Tag Archives: travel tips

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Where to Go in October: The Best Places to Travel

Pleasant temperatures, fewer tourists, and shoulder-season deals make October a great time to travel to a large swath of the globe. Since you can’t go everywhere, we’ve pinpointed a few of the optimal spots. From vineyard-hopping in France to whale-shark-spotting in the Seychelles, the following destinations and experiences belong on your October travel list.

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

Italy: From the Cinque Terre to Puglia

Castello di Grinzane and village in Piedmont - one of the most famous wine regions of Italy

Castello di Grinzane and village in Piedmont – one of the most famous wine regions of Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

From the northern coastline to the boot of the heel—and just about everywhere in between—Italy is gorgeous in October. The weather is pleasant, hotels aren’t charging their peak-season rates, and you’ll enjoy a more authentic experience when the people dining beside you at the trattorias are locals, not tourists. On the Amalfi Coast, October is when the throngs of cruise-ship passengers have thinned, prices have dropped (a little), there’s plenty of sun, and the sea is still warm enough for swimming. In Tuscany, festivals for the olive and grape harvests abound, and the fall foliage is stunning. In Rome, you don’t need to wait in line for an outside table in the city’s iconic piazze.
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Burgundy, France

Burgundy's rolling hillsides

Burgundy’s rolling hillsides. Photo: Trufflepig

The chaos of harvest is over and the grapes are in—which means there’s still lots of activity in the wineries, since the wines are fermenting and the vinification is in full throe, but the winemakers themselves have a little more time to spend with visitors. It’s also the prettiest time: The leaves on the vines turn yellow and gold, and you realize why they call it the Côte d’Or (the golden slopes). And beyond the wines, it’s the most interesting time for seasonal produce: Mushrooms and squashes complement wild game on the menus of the local restaurants.
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Madrid, Spain

Old cozy street in Madrid, Spain. Architecture and landmark of Madrid, postcard of Madrid

Cultural events pick up in fall in Madrid. Photo: Shutterstock

In September and October, the blistering summer heat abates and cultural events pick up, with festivals, theater shows, and concerts. It’s also much easier to get a room at one of the new luxury hotels that has opened in the city in recent years, from the Four Seasons to the Rosewood to the Edition.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Madrid. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Austria’s Danube Valley

The Wachau Valley, Austria

The Wachau Valley, Austria. Photo: Austrian Tourist Board

October is at the end of peak season, there’s gorgeous fall scenery, and it’s harvest time in the vineyards, which means that the Heuriger (wine taverns) are especially fun and lively and you’ll probably get to try new wines. More important, especially for wine buffs, many of the smaller (and better) Heurigers aren’t open year-round, but they’re all open in October.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Austria. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sicily and Malta

Mt. Etna, Sicily.

Mt. Etna, Sicily. Photo: Pixabay

October is one of the most colorful and flavorful months in Sicily and Malta. It is the season of the harvest in Sicily, which means fresh olives, almonds, and chestnuts—not to mention wild mushrooms, prickly pears, and carob—complement the island’s always-bountiful variety of culinary offerings. In nearby Malta, it is still warm enough for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, or a romantic overnight sail to the island of Gozo with nobody else around. Throughout the region, the air and sea temperatures are still warm and inviting, flights and accommodations are less expensive than during the summer, and the fewer tourists mean you get a more intimate experience with the local people.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sicily and Malta. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Croatia

aerial view of Hvar island and surrounding sea Croatia

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

Visit Croatia in the first half of October and you’ll find good weather, fewer tourists, and lower hotel prices than during peak season.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Croatia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Greece

sunset over sailboats Naxos Town Greece

Boats off the island of Naxos. Photo: Billie Cohen

Smart travelers will let the summer crowds die down, then go to Greece in the fall. As with Croatia, at that time of year you’ll find pleasant temperatures, quieter streets, and lower prices.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Greece. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Turkey

rainbow umbrellas hover over a street of shops and restaurants in Istanbul turkey

Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Tim Baker

The fall shoulder season is a sweet spot for Turkey: Istanbul and Cappadocia are sunny and mild, while on the Aegean Coast, it’s warm but not sweltering, and the sea is calm.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Turkey. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Utah’s National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Mark Campbell

October is one of the best months to explore Utah’s stunning national parks: The temperatures are generally moderate and the crowds thin. An insider can show you the parks on foot, by vehicle, and even from a helicopter.
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Big Island, Hawaii

Wai'pio Valley Lookout, Hawaii

Wai’pio Valley Lookout, Big Island, Hawaii.

October is the choicest month for the Big Island, as the weather is driest—with daytime temperatures hovering around 85 degrees—and families aren’t traveling, so prices are lower. (The only thing it’s not an ideal time for is surfing.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Hawaii. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Olympic National Park, Washington

A beautiful sunset on the ocean among the rocks, Cape flattery trail , Olympic Peninsula, Washington state

Sun on the ocean among the rocks, Cape flattery trail, Olympic Peninsula, Washington state. Photo: Shutterstock

In October, the weather is usually pleasant across all three of the park’s environments: the Olympic Mountains, the temperate Hoh Rain Forest, and the rugged Pacific coastline. There may be snow at the high elevations and some rain lower down, but the waterfalls will be flowing, and the area is very lush. Sunsets also tend to be spectacular at this time of year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Washington. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Japan

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

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

Autumn in Kyoto brings cooler air and bright red maples (which last into November), magnificent to behold alongside Zen gardens and royal villas.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Japan. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Bali

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan lake landscape, one of famous tourist attraction in Bali, Indonesia - Image

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan Lake, Bali. Photo: Shutterstock

While October falls during the rainy season, showers are usually limited to a few hours in the afternoon or overnight. It’s also less busy than the high season, making hotel rates more attractive.
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Northern Thailand

The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo: Anantara

Northern Thailand is at its best at the end of the green season: From mid-October to mid-December, the rains have diminished but the waterfalls and rivers are full, and the crowds and higher prices of the late-December to mid-January peak season have yet to arrive. The mountains are lush and green, and morning mists hanging in the valleys send shivers up your spine. (Bangkok is a year-round destination, and short bursts of rain can easily be dodged in the city.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Northern Chile and Argentina

the red sand of Chile's Atacama desert with tall mountains in the distance

The Atacama Desert of Chile has an otherwordly and beautiful landscape. Photo: Awasi

While both the Atacama Desert in Chile and the region around Salta, Argentina, are year-round destinations, October and November see fewer visitors than other times of year—leaving your vistas of these wide-open landscapes largely free of other travelers. (These are also excellent months to hop a flight to Easter Island, when the place is nearly empty and the weather ideal.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Chile and Argentina. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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China

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

China is huge, of course, and has a wide array of weather patterns, depending on location and elevation. But for a classic China itinerary, October is hard to beat: Skies are blue in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an, and temperatures are so agreeable you won’t need heat or air-conditioning.
Read reviews of WOW trips to China. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Oman

Dhow boat Cruise in Arabian Peninsula, boat on blue water with desert mountains in background

A dhow cruise on the Arabian Peninsula in Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

From mid-September through October, Oman’s weather is perfect: It’s not too hot in the desert and not too chilly in the mountains.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Oman. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Mongolia

An eagle hunter on horseback in Mongolia holding an eagle

An eagle hunter in Mongolia. Photo: Chris Rainier/Nomadic Expeditions

October is when you can attend the one-of-a-kind Golden Eagle Festival—a colorful celebration of a centuries-old Kazakh hunting tradition in the Altai Mountains. When the festival was founded in 1999, only 40 families still hunted with eagles; today more than 400 do so, and many locals rely on the income they earn during the event. Our Trusted Travel Expert can even arrange for you to have dinner with the competitors.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mongolia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Vietnam

Wonderful view of the East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate) to the Citadel and a moat surrounding the Imperial City with the Purple Forbidden City in Hue, Vietnam. Hue is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

View of the East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate) to the Citadel and a moat surrounding the Imperial City with the Purple Forbidden City in Hue, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

Since the monsoons hit northern, central, and southern Vietnam at different times, weather across Vietnam varies widely. If your goal is to travel throughout the country, the driest months to visit are October and March. Fall is when you’ll find the best weather conditions in Ho Chi Minh City and the south.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Vietnam. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Seychelles

Maia Luxury Resort, Anse Louis Beach, Seychelles

October brings a mix of good weather and value. Photo: Maia Luxury Resort/Lindsey Wallace

October represents a nice balance of great weather (not too hot and little to no rain) and great value (since many of the resorts still have low-season rates). It’s also the best month for snorkeling and diving with whale sharks.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Seychelles. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why October is a good time to go.

North America

California Coast

Hawaii: Maui

Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons National Park (first half of the month)

Mexico City (second half of the month)

Puerto Vallarta (second half of the month)

Riviera Maya (second half of the month)

Yellowstone National Park (first half of the month)

 

Central and South America

Bolivia

Brazilian Amazon

Buenos Aires

Colombia: Bogotá

Costa Rica: fishing, wildlife and turtle hatching

Patagonia (second half of the month)

Peru

 

Europe

Algarve

Andalusia

Athens

Canal Barge Cruises

Cotswolds

Czech Republic

Hungary

Killarney and County Kerry

London

Paris

Portugal

Romania (first half of the month)

Scotland

 

Asia

Agra

Bhutan

China: Yunnan Province

Delhi

Laos

Mumbai

Nepal

Trekking in the Himalayas

 

Africa and Middle East

Botswana

Cape Town and the Winelands

Madagascar

Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains

 

Australia and Pacific

Fiji

French Polynesia (first half of the month)

Great Barrier Reef

Papua New Guinea: trekking

Queenstown hiking and cycling

 

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Wild caribbean beach of Manzanillo at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Where to Go in January: The Best Places to Travel

Ring in the New Year at home, then get on a plane: Though prices are high through New Year’s, there are deals to be found starting later that first week in January. Tropical and Southern Hemisphere destinations work especially well for those needing a dose of sunshine.

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

British Columbia

two people watching the northern lights in british columbia canada

You’re likely to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if you visit British Columbia in January. Photo: Cyndie Martinez

January and February have the most reliable snowfall, making it ideal for not just skiing, but also ice-fishing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in Western Canada. You also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Those looking for an extra dose of adventure can even mush their own dogsled team from lodge to lodge—led by an expert guide, of course.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Canada. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

January is one of the nicest times of the year weatherwise for a winter escape, right in the middle of the Costa Rican dry season. It is often the only time in the high season that you can plan a last-minute trip and still have your first choice of the top properties.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Costa Rica. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Belize

Goff’s Caye Island, Belize.

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—or you can charter your own private yacht, enjoying fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and plenty of distance from everyone except your captain and first mate.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Mexico’s Interior

Guanajuato's historic center is full of colonial-era mansions and plazas.

Guanajuato’s historic center is full of colonial-era mansions and plazas. Credit: Journey Mexico

Mexico is much more than a one-dimensional beach destination. Sure, fabulous oceanfront resorts and sumptuous private villas abound on its long coastlines. But the country is also home to charming colonial towns such as Guanajuato, Morelia, and Oaxaca, captivating pre-Columbian ruins (especially in Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas), and a vibrant scene in Mexico City—and in January, these destinations have ideal temperatures and little rain.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mexico. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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U.S. National Parks

snowy scene of hot spring steaming in winter in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in winter. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

From snowshoeing in Yellowstone to hiking in Joshua Tree, adventures abound in our national parks—even in the middle of winter. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the Grand Canyon with a magical dusting of snow, or have a view of Yosemite Falls all to yourself.
Read reviews of WOW trips to U.S. national parks. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Argentina

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

January is prime season for hiking in Patagonia, which gets just a bit quieter after the holiday rush. Meanwhile, at the foothills of the Andes, the grapevines in Mendoza sit heavy with ripening fruit. Temperatures hit the 90s in Buenos Aires, so the locals hit the beach—leaving the city easy to navigate, with so little traffic.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Argentina. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Italy’s Cities

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with Rome, Florence, and Milan in January. Temperatures will typically be in the high 40s and 50s during the day, but plan on bundling up to fit in with the locals. Perhaps a new pair of leather gloves to complete your Italian look? They’ll be on sale. Italy generally has only two times during the year when they extend sconti (discounts) in retail shops: January and July. You can find deals at both boutique shops and international-brand stores after the holiday craziness, and you won’t have to fight the crowds so common at other times of the year. Enjoy Rome’s decadently rich hot chocolate as an afternoon treat, or post up next to a funghi (the mushroom-shaped outdoor heaters) and dine al fresco in one of Florence’s beautifully lit piazzas.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Thailand

small boat on beach of Koh Phangan island Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo: Journeys Within

Southern Thailand is ideal from mid-January through March, when the oceans are still relatively calm, and sunny skies and cooler temperatures prevail before the heat returns in April. Bangkok, meanwhile, is a year-round destination: There’s always great food and off-the-beaten-path adventures to uncover, and short bursts of rain can easily be dodged while in the city.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro by Sunset with Full Moon in the Sky

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

January is the best time to visit Rio—assuming you don’t mind temperatures that regularly hit 105 degrees: It’s the height of summer, Cariocas (Rio residents) are at their most relaxed, and the nightlife is at its peak.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Nicaragua

Nicaragua mountains

Nicaragua. Photo: TPS Dave/Pixabay

In January, the country is lush and green, there is no rain, and the breezes keep temperatures in the high 80s during the day on the coast—perfect for chilling out by the ocean—and in the 70s in the mountains—ideal for hikes in the cloud forest.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Nicaragua. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sri Lanka

Adams peak also known as Sri pada in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations

Adams peak, also known as Sri pada, in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in mid to late January is delightful—spring-like temperatures and blue skies—and it’s a quieter period sandwiched between two busy times: Christmas/New Year’s and Chinese New Year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sri Lanka. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Dubai

Burj Al Arab hotel and beach in Dubai

In January, Dubai is still warm enough for beaches, but also has a shopping festival. Photo: Pixabay

January is the cooler season—which in this part of the world means temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. Designers descend upon the city for the Shopping Festival, when shops and boutiques offer discounts all month long. Read how Brook spent a multi-day layover in Dubai’s desert.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Dubai. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sydney, Australia

boat sailing in water on Sydney Harbour Australia with famous bridge in background

Sailing on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Tourism Australia

Sydney’s summer months (December to February) bring beach weather, as well as festivals and harborside celebrations: After the world-renowned New Year’s Eve celebrations comes the Sydney Festival, a three-week celebration of the arts culminating with Australia Day on January 26. It’s also the right time to take a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach, go sailing in Sydney Harbour, hike waterside trails, picnic on city parklands, catch an outdoor movie screening or concert, or attend one of the city’s many professional surfing, tennis, cricket, and rugby competitions. (Remember that prices are also at their peak in summer, so book accommodations and tickets early, before they sell out.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why January is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Florida: Disney World, Orlando

Hawaii: Oahu (whale watching)

 

Central and South America

Brazil: Salvador and Trancoso

Ecuador: Galapagos

Panama

 

Europe

France: Paris apartment rentals

Iceland: northern lights

Norway: winter activities

 

Asia

Cambodia

China: Yunnan Province

India: Mumbai and Rajasthan

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations

 

Africa and Middle East

Abu Dhabi

 

Australia and Pacific

New Zealand: Bay of Islands and Queenstown

Papua New Guinea: diving in Milne Bay

 

Cruises

Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises

 

 

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purple carry-on luggage roller bags

Packing Solutions for Even the Smallest Carry-On Bags

Many international airlines have rules that require smaller carry-on luggage than U.S. airlines, whether those rules count by centimeters or kilograms.  I bumped up against such a rule last week:

I checked in at JFK for a Swissair flight to Geneva, and the check-in agent told me my carry-on wheelie was too heavy.   I said, I’ve taken this wheelie into cabins on transatlantic flights countless times.  He said, Swissair was worried about heavy bags falling out from the overhead bins.  I said, what if I remove a couple of heavy items and put them in my handbag?  He said I should try it.  So I removed from my wheelie three pairs of shoes and a tote bag and placed the shoes in the tote bag.  He weighed my carry-on again, said it was acceptable now, and waved me off to the security line with it.

