The Matador staff is based all around the world, which means we’re a well-traveled bunch. In 2018, team members went across the globe — sometimes for fun, sometimes for work, and sometimes for a mix of both. We explored the polar-bear-filled north and surfed the coast of Spain. Some of us went to cities; others took on the great outdoors. Some of us got to know our own backyards a little better. All of us took along our one piece of gear we can’t travel without. If you want a guaranteed amazing trip in the new year, follow our lead and venture to our favorite places we traveled to in 2018 — the places you should definitely consider adding to your 2019 itinerary.

Sea kayaking on the coast of British Columbia

Carlo Alcos, video editor:

“My wife and I spent five nights exploring the wild little islands off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, in July in kayaks. We went with Spirit of the West Adventures with eight other travelers and two guides. We watched humpback whales and orcas, paddled past eagles and porpoises, and learned a ton from the guides. The group became a tight unit because we had to work together hauling kayaks and gear up and down beaches, and we grew closer from setting up camp and hanging out. Even though we were out in the middle of nowhere, the guides cooked up amazing dishes and kept us well energized. There’s nothing like being completely off-grid, far from cars, electricity, and especially the internet to reset!”

Read more: This remote floating resort in a rainforest in British Columbia is Canadian paradise

Bucharest, Romania

Photo: joyfull/Shutterstock

Aryana Azari, copy editor and digital producer:

“It’s so hard to choose just one place, but one that’s definitely high up there is Bucharest in Romania. I visited in March 2018 for half a week. I went because I had traveled all over Western Europe before and hadn’t really gone to Eastern Europe much yet. The people were incredibly friendly, and there’s a lot of history there. It’s also an easy place to use as a base to see other parts of Romania, including Transylvania. I definitely recommend having dinner and drinks at Caru’ cu Bere. It’s a popular spot among both locals and visitors — the wait can get long if you don’t have a reservation, but you won’t even notice it going by. My friend and I visited at night and had a nearly two-hour wait, but we didn’t even feel like it was long at all. While waiting, we bonded with a couple of people and ended up having dinner and drinks with them that night that lasted for hours.”

Read more: The ultimate arts trip through Bucharest

Azores Islands, Portugal

Photo: ArjaKo’s/Shutterstock

Matt Meltzer, senior staff writer:

“These volcanic islands have been called Europe’s Hawaii, but let’s hope that never happens. While it’s easy to draw the geographic parallels — the Azores sit in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, smack between New York and Lisbon — these islands still feel unspoiled, a place you can enjoy without getting price gouged or fighting mad crowds from cruise ships. São Miguel, the largest of the Azores, has only a couple of large waterfront hotels but has sprawling cliffside coffee plantations, tropical rivers where you can slide down waterfalls, and hikes with views out over the Atlantic and the islands beyond. You’ll also find villages like Furnas, set in the caldera of an active volcano, where you can drink tea made from geothermal water. On other islands, like Terceira, you’ll find cow pastures dotting the hillsides and daily bull runnings in the tiny villages.

Because the islands have so much agriculture, visiting here won’t demolish your wallet like it might in Hawaii or the Caribbean. A good steak dinner can be had for $20. Hotels are rarely over $100 a night. And flights, if you hit the right Azores Getaway deals, can get you here for a week with a hotel for under $800. Though they seem to be atop a lot of people’s must-travel lists this year, the islands still don’t feel saturated quite yet. And they might just be the best tropical paradise for the money in the world.”

Read more: You can run with the bulls every week in the Azores Islands

Oaxaca City, Mexico

Photo: Kelli Hayden/Shutterstock

Stefan Klopp, director of development:

“I visited Oaxaca City, Mexico, in May. It was my favorite place because it checked all the boxes I look for in cities: highly walkable, vibrant, great food and drink, and lots of things to do in and around the city. You should go to Oaxaca if you love mezcal, exploring ancient ruins of past civilizations, mole, colourful cities, and chocolate (people in Oaxaca absolutely love chocolate). I suggest doing a cooking class and trying the many forms of hot or cold drinking chocolate — including tejate!”

Read more: 17 portraits from the Carnival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Photo: gnoparus/Shutterstock

Dayana Aleksandrova, community manager:

“I loved Rotterdam. The city is so underrated because it doesn’t have canals like Amsterdam. The city was bombed to the ground through WWII and was completely reconstructed, so it’s got funky sculptures, cozy neighborhoods, parks, beer gardens, salsa clubs, and lots of creative and entrepreneurial people. I loved Little V, a Vietnamese restaurant in the center. The spices and recipes are super creative, the drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are delicious and flavorful, and it was so cheap.”

