The travel itch is beginning again, and of course part of my Life Plan was to devote more time after retirement to traveling. After all, I’m no spring chicken, and want to travel before they wheel me, drooling, into the nursing home. The only issue is that there are covid restrictions to traveling, including a mandatory test before returning to the U.S.
I am crowdsourcing ideas from readers. The question is this:
Where should I go?
The restrictions are these: trip should be 2-3 weeks, not take place at a time when the putative destination is crowded with summer tourists (I tend to avoid touristy place as well as beaches, since I use vacations to see the world’s diversity, not a strip of sand). The food must be good and the place interesting. I tend to avoid places with high prices, like Scandinavia.
Paris and Dobrzyn are always there, and will always be on my list, but I count that as a regular place to visit, not a “vacation destination”.
The places that have crossed my mind so far are Mexico (particularly Oaxaca and the Yucatan), Israel (just to see what’s going on there), Africa (to see the famous animals), and Southeast Asia (e.g., Vietnam). I love the idea of going to Pacific Islands, though I understand that some that were once my goals, like Bali, have become overcrowded with tourists. (Yes, I know that I am asking for destinations as a tourist!)
If you have any ideas that fit these criteria, especially based on your personal experience, I’d be glad to hear them.
90 thoughts on “Where should I go next?”
Oh, it seems Wallace was actually here when he wrote to Darwin- based on his diary…
Come to the UK. We have no covid restrictions! Perhaps start in the Lake District and make your way gradually up to Scotland, if you want to get away from tourists.
A day trip to Bristol to visit the Bag of Nails is essential.
Turkey’s Eastern Black Sea region. Few tourists, reasonable prices. Food… Do you like fish? You could visit the Sumela Monastery and explore the mountains.
The Black Sea coast road from Amasra to Sinope and Trebizond is stunning!
If you’ve not done an African animal safari then that’s a must at some point; Kruger Park, Okavango Delta, Masai Mara, lots of options.
A few nights in a tourist lodge on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, can be pleasant indeed. One of the best places on Earth.
Yes, also Africa, my (selfish) recommendation, as I know I will get better info, pix, and commentary than friends I know who went on two different safaris.
Madagascar and Seychelles Islands have very interesting biogeographical diversity being that they are continental islands dragged from the African plate out into the Indian Ocean as the south Asian (mostly India/Pakistan) sprinted north to collide with Asia
Yes, Madagascar and the Seychelles would be interesting.
Madagascar is worth seeing for the wildlife but it’s not really a safe place to visit at present.
Anyone interested in Madagascar is encouraged to read two recent books, the travel-narrative Gardens of Mars by John Gimlette (British) and the novel Red Island House by Andrea Lee (American). Both are superb.
You could visit John van Wyhe in Singapore, then do the major islands & cross the Wallace Line.
Africa. The jungles and rivers to the mid region.
I once asked a seasoned traveler which destination was the most pleasant surprise. Without hesitation, she said “Mongolia.” She’d chosen it at random, as somewhere she hadn’t been. Not many tourists, friendly people, and filled with ancient monuments and natural beauty.
So you might want to look into Mongolia.
A friend of mine went to Mongolia and I watched her slide show. Vast hills and meadows peppered with huts. Yawn.
I might add that to my list. 😀
and a lot of good food
I’ve been to Mongolia a couple of times (1998 and 2001) and found it fascinating. But I understand that things have changed a lot there in the last 20 years – when I was there, Ulan Bator was filled with half-finished building projects that had been started with Soviet or Chinese money and then abandoned.
And, despite what summonzeus says, the food was terrible. Mutton, mutton, and then for a change, more mutton. This is a nomadic culture – they don’t do vegetables. (Again, things have changed…)
If you want a reasonable imitation of Mongolia, try south-east Wyoming. The landscape is almost identical, but the cowboys wear different hats.
LOL, I love eating broiled lamb
I’d recommend avoiding a safari but Kruger is magnificent. South Africa (Cape Town is wonderful). I just returned from a six day visit ,and combined a great visit to try and understand our human origins (it was very illuminating) and a brief visit with some penguins.
