Going places: Where to go in 2019: Top destinations, travel trends; National Plan a Vacation Day is Jan. 29

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A self-guided bike tour (my favorite way to travel) from Venice ends in Porec, Croatia, one of the popular off-the-beaten track destinations that USTOA members say is gaining in popularity © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel has enormous benefits for people, not the least of which is rejuvenation, revitalization, recharging one’s batteries, significant to promoting wellness both physical and emotional. But there is so much more that inevitably attaches: expanding one’s experience, perspective, horizons, understanding; forging new relationships or building bonds with family, friends, and even building confidence and self-esteem in having overcome a challenge, surmounted the unknown, taking a risk, moving outside one’s comfort zone. These are life-changing experiences that are par for the course of travel.

Such life experiences cannot be stored on the shelf to be taken down later – they are as fleeting as time itself, though as engrained as memory. Your child will be 10 only once; your 25th anniversary comes around but once. The best motto that applies: Seize the day.

But too many people don’t seize the opportunity. According to the US Travel Association, every year more than half of Americans (52 percent) fail to use all their time off, essentially leaving a stockpile of 705 million unused vacation days last year. Part of the reason is that planning a trip is itself viewed as a chore. The USTA also shows that the most effective antidote to missing out on vacation time is better planning – designating a time to travel and honing in on destination and style of trip.

For the second year in a row, the USTA is organizing “National Plan for Vacation Day” on the last Tuesday in January, which this year is January 29.

Here are some ideas to help plot your course:

Tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) named Italy the most popular or “hot” destination for travelers in 2019, according to a recent survey conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC).

The top 10 “hot” destinations for the coming year also included Iceland, which ranked second, followed by Japan, Vietnam, Australia, France, Spain, Colombia, Cambodia and Portugal.

USTOA tour operator members also identified their top 10 off-the-beaten path or emerging destinations that they see gaining popularity in 2019: Iceland ranked first, Cambodia ranked second, followed by Croatia, Colombia, Vietnam, Portugal, Bhutan, Bolivia, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.

“It’s interesting see five destinations – Iceland, Cambodia, Colombia, Vietnam and Portugal – appear on both the hot destinations and emerging destinations lists,” added Terry Dale, President and CEO of USTOA. “This tells us that off-the-beaten path travel experiences continue to grow in popularity amongst travelers.”

Demand for immersive, culturally rich travel programs continue to remain high. Roughly 82% of members offer art and culture travel experiences. The art and culture category was also the highest ranked experiential program for travelers in 2017, based on volume of sales. Two thirds of membership offer honeymoon and romance programs, 63% of members offer adventure programs, and more than half (56%) offer multi-generational family programs.

According to the study, the tour operator members of USTOA project to close out 2018 with sales reaching $18.7 billion dollars, representing 9.8 million individual travelers.

Furthermore, member operators are extremely confident about business in the year ahead: 100% of responding tour operator members anticipate growth in sales in 2019.

“Since the first PwC study was commissioned in 2012, it’s the first time we’ve seen such a bullish response with our entire membership projecting growth ahead,” said Dale. “It’s even more encouraging that more than half of members (56%) forecast growth of sales ranging from seven to 10% or more in 2019, indicating a potential boom year.”

While the Active Members of USTOA view the upcoming year with optimism, they also addressed the global risks that could impact the industry over the next three years. Terrorism topped the list with 17% of members responding they are “extremely concerned.” However, this level of concern is a considerable drop compared to the 2016 PwC study when more than half of member (59%) were “extremely concerned.”

Political instability and overtourism, a new category this year, were the next two global risks that members were “extremely concerned” about, cited by 13% of survey respondents.

In addition, tour operator members projected that roughly 63% of total packages sold in 2018 were through travel agencies, “Reinforcing the critical role of travel advisers in the continued success of members’ businesses,” Dale cited.

