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The 2018 Uproxx Travel Hot List

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I love travel. It’s given me everything I have: A pinch of success, some true friends, and a lack of significant savings. Most of all, it’s given me what I like to call “a well of experiences” — a reservoir filled with stories to trot out at parties and teachable moments that shaped me into something approaching a human grown up. I didn’t go to war, have a child in my early 20s, or experience a significant trauma. It took travel to propell me toward adulthood.

I say all that to add texture to this statement: No matter how upside-down our world seems, we must keep traveling.

Yes, we live in an era of government-sponsored travel bans and blatant racism — both horrible (I can’t believe I have to note that, but feel compelled) — but we also live in a time of sneaky nationalism, hipster localism, and groupthink xenophobia. Across the political spectrum, divisiveness seems baked into our cultural discourse. The chasms that separate us are no deeper than they once were; in fact, we’re brought closer through tech, the universe’s gradual arc toward equality, and the fact that flying is cheaper than ever before in history. But lately those chasms feel nigh uncrossable.

We need travel. We need it to remind us that humans are beautifully different while remaining essentially the same. We need it to help us grow and evolve — both as distinct cultures and as a human family. To offer new inputs and teach us to think for ourselves. In a way, travel is the anti-social media. It encourages depth. It’s not naturally reactionary and doesn’t lend itself to outrage. On the road, unlike online, we can fumble and fall and even accidentally offend others… then learn from our mistakes and move on.

Thank god. Because what the world needs now is compassion, patience, and a willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt — and these, above all things, are travel’s strong suits.

TRAVEL TRENDS FOR 2018

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With all that out of my system, I’ll tell you this: I see a lot of encouraging signs for the year to come. Young people are traveling more than ever and they’re traveling solo more than ever. They’re approaching travel in new ways too. The trends for 2018 that I’ve highlighted after attending travel conferences and talking to vagabonds, travel writers, hotel staff, and tour operators around the world all feel fresh — even from last year.

If this list underscores anything, it’s that the world is evolving and so is how we interact with it.

Solo travel rules

Perhaps this is connected to the #MeToo movement, or women feeling safer, globally, but searches and bookings for “solo travel” and “solo female travel” are way up. This is a very good thing. The world is a generally safe place (with plenty of exceptions).

As a straight man, I can’t use my experiences with solo travel as much of a barometer, but the female travel writers I’ve spoken to feel very encouraged with how men worldwide are gradually learning to behave better.

The experience economy is everything.

This is a great sign of how awesome the digital generation is, at its best. They don’t want canned experiences or cheesy tours. They want things that feel genuine. They want to learn from locals. They want skills.

If you’re a tour or hotel operator, I guarantee you’ll talk about the “importance of the experience economy” a lot in 2018. Good. Experience is better for all of us. It means that properties will have to connect with local communities, not operate like islands unto themselves.

People are bringing wokeness on the road.

This came up over and over this year, and manifested in a whole bunch of different ways — perhaps the most notable being the closure of Australia’s Uluru to non-Indigenous climbers (more on that later). Look, it’s easy to think of being woke as some pop phrase with no meaning, but it’s a big deal: Travelers living with their eyes wide open, considerate to the world around them is always always always a good thing.

Sure, blatant cultural disrespect still makes headlines, but the number of travelers giving thought to equality, ecology, and sensitivity is clearly trending upwards.

The National Park boom has us staying home summers and traveling winters.

This is a sword that cuts two ways. First, people are in-freaking-love with national parks. Part of this is thanks to the vanlife — which has sparked a new love of domestic travel in young people. Part is thanks to the president — who has put parks in danger, thereby awakening us to their importance in our national landscape.

More people in the parks is a good thing, especially when it comes to the lesser known parks. These adventures (often microadventures, since we all live near some park or monument) have leveled the playing field; reminding us once again: “You. Don’t. Have. To. Be. Rich. To. Travel.”

Here’s the flip side of the coin: People staying home to travel the US in the summer has made winters hot. It’s not just literal hotspots that are getting US love, either. More and more people feel like they’ve done the tropics and they’re heading north to savor a little Hygge. Look for Denmark to have a buzzy year amongst travelers.

A few more quick hits.

Without further ado, the 2018 Uproxx Travel Hot List — compiled by the best travel writers, influencers, and adventurers in the game…
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DESTINATIONS

VISIT — THE AZORES

Of all the travel conversations I heard this year, the Azores came up the most. People are buzzing on this archipelago — an autonomous part of Portugal. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the tourism department’s official slogan was “The Next Iceland” due to how often the phrase is thrown around.

That said, there are some Iceland-esque similarities:

  • Some seriously cheap flights from the east coast.
  • Great potential for “stopover vacations” on the way to mainland Europe.
  • Dramatic landscapes, plunging waterfalls, sweeping vistas, grassy plains…
  • That certain “untouched” feeling that experience-focused travelers love.

“Because there was a special license required, the Azores airspace was basically closed until two and a half years ago,” says Luis Nunes, founder of Azores Getaways. “Prices were high and the tourism industry wasn’t developing. But the beauty was there. It’s pristine nature from the highlands to the beaches.”

While Nunes guesses that nearby Madeira has 50,000 beds, the whole of the Azores only has 10,000. The region is therefore perfectly positioned for visitors who like to be early adopters of travel trends. Add in the fact that the island has swimming with dolphins, surfing, hiking, SCUBA, horseback riding, and all of the other adventure activities that travelers love, and you have a recipe for boomtimes.

