Dreaming of Patagonia: Why I’m planning an outdoor adventure of a lifetime after the pandemic
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Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials say the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing travel guides because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking travel until later this year — and even then, be mindful of cancellation policies.
With stay-at-home orders in place for millions across the US, we're all hunkered down physically but the team at TPG has their heads up in the clouds.
I'm sheltered-in-place in New York City, adjusting to the day-to-day of working, eating, sleeping, exercising, and just being within the confines of my small city apartment nearly 24/7. Home for me isn't a sprawling backyard or the ability to freely roam from one room to another.
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As someone that loves the outdoors just as much as city-dwelling, the inability to have some space (besides eerily empty city streets) has been one of the toughest parts of social distancing thus far.
Related: My experience traveling back to the US during a pandemic
Why I'm planning my next trip
No one knows what the future of travel will exactly look like. While that in and of itself may be anxiety-inducing, another way to look at it is that it creates a certain sense of urgency. I long to see so much more of the world, and wish to take advantage of my (relative) youth and good health. Flying in the future may also be more expensive with airlines set to shrink and capacity limited.
That's why I'm not only thinking about my dream getaway, I've begun to build my itinerary to make it happen. Of course, with everything in flux, I will not be booking anything nonrefundable until much closer in.
However, now is the perfect time to think through the destinations you're eager to visit or the aircraft or premium cabin that you're yearning to fly. Evaluate what's important to you on your own personal travel to-do list. And for a moment, imagine a world free to roam.
My next bucket list trip will be the perfect antidote to a metropolitan city on lockdown. I'm talking about navigating the natural beauty and unspoiled scenery of a trip to Chilean Patagonia with a stop in Santiago.
My next dream destination
While big-name cities and well-touristed attractions are still within my radar to visit, I recently have tended to steer towards destinations that are slightly more off-the-beaten-path.
Think Mérida instead of Cancún. The Faroe Islands instead of Iceland. Sri Lanka instead of southern India.
None of these places are untouristed, but they're often not the first choice among US-based travelers.
View this post on Instagram
With a few days left in 2019, I wanted to countdown some of my top travel memories this past year + how I got there. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Faroe Islands ???????? Fun facts: Sheep outnumber humans. The flag airline of the Faroes (@atlanticairways) has three planes, total. And there are three traffic lights in the ENTIRE country. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The Faroe Islands were breathtakingly gorgeous, and still relatively remote. We were often the only ones on our hikes. And it seemed like everywhere we looked, every corner we rounded, or mountain we climbed, there was a rainbow — just for us. ???? Besides epic views, hikes, and runs, it was also epically cold especially when we jumped into the North Atlantic with one of our Airbnb hosts. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Getting There I got to continental Europe by flying @lufthansa first class (using 87,000 @avianca LifeMiles) and bought a separate connecting flight on Faroese airline Atlantic Airways from Copenhagen. Best of all, I got to check TWO airlines off, along with a bucket list item — Lufthansa first class onboard the Queen, Boeing 747. Oh and checking out the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Rubber duck and Porsche transfer acquired ????????⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀
Patagonia has been on my "go" list for years, and an after-pandemic trip down to this remote stretch of terrain would be a dream. Both Chilean Patagonia and Argentinian Patagonia are epic destinations. However, the Chilean side tends to be less crowded and has a slight edge over Argentinan Patagonia for being more remote and, well, untouristy. On my Patagonian agenda would be a few days of trekking, adventuring, and simply basking in the surreal landscapes.
Best of all, with travel hopefully rebounding by early next year, winter in the Northern Hemisphere is the ideal time to visit this region. Winter here in the U.S. means summer down south of the equator.
Further north from Patagonia, Santiago is a metropolis that I'd love to visit for its cosmopolitan culture, vibrant street art and food, and rich diversity. The city would also be the international airport gateway to begin and end my Patagonian adventure.
