The 2020 Uproxx Travel Hot List

Top End Safari Camp
Unsplash
Unsplash
Getty
Getty Image
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.

Fests

The festival scene is in a state of growth and evolution. Transformational festivals are drawing more attention than ever and new fests are popping up around the globe. Regardless of the lineup, a genuine sense of community is vital.

Igloofest
Igloofest
Igloofest
01

EDM, snow, and hardcore partying collide on Montreal’s streets at this icy winter festival.

EDM festivals are practically everywhere these days. But have you ever danced under the winter moon on a subzero night with crowds of over 10,000 people? That’s exactly what Igloofest in Montreal provides, along with the world’s best DJs mixing as you jam out in your snowsuit and beanie (“toque” in Canadian).

Held on the Old Port over several weekends in January and February, in the coldest of temperatures, Igloofest brings out international DJs and pairs them with an unbelievable light show, which will blow your mind and will help you forget about how freaking cold it is. Bring your best winter gear for the festival’s annual “Iglooswag” snowsuit competition and enjoy libations at the on-site ice bar like mulled ciders and caribou, a mix of whisky and maple syrup (super Canadian, of course).

Follow the music festival scene into the great, (slightly less) wild north this year. But be sure to pack your parka.

By David Duran
Contributing Writer
Aaron Woroniuk
Getty Image
Peter Mather
02

Deep in the northern reaches of Canada, you’ll find one of the most eclectic music fests in the world.

For a truly epic Yukon experience, join a canoe or kayak trip on the Yukon River. Spend your summer days paddling, camping in tents, and eating by the campfire under the midnight sun (the sun literally goes down for a couple of hours at night). Throughout your journey enjoy wildlife viewing, incredible mountain vistas, and gold rush history. Take the full 17-day trip from Whitehorse or opt for a half trip by starting in Carmacks. Either way, conclude your river experience in Dawson City, just in time for the Dawson City Music Festival, in a town that looks and feels like it was frozen in time, and with a population of under 1,500 people.

Started 42 years ago, the DCMF is still tiny in comparison to other music festivals, but it’s their location and atmosphere that makes it one of the most unique — especially if you spend the days (weeks) prior to the fest on the Yukon River. Just think of the festival as the gold that you are guaranteed to find upon arriving at one of the most progressive small towns in North America.

By David Duran
Contributing Writer
Andy Hughes
Jenna Foxton
Jenna Foxton
03

Skiing, mountaineering, partying, and music in the snowy Alps. What more do you want?

What do you get when you combine a weeklong ski trip, a music festival set in the gorgeous Austrian Alps, and some major Burning Man vibes? Answer: SNOWBOMBING aka the original alpine music festival you’ve never heard of… yet. Taking place this year from April 13th to 18th in Mayrhofen, Austria, SNOWBOMBING attracts ski and board bums that know how to party and have awesome taste in music.

By day, Snowbombers hit the more than 142 kilometers of pristine slopes, day drinking and partying to live bands and DJ sets at mountaintop lodges and venues. For après ski and by night, it’s choose your own adventure. From raving in an igloo at the top of a mountain to dancing in an enchanted forest to partying all night long in bars around the area — Snowbombing is lit.

For 2020, Liam Gallagher, The Streets, and Chase and Status are playing, along with a wide range of techno and EDM artists on the bill!

By Justin Walter
Contributing Writer
Kristina Bakrevski
Kenny Hoff
Northern Lights Music Festival
04

If you love cannabis, camping, and live music, this is the fest for you.

In July, cannabis connoisseurs will converge at the county-line between Mendocino and Humboldt for the festival of a lifetime. Northern Nights Music Festival is where attendees can shop for and consume cannabis directly from the people who grow it. While other, more corporate-feeling, cannabis events have sprung up in California, this is the earliest surviving event to offer cannabis and the truest representation of the farming community in the state’s famed “Emerald Triangle.”

It’s a major production too. Along with lineups that are consistently stacked with heavyweights — from Jai Wolf to Black Star to Gorgon City — Northern Nights sports a tranquil setting at the historic Eel River, with yoga in a grove of majestic trees where barefoot frolicking seems to occur with spontaneity, and more than a dozen local cannabis vendors show up to represent the region. Visit the four major music stages, each with their own distinct charm and kick back to enjoy a puff. Or don’t, you’ll have a blast either way!

By Graham Berry
Contributing Writer
Eric Allen
JB Photo
JB Photo
05

This Costa Rican festival takes sustainability to new heights while raving hard on the beach and in the jungle for seven straight days.

Looking to visit Costa Rica? Hoping that your trip is flat out life-changing?

