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Travel Writers And Influencers Call Out Their Favorite Destinations Of 2019

As the year draws to close, it’s natural to turn reflective. It’s how we process, grow, and chart a course forward. Travel is no different. Looking back on the places you visited over the past 12 full moons is part of the larger experience of being a global citizen. It deepens your worldwide wanderings.

With that in mind, we reached out to some of our favorite travelers. Folks who are on the road right now. These are the writers, photographers, influencers, and mad ones who spend their lives chasing that horizon. So it made sense to ask which destinations stood out to them in 2019. What was the one spot that they’ll carry with them always? Where changed them in 2019?

Let’s dive in and get some inspiration for our own travels in 2020!

AMANDA BURRILL (amandauncharted) — BASQUE COUNTRY, SPAIN

My 2019 trip of the year was my solo road trip through Basque Country. This magical place in northern Spain where the mountains meet the sea had been on my bucket list for years. It’s crazy to recount the ways this destination had built itself up in my mind over time! As an undergraduate, I studied archaeology with a concentration in shipwrecks, always aware of the legacy of the Basque whalers. When I did my field study abroad though, it ended up in the Balearic Islands of Spain down in the Med.

Fast forward past trips to the “more visited” areas of Spain, such as Madrid and Barcelona, and I found myself planning a trip to Spain’s Ribera del Duero and Rueda wine routes for a story, finally striking distance from Basque Country. I extended, rented a zippy stick shift and executed my dream trip.

I’m a sucker for the great outdoors and adventure travel, but I’m also a culinary writer. So this region allowed me to pack twice the punch in one epic trip. I hiked, biked, swam, ate, and drank my way through Rioja, Anana Salt Valley, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Bizkaia, Urkiola Natural Park, Gernika, Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, Gorliz-Plentzia, Bilbao, the Gipuzkoa coast, Getaria, and finished up in San Sebastian. I visited three Game of Thrones spots, ate my way through all the Pintxos, and finished up the trip with a visit to the Basque Whaling Museum, to bring it back to the start. It was a trip for the ages.

MATT PAYNE (mattpaynetravelphotography) — BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK, UGANDA

After a two-hour hike- which included a two-hundred-foot vertical climb up a rain-soaked hillside, we came to the mountain gorillas of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. I’d wanted to see these creatures again since 2013 when I visited them in Rwanda. Since then, I’d really cut my teeth as a photographer and was determined to get the world’s greatest gorilla photo. As we approached the sentient beings, quickly I realized that the day was so dark and the canopy so dense that a photo — even with good equipment — likely may not happen. Suddenly, I found myself frustrated. I’d click away and look at the screen, loathing each noisy or blurred image. My fellow travelers marveled while I found myself … not marveling.

Twenty minutes into the allotted hour with the gorillas, the mother gorilla stood up and walked towards us. We pulled back as she approached. She focused directly on me, first looking at me curiously and then extending her mighty arm and before I knew it, her massive human-like hand was on my leg. I was no longer thinking about my photo. She left her hand there for ten seconds but it felt like a lifetime. A gentle reminder that while photos are important, being present in moments like this was more important. The mother returned to the bush with her baby. Turning towards me for a quick second, she seemed to smile. I fired a handful of shots before putting the camera away to enjoy the rest of the day with these beautiful creatures.

ÉMILIE LECLERC (la_petite_biere) — HONG KONG

Without hesitation, my favorite trip of 2019 was my Hong Kong trip that I did with my work, the nightclub La Voûte. This city is simply beautiful and colorful. The people are amazing. The food is delicious … and the craft beer scene is INSANE!

A lot of the people who live in Hong Kong come from around the world, making it a very cosmopolitan place. Others live in Hong Kong to be free from the ROC (rest of China). That makes for a lot of outcasts, artists, etc. I think that’s why they are so welcoming and openminded.

Apartments are so small in HK that often they don’t have a kitchen. So people eat a lot on the streets. There’s a lot of restaurants and street food. And since I’m a huge fan of street food, I was in heaven! The options are eclectic, creative, and very high quality. The best foodie experience I had in 2019.

