Preparing to Travel Again

We’ve been living with the COVID-19 pandemic for a year now, and it’s clear that we’re all experiencing it differently. Some people have already had the vaccine and are ready to get back out into the world sooner rather than later. Others are still maintaining a stricter, tighter “pandemic pod” and waiting for numbers to decrease before they can even contemplate loosening those boundaries. 

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Wherever you are on that spectrum, you are probably starting to wonder when you might be able to travel again, where you might be able to go, and what’s going to happen when those floodgates open and everyone rushes to make up for lost time. The answer to that last question is pretty easy, actually.  When we reach the tipping point where the general public feels travel is safe again, there’s going to be a tidal wave. A little bit of advance planning now will help you stay ahead of that curve!

To help with that, we’ve put together our suggestions for where you can travel now, where you can most likely travel later this year, and why you should do some advance planning now for bucket list trips for 2022.


I am already packed.

If you’re ready to get out of here right now (or within the next couple of months), your best bets are Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Costa Rica. Some testing requirements are in place (both in the various destinations and here in the US for your return), but the rules are easily complied with.

(Road to Hana, Hawaii – Photo Credit: Annie via Shared Adventures Travel)

a swim-up bar at a glistening blue pool in mexico
lush green mountains of Hawaii an a blue bay on the road to hana

Resorts are maintaining strict safety protocols. Occupancy is at reduced capacity. And there are warm breezes and sandy beaches ready to make you forget your pandemic problems.

(El Dorado Maroma, Riviera Maya, Mexico – Photo Credit: Annie via Shared Adventures Travel)

I’ll be ready by the fall.

If you need a few more months to get vaccinated and feel comfortable about making travel plans, that’s okay. There are some destinations that are still working out their plans too, and they should be ready for you by the Fall. I would expect much of Europe to open back up to Americans by Sept/Oct. French Polynesia, which has already been welcoming tourists but is on a brief pause right now, should also be back up to speed before the fall. And you might even see cruises begin again by then.

If you want to snag an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora, or a villa in Tuscany, you can start planning now to stay ahead of the curve.

(Top:Passau, Germany – Photo Credit: Annie via Shared Adventures Travel)

(Bottom: Moorea French Polynesia – Photo Credit: Meagan via Shared Adventures Travel)

I need to plan something BIG for next year!

If you’ve had to postpone big celebrations in 2020 and 2021, you’re not alone. There’s going to be a LOT of people looking to celebrate milestone birthdays and anniversaries in 2022, and the big “bucket list” trips are going to be popular. Things like African safaris, European river cruises, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and Australia/New Zealand always require some advance planning, but that will be even more true now. 

(Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa – Photo Credit: Annie via Shared Adventures Travel)

It’s never too early to start thinking about your timing, wish list, and budget so that you’re ready to take advantage of any special pricing offered THIS year for big trips in 2022.

(Sydney, Australia – Photo Credit: Liz Picurro via @following_liz)


Please be sure to share even your tentative plans with us now so that we can keep an eye out for sales and promotions that you might be interested in. The world is slowly opening back up to us, and when you’re ready to take advantage of that, we’re ready to help!

Don’t Overlook Your Own Back Yard

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When creating a bucket list, far-flung destinations often spring to mind first, but we should all remember that there are some incredible U.S destinations worthy of making that list. This year in particular, when international travel is likely to remain disrupted for a while, it just might be the time to turn your focus a little bit closer to home. We’ve got three great suggestions:

#1 Alaska

Mountains, lakes, glaciers, waterfalls, and extraordinary wildlife. If you’re looking for adventure in the great outdoors, Alaska is the perfect escape to start planning now — especially after spending so much time indoors these past few months! With so many gorgeous national parks and adventurous excursions to choose from, this trip will take some advance planning — another reason it belongs on a bucket list.

two people looking at the snow capped mountains in Alaska from boat
Annie and her mom enjoying the stunning views in Alaska

There’s no shortage of natural beauty in Alaska. Denali National Park has the highest peak in the U.S., breathtaking hiking trails and amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. If you’ve always wanted to see a grizzly bear, then Katmai National Park is the place to go. Famous for their “Fat Bear Week“, you can fly into the park and stay at a local lodge while keeping an eye out for grizzlies catching salmon. To see more bald eagles than you can count, check out the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve outside Haines, Alaska. And to get the most out of any of these parks, experience them with a knowledgeable guide booked through an outdoor adventure tour operator.

glaciers in alaska

The majestic Glacier National Park lets you see a calving glacier create a tidal wave. Stand in awe of these icy giants, explore the ice caves, or see it all from above with a helicopter tour.

