Every year at this time, travel journalists sweep out the tumbleweeds between their ears and concentrate. This is when they gift the world with lists telling people where to go in the coming year. As one of the aforementioned travel list makers, I find that people really like the lists. They even read them, or at least they look at the pretty pictures. So I devised a very scientific formula to determine the “Destinations to visit in [fill in the year of your choice here].”
I begin by thinking of places I want to visit, and places where I’d like to return, and then I write them down. And, well, there you have it. It’s kind of like making a shopping list, but with Caribbean islands and European cities instead of milk and Popsicles.
That’s a slight oversimplification. I also look at travel trends to see what’s catching people’s fancy and what kinds of vacations (eco-friendly, wellness, adventure) are au courant. I listen to recommendations from friends and readers, and I also drool over Instagram photos. My methodology, as you may have gathered, is as logical as casting Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in “The World is Not Enough.”
So why on earth would you trust me, or The New York Times, or Travel + Leisure, or anyone else to tell you where to go in 2020?
Also, please see my list below of places to go in 2020.
Back in the old days, meaning pre-Internet, people went to their travel agents to plan vacations. I saw evidence of this on the television show “The Americans.” Itineraries were spit out from loud dot matrix printers. The beauty of the practice was that the travel agent knew their customers and therefore could suggest trips to suit their clients’ interests and budgets. Those trips were realistic. What can lists from random travel writers tell you? Most likely that Kraków is the new Zagreb, or Costa Rica is very 2017, and now St. Lucia is the destination of choice. That’s fine for aspirational armchair travel, but let’s get real: Are you really going to Kraków in 2020? (No offense, Kraków.)
According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans received an average of 23.9 vacation days in 2018. A quarter of those days sat unused, and more than half of Americans said they left at least a few vacation days on the shelf. Those figures mean that the average American took 17.4 days of vacation in 2018.
Meanwhile, the New York Times offers an annual list of 52 (!) places that are must-see hot spots each year. So, 52 places in 17.4 days is a lot of travel stress. As my mother-in-law would say ¡Ay, díos mio! Even a website such as the Points Guy that recommends 20 must-visit places for 2020 is overdoing it a smidge.
But still, highfalutin’ writers (myself included) with rampant cases of wanderlust and vivid imaginations are still spitting out a sugarload of these lists.
Again, please consult my list below of where to go in 2020.
While Forbes may be recommending that travelers head to Jaisalmer, India, in 2020, people are not rushing to book flights there. Instead, Travel Leaders Group, one of North America’s largest travel agency companies, offered up a list of where people are actually planning to go next year. For international travel, locations include exotic destinations such as the Caribbean, western Europe, and Mexico. Domestically, travelers are looking at Hawaii, California, and Alaska.
Even Virtuoso, a network of 1,300 travel advisers who work with monied travelers to plan luxury trips, reports that the top global destinations their customers are booking are European countries such as Italy, France, and Greece. On the family side of travel, parents are planning to drop their ducats in Hawaii, Italy, and a remote place called Orlando.
Perhaps by now you’ve noticed a disconnect between what travel writers are recommending and where people are actually going. Are travel writers really that out-of-touch with the public? Are we too busy jetting off to Slovenia (please see my list below for details) to notice that the average American would prefer to flop on a beach while their ankle-biters make sand castles? Affirmative. But, speaking for myself, there’s another reason why travel writers create these lists.
First and foremost, we’re all looking to escape from the problems of the world; from impeachment trials to “Cats,” the world is a scary place. On days when it feels like the planet has gone to Hades in a handbag, we’d all rather be on a white sand beach sipping a ridiculously tall rum-based, umbrella-ridden drink. Whether or not we can afford to take these trips is another matter altogether. But sometimes the idea and fantasy of escape is enough.
Then there are the individuals with the time and means to take these trips. There are adventurous spirits in the universe who crave wild, far-flung vacations. They only relax while challenging themselves. They live out of backpacks, or they have enough cash stuffed in their mattresses to stay at the Ritz in Paris. Whatever the case, these lists offer actual helpful suggestions.
Perhaps travel writers aren’t as out-of-touch as you or I thought. At least that’s what I’ll tell my editor. So let’s get to it. Here’s my list of where you should go in 2020. I’m not going to serve up 52 destinations, because it’s too overwhelming, and I’m far too lazy. Instead, how about 10 places you should consider? If you don’t like any of my ideas, at least use up your vacation days. There’s no law that says binge watching “The Crown” isn’t a real vacation.
WHERE TO GO IN 2020 . . . or not
Ljubljana, Slovenia — A few weeks ago I wrote about a bike trip I took through the Julian Alps of Austria, Italy, and Slovenia. I had about 24 hours in Ljubljana and absolutely fell in love. As Arnold would say, 'I’ll be back."
Burlington, Vt. — Because of its distance from Boston (about a four-hour drive), I feel as if Burlington doesn’t get as much love in these parts as it should. But it’s a charmer of a college town that has nature nearby, an impressive craft brewery scene, and quirkiness to spare.
Peloponnese, Greece — The Greek Islands are wonderful and a great destination to tick off your list, but instead of the usual Mykonos nuttiness, try the often-overlooked Peloponnese region. An hour’s drive west of Athens, Peloponnese is the large peninsula that hangs from the rest of the Greek island and is filled with incredible scenery and history.
Bogotá, Colombia — Two years ago, every “Where to go” list included Cartagena, Colombia. It’s time to get to the capital and rediscover the beautiful history and modern museums of Bogotá. The question that came to your mind as soon as you saw this location was likely “Is it safe?" The answer is the same I would give for any city. There are great neighborhoods and not-so-great areas. Be smart, do your research, and then have fun.
Savannah, Ga. — The Spanish moss that cascades off the trees sets the romantic, and decidedly creepy tone of the city. Every city can make the claim that it has its own unique personality, but in the case of Savannah, the personality is real. It has an incredible culinary scene, a deliciously sordid past, and a gorgeous cemetery where you can wander for an entire day.
The beaches of Nha Trang, Vietnam — At the risk of sounding like one of those pompous travel writers who is always talking about the next big thing, let me tell you about the next big thing. The beaches and national parks of Vietnam are underrated jewels. The prices are low, the food is incredible, and the beaches rival anything you’ll find in the Caribbean or French Polynesia.
THE REST OF THE BEST
Bequia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines — The Caribbean the way it used to be.
Ogunquit, Maine — It has one of the nicest beaches in the state, the perfect cliff walk, and plenty to do on rainy summer days.
Edinburgh, Scotland — Boston has a new direct flight to the Scottish capital of cool.
Marrakech, Morocco — Brimming with color, culture (an Yves Saint Laurent museum!), and shopping.