Travel in the Age of Coronavirus

To Travel or not to travel. That is the question.

We’ve all been following the news of the spread of the Coronavirus. It is hard not to. With the overload of information coming out online it is hard to ignore it and also at times hard to not fall into the media hype and worry. What makes matters worse is that every single day the situation is changing and there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty about how this will all play out. The shelves at the store are running bare of hand sanitizer, hand sanitation wipes, canned goods, and even toilet paper. Doctors’ offices and clinics are resorting to hiding their once free face masks since people are running out the door with them. Grocery stores are passing out hand sanitizer wiped down grocery carts, and the list goes on.

The World Health Organization warned that panic buying and market manipulation are depriving health workers with the supplies they need to fight the virus while others are profiting by buying all the supplies up and making money off the panic by selling marked-up face masks on eBay.  Life in the age of coronavirus has become for some people clear pandemonia and for others a wait and see approach. While the situation is alarming, I am tending to lean more towards the wait and see how this all unravels before stocking up my basement with supplies and going off the deep end of fear. I also am doing my homework and reading good, reliable articles on the situation so I can remain educated and informed.

So what do we do when it comes to travel? Obviously, I’m not going to go to a place that has a large outbreak however I’d be lying if I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about getting on a long haul flight or a cruise ship with a bunch of strangers. Fifteen years ago I caught full-blown influenza from the passenger next to me who was slouching in his seat and coughing all over the place. It was the sickest I have ever been to this day but I recovered. No one in my family got it. I never wore a mask. I didn’t wipe down the house. But I washed my hands and stayed home in bed, away from people that I could spread it to (which was my biggest fear). Since that day, I have always gotten my flu shot, washed my hands frequently and followed basic hygiene that you always should do regardless of an epidemic.

As of now, I’d get on the plane and fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it) we have an international flight approaching soon for Spring Break. But it is hard to know how I’ll feel this summer as we have a cruise booked leaving from Rome in June. Do we panic and cancel now? Of course not. First of all, it is hard to know what will happen. No one knows. It could all simmer down with warmer weather or else it could become a lot worse and a lot will change. Second of all, if we canceled all our travel plans now, we would lose an awful lot of money and things may be fine to go by the time the trip comes.  While we purchased trip insurance (I always do for every trip)  I did not purchase “cancel for any reason” which I have sometimes booked in the past. Cancel for any reason is the only travel insurance that will cover something like coronavirus.

So for now, all I can do is “keep calm and travel on”. The future like with anything is uncertain.

Instead of reading the “Breaking News” headlines, I stay connected to real news and have found these resources very helpful for keeping informed of this constantly changing situation. Here are a few of the best resources out there:

CULTURE

How Your Travel Choices Can Empower Women Around the World

One of my favorite days of the year is International Women’s Day which is held on March 8th.  International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and improving the lives of women around the world. For years, I have written about the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done to help lift women out of poverty and improve their health, their lives and their livelihoods.

One area that can certainly help improve women’s lives is sustainable employment and as the travel industry booms around the world, there is a great opportunity for women to increase their livelihoods through sustainable tourism.

As travelers, we can use our travel choices and purchasing power to help enhance gender equity around the world and provide more women with sustainable employment through the travel industry. Travelers can support women’s jobs in the global hospitality industry by choosing women-led travel outfitters, employing female guides, supporting women-owned businesses and local non-profits in the places they visit.

Last year, on International Women’s Day I collaborated with the  Impact Travel Alliance, the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals, to highlight six amazing female-run travel businesses and tour operators supporting women’s programs around the world.  This year, as a member of Impact Travel Alliance, we are sharing four tips you can help empower women through your travel choices.

Four Tips on how your travel purchases can empower women:

It is no surprise that the global travel industry is booming. Per the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC): In 2018, the Travel and Tourism sector experienced 3.9% growth, outpacing that of the global economy (3.2%) for the eighth consecutive year. Over the past five years, one in five jobs were created by the sector, making Travel and Tourism the best partner for governments to generate employment. In 2018, the global tourism industry contributed a record $8.8 trillion and 319 million jobs to the world economy.

