This year’s New York Times Travel Show was as packed as ever. With over 35,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors from more than 175 countries and tons of evening events to compliment, it makes for a packed three days of all things travel every January in the Big Apple. I thought I’d outline some new ideas and inspiration from this year’s show — also see our comprehensive write-up on the show.
I have traveled fairly extensively throughout SE Asia, but know very little about Taiwan. They always have such a large presence at the show every year and this year’s theme is the Year of Mountain Tourism, largely because they want to promote five of Taiwan’s mountain ranges and 24 mountain-related package tours. Taiwan’s beautiful mountain scenery includes an incredibly diverse ecological environment which make it a godsend for those who love outdoor activities and adventure travel.
Their booth this year combined the design themes of Taiwan’s stunning mountain landscapes, including the floral bloom on Hehuan Mountain and Taichung’s Rainbow Village. And oh btw, Taichung is also the 2020 site of Taiwan’s annual Lantern Festival. I’ve heard some great things about their lantern festival and we love unique cultural festivals in general. At their booth, they were making (and offering attendees to sit down and join them) fun paper characters.
In talking to the folks at the booth, I learned a bit about their culture and language as well — while the primary language spoken is Mandarin Chinese, most young Taiwanese have studied English so on the ground, you’ll have more help (in English) than perhaps other Asian countries in the region.
I’ve been wanting to explore the Philippines for awhile now and remain inspired by some of their stunning islands with to-die-for beaches. In other words, quintessential island paradise. For example, Boracay is known to have the best beaches in the world. Their four kilometer “white” beach is hailed as the finest beach and is meant to feel like walking on baby powder. Another island on my radar is Palawan, which is more of an archipelago — lots of little islands and islets. There are lagoons and bays which hide shipwrecks, unchartered mountains, mangrove swamps, hidden pockets of lush forest and sea gardens. Simply put — heavenly. This province has been declared as a nature sanctuary of the world and it’s easy to see why when you see the photos. You can dive and fish here too.
Portugal. The last time I was in Portugal, I was in my early twenties. In other words, it’s been a long time. The Healing Hotels of the World are having their annual conference there and it’s been on the list for awhile — why wouldn’t we want to head back? We love fish, beaches, the language and its unique culture. We explored some of the Tour Azores offerings, which include both escorted and independent tours. Some ideas worth mentioning which inspired us include the Nine Island Tour, the Madeira and Azores Tour as well as an individual tour of Terceira, Faial, Pico and Sao Miguel. Things that jumped for us were sliding and rappeling down canyons where you can also jump into natural pools of water and horseback riding in the Azores. There are also thermal baths and we are huge believers in the healing benefits of these natural baths.
Peace International offers some amazing tours to Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India, including to some sacred sites, which we’d like to explore more as we begin to develop some custom spiritual tours of our own later this year.
We’ve been wanting to cover river cruises for awhile now — they play well to our increase in wellness and spiritual coverage. Imagine how serene it would be to take a river cruise to Cambodia and Laos for example. Uniworld, Viking and AmaWaterways has some incredible routes — we’d love to co-create a sacred retreat on one of these river cruises.
We also talked to MSC Cruises and Regent Cruises at IMM this year — the boats, routes and culinary offerings look spectacular so I’m keen to explore what routes jump. As we start to develop our own customized wellness retreats, we increasingly think that cruise lines would be great partners.
Other things on our horizon for 2020 and beyond: La Paz and Catalan in Europe. Why? The culture, food and wine are outstanding. And, we’d also love to head to Morocco to explore it as a possible destination for some of our more consciousness based retreats. Egypt too — this historical place with its pyramids and sacred land has been calling us for awhile now. I was in my early twenties the last time I set foot on Egyptian sand.
Then, there’s Africa. I used to live here so am a bit biased but there’s no reason NOT to go to Africa. Every safari experience I’ve ever been on has been transformative. Every other experience I’ve had in East, North and Southern Africa has been transformative. West Africa is the only part of this magical continent I’ve yet to explore.
Lastly, I want to mention two places off-the-beaten path and not as well known: Faroe Islands and the Cook Islands. They couldn’t be any more different from each other, but offer the beautiful qualities we look for in the transformative travel categories: remote, authentic, raw natural beauty, a spiritual component and wildlife.
Who knows about the Faroe Islands? When I asked around (to other journalists, content creators and even tour operators), most people didn’t know where they were on the globe. This is a part of the world where they truly respect nature. Ramsar is an international agreement that apparently protects areas that are important for birdlife and biodiversity here — in the Faroes, that includes the islands of Mykines, Skyvoy and Nolsoy.
I get the feeling that this pristine place is a blend of what you may experience in northern Scotland and Iceland, obviously with its own unique culture, accent and customs. The Faroe Islands are built up of layers of volcanic basalt — colorful towns and villages lie along the shores of the fjords and sounds, with a green belt of cultivated pastureland beyond them. It is known to have stillness and nature’s own sounds, another reason we’re drawn to this part of the world.
Nominated by the Nordic Council for the Nature & Environmental Award in 2014, the village of Gjógv is closed in by mountains to all sides. There’s only 50 inhabitants, all whom live in old timber-walled and turf-roofed cottages. There are apparently some amazing hiking and walking trails here.
I’ve also been very drawn to the Cook Islands for a few years now. While we loved our remarkable experiences in the Solomons and Fiji last year (especially the Yasawa Islands), my intuition tells me that the Cook Islands are similar to their raw natural beauty but like most memorable and life changing experiences, the people are what will leave the biggest imprint in our minds. In talking to the PR and marketing folks on-site this year, we learned that there are direct flights from Los Angeles but they only go once a week. Apparently a week is enough time to get to about three islands of the 15 islands — we can’t wait to explore this part of the world.
