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boat in Halong Bay Vietnam

WOW Asia: Reviews from our Travelers

This is Asia’s moment. As one of the last regions to open after Covid, Asia hasn’t yet seen the tourist crowds that you’ll find once again in Europe. Our travelers were among the vanguard to return to Asia, aided by the local intel of our Trusted Travel Experts. Read on to learn what it’s like to be there now. And here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

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China: “We had an amazing dinner prepared and cooked in a private space by a chef and his team…”

Travelers Emma Jacobs and her husband dining on the Great Wall of China during their WOW Moment.

Emma Jacobs and her husband dining on the Great Wall of China.

“Our trip to China was excellent. We had an amazing dinner prepared and cooked in a private space by a chef and his team, curated by Mei’s office, as our WOW Moment in Beijing. Having a gourmet lunch prepared on the Great Wall was a very special moment. One of a kind!! Shanghai took us by surprise, what a great city with exceptional food. We had a wonderful foodie tour there too.” —Emma Jacobs

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

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Japan: “A tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training)…”

A traditional tea ceremony performance in Japan.

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we discovered that neither of our husbands was interested in traveling to Japan, my girlfriend and I decided to go for it. Our travel window was limited to the last two weeks of March, high season for Japan travel, and this was only a month away. The first three travel agents that I spoke to turned me down outright; small group trips were also fully booked. When we were about to give up, Wendy Perrin introduced us to Andrea. Andrea added value to our trip even before we left home, sharing lists of books to read, movies to watch, and insight into the culture. He took the time to get to know our interests, and his enthusiasm for all things Japanese was contagious.

Andrea managed to pull off the impossible — a rich and varied itinerary customized to our taste, drivers and guides (all excellent) when desired, free time when requested, train tickets reserved, even some unusual experiences along the way. He and his team were in constant contact with us via a dedicated WhatsApp group (appropriately called “Guardian Angels in Japan” to check in and keep us updated on the itinerary. We enjoyed sharing pictures and summaries of each day’s adventures with our angels.

There were several moments that Andrea planned — a tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, crafting in Kanazawa and Takayama, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training) — that were unexpected highlights. I have traveled with other experts before, but Andrea’s attention to detail was extraordinary.” —Janet Fattal

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

START A TRIP TO THE JAPAN

Vietnam & Cambodia: “The lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious…”

Traveler Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family in the floating village of Prek Toal near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family near Siem Reap.

“My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Southeast Asia, both of them through Sandy and Ethan’s office. Someone once said, ‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.’ That couldn’t be more true about our experience. This year, we spent one week in Saigon, followed by one week in Siem Reap.

In Saigon, we stayed at the Majestic Hotel, which was a perfect location on the Saigon river and at the heart of the city. Sandy and Ethan were able to get us the same room on the same floor we had last year, #317, which had an outdoor garden where we had coffee in the morning. So beautiful. The ride up the Saigon river to Can Gio nature reserve provided a well-needed ‘Nature Bath’ while boating through mangroves, hiking through jungles, and feeding crocodiles and monkeys. What a major de-stressor and complete departure from our day-to-day life back home!

Our next leg of the trip was the Jaya House at Siem Reap, which is where we stayed last year. The Jaya House is one of my favorite places on earth. Upon arrival, we met with Christian, the property manager, who made sure we were scheduled for our daily massage. After recently experiencing a running injury, I was very happy to take him up on that offer! Those daily massages really helped me to heal from injury, as well as reduce a year full of stressors from back home.

We took an excursion to the margins of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. On this boat tour, we traveled back in time to see a floating fishing village, where people survive with very little, some without electricity. And yet, the people there smiled and waved at us as they went about their life, and we saw the children happily playing with each other and swimming in the water. I learned that if they could be happy with so little, I don’t need to sweat the small stuff at home. And the lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious, with a charcuterie that rivaled that from NYC! I would highly recommend traveling to Southeast Asia in general, and with Sandy and Ethan more specifically, if you are looking for a truly authentic, immersive, and life-enhancing experience.” —Sharon Theroux

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

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The Philippines: “Andrea surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive…”

Traveler Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel underwater, diving off Balicasag Island, Bohol, Philippines.

Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel diving off Balicasag Island. Photo: Sander

“Taking advantage of the time left before my 18-year-old daughter leaves to start college, the two of us jetted off on a 10-day scuba diving trip to the Philippines from late March to April. After in-depth planning with Andrea, an expert on unique travel in Asia, we chose the Dauin coast and Panglao Island, off Bohol, for our trip, as this was an excellent time to visit for great weather and diving conditions. Our goals were simple: level up our scuba certifications, immerse ourselves in welcoming cultures, and, finally, cross off swimming with whale sharks from our bucket list! Andrea and his team planned it perfectly, starting with a special airport welcome that whisked us from the arrival gate and quickly through a chaotic Manila airport.

Our first stop was Atmosphere Resort, where my daughter earned her Advanced Open Water Diver certification under the guidance of their skilled dive masters. We explored local dive spots and Apo Island, a beautiful marine reserve. The relaxing resort was wonderful after diving, with its refreshing pools, delicious food, a sanctuary spa, all while being cared for as Andrea’s VIP guest by the warm and friendly Filipino staff. It all brought back memories of doing my own AOW certification in Asia 25 years ago.

Moving on to Amorita Resort, we spent our days diving at Balicasag & Pamilacan Islands with another great dive team recommended by Andrea and earned our Enriched Air Diver certifications. Andrea also surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive to capture a forever moment on our mother-daughter adventure under the sea. Saving one of the best days for last, our Bohol countryside tour was incredible, from swimming with a group of large whale sharks to cruising on a private Lomboc River boat with live music, hanging out with Tarsier and macaque monkeys, admiring the famous Chocolate Hills of Bohol and even enjoying coconut wine at a local’s home. It was a perfect conclusion to our unforgettable journey in the Philippines.

One of the best aspects of traveling with Andrea was his responsive support team, always just a WhatsApp message away. They swiftly resolved any questions or issues we encountered, such as when there was a mix-up with our room at Amorita, and they went the extra mile to secure a complimentary upgrade for us. Their extensive network within the local communities demonstrated their dedication to ensuring a memorable experience for us.

This trip was tailored-made for our needs, combining the best dive resort locations for our goals, avoiding crowded tourist spots for the whale shark encounter, and adding in authentic cultural stops and touches to make each day unforgettable, including celebrating my birthday. Even though initially I had some reservations about taking this trip, as sometimes it’s difficult to find the right time to travel, it ended up being a wonderful experience and one that will hold memories for us that we will always treasure. Pushing ourselves to try somewhere new and doing it together, made it even more thrilling and well worth the efforts, especially with Andrea, Pablo, Lauren, Michael and the rest of the team to support us along the way.” —Andrea Phillips

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

START A TRIP TO THE PHILIPPINES

India: “One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues…”

Travelers and the elephant at the Dera Amer sanctuary in India.

Michael and Lisa Riggs with new friend Rangmala at the Dera Amer sanctuary.

“As with every WOW List specialist we have worked with over the past five years, we found that Victoria had everything planned and arranged to perfection. Any glitches were handled and fixed immediately. Most notable, after I left a packing cube with my husband’s polo shirts in the Delhi hotel, Victoria’s team managed to retrieve them and get them to us, via a variety of drivers and tour guides, at a later destination. Meanwhile, our guide Vanch suggested we get some shirts made, which was fun, inexpensive, and quick. A great souvenir from India, whether or not you lose yours.

The hotels were 5-star, gorgeous, and even historic. At The Imperial in New Delhi, the site of many historic meetings, we enjoyed sitting at the same table Gandhi did!

In Agra, we were surprised by our WOW Moment: an authentic Hindu marriage ceremony for us! We participated in the rituals, learned a lot, and enjoyed the experience of ‘renewing our vows’ in a different culture. Now we will be together for 7 lifetimes, the priest told us. Luckily, we’re good with that.

Our WOW celebration continued with an excellent dinner of Mughal tandoor cuisine, with a traditional Santoor musician, at the highly rated Esphahan restaurant in our hotel, the Oberoi.

It was wedding season in Rajasthan, and it was fun to see things even more ornately decorated than usual, including horses, elephants, vehicles in the streets and our hotel, The Taj Rambagh Palace (a former Jaipur Maharaja’s palace). The elaborate Mughal gardens were the site of a large and lavish wedding reception, all day and into the night. It was fun and interesting to witness. Even the staff was impressed.

One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues. We fed and took a walk with Rangmala and her mahout, and she allowed us to pet her and pose for photos.

We saw sunset and sunrise at the Taj Mahal and were thrilled to tour the inside of this monument and many other historic forts, temples, mosques and palaces. It was a beautiful trip to a most interesting country.” —Lisa Riggs

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

START A TRIP TO INDIA

Southeast Asia: “We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful.”

Panorama of ancient stone door and tree roots.

Ta Prohm temple ruins in Angkor, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife, 22 year-old daughter, and I visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The local guides arranged by Sandy and Ethan were knowledgeable, eager to take family pictures for us, and easy to work with as we tweaked some of the details of our itinerary as our trip progressed.

In Chiang Mai we went on a beautiful two-hour hike on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail in the Doi Inthanon National Park. There was a river with multiple waterfalls along the way. The hike ended at a pretty farm in the hills with water buffalo roaming around, where we had a cup of locally grown coffee and a nice lunch at a small restaurant. Speaking of food, the Khao Soi curry in Chiang Mai was one of our food highlights.

In Laos, our guide had excellent knowledge of Buddhism and relationships with local Buddhist monks, so we spent time with the monks learning about their religion, sitting with the monks as they chanted, and participated in the custom of giving alms (making merit) where we provided the monks with their morning breakfast before sunrise. It was unique and educational. Our guide also hosted us at his family house for a wonderful dinner and Buddhist ceremony attended by numerous members of our guide’s extended family. We visited some villages to see how local farmers and craftspeople live, including talking with women making papadam and men distilling local moonshine, both of which we tasted. We also had a lovely and relaxing and scenic private boat ride down the Mekong river, returning to Luang Prabang from the Pak Ou caves as the sun gradually set.

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we attended the roughly hour-long Phare ‘circus,’ a high-energy, very entertaining, and unique experience, and it’s for a good cause. Of course, we visited the massive ancient Angkor temples, which are incredibly impressive, and each one was different. The Ta Prohm temple with the massive trees growing on it is a must-see. One of our more special moments in Cambodia was when our excellent guide arranged to take us out on two small boats (just a bit bigger than large canoes) on one of the ‘moats’ (really a manmade lake) just before sunset. A local paddler gently moved the boats across the calm waters as our guide mixed gin and tonics for us and provided snacks. We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful.” —Joe Coco

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Bhutan: “Peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth…”

Herbal bath with a view at Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan.

An herbal bath with a view at Bhutan’s Gangtey Lodge. Photo: Traveler Wendy Tucker

“My husband and I just returned from a fantastic two-week-plus trip to India and Bhutan. We have been lucky enough to travel to many places, but we both declared at our return that this was our favorite destination. Sanjay planned a perfect trip and we are so grateful to him and his local agencies for their knowledge, punctuality, kindness and seamless handling of everything. When I initially contacted Sanjay, our plan only included Bhutan. There are no flights to Bhutan from the US or Europe—you need to go through India or Thailand. We had never been to India, so Sanjay suggested that we fly into Delhi (one of the cities you can access Bhutan from) and spend a few days to see the Taj Mahal. We were so glad we took his advice.

Overall, we found Bhutan to be peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth, interest and kindness. We stayed at four incredible properties, each with their own flavor, beauty and charm. My favorite was Gangtey Lodge. Gangtey Lodge was the furthest east we traveled and is high above a beautiful valley. It snowed when we were there, so we enjoyed herbal baths gazing from the tub out over the valley.

