Motorcycling along the back roads of Greece. Horseback riding in the Canadian Rockies. Giving an impromptu sermon in a tiny Icelandic church. What do these experiences have in common? They're all miles away from the typical ho-hum summer vacation -- and they're all trips that Independent Traveler members have taken over the last few years.
We've combed through hundreds of member trip reports to find intriguing adventures and insider tips for a wide variety of summer vacations, from the beach to the mountains to the temples of Japan. Even if you've already planned this year's vacation, our members' experiences may spark an idea for next summer's adventure. And if you haven't nailed down your summer plans, these stories might be just the inspiration you're looking for.
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Call of the Wild in Alaska
"Big Game Alaska was a spur-of-the-moment detour during our drive up to Talkeetna. We could have spent hours and hours here! It's a refuge for injured or abandoned animals. There are several different wide-open spaces, sectioned off for different animals. The fences are very tall, but they're constructed of wires that are set five or six inches apart, affording camera lenses glorious, unobstructed views. With the mountains looming off in the distance, the scenery was so incredible that you didn't realize that you were at a contained area.
"This was the place of my moose dreams! I have to say that a woman was reaching in through the fence and petting a moose, which I thought was not a good idea, but then when she left with her arm still intact, I couldn't resist doing it myself! How often do you get to pet a moose?! The grizzly bears' area had a double fence about 10 feet apart, with the inside fence being electrically charged, so that was the only pen that made it difficult to get a good photo -- but hey -- that's O.K.! I would not have dared to stick my hand in there!" Alaska -- Cruise and Road Trip by Judy P.
Trevi Without the Tourists
"It's late May/early June and the tourists have just started the summer invasion of Rome. As such, the first tip we can provide is to get up early and start your sightseeing no later than 7:30 a.m., or you will be overwhelmed by the tide of humanity that invades the popular tourist sites from about 9 a.m. onwards.
"A prime example: Having arrived at our hotel in Rome early evening, we decided to walk to the Trevi Fountain, which was just one block away. There were what seemed like 10,000 people trying to get a glimpse of and throw their coins into the Trevi, and most were finding it quite a struggle.
"Yet at 7:30 the next morning, there were six of us, and it was truly a personal and magical experience, and one I can highly recommend." -- Rome, the Eternal City by BJC
Music Mania in Seattle
"Not that you need a real reason for visiting Seattle, but we intentionally planned our trip to coincide with Bumbershoot, a four-day art festival featuring live music, visual art, a film festival, food vendors, etc. You can purchase a four-day pass for only $80, which I feel is an incredible deal.
"During our three days, we listened to jazz (Charlie Hunter and Bill Friesel), R&B (Mavis Staples), world music, industrial glam rock (Garbage), 70's glam rock (New York Dolls), Girly Glam Rock (the Donnas), a performance of a folk rock concept album (John Wesley Harding); watched a few chilling documentaries; ate Thai, Greek, Indian, Japanese and Italian food in abundance; and wandered around enjoying the weather and the "feel good hippie" vibe. It was a delight." -- Seattle: Bumbershoot, Food, Panic Attack by WackyHeathen
Bargain Hunting in China
"Shanghai was a fabulous starting point for a first visit to Asia. Its ultra-modern skyline is like none other in the world. Our agent had arranged a guide and driver just for the four of us for the entire trip, which I highly recommend. We asked our guide to take us somewhere we could buy pearl jewelry and were all very pleased with the place she took us, the Fanghua Pearl store, which was not far from the Wu Gardens. We actually walked there rather than having the driver take us.
"At the Fanghua Pearl store, they will make a necklace or bracelet for you while you wait. You pick out the size pearls you want, and a clasp, and they will string and knot them with the speed of lightening, and in just the perfect length of your choice. I got a triple-strand 6 mm bracelet with a large gold clasp for around $200, which was a bargain. We had all researched the cost of bracelets and necklaces before leaving home, so we'd know what was a good deal." -- Girl's Guide to China by Robin P.
