Going places: Tour operators create life-enhancing experiences for travelers

Karen Rubin
Finland, one of the five top “happiness”countries, is also the destination for Northern Lights experiences. Off the Map has created a program where you can view the Aurora Borealis from your own glass-topped igloo cabin. (Photo by Tundrea)

By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Who can’t use a little extra happiness now?

Tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) offer itineraries to destinations around the world, including the top five countries from the United Nations’ annual World Happiness Report for 2021.

Each year, happiness is measured by the United Nations through a complex process, integrating metrics such as social support, life expectancy, income per capita, and more. In 2021, the top five countries were Finland in first place, followed by Iceland in second place, then Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

“Our tour operator members always make travelers smile, by handling all the logistics, ensuring peace of mind through trip protection and guaranteed accommodations, while offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences that travelers might not find on their own,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA.

What is more, travelers who experience what makes these places score so high in happiness bring these ideas back home.

Here is a sampling of itineraries for clients who want to visit the top five happiness countries with some of the most smile-inducing operators around.

1. Finland – The Northern Lights of Finland with Collette takes travelers on a hunt for the elusive North Lights in Finland, with a culture and history tour of Helsinki, three nights in rugged Lapland, a reindeer safari, and dog sledding. Accommodations include stays in a glass igloo in the wilderness and a Finnish log cabin. Departures are available between November 2021 and March 2022 for seven nights, starting at $3,199 per person.
2. Iceland – Iceland Escape: Golden Circle & Whale Watching with Great Value Vacations is a four-night trip that includes whale watching at sea, a full day tour of the beautiful Golden Circle, and an excursion to the renowned Fontana Baths to bathe in mineral-rich geothermal waters. Departures are available throughout 2021 and 2022 starting at $1,388 per person.
3. Denmark – Denmark Self-Drive: Copenhagen, Roskilde, Odense & Arhus with Goway Travel is perfect for independent travelers who want to travel at their own pace on an eight-day self-drive tour. The itinerary takes guests through Copenhagen’s museums, the zoo in Odense, and Europe’s Capital of Culture, Arhus. Departures are available throughout 2021 and 2022 starting at $1,307 per person.
4. Switzerland – The Best of Switzerland with Globus is a vacation out of a storybook, with fresh Alpine air, Swiss chocolates, chalet-dotted hillsides, and lush green farmland. Guests will enjoy an eight-day trip beginning and ending in Zürich with stops at Lake Como, Lake Geneva, and more. Departures are available to book between 2021 – 2023 starting at $2,699 per person.
5. Netherlands – Grand tour of the Netherlands with Audley Travel explores the Netherlands for ten days with bicycle tours, visits to the famous windmills, a sunset canal cruise through Amsterdam, and a pottery class at Delftware pottery. Departures are available throughout 2021 and 2022 starting at $5,455 per person.

Find all itineraries offered by USTOA tour operators at www.ustoa.travelstride.com

For more information on USTOA, visit www.ustoa.com, call 212-599-6599, or email information@ustoa.com.

View the Aurora Borealis from Glass-Topped ‘Igloo Cabins’ in Finnish Lapland

The new Stars of Scandinavia tour from Off the Map Travel takes visitors to two locations in Finland known for exceptional Aurora viewing. The six-day tour features accommodations in new luxurious igloo-style, glass-roofed cabins with a striking presence against the Finnish tundra. Guests can lie on the luxe queen-sized beds in comfort and warmth while experiencing the magic of the Northern Lights overhead. Rooms have been specially outfitted with low-level red lighting to enable guests’ eyes to adjust to the night sky.

The program begins in Tromso, Norway and travels first to Kilpisjärvi, Finland where the new two-story Wow House “igloo” cabins face North for optimal viewing of the Northern Lights. Just 30 miles from the Arctic Ocean, Kilpisjärvi, with a population of a little over 100 residents, has virtually no light pollution.

The second stop travels south to Rovaniemi, Finland, the capital of Lapland, located right on the Arctic Circle. Here the Lappish Kammi Suites have been ecologically designed to provide both clear viewing of the Aurora and sustainable accommodations. The igloo design extends to full glass domes over the bedroom on the mezzanine level for clear viewing of the night sky.

Daytime activities offer a range of Lapland adventure with dogsledding, a fat bike tour over the frozen tundra, and snowmobiling to the border point of Norway-Finland-Sweden to meet reindeer and indigenous people in an exploration of Sami culture.

The six-day/five-night “Stars of Scandinavia” tour is priced starting at £179 5 ($2454 USD per person at the time of writing), based on double occupancy, including some meals, all transfers, four-star accommodations in Tromso, four nights in luxury glass-roofed “igloos,” and all activities. Airfare is additional. The tour is available from December 2021 through March 2021.

