Walking around a travel expo floor can be overwhelming with so many travel vendors, destination marketing folks and travel products competing for your attention. Tables are lined with gorgeous marketing brochures to draw you in and the expert teams are there to answer questions and tell you about their offerings (ok, there was one guy at one table who when I approached continued to play on his phone the entire time and ignore me!? Not the best salesman in my opinion). The most passionate folks are usually the ones you want to spend more time with – Visit Alaska, Travel Beyond, Quark Expeditions and G Adventures are a few favorites that I visit each year. So what travel booths drew me in this year? What brochures did I bring home to plan my lottery winning dreams? Here are my Top 5 Offbeat Travel Finds for 2016 Travel (in no order).
The Offbeat Travel Destinations
“Simply Surprising and Surprisingly Diverse” is the tagline. Much more than Dracula and Olympia gymnasts. With fairy tale castles, medieval towns like Transylvania and the painted monasteries, you can easily visit the history. If you want nature, there are the Carpathian Mountains, the Black Sea beach resorts and natural spas and the Danube Delta, Europe’s biggest wetland. Crave a city scene of museums, architecture and restaurants, Bucharest is an option. I feel like I’m going to hear more folks considering Romania in the future as they look to discover new, somewhat undiscovered, places. I know that I had hoped (before my injury last summer) to go to Transylvania for the summer film festival so it’s been on my radar for a while. For more information and to plan a visit to Romania, visit the Romania Tourism site.
Ok, I know that I visited Malta last summer but according to the folks at the Malta table I missed so much by staying only on the island of Gozo, which is 1/3 the size of Malta. I don’t disagree, the more I read about Malta, the more I realize that I need to go back. Cruise ships are now stopping for a day in the Grand Harbour of Valletta which means they’ve realized there is a hidden gem in the Med and more folks are discovering the country (which is good and bad because it’s a great secret).
Malta is a good year round option (my friend just spend Christmas on the islands and loved it). The islands are home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in addition to a plethora of churches and monuments and Game of Thrones filming locations (if you are a fan). You are going to hear a lot more about Malta when Valetta becomes the European Capital of Culture of 2018. So why not discover this unique set of islands south of Sicily on your next trip to Europe? Malta is a quick flight from many European cities via AirMalta which has codeshares from the U.S. connecting in Europe. Visit Malta has a comprehensive site to learn more.
The Offbeat Travel Cruise Experience
Le boat –Self Guided Boat Tours in Europe
This is perhaps one of coolest things you can do on your next European vacation. You rent a boat for your family and friends and travel through the waterways of Europe on a self guided tour. Don’t have a boating license, no worries, you don’t need one as you travel one way through the small canals (Germany is an exception in some parts). I was told it’s like driving a car and with a top speed of 6 knots (6.9 mph) so this is a leisurely trip. You will be given a safety overview and training to maneuver the boat to moor along the canals and then off you go. With over 900 boats in the fleet ranging from sleeping a family of four up to twelve people, they have range of options to choose from.
Feel like stopping in a small village, just moor the boat and take the bikes into town or arrange for a car to meet you. Explore charming villages, buy local food and wine to picnic along the canal or on your boat. I was instantly sold on this slow travel option which is the river cruise experience on a very intimate scale in the smaller canals and locks of Europe. As for safety, think of the sides of the canals as bumpers and don’t hit either side – you should be fine depending on who you nominate as “captain”. You equip your boat with as many bells and whistles as you like – visit the Le Boat website to learn more.
Aranui 5 – “Discover the Marquesas the Aranui Way – the Journey of a Lifetime”
I was ready to sign up for this cruise at the table once I heard “single cabins”. The Marquesas Islands are 850 miles northeast of Tahiti in the South Pacific and this ship is part luxury cruise ship, part container freighter delivering goods to the islands. So you get the best of both worlds as you sail into small ports on the island to deliver materials and be welcomed by locals. The ships carries 254 people and offers a few single rooms (yeah!!!) and a dormitory styled room in addition to the many luxury appointed rooms and suites.
Looking to escape the larger cruise ship, explore a new culture and sail in the South Pacific leaving from Tahiti then add the Aranui 5 to your trip list. I’ve always wanted to go to Tahiti and Bora Bora but as a solo traveler I’m not keen on being singled out among the honeymooners and couples so a cruise is a great option for me to get to the South Pacific and see it. Visit the Ananui 5 website for more info and a fun music medley to instantly make you smile.
Fathom – “Social & Sustainable Impact Travel”
The main goal of the repurposed Adonia, a Carnival Corporation ship, holding just 704 passengers is to combine travel and voluntourism (they prefer “combining travel with sustainable social impact activities”). The itineraries, there are just two right now, go to the Dominican Republic and soon to launch (pending approval) Cuba. You can enjoy the cruise experience with cultural immersion activities on the ship (lectures, food, music, etc.) and then spend a few days on shore volunteering with Impact Activities. No worries, there is also time in the DR for fun shore activities too (Cuba is still under a people to people requirement so you can’t freely move about yet).
This is not the new island every day cruise. I was intrigued by the concept of a social impact cruise – great for folks of all ages and families. There is a single supplement (boo!!) unless you go with roommate matching. I’m excited to learn more about this and the impact of the passenger visits as it’s a starting point. Even though you are volunteering for a portion of the trip, it is not tax deductible (it’s Carnival Corporation folks so they are in it for the profit that’s what companies do – create profitable products). It’s a smart business move to create a product that lures new cruise ship passengers who want to give back to the communities they visit. Visit the Fathom website for more information.
So these are my top 5 offbeat travel finds at the NY Times Travel Show 2016, do any of them intrigue you like they did me? Thoughts? Let me know if you want to learn more about these travel finds and how I can help you plan your trip.