The best hiking, fishing, and wildlife sightings are in summer and early autumn. But don’t discount late-winter and early-spring visits. Snow-filled activities like dog-sledding, seeing the start of the Iditarod Race, and chasing the Northern Lights are in store for a February-March trip.

For a truly unique experience search the skies for the Aurora from a relaxing hot spring at Chena Hot Springs Resort.

Whatever your outdoor adventure goals, head to Alaska for the stunning landscapes and variety of adventures.

woman holding a small husky puppy

Top Bucket List Experiences

  • See grizzly bears in their natural habitat
  • Glaciers & ice caves
  • Go dog sledding and cuddle a husky pup
  • Whale watching
  • See the Iditarod Race
  • Northern Lights
  • Ultimate fishing experience

#2 Sedona, Arizona

A calming and centering experience awaits you in the unique red rocks of Sedona, where you can combine relaxation with the great outdoors. You can hike, horseback ride and golf, or lounge pool-side, dine al fresco, and indulge in a decadent spa treatment at a luxurious resort like L’Auberge de Sedona or Enchantment.

sedona night sky next to a pool
Sedona’s Dark Skies are perfect for star-gazing [Photo Credit: Mark via Unsplash]

This small Arizonan town offers a huge number of beautiful hiking trails, and even a naturally-formed ‘waterslide’ in Slide Rock State Park.  You can enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery from your balcony, or during a morning meditation session, before going out to explore.

red rock formations at sunset in sedona arizona
Sedona’s majestic red rocks at sunset

If hiking isn’t for you, off-road Jeep tours venture out into the canyons to bring you close to ancient petroglyphs and Puebloan architecture such as Montezuma’s Castle (one of the best-preserved cliff dwelling in North America). Or you can take a guided kayak river trip down to the vineyards for some afternoon wine tasting.

two women at tlaquepaque craft villiage in Sedona Arizona

Finally, don’t miss out on the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Modeled after a traditional Mexican village, you’ll find serenity within its walls. Browse shops and galleries where more often than not you can meet the creators. See beautiful hand-made jewelry, metal works, paintings, and other crafts before enjoying a delectable lunch.

A bucket list two-for-one, Sedona is situated only a two-hour drive from the Grand Canyon! Explore one of the seven natural wonders of the world on a day trip from your meditative and rejuvenating home base.

a woman looking up at the saguaro cacti in arizona

Top Bucket List Experiences

  • Off-roading adventure
  • Spiritual experiences among the red rocks
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Slide down a natural water-slide
  • Get up-close-and-personal with saguaros
  • Visit the Grand Canyon

#3 Florida Keys

Perhaps after all this craziness you just want to relax by the beach with a cool drink in hand. Look no further than the collection of islands at the southern-most point of the continental U.S. — The Florida Keys. ‘The Keys’ offer some of the best sunsets, seafood, snorkeling, and SCUBA around. Warm water, breath-taking parks, and the best key lime pie in the world? Definitely a location to add to the bucket list.

sunset with palm trees and infinity pool overlooking ocean Florida Keys
The Bungalows waterfront pool in Key Largo [Photo Credit: The Bungalows Resort]

Start at the northernmost island, Key Largo, with the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Explore coral reefs, seagrass swamps, and mangrove forests. Take a ride on a glass-bottom boat, kayak through the mangroves, or visit the nation’s first underwater park!

white bird against green grass in florida

Continue your journey along the Overseas Highway to mingle with the wildlife. Stop at the Wild Bird Sanctuary, the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital.

Finally, cross the Seven-Mile Bridge and finish your journey in Key West. You can visit Ernest Hemingway’s house ( with its 50+ cats) and take a selfie at the southernmost point of the continental U.S.

The road trip from Key Largo to Key West is only two hours, leaving you plenty of time to sit back and relax. The Keys are their own paradise, of course, but you can also take it up a notch with a stay in a luxurious beachfront bungalow.

