Monday, June 6, 2011

Smithsonian Journeys – of a Lifetime

The Rocky Mountaineer Train in the Canadian Rockies
~ Recently, I was asked if I regretted selling my house back in 2008, and using the proceeds to travel on extended journeys around the world. My answer was an immediate, "No.” To which I added, “My only regret is that I was not able to sell the house for twice as much.”

Because if I had sold my house for twice as much as the price I got, I would be able to afford to travel even more than I have been – not in terms of the length of my journeys, but in terms of the number of destinations I could afford to visit and the quality of some of those visits. Which brings me to the Smithsonian Institute.

The American Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846, and has become the world’s largest museum and research complex consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. In 2009 there were approximately 30 million visits from around the world at the Smithsonian, with more than 188 million visits (including a few of my own) to the Smithsonian websites. It is estimated that the Smithsonian houses 137 million objects, works of art and unique specimens.

Clearly this is a massive Institution any way you measure it!

Which brings me to Smithsonian Journeys, the Smithsonian Institution’s travel program. Smithsonian Journeys aims to provide a meaningful experience with genuine insight into the culture and history of all their chosen destinations.

Recently, the organization released information about some of their major tours for the second half of 2011, and I thought I’d highlight a few of the North American ones today. Ordered by date, the destinations are:

Grand Canyon (June 17-20 and July 15-18)
You will need to be quick to join the June tour to Grand Canyon – certainly one of the highlights of my North American visit last year. The Grand Canyon is considered the most spectacular gorge in the world and consequently Grand Canyon National Park merits listing as a World Heritage site. Smithsonian Journeys has taken Americans to this breathtaking site for nearly 40 years. “Grand Canyon Weekend Adventure” (June 17-20 and July 15-18) offers an in-depth weekend experience of the park, which features an overnight rafting trip down the Colorado River and a day at a nearby ranch.

The Great Lakes (July 25-Aug. 3)
This region of North America has been on my ‘bucket list’ for a long time, and I am determined to see some of it on my next trip to the United States. Situated between Canada and the United States, the Great Lakes are the largest inland lake system in the world. During “Canadian Splendors” (July 25-Aug. 3), travellers can take a cruise in Canada that features notable cities and charming towns, engineering marvels and the history and natural beauty of Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron.

Canadian Rockies (August 5-12)
Like the Great Lakes, Canada is another place on my list of must see travel destinations, and again, I hope to see at least some of it on my next trip to North America. Travellers from all over the world are drawn to the magnificence of the Canadian Rockies, which are celebrated for the region’s pristine alpine lakes, majestic snow-capped mountains and plentiful wildlife. During “A Canadian Rockies Adventure” (Aug. 5-12), Smithsonian travellers get to stay at top accommodations in Banff and Jasper as they explore the landscape, then enjoy panoramic vistas on a two-day train trip aboard the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer (see image above) before arriving in Vancouver.

And just because I can, here is one non-North American destination for you to consider:

Istanbul (August 5-16)
Ok, I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a slacker! The last time I saw Istanbul was in 1971, and despite the fact that I had plenty of opportunities to visit Turkey and Istanbul during my extended four month stay in Greece over the winter of 2010/11, I didn’t take advantage of any of them.

Istanbul is the only city in the world situated on two continents, and features a fascinating history of both western and eastern cultures, as reflected by its magnificent monuments. Smithsonian Journeys travellers interested in visiting Istanbul do so on the popular “Black Sea” luxury cruise (Aug. 5-16). Also “Legendary Turkey and the Turquoise Coast” and “Ancient Worlds of Anatolia” are two small-group, air-inclusive tours that travel to Istanbul before moving south to different regions of Turkey. Both have multiple departures in the spring and autumn.

Which finally brings me full circle. Because the quality of the small-group tours Smithsonian Journeys organises are exactly the types of tours I would join if I had sold my home for twice the price I got. As it now stands, I travel solo, on the cheap, and organise every aspect of my own journeys. Not that this is bad, and not that I don’t enjoy my solo adventures. It’s just that sometimes it would be good to let others do the organising and just go along for the ride (so to speak).

NOTE: Information about Smithsonian Journeys contained in this post was correct at time of publication. Please check the Smithsonian Journeys website for the latest information pertaining to any of the destinations mentioned above. Full details and prices for all Smithsonian Journeys destinations can be found online at their website.

And again, just because I can, here is a tiny selection of books and CDs put out by the Smithsonian Institution which you may like to check out. As always, these are available direct from Amazon.Com simply by clicking on the images below.
Official Guide to the Smithsonian, 3rd Edition: Third Edition Official Guide to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum 
Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian Folkways Classic Appalachian Blues from Smithsonian Folkways Classic Bluegrass From Smithsonian Folkways


  1. I've traveled with Smithsonian Journeys three times and am waitlisted for a trip in a few months. As a single traveler I always end up on a wait list even though spaces are still open. I understand they prefer couples, but one IS better than none. I've always been given a spot, but only after calling them back numerous times. Nothing happens if I wait for them to call.

    1. Thanks for the comment. As a solo traveller myself, I get frustrated by these types of things as well, and don't even get me started on single supplements that solo travellers always seem to get hit with! Still, you obviously find the Smithsonian tours worth the hassle of being wait-listed, and that is as good a recommendation for their tours as anything.


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