Since I was now headed toward security with a wheelie and two handbags, I shuffled items around so that I was back down to just one (heavier than before) handbag. I had no problem in the TSA line, boarding the plane, or fitting the wheelie into the overhead bin.  When flying back to the U.S. a few days later, I flew United instead of Swissair, and nobody checked the weight of any bag.

No matter what baggage regulations your next flight has, you can be ahead of the game with these hard-earned packing tips:

  • Wear your heaviest shoes. If you need to bring bulky footwear, wear it on your feet rather than taking up space in your luggage.
  • Pack your oldest socks and underwear. You can discard them along the way, making room for souvenirs you pick up.
  • Stick to just two or three colors of clothing, and avoid patterns and stripes. That way everything matches and can be worn with everything else. I usually pack mainly black, then add color with a bright silk scarf (in summer) or pashmina shawl (in winter).
  • Opt for luggage with few compartments. This might sound counterintuitive in an era when we have to cram so much into such a small space, but in my experience, extra zippers, buckles, and straps just take up space. I’d rather have an empty box-like space so that I can use those precious extra millimeters to cram things in. I do like to have an outside pocket, though, so I can quickly reach items I’ll need to access, such as my ultra-light compressible parka and pashmina.
  • Use zip-top bags of varying sizes to make space and stay organized. Instead of using a carry-on with lots of compartments, I make my own “compartments” with zip-top bags. They weigh nothing and take up no space. I place my liquid toiletries in one (for easy removal at airport security), my dry toiletries in another. I vacuum-pack clothes in a two-gallon-size one, and I create my own inflight amenities kit by throwing eye drops, ear plugs, eye shades, Vitamin C, etc. into a sandwich-size Ziploc.
  • Carry travel-sized, multi-purpose toiletries. Use 3-ounce-and-under sizes of multi-purpose toiletries (e.g., facial moisturizer with SPF, shampoo-plus-conditioner that you can use as shaving cream) and liquid toiletries in disposable packets rather than bottles (e.g., makeup remover pads; hand-sanitizing wipes).
  • Bring 3 or 4 plastic grocery bags too. Like Ziplocs, they weigh nothing and take up no space. I use them as shoe bags, and they can also hold laundry, protect a camera from rain, etc.
  • Pack travel-size detergent. Use Woolite packets or Tide singles to wash clothing in your hotel-room sink.

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View of French Polynesia land from Windstar Owner's suite balcony.

When Is a Cruise Ship Balcony Worth It and When Is It Not?

When is a cruise-ship balcony worth the splurge?   Sometimes booking a private veranda is a no-brainer for the vistas, the quick access to fresh air, lots of light, and the extra real estate. But sometimes, because of weather or your itinerary, a balcony may not be worth the extra cost.

I’ve sailed on 300 different cruises, from luxury ocean crossings to European river journeys to an expedition ship in Antarctica, and here’s how I weigh the pros and cons of private balconies on three common styles of small-to-mid-sized vessels.

River Ships

What to Expect: On European rivers, there are two types of balconies: The traditional, step-out space with chairs, and a “French Veranda”—essentially, a wall of glass (via windows that can be lowered with a push of a button or patio-style sliders) that is framed by railings.

The traditional balconies are smaller than what you’d find on an ocean ship because river vessels must fit through narrow locks. Still, there’s room for a couple of chairs and a small cocktail table.

In the priciest suites on a few ships, the balconies are much roomier.   Viking River Cruises’ Explorer Suites, for instance, have balconies that are almost as spacious as those of ocean-going ships, and their aft-facing view is relaxing while traveling on a river.

Balcony in the Explorer Suite on Viking's Longships.

Explorer Suites on Viking’s Longships have relatively spacious balconies. Photo: Viking Cruises

Some river cruise lines, including Uniworld and Avalon, have only French verandas. This offers access to fresh air and views (on Avalon, if you push a chair up to the rail, it’s almost a real balcony experience) and, because there’s not a separate, defined outdoor area, cabins tend to be more spacious.

Staterooms with French verandas or private balconies are typically located on the top decks of a river-cruise vessel.  The low deck offers window-only cabins, usually with no view—just a bit of light. These windows are typically long and narrow and located high up on the wall.

Avalon Waterway's Panorama Suite and its balcony.

Avalon Waterways’ Panorama Suite has “French balconies.” Photo: Avalon Waterways

Know this: The challenge with any type of balcony on a river ship—particularly on a cruise along the Rhine or the Danube—is that during the day, in port, ships may have to tie up to one another; this can completely block not just your view but also your light and privacy. Also, on river cruises you typically spend a lot of time off the ship in river towns; as many balcony cabins as I’ve had, there was never much time to enjoy them.

My Take: Cruising on rivers is all about the landscapes you’re passing through. If you stick to your balcony, you limit your view to just one side of the river. You’ll likely want to head up to the observation deck for 360-degree vistas instead. But since the only other room option—a window-only cabin on a low deck—can feel a bit claustrophobic, I’d prefer a balcony of any kind. Just don’t assume you’ll be using it for hours every day.

Ocean Ships

What to Expect: Balconies are a no-brainer on an ocean cruise—everyone wants one. The good news is that cruise lines have dramatically increased the percentage of balconied staterooms on ships built since about 2010 (the newer, the better). That means balconies are easier to snag and are a better value. On larger vessels—such as those of Celebrity, Holland America, and Oceania—all verandas are comfortable, but the best belong to the highest-level suites and can come with extras such as whirlpools and dining tables.

Sunrise on the balcony of a cruise.

On a trip around the Greek Isles, coffee on the balcony was a wonderful morning ritual. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

On smaller ships, and particularly on luxury lines, verandas are a wonderful place to dine al fresco or simply stretch out on a lounger in your own private space. Even cruise lines with slightly older small ships, like Windstar with its intimate power yachts, have added French verandas to standard-sized cabins; these vessels have a handful of actual sit-out spaces in top suites too.

Know This: Location can matter! One of the best spots for a balconied cabin (or suite) is on a ship’s aft deck, facing backward over the wake. It’s an incredibly soothing sight ,and often these verandas (even with a standard-category cabin) are deeper and roomier than usual. By contrast, forward-facing balconies are more subject to winds, movement, and sea spray. You also will want to avoid any forward-facing balcony cabin that’s directly under the bridge (the key navigational area of the ship): At night you may be limited in their use, as the light can hamper operations.

View of Tahiti from Windstar Star Breeze's balcony.

A forward-facing balcony on Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze in Tahiti. Photo: Wendy Perrin

My Take: The bigger the ship, the more crowded the public spaces can be, so it’s nice to have a private slice of the outdoors to relax in from time to time. Breakfast on your veranda is a perfect vacation indulgence (and room service is typically free). At sea, the ocean view is lovely and even in most ports, ships don’t dock too close to each other, so you have nice vistas there too.

Even on smaller, more luxurious ships that don’t feel crowded, a balcony is desirable; if the weather is such that you can spend a lot of time on your balcony, it’s like having an additional room.

Expedition Ships

What to Expect: The hottest new trend in expedition cruising—itineraries to the most remote destinations on earth—is vessels that have all the comforts of small luxury ships, including private balconies. Expedition vessels built since 2014 increasingly have more spacious accommodations that include verandas. Cruise lines whose newest expedition ships have private balconies include Ponant, Scenic, Seabourn, and Silversea. In other cases, lines such as Lindblad offer balconies only in top suite categories.

A tropical expedition balcony in the Silversea Silver Origin.

On Silversea’s Galapagos-based Silver Origin, a temperate climate offers lots of opportunities for enjoying your balcony; this one’s part of the Royal Suite. Photo: Silversea

You may even have a choice of French verandas or traditional ones. On Viking’s Octantis and Polaris expedition vessels, a handful of top suites have normal balconies, while the standard accommodations have “Nordic balconies” that are similar to French verandas, with windows that open halfway.

Know This: How much you actually use a balcony on an expedition cruise is highly affected by your itinerary and the weather. On a cruise to the polar regions, where conditions can be cold and stormy, a private veranda is nice if you want to be able to jump outside to capture a photo, but you likely won’t be spending time lounging or dining there. If you’re headed to a tropical destination, such as the Galapagos, verandas are a wonderful indulgence—and much in demand.

Silversea Cruises' Silver Endeavour in Antarctica.

On Silversea Cruises’ Silver Endeavour in Antarctica, a private balcony may be great for capturing photos but not for dining. Photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown

My Take: On my Antarctica cruise last year, my balcony was a nice extra but not a necessity. We loved dashing outside to admire a passing glacier or penguins wobbling up an icy hill, but the weather was too cold to enjoy a meal or a cocktail there. And, as is common on expedition vessels, the best vantage points in such dramatic locales were the upper decks where, both inside and out, we could see the view from 360 degrees.

The cruise specialists on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts can help you weigh the pros and cons of a balcony on any ocean, river, or expedition cruise. Not sure which cruise or expert is right for you? Ask for our advice via the black button below.

 

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Beautiful sandy beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal

Where to Go in May: The Best Places to Travel

Mild. Temperate. Those are the words used to describe the agreeable climate in many parts of the globe come May. In many destinations, it’s an oh-so-lovely time to be hiking, sightseeing, or simply people-watching at an outdoor café.

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

Japan

Beautiful Cherry Blossom, Japan

Cherry blossom trees, Japan.

May (after Golden Week, which ends on May 5) brings great weather throughout the entire country. While the cherry blossoms generally peak in April, you can still enjoy the sweet scent and beauty of the blooms in May, but without the crowds.
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Scandinavia

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

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

After months of darkness, May’s longer days bring locals out to soak up the sunlight, making the outdoor cafes lively. You’ll also find an abundance of freshly caught seafood, and celebrations throughout the countryside leading up to the summer solstice.
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Santorini and Mykonos, Greece

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

Oia town, on Santorini, is famous for its blue-domed churches and white houses overlooking the caldera. Photo: Shutterstock

May through early June is one of the most beautiful times to travel to the Cyclades—the group of Greek islands that includes the iconic spots of Santorini and Mykonos, but also less-crowded favorites of our travelers, including Naxos, Paros, and Sifnos. Days are warm, but the sun is not as relentless as it is in summer. Wildflowers blossom, beaches are empty, and locals welcome you with smiles.
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European Canal Barge Cruises

Wendy biking near a barge in the Burgundy canal in France.

Wendy biking near the barge canal in Burgundy, France. Photo: Timothy Baker

In May, the weather is best (not too hot, not too cool), and the crowds haven’t yet arrived, making this a perfect month to get to know a small slice of the Continent intimately and thoroughly. Read what Wendy loved about her own barge cruise in Burgundy in May.
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Portugal

Vineyards in the Valley of the River Douro, Portugal

Vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Photo: Shutterstock

The country’s weather is beautiful from March to mid-June. In the Algarve, the coastal towns are not too busy yet, so you can get a table in restaurants and enjoy uncrowded beaches. The Douro Valley’s rolling hills are lush and green from the winter rains, and there is excitement in Porto as the city prepares for summer festivities.
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Spain

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Ronny Siegel/Flickr

Café terraces open in May, and residents head outdoors to enjoy Spain’s beautiful cities before the heat sets in and the crowds arrive. Spring is the perfect time for strolling and picnicking in the sparkling Mediterranean light. In Madrid, everyone pours into the streets in mid-May to celebrate San Isidro.
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France

Burgundy's rolling hillsides

Burgundy’s rolling hillsides. Photo: Trufflepig

Paris is already crowded by late spring, but May is the optimal time to explore France’s countryside: Down south in Provence, the weather is lovely, there aren’t as many tourists, and fields of poppies are in colorful bloom. In Burgundy, temperatures have usually warmed up after the feast days of the Saint de Glace (which fall in the second week of the month and seem to bring showers or even frost). Later in May, flowers on trees bloom and the vineyards turn a bright springy green. May is also filled with bank holidays and tends to be any French person’s favorite—and it never hurts to see the French in the right mood.
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Croatia

view of water and town Rovinj Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia. Photo: Billie Cohen

In late April and May, you have glorious weather, the crowds are thinner, and prices are a little lower than at the height of summer.
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The Cotswolds, England

England, Cotswolds, Hidcote gardens. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, England. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

By May, spring has taken hold, so flowers are blooming across the Cotswolds—fruit-tree blossoms, clematis, and wisteria are everywhere. The air smells fresh, and there are so many shades of green. Hotel rates are also lower than in the summer high season.
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Los Cabos, Mexico

a villa with a firepit and pool in Cabo Mexico

May in Los Cabos means less crowded beaches and restaurants—and more comfortable temperatures. Photo: CaboVillas

In May, the weather is mild and there’s little chance of rain. The bustle of spring break has passed, so it’s much less busy than just a month prior. That means less crowded beaches and restaurants—but more comfortable temperatures than the very hot summer months ahead. Plus, villa rates are lower than in high season (December through April), with great deals to be had.
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Peru’s Sacred Valley

