Looking to get away for awhile? Planning an awesome trip but don’t know where to go? Get inspired by these people who made their travel dreams come true.
Bucket List Trips
Petra, Jordan: A Dream Come True
“I had been desperate to visit Petra for so many years,” says Ann Swinford, 63, a radiologist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, about the UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its ornately carved temples and tombs hewn directly into rose-colored rock.
“I voted for it to become one of the New Seven Wonders of the World when they held the contest in 2007, even though I’d never been there. And it lived up to all my expectations.”
Founded by the Nabateans in the 4th century B.C. and all but abandoned a thousand years later, Petra became famous around the world for its starring role in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Swinford was awed by the grandeur of the ornate structures hidden within the towering cliffs. “When you’re walking down the long canyon and then the rocks split and you see the Temple appear, it’s so magical,” she says.
She planned the trip with her husband, Mo, to include many of Jordan’s historic sites, including the Roman ruins of Jerash, where the stones still show the grooves of chariot wheels, and the colorful city of Madaba, famed for its Byzantine mosaics. Another highlight was Mount Nebo, described in the Bible as the final home of Moses, with its views extending all the way to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. “It was amazing to stand in those footsteps and imagine all that history.”
Speaking of the Dead Sea, Swinford loved the experience of being suspended in its saline-saturated waters. “Ever since I went to Bible class and they told me there was a sea you could float in, I’ve wanted to experience that, and it was so much fun!”
Alaska in Winter: The Best Place to See the Northern Lights
Seeing the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights, had been a dream of Marilynn Mastrella’s since she first saw photos of the otherworldly phenomena in a high school science class.
“I had been to both Iceland and Norway trying to see the aurora, and both times it didn’t happen,” says Mastrella, 56, a clinical social worker in Somerville, New Jersey.
Her luck was better on a recent trip to Alaska, where twice she caught the dancing streaks of light in Fairbanks, a prime viewing destination, thanks to its location under the aurora oval, where the geomagnetic storms are most active. “They weren’t even the best shows, and it was still so amazing,” she says.
Just as exciting, though, was experiencing the adventure of an Alaska winter. “Alaska feels so different from every other state in the U.S., and I wanted to see the wildlife and do all the crazy things you can do there in the snow and ice.”
Traveling with a small tour group, she hiked Matanuska Glacier, went snowshoeing and went flightseeing over Denali, where the small plane landed high up the peak. During a boat cruise on Prince William Sound, they were treated to the spectacle of an iceberg calving. “It sounded like a huge explosion, even though we were pretty far from when it happened,” she says.
They hiked with a herd of reindeer at Running Reindeer Ranch, soaked in a thermal mineral pool surrounded by snow at Chena Hot Springs, and went dogsledding with a team that had been in the Iditarod. “Dog mushing was so much fun; the dogs were so happy and fun to watch,” she says.
Now that she’s braved an Alaska winter, Mastrella wants to come back in summer or fall to explore the state’s national parks when they’re not blanketed in snow.
20 National Parks: The Ultimate Road Trip
(scroll to keep reading)
When genetic testing revealed that Abbi Whitaker carried the BRCA2 gene mutation that vastly increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, the news came as a shock. Having already survived anal cancer a decade before, Whitaker, 46, wasn’t about to wait and worry; she immediately made plans to have a preventive double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by a hysterectomy.
But she also needed something joyful to look forward to, so she made a plan: She would visit 20 national parks in 2021, interspersed with her surgeries. “Nature is my church, it’s where I feel the best, and I wanted something really magical to hold on to,” she says. Joined by her husband, Ty, she headed to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley in February, followed by the Petrified Forest and Saguaro in March.
The Whitaker kids, 15-year-old Ever and 12-year-old Eden, joined their parents on about half the trips, includng a spring break road trip to visit Utah’s Mighty 5: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.
Over the summer, they hit White Sands, Yellowstone, Lassen, Redwood, Crater Lake, Pinnacles and Glacier National Parks. At Glacier, Whitaker had an epiphany: “We were driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road and it was just mesmerizing, and I thought, How amazing it is to be alive for this!”
The Whitakers made sure to take photos in front of every national park sign, and Ty made a collage of the pictures, which he presented to Abbi as a beautifully designed poster.
Along the way the family purchased a Sprinter van, something Abbi had dreamed of for years but balked at spending the money. “Having a double mastectomy makes you do some impulsive things,” she jokes.
The Whitakers completed their odyssey with a memorable weekend in Yosemite, staying at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. “We saved the crowning jewel for last,” she says.
Whitaker also spent 2021 working to support Nevada’s Senate Bill 251, sponsored by State Senator Heidi Gansert, which increases women’s access to the genetic counseling she is certain saved her life. The bill passed on June 14, 2021, and went into effect January 1, 2022.
And she’s not done with national parks just yet; this summer she and Ty will visit Maine to explore Acadia National Park.
Iceland: The Perfect 40th Birthday Present
Amee Bhatia was determined to celebrate her 40th birthday somewhere really special. “I told my husband, Sanjay, that instead of a party, I wanted to take a trip that was truly meaningful, and he said you choose, anywhere you want,” she says. “So I picked Iceland because I’d wanted to go there since before we were married for all the nature and all the incredible scenery.”
The Bhatias have two children, ages 9 and 11, but they left them home with Amee’s mom. “I just wanted to go out and experience everything without any limitation,” says Amee, 45, a doctor of physical therapy in New Jersey.
The Bhatias’ itinerary included driving Iceland’s famous Ring Road, which links sights such as the black sand beach of Vik, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, the Geysir Geothermal Area and the waterfalls Gulfoss, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. A highlight of the journey was hiking up the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010.
“I remember the eruption because we were flying home from Paris and our flight got rerouted because of the ash cloud. Then to hike it now that it’s a glacier was incredible; the ice is such a pure blue, and they give you tools so you can do a bit of ice climbing.”
One of the things Amee most wanted to do was visit the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s massive geothermal hot springs spa known for its opalescent turquoise water. “You’re soaking in this hot mineral water with snowflakes falling on your head while they give you these lava facial masks to cleanse your skin, and it’s just so relaxing,” she says. “It lived up to all my expectations.”
The same could be said by each of those who turned their dream trip into an adventure to remember.