In February, I had the honor of speaking at the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure show and I have to say, it blew me away. I’ve spoken at a dozen or so travel conferences around world, including some you may be familiar with like Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), TTG/TTI, Eye for Travel, Social Media Week and Travel Blogger Elevator, but I really enjoyed mixing it up by speaking directly to consumers versus professionals in the travel industry.
Of course, I cherish my travel industry “colleagues,” and love learning, sharing and growing in this tight-knit community, but there was something really refreshing about speaking to the enthusiastic traveler. I mean, every one of us in the industry is started as just someone that loved to travel, so at the the LA Travel & Adventure show, I felt like I was speaking to “my people.” The chairs quickly filled with attentive faces, I saws notes frantically being scribbled down, and then hands shooting up to ask engaging questions like “when is the best time of year to go there?” and “what tour operator do you recommend?” At the end, I stayed around to talk individually with those that had more to ask. It is such a thrill to see how my experiences directly can improve someone else’s travels. In the end, that is why I do all of this!
My focus was on the “Top Ten Bucket List Experiences and How to Do Them”–a daunting top ten list, I have to say. It was particularly hard as I have had probably a HUNDRED experiences that I’d consider “bucket list,” and every time I travel to a new place, I find out that there are hundreds more! However, I wanted to keep this talk personal and meaningful so I only chose adventures that I had PERSONALLY experienced.
Let me preface this the way I prefaced my speech–I clearly haven’t been everywhere and don’t know about about every experience. As much as I try, I will never see and do everything. But at this rate, with 50 countries under my belt and a pretty packed non-stop travel schedule for the past 10 years, I think I’ll have a pretty good handle on it when I’m 100 years old.
I also am not being paid to recommend any of the destinations or tour operators that I suggest in this article nor in my speech.
How I chose to organize my top ten was focused more on the type of experience than the actual specific destination. I feel that certain travel experiences transcend the specific destination, though certain places enable you to get that experience (make sense?). For each bucket list experience, I gave specific examples where I went to have those memorable moments.
Below I’ll outline a handful of my bucket list adventures and some related video but you’ll just have to come to my next presentation to hear the rest! I will talk about #1, #2, #3, and #5 in my top ten list.
#1. The “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone” Trip: Papua New Guinea
I am not saying that you need to be uncomfortable on every trip, but just once, choose a destination, an adventure or a tour that might push your boundaries. Maybe it’ll involve camping outdoors, trekking or pushing yourself in some physical way. Or maybe it’ll be more about an emotional stretch–for instance volunteering at an orphanage or animal rescue center, or living without the luxuries and amenities of the modern world, as many do.
The one destination that had a profound impact on me in this way, was Papua New Guinea. As soon as I landed, I had that overwhelming sense of “wow, I am in a totally different world.” Few roads meant that we used charter planes to access different villages. I was traveling on a private journey with Swain Destinations, a luxe tour operator that has run a lot of tours in PNG and know how to facilitate incredible experiences. In each of the location in PNG, welcoming locals brought us into the daily markets, told us stories through dance, and shared their belief system, traditions and everyday life.
For one part of the trip, I lived in an open air lodge with electricity only a few hours a day, cold water and one option for every meal. I made bedfellows with some interesting wildlife a few times but in general, I enjoyed the simplicity of it! I was staying along the Karawari River, exploring the Sepik region, the lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Each day we took a river boat to experience life on the river and to stop at small villages and meet the people that called them home. I tried my hand at chopping sago palm, which I later helped form into sago pancakes with a village mom. I was granted access in the male-only spirit houses, an integral part of transition into manhood for the village’s male youths. I even took a GoPro selfie with a group of beaming children and wove baskets with a local teenager–and all this without sharing a common language!
The experience put so much into perspective for me in terms of what we value as humans and what we need to not only survive, but to thrive. I boarded my return plane a changed woman.
#2. The Animal Trip: South Africa & Churchill, Manitoba
For me, this is a very important one as we as a race are continuously depleting the chances for survival for many of our planet’s most amazing creatures. I will try to stay positive and focus on what we can change, but I do believe that understanding the need for conservation efforts is the first step to improving the situation.
There are many tours and experiences out there that will give guests up close experiences with wild animals but I strongly encourage you to look deeply into the activity that you book. There are many that aren’t following the conservation guidelines or respecting the wildlife, the land or the local people. I fortunately found Swain Destinations, which took me to Kruger National Park where I was able to see lionesses and cubs, lounging cheetahs, grazing rhino, stoic elephants and lionesses with cubs. But they also made sure that the guides were from the local villages, that they supported local anti-poaching and conservation organizations and the hotel property was involved in environmental sustainability efforts.
I also have to mention experiencing the polar bears in their natural element: the tundra. Tauck, a well known luxury tour operator, organizes trips up to the very remote Churchill, Manitoba, only accessible by train or plane. Churchill is the “capital of Polar Bears” as it is in the midst of where polar bear territory. We were able to get a close up view of these majestic, endangered bears emerging from hibernation. I learned so much about their life cycle, how they hunt, raise young and how they are struggling to cope with our warming climate that I hope I can be an ambassador for their plight.
#3 The Road Trip: Switzerland
I think most people have done a road trip or two, whether it is a day jaunt to a neighboring town or a long haul to Grandma’s house. But I’m referring to a longer road trip, where you experience a totally new environment, moving from point A to point B. The reason I like road trips is because there is so much focus on the journey. What you see out the windows is often the true look into the local life of the destination. You’ll see cars going to work, vendors selling roadside food and will pass small town life in between.
What I also really enjoy is being able to pull that car off the main road and taking a side route, meandering through in little village, stopping for a bite at mom & pop restaurant–you can do what you want! It’s that flexibility and spontaneity that we don’t often find in our daily lives and this is one of the rare opportunities where the unexpected can be much better than what you had planned.
As I write this, visions of driving across Switzerland in the sunny Autumn weather springs into mind. Turning a corner and gasping at the snow covered mountains, or passing young cows jingling their brass bells or getting lost on a medieval carriage road and realizing it might be the most magical road you’ve ever seen–these images won’t leave my memory! My cameraman Sam and I drove a spectacular route: from Geneva to Lausanne, on to Vevey and Crans-Montana, then Zermatt and ultimately, Basel. We went from a cosmopolitan French influenced metropolis to a bustling university city to historic lakeside village. Of course the alpine village of Zermatt was breathtaking and the culturally rich Basel felt like the epicenter of cool, modern life. Yet it was all those moments in between and the unexpected stops–even the car train that took us through the insides of a giant mountain–that painted a real-life picture of Switzerland.
#5. The Travel Back in Time Trip: Egypt
You may think that humanity today is intelligent but take a look at what the Egyptians were doing in 3000 BC. There are many ancient civilizations with artifacts, architecture and visible impact still accessible today. However to me the Pyramids of Giza, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of King Tut and the Temple of Dendara were each so impactful, I have to recommend a trip to Egypt for your bucket list. The fact that you can see all of them on the same trip is truly awe-inspiring.
I traveled with the very reputable Abercrombie & Kent, a tour operator that at the time in 2014, employed over 300 locals on the ground in Egypt. This not only made the tours, the guides and the experience feel seamless, it also added to the sense of safety in this often tumultuous country. Your view of humanity will be forever changed.
I have to stop myself before I write a novel about these Top Ten Bucket List Experiences but I hope this gives those of you that weren’t at the LA Travel and Adventure show, a little taste of what was discussed.
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If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll answer you!
Oh, and check out this fun video that my friend Sarah Dandashy of AskaConcierge made just after my talk. She is a go-getter and glad I got some of the energy of the day on video!