This is the hashtag I’ve been using over the last couple months on social media posts. As a personal travel planner, photographer, writer and wanderlust-filled traveler, it’s exciting to think about where you want to go on your next trip. I know some people don’t have a lot of time or money to travel, or don’t have a desire to go too far. Other folks are more adventurous and dream of far-flung lands that are very different from where they live. Whatever fits your personality and whatever your resources allow, there is a place for you. There are many lists of “hot” destinations at this time of year, but I thought I’d put together something of my own. This is a bit of my own personal wish list, but I think these are also destinations that will appeal to many of you. So, where will you go in 2015?
Rocky Mountain National Park
Having lived in Colorado for 15 years, this park captivates me. I photographed it, hiked it, drove it and yes, slept in it. This year, the park celebrates its 100th anniversary, so there will be special events and programs to honor it. It’s a great destination at any time of year. Winter is very quiet, but gorgeous with snow covering the mountains and valleys. Spring finds streams beginning to run wild as the peaks lose their winter white. Summer is high season, but the wildflowers are carpeting the valleys and high mountains and the hiking and camping are fabulous. Autumn is spectacular with the aspens turning bright yellow and the male elk bugling to attract their mates. Rocky Mountain National Park is truly an incredible park.
The Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
This has become a popular destination of late, especially in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana area. If you are a bourbon whiskey lover, then put this on your list. Most of the distilleries are in smaller towns outside of Lexington and Louisville, although these two cities make great bases. Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, and Evan Williams make up the bulk of the trail. Each distillery gives its own unique tour with samples at the end. It’s a great slice of Americana!
New Orleans, Louisiana
Later this year will mark the 10 year anniversary of Katrina, the hurricane that devastated this city. However, New Orleans and its people are resilient and the city is better than ever. It’s become a food lover’s heaven. Everyone I know who has been here in the past few years raves about all the fabulous restaurants. Along with the delicious food come great music, incredible history and people who know how to have a good time.
From Astoria to Brooking-Harbor, the 357 mile coastline has tons to offer and it’s really quite stunning! I’ve been to some towns in the north and find Manzanita to be the most charming and laid back. Further south, Yachats is a tiny hamlet that captured my heart and rejuvenated my soul. The Oregon Dunes, a little further south, and close to Reedsport and Winchester Bay, are a National Recreational Area providing loads of activities. The whole of the coast really does have something for everyone – from family fun amusement park towns such as Seaside, to quiet relaxing destinations such as Yachats. From seals frolicking in the waves to lighthouses standing guard on cliffs to tide pools filled with starfish and sea anemone to lively coastal towns. Coastal Oregon has a special place for you.
When I first moved to Colorado almost 20 years ago, I started to look at the map to see all the places in the west that I now lived closer to. These two national parks screamed out at me. I remember even having a conversation with a neighbor friend about going there. But, it never happened. So, they remain on my wish list. Glacial lakes, soaring mountain peaks, wildlife, great hiking – these parks are heaven for a mountain gal like me. However, there are some really nice, sophisticated accommodations here, so you don’t have to set up a tent to enjoy the natural world.
The western part of Canada seems to get the glory – beautiful national parks with soaring mountains and pristine lakes, vibrant cities hosting Olympics. But the eastern seaboard has its own charm and has caught my attention. Newfoundland, the island that makes up the easternmost part of this vast country, is filled with outdoor pursuits, history (cool Viking history at that), and its own national parks that rival the ones in the west. Lighthouses abound along the coast and there is always a quaint inn to rest your head. To top it off, you can actually see icebergs here!
Being a product of the 80’s, for me Nicaragua meant Contras and Sandinistas. But, this country has emerged from its conflict and has been touted as the new Costa Rica – “this is how Costa Rica was fifteen years ago!” I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that it is a destination that intrigues me, personally, so I had to put it on my list. From volcanoes, to colonial towns, to forests, lakes and beaches, go now before tourism explodes and the pristine environment and authenticity is lost.
Yup, it’s a big country. It’s one of those places I long to go back to. It’s also a bargain. I thought when I was there nine years ago that the 3 to 1 peso to dollar ratio was great. Now, unfortunately for the Argentinians, who have had a tough time economically, it’s a little over 8 to 1. Bad news for them, but good news for Americans. Argentina is a gorgeous country with a diverse landscape, beautiful cities and wonderful people. I have an Argentinian friend who is one of the sweetest people I know. Buenos Aires, the capital, rivals many European cities with its sophisticated air. The Mendoza wine region makes some of the best wines in the world (and they’re super affordable). And the Andes Mountains are nothing short of spectacular. I especially love the Lake District and the towns of Bariloche, Villa la Angostura and San Martin de los Andes. This country has been calling me back since I left.