We filled our days with visits to fortresses, nunneries, temples and monasteries—we loved them all, although our favorite was Gangtey Goenpa Monastery. We spent almost three hours there participating in a tea ceremony with the monks and discussing Buddhism and life in a monastery with a senior monk.” —Wendy Tucker

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

START A TRIP TO BHUTAN

Japan: “A tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training)…”

Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii in kyoto Japan

Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we discovered that neither of our husbands was interested in traveling to Japan, my girlfriend and I decided to go for it. Our travel window was limited to the last two weeks of March, high season for Japan travel, and this was only a month away. The first three travel agents that I spoke to turned me down outright; small group trips were also fully booked. When we were about to give up, Wendy Perrin introduced us to Andrea. Andrea added value to our trip even before we left home, sharing lists of books to read, movies to watch, and insight into the culture. He took the time to get to know our interests, and his enthusiasm for all things Japanese was contagious.

Andrea managed to pull off the impossible — a rich and varied itinerary customized to our taste, drivers and guides (all excellent) when desired, free time when requested, train tickets reserved, even some unusual experiences along the way. He and his team were in constant contact with us via a dedicated WhatsApp group (appropriately called “Guardian Angels in Japan” to check in and keep us updated on the itinerary. We enjoyed sharing pictures and summaries of each day’s adventures with our angels.

There were several moments that Andrea planned — a tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, crafting in Kanazawa and Takayama, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training) — that were unexpected highlights. I have traveled with other experts before, but Andrea’s attention to detail was extraordinary.” —Janet Fattal

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

START A TRIP TO JAPAN

India: “The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place.”

Girls tasting jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet.

Tasting jalebi, an Indian sweet, during a tuk tuk tour. Photo: Traveler Mary Ko

“Our family has been on many trips. We usually use Wendy Perrin’s List because all the companies offer flexibility and we travel with young kids (ages 11, 9, and 5). We went to India February 28th- March 9th, and it was our best family trip to date. I know part of this was because we finally don’t have a kid under 4 with us, but the other part was Victoria—and Narji, our guide. We went to Agra, Jaipur, and Udaipur. There was so much to offer for everyone.

The kids’ favorite parts of the trip were the shopping, the block printing, feeding peacocks at Taj Rambagh, and seeing elephants at the Sanctuary. My husband and I loved the Oberoi hotels, the gems, the Taj Mahal, the love of Western travelers we felt, the tuk tuk ride, the historic sites, and so much more. The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place. We have already purchased the things needed to try to make our own jalebi, and we loved the tea!!!

We hopped airports a bit to quickly jump cities, and our driver would drive our luggage so we only had a backpack and snacks, making flying headache-free. What I love about Victoria is that we had flexibility with kids—meaning, if we cancelled something because they needed downtime, it was fine, or if we had to change things quickly, it was no big deal. An amazing adventure!!” —Mary Ko

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

START A TRIP TO INDIA

Sri Lanka: “Wonderful experiences including a cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop, and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory…”

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

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

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

Miguel’s skill in putting our trip together started when he built in an extra day of rest after our arrival. I agreed to add in the day, in spite of not thinking it necessary—until it was. A snowstorm delayed our departure from DC, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Doha. We ended up with a 9-hour airport layover and didn’t get to our hotel until 4 am. We were very grateful to sleep late the next morning and snooze by the pool that afternoon.

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

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

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

What makes Wendy’s trip specialists stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill travel agents is that they—and Miguel—listen carefully to what you’re looking for in a trip. They have access to experiences you could never find on your own and include things you had no idea you wanted and end up delighted you experienced them. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

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

START A TRIP TO SRI LANKA

Southeast Asia: “The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok…”

Ingredients in bowl for preparing Vietnamese rice noodles.

A bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles with beef and other ingredients. Photo: Shutterstock

“Just back from our third trip booked through one of Wendy’s fabulous travel arrangers. In this case we worked with Dan for a 3 ½ week itinerary that started and ended in Singapore, with Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi in between.

Dan and his team did a great job attending to all of the details, especially the VIP arrival treatment in the many airports we traversed. The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok for Muay Thai boxing, a cruise on the Mekong river from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou caves (with a stop at a whisky distillery whose bottles contained snakes and scorpions—a bit too much for my taste), sunrise at Angkor Wat, incredible acrobats at the Phare circus, thrilling rides in several cities on cyclos, tuk-tuks, and scooters, and various museums and places that are etched in memories of those of us that grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Lots of lessons to be learned from that time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of our visit involved a dinner and musical performance at the Ben Xuan Garden House. When we saw this on the agenda, we thought ok, that could be a nice evening. Well, the host, Camille Huyen, is six generations removed from the emperor and is an incredible artist. She designed the home using bricks from the rubble of the destroyed Imperial Palace area, has her paintings on display throughout the home, and provided vocals alongside some fabulously talented musicians whom she personally selected and developed from the local university. After the performance we were treated to an amazing dinner and wonderful conversation with Camille and Ngo Truong Dinh, her husband and a former banker during their time in Switzerland. This evening was one of the more remarkable events of many years of travel around the world.” —Mike and Marilyn Modak

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Sri Lanka: “We saw beautiful Buddha temples…hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari…”

Travelers on Peradeniya Botanical Garden's Avenue of Royal Palms, Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family on Peradeniya Botanical Garden’s Avenue of Royal Palms.

“We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food.

We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job planning every detail.” —Pam Greenstein

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

START A TRIP TO SRI LANKA

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand: “Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians…”

Busy daily traffic with stream of motorbikes and cars.

Motion view of a busy street with scooters and cars in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I traveled to Southeast Asia for 25 days in December 2023 on a trip designed by Sandy and Ethan. While Vietnam was the centerpiece, given the journey required to get there, we included three other countries as well—Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians. You just walk slowly and steadily across the lanes of traffic, and the vehicles go around you—not for the faint of heart. And walking on sidewalks is often not possible, as vehicles park on them and vendors set up shop.

Our favorite experience of the trip was the visit to the elephant sanctuary in Laos, where we got to feed the elephants and spend an hour walking with them in the woods. Such beautiful creatures. In Laos, our lovely local host Paan educated us about Buddhism, a religion we were quite unfamiliar with. We enjoyed a delightful evening at her home with her family and neighbors where we participated in a blessing ceremony.

Another highlight was arranged by our wonderful local Hanoi host: We got to meet a former North Vietnam fighter pilot trained to fly in Russia. He shot down the first American fighter in the War and was later shot down by an American pilot. The 3 met in the 1990s and still remain in contact. We met in his home, where he showed us pictures and we learned not only about his war experience but about his family and his life post-war.

In Cambodia our passionate and delightful local host Sokros delved into the Cambodia genocide with us, as we had requested. We visited the “prison” Pol Pot established in a high school in Phnom Penh and the associated “killing field” a few kilometers from the city. We discussed the recently concluded judicial inquiry into the genocide crimes and met one of the 7 (out of 20,000) survivors of those imprisoned in the prison.

We finished the trip in Bangkok, where local host Kat was a treasure. She guided us on an enjoyable walk from the grounds of the royal palace to the Chinese market. We enjoyed two wonderful lunches with her where she chose a variety of delicious Thai dishes for us to sample and shared stories about life in Thailand.” —Linda Shorey

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Thailand: “The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of.”

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Traveler Bruce Tylock

“With a short lead time of about two weeks due to my last-minute China business travel, we decided to use Wendy Perrin’s travel service. We were matched up with Dan and Obb. We wanted to focus on food, culture and markets. We had a great time experiencing the street food of Bangkok. Thailand street food is amazing. We also loved our longboat tour to see the sights in Bangkok from the river. From the water, we saw the Wat Paknam giant buddha that was incredible.

From there, we were off to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We loved our guide, Yawan, for this portion of the trip. We loved our hike through the tea and coffee fields in Chiang Rai. Yawan knew all the different types of plants along the way, and it was very interesting to see all the different herbs, fruits, and vegetables growing along the roads. We had a great stop at the Elephant Nature Conservation Sanctuary Park outside of Chiang Mai. The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of by the staff at the camp.

We were then on to the final leg of our trip in Phuket—and Dan and Obb saved the best activities for last! Our guide, Pong, gave us a great overview of Old Town Phuket and took us out for some delicious food at some local favorite restaurants. The next day was our favorite excursion of the whole trip: The John Gray sea kayak tour. Everywhere we looked was incredibly beautiful, and we will forever remember the night kayaking where we made an offering to the water goddess and got to see the luminescent phytoplankton, which was an amazing sight!

It was tough to follow up the sea kayaking, but we also had a great time at our cooking class the next day. Chef Pui at the Brass Wok was so much fun to talk with about food and restaurants, and she showed us how to make several delicious Thai dishes. I’d always been intimidated by Thai cooking. However, when I arrived back home the following week, I headed to the Asian grocery store for supplies and was able to reproduce the same delicious dishes that Chef Pui taught us to make.

It was very thoughtful that our guides in the different areas communicated with each other so that it felt like the guides already knew us when we arrived. When we told Dao in Bangkok that we were interested in getting some makrut lime leaves to take home with us, she contacted Yawan in Chiang Mai, who gave us a bag of dried lime leaves from the tree at his home.” —Amy and Bruce Tylock

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

START A TRIP TO THAILAND

Oman and Jordan: “All was well and safe…”

Our travelers, Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

“Our trip to Oman and Jordan October 14th- Nov. 1st, 2023, was extraordinary! Even with the slight unease regarding the war, while in Oman and Jordan, all was well and safe. There did seem to be some extra military presence in Amman but that didn’t interfere with our trip. We are very happy we did not cancel!

Out trip planner, Daniel, did a wonderful job talking through everything with us ahead of time. He was honest about his thoughts about things that are worth it and that aren’t. Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Oman: Eating and drinking dates and Omani coffee with locals, dinner with a local family in Muscat, learning about the culture, talking with a local at the Grand Mosque to learn more about Islam, swimming and exploring Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, dune bashing in Wahiba Sands, the via ferrata course in Jebel Akhdar, biking down the mountains in Jabel Shams, the random barber shop experience for my husband to get his beard trimmed (hilarious and wonderful cultural experience), and the balcony hike in Jebel Shams.

Jordan: Petra during the day/night and the back door hike in, SCUBA diving the wreck in the Red Sea (not organized by Dan), ‘soft’ canyoning in Wadi Al Mujib, floating in the Dead Sea (so unique and funny!), and discussions about current issues with our guide.

I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip, especially in today’s political climate. It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens. Thank you!” —Amy Evers

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

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Indonesia: “An exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food….”

Chris Kloes

Chris Kloes and her family in East Java, Indonesia, viewing Mount Bromo and its caldera at sunset.

“Our trip to Indonesia vastly exceeded our high expectations! We thought Indonesia was an exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food. And the people were unfailingly kind everywhere we went. We are grateful for Diane’s help. She helped shape this trip from the initial concept to the finished itinerary and also deftly managed a curveball along the way. She’s deeply knowledgeable and unflappable, exactly what you want from a travel planner. Highly, highly recommend her!

Our family trip (me, my husband, and my 12-year-old son) was 3 weeks long and had 4 distinct chapters, which flowed very well.

Mt. Bromo
Diane helped us navigate a curveball at a destination we had initially planned to visit after the hotel was hit by lightning and had limited electricity as a result. Diane suggested a couple of alternatives and we decided to change that leg of the trip entirely. We are so glad we did and are so happy we went to Mt. Bromo! The Plataran Bromo was one of the best hotels we’ve stayed at in the world (and we’ve been to fabulous hotels in over 50 countries), both the facility, but especially the exceptional level of service. We met so many kind people there and ate truly delicious food. The staff went over-the-top to help our son, even going as far as to take him horseback riding while we enjoyed a massage. This was definitely our favorite of all of the lovely hotels and places we stayed. Our excursions were also very memorable. I mean, we rode horses across a sea of sand and climbed an active volcano! We especially appreciated the sunset tour of Mt. Bromo and the caldera. We were virtually alone to watch the sunset and had some unparalleled views.