Therefore, the opportunity for women to find employment in the travel industry is huge. However, only if we ensure that women are being hired. Of course, there are a lot of obstacles in the way such as gender biases, lack of education and patriarchal countries that make it difficult for some women to work, especially in the travel and hospitality industry. But women are persevering like Becky, East Africa’s first female overland driver. We too as travelers can make a big difference in supporting and empowering women by the choices we make when we travel. Check out these four tips on what you can do to make a difference and support women’s livelihoods when you travel:

Seek out female tour guides

It comes as no surprise that finding a female tour guide is a rarity. In fact, over all of my years of travel I probably only had a dozen or so female tour guides and not a single female tour guide on any of the multi-day treks that I’ve done. I remember when I was traveling in Belize last year with G Adventures, that we had one of the only female tour guides in Guatemala for our tour of Tikal. She was quite proud of her role and attributed it to her rare opportunity to go to a bilingual school where she was able to learn English. She was the only girl in her family that had this opportunity and it allowed her to lift herself and her family out of poverty.

Dos Brazos de Tigre Lokal Travel

Xiña leads the way to her jungle cabin with her walking stick ready. Lokal Travel in the Osa Peninsula.

I was fortunate to have traveled to the remote Osa Penisula of Costa Rica where I met Xiña, whose chance encounter with one of Lokal Travel’s founders, changed her life and launched her tiny business in the tourism industry offering traveler’s a chance to spend a night in her cabin up in the jungle.   Spending the night at her cabin in the Costa Rican jungle was one of the highlights of my trip and it also helped Xiña earn a much-needed income.

However, finding female tour guides can be a daunting task. Sustainable travel outfitter, Responsible Travel, does the work for you. Check out Responsible Travel’s amazing, curated list of women-led vacations ranging from Mongolia to Cuba. Adventures in Good Company also employs female-guides for their female trips.

Chose travel agencies and tour companies run by women

The great news is there are tons of fantastic travel agencies and tour companies run by women.  While most are based in North America, Europe or Australia or New Zealand, they still help empower and employ women around the world. I’ve highlighted some of these companies before in prior posts and added a few new ones to the ever-growing list. I’ve learned about all of these companies thanks to the Impact Travel Alliance and readers’ recommendations. So if you know any more to add to this list, please let me know in the comments.

Adventures in Good Company

Founded by Marian Marbury, Adventures in Good Company is an active travel company for women with adventurous spirits. Adventures in Good Company offers small group adventures that encourage women of all ages to (re)connect with their adventurous selves, physical abilities, other women, different cultures, and the natural world. From hiking to sea kayaking, backpacking to multisport adventures, their vacations are for women who love being active, whether they’re first time travelers or lifelong outdoorswomen. Destinations: Worldwide.

 

Adventures in Good Company

Adventures in Good Company hiking trip

Andeana Hats

Andeana Hats is a female-owned company that operates sustainable tours for travelers to support Quechua weaving community in rural Peru. Through their partnership with the non-profit organization, Awamaki, Andeana Hats provides sustainable tours that not only are fun and educational, and provide a positive impact in the Quechua communities. Destination(s): Peru

Andeana Hats (Photo credit Laura Grier)

Andeana Hats (Photo credit Laura Grier)

Community Homestay

Community Homestay in Nepal provides local women the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and ready their homes to house guests. Select a homestay online and meet with the local women and communities in Nepal. Community Homestay also offers such cultural experiences as cooking classes, jungle walks, wildlife viewing and more. Every tour helps local women and their families. Destination(s): Nepal

Courtesy of Community Homestay

Picture of Village in Patlekhet Homestay. Courtesy of Community Homestay

Fernweh Fair Travel

Fernweh Fair Travel is a women-led nonprofit organization working to empower women, mostly young widows, and bring sustainable development to communities in India through responsible tourism. Fernweh Fair Travel offers authentic travel experiences along with mountain adventure sports in the majestic Indian Himalayas. Their goal is to empower and support communities through travel that makes a positive impact on the local economy, culture, and environment. Destination(s): India

Homestay Team. Photo Credit: Fernweh Fair Travel – Uplifting Communities

Girls Trip Tours

Girls Trip is a transformative travel experience focused on female empowerment. Girls Trip Tours hosts trips to various African destinations with the goal of empowering future female leaders through mentorship while taking in the sites and dining around town with high profile businesswomen and local industry leaders.  Destination: Africa

Girls Travel Tours

This mentorship day photo was taken at the giraffe center in Nairobi and is credited to Samantha Kendi.

