Tag Archives: Italy

older male traveler in a red vintage Fiat car touring ruins around Rome Italy

This Couple Traveled to Rome Right Before the Pandemic—and Went Back Again Now

One of Wendy’s tips for smart travel in 2022 is: Don’t dismiss relatively Covid-safe places just because you’ve been there before. A local trip-planning expert can devise a completely different itinerary that gives you a fresh look at a place, and you’ll also have a built-in familiarity and comfort level that can help in pandemic times.

That’s what reader Kevin Haney did. As a holiday present to each other, he and his wife, Nancy, always travel in January. This year, they chose the same place they’d gone in January 2020, right before the pandemic: Rome.

“There’s so much to see,” he told me over the phone before they left for the Eternal City plus excursions to Naples, Pompeii and a few surrounding vineyards. They’re even using the same WOW List expert again, Jennifer Virgilio. “Jennifer did our Rome trip in 2020,” Kevin explained. “She lives there, so she’s able to offer insight of things to do and get access to private experiences, which is even more useful right now with Covid.”

I emailed with Kevin toward the end of his trip to see how the experience panned out and what it is like to travel in Italy now.

What’s the vibe of the places you’ve visited? How crowded are they?

None of the places we visited were crowded. As our guides told us, that has been the one advantage to Covid. We are in Rome at the exact same time as our pre-Covid trip in January 2020, and it is noticeable how much less crowded places are.

Where have you felt comfortable, and where have you not?

We have felt comfortable everywhere on this trip. With just a little common sense, we have been able to avoid crowds at indoor events.

Are people wearing masks and following other Covid protocols?

Yes. The Italian people are very conscious of following the protocols. They believe following the protocols is their responsibility to ensure that things get better and can return to normal. They do not see it as a political issue.

What has Jennifer done so far that made you feel safer?

Jennifer and her team have been able to get us after-hours access to the Borghese Gallery and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. We feel so fortunate to be able to experience these locations without the crowds, and we get the chance to learn so much with the expertise the local guides provide.

older male traveler wearing mask standing in front of Doria Pamphilj Palace Rome Italy

Kevin Haney at a private after-hours visit to the Doria Pamphilj Palace in Rome. Photo courtesy Kevin Haney

What other experiences have you had this trip?

We have also done a nightingale Trastevere food tour, a vintage Fiat tour, and a day trip to Naples and Pompeii. The crowds have been reduced from the past, but that allows you to enjoy the sights.

Is there anything you weren’t able to do because of the pandemic?

One tour, “A Focus on Caravaggio,” cancelled the day before we were to take it, as the guide got Covid and the people in her office had to quarantine because of exposure to her. We decided to spend that time exploring Rome on our own instead.

How have you found the transportation logistics—airports, trains?

Everything has gone very smoothly. Our planes were on time, and the trains we took on our day trip to Naples worked out well. The car service that we used was on time. None of the modes of transportation have been crowded or made us feel uncomfortable. Jennifer’s guides and drivers were all vaccinated and observed the Covid protocols of Italy. They made sure not to expose us to situations where we would feel uncomfortable and, when appropriate, adjusted the order in which to see things so as to avoid the crowds.

Is Italy different than before?

It was much better than expected. Everything was open and, because of the pre-trip planning and our guides, we always felt safe.

Where did you get your Covid test before returning to the U.S.?

We noticed that testing was readily available throughout Rome and Naples as it seemed like there was a tent to perform the test on every other corner, and our one guide who we had for Borghese and Doria Pamphilj was telling us she got tested once a week to make sure she was ok to perform tours.

Our pre-departure Covid test was performed at the hotel, thanks to Jennifer, so we had the results quickly and could enjoy our final day in Rome. Once we got our negative result, it confirmed why we use WOW List specialists like Jennifer when we travel to Europe, as it makes the trip go so smoothly.


 

We’re Here to Help

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the travel concerns that need to be addressed as a result of this pandemic. For many trips, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via The WOW List, which is the first step in my WOW approach to trip planning, created by popular demand from my longtime readers. It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews and getting benefits including priority status, VIP treatment, my advice from the start of your trip planning, and the chance to win a surprise, custom-designed WOW Moment on a third qualifying trip. It all starts when you tell us about the trip you want via the questionnaires on The WOW List.

coastal town Vieste Italy with text that says Italy's reopening what travelers can expect

Italy’s Reopening: What Travelers Can Expect

 

Everyone loves Italy, but what will it really be like now that it’s reopening to travelers? We gathered  Italy trip-planning specialists who live and work there for a live Q&A on May 12, 2021.  The event was part of our series of live travel talks. (You can watch previous talks here, and find out about upcoming talks by signing up here. For full details about Italy’s opening plans and “Covid-tested” quarantine-free flights, see “The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There“).

The big takeaways: Travelers can still do the things they love, they can cook outdoors, they can visit wineries and olive groves, they can go to Capri and the islands, they can rent a villa, they can explore the historical sights and museums, they will likely even be able to see the opera. But all five of our guests emphasized that the minute U.S. travelers are allowed in, the most charming hotels and in-demand experiences for summer will fill up fast, given the capacity restrictions in place for safety. So if you’re thinking of going, stop thinking and start planning.

You can reach out to any of the travel specialists featured in our talk by using Wendy’s WOW List of road-tested trip planners around the world. If you contact them this way, they’ll know you’re a VIP sent by Wendy, you’ll get all the benefits that come with that, and you can start your way to earning a WOW Moment from Wendy (a complimentary, exclusive, insider travel experience).

Here’s how you can reach them. If you’re not sure who will be the right planner for your trip, write to us at Ask Wendy. As journalists, it’s our job to review and road-test trip designers—that’s how we curate The WOW List, and it’s how we make recommendations to you.

WOW List–recommended Italy specialists

Andrea Grisdale  — Italy
Read reviews of Andrea, and contact her through The WOW List

Jennifer Virgilio – Italy and France
Read reviews of Jennifer, and contact her through The WOW List

Maria Landers + Brian Dore – Italy and Switzerland
Read reviews of Maria and Brian, and contact them through The WOW List

Marcello Baglioni  – Sicily
Read reviews of Marcello, and contact him through The WOW List

Your Italy questions, answered

  • Will tourist sites require a vaccine? 4:54
  • How do travelers get the required covid test before they come back to the US? 5:57
  • Are the country’s trains running normally? 6:45 (also 55:25)
  • Andrea’s summer pick 8:32
  • How is the situation on Capri? 8:48
  • What is it like in Rome? Are sights, restaurants, and museums open? 9:47
  • Jennifer’s summer pick 15:53
  • How have Umbria and Tuscany been affected? 17:54
  • What is the outlook for cultural events, such as festivals and concerts? 21:29
  • Are culinary experiences and cooking trips still possible? 23:42
  • Villa vacation rentals: where do you recommend, is everything already booked? 27:07
  • What are the pros and cons of renting a villa in Tuscany at this moment? 28:45
  • Is it possible to stay in a castle in Italy? 30:50
  • The benefits of renting a villa in the wintertime for the holidays 32:39
  • What it the best time this year to visit Sicily? 34:23
  • What would it be like to take a boat and visit the Aeolian Islands now? 37:55
  • Are the restrictions the same on Sicily as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • The dates for Italy’s expected opening 40:15  (for the latest updates, check The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There)
  • What will be accepted as proof of vaccination? 41:49
  • What are the mask rules in Italy? 43:41
  • What do you know about traveling from other EU countries to Italy? 44:40
  • Can you explain the “Covid-free flight” to Italy? 46:10
  • How is the vaccination program going in Italy? 50:19
  • Would you recommend Puglia, Sicily, or the Lakes region as less crowded (but equally or more interesting in terms of food and culture) than Florence, Rome, or Naples? 51:10
  • Are the restrictions in Italy the same as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • Is it realistic to expect the authentic Italian experience in 2021? 56:26
  • New hotels and renovations 1:02:01
  • What happens if someone gets sick on a trip, will tourists have difficulties receiving medical care if necessary? 1:05:57
  • Recommendations for Italian winter holiday trips 1:08:03

 


Learn about our upcoming live Q&A travel talks

We will be doing more travel talks on specific destinations as they open and other timely topics, and our newsletter is where you’ll hear about them, so be sure to sign up. We send it 1-2/week and it’s always personally written by Wendy, Brook, or Billie — no spam. You can find our already published Zoom recordings here.


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.

Wendy Perrin

Travel News and Trends From Our 2020 Global Travel Summit

Portugal is the country that has shot up the most in popularity over the past three years among WendyPerrin.com travelers. The Galapagos Islands is the most-booked destination in Latin America this year. And Morocco is the #1 foreign country for spring break in 2020—so far. These are just a few of the fun facts we learned about our readers’ trip-taking patterns at our 2020 WOW Global Travel Summit last week.

We gathered together with the Trusted Travel Experts on The WOW List and other knowledgeable travel-world journalists and thought leaders to pinpoint trends for 2020, including where smart travelers are headed, what information should be on their radars, and how to make their trips better.

Below are some of the takeaways we think you’ll find most useful for the coming year. We certainly did. Note: The statistics below are for WendyPerrin.com travelers—meaning, travelers who use our WOW system for their trips.

Aerial view of Cape Town from a helicopter tour

Cape Town has new direct flights from New York, adding to its popularity so far in 2020. Photo: NAC Helicopters

The most-booked foreign countries in 2020 are…

  1. Italy
  2. South Africa
  3. United Kingdom
  4. France
  5. Vietnam

The popularity of Italy, the U.K., and France won’t surprise anyone, but South Africa and Vietnam are exciting up-and-comers. South Africa Trusted Travel Expert Julian Harrison attributes the country’s #2 standing to a favorable exchange rate, United’s new direct flight from New York City (Newark) to Cape Town, and a change in media coverage: Now that public perceptions—and misperceptions—about issues such as drought and Ebola are no longer front-page news, travelers are fulfilling their pent-up demand for South Africa.

Vietnam’s popularity is rising thanks to new flights that make it a regional hub, new island resorts, and new luxury boats in Halong Bay, says Daniel Fraser, a WOW Lister for Southeast Asia. He cites the country’s high-low culinary scene as a big driver too: Talented young chefs are elevating traditional Vietnamese cuisine to cool new heights, and at the same time mom-and-pop street-food eateries are stepping up their game to a tourist audience that’s more willing than ever to dig into new foods.