The Cook Islands apparently has political links to New Zealand. The largest island, Rarotonga, is home to rugged mountains and Avarua, the national capital. To the north, Aitutaki Island has a vast lagoon encircled by coral reefs and small, sandy islets. The country is renowned for its many snorkeling and scuba-diving sites, another reason we’d love to go here.
The island of Mauke looks spectacular as well. Otherwise known as ‘Akatokamanava’ meaning ‘The Place Where My Heart Rested’, it is one of the three close islands of Nga-pu-toru. Extraordinarily stunning (and that’s a mild statement), Mauke is a garden island, abundant with flowers that grow wild so much so that locals take enormous pride in their garden homes.
New Things I Learned
In addition to the trade day on Friday (for travel industry professionals only), I also attend IMM, which stands for the International Media Marketplace. I love this invitation only event, which is dedicated to matching city & country tourism boards, tour operators, cruise lines and more with press and content creators to determine effective ways to collaborate. Each year, I always take home new ideas about where to go and what to do. It’s a bit like speed dating for the travel industry and they do an incredible job at pulling it together.
Even though I have been to Croatia, I learned that Zadar, once the capital of the Dalmatian coast, is home to unique art installation the Sea Organ and considered to have the “the most beautiful sunset in the world.” This 3,000-year old city is the gateway to many of Croatia’s National Parks, numerous islands and fascinating mountains. Croatia is getting more and more buzz lately and it’s been five or so years since my last visit — it’s time to return.
As I mentioned above under Inspiring Places, I learned that Taiwan has a lot more to offer than I thought. Most Taiwanese are ethnically Han Chinese, but the country is also proud of its strong Hakka culture and 16 aboriginal tribes. This mix has lead to Taiwan to celebrate many different festivals year-round, meaning there’s always something interesting to experience, whether it’s sky lanterns, religious parades or harvest festivals. I did in fact know that Taiwan was the home to bubble tea and shaved ice, but did not know about its notorious stinky fermented tofu. I also didn’t know that you could eat so inexpensively there — apparently a decent meal for one can typically be had for less than 10 US dollars, and there’s no tipping or additional tax to consider! They apparently have many gourmet options — the Michelin Guide launched their Taipei edition in 2018.
New things I learned about the Philippines is that the pre-Hispanic and non-Christian Philippine cultures come from the indigenous tradition of the Malayo-Polynesian tribes — you can find these influences in their music, food, art, language and religion. I also wasn’t aware of include Mahjong, Jueteng and Martial Arts. You can go sea kayaking here and the beaches on many of their islands are breathtaking and I mean breathtaking.
While some of their islands and beaches are known, some of their best treasures are reserved for those who go beyond the end of the road. It is only by trekking that you can reach places where crystal rivers plunge over dizzying falls and tattooed tribesmen live as they have for centuries. You will also see cliffs that tower above crashing surfs, virgin forests, clear rivers, mossy jungles, and cool mountain ridges.
SLO County in California has a lot more wildlife than I imagined — in fact, you can even see whales from the shore. Along the coast, you’ve got San Simeon, Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos, Avila Beach and Oceano. During the winter months, you can see elephant seals, with gray whales from March through May.
You can apparently find sea otters throughout the year and plenty of monarch butterflies from November through February. We’ve done the coastal route coming north a couple of times and the route from San Francisco to Oregon. We’d love to spend more time in some of the lesser known spots along Route 1 (and other gems inland in central California) so some of these lesser known places are on our list to explore sometime in 2020. Think Tri-Valley, Temecula Valley, Costa Mesa and other parts of SLO CAL. I also haven’t been to Monterey’s Cannery Row in awhile so would love to return mainly to eat and drink along the water — there are so many wonderful spots here.
Speaking of California, I used to head to West Hollywood in my thirties when I was big into swing dancing. Apparently, a lot has changed since then. I had an opportunity to meet up with the PR and marketing folks at IMM this year and was excited to learn about some of the new additions to the design district as well as new restaurants and shops on the Sunset Strip, which is fun regardless of how old you are. Sounds like the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel and the Skybar would be great stops for drinks next time we’re in the LA area. And of course, Santa Monica Boulevard is great for shopping.
Because of our interest in expanding our wellness coverage, I was thrilled to learn about some funky and creative hotels we may be able to review in the West Hollywood Area. Recommended were boutique hotel Petit Ermitage which has a private rooftop and heated saltwater European pool, and 1 Hotel West Hollywood which is now offering spiritual programs, an outdoor heated pool and 10,000 square feet of event space.
Franklin Tennessee. First of all, I had never heard of Franklin and had no idea just how close it was to Nashville. In less than an hour, you can be sitting in this quaint town without the buzz and lines that Nashville night life has on a weekend. I loved learning more about this historical town. It’s apparently a key site of the American Civil War, it’s home to 2 properties exploring the 1864 Battle of Franklin: Carter House and Carnton Plantation, which includes the McGavock Confederate Cemetery. And, downtown’s Main Street is lined with super cute galleries, antique shops and restored Victorian buildings.
Even though I’ve been to Jamaica, I didn’t know about Braata Productions, which was founded to bring Caribbean folk culture, music movement, stories, artists and theater to the United States. “Braata” is a Jamaican word meaning “something extra” and in their case, they give voice to some of Jamaica‘s diverse experiences, performers, writers and directors. And, did you know that you can find many places to do yoga in Jamaica?
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.