Was your New Year’s Resolution to travel more? Or to see more of the world? Or to have life changing experiences and create forever memories? If so, there’s a “Bucket List” trip for you to take this year – and not just any amazing journey, but the very best of its type.
There are lots of travel “bucket lists,” but most come up short on two counts. They are overly broad, like “go climb a mountain,” and they fail to take into account that people have different tastes – not everyone wants to climb mountains.
This list is a variety of experiences and destinations by theme for every taste, and each is the best in its class, from awesome skiing to space travel.
One person’s Bucket List activity can be another person’s ho-hum, especially when it comes to hobbies or passions. If you are a golfer, teeing it up in the birthplace of golf, Scotland’s St. Andrews, is a dream come true. If you are not, it hardly rates as a once in a lifetime experience.
From ancient ruins to sports to nature, this 10 Best List has something for everyone.
Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com
Evan McGlinn is a photojournalist for The New York Times and The Boston Globe as well as a contributing editor for American Express’ Departures magazine. I met him standing at a bar — well, we are journalists — at the famed Yellowstone Club in Montana nearly a decade ago. It didn’t take long to discover that we shared a similar sardonic take on the world. That was a good thing, given that the Yellowstone Club — a member’s-only ski club for billionaires and mere multi millionaires that has run into countless financial troubles — was one of the most exuberant examples of trophy egos that I’ve ever seen anywhere. A special sense of humor was as essential as the capacity to drink fine wines and enjoy miles of perfectly groomed corduroy skiing with those who had drunk the Kool Aid.
Evan McGlinn, founder of Tripmagnifica
McGlinn has traveled the globe for more than 25-years, from the Atlantic salmon rivers of Russia’s Kola peninsula to New Zealand’s South Island to the Relais and Chateaux castles of Europe. Simply put, he covers the world of high-end travel. He recently started Tripmagnifica.com, which is a one-of-a-kind photography service for busy clients who travel on high-end vacations and adventures anywhere in the world. He takes all the photos on a trip — so you don’t have to — and makes bespoke photography albums that will preserve your memories for generations to come. I recently had a chance to ask him about it.
Migis Lodge, Maine. Photo by Evan McGlinn
Everett Potter: How did you come up with the idea for Tripmagnifica?
Evan McGlinn: My family and I have been spending a week in August at Migis Lodge in Maine for years. The same families visit at the same times every year and they all knew that I was a photojournalist who shoots for The New York Times. All of them had photography questions for me on a daily basis and they asked me why their photos didn’t look like mine. I loved helping them! It occurred to me that people would benefit to have professional photos of their vacations and adventures. After all, there is no way you can photograph yourself skiing, mountain climbing or hooking an Atlantic salmon.
EP: The concept seems like an extension of the kind of editorial work you’ve done in your career. In short, a client is hiring you — a professional photojournalist — to create an ultra-personal magazine or memento. Is that the idea?
EM: That’s correct. I am a firm believer in the power of photography, not only to document world events, but our personal lives. Also, maybe it is my Irish blood, but I am keenly aware that life is short. I want my kids to have an incredible archive of their lives and I make a book for them at the end of every year with photos of all our adventures together. I think giving a loved one a Tripmagnifica experience is the ultimate gift. Also, books last forever. Hard drives don’t.
Migis Lodge, Maine
EP: How long does it take to document a travel experience for someone? Would you need to travel with them the entire time, or simply parachute in for a few days to get the essence of the experience?
EM: I could do both depending on what people are looking for. Clearly, if a family is going to Jumby Bay or St. Barts for a week and sitting on the beach, I can understand why a full week with them might be overkill. In that case, I could come for a couple of days. Bigger trips – fly fishing in Montana or African safaris, for example – are much richer experiences and have lots of opportunities for in-depth story-telling with images. I love to capture everything from the camaraderie of the meals to the thrill of landing a trophy brown trout or the drama of a lion hunting its prey. Those sorts of trips require time and I typically shoot 1,500 images a day or more. People joke that I am on vacation too, but it is hard work carrying two cameras and spare lenses and being on top of your game for 10-hours or more.
