Life

The 2019 Uproxx Travel Hot List

Let’s be 100% honest. Travel isn’t a cure-all. It’s not going to mend the fabric of our society or bridge the cultural divide overnight. A trip to Baja Norte to taste Sabina Bandera‘s famous tostadas mariscos probably wouldn’t make Trump rethink his wall. And a hike in Bears Ears National Monument isn’t likely to change his mind about shrinking it.

Travel isn’t that perfect. But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the best tools we’ve got for making the world better.

Nothing forces us to rethink long-held biases like a bowl of dumpling soup shared with strangers. Nothing spans ideological chasms better than a wild rave out on the beach. Nothing makes us want to fight for this planet like a surf at G-Land or Witches Rock. Nothing makes us want to put our phones down and truly connect like a starry night spent sipping beers with new friends in a hot spring.

A trip to Madagascar, the Maldives, or Mississippi can’t fix every problem plaguing our society. But it can help a hell of a lot of them.

So here’s to the “mad ones,” the vagabonds, the micro-adventurers, and the #VanLifers. Here’s to anyone eager to see and smell and touch everything. We hope this list — written by some of the best travel writers and most prominent influencers on the planet — helps steer your next adventure and motivates you to get out on the open road in 2019.

TRAVEL TRENDS FOR 2019

Marie Fe and Jake Snow / Uproxx

1. GETTING OFF THE INSTAGRAM TRAIL

This is our #1 trend this year and there are a lot of reasons for it. The biggest is that entire islands had to shut down in 2018, due to the crush of crowds that arrived hoping to score perfect photos of themselves, staring into the middle distance. These weren’t places that had been heavily Lonely Planetized either, they were destinations that saw massive booms due to geotagging. Boracay Island in the Philippines and Maya Bay in Thailand both shut down completely. They’re re-opened now, but with strict limits. Other spots — like Venice and Santorini — followed suit and started setting visitor caps.

Beyond over-tourism, certain destinations have just been photographed to death. There are only so many pictures we can like of the cenotes outside Tulum, or a cave hotel in Mykonos, or sitting atop the cliffs of Petra (even though we love those photos). Looks for lesser-known spots to grow in popularity this year.

As a result of Instagram’s ubiquity, intrepid travelers like Marie Fe and Jake Snow are moving beyond the “Instagram Trail” and charting a course further afield. To its credit, the Instagram travel boom seems to have made some genuine adventurers out of people. “Less-traveled islands” was the #1 travel-related search on Pinterest this year, up 179%. As you read through the 2019 hot list, the idea of “going beyond what you see in your feed” will be reflected often. Especially in our #1 destination pick.

2. SOLO TRAVEL IS AN UNDENIABLE FORCE

This repeat from 2018 is closely related to point one. The best thing about Instagram is that it’s made travel incredibly accessible. People are drawn into the adventures of others while playing on their phones in line at the bank. After enough exposure, just about anyone starts to feel like “I can do this. Even alone.”

Our take? You can. You should be prepared and thoughtful (and there are obviously different concerns for people who have specific reasons to feel unsafe), but we maintain that the world is, generally speaking, a welcoming one.

Those of us who have taken a big trip alone know that solo travel is a whole different beast. There are moments of genuine, aching loneliness. But there’s also a certain openness to others that’s so much harder to access back in your familiar environment. It’s no wonder that the solo travel boom has started shaping tour offerings for millennials and gen z.

“There’s no denying that solo travel is on the rise,” says Caitlin Overend of Exodus Travels, “but traveling alone can be daunting, too. Everyone — including us — has new tours for solo travelers, for those who want to see the world but don’t want to go it completely alone.”

3. “WOKENESS” AND TRAVEL COLLIDE

Anyone who uses “woke” as a pejorative is probably a jackass. Being more awake and aware of the forces that affect our world is never a bad thing. Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed this idea of being woke bring up interesting conversations across every segment of society. Travel is no different.

In 2019, we’re going to see an increasing number of travelers consider social justice when planning adventures. They’ll think twice before visiting countries where there’s an active genocide. Or decide to travel overland over the course of months rather than racing from place to place. Or rethink the colonialist attitudes that they might be carrying with them on the road.

With a new era of wokeness, comes the most socially aware wave travelers the earth has ever known. Look for a heightened emphasis on Indigenous tours, community-owned businesses, and eco-lodges, among other things. This was a top trend pick last year and it’s grown even bigger now.

4. THE CONTINUED RETURN OF DESTINATIONS HIT HARD BY POLITICAL/ NATURAL DISASTERS

With information rocketing around faster than ever, the lag times between a country in disarray and the return of tourism can be incredibly short. Travelers infuse dollars in destinations that are bouncing back from political upheaval and natural disasters, thus quickening the recovery process.

Whether it’s Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands post-Hurricane Maria, Haiti post-Matthew, or Cuba and… ahemthe United States amid governmental chaos, there’s a strong case that travel boosts lagging economies. As an example, Madagascar — which was on our hot list last year and holds the #1 spot on our islands list — is fresh off of a contentious election and widespread rioting. That will certainly scare off a lot of older travelers and families, making this as good a time as ever for young people to visit and prop up the local economy with cash.

5. THE MODE OF TRAVEL HELPS DEFINE YOUR TRIP

This is almost an anti-trend, as travelers decide to slow down and stop racing from country to country. We’re definitely guilty of being charmed by travelers hopping from place to place to plant a flag on every corner of the map. But it’s time to rethink the jet setter’s approach to travel.

This isn’t just because it’s not ecologically sustainable, though that’s a big factor. It’s also that planes have become a very private travel experience. You throw on your headphones, take a nap, and maybe eat a snack. Any chatting at all is almost looked at like a breach of etiquette. Busses, trains, bikes, and boats, on the other hand, those are where you go to meet people. Where the method you use to get from point A to point B becomes part of the adventure itself.

Over on Pinterest, searches for bus travel were up 32% and bike tours saw a 64% bounce. Of course, we all already know how awesome train travel is.

6. LAST YEAR’S TRENDS SHOW STAYING POWER

This is a bit of a cheat, but you can’t blame us for predicting the future so bang on. Besides, the travel market isn’t quite as fickle as the worlds of fashion and music. Trends in this industry hang on a little longer. And though the conversation shifts, fun stuff is always “in.”

The longest trend running in travel right now is the focus on experiences. That’s not going anywhere, as adventurous-types look for activities, restaurants, and hotels that they can talk about to friends for years to come. It’s one part quest for authenticity and one part desire to live a life that doesn’t feel pre-packaged. Tour operators have had to adjust to this mindset.

Other trends that are built to last? Everyone is still high on hot springs. National Parks would still be booming (if the government wasn’t shut down). And festivals remain fun AF. What? You thought those things would change in 12 months? No chance.

Check out the 2018 Uproxx Travel Hot List and the 2017 Uproxx Travel Hot List for more travel trends from our team.

Now, without further adieu, the #1 spot on the 2019 Travel Hot List goes to…

INDONESIA BEYOND BALI

Rashel Ochoa

Over and over, Indonesia surprises travelers. There’s just so much to it. So many perfect beaches. So many towering waterfalls. So much virgin coral to explore with a snorkel or SCUBA tank. Then there’s the food. Nasi goreng might just be the best fried rice dish on earth. And sop buntot! What monster wouldn’t be deeply warmed with this local riff on oxtail soup?