When asked who is traveling, tour operator members responded that about half (48%) of their customer base are 51 to 70 years of age. The next largest category was age 36 to 50 years representing 20% of customers. Gender is split evenly with 51% female and 49% male. Within the escorted/guided and custom tour category, female passengers were represented slightly higher at 59%.

For more information on USTOA, visit www.ustoa.com, call 212-599-6599, or email information@ustoa.com.

There are virtually unlimited possibilities – a universe, not just a globe – basically wherever your imagination takes you:

Taking clues from Pinterest’s most popular searches, top travel trends for 2019 are bike tours (my favorite), out-of-the-way towns, less-traveled islands and divine, derelict and dilapidated castles. Here are 11 trips that will help you turn these oft-pinned ideas into reality.
1. Bike the Orient Express: Cycle in the tracks of Europe’s iconic long-distance train connecting Paris and Istanbul on TDA Global Cycling’s Orient Express tour. Follow the Danube Cycleway from Germany to Hungary and climb into Romania’s Carpathian Mountains along the way. (https://tdaglobalcycling.com/orient-express)
2. Hot Springs and Huts: Trek from hut to hut, past hot springs and through colorful rhyolite mountains on Iceland’s Laugavegar trail with Adventure Life. Guides will lead guests through one of the largest geothermal zones in the world on the way from Landmannalaugar to the glacial valley of Thorsmork. (https://www.adventure-life.com/iceland/tours/12214/iceland-trek-landmannalaugar-to-torsmoerk)
3. Three Islands Ride: Ride & Seek’s 3 Islands tour hops from the mountains and fishing villages of Corsica to the cliffs and coves of Sardinia to the farmland and volcanoes of Sicily, taking in cultural and culinary traditions by bike. (https://rideandseek.com/tour/3-islands-corsica-sardinia-and-sicily/)
4. Relaxing Andes Springs: Explore awe-inspiring landmarks in the Ecuadorean Andes like the Mojanda Lakes, Cotopaxi National Park and Quilotoa Crater with SurTrek and spend a night at a resort with pools heated by volcanic hot springs. (https://www.surtrek.com/andes-tours/discovering-the-ecuadorian-andes-tour.html)
5. Sip and Cycle Spain: Ride through rolling vineyards, an ancient fortress town and colorful fishing villages on a new tour of Spain’s Basque Country and Rioja wine region from Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations. Off the bike, there’s time to taste wine, savor bite-size pintxos and explore sunny beaches. (https://gosojourn.com/bicycle-tours/rioja-basque-country-spain-bike-tour/)
6. Remote Island Catch: More than 500 nautical miles from the Seychelles’ main island, find remarkable saltwater fly fishing with at the Astove Island Lodge with Frontiers. Cast for big GT’s that rule the island, as well as bonefish, permit, barracuda, triggerfish, tuna, wahoo, sailfish and marlin. (https://www.frontierstravel.com/astove-island-lodge)
7. Big Sky Skiing: Big Sky, Montana, has one of the largest ski resorts in the country, but the town of less than 3,000 on the edge of Yellowstone still has few lift lines. Rent a slopeside home at Moonlight Basin for easy access to 5,800 acres of terrain. (https://www.moonlightbasin.com/)
8. Hot Springs Biking: Join Grasshopper Adventures’ Stunning Shikoku tour in Japan and ride through a land where Shinto shrines and Buddhist monasteries overlap with modern wonders, soaking tired legs in traditional onsens along the way. (https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/en/scheduled-tours/stunning-shikoku.html)
9. Riverside Castles: Travel down the Rhine and Danube Rivers on Riviera River Cruises’ Cruise the Heart of Europe itinerary and see castles in ruins atop towering valley sides and still standing, overlooking cities and towns such as Nuremberg, Melk, Bratislava and Budapest. (https://www.rivierarivercruises.com/cruise-the-heart-of-europe)
10. Small-Town Cowboys: Outside the small town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, play cowboy at Red Reflet Ranch, spending the day riding horses, shooting, herding cattle and learning the ropes, then sitting down to a gourmet meal before retiring to a luxury chalet.( https://red-reflet-ranch.net/)
11. Chef-Led Cycling: Cycle through rolling hills with endless vineyards and past ancient castles and hilltop hamlets in Italy’s Piedmont with Tourissimo and learn about local cuisine with guest chef Mary Sue Milliken, a Julia Child Award winner. (https://www.tourissimo.travel/chef-tours/piedmont)