Related: Dreaming of French Polynesia
Related: Dreaming of Mongolia
Related: Dreaming of the Pacific Islands
Related: Dreaming of Italy
From New York, the only nonstop option to Santiago is on LATAM. While LATAM currently belongs to Oneworld, it will be leaving the alliance as of May 1, 2020 and already has reciprocal mileage redemption and earning with Delta, its new partner and minority investor.
There are many one-stop options, including with American Airlines. And as an American frequent flyer, I prefer to use my Oneworld benefits when possible. In my initial search for flights, I found a fantastic redemption for early 2021. I wrote about that deal here.
Typically, a MileSAAver level award from New York to Santiago (via Dallas or Miami) would require 30,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in economy or 57,500 AAdvantage miles in business. However, as luck would have it, I found Web Special award pricing from 15,000 miles one-way in economy and from 40,000 miles one-way in business -- a significant savings.
I have a ton of extra American miles thanks to earning the 50,000 welcome bonus on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening). Also, I am able to redeposit my AAdvantage miles for free as an Executive Platinum elite. In that case, it's a no-brainer to have something on my calendar to look forward to but not to necessarily be locked in. The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related reading: The best uses of 70,000 AAdvantage miles
Booking future award travel
While I would proceed with caution before making any bookings -- and be aware of cancellation and redeposit fees -- there is no doubt that now is a good time to start looking at award availability. If you have the points and miles to make a dream trip happen, award space with many airlines is plentiful.
However, I completely understand if some people may not feel comfortable booking travel for late 2020 or into 2021. If redeposit fees are low or you have an elite status benefit of waived mileage redeposits, it makes the decision just a bit easier.
Related reading: A complete list of major airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies
My itinerary (or a rough idea of one)
Aside from a fully refundable mileage flight to Chile, I haven't made any further bookings. To hit some of the key sights in Patagonia, a few domestic Chilean flights will be necessary. Both LATAM and Sky Airline have one-way flights priced under $75 for early 2021 between cities like Santiago and Punta Arenas and Santiago and Puerto Montt.
While all of these activities likely won't be feasible on my South American adventure, I'd love to experience at least a few of these must-dos.
Hike Torres del Paine National Park (Chilean Patagonia)
This is probably the centerpiece of Chilean Patagonia with 500,000 acres of snow-capped mountains, gorgeous glaciers, and incredible wildlife. There are a ton of day hikes and multi-day trekking routes. The "W circuit" is on my radar and can be completed in 3-5 days which would be my first multi-day hike.
Visit El Chaltén and Mt. Fitz Roy (Argentinian Patagonia)
While El Chalten and Mt. Fitz Roy are on the Argentinian side of things, I'd love to make a stop here and experience the jagged peaks of the Fitz Roy Massif or a day hike up to Laguna Capri.
Explore Marble Caves by boat (Chilean Patagonia)
These caves are one of those things that you spot in photos and immediately think, wow I need to visit. The caves formed over the last 6,000 years as nearby glaciers melted. Today, you can kayak up to these amazing formations.
Experience Chiloé Island (Chilean Patagonia)
The isolated archipelago off of Chile's west coast looks absolutely stunning with unique stilted houses built above water (called palafitos) and a language and culture specific to this region. Many of these homes are UNESCO World Heritage sights. Then, there is the evergreen forest of Chiloé National Park where a utopia of penguins, marine otters and sea lions live together. One of the most stunning hotels in the region is also here -- the Tierra Chiloé.
Bike, eat and see art in Santiago
I love exploring a city by bike and on foot, and seeing the more local and authentic side to a destination. I've had some amazing times with Airbnb Experiences, and will likely look to do the same in Santiago. From churrasco (thin slices of steak) to empanadas to fresh seafood, my mouth is watering at the potential to eat my way through a new city too.
While I have plenty of planning left to do, I also have a solid sketch of what I want this trip to be. Next up is planning where to stay and the logistics of it all. However, that won't be until months down the line when we can be more assured of what the future of traveling looks like. Regardless, my pledge is to be thoughtful and grateful for this trip and the many to come, and to take all of my travels as an opportunity to learn something new.