackers, Aman junkies, and seemingly everyone else in between—I saw only a handful of other Westerners in all of Laos.

Most underrated
The 4,000 Islands, a region of southern Laos, near the Cambodian border, where the Mekong River splinters around a handful of sizeable islands and countless smaller ones. You can explore the concrete path around the largest island, Don Khong, by bike or tuk-tuk, visit waterfalls where foamy, white-green water tumbles over the rocks, and see the remnants of the train the French built to get around this non- navigable part of the river.

Brook at Li Phi Somphamit Waterfall

Li Phi Somphamit Waterfall in Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

Most overrated
For me, it was Luang Prabang. The streets were choked with tourists, and as UNESCO World Heritage towns go, I think Hoi An is more picturesque. But we also had some of our favorite experiences here: We strolled a morning market where locals were buying not just fresh produce and sticky rice, but also dried rats, live eels, and pig intestines. We spent an evening at our local host’s home sharing dinner and a very special baci blessing ceremony. And we brought extra portions of that meal to the town’s monks early the next morning. If you want to see Luang Prabang, the Amantaka provides a serene and welcoming bubble—not to mention an excellent spa and a ridiculously high staff-to-guest ratio—just a few blocks from the hubbub.

The morning market in Laos full of people.
The morning market in Luang Prabang.
A man tying string around Brook's wrist as a part of the Baci ceremony.
Receiving blessings at a baci ceremony.
Brook and family doing a morning ritual giving offerings.
Giving offerings to monks outside a monastery in Luang Prabang.

 

Biggest thrill
The circuit of zip lines around Tadfane Waterfall, on Laos’ Boloven Plateau (click here for a video). The first, most hair-raising line runs 900 feet above a deep canyon, into which splashes the cataract’s two long, skinny cascades. If you can manage that, the rest of the route is a piece of cake, with several shorter zip-line segments; a high-wire, balancing-act bridge; and a quick but steep hike through the jungle. My 11-year-old called it “one of the best experiences of my life.”  Mission accomplished!

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Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Southeast Asia, WOW Listers Dan Fraser, Sandy Ferguson, and Ethan Crowley arranged reduced rates for my family’s trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Dan or Sandy and Ethan via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

Brook and her family enjoying an ethical interaction with elephants in Laos.

Family Vacation in Southeast Asia: Brook’s Trip Highlights

I’m recently back from an action-packed, two-week trip through Southeast Asia with my husband and 11-year-old son. I wanted to get there before the crowds descend once again, post-pandemic.

Since this was my fifth trip to Southeast Asia and Ryan and Zeke’s second, my challenge was to find new ways to see the region—particularly active and hands-on experiences that would keep Zeke engaged. So I polled three of the Southeast Asia specialists on our WOW List of Trusted Travel ExpertsDaniel Fraser, and the team of Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley—on their favorite hidden gems and exciting new activities. Together we decided on an itinerary that included Vietnam, Laos, and a taste of Thailand. Below you’ll find a sampling of the experiences that Dan, Sandy, and Ethan crafted for my family, and that I posted to Instagram during my trip. Swipe through for photos of Laos New Year celebrations and our two-wheeled adventures in Saigon and Bangkok, video from a hair-raising zip-line, and more.

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Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

teenage boy jumping in Negev Desert Israel

Ask a Teenager: 3 Cool Things to Do on a Family Trip in Israel

Update from Wendy:  My son Doug wrote this article when he was 14, based on our trip to Israel five years ago, but all of these experiences are still available today in 2023. 

When my mom took me to Israel, we did a lot of things that teenage boys would like. We went sandboarding in the Negev Desert. We went four-wheeling through Mahktesh Ramon. We climbed all over tanks in the Golan Heights.  We splashed through Hezekiah’s Tunnel below the City of David. We dug up artifacts with an archaeologist. But my mom wants me to tell you my three favorite things we did.  So here they are.  If your parents take you to Israel, these are three things you should not miss:

 

START YOUR OWN FAMILY TRIP TO ISRAEL

 

  1. Powered Paragliding at Masada

Masada is a 2,000-year-old fortress that was occupied by Jews, then conquered by the Romans. In the morning, we went to the top and walked through it. Our guide, Joe Yudin, showed us everything. Here we are at a 3-D model of the fortress.

guide pointing at 3-D model of Masada fortress Israel

Then, in the afternoon, we got a surprise: Back down at the base of Masada, we did something that you’ve most likely never done before. And it was thrilling.

Israel powered paraglider on ground

We met up with a friend of  Joe’s who has a powered paraglider. Segev was our pilot.

tourists paraglide over Masada Israel

In the powered paraglider, you take off going extremely fast for about 40 meters. For the first 30 seconds, I was terrified. Segev increased altitude really quickly. After that, you felt like a bird. If you wanted, you could do a bunch of really sharp turns, so it was like a rollercoaster. Then we went high up into the air and circled Masada.

Aerial view of Masada Israel from a paraglider

Our aerial view of Masada. Photo: Tim Baker

Our view of Masada was like the 3-D model but better. From the air I got a whole different view of Masada than when we were walking in it. It changed my perspective of how beautiful Masada is. When you have an aerial view of the fortress, you can see how big certain rooms are. The storage room, which I had thought was tiny, turned out to be 1/8 the size of the fortress. You can see how everything was configured in a strategic way to ward off the Romans. And from the air you can see the ramp that the Romans made to conquer it and where they would live and hide.

Then we went what felt like five feet over the Dead Sea Canal. It felt like my feet were going to get wet.

aerial view of the Dead Sea Canal Israel from paraglider

In this photo, we were high above the Dead Sea Canal, but then we swooped down and almost skimmed the water. Photo: Tim Baker

Then the pilot went back up and cut the motor, so we glided down softly using the parachute—until he blasted it again, getting ready for landing. The landing was just as fun as the takeoff.

Next time I would love to paraglide over Jerusalem because it has a mix of modern and ancient buildings.

Check out the video that Segev made of our flight!  Everybody in the family had a turn flying over Masada.

2. Counterterrorism Training

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert

Our counter-terror instructor, Eitan Cohen, at Caliber 3. Photo: Tim Baker

We got to experience what it is like to train as an Israeli soldier when we spent an afternoon at a counterterrorism training center called Caliber 3. Our instructor, Eitan Cohen, taught us the tactics and moves of the soldiers.

After giving us a safety briefing, Eitan gave us a real gun, and we got to do target practice on balloons. They make it very safe and you wear protective gear.

A counter-terrorism and security expert in Israel

Eitan Cohen gave us a safety briefing before we did target practice on balloons. Photo: Tim Baker

I learned how the army trains and why many people in Israel feel the duty to serve in the army. I also learned why they would be willing to give up their lives to protect others. They do it for their country and how much they love their country.

A counter-terrorism and security dog practices in Israel

The dog, Zeus, bites into a protective suit they use for training. Photo: Tim Baker

We also got to see a private demonstration of the K-9 unit. Their dog, Zeus, was found on the street when he was a puppy. With years of love and practice, he is now a soldier. He knows when to attack and was trained to jump through a 6-foot-high window. It was spectacular what Zeus could do. Our little dog at home can’t jump even one foot.

tourists learn about counter terrorism training in Israel

We attempt to figure out who the terrorist is. Photo: Tim Baker

Then we did an exercise where they set up their shooting range to simulate a crowded marketplace. We were told that one of these people is a threat. Our job was to figure out which one.  What we learned is that you can’t tell who the terrorist is by what they look like.  Any of these people could be a terrorist.

In a real marketplace, the soldiers’ job is to quickly spot the terrorist and to get between the terrorist and the innocent pedestrians and protect them.  We learned about how first responders will rush in when everybody else rushes out.  First responders don’t even know you, but they will rush in and try to save you. They will sacrifice their lives to save you. That’s just the kind of people they are.

3. Scuba Diving in the Red Sea

teenage boy scuba dives in Israel

This was my first time scuba diving in open water.

In Eilat I went scuba diving for the first time. In the past I had been snuba diving, which is in between snorkeling and scuba. In snuba, you have a regulator (which is the tube you breathe through), and your air tank floats on top of the water. In scuba, you have more freedom; you’re not confined by a hose to a certain area. In Eilat, you’re allowed to scuba dive without being certified.

teenage boy scuba dives in Israel

The shallow area was about eight feet deep, but we went down to 20 feet on the dive.

We went down to 20 feet on the dive. We saw a few colorful fish and jellyfish, but mainly we went diving with dolphins. The dolphins were a lot closer than I expected. One of them tried to play with Dad. One of them came up to about an inch in front of my face.

The dolphins are wild animals, not captive. They can come and go to the open sea as they please.

man scuba dives in Israel near a dolphin

A dolphin tried to play with Dad.

It was cool because we saw what the marine life is like in a different part of the world. The guide held onto our hands to keep us safe, but that didn’t take away from the experience. It was an amazing experience that I hope I will be able to do again.

Even though some of these experiences might look scary, none of them were. They were fun and exciting.

START YOUR OWN FAMILY TRIP TO ISRAEL

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

aerial view of Masada Israel

What the Right Local Fixer Can Do For You in Israel (or Anywhere)

It had been 20 years since my last trip to Israel, and all I remembered were overcrowded sights and frustrating logistics: wall-to-wall tour groups on the Via Dolorosa, endless lines snaking through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hours of rigmarole just trying to rent a car with collision-damage coverage for the areas we wanted to drive in ….

This time my experience of Israel was the polar opposite. That’s because, this time, I had the right local fixer.  As you know, I created my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts specifically to point you to such fixers in locations worldwide.  And so, for my family trip to Israel, I turned to Joe Yudin, the Israel specialist on my WOW List.   As you read below about how Joe saved us from lines and tourist traps, and opened doors that are normally closed to the public, please keep in mind two important things:  First, I wasn’t getting special treatment.  He’s done the same thing for many travelers, as you’ll see by reading Joe’s reviews.  Second, the other destination specialists on The WOW List do the same thing in their different destinations.  Wherever in the world you’re headed, here are eight ways a WOW Lister can make the magic happen:

They are your insurance against bad weather.

Tel Maresha archaeological dig

On a rainy day you can dig up ancient artifacts underground at Tel Maresha. At left, in gray, is archaeologist Asaf Stern of Archaeological Seminars Institute. At right, in red, is Joe Yudin of Touring Israel. Photo: Timothy Baker

I chose to take my family to Israel during the kids’ February school break because February is Israel’s low season. That means fewer crowds and lower prices, but it can also mean the possibility of torrential rains. Although it did rain in Israel while we were there, we never saw one drop, and that’s because Joe has the flexibility and connections to nimbly alter itineraries based on the weather or other surprises. When it was raining in the north, we headed south for sandboarding in the Negev Desert and scuba diving with dolphins in the Red Sea. When the rain was over, we headed north to the green vineyards of the Golan Heights.  Joe can also move things around so that, if it does start to rain where you are, you can either hit the indoor must-sees (say, view the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum, or go to the Ayalon Institute—a secret 1940s ammunition factory, built beneath a kibbutz to fool the authorities at the adjacent British army base, that was pivotal to winning the Independence War in 1948) or you can do below-ground activities (say, explore Hezekiah’s Tunnel beneath the City of David, or dig for artifacts from the Hellenistic period at the archaeological excavation at Tel Maresha, pictured above).

 

Caesarea sunset israel

When the weather cleared, we hit the ancient Roman port of Caesarea. Photo: Timothy Baker

They put you in the right place on the right day.

Makhtesh Ramon Israel

When we landed in Israel on a Saturday, we headed to Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert.. Adam Sela (on the ground) is a desert expert who led our jeep adventure into the makhtesh.  Here, he photographs my 14-year-old who is finding new ways to combat jet lag. Photo: Timothy Baker

Every country has its holidays when things are closed, as well as its best days for hitting the weekly markets and other events. In Israel it’s important to plan around Shabbat (the Sabbath), from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, since that’s when most places are closed or, even if the doors aren’t physically shut, normal operations take a break. If you arrive in Israel on a Saturday, for instance, you might have trouble checking into your hotel room before dark, especially if your hotel is in Jerusalem. Some travelers arriving on a Saturday opt to hit the beach in Tel Aviv and power through their jet lag with fresh air and a swim. We arrived on a Saturday and headed south to the Negev Desert, combating jet lag with sandboarding and a jeep tour of Makhtesh Ramon. (A makhtesh is a crater-like geological landform that is unique to Israel’s Negev Desert and Egypt’s Sinai Desert.)  On our second Saturday in Israel, we went to Masada (since it’s open on Saturdays) and the Dead Sea. Things get more complicated—in terms of where you should be when—during Easter, Passover, Christmas week, and the many other religious and national holidays in Israel. (When planning your itinerary, remember that Sunday is the start of Israel’s work week.)

Makhtesh Ramon Negev Desert israel

When it was raining elsewhere, we went to Makhtesh Ramon. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you past the crowds and lines.

crowd at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Israel

This is what the tour-group crush in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity looks like—in low season!  Photo: Timothy Baker

Israel is jam-packed with tour groups from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Even low season (January/February) is high season for low-budget group tours. When we arrived at Masada early on a February morning, as one example, there were 50 tour buses in the parking lot and at least 300 people in line for the cable car. (Naturally, Joe took us through a different entrance and to the front of the line.)

One of the most crowded sites in the world is the spot that is recognized as the manger where Jesus was born, deep inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.  Just one of the factors that make a visit tricky is that Bethlehem is in an exclusively Palestinian-controlled part of the West Bank where Israelis can’t go, which means you need a Palestinian guide—but one who can make the traffic and bureaucracy at the border checkpoints disappear.  Most travelers get handed from an Israeli guide on one side of the border to a Palestinian guide on the other, but Joe skips all that by using an Arab Christian guide, Daniel Sahwani, who met us on the Israel side, drove us (in a gleaming new white Mercedes van) into the West Bank, showed us everything we wanted to see in and around Bethlehem, then dropped us off back in Jerusalem’s Old City, all in record time.

You also want a guide with the right connections both outside and inside the Church of the Nativity.  When we got to Bethlehem, Daniel artfully managed to park the van in a small V.I.P. lot right at the front door of the Church. He shepherded us past a very long line comprised of umpteen tour groups (according to Daniel, the line was four hours long and, in high season, it can take all day) to the door and staircase that lead to the underground Grotto that is recognized as Jesus’s birthplace. In the photo above, you can see the mad crush at the door to the Grotto.  You can also see Daniel ahead of me (well, the side of his face), near the door, leading my 14-year-old (light brown hair, olive shirt), to his right, through the mob. Down in the Grotto, Daniel made sure we had enough time to photograph the manger. (You’re officially allowed only about two seconds.) Then he led us into the adjacent Church of St. Catherine, the Catholic chapel where Christmas Eve mass is broadcast to television audiences around the world, and showed us other sights in Bethlehem, including edgy Palestinian street art, before zipping us out of the West Bank and back to Jerusalem, all in just a couple of hours. It was like watching a magic act.

Entering West Bank Area A from Israel

This is the border checkpoint you pass through as you drive into the West Bank’s Area A, where Bethlehem is located. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you to each sight at the best moment.

Western Wall at night Jerusalem Israel

The Western Wall is best experienced on a Friday at sundown. We shot this later, as we were leaving after dark. Photo: Timothy Baker

The Western Wall is at its most interesting on Fridays at sundown, the start of the Sabbath. You’ll see young men in dashing suits and Lubavitcher fedoras, old men in long black robes and Lithuanian fur hats, and all manner of other traditional garb and headgear worn by worshippers’ Eastern European ancestors. You’ll see female soldiers joyously singing and dancing in groups, with machine guns strapped around their bodies. You’ll see and hear multifarious small collections of worshippers holding their own services, singing their own songs and dancing in their own circles. Joe made sure we arrived shortly before sundown (which, depending on the time of year, could be any time between 5:00 pm and 8:15 pm).  Using cameras (or any other electronic devices) during the Sabbath is not smiled upon, so Joe also made sure we got to the Western Wall on another day when we could take photos of our kids doing as the locals do—writing their prayers on small slips of paper, wadding up the paper, and cramming it into a crack in the Wall.

 

Men praying at the Western Wall Jerusalem Israel

Taking photos at the Western Wall during the Sabbath is frowned upon, so go twice: once to see the scene on Friday at sundown, and another time to take photos like this. Photo: Timothy Baker

They know cool new ways to see old places.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

We soared over Masada and the Judean Desert in this powered paraglider. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whether you’re hiking up to Masada—the 2,000-year-old fortress-palace built by King Herod atop a rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea—or ascending by cable car, you can’t see any of the ancient city till you’re on the mountaintop. Most people explore the fortress only at eye level. But, thanks to Joe’s friend Segev Baram, a flight instructor with a powered paraglider, we got to enjoy aerial views too. We each took a turn soaring over Masada and the sites of ancient Roman camps in the desert, and then over to the Dead Sea Canal, dipping downward until we almost skimmed the surface of the waterway. My 14-year-old says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done.

Segev turns out to be a cinematographer too. Somehow he managed to pilot the machine, working the controls like a marionette, while simultaneously filming our entire ride.  To fly over Masada vicariously with us, check out this three-minute video Segev made and sent to my family.  It’s sababa!  (That means awesome.)

 

They ensure you taste the best local flavors.

Mahane Yehuda Market dried fruit tea vendor

Our tasting tour of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market included this stall that sells “dried fruit tea.” There’s no tea in it. It’s just diced, sweet, intensely aromatic dried fruit that you mix with hot water. Photo: Timothy Baker

I can meander through foreign food markets all day long, losing myself in the scents and colors. But when time is short and markets huge and labyrinthine, a guide who knows everybody in the market—who knows whose Medjool dates are the plumpest and whose tahini is ground the centuries-old way and where to taste which award-winning cheese—can really enhance your experience. And that’s especially true if you’re in one of those markets on a Thursday or Friday during the pre-Shabbat scramble.  That’s why everybody in my family agrees that two of our trip highlights were our private tasting tours of two of the biggest markets: the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. At Mahane Yehuda, when we couldn’t resist buying edible souvenirs to take home, our guide arranged for our purchases to be delivered to us later, so we wouldn’t have to lug our haul from stall to stall.

Carmel Market etrog medicine man shop Israel

Medicinal fruit juices— including those made from the etrog (that bumpy greenish-yellow fruit she’s holding)—are served at the Etrog Medicine Man shop in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

They reduce airport waits and hassles.

Joe’s travelers get airport VIP service, and here’s what that means:  When we landed at Ben-Gurion on a Saturday morning, we were met at the end of the jetway and led on an alternate path to the immigration area.  We were led to a separate VIP desk, to the side of the immigration lines, where we were handed our stamped cards to get into the country.  We exited the immigration area for the luggage carousel at the same moment that the first people off our flight were arriving to queue up at the end of the already long lines.  Back at the airport on Sunday morning eight days later for our flight home, we were met curbside by another VIP agent who enabled us to bypass the standard check-in lanes and escorted us through security to our gate.  We zipped through without a hiccup.  I estimate that this airport VIP service spared us at least an hour each way standing in lines.

Your passport no longer gets stamped when you enter Israel, by the way. At Immigration you are given a small laminated card with your principle details and a stamp on it.  Don’t lose it, since this card gets you the V.A.T. discount when you check into hotels.

They introduce you to interesting people you’d otherwise never meet.

