Category Archives: international travel

Slovenia Promotes Sustainable, Responsible Tourism Experiences

The jaw-dropping Postojna Cave, the most extensive cave system in Slovenia, is a series of caverns, halls and passages some 24 km long and two million years old. Slovenia holds the distinction of being the world’s first country to be entirely declared a Green Destination of the World. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NEW YORK, NY –In Slovenia, the diversity of natural landscapes stretches across the country, from the alpine peaks towering at 2,000 meters and the Adriatic Sea coastline, to the richness of thermal waters in the Pannonian region and the sunny hillsides where vineyards thrive.

One-third of Slovenian territory belongs to a protected area, with forest cover reaching nearly 60%. The rich biodiversity includes over 22,000 species of animals and plants, along with more than 13,000 underground karst caves.

Slovenia holds the distinction of being the world’s first country to be entirely declared a Green Destination of the World. It is also the third most forested country in Europe and one of the countries with the most water in the world, boasting 27,000 kilometers of waterways, around 300 waterfalls, and numerous natural lakes and crystal-clear streams.

Mindful of the responsibility for their natural and cultural heritage, Slovenians strive to preserve their environment through sustainable projects, educational policies, as well as by promoting sustainable tourism experiences.

Slovenia’s longstanding commitment to sustainable tourism positions the country as a significant player in the United Nations’ designation of 2027 as the International Year of Sustainable and Resilient Tourism, potentially serving as a model for global destinations.

Responsible Holidays with Green providers: The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, the seal that endorses commitment to the environment

The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism was one of the first projects in Europe to promote sustainability in tourism and serves as a model for many other countries. The European Travel Commission (ETC) has adopted the Green Scheme as a basis for developing sustainable guidelines for European destinations.

The Slovenia Green label awarded environmentally conscious entities including tourist agencies, natural parks, accommodations, travel agencies, restaurants, and beaches. Divided into five distinct categories, the green label boasts a membership of over 300 establishments. Visitors to Slovenia can place their trust in providers bearing the SLOVENIA GREEN label, as they undergo rigorous international assessments ensuring both quality and sustainability.

Celebrating 100 years of preserving Triglav National Park

Nestled within the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2024, marking a century of conservation efforts since its establishment in 1924. The centennial celebrations highlight the importance of protection for ensuring the existence of natural and cultural assets for future generations. The slogan “Protection Ensures Existence” underscores the ongoing need to balance conservation with development while preserving the park’s pristine beauty and biodiversity.

Invaluable UNESCO’s World Heritage Treasures in Slovenia

The list of the World’s Natural and Cultural Heritage comprises two natural and three cultural sites. Additionally, Slovenia boasts seven distinct features of intangible cultural heritage included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, such as beekeeping, the breeding of elegant white Lipizzan horses, and the art of dry-stone walling, to name just a few.

Slovenia’s presence extends to other UNESCO programs as well, including the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the Global Network of Geoparks, and the UNESCO List of Written Cultural Heritage, known as the Memory of the World.

Among the two UNESCO natural sites, Slovenia boasts the enigmatic Škocjan Caves, home to the largest subterranean canyon in Europe, towering at 146 meters high, and the primal beech forests of the Carpathian Mountains and other European regions, which represent the most preserved remnants of beech forests.

While Idrija preserves the world heritage associated with mercury extraction, Slovenia safeguards the protected world heritage of prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps, with around 40 locations discovered in the Ljubljana Marshes. A significant discovery is a 5,200-year-old wheel, considered the oldest wooden wheel with an axle globally.

In Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, the works of architect Jože Plečnik have bestowed a distinctive visual identity upon the city. His architectural masterpieces, which grace the city’s skyline, have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Green Mindset, Healthy Tourism and Gastronomic Fresh World-Class Cuisine

Slovenia promotes a healthy lifestyle by encouraging bicycle or train travel, self-care through connection with nature, and enjoyment of local, homemade, and authentic foods. Under the motto “from farm to table,” Slovenia stands out for its diverse range of fresh products and natural ingredients offered in world-class restaurants, local markets, and agritourism farms.

As part of its varied sustainable tourism offerings and connection with nature, visitors can enjoy activities such as biking among vineyards, hiking trails, kayaking on crystal-clear lakes, and more sophisticated experiences like going on a hike with an expert Alpinist to feed salt to the native Jezersko–Solčava sheep or outdoor gastronomic experiences such as picnics in nature or snacks at rural homesteads just to mention a few. 

For more information on Green Slovenia to celebrate Earth’s Day, follow this link.

Nestled in the heart of Europe, where the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonian Plain and the Karst meet, Slovenia offers several year-round exciting experiences. This captivating country is deeply committed to sustainability and stands as a pioneer in sustainability and offers a tapestry of unique and unforgettable stories, which unfold either in pristine nature or in charming towns and include unforgettable outdoor adventures, spa pampering, getaways filled with rich culture, art and tradition, and last but not least, superb gastronomy crafted from local, fresh ingredients. Especially in recent years, Slovenia has risen in popularity among gourmands and foodies, also thanks to the prestigious Michelin Guide, which has solidified Slovenia’s global culinary presence. With an impressive number of 9 Michelin-starred restaurants, including one with three stars and another with two, along with seven one-star restaurants, Slovenia stands among the 146 countries with three-star recognition. Remarkably, only 8 of these restaurants are led by female chefs, and Ana Roš from Hiša Franko is among them.