“Ten years from now, this might be a more traditional destination,” Nunes says. “But right now it’s absolutely pristine, perfect for ecotourism and adventure, and connected to the United States by a four and a half hour flight from Boston.”

That does sound like the “next Iceland,” and with Portugal ranking high on last year’s travel hot list, the chance of experiencing both on one trip seems like a slam dunk.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

VISIT — LOMBOK, INDONESIA

Lombok, the island next to Bali in the Indonesian archipelago, is only a few hours by ferry from its more famous neighbor. But it feels a world away. Less populated and much less touristed — for now — Lombok is more placid than Bali and a little rougher around the edges… in a good way. It’s far more suitable for a quiet week of surfing, yoga, and cultural exploration than partying.

For peaceful yoga days, check out Mana Retreat, an oasis tucked away on the outskirts of the sleepy surf hub Kuta in the south (FYI Bali also has a Kuta Beach, which is overloaded to the tipping point). Known as the “island of a thousand mosques,” Lombok is still largely rural and agricultural, with single lane roads winding through the mountainous interior, where an intrepid traveler on a scooter can quickly get off the beaten path.

The island is sure to retain its quieter character for some time, but tourism is picking up in Lombok fast. New resorts pop up and highway improvements make the island’s towns and coves — like the gentle surf break at Selong Belanak — more easily accessible. Drawn by pristine beaches, uncrowded surf and outdoor adventure, like the popular multi-day hike up Mount Rinjani, the active volcano at the center of the island, visitors looking for adventure will flock to Lombok in 2018.

Denver Nicks, Travel & Food Writer

VISIT — COLOMBIA’S CITIES

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Montserrate, Bogotá

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Hot off the third season of Narcos, Americans are intrigued and curious about Colombia — while also a bit concerned about safety when traveling through this beautiful country. Only the brave backpackers who venture south will be rewarded. The prize? An affordable adventure worth bragging about to everyone you meet upon returning home.

Whether you’re looking for mountainous, wet, and chilly hiking up above Bogota, the sweaty-hot coastal region surrounding the touristy cruise port of Cartagena, or the “just right” balmy climate of Medellin, you really can’t go wrong.

Andy Steves, Travel Writer & Tour Operator

VISIT — BIG BEND, TEXAS

Rare is the destination where one can go to sleep under some of the most star-lit skies in the U.S., take a dawn hike through a rugged and remote wilderness, canoe across a river to another country for lunch, take in some world class modern art, lay by the pool at a historic luxury hotel, eat dinner in a ghost town, catch a Solange show, go dancing at a legendary local dive, enjoy a nightcap at a minimalist-chic boutique hotel bar, and fall asleep in a teepee (or an Airstream trailer, or at said boutique hotel, or back under that brilliant night sky).

Rarer still: The place where one can do all of this, more or less, in the same 24-hour period.

Not that anyone around would suggest you try to pack all that into a single day. This is far West Texas, the Big Bend region nestled into the Texas side of that big, sweeping arc in the Rio Grande river southeast of El Paso. You’ll want to take it slow, to soak in every sunrise, relax in the shade during every hot, arid afternoon, and linger over cold beers in the evenings. There are things out here worth contemplating.

Among Big Bend’s greatest virtues is the fact that there’s no easy way to get there. The nearest “big city” is El Paso, which isn’t that big and remains some four-and-a-half hours away by car. That sheer remoteness tends to keep casual tourists and weekend warriors at bay. At 1,200 square miles—encompassing the entire Chisos mountain range and a large swath of the Chihuahuan Desert—Big Bend National Park is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Yet it remains one of the least-trafficked national parks in the nation (ranked 42 out of 59). Criss-crossed with amazing hiking trails, canoeing potential, and camping, it’s a serious contender for the best national park that—relatively speaking—nobody goes to.

For those who have experienced Big Bend this is puzzling, not least because the park and the surrounding area offer so much more than the typical hike-in, make-camp, hike-out experience. The trekking is fantastic, sure, offering high promontories, deep canyons, and desolate stretches of restless borderland geography. At night, the Milky Way flows across some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states (as designated by the International Dark Sky Association). During the day you can canoe down the Rio Grande and cross into the Mexican border town of Boquillas for lunch and couple of beers (don’t forget to pack your passport). Avoiding the crowds is easy because there aren’t any. Think of it like Joshua Tree, without all the people and the pretense.

But for all its rugged remoteness, half the experience of visiting Big Bend is found in the small hubs of civilization found along the way. Nearby towns like Terlingua, Lajitas, Alpine, Marathon, and the oft-Instagrammed artist enclave of Marfa—replete with boutique hotels, an unparalleled modern art experience at the Donald Judd-founded Chinati Foundation, and Texas-chic shopping—all reside within driving distance of the park. Each has something unique to offer.

That means your off-the-grid West Texas adventure doesn’t have to be completely devoid of air conditioning, poolside margaritas, and fresh towels. Lodge in a well-appointed tent, teepee, or camper trailer at Marfa’s El Cosmico, or park yourself in Marathon (population 400) at the historic Gage Hotel, whose White Buffalo Bar is considered one of the best hotel bars in Texas.

But do it soon. While all this makes for near-limitless road-tripping itineraries and opportunities, the rise of social media and a renewed cultural interest in outdoor experiences have made the entire region more visible and accessible now than ever before. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to feed uncertainty around the future of the U.S.-Mexican border. Get to Big Bend before someone builds a wall through it.

