For the first time, I have compiled a list of my favorite destinations from the past two years of (basically) full-time travel. 2017 and 2018 took me to all corners of the globe, visiting 18+ countries and 60+ cities. Rarely having a concrete plan meant that I could change my direction whenever I wanted and allowed me to visit friends scattered around and hear from locals where I should go next. Turns out, many of my favorite places happened as a result of these two things. This list only has destinations that I visited for the first time in 2017 and 2018, so cities or countries that I returned to were ineligible (unless I visited a new city in a not-new country). This is something I am looking forward to doing each year to both honestly reflect on the places I have been and to also give you some potential ideas for your next trip. Upon writing descriptions of my favorite destinations, I realized that there were two themes particularly prominent — “chill vibes” and “beautiful nature”. Apparently, these types of places are the ones that I connect with significantly and that knowledge is going to help me decide on this year’s adventures. But, before I get ahead of myself with 2019, let’s take a look at my favorite new travel destinations of 2017 and 2018, shall we?
Destination of the Year – Oman
I only just returned from Oman but already the people around me are sick of hearing about it. Unfortunately for them, I am nowhere near ready to start shutting up about how incredible the country is. Not only is it undoubtedly my favorite destination in 2018, but it is also hands-down one of my favorite places I have ever visited. Not only do you have mountains, the desert, palm trees and beaches along the Arabian Sea but you will also find rich culture, welcoming locals, a “camp-anywhere-in-the-country” policy and chill vibes wherever you go. Plus a lack of skyscrapers, tourists, and crime — dreamy. I spent a week in Oman (certainly not long enough but plenty of time to give me a taste) with a few days in the capital Muscat before renting a car and road tripping around the northern part with stops in Nizwa, the desert, Wadi Bani Khalid, Sur and Fins Beach. For anyone who wants to get slightly off-the-beaten-track and longs to spend some time in the Middle East, Oman has to be a high priority.
There are going to be plenty of videos and blog posts about my time in Oman (as well as tips for helping you plan your own trip) coming this month.
During my first long European trip in 2011, Germany was one of the destinations that I was the least excited about. Ironically, since then, I have found myself returning to the country more than anywhere else in Europe (apart from England). At this point, I have traveled extensively around Germany; but, up until 2018, I hadn’t made it to the north. Hamburg is Germany’s second-biggest city and largest port and a destination that blew me away. The city has vibrant neighborhoods from the alternative Sternschanze to the beloved residential area Ottensen and the infamous Reeperbahn (red-light district) in St Pauli. Then there is HafenCity, one of Hamburg’s newest districts, and one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe. As well as Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s warehouse district that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its gorgeous late 19th-century red-brick warehouses that were built on oak-log foundations. Being in Hamburg during the spring meant that I was able to experience all of Hamburg’s water. Not only is it close to two seas, but the city also has three rivers – Elbe, Alster, and Bille – running through it, as well as numerous waterways and canals. Plus there is Lake Alster, located right in the middle of the city center, which makes for a fun afternoon of biking around. With an abundance of things to do and a relaxed vibe to the city, Hamburg is a fantastic choice for a long weekend in a European city.
Living The Local Life in Hamburg, Germany (Travel Vlog)
When it comes to my favorite trip of the year (unsurprisingly) my 7-week cross-country USA road trip takes the prize. There is no better way to tour the USA than at the wheel because you can come and go as you please, opting to turn off anywhere that strikes your fancy and changing your itinerary at a moments notice. That freedom regarding the open road makes for an adventure of a lifetime. Throughout the journey, I kept learning about new destinations to scope out from enthusiastic locals (see below), but there were a couple of places that I knew would be core stops on the route since I first started envisioning the trip. Portland was one of them. For years I had heard people proclaim the praises of this city and with one of my best friends living there, I had no excuse not to pay a visit. At first, I was only planning on spending a few days, but with so much to do I ended up staying an entire week. (Remember what I said about changing the itinerary…) I wrote an entire Portland City Guide (read it here) that details all my food finds (SPOILER: there were a lot), my favorite places to explore, the best vintage shopping and where I liked to work out. In other words, there should be enough recommendations to keep you entertained and engaged with the local atmosphere for at least a week.
