A Year of Travel Stories: 2019 in Review

December 27th, 2019

As we near the end of another year (and decade!), we've pulled together a roundup of the travel stories our team of travel writers put together about some of the places we've been, places we're going, and places we're still dreaming about.

If you have some downtime over the holidays and are thinking about travel, you'll find plenty of inspiration here! You'll also get a feel for the kind of things our community finds interesting when we go exploring...

Egypt, Israel & Jordan

The city of Cairo, Egypt

The city of Cairo, Egypt

Our first trip of 2020 takes us through the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. We'll cruise along the Nile before exploring Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and then venturing into the sands of Jordan to find the Rose City of Petra, ending with a relaxing few days along the Dead Sea.

A cruise along the Nile is a chance to sail along one of the world's most important historical waterways, once the lifeline of one of the most developed civilizations of its time:

The Endless River Of Life: Charting The Mighty Nile

The feeling of winding along the Nile amidst the sand dunes is truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, and the stops to explore along the way are architecturally and historically rich:

Dreaming of Egypt? Slow-travel down the Nile

Mike gave us a look at the Dead Sea and what has made it so popular in wellness travel today:

Taking A Life-Affirming Dip In The Dead Sea

Our team of writers also gave us a look at Israeli culture and what you might learn about life there on your visit:

The most intriguing aspects of Israeli culture

Perhaps landscapes don't come to mind immediately when you think about Israel, but that doesn't mean there isn't a natural beauty to this Middle Eastern nation:

Awe-inspiring landscapes in Israel and the stories they tell

And of course, there's the food! Egyptian cuisine may not be as well-known as other ethnic cuisines, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of tasty treats for you to discover:

A guide to eating in Egypt

Jordan is perhaps the least well-known of the three countries you'll visit on this trip, but this nation hiding in the sands has a lot to offer the intrepid traveller:

Jordan: A desert paradise

Of course the main draw for travellers in Jordan is the specatcular Rose City of Petra, a UNESCO site that has fascinated travellers for centuries:

Petra – The Temple That Hides A City (But Not In The Way You Think)

Our program for January 2020 is sold out, but we'll be running this trip again in 2021, and you can put your name on the waitlist here to be the first to get the itinerary when it's released.


Barrels of Scottish whisky in Islay, Scotland

Barrels of whisky in Islay, Scotland

We've got a unique program to Scotland happening in May 2020, as we'll be cruising along her coastline, stopping in to visit some whisky distilleries and coastal towns, as well as exploring the harder-to-get-to archipelagos like the Orkneys and Shetlands. Mike wrote a piece for us that was featured in the first edition of our print newsletter, The Anchor Monthly, about the history behind Scottish tartans:

A Well-Spun Yarn: Why Scottish Tartan Isn’t As Old As You Think

And since we'll actually be starting our trip in Dublin, Mike gave us a taste of what there is to explore in the world of Irish stout in this piece:


The other capital city you'll spend some time in on this trip is of course Scotland's capital, with her famous castle overlooking the city. Mike did a deep dive on the story behind its walls:

Fortress of Fire: Edinburgh Castle’s Explosive History

We'll be stopping in Oban on the trip, home to one of the world's most famous whisky distilleries, and a charming little town where you won't want to forget your camera:

Fall for the charms of Oban, Scotland

And for more on Scottish whisky, check out this piece:

Why Scotland should be your first choice for your Whisky Trail adventure

Mike also gave us a look at the fascinating history of the Iron Age settlements that have been discovered on the remote Scottish isles of the Orkneys and Shetlands:

Scotland’s Ancient Brochs: A Baffling Mystery On A Colossal Scale

Most of us don't know a lot about the remote Scottish isles, mostly because they aren't very convenient to visit! Here's a bit more about what makes them worthy of a visit:

Vacationing in Scotland? Consider the remote Shetland and Orkney Islands

Mike also gave us more insight into the western isles in this piece:

Exploring Scotland’s Western Isles: From The Remote To The Ridiculous

And another one about the Orkneys from Mike:

Orkney’s Hidden Worlds: Glimpsing The Deep Past Off Scotland’s Coast

The intrigue behind the rugged northern part of the UK is a big part of this trip, and Mike gave us more insight into it in this piece:

Scotland’s End: Why All Roads (Should) Lead To Cape Wrath

Cruising isn't the first thing that comes to mind for most travellers when they think about visiting Scotland, but it's a unique and interesting way to discover the country and her coastline:

Scotland: A Unique Cruise Destination

And if you go to Scotland, you've got to take the time to chat with some locals...but first read Mike's piece about Scottish English:

Many A Vowel Makes A Muddle: How Scottish English Is A Whole New Language

If you'd like more information about this trip, you can find it here, or check out our Q&A webinar about the program:

Webinar Replay: Scotland by Sea


Japanese traditional casual summer kimono called “Yukata”

Japanese traditional casual summer kimono called “Yukata”

In May of 2019 a group of travellers from Wheel & Anchor went on an immersive exploration of Japan and South Korea, spending 12 days in Japan and then 9 in South Korea. It was highly rated by all who went and was a trip we decided to run again in 2020!

Here's a look at some of our stories about Japan, as well as an extensive guide for anyone visiting Japan on their own or as part of a group.

Making the most of your Japan tour: A traveller’s guide

Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, a demographic challenge for their government and workforce to reckon with in the years ahead. However, while their population is indeed aging, they remain incredibly healthy by global standards. Mike dove in to understand their secrets of longevity:

How Japan Mastered The Art Of Staying Alive

The postcard-perfect temples are some of the main images that come to mind for many travellers when they picture Japan in their mind's eye, though the intricacies and history behind them are unknown to many of us in Canada. Mike gave us a deeper insight into Shinto and how it features in daily life in Japan today:


And we would be remiss to mention Japan without talking a bit about the food culture! A true foodie paradise, Japanese cuisine is famed the world over, and with good reason:


For those interested in exploring Japan in 2020, you can find all the details here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar with Gordon about the trip:



The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Considered on of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, the incredible coastline of Norway counts as one of Gordon's favourite places to bring travellers. Wheel & Anchor will be visiting Norway in May 2020, doing the full roundtrip voyage to really capture the experience of life along Norway's rugged coast.

Norway is of course famous for the travellers of her past, the feared Vikings who even crossed the Atlantic and settled on the Atlantic Coast of Canada. Mike took us deeper into the story of the Vikings in this piece:


Summer north of the Arctic circle means nearly 24-hour sunlight, an experience most of us have never had (though we like our long summers in Canada!). Mike went deeper on our behalf to find out what life is like under the midnight sun in Norway:


One of the highlights for everyone who sails the coast is the truly stunning Lofoten Islands:


The natural beauty of the landscapes in Norway don't stop with Lofoten, of course. Check out this piece for more about Norway's unparalleled nature:


One of our stops will be the town of Trondheim, with its colourful waterfront and classic Norwegian ambience:


If you'd like to see firsthand what's been called 'the world's most beautiful voyage', you can find all the information about our Norway trip here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:

Webinar Replay: The Majestic Fjords of Norway

Croatia & Slovenia

Sunset over the old town of Korcula, Croatia

Sunset over the old town of Korcula, Croatia

In June of 2019 Gordon and a group of Wheel & Anchor members did an amazing cruise along another of the world's most beautiful coastlines, the Adriatic Coast. The trip got rave reviews and we'll be doing it again in 2020, though this time in September.

Croatia is one of the hottest destinations for travellers in recent years, and with good reason. When you're there you'll have the chance to experience some of the unique customs detailed in this piece:

Truly Croatia: Some unique and frankly bizarre customs

And while we need to update this for 2020, you get the idea of why Croatia is so popular with travellers here:

Why you should visit Croatia in 2019

While the main draw to Croatia might be the coast, there are lots of tasty things to eat in the region as well...


If you'd like to join us for this wonderful cruise program, you'll have to act fast as the ship is over half full! You can find all the information about the trip here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:

Webinar Replay: Slovenia, Croatia & the Adriatic


The River Po winding past the old town of Verona

The River Po winding past the old town of Verona

Fall 2019 saw a group of travellers led by Amber explore Italy from North to South, including Lake Garda, Florence, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and more. There is soooo much to see in Italy that it's impossible to do it all in a single trip, but we took a good shot at it!

Our team of writers did a great job of capturing a number of Italy's many highlights, and you can look forward to more in 2020.

