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2018 Travel: 18 Destinations That Top My List

Let’s face it, I work to travel. If I could wake up in a new country each New Year, then I’m living my dream. The past few years have kicked off in Indonesia, Hawaii and the Philippines, so I’m off to a good start. And each year someone says to me, ‘I live vicariously through your pictures, tell me where you’re headed next.’ So for those of you that have asked, here’s where I’ve got my eye on this year:

1. Antarctica: Polar Diving

Antarctica is tricky because you have to take an organized trip there. This feels very unnatural to those of us that have a tendency to buy one-way tickets then go with the flow. However, I’m willing to make an exception because this has been my dream for three years now, ever since I started scuba diving. Whenever I mention it to people, the first question I always get is, ’why?’ The only people that don’t scoff are either hella good wildlife photographers, or like me, fellow scuba divers that want to see the underwater world less explored, and/or the crazy travelers that have been to the other six continents and can’t wait to check off that last box. I’ve been researching it for so long that I now joke that it’s the new Cuba. Getting there can be tricky, but one day it’s going to jump the shark when your Aunt tells you she’s taking a cruise there.

The season to go is during Antarctica’s Summer, from November to March. If you’re up for some adventure, and who are we kidding, of course you are because you’re going to ANTARCTICA, then you can find tours that allow you to kayak, snowshoe, cross-country (continent?) ski, snorkel and scuba dive. Just know that the dive trips typically go later in the season, around February/March.

Trips start booking 18 months in advance. Booking these are smart because you can ensure you book any onboard activities before they sell out. Or if you’re me, you can get on a bunch of wait lists far in advance to notify you of last minute open spots, book when all the deals happen (typically with just 4 – 8 weeks’ notice), buy a dry suit, train in said dry suit, and five weeks later 7th continent and badass dive vacation, here I come! Details to follow…

2. Chile: Patagonia & Volcano Bungee Jumping

Every time I started to plan my vacation to Antarctica, I mentioned Chile in the same sentence. If I ever got married, my dream honeymoon was to start with 10 days hiking Patagonia, followed by a voyage to Antarctica. But, since the wedding didn’t happen and planning Antarctica did, I can now look at a longer, more kick ass trip to Chile. First, of course, is Patagonia. Towering blue-white glaciers and some amazing national parks make for a gorgeous experience that I want to get to today, while everyone else is still taking selfies at Machu Picchu for one last season. And with the number of hikers headed to Torres del Paine increasing each year, take the O trail less traveled for the only chance of getting a few moments of zen to yourself.

Stop number two is the lesser known, once in a lifetime experience. I’ve been skydiving once, and I haven’t been again because it’ll be hard to top. I was 20 years old and I hovered weightlessly over the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. That is, hard to top until now. I may have been skydiving <yawn>, but I’ve never bungee jumped. From a helicopter. Into a volcano.

3. Nicaragua: Surfing, Hiking, Scuba, All the Things!

Speaking of volcanoes, how would you like to sleep on one? Camping is allowed atop the epic Telica. This, my friends, is the new Costa Rica. It’s heaven for hikers (Concepcion volcano), surfers (Las Penitas) and scuba divers (Corn Islands) alike. While I’ve seen people go for a long weekend, I don’t know how you make it shorter than a two-week trip.

4. Alaska: Denali National Park

We got super lucky and had one of the two days in August when all the stars aligned (or clouds went away) providing this perfect view of Denali.

I admit it. In college, I definitely had the basic North Face Denali jacket. Everyone at the University of Virginia had one. But I had no idea what or where Denali was. Now that I know, I have to go and finally conquer that fear of running into a bear. And while I’m there, I wouldn’t mind some ice fishing or whale watching.

Sure, you can see the Northern Lights from Ireland, but did you know you could also catch them in them in our very own Alaska? Head north to Fairbanks where they shined super bright just this past August. Keep tabs on @aurorawatch on Twitter to know when the aurora is active.

5. Banff & Jasper National Parks, Canada: Backcountry Hiking

A little foot soak in Moraine Lake post-Sentinel Pass hike.

Since apparently it’s not practical for all of my trips to revolve around diving, I’m including some bucket list hikes, as well. Jasper’s Skyline trail and Banff’s Helen Lake to Cirque Peak and Cory Pass to Mt. Edith Circuit have my name all over them.