Bingo. Photo by Evan McGlinn
EP: Give us an idea of the kinds of trips where this might work best.
EM: Any trip where there are a variety of locations and interesting visual stories to be told. That would include ski trips, wine and barge tours in France, and fly fishing trips. I will photograph anything, anywhere. I recently returned from a Tripmagnifica trip to Scotland with a group from Moscow who were pheasant hunting on The Duke of Roxburghe’s estate south of Edinburgh. It was terrific. I setup remote-controlled cameras so that I could photograph them in the front while they were shooting.
EP: Can you give us an idea of a ballpark estimate for a Tripmagnifica shoot? And what the client gets at the end of a Tripmagnifica experience?
EM: I charge $2,495 a day plus all travel and accommodation expenses and I have a 3-day minimum. All clients receive a digital copy of the final images which I have personally edited in Adobe Lightroom and have adjusted for things like color saturation, sharpness and cropping. I make the images sparkle. If clients would like a book I can make anything from one on Blurb.com to a handmade leather photo album handcrafted in New Zealand by one of my partners. Books range in price from $2,000 to $5,000 or more. So, a three-day trip with a Blurb.com book of 200 pages or more would about $9,500 plus expenses. I know all of that sounds very expensive, but remember, this is inexpensive compared to most wedding photography. Weddings can cost well over $15,000 for just one day. And that doesn’t include a book.
The Great Glen Way starts seaside at the site of ancient fort. Photo by Julie Snyder.
By Julie Snyder
My husband, Joe, believes he was a Scottish Highlander in another life. Broad of chest and bearded, it’s not hard to imagine him as kilted and saber-bearing. The first time we traveled to Scotland some 15 years ago, he took to the country like the proverbial duck to water—only in this case the “water” was single malt whisky.
We’ve returned several times since to explore “the bens (mountains) and glens,” and in between trips, satisfied our curiosity via Scotland Magazine. It was there that Joe read about the Great Glen Way—a 79-mile footpath along waterways that separate Northwestern Scotland from the rest of the country—and we decided to build our next trip around it.
Paralleling a major geological fault from Fort William to Inverness, the Great Glen Way takes in some of Scotland’s most impressive natural attractions—Ben Nevis, the country’s highest mountain at 4,409 feet; Loch Ness, its most famous and largest loch; and the Caledonian Canal, a Victorian engineering marvel. The walking is fairly easy—we averaged 10 to 12 miles a day for seven days—and the footpath well-signed, in both English and Gaelic.
Interpretative signs were well-placed and in both English and Gaelic. By Julie Snyder
Though the Great Glen Way’s official website offers enough information to organize the trip on one’s own, we opted to work with Easyways, a UK-based booking service, which arranged our lodgings, luggage transfer and the odd shuttle for a reasonable fee. We were then free to set off each morning carrying only what we needed for the day—which, given the vagaries of Scottish weather was plenty. Though most days were a blend of rain, drizzle and gray skies, we were outfitted in head-to-toe rain gear (including a waterproof backpack cover) and found the misty landscape to be rather magical.
After a day exploring Fort William—the self-proclaimed outdoor capital of the UK—and enjoying the hospitality of Rhu Mohr Guest House, we set off. The Great Glen Way officially begins seaside at the ruins of Fort William’s namesake fort and meets the 62-mile-long Caledonian Canal a few miles later at Corpach.
A touring craft navigates through one of 10 swing bridges on the Caledonian Canal. By Joe Nolte
Opened in1822, this historic canal boasts 29 locks, 4 aqueducts and 10 swing bridges in the 22 manmade miles of waterway that connect lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness. We took time out for tea while watching leisure craft negotiate a series of eight locks called Neptune’s Staircase, the U.K.’s longest.
The Braes Guest House on the edge of Spean Bridge was a welcome haven at the end of our first day. The next morning, after indulging in scrambled eggs with lox (a daily treat of which we never tired), we followed the west shore of Loch Lochy to South Laggan, our second day’s destination. Along the long rolling track through Clunes Forest, the mini-waterfalls flowing from the highlands on our left competed for attention with the emerald moss-carpeted forest cascading to the loch side.