Mike took us through the story of Pompeii, which is still being excavated today and continues to reveal new secrets about life there before it the disaster hit that leveled the city:

Not So Frozen: Why Pompeii’s Story Is Still Being Uncovered

We also looked at the island of Capri, home to yachts and beautiful bays near Naples:


Italy wouldn't be Italy without the food, but what's the real story behind the famed Italian cuisine? Mike did a deep dive for us here:


There's also the fantastic olive oil that Italy is so famous for, not a food in itself, but not to be missed when travelling through the Mediterranean:

Mediterranean Liquid Gold: Why Extra Virgin Is So Much More Than “Good Olive Oil”

And if food isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italy, it might be second to the wine!

What makes wine tasting in Italy worth the long flight?

There are so many regions of Italy to cover (we'll get to them all eventually...), and Puglia is one that deserves further exploration next time you find yourself in Italy:

How to get the most out of your visit to Puglia, Italy

We'll be running a few trips to Italy in 2020 and 2021, including our Italy: North to South program again, a hiking trip around the beautiful Lake Como, a unique Italian Villa Vacation program in northern Italy and Tuscany, and more! It's really about creating excuses to visit Italy, and you can count on us to do that for you in the weeks and months to come...stay tuned!

The Baltics

A canal in St. Petersburg, Russia

A canal in St. Petersburg, Russia

Another popular request from our members was for a trip to explore the Baltic countries, a part of Europe that is often overlooked by most travellers.

For those who aren't so familiar with the Baltics, an introduction is in order! And thankfully Mike has provided us with one here:


One of the highlights of our Baltic Seafarer program is our visit to Tallinn, Estonia, which today has reinvented itself as part of the global digital economy:


If you'd like to explore the Baltics in 2020, you can find all the information for our unique Baltic Seafarer program here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:



Pont Saint Benezet and Avignon Cathedral in morning, France

Pont Saint Benezet and Avignon Cathedral in morning, France

France was the most popular destination for travellers on the planet in 2018, with over 90 million visitors coming to experience the fabulous French culture, history, and cuisine. Wheel & Anchor has two programs to France in 2020, the first of which is our 'Tastes of Eastern France' program, which includes a Rhône river cruise followed by a gastronomic adventure in Lyon, and then 5 days in each of Burgundy and Champagne.

The first part of your trip is a cruise along the beautiful Rhône River, one of France's most important waterways:


Mike took a look at the interesting story behind the iconic bubbly beverage that has made a name for France for centuries:


We called this program 'Tastes of Eastern France' for a reason - there is simply so much to discover in this country that is one of the world's culinary giants. Here Mike gave us a look into the story of one of the world's iconic mustards:


If you'd like more information about our Tastes of Eastern France program, you can find it here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar about the trip:

Webinar Replay: Tastes of Eastern France

Our second program in France follows immediately on the heels of the first (join us for both?), a unique houseboating program down the storied Canal du Midi.

The history of the Canal du Midi is really quite amazing, which Mike explored for us here:

France’s Canal du Midi: A Reinvented Wonder Of The Engineering World

The Canal du Midi is comparatively lesser-travelled than France's more famous rivers, and it's a truly unique experience to cross through the locks and boat in the little houseboats rather than sail on a large cruise ship:


We'll spend some time in the pink city of Toulouse on this trip, where culinary treats await you, among other highlights:


If you're interested in joining us for this unique program, you can get all of the details here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:



Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Our women's wellness program to Gars am Kamp in Austria was our first trip of 2019 and it was very well-reviewed by the ladies from Wheel & Anchor who went. Austria is a fascinating country and one that is near and dear to Gordon's heart. Mike gave us some insight into the history of Austria in this piece:

Why Austria Went To War Over A Chocolate Cake

And for those interested in experiencing La Pura Spa in Austria, we're going again in April of 2020! Here's the webinar replay where we talk about the 2020 program:

Webinar Replay: Austrian Spa & Wellness 2020

Australia & New Zealand

The Southern Alps of New Zealand

The Southern Alps of New Zealand

One of our most requested destinations on our member questionnaire was a trip down under! We're going there in the fall of 2020 to explore the outback, the cities, the Great Barrier Reef, and of course the wine country!