Clay Dillow, Field Reporter & Travel Writer

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#tbt to high times in #bigbend

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VISIT — VIETNAM

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I was actually hoping to not include Vietnam in the Hotlist. Though I filed it away in the “I’ll keep this one for me” folder, I cannot in good conscience withhold such badassness from the masses. Vietnam is NOW. Hanoi is a pure, gritty masterpiece of electric wire bundles, packed youth hostels, and seedy bars full of bliss. A junk boat Halong Bay cruise is an absolute must. Getting a massage on the second deck as the breeze floats by luminously green islands that look they disappear each night and reappear in a different place the next day is paradise. Rent a motorbike and cruise through the terraced rice paddies in the countryside.

The main reason that Vietnam is going to soon be the jam is the people are so nice it hurts. Call it an awakening or the newest relations (Obama visited in 2016), but people are generally thrilled to have guests. I suggest making yourself one immediately.

Mark Stevens, Travel & Food Writer

VISIT — SLOVENIA

I am currently working on a full travel guide to Slovenia because it deserves such. It is without a doubt one of the least frequented and most gorgeous countries I have ever visited. It makes solitude and travel feel like they could once again be one in the same.

Ljubljana is gem of a little city, with cafés lining the river and a bustling University scene (because school is free!) A wine country that borders and rivals some of the best vineyards in Italy, an old salt town on the coast that makes you feel like you’re time traveling, and the Soca river that winds through the Triglav National Park are all highlights.

One week, one month, one lifetime would not be enough to properly explore this place.

Erin Rose Belair, Travel Writer & Essayist

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#basic.💥 _______________________

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VISIT — MADAGASCAR

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In 2006, I wrote an article in a glossy magazine urging people to “visit Madagascar soon, before anyone ruins it.” And the country — an Afro-Asiatic mini-continent off the east coast of Africa — did experience a boom. But the too-familiar rhythm of government coos, financial upheaval, and rebirth has left the island as something of an afterthought amongst tourists.

It shouldn’t be. Madagascar is one of the most ecologically diverse nations on earth. It’s affordable, ringed with blissful beaches, and loaded with well protected national parks. It’s also massive, which means getting around takes some doing. Last time I was there, I traveled by motorbike, cargo boat, Arabic dhow, and bicycle — and I only covered a tiny corner of the country.

This isn’t for everyone, it’s for people who want adventure travel and without tourist infrastructure. It’s for people who crave some excellent escargot in the capital, but will be happy with zebu skewers in the port towns. It’s for adventure travelers and if you’re one of those, you should get there soon. Before anyone ruins it.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

VISIT — THE ‘STANS OF CENTRAL ASIA

Central Asia is the great unknown of the modern travel world. However, it’s probably one of the most traveled parts of the world, historically speaking. It’s a vast land of motley mountain peaks and stark deserts — with gateways to hell, and the largest grass plain on the entire planet. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan are the epitome of over the hills and far away.

A blend of Mongol, Persian, and Russian cultures have collided and given birth to cities that seem frozen in Soviet amber — with huge boulevards hosting some of the best living examples of Stalinist architecture, right next to H&Ms and Starbucks. Leave the cities and you’ll find untouched wilderness that will take your breath away, whether you’re a desert rat, a mountain trekker, or anything in between.

There’s so much to do in this corner of the world. The food is wholly unique — a bowl of Lagman noodle soup is not to be skipped nor is the plov (a fatty, lamb-based rice dish). The mountain treks of Kyrgyzstan are to the same grade as treks in Switzerland and the USA and offer a deeper dive into unscathed nature with almost no tourists mucking up the paths. Uzbekistan offers some of the richest Silk Road history on earth, preserved in technicolor vibrance in Bukhara and Samara. Tajikistan is like stepping back into Stalin’s Soviet past, with opera houses, cinemas, and department stores that feel more like time machines. Turkmenistan’s deserts are so vast and unexplored that there are literally giant lizards there and massive fires burn eternally. Kazakhstan has the wonders of all of the above (and a massive grassland) with a heavy lean towards modernizing into the 21st century at every turn.

This is where you’ll feel like a real adventurer in 2018.

Zach Johnston, Travel & Food Writer

VISIT — ROATAN, HONDURAS

The island of Roatan, Honduras, is somehow still hidden in plain sight, despite sitting in the heart of the Caribbean, right on top of the second largest barrier reef in the world. It retains none of the negativity of its mother country and has yet to be overtaken by restaurant and hotel chains… For now.

The scuba and snorkeling is some of the best in the Caribbean, and is breathtaking within a few meters of the shoreline, down the entire coast. A beautiful house on the beach can be found on VRBO at a reasonable rate, with a boutique dive shop literally at the foot of your stairs. Take a water taxi from the end of your dock to West End for nighttime hangs, where you can buy a $1.50 baleada (thick flour tortillas made on a flat top grill, filled with mash fried beans, and any other toppings) and a $1 Salva Vida beer from a lotto stand across the street. The vibe is super relaxed and locals and expats mingle without pretension.

In the daytime, rent a cheap moto and explore the length of the island. End every day on the deck with the ocean below, picking shooting stars out of a flawless sky that is still unaffected by light pollution.

Robbe Reddinger, Travel Writer

VISIT — BOLIVIA

Mark Stevens

With Colombia on everyone’s radar in 2017, it’s fair to question what else South America has to offer. Enter Bolivia. Between barreling down the World’s Most Dangerous Road on mountain bikes to the limitless salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia has a valuable experience for every type of traveler.

