Last summer, an online travel booking site released a study that was fascinating, not because it was about some kooky new millennials-only eco-adventure travel fad, but because it was an honest assessment of American travel habits.
The study, conducted by edreams.net, found that most US travelers were kind of boring. Actually, very boring.
The top three domestic vacation spots were Orlando (winning by a whopping 43 percent), followed by New York and then Las Vegas. Top international vacation spots were Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The Bahamas, coming in at number four, was about as exotic and adventurous as the majority of Americans got when it came to exploring the world.
I understand the Disney phenomenon, but Orlando as the top domestic travel destination? It’s about as inspired as tepid oatmeal.
Another study released in November by the booking website Jetcost found that 61 percent of US residents said they have never traveled outside of the 48 states. Many of the 5,000 Americans surveyed said that if they had been outside the country, it was to Canada, Mexico, or one of the nearby islands.
The expense of travel was the reason 43 percent of respondents said they hadn’t traveled outside the United States, but half said they haven’t vacationed outside the country because they don’t know another language. Personal safety and distrust of foreign food were other reasons cited. The expense of travel is a very reasonable reason to stay local. Do you know what’s not reasonable? Staying local because you distrust food in other countries.
What this information tells me is that it’s time for me to grab a walking stick, slip into some Sherpa couture (does Hugo Boss make kitycows with coordinating chhubas?) and guide, nudge, and prod my fellow Americans to check out some places they may not have previously considered.
Here, in absolutely no particular order, is my list of top destinations you should visit in 2018. Please note that Orlando is not among them. Safe travels and please make it your mission to embrace exotic food in 2018.
The second most populous city in Texas celebrates its tricentennial this year with more than 500 special events. More importantly, San Antonio is finally stepping out of cooler-than-thou Austin’s nearby shadow. The Pearl, once a 23-acre brewery complex, has been transformed into a neighborhood of local shops and restaurants. The River Walk (below), a formerly bland tourist trap, has grown into 15 miles of trails that connect the city’s beautiful missions to the Pearl. There’s also time for introspection at the newly expanded botanical garden.
Grenada possesses both stunning tropical beaches and a capital city (St. George’s) so picturesque that it looks as if it were peeled from a painting. Due to its position at the southern edge of the hurricane belt, the island is generally spared from storms, making vacation planning slightly easier than it is for other islands. For those looking to escape the world of corporate high-rise resorts, Grenada is far less developed than its Caribbean neighbors, but still offers a fantastic range of hotel options.
This important port city fell on hard times in the 1980s and 1990s, but it has since rebounded as a cultural and educational epicenter for the South American country. Navigate the steep hills and view the colorful architecture from a series of funiculars. Its UNESCO-designated historic downtown offers a glimpse of the city’s golden age. It’s also just 70 miles north from the lively capital of Santiago and very close to the beautiful beaches and the grand, pristine boulevards of Viña del Mar.
Nashville is a city that perennially shows up on lists of top places to visit, and for good reason. But 2018 is looking particularly stellar here. This year 14 hotels and 80 new restaurants are scheduled to open. It’s not only tourists who are falling in love. More than 100 people move to the city every day. Look for the soon-to-open Bobby Hotel, which will sport a rooftop bar featuring a repurposed 1956 Greyhound bus, to draw a hip crowd. There are plenty of must-see honky-tonk tourist haunts, but you can skip them all and still have a sensational long weekend sampling the top-shelf restaurants and the always incredible range of live music.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
It’s not quite Fiji, and it’s definitely not Hawaii. The remote Cook Islands are part of New Zealand but situated in the South Pacific. The nation of 15 islands scattered across an area the size of India has relied mainly on visitors from Australia and New Zealand for its tourism-based economy. Most visitors focus on the capital Rarotonga and the atoll of Aitutaki, a 50-minute flight north. The islands are (slowly) being discovered by those outside of the region. With miles of unspoiled and unoccupied beaches, the Cook Islands are ideal for relaxing, snorkling, and soaking up the local Maori culture.
Tallinn is in danger of becoming too popular, partially because it keeps winding up on lists such as this one, and partially because it’s a beautiful city with a well-preserved Old Town, sandy beaches, and an incredible restaurant scene. In addition to Old Town you can wander in the bohemian Kalamaja district, the posh Kadriorg area, or head to the Pirita promenade, which runs parallel to the sea. Watch the boats sail by and check out the city skyline in the distance.
The Blue Mountains, Australia
In a country with so many natural wonders, it’s easy to forget about the Blue Mountians and the sprawling Jamison Valley in New South Wales. The blue haze that often sits over the valley inspired the name. About two hours north of Sydney, the area is popular with hikers, rock climbers, and mountain bikers. But you can also enjoy the region without breaking a sweat by taking a ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which is the steepest funicular railway in the world, according to the Guinness World Records. You can get a better look at the valley and its flora and fauna on the Scenic Skyway, a glass-bottom aerial cable car. There are plenty of scenic walks to enjoy the rain forests and the rock formation known as the Three Sisters.
The devastating October 2017 fires that raged in Napa Valley destroyed an estimated 8,400 homes, killed 42, and resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. Shockingly, the fires only had a minimal effect on Napa’s winery industry. According to the Wine Institute, an advocacy and policy group, of the 1,200 regional wineries, about 10 were destroyed or heavily damaged. Nearly 90 percent of this year’s harvest was already complete, the institute said. The Napa Valley Vintners reports that of its 330 member wineries, about 47 sustained direct damage. These wineries and the beautiful Napa region are once again open for tours and tastings, and counting on vacation dollars to help return to normal.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Mutherand on Instagram @Chris_Muther.