Springtime at Machu Picchu Peru

Springtime at Machu Picchu. Photo: Luis Felipa

May is a wonderful month to be outdoors exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Choose from a wide variety of hiking trails for easy day hikes or overnight treks through the Andes. Skies are mostly clear, hillsides are green following the heavier rains that have ended by mid-April, and there are fewer crowds. Temperatures are also warmer on average than during the peak season (June through August). Base yourself in the Sacred Valley and enjoy convenient side trips to Machu Picchu and Cusco.
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Rio de Janeiro and the Pantanal, Brazil

a toucan in Pantanal, Brazil. Photo: Matueté Brasil Travel Design

Pantanal, Brazil. Photo: Matueté Brasil Travel Design

Given its large mass and varied geography, the perfect time to visit Brazil depends on what parts of the country you hope to see. May makes for a good city-country combo: some of the best animal sightings in the Pantanal wetlands, and the sunniest skies and a gentler mood in Rio.
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Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile. Photo: Shutterstock

This geological wonder is typically dry by May—though the Atacama is one of the driest places on the planet, in recent years it’s seen rain showers and even flooding from January to March—and many dormant desert plants are in bloom, transforming the arid landscape. Try to visit during the new moon, when the Atacama’s famously dark sky is at its prime for stargazing.
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Bolivia

small piles of sand dot the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. A snowy mountaintop is in the background

Salar de Uyuni salt flat, Bolivia. Photo: Shutterstock

May is the sweet spot at the Salar de Uyuni salt flats: It’s not too cold, not too crowded, and the Salar is dry enough to cross in a vehicle but you still get some reflections off its surface.
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Scotland

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

Kinnoull Hill tower ruins overlooking the River Tay, Scotland. Photo: Shutterstock

In May the weather is mild and even warm on occasion, and you won’t have to deal with the August crowds. Since this month falls before peak season (June–September), you can find some bargains, and the hills and roadways are dotted with blooming gorse, a bright-yellow flower.
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Mediterranean Cruises

Celebrity Reflection cruise ship

The Celebrity Reflection cruise ship. Photo: Celebrity Cruises

May is the sweet spot: The weather is gorgeous, temperatures are ideal for sightseeing, and crowds are not as abundant as in summer, when kids are out of school and both overseas visitors and Europeans flock to the Mediterranean.
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Aegean Coast, Turkey

view from a wooden gulet boat on Turkey's Aegean Coast

A wooden gulet is an enticing way to explore the hidden islands of the Aegean. Photo: Sea Song Tours

In May the sun is out but it’s not sweltering, the sea is calm, and summer crowds haven’t arrived. Plus, rates are up to 50% lower than during the high season of July and August.
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Jerusalem

Tower of David, Jerusalem, Israel.

The City of David, in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, is an archeological site with remains dating back more than 5,000 years. Photo: Noam Chen

The optimal time to visit Jerusalem is after Passover—which ends on April 30 in 2024—but before summer: During this window, the weather is pleasant and the hotel rates are lower. Particularly wonderful is to be at any of the thousands of kibbutzes that dot the country for the festival of the first fruits for Shavuot.
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Fiji

aerial view of Savasi Island Fiji

Savasi Island is a 52-acre private island in Fiji with only seven villas. Photo: Savasi Island

May falls during the islands’ drier “winter,” but outside the peak months of June and July, when Aussie and Kiwi vacationers drive up airfares and hotel rates. During the winter, temperatures are at their coolest (with highs hovering around 80), and the occasional rain showers are brief. With less humidity there are also fewer mosquitoes.
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Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Quito plaza, Ecuador

Quito Plaza, Ecuador. Photo: Myths & Mountains

Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, is called the City of Four Seasons for a reason: The weather can change in the blink of an eye. May falls during the shoulder season, when the temperature is mild, usually reaching the high 60s, and there are fewer travelers. It’s also a great month to combine mainland Ecuador with the Galapagos Islands, before all the families descend in summertime, filling the boats there.
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A Safari in Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive

In May, temperatures are mild night and day, the occasional rains tease the desert wildflowers into bloom, and the animals are fat and happy. Read what Brook and her son loved about Namibia in spring.

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A Safari in Zambia and Zimbabwe

two people paddle past elephants on the Zambezi River in Chiawa, Zimbabwe

Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the continent’s most magnificent wildlife reserves, in one of its safest and most welcoming countries. Photo: Explore

In May, everything is still verdantly green from the rains and the temperature is delightful, but it’s dry enough that you see plenty of wildlife and there are virtually no mosquitoes or tsetse flies. Game viewing during this time is not quite as intense as later in the season, when it is very dry and dusty, but the landscape is more beautiful and the animals more at ease.
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Romania

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

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

May and June offer prime weather with the fewest crowds at the country’s dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Available activities range from horseback riding and skydiving to truffle hunting and wine tasting.  Yes, we’re well aware that Romania shares its northern border with Ukraine, but Wendy and her family felt completely safe there last August, and even got to talk with refugees and hear about their experiences.
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The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Kolb studio.

Kolb Studio, Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

Beat the summer crowds and head to the canyon in springtime, when the weather is still pleasant. The right local fixer can have you flying over the canyon, hiking or riding mules into it, and gazing into its vastness from the best vantage points along the rim. (The South Rim is open year-round; the North Rim opens in mid-May.)
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Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why May is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Hawaii: Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island

Mexico: Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya

Montana and Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

St. Barts: beach and villa vacations

Utah’s national parks

 

Central and South America

Costa Rica: Pacific and Central regions

 

Europe

England: castles, manor houses, and gardens

European canal barge cruises

France: Paris apartment rentals

Germany: Bavaria

Hungary

Ireland: Killarney and County Kerry

Italy: Umbria and Venice

Malta

Norway (in late May)

Turkey: Cappadocia and Istanbul

 

Asia and Pacific

China: big cities and small villages, and Yunnan Province

India: Trekking and tiger reserves

Indonesia: Bali without the crowds

Myanmar’s higher elevations

Nepal

New Zealand, including Queenstown hiking and cycling

Papua New Guinea

Southeast Asia

 

Africa and Middle East

Madagascar

Morocco

Oman

Seychelles

South Africa: Cape Town and Winelands

 

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Lupins bloom above the ancient Inca ruins of Choquequirao in the Andes, Peru

Where to Go in April: The Best Places to Travel

Flowers in full bloom, festive celebrations, and mild temperatures make April a lovely time to visit many parts of the globe. The best deals usually appear starting one week after Easter (which falls on March 31 in 2024).

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

Riviera Maya, Mexico

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

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

Starting a week after Easter Sunday and running through May, rates are low, resorts aren’t too crowded, and the weather is pleasant (mid to high 80s) with little rain.
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Hawaii

Makena, Maui beach Hawaii

Makena, Maui. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

April means an optimal combination of great weather and relatively low prices in the islands. (Just make sure to avoid the crush of visitors and higher rates that Spring Break brings.)
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Belize

Tiny island with coconut trees and boat in Belize

Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

In April, the trade winds are fresh, rains are rare, there are barely any bugs, and high season is winding down. 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), laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters—or charter your own private yacht.
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Paris

view of the Eiffel Tower across the green treetops of the Tuileries Garden taken from a balcony at Le Meurice hotel

View from Le Meurice, Paris. Photo: Billie Cohen

Discover the first hints of spring in Paris while strolling through the Tuileries or pausing a moment under the blossoming trees by Notre Dame Cathedral; in April, the weather is usually mild and the city is bedecked in blossoms. You’ll beat the tourist crowds before they arrive later in the spring and likely catch some excellent art exhibits, too.
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Southern Spain: Seville and Andalusia

City Of Cazorla And Yedra Castle - Cazorla, Jaen, Andalusia, Spain, Europe

City Of Cazorla And Yedra Castle – Cazorla, Jaen, Andalusia, Spain, Europe. Photo: Shutterstock

Come April, the temperatures throughout Andalusia are pleasant, the aroma of orange blossoms is in the air, the light is beautiful, and there are fiestas (and bullfights) all over the region, including all the events during Easter Week.
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Morocco

camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

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

Contrywide, the weather is comfortable in April. Temperature extremes are common in the desert, but at this time of year days are warm and nights are just chilly rather than unbearably cold.
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Peru

Lupins bloom above the ancient Inca ruins of Choquequirao in the Andes, Peru

Lupins bloom above the ancient Inca ruins of Choquequirao in the Andes, Peru. Photo: Adriana Von Hagen

April sees the best mix of weather both inland and on Peru’s coast; it’s sunny and warm in Lima, and dry and temperate in the Andes. Since the rainy season has just ended, the air is clear, and the fields are green and lush, dotted with the yellow, pink, and mauve hues of quinoa, amaranth, lupines, and potatoes ready to harvest.
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The Netherlands

tulips and windmill at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands

Spring is tulip time in the Netherlands. Photo: Keukenhof Gardens

April is bright and pleasant, and it’s prime time for Tulipmania, when the Keukenhof — one of the world’s largest flower gardens — is full of blooms. King’s Day (on April 27 in 2023) is the biggest street party of the year in Amsterdam; it’s very busy, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the Dutch joie de vivre (you can also enjoy the parades and festivities in a more rural setting). By traveling in April, you’ll also miss the public holidays in May that bring out large crowds.
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Crete

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

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

Renowned for its rich local culture, Crete is a wonderful place to visit in April when Greek Orthodox Easter falls during that month. Experience renowned Cretan hospitality throughout the festive celebrations, which are distinctive to Greece’s most southern (and thus warmest) island. There are also beautiful wildflowers in April, fewer crowds, and lower hotel rates than you’ll find later in spring.
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Istanbul

gardens and flowers around a pond at Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul Turkey

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul.

During the annual tulip festival in April, the city is awash in millions (literally) of colorful blooms. The weather is temperate, perfect for visiting the outdoor ancient sites that can be scorching in summer — and the tourist hordes have not yet arrived. Since it’s shoulder season, there are deals to be had at hotels.
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Mediterranean Cruises

Seabourn Ovation cruise ship

Seabourn Ovation anchored off Montenegro.

April is the perfect month to enjoy the brilliant blue skies in the Mediterranean, when the sunny days start to outnumber the cold and cloudy ones of winter. Cruise ships have just repositioned to the region, so you can explore iconic ports such as Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, and Venice without the crowds and heat of summertime. And fares are lower, since this is considered the off-season.
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Maldives

overwater bungalow at Joali resort in the maldives

The cantilevered hammocks at JOALI Maldives’ villas. Photo: Ryan Damm

European vacationers drive up prices from Christmas through Easter, but for the few weeks after this period, you’ll find a sweet spot of lower hotel rates and ideal weather: Temperatures are consistently in the high 80s year-round, but in late April there is almost no rain or wind, so the water is calm for snorkeling and diving.
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Namibia

Namib Desert, Namibia

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

Starting in mid-April, the temperatures are mild night and day, the occasional rains tease the desert wildflowers into bloom, and the animals are fat and happy. (Brook took her own family on a fun-filled trip to Namibia in April.)
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Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos - 26 November 2016: Buddhist monk and the details of architecture of Buddhist temple Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Wat Xieng Thong Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Shutterstock

Songkran, the Lao New Year, is celebrated in mid-April with a whole week of parades, street markets, and concerts. Tradition holds that revelers douse one another with water in order to wash away the past year’s sins; unlike in Thailand, where you might well be ambushed outside your hotel in the morning, in Laos the locals usually ask before splashing you. (See photos of Brook’s experience in Laos over New Year.)
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Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic

Cityscape views of one of Europe's most beautiful town- Vienna. Peoples on streets, urban life in Vienna Austria

Vienna’s city streets, Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

April means mild weather, springtime flowers, and no bus-tour crowds in Central Europe. In Budapest, the Spring Fair runs all month long with folk music, dancing, and concerts. Crowded summertime destinations, such as Lake Balaton in Hungary and the Wachau Valley in Austria, are relatively tranquil. In the Czech Republic, all the countryside castles are just reopening from their winter dormancy.
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Papua New Guinea

mean with lakatoi boats on beach of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea. Photo: Pixabay/freesally

In April the rainy season is just ending, so prices are better than in the high months of May, June, and July.
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Start a trip to Papua New Guinea

 

Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why April is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

California: Yosemite National Park

Mexico City

St. Barts

Utah’s national parks

 

Central and South America

Bolivia

Brazil: Rio de Janeiro

Colombia: Bogota

Costa Rica: Pacific and Central regions

Ecuador: Galapagos family travel

Patagonia

Peru: Machu Picchu

 

Europe

Croatia (second half of the month)

England: Castles, Manor Houses, and Gardens

European Canal Barge Cruises: deals and tulips

Germany: Bavaria

Greece: Athens

Ireland: Killarney and County Kerry

Italy: Amalfi Coast, Florence, Lake Como villas, and Sicily

Portugal

Romania (second half of April)

Scotland: wildflowers and deals

Spain: Madrid

 

Asia and Pacific

Asia Cruises

China: big cities and small villages, and Yunnan Province

India: trekking and tiger viewing

Indonesia: Bali without crowds

Myanmar

Nepal

New Zealand, including Bay of Islands and Queenstown hiking and cycling

Seychelles

Vietnam: north and central regions

 

Africa and Middle East

Israel and Jerusalem (after Easter and Passover)

South Africa: Cape Town and Winelands

Zambia (second half of the month)

 


 

 

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Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

Where to Go in September: The Best Places to Travel

Leisure travel usually slows down after Labor Day, as kids go back to school and adults go back to work. But September is a smart month for many places around the world, thanks to fewer tourists and shoulder-season deals. Here is a sampling of the best places to travel in September.

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

Norway

Northern Lights, Norway.

September is the sweet spot for Norway, when it’s still warm enough to spend your days exploring the fjords but the night sky gets dark enough that you have a good chance of catching the Northern Lights.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Norway. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Norway

Mediterranean coastlines and islands

colorful boats in Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta

Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta. Photo: Exclusively Malta

In September, the Mediterranean region is still sunny (but not too hot) and it’s warm enough to go swimming—and yet the crowds have thinned because kids are back in school. From the Algarve in Portugal to the French Riviera to the Cinque Terre in Italy to Turkey’s Aegean coast, the weather is great for strolling through villages and indulging in the local culinary treats. Don’t forget about islands like Corsica, Sicily, or Malta, either: On the latter, there are village feasts happening in September, with parades, concerts, and even fireworks.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Portugal’s Algarve, France’s Riviera, Sicily, Malta and Turkey during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a Mediterranean trip

Ireland

Sheep grazing in Killarney National Park Ireland.

Sheep grazing in Killarney National Park, Ireland. Photo: Celebrated Experiences

September and October, when the summer crowds have gone but relatively warm weather remains, is one of the best times to visit. It certainly might rain—this is Ireland, after all—but that just means you’ll have rainbows!  In September, which is considered high season, leaves start turning, ushering in fall.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Ireland during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Ireland

Tuscany

tractor harvesting grapes in a vineyard in Tuscany Italy

Vineyards in Tuscany, Italy.

