Culture Travel

Places that are distracting me

If you suffer from wanderlust, the beginning of the year is a particularly painful time. It’s a time of real sensory overload. Every magazine, newspaper and online platform publishes its ‘places to visit this year’ feature.

The sheer volume of beautiful photography and lyrical prose are enough to inspire even the most committed homebody — but it comes at a time of year associated with financial penury, just after the holidays.

So, now that we’re almost half way through the year, what better time to revisit some of these lists.

This year’s lists

Panama was a popular listing on this years list. Photo © JessicaToale

It’s so interesting to see which places capture the imagination each year — and there always tends to be few common themes.

The New York Times 52 Places to Go has become a fast favourite of mine. It’s certainly an ambitious list of places, and for the past two years they have sent a reporter off to cover all 52 places on the list over the year. It contains a combination of cities, regions and countries. It is more US centric that many other lists — containing about half US listings — but then again, that is unsurprising given the publication and its audience. Who’s ever thought of going to Colombus, Ohio?

So taking together the New York Times, Lonely Planet, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Conde Naste, The Financial Times and a number of other travel publications these were some the top contenders this year:

  • The Stans — Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in particular — made a strong showing again on this year’s lists. These silk road countries are evocative of mystery and history, they have contemporary relevance with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and they are considered relatively untouched — one of the few places left that haven’t been over run by tourism. A big draw for the seasoned traveller.
  • Areas of outstanding natural beauty — Lake Baikal, the Azores, the Elqui Valley in Chile, the Scottish Highlands, Tahiti, the Falklands and various Arctic Circle locations all featured on a number of lists for their unique geographies and ecological characteristics. A greater awareness of the impacts of climate change has certainly raise interest in these relatively untouched yet fragile ecosystems.
  • Central America —Azure coasts, colonial architecture and pristine rainforests all made Central American and Caribbean locations popular this year. Pamana, Belize, Mexico and Puerto Rico all featured heavily in the lists.
  • Cities — Most lists contain a few cities, both well-trodden and relatively new, but the overwhelming favourite this year appeared to Houston — THE city to visit this year. Singapore, Dakar in Senegal and Plovdiv in Bulgaria also got good outings.
  • Various locations within Germany, China, Japan, Australia, Italy, Denmark, France, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Bhutan, India also consistently made it onto the list.

There were two big surprises for me this year. The first was Wyoming — this even made it onto a few non-US focused list. The US state provided the backdrop to early scenes in the movie Vice, which was released at the beginning of the year.

The second was the appearance of Iran on the New York Times list. It is famously difficult for Americans, Brits and Israelis (and journalists) to go to Iran — and will particularly so now given the emerging political situation. But then, perhaps that’s why it’s on the list — a sly two fingers up to El Presidente.

The places distracting me

I’ve been lucky enough to go to 9 different countries already this year — including Panama which was a new one for me.

But there are a few places still distracting me that will keep me busy inventing reasons to fit them in before the end of the year…

1. Ethiopia

Simien Mountains National Park. Photo courtesy of

Ethiopia has been top of my list since some friends came back from a holiday hiking in the Simien mountains. It looked incredible. They also fit in visits to Gondor and Lalibela to see churches cut out of the rock and ancient fortresses. Rather unfortunately, despite having spent multiple hours in Addis Ababa airport, I’ve never made it out. I’ve had friends who lived there, and we almost made it there for a family holiday there, but ended up going to Sri Lanka (also not bad…)

I bought my dad a copy of Tahir Shah’s In Search of King Solomon’s Mines in anticipation of the trip. This year I’m hoping to run the Great Ethiopia Run, especially after I found out a friend helped to set it up! So November it is…

2. Puerto Rico

Street art culture in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of

Sure, Puerto Rico has some magical beaches and surf breaks — but the music! Music is what made me fall in love with Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. A love of salsa, merengue and bachatas later morphed into a love of reggaeton and hip hop. Puerto Rico’s music scene is particularly vibrant.

Puerto Rico made it on to the New York Times list as the number one location this year for its beaches, waterfalls, El Yunque and adventure tourism. Jimmy Fallon also famously took on the “Monster” zip line.

I’ve always fancied going for a spot of surfing, late-night dancing and recreating the runaway decadent lifestyle that Hunter S Thompson’s character Paul Kemp attempts in the Rum Diaries.

3. Mongolia (and the TransSiberian railway)

Horse riding and falconry in Mongolia. Photo courtesy of

This was our top pick for our honeymoon. However, we decided that we couldn’t do the country, or the journey, justice without allowing sufficient time.

The idea was to spend some time in a luxury ger, horse riding on the steppe, learning falconry and archery, followed by a stay in the Terejl Hotel and Spa.

But not satisfied with a couple of weeks in this beautiful country, I wanted to take the TransSiberian train from Russia through to Ulaanbaatar, which would take about two weeks. Plus a bit of time spent in Moscow to start. All in all I think we would have needed 5 weeks. The plan is now to do this for our first anniversary.

4. Petra

View of Petra from above. Photo courtesy of

Anyone who has spent any time on Instagram will have seen some envy-inducing photos from the majestic ruins of Petra. I’m not immune to FOMO. I’ve visited a number of ancient sites, but Petra remains one that I return to in my imagination.

5. Montenegro

Island hotel in Montenegro. Photo: Getty Images via Architectural Digest

Montenegro has also been on the list for a while — its natural parks, beautiful beaches and sunsets. I’m volunteering in Sarajevo later in the year, so I hope to be able to take some time after to visit this little country.

The thing that caught my eye most recently is a pretty spectacular art event at Amam Sventi Stefan Hotel. This July, an exhibition at the hotel will feature works from one of the world’s most admired private collections — including Picassos, Miros, Chagalls and Warhols.

Honourable mentions:

  • Lviv — This pretty Ukrainian town sits on the train line between Krakow in Poland and the capital Kiev. A short trip I’d like to take, ending with visits to the art galleries in Kiev.
  • Tatra mountains — Want something a little different from France this ski season? The Tatra mountains come pretty well recommended, and the slopes around Jasna are meant to be good for all levels. Crucially a little cheap than the more popular resorts further West.
  • Oman — Spectacular red desert beside beach. Best to go early from November to April before it gets to hot. Has a distinctive culture which makes it a nice alternative to its neighbouring Emirates.
  • Lichtenstein — Scuppered by my snowboarding injury, I’m hoping to go on a road trip this summer from Zurich to Lake Konstanz passing through the principality.

Originally posted on Medium here.

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