It’s practically the end of the year, so it’s high time for 2013’s travel plans! Lonely Planet is all about ‘Best in Travel 2013’ these days; I’ve recently come across one of their articles
[www.lonelyplanet.com/themes/best-in-travel-2013/best-value-destinations/] and I couldn’t agree with them less. Just a few reasons why these are definitely not best-value destinations: Brazil is the most expensive South American country and especially in Rio, prices tend to really go out of control; Sweden (like all Scandinavian countries) is very expensive; Slovenia is the most expensive country from the former Yugoslavian block; last but not least, as you know, I’ve travelled through Georgia one month ago and I can guarantee that the prices are not as low as you might expect.
Consequently, here is my ‘Best in Travel 2013’. I have considered many factors in setting it up (ease in getting there and in travelling through the country, flight prices and domestic prices, ‘off-the-beaten-track’ factor, etc.) and I will try to explain them as they apply to each specific destination.
You might say that I can’t get enough of it! True, but I can tell you – in my defence – that Scotland is amazing. It is strikingly beautiful and once you go there, it will stay forever in your heart and your return there will be guaranteed.
Why go now: Contrary to what you might think, Scotland is still remote and you still get the feeling of ‘discovering it all’, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Even if prices can be high at times, what I love about Scotland is that there are options for every budget (in terms of food, transport, and accommodation). Furthermore, the people are extraordinary and you will definitely have a total travelling experience in this magical land.
What could stop you: Time. There’s so much to see in Scotland that even 2 or 3 weeks won’t be enough to tour, for example, the entire Highlands and the Islands. What could you do? Stick to only one region: visit the Hebrides and the West Coast, go for the Orkneys and Shetland plus the northern Highlands, or have a beautiful Lowland experience on the East Coast.
The romantic Broughty Castle, near Dundee (Scotland)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Scotland in one year, this can be a very fulfilling experience for every traveller! Bosnia is pristine, untouched, extremely wild and beautiful. It can charm you each and every time.
Why go now: The prices are still low, the food is great, the scenery is fantastic, the people are very welcoming, and the secret’s not yet out of the bag, so you won’t be one of the many-many tourists. One more tip: Bosnia is home to one of the best rafting and kayaking rivers in the world! If you’re into extreme water sports, it’s the perfect spot to combine the challenge of the waters, the beautiful turquoise colours of the rivers, and the jaw-dropping beauty of the banks.
What could stop you: Prejudice. The days of the war are long gone. Don’t let a bitter and sad event spoil a wonderful and unique experience that Bosnia might turn out to be.
Last year's rafting on Una (Bosnia), my favourite river in the whole world
- Northwestern China
China has such a vast territory that you cannot expect to cover large distances and really immerse yourself in the local culture. This is a region of China I’ve been dreaming to visit for a long time and I might make it there next year. My main ‘target’ is Kashgar and its surrounding areas.
Why go now: Travellers to China disregard this remote and arid area. However, it could turn out to be quite a cultural shock: you will be surrounded by people with Turkish traits, speaking an Altaic language and sometimes mixing it with Russian, yet you will still be in China! A big plus is the Sunday animal market in Kashgar, which is almost unchanged from the ‘Silk Road’ days.
What could stop you: Papers. For us, Romanians, getting a Chinese visa on our own can get pretty tricky. The long queues would require some careful planning, which is very difficult in Central Asia.
This is truly a destination on the rise. It combines nomadic fascination with many natural wonders and I’ve heard that the people here are among the friendliest on Earth!
Why go now: The prices are still very low, there aren’t many visitors, yet the country has a lot to offer. It’s a must for horse and rafting lovers!
What could stop you: Eating habits. It is a very difficult country to travel in, especially for vegetarians. The Kyrgyz diet is meat-based and I’ve read a lot of articles on this issue. Apparently, the people in this country don’t understand you if you tell them that you don’t eat meat and will find it offensive that you are not willing to try out their food. So, vegetarians and vegans worldwide, bring lots of supplies from home!