Michigan Ghost Town
"A ghost town at a state park, and one that not only offers spectacular views of limestone cliffs off on the horizon, but also breathtaking sights of the sparkling waters of Big Bay De Noc and Lake Michigan ... who would have thought? Well, that's what you get when you visit Fayette State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
"During its heyday back in the 1860's through 1890, around 500 folks called this place home. Today, this historic town is also a Michigan State Park, which offers around 19 or 20 restored buildings for self-touring. Around the grounds you will see homes, a town hall with post office, the superintendent's house, a dance hall and shops, as well as other artifacts just as they stood back in the late 1800's. The largest building is the coal house which housed the huge furnaces which was the heart of the operations ... I definitely got a chill once inside this dark building." -- Michigan's Upper Peninsula by sightseeingsue
Motorcycle Road Trip in Greece
"Day two of being on the road was the beginning of the best ride I have ever experienced, and the roads I found just have to be the best in Greece! I rode south through Tripoli and on to Sparti where I stopped for lunch. The road out of Sparti going west to Kalamata was a motorcycle rider's dream. It took me through and over Mt. Taigetos and what seemed to be hundreds of hairpin turns. The scenery was unbelievable.
"From Kalamata I went south to Kardamilli, Stoupa and Trachili. Kardamilli is a small village with cobblestone narrow streets and hundreds of photo opportunities. I stopped where the sign said 'rooms' and stayed in a very modern room with a kitchenette that opened onto the Mediterranean for what was less than $30. The next morning I watched from my balcony as a small fishing boat docked and the little old lady boarded the boat to inspect what she would buy for the day's menu." -- Greece on a Harley by Becky B.
Ocean City, New Jersey: The Best Street in Town
"After many dismal days sweating it out on the west coast of Jersey, the east coast is practically paradise. And where do you go after you finally get to paradise? Where to stay after 16 years of staying in Ocean City, New Jersey?
"I'm a pretty seasoned veteran, and 2nd Street is the best in town (in my opinion). Being on the north end of the boardwalk, you get close to quiet, but still the easy access to the boardwalk. The beach is, of course, crowded as you'd expect, but it's one of the larger beaches, so there's still room for wiffle ball. Breakfast, lunch, dinner? Brown's, famous especially for its donuts, is just one street away on the boardwalk. Also the spot for water ice breaks!" -- Ocean City -- My Jersey Paradise by lyss63
Temple Tranquility in Japan
"Kyoto's main attraction for tourists is the large number of temples, shrines and castles that are there. There are over 2,000 sites, and many of them are UNESCO heritage sites. The crowds can be pretty thick, though. The best bet is to arrive at places right at the opening hour, and get ahead of the bus tourists.
"I arrive at Shoren-in Temple right at 9 a.m., opening time. I think this is the secret, arrive early. I walk in, and I have the place to myself. I kneel on the tatami mat floor and contemplate the waterfall and beautiful gardens outside.
"Shoren-in might not be the most beautiful of all the temples in Kyoto, but it is only as I am alone, with no sounds but the call of the birds, the splash of the waterfall and the rustle of the wind through the bamboo, that one gets a true appreciation of the peace of mind that meditating at these temples can bring.
"Of course, by posting this on the Internet, I may have destroyed that peace for future generations of tourists." -- 2 Weeks in Japan by GregW
Rocky Mountain High -- on Horseback
"My husband and I, novice horseback riders, went on our first trail ride in 2001 with the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. It was such a superb experience that we have ridden with them each summer since.
"The six-day adventure includes riding four to six hours each day, staying in Indian-style teepees in 'Teepee Town,' having delicious meals, seeing incredible sights and meeting people from all over the world. My husband celebrated his 64th birthday last July by doing a snow angel in a glacier -- what an experience!" -- Horseback Adventures in the Canadian Rockies by Jean T.
Iceland: Preaching to the Choir?
"After much searching, we were finally on the road to Pingvellir. We passed the Laxnes horse farm on the way. The drive was beautiful. Iceland is a breathtaking country. We traveled over lava formation areas covered in moss and fields full of horses. Pingvellir was great. This is the site that the Icelanders chose for their parliament in 930 A.D. It is kind of a natural amphitheater made of lava rock. There was a lovely waterfall tucked in one area.
"We hiked to it and along the river. We walked around the whole area and even visited the little church. I got up on the pulpit and began preaching, 'and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid...' Darlene stayed in the car." -- Iceland and Greenland Adventures by Linda V.
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