Global Family Travels

Global Family Travels’ was founded by Jennifer Spatz with the mission to “Learn, Serve and Immerse.” In partnership with community-based partners, schools and non-profit organizations, Global Family Travels creates and offers service-learning tours for families which include a unique mix of cultural and educational activities, homestays and participation in local service projects aimed at improving the lives of people in the communities they visit.  Destinations: Worldwide

Global Family Travels

Reading to new friends. Photo credit: Global Family Travels

GOOD Travel

GOOD Travel’s mission is to make it easier for travelers to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the places they visit. They do this through tours as well as advocacy, research and events focused on influencing tourist behavior for GOOD. GOOD Travel’s tours are carefully researched and designed to create unique, impactful and transformative experiences for travelers to have a positive impact on the destination being visited. For each trip, all accommodations and tour companies are carefully selected due to their focus on sustainability and community, and $100 per person is donated to a local project. Destinations: Bali, Iceland, Thailand, New Zealand, Zanzibar, and Peru (a mother-daughter trip).

 

Mother Daughter Trip to Machu Picchu

The girls enjoying the view at Machu Picchu

Purposeful Nomad

Purposeful Nomad runs female, small-group adventures around the world designed to empower women through responsible community engagement. Purposeful Nomad was created to inspire, challenge and bring together women from around the globe. Trips can include meeting leaders in sustainable tourism,  helping with community projects, living like a local and helping your host family harvest, feed animals or cook, engaging with women working to restore native alpaca customs and more. Destinations: India, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Orcas Islands, Guatemala, Morocco, Iceland, and Tanzania.

Cloud forest Ecuador. Working at Mashpi farm sorting cocoa seeds from the pods. Photo credit: Purposeful Nomad

Wild Women Expeditions

Wild Women Expeditions is a global leader in women’s adventure travel offering adventurous trips all over the world ranging from canoeing, cycling, and paddleboarding to kayaking, yoga, and hiking.  Their trips are founded on a love of the outdoors, a sense of adventure, and the joy of sharing a new experience with other spirited women. Wild Women Expeditions is passionate about environmental conservation and also seeks out opportunities to support programs that foster female empowerment, by partnering with social justice and women’s rights organizations in an effort to make a difference both locally and globally. Destinations: Worldwide.

Photo courtesy of Wild Women.

Book with travel companies that support nonprofits empowering women in the communities they visit.

Another fabulous tip is to book your trip with a travel company that supports nonprofits empowering women in the communities that they visit. Thankfully this is a growing trend in the travel industry and one that I love to see. Two stand-out travel outfitters that I have personally used include G Adventures and Intrepid Travel who both make it part of their mission and trips to support local nonprofits in the destinations that they travel to.

G Adventures

G Adventures is a social enterprise that provides responsible, sustainable small-group tours around the world. G Adventures spreads good around the world by working with local businesses and guides, promoting animal and child welfare, responsible travel with indigenous cultures, and other projects. G Adventures offers tours for families, solo travelers, age groups, classic tours, active tours, adventure tours, local living tours, National Geographic tours, and more. As a key funder for the nonprofit, Planeterra, in 2018 alone, G Adventures contributed $500,000 CAD to its nonprofit partner Planeterra to support community development in 42 countries, reaching 64,250 people and directly supporting 2,043 women, 491 youth and 2,758 community members around the world. In 2018, over 98,000 travelers visited one of Planeterra’s projects around the world and G Adventures has integrated the project visits into most of their tours. In my opinion, it is an excellent way to travel and do good. (To read about my visit to one of G Adventures G for Good projects in Belize click here). Destinations: Worldwide

San Antonio Women's Coop Belize

At the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize watching a Mayan woman show us how to make corn tortillas.

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel -one of the world’s largest adventure travel companies – is changing the way we see and impact the world. With over 1,000 tours in 120 countries, Intrepid has done wonders to promote responsible tourism and help make a positive impact on where they travel. Intrepid is committed not just to treading lightly, but to making a real difference – by investing in local communities, human rights initiatives, wildlife conservation projects, and the environment. Intrepid is all about operating in a responsible manner and incorporating principles of sustainable tourism and development into the way they provide our travelers with real-life experiences.

Intrepid is committed to promoting gender equality, both within our business and without, which is why Intrepid is striving to double its number of female leaders by 2020. From Zina in Morocco,to Channa in Cambodia, Nadia in Iran, and Sana in India,  Intrepid is paving the way to empower women tour leaders.  I traveled with Intrepid to Jordan this past October and felt good knowing many travel dollars were supporting these causes.

Oval Forum, Jerash, Jordan

Me in Jerash, Jordan.

Intrepid also has a wide variety of Women’s Expeditions where you can break down the cultural barriers of traditional tourism” with their amazing range of all-female adventures ranging from such fascinating trips as Israel and the Palestine territories to Pakistan and India and more.

Break down the cultural barriers of traditional tourism with our range of all-female adventures.

Join and support female travel communities online

Another great way to support women in travel is to join female travel communities online. Thankfully there are tons out there and most provide a global community of women who love to travel and share their tips. We are Travel Girls is a community created to inspire, connect, educate and empower female travelers. They also launched Travel Girls Giving to raise money and highlight charitable organizations around the world and they host impact trips as well for women to see different inspiring projects in the field. The Travel Women is another online resource for women who love to travel and share their tips, stories and more online. Unearth Women is an online media outlet where feminism meets travel. Check out their list of over 40 Feminist Guides that give tips on how you can support women in cities around the world.

Like it? Why not PIN for later?

Travel Companies Empowering Women Through Travel

 

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES
The South Theatre, Jerash, Jordan

Exploring the Roman Ruins of Jordan’s Jerash

I ended an extraordinary week in Jordan with a day trip from Amman to Jerash, home to one of the grandest ancient Roman cities in the world. After such an exhilarating week exploring this amazing country, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Jerash. Inhabited since the 4th century BC and abandoned after a major earthquake in 747 AD, Jerash has some of the most spectacularly well-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the world. Only an hour’s drive north of Amman, “the “Pompeii of the East” is on the tourist circuit for anyone visiting Jordan. I was very curious to see how these ruins compared with what I’d already seen over the week in Jordan as well as throughout my travels around the world.

We left Amman right after breakfast heading north to Jerash. It was our last full day in Jordan before heading home and the past week had been incredible. We had traveled in the midst of a desert hailstorm to spend the night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum and traversed the magical world of Petra for two days. We also visited the famous King’s Highway and the Red Sea.  So far, it had been quite an eye-opening trip into an ancient yet changing world that was all very new to me. Once again, we were going back in time and would explore the powerful Roman influence in Jordan with a visit to Jerash.

The Roman Empire (753 BC – 476 AD) was one of the largest empires in history, stretching all the way from Rome throughout most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East during its height of power. The Romans realized the importance of Jordan in expanding their wealth and power in the Middle East. In 63 BC, the Romans spread throughout Jordan, Syria, and Palestine taking control of this part of the world for over four centuries. In the North of Jordan, the Greek cities of Philadelphia (Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara (Umm Qais), Pella and Arbila (Irbid) joined with other cities in Palestine and southern Syria to form the Decapolis League, a group of powerful cities culturally and economically aligned, influencing the entire Middle East. Jerash became one of the most powerful Greco-Roman settlements in the region. A devastating earthquake in 747 brought about the eventual decline of Jerash and the city was completely abandoned by the 12th century. Perhaps given its dry desert climate, the ruins of Jerash have remained remarkably well preserved.

Today, Jerash is enjoyed by visitors from all over the world coming to marvel at its immense size and striking collection of archways and theatres, baths, public buildings, temples, and colonnaded streets. If you have the time, the modern city of Jerash is quite lovely as well. Being on a tour, we only had the morning but over the course of three hours, we got an excellent introduction to this amazing site.

Getting there

Jerash is an hour’s drive north of Amman so most people leave Amman in the morning to arrive early before the heat of the day and the crowds. It is a beautiful place to spend the morning. We arrived around 9 am and it was perfect. It takes a good 3 hours to fully explore the ruins and it is best to have some kind of guide with you (you can book one at the ticket counter) as there is not much information inside the ruins. Once you have purchased your tickets, you will enter the ancient city through the unforgettable Hadrian’s Arch. There is a nice little outdoor cafe where you can grab a cool drink or some coffee before heading in. Be prepared with a sunhat, sunscreen and lots of water. There is not much protection from the burning desert sun.

Hadrian’s Arch

As you enter into the ancient city of Jerash, the first thing you pass under is the spectacular 13-meter high Hadrian’s Arch. The Arch was built in honor of the visit of Emperor Hadrian around 130 AD. It is quite impressive and is merely an introduction to this amazing “city of 1,000 columns”. Once you walk through the arch, you catch your first glimpse of the immense size of Jerash. It is filled with Corinthian columns, temples, and ruins, all ornately detailed and decorated with sweeping views of the hillside of modern-day Jerash.

Jerash, Jordan

Entering Jerash through Hadrian’s Arch

Arch of Hadrian, Jerash, Jordan

Jerash, Jordan

Entering Jerash

Jordan Middle East TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Little Petra, Jordan

Jordan Adventure: A Visit to Little Petra

After a disappointing stay in Aqaba, it was time to head to Wadi Musa, the town outside of the magical ancient city of Petra, where we would spend the next two nights. This was the part of the trip that I could hardly wait for as I knew that visiting Petra would be an unforgettable experience and I was right. Fortunately, we would have time to first visit Little Petra which would set the stage for our day and a half exploration of the fabled “Rose City” as Petra is called.

We left Aqaba shortly after breakfast, heading north towards Wadi Musa on the Desert Highway and then later on the famed King’s Highway. Once again, I was struck by how vast and barren the landscape was along the way. Over four-fifths of Jordan’s landscape is desert and for the next 125 kilometers, we only passed a couple of isolated roadside tourist stops.  Besides that, there was just sand and dust. It is hard to imagine the ancient caravans of traders and pilgrims on foot walking for days across this harsh land.

The King’s Highway is one of the Middle East’s most ancient routes, dating back to Biblical times. Covering 280 kilometers, the King’s Highway runs from Egypt across Sinai to the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan and then north into Syria. This sacred route was mentioned in the Old Testament and is one of the world’s oldest continuously used communication and trade routes. The King’s Highway was used as a key trade route for the Nabateans who transported their spices to build their wealth and then after their collapse, the Romans used the route to build fortifications, followed by the Christian pilgrims and then the Muslims on the road to Mecca. For tourists, the King’s Highway leads through some of Jordan’s most magical sites passing through Crusader castles, Byzantine churches, sacred Biblical sites, stunning nature and more.

We arrived in Wadi Musa (“Valley of Moses”) around noon and delighted in a delicious lunch at the Alqantarah Restaurant, a lovely venue located only a short walk from the gates of Petra which serves authentic local Jordanian cuisine. All the ingredients are fresh and even the falafel is made directly on the spot while the meat is grilled right outside the front door on a barbeque. It was an oasis in the desert!

After lunch, we headed the short ten-minute drive to “Siq Al Barid”, the Arabic name for Little Petra which means Cold Canyon. Little Petra was built by the Nabateans and believed to serve as an agricultural hub, trading center and resupply post for the camel caravans that made their way to Petra. Scholars believe that Little Petra was most likely a suburb used primarily to house traders en route to Petra and was built around the same time as Petra during the height of Nabatean influence and power in the 1st century AD. Not much else is known about Little Petra however it definitely is an impressive place and worth a visit especially before seeing Petra. (If you went after Petra, you would probably be hugely disappointed!).

As you leave the parking lot and enter the 400-meter long Siq Al Barid, you are instantly transported into an entirely different world. The first thing you see is a large temple and four tricliniums (formal Roman dining rooms) that were all carved into the face of the rose-red sandstone by the Nabateans over 2,000 years ago. If you continue on another 50 meters, you will reach a building known as the “Painted House” which you can climb the rock steps up and take a peek at the frescos painted inside depicting vines, flowers and other natural things.

Little Petra, Jordan

Entering Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

Jordan Middle East TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Aqaba, Jordan

Jordan Adventure: From Wadi Rum to the Red Sea

After spending a beautiful morning watching the sunrise over Wadi Rum at our Bedouin Camp, it was time to continue our journey exploring Jordan.  A popular place to stop and spend a day or two after visiting Wadi Rum and before heading to Jordan’s crown jewel, Petra, is Aqaba. Located on the Red Sea, Aqaba is a relaxed seaside resort town that is known for some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Middle East.  With its 27 kilometers of prime coastline, Aqaba also has its share of lovely beach resorts for those who would like to spend a few days enjoying the beach and the Red Sea. With a dry, arid temperature rarely dipping below 70 degrees F.  Aqaba is a nice break between the sultry desert of Wadi Rum and the crowds of Petra. Best of all, the fish is caught daily and it is one of the only places in Jordan outside of Amman that you can somewhat easily get a cold mug of beer or a glass of wine with your meal. I was sold on the snorkeling and was really looking forward to our stay in Aqaba with visions of colorful fish and soothing, calm waters. Little did I know, this part of the trip would end up being a big disappointment.

Our group set off shortly after returning via camel to the entrance of Wadi Rum. While you would have thought a camel ride would be quite the adventure, it proved to be a darn right uncomfortable experience and I could hardly wait to get off the camel. The smooshy vinyl seat in our air-conditioned van sounded like heaven compared with the bumpy, miserable ride on a camel’s back. I even almost would have traded our cold, miserable ride on the back of an open-air pickup truck in the middle of a hailstorm the previous day to not be riding on a camel’s back. It is that bad.

Bedouin camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan

One thing that I truly like about traveling in Jordan is its compact size and ease of getting around to all the major sites. The Kingdom of Jordan is roughly the size of Portugal, making it easy to see a lot of cool places in a week. We never spent more than a few hours in the van, and all the roads we traveled on were paved and well-maintained.

From the gates of Wadi Rum, Aqaba is only a short, hour drive southwest. Aqaba began as an ancient trade route dating back as far as the 5th century BC and later became a popular gathering place for pilgrims making the trek to Mecca. Thanks to its prime location along the Red Sea, it developed into a laid-back beachside resort and world-renown diving destination. Unlike the other major cities in Jordan, there are not a lot of cultural attractions to see in Aqaba. Therefore, if you are not into relaxing on the beach or participating in water activities on the Red Sea, there really isn’t much reason to visit Aqaba.

Jordan Middle East TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Caye Caulker Belize

Welcome 2020, So long 2019: Highlights of 2019

As 2019 draws to a close it is time to take a moment to reflect with gratitude for those special memories of the past year. While of course there were plenty of difficult times and mountains to climb, as there always is throughout the journey of life, for me those hard times led to a newfound understanding and insight into myself. A bit of a silver lining. For if it wasn’t for those really hard times, I wouldn’t have personally grown and changed the things that I could and brought peace to the things I could not change.

I stepped out of my comfort zone plenty of times in 2019, taking more chances with travel and even with my day to day life. I got a part-time job, traveled on two small group trips without knowing a soul, I skied with my family, went on a three-generational hike around Mont Blanc and finally got my feet back onto solid ground (something I’d been searching for over the past two years). So all in all, I ring in the New Year being in a much happier, more peaceful place than last year when I was in the midst of a mid life confusion trying to figure out what the heck was the next step in the journey. While I haven’t figured out the entire road, at least I took the first step and for that I am most grateful.

Torrey Pines San Diego California

My daughter at Torrey Pines who just turned 13 has taught me so much.

That said, here are some of the wonderful travel memories in 2019 that I am extremely grateful for.

CULTURE
Bedouin Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan

My Night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum

One of the highlights of my week in Jordan was spending the night at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum. It is hard to put into words or capture on film, the expansive surreal beauty of Wadi Rum. Known as the “Dry Valley” Wadi Rum is roughly 720 square kilometers (278 square miles) of protected area in southern Jordan. It is known for its Bedouin culture and absolutely stunning landscape of massive sandstone mountains reaching up to 1500 meters (4,921 feet) high surrounded by canyons, gorges and narrow pathways to explore. The native people of Wadi Rum are the Bedouins who have lived in this harsh climate for thousands of years. The desert-dwelling Bedouin lived a nomadic life for centuries, moving their tents and herds of camels and goats across the vast arid desert in search of grazing land for their livestock. Today, most Bedouin have discontinued their nomadic life and live in villages. However, travelers have the opportunity to learn about their culture and life by spending a night or two at one of the many Bedouin campsites in Wadi Rum. By far, my stay at a Bedouin Camp was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Jordan.