The point being, there’s an endless wealth of experiences, flavors, and cultures to appreciate in Indo. Literally, 17,508 islands to explore. So it’s high time we take a stand and tell travelers: Go beyond Bali. Leave the cozy confines of your guesthouse or hotel, where banana pancakes are always on the menu, and travel further afield.

That’s not even to say that Bali isn’t great. It is. It’s a dream destination where a hotel with a pool costs $10, there are always waves, and tropic waterfalls tumble over cliffs covered in creepers and vines. But every traveler on earth seems to be circling Bali right now. If they’re not at the swing at the end of the world, they’re at Uluwatu or one of the plunging falls. Get a little space from them. In 2019, you can go to Indonesia and do your own thing.

Here are some of our favorite non-Bali locales in Indonesia:

Rinca Island

Wikimedia Commons

Komodo Island and Flores, both also part of Komodo National Park, are going to get serious love in the next two entries. For now, let’s just start this off hot with literal flesh-eating dragons on the island of Rinca.

Nowhere on earth can you witness the sheer force of these monster lizards like Rinca, where you’re handed a forked stick upon arriving at the island so that you can guide the beasts’ jaws away from your legs. That stick will become vital to your stay, as the dragons will approach you, drool dripping from their gaping mouths.

Screw up once and you’re dead. That’s it. Game over.

A trip to Rinca obviously isn’t for everyone. The dragons seem to kill some careless traveler, guide, or resident almost yearly. But for adventurous-types who want something a little wild, this is the sort of destination you likely dreamt about as a kid — where dragons roam the savannah and nothing feels tame.

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

The Komodo Islands

Via Marie Fe and Jake Snow

In 2018, a two-hour flight from Denpasar (Bali) to Bima and then a six-hour ferry from Bima to Labuan Bajo landed us in the Komodo Islands. What we experienced over the next three days on a Komodo Island sailing tour blew our minds.

There are times when traveling that you’re so blown away by a place or an experience that you literally cannot find words. The Komodo Islands falls into this category for us. The variety of landscapes and experiences was unbelievable. Incredible hiking, epic sunrises and sunsets, jaw-dropping wildlife, diving, pink beaches, sand-bars, and clear blue skies were just a fraction of what we experienced.

What makes the Komodo Islands even more priceless is lack of traffic and tourists, especially in comparison to Bali. There is no international airport and its location makes it relatively difficult to get to. This makes the chain perfect for the adventurous types and a must for those looking beyond Bali in 2019.

Marie Fe and Jake Snow (@mariefeandjakesnow)

The Journey to Flores and Komodo

Via Alyssa Ramos

As a die-hard adventurer, who spent last year trying to tick off all the Seven Wonders of the World and Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Komodo Island is definitely my top pick for a “Beyond Bali” destination. Located way east of Bali, near Flores Island, this lesser-known area is exploding with adventure in more ways than you can imagine.

First, of course, there’s actual Komodo Island; one of the seven Natural Wonders. But just the trip there is also epic. You’ll stop at the uninhabited Padar Island to see a viewpoint with three different colored-sand beaches, and along the way if you’re lucky, you can swim with Manta Rays. Speaking of which, this area has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving on earth — loaded with undamaged coral.

Best part of all, this whole area is doable on a tight budget; perfect for adventure travelers without a ton of cash to blow.

Alyssa Ramos (@mylifesatravelmovie)

Medan, Sumatra

Sumatra is a wild place. Imagine all those beautiful images you see filling up your Instagram stream from Thailand and Bali. Now imagine those beaches and waterfalls and cultural touchstones without literal throngs of tourists.

That’s Sumatra. Flying into Medan and making it your base of operation for Central Sumatra is a great play for 2019. First, there’s Medan itself. The city has an old Indonesian charm without the weight of Jakarta’s masses. It’s also a great food city that no travelers really talk about yet. Local pork barbecue, fried rice noodle, spicy and light curries, pulled duck noodles, gallons of spicy peanuts sauces, all the fried rice, the freshest seafood, unique fruits, and on and on.

The kicker, it’s all crazy inexpensive. Think “50 cents a meal”-level inexpensive.

From Medan, you can hit two amazing sites, each within three hours of the city. Lake Toba is one of the world’s largest super volcanoes. The area is home to a unique form of architecture called Batak. The pointed roof wooden houses and totems are decorated with local Indigenous art. It’s mind-blowing how hard it is to find these places on Instagram. If you want to spend a day at the lake, note that magic mushrooms are legal and readily available. Just look for the roadside signs at pit stops.

The second must-see spot is Bukit Lawang, one of two places in the world where you can still see wild orangutans. This spot is in the deep jungle, so make sure you have a 4×4 to get there.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Simeulue Island

Mahi Mahi Surf Resort

Simeulue, an island located 93 miles off the west coast of Sumatra, is a place that typically only die-hard surfers travel to. I am not a surfer, but I have the spirit of one. A very acute sense of adventure, deep love for nature, and active disposition are a few of the things we share — which is why I always end up at some of the most coveted surf spots in the world without even realizing.

When I decided to go to Simeulue, I knew the trip would be packed with surf, as the resort we stayed at, Mahi Mahi, sits right in front of the most perfect A frame break on the island. Little did I know that Mahi Mahi is also deeply involved in social impact projects in Sumatra, apart from having their own coconut oil factory and turtle sanctuary. While my friends were surfing, I had the opportunity to learn about the island’s delicate ecosystem, volunteered at Mahi Mahi’s turtle sanctuary, went on boat trips and even helped create a campaign to stop palm oil consumption — which is destroying the rainforests of Sumatra and killing orangutans at a rapid rate.

At the end of an exciting day of exploration, we would go back to the hotel’s two hundred-year-old traditional buildings, which were flat-packed and shipped from Java. These stunning structures are airy, open and imbued with history and character. At the center of the property is the open-air joglo — a communal space facing the ocean where we would share meals, laughs, and watch buffalos rolling in the sand. Indonesian language classes and cultural tours of the villages are available too if you feel the need to become even more immersed. Simeulue’s palm tree-lined landscapes may look similar to other parts of Indonesia, but the unique culture of the island is what makes this place so special. Forget about bars and nightlife, here the only lights you see at night are the stars and as the sun rises early morning, so do you.

Note: There’s only one flight in and out of Simeulue every day, so plan accordingly.

Jade Moyano (@jademoyano)

Banda Aceh

On the northern tip of Sumatra, you’ll find a big slice of paradise that’s, basically, empty of tourists. We can’t understate the beauty of this place. The white sand beaches are pristine and vast. Really, folks, there are so many untouched beaches up here. Then there are tons of little islands — some of them are uninhabited, some of them are home to tiny fishing villages.

This is the sort of place you have to take a little extra effort to get to. It’s a long way north and you’ll need to connect through Jakarta. Still, this is an Indonesia that few tourists ever see. There are idyllic beaches, huge waterfalls in the jungle, colorful fishing boats are already lined up for that perfect Insta-shot. And, yes, the food is outstanding. The best part is probably the price. It’s cheap AF in this part of the world. You can seriously budget for a couple bucks a day (at most) for food and five to ten bucks for accommodation, leaving you plenty of cash to rent a motorcycle to buzz around from beach to waterfall.

Oh, and, this is where all the weed is grown in Indo, so, yeah, do that too (smartly).

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

The Gilis

I’m a big fan of the Gili Islands, off of Lombok. There are three of them that range in terms of a party atmosphere from Gili Trawangan (Gili T) to Gili Air to Gili Meno, which is the quietest. I prefer Gili Air, though they’re all perfect for days on the beach and nights dancing on the sand. For those who want more activity, they are known as great places to learn how to free-dive. There’s also an underwater sculpture garden near Meno that makes for an awesome photo op.