Read & Watch More
My Cross-Country Road Trip Itinerary & Travel Tips / The Portland City Guide / Portland Travel Guide – Wine, coffee, roses, food, books (Travel Vlog) / Best Views & Indian Food in Portland, USA (Travel Vlog) / What I Wore In A Week: Portland and Seattle
San Juan Islands, USA
On the second day of my road trip, I met a fellow traveler who works for the National Park Service and frequently travels around the United States visiting the various parks (Did you know that the US has 58 national parks?!). He was the first person who mentioned the San Juan Islands to me and his enthusiasm for the archipelago off the state of Washington was enough to convince me to include a stop. He wasn’t the only one though. Throughout Oregon and Washington, more and more people spoke of their love for these islands and I came to realize that they were somewhat of a secret in the Pacific Northwest. To be fair, I understand why the residents of these states want to keep them for themselves because they are STUNNING. In fact, you don’t even feel as though you are in the continental United States. There are three islands accessible by public ferry — San Juan Island, Orcas Island and Lopez Island and the communities on each remain a counterculture stronghold, more hippie than hipster. Almost every car has a sticker proclaiming “MY OTHER CAR IS A BIKE” and camping, hitchhiking and sustainable living is the vibe and I am all about it. No matter how long you stay on the islands for, most of your time will be spent by the water as the islands are known for their kayaking and whale-watching. There are also art galleries, wineries, delicious seafood restaurants, interesting historical points of interest (I learned that England and the USA almost went to war over a pig!) and enough hikes to last you a lifetime. Plus, an alpaca farm, which should be reason enough to hop on the ferry over there.
Read & Watch More
My Cross-Country Road Trip Itinerary & Travel Tips / Ferry to the San Juan Islands, Washington (Travel Vlog) / England & USA Almost Fought Over A Pig, San Juan Islands (Travel Vlog) / An Epic Unknown Mausoleum in the San Juan Islands (Travel Vlog) / Wine Tasting in the San Juan Islands (Travel Vlog) / Kayaking with Orcas in the San Juan Islands (Travel Vlog) / Exploring Orcas Island, Washington (Travel Vlog)
Out of the three Baltic states that I visited, Lithuania was my favorite (possibly because it was where I first touched down). After an early morning flight from Paris, I landed in Vilnius and was greeted by a charming town brimming with baroque architecture. Not many people visit Lithuania as evidenced by a recent tourist ad that stated “Vilnius, the G-spot of Europe: Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing”. Genius tourism ad! Compared to the other two Baltic capitals (Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia), I found Vilnius’ old town to be both incredibly intact and not overly touristic. Sights such as the Gate of Dawn, St John’s Church and the Church of St Peter & Paul are more than just pretty picture spots (the old town has an extensive number of Unesco-listed buildings), they are remnants of a once vibrant and culturally-important locale. Vilnius used to be known as the ‘Jerusalem of the north’; however, its Jewish community was mostly destroyed in WWII and the ever-present reminders of loss are devastating. From the museums dedicated to the Holocaust to former ghettos, preserved KGB torture chambers and cemeteries filled with the war dead, one of my main takeaways is that Vilnius is up-front about its battle scars. To balance out the heavy history is the Užupis Republic, an area that has declared itself a separate republic, forming a bohemian commune with a president, foreign ministry and even a constitution. Perhaps the country’s next ad should be “Vilnius: Satisfying all your urges, even those you didn’t know you had”. While in Lithuania, I did a weekend trip to the Curonian Spit — a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that is partly owned by Russia, partly by Lithuania. Renting a bike for a day, I biked up the spit witnessing majestic sand dunes emerging from the blue depths of the sea and basking in the beauty of this planet.
Lithuania: Vilnius & Curonian Spit Travel Guide (Travel Vlog)
Destination of the Year – Lviv, Ukraine
Hands down my favorite new destination of 2017, I try to bring up my love for Lviv (and Ukraine) as much as possible, to whomever. Thanks to a tip from my Couchsurfing host in Manchester, I added this city I had never previously heard of to my itinerary. The fact that I was not privy to its beauty and grace before, definitely made my few days there even more special. How do I explain it? Well, it is just as beautiful as Prague or Kraków, but without the overwhelming stream of tourists. Primarily a student city, this is Ukraine without Soviet architecture. Instead, you will find cobblestoned streets, excellent coffeehouses and chocolate shops and a million churches. Plus, it is insanely cheap, ensuring that you can dine at the city’s best restaurants for three meals a day while still having pennies for entertainment. Take for example the fact that I snagged myself an entire box to see a ballet performance at the beautiful Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet for under $20. How is that for a high-brow night! Trust me, GO GO GO — before the rest of the world realizes what they have been missing.