Come September, the vineyard-covered hills across much of Tuscany come alive for the vendemmia, or grape harvest. The rumble of small tractors rolling along the long rows of vines, the chattering of families and farm hands as they snip off individual clusters by hand, the tinkling of glasses and forks against plates as long tables are set up outdoors for everyone to take a break for lunch al fresco…these are the sights and sounds of autumn in Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, and the rest of Tuscany’s wine country.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Tuscany. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Tuscany

Porto and the Douro River Valley, Portugal

Grape harvest in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Harvest in the Douro Valley, Portugal. Photo: Porto Tourism

Late September and early October are typically the time for the grape harvest in the Douro. You can participate by picking grapes (more fun than it sounds) or—better yet—stomping the fruit à la I Love Lucy with your own two feet. There are also some amazing hikes just north of Porto, which are at their best in fall when the weather and landscape are starting to change; options range from easy strolls to expert-level routes.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Portugal. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Portugal

Germany

Bamberg Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Claudia Schwenger

Bamberg Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Claudia Schwenger

September hits the sweet spot of pleasant weather and minimal crowds, and there are many charming, open-air harvest festivals taking place. Plus, there’s Oktoberfest, most of which actually falls during September.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Germany. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Germany

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon view of the watchtower.

The watchtower in Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

After Labor Day, the Grand Canyon gets much quieter, prices fall from the highs of summer, and the weather is still pleasant.
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Start a trip to the Grand Canyon

Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming. Photo: NPS

From mid-September to mid-October, the aspens are golden, the area isn’t crowded, and hotels often discount their rates; plus, the grizzly and black bears are more visible as they stock up prior to hibernation, and the elk are bugling. While the weather can be cooler, it’s a good excuse to take advantage of the fireplace in your room.
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Start a trip to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton

Cruises: Alaska, Eastern Canada, Mediterranean

Star Breeze

Setting sail on the Star Breeze. Photo: Windstar Cruises.

As the summer winds down, you can often find the lowest pricing on cruises in iconic destinations like Alaska and the Mediterranean. For those seeking a getaway that’s closer to home, many ships sail routes through New England and Eastern Canada, stopping in places like Boston, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City.
Read reviews of WOW cruises. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a cruise trip

Mexico City

Mexican national symbol among colonial buildings on Independence Day.

This Independence Day light display in Mexico City shows an eagle devouring a snake—a popular national symbol. Photo: Shutterstock

Mexico City and the country’s colonial heartland (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Puebla, Queretaro, Michoacan) come alive for independence celebrations, which fall on September 15 and 16. Throughout the month of September, cities and plazas in the region transform with patriotic fervor, commemorating the start of the Mexican War for Independence in 1810. Visitors will find a jubilant atmosphere, and the festivals and parades typically bring with them some of Mexico’s most traditional street snacks.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mexico. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Mexico

French Polynesia

The Brando Resort, French Polynesia

The Brando Beach Villa, French Polynesia. Photo: Brando Resort

Humpback whales approach the islands (mostly Rurutu and Moorea) to give birth and feed from August to October. The waters hold a lot of food that fatten up the babies before they head to the Antarctic. If the whales are calm and the weather is good, you can even snorkel with them and listen to the sounds they use to communicate with each other; it’s really quite an amazing experience.
Read reviews of WOW trips to French Polynesia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to French Polynesia

Kangaroo Island, Australia

kangaroos on kangaroo island Australia

Kangaroo Island, off the coast near Adelaide, is a top destination for animal lovers. Photo: South Australian Tourism Commission

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s own Galapagos, a time capsule of the region’s native plants and animals, largely undisturbed by civilization for thousands of years. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidna, koalas, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals, and scores of birds can be seen in their natural habitats all year round; however, antipodal spring is a particularly special time to visit, with clear and warm days returning, wildflowers blooming, and joey kangaroos emerging from their mothers’ pouches. (It’s also before the Australian school holidays hit and families start arriving in October.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Australia

Trancoso, Brazil

The beach lounge at Villas de Trancoso Brazil

The beach lounge at Villas de Trancoso. Photo: Villas de Trancoso

If you are after peace and quiet, Trancoso’s off-season (i.e., June through September) is pure bliss: Temperatures are still in the high 70s to 80s, and you will often have mile upon mile of palm-tree-backed beaches all to yourself.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Brazil

South African Safaris

Elephants, Singita Kruger, South Africa

An elephant family at Singita Kruger, Kruger National Park.

September is glorious in South Africa. The winter chill has left, and spring is on its way. The grasses that grew high after the rainy season have been chomped down, leaving the animals in full view. Cape Town is warming up, and the rains have more or less gone for good. Whales can be seen off the coast, the vineyards are green, and safaris are spectacular throughout the parks and reserves.
Read reviews of WOW trips to South Africa. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a South African safari

India

Agra Fort - Medieval Indian fort made of red sandstone and marble with view of dome at sunrise. View of Taj Mahal at a distance as seen from Agra Fort.

Agra Fort, with a view of Taj Mahal in the distance. Photo: Shutterstock

September is ideal in Northern India: In Delhi, the monsoon rains have given way to clear skies and pleasant temperatures. At the Taj Mahal, you’ll find the fewest people and the best photographic conditions. It’s also a good time for trekking, with fall color in the Himalaya.
Read reviews of WOW trips to India. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to India

Uzbekistan

View over the mausoleums and domes of the historical cemetery of Shahi Zinda through an arched gate, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

View over the mausoleums and domes of the historical cemetery of Shahi Zinda through an arched gate, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Shutterstock

After the summer heat, Uzbekistan’s weather is once again comfortable for touring the ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva, and for hiking in the mountains or camel riding in the Kizil Kum Desert. Click here to read about the trip Wendy and her family took to Uzbekistan.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Uzbekistan. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Uzbekistan

 

Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why September is a good time to go.

North America

The California Coast

Maui

Newfoundland and Labrador

Yellowstone

Central and South America

Argentina: Skiing in Mendoza

Bolivia

Brazilian Amazon

Chile: Atacama Desert

Colombia: Bogota

Ecuador: Quito

Peru

Europe

Arctic

Croatia

Czech Republic: second half of the month

European Canal Barges

Hungary: second half of the month

Iceland: northern lights

The Italian and Swiss Alps

Italy: Florence

Italy: Lakes Region

Italy: Umbria

Italy: Venice

London

Paris

Romania

Scotland

Spain: Andalusia and Madrid

Switzerland

Turkey: Cappadocia

Turkey: Istanbul

Asia

Bali

Beijing

Bhutan

Mongolia

Myanmar

Nepal

Seychelles

Thailand: Bangkok

Africa and Middle East

Botswana

East Africa Safaris

Jerusalem

Madagascar

Morocco: second half of the month

Oman: second half of the month

Rwanda: Gorilla Trekking

Zambia

Zimbabwe

Australia and Pacific

Fiji

Great Barrier Reef

New Zealand: Queenstown

Papua New Guinea: Trekking

 

 

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. 

Iceland waterfall Skogafoss in Icelandic nature landscape. Famous tourist attractions and landmarks destination in Icelandic nature landscape on South Iceland. Aerial drone view of top waterfall. -

Where to Go in June: The Best Places to Travel

In much of the northern hemisphere, June is an excellent time weather-wise to squeeze in a trip before most school vacations start, the summer crowds surge, and the heat descends. In some places, it’s also a great month for hiking and spotting elusive beasts of the wild. Here are our Trusted Travel Experts’ recommendations for the best places to travel in June.

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

Iceland

View of basalt stacks Reynisdrangar, black sand beach near Vik and violet lupine flowers and lonely church, South Iceland

The black sand beach near Vik with violet lupine flowers. Photo: Shutterstock

Around the summer solstice (June 21), Iceland offers 24 hours of sunshine and an explosion of wildflowers as far as the eye can see. It’s also a good time for animal lovers: There are day-old foals, lambs, and wild chicks, and eggs visible in ground nests.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Iceland. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Iceland

Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland

The coastline of Twillingate, New World Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

The coastline of Twillingate, New World Islands, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Photo credit: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

June is typically an optimal month for iceberg watching—a popular pastime in Newfoundland. On a warm day, you can watch these majestic mountains of ice flow along the province’s northern and eastern coasts.  It’s also the start of the summer season of food, festivals, and spectacular scenery in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Atlantic Canada. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Canada’s Maritimes

San Sebastián, Spain

Beach and colorful houses of San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain, is ideal in June. Photo: Shutterstock

June is a great time in San Sebastián: The weather has cleared but it’s not yet warm enough for beach-goers, so the crowds are manageable. Enjoy the top pintxo bars while they are still filled with locals—most of whom will be replaced by tourists come July and August. And a lot of produce comes into season now, making the many Michelin-starred menus even more delectable than usual.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Spain. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to San Sebastian

The Mediterranean Island of Malta

Xlendi Tower, Malta

Xlendi Tower, Malta

If you must travel in summer and you want ocean temperatures that are warm enough for swimming, plan your Malta trip for the second half of June, when the island isn’t as busy—and the weather not as hot—as later on in the summer. There are also village feasts happening around the country just about every weekend from May through October, with parades, concerts, and fireworks. (If swimming isn’t a prerequisite for your trip, March is a fabulous time for Malta.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Malta. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Malta

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon view of the watchtower.

The watchtower in Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

The peak of summer sees crowds almost as huge as the Grand Canyon itself, which is up to a mile deep and 18 miles wide; go in June and you’ll have much more breathing room, as well as access to the far less visited North Rim (which is open only from mid-May to mid-October). The right local fixer can arrange helicopter flights over the canyon, mule rides down to where the rocks are 1.8 billion years old, float trips along the Colorado River, and behind-the-scenes tours of sites not accessible to ordinary travelers.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to the Grand Canyon

Alaska Cruises

An adult humpback whale breaching

An adult humpback whale breaches in Southeast Alaska.  Photo: Lindblad Expeditions/Michael S. Nolan

The first two weeks of June in Southeast Alaska—the region also known as the Inside Passage—typically offer drier days and better wildlife spotting on the beaches at low tide. This is also a prime time to spot transient orcas, migrating humpback whales, and hauled-out harbor seals. Winds coming off the snow-covered mountain peaks make the air crisp, and the forests showcase an abundance of colorful and diverse wildflowers.
Read reviews of WOW Alaska cruises. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start an Alaska small-ship expedition cruise

Cappadocia, Turkey

Balloons over Cappadocia. Photograph courtesy of Earl Starkey

Balloons over Cappadocia. Photograph courtesy of Earl Starkey

In June the wildflowers are in bloom and everything is still green. The light is ideal for photography, the days are long, and the nights are lovely. It is also a perfect time for balloon flights over the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Turkey. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Cappadocia

Italy’s Dolomites Region

The Dolomites, Italy

The craggy peaks and verdant valleys of the Dolomites, a.k.a. the Italian Alps, provide some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. In June you are guaranteed sunny days and warm evenings, with not too much humidity. Enjoy hiking and biking into the UNESCO-designated landscape, and afterward sample the local culinary delicacies over lunch at a mountain rifugio or from a picnic basket.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to the Dolomites

Bali

Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali

Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali. Courtesy Como Resorts

June is the calm before—and after—the tourist storms that hit this island during the Christmas/New Year period and in July, August, and early September. It also has the most reliably pleasant weather (daytime temps in the 80s and gentle breezes to keep the sun from feeling too hot) and decent prices (high-season hotel rates don’t kick in until July).
Read reviews of WOW trips to Bali. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Bali

Koh Phangan, Thailand

small boat on beach of Koh Phangan island Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo: Journeys Within

While the rest of Thailand is entering the rainy season in June, the island of Koh Phangan is still sunny and dry, making it ideal for snorkeling, diving, and lounging on the beach. As it’s high season on Koh Phangan, you won’t see deep discounts for your stay there, but if you’re pairing the beach time with a larger journey around Thailand you can take advantage of the “green season” specials in the rest of the country.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Koh Phangan

India’s Himalaya Mountains: Trekking and Tigers

royal bengal tiger in the ranthambore tiger reserve in rajasthan india

A royal Bengal tiger stretches in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India. Photo: Sanjay Saxena

June is an excellent time for hikers, as many Himalayan trekking routes are open, and the mountains (up to about 14,000 feet, at least) are covered with rhododendron blooms and other wildflowers. And while it’s very hot in the central plains, it’s also the best time for visiting that region’s wildlife parks—especially the tiger reserves.
Read reviews of WOW trips to India. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to India

Rwanda and Uganda: Gorilla Trekking

gorilla group in the jungle, Uganda

Gorilla trekking in Uganda. Photo: Explore Inc.

Gorilla sightings are equally good all year long (though never guaranteed). However, the best time for gorilla tracking is June, when it’s cool and there is less precipitation (but remember, this is still the rainforest, and storms can hit any day).
Read reviews of WOW trips to Rwanda and Uganda. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Rwanda and Uganda

Borneo

Malaysia Sabah Borneo Scenic View of Tun Sakaran Marine Park tropical island (Bohey Dulang) Semporna, Sabah.

Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Photo: Shutterstock

Borneo’s dry season (if you can have one in the rainforest) runs from May through September, and by June the fruiting season is in full swing; this is the ideal time to see orangutans and other animals swinging through the trees.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Borneo

Yakushima, Japan

forest river in Yakushima Japan

Japan’s sub-tropical island of Yakushima is ideal for intrepid travelers. Photo: Sankara Hotel & Spa Yakushima

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

Start a trip to Japan

Bhutan

Punakha Dzong Monastery, one of the largest monestary in Asia, Punakha, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Asia, Punakha, Bhutan. Photo: Shutterstock

In June the higher mountainsides are dressed in the pinks, whites, reds, purples, and oranges of Himalayan rhododendron flowers. Iris, orchids, primula, and other flowers are blooming, spring plantings are poking their leaves up out of fields, and migratory birds are heading north across the mountains. Many travelers have gone home, so roads are not teeming with buses and other tourist vehicles (which is very important in a country with only one east-west road). Moreover, with fewer visitors, Bhutanese locals have time to sit and chat or cook special meals instead of the typical tourist buffets. Yes, you may have some clouds or perhaps a shower, but the more peaceful countryside makes the trade-off well worthwhile.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Start a trip to Bhutan

Other Smart Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why June is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

American West: river rafting

Canada: British Colombia

Caribbean: off-season rates

Mexico’s Riviera Maya

Montana and Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

St. Barts: value season and annual sales

Utah’s National Parks

Washington: whale watching in the San Juan Islands

 

Central and South America

Bolivia

Brazil: Pantanal wetlands, Rio de Janeiro, southern Amazon, and Trancoso’s off season

Colombia: Bogota

Costa Rica: green season

Ecuador: family trips to the Galapagos

Peru

 

Europe

England: London

France: Paris, Provence, and canal barge trips

Germany: Bavaria

Italy: Florence’s Festa di San Giovanni, Sicily, and Umbria’s festival season

Norway

Portugal, including the Algarve

Romania

Scotland

Switzerland

Turkey: Aegean Coast and Istanbul

 

Asia and Pacific

Australia: Great Barrier Reef

Cambodia: green season

China: Yunnan Province

Fiji

French Polynesia (second half of the month)

Laos: green-season deals

Mongolia (first half of the month)

Nepal

New Zealand: winter activities in Queenstown

Papua New Guinea

Seychelles

Uzbekistan

 

Africa and Middle East

Botswana

Egypt: value trips

Madagascar

Namibia (first half of the month)

South Africa: whale watching and shark-cage diving

Zambia

Zimbabwe

 

 

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. 