Personally, I couldn’t get over how incredible every single sunset was. They’re all so magical, I’ve been back thrice!

The islands were impacted by the Lombok earthquakes earlier this year. That said, they need tourism now more than ever and they’re still just as great of a destination as they were before. Much of the damage was sustained elsewhere on Lombok, which is also worth visiting. It’s a big island with so much to do, let the Gilis be your jumping off point for even more exploration.

Kristin Addis (@bemytravelmuse)

MORE DESTINATIONS

Indigenous America

Sometimes you don’t have to go over the hills and far away to experience something deeply cultural and new to you. Visiting Indigenous America is a journey to an America far too many people know far too little about. For centuries, visiting an Indian Reservation was unthinkable for most Americans. Today, a few casinos and the promise of tax-free cigarettes draw people in. But as tribes continue to struggle economically, many are turning to tourism to make up the shortfalls in their economies.

Tour companies like Skokomish Tourism out on the Olympic Peninsula of western Washington, offer full trips that allow you to take deep dives into food culture and the outdoor wonderland that is the Hood Canal and Olympic National Park. You can fish, hunt, eat oysters from the beach, hike (both in rainforests and Alpine meadows), forage, or just chill in a cabin in the woods.

Navajo Nation guides tours into the great canyons and through their vast deserts. Tatanka Rez Tourz on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation offers a deeply historical and harrowing tour of modern-day life of the Lakota. The Havasupai offer very limited spots to adventure seekers hoping to visit one of the most beautiful falls in the whole of the Americas. The Cherokee Nation is taking tourists on historical and cultural tours either in groups or solo with a Cherokee guide. The list goes on.

The point here is to see America through a whole new lens in 2019. Taking a trip into Indian Country allows you to support the most economically distressed communities in the country and will also give you a glimpse into how old American history actually is (hint, a lot older than most people think).

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Lebanon

BO18

Lebanon is roughly the size of Connecticut, but it’s packed with mountains, beaches, vineyards pumping out some of the smoothest old world wine you’ve never heard of, and a history that spans thousands of years and many civilizations. And don’t even get me started on Beirut—a frenetic, sprawling city on the tip of the Mediterranean, full of world-class art and restaurants and people. Seriously, in 2019 Lebanon is everything you never knew you wanted.

In the US, Lebanon has a reputation for being a war zone, out-and-out dangerous, thanks to years of civil war, sectarian conflicts, and borders shared with Israel and ISIS-occupied Syria. And while, yes, you can see the occasional concrete facade pocked and cratered with bullet holes and even some shelled-out buildings from the civil war, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not even by a long-shot. The civil war ended almost thirty years ago, and Beirut long ago became a party capital for the rest of the world. So it’s time to drown out the noise of worrywarts (whose worry often coincides with Islamophobia) and book your ticket to this Mediterranean paradise.

Start in Beirut, where you’ll find old-world hotels like the Phoenician and funky new hostels like Saifi Urban Gardens, a complex of buildings that has an Arabic language school, comfortable, cheap beds, a beloved bar frequented by locals, and an affordable food menu that will make you a fatteh convert. (Goodbye, Special K, hello delectable, garlicky yogurt with chickpeas.) But don’t limit yourself to Levantine cuisine, delicious as it is. You’ll find ramen that will bring your hungover body back to life, Italian soul food that will give any Tuscan trattoria a run for its money, and Armenian joints that will have you asking why you don’t put rose jam on everything.

If you’re a partier, the capital city goes all night long: party at B018, an open-air, converted detention center. Hang out with the bold, boundary-breaking drag queens of Lebanon at Projekt (which has also hosted the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Aja). Drink the buzzy, licorice-forward Lebanese spirit arak until the room spins. Wander down the main drag of Mar Mikhael, the city’s center for all things hip

But Beirut is only one part of a wild and wonderful country. So hop on one of the country’s mini-buses and hoof it anywhere you can think of: to Tripoli, in the north — a city is home to old souks and largely untouched by tourism. To Tyre in the south, where you’ll see some of the best-maintained Roman ruins in the world. To the mountains to the northeast, where you’ll find villages like Bcharre, the heart of Lebanon’s winter sports culture and birthplace of the poet Khalil Gibran. Or take a guided tour of one off the wineries of Bekaa. Hell, you could even explore the winding limestone caves of Jeita Grotto, which will make you believe in miracles.

No matter what you decide to do, just accept the kindness of all the people you meet along the way, and make sure to take them up on their offers to share manoushe and Turkish coffee. Lebanon is waiting to steal your heart. 2019 is the year you let it.

Lisa Dunn (@lisaaadunn)

Miami, Florida (USA)

Unsplash

How the hell are you going to put Miami on a “travel hot list”? Everyone knows Miami. Everyone has always known Miami. It’s the eternal city of young travelers roaming the United States looking for some fun.

Here’s how: Miami is like Drake and Diplo. It reinvents itself constantly. Seemingly overnight. The famed Wynwood district, where street art covers literally every single available space, is evidence of this.

Right now, Miami is having a “back to the underground” moment — with scruffy bars, hidden speakeasies like Bodega, and completely unnamed music venues like the one at Coyo Taco drawing attention away from the club scene.

So yes… Miami hit the hot list. It’s a known entity to some degree, but it’s also very “now.”

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

Tahitian Islands

With the arrival of United Airlines’ first-ever direct flight from mainland US to Tahiti, the French Polynesian islands are about to become one of 2019’s hottest destinations for young travelers. Instead of long layovers and flight hassles, in just eight hours travelers can enter a string of islands that are surrounded by 3,000 miles of uninterrupted, crystal clear, neon blue water. How’s that for easy access?

What makes Tahiti worthwhile? Well, do you want to take a catamaran to a natural pool where you can swim with stingrays and reef sharks? Do you like sleeping in over-the-water bungalows you can jump off of for midnight swims? Do you want to ride ATVs through pineapple fields like you’re the star of the new hit coming of age movie literally everybody asked for? The answer is yes, and if you don’t believe me, scroll your Insta in 2019. You’ll be seeing a lot of male Tahitian dancers flexing their abs and you’ll be really jealous you didn’t immediately book your flight after reading this.

Chelsea Frank (@chelseafrank)

The Top End, Northern Territory (Australia)

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My favourite spot so far 🤙🏼💦

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Considering how much waterfalls are responsible for the flow of Instagram-inspired travelers around the world, you’d think that the “Top End” would have hit our hot list years ago. Well this is the region’s year, not just because it’s basically a natural waterpark (seriously, google Gunlom Falls, Litchfield National Park, Katherine Hot Springs, Jim Jim Falls…) but also because the area has a deep and sincere reverence for the Indigenous traditional owners of the land (see experiences, below).

If you’re going to the Top End, you have to visit Kakadu National Park (it’s the size of Switzerland!), but make sure you don’t sleep on Litchfield, either. This loop — with waterfalls and swimming holes dotted every few miles — is the beloved dry season hangout of Darwin’s young, adventurous set. If you’re feeling even more intrepid, try Douglas Hot Springs, an hour south on the road to Katherine. And if you really want to do something bold, hike the 45-mile Jatbula Trail over the course of a few days. It’s literally ten miles of trekking each morning and afternoons spent basking in abandoned pools and streams. Pure paradise.

