Editor’s Note: When this story went to press for our Spring 2020 Great Outdoors Issue, we had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic would upend all kinds of travel — not just to the exotic locales Megan Padilla covers here, but to the office, or the beach, or the dog park. But this crisis will pass — and as Megan points out in her recent post, “You Will Travel Again,” now is the time to start planning, and dreaming, ahead. Besides, even in the best of times, these bucket-list journeys require making reservations many months in advance — and if you follow the advice about travel insurance in her post, you can set your itinerary and feel secure in your investment.
Have you noticed that most bucket-trip lists are headlined by nature? Some people long to immerse themselves in the wildlife and landscapes of Africa. Others turn to the majesty awaiting in our own backyard, the American West. And some dream of being among the few humans to visit the only untamed continent in the world, Antarctica. Add to the mix one-on-one planning by an expert luxury-travel advisor who can lean on connections and pull out all the stops to craft you the trip of a lifetime, and you’ve got the makings of a trip that should rise to the top of anyone’s bucket.
Which safari’s for you? African safaris are high atop most travelers’ bucket lists, and for good reason; seeing wildlife in its natural habitat really does shift the way you see the world. But safaris are loaded with variables that greatly influence the experience. A trip is constructed and shaped from a myriad of choices, depending on country, terrain and time of year. “And that’s before you even get into lodging types,” says Moynihan, “from resort-style lodges to tented camps to designer bungalows straight out of the pages of Architectural Digest.” It’s key to work with someone who knows the industry and can home in on the right experience for you, she adds.
A mobile vacation: The word “safari” comes from the Swahili word for “journey,” and moving around defines the experience — typically one to three nights per spot. For instance, says Moynihan, “In Tanzania, you can do the Serengeti and Ngorongoro by car from Arusha on a 7-night circuit, which makes it a great first-time safari, while in a country like Bostwana you’ll use a combination of bush planes to get from place to place, which ups cost.”
How many countries do you want to visit? Just because you’re on the same continent doesn’t make it easy to get from place to place, so before you get your heart set on visiting multiple countries, look at real-time flight offerings. You may need an overnight layover in a place like Nairobi or Addis Ababa, even if you’re not visiting Kenya or Ethiopia. Says Moynihan, “Botswana and Namibia work well together due to proximity and airlines, as do South Africa and Mozambique.”
Pacing is key: Do you want to do as many game drives as you can, or do you want time to also just enjoy your surroundings? It’s not a trick question, says Moynihan, highlighting the appeal of lodgings such as Singita’s recently redesigned Faru Faru Lodge in Tanzania, or Mahlatini’s Jack’s Camp, a back-in-time tented camp set in Botswana’s remote Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
Mix and match: Moynihan’s approach is to work with companies that can mix and match lodging styles: a luxe lodge at one place where perhaps an elephant will stop by your plunge pool for a drink, followed by a tented camp decked out with cushy beds, a chandelier and wood-heated bucket shower at another. Longtime African-travel company andBeyond owns and manages its own network of truly singular experiences — such as its newest offering, a treehouse in Ngala Private Game Reserve in South Africa — that enable guests to have a multi-sensory journey that is stitched together behind the scenes to deliver the unexpected.
Moynihan also likes working with Big Five, a luxury company that works directly with travel advisors to mix and match safari experiences, drawing from a full slate of expert operators and luxury camps. In addition, every guest is enrolled in Big Five’s White Glove Service® guest assistance program that begins two weeks before departure to help with anything from concierge services to travel emergencies.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
Go West! Some of the most beautiful places in the world are found in our own backyard — iconic landscapes such as Wyoming’s Yellowstone (our nation’s first national park), California’s Yosemite, or lesser known national parks such as Glacier in Montana.
Within or outside of national parks? National Park lodging concessions put you inside the park but with minimal frills, says Moynihan. “Most of them are older, and packed, and sell out a year in advance, especially the best rooms.” Moynihan directs clients instead to take advantage of lodges on the doorstep of national parks, that offer proximity paired with privacy, luxury and curated experiences that embody the majesty and open spaces of the American West.
Top lodges: Some of Moynihan’s faves include family-friendly Sage Lodge in Montana, 35 minutes from the northern entrance to Yellowstone. Or The Lodge and Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, which offers easy access to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and authentic Wyoming style activities such as hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing and clay shooting.
Glamping: In case this term is new to you, it means “glamorous camping.” Before you dismiss it as an oxymoron, Moynihan promises you won’t suffer. Under Canvas has safari-style tents with king-size beds, ensuite bathrooms and meal service (plus fireside s’mores) in parks including Zion and the Grand Canyon. In California, AutoCamp offers hip tents along with vintage Airstreams in Yosemite, but also scenic spots like wine country’s Russian River.
THE SEVENTH CONTINENT
Best for last: There have never been more options for getting to our southernmost point, Antarctica. This is a bucket-list trip for travelers aiming to hit all seven continents, and usually the last one they do, as it requires both time and expense.
Travel mode: Ships that ply the frigid South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans must be expedition rated, and rugged enough to deal with changing weather conditions from whiteouts to icebergs. Back in the day that made for a more rudimentary experience, says Moynihan, but today there are expedition-class ships that offer serious luxury; “Think Thomas Keller dining and spa services done in partnership with Dr Andrew Weill aboard Seabourn Quest; heated outdoor swimming pool and an onboard photo studio with classes on Silversea’s Silver Cloud; and Polar Medal winners as onboard experts during Abercrombie & Kent charters of Ponant’s 200-passenger Le Lyrial,” says Moynihan.
Plan ahead! Moynihan reminds clients that the window for sailing is short; basically November to March. And trips can book up one to three years in advance, depending on the outfitter. For best pricing, deposit early, especially if you care about securing a particular stateroom category.
Challenge: You can’t get to Antarctica without crossing the Drake Passage. One of the most intense bodies of the world, “It gets nicknamed The Drake Lake or The Drake Shake, depending on conditions,” says Moynihan, and there’s no guarantee which moniker it’ll get. Some companies, such as Seabourn, offer two-hour flights across the Drake, again weather permitting, and with a very high price tag.