Northern Lights, Norway

Where to See the Northern Lights and When

To witness the northern lights—also known as the aurora borealis—you need to be pretty strategic about everything from timing and weather to geography and seasons. That’s because you need to achieve “the big three”:  First, a location under the auroral oval, a band that typically crosses through Alaska, northern Canada, southern Greenland, Iceland, and northern Norway. Second, you need dark nights. And third, clear skies.

We turned to WOW Listers for these places—Jan Sortland (Norway and Iceland), Torunn Tronsvang (Norway), Marc Telio (Canada), and Chris Gordon (Iceland)—to learn the best times and places to see the lights and for insider tips on fun ways to pass the days between your nighttime viewing opportunities. Before we dive into their favorite places to experience the northern lights, some overall tips:

Understand the auroral oval. The northern lights appear when the earth’s magnetic field attracts charged particles thrown off by the sun, the result of solar storms. The particles form a halo around the magnetic pole; this is the so-called auroral oval.

Plan a longer trip. Build in extra time in case of stormy weather. “I target trips of 10 days or more,” says Iceland specialist Gordon, “starting mid-September, because we finally have normal nightfall after a summer of midnight sun, and cloudy winter skies probably haven’t yet set in. And I discourage long weekends with northern lights as the primary travel goal. It takes priority and commitment to plan travel around them.”

Don’t assume you’re guaranteed a light show in Sweden, Finland, or Greenland. Sweden’s too far south (most of Finland is, too), and Greenland’s weather can be stormy in winter, resulting in skies that obscure the lights. So those countries tend to be more unpredictable for northern-lights viewing than Norway, Iceland, and Canada.

Consider your comfort in the winter months. “You need cozy lodging to balance cold nighttime searching,” says Gordon. “My favorite idea is a suite with a private outdoor terrace and hot pool. Maybe with a hot toddy in hand!”  Bring lots of layers too, so you stay warm in what are often harsh and inhospitable conditions.

Did you know you can see the northern lights in summertime?  They occur year-round; the only reason they’re perceived as a winter phenomenon is that you need a dark sky to actually see them, and in very northerly parts of the world, there’s very little darkness in summer. But, in certain spots, you can sometimes see the northern lights as early as late August.

Here are our experts’ top places to witness the northern lights:

Alta, Norway

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Northern Lights in Alta, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

This town is ideally located right under the auroral oval and at the meeting point of three different microclimate zones; this betters your odds of seeing the aurora borealis, since it’s unusual to have overcast skies in all three zones at the same time. Alta is also warmed by the gulf stream, so daytime temperatures are warmer there even than in spots farther south. In the past 20 years, every traveler whom Sortland has sent to Alta for at least three nights has seen the northern lights. “Venturing up to the top of Bjørnfjell Mountain to watch the northern lights around a bonfire is magical,” says Tronsvang. She adds that another benefit of Alta is that you don’t have to drive around to see the lights: “You can see them from your accommodations, such as the the Isbreen domes outside of Alta in Jokelfjord.”

When to Go

“The best time of year is March,” says Sortland, “but you can see the northern lights there from the end of August until the end of March.”

While You’re There, Don’t Miss….

Ice fishing and dog sledding. “Spend a day in the wilderness as a musher, followed with a 12-course organic dinner prepared by Sami chef Johnny Trasti at Trasti & Trine,” Tronsvang tells us. “The feeling of mastering the dogs and having to work hard outside in a stunning winter landscape, followed by culture told through local ingredients prepared like simple art, is amazing!” Jan can also arrange for you to go reindeer herding with the Sami.

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Iceland

northern lights over snowy flat plateau and lake in iceland

A dark-sky light show in Iceland. Photo: kamilgrygo/Pixabay

Iceland’s south coast, including the Vik area, and Jökulsárlón—the country’s best-known glacier lagoon—are prime destinations for northern lights. Because Iceland is an island and subject to offshore fronts, the weather can be unpredictable, and it’s common for clouds to block the light show.

When to Go

October to March.

While You’re There, Don’t Miss…

Gordon works with a local expert guide who takes his travelers up into unexplored, seismically active mountain ranges (in a specially modified jeep) via gravel riverbeds to reach raging hot rivers with high-elevation vistas. “Soaking in a clean, naturally hot river truly relaxes mind and body and inspires visions of an ideal way of living. While you’re soaking, your guide can cook wild-caught salmon in an adjacent hot spring or fumarole [natural steam vent].  They can even bake traditional Icelandic rhubarb cake!” he says.

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Northern Canada

Dog sledding in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada.

Dog sledding in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada is an authentic adventure during daylight hours Photo: Shutterstock

Northern lights displays are likeliest in the northern third of Canada: The Northwest Territory often sits directly under the auroral oval, as does part of the Yukon Territory.

When to Go

The absolute best time of year for the clearest and darkest skies is from the third week of January to the end of March. November and December also have the dark skies, but they produce more precipitation, so skies may have more cloud cover. Peak-season dates book up early, so plan well in advance. (A typical stay in the region is four nights.)

While You’re There, Don’t Miss…

To occupy yourself in the daytime, go snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dogsledding and ice fishing.  Also, says Telio, “there are some profoundly beautiful Indigenous storytelling and cultural experiences, including one where guests have the opportunity to eat Muktuk [whale] and meet with elders in a community.”

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Read These Northern Lights Trip Reviews For More Intel and Cool Trip Ideas

Norway in September
“We stayed in a Rorbu in Reine and stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights—right there on our own porch!!”

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

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

“We started in Bergen, driving north through the fjords, and had constant awe-inspiring scenery. Jan arranged two different times we would be on the water in a fjord. We spent half a day on a RIB boat—just the two of us and the captain—gliding along the fjord waters.

Then we flew to the Lofoten Islands, where we stayed in a Rorbu in Reine. We had a fun WOW Moment when an excellent halibut dinner was prepared for us in our own room and we were able to enjoy this private time together watching the harbor with a great meal! Thank you for arranging this!! A couple of hours later, we stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights—right there on our own porch!!

Finally, we flew up to Alta, above the Arctic Circle. The Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge was absolutely incredible. Our room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, looked out over the Alta River, and you really felt a million miles from everything. We would have been content to stay there and never leave the grounds—but there was much to see and do! We took a boat ride on the Alta River, with a BBQ lunch of salmon along the way. Very memorable. The visit to the Sami was so interesting—we were so glad to learn about this culture. And each night, we had our Chasing the Northern Lights Safari.” —Sally Boland

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Iceland in September
“Sometimes I felt like I was on the moon. Other times I felt like I was in the middle of a volcano…”

Auroras over Eillidavatn close to Reykjavik in Iceland. calm water reflecting the northern lights blazing in the sky.

Northern Lights, Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

Chris provided experiences for us that were truly unique. My favorite was when we got into a jeep, travelled a few miles inland and then began a hike. After a short while our guide dammed the hot spring and made a private hot tub for us in the middle of the wilderness. While we soaked, he cooked a salmon lunch for us over a fumarole. Spectacular!

We circumnavigated Iceland and felt we did not miss a thing. Chris steered us to the best restaurants, best sites and best lodging. We even saw the northern lights on our last night there. Talk about timing!

We went at the beginning of September, and the timing was perfect. We did not experience the summer crowds. The weather was cold but bearable. We had 12 hours of light each day. Everything was open for business.

I would recommend Iceland to anyone who is looking for a trip with adventure and outdoor activities. The landscape is spectacular, encompassing both thermal and ice. Sometimes I felt like I was on the moon. Other times I felt like I was in the middle of a volcano. Imagine hiking in an ice cave too! I have travelled many places but Iceland is certainly unique.” —Ron Klausner

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Canada in October
“We viewed polar bears continuously for four days…”

Polar Bear walking on snow with northern lights in the background

Polar Bear, North Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I traveled with another couple to Seal River Heritage Lodge, a short plane ride north of Churchill, Manitoba, from October 21-27. Marc was wonderful in helping us plan the trip. It was a trip of a lifetime! Everything went perfectly. Our two biggest wishes were to see polar bears and the northern lights. We were not disappointed. We had seen the trips that involve the elevated buses and knew we didn’t want that experience.

What Marc provided was so much more. We viewed polar bears continuously for four days. The photos we took were incredible. We weren’t promised anything, but what we received was so much more than what we expected. Thank you for an amazing experience!” —Mike and Sue Mrdjenovich

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Norway in January
“We went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights…”

A team of husky sled dogs running on a snowy road

Husky sled dogs running in Norway. Photo: visitnorway.com

“Truly a trip of a lifetime. My family of 4 (me, my husband and two adult boys) went to Alta where we went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights. In Oslo we went on a very interesting architecture tour. The highlight was relaxing in the lodge sauna after a day spent snowmobiling and getting called by the lodge staff to come outside to watch the northern lights!

The staff at all of the places Torunn and Mari sent us to were exceptional and would go out of their way to provide assistance. We can’t wait to go back sometime in the summer now and see the same location again.” —Neha Vyas

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Norway in February
“A Sami elder met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain…”

Reindeer herding with a traditional dressed Sami woman in Norway.

Reindeer herding with the Sami, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list, and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. The hotels were excellent, and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely, and our dinners there were incredible. Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them three out of three nights!

Much of this is due to the incredible guides Jan arranged. Despite the fact that it was cloudy and snowing the first two nights, our guides looked at all the weather maps and found the area that had the most potential to clear up. It was a real drive, but the clouds disappeared and the Lights danced.

Jan also suggested a visit to the area where the Sami live and herd reindeer. It was the best advice! These indigenous people live the same way their ancestors did, and it was a privilege to spend the day with them. Mathis, a Sami elder, met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain. After that, we snowmobiled back to his home, where he had prepared a delicious lunch of salmon and Arctic char. He generously and patiently answered all our questions and made us feel like welcomed guests. Our day with this incredible gentleman was truly the highlight of our trip, and it is an experience that will not be forgotten.” —Judy Wimpfheimer

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Wendy aboard a "hotel barge" on the Canal de Bourgogne in Burgundy, France

How to Know if a Barge Cruise in France Is Right for You

I’m just back from one of my favorite trips ever: a six-night, eight-passenger barge cruise on the Canal de Bourgogne. Too many people think a river cruise on a 160-passenger ship is their only option for traveling by inland waterway in Europe.  They are missing out.  France in particular has a big network of picture-postcard canals where intimate boats (4 to 12 passengers) glide from village to village, past medieval castles and old-world farms, with no cars in sight for long stretches. It’s like floating through a bygone era. The pace is so languid that you can actually walk faster than the barge goes. I enjoyed hopping off to walk or bike along the towpath, then hopping back on.

The biggest surprise for me was how the escargot’s pace of the barge forced me to relax more than I’ve been able to in years. We could have done the same sightseeing by car, sleeping in hotels—in fact, we could have driven from the village where we started (Vandenesse-en-Auxois) to the village where we ended (Plombières-lès-Dijon) in only 27 minutes!—but that would not have unwound us into the same state of deep relaxation.

A beautiful landscape of Vandenesse en Auxois Burgundy Canal barge.

We started our barge cruise in the village of Vandenesse-en-Auxois, France.  Photo: Timothy Baker

Despite the slow pace, we actually covered a lot of territory, thanks to excursions by van each afternoon to historic sights, wineries, châteaux, and villages where we ended up visiting artisan studios, farmers’ markets, antique shops, cheesemakers…. One of my favorite excursions was to the Chateau de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today; below you can see the Count’s dog greeting me.

Most people would be surprised by the level of luxury, the modern creature comforts, and the exquisite cuisine on our barge. A private barge charter really is like having your own staffed vacation home, only with ever-changing views. And, because you wake up in a different village each day, there’s always someplace new to explore outside your door, yet there are no logistics to deal with.

Tim and I can’t wait to barge again:  Next on our list is the Canal du Midi.  Still, barging is not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it to families with toddlers or teens (who could get bored on the barge or need more exercise than just walking and biking), nor to anyone who requires a hotel gym. Nor would I recommend it to people who don’t like wine or cheese, given how much of it is served every day. (We tasted at least 40 wines and 40 cheeses during our six days.)

Wendy biking near a barge in the Burgundy canal in France.

Biking on the Canal de Bourgogne was easy and safe.  Photo: Timothy Baker

There are three groups of travelers who I think could really benefit from barging:

  • A group of couples who get together each year and are looking for something different and fabulous.
  • A family group without kids that is looking for an especially scenic and logistically easy villa-style vacation.
  • Busy execs who must work on vacation. That’s because a barge lets you sightsee from your desk. I was able to sit on deck all morning, answering email on my laptop while bucolic scenery and history glided by, then take a break each afternoon for an excursion and gourmet pursuits.

If you’re an individual couple without a group, there are certain weeks of the year when barges will have availability for you, but most barge cruises are private charters (typically for a group of four, eight, or twelve). Barges are pretty much sold out for 2023, but there is still a lot of availability for 2024.  If you’ve got questions about whether a barge trip is right for you, or if you could use a recommendation of the right boat, region, or itinerary for your needs, I’m happy to help via the Ask Wendy questionnaire.

Wendy at Chateau de Commarin in Burgundy, with a dog approaching her.

One of my favorite excursions was to the Château de Commarin, where the same noble family that has owned it for 26 generations still lives today (that’s the Count’s dog you see greeting me).  Photo: Timothy Baker

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Wendy-Perrin on Champ de Mars with the Eiffel Tower in the back.

Paris Is Crowded: These Tips Will Save You Lines and Headaches

I just spent the last ten days of April in France, including four days in Paris, and there are a few things that travelers should know. First, at no time did we see, nor were our plans affected by, the fiery protests or strikes you see in the news. Second, what we did see was a gazillion people in Paris. They were enjoying themselves immensely, but Paris was more crowded than I have ever seen before. Here’s what the banks of the Seine looked like last Saturday afternoon:

The crowds at Seine river bank in Paris, France.

