NOW THAT IT’S SEPTEMBER, school is ramping up, and the last days of summer are all-but behind us, we can’t help but already miss the carefree sunny travel days we all associate with the June, July, and August months.
And with World Tourism Day right around the corner (on September 27th), these are the 18 places we can’t stop thinking of as we start fantasizing about escaping the impending winter months:
Let’s be honest — no matter how many warm, white sand beaches we may have sprawled out on in our lives, or how many sea turtles we fist-bumped while snorkeling in warm ocean waters this past summer, it’ll never really be enough to slake our beach-lust. So while the rest of the 9-to-5’ers around the country are dreaming of getting “lei’d” over a punch bowl and some ukelele music at some resort on the Big Island…we got one word into “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys before being hopelessly inspired to jet to Aruba. There’s a reason it’s the most revisited destination in the Caribbean.
2. Jasper, Canada
As the seasons change and we plunge headfirst into Autumn, few things help us cope with the oncoming and crushing depression of winter like finding that perfect little slice of alpine forest-by-the-lake-in-the-shade-of-a-mountain spot to throw up a tent and take in the fiery foliage of fall — and Banff’s less-touristy cousin Jasper is where we’ve set our sights. Bonus: Jasper has an epic dark sky park and one of the highest prevalences of visible Northern Lights in the country, so the colors don’t stop after nightfall (if you’re into that kind of thing… and we certainly are).
3. Göreme, Turkey
Sure, we *could* talk about the “Fairy Chimeys” and the Open Air Museum, but if we’re being completely honest with ourselves: Göreme’s where you’ll get that epic hot air balloon selfie that will make all of your friends jealous for the rest of forever.
4. Taupo, New Zealand
For that “Indiana Jones and the Journey into Mordor” vibe, we’re eyeing Taupo in New Zealand for its proximity to the mysterious Maori rock carvings at Lake Taupo, and the rainforests of Tongariro National Park — while still allowing some easy access to the Wairekei Terraces for relaxing vacay days in the hot springs. Plus, Mount Ngauruhoe (the volcano used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is right there, and I’m a huge nerd. Sue me.
5. Chengdu, China
I have a confession: probably 40% of my personal motivation to travel to incredible faraway places is for the opportunity to try new and exotic foods. So color us completely obsessed ever since we found out that Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, was crowned the first Asian official UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the world. And if UNESCO-certified spicy Sichuan food isn’t enough of a selling point, Chengdu is also home to the “Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding,” so you can take in the active salvation of a species (read: some hot panda nookie) when you come up from your takeout for air.
6. Jaipur, India
Sure, the Taj Mahal is cool and all, but there’s a lot of other epic Mahals in India that might yield a better, less-tourist-infested experience. Our money’s on the Hawa and Jal Mahals (Palace of the Winds and the Water Palace, respectively) in Jaipur. Plus, Jaipur is just a few miles away from Chand Baori, so if you find yourself in the area you’ll have to let us know what it was like to actually *be* in the real-world equivalent of an MC Escher painting.
7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Not too long ago, Brazil was in the throes of some of the most insane and devastating inflation the country had ever seen (leading to a time known as the dark days of the $30 pizza). But according to the latest reports from the locals, however, Brazil is through the woods and is now an awesome and affordable place to venture to again — which is why we’d jump at the opportunity to get out there ourselves and scratch Rio off our bucket lists before the rest of the world catches on.
8. Budapest, Hungary
We had to rep a little European pride, and Budapest has our vote as a four-fer of culture, history, architecture, and ever-so-slightly-lesser-known-but-just-as-rad-nightlife. Plus, they’re also home to the largest medicinal baths in Europe, so just in case you missed hitting the bath-houses in Turkey while spending your days in hot air balloons, you can make up for it in Budapest.
9. Tulum, Mexico
We could talk about Tulum’s position in a jungle near Chichen Itza and myriad other archaeological sites, or its spot on the Mexican coast, but Tulum’s got one other thing going for it that’s specifically got us forever adding it to our “where we’d go with the time and money” lists: the cenotes. These natural sinkholes of clear groundwater take cave diving to the next level, and are exactly how we plan to live out our fantasies of experiencing a post-apocalyptic world where humans have all evolved into fish-people. That’s a totally normal fantasy we all have, right?