The Bungalows Resort soak with a view

In Key Largo, you’ll find the all-inclusive The Bungalows Resort — a beautifully peaceful location with luxurious adults-only private villas. Their stand-alone bungalows come with a waterfront view and a soaking tub on each outdoor veranda, and you can relax in the spa, pools, or with a morning yoga session. You can also venture a little further south for the luxury of a private island resort and spa at Little Palm Island. Here, guests arrive by boat or seaplane, and enjoy adults-only luxury with an optional all-inclusive plan that makes the experience complete.

Top Bucket List Experiences

  • Jetpack water flight
  • Snorkeling coral reefs
  • Dolphin Research Center
  • Turtle hospital
  • Hemmingway’s House
  • The southernmost point of the continental U.S
  • Key lime pie and conch fritters
  • Airboat through the everglades

Whether you are building your bucket list around adventure, relaxation or luxury, there are some fantastic options close to home. It’s not about how far away you travel, but the unique experiences you have, the breathtaking things you see, and the lasting memories you create. If you’d like to start planning a bucket list-worthy trip to any of these destinations send us an email!

Building Your Bucket List

How to Build Your Travel Bucketl List Infographic
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Where have you always wanted to go, and what have you always wanted to experience? As we gaze wistfully out our windows during quarantine, dreaming of the day we can travel again, it seems that “someday” is always in the future. Well now is the perfect time to start planning!

Maybe you have a rough bucket list- you want to visit Machu Picchu or Hawaii; perhaps you’d like to go wine tasting in Argentina or on a safari in South Africa. But how do you actually make that happen? We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to building a list that takes you from vague dreams to concrete plans.

Part 1 – Dreaming

Get inspired

If you don’t have a travel bucket list yet, or if you haven’t thought about it in a while, the first step is to start dreaming.

screenshot of annies escapes Instagram

Go onto Pinterest and Instagram, look up articles with bucket list travel destinations. Check out the UNESCO World Heritage site and read travel blogs. Be inspired!

Then take thirty minutes and write down every idea you can think of. Write without limitations, without worry about finances, time, or feasibility.

Pare it down

Look at what you’ve madly scribbled down in the past half hour and begin to really consider each place. Why is it on your list? What excites you about going there?

compilation of animal photos from different vacations
Do you dream of interacting with wildlife?
sunrise off the deck of an over water bungalow in Moorea
Is relaxing in an over-water bungalow in French Polynesia your idea of paradise?

Pare your list down to only the most exciting places. Try to keep it to a manageable size (five to ten?) You can always add on as you make your way through this exercise.

Prioritize

Now that you have a list, it’s time to put it in order. For each place on your list identify three things:

1) Physicality: Are there any physical challenges presented by this destination or experience? Consider if it will require strenuous exercise or activity, or if it’s a place you can kick back and relax. More physically demanding trips should probably be moved up on the list (if you’re dreaming of hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, for example, you might want to do that while you’re younger) while other more relaxing destinations might be perfect for when you’re retired (winetasting in Tuscany can be done at any age!)

Hiking in Azores, Portugal

2) Cost: You don’t have to get into specifics at this stage but briefly consider the overall cost. Maybe rate the places on your list with dollar signs from least expensive ($) to most expensive ($$$$). Is this a place you’d want to splurge on the finest luxury resort, or invest in pricey private experiences? Or is it someplace that can be done on a more moderate budget?

3) Travel Partner: Some trips are perfect solo adventures, others are the romantic getaway every couple needs. There are places you want to experience with your best buds and places you’d love to take your grandkids to go see some day. Write down your ideal travel partners for each place.

two versions of the bucket list

Make a fresh bucket list in order of physicality (from most to least physical), cost (from least to most expensive), and travel partner (from single to grandkids). This should help you determine which life stage is best for which destination/experience.

Research

Next we move into preliminary research and this current pandemic is the perfect time for it! Not only are you likely stuck at home with time on your hands, but many places and natural wonders have set up virtual tours! You can utilize these to decide if you want to go see that museum in person, or if the botanical garden is worth the hype. You don’t need to pin down everything exactly– just use this time to form more detailed dreams.

Once you have a few more specifics you can write down an estimated length for each trip. For example: if you’re researching Iceland and you find you want to do The Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle, and Hike a Glacier and see Icelandic Ponies then you know your Iceland trip will need to be more than a weekend.

blue lagoon
golden circle
So much to do, so little time in Iceland

While you’re researching, pay careful attention to climate and seasonality.