The right bank of the Seine on Saturday, April 29, 2023.  Photo: Timothy Baker

If you’re headed to France this spring, summer, or early fall, hopefully you took the advice we’ve been giving since January and you’re making reservations well in advance or, better yet, using a France expert with local clout who can spare you time-consuming logistics and get you past the lines and crowds. (You’ll find my France picks on The WOW List.) If you are going it on your own—as I did because those France experts are so busy helping you that I did not want to take up their time!—here are my tips.

A long line of people in Champ de Mars waiting in front of the public toilets.

I counted 21 people in line to use the toilets on the Champ de Mars on April 30, 2023. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Plan for things taking longer than usual.

Because of lines, security precautions, and masses of people in popular places, things take longer than they used to. So, if you’re taking the kids this summer, don’t think you’ll be able to do three major sights per day; you’ll be lucky to do two. The line for the public toilets in the Champ de Mars last Sunday (above) says it all.

Guard against pickpockets.

Where there are crowds, there are pickpockets. Within an hour of our landing at Charles de Gaulle, my husband Tim’s iPhone was stolen (somewhere between Terminal 1 and the RER train platform at Terminal 3). The airport police, the guy at the Apple Store on the Champs-Élysées, and signs all over the Metro conveyed that there is a lot of pickpocketing in Paris now. Our hotel concierge said it’s especially bad at the Paris Flea Market, where Tim and I also went. For the rest of our time in Paris, I kept my iPhone zipped into an interior pocket in my jacket.

A photo of the Rodin Museum with the Sculpture Garden in Paris.

The Sculpture Garden of the Rodin Museum was a peaceful spot in Paris on Sunday, April 30, 2023. Photo: Timothy Baker

Seek out quieter spots.

There are so many lesser-known, charming parks and museums in Paris!  At the same time that the Champ de Mars was so busy, the Square d’Ajaccio, a serene and flowery little park with an Eiffel Tower view next to the Hôtel des Invalides (a 15-minute walk away), was empty. I know this because I stopped there en route to the Rodin Museum’s leafy Sculpture Garden on Sunday afternoon (above), which had no wait to buy tickets and had plenty of peaceful corners and unoccupied benches.

Book timed entry tickets.

They’re needed at the most popular museums. As for the Eiffel Tower, even if you buy timed tickets, you’ll still have lines and waits.

The Eiffel Tower comes with its own unique quandaries. Buying advance tickets means taking the risk that your time slot could coincide with rain or foggy weather that ruins your views. That’s why my advice for years has been to wait for a clear day with great visibility, then arrive before opening time and buy tickets to take the stairs to the 2nd floor (the 674-step walk yields fascinating views and perspectives on the city, and you can take it slowly), then ride the elevator from the 2nd floor to the top. In the past, I’ve never seen any line for buying stairs tickets. But now, based on the length of the stairs-tickets line last Sunday afternoon (below), my strategy may no longer work.

A line of people waiting to buy stairs tickers for the Eiffel Tower

The stairs-tickets line at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday afternoon, April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

Signs said that that line was an hour long. More signs, at more ticket-buying lines, warned: “The top floor may be closed to visitors during busy times to limits on capacity. Delay more than 45 minutes on the second floor.”

Personally, the next time I go to the Eiffel Tower without help from a WOW List France specialist, I’ll book a table at the (Michelin-starred) Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd floor. It’s got its own elevator with no line.

Or consider ascending the Tower at night. Visitors are currently being admitted until 11:45 pm, so you could see the City of Light illuminated.

Just across the Seine, the Trocadéro—with its famous Eiffel Tower views—was terribly crowded too but as good a people-watching spot as ever. We saw a just-married couple in traditional Korean wedding costume posing for photos, watched a man get down on one knee and propose to his stunned girlfriend, and saw dances performed by a group of girls from Germany.

German dancers on Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower.

A group of dancers from Berlin performed at the Trocadéro near the Eiffel Tower on April 30, 2023.  Photo: Wendy Perrin

In stark contrast to Paris, the idyllic villages of Burgundy where I spent my other six days in France, floating through the countryside on a barge, were blissfully empty!  Here’s what the barge cruise was like.

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smartphone taking picture ocean beach

12 Ways Your Phone’s Camera Can Prevent Travel Headaches

We all know that snapping photographs of your travels is a great use of your mobile phone. Here’s what I’ve learned: Beyond capturing the beautiful moments, phones can also help you avoid many travel headaches. On your next trip, whip out your smartphone camera and shoot the following photos. It will take only a few seconds and could save you wasted time—and even hundreds of dollars—later in your trip.

1. Snap a photo of your parking spot at the airport.
When you return from your trip jet-lagged and foggy, you’ll know the floor/row where you parked your car.

2. Snap a photo of your luggage before handing it to the airline check-in agent.
If your bag gets lost, you’ll have a photo to help the airline identify it. You also may want to take a photo of the contents: If you have to file a claim for a lost suitcase, you’ll need a description of every item that was in it.

3. Snap a photo of your passport identification page.
If you lose your passport, this will help you quickly procure a replacement.

4. Snap a photo of the transit system map in the foreign city you’re visiting.
That way you can refer to it as often as you need to, without worrying about Wi-Fi access, while exploring the city.

Budapest’s subway system

Signs underground in Budapest’s subway system

5. Snap a photo of your hotel’s business card or your cruise ship’s location in your current port of call.
This will come in handy if you need help finding your way back.

6. Snap a photo (several, actually) of your rental car before driving it off the lot.
Document any and all dents and scratches on the car at pick-up, and again at drop-off, in case the rental agency later tries to bill you for damage you didn’t do.

Document rental-car returns with your camera

Document rental-car returns with your camera, especially if the rental office is unmanned and you can’t get a receipt.

7. Snap a photo of signs or placards you may want to refer to later.
Do your brain a favor and photograph any signs that provide traveler help, technical instructions, regional context, or historical information that you might want to remember. (If they’re written in a foreign language, the Google Lens function in the Google Translate app can convert the text in your photo to English.)

8. Snap a photo of any expensive souvenirs you buy and ship home.
If your purchase never arrives, or if it arrives damaged, you’ll want a photo documenting what you bought.

9. Snap a photo of any souvenir you almost buy but don’t because it’s too expensive.
At least you can enjoy the memory (or, if you change your mind, order it from the merchant later). Of course, whenever you see a local artisan handcrafting a souvenir you’re going to buy, snap a photo of them making it (but always ask for their permission first).

Photograph signs with directional info

Photograph signs (such as this one in Newfoundland) with directional info you’ll want to remember.

10. Snap a photo of your children each morning of the trip.
If they get lost, you can show authorities what they look like and what they’re wearing.

11. Snap a photo of the objects your children make or collect during the trip that can’t be transported back home.
Such photos will go a long way toward mollifying your kids when they are forced to leave their treasures behind.

12. Snap a photo of your rental home upon departure.
Avoid unexpected fees by taking photos that show you left the house and its contents in good condition.

Tell me: What did I forget? How else can you use a smartphone camera to prevent or minimize travel headaches?

 

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.

Planning a River Cruise: 7 Mistakes You Think You’re Too Smart to Make

Contemplating a river trip in Europe? A river cruise is a scenic and effortless way to travel, for sure, but take heed: Many of the rules that apply when choosing a hotel or a big ocean cruise ship don’t carry over to river boats. To get the best value for your dollar, here are seven things to keep in mind.

Mistake No. 1: Splurging on a balcony

Panoramic view from Avalon Alegria in Suite 2.

The Panorama Suite on Avalon’s river vessels is one of the nicest afloat. Instead of a small balcony, its French verandah, which extends to the width of the room, makes your whole stateroom feel like a balcony. Photo via Avalon. 

You’d probably assume a balcony is critical—for the view, the fresh air, the photo ops, the extra space, the privacy. A balcony is a big plus at a resort and on a huge ocean ship, but on river boats it can actually be a drawback: River ships have a width limit (so that they can fit through locks), which means that cabins can only be so wide, which in turn means that a balcony takes away from your interior room space. If it’s chilly or raining—as it sometimes is—you’ll value the interior room space more than the balcony. Also, a balcony lets you see only one side of a river, whereas elsewhere on the ship you can see both sides at once. And who wants to miss half a river?

This is why many savvy river cruisers opt for a “French balcony” instead of an “outside balcony.” A French balcony is a glass door or wall-to-wall window that opens to give you fresh air and the feel of a veranda, minus the outside floor, tables, and chairs. The best such pseudo-balcony I’ve seen is on Avalon Waterways’ newer ships. The outside wall of the cabin is floor-to-ceiling glass that stretches 11 feet wide and slides open 7 feet wide. Basically, it turns your whole room into a veranda.

Avalon calls these cabins “Panorama Suites.” Technically, they’re not actually suites: Each is one room that measures 200 square feet and has a comfy sitting area (a chair, a loveseat, and a table) overlooking the water. The bed faces the view—a bed position that is unusual for river ships and is a nice touch, as the view is the first thing you see when you wake in the morning (unless you’ve drawn the curtains, you’re in a lock, or another ship is parked alongside you—which is a reason why most people do draw their curtains at night).

With cabins that transform into open-air terraces, who needs a balcony?

Mistake No. 2: Assuming that your whole itinerary is on the river

The beauty of a river cruise is that it’s a picturesque and easy way to see towns and cities along a river. Typically, the ship drops you off in town, and you can choose to walk around and explore on your own (always my preference) or take a walking tour or bus tour with a group from the ship. Sometimes passengers are bussed to sights an hour or two (or more) away from the river. And sometimes those bus tours can mean missing whole stretches of the river. On the Seine, for instance, opting for the bus tour to Honfleur or Normandy’s WW2 landing beaches could mean missing a picturesque stretch of the river because the bus picks you up at one port and drops you off at the next. (Which is why, on one cruise, I opted not to go to Honfleur or the landing beaches.)

One of the most scenic spots on the Seine River is the approach to the village of Les Andelys. Photo by Carolyn Spencer Brown

So find out whether the cruise line and itinerary you’re considering may force you to choose between the river itself and the sights away from it—and whether those stretches of river are not-to-be-missed picturesque or okay-to-miss industrial. A good cruise director will answer these questions honestly and accurately, and Google Earth can help too. If the cruise director can’t tell you which stretches of the river are most interesting, do what I do—even though technically it’s not allowed: Knock on the wheelhouse door, make friends with the captain, and ask them (at a moment when they’re not busy steering around barges or into locks). Captains always know.

Don’t bother spending precious time attempting to find out where your ship will dock in each town. We choose hotels for their location, of course—so it’s understandable that you’d want to know where a ship will be situated—but, for the most part, they all dock in the same spot. Some ships might have better real estate in certain cities. In Budapest, for instance, Viking’s spot is right under the Chain Bridge. As a general rule, though, all the ships park in pretty much the same area—and, to some degree, where they park can’t be known far ahead anyway. In Passau aboard Viking, we docked in one spot and then later the ship moved several slips downriver.

Mistake No. 3: Insisting that your ship have a gym and a pool

I want these in a hotel or on a giant cruise ship as much as the next person, but the fact is, on river ships, you rarely see anyone in the gym (which is tiny and only minimally equipped) or the pool (which is equally tiny except on some Uniworld ships that have gorgeous indoor pools and some AmaWaterways ships that have a relatively spacious pool with a swim-up bar). There just isn’t enough time to use the gym or pool, as you’re off the ship exploring all day. And if you’re not off the ship, chances are either it’s nighttime or you’re gliding down a significant stretch of river that you won’t want to miss.

The pool in the AmaSonata river ship.

AmaWaterways is one of the few river lines that have pools on the top decks of its ships. Photo by Wendy Perrin

Cruise-line execs keep gyms and pools on ships as marketing tools to get travelers to choose their ship, but the reality is that you likely won’t end up using either. That’s because there are so many opportunities to get exercise off the ship: Some lines carry bicycles and offer cycling tours. Others lend out Nordic walking sticks for ambitious strolling and hiking. And check with your ship’s cruise manager; oftentimes they’ll know where in port you can go to swim or get a massage at a resort or day spa.

Mistake No. 4: Choosing a ship based on the number of passengers
Most people I know, when choosing a hotel or an oceangoing cruise ship, veer away from anything too huge. But on Europe’s rivers there are pretty much only two sizes of cruise ship: 110-meter vessels (which hold about 128 passengers each) and 135-meter vessels (which hold about 166 passengers each). Viking’s longships squeeze 190 passengers onto a 135-meter ship, which competing cruise lines say make it feel crowded. Honestly, though, I sailed on a 190-passenger Viking ship and, other than chairs spaced close together in the observation lounge and trouble finding seats for my party of four at dinner one night, the ship didn’t feel crowded to me. (Then again, I grew up in Manhattan, so my definition of “crowded” may differ from yours.) Nor did I experience less personal service on Viking, partly because Viking (unlike other river cruise lines) has a dedicated concierge who provides such service.

Most ships that ply the Danube and Rhine are similarly laid out (with a few exceptions), so choose your cruise based on the destinations, not the ship itself. Photo via Viking .

There is an exception to this rule. AmaWaterways designed its AmaMagna, which debuted in 2019, to be almost double the width of the standard riverboat on the Danube. The plus? It’s got more amenities, such as more spacious suites, four different restaurants, a sundeck pool and whirlpool, a juice bar, two massage rooms as part of a zen wellness studio and, new this year, a pickleball court. The minus? This ship, due to its size, is limited to a stretch of ports along the Danube that don’t involve locks. Still, it can travel from Germany through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, so the options aren’t severely limited.

If I were you, instead of choosing among river ships based on the number of passengers, I’d choose based on factors that I think will affect your trip more—namely, itinerary, river landscape, cabin type, and like-minded fellow passengers.

Mistake No. 5: Booking the least expensive cabin
In a hotel it can make sense: Choose the lowest-category room at a fabulous property, so you can take advantage of everything the hotel offers, and use the room just for sleeping. On a river cruise, though, the least expensive cabin can be really tight—170 square feet or less—with small windows that don’t open. It’s usually worth the several hundred dollars more to get a French balcony. The aforementioned Avalon “Panorama Suite” cabins cost about $100 more per person per day than the ship’s lowest-category rooms. They’re worth it.

View of the Avalon Alegria Deluxe Stateroom.

On river vessels, the cheapest staterooms are on the lowest deck and though they have windows, there’s not much of a view (this one is on an Avalon riverboat).

