10 Summer Trips That Will Change Your Life

Posted May 21, 2014 by

(Photo: Fred Leblanc)

Put down your juicy novel and get out of the poolside lounger. This summer we're pushing you out of your comfort zone. These 10 epic trips, from the Grand Canyon to Tanzania, take you to awe-inspiring settings, give you intimate encounters with majestic wildlife, and introduce you to people who live on next to nothing. By journey's end, you're sure to see the world with new eyes.


(Photo: Captain Barry King)

Sail a Schooner Along Maine's Coast

The Trip: The Maine Windjammer Association's weekend and weeklong cruises take you outside Wi-Fi and cell-phone range to help you kick your texting habit and reconnect with family. Under the guidance of a captain, you'll work as a team to sail one of the association's eight ships, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. It's an experience that feels a bit like summer camp, with incredible stargazing and the chance to see whales and porpoises as you navigate uninhabited islands, going ashore for campfires and beachcombing.

How It's Life-Changing: The wind, the tide, and your captain's whim dictate each day's schedule and destination, which forces you to let go of any control-freak tendencies and really relax. On the schooner Isaac H. Evans, fun activities (including hunting for pirate-themed treasure, hauling lobster traps, and cranking ice cream) have made some kids fall in love with sailing and return later as crew members.


Tash Rabat Yurts (Photo: Pieter Schepens via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Travel the Old Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

The Trip: This trip of a lifetime leads you through two countries that otherwise might not be on your travel radar. In Kyrgyzstan, Wild Frontiers Travel introduces you to locals and their ways of life on the mountainous Old Silk Road. Trek a challenging high-altitude pass, ride horses, and camp beneath the stars in traditional yurts. Then you'll fly to Uzbekistan to see the remains of an old caravanserai (roadside inn) along the Silk Road route. Browse a bazaar and meet silk weavers and knife makers still plying their wares in a city adorned with grand mosques and mausoleums.

How It's Life-Changing: Your perspective shifts when you spend time with the nomadic mountain people and gain insight into life as a shepherd or eagle hunter. Staying in yurts along your journey and living as a local brings you back to the basics. Feel a sense of accomplishment after tackling the Ton Pirival pass at an elevation of about 13,450 feet.


(Photo: Elevate Destinations)

Work with Kids in Haiti

The Trip: Hoards of emergency volunteers came and went after Haiti's catastrophic 2010 earthquake, but this Elevate Haiti volunteer project lives on. The 10-day experience on the island of Ile a Vache, a 30-minute boat ride from Port-au-Prince, allows you to help with long-term rebuilding. In a workshop similar to a summer camp, you'll boost kids' leadership skills and English fluency, teaching through sports, poetry reading, and other personal interests. You'll also work alongside locals to build a new school and spend time off exploring beaches and nearby islands.

How It's Life-Changing: For some, seeing one of the poorest countries in the world evokes pity. But Elevate Haiti volunteers see the need and feel a calling and a sense of responsibility to make a difference. So strong is the rapport among alumni that many of them keep in touch long after their projects are over.


(Photo: CaptainOates via flickr/CC Attribution)

Island Hop by Bicycle in Scotland's Outer Hebrides

The Trip: This 174-mile guided mountain-bike ride along the Hebridean Trail with Wilderness Scotland weaves its way across seven islands in a weeklong adventure off the remote northwest tip of the U.K. Blazed in 2012, the trail follows ancient wilderness paths and rolls into little villages where proud Gaelic-speaking islanders live steeped in tradition. You'll see the Callanish Stones, a prehistoric Stonehenge-like grouping of rock monoliths. You'll ride up to six hours a day for a week, hopping islands with your bike on a rigid inflatable boat. Post-pedal pints are part of the daily ritual.

How It's Life-Changing: The first couple of days can be a shock for leg muscles, but soon you realize you're no longer constantly watching for the support van to show up for a snack break. You've got this. Finishing it is a huge achievement that you owe to the cleansing island air, mesmerizing views, and camaraderie among riders.


(Photo: Felix E. Guerrero via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Practice Yoga at an Ashram in India

The Trip: For nourishing your soul and raising your consciousness, few spots can top the Himalayan Yog Ashram in the Himalayan foothills on the banks of the holy Ganges River. This ashram-stay program, suiting both beginners and yogis wanting to deepen their practice, follows a disciplined schedule of healthy meals, yoga, and meditation. More than a physical workout, the program is a holistic approach to an Indian yogic lifestyle, one that includes space and time for reading, reflecting, and hiking to the nearby waterfall. You can also choose a purification/detoxification or anti-stress program with relaxation and massage treatments as well as life-coaching sessions.