Yogyakarta
Diane connected us to a local guide, Emmanuel, who was amazing. His English was excellent and he had a wealth of interesting info to share with us. We loved the sunrise breakfast at the hotel overlooking Borobudur, and especially appreciated the talk by the local guide who ran the breakfast. That guide had a deep knowledge of Borobudur and shared details about the history and importance of the temple. We also loved visiting the temple — it is truly amazing and so beautiful. We had an excursion and our son really enjoyed learning how to make batik. The people who worked at the batik shop were all very patient and sweet to him as they showed him the multi-step process. Plataran Bromo was again an exceptional property. We lucked into an incredible room, with a private pool overlooking Borobudur. It was incredible to look out as the sun set, the bats dipped in and out of our pool, and the numerous calls to prayer competed in a hypnotic melody. The villa was excellent, with our master bedroom and a comfy large cot in the adjoining room for our son. We enjoyed seeing Yogyakarta, touring the Water Castle and Sultan’s Palace — we took local rickshaws, which was a ton of fun and a great way to see the area.

Gilli Trawangan
Diane helped us with the overview of this island, but we managed most of the details here ourselves, as we had a rental home. We are glad that we stayed at the north end of the island, close to Turtle Beach. It was stunningly beautiful and much quieter than the east side, which is more of a party area. Being able to snorkel at the beach right across from our villa was amazing, and we saw many sea turtles, which was a magical experience.

Lombok
This felt like the most authentic leg of our stay. Diane recommended the gorgeous Hotel Tugu Lombok, which is rich with antiques and local art. We had a magical room, with the private pool overlooking the beach. The location is fairly remote, but we took advantage of the hotel’s bikes to explore the local area. Everyone was so welcoming!! My husband and son took a walk down the beach by the local public beach area, which was cute as they met some local girls who were especially interested in talking with our son. Our local guide was able to help us pivot after we decided we wanted some changes to the planned activities, and we visited a fantastic local market that was only about 1 hour from the Tugu. We also took a cooking class arranged by the hotel, which we all really enjoyed. We cooked local specialties and then ate our creations at a feast of a lunch.

Overall, this was an incredible trip and we highly recommend going to Indonesia and using Diane to help plan your trip!” —Chris Cloes

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Japan: “A cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class…”

A traditional onsen ryokan hot spring inn Japanese hotel in the middle of nature.

A traditional onsen ryokan Japanese hotel. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of 6 (mom, dad, and four 20-something kids) recently got home from a 16-day trip in Japan created by Scott’s colleague Jason. Jason helped us shape a trip that worked well for our family and really took into account our interests and preferences. We started in Tokyo with our guide Narumi, who stayed with us for the whole trip. Our guide met us the first day and suggested we go ‘off itinerary’ for a special local event, the Kanda Myojin Shrine Parade, and we watched hundreds of people from many neighborhoods celebrate and dance with their shrines. We also saw all the major sites and had a few special and memorable experiences: our favorites in and near Tokyo were a cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class. For the rest of our trip we had fun finding and ordering sakes of different types.

We next visited Kanazawa to see several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that were beautiful and interesting and stayed in a fantastic onsen ryokan that gave us a taste of hot-spring bathing and provided more of a Japanese feeling than traditional western hotels. In Kyoto, we visited temples—some with amazing views—a bamboo forest, a building housing 1,000 Buddha statues from the 1200s, and some terrific shrines. We had a Taiko drum class—a real hoot for the whole family—and had a moving and relaxing Zen Buddhism experience. We saw many gorgeous meditative gardens where we could have spent hours. Our daughter also found a ‘Pig Café’ (think ‘Cat Café’ but with little pigs) which was…different and fun.

En route to Kyoto, one of our kids left a phone on the train and our guide did a great job of working the (impressive) Japanese systems for finding and reclaiming lost items—far, far different than it would have been in the U.S. And yes, we got it back three days later before leaving the area.

We specifically requested a stop in Hiroshima, which we found particularly moving and profound and such a testament to the evil of nuclear weapons and resilience of the Japanese people. A local specialty, an Okonomiyaki dinner, was a real treat—never had anything like it. Another favorite location was Naoshima, which was completely Jason’s suggestion. We’d never heard of it. We’ve told several friends about ‘the art islands’ since we’ve been back. We could have easily spent an extra day or two, and the art and experience was truly memorable.” —Andy Kaplan

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Indonesia: “As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family.”

Komodo National Park is an island's paradise for diving and exploring. The most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, Nusa Tenggara.

Komodo National Park in Nusa Tenggara. Photo: Shutterstock

“Overall our trip to Bali and Komodo was absolutely amazing, and I can’t thank Diane enough for her guidance in planning. As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family. The experience of trekking around Rinca and Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons was incredible. And very little trekking needed to view them, really—there were several of the giant lizards cruising the pier and beaches when we arrived by speedboat at Komodo! Later on, snorkeling at a beautiful pink sand beach was literally like diving into the world of Finding Nemo, and we also marveled at the giant fruit bats, emerging from their roost in the mangroves at sunset.

Truly magical and I only wished we had allotted more time to explore this beautiful area, which is about to explode with tourism, given the Indonesian government’s plan to promote the region. Several new hotels are under construction—go now while it’s still somewhat quiet!” —Karen Dalton

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Japan: “Through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time…”

A small stream turns a motion blurred wooden water wheel next to beautifully restored stone steps on the historic Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley.

Japanese buildings and restored stone steps in Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted a mix of urban and rural life, so Scott made a number of recommendations that would fulfill my desires. Besides vibrant Tokyo and Kyoto, we included a trip through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time, to the charming towns of Takayama and Kanazawa.

The trip was topped off with a two-day stay in beautiful Hakone. And the WOW Moment! Made even more special by the happy coincidence of Scott being in Kyoto for business. So he was able to join us at the incredible multi-course dinner at the Michelin-star French/Japanese restaurant Motoï, a beautifully atmospheric restaurant with divine food, made extra special by the talented chef visiting us at our table.

This trip exceeded my wildest imagination due in great part to Scott’s magnificent knowledge and love of Japan and our incredible guide, Makiko. I feel so fortunate to have found Scott through Wendy. A truly priceless experience.” —Roseanne Horn

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

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Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: “I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar…”

Jeannie Mullen

Aerial view of temple ruins by helicopter. Photo: Jeannie Mullen

“On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a trip to Southeast Asia. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan and, just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime.

I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one single trip, ever. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention.

Siem Reap, Cambodia—the place around which the entire trip was planned—was phenomenal. Traipsing in and around the temple complexes and experiencing sunrise at Angkor Wat was a major bucket-list item. Major shout-out to Silen, my guide and Ethan’s friend, for her attention to every detail and working our way into and out of the temple complexes in such a way as to avoid other tourists. She was also a master at pacing the day so as to provide relief from the heat and humidity.

Surpassing those experiences was the day that I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar with Po-Thai Khan, a renowned Cambodian archaeologist. Walking these temple complexes with Thai was one of those pinch-me experiences … he was so interesting, engaging and affirming. And the temples were totally without tourists. Something I will never forget. On the way back to Siem Reap, as we skirted a massive thunderstorm, we flew through a full circle rainbow …how did Wendy manage THAT wow moment?

Thank you so much to Sandy and Ethan, and all of their family and friends in Southeast Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.” —Jeannie Mullen

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: “What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite, a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard’s grandsons enjoy their private pool at the Al Maha desert resort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thailand and Cambodia: “A way of life that we couldn’t have imagined…”

Jeff Lonsinger

Floating Market near Bangkok. Photo: Traveler Jeff Lonsinger

“Several friends and I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After our week there, we wanted to spend more time traveling on our own, so we called Dan. Our instructions were minimal: A leisurely pace with some hiking and biking, and small, beautifully designed hotels.

Taking it from there, Dan and his experience planner, Bank, put together a perfect itinerary with just the right amount of activity. They suggested three nights in Chiang Rai, three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the last three nights in Bangkok. In northern Thailand, we hiked through coffee and tea plantations, through rice paddies, and cherry orchards. A highlight was a visit to the Royal Villa and Gardens in Doi Tung. Learning about Mae Fah Luang, the princess mother who developed this area, was fascinating as well.

Next it was on to Siem Reap, where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, along with several other temples. The town itself was a surprise, with upscale hotels and sophisticated restaurants. We really enjoyed our visit to Theam’s Gallery, where Cambodian artist Lim Muy Theam and apprentices are reestablishing Khmer art and culture.

In Bangkok we stayed at a lovely small hotel right on the Chao Phraya River and within walking distance of the royal palace. We loved our morning bike ride through neighborhoods and temples in an area of the city not often frequented by tourists. In the evening we enjoyed a tour of the local food scene, with many opportunities to try unusual fare! Fermented fish, water beetles, and live shrimp, if you are brave enough! Our last morning was spent at a floating market about an hour outside of Bangkok. This was very touristy, but a lot of fun… a way of life that we couldn’t have imagined! That evening we celebrated our wonderful adventure with drinks and dinner on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Dan and Bank created the perfect trip.” —Jeff Lonsinger

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Cambodia & Vietnam: Angkor Wat at sunrise, street food tours, even sand worm pancakes…

Angkor Wat

David Wertheimer and friends at Angkor Wat in Cambodia during their WOW trip

“Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th, was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  Andy‘s team prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations.

Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!)  We had postponed our trip for three years because of COVID, and felt safe and comfortable traveling, especially because the tourist crowds are still minimal. There were multiple “wow,” bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.” —David Wertheimer

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

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Mongolia: photo ops of deserts and steppes, adventures in wildlife spotting…

Ger yurt tents at Three Camel Lodge in Gobi Desert of Mongolia at sunrise

Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

“What a fantastic trip to Mongolia! As so many other people I knew were fighting the crowds in Europe, Mongolia’s beautiful deserts and steppes were wide open for exploration without the jockeying for position. With my wonderful guide and driver, I spent eight days looping through multiple stunning landscapes on the hunt for photos of wild horse (takhi), Argali sheep, and magnificent birds. Between the nights in the ger by Khustain National Park, the relaxed pace of camping near Ikh Nart, and the wonderful luxury of Three Camel Lodge, I had a fabulous trip and was so grateful to be out in nature after a long pandemic. Mongolia is not for the faint of heart! We did a fair amount of driving, since intra-country flights are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, but the landscapes were breathtaking and the wildlife spotting was an adventure.” —Katie Stiner

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underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Thanksgiving Trip Reviews: Inspiration for a Holiday Abroad

Thanksgiving may be a trying time to travel within the U.S., but it’s a great hack for an exotic family trip: Since it’s not an international holiday, you won’t find the same crowds or high prices you have to grapple with over Christmas and New Year’s. Wendy has spent many a Thanksgiving in Europe; Brook recently took her family to Egypt over her son’s week-long school break. Read on for more ideas of where you can make the most of your time off in late November—with the help of the right Trusted Travel Expert, of course.  Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

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Oman: forts and castles, white-sand beaches, luxurious hotels…

Daytime view of the Omani Coast on a sunny day.

Omani Coast Landscape at Barr Al Jissah in east of Muscat, Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

“Oman is a fascinating country. Huge variety of scenery, from lush date and coconut plantations on the coast to quite high mountains to deserts with lots of sand dunes. The history is interesting: The country has made huge strides in the past 60 years, from an underdeveloped country in 1970 to a modern, prosperous environment. Travelling is easy: Roads are great, there are lots of hiking trails and camping facilities, Oman Air was on time, etc.

The government has spent a lot of effort preserving old forts and castles (there are many of both). Our touring included many of these historical structures, hikes through old towns, visits to several mosques, two stays in the desert, a visit to a Bedouin household, and stays in three of the most luxurious hotels we have ever seen (and some not so great but quite acceptable).

This is a beautiful country, with long white sand beaches, that is just being discovered, mostly by travelers from Europe. I highly recommend it for people who have an interest in the history and culture, or just want to enjoy the warm weather and beaches. Daniel did a great job of the arrangements—everything unfolded exactly as planned.” —Robin Louis

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Vietnam: top to bottom in one week

Islands and islets in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“WOW seems like too weak an accolade for Sandy and Ethan‘s magical trip suggestions and planning expertise in Vietnam. We have exquisite memories of a wonderful country and its people.

Starting in Hanoi and ending in Saigon worked perfectly and really felt like the right direction for us. Hanoi felt like what I was mostly expecting from Vietnam. It was charming and delightful. And then the following stops in Ha Long Bay and Hoi An were totally different and unique, upending any expectations. And then ending in Saigon felt like re-entering the modern world. There is clearly so much to see and do. And all of it is interesting and important and beautiful. So even though we had an abbreviated time in each of the spots, all of the activities were perfect. And just made us excited for a return trip some day.

This was everything and more that we wanted out of a Thanksgiving break in Vietnam. We really appreciate the time and hard work it took to bring all of this together. These kinds of trips are the ones that stick with us the most…the ones where we have a chance to get a bit off the beaten track and have a chance to connect with local people (now friends).”—Anne and Alex Leary

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

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Portugal with adult kids: Lisbon by tuk-tuk, stargazing, e-biking, Jewish history…

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: cristinamacia/Pixabay

I can not say enough positives about our recent trip to Portugal over Thanksgiving 2023, planned by Goncalo and his team. We had originally planned to travel to Tel Aviv, and when the tragic war broke out, I emailed Wendy Perrin for suggestions. They responded immediately with a few ideas and travel consultants. After a call with Goncalo, we decided on Portugal. We were traveling with two of our kids, boys ages 26 and 28. At first, I was concerned that we were missing the summer beach vibes, but we had such an amazing trip we will need to return.

Goncalo’s office planned the perfect trip understanding that we wanted to experience the country without an overload of sightseeing, and we had the perfect amount of planned tours and free days. With busy work schedules, we wanted a balance and time to relax. We started in Porto, where we, of course, took a port-tasting tour. We also had a private tour of the city to learn its history, see some of the main sites, and try its famous dessert wine. St. Francis Church, the train station, the Stock Exchange Palace, Bolhao Market, Cristal Palace Gardens, and so much more to see in Porto. It is a beautiful town on the river, and we loved it.

From there, Goncalo recommended two nights at Sao Lourenco do Barrcal in the countryside, and on our way, we stopped at a charming town, Tomar. We went to see one of the oldest synagogues and the castle. In the countryside, we had a stargazing tour, a beautiful property and spa, and the restaurant and shop were both fantastic. We rode E-bikes to a small nearby town called Monsaraz to visit a castle, and we amazingly happened upon a small interactive Jewish History Center. The scenery on the bike ride was spectacular, and the castle was really cool to see, but we were shocked to find the Jewish history center in this tiny town. It depicted the story of the Jewish community from medieval times, and it was fascinating and incredibly meaningful.

From there we went to Lisbon, a fun and lively city. Our hotel had a fun rooftop bar with an amazing view. The boys loved it! We had a fun tuk-tuk half-day tour and a day trip to Cascais and Sintra. We also had a Fado concert in an underground reservoir, delicious meals, and some fun shopping.

You would never imagine this trip was planned so close to departure; it’s one of the good things about traveling off-peak. We had beautiful sunny days with temperatures in the mid 60s. Overall, I cannot say enough great things not only about Portugal but how Wendy Perrin and her recommended tour operator stepped in to make sure we were able to enjoy the time with two of our kids who had taken the time off of work to spend with us.”—Elizabeth Schwartz

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

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India with 3 generations: hands-on art lessons, street food, temples…

Amy Evers and her family at a produce market in Jaipur, India wearing marigold flowers.

Amy Evers and family at a produce market in Jaipur, India.

“Our trip was wonderful! I have now visited 52 countries and I don’t know why it’s taken this long to get to India. We loved it. This trip was with my husband, 2 kids (ages 12 & 13), my mother-in-law and I. We all loved it. Victoria and Diggi did a wonderful job planning a trip that would cater to all of our interests and abilities. I had a long call with Victoria in the beginning to get the process started and for her to get a better idea of what we wanted out of this trip. She took this to heart and knocked it out of the park. November was a perfect month to visit, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s in Rajasthan.

Harsh, our guide, was one of the best! He is knowledgable, flexible, agreeable, capable of dealing with the trials of siblings, liked by all, patient, etc, etc. I’ve had good guides and I’ve had bad guides. He’s a great guide!

Dinesh, our driver, was wonderful too. We always felt safe with him at the wheel. He always greeted us with a smile. The vehicle was clean and roomy and perfect for our group.

We loved the tuktuk rides. Yes, at times, they were chaotic, but that just added to the adventure. The rickshaw ride got a special mention from my daughter. Our modes of transportation were perfect.

All of our accommodations were beautiful and unique. I honestly don’t have any complaints about any of them. My mother-in-law was able to do yoga 2 mornings at one of them, which made her very happy.

I don’t think there were any activities that we didn’t like, but the things that received special mentions by the group are:

-Food tour in Delhi. Everyone pushed themselves out of their comfort zones just a bit.
-Jaipur by dawn tour, including a very authentic experience at an active Hindu temple.
-Impromptu walking tour in Udaipur, resulting in feeding a random elephant walking down the road.
-Block printing workshop, a fascinating village visit and a hands-on creative experience.
-Elephant experience. Who doesn’t love spending close time with elephants?
-Jain temple visit and lunch with the pilgrims.
-Astrologer reading. My kids thought this was spectacular.
-Street food Indian breakfast.

Ultimately this was just the cultural and fun trip I was hoping my kids would have. We learned so much about various religions, culture and history. My kids truly are catching the travel bug and this trip has definitely contributed! I have no doubt that my husband and I will be back to India, maybe several more times, and we will definitely be contacting Victoria’s office again!” —Amy Evers

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

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Costa Rica: hot springs, high adventure & a plethora of wildlife

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

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

“Just back from Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week and the trip planned by Priscilla was spot-on perfect. The locations we selected, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, gave us three different settings to enjoy and were all easy travel distances apart. We started in Arenal where Priscilla recommended Tabacon Resort — the room was spacious and had a direct view overlooking the volcano, the included breakfast was an incredible selection of continental and Costa Rican cuisine with the freshest, sweetest fruit, and the included hot springs were a wonderful way to relax at the end of the day. She arranged a private driver and guides and nearly all our activities were private too, and this really allowed us to learn more, see more and deeply experience each area. Across the entire trip, Priscilla expertly matched the activities with our desire for an active, high adventure vacation and we enjoyed canyoning (with waterfall rappelling), ziplining, white water rafting and lots of great hikes with hanging bridges.

She made the trip flow so smoothly that even the travel days were filled with fun activities. On the transfer between Arenal and Monteverde we had a private boat ride across a lake and our naturalist guide, Fico (who was with us for 5 days and became like family) pointed out all sorts of wildlife along the way and then we did the most wonderful night hike and climbed a towering tree in the jungle to enjoy the sunset view from the treetops while snacking on Costa Rican treats. Hiking with Fico continued in Monteverde with hanging bridges and lots of bird watching. We saw sloths, monkeys, coati, agouti, snakes and more at every location. I was hoping to see one sloth the entire trip and we must have seen over 20, including one that was right next to us on the ground.

Our driver, Mauricio was also phenomenal and helped my daughter practice her Spanish. On the transfer between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, we enjoyed a private crocodile boat tour where we saw many crocodiles, monkeys, birds and were slightly scared when a giant crocodile swam right up alongside the boat. Manuel Antonio National Park was the only really overcrowded spot of the trip, but the amount of wildlife we saw there with our wonderful guide Karla and taking a quick dip in the picture perfect, pristine beach were still highlights. Priscilla’s recommendations of Senda in Monteverde and Gaia in Quepos were also wonderful hotels with wildlife on both properties and amazing cuisine at the restaurants. Thanks for a perfect vacation, we can’t wait to see more of Costa Rica.” —Jill Teschmacher

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

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

Denmark: solo travel in Copenhagen & beyond

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen.

“When I was looking for a place to spend Thanksgiving this year, Jan listened and delivered exactly what I asked for. What I did not appreciate ahead of my arrival was just how much of a kick-start to the Christmas season this trip would be. Copenhagen was already decorated for the ‘Jul’ season, and a number of Christmas markets had already opened on November 16th, the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks, and great shopping in general.

Britt, the guide that Jan arranged in Copenhagen, did a great job of introducing me to the art and architecture, urban development and repurposing of buildings and land, food and spirits, culture and moods of Copenhagen’s various neighborhoods. When I inquired about more local, neighborhood markets, she took me to a ‘pop-up’ Christmas market, off the beaten path, that was there for only two days. As we made our way out of the city on other days to Frederiksborg, Charlottenlund, Elsinore and Kronborg, she introduced me to locally made products, local artisans, craftspeople and leaders in design.

Jan alerted me early on that Copenhagen is a city known for its food and, in particular, its Michelin-star restaurants. When I expressed my interest, he used his ‘fixer’ to secure a table at Geranium (ranked the best restaurant in the world in 2022), one of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen. It was an experience more than a meal, which included a private tour of the wine cellar and the kitchen. From beginning to end, a visual as well as gastronomic experience.

A word about the temperatures and the crowds: I’m always looking to get away from crowds, lines, and traffic, and I don’t mind traveling in the off-season to do so (as Wendy so often suggests). The weather in Copenhagen at this time of year alternates between cool and crisp with gorgeous, blue skies to heavy and overcast, with occasional rain. No worries if one packs with that in mind.

I cannot say enough about the lengths to which Jan went to make this trip seamless. Not one detail was missed. It was a terrific and different Thanksgiving getaway that has me prepped for Christmas earlier than usual.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO DENMARK

Spain with kids: family-friendly tapas, flamenco, dancing white horses…

Río Guadalquivir, Seville.

Gina Melton and her family enjoying a boat trip on Seville’s Río Guadalquivir.

Pablo and his team planned a wonderful 11-day itinerary for our family’s Thanksgiving trip to Southern Spain. We spent a significant amount of time in Madrid and then headed to Seville and Granada. Without a doubt, the success of this trip was largely attributable to the wonderful guides who showed us a little of their world. Not only were they incredibly flexible with our sons, aged 10 and 8, they found ways to bring the Spanish culture to life for them.

In Madrid, that meant trying the city’s best Tortilla in one of the city’s vibrant markets, stopping for churros, going to rooftops to teach the boys about the landmarks in a fun and interesting way and finding tapas restaurants that were authentic and family-friendly. Alfonso, our Madrid guide, was so kind and generous with his time, he really made us feel welcomed.

In Seville, I was pleasantly surprised to see the boys connecting with the Flamenco show Pablo arranged for us; it was an authentic experience that the adults enjoyed too! We loved our day trip to Jerez de la Frontera to see the dancing white horses at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.  And, our tour of Alhambra Palace and Generalife was perfectly timed for the family—we were able to see the entire complex without rushing, but also held the kids’ interest.

The details were seamless throughout the entire trip and I appreciated Pablo’s office working on a last-minute change to our itinerary when we decided to call an audible on the final days of our trip. Spain is a wonderful place for children and this was one of our very best family vacations to date.” —Gina Melton

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

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

Tulum, Mexico, with a blended family group: A private villa, exquisite beaches, snorkeling, biking…

underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Jessica Tolmach and her blended family snorkeling in Mexico.