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

Lagos, Portugal

Via Cameron Lee

Lagos, Portugal is sure to be one of the hottest vacation spots for young travelers looking for jaw-dropping cliffs and stunning beaches. It’s a hub for exciting nightlife, culturally enriching history, and endless glorious beaches. You get the best of Ibiza, Mykonos, Positano all rolled into one. Lagos is also surprisingly affordable, and transportation is almost not needed once you get into town. Everything is pretty much in walking distance.

The Ponta da Piedade is one of the most beautiful viewpoints you’ll ever visit. Take in the view from top to see the stunning rock formations, then make your way down over 200 steps to take a kayak or boat ride through the grottos in the clear ocean water.

My favorite beach in Lagos is Praia do Camilo. There is a cute restaurant on the top of the beach on the cliffside called O Camilo, make sure you get a reservation there around sunset. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Lagos is not that popular with American travelers yet, since most American travelers tend to go to Lisbon when visiting Portugal. It has been getting more exposure through social media over the past two years and it’s sure to become one of the hottest summer European destinations in no time.

Cameron Lee (@thecameronlee)

Baja California del Sur

Cabo San Lucas has a not-unjustified reputation as a tourist trap, crawling with sunburned Americans by day and drunk ones by night. But adventure-seekers looking for a more fulfilling experience shouldn’t skip all of Baja simply because its main resort town has gone the way of Cancún. Just down the road from Cabo San Lucas is San José del Cabo, its smaller, more bohemian neighbor. Hotel El Ganzo at the far end of town is a creative’s dream—each room is uniquely decorated with commissioned art and murals adorn walls throughout the hotel. There’s even a recording studio on the property where musicians in residence come to record by day and play rooftop concerts by night overlooking the sea,

Head north out of Los Cabos and signs of civilization taper off fast. Up Highway 19, which snakes through the desert along Baja’s Pacific coast, you find El Pescadero, a small town with fantastic surf. One of the most reliable and enjoyable waves I’ve ever surfed is the user-friendly point break off a rocky outcropping at Cerritos Beach, where the gentle sandy bottom offers the not-very-good-surfer (like yours truly) a forgiving day in the waves. Just a few miles north from there is Todos Santos, a charming small town of boutiques and art galleries that hasn’t lost its agrarian identity. Continue up Highway 19 and you’ll cut across the peninsula to Baja’s whale-watching hub La Paz, on the Sea of Cortez, the skinny body of water separating Baja from the rest of Mexico which the pioneering ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world.”

Denver Nicks (@denvernicks)

Puerto Rico

Allison Sanchez

As I write this, I sit lounging on a balcony overlooking a sparkling pool. Twenty feet from the pool lies the softest sand I’ve ever felt on my feet — where waves with about ten different kinds of teal, depending on the intensity of the sunbeams that hit the water, gently crash into the shore. The Caribbean water is unbelievably warm to a California girl when it rises up above my ankles. I sip on a pina colada, the cold, sweet coconut hitting my tongue while a slightly humid breeze brushes through both my hair and the manes of my sunbathing companions — the wild horses who are grazing in the field to my right.

Sounds like a romance novel, right? It’s not an exaggeration to say that every part of this place is paradise, almost unbelievably so. But the underbelly of this peaceful adventure is that the house next to ours, on the small island of Vieques — less than 20 miles from Puerto Rico’s main island — hasn’t recovered. Nor has the W hotel a hundred yards away, which is boarded up. Restaurants are closed, businesses shuttered. The island has suffered serious losses.

Not to say there isn’t so much to see and do and so many places that are open for business (I wish I had months here), but there’s clearly still work to be done. And the only way things can reopen in Puerto Rico is for people to come to visit. In Vieques, tourism is its biggest industry by far. “People need to hear about us, to come again. It’s so important,” islanders tell me.

The island has been through a lot. Even in San Juan, I’m told the average power outage was two to three months for most people. They lost weight because they couldn’t refrigerate food and had to walk up many condo floors to walk their dogs. They hand-washed their kids’ school uniforms every night. And young people left, en masse, heading to work for a ski season in Colorado or to visit family on the mainland. But now they’re coming back, small businesses are reopening, and tourists are (slowly) starting to return.

This isn’t a charity ask, Puerto Rico is gorgeous — both wild and natural — while giving you every possible modern amenity. The people are incredibly friendly, the food is insane (I will dream of it when I’m gone), and there’s a great nightlife. But by just going, by just going out on a boat to snorkel or eating at a little place that serves great Mofongo, you are helping to counteract what the people here have gone through, and you’re helping to get them back on their feet. You get to be in paradise while also doing some good for the people that live here, make this destination a slam dunk hot list pick.

Allison Sanchez (@allisonnoelle957)

Isle of Arran, Scotland

Mention the Isle of Arran to just about anyone who’s been there, and they’re likely to tell you it’s “Scotland in miniature.” It’s a descriptor the island earned with its diverse geology and topography—craggy highlands, rolling lowlands, mountains, valleys, streams, and pasture land, all ringed by vast stretches of stony beach and churning north Atlantic waters. And sure enough, Arran as idyllic as any postcard picture of Scotland could be, hitting all the right notes of fog and stone and lush green hills that make the country, well, uniquely Scottish.

But beyond the diverse, breathtaking-at-every-turn terrain, Arran is a microcosm of the ideal Scottish holiday, one that you would have to drive the length and breadth of the country to experience otherwise. At 167 square miles and ringed with roughly a dozen towns and villages, there’s ample room to explore. Arran is home to everything a traveler goes to Scotland to see—a castle, a whiskey distillery, an early-morning view from a jagged peak as the fog burns off the valley below. There are sheep farms and fish-and-chips joints and small, sleepy towns full of welcoming Scots eager to share a story and a pint.

What makes Arran special, though, is an ideal balance of location, extremes, and experiences all in one place. Less than three hours west of Glasgow via car and ferry, it’s easy enough to get to from the main cities and yet difficult enough to keep tourist hordes away. You can spend a morning hiking Goatfell, the island’s tallest promontory, and spend the afternoon soaking at a resort-style spa if that’s your thing. Outdoor experiences are the real draw on Arran—canoeing, kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, four-wheeling, golf (naturally)—but there’s no lack of indoor comforts or cozy pubs to settle in for the evening with a pint, a dram, and a few hours spent with some new (or old) friends.

A room at the Douglas Hotel in Brodick will put you in the center of the island’s biggest town (an annex behind the main hotel offers clean, well-kept backpacker accommodations at a very reasonable price as well) and within easy reach of Brodick Castle, the trailhead for Goatfell, and the Ormidale Hotel, where the Saturday night disco party in this aging mansion’s glass atrium is not to be missed.

Clay Dillow (@cwdillow)

The National Monuments of Southern Utah

If I had one recommendation for something people should hit as soon as humanly possible, it would be the National Monuments of Southern Utah, specifically Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Why now? Because they’re in very immediate danger, with our current administration trying to reduce GSE by nearly 50 percent and Bears Ears by a staggering 85 percent.