See also:

BIKETOURS.COM 8-DAY GUIDED RIDE THROUGH SLOVENIA OFFERS SURPRISES

CAVES, CASTLE AMONG ASTONISHING SIGHTS VISITED ON GUIDED BIKE TOUR OF SLOVENIA

LIPIZANER HORSES, UNESCO NATURAL MONUMENT, MEDIEVAL CITY OF PIRAN COMPLETE THE GEMS OF 8-DAY ‘EMERALD’ BIKETOUR OF SLOVENIA

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EF Go Ahead Tours Opens Bookings Through 2026 Giving Travelers Unprecedented Lead Time to Plan, Budget Future Travel at Today’s Prices

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon): EF Go Ahead Tours’ Highlights of Vietnam: Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay & Hô Chi Minh City are two new ways to see Asia through 2026. The company is offering 2025 and 2026 tours as today’s prices, with ability to pay in installments © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BOSTON — As guided group travel continues to soar in popularity, EF Go Ahead Tours (GAT), a premier provider of culturally immersive and education-based group tours, responds as the first operator to open bookings to all of its tour destinations through 2026. It is the largest and most diverse collection of itineraries to open 35 months in advance. By offering such generous lead time, travelers will realize incredible value by booking future travel at today’s prices. And for ultimate flexibility, EF Go Ahead offers a $99 down AutoPay with payments in manageable monthly installments, one of the few credit and interest-free payment plans in today’s economy.

2023 was an extraordinary year for guided group travel, with all indicators pointing to even stronger future demand through 2025. Based on sales in the last quarter, EF Go Ahead has seen bookings into late 2025 increase by almost 30% compared to 2024 bookings in the same time period last year.  Lead time isn’t the only benefit at EF Go Ahead Tours. The company is also expanding its tour offerings in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe, focusing on less-traveled, expertly-vetted gems aimed at embedding travelers into local culture, gastronomy, and traditions.

“It’s not just where people want to go, it’s how they want to travel that defines the future of our industry,” says Heidi Durflinger, President, EF Go Ahead Tours. “People want connection and meaning, so they are choosing guided group travel for these transformative moments. By launching more departure dates than ever before to all of our destinations through 2026 (at 2024 prices), we are enabling travelers to plan for the experiences they desire at a tremendous value.”

EF Go Ahead data supports emerging trends for 2024 travel and beyond:

  • Travelers Are Going Guided for Planning-Intensive Destinations: Based on EF Go Ahead Tours’ recent (November 2023) bookings, trips to both Asia and Africa – two highly desired but not easily accessed destinations—were up 70% in sales compared to November 2022. Looking at the first half of 2024, Thailand and Japan departures are both up 57% compared to the same time in 2023, further underscoring travelers want to access these destinations in a guided group experience. Highlights of Southern Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket & Krabi and Highlights of Vietnam: Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay & Hô Chi Minh City are two new ways to see Asia through 2026.
  • More Meaningful, Deeper Dives into Culture, Food, and History are on the Rise: In the last few months, bookings for longer tours continue to see a big increase compared to the same time last year, with a 110% increase in tours lasting more than 16 days. Itineraries with a longer “Grand Tour” lens showcase the many advantages of modern group travel with 12+ days of travel. While these tours are increasingly popular in Asia, Grand Tour of Costa Rica: From the Caribbean to the Pacific is an exciting new itinerary that strikes the perfect balance of gastronomy and adventure and The Greek Ionian Islands: Kefalonia & Corfu with Nafplio & the Athens Riviera Extension offers an insider’s look at the less traveled parts of the Greek Isles.
  • More Opportunities to Connect Through Travel Drives Social Tourism & Solo Tours:  The end of 2023 saw a soaring rate of 380% more solo travelers embarking on solo-only group tours than the previous fall.  EF Go Ahead continues to strengthen its commitment to the “travel solo, but never alone” style bringing its unparalleled collection of solo-only tours up to 18 offerings in 2023.
  • “Peak Season” is Now All Seasons: While “hot” seasons like summer will always be popular in Europe, other seasons are growing at a rapid rate—even to destinations like Italy! “Shoulder Season” and off-season—Oct-April—offers less crowds and temperate weather with more access to local charm. In Oct-Dec. of 2023, EF Go Ahead Tours departed 30% more travelers to Italy than during the same period for 2022. Future shoulder season travel to other parts of the world like Asia, Australia, Latin America & Africa are also on the rise.

Value Oriented: All Reward, No Risk.  
Booking future trips with EF Go Ahead is a win-win. Travelers lock in today’s costs for future travel and through EF Go Ahead’s AutoPay, travelers benefit from one of the few credit and interest-free payment plans available in the current economy. Flexible, fee-free options allow changes to dates and destinations up to the Tour Finalization Date.

Travelers can visit www.goaheadtours.com for more information and to see all available trips. Check out destinations on EF Go Ahead Tours’ Instagram and Facebook.

EF Go Ahead Tours offers more than 175 guided trips across six continents. Each carefully planned, expertly led tour makes it easy for curious travelers of all ages to get to the heart of a destination. With a maximum group size well below the industry average, each trip has the perfect balance of planned sightseeing and free time to explore. EF Go Ahead Tours is a part of EF Education First, the world’s largest international education company that was founded in 1965. With a mission of opening the world through education, EF Education First has 612 offices and schools in 50 countries.

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GeoCultura Unveils New Lineup of Tours for Curious Travelers for 2024

GeoCultura’s Irelands Wild Atlantic Way Tour traces the route to the Cliffs of Moher.

With the promise of new beginnings and a new year, GeoCultura has unveiled its fascinating lineup of expert-led small-group tours for the curious traveler in 2024. Offering discovery and immersion, these tours promise an enriching exploration of the world’s most fascinating landscapes, guided by experts in local geology, history, and culture, while staying in deluxe accommodations and centuries-old inns and experiencing culinary handpicked restaurants. 

