PERHAPS THE MOST ALLURING THING ABOUT TRAVEL IS THAT THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER PLACE TO EXPLORE, ANOTHER DESTINATION TO EXPERIENCE. Here we’ll be sharing some of our favorite travel stories from clients, from our own travel specialists, or from some of our favorites in the travel industry – luxury travel experiences that may be far off the beaten path or right in the center of it all. Spellbinding and exhilarating travel narratives that will surely inspire you and stir you to say, “There. Let’s go there next.” 58 Stars will make it happen. Custom-crafted travel itineraries with a locals’ perspective and a luxurious flair.

Feeling safari

Well, that was extraordinary. About a year ago our brother-in-law casually invited us to tag along on a family trip in Africa. Our amazing nephew Dawit was adopted from Ethiopia five years ago and the whole pack of nephews (four in all: Jack — 19, Luke — 17, Dawit — 15 and Josh — 14) and Steve’s sister Chris and brother-in-law John were all going to Ethiopia to visit with Dawit’s birth family, and were then headed to Botswana to go on a safari. Did we want to go? Steve was unflinchingly a yes vote, and I hedged for 5 minutes and then realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. This is likely the last gasp with the pack of nephews in one place before they scatter to adulthood, and the chance to go to Africa with them on the heels of a visit to Dawit’s motherland? A true wouldn’t-miss-it opportunity. So, Africa we booked! We hadn’t ever planned on going to Africa, and certainly not for a safari (Expensive! Far! How much more impressive could animals be?) but we paid our deposit and figured the year-from-now day would come.

Feeling Safari

Well, that was extraordinary!

Well, that was extraordinary. About a year ago our brother-in-law casually invited us to tag along on a family trip in Africa. Our amazing nephew Dawit was adopted from Ethiopia five years ago and the whole pack of nephews (four in all: Jack — 19, Luke — 17, Dawit — 15 and Josh — 14) and Steve’s sister Chris and brother-in-law John were all going to Ethiopia to visit with Dawit’s birth family, and were then headed to Botswana to go on a safari. Did we want to go? Steve was unflinchingly a yes vote, and I hedged for 5 minutes and then realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. This is likely the last gasp with the pack of nephews in one place before they scatter to adulthood, and the chance to go to Africa with them on the heels of a visit to Dawit’s motherland? A true wouldn’t-miss-it opportunity. So, Africa we booked! We hadn’t ever planned on going to Africa, and certainly not for a safari (Expensive! Far! How much more impressive could animals be?) but we paid our deposit and figured the year-from-now day would come.

Fast-forward to a big life change: a decision to leave my beloved, high-stress career, a decision that Steve would follow suit, and the Big Decision to leave our Chewy and Seattle life to travel the world as long as possible. Our already-booked Africa trip seemed a perfect launch.

We didn’t really know what to expect of a safari, but I am a dutiful info snob and over time learned that Botswana has a fascinating and unusual dedication to the conservation of its natural resources, having set aside 17% of its land as nature reserves and national parks. This is the eco-system of governance at work — that resource protection has made it a magnet for high-dollar international tourism, pouring much revenue into the country (12% of the GDP), which thus mandates the further protection of nature. But what’s even more incredible in Botswana … THE WILDLIFE. Oh, my god. I often feel a spiritual draw to nature and animals (common, I know), and this was like being admitted to actual heaven or whatever all the various religions promise as the idyllic perma-after. I am almost not even exaggerating.

The terrain was spectacular — our first camp in the Okavango Delta was on an island and we boated to and fro our ludicrously powerful and comfortable Land Rovers in the early morning and around sunset. The rides were mesmerizing. We were forbidden to be in the water after sundown — the “Hippo Highway” would become too dangerous.

About the dangers. The rules of safari are this: you must listen to the guide always. You must keep your limbs in the vehicle always. You must never stand while in the vehicle. You must never step away from the vehicle without permission. It was explained to us that the carnivorous animals don’t see the vehicle as a collection of pieces of meat, but instead see the Land Rovers as a singular, moving thing. (I’m not sure who of the animal kingdom conveyed that line of thinking, but it sounds good.) Said ravenous animals also don’t see humans as a threat, as they’ve never been threatened by us there. This last bit is beautiful and profound, and kept coming to mind again and again throughout our experience among the beasts. It is also sort of a case-by-case thing, as evidenced in the most thrilling ways whenever an elephant would bray and trumpet and come toward our car in a display of who’s boss, and when the hippos would spray and growl-yawn at us. Our guide Meshack explained that the mutual respect between animal and humans is based on the recognition zone.

