Top 5 Tips for Your Expedition Adventure

Luxury travel often evokes images of five-star accommodations and meticulously planned itineraries. But for the truly adventurous soul, there’s a unique style of travel. One that offers a deeper, more immersive experience: Expedition Travel. If you’re considering an expedition vacation or already have one in the works – follow these 5 essential tips to ensure you have the most incredible experience:

What is an Expedition Adventure?

a snokeler and a seal look at each other underwater in the Galapagos

 First – a quick review of what kinds of trips we’re talking about. Expedition cruises and tours take you off the beaten path, exploring the remote corners of the globe alongside a team of experts. Think wildlife encounters in the Arctic tundra, a gorilla trek in Uganda, or a cultural immersion in the Amazon rainforest. Whether you’re heading to the Australian Outback or the Galapagos – expedition itineraries are all about exploration and discovery. They have a strong focus on learning about the unique destinations you visit.

[Photo Credit: Ann via Shared Adventures – read about her Galapagos Adventure Here!]

1. Stay Flexible: Your Itinerary is a Guideline

Expedition itineraries are crafted to explore dynamic environments, and Mother Nature has a mind of her own. Unforeseen weather conditions, wildlife sightings, or even research opportunities may adjust the daily schedule. Be prepared to go with the flow. Don’t expect to stick too closely to your itinerary.

Your planned Zodiac cruise through a glacier-filled fjord might be rerouted due to unexpectedly strong winds. Or someone may spot a pod of whales in the distance encouraging the captain to navigate closer. The expert expedition leaders will always look for better-suited alternatives to maximize your trip in ways you never imagined. Instead of viewing these changes as disruptions, embrace them as unique adventures that can elevate your trip.

[Photo Credit: Long May via Unsplash]

a small dingy in front of an ice arch on an arctic expedition

2. Attend the Lectures: Listen and Learn from the Experts

two travelers in red survey the icy landscape of an arctic adventure

Expedition teams are comprised of seasoned experts – naturalists, historians, geologists. They will bring the destinations you visit to life. The informative lectures they offer aren’t just filler — they’re crucial for your understanding. Whether it’s the cultural significance of a remote village, the delicate balance of a polar ecosystem, or the geological forces that shaped a volcanic landscape, these insights will elevate your experience and allow you to truly appreciate the wonders that surround you.

[Photo Credit: Cassie Matias via Unsplash]

3. Remember These Aren’t Your Typical Vacations

Expedition vacations prioritize exploration over opulence. You’ll trade those sprawling buffets for regionally-inspired meals and spacious cabins for more compact, functional accommodations. You won’t need to pack your fancy dinner dress for this type of vacation and don’t expect to spend your days relaxing by the pool with a margarita.

Instead, you’ll spend your days experiencing incredible wildlife encounters and unparalleled scenery which few in the world get to experience. 

Photo Credit: Ann via Shared Adventures Travel]

a seal and a woman sit side by side on the beach in the Galapagos
a circle of tents with glowing orange fires set against a vast midnight blue sky on a desert expedition adventure

Your accommodations might range from comfortable yet basic tented camps to refurbished research vessels. You might be setting sail on a small expedition ship instead of a giant cruise liner. While the ship will have amenities, it will prioritize expedition capabilities over entertainment options, offering a more intimate and focused experience. Think of it as a trade-off: slightly less space, for memories that will fill a lifetime.

[Photo Credit: Parker Hilton via Unsplash]

4. Be Prepared to Be Active and Know Your Limits

Expedition itineraries often involve hiking, kayaking, or wildlife viewing excursions. While the pace can be adjusted to accommodate varying fitness levels, a baseline level of physical fitness is essential. So don’t put off going on these adventures until retirement! Be prepared to walk over uneven terrain, swim in open water, and climb in and out of boats or up steep mountains.

