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Why We Go – A Love Letter to Adventurers

Why We Go

A Love Letter to Adventurers

by Allison Villasenor

Dear Fellow Traveler,

There I was, standing on the edge; standing on the platform, harnessed safely with multiple cords, looking out into the horizon and then – I went. I did it. I jumped into the incredible, breathtaking Kawarau River in the place where bungee jumping was invented. My arms dunked into the water and I bounced up, opening my eyes to the beauty around me.

At that point, looking back, the adventure was just beginning.

But, adventure doesn’t have to be adrenaline and thrill. Sometimes it comes in the form of an unexpected connection; bridging the language gap by using animated, broken English at the train station in Italy, or tasting deep-fried scorpion on the streets of Bangkok. Sometimes adventure lies in the form of a new friendship forged at a local café over a shared love of lattes. Sometimes it lies at the end of a trail hike in Peru.

After over 15 years of traveling, my best travel advice to all you travelers and wanderlusters is to go. To do it. To let the journey take you. Stop by the roadside fruit stand and meet the family who makes their living there. Pop into the art shop and speak to the artist, ask the questions on the tip of your tongue.

You’ll uncover that while life is different in another part of the world, we are all locals and our similarities far outweigh our differences. Exposure to people and places is a great gift – take it. Embrace the experience and widen your world view.

And it’s not always the locals. It’s often those with whom share your journey, who will make a difference in your life. This is why I love small group travel. Adventure travelers come from all backgrounds, all ages and all geographies – but it’s our shared love of discovery that connects us. We crave new experiences and exciting interactions. Taking an adventure together can forge friendships, strengthen relationships, and create incredible memories.

My husband and I traveled in a small group around the world. Our “crew” has since become life-long friends who can’t wait for the next chapter in our travels. Together, we’ve conquered flat tires on the plains of Africa, sunburns on the beaches of Thailand and glacier hikes in New Zealand. What’s next for us? We’ll celebrate a few 40th birthdays in Greece!

Travel is powerful. It helps you uncover the commonalities that exist between cultures, the strangers who become friends, and the heart-filling understanding that there is so much joy and love in the world.

I promise, when you take that leap and toss yourself into an epic adventure, you’ll surprise yourself. And for that alone, we go.

Your fellow adventurer – Allison

Allison Villasenor is the Managing Director for Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations. Club Adventures offers a lineup of small group adventure tours, helping Members to explore the world through a local lens. An avid discoverer and lover of connections, Allison has traveled the world in search of authentic travel experiences for over 15 years. In her role, Allison guides strategic vision, product development, sales and operations.


Why Jordan Should Be At The Top Of Your Bucket List

Before my recent visit to Jordan, everything I knew about the country could be condensed into one scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom! But Jordan is more than Petra and a Hollywood blockbuster, so I set out to uncover the rest.

My trip to Jordan with Club Adventures (small group travel) was like stepping into a time machine, visiting ancient sites that have hardly changed in thousands of years. Club Adventures created a brilliant itinerary hitting all the highlights, but the adventures were ours to create in the Roman ruins of Jerash, the golden sand desert of Wadi Rum and the colorful coral reefs of the Red Sea.

The first full day of our adventure tour brought our small group of seven to the Wadi Rum desert. A protected site in Jordan, this desert is home to the Bedouin people and was like no other place I had ever been. Wadi Rum’s hundreds of miles of golden sand, rocky caverns and steep chasms awaited. The very first thing we did was meet a few new friends that would transport us across the desert -- our camels!

 

We each took turns climbing aboard our camels and after finding our balance, we wiggled and bumped our way toward the horizon. Most of the group had never ridden on a camel before and it was a little bumpier than anticipated. But with much laughter, we found our groove soon enough.

While camels are one of the most authentic ways to cross the desert landscape, it’s not the fastest. To go deeper into Wadi Rum, we transferred to a much faster way to travel, a Jeep tour!

Our vehicles were able to race across the sand and bring us to hidden spots we’d never be able to find on our own. We climbed up the canyons to some of the most breathtaking views in the desert. Also known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum has been the filming locations to several notable movies like Star Wars, The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.

We spent several hours exploring the desert, and we didn’t even scratch the surface of all there was to see. Since the sun was starting to set, it was time to check into our accommodations for the night - a real Bedouin camp. The Bedouins have lived here for thousands of years and today, they lead the camel and jeep tours and open up overnight camps for tourists to experience Wadi Rum at night. I had never stayed overnight in the desert before, and this was one of the activities I was looking forward to most. When we arrived we were greeted by the family who own the site who welcomed us with open arms.

 

We sat around the campfire drinking tea (as you will do many times when visiting Jordan) and reminiscing about our favorite parts of the day. When it was time for bed, I wandered away from the site to experience darkness without light pollution. I have never felt so small than I did standing alone in the quiet desert. The light from a billion stars lit the sky. I couldn’t believe this was just the first day.

The next day of our small group tour brought us to Aqaba for a full day of shopping, sailing and snorkeling. If you’re planning on buying any souvenirs for your friends, or maybe a couple of knick knacks for yourself, Aqaba is the place to do it. Folks from all around Jordan come to Aqaba to do their shopping because there is no tax in this city and there are shops and markets on every street. Our Club Adventures guide, Mousa, took us to all his favorite shops and introduced us to a few of his friends who gave us great deals on scarves. My only concern was how I was going to fit 15 more scarves into my suitcase. Bring an extra bag for goodies if you’re so inclined!

Later, we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and the Red Sea on our own private yacht. After our epic day of climbing sand dunes and giant rock formations in Wadi Rum, it was nice to lay back and relax with the sea breeze blowing in our hair, but we didn’t rest for too long. Our guides showed us two beautiful coral reef sites and we suited up and began to explore.

 

The marine life was diverse and different than what I’m used to seeing in the U.S.! Lionfish, sea turtles, jellyfish and pufferfish were all waiting for us beneath the surface. We spent several hours exploring the sea before the sun started to set and I could feel all the muscles in my legs say, “Hey, could you take it easy? I think you’ve swam every inch of the Red Sea!”

The next day, I was excited to finally see what drew me to Jordan in the first place - Petra! My groupmates chatted on the bus about what we were most looking forward to. “How big will it look in person? Should we ride a donkey down to the Treasury? Will you take my photo in front of EVERYTHING?”

I’m so happy we had Mousa to explain the history of Petra. The walk to the Treasury usually takes about 45 minutes, but since he knew so much about the history and markings on every rock, it took us a little longer. I felt bad for everyone zooming past us. I wanted to grab them and tell them what they were missing.

Suddenly, there it was - the Treasury. Petra’s most famous photograph! It was bigger and better than I expected and so easy to see why it’s the most popular destination in Jordan and one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. The magnificent rock carved structure has been around since 312 BC and was the capital city of Nabataens. I couldn’t help but image what it would have been like to live in Petra all those years ago. There are 800 structures that have been discovered so far, so we still had a ton to see. Continuing down the path towards the Roman Theater and the Monastery, there were far fewer tourists. I think many folks don’t realize that the Treasury is only the beginning! Mousa gave us insight into all the rock-carved facades, which ones were tombs and which were places of worship. And of course Mousa knew the best places to stop for lunch. (Super important on a 10+ mile day!)

After learning so much about Petra, we had some free time to explore on our own. I split off from the group and walked into every cave I could find. I was feeling like Indiana Jones so it only felt right that I search for the Holy Grail. Only around 15 percent of Petra has been explored by archaeologists so far. Maybe next time I visit the Rose Red City there will be even more to see.

 

 

Later that same night, the group returned to the Treasury to experience Petra by night. The Siq path is lighted by 1,500 candles leading up to the Treasury. The walk is peaceful, with little more than the sound of footsteps shuffling in the sand. The path led us back to the Treasury, which looked completely different than earlier in the day. Now it was illuminated by hundreds of candles, glowing red. We settled onto cushions on the ground and listened to the Bedouins playing music and telling stories. It was a great way to step back from the bustling day version of Petra to really appreciate the magnificent place we were in.

We definitely didn’t see all of Petra, so it only made sense that we had two days to explore the site. We had a another full day to explore on our own, but Mousa told us he knew of a trail with spectacular views of Petra, and we couldn’t say no to that! He talked us all into the four hour hike up and down mountains, through crevices, to what he promised would be the best views in the world. And it was definitely worth the hike! The walk through Petra’s main entrance is packed full of tourists, but our extra special tour was just for our Club Adventures crew. After our hike Mousa said we’ve seen places only Bedouins and locals have seen and I’m so grateful he talked us into it!

That evening we all took a cooking class at the Petra Kitchen. I don’t cook often, but the chefs made it so easy to learn how to prepare traditional Jordanian dishes. I did great! We made baba ganoush, tahini salad, fattoush and Maqluba, all things I had never heard of before this tour, and all new foods I was able to try. I have never eaten so much food in my life. And I was especially proud because we cooked it all, so I felt quite the sense of accomplishment. I’m excited to take this skill home with me and try it out on my friends.

I’d been so excited to see Petra that leaving was tough, but I knew we had a ton more to see and experience in Jordan. We drove toward Madaba to see the world’s oldest map of the Holy Land. Sometime between 542 to 570 AD, this huge mosaic map of Jerusalem was created in the apse of the church of St. George. Even with 2 million pieces of colored stone, the map is only about 25 percent of the original size. What remains sheds light on ancient life in this region.

