Where Our Readers Want to Go

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Photo by Jordan Tourany / Shutterstock

You know, when they finally can...

When we asked our readers in December via Instagram where they wanted to go (when they finally could again), the answers were equal parts inspiring and devastating. Out of 400-plus responses, Italy surfaced a whopping 40 times, with people eager to get back to Sicily, Rome, and Florence. Japan came in second with 15 responses—we wonder how many of those were Olympic dream trips deferred—followed by “Europe,” and more specifically, Greece, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, and London. Some responses were more far flung (“Uzbekistan,” “Borneo,” “Lamu Island (Kenya)”), while others admitted to just wanting to see their mom. (Insert crying emoji.) "Home" came up seven times; for several people, home was Australia, which has had one of the stricter lockdowns during COVID. (The country may not open up to international travelers, in earnest, until 2022.) 

The answers that made us smile came with a flurry of exclamation marks and some aggressive caps lock: 

“Vietnam! Australia! Copenhagen!” 

“Anywhere! Just need to get away and relax!” 

“ALL THE PLACES!” 

We feel you, AFAR readers. We hear you. According to the U.S. Travel Association, “more than six in 10 Americans (63 percent) report that they “desperately” need a vacation after trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.” A December 2020 survey conducted with Destination Analysts also found that “close to three quarters (72 percent) of employed Americans indicated they set aside time to plan out vacation days for the coming year, and 84 percent of Americans are excited to plan a vacation in the next six months.” 

To mark National Plan for Vacation Day on January 26, we surveyed our staff and community of world travelers to find out where they aspire to go, and what kind of “lost trips” they’re making up for: the deferred 40th birthday celebrations, family reunions, and solo escapes after a year of being stuck in the house with screaming toddlers. Just to name a few. We hope this list inspires you as well, as a shot in the arm—pun very much intended—of joy. —Laura Dannen Redman

Family Reunions and Multi-Gen Trips

Courtesy The Resort at Paws Up

Time to get the band back together

Among the countless challenges of the pandemic has been our inability to see loved ones, either at all (sob) or as frequently as we would have liked. It helped us realize how time with family really matters—and how we yearn for it more than ever before. And our next time together won’t just be a typical reunion; we’ll really celebrate these gatherings by going all out.

These are some of the places and spaces AFAR staffers will head with their immediate and extended family the minute we're able, plus a few more ideas for how and where to get the band back together. 

Several of us are dreaming about a dude ranch reunion. It’s a best-of-all-worlds scenario: meeting up with our kin on sprawling properties (let’s face it: we’ll still probably need personal space) where you can choose to relax and unwind and/or embark on heart-pumping hikes and horseback rides. The scenic landscapes and luxurious cabins at the Resort at Paws Up in Montana top our list of places to get off the grid. For a ranch experience closer to home (on the West Coast), Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in California’s Santa Ynez Valley features stand-alone cottages on 10,500 acres of land. Families can reconnect with nature (and each other) on miles of horseback-riding trails and while fly fishing, canoeing, and kayaking on the property’s spring-fed lake.

For some of us, the best and easiest way to come together with our crew will be to book a tricked-out vacation rental, whether it’s these U.S.-based Airbnbs we’ve bumped to the top of our lists, remote cabins, or our favorite beach house rentals. Maybe you have your eye on the Hawaiian Islands for a vacation rental–fueled family getaway? Might we also recommend heading to the Oregon coast, getting some sun in San Diego, or hitting the hiking trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains? We’ve also compiled our favorite options for vacation rental offerings that aren’t Airbnb and offer some tips and advice for booking safe vacation rental stays during the pandemic (if things drag on longer than any of us had hoped...).

For the best of both worlds, where the space and amenities (full kitchen, anyone?) of vacation homes are combined with the services and indulgence of resort properties, it’s all about resort residences. These multi-bedroom homes and villas located within luxury hotel and resort settings make for the ultimate family vacation. A perennial favorite is Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, which features 103 stand-alone cottages, including nine private homes (with up to three bedrooms, as well as a kitchen and rooftop deck), on 28 acres of vineyard-adorned land, complete with pools, restaurants, and spa facilities.

