The 2020 Uproxx Travel Hot List

Top End Safari Camp
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Luke Dyson

What the hell does the phrase “hot list” even mean?

This world was around long before any of us and, with any luck, it will still be here long after we’re gone. Tracking our movements on a year-by-year basis is kind of silly when you think of it in the “we’re specks of matter, sitting on a big floating rock, warmed by a single star in a seemingly infinite sea of stars”-sense. Besides, after a decade that gave us the six hottest years on record, with increasing panic over species death, ocean acidification, and global warming, isn’t everything sort of on the hot list? (Zing!)

So why do it? Why track down the best collection of travel writers, influencers, experts, and photographers currently roaming this big, spinning rock and ask them: “Where should people visit in 2020? What should they do once they’re there? Where should they stay, eat, and drink? What parties should they go to?”

Because while “right now” is meaningless in the cosmic sense, it matters greatly to all of us living it. And where you decide to spend your hard-earned time, money, and energy is inextricably tied to our current cultural/ political moment and all the freight that that carries. So although the destinations on this list aren’t “new” in any true sense, our reasons for choosing them are. The questions “why here?” and “why now?” hung over every debate about what belonged and what didn’t. Sometimes the defining factor was a country’s embrace of a trend, like Belize and eco-tourism; other times, we recognized ancient destinations that seem particularly relevant this year, like the sacred sites of the Navajo Nation; and others still, we chose to highlight recommendations because we trusted the authority of the travelers pitching them. (This list features famous influencers, Explorer’s Club Members, Travel Channel hosts, and award-winning writers — when they talk travel, we’re eager to listen.)

Through it all, diversity — in how people identify, what makes them burn, and their distinct worldviews — is the axis around which this list rotates. Like so many fields, travel writing has long been plagued by the sort of gatekeeping that routinely rewards the same voices year after year. For the 2020 list, UPROXX Life Deputy Editor Zach Johnston and I made a sincere effort to upend that tradition. Our December kick-off call featured writers of various gender identifications, sexual orientations, and cultural backgrounds sharing their distinct perspectives about what feels “hot” in travel right now. We’re thrilled to share those insights with you here and hope that besides connecting you with new places to visit, this list introduces you to fresh, potent voices in the travel space.

At the same time as we strived to be inclusive, we created this for our core audience — young, socially conscious people, many heading out on the road for the first time, eager to explore and grow but also often keen to jump off cliffs, get a little rowdy, and dance ’til 4am (there’s a whole “festivals” section this year). The list also has a distinctly American gaze. When we call something “unique” we aren’t exoticizing it so much as noting that for most American travelers it’s going to carry a sense of newness. If done in the spirit of respect, we believe modern-day “exploration” can support Indigenous communities, aid rebuilding efforts after a disaster, and help us evolve beyond our prejudices.

All that said, to pretend that a list — even one this expansive — doesn’t contain blindspots is absurd. Its very creation is a contradiction. A common trend suggested by our travel writers, whose job is ostensibly to fly around the world on jets powered by fossil fuel, was the quest for environmental accountability across all segments of the industry. Though many of us seem to believe in setting personal carbon caps, no one felt fully ready to publicly commit to one. Is that hypocritical? Maybe. But travel writers also deserve some of the credit for the airline industry’s recent sustainability push. Perhaps the best answer when wrestling with these pinch points is: “Let’s all try our hardest.” On the ecology front, UPROXX and its writers are committed to finding solutions for the impact of the travel writing genre (through carbon offsets, slow travel, and “microcations”), though we also believe that to properly fight for something you need to bear witness to its beauty.

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In the early days of 2020, Greta Gerwig said: “Quentin Tarantino makes movies as if movies could save the world.” That’s how we feel about travel. Travel connects us. It reminds us of the natural marvels that we are called to be stewards for. It brings us face-to-face with life’s universal aspects: birth, death, art, storytelling, humor, sex, food, intoxicants… the list goes on. Those simple, core pieces of existence are shared across all cultures. Simultaneously, travel reminds us that the real world is far less black and white than it is online. The fury that we often feel on Twitter when someone thinks differently from us quickly dissipates as our journeys shade in the context and background that led a certain person to arrive at a particular way of thinking. On the road, we realize that there has to be some sort of allowance for cultural/moral relativism or every trip is going to be a series of constant battles and little growth.

Perhaps the overarching point here is: travel is messy. Just like life.

So here you go, the 2020 UPROXX Travel Hot List. A sprawling, messy, imperfect-but-often-lovely reflection of a sprawling, messy, imperfect-but-often-lovely planet. We believe that these destinations, experiences, hotels, restaurants, bars, and festivals will bring you some sense of joy. We believe they have something worthwhile to teach or reveal, this year in particular. Above all, we believe that travel can save the world, and we hope that’s reflected in every word, photo, and idea presented below.

Experiences

Our Hot List experiences in 2020 often focus on sustainability, cultural heritage, and respect for Indigenous populations. They’re sure to be memorable, too — whether centered on wild adventure or quiet contemplation.

Cali Wolf
Cali Wolf
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Jan Kronies Unsplash
01

The Havasu Falls are a deeply sacred place for the Havasupai. Indigenous women’s activist Cali Wolf breaks down how to travel there respectfully.

As I stood beneath the waterfall, feeling the cool mist upon my face, I was reminded of the beauty of our Native lands. I visited Havasupai to experience the physical and earthly beauty, but I also came to learn the story of the people who lived there. Who are the Havsuw Baaja (People of the Blue-Green Water)? What was their world like before colonization?

These are questions I ask myself before each trip. All land is Native land in what is now known as the United States. Each canyon has a story. Each mountaintop was named long before she met the English language.