Explore the wild, vast landscape of Wadi Rum where you will sleep under the stars at a Bedouin Camp in the heart of Lawrence of Arabia’s desert and enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. Marvel at the rocks changing color as the sun sets and rises over the rugged sandstone and sit outside under the brilliance of the stars. Take in the stillness and solitude of one of the most surreal places on earth. Pinch yourself often that you are truly there. Riding a camel (as uncomfortable as it may be) goes without saying.

Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Jordan Middle East TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Hike to Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France

Unforgettable Hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc: Hike from Col des Montets to Lac Blanc

Sometimes in life, the best comes last. Serendipitously, this proved true with our very last hike on our intergenerational do it ourselves Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). After ten glorious days of hiking the TMB – from the stunning Val Ferret and Val Vény in Courmayeur to our hike above the gorgeous Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally to a variety of different hikes in Chamonix-  our hike to Lac Blanc proved to be the one hike that had us wondering when on earth we’d ever be able to come back to this magical place. The hike to Lac Blanc reminded me exactly why I hike in the first place: To feel utterly, insanely alive. And, there is nowhere I feel more alive than outside. The pure, raw beauty of the Alps and the Tour de Mont Blanc itself can all be captured in this one hike. It is a must-do for anyone in Chamonix and anyone hiking the TMB.

We had heard about Lac Blanc from our hotel and had desperately wanted to hike there earlier but the gondola lift to La Flégère was closed. So instead, we filled our first two days with a hike to the top of Le Brévent that affords stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc, and we did an incredible hike along the Grand Balcon on Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace. While both hikes are exceptionally stunning for some reason I had to see Lac Blanc. I had this nagging, unexplainable urge to do this hike so I persisted. Our hotel manager told us we could reach Lac Blanc a different way – albeit a bit longer of a hike – if we drove past Argentière and parked at the Col des Montets located in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. It was rated a difficult hike but was doable in anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on level of fitness. I got my dad and son to agree and on our last day in Chamonix we set off for what would be the greatest hike of the entire trip.

We arrived at the trailhead shortly after ten. There were plenty of parking spots remaining which was of course a good sign that this beloved hike was not too busy yet. It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking with a few scattered powderpuff clouds, brilliant sun and glorious blue sky. We could not have asked for a better day for our last hike.

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

The start of the trail is right behind the Reserve Naturelle del Aiguilles Rouges, France

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

Europe France TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Mer de Glace, Chamonix

A Panoramic Hike Along the Grand Balcon Nord to the Mer de Glace in Chamonix

After our sensational ride up to the top of Aiguille du Midi, it was time to board the gondola and head back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m/7,602 ft) for our afternoon hike. The day before we had hiked to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we wanted to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

We boarded the gondola at Aiguille du Midi and were taken down in roughly ten minutes to a much more pleasant temperature. It was freezing up top at Aiguille du Midi as we were mostly covered in the clouds with a fierce wind blowing off the peak of Mont Blanc. I am glad we weren’t strapping on a pair of crampons and hiking up there!

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

Adventure Travel Europe France TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Mont Blanc Aiguille du Midi

Take a ride with me to the top of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix

Getting to the top of Aiguille du Midi to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc was without a question a must do experience when we were hiking in Chamonix this past summer. Roughly 21 years ago, my own dad summited this mighty beast being one of the thousands who attempt to climb Mont Blanc every year. Given the three-generational trip, it seemed fitting to show my 14-year-old son the top of the peak his grandfather conquered and I was equally as curious to see it for myself.

After hiking to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we decided to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

After we purchased our gondola tickets, we learned that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif (even including the train ride up to Montenvers). It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to ride as many gondolas as possible to get all of the incredible views. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice. Despite our mistake in not purchasing the multi-day pass from the start, we did get our money’s worth over the next two days in Chamonix.

Map of Mont Blanc. Map credit: Mont Blanc Natural Resort

Our plan of attack for the day was to first ride the gondola all the way to the top of Aiguille du Midi (3842 m/12,605 ft) for magnificent high alpine views of Mont Blanc, and then to continue back down to the midway point at Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m) where we would get off and begin our hike along the Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers.

As we began our ascent, the sky was a robin’s egg blue with a few white fluffy clouds hovering about. The day seemed to be much better than the day before when we were hiking at Le Brévent in a thick layer of irritating fog. Since this was the prized view we were desperately waiting to see we hoped the fog wasn’t going to jeopardize our chance of seeing Mont Blanc up close.