Here I’m with Sarit Zehavi, a security expert and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces, at Israel’s northern border in the Golan Heights. You’re looking at Syria (beyond that light-colored road). Photo: Joe Yudin

What’s a trip to Israel without hearing varied local perspectives on the geopolitics of the Middle East, the war against terrorism, and other important topics of the day?  So Joe arranged a few of the meetings that he has arranged for so many WOW List travelers, as you can read in their reviews of Joe’s trips.  I’ll give you just a few examples:

Joe told me that if I wanted to understand Israel’s outlook on the Middle East, I needed to go to the Golan Heights, an area of rolling vineyards and army bases on the border with Syria. There we met Sarit Zehavi, an expert on Israel’s security challenges at the northern borders. Zehavi is a 15-year military intelligence officer and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and is also the founder of ALMA, a research and education center focused on the border conflict. She is actually of Syrian heritage (her father grew up in Damascus). She is also a mom whose house sits six miles from the Lebanese border, so she lives with a visceral sense of danger, day in and day out.  Pointing to the Syrian border (see the photo above), she showed us exactly where and how the situation has been changing along it.  A week after we met, Zehavi was headed to Washington, D.C., to address members of Congress and other U.S. leaders at AIPAC. Here’s what she told them.

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert, with my son Doug at Caliber 3. Photo: Timothy Baker

Joe also arranged for us to meet with Eitan Cohen at Caliber 3, a counterterrorism training academy that offers security solutions and intelligence operations to clients around the globe. Cohen is a charismatic and inspiring colonel in the IDF and a security expert who works in elite undercover units. The kids got hands-on training in self-defense strategies, as well as an unforgettable lesson in patriotism and how profound love of country—like Cohen’s for Israel—is what inspires soldiers around the world.

journalist and author Matti Friedman

We met journalist and author Matti Friedman for breakfast at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Photo: Timothy Baker

Of the local journalists Joe offered to connect me with, I chose Matti Friedman, a former Associated Press correspondent who also served in the Israeli army.  Friedman is the author of two award-winning books, The Aleppo Codex and PumpkinFlowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War, and his third book, Spies of No Country—the story of Israel’s first spies in 1948—is coming out in November.  Friedman believes that, because of the way news about the Middle East is framed by Western news media, many travelers are left with a lot of misconceptions about Israel and the situation in the Middle East.  As just one example, people think Jerusalem is dangerous, but last year there were only 27 deaths in Jerusalem caused by acts of violence, compared with 133 in Jacksonville, Florida, and 175 in Indianapolis (cities similar in size to Jerusalem).  Social problems that Americans take for granted—health care, homelessness, gun control—hardly exist in the same way in Israel. For instance, Friedman has four kids and pays only $56 per month for health care for his whole family.  As for his perspective on conflict in the Middle East, the main takeaway was:  Don’t come to Israel with a lot of preconceptions. Or, if you do, meet with Friedman.  2023 UPDATE: Matti Friedman has little availability nowadays. Instead, you can meet with journalists such as Gil Hoffman and Khaled Abu Toameh

 

cooking class in Jersualem Israel

Chef Tali Friedman taught the boys how to cook an Israeli feast, including apple-filled phyllo pastries, in her kitchen. Photo: Timothy Baker

I went to Israel thinking most of my time would be spent on sites of historical, cultural, and religious significance.  As it turned out, most of my time was spent eating.  Israel’s culinary scene has been exploding, and one of the reasons why is Chef Tali Friedman. She gave us a cooking lesson in The Jerusalem Atelier, her kitchen workshop inside the historic Mahane Yehuda Market, and then we got to eat the feast we had cooked. I’m still dreaming of the best eggplant dish I’ve ever tasted: roasted Baladi eggplant, grilled over an open flame until scorched and smoky, with tahini and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. So simple, yet so flavorful.  We took the recipes home with us, but I’m not so sure I can replicate them without easy access to the superb produce and ingredients in the Market.

Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market Israel

Inbal Baum introduced us to her favorite finds in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

We also had a blast with Inbal Baum, founder of Delicious Israel, who steered us to her favorite stalls and shops in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s largest outdoor food extravaganza. This eliminated haphazard guessing as to the best foods to sample—which in turn eliminated thousands of unnecessary calories—and it also meant no standing in lines:  In each spot, seats and tables magically appeared for us, and then dishes suddenly appeared on them. Come hungry!

Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen in the Golan Heights. Photo: Timothy Baker

When we went to the Golan Heights, we weren’t expecting gourmet dining al fresco, but that’s the surprise that awaited us in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen.  A friend of Joe’s with grandparents from Turkey on one side and Germany on the other, Chef Tal went to culinary school in New York City, and now he zips all over Israel creating gourmet “picnics” in spectacular locations.  You can see photos of what we ate here.

Joe Yudin, the Israel travel specialist on my WOW List

Joe Yudin of Touring Israel at Tel Maresha. Photo: Timothy Baker

And here’s who made it all happen:  Joe Yudin, the Trusted Travel Expert for Israel on my WOW List.  Contact Joe using my questionnaire so he knows Wendy sent you and you get the same caliber of trip that I, and all these other travelers, received.

START YOUR OWN TRIP TO ISRAEL

UPDATE:  This article was written in 2018, based on a trip to Israel in that year, but all of these experiences are still available today in 2023. 

Transparency disclosure: Thanks to a stipend that Joe Yudin received from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism for press, most elements of this trip were complimentary.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, no strings were attached:  There was no request for coverage, nor was any promised.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

family at Bran Castle in Romania

Wendy’s Romania Trip Photos and Experiences

As availability dwindles and prices soar for travel to the tourist magnets of Europe, consider turning your attention to off-the-beaten-path European locales that have the beauty and charm without the crowds.  Romania, for instance.  That’s where I chose for my family’s vacation last summer, and we would go back in a heartbeat.

Why Romania?  I was driven by a desire to avoid the post-pandemic hordes in Europe’s more obvious spots, to experience a place that I’ve read awesome traveler reviews about, and to support a country that was helping refugees from Ukraine—and to see if we could help too.

We started with three days in Romania’s capital, Bucharest; then we traveled through the countryside, focusing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Transylvania for a week; and then we ended our trip in the fun university city of Cluj.  (We flew to Bucharest on Swissair via Zurich and home from Cluj on Lufthansa via Munich—-two good airports for connections.)

A cafe and people walking in the boulevard in Bucharest, Romania.

A boulevard in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Timothy Baker

Romania sure surprised us. We thought Bucharest would be gritty, with mainly Soviet-style architecture, but it’s much cleaner, safer, and leafier than you might imagine, with a charming Old Town and boulevards lined with Art Nouveau buildings and outdoor cafes. It feels like cities I’ve been to in central Europe (think Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia). We spent our days seeing the sights and our evenings strolling through the Old Town, and, thanks to our WOW List local fixer in Romania, were able to spend time with Ukrainian mothers and children who had fled the war and learn about the organizations in Bucharest that are supporting them.  My sons, Charlie and Doug, even befriended a group of Ukrainian teens whom they are still in touch with on social media.

View from a medieval fortified church in Transylvania.

View from a medieval fortified church in Transylvania. Photo: Timothy Baker

Our preconceptions about Transylvania were wrong too.  Just because it served as the setting for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula does not make it dark or ominous. Transylvania is a pastoral region of rolling farmland dotted with hilltop castles, Saxon villages with medieval fortified churches, and shepherds tending to their sheep. It looks like Slovenia meets Bavaria meets Tuscany. It feels like a trip back in time. Farmers, artisans, craftspeople, blacksmiths, cheese makers, bread bakers, and other shopkeepers ply their trade the same way they have for centuries. King Charles III of England owns homes in Transylvania, including a guest house that travelers can sleep in.

The main street in Viscri, Transylvania.

The main street in Viscri, Transylvania. Photo: Timothy Baker

If you require 5-star luxury throughout a trip, Romania is not for you. It is not yet at that highly developed stage of tourism. Which is why I loved it. If you’ve already seen the iconic sights of Europe and are looking for landscapes that look like an 18th-century painting, small country inns, and an authentic experience of historic Europe far from the tour buses, consider it. While accommodations are at the 4-star (or 3-star, if you prefer) level, you can get a 5-star-caliber  travel experience if you use the right Romania specialist. For instance, my family got to be alone inside Bran Castle (a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle”) because our Romania specialist got us special access to the castle after it had closed to the general public for the day.

Swipe through the slide shows below, which I posted on Instagram during our trip, to learn about what we did, saw, and ate, and the many friends we made. Check out the photos of the rolling green landscapes, the medieval walled towns, the fairytale castles, the occasional sheep traffic jam, the Ukrainian teens, King Charles’ house in Viscri, and everything else described above.

Chef Marcela Cosnean in her kitchen in Harman, Transylvania

Chef Marcela Cosnean in her kitchen in Harman, Transylvania. Photo: Timothy Baker

Check out what we cooked too, thanks to the day we spent with a chef who is basically the Martha Stewart of Transylvania:  She took us to a goat farm in her village where we bought goat cheese (made at 1:00 a.m. that day!), then to a farmers’ market for gorgeous produce and a bakery for fresh-out-of-the-oven bread, then back to her kitchen where we learned how to cook one of the most memorable meals of our lives.

If you’ve got questions about Romania or want to know the best itinerary or trip-planning specialist for your specific needs and goals, just click on the button below.  We loved it!  And we can’t wait to go back, before the rest of the world discovers it.

ASK WENDY ABOUT A TRIP TO ROMANIA

 

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tourist boy jumping rope with local kids at a school in Chiawa Zambia

Ask a Teenager: 5 Unusual Trips Kids Will Love

Note from Wendy: This article was written by my son Doug when he was 16, based on his experiences in more than 50 countries. 

Now that most of the world’s countries have reopened and you can take your family pretty much anywhere again, I’ve thought back to some of my favorite foreign adventures. These are places where teenagers like me can go beyond the typical beach resorts, explore a different culture, talk to the local people, and learn what the world is really like.

ASK DOUG FOR MORE TRIP IDEAS

 

  1. Zambia and Zimbabwe

In the undisturbed wilderness here, animals roam free and rule the land, and they are magnificent. It was my first time staying at a bush camp, so I was excited but scared. After landing in Zambia, first we drove from Mfuwe Airport to the Mfuwe Lodge, where we stayed the first few nights.

view from a car driving on a road in Zambia, a white tourist boy and an African driver

The moment we arrived, we were invited on a game drive that night. About three seconds in, not even moving, there it was: A beautiful leopard trying to get through the locked gate to the spa. Maybe to make his or her nightly spa treatment.

Then, three minutes into the drive, there was a baby hippo walking across the road.  On a night game drive, you see different animals than on a daytime drive—or, if they’re the same animals, you see them in different locations.

We traveled to different bush camps almost every day. There were animals everywhere. On the third drive, we went to a lagoon that had three teenage lions. We got within 15 feet of them.

It was exhilarating but scary to be 15 feet from an animal that is 8 feet long, wild, and could kill you in seconds. We weren’t too worried, though, because the lions had just gorged themselves and could hardly move.

We spent a few days in the village of Chiawa, where we saw how real people live in Zambia and learned about their culture and their life, which is very different from ours.

kids at a water pump in Chiawa Zambia

We got to visit a school there. The students were so welcoming to us and invited us to play with them. It was great getting to meet them.

kids playing ping pong at a school in Chiawa Zambia

A group of girls called The Power Kittens, a girls’ empowerment club, even greeted us with a welcome dance.

When you don’t speak the same language, you can make friends with people through sports. That’s why we brought frisbees with us as a gift for the school.  We played volleyball with the students too, and they showed us games they’d made up jumping rope.

The next day we went to a church service in Chiawa. Many of the kids who went to that school attended the service. It was more fun and upbeat than the church services I had been to in the past. They sang in beautiful harmony.

Then we went to Zimbabwe and to Victoria Falls, which is one of the world’s largest waterfalls.  You can really appreciate the beauty of the falls from a helicopter.

Another highlight of Victoria Falls was the Elephant Cafe, which rescues and rehabilitates elephants.  You actually get to hand-feed them. It was exciting to hand-feed peanuts to the world’s biggest land animal that could kill you at any second.

On the way to the elephants, we took a jet boat over rapids on the Zambezi river above the falls, The boat was bouncing over huge rapids, skimming the rocks, and water was flying every which way.  What surprised me was how fast a large boat could go over rapids, even when it was hitting rocks.

I got drenched in water. It was an unforgettable experience.

 

2. Israel and Jordan

Joe Yudin, who lives in Israel and guided us around the country, was so fun and amazing. The first thing he did was take us sandboarding in the Negev desert.

man holding a sandboard in Negev desert Israel

He gave us the best experiences possible, from all the religious sights to taking a powered paraglider over Masada and the Dead Sea.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

For more about the powered paraglider (and more photos and video), read my article 3 Cool Things To Do on a Family Trip in Israel.

We saw so much of the world’s greatest history all in one spot. We did everything from spelunking through the buried city to visiting war zones and a secret underground bullet factory.

We learned about Israeli foods like all the different types of hummus, which taste like completely different dishes depending on the toppings. Food expert Inbal Baum gave us a food tour of Tel Aviv.

We went to markets to buy the food for an Israeli cuisine cooking lesson we had. The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem was massive, with all the smells circulating through your nose all at once.

Then Chef Tali Friedman taught us how to cook the ingredients in her kitchen.

cooking class in Jerusalem Israel

Later we went to an archeological dig site.

It was like the most unexpected treasure hunt.  We uncovered mostly broken pottery, but our neighbor was on an earlier trip there with her family and found jewelry, in the same spot we were digging in, that is now in a museum.

two teenage boy tourist sifting sand for artifacts at Tel Maresha Israel

At the Dead Sea, we covered ourselves in mud, and when I went into the water it came off and it felt like my skin was reborn. Getting to float in the Dead Sea was spectacular.

We also went to Eilat, which is the seaside city at the southern tip of Israel. We got to go scuba diving with dolphins.

teenage tourist boys in scuba gear in Eilat Israel

The dolphins would come up right next to us and put on a small show of their own. The cool thing was the dolphins were wild and free to swim in the Red Sea whenever they wanted.

Also on that trip we took a mini two-day trip to Jordan. We wanted to see the ancient city of Petra, which is carved into a sandstone canyon.

We stayed at a hotel across the street from the entrance to Petra so we could be the first ones inside in the morning. At 6 a.m. we had the place to ourselves.

When you walk into Petra, the first thing you see is The Treasury. It is famous for being in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The city of Petra is huge. We hiked around there all day, learning about the architecture, the agriculture, and the irrigation system (they created their own aqueduct).

We got to see the painting on the ceiling of some of the houses and the remains of a huge amphitheatre.

Wadi Rum is nearby and is a vast desert that used to be the ocean floor.  There are random plateaus, 500 feet straight up, above the sand.  We drove around Wadi Rum in the back of a four-wheel-drive pick-up.

tourist family driving truck in desert of Wadi Rum jordan between two rock walls

Miles of beautiful scenery. It’s a landform you’ll never see anywhere else.

Wad Rum desert in Jordan with orange sand and large rock towers

We saw where they filmed The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.

tourists on camels in wadi rum desert jordan with rock mountains behind

It was an all-around amazing trip.  Even if you’re not religious, Israel (and Jordan) is still a trip you really should take because it has played such an important role in world history, and you really can do everything there.

3. Morocco

When we went to Morocco, we went with our family friends on a road trip all around the country.  We started off in Marrakech and ended in Fez.  Much was desert, but there was also farmland and even a ski resort.

man looking over ancient village in Morocco

For the eight days we were there, we spent a total of 29 hours driving. On the long rides, in a nicely outfitted 12-passenger bus with Wi-Fi, we played Moroccan card games and built sites and markets we saw with Legos.

Earlier this year Wendy and her family traveled through the #2 country on our list: Morocco. Here they are at the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

Along the way we had many great experiences, like making drums out of goat skin and making Moroccan bread at a family’s beautiful home.

In between Marrakech and Fez, we glamped in the Sahara desert for a night and got to sleep like sultans in beautiful striped tents with real beds.

Morocco desert camp at night

We got up at dawn for a sunrise camel ride and to go sandboarding down the dunes.

Morocco desert sandboarding

We went on a sunset camel ride too.

camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

We had races running up and down the dunes. Running in such deep sand was extremely hard.  The slower you go, the more you sink.  Running at different speeds will cause the properties of the sand to be different. Running on it fast will make the sand compact quicker, so it feels like sprinting on concrete, but if you go slowly, you just sink.

At the end of our trip we had a hammam.  A hammam cleanses your body and takes away a lot of dead skin. You have water splashed all over you. You sit in a really humid room, and then they shower you and scrub off all of the dirt and dead skin.

four boys wrapped in robes and towels in a hammam in Morocco

Having another family with us in Morocco added a lot to the experience.  When you travel to such an out-of-the-ordinary place, it’s good to be able to share it with friends your age and get their take on it.  That trip was my first trip with these friends and hopefully not my last.

4. United Arab Emirates

The buildings in Dubai were so futuristic.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

And there were million-dollar cars dotting the roads. I saw cars of famous YouTubers everywhere. I went to this car dealership called Deals on Wheels and it was amazing the type of cars that they had in stock. They had McLarens, Lamborghinis, Koenigseggs, Maybachs, and much more.

teenage boy taking photos of silver supercar in Dubai at Deals on Wheels auto store

We checked out the Dubai Mall, which is the biggest mall in the world, at more than 12 million square feet. It’s got more than 1,200 stores and one of the world’s largest aquariums. It was all air-conditioned, which was important because we were there in August when it was 115 degrees.

Dubai aquarium wall, with tourists looking through clear glass at a diver insider the aquarium

We also went to the Abu Dhabi desert for a couple of nights. We stayed at Qasr al Sarab, a desert resort where the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stayed when filming. It looks like a huge Crusader castle in the middle of nowhere.

white buildings of Qasr al Sarab resort in Abu Dhabi desert

When I stepped outside to go sandboarding, the desert was scorching.  We walked about a half mile up a dune and the heat was so extreme that the boards didn’t even work. When the sand is that hot, it gets sticky. It was sticking onto the board so much that the board couldn’t really move.

sandboarding in Abu Dhabi desert

When I got back into the hotel, I felt so faint from the heat that I had to throw up. Fortunately, each villa had its own private plunge pool to cool off in.

Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Every time I go to a desert, I go sandboarding and I also ride a camel. My favorite sandboarding and camel riding were in the Sahara desert, but it’s important to try them everywhere because they’re always different.

Abu Dhabi teenage boy tourist getting up on camel

Between Dubai and the Abu Dhabi desert, we stopped at Ferrari World, which is a Ferrari-themed amusement park. As a car lover it was a dream for me. I got to sit in a real Ferrari and even drove a racing Ferrari simulator.

child in car at Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi

There was also the fastest roller coaster in the world, topping out at speeds of 150 mph in 4.9 seconds. They give you goggles (which you need) and put you on it. The coaster is definitely a 10 out of 10.

After the desert, back in Dubai, we stayed at the Burj Al Arab, which is one of the world’s nicest hotels. It’s built to look like a sail.

Burj al Arab in Dubai with ocean in front

It’s next to a water park belonging to a sister resort next door, and if you stay at one of those hotels you get free admission.

Dubai- Wild Wadi Waterpark

Mom’s friend and her two kids around our age came to visit.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

We played in the ocean and then went to Black Tap Dubai, which is a place that makes the most over-the-top milkshakes, which were phenomenal. That night we had dinner in a restaurant in the Burj al Arab that has an aquarium in it with lots of fish, sharks, and a few eels in the middle.

Burj al Arab's Al Mahara restaurant with aquarium in background in Dubai

There’s really no other place in the world like Dubai.  I would love to go back to the United Arab Emirates someday.

 

5. Sri Lanka

Even though it was such a long plane ride to get there, Sri Lanka was phenomenal.  The country has unique tropical animals I’d never seen before. At one hotel, we came back from dinner to find banana peels all over the floor of my parents’ room. Monkeys had jumped through the window, found the fruit basket, and peeled and eaten the bananas.  They had no interest in the other types of fruit and left them behind in the basket for my parents!

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a culture that is totally different.  In our effort to learn about Buddhist culture, we went to a sacred rock temple that is one of the highest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.  It was a very steep hike up 670 feet to the top of the rock.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

At different levels on the way up, we saw giant Buddha statues.

At the top of the rock, we received a blessing and a lesson about the colors of the Buddhist flag and what they mean.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

But the best part of the trip was when we spent Christmas Day at The Rainbow Centre. The Rainbow Centre is a school for kids who are in extreme poverty and can’t afford an education. The students are picked up by bus every day, then washed, fed, and taught basic schoolwork.

The second we got there, we were greeted with happy smiling faces and a traditional dance that they put on for us. We hung out with the kids for a long time and played many games with them—like Rounders, Musical Hat (this is like Musical Chairs, except with a hat), and Draw the Tail on the Elephant. One of the blindfolded girls holding the marker accidentally marked my nose instead of the elephant!

You can read more about our day at The Rainbow Centre, and see more photos and videos, in my article What Your Kids Get Out of Giving Back.

When we got back to the hotel, there was a man playing Santa—who probably weighed 90 pounds—riding a wave rider on the lagoon outside. He came and visited all of us kids staying at the hotel and gave each one of us a special present based on things we were interested in. It was definitely my most memorable Christmas!

The next day we went to an elephant orphanage where they rehabilitate injured and orphaned elephants. One of the elephants had to have a prosthetic leg made out of wood and strapped to his knee. He was able to move around and had plenty to eat.  Watching the baby orphaned elephants was very funny because they were only a few weeks old and learning how to walk, and they didn’t understand how to use their trunks yet, so their trunks kept flailing around randomly. It was so funny to watch.

Then we went on a safari in a jeep and saw dozens of big elephants in the wild.  They were so strong that we watched one of them uproot an entire grown tree just to be able to eat a few mangos off the top of it. That was amazing to watch.

 

If you’re trying to figure out where to take your own kids for an unusual trip, I’m happy to make suggestions. Just click on the black button below and ask for a reply from Doug.

ASK DOUG FOR A TRIP RECOMMENDATION FOR YOUR OWN FAMILY

This article was updated in March 2023. It was originally published in 2020.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Budapest's Chain Bridge

Is a River Cruise the Easiest Way to See Europe?

Note from Wendy: My husband, Tim Baker, has been to all seven continents and more than 100 countries. He’s run with the bulls in Pamplona and bungee-jumped 225 feet. He’s lived on a yacht off Fiji and in a tent in Antarctica—as an expedition photographer for Greenpeace. He was living in Germany and traveling for work all over Europe, as director of photography for a newspaper, when I met him. So you wouldn’t think a cruise on the Danube—a river route he has driven countless times and whose cities he can navigate blindfolded—would hold much appeal. Yet he loved it. Here’s Tim on why his first river cruise, aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Alsvin, was what the doctor ordered: 

Schonbuhel Castle, Melk

These are the colors of low season. That’s Schönbühel Castle, in Austria’s Wachau Valley, near Melk.

When I lived in Germany—for nearly five years—a lot of friends came to visit, and I always took them to see the castles along the Rhine and the Danube. I used to look at the passengers on the river boats, sitting on the top deck sipping wine, and think to myself: That’s got to be a great way to travel. Fast forward a decade, and I finally got to do it myself. It’s the easiest way I can think of to see Europe. Here’s why:

1. There are no logistics to worry about.

When we travel on land as a family, I’m the one who does the heavy lifting. As the dad, I’m the driver, the pilot, the baggage handler, the activity director, the concierge. On the cruise, I didn’t have to do a thing. I didn’t have to worry about where to park, or a rental-car fender-bender in some tight European parking garage, or hauling our bags from train station to hotel to train station to hotel. We unpacked in Budapest and repacked again seven days later in Passau, Germany. In each city on our route, when we got off the ship, the only logistical detail we had to worry about was what time the ship was leaving, to make sure we got back in time.

Viking Alsvin, Budapest

Our ship, docked in Budapest.

2. The ship drops you off in the middle of town.

You get off the ship and walk right to the main squares and sights. How cool is that? The ship is close enough that you can go back several times during the day; if you’ve bought something heavy or bulky, you can walk back to the ship and drop it off, then soldier on back to sightseeing. In Budapest we were docked right under the Chain Bridge. There isn’t a more convenient address in the city.

Thanksgiving dinner, Viking Alsvin

Our family’s Thanksgiving dinner on the Aquavit Terrace aboard the Viking Alsvin

3. There were no lines or waits.

When we arrived at the airport in Budapest, Viking representatives met us. A bus took us to the ship, and we just walked right onboard. There was no wait to board the ship, no wait for our cabin to be ready. Wherever we were on the ship, there was never more than a 30-second walk to get off. The only lines we encountered were at dinner time, when passengers start arriving at the dining room at 6:45 pm for a 7:00 pm dinner. If you arrive at 7:10 pm, it may be hard to seat four people together. That happened to us on Thanksgiving. But Viking offers a pub menu on the observation terrace, where you don’t have to sit through a long, drawn-out, multi-course dinner. We were more than happy to eat there—and were always served within just a few minutes of sitting down.

The lobby of the 190-passenger Viking Alsvin

The lobby of the 190-passenger Viking Alsvin. Wherever you are on the ship, you’re never more than a 30-second walk away.

4. Docked at cities, there often is free transportation to and from the ship.

In ports, Viking offers a handful of “included tours” that are featured as part of your fare. These are usually history-focused walking tours around towns and cities (there are more options for more extensive touring that incur a fee). Compare that with the cost of renting a car and driving a family of four. We actually did that, at the end of our cruise—we rented a car to drive back to Salzburg—and the rental car cost us $225 per day (not including the cost of parking in Salzburg).

View of Salzburg from its castle, Fortress Hohensalzburg

View of Salzburg from its castle, Fortress Hohensalzburg

5. There’s no nickel-and-diming, and you’re not stuck paying for things you don’t need or want.

Our Viking ship had just what we needed, with no frou-frou or myriad ways of trying to extract more money from me. I’ve taken ten ocean cruises with Wendy and the kids, and those big ships are chock full of stuff we never use. We don’t need a casino, a spa, nightly shows, a beauty salon, or 12 bars to choose from. On our river cruise, there was one bar—and when the bartender saw me, he automatically prepared my favorite drink. I was surprised to find they had a putting green and a shuffleboard court—those came in handy for the kids. The only thing I wished they’d had, but they didn’t, was a hot tub or a sauna—some place to get super-warm after walking around town all day in the European winter cold (some river cruise lines do offer hot tubs and saunas).

 

START PLANNING A RIVER CRUISE

 

Playing golf on the Viking Alsvin

Our boys playing golf on the Viking Alsvin, below the Chain Bridge in Budapest, November 2014

Note from Wendy: The cruise I chose for my family was a Christmas Markets cruise over Thanksgiving. Full disclosure: Viking River Cruises gave us two complimentary cabins. In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Viking’s part, nor was anything promised on mine. The complimentary accommodations did not influence Tim’s opinions in the least. (Trust me, Tim is non-influenceable. I’ve tried for years.)

This trip originally took place in 2014. The story has been updated and fact-checked in February 2023. 

Christmas Market in Passau, Germany

The Christmas Market in Passau, Germany, where our cruise ended. It was an easy ten-minute walk from our ship to the market square.

Brook and her family at the Sphinx statue with no other people around.

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

When you use our Trip Questionnaire to get a WOW trip, you start by articulating your trip goals and challenges. That’s what Brook did when planning her kid-friendly adventure in Egypt. You can find the right Trip Questionnaire for you via The WOW List’s CONTACT buttons.


 

My trip request:
Seeing the Pyramids had long been my son Zeke’s dream. Egypt has been marked with a special pushpin on the world map in his bedroom since he was seven. When Zeke turned 11, we decided it was time to make his dream come true. We needed a kid-friendly itinerary for Egypt that hit all the highlights while avoiding the post-pandemic tourist crowds that afflict those iconic spots.

Biggest trip goals:
I had two goals: to make three-dimensional the ancient history Zeke had been learning about from textbooks, and to show him a slice of the country’s contemporary life.

Biggest trip challenges:
People from all corners of the globe want to see the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, so Egypt’s sights are notoriously crowded. I needed an itinerary that would allow us to avoid the lines, crowds, and tour-bus gridlock, fill our days with enough physical activity to burn kid energy, and keep Zeke from missing too much school.

Getting there:
We were starting in San Francisco. We thought about connecting in New York (JFK) to the EgyptAir nonstop to Cairo, but decided against it because we were nervous about domestic flight delays possibly interfering with our connection to an international flight. Instead, we flew nonstop from San Francisco to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, spent a restful six hours at the YOTEL hotel on the airside of the airport (no need to pass through security), then connected for a short flight to Cairo.

The basic itinerary:
We contacted Egypt specialist Jim Berkeley via The WOW List. He timed our trip for Thanksgiving week, so that Zeke would miss only four days of school. Jim designed our 10-day itinerary thus: two nights in Cairo, one night in Luxor, a four-night Nile cruise on a small dahabiya, two nights in Aswan, and two nights in Giza.

Challenges solved:
Jim handpicked private, English-speaking, special-access guides for us who knew how to get around many of the crowds. At Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, for instance, our guide got us there as soon as the doors opened and made a beeline for the second-floor galleries containing King Tut’s treasures, while most other visitors started on the first floor. At the Pyramids, she took the opposite route that most tours take—letting us have the Sphinx completely to ourselves. To me, the best local guides are people I could imagine striking up a friendship with if we lived in the same town. I never found the boundaries of our guide Reham’s historical knowledge—indeed, she was studying for a master’s degree between our forays around Cairo—but even more memorable than her book learning were our shared commiserations over raising pre-teens while juggling careers in travel, and the apparently worldwide phenomenon of helicopter parents trying to solve their kids’ social quandaries.

Strolling El Moez Street in Old Cairo along locals and other visitors.

Brook and local guide Reham strolling El Moez Street in Old Cairo. Photo. Ryan Damm.

Jim also found ways to add physical activity that would be fun for the whole family: We sandboarded down dunes in Aswan one day. We rode bikes early one morning from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings. (For safety, we were led by a motorbike and followed by our van, with a spontaneous police escort waving us through one intersection—but next time I’ll remember to insist on helmets when planning to rent bikes abroad.)

Brook and her son biking on an empty road to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

Biking to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Brook sandboarding new Aswan.

Sandboarding near Aswan. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Our food tour of Cairo involved not just eating, but also walking a few miles on bustling city streets to visit ten different stops, from a juice bar to a falafel stand to a homestyle joint where all the signage was in Arabic.

Different fruit nets on a food market in Cairo.

A stop on Brook’s food tour of Cairo. Photo: Ryan Damm.

The highlight:
Our 4-night Nile cruise on a dahabiya. A dahabiya is a crewed sailing vessel that had won over even my boat-averse colleague Billie last year. Unlike the larger, Western-style cruise ships on the Nile, our 12-passenger dahabiya was able to stop at smaller sites the larger ships couldn’t navigate. For instance, we pulled up beside an ancient sandstone quarry; it was fascinating to walk amongst the cliffs from which stones had been cut and then rafted downriver to build the very temples we’d visited earlier in the trip. We strolled around a village where Zeke shared photos and Frisbee throws with local kids. We even stopped at a sandy shoreline where we could swim in the Nile (our captain chose a spot where the water was moving briskly enough to keep it clean, and crocodiles are rare north of the High Dam in Aswan). As the only kid on board, Zeke was occasionally restless, and the cabins were a tad shabby—but the deeper experience of life on the river made it well worth it.

Dahabiya Zekrayaat. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Just another shoreline view from the dahabiya. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Making friends in a Nubian village. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Playing frisbee with local kids. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Swimming in the Nile. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Exploring a sandstone quarry. Photo: Ryan Damm.
A larger cruise ship passes Brook's dahabiya. Photo: Ryan Damm.

A dahabiya is by nature a communal experience (the cabins are small, so we spent most of our free time on the sun deck, and all meals are shared), and we were fortunate to join a fabulously interesting group of fellow travelers. The Thanksgiving-night talent show with the other passengers was a blast. Zeke told two jokes, and we watched new friends sing and dance; all I had to contribute was a handstand. Everyone’s willingness to let their guard down among people they’d met just three days earlier bespoke the camaraderie and intimacy of our short time together.

Best surprise:

Brook looking at the mural painting inside Nefertari's Tomb.

Inside Nefertari’s Tomb. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Queen Nefertari’s Tomb. Jim made sure we didn’t miss this gem. The millennia-old tombs in the Valley of the Kings—and even more so, in the less crowded Valley of the Queens—are exquisitely well preserved, with vibrant colors, visible brushstrokes, and everyday scenes that suggest they could have been painted just last week. But Queen Nefertari’s tomb takes the cake, with multiple chambers and intricate carvings done in sophisticated high relief.

Worst surprise:
Losing Zeke for five terrifying minutes among the throngs at Luxor Temple after sunset. Already disappointed by the crowds that made the temple’s innermost sanctuary feel more like Grand Central Station—it proved to be my least favorite site of the trip—we decided to cut our visit short and lost track of each other on the way out. Our guide kept his cool and found Zeke by the entrance; I greeted them both with teary hugs.

Most underrated:

Looking at the ceiling of the Temple of Khnum in Esna.

The Temple of Khnum, in Esna, Egypt. Photo: Ryan Damm.

The Temple of Khnum. Just before boarding our dahabiya in Esna, we visited the local temple. The ruins are below ground level but have been fully excavated; you take a tuk-tuk through the streets of this unassuming town 35 miles south of Luxor, walk down a flight of stairs, and enter one of the most impressive sites in all of Egypt—at least to my eyes. Restoration work is ongoing, and centuries of soot, grime, and bird droppings still obscure the stone in one half of the temple; in the other half, rows of columns with capitals ornately carved into flowers and palm fronds, and pastel-toned vulture-winged goddesses painted on ceiling frescos, leave you tempted to simply lie down on the gravel floor to take it all in.

Most overrated:
King Tut’s tomb. It’s modest by comparison to other tombs in the Valley of the Kings; at least the mummy still lies in state. Enter for the nostalgic connection to your childhood fascination with Egypt—not for the elaborate carvings you’ll find guiding other pharaohs’ paths to the afterlife, but not Tut’s.

Best places we stayed:

View of pyramids from the balcony at the Marriott Mena House.

View from a room at the Marriott Mena House.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the view from our room at the Marriott Mena House in Giza: There was the Great Pyramid, framed between palm trees by day, and lit up in colorful lights at night. The hotel’s prodigious buffets at breakfast and dinner ensured that everyone in our family could find something they were excited to eat.

 

View of Palace Cataract Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.

Palace Cataract Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan.

The bar at the Old Cataract Hotel in Egypt.

The bar at the Old Cataract Hotel. Photo: Ryan Damm.

You need not be an Agatha Christie fan to be charmed by the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan. Most rooms in both the original and newer wings have broad Nile views that take in the weathered curves of granite on Elephantine Island, the graceful lines of the feluccas sailing around it, and the hotel’s own highly manicured grounds. In our suite, the ornate chandeliers and richly toned wood cabinetry with mother-of-pearl inlays felt fit for royalty.

Worst place we stayed:
In Luxor, the Sofitel Winter Palace oozes history in ways both good and bad: You can imagine Howard Carter grandly announcing his discovery of King Tut’s tomb from the hotel in 1922, but you also wonder if the furnishings haven’t been reupholstered since then. The main restaurant is adults-only (not to mention jacket-required), and we found the alternative buffet to be overcooked and overpriced. Jim thinks the Winter Palace will get a much-needed refurbishment in the next year or two; until then, he tells me, the other options in town have their own idiosyncrasies.

Traveler beware:
In four decades of traveling, I’ve never been to a place as dominated by group tourism as Egypt is. A smart local fixer employs strategies to avoid the busiest times at the iconic spots—and turns your gaze to smaller, out-of-the-way details, like the careful carving of the toenails on a statue of Ramesses II—but you can’t escape the crowds entirely. A single group of 25 travelers all following the same flag-toting, mic’d-up guide is more difficult to navigate around than a dozen independent couples or families. That shouldn’t stop you from going to Egypt. Just be sure to book your trip through an Egypt specialist like Jim who has the proven ability to outsmart and outrun the big groups when possible.

Brook with her son exploring the Karnak Temple with their guide.

On a busy day at Karnak Temple, Brook’s guide still finds a quiet corner to explore. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Thank goodness I packed:
$100 in one-dollar bills. Thanks to Jim’s pre-trip intel, I had plenty of cash for baksheesh, which I most often handed out unsolicited. In the tombs at Luxor, though, the security guards were persistent in their offers to take your photo or let you behind the ropes—and then equally persistent in seeking out the tip they expected in return.

I’m glad I didn’t pack:
Binoculars. While our early-morning boat ride to the sandboarding spot outside Aswan was a birdwatcher’s dream, and we could have seen more than the most obvious herons, egrets, and kingfishers with a bit of magnification, Jim warned me that customs officials often take binoculars away from travelers upon their arrival, deeming them a security threat to the country’s military installations.

Lesson learned:
A few days before the trip, Jim rejiggered our plans in Cairo, which meant we wouldn’t see the pyramids until the end of our trip—and boy, am I happy he did. This was the highlight of the trip for Zeke, and it allowed us to end on a high note in a way that city sightseeing (while plenty of fun early in the trip) would not have matched. I knew it was a risk to save the most anticipated site for last, but we had to fly through Cairo to get home anyway, and we vowed to extend the trip to see the Pyramids if a Covid quarantine or some other malady forced us to change up our itinerary. (Luckily, all went according to plan.) From now on, I’ll always make sure there’s an extra-special finale at the end of every trip.

Best trip memory:
Zeke still can’t stop talking about our exploits inside the cramped passageways of the Great Pyramid! Built long before the more elaborate tombs constructed during the dynasties of Egypt’s New Kingdom, most of the walls inside the pyramid are smooth but largely unadorned, and the King’s Chamber is a humble precursor of later pharaonic resting places. But nothing makes you feel more like Indiana Jones than clambering up the narrow wooden ramps that lead to that chamber, ever mindful of the tonnage of stone that has held fast above your head for 4,500 years…and counting?

Navigating the passageways inside the Great Pyramid.

Navigating the passageways inside the Great Pyramid.

START YOUR TRIP TO EGYPT

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Egypt, WOW Lister Jim Berkeley arranged reduced rates for my family’s trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Jim via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

View of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Where Everybody’s Traveling in 2023: The 10 Most Popular Countries for WOW Trips

As you plan your travels for the year ahead, you’d be wise to keep in mind where everybody else is going. These are the 10 most-booked countries by travelers who have used our WOW system to plan 2023 trips:

1. Italy
2. United Kingdom
3. Australia
4. France
5. Japan
6. Spain
7. Portugal
8. New Zealand
9. Ecuador (incl. the Galapagos Islands)
10. Egypt

It’s great to see places that had some of the strictest Covid restrictions and that took two years or more to reopen—Australia, Japan, New Zealand—making such a strong comeback. The best way to find availability and affordability in these popular places is to be flexible with your travel dates. Avoid peak periods (e.g., springtime cherry blossom season in Japan, which is practically sold out) and go in shoulder season instead.