Trinidad is lovely but 2-3 weeks?? I usually plan visits of one week to ten days. There would be plenty to see and be impressed by in Colombia however, with your preferred time line.
You maybe more comfortable traveling in a group than I am and so additional suggestions may not suit you as well as those destinations suited me. I have a long history of enjoying solitude when I travel.
I think of the places I’ve been to, my favorites were Taiwan and Japan. The problem is that they’re crowded even without the tourists, but the food is to die for.
I also don’t think Taiwan as it is will be around for too long, so if you want to visit, the sooner the better.
An East African safari is a great idea, which my wife and I enjoyed immensely (the Serengeti in Tanzania). Learned a lot too.
Another place where there is lots to see and good food is Morocco, but I think you’ve already been to Marrakech at least. Wander the streets of Fez and visit the stork-occupied ruins of Volubilis. I suspect Algeria and Tunisia are similar.
How about Greece? Lots of good archaeological sites to wander around in, especially in the Peloponnese: Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Archea :Messina (a lesser known favorite of ours, with marvellous and succulent lamb in the restaurant overlooking the ruins). And the food is always good and often superb. Pictures are available on our web site, but I will avoid advertising for that.
I’ve always wanted to visit Cambodia, esp. Angkor, but never made it. And our travel days are now over, alas.
In any case, bon voyage!
After all the hype, Angkor Wat was a huge disappointment.
Pretty much any place interesting will be packed until Fall – everyone is so hungry for travel. These are probably my favorite international destinations: Iguazu Falls, – Egypt (from Cairo to Aswan), – Mayan sites in Mexico and Belize. But keep in mind the jaw-drop places we have right here in the US – Yellowstone in particular, where you are walking on a live volcano, just think about it!!! — (Yellowstone opens in winter and it is just stunning then with very low attendance and snow around hot bubbly pools and bison rooting in the snow for munchies). There is SO much here in the US – we recently visited Saguaro National Park, which is mesmerizing, and Petrified Forest (born as a forest near the equator prior to continental drift).
I intend to wait until fall.
> I use vacations to see the world’s diversity, not a strip of sand
Are there any particular activities of interest? I am a big fan of the biodiversity I have seen while scuba diving in the Red Sea, especially near the Gulf of Aqaba.
I don’t scuba but I snorkel, and really enjoy it when the fish are diverse. But it’s not, for me, the basis of a vacation.
Iceland // its many hot springs.
I loved Icelan for the many colors. But it’s more a place for geologists than for biologists.
Come to Oahu in October, I’ll buy you a Mai Tai!
If you search on YouTube you will find ‘The 10 most remote towns in the world’, the ‘most remote islands’ and so on. Proper bucket list stuff. Some of them look attractive, others look like hard work.
My wife and I took a 3 week bus/island tour of Greece a few years ago and it blew us away. Kind of a little known secret somehow despite being, you know, Greece. Both educational and full of beauty and great food, Athens is a bit rough around the edges and unpredictable at times but with the right attitude, this is charming.
…. Saharan Africa
^^^ another in my “sub” pun series.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if Bali is too touristic, Java may be a good destination. It is still touristic, but not as crazy as Bali and there is plenty to see, hear and taste.
Yogyakarta is a fine cultural centre, with the bonus of the risk from a nearby active volcano.
Jerry, I can’t remember, but have you been to Machu Pichu? That would be my choice.
Yes I have; one of the four most beautiful places I’ve visited (others: Antarctica, The Taj Mahal during the full moon, and Mount Everest).
I went on a trip to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia 10 years ago. It was a Swedish group and the trip had a bit of everything, from big cities to remote parts of Laos. Unforgettable.
Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.
If you like pacific islands you could try the Cook Islands. Also Fiji.
It would be wonderful if you could have a Big Cat encounter, and even cuddle some of their cubs. Wherever you go, I would wish you to navigate in that direction.
I want one of those, and my friend at Panthera (he’s no longer there) told me he’d advise me about which Big Cat Experiences were ethical and really helped Big Cats.