But anyway, back to THE UNBELIEVABLE ANIMALS. I have been thinking about this particular blog post for a few days and fretting over how to adequately convey what it feels like to be in the presence of these creatures in this way. The guides confer with one another over radios to report of finds, and then zoom to the location, or, if the radio is silent, they drive around the bush looking at animal tracks and dung to find the way. When zeroing in on a find, they go right to it — as in, they pull the Land Rover up within feet of the big cats, straight toward elephants, to giraffe, through herds of impala, within yards of hippos, into a pack of baboons. The only thing between you and these animals is the hulking vehicle chassis. In all my anticipation of this writing I finally concluded (and the family agreed): there is just no adequate way to express how it feels to be in these moments. For me it transcended life as I know it. It took me to another dimension. It made me feel alive in a way I couldn’t imagine. It was pure and fortunate and just mind-blowing.

I was most struck by the sounds of it all. There is something especially intimate and base-level about hearing an elephant crunching through the brush under your room atop stilts. On the first drive at our second camp our guide took us to a quartet of female lions. He pulled the Land Rover up within 2 feet of these lazing cats, close enough to see every paw’s pads and to marvel that they truly and literally didn’t flick even a single whisker about our presence or closeness. The ladies finally got up and sauntered down to the water — about a city block’s distance, and we followed, really tailgating as they went. Again, no response of being bothered. Finally, we pulled up next to them at the watering hole, all of them crouching like cats drinking from a bowl, and it was the sound of the lapping that soul-shook me. The lapping. On and on and on, with no care in the world, no notice we were craning to video  and photo them, on and on and on, a sound just like any pet owner knows. Right there, by lions, in Africa. Oh, my god.

Daily we’d try to take a nap during the designated nap-time (“siesta” is more glam), and each day we’d be on the brink of sleep just to spring out of bed when animals would be coming to us — one day was a vervet monkey which appeared on our railing. Steve and the monkey did a sort of dance with each other, the monkey bouncing up and down, and Steve returning the moves.

Another nap was foiled when a mom and baby elephant duo came RIGHT UP to our deck, the baby (with a trunk halved by predators!) nosing around on our deck right in front of us, as we stood just behind the sliding doors.

I felt the AMAZEMENT of the chase when the male leopard we were following encountered an intruding-upon-territory male leopard and the two started to rumble. Our guide, Ebs (eeeh-bhs), went nuts, telling us to hang on, and he went off-road in that Land Rover at high-speed, mowing down small trees and leaving nothing to spare. He sort of barked the whole time about how rare this was, though his actions made that clear — this was not the docile Ebs we knew and loved, but this was an ecstatic uber-fan in the midst of a major encounter, and that Ebs was spectacular. We got to the fight as it escalated and Ebs whipped out a camera with intimidating lenses and tossed another small digital to Steve, who he asked to video it all. We saw the whole thing; we saw the flailing paws, the chokehold, the tornado of fur, and then the loser of the battle, loping off missing his cheek, his jaw exposed and blood dripping. How to synthesize that kind of experience or to bring anyone else there? Oh, I wish you could have been there, to hear the sounds of it. The flailing paws, the obvious violence, but the sounds — the growling and screaming. It was in my ears for hours, and as I write this I am sad I can no longer hear it.

We went to the den of a pack of African wild dogs, which was full of PUPPIES.

As in PUPPIESSS! Like, 2 dozen puppies. So very cute and puppy-like, and yet wild and carnivorous and surrounded by their moms, each of whom could (and would) peel a human down to the bone. The puppies were hungry, making their cute just-like-home puppy sounds, begging all the moms for food, and finally a blood-covered dog ran into the den and regurgitated some bright red, almost fake-looking meat from her gullet. Bedlam. This went on for a bit, with more dogs coming to the den with their steaks for the kids, and after some time Ebs took us to find the kill. There it was, an impala, pretty, doe-like eyes greyed over, the ribs exposed and dogs in bloody bibs pulling at it from all sides. A dog came up to my side of the vehicle, covered in blood and bits, and looked me right in the eyes — arm’s distance from me, just looking at me, and every hair on my extremities stood, my breathing slowed, and it finally the dog moved on. It was heart-stopping and wonderful and visceral.

