"what is my one favorite place in the world?." But I always come back to the same response - "it depends on my mood!" Today, I'm in the mood for India.
A lot of people ask me if we can really run legal trips to Cuba. My answer is, yes of course U.S. Citizens can travel to Cuba legally. Zoom Vacations has already hosted a few trips to Cuba in the last year alone, permitted by a People-to-People Cultural Exchange license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, and is offering a third in October of this year.
This program is an exception to the embargo laws banning U.S. Citizens from traveling to Cuba. First offered by the Clinton Administration for a brief period, the Obama Administration has allowed the program to once again continue in order to encourage more contact between Americans and citizens of the Communist-ruled island.
This means that you can now fly from the U.S. mainland directly (most usually from Miami) and can come back the same way, and clear U.S. Customs and Immigrations as if you were flying in from London. You are also allowed to bring back books, art and music without violating the embargo laws. Of course, this program of legal travel to Cuba by U.S. Citizens can be withdrawn at any time by the U.S., especially with a change of administration.
Traveling to Cuba with Zoom Vacations is easy, legal, and educational. To do it otherwise could mean civil penalties of several thousand dollars and/or criminal prosecution.
Myanmar is the newest Zoom Vacations destination (March 12-18, 2015). For sometime now I had been waiting for the right time to visit Myanmar, which many had told me is a very special country. Sandwiched between India, China and Thailand, Myanmar has been influenced to some degree by the best of these 3 iconic cultures.
Myanmar is called the Golden Land because there is always a 24 karat golden domed pagoda within eyesight. For 50 years after English colonialism ended, Myanmar was sheltered and isolated by various dictatorships and military governments. Until recently the country had seen very little tourism within its poor tourism infrastructure. Today, however, Myanmar is quickly developing a luxury tourism infrastructure that is putting it on the bucket list of every discerning traveler. Recently, Zoom Vacations was honored to be one of only 17 international travel professionals and media to be invited on the inaugural sailing of the 5 Star M/V Sanctuary Ananda from Mandalay to Bagan.
What I discovered along the way is a country of charming, hospitable, deeply spiritual and accepting people. Truth be told, what made the trip so enjoyable for me was the ability to travel on the Ananda along the Ayeryawaddy River, visit temples, markets and villages, then return to the comfort of the Ananda. The Ananda is the newest most stylish boat on the Ayeryawaddy. But in addition to the luxurious surroundings, another thing in which the Ananda excels is the food. The kitchen is personally overseen by the former executive chef at the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental. He was even kind enough to offer an onboard cooking demonstration and shared his love of cooking and simple, yet mouth watering Thai soup recipe. Every meal was something to look forward to and nothing (except for some breakfast dishes) was ever repeated. Lunch and dinner were perfectly paired with just the right wines every day.
But Myanmar is not just about the Ayeryawaddy River. There are also Inle Lake, a picturesque fishing community, and Yangon, with its bourgeoning art scene. Plus, of course the Chinatown night market, reclining Buddha, and Scotts Market, which are also to be seen and experienced.
Today, Myanmar is quickly developing a luxury tourism infrastructure that is putting it on the bucket list of every discerning traveler. For instance, three years ago Myanmar saw 300,000 visitors; this year there are 2 million visitors and counting.
Myanmar is also perfectly combined with Laos and or Thailand. Contact me for more information.
A l lot of people ask us how Zoom Vacations chooses a group trip destination and how we develop a trip.
Zoom Vacations chooses a trip destination the same way that it develops a trip - thru in-person research and relationship building. Every Zoom Vacations tour begins with a research trip to the prospective tour destination to assess whether it is gay-friendly, the variety of accommodations and activities available, as well as physical beauty and appeal of the destination.