La Paz is more international than most folks know and is just a day trip away from Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun. The mines of Potosí offering living history of the horrific Spanish conquest of the New World (you can still go in the silver mines, but not before giving a sacrifice of alcohol and tobacco to the god of the mines). From Sucre to the Altiplano, Bolivia’s natural resources are comparable with their more notorious neighbors and the friendly population possesses that capacity for welcome often associated with less trafficked areas.

Mark Stevens, Food & Travel Writer

VISIT — BELLINGEN, AUSTRALIA

The best road trips take place when you follow tips from locals. After a few days in Byron Bay we decided to hit the road again, and on the tip of a shopkeeper, we headed to a small town called Bellingen. It’s a little oasis tucked inland from Australia’s Gold Coast.

The hamlet has a small town vibe with a great big heart, an incredible brewery, adorable shopping, and is, all in all, the most magical place I’ve ever visited… the Promised Land. It’s highlighted by a small river that runs through some lush Australian bush filled with swimming holes, rope swings, and picnic spots so good you will think about them for the rest of your life.

Erin Rose Belair, Travel Writer & Essayist

VISIT — ZAGREB, CROATIA

The European tourism boom hasn’t yet hit the Croatian capital. In fact, it’s only become a travel destination in the last decade. Some people still have fears about visiting a country that was embroiled in a civil war. But that ended 20 years ago and Zagreb is a beautiful, historic city with streets lined with cafes, ancient architecture, and myriad museums.

You can’t miss the Museum of Broken Relationships and the various open-air markets and parks. It’s also still extremely cheap — with the average meal for two (including wine) setting you back a mere $30. A stay in a 4-star hotel in the main tourist area of the city is less than $200 per night.

If you do visit Zagreb, be sure to take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park to spend a day walking amongst 16 lakes, hundreds of waterfalls and crystal-clear, bright blue water.

Christopher Osburn, Food & Drinks Writer

VISIT — ANTARCTICA

Mark Stevens

The last place on Earth is so cold that it’s become hot. Last season, from October to March, more than 40,000 (up by 6,000 from the previous year) took expeditions to hang out while whale pods, penguin rookeries and test their fortitude by jumping in sub-freezing temperature polar bear swims. Most expedition vessels range from 50-200 passengers and depart from either Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas Chile. There are flight options as well but they are subject to weather, and not refundable.

The two days crossing the Drake Passage can be subject to waves, known as the ‘Drake Shake’, but are otherwise filled with seminars about wildlife, conservation, and polar exploration history. If you’re lucky enough to visit South Georgia Island (make sure it’s included), you’ll be introduced to 200,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins at St. Andrews Bay, fighting male elephant seals, and the occasional Wandering Albatross showing off their world-record 11-foot wingspan.

Prices vary but for the fleet-footed traveler — who can make it to Ushuaia at the Southern tip of South America — can usually hang out at the tourist office and hop on board non-full expeditions for $5000-6000. Another option is to monitor the Ushuaia tourist website for last-minute deals.

Rarely have I been awestruck as intensely as when we made landfall in Antarctica. It is the most like an alien planet that my feeble mind could conjure. 50,000 people are expected to visit in 2018, make sure you’re one of them!

Mark Stevens, Food & Travel Writer

VISIT — LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

Hiking, fishing, and kayaking are probably not the reasons people visit Las Vegas. Many people don’t realize just outside of Sin City is the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where a visitor can do just those things. Located on the Arizona – Nevada border, the area is full of historical markers from Native American tribes and the Great Depression, whether natural or manmade.

A kayak or raft ride from one side of the lake to the other offers views of both sides of the Hoover Dam, glimpses of the Emerald Cave, hot springs, camping sites, and mountain wildlife in their habits. It’s 2018 and Las Vegas is a known entity. Adding Lake Mead to your trip would prove you have an ace up your sleeve.

Hope Carter, Uproxx Writer

EXPERIENCES

DO — FIELD OF LIGHT ULURU, AUSTRALIA

Field of Light Uluru

For years, I visited Uluru — in Australia’s Northern Territory — to find white tourists climbing the side of the massive monolith. There were signs asking them not to. Local guides were on hand to explain the cultural significance. And yet… it happened. School groups. Tour busses. From afar, it looked like a steady stream of ants inching up the rock.

Was it technically allowed? Yes. It was part of a tourism deal that the Anangu people had with the government, a bargaining chip used in disputes. But the Indigenous owners of the land never wanted people to climb it, literally begged them not to.

Now, finally climbing Uluru is closing to tourists. In its place? Australia’s ‘Field of Light’ Installation — which features Anangu design patterns and colors, and is powered by solar. Plus it’s absolutely stunning.

This is responsible tourism at its best.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

Tourism Northern Territory

DO — PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is a must-photo destination for 2018. A cosmopolitan African city by the sea, Cape Town has more to offer than breathtaking views and unmissable Instagram opportunities (although there are loads of those too). The city has a rich cultural heritage and vibrant energy to capture too!

Just north, you’ll find expansive winelands and some of the most unique wine varietals in the world. Don’t forget the game reserves and Kruger National Park where you can have a true “Big 5” African safari. You can see all the highlights on this epic photography tour — so start planning!