If the islands are calling, Timbers Kauai Ocean Club and Residences features two- to four-bedroom residences on 450 acres of the island’s south shore between Lihue and Poipu. Guests have access to the pool, beach, spa, fitness center, and oceanfront dining venues. Nearby is Kukuiula, where one- to four-bedroom cottages (many with a separate guesthouse for added privacy and space) are perfect for family get-togethers in paradise. You (or a private chef) can cook meals in your home or be served island fare at the clubhouse and in nearby Poipu. There are pools, a spa, a fitness center, a farm, and water activities aplenty to keep everyone in the clan as busy or relaxed as they would like to be.

South of the border, we love the chic and colorful one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences at the Montage Los Cabos, an oasis tucked into the Santa Maria Bay on the Baja peninsula. Or rent out a multi-bedroom private casa in San Miguel de Allende at the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada, a stylish property laced with history and elegance.

If you really want to “own” your upcoming family reunion, for $5,000 per night you can rent out the entire 11-room Golden Rock Inn on the Caribbean island of Nevis, where you and your brood will be surrounded by verdant gardens and have exclusive access to the pool and on-site restaurant in this artfully restored 18th-century sugar mill. —Michelle Baran

Milestone Celebration Trips

Courtesy of Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa

The 40th birthday getaway on the horizon

“I think we need to get serious about this 40th birthday getaway.” 

So began a recent Zoom call with my college crew, a blessed transition from our usual fare of election dissection and potty-training tips. Brainstorm a long weekend away with my best girlfriends? Yes, please. But where do we start? With a date? A state? A degree Fahrenheit? “It has to be above 75 degrees,” said Alicia, who also happens to be a doctor, so there’s no way we’re disagreeing with her after the year she’s had. 

We went wild with socially distanced possibilities: an isolated island beach with a cocktail in each hand; a luxury resort by a national park; an Airbnb in wine country or the desert; a great camp in the Adirondacks. Maine! We hear Maine is lovely (but does Maine want us to visit?). We finally agreed on a few deal-breakers: It had to be warm. It had to be low key. It had to sleep 10 comfortably (i.e. not on the ground). It had to be a long weekend in October. And so, as the de facto travel agent for our group of friends, I started noodling on ideas and Doodling input. Here are a few of our top contenders:

Frontrunners: 

Marriott Homes and Villas’ five-bedroom chef’s house
Sedona, Arizona

Why we love it: It technically sleeps 14, which means we’re not crammed, but the backyard is what sold us: complete with a teepee with twin beds and a TV, a grill/smoker combo, and views of the Sedona Red Rocks. For this price (from $540/night!) and with this weather (70s and holding) and location, it’s a steal.

If it’s booked: Try the cottages at L’Auberge de Sedona; suites or casitas at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa and JW Marriott Camelback Inn Scottsdale Resort and Spa; and the studio suites at Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale.

Bishop’s Lodge
Santa Fe, New Mexico 

Why we love it: The newly renovated and reopened Auberge resort is transporting, with its historic adobe-style architecture dating back 150 years. The four-bedroom Casita and staggering 12-bedroom bunkhouse allow for entire entourages to stay together in style. Bonus: It’s on the border of the Santa Fe National Forest and minutes from downtown Santa Fe. 

Runners-up, in escalating over-the-topness: the Montage Healdsburg in Sonoma wine country; a spa escape at Miraval Austin; a crewed charter to the U.S. Virgin Islands via The Moorings; the “rainforest sanctuary buyout package” at Cielo Lodge in Costa Rica; and an all-in stay at The Point, a Great Camp in the Adirondacks, NY. —L.D.R.

Photo by lazyllama / Shutterstock
Photo by cdrin / Shutterstock

The 40th birthday trip deferred

The idea for my 40th—a weekend in New Orleans at Jazz Fest, to show my British friends the singularly lively city—came up during a Zoom call on my 39th. They were locked down in London; I was staying at home in Los Angeles. Back then, April 2021 seemed so far away. Surely things would be back to some sort of normal.