The footpath paralleling Loch Ness offered a birds-eye view of kestrel and osprey. By Julie Snyder
Our third day’s route followed an old railway bed through woodlands along the shore of Loch Oich, and then led down a narrow wooded causeway bordered by the canal and the River Lochy. We walked alongside a series of five locks that drop down to Fort Augustus, an idyllic village wrapped around the southern tip of imposing Loch Ness.
There we settled in for a two-night stay at Thistle Dubh, a modern country bed and breakfast. The well-timed rest day afforded a chance to visit the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre and take in the sunset loch side at the Boathouse Restaurant, part of a one-time Benedictine Abbey that’s been transformed into luxury condominiums, as well as attend to more mundane tasks like laundry.
Refreshed and back on the Great Glen Way, we took the high road (as opposed to the auto road that traced the loch shore below us) and reveled in glorious views of Loch Ness. In Invermoriston, we dined with London friends Dick and Margaret—who joined us for the rest of the journey—at the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel, a vintage Highlands oasis.
The path from Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit was perhaps the toughest, with an endless winding hill that lead to a high plateau. At walk’s end, the luxury of Drumbuie Farm, home to a herd of hirsute Highland Cattle, soon made us forget our weary bones.
Instead of walking a marathon 18 miles on the final stretch to Inverness (there’s not a convenient lodging between Drumnadrochit and Inverness), we taxied to the half way point and walked back to Drumbuie Farm. This afforded us time to explore the fascinating Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, where the monster legend lives on.
Streams flowed through lush forests to lochs. By Joe Nolte
On our final day, we taxied back to the halfway point and headed in the other direction. Heaths of heather, fields of sheep and forests of ancient oak and larch all too soon gave way to civilization, as we followed an urban path to Inverness Castle on the bank of the River Ness, where the Great Glen Way comes to an end. Needless to say, we toasted our adventure with a very fine single malt.
If You Go
While you can walk the Great Glen Way year-round, support services are only offered between April and October. We chose to walk in mid-October to avoid midges (nasty “no-see-ums”) and crowds, though weather is warmer and dryer in the summer. You can start the walk at either end, but most start in Fort William, typically undertaking the wettest weather at the beginning and saving the most challenging terrain for the end. Places to stop for lunch or tea during the day are rare along. Some inns will provide packed lunches but we opted to carry a variety of snacks purchased in Fort William and as available along the way. Don’t leave home without a small thermos—benches at viewpoints were the perfect spots to enjoy tea or hot chocolate.
Julie Snyder lives near Lake Tahoe, where her current pet project is Nevada Humane Society. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.
The Royal Scotsman rolls across the Scottish countryside.
By Ian Keown
That first sight of the Royal Scotsman’s burnished mahogany and burled walnuts, its marquetry panels and etched glass thistles instantly downloads memories of Hercules Poirot or James Bond high-tailing it across Europe on the Orient-Express. So I was not at all surprised when, on my first night aboard, edging along corridors trimmed with gleaming brass hand-rails, a soignee, tanned and slightly exotic lady stepped from her cabin and asked if I would be so kind as to help her open her window. Sure, lady, sure. But this being Presbyterian Scotland rather than the voluptuous East it turned out that what the lady expected of me was no more than a quick tug to part a pair of ventilation panels.
Just as well, because I was traveling with my wife and teenage daughter, showing off the beauty and history of my homeland on a railroad experience I had dreamed of for years – riding one of the world’s most luxurious touring trains from Edinburgh through magical landscapes of glens and craggy peaks, along the pebbled shores of lochs and across the gorse-covered moors. For someone who grew up in Scotland, riding the Royal Scotsman for four days is something of a giggle – I could almost drive the same route in one day. But then I’d be seeing little but trucks carting fresh fish from the isles to the markets of London, whereas our stately train was tootling along at a stately 50 mph and I was ensconced in a clubby Observation Car watching these storied landscapes unfurl. For American visitors, of course, the train is a godsend, eliminating the stress of driving on the left, or trying to remember who gets priority in roundabouts, or confronting a flock of highland sheep on a one-lane road. As one passenger from the States put it: “When I saw the opportunity to tour Scotland by train it seemed so effortless I leaped at the chance.”
