It’s that time of year again, when we all reflect on the previous 12 months and for me that means reflecting on the great travel experiences I was fortunate enough to enjoy. Today I want to do something a little different though. Rather than highlight the most amazing, transformative experiences I wanted to share a few distinct moments that were just fun. Sure, we learn and grow as people when we travel, but the experience is also supposed to be fun and for me, these moments were amongst the best I enjoyed this year. (In NO particular order.)
Afternoon Alone on Whitehaven Beach, Queensland Australia
Routinely named one of the best beaches in the world, it didn’t take me long to understand why. Part of the experience is in the getting there; Whitehaven is reached only by boat, seaplane or helicopter. I opted for the latter and admiring the views of not only the perfectly white beach, but the swirling sands of nearby Hill Inlet is a travel moment I know I’ll remember for a long time. The best part wasn’t an activity, not really, it was just being there. Grabbing a picnic lunch I had packed just for this occasion, I left the helicopter far behind me and found my own private spot on the massive beach almost completely devoid of human life. I felt like the last person in the world as I took a dip in the warm waters and relaxed on the beach, enjoying the cheese and crackers and basking in the hot sun. It was a rare moment of downtime, of being alone and I loved every second of it. I tend to be an active traveler, usually too active, and these moments of quiet and calm are something I cherish greatly.
Going Inside A Pyramid
Located close to modern day Cairo, the massive pyramids of Egypt have been amazing visitors since the moment they were first built, popping up even in Ancient Greek and Roman travel guides of the day. Standing immediately in front of them it was hard to mentally reconcile the fact that I was actually there. Even better though was the opportunity to go inside one of the massive monuments. Crouched down, gingerly navigating the steep ramp taking me down into the bowels of the ancient tomb I couldn’t help but again appreciate what early archeologists must have felt when they first entered these tombs. The anticipation, the fear, the excitement and the uncertainty, I felt all of those things and I knew exactly what was waiting for me inside – nothing at all. No, these tombs were looted millennia ago, the preserved body of the pharaoh and his treasures stolen before even the emergence of true Western civilization. After descending one shaft and climbing up another I was there, in the middle of the pyramid with millions of tons of stone blocks hanging over me. Inside the pyramid. Those words hung with me for a moment and a smile slowly crept onto my face. I’d done it. I’d fulfilled a lifelong dream and the best thing is, I realized it.
Sleeping In An Ice Hotel
This may not interest everyone, but sleeping inside an ice hotel had been on my to-do list for a long time, which is why I was so happy to visit the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in northern Norway earlier this year. Absolutely everything in the igloo hotel is made from ice, from the bar and chairs to the beds themselves. It’s strange really, walking through a structure made entirely of ice. The temperature inside is kept between minus 4-7 degrees Celsius, in order to preserve the walls of the hotel itself. So it’s chilly, but not as bad as one would otherwise think. But for some reason the hotel had an odd stillness to it, a place devoid of color and life, I felt like Superman entering his Fortress of Solitude. Curled up in warm reindeer-skin blankets, I slept the best I had in months that evening. The light inside never changes, there’s a complete absence of noise and a kind of eerie frozen in time element that made my rest in the igloo so complete and satisfying. I’m not sure if I need to sleep in an ice hotel again, but I’m still thrilled I had that one chance to fulfill a travel dream.
Earlier this year I had the great honor of being invited by one of my favorite airlines, Cathay Pacific, to join them as they took delivery of their 50th Boeing 777-300ER. Events like these don’t happen all the time and I was humbled to be there at the Boeing factory as Cathay celebrated the proud moment. Even better, I joined a small group as we delivered the brand new plane to its home base in Hong Kong. Since it was a small group, the only sections occupied were Premium Economy and Business Class, with the back of the plane left oddly, but beautifully empty. It’s a strange feeling to be one of so few people onboard a flight, but it was just one of many special moments during the 13 hour journey to Hong Kong. It’s an extreme honor to work on any delivery flight, but especially so for a milestone as important as this one. Selected for their service and excellent reviews, the flight attendants were as excited as the passengers for this experience onboard a completely new aircraft.
More than behind the scenes access and a nice flight, the experience in my opinion says a lot about Cathay Pacific. They could’ve taken delivery of this plane without any fanfare, but in deciding to celebrate it in grand style it’s a signal that this remarkable company isn’t just providing excellent service to customers around the world today, but that they also have an eye on the horizon, looking for new and better ways to surprise and delight and to offer a long-haul experience unlike any other in the world.
Kayaking Pont du Gard
This 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct is a world treasure; recognized by UNESCO as one of the best preserved in the world. Seeing it is great, but visiting it from the perspective of a kayak was on of the best experiences I’ve done on any trip. An excursion offered by the river cruise I was on, guests enjoy an active afternoon out on the water, paddling about 8 kilometers down the river and through the arches of the Pont du Gard itself. Anytime I get to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treat, but floating through it is without a doubt one of the most unique ways I’ve visited a famous site. Pont du Gard isn’t only the highest Roman aqueduct bridge in the world, it’s also the best preserved and kayaking under it was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience. I expected a lot from my river cruise experience in France, but I didn’t necessarily expect some of the active excursion options offered in several ports, including this one. Without a doubt, the afternoon I spent kayaking wasn’t just a highlight of my trip, but an experience I know I’ll remember for a long time.
Hiking Through the Valley of the Five Lakes, Alberta
A few months ago I would never have guessed that I’d be adding a hike to this list, but it was just that remarkable of an experience. The 75-year old Icefields Parkway that runs through both Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada, is one of the most scenic drives you’ll find anywhere in the world. Along this scenic drive through the Rockies are any number of stop-offs for great day hikes, but what must be the best of these walks through the woods is the Valley of the Five Lakes. To really do it justice takes about 2-3 hours, but tight on time I managed to essentially run the trail in just an hour and a half, marveling at the sights along the way. There are indeed five different lakes featured, each as brilliant a shade of greenish-blue as you’ll ever find in nature. These emerald colored lakes, while all slightly different from each other, get their unique coloring from the rock dust fed by the nearby glaciers. The total effect is a hike through wonderland and a private, solitary experience that I know I’ll treasure for years to come.
At its base, travel should be fun. That is after all why we save our money, plan vacations and spend time away from home – to enjoy ourselves. One of my favorite travel traditions is the now annual trip I make to Europe every December, to visit new towns and cities and to experience Christmas in new places. Christmas markets in Europe aren’t quite anything else found around the world, although many destinations have tried to copy the festive feel. Whether it’s in France, Germany or Italy though, these Christmas markets are special because they’re built on tradition and most of the people out and about are local, all there to enjoy some holiday cheer. The markets are also Ground Zero for comfort food, and it’s in the stalls lining these markets where you’ll find Christmas market foods both traditional and not, but which remind people of Christmases past and simpler times. For the last two years, my partner and I have sailed with Viking River Cruises to experience the markets and have enjoyed the trips so much, I think they’ve inadvertently become a part of our holiday travel tradition. Aside from the markets, December is also a great time to be a tourist in Europe. The crowds at some of the most famous sites and monuments are low and although the weather can be unpredictable, it’s my favorite time of year to see and experience new destinations in Europe.
What were your favorite fun travel moments from 2015?