How It's Life-Changing: The heightened awareness you learn will help empower you to make changes and live more intentionally with joy. You experience how healthy eating makes a tremendous difference in body, mind, and soul.


Mongol Horse Trail (Photo: martin_vmorris via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Ride the Mongol Horse Trail

The Trip: It's said that Mongolians were the first to tame horses on the country's vast, treeless steppes where large herds roamed, and this summertime trip takes you there. Not for the faint of heart, In The Saddle's Mongol Horse Trail expedition leads you over steppes, into forests, and across rivers. As you walk and canter, you'll see sweeping views of a countryside where there are no fences, no tracks, and no power lines. The only signs of life are the local herdsmen you meet along the way. Camp along rivers, then load your luggage into the yak cart towed by one of the crew.

How It's Life-Changing: Riding for days without seeing anyone gives you time to unclutter your mind and find solitude. When you do come across a ger, a tent-like Mongolian home, and meet people with a simple lifestyle, it makes you evaluate what matters most in life.


(Photo: Winky via flickr/CC Attribution)

Kayak with Orcas in British Columbia

The Trip: Each year from mid-July through mid-September, hundreds of orcas return like clockwork to the Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island to feast on salmon. Most tourists witness the spectacle from large tour boats, which foster a sense of security but also of separation. But in a kayak, you're among the pod at eye level. A hydrophone will allow you to hear the pod communicating just beneath the water's surface. You'll likely spot porpoises and bears, too, on Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc.'s four-day or six-day trips as you paddle, camp, and hike this wild coast.

How It's Life-Changing: When a whale or dolphin looks back at you, the closeness inspires a feeling of intimacy and oneness with the ocean. It's humbling to see a six-foot dorsal fin lift out of the water next to you before the massive creature dives and swims beneath your little boat.


Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: National Park Service)

Help Maintain Trails in Grand Canyon National Park

The Trip: While the summer tourists ride mules to the canyon floor or hover above in helicopters, you can see the Grand Canyon from an entirely different perspective: as a volunteer caretaker. American Conservation Experience runs Conservation Vacations that allow travelers to participate in environmental restoration projects usually reserved for AmeriCorps members. You'll work eight-hour days with your group to remove invasive species, repair fencing, and maintain the trails. There's plenty of time in the evening to explore the park or hang out at the group campsite with fellow volunteers.

How It's Life-Changing: You have access to awe-inspiring areas of the park that aren't on tourist maps, and after working to improve them, you appreciate this national landmark even more.


(Photo: La Escuela del Sol)

Avert a Midlife Crisis in Costa Rica

The Trip: In Costa Rica's adventure capital Montezuma, La Escuela del Sol is proof that it's never too late to pursue a passion and even make a career out of it. Here you can study fire dancing with a Cirque du Soleil artist. Or, train to be a certified yoga instructor, get your scuba certification, or earn college credit for Spanish classes. The school's surfing courses are popular, too. Stay in a private room or get into the campus vibe and be paired with a roommate.

How It's Life-Changing: At the end of your vacation in this tropical paradise, you return to the real world (or not) as an entirely new version of you. During your courses, you connect with others from different countries and professions who, like you, are at a crossroads in life and vowing to make a change.


Masai Mara Wildebeest (Photo: Wajahat Mahmood via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Help Conserve Wildlife in African Game Reserves

The Trip: On this 27-day Masai Mara Conservation and Wildlife Safari with Acacia Adventure Holidays, not only do you get to check off "Seeing the Great Migration" on your bucket list, but you also get to volunteer in Kenya's famous Masai Mara National Reserve during its peak. Spend the first 14 days helping out with lion research, collecting data, and learning about local conservation. During the second half, you'll head to Tanzania for game drives in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater and stay on the island of Zanzibar.

How It's Life-Changing: Nothing can prepare you for an up-close experience with Africa's majestic wild animals. Whether you happen to witness the birth of a giraffe or the thundering of thousands of wildebeest, you never forget that feeling of connection to the natural world.

You Might Also Like:

This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title  10 Summer Trips That Will Change Your Life.

Like this story? Join the 1 million other travelers who read our free Deal Alert newsletter. It's full of our best tips, trip ideas, and travel deals. Subscribe here today!

13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall

Posted October 29, 2013 by


U.S. national parks are beautiful to begin with. But when the deciduous trees that blanket so many national parks become aglow with radiant fall foliage, the spectacle is astounding. You might need to pack a sweater, but you can snap gorgeous photos, partake in special activities, and, of course, enjoy the colors of autumn when you plan a trip this season.