Treasures of Southern England: London, Bath, and the Jurassic Coast Embark on a character-packed journey through Southern England’s most striking places with the Treasures of Southern England tour. Uncover the layers of history in Bath, wander the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle at Avebury Ring, and explore the fossil-rich Jurassic Coast. Peek behind the scenes of historic abbeys and cathedrals. Dates: May 6 – May 11, and September 15 – September 20. (Treasures of Southern England: London , Bath and the Jurassic Coast)

Journey to the Misty Isle: Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye Immerse yourself in the legends, landscapes, and rich history of Scotland on this exhilarating tour. Travel from Edinburgh to Inverness, then over the sea to the enchanting Isle of Skye.  Explore dramatic lochs and whisky distilleries. Live the stories and traditions of Scotland in the company of local guides. Dates: April 29 – May 5 and August 8 – August 14. (Journey to the Misty Isle: Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye) 

Scotland and the Isle of Skye: Landscapes and Photography Tour is geared for photography enthusiasts to capture the incredible mountains, lochs, and coastlines of the Isle of Skye and the Scottish Highlands. Join award-winning professional photographer Alex Hare on a small group tour, where, you’ll gain technical and creative tips, tailored to all skill levels, and learn the ‘read’ the landscapes. Dates: Sept 17- Sept 23 (Scotland and the Isle of Skye: Landscapes and Photography Tour) 

Irelands Wild Atlantic Way Tour is a captivating seven-day journey along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, tracing the route from Galway Bay to the Cliffs of Moher. Delve into the rich tapestry of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, guided by experts who unravel the deep-time origins of West Ireland. Explore renowned landmarks, traverse the geopark’s highest peaks, and sail to an Iron Age fort on the Aran Islands. The Wild Honey Inn in the Burren Geopark offers a Michelin-starred experience but as the Chef Patron says: “where the service is proper, whilst having a relaxed and unfussy feel, and what’s on your plate depends on the seasons. Over four days, discover the geopark’s geological and cultural evolution, visiting landmarks like Dun Aonghasa, Poulnabrone Dolmen, and the iconic Cliffs of Moher. September 1-7, 2024 (Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

GeoCultura’s small group tours range from two nights and three days to six nights and seven days, and every tour is filled with stories that show how the earth, the land, and the people connect to bring us to where we are today. GeoCultura offers this new and exciting approach with trips to explore the world’s most important landscapes and geology and to hear fascinating stories linking them to local history. The tours have the benefit of being led by expert earth scientists working together with local historians and regional tourist guides. The aim is to immerse participants in the local culture and its origins, as well as enjoying the local cuisine. The tours provide an irresistible combination of awe-inspiring scenery, great company, and superb guides.

 GeoCultura can also customize fully guided, partially guided, or self-guided trips with just friends, family, or colleagues. 

Additional information can be found at www.geoculturaworld.com, Call: +44 2081 451011 or +1 713 400 6326.

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Are You Game for An Around-the-World Blind Date With Adventure: Join the 2023 Global Scavenger Hunt

Team Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow of California, who would go on to win second place in the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt, dash out of Petra, Jordan on to their next challenge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LOS ANGELES –What are your 2023 travel resolutions:Swimming with baby elephants? Learning to cook from a Michelin-starred chef? Taking part in an archaeological dig? Lending a helping hand at a Tibetan refugee camp? Attending a gala opening of an international cultural event? Perhaps it is just taking a revenge makeup trip? No matter what it is, the best travel-related New Year’s resolution is simple: Go!The 2023 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt can scratch your travel itch and help you fulfill your wildest travel resolutions in one grand adventure. It is a mystery travel adventure that combines Indiana Jones daring with an Around the World in Eighty Days-like travel competition.
And the event turns creative travel in 2023, taking savvy travelers on A Blind Date with the World adventure to ten countries over three weeks. But which ten countries they will be going to—they are not telling! Call it: Destinations Unknown. And adding to the mystery adventure is the immersive focus of travelers having to trust strangers in strange lands—just another of the annual adventure’s transformational features.

Known internationally as the world travel championship, the 2023 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt will take place between the 14th of April and 6th of May 2023.  

The deadline to enter the 2023 edition of the travel world championship is February 1st, with only a few spots open for those wanting to compete for “The World’s Greatest Travelers” title and trophy—and a chance to earn a free trip around the world with their triumph. But, of course, serious travelers are a competitive breed, from: “How many countries have you been to?” and “We’ve been there, did you do…?” to watching travel shows saying, “I could do that!” Well, now they can with a trip, trophy, and title on the line.
   
“Sometimes travelers take trips, but our grand adventure takes travelers to mysterious unknown destinations,” says William D. Chalmers, the Event Director. “Our secret places serve as a fun playing field on which the event plays itself out. Being a passive participant is not an option when you don’t know where you are going on this authentic, challenging, and participatory international travel adventure. Simply transformative. It is life-changing for our travelers.”

And the winners earn a free trip around-the-world with The World’s Greatest Travelers title and crown after proving their mettle, testing their situational awareness, and challenging their Travel IQs. Traditionally, travel writers and bloggers, social media influencers and travel agents, along with some of the world’s “most traveled people” and Amazing Race wannabe’s, join the competition. But often, well-traveled curious people are the winners. This event is truly “the Amazing Race for real travelers.”

The 23-day around-the-world event is limited to 15 teams of two. The US$28,000 team entry fee includes: all international airfares, first-class hotels, 40% of meals, and special event-sponsored travel gear. Single travelers are welcome to apply, and all travelers will be interviewed for suitability. Contact GreatEscape Adventures at +1.310.281.7809 or apply online at GlobalScavengerHunt.com. (CST#2071053-40).   