“We just returned from an extraordinary WOW trip to Tulum, Mexico. Our trip planners Zach and Patricia were truly helpful and incredibly responsive throughout. We had a challenge: A blended family with 5 grown kids from all corners of the country and with different backgrounds, interests and styles. It was a 60th birthday celebration for Jessica and a pre-wedding, postponed 3x, gathering. We wanted exquisite beaches, Mayan history, a private villa with chef, and planned, safe activities as well as private beach. Zach found it! Casa Ixchel took our breath away and exceeded all our expectations. The accommodations were spectacular, everyone had a gorgeous, well appointed, beautiful designed room, the Casa had marvelous open common rooms with views of the gardens, pool and beach, the beach itself was beyond imagination, and our excursions were marvelous. We spent one half day biking at the Coba ruins and another day snorkeling off Cozumel island. The other two days we had free—to ride bikes, walk on the beach, lounge at the pool and just be together. The meals were beyond delicious—and accommodated a variety of dietary restrictions! The villa staff was professional, kind, helpful and responsive. Mostly we had a beautiful, breathtaking week. It was a trip we will cherish and remember always. Thank you, Wendy! Once again, we couldn’t have done it without you.” —Jessica Tolmach

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

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

London with teens: Christmas lights, food tour, nighttime photo shoot…

Christmas in London

London gets decked out for Christmas. Photo: visitlondon.com

“Our London trip over the Thanksgiving holiday was fantastic—fulfilling the wishes of a family of four, including two teens. We are very glad we went for five nights, any longer would have been too much, any shorter wouldn’t have included such a variety of experiences. We all needed a seamless getaway from work and school, with enough activity to engage without the worry of language translations. We had heard the Christmas lights could be grand (they were) and that the streets wouldn’t be crowded (not true). The trip was energetic and vibrant—a great refresh.

Jennifer and her righthand planner, Zara, were pleasant to deal with, efficient, and thorough. In five short weeks, they planned a packed itinerary meeting all our specs. They suggested 3 hotels and we selected the one (The Ampersand) with a charming private nook for the four of us, which had the added benefit of being near the Tube. The staff was very attentive and the food delicious. After a day, the breakfast staff knew us and had our food ready every morning when we arrived! Dinner was good too.

The trip planners added value in many ways: organizing a one-direction route for our activities, taking into consideration the timing of all activities and our walking stamina. There was no backtracking and all new material to see. They also provided guides that had extraordinarily deep knowledge of the subjects we wanted to tackle each day, from London history, architecture, Savile Row and Tower of London to the new demands on the city from an environmental perspective. We are foodies, and our food tour was over the top, even the vegan cheese! The planners also suggested our getting our own theatre tickets ahead of time online to save an agent fee, which we appreciated. While we were very fortunate with all our guides, one convinced a maître d’ (twice) into taking us for an early meal without a reservation, including a Friday night at a great Indian restaurant (Masala Zone).

In the end, the teens loved the London Eye (priority tickets cut so much time), Cabaret, Winter Wonderland, Tower of London, and the RIB ride. The historians in the family enjoyed St. Paul’s, changing of the guard, financial district, judicial buildings, and the many detailed stories from the guides. My husband enjoyed Savile Row, the changing architecture seen from rooftops, and the night lights. Me, I loved the personal photography shoot at night. We all loved the food tour. Other travelers can’t go wrong with any of these.

If you are booking with Jennifer, specify your interests in detail, where you want to spend your money (hotel, shows), and all the things you want to see. She listens, follows direction and has great suggestions.”—Peti Stone

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

START A TRIP TO LONDON

Family-friendly Peru: The Amazon & Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu sits atop a ridge, nearly level with the clouds. Photo: Aracari

“We traveled from the U.S. to Peru for the week of Thanksgiving, and Marisol and Mark did a great job creating the trip for us. We traveled with three teenagers and we visited an ecolodge in the rainforest in the Amazon Basin, and then went to Cusco to visit the Sacred Valley area as well as Machu Picchu. Mark made all our travel and hotel arrangements and did a great job organizing the whole trip. Our guides and drivers were fabulous and we learned just how important having a great travel agent was when Peru began having protests that shut down the cities. Our travel agent and guide managed to reschedule each of our days, filling in where possible with activities that we could do, even though no cars were allowed to move on the streets and all the of places we had planned to go were shut down. We still ended up with a great visit and we really got to see so many wonderful parts of Peru, thanks to all of the help from Mark’s team—thank you!” —Laura Virkler

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

START A TRIP TO PERU

Belize for 3 generations: beach, jungle, kayaking, zip-lining, hand-grinding corn, making pottery…

A treetop villa with outdoor plunge pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize.

A treetop villa and its private pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize. Photo: Chaa Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

Italy and Switzerland with four daughters, ages 5 to 11: pizza lesson, mosaic making…

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

A Trusted Travel Expert can get you access to artists’ studios in less touristed neighborhoods Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of six—including four daughters, ages 5 through 11—traveled to Italy and Switzerland in November/December. Maria pulled it all together on relatively short notice; I think we had only four weeks of lead time. She arranged for great hotels, fun excursions, and private guides in Florence and Zurich who were fantastic with the girls. It was really nice to have the same driver the whole time we were in a city, and each driver was excellent and very accommodating. We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment. Thank you so much, Wendy, we really enjoyed it! We walked across the river in Florence to a more residential neighborhood and visited an artist’s studio, where she welcomed us and helped us make our own mosaics in her found-object style. While they dried, we enjoyed sandwiches and cake in the cafe. The artist and Elvira (our guide) were so friendly and welcoming it was a real treat to spend the afternoon with them. Everything went smoothly, and it was nice not to have to worry about anything. I will definitely call Maria again when we return to Italy or Switzerland!” —Rebecca Bartlett

Read more reviews of Italy and Switzerland trips. Learn how to get your own WOW moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

START A TRIP TO ITALY AND SWITZERLAND

Baja, Mexico for a family: scuba, sandboarding, horseback riding, rappelling…

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

Explore a new world by going scuba diving in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Los Cabos Villa Vacations

“Baja CA is such an easy destination to get to from Southern CA, so when Zach and his team suggested a Thanksgiving trip for my family of 4, including 2 teen daughters, we jumped on it as we have not explored the other parts of Baja beyond Los Cabos. As up-and-coming areas, we saw the charm of Todos Santos town, hiked along the hills above the ocean and had surf lessons at Los Cerritos. Next up was La Paz, which has potential to become a wonderful destination, as there are plenty of adventure activities to choose from. We had a few travel hiccups the first few days in Todos Santos and La Paz, but Zach’s travel team of Jose & Amalia worked to make it the best they possibly could.

One of our main goals for this trip was to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, which normally have a very dependable arrival in early November. However they decided not to show up in their regular numbers, so no one could get permits to swim with them in La Paz bay. This was a major disappointment but we had back-up activities planned and ideas ready, which is a useful travel tip for those “planning” on unpredictable animal life interactions. You just never know what will happen, so have something else in mind that will satisfy your travel wishes.  We instead went on a sunset sandboarding excursion on the oceanfront dunes one late afternoon, and it was beautiful and remote. We also took a full-day boat trip to scuba dive with friendly, juvenile sea lions, took another dive through a shipwreck and then anchored at a remote beach for a wonderful lunch. These were both exciting excursions that filled the void of the whale sharks’ absence, and having Zach’s connections made it all that much easier.

Our last stop was Grand Velas on the Los Cabos corridor. What a property! The rooms, the views, the service, the spa, the food…it was all amazing!  We left the property for a few activities: horseback riding on the beach and in the hills, and a jam-packed adventure up in the mountains with zip lines, rappelling, free-fall jumps, climbing, & polaris vehicle driving; all seamlessly organized by Zach’s team. But coming back to the resort was the best part of the day and their Thanksgiving night celebration on the rooftop deck was over-the-top spectacular! We ended up with a memorable holiday break, even with the few struggles, and we were all recharged going into the holiday season!” —Andrea Phillips

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

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

Family-style Costa Rica: monkeys, zip lines, surf lesson…

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica - tropical pacific coast

The calm waters at Manuel Antonio beach are perfect for snorkeling. Photo: Shutterstock

Irene helped our family plan a wonderful trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week. We loved the Arenas Del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio!  It was the only one on the beach and even had its own private beach. The monkeys and sloths were thrilling to watch. We saw them all the time!  Irene set us up with a zip-line tour that was fun for the whole family, and some of us did a surf lesson too. We also spent time with a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park. It was pretty busy, but our guide knew where to go for a quieter experience. The park is beautiful, and there was so much to see!

Our other destination was the Osa Peninsula. We got there by an exciting boat ride through the river and mangroves and into the ocean until we reached La Paloma Lodge. It’s a lovely luxury eco-resort, and we had a room with a spectacular view and plenty of space for our whole family. We enjoyed scuba diving, kayaking, exploring Corcovado National Park, and we even did a guided night walk to see some of the evening creatures. We saw macaws, toucans, many types of monkeys, sloths, agouti, crocodiles and even a tapir! We did have some rain on our trip— we heard it had been a very rainy year—but we didn’t mind: It makes everything so lush and green!

Irene was wonderful in seamlessly planning our trip and making sure everything went well. It was really helpful to have someone so familiar with the country and knowledgeable about all the hotels and activities. Thank you for making our trip great!” —Alana Jacobson

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

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

Morocco: watching ceramics artists at work, riding camels and ATVs…

Racing down sand dunes in Morocco’s desert. Photo by Tim Baker

“This was an absolutely amazing trip for a first time to Morocco. First, our guide, Amine, was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about all of the locations and sites we visited. Second, the sites and towns themselves were absolutely spectacular.

We started our trip landing in Casablanca, but then found our guide and driver and immediately drove the 3-4 hours to Fes. I was a little nervous about whether that would be comfortable after a long, overnight flight, but it turns out, sitting in the car and watching this unfamiliar scenery go by was absolutely perfect—especially since it allowed Amine to orient us to Moroccan culture, a little bit of history, and our trip logistics.

When we got to Fes, we were able to immediately check into our hotel (because we had spent the time required to take the trip), and we then went out and began to see the souks of Fes. We did this again the next day, complete with a trip to see Moroccan ceramics-making in action, a working tannery, and any number of mosques and other cultural sites.

Marrakesh was the absolute highlight of the trip. Our hotel was absolutely amazing. On our last day, we made an absolutely fascinating trip hiking on the High Atlas and then ATV-ing and camel riding in the desert.  It was an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anybody.” —Sarah Rathke

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

START A TRIP TO MOROCCO

 

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Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

Where to Go for the 2023-24 Winter Holidays

Time is running out to make plans for your end-of-year holiday travel. We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout this busy travel year—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for Christmas and New Year’s vacations. These are places where they can still find you availability of charming hotel rooms and savvy private guides and put together a high-caliber trip.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers and these FAQs. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.


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European Holiday Cheer
Tropical Beaches and Seas
Winter Wonderland
Exotic Lands and Cultures

 


European Holiday Cheer

Italy, from cultural capitals to Sicily and Lake Como

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Florence lights up for the holidays. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy was terribly crowded and pricey this summer.  To get a true taste of the culture, go in winter, when the weather is mild and the cities and countryside have a more local flavor. Ride a Vespa around Rome; learn how to make pasta in Venice; take in an opera at La Scala in Milan; gather with your family at a private villa on Sicily or Lake Como; or stroll holiday markets in the Dolomites.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO ITALY

 

France: Paris, Strasbourg’s holiday markets, even Provence

Colmar, France, Christmas village lights December 29 2015. Traditional french houses in Petite Venise, Alsace, Europe.