And the craft beer… WOW! They have no reason to envy the Americans or Europeans. Hong Kong has an incredible craft beer scene! I had my best “spicy” stout of the year (Young master Ale). I drank a cucumber pilsner that made me renew my love of the style, yet again (Heart of Darkness). The breweries have really mastered their art.

In a lot of ways, Hong Kong reminded me of Montreal but on acid! It was an amazing experience. I really hope this city will keep its freedom because it’s incredible.

MAX ST. ROMAIN (gastronautadf) — ITALY

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Ustedes fueron muy generosos con sus recomendaciones de Italia pero hubo una en particular que me causo mucha curiosidad. 7 personas escribieron para insistir que debería conocer un lugar en Florencia que se llama @allanticovinaiofirenze. No entendía por qué tanta pasión hasta el momento en que llegué. Se trata de un lugar que vende paninis al estilo florentino que tiene muy buena fama de crear sandwiches absurdamente deliciosos y por un precio muy accesible. Yo fui un domingo y había una cola de aproximadamente media cuadra. Como soy muy impaciente regrese el lunes y todo estaba muy tranquilo. lo que comí me dejó verdaderamente impactado. De su selección de bestsellers, escogí dos de ellos: uno que se llama el inferno 🔥 qué lleva delgadas rebanadas de porchetta (o sea, cerdito asado con especias), más berenjenas asadas🍆, arugula fresca, y un aderezo picante. Uno de los mejores emparedados que he probado en mi vida y definitivamente los mejores 5 € que he gastado. luego siguió el sandwich "del boss" , qué lleva finas rebanadas de prosciutto más queso pecorino maduro y una mezcla de queso suave con trufa negra. Casi me da el soponcio de la delicia. De verdad que agradezco mucho este tip y si Florencia está en su futuro no se lo pueden perder. Este es uno de los bocados que más disfruté durante todo mi viaje #instafood #foodstagram #firenze #florence #florencia #panino #panini #sandwich #prosciutto #pecorino #tartufi #porchetta #foodporn #eatingfortheinsta #trueitaliantaste #extraordinaryitaliantaste #saboraitaliamx #italy #italianfood

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We all have places we want to see one day, so when you get the chance to visit one of them it’s an experience bound to have special meaning. For me this year it was Italy. Being a professional food blogger, edibles and drinkables are my “thing.” I pay very close attention everywhere I go.

Italy is perfect to go deeper into the food story. It’s a haven not only for amazing cuisine but also for some of the world’s finest food products. While I didn’t go into the Sistine Chapel or ride a gondola in Venice, I did go to the olive groves in Umbria and learned how oil is pressed. I went to farms in Tuscany where the most amazing Pecorino cheese is made. I saw a cocker spaniel dig 12 truffles out of the ground. And the list goes on.

This journey was also about comparing many styles of pizza, about eating both Michelin-starred cuisine, and street paninis that change your life. It was about peeking through kitchen doors, where slow-cooked sauces and screaming matches are both part of the cookbook. The relationship a country has with its food tells you a lot about their people and what makes them tick. For Italians, their food is not just what they eat, their food is who they are.

When you focus on one of your five senses to navigate a place, it can be an insightful experience. I made my way through Italy thanks to my sense of taste — and Google maps. Try it sometime! What’s your thing? Is it music? Is it art? I know that this journey changed me. And I promise I will visit the Sistine Chapel next time!

HALEY PLOTKIN (readysetjetset) — QUEEN MARY 2 & LONDON

With all of the travel I do, it’s hard to just pick one trip from 2019 as the most meaningful. But, I guess I’d have to go with my very first trip of the year.

I started off 2019 with a three week trip with my mother, voyaging across the ocean on a transatlantic cruise with Cunard on the Queen Mary 2, and then spending two weeks in London. It meant a lot to me to get to spend such a long trip with my mom, especially with how often I’m away, as I’m honestly hardly ever home as a full-time travel blogger. It gets a bit lonely out there, folks, as amazing as my job is. So, I truly love getting to share it with my friends and family.

