Ukelele player at sunset

Story and images by Vicki Hoefling Andersen

Giddy with the thought we can finally travel again, I am near panic: Where? How? Will I be safe and stay healthy? The “Where” doesn’t have to be exotic or extravagant, and the Bucket or A-List doesn’t have to be broken out - yet. Think beyond typical places that draw gaggles of people. Imagine where you might realistically find experiences to expand your mind or feed your adventurous appetite. Here are a few examples that may provide some inspiration.

There’s no refuting the draw of Hawaii, with the bulk of visitors heading to Oahu or Maui. Each island has the alluring waters, beautiful beaches, amazing sunsets, magnificent tropical foliage and spirit of Aloha, yet each has its own distinct personality and possibilities. Hawaii’s Big Island (properly called Hawaii Island) receives half the visitors of neighboring Maui, but offers things you can’t find on any of its neighbors.

Home to four of the world’s five major climate zones plus 11 of its 13 climatic regions, Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain as measured from its base (33,476’), sometimes receives enough snow you can actually ski her volcanic slopes. Considered the best place on Earth for astronomical observations, the mountain is home to the planet’s largest concentration of observatories and some of science’s most powerful telescopes. Also, numerous sacred ancient Hawaiian sites called “heiau” have been restored and welcome respectful visitors to their hallowed grounds.

Need I mention the Island’s two active volcanoes? But don’t let images of fresh flowing lava give you pause. A little more than 4,000 square miles in size, nearly twice that of all the other Hawaiian islands combined, Hawaii Island is home to huge tracts of rainforest, massive stands of koa, sandalwood, and eucalyptus trees, deep secluded valleys draped with waterfalls, rolling hills of lush green nourishing prize herds of Angus and Kobe cattle, miles of sun-swathed beaches, and yes, huge expanses of lava in all its forms.

  Pu'uhonua 0 Honaunau National Historical Park   Claw sail outrigger   Thurston lava tube  
Place of refuge - sacred structure
Claw sail outrigger

Thurston lava tube


The 180-acre heiau Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is the last remaining example of a “place of refuge” in Hawaii. It was first built in the mid-1500s with this sacred structure added in the 1700s to house the remains of 23 chiefs. Every morning a claw-sail outrigger made its way north along the Kona coastline and every evening it sailed its way back home, making me daydream about commuting to work in such a manner. Walking through this 500-year-old relic of Kilauea’s fury—Thurston Lava Tube—and touching its hardened walls is a humbling experience.

If you yearn to bury your toes in the sand with fresh ceviche and a frosty cerveza in hand, but the thought of Cancun’s hubbub isn’t appealing right now, hop a ferry for the eight mile trip across Bahia Mujeres (the Bay of Women) to Isla Mujeres. Less than two square miles in size, it is lapped on the eastern and southern sides by the Bay while the Caribbean pounds the northern and eastern coasts. A range of accommodations, small shops, restaurants and bars pepper the tranquil isle.

  Isla Mujeres Playa Norte   Golf carts on the island   Island courtyard  
Isla Mujeres Playa Norte
Golf carts on the island
Island courtyard

Shaded beach chairs on the alabaster shoreline of Playa Norte await visitors to Isla Mujeres. Golf carts are the transport of choice, a commute that allows peeking into flower-adorned alleys and enjoying the leisurely pace of the island.

If you want access to great Mexican beaches with a surplus of historical and cultural opportunities, check out Mérida near the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Capital of the state of Yucatán, it was founded on the ruins of a Maya ceremonial center and became one of the conquistadores' first strongholds in New Spain. This heart of the 16th and 17th century sisal empire left a legacy of elegant white colonial mansions which still rise among palm-lined plazas. Free daily concerts, wonderful museums and a long list of festivals can make it hard to break away and visit some of the amazing ancient Maya cities that pack the region.

  Merida Plaza Major   Progreso Beach, Ycatan   Uxmal  
Merida Plaza Major
Progreso Beach

Main square and pulse of Mérida, the Plaza Major is bordered by five of the city’s most important buildings and surrounded by handicraft shops, restaurants and hotels. Progreso’s uncrowded beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are fewer than 25 miles away. About a hour south, Uxmal was inhabited by 600 BCE and is one of the largest Maya cities on the Yucatán Peninsula, having grown into a great economic and political regional powerhouse by the 8th century.

If you really want to get away from the pack, consider somewhere less conventional but extremely fascinating like Iceland. Uninhabited until the Vikings settled it in the 10th century, it sits atop the mid-Atlantic ridge and is the world’s largest volcanic island with 32 volcanic systems feeding 130 active and inactive volcanic peaks, many wrapped in glaciers. Truthfully a land of fire and ice, about ten percent of Iceland’s 40,000 square miles are barren lava; another ten percent is covered by glaciers. Nearly all of Iceland’s 370,000 inhabitants live primarily along the 6,000 mile coastline leaving the interior to the few and truly adventurous.

  Husadalur Valley   ording the Krossa River   Volcano Hut  
Husadalur Valley
Fording the Krossa River
Volcano Hut

A backcountry tour can take you deep into the isolated Husadalur Valley where you will ford glacier-melt watercourses like the Krossa River and over-night in backcountry digs such as the Volcano Hut. The otherworldly beauty of Iceland’s interior is truly mind-boggling.

