12.30.2011
By Terry Flanagan

A Better Year: Travel

You’ve been everywhere, and you’ve done everything, or maybe you haven’t–but either way, there is no time like the present to make travel plans that are more than just about indulgence or sightseeing. Change it up this year, and instead of just traveling to a destination, experience it. We’ll take you through each continent to check out travel musts that are bucket list (and vacation time) worthy.

THE AMERICAS

1. Heli-ski in Valdez, Alaska. Conquer the Tsaina valley’s high-altitude, deep powder: a troop of highly experienced helicopter pilots and ski guides take you to the top and speed down the steep face of the mountains with you. Safety comes first, of course–a team of avalanche forecasters and ski patrollers are a permanent part of the team, letting you enjoy a healthy dose of daredevilry that will put your friend’s Whistler and Chamonix adventure stories to shame. www.valdezheliskiguides.com

2. Road trip from New York City to Del Norte County, California (or vice versa). Plan on taking two weeks off to drive across and fly back (or fly over and drive back). Table that awesome-but-impractical dream of taking the trip in a Shelby Cobra and succumb to the rented, glorious comforts of a minivan (better gas mileage than most SUVs, unless you go hybrid). See things like sunrise at the Mississippi as you go past Chicago and leave Illinois, Deadwood in South Dakota, the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and of course, Old Faithful in Yosemite National Park (best to check that out before the park-disguised-as-massive-volcanic-crater loses its temper). Swing up to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, see Mount Shasta in Northern California, crane your neck at enormous cedar trees in Del Norte County, and, if you’d like, go see the ocean by San Francisco or Monterey (this writer plans on taking the cross country trip by the Amtrak’s California Zephyr line). It’s your country. Get out there and see it.

3. Experience Carnaval in Rio. What better excuse to take a week off for the express purpose of eating, drinking, and dancing in one of the world’s biggest parties? This annual Brazilian festival features tons of parades, dancing by local samba schools, more parties, and overall feasting before the relative sobriety of the Lenten season. Bonus points if you manage to be one of the dancers in the festival (call up a samba school in Rio, get accepted for a fee, and be a part of their Carnaval troupe), and double bonus points if you manage to do this in 2014, when Brazil hosts the World Cup.

4. Hike along the Patagonian coast. See Patagonian gray foxes on Peninsula Valdes on the first day, elephant seals on Puerto Madryn on the second day, eat in a remote seaside village on the third day, and so on. This Andean province boasts gorgeous coastline, sparsely beautiful terrain, and Antarctic-like glaciers. You’ll feel as if you were on an expedition to explore the ends of the Earth…and in a way, you sort of would be. www.patagoniaadventures.com

EUROPE & AFRICA

1. Attend the Monaco Grand Prix. This spectacularly winding and scenic waterside F1 race provides so much more beyond the track (hello, it is in Monaco). Held at the end of May this coming 2012, seats range from a very modest $58 to $3,241 for a VIP terrace. With the gorgeous late spring weather, the scenic views, and the roar of Formula One race cars, this trip should be more than enough to satisfy anyone who comes along (kids age 6-15 get tickets at half price). www.monaco-grand-prix.com

2. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Truly bucket-list-worthy, this particular endeavor requires a healthy dose of commitment to physical and mental training and investing in qualified and experienced mountaineering guides and porters. Before doing this, be sure to check in with your doctor for a full physical, and, when cleared, expect to spend lots of time doing cardiovascular training and (of course) a lot of hiking on local foothills and peaks. For more information, consult with climbing guides such as Climbing Kilimanjaro. www.climbingkilimanjaro.com

3. Run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Sure, you could take a leisurely 8-day trip to visit Basque country and take in the San Fermin festival from the comforts of a balcony. Or you could don a white outfit with red scarf, and actually run with the bulls. Bullish on doing this in 2012? Check out Totally Spain, a tourism service that specializes in travel within the country.

4. Have a beer (or several) at Oktoberfest in Munich. Go for the real thing–attend the actual feast and reserve a spot for yourself in one of the beer tents (there is no entrance fee to the festival itself). Running from September 15th to October 3rd, 2012 , the feast starts each day at 10 a.m. and ends at midnight, with last call at 10:30 p.m. Check out each of the 14 tents (one for each separate brewery), or plan on staying all day to sample a particular brewery’s offerings. www.muenchen.de

ASIA & OCEANIA


1. Celebrate the next New Year on the Chatham Islands, where each day starts (and ends). Sparsely populated, with lushly rolling hills and ocean all around, this New Zealand territory is the first human-populated area to witness the arrival of the new year. Should you choose to celebrate here, don’t expect wild parties, luxury surroundings or any tourist-friendly trappings, though the seafood is, of course, fresh from the Pacific (otherwise, supplies are flown in every two or three months). There are less than 800 people on both Chatham and Pitt Island (Kahuitara Point, the first to be kissed by the new year, is on Pitt), and your best bet for lodgings is in Waitangi, Chatham’s largest town. Come here if you’re seeking a quieter, more unique New Year’s Eve experience.

2. Ride the Trans-Siberian railway. Options abound here, and you can choose to travel eastbound, which goes from St. Petersburg to Moscow, then passes through the Ural Mountains, Lake Baikal, Mongolia, and ends in Beijing (though you can choose to go to Vladivostok from Lake Baikal and then ferry over to Japan), or westbound, which reverses the route. More upscale tours include comfortable cabins, tour guides, and other luxury amenities. www.monkeyshrine.com

Check out the other installments in our “A Better Year” series…and happy 2012 to you!

A Better Year: Style
A Better Year: Fitness & Self

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