Back to the trip — there was something quite magical about spending a week crossing the ocean, just relaxing and enjoying time with my mom, and then getting to share my favorite city on the planet, London, with her for two whole weeks. Honestly, we didn’t even play tourists that much. We were mainly just relaxing, shopping, eating, etc.; but, I think that’s what was so good for me. Nowadays, most of the travel I do is on press trips. While they’re amazing, they’re also very exhausting. So it was nice to just get to do a trip on my own terms and not on an itinerary while enjoying a lot of quality time spent with my mom doing what I love.

CAMERON LEE (thecameronlee) — CHICAGO, IL

2019 was a great year of travel for me. I was able to cross a few things off my travel bucket list. I started the year with a trip to London, relaxed on the beach of Isla Holbox in the spring, spent the summer in Sitges, Marrakesh, and London, with New York and Las Vegas somewhere in between before returning to London again in November. But, the one trip that really stood out to me was my trip to Chicago.

I did a media trip with the tourism board to experience the city during the holiday season and it was one of the most magical trips I’ve been on. You never know how things might go on media trips, but the group we had was amazing and I became friends with nearly everyone on the trip, which made the trip extra special.

I got to be part of the city’s official Christmas tree lighting ceremony and I rode on the city’s float at The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade. The best experience was the helicopter ride at night, seeing the entire city lit up from above. It was one of the thrilling experiences I’ve had on a trip and definitely the most memorable experience for me this year.

MEG KEE (megkkee) — PACIFIC NORTHWEST, U.S.A.

In October of 2019, I hopped into a Winnebago Boldt and traveled up through the Pacific Northwest (six different states) with five friends. We are each so unique that everyone brought something different to the experience. Along the journey, we hiked to waterfalls, went rock climbing, visited landmarks, and hit up the hot springs. Amazingly, the entire trip was packed into eight days!

I will never forget the beautiful towering mountain backdrops and pulling off the side of the road to have snowball fights. I realized it’s the little moments, the belly laughs, and deep connections that really matter. The six of us are forever bonded. You really don’t have to break the bank and take a month off to road trip when you do it with nature as your guide.

FORREST GALANTE (forrest.galante) — COLOMBIAN AMAZON

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LADIES AND GENTLEMEN— The OFFICIAL reveal of the believed to be extinct Rio Apaporis caiman!! This adventure was hands down my favorite, most dangerous and most exciting of the year! Trekking deep into Amazonian jungle controlled by FARC rebels and drug dealers in search of an animal not seen since the 1980’s. Not only did we have the adventure of a life time, but what started out as a mission to locate an extinct caiman, turned into the potential discovery of an entirely new species of crocodilian. The genetic samples we took and tested showed that this animal diverged from its closest living relative between 5-7million years ago, combine that with the fact that it’s completely unique morphologically and you have all the criteria to describe a new species, which I am currently working on!! THIS IS THE BIGGEST POTENTIAL DISCOVERY FOR CROCODILIANS IN OUR LIFETIME!! I’m over the moon excited to finally share this secret I have been keeping! This adventure is INSANE. WWII cargo planes, shaman blessings, impenetrable jungle, huge snakes, terrible wasp attacks and an extinct/new species of crocodilian all packed into one CRAZY hour of television tonight at 9pm, #extinctoralive on @animalplanet I also want to add a huge congratulations to Sergio Reina who also (independently) found this incredible species and is the docent for the ongoing conservation work on this amazing creature!

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Hands down, the most meaningful trip for me was the expedition into the Amazon to find the presumably extinct Rio Apaporis Caiman. Not only did we re-write natural history, but we flew a WWII cargo plane into a cocaine dealer airstrip in the middle of the Colombian Amazon!

Before we set out, we were blessed by a local shaman and then traversed into an area no Westerner had been in for 30 years to uncover an incredibly beautiful crocodilian. It was exciting, harrowing, dangerous, and one of the most fantastic things I have ever been a part of.