Family Travel With Different Dimension

Traveling with children can also be a journey of discovery. Backyard Travel, an online boutique tour operator specializing in insider tours throughout Asia, offers a fun family adventure through Vietnam and Cambodia. Heading from the ruins of ancient Angkor to the idyllic beaches of Phu Quoc, this journey is jam-packed with activities geared to all ages.

Launching from Siem Reap, Cambodia, the 10-day Ruins, Waterways and Beaches Tour begins with explorations through the Angkor Temple Complex, zipping around the ancient city in a remork and refueling with delicious local cuisine along the way. After an exciting homestay experience in the countryside of Banteay Srei, it’s off to Ho Chi Minh City for a thrilling Vespa tour of the city. From there, it’s on to the fascinating Mekong Delta to explore the waterways and glimpse life along the river, before heading to the tropical paradise of Phu Quoc island for two full days of blissful downtime.

“Traveling with children can be challenging, but our family tours are specially designed to make sure everyone has fun,” says General Manager of Backyard Travel Trystan Trestchenkoff. “Our Travel Specialists have years of experience tailoring family trips, and selecting only the best local experiences in every destination.”

For more information about the Ruins, Waterways and Beaches: A Vietnam and Cambodia Family Tour, contact .www.backyardtravel.com

Experience the Arctic like the Inuit: Stay in a Traditional Igloo

Experience the Arctic like the Inuit people with a stay in a traditional hand-built igloo. The Igloo Lodge offers five spacious igloos for adventurous travelers, each with room to sleep two people.
Launched by Arctic travel specialists Off the Map Travel, the new Igloo Lodge is a first for this winter and an exciting choice for couples and small groups alike.
Travelers don’t have to worry about being cold as each igloo is kitted out with reindeer skins, warm sleeping bags and a petroleum lamp on a night table. On-site is a cozy wooden cabin with bathrooms and a communal meal area. Although outside temperatures can drop well below freezing, the igloos remain around 32ºF, with specialized outdoor bedding and gear providing coziness and comfort.

“The best Arctic adventures are about experiencing authentic moments and creating lifelong memories,” notes Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel. “As soon as you enter the igloo, you see the craftsmanship that goes into its creation, a skill that’s been passed down through generations. It’s quite special to lie back and sleep there just as the Inuits have done for thousands of years,” he continued.

As an example, a 5-day 4-night Ilulissat Igloo Experience itinerary, offered from the end of January 2019 to the beginning of April, is priced from $1304 per person including three nights on a B&B basis at Hotel Arctic in a double room, one night in an ice-hewn igloo at Igloo Village, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, two Northern Lights safaris, and transfers. Flights are additional.

This project is supported by Interreg Nord and the Visit Arctic Europe project, developing travel to the Arctic Europe region.

Another option: This summer, Off the Map Travel invites you to spend a night on a glacie, in a prime viewing area for Norway’s polar bears. On the island of Svalbard, high up in the Arctic Circle, guests will stay at the exclusive Nordenskiold Lodge located at the foot of the blue glacier. There, with almost no sounds to distract, guests will hear the ice creaking and cracking as the glacier moves along its slow journey. Guests will also have the chance to observe the island’s variety of wildlife including its most famous residents, the polar bear. Bookable now, the new “Night on a Glacier” program is offered from May – September 2019. Each itinerary is customized to meet the interests and needs of the participants.