[Photo Credit: Ann via Shared Adventures Travel]

The Galapagos group on a hike through volcanic rock and low desert bush

Most importantly: be honest with yourself about your capabilities. Choose adventures that suit your limitations. There’s no shame in opting for a shorter hike or sitting out a particularly strenuous kayaking excursion. You’ll enjoy your adventure most when you’re pushing your boundaries while staying safe and within your limits. Listen to your body and select the activity that aligns with your fitness level.

Rainbow Mountain in Peru

Take time to understand the physical requirements and environmental conditions you’ll face on this adventure. Do you need to prepare for altitude sickness? Extreme cold or heat? Understanding the conditions and your fitness level before you go on the trip will be key to enjoying your adventure.

[Photo Credit: Alvaro Palacios via Unsplash]

5. Pack Light, But Pack for All Weather

Expedition destinations often have unpredictable weather patterns. One day you might be basking in sunshine, the next braving icy winds. Pack layers that can be easily combined to adapt to changing conditions. Quick-drying fabrics and waterproof gear are essential. Remember: layers, layers, and more layers.

Your exploration of the Amazon rainforest might involve navigating through sudden downpours. Packing a lightweight rain jacket and quick-dry hiking pants will ensure you stay comfortable and focused on enjoying the adventure. The key to packing is versatility and clothes specifically adapted to the environment you’re exploring.

[Photo Credit: Kiyoshi via Unsplash]

a canoe crossing the wide amazon river on an Amazon Expedition

Are you inspired to embark on an expedition of your own? Let us know and we can help plan every detail. Pack your sense of adventure, and a dash of flexibility, and get ready to experience the world in a whole new way.

A Galapagos Adventure

In the depths of the pandemic, back in the fall of 2020, when we all desperately needed something to look forward to, I had the opportunity to secure a one-week yacht charter in the Galapagos at a deeply discounted rate. I reached out to some friends and family to see if anyone would be interested. I got a resounding YES. So I grabbed a week in November 2022. I rounded up my sixteen people to fill the yacht, crossed my fingers that travel would actually be possible again by then. And started counting down the days.

Fortunately, the pandemic eventually receded, and the majority of the group was still ready and willing to travel when this year came around. It became clear that this bucket list trip was actually going to happen! That’s when I started to worry that the experience might not live up to the hype. What if this long-awaited adventure turned out to be more hassle and expense than it was worth?

Yeah, that didn’t happen 😊

Galapagos Group posing on the beach near a sea lion

The entire experience —  from our pre-cruise stay in Quito to the yacht itself, to the wildlife, the crew, and the weather – turned out to be better than anyone had even hoped. A few airline mishaps aside, this trip was one of the best I’ve ever taken! And I think the rest of the group would agree.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting The Galapagos, please read on for the details. And please plan to go there sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until you have “enough” time and money, because this unspoiled habitat might not be around forever, and you will never be healthier, more fit, or more able to get out and enjoy nature than you are today.

a snokeler and a seal look at each other underwater in the Galapagos

First: Ecuador

We flew into Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, and spent two nights there prior to the cruise. We stayed at the Swissotel Quito, which is a modern hotel in the business district of the city with all the onsite conveniences you could want. It was perfect for our short stay, but if I were to return to Quito I would probably stay in the historic center. The center is a little more charming and has more dining, shopping, and sightseeing within walking distance. (I have my eye on the Hotel Plaza Grande or the Casa Gangotena for next time!) 

With our one full day in the city, we did a private tour that hit most of the highlights. We visited the Intinan Museum at the Equator and enjoyed some cool hands-on experiments and photo ops there, and then we strolled through the old colonial center of the city, visited the cathedral, and had a lovely lunch in a local restaurant.

Ann and her husband at the Equator in Ecuador

Quito was an unexpected pleasure, as none of us really knew anything about the city beforehand. It is at a high altitude (it’s the second-highest capital city in the world, at about 3,000 meters above sea level!) So you have to be mindful of that and make sure to stay rested and hydrated. But it’s well worth a visit!

Boarding the Ship!