Although fall means fewer crowds (and perhaps the chance to more easily spot wildlife) in popular parks, the weather can be unpredictable, and some facilities even close up after the summer season. Be sure to contact your park for details on what's open and what's not before planning your trip.


Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia might be the first place that comes to mind when you think of fall colors at national parks—the destination attracts thousands of leaf peepers in autumn, so be prepared for some crowds. But it's totally worth it—traverse the park's more than 125 miles of hiking trails to discover amazing views, take a ranger-led bird-watching walk among the changing leaves, or rent a kayak and take in the scenery from the water.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally pop up around mid-October. Check the region's leaf status on


Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

You might be surprised to learn that the Texas Hill Country is a prime place for leaf peeping down south. Head to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, where you can get a side of American history with your foliage. The park is home to the LBJ Ranch (also known as the Texas White House), which is surrounded by wild brush country. Here, sumacs, oaks, and haw hollies become awash with intense fall hues during autumn.

When to Go: You'll likely find the best foliage from mid-October through November.


Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

This park's famed cave system—more than 400 square miles of explored underground caverns that make up the world's longest—is the reason most visitors make the trip. But don't overlook the scenery aboveground. Forests of oaks, hickories, gum trees, and dogwoods on rolling Kentucky hills become a mosaic of fall colors this time of year.

When to Go: Check for updates.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

We love the sweeping views of water and the eyeful of beautiful fall colors that Sleeping Bear's sky-high dunes afford during this time of year. Visitors can get even better views from the air: Board a helicopter or hot-air balloon and view fall foliage on an aerial tour.

When to Go: You'll find peak colors in the region from mid-September through early October. Check's Fall Color Map to see the status of local foliage.


Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

Just a short drive from Philadelphia, Valley Forge is the site where General Washington and his Continental Army camped during the Revolutionary War. Here, visitors can learn about life in the 18th century as well as explore an expanse of lush parkland, including more than 3,000 acres of grassland, wetland, and deciduous forest, which become awash with rich colors in autumn.

When to Go: Weekly foliage reports are posted on Pennsylvania's official tourism website.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

There are about 100 native tree species in America's most-visited national park, most of which turn kaleidoscopic come fall. Changing leaves are complemented by autumn wildflowers: delicate asters and other varieties furnish pops of color.

When to Go: Get weekly reports on the state of local foliage on the National Park Service website.


Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Since Shenandoah's more than 300 square miles of parkland are so heavily forested, it's a gorgeous place to be when the seasons change. Look for oak and chestnut trees, which are abundant in the park, as well as splashes of autumn pigment from sassafras, sumac, and poison ivy. (Yes, poison ivy leaves change color in the fall. Just don't get too close.)

When to Go: Take a peek at the park's Mountain View Webcam for a real-time look at the changing leaves. Expect the best colors in mid-October in more elevated parts of the park and late October to early November in more low-lying areas.


Glacier National Park, Montana

Fall foliage in this enormous, wild expanse of alpine forests and Rocky Mountains in Montana is quite the sight. But fall is a wonderful time to visit if you want to see wildlife, too. The National Park Service website says that there are fewer people in the park and more animals—including grizzlies, wolves, and eagles—out and about during autumn.

When to Go: Peak fall colors generally appear at the end of September and beginning of October.


Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park's jaw-dropping sky-high cliffs provide the perfect points for seeing miles of mesas and forested land decked out in reds, oranges, and golds. Climb to the top of Zion's massive sandstone cliffs to get sweeping bird's-eye views of the autumn scenery.

When to Go: Zion shows its best colors in late October.


Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia

Peep the leaves in well-tread Harpers Ferry, where 70 percent of the land is covered with forest. Fun fall activities sweeten the deal: Visitors can explore living-history museums on Shenandoah Street or make traditional 19th-century tin housewares using period tools.

When to Go: Follow Harpers Ferry on Facebook for the latest foliage updates. According to the page, the leaves are already beginning to change.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Close to Cleveland and hugging the winding Cuyahoga River, this national park is a Midwestern sanctuary for fall foliage seekers. There's so much to do: Hike along more than 125 miles of trails, take part in an EarthCaching adventure, or go bird-watching (look out for the bald eagles). One of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the fall colors is to hop onboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which rolls through the park past lush woods, meadows, the Cuyahoga River, and historical small towns.

When to Go: The best colors flourish in mid-October. Check the Fall Color Report for real-time updates.


Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming

These parks are so close that they almost touch, and they offer amazing autumn colors against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, forests, and lakes that reflect the changing leaves. Hikes, horseback rides, and ranger-led treks are fabulous ways to see the foliage. Or get a bird's-eye view with a hot-air balloon ride or a trip on the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram.