6. Route 66: The Only Way to See the Flyover States

And while I’m knocking states off the list, Route 66 is top of my list to hit those hard to reach middle states. I’m a huge sucker for a road trip ever since my first cross-country trip in 2015, and this has #merica written all over it. I’ve drank coffee at Lou Mitchell’s in Chicago, run across the Santa Monica pier, but I’ve missed about 2,450 miles in between. This means I’ve also missed Cadillac Ranch, the shoe tree and Shea’s Gas Station Museum. I also bought a Jeep for my last cross-country road trip, which seems perfect for off-roading along the dirt roads along the now less traveled parts of Route 66. And let’s be honest, I want to sleep in a Wigwam motel (which actually looks like a tipi).

7. Honduras: Diving for Everyone & Secluded National Parks

Not far from Nicaragua lies Honduras, another scuba diver’s dream, known for year-round whale shark sightings, with the heaviest concentration from the end of March – April and October – December. For those of us obsessed with shark sightings, this is a huge deal. Diving here has something for everyone without having to go super deep, making it accessible to all levels of divers. Utila is the Koh Tao of Honduras (i.e. a factory churning out inexpensive Open Water Scuba certifications) and Roatan is the more upscale island known for its resorts and ex-Pats buying up the land.

But don’t limit yourself to the islands. Honduras also has it’s lesser traveled but vast national parks. Getting to them is half the experience, while hiking the secluded trails is the other half. Start with Pico Bonito and Cusuco National Parks, adding on if you have the time. You can find plenty of moderate to hard hikes, sure to be chock full of wildlife sightings.

8. Zambia: Safari & One of the World’s Tallest Bungee Jumps

After visiting both Kenya and South Africa, I can’t wait to branch out and explore more of Africa. While people are touting the growing safari options in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, Zambia is next on my list. Home to the famed Victoria Falls and national parks like Kafue and Lusaka, Zambia is a vast world wonder. I’m always down for safari, rafting and adventure, as the Victoria Falls bridge is home to one of the highest bungee jumps in the world at 111 meters.

9. Iceland – Tectonic Plates Diving and Sleep in a Bubble

Yeah yeah, at this point you’ve all been there, done that. And some of you during the Northern Lights, pictured above. But have you? It’s still on my list for a long weekend away. You’ve probably already done the iconic Blue Lagoon, but did you spend enough time wandering the glaciers, ice caves, waterfalls and hot springs? If you can make it more than a long layover, rent an RV and road trip around the country for the road less traveled. And if you really need convincing, who doesn’t want to sleep in a bubble under the stars? Just make sure to top it off by taking that iconic photo scuba diving, you guessed it, in the crack between the North American and Eurasian continents.

10. Belize: The Blue Hole

Is it any wonder The Blue Hole is considered one of the top wonders of the world? This is one of the many sharks we met on our second post-Blue Hole dive.

Speaking of quick weekends away, Belize is 5 hours nonstop from New York and known for its beautiful beaches and caves to explore (spelunking, anyone?). That said, I’m a shark hunter, so I recommend going during whale shark season from March – June (best chances in April/May) so you can balance your beach and caving with some epic diving.

While the Blue Hole is the most famous dive (thanks Jacques Cousteau) and by far the most advertised by travel companies, it’s also notoriously overrated. So while I will absolutely dive it to check it off the bucket list, to make the most of the long boat ride out to the Blue Hole, I’ll also hit a few more dives along the Atoll on the way back.

Then for some much needed land time, don’t forget to head inland to San Ignacio. Just getting there is an experience via 2 hour local “chicken bus,” and the ATM and Crystal Caves make for an unforgettable, albeit super wet and muddy experience.

11. Lost Coast: An Epic 25 Mile Hike

My unsuspecting roommates + Bruno hiking Lost Coast in July 2018.

When I was first test driving life in SF in 2016, a friend invited me to her housewarming party where one of the other guests first mentioned the Lost Coast. I jotted it down in my notes and Googled it when I got home. Needless to say, I’ve had this 25-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast on my bucket list ever since. This hike isn’t for beginners (just don’t tell the roommates I’m dragging with me this Summer). The hike lasts three or four days, with tides and your pace dictating how far you get over sand, gravel and rock in any given day. It’s a one-way trail, and once you start, there’s no stopping as the cliffs lining the water keep out the cars and everyday chaos, keeping in just the peace of the ocean and your fellow hikers. Only 60 people are allowed to enter the trail each day, so make sure book your King Range Wilderness permits far enough in advance.

12. Maldives: Crystal Clear Water + Under AND Over-water Hotels

While training to be a scuba instructor in Spain, I worked alongside a Maldivian surfer. (Talk about living the life!) It wasn’t until hearing him talk about the crystal clear water and abundance of dreamy dive and surf spots that this honeymoon destination made my list even as a solo traveler. Anyone who knows me well knows that I travel a ton and I’m far from fancy when I do it. That said, I occasionally like to live in the lap of luxury, especially if there is something truly unique, like the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island underwater hotel or an over water hut. Throw in a liveaboard trip to Rasdhoo Atoll to dive with hammerheads (December to April) and I’m sold.

13. Japan: All the Things

Japan has been on my list forever. Everyone’s done it. But I still want my authentic sushi, quirky love hotel, snowboarding and distillery tour.

Anyone who knows me knows my last meal would be sushi and sake (ok, or a rare burger and dark McSorley’s at Corner Bistro). So I’d be remiss not to make it to the world renowned Tsukiji fish market for the 5a tuna auction and surrounding authentic sushi restaurants.

Then, although pay-by-the-hour sexual freedom is not on my list, I still can’t imagine visiting Tokyo and not getting photos inside one of Japan’s famous love hotels. From stereotypical themes like Hello Kitty S&M and classrooms to feeling like I’m home in the NYC Subway, I must blow an hour here just for the experience. Wait, maybe I should pick another verb.

After spending 95% of my life on the East Coast, I am still in search of powdery snow. Word on the street is that Honshu, just a slight detour on the way down to Kyoto, can deliver. (Or, if you’re super brave, head way north to Hokkaido and battle those Siberian winds for some killer boarding).

Finally, to warm up, check out my favorite Japanese whisky distillery, Suntory, just South of Kyoto. Just make sure to bring me back a bottle of Yamazaki. Now, I better get there fast so I can replace this stock sushi photo since eating sushi with chopsticks in Japan is the equivalent of eating sushi with a fork in America.

14. Tonga: Swim with Gentle Giants

Fiji is another honeymoon destination I’ve had on my list, but what I didn’t know is that less than an hour plane ride away is another island filled with tropical water and mystical creatures like humpback whales. It’s called Tonga, and you’ve probably heard of it because of a certain oiled-up Olympic flag bearer. After freezing my tail off in Antarctica, swimming with whales in warm water sounds pretty darn dreamy.

Photo by the most amazing photographer I know, @scott.portelli from one of his many Swimming with Gentle Giants Tonga trips.

15. Malta: Topping All the Lists

Making every single travel list this year, Malta is the place to be. Known for its celebrations (over 400/year), scuba diving and ornate architecture, this is the new hot spot to make all your

 

Instagram followers jealous.

16. Tunisia: Because You’re Already So Close in Malta…

If you’re heading all the way over to Malta, you may as well stopover in Tunisia in North Africa. While known for its beaches, the adventurous should branch out to also explore the vast Sahara dunes, stroll the souks, and visit the ancient ruins.

17. Bolivia: South America’s Friendliest People

I’ll admit it; Bolivia didn’t make my original list. But while in Chile chatting with folks who had spent time there, followed by the most amazing couple I met on the Wilderness train in Alaska, I’m convinced. Take time to chat with the locals not yet jaded by tourists while exploring La Paz, paddling Lake Titicaca or cruising down Camino de la Muerte (Death Road) on a bike.

18. Galapagos Islands, Equator: Diving with Hammerheads

I’ve been going back and forth between the Galapagos and the Cocos Islands for years, and after chatting with enough divers, the Galapagos wins.

The issue: You have to do the Galapagos by boat. However, there are either dive boats OR tourist boats. Most of my friends don’t dive, so historically this has been the deal breaker.

Why it wins: My dream is to see schooling hammerheads (followed very closely by a whale). They’re goofy, shy, and swim in packs in the Hammerhead Triangle (known as the Galapagos, Cocos Islands and Malpelo). While the Cocos Island and Malpelo are known for their hammerheads, the Galapagos has a whole host of large creatures, including rays and turtles. While hammerheads can be seen year-round, June – November tends to have the calmest weather.

The resolve: Book a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands, then stick around and have friends meet you after for a last minute deal booking by leaving from Ecuador. Win-win.

My runner up though is still the Cocos Islands, located 550 km off the Coast of Costa Rica also known for its rays, marine iguanas and sea lions.