This continent has taken a hit with the whole ebola thing. This is rather unfortunate since the bulk of Africa has been, and is, ebola-free. Having never been to this continent, there are some definite places on my bucket list that grows each year. But, here are a couple of places that are leading the way for me, and, I think are terrific places for anyone to check out.
Something about this country is alluring – or maybe everything about it is alluring. I was going to go in 2011. But, with the Arab Spring, I decided on Turkey instead (which I loved!). So, it’s still on my list. Cities like Marrekesh and Fez with their old town (medina) of winding “you’re gonna get lost so just go with it” pedestrian ways, the Atlas Mountains, the kasbahs, the Saraha Desert, and dreamy, coastal towns such as Essouria entice me. For those looking for something decidedly different (and yes, safe), Morocco is a wonderful choice.
When I first read about Mozambique about four years ago, I was immediately intrigued. The article boasted of beautiful beaches, warm sunshine, colonial-style architecture and a fascinating mix of cultures. It’s been on my bucket list since. Perhaps not as easy to get to as other places in Africa, it is well worth the effort. Along with the turquoise waters and stunning beaches, you’ll find an interior filled with vast tracks of bush where elephants, lions and numerous bird species make their home. Sign me up!
This is the continent that I love. It’s easy to get to, fairly simple to travel around, and you can go to four or five countries on one trip. I personally want to go to every country here (or back to, as the case may be), but I am holding back to just a handful for this list (which is difficult!).
This is Ireland at its best, at least in my humble opinion and after four trips to this incredible country. From the wild and rugged northwest of County Donegal to the still wild and rugged County Cork in the southwest, this is the Ireland of your dreams. Waves crashing against the rocky coast, quaint harbor towns with bobbing boats, mountains and moors – pubs with traditional Irish music floating out onto the cobblestone street, people who are so warm and friendly they’ll make you feel like family. All of Ireland is beautiful, but it’s the western counties that truly grab your heart. Rough and untamed, magical and mystical – this is where you really get to know Ireland.
For some reason, this country is enticing me more and more over time. I think it’s the cities and towns here that capture my attention. Brussels, Bruges and Ghent keep popping up in my mind. Chocolate, beer and that mix of French, Dutch and German make Belgium seem like Europe in microcosm. Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and the EU, calls with its cafe scene and old mixed with new vibe. The towns of Bruges and Ghent enchant with their Medieval fairy-tale qualities. However, one thing that I keep hearing is that the Belgians are quirky and fun. That’s reason enough for a visit! Oh, and did I mention the beer and chocolate?
England and Scotland
My personal pick for where I will most likely head on my next adventure abroad. I have longed to see the English countryside with its quaint villages. Longed to see the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and walk along Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve yearned to see Edinburgh and its stately castle. And I’ve dreamt of the Scottish Highlands and the islands – mystical lakes, soaring peaks, beautiful glens (valleys), and pristine beaches, not to mention castles, traditional villages, and pubs filled with friendly people. Yup, it’s all enticing!
Yes, I know. Paris. It’s been through a lot in the last week, but it’s a tough and resilient city. I’ve been once, but would love to go back. Some people don’t like it. And, that’s fine. It’s not a city that everyone will love. For me, I was prepared to not like it. But, I ended up really loving it. I was on a budget, but still stayed in a nice, clean, safe hotel in a great location. I went to Notre Dame, the Lourve, the Musee d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. I ate well from the markets and even did a little shopping. Paris doesn’t mean breaking the bank. It’s a wonderful city to walk around, investigate the different neighborhoods and become part of Parisian life.
Countries of the Former Yugoslavia
These countries are catching on, and fast. Croatia’s tourism has been growing like wildfire over the past five years. Slovenia has also been growing quickly. Both are on my list for different reasons. Croatia has a gorgeous coastline, stunning islands and cities and towns filled with history. Slovenia has the Julien Alps (mountains!). But, some of the other countries – Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia – are also making their way onto my list and should be on yours as well. There is incredible geographical beauty here, loads of history, great food and wine, and warm locals. Plus, many of these countries are still relatively inexpensive compared to western Europe. Go now!