Some places are beautiful pretty much all year round, while others have severe rainy or cold seasons. Some bucket list experiences only occur at certain times of year (like the cherry blossom festival in Japan, or whale watching in Alaska) Find out if your activity is tied to certain months or get an idea of which months to avoid.

Part 2: Planning

You have your list of places, you have some basic parameters for each one and now it’s time to start making a 5-10-15 year plan!

Milestones

The first step in planning is to look at your life. Do you have any big milestones coming up in the next five or ten years? A big birthday? A big anniversary? Any special occasions that might be perfect to pair with a bucket list trip?

day market in austria

You could celebrate your 50th with a river cruise down the Danube!

Start plotting your travel timeline with these big events in mind. Using these mile-markers will help you visualize a more concrete timeframe to put your trips into motion.

Solidify Your Plans

bucket list

You did it! You made a bucket list, prioritized it, and gave some thought to timing. You just need to take the final step: start penciling it in!

If you reach out and share your list with us we can walk you through when to start planning and what kind of a budget to set aside, and we can also keep our eyes out for new and exciting offers for the destinations on your list!

You may not be ready to book anything right away, but we can start making plans so that when the world opens back up you’ll be ready to start checking items off your bucket list!

Three Unique Places to See the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis ( or the Northern Lights ) is at the top of many bucket lists. And rightfully so! This amazing natural phenomenon has sparked legends of sky warriors, spirits, and far distant dawns. It has kept people looking up at the long winter night sky for centuries.

silhouette against the Northern Lights Alaska
[Photo Credit: Steve Halama via Unsplash]
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When you consider making this bucket list dream a reality, the first country that might spring to mind is Iceland. Iceland is a great place to see them! But, it’s not the only place to see these incredible lights. If you’re looking for something a little different, read on for 3 unique places to see the Northern Lights. Starting right in our own backyard!

First, a little background to prepare you to go aurora hunting:

What are the Northern Lights?

The short version: The particles emitted from the sun’s atmosphere break free and strike our atmosphere causing a reaction resulting in light.

The longer version: It’s so hot on the outermost surface of the sun (the Corona) that the hydrogen atoms split into protons and electrons. The gas of the charged particles is electrically conductive. The gas breaks free of the sun and blows away from the surface- sometimes called solar wind. These particles then strike our own atmosphere causing a chemical reaction that results in a release of energy in the form of light.

Aurora from Space [Photo Credit: NASA via Unsplash]

When are they visible?

For the northern lights to be visible, you need darkness, high geomagnetic activity (storms on the surface of the sun), and clear skies (little to no cloud cover).

To increase your chances, you want to be far north, in the winter months (long, dark nights) and away from light pollution.

But the biggest factor in seeing the Northern Lights is the simple weather report. You won’t see much without clear skies, so keep a very close eye on the weather and cloud cover.

Remember: The lights are an unpredictable force of nature. So make sure the vacation you choose has other things that interest you! That way you’re guaranteed a good vacation, even if the cloud cover isn’t in your favor.

Ok, now that you’re ready to start your aurora hunt, let’s look at some unique locations!

Bright Northern lights against snow trees
[Photo Credit: Tim Motivv on Unsplash]

Fairbanks, Alaska

There’s a great Aurora spot right in our own backyard- no passport needed! If you’re looking for something a little more familiar and closer to home, then look no further than Northern Alaska.

You have a great chance of seeing the lights near Alaska’s second-largest city. With plenty of hotels, B&B’s, and its own airport, Fairbanks is easy to reach. To really see the Aurora clearly, you’ll have to travel outside the bright city lights. You can rent a car to visit Cleary Summit, Creamer’s Field, or Murphy’s Dome on nightly trips.

Aurora over Alaska
The view from Cleary Summit in Fairbanks [Photo Credit: Tommy Tang on Unsplash]

Fairbanks knows they have something special with these fantastic spirits, so many of the hotels offer aurora wake-up calls allowing you to sleep peacefully without the worry of missing anything. They also offer several Aurora tours if you’d rather not rent a car.

Best Time to Visit: The shoulder months of Late-September and Early March give you the clearest skies, but November-February will provide the longest night hours.