From Quito, we flew to the island of Baltra, in the Galapagos. These flights (and all travelers to the Galapagos) are very strictly controlled and monitored. This is to ensure that no one brings in any non-native plants, insects, or other animals. We went through extra security screening before boarding. Our belongings were fogged with insecticide while on the plane. And the checked bags were all inspected by dogs once we arrived. It was very interesting to see all the precautions they have in place!

The Queen Beatriz yacht floating between two islands of cacti in the Galapagos

Once we collected our bags in Baltra, the naturalist, Jaime, met us. He would be our guide for the week. We took a short bus ride to a nearby dock, and then our first zodiac ride from there to our waiting yacht – The Grand Queen Beatriz.

Galapagos group aboard a small inflatable zodiac on the way to the islands

The zodiacs are small inflatable boats that are used to ferry everyone from the yacht to the islands. They hold about eight people and can be used for “wet” landings (where they run the zodiac as close to the shore as possible and you jump out and wade in from there) or for “dry” landings (where they bring you to a dock). We were on and off zodiacs multiple times every day on this trip.

The yacht itself is spacious, modern, and clean. It’s about 130 feet long, with three passenger decks (two decks of cabins, and one open sun deck). There are eight cabins, each with its own surprisingly large bathroom (the shower was bigger than any that I’ve had on a cruise ship). And some of the cabins even have small balconies. We ate our meals family-style at two large tables in the main salon. And we had our evening briefings/meetings in a cozy upstairs lounge.

The top deck has sun loungers and a small hot tub. They provide wetsuits, snorkels, masks and fins of various sizes for everyone. And we were all given nice metal water bottles (refillable at the water/coffee/snack station) to keep as souvenirs. There is a bar (and a bartender) onboard, and you pay for your sodas/alcohol based on consumption.

the back deck of the Queen Beatriz yacht

Day-to-Day Overview

A map of Ann's Galapagos Itinerary

Our seven-night itinerary focused on the southern loop of islands. (Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana, San Cristobal, Santa Fe, and Espanola) and we were traveling during early November when the weather was fairly warm and dry. The water was still cold enough that we needed wetsuits, but the daily temps were in the 70s. It was very pleasant overall!

Every evening we gathered before dinner for a briefing from our naturalist. He would outline the next day’s activities, telling us what time to be ready for the various excursions, what wildlife to look out for, and whether we would be doing wet or dry landings (so that we could dress accordingly).

The Galapagos group on a hike through volcanic rock and low desert bush

Our days were busy. We would typically start with breakfast at 7 or 8 am, then head out to snorkel, hike or both. We would come back to the yacht in the middle of the day for lunch and a siesta, and then do another activity — sometimes moving to a different island – in the afternoon. Evenings found us back on the yacht for a shower and a cocktail before our evening briefing. Then an early dinner and everyone was in bed (exhausted) by 9 or 10pm.

The daily schedules are all regulated by the National Park Service. This is to ensure that there are never too many people in any one place in the islands, so as not to put pressure on the wildlife.

We did see other yachts and cruise ships as we traveled along, but everyone followed their own set schedules and stayed out of each other’s way. The whole thing is very carefully orchestrated.

two yachts on the blue sea in the Galapagos
group at a table for lunch on the Galapagos Islands

There were two days that we stopped at small towns and had some time to wander and shop at our leisure, but that (plus the afternoon siestas) was really the only free time.

You could, of course, skip an excursion one day and stay behind to rest, read, or soak in the hot tub. And some of us did do that from time to time, but who would want to miss out on the baby sea lions?!

baby sea lion on the Galapagos Islands

The Wildlife

Marine iguanas on a rock in the Galapagos

Obviously, wildlife is the main focus in the Galapagos, and we saw plenty! We swam with turtles, rays, marine iguanas, reef sharks, and playful baby sea lions who nibbled on our fins.

reef sharks and a sea turtle swim together in the Galapagos
Sea lions playfully bit a snorkeler's fin in the Galapagos
a snorkeler swimming among the fish