The House at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Of the countries that were closed the longest during Covid and did not reopen until 2022, Australia is the most popular now.  This is Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Elise Hassey

Five European countries on the 2023 Most Popular list were also on the 2022 Most Popular list: Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Portugal.  You know what that means: These places will be in even higher demand this year than they were last year, given the greater number of people worldwide who will return to traveling internationally in 2023. So, if any of these places are on your Must-See-In-2023 list, avoid tourist crowds by focusing your itinerary on the best off-the-beaten-path locations within these countries.

The problem solvers who can maximize your experiences of these places are the trip-planning specialists on Wendy’s  WOW List. They have the connections and clout to find availability in “sold out” hotels, they know the smartest timing for your trip, and they can point you to the best under-the-radar locations. To get an unforgettable trip, use the black CONTACT buttons on The WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer. That’s how you’ll get a priority response and VIP treatment. Here’s why.

If you haven’t started making travel plans for 2023 yet, I encourage you to focus on places that are not on the above list. There are so many wonderful opportunities in South America, Asia, the South Pacific, and non-Mediterranean Europe where you won’t face as much competition from other travelers that drives up prices and crowds. There are also countries worldwide that reopened early during the pandemic and thus the pent-up demand for them has cooled a little.  Learn your smartest options by perusing our trip reviews from travelers just back from these very places.

READ TRAVELER REVIEWS OF THE LATEST WOW TRIPS

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip. 

Aquamarine blue waters of sea near Taormina resorts and Etna volcano mount. Giardini-Naxos bay, Ionian sea coast, Taormina, Sicily, Italy.

The 10 Most Popular Countries of 2022 for WOW Trips

Drumroll, please: The 10 Most-Traveled-To Countries by the users of  Wendy’s WOW system during this comeback year for global travel were:

1. Italy
2. Greece
3. Portugal
4. France
5. United Kingdom
6. Spain
7. Morocco
8. Egypt
9. Kenya
10. Costa Rica

It’s really no surprise that the top six countries are in Europe. Or that seven are on the Mediterranean Sea, where you can find sunny coastlines most of the year.

You might be surprised, though, to see Morocco rank as the most popular country outside of Europe. But it makes sense: Morocco is exotic yet close to the U.S. (so you needn’t spend too many hours on a plane), you can do virtually all your sightseeing and dining outdoors, and Morocco was so careful as regards Covid that travelers felt very safe there this year.

Three countries in Africa made the top ten—and they are all so different!  In addition to Morocco, there was Egypt (for its ancient wonders) and Kenya (for its awesome wildlife). Egypt and Kenya are two countries that reopened early during the pandemic, as did the only country in the Americas to rank in the top ten, Costa Rica. That head start from reopening early helped set these countries up to welcome more travelers this year.

Popularity is a double-edged sword, of course: It can increase the crowds and hassles that travelers need to wrestle with—unless you’ve got the right local fixer in your corner, zapping the lines and logistics. To see what we mean, learn from these traveler reviews. And, to find such a local fixer, look to The WOW List.

READ TRAVELER REVIEWS OF THE LATEST WOW TRIPS

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

tourist woman on safari in South Africa sitting in jeep with elephant in distance

Here’s Why I Felt Covid-Safe on Safari

As the floodgates of travel reopen and we all learn to negotiate staying safe while away from home—and as European sidewalks and museums are once again crowded with visitors—I want to tell you about the low-risk travel formula I’ve hit upon: an African safari. I’ve spent time in southern Africa twice in the past year (in Botswana and Zimbabwe in 2021, and in Namibia and South Africa in 2022), and on both trips I felt safe and returned home Covid-free. Here’s why:

 

Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front. South Africa
Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front.
Our enclosed vehicle at Little Kulala in Namibia.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, South Africa.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge.
The dining room at Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The dining room at Earth Lodge.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.

Just about everything happens outdoors.

On a safari, the bulk of your day is spent on game drives—and at most camps, that means being in a vehicle with no sides (and often no top), and plenty of fresh breeze immediately diluting any exhaled virus particles. Vehicle set-up does vary by camp and by destination; this is something worth discussing with an in-the-know travel planner before your trip. The camps I visited in Namibia’s desert, for example, use enclosed vehicles to keep the sand out. I could open the windows and pop up the roof when I wanted fresh air, and I felt comfortable riding inside with my guides after confirming that they’d been vaccinated (more on that below).

Long before Covid, most safari camps and lodges were already designed for outdoor dining. A year ago, every single meal I ate on safari was served al fresco. On my recent trip, camp staff opted to set up indoors on a couple of chilly mornings and rainy evenings. In the few instances where I didn’t feel comfortable enough sitting near a window, they happily moved my family outside—and brought us blankets to stay warm, and even luminaries for ambiance.

 

Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.  South African safari
Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.
inside a charter flight with pilot and tourist woman South African safari
Charter flights make for close quarters; every one of our pilots was vaccinated.
tourist woman and guide on safari in South Africa
Namibian guide Joas arranged for treatment at a private hospital when his parents got Covid; he’s vaccinated.

Most people in the travel industry are vaccinated.

At the time of my most recent trip, just 30% of South Africa’s population and 15% of Namibia’s population was fully vaccinated. But I asked every person I was in close contact with if they were vaccinated, and the answer was always yes. Some of those in Namibia felt that their job was at risk if they didn’t get vaccinated; at the camps I visited in South Africa, a local clinic had vaccinated the entire staff. Even when a country’s overall vaccination rate is relatively low, uptake among people who work in travel is often much higher.

 

The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge safari
The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
The bedroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge South Africa
The bedroom
The indoor/outdoor bathroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in South Africa
The indoor/outdoor bathroom

You’re not interacting with lots of people, even when camps are full.

I visited a range of camps and lodges this year, from remote spots with just eight tents to one with 25 stand-alone villas. While each one was busier than the places I visited last year, nowhere ever felt crowded. I could chat with fellow travelers over the breakfast buffet or at the airstrip waiting for a charter flight, but I never found myself in close quarters with strangers. What’s more, there’s a bit less mixing at safari camps these days: Before Covid, the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve where I stayed, on the edge of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, grouped the same guests together for both game drives and meals. Today, those who don’t pay for a private vehicle will likely share one with others, but each group dines separately.

A savvy fixer can speed you through the only place you’ll find crowds: the airports.

Johannesburg Airport was a ghost town a year ago, but things have picked up significantly since then. Luckily, each time I arrived at an airport on my most recent trip, Trusted Travel Expert Cherri Briggs had someone there to meet me. Sure, I’m capable of navigating check-in counters and customs procedures on my own—but having a minder accompany me meant that I got to skip to the front of lines and use security checks reserved for crew and other VIPs. So even though the airports were busy, the time I had to spend in them shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers was minimal.

 

Photographing Soweto with our photojournalist/guide.
An impromptu drum lesson in Soweto.
Witnessing the devastation of recent flooding on Soweto’s streets.
Visiting a preschool in Soweto. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver
A spontaneous embrace from a food vendor at a Soweto market. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver

I saved my riskiest interactions for the end of the trip.

While the safari was the main purpose for my trip this year, I wanted my ten-year-old son to see a bit of urban Africa as well. We were flying through Johannesburg, so Cherri helped me plan a day-and-a-half in the city. Since city activities were the part of the trip when our exposure to Covid was likely to be highest, we built this into the end of my trip rather than the beginning. On our last day in Africa, a photojournalist-turned-tour-guide took my family to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Satyagraha House (where Gandhi once lived), and the Kliptown neighborhood of Soweto. Cultural exchanges can be tricky, and in Soweto I planned to follow my hosts’ lead in terms of Covid protocols, without disrupting the flow by asking about vaccination status; in practice, that meant going indoors unmasked to visit a preschool, to hear a group of local musicians perform, and to buy some knit hats from a trio of enterprising grannies. Everywhere I went, the welcome seemed warm and genuine, and I’m glad I didn’t have a mask hiding my smile for those brief interactions. (I tested five days after returning home, per CDC guidance, and was negative.)

So that’s why I felt safe on safari—but here’s why I’d go back in a heartbeat:

Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve South Africa
Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
Lions drinking after a kill South African safari
Lions drinking after a kill.
Playful lions south africa safari
Playful lions.
cheetah seen on safari in South Africa
The enormous lungs beneath a cheetah’s prominent chest aid its sprinting abilities.
an elephant seen on safari in South Africa
A thorny breakfast for an elephant.

The wildlife experience is unchanged since Covid.

Few corners of the globe remain unaffected by Covid; the African veld seems to be one such spot (excepting, perhaps, the hand sanitizer that appears beside your sundowners on evening game drives). This was my fifth time on safari, and I saw more animals at Sabi Sabi than I’d seen on any other trip: playful packs of lion cubs running laps around their mothers; elephants munching on shrubbery, seemingly unconcerned by the plant’s inch-long thorns; a barrel-chested cheetah and her offspring that came close enough we could hear them purring; a leopard and the impala kill it had dragged impressively high into a tree; two sturdy rhinos, unaware that their horns would soon be removed to discourage poaching. The wildlife that brings so many to Southern Africa is still there in abundance.

 

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience South Africa, WOW Lister Cherri Briggs arranged for a reduced rate at Bush Lodge and Earth Lodge in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Cherri via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

Staying Safe in a Global City: Wendy’s Trip to Istanbul

I’m just back from Istanbul, where I checked out how an iconic global crossroads has learned to manage Covid for the throngs of travelers who have continued coming here almost throughout the pandemic. Unlike the great majority of countries, Turkey has been welcoming international travelers for more than a year now, and when it got ready to vaccinate its citizens, it chose to vaccinate everyone in its travel industry first. This means that everyone who has regular contact with tourists is double-vaccinated. Turkey’s caseload is lower than the caseload back home (Turkey is currently averaging 23 cases per 100,000 people, vs. 47 cases per 100,000 in the U.S.), and its vaccination rate is catching up to that of the United States (57% of Turkey’s population has received one shot, vs. 61% in the US).

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to eat every meal outdoors—in the spring, summer, or fall—and to focus your sightseeing outside too, as the country is an outdoor museum. The first portion of this family trip—our sail in a private boat along the Turquoise Coast—was a Covid-safe experience from start to finish. Istanbul was more challenging: It’s a big, bustling city full of museums, mosques, and other indoor spaces that are tourist magnets, some with single-entry points. Since this was my fifth trip to Turkey, I’ve got a good sense of what’s normal for travelers in Istanbul, which helped as I investigated what’s changed, what hasn’t, what’s open, what’s closed, what’s safe, what’s not, what’s easy, what’s hard, and how to enjoy one of the world’s most vibrant and exotic cities to the max while staying safe. If you’d like to take a trip like mine, or plan one anywhere else in the world, contact us via the black buttons on The WOW List. In the meantime, enjoy my photos!

My number-one hotel tip

Book hotel rooms with balconies (or at least windows that open) for ventilation and where you can eat your breakfast (typically included in your hotel price) outdoors.  It’s easy to eat all your meals outdoors in the spring, summer, or fall. And, of course, spend time in neighborhoods where the throngs of tourists aren’t.  Check out these scenes from our stroll through Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. When there wasn’t enough space on the sidewalks to stay socially distanced, people just walked in the street (which were empty enough for it). Check out our lunch too: We ate indoors, but next to a big window with a strong breeze, at Ismet Baba Fish Restaurant.

At night, we watched sunset turn to night from Mikla restaurant on the roof of The Marmara Pera. In how many restaurants can you sit in Europe and overlook Asia?!

The one indoor thing you do not want to miss

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to do most things in the open air—including dining and sightseeing—but there’s one indoor thing you do not want to miss: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. When we went to the Grand Bazaar, it was mid-afternoon, and the main passageways were crowded, with about 20% of the people not wearing their masks. It was ventilated, though—the windows were open, and cool air was blowing through—and it was pretty easy to quickly access offshoot passageways that were nearly empty and the occasional open-air courtyard (both pictured). My advice:  Go to the Grand Bazaar at 9 am, when the shops start to open and there are the fewest people.

 

And if it gets too crowded…

If the Grand Bazaar gets too crowded, head to safe havens nearby. One block away sits Orient Handmade, a clean, spacious, professional, trusted carpet emporium where we acquired a little souvenir.

 

How to see the Spice Bazaar safely

Thanks to Covid protocols in place, Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar feels safe to me. It wasn’t at all crowded when we went at 10 am. (Go when the shops open in the morning, instead of in the busier afternoons.) The bazaar’s windows were open, and cool air was blowing through. At the entrances are hand disinfectant dispensers, and they check the temperature of every person entering (see demonstration by yours truly). Plus the shops we purchased tea and spices from served us out of sanitized bins in the back, rather than from the display areas up front.

 

 

How to visit Hagia Sophia safely

Hagia Sophia means “holy wisdom,” but when we visited, there were a lot of unwise people inside not wearing masks (about 20%). The mosque was closed for disinfection when we first arrived—apparently they disinfect every couple of hours—and we were told to come back in half an hour. At about 1:00 pm when we returned, it was impossible to stay 1.5 meters away from other people (1.5 meters = 4.9 feet = the social distancing that Turkish signs advise). This was on a Monday in August, so it was a peak day and month. Lesson learned: Go when it’s least crowded, which is first thing in the morning—8 or 9 am—and not on a Friday. (And, given how many people are removing their shoes, remember which shelf you left yours on!)

 

My favorite mosque in Istanbul

The Sülimaniye Mosque has always been my favorite mosque in Istanbul: It’s bright and pretty and peaceful, with panoramic views and airy gardens. When we visited at a peak time for sightseers (midday on a weekday in August), it was uncrowded and well ventilated and felt Covid-safe. By contrast, the Blue Mosque was the most jam-packed and stuffy place we visited in Istanbul, with no social distancing—AND it’s under restoration, so there’s little to see. So, during Covid, you might skip the Blue Mosque in favor of Sülimaniye.

 

What it’s like at Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace! Social distancing wasn’t really possible in the security line, which is the single entry point to the Palace, but it’s a quick line and outdoors. It was better than an airport security line!  After that, the crowd disperses. The arms and relics rooms were hopping, but the Harem and the Sultan’s bedroom were empty. Check out the Topkapi Dagger!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Istanbul on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for complimentary accommodations and transportation in Istanbul. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Karen via my WOW questionnaire. Thanks to my WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

(3) The Blue Ridge Parkway

How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip During Covid

(3)	The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway makes social distancing easy.
(2)	Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
(1)	The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
Woman in a mask at Mt Vernon  George Washington’s home in Virginia.
Everyone wore a mask at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
homeschool day with kids Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
At Mount Vernon it was Homeschool Day.
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
We had to wait to enter Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, because they are limiting the number of visitors.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
This is the spot where we parked our car at the Richard Johnston Inn in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
Breakfast can be served outdoors in the courtyard instead of indoors in the dining room.
Richard Johnston Inn breakfast
And the breakfast is yummy!
Richard Johnston Inn interior of guest room with dog Fredericksburg Virginia
Here’s our pet-friendly room off the courtyard. Macy (on the bed at left) felt right at home.
St Simons Island Georgia biking on beach
We met up with friends on St. Simons Island, Georgia, where you can bike on the beach!
St Simons Island georgia oak trees
St. Simons is famous for its magical oak trees.
 St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum Georgia
We opted not to enter the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum because I was too concerned about poor ventilation in a cramped space.
 Fort Frederica National Monument entrance St Simons Georgia
The entrance to Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island, October 2020
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
We felt very safe exploring the remains of the 18th-century fort and town known as Fort Frederica.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
These small motorized watercraft are a great way to get a sightseeing tour while staying socially distanced from the rest of the group.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Our favorite historic landmarks of our trip were, like Fort Frederica, outside and uncrowded.
covid safety signage at Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Safety signage at Fort Frederica

 

As we’ve learned more about Covid and how to avoid it, my family and I have grown more ambitious with each road trip.  Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to make four essential road trips. On the first trip, right after New Jersey’s lockdown ended, we avoided hotels and restaurants altogether. On the second, I learned how to choose safe hotels and restaurants. On the third, we added visits to historic monuments and museums and even rented a house. Each time, before leaving home and upon returning, we each took a mail-in Covid test and self-isolated, so as reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And it worked: Nobody in the family has gotten Covid.  As I head out on my fifth long road trip of the pandemic, here are the strategies I’ll continue to utilize.

For safer food stops and restrooms, get off the Interstate.

Gas-station convenience stores, chain restaurants, and food courts just off highways—all of which tend to have poorly ventilated, cramped bathrooms—are, in my experience, the least safe places on the road. They are highly trafficked by a wide cross-section of people from who-knows-which states with who-knows-what rules, and many of those people don’t stay six feet away. By contrast, in towns a few miles from the highway, even in red-zone states, we’ve found non-chain, family-run places that are much cleaner, less crowded, more virus-savvy, with more outdoor seating (plus outdoor heat lamps) and better take-out menus.

Bring a plug-in cooler for your car.

To avoid indoor dining, too many fast-food drive-throughs, and frequent supermarket runs, pack a cooler where you can store provisions such as cold cuts, condiments, and other ingredients for luncheon sandwiches.

Order curbside pick-up from eateries that win local awards and have extensive takeout menus.

When I can’t find a good outdoor-dining option, I search online for eateries that are beloved by the locals and do a huge takeout business.  As just one example, when we were nearing Winchester, Virginia, on I-81, I did a search for “Winchester Virginia best BBQ takeout,” found Bonnie Blue Southern Market & Bakery (check out the menu), and picked up Low Country Shrimp & Grits.  Bonus: I got to see historic Old Town Winchester en route.  Pro tip:  Always order by phone because the conversation with a human being yields important current info that you don’t get otherwise, plus they’re less likely to get your order wrong.

Look for government-run public restrooms.

In addition to local libraries, state welcome centers, and national historic landmarks’ visitor centers, we found the cleanest, least crowded bathrooms in places run by the U.S. National Park Service. First prize goes to the spotless, empty restrooms along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Before visiting a historic landmark or museum, find out what’s planned there for that day.

When we spontaneously pulled into Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia, it turned out to be Homeschool Day. There were moms with kids all over, and while it was possible to stay six feet away from them, it would have been better to visit on a different day. A relatively easy way to avoid a school-field-trip environment is to visit such sites in the late afternoon.

Buy tickets in advance for indoor sites (and indoor sections of sites).

Many monuments and museums are limiting capacity, to reduce the number of visitors in enclosed spaces. This means there might be a wait to enter or tickets might be sold out. At F.D.R.’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, there was no wait to stroll the grounds but a wait to tour the house. At Mount Vernon, we bought Grounds Passes that allowed us to access most of the estate, but tickets to get inside the mansion itself were sold out.

Look for hotel rooms with outdoor private entrances.

To avoid sharing poorly ventilated indoor spaces with strangers, I usually seek out hotels that have standalone cabins or cottages with windows that open. (If I think a guest or housekeeper was in the room recently, I’ll keep the windows open for ventilation).  Where such hotels are not available, I look for historic inns because they often have rooms outside the main building.  We’ve now stayed twice at the Richard Johnston Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia, because they have pet-friendly rooms off a courtyard:  We can park the car, walk to our room, and punch in the entry code to open the door, without entering a lobby or encountering another person. In the morning, breakfast can be served al fresco in the courtyard, and each time we were the only guests eating there.

Pack a HEPA filter.

When I enter a hotel room, my goal is to avoid breathing any particles left by someone else or touching anything recently touched by someone else.  So, before making a reservation, I speak with the room reservations supervisor in order to choose a room that will not be occupied by someone else the night before my arrival.  (On road trips I tend to make same-day reservations, so the supervisor knows for sure whether someone slept in the room the night before.)  Upon arrival, I use sanitizer wipes to clean all doorknobs, faucets, and the like. Last but not least, I place our air purifier with HEPA filter near the bed.