Places to Stay: Fairbanks has a huge selection of hotels, but you can also try staying a little outside the city at the Chena Hotsprings Resort or the Borealis Basecamp which offers geodesic igloos with 16ft windows/skylights to really improve your chances.

Other Things to Do: There are numerous outdoor activities from dogsledding to wildlife hikes, reindeer ranches, museums, and cultural sites.

northern lights behind Scottish monument
Northern Lights in Scottish Highlands [Photo courtesy of VisitScotland]

Orkney & Shetland Archipelago, Scotland

Scotland brings to mind Castles, lochs, monsters, and haggis but the Northern Lights? Picture yourself sitting in a cozy cabin nestled in the windswept northern isles, sipping local whiskey and watching the skies for these Merrie Dancers (as they’re known locally).

 If you’d like to plan a trip to Scotland or the UK then this is definitely something to include!

The northernmost Scottish Isles offer incredibly low light pollution with some of the largest expanses of Dark Sky in Europe. Combined with their low lying landscapes, this more than makes up for their “low” latitude compared to other aurora-viewing hotspots.

galaxy and northern lights behind a castle wall
In addition to the Aurora, there are fantastic night sky views in Northern Scotland [Photo courtesy of VisitScotland]

Reachable by ferry, Orkney & Shetland are the perfect places to make-your-own-adventure when hunting for the Aurora. The “Aurora tourism” boom hasn’t quite reached these isles yet, so there are few tours offered. Which gives you the opportunity to enjoy the lights in an intimate setting, and consider renting a camper van to be able to “chase” them across the isles.

Best Time to Visit: The winter months with the longest nights will be your friend in Scotland- aim for December- February. Visit in January- February to include one of Shetland’s famous Viking Fire Festivals on your trip!

Best Places to Stay: Any of the Islands are a good choice but try to stay away from the light pollution of Lerwick, Shetland. There are plenty of B&Bs and self-catering cabins, but the islands do have a few full-service hotels as well.

Other Things to Do: Archaeological and UNESCO sites ( Orkney has four monuments spanning five thousand years), wildlife walks & hiking, Shetland Ponies, Fire festivals and Folk Music Festivals.

Bow of a ship in icy Norwegian waters
[Photo Credit: Pascal Debrunner via Unsplash]

Cruising the Norwegian Coast

If you’re looking for something a bit more structured and with a practical guarantee of seeing the northern lights look no further than Hurtigruten Cruises!

Based in Norway, they have several options for Aurora Hunters. All the cruises head up the coast of Norway to the north-easternmost point of Kirkenes, a town that shares its border with Russia.

These cruises offer onboard guides, lectures, and presentations all about the lights and the stunning landscape. You also have to option of mini shore-excursions during the day in each of the ports! Although there is the risk that you’ll have more clouds on the coast, Hurtigruten offers a “Northern Lights Promise” which is their guarantee you’ll see the aurora or you get another cruise free! Making this option your highest chance of seeing the Aurora.

Northern Lights over water in Norway
A ribbon of light near the coast of Tromsø, Norway [Photo Credit: Sebastian Kowalski via Unsplash]

Their classic cruise starts from Bergen and heads around the coast to Kirken with options for 6-12 days and stopping at 22- 34 ports along the way! You also can choose from their Short Coastal Cruises ( 2-4 days) or Expedition Cruises (12-15 days)

Best Time to Visit: To maximize your nightly hours visit in January or February. Although the “Northern Lights Promise” is valid from October 1- March 31st.

Other Things to Do: The fact that Hurtigruten fits so many ports into their itinerary is pretty amazing. So without too much extra hassle, you can go on mountain hikes, city tours, kayaking, dogsledding and other cultural activities.

Final Tips & Tricks

Some final tips before you begin planning your incredible Aurora Vacation:

Aurora in Lofoten, Norway
[Photo Credit: Stein Egil Leiland via Pexels]
  • Avoid full moons – five days before the new moon is best
  • If you’re taking a tour, aim for the start of your trip so you have another chance
  • Use red-light flashlights and keep your eyes off screens for the best night vision
  • Bring extra camera batteries
  • Be patient
  • It’s literally FREEZING outside! Dress in layers.

If this list has sparked your imagination, send us an email and we can make it even easier to plan your Amazing Aurora Adventure!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)