Adventure Travel Europe France TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Roman Theater in Amman

Arriving in Amman, Jordan: Jetlag, Culture Shock and Fascination

Walking through the hot, sultry streets of Al Balad in the heart of Amman, feels like an assault again the senses. The smell of a potpourri of spices tickled my nose while my eyes danced around the endless array of shops in every direction. Colorful handmade embroidered dresses called thobes dangled from the open storefront walls. Plastic China-made toys scrambled across the already congested sidewalk pavement. Giant fabric buckets of frankincense, dates, olives, and figs baked in the hot afternoon sun while cars sped by stopping abruptly if a pedestrian dared to cross the street in a city without any noticeable crosswalks. The sound of cars honking, the dance of Arabic words and the distant call to prayer by the Muezzin reminded me that I was in a place unlike anywhere I’d ever been before.  It was my first day in Jordan and I was struck with some serious culture shock.

I had arrived at the ultra-modern newly renovated Queen Alia International Airport only eight hours earlier after almost 24 hours of travel from my home in Minnesota to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I recall landing at almost midnight in the blackness of the night wondering where on earth I was. I had never been to the Middle East before and the suspense would have to wait a few more hours until sunrise to see what it was all about.

I was met by a driver from my hotel and was instantly welcomed into the Jordanian culture of warmth and hospitality. Despite my fatigue, we talked the entire thirty-minute drive to the hotel and I received my first introduction to the welcoming, open culture of Jordan. I checked in at the Grand Palace Hotel close to one in the morning, fell into a deep, luxurious sleep and rose with a start by seven. It was my first day in Jordan and I didn’t want to waste a minute sleeping (even though my body would have preferred it).

By nine o’clock I was met at the hotel by my hired local driver and guide for the day, Mustafa. Although I could have done the tour of Amman by myself, I preferred to hire a local to bring me around and introduce me to Amman. As a middle-aged solo Western woman traveler, I felt more comfortable traveling with a guide, even though Jordan is an extremely safe country.  Whether or not it mattered was hard to say as a few other women in my group had done the exact same itinerary as me on their own without ever feeling uncomfortable. Since I tend to be directionally challenged at times and often get lost, it just felt more relaxed to have a local showing me the way.

Jordan Middle East TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
If only the sun had come out.

Chamonix, France: Hike to the glorious Le Brévent

On our first full day in Chamonix, we opted for a shorter hike as the weather was unfortunately overcast and foggy. Despite knowing that the views would not be perfect, we decided to take the gondola lift up to Planpraz and then follow the steep hike up to the top of Le Brévent, which affords stunning views of the glaciers surrounding Mont Blanc. If only the weather had cooperated, this would have been an absolutely stellar hike and I deeply regret not taking the cable car back up for some photos on a clear day before we left Chamonix. Regardless, if you have three days in Chamonix, visiting the top of Le Brévent is a must as it gives you an incredible appreciation and perspective of not only the entire Chamonix Valley but of the Tour de Mont Blanc itself. On top of Le Brévent, you will delight in panoramic 360-degree views of it all and it will truly blow you away, even in the clouds.

To reach the start of the hike, you have a few options. You can hike the entire thing which would take roughly five hours one way or you can ride the cable car to Planpraz  (the station is located walking distance from town) up to 2000 m/6,562 feet, and then begin your hike up to Le Brévent at 2525 m/8284 feet. Once on top of Le Brévent, the options are endless as you connect up with the Tour de Mont Blanc and can hike from there toward Lac Blanc or Les Houches. For us, we simply went to admire the incredible panoramic view of Mont Blanc.

Chamonix, France

We purchased our tickets and learned after the fact that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif. It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to visit the famous Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi while you are in Chamonix. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice.

For our hike, we chose to do the route on the lefthand side of the map. Some hikers go behind Le Brévent to continue along the Tour de Month Blanc while others continue on towards La Flégère and Lac Blanc. Unfortunately, our timing was off as they were updating the Flégère gondola so we were not able to easily reach Lac Blanc from Chamonix. Instead, it was a full day of hiking (which ended up being the best hike of our entire trip).

Adventure Travel Europe France TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking