Photograph by PU XIAOXU XINHUA/ EYEVINE/REDUX
Photograph by PU XIAOXU XINHUA/ EYEVINE/REDUX
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Will global events keep you closer to home this year?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Travelers consider much more than their personal bucket lists when they make plans for exploring the world. Global events—from bushfires in Australia to viral outbreaks in China—can change intentions (and itineraries) quickly. In a new National Geographic and Morning Consult poll, we discovered that American travelers are cautious about leaving the U.S. in the next six months. With coronavirus continuing to spread, just 14 percent of Americans say they would be willing to travel within Asia compared to 76 percent saying they would be willing to travel within the U.S.

In our poll, frequent flyers—those who take three or more flights—are less cautious than infrequent travelers; a quarter of them said that they would be willing to travel within Asia in the next half year and 63 percent said they would travel to Europe. The confidence of travelers can be rattled by global events; our poll of 2,200 American adults was collected last weekend, when the U.S. placed travel limits on China. (Pictured above, flight attendants disinfecting a plane Friday in China's southern province of Hainan.)

How many trips did U.S. citizens take last year? It’s easy to find out—the National Travel & Tourism office does all the number crunching, and just released its latest figures. In 2019, U.S. citizens departed for 83,420,498 trips abroad (that counts multiple trips for some citizens). That represents an increase of 7.6 percent over 2018. The top destinations? Mexico (32.4 million), Europe (16.6 million), and Canada (13.2 million). Asia drew 5.4 million trips from U.S. citizens, and it will be very interesting to see how coronavirus changes this number.

Will global events keep you closer to home this year? Please let me know—and tell me how you are changing your plans.

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Today in a minute

Coronavirus insurance? So you bought travel insurance for your trip to China, and coronavirus canceled it. Can you get your money back? Not necessarily, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Embattled butterfly defenders: A second worker at Mexico’s largest sanctuary for monarch butterflies has been found dead in the hilly reserve in central Mexico.The Washington Post reports that authorities are investigating the deaths, which come amid pressure by loggers and farmers to cut down the environmental area, where nearly all of the eastern North American monarchs winter. Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Call me an advisor: Yes, there still are travel agents, they just go by different names now. And you don’t use them for a weekend getaway, but for specialty trips with family, or combined flights and hotel, or complicated multi-country romps, Elaine Glusac writes for Nat Geo.

Beyond Pong: The video game company behind Pac-Man and Mario Bros. is moving into hotels, starting in Phoenix, CNN reports. Some of the spaces will have a retro 1970s look, while others will look like the sci-fi book and movie Ready Player One, the company said. Atari hotels also are planned for Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Where the buffalo poem: The occasion of that lame pun was last week’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. The annual meetup features poets and musicians verbally galloping across the stage, eulogizing their horses, praising their cow dogs, damning the drought, and cheering for rain, Carson Vaughan writes for Nat Geo. He mentions drinkin’—and I reckon there’s rasslin’ and cussin’ too.

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They used to be homes: Until the 1950s, some people around Matera still lived in caves. The caves, known as Sassi, were once filled with large families, sleeping along their livestock. The government recognized the plight, and moved the people to newly built homes. Decades later, the Sassi, which have a magnificent view of Matera, have been transformed into hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, bars, and artist studios, says photographer Michael George.

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The big takeaway

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Next for winter sports? The Norwegian sport of skijoring, essentially riding behind a reindeer on skis, has crossed the Atlantic and taken on a cowboy flavor. The competition, literally “ski driving” in Norwegian, pits a set of skiers against each other as the beasts race down a town thoroughfare. The twist in Leadville, Colorado: Skiers + horses, writes Aaron Gulley for Nat Geo.

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Disappearing: Most climbers on Tanzania’s majestic Kilimanjaro go straight to the summit. But some take the more dangerous western route, which has glaciers up to 100 feet tall, Daniel Stone writes for Nat Geo. These ancient frozen masses near the Equator are tropical anomalies—ice doesn’t often last long near the Equator—and even these high-up glaciers are melting.

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This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading!