Tag Archives: travel ideas

Panoramic view of Fortresses Lovrijenac and old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Where and When to Travel in 2024

UPDATES
We are continually updating this article, as the travel landscapes shifts, to alert you to your smartest moves in 2024.

5/15/24 Take advantage of low business-class airfare to Europe for fall and winter 
4/10/24 New international nonstop flights to make your travels easier
4/7/24  It’s now easier to pool your family’s airline miles
3/27/24 Think South America for this summer (winter in the southern hemisphere)
3/17/24 Right now you can get your passport renewed in just 2 to 3 weeks
3/13/24 Get to Thailand before the White Lotus crowds do
2/20/24 How the Olympics could affect your travels: Paris this spring and summer
2/17/24 Five great spring break ideas that combine relaxation, culture, and thrills
1/21/24  Why you should go to Europe this winter (before the spring/summer rush)
1/17/24  The key to big family trips in 2024
1/10/24  How to maximize your vacations this year
1/7/24  Spring break: Unexpected places where prices are not inflated in March/April
1/3/24  Wendy’s 2024 travel resolutions
11/8/23  Save on business-class airfares to Europe for 2024
10/29/23  How to ensure rain doesn’t ruin a winter trip
10/15/23 Time your African safari smartly to get the best value
10/22/23  How to travel safely now  
9/27/23  Europe in 2024:  Where and when you’ll find highest prices, worst crowds 
8/20/23  Europe’s high season is now May-Oct. Shoulder season is Nov-March.

Are you thinking about traveling in the Middle East?  Read these reports from WOW List travelers:
Just back from Egypt
Just back from Turkey
Just back from the U.A.E. and Oman
Just back from Dubai and the U.A.E.
Just back from Jordan and Oman
Just back from Morocco

Are you thinking about traveling near Ukraine? Read these reports from WOW List travelers:
Just back from Poland
Just back from Romania

 

SMART TRAVEL IN 2024

This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  Travelers are booking trips farther in advance than in past years, and they’re headed to Western Europe in particular. We’re predicting that Europe’s most popular locales will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from late April through early October. Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-Covid demand for travel, given the big events that will coincide with Europe’s summer season:  Add the Olympics in France (in July), the G7 Summit in Italy (in June), and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe (from May through August) to the usual annual events in tennis (Wimbledon and the French Open), soccer (the Champions League), and Formula 1 racing.  If you’re seeking true value for your dollar, watch our WOW Week Travel Talk below (recorded on February 5, 2024), and read on to learn where and when to travel this year.

Fast-forward the video to 2:30 to skip the WOW Week preamble.  Scroll down for the list of the 20 most popular countries for 2024 that we refer to in our talk. 

SOUTH AMERICA: Get it all close to home. South America continues to be an underappreciated destination—even though it has both staggeringly beautiful and enormously varied landscapes, and a cultural fabric that weaves indigenous civilizations with colonial influences. Many destinations there are no farther from home than Europe is, and there’s little to no jet lag (a big plus if you’ve got school-aged kids and you’re traveling during a short school break such as Thanksgiving week or spring break). Brook shares discoveries from her January trip to Peru here. Read WOW South America trip reviews.

ASIA: Japan is back. After finally reopening its borders in late 2022, Japan was our travelers’ favorite spot in Asia in 2023. If you’re keen to go in 2024, keep in mind that 5-star hotel rates are particularly high for popular periods such as the spring cherry-blossom season. Compare that with China, where luxury brands often charge less than half what they do in Europe. Opportunities also abound in Sri Lanka, which still struggles to attract visitors even though the political situation has stabilized since 2022’s unrest. Read WOW Asia trip reviews.

PACIFIC: Consider Australia and New Zealand only if you can travel at off-peak times. These countries are our travelers’ top two destinations for 2024. If you’re still thinking about traveling there this year, look to the “shoulder seasons,” when the weather is still good but the crowds aren’t there and prices are a bit lower. The good news is that the U.S. dollar is very strong compared to its Australian and New Zealand counterparts, so prices are lower than they were pre-Covid. Read reviews from travelers just back from Australia and New Zealand.

EUROPE: Choose your timing wisely.
The high post-pandemic travel demand for Europe that we saw in 2023 taught travelers that if they want a certain caliber of accommodations and experiences there, they must book farther in advance than before. The result: More of Europe has already been booked for spring and summer than was ever the case in past years. This demand, exacerbated by inflation, will assure that prices remain steep there. If you’re bound and determined to see Europe’s most popular countries—especially Italy, France, and Greece—you’ll find the best value in under-the-radar locations. Experienced local trip-planning experts know which hotels and other service providers most successfully handled 2023’s flood of travelers and are therefore the best bets in 2024. If you can only travel in summer, which in 2023 saw extreme heat and wildfires in southern Europe, learn how our travelers beat the heat in 2023 (hint: stay close to the water) and where you can go to avoid the crowds. If your schedule is flexible, get ideas for successful winter trips here.

Opt for nonstop flights. Every connection creates an opportunity for something to go wrong: a missed flight, lost luggage, an inconvenient delay. The good news is that there are more and more flights from U.S. cities to interesting international locales. If a stop is essential, choose one of the smartest airports for making connections in, and get as close to your destination as you can, as quickly as you can. (In other words, if you’re flying to Croatia and have to connect somewhere, do it in Europe rather than in the U.S.) If you must make a domestic connection to an international flight, consider overnighting at the connection point. (For instance, if you’re flying to Africa via JFK, missing your connection could seriously disrupt your safari plans, so consider spending the night in New York.)

The larger your group, the earlier you need to plan. Since Covid we’ve seen travelers bring more family and friends along—often because they are celebrating a milestone like a graduation, or making memories as a clan of grandparents, their adult kids, and the grandkids. When you only need one hotel room, it’s usually possible to develop the ideal itinerary to suit your interests and trip goals, and then book suitable hotels. But when you need two or more rooms, you may have to patch together hotel availability wherever you can get it and let that dictate your schedule. With a multigenerational trip or other large group, booking early will maximize your options.

Buy travel insurance and evacuation assistance. It can protect your financial investment, cover any medical expenses, and give you peace of mind. If you’re sick or injured, the right travel insurance policy will cover your care at the nearest appropriate facility; you need a second layer of protection if you want to be treated at home.

These are the most popular countries in 2024 (as of January) for our travelers:
1. Italy
2. United Kingdom
3. France
4. New Zealand
5. Spain
6. Vietnam
7. Australia
8. Costa Rica
9. Norway
10. Portugal
11. Cambodia
12. Greece
13. Japan
14. South Africa
15. Ecuador (and the Galapagos)
16. Chile
17. Switzerland
18. Thailand
19. Argentina
20. Iceland

 

Links to Useful Resources

Just Back: Reviews of our Travelers’ Recent Trips

Where To Go When: Ideal Destinations For Each Month of the Year

Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier

The WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

 

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

Mountain village Novara di Sicilia, Sicily, Italy

Solo Trips Done Right: Traveler Reviews

We’re hearing from more and more people who realize that they love the freedom and possibilities when they travel on their own. Read on for a selection of the solo trip reviews we’ve received. Our Trusted Travel Experts design custom-tailored trips—and when you’re the only traveler, that means your trip will be exactly the right fit for you. Here’s what you get from a WOW trip.

START YOUR SOLO ADVENTURE


Chile, Peru, and Bolivia: “My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture…”

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“Just returned from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia! Recently, Wendy has been recommending South America, and I’m so grateful I took advantage of this. Despite the warm temperatures, there were few tourists, which ensured a really authentic experience. Ashton helped me plan an extended trip to all my desired destinations: Torres Del Paine, the Amazon Basin, Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, the Atacama, and the Altiplano of Bolivia.

It was a long journey, but I felt so supported as a single traveler all along the way. In Patagonia, Ashton recommended Patagonia Camp, a fantastic place owned by the Matetic family, of Chilean wine fame. Outstanding guides, excellent excursions, beautiful lakeside yurts, and the most divine food/wine. The camp helped ensure I met other travelers, so meals were always full of conversations.

For the Amazon, I asked for somewhere that didn’t have a ton of tourists, which took the cruises out of Iquitos off the agenda. Instead, Ashton recommended Posada Amazonas, an indigenous cooperative that sits on the Tambopata River in Peru. Here, I was the only guest for the first two days, so fully enjoyed my hikes, boat rides, and village visits that allowed me to see how life is lived in this region. The rooms are open to the rainforest, which made for magical evenings full of sounds. And it did rain on several days, which sounded one thousand times better than any recorded soundscape!

Then it was time for a few cities—Lima, Santiago, and Valparaiso. In Lima, Ashton and Wendy arranged a WOW Moment, which was right up my street: a ceviche lesson, tasting, and tour with Marisol. We went all over the city, sampling different types of ceviche and learning about this rich Peruvian tradition.

My last stop was my favorite part, four days in San Pedro de Atacama, followed by a four-day “travesia” across the Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats. My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture, including participating in the carnival celebrations. We hiked up volcanoes, sat in hot spring pools, rode bikes through slot canyons, and ate all the local dishes. On our final evening in Uyuni, after indulging in a wine/tapas al fresco meal, it started to rain, which meant the salt flats became a mirror of the skies. I spent three days in La Paz on the way home and loved that too. Such fascinating geography and a lively city. Four weeks of amazing journeys in three countries. I could not have asked for more, and was so thrilled with all of Ashton’s recommendations and support.

My favorite aspects of working with one of Wendy’s experts is the ability to customize when/where I’m going, to focus on places that are not overrun with tourists, to meet the local people and see how they live, and to get outside and really feel a part of the stunning landscape. Onwards!” —Milinda Martin

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AMERICA

Antarctica: “There needed to be lots of other single travelers and ways to engage with them…”

Travelers exploring Antarctica's ice by zodiac.

Milinda Martin and new friends explore Antarctica’s ice by zodiac.

“Antarctica! It had long been a dream to visit my seventh continent, but how to travel? As a solo traveler on his trip, it was important to me to select the right cruise ship. By nature, cruising is not my preferred method of travel, so I had some specific needs:

• There needed to be lots of other single travelers and ways to engage with them
• I wanted an active trip, meaning setting foot on the continent and doing some of my favorite activities while there – hiking, kayaking, a polar plunge
• I wanted like-minded travelers from around the world
• As much as I love families, this would not be a family cruise – I wanted time with adults
• Plenty of expertise and seminars on the continent, its history, and the animals there
• No casino, no endless buffet, no forced fun

As I have so many times in the past, I turned to one of Wendy’s experts, in his case, Ashton and his team. They immediately set up a zoom call where I could share all my wishes for this trip, and given the pricing, I wanted to make sure my choice had everything that I wanted. Ashton, Ashley, and Keri listened, and then did their research, eventually giving me four options which they walked me through. I chose Quark’s Ultramarine and was grateful that Ashley had traveled on the same ship, solo, just the year before. It was, indeed, everything I could have hoped for.

I can’t say enough about how Quark runs its operations. Every day we had full updates, were very well organized and did something exceptional. The food was amazing – healthy, varied, and we often ordered off the menu (as a gluten-free pescatarian, my diet isn’t easy). The cabin was outstanding. The excursions were just the best. I loved the kayaking, but the true highlight of the trip was the final day – a sunny, blue-sky day – when we all got a helicopter flight over the continent. We met penguins and whales and seals. We kayaked among icebergs. We dipped into the water for our polar plunge. We climbed to a lookout for a 360-degree view. And all this despite a medical emergency that forced us to return to South Georgia and med-evac someone to Chile. Despite the change in agenda, both the captain and the excursion leader ensured we did not miss out.

A cruise to Antarctica is not cheap, no matter whom you travel with, but I know I made the right choice in trusting Ashton and his team. They helped me ensure every penny was well spent, and I had the final confirmation when I was at the airport afterwards and spoke with a couple from the US that had gone on a different cruise ship: no land excursions, no kayaking, no helicopter, no adventures at all! Thank goodness I had Ashton’s team to point me in the right direction. When planning the trip of a lifetime, having a trusted expert who listens and guides is the best way to ensure success. Thank you, Team Wendy.” —Milinda Martin

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

START A TRIP TO ANTARCTICA

Norway: “I had a blast making cheese with organic cheesemakers and making glass beads with a seasoned glassmaker…”

A village in the Lofoten Islands at night.

The winter scenery of the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“Norway was truly magical! Torunn, Mari and the team gave me a great itinerary as a solo traveler with only a week available. I rode the magical Flam Railway and was mesmerized by Hafslo. The pictures I took did not fully capture the beauty I had the privilege of witnessing. BesteBekken was the best place to stay. Lindis cooked all the meals (accommodating all dietary restrictions) and was the tour guide to boot. We bonded in just the few short days. Her alpacas were adorable as well!

Next it was travel up north to the Lofoten Islands. Despite needing to change planes a few times, the process went off so smoothly. I was a bit anxious about renting a car but Torunn’s team was absolutely correct that this was the way to go. The apartment I stayed at in Henningsvær was on the water and a perfect location for the places I needed to get to. I had a blast making cheese with organic cheesemakers and making glass beads with a seasoned glassmaker. We were unlucky with our Northern Lights excursion but learned a lot about the physics behind their occurrence. Luck visited me the next night when I saw the lights while walking to dinner.

This trip was an unexpected joy. I can’t wait to visit again in other seasons. But to be honest, I would totally go back in the winter again (so many more places to visit in this winter wonderland).” —Rekha Mankad

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Morocco: “This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local…”

Our traveler's guide outside his family home in Tangier's Medina, Morocco.

Traveler Milinda Martin’s guide AbdulRahman outside his family home in Tangier’s medina. Photo: Milinda Martin

“It had been 20 years since I had visited Morocco, and I have to say, the country is going through such a positive time. People are happy there! The government is building tons of affordable housing, redoing the waterfront areas, and spiffing up all the cities. It’s a good time to visit.

Thanks to Radia and her team, I was able to indulge my desire to learn more about the history of this country, especially the Berber culture, the invasion of the Arabs, and the long history of the Moors and Jews. Radia did not disappoint; all of my guides were experts and very willing to discuss the benefits and challenges of being such a rich land where everyone wants to be. My guide in Tangier, AbdulRahman, was OUTSTANDING. He was born in the Medina and his family still lived there, and he was able to share stories of how Tangier has changed over the centuries with all the invaders. He shared the local delicacies — mint tea and amazing cookies — with me, and we truly felt like friends by the time I moved on to Chefchaouen.

With Radia’s guidance, I visited Casablanca, and the amazing Hassan II mosque, with a Muslim scholar who could really immerse me in the religion, far beyond the 5 pillars. The trip ended in Marrakesh, where I had the most unique experience of learning how to make mosaics. This wasn’t a “tourist activity”; this was a visit to a gentleman’s workshop where we cut the tiles, arranged the mosaics and eventually plastered the mosaics into place. Radia provided a translator because the artist — having mastered this trade 40 years ago — did not speak English.