Christmas lights in the village of Colmar, France. Photo: Shutterstock

If you got shut out of France this summer because of sold-out hotels and exorbitant prices, now is your chance to book a December trip. The light in Provence in winter is why so many famous artists moved there, and this month is prime time for the region’s acclaimed truffles. Of course, Paris is fabulous for Christmas and New Year’s—the City of Lights gets even more dressed up for the holidays. France’s best Christmas markets are in Strasbourg and Colmar and run until December 24 and 29, respectively. If your trip dates include December 25 or 31, don’t worry that everything will be closed: The right expert can arrange a private cooking class on Christmas, or concert tickets on New Year’s Eve.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO FRANCE

 

London for a festive Christmas

Big Ben clock and the red telephone booth during Christmas time in London, England.

Big Ben during the holiday season in London. Photo: Shutterstock

Enjoy a Dickensian Christmas in London, which puts on a display of spectacular lights and holiday markets. A knowledgeable local guide can make the city’s history come alive, whether via an after-hours tour of the Tower of London, an exploration of the city’s street-art scene, or a pub crawl to the best local watering holes.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO LONDON

 

A castle in the English countryside

Broughton Hall Christmas

Broughton Hall, in the Yorkshire Dales, at Christmastime.

Looking for a place to gather with extended family? Consider a stately home—even your very own castle—that suits a group of 16 or more in England. These houses are tastefully decorated throughout, tree and all, and come fully staffed, so you need not worry about cooking or cleaning over the holidays. Nearby you’ll often find Christmas markets to stroll, but you can just as easily stay on property and enjoy plenty of activities that bring your family together and put you in the Christmas spirit: wreath-making workshops, cocktail masterclasses, even a brass-band recital.

RENT A MANOR HOME IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

 

Central Europe’s Christmas markets

Traditional Christmas market in Vienna, Austria.

Just one of Vienna’s many Christmas markets. Photo: Shutterstock

Many of Europe’s charming, illuminated Christmas markets close on December 24, but a growing number are staying open past the holiday. That’s true at many festive markets in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Belgium. A savvy trip designer will work your itinerary to hit the markets that still have a truly local feel.  If you’re near the Netherlands, don’t miss the Amsterdam Light Festival too; it runs until January 22.

START A CHRISTMAS-MARKETS TRIP

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Tropical Beaches and Seas

Belize, from coral reefs to jungle adventures

Tiny island with coconut trees and boat in Belize

One of countless tiny cayes off the Caribbean coast of Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there, you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive as Wendy’s son did, fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters.  Accommodations range from beach resorts to overwater bungalows to remote jungle tree houses. If you’re traveling the week leading up to Christmas, you can even charter your own private yacht to enjoy fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and endless horizons.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO BELIZE

 

Costa Rica, from cloud forests to volcanoes

beach, coastline lined with green jungle at Costa Rica Carrillo and Samara Beaches in Costa Rica

Carrillo and Samara Beaches, Costa Rica.

From beach to cloud forest to volcanoes, Costa Rica packs a lot of highlights into a small country. The skies are generally dry in December, but the land is lush and green from the recent rainy season. If you’re having trouble finding hotel rooms for your family over the holidays, our experts can help: They’ve blocked rooms at their favorite properties expressly for you last-minute planners.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

Panama for its marine life and prime surfing

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast. Photo: Costa Travel

Under-the-radar Panama has hotels and private villas on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, which deserve to be better known for their diverse marine life and prime surfing spots. It also has verdant highland landscapes, VIP Panama Canal tours for would-be engineers, and coffee and chocolate fincas that will welcome you for tours and tastes.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO PANAMA

 

Colombia for its vibrant cities and buzzing food and arts scenes

Picturesque buildings in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

The colorful city of Cartagena, Colombia.  Photo: Shutterstock

Colombia’s charms range from Bogota, sitting 8,000 feet up in the Andes, to Cartagena, with its charming walled Old City on the Caribbean coast. In between you’ll find boutique haciendas in the coffee regions, cable cars to scale the mountains around Medellin, and a rich diversity of wildlife. The interior cities are quieter over the holidays—a plus when it comes to exploring museums and navigating traffic—while places along the coast often demand multi-night stays. Not all of Cartagena’s beaches are alike; work with an expert to find the right strand for you.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO COLOMBIA

 

Tahiti, Bora Bora, and the island paradise of French Polynesia

overwater bungalows in Bora Bora with green mountain in background and kayakers in foreground and very clear ocean

Kayaking the crystal-clear waters near Le Bora Bora resort. Photo: Pearl Resorts

The islands usually book up early for the period between Christmas and New Year’s, but this year there is unexpected availability—even for New Year’s Eve at the Hotel Kia Ora on Rangiroa, which puts on one of the islands’ best celebrations with a fireworks show, dinner, and a band with Polynesian dancers. Rangiroa has the only vineyard and wine maker in French Polynesia, and the diving and snorkeling are spectacular.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

 

The Maldives for private-island resorts

Maldives Islands Ocean Tropical Beach

Picture yourself in the Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

What better tropical getaway than jetting off to these idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean? Most are home to just a single resort, where you can spend your days snorkeling with manta rays, digging your toes into the sand at beachside restaurants, and relaxing in your private overwater bungalow. Pure bliss.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE MALDIVES

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WINTER WONDERLAND

Canadian Rockies: Snowy Thrills

Moraine Lake surrounded by snow covered mountains during Christmas time in Banff National Park, Canada.

Moraine Lake, in Canada’s Banff National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

The Rockies are gorgeous when covered with snow, making them a winter wonderland for an active family:  Think snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and ice canyons. You can go dogsledding near Lake Louise, cross-country skiing near Jasper, and snowmobiling outside Banff. Wind down your day in a cozy private cabin or a cushy resort with spa treatments to ease any sore spots from your adventures.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

 

The Alps, from rustic huts to chic chalets

Ski Resort of Corvara at Night, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy

The Alta Badia ski resort at Corvara, in Italy’s Dolomite mountains. Photo: Shutterstock

Wintertime Alpine fun comes in many flavors, from rustic huts on the Italian slopes to chic French ski towns to Zermatt’s après-ski scene. Whether you’re after a private guide to take you off-piste skiing, a hut-to-hut adventure, or a more civilized locale with options for non-skiiers, we can probably connect you with the right expert. Deciding between the Alps or a ski trip out west? You’ll pay more for the flights to Europe, but lift tickets there are considerably less expensive.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE ALPS

 

Norway: Northern lights, reindeer sledding, ice fishing

December is a great time to see the northern lights in Norway.

Consider a cozy adventure with your family in Norway:  Ride a sled pulled by reindeer in search of the northern lights, go snowmobiling above the Arctic Circle, learn about the indigenous Sami culture, enjoy locally sourced meals inside your timber lodge or ice hotel, and warm up between outdoor pursuits in a wood-fired sauna. Here’s more on when and how to see the northern lights.

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Antarctica cruises: penguins and a polar plunge

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

A zodiac cruises through the ice near Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

If seeing wildlife is your goal, the latter half of December is the very best time to cruise in Antarctica. By then, thousands of penguins, including their fluffy chicks, have made their home along the coastline, the sea ice has usually broken up enough to allow great access, and the weather is generally better than earlier or later in the season.

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EXOTIC LANDS AND CULTURES

African safaris: Take advantage of “Green Season”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

South Africa and Kenya are booked up, but there’s still availability in Botswana and Zimbabwe, where December falls during the “green season.” In return for the possibility of an afternoon or evening rain shower, you get lush vegetation (which makes for great photos), more prolific predators (because the grazing species are having their babies), and significantly lower rates at many camps and lodges.

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Peru: Machu Picchu and beyond

machu picchu ruins

A view of the ruins at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. Photo: Aracari

Imagine spending the holidays at Machu Picchu, or riding the rails in luxury on the Andean Explorer train line from Cusco to Lake Titicaca to Arequipa. There can be afternoon showers in Peru at this time of year, but smart planning can focus your outdoor activities on the mornings. You can even hike the last few miles of the Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which has a spectacular, panoramic view of the ruins.

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Chile and Argentina: from wine country to the Lake District to the Atacama Desert

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile

Chile’s Atacama Desert. Photo: Shutterstock

December is prime time for many of the Southern Cone’s highlights: Toast the holiday with top-value wines in Chile’s Colchagua Valley or Argentina’s Mendoza province; burn off those extra calories with hiking and kayaking around Bariloche, where glacial lakes meet the foothills of the Andes; and ring in the new year with a nighttime light show—no fireworks needed—under the Atacama Desert’s spectacularly starry skies (or a more urban celebration in Buenos Aires or Santiago).

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO CHILE AND ARGENTINA

Ecuador for hiking, horses, and hacienda life—or even an Amazonian adventure

Horseback riding is one of many activities at Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo: Hacienda Zuleta

Options are extremely limited in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands for the holiday weeks (availability is easier to come by at Galapagos hotels than for boat-based journeys), but mainland Ecuador is a good option, especially if you’re seeking affordability. December temperatures there are in the 70s. It’s easy to combine Quito’s Old Town with a historic hacienda in the nearby Andean highlands, where you can explore craft villages, hike in ecological reserves, and horseback ride on quilt-like pastures. Nature lovers shouldn’t count out a visit to the Amazon, either: While some parts of the region are rainy in December, the Ecuadorian portion is relatively dry (for a jungle, of course), and there is still availability at some luxe eco-lodges.

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Mexico’s charming colonial cities (with award-winning cuisine)

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Our southern neighbor is a perennial favorite for the winter holidays, but several corners of the country still have good availability in December.  For gorgeous beaches and great dining options, head to the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, or to Los Cabos. For an urban experience without the crowds (because the locals are all at the beach), try Mexico City, where the springlike weather brings warm days and cool evenings. Southeast of the capital is Puebla, known for its colonial history, colorful architecture, and culinary and art scenes. And on the Yucatán Peninsula there’s Mérida, a hotspot during both the Mayan and colonial eras, today rich in history and culture.

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Sri Lanka: safe, welcoming, fascinating

Elephants bathing in the river in Sri Lanka.

Elephants bathing at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock.

The political unrest is over, but Sri Lanka has yet to see tourism bounce back. That’s great news for intrepid travelers: Many hotels aren’t charging peak rates, and the dollar is very strong against the rupee. Combine the country’s cultural landmarks with a scenic train ride and incredible hikes through tea plantations in the hill country, then overnight in a tented “cocoon” near a national park that abuts the ocean and offers frequent leopard sightings.

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Timing your next family trip abroad

Published in our twice-weekly newsletter on 1-24-22. For travel updates straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Smart timing is everything

For all you cooped-up families desperate for an interesting trip abroad and wondering whether to try for spring break or wait till summer, the big question to ask yourself is: Can you bear the risk (however small) of the students in the family testing positive before the flight home, needing to isolate in place, and missing a week of in-person school? Those of you choosing spring break typically have a two-week break and are traveling during the first week only, or you can live with remote schooling in isolation (been there, done that). Those of you waiting for summer should choose early summer, when a possible quarantine wouldn’t interfere with the return to school.

I say the risk of having to isolate abroad is small because, of the thousands of travelers whose trips we’ve monitored during Covid, we’ve heard of only two cases of testing positive before the flight home. Both were just before New Year’s—one in Iceland (and most of the traveler’s family members who tested negative flew home without her), and one in Belize (where the resort provided a free stay for the asymptomatic quarantine). Nobody was a minor, and nobody missed school. My own students and I (pictured above in Turkey last summer) wish you the best with your decision, and for spring-break ideas, read about the cool things that the families below did during the Christmas/New Year’s school break! —Wendy

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Just back from a safari

Cheetah with babies on African safari

Photo courtesy Beth Nury

“It brought back memories of…breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!”

