Happy travel news in 2020, from cookie recipes to fat bears

We don’t need to tell you that 2020 was a year of bad news. What may have slipped from your memory, however, were all of the uplifting moments that made headlines in between the madness. While humans retreated indoors, wildlife had the chance to roam freely again, air quality improved, and couples realized their love for each other.

And even though we couldn’t really travel, some good travel news prevailed, too. Here are 10 travel stories that made us feel a little better about the world.

Jesse Katayama, 26, was about to go to Machu Picchu in mid-March when the whole world (including Peru’s borders) shut down, leaving the Japanese boxing instructor stranded in the town of Aguas Calientes. But in October, after months of lobbying by locals on Katayama’s behalf, the government reopened the 15th-century Inca citadel just for him. “He’d come to Peru with the dream of getting in,” Peruvian Culture Minister Alejandro Neyra said at a news conference. That dream was realized, beyond imagination. Read more.

Fat Bear Week was the multiday holiday we didn’t know we needed this year, a fierce competition among completely unwitting competitors to earn the crown of biggest and beefiest. All week long, we checked in on the Fat Bear Week message boards, Twitter threads and bear cams to distract ourselves from the world around us. In the end, fan favorite 747 defeated 32 “Chunk” in the Fat Bear Tuesday finals, but it wasn’t really about who won and lost. It was about the joy of saying things like “dump truck donk” and “Earl of Avoirdupois” to your co-workers over Slack. Read more.

Fall’s changing colors are one of nature’s greatest gifts, but people with colorblindness don’t get the opportunity to enjoy them. The Tennessee state tourism board wanted to change that, so it began installing scenic viewfinders with EnChroma lenses, which alleviate red-green colorblindness, in 12 lookouts around the state. This tear-jerker of a video showed us just how impactful the technology can be. Read more.

DoubleTree has captured the hearts of its guests around the world with its tradition of offering its signature chocolate chip cookie upon arrival. Before the pandemic, though, that recipe was kept a secret from the public, which could savor it only by staying at a DoubleTree or by purchasing a tin of The Cookie online. In April, to spread some cheer, the hotel brand finally ended the delicious mystery. “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness,” Shawn McAteer, senior vice president and global head of DoubleTree by Hilton, said in a statement accompanying the recipe release. Read more.

Two nurses heading home from a Carnival cruise ship in June put their medical skills to work in the air when a fellow passenger on their Emirates flight between London and Manila went into labor. The nurses, who had worked on the Carnival Breeze until they were sent home because of the pandemic, had intended to take an earlier flight. “But apparently it was all meant to be,” Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement. The baby’s name, according to Carnival, was Sky. Read more.

When Ruff Ruff the stuffed dog got left behind at a Richmond DoubleTree in March, Allison Kuykendall wondered whether her 2-year-old daughter would ever see the favorite toy again. The hotel made sure of it — but first, it gave the pup a vacation day for the books. When the family opened the package that included the lost toy, they found photos of Ruff Ruff chilling by the hotel pool, talking on the phone, using a computer and sleeping on a king-size bed. “The love and care they put into doing this is incredible,” Kuykendall said. “A lot of times, when kids lose their toys or stuffed animals at a hotel, they might never see them again.” Read more.

After hearing that a couple was flying home with their newly adopted 8-day-old baby, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant invited the rest of the plane to write notes of encouragement and advice. Passengers cheered and started writing, and ultimately the flight attendants handed new parents Dustin and Caren Moore 60 napkins and a set of pilot wings. The flight was in November of 2019, but Dustin Moore shared the story on Twitter in February. “For an entire crew of strangers to come together like that, to partake like that, to show us that kind of love and kindness meant everything to us,” he said. Read more.

Ahead of Veterans Day, the National Park Service announced in November that all current and former military members can claim a free “America the Beautiful” pass, which waives standard entry fees at about 2,000 public locations across the United States — many of which have historical connections to the U.S. military. The passes are also available to those who have lost an immediate family member to military service, including in wars, terrorist attacks and international military operations. Read more.

It’s not every day that hotel housekeepers receive an $8,000 tip. But then again, it’s not every day that hotel housekeepers are assigned to a three-month shift with an entire professional sports league within a bubble at Disney World. So, upon departing, then-Rockets guard Russell Westbrook wanted to recognize what the Grand Floridian Resort staff had done for him, his team and the league. “They took great care of us,” Westbrook told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks. “Took the time and energy to do their job at a high level. That was the right thing. I like to do the right thing.” Read more.

Crater of Diamonds State Park, in Murfreesboro, Ark., allows visitors to hand-sift its 37 acres of plowed earth for the chance to take home a natural diamond — usually around a quarter of a carat. But when Kevin Kinard visited Crater of Diamonds with some friends on Labor Day to search the volcanic fields for gemstones, the 33-year-old Arkansan unearthed a shiny, dark stone about the size of a marble, which he thought might be glass. Instead, the park’s Diamond Discovery Center identified it as a 9.07-carat brown diamond, the second-largest diamond ever found at the park. “I honestly teared up when they told me,” Kinard said. “I was in complete shock!” Read more.

Travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb | Traveling tools

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive | Best days to fly

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains

Holidays: Parades and light shows | Safe holiday travel | Planning a ski trip | Canceling flights

Destinations: Hawaii | Dubrovnik | Private islands | 10 covid-free spots | Caribbean | Mexico

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