A new year means new beginnings and fresh starts. One of my favorite things to do is to plan upcoming vacations with my family (Hawaii and Isle Royale National Park are at the top of my list). But because of their unique perspective, I really wanted to know where our airline experts plan to visit this year. Flight attendant and private chef Heather Earl put together her wish list with some far-off locations; pilot Christy Karsten is ready to check a few more destinations off her bucket list; and flight attendant Lara Ketterman wants to return to one of her favorite spots.
Here’s where that trio of airline experts is going in 2023.
1. New Zealand
This island country is filled with wondrous snow-capped mountains, tropical forests, hot springs, and even glaciers. The country is divided into two main islands, North Island and South Island, but it also boasts more than 700 smaller islands. Auckland on the North Island is the largest city in the country, with more than 1.5 million people visiting annually.
The variety of wildlife in the country brings the pages of National Geographic to life. You can swim with dolphins, watch whales, observe penguins, and even find glow worms. But it’s a biking adventure that Heather Earl is seeking during her trip this month. She normally doesn’t travel during peak seasons but she is mitigating the high tourist season obstacles by using a housesitting exchange.
Earl is an avid mountain biker and hiker. She is starting her trip in Nelson, which is a great base to enjoy the Abel Tasman Coast Track, nearby beaches, wineries, and local art galleries. Then she’s heading south to stay in Wanaka, where more hiking and mountain biking abounds. There are some epic mountain biking trails in the area with the adrenaline-pumping downhills that she dreams of, but luckily there are gorgeous trails for beginner to intermediate riders as well.
After Wanaka, Earl will spend some time in the lakeside town of Queenstown where she can explore Mount Aspiring National Park and all the dining and shopping options around the city. One of Earl’s favorite places to stay when she had little kids was Sumner, the seaside suburb of Christchurch. This laid-back little beach town is the perfect place to relax for a few days. Nice beaches, a promenade, great hiking trails, and a fun town with lots of restaurants can be found here.
Madagascar, located off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is about 743 miles east of Mozambique. A welcoming and generally safe tourist destination, it is the fourth-largest island in the world, boasting 47 national parks and reserves and one-of-a-kind animal and fauna species. Malagasy culture is a combination of African influence and the Creole culture of the Mascarene Islands.
Earl signed up for a volunteer opportunity with Fuller Center for Housing in Madagascar. The Fuller Center coordinators on site do a fantastic job of giving volunteers cultural tours and local perspective, but she is planning to venture out on her own after the weeklong build.
She will be visiting in October, which is generally warm and dry. She plans to check out the lemurs at Anja Reserve and spend a few nights trekking and exploring the rugged Andringitra National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park boasts one of the highest peaks on the island, with panoramic views, rainforests, and waterfalls. She opted for a guided outfitter to get the most out of this incredible park.
As a mountain and beach person, she will definitely be spending some downtime on several of the beautiful islands and beach communities Madagascar offers. Travel costs on the island are generally low, comparable with Southeast Asia, so she plans to splurge on some guided tours and go local with some homestays and inexpensive lodging options.
One of the best-kept secrets in the Indian Ocean, just east of Madagascar and south of Seychelles, the island nation of Mauritius boasts gorgeous beaches, mountain forests, waterfalls, and a unique culinary scene. All these attributes make this one of Earl’s top destinations for 2023.
There is a bus service on the island, but renting a car or hiring a guide will be necessary to allow her to explore some of the more remote areas of the island, including Black River Gorges National Park for hiking and wildlife viewing (with a special eye out for the famous pink pigeon).
Also on the hiking list is a climb to the top of Le Morne Brabant, a mountain in the southwest corner of the island. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a sanctuary for runaway slaves and is a strong cultural and patrimonial symbol for every Mauritian. Experienced hikers can tackle it on their own, but hiring a guide is also an option.
After all that trekking, Earl plans to head to the beaches for swimming, sea kayaking, and snorkeling. Tossing in a rum-tasting afternoon, indulgent dining, and relaxing by the beautiful blue Indian Ocean water will complete her Mauritius vacation.
4. Buenos Aires, Argentina
The capital of Argentina is a city filled with energy, endless history, and some of the best food in the world. You can enjoy walking through the colorful neighborhoods (like La Boca, featured in our list of most colorful places in Central and South America), stopping by a theater turned bookstore (more on that here), and even visiting the cemetery where Evita Peron is buried.
Pilot Christy Karsten is making this South American capital first on her travel list. She’s spending a few days here before she leaves on her 2-week cruise to the Antarctic. She found a convenient Marriott within the city to be her home base. She is planning on taking a tango lesson with her husband, enjoying fabulous bife de lomo, drinking lovely malbec wine, and touring the old city. She will follow this up with one of her favorite things to do: a local cooking class!