As for Italy, which is #1 on the list every year, we talked about what the country is doing to protect itself from its own popularity, so that its landmarks and landscapes, so overwhelmed in peak season, are preserved for future generations. Maria Landers, a Trusted Travel Expert for Italy, pointed to a variety of sustainability initiatives in 2020. Trenitalia has reopened 600km of train track to provide a greener way to travel and to get tourists to smaller cities and lesser-known destinations. The city of Florence has launched a “Give a Tree” campaign to enlist visitors in helping the city go green and combat smog and CO2: for 150 euros, you can adopt a tree that will find a new home in local parks, gardens, and along the city streets. And in Parma, the 2020 Italian Capital of Culture, you’ll find an exhibition called “We, Food and our Planet: Feeding a sustainable future.” Its goal is to promote good practices in relation to food, people, and the environment and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda.

green fields with mountains in background in Chitwan Nepal

Nepal is back in your travel plans. Photo: Shutterstock

The country that most rapidly regained your attention is…

Three years ago, none of you were going to Nepal. The 2015 earthquake had left the country struggling to rebuild itself. Now, in 2020, many of you are planning those long-put-off trips. And, thanks to Toni Neubauer, Nepal specialist on The WOW List, you’re finding fascinating ways to explore the country and meet the people while also helping the recovery effort: “Two of the villages most affected by the 2015 earthquake in Nepal were Laprak and Barpak,” she says. “The locals have been working hard to rebuild their homes and lives and have used tourism as a method of recovery.” Toni makes sure her travelers contribute to continued recovery efforts by staying with locals in their villages, experiencing the activities they designed themselves, talking with them about their experiences, and ensuring that money is going into the village, rather than only into companies based in Kathmandu.

The top five “emerging destinations”—countries that none of our readers were considering three years ago but that are now garnering a lot of interest—are …

  1. Nepal
  2. Bhutan
  3. Mongolia
  4. Zambia
  5. Uzbekistan

We wonder what off-the-beaten place will be next.

aerial view of cliffside beach Vila Vita Parc Resort beach aerial Algarve Portugal

Portugal is the country that has shot up the most in popularity over the past three years among WendyPerrin.com travelers. Photo: Vila Vita, the Algarve, Portugal

By contrast, the mainstream countries that have seen the greatest increase in trips booked over the past three years are…

  1. Portugal
  2. Mexico
  3. Belize
  4. Canada
  5. Chile

The months you traveled most last year were…

June, May, October

The months you traveled least were…

January, November, February

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

Canada is the most popular August destination for WendyPerrin.com travelers.

These were the most-booked foreign destinations last year, by month…

January: Argentina

February: The Caribbean

March: The United Kingdom

April: France

May: Italy

June: Italy

July: Italy

August: Canada

September: France

October: Italy

November: The United Kingdom

December: Mexico

The benefits of shoulder-season travel came up again and again at our Summit, and it’s clear that many WendyPerrin.com travelers are the beneficiaries. Our readers are savvy enough to choose the United Kingdom in the shoulder-season months of March and November, for instance; these travelers realize that they’re going for the culture, not the weather, so why not avoid huge crowds and sticker-shock prices by traveling at off-peak times? We’re also happy to see so many of you skipping European cities in August and instead escaping the heat and crowds in Canadian locations that are optimal in August, among them British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies, the Maritime Provinces, and Newfoundland.

With so many travelers overcrowding Italy in the peak summer season, we were happy to hear from Italy WOW Lister Andrea Grisdale that some areas are combating such overtourism by extending their season. For instance, the hotels, shops, and restaurants on Lake Como used to close at the end of October. Today, they are welcoming visitors for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, with Christmas markets and festive light shows a highlight of wintertime. Additionally, lesser-known parts of Italy that have been heretofore ignored are opening up—for instance, two important pockets of southern Italy’s Basilicata region, Matera (where more than a thousand ancient dwellings are carved into rock) and Maratea (known as “the pearl of the Tyrrhenian”), as well as the Gargano sub-region within Apulia (the “spur” on Italy’s “boot”), with its many charming and untouristed villages.

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

Japan is the #3 spring spot booked by WendyPerrin.com WOW List users. Photo: Shutterstock

The top five spots your fellow readers have booked already for spring break in 2020 are…

  1. United States
  2. Morocco
  3. Japan
  4. Portugal/Caribbean (tied)
  5. Vietnam/Cambodia (tied)

Where will you take your family during school breaks this year? We have many other unexpected ideas for you.

“Australia is open for business,” said Stuart Rigg, Wendy’s WOW List expert in Australia. Photo: Tim Baker

Australia should not be stricken from your travel plans…

“97% of Australia is not impacted by fires,” said Stuart Rigg, Wendy’s WOW List expert in Australia. Unfortunately, because of the generalizations and overly frightening images in the news, a lot of people don’t understand that the fires are very far from many of the country’s most beautiful regions, including Australia’s “Red Centre” and the Great Barrier Reef. What’s more, tourism dollars can help support the recovery. We were happy to hear that no WendyPerrin.com travelers have cancelled their Australia trips; Stuart is simply rerouting their itineraries to the many beautiful places that have not been impacted.

Cherri Briggs, a WOW Lister for Africa, discusses climate change on a panel about how travel and the environment interact.

Climate change is affecting Africa in an unexpected way…

Africa’s safari season has grown longer over the past few years, said Cherri Briggs, one of Wendy’s WOW List safari experts. The reason? Climate change, which affects the African landscape and makes it harder to predict the movements of wildlife. “For example the migration will not migrate in its usual predictable pattern from Tanzania to Kenya if it has not rained in Kenya, or vice versa, as the migration follows the new grass,” she explains. And in Botswana, she adds, the rainy seasons are having less rain, which extends the viewing seasons. “It’s more important than ever to continually take the pulse of the weather in these various destinations, as what was the rule in the past may well have changed. Normally we can predict to a good degree what the next season has to hold given rain patterns about 6 months out. These rain patterns make for great value in the ‘low season’, which now may well be the preferred season!”

Keep your eye on Casablanca…

Royal Air Maroc will join the oneworld airline alliance on April 1, 2020. (The alliance already includes American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, and Iberia, among others.) As a result, Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge expects Casablanca to become an important air travel hub: Not only will there be more flights to Morocco, but it’ll make travel to the rest of Africa much easier and also make it easier to combine Morocco with other African countries in one trip.

A smart way to use points and miles…

Your credit-card points give the best value when used for first- and business-class air travel, said miles expert Gary Leff of View From the Wing. The transfer rate to hotel points programs is not usually great.

 

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.

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

A Trip to Italy:
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Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Ideal Islands for Each Month of the Year

Figuring out the optimal time to travel to an island can be tricky. “Peak season” often does not mean the best time to go; it just means the most expensive time, based on when school’s out in the countries that send the most vacationers to that island. “Low season” might mean peaceful and lovely, with a brief and pleasantly cooling shower each afternoon, or it might mean that every restaurant and famous site shuts down entirely. In addition to seasonal changes in weather, most islands have limited lodging—which can drive rates to extortionate levels—and some island can get crowds that will overtax the small tourism infrastructure, especially when cruise ships stop there.

We’re here to help—by suggesting a few islands for each month of the year. These are the opportune moments when the destination is at its best yet, in most instances, offers shoulder-season pricing. Craving an island not listed below? Punch its name into the “Destinations” search box at top left; if we’ve got an Insider’s Guide for that island, you can read the best and worst times to go.

Seeking the right island or island-trip-planning specialist for your specific needs? You may ask us here.

January: Madeira, Portugal

This sub-tropical Portuguese island may be small, but it puts on a New Year’s Eve celebration and fireworks show that rivals the ones in Sydney, London, and Rio. (Book early!) Later in the month, the world-class hotels will be far more affordable, yet you can still enjoy virgin laurel forest, panoramic hiking, and great local gastronomy, including the island’s namesake wine.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

January: Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

With a private yacht at your disposal, the Mergui archipelago is a veritable playground of diving and snorkeling sites full of rare underwater species, mangroves with crystal-clear water, and beaches where the only human footprints will be the ones you leave. In January, the weather is warm and sunny, and the seas are calm.

Ask Wendy who is the best Myanmar or yacht-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

January: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Located where the Pacific currents meet the Indian Ocean, this archipelago is a marine Eden with more than 1,300 species of fish and three-quarters of all the hard corals found in the world. Above the water line, the forested karst islands are home to fantastical creatures such as birds of paradise and tree kangaroos. October through April is Raja Ampat’s dry season; just after the holidays, prices drop considerably.

Ask Wendy who is the best Indonesia or cruise specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Isla Palenque, Panama

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

A private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama, Isla Palenque offers both environmental sustainability and barefoot luxury. Just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland, it’s easily combined with other parts of Panama or even Costa Rica, and you get seven different beaches, the surrounding Chiriqui National Marine Park, and a jungle full of monkeys and birds. February sees gorgeous weather—and with just eight thatch-roofed casitas and one villa on the 400-acre island, you’ll never encounter crowds.

Ask Wendy who is the best Panama specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Venice, Italy

All that is sumptuous and extravagant about Venice is kicked up several notches in February, thanks to Carnevale. A month’s worth of elaborate celebrations—marked by Baroque costumes, masked balls, sinful sweets, and general bacchanalian overindulgence—reach a fever pitch in the “Fat Days” preceding Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). Carnevale dates vary from year to year but always include at least part of February.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Venice, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Crete, Greece

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

While many Greek islands go into hibernation in the winter, with resorts and restaurants shuttering for the season, Crete is large enough that it stays vibrant year-round. It’s also Greece’s most southern—and thus warmest—island. Not everything will be open in March, but it’s a great time to get a dose of local culture, and hotel rates are lower than you’ll find later in spring.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda.

April is when the cruise ships start to arrive for the summer season, letting off up to 4,000 passengers at a time. A month earlier, hotel rates are half their summer peak, temps are in the low 70s (great for golf and tennis, if not bikinis), and there are free tours, lectures, and arts demonstrations all over the island.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bermuda, and ask Wendy who is the best Bermuda specialist to plan your specific trip.

March: Malta and Gozo

gozo island green hills scenery in Maltese archipelago

Gozo is smaller and more rural than its neighbor Malta.

March sees few of the cruise-ship visitors who arrive daily in Malta come summer. With highs in the mid-60s and a lush green coating on the hills brought out by winter rains, this is a particularly great time of year for countryside walks and cycling on neighboring Gozo, which is smaller and more rural than Malta.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Malta, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Azores

green fields on Flores island The Azores Portugal

The Azores are known for breathtaking natural beauty. Photo: Visit the Azores

You won’t find ultra-luxe resorts and 24-hour concierge service in the Azores, but you will find whale- and dolphin-watching (sightings of migrating cetaceans peak in April), breathtaking natural beauty, and locals who are genuinely happy to see tourists at this time of year. For a slower-paced trip, stay just on the main island of São Miguel; if you prefer to see a bit more, base yourself on Faial and take day trips by ferry to Pico and São Jorge.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Maldives

person swimming in clear blue water at Cheval Blanc Randheli resort in the Maldives

The Maldives. Photo: Cheval Blanc Randheli.

April (after Easter) is when you’ll find a sweet spot of lower hotel rates and ideal weather: Temperatures are consistently in the high 80s year-round, but in April there is almost no rain or wind, so the water is calm for snorkeling and diving.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Maldives, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is a little-known hiker’s paradise, with trails that bestow views of white-sand beaches and crystalline water on one side, and craggy mountain peaks on the other. But if you go there to walk in summer, you’ll melt. Visit in April instead, when it’s not too crowded, the temperature is pleasant, and the wildflowers are in bloom.

Ask Wendy who is the best specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Santorini, Greece

Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean sea

Oia town, on Santorini. Photo: Shutterstock

May weather is warm but not hot, and hotel rates are lower than from mid-June through September. The crowds are less too, which has the added benefit of ensuring the service will be better. During the hectic summer months, when hordes of cruise-ship passengers invade the island, service suffers; you can barely even find an available taxi.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Capri, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

Mild spring temperatures make it pleasant to explore this legendary island, which is still in a state of tranquility before the mad crush invades in June. The orange and jasmine flowers in bloom lend wonderful scents and colors; it’s also the time of year for many sailing events, as well as the annual celebration of the island’s Patron Saint San Costanzo.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Corsica, France

aerial view of Corsica island France

Corsica is great for hiking in May. Photo: Philip Haslett

While summer is high season, May and June are hard to beat: The temperatures are a bit lower, the crowds fewer, and the hotels don’t impose minimum-stay requirements. It’s a great time for the hiking, cycling, and canyoning that Corsica is known for—but if you want to spend a lot of time in the water, you’re better off waiting until September.

Ask Wendy who is the best Corsica specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Oahu, Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Mark Kushimi

Oahu’s temps are consistently pleasant year-round (usually between 78 and 82 degrees). The reason May is ideal—except for the Japanese holiday of Golden Week, at the start of the month— is that airfare is less expensive and crowds are fewer.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Oahu, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Bali

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

June has the most reliably pleasant weather in Bali—daytime temps in the 80s and gentle breezes to keep the sun from feeling too hot—and better prices: High-season hotel rates don’t kick in until July.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bali, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Sri Lanka

eautiful Tropical Beach In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka. These boats used to take people to watch dolphins

Kalpitiya beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Sri Lanka’s east coast, stretching from the quiet beaches of Trincomalee to the surf paradise of Arugam Bay, bursts with life this month. Compared to the better-known beaches in the south, those along this coast are more secluded, with a calmer and shallower sea—perfect for whale watching, snorkeling, diving, and fishing. After Easter and before summer vacation, visitors are fewer and the prices are easier on the wallet.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Spitsbergen, Norway

Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, is one of the world’s best places to see polar bears. While Arctic voyages set sail throughout the summer, going early in the season maximizes your chances of seeing these magnificent animals before the sea ice recedes.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Arctic, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Mallorca and Menorca, Spain

Beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beach at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.

Find beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beaches at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.Photo: Bespoke Travel Spain and Portugal

Early in the month, you’ll find great weather without the crowds of beachgoers who invade in summertime. Mallorca is a golfer’s dream, with a wide range of hotels, while Menorca is off the typical tourist circuit and ideal for those who want to relax by the sea and enjoy life as the locals do.

Ask Wendy who is the best Spain specialist to plan your specific trip.

June: Yakushima, Japan

This sub-tropical island, located in the waters just south of Kyushu, is ideal for intrepid travelers: Its mountains and vast forest of ancient cedar trees are crisscrossed by a network of hiking trails, from easy walks to challenging ascents. June signals the end of the rainy season, so you’ll find stunning waterfalls along the trails; it’s also when endangered loggerhead sea turtles return to Yakushima’s beaches to nest.

Ask Wendy who is the best Japan specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Vanuatu

This Melanesian chain of roughly 80 islands that stretch across 800 miles is a remote and undeveloped paradise. You won’t find five-star resorts, but you will find crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, gorgeous beaches, active volcanoes, and warm and hospitable locals. July and August are a drier, cooler time of year in this tropical island nation.

Ask Wendy who is the best South Pacific or boat-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Aeolian Islands, Italy

Italy in July, you say? Isn’t it jam-packed? Not in this chain of islands—some of the most pristine left in Europe—that are just a short sail from Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in their entirety. While the mainland is mobbed, charter a yacht with a captain who was born on the islands and who can show you beautiful and lush Salina; the jet-setters’ getaway of Panarea; and magnificent Stromboli, where volcanic eruptions frequently light up the night sky.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest in Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest. Photo: Tahiti Tourism

French Polynesia’s “Heiva” festival falls during July, with the culmination of ceremonies in Papeete, Tahiti, around the 20th. Heiva is a celebration of life and all things Polynesian. The outer islands hold local contests—in everything from outrigger racing to stone carrying and spear throwing, traditional dancing and singing to tifaifai (quilt) making—and the best go to Tahiti for the main festival. It’s a great time weather-wise as well; the trade winds keep temps in the low 80s and the humidity low.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Tahiti and French Polynesia, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Zanzibar

July is a perfect time to cap off a safari with a few days on Zanzibar’s gorgeous white-sand beaches. It’s one of the island’s driest and sunniest months, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s and not much humidity. Plus, the Great Migration is usually in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti in early July, with the enormous herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara by mid-month.

Ask Wendy who is the best Zanzibar specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Faroe Islands, Denmark

Gásadalur on Vagar Island, Faroe Islands. Photo: Tina Thorman

There is great hiking on the Faroe Islands, and more sheep than humans. Photo: Tina Thorman

The weather in the Faroe Islands is notoriously dramatic and unpredictable—but your surest chance of warm and sunny days comes in the summer. There is great hiking on the islands, more sheep than there are humans, and a rustic charm and sense of welcome that could have you sharing a home-cooked meal with a local family. Luxury here is not in the bathroom fixtures or the thread count of the sheets, but in the time and space to clear your mind and recenter your soul.

Ask Wendy who is the best Faroe Islands specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia

Great Barrier Reef aerial view

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

August brings warm weather, good visibility for divers and snorkelers, and calm seas (the wind dies down at the end of July). It’s also the best time to view whales—dwarf minke whales visiting the northern reefs and humpbacks on their annual migration to Antarctica. Every August, Hamilton Island also hosts Race Week, a sailing regatta with festivities on and off the water.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Great Barrier Reef, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur looks directly at the camera in Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur, Madagascar

August is deep enough into the dry season that the wildlife viewing is very good (the lush foliage of rainy season makes it hard to see the animals) yet it also precedes the peak season of September and October, when the parks are more crowded (and the weather hotter).

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Madagascar, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Ionian Islands, Greece

If August is your only time to travel to Greece and you don’t love crowds, charter a yacht in the Ionians. Many of the smaller islands in this group are accessible only by boat, so you’ll be free of the swarms that plague Santorini and Mykonos this month. Instead, you’ll find a temperate climate, spectacular beaches, lush vegetation, beautiful mountains, and the true flavor of Greece when you disembark from your boat and head into a tiny town for a meal at a local taverna.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Ibiza

Bay with sailboats in Cala d Hort IBIZA Spain

In September, it’s not nearly as crowded at Ibiza’s beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs

Come September, it’s not nearly as crowded at the beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs (or on the roads). Rates for hotels and private boating excursions drop, but the weather is still lovely, and it’s warm enough to swim (with ideal air temperatures for hiking and biking as well) right up until the hot spots’ closing parties in early October.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Hvar, Croatia

aerial view of Hvar island and surrounding sea Croatia

On Hvar in September, it’s still swimsuit season but the party crowds have gone. Photo: Exeter International

It’s still swimsuit season, but the atmosphere is much more laid-back than in July and August, and the travelers are more sophisticated than the summer party crowds. Croatia is known for its excellent wine, and September also coincides with the grape harvest. Later in the month, hotel rates drop.

Ask Wendy who is the best Croatia specialist to plan your specific trip.

September: San Juan Islands

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in the San Juans (and the Olympic Peninsula) is usually still very nice in September, and there are fewer tourists than you’ll find in July and August. (The best time to see the resident orca whales, though, is June.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the San Juan Islands, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Lofoten Islands, Norway

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

In September and October, the crowds are gone, the weather is still pleasant, and the days are long enough to enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing, and other activities—but with enough darkness that you stand a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Ask Wendy who is the best Norway specialist to plan your specific trip.

October: Sicily

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

The coast of Cefalu, Palermo, in Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

October is one of the most colorful and flavorful months in Sicily. It is the season of the harvest, which means fresh olives, almonds, chestnuts, wild mushrooms, prickly pears, and carob complement the usual variety of culinary offerings. Air and sea temperatures are still warm and inviting, the ancient cultural sites are bathed in a crisp autumn light, and flights and hotels are less expensive than during the summer..

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sicily, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: The Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles. Photo: Maia Luxury Resort.

October brings calm winds and beautiful temperatures, but it’s not a popular time for Europeans to travel—so rates are lower than usual. It’s also the best month for spotting whale sharks.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Seychelles, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Hawaii’s Big Island

Wai'pio Valley Lookout, Hawaii

Wai’pio Valley Lookout, Big Island, Hawaii.

October is one of the Big Island’s driest months, with daytime temps hovering around 85 degrees.  It’s also a month for deals, given that so few families are traveling.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Big Island, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Newfoundland

berry picking on Fogo Island Newfoundland Canada

Berry picking on Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

This month brings out the island’s culinary delights: You’ll find locals foraging for wild berries, delicious food festivals, and restaurants blessed with abundant harvests and the freshest seafood.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Ambergris Caye, Belize

sunset in Belize at Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye. Photo: Absolute Belize

Before Thanksgiving, hotel rates are at their lowest. The days are hot, but the humidity is dropping, and the evenings are cool and breezy. November 19 is Garifuna Settlement Day and is best spent on mainland Belize in either Dangriga or Hopkins, where the Garifuna people celebrate—with drumming, dancing, and parades—the arrival of their Afro-indigenous ancestors more than 200 years ago.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Belize, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: The Galapagos Islands

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands. Photo: Pixabay/Peter Stuart Miller

The Galapagos is a magnet for families with kids during summer and other school vacations; if you’re looking for a quieter time, think November (except Thanksgiving). Blue whales, humpback whales, and whale sharks—the largest fish in the sea, growing up to 40 feet in length and weighing as much as 40,000 pounds—are most likely to be spotted in the Galapagos from June through November.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Galapagos, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Papua New Guinea

Milne Bay is home to the most varied scuba diving in Papua New Guinea: Here you’ll find coral structures, exotic creatures hiding in the sandy bottom, and WWII wrecks to explore. The diving in Milne Bay is at its best from November through January, which is the dry season for this part of the country.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Papua New Guinea, and ask Wendy who is the best Papua New Guinea specialist to plan your specific trip.

