Nat Geo Television Stars Offer Alaska Travel Tips

Alaska Travel Tips - Don't Miss Denali!There is no question that Alaska is one of the top adventure travel destinations in North America, if not the entire world. The brief Alaskan summer brings incredible opportunities for climbing, backpacking, camping and fishing, giving visitors a chance to explore everything the state has to offer in relatively warm conditions. During the winter, Alaska becomes the ultimate outdoor playground for those who enjoy cold weather escapes. From dogsledding and snowshoeing to cross country and heli-skiing, it is paradise for the adrenaline junkie and explorer alike.

Covering an area more than twice the size of Texas, Alaska is by far the largest state in the Union. That makes it a daunting place for travelers, who often struggle to determine what it is that they want to see and do in the limited time that they have there. Fortunately we were able to call in some local experts to provide Gadling readers with some great travel tips for visiting the 49th state. These experts all happen to be residents of Alaska and they also happen to be featured on two new television shows that are debuting soon on the National Geographic Channel. They have been kind enough to share their thoughts on the best experiences that Alaska has to offer.

Our first two experts are Dallas Seavey of Willow and Marty Raney of Wasilla, both of whom appear in the new Nat Geo show “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The show drops eight survival experts into the Alaskan backcountry, where they must cross 3000 miles of remote wilderness with nothing but the gear on their back. Dallas is best known as the youngest winner in the history of the infamous Iditarod sled dog race, while his co-star Marty is a mountain guide who has led 17 successful expeditions to the summit of Denali – also known as Mt. McKinley.Dallas recommends that visitors to his state take a scenic drive to really get immersed in the Alaskan landscapes and culture. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Dallas Seavey“It’s hard to see all of Alaska in one trip. But if I only had a week to go to Alaska I would travel between the coastal town of Seward, where I grew up, and Willow (4.5 hours north) where I live now. This would give you a good sampling of what Alaska has to offer. Between these two locations is one of America’s top ten most scenic highways and many of the “must see” sights. While the summer months are by far the most popular for guests, I would also consider seeing Alaska in the winter when the state boasts it’s most unique and extreme side.”

On the other hand, Marty says if you have just one day to kill, under no circumstances should you miss his favorite mountain:

Alaska Travel Tips - Marty Raney“Here in Alaska there are a million things to do. To choose just one, I would recommend a drive or a train ride from Anchorage International Airport to Talkeetna. There you would take a flightseeing tour of Mt. McKinley. It’s the most impressive thing in one day any average Joe could do. There is nothing like it on planet earth. Landing at base camp, you will stand on glaciers one mile thick, while one of the tallest mountains in the world looms above. Dwarfed by mile high granite spires cloaked with thousands of deep blue hanging glaciers, you quite possibly will be scared s—less. This breathtaking, beautiful landscape-and also foreboding and eerie landscape-will be up close and personal. It is a masterpiece of God’s handiwork. You will realize your insignificance like never before. It’s surreal. It’s spiritual. It’s meditative. It’s contemplative. Whether atheist or believer, it will be the loudest sermon you’ve ever heard.”

Our other two Alaskan experts are Andy Bassich from the town of Eagle and Sue Aikens of Kavik. They’ll both appear on the show “Life Below Zero” when it debuts next Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. That program follows the lives of six Alaskans who live off the land, scraping out a life in one of the harshest environments imaginable. Andy and his wife Kate live along the beautiful, but remote, Yukon River, which freezes solid each winter, completely cutting them off from civilization for months at a time. They may have it easy compared to Sue, however, as she is actually the sole inhabitant of the Kavik River Camp, which is located 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Andy tells visitors that they shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to explore the river on which he lives. He says:

Alaska Travel Tips - Andy Bassich“An experience you will never forget is a three day to two week float down the Yukon River. It is a very peaceful way to experience the true wilderness via a canoe, which was the traditional way of travel in the early years. You could float up to 50 miles a day, and in addition to amazing scenery you’ll see moose, bears, eagles and many other types of birds and wildlife. I recommend camping along the shores of Island, and fishing the feeder streams for grayling pike and shee fish. You also may get lucky enough to meet the hardy people who have carved out a quality life along the Yukon River. You’ll experience true quiet and solitude at a relaxed safe pace. It’s also a great trip for novice.”