Mike takes us through a little bit of what life is like in Australia here:


A highlight will surely be a visit to Uluru, also known as Ayers' Rock:

Uluru, or Ayers Rock: Fascinating facts about Australia’s iconic monument

If going downunder is on your list, consider joining us! You can find all the information about the trip here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:

Webinar Replay: Kangaroos & Kiwis: Australia & New Zealand

South Africa

A monkey near Cape Town, South Africa

A monkey near Cape Town, South Africa

Another top destination mentioned on our Member Questionnaire is South Africa, for the safaris, food, and wine culture in this fascinating country on the tip of the continent. Mike gave us a look at the wine culture in this piece:

Welcome to the Winelands of South Africa

And we took a look at the wildlife in this one:

Wildlife adventures you can’t miss in Cape Town

If you're thinking about taking a trip to South Africa, consider joining Wheel & Anchor! Here's the webinar for our upcoming trip there:

Webinar Replay: South African Secrets

Russia, China & Mongolia

Train tracks along the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia

Train tracks along the shores of Lake Baikal, Siberia


We've put these three countries together because we'll be exploring all 3 in September 2020 as we experience the longest train journey on the planet when we take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing.

It's considered by many to be one of THE iconic traveller's journeys, a true badge of honour that is only the kind of thing a real traveller seeks. Mike took a look at what makes the Trans-Siberian such a revered journey in the imagination of travellers:

Why Is The Trans-Siberian Railway The World’s Best Train Journey?

No bones about it - this is a long train journey! If you're curious what it's like, check out this piece:


While a long train journey perhaps isn't every traveller's idea of fun, we think it will be! Will you join us in September?


While Russia and China make the news every other day and are thus more present in our collective imaginations, Mongolia is not as well-known for most Canadian travellers. This is despite the fact that it was once home to the largest empire history has ever seen. Mike gave us a fascinating look at the spread of the Mongol Empire in this piece:


The Great Wall of China is one of the highlights of our trip to Beijing, and you'll have a chance to stand on one of the Seven Wonders of the World if you join us. Here's some more facts about this incredible feat of human engineering:


If you're ready to embark on this amazing journey, you can find all the information about our trip here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:


Germany & the Czech Republic

Meissen Castle, seen from the Elbe River

Meissen Castle, seen from the Elbe River

In honour of our 2020 cruise along the Elbe River from Berlin to Prague, our team of writers put together a few pieces about some of the highlights you'll find on this trip:


One of the most striking landscapes you'll encounter as you cruise the Elbe is when you pass through Saxon Switzerland (which isn't actually Switzerland):


If you'd like to join us for this cruise program, you can get more information about the trip here, or check out the replay from our Q&A webinar:



An aerial shot of Koh Phangan, Thailand

An aerial shot of Koh Phangan, Thailand

In the fall of 2019 we sent a group of travellers with two of our wonderful yogi friends Keith and Brianna to do a yoga retreat on the island of Koh Phangan in the sunny south of Thailand.

Yoga retreats and wellness travel are booming trends these days, and Mike gave us some insight into why it's well worth considering one for your next trip:


Koh Phangan is a little island paradise that is a bit out of the way for the mainstream traveller, meaning it maintains a paradise-like feel tucked away in the south of Thailand:


The retreat itself happened at the Sanctuary Resort in Koh Phangan, a world-famous yoga retreat:

Koh Phangan, Thailand: A rejuvenating retreat at a seaside sanctuary

We'll be offering this program again in the fall of 2020, so stay tuned or get in touch if you'd like to experience a revitalizing yoga retreat for yourself!


A Cuban flag hangs in a window in Old Havana

A Cuban flag hangs in a window in Old Havana

In November Gordon and a small group of Wheel & Anchor members went to Havana to explore the city during her 500th birthday celebrations for our first 'Weekends' program. While most of us in Canada think of the resorts and beaches when we think about Cuba, Havana is a fascinating city with a long history, and well worthy of a visit. In a piece first published in The Weekends Edition of The Anchor Monthly, Mike gave us some insight into the iconic vintage cars that you see all over Havana:

Rebuilding The Fifties: How Havana’s Classic Cars Became Uniquely Cuban

As mentioned, 2019 was Havana's 500th birthday, so our team of writers pulled together a piece about the history behind one of the region's oldest cities:

Celebrate the old and the new in historic Havana

We'll be running this trip again in 2020, so stay tuned if you'd like to explore Havana for yourself!


