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4 Amazing Trips Abroad

Passport-touting travel writers recall their favorite international destinations

spinner image neuschwanstein castle in germany
Visitors can enjoy magical views of the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

What comes to mind when you think about traveling abroad? An unforgettable adventure you had with loved ones? A bucket-list destination you’ve always wanted to visit?

According to AAA, bookings for international travel were up 40 percent from 2022 through May 2023. If you’re considering a trip abroad, we have some inspiration for you.

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Here, four travel writers recall their favorite international trips and why these destinations leave a lasting impression.

spinner image left reindeer on the icy shores of svalbard norway right heather greenwood davis and her husband
Writer Heather Greenwood Davis traveled by cruise ship to Svalbard, Norway, with her husband.​
mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo / Courtesy of Heather Greenwood Davis

Svalbard, Norway

​I can’t believe I’m still up. As a kid, I used to rail against my 9:30 bedtime. As an adult, I’ve increasingly leaned into it. Even New Year’s Eve rarely gets more than one sleepy-eyed nod from me before I roll back over to continue my slumber. So the fact that I am standing on the deck of a cruise ship well past midnight, having just crossed the arctic circle — and am grinning from ear to ear — is nothing short of a miracle. But this is an occasion that has to be marked. 

​I’m on board the MS Trollfjord where leisurely days sauntering in and out of ports led to this moment. Hurtigruten’s ships have been transporting people and goods up the Norwegian coast for 130 years on its Coastal Express routes. But this Svalbard itinerary is an upgraded revamp of a more utilitarian route that ran from 1968 to 1982. The Svalbard Express takes passengers in premium comfort from Bergen to Honningsvåg (the northernmost city on the mainland) before dashing across the Barents Sea to Spitsbergen, Svalbard — the largest island in a Norwegian archipelago that is about 850 miles from the north pole and is home to the northernmost populated community in the world. 

Over the course of our 10-day northbound cruise, we’ll stop in one port per day, leaving time to dip my toes in arctic chilled waters or wander through a UNESCO-celebrated community. I’ll stand in awe of the majesty of towering fjords, shiver in the presence of blue-tinged glaciers and spot young reindeer, fuzzy and white on the mountainsides. 

​The moment I’ve been waiting for happens as we approach Svalbard. It’s the night when the midnight sun — an April to late-August experience — will combine with crossing the arctic circle. 

​Cruise lines that head this far north mark the crossing in different ways. On Hurtigruten, there are toasts with aquavit, storytelling from a crew member dressed like a Norwegian prince ... and a ceremonial soup ladle full of ice water down your back. 

​It’s a rollicking time on board, but the most memorable moment has yet to come. At midnight, I wander out to the deck with my husband at my side, and we stand in complete silence, looking out at the water shimmering in the sun’s golden glow, awestruck by the beauty of the moment. 

​Not since childhood has staying up past midnight felt so magical. ​

Heather Greenwood Davis is a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Afar magazines. She lives in Toronto.

spinner image left writer adam pitluk and family right a statue of author hans christian andersen in front of saint canute cathedral in odense denmark
The birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, creator of many famous fairy tales, left a lasting impression on writer Adam Pitluk.​​
Courtesy of Adam Pitluk / Frank Bach / Alamy Stock Photo

Odense, Denmark​ ​

Consider this: For more than a century, parents have been putting their kids to bed with the story of a little mermaid who wished to leave the sea and live on land. Years later, when those kids struggled with their appearance, they were told the story of an ugly duckling that became a swan.​​

My children are growing, with the first duck about to fly the coop for college. I wanted an experience that would touch our hearts and make us reflective of the path we’ve taken.​

​I chose Denmark to be our swan song family vacation. To be clear, we are not Danes, nor do we have friends to visit. The choice was made because my parents told my sister and me Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. A generation later, I told those same tales to my two daughters. A trip to Denmark — the birthplace of Andersen who created some of the most famous fairy tales — would commemorate two ends of time neatly tied: the generational passing of the torch, as it were.​ ​