See our coverage of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt:

Capilano Suspension Bridge Among Vancouver BC’s Marvelous Attractions, First Leg of Global Scavenger Hunt

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 2: HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM: TRADITIONS SURVIVE IN MODERN CITY, AS DOES RECKONING WITH PAST

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 3: MYANMAR, THE GOLDEN LAND, COMES FROM DARKNESS INTO LIGHT

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 3 IN MYANMAR CONTINUES: BAGAN, CITY OF TEMPLES, NEWLY NAMED UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 3 CONTINUES: THE ENCHANTMENT OF INLE LAKE, MYANMAR

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 3: BACK IN YANGON, MYANMAR

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT 8-HOUR LAYOVER CHALLENGE IN BANGKOK, THAILAND

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 5: DISCOVERING ABU DHABI

ANCIENT CITY OF PETRA IS A HIGHLIGHT OF GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT IN JORDAN

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: IN THE SCRAMBLE TO BE CROWNED ‘WORLD’S BEST TRAVELERS’

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT, LEG 7: 30 HOURS IN ATHENS

UNRAVELING MARRAKESH’S OLD CITY MAZE BEFORE TACKLING THE GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT 4-COUNTRY CHALLENGE

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: ENTRANCED BY THE MYSTIQUE OF FEZ, MOROCCO

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: A DASH THROUGH GIBRALTAR REVEALS A MODERN-DAY BRIGADOON

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: SEVILLE TO PORTO TO COMPLETE TOUGHEST LEG OF 23-DAY AROUND-THE-WORLD MYSTERY TOUR

FEELING LIKE A FOREIGNER IN MY HOMETOWN: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT ENDS IN NEW YORK CITY

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Overseas Adventure Travel Shares Top 4 Travel Trends for 2023

Seeing artisans at work in Fez. Morocco is one of the top destinations for 2023,according to O.A.T. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Optimism is the keyword for the 2023 travel landscape as travelers embrace more distant experiences compared to 2022. Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.), a leader in personalized small group and solo travel for Americans ages 50 and older, announced its top 4 travel trends for 2023.

“Travelers are showing a high level enthusiasm for life-changing adventures far from home, often on their own,” said Brian FitzGerald, Chief Executive Officer of O.A.T.  “It’s a genuine priority for travelers to connect and engage with people from other cultures, and to find ways to give back to communities they visit.”

O.A.T. Top 4 Travel Themes for 2023:

1. Africa – Travel to Africa is seeing a resurgence. BotswanaMorocco, and Egypt top the list of popular 2023 trips at O.A.T. In 2022, travelers were more focused on Europe.

People who dream of visiting Africa — whether on safari on floating down the Nile — continue to make up for time lost due to the pandemic. These motivated travelers don’t want to put off visiting the continent any longer, and their sights are set on 2023.

2. Solos going strong – Women over 50, in particular, are heading out to see the world on their own. According to O.A.T., the number of solo travelers reserving for 2023 is up 24% compared to 2019. Overall, more than 60% of O.A.T. travelers are solos, and the majority are women.

“As a single traveler, you’re driving everything,” said O.A.T. solo traveler Muriel Forster. “That just gives you a great deal of flexibility. I overheard someone say, ‘a once in a lifetime experience.’ I thought, ‘I don’t want this to be once in a lifetime – I want this to be my lifetime!”

Solo travelers are drawn to trips with no single supplement, which can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. O.A.T. offers free single supplements on 92% of its single spaces in 2023.

3. Personalized travel – Travelers want the benefits of expert-led small group tours, but increasingly crave more than a one-size-fits all experience. 2023 will bring continued traveler demand to tailor trips with one’s individual preferencesFor example, many travelers prefer to arrive early at a destination before a tour starts so they feel acclimated.

At O.A.T., 87% of travelers personalize their trips by arriving early, staying later, adding a stopover at a popular international city, or combining trips. By comparison, just 75% requested personalization in 2018.

4. Regenerative travel – The idea that tourism should leave a destination better than it was before is gaining ground globally. In a nutshell, regenerative travel improves local economies while preserving local cultures and biodiversity. It benefits local people and allows destinations to improve, all while providing authentic experiences to travelers.

O.A.T., through its Grand Circle Foundationsupports projects focused on water, conservation, and renewable energy in the areas to which the company travels. The Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (W.A.S.H.) initiative helps improve the well-being of local people. Access to safe water, adequate sanitation, and proper hygiene education reduces illness and death, and increases socio-economic development leading to a reduction in poverty. The Foundation supports alternative energy sources to reduce carbon emissions and dependency on fossil fuels. Some schools add solar panels as an alternate source of electricity and to reduce operating expenses. Solar lights from the Foundation replace kerosene, reducing illness from soot and smoke and enabling students to study at night, leading to a better education.

O.A.T. provides travelers over 50 with impactful, intercultural experiences that help change people’s lives. O.A.T. fosters an intimate and accessible experience, with groups limited to 16 travelers (average of 13) by land and 25 (average of 22) by sea.

Established in 1978, Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation’s family of travel companies, which also include Grand Circle Cruise Line and Grand Circle Travel.  In 1992, owners Alan and Harriet Lewis established the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation to support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide—among them, 100 schools, in 50 countries.  The Foundation is an entity of the Alnoba Lewis Family Foundation, which has pledged or donated more than $250 million since 1981.

To learn more about O.A.T., visit www.oattravel.com or call 1-800-955-1925.

See also: Going places: Travel experts see strong demand in 2023 powered by purposeful, experiential, ‘evolved’ travelers

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New from Off the Map Travel: Meet Santa Claus in an Adventure-filled Winter Holiday in Finland

A new seven-day, six-night Ultimate Christmas Invitation itinerary transports visitors to the Arctic Circle to meet Santa Claus in his home, deep in the Lapland forest (Inari Wilderness Hotel)

(Rovaniemi, FINLAND)   A new seven-day, six-night Ultimate Christmas Invitation itinerary transports visitors to the Arctic Circle to meet Santa Claus in his home, deep in the Lapland forest. The Finland-based program includes dog-sledding, a visit to a reindeer farm, and snowmobiling. 

The festive journey starts in Helsinki before heading to Lapland with a personalized, handwritten letter and photobook from Santa Claus, highlighting all the ways guests have been “nice” this year and requesting the traveler’s presence at a one-on-one meeting at Santa’s home in Lapland.