When to Go: Head to Wyoming in September and early October to see the foliage. Read more on the Wyoming Office of Tourism website.


You Might Also Like:



What to Pack for Unpredictable Fall Weather







10 Quintessential Fall Weekend Trips







10 Best Fall Foliage Train Rides in North America





This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall. 

 Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at at


Succulent Seafood and Spectacular Views in Port Clyde, Maine

Posted March 19, 2010 by Amy Westervelt

Port Clyde Surround yourself with natural beauty in the picturesque fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine. Artists such as N.C. Wyeth have long been inspired by the charming downtown, busy harbor, and gorgeous views. Find out why at a cozy bed and breakfast, an idyllic island cafe, or at the most photographed lighthouse in Maine.

Seaside Inn
: Snuggle up at the Seaside Inn, an 1850s sea captain's home converted into a welcoming bed and breakfast. Help yourself to complimentary coffee, tea, and cocoa before turning in for the night in one of the nine cozy guestrooms.

The Barnacle:
An easy day trip from Port Clyde is a visit to Monhegan Island and the popular local cafe The Barnacle. The cafe is in a building dating back to the early 1900s when local fishermen and tourists enjoyed tea and goodies there. Not much has changed, and visitors and locals alike pop in for award-winning locally-roasted coffee, tea, and homemade goodies. You can also take your java to go along with a picnic lunch to munch while you explore Monhegan Island's local art galleries and 17 miles of hiking trails.

Marshall Point Lighthouse:
Marshall Point Lighthouse has two claims to fame: It was featured in the movie Forrest Gump and in the popular children's story Nellie the Lighthouse Dog. A short, scenic walk from Port Clyde, the lighthouse has been warning boats of the rocky point since 1857. Walk the long ramp connecting the lighthouse to the mainland for a picture-perfect moment, then wander the beautiful grounds. The lighthouse keeper's cottage, built in 1895, houses a seasonal museum highlighting Port Clyde's history and the lives of the lighthouse keepers.

You can use our tool to compare airfares to Augusta, the closest major airport, from multiple travel providers.

(Photo: Greg Panosian)

Early Birds Get the Perks in Bar Harbor

Posted June 4, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Maine-Sunset-DEF For many people, Maine is characterized by rocky cliffs, fishing villages, and lobster. Located on Mount Desert Island, the small coastal village of Bar Harbor surpasses these expectations. With local restaurants and comfortable inns, the town acts as a home base for those exploring the mountains, wildlife, and scenic drives through Acadia National Park.

Cadillac Mountain: At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain lays claim to being the highest point along the Atlantic seaboard. From its peak, early risers can be the first in the U.S. to witness the morning sun. For the late sleepers, breathtaking views of the surrounding islands, Bar Harbor, and ocean still make the trek worthwhile. The Park Loop road covers three-and-a-half miles to the top of the mountain, but also navigates through 27 miles of Mount Desert Island. Entrance to Acadia National Park is free November through April, but costs $20 per vehicle for seven-day admission from mid-June through early October and $10 from May through mid-June and early October to the end of the month.

Coach Stop Inn: Take a step back in time with Bar Harbor's oldest inn, which has hosted visitors for more than 200 years. Surrounded by antique apple trees, the New England-style B&B combines the past with modern amenities. Breakfast gives new meaning to "rise and shine," as the award winning chef and owner prepares three courses each morning. Choices include items such as Pistachio Stuffed French Toast, Wild Maine Blueberry Fritters, and Eggs Peloponese. For an afternoon or midnight treat, you can snack on tea and confections from the 24-hour hot bar. Rooms start at $125, but discounts are available at different times throughout the year.

Poor Boy's Gourmet: Serving hungry patrons for more than 21 years, Poor Boy's Gourmet combines classic New England cuisine with affordable prices. Early-birds who come between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. can take advantage of the $8.95 special featuring a range of dinner options such as Apricot Chicken or Baked Stuffed Haddock. The "Bottomless Bowl of Pasta" is also a favorite for $9.95, and includes a variety of choices such as Pasta Alfredo or Linguini Genovese. Most people come for the "Lobster Feast," however, which includes a boiled lobster, cup of lobster bisque or clam chowder, baked potato or pasta marinara, and a brownie a la mode for $18.95. Whatever you order, leave room for a selection of freshly made desserts like the seasonal wild blueberry pie.

To search for flights and compare prices to Bangor, which is home to Bar Harbor’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

  • From:
  • To:
  • Depart:
  • Return:
  • Travelers:

Hotels, Rental Cars, Cruises, and Vacations