The Royal Scotsman about to depart Edinbugh
Appropriately, the trip began with a Scottish swagger: a sturdy piper caparisoned in full kilted regalia lead the passengers from Waverly Station’s first-class lounge, where we had all assembled, to Platform 10, where we got our first glimpse of the gleaming gold-and-burgundy livery of The Great Scotland and Western Railway Company, emblazoned with its own escutcheon of “railway engine wheel Proper surmounted by a lion rampant issuant from a Crown pallisado.” It looks for all the world like a royal train and if Her Majesty herself had stepped onto the platform she would not have looked out of place.
As we left the station, passing beneath Princes Street Gardens and the towering Castle then crossing that cantilevered marvel known as the Forth Bridge, champagne and expectations encouraged everyone to mingle and get to know their fellow passengers, two dozen on this trip, predominantly American, including some families and grandparents hosting teenagers on graduation trips. The welcome party also gave us time to take the measure of our “home” for the next four nights.
A cabin on the Royal Scotsman
The Royal Scotsman has been around since 1990 but it was acquired in 2007 by the Orient-Express company, which promptly pumped in some much-needed funds for extra perks like bathrobes and slippers for guests, tailored uniforms for the staff of 16 and 35 brands of single malts in the bar (served with the company’s compliments). It consists of nine brilliantly restored and refurbished Pullman carriages – five State Cars (or sleeping cars), two dining cars, the 36-seater Observation Car, and a Service Car for the 16 members of the youthful crew (and emptied suitcases not required by passengers during the trip). The State Cars have sleeping cabins for a total of 36 passengers, including four singles. The twins, measuring 85 square feet, are reminiscent of cabins on a sizeable yacht with their cozy wood paneling and dusky red plaids; each is fitted with a desk, a small full-length closet and twin beds in a head-to-toe L configuration. Climate control relies on overhead ventilation outlets, ceiling fans and small ventilation panels above a picture window – perfectly adequate in most circumstances (this is, after all, Scotland, not the Mediterranean); but since our trip enjoyed four days of sunshine with temperatures in the high 70s, there were times when air conditioning would have been welcome (hence the soignée lady’s request to open her ventilation windows).
Two features distinguish the Royal Scotsman from most other touring trains. First, every cabin comes with its own toilet, 24 square feet of ingenious design with space for a shower, six fluffy towels and two bathrobes. Second, the passengers sleep on board while the train is “stabled” (meaning, in this case, pulling into a quiet siding for the night) so that guests can dream on undisturbed by stops and starts or having to undergo the inconvenience, as they must do on some trains, of checking into a hotel each night.
Lounge Car on The Royal Scotsman
All of which makes a perfect game plan: in the evenings we socialized and by day we fanned out on sightseeing trips in the Royal Scotsman’s private motor coach, which followed us from station to station. Our itinerary took us north through Whisky Country all the way to Dornoch in the north, then via Loch Luichart and the Forest of Achnashellach to Kyle of Lochalsh in the west, then south through the Cairngorm Mountains back to Edinburgh
Along the way, we sampled a splendid tapestry of castles and gardens, monuments and museums. In Speyside, the home of many acclaimed whisky distilleries, we stopped for an exclusive after-hours single malt tasting and ceilidh, a traditional Gaelic party with dancing, singing and poetry. At the most dolorous spot in Scotland, the battlefield of Culloden, a private guide dressed as one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites, showed us where each clan fought and died and demonstrated how one large swatch of plaid wool could become a soldier’s tunic, knapsack, blanket and raincoat all in one. We toured a trio of grand castles where the owners still lived among endless salons of ancestral portraits –Dunrobin, home of the Dukes of Sutherland, with its acres of terraced gardens; Cawdor, the centuries-old seat of the thanes immortalized by Macbeth; and Glamis, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. At Rothiemurchis, a 25,000-acre wilderness estate that has been in the same family for 400 years, we had tea with the present lady of the manor; and at the picture-pretty fishing village of Plockton, we joined Captain Callum MacKenzie on his sturdy launch Argus for an hour of seal spotting — and whisky tasting. Along the way, we could try out our skills at falconry, clay shooting and fly fishing. Although the days’ schedules were quite full some guests managed to fit in spontaneous side trips: one family of five from California skipped an afternoon of sightseeing for a round of golf on a classic Donald Ross-designed course.