“This is a spectacular opportunity for adventure lovers,” Cooper commented. “Svalbard is one of the world’s best spots for seeing wildlife, with May to September the optimal months as the snow has melted. And at the expedition lodge, you’ll enjoy all manner of amenities and comforts with the chance to see polar bears.”

From Longyearbyen, the arrival point on the island, guests begin their Arctic journey with a summer dogsledding expedition before joining a guide on a Zodiac boat cruise around the coast to search for walrus, whales and polar bears on the way to the Nordenskiold Lodge.

The adventure continues at the lodge with a guided glacier climb to the source, kayaking, and a photo walk amid spectacular scenery where a chance for wildlife encounters is possible around every turn. In the evening, guests enjoy camaraderie and meals at the lodge, a traditional sauna experience, and further opportunities for wildlife viewing from the indoor coziness of the lodge.

“Summer on Svalbard offers an Arctic destination where wildlife spotting and mild temperatures ensure its stature as a new luxury adventure holiday destination for 2019.”

A five-day “Night on a Glacier” itinerary with Off the Map Travel costs from $8353 per person, based on double occupancy. Included are all transfers, three nights in Longyearbyen on a B&B basis, two nights at Nordenskiold Lodge on a full board basis, kayaking, Zodiac boat safari, glacier climb, and summer dogsledding. Flights are additional. Itineraries can be customized to add additional days and nights. (https://www.offthemap.travel/destinations/norway/svalbard/longyearbyen/)

For more information on tailor-made Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call 1-646-701-0041; email info@offthemap.travel.

2019 World Travel Championship Offers $50,000 Prize

Think you are a master intrepid traveler? A $50,000 winner-take-all cash prize awaits the first-place team in the 2019 edition of the world travel championship.

The world travel championship, known as The Global Scavenger Hunt, set to take place over 23-days between April 12 and May 4, 2019, is accepting applications for entry. Eager Indiana Jones-type of adventurers wanting to test their travel IQ against other travelers in an extraordinary around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers, can apply at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

The unique event will test participants skills by visiting 10 secret countries that nobody can prepare for or do prior research. It is the ultimate Blind Date with the World.

“Prize money provides inspiration,” says Event Director William Chalmers, “We want the best international travelers to participate. The 2019 event will find out if travel writers and bloggers know the world as well as they claim to; whether social media influencers and travel agents know anything about travel; and whether some of the world’s ‘most traveled people’ and Amazing Race wannabe’s actually have any real-world travel skills. Participating and winning our $50,000 winner-take-all prize, will be the ultimate proof.”

The 2019 event will pit savvy international travelers against each other visiting ten secret destinations and then having the competitors unravel a blitz of highly authentic, participatory and challenging culturally-oriented scavenges, like: meditating with monks, training elephants, taking flamenco lessons, cooking regional dishes with local celebrity chefs, searching out Lost Cities, cracking sacred temple mysteries, joining in local celebrations, and learning languages enough to decipher scavenger hunt clues. Trusting strangers in strange lands will be their focus as they circle the globe for three weeks.

And a $50,000 first place prize and the title of The World’s Greatest Travelers await the travelers worthy enough to win the 2019 world travel championship.

Event participation is open but limited. The $25,000 per team entry fee includes: all international airfare, First Class hotels, 40% of meals, and special event travel gear. All travelers are interviewed for suitability and single travelers are welcome to apply. For additional information visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com, or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc., at +1.310.281.7809. (CST#2071053-40)

The World Comes Together at New York Times Travel Show

Want more ideas, to get a taste of faraway cultures and access to discounts and specials? The whole world of travel comes together at the upcoming New York Times Travel Show, taking place January 25- 27 (trade day is January 25) at the Javits Center in New York City.

The three-day showcase, the largest travel show in North America, features global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts, travel seminars and special discounts and offers from over 600 exhibitors.

For the first time a passport acceptance event, hosted by the US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, will also be held.

For more information, www.NYTimes.com/TravelShow.
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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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