Havasupai is a place that so many want to visit, but so few understand. I encourage you to seek answers to these questions in 2020. At the start of every new year, on February 1st, the Havasupai Tribe opens its website for camping permits. Jobs centered around tourism are their main source of revenue. These funds also work to repair the trails from flood damage and the high influx of visitors.

While the area has attracted heavy traffic from social media sites such as Instagram, these same platforms also have a chance to bring awareness to these Native lands and respective issues. But to merge those two aspects means respecting these first stewards of the land. Tourists can begin by educating themselves on the history of these people and treating their home as you would expect a guest to treat yours. Be respectful, do not take photographs of homes or people who live in the Supai village and remember that English is a foreign language here. More than 95 percent of their population speaks their Indigenous language fluently.

From the night sky full of stars to the flowing blue-green waters, this is a place I will hold in my heart forever. Philámayaye (Thank you) to the Havsuw Baaja for sharing the beauty of your land.

Editor’s Note: If you’re planning on hiking in this year, it’s time to get ready. Havasupai Campground reservations for all arrival dates from March 1, 2020 through the end of the season will become available on February 1, 2020 after 8:00 a.m. (Arizona time) at HavasupaiReservations.com. Since the past two years sold out nearly instantly, now is the time to get everything set up. All visitors to Havasupai (not just the trip Leader) must have an account at HavasupaiReservations.com. If you already have an account, sign in now and review/update your information.

Questions? Email support@HavasupaiReservations.com

By Cali Wolf
Contributing Writer
Bryan Goff Unsplash
Emily Hart
02

Alaska is all about the wide-open spaces. If you’re going, take a car and give yourself plenty of time.

Alaska is wild. In a great way. In an exhilarating way. In a “how am I actually in this place and seeing these things and remind me again how is this all real?” kind of way. When I started to plan an epic summer solo Alaskan road trip, I had two visions in my mind. One of the retiree RV crowd and the other of Chris McCandless hiking Into the Wild, never to be seen again. I knew there were amazing adventures to be had, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure where my experience would land between those two extremes.

I was floored by what I found. Alaska is extreme, for sure. Where else in the United States will you find gigantic mountain ranges next to glaciers feeding straight into the ocean? Where can you kayak with puffins and spot a whale off the coast before hitting a brewery and stay up until midnight to watch the sunset? Nowhere but here.

That said, Alaska is huge. And seeing a lot of it on a single trip can be tough. Which is why you should get yourself a car or a van and also give yourself some serious time. Let the road unfold, make a few great playlists, and know that distances in Alaska are usually larger than they seem on the map. Fear not, that’s the fun of it.

By Emily Hart
Contributing Writer
David Duran
David Duran
03

The South Georgia Islands are a wildlife lover’s paradise deep in the Great Southern wilds.

Wildlife enthusiasts searching for that once in a lifetime trip, and who have considered Antarctica, should take a peek at what’s going on over on South Georgia, located within that Antarctic convergence. Once there, consider traveling with two industry leaders — National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions — who have been partnered up for more than 50 years to bring guests to this remote part of the world, while also educating them throughout their journeys with incredible lectures and presentations by environmentalists, biologists, geologists, and more (like actual Nat Geo photographers who are there to help you capture epic images).

A trip to South Georgia with NatGeo is combined with a visit to the Falkland Islands as well, and for those who can afford to be gone for three weeks, there are trips that tack on Antarctica, although the best wildlife in most definitely in South Georgia.

Pro-tip: National Geographic partners with different brands to offer complimentary photo equipment to their guests to use while on their expeditions, but South Georgia is so densely packed with wildlife, that your iPhone will be more than enough to capture images that will blow your social media up. For best results, mix and match between the two options. That way, you don’t spend your whole trip getting used to new gear.

By David Duran
Contributing Writer
Forrest Galante
Forrest Galante
Forrest Galante
04

TV host and conservationist Forrest Galante offers his hard and fast rules for animal experiences that aren’t exploitive.

As a general rule, travelers love animals. Just speaking personally, they’re the reason I travel at all. For me, the chance to see magnificent creatures in their wild habitats hits a lot harder than sleek hotels or good coffee. But you’ve got to be woke about it. The days of swimming with dolphins in netted enclosures is absolutely not “hot.” Riding elephants in Thailand is over too.

Instead of cutting out all visits to see animals abroad, here are four tips to making sure the animal tourism you do partake in is ethical and humane.

The Wilder the Better: When you visit places to look at animals, the more natural, wide-open spaces creatures have, the more likely they are to be happy. If it seems like a place where native animals are expressing natural behaviors (no monkeys in tutu’s riding tricycles), then you’re likely in a sustainable environment.

Research: Most places you can visit will have some kind of reviews and information available. If it seems the facility is involved in conservation or rehabilitation and generally does rescue wildlife for the purpose of education or species survival, then the husbandry of the creatures is likely done professionally.

Observe and React: When you walk into a facility, look for signs of abuse. Are the animals subjected to performances? Do they have visible injuries or are they overcrowded? Do they have access to fresh clean water and is their food consistent with a natural diet? If you see the beautiful parrot, missing feathers, with cuts on its legs and eating candy bars, this is the type of place you need to walk away from immediately. These are the types of places where the animals are likely poached from the wild.

Leave No Impact: When visiting an animal sanctuary, wild park, or zoo, try not to impact the animals. Don’t be loud, handsy, or shoving sticks though cages, etc. Try to be calm and respectful around the creatures so that they feel comfortable around you, as that will lead to a better experience for both sides.

By Forrest Galante
Contributing Writer
Ciara Johnson
Ciara Johnson
05

Explore the final stop on the Underground Railroad, the epicenter of Motown, and the history of Civil Rights in the Motor City.