Fast forward to January 2021, past canceled summer holidays, a reduced Thanksgiving, and a completely quashed Christmas, and that optimism seems laughably misplaced. Then the organizers of Jazz Fest postponed the event until October. Cue a flurry of excited WhatsApp messages and the hope that maybe this time we could make it work.

I’m currently looking for the best Airbnbs with cancellation flexibility in the Marigny and Bywater areas of the city—less frenetic parts of town where you’ll find great food at the St. Roch Market and live music at the likes of neighborhood favourite Vaughan’s (I’m hoping Corey Henry is in town when we’re there). LAX to MSY is just $97 return on Delta. There’s a palpable sense of ‘we’ll do anything; just tell us what to book and when’ from my friends back home. The second half of this year is going to be busy. —Tim Chester

Solo + Wellness Trips

Photo by Stephane Bidouze / Shutterstock

2020 was brutal...

It messed with our minds and bodies, and dampened our spirits. But 2021, we hope, will bring restoration on all fronts. Maybe you need a solo retreat after months of being trapped  at home with young kids. Maybe you’ve been alone, but not by choice—and you’re ready for a group trip with opportunities to reflect. Maybe you just crave trees and quiet, anything that gets you away from the news. Or maybe you need a good detox after months of self-soothing with cocktails and carbs. Whatever your state, wherever you’re coming from, we’ve got you. Here, a few ways to rejuvenate this year.

If you want to work through an existential crisis: Explorer X helps people navigate life’s biggest questions through small group trips and one-on-one sessions with a designated travel coach. (Your coach will help you use your travel experiences to deepen your self-understanding, before, during, and after your trip.) To wit: What does it mean to be alone? Consider breaking that down on a trip to the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador—the “most sonically beautiful place on Earth”—with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, known for studying silence. Members of the indigenous Cofan tribe will guide you through their homelands, and Cofan’s chief and shaman will help you break down your fears and explore your connection with the world. 

If you want to “take the waters” like a 19th-century royal (but with modern tech): Swan over to Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland, where cutting-edge medical technology (stem-cell treatments and DNA testing are big here) and holistic care meet. In a tidy green campus on the shores of Lake Geneva, you can spruce up your immune system and plump up your cells through the seven-day “Revitalisation” program, which includes meal plans and activities tailored to your genetic makeup. 

If you want to reconnect with yourself or a loved one: Esalen, the famed Big Sur meditation center, will reopen March 1—but you can book its new “Creating Connection Through the Rituals of Esalen” program now. Geared toward people navigating big life changes (who isn’t, these days?), the five-day program aims to help travelers “distill their intentions and reawaken the change agents within.” Bring a partner if you like, and get ready to meditate, soak in Esalen’s mineral springs, and allow the Big Sur coastline to spark a change.

If you want to flush 2020 out of your system: The L’Albir, Spain–based SHA Wellness means business. Its 7-, 14-, or 21-day Detox programs involve a series of consultations, tests, and opaquely named sessions (intravenous liver detox, anyone?) to help flush toxins out of the system, better understand the impact of stress on the body, and help attendees establish new, healthier eating habits. But suffer you won’t: The food is reportedly delicious (artfully plated miso soup with roasted mushrooms) and you can’t beat the beachfront location on Spain’s Costa Brava.

If you want nonstop zen: Head to Sri Lanka, open once more to international travelers, for a stay at Sen Wellness Sanctuary, a yoga retreat rooted in Ayurvedic medicine—and rated one of the best in the world. Retreats include twice-daily yoga, meetings with Ayurvedic doctors, gong baths, and fire ceremonies, all of which take place in ecofriendly buildings just steps from Sri Lankan waters. 

If you want to be alone, surrounded by nothing but trees: Hike the Kumano Kodo! The Japanese trekking system is one of only two World Heritage Pilgrimage sites. Pick your route (writer Peggy Orenstein tackled the Nakahechi route in 2017), decide whether or not you want to carry your pack (you can book a service to move your gear from guesthouse to guesthouse), and get ready to meet the temples, trees, and kami (spirits) of the Kumano Kodo. —Aislyn Greene