Feast your eyes (and heart!) on Envision Festival, where knowledge and nature are wrapped up in a mightly jungle rave. In addition to all manner of animals on and off the dancefloor, this party preaches sustainability by example. Top shelf crews build almost everything out of materials sustainably harvested from the jungle, including stages. Then the builders invite a few international acts and a wide range of local artists to rage on their creations.

Eco efforts are off the charts here. Single-use plastics are banned. Beaches around the country are cleaned via teams of volunteers in an ongoing philanthropy effort. Trash is sorted to an extreme. Plus, a local organization called Costas Verdes plants trees onsite every year. This is all done in an effort to reclaim a piece of the jungle that was cleared for cattle ranching, which is a wonderful sentiment but don’t dare overlook the fact that this party gets wild — with surfing, yoga, and meditation by day and dancing all-freaking-night.

This year marks the tenth anniversary and the first expansion of the event from four to seven days. Rüfüs Du Sol is headlining, while vintage hip-hop heads will be happy to see Chali2na on the bill.

By Graham Berry
Contributing Writer
Descend on Bend, Adam Naples
Noel Russell
Women on the Road
06

#Vanlife-, bus-, and car-camping-focused meetups are happening all over the country, bringing vagabonds together IRL.

Full-time and weekend road travelers alike are flocking to multi-night camping meetups: van optional. Community-focused gatherings like Descend on Bend, Vanlife Diaries, and our own Women on the Road Campout attract car campers who are fueled to wander but also crave connection, education, and entertainment.

Rather than being just one event, these festivals are held across the United States throughout the year and each has a slightly different personality. The #vanlife movement has not only continued growing but also expanded to include all different sorts of road travel. As these various communities connect via social media, these casual festivals bring the online wanderlust into the very real world. Activities are reminiscent of the summer camp you always wanted to go to as a kid, without the price tag: stargazing, campfire chats, and group hikes fill itineraries, with plenty of time for lounging. Above everything, the real joy of these meetups are the real-life friendships built around a shared passion for travel on four wheels.

By Laura Hughes
Contributing Writer
Luke Dyson
Luke Dyson
Luke Dyson
07

This secluded electronic music festival combines a wild party scene with Albania’s resurgent culture.

Can we just take a minute to appreciate the dramatic transformation Albania has overgone over the last few decades? Despite a turbulent past — we’re talking years of heavy-fisted Communist rule — the nation is now one of the most progressive in Europe. The country has done a complete 180-degree turn in many facets of everyday living. Especially when it comes to its burgeoning festival culture.

Considering electronic music was banned under the law of the land until the early ‘90s, the inclusion of a music festival on our hot list is a cool look for Albania. It’s well deserved. Last year, Anjunadeep: Explorations made its debut on the charming coastal village of Dhërmi for five sweltering summer days.

Besides indulging in the best seafood you will ever eat at an affordable price (right under $10 for seafood linguini, a glass of white wine, and homemade bread), plus soaking in the picturesque scenery, where else can you experience a dope, intimate DJ set in a secluded, sandy cove? The epic boat ride along the Albanian riviera to the mesmerizing Gjipe Beach is perhaps the best “tone-setting” experience to kick off a festival on Earth.

Bottom line: You don’t want to skip out on year two of Anjunadeep: Explorations, taking place this June. In addition to a dope line-up – 16BL (sunrise set), Jody Wisternoff, Eli & Fur, plus many more — you’ll have the opportunity to engage in daily yoga sessions, breathing workshops, and other wellness treats.

By Gabrielle Pharms
Contributing Writer
KAABOO San Diego
KAABOO San Diego
KAABOO San Diego
08

Enjoy some serious comedy between the musical acts at this San Diego festival.

Kaaboo Music Festival in San Diego kind of has it all. The multi-stage event draws some of the biggest names in the game (especially if you’re looking for a few hardcore 90’s and early aughts nostalgia acts). The festival also goes all in on the local food truck and brewery scenes, with parking lots full of great local treats and suds. In keeping with the common 2020 trend amongst festivals, Kaaboo has also taken moves to be more green — offering free water fill stations and taking a sustainable approach to recycling trash, amongst other initiatives.

All of that is great, really. But what really stands out and makes Kaaboo hot list-worthy is their comedy line up. Any hour of the day, you could take a break from the weed, beer, and music and grab a seat in an indoor venue to watch some of the best comics in the business play a full set. Last year’s line up included Kevin Smith, Bert “The Machine” Kreischer, Tom Green, and a long list of other touring vets and soon-to-be stars. It was the perfect palate cleanser to a day spent out in the hot late-summer San Diego sun.

Editor’s Note: After some rumblings of internal discord, Kaaboo is changing up its location from Del Mar’s horse tracks to PetCo Field in the city, making the event even more accessible for someone hitting SD in late summer.