November: South Georgia Island

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

A jewel in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island will appeal to anyone interested in wildlife, wild places, or the history of Antarctic exploration. The season here runs roughly from late October through early March, but what makes November special—in addition to the king penguins stretching as far as the eye can see—is the plethora of elephant seals and fur seals on shore.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts. Photo: Hotel Christopher

Come November, many resorts, boutiques, and restaurants that closed during the height of hurricane season have reopened, and everything feels fresh and new. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival also takes place this month, attracting star chefs from France and elsewhere. Plus, hotel and villa rates don’t jump up until mid-December.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to St. Barts Beach Vacations and St. Barts Villa Vacations, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

December: The Caribbean

Idyllic tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Antigua island in Caribbean

Antigua island in the Caribbean. Photo: Shutterstock

From just after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas, you have lovely weather and can enjoy savings of up to 40% off peak-season rates. (Peak season starts just before Christmas and lasts till just after Easter).

Ask Wendy who is the best Caribbean specialist to plan your specific trip.

December: Fiji

Villa at the Taveuni Palms Resort, Fiji

A villa overlooking the ocean at the Taveuni Palms Resort in Fiji. Photo: Taveuni Palms

At the start of cyclone season, you’ll find tropical afternoon showers but also great resort deals: free nights, free massages, even free domestic airfares. The Yasawa and Mamanuca islands are your best bet for dry days at this time of year.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Fiji, and ask Wendy who is the best Fiji specialist to plan your specific 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.

This Is How You Get that Dream Cooking Vacation in Italy

Most travelers who think about taking a cooking vacation in Italy automatically start looking for a cooking school—meaning that, for a week or so, they’ll head to one spot and take lessons from the same team in the same place each day. But that is not the best recipe for success. There’s a much smarter way.

For years, my mom had been dreaming of a cooking vacation in Italy, so when a window opened up for the two of us to do it together as a mother-daughter trip, I was determined that it not only be special and delicious, but that it exceed her expectations. My first step: Filling out the trip request form for Maria Gabriella Landers, one of the Italy travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts.

Right in our initial conversation, Maria disabused us of the misconception that we should base ourselves in a major city like Rome or Florence and spend the week in classes. Why sleep in the same hotel every night, spend your days in an institutional kitchen, and take limited day trips, when you can turn your entire vacation into a moving culinary education instead, with a different kitchen, different view, different local chefs, and different delicious lessons every day? In the end, Maria arranged an ongoing feast for us that we’ll keep talking about, and using recipes from, forever.

Here are seven benefits to skipping school and indulging in a mobile culinary trip instead:

1. You cook in real people’s kitchens.

Tony taught us his family’s meatball recipe as we cooked in his home kitchen with him and his daughter.

Over the course of our ten-day trip, we spent time in a variety of charming kitchens with fascinating locals, each of whom made us feel like family by the time we hugged and said good-bye, stuffed and happy. We cooked in:

  • a suburban family home in Pompeii with lifelong resident Tony, who grew up around the ruins where his father owned a food stand (now run by his brother) and who shared his family recipe for meatballs.
  • an agriturismo outside Montefalco in Umbria, where owner-chef Giuseppe and his wife taught us how to make cheese ravioli from scratch, zucchini tarts, and molten chocolate mini cakes.
  • a centuries-old organic family farm near Spoleto with Ettore and his wife, Lorella, who showed us how to make the best vegetable-laden tomato sauce, handmade gnocchi, and tarts with lemon-scented crust called crostata (which are now a regular dessert at our own family’s holiday meals). Afterward, we sat in their dining room and feasted all together, drizzling olive oil from their own trees onto our bread.
  • a glamorous farm-to-table B&B with an acclaimed chef who picked ingredients right from her garden and seemed to have an endless menu of desserts for us to prepare and then gobble down.

We cooked a pasta feast in a centuries-old family farmhouse with husband and wife Ettore and Lorella. Here my mom is preparing some vegetables for the sauce.

Ettore showed us how to make fresh gnocchi dough that we later replicated easily at home. So good!

Maria also arranged:

•one gelato-making night at the happiest ice cream shop I’ve ever seen (where the owner, Ricardo, let us taste every single flavor in the store)

•two walking food tours of Rome and Naples, to taste each city’s signature snacks

•visits to a goat cheese and wine farm, a vineyard, a chocolate factory, and an olive oil mill

These were more than hands-on experiences. They were extended opportunities to get to know people, to talk and laugh with them, and to learn about their lives and share about ours.

2. You meet local people and get to know them and their friends and families.

That’s us with Tony’s stepson, who runs a cheese shop a few blocks away. We ate mozzarella cheese he’d made that morning!

Every time we cooked, we didn’t only meet the chef. We met husbands, wives, daughters, sons, and friends, sometimes because they were helping us out and other times because they stopped by in the regular course of their day. At Giuseppe’s agriturismo, his wife joined us in the kitchen, and we met his son later in the day. And at Tony’s, not only did we meet his daughter who helped us prepare her mother’s family-famous meatballs (mom was away visiting her own mother), but we also walked into town to visit the cheese shop that Tony’s stepson owns and we got to taste mozzarella he’d made that morning. Then, when we drove over to the Pompeii ruins, where Tony is a professional guide, we had the chance to meet his mom and his brother, who now runs the stand formerly run by his dad.

Giuseppe’s kitchen was a lively, fun place to be. His wife helped us prepare our lunch, and a few of his staff pitched in to make us feel welcome too. That’s my mom pressing pasta for ravioli.

And at the newly opened Amandola Gelateria in Foligno, where we donned fedoras and aprons like the rest of the smiling staff as we crafted ice cream with the freshest ingredients with owner-chef Ricardo, we also met his wife, some neighborhood locals who seem to use the shop as their regular hangout, and a master gelato maker who was visiting Ricardo (a master in his own right) to brainstorm new flavors and recipes.

3. You learn about local culinary traditions.

The bread in Umbria is never made with salt. It gets all its flavor from natural ingredients and that delicious “new” olive oil.

By cooking with real people, we were clued into regional tastes—like when we baked bread with Giuseppe and learned why Umbrians never add salt to their loaves. According to local legend, it’s a tradition that began in the Middle Ages when a pope imposed a salt tax as part of an effort to limit Perugia’s autonomy. The locals rebelled by simply not buying any, and to this day, you can still taste their independent streak in the unsalted bread on every family’s table. You won’t miss the salt, though, because Umbria’s olive oil is so unbelievably delicious—another culinary tradition you won’t experience the same way in a school. My favorite “lesson” was about a type of olive oil I’d never heard of: new olive oil.

It’s the most recently pressed olive oil possible, basically fresh off the tree. And early November is the season for it. Around this time every year, everyone in Umbria harvests their olives. (And everyone in Umbria has olive trees on their property—that’s just the way it is.) For the best flavor, those olives must be pressed into oil within 48 hours. Once the oil is extracted, big containers of it are stored in cellars and then siphoned off into smaller bottles for use throughout the year.

We saw how olives are pressed into oil at a local mill run by two sisters. The area residents lug in their hand-picked olives and then wait around as the fruit is transformed into oil.

Because our timing was perfect, we got to taste many different family olive oils as we visited our different kitchens and restaurants, and I fell in love with the fresh, grassy and almost garlicky flavor that is worlds away from the stuff we buy here at home. And because she saw that I was so interested in this unique local tradition, our guide Cristina arranged, on the spur of the moment, for us to visit a family-run olive mill one afternoon. We got a tour from one of the sisters while half a dozen area residents were hanging out inside, waiting for their oil to be finished. (We learned that Umbrians are vigilant about watching their oil being pressed, to ensure that their olives don’t get mistaken for someone else’s. They are protective!)

4. The ingredients are as fresh as they come.

We got a behind-the-scenes tour with Diego Calcabrina, one half of the brother duo that runs a biodynamic wine and goat-cheese farm.

In addition to tasting each family’s personal new olive oil, we sampled vegetables from their own gardens, cheese from goats down the road, wine from their neighbors’ grapes, and fruit from their orchards. In fact, at Villa Roncalli, Chef Luisa walked out to her field directly before meeting us and picked what looked best to her, then we prepared a vegetable risotto and an egg dish with herbs and greens. On another day, after a tour of Calcabrina wine and cheese farm—run by two brothers who pick all their grapes by hand, make only single-blend wines, and don’t use any antibiotics for their cheese—we went to their restaurant to taste their wares. Not 20 minutes prior, we had been petting their goats.

Then we sampled the wine…

…and the cheese.

And moments like that were in addition to the steady stream of local wine and olive oil with every meal—meaning, wine from grapes picked in fields we’d passed and oil from olive trees in our hosts’ backyards.

5. You can customize the menus for likes, dislikes, and restrictions.

At Ettore and Lorella’s farmhouse, we adjusted his family’s go-to tomato sauce recipe to leave out the meat—just look at all those vegetables!

When the cooking experience is private and informal, as ours were, the menu can be customized however you need it to be. My mother and I each have several food allergies and restrictions. Maria collected our big list of prohibited ingredients, and not only did she make it work, but she and our hosts also made sure it was all delicious. What impressed me even more was how everyone handled the fact that I’m vegetarian but my mom enjoys meat and fish. In most cases that meant our hosts planned two entrées, or two sauces. My mom never felt that she had to give anything up, and I never felt that the veggie option was an afterthought.

Chef Luisa of Villa Roncalli picked these greens from her garden right before we arrived…

And then we made this delicious egg-vegetable dish—a cross between a scramble and a frittata, and incredibly delicious.

And because I like dessert, we made a ton of it. This was a delicate coffee-sambuca cake we made with Chef Luisa. I was skeptical because I don’t love licorice, but I learned to trust the chef: The combination of flavors was perfect.

Amandola Gelateria

We also got to customize our gelato! These are the three flavors we made with Ricardo at Amandola Gelateria: Nutella with candied almond crunch, natural pistachio, and clementine (from fresh clementines we cut and juiced ourselves!).

6. You can truly replicate the recipes at home.

My mom and I loved the jam-filled, lemon-crusted crostata that we made with Ettore and Lorella so much that we baked them at home for Thanksgiving. My mom also made them for a party with her friends.

They are now a Cohen dessert staple.

