When it comes to bucket lists, traveling usually hovers in the upper third of any given agenda. Forbes recently listed ‘Gone on more trips with family/friends’ as one of their ‘25 Biggest Regrets In Life’ – fact is, these trips are truly the things that memories are made of, and their value eclipses the worth of any material goods one might own. Utilizing your finite time and resources to create lasting memories is one of the most valuable things one could ever do, and it appears that there’s quite the consensus that moving around this giant floating organic spaceship is key to achieving that.
As humans, we’re a part of the very fiber of this planet so it’s only natural that we have such a strong urge to see as much of it as we possibly can. Now due to colonial ties, physical distance and corporate relationships with airlines, resorts and travel agents, depending on where you’re located, you’re likely to be predisposed to visiting the same spots over and over. To this writer, nothing could be more boring. It’s like eating ‘the usual’ at the same restaurant every day, reading the same book over and over, or even as bad as going back to an ex. Yup, it’s that serious.
Not everybody has that ‘independent traveler’ trait, so if your friends go to Bali or Cuba every year then it’s highly probable you’ll do the same. We all have those ‘crazy’ people in our lives who backpack through Burma in the middle of a civil war, couch surf their way across the USA or drink the water in India – but there’s a sunny middle ground for those who want something different than the norm yet don’t want to jump too far outside their proverbial comfort zone.
Here are some safe suggestions to get you started on the path to new experiences, new friends, new stories and new adventures.
10. Zagreb, Croatia
Croatia isn’t the warzone that likely first comes to mind when you hear the name. Most folks are familiar with the western coast, as the country has become super famous for their beaches (Split, for example), but the capital has a unique charm that one might not have expected.
It looks like Amsterdam, with cobbled streets, trams and city squares, but with a pace that’s considerably more laid back than the rest of Europe. It’s the perfect mid-way stop on a busy summer trip – less crowds, quiet cafes, gorgeous architecture and you can actually pause for a moment and soak it all up without all the bustle (and queues) of the more typical locations.
9. Perth, Australia
Western Australia takes up almost half the country – though most of the state is outback (read: desert) and natural resource mines. The capital of WA is Perth, a quiet major city sitting on the Swan River and super close to the Indian Ocean. Due to distance, most folks visiting Down Under would only bother to hit up the east coast, as all the major cities and landmarks you’ve seen your whole life are located out there. The 4-5 hour flight west from Melbourne (fun fact: Australia is as big as the continental United States but with significantly less inhabitants) will take you to one of the most isolated cities in the world, which has better weather for most of the year than the east, great shopping, awesome beer (try the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle) and friendly, laid back people.
8. Atlanta, Georgia
ATL is much more than a ‘Housewives’ reality TV show, Coca Cola, famous rappers and quasi-successful sports teams. A stroll down Peachtree St doesn’t really do the city justice (though definitely pop into Hooters if you’re hungry), as there’s much more to this southern hub than lackluster skyscrapers and the Atlanta Underground mall. The year-round festivals (A3C, for example, is a great Hip Hop fest in October), hipsters, Georgia Aquarium, The Walking Dead, Gladys Knight’s soul food restaurant, the world’s busiest airport and most importantly, genuine southern hospitality, all make Hotlanta a fantastic and super underrated city. Sure, do the Coke tour while you’re in town but make sure you explore to get the best out of the GA capital.
7. Madrid, Spain
Barcelona is the usual glory hog of Spain. Its famous beaches, imposing mountain and palm trees often are too much to ignore for those traipsing through the neighborhood, but a visit to Madrid could completely change those preconceptions.
From the Puerto Del Sol (main city square), Plaza Mayor, Parque del Retiro with its lake (you can even paddle boat across it), the awesome Mueso del Jamon (Museum of Ham – it’s amazing and it’s not really even a museum), tapas, cervezas, stunning architecture and not-too-busy vibe will keep you more than occupied in the Spanish capital. Keeping in line with the general culture of the country, Madrid is a major city with a laid-back mentality so you get all the trappings of a metropolis with the charm of a small town.
6. Isle of Arran, Scotland
This one would be especially unfamiliar to most folks, even those who reside in the United Kingdom. The Isle of Arran is the largest island in the Firth Of Clyde (a bunch of islands) in southwestern Scotland. Its population sits around 5000, and it has been dubbed ‘Little Scotland’ as it has all the main features of its mother country in one quaint 432 square kilometre package.
Reachable via ferry, the first thing you lay eyes on is the main town of Brodick. Best bet is to rent a car to get you around quick – you can take in the rolling green sheep-covered hills, the local distillery, play a round of golf, go hiking, visit a few castles, go shopping and dine out – all in the one day. A truly unexpected treasure of Scotland.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon (or Lisboa in Portuguese) takes you by surprise from the moment you arrive. Europe can be a difficult landmass to navigate at times, but the Portuguese are likely some of the most friendly, and most widely English speaking people on the continent. The city isn’t one of those immediate ‘oh my gosh I love this place’ type of spots – its charm lies in its subtleties. The cobblestone streets are unlike anywhere else in Europe, the food is to die for, you can get hash almost anywhere (wander into any city square and wait), the coast, the mountain, the unique architecture… The haunting native Fado music alone is worth visiting for (look up Amalia Rogriguez).
4. Istanbul, Turkey
Formerly known as Constantinople (and Byzantium before that), Istanbul has the unique achievement of being a capital of both a Christian and an Islamic empire. Turkey separates Europe from Asia and the Middle East, so its culture is quite the mélange. The famous Grand Bazaar has some of the best shopping on the planet, the various mosques are very much worth a visit, the food is great and super cheap, and the general vibe is unlike anything else you’ll find in the world. Make sure you try the sweet apple tea – and maybe even bring some back home with you.
3. Tel Aviv, Israel
It’s unlikely that you’ll picture gorgeous beaches when you think of Tel Aviv, but you probably should. The city sits on the Mediterranean, and the ocean is a large part of why folks (mainly artists) decide to swing by. Israeli women have a fantastic reputation for being some of the hottest in the world, and being a major place where the sand and water meet doesn’t hurt. The skyscrapers and capitalistic hubbub are most definitely unexpected, and apparently its UNESCO-designated Bauhaus architecture has won the city the nickname “The White City”. Jaffa is an older part of town that is a must-visit, and you can even walk there direct from the beach and watch the sunset.
2. Tehran, Iran
If you saw Homeland, you’ll already have an idea of the aesthetics of Tehran. As long as the US stays out of it, it should most definitely be up there on your list of cities to visit. Surrounded by mountains, Tehran is the political and intellectual heart of the country, and it has more to offer than one would imagine – historic sites, mosques, modern architecture, mosques, great food and markets, mosques…you get the idea. Don’t let the media mislead you – Iran is coming back, y’all.
1. Cape Town, South Africa
Another country with mostly negative media coverage, South Africa is most definitely home to one of the most unexpectedly awesome cities – Cape Town. Yet another city right by a mountain (sense a theme here?), there’s nothing CT doesn’t have. Great restaurants, incredible crystal clear beaches, kind people, jammin’ nightlife, the Table Mountain cable car (those things that go up the side of a mountain), shopping, and year-round festivals make Cape Town a city you won’t want to leave and a place you’ll be dreaming to visit again. Though shouldn’t you be heading somewhere new?