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Travel trends show that last-minute bookings have become increasingly common in recent years. But, just as with much else these days, we’re throwing out the rulebook and adapting to our new normal – which means planning on behalf of clients up to two years in advance to execute epic travel bucket list adventures.
“89% of clients with trips upended by the virus have rebooked the same itineraries for 2021.” –Wayne Nupen, the regional touring director for &Beyond, Wall Street Journal
In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, “That Big Vacation You Scrapped Is Already Selling Out for Next Summer”travel industry experts across the globe weighed in on the impact of so many 2020 reservations being pushed into the following summer and fall. A South Africa-based safari partner was quoted as reporting that “89% of clients with trips upended by the virus have rebooked the same itineraries for 2021.” And with our travel advisors in the trenches actually facilitating so many of these very re-bookings, we can confirm the limited availability we’re seeing in exotic destinations around the world due to postponements in conjunction with new bookings.
So, what does that mean for your travel bucket list?
Our role as in-the-know experts has always been to offer peace of mind; in this evolving landscape, providing a sounding board and transparency to travelers as we plan 12, 18 or even 24 months in advance is more critical now than ever. And despite present uncertainty, it would be a disservice to your greater purpose – both as a conscientious citizen of the world and natural-born explorer – for us not to discuss how we can make those grand plans reality on your roadmap. Whether you envision stepping foot on to the legendary South Pole or dream of a spiritual journey through the hills of Bhutan, the lure of these destinations is their inherent remote quality. This exclusivity translates to limited availability, but that’s exactly where a skilled travel advisor’s genius comes in to save the day. Stick around as we break down seven of the most sought-after experiences – one per continent – we’re working on with clients for 2021 and 2022.
Africa: Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
We often hear safari referred to as “once in a lifetime.” And while the opportunity to visit Africa is sure to create lifelong memories, our team consistently fields feedback from safari-goers that they are ready to plan their next Africa adventure immediately upon returning home from their first! As journalist Brian Jackman was quoted as saying, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” With that in mind, one of the most unique itineraries we craft for clients – particularly one we gravitate towards after they’ve experienced a more traditional safari in South Africa or perhaps Kenya and Tanzania – is a journey to Rwanda for the chance to see gorillas, up close and personal. With only an estimated 880 of these largest living primate remaining in the entire world, there are extensive regulations around how many visitors can enter their natural habitat and for how long; the process of obtaining limited gorilla permits to abide by these stipulations requires a great deal of logistical assistance. Naturally, this is where we come in.
By working on trips to Rwanda with ample lead time, we’re able to secure our clients space in the top lodges and ensure they will be working with the most reputable guides during their trip through “The Land of a Thousand Hills.” Upon landing in Kigali, our partners on the ground will greet you for your transfer to One&Only Nyungwe House, a stunning property located within the lush expanse of a working tea plantation. Immersed in wild beauty surrounded by awe-inspiring jungle views, every element of the resort has been carefully considered with inspired farm-to-table dining, spa and wellness offerings that embrace nature and local traditions, and curated, authentic experiences to discover. Then, after relocating to One&Only Gorilla’s Nest or Singita Kwitonda Lodge where you’ll base yourself for your hike through Volcanoes National Park to visit some of the twelve gorilla families living in the park. Upon your departure back out of Kigali, a visit to The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorating the 1994 Rwandan genocide is sure to be emotionally-fueled, but will only further secure the imprint left on your heart by this special destination.
Antarctica: Hop a Private Jet from Cape Town
If you were to Google, “travel to Antarctica,” the vast majority of your search results will yield recommendations for cruises departing from regions like Argentinian Patagonia. These expeditions last anywhere from 14 to 35 days; and while there are undoubtedly lifelong memories to be made on these comprehensive adventures, we recognize that not all of our clients are able to dedicate to two, three or even four weeks to their Antarctic expedition. So, what if we told you it’s possible to reach the world’s remote continent and return in a matter of days (even without an overnight, if you wanted)? That’s right, you read that correctly. It’s possible to charter a private Gulfstream jet from Cape Town, South Africa straight to Antarctica.
