Experiential Luxury Travel – My Top 2017 Moments

Rome Italy

The term “experiential luxury travel” has actually been around for a long time; in fact one of the companies mentioned in this post first made the term popular. Lately though this style has taken on a new life of its own and it’s not just popular, it has quickly became the de facto way in which many luxury travelers prefer to see the world. For me personally though the definition has two different aspects. There are some travel experiences, some entire trips even, that are so exceptional they become luxury travel experiences. These run the gamut, from African safaris to a cruise around Antarctica, but their commonality is that they are remarkable activities that do more than just take you to a new place, they transform who you are as a person. The second definition is more mainstream, which is luxury travel but luxury that doesn’t cut the traveler off from the places they visit. Thankfully, this has been the norm lately and all of the luxury travel experts have been quoted saying that experiential travel is the new luxury, and I couldn’t agree more. Sure, spending some time at a nice tropical resort where you do nothing but rest by the pool can be fine, but many people want more than that. They want to get out and explore, experience local communities and cultures and feel like they’ve actually traveled somewhere. Nice pools exist everywhere, but those cultural connections, those are unique. Since it is how I almost always experience the world, I thought I would take stock and share my favorite experiential luxury travel moments from 2017, amazing adventures that I know I’ll always remember.


Hiking Through Colombia’s Cocora Valley
Believe it or not but it’s not everyday I’m completely surprised by a new place I visit, but that’s exactly what happened to me while exploring Colombia’s coffee growing region. Massive coffee plantations abound along with mountains and cloud forests that seem as if they were plucked from the pages of a fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful part of Colombia, but this national park is definitely in a class all of its own. The Cocora Valley comes from the indigenous word for “star of water” and it’s certainly a cloudy, wet part of the country. It’s also home to Colombia’s national tree, the gigantic wax palm. It was this tree more than anything that transformed a simple hike into something extraordinary. The last place I’d ever expect to see these massive palms is high up in the Colombian Andes, a world of impossibly diverse shades of green and clouds that envelop you as you walk along. It’s a surreal almost magical place, which in large part defines Colombia. Arguably Colombia’s greatest author, Gabriel García Márquez is famous for his use of magical realism, which is a realistic view of the world that adds in magical elements. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe my morning tramping through the grasses and damp fields of the valley. It was real, but there was something else there too, something I could almost grasp but it kept eluding me. No doubt there’s magic in these hills, a special kind of effect that surely makes this one of the most extraordinary spots on the planet.

Sunrise Diplomat Beach Resort Florida

Escaping to Florida
I always flee Washington during Inauguration week, no matter who is elected President. It’s just nice to get away from the madness for a few days, preferably somewhere warm as January in D.C. is often cruel. This year I picked Florida and the gorgeous Diplomat Beach Resort. Originally built in the 1950s, the Diplomat at one time was the only resort between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Given what the area looks like today, that’s amazing, and it was the start of a long and storied history at one of the country’s great resort hotels. Over the decades, the Diplomat wined and dined everyone from the Kennedy’s to the Rat Pack but then in the late 1980s it began to fall on hard times. Eventually, the original hotel was completely demolished and a new one built in its place; evoking the memory of the original but with the modern flourishes everyone expects. Then just a couple of years ago, the resort once again started to reinvent itself and launched a $100 million renovation project which just finished and that has made it one of the top properties in South Florida yet again. It was also the ideal place to relax and decompress, something I don’t do often enough.

Palma de Mallorca Spain

Mallorca with Azamara
One reason I was so excited for my Azamara Club Cruises trip around the Mediterranean was that the ports of call aren’t ones typically visited by much larger ships. Thanks to not just the size of the Azamara Quest, but also the cruise line’s commitment to providing engaging local experiences, destinations like Palma de Mallorca, Spain were on the itinerary and I couldn’t wait to visit. I did a lot during my day of exploration, but as always just wandering around the city of Palma was a highlight. I have long said that it’s impossible to look at a palm tree and not smile, and in Palma that meant a silly smile was plastered to my face for the entire day. Palm trees line the entire historical downtown core, from the ancient cathedral to the little side streets that kept drawing me in to explore and wander. It’s a wonderful feeling, to be warm and happy even at a time of the year when many parts of Europe are still grey and cool.