Tallinn (Estonia) is a gorgeous medieval walled city. Not as expensive as Scandanavia, and you can do trips out to the national parks and/or German manor houses. Or take a boat trip over to Helsinki for the day.
Truly. Also a trip to Tartu, to visit the statue and workplace of Karl Ernst von Baer.
How about Ecuador near where Lou Jost is?
Lou is in Baños, it’s a nice region. One place that is blowing up (albeit quietly) in the Choco is Timbiqui in SW Colombia between a river and the coast. Very unique and diverse culturally and very interesting species like Phyllobates terribilis, the most toxic of the so-called poison frogs. We have a few projects starting there if you’re interested in going.
Go to Israel and the West Bank, and talk to Palestinians.
As to splendid buildings: Samarkand and more Uzbekistan in spring, Iran – Isfahan, Yazd and Persepolis are a must see. Iran might be closed to US citizens, either by Iran or by the US. I don’t remember the food.
I can highly recommend Norway and the Fjordlands within Norway. I recommend staying the Huts that are provided at campgrounds. Most reasonably-priced accommodation in Norway. My cousin in Sweden told me there was no need for reservations and he was right. They run from 1-star (basically a wooden tent with bare bunks) through 5-star (fully-furnished little houses). We did 5-star because we had my 77-YO mother and young son with us.
We toured Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in 2012 and England in 2015. England was notably more expensive than Scandinavia. We got to stay with family, some of the time, on both trips, so that part is a wash. But hotels (and B&Bs) in the UK were more expensive than Scandinavia.
Isreal is one of the most fascinating countries I have ever visited– so much is packed into a small area: Eilat on the Red Sea, Masada (incredible), the Negev Desert, mountains, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilea, and of course all the cultural diversity and historical significance.
And Australia is probably my favorite continent. From the moment you step off the plane, it’s almost as if you’ve been transported to another planet. Be sure to tour widely, from Tasmania to the Queensland rainforests, and from the interior (notably Alice Springs) to Darwin. The bird songs and sights, and biodiversity in general, are otherworldly.
Australia – I’ve noted that as a non-obscure or logistically challenging place I want to go – in particular Ayer’s Rock is supposed to be astonishing – and then New Zealand is right there – to see behind-the-scenes of Lord of the Rings and beyond.
I’ve spent time in both. Go to NZ first. Much more scenically spectacular (be sure to see both North and South Islands, they are quite different).
Australia has some scenic sights (and it is very interesting); but they are a LONG way apart from each other.
Totally agree with NZ. We hope to be there in November (springtime) for my fourth visit (twice postponed because of Covid).
It’s interesting to see the diverse destinations proposed. We traveled widely before and after our retirement and have seen many of them and they nearly all would offer exciting opportunities.
But if you have never been to New Zealand, I would recommend it highly. We spent 5 weeks there and could have stayed longer. Since you have written extensively about the Maori, you may have a particular interest in their culture. Furthermore, the islands are scenic, the people engaging, the history unique, and new experiences can be found throughout the country. And don’t forget the wineries. I particularly enjoyed their maps showing the North Island, the Sound Island, and the West Island (Australia).
I enjoyed a visit to the University of Tartu 20 years ago, and only passed through Talinn, but have
heard well of it, and elsewhere in Estonia. Never visited Slovenia, but am told that it is beautiful,
friendly, very mitteleuropisch, and inexpensive. The Mayan ruins of Palenque were very impressive when it was off the beaten track on my visit a long, long, long time ago—but it is now apparently a sort of hipster destination (?).
Vietnam, with reservations: it is getting quite touristy, and the unspoilt coasts are rapidly becoming spoilt.
Greece, as others have suggested; try an island-hopping small boat trip. Or just go to Crete.
Can’t recall whether you’ve been to Italy much. (I can recommend the wine-growing part of Tuscany where my daughter and her fiance work).
New Zealand, now it’s open again.
cinque terre is very pretty, but also very hilly.
I would say Incredibly hilly. Twistiest roads I’ve ever driven, anywhere. (“You twist and you turn like … a twisty-turny thing!”)