Pro Tip: Always arrive a few days early prior to departing on a cruise to account for unexpected flight cancelations and weather or mechanical delays.
5. The Antarctic
A trip to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This cold, dry continent is home to more than six types of seals and sea lions, seven species of penguins, eight different kinds of whales, and 40 types of birds. You can kayak in the icy waters, swim at Deception Bay, and sample a drink at the southernmost bar in the world. November through March is the best time to visit.
To visit the bottom of the world, Karsten chose a luxury cruiseliner, because she has a tendency to get seasick. The 2-day crossing of Drake Passage can be tumultuous at times. Karsten decided on Celebrity Cruises. Her cruise will make many stops, and Karsten and her husband will be able to choose Penguin tours, tours of old cities, or even walk around the Falkland Islands during a scheduled stop.
An “expedition” type boat with fewer passengers is the ship for you if you want to make landfall on mainland Antarctica. Be forewarned, expedition boats typically don’t have stabilizers, as large cruise ships do, and the ride can be brutal.
6. Cairo, Egypt
This ancient city is the capital of Egypt and home to the pyramids and the Great Sphinx. The city on the Nile is the second largest in Africa, with more than 21 million people. The history housed in its museums is definitely worth a visit, as well as a stop to Old Cario and the oldest bazaar in the city.
It’s so affordable here to hire a guide/driver for the day, making the trip effortless and safe. During this whirlwind adventure, Karsten is staying at the Marriott Mena House, literally at the footsteps of the great Pyramids of Egypt. She will spend about 3 days here, touring museums, shopping at markets, eating lovely local foods, and of course, taking a camel ride outside of the pyramids. Then she will catch a local airline and fly to Aswan. There is a sleeper train, but it sounds grueling, dirty, and very loud.
7. Nile River
A Nile cruise is a great way to experience the incredible history along the river. You can see the resting places of King Tut and Rames I. Two other popular stops are the Temple of Luxor and the mystifying Valley of the Kings and Queens.
One of the main things to determine before embarking on a Nile River cruise is the type of ship. Karsten considered taking the steamship Sudan, like Agatha Christie did, but it was too big for her. She is opting for a 5-day dahabiya Nile cruise. A dahabiya boat provides a very basic, low-key, and intimate way to travel the Nile between Aswan and Luxor. The amazing thing about these boats is the number of passengers, about 20. The passengers eat together and share the open space on the top deck to view the Nile. These smaller boats beach on the shore of the Nile, and everyone from your ship walks to the site. On Karsten’s cruise, an egyptologist travels with you on the boat and at every site.
Jordan is located in the Middle East. It borders Syria to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the northeast, and Israel and Palestine to the west. The Dead Sea is also located on its western border, and Jordan also has a small coastline along the Red Sea.
Note: It’s important you understand some of the customs and traditions before visiting.
Karsten has three main stops in Jordan. She is hiring a guide and heading for a float in the Dead Sea. Then she will zip over to Petra and tour this amazing site. This entire adventure ends at Wadi Rum, where she will experience sleeping in the desert.
Pro Tip: Karsten suggests picking up a journal for each location. She has one for each stop to write down her hotel and flight information, phone numbers, and special notes. She says it’s a little old school and will use her phone as a backup.
9. Richmond, Virginia
The capital of Virginia offers a storied past, and it’s surrounded by tall trees, fertile farmland, and delicious seafood from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. The history and outdoor adventures are a draw for anyone wanting to step back in time.
Lara Ketterman is looking forward to returning to Richmond. She has mapped out several great stops you might want to add to your summer plans.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is in the Museum District. She plans to stay there, as you can walk to pubs, cute outdoor restaurants, and grocery stores. The museum is known for having the largest collection of Faberge in America.
The James River is also a place to put on your list. You can kayak to explore the canals next to the river. It has a quiet forest feel right in the city; glide along, truly enjoying the water and nature. Then walk in the footsteps of Pocahontas when you visit Henricus Historical Park, where she was converted to the Anglican faith in the early 1600s. Today it is a living history museum and has prime walking and hiking. Another fun thing to try is the Let’s Roam scavenger hunt. This creative tour teaches you about the city’s history and helps you explore the Virginia State Capitol.
Richmond is filled with fantastic places to dine. Start out your day at Millie’s Diner. Frequently voted a favorite brunch stop, Mille’s is known for its “messes,” delicious open-faced omelets. Lunch might lure you to Carytown Burger And Fries. The building itself has a story to tell, but wait until you try the burgers. Carytown offers something for everyone, including vegetarian and vegan options. If you even have a little room for dessert, swing by Proper Pie Co. The Meyer lemon, ginger, and blackberry pie sounds absolutely delicious!