Mistake No. 6: Assuming you can dine on your own
In a hotel or on a megaship, it’s easy to stick to yourselves, but on a river ship, there’s a lot of forced socializing. Every night there’s a four-course (at least), two-hour (at least) dinner where you’re seated at tables with other passengers, some of whom you just met. I’ve made some great friends at these chance meetings, but I’ve also been stuck with some louts. Viking is the only river line I have traveled on that provides an alternative venue where you can grab a half-hour dinner on your own if you just don’t feel like making chit-chat with strangers.

Viking’s Aquavit Terrace offers a casual dining alternative to its main restaurants. Photo via Viking.

AmaWaterways offers some options—typically a light breakfast or lunch option is available to grab and go from its lounges. And its new ship, AmaMagna, which is twice the size of traditional river boats, offers more dining options than any other vessel on the Danube.

Mistake No. 7: Assuming there’s room service
Room service is a given in hotels, and it’s usually free on ocean cruise ships, but on river ships it barely exists. On certain ships, in certain cabins, you can get a room-service breakfast. Avalon offers a complimentary continental breakfast option. Room service for lunch or dinner is rare, but Avalon does offer (again, complimentary) an option based on the day’s menus. You do have to order from the front desk, but the food will arrive at your stateroom.

On most ships, early morning coffee and continental breakfast are available in the observation lounge starting at about 6 a.m.

Don’t expect to find an in-room coffee machine in most river-ship cabins. You really don’t need one, though: Every vessel I’ve sailed on has a fancy coffee machine mid-ship (either off the lobby or in the observation lounge) that whips up espressos, cappuccinos, and machiattos, plus there’s hot chocolate, an assortment of teas, and snacks such as cookies and fruit. In fact, on the Avalon Tapestry II, there are two such coffee set-ups—one in the front lounge, one in the back lounge. Which means coffee is never more than 15 seconds away.

Finally, one mistake you are too smart to make: Assuming the Wi-Fi will work at all times
The good news: The Wi-Fi on river ships is free. The bad news: It comes and goes, depending on whether you’re in a lock or on a remote stretch of the river or the other passengers are sucking up all the bandwidth. Where you’ll have Wi-Fi and where you won’t is unpredictable—and none of the river lines are better or worse at providing it—so just know that, generally speaking, your best windows of connectivity are when you’re not in a lock and other passengers are off the ship or have gone to sleep. Know that coffee shops in towns along the way offer better and free Wi-Fi. Another option is to bring a portable modem that connects with systems on land. You can also pre-purchase international packages via your Wi-Fi provider that enable you to use your phone as a modem.

Also know that nobody requires more frequent Wi-Fi than I do, and a river ship is actually one of the best working environments I know: You can sit at your laptop for hours yet have an ever-changing view.

 

START PLANNING A RIVER CRUISE

 

This article was updated and fact-checked in March 2023. It was originally published in 2015.

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

Honeymoon Ideas That Are Truly Special

Daydreaming about a honeymoon is exciting, but planning it can be stressful: Expectations are high, yet—thanks to that other big event you’re organizing—the amount of bandwidth and time you have for planning are low.  To make things easier, we’ve combed through our travelers’ trip reviews—meaning, feedback from the travelers who have used our WOW system to get VIP’d and get the best trips possible—to find honeymoon ideas worldwide to inspire you. These honeymoons were easy to plan, magical, and delivered the special treatment that all honeymooners deserve.  Get inspired, even if you’re a longtime married couple.  Who says you can’t go on a honeymoon every year?

START A WOW HONEYMOON


Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora—because there’s no place dreamier than French Polynesia…if you plan it right!

Overwater bungalow and dock over turquoise water in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We married and honeymooned in French Polynesia. Kleon is a compassionate man who truly listened to all our quirks and wants and dreams, and then he turned them into a reality. He added experiences to our trip that brought me to tears because they were so beautiful. Each step of the journey just kept getting better and better.

As far as value, I joined Facebook groups for travel to French Polynesia and was surprised to see the cost others booked their travel for. Our travel costs were about the same, but we had upgraded rooms, drivers, guides, day rooms, etc., where others were asking for suggestions for where/when to go to various places, what to do with overlong layovers, etc. We never had to wonder where to go or what to do. We are ever so appreciative, and we would recommend Kleon to everyone!” —Margaret Arnold and Carl Hammerle

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

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France, Monaco, Italy & Switzerland—for a road trip with romantic views, meals, and chateaux

Beautiful architecture in Saint Paul de Vence in Provence, south France.

Saint Paul de Vence in Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I booked a very special trip, our honeymoon, with Philip this past December. We wanted to do a road trip through Europe. Our trip consisted of multiple moving parts, and Philip helped give us the honeymoon of our dreams.  My husband and I wanted to enjoy romantic, luxurious hotels, and every single one Philip booked was incredible. What was so nice was he made sure each was different as not to compete with each other. Each time we arrived at a new place we both could not stop smiling and saying “Wow”!

We started off in Geneva, Switzerland, where we kicked off our trip with a Christmas market that was across the street from our hotel. Our next stop was Gstaad, which felt like a winter wonderland. After that we drove to Chamonix, where we stayed in what was my husband’s dream spot at the top of Mount Blanc. It was truly something, we had to take the most charming red train to get to our hotel. The stars there were unlike any we had ever seen. After Chamonix we drove to Fossano, Italy, where we visited a castle and stayed in a suite that felt as if we were in an old Italian romance novel.

Next, we went to Monte Carlo, where our hotel key gave us access to the Monte Carlo Country Club. My husband is an avid tennis fan and this was really special for us. We enjoyed the famous American Bar, and the people of Monte Carlo couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. We stayed on the top floor and had the most incredible view of the city and water. We even were across from Rafa Nadal’s suite.

Following Monte Carlo we went to St Paul de Vence, where we relaxed in a spa hotel with a Mediterranean influence. Our trip’s pace started to slow down a bit on this second half which was really nice. Philip was able to get us reservations for meals at some exceptional places. Next was Aix in Provence where we stayed at a dreamy chateau. After that we went to Avignon where we stayed across from the Pope’s Palace. It felt as if we were in a castle. We had a car and it was very difficult driving through the narrow roads, but we made it and it was a fun part to look back on. We ended our trip in Paris on New Year’s Eve. It was a trip of a lifetime and we both were thrilled with our experience.

I don’t think we could have planned such a remarkable trip without Philip’s help, knowledge, and expertise. We had just planned our destination wedding and were a bit planned out. We wanted something to remember forever, that would blow us both away. This trip delivered and then some. We are so grateful for your recommendation, and look forward to booking another trip in the future! Thank you so much!!” —Margaret Harvey

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

START A TRIP TO FRANCE

France—for WW2 history in Normandy and family-owned wineries in Burgundy

Etretat in Normandy. Photo: Fernando Grilli

“We had a wonderful honeymoon with Philip’s team. We had a great itinerary that helped us check many things off our bucket list and even add a few new things to it. From Bayeux in Normandy, we took a D-Day tour with a guide who had interviewed veterans of WW2, as well as people living in the area, and amassed a collection of stories that make the sites come alive and give you a more intimate connection to the events.

Another guide, Giselle, who came to France as a college student at the Sorbonne and has a doctorate in history, made Mont St Michel so interesting. We learned about the medical texts that were amassed there during the time of the abbey and how this knowledge was lost in the French Revolution when much was burned and destroyed. We saw the tides, and Giselle shared stories of how she has twice had to call for helicopters to rescue people.

From Normandy, we arrived in Beaune in Burgundy, and we met Brendan, a Brit who has been living in France for over 30 years. He started as a barge captain and has since become an expert on the wines of France. He has personal relationships with numerous wineries large and small. We saw the famous vineyards of Romanée-Conti and visited other vineyards and wineries. We mostly had tastings with smaller family houses that do not export to the U.S. We sat with family members tasting 5-15 different wines at each house. Each afternoon we were treated to a picnic consisting of local charcuterie and wine in a beautiful spot. At Domaine Daniel Séguinot et Filles, we sat at the table with the family and the bottlers who came in their special truck to bottle last year’s wine. Daniel is quite the character who kept bringing different wines, from premier cru to village appellation and different vintages.

We then moved north to Chablis and stayed at Chateau Vault De Lugny, a family-run hotel with a one-starred Michelin restaurant on site.  From this location, we continued with Brendan and visited other family wineries and learned about the northern wines of Burgundy.  We left feeling knowledgeable and with a better understanding of wine in general. Mostly we left with a huge appreciation of the families who have inherited and continue this vocation steeped in history, hard work, and a bit of the magic that the land gives to each vineyard, depending on where they are located.

We then had a driver take us to Paris to finish our honeymoon. We had planned this portion ourselves but were surprised with a WOW Moment: We were picked up and driven to a lovely afternoon cruise on the Seine, dining on a 3-course meal with a wine pairing from Alain Ducasse. It was a wonderful treat as we dined on gourmet food and wonderful wine, and cruised past some of Paris’ iconic sites.” —JoEllen Shelden

Read more reviews of France 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 FRANCE

Sri Lanka and the Maldives—for “relaxation, adventure, culture, food, and luxury”

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

Miguel did an amazing job planning our honeymoon to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We provided him with a rough idea of what we were looking for— a combination of relaxation, adventure, culture, food, and luxury—and he put together an outstanding trip. Not having to think about the itinerary, timing, schedule, etc., is a luxury in itself!  We simply were told when to show up and where and then went along for the ride!  Miguel and his team were  extremely helpful in arranging our accommodation in the Maldives, even negotiating an upgrade to half-board.

And Sri Lanka, for those who are considering it, is a special country that blew us away. It is amazing how so much history, culture, and diverse scenery fit into one tiny island. The people and food (food!!) were also a delight. We traveled the end of September through the first week of October, which was considered ‘shoulder season.’ We had AMAZING weather that was not too hot/humid and only experienced a spot shower or two. The crowds were light, so we never felt like cattle call through the sites. I cannot recommend visiting this nation enough… especially before more catch on to its charm!” —Shelley Devinny

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

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Portugal—where even 19 days will leave you wanting more

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“Wendy calls it ‘The WOW List’ for a reason. Gonçalo crafted the trip of a lifetime for my new husband and me. We worked with him while deep in wedding planning, and he was extremely patient and responsive with us throughout the entire process, making our 19-day Portugal honeymoon the light at the end of the tunnel. I spoke with Gonçalo over the phone to kick things off, describing our interests and the cities we were wanting to visit. He was super kind and honest, letting us know what would be closed or perhaps unsafe to reach during the winter holiday (we traveled in the low season of December/January), but providing comparable options in other regions. We received the most well-thought-out and organized itinerary from him. It was the perfect balance of must-sees, off-the-beaten-path suggestions, and open days to relax and explore.

Over the course of the trip, we stayed at four properties, three of which were booked through Gonçalo (one was through my job, as I work at a hotel company) and, boy, were we treated like royalty. The properties were not only gorgeous and in prime locations, but we were upgraded to suites at each of them because they knew it was our honeymoon. We were also left various treats in our room on multiple occasions at each of the properties. To this day, we’re still talking about it!

It was very important to us to be able to experience Portugal’s wine regions, as Portuguese wines are our favorite to drink at home. Gonçalo arranged for three private tastings and tours for us, including a very special morning at Taylors in Porto. To explore Lisbon and Porto, Gonçalo arranged for private tour guides to show us around in style. For the sheer length of our trip and all that we did and indulged in, we felt that the prices were incredibly reasonable. Now we’re aching to go back. Forever grateful.” —Danielle Berman

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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Tuscany and Florence—because all honeymooners should get to sleep in a medieval tower

Chiesa di San Biagio standing in a green landscape of Montepulciano Italy Tuscany

Chiesa di San Biagio, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“With all the details we had to consider for the wedding, I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed by also researching and planning a big trip. Wendy Perrin’s WOW List made it easy to find a travel expert for Italy, and then it was simply a matter of describing my dream trip and hitting the submit button. Maria then emailed me to set up a phone call so we could discuss in more detail what we wanted to accomplish. Trying delicious food and wine were at the top of our list, but we also wanted to see the top landmarks and achieve a nice balance of art, culture, architecture and history. The itinerary she sent back was perfect and took all the stress out of the equation. Maria also provided location guides for both Rome and Florence, with suggestions for sightseeing, shopping and restaurants during our leisure time.

When we walked into our hotel room in Florence, in a 13th-century medieval tower, we jumped up and down because it was so awesome. The hotel even surprised us with a bottle of champagne on ice and snacks. Our favorite experiences of the trip included a lunch at a small family-owned vineyard and a cooking class in a private olive grove.

Without the help of Maria and her team, we wouldn’t have access to special experiences like these. Everything in our itinerary went according to plan, and we never had to worry about a thing. We are so happy we splurged, and are already dreaming of our next trip to Italy.” —Megan Sullivan

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

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Egypt—without the crowds and with a hot-air balloon ride over Luxor

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

“We haven’t even unpacked our bags from our Honeymoon tour of Egypt and we are already planning to return for another one! Arlene, Jim, and everyone on the ground in Egypt did a spectacular job making us feel cared for, and the trip went off without a hitch, even in these uncertain times. Our Egyptologists (Reham and Bassem) were so knowledgeable and on top of their game that we would often have temples to ourselves, avoiding all other crowds. Our only regret is that we didn’t extend our trip for another extra week. If you’re considering taking this tour to Egypt, just book it. You will not regret it. And don’t forget to add a hot-air balloon ride over Luxor. I promise it will be magical!” —Rebecca Switzer

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

Tropical Asia—for an adventure “perfect in concept, orchestration, imagination, and detail”

Sunrise at Angkor Wat Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Photo: Shutterstock

Sandy planned a honeymoon trip for me and my bride to Cambodia, Laos, the southern islands of Thailand, and Bangkok. The experience he crafted was perfect: perfect in concept, orchestration, imagination and detail. I say this as a veteran traveler—I speak French and Spanish, have worked and lived in Paris, and have traveled throughout Europe, South and Central America, and to Hong Kong. Sandy’s work was the best I’ve had yet, and his in-country guides are thoughtful, dedicated folk who add their own magical touches to the experience. It is clear that he is very close to them and their families and cares a great deal about them. It is also very clear that he worked closely with them to make our experience into the adventure we’d hoped for.

I thought it might be helpful to describe a few of his guides that met us along our journey. Kheleur, our guide to Angkor Wat and Cambodia—welcoming, gentle, accommodating and masterful in his plans, and a subject matter expert in the temples. We loved how he created seamless transitions between touring and our wild events (for example, candle-lit dinners on rural tropical estates, sunset cocktails on the water about Angkor Thom) as much as we loved the archeological tours, evening cruises and dinners themselves. The boat tour and the villa dinner merit special praise—he made them appear as if magically created. The midday respite to allow for physical training (and swimming and napping) was brilliant.