If there’s one U.S. city I urge you to visit in 2020, it’s Detroit. And if there’s one thing I encourage you to do while there, it’s explore Black history. In the words of my city guide, “Detroit has been a hub of innovation and ingenuity since its inception. As the blackest city in America, this place is important. It’s not forgotten. It’s not ‘coming back.’ It never left.”

The ‘Motor City’ was the last stop on the underground railroad during the Civil Rights movement, making it a modern hub of African American culture. Later, it became an outpost for working-class families taking jobs in the auto industry. The history runs deep.

The extraordinary collection at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will absolutely move you to tears. You can also learn about the origins of the iconic Motown sound on a walking tour of the Motown Museum. Plan ahead to score tickets to Movement Electronic Music Festival, right in the birthplace of techno. With a little more time, dive into local arts and culture at The Heidelberg Project and the African Bead Museum.

Detroit is full of genuine soul and a visit is an essential part of understanding our nation’s ever-shifting, deeply painful history of race, discrimination, and the quest for justice.

By Ciara Johnson
Contributing Writer
Charles Thorp
Iris Papillon Unsplash
06

Cruise down California’s coast without leaving a carbon footprint.

The growth of electric vehicle rental is both inevitable and intrinsically positive. Not only does the lack of traditional fuel make trips more economical, but it’s also an easy choice for the environmentally conscious. And thanks to the emergence of new car-sharing apps like Turo and the price tags on brands like Tesla coming down drastically, trying this new type of road-tripping has never been easier.

Turo operates all over the United States, but I picked up my Tesla Model X in San Francisco (CA), embarking on a truly peaceful road trip down US 101 to Big Sur. Along the way, I found plenty of EV and Tesla charging stations, making charging the car a stress-free process. Every time we stopped, there seemed to be a charming eatery or a stunning resort overlooking the churning Pacific close at hand — perfect for sipping a coffee as the car charged.

There are few things that I love more than a great road trip, but in a traditional car I sometimes find myself disturbing the scene more than savoring it. This time around, the Tesla’s expansive windshield allowed me the chance to take in the majesty of California’s coast in a way I never had before. I witnessed the slope of the rolling hills, each vibrant-green oak, every peregrine falcon circling, and the craggy cliffs standing strong against waves. On more than one occasion, my passengers and I found ourselves parked next to a group of gray foxes, undisturbed by our presence — a moment I know would have been impossible with a rumbling, gas-powered v6.

If you’re eager for a road trip and want to lessen your footprint while increasing your sense of wonder, renting an electric car is the way to go. And if you’re looking for the perfect introductory route, heading down the 101 to Big Sur is nearly impossible to beat.

By Charles Thorp
Contributing Writer
Max Kukurudziak Unsplash
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07

This Central Oregon ski/ snowboard package might just be the best value on the list.

Let’s face it, taking part in a winter sport is a privilege. Not only are the start-up costs of investing in the right clothes and gear astronomically high, but you also have to commit to having snow tires and spending upwards of $1k on a resort pass every season. Until last year, I thought skiing was just an excuse that otherwise boring people used to justify owning GoPros or humble brag about all the knee surgeries they could afford.

My first winter in Oregon, I planned on doing what I always do: Taking a nice, cozy two-month-long depression nap after the holidays, then flying somewhere tropical come March. Then I heard about Mt. Bachelor’s SKI OR RIDE IN 5 learn-to-ski or snowboard program. The package is five two-hour lessons with an instructor, five equipment rentals, and 12 lift tickets for only $249. That’s an incredible value considering if you were to purchase lessons and rent gear separately, it would cost over $700 without the lift tickets. Another perk to the program? Once you graduate, the next year you’re eligible for a 50 percent discount off a Mount Bachelor season pass and 25 percent off the following year.

This program is such a great deal that it’s worth the trip to Bend, just to learn how to ski or snowboard. Seriously, you want to talk idyllic? The ski season in Central Oregon is one of the longest in the nation and there are more blue-bird days on Mt. Bachelor than not. Plus, it’s only a 30-minute drive from town — where young, active people come to drink IPAs and be half-retired. After a day on the mountain, enjoy the soaking pools at McMenamins, have a beer at Crux, or slurp some Tom Kha soup at Wild Rose (Bend’s premier Thai spot).

The latest SKI OR RIDE IN 5 began on January 6, 2020, but be warned that all five lessons must be completed by April 24, 2020. Once you’re pre-registered, simply show up any five days between now and April 24. But act quickly — the deadline to enroll is January 31.

By Sidni West
Contributing Writer
Nick Dunlap Unsplash
Rota Alternativa Unsplash
08

Trying out the #vanlife has never been so easy, according to Laura Hughes, the podcaster behind Women on the Road.

Ever imagine yourself waking up in the great outdoors and watching the sunrise from the comfort of a toasty campervan? That used to mean getting kitted up for the #vanlife all on your own. But as the new decade dawns, road trip dreams can turn into cruisy realities with far fewer hassles — thanks to new companies that have stepped on the scene to make renting your fantasy rig a breeze.

Platforms like Outdoorsy, Escape Campervans, and Jucy rentals give you access to adventuremobiles across the United States (and around the world). Looking for something specific? If vintage campervans pique your interest, check out Vintage Safari Wagons or Rocky Mountain Campervans. Want a fully-outfitted overland rig? Then head over to Rugged Van Rentals or Adventure Travel Sport Rentals and take on the roughest roads in your rented rolling home.

Purchasing a campervan or building one out yourself requires lots of time and energy. If your not quite ready for that commitment, you can test out the wonders of an extended road-trip with just a couple of clicks.

By Laura Hughes
Contributing Writer
G Adventures
G Adventures
G Adventures
09

Head to Costa Rica and embrace the all-too-rare chance to chill.

Costa Rica has been a much-loved adventure travel destination for decades now. It’s lush, beautiful, and full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences — from world-famous surf breaks to wild jungle preserves. There’s so much to do and see and explore that you can go from one adventure to the next for your whole trip.