These are stunningly beautiful public lands that our government is trying to sell to private interests in oil, gas, coal, and other destructive industries. Bears Ears is sacred beyond belief, with thousands of ruins, petroglyphs, and other important archaeological sites. Check out the ruins at House on Fire, the ancient art at Butler Wash, and the breath-taking natural skyscrapers at Valley of the Gods. At Grand Staircase-Escalante, visit the hoodoos at the Devils Garden, the incredible striped walls of Zebra Slot Canyon, and the beautiful Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Brent Rose (@brentdangerrose)

Todos Santos

Brett Michael Dykes

A few months ago a friend invited me to attend her wedding in Mexico. When I asked where it was taking place and she replied “Todos Santos” I had to rush to Google. Most of what came up in my search was tied to the development of a hotel there by Liz Lambert’s Bunkhouse Group, Hotel San Cristobal (the site of my friend’s wedding ceremony, coincidentally), which opened in 2017. I was intrigued.

And so it was that in December of last year I headed to this sleepy, dusty little town of 7,000 or so on the Baja peninsula, a little over an hour north of Cabo, for the aforementioned wedding. I went there most looking forward to seeing old friends and hanging with them, and perhaps making some new ones. What I did not expect was that I’d fall completely head over heels in love with Todos Santos, to the point where I found myself devoting almost a full day of my trip looking at property for sale in the area.

When I tell friends about this they inevitably ask, “What was it about Todos Santos that felt so special to you?” and I’ve honestly struggled to explain it. Sure, there’s the gorgeous, pristine coastline (I walked for two hours on the beach my first day there and only encountered three other human beings), and the food (the tortillas I had every morning when I stayed at the Hotelito were so good that they almost brought tears to my eyes), and the way the stars lit up so brightly and darted across the sky when I sprawled out in a hammock each night I stayed at the Villas La Mar, and the exceedingly friendly and accommodating locals and ex-pats (I was really taken by the number of middle-aged and elderly American women I met there who call Todos Santos home), but to understand why I feel so hard for Todos Santos, you kind of have to go there and feel it and experience it for yourself. It just felt like a place that my soul could call home.

Now, here I should mention that Todos Santos is probably not for everyone. It’s not underdeveloped, but it’s not overdeveloped either. It’s a little bit of a pain in the ass to get to, seeing as how the closest airport is in Cabo. There’s apparently only one ATM in the whole town that people with non-Mexican debit cards can use to withdraw cash, which you will need in Todos Santos as lots of places don’t take cards. Just about all of the roads are unpaved (even the big fancy new Hotel San Cristobal is accessible only via dirt roads). Uber and Lyft are non-existent — the only way to get around is to either rent a car or call for taxis (which seem to arrive at their leisure) when needed. And there’s not really much to do once the sun goes down. But it all combined to really speak to me in a way that few places have over the course of my life as a traveler/wanderer. (The only place that I can think of that resonated with me similarly was Byron Bay, Australia. As a matter of fact, I recall telling a friend that Todos Santos struck me as Mexico’s version of Byron Bay, for a host of reasons.)

Bottom line: there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t spend at least five minutes daydreaming about going back to Todos Santos. I’m not sure there’s a higher compliment one can give to any specific travel destination.

Brett Michael Dykes (@thecajunboy)

EXPERIENCES

Ride the Tequila Herradura Express

Guadalajara is swiftly climbing the global ranks must-visit cities, but no trip to Mexico’s third-largest city is complete without a diversion into surrounding Jalisco State, the source of nearly every drop of tequila consumed in the world. And how better to take in Jalisco’s rugged contours and inhospitable heat than from a banquette couch, glass clinking in your cocktail glass, as your train car trundles through the seemingly endless fields of blue agave unfolding outside your window?

Departing Guadalajara nearly every day of the week, the Tequila Herradura Express ferries passengers to Herradura’s hacienda at Amatitán, home of the brand’s legendary tequila distillery (which also happens to be one of the largest in the world). For roughly a hundred bucks, Herradura offers a full day’s itinerary: a short education in the tequila-making process at the distillery, a tasting of Herradura tequilas, lunch at the hacienda, and round trip passage on the newly-refurbished and remarkably comfortable Herradura Express, where open-bar cocktail service extends throughout each of the one-and-a-half-hour legs of the journey.

Pay up a bit for a seat in the Club Car, one of two rolling bars in the train reserved for the 18-and-up crowd (it upgrades your lunch experience at the hacienda as well). When your second hibiscus-tinged Maria Bandida arrives and you get the feeling that all of Jalisco’s coarse beauty is unspooling on the other side of the glass just for your personal enjoyment, you won’t miss those extra pesos.

Clay Dillow (@cwdillow)

Visit Australia’s First Aboriginal Food Festival

ourism NT / Michael Costa

In Kakadu National Park, in Australia’s Northern Territory, the Indigenous foodway never went anywhere. It was always being passed down from Aboriginal elders to their children. But it certainly wasn’t on the radar of interlopers. That’s all changed with A Taste of Kakadu — a food festival that spans two weeks and is 100% focused on traditional food practices.

Along with song and dance performances, handicrafts, and art shows, the festival features a whole lot of flavor — from bush tucker (wild food) demos to giant meals of kangaroo roasted in a ground oven. Spending a few days at the fest reveals one of the joys of travel in 2019: A chance to have an absolutely epic time while also supporting local communities.

Between meals, be sure to hike through the National Park and chase down a few good swimming holes (Gunlom Falls is a gem), it’s bound to be hot and you’re going to want to work up an appetite.

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

Attend one of Guy Gerber’s RUMORS parties

Rumors / Guy Gerber

We’d be remiss if we didn’t include superstar DJ Guy Gerber’s touring festival event RUMORS in our 2019 Hot List. With tour dates in spots like Tulum, Ibiza, Mykonos, Bali, and London, attending a RUMORS event is an epic excuse to travel to a whole slew of must-visit destinations.

What will you find? “A real togetherness vibe,” Gerber told me after I saw him perform RUMORS at Electric Paradise in the Dominican Republic. The whole thing was on another level: decorated “bazaar-like,” with bohemian decor elements like flowers, lanterns, and cultural relics strewn about. RUMORS is where art, natural beauty, and deep house music fuse together to create an ultimate party experience both on and off stage.

I was lucky enough to party backstage with the Israeli DJ and his compadres, getting out of my mind fucked up (that included twenty minutes of me blowing kisses to the crowd like some kind of seductive witch). Any party that includes hot Spanish people hugging me and telling me they love me (for reasons best described with this gif) is a party I demand to attend.

So many party favors, so much love, a lineup of acclaimed international DJs, and 100% positive energy to remind you what life is really about— finding your tribe, sipping pretty, and fostering a real sense of community.

Chelsea Frank (@chelseafrank)

Get a Taste of Basque Country Dining

We’ve said it before, but Basque Country cuisine is about to explode. You may argue it already has. Perhaps you’ll point to the forty Michelin stars the region proudly illuminates on its tourism feeds. Or that there are three new Basque Restaurants with Michelin stars, one of which – eMe Be Garrote – is owned by the legendary Martin Berasategui, putting his total at ten. And look at Marti Buckley’s book: Basque Country. New York Times, Saveur and Food & Wine all named it in their best cookbook lists. But though the surface may be pierced by the culinary cognoscenti, the signs all point to Basque Cuisine becoming even more popular in 2019, and not just among gastronomically-inclined tourists.

Basque food satisfies the holy traveler trinity of accessible, economically feasible – even the Michelin joints are priced favorably compared to the starred places in other parts of the world – and presentable. A guidebook is not required. Simply stumble in awe through the streets of San Sebastian, Bilbao, Mundaka or Lekeitio and hop into any bar that looks like they have interesting pintxos (small plates of food on the bar). Just remember, pintxos are NOT tapas. You’ll need to indicate the ones you want and the bartender will bring them to you, warmed if necessary. Grab a vermouth or a txakoli – Basque white wine that tastes like the sea – and people watch until you’re ready for the next stop.