Read more: The sugar-coated, crispy-fried, deeply comforting guide to Dutch winter food

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo: Patrick Foto/Shutterstock

Tim Wenger, associate editor:

“Malaysia stood out as a highlight in Southeast Asia, a place where I’ve spent a good deal of time exploring and stuffing myself with street food. Kuala Lumpur was the unexpected star of my most recent trip. I found it easy to fall into the rhythm of the city as the top sites are easily navigable and closely located. Hidden music venues and funky bars await all over town, often at the most unexpected of places. The city is increasingly diverse, and it shows in the cuisine — I binged Indian food from downtown to Bukit Bintang but also sampled excellent Chinese, Malaysian, and western fare. The city is also surprisingly walkable for such a cosmopolitan capital; after making the trek in from the airport, I only hopped in a rideshare a few times. The WiFi is great, and there are cool cafes everywhere to plop down with a laptop. Plus, my suite at the Cosmo Hotel was $40/night and came with free Heineken.”

Read more: Penang, Malaysia, is the most underrated foodie capital of Southeast Asia

Slovenia

Mike Dewey, art director:

“No doubt, Slovenia was my favorite place I traveled. I was blown away by this little country. It’s tiny — only two million people — and yet packs a punch in so many ways. You can have wine in a wine country (goriška brda) that looks like Tuscany and a couple hours later be in Soca Valley river rafting and mountain biking, then be at the sea sailing on the bluest, clearest waters ever. In addition to the wine scene, the food is incredible. Super underrated destination where I’ll definitely go back with the family next year.”

Read more: Why Slovenia should be a mandatory stop on your next trip to Europe

Buffalo, New York

Photo: Harold Stiver/Shutterstock

Matt Meltzer, senior staff writer:

“Part of why I love Buffalo so much is the reaction I get from people who ask, “What’s your favorite place you traveled?” and I respond with an excited “Buffalo.”

Usually it’s followed by a hearty, “Ok, but seriously…”

But it’s not a joke. This rust-belt city written off for dead half a decade ago was hands down the most fun I’ve had traveling solo anywhere, whether it was ziplining between old grain silos at Riverworks, scarfing wings along the historic Buffalo Wing Trail, or staying out way later than I should at the venerable Old Pink. The city has done more with its industrial-era relics than anyone expected, like turning the old Larkin Soap campus into a hotbed for young creatives in Larkinville or repurposing those same silos as an eerily beautiful kayaking trail along the Buffalo River.

But its not simply urban revitalization that makes Nickel City so inviting. Bars here close at 5:00 AM, giving the city an underappreciated nightlife insanity you won’t find touted in tourism brochures. It’s the only city I’ve visited where every single night I go out solo, I make a new group of short-term friends who cajole me into staying out by buying me drinks well past 3:00 AM. The food is great, the people are greater, and if you’re looking for an affordably insane place to spend a weekend, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere better than Buffalo.”

Read more: The most underrated cities for a fall weekend escape

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

Juan Carlos Piña, photographer and video editor:

“My favorite place in 2018 was a trip to Kenya in August during migration time at the Maasai Mara National Reserve for wildlife photography. The city tours there through Airbnb were also great, like the soap-stone handcrafts and coffee farm tours. If you love wildlife, cheerful people, and really good coffee, Kenya is a must for 2019.”

Read more: How to plan a do-it-yourself African safari on a budget

Svalbard, Norway

Photo: ginger_polina_bubli/Shutterstock

Eben Diskin, staff writer:

“Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago situated between Norway and the North Pole (but closer to the North Pole) and one of the most accessible ways to see the real Arctic. The town of Longyearbyen has just over 2,000 people, and it’s the northernmost town in the world with over 1,000 residents. It’s the perfect destination for snowmobiling, dog sledding, glacier hiking, and viewing the northern lights, and you’re legally required to carry a rifle when venturing outside town due to the 2,500-plus polar bears on the archipelago.”

Read more: Everything you need to know about planning an epic trip to Svalbard

Egypt

Photo: Sam O’Brochta

Sam O’Brochta, social media producer:

“In January, I finally fulfilled a lifetime bucket list item and went to Egypt. After years of being afraid because of the negative media about it, I pushed through my fears and booked a trip. It was better than I ever could have imagined. Walking through the temples and historic sites ruined museums for me for life because how can anything else compare to being there in real life? The people were kind, the food was delicious, and the ancient monuments made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie. My favorite moment was sleeping under the stars while sailing down the Nile on a felucca with a crew of Nubians who cooked for us and danced around a bonfire with us when the sun went down. It’s the perfect country to visit in 2019 because tourism is still down there, and they really appreciate the visitors willing to give them a chance.”

Read more: 7 underrated sites in Egypt worth visiting, according to an archaeologist

Galicia, Spain

Photo: Migel/Shutterstock

Noelle Salmi, Outdoors and Family editor:

“We lived in Barcelona for two years and have been all over Spain, but we just loved our two weeks in Galicia last summer. I arrived there on foot after walking the Camino de Santiago, then switched to mountain bikes. Then, we swapped up for a van and surfed multiple empty beaches in secluded coves or on wide stretches of sand. I think they may be the least crowded beaches in Spain.