Kiersten Rich, AKA The Blonde Abroad Influencer & Travel Writer

DO — CHOSEN LIFESTYLE OPTIMIZATION, BALI

Ready to embrace a spirit of personal evolution at the planet’s most rewarding destinations such as Bali, New Zealand, Iceland, and Guatemala? Allow me to introduce you to the Chōsen Experience, where for a full week you will benefit from positive challenges and expert guidance provided by Olympic athletes, nutritional therapists, meditation mentors, and yoga teachers. Surrounded by experts who are eager to pass on their deep understanding of such key disciplines as movement, nutrition, and mindfulness, the Chōsen approach enriches every aspect of the experience for a truly transformational result.

It’s a rare opportunity to recalibrate your life through experiential travel with eminent practitioners and a small group of like-minded people. I’ve attended Chōsen’s Bali program twice and plan on returning again as soon as possible. For me, Chōsen is the epitome of carpe diem. Both of my seven-day experiences were held at a secluded, beachfront property located a few minutes north of the très chic surf mecca, Canggu. Typical days began with morning surfing followed by beach workouts, canyoning, nutrition classes, goal-setting exercises, and a daily functional movement program.

Yes, the weeks are bursting with epic adventures, however, there are also ample opportunities for lounging by the pool and daily sunset yin yoga, along with the massages and bodywork that Bali is renowned for.

Gabe Sullivan, Writer & Influencer

DO — THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN COASTER, COPPER MOUNTAIN

Copper Mountain Resort

Look, here’s some pretty easy math: Skiers and snowboarders like zooming along, going fast, taking tight turns, so… more of that is a good thing. Copper Mountain — one of the nation’s most underrated ski resorts — has clearly figured that out. Their Rocky Mountain Coaster just opened this fall and is quickly turning into a guest favorite.

The coaster is a bit of fusion — one part alpine slide, one part luge, all parts fun-as-hell. Literally, who on earth doesn’t want to race along the snowy landscape, while dropping 430 vertical feet? It’s clearly going to be a mega-hit, perfect for days when you’re too sore for the slopes but still want some excitement.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

Copper Mountain Resort

DO — KO PHI PHI NYE & KO PHANGAN FULL MOON PARTY

Southern Thailand is well-trodden territory for most seasoned travelers, but it still reigns as the gateway destination for the young and sexy looking for a good party. New Year’s Eve on Ko Phi Phi (takeoff point to those islands of The Beach fame) is truly an all-night affair. Even if the party scene is not your game, the people watching alone is of the highest caliber. If you’re island hopping the next day, start early to avoid the crowds.

A longtail boat, a bus, and a ferry get you to the Gulf of Thailand to the island of Ko Phangan, home to the infamous full, half and quarter moon parties heavily endorsed by neon-clad twenty-somethings. A subsection of revelers, lacking accommodation, stay up and catch the morning ferry to Ko Tao or Ko Sui — don’t worry, they have “sea-sickness” bags.

There’s plenty to do on the island besides bask in the alcohol-induced glow of thousands of young, sexy partygoers. So take the next days to recover with a snorkel or sweat soak in their hilltop sauna dome.

Mark Stevens, Food & Travel Writer

DO — LIVE THE VAN LIFE LIFE, NEW ZEALAND

Andrew Peacock

Vanlife’ gets complicated and overrun with logistics, but NOT when you rent instead of own. Grab a gaudily painted ‘freedom camping’ van from Escape Rentals in Auckland New Zealand and head south to beautiful, laid-back Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.

A week to ten days in November or December before the holiday crowds arrive allows plenty of time for an adventurous couple to experience the best of the region, centered around the friendly town of Taupo. Park by the lake and wake up with a refreshing dip in the clear cool water. Rent mountain bikes and get shuttled to ride the Great Lake Trail with sections of beautiful forested single track trails. Soothe sore muscles afterward at the numerous natural hot springs in this volcanic area. Day hike the nearby Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand’s oldest National Park, one of the world’s most epic day hikes.

In town, check out Plateau Restaurant and Bar for tasty local brews (and free, fast WIFI) and don’t miss a hidden gem, ‘The Tipsy Trout’ in the nearby lakeside village of Kinloch for great value New Zealand food and hospitality at its very best.

Andrew Peacock, Travel Photographer

DO — HABITAS, WORLDWIDE

What started as a few friends gathering around music, conversation and unique experiences has become a global home for a community of travelers. Habitas, now a hospitality brand transcending traditional definitions of the term, has opened a hotel in Tulum with canvas palapas overlooking the ocean, a clubhouse in a historic firehouse in NYC, a refurbished 1940s beach cottage in Venice, and in 2018, two more hotels in Namibia and Malibu.

The idea is to foster a sense of community and wellbeing no matter where you are in the world. Music is central to everything Habitas, so expect mind-blowing performances to take place at each location. Apart from stunning hotels and clubhouses, Habitas hosts curated experiences in beautiful destinations around the world. The programming? Always a secret. Guests are encouraged to simply show up and trust that they are in good hands.

The company’s philanthropic initiative, Habitas Rise, leads with cultural infrastructure in one of the biggest refugee camps in Uganda. There, Habitas team members work with local leaders to set up communities where refugees can thrive and create new opportunities.

This dynamic concept is one to watch in 2018, as more and more hotels are moving away from old notions of hospitality and putting their resources towards creating new realities in a fragmented world, to change the conversation and truly inspire the people they come in contact with.

Jade Moyano, Travel Writer

DO — GO SOAK IN A HOT SPRINGS

If you’re like me, the term “hot springs” doesn’t necessarily evoke the most pleasant vibe. In my mind, a “hot spring” was a muddy, creek-like burbling fountain of water in the middle of nowhere, that the most adventurous people I knew would hike to, and skinny dip in — to soak up as many minerals as possible. Then they’d return to civilization more smug and wild than ever. Maybe that was me in a past life, but it sure as hell isn’t the 2018 version of me, who prefers high thread count to sleeping bags.

