Six Dream Vacation Destinations
In late March as skies quieted, roads emptied and cruise ships sailed into home ports around the globe, a core group of AAA Minneapolis Travel Advisors gathered their laptops and set up shop in their kitchens, dens and dining rooms, fully committed to the task of getting people home safely. Then came the cancellations from AAA members—dream vacations that were made weeks, months, even years earlier.
This tight-knit group of dedicated professionals understands the frustration of postponing adventures. They pour their hearts and souls into the orchestration of life experiences for others (and for themselves, when they can). To lift spirits, AAA Minneapolis VP of Travel Services Linda Snyder started Thankful for Travel Thursdays, an email photo-and-memory swap for the team. These moments of reflection quickly became the highlight of the week.
“Most of our Travel Advisors had trips of their own planned for the spring and summer to destinations around the world,” says Snyder. “Some were headed off to river and ocean cruises, others to far-flung destinations like India, to see the tigers of Ranthambore, and Peru, to climb the Inca Trail. All of those plans were shattered by COVID-19.
“It wasn’t just the dreary task of canceling travel plans that made working from home so tough,” she continues. “They also could no longer feed off the energy of others in the frenetic environment they were all accustomed to. I wanted them to slow down and reflect on the wonderful places they’ve been and the people they’ve met over the years, because the reason we all got into the travel business—most of us many years ago—is simple. We love to travel. We’re passionate about experiencing the natural beauty the world has to offer and embracing the cultures that are so much a part of that beauty. Thankful for Travel Thursdays is about expressing gratitude for experiences that touched their souls. Being inspired helps us inspire others.
”The team also embarked on a social media campaign dedicated to sharing their personal travel stories—not just places they’ve been, but journeys they have yet to take, inspired by the trips they have planned over the years. Books, movies and recipes bring the destinations to life in the posts. Here are a few of our favorites. We hope they inspire you, too!
Catherine Moore, Branch Manager, AAA Minneapolis Downtown
Three factors inspired Catherine Moore to put Poland on her must-see list. “Pierogis, kielbasa and reading WWII novels,” she says. “Not necessarily in that order, but I never say no to the first two.” A country steeped in the history of its battlefields and old-world monarchies, Poland appeals to travelers returning to Europe for more of what they have come to love: remnants of fabled history, urban sophistication and centuries-old traditions. Well-preserved Krakow is brimming with Gothic and Baroque architecture, while contemporary Warsaw exemplifies the hardy resilience of a city once ravaged by war. In a Gdańsk market square, a bronze statue titled Neptune’s Fountain commemorates the country trading history with her Baltic neighbors. Poland’s varied terrain spans flat countryside in the mid-section that gives way to a mountainous southern border, inviting outdoor enthusiasts and road trippers in search of unknown adventure, while dense woodlands and rolling hills conceal medieval castles, rugged fortresses and tiny churches. As anyone who has visited Poland knows, there’s always more to discover of this eastern European country.
Book Recommendation: “Poland: A Novel” by JamesMichenerwith introduction by Steve Berry (1983)
Music Recommendation: “The Chopin Collection” by Frederic Chopin, performed by Artur Rubinstein (1991)
Chris Anderson, International Travel Advisor, St. Louis Park Headquarters
“As far as I'm concerned, the more exotic and unspoiled, the better,” says Chris Anderson, our AAAMinneapolis expert on hard-to-find places. Even the most adventurous admire his carefree approach galloping around the globe in search of secluded beaches, intriguing cuisine and, in the case of Madagascar, the Allee des Baobabs, or the Avenue of the Baobabs.
Located off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar was once blanketed in dense forest, but over time, much of it was culled for farming. Thanks to conservation efforts, the majestic Baobab trees were spared, including about 25 that line a sandy road outside the coastal city of Morondava. With their gnarled branches stretching outward from the top of their massive trunks, the 100-feet-tall Baobabs make a magnificent spectacle at sunset—some of the trees are up to 2,800 years old.
Isolated from other continents for over 80 million years, Madagascar is teeming with biodiversity. About90 percent of Madagascar's plants and animals can only be found on the island, including over 100species of lemurs, the adorable primate with big round eyes, pointed snout and long tail. “To see the lemur and the Baobabs,” says Anderson. “That’s my mission.”