“Initial discussions with Cherri and her team began in July 2021 to further investigate if 2021 would be the year to go on safari. What Covid hurdles would we encounter? How would we handle a trip cancellation if a family member tested Covid positive days prior to departure? Where is the best place to see the Big 5? She and her team answered those questions (and plenty more!) enabling us to explore Kenya for 15 days. Cherri’s team guided us from the beginning and insisted on three key items to avoid possible trip derailment and an immense financial disaster.

1. Transportation: Due to Covid country entry requirements regularly changing with little notice (the U.S. changed their entry requirements two times after we booked our trip in July), Cherri recommended a direct flight from JFK via Kenya Airways. This smart strategy limited us to only one Covid test when leaving the U.S. and avoided the possibility of additional tests for connecting international flights and airports. Cherri also recommended limiting our travel to one country, Kenya, to again avoid additional, costly Covid tests in order to enter another African country.

2. Insurance: Cherri highly recommended we purchase Trip Cancellation insurance and evaluate the optional CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) endorsement. Granted, the policy was expensive and the CFAR endorsement only indemnified me for 75% (industry standard) of the total trip cost, but it provided peace of mind as the Delta and Omicron variants raced across the U.S. with me and my family as potential targets!

3. Health & Safety: Cherri recommended bringing paper copies of all travel documents: Covid vaccines, health insurance cards, Trip Cancellation policy, Covid test results, passports etc. and not rely on my phone as the only document location. This strategy enabled us to move through airport check-in quicker than others because Kenya Airways wanted to review paper copies and not documents on a phone. Cherri’s team also coordinated our return Covid tests at Saruni Mara with a Kenyan doctor prior to leaving. The day following the tests, results were emailed to me at Giraffe Manor, our final stop, and the staff was instrumental with printing the lab report with the QR Code which was required in order to board our flight home.

The accommodations recommended by Cherri were superb. The hospitality was warm, the bush guides were knowledgeable, the food was excellent and the facilities were immaculate and regularly wiped down to eliminate any threat of a virus. A special shout out to Sasaab and Saruni Mara for going above and beyond by arranging meaningful visits to local people! Cherri’s tip to bring some candy and small gifts for the village children as an icebreaker was all that was needed for smiles, giggles and an insider’s view of the locals’ homes and lifestyles.

I cannot forget to note the sleeper of the trip: Governors Balloon Safari. My husband and I were skeptical of this bucket list item, envisioning being stuffed in a basket with other random tourists prior to sunrise. Boy, were we wrong. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia overtook us as we rose high above the trees of Masai Mara, spotting elephants, giraffes, hippos and buffalo in their natural habitat for the hour ride. It brought back memories of our 1970s childhood: Sunday nights, the entire family parked around the vintage RCA console television, spellbound by the breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!

How could I conclude without mentioning the game drives, the true meaning for the trip? Our guides had us up early for good reason. We regularly viewed big cats over kills every morning. Breakfast in the wild was a chance to pause and reflect. Night drives were full of excitement as we watched the drama of life and death unfold again. Africa, as revealed by Cherri’s team, is truly the ‘trip of a lifetime!’” —Beth Nury

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Just back from the ancient world

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized….”

“We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Jim and his team set up this trip perfectly—and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too—especially NYEve party!” —Bernardine Wu

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Just back from sun and fun

empty Beach at Caribbean sea in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with footprints

Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside…”

“We have just returned from a trip to Playa del Carmen and enjoyed a fabulous week at the Palmaia, House of Aia. What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes to an hour south of the Cancun airport. Our trip was planned by Zach’s team. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had two beautiful rooms for our family of five and enjoyed the ocean views from the 3rd and 4th floors. This was a trip for just relaxing, so we didn’t plan any excursions. We enjoyed the beach and pools—a perfect vacation. The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside, which made it feel more comfortable. The hotel is an all-inclusive serving top-shelf drinks, and the food was mostly vegan (though you could get seafood and meat at a few restaurants). The most delicious food we have eaten on vacation. We plan to return!” —Michele and Ken Krisko

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FAMILY TRAVEL SOLUTIONS

family posing on a private yacht on the ocean in Belize

A WendyPerrin.com reader and her family chartered a private boat in Belize. Photo courtesy Shelby Willets

International School-Break Trips During Covid: Safe, Easy, and Fun

Safe, easy, delightful, international school-break trips, even during Covid? These families did it. Here’s how.

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The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, with the fairy tale Clock Tower of puppet theater Rezo Gabriadze

Extraordinary School-Break Trip Ideas for Your Family

One of the key lessons I’ve learned from my travels (and from yours) is that the right trip designer can transform a family vacation, taking what could have been a week of stress and disagreement and turning it into a miracle. Below is a sampling of family trip reviews from your fellow WendyPerrin.com readers who are WOW List travelers. In each case, the trip designer delivered transcendent family memories, thanks to relationships with the right local fixers. Read more traveler reviews to get more unusual family trip ideas and, for additional inspiration, don’t miss these unexpected spring-break destinations, this collection of family vacations that adults will love too, my tips for how to make sophisticated destinations fun for the whole family, and this video I shot on one of my own family trips about the strategies I use to keep everyone happy.  Happy school-break travel brainstorming!

Spring Break

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica: “We swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy…”

“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. Priscilla put together a perfectly balanced vacation for us in Costa Rica. Everyone was happy! She suggested we spend our week in two areas—Arenal (volcano and rainforest) and Manuel Antonio (beach). In Arenal, we swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy, and went white-water rafting. In Manuel Antonio, we spent quality time at the beach, surfing, boogie boarding, and relaxing. Priscilla and her team arranged all of our travel details (flights, hotels, activities, transfers to and from), and they really went out of their way to make sure our vacation was memorable. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy!” —Kara Lawler

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

The mathematical hall of the Strahov Convent Library, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

Vienna and Prague: “I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers…”

“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us. Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks! We also got to spray paint our ‘tags’ on the famous Lennon Wall! Gwen paired us with fabulous guides who, by the time we left, felt more like friends than mere guides. Our Vienna guide was from a musical family, so she had unique insights into Viennese musical history.” —Adam Amsterdam

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Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Portugal: “We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson…”

“We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson, and this meant a lot of consideration had to be given to where we stayed, how we traveled, and what we did. Goncalo—who is the 13th of Wendy’s travel specialists I’ve used—scored on all aspects. First, he found us a two-bedroom apartment in Lisbon with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and a kids’ playroom. What a perfect choice this was. Second, when we did a full-day trip to Sintra, he suggested that instead of Pena Palace (which I’d been to on a previous trip), we go to Quinta da Regaleira and Convento dos Capuchos, which were much easier to navigate with a small child. On our first day in Lisbon, he personally conducted our walking food tour, educating us about Portuguese foods (and drink) and taking us to great places I’d missed entirely on my earlier trip to Portugal. When we departed Lisbon for the Douro Valley, our car was delivered to the hotel and turned out to be a major upgrade from what we’d rented (and lots more comfortable). Our Douro Valley hotel was wonderfully located, our rooms were very spacious, the private boat for our morning cruise on the Douro River was spectacular, and the wine tour he chose for us was the best I’ve ever done, including the best port wines I’ve ever tasted.” —Jan Heininger

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aerial view of Famous palace Versailles with beautiful gardens and fountains in France

Versailles palace gardens, France. Photo: Shutterstock

France: “Our kids were able to see important places in a way that made them fun…”

“We spent four days in each of Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. We are a family of five (three kids, aged 9, 15, and 17), so we needed a variety of activities to engage the youngest to the oldest. Jennifer planned several day trips that were specifically designed for our kids, where they were able to see important places in a way that made them fun, from a treasure hunt in the Louvre to a bike ride around Paris to a crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Our favorite guide was Isabelle, in Paris, who took us to Versailles and to our WOW Moment—a private boat ride down a canal in Paris, complete with a skipper, picnic, and wine. It was amazing!! Isabelle was an absolute delight: warm, funny, engaging, and extremely organized. She was able to maneuver us to avoid several long lines at Versailles on an incredibly hot, crowded day. I studied in Paris in college, and I know more than the average traveler about France and its history, but I learned so much from Isabelle.” —Christa Sullivan

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Newfoundland scenery

Newfoundland scenery. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Atlantic Canada: “Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking…”

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

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Summer

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

Bali: “We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to.”

Diane planned a 30-day itinerary throughout Indonesia for our family—five-year-old twins and my wife and me. Although we travel often, we never could have planned such a seamless vacation. We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to. Diane’s three decades of traveling in Indonesia and discovering gorgeous idyllic islands and new hotels was evident, as was her obvious expertise in routing our journey. She has relationships with villa owners/managers in areas of Indonesia that would have been nearly impossible to find on our own. These accommodations are not in guidebooks. We could not have been happier with our trip that Diane planned for us.” —Garrett Bandy

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aerial view of Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia

Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia. Photo: Tim Baker

Western Canada:  “A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos…”

“My husband and I and our two teenage daughters wanted to go to British Columbia, but to avoid any really crowded areas. Marc suggested we spend a few days in Whistler, then a few days on Sonora Island, and end in Vancouver. He set us up for fun activities in Whistler—RZR cars, white-water rafting, zip lining—and we were treated to a WOW Moment: A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos; although I am the photography buff in the family, he was able to engage the whole family and everyone really enjoyed the experience (thank you, Wendy!). We then took a seaplane to Sonora Resort, which the entire family agreed was heavenly. So remote, with beautiful scenery and gourmet food. On our eco-adventure tour we were lucky enough to be in the middle of a pod of about 100 dolphins. The food at Sonora Resort was so delicious that on the first night at dinner our daughter said, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ Finally, in Vancouver, Marc suggested the Fairmont Pacific Rim for us, which also was in a fabulous location. Since we are foodies, he planned a food tour at Granville Island, where there are so many booths that it was helpful to have an expert direct us; the tour allowed us to sample more items in small quantities than we could have done on our own. Although I was very involved with the details of our trip, I didn’t have to figure out where to go or how to get there or worry about logistics during my vacation. That made it a true vacation for me.” —Nancy Wolf

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the hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

Gordes, Provence. Photo: Pixabay

France: “He absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it…”

“This was a very difficult trip to plan. We gave Philip only a couple of weeks to plan it, we had nine people coming and going at different stages, we were traveling with a 6-year-old, it was the busiest season in France, we had changes to the itinerary and/or restaurants on a daily basis … and Philip and his team truly outperformed all my expectations. He saved our trip. He got us to the best places, he absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it. From the balloon flight to the wine tasting, he and his team made this trip unforgettable.” —Steven Morton

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sumo wrestlers training in Tokyo Japan

Earthen dohyo training ring for wrestlers at a sumo stable in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Ben Simmons

Japan: “One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice…”

Scott arranged the most memorable private moments for our family in Japan. One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice, sitting within arm’s reach of the athletes. The photos are amazing! We also loved creating a new family memory with our kids (18, 21, 25) during a taiko drumming lesson. Since our family loves music, it was a great way to experience local culture and laugh together! Other private experiences that we would never have been able to appreciate without Scott’s expertise included a five-hour cooking class and dinner in the home of a local Japanese chef. We loved learning about Buddhism and meditating with a monk. All of these were possible thanks to our unbelievable guide, Kiko-san, who also interpreted for us. She was kind, patient, knowledgeable, and respectful of our family dynamic.” —Dale Sindell

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The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, with the fairy tale Clock Tower of puppet theater Rezo Gabriadze

The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Shutterstock

Georgia (the country): “Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment.”

