I’m a travel geek and at the heart of that geekery is transportation. There’s nothing better than a great flight, train ride or other fun way to see the world. But amongst the many transportation options we have to experience the world, there are a few that rise above the rest. They are special, they are exceptional and they are truly bucket list transportation experiences everyone should try at least once in their lives. I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy quite a few of these adventures around the world, but these are my own personal favorites and as a group I think are among the most extraordinary transportation experiences in the world.
Tucked away in the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy is one of the most beautiful scenic train journeys in the world – the Bernina Express. Starting in Tirano, Italy and finishing in Chur, Switzerland, the journey takes passengers through some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes in the world. It wasn’t the beauty that piqued the interest of UNESCO though, it was the engineering involved with creating this industrial masterpiece. The two railways include 42 tunnels and 144 viaducts and bridges, impressive given the snowy, mountainous terrain the train journeys through. The train didn’t start out as a tourist experience though, it had real importance in linking small, isolated communities with the rest of the world. Thankfully, these villages are still isolated and their beauty has been well preserved through the decades.
Tanzania Hot Air Balloon Safari
One of my favorite travel experiences of all time, this floating safari should be on everyone’s bucket lists. Getting up before dawn is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.
Exotic River Cruises
I’ve been on a number of river cruises and have always had a great time exploring new places and seeing destinations from a different angle. My favorite river cruise experiences though were in more exotic locations: Myanmar and Egypt. Egypt in particular is a cruise I know I’ll never forget. When reading through the itinerary and background information I thought it was just a nice addition to the trip; I didn’t realize how integral to the Egyptian travel experience it really is. A cruise along the Nile has been a defining travel experience since modern tourism began. But, like everything else, it has evolved and isn’t the boring Agatha Christie cruise you might be envisioning. I sailed on a Uniworld vessel and the level of luxury was amongst the best I’ve seen on any river cruise. But the real star of the show of course is what you see along the way. Cruising is the best way to reach sites like Luxor, Valley of the Kings, Aswan and more. Along the way you see farms, temples and daily life in a way that you simply wouldn’t be able to witness in any other manner. Plus the experience is just a lot of fun, and sometimes in travel there’s nothing more important. Cruising the Nile is also very popular, and if you’re not joining a tour it’s easy to purchase a stateroom on a ship heading downstream. That’s especially true now when tourism is so down; I saw stacks of river cruise ships dry-docked, just waiting for the tourists to return. So do yourself a favor, see Egypt in one of the best ways possible and help the local economy at the same time by including a weeklong cruise on the Nile when you visit Egypt.
Snowmobile on a glacier
A couple of years ago my partner and I decided to try something a little different while in Iceland, snowmobiling. Normally when we visit the country, we drive around different regions, stopping periodically to explore and sightsee. Wanting to be a little more active than normal though, we booked an afternoon snowmobile tour on one of the country’s glaciers and the experience is certainly something I’ll never forget. Bundling up in more layers than I thought possible, the tundra buggy took us up to the hard to reach glacier and the freezing ice sheets of Iceland. Glaciers are strange things, always cold and always inhospitable, but possessing a type of beauty that is unrivaled in nature. That was our snowmobile course for the afternoon and while I’m not really a fan of the machines themselves, I can’t deny that the experience was exciting and fun. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a great way to experience a different side to a country I have come to love over the years.
I don’t think enough people consider an epic train ride to be a bucket list worthy experience, but for me it was. Granted, the opportunity to embark on an old-school, classic journey on board a train is shrinking in number, but there are still a few around the world that combine the luxury of another era with adventurous exploration, like the one I embarked on in Australia. The Indian-Pacific rail service onboard the Great Southern Rail explores the width of Australia in the most comfortable way possible. Crossing the mighty red continent from Perth to Sydney (or the reverse) takes several days and along the way passengers get to experience one of the few truly trans-continental train experiences in the world. We traveled in Platinum class, complete with a private cabin for our trip from Perth to Adelaide, the midway point for the service. Along the way we stopped at ghost towns and gold mining communities, not to mention the miles upon miles of beautiful Australian Outback in between. While the stops and views were great, chatting with our fellow passengers was perhaps the most entertaining part of the trip. It takes a special traveler to embark on such an epic train ride and their stories were all as unique as the train journey itself. There are several other great train routes around the world, so you don’t necessarily have to travel to Australia but like most things on this continent, it is the most extreme.