Ek and Paan, our guides in Luang Prabang and the Laos countryside—warm, kind, absurdly welcoming. We were treated as family—I felt unworthy! They gave us love and generosity. Ek sparkles with goodwill and joie-de-vivre. He also seems to know every single person in town. When we threw a wrench into the plans he had made for us (we changed a lunch site and some afternoon touring) he cheerfully accommodated—and facilitated—our wishes as if it were nothing at all.

We loved Pablo, our guide in Thailand and Bangkok. Enthusiastic, a careful listener, an eager and engaged teacher of Thai culture and history, a gentleman whose goodwill and blithe spirit are as radiant as his smile. I am sure he has brought hundreds to the same five temples, has taken the same longboat cruise every week for years, and could apply for permanent citizenship at the flower market. You would be unable to tell—at each stop of the white van, he would genuinely brighten as he shared our discovery of each new scene. Truly, the journey Sandy crafted for us was educational, exciting, restorative. Cannot recommend highly enough.” —Charlie Mize

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

Costa Rica—for “stunning nature and wildlife”

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

A beach near Nosara, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we approached Irene in order to plan our trip to Costa Rica, she asked us in great detail about our lives, hobbies, and passions. We wanted an authentic and adventurous trip where we could immerse ourselves in the local culture and experience the stunning nature and wildlife. We began our trip by going to Irene’s mother’s house on the way to the Arenal volcano region. She was so welcoming and taught us how to make homemade tortillas and prepared an amazing Costa Rican lunch filled with Gallo pintos, chicken, yucca, etc.

In the Arenal region, Irene arranged for a beautiful hotel at the base of the volcano amongst the natural hot springs. It was an authentic Tico experience—Pura Vida all the way. We went ziplining, white water rafting, rappelling, and on a hanging bridge and wildlife tour. All in three days. It was amazing!!!

We then headed to Costa Rica’s Pacific side and to Nosara, a vibrant local beach village without major resorts or attractions but with everything we wanted. We surfed every day and stayed in an open-air hotel right on the beach, with a different menu each day and amazing staff.  We also got to see thousands of sea turtles arriving to lay their eggs, which only happens once or twice a year, for a few days!

Irene ensured we got the perfect honeymoon and that it was entirely hassle-free. We now are hoping to make this trip at least every two years and would not dream of doing so without her.” —John Allen Mixon

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

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South Africa and Mauritius—for a two-week safari-beach combo

Elephants, Singita Kruger, South Africa

An elephant family at Singita Kruger, Kruger National Park.

“My wife and I used Julian to plan our honeymoon to South Africa. We went away for two full weeks, and Julian provided thoughtful recommendations that met all our needs, from city exploration to adventure to relaxation. Our trip started in Cape Town, where we stayed at the gorgeous Cape Grace, then we headed to Kruger National Park where we stayed four nights on safari at Arathusa and Tintswalo—beautiful game reserves with excellent service and incredible sights. Then we stayed one night in Johannesburg at the African Rock Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel. Finally, we finished in Mauritius on the most beautiful beach at the One & Only. From start to finish, every single detail was accounted for, and all our transfers were seamless. We didn’t have to worry about a thing.” —William Giordano

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

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Bali—for gorgeous scenery, snorkeling, cooking classes…

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I just returned from the most fabulous honeymoon in Bali. Diane arranged the perfect trip—which had us stay in three different parts of the island to enjoy all the activities we were interested in. Both her planning and hotel suggestions were fabulous. From snorkeling to cooking classes, we enjoyed so much on this gorgeous island. We had a wonderful guide who enlightened and took great care of us. The Ubud Village Resort and Hotel Tugu are two of the most incredible places I have ever stayed and I would recommend both Diane and those gorgeous properties to anyone.” —Amy Rosoff

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

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—for a beautiful beachfront all-inclusive

aerial view of green coastline and ocean of Puerto Vallarta Mexico with hotels

Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Hotel Mousai

Zach and his team, did an amazing job helping us plan our honeymoon to Mexico. They provided us many options to choose from in different areas of Mexico, with great tips on places to go and stay, and things to do in each place. It was through their vigilance that we found our eventual resort, Hotel Mousai.

This particular resort was not even on our radar until they brought it to our attention. But it completely blew us away with how amazingly beautiful it was, especially with its views of the coast surrounding the Puerto Vallarta area. They arranged for our stay, as well as our transportation to and from the airport, including transportation to and from the maritime terminal. Overall, we had a great experience on our trip, in large part because of Zach’s excellent service.” —Patrick Kirkendall

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

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The Maldives—where you can get more and pay less by using the right trip designer

Maldives Islands Ocean Tropical Beach

Imagine two full weeks here in the Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

“We went to Maldives for our honeymoon. We spent two full weeks there— 7 days at Emerald Maldives and 7 days at Amilla Fushi. We are older and this is our second marriage, so I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. I reached out to Wendy Perrin and she assigned Justin to help us arrange the trip. He was extremely helpful and responsive. He recommended the two resorts we stayed at, plus some additional ones (and maybe we should have taken his advice more closely). He made all the arrangements and even got us some additional upgrades. I would highly recommend using a trip planner. There was no additional cost to us and, in fact, we got more and paid less than if we tried to do it on our own.” —Allen Bartman

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

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Australia and New Zealand: “A dream come true…”

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

New Zealand’s Waiheke Island is affectionately known as the Island of Wine; locals take the ferry from Auckland for relaxed afternoons and long lunches. Photo: Shutterstock

Stuart and his team in Australia and New Zealand made our honeymoon trip a dream come true. Highlights included a driver and guide, Adil, to Auckland’s spectacular West Coast Beaches where we saw many gannets in their natural environment. Another was a day on Waiheke Island. We had a very knowledgeable guide, Geoff, who has, as we do, a big interest in wines. He guided us to three vineyards, all different in style, including a wonderful lunch at one. We had great tours of Sydney and Bondi Beach, as well as a day hiking in the Blue Mountains with locals who have lived in these places their entire life. So much knowledge!

Thank you to Stuart and to Wendy Perrin for a gorgeous WOW Moment—we really appreciate it. We had no idea what was happening until our driver delivered us to the Rose Bay Seaplane sight for our flight over Sydney and the surrounding beaches. Tom and I both love flying so our introduction to Sydney in this way was so amazing. We were the only two passengers and Tom sat in the co-pilot seat, enabling him to take fantastic photos of the beautiful city below us. The weather was perfect that day. It was over the top in every way!” —Susan Ketchum

Read more reviews of Australia 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 AUSTRALIA

 

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook and her son biking on an empty road to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

Biking to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Brook sandboarding new Aswan.

Sandboarding near Aswan. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Our food tour of Cairo involved not just eating, but also walking a few miles on bustling city streets to visit ten different stops, from a juice bar to a falafel stand to a homestyle joint where all the signage was in Arabic.

Different fruit nets on a food market in Cairo.

A stop on Brook’s food tour of Cairo. Photo: Ryan Damm.

The highlight:
Our 4-night Nile cruise on a dahabiya. A dahabiya is a crewed sailing vessel that had won over even my boat-averse colleague Billie last year. Unlike the larger, Western-style cruise ships on the Nile, our 12-passenger dahabiya was able to stop at smaller sites the larger ships couldn’t navigate. For instance, we pulled up beside an ancient sandstone quarry; it was fascinating to walk amongst the cliffs from which stones had been cut and then rafted downriver to build the very temples we’d visited earlier in the trip. We strolled around a village where Zeke shared photos and Frisbee throws with local kids. We even stopped at a sandy shoreline where we could swim in the Nile (our captain chose a spot where the water was moving briskly enough to keep it clean, and crocodiles are rare north of the High Dam in Aswan). As the only kid on board, Zeke was occasionally restless, and the cabins were a tad shabby—but the deeper experience of life on the river made it well worth it.

Dahabiya Zekrayaat. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Just another shoreline view from the dahabiya. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Making friends in a Nubian village. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Playing frisbee with local kids. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Swimming in the Nile. Photo: Ryan Damm.
Exploring a sandstone quarry. Photo: Ryan Damm.
A larger cruise ship passes Brook's dahabiya. Photo: Ryan Damm.

A dahabiya is by nature a communal experience (the cabins are small, so we spent most of our free time on the sun deck, and all meals are shared), and we were fortunate to join a fabulously interesting group of fellow travelers. The Thanksgiving-night talent show with the other passengers was a blast. Zeke told two jokes, and we watched new friends sing and dance; all I had to contribute was a handstand. Everyone’s willingness to let their guard down among people they’d met just three days earlier bespoke the camaraderie and intimacy of our short time together.

Best surprise:

Brook looking at the mural painting inside Nefertari's Tomb.

Inside Nefertari’s Tomb. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Queen Nefertari’s Tomb. Jim made sure we didn’t miss this gem. The millennia-old tombs in the Valley of the Kings—and even more so, in the less crowded Valley of the Queens—are exquisitely well preserved, with vibrant colors, visible brushstrokes, and everyday scenes that suggest they could have been painted just last week. But Queen Nefertari’s tomb takes the cake, with multiple chambers and intricate carvings done in sophisticated high relief.

Worst surprise:
Losing Zeke for five terrifying minutes among the throngs at Luxor Temple after sunset. Already disappointed by the crowds that made the temple’s innermost sanctuary feel more like Grand Central Station—it proved to be my least favorite site of the trip—we decided to cut our visit short and lost track of each other on the way out. Our guide kept his cool and found Zeke by the entrance; I greeted them both with teary hugs.

Most underrated:

Looking at the ceiling of the Temple of Khnum in Esna.

The Temple of Khnum, in Esna, Egypt. Photo: Ryan Damm.

The Temple of Khnum. Just before boarding our dahabiya in Esna, we visited the local temple. The ruins are below ground level but have been fully excavated; you take a tuk-tuk through the streets of this unassuming town 35 miles south of Luxor, walk down a flight of stairs, and enter one of the most impressive sites in all of Egypt—at least to my eyes. Restoration work is ongoing, and centuries of soot, grime, and bird droppings still obscure the stone in one half of the temple; in the other half, rows of columns with capitals ornately carved into flowers and palm fronds, and pastel-toned vulture-winged goddesses painted on ceiling frescos, leave you tempted to simply lie down on the gravel floor to take it all in.

Most overrated:
King Tut’s tomb. It’s modest by comparison to other tombs in the Valley of the Kings; at least the mummy still lies in state. Enter for the nostalgic connection to your childhood fascination with Egypt—not for the elaborate carvings you’ll find guiding other pharaohs’ paths to the afterlife, but not Tut’s.

Best places we stayed:

View of pyramids from the balcony at the Marriott Mena House.

View from a room at the Marriott Mena House.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the view from our room at the Marriott Mena House in Giza: There was the Great Pyramid, framed between palm trees by day, and lit up in colorful lights at night. The hotel’s prodigious buffets at breakfast and dinner ensured that everyone in our family could find something they were excited to eat.

 

View of Palace Cataract Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.

Palace Cataract Suite at the Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan.

The bar at the Old Cataract Hotel in Egypt.

The bar at the Old Cataract Hotel. Photo: Ryan Damm.

You need not be an Agatha Christie fan to be charmed by the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan. Most rooms in both the original and newer wings have broad Nile views that take in the weathered curves of granite on Elephantine Island, the graceful lines of the feluccas sailing around it, and the hotel’s own highly manicured grounds. In our suite, the ornate chandeliers and richly toned wood cabinetry with mother-of-pearl inlays felt fit for royalty.

Worst place we stayed:
In Luxor, the Sofitel Winter Palace oozes history in ways both good and bad: You can imagine Howard Carter grandly announcing his discovery of King Tut’s tomb from the hotel in 1922, but you also wonder if the furnishings haven’t been reupholstered since then. The main restaurant is adults-only (not to mention jacket-required), and we found the alternative buffet to be overcooked and overpriced. Jim thinks the Winter Palace will get a much-needed refurbishment in the next year or two; until then, he tells me, the other options in town have their own idiosyncrasies.

Traveler beware:
In four decades of traveling, I’ve never been to a place as dominated by group tourism as Egypt is. A smart local fixer employs strategies to avoid the busiest times at the iconic spots—and turns your gaze to smaller, out-of-the-way details, like the careful carving of the toenails on a statue of Ramesses II—but you can’t escape the crowds entirely. A single group of 25 travelers all following the same flag-toting, mic’d-up guide is more difficult to navigate around than a dozen independent couples or families. That shouldn’t stop you from going to Egypt. Just be sure to book your trip through an Egypt specialist like Jim who has the proven ability to outsmart and outrun the big groups when possible.

Brook with her son exploring the Karnak Temple with their guide.

On a busy day at Karnak Temple, Brook’s guide still finds a quiet corner to explore. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Thank goodness I packed:
$100 in one-dollar bills. Thanks to Jim’s pre-trip intel, I had plenty of cash for baksheesh, which I most often handed out unsolicited. In the tombs at Luxor, though, the security guards were persistent in their offers to take your photo or let you behind the ropes—and then equally persistent in seeking out the tip they expected in return.

I’m glad I didn’t pack:
Binoculars. While our early-morning boat ride to the sandboarding spot outside Aswan was a birdwatcher’s dream, and we could have seen more than the most obvious herons, egrets, and kingfishers with a bit of magnification, Jim warned me that customs officials often take binoculars away from travelers upon their arrival, deeming them a security threat to the country’s military installations.

Lesson learned:
A few days before the trip, Jim rejiggered our plans in Cairo, which meant we wouldn’t see the pyramids until the end of our trip—and boy, am I happy he did. This was the highlight of the trip for Zeke, and it allowed us to end on a high note in a way that city sightseeing (while plenty of fun early in the trip) would not have matched. I knew it was a risk to save the most anticipated site for last, but we had to fly through Cairo to get home anyway, and we vowed to extend the trip to see the Pyramids if a Covid quarantine or some other malady forced us to change up our itinerary. (Luckily, all went according to plan.) From now on, I’ll always make sure there’s an extra-special finale at the end of every trip.

Best trip memory:
Zeke still can’t stop talking about our exploits inside the cramped passageways of the Great Pyramid! Built long before the more elaborate tombs constructed during the dynasties of Egypt’s New Kingdom, most of the walls inside the pyramid are smooth but largely unadorned, and the King’s Chamber is a humble precursor of later pharaonic resting places. But nothing makes you feel more like Indiana Jones than clambering up the narrow wooden ramps that lead to that chamber, ever mindful of the tonnage of stone that has held fast above your head for 4,500 years…and counting?

Navigating the passageways inside the Great Pyramid.

Navigating the passageways inside the Great Pyramid.

START YOUR TRIP TO EGYPT

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Egypt, WOW Lister Jim Berkeley arranged reduced rates for my family’s trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Jim via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

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

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.