“Through every step of planning my family’s trip to the Republic of Georgia, Zulya made sure that she was meeting our travel needs and goals. Georgia is not flooded with obvious tourist attractions, so we received a well-rounded itinerary that allowed us to experience its natural wonders and connect with the culture. Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment. Some other favorite activities included cooking with local families in their homes, hiking in the Caucasus mountains, and visiting Gergeti church via horse. I think the main reason it was so pleasant to work with Zulya is that she truly cares that you have a wonderful experience on your trip. She is an ambassador of the countries she represents, and we look forward to working with her to travel to other Silk Road destinations.” —Melissa Pollack

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Thanksgiving

 

British Museum, London

British Museum, London. Photo: Pawel LiberaLondon and Partners – Visit London

London: “…a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London…”

“
We went to England over Thanksgiving and used Philip to plan our trip. His team arranged spectacular tours for us, including early entry into the Tower of London (we got to see the Tower and the crown jewels before they were open to the public), a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London. (The latter involved the children being filmed with wands and capes at various locations around London where Harry Potter was filmed. They will put this together into a movie.) The highlight for me was the tour of the Churchill War Rooms with the director emeritus of the War Rooms, who took us behind the scenes and allowed us to sit in the actual chair that Winston Churchill sat in. Our guide and our driver and the ‘spies’ and ‘movie directors’ were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and did an excellent job getting the children involved and engaged.” —Frank Richards

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Christmas and New Year’s

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy: “In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal…”

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

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Argentina: “It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.”

“Our family of five had an amazing trip to Argentina organized by Maita. We hiked on a glacier, got soaked on a boat that we rode into one of the Iguassu waterfalls, went bird watching in Iguassu with an ornithologist and nature photographer, and had a wonderful private boat experience on a quiet arm of one of the lakes in Bariloche. Maita’s team suggested great hotels and was able to obtain rates at some that were lower than those available online. They also booked a fantastic New Year’s Eve Party in Buenos Aires that we will long remember. And we had a fantastic surprise WOW Moment. I prefer not to specify what we did for our WOW Moment, since I wouldn’t want to spoil a possible future WOW Moment for someone else, but suffice it to say it was our favorite meal in Argentina. It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.” —Rita Solomon

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View of Journalist's Park with Monserrate and the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Shutterstock

Colombia: “Juliana, an artist in Bogotá, shared her perspective on museums and the graffiti district…”

“My family of two adults and three teens, ages 12 to 18, traveled to Colombia over New Year’s, spending seven days in Bogotá, Quindío (the coffee region), and Cartagena. Marc and Boris made great choices about which regions we should visit and for how long, what activities we should do, and where we should stay. They even got us into a wonderful boutique hacienda in the coffee region at a very busy time of year. All our tours and activities were fabulous. Juliana, an artist in Bogotá, shared her perspective on museums and the graffiti district. Camilo, a biologist and ornithologist, took us on a hike in the countryside and helped my husband with his birdwatching. Tavo is a musician who gave us a great perspective on Cartagena. A big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands and spent time at a beach club. The kids got so much out of every day of the trip and continue to rave about it to everyone—a real accomplishment with teens. Thank you for suggesting Colombia as a destination in the first place and for setting us up with Marc and Boris. We all plan to return to Colombia and are evangelizing it as a destination for other Americans.” —Jarvis Weld

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Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Photo: Billie Cohen

Active Mexico: “We were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people.”

“There was no shortage of challenges to planning a last-minute Christmas trip to Mexico for me, my husband, and our 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twin boys. The beaches were expensive and jam-packed. So Zach’s team suggested an itinerary to Mexico City and two truly magical colonial cities—Puebla and San Miguel de Allende—and the result was fantastic! They handled all the logistical details, so we didn’t have to worry about a thing. We are a very active family and always want to be doing and learning. They understood this and designed a wonderful itinerary that opened our eyes to this complex, beautiful, sophisticated, culturally rich country. From our private cooking class with a renowned chef in Puebla to our historical and cultural bike tour down Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma and through the Bosque de Chapultepec to our private tour through the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City—they opened the Museum just for us!—we were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people. The result was a trip that left us with great respect and affection for our southern neighbor and helped us see the history of our continent from a completely different perspective. This is truly the best of travel. We will be WOW Listers for life!” —Kristen MacLeod

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pool at Quinta Real Oaxaca

Quinta Real Oaxaca.

Relaxing Mexico:  “Three nights in Oaxaca for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco…”

“Just before giving up my Mexico trip planning as impossible, I turned to Zachary to see if he could help with the logistics. Our family of four wanted to spend three nights in Oaxaca at Christmas for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco. Minimum-stay requirements of five or seven nights during the holidays presented obstacles. Plus, traveling from Oaxaca to Huatulco by mountain road would be long and treacherous. We could fly, but we would have to go through Mexico City, wasting a day. Zach drew on his relationships, avoided minimum stays, and secured well-located rooms for us in outstanding hotels: Quinta Real Oaxaca, an exquisite former convent, and Camino Real Huatulco, a beautifully designed seaside resort. To make it all work, he identified non-stop flights that were not readily accessible to us online. Best of all, he provided Gabriel, an outstanding guide in Oaxaca who is the alpha educator of choice for universities and Smithsonian visitors. We benefited from the depth of Gabriel’s knowledge of history, nature, art and architecture. Zach’s resources and persistence made it possible for our family to enjoy a wonderful holiday trip.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

ASK ABOUT A RELAXING MEXICO TRIP

 

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica: a 50th wedding anniversary and a group of ten with active teenagers and a mobility-impaired grandparent

“I can’t say enough about the trip Priscilla helped me plan for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We were traveling with ten people over Christmas, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo: Jennifer Santoyo

Antarctica: “Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted…”

Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us! It was my last continent, and I cried when I arrived and cried when it was over. I had thought I wanted to fly over the Drake Passage because I was terrified of getting seasick, but I’m really happy I listened to Ashton. He said that flying over the Drake can mean delays on either side because of weather, and unless you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s not advisable. He highly recommended a ship that has the best stabilizers to handle the Drake, has excellent naturalist guides, and would work for my 17-year-old. Also, my husband wasn’t as excited about Antarctica as I was and preferred more luxurious accommodations than the fly trips offer. So we kind of had to agree on the trade-off to make the trip happen: my bucket list vs. Marty’s desire to be more comfortable on a nicer boat. Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted. Marty now agrees it was the best trip we ever had, and we all want to come back on the longer trip, which would include South Georgia Island, where the king penguins are. I will also use Ashton again for the North Pole, hopefully soon.” —Tina Sarafa

ASK ABOUT AN ANTARCTICA CRUISE

 

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

The Mount is edith wharton's home in lenox massachusetss

Quick and Easy Weekend Getaways for the Summer

How is it that summer sneaks up on us every year? It was just winter, and then all of a sudden the warm weather is upon us and we’re scrambling to plan some quick-and-easy summer getaways. The good news is it’s never too late. Here are eight ideas for short, fun road trips and big-city escapes that work just as well for families as for solo travelers.

Find Your Inner Writer

You’ll have plenty of time this summer to spend reading on the beach (we hope!) but for now, get your book fix by road tripping through our nation’s literary past in New England. Wendy, who majored in History and Literature at Harvard, has designed this two-day itinerary, starting and ending in Boston, that takes you through Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, and Edith Wharton country.

Find Your Inner Food Critic

Put your GPS and your stomach to good use on a road trip focused on your favorite regional foods. For a Southern barbecue and soul food feast, for example, you could start with hickory-smoked ribs in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and continue sampling the country’s best barbecue on this itinerary through Nashville all the way to Kansas City. Or rate lobster rolls along the Northeastern coast, from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, Connecticut, to Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. Find a few lauded spots with the TripAdvisor or LocalEats apps and you’re good to go. Of course, you could also just eat your way through the nearest State Fair.

See Spectacular Coastline

BlackSandBeach Lost Coast California

Drive Route 1 to Black Sands Beach on the Lost Coast in Humboldt, CA. Photo: Visit California

“One of my all-time favorite adventures along the northern California coast is to drive the one-lane, unpaved road off Route 1, just west of Leggett, to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park,” says Sheri Doyle, an expert planner of California road trips. “It’s a white-knuckle trip that will have you praying you won’t meet anyone coming the other way, and you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to do it, but the reward at the end—a black-sand beach out in the middle of nowhere—is fantastic. If that’s too daunting, the drive to the ‘Lost Coast’—the stretch of coastline from Ferndale to the Avenue of the Giants, just south of Eureka—is paved and not quite as difficult, but also leads to fantastic beach views that you’ll share with more cows than people.”

Discover Geological Wonders

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah

Utah’s Highway 12, which runs alongside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, is a spectacular drive, but few take the time to do it.

Make one of Utah’s gorgeous national parks your goal for the weekend, and turn the drive into part of the experience by driving Highway 12, which runs between the Utah towns of Tropic and Torrey alongside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  It’s one of the world’s most spectacular drives, yet few people know about it. Learn more about Highway 12 in The American West You Don’t Know About, But Should and bookmark our calendar guide to the best national parks for every month of the year.

Delve Into the Heartland

Mississippi River runs through Minneapolis Minnesota

Mississippi River runs through Minneapolis. Photo: Billie Cohen

America’s Great River Road runs along the Mississippi, all the way from Canada to the Gulf Coast, passing through country dotted with historic villages, wineries, wildlife, and sweeping vistas. Wendy recommends this two- to three-day itinerary that takes you along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, starting in Minneapolis and ending in Madison, Wisconsin.

Pursue Your Passion

world's largest pumpkin roadside attraction

Pumpkins, petrified trees, yo-yos, balls of twine—the world’s largest anything is worth a stop, just for the sheer goofiness of it. Photo: Flickr/Loozrboy

Remember that you don’t need a bucket-list destination to make a road trip memorable. Just think of something you love and string together a few spots related to it. Are your kids die-hard baseball fans? Plan a route that connects minor-league stadiums. Do you swoon over lighthouses? Maine and North Carolina are just two states for you. If botanical gardens are more your thing, set your course for the Southwest and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Or go all-out quirky and seek out three of the world’s largest anything—apps such as Roadside America and Along the Way will help you track them down.

See How It’s Made

Jelly Belly factory samples

The Jelly Belly factory has a free sampling station where you can try three choices of jellybeans. Photo: Tim Baker

Many candy, ice cream, and food companies offer kid-friendly tours of their facilities—but you definitely don’t need to be a kid to enjoy them. In most cases you’ll get to see some behind-the-scenes manufacturing, learn about the company and the product, and (best part) get to taste the final product. Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania and Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont are pretty well-known, but you can find more unusual ones like Tabasco Pepper Sauce in Louisiana and the Celestial Seasonings Tea factory in Colorado. Wendy’s husband, Tim, took the boys to the Jelly Belly jellybeans factory in California one year.

Find Peace in a Big City

little red lighthouse in fort washington park new york city

Try something different in New York City: a picnic near the city’s only remaining light house, known as the Little Red Lighthouse, at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. Photo: Malcolm Pinckney, NYC Parks

You won’t be the only person thinking about hitting a big city on a summer weekend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid the crowds. Washington, D.C. is beautiful in the spring, before the summer heat and humidity roll in. While everyone else is piling into the various Smithsonian museums, head away from the Mall to Dumbarton Oaks, an eclectic museum with gardens tucked away in a residential neighborhood, a mile and a half from the closest Metro stop. Owned by Harvard, the former mansion features world-class pre-Columbian and Byzantine art and artifacts, impressive architecture designed by Philip Johnson, and a beautiful 27-acre garden and park. It’s rarely crowded, and as a bonus, it’s a short stroll away from an outstanding small museum, Tudor Place, as well as the Georgetown commercial district. In New York, leave the sunbathing hordes of Central Park behind and instead spend the weekend exploring the city’s other parks. Plan a picnic in Fort Washington Park, near the city’s only remaining beacon Jeffrey’s Hook Light House (also known as the Little Red Lighthouse) at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. Or head to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, to climb Lookout Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn with views of the second park designed by Olmsted & Vaux (famous for creating Manhattan’s Central Park; legend has it they said Prospect was the design they liked better).

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.