Long Haul First Class
I’m a luxury traveler and as such am no stranger to Business Class cabins. Whether it’s through miles, upgrades or good old cash, I try to fly premium whenever I can. One class of travel though had eluded me, the long haul First Class cabin. This rarefied realm of the super-wealthy, the elite and the titans of industry always seemed just out of reach, until recently. Cashing out more miles than I’d care to admit, I had the great luxury to fly on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to the U.S. in their luxurious First Class Cabin. From personalized service to caviar and champagne and amazing comfort, the experience was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.
Even though many of us like to think that we’re following in the footsteps of yesteryear’s great explorers, that is rarely the case. Ease of transportation has made many formally inaccessible regions of the world relatively easy to get to, fully serviced by hotels and restaurants. There are still a few spots on the globe though where you can forget about everything and trek to beyond the beyond and chief amongst them is Antarctica. One of the least accessible spots on Earth, only about 40,000 tourists a year visit the 7th continent, a drop in the bucket when compared to the mighty tourism centers around the world. But the experience of getting to Antarctica and then trekking around it, is an adventure worthy of Shackleton himself. Most tourists visit in the Austral Summer when temperatures are more reasonable, via companies that operate out of either southern Chile or Argentina. There are plenty of different ways to see Antarctica, from a traditional crossing of the Drake Passage to the increasingly more common fly-cruise directly to the icy continent itself. No matter how you choose to get there though, a visit at least once in a lifetime is a must for any luxury adventure traveler. Cruising along the icy waters, spying giant seals from the corner of your eye and seeing endless icy horizons in person are life experiences so extreme, unique and beautiful that they simply have to be experienced to be believed.
Epic road trip
Although I’m a luxury traveler and flying in Business Class or checking into some of the world’s top hotels is something I truly enjoy, my favorite style of travel is the road trip. Maybe it’s the American in me, but there really is nothing better than exploring a new place with the unbridled freedom that only a car can provide. Remote spots, quirky sites and who knows what else are all available to us on a great driving adventure. We can stop when and where we want with nothing limiting us except our own free time. The road trip is an amazing way to explore the world, but not all drives are made the same. Some rise above the rest and we would all do well do enjoy them at least once in our lives whether it’s Route 66, the North Coast 500 in Scotland or the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, amazing driving routes can be found around the world and provide us with an intimate way to discover a new destination.
Dogsledding in Finland
As the owner of Siberian Huskies and a dog lover in general, anytime I get to interact with new furry friends when I travel is something I not only enjoy, I crave it. So when I learned about the overnight husky trek with Bear Hill Husky in Rovaniemi, I knew I couldn’t say no. The only hindrance was the weather. Negative thirty is extreme even for northern Finland, so the overnight plans were scratched and in its place an afternoon was planned with the huskies; a change in plans that turned out to be even better than the original tour. Meeting with the sled dogs before the ride through the quiet woods surrounding Rovaniemi, I quickly fell in love with my new furry friends. Working dogs aren’t like our furry pets, they’re trained to do a job and all of these pups were buzzing with anticipation for the ride ahead. Taking off with a team of 6 into the heart of the virginal woods, not for the first time I thought just how special an experience riding with sled dogs really is. Almost immediately all other noises die away and the only sounds are the panting of the dogs and the sled itself as it skids along the snow and ice. It’s a communion of sorts between man and dog and offers an introduction to some of the most remote areas of Finland that would be impossible to experience otherwise. Although the all-day ride was scrapped, we still managed to do the overnight portion – a stay in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere. No electricity or running water, it’s not my normal type of overnight accommodation, but the small wood-fired sauna and the amazing friendships I made more than made up for a lack of room service.
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