Book Recommendation: “Beyond the Rice Fields” by Allison M. Charette Naivo (2017)
Susan Thompson, Branch Manager, AAA Minneapolis Eden Prairie
“Oh, to go back to Africa!” exclaims Susan Thompson, the consummate optimist and open-minded adventurist. Not that this stunning continent—home to some of the greatest creatures and biodiversity on Earth—could disappoint. It’s a trip of a lifetime. Thompson has been all over the world, yet Africa holds a special place in her heart.
“It takes time and patience to plan a trip to Africa, so it’s a destination with an allure and excitement that builds steadily as departure day approaches,” she says. “My trip started in Kenya, and once I arrived, it was an endless stream of moments I’ll never forget, like the awe and wonder of watching baby cheetahs tumbling about with their mother and the distant roar of lions in the night. I just couldna get enough of it.”
According to Thompson, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”
Book Recommendation: “Green Hills of Africa” by Ernest Hemingway(1935)
Dawn McDaniel, International Travel Advisor, St. Louis Park Headquarters
“A Scot is a Scot, even unto a hundred generations,” Dawn McDaniel proudly quotes. This is a lass who lives and breathes her ancestry, so it's no wonder that of all the places on Earth, she’d choose to return to Scotland first. “My ultimate dream is to visit every castle in Scotland,” she says.
However, even with her past trips, McDaniel’s quest is a lofty one. Wildly beautiful and drenched in centuries of turbulent history, Scotland is a treasure trove of remnants from the past, scattered across its landscape. Across an area a little larger than South Carolina, it has hundreds of castles, from medieval stone fortresses perched above craggy shorelines to French-influenced Renaissance palaces and GothicRevivals of the 18th and 19th centuries.
“I envision my evenings spent sipping a wee dram by a roaring fire on the hearth as a kilted storyteller recounts the day the castle was defended by a piper and his ragged band of Highlanders,” she says. What’s so amazing about her idea is that it’s actually possible. And, with a little help from a seasoned traveler or AAA Travel Advisor, anyone who visits Scotland these days can experience it, too.
Movie Recommendation: “Braveheart”(1995)
Carri Loken, International Travel Advisor, AAA Minneapolis Edina
When asked to consider her first post-pandemic destination, this Travel Advisor had a quick answer.“Norway, of course,” says Carri Loken, in her Scandinavian, matter-of-fact manner. “I’m Norwegian, and we go to the Old Country. It’s what we do.
“I never turn down a travel opportunity, even if it’s to a country I didn’t have on my list,” she says. “Until now, though, other destinations have just presented themselves first. I’m drawn to Norway because the landscape, especially along the deep coastal fjords, is some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and easy to explore by ferry, rail and car. I can also sample a different open-faced sandwich every day. What more could I ask for in a vacation?
“I’m lucky to have explored the world as much as I have, but my possibilities still feel endless,” says Loken. “This abrupt pause has only made me want to travel more.” For those of us with incurable wanderlust, it’s a familiar feeling. We remain thankful for travel every day, patiently anticipating our next adventure.
TV Recommendation: “New Scandinavian Cooking” on PBS (2003-present)
Movie Recommendation: “Kon-Tiki”(2012), nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Sherri Schreckenghaust, Branch Manager, AAA Minneapolis Minnetonka
Alaska is raw natural beauty on a grand scale—that special corner of North America where humans are mere specks in a vast wilderness of untrodden trails, ice-cold river streams and snow-capped mountains.
Roughing it in the wild isn’t necessary, though. In Sherri Schreckenghaust’s view, Alaska is best savored on the balcony of a cruise ship with her binoculars in hand, peering out at the spectacular southeast coastline. “I love that each port along the way has its own unique character,” she says, “and going north, the scenery gets more breathtaking as you go.” Long and narrow fjords, towering glaciers and wildlife that calls this state home—this is the lure of Alaska.
A seasoned traveler with a zest for her next big adventure, Schreckenghaust is returning to Alaska in2021, this time sharing it with her husband Ron along with a group of AAA travelers. They’ll sail the Sapphire Princess on Aug. 4-11, from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Anchorage, Alaska. Options to add on land tours that include a visit to Denali National Park are available. For details contact AAAMinneapolis Travel Agency at (952) 927-2525.
Movie Recommendation: “Mystery Alaska” (1999)