The last thing I want during my scarce free time is mud, creeks, or wilderness. Or so I thought.

It was while I was sitting on a smoothly carved, red rock bench built under a waterfall of boiling water that I had to admit, I have never been more wrong about something in my life. Hot springs are really just nature’s hot tub, which is reasonable because the earth is always beating us to the best ideas. When I recently traveled to Costa Rica, I tentatively dipped a toe, and then quickly plunged my entire body into the Tabacón hot springs, or as they like to call it, their Thermal Resort — now that is some phrasing I can get behind.

Aside from being quite literally the hottest ticket item on the property, the massive hot springs were secluded and quiet, surrounded by jungle, but also just a quick beck and call away from the bar, restaurant, and spa that came alongside the naturally-heated water. Located at the bottom of the local, inactive Arenal volcano, the magma beneath the surface of the earth naturally heats the water to a delicious temperature, and the man-made installations craft this mineral-infused water into waterfalls, deep pools, long, lazy rivers, and plenty more.

If the thought of stepping foot into water that had mysteriously heated by the forces roiling beneath the planet’s surface was still a little prehistoric for my taste, in Costa Rica I learned that prehistoric is awesome.

Plus, the low-key feel of the resort meant that lounging in robes and dipping in and out of secluded pools in the gorgeous jungle has become my new standard-bearer for a truly perfect vacation with loved ones. There’s no better time to catch up with siblings or best friends who live elsewhere than while immersed in relaxing, tropical heated water. The Tabacon Thermal Resort will probably always be my favorite hot springs since it’s the one that won me over, but I’d recommend this micro-adventure to anyone looking to get a little outside of their comfort zone, for something outdoorsy without the roughing it factor. Put away your misconceptions about hot springs and jump on in — the water is just fine, and your skin will thank you.

Caitlin White, Editorial Director, Uproxx Music

DO — EAT OYSTERS AT THE SOURCE, HAMA HAMA WASHINGTON

This is the year we should all start embracing oysters as a great food. They are environmentally positive and serve as a sustainable source of animal protein that’s, well, delicious. One of the best places to eat oysters is right from their harvesting grounds at the Hama Hama Saloon, off Highway 101 on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

If you’re in Seattle, it’s about an hour away after a lovely ferry ride to Bremerton. You’ll wind your way along the Hood Canal with the snow-capped Olympic Mountains looming large in the sky. Once you arrive, you’re greeted with that misty rainforest the area is legendary for. The mossy trees give way to an estuary teaming with wildlife and oyster beds. You can huddle up around campfires or sit at the outdoor bar (year round) and eat oyster after oyster (freshly shucked or awesomely baked) while chatting with Canal locals and the fourth generation of the James family, who still run the place.

It’s a great way to enjoy amazing local eats while experiencing sustainable and local aquaculture with people who truly care about being stewards of the land around them. Plus, all the delicious oysters you can eat washed down with Port Townsend craft beer.

Zach Johnston, Travel & Food Writer

DO — SURF WITH A CHEF, PARK HYATT AVIARA

Park Hyatt Aviara

How does a resort brand dive in to the experience economy? By connecting two of the largest passion points for travelers: Food and surfing. The Surfing with Chef package at the Park Hyatt Aviara in North San Diego invites guests to surf and cook with Executive Chef Pierre Albaladejo.

“We meet guests in the kitchen and cook breakfast together,” Chef Pierre explains. “I cook it with them and then we sit down and eat, to plan out our day. Then we head to the break, get in the water, and try to teach them how to take a few waves.”

It’s a customizable, iconic, totally memorable adventure.

“It’s a full on experience,” Chef Pierre continues. “After the waves I do shrimp tacos on the grill.”

After the waves, guests who are super keen can drive up the coast a little to have a board shaped by the surf-legend Greg Noll. It’s an epic ending to a truly epic experience.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

Park Hyatt Aviara

PROPERTIES

STAY — BANGKOK MARRIOTT MARQUIS QUEEN’S PARK

Marriott

According to my hotels.com account, I stayed in 27 different hotels last year, but there’s one that I find myself thinking of returning to most often — hell, I’ve probably daydreamed about it three or four times already this week — and that’s the Marriott Marquis Bangkok Queen’s Park. Located in downtown Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road, the hotel’s location is prime, smack in the middle of a vibrant shopping and entertainment district. Bangkok feels gigantic (at least it does to me), but the location makes it easy to navigate around and get to many of the places any visitor to the city would want to visit. The room I had there was also spacious, tranquil, and relaxing, a space that felt like a calm, soothing sanctuary in the middle of one of the world’s more chaotic cities to retreat to at the end of every day. Additionally, the staff was one of the most incredible I’ve ever encountered. I’ve long heard about the service in Asian hotels being a big step above the service in even the best Western hotels, and the service at this Marriott property certainly didn’t do anything to make me believe otherwise. Every employee of the hotel seemed to approach their job each day on a mission to make every guest feel like the most important guest in the hotel. I regularly overheard other guests commenting in glowing terms about the service, like the staff’s uncanny ability to recall names and little details like how people they take their coffee in the morning — in a hotel with over 1300 rooms that probably had hundreds of guests staying in it at the time, this sort of thing was mildly mind-blowing.