Meanwhile, Sue tells us we shouldn’t overlook a visit to the remote high Arctic:

Alaska Travel Tips - Sue Aikens“My home (Kavik) in the high Arctic puts me in the center of the great caribou migration, the migratory bird path and nesting grounds as well as having the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge out my door. In some ways even I will never have enough time to see all that my own area has to offer, but with careful planning and homework done, you could easily chip away at seeing and experiencing some of this state’s s most beautiful and challenging experiences. Fly fishing, rafting, hiking in untouched areas, and watching 500,000 Caribou thunder past on their migration route. I can raft down wild rivers and see rare and wonderful sights, and you can too!”

There you have it, great travel advice from four Alaskans who have intimate knowledge on what their state has to offer. You might not be able to take advantage of all of their suggestions on your visit to the state, but they’ll certainly provide a nice starting point.

[Photo Credits: National Park Service, National Geographic]

Intense National Geographic Series, ‘Locked Up Abroad,’ Documents Inept Travelers

muleLast week’s arrest of diaper-wearing cocaine smugglers at JFK proved more laughable than horrifying to those not directly involved. Drug busts are in the media so often, we rarely pay attention to them. They’re certainly not something I care about.

Yet, I’ve recently become obsessed with a National Geographic show called “Locked Up Abroad.” I don’t recall hearing about this harrowing documentary series when it first aired in 2007, but it caught my eye about a month ago, during a late-night Netflix bender. It’s now in its sixth season on the National Geographic Channel.

Each episode profiles one or two subjects, most of whom have been imprisoned in developing nations. While a few episodes detail hostage and other kidnapping situations (Warning: if you’re at all easily disturbed, please don’t watch … nightmares are almost guaranteed), most involve drug smuggling gone awry.

As a die-hard adventure traveler, I find “Locked Up Abroad” absorbing (that’s not an intentional diaper pun) because it’s a real-life dramatization of my worst fears. As a solo female wanderer, I can’t help but worry sometimes about kidnapping or becoming an inadvertent drug mule, no matter how self-aware I try to be. Many of the episodes on “Locked Up Abroad,” however, involve people with the intellect of dead hamsters, and it’s hard to feel much in the way of empathy, given their greed and gullibility.Still, it’s hard to resist a good prison story, especially when it involves South America or Bangladesh, and pasty, bespectacled English blokes or naive teenage girls from small-town Texas. The psychology behind why these people take such enormous risks, and how they manage to survive in inhospitable and downright inhumane conditions is fascinating.

Perhaps I’ve just watched “Midnight Express,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Return to Paradise” one too many times, but I’ve often wondered how I’d fare in such a situation, and I hope I never have to find out. But documentaries like “Locked Up Abroad” are more than just sensationalism. They’re a window into our desperate, greedy, grubby little souls, as well as testimony to the will to survive.

For some reason, YouTube and National Geographic Channel video links are disabled or broken, so if you want to check out some footage, click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Svadilfari]

National Geographic has untold cruise disaster stories

National GeographicA new National Geographic special coming up on Sunday, February 12 is promising to answer a whole lot of questions about the grounding of the Costa Concordia last month. Featuring first-hand accounts of American survivors who share their own home video, Nat Geo will present Italian Cruise Ship Disaster: The Untold Stories.

How did the ship sink? Could it have been prevented? Why weren’t the passengers warned earlier? What are the similarities to and differences from the Titanic?” asks and answers NatGeo in the special episode Sunday night.

Costa Concordia was carrying more than 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew, including Americans Sameer and Divya Sharma from Massachusetts and 18-year-old Amanda Warrick who was traveling with her older brothers. On Friday the 13th, while the Sharmas shrug off any bad luck, the Warrick siblings toss out the idea that “something’s gonna happen.”

Soon, the ship detoured off course and hit the rocks. Amanda describes the immediate impact, telling NatGeo, “At first there was a tilt and a shake of the ship, that’s when tables and glasses started crashing. I was kind of in shock, I remember immediately standing up and looking at my brothers. I was just kind of speechless and silent.”

Italian Cruise Ship Disaster: The Untold Stories includes in-depth stories from passengers and staff on board as well as Coast Guard rescuers with home video, some never before seen on U.S. television, and reconstruction of the sinking of the Costa Concordia as it happened.The hour-long program starts at 7PM ET/PT Sunday, February 12, rebroadcast February 13, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.


Ship's Glass Ceiling Blowing in Fierce Winds

Flickr photo by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Win a travel photography scholarship to South Africa

Learn travel photography in South Africa thanks to Nat Geo and World Nomads.The National Geographic Channel and WorldNomads.com are giving one aspiring photographer the chance of a lifetime. They’ve jointly launched a new contest that will award the winner a photography scholarship that will send them off on assignment in South Africa with wildlife photographer Jason Edwards. While on photo safari they’ll have the opportunity to hone their craft and upon their return, they’ll have their work published on the Nat Geo Channel website.

The contest is open to anyone 18 years or older living in any country on the planet. All entrants should be non-professional photographers with a keen eye and adventurous spirit who are looking to learn new skills and improve their photography. It is recommended that they also have a good level of physical fitness and a desire to pursue a career in travel photography.

To enter the contest you must first shoot a series of photos that tell a story of some place that you’ve visited. That place can be down the block or on the other side of the globe, it’s completely up to you. Pick the five photos that best convey your story and write a short caption for each. Then, fill out this online form, including the 300 word essay about yourself and why you should win. The same page allows you to upload your photos and create an online gallery of the images as well. The entries will be judged on originality, ability to tell a story through images, and technique.

The winner will go “on assignment” for eight days in South Africa in early 2012. While there, they’ll work alongside Edwards shooting the landscapes and wildlife of Kruger National Park, while receiving instructions on setting up shots, composing images, and other photographic techniques. The recipient of this travel photography scholarship will also be required to keep a daily journal of their experiences, which they’ll upload to World Nomads upon their return to share with others.

Once the trip is over, Edwards will continue to work with the scholarship recipient during the editing phase, helping them to select their best images, advising on color correcting the photos, and preparing them for submission to the National Geographic Channel website, where they’ll be displayed alongside some of the best photography in the world.

The deadline for entering the contest is November 8th. For further information, checkout the Video FAQ, which is found here.

Having just visited Kruger a few months back, I can tell you that is a wildly beautiful place with amazing opportunities to take great photos. The concentration of animals there is spectacular, and the chance to work with a professional Nat Geo photographer there sounds fantastic.

Locked Up Abroad new season starts Wednesday

Locked up abroadWhen traveling outside of your home country, experts advise being concerned about political unrest, weather-related events or just the good old criminal activity that can take place anywhere. The National Geographic Channel series that premieres Wednesday night, takes travelers inside what should be one of their worst nightmares as they are Locked Up Abroad.

Originally titled Banged Up Abroad in 2006, the British documentary/docudrama has gone all over the planet recreating stories of travelers arrested and thrown in jail. Fans of the show know skipping that urge to smuggle drugs in or out of a country will go a long way to keeping them out of jail.

Focusing on the events that led up to their arrest, each episode reconstructs a real-life story of otherwise ordinary travelers who get on the wrong side of the law in a foreign land.

The season opener returns to Thailand where NATGEOTV tells us:

“Tim Schrader left his life in Australia to work as an English teacher in Bangkok. While he loved teaching, he was struggling financially and agreed to smuggle between 4 and 8 kilos of heroin for $10,000. Caught by Thai customs officers with more than a hundred times the amount of heroin needed to secure a death sentence, he knew he was finished. But his life changed again when, more than five years after his arrest, Tim received a royal pardon on medical grounds and was free to fly home.”

Want to get warmed up for the season opener? Start with GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 1: The First 48 Hours, one of our favorites.

The all new season of Locked Up Abroad premieres Wednesday at 8PM Eastern time. A new Locked Up Abroad iPhone App has behind-the-scenes details about episodes and updates on the new season. Watch videos, test survival IQ, and interact with other fans through Twitter and Facebook.

Flickr photo by puuikibeach

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