Designed to enthrall all ages, the Ultimate Christmas Invitation from specialist travel company Off the Map Travel, creates a personalized experience for each member of the traveling party. Perfect for pre-Christmas shopping and celebrating throughout the festive season, the program is offered from November to January and begins with an overnight in Helsinki in the art deco boutique hotel Lilla Roberts where guests receive a “golden ticket” for the “Polar Express” overnight night train from Finland’s capital city to Rovaniemi, above the Arctic Circle.

“The itinerary builds suspense and anticipation up to the moment of meeting Santa in person. With no queues and a location in the most festive place on earth, the trip is a dream for those who love Christmas and Santa Claus,” noted Jonny Cooper, Arctic travel expert and founder of Off the Map Travel.

Guests can also stargaze and search for the Northern Lights through huge skylight windows in exclusive Aurora loft rooms at Rovaniemi’s contemporary Arctic Light Hotel. The magical city, just above the Arctic Circle is perfect for an immersion into Christmas and for numerous shopping opportunities.

To complete the experience, the tour continues to Inari, a center of winter activities, the birthplace of Finnish Sami, and the home of Santa. There, with winter clothing provided, guests can choose from outdoor programs including dogsledding, a reindeer farm meet-up and sleigh ride, and snowmobiling through the brilliant Lappish landscape.

In Inari, at Santa’s workshop, participants have a personal meeting with Kris Kringle himself with plenty of time to chat about Santa’s feelings about this year’s holiday, his elves and, of course, you.  Since no Christmas holiday is complete without a gift, visitors receive something very special before embarking on a sleigh ride to the Wilderness Hotel Inari, an unusual “round” log cabin resort with comfortable beds, a personal sauna in each cabin, and views over Lake Inari or River Nukkumajoki. In the evening, the cabin’s open fire invites you to cozy up and search for the Northern Lights in the clear skies.

The seven-day, six-night Ultimate Christmas Invitation itinerary is priced from $3806 per person (at the time of this writing) including all activities, transfers, one night’s accommodations in Helsinki , one night’s accommodations in Rovaniemi, three nights’ full board accommodation in Inari, and the overnight train to Rovaniemi from Helsinki. Flights are additional. As with any itinerary from Off the Map Travel, this program can be tailor-made to fit the wishes and requirements of the guest.

The team at Off the Map Travel works with experiences and destinations that allow people to explore hidden wonders of our planet. Specializing in Soft Adventure OTMT creates tailor-made holiday itineraries offering authentic experiences not offered by many larger travel companies.  For more information on Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call 1-646-701-0041, email [email protected].  

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Travel Planning Company Origin Recommends Alternatives to Overbooked Destinations

If sipping on wine surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards sounds like your kind of vacation, look no further than the Douro Valley of northern Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After two long years of closed-down borders, quarantines, and restrictions, travel is coming back with a vengeance in the summer of 2022—if you can find a place to go that isn’t fully booked. Travelers trying to make plans for some of the most sought-after destinations, such as Italy, are finding limited flight options and no-vacancy hotels. 

If you were dreaming of making a last-minute trip through the Italian countryside or to some other in-demand destination, don’t fret. The travel curators at travel planning company Origin have compiled a list of the five countries they recommend for a phenomenal holiday that isn’t totally overbooked.

Instead of Tuscany, try the Douro Valley, Portugal

If sipping on wine surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards sounds like your kind of vacation, look no further than the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. The namesake river weaves through the mountains, making this not only one of Europe’s best wine regions but also one of its most picturesque.

Instead of the Dolomites, explore the Vestland, Norway

Summertime in the mountains means cooler temperatures, hiking to panoramic viewpoints, and flowing rivers for taking a dip, and you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere more breathtaking than Western Norway. 

Instead of Rome, go for Rio

Get big city vibes but without high season crowds and scorching temperatures in Rio de Janeiro. The months of June, July, and August are the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but it never truly gets cold thanks to Brazil’s tropical climate and winter is also the dry season, so even laying out on the beach can be a part of your plan.

Instead of the Amalfi Coast, visit Costa del Sol, Spain

The Costa del Sol of southern Spain sets a high expectation with a name that translates to “Sunshine Coast,” although with about 320 days of sunny weather a year, it fits.

Instead of Sicily, travel to Crete

The stories of Greek mythology are tangible on Crete, where you can walk through the cave where Zeus was born or visit the ruins that housed the legendary Minotaur. Every beach is somehow more breathtaking than the last on over 600 miles of Mediterranean coastline but move inland and it becomes dramatic mountains and gorges.

Worried about the long lines at the airport?

Origin recommends traveling (super) light, keeping to carry-on only and if needed, we can help you ship your travel equipment or clothing to your next destination so you don’t have to worry about checking in or baggage drop. Booking with Origin this summer also means automatic VIP greeting on landing – meaning you’ll be greeted at the airplane door and assisted with customs by airport personnel via priority lanes, skipping the long lines altogether (this service depends on the destination).

How to Book a Journey with Origin

Download the Origin app (available on Apple Store), create a user profile and submit a trip request with your desired destination, itinerary, and preferred budget. An expert travel curator will then be in touch with you via the app’s chat to start planning your trip. Origin is a membership travel company that creates completely individual, personalized trips. Origin’s mission is to deepen the traveler’s experience through boundless personalization and unique connections. Origin uses the knowledge of human travel experts and then superpowers their trip curation with machine learning – all in one app.

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EF Go Ahead Tours Designed to Travel with More Meaning: Itineraries Promote Animal Welfare, Local Communities and the Planet

EF Go Ahead Tours’ trip to India: Delhi, Agra & Jaipur hits the “Golden Triangle” and include must-sees like the Taj Mahal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

EF Go Ahead Tours believes travel is a powerful way to foster understanding and respect for the people, cultures, and places of the world. From protecting and promoting animal welfare to more sustainable tourism practices and support for local communities, EF Responsible Tourism Initiatives work toward a more sustainable world and fulfill its mission of opening the world through education.

