Travel restrictions, quarantines, and stay-at-home orders may have us grounded for now, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on travel entirely. In fact, now is a great time to think about—and maybe even start planning—the kinds of bucket list trips that take more advance coordination than the average vacation. It’s not too early to start planning that safari you’ve been dreaming about or the ultimate exploration to Antarctica in 2021. We tapped industry insiders, including safari operators, villa rental agencies, and cruise companies, for their tips on when to start planning your next dream trip.
A Safari to See the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania
“For normal times you will want to make a firm booking about a year out, and for Christmas and summer you should have even longer lead time because the camps and lodges we like to use tend to have four to eight tents or rooms so it can be difficult to get space,” Marcia Gordon, co-founder of award-winning safari operator Extraordinary Journeys, told TripSavvy. “And it will be even more difficult to get the exact properties we want when travel picks up again because most people booked to travel in the first half of this year are postponing their safari so there will be a lot of pent up demand for rooms in the best properties.” According to Gordon, you don’t need to know your dates to figure out what you want to do, where you want to go, and what it will cost. Then they can plug your itinerary into the calendar when you decide to book. So if you want to see the next Great Migration in Kenya or Tanzania, now is the time to plan.
India's Golden Triangle
First-time visitors to India often focus on the Golden Triangle, which encompasses Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. From Mughal Forts and Rajasthani palaces to the breathtaking Taj Mahal, this part of India has enough to keep you occupied for weeks. The cities are connected by fast trains, but if you want to get a bit off the beaten path and visit, say, Udaipur—the famously romantic city of lakes—or embark on a tiger safari, it’s a good idea to work with a tour operator. There are plenty of choices, including Abercrombie & Kent, Extraordinary Journeys, Micato Safaris, and Intrepid Travel. No matter who you work with, you’ll need to plan in advance to avoid monsoon season and find the trip that’s right for you.
A Cruise to Antarctica
“Expedition cruises are a well-considered commitment for most travelers which require a longer lead-time in planning,” says Navin Sawhney, Ponant’s CEO Americas, explaining that, on average, the cruise company’s guests plan their trip a year in advance. The French cruise operator sails all over the world, but is exceptionally well-known for their cruises to Antarctica, which let guests spot wildlife, go hiking, and visit research stations led by a team of naturalist guides. It’s only possible to visit the White Continent from November through March, so now is an excellent time to plan a trip for early next year.
Renting an Italian Villa for a Family Trip
Coordinating a family trip always takes a bit of effort, especially when you’re bringing a big group to a high-demand area, like Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, or Puglia. The Thinking Traveller, a luxury villa rental company that started in Sicily and now has properties dotted around the Mediterranean and Adriatic from Puglia to Turkey, encourages their clients to book their preferred villa up to a year in advance. Unique experiences include staying in a trullo—a type of ancient house with a conical roof only found in Puglia—or an old tobacco factory converted into a sprawling villa. They can also help you plan excursions and experiences like a tour of the UNESCO-protected town of Alberobello (home to Puglia’s highest concentration of trullo homes), a burrata tasting at a local farm, and boat tours of the coast.
A Dream Trip to Japan
“Planning a trip to Japan in the peak seasons—such as the spring for the iconic cherry blossoms or the fall for the spectacular autumn foliage—requires planning well in advance in any year,” says Jeffrey M. Krevitt, vice president of marketing, Americas, for InsideJapan Tours, which runs small group trips and bespoke tours of the Land of the Rising Sun. “As people begin to travel again over the next year, some of the most interesting destinations, even in places like Kyoto, may have fewer crowds than in the past, which will make for a more peaceful and meaningful experience. For the best traditional ryokans in hot-springs areas like Kaga Onsen and Hakone, or access to rare Steller’s sea eagles on the remote Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, or dinner at top-rated Michelin-star restaurants in Tokyo, which are all Japanese favorites, it’s not too early to start planning now.”
Seeing the Northern Lights in Scandinavia
The Northern Lights are only visible during the long, cold winter days when the sun sets early—and remote camps like the Northern Lights Village in Finland and the ICEHOTEL in Sweden are likely to book up early. Planning a trip to see the Northern Lights is not an exact science since their appearance is a bit unpredictable (like any weather phenomenon). Still, you’re more likely to see them if you travel to a remote place with little light pollution above the Arctic Circle. Whether you go it alone or join a tour by boat or snowmobile, you should be thinking now about planning and booking a trip for this winter.
Island Hopping in the Caribbean Aboard a Private Yacht
“The beauty of a yacht charter is its flexibility—there are no set itineraries that you must follow. This also means that more planning is required in advance to make the most of your time on the water,” Ian Pedersen, Senior Marketing Manager for The Moorings, explains. He advises planning this type of vacation four to six months in advance to ensure availability. A favorite of sailors since its founding in 1969, the Moorings offers both crewed and uncrewed charters, so you don’t have to know how to sail. It’s a great way to experience destinations like the British Virgin Islands, where you can hop from one island to the next in search of the best snorkeling, beaches, and swim-up bars without being limited to a resort.
Following the Silk Road Through Central Asia
Looking to get off the beaten path? Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan are emerging from the shadows of their Soviet history and illuminating the history of the ancient Silk Road, which stretched from China to Italy. Highlights include Samarkand, which is home to stunning Islamic architecture, and the ancient city of Bukhara, a World Heritage site with more than 100 preserved monuments. Intrepid Travel organizes group trips of the area that range from nine to 41 days long and should be booked several months in advance. Tours from June 1 are currently available with flexible booking policies, so if you have to cancel a trip, you’ll receive a credit to use toward an alternative tour before April 30, 2022.
Summer in the Greek Islands
“We have guests who book almost a year in advance and guests who book a month, or sometimes even less than that, before their arrival, and of course everything in between,” Elena Fotiadi, Marketing Director for White Key Villas, which rents luxury vacation homes in Greece, told TripSavvy. “The benefit people have, of course, when booking earlier, is that they have the chance to get the availability of their preferred property on their preferred dates, especially during high season.” This is particularly important if you want to find a villa on popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos or if you have specific requirements, like lots of bedrooms for a big group or a particular location. White Key will help you find the right match and suggest islands you might not have considered, like Paros and Antiparos.
Tour of the Treasures of Ancient Egypt
From the Pyramids of Giza to the tombs of Luxor, Egypt’s ancient wonders are must-see sites that everyone should visit once in their life. But beyond well-known places like the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of Kings, there are dozens of ancient temples like Karnak and Philae that shouldn’t be missed. It would take a ton of research to create an itinerary and figure out the logistics of getting from place to place in a country with limited transit infrastructure. For this reason, it’s a good idea to book a trip with a tour operator like Extraordinary Journeys, who will handle all the logistics and pair you with an expert Egyptologist to guide you. Peak season is December and January, so if you want to go then, you’d better plan now.