Up next on our itinerary was a place I didn’t even know existed - the ancient Roman City of Jerash. With an unbroken chain of inhabitants, it’s unbelievable how well preserved these ruins are. We walked down streets and sat on the same benches as the people who built this place thousands of years ago.

 

Our last day in Jordan brought us to the Dead Sea. It’s one of the most bizarre and photo-worthy things to do in Jordan, if not the world. From the moment my feet plopped from the bottom of the sea to the surface, I bobbed like a cork with no effort on my part. What a strange feeling to be weightless, a result of the extremely high salinity in the water.

For just 3 dinars, you can experience the most unique spa treatment in the world, a DIY Dead Sea mud massage. I was the only one in the group brave enough to cover myself head-to-toe with the nutrient-rich mud. Visitors come from all around the world for a one-of-a-kind spa day and I wasn’t going to pass that up. It did feel a bit slimy, but my after 15 minutes I felt like a new person and my skin glowed.

From Jerash to the Dead Sea to Petra to Wadi Rum to Aqaba, traveling around Jordan with Club Adventures was such a fun experience I’m a little sad to leave it in the rear view mirror. I hope I’ve convinced you to put Jordan at the top of your bucket list, it truly is a place full of uncovered treasures.

Rachel Orth, AngieAway.com


Flavorful Forays: 10 Places Around the World Where You Must Try the Food

Nothing brings out the foodie in anyone more than a trip abroad. Every Anthony Bourdain wannabe knows that to truly experience a culture, you must experience its cuisine. Here are 10 places to travel and savor every bite along the way.

1. Japan

Everyone knows Japan for its sushi – in fact, the dish is now ubiquitous in many parts of the world. Sushi isn’t the only delicacy hailing from this Asian nation. Head to Osaka, home of takoyaki (balls of savory batter filled with diced octopus), or to Hiroshima for okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with eggs, cabbage and other ingredients.

2. Singapore

Singapore’s long history as a major trading port of Asia has influenced its palate, fusing the culinary styles of the Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions. It’s easy to sample it all at Singapore’s famed food hawker centers, found in many spots around the island city-state, serving everything from entry-level Hainanese chicken rice to spicy laksa noodles.

Read more about traveling to Singapore.

3. Philippines

With roots in Malay tribes, the former Spanish-turned-American colony now has an independent identity that is influenced by its past – especially in its cuisine, where the flavor profiles are salty, savory and sour. Sisig – spiced minced pig head and liver served on a sizzling platter with a tangy splash of calamansi (Philippine lime) – is a culinary crowd-pleaser.

4. Montreal

France meets North America by way of the Canadian province of Quebec, where the French influence on provincial cuisine is evident. However, the quintessential Montrealer dish is poutine, a platter of french fries smothered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds. Some eateries even take this base recipe and add on another true Montreal delicacy: smoked meat.

5. Italy

Pasta is often associated with Italian cuisine, with so many varieties hailing from different regions. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: Eat bucatini all’amatriciana, a typical pasta dish of Italy’s capital city – with pecorino Romano cheese, of course. When in Piedmont, have agnolotti with white truffles. When in Tuscany, do gigli with a nice ragu.

6. Spain

Beyond the Valencia-born paella, there are many other must-try dishes when traveling through the 17 autonomous regions that comprise Spain. In Catalonia, sample the noodles of fideua de peix. Up north, try polbo a feira, an octopus recipe from Galicia. Want to sample a variety of dishes in one sitting? Order tapas – small plates intended to share.

Read about food and sights in Barcelona, Spain.

7. Hungary

Hungry in Hungary? There are delicious ways to satisfy your craving with classic dishes like chicken paprikash or goulash, a traditional stew of meat, potatoes and vegetables. If you’re a fan of all things fried, a real favorite is langos – a deep-fried bread typically smothered in a garlicky cream sauce and cheese. Add bacon, if you’d like.

8. France

France is synonymous with good food; so much so that the English word “gourmet” is borrowed from French. Each region of the country boasts a proud local cuisine, so you’re bound to find a great meal wherever you travel, from the fish bouillabaisse of Provence to the coq au vin of the Burgundy region. Bon appetit!

9. Thailand

There’s spicy and then there’s Thai spicy, which is a whole other level of heat. If you’re keen on embracing it as the locals do, go beyond the trite orders of pad thai by dining on panang gai (chicken in a spicy red curry from the southern region) or yum jin gai (a spicy chicken soup from the north).

Read our tips for traveling in Southeast Asia.

10. Peru

Peru’s dishes are as diverse as its landscapes. Citrusy ceviche, a popular seafood dish, hails from the shore, while papas a la huancaina (potatoes in a creamy yellow pepper sauce) are farmland fresh. Meat eaters on their way back from Machu Picchu will appreciate a tender steak of alpaca, a lean red meat similar to bison.