The new concept was developed by travel experts at Off the Map Travel who recognized a desire for visitors to experience an exciting, socially distanced holiday.

“With two top locations for viewing the Northern Lights, plus a range of outdoor activities, we can offer a trip that’s both fulfilling and safe,” noted Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel. “The snowy magic of Lapland makes for a special winter experience.”

Specializing in soft adventure, the team at Off the Map Travel creates tailor-made itineraries offering authentic experiences that allow people to explore hidden wonders of our planet.

For more information on Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call +44 (0) 800 566 8901; email info@offthemap.travel or join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest.

New Week-long Galapagos Glamping Plus Island Hopping Adventure

The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel (on Santa Cruz Island) has joined forces with Scalesia Galapagos Lodge (on Isabela Island) to offer a new week-long program in the Galapagos. Highlights include touring Quito’s Old City, glamping in safari camp-style tents, snorkeling with sea turtles, hiking active volcanoes, visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station and tortoise breeding facility, and exploring islands by motor yacht.

The tour begins in Quito, Ecuador’s charming Andean capital, where guests spend a night in an ornate Renaissance-inspired mansion in the heart of the Old City. Next, travel by air to Isabela Island, taking in the breathtaking scenery from a twin engine light aircraft, before ascending into the highland forests that envelop luxury safari-style tents at Scalesia Galapagos Lodge. Nearby volcanic islands of twisted lava and sparkling sandy coves can be explored, with daily excursions from the lodge to encounter the graceful marine creatures and trusting wildlife that make the archipelago so unique. The tour finishes off at the stylish Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, located on a tranquil beach within easy reach of the region’s oldest and most beautiful islets.

Scalesia Galapagos Lodge is situated in the highlands of Isabela Island on the slopes of a volcano, about 20 minutes from the town of Puerto Villamil. The modern, luxurious, safari-style tent resort is in the middle of 16 a hectare (40 acre) property of a magical forest with a spectacular view of the coast of Isabela Island, the Pacific Ocean, and other Islands of Galapagos dotting the horizon. https://www.scalesialodge.com/

Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel is a beachfront base from which you can discover the wildlife of the islands aboard its private yacht and create your own adventures on land and sea. https://www.finchbayhotel.com/.

Prices start at $4,658 per person double. The program is available year-round.

For more information, visit Scalesia Galapagos Lodge, www.scalesialodge.com.

Travelers Become Citizen Scientists on Earthwatch Expeditions

Earthwatch, which since 1971 has enabled travelers to actively participate as citizen scientists in important research expeditions and projects around the world, is back with a catalog of expeditions you can join that have been organized to be COVID-19 safe.

You get to experience hands-on science in some of the most astounding locations in the world, and join a community of like-minded travelers and help to safeguard critical habitats, conserve biodiversity, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources.

Four of Earthwatch’s Costa Rica expeditions are now COVID-ready:

Costa Rican Sea Turtles: Las Baulas National Park provides critical habitat for the Eastern Pacific population of leatherback sea turtles. Join researchers in investigating the population’s rapid decline by attaching transmitters to track sea turtles over long distances, surveying their habitat, and relocating eggs from nests in dangerous spots.

Conserving Wild Bees and Other Pollinators of Costa Rica: Costa Rica is home to more than 400 species of native wild bees and 50 species of hummingbirds – pollinators that support the country’s food resources. Join researchers deep within Costa Rica’s rainforests to investigate how threats to bees and butterflies will affect the critical pollination services they provide.

Marine Mammals and Predators in Costa Rica: Join researchers in the pristine blue waters of Gulfo Dulce to track dolphins and whales. Identify and document marine mammals and other species and conduct fishing surveys. The data you collect will aid scientists in developing conservation plans to protect the marine biodiversity in the gulf.

Tracking Caterpillars in Tropical Forests: Deep within the rainforests of Costa Rica, help scientists to untangle the complicated web of interactions between caterpillars, the plants they eat, the parasitoids that eat them, and the changes in climate that will reshape the rainforest. Hike off-trail to gather caterpillars and samples of their food plants, then examine them in the field lab.

Visit the website for a detailed breakdown of Earthwatch’s COVID-19 Safety Measures and review the expedition briefings for any expedition-specific information on COVID Ready teams. (Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be required.)

There are projects around the world organized around wildlife and ecosystems; climate change; ocean health; and archaeology. (See: https://earthwatch.org/expeditions/browse).

Earthwatch, 1380 Soldiers Field Rd., Ste. 2700, Boston, MA 02135, 800-776-0188, info@earthwatch.org, earthwatch.org.
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