Jerry, why dont’ you go to Zambia? There a former student of mine, thus a biologist, has a very nice lodge, called Konkamoya, right in the Kafue National Park . You find it easily on the web. You will see a lot of animals!
I just looked that up, and it appears that unless you want to rent out one of the big 8-person tents, there’s no other accommodation.
Zambia or Namibia are on our list.
The island of Saba is on my bucket list – maybe someday! Slovenia would also be lovely – plus they get bonus points for celebrating their lovely olm. Croatia is another I’d love to visit, and have heard it is reasonably priced and the food amazing.
Closer to home, I got to visit SE Alaska last year and it was amazing.
I was in Croatia not long ago giving talks. Lovely place, but i didn’t see a lot of it.
Israel is well worth the visit. I used to work for an Israeli company and would definitely go back.
When you’re next in Paris, I suggest a long weekend in Luxembourg. When I lived there it had more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than any other country. In addition to great food it has a long and interesting history (back to at least 963).
Note: I’ve been to Greece several times for three to six weeks, and I also lived there for 2.5 years as a child. There are other places I need to go to now.
I vote for Vietnam, it’s cheap and has interesting cities, nature, cuisine and people. Beware of all the scams though. Malaysia is great as well.
Spain: more robust and more diverse than Italy, with stunning differences between Pyrenees and Andalusia, and wild history. It requires some reading to get into the history of the place and its many peoples.
Spain is the place to hire a car and do a round country trip. Not in autum though, but in spring. Fabulous bird watching, the birds from Africa arriving, near Gibraltar in spring (and going to Africa in autumn). Spain is eary driving, good roads.
Avoid Barcelona, a place 25 year olds go to because other 25 year olds go there, and is overrated anyway. Avoid the coast, its hotels and its drunken northerners.
But go to Valencia on 13-15 March at its Fallas festival; Valencia is a more interesting place than Barcelona anyway. Go to Toledo, and its Jewish history. See the Pyrenees and Val d’Aran, and Banyoles in the foothills, where people danced traditional dances on saturday night in the town square. Cadiz, Cartagena go far back in time. Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada are stunnig (touristy, but not as bad as Amsterdam). There are many small good provincial towns, and Madrid is fabulous with art.
I’m not knowledgeable about food, but Spanish sheep and goat cheeses are worth tasting.
San Sebastian has great food, and a very nice “old town”. I like Madrid better than Barcelona, it seems more like Spain and less like a giant tourist town.
Mississippi in mid-July. I believe that time actually slows down in the oppressive heat and humidity. Forget the hip Delta and the even hipper Oxford and just hang out in the Flint, Mi., of the South: Jackson. Take your own water. The food is great.
I can recommend Ras Al Khaimah, one of the smaller Emirates, and a fascinating visit. It feels like a work in progress, a strange mixture of old and new. There’s a village called Khatt (and a spa called Khatt Springs!), and a hairpin-bend road that leads to the highest peak of the UAE, with the world’s longest zip line. Geckos are abundant, and if you find a large tree anywhere you are likely to see parakeets, rollers, bee eaters and hoopoes. Plus, just an hour’s drive from Dubai if you want to see the Jaw-dropping Burj Khalifa (book if you want to go up). Used to be Julfar, a centre of the pearl-fishing trade until the Japanese cultured pearl tanked the market. Will still be hot in the fall!
Shrewsbury …. Need I say more?
Spain: Roman roads, old forts, Napoleonic battlefields. Also I’ve been told it’s a lovely country.
The Yucatan has many Mayan archeological sites, cenotes, and some commercial caves with art. Some coastal areas have coral reefs.
Dr. Edwin Barnhart has an 8 part documentary online course (Exploring the Mayan World) on Wondrium (former Great Courses) that visits various archeological sites, a cenote, cities, markets, the Celestun biosphere wetland with flamingos, various restaurants, local industries, etc. I have been to some of the sites, cenotes, and caves, but not since the mid 1980s. Barnhart’s course made me want to return. Back when I was regularly going caving in Mexico (some 30+ visits in the 70s and 80s) we would drive from Texas and spend as much extra time as possible taking in the culture.