But what if you actually want to slow down? Costa Rica can help you scratch that itch, too.

A few months ago, I traveled to this flourishing wellness destination with the express intent of resting. For me, the Pura Vida would mean pure chill. My trip was built around yoga retreats in the mountains and on the beach. It was about finding balance, resetting the body and mind, and seeing a new place all rolled into one (very low-impact) adventure. My trip with G Adventures Wellness took me across the country and allowed me to indulge in the activities I love — food, cooking, drinking, a little hiking, etc. — while layering in activities meant to help me rejuvenate (yoga, mud baths, hot springs). There was a new element to the trip that I hardly recognized at first but fully appreciated by the time I headed home: You fully felt like you were on vacation.

From sound meditations to sunset yoga to long hot springs soaks, I tried it all. In the end, embracing wellness was what made my trip special. As an adventure traveler, I almost cringe writing that, but what can I say? Relaxation rules. My recommendation for busy people in a busy era amidst a busy election year is simple: Head down to Costa Rica, find that reset button, and smash it.

By Zach Johnston
Life WriterTwitter
Sharad Sreenivas Unsplash
Christian Buehner Unsplash
10

Solo adventures are great, but if you’re looking to meet someone these traveler-friendly dating apps will help.

There’s something about traveling that gets people in the mood. Maybe your adrenaline is pumping from chasing waterfalls or summiting towering peaks. Maybe you’re all steamy after an afternoon spent tanning on a beach in paradise. Maybe a clean hotel room with crisp sheets turns you on. Or dancing all night. Or lounging in hot springs.

Whatever the case, many travelers are looking to embrace being young, wild, and free while exploring new destinations. Which is all to the good, but why not use every resource you’ve got? Hop on one of the many dating apps that cater to travelers and start swiping.

One golden rule here: Always be clear in your intentions — breaking hearts is never a good look. Tinder tends to be for hookups but you never know, you might match with someone special. Bumble lets users set a preference to indicate what they’re looking for, which can make it easier to find someone on the same page. For a more meaningful connection, login to Nomad Soulmates or Fairytale. You can even pair up with someone keen on joining the mile high club on MeetAtTheAirport, BuckleUp, Wingman, and btrfly.

If you’re playing the dating game, there’s no reason not to use every resource you’ve got. Tinder even lets you plan ahead, so you can seek out someone to touch before you even touch down.

By Lola Mendez
Contributing Writer
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Getty Image
Jeff Finley Unsplash
11

Get in on the “Train Bragging” movement while savoring the scenery of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

This past summer, I did something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. I boarded an Amtrak train with no real destination in mind and headed off, uncertain of where I’d end up. I was spending some time in Denver and had started yearning for a few days in a quiet mountain town. Instead of doing up-front research, I decided to follow my gut — with input from the train’s staff and other passengers collected along the way. I wound up stopping off in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, a historic town of about 9,000, roughly 160 miles west of Denver.

It sounds simple, but it was one of my favorite trips in years. With 2020 being “the year of the train” I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

To start off, Denver’s Union Station is one of America’s more magnificent train stations — featuring a slew of upscale places to eat and drink, a delightful bookstore, and one of the city’s best hotels, The Crawford. From there, the ride to Glenwood Springs aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr for six breathtaking hours. It’s one of those rides where you never want to stop looking out of the window out of fear that you’ll miss some rare slice of beauty that you may never get to see again, as the route cuts directly through the Rocky Mountains and follows the path of the Colorado River.

Once the train arrives in Glenwood Springs, there’s a beautiful, historic hotel directly across the street from the station (the Hotel Denver). From there, nearly everything is accessible by foot; the town bills itself as one of the most walkable in America.

Situated in a narrow mountain valley, Glenwood Springs was one of the hottest vacation destinations in America in the late 1800s/early 1900s due to the abundance of natural hot springs in the area. Teddy Roosevelt was a frequent visitor during this time, so much so that a still-operating hotel (the Hotel Colorado) was billed as his “summer White House.” These days, the town is still a beacon for lovers of hot springs, but it also boasts an adventure theme park, a ski resort, and a slew of bike trails, not to mention rafting and kayaking on the Colorado River in summer.

Glenwood Springs may very well be the state of Colorado’s best-kept secret, and I simply cannot wait to get back there. When I do, you can be sure that I’ll be arriving by train.

By Brett Michael Dykes
Editor-in-ChiefTwitter
Kinga Phillips
Kinga Phillips
Kinga Phillips
12

Mexico’s Socorro Island is the Galapagos of North America, with some of the best diving in the hemisphere. A trip will cost you, but it’s well worth the price.

Some things are just worth the splurge. Case in point: A nine-day liveaboard to Mexico’s largest marine reserve, Socorro Island. The price tag is typically around $4,000, but the experience is flat-out unforgettable.

Socorro is called the Galapagos of North America for its swoon-worthy biodiversity and unmatched access to exotic wildlife. This undomesticated corner of our blue planet is like diving into nature soup. Pacific manta rays, tiger sharks, thousands of big-eyed jacks, pods of dolphins, schooling silky, Galapagos sharks, and whale sharks mingle in the water, all at the same time. Come in the right season and hammerheads, whales, and false killer whales might show up as well. Not only are these animals routinely present, but they interact with divers like in few other places. Want a selfie with a wild dolphin? This is your spot.

And here’s a massive perk of a splurge this size. Upon exiting the water, the chef on the boat I dove with, Solmar V, was ready with one hell of a cocktail. The same goes for other boats that visit the reserve.

By Kinga Phillips
Contributing Writer
Visit Seattle
Visit Seattle
Visit Seattle
Visit Seattle
13

Seattle is perpetually cool, but particularly in February — when museums are half-off.