The Galapagos boasts every variety of bird! From blue-footed and red-footed boobies to hawks, frigates, gulls, finches, albatrosses, and even a Galapagos penguin.

a blue-footed boobie on a rock in the Galapagos
two hawks take off into flight against a blue sky
a bird looking straight at the camera
a pelican in flight against a light blue sea in the Galapagos

We visited a baby tortoise breeding center, and we saw giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat in the highlands.

a giant Galapagos Tortoise walking amidst bright green grass
baby giant galapagos tortoises
a man in a Galapagos giant tortoise shell at the research center
close up of the face of a Giant Galapagos Tortoise

All along the way, we had expert guidance and commentary from our naturalist. They patiently answered hundreds of questions a day!

a seal and a woman sit side by side on the beach in the Galapagos

What we did NOT do was email, text, or scroll social media. For days at a time, we had little to no internet or cell service. And it was honestly wonderful. We enjoyed nature and one another’s company. We relaxed. And we talked!

When the week was over, we settled up our bar tabs, tipped our crew generously, and flew back to Quito to catch our overnight flights back home.

Key Takeaways

If you’re still reading, you’re obviously pretty interested in the Galapagos, so here are my key takeaways and advice:

two guys snorkeling in the bright blue water of the Galapagos
  • This is an active/outdoorsy destination that requires a certain minimum level of fitness in order to get the most out of the experience. Be prepared to walk over uneven terrain, swim in open water, and climb in and out of small boats.
  • For a trip like mine, you do not need fancy clothes. You can and should pack lightly. We lived in swimsuits and athleisure, for the most part. Layers are important, as the weather can be changeable. Sun protection is key (sunscreen, hats, long sleeve shirts, etc) And you need both water shoes and sturdy walking shoes. *If you do the Galapagos on a cruise ship, there may be other dress code guidelines to follow as well
a Galapagos Sea Lion coming straight at the underwater camera
  • Bring an underwater camera – that can be a GoPro, or just a waterproof case/container for your phone
  • Bring cash. Ecuador uses the US Dollar, and you can get more at an ATM on one or two of the islands if you absolutely need to, but it’s best to be prepared with more than you think you’ll need. We did not know the bar tabs would have to be paid in cash, and that caused some last-minute scrambling.
  • If you want to have time to do something specialized, like diving, or sportfishing, add a couple of days onto the end of your trip and stay on one of the islands (there are plenty of casual hotels and B&Bs) so that you can plan a daytrip with a local boat.
  • If you have a group of like-minded friends or family, explore the idea of a private yacht charter. While it sounds extravagant, it’s not. The yachts are all designed for 16 people maximum, and there’s something really special about traveling with just your own group.
Ann and Everette on the back deck of the Queen Beatriz in the Galapagos

Above all, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post — go now. Don’t wait until retirement! Or some other “ideal” time when you think you’ll have more time and money to do a big trip like this. Our group was predominantly in their 40s and 50s, and some of the days kicked our butts. I am glad that I did not wait until I was older 😊

Two More Checkmarks on the Bucket List….And One More Destination Added

There are vacationers, and then there are travelers. Vacationers are usually trying to “get away from it all”; they want to plop on a beach, indulge themselves at a resort, and relax. Travelers, on the other hand, are excited about exploring a new destination, experiencing another culture, and learning about the history of the area.  My clients Patrick and Megan definitely fall into the latter category. Here is the fascinating  trip report from their recent travels to Ecuador and Peru:

Isn’t it ironic how one vacation leads to another?  Patrick and I typically find that with every destination we check off of our “bucket list”, we wind up adding at least one destination in turn.   Our combined trip to Machu Picchu (Peru) and the Galapagos (Ecuador), sought to accomplish the goal of visiting two destinations we’d long hoped to tackle.  The Galapagos had been on the list since my teenage years, and Machu Picchu was added in my early 20’s after hearing about the beauty of the long lost Incan fortress while on a trip to Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons (see the cyclical nature of this?!)