What did I actually know about Tajikistan before starting a research on it, as a possible 2013 destination? Not much. I had seen some beautiful pictures of the Tajik countryside and that was about it. By digging more and more into what this Central Asian country has to offer, I realised that I wanted to go there and experience it for myself.
Why go now: Tajikistan is practically unknown as a tourist destination, which could turn your travelling experience into one of the most authentic ever.
What could stop you: Again, papers. Almost every nation in the world needs a visa to get into Tajikistan. Plus, there’s no Tajik embassy in Romania, so if I truly want to get there, it will be a hassle, because I won’t be able to plan anything beforehand. Trying to get the visa from one of the neighbouring countries – Kyrgyzstan, for instance – would be an option. And trying to combine the two countries for an unforgettable journey would be another option.
You cannot help falling in love with Argentina. It is unexpectedly wild and diverse, so getting bored is out of the question!
Why go now: The prices are still ok, the domestic transportation infrastructure is very good, it’s got vibrant cities, great food and music, glorious wildlife and landscapes and the people... well, the people stay in your heart. Forever.
What could stop you: Airfare. If 2010 and 2011 were good years to find cheap flights to Buenos Aires (and make your way through Argentina from there), prices have been on the rise ever since. However, Turkish Airlines is about to introduce direct flights to Buenos Aires, so prices might start dropping.
The red earth of Esteros del Iberá (Argentina)
Chile is a must for every traveller! This is my opinion, at least. It has something to suit every taste, every style, every budget.
Why go now: Because if you don’t, you will miss out on a lot. This is the place to be for culture and adventure lovers!
What could stop you: Airfare. Flights to Chile are expensive, we all know that. A big plus is the LANPASS, which lets you enjoy some heavily discounted flights in South America if you purchase your flight to Chile from them.
- Ivory Coast
I will admit that Ivory Coast is my ultimate destination. I want to get there badly. The wildlife diversity it offers, the intrepidness of a journey there, and the unique customs it boasts would turn it into an adventure of a lifetime.
Why go now: The political situation is calmer and this West African jewel is still not invaded by tourists. Plus, the contrast between the colonial life of Ivory Coast’s big cities and the countryside is a must-see!
What could stop you: Danger. Ivory Coast has a bad reputation, that of being a very dangerous destination. On the other hand, bad things can happen to you even when you are travelling in the safest of places. If we act sensibly, we will have nothing to worry about!
It is the only Baltic state I didn’t visit (although I’ve been dreaming to do it) and this year I met four extraordinary Lithuanians in Iceland, as we were part of the same rafting team. We quickly became friends and I saw some amazing pictures taken in their country, so my mind is set: I will get there!
Why go now: Compared to the neighbouring countries of Latvia and Estonia, the prices tend to be lower in Lithuania. There are many attractions – both cultural/historical and natural – and Lithuania can be a year-round destination!
What could stop you: Airfare. It is rather difficult to find cheap plane tickets to the main Lithuanian hub, Vilnius. A solution to that would be flying to Warsaw and taking a bus to Vilnius from there (I’ve found some tickets even for 16 Euros via Eurolines, which is a good deal).
Every year, I travel to a Romanian region I have never visited and my beautiful and wild country doesn’t stop to amaze me. I recommend it with all my heart to all the travellers who are searching for an authentic experience (in every way possible).
Why go now: Beat the crowds! Experience medieval centres, rich in history, unique natural sites, and the inspiring kindness and hospitality of Romanians!
What could stop you: Again, prejudice. As Romania is described in all sorts of bad colours and gets some bad (mainly political) reviews from many European nations, you might be tempted not to come. Get past this idea, and you will discover a fairy-tale land and a wild beauty not to miss!
Danube Gorge in Southwestern Romania (near Orşova) [view from the Serbian side]