  1. South Africa: Cultural Cities & Wildlife Safaris (NEWLY OPENED): A 17-day tour of spectacular scenery, cities, and amazing wildlife sightings are a given. This tour integrates education via living history walking tours of apartheid to world animal protection initiatives within some of the world’s most endangered populations. There’s learning in pleasure too! After a long day of touring, let the unique ecology of the region and its botanicals, tease your palate with a Gin workshop and tasting. Who knew flora played such a critical role in creating fine gin! 
  2. Costa Rica: Rainforests, Volcanoes & WildlifeA 9-day tour of this majestic land that is leading the world on sustainable travel practices with meaningful education highlights that encompass all aspects of land and sea. Visit and eat on a carbon neutral ranch, work with endangered toucans and owls and see first hand how sea turtles bear the brunt of environmental challenges. 
  3. Thailand Adventure: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & the Islands and Thailand: The Golden Kingdom: Two ways to see Thailand through the eyes of its most beloved treasures — elephants and ancient farming practices. A pioneer in World Animal Protection, the Changchill Elephant Sanctuary allows visitors to prepare medicine and food for the elephants and chat with the mahouts, or elephant caretakers, and enjoy an included vegetarian meal overlooking the elephants’ natural bathing spot. These itineraries also include a visit to the Thai Organic Farm & The Sampram Model Movementwhich originally started an organic farm to grow produce for hotel and restaurant guests. They saw the impact that organic produce had on their family and guest’s overall wellness and wanted to extend those benefits to the entire community. In 2010, they gathered local organic farmers and created The Sampran Model Movement, which connects farmers with the same values and encourages them to grow organically, which then provides consumers with more organic produce at a fair market price.  
  4. Greece, the Balkans & CroatiaFrom Athens to Dubrovnik, spend 17 days exploring mountains to sea and the rich history of Greek and Adriatic nations. Visit Lake Ohrid, Europe’s oldest and most biodiverse lake for an expert-led talk on conservation efforts there to preserve the local biodiversity, threatened by unregulated development and poor waste facilities in the region, and preservation of archaeological sites like the Bay of Bones. Tease your palate with farm-to-table experiences in North Macedonia, Albania and Croatia; then compare notes later. From vegetables, to honey, to wine to oyster farms, learn how this part of the world is pioneering sustainable food practices through tourism. 
  5. India: Delhi, Agra & JaipurNot only does this trip hit the “Golden Triangle” and include must-sees like the Taj Mahal, living history via the Gandhi Museum, and Qutub Minar, an early Islamic tower; but you will start one morning off with the time-honored ritual of yoga. Finally, one whole day is spent with the Dhonk Craft workshop, to learn about socially responsible enterprise and anti-poaching initiatives aimed to protect tigers. 
  6. A Week in Belize: Ruins, Reefs & Rainforests: 9 days in Belize is like a mini trip around the world and equally beckons beachgoers, history buffs and nature lovers! Home to the world’s healthiest barrier reefs, archaeological sites once at the center of Mayan civilization and a lush rainforest. Go Ahead Tours’ travelers snorkel side-by-side with a marine biologist who will explain the Mesoamerican — the Western Hemisphere’s longest reef — ecosystem. Swim among beautiful animals and learn how to protect them better in Belize and at home. 
  7. Ireland: A Feast of Culinary Flavors & Local Traditions: Start in Dublin, go clockwise through lush Irish scenery and culture ending in Galway. A country steeped in tradition, the Irish food scene has evolved significantly from Granny’s pot roast and potatoes. Whisky distilleries, pints of good beer are requisite, of course. Timeless, yet current? Work on a farm to learn how one modern family is implementing ancient farming techniques so that all animals, plants and water on the farm work together for a truly sustainable practice. 
  8. Israel: Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea & JerusalemHoly Land for three world religions and home of the infamous Dead Sea are what you’d expect in a tour to Israel. EF Go Ahead’s tour digs deep into the exploding food scene in Israel with memorable meals. Also, eat lunch with a Kibbutz and then spend a day with an Olive Oil farm, Sindyanna of Galilee, a female-led non-profit, which is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. A large part of their mission is to connect Arab farmers with the Israeli market, specifically by introducing modernization techniques like climate resistance crops and forming cooperative relationships between Jewish and Arab producers. 
  9. Grand Tour of Peru: Machu Picchu to Lake Titicaca: From city to sacred mountains to indiginous floating islands on a lake, this tour marries ancient footsteps with modern wonders. Sink into Spain’s colonial influences in Lima, then travel back to ancient Inca learnings in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. New for 2021, travelers will meet members of the Inka Roots Experiential Tourism Association for a walk to Raqchi Village. Inka Roots is a tourism cooperative intended for a balance between environmental care, income generation for locals, and fostering respect for local traditions. 
  10. Tanzania Wildlife Safari: Sure, you’d expect to see the “Big 5” on Safari in Tanzania. And you will: 12 days exploring the Tarangire, the legendary Serengeti and the “Garden of Eden ” at Ngorongoro Crater. However, this tour goes beyond the obvious! After visiting the Nunqwi village, you will visit the Mnari Aquarium, which is a sea turtle conservatory run by a community group. 
  11. In addition, a brand new tour from EF called Ghana: A Cultural Adventure is designed to promote animal welfare, support and give back to local communities, and sustain the planet.This brand-new tour is rich with cultural immersion, education, history and sustainability. Highlights include learning about how Ghana started the wave of independence across Africa, visiting Trashy Bags, a factory that pays locals to collect and wash single-use plastics to be turned into resalable products, and a visit to Global Mamas, a wholesale seller of fair-trade products produced across Ghana helping Ghanaian women gain economic independence by connecting them to global markets.
  12. www.goaheadtours.com,800-590-1161 

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TRIPS by Culture Trip Launches New Immersive, Experiential Tours with Special Deals, Discounts

Experience rural life in Vietnam and cycle through rice fields to experience farm life first hand with TRIPS by Culture © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

TRIPS by Culture Trip launched in September to offer multi-day small-group adventures with itineraries that combine immersive activities and distinctive places to stay, and experiences for the young at heart, the off-the-beaten path enthusiast, the culturally curious and those with the belief that “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”.  Behind TRIPS by Culture Trip is Culture Trip itself – the travel website and app for booking hand-picked places to stay, unique travel experiences and now also small-group adventures.