If you’re renting a house, the state’s infection rate matters less than hyperlocal factors such as the town and street you pick.

We spent the last weekend of one road trip in a vacation rental on an island off the coast of Georgia, and friends of ours who live in Florida drove up to share the house with us for three nights.  Georgia and Florida are not known for their Covid safety, yet our location and timing—St. Simons Island, near the beach, in shoulder season—allowed us to be as carefree as it gets nowadays:  We cooked all our meals, rented bikes—on St. Simons you can bike on the beach!—and spent our time sightseeing, fishing, taking long walks beneath the island’s famous oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and just being so happy that we could catch up in person with our friends, even if we couldn’t touch or hug them.  We’re already planning to rent the same house with them next year.


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laptop computer open on picnic table on beach, work from vacation concept

Working and Schooling Remotely? You Don’t Have to Stay at Home

For families with kids in school, the holiday season will look different this year. Many schools that students travel to get to—private schools, boarding schools, colleges—have decided to end on-campus instruction by Thanksgiving, thereby preventing the spread of coronavirus infection that could result from students traveling en masse back to campus after Thanksgiving and home again for Christmas only three weeks later. Of course, many children have been remote-schooling since August or September anyway and will continue to do so through the end of the year. This is leading some parents—those who are working remotely and can do so from anywhere—to consider a change of scene with their families for an extended time.

Some families are trading in their homebase not just for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for the entire six to eight weeks from mid-November through mid-January. They are seeking beautiful resorts, ranches, and wilderness lodges with private villas, cabins, and cottages in outdoorsy locations—and with strong Wi-Fi, good office and educational resources, and a ton of after-school options that will ensure everyone can get away from their screens to be outside, breathe fresh air, and enjoy new activities. And if they work with an expert, they can arrange special location-specific experiences too, such as snorkeling with a marine biologist or learning a second language with a native speaker.

Meg Austin, a trip-planning specialist on The WOW List who lives in Vail, Colorado, and specializes in ski, dive, and Caribbean vacations, has a name for these multi-week escapes: “Zoom Aways.” She has been helping families pull together safe and satisfying extended getaways, allowing for both work and play, mainly in beautiful settings around the United States. As someone who raised two daughters while working from home and who knows how taxing it can be to juggle multiple jobs at once, Meg is full of ideas. “Kids are going crazy,” she says. “At those ages, without the social aspect of school and the opportunity to get your wiggles out, there’s got to be a better way.”

Where to go for a “schoolcation”

Meg has been collaborating with beach and ski resorts in North America and the Caribbean to make these extended “schoolcations” rewarding. For example, Auberge Resorts Collection can provide tutors and dedicated caregiver services at their mountain properties in the American West. In Mexico, the Four Seasons Punta Mita offers a study buddy program, a tech hotline, and after-school sports classes. And if you book a two-bedroom suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park City, Utah, Meg can get you a free upgrade to a three-bedroom and turn the third room into an office.

Zachary Rabinor, a Mexico specialist on The WOW List who lives in Puerto Vallarta with his two young sons, is seeing a similar trend: Families wanting to rent private homes and villas in charming beach locales, some for months at a time. Since Mexico never closed to air traffic during the pandemic, he’s been doing this for a while now. “They’re more like relocations,” he says of this type of extended stay. “People are thinking, instead of going for a week between Christmas and New Year’s, why not go for a month? The working-from-home and virtual-schooling have removed any fetters of physical location.”

A state-of-the-art set-up

In addition to finding accommodations that support long-term stays—whether they be resorts, all-inclusives, or private homes or villas—the right trip planner can ensure that everyone in the family has what they need to do their jobs remotely. That can mean arranging for tech upgrades so that the Wi-Fi can support multiple Zooms, Google classrooms, and video conferences at once. “There’s intensive use of the internet now,” says Zach, “and the bandwidth needs to be different than what people would accept if they’re just on vacation.” To that end, it’s enormously helpful to use a travel specialist who, like Zach, knows which local internet companies to call, speaks the language, and can have someone on hand to make sure the work is completed to the families’ requirements.

A school support network

The work/school hardware is only part of the puzzle for a long-term trip; kids may need tutors, parents may need nannies—and often they need a combination of both.

The right trip designer can source that too, from a reliable pool of candidates; for example, a helper to get the kids ready for school in the morning and then take them out to the slopes for a few hours afterward, a babysitter to keep the family occupied while mom finishes a late-night meeting, or a Spanish speaker to teach everyone the local language.

Indeed, if the kids need local tutors in any subject, a travel specialist who is plugged into the area’s schools and the education community is a life saver. In Mexico, Zach says, “As you can imagine there are a lot of teachers who, because of the Covid situation, are on reduced hours; they’re looking for work and we’ve got it, so we are getting education professionals.”

Most important is to make sure that whoever you’re bringing into your vacation bubble is safe and following recommend hygiene protocols—and maybe even getting tested before they join you.

Extracurricular activities

On an extended school/work-cation, there are many opportunities for adventures outside of the classroom (or hotel room). The best ones won’t feel like school, but they may be just as valuable, or moreso. Because in addition to providing everyone a chance to get away from their computer screens and move around, these kinds of activities can give kids and grown-ups the chance to rebuild some of the social and recreational fabric that’s been missing after long months of lockdown culture. For example, lifelong skier and diver Meg can hook kids up with ski guides and SCUBA trainers; she can arrange for flora and fauna specialists to take them hiking, or a marine biologist to take them diving. Zach, a surfer, can set up surf lessons and find ways to integrate with local kids or sports teams. They can all do much more, of course: Hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, bird-watching, fishing, snowshoeing—all kinds of activities are available, and they can be enjoyed safely and privately.

Peace of mind and unexpected perks

In addition to helping families fulfill pre-travel requirements, such as Covid testing or health paperwork, ace trip designers assist with unusual logistics based on the latest rules, restrictions, and services of the countries or states their travelers are visiting. (For example, the Dominican Republic is providing all hotel guests with a free “travel assistance plan” of emergency Covid-related coverage through December 2020, whereas Costa Rica requires that travelers arrive with proof of their own medical insurance that covers Covid-related bills; see more in The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers.) And they will know if you’ll need an extended visa for a long-term stay and how to get one.

They’ll think of the day-to-day needs too, such as grocery delivery and safe housekeeping services. Want to bring your dog, but need a pet sitter for when you hit the slopes? No problem. Want a list of the best local doctors? Done. Meg is even arranging to have a Christmas tree in place for one family who will be spending the holiday out West. “If you dream it, I can make it happen,” she says.

As for pricing, WOW Listers can often negotiate lower prices even during peak holiday season. And they can secure free or discounted amenities that easily add up if you’re staying somewhere for a month or longer—daily breakfasts, for instance.

 

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

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 Post Office cabin at Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania, Virginia

How I Choose Hotels for Road Trips During Covid

We slept in this historic cabin in Spotsylvania, Virginia, just a few miles off I-95 and close to Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.
Stevenson Ridge is a wedding and events property, but with no weddings or events happening, we saw nobody there during our overnight stay.
Stevenson Ridge has nine 18th- and 19th-century cottages and cabins set around a pond.
There's Tim relaxing in our cabin. That's a wood-burning fireplace.
In a pandemic, it helps to have a dining table for take-out food.
The hotel left us a doggie blanket, bowls, and treats for our dog.
There's a better view of the kitchen area.
Stevenson Ridge calls this cabin "The Post Office" because it was rumored to be an in-home post office.
Those steps lead upstairs to the loft bedroom.
Here's the loft bedroom.
We also really appreciated the hotel's contact-less check-in and check-out process. We felt safe.
Tim was very impressed with the 19-inch-wide boards, a sure sign of the cabin’s age.

 

A coronavirus-related change in my travel M.O. that won’t change back, once this pandemic is over, is how I choose hotels for road trips. No longer will I settle for soulless highway chains where I must wait in a lobby line, squeeze in close to others in an elevator, or sleep in a room with an iffy ventilation system and windows that don’t open.  Instead, I’ll choose old-fashioned inns with separate cabins or cottages. These give you a private entrance, windows and sometimes balconies that you can leave open for fresh air, a kitchen area and/or dining table for when you bring in a take-out dinner, and often a contact-less check-in and check-out process as well.  Researching hotels for road trips lately, I’ve been surprised by just how many such hotels with cottages or cabins exist out there. And I’ve been thrilled by how they can turn an otherwise tedious highway trip into an escape to a different world.

Here are three ways to find such places along your route (and I realize that these strategies might work better on the East Coast, where I am based, than out West):

Pinpoint historic areas you’ll be driving through and look for traditional inns there. Pull up your route on Google Maps and zero in on older accommodations near historic landmarks and parks. Such traditional establishments often have cottages, as well as outdoor dining on porches and in gardens.

Look at wedding venues along your route. There are many charming estates used for weddings that have a main house and separate cottages—and, because weddings and other events are not happening nowadays, these places are empty. You can look up wedding properties by state and region on websites such as theknot.com or wedding-spot.com.

Search for waterfront lodges and inns near your route. Look on a map app for any rivers, lakes, and other waterways—as well as marinas—you will be passing. You’ll often find hotels with standalone waterfront cabins, as well as outdoor dockside dining, with socially-distanced tables and a fresh breeze. Even if you’re not sleeping there, you can enjoy lunch al fresco with a view.

This past week, when I needed an overnight stop for a road trip south on I-95, I found a place that fit all three criteria.  I decided to look near Fredericksburg, Virginia—because it’s a historic city with several Civil War battlefields nearby.  I punched “historic hotel cabins cottages near Fredericksburg Virginia Civil War landmarks” into Google, to see what options might pop up within reasonable distance of my driving route, and found Stevenson Ridge, a few miles off I-95, near Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.  It’s a wedding and events property, with nine cabins and cottages from the 18th and 19th centuries set around a pond.  I phoned the hotel, asked which cabin might be particularly suited to two travelers with a dog, and booked the cabin called The Post Office, rumored to be a former in-home post office.

Check-in/check-out was touchless from start to finish:  All the paperwork was done by email, our key was in our room when we arrived, and throughout our stay we never came close to, or even saw, another human being. The spacious and comfortable two-room cabin cost only $175 for the night (plus $25 for our dog) and was so atmospheric that we almost felt like we were sleeping in a museum exhibit. With our dog!

Enjoy the slideshow of what we discovered so close to a major highway, and if you have any similarly pandemic-friendly hotels to recommend near interstates, please share them in the comments so we all can benefit.

 

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hiker on boardwalk trail surrounded by green rainforest Olympic National Park Washington state

One Family’s Island Vacation: Socially Distanced in Washington State

 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

Kathy Gardner and her family managed to get a world away from their city lives this August. Based in San Francisco, she and her husband and their two teenagers had endured months working and learning from home; by the middle of summer, they needed time outdoors. So Kathy wrote to Ask Wendy, asking about the San Juan Islands, which had always been on her bucket list. We recommended that she consult with Sheri Doyle, trip-planning specialist for the Pacific Northwest. Sheri designed a two-week itinerary in Washington State, split between Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands—an itinerary focused on hiking, biking, kayaking, and the enjoyment of nature. “It was stunningly, stunningly beautiful,” Kathy told us on the phone soon after their return. We thank her for taking the time to tell us about her family’s trip and for sharing information that we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why made you decide to travel now and to Washington State?

Our daughter is getting ready to go to college next year, so we really wanted to take this time to get away in a safe, socially distant way. We’d never been to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands, and the more we looked into it, the more it seemed it would be easy to stay away from other people and enjoy the beauty of that part of the country. Also, we wanted a short flight. [Editor’s note: The flight from San Francisco to Seattle is only two hours.]

Did you get tested pre-travel?

Yes, we are fortunate in San Francisco to have relatively easy access to Covid-19 testing, and so were able to have the test and see the negative results both before our vacation and then immediately after we returned.

How did the flight go? What precautions did you take?

We took Wendy’s advice seriously about how to fly in a pandemic, and we incorporated that advice with other advice from the CDC. We felt we were following all the rules. We chose Alaska Airlines, which I had read was doing well during Covid, and we thought they were fantastic. The plane was clean and spacious, and they kept to their word of keeping an empty middle seat and giving us the seats we asked for. Everyone was wearing masks the entire flight—we were hoping they would, and they did.

I had read Wendy’s article about picking seats and staying safe. And we did the whole thing: We got masks and goggles and gloves and had Clorox wipes, and we just tried to be really pragmatic about things. Having a short flight makes a difference too.

Where did you stay?

We rented a house close to Olympic National Park, but not in it. It was on the water, super pretty and an easy drive into the park. Then we spent three days on San Juan Island in another rental home, and a week on Lopez Island in another.

Lopez is low-key and a really nice community and awesome for biking. It feels like a place people go if they know about it, if that makes sense. We did one day trip to Orcas Island, which is fantastic as well. We loved it. We had really beautiful weather, and it was easy to be completely by ourselves.

We were never in a situation where we needed to be around other people, except on the plane, and even the airports were not full.

So you rented three different homes over two weeks?

Yes. Renting our own places was a criterion for us and, interestingly, hard to do. Houses were very booked up. So Sheri was hugely helpful in piecing together our places to stay.

The three homes were all very clean, and we were all by ourselves. We went to the farmers’ market to shop, like we would at home. We ate outside a few times at restaurants. We did a lot of hiking. Our main activities were hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The Olympic Peninsula is such a huge national park; we had just a couple days and barely scratched the surface.

How else did Sheri help?

Sheri was incredible—just so on top of things. She knows that anyone who wants to travel right now needs to be careful, so she has great ideas. Before we could even ask our questions, she gave us great advice about how to navigate the process.

I almost didn’t have to ask. She was like, “I know the questions you’re going to ask,” and she had the answers about socially distancing, about the ferries, about where to stay. Sheri could not have been better.

Now that you’re back, is there anything you wish you’d known before?

I’m just happy we went. Life is short, and our kids are growing. We made a really nice choice for our family. Our kids are going back to distance learning, and they were in distance learning since March 17, so it was so nice to be outdoors in a beautiful place and have some freedom and just drink it in.

We ended up getting a national parks membership this year. I feel like it’s a good thing to support our parks, and you can use it anywhere you go.

A note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now.

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

covered gazebo dock stretching into lake in tennessee at Blackberry Farm resort

How One Family Is Doing Multigenerational Travel During Covid

This traveler got this trip by starting with The WOW List. For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

In pre-Covid times, Susan and David Nethero traveled about once a month, both for pleasure and for work. They’d usually fly: India, Africa, the Caribbean. But in these times, the Atlanta-based couple has switched to locations reachable by car, as a safer alternative and so that they can spend time outside the stress of the city with their grown children and young grandkids. Until now, Mrs. Nethero told us over the phone, “The number of times we’ve taken road trips in the last ten years is maybe four or five—not many.” That M.O. has changed this summer. She and her extended family recently returned from two getaways that they tried to make as safe as possible. We were curious how they did it and what their experience was like.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to Susan Nethero for talking to us about her family trips and sharing information we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why did you want to travel now?

Eight of us were supposed to go skiing in March in Salt Lake, and that had to be canceled. Then we were supposed to go to the Turks and Caicos in May, and that had to be canceled too. So everyone was chomping at the bit to go somewhere. That’s why we went to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee in June. They had just opened back up again, so there were a few restrictions on services, but it was a great experience, and they accommodated us in every way. [Editor’s note: In fact, the Netheros enjoyed it so much that Susan and David are headed to its sister property, Blackberry Mountain, at the end of August.]

What did you enjoy most at Blackberry Farm?

I thought this was extraordinary: They arranged for private counselors for our grandkids because their usual camp was suspended—and they did that for free. The kids made tie-dye shirts and milkshakes and did really fun things. And at night, Blackberry Farm arranged for babysitters so the kids didn’t have to sit through a long dinner and drive their parents crazy. The babysitter took them out in a golf cart, introduced them to the cooks and everyone in the kitchen, and they made cookies.

And we did two experiences. First, we did a farm experience where we fed the goats and lambs and picked eggs out of the chicken hut. Blackberry Farm raises high-end dogs too, and they had a whole litter, so we got see these amazing puppies. We also did a nature experience, and that was even more fun: We put on tennis shoes and went in a stream with a naturalist. We saw baby trout and had little nets to catch crawdads and fish. Then we walked up the stream and they showed us wildlife all around the stream. Those kinds of nature experiences are always really illuminating.

They kept surprising us. For instance, when they brought our car back to us, it was washed and all vacuumed out.

When we came back from that trip, we thought: What are we going to do for Fourth of July?

Were you looking for another place you could drive to?

Yes. We reached out to a travel specialist whom Wendy had recommended to us to see if there were some attractive driving trips we could take on the Southeast Coast.

Within minutes we received about five different ideas. They recommended a place in the Florida Panhandle, but we had been seeing pictures of all these kids on the beach and we thought that looked scary. We wanted privacy. Another option was Sea Island in Georgia, but we’d been there before. Another idea was The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, in South Carolina, but they didn’t have our dates available, housekeeping won’t come into the room to clean during your stay, and they were giving people time slots at the pool.

Then we remembered we had stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, one time, so we asked about it. And even though it was Fourth of July and it was last minute, they were able to get us an oceanfront suite.

Were you worried about going to Florida?

If you looked at where the coronavirus issues were in Florida, it was more in the south, west coast, and Panhandle, so we were isolating ourselves a bit.

Who traveled with you to Florida?

Eight total: David and me; David’s brother and his wife; our adult children; and two grandchildren (ages 5 and 1).

“The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you,” said Susan Nethero. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

What was the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island like?

You would have thought the whole place would be filled, given it was Fourth of July weekend, but it was not full.

At the hotel everybody wore masks. We felt completely safe, even though we were using the elevators. They had a spa and we walked in one morning and they were able to accommodate us, and we had one of the best facials we’ve ever had. Their adult hot tub and sauna were not open, but we understood that. They were just trying to be safe.

They had activities for the kids that were really cute, and overall we felt like the social distancing was pretty good, except it was hard at the pool. At the pool there were tons of kids and dogs—a lot of dogs; we were surprised. We used the beach quite a bit, and if we said we needed five lounge chairs, they’d have it all set up waiting for us, and they put a good amount of distance between groups. Even when we went in the water, we had space. They did room service and the rooms were immaculate. We did bike rides and there was no extra charge for the bikes.

They have a five-star restaurant, and it had a limited schedule, but they were able to get us in for a five-course tasting meal that felt like ten courses because they kept bringing us more stuff.

We had chocolate on our pillow every night, and another time the GM came over and talked to us about what it’s been like for them. The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you. There wasn’t anything we asked where they weren’t like, “Sure, we can work that out.”

Did the dining and social-distancing measures feel safe?

For breakfast, they had a buffet set out, but they had people serving it to you, so that was a nice way to do it. They opened up an area so that more people could sit outside. On the Fourth of July, they attempted an outdoor BBQ, but when they got some weather reports and thought they might not be able to manage the flow of traffic, they canceled that. Instead, they set up a BBQ you could order from the table.

Every night they had s’mores down at the beach. It was not very crowded. There were a lot of children there too. I will say—and we experienced this at Blackberry too—that guests moved up the time of their eating because they ran out of things to do.

Guests wore masks at the Ritz. At Blackberry Farm they didn’t, but that was back in June, and we were outside and distanced so much there. At Blackberry, they had a family pool and spa pool. And whenever you walked into a building you put on a mask. The rooms at Blackberry are cottages—not attached to anything. So we took two side-by-side cottages that were joined in the middle for our daughters, and my husband and I took a separate cottage.

What are you thinking about next?

