Throughout my entire adult life, travel has felt like a gift. It’s been my teacher, my preferred recreation, and my #1 stock in trade. So it’s no surprise that I geek out over vagabonding — the same way my colleagues geek out on movies, or music, or comics. When a new year starts, rather than worrying over resolutions, I’m wondering What’s the next big destination? Where will everyone be talking about?
On it’s face, this sounds absurd. With virtually the whole world open to us, there’s no good reason that travel should be dictated by trends. But reality is that travel is as fad-focused as cars, food, or fashion. Ideas about what’s “now” bubble up, gain traction, have a moment, and (eventually) recede. What is different is the path that these ideas move.
In fashion, food, and cars, bold concepts trickle down and get distilled from their most avant-garde presentations (Paris Fashion Week, Michelin-starred restaurants, the Detroit Auto Show) to the mainstream (H&M, chain restaurants, commuter vehicles). Along the way, there’s a tough-to-pin-down middle, full of mid-level stores, mid-level eateries, and mid-level sedans.
In travel, it’s different. The most expensive/exclusive options don’t set trends, they’re stuck in the trend-chasing middle. Instead, backpackers and 20-something wanderers define what’s “next.”
I’ve seen this over and over, but the best example is Iceland. First, it was the country on every backpacker’s tongue, around 2006, then it was the favorite getaway for people staying in stylized BnBs around 2011, and finally the country became the darling of the upper-middle class. One day, there will be mega busses and package tours on the Ring Road — the travel equivalent of buying pork belly at TGIFridays.
Ten years ago, I was writing a story and ended up meeting with a luxury resort developer in Thailand. When I asked the team how they chose their next projects, a man in a bespoke suit flashed a cartoon-villain grin and said, “Simple, we follow the hippies.”
So in making this list, I first spoke to the hippies, the backpackers, the road warriors… plus a few major travel industry insiders. Next, I asked some of my favorite travel writers — both for this site and across the internet — for opinions.
Of course, this is all kind of dumb too. If you don’t care about going to the “it place of the moment” then don’t! If you’d rather avoid the so-called cool kids, feel free! If you want to ditch all the noise and guilt-free sex of the backpacker trail, we get it! If you don’t give two flying f*cks about a place feeling a little more touristed, or inflated prices, then you don’t need to know that “Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica and El Salvador is the new Nicaragua.”
At the very best, these ideas are just a jumping off point, snapshots to get you thinking about a trip. Maybe you see something that leads you to check some flights, maybe they aren’t as expensive as you feared, maybe this is your year for an adventure.