Dolomiti area, Italy
This area in northern Italy is really comprised of about 5 different areas of Dolomite parks. All are spectacular, but I’ll concentrate on a couple of them as these are the regions I’m personally most familiar with. The Alpe di Siusi area of the Dolomites is made of up a few small towns with Castelrotto (Kastelruth in German) being my choice as a base. Though more Germanic in nature, this area is absolutely jaw-dropping gorgeous. The Alpe di Siusi is the largest high altitude alpine meadow in Europe. The Schlern or Sciliar in Italian, a hulking peak, stands over it. There are lots of trails, cable cars and ski lifts (for those not quite as active), fabulous accommodation (Garni Siblernagl and Hotel Cavallino d’Oro are favorites), delicious food, tasty wines, quaint villages and warm-hearted locals. This is a fantastic place for outdoor lovers. The second spot is San Vigilio di Marebbe which is a town right outside the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park and a little northeast of the Alpe di Siusi region. There’s more breathtaking scenery of high mountain peaks, green valleys and picturesque towns (beside San Vigilio). Outdoor activities, scrumptious food, delightful wines and incredibly friendly people add to the mix, making it one of of my new favorite places in Italy. The Hotel Olympia is wonderful! These are two areas of northern Italy that I would go back to over and over again.
More mountains! I had my taste of the Swiss Alps in 2014. I loved being in Grindelwald and the Lauterbrunnen valley in central Switzerland. It’s magnificent! Though Switzerland is not a cheap destination, it is incredibly beautiful, pristine and so inviting. Plan to splurge a bit. I promise it will be worth it. These are the mountains that you see on postcards, on movie studio logos, on commercials. To hike in them, really be in them, is something that was on my bucket list. And, I had the privilege of doing just that. But, it left me wanting more! It’s one of those places that I think everyone should see – at least once.
Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific
This a part of the world that I’ve not been to (outside of Turkey), but I am incredibly fascinated by these lands. Southeast Asia is very budget friendly, although it takes some time to get there. These are some places high on my list.
This is my special little town on the Aegean Sea with the lovely Karia Bel’ Hotel. Beliz has made improvements to the hotel although I thought it was fine as it was. I am longing to see this beautiful place again, to see her and her staff, and to gaze at the clear turquoise waters and soak up some southern Turkish sun. This is the spot to relax, unwind, and be at peace. Ever since I left that final time in late July 2011, I’ve been wanting to return. It’s a very unique and truly extraordinary destination.
This country has been on my list for at least a dozen years. Once the land of really cheap backpackers, Thailand is still a land filled with backpackers, but prices have gone up some and there are now more luxurious accommodations for those so inclined. But, it’s still a great place to find a bargain. For me, the intrigue is the natural beauty of the northern mountains and the southern beaches mixed with Buddhist temples and shrines and the warmth of the Thai people. And, admittedly, I love Thai food!
Recently opened to tourism, this country, to the west of Thailand, is popping up on some lists. It certainly does not have the tourist infrastructure that Thailand has, but that is the appeal to an independent traveler. It’s easy to live more like a local here, to have that culturally authentic experience. And Myanmar (also known as Burma) still has an air of mystery about it. Now is the time to go before too many western hotels and tour operators overtake it.
Any country that measures Gross National Happiness, has a king known as the “people’s king” (and he likes Elvis), and has beautiful mountains makes my list. Though not a budget destination (you can only get here with an organized tour company), Bhutan makes up for the cost with cultural authenticity and natural beauty. This kingdom in the Himalayas is a “once in a lifetime” destination that I have personally been dreaming of for years.
Last, but far from least on my list is New Zealand. This may be my “2016-I’m-celebrating-a-milestone-birthday” destination. It’s a long flight, no doubt, but the natural beauty, intriguing native culture and yes, the wine, are worth it. Tourism has been booming here for the past decade thanks to the Lord of Rings movies and now the Hobbit movies. I have a former boss who is from Wellington, the capital, and he had me wanting to go as he told me stories and shared pictures of the natural beauty of this country back in 2004. It could be time to make a plan to go!
Top Travel Trend
River cruises, European river cruises in particular, have been a growing business over the past few years. This is a wonderful way to see Europe – it’s cities, small villages, castles, natural landscape. A river cruise on the Rhine and Moselle are high on my personal list. But, river cruises are also gaining popularity on the Mekong River, in southeast Asia, and on the Yangtze River in China. What a fabulous way to see some of these beautiful countries!