Outside on the pedestrian alleyways of the old town in La Coruña on a Saturday night in August, you see lots of people, but hear only Spanish. The revelers are locals. The pulpo a la feira really is the best octopus I’ve ever had. Stunning topography, empty beaches, incredible surfing, best food in Spain, and a cool Celtic influence going on as well. What more could you want?”

Read more: Why Galicia is the most underrated region of Spain

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock

Alex Bresler, copy editor and digital producer:

“I went to Uruguay in February, and all these months later, it’s still the first place that springs to mind when I think about my favorite trips of 2018. Hands down, one of the major highlights was Cabo Polonio, a funky little hippie haven wedged between panoramic dunes and surfable waves about an hour from Brazil on Uruguay’s east coast. Brightly painted cabins, modest posadas, and rustic hostels all powered by generators and solar panels fleck the seashore, forming a community so far off the grid you’d be hard-pressed to find running water there. Attractions include a lighthouse overlooking the hamlet where horses graze, a sizable sea lion colony, and a surrounding national park you can explore on foot or via 4×4, but at the end of the day, Cabo Polonio is one of those places you go simply to soak up the vibe — because it’s unlike any you’ll find elsewhere.”

Read more: 11 things I wish I knew before visiting Uruguay

Denver, Colorado

Photo: f11photo/Shutterstock

Nick Hines, Food and Drink editor:

“I traveled more in 2018 than any other year, but whenever I talk with people about where I’ve been, I seem to linger on Denver the longest. I rode horses, I visited a few of the many (many) local distilleries, I sampled some of the local legal goods, and, as one does in Denver, drank some really good beer. I even left with a Rockmount cowboy shirt covered in multi-colored and sparkly Martini glasses. It wasn’t my first time to Denver, but it was my first trip to see Stranahan’s, Laws Whiskey House, Bear Creek Distillery, and the rising cocktail scene in what is very much a beer city. There’s something magical about visiting a new place, yet there’s something to be said for returning to somewhere you love to further explore what makes a city special.”

Read more: The ultimate guide to Denver, Colorado

Myanmar

Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Eben Diskin, staff writer:

“While Myanmar often makes headlines for its Rohingya refugee situation, the crisis is primarily confined to a region in the north, and boycotting the region doesn’t do any good for the local people. The country as a whole is extremely safe and is actually one of the most exciting tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Myanmar might not have the beaches Thailand and Indonesia are famous for, but its ancient pagodas and prehistoric-looking landscape can keep travelers busy for weeks.

Once you’ve visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, a massive golden complex in the capital of Yangon, venture north to Bagan, where you can watch the sunset over thousands of smaller pagodas from a hot air balloon. To really immerse yourself in Burmese culture, check out Hpa-An in the east, a small town known for its temple caves. Myanmar doesn’t have a ton of tourist infrastructure right now, but that won’t last long — and you’ll want to get there before it turns into the next Thailand.”

Read more: What it’s like to drink anti-ageing beer in Myanmar

Idaho

Photo: CSNafzger/Shutterstock

Kati Hetrick, supervising producer:

“Idaho is super underrated but incredible for winter and summer adventures, hot springs, wilderness, whitewater, and remote camping. It’s one of America’s last big wilderness areas. I’m almost hesitant to say anything because it’s so incredible, and I don’t want it to blow up.”

Read more: Why you need to visit Idaho this winter

Parma, Italy

Laura Reilly, managing editor:

“Visiting Italy, the country whose culture I was raised on, has been at the top of my bucket list from the moment I first got a passport. This year, I traveled to the Emilia-Romagna region with my mother, with nothing on our itinerary but eating fresh pasta, hard cheese, and salty meat. Emilia-Romagna is the food heart of Italy, famous for producing authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar of Modena, and Prosciutto di Parma. These protected products can only be made in specific areas of Emilia-Romagna and have to meet a litany of consortium standards before they can hit the shelves with the coveted DOP labels of authenticity.

On the outskirts of the city of Parma, organize a tour of the factories to see how both Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma are made, and be dumbstruck at the sheer quantity these facilities churn out for the whole world’s consumption. (Be sure to get a picture of yourself dwarfed by shelves of cheese and ham, too.) Then, take a walking tour of the city to indulge in even more traditional food, from stuffed anolini in steaming hot broth to a pesto di cavallo panini, aka raw horse meat (tastes like a spicy tuna roll!). Don’t worry about not fitting into any of the clothes you packed to go home in; there’s plenty of colorful, cobblestoned streets in Parma to walk it all off — but packing a pair of stretchy pants certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

Read more: 7 destinations to visit NOW before they’re overrun with tourists