Alhambra Granada Spain

Spending Time in Granada
There were many highlights on my week long tour of Southern Spain with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent, but one that quickly rose to a place of prominence for me personally was the day spent exploring the massive and undeniably beautiful Alhambra in Granada. Originally built as a fortress on the remains of Roman ruins in the 9th century, it wasn’t until the 13th century when the Moorish emir of Granada renovated and rebuilt the palace that it took on the incredible appearance it enjoys today. While it’s been changed and added to many times over the centuries, the Alhambra remains one of the best preserved Islamic palaces from when the Moors controlled this region of Spain. I thought I knew what to expect but, of course, nothing really prepared me for the experience itself. Everything was so much grander than I had anticipated and the subtle beauty of Moorish design is hard to resist.

BrookLodge Hotel Macreddin Village Ireland

Rural Fine Dining in Ireland
I normally don’t consider myself a fine-dining kind of guy and yet, whenever I experience a great restaurant, I almost always walk away impressed. That was definitely the case after an incredible 11-course tasting menu at the organic Strawberry Tree Restaurant at Macreddin Village. The BrookLodge and attached restaurant are a relaxing country retreat where pastoral luxury reigns supreme. I love great properties like the BrookLodge, tucked away deep in the rolling hills and a place where people go to do little more than relax. But it’s also home to Ireland’s only entirely organic restaurant, the Strawberry Tree. Led by a chef with a fierce obsession with seasonality, they even have a full-time forager on staff who treks every day to find the freshest ingredients in the pastures and paths surrounding Macreddin. The results speak for themselves; after a leisurely dinner I was as impressed as I’ve ever been by a food experience. Each course was more surprising than the last and when combined with great service and hospitality, it was the perfect evening.

Ribeauville France

Driving the Alsatian Wine Route
Although the weather was picture-perfect as I drove into Ribeauvillé, the weatherman had already let me know storms weren’t far away. I was in a race against those dark skies as I tried to see and do as much as I could, while paying attention to the time. But if any village deserves some time, it’s this one. One of the oldest towns in Alsace, its wine history goes back centuries and clues to its importance can be found everywhere, but especially from the incredible ruins of the Three Castles that still overlook the village today. The great thing about visiting the various settlements along the route is their size. They aren’t big and most have a similar layout, with one main street running through them. That’s the path I took through Ribeauvillé as I gawked at the ancient buildings; not for the first time overwhelmed by the vibrant colors surrounding me. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and the town was packed with locals and visitors alike, everyone stopping by the morning market to see what was available and pausing to enjoy coffee at the corner cafe. It was my first real introduction to the Alsatian Wine Route and set the perfect stage for a day of exploration.


All of Kyrgyzstan
At the beginning of the year I couldn’t even place Kyrgyzstan on a map, much less imagine traveling there. And yet, my couple of weeks spent in this Central Asian country now counts as one of my favorite experiences of 2017. When planning a trip to Kyrgyzstan it’s important not to approach the country as a voyeur. Instead, do everything you can to know and understand the wonderful people who call Kyrgyzstan home. You can accomplish this in any number of ways, from engaging food tours in Osh and Karakol, to attending special festivals highlighting the traditional culture of the country. Everyone has a story to tell and as travelers, it’s up to us to find out what they are. I had honestly never considered traveling to Kyrgyzstan as something viable until I was approached by USAID. However, the trip opened my eyes to a new region of the world, one I had some strong misconceptions about. I never knew how beautiful it was, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food can be and just how fun traveling there is. It felt like an adventure and in 2017, that’s a difficult sensation to recapture but in Kyrgyzstan you can embrace everything great about the spirit of pure exploration.

First Class on Cathay Pacific
Getting there is more than half the fun for me; the in-flight experience is a big part of any trip I take. Over the last few years, I have gotten to know the premium airline Cathay Pacific very well, flying in almost every class of travel except for one – First Class. So when it came time to cash out miles for my vacation to Southeast Asia I decided to go for it and enjoyed the legendary service in Cathay Pacific’s First Class Cabin for the first time. From the massive personal space to the extraordinary service, everything was perfect, just as I had expected. Add in amazing food and lots of little perks, and I’m afraid that my First Class experience with Cathay Pacific has forever spoiled me.