We did ask our WOW List specialist if she could look into the new Aman resort in Nevada. My husband and I are not worried about flying—although we certainly wouldn’t go to a hot spot like Los Angeles—but the Aman is another three-hour drive from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.

We would be glad to travel to the Caribbean islands, but they have restrictions and testing, and God forbid you end up there and you get tested and it turns out you have it. Do we want to get quarantined and stuck there? But it’s problematic in the U.S. too. Like, we even thought, let’s drive to New York—but it’s a long way, and they’re clamping down on visitors.

 

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

View from Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Can You Socially Distance at a National Park This Summer?

As parks across the U.S. gradually reopened this spring, some took measures to maintain physical distancing between visitors—Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks, for instance, now require reservations in order to limit the number of daily parkgoers. That’s a good first step, but there are additional strategies to utilize if you want to keep largely to yourself in the most popular parks. Remember that there are more than 10,000 national and state parks in this country. We’ve always recommended going off the beaten path, and these days that could be important not only for your enjoyment of the quieter back roads and emptier vistas, but for your health. Just be sure to read the CDC’s guidance on domestic travel, use “Every State’s Coronavirus and Travel Information” to find out about quarantines and restrictions in the places you plan to visit, and learn what’s open and closed in each national park via the NPS website.

Wake up early, and explore in the evenings too.

If you can’t bear the thought of skipping an iconic spot that’s on your bucket list—say, Yosemite Falls or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon—it will be essential to time your visit right. One traveler who visited eight national parks this summer told us that mask-wearing was sporadic and crowds common at top attractions and on popular trails, including Yellowstone’s narrow boardwalks. The earlier you get up and out the door, the fewer people you’ll see on the roads and trails. Know the typical flow of traffic in the park you’re visiting. Most people seeing Bryce Canyon National Park, for example, drive through it from north to south; if you start early, you’ll stay ahead of the crowds the entire day. At night, check out Bryce’s amphitheater by the light of the moon. It’s magical, and likely few people will be there.

Use the right park entrance.

Many parks have entrances that are less busy than others. In Yosemite, for instance, far fewer people approach from the east (a route that is open only in summer) than from the west. Be strategic about which entrance you use, keeping in mind that some may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions; you can find details on what’s open and what’s closed in each park via the National Park Service. Reader Amy Evers and her family chose the northeast entrance for their recent trip to Yellowstone, both because it’s the least-used access point into that park and because it’s the most convenient to wolf viewing in the Lamar Valley.

Don’t neglect state parks.

Near any national park, you’re likely to find one or more state parks that are nearly as spectacular, but less visited. Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, for example, has a landscape like nowhere else on earth, with spooky hoodoos shaped like toadstools and witches and alien invaders. These hoodoos (thin spires of rock with curvaceous profiles) are quite different from the ones that have made Bryce Canyon famous: The former have rounded edges, as if they’ve melted into shape, while the latter are more rigidly striated. But even my well-traveled, adventurous Utah relatives have never been to Goblin Valley. This part of southern Utah is so remote that the nearby Henry Mountains were the last range to be mapped in the lower 48 states, back in 1872.

Take the road less traveled.

Rather than sticking to the interstates, plot your route along smaller roads; even if it adds time to the drive, you’ll likely be rewarded with better views (and maybe emptier bathrooms at the rest stops). If you’re navigating between Utah’s Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon, for example, taking Scenic Byway 12 adds less than an hour to your route. The most spectacular section of this road runs from Tropic to Torrey, with several miles of pavement that cling to the knife-edge of a mountain ridge with gorgeous canyons spilling down on either side dotted with scrubby pines, earning it the moniker “the Hogsback.” Byway 12 also winds through Capitol Reef National Park (one of the country’s few national parks that you can visit for free, since the highway runs right through it). Do be cognizant of local residents’ feelings about outsiders, though; while some communities are ready to welcome visitors, others are concerned that such an influx could overload their meager health-care services.

Avoid spots where people tend to congregate.

That means avoiding the commercial areas and visitor centers, and generally limiting your time indoors as much as possible. Instead, pack picnics, research trails before you leave home, download maps to your phone, and forego the usual souvenir T-shirt shopping session. Another good reason to come prepared: The number of available rangers varies by park and could be much lower than usual, and their Covid-era duties could be curtailed too. We heard from a traveler that rangers in one park were stationed in open-air booths to help visitors from a safe distance, but in another were much harder to find—which meant there was no one to help when rules-flouting visitors set up camp on restricted grounds or brought dogs into off-limits areas

Choose dirt over pavement.

Many park visitors barely leave their vehicles, doing so only long enough to snap a photo and move on to the next marquee sight. No matter where you are, the farther you head down a trail, the fewer people you’ll see. And it’s a national park, after all, so it’s virtually guaranteed to be scenic.

Seek out private accommodations.

Read Is This Hotel Safe? for guidance on how to choose the cleanest place to spend the night. A number of ranches out West have standalone cabins or cottages that naturally lend themselves to social distancing, and they are devising ways to keep meals and activities as private as possible. One family of readers from the D.C. area took a July road trip to parks in the Northeast, and we’ve rounded up more tips and strategies if you’re thinking of taking an RV trip yourself.

If you’re interested in a luxury road trip to see national or state parks, Ask Wendy who the right travel specialist is to plan your trip.

 

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

dad with kids on bikes in a RV campground

A Safe East Coast RV Family Trip During Covid

dad with kids on bikes in a RV campground
Ready for a bike ride at our campsite
Looking for wild ponies from our pontoon boat in Chincoteague
Looking for wild ponies from our pontoon boat in Chincoteague.
wild ponies in Chincoteague virginia
Wild Chincoteague ponies
kids playing in sand at beach in Chincoteague Virginia
Searching for treasures on the beach in Chincoteague
Chincoteague ponies at sunset in Virginia
Chincoteague ponies at sunset
young boy Building sandcastles on the beach in Cape Cod
Building sandcastles on the beach in Cape Cod
kids and dog in masks at MacMillan Pier Provincetown Massachussetts
Our crew on MacMillan Pier in Provincetown
whale breaching ocean in Provincetown MA
Whale off the coast of Provincetown
dad and kids playing in a park in Provincetown
Playing in a park in Provincetown (the stone on the left is a memorial to those who have died and treated victims of AIDS).
toddler digging in the sand on a beach in Cape Cod
Summer school: learning about the snails we found on the beach on the bay side of Cape Cod.
Seals in Chatham Harbour Massachusetts
Seals in Chatham Harbour (they congregate here to stay safe from sharks and to catch scraps the fishermen toss overboard).

 

RV rentals are way up this summer, thanks to their built-in social-distancing solutions to Covid-era stresses such as airplanes, hotels, dining, and public bathrooms. If you want a self-contained getaway, an RV adventure looks like an attractive option to a lot of travelers. That’s how the Mathis family felt too, and mom Andrea recently emailed us to share the how-to and where-to details of their summer road trip with their young kids, ages 2 and 5.

To avoid some of the pitfalls that novice RVers might encounter this summer, they steered clear of popular national parks where social-distancing enforcement varies greatly and where campgrounds might be too crowded for comfort (or sold out) and instead kept their itinerary simple and close to their home in Washington, D.C. They also found creative ways to enjoy their destinations while keeping themselves safe. Here’s what Andrea had to say:

“After debating the safest way to travel this summer, we came up with renting an Airstream trailer and driving to Chincoteague in Virginia and Cape Cod from our home in Washington, D.C. We have effectively been quarantining since March, so we moved our bubble into the trailer, which was self-contained and I could feasibly completely disinfect, unlike a house or hotel room.

We rented both the trailer and the truck we used to haul it. There were a few advantages to this (for us) over an [all-in-one] RV: we could park the trailer and just drive the truck around on day trips, and the ability to install car seats properly in RVs seemed iffy at best based on my research; hence our decision to go with a truck/trailer combo.

We spent tons of time outside riding bikes and playing on sparsely populated beaches (we were near the end of the Cape in North Truro). The towns we visited like Provincetown and Chatham were quite crowded, though mask compliance was mandatory and quite high, so we mostly stayed in our car when sightseeing there for safety. In Virginia, we found mask compliance much lower.

We were able to see a great deal of wildlife (wild horses in Chincoteague, whales and seals in Cape Cod), by chartering private boat tours (all of which were dog-friendly). It was just our family and the captain, who was masked and 10-plus feet away from us. We used Instacart to fully stock the fridge and pantry before we left, so we never had to go inside a grocery store; used the trailer restroom instead of rest stops, so we never had to use a public restroom; and found restaurant take-out procedures very safe and distant. We even found an old-school drive-in movie theater on the Cape, so we went to the movies in a safe way.

Our two little children and our dog absolutely loved living in the trailer. It was small but quite comfortable; better suited for more resourceful travelers, as we had hiccups like our dog getting sick on the long drive north and very iffy electrical power at our campsite on the Cape (a/c would cut off if too many lights were on, etc.). Like most of our family trips, I’d file it under ‘adventure travel,’ not ‘vacation.’  Wonderful just the same if you bring the right mindset!”

A note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter.  While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to Andrea Mathis for taking the time to share her experience with our readers; we know it will be useful to other travelers.

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

outdoor porch dining area of a vacation villa at Chable resort in Mexico with green trees around

A Mexico Family Vacation During Covid

 


 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

Charlie Myers and his family wanted to get away. But they had a few challenges facing them: First, they live in Florida, so they were likely to run into travel bans and quarantines in some U.S. states. Second, they didn’t want to be on an airplane for too long. Because of their location, they were able to look internationally—to Mexico.

We checked in with Mr. Myers after he, his wife, and their two school-age kids returned from their week-long excursion to Merida and the Riviera Maya, where they stayed in two different resorts, planned with the help of WOW List travel specialist for Mexico, Zach Rabinor. As a frequent traveler, a veteran user of Wendy’s WOW List, and a professional who works in the fever-screening technology industry, Mr. Myers had a lot of insight into what it’s like to take a family trip now.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. We are grateful to Mr. Myers for sharing his family’s experience with us and with you.

Why Mexico?

We were considering going on a trip internally in the U.S., but at that moment—the start of July—there were so many state regulations changing so quickly that it became unclear whether we’d have to quarantine for 14 days when we arrived in the places we were considering.

We are very well traveled, and Mexico seemed like a very simple trip from Miami, mainly based on the one-hour flight time. We didn’t want to sit in masks for many hours, so flying somewhere where you’re off the plane before you know it was appealing.

How did you narrow in on Merida and the Riviera Maya?

We were very nervous about flying and I’d recently been to the Cancun airport, and it was busy and I wanted to avoid that. Flying into Merida instead was a great recommendation from Zach. It was quiet and easy.

I’d been to the area, and I knew that it was going to be the right place for my family. If anything, it was slightly disappointing because a lot of the attractions that are fun for kids were closed. But we still managed to do day trips that felt adventurous and that the kids loved. We did quite a few excursions organized by Zach’s team that felt 100% safe.

What kind of activities did you do?

My family doesn’t really love beach trips; we live in Miami, so the beach is nothing special. My kids are really nerdy. They love museums and history and archaeology and cities. I thought the Mayan ruins would fascinate them—but, as it turns out, we weren’t able to see them. The cenotes were closed too. But Zach found us things that were open that we could go and see, like a fantastic trip into caves. Normally that would have been a touristy experience that I wouldn’t have enjoyed, but because of the restrictions, we were able to do a private trip.

How were the resorts?

Merida was a little underwhelming, if I’m honest, because everything was closed. The hotel itself, Chablé, had several experiences for the kids to enjoy, like chocolate making and a little farm with deer, and they spent some time doing local Mayan cultural immersions. They were simple and quick but still felt special, even though they were on-property. I can’t say enough good things about Chablé. We stayed in a private family villa. The staff were wonderful, the resort was beautiful, and they upgraded us. It was quiet, and there were only a handful of other people staying there.

Then we rented a car and drove to the Riviera Maya. I’m not as passionate about the Rosewood Mayakoba, but I chose it because it seemed right for the children.

In every resort, all of the staff was wearing masks. Not all of the guests were, because there was enough social distance, but the staff did. It was never an issue because Zach’s team helped select resorts that were spacious.

What were your concerns about the trip?

The concerns were obvious: Will my family be safe? Are we taking unnecessary risks by traveling? Will we be in certain situations that will be beyond our control? In terms of meeting those concerns, the recommendations that the travel specialists made helped—especially the first resort, Chablé, because it’s such a large property and the accommodations were stand-alone villas. It felt 100% safe. The safety protocols at both resorts and both airports, and even with the car rental, made me feel like they were taking it very seriously.

How did WOW List travel specialists Zach those concerns?

In non-Covid times, I probably would have done this trip without using a travel planner because it was a very simple trip. I’ve had a number of trips planned with WendyPerrin.com travel specialists, but a week in Mexico—I would normally do it myself.

But I am very glad I picked up the phone and spoke to these guys because their recommendations, especially Chablé, were not on my radar and made the trip.

In your trip review, you mentioned that they messaged with you while you were traveling?

They were super-professional, particularly during such a scary moment, and they checked in with us during the trip. We had a little bit of an issue with the car rental; it was a benefit to be able to text somebody who was immediately on the phone with the car rental agency to get it resolved very quickly.

This was one of the more simple trips that somebody could have planned for a family, but I still felt the benefit of having somebody there in case we ran into unknowns. We didn’t know what to expect. And when we were planning the trip there were some questions we had and some concerns whether the border would remain open; without their involvement, it might have led me to postpone the trip, but they were very reassuring that they had the correct information. And they were right.

What did you observe in terms of safety protocols as you traveled?

We found the safety protocols in Mexico were well in advance of anything we’d seen in Miami. They seemed much more together and on it than the U.S.

I’m in the fever-screening technology business, so I was very aware of it. At the airport they have fever-detection cameras, and they are checking temperatures everywhere you go, whenever we entered a property or the car rental place—and the car rental would only allow me to go into the building. It was more the consistency of every single place doing the same things to keep people safe. And all of that led to a layer of feeling confident that we weren’t going to get sick.

What was it like driving?

It was not the recommendation of Zach’s team to rent a car, but I wanted to do it. The health and safety precautions were present and consistent and felt appropriate.

We drove about four hours, and even at the gas stations they have the same protocols as elsewhere, so you couldn’t go into a gas station without somebody taking your temperature or asking you to sanitize. That made you feel very comfortable, and it wasn’t intrusive in any way.

What do you wish you knew beforehand (and therefore would tell other people)?

When we got to the beach at Rosewood Mayakoba, the kids’ club was actually open. There was a level of normality on vacation that caused a little bit of stress because we weren’t quite emotionally prepared for it and weren’t sure how to navigate it. Our kids made friends, and it felt fantastic to see them playing normally, but I think we were under the impression that all of these touch points were closed. So it was kind of challenging to navigate those moments on the spot, to try and understand what the appropriate thing to do was. I think everyone is facing these kinds of challenges we’re not really programmed to make. So that is something to consider: If you go to a resort, there will be situations that may not be compliant with social distancing, and they will be almost impossible to control. All that being said, I felt everyone who worked at the resorts went above and beyond to ensure that protocols were being met.

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Grand Prismatic Spring view at Yellowstone National Park

A Family Road Trip to National Parks During Coronavirus

Due to her hospital work schedule, Dr. Amy Evers, a frequent WOW List traveler, usually takes big family trips in the fall. But this year, when she came by some last-minute time off in July, a summer getaway suddenly became an option—and she and her husband and two kids felt that they needed it. They decided on a national-parks road trip from their home in St. Louis to Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. When she wrote to Ask Wendy to find out who could best help her pull together the details and arrangements for this July trip, we sent her to WOW Lister Melissa Ladvala. Then, when the 11-day itinerary was nearly settled, Dr. Evers’s sister and two nieces announced that they wanted to come too. With Melissa’s help and Dr. Evers’s own ideas (Wolves! Paragliding! Biking!), they ended up with a trip they’ll all remember. We spoke on the phone with Dr. Evers to hear all about their experience—and what it was like to road trip in the national parks during Covid-19.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. We are grateful to Dr. Evers for sharing her family’s experience with us and with you.

What kind of trip was it, and what transportation did you use?

I wanted it to feel more like an independent road trip than a 100% guided itinerary. We had two days with a guide in South Dakota, one with a guide in Yellowstone, and a lot of activities scheduled in Jackson Hole, but they were all separate entities.

My husband and kids drove back, but I flew [because of work]. I got an email from American Airlines saying it looked like it was going to be a full flight and if I was flexible I could change. But I couldn’t. And it was full.

The airport in Jackson was pretty busy, but in Chicago I had a three-hour layover, and the airport was not very full: I was easily able to find a gate not being used. The flight from Chicago to St. Louis was not full. I felt like almost everybody legitimately had their mask on. I didn’t eat or drink on the plane; I left my mask on the entire time. I ate in Chicago, but I had brought food with me, so I didn’t get anything at the airport. For me, the fact that everyone wore masks—I was happy.

Why did you choose these national parks for a family trip?

Firstly, I was thinking about where hot spots were and were not. Secondly, my family doesn’t really ever have a chance to do national parks because we almost always do family trips in November [because of my work schedule]. So this was the time to capitalize on going to parks that are farther north and are not hot spots.

What activities did you do, and how did you feel about their Covid-related safety?

During our guided days in Rushmore and Badlands, the van we were in had Plexiglas between us and the driver, and the guide used a microphone so we could hear.

In Jackson Hole, we did the alpine slide at Snow King. Everyone in line had masks on, for the most part.

At Teton Village, we went paragliding. They gave us a buff and had us wear it the whole time, even while paragliding. To ride up [to the launch point], the pilots don’t go in the gondola with you;, they ride a different one. Of course, when you’re going tandem with someone, they are literally right behind you, but we all had masks on—and there’s clearly good airflow when you’re flying through the sky [laughs]. Everyone loved it.

For white-water rafting, we had to have our masks on in the bus; it wasn’t packed, and the windows were open. On the rafts, people didn’t have their masks on, but we were outside and moving. There was one other family in the raft with us. The company used only their bigger rafts. Ours could have comfortably fit three people in a row but placed only two people in the row so you could be farther away from each other. We were far enough apart and outside, so I felt fine about that.

For horseback riding, it was only our family, so we did not wear masks. We were never really close to anybody other than when I went into the office (where I wore a mask, and the people in the office wore masks too).

When we went rock climbing [just with the family], we had two guides with us. We all wore masks while we were trying stuff on and when we were near the guides, but not when we were climbing because no one was nearby. We used a lot of Purell that day, and the guides were good about reminding us to do it because the ropes are used by other people. I’m not as worried about getting the virus from someone touching something than from someone coughing in my face or talking a lot. So I feel like it was pretty good. So far, knock on wood, everybody’s asymptomatic.

Apart from that, anytime there was downtime in Jackson, we took our bikes out on the many pathways and trails.

What were the accommodations like?

I wasn’t too terribly worried about staying in a hotel: Getting the virus from someone via droplets is more risky than being in a hotel and touching something.

Apart from the hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota, all of the accommodations were strict about wearing a mask. After South Dakota, we stayed in Cook City, Montana, a little town just outside the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, which is the least used entrance but the one closest to the Lamar Valley, where you can see wolves. And we saw wolves! Woo! I was so happy.

In Yellowstone we stayed at Under Canvas because we thought it would be fun to try glamping. Each family stayed in a separate tent.. It was a big hit with the kids. We brought four bikes so my kids could tool around and go to the common tent and get a hot chocolate and come back. They thought it was the best thing ever. At the restaurant, you used a menu from the clean pile and then put it in the dirty pile, and you had to order through Plexiglas, so it was a little more of a self-service feel, but it was fine. It was to minimize the number of servers coming to your table, and the servers all wore masks. For breakfast, you just picked up a grab-and-go baggie.

