The perennial question for anyone who works in travel is to name their favorite trip. And, like most others posed this question, I find it impossible to answer. Instead, as a means of introducing myself to the JNG audience, I give you 6 trips (and 1 experience) that exemplify what I seek out when traveling and define my travel philosophy.
Burma: One of my all-time favorite destinations, Burma is often described as shrouded in mystery, and for good reason. Long isolated from the rest of the world, tourists started trickling to Burma in the last several years, but it’s still a destination off many a traveler’s radar. Visit tourist sites like the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon; the ancient ruins of Pagan, which rival Angkor; the enchanting floating villages of Inle Lake; and take a leisurely (but very comfortable) small-boat cruise up the Irrawaddy River. Picture postcard scenes and warm welcoming people follow you throughout your journey. I rented a bike to ride through one of the river towns and soon found half the village following along on foot because as a foreigner I was such a curiosity – not something you find in many destinations!
Patagonia: It takes forever to get here, but is well worth the effort. I chose to punish myself on a 10-mile guided hike to view the iconic Torres del Paine, but exhausted as I was at the end of the day, the understated luxury of my modern eco-lodge eased my muscles by providing a relaxing massage, amazing cuisine, wonderful Chilean wines, and some of the most well-designed spaces that embrace the surrounding scenery. To me this is the ultimate active trip – full, physically taxing days followed by luxurious evenings.
Paris: It’s Paris, need I say more? The beauty of Paris is that no matter how many times you visit you always find something new to explore. I always pack good walking shoes, and and put them to good use to uncover new shops and markets; visit smaller museums like Palais de Tokyo; and check out cutting edge landscape architecture projects like Patrick Blanc’s vertical gardens at Marithé and François Girbaud and at the Quai Branly Musuem, some of the first projects that started the green wall trend.
Botswana: Elephants, lions, cheetahs, and rhinos, they’ve got them here…as well as fine linens, trendy design, gourmet cuisine, and stunning vistas, all while comfortably isolated miles from civilization. Another destination that rewards you with complete immersion in ‘the place.’ Luxury safaris are hardly new, but in Botswana luxury also includes days spent rarely seeing another human being outside of those in your small group (in our case 10) and tour staff. Wildlife viewing is not meant to be done with the masses, and Botswana understands this by limiting the number of operators who can run lodges and camps.
Costa Rica with Family: A popular family destination, but never boring. Howler monkeys waking you at dawn, lazy mornings lounging in a hammock, action packed days ziplining, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and swimming. The charms of Costa Rica are well known, but traveling with children in this child-friendly destination adds another dimension to the experience. It’s been 4 years since I was there with my now 9 year old and he still talks about the ‘macaw highway,’ his term for the numerous macaws that flew virtually eye level as we swam in our hotel’s cliffside infinity pool; the enchanting tree sloths – the only animal you didn’t need to rush to see; the chorus from enormous cane toads that greeted us en route to our room at night; and the festively-colored quetzal with its long sweeping tail. Truly a learning experience for kids, and as a parent I love that, years later, my son still holds vivid memories of our trip.
Shanghai: China is an enormous country with an endless list of go-to cultural sites, but Shanghai is a destination in and of itself. For an architecture buff, its a must visit as you feel you have stepped in to the future. Buildings that are staggering beautiful, defy gravity, comical, and sublime, they are all here. The juxtaposition of the futuristic with the colonial architecture of the Bund and the French Concession only add to the dynamic appeal of this mega-city that epitomizes China in our time.
Biking anywhere: Whenever possible, I like to use a bike to explore. From the French countryside to the rice paddies of Vietnam, experiencing a destination by bicycle gives you a completely different perspective at a leisurely pace. One of my greatest travel memories was a bicycle trip I took with my husband and son in Niagara’s wine country. Often overlooked, this region is a stone’s throw from the Falls but a world’s away in attitude. We spent a leisurely day bicycling along well tended paths and back roads, found charming shops to stock up on gourmet lunch supplies, enjoyed a visit to a winery that provided a glass of wine to accompany our picnic in their own vineyard and graciously offered complimentary grape juice tasting to our son. Our visit here was only a quick stop en route to/from other places but our experience biking the area provided an unexpected highlight that we still recount.
Trips are best well-planned, but lasting memories are most always stumbled upon. I look forward to providing inspiration and assistance for your own well-planned itineraries so that you can create new memories that define your own travel philosophy, which, like mine, is probably ever evolving.
Debra Eliezer is the former Director of World Wildlife Fund Travel and now focuses on luxury family travel, design-focused experiences and active adventures with JNG Worldwide.