A week can be lost doing this. How do I know? I lost one this summer doing exactly that – with stops at Azurmendi and Extebarri – in this exact way.

Mark C. Stevens (@markcstevens_)

Sail (and Eat) on the World’s Largest Sailboat

Taking a cruise is a hard sell for a lot of people. Look, we get it, being cooped up on a ship with thousands of other people isn’t ideal. In fact, it’s kind of weird if we’re being perfectly honest. But there is a cruise out there that is the antidote to the floating-city way of cruising and that’s Windstar.

These are the sort of cruises that are a couple hundred people, max. This adds a personal touch. You end up seeing the same people again and again. You start to share cocktails or games of backgammon. You see each other walking around the streets during the day. You make friends. You just can’t do that on the big cruises. Windstar has another advantage, too — they sail some of the best ships in the world with the best cruise food out there.

Recently, Windstar teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to completely overhaul their onboard menus. That means you have heavy-hitting chefs like Hugh Acheson and Top Chef winners creating menus every night. In short, the food is freakin’ great, consistently.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Surf a Man Made Wave

There was a crazy amount of buzz this year about Kelly Slater’s private wave up in Lemoore, California. That wave is insanely epic, but it also costs $50K per day for you and 19 friends. That’s a lot of cash to spend if you’re worried you might blow the takeoff.

NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas isn’t a high-performance barrel like at Slater’s Surf Ranch, but it’s a whole lot more affordable and insanely fun. Whether you’re surfing the gentle, rolling beginner wave or the more advanced version, an hour in this massive wave pool will leave your arms feeling like jelly. The outer “reef” is a cruisy drop in with just enough punch for some deep bottom turns. Plus it’s long and you’ll ride it alone — two factors that very few natural waves have these days.

I’ve surfed a lot of breaks in my life. It’s hard to think of many times I left the water with such a massive smile on my face.

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

Eat at America’s First Indigenous Food Lab, Minneapolis

The most successful food Kickstarter of all time was Chef Sean Sherman’s campaign to open up the first Indigenous Food Lab with a restaurant in America. Well, it’s almost here. This summer Sherman and his crew are opening up what many are calling the “most anticipated” restaurant and food experience in America in 2019.

The foodways of Indigenous American food is eschewing European species (think wheat, dairy, processed sugars, beef, poultry, pork, etc.) and re-embracing the native plants, insects, fish, and animals to regions of North America that were shunned or outright outlawed by colonialists (some ingredients still to this day). This is the fresh, wild game and fish, seasonal, local, foraging, anti-factory farming, dairy-free, gluten-free, cruelty-free, medicinal, keto, and paleo food movements all rolled into a single way of eating that’s ancient, modern, and deeply spiritual. This is American food.

The Sioux Chef is opening up the Indigenous Food Lab which serves as a place where young Indigenous chefs can learn both a trade (cooking) and delve deeply into their own Indigenous food cultures with an attached restaurant we can all eat at. It’s poised to be a game-changer in American food — about to shake the average American’s perceptions about what American food is and can be to its core. Sherman and his team will also be opening a restaurant in Minneapolis in the downtown area that’ll be the first Indigenous American fine dining restaurant in America (however, that’s not expected to open until 2020).

For now, start looking at flight prices to Minneapolis this summer. A food revolution is about to ignite and you’ll want to be there for all the amazing Indigenous American food.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Crack Open a Wheel Of Parmigiano Reggiano in Parma

Steve Bramucci

Look at that dorky face up there. Seriously, could that dude be any more hyped to stand next to a cheese tower?

The answer is “no.” I was so damn psyched when I toured a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy this summer that you literally couldn’t have peeled the smile from my face. I get why people try to steal Parmigiano. It’s a treasure.

I’ve been calling the experience of breaking open a giant wheel of parmesan, getting hit in the face with the milky, sharp smells, and tasting slivers of cheese within seconds of it being exposed to the open air as “One of the Seven Wonders of the Food World,” and I’m sticking to it. There’s just not any culinary assault on the senses that I’ve ever experienced, besides perhaps strolling through a spice market in the Middle East, that compares.

So why now? Why is this 2019 hot list fodder? Because we live in an era when everyone wants to know food or feels like they know food. People have HOT TAKES and they’ll defend them to the death. But if you really want to understand cuisine, you need to understand ingredients that become part of a whole dish — any Netflix food show will tell you that. Among those, this is one of the most accessible (and decadent).

If you want to enjoy a true marvel this year, get to Emilia Romagna. Tour a Parmigiano dairy (there are so so many of them!). Crack open a wheel (the smells!). Then take a bite and spend the rest of the day looking as dorky as me in the picture above.

Take a Wellness Tour

Health and travel have collided and the travel world is taking note. Getting your sweat on, getting that 90 minute yoga session in, or making sure you can run while you’re on the road is becoming more and more important to travelers across the board. And we’re here for it.

Companies like G Adventures are also here for it and they’ve launched trips that cater specifically to the health-minded vagabonds out there. They specifically put trips together where exercise and chill are balanced while you experience a new place. It’s a great way to make sure you can keep up your regimen while still engaging in the local scene. This is also a great way to combine your love of travel with serious self-care. Spas, hot springs, surfing, hiking, and downtime all come together in one great package with trips like these. You’ll come home refreshed and a little bit healthier.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Place Your Bets at the Lexus Melbourne Cup

It’s tough to describe the Melbourne Cup without first describing how seriously Australians take this annual thoroughbred race. Aptly known as “the race that stops a nation,” the event—which takes place not on a Saturday or Sunday but at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday in November—truly brings life to a standstill. In Melbourne, race day is essentially treated as a holiday and it may as well be; if businesses didn’t shutter for the day, it’s unclear who exactly would show up to run them. Given that many Australians take off the Monday prior to the race as well, the Melbourne Cup—now in its 159th year—is basically a four-day weekend capped with a continent-wide party which, at this point, is part of Australia’s national DNA.

All that is to say that the Melbourne Cup is more than just a horse race. The race itself is arguably Australia’s biggest and most important social event, a see-and-be-seen, all-day gala where the competition to be the best and most ostentatiously dressed overshadows the action on the racetrack. The party taking place at the periphery is at least as important as the race itself, as professional athletes, politicians, musicians, business elite, celebrity chefs, fashion icons, and more than a few runway models of note gather in places like the three-level “design pavilion” erected by marquee sponsor Lexus last year, a space providing multiple bars, a sit-down restaurant, and a terrace overlooking the racetrack.

If you want to join this party, you’ll need to dress the part—this is a fashionable affair in all the best ways, with social points awarded for the most over-the-top accouterment. November is springtime in Australia, and eye-popping colors are the order of the day. Obnoxious pocket squares are welcomed, loud patterns appreciated, fascinators basically obligatory. You’ll also want to put in some advanced legwork if you want a ticket to the so-called “Birdcage,” the aforementioned area where sponsors host the lavish parties that serve as the epicenter of the event. Don’t expect to find tickets at the door the day of the event.

It’s all a little corporate, sure. But when race day rolls around and you find yourself at the very center of the world’s biggest and most fashionable Tuesday afternoon party, chances are you won’t mind. On Wednesday you can slip right out of your party suit and back into your swimsuit—did we mention the weather is getting warmer and you’re in Australia?