At our hotel in Teton Village, we had our own kitchen, and I felt totally fine.

What did you notice about how other states were handling the coronavirus situation?

In Wyoming, they were very strict in most locations. Most had masks available to use if you didn’t have one, and they allowed only one family in the elevator at one time.

In South Dakota, they definitely don’t seem to be taking Covid seriously. We experienced that before we even got to Rapid City (our base for Rushmore and Badlands). As we were driving to Rapid City, I ordered from a restaurant for pick-up. They didn’t have curbside pick-up, so I went into the restaurant to wait for the food. I was the only person in the entire restaurant with a mask on, and there was an older gentleman who straight-up harassed me: [Imitating the man with a tough taunting voice] “What are you a police officer?” Outside of that, no one harassed us for wearing masks, and in the hotel the staff wore masks—though the lobby of the hotel was busy. But I would say South Dakota as a state seemed to take it less seriously.

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

screened in porch looking out at the water, at Montage cottage hotel in South carolina

Family Trip Strategies for Covid-Era Travel

Hi everyone, Brook here. This week many of you joined us for a Zoom chat about family travel, a subject that’s close to my heart. I grew up traveling with my parents, and I started bringing my son on trips before it was even fun; in the early days it meant carrying a backpack filled with Matchbox cars, individually wrapping Dollar Store finds to get through a trans-Pacific flight, and juggling sightseeing with naptime. But those experiences molded my nearly-9-year-old, Zeke, into a traveler, and even a kid who was delighted to get a new suitcase as his big present last Christmas.

The early days weren’t easy, but now traveling is part of Zeke’s identity. And I decided it had all been worth it a few years ago when we were riding through the hilly outskirts of Medellin and playing a game I call “What’s similar, what’s different.” Usually Zeke’s answers would fall along the lines of “This pillow feels different from the one at home” or “This pizza doesn’t taste the same.” (I still regret not doing a photo essay of the pizzas Zeke has eaten in every country he’s visited, from Vietnam to Mexico to South Korea.) But that day in Colombia, Zeke said, “I know something that’s similar. People are people.” I caught my breath at the depth of his answer. Zeke was catching on to the most important lesson that travel could teach him: Wherever you are in the world, regardless of language or skin color or the clothes they wear, people are people.

That’s why I can’t wait to start traveling to unfamiliar places with Zeke again—when it feels safe to do so—and why I think those experiences are as important for his education as will be getting back into a classroom with his teachers and peers—once it’s safe to do that as well. I know many of you likewise love to travel with your children and grandchildren, and so we’ve compiled some tips and inspiration offered by our Trusted Travel Experts during a recent Zoom chat about family travel during the time of Covid. If you have travel questions or need further advice, we can answer if you write to Ask Wendy.

Seek out resorts with freestanding cottages or villas

screened in porch looking out at the water, at Montage cottage hotel in South carolina

Resorts with separate cottages, such as the Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, can help families stay socially distanced from other guests. Photo: Montage Hotels

“Resorts with your own cottage and your own kitchen and porch are appealing to families right now, especially a cabin on a lakefront or a villa on a relatively private beach. Many such hotels with freestanding cottages are sold out through August, but with some schools starting up again with remote learning only, I’m predicting that many families in cities with high infection rates—families with parents who can work from home and kids who will be learning online only—will leave town, make their base a resort villa or rental home somewhere remote and safe but with great Wi-Fi, and stay there until the kids’ school reopens for in-person learning.” —Wendy

Private yachts or charter boats offer built-in social distancing

Brook’s family took a private yacht trip in Belize and didn’t see any other boats for days.

“Our last trip was a private yacht in the Caribbean Sea off Belize, and it was a form of social distancing before we even knew what social distancing was. It’s the trip I can most imagine doing now. We had our own yacht, we barely even saw other boats on the horizon, we had no contact with anyone else.  In the Caribbean, there are hundreds of cays where you can anchor and have a picnic. Many have no population at all, and we chose to spend most of our time away from civilization entirely. Belize is opening up to travelers August 15 and has only 40 cases of coronavirus, so it’s a relatively safe place to be.  A private yacht would make for a great family vacation for Christmas/New Year’s.” —Brook

Hit the trails and cycling routes

small waterfall in a creek in a very green forest in Olympic National Park Washington State

The Northwest offers many beautiful outdoor parks, like Olympic National Park in Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

“Stay outdoors as much as possible: That is my biggest recommendation. In the Northwest we have a lot of places where you can be outdoors, hiking independently. So I’ve been helping people find trails that are off the beaten path and where you won’t encounter other travelers. Cycling is another thing you can do on your own.  As for activities like sea kayaking or whale watching, I’ve been arranging private excursions for just one family at a time.  For accommodations, look for a place with a kitchen so you don’t have to get takeout for every meal. And try to find a place with an outdoor area, so that if you do take out, you can dine al fresco in your own space.” Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Connect with your cultural history closer to home

“How do you do cultural travel in the era of Covid? We looked at the culture and history near us in northern California that we haven’t paid enough attention to and honored, then we culled it down to which places we could go to safely. My step-family is Native American but my kids don’t know that history. And a couple hours north from here we can camp on tribal lands and learn about the Native-American history that is a part of their history as well.” April Cole, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Sequester at a ski resort in summer or fall

“I live between Vail and Beaver Creek, so my backyard is the great outdoors.  If I were somewhere else, I’d be coming here, so this is what I’m doing for travelers: I’m bringing them here and renting them a villa in a ski resort because there are very few people here at this time of year, so they can enjoy all the outdoor activities, biking, hiking, fishing, rafting. You could easily get out with just your family and do that…. In Mexico, a lot of the Riviera Maya coastline on the Caribbean Sea is open, and the resorts are running at max 30% occupancy, so you can still feel that space and freedom. What most people are after is villas, private homes, and private boat charters—they want that space. Hotel Esencia is doing something interesting: They have villas, and they will give your children complimentary six hours a day of in-villa online schooling with a homeschool tutor.”­ Meg Austin, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Alaska’s wilderness lodges and private yachts

Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge Alaska

Wilderness lodges are making efforts to keep guest activity groups safe and private. Photo: Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge

“The best option for Alaska travel is a stay at one or two wilderness lodges or a private yacht adventure for families of six guests or less. The lodges are able to control the environment and are all following strict protocol for guests’ safety with mandated cleanliness, social distancing during meal times or staggered meal times or being able to bring their meals to their own cabins, any flightseeing is done privately, adventures are conducted privately for the families with their own guides, etc. Some lodges are also keeping the maximum number of guests to a much lower number than normal, to allow for social distancing. I also inform travelers what they can do to enter Alaska, in terms of mandates and advisories.” Judith Root, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

To prevent paying more for a lesser experience, postpone a Disney trip until 2021

“All four Florida Disney World parks are open now, and Disney has a new park pass system. You reserve the day when you will go into each park, and that’s their way of limiting capacity. Anybody over the age of two has to wear a mask. The parks are empty, so it’s a great time to go if you’re willing to take the risk, but people outside Florida don’t want to go: Florida is a hot spot, so you may have to quarantine for 14 days when you get back home. I’m not encouraging people to go in 2020 because you’ll pay the same amount but get one-third of the experience: There’s no meet-and-greet, no fireworks, no parades. People look for that magic, and it’s not happening now. I’m advising people to postpone until 2021 and see how things evolve.” —Michelle Allen, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Share your safety plan with the kids, for before, during and after the trip

“The kids and I just flew to Maryland. I hadn’t seen my sister and nieces for six months, and I felt that was worth the risk for us. One thing I didn’t think of ahead of time but it became apparent: The kids have been bombarded with the news and the scariness of the situation, so one of the biggest hurdles was convincing them that this was going to be okay. They wanted to know the steps that I was taking to keep them safe: They wanted to know the plan and that we were going to quarantine when we got home—that we weren’t putting our larger family at risk. They really wanted to know that I was doing our due diligence, so we had to sit down and have a conversation about how this was going to play out.” Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Be prepared to have to make advance reservations for Europe’s big attractions

Duomo Florence Italy

Many of Europe’s top sights will require timed reservations in order to prevent crowds and encourage social distancing. Photo: Brian Dore

“I know that when Italy is ready for U.S. citizens again, we will be able to arrange safe trips there. For now, there are a lot of rules for reopening to European travelers, and the rules change about three times a week. Before, people would go to Florence and buy a museum card and visit all the monuments. Now, you can’t do that; you have to make a reservation at each one. And, at museums and monuments, because everyone has on masks and is trying to stay apart, it’s very hard to hear your guide, so everyone is wearing headphones. There is a lot to do outdoors, and that’s great. Dining outside in the peak months has always been a possibility, and now a lot of piazzas are blocked off for that.” Maria Landers, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

Prep for the future family travel trend in Europe

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Maybe a self-drive trip through the small towns of Eastern Europe—like Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic—is the family trip of the future. Photo: Shutterstock

“Austria and the Czech Republic are already back up and running for local travelers. When they open to U.S. travelers again, the people on the ground will be ready with sanitizer and masks. I think self-drive trips will be a trend for family travel in this region. In the past, many trips were train-focused because of the ease of it, but I think we will see more families being game for driving. And we are finding stand-alone villas and accommodations that will work well for families.” Gwen Kozlowski, Trusted Travel Expert on The WOW List

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

United Airlines 787 Dreamliner Polaris business class cabin Flight from Newark to San Francisco during coronavirus Wendy Perrin boys

If You Have To Fly in a Pandemic, Here’s Where to Sit on the Plane

UPDATE ON JULY 19: It’s been 14 days since Tim and the kids returned from California, nobody got sick, and both kids tested negative for Covid-19. (Tim was not tested.)  This update does not represent a recommendation that people fly; I am simply reporting the outcome of my family’s decisions, as described below.

As you know from Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly, the problem with flying nowadays is likely not the air on the plane; scientists say the HEPA filtration system generates hospital-quality air. The problem is the close quarters and the unpredictable behavior of other passengers.  While it may be impossible to know with certainty how empty or full a flight will be or whether there might be passengers who refuse to wear masks (note: major U.S. airlines require passengers to wear masks), it is certainly possible—if you need to make an essential airline trip (remember, the CDC advises against non-essential travel)— to choose an aircraft layout and seat location so as to mitigate your risk.

That was my goal when I had to book a transcontinental flight for my husband and two sons. They flew from Newark to San Francisco on United Airlines on June 25. Based on their experience, here’s my advice for picking planes and seats so as to lessen your risk:

Know which airlines will keep seats empty during your flight.

Back in April when I booked the flight and chose the seats I wanted, United was blocking certain seats to try to maintain some space between passengers. But I knew I could not count on those seats remaining empty. United offered no guarantee that it wouldn’t fill every seat if it could. And, in fact, United is now no longer blocking seats; this week, the airline’s communications chief, Josh Earnest, said that blocking middle seats is just a PR strategy and not a safety strategy, since it still doesn’t keep passengers six feet apart.

By contrast, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Jetblue, and Southwest promise to keep certain seats blocked through at least the end of July: Alaska says it will block middle seats and cap flights at 65% capacity through July 31. Delta says it will block all middle seats, and some aisle seats in aircraft with 2×2 seating configurations, through September 30. Jetblue is blocking seats through July 31: middle seats on big planes, aisle seats on small ones. Southwest says it will block middle seats through September 30.

American and United are booking their flights to capacity when possible. United says it will alert passengers beforehand if their flight is “expected to be fairly full.” If you want to change your flight, the airline will let you do so for no fee; if you want to cancel, the airline will give you a credit toward a future flight in the amount that you paid. (See the “Prioritizing Your Well-being” section here.)  I recommend calling the airline ahead of time to check how full your flight really is (as opposed to waiting for the airline to alert you).

If you’re going to splurge on a business-class seat, pick an aircraft model where that will make a big difference.

I wanted a nonstop flight (to reduce time in airports), which limited my options to Alaska, Jetblue, and United. On United.com, as I pulled up flights during the search process, I compared every plane on offer between Newark and San Francisco by clicking to find out the aircraft model and view the seat map. My goal was to put as much physical distance as possible between my family and other passengers, and if there was ever a time when I was willing to pay more for that, this was it, so I checked out all the business-class options too. I saw that United was flying a 787-10 Dreamliner with the Polaris business-class cabin. The seat design means that you get something akin to your own cubicle onboard. Here’s a 3-D, 360-degree view of the cabin, so you can see how each passenger is partially shielded and how there are many solitary window seats with no aisle seat next to them. (If you hold your cursor down on the 3-D view and scroll in a circular fashion, you can “tour” the cabin.)  And the seats were surprisingly affordable (this was back in April, when the coronavirus outbreak was peaking in New Jersey).

It was the combination of the seat design, the cabin spaciousness, the newness of the plane, my elite status with United, and the price—plus the fact that if I needed to change the flights, United would have the most other flights to choose from—that made this option the best for my family’s needs. (If you’re comparing flights and can’t easily determine the aircraft model, seating configuration, and other seat details via the website you’re using, you can do your seat research on Seatguru.)

teenage boys traveling in business class United flight with masks on

My kids had seats with protective barriers.

When choosing your seat location, consider all the factors that might protect you from other people’s movements.

After studying the layout of the seats in the business-class cabin, I assigned my family seats in the last row. Here’s why I wanted the last row:

  • Since the business-class lavatory is at the front of the cabin, there would be no foot traffic past them to/from the lavatory.
  • The other passengers in the cabin would be seated in front of them, facing forward, so if any of those passengers were to cough or sneeze, they would hopefully do so in the opposite direction from Tim and the kids.
  • The aircraft door is immediately behind that row.  This increased the probability that my family could board the plane last and not have to walk past already-seated passengers. (Boarding the plane last meant they could avoid standing in line at the gate.) They would also probably be able to disembark first.

Tim reports that we made all the right decisions and that the flight felt very safe, as did the entire airport experience. Newark airport was empty. In the TSA line, nobody touched anything. At each gate was a gallon jug of hand sanitizer. When they boarded the plane, they were given wipes so they could wipe down their seat area. Every passenger Tim saw onboard wore a mask. Every airport staffer and traveler he saw at EWR and SFO wore masks, although a few passengers at SFO had their masks at their chins as they spoke on their mobile phones.

United flight crew attendant with mask around chin

The purser was the only person Tim saw onboard whose mask was not covering his nose and mouth.

Tim reports that there were only two exceptions to his sense of safety on the flight: (1) The United Airlines purser wore his mask at his chin instead of over his mouth and nose. (2) At the end of the flight, passengers were in a rush to get off the plane and kept only about two feet of distance from one another when emerging from their seats and moving from the plane to the jetway.

Based on my family’s flight experience, we have a few more tips to share:

When I dropped Tim and the kids off at Newark airport, they wore goggles, but they’ll be trying out face shields on the return flight.

  • Consider wearing a face shield (in addition to a mask). It can protect your eyes or at least prevent you from touching your eyes with unwashed hands.  When I dropped Tim and the kids off at the airport, they wore goggles recommended to us by a friend who is an E.R. doctor. The goggles fogged up, though, so I’ve shipped face shields to the boys for the return flight.
  • Use the lavatory earlier rather than later.  As you know from Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly, the lavatory is cleaner earlier in the flight.  My family’s goal was not to use the lavatory at all.  And they succeeded!  They used the airport restroom immediately before boarding and immediately after disembarking. (And they report that everything in the airport male restrooms was touchless.)  During the flight, they never left their pods; they stayed nestled down behind their privacy barriers.
  • Bring a sweater. They turned their air nozzles on for purified air throughout the flight, but those nozzles blast cold air, so it got chilly.
  • Bring food. Newark airport was empty, with restaurants and almost everything else closed except for one convenience store on each pier. Tim and the kids brought deli sandwiches from home, in case the food service on the flight didn’t happen or didn’t appear to be safe. As it turned out, everything served to them—including silverware—came wrapped in plastic.

 

Sunrise in Spartanburg, S.C. Road Trip, Wendy Perrin Covid-19

What a Road Trip During Coronavirus Is Really Like

A lot of Americans still don’t understand this virus. Especially the Americans you find in roadside convenience stores. Almost every convenience store attached to a gas station has a sign that says “Mask required,” yet almost nobody inside is wearing one.

That was my family’s main takeaway from our first road trip during coronavirus. On June 18, nine days after New Jersey’s stay-at-home order was lifted and 105 days after we had begun quarantining in March, Tim and the kids and I had to make a road trip to Atlanta (an essential trip for urgent family reasons).  We planned to stay in a bubble except for the time on the highway when we would need to leave the car. We did the full 14-hour drive in one day, leaving at 4 a.m. to avoid rush-hour traffic in as many cities as possible en route. We took I-78 to I-81 to I-77 to I-85 (a relatively rural and low-traffic route that we’ve driven many times). We did the same thing heading back north on June 23, again leaving at 4 a.m.

The farther south we went, the more traffic was on the roads, and the fewer people wore masks. Indeed, the main danger on our road trip, we discovered, was other people. Not only are a lot of people in roadside convenience stores not wearing masks, but they are not staying six feet apart. They brush past you in doorways, in the aisles, at the cash register. And the store managers don’t seem to care. We never saw any mask-wearing requirement enforced. In fact, some store workers didn’t wear masks either, and almost none wore gloves. Coming from New Jersey, where we live in a responsible community (a New York City suburb) that succeeded in flattening the curve and drastically lowering our infection rate (note the NJ graph here), the rules to follow to avoid spreading the virus have become second nature to us.  Tim was in Manhattan for doctor visits two days before our trip, and everybody he saw wore a mask.  We’ve grown accustomed to conducting all transactions in a touchless manner. So imagine my surprise when ungloved convenience-store employees took my credit card with their fingers. (I used a lot of disinfectant wipes on my card during this trip.)

In every state, gas was amazingly cheap—usually $1.75 a gallon. In a past life, we would fill up at gas stations and, while there, use the bathroom and buy food. Those days are gone. On road trips today, the acts of getting gas, using a bathroom, and buying food need to happen at three different places.

car, dog, Charlie, road trip, family Covid-19

My older son and our dog, Macy, had the second row of our mini-van all to themselves. Behind that gray hanging blanket blocking out daylight was my younger son, asleep in the third row.

Based on our experience, here are my five biggest pieces of advice if you’re headed out on a road trip soon:

1. Use the restrooms in state welcome centers.

They’re relatively empty, spacious, and clean, and a relatively touchless experience from start to finish, with few, if any, door handles. Do not use the restrooms in the stores attached to gas stations: It will mean navigating door handles or knobs and people who may brush against you in narrow corridors and stand next to you because there aren’t enough sinks to space yourselves out.

2. Choose hotels where rooms have private entrances and windows that open to let in fresh air.

You can look for motels where each room has a separate entrance onto the parking lot, but such rooms may not have windows that open. Your best bet may be older hotels that have either freestanding cottages or rooms with balconies where you can leave the balcony door open, letting in fresh air throughout the night. Look in areas where you might find historic inns or sprawling old-fashioned resorts with individual bungalows. Because we were driving with our dog, and the only pet-friendly rooms I could find along our route with the aforementioned criteria required a half-hour detour from the highway, we decided to forego hotels and just cram our drive into one day each way. In Atlanta, we stayed with family who, like us, had stayed safely at home for months.

3. For meals, use drive-throughs or pick up curbside.

If you have prep time, of course you can pack picnics and stop in picturesque areas to enjoy them. We didn’t have that kind of time. We packed a ton of snacks, but my two teenaged boys can get ravenous, so for hot meals, we either used fast-food drive-throughs or called ahead and picked up curbside from restaurants near the highway, using Apple Maps or Google Maps to find our best options a few miles ahead of us on the road.