Japan. Food, culture, and history are world class. Just opening back up to travelers. Cranes, macaques, flying squirrels to see.
I have been fortunate enough to have spent time working in most of the places mentioned in these comments.
For sheer natural beauty, I suggest Namibia. If I wanted to sit on a beach, with access to good hotels and decent food, I would go back to the Seychelles. A bonus there are the giant bats.
I like to take vacations based on historical progressions of events. Sometimes, that is as easy as following in the steps of a military campaign. My best ever, unbeatable trip was the nuclear vacation. I took my kids, via sidecar motorcycle, through the progression of the development of the bomb. We started by prospecting for uranium in Utah, and visited lots of sites related to the Manhattan project, including the Las Alamos complex, the White Sands range, and all the related museums in those places and in between, of which there are many. We had better than average access, because we have family working in those places. The end of the US leg was Trinity. The US leg took almost three months, with lots of side trips to visit ghost towns, petroglyphs, and lesser known Anasazi sites. The next summer, we went back to Japan, focusing on museums that highlight military and WW2 history, such as Yasakuni. The trip ended in the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. The kids had been there before, but were very young. This time they got the full impact.
You could follow in the steps of someone interesting, like Alexander, Liver Eating Johnson, or Custer. Alexander would probably take decades, but you could do Custer in a summer, from West Point to Little Big Horn, with a lot of Civil and Indian wars battlefields, with a detour in Texas for BBQ and reconstruction.
But really, if I had two weeks and wanted to max out on interesting stuff and great food, without roughing it or worrying about being killed, I would go to Japan. Some of the best museums are not terribly crowded, and there are vast numbers of them. It is super easy to get around with a rail pass.
One thing I would absolutely recommend is taking in some of the firework festivals. Whatever your previous experience with fireworks, this is on a completely different level.
I can highly recommend Mayalsian Borneo. Danum Valley is great and relatively cheap for what you get and Mt Kinabalu is amazing.
I still have a dream of going to Namibia, it seems safe, very lightly populated with extraordinary landscapes and wildlife which have evolved to live in the oldest extant desert on earth.
And of course Australia 🙂
We have been to Thailand 3 times but only because the last 2 years, well, you know.
We specifically go to Chiang Mai to visit Elephant Nature Park and Happy Elephant Home, 2 elephant Sanctuaries dedicated to the ethical treatment of Elephants and other animals under their care. Lots of cats at both places.
We enjoy the food tremendously and Chiang Mai has a robust street food and culinary scene. There are a number of excellent coffee houses as well as 2 “Cat” Cafes and their selection of fried insects is extensive, though I only like the crickets. It is very reasonably priced for food, accommodations and activities.
We have walked the Monk’s Path which is a hike to a group of Buddhist Temples and we visit many other temples, mostly the ones that are decidedly NOT touristy. The Buddhist Temple of Hell is off the beaten path and not very well attended but we go there to fit in a scooter or motorcycle ride and we found it very interesting and definitely picture worthy.
We will visit again (ceiling cat willing) for 3 weeks this November and again for 2 weeks in Feb. The Feb trip will include a 3 day stop in Phuket because that trip will include friends who are beach people, but our time of choice is November to celebrate Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, a 3 day Buddhist festival to welcome the New Year, that coincides with the 1st full moon in November.
Nice enough wines are readily available in better restaurants but the “sin ” taxes on imported goods tend to make them a little more pricey than other amenities and we have been getting used to the local rums. There are a couple really good (but smallish) art museums in Chiang Mai as well as some private natural history museums. Chiang Mai is fairly easy to get around in by Grab Car (their version of Uber) and many people speak English pretty well since tourism is a pillar of the economy.