We worked with Ann to plan a 14 day trek that would take us through the highlights of each destination, with some bonus days on each side spent in Cusco, Peru and Quito, Ecuador.   After a nighttime arrival in Lima, Peru on May 23rd, and a hopper flight to Cusco the next morning, we started out our adventure with a tour of the Sacred Valley that lies in the valley of the Urubamba River and our ultimate destination, Machu Picchu.  The Sacred Valley sits slightly lower than Cusco, at 9,500 feet above sea level, so this was also a perfect point of altitude acclimation for us (we also helped to remedy this by drinking lots of coca tea, which has only traces of the more powerful drug, but has been used by the locals for thousands of years to deal with the altitude).   Throughout the Valley, we got to see the importance of handicrafts in Peru- first by visiting a local alpaca & llama farm, and then through the lens of vibrant displays at the Pisac market, where sellers display their goods for both locals & tourists alike.  We also got to see our first glimpses of Incan architecture at the Ollantaytambo ruins- and wondered in amazement how a civilization without the use of the modern wheel lifted multi-ton boulders and  assembled them in a way that has withstood hundreds’ of years of  earthquakes and human devastation, yet still remained intact!

The next day we set off on an early morning train to Machu Picchu, where we would hike around the ruins and tour the Incan complex that remained hidden in the Andes until the early 1900’s.  Traveler tip: We decided not to do the formal 4-day trek up to Machu Picchu because of time limitations, but learned from our guide that you could arrange a special trek to scale the mountain in 1 day.  We would recommend this to any who want to complete the trail and are willing to forgo some of the specific ruins along the way in favor of reaching the top!  While we didn’t plan this ahead of time, we took advantage of the next day and a half to hike up Huayna Picchu- the mountain in the backdrop of all Machu Picchu photos, learn all about the ruins, and hike to the Sun Gate and Incan Bridge.  One of our favorite moments was an early morning arrival to wait for the sunrise- a must do if you’re going to be there before 7 am.  Amidst everything else taken into account when building the structure, the Incans planned for the sun to hit specific locations during its rise and the summer/winter solstices.  At night, we stayed in Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.  It was in the town that we heard the stories of fellow travelers who had spent time in the Amazon of Peru (Ann had told us we could make a full 2 weeks of Peru, but we opted against).   We even saw pictures of a leaf that was 3x the size of a 6ft traveler and heard tales of a tree that “walks” because its root system lives outside of the ground.  Destination Amazon added to the list!  Aguas Calientes Traveler’s Tip: Be sure to take advantage of the hot springs and an Incan massage to ease your muscles after trekking around!

After leaving Machu Picchu, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo, where a driver picked us up to bring us to Cusco.  We arrived in the city just past sunset, and immediately were swept up by energy and music radiating from an Arts Festival happening that weekend.  We had heard that the people of Peru enjoyed celebrating- to the point where they might not even know exactly why they were rejoicing.  Simply put, festivals are a part of their culture.  Over the next day, we enjoyed more culture and learned about the old capital city of Peru.  The city’s life is centered around the Plaza del Armas (in fact, every South American city has a “Plaza del Armas”, where the guns were shot off on Sundays in the past), our hotel in the San Blas district was only a few short steps away.  We enjoyed visiting the various churches along the square, and walking the windy (and steep!) streets of San Blas.   Traveler tip: Be sure to check out the San Pedro market on the outskirts of the town.  It’s filled with local produce and hundreds of stalls of everything from goat cheese to fresh cut flowers!

From Cusco, we took a flight to Quito, the jumping off point for our next destination, the Galapagos.   Coming from Cusco and the Sacred Valley, more rural areas, to Quito, a city of 2.5M people, was a bit of a shock to the system, to say the least!  The city itself is split into a New & Old Town.  We stayed in the New Town, which also has more bars and restaurants, although it’s recommended that any location after dark be reached by cab.  We ventured up to “Ciudad del Mundo”, the place of the equator, and straddled the Northern & Southern hemispheres.  We also walked the Old Town, with its influences of Colonial architecture still present today.  Other highlights included a cable car ride up Pichincha (Telefericoz), an active volcano, where you could see the entirety of the city, and also lunch at Pim’s, a restaurant which shares a hill with a Virgin statue, which also overlooks Quito from another angle.  Traveler’s Tip: For some true Gringo action, be sure to stop and have a margarita in New Town at Azuca on Plaza Foch, where you’ll see other tourists looking to relax after a day of touring.