Dinner on board The Royal Scotsman
All these activities gave everyone material for conversation over dinner but the dining experience itself was a constant topic of conversation. Evenings began with cocktails and canapés in the Observation Car at 7:30 followed by dinner at 8 in a pair of classic dining cars elegantly fitted out with brocade fabrics, tie-back curtains and high-backed padded chairs, and topped off with nightcaps, strathspeys and folksongs performed by rosy-cheeked fiddlers and singers who came aboard for the occasion. We were a moveable feast, a country-house dinner party without the tuxedos and gowns (at least on this trip) but with an appropriate frisson of exclusiveness. When, we wondered, had we last enjoyed meals served on Staffordshire and Royal Worcester china at tables set with Achnasheen silverware and Dartington glassware – on a train? Certainly none of us had expected cuisine of such high caliber, given that the two chefs, Iain Murray and Paul Middleton, had to perform their choreography three times a day in a cramped galley measuring just “eight steps from wall to the wall” at its widest point. But here they managed to perform miracles from breakfast through dinner, serving local fare at most meals — Buccleuch beef (“Hung 5 days, 8 minutes in the oven”), organic Speyside salmon and langoustines and scallops bought direct from the fishing boats moored next to the train in Kyle of Lochalsh.
The Royal Scotsman experience is not without minor disappointments. Anyone hoping to see the train puffing smoke and being hauled by a Harry Potterish locomotive will be dismayed to learn that today’s enviro-rules decree diesel, a workmanlike but unprepossessing alternative. And since there is no facility along the route to turn the train around the Observation Car is, on some stretches, at the front of the train and harnessed directly to the diesel, detracting from the panoramic, fresh-air spirit of an open viewing platform.
In one notable aspect, the Royal Scotsman belies its heritage: it is not thrifty. But the hefty price tag, roughly $2,000 per passenger per day double occupancy, is offset by the glamorous time-warp of luxury rail travel, the bonhomie of urbane traveling companions, the unexpected refinement of the cuisine, the enriching private tours and the sheer convenience of seeing so much with so little effort. Also, the virtually all-inclusive fare includes the selection of single malts.
And let’s face it, you can’t savor 35 of Scotland’s grandest malts when you’re driving.
The Royal Scotsman offers more than 50 two-day, three-day and four-day itineraries from April through October. The all-inclusive prices vary slightly but count on $2,000 per day per passenger sharing a cabin. Several of the departures are private charters that often have cabins available for travelers who are not affiliated with the groups. The trip we took had been chartered by the Manhattan-based organization Academic Arrangements Abroad on behalf of members of the Harvard Alumni Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Royal Oak Foundation, hence the congenial and cultivated fellow passengers with whom we spent five days. Academic Arrangements Abroad has been organizing these custom-designed, high-end group tours by land and sea for more than 30 years; their trips are noted for being meticulously planned and always feature gifted lecturers to match the special interests (art, gardening, history, culture) of the groups, like members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art or alumni of Princeton, Dartmouth or Phillips Exeter Academy.
Ian Keown is currently a contributing writer for Caribbean Travel & Life. Over the past 30-odd years his byline has appeared in Travel & Leisure (as a contributing editor), Gourmet (as contributing editor), Diversion (as contributing columnist), Departures, ForbesFYI, San Francisco Examiner, Worth and Opera. His guidebooks include his own series of lovers’ guides: Guide to France for Loving Couples, Very Special Places: A Lover’s Guide to America, European Hideaways and Caribbean Hideaways (which the Miami Herald called “the bible.”). He is the recipient of the first Marcia Vickery Award for Travel Writing and the first Anguilla 40 Award for in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Anguilla Tourism.