I have already shared too many vignettes to keep an audience, and if you have read this far I am surprised and impressed. I write this for me, really. I know that as the travels and life continue this afterglow will fade, and I want to have some way of remembering (other than my unrecorded memory).

Oh, one last thing I don’t ever want to forget. I keep thinking about how we learn things in a manner that can lead to a difference being made, or a sense of tangibility. History was taught horribly when I was in school, just a bunch of dates and far-flung places and people and situations, and no context nor relativity to present-day. This trip brought to mind how we learn about the ecosystem. We all know the basic principles, having been taught it early in schooling. But it’s one thing to know about the ecosystem, and it is another to be plopped into the middle of one and to consider the true interdependence of a vast kingdom. How can we aptly convey this to the average city-dweller, whose life and behavior is so separate from nature, but whose life and behaviors so deeply damage nature? We saw nary a piece of garbage while we were out in the bush. There were no locals living in the bush. It was pristine, and it strikes me now that it is like a living snow-globe enclosure — a small landscape preserved so we can peer in and see how it was. How can this experience be made available to young people of less means? How can we drag humanity to see it in person and to experience the profound nature of nature firsthand? Once you experience it, the power is irrefutable. It is glorious and perfect, true nature.

Well, that was extraordinary!

Travel inspired by your favorite films and literature

The locations in movies and books can be so vivid that once you finish, you’re left thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to travel there?” Happens to us every time. So here are some travel ideas based on films and literature.

Travel Inspired by Your Favorite Films and Literature

Wouldn’t it be great to travel there?

The locations in movies and books can be so vivid that once you finish, you’re left thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to travel there?” Happens to us every time. So here are some travel ideas based on films and literature.

Hollywood blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians” offers a scenic look at the bustling, cosmopolitan island nation of Singapore. Visit one of the hawker centers filled with food stalls selling authentic cuisine and enjoy the panoramic view from the observation deck of the 55-story Marina Bay Sands Resort.

Fans who want to see the fantasy-inspired landscape of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” can visit many of the locations in New Zealand where they were filmed. Take a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set in the rolling green hills of Waikato or go to the top of forested Mount Victoria in Wellington.

If “Under the Tuscan Sun” has you dreaming of Italy, consider charming Cortona, the hilltop town where the movie takes place. Visit the town’s main plaza, the nearby Baroque Church of San Filippo Neri, and Bramasole, the villa Diane Lane’s character buys in the movie. Then use Cortona as a base for exploring the rest of Tuscany.

Fans of Dashiell Hammett novels and Humphrey Bogart films can see locations from “The Maltese Falcon” on a trip to San Francisco. Dine at John’s Grill, one of the city’s oldest steak and seafood restaurants, and order character Sam Spade’s dinner: lamb chops with a baked potato and sliced tomatoes.

London is home to nearly a dozen sites from the Harry Potter movies, making it a great destination for fans of all ages. Visit Kings Cross Station, where young wizards board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾. The ornate Victorian-era Leadenhall Market stands in for Diagon Alley. Other film locations include Piccadilly Circus and the Reptile House at the London Zoo.

Take a trip back in time to the 19th-century world of “Little Women” with a visit to Concord, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set her novel, is now a museum featuring many items once owned by Alcott and her family.

A trip along the Mississippi River is the perfect way to take in places associated with Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Stop in Hannibal, Missouri, to visit Twain’s boyhood home and take a cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Take a tour that immerses you in your interest of choice. Seabourn Cruises offers Arts Conversations on some of its voyages, featuring experts in music, theater, dance, film, and literature. Classic Vacations has a three-hour literary walking tour of Paris as well as a private Book Lovers’ Tour.

Ready to be riveted? Contact 58 Stars for a custom-crafted itinerary to one of these very inspiring destinations.

Wouldn’t it be great to travel there?