There are so many appealing places to visit in this wide world. The choices can be overwhelming once you get the travel bug, and we've got it pretty bad right now! Even though we're less than 9 months away from our bike tour across Central Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary), we've still got aspirations to visit a number of other places in the not-too-distant future.
Jo's List - France, Italy (Tuscany), Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand), NYC, Washington D.C., Argentina
Trevor's List - New Zealand, Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand), Spain (Barcelona/Coastal), Chicago, NYC, France (Paris, Provence), Panama, Argentina, Belgium/Netherlands.
Since we are both generally on school-based schedules, we typically have the month of July, two weeks around Christmas/New Years, and a week during the spring available for travel. Some of the destinations on our lists are weather-dependent, so that limits our options further. Here are my thoughts on feasibility, beginning with places we both rate highly on our list of destinations.
France - Paris and Provence
It's possible to have a great trip to Paris most any time of year. While the cafe culture lends itself best to the late-spring, early-summer months, those times also feature the largest crowds. In a cosmopolitan city rich in the arts, visiting during shoulder season or even the dead of winter provides certain opportunities for flexibility and easier movement. In addition, off-season visits are always best when trying to observe the way locals truly live; it also tends to be cheaper!
Paris works any time of year, but Provence to the south may be a bit less appealing out-of-season, since much of the draw is the natural beauty that lies dormant for parts of the year.
Best Miles/Points Redemption: American Airlines flies discounted award flights to Europe from October 15-May 15, meaning a round-trip costs only 40,000 AA miles per person. (Full Off-Peak AA Chart)
Southeast Asia - Vietnam and Thailand
Southeast Asia has popped up on both our radar's more recently, although I have been to many of the countries in this region a while back. We like the idea of exploring these places because they are truly foreign to us. It's fun to work as a team to navigate new places that are a bit outside of our comfort zone.
Both of these places can be visited in the same trip and offer a mix of big-city chaos and beach-front relaxation. Southeast Asia is also one of the least expensive places in the world to visit. They can be visited year-round without much temperature fluctuation because of their proximity to the equator, however the rainy season typically runs from July through October. Rainy season manifests heavy afternoon rains, although sunshine is still frequent during these times of year.
Because getting to Southeast Asia entails many long hours in-flight, a one-week trip just wouldn't do the region justice, which leaves winter break or summer rainy season options available to us.
Best Miles/Points Redemptions: Alaska Air is 60,000 miles round-trip to either Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on Cathay Pacific (one of Alaska's partners). Alaska also allows stopovers on one-way flights, so there are lots of ways to make a good deal even better (Alaska partner flight rules and examples of goosing the stopover benefit). Alaska Miles are somewhat difficult to come by, so plan B would be to redeem 70,000 AA miles for the same Cathay Pacific award flights. We could also split the route between Alaska and American.
Very cheap award nights are available from most hotel chains, but it's also cheap to pay cash for a hotel room or airbnb, so this may not be the best use of hotel points.
New Zealand - South Island + a Stopover in Fiji
New Zealand's south island has captivated me for several years now, but I got particularly interested after last year's backpacking trip to Patagonia. New Zealand has a number of "Great Walks" that feature the most stunning scenery imaginable, while remaining doable for most adventurous travelers. Ian Rolfe is a professional photographer and the photo above as well as these are his photos of the Milford Track, New Zealand's top Great Walk.
Johanna will never be a hardcore hiker that wants to do 10-15 miles every day, but she does love nature and this is a great opportunity for us to backpack in conditions that work for both of us. I know she will appreciate walking the well-maintained trails through lush, green forests and otherworldly fjords. I'd also like to do some exploring by car to other parts of the island.
Best Miles/Points Redemptions: Again, Alaska Air would allow us to maximize our itinerary by allowing us a stopover in Fiji without changing the price of travel to New Zealand. American Airlines has the cheapest award price at 37,500 each way (Alaska is 40,000 each way) and many of the same partners, but no stopover potential. In this case, we'd use American to get to New Zealand and then fly back on Alaska, stopping in Fiji on the way back to relax on the beach after our backpacking adventures!