By Zach Johnston
Life WriterTwitter
David Prico
Amandala Photography
Brian Ngo
09

Lucidity Festival is a bohemian escape where hugs abound and positive vibes drive the fun.

What do the woke crowds of Southern California do in April while mainstream music fans are at Coachella? They head to Santa Barbara’s celebrated gem of an event, Lucidity Festival, of course. This festival is arguably the last pure vestige of transformational festival culture on the West Coast — full of high-minded ideals and tight-knit community vibes.

If you’re into that sort of thing, Lucidity is an enchanting vortex of learning, dancing, and hugs galore. Setting a tent in the meadowy pastures of Live Oak Campground is the perfect complement to the adventure, too. The inventive structures, psychedelic art, and roaming characters lend Lucidity the appeal of a bohemian theme park, which is definitely by design. Each edition of the festival has a different interactive tale to tell like the chapters of a book, with this year’s theme being “Regeneration Earth.” As part of their continued mission to have a positive impact on the earth, Lucidity will plant ten trees for every festival ticket sold through their partnership with Trees.org.

By Graham Berry
Contributing Writer
Cara Hutchison
Cara Hutchison
10

Pharrell’s Spring Break music and arts event is the perfect fest for beach-loving hip-hop fans.

A giant college party on the beach, soundtracked by a slew of hip-hop legends? Enough said. We’re in.

Every year in Virginia Beach, the officially unofficial “College Beach Weekend” commences. Tens of thousands of students descend on the area to party in the sand. Spring Break dialed to 11.

Over the years, local community members have gotten fed up with the general rowdiness that the festivities attract. Which is where hip-hop legend and local hero Pharrell Williams comes in. Williams launched Something In The Water in 2019, as a way to provide order to the April tradition while giving back to the community that he once called home. It was a breakaway success.

While last year’s edition of Something in the Water included everything from trap karaoke to a pop-up beachside church service, 2020 looks to up the ante and work out any of the kinks that first-year festivals often suffer. Hip-hop icons Clipse (also locally raised) will reunite and Pharrell promises to create another historic set with his high-profile pals (think Nelly and Usher). Add in huge appearances from Chance The Rapper, Foo Fighters, A$AP Rocky, Post Malone, Migos, and Tyler The Creator, and you have an irresistible reason to visit the “seven cities.”

Plus, you can grab a funnel cake on the boardwalk while you’re there — a Virginia Beach perk if ever there was one.

By Philip Cosores
Managing Editor, MusicTwitter
Jenavieve Belair
Jenavieve Belair
11

Funky music, craft cocktails, and chill vibes define this friendly Idaho music festival.

Treefort is the ultimate “you can sit with us” festival, held every spring in the ever-expanding and always surprising downtown of Boise, Idaho. As a very vocal fan, you can catch me there every year, offering social coverage and lots of love. Why? I just find it to be the best kind of festival — open to every type of music, a mega supporter of up and coming bands, and the perfect mix of festival days and city nights.

The line-up this year is, as always, eclectic and mind-bending. Organizers just added the Chromatics and Japanese Breakfast as headliners. Go to shows all day, have a craft cocktail with dinner, and then catch the main stage in the evening. You can spend your days seeing new indie films, meeting authors, doing yoga, sampling beers… you name it, it all falls under the broad “fort” banner.

Best of all, Treefort will allow you to see the tight-knit Boise community in action, pitching in to make cool things happen. It’s the inspiration that we all need right now — people joining up and building something good. It’s a way to remind ourselves that art breeds love and the more people we invite in, the better the party.

Alive Coverage
Alive Coverage
Alive Coverage
12

Adventure and big names combine to make the brand new 4XFAR Festival very hype-worthy.

For the ultimate in outdoor adventure activities, there’s nothing quite like Land Rover’s all-new 4xFAR Festival. After its first run this past weekend, it reinvented the music festival concept and set the bar in way Coachella Valley has never seen before. This is Range Rover’s biggest play yet for the hearts and minds of thrill-seekers, with an intentionally eclectic spread of music sensations like Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Kaytranada, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Sofi Tukker and more.

White sand and majestic palms set against watercolor sunsets imbued every stroll through the festival grounds with so much elegance that it’s no wonder Jay-Z and Beyonce had their honeymoon at the same location. The pop-up culinary attractions, wilderness mixology lessons, and wine tastings were just a few of the many finer flavors offered at the festival. Adventurers who turned out for 4xFAR could also try their hand at fly fishing, go rock climbing, take photography lessons, challenge a friend to an ax-throwing match, or be the first to experience the near fully revamped 2020 Range Rover Defender on a wildly over the top 15-acre off-road course.

2020’s event is over, but if you want to go to 2021’s festival, be sure to lock your spot before the year ends.

By Graham Berry
Contributing Writer