And I have to give a strong shout-out to my driver, Rachid. Throughout my tour, he was always on time, always kind, always conversational, and a great driver to boot. This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local. We visited the communal bakery and the hammam, two vital components of life for every Moroccan. I was able to go hiking in the Atlas Mountains, obtain early entry to the Majorelle Gardens, and have someone guide me through the mazes of the Medinas. The riad in Marrakesh was truly divine! Unlike other tours that whisk you here and there, in international hotels, where you never meet a local, Radia and her team ensured that I felt like a Moroccan from the very start.” —Milinda Martin

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

Spain: “Maybe my favorite place was San Sebastián—so beautiful on the water. Could definitely live there…”

Leon Malkin

Leon Malkin’s view of San Sebastián from his hotel room. Photo: Traveler Leon Malkin

“I visited Sevilla, Cordoba, Ubeza, Granada, Bilbao, San Sebastián, and finished in Madrid where I did day trips to Toledo and Salamanca. Every place was a joy to visit. I particularly loved Sevilla and the old city, where the guide took me for tapas and the following night I had a cooking course at her home where we made soups and paella. Granada and the Alhambra were sensational. Ubeza was a great visit where they were restoring some of the Jewish homes and creating a museum.

Visiting an organic farm and old castle in the Andalusian countryside was so special especially having lunch and a guided tour of the castle by the Countess. The Guggenheim in Bilbao was awesome and my guide gave a great tour of the huge space. Maybe my favorite place was San Sebastián—so beautiful on the water. Could definitely live there. My guide Gurutze was so great to be with. Madrid was a big city but I really enjoyed my walking tour of the city and Royal Palace. I also attended a Flamenco show and dinner which was most enjoyable. The old university in Salamanca was especially interesting. My favorite hotels were in Sevilla, Madrid, and San Sebastián.

What impressed me most about Spain was their quality of life, cleanliness, low crime rate, food, historic places of interest, and friendliness of the people. Could not recommend Spain enough as a destination. Thanks so much to Virginia and her team and to Wendy Perrin for her high standards of travel advisors.” —Leon Malkin

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

Norway: “Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the northern lights…”

Northern Lights, Alta Fjord, Norway

The northern lights above Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Jeannie Mullen

“Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.

I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.

And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Southeast Asia: “Most of my travel is solo and private, so I rely on travel planners to make everything seamless…”

Jeannie Mullen

Jeannie Mullen at the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Laos.

“On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. Most of my travel is solo and private, so I rely on travel planners to make everything seamless and as problem-free as possible. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan, and, just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime. They put together a very detailed, interesting and diverse trip for me (and that included securing expedited travel visas).

I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO sites in one single trip, ever. I cannot say enough about this part of the world, the food, the people and the culture. So different than what I am used to and so very interesting. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention.

Vietnam was so special and different … Hanoi and Saigon such busy, eclectic places with great food, shopping, museums and live evening performances … lots of war history, which I found fascinating. I got the biggest kick out of enjoying a street food tour on the back of a Vespa scooter in rush hour traffic … being at street level and driving through the backstreets, alleys and neighborhoods added an entire new level to the experience … Contrast these experiences with very different low-key rural locations and experiences areas like Ninh Minh (a hike and a relaxing float trip), a relaxing one-night cruise on Halong Bay among gorgeous limestone islands, several nights in the provincial town of Hue to explore the Citadel, garden houses and quiet streets and a boat ride on the Perfume river, followed by several days in the ancient town of Hoi An to discover the distinctive blend of cultures and architecture in the old quarter.

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 SE Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.”—Jeannie Mullen

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

India: “There is no way that I could have seen the things I saw in the bazaars, eaten the street food, or bought the treasures I did without Diggi’s help. He took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone…”

Colorful ethnic shoes and gipsy belt on yellow Rajasthan cushion cover on flea market in India.

Traditional clothes on a flea market in India. Photo: Shutterstock

“My trip with Victoria was superb. As you may recall, she created a flawless itinerary for my first trip to India several years ago. This time, it was a solo trip focused on Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Jaipur.

Haridwar was the most “off the grid” I had been thus far. It is one of the most sacred cities in Hinduism and lacks the foreign tourism one finds in Varanasi. I was one of only two international travelers I saw during my time there. My hotel, Haveli Hari Ganga, was located within the bazaar and had its own private bathing ghat. I swam in the Ganga and was able to participate with only two other guests (from Delhi) in a private Aarti ceremony. And I had my own Havan pooja the next morning with the pandit. Extraordinary.

In Rishikesh I had asked to stay within the town, as I wanted to experience the spiritual scene in town amidst the hippie seekers and the yogis. Victoria got me a balcony over the Ganga. It was exactly what I wanted. My guide in Rishikesh, Divya, was superb. She and I spent three days together, exploring everything on my list and adding to it. We had the best place to sit at each Aarti ceremony, we met with the head pandit at every mandir, I had the best guide and a private boat when I went river rafting–and swimming in the Ganga, again.

Post Rishikesh I went to Jaipur and stayed at the Samode Haveli. My first time in Jaipur I had stayed at the Rambagh Palace. My thinking is: Go big or go Samode. That is, stay at the Rambagh because there is NOTHING like it, or stay at the Samode because it is charming and heritage and much, much cheaper than the other palace hotels.

Victoria thought I could benefit from the expertise and guidance of India Beat’s Jaipur manager, Diggi, in the bazaars. She was right. There is no way that I could have seen the things I saw in the bazaars, eaten the street food, or bought the treasures I did without Diggi’s help. He took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone. We spent an entire day, at my request, choosing fabric and having dresses made, shopping, praying, speaking in Hindi, and eating lots of samosas, sweets, and faloodeh. Victoria also arranged lunch at the new Villa Palladio (I LOVE exploring hotels) outside of town. I was met by Barbara, the Italian owner, and toured the property with its manager. Gorgeous. As was lunch on the verandah overlooking the gardens.

And, just like that, two weeks had flown by and I was headed home. I recommend Victoria to your travelers without reservation and with great enthusiasm and I urge them to trust her judgment and instincts. She delivers way more than she promises.” —Jennifer Black

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

Sicily: “Touring Palermo with a local who then helped research and translate the birth records of my great-grandfather in the village where he was born…”

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

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

“The first time tour of Sicily that Matteo planned for me was an amazing cultural tour of my ancestors’ homeland. I asked him to plan a 10 day tour across the whole island, focusing on culture and food (of course, being Sicilian myself) and he did not disappoint. Sure anyone could open a tour book and pick from the standard museums and cultural attractions, however the benefit of using an experienced local agency like Matteo’s was their firsthand knowledge of experiences I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

For example, I went wine tasting at multiple vineyards, however doing so with a personal guided tour from the owner and a certified wine sommelier made the experience that much more exceptional and personal. I visited an almond farm (didn’t even know you could do that) where we sat down with the owner and ate an amazing traditional Sicilian lunch prepared by his wife. Of course the best was touring Palermo with a local who then helped research and translate the birth records of my great-grandfather in the village where he was born was an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity, (Thanks Enrica!) If you’re going to visit Sicily, I highly recommend you consult with an experienced agency like Matteo’s before you do.” —Chris Lopinto

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

START A TRIP TO SICILY

Thailand, Laos & Cambodia: “I surprised myself by learning to cook five excellent Thai dishes…”

Over the top view of traditional Northern Thai food on a wooden table.

Traditional Northern Thai food. Photo: Shutterstock

“I traveled to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with an itinerary designed by Sandy and Ethan, and the trip truly surpassed my expectations. An unexpected highlight was visiting the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary in Laos, where I got face to face with the enormous gentle animals and spent time feeding them and walking through the forest with them.

Another highlight was attending an all-day Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai where I surprised myself by learning to cook five excellent Thai dishes. We made everything from scratch under the direction of an expert Thai chef whose English was excellent.

Lastly, I loved spending five nights of luxurious relaxation at a private island resort, Song Saa, off the coast of Cambodia. Song Saa was everything I was looking for: quiet, private, tranquil and luxurious. And because I visited during the low season, it felt as if I had the island all to myself. I would happily spend another week there.” —Henry Robles

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

Chile: “A trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert”

Traveler walking up snowy incline with walking poles in Atacama desert Chile.

That’s traveler Jeannie Mullen hiking in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

“Just back from the holidays in Chile, and I could not have been any more pleased with Tom’s trip planning. We focused on Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and the Atacama Desert. Highlights included:

* Vina Vik—what a phenomenal location, beautiful art and architecture, terrific young staff and fabulous food. Every detail taken care of, no matter how small. I hiked every day, had a tasting at their winery, took a cooking class with their chef, which started with choosing our ingredients for lunch from their organic garden, and also took a mixology class with their bartender and learned the secret to a pisco sour.

* Santiago—a walk through the boho neighborhoods in Valparaiso (shopping, street art, great food) and a fresh seafood lunch in Vina Del Mar. Tom’s private guide was a wealth of knowledge about current events in Chile (I’m a nerd about politics … they have just elected a new president and are writing a new constitution). She also knows where to go for the best Peruvian food (which I was on the hunt for).

* The Atacama Desert—an unexpected pleasure and my favorite experience, hands down. I didn’t know what to expect when Tom first suggested the desert, but I went with it anyway and followed his advice. I never knew how beautiful a desert could be. From every angle, at every time of day … the colors. Awasi is an interesting and authentic local property, fresh and creative food, an energetic, caring and engaging staff, and attention to absolutely every single detail. Every guest is assigned their own guide/trekker and 4×4 vehicle for the entirety of their stay. Each day we trekked to a new and interesting place—the salt flats, the petroglyphs, canyons, etc. We’d hike in the morning and in the afternoons, never in the middle of the day when the heat was at its worst. One morning we left at 5:30 a.m. to drive to the geysers in time for the sunrise. On the way back we stopped at a scenic overlook and my trekking guide cooked me breakfast out of the back of the 4×4.

On what would have been my last day to trek before heading to the Calama airport the next morning, my guide convinced me that I could trek to the summit of Toco volcano (elevation approx 18,400 ft). I took a leap of faith and extended my trip an extra day in order to make the ascent (Tom and the Awasi staff made it easy for me to do this by handling all of those last-minute travel logistics also). On the way back we stopped for lunch (again out of the back of the 4×4), and then they called ahead and made arrangements for a massage upon my return. When we got back to Awasi, the staff was waiting outside the front gate to congratulate me. A day that I will never, ever forget. And all because of their encouragement. That night at dinner, Pablo, the sommelier, recommended an infusion (tea) with rica rica to help me recover from the affects of the altitude. In sum, a phenomenal leg to the trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO CHILE

Iceland: “The trip of a lifetime for me…”

Sea cave, Iceland. Photo: Arnar Kristjansson Photography

Chris planned the trip of a lifetime to Iceland for me. I contacted him only two weeks before departure, and he put together an incredibly detailed itinerary, including reservations at the top hotels and restaurants. He also arranged fascinating experiences such as hiking to an ice cave inside a glacier, bathing in an outdoor thermal pool overlooking a fjord and mountains, and a stay at the spectacular private Retreat at the Blue Lagoon. Iceland and its scenery were magnificent.” —Lyn McHugh

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

START A TRIP TO ICELAND

Egypt: “The on-the-ground team was terrific about flexibility. I felt like they were my ‘genies in a bottle.’ Whatever I wished for, they went out of their way to make it happen, even on the same day!”

Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor as seen from our hot air balloon just after dawn Egypt.

Hot air balloon, Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Stephen Behnen

Jim and his team check all the boxes.

Excellent guides, check!

Well curated—not days so full, I forgot what I saw—check!

Customized for me, check!

Flawless execution, check!

A high-quality, on-the-ground team, check!

Comfortable vehicles, check!

Flexibility with start time and itinerary, check!

Private experiences, check!

Behind-the-scenes opportunities, check!

Here are some stories to provide a flavor of what made this trip a WOW experience.

In Cairo, my hotel room wasn’t what I was expecting. Jim’s logistics person, who met me at the airport and took me to my hotel, was determined to change that. He wouldn’t leave the hotel until he spoke to the manager, and then shortly after that, despite the hotel being full, I was moved to the room I wanted.

Not only was my Cairo guide well-educated and knowledgeable, I felt as though she was matched to me. We had so much in common; we felt like friends by the end of our time together.

Jim provided a comprehensive itinerary and assured me it was flexible, and it was. The on-the-ground team was terrific about flexibility. I felt like they were my “genies in a bottle.” Whatever I wished for, they went out of their way to make it happen, even on the same day! When I thanked my guide for this, her response was, “You don’t come to Egypt every day, we want you to have the best experience.”

I could share many examples of what made this trip a WOW experience; here’s my favorite.

I wanted to see Jewish history in Cairo, in particular, to meet the “leader” of the few remaining Jews and visit the Jewish cemetery. Jim’s team tried hard to arrange these two requests in advance but was unsuccessful. The leader was out of town, and the government said no to visiting the cemetery. Unbeknownst to me, they were not giving up. Both my guide and the driver (who was also Wow, btw) were determined to make it happen, and they did. The driver drove down a road that didn’t seem drivable, stopped in front of a gate, and tested it. It was open, and in we went. It turned out this was an old Muslim cemetery. My guide spoke to some men she found. They knew about the Jewish one, called someone, I gave them some baksheesh (she told me how much), and off we went to the Jewish one, where someone was waiting to let us in for a bit more baksheesh. It was a wonderful experience seeing a centuries-old resting place of my ancestors, but what made it a lasting memory was the effort of the guide and the driver to make it happen.

I could go on and on with examples. Jim took me on rather last-minute because I was in a bind. The planner I had started working with had dropped the ball, and I was anxious because I was traveling alone. I had just learned about Wendy Perrin and contacted her, hoping to rescue my trip. Jim said yes despite being busy and in the middle of a move. From beginning to end, he and everyone on his team continued to say yes, and the process was flawless.”—Elisa Spain

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

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

London: “My private tours were fantastic, with guides who made London come alive for me by showing me different ways to experience the city…”

Aerial view of the Westminster Abbey from the Skyline in London.

Aerial view of the Westminster Abbey in London. Photo: Shutterstock

“I am just back from a magnificent visit to London. Wendy directed me to Jonathan and his wonderful colleague Katie, who were super attentive to my interests and also my circumstance as a woman traveling alone. January in London is the off-season, but still I never expected to see Westminster Abbey with only five other visitors! The same was true almost everywhere I went, whether Churchill’s War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, the British Museum. The food markets were busy but mostly with locals, as were the pubs and restaurants.

My private tours were fantastic, with guides who made London come alive for me by showing me different ways to experience the city. I had so much fun learning about London street art from Alex, and Emma’s history of London in four drinks ended up in a gin distillery—what’s not to love about a great history lesson with a gin and tonic in hand!  I really wanted to visit Hampton Court Palace again and fit in a visit to Oxford. Simon, my driver-guide, made my day to Hampton Court and Oxford extra special by suggesting we include a stop at Runnymede and also asked if I’d like to attend Evensong at one of the college chapels in Oxford. The day was filled with great conversation, meaningful history, glorious sites, and capped by a beautiful service at New College chapel.” —Nancy Footer

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

Uzbekistan: “Zulya set up a private tour with the Museum exhibition director, who is also an art history professor at the local university…”

Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Zulya Rajabova.

“I traveled to Uzbekistan. The ancient cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand are all wonderful—the architecture is breathtaking, perhaps some of the best preserved Islamic architecture in the world. I learned a lot of history about this part of the world that is often overlooked in American schools! In particular, I enjoyed the Savitsky Museum in Nukus. Zulya set up a private tour with the Museum exhibition director, who is also an art history professor at the local university. She was terrific and spent over two hours with me. Her explanations of the history of the 1920s-40s in both Russia and Nukus/Uzbekistan gave me a great perspective on the art.

Another trip highlight was Zulya setting up a lunch with her family in her hometown of Bukhara. It was a real treat to meet her parents, as well as many of her siblings, nieces, and nephews. The lunch was really tasty and bountiful: They demonstrated how they make plov, the national dish, and we also had many other tasty dishes, bread, and homemade fruit juices. After lunch, the children put on a dance show, and I was asked to join them. I am NOT a dancer but gave it a go! Their warm hospitality was much appreciated, and I had a wonderful time.

The trip logistics were flawless, and the only disappointment was that the Tajikistan border inexplicably closed a day before I was to travel to Tajikistan!  So my hiking there had to be canceled—a big disappointment. However, within 24 hours, Zulya’s local team was able to organize hiking in the Tian Shan mountains outside of Tashkent instead, complete with a guesthouse and a local hiking guide. I did three hikes, and the scenery was great. While I would have preferred to see the Fann Mountains/Seven Lakes, it was great to still be able to do some hiking on such short notice.” —Sally Lee

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

START A TRIP TO UZBEKISTAN

Italy: “This review really only scratches the surface of 87 days in Italy, five weeks of which were horseback riding…”

an autumn landscape in the Chianti region of Tuscany hills in the surroundings of Radda in Chianti

Chianti region vineyard, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“The trip was the most enjoyable of my life. In 87 days, Andrea’s team showed foresight in catering to my needs/interests and flexibility in adapting to my needs and interests as they changed, instead of rigidly and blindly following the itinerary. That includes changing transport arrangements based on circumstances and my preferences and guides being willing to take me places that I saw on the spot and sounded interesting. The guides had to be among the most knowledgeable in their cities and regions. Andrea’s team worked seamlessly with a riding outfitter to mix horse trips with their arrangements. This review really only scratches the surface of 87 days in Italy, five weeks of which were horseback riding.

• Did the trip planner add value to your trip?

Yes. By having really knowledgeable guides who had dealt with the people who worked at every site who were willing to change the itinerary as circumstances and personal interests changed. We couldn’t do the Siracusa archeological area on the first day, but were able to add it to the beginning of another. Also, having private drivers meant that it was possible to see more since the driver could let us off at one place and pick us up at another. The guides and Andrea’s team were able to book restaurants at the last moment and other activities, such as puppet shows in Sicily.

• Did you have certain trip experiences that other travelers should either seek out or avoid?

They should seek out a villa in Sicily between Siracusa and Agrigento with complete mosaics that depicted in fine detail life in Ancient Rome, the private tour of the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, the Galileo Museum in Florence, the city of Verona, and the Piemonte region, which has rolling scenery every bit as beautiful as that of Tuscany plus great views of the Alps. Being with dogs hunting truffles was a lot of fun. San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, and Perugia were all beautifully preserved medieval and Renaissance cities/towns that made me feel transported back in time.  The only place which I wish I hadn’t visited was the August Mausoleum because the restorations and alterations totally wrecked what was an amazing building when it was constructed.” —Daniel Wile

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

African safari: “A pregnant leopard stretched in a tree, climbed down and walked by our vehicle…”

A leopard walking around at a national park in Zimbabwe

A leopard walking around a national park in Zimbabwe. Photo: Shutterstock

“I love Africa, been there more than 5 times. I wanted to change up my next trip with a custom itinerary instead of a pre-defined tour. Wendy’s expert, Cherri, created a fabulous and memorable experience. Cherri asked me what I love about Africa. The itinerary she recommended included:

Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

In Mana Pools, views were expansive and breathtaking. The Nyamatusi camp was modern and rustic and comfortable. The staff was musical and friendly and fabulous. The heat was notable, but the plunge pool, fan, outside shower and the banks of the Zambezi River made every day super special. Elephants, wild dogs and hippos were so close and easy to watch to create a super special experience.

At Chobe, Flo, one of the earliest woman guides in Africa, was my own private guide. The place was uncrowded, so Flo and I drove and floated the Zambezi every day. We did more outings on the Zambezi and I got to see so much elephant and hippo behavior at the water’s edge!!!

On the Okavango Delta, the Kwai Tented Camp is a modern, beautiful place and extremely comfortable. Giraffe, hippo, wild dogs, lion, hyena and leopard kept us company. I got an amazing moment in a tiny helicopter ride over the delta. We also had a really close up visit with a pack of wild dogs, who were hanging out on a dry river bed near the camp. We ended the stay with a fabulous dinner in the camp boma.

At Sabi Sands, the first morning, a pregnant leopard stretched in a tree, climbed down and walked by our vehicle. Then a lion pride of about 20, including two males (brothers) and cubs 3 months, 6 months and one year old. The father of the cubs was eating what remained of a recent zebra. His brother waited nearby and one of the 6 month old cubs approached, looking for approval to check out the zebra. The father grunted, allowing the young one to chew and play with the nose area of the kill. A few times, the little one tried to move up towards the more interesting parts but was immediately corrected—back to the nose. According to the guide and tracker, this kind of behavior is very rare.

Wendy surprised me with a surprise WOW Moment—a visit to an elephant rescue, including an elephant ride. It was astounding!  I’m so hooked on Wendy’s experts for designing and arranging my trips!” —Helene Bard

Read more reviews of Africa 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 SOUTHERN AFRICA

London & Venice:  “Alvise, my artisan tour guide, knew the amazing talents on Murano, and introduced me to Maestro Pastor and his wood-carving talents…”

venice murano island canal with boats and no crowds

The island of Murano, Venice. Photo: Pixabay

“Wendy, my dream trip to London and Venice, arranged by Jennifer and her team, was everything that I had hoped for…with a little hiccup on the side. London was as amazing as ever. Jennifer was spot-on in recommending The Kensington. It had the best martinis of the entire trip (and I tasted many all over town) and was a quick walk to the Underground for exploring the city. Special access to the Churchill War rooms, a visit to the crypts of (an almost deserted) St. Paul’s, and amazing walks through Blenheim and Chartwell. My local guide, Hugh, knew more than just what was in history and guide books….it was an amazing educational and entertaining experience. I am already planning a return to follow in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence…Hugh, you better start reading up!!!

At the back end of the trip, Venice:  It wouldn’t be Venice if San Marco were not flooded at least once during the week…it did not disappoint. The Baglioni Hotel Luna was perfectly situated at the corner of the Piazza San Marco, right off the Grand Canal and around the corner from Harry’s Bar (still have great Bellini’s). Alvise, my artisan tour guide, knew the ins-and-outs of the cathedral, the amazing talents on Murano, and introduced me to Maestro Pastor and his wood-carving talents. But Jennifer left me just the right amount of time to wander (and get lost in) Venice on my own—it’s the best way to experience the city.

