Today: My 10 best travel experiences of 2022
As the year 2022 is coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the headlines and stories that shaped the past year. 2022 is a year most of us want to forget as quickly as possible. Still recovering from the effects of the global pandemic, the world woke up on February 24, 2022, with the start of an unjustified, unprovoked and totally senseless war in Europe and with little idea of the impact it would have on everyone’s lives. The war has unleashed a horrific humanitarian crisis (with destroyed lives, destroyed homes, and destroyed infrastructure) and created shock waves in global energy and food markets, leading to price volatility, supply shortages, security issues and economic uncertainty. But the war has also shown us the courage of a country under attack, bringing people and nations together in defense of freedom and reminding the world of the fragility of democracy and peace.
On a positive note, 2022 is also the year that international travel bounced back after it collapsed in 2020 and 2021 following the pandemic. At the start of the year, concepts such as “lockdowns,” “quarantines” and “vaccine mandates” were part of our everyday language as the coronavirus pandemic continued to impact all aspects of our lives, including our (disrupted) travel plans and wanderlust. However, that seems to be a thing of the past now in most countries and we are free again to travel and explore the world (although travel costs – including hotel rates and flight tickets – have skyrocketed compared to the years prior to the pandemic). Since this is a non-political blog that tries to give you some enlightening travel inspiration, I want to focus on hope, positivity, and my personal travel stories, offering an escapism for the avalanche of bad news that often dominates the world media. Here are my travel highlights of 2022. Early 2023, I’ll share what to expect from me in the next year.
There is more information (with trip reports & YouTube videos) below the slideshow. You can share your own thoughts on 2022 or your own 2022 travel highlights in the comments section below.
10. TRAVELING FIRST CLASS IN A BRITISH AIRWAYS BOEING 777
Early 2022, I flew First Class flight in a British Airways Boeing 777-300ER from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) in the UK to Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport (JNB) in South Africa, my first longhaul travel journey since the start of the pandemic. It felt pretty awesome to be flying in a widebody aircraft again, although at that time, the pandemic situation and all the testing & administration required also caused some stress. The ride was enjoyable, but I was not really impressed by the First Class product offered by British Airways. Although the look of the First Class cabin is sleek, the experience pales in comparison to the First Class product offered by other airlines, such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, and Cathay Pacific. On a positive note: British Airways’ First Class feels like one of the best Business Class products in the world (with a First Class price tag though). You can read my trip report of this flight here (or watch my YouTube video below):
9. STAYING AT SWITZERLAND’S MOST FAMOUS LUXURY HOTEL: GSTAAD PALACE
Switzerland is a small landlocked country right in the heart of the Alps, bordered by Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein. The country’s ravishing mountain scenery, rural villages, glitzy ski resorts, pristine lakes, and green rolling pastures offer unbeatable winter adventures and summer outdoor experiences. The variety of different sights to see in Switzerland is incredible, ranging from giant glaciers, epic mountains, and wild rivers, to vibrant cities, world-class museums, and scenic train journeys. Luxury hotels are in abundant supply in Switzerland, and include Alpine retreats and stylish lakeside resorts. I had previously stayed at The Dolder Grand (Zurich) and The Chedi Andermatt (Alps), but in 2022 I returned to Switzerland to try out one of its most famous hotel: The Gstaad Palace. Perhaps best known as the Bernese Oberland’s winter paradise, Gstaad Palace is a favorite among discerning travelers and has presided over Gstaad since 1913, with splendid views of the Swiss Alps. Read my review of Gstaad Palace here.