The Strand Cruise Myanmar

Strand Cruise in Myanmar
We all have our own unique ways in which we like to travel. Mine is called experiential luxury and while not every trip matches the style, when possible it is how I prefer to see the world. Visiting Myanmar was equal parts work and vacation, which means I wanted a luxurious but immersive first introduction to Myanmar. I say first because, even before leaving home, I knew that Myanmar is a country that would require multiple visits, a fact reaffirmed now that I’m home. To help introduce me to the wonders of Myanmar, I joined The Strand Cruise along the Ayeyarwady River from Bagan to Mandalay. Now in its third season on the water, this luxury river cruise experience is an extension of the elegant Strand Hotel in Yangon, a beautiful property with an incredible history in the region. The cruise is an extension of that luxury experience, from the accommodations to the service and everything else onboard, it was the ideal place to call home for a few days. Even better though were the immersive experiences offered on the cruise. The passengers onboard The Strand Cruise were there for one reason, to experience Myanmar and the tours, lectures and activities offered provided us all with that remarkable opportunity. Whether it was learning about the temples of Bagan from the head of Myanmar’s archeological efforts or getting up at dawn to see the sun rise over the marshy landscape, I left the ship at the end of the week satisfied with my first introduction to the country, learning about both the country’s history and the wonderful people who call it home.

Rome Italy

Rome with Flair
Before my recent return to Rome with untour company Monograms Travel, my only other experience with the Eternal City had been for 36 hours several years ago. Needless to say, that first time I didn’t even give the city a chance really which is why I’m so thankful for this second attempt. As it turns out, I fell in love with Rome which is certainly something I never expected. Yes, I enjoyed hanging out in the Piazza Navona with gelato in hand, but I equally enjoyed walking around neighborhoods that remain nameless to me, just admiring the atmosphere and what it was like to be present in the moment. Sitting outside with friends enjoying a meal, lifting a glass of Prosecco in a silent cheer to a golden sunset, getting delightfully lost down a seemingly endless array of side streets; these are my favorite moments in Rome, much more than seeing the Sistine Chapel or trekking up the Spanish steps. Those private, independent moments are what endear us to new places, it’s why we travel and my trip with Monograms facilitated this in a way no one else could have.

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My Most Popular Instagram Photos From 2017

Instagram is one of my favorite social media platforms and it’s one I always use when I travel. It enables me to share stories and images in a way I don’t do anywhere else, so today I thought I’d highlight the 10 photos that were the most popular in 2017. It’s important to note though that since Instagram decided to tweak their algorithms and limit who sees what, my engagement has been all over the place. So, I personally don’t think that these were the best photos I took in 2017 but, for whatever reason, they had the most engagement out of the more than 160 images I posted to Instagram this year. I’ve also included the narrative that accompanied each one, so please pardon me if the comments may be dated in some cases. Photos are also in chronological order and not listed by their popularity.

The Diplomat Beach Resort, Florida

No filters or edits needed for this perfect sunrise. Every 4 years I use the inauguration as an excuse to get out of town and enjoy a few days of R&R and this go-around I thought some Vitamin Sea would be perfect, which is how I found myself in beautiful (and warm) South Florida. A few months ago I stayed at the Logan Hotel in Philadelphia and was first introduced to the Curio Collection by Hilton, a line of luxury boutique hotels around the world. I loved everything about it and that’s why I didn’t hesitate to book a room at another Curio property – the historic Diplomat Resort in sunny Hollywood, Florida. I didn’t know it at the time, but they just finished a massive remodel which means everything is fresh, new and gorgeous and I immediately wished I’d booked more than a couple of days here. The Diplomat though is one of the country’s great iconic hotels, opening in the 1950s it has hosted everyone from the Kennedy’s to the Rat Pack and more than one President. Travel can be a lot of things but sometimes it should just be fun and relaxing and after a stressful couple of weeks, it is exactly what I need. Now if you’ll excuse me, my cabana is calling.

Barcelona Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Today the unthinkable happened in Barcelona happened – it rained! It actually wasn’t bad for what I wanted to see and do and it even added a nice moody touch to a planned lunch along the beach with my other Abercrombie & Kent tour participants. Funny thing about Barcelona’s long sandy shorefront; it didn’t exist before the 1992 Olympic Games. Those Games were actually a turning point for the city, forcing it into long overdo improvements including moving the massive industries once located along the water and turning it into the sunny beachside residents never thought they’d see. So that’s why, sun or not, spending time along Barcelona’s beaches isn’t just fun, it’s a big part of the overall city experience.