Clay Dillow (@cwdillow)

Celebrate Equality at Oahu Pride

A Pride festival may not be on your radar as a go-to travel destination, but celebrating love and equality in the heart of Oahu, one of the world’s most beautiful places on earth (which is also bustling with youthful activism), is well worth your vacation days. Though previously under the radar as far as Pride festivals go, Oahu has seen a resurgence of engagement over the last five years. With no shortage of LGBTQ-friendly bars, stellar rooftops in Chinatown and ocean views, Oahu Pride is the perfect mix of progressivism, partying, and relaxing.

The festival week itself is a delightful elixir of island leisure and nightlife stimulation (let’s face it, if anyone knows how to party, it’s the LGBTQ community). From hip pool parties at the Surfjack Hotel to drag nights at the notorious Scarlett, attendees are free to punctuate their week of beach relaxation with as many Pride parties and events as they please. Days spent reading by the pool sipping pineapple cocktails and dancing the night away at Hula’s culminates in an epic Pride parade through the beach-lined streets of Waikiki.

It isn’t just a powerful experience standing for justice or the journey of the LGBTQ community, it’s a full blown dance party in paradise.

Carmen Rising (@carmenrising)

PROPERTIES

Aquadome Tirol Therme Längenfeld — Tirol, Austria

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Spa time in the mountains 🏔❄️💦

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You know those images that Americans have in their heads about naked, fit Europeans hanging in spas, and generally being far more relaxed than us? Yeah, that’s real and it happens at Aquadome Tirol Therme Längenfeld. This property is perhaps the most genuinely chill spot on earth — a temple to slowing down and soaking in the season.

Of all the places to spend winter, this is the steamiest (both literally and metaphorically). Bask in one of the many pools (you can explore for hours without experiencing every hidden nook), sweat out toxins (nude mandatory) in a spa or steam room, then curl up in one of the coziest hotel beds on the planet. Meals on the property are top notch, as are the bars. And you don’t have to leave the property for anything, which is nice on a property like this.

With hot springs booming and the idea of “Hygge” gaining popularity with American travelers, this spot is about to have a massive year. Especially because the hotel just invited an entire flotilla of influencers to visit and take photos.

Steve Bramucci (@stevebram)

Sanará Tulum — Tulum, Mexico

A trip to Tulum promises lush ocean vistas of turquoise water and cool breezes, guaranteeing relaxing and good vibes. No place on the globe delivers quite like the Sanará Tulum. For conscious travelers who seek wellness and tranquility with modern amenities and attention to creative detail, Sanará is the truth.

This gem on the Yucatan Peninsula dazzles with 19 eco-friendly, ultra luxurious rooms, suites and private villas tucked away on the white sands of Quintana Roo. Sanará translates to ‘you will heal’, which is exactly what happens after a visit to this property that is as relaxing as it is innovative.

The true marvel of the Sanará is the beachfront yoga. No matter your downward dog proficiency, you will reach zen of the highest power at the oceanfront studio. Full immersion in all that the Sanará has to offer includes a gong bath, sound healing and an in-water mermaid experience, all intended to strip away whatever you came to Tulum carrying.

Doubling down on its pledge to wellness and sustainability, the Sanará’s restaurant, The Real Coconut, cooks up plant-based comfort food that is out of this world. Developed by owner Daniella Hunter, the menu is completely gluten, grain, dairy and refined sugar-free. With signature dishes including Cooling Avocado Gazpacho, Coconut Ceviche, and Macho Pancakes, the recipes were such a hit, a line of Real Coconut chips, tortillas and cookies launched at retail in the States.

In recent years, Tulum has become a destination for travelers in search of a low key getaway. The Sanará stands out from resorts of the resorts of the region as it is so much more than a hip place to stay, it’s an experience.

Mike Botticello (@mickelhouse)

Alderbrook Resort & Spa — Union, Washington (USA)

Hitting Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is the perfect way to both indulge in an amazing food scene and challenge yourself in nature. Alderbrook Resort & Spa make for an excellent home base while either eating your way through all the seafood or hiking deep into Olympic National Park.

The resort has a local feel with local Salish art adorning the walls, plush rooms, and a private beach. The bar is on-point (don’t skip on whatever seafood is in season as a bar snack). But the real highlight here is the surrounding area. The mountains, sea, trails, seafood covered beaches, and forests will draw you in and you’ll be dreaming of going back year after year.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Wanaka Homestead — Wanaka, New Zealand

In a town already cozy and charming, Wanaka Homestead makes a case for cozy/charming overdose. It’s the snuggest corner of Central South Island New Zealand, without a shred of pretense. Feeling the regenerative energy of the place doesn’t take long, there’s a comforting main room with French Press coffee, tea, and biscuits (the English variety) for guests and those waiting to check in — as a boutique hotel, it’s not crowded. Karen, the proprietor who you’ll soon be one a first name basis with, gives guests a tour of the grounds. A quaint, old-style hot tub is on hand, as is free laundry for those staying. You can hear the lapping of the waves coming from the lake from the back porch.

Mentioning the lake necessitates mentioning That Wanaka Tree (#thatwanakatree) – one of the most Instagrammable spots in the country – which is nestled beside the lake less than two minutes walk from the Homestead. Touching the frigid water at sunrise is an ideal way to wake up before hiking 1400 meters up to Roys or Isthmus Peak, where more stunning views await. Even if camper vanning or camping, Wanaka Homestead is a complete value splurge to reset (see: laundry). After our stay, we headed South from Abel Tasman to Milford Sound. But those going North from Queenstown would be wise to take advantage of its strategic placement in between several adventures. Been eating PB&J’s for a week? Try Kika restaurant, voted New Zealand’s best, about a 20-minute walk from the Homestead.

Mark C. Stevens (@markcstevens_)

Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real — Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Brett Michael Dykes

I’m admittedly not much of an all-inclusive beach resort kind of guy, but I would never pass on an opportunity to spend a few days at the The Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I toured the newest property from Meliá Hotels International in November just prior to its opening and was, well, blown away.

Designed in the shape of a circle, the Grand Reserve features 288 suites, all of them spacious and comfortable, featuring one or two bedrooms, many with full kitchens and dining areas. Suites at the Grand Reserve also feature private balconies with outdoor showers and whirlpool tubs. Some of the suites are “swim-up” suites, where you can literally walk out your patio door and slide into a pool. The whole property just felt… goddamn luxurious.

The culinary program at the Grand Reserve borders on being just flat-out ridiculous. It houses 14 restaurants and bars — including a beautiful modern steakhouse, a ceviche bar, and a modern take on a classic cigar bar that also features a large selection of exclusive, premium liquors — and a gourmet market. Of course, you can’t have a resort like this without a spa/wellness center, and the Grand Reserve seemingly has something for everyone, from water yoga to spin classes.

There aren’t many places I think I could go and just hunker down for a few days with a stack of books to plow through and never leave the property — I’m not really wired to stay in one place for too long — but I could easily imagine myself doing so here, and plan to in the coming year or so. And I’m going to turn my damn phone off when I do. It’s a “turn your damn phone off” kind of place.

Brett Michael Dykes (@thecajunboy)

Nammbu — Playa Carrillo, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is everything you’ve heard: The food is great, the jungles are lush, the beaches are postcard-perfect, the adventure is waiting. Picking a single spot to stay in Costa Rica is pretty hard. The country is varied and has two ocean coastlines. So, really, you can’t miss. Still, we recommend hitting the Atlantic coast and Playa Carrillo for at least a few nights.