Of all the city nicknames, the only one I can really say I like is “Emerald City” for Seattle. It just works. Because the city is green, like an emerald, but also because it has a lasting sparkle to it. It never seems to get dull.

I’ll clarify. In many cities, Pike Place Market would have turned into a bedraggled, cheesy tourist attraction over the decades. But Seattle continues to innovate and refine the market experience. When I met Michela Tartaglia, chef, founder, and co-owner of Pasta Casalinga, on a recent visit, she went out of her way to shout out how the city supports new culinary voices. By doing so, Pike Place has grown into one of the greatest culinary incubators on earth, where upstart chefs and vendors happily work in close quarters for the chance to show their skills to a ravenous audience.

Seattle’s forward-thinking spirit is in evidence again during the whole month of February, with Seattle’s sixth annual Museum Month. Visitors to the Emerald City will receive 1/2 price on entry to participating museums — which is virtually all of them. From the Chihuly Garden and Glass (which is the most psychedelic museum I’ve personally ever visited) to the Seattle Art Museum to the Pinball Museum to the Seattle Aquarium to… It’s a lot of museums. And the list of hotel partners is long, too — from the mid-century Kimpton Alexis to the sleek and perfectly located Thompson Seattle.

Look, there are lots of reasons to put Seattle on the Hot List — whether it’s the attention-grabbing PNW-meets-the-South food at JuneBaby or the chance to see local bands in one of a handful of cities in the nation that really fosters a live music scene — but this one actually saves you money. Plus, while February isn’t ideal for most US destinations, it’s a great time to hit Seattle. You know it’ll rain, so accept that and just spend your time in the market, at the restaurants, digging into the city’s biscuit obsession, and, yes, checking out a whole ton of museums. By the end of your trip, you’re sure to agree that the city is a gem.

By Steve Bramucci
Editorial Director, Life/Style + CultureFacebookTwitter
Haley Plotkin
Katie Barrett Unsplash
14

Let your ‘Harry Potter’ fandom shine while seeing a stunning section of the Scottish countryside.

Train travel is on the rise in 2020. Its smaller carbon footprint and the romantic novelty of seeing the world by rail are both obvious factors. And that spirit of romance is dramatically amplified when the countryside you’re racing past is in Scotland.

All aboard the Hogwarts Express! If you’re looking to do a little “train bragging,” look no further than the Jacobite Steam Train, in the Highlands of Scotland. This scenic route runs for the 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig, passing through some of the best views that the nation has to offer — including the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which Potterheads will recognize from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

You know when Ron is hanging out of the Flying Ford Anglia? This is the spot.

Clearly, I grew up with these books and movies, as I’m sure many of you did. It’s hard to believe the first film came out back in ’01. As a kid, I remember waiting for my Hogwarts letter to come so I could board the Hogwarts Express myself. Now I finally can. The Jacobite is the ultimate nostalgia trip, while still making for a kick-ass grown-up adventure.

By Haley Plotkin
Contributing Writer
Graziano de Maio Unsplash
Sam Marx Unsplash
Unsplash
15

Change up your backpacking and trekking game by adding a bike into the mix.

Travelers today want to experience a place without making a big impact — both on the landscape and in the fuels they burn. With bikepacking, there are no fossil fuels required. Plus, you’re limited to roads and established trails — helping protect fragile natural elements like wildflowers and cryptobiotic soil. And pedaling yourself and all your gear is a novel way to exercise.

Then there’s the time-saving element. You might not have four months to backpack the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, but you can cover similar ground bikepacking in about a quarter of the time. After a slightly steeper learning curve and upfront gear investment to get you started, strapping your tent, food, and clothing to your bike becomes second nature.

Possibility is inherent to any bikepacking trip. You can fly your bike to Nepal to do the Annapurna Circuit, or you can set out straight from your front door. On my list for this year? The Olympic Adventure Route on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

Human-powered adventure is the best kind of adventure. And bikepaking just might be the wave of the future.

By Gale Straub
Contributing Writer
Matt Payne
Matt Payne
Matt Payne
16

Cultural authenticity and long-term sustainability are front and center at this European tour operator.

Book Green is raising the bar when it comes to designing experiences to capture the “essence” of particular destinations — from the Balkans to the tropics. Imagine a morning in Croatia, waking up in the home of a local fisherman in an island village situated in Kornati National Park. Then imagine sipping coffee with said fisherman on his balcony overlooking the Adriatic at sunrise, before going on a sage harvest while the fisherman goes out to snag his daily catch. After eating fresh fish for lunch, you and your host wander through his ancient olive groves among his flock of sheep, while he waxes poetic in his native tongue.

These are the kinds of experiences Book Green creates. Legit game-changers for experience-focused travelers.

Above all things, Book Green focuses on connecting travelers to people, experiences, and the natural world in a way that’s emblematic of each destination they operate in. As their name alludes, they do so with sustainability in mind. With itineraries in Italy, Spain, Greece, Lebanon, Croatia, Iceland, and France in the pipeline, Book Green is a strong choice for anyone seeking locally-led, sustainability-minded experiences.

By Matt Payne
Contributing Writer
Matt Payne
Matt Payne
Matt Payne
17

See the Amazon River by boat, stopping at communities and witnessing incredible biodiversity along the way.

The lights of Iquitos began to fade as we motored up the mighty Amazon River into the inky black of the Peruvian night. What we lost in the sense of sight was more than made up for by the cacophonous choir of a million insects and amphibians enveloping our boat — The Zafiro — in sound. For the next week, I would be on the world’s most voluminous river with International Expeditions to learn about this mighty river, the rainforests that surround it, and the people and the creatures that call this biodiverse part of the world home.