To kick off the new year, Culture Trip is also offering special deals and discounts now through January 31, 2022 including a $100 Culture Trip voucher when you book with TRIPS by Culture Trip; a $50 Culture Trip voucher when you spend $200 on a hotel; and a $20 Culture Trip voucher when you spend $100 on an experience. T&Cs apply.

TRIPS by Culture Trip offers over 30 itineraries in some of the world’s most captivating and off-the-grid places across the world.  TRIPS range from four to 13 days, welcoming up to 18 travelers aged 25 and over who can join solo or with friends. With a focus beyond mass-market offerings, TRIPS itineraries often avoid areas of over tourism and aim to put local people at the center; the team is dedicated to avoiding unethical activities or wildlife interactions that aren’t in the best interest of the animals.

“With everyone looking for that vacation or escape in 2022, here are some trips that many will never experience in their lifetime because, well, they didn’t know they could.”  Check these out:

●      Stay with a Bedouin Family in Jordan & sleep under the stars in the Valley of the Moon

Wild camping under the stars and staying with a Bedouin family in the breathtaking Wadi Rum — also known as the Valley of the Moon and as filming location for Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker — is an unforgettable experience. On this trip, travelers also learn how to make Arabic coffee, cook a traditional meal with local Bedouins, milk camels and help shepherds herd their goats in the sunrise. Treks through rust-colored mountains, street food tours in Amman, and visits to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra through a back door to avoid the crowds are also part of this itinerary. 9-day trip from $2,599*      per person

●      Explore Casablanca’s design with a local architect & stargaze with an astrologer

Before exploring the tangerine dunes of the Sahara’s Erg Chebbi, bedding down in a desert camp in a Berber-style tent with a canopy of twinkling stars above, and stargazing in the desert with local astrologer Astro Hamid, travelers get to explore Casablanca’s diverse and historically significant architecture together with a local architect. 13-day trip from $2,809*      per person

●  Experience rural life in Vietnam & cook with a gastronomy artisan

A trip to Mai Chau is unforgettable — a lush valley lined with rice paddies between forested mountains, inhabited by several ethnic groups in the Hoa Binh province. Here, the group will cycle through rice fields to a White Thai village to experience farm life first hand — including collecting food for buffalos and feeding them, while learning about the history and culture of the White Thai ethnic group, named after their white clothes. The trip also takes travelers to Hue where they will get to learn about the flavors and techniques behind the local cuisine through a market visit and cooking class with gastronomy artisan Ms. Huy12-day trip from $1,609* per person

●  Immerse yourself into Sri Lankan wildlife and culture & learn the ancient dances

This epic 12-day ‘Treasure Island’ adventure avoids the usual tourist areas for a glimpse of real Sri Lankan culture. Travelers get to visit a quieter, lesser-known side of Yala National Park — reducing the impact on the wildlife and environment. The park has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world with plenty of elephants, monkeys, and crocodiles. Equally memorable will be seeing herds of wild elephants in Minneriya National Park, visiting a rural village school to learn about Sri Lankan education, and attending a dancing school in Lankathilaka, where a generational dancing master will teach the ancient art of dance in his own backyard. 12-day trip from $2,039* per person

● Learn taiko drumming and aikido & witness sumo wrestling training in Japan

As part of the ‘Japan Rising’ 12-day journey through the land of the rising sun, travelers get to learn from a local aikido expert this Japanese martial art that involves breathing, stretching and self-defense techniques. They also can witness sumo wrestling training to learn about the centuries old history of this traditional sport, and test their rhythm over a taiko drum — played in traditional performing arts and festivals in Japan — with a local expert instructor. 12-day trip from $4,239* per person

Naturally, TRIPS by Culture Trip has an extremely flexible and generous cancellation plan in place should Covid restrictions change your plans      , including rebooking for free up to 48 hours before departure and if TRIPS by Culture Trip cannot change your booking dates, they will refund the booking.  

To learn more and book TRIPS by Culture Trip, visit culturetrip.com/trips or call 678-967-4965.  

* Prices include the Local Insider; activities; accommodation based on two people sharing, with single occupancy available with a supplement; transport throughout the trip and a range of meals

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VISITED Travel App Helps Travelers Keep Track of Where They’ve Been, Where to Go

Got the travel bug? The travel app VISITED can help you keep track and plan where to go next. Is Venice on the list? © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The mobile app development company, Arriving in High Heels Corporation, based in Toronto, Canada (arrivinginhighheels.com) has launched three new features in its VISITED travel app that are specifically designed to motivate travelers to find new experiences and help the travel industry recover from the stay-at-home coronavirus pandemic.

“People are ready to travel again and VISITED is ready to get them excited about new opportunities and destinations,” Founder and CEO Anna Kayfitz said,  No other travel app has these three features.

The new features are Inspiration, Lists, and City Maps. Together they highlight those places not necessarily popular but worth a trip, as well as well-known tourist attractions. They allow travelers to swipe photos of famous and not so famous places to add to their own picture database of destinations they have experienced or want to visit. VISITED has over 1.2 million users.

For individual travelers, the VISITED Inspiration feature tracks personal travel stats, such as percentage of the world visited, number of countries and cities visited, as well as regions on a personal wish-list. The List feature names capitals of the world, wonders of the world, and art museums. Museums and other attractions are constantly added to provide even greater options to choose from. The City Maps feature is invaluable in planning upcoming itineraries.