Unfortunately, the middle of the vacation was filled with major upheavals, not because of Jennifer but because of Belmond: A day before I was to embark on the Orient Express, the entire journey was cancelled. A major disappointment. However, Jennifer and her team quickly sprang into action and coordinated/expedited/confirmed transport for me from London to Bologna to Venice. It was a major logistics coup and something I could not have done without their help—it turned a nightmare scenario into a (minor) annoyance. But what would life be without such a glitch?? This only means that I will have to come back next year for the train experience—and Jennifer is already working on that. I’ll let you all know how that works out this time next year!!” —John Bradunas

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

START A TRIP TO LONDON AND VENICE

 

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

Where and When to Travel in 2023

2023 is shaping up to be a very busy year for international travel. Most of the countries that had Covid-related entry restrictions in 2022 have dropped them, which means there will be many more people worldwide making international trips this year than last. Depending on where they go, they may find service shortages, inflation, and the other conditions that apply when a country is trying to ramp back up after a pandemic yet also handle a sudden flood of tourists. So it will be crucial this year to choose your destination wisely and time your trip right. In our WOW Week Travel Talk on January 23rd, Wendy, Brook, and Carolyn shared how.

In a hurry? Start the video at 3:10. No time to watch the whole thing? Here are top takeaways:

This is the year to see Southeast Asia. It was among the last regions to reopen after Covid, and its bounce-back has been softer than Europe’s, so there is still time to see it before the large tour groups return. As for the rest of Asia, Japan has seen a huge surge in demand (and prices) since fully reopening last fall, and China isn’t currently issuing tourist visas to U.S. travelers, but India and Central Asia offer a lot of opportunity to travelers looking to get there before the big tour groups return. Read reviews from travelers just back from Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Choose Northern Europe over Southern. As happened last year, we predict that in 2023, Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and their neighbors will see overwhelming numbers of tourists. The city of Venice has begun charging day-trippers a fee to enter, and the Louvre Museum in Paris is now capping the number of visitors daily. If you must travel to Europe in peak season, then instead of Mediterranean locales, focus on more northerly places such as Scandinavia. Read reviews from travelers just back from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, Iceland, Norway, and Romania.

Don’t overlook South America. For sun in winter, value for money, and an outstanding diversity of landscapes and experiences, it’s hard to beat South America, especially in 2023: It is home to many of the countries that still have Covid-related entry requirements in place (Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay), so that should keep visitor numbers relatively low. Since WOW List destination specialists can make navigating these requirements a breeze, you can have a hassle-free trip in a place that feels unattainable to many others. South America is warm when Europe is cold, and there’s less jet lag and not nearly as many tour groups. From celeb-magnet beach towns in Brazil to coffee-region haciendas in Colombia to Amazonian lodges in Ecuador to heli-hiking in Chile to top-value wine regions in Argentina—not to mention the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia—South America doesn’t get old. Read reviews from travelers just back from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and Patagonia. (We’re keeping an eye on the situation in Peru and will keep you updated.)

Think about Australia, New Zealand, and Japan only if you can travel at off-peak times. These countries did not reopen until 2022, so there is enormous demand for them this year. To find availability and affordability, avoid peak periods (e.g., springtime cherry blossom season in Japan, which sold out months ago). Read reviews from travelers just back from Australia and New Zealand.

If you must travel to a place that’s in high demand, choose under-the-radar locations within it. Let’s say it’s your honeymoon in June, and nothing but Italy’s Amalfi Coast will do. WOW List destination specialists know the hidden-gem spots that will give you relief from the crowds—and they often have insider connections that can get you into sites after-hours, and behind-the-scenes access to places not open to the general public.

Traveling to a place during its “shoulder season” is smarter than ever. Shoulder season comes just before or after peak season, when the weather is still good but the crowds aren’t there, and prices are a bit lower.

Europe in low season has gained appeal too. The pandemic lengthened Europe’s tourist seasons: What was once shoulder season (April/May and September/October) is now very popular. What was once low season (November and March) is now a smart time to go, with weather pleasant enough for outdoor dining (unlike last summer’s temps above 100 degrees). Hotels are lengthening their season to accommodate higher travel demand (hotels on Lake Como, for instance, now stay open through December). The pleasures of Rome in January are no longer a best-kept secret. Read Winter is Europe’s Secret Season for more ideas.

Opt for nonstop flights. Every connection creates an opportunity for something to go wrong: a missed flight, lost luggage, an inconvenient delay. As the airlines find their feet post-Covid, there are more and more flights from U.S. cities to interesting international locales. If a stop is essential, choose one of the smartest airports for making connections in. When you are making a domestic connection to an international flight, consider overnighting at the connection point. (For instance, if you’re flying to Africa via JFK, missing your connection could seriously disrupt your safari plans, so consider spending the night in New York.)

The larger your group, the earlier you need to plan. When you only need one hotel room, it’s usually possible to develop the ideal itinerary to suit your interests and trip goals, and then book suitable hotels. But when you need two or more rooms, you may have to patch together hotel availability wherever you can get it and let that dictate your schedule. With a multigenerational trip or other large group, booking early will maximize your options.

If you’re worried about Covid, know that safe trips are possible. Choose warm-weather destinations where all the sightseeing and activities are in the open air, where streets and public spaces are not crowded, and where you can eat every meal outdoors. Here are smart options that we ourselves road-tested during the pandemic (and we never got Covid). For more options, ask us here.

Buy travel insurance and evacuation assistance. It can protect your financial investment, cover any medical expenses, and give you peace of mind. If you’re sick or injured, the right travel insurance policy will cover your care at the nearest appropriate facility; you need a second layer of protection if you want to be treated at home.

Links to Useful Resources

Where To Go When: Ideal Destinations For Each Month of the Year

Where Everybody’s Traveling in 2023: The 10 Most Popular Countries For WOW Trips

Countries with No Covid-Related Entry Requirements

Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2023

Smartest Airports for Making Connections

Winter Is Europe’s Secret Season

10 Top Dream Trips for 2023

The 2023 WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How to Get In

 

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

Unique Travel Opportunities For 2022 and Beyond

Shifts in the pandemic and other global circumstances have led to a unique travel landscape this year, from which unusual opportunities are emerging. We spoke with a selection of destination specialists on The WOW List to help you pinpoint how and where to get a better travel experience in 2022.

 

New Zealand – Sarah Farag

The Opportunity: Go now because demand will soar soon.

After a closure of more than two years, New Zealand finally reopened on May 1. Given how long the country was off-limits, how famously successful its pandemic response was, and how outdoorsy it is—New Zealand is a country of vast landscapes with more sheep than people and open-air adventure thrills galore—travelers are expected to flock there fast. Go before international flights restart in earnest and more long-haul nonstops are announced. Wendy’s already bought tickets on the Air New Zealand nonstop between New York/JFK and Auckland that will begin service in September.

Read reviews of Sarah’s trips.

 

Israel – Joe Yudin

The Opportunity: Go before the big bus tours and religious groups from around the world return. You might even consider a trip that combines Israel with Morocco!

More nonstop flights are now available from U.S. cities to Tel Aviv (see New Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2022). Most sights and monuments in Israel are open-air, and outdoor dining options have expanded a lot during the pandemic. Indoor museums and other indoor activities are relatively Covid-safe, not just because Israel’s vaccination rate is high and all travelers entering the country have just had a negative PCR test, but also because these museums have implemented capacity restrictions. That’s why museums and other activities must be reserved in advance. The same holds true for National Parks such as Masada, Tel Dan and Ein Gedi and all museums including Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum.