Your flight will have you floating over icebergs en route to the Polar Circle in the utmost luxury. After about five hours, you’ll land in one of the planet’s least inhabited regions where (fun fact!) the sun never sets. As soon as you touch down, you’ll be whisked to camp in vehicles specially adapted to traverse these icy plains. Your state-of-the-art sleeping pods await as you escape from the barren, unforgiving terrain. From gentle treks and picnics overlooking the ice waves, to more adrenaline-fueled activities like kite-skating and ice climbing, Antarctica offers activities like no other destination. Explore ancient ice caves and reach the pinnacle of your voyage, the South Pole – the lowest point on Earth and the holy grail of early explorers. Naturally, you’ll be sure to make friends with the endangered emperor penguins and receive the rarest passport stamp in the world before departure back to Cape Town!
Asia: Get Spiritual in Bhutan
A journey to Bhutan is about looking inward as you honor the intersection of mind, body and soul. This landlocked nation in the eastern Himalayas finds itself in between India and China and despite outside influences, remains culturally unique as the last stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism. While there is no longer a limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit the country in a year as there once used to be, the government requirements around a unique visa (consult with your SmartFlyer travel advisor to learn more) were created to protect their traditions and natural environment. The Bhutan Tourism Council aligns its mission with the country’s widely celebrated Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which guides the nation’s progress through non-materialistic Buddhist ideals including cultural resilience, psychological well-being and ecological harmony. That in mind, planning well in advance is the best way to align with this policy of “High Value, Low Impact” travel.
If we haven’t lost you yet, we’re sure you’re up for a journey to this very special place. With several distinct regions, many travelers opt to split their stay across several properties. The recent opening of Six Senses Bhutan – a network of five luxury lodges – allows for ultimate customization. Theses accommodations are thoughtfully located across the Kingdom’s mountains and valleys, each designed to reflect their unique surroundings. Because Bhutan is no place to rush, it’s recommended to take approximately two weeks to travel between the five lodges. But, if time is limited, travelers can choose amongst a handful of the properties best suited to their interests. Amankora offers another fabulous option, particularly for our Aman junkies out there! The lodges are simply stepping stones; you get to chart your own path here with hiking, mindful eating, self-discovery, spa and sleep at the forefront to ensure you’re immersed in the spirituality, heritage and hospitality this place embodies.
Australia: But Don’t Skip Uluru
For so many Americans, the thought of going Down Under has long remained a travel bucket list item. When we work with clients on custom itineraries covering this vast continent, we commonly hear interest around soaking up a performance at the famed Sydney Opera House, sunning at Bondi Beach or spending time exploring the world’s largest reef. But, one of the most sacred Aboriginal sites, Uluru, is often overlooked as the ideal stop in between despite offering the chance to truly connect clients to the spirit of Australia. “The Red Centre” is an extraordinary landscape of desert plains, weathered mountain ranges and rocky gorges offering history lovers and nature-seekers the opportunity to revel in moments like rock formations changing color at dusk and dining under stary skies while being serenaded by didgeridoo.
In the Red Centre, you’ll also be deeply connected to Australia’s ancient tradition of storytelling. Wake for a stunning sunrise and experience the Field of Light exhibition, aptly named TiliWiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara which is artist Bruce Munro’s largest work to date. Listen to local Indigenous people speak about the cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru before taking the road 50 kilometers west to reach Kata Tjuta, a natural wonder of 36 domes covering more than 7.7 miles. You can walk among the domes on the easy Walpa Gorge Walk, or tackle the four-hour Valley of the Winds Walk right into the heart of the landscape. After a long day, tuck into an early dinner at the laidback Pioneer BBQ and Bar. Here you can cook your own Aussie meat on the grill – think emu sausages and kangaroo steaks!