Alhambra Granada Spain

The Alhambra, Spain

This morning we explored a site I’d long wanted to visit, the extraordinary Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Moorish poets once described this massive palace and fortress complex as a “pearl set in emeralds,” and during the Middle Ages it was the center of power for the Emirate of Granada. The Moors controlled southern Spain for centuries and this incredible bastion was one of the last great palaces constructed in Europe. Walking around with my Abercrombie & Kent group for several hours, there were dozens upon dozens of moments that deeply impressed me, but perhaps none more so than this, the Court of the Lions. Walking in it’s hard not to be immediately awed by the 124 white marble columns, each adorned with stunning Islamic art. At the center though is the famous fountain with 12 white marble lions that would each spout water at different times of the day. Sure it’s an aesthetically beautiful place but it’s also a powerful one, meant to impress then as it surely does today.

Wittenberg, Germany

I started Germany’s Martin Luther Route here, in Wittenberg, which is also where the story of the Reformation began as well. It was here on that church in the background where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door, starting a chain of events that would give birth to Protestantism and change the world in the process. It’s always so humbling to visit places like these, where you can feel the weight of history as you walk in the footsteps of revolutionary figures. Wittenberg is also just a naturally beautiful city, making my time spent there a real pleasure.

New York Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes Region of New York

At the heart of the Finger Lakes experience for many are the wineries, breweries and distilleries found all around the lakes. For decades, Finger Lakes wines were produced using native grapes and, for the most part, the results were mixed. But then in the 1960s, mimicking global wine trends, vinifera grapes were introduced and the wineries in the region started producing everything from stellar Rieslings to full bodied reds. Today the results speak for themselves and with more than 140 wineries in the Finger Lakes, visitors can try as many of these vintages for themselves as they want. It’s hard to go wrong when choosing wineries to visit, but one of my favorite experiences was at the Wagner Vineyards. Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery produces a wide selection of amazing wines, but they also have a brewery on site that creates just as tasty ales, porters and IPAs. With a large deck overlooking the vines and lake, it’s was the perfect spot to sit back and relax.

Yangon Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

It’s simply not possible to capture the size and the essence of what it’s like to visit Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda in a single photo. It’d be like trying to capture the essence of Vatican City in just one snap of the camera. But I can try. Believed to have been built originally more than 2,500 years ago, the Pagoda itself is just part of a larger religious complex on the 114-acre Singuttara Hill in Yangon. It’s also Myanmar’s holiest temple, believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas. At the center though is of course the Pagoda itself, standing more than 360 feet tall and covered with gold plates and encrusted with thousands of diamonds and other precious jewels. Arriving midweek in the morning, I found the complex still packed with people, all there to pray and offer their respect before continuing on with their day. In Myanmar, one’s shoes must be removed before entering temples or other sacred sites, which meant my exploration of this enormous complex was done barefoot, made easier though by the miles of marble flooring covering the entire site. I spent a fair amount of time at the Pagoda, walking the circuit around Shwedagon joined by thousands of worshipers doing the same thing. The morning was about so much more though than just admiring a world wonder in person, it was about getting to know Myanmar a little bit better. The Pagoda represents so many important hallmarks of Myanmar heritage – art, architecture, religion, values and so on. It forms the focus of religious and community activities for a reason, and spending the morning immersing myself in those traditions wasn’t just fun as a tourist, but important for me to do as a traveler.

Mandalay Myanmar

U Bein’s Bridge, Amarapura Myanmar

As a history buff, I had a great time exploring many of Myanmar’s most famous temples, monasteries and pagodas, but this morning was a fun diversion from those scholarly pursuits as we visited the U Been Bridge in Mandalay. Dubbed the world’s longest teak footbridge, this 1.2 kilometer bridge spans Taungthaman Lake and is a popular diversion for tourists and locals alike. As an affirmed dog lover though, of course my favorite part was meeting the scores of homeless pups who call the bridge area home. It’s frustrating that I can’t do anything to help them, but I did what I could which was give them a little attention and love. It’s hard to believe that this is my last day in Myanmar, but I’m leaving with more stories and memories than I had ever imagined and I can’t wait to start sharing them all in earnest.



There were many special moments on The Strand cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, but a morning visit to the ancient kingdom of Ava was certainly a highlight. Making our way through the marshy terrain, I resisted the urge to pinch myself to make sure the moment was really happening. Passing by golden temples surrounded by rice paddies, this is the Myanmar I had traveled so far to see. This was the country as I imagined it, a rarity in the travel experience. The moody skies and threat of rain only added to the sensation of having entered a dreamland, a place that exists in the ethereal realm of our hopes and desires. Myanmar is a special country for so many reasons, but this, a feeling I can’t even really name, is perhaps what I’ll remember the most.