MELANIE SUTRATHADA (melaniesutra) — PARIS, FRANCE

One of my most memorable experiences this year was visiting Paris. This city holds a special place in my heart because of how beautiful and full of possibilities it is. It’s a city that feels so alive no matter what. It’s a city that reminds you that anything is possible.

I’ve visited every year for several years now and it always feels new, like I’m seeing the city for the first time. And maybe that’s the thing about Paris — it always seems to meet you where you are. It has a similar feel to San Francisco or New York in the way that you can get lost and still feel like you are right where you are meant to be.

Whether you’re spending hours getting lost in the stacks of an off-the-beaten-path book store or having lunch looking out at the Eiffel Tower, the city of lights is unforgettable.

KARL WATSON (karlwatsondocs) — MOROCCO

The trip that meant the most to me this year was the tour I did around Morocco. This was the first time I’d hosted and organized a tour, in conjunction with Intrepid Travel, and actually put it on sale to my followers. It’s always a risk doing a new business venture, but fortunately, the tour sold out within an hour. We ended up with a mixture of people I’d never met before (but who follow my channel), some of my oldest friends, people I’d met traveling, and friends from the content creator community.

Before the tour began, I was nervous about how everyone would get along. Kind of like when you have a birthday party and you hope the different groups of friends from various parts of your life actually like each other. It was going to be like that, but for two weeks. Fortunately, it couldn’t have gone better. Everyone clicked from the first moment. We also had a local guide, Hamid, from Intrepid Travel and he immediately got the group’s sense of humor and just ran with it.

The tour was such a joy, from the big things like riding camels through the Sahara desert or laying down and watching the stars together or eating with a local family in their 400-year-old home to the smaller moments of having a sing-song on the bus and enjoying a few beers together by the hotel pool.

Overall, it was quite an overwhelming experience, but I can’t wait until our next tour in Borneo in April 2020.

SOHEILA HAKIMI (isthatsoh) — PORTUGAL

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🕊WHEN DOVES FLY🕊 : Soooo I still have a bajillion beautiful photos from Adam and I’s Portugal trip but I was thinking today of maybe shaking things up. But before I do I want to get your input on how you like to consume my content. : I have so many beautiful travel photos of sunsets, hotels, beautiful laneways, and things that capture an essence of a destination. Most of these photos you may have seen in my stories and a lot of them don’t have me in them front and centre. : A lot of people put photos in their feed to help break things up and add to the overall aesthetic (I think @tekwani does this very well) and I’m thinking, maybe, instead of being up front and centre in all my posts I could do something similar and show you my other travel photos (all content I have personally created) that normally you would only see once on stories and maybe have even pass right by. : What do you think? Are you into it? Or do you want one post a day of just me? Is more than one post a day annoying? : Also how do you feel about my IGTV room tours? Do you like them or should I just film room tours and stick them in my stories? My only issue is that they can get buried in stories where as IGTV videos can be embedded into a blog post (which makes searching for it later super easy) which keeps things clean and concise! : This dove wants to fly and you have the power to contribute to my success so your input would be greatly appreciated! THANKS! ::::: 📍 Pena Palace @parquesdesintra @visitportugal 📸 @adamgweiers #isthatsoh . . . . . #sintraportugal #portugal #myunicornlife #thehappynow #inspiremyinstagram #travelblogger #fashionkilla #dailyhivemapped #styleinspo #travelinspo #girlswhotravel #prettylittleiiinspo #persuepretty #wanderluster #travelinspiration #travelwithus #portugalovers #travelgirls #penapalace #wheretofindme #thewanderingtourist #zimmermann #flashesofdelight #zimmermanndress #portugallovers #placestovisit #travelguide #portugaltravel #portugal_places

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I was lucky enough to cross a big bucket list trip off my list in 2019. This past September, my boyfriend Adam and I traveled to Portugal and explored both Lisbon and the Algarve over a 10-day period.