The app enables travelers to keep personal stats on the number of countries visited, percentage  of the world or country seen by region, how you rank against other world travelers, number of cities visited, percentage of the world that you WANT to see vs. where you are in your travel journey.

For the travel industry, the VISITED app’s features present a sponsoring opportunity for hospitality related companies, “because we know where the users have been and where they want to go,” Kayfitz said. “This is also an opportunity to showcase travel products and destinations without losing the focus of the user.”

She is looking forward to seeing a resurgence in travel. “In the meantime, users can start planning their trips with VISITED, discovering places to go, things to do, and sites to see domestically and internationally.”

Kayfritz is the founder of Arriving In High Heels, a mobile app company, which she started 2014 and incorporated in 2017 converted it to a corporation. The company, now known as Arriving in High Heels Corporation, and has 3 apps including Visited, to help keep track of your travels;  X-Walk Fitness app, a Nordic walking app that tracks progress and lists the top 25 famous hikes and Pay-off Debt app that helps people get out of debt faster.

All her app ideas came from a personal need for them, Kayfitz said.

The idea for Visited, for example, “started while I was flying back from South Africa with my husband (then boyfriend, Brian). I would use a little notebook and make a list of all the countries I visited and places I still wanted to visit. When I could not remember a few smaller islands such as Curacao, I became frustrated and spent the enter long haul flight trying to remember the islands we had visited. Brian had mentioned there has to be an app for that. When we could not find one, Brian, who is an app developer decided to make one for me for my personal use. We launched it in iOS only. When we started seeing downloads coming in, we knew we had something. So, we slowly began working on it to make it the app it is today. We currently have 1.2 million plus users and are growing.

“My travel industry experience did not really impact the development of the app. I was always into travel. My parents would always visit new places while I was growing up and that started my interest in travel. When I had the chance at 18 to go abroad with a friend, we went on a tour to London, Paris, Rome, and that’s when the travel bug bit me.”

The Visited app, she said, “has opened my eyes to new destinations especially with the inspiration section of the app. Gathering the hundreds of photos that are currently in the app, it made me realize how much more of the world there is to see. It has also motivated me to check off even more countries I want to visit.”

Prior to developing Visited, she said, “I would discover new places by browsing the web, travel brochures, reading magazines and even talking to other travelers while abroad. I kept track of my travels and things I wanted to see in a journal. I hate to write, so it was just a simple continuing list or a drawn map of all the places I have visited. I used to love to check off top destinations, lists found in magazines, blogs to see what percentage I have seen. This is what we hoped to capture in our app. We also added the top 10 countries to visit based on where you live to inspire people to travel to easy to reach/popular destinations.”

The app doesn’t replace guidebooks, she maintained. “It is a complimentary app to these books. Guidebooks offer a way into a destination with detailed explanations, and insightful information while we offer a macro approach to travel to simply tick off places you want   to travel or have already visited.

“As an analyst I always start by asking the questions of why and so what? Since Visited was designed for my personal use at the beginning, I wanted the app to answer the following questions:

  • How many countries have I seen?
  • Many of our copy-cat competitor apps show you what percentage of the world you have seen. However, what use is that? I do not want to visit every country in the world although for some that may be their goal. However, I wanted to know what percentage of the world I WANT to visit and what percentage I have seen. So, we have included the metric that answers those two questions.
  • We also added the top 10 locations for people to visit from their home country. This allows users to discover easily accessible countries. This was done to inspire additional travel. For example, if Canada is their home country, Canadians will find plenty to see in destinations easy to visit in Canada. This answers the question what sites can I visit in my home country?
  • We also have a rank of how you compare to other international travelers.
  • We now allow users to count the UK as 4 countries vs 1, so., we now have the options for you to select it as 4 or 1. This will help answer the question how I count the number of countries I have visited.

“The app is designed to show your progress and to inspire you to complete your journeys.”

As to who the Visited app can benefit, she says, “Anyone that likes to travel regardless of their style of travel. They can be a once-a-year family trip traveler, a backpacker or someone who has rented an RV to visit every state. They will all benefit from using our app to keep track of their trips and get inspired to visit new locations. We find that it is a good reminder of all the places that you have been to, to make yourself feel better especially during the coronavirus pandemic. That is why we added the list feature that lets you check of all the art museums, world wonders, and other lists to help keep up travel moral during the pandemic.”

Users can use the app to share their trips, by clicking an icon that pops up with all the different ways you can share – text, email, print, download as PDF, as well as via social media you have installed such as WhatsApp, Instagram.

Visited now has 1.2 plus million users. XWalk and Pay Off Debt are niche apps that were launched in the past 2 years; the number of users has been growing.

Travel apps have taken off with people getting back to traveling once again. According to Sensor Travel Apps 2021 report, U.S. Travel Apps surpassed 85 million downloads, growing 128%.

How to use Visited:

  • Download the app for free via App Store or Google Play Store
  • Sign up – with email – (email is required because this is a unique identifier to keep track of the data that the user has select that way if they change phones, they will always be able to get back to the selection).
  • Input where you live, countries visited and countries you wish to visit
  • The map will display the selections. You can then click on each country to see additional information such as regions and cities, and input notes for that destination.
  • If you click on cities (Paid Feature) you can select different cities by tapping on the country.
  • You can see on the) dashboard the top countries you visited, how you rank against other international travelers as well as the top 10 countries that are most visited from the country you live in.
  • You can swipe to see photos of places and add them to your wish or been list.
  • You can click on experiences and see the different lists such as capitals of the world, art museums or world wonders, etc. In addition, you can also see the percentage of the world you have visited. You can also tap on experiences (such as hiking, skiing) and can select all the countries you have been to and doing that activity. For example, if you select: Canada, the US, and Switzerland for skiing it will display the 3 countries where you skied. You can also select where you want to ski.

The app can be downloaded for free on iOS from the App Store and on Android from Google (due to copy-cats, the app is called Visited with the blue world icon and a yellow pin).

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