Austrian Alps Innsbruck

Innsbruck, Austria

One of the coolest things I’ve done in a long time happened on my last day in Innsbruck, when I went on a very unconventional helicopter ride. While I’ve been in helicopters before, they all had something the one in Innsbruck did not – doors. The first of its kind in Europe, the folks over at My Snap Air offer guests the very unique opportunity to hang out of a helicopter as they fly over the Austrian Alps. While swinging my legs around mid-air was definitely a rush, the real highlight were those incredible views. Nestled in a valley, the city of Innsbruck quickly looked like a model playset against the massive mountains. Flying a lot closer than I would have ever guessed, it’s a unique way to experience the beauty of the Alps in as close and personal a way as you can get without undertaking a massive trek.

Rome Italy

Piazza Navona, Rome

I can’t believe that my Italy trip came to a close so quickly. Time flew by as I spent more than a week exploring Southern Italy, my second trip with independent travel pros Monograms Travel. There are many highlights, but I think Rome will always be a special place for me. There’s nothing quite like it and although my experience with it in the past had been brief and cursory, I now feel like I understand the city a little better and appreciate why millions around the world love it so very much. Thanks for following along on this trip, new adventures await of course but first I need some time at home to recharge and hang out with my awesome dogs.

Rome Italy

Rome, Italy

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans and happy Thursday to the rest of the world! Today I want to share something I’m incredibly thankful for, and that’s this amazing life I’m living today in 2017. it’s been almost 8 years since I started my travel blog and nearly 6 years since I made it my full time career, facts that frankly stun me. Many of you probably aren’t familiar with my back-story, so I’ve included a link to my blog post in the bio explaining who I am and how I ended up in this admittedly strange career of professional travel blogger. It’s certainly not a place I ever saw myself, but there’s no doubt that I couldn’t be happier. Another blogger recently wrote a post saying that leaving one’s job to travel isn’t brave, it’s lucky. That’s true. But I didn’t leave my job to travel, I left my job in order to save my life. After 12 years of working a job I didn’t particularly like I was miserable in every way possible. It’s amazing how being unhappy in one area of your life can affect all other aspects, but it does. Since that defining moment when my traditional 9-5 job and I parted ways, I’ve never worked harder but I’ve also never been happier. My passion in life is learning all I can about the world around me, from foreign cultures to new foods and of course seeing some of the many wonders found all over the globe. Since I was very young that’s always been my passion, I just forgot it for a while. Being reconnected to what my soul sings for is a joy unlike any other. No matter what your passion in life is, whether it’s being a doctor, a firefighter or whatever, just make sure you’re doing it. Do what your soul needs in order to thrive because life’s too short and if you don’t then you’ll never see the positive changes you’re looking for in your own life. Thank you all for your kind support over the years, it means the world to me and without it I’d never be able to follow my passions like I do today.

nice france

Nice, France

“This is not an ice cream,” as a twist on that famous Magritte quote and image. Hello from the always gorgeous French Riviera as I cruise the Mediterranean with Viking cruises. We’ve been in France for a couple of days but today was a special one as I visited one of the truly great cities in this part of the world, Nice. I also decided to have a little fun with a photo prop as you can tell and I’m curious to hear what you think. Personally, I love the twist on those now common ice cream cone shots we see all the time here on Instagram and hopefully it adds a little beauty to your day. Wandering the streets of Nice decked out for the holidays made for a very special day and while there’s certainly no snow down here, I found a city just as festive as any other. I love visiting different parts of Europe around the holidays to see how various regions celebrate and today was a highlight of those Yuletide wanderings.

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Exploring the Beauty of Bagan in 12 Photos

My Strand Cruise through Myanmar had many highlights, but none perhaps as special as the first couple of days onboard when we explored some of the more than 2,000 temples in and around Bagan.

Many say that the archeological region of Bagan in Myanmar is rivaled only by Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and after having spent time exploring the beautiful temples of Bagan I couldn’t agree more. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bagan was a capital city and the many wealthy elite who lived there erected thousands of temples, more than 10,000 to be exact. Today around 2,000 still exist, survivors of time, earthquakes and neglect. But for many visitors, including myself, visiting Bagan is one of the highlights of any trip to Myanmar. There’s something special about this place, holy and sacred for so very long that the temples inspire a certain kind of introspection. The ultimate though is of course getting up far too early to climb the steps of one of the temples in order to watch the sun rise over the countryside. Like little termite mounds popping up, the sun gradually bathed them in soft morning light, creating one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever had the great privilege to witness.


Myanmar Temple

Bagan Myanmar

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