8. FLYING WITH AIR TAHITI NUI
Flying with Air Tahiti Nui had always been very high on my bucketlist. In 2019, Air Tahiti Nui entirely renewed its fleet by four Boeing 787-9s, which are fitted with an incredibly beautiful livery. One of the great things about flying with Air Tahiti Nui is the tropical ambiance of its aircraft, which immerses you in the “mana” of the Tahitian island as soon as you step onboard. For example, a floor-to-ceiling photo of Bora Bora island takes center stage in the plane’s entry galley, a reminder that the plane is about to head to one of the world’s most beautiful paradises. Upon entering the plane, the traditionally dressed and always smiling cabin crew also hands out Tiare flowers, the national flower of the islands of Tahiti. It all evokes a sense of holiday, which helps to leave behind the annoyances and stress of getting to and through the airport. The airline has configured its lie flat Business Class seats in a 2-2-2 layout; while not a cutting edge hard product, this configuration makes sense, given that most people traveling to French Polynesia are couples. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Air Tahiti Nui, and you can read my trip report here (or watch my YouTube video below):
7. FLYING IN A LUFTHANSA BOEING 747 TO MIAMI
IMHO, the Boeing 747 is the most elegant and impressive airplane ever designed. The four-engine jet features a distinctive upper deck shape, which has earned it the nickname “Jumbo Jet”. It has been 50 years since the first Boeing 747 was delivered to Pan Am, and more than 1500 of the iconic aircraft have been built since then. Its ability to carry more than 500 passengers on longhaul routes truly opened the age of modern jet travel, bringing with it new possibilities and destinations. Unfortunately though, the Boeing 747 is a dying breed since most airlines have phased out the aircraft during the pandemic, now choosing for more fuel-efficient and cost-effective widebody aircraft. Earlier this month, Boeing stopped the production of all 747 series. Lufthansa is one of the last airlines still flying the Boeing 747, and in April 2022, I had a chance to travel on the carrier’s Boeing 747-8 from Frankfurt to Miami. Unfortunately, while the Boeing 747 is a marvel of technology, Lufthansa’s Business Class does not match the grandeur of its flagship aircraft (although the carrier will roll out a new premium product next year). You can read my trip report of this flight here (or watch my YouTube video below):
6. TRYING OUT ALL OF EMIRATES’ BOEING 777 FIRST & BUSINESS CLASS CABINS
Last spring, I flew in an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER featuring the carrier’s game-changing First Class product from Dubai (DXB) to Brussels (BRU). With floor to ceiling sliding doors and sleek design features inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Emirates’ new B777 suites takes luxury and privacy to the next level. The suite’s soft leather seat reclines into a fully flat-bed and can be placed in a ‘zero-gravity’ position inspired by NASA technology, giving a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness. The roomy suite also has ample space to change in the privacy of your suite even after the bed has been made. To ensure all First Class passengers have a view, Emirates also introduced the industry’s first virtual windows for suites located in the middle aisle. These virtual windows project the view from outside the aircraft using real-time camera technology. In the other suites, binoculars are available for those who want to explore the sky outside their windows. During the same trip (to and from the Maldives), I also go to experience all the other premium products that Emirates offers on its Boeing 777 fleet (which is vastly different from its A380 product). You can read my reviews here:
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER (new) Business Class Brussels to Dubai
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER (old) Business Class Dubai to Male
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER (old) First Class Male to Dubai
- Review: Emirates Boeing 777-300ER (new) First Class Dubai to Brussels
5. RAINFOREST & BEACH ADVENTURE IN COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is an eco-paradise and one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is also one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, containing about 5% of the world’s species. Fortunately, a total of 25 percent of the national territory is preserved as national parks. The country offers majestic volcanoes, idyllic beaches on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as well as exhilarating jungle landscapes, all without traveling long distances. Costa Rica is also a frontier on eco-friendly and sustainable tourism. In 2003, I visited Costa Rica as a student, staying at hostels and camp sites; I was so overwhelmed by the country’s natural beauty, that I always wanted to go back, which is exactly what I did last spring, not camping this time but rather the natural splendor “in comfort.” During my holiday, I stayed at several of the country’s top lodges and resorts, including Lapa Rios, Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagoya, Nayara Tented Camp, and Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. You can read my hotel reviews of my Costa Rica trip here:
- Review: Nayara Tented Camp, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
- Review: Nayara Springs & Garden, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
- Review: Lapa Rios Lodge, Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
- Review: Andaz Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
- Review: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
- Review: Los Altos Resort, Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