There’s another opportunity too, created by the recent Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and Morocco (as well as the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan): There are direct flights now between Morocco and Israel that allow for combining them in one trip.

Read reviews of Joe’s trips.

 

Austria, Germany, Poland – Gwen Kozlowski

The opportunity: Take advantage of two side effects of the war in Ukraine: fewer tour groups, and opportunities to help refugees.

Giant bus tours have not yet returned to the small, charming villages along the Danube and the Rhine. There are even seats left for bucket-list experiences this summer, most notably the Salzburg Music Festival and the Oberammergau Passion Play. For those looking for opportunities to volunteer to help refugees from Ukraine, Gwen can work with her team in Poland to arrange meaningful volunteer moments. If you prefer to wait till the fall, you can expect Central Europe’s Christmas markets—many of which were closed in 2021 due to Omicron—to be back in full swing in late November. They typically start around Thanksgiving.

Read reviews of Gwen’s trips.

 

Italy – Andrea Grisdale

The opportunity: Go this fall, a time of availability and relatively reasonable pricing sandwiched between the frenzy of spring/summer 2022 and the high demand we’re already seeing for spring/summer 2023.

If you’ve been shut out of spring/summer 2022 in Italy, thanks to sold-out accommodations and stupefying prices, think October or November instead. October is a good time almost anywhere in Italy: The temperature is lovely, there are fewer tourists, cities are less crowded, the cruise ships have left, and hotel prices, nature, and wine experiences are optimal. On the Amalfi Coast and in Puglia and Sicily, the water is still warm enough for swimming, and there are wine festivals and fall colors in Tuscany. In November the Piedmont region is ideal, what with its truffles, wine, mushrooms, and cheese festivals, and its hiking and cycling opportunities.

Read reviews of Andrea’s trips.

 

Malta – Jason Camilleri Allan

The opportunity: It’s an historic Mediterranean island that stays sunny and warm into December, and nearly every activity is in the open air.

The archipelago of Malta, a little south of Sicily, did an excellent job fending off Covid and now has a full-vaccination rate of 93%. Malta is beloved by Europeans yet still under-the-radar for many U.S. travelers who instead are flooding Italy to the north. It’s easy to fly to Malta via London, Frankfurt, and other European hubs. Not only does Malta have a fascinating history, charming villages, and ornate architecture, but it’s also got a variety of other islands for off-the-beaten-path exploration or beach time. Jason can arrange unique experiences that involve meeting noteworthy local characters, from sustainable farmers and food producers to pipe organists and Knights of Malta.

Read reviews of Jason’s trips.

 

African Safaris – Cherri Briggs

The opportunity: Go in 2022 to avoid next year’s price hikes.

Throughout the pandemic, one of the safest trips you could possible take has been an African safari (Brook went twice: in 2021 and just recently in April 2022). That’s because you’re outdoors all day and, at night, you’re in your private luxury freestanding bungalow or plush tent. Airports are not nearly as crowded in Africa as they are in the U.S., and many African countries have dropped their entry requirement of a pre-flight Covid test, which makes multi-country safaris easier again. There is tremendous demand for safaris both this summer and for Christmas/New Year’s, so date flexibility is key. October and November are great months because it’s the dry season in most of the safari countries, so animals are flocking to the watering holes. Cherri says the biggest advantage of taking a safari in 2022 is pricing, which she expects to go up substantially for 2023. For now, a few new lodges are opening this year with substantial discounts good until next year.

Read reviews of Cherri’s trips.

 

The Galapagos Islands – Allie Almario

The opportunity: The wildlife viewing is off the charts, thanks to fewer human visitors during the pandemic.

“It’s almost as if the sea lions have missed having human friends visiting them,” jokes Allie. The incidence of Covid in the Galapagos archipelago has been very low throughout the pandemic, creating a great bubble of safety. Now that the word is out about the safety and the wildlife, the islands have become very popular, and there is little availability left for this summer or the winter holidays. The main opportunity left for this year is the fall. Availability is limited in the Galapagos—visitation to each island is strictly capacity-controlled, and there is only a handful of small luxury ships available—so it’s key to book far in advance. Spring break 2023 is nearly sold out already. Allie is seeing new types of sailing opportunities starting up in the Galapagos, including superyachts at $25,000/week and the archipelago’s first-ever cruise geared toward families with autistic children.

Read reviews of Allie’s trips.

 

Morocco – Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui

The opportunity: Travel itineraries today can include places that, before the pandemic, were too overtouristed to enjoy.

Morocco has stayed open through most of the pandemic and has an excellent Covid-safety record, probably partly because it’s easy to be in the open air all the time: Almost all your sightseeing is outdoors, you can eat every meal al fresco, and it’s easy to find accommodations (such as freestanding private riads) that are very airy and distanced from other hotel guests. Places that were suffering from overtourism before the pandemic, such as Chefchaouen, are much less crowded now and thus able to be enjoyed again. Also, there are the aforementioned new direct flights between Casablanca and Tel Aviv (a consequence of the Abraham Accords) that make it possible to combine Morocco and Israel in one trip.

Read reviews of Hicham’s trips.

 

Egypt and Jordan – Jim Berkeley

The opportunity: Emerging from the pandemic are more open-air experiences, from desert oases to dahabiya cruising to glamping in Lawrence-of-Arabia landscapes.

New and unusual outdoor experiences abound in Egypt: Siwa Oasis has opened again after a five-year closure, and the opening of the Lazib Inn at Fayoum Oasis means you can explore Egypt’s Western Desert and birdwatch at the same time. The number of dahabiya cruises on the Nile has grown rapidly, and there’s now plenty of outdoor dining on boats, from the Four Seasons’ First Nile Boat restaurant in Cairo to private dining aboard Jim’s yacht in Aswan. A private tented dinner for two under the stars at the Pyramids is possible too (crazy expensive, but possible). Next door in Jordan, new open-air experiences include culinary walking tours of Old Amman and glamping in the red-hued desert of Wadi Rum at the Bespoke Hideaways Bedouin-style camp. As for indoor museums, there are a couple in Egypt that shouldn’t be missed: Later this year (probably November) the new Grand Egyptian Museum is finally expected to open, to much fanfare. The new Royal Mummies Hall at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is a must-see too.

Read reviews of Jim’s trips.

 

Here are links to some of the useful resources that we mentioned during the Zoom:

Our Covid-19 travel intel section

The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How To Get In

Our “Where to Go When” series

New Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2022

5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return to the U.S.

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel

Getting a Covid Test Abroad is Easy

Where You Can Travel with No Pre-Trip Test Required

WOW Travel During Covid: The Trip Reviews That Matter Most Right Now

The 2022 WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

Travel Solutions for Summer 2022

Two years’ worth of pent-up travel demand has suddenly been unleashed, and now it seems like everyone in the world is flooding back to Italy, France, and Greece all at once. Given the sold-out hotels and astronomical pricing in dream locations such as Paris and Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where can you still get a Covid-safe and iconic experience this summer? In this talk, we discussed your smartest options.

Wendy’s big tip: Go to a country the first summer after it re-opens. If you wait until the second summer, you’ll encounter the sort of sky-high demand that we’re now seeing in Italy, France, and Greece (which were all open throughout last summer). Consider countries that did not reopen in a sustained, workable manner until after last summer—countries that include Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand. For under-the-radar trip ideas and unique opportunities for this summer—including cruise deals galore—watch the video below.