There is no substitute for getting a feel for a destination in-person, walking thru every step of a future trip and face to face relationship building. This translates into a better experience for our guests. Every Zoom Vacation is a combination of carefully orchestrated activities and events as well as free time to explore the destination. Therefore, I am constantly traveling the world in search of the next perfect destination and to better understand how to make our next Zoom Vacations trip a success. Next on my list; Myanmar and Laos.
Human beings are instinctively obsessed with the past and future, life and death, the yin and the yang. These reasons are why China is such a fascinating place to visit at the moment.
I just returned from China and was once again reminded why it is a country that shows you much about your past and gives us a glimpse of how the future will look. So much of what we eat, do, think, and how we live today took root in China many years ago. For instance, pasta has been incorporated into many of the world's delicious cuisines and without which many of the scrumptious Italian dishes would not be the same; paper which lead to books, printing and a vehicle by which to educate; silk which is omnipresent in fashion and house wears; iron and steel which is found in almost everything we use today and without which we could not build skyscrapers, large ships and bridges and other important structures; porcelain dishes on which we eat today; Buddhism's various philosophies such as Buddhism and feng shui.
China is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. While the Chinese are proud of their legacy, they are busy creating a new future for themselves and the world. China is changing so quickly that the China we know today will probably be a different place in our lifetime. The Chinese thinking is also changing almost as quickly as the urban landscape. Every time I return to Beijing and Shanghai I am amazed by the newest skyscraper and the ever present cranes, which guides love to refer to as China's new national bird. China is also taking steps to decrease pollution in Beijing which is a source of a lot of discussion.
China is a fascinating country. The time to go is now. Zoom Vacations recently upgraded all hotel offerings in China with the best service and locations at each destination. Check out the detailed itinerary and you will see why.
Before you take a trip, it is always a good idea to talk to friends who have been to the destination, and pick their brains for tips and ideas of what to do, and the best places to stay and eat. Especially if you have a lot in common with them, or travel the same way, their advice can be invaluable.
One word of caution. When someone tells you the name of a hotel where you just have to stay, or a restaurant that is the best restaurant in town, you always have to remember that destinations are not static, and the latest and greatest thing to see when you friend visited may not be the latest and greatest thing now.
New hotels pop up or older properties go through extensive renovations almost every year in virtually every city in the world.
So, by all means, talk to your friends, but always stay open to your own adventure.
We travel to places that we perceive to be safe and desirable and limit our travel experiences to exclude places that we perceive as unsafe and undesirable.
Sometimes this is because the perception has not caught up with reality. Such was my realization during a recent research trip to Nicaragua. Once a civil war torn nation, Nicaragua has become the darling of the travel industry in Central America.
Recently named by Conde Nast Traveller as one of the Top 10 destinations to watch in 2014 and considered a safe haven in Central America by The Economist, Nicaragua possesses abundant natural verdant beauty, incredible volcanoes, gorgeous beaches, UNESCO colonial towns, excellent paved roads, lovely people, and up-and-coming gay-friendly boutique to ultra luxury hotels, and is less than a 2.5 hour flight from the USA. All of this at very affordable prices. Look for our upcoming trip to Nicaragua!
When I look back on 2013, it is interesting to review which memories stand outfor me. It wasn't any of the bigger purchases I made.
No, the first and most important things that come to mind are several of the trips I took, and the unique experiences I had in those destinations.
A few highlights include watching a cheetah stalk an impala in South Africa, drinking caipirinhas with new friends on the beach in Rio at sunset, and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Traveling has the power to inspire the mind, heal the soul, and energize the body. It gives us great memories to think about when things aren't going well, and it helps us create tighter bonds with the people who matter to us. Just like people matter more than things, to me travel matters more than things.
We have had guests on our tours whose lives have been changed for the better because of the unique travel experiences they have had or due to relationships they have built through traveling. And the more you travel, the more you make connections between similar things in different countries.
Traveling isn't merely a part of a fun life. It is an essential part of a healthy life, and maybe even a healthy planet. I am reminded of one of my favorite travel quotes:
"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
~ Maya Angelou