4. A ROAD TRIP IN NAMIBIA
My first longhaul trip following the onset of the pandemic was an amazing road trip in the southern African country of Namibia, one of my best holidays ever. Few countries in the world can match Namibia’s sheer natural beauty. Not only is the country famous for its exceptional wildlife, game reserves and safari lodges, but the landscapes of its coastline and deserts are some of the most photographed and gasped over in the world. Highlights of my trip included spotting wildlife in Etosha National Park and watching the sun rise over the world’s highest dunes in Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. En route, I stayed at some of Africa’s most spectacular wildlife lodges, including the ultraluxe Zannier lodges, the recently revamped &Beyond Sossuvlei Desert lodge, and the fabulous Hoanib Skeleton Coast Lodge (managed by Wilderness Safaris) in Namibia’s remote area of the Kaokoveld. You can read my hotel reviews of my Namibia trip here:
- Review: &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
- Review: Zannier Hotels Sonop
- Review: Zannier Hotels Omaanda
- Review: Little Kulala by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Damaraland Camp by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Hoanib Skeleton Coast by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Onguma The Fort, Etosha National Park
3. ENJOYING ISLAND LIFE IN FRENCH POLYNESIA
The lush strip of land called Bora Bora lies in the South Pacific Ocean’s most mesmerizing lagoon and has, as you probably expect, some pretty awesome beaches. Luxurious bungalows nestled over ridiculously clear waters with the iconic Mount Otemanu as a tropical backdrop put Bora Bora in the bucket list of many travelers. I visited Bora Bora early September 2022 (a travel itinerary that was postponed twice because of the pandemic). I stayed at the island’s three most luxurious hotels: St Regis, Four Seasons and InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, all three of them representing the best French Polynesia has to offer in terms of accommodations (fyi, the Four Seasons was my favorite). I also stayed at The Brando Resort on French Polynesia’s private island of Tetiaroa – an atoll composed of a dozen small islands surrounding a sparkling lagoon 30 mi (50 km) northeast of Tahiti. It was in this natural wonderland that actor Marlon Brando settled down and finally found his home (hence explaining the name of the resort). You can read my hotel reviews of my French Polynesia trip here:
- Review: The Brando
- Review: InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa
- Review: Air Tahiti ATR 72 Economy Class from Tahiti to Bora Bora
- Review: St Regis Bora Bora
- Review: Four Seasons Bora Bora (coming soon)
2. A RETURN VISIT TO THE SONEVA RESORTS IN THE MALDIVES
In 2020 and 2021, my Maldives travel trips were cancelled due to the pandemic, but in 2022, I finally went back to my favorite resorts in the Maldives: Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi. Located on an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll, Soneva Jani is fringed by pristine beaches, blanketed with lush tropical greenery, and surrounded by a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted ocean views. Each one of the phenomenal overwater villas has a private lap pool and a retractable roof, with some villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. Soneva Fushi, the first ‘Robinson Crusoe’ style hideaway in the Maldives, is set on the privately owned tropical island of Kunfunadhoo in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The island – which is 1,400 m (4,600 ft) long and 400 m (1300 ft) wide – ranks among the largest islands in the Maldives. Massive, multi-bedroom, fairytale-like villas and private residences are hidden among dense tropical foliage or located overwater. During my Maldives trip, I also stayed at two other terrific resorts: Velaa Private Island and Anantara Kivahah. You can read my hotel reviews of my Maldives trip here:
- Review: Soneva Jani Chapter One
- Review: Soneva Jani Chapter Two
- Review: Soneva Fushi
- Review: Velaa Private Island
- Review: Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Contact me to get complimentary Soneva ambassador benefits at Soneva Jani (e.g. upgrade, resort credit, and a personalized Soneva experience).
1. SWIMMING WITH WHALES IN TAHITI
My number one travel experience of 2022 (and one of my best travel experiences ever) was swimming with humpback whales in French Polynesia. From early August to the end of October, the giant animals are abundant in the clear and warm waters around the archipelago as they search for a mate or nurse their young. French Polynesia declared itself a Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 2002 offering protection to all of the 20 species of whales and dolphins found here. It is also one of the few countries in the world where it is allowed to swim with whales. Several tour operators offer whale watch boat tours, hosted by a team of marine biologists and naturalist guides. Tourists are only allowed to enter the water with humpback whales after a biologist on board has observed their surface activity and deems it safe and non-invasive for both the guests and the whales. Although sightings are never guaranteed, your best chances for spotting (and swimming with) whales is on the island of Moorea.
Below you can watch a video in 4K documenting my encounter with the whales in Tahiti. Looking humpback whales in the eye while swimming with them is a truly unforgettable adventure that touched my soul in an unimaginable way. I was extremely lucky to have an incredible close encounter with a family of three magnificent whales who stayed with our small group for more than one hour! I recorded the entire experience in 4K with my GoPro.