We arrived at Copenhagen Airport after 9 p.m. to a sun that was still on high, as the summer months produce more than 17 hours of daylight. From the airport, we jumped on a Eurail train to the city of Odense on the island of Fyn and checked into Hotel Odeon, a glass, brick and steel structure with sweeping views of the surrounding churches in the city, as well as the many grassy roofs, a sustainable form of architecture ushering in the next generation of green living.​ ​

We spent the next two days walking in the footsteps of one of our favorite writers. Literally. Andersen’s footprint begins at the house he was born in and can be followed throughout the entire city past many of the famous cathedrals that inspired his fairy tales, such as the gothic St. Canute’s Church and cathedral, which was built in the 1300s and stood sentry in Odense throughout Andersen’s life.​

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​From there, we strolled through the Fairy Tale Garden. Surrounded by spring dahlias, bulbs and perennials, my wife, daughters and I watched the ducks and their reflections in the river. ​

​The most exciting part of the trip was a walk through the Hans Christian Andersen museum where we saw a re-creation of the pea and mattresses from the story “The Princess and the Pea.”​ ​

On our last night, we had family dinner at Storms Pakhus, a huge street food market. I reminded my princesses that although these travel moments would be fewer and further between as they started their own journeys with their own families, the moral of Andersen’s fairy tales would apply to their children, just as it applied to me and to my parents before me.​ ​

And to think, we all got to walk in his footsteps together as a family. ​ ​

Adam Pitluk is an award-winning journalist and book author. He is the group publisher of Midwest Luxury Publishing and Groom Lake Media.​ ​

spinner image left palm trees line the ocean shore of one of the marshall islands right writer pam leblanc swimming
Writer Pam LeBlanc found a deep appreciation for local culture and lagoons in the Marshall Islands.
Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo / Courtesy of Pam LeBlanc

Marshall Islands

​I’m hovering in gin-clear water just off tiny Bokanbotin, one of more than 1,200 palm-dotted spits of land that make up the Marshall Islands.

​Beneath me, a carpet of pale, rust-colored anemones undulate in the current. A dozen thumb-sized clown fish — just like the orange and white star of Finding Nemo ​— ​nestle in the safety of the anemones’ protective fingers. 

​It’s mesmerizing and beautiful — and a sharp contrast to the tragic past of this remote string of islands about midway between Hawai‘i and Australia. 

​In the 1940s and ’50s, U.S. military officials tested nuclear weapons on these islands, and people are still dealing with the repercussions. Today, residents of the low-lying chain of islands are grappling with new issues: Sea levels are rising, flooding is more frequent and freshwater supplies are being inundated with seawater. Some experts say part of the islands could be uninhabitable in 30 years.

​I wanted to visit the islands, among the least visited countries in the world, before I couldn’t anymore.

​It’s surprisingly easy to get to the Marshall Islands, scattered like glinting coins over 750,000 square miles of ocean. Most flights travel from Honolulu to Majuro, a 25-mile-long island where about half of the country’s population of about 55,000 people live.

​Leave the airport and you’ll immediately pass a gigantic trash dump. Cinder blocks and abandoned cars line much of the main roadway, and you won’t see glistening resorts or sandy beaches. 

​Don’t let that dissuade you. During my trip, I discovered that lush, hardly touched islands — including Bokanbotin — still exist in real life. 

​I stayed at the no-frills Hotel Robert Reimers in Majuro, but for a more luxurious stay, visitors can rent a small bungalow on what was once a coconut plantation at Bikendrik Island, a short boat ride away. 

​One day, I skimmed across the bay in an outrigger canoe made by students at Canoes of the Marshall Islands. Another, I listened to music and watched fishing boats drop off their catch during the annual Fishermen’s Day celebration. I ate coconut cooked in banana leaves made by locals. I ate fresh-caught fish grilled on the beach. I swam in a lagoon, wearing a skirt and shirt (swimsuits are not considered appropriate attire outside tourist areas), while raindrops pelted my forehead.

​I met kind people doing good work. I met with members of a local women’s organization called Kora In Okrane, who teamed up with an American company called Sawyer to deliver water filters to residents who rely on rainwater catchment systems for their daily needs. Their work has lowered rates of waterborne illness.