If cruising the waters blue is what you really want to do, consider a small-passenger local-crew ship and look beyond the shores of Alaska, Mexico or the Caribbean. With the right cruise line and itinerary, you have time and opportunity to meet and talk story with crew and island residents. There’s no better way to learn someone’s history and experience their culture than to meet local craft makers, eat together, join in their dances, and partake of their ceremonies.

  “Meke” or stylized Fijian dance   Naselesele “sevusevu” ceremony   Naselesele kava ceremony  
“Meke” or stylized Fijian dance

Naselesele “sevusevu” ceremony
Naselesele kava ceremony


Based out of Australia, Captain Cook Cruises voyages the waters around Fiji with a mostly Fijian crew. Post-dinner they break into “meke,” stylized dances and storytelling movements performed sitting or standing. Permission to enter a Fijian village, in this case Naselesele, must be given by the chief and is encouraged by presenting the customary “sevusevu” which is usually a bundle of waka root for making kava.

Taveuni Island’s Paramount Chief Talemo (seated center) officially welcomed us to Naselesele Village, then invited us to take part in a formal kava ceremony. Yes, it tastes very “earthy” and no, it’s not mind-altering or tipsy-inducing but is a bit lip-tingling if you drink enough of it.

If you are unable or prefer not to travel in the traditional sense of the word, find a subject you’re passionate about or interested in and instead celebrate and enjoy without going long-distances. Something is honored almost every day of the year, from the great to the absurd. Pick one or two a month (good sources include and and fire up the creative juices. Here are a handful to get you started:

  Chocolate cacao fruit   July 7 “World Chocolate Day”—Yes, chocolate grows on trees. It begins here in the cacao fruit. The pods are cut open and the seeds scooped from their gooey white coating. Fermentation is complete when they turn dark brown. Then they are dried, roasted, and ground into a thick paste. First concocted by the Maya about 2,600 years ago, this paste was mixed with water, then maize, honey and/or chili was added, and the brew was finally “rolled” between two vessels until thick and foamy. Cacao was so valuable, its seeds were used as currency throughout Mesoamerica. If you’ve a mind to celebrate, tour a chocolate factory or bring home a bag of delectables from your local confectionery to indulge in private. Find a way to incorporate chocolate in some form into every meal on July 7th.  
Chocolate cacao fruit
  Full moon over the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon  
Full moon over the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

July 20 “National Moon Day”—Uncover myths and legends associated with our closest celestial neighbor. Linked to fertility, birth and death, the moon is often referred to as female, even a creator goddess or earth mother. But to the Maori, Aztecs and some African cultures it held a destructive quality. Almost every culture on earth, ancient and modern, has its own unique beliefs about this orbiting sphere. If nothing else, go outside tonight and thank her for keeping the tides ebbing and flowing.

  Icelander celebrates in the Kivka Footbath  
Icelander celebrates in the Kivka Footbath

Post-July 4th week “Nude Recreation Week” and July 14 “National Nude Day” -- Pick your own approach to saluting these festivities. This Icelander chose the Kvika Footbath geothermal pool on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula near Reykjavik, Iceland.

  Beer Day celebrants  
Beer Day celebrants

August 6 “International Beer Day” -- All hail the first alcoholic beverage created by man, possibly as far back as 13,000 years ago. Centuries of Finnish oral history documented in their 19th-century Kalevala actually provides more information about the origins and brewing of beer than it does about the creation of earth and man. Found in nearly every country on earth that imbibes alcohol, beer is brewed in nearly 10,000 craft breweries can be found just in the U.S. and Canada. Another day to honor in the style and manner of your choice.

  Photographers celebrate at Kilauea Point in Hawaii  
Photographers celebrate at Kilauea Point in Hawaii

August 19 “World Photography Day”—Grab your camera or cell phone, head to a familiar haunt or somewhere new, and see what your lens finds. Shoot away while you experiment with different angles, lighting and ideas. It’s digital. You can delete any weird results, but enjoy being creative. Just be careful with the selfies.

  August 23 “National Ride the Wind Day”—Try a new way to soar from among seemingly endless (and some palpitation-inducing) options: hot air ballooning, glider/sailplaning, paragliding, hang gliding, wingsuiting, wind surfing/sailboarding, kiteboarding, sailboating, ice sailing.

There are so many ways to feel the power of the wind or perceive the whisper of air currents. Including water adds a whole new dimension to the windy experience.
  Hot air balloon, Parrk City, Utah  
Park City, Utah
Maori performs Haka dance
Maori performs Haka dance

September 28 “Ask a Stupid Question Day”—Just be wary of what and who you ask, and how they might respond.

Dip your toes into the new world and way of travel as you feel comfortable, but don’t stop expanding your horizons and enjoying what’s out there. Research travel requirements and restrictions for your destinations and modes of transport, and pack an abundance of patience. Please just follow the rules, or pick a location where you and everyone around you can enjoy your well-deserved and long-awaited get-aways, be they near or far. Stay safe.


About the author

Vicki Andersen has been writing about skiing, snowmobiling, motorcycling and adventure travel for decades. Over 300 stories appearing in more than five dozen local, regional and national outlets bear her byline. Since joining the HighOnAdventure team in 2005, her stories have ranged from Iceland to Alaska, Hawaii to Fiji, across Mexico and Central America, and other intriguing locations. Check out more of her stories at or contact her at

  Vicki Andersen