Now, with all of that said, none of what I just laid out is the main reason I think so much about returning to this hotel; no, the reason I often think of this hotel are for the restaurants housed inside the Marriott Marquis Bangkok Queens Park. Simply put, of the 10,332 Bangkok eateries currently listed and rated on TripAdvisor, this hotel is home to three of the top 17 (Pagoda, Goji Kitchen + Bar, and Siam Tea Room) in the rankings, and they do not disappoint. I had what might be the best Chinese meal I’ve had in my life at Pagoda (which is currently TripAdvisor’s top-ranked restaurant in Bangkok), and the breakfast buffet offered each morning at Goji was such a ridiculous/absurd and splendid feast that it bordered on being comical. Put it like this: Bangkok is unquestionably one of the world’s great food cities, a bustling place teeming with unique, fantastic flavors waiting around every corner, and it was a legitimate goddamn struggle each day to fight off the urge to not leave the hotel when it came time to get something to eat. With so many outstanding food options right there in-house, how could it not be?

Brett Michael Dykes — Uproxx Editor-in-Chief

STAY — THE GODFREY HOTEL

The Godfrey Hotel

This boutique hotel is perfect for Chicago — which is having a bit of a food and travel moment of its own. The rooms are sleek and stylish, the thread counts are astronomical, and the views of the city make you feel like you’re “in the mix,” living life, humming with Windy City energy.

Big city hotels are a lot different than eco resorts. Privacy, the chance for solitude, and ease of use are the highest priorities. So is a clean feel, which makes this 2014 hotel extremely alluring.

But it’s not just the relative newness where the Godfrey shines — the rooftop bar, spacious rooms, and post-industrial design are all on point. This is the sort of place you want to bring someone up for a cocktail, before heading out into the night to explore Chicago’s thriving nightlife scene.

Steve Bramucci, Uproxx Travel Editor

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Enjoying the good things in life!

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STAY — TURTLE ISLAND, FIJI

Ecotourism and locally-focused experiential travel are buzzwords when it comes to 2018 travel trends, but I’ve never experienced any place that really walks the walk quite like Turtle Island, Fiji. When it comes to personalized, authentic, local experiences, this property in the Southern Yasawa Islands is truly something special.

From the moment you check in at the newly revamped property, you’re treated as a member of the family. There’s a “mama” or “papa” who serves as not only the person tending to your room, but helps to explain Fijian traditions while communing at nightly kava ceremonies with the locals, or bringing you to nearby villages and teaching you to dig for clams. The resort itself is almost entirely off the grid, with a massive local farm for sourcing produce, and solar panels to provide energy. Almost everything is biodegradable, a hugely important factor considering the delicate ecosystems and reef structures of the islands, and the property actually supplies mineral-based sunscreens to help protect the stunning Fijian reef structures.

It truly was a magical travel experience and one that left me with that unique feeling that tourism can actually have a positive impact not just on personal growth, but on the planet.

Krista Simmons, Food Writer & TV Personality

STAY — CHIC CHATEAU, HATI

Resorts are cool but when you need some alone time, away from work, technology, and the 24-hour news cycle, retreating to Chic Chateau in Cayes Jacmel, Haiti may be the right move. The bed and breakfast provide a tropical oasis that promotes an atmosphere of tranquility, letting you reset, recharge and re-energize. Stay on the top floor of a two-story bungalow called the Safari Room. The cylindrical room is authentically rustic — covered with palm and decorated with Haitian and East African items the owner picked up during her travels.

Views are unparalleled from the room’s two balconies. Wake up early enough and capture the most Instagrammable shots of the sunrise, or just sit and stare at the turquoise waters of the nearby Ti Mouillage beach. Won’t be long before you find yourself down there, swimming, surfing and chowing down on scrumptious made-to-order fried seafood.

The main house, just a few steps from the Safari Room, offers a plunge pool, hammock, yoga area and incredible views of the sea that cannot be beaten. A true hidden gem that I’m hoping isn’t booked when I decide to go again.

Delenda Joseph, Writer

STAY — DEPLAR FARMS, ICELAND

While Iceland is far from a secret (seriously, I’ve seen so many Insta photos geotagged at Seljalandsfoss that I can now pronounce it with ease) there are still parts of the country and experiences within that remains largely undiscovered and gloriously un-gramed — yes, even in 2018. The key to unlocking this hidden Iceland is staying at Deplar Farm, an ultra-remote and ultra-exclusive hideaway nestled in the mountains of the country’s northern Troll Peninsula. Here, you can heli-ski or hike pristine mountains, fly fish far-flung streams, dine on gourmet food or simply relax in one of the sexiest spas on the planet (it looks like it belongs to a stylish Bond villain). Along the way, you’ll be taken care of by best-in-class guides and served by a relaxed and friendly in-house staff.

Fair warning: A stay here doesn’t come cheap. This is the domain of tech and finance titans, luxury adventure honeymooners, or those simply willing to splurge. But for those willing and able to pony up, you’ll be able to experience Iceland as it was pre-tourist boom and earn the right to return home with one-of-a-kind Iceland stories that your friends don’t already have.

Trevor Morrow, Travel Writer

STAY — GAMBOA RAINFOREST RESERVE, PANAMA

Stay in this luxury eco-reserve overlooking the world-famous canal with bountiful options for nature activities and bird spotters. Opt into guided kayaking, get eye-level with the rainforest canopy via suspended cable car with a private guide, or scope sloths and capybara’s on the nightly walks. The Gamboa Reserve offers visitors a welcome respite — and stark contrast — from the high rises of the busy capital of Panama City.