Italy, France, and England (starts at 05:00)
Jennifer Virgilio

May and June are booked solid in France and Italy, but availability of charming 4-star and 5-star accommodations can be uncovered here and there in July and August if you know where to look. A city break in August this year—in Paris, Rome, or Florence—will be hot but could be a way to avoid some of the crowds that are flocking to the beach areas. London is lovely in August—not too hot or crowded.

Portugal and Spain (starts at 8:45)
Gonçalo Correia

May and June are sold out, but in July and August, there is good availability for charming hotels in the Douro Valley and the Alentejo. Plus, much of Spain’s Basque Country is off the beaten path and has milder temperatures. However, as in France and Italy, the coastlines and beach areas are packed.

Croatia (starts at 11:25)
Ala Osmond

Croatia just dropped all Covid-related entry requirements, and it’s busy but not sold out. The key to a fabulous experience of Croatia this summer is flexibility in your travel dates. Check hotel availability before you book your flights. Also, combining Croatia with nearby countries (Montenegro or Slovenia, for instance) is easier now than it was earlier in the pandemic, since nearby countries have dropped their Covid-related entry requirements too.

Switzerland (starts at 15:30)
Nina Muller

Lots of activities in Switzerland are outdoors, and there are many opportunities for hiking. Also, because the country is small, many things can be done in a day trip. That gives travelers more hotel options, as there are many places where they can base themselves and still enjoy the country. Nina also recommended that if you can’t find availability in Italy this summer, consider the Italian region of Switzerland (such as Lake Lugano and Ticino).

Norway and Scandinavia (starts at 18:50)
Jan Sortland

Norway has so much more than fjords: There are mountains, forests, and more than 200,000 islands. And even in the last days of August and in September, it’s dark enough at night that you can see the Northern Lights!

Beaches in Hawaii and Mexico, and ski resorts in summertime (starts at 22:20)
Meg Austin

Meg is seeing summer specials in Hawaii and on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. She also recommends that families consider ski resorts in summertime: There are a ton of outdoor adventure activities on offer, and top places to stay are much more affordable than in ski season.

Mexico (starts at 27:50)
Zach Rabinor

Zach says that, since there’s a lot of sargassum on Mexico’s Riviera Maya this summer, he is pointing travelers to Mexico’s Pacific Coast instead. There are now four nonstop flights a week from New York’s JFK to Puerto Vallarta, which is also the gateway to Punta Mita. Travelers should also think about Mexico City for its lively arts and culinary scene. Mexico City is relatively cool in summer because it’s 7,000 feet above sea level; temperatures are only in the 70s during the day and the 50s at night. The museums and restaurants are all open in summertime, and there’s good value to be found because hotels are eager for visitors.

Cruises (starts at 32:10)
Tom Baker

Prices for cruises in Alaska, the Caribbean, Canada, and the Mediterranean are lower now than they were before the pandemic. There’s still a lot of availability on Alaska cruises, which is highly unusual so close to summertime, so that’s a real pocket of opportunity now. In terms of safety, Tom says now is a good time to cruise because there are relatively few passengers onboard, because the ships are still monitored by the CDC, and because there’s plenty of staff onboard (unlike in many hotels nowadays). Take advantage of this moment, as cruise ships may be packed full again in 2023. There are also great deals for solo travelers.

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia (starts at 37:15)
Dan Fraser

Dan says that traveling in Southeast Asia right now is like traveling there 30 years ago. The number of tourists is about 10% to 15% of the usual number. Many people have the mistaken impression that Southeast Asia is not a summer destination: Thanks to a wide variety of environments, many places are at their best in July and August, such as Koh Samui in Thailand and Nha Trang in Vietnam.

Wendy and the WOW Listers take questions from the audience. (starts at 43:28)

To start planning your own trip, reach out to one of the recommended local experts on The WOW List using Wendy’s introduction form—that way, you’ll be designated a VIP traveler and get the other benefits of using Wendy’s WOW approach to securing an extraordinary, safe trip. If you’re not sure who the right WOW Lister is or where to go that will meet your specific trip needs and goals, use the Ask Wendy questionnaire for a personalized recommendation.

Here are links to some of the useful resources that we mentioned during the Zoom:

Our Covid-19 travel intel section

The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How To Get In

Our “Where to Go When” series

New Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2022

5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return to the U.S.

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel

Getting a Covid Test Abroad is Easy

Where You Can Travel with No Pre-Trip Test Required

WOW Travel During Covid: The Trip Reviews That Matter Most Right Now

The 2022 WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

View of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Places to See in 2021—Before The Tour Groups Return

We’re all trying to choose travel destinations that are Covid-safe, relatively easy, and well worth it. But some of us are looking for something even more: places that will deliver a better experience and greater value this year than next.  We travel opportunists are focused on those locales that are uncrowded and affordable now, relative to what they will be in 2022 and 2023 once millions more prospective tourists have been vaccinated and the bus tours and cruise groups return. Such locales include many popular Mediterranean coastlines and islands, as well as certain European cultural capitals and iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you’re comfortable with international travel this year, here are ten of our top picks for locales we think you’re better off experiencing now rather than waiting.

ASK WENDY TO RECOMMEND THE BEST TRIP FOR YOU

 

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

To experience the Amalfi Coast properly is to drive it without tour buses blocking your views and jamming traffic on the hairpin turns, to awaken each morning to breakfast on your own private balcony with panoramic sea views, and even to have your own dock so you can get around the traditional way—by boat.  Normally it’s not possible to get all that for less than 1,000 euros per night, so go while you can.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

As it has grown into a hub for European river cruises that start and end there, Amsterdam has gotten more and more absurdly crowded. Go when you’re not shut out of tickets to the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and every charming boutique hotel.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is normally a major gateway for Mediterranean cruises, with tens of thousands of passengers embarking and disembarking daily. But here’s what Billie found when she was there in June: Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships. She was rewarded with rare experiences like this.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

This tiny, walled, medieval city is normally inundated in summertime with cruise-ship crowds. Since Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar, and virtually all of Croatia is one big outdoor museum, it feels Covid-safe in addition to being cruise-free right now, and that’s why travelers are loving it this year.

Egypt

The pyramids and tombs along the Nile are usually jam-packed with tour groups from around the globe who’ve come to see the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.  Billie is planning to get there before the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, now expected in late 2021 and sure to draw a big international crowd.

Greece

Santorini and other iconic Greek islands are blissfully peaceful this summer without the usual flotilla of cruise ships. Billie was there in June and also in Athens, where logistics at the Acropolis are much easier than usual. Read her article What Athens Is Like Right Now, as well as The Time to Go to Paros is Now and Naxos is the Greek Island You’ve Been Looking For. For more ideas, read recent Greece trip reviews.

Paris

Normally you’ll find tourists from around the world standing in line for hours at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. Today, such lines don’t exist. Read Billie’s article Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It and check out recent traveler reviews describing how uncrowded the city’s sights are now.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The ancient Incan citadel is currently seeing 900 visitors per day, versus 2,500 pre-pandemic (it’s at 40% capacity).  I personally know three very well-traveled people who have enjoyed spectacular trips to Peru in 2021 and felt safe throughout. Contact us at Ask Wendy for information on how to do it.

Venice, Italy

The sinking island city is the place in Italy that is most threatened by masses of tourists all disgorged at once from cruise ships. The good news is that large cruise ships have been banned. Tour groups are likely to come in droves again in 2022, though, and space in Venice is always at a premium, so carpe diem!

 


 

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