There is also terrific live music available every night of the week. Boy Blues Bar located in one of the night markets, has an eclectic mix of western music covered by local talent and we have never just popped in and been disappointed. If the Boy Blues Band is playing you are hearing world class blues. There are also Jazz Clubs and the more typical discos and Rock Clubs. Of course, we haven’t been there since November 2019, but our research for this coming November looks like much survived the Pandemic and we are looking forward to seeing our friends again. If you are interested or allow solicitations, we are currently involved in trying to rescue (which in Thailand means purchasing) a neglected elephant and have a go fund me started to raise the funds. Only if you are amenable to using this platform to help spread the word will I forward the link. Enjoy your travels! We enjoy reading about them
I field this question myself sometimes – I always answer Japan (I am biased for personal reasons). In the past 20 years they’ve geared their economy and society towards tourism a lot. Before that it was difficult if you didn’t speak Japanese but now not hard at all.
There’s a lot of great “stuff” to see, you can see a lot of it in that time frame, but the main appeal is less in the tourist sites than the way the society and civilization functions.
It is so very, very different to any other destination as in a “Wow, this is something else” sense, like India is.
Knowing your priorities though I wonder if there isn’t enough nature/animals for you – a concern.
At the moment, covid wise, it is out of bounds but prob not later this year.
NYC (formerly of Tokyo)
How about the bay of Naples region in Italy? I have visited this region in 2015, 2017 and 2021. I think it has almost everything one could desire in a vacation spot.
* Historical interest: the incredible once-buried Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Roman villas of Oplontis and Stabiae, the Roman baths of Baia, and the mammoth Greek temples of Paestum. The Archeological museum in Naples contains one of the greatest collections of classical art in the world, including rare Roman wall paintings.
* Incredible natural beauty. The Amalfi coast is stunning, as is the Cilento coast further south. Then you have the equally scenic island of Capri, with its jawdropping views, blue grotto, and villas of Lysis and San Michele. The nearby islands of Ischia and Procida are also stunners.
* Great food. Some of the best pizzas on earth. Ditto for the pasta and mozzarella. Ditto everything really. And costs are lower than in northern Europe.
Sicily is also wonderful. Impressive Greek temples and ruins in Agrigento and Selinunte, beautiful Roman mosaics in the villa of Piazza Armerina, and equally gorgeous Norman mosaics in the churches of Cefalù, Monreale, and la Martorana in Palermo. In the latter city is also the Norman Palace, with its fascinating fusion of Arab, Byzantine, and Italian decor, especially in the Palatine chapel.
That came up before, I believe.
Somebody above mentioned Spain yet said avoid Barcelona. Definitely don’t avoid Catalunya, Port Lligat, Figueres. And the Iberian peninsula includes Portugal too. Porto and the Douro can be fun.
OT Eric Herein has a new job:
Hi Jerry, I suggest you join a durian tour of SE Asia organized by a young American couple. Check out
I am in Sri Lanka at the moment (work trip). Sri Lanka has lots of political and financial issues at the moment but it is safe (there have been much reported riots, but they are few and not in the places you are likely to visit) and it is a) a paradise, b) very cheap and c) in need of hard currency. Please come!
Lebanon, as in the country, not the city in Pennsylvania (kidding). History, food, music, nightlife, great weather, right now relatively cheap for those with usd (due to the economic crisis gripping the country), stunning scenery, warm and welcoming people. And from there you could do a couple of days to Cyprus if you choose.
Off the beaten track northern South American coast: start in Belém, Brazil (great food) and then hop to Suriname and Guyana for some unparalleled rain forest experience. It’s not as dangerous as the internet might make you believe.
I haven’t been to Bora Bora but it looks wonderful for a proper vacation. It’s pricey, pristine and so not crowded. Lots of sea creatures too.
Costa Rica. The biodiversity is fabulous. A very safe country. I’ve been twice and would go back in a heart beat. We stayed in some amazing places located on large parcels of land. Could spend days in the rain forest without leaving the property. Waking up to the sound of howler monkeys and motmots outside our door. Monte Verde is a must.
South central Africa. Botswana has the best safari travel. Quite high end but worth every penny. Much better experience than mass safari tourism in Kenya and Tanzania. Also South Africa. Travel by train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. You have 2 days to talk to people on the train.
Another alternative is a northern ship cruise through the North west passage. Baffin Island. Inuit communities. Check out Adventure Canada. Always interesting “experts “ (like you) on board. This is on my bucket list. Mostly in September.