10. Taunggyi, Myanmar
Recent controversy over tourism to Myanmar aside, we can’t help but see a picture of Bagan without it giving us a renewed and insatiable sense of wanderlust. But we’d more-than-happily settle for Taunggyi, which is a half-day away from Bagan, but comes with the bonus of easy access to Inle Lake (and its floating gardens and markets), the Pindaya Caves, and the Kakku pagodas. That, my friends, is what we call a win-win-win.
11. Taveuni, Fiji
I dare you to tell me you’ve never thought about rounding up every sick coworker in the office and putting them on some remote island (where they can keep their germs contained), only to then think: no, screw that, round me up and put just me on that island instead. Enter: Taveuni, the not-so-resort-filled all-but-private island in Fiji you could round us up and stick us on any day.
12. Koh Kut Island, Thailand
We all have at least one friend-of-a-friend who just got back from a trip to Thailand, tanned practically bronze and boasting about having spent a total of $300 for the week. And if you’re like us, you were understandably jealous, but also know that choosing the wrong Thai-sland for your own escape could mean never seeing another traveler to make friends with, or never being able to sleep because you can literally feel the bass from the club down the street until 4 AM. We’ve singled out Koh Kut, because we love us some slow travel, a baseline level of amenities, empty beaches with fewer tourists, epic seafood from surrounding fishing villages, and rad hidden pools beneath waterfalls at the end of day-hikes.
13. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Ever-frugal from a collective lifetime of backpacking, we had to drop a shout out to the Philippines. And when trying to choose one from the 7,107 islands in the area, it’s hard not to default on CNNGo’s “best beach and island in the Philippines for its natural splendor and ecosystem,” Palawan. And, as would come with the territory of being the “best beach and island”, it ticks off the complete list of prereq’s with cliffs, beaches, hot springs, and falls. Bonus: though the weather holds pretty much year-round, locals say the best time to go is right around the end of monsoon season during the December-January months. Y’know, when the rest of us are freezing our asses off.
14. Tromsø, Norway
All it took was conquering my first “scary” travel adventure (like going abroad solo, or venturing to a foreign country that’s not exactly deemed “safe” by tourism bureaus) to give me the gall to push the limits of where I can (and frankly, should) go on the planet. And when it comes to heading towards the extreme ends of the adventure spectrum, Tromsø might be one of the best all-in-one places to comfortably cross off a lot of bucket list items and gather a heap of bragging rights (which is why it’s firmly on our list of places to venture to next). “Oh, what did *I* do over the holidays? Not much, just some dog-sledding in the Arctic circle under the Northern Lights after paragliding under a sunless sky between some epic fjords in Norway. Nbd.”
15. Arusha, Tanzania
I dare you to tell me you didn’t watch the opening of the Lion King and think to yourself “wow, if that place really existed I’d give anything to go to there.” So imagine how stoked we were when we each learned (at various stages of our lives) that it very much does exist, at the Serengeti National Park/Ngorongoro Crater seated in northeastern Tanzania. With a foothold in nearby Arusha, we’d also be forced to seriously consider rolling the dice on a trek up Mount Meru or Kilimanjaro, but we might just wave at the mountains with our free hand while clutching cameras and/or the safari-rover with the other one.
16. Takayama, Japan
Not only am I a great lover of foods, but I have what I might affectionately describe as a “meat addiction” (insofar as I don’t think I’ve ever in my life eaten a meal that didn’t contain some meat in one capacity or another). So while tourists flock in droves to Kobe to try the “real Kobe beef”, I’m going to let you in on a secret that’s been at the very top of my carnivorous bucket list for decades. In Japan’s Gifu prefecture lies the small city of Takayama, which looks a lot like something straight out of an anime and could, on its own, be a pretty rad destination for some relaxed, authentic Japanese cultural experiences outside the main cities. But in Takayama (and only in Takayama) you’ll also have the opportunity to sample some Hida beef, the only other beef in the world that goes toe-to-toe with Kobe and virtually every way.
17. Mykonos, Greece
Sure, most of the places we wish we could be on World Tourism Day are pretty tame… but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t also found ourselves sweating out the 7th shot during Full Moon festivals in Thailand, puking in European club bathrooms, hitting a pipe of god-knows-what so as to not offend our new friends and hosts in Nepal, and traveling the world in search of the most epic parties. Everyone deserves to party at least as hard as they work, and we feel we might just have earned a trip to Mykonos in Greece. I could tell you all about it, but why spoil the surprise? N.B.: If you’re *not* looking to party, you might find you need a vacation from your vacation to Mykonos. That’s as much a warning as it is a dare.