The Costs and Benefits of Taking an Exotic Vacation

A Brown Lemur snacks on a fig high in a roadside tree in Madagascar


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines exotic as “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual. Madagascar certainly lives up to that definition. We just returned from a two-week vacation in Madagascar. Just getting there involved a 5 hour drive to Boston, a shuttle to Logan Airport, a 7 hour flight to Paris to connect with a second flight that would take us to Antananarivo, the island nations capital, after a further 11 hours in the air. With security, layovers, clearing customs and retrieving luggage, it was more than 30 hours from the time we left our home in Maine before we arrived at our hotel in the “land of the lemurs”. We had crossed a total of 7 time zones! It took a similar amount of time on our return trip but we did pick up the 7 hours that we had “lost” on the way there. So time is definitely something you have to figure into the cost. And those flights aren’t cheap. Then there are hotels, meals, tours, guides, and in-country travel to factor in. We went with a National Geographic tour that included of all those in-country details and costs. But as you can see it adds up quickly. Still, I feel blessed that we were able to make this once in a lift-time vacation.

I have always loved to travel, but when we were starting out most of our vacations were road/camping trips. We both worked and had limited paid vacation time through our jobs. We also had two children that we wanted to be able to send to college. Even with limited means we enjoyed our trips to the beach, state and national parks, historic and scenic landscapes. But I always wanted to be able to travel to those more remote, less visited and unique locations I had only seen in magazines, on television, or in movies. By the time we were able to retire and our children were out of college, we planned our first overseas/exotic vacation. It was on a freighter cruise from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands. On a small boat that was half freighter and half cruise ship we sailed the South Pacific stopping at small islands with exotic names like Hiva Oh, Nuku Hiva and Fatu Hiva where Herman Melville and Paul Gauguin retreated to in the mid 1800s. It was exciting to know we were visiting places that few others ever would. We were drawn in by the unique experience and remote (and beautiful) location.

Since then we have been to Machu Picchu, Iceland, Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, The Galapagos Islands, Kodiak, Alaska (to be fair our son has been stationed there twice), and most recently Madagascar. Each one unique, remote and beautiful in its own special way. We’ve walked among penguins and elephant seals while Albatros soared over our heads in Antarctica, hiked among the ruins of the Inca empire high in the Andes mountains of Peru, witnessed the strange and wonderful creatures of the Galapagos Islands, which were the inspiration for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and observed and interacted with the gentle lemurs of Madagascar. It is a privilege to see these endemic creatures in their natural environments. While it can be more difficult and often more costly to vacation in an exotic location, the payoff comes in the lack of crowds, the abundance of scenic beauty, the opportunity to witness animals in their natural environments, and a unique travel experience that few others have experienced.

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