Nammbu overlooks Playa Carrillo and offers a plush experience in a lush setting. The resort has huge rooms with picture windows that look towards the bending coastline. This is the sort of place that feels isolated but is still close enough to the beach and plenty of places to party and eat all night long. Overall, this is the perfect place to either get away from it all and unplug entirely or let loose on the beach with a sweet tropical drink with plenty of rum in it … or a little bit of both.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

Ham Yard — London, UK

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Wall worm!

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A trip to London is always a good idea. In fact, in 2019, it’ll be a great idea as the British pound continues to fall, making the expensive city that much more affordable. If you do find yourself in London this year, stay at the Ham Yard.

The hotel, part of the luxe Firmdale group, is all style and comfort. The bar is spot on and the breakfast is top-notch. There are little libraries with hidden bars, a hip basement bowling alley, and a dope and stylish vibe overall. The location is also great if you’re into London’s West End or want to eat your way through Chinatown. Overall, this is the perfect, fresh spot to call home for a couple days while you’re in London.

Zach Johnston, (@ztp_johnston)

The Millennials Shibuya — Tokyo, Japan

If you haven’t stayed in a capsule hotel, you should. Bottom line. No room for argument. In addition to being relatively inexpensive, the experience is so unusual that it gives you a ton to talk about with folks back home when you return. Seriously, most of the questions that I got on social media after I visited Japan were about my hotel stay.

What The Millennials does that is special is that they aim to create a community of guests. So, each person gets a capsule that is simply a full-sized bed with room for a suitcase underneath and a small shelf above the headboard. An iPod given to you at registration controls the lights and adjusts the bed, while also allowing you to use the elevator. Otherwise, you spend most of your time being a tourist or in common areas, which include a kitchen and lounging area and a co-working space.

At night, the hotel has a free beer reception, during which you meet people from all over the world. I had a cold one with a New Zealand lumber broker and his beekeeper son. Later, we pulled some Americans into a conversation about their trip. And, finally, I spoke to a woman from Quebec extensively about her life because I was pretty buzzed at that point and down to be an invasively social American. It was pretty fun to run into people in public spaces after seeing them napping and chilling in their beds earlier in the day or shuffling to the shower facilities in their undies. But maybe that’s just me.

And, it’s placed in a totally walkable locale. I spent hours walking through the super cool Shibuya and Harajuku areas with the giant Tower Records serving as a beacon to guide me back to the hotel.

Alia Stearns (@aliastearns)

Iconic Santorini — Santorini, Greece

When it comes to luxurious European summer traveling, Santorini is at the epicenter. No matter where you stay you’re bound to pay a premium. With this in mind it’s not so much about how much you pay, but the quality of service, privacy, and exclusivity you experience that makes it worth the splurge.

Enter Iconic Santorini, a boutique cave hotel that is just about as bougie as it sounds. This 19-bedroom boutique hotel is located on the highest cliffs on Santorini, in the small tranquil town of Imerovigli, and cascades over the cliffs providing absolutely epic views of the Aegean Sea. Each room is carved into the mountainside and provides you with a beautiful, inviting, cozy little chamber to make you feel right at home. The rooms have been decorated with natural Greek influences — featuring lots of natural woods, muted colors, and hand embroidered pillows. The only thing that strays from this theme are the large hypoallergenic coconut beds, which are a dream to sleep on. Further, each room comes with its own private balcony with two large lounge chairs, an umbrella, and a table where the hotel serves you a full breakfast every morning (they have extended breakfast hours), completely complementary with your stay.

This is truly a place where you can settle back, put your feet up, ease into ‘holiday mode’, and let your worries go – a feeling which, to me, is worth every penny.

Soheila Hakimi (@isthatsoh)

Royalton Riviera — Cancun Mexico

Caitlin Wilhardt

I’m watching the sunrise on the ocean in Cancun while dripping sweat, amazed that I’m actually working out on vacation. I’m also thinking back on last night’s “Silent Disco” — where a room full of travelers danced to “I Want It That Way” as it blasted in our headphones. And there’s one little part of me that’s wondering if I should be regretting that last tequila shot.

As I sweat, Belinda, the corporate Sport and Fitness manager at Royalton Riviera Cancun, leads everyone through a yoga class while we balance on a Boga FitMAT in one of the property’s many pools. This experience gives yoga a whole new meaning, and I feel muscles working that I’ve never felt before.

Later in the day, feeling refreshed and energized from our morning workout, we head out to the local cenotes where we swim through a maze of underground waterways. Upon returning to the resort, I run straight to the beach to take advantage of their Bali Beds on the beach and order chips and guacamole. I decide to take an evening Zumba class before dinner, and eventually realize that I’ve never had so much fun working out in my whole life.

When night falls, I’m back on the dance floor ’til all hours of the night, with all of my new vacation friends. To keep all the benefits from my workouts, I stick to straight tequila. That’s a thing, right?

The next morning I wake up to the sound of waves and the sun shining through my window. Before breakfast, I’m eager to try one more class and decide to try out Royalton’s Bootcamp. This is a full body toning and strengthening class and included battle ropes, agility ladders, and kettlebell swings. I leave sweating out every toxin and feeling totally accomplished.

This is a hotel that truly gets the wellness revolution and I am 100% here for it.

Caitlin Wilhardt (@caitlinwilhardt)

Miami Beach Edition

On a hot November day, I caught myself sitting under the shade of a cabana, munching on fresh grouper tacos with bright and spicy apple slaw while stealing sips from a cold glass of sparkling rosé. There was a light breeze, and I had a few hours to kill before I had to head down to the spa before my two o’clock massage. I felt like a dame. “I could get used to this,” I thought. There are rare moments in a person’s life when they get to feel like Beyoncé, and the EDITION on Miami Beach is definitely one of them.

But don’t get it twisted: this isn’t your rich aunt’s uppity luxury hotel, where guests don’t make eye contact and you pay $18 for some frisee on a plate. The EDITION is a relatively new Marriott-owned brand developed by Ian Schrager (he of Studio 54 fame), and it’s the favorite hotel of your favorites, including ASAP Rocky, Drake, and several NBA players.

The property is an effusion of experiences and colors and flavors that will blow you away. Housed in what was formerly The Seville, a 1950s hotel that fell into disrepair before it was rescued in 2009, the property was completely updated and re-opened as the EDITION in 2014. Little details throughout, such as the original sign and interior pillars, signal its former art deco glory, while enormous potted palms and simple lanterns line the floor and give off that signature Schrager modern-but-homey vibe. And though it’s been open for going on five years now, 2019 is the year of the Miami Beach EDITION.

Why do we love it? Because despite the relative calm of the lobby, descend downstairs, and you’ll find an explosion of colors: enjoy bowling and bottle service in the neon-lighted bowling alley. If you get sick of throwing strikes, mosey on over to the literal ice-skating rink, where you can wobble around while taking photos next to the fur-lined pillar or under the neon art installation that ponders, “I had too much to dream last night.” And hey, if bowling and ice skating aren’t your thing, that’s fine. Just walk down the hall to Basement, a nightclub with (surprise, surprise) a Studio 54 vibe. Your ‘Gram will be the envy of all your followers. And if, the day after you dance the night away and fall on your ass on the ice one too many times, you just don’t feel like doing anything, that’s fine too. Enjoy top-notch service at one of two pools or on their beachfront, where you can sip cocktails and eat green chickpea hummus to your heart’s content before doing it all over again.

Lisa Dunn (@lisaaadunn)

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