International Expeditions is an early pioneer of eco-tourism and offers tours all over the world. The recently retrofitted 38-passenger Zafiro riverboat is their flagship product. It’s equal parts luxury and rugged adventure. Partnered with the Nature Conservancy, my journey through the Amazon and its countless tributaries offered a constant explosion of wildlife, epic landscapes, and visits to both shamans and schools in established river communities. What was perhaps most enlightening, though, were International Expeditions’ daily programs that paint a complex, nuanced image of the Amazon and its residents, while also making clear the immediate threats posed by deforestation and climate change.

By Matt Payne
Contributing Writer
Karl Magnuson Unsplash
Emily Hart
18

If you’re hitting a National Park this year, don’t forget to support the nearby communities.

I’ve traveled solo to 52 US National Parks. That’s a lot, and one thing I’ve learned through it all is this: the park is only a part of the magic. See, in order to get to many of the parks in this country, you have to travel through rural areas, tribal nations, and towns that are often relegated to stopovers for fuel and snacks. And though they’re often ignored, these “park adjacent” areas have more to offer than you’d ever imagine.

Among the many highlights of my recent Alaskan National Park trip was the time I spent in Hope, talking to the volunteer at the town museum and the time I spent listening to a philosophizing fisherman in Homer.

I took a detour from Saguaro National Park over to Biosphere 2, the failed closed ecological system (think BioDome), and I never go to Rocky Mountain National Park without visiting my favorite local diner. These aren’t the Instagramable spots we’re used to, but they ladder up to a fuller, more memorable experience.

National Parks are awe-inspiring, I’m the last person to argue with that. But there’s so much to see outside of them, too. To put it differently: The park might be the destination but don’t ignore the quirky towns, food shacks, and curio shops that help make up the larger journey.

By Emily Hart
Contributing Writer
Lola Mendez
Moustafa Ibrahim Unsplash
19

Explore the unique culture of Jamaica’s true Rastafarians.

Too often, Rastafarian culture falls victim to the misinterpretations of foreigners. There’s so much more to this holistic way of life than dreadlocks and ganja. For starters, Rastafarianism is rooted in religious ritual and cannabis is used as a sacrament — a way to honor God. Worship is central to all Rasta lifestyle principals, as is maintaining a plant-based diet, known as ital, along with communal singing and dancing.

In Jamaica, several Rastafarian communes have graciously opened up their doors to give travelers the chance to learn about their culture. At the Rastafari Indigenous Village, you’ll learn the history of the movement, taste local delicacies, learn how to make and play calabash maracas, and be treated to a trance-like musical performance. Alternately, head into the Blue Mountains on a Saturday to join the Rastafarian Commune and School of Vision for Sabbath, which is celebrated with Nyabinghi music, dancing, and drumming — being sure to wear all white.

Like so many other faith practices worldwide, Rastafarianism is deeply deserving of your respect. Rather than coming home slanging a Chet Haze-ish patois, visit true Rasta culture and appreciate its rich traditions.

By Lola Mendez
Contributing Writer
Jo Savage
Jo Savage
Jo Savage
20

This wellness and writing retreat is taking things slow and offering creatives a chance to grow while they unplug.

In the ever-expanding world of retreats, there are trips, festivals, experiences, writing-focused getaways, travel-specific ventures, and wellness-centered jaunts — all designed to heal or fix or teach the attendee. But most of these make the mistake of focusing way too much on one thing. Yoga, for seven days straight? I’m an avid yogi, but dedicating an entire week to the subject always scared me off. The same goes for writing, and the same definitely goes for any international trip devoted entirely to just sight-seeing.

After years of traveling, writing, and trying to heal themselves, California writers Jade Moyano and Erin Rose Belair sensed an obvious solution: Why not combine several styles into one, to create a more well-rounded retreat? Trust & Travel includes optional wellness and spiritual elements, an avid focus on writing workshops of various styles, and plenty of time to explore the location the founders have selected — all serving as a backdrop for the inner work that participants are invited to conduct. This relaxed and varied approach makes it so much easier to commit to a five-day break from daily life and dive into a serious, and sometimes painful, excavation of the self.

By providing a safe space that isn’t overly focused on one thing, Belair and Moyano have created the kind of trip that mimics the emotional contours of daily life, while also lifting guests up out of the routines that can block creative breakthroughs. Whether you’re hellbent on facing your fears, improving your writing skills, seeing the world, or facing down the insecurity and shame that have stopped you from doing all of those things before 2020, Trust & Travel is the perfect gateway to strengthen and rebuild your heart.

The fledgling company’s next retreat will take place between May 21st and 26th in a small hillside town of Modica, Sicily. Attendees will stay at the minimalist Casa Talia. In between workshops and wellness activities, they’ll be able to amble through Modica’s ancient and narrow lanes searching for the perfect glass of wine or plate of pasta. Hope to see you there!

By Caitlin White
Pop Music CriticFacebookTwitter
Unsplash
Unsplash
Unsplash
21

Revel in one of the hippest bar and club scenes in the Middle East, all in one epic night.

Tel Aviv is known as the party capital of the Middle East. Frankly, that might be understating things. I’ve traveled the world and there’s really no other nightlife scene like it. It’s eclectic, buzzy, and wild — offering a wide variety of vibes and feels and intensities.

Tel Aviv Nights Pub Crawl gives you a sampling of legitimately cool places all around town (tailored to what’s popping that night, from chill outdoor bars to underground techno clubs to themed parties). And for the budget travelers, it’ll cost you a fraction of what it would to go around on your own, pay cover fees, get ripped off by taxis … you know the drill.

For $24, you get one beer, five shots, VIP entrance to four bars and clubs, and a chance to meet other young travelers from all over the world. Fun fact: the owner of this pub crawl, Ido Weil, says he knows several couples who met on his crawl and have gotten married. So, it turns out you can totally find love in a hopeless place (in line for a bar bathroom).

By Chelsea Frank
Contributing Writer
Designmuseum
Verner Panton Unsplash
22

In between cultural explorations, drop into Denmark’s coolest museum.

Copenhagen is the capital of “happening shit” at the moment. I could go on for days about the high-end food scene (Noma, Geranium, 108, Amass) or the arts (the can’t miss Louisiana Museum of Modern Art or the Nikolaj Kunsthal Museum, which currently has a righteous Leonard Cohen exhibit). But nestled in the middle of it all is one of the most memorable museums I’ve visited in a lifetime of travel: The Designmuseum Danmark.

Founded in 1890, the Designmuseum has resided in the former Royal Hospital (built in the 18th century) since 1926. The museum celebrates all things Danish/ Scandinavian in design — effortlessly drawing the visitor from room to room, where each installation is both highly stylized and sleek in its minimalism. The chair hall, showcasing centuries of Danish chair design, is worth the price of admission on its own. The museum also features Europe’s largest design library, completely free for public research.

BONUS: Museum gift shops are the most interesting stores in any given city and the Designmuseum Danmark’s is legendary. I nearly bought a pile of the silverware they designed for the famed restaurant 108 before realizing I didn’t have space in my overnight bag to keep it all. Alas, next time. Because I will be going back that way.

By Mark C. Stevens
Contributing Writer
ADVENTURE IO
ADVENTURE IO
ADVENTURE IO
23

The new, innovative app lets you level up your action and adventure skills with lessons from legit pros.

There are a few entries on this list that take a swipe at tech. Whether it’s the smartphones that seem to accompany every adventure, the social media apps that have gotten us in the habit of thinking of our trips in terms of posts rather than experiences, or the overtourism caused by the constant sharing of those photos, our team seems to be a little wary of the effect technology has on seeing the world.

But that doesn’t make us anti-tech. We just want to help you find the apps and gear that will actually add to your travels in a measurable way.

Adventure IO is my definition of a company that gets tech right. It offers you a shot at experiences you’re not likely to get on your own and it makes having those experiences incredibly easy. What sort of experiences? That depends. The company has a wide range of adventures for you to try — from wakeskating to shark diving to snowboarding a halfpipe for the first time. Better still, they connect you with pros to show you the ropes or help you level up. Like, legit pros.

When I met my guide, Jimmy, after booking an e-foil lesson (think electric scooter on the ocean), he asked if I did any boardsports.

“Yeah,” I said, “I surf and I used to teach wakeboarding.”

Usually, that sounds pretty impressive.

“Oh, cool!” Jimmy replied, with not an ounce of ego. “I was a pro-wakeboarder on tour until 2015.”

And that’s the real benefit here. A guy like Jimmy is willing to teach lessons because the app makes it so easy for him. You’d never find big wave legend Jamie Sterling hanging at a surf shop waiting for customers in Oahu, but he’ll surf on the North Shore with you via Adventure IO because the app makes it a turnkey experience. How cool is that?

This is a chance to live out epic adventures while learning from real stars. Making it the best new application of tech we’ve seen, in a year when our team is feeling a little dubious about tech, in general.

Editor’s Note: Download Adventure IO and the company is offering $100 off your first adventure if you use the discount code: UPROXX.

By Steve Bramucci
Editorial Director, Life/Style + CultureFacebookTwitter
Nathan Anderson Unsplash
Folly Collection Joshua Tree
Bubbletent Australia
24

Build your next trip around properties that prioritize looking toward the heavens.

The miracle of the night sky never gets old, but it does get blocked — by light pollution and smog. This year, travelers are combatting that problem by booking accommodations with zero light pollution and unobstructed views of the night sky. Yep, dark sky lodges are a full-on movement.

Bubbletent Australia and Joshua Tree Folly are just two of the many Airbnb-type properties that have popped up over the last year to offer guests an unforgettable stargazing experience. The former allows you to sleep in a giant clear tent (shaped like a bubble) so you can fall asleep under the celestial canopy, while the latter actually has a roofless open-air bedroom, so that nothing separates you from the glory of nature.

2020 has already been stressful and we’re just getting started. Falling asleep under a blanket of stars sounds like the perfect remedy to this chaotic world of ours.

By Kristin Corpuz
Contributing Writer
Jenavieve Belair
Lodged Out
Lodged Out
25

Historic lodges and logging-off combine with these bespoke digital detox retreats.

Lodged Out hosts retreats connected to various passion points at old fashioned summer camps and historic lodges across the country. Photography, writing, yoga, running, watercolors, macramé, palm reading, robot building… whatever your “thing” is, this is the freshest way for you to share passions and create a community in 2020. One thing remains true throughout all the brand’s projects, though: Unplugging is mandatory.

At the heart of Lodged Out is a commitment to disconnecting from the internet and your phone in order to reconnect with yourself and others. This is done via workshops, talks, communal meals, and lots of time outdoors. You’ll be shocked at just how much time you have, too, without technology filling your every second of downtime. They say time outside leads to happiness — this retreat underscores the point.

In May, Lodged Out is hosting a retreat in Washington centered around hiking and trail running. Other open retreats are centered around industries — from entrepreneurship to engineering. Keen to travel with a group this year? Plan and host your own retreat to truly connect with your followers and friends while forging new friendships. And do it all without the burden of being on the grid.

Horseback Legacy
Off Road Legacy
26

Horseback riding and environmental activism meet on Oahu.

Want to get in on the eco-movement? On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, Gunstock Ranch offers various options and packages for the would-be conservationist, including a “Horseback Planter’s Experience.” During the 2.5-hour ride, guests embark on a guided horseback tour up stunning mountainside trails that offer panoramic views of the ocean, coastline, hills, and the scenic Koolau Mountains.