4. Reconfirm curbside-pickup orders.

We ordered takeout 12 times in five days, and not once did we receive a correct order. Sometimes we ordered by phone, sometimes online, but every time, mistakes were made. It’s awkward to attempt to double-check an order that you’re picking up curbside—it isn’t feasible to look through bags and containers to determine if something is amiss—but at least you can, before driving away, look at the receipt to make sure that the order is yours and that the number of items in the bag matches the number of items you ordered. When my 18-year-old, Charlie, realized that a Longhorn Steakhouse in Atlanta had given him bags meant for a different customer, we had by that time encountered so many mistakes that he didn’t even bother returning to Longhorn to see if they could fix the problem. Instead, he called the phone number on the receipt, reached the customer who had been given our bags, and did a direct swap with the other customer.

5. Pack—and have available in the car at your seat—a supply of masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues.

The tissues are for when you need to touch your face and you’re not sure your hands are clean enough (you can scratch your nose with a Kleenex), or in case there’s no toilet paper wherever you’ve stopped. And remember to put on gloves when you pump gas, especially since you won’t be washing your hands at the gas station!

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

tourist selfie in St. Peters Square Vatican City Rome

Traveling through Europe as the Coronavirus Spread: A Family’s Experience

PLEASE NOTE: Our ongoing efforts to check in with travelers who are currently overseas, in accordance with our promise to monitor their trips, does not mean we advocate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 11, the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad, and non-U.S. citizens were banned from flying from Europe to the U.S. for at least 30 days.  Public health officials advise older adults and people with underlying health conditions to abstain from travel entirely. They also recommend “social distancing” for everyone, which means keeping about six feet of space between yourself and others, which is hard to do on planes or trains and in airports. For any travelers returning from a country with a widespread outbreak, the CDC is advising self-quarantines

In our continuing effort to touch base with those who are traveling internationally now, we are interviewing readers who are currently overseas.  Although we are speaking with them at the moment they are abroad and publishing as quickly as possible, we realize that the situations in those locations and around the world are changing quickly, and therefore travel alerts, health advisories, and even these travelers’ opinions may soon be different.

We’re thankful to Janette Gill and her family for sharing their story, and for continuing to share as world events and travel rules have changed over the past few weeks. We have added updates from Mrs. Gill throughout her trip.

The Gills’ travel timeline (Rome–Norway–Barcelona–Porto–Lisbon):

Mrs. Gill’s travels began on February 26, when she flew to Italy to spend time with her college-age daughter, who was studying in Rome this semester. After a mother-daughter jaunt to Norway, their plan was to return to Rome and meet up with the rest of the family—Mrs. Gill’s husband and younger daughter—for an Italian spring break planned by Andrea Grisdale, one of Wendy’s WOW List trip-planning specialists based in Italy.

Then Italy’s coronavirus count exploded. The day before Mrs. Gill arrived in Rome, 11 towns in Lombardy went on lockdown, and Milan closed its schools, the Duomo Cathedral, and the La Scala opera house after the reported cases surged from five to more than 150. Mrs. Gill and her daughter were much farther south, touring Rome and monitoring the situation. By the time they flew to Norway on February 28, the number of Italian cases had hit 800 and the CDC and State Department gave Italy a Level 3 travel alert (reconsider travel). The very next day, northern Italy was bumped up to Level 4 (do not travel). The Gill family had to rethink their trip.

Instead of scrapping their vacation, they changed their destination.  While in Norway, Mrs. Gill and her older daughter researched their options and decided on Spain and Portugal, where the viral infections were much lower (at that time, fewer than 400 in Spain and only nine in Portugal) and the travel alerts were not prohibitive (level 1 in Portugal; Spain is still at level 2 for political unrest in October 2019).  Of course, the pandemic continued to spread, and on March 11, President Trump announced a travel ban, prohibiting non-citizens from 26 European countries from entering the U.S.; Portugal and Spain are on that list.

The first time we interviewed Mrs. Gill, she was in Norway on March 3. We talked about her experiences, thoughts, and decisions about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak. We emailed with her again when she and her older daughter landed in Spain on March 6 to meet up with her husband and younger daughter. We spoke again on the phone on March 10 after they had driven from Porto to Lisbon. On March 13, she emailed us again from Lisbon with a final update, as she and her family prepared to board a flight home from Portugal (their regularly scheduled flight).

Update March 13, from Lisbon:

Via email: “Since we were not able to change our flights to travel home a day earlier yesterday, we decided to make the most of being in Portugal by being outdoors (still lots of hand washing and sanitizer). There were still a handful of tourists visiting the quaint seaside town of Sintra and driving along the beautiful coastline near Lisbon. Locals were out shopping, eating in cafes, and playing at the beach since school had been canceled.

Our tour guide this morning told us that the Prime Minister of Portugal “has now invited everyone to a volunteer quarantine,” and I’m hopeful that the locals can get back to their normal lives very soon.

In order to be a good citizen to my neighbors and family, I plan on self-quarantining when we arrive home, to help prevent the possible spread of this virus.

Even though the past 2 1/2 weeks of traveling through several countries in Europe has sometimes been challenging, with schedule changes and the unknown of what the next day would bring, I must say that the locals have done their best to accommodate us by adjusting our itinerary. I know their economy will suffer from the decrease in foreign tourists, but I have no doubt that they will bounce back in time even stronger.

Kudos go out to Andrea Grisdale and her team for postponing our trip to Italy until next year.”

Lisbon's Praca do Comercio

The Gill family with their guide in Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio. Photo courtesy of the Gill family

Update March 10, from Lisbon:

When we spoke on the phone with Mrs. Gill on March 10, she and her family had just driven from Porto to Lisbon. She noted that when she flew from Rome to Barcelona and then from Barcelona to Porto, neither airport was checking temperatures. “It surprised us,” she said. She also said that the airplanes were about three-quarters full and the airports seemed busy.

Despite the coronavirus seeming to take over news here, they were enjoying themselves. On Monday, they had toured the Douro Valley with a guide and ran into some other American travelers. “On our little gondola ride across the water, there were a group of three Syracuse students that were studying in London and were on their spring break. They said they had to be careful where they traveled to because the university told them not to travel to certain countries. A couple from New York was there and they were having a great time.”

Mrs. Gill has had a few experiences that reflect the uptick in coronavirus concerns. When she contacted a guide to schedule a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra, the guide declined, saying she is ten weeks pregnant and her doctor advised her not to lead tours right now. And when the family checked into their Airbnb in Lisbon, their host contacted them to say she would not be meeting them in person because of the virus. “So there were two incidents when the locals were keeping themselves safe,” Mrs. Gill said. Still, she added, “I’ve only seen a handful of masks, and people don’t seem to really be talking about it.”  This morning, she said, they’d walked down to the port and around the harbor, and then visited the popular Livraria Lello, the bookstore that inspired J.K. Rowling’s vision of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. As usual, it was busy to get in. “There was a line, but they had hand sanitizer at the door.”

We asked her if her feeling about traveling, or letting her daughter travel, had changed at all. She answered,  “I don’t think it’s really changed. I think it’s just that we need to stay informed before my daughter travels. She needs to stay informed of what’s going on and which areas she shouldn’t travel to. She will have been two weeks from Rome by the time she gets home. If she came back with us she would have to self quarantine. But she’ll be in Dublin for a week so she won’t have to; it’s from the day you leave the country.”

Update March 6, from Barcelona:

Mrs. Gill landed in Barcelona on March 5, after transiting through Rome, and she emailed us March 6 with an update. Much had changed in the short time she was away from Italy; the number of cases was now more than 4,000.  “I must say that I can now see how this is affecting the Italians,” she wrote. On the flight over, the Alitalia staff member who checked her in expressed concern that the company might go under because of the virus. She said: “Also, I sat next to a young Italian woman who lives in Barcelona who had been visiting her family outside of Rome. She mentioned that taxis that day in Rome were begging for passengers, restaurants they ate in were deserted, and roads were empty (which never happens). It’s all very sad for their people and economy.” Mrs. Gill added that she was surprised that no one at the Barcelona airport took her temperature when she arrived. And she included a photo, taken by her husband, of his empty flight from Newark to Rome, where he and their younger daughter flew before their connection to Barcelona.

empty flight from Newark airport to Rome on March 6

Mr. Gill’s empty flight from Newark airport to Rome on March 6. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

The Gills took this video of the line at Parc Guell in Barcelona on March 7:

Original interview on March 3, from Norway, after Rome:

tourists walking in Rome in front of St Peters Basilica

The streets in Rome were still full of tourists on the last weekend of February, and not many were wearing masks.

Q: Your main concern was not getting sick but getting stuck?

A:  Yes, my husband didn’t want to get stuck. He said, I don’t want to be quarantined if we come back from Italy and they’ve raised all of Italy to Level 4.

And, just as my oldest daughter and I were headed to Norway, she got an email from her university that they were canceling the semester in Rome and they would do all their classes online. So now our family is planning to meet in Barcelona [on March 6] for a few nights and then go on to Portugal [March 8–13].

Q: You spent time in Rome February 26–28. What was that like?

A: I spent two nights in Rome with my daughter, and we felt perfectly safe. I washed my hands a lot and did what you normally do when you travel so you don’t get sick. I’d brought extra sanitizer and wipes and things like that to wipe down the airplane seat and tray. But other than that, we felt safe in Italy.

Q: How did the virus situation affect what you did in Italy?

A: It was fine. There were very few people with masks on. We went to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We made sure to wash our hands a lot. But other than that it was business as usual. My daughter thought the lines to get into the Vatican were less crowded than usual, but there were still lines. They weren’t wrapped around the building anymore, but there were lines. We met up with some of her roommates for dinner, and the restaurant scene was packed. To me, I wouldn’t have noticed anything going on, and the Italians that we spoke with didn’t seem too concerned.

Then we went to the airport. There wasn’t a fear. It was just that if someone coughed, you stepped away. There was hand sanitizer at the baggage claim and desk, but I don’t know if that’s always there. When I’d arrived at the Rome airport from the U.S., they were screening for temperatures. When we took a train from the Rome apartment to the airport to fly to Norway, there were signs up at the train station and on the train. There were also signs in the Norway airport.

tourist with pizza maker in Rome Italy

Mrs. Gill said her trip to Rome and Norway felt “the same as other trips, but with more hand sanitizer.” Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: You’ll need to transit through Rome so your daughter can get her stuff there. Are you concerned?

A: I wasn’t fearful to be in Rome; my only fear was returning to the U.S. and what the U.S. government would impose on us. At my daughter’s [home] university, it’s mandated that students traveling back from the Rome program must self-quarantine for two weeks before they go back to campus. Seeing that come from the university, my husband said, ‘I don’t want to go to Italy because when we come back I don’t want to be self-quarantined for two weeks.’ [Update: When Mrs. Gill and her daughter flew back to Rome after Norway, she remained in the airport in order to avoid being subject to self-quarantine in the United States; her daughter would be traveling through Europe for a few more weeks and therefore would no longer be required to self-quarantine.]

Q: How expensive or difficult was it to cancel your Italy trip?

A: Andrea Grisdale was fabulous: She worked with us and enabled us to postpone our trip and save almost all of our money. We will come back to Italy before the end of the year; we’re just not sure when. Andrea has also been good about sharing information on how many people in Italy who got the virus have already recovered. It gave me a sense of comfort to know that a lot of the people who were affected have already been cleared.

Q: What does it feel like in Norway? How are they addressing the coronavirus for travelers?

A: At the last two hotels we stayed at, there was lots of hand sanitizer everywhere, and we did see a few signs. Every restaurant has hand sanitizer when you walk in. I don’t know if that’s normal, but I did see it.

Norwegian language sign warning people about coronavirus in Kirkenes Airport Norway

Signs were posted in Kirkenes Airport in Norway, as well as on trains in that country and in Italy. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: Your Norway arrangements were made by another WOW List trip designer. What have you been doing in Norway?

A: We spent three nights in Tromso and did this fabulous experience: Vulkana. It’s an old whaling boat that they have remodeled into a spa. On top is the hot tub, a sauna on the second level, and a steam room on the third. And they serve this beautiful lunch and my crazy college daughter, she and everyone on the boat did the polar plunge except me. Not me, no thanks. We saw lots of cruise lines and ships coming in. It seems like they were traveling as usual. I brought masks—just in case we got sick, I didn’t want to get anyone else sick.

We also went on a crab safari. They drive you out to a fjord and they take a snowmobile sled out on the ice and they have drilled a big hole into the thick ice and they just pull the crab baskets out. Then you come back to the house and they cook it, and it was the most amazing crab I’ve ever tasted in my life. Tonight we’re going out to look for the Northern Lights. [Editor’s update: They saw them.]

northern lights from a dog sled in Norway, with dogs in foreground and green lights in the sky

After we spoke, the Gills went on a sled trip hoping to catch the Northern Lights. They found them. Photo courtesy of the Gill Family.

Q: Why Spain and Portugal?

A: We’ve never been to Portugal, it’s not on any travel alert lists, and we like to drink wine. And if you can’t go to Italy…. We thought what the heck. Now, would I go to China? No, because I don’t think they’re as advanced in some of their hygiene and in some of the cities.

Q: How does this trip differ from other trips you’ve taken?

A: It’s the same as other trips, but with more hand sanitizer. We’re not in the at-risk groups. If I was 70 years old or had a compromised immune system, I probably wouldn’t travel—just like if there was an outbreak of flu in my community. But because we’re not in that risk group, I just think life is too short. Before we left, several of our friends said, you’re still going?  But the odds of dying on the way to the airport are much higher than me contracting the coronavirus. [Laughs.] That’s how I roll.

The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, with the fairy tale Clock Tower of puppet theater Rezo Gabriadze

Extraordinary School-Break Trip Ideas for Your Family

One of the key lessons I’ve learned from my travels (and from yours) is that the right trip designer can transform a family vacation, taking what could have been a week of stress and disagreement and turning it into a miracle. Below is a sampling of family trip reviews from your fellow WendyPerrin.com readers who are WOW List travelers. In each case, the trip designer delivered transcendent family memories, thanks to relationships with the right local fixers. Read more traveler reviews to get more unusual family trip ideas and, for additional inspiration, don’t miss these unexpected spring-break destinations, this collection of family vacations that adults will love too, my tips for how to make sophisticated destinations fun for the whole family, and this video I shot on one of my own family trips about the strategies I use to keep everyone happy.  Happy school-break travel brainstorming!

Spring Break

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica: “We swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy…”

“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. Priscilla put together a perfectly balanced vacation for us in Costa Rica. Everyone was happy! She suggested we spend our week in two areas—Arenal (volcano and rainforest) and Manuel Antonio (beach). In Arenal, we swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy, and went white-water rafting. In Manuel Antonio, we spent quality time at the beach, surfing, boogie boarding, and relaxing. Priscilla and her team arranged all of our travel details (flights, hotels, activities, transfers to and from), and they really went out of their way to make sure our vacation was memorable. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy!” —Kara Lawler

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - mathematical hall of the Strahov convent library

The mathematical hall of the Strahov Convent Library, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

Vienna and Prague: “I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers…”

“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us. Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks! We also got to spray paint our ‘tags’ on the famous Lennon Wall! Gwen paired us with fabulous guides who, by the time we left, felt more like friends than mere guides. Our Vienna guide was from a musical family, so she had unique insights into Viennese musical history.” —Adam Amsterdam

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO AUSTRIA

 

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Portugal: “We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson…”

“We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson, and this meant a lot of consideration had to be given to where we stayed, how we traveled, and what we did. Goncalo—who is the 13th of Wendy’s travel specialists I’ve used—scored on all aspects. First, he found us a two-bedroom apartment in Lisbon with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and a kids’ playroom. What a perfect choice this was. Second, when we did a full-day trip to Sintra, he suggested that instead of Pena Palace (which I’d been to on a previous trip), we go to Quinta da Regaleira and Convento dos Capuchos, which were much easier to navigate with a small child. On our first day in Lisbon, he personally conducted our walking food tour, educating us about Portuguese foods (and drink) and taking us to great places I’d missed entirely on my earlier trip to Portugal. When we departed Lisbon for the Douro Valley, our car was delivered to the hotel and turned out to be a major upgrade from what we’d rented (and lots more comfortable). Our Douro Valley hotel was wonderfully located, our rooms were very spacious, the private boat for our morning cruise on the Douro River was spectacular, and the wine tour he chose for us was the best I’ve ever done, including the best port wines I’ve ever tasted.” —Jan Heininger

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

 

aerial view of Famous palace Versailles with beautiful gardens and fountains in France

Versailles palace gardens, France. Photo: Shutterstock

France: “Our kids were able to see important places in a way that made them fun…”

“We spent four days in each of Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. We are a family of five (three kids, aged 9, 15, and 17), so we needed a variety of activities to engage the youngest to the oldest. Jennifer planned several day trips that were specifically designed for our kids, where they were able to see important places in a way that made them fun, from a treasure hunt in the Louvre to a bike ride around Paris to a crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Our favorite guide was Isabelle, in Paris, who took us to Versailles and to our WOW Moment—a private boat ride down a canal in Paris, complete with a skipper, picnic, and wine. It was amazing!! Isabelle was an absolute delight: warm, funny, engaging, and extremely organized. She was able to maneuver us to avoid several long lines at Versailles on an incredibly hot, crowded day. I studied in Paris in college, and I know more than the average traveler about France and its history, but I learned so much from Isabelle.” —Christa Sullivan

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO FRANCE

 

 

Newfoundland scenery

Newfoundland scenery. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Atlantic Canada: “Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking…”

“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ATLANTIC CANADA

 

Summer

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

Bali: “We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to.”

Diane planned a 30-day itinerary throughout Indonesia for our family—five-year-old twins and my wife and me. Although we travel often, we never could have planned such a seamless vacation. We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to. Diane’s three decades of traveling in Indonesia and discovering gorgeous idyllic islands and new hotels was evident, as was her obvious expertise in routing our journey. She has relationships with villa owners/managers in areas of Indonesia that would have been nearly impossible to find on our own. These accommodations are not in guidebooks. We could not have been happier with our trip that Diane planned for us.” —Garrett Bandy

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO BALI

 

aerial view of Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia

Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia. Photo: Tim Baker

Western Canada:  “A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos…”

“My husband and I and our two teenage daughters wanted to go to British Columbia, but to avoid any really crowded areas. Marc suggested we spend a few days in Whistler, then a few days on Sonora Island, and end in Vancouver. He set us up for fun activities in Whistler—RZR cars, white-water rafting, zip lining—and we were treated to a WOW Moment: A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos; although I am the photography buff in the family, he was able to engage the whole family and everyone really enjoyed the experience (thank you, Wendy!). We then took a seaplane to Sonora Resort, which the entire family agreed was heavenly. So remote, with beautiful scenery and gourmet food. On our eco-adventure tour we were lucky enough to be in the middle of a pod of about 100 dolphins. The food at Sonora Resort was so delicious that on the first night at dinner our daughter said, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ Finally, in Vancouver, Marc suggested the Fairmont Pacific Rim for us, which also was in a fabulous location. Since we are foodies, he planned a food tour at Granville Island, where there are so many booths that it was helpful to have an expert direct us; the tour allowed us to sample more items in small quantities than we could have done on our own. Although I was very involved with the details of our trip, I didn’t have to figure out where to go or how to get there or worry about logistics during my vacation. That made it a true vacation for me.” —Nancy Wolf

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO BRITISH COLUMBIA