​That reminded me that travel is not about fancy hotels or high-thread-count sheets. It’s about meeting people from different cultures, learning about their viewpoints and going home with a new appreciation for what we have.

Pam LeBlanc is an Austin, Texas-based freelance adventure writer and former staff writer at the Austin American-Statesman

spinner image left robert annis and wife dee take a selfie in their bike helmets right a view of the alps in the german state of bavaria
​​A bike tour in Bavaria can lead to the Romantic Road, which was most memorable for writer Robert Annis and his wife, Dee.​
Courtesy of Robert Annis / filmfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Bavaria, Germany

​​Two of my favorite things in the world are bicycling and beer, so in August 2015, my wife, Dee, and I traveled halfway across the world to visit a place that excels at both — Bavaria.

​Dee and I started our adventure in Munich, where we borrowed cruiser bikes from our hotel and headed to one of the city’s most historic beer halls. Sitting in the original Hofbräuhaus, we swigged substantial steins of hefeweizen surrounded by other tourists, while a brass band bellowed tune after rollicking tune. Seeking a little more quiet, we pedaled to the Englischer Garten (English Garden), Munich’s largest park, echoing New York City’s famous Central Park, where we, you guessed it, sought out its famous beer gardens. We sat at a table overlooking one of the lakes, downing dunkels and watching visitors toss bits of pretzel to the swans.

​It wasn’t until we left Munich and traveled into southern Germany’s gorgeous countryside that we truly felt we were in Bavaria. We rented a car and drove to Hotel Kaufmann in Roßhaupten, which became our base camp for the next two days. The hotel was stunning, its modern architecture contrasting beautifully with timeless views of the lush countryside.

​The next morning, we headed west toward the Alps and hamlets of Oy-Mittelberg. Dee was on her custom road bike from home, while I’d been forced to rent a rickety hybrid. The first few miles were a bit rough, my frown deepening with every spin of the creaky crank, but my foul mood didn’t last. Riding a bike is supposed to be fun after all, and our surroundings were just too beautiful.

Imagine a bicycle highway, separated from vehicle traffic, with smooth pavement and plenty of signage directing you to your destination and dozens of others. It’s nearly impossible to get lost. We grinded up a few rolling hills, but for the most part, the road grades were fairly flat. Pedaling in the shadow of the Bavarian Alps, surrounded by forests and farm fields, we took in the scenery and chatted easily. The hills were alive with the sounds of serenading songbirds and clicking derailleurs. We rode past (or were passed) by dozens of other riders — some day-trippers like us, others long-distance tourers weighed down by overflowing panniers (baskets/bags) — but nearly all of them with the same look of glee as our own. 

​Every few kilometers, we’d roll into a picturesque village that looked as if it were ripped from another century and frozen in amber. Our one rule for that trip was that we had to stop in every town’s brewery. As soon as the waitress handed us our mugs of beer and perhaps a plate of schnitzel, we’d instantly be struck with the feeling of gemütlichkeit or good cheer. 

​I studied German for two years in high school, and I was confident that I knew enough to get by, as long as we stuck to ordering more beer or finding the direction of the nearest bathroom. Luckily nearly everyone we came across spoke much better English than I did German.

​On our second day, we rode south along Forggensee lake to the Romantic Road, which spans 354 kilometers (220 miles) from Wurzburg to Füssen. We only pedaled a fraction of that amount though; Dee wanted to see what may be the most-famous castle in the world (the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland), the legendary Neuschwanstein Castle. It was as beautiful as the pictures suggest. Standing on the Romantic Road and looking up at the picturesque castle, I put my arm around my wife and drew her in for a quick kiss. 

​On the way back to the hotel, we rolled into another beer garden, where we recounted our trip highlights over several steins filled with schwarzbier and pilsner. We may have drank our weight in beer over those few days, but all the bike riding canceled out all those calories, right? I’d done much harder bike trips, but this tour through Bavaria was undoubtedly the most fun I’d ever had on two wheels.

​​Robert Annis is an award-winning outdoor-travel journalist. His byline has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including National Geographic, Outside and Travel + Leisure.​​

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