Now that you know what to order in these countries, make sure you show your manners. Check out our slideshows on the appropriate behavior when dining in some of these countries.


Asia Tour Packages for Foodies: 10 Essential Eats in Tokyo

Whether you are researching Asia tour packages or are planning a solo adventure, don’t miss these Japanese staples at Tokyo’s most essential restaurants.

Tokyo is one of the world’s premiere destinations for food tourism. From street food staples like ramen and gyoza to high end sushi and Michelin-rated restaurants, Tokyo has something for every palate and budget.

1. Ramen at Karashibimisoramen Kikanbo

Some fans say that Karashibimisoramen Kikanbo (known as Kikanbo) has the best ramen in all of Tokyo, while others say it has the best ramen in all of the world. Either way, Kikanbo’s ultra-spicy miso ramen will make heat lovers feel right at home. Only the bravest visitors order ramen “demon demon” style, which cranks up the heat with not one, but two too-hot-to-handle spices.

2. Sushi at Sawada

If sushi is an art, then Chef Sawada is one of its masters. Chef Sawada prepares his sushi omakase style, which means that there is no menu. He decides what to serve based on what ingredients are fresh that day and the rapport he’s built with his guests. Guests can expect dinner and a show at this Michelin-starred restaurant while they watch Chef Sawada deftly assemble piece after piece of seafood-and-rice masterpieces.

3. Tempura at Ten-ichi

Ten-ichi elevates battered, deep-fried tempura to a dining experience good enough for guests like Frank Sinatra, Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton. You’ll be mesmerized by the ease with which Chef Suzuki flips battered seafood around a pan of boiling oil using only his chopsticks. A reservation is your best chance for dining at Ten-ichi and sitting next to an international dignitary.

4. Tonkatsu at Tonki

After almost 80 years of preparing the deep-fried breaded pork dish known as tonkatsu, Tonki has it down to a science. From the decor to the menu, simplicity is the modus operandi at Tonki. Guests choose between rōsu-katsu (fatty) or hire-katsu (lean) meat and then wait twenty-or-so minutes for it to slow cook. The end result is piping-hot tonkatsu accompanied by rice, shredded cabbage (the traditional side dish), miso soup and spicy mustard.

5. Gyoza at Harajuku Gyozaro

If dumplings are your guilty pleasure then add Harajuku Gyozaro (also known as Harajuku Gyoza Lou) to your list of must-try restaurants while visiting Tokyo. Harajuku Gyozaro’s simple menu offers gyoza two ways: fried or steamed. At about $3 for six pieces, you can afford to try them both. Fans say that these juicy dumplings are tasty enough to be eaten without any sauces. Come hungry, but not too hungry as there is usually a wait at this popular spot.

6. Matcha at Kosoan

Kosoan is the perfect retreat from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle. The teahouse is built inside of a traditional Japanese house – complete with a perfectly landscaped garden. Take a seat on the floor at a traditional low table and enjoy the serenity of the garden while sipping on matcha, tea made of ground green tea leaves, paired with a seasonal sweet.

7. Teppanyaki at Hakushu

Called the “Holy Grail for meat lovers” by one fan, Hakushu prepares Japan’s finest kobe and wagyu beef teppanyaki-style. Teppanyaki involves cooking on an iron griddle, much like hibachi. Hakushu is a multi-generational family operation so if you’re lucky, grandma will cook for you. Reservations are highly recommended as foodies come from all over the world to try this Japanese steakhouse.

8. Udon at Udon Shin

From ramen to udon, Tokyo is a noodle-lover’s paradise. Udon noodles are ramen noodles’ thicker, chewier cousins. Udon Shin in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood is known for its hand-made noodles that are cut and cooked to order. Guests can enjoy udon two ways: served cold with a side of tempura or served hot in soup-form topped with beef.

9. Pastries at Hidemi Sugino

Paris may be the first metropolis that comes to mind when conversation goes to pastries, so you so you may be surprised to learn that Tokyo’s patisseries are equally as delicious. Chef Hidemo Sugino, who was named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef in 2015, is best known for his mousses. You’ll want to photograph these sweet treats before eating them because they look as good as they taste.

10. Japanese breakfast at Tsukiji Shouro

Whether you’ve planned your trip to Tokyo yourself or are visiting Japan via Asia tours, you’ll need a hearty breakfast to prepare you for exploring. Instead of bacon and eggs, a traditional Japanese breakfast consists of rice, miso soup and seafood. For something a bit more familiar head to Tsukiji Shouro for tomagoyaki, Japanese omelette made of several layers of rolled up eggs. You’ll be able to find tomagoyaki filled with anything from chicken to pickled plums at Tsukiji Shouro.

See Tokyo and the best that Asia has to offer on AAA’s Asia tours. Click here to explore our Asia tour packages.


The Wonders of Nepal

11 day tour, from $2,299