Culinary schools sometimes have specialty ingredients and professional machines—things you would never have in your own home. But on our trip, we worked with what people had in their kitchens—normal ingredients and gadgets. In fact, my mom and I were able to use what we learned to prepare a special Italian Thanksgiving feast a few weeks after we got home. And even though we didn’t have fresh Umbrian tomatoes from Luisa’s garden or Lorella’s jam from her orchard, we did have a canister of olive oil from Ettore’s farm, and it all turned out pretty close to what we’d eaten in Italy. (Pro tip: After a cooking vacation, invite friends and family over to share what you’ve learned. It’s a fun way to relive the trip and to share the spoils with those who couldn’t join you.)

7. You make true friends.

Something magical happens when you cook and dine with someone in their own home — you laugh, you share stories, and you make true friends.

A culinary school instructor may end up being an inspiration, but it’s unlikely they will become your friend. However, when you cook with people in their homes, when they show you their favorite recipes, when you sit down at the table with them and pass around delicious food that you all made together over laughter and conversation, you can’t help but feel affection for one another.

There is just something magical that happens while you chat and laugh with new friends in the kitchen and toast each other over a good meal. Yes, my mother and I came away with wonderful recipes and memories, but it was that authentic connection with warm, welcoming people that really satisfied us—something I think all travelers are hungry for. And if you get to mix up a little handmade gelato for dessert, well that’s just a bonus.

Ricardo is my new best friend and favorite person in the world. Did I mention he let us taste every gelato flavor in the shop? There were about 30.

Billie used Wendy’s WOW List system to plan this trip. She received a discounted media rate, but in keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remained at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Maria Gabriella Landers here. And, lest you think Billie received special treatment, you can read additional reviews of Maria’s trips, written by other WOW List travelers, here.

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.

Vieste village of white buildings on a spit reaching into the ocean, Gargano National Park italy

How to See Italy Without the Crowds

Italy’s top tourist sites are famously overcrowded, so much so that they’ve sparked a national debate. One result: a five-year strategic plan by the Ministry of Culture to reduce the crush by promoting less-visited parts of the country. We asked Andrea Grisdale, who lives on Lake Como and is one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Italy, to name some of her favorite alternatives to jam-packed places like the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany.  Here are a few ideas for you.

To get the best Italy trip possible, we invite you to write to Ask Wendy. We’re happy to recommend the best Italy travel specialist for your particular trip goals and ensure you are marked as a VIP traveler.

Assisi

Assisi, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

This peaceful Umbrian hilltop town, the birthplace of Saint Francis, is a great place to experience local life. The biggest event in Assisi is the Festa di Calendedimaggio, in early May, but the three-day festival is not well known even in Italy, and it attracts mostly locals and few tourists. It starts on the first Wednesday after May 1, but there are a lot of events in the week leading up to it as well. Assisi is especially beautiful in April and May, when the hills are bright with new leaves and spring blossoms.

What to see and do:

•Visit the Basilica of Saint Francis, its first stone laid by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, and marvel at the frescoes and sculptures by such luminaries as Cimabue and Giotto.

•Stroll the labyrinth of narrow streets and stonewalls, which were painstakingly restored after a 1997 earthquake.

•Sample delicious Umbrian cheeses and cold cuts, difficult to find elsewhere in Italy.

When to go:

In spring or fall the weather is beautiful, with blue skies and sunshine, and the views are superb without the summer fog.

Where to stay:

The Nun Relais & Spa Museum is a 13th-century convent transformed into an 18-room hotel with panoramic views. Room 18 is a two-floor apartment with a spacious living room, private access, and original frescoes; rooms 5 and 17 have views overlooking the city of Assisi and the Umbrian hills. The rooms are decorated in contemporary style with touches of stone, old brick, and wood.

Perugia

the town of Perugia in Italy

Perugia, Umbia, Italy. Photo: Brian Dore

Perugia is Umbria’s regional capital and was once one of the twelve capitals of the Etruscans’ Dodecopolis League. Its ancient artifacts include fourth-century B.C. fortifications and well-preserved arches. The city is also awash in medieval and Renaissance treasures. Perugia is an excellent base for visits to Assisi, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto, and other Umbrian towns.

What to see and do:

•Visit the 16th-century Rocca Paolina fortress, the 13th-century Palazzo dei Priori and the majestic Fontana Maggiore, built by father-and-son master sculptors Nicole and Giovanni Pisano.

•Hunt for truffles—great fun for families—or take a private chocolate-making lesson in the Perugina factory.

•Tour the factory of fashion designer Brunello Cuccinelli with a private guide.

When to go:

Spring or fall, but avoid the Eurochocolate festival, which takes place this year from October 19 to October 28. Another big event is the Umbria Jazz Festival (July 13–22).

Where to stay:

The elegant 19th-century Brufani Palace has a great location in the heart of Perugia. Rooms with beautiful views of the valley include 330, a third-floor Royal Suite with a spacious terrace and sun loungers, and 331, a Deluxe room (not all the Deluxe rooms have such a view).

Maratea

Maratea coastline village italy

Maratea, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/valtercirillo

The small town of Maratea in the Basilicata region has a beautiful coastline, great food, and lovely people. Less expensive and more authentic than the Amalfi Coast—and much less crowded even in summer—it appeals to sports lovers (hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, diving), beachgoers, and families.

What to see and do:

•Wander around town on foot, exploring the little lanes and stairways that run up and down the hill and enjoying the slow pace of village life. (Beware: The town is built on a steep incline, and thus not a good destination for people with mobility issues.)

•Hire a boat and go on a sailing, diving, or fishing excursion. Take a picnic and snorkeling gear. Explore the area’s many coves and caves.

•Hike in the hills around Maratea.

•Rent a car and explore the settlements along the coast.

When to go:

The water is warm enough for swimming from May through October, but avoid August, when Italian families go on holiday. You might want to skip the last week in July, as well, when the Maratea International Film Festival takes place. Most hotels, restaurants, and shops are closed between November and May.

Where to stay:

Il Santavenere has 34 rooms split between two buildings, a private beach, and a beautiful spa. In the main building, room 25 is a wonderful suite with a private garden where you can also find an umbrella and two sunbeds, and room 123 has the best view of all the property. In the annex, room 200 is a Junior suite with a spacious terrace and a beautiful sea view.

Gargano

Vieste village of white buildings on a spit reaching into the ocean, Gargano National Park italy

Vieste, Gargano National Park, Italy. Photo: Pixabay/Jack78

Italians love Puglia as a vacation destination, and the rest of the world is following their lead, drawn by the region’s history, food, wine, beaches, natural attractions, and lively towns. In Gargano, a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Adriatic Sea and backed by the Tavoliere delle Puglie, you find inexpensive osterias and trattorias that offer great food, and the sea is amazing, with hundreds of sandy beaches. Italians call the Gargano Peninsula the “island of nature.”

What to see and do:

•Hike or bicycle through Gargano National Park, a natural paradise of forests, lagoons, a ragged coastline, sandy beaches, vast stretches of Mediterranean vegetation, and very pleasant mountain-bike paths.

•Rent a car and explore the coastal towns of Mattinata, Manfredonia, Vieste, Peschici, and Rodi Garganico, each with its own special appeal. Or drive inland to the towns of Carpino, Ischitella, Cagnano, Varano, San Marco in Lamis, Rignano, Garganico, and Sannicandro.

•Visit the Tremiti Islands, a marine reserve with crystal clear waters, great for diving.

When to go:

May, June, July, and September (avoid August, the busiest month of the year).

Where to stay:

Chiusa delle More is a fabulous 16th-century farmhouse surrounded by century-old olive groves in the heart of Gargano National Park, between the Umbra Forest and the sea. The 10-room hotel, excellently managed by owners Antonella and Francesco Martucci, has breath-taking views of the countryside and a great location just minutes from the town of Peschici and 500 meters from the sea and beaches. Rooms 5 and 6 are spacious, and each has a beautiful balcony overlooking the olive groves. Room 8 has a private Jacuzzi just outside the room.

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.

Polignano a Mare, puglia, italy, seaside village

The Next Great Places: Where to Go Instead of the Usual Suspects

Travelers, you’ve had this dream: You’re looking at a map trying to decide where to go next, wondering how to choose from all the frontiers you’ve never seen, the cultures and cuisines you’ve yet to savor, the landscapes you have yet to explore. The key, of course, is to choose those locations that are still under-the-radar, not overrun by hordes of tourists. Iceland, as just one example of a hot spot, was blissfully empty a few years ago; now that everyone’s caught on, its Golden Circle is teeming with tour buses filled with Americans.

We have the same dream as you, but we also have a way to make it a reality. To help you choose the lesser-known gems, we turned to destination specialists who live and work in these countries and have first-hand insight into which places have reached that perfect moment when there’s just enough tourism infrastructure to offer the creature comforts you want, but not too much attention that the tourist masses have arrived. Sounds nice, right? In this video, Trusted Travel Experts from Wendy’s 2018 WOW List share the next great places. Where will you go?

 

 

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.

Billie’s Travel Highlights from 2017

Whether I’m traveling solo or with family or friends, my favorite travel memories are always about the people I meet. I was really fortunate to have had so many of those in 2017—made possible through a combination of travel planners who had deep roots in the places I was visiting, excellent local guides who knew how to remove that often-awkward barrier between the visitor and the visited, and my own tendency to strike up conversations with anyone and everyone around me. Below are just a few of the special moments I got to experience in 2017. Here’s hoping that my trips inspire ideas for your own adventures in the coming year. I worked with a few of our WOW Listers to plan parts of these trips, so contact us through Ask Wendy if you want more information on how to make them happen for yourself.

Meeting camel traders in Pushkar, India

traders buy a camel at the Pushkar Camel Fair in India

These men were shopping for camels.

The Pushkar Camel Fair was the reason I wanted to go to India. I ended up loving the amazing history and sights, not to mention all that delicious vegetarian food, but India wasn’t high on my list until I learned about Pushkar from Sanjay Saxena at last year’s Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit (btw, we’re doing the summit on social media this year so that you can all be involved—stay tuned for more info on #WOWWeek soon!). Anyway, the Pushkar Camel Fair is an annual trade market for camels and horses that draws Indian farmers from around the country, but it’s also a festival with a sprawling outdoor market, a sandy fairground where families set up tents and hobble their camels and horses, and a big arena that hosts an opening-night flag ceremony and various competitions. But the best part is simply being able to wander around the fairground and watch as the families (many of whom have traveled far distances to be here) tend to their tents, cook their daily meals, and buy or sell their camels.

The trading was the most fascinating part of the festivals. But it was pretty subtle: just a bunch of men standing around talking about a camel or a horse, not all that different from groups of men standing around talking about the weather. Our guide, Kapil, however, had a keen eye for this and would discreetly direct us near sales meetings. One evening, we watched a duo of potential buyers size up some animals and then walk away. Thinking that the show was over, my friend and I quickly got distracted with other sights and photo ops, while Kapil strolled off to look at something else—we thought. Next thing we know, he’d made friends with the would-be buyers and all three of them were strolling back to us. The conversation that followed was such a natural interaction; it didn’t feel forced or voyeuristic the way some tourist-meets-local moments can, and that was all down to our guide’s natural ease and experience. He knew we wanted to learn more about the camel culture and he helped us learn about it, not through a “tour” or scripted guide-bookish lectures, but by nonchalantly making friends and then making those friends our friends. The men explained that they determine the value of a camel by patting its flanks and humps and counting number of teeth to determine age (young animals are more desirable but also more expensive). They had liked what they saw, but wanted to shop around a bit more before buying the two camels we’d seen them with before.

Making gelato in Foligno

Just look at all those flavors—and this was only a quarter of the options.
Amandola Gelateria Foligno Italy
Hats are part of the uniform at Amandola Gelateria, and we got our own!
Amandola Gelateria Foligno Italy
Ricardo shows us how he makes the base for all his gelato flavors (except the sorbet, which don't have cream).
Amandola Gelateria
These are the three flavors we made: Nutella with candied almond crunch, natural pistachio, and clementine.
Amandola Gelateria Foligno Italy
This is what the frozen gelato looked like before we added the flavorings.
clementine oranges Amandola Gelateria Foligno Italy
We used real clementines to make our clementine gelato.
Amandola Gelateria Foligno Italy
My mom and I were very proud of our creations.
We also cooked delicious full meals during our trip. At Tony's house in Pompeii, he and my mom got serious about meatball construction.
We pressed and filled fresh ravioli with Giuseppe at his agriturismo in Montefalco.
Ettore and Lorella made us feel like part of the family as we prepared dinner and then feasted together at their farmhouse near Spoleto.
These were the crostata, little lemon-dough pies filled with homemade peach and blackberry preserves from Lorella's garden. My mom and I made them for Thanksgiving dinner when we got home from our trip.
But in the end, our handmade gelato at Amandola Gelateria was still my favorite dessert.

 

This might have been the best day of my life. My mom and I learned to make gelato, from scratch, at Amandola Gelateria—and then chef-owner Ricardo let us try every flavor in the shop. Ricardo is a pastry chef who used to work at a high-end restaurant, but he left to open his own gelato shop in 2017 and so far seemed to be quite happy with his choice. From the minute we walked in, he and every one of his staff was smiling ear to ear (though who could be unhappy in an ice cream store) and happy to show us every aspect of their set-up. This immediate warmth was not at all unusual for our ten-day cooking trip through Umbria. When I asked Maria Landers to plan a culinary vacation for me and my mom, the ideas she came up with were way more than what we expected. Case in point: We didn’t step foot in any cooking school the entire trip. Instead we met local families and cooked with them in their homes. Tony grew up in Pompeii and is a guide at the ruins; we made fresh pasta with him and his daughter. Giuseppe runs an agriturismo and together we made ravioli, vegetable flan, nut bread, and molten chocolate cakes; and we spent the evening with organic farmers Ettore and Lorella, who live in a farmhouse near Spoleto that has been in Ettore’s family for centuries. In a beautiful old-fashioned kitchen, we whipped up gnocchi, a local chickpea dish, and my favorite new dessert, mini lemon-crusted pies called crostata. In all of these situations we were so warmly welcomed that we felt like we were part of the family as soon as we stepped through the doors. But while I loved all of the cooking experiences, this gelato night was a highlight for its sheer Willy Wonka-esque delight factor. Once we handmade three flavors of our own choosing in the back kitchen, Ricardo led us up front, picked up the container of tasting spoons, pointed at the case of more than 30 flavors, and said, “What would you like to try?” I could have hugged him right there. Actually, forget Willy Wonka, everyone needs a Ricardo in their life. His gelato is some of the best I’ve ever tasted. No joke: you should all get on a plane and get to Foligno right now.

Watching my mom bond with goats in Montefalco, Italy

In addition to all the cooking experiences, our Italy trip included private tours of small artisanal businesses, including an olive mill (where we met locals who’d brought in their own just-picked olives to be pressed into oil) and a small-batch, biodynamic wine-and-goat-cheese farm, Calcabrina, run by two brothers. We toured their wine facility and cheese cave, and then got to meet the goats that make it all happen. Turns out, my mom is a goat magnet. When she walked into the field and started petting one friendly goat, I thought, awww isn’t that cute. Then another one ambled over for a nuzzle. And then two more. Next thing we knew, my mom was surrounded by adoring goat fans. Yes we had delicious pasta, cheese, wine, and chocolate on this trip, but absolutely nothing could have made it better than seeing my mom laughing so hard. Just watch the video above.

Meeting the last of the Cohens in Cochin, India

Two women talking in Cochin India

Sarah was reading a prayer book in Hebrew when I came in. I know a few prayers so we sang one together.

This November, I met one of the last living Jews in Cochin, India. Her name is Sarah Cohen and she’s 95. Her eyes lit up when she heard that I was a Cohen too, and then we sang the sh’ma prayer together. It was pretty amazing…especially considering I’d started the day at Catholic mass. Catholics are the majority in the state of Kerala, but they’re not the only religion. I knew there was some out-of-the-way Jewish history here—it was one of the reasons Cochin made it onto my itinerary, rather than the more-popular beach destination of Goa. Turns out, though, no one really knows exactly when the first Jews arrived here. What we do know for sure is that the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin was built in 1598 by European Jews who’d convinced the king of Cochin to let them stay, and that a few—a very few—Jewish families still live in town to this day. I hardly expected to meet any of them, but as we walked the narrow lane leading up to the synagogue (called, I kid you not, Jew Street, in the neighborhood of Jew Town), our walking-tour guide pointed out two houses where those families still reside. When we got to Sarah’s Embroidery Shop, he saw that she was inside, and offered to make an introduction. What happened next is something I’ll kvell about for years to come. You can read all about it—and see video of Sarah and me singing together—here.

Breaking my phone in Valle Bavona, Ticino, Switzerland

Valle Bavona stone village Ticino Switzerland

The valleys of Switzerland’s southern Ticino region are dotted with ancient stone villages still in use today.

I have only one photo from my best day in Switzerland, and that’s because I dropped my phone right as it started. The ground all around me was carpeted in soft grass, but I found the one sharp rock to crack my screen on. The upside was that I got the rare-for-me experience of seeing a place solely through my eyes and not through my screen and note-taking app. Being forced to unplug was particularly poetic because the place I was visiting, the Valle Bavona outside the city of Locarno in southern Switzerland, is dotted with centuries-old stone villages where the residents still refuse to use electricity. My guide, Anna, spends summer weekends in a home like the ones we were seeing, so she was able to explain how the otherwise modern homesteaders accomplish daily tasks like laundry, gardening, and cooking, and how those who live high up the steep mountains use pulley systems to load in their supplies. Later we hiked an off-road trail dotted with ancient cave grottos still used by area residents to store cheese and wine. It was a gorgeous day in an out-of-time valley, each rustic village more beautiful than the next. I have no photographic reminders of most of it, but I will certainly never forget it.

Going behind the scenes in Lisbon

Museu De Artes Decorativas Portuguesas

This brass carver was just one of the artisans I got to meet on my private behind-the-scenes tour of the workshops.

There are a ton of reasons to visit Lisbon, but in my opinion two of the biggest are the delicious local cuisine and the beautiful artisan craftwork. But instead of staying on the outside of the Lisbon experience—i.e., sitting down at any old tourist-trap restaurant and then meandering through the streets snapping pictures of the colorful building tiles—I spent a day going behind the scenes. My morning was all about food. I spent it with a hip private chef, hanging out in her stylish boho apartment learning to make vegetarian versions of traditional local dishes while we chatted over snacks and music. My favorite: tomato rice with a sous vide egg—so good. My afternoon was all about the arts, for which I headed to the Foundation Ricardo do Espírito Santo Silva. Silva was a wealthy lover of the arts who donated his Azurara Palace and a chunk of his private collection to create the Museum of Decorative Arts in 1953, and founded a related school to preserve Portuguese craftsmanship. Today there is a building full of workshops adjacent to the museum, where skilled brass carvers, bookbinders, furniture makers, textile weavers, and tile makers hone their crafts, restore historic objects from around the country, and pretty much preserve a national legacy. And, lucky me, I got a private behind-the-scenes tour of those ateliers. In one particularly cool moment, I watched up close as an artist carved the decorative metal leaves that would adorn a piece of furniture I’d just seen in another room. Merely walking around Lisbon—a city with such visible history—is a treat in itself, but meeting the people who are still practicing those traditions elevates the entire experience. Plus, I got to try my hand at painting my own tiles. They don’t belong in a museum or on a building, but they look great in my apartment.

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.

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

Where to Travel in 2018

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

Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

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

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

Puebla, Mexico

Museo Internacional del Barroco, Puebla City, Mexico

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

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

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

Antarctica

Adelie penguins jumping in to sea in Antarctica

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

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

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

Angra dos Reis, Brazil

boat in the water Angra dos Reis, Brazil.

Angra dos Reis, Brazil. Photo: Pixabay/gabrielvannini

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

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

Parma, Italy

winding colorful street in Parma Italy with biker on it

Parma, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

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

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

Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

Gdansk, Poland. Photo: Poland Tourist Organization

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

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

Northeastern France

WWI war cemetery in Verdun, France

Verdun, France. Photo: Pixabay

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

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

Hoh Xil, China

Wild horses in Hoh Xil, China

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

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

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

Uluru, Australia

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

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

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

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

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

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

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

Tbilisi, Georgia

aerial view of Tblisi Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Georgian Tourism Ministry

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

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

The Northwest Passage

Arctic Ice Bridge, Canada

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

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

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

Cabo Pulmo, Los Cabos, Mexico

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

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

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

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

Sri Lanka

Elephants swimming during the Gal Oya boat safari, Sri Lanka

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

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

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

St. Helena

Sandy Bay, St. Helena island

Sandy Bay, St. Helena. Photo: Ed Thorpe

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

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

amalfi coast hill town Italy

If You’re Renting a Car in Italy, You Need to Know This

Italy is a perennial favorite destination among our travelers, who generally prefer to get around by road (instead of train), so they can explore the charming villages in between the big cities. They then find themselves weighing the pros and cons of renting a car vs. hiring a driver. The rules and logistics of driving in Italy can be unfamiliar, even to the most seasoned traveler. So, if you’re planning to rent a car and set out on the autostrada, make sure to heed this advice,

Tolls

Italy has a system called Telepass, which allows drivers to pay tolls electronically via a transponder placed on their windshield (similar to the E-ZPass and FasTrak systems used in parts of the U.S.). Until recently, you had to have an Italian bank account to sign up for Telepass, but Europcar is now offering the option of renting a transponder along with your vehicle. This saves you from waiting in long lines at the tollbooths, and the tolls are automatically charged to your credit card; the rental fee is 35 euros, or about U.S. $40.

Traffic

Traffic has gotten extremely heavy in many parts of Italy—particularly the Amalfi Coast, where there is only one road and it may take two hours to accomplish what should be a 25- to 30-minute drive. You can avoid the headaches on the road by taking a ferry (check here for schedules), though even then it’s wise to book online in advance. When you must drive, try to do so at lunchtime, when the traffic might be lighter.

City Rules

Many Italian cities now limit the vehicles allowed into their historic centers; these areas are known as the ZTL, or zona a traffico limitato. Only those with resident permits or official licenses are allowed inside; all others risk being fined. The signs are small, inconspicuous and in Italian of course. Sometimes there is also a traffic light near the sign. If it’s red, the ZTL is in effect; green means you’re free to drive into the city center. If you are stopped by the carabinieri, politely explain the situation (perhaps you’re trying to get to your hotel) and they might let you pass—or they might send you back to park outside the ZTL. If your rental car is caught on camera illegally inside the ZTL, the fine can show up on your credit card bill even 12 to 18 months after the fact.

Parking

Italy’s beautiful hill towns weren’t designed with automobile parking in mind. Most of these towns—and certainly the ones that do any kind of tourist trade—have a parking area outside their walls. Be prepared to walk a moderate distance (usually uphill) from this lot to the town itself. Don’t expect to drive right up and park in front of the clock tower in Montepulciano. These lots, and most parking spots in urban areas, are not free. Find the kiosk or ticket booth where you can insert coins or bills—rarely credit cards—and purchase your time, then leave the receipt on your dashboard.

 

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.

red case with red cross photo by peggy marco pixabay

How to Be Prepared for an Emergency When You Travel: Simple Steps

When you prepare for a trip, it’s smart to prepare for an emergency too. The threats of political unrest, natural disasters (hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes), and terrorist attacks—both at home and abroad—are not going away any time soon. But by all means don’t focus so much on highly unlikely, spectacular risks that you ignore the mundane risks that are far more likely to do you harm. For example, when I traveled to London, I optimized my family’s safety not by doing anything so extreme as avoiding the Tube (a target of past terrorist attacks) or abstaining from a cricket match at The Oval (another potential target, what with 24,000 spectators in a stadium), but by making sure that we looked both ways when crossing the street (it’s easy to look in the wrong direction in countries where people drive on the left) and that we used a bathmat in our rental apartment so we would not slip and fall in an unfamiliar shower.

In addition to keeping risks in perspective, here’s what I do to be prepared for emergencies when I travel:

Before Your Trip

1. Enroll in STEP.
Signing up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program makes it easier for the U.S. embassy to send you important information about safety conditions, contact you in an emergency, and help family and friends get in touch with you. Enrolling is easy and quick.

2. Activate your phone for overseas use so that, at a minimum, you can send and receive text messages.
That way you can communicate with others in your traveling party via text message, receive STEP security updates and Twitter Alerts (see #14) via text message, etc.

3. Depending on how remote or risky your destination is, consider carrying a satellite phone or satellite text-messaging device.
In an emergency, you could lose your ability to communicate by cell phone. Internet access could be unavailable as well. Satellite devices do not depend on cell-phone or Internet technology and are much less expensive to rent than they used to be. In countries where satellite phones are illegal—India and China, for instance—you can rent a local mobile phone.

4. Whatever your communication device is, carry extra battery power for it.
If you’re using a smartphone, attach a Mophie or carry a charging block; if you’re using a satellite phone, have an additional battery.

5. Choose a hotel in the right neighborhood, with the right TV news channels and high-speed Internet access.
If you’ve got CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, and fast Wi-Fi, you can easily monitor the news and check local English-language websites for news and help. Pick a hotel that is not located close to a symbolic plaza where protests and traffic jams occur (e.g., Taksim Square in Istanbul, or Tahrir Square in Cairo).

6. Book your trip through the right destination specialist.
This gives you a local fixer, advocate, problem solver. The travel specialists on my WOW List know which areas of their destination are safe and which aren’t, and arrange trips based on the latest on-the-ground intel. They connect you with the savviest drivers and “guides” — more expediters and strategists than traditional tour guides — who have the background and credentials to keep you safe and have access to key people in the country who will take care of you. I know this based not only on personal experience, having traveled under their vigilance, but also based on years of feedback from travelers. For example, when Nepal specialist Toni Neubauer had WendyPerrin.com travelers in Nepal during the 2015 quake, she quickly got them on a flight out of the country. (Read the review of Toni that the travelers, Joe and Rowena Burke, posted on Toni’s reviews page.) At dicey moments, Israel specialist Joe Yudin has kept WendyPerrin.com travelers safe (read Nadika Wignarajan’s review here), Turkey specialist Earl Starkey has as well (read reports from his travelers here). WOW Listers also provide you with the physical tools to stay safe: India specialist Sanjay Saxena, for instance, gives you an in-country mobile phone pre-programmed with numbers for local staff, hotels, emergency services, etc. Of course, his in-country and U.S. staff are available 24/7 as well.

7. Pack certain medicines.
Bring a prescription antibiotic and prescription pain reliever that you know work for you, in case you end up needing to be your own doctor. Bring iodine tablets (or one of the newer technologies) to purify dirty water too, since, in an emergency, bottled water supplies quickly run out.

8. Plot on a paper map where the local embassy, consulate, and best hospitals are.
In an emergency you won’t want to rely on your smartphone or Google Maps app to get you there; you’ll want to save your battery for calls to loved ones, doctors, etc. Know where the best hospitals are—not just for the capital city, which could be hours away from where you are when a crisis strikes, but for other cities too.

9. Purchase an emergency assistance plan.
A MedjetHorizon membership can get you safely out of a crisis situation 24/7 and can also get you out of a foreign hospital and back home to a hospital you know and trust. They can come to the rescue in the event of a terrorist or political threat, violent crime, or if you need a ground ambulance, specialty hospital transfer, or cash advance.

During Your Trip

10. Program your cell phone with emergency numbers.
Remember that 911 does not work for countries outside the USA and Canada. Here’s one list of local emergency numbers, but also ask your hotel concierge for the best numbers for the police, medical emergencies, and someone at your hotel who can help.

11. Carry a mini-flashlight.
You don’t want to get caught in the dark.

12. Carry your hotel’s business card, in the local language.
You can show it to police or taxi drivers to get back to safety quickly.

13. Carry a photocopy of your passport photo page and any visas.

Keep it on your person during the trip, in case the original is back at your hotel (usually the smartest place to keep it) or gets lost in the emergency.

14. Follow relevant Twitter feeds that can provide reliable, accurate updates and potentially life-saving alerts.
Such Twitter feeds will vary by destination and type of emergency. Usually, though, you’ll want to follow the U.S. embassy feed in the country you’re visiting, as well as the U.S. State Department’s feed, @travelgov. The @RedCross and Google’s Crisis Response Team, @GoogleCR, are also worth following, as are the local airport’s feed, which may post updates about airport delays and shutdowns, and the feeds of local hotels, which usually have an emergency action plan and may be offering help or a landline. You can also turn on Twitter Alerts for the feeds relevant to the destination you’re headed to.

15. Know that Google has a person finder and Facebook has a Safety Check feature.
In natural and humanitarian disasters, Google helps track missing persons. When a crisis occurs, Facebook activates its Safety Check feature: If you’re in an affected area, use it to alert friends and family that you’re okay; if you’re at home, you can use it to search for travelers and confirm their status.

If You Have a Trip Booked to an Area Perceived as Risky

* Don’t overreact: Realize that the geographic area affected is limited.

So often, when a crisis strikes a country, U.S. travelers unnecessarily cancel trips to a huge swath of the world surrounding that country. They avoid regions that have not been affected in the least—which would be like Europeans deciding against a trip to New York because there was an earthquake in San Francisco or a terror attack in Orlando. The Italy earthquake was no reason to cancel a trip to Tuscany, the same way the Nice attack was no reason to cancel a trip to the Dordogne.

* Don’t confuse the probability of an incident with the probability of becoming the victim of that incident.
Is it virtually certain that there will be another terrorist attack in Europe this year?  Yes.  Does that translate into a high degree of risk for the individual traveler to Europe?  No.

* Understand the psychological reasons why your fear of a terrorist attack is out of proportion to the risk—and why you fear a terrorist attack more than an earthquake.
I explain it in my article 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks.

* Know where the real dangers lie.
Remember that the single biggest cause of death for Americans traveling overseas is motor vehicle accidents.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy

Italy WOW Moment: A Private Michelin-Star Dinner with Fireworks

Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
The view overlooking Florence from the restaurant rooftop where our traveler enjoyed his WOW Moment. Photo: Georgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini
Michelin-starred restaurant La Leggenda dei Frati in Florence, Italy
Photo: Giorgio Magini

 

How do you impress a traveler who’s been everywhere and done everything? That’s our challenge with a lot of our readers. You are a very well-traveled and discerning bunch! Even those of you finding The WOW List for the first time arrive with very high expectations—and we love that about you.

But it does create a challenge for us—and for the Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List—to dazzle you with something new and unexpected. Yet that’s exactly what Wendy aims to do with her WOW Moments. She personally adds a complimentary insider-access experience to your itinerary on your third trip with a WOW List–recommended travel specialist. It’s a thank-you for trying our new WOW trip-planning system and helping us test and fine-tune it.

The best WOW Moments come as a complete surprise. And that’s why we are thrilled with the response Jeff Bernfield had to his WOW Moment in Florence, Italy, last month. Dr. Bernfield, a physician in the Chicago area, is a special case: He’s used 15 of Wendy’s recommended travel specialists over the years.

“I could plan each trip myself, but it’s so much easier to use one of these people and let them plan the whole thing for you,” he told us over the phone after his trip to Italy arranged by Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore. “I never ever worry about things that can go wrong because even if something might go wrong, they fix it. They always fix it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s like having an insurance policy.”