16-Hour Bus Ride! Moldova to Ukraine (Travel Vlog) / The Fairytale City of Lviv, Ukraine (Travel Vlog) / Coffee Mines & Secret Restaurants in Lviv, Ukraine (Travel Vlog)
In some regards, it seems like a lifetime ago that I was in Cuba (it was January 2017!) but in other ways, the country has never really left my mind as it is definitely one of the places I get asked the most about. Cuba is a truly unique destination both because of its history and its natural beauty. During my time in the country, I visited Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and La Boca which provided me with a decent insight into the different regions. There is a lot of talk in the travel community surrounding whether or not it is ethical to travel to a country with a government such as Cuba and it is something I consciously think about whenever I travel. Personally, I believe that if you go out of your way to learn about the history of the country and its present situation that you are taking the (first) necessary step to visit ethically. Unfortunately, Cuba has become a very “Instagram destination” (sigh) which means that a comprehensive view of the country is rarely presented. (Another blog topic to prioritize…) For now, I am just going to say that Cuba was one of the most intellectually challenging countries I visited in the past two years and that I enjoyed my time there immensely. From horseback riding in Viñales to dancing with locals in La Boca, I saw an incredibly resilient population who are warm, welcoming and very chill.
Daily vlogs from Cuba (11 videos in total) can be found in this playlist!
Oh, Lisboa! Who doesn’t fall for your charm? It must be difficult to be so captivating. Your warm sunny days, budget-friendly living and charismatic locals make you a “must-experience” in Europe. The city that has been crafted over centuries is ready for its moment on the world stage. There is nowhere more beautiful and you will find yourself rewarded with enchantment at every turn. In Lisbon, the plan for every day is to eat fresh seafood by the water, browse through flea markets, walk through the beautiful botanical gardens, ride around on the delightful trams, take in the street art, stay up all night listening to Fado, consume plenty of pastels de nata and pay homage to the explorers that came before you. As it is a city of many hills (many, many hills), spring is the perfect time to spend your days wandering. Some of my top spots included the Jerónimos Monastery, LX Factory (an artistic area with great restaurants), Pastelaria Zarzuela (for gluten-free pastels de nata!), Museu Do Fado (a museum dedicated to the music of Fado) and Time Out Market Lisboa (for the best food hall experience imaginable). Okay, okay, a Lisbon City Guide is high on my list of priorities!
There are plenty of islands in Greece, a few of which are permanent fixtures on all of our Instagram feeds (hey Santorini! hey Mykonos!); but, Hydra tends to be overlooked, which is surprising considering it is the perfect day-trip from Athens. All it takes is a 90-minute ferry to arrive in a place that feels like a world of its own. The island’s ban on cars and motorbikes ensures that life remains very slow and away from the unfortunate trend of overdevelopment. When you step off the ferry, you will have no choice but to rely on your own two feet or the four legs of a donkey to get around. In other words, this place was made for meandering. If you are looking to do a little traipsing of your own, here is my guide to Hydra filled with what to do and see, where to eat and which shops to have a peruse through. For me, Hydra is a hidden gem in a country that is known around the world for its islands.
Solo Wanderings in Athens & Hydra Greece (Travel Vlog)
Santa Fe, USA
Traveling around the United States never gets old because the breadth and the diversity of the country are unparalleled. Just as every country in the European Union has its own culture and vibe (along with a shared history), each state in the USA has its own gifts to offer travelers. While there are the obvious big hitters — NYC, Miami, San Francisco — there are plenty of other cities that are worthy of a trip. Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of those. If I had to describe the city in one word it would be “timeless” thanks to its adobe plazas, remarkable churches, Native American jewelry sellers and chile-smothered local cuisine. But, it is the creative soul that makes Santa Fe what it is. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum provides a sensational insight into one of the country’s most prominent artists, while Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is an immersive art experience that is guaranteed to take you straight into a fantasy realm. I frequently find myself dreaming of spending an extended amount of time here which plants this city firmly on my “favorites” list.
Where are some of your favorite destinations that I should head to this year? Let me know in the comments below!