We had caught the tail end of summer when the city was less busy, and it was 86°F and sunny every day. We rented a car and drove around from one legendary beach to another. We made fairytale dreams come true at the Sintra castles. We ate freshly grilled seafood daily. Sailed to the Benagil Caves. Drank at some amazing rooftop bars. And, we stayed at some of the most iconic properties in both Lisbon and the Algarve.

Best of all, I walked away from our time in Portugal with months worth of content — made all on the fly — and bursting with stories. As a creative, feeling more energized and inspired after a trip isn’t a regular occurrence, so for that as well, Portugal I love you!

DAVID DURAN (mrdavidduran) — YUKON TERRITORY, CANADA

I’m kind of a Canada geek. I’ve been to every territory and province in the country. I checked off my last Canadian territory at the beginning of this year (that in itself was meaningful) when I flew up to Whitehorse, Yukon in the depths of winter to experience the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile international sled dog race.

During my week there, I experienced temperatures that dropped below -40°F, something I can confidently say was painful, both physically and mentally. It was also the first time I’ve seen so many extension cords coming from engines of parked cars, which I learned was how they kept their engines from freezing during the winter. But all that aside, it was also one of the most beautiful weeks of my life.

The way the snow layered over everything was so intense, and visually something my mind could not fully comprehend as it was just so white. I’ve seen snow in all sorts of settings, but nothing compared to the beauty of winter in the Yukon. The landscapes were just spectacular, so much so that I had to return in the summer, to fully get an understanding of how magnificent this place was.

Not having to pack winter gear when I flew back in the summer was a bonus start to the trip — I was excited to not feel like the Michelin Man and to see how everything would look in color versus white. My expectations were exceeded, to say the least. I love the outdoors, and this place was the epitome outdoors. While there, I spent an entire day canoeing the Yukon River, a strenuous but rewarding experience that took me 40 miles downriver, battling constant headwinds that had my canoe spinning more times than I’d like to admit. But while on the river, I remember thinking to myself, “nobody else it out here, it’s so quiet,” a sobering realization that I very much welcomed.

MARK C. STEVENS (markcstevens_) — COASTAL MAINE

In a year full of meaningful trips, choosing just one is neigh unfeasible. I did the vanlife in New Zealand, jumping off bridges and discovering hidden beaches. In Western Australia, my girlfriend and I swam with whale sharks and sea lions on the road to getting that coveted quokka selfie. I ate at the 5th best restaurant in the world in Denmark. By the time the year will be out, I will have traveled almost 100,000 air miles.

But “meaningful?” That’s not a term I throw down as lightly as pills of melatonin before an overnight flight.

The most meaningful trip I took this year was to the place I grew up in, coastal Maine. I grew up in Orono, near the university. But my dad recently moved Down East, to Hancock right on the bay, in full view of Acadia National Park. He got married this summer to a wonderful human and being back, at the best time of year in late summer, was a delight.

I don’t get back to my roots as often as I should but all the hallmarks of an outdoorsy Maine childhood still remain. Early lobster season means traps are in the water and going out to pull pots is like culinary treasure hunting. I always stop in Portland on the way up for a lobster roll at Eventide (best in the state) and then stop at the bottle shop for some beers from Allagash Brewing.

I’ve been around the world and back since I left Maine in high school but being back, even a couple of minutes after crossing the state line, and hearing the accents and dispositions of my childhood always reminds me of who I am and where I come from. And that’s what meaning is.

ERIN ROSE BELAIR (roseblacque) — YELAPA, MEXICO

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Wish You Here- part 2 ✌🏼💙

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I host a writing retreat and we travel all around the world. This fall we felt our heartstrings tug us toward Mexico. This trip was an all-time great, partly because I worked so hard to make it happen and partly because Yelapa is literally heaven on earth.

Yelapa is a small fishing village with no cars. You access by boat and there’s really no reason to leave. Everything you could want is there. Crystal clear waters, incredible food, jungle vibes, and boat rides. We did yoga overlooking the sea and meditated every morning. We took 12 women down there for 5 days of writing and adventure. We stayed in open-air bungalows and feasted on organic meals and danced under moonlight. We took a boat to a private beach and ate ceviche. We did daily workshops and shared our hearts and grew both as writers and humans. It was a trip of a lifetime.

We stayed at Verana, a hand-built boutique resort. It’s a series of structures that sprawl across this jungle hillside. You have to see it to believe it. You have to really hike to get there. When you look out over the sea and watch the storms roll in over the hills, the hike is worth it. That’s part of our mission with Trust and Travel, not only are we geared toward travel writing but also adventure. The two go hand in hand because it’s an experience that really gives you something to write about.

The reason this trip meant so much to me was one part because of where we were, and how luxe the hotel was, but also because of the work we did there. Isn’t that always the case though? Travel should be two-fold.

JUSTIN WALTER (atwjustin) — AUSTRIA

2019 was hands down my craziest and busiest year of travel to date! My year took me across the globe (literally) from Mexico to Central America to India to Indonesia to Europe. Looking back, the trip that meant the most to me was traveling to Austria with fellow travel influencer Megan Snedden.

I met Megan in December 2016 in Los Angeles through a travel networking group called Travel Massive where we immediately bonded over our passion for adventure travel. Fast forward to 2018, Megan won a trip for two to Austria at a Travel Massive event. She asked me to join her and in April of 2019, we headed to the Alps.

Most of my world travels are solo and on a budget, so traveling with a best friend and staying at 5-star hotels for two weeks was out of the norm for me. Through Megan’s kindness and generosity, I was able to experience Austria as a baller! Together we climbed to rooftops all over Vienna, recreated “Sound of Music” moments in Salzburg, went skiing in the Alps outside of Innsbruck, detoxed at a mind-blowing bio-wellness resort in Tirol, and attended a ski-music festival called Snowbombing in Mayrhofen.

When I travel solo, I’m so used to creating memories with strangers that I have to say goodbye to, keep in touch with over social media, and hope to see again in the future. With Megan, that wasn’t the case. Our Austrian adventure allowed us to create once-in-a-lifetime travel memories that we brought home together, taking our friendship to a whole new level.

EMILY HART (emilyventures) — ALASKA’S NATIONAL PARKS

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A few weeks ago, thanks to @revo @newdayinvesting and @roam I landed in a helicopter on the top of a glacier. Today I’ll spend 8 hours inside preparing for the school year. Sitting in meetings, taking group photos, creating seating charts, and affixing way too many posters to the walls of my new classroom. All things I’ve done 10 other times before this. ⁣ ⁣ If you’re new around here, you may not know that I am a middle school math teacher. This will be my 11th year spending the majority of my days surrounded by hundreds of 12 year olds. Eleventh year explaining how to convert a fraction to a decimal, how to find the slope of a line, and why the heck does any of this matter anyway? ⁣ ⁣ The polar opposite of above in many ways. Almost every way if I’m being honest. But, although I don’t think I will do this forever, I’m grateful for that tension. The opposition in my life. The excitement and challenge of going from one thing to a completely new and different one. The opportunity to bring these experiences into my every day. And vice versa. ⁣ ⁣ Because inspiration isn’t reserved for epic moments like this one. It’s always there waiting. You don’t have to be a teacher, or on a glacier, or even outside honestly. Conditions matter — and they certainly help — but the only thing you really need to be inspired is your willingness. It’s all already there waiting. ⁣

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For me, 2019 was a year full of bucket list experiences. But what stands out the most is the opportunity I had to spend most of July solo road-tripping in a converted sprinter van through Alaska. While the original impetus was to visit three (of the eight) new (to me) national parks, I ended up experiencing so much more.

I’ve been traveling solo to major national parks in the U.S. for four years now. But up until this point, it had all been in the continental U.S. To be honest, I almost didn’t initially set the goal of visiting all 61 major parks because I was nervous about how I would fare alone in Alaska. How I would plan (and afford) such an endeavor.

When I picked up my rental van, I was nervous. How would I survive alone in the wildest place I’d ever been? On just the first day, I wound up taking my first helicopter ride onto a massive glacier, kayaked on a beautiful alpine lake, and met up with old and new friends for a house party that led into the (still light) next day.