 The next day, we left Quito en route to the Galapagos, where we would board the Santa Cruz Guayaquil, the boat which would take us around the Galapagos for the next 6 days and 5 nights.  The Santa Cruz could hold 90 passengers, but we lucked out in that only half that amount were on board (and we were even outnumbered by the crew, which amounted to 70+ people!).  We were thrown almost immediately into the routine of the ship- wet or dry landings on different islands, nature walks, and snorkeling adventures.  Everything that is said about the wildlife of the Galapagos is true- we saw one stunning sight after another.  At our first stop, we were acquainted with the famous Blue Footed Boobies (their feet are not really blue, but they lack pigment, which then appear as blue when they pick up the light).  The Boobies do a pretty interesting mating ritual with the “guys” spreading their wings and doing a “dance” from one leg to the other.  During our visits to the islands we learned a bit about Darwin (how could you not?), a great deal about why the islands are constantly changing based on plate tectonics, and a ton about the different wildlife.  We saw more land and sea turtles than you could count, thousands of iguanas, and even pink flamingos!   Traveler’s Tip: Make sure to pack an under water camera so you can take some footage during snorkeling expeditions!

On our last day on Floreana Island, we visited a beach where sea turtles lay their eggs.  Our timing was great because the eggs hatch along with the full moon,  and it happened to be a full moon that night.   We lingered on the beach to see if we might see a migration (remember the video you saw in 5th grade science where sea turtles hatch & migrate in droves to the ocean?  This is the place where it actually happens…)  Instead, we saw a huge stork walking around the beach, posing for shots against a picturesque background.  You may see where this story goes, but soon we witnessed said stork digging into what turned out to be a sea turtle nest, and helping assist in some natural selection of his own.   This tale, among others, is only one of the many stories we have to bring back from our adventure of a lifetime!

Ecuador’s secrets

If you saw my earlier blog post, here’s the answer to that geography quizEcuador.

In a country roughly the size of Colorado — and known mostly for its offshore treasures, the Galapagos Islands — you can also find ancient Incan ruins, beautiful colonial cities, unspoiled Pacific beaches, thriving Indian markets, dry mountain highlands, misty cloud forests, and steamy Amazon jungle.

While US tourists represent about 25% of all visitors to Ecuador, many of those (sadly) see only the international airport in Quito or Guayaquil, before setting off on a Galapagos cruise. They’re missing some of the country’s best-kept secrets!


The Pacific coast offers world-class surfing, whale-watching, and the remnants of pre-Colombian cultures.

In addition to the capitol city of Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with churches, convents and plazas), the Andean highlands offer the world’s highest active volcano in tropical latitudes, high-altitude wellness spas and hot springs, native craft markets, Incan ruins, and outdoor adventure like ziplines, rafting, hiking and horseback riding.

Ecuadorean cloud forest

Further to the east, Ecuador includes a large area of Amazon rainforest, where visitors can stay in jungle lodges or on river cruise boats, and enjoy tours by naturalists or indigenous guides.

Ecuadorean Amazon

The country is easy to navigate, with a good road system and four national airlines (the longest flight between any two points in the country is just 45 minutes), and it is a year-round destination, with a fairly steady climate and twelve full hours of daylight every day.

Ecuador is clean and safe, it is in the same time zone as the eastern United States, it uses the US dollar as its official currency, and the city of Cuenca (the “Florence of South America”) was recently named the “Best Place in the World to Retire” by International Living Magazine.

So what are you waiting for? I know I am making plans to visit Ecuador next year, and will definitely be combining some time on the mainland with my Galapagos cruise.

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)