A sloth in the rainforest of Panama

A sloth in the rainforest of Panama

We've got another of our 'Weekends' programs happening in early March of 2020, this time to Panama! The tropical central American nation is famous for its rainforest and its tropical fruit, which Mike took a closer look at in this piece:

Why You Can’t Just Peel And Eat The World’s Most Popular Banana

If you're curious about joining us to Panama in March, you can find more information here, or check out our Q&A webinar about the trip:

Webinar Replay: Wheel & Anchor Weekends: Panama

The Azores

A school of Atlantic Dolphins off the coast of the Azores

A school of Atlantic Dolphins off the coast of the Azores

These little-known islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean are becoming more well-known every year, and for us here in Canada they represent a chance to experience Portugal without going all the way across the pond. We're heading there in March of 2020 on yet another of our 'Weekends' programs, and pulled together a few stories to give you some insight into what this tiny archipelago is all about:

Alluring islands that put the Azores on the map

Mike gave us an even more in-depth look at the geographical wonders of the Azores:


If you'd like to join us in March, you can find all of the information about the trip here, or check out our most recent Q&A webinar we did after Gordon stopped there on his way to Havana:


And Even More Stories!

We put together a very long and in-depth look at the rivers of Europe that you can cruise, the highlights of each and what makes them special.


You're not a traveller if you've never experienced jet lag! Mike gave us a look at how to fight the scourge of every traveller who's made a long trip on a plane:

Jet Lag Can Ruin Your Trip. Here’s How You Fight Back.

Mike gave us another fascinating think-piece about what we see when we travel, whether through our own eyes or through the lens of our cameras:

When You Travel, How Much Do You See?

All this travelling and writing means Mike has led quite an interesting life! Here he gave us some insight into what it's like talking to people while travelling as a writer:

Three Ways To Break The Ice Like A Travel Writer

He also gave us this piece about solo travel, which many of our members have done extensively:

Going Solo: A Travel Writer’s Perspective

A trip we're considering for 2021 is sailing from New York to London on the Queen Mary 2! Here's a piece about some of the misconceptions about that experience:

Misconceptions about Queen Mary 2 and the Cunard Line

We also wrote more about the Queen Mary 2 experience here:

Queen Mary 2: A trip to the age of elegance

London is of course a highlight of a sailing on the Queen Mary 2, and although it really needs no introduction, here's one anyway:

Architecture that balances London’s rich heritage and modern sensibilities

We're also considering relaunching our India program for 2021, which includes several nights in some incredible palace hotels:


A popular destination on our 2021 Trip Inspiration survey was England's Lake District, a popular hiking destination:


The southern part of England was also very popular with our members, including the famed White Cliffs of Dover:


And it's not just all about England - our members have expressed an interest in exploring more of Ireland as well:


Another hot topic from our 2021 Trip Inspiration survey was Greece, where we've got an island-hopping adventure in store. Mike took us through the story of Ouzo, the popular spirit of the Greek islands:


And for those travellers thinking about visiting the frozen continent, Mike also gave us some perspectives on Antarctica:


We'll also be returning to the Caucasus region in 2020, following on our very successful trip there in 2018. Mike has a few pieces of interest about the region, including why you should ask about the apricots:


And for more about the fantastic food and drink in the region, check out this piece:


Wellness and relaxation while travelling are very important to many of our members, for reasons which are articulated in this piece from our team of writers:

Plan for a vacation that really relaxes you

Beyond relaxing and wellness, there's walking, which you invariably do a lot of when you're exploring a new country or region. Mike gave us a look at why it's so good for you (and why you should do more of it!):

Why Walking Will Always Be The Healthiest Way To Travel

Of course there's other ways to move around besides walking - how about on bicycles? Mike explores Europe's passion for two-wheeled transportation in this piece:

Why Two Wheels Beats Four: Understanding Europe’s Passion For Bicycles

As travellers, we spend a lot of time on airplanes, and the occasional patch of turbulence can bring the riskiness of the experience of being in a piece of metal hurtling through the air to the front of your mind at times. Mike took a look at the real risk of air travel in this piece:


Does travelling make you a better person? We generally think so! Here's a think piece on some of the mind-opening benefits of travel:

How traveling makes you a better person

Whew, that's a lot of stories...and it's not even all of them! We of course have many more stories from 2019 and 2018 on our stories page, and lots more to come in 2020! I hope you found these interesting and inspiring, and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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