Europe: Sleep under the Aurora Borealis in Finland
If you’ve ever dreamt of dozing off under the Northern Lights amidst a true winter wonderland, Finish Lapland’s sculptured, snowy-white birch trees and frozen, glistening lakes are the movie set you’ve envisioned brought to life. The Aurora Borealis are visible from late August to April when nights actually get dark enough to see this majestic dance in the sky. With clear skies, a bit of luck and a homebase far enough north, you’re sure to experience memories of a lifetime. For the truly adventurous, Aurora spotting will be most fun when accompanied with snowshoeing, cross-country-skiing, snowmobiling or sled dog touring. Or, if you’re looking for a more relaxing viewing experience, it’s breathtaking to spot them right from the comfort of your very own glass-roofed igloo or suite.
When it comes to customizing your perfectly tailored Finish experience, your SmartFlyer travel advisor will be sure to work with one of our on-the-ground partners to identify the right mix of nature and city for you. Finland is a country of contrasts, from the cold high north to the sparkline coastal regions in the south, not to mention the dark winter to the midnight sun; but no matter where you go, the charismatic Sami people are sure to leave their mark. As you visit their cutting edge-shops, studios, art galleries and a thriving restaurant and bar scene in Helsinki, you’ll wonder why you didn’t come sooner!
North America: The Alaska You Didn’t Know Existed
The idea of visiting Alaska likely conjures up images of mega cruise ships with guests navigating through throes of fellow passengers all jostling for a view of the glaciers. Well, we invite you to rethink that version of seeing “The Last Frontier.” Consider experiencing Alaska in style with a journey featuring distinct properties that are equal parts authentic and luxurious. Beginning with a stay in Anchorage, you’ll enjoy a photo tour of Denali prior to your flight to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. From the shores of Lake Judd, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge provides guests with ample adventure in the skies. Following a few days of helicopter-led adventures with expert guides and world-class amenities, your next lodge awaits – the magnificent Sheldon Chalet. Deep in the heart of Denali, the property was recently rated by TIME Magazine as one of 2018’s ‘World’s Greatest Places’ for good reason.
Sheldon Chalet sits at an elevation of 6,000ft and offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the surrounding Ruth Glacier and mountains as the only privately owned land inside Denali National Park & Preserve. While at the Chalet, guests may indulge in gourmet cuisine, guided trekking or sledding by day or moonlight, visiting the historic Sheldon Mountain House (where it all began), rappelling and crevasse. Beyond the curated guided adventures offered by the chalet, you’ll enjoy exquisite cuisine prepared by a private chef, accompanied by fine wines, and concierge service to make your stay as wonderful as possible. The chalet also features a sauna with a view of the summit, a large observation deck and viewing station to drink in the magnificent panorama and Aurora Borealis. On your final morning, enjoy a coffee from one of the panoramic decks overlooking the Sheldon Nunatak before your private helicopter will deliver you back to Anchorage, where you’ll board your flight home.
South America: Sail the Amazon in Style
If you’ve read up to this point, you may have gotten the idea that we’re anti-cruise; the ironic thing is, that couldn’t be further from the truth! But we do have a lot of feelings about what makes a cruising experience truly exceptional; particularly in this new era of travel, limiting exposure to fellow passengers is critical and that’s where our friends at Aqua Expeditions come in. The Aria Amazon is their river cruise ship that’s custom-built to explore the Peruvian Amazon and the famed Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in absolute comfort and luxury in an intimate setting, all with minimal impact on the delicate Amazon ecosystem. The best part? You can opt to completely buyout the 16 spacious suites so that it’s just you and your crew on board (well, in addition to the actual crew, that is!).
Once onboard, you’ll enjoy amenities like a jacuzzi, indoor lounge, dining room, bar and outdoor observation deck to call your own when you’re not out exploring. As you make your way through the Earth’s largest rainforest on your 7-day itinerary, get up close and person with this ecosystem which accounts for more than one-third of all recorded animal species in the world, including 20% of all bird species as you navigate life-enriching wildlife encounters in the Amazon rainforest. Aqua Expeditions’ custom-designed ergonomic fleet of private boats manned skillfully by their captain and crew, add to the comfort of every wild exploration. And for the foodies in your group, rest assured that when you turn in for the night, you’ll dine on the best of Peruvian cuisine with a comprehensive menu crafted by one of the country’s most accomplished chefs.