Knowing that Dr. Bernfield and his wife would be in Florence during the June Feast of San Giovanni—celebrated with historical parades, music, and fireworks over the Arno—Wendy worked with Maria and Brian to come up with something very special. Maria suggested dinner at La Leggenda dei Frati—a restaurant located in the Bardini Gardens—on the Terrazzo dei Limoni, an exclusive part of the restaurant with only five tables of two and fantastic views of the fireworks at night. Maria explained that, while there is another, larger terrace at the famed Michelin-starred restaurant, the Terrazzo dei Limoni would be more atmospheric and exclusive. Wendy agreed it sounded perfect, so Maria set it up, and we waited to hear the Bernfields’ reaction. Dr. Bernfield emailed Wendy right after they got home from their dinner, and then we followed up on the phone to hear all the fun details. This what he had to say:

Q: Did you have any clue what was being planned?

A: We knew something was up because I’m a voracious reader and researcher. Even with these travel experts, if they make a recommendation, I read about it and make sure it fits—I’m not good at just accepting things. For this, we got an itinerary, and I kept noticing that Saturday night was empty, and I kept questioning Maria about it. We had originally planned to go to the festival of St. John because Maria told us it was a great event in Florence—we scheduled our whole trip around being in Florence that day. And then there was nothing written on the itinerary for that evening. Our itinerary said, “Meet your guide at 3pm and she’ll show you around and then you’ll be left for the evening.” I had a feeling something was up, but I couldn’t find out what it was. Back at our hotel, we were told someone would meet us in our hotel lobby at 8.

Q: Sneaky. Who was it?

A: We went down to the lobby and, to our surprise, Maria and Brian were there! That to me was the highlight. For me, it’s always about the people. I don’t care what museum or what church or what holy site or any activity that we do. For us, travel is always 100 percent about the people, and I thought that was one of the nicest things she could have done. Even though that technically wasn’t our WOW Moment, for us that was it.

Q: But of course it wasn’t! What had they arranged for you?

A: They had arranged a taxi to take us to a beautiful Michelin-starred restaurant overlooking the Arno River, La Leggenda dei Frati, where we didn’t just have dinner—they took us to an open-air roof on top of the restaurant that we had to ourselves, and they hired an Italian opera singer to serenade us. That was incredible. There was also a harp player, and a private photographer taking pictures of us.

Q: This restaurant was special because of the Feast of San Giovanni. What was the location like?

A: We had basically a private viewing of the fireworks over the river. In fact, other people sitting on the lower level of the restaurant could not see the fireworks because the trees blocked it. We’ve been sent the photos since then and they are great—much better than what we did with my iPhone. [Laughs]

After the fireworks, the chef introduced himself, took us into the kitchen, and took us to the separate private museum roof overlay, which had all kinds of art. It was outrageous. If I had tried to plan the most romantic evening I could for my wife, I would have fallen short of what Wendy and Maria and Brian planned for us. It could not have gone any better. For that, I thank her. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but we are very appreciative. It was the highlight of our trip. We’ve had amazing experiences all over the globe, but this ranks number one.

Q: You’ve used travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List more than a dozen times. How did you originally find Wendy’s list of travel specialists?

A: To make a long story short, I used to use a local boutique luxury travel agent here in the Chicago area, and my wife got sick and we were off the grid for a couple years. We couldn’t really travel, waiting to see if she got better, and she did, thankfully. When she got better, we decided that tomorrow isn’t promised, so to speak, and we’re going to live each day to the fullest. and we’re going to go out and see the world. So I called this travel agent, and she didn’t want to offer her services because we hadn’t used her in the past six months. And when I explained why, she still didn’t want to offer her services. I didn’t really know what to do. I’d told my wife that when she got better she could pick her bucket-list trip as long as I could pick mine. She picked Greece, and I picked Africa. And then kind of out of the blue, I reached out to Wendy, who was at Condé Nast Traveler magazine at the time, and I think I sent Wendy a tweet or an email, I don’t remember. I was not expecting a response—but she answered! [Laughs] I was stunned, because I didn’t know her and took a shot in the dark and she answered. I was looking for help and advice on how to do this and I didn’t have anybody local and one thing led to another. I think I’ve used about 15 WOW List people over the past few years, and in her nice way, Wendy reciprocated—she didn’t have to—with this WOW Moment.

Honestly, I think it was the nicest, most enjoyable evening the two of us have ever been lucky enough to spend. Apart from my son’s wedding five weeks ago, this ranks right up there with one of the unexpected enjoyable evenings.

 

Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

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

The first port of call on the first-ever sailing of Silversea Cruises' new ship Silver Muse: Marseille, France

Cruise Report: Wendy’s Photos from Silversea’s Newest Cruise Ship

I’ve sailed on inaugural voyages before—I’ve even served as godmother of a cruise ship, smashing the bottle of Champagne at the christening—but, until last week, I’d never boarded a ship a mere three hours after it had left the shipyard. I was on the first-ever sailing of Silver Muse, the elegant new ship from Silversea Cruises that launched in Genoa and will call at 130 ports in 34 countries this year. We hit three of those countries—Italy, France, and Spain—on last week’s “shakedown cruise.”  Honestly, not much shaking down was required:  Silver Muse gleams from top to bottom.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the Muse is the food.  There are eight gourmet eateries onboard—which is a lot for a 596-passenger vessel—including Italian, French, Asian, sushi, a steak house, a pizzeria, and a gelateria. There’s even a cheese bar at night in one of the observation lounges.  The food is sophisticated and imaginative, with ingredients sourced from around the globe—giant prawns from Madagascar, cod from Greenland, steak from an Argentinian estancia, lamb from New Zealand, burrata from the boot of Italy….you get the idea.

But what surprised me most on the ship was Gennaro, the charming Italian cobbler who has a little shop on the pool deck and custom-makes shoes while you wait.  I ordered up a pair of Capri sandals just so I could see Italian craftsmanship at work.  In 45 minutes I had perfect-fitting gold leather sandals.  To see the shoes, and photos from the rest of my Mediterranean coastal adventure, check out the pics below and follow my travels on Instagram.

And if you’re wondering whether Silver Muse is the right ship for you or a different one might be better suited to your trip goals, feel free to write to me at Ask Wendy.

 

This is how I’ll be leaving Genoa tonight — aboard @silverseacruises’ brand new ship, #SilverMuse.

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Okay, so this ship is not for light packers. @silverseacruises #SilverMuse

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Aboard @silverseacruises you get to choose which #toiletries you want. That’s Naru, my butler. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

I’d be happy with just this for dinner. But it’s only the first course. #antipasto #SilverMuse

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It’s 64 degrees here in the Ligurian Sea. The pool deck is hopping. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

It’s nice to think some people still use #stationery rather than smartphones. #SilverMuse

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Meet Gennaro, the cobbler from Preludio in Capri, who custom-makes shoes on the pool deck. #SilverMuse

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Ta-da! Thank you, Gennaro, for my new custom-made leather sandals. Time it took:45 minutes. Cost: $200. #SilverMuse

 

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Nice spot to dig into a book. But I’m headed over to that ferris wheel. #Marseille #SilverMuse

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Le Vieux Port of #Marseille, as seen from atop La Grande Roue (the ferris wheel). #SilverMuse

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Looking up the Rue de la Republique from the ferris wheel, Le Vieux Port, #Marseille. #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Specialty of #Marseille: orange blossom navette (navette fleur d’oranger) #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

 

Chocolate olives. #Marseille #SilverMuse

 

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Coconut rice pudding. #yum #SilverMuse A post shared by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

 

Follow more of Wendy’s travels on Instagram @wendyperrin!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List 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 Red Cross offers aid to victims of the Central Italy Earthquake of August 24, 2016. Photo: Croce Rossa Italiana

The Italy Earthquake and What You Can Do to Help

Update 10/30/16: Yet another earthquake has hit Italy today—the strongest in 36 years. The epicenter is near the town of Norcia, where the medieval basilica of St Benedict is among the historic buildings demolished by the disaster. Norcia is close the epicenter of the August 24 quake near Amatrice, which killed nearly 300 people. Thankfully, this one has only caused injuries, about 20, and no deaths.

Updated 10/27/16: A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy on August 24, centered about 65 miles northeast of Rome, in the town of Amatrice. Sadly, nearly 300 people were killed, according to officials, and the mayor of Amatrice told CNN,“The town is no more.”

The Italian Red Cross has set up an information page for those who want to donate funds to the rescue effort. The organization is also asking those who are in the area to donate blood (if they’re eligible) and to unlock their personal Wi-Fi systems (ie., make it so that passwords are not required to log on) so that rescue workers and victims can freely use their Internet access to stay connected to each other and other emergency service workers.

For the longer relief effort, one of our own Trusted Travel Experts, Andrea Grisdale, has a few plans in action. In addition to promoting a donation appeal on her IC Bellagio website and raising funds through her nonprofit association Prolezzeno, she says: “We are working with the Lake Como town of Menaggio to organize fund-raising event on September 9.  We are also working with towns in central lake area of lake Como to get all our restaurants and trattorias to put Spaghetti Alla Amatriciana on their menus and for every plate sold they donate two euro to earthquake appeal.” She adds that all funds collected will be managed by Associazione Italiano Alpini (Gruppo Di Menaggio), “as they have earthquake support experience and they are local and this gives folks confidence that monies will reach the right destination.”

During the immediate aftermath of the quake, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature so that those in the area could alert friends and family that they were okay, and so that those at home could search for travelers and confirm their status. Google also has a Public Alerts page, where you can see a map of affected areas and track information on earthquakes, floods, and other emergency situations, sometimes with forecasts before they happen.

Sadly, the disaster in Italy was not the only one that day: Myanmar also suffered a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, which damaged at least 66 stupas in the ancient city of Bagan. The shake was felt as far away as Bangkok, Thailand; Calcutta, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Only three people have been reported killed so far, including two children.

A smaller quake hit Indonesia on August 24 too, off the coast in the Flores sea. Luckily no one has been injured and a tsunami warning was not issued. That’s a relief for the country, which sustained a 6.5 magnitude quake in June that damaged buildings in western Sumatra.

Japan suffered a double quake this past spring: a 6.2 on April 14, followed by a 7.0 two days later. And in the western hemisphere that same week, Ecuador was rocked by a huge 7.8 earthquake on April 16 and then hit again in May; more than 1,300 people were killed in both, and tens of thousands were injured.

We’re not ticking off all these tragedies to scare anyone, nor are we suggesting that you stop traveling, or attempting to capitalize on such devastation. Rather, our goal (as always at WendyPerrin.com) is to keep you informed and to help you be as prepared for your travels as possible—and that includes being prepared for the unlikely event that you’ll be caught in an earthquake. To that end, we’re putting together a guide on how to be prepared for an emergency when you’re traveling overseas. Stay tuned.

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