Andy Steves, Travel Writer & Tour Operator

STAY — ARTE SANO HOTEL at PLAYA MADERAS, NICARAGUA

Nicaragua has been a travel hotspot for years now, with good reason. The country offers an array of varied experiences for all different types of travelers, from epic surf to jungle adventures, and a few years ago I even included it on a piece about where to adventure to in 2016. Yet, just because a country has been seen and done, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to discover nooks and places that make it totally worth coming back, year after year.

This year, I discovered Arte Sano Hotel and Cafe in Playa Maderas. I’ve been coming to this part of Nicaragua for years now and everything else around there appears to be the same. Except for Arte Sano. The refurbished home-turned-hotel features six small rooms perched atop a hill, with unobstructed views of the ocean, a yoga studio, two mini infinity pools and plenty of common areas for lounging and working. Inside, artworks adorn every wall and a hyperlocal chef prepares organic dishes with ingredients brought over from neighboring farms. Three years ago, this part of Nicaragua was a place to rough it; today, you can enjoy fast Internet, espressos, and a communal vibe of travelers who also work while on the road.

As remote work becomes more of a norm among full-time travelers, it’s great to know that hotels are catching up to accommodate the digital nomad, even in more remotes parts of the world such as Playa Maderas.

Jade Moyano, Travel Writer

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"Last day chilling" Regram: @tamarvanherk

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STAY — SLS BAHA MAR, THE BAHAMAS

Less than 200 miles east of Miami, the Bahamas have long catered to travelers—particularly those from the U.S. East Coast—looking to trade work and winter weather for relaxation and poolside umbrella cocktails, even if only for a quick weekend reset. But as a destination, it’s the Bahamas themselves that might most be in need of a refresh. Maybe you’ve been there with your parents. You were probably on a cruise. Or perhaps you stayed at some soulless all-inclusive resort, with 1,000 rooms and zero character.

Despite the year-round temperate weather, the relaxing island aura, and their distinctly Caribbean charms, the Bahamas have suffered somewhat from the idea that going there isn’t—for lack of a better term—cool. It’s a notion that loses all credibility at the front doors of the SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamian capital of Nassau.

The 300-room beachfront SLS Baha Mar has already breathed some youthful vigor into the Bahamas and it hasn’t even fully opened yet (you can rent rooms as of right now, though not all of the planned restaurants and bars will be open until March). Cuisine-forward and design-centric—Philippe Starck is among the designers contributing to the aesthetic—it’s the destination the Bahamas has been lacking. With seven pools (and an eighth “privilege pool” on the way), a soon-to-be-opened rooftop bar, a flagship ESPA spa, access to the Caribbean’s largest casino, and ten football fields worth of some of the Bahamas best beachfront, this ain’t your parents’ Bahamas. Which is entirely the point.

Clay Dillow, Field Reporter & Travel Writer

STAY — KARISMA RESORTS CANCUN, MEXICO

Karisma Resorts in Cancun still has me raving. As if trying food from world class chefs all week at the Chili Pepper Culinary Experience wasn’t enough, the staff made me want to call up my folks and tell them they could either join me there or I would see them on holidays, because I was never leaving.

Each resort evokes a different emotion — from the desire to live my best life in the jacuzzi all alone in a giant room at the Generations Riviera Maya, or wanting to find a beau to join me at the El Dorado or El Dorado Royale Resorts, taking sexy outside showers together or lounging in the pools only one step outside of our balcony doors. A week was not nearly enough of a stay to enjoy all of the on-site restaurants that so uniquely captured the flavors of the countries they represented, as eating sometimes came second to dance lessons, yoga classes, horseback tours, and any other activities a guest might crave.

Being told “Es un placer” after a random, yet welcomed, chocolate strawberry delivery was the perfect nightcap for a perfect evening at a fairytale resort. If I didn’t already know I was a queen, Karisma Hotels in Cancun convinced me.

Hope Carter, Uproxx Writer

STAY — ALDERBROOK RESORT & SPA, UNION, WA

Getting back to nature should be at the top of all our lists in 2018. Now that being said, sometimes getting back to nature doesn’t have to mean sleeping rough in a rickety and leaky tent. I think you can still treat yourself and get back to nature at the same time. A great way to do that is to pick a resort that’s right in the middle of all that great nature but also has a spot to get a massage and a bar that mixes an awesome cocktail. Plus, you get to wake up every morning to a view of the Hood Canal and (on a clear day) the craggy peaks of the Olympic Mountains.

Alderbrook hits all those marks. It’s a well-fitted resort that has a very Salish feel in the decor, great rooms with comfy beds and wool blankets to keep you snuggly warm, and access to the great wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. You can spend the morning hunting for oysters on the Hood Canal, hike through a rainforest in the afternoon, and then spend the evening by a fire on the beach while eating fresh and local oysters, clams, and crabs while drinking the best the PNW has to offer. If you want more, it’s a short 20-minute drive to the Staircase entrance to Olympic National Park — one of the best parks in the United States in my humble opinion. Also, 20 minutes away is the iconic Hama Hama oyster beds where you can score some of the best oysters and Port Townsend craft beer at their outdoor saloon. And, if you’re feeling extra saucy, you can get to the Pacific Ocean in about an hour.

It’s nature plus luxury, which feels very 2018. – Zach Johnston, Travel & Food Writer

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