I set out with just three things to do over nearly three weeks, leaving room for exploration and detours. It was the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, surprising, and illuminating experience of my life. To be so far from what I know, but feel so close to everything.

WRITER’S PICK: ZACH JOHNSTON (ztp_johnston) — EL SALVADOR

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Checking out the El Salvador coast, as you do.

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I never really knew all that much about El Salvador besides the fact that is was a tiny volcanic country that went through a hellacious civil war in the ’80s and had a killer surf scene ever since. I was always curious but never so much so that I’d take a trip half-way around the world to get there. Then a chance arose to check out the country. I jumped because travel to places you know little about is always an endeavor worthy of anyone’s time.

What I found changed me in a way. Part of it was the people I was with — you can’t deny the power of a solid travel crew. Part of it was being in a place that inspired outright fear in so many who knew nothing of the country besides what they saw on the corporate news back home.

I had been to Costa Rica a few months prior. And while I really dug that country, it was a little too easy and polished for me. El Salvador offered a chance to be somewhere where tourism hadn’t taken away the hard edges yet. Life cuts close to the bone in El Salvador and the people are ready to enjoy the time they have in a legit paradise. A paradise, mind you, that’s not over-run with franchise resorts or food chains. Sure, there’s Pizza Hut and McDonald’s in the city. But those sorts of spots vanish outside of San Salvador, the country’s capital.

From there, the countryside offered a release from set tours and well-worn backpacker trails. It was the sort of place where if the main road turned from asphalt to dirt, everything would be okay. It also gave me a chance to think about why I prefer places that are less polished, most rustic, and isolated. I know intelligently that those qualities or lack thereof mean that local’s lives are inherently harder because of it, worse even. Who was I to revel in such things?

I came to a realization while there that it wasn’t that I reveled in the harder edges. For me, it was more a diamond in the rough situation where a future was unknown. People were going to go to El Salvador to surf, climb volcanoes, camp, take lessons making cigars, and enjoy a place that’s crazy inexpensive. And as those tourists do that more money will go into the pockets of locals. And, that’s what matters to me. Seeing tourist’s dollars going directly to the locals instead of some corporate brand that’s set up shop and ships their winnings to tax shelters is a hard pill to swallow going into 2020. El Salvador seems to be skirting that at least partially for now. And I really dig it.

EDITOR’S PICK: STEVE BRAMUCCI (stevebram) — THE HINTERLAND, JAMAICA

I went to Jamaica this year for the first time. It was a trip long coming — people were always shocked over the years to hear I’d never been there.For the first time in more than a decade and the second time ever, I also tried an all-inclusive resort. I just couldn’t be a thorough travel editor without understanding the type of travel that so many millions of people take part in. And I liked it! For one hyper-indulgent week, I had a great time letting someone else do all the planning.

But though packaged travel is a huge part of Jamaica’s larger travel ecosystem, it’s just not fully me. I’m an adventurer. After a few days of lounging and letting other people take care of the details, I needed to get off the beaten track. Inasmuch as that’s possible in a heavily developed nation.

I found that by driving solo, heading inland from Ocho Rios, I was able to interact with a more rustic Jamaica. Small roadside bars and jerk chicken shacks; waterfalls and swimming holes so saturated in their blue-ness that it felt like photoshop gone wrong; and people who just wanted to chat with no expectation of a financial exchange. Meandering through those hills, rope swinging at places like Old Spanish Bridge and the Blue Hole, playing cards with locals while sipping Red Stripe… that was where my trip came alive.

If you go to Jamaica, I don’t begrudge you the package travel experience. I get that people go on vacation to be worry, planning, and organization-free. Try to find a property that promotes managers and directors locally (rather than ex-pats) and do your thing. But I’d also encourage you to rent a car and drive inland. Get out of the tourist network. Pick where to eat and drink based on intuition, not a guide or guidebook. It’s a chance to see — if not “the real” Jamaica, then certainly a Jamaica that’s a little rawer and less glossy. You’d be missing out to give it a pass.

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