On the way back into the valley, you’ll descend into the Hawaiian Legacy Forest, where you’ll be able to select your own Legacy Tree that you will personally plant and dedicate. The trees are tracked via radio-frequency identification technology, and you’re provided with a certificate of planting that enables you to track the location and growth of your seedling, anytime from anywhere. It’s a cool combination of rugged adventure and full-on Hawaiian hippie tree-hugging — perfect for our current cultural moment.

By David Duran
Contributing Writer
Teresa Cesario
Teresa Cesario
Teresa Cesario
27

This bespoke retreat series blends wellness, wildlife conservation, and a few raucous dance parties.

The Moments Here was founded by two sisters, Ashley and Teresa Cesario. Their stated mission is, “taking a timeout from our fruitful, fanciful lives to travel with purpose, passion, and little wild abandonment.”

Seems like fun, right? It was.

The sisters’ Inaugural trip brought 15 hospitality professionals from across the United States to Nosara, Costa Rica. For five days, the collective engaged in activities — including surfing, fishing, ocean rubbish removal, community outreach, and marine conservation. Throughout the week, guests were able to witness the phenomenon of the Olive Ridley turtles’ voyage from sea to the nesting beach (otherwise known as an “arribada”) which only occurs every quarter-moon. During this excursion, guests were asked to be present and take time away from technology. It was peaceful in a way that so few travel experiences truly are these days.

This year, The Moments Here will widen their lens (and pool of potential guests), heading to La Paz Mexico where the intention is to focus on recreation and education surrounding sea lions. Join this inspirational and inquisitive collective as they plan retreats that feed your soul while delving into local delicacies, experimenting with digital detox, and helping conserve wildlife — while always leaving time for a few dance parties.

By Gio Gutierrez
Contributing Writer
Visit Laguna Beach
Visit Laguna Beach
Visit Laguna Beach
Visit Laguna Beach
28

A whole itinerary based on inner-peace actually makes sense in Southern California’s most scenic beach community.

I’ve seen a lot of beaches. And I’m here to tell you one thing for certain: Laguna Beach has some of the best stretches of sand in these United States. Hell, some of the best on earth. There are hidden beaches and surf beaches and scenic beaches and skimboard beaches…

But the city is more than that, too. It’s also got craggy rock formations to hike around, some of the best mountain biking in the country, and three art festivals. Plus some very solid food and drink options — especially the local-favorite, Another Kind Cafe. Best of all, in chaotic Southern California, it has a degree of calm. Once you get into town and park, it can be flat-out peaceful on the right day. That’s rare in this part of the country.

The local tourism board is now keying in on the city’s tranquility with the Pathway to Zen — a 12-stop route focused on relaxation and inner peace. The self-guided tour includes historic hippie haven The Chakra Shack, the recently-opened Sycamore Spa at The Ranch Laguna Beach, an easy hike with views of Catalina Island, a tour of the farmer’s market, and two different chances to do yoga overlooking the mighty Pacific.

Will you take in all 12 stops of the tour? Probably not. But you can try a few and then head to the beach for a sunset surf. Nothing’s more peaceful than that. Or, if chilling all day left you with a little energy to burn, you can head to Justin Beiber’s beloved Marine Room Tavern (he’s known to play impromptu shows there) where the whiskey selection is wide and the bands go hard. Whatever finding Zen looks like for you seems like a win in our book.

By Steve Bramucci
Editorial Director, Life/Style + CultureFacebookTwitter
Annie Spratt Unsplash
Ibrahim Rifath Unsplash
29

Spend a day or two practicing your camera skills in India’s most photogenic city.

Often overshadowed by New Delhi and Mumbai, the city of Jaipur just might be the most photogenic in all of India. This picturesque pink town, located in the state of Rajasthan, is the perfect spot to hone your artistic eye. Sure, we urged you to explore beyond the “Golden Triangle,” but the fact is that you’ll probably end up overnighting in a city at least once or twice — why not take a few pics while you’re at it?

Chances to up your photo game in Jaipur range from the floating water palace Jal Mahal, which that sits in the middle of a lake, to the marvels of Amber Fort to the iconic Hawa Mahal (or Wind Palace) to the narrow alleyways of the Old City. The Nahargarh Fort (or Tiger Fort) and Royal Cenotaphs are worth training your lens on too.

Of course, it’s not all about the architecture in Jaipur. There’s also the food, the people, and the particular vibe of the place — all photo-ready. Just make sure to ask permission for snapping photos of anyone. If someone says “no,” or asks for money you don’t want to pay, you’ve got to respect it. Follow that one simple rule, and the memories of Jaipur’s bold colors and rich atmosphere will stick with you well beyond 2020.

By Phil Calvert
Contributing Writer
Cynthia del Rio Unsplash
Tyler Nix Unsplash
30

Instagram is great, but this year find new ways to share your stories.

No product on sale here. No app or social network to link to. Just a simple bit of encouragement: In 2020, find new ways to memorialize your travel. Something that will stay with you longer than a social media post. Taking photos of your adventures and posting them to Instagram is cool, but that’s the baseline. It’s time to go deeper — journaling, sketching, poetry, oral storytelling… whatever.

This idea can take shape in myriad ways. If you take a photo, try printing it out, framing it, and hanging it on your wall. Not a visual person? Write a song and play it at the hostel. Or force yourself to write a poem for a local open mic. Even if you don’t read it aloud, it’ll represent your state of mind at the moment you wrote it.

The point is that this is your year to take more than just Instagram images away from your travels. You can do that too, but it’s nice to remember that visiting a new place is about more than bragging rights and social-feed decoration. It’s about your process, growth, and interaction with someplace or something new.

By Dane Rivera
Contributing WriterTwitter