by Susan Jennings
To help inspire you to start planning your big bucket-list-worthy adventure, we caught up with several Central Pennsylvania residents who have already taken the trips you’ve only dreamed about. Here, they offer insight and tips on making the most of your adventure.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
One of the ways the Harrisburg-based American Foundation for Children with Aids (AFCA) raises money to support children affected by AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa is through climbing trips to destinations around the globe.
As executive director of the organization, 46-year-old Tanya Weaver decided her job offered the perfect excuse to cross off an experience that had been on her bucket list since she was 16: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
So in 2011, she traveled to Tanzania to fulfill a lifelong dream.
The foundation regularly organizes climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro, working with an expedition company called Summit Expeditions and Nomadic Experience (SENE).
She recommends that others searching for a reputable tour company to work with not only focus on the bottom line, but also ask hard questions about how the guides are paid, how much they’re asked to carry and how they’re treated.
Those who do the climb through AFCA and SENE stay at a working farm outside of Moshi, the city closest to Kilimanjaro, where they can acclimate, rest and learn more about the culture. With most other touring outfits, climbers stay at hotels in Moshi, which Weaver says is a small but thriving tourist town with cafes, banks, and shopping.
Since Weaver’s not a big hiker, she had some work to do to get ready for the climb up the 19,341-foot-tall mountain. To get in shape, she did the P90X and Insanity workout programs and hiked on the weekends with a heavy pack.
“Between them both, there was definitely no way I wasn’t going to make it,” she says.
The most memorable part of the seven-day hike/climb were the porters and guides singing to the hikers in Swahili at the end of the day.
“It was beautiful,” Weaver says.
Weaver was glad she had a pair of gaiters that protected her legs from pebbles, sand, and mud during the climb. She also recommends that you eat what the guides give you because they know how many calories you will need to complete the hike.
Exploring the Temples of Angkor
In 2012, after spending two years teaching English in South Korea, Jim Cheney and his wife, Julie, spent six months traveling overland from Singapore to Istanbul.
The 33-year-old Penbrook resident says one of the highlights of the journey was their stop at the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia.
Cheney had been aware of the temples for years – Angkor Wat, the most well-known and largest of the temples, is a common bucket-list destination for people, but a lot of people don’t make it because Cambodia can be hard to get to. If you’re flying in, the easiest route is to fly to Bangkok and then catch a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia – the gateway to the temples.
Once there, you’ll want to get a guide who can help you navigate temples off the beaten path and offer more background on the sites you’re visiting. More importantly, they can help you avoid areas that have not been cleared of the landmines buried by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s and 1980s.
“If you want to learn about it and understand what you’re seeing, having a guide is vital, and a private guide is not expensive,” he says.
His favorite temple was Beng Mealea, located about 30 minutes outside of the main complex. Other than being cleared of rubble and landmines, there has been virtually no restoration of the temple. Cheney says the fact that there was nobody at the temple, and they were actually able to climb around on it, made for a very memorable travel experience.
“You really kind of feel like you’re Indiana Jones,” he says.
Ask for guide recommendations at the hotel you’re staying at rather than using one of the many guides and Tuk Tuk drivers who bombard you on the streets of Siem Reap.
Going on Safari
AAA Central Penn travel consultant Craig Haberle says that going on safari is a huge bucket-list item for his clients – and he’s been twice.
The key to planning an African safari is to start with what you want to see, says Haberle. Most people want glimpses of the “big five” – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and Cape buffalo – as well as the vast plains of the Maasai Mara and the birds on Lake Naivasha, so pick the safari parks you visit based on this list.
“You don’t go to Allentown to look for buffalo,” he says.
You’ll also want to consider the season. If you hope to see lion cubs, you’d go at a different time of year than if you wanted to see a mass migration.
To prepare for the trip, Haberle tells clients to read as much as they can – and not just travel journals and guidebooks, but also history books and literature, like Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa to put things in context.
During his visits to Kenya and Tanzania, Haberle was especially impressed by the quality of the safari lodges. While they might look primitive on the outside, they all have indoor plumbing and, in some cases, air conditioning and swimming pools, and the food was excellent.
While most people expect to see wildlife during game drives, Haberle was amazed at how much he saw from the convenience of the lodge. Because the lodges are located near popular watering holes, visitors can often sit on the patio and observe the animals as they’re eating.
“It’s like watching the National Geographic channel right there in front of you,” he says.
Because an African safari is such a big investment, you’d be smart to work with a travel agent, Haberle says.
For a lot of people, bucket-list-worthy destinations are also once-in-a-lifetime trips. But for travel consultant Dee Henrichsen, visiting Italy one time just wasn’t enough.
The 63-year-old Penbrook resident has been there six times.
“Maybe I was Italian in a past life. That’s what calls me back over and over,” she says.
Henrichsen first went a decade ago and toured the most popular spots: Rome, Florence, and Venice. But there was always more to see, so she branched out to smaller areas – Tuscany and the lake district and the beautiful cliff-side cities from Cinque Terre to the Amalfi Coast.
“The small towns are as wonderful as the big towns,” she says.
When planning her visits to Italy, Henrichsen likes to research the history of the smaller towns she wants to see and find out what types of festivals are going on; she usually tries to take a cooking class, too. Ideally, she’ll find off-the-beaten-path villages where there are few tourists, and she’ll talk to locals and get ideas for what to do.
Pack light, Henrichsen says. Bring a good pair of walking shoes, a nice pair of dress shoes, black pants, your favorite jeans and a variety of tops. You can get along anywhere in the world with those things, she adds. Blend in by leaving your baseball cap and white sneakers at home.
Steer clear of touristy spots when looking for a meal – you’ll be overcharged, and the food might not be authentic. Henrichsen says she likes to walk down side streets and peek in windows for places where Italian “mamas” are cooking and where locals are dining.
Aviv Bliwas of Monroe Township is a self-described travel junky. The 34-year-old attorney has been to every continent except South America and Antarctica (both of which she’ll visit next year), and she’s lived in Japan and Israel.
Cuba has been on her radar for a while. Bliwas liked the idea of going to a place not a lot of people get a chance to see and wanted to visit before it opened up and became too touristy. So, last spring, she recruited Jason Holland of Travel Simplicity to help her plan a trip.
While the U.S. has recently opened up diplomatic ties with Cuba, Americans are still prohibited from visiting solely as tourists, though the number of categories of authorized travel to the country has expanded. Bliwas visited in July on the auspices of non-academic education, using a tour company to get the necessary permission and visas and create an itinerary that proved the trip was for educational purposes.
“When you submit the itinerary for the trip to the State Department, every minute has to be accounted for,” Bliwas says.
As such, the trip was culture-heavy. Bliwas and her two friends visited several art studios and galleries, stopped in on dance studios and listened to musicians. She enjoyed the colonial architecture in Havana and Trinidad and made sure to catch a ride in one of the country’s iconic classic cars.
When it comes to getting to Cuba, Bliwas recommended patience. She went on a chartered flight out of Miami that was delayed six hours, and public transportation in Cuba isn’t too reliable, either. She talked to other tourists who ended up hitchhiking.
“Nothing in Cuba seems to work like we expect things to work in America,” she says. “You just kind of have to go with the flow.”
To make the trip more authentic, Bliwas suggests getting out of Havana. While the food and facilities are better in the capital city, the “real Cuba” is in the countryside where Bliwas says she saw people riding horses to get around and using oxen to plow fields.