A true African safari has been on my bucket list for years. While I haven't gone on one yet, I'm always doing research on safaris for the future. Enjoy this guest post by South African safari tour guide and expert, Robert!
As 2014 moves to a close it's time to see where 2015's adventures will take us. From medieval Mdina, Malta to the white sands of the Maldives, here are our 10 picks for travel destinations in 2015.
1. Australia and The Great Barrier Reef
To see the world's largest ecosystem, go northeast of Australia for marvelous life and color underwater. Due to Australian government developments to add more ports, there will be some destruction on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Now's the time more than any to see the reef in its current state.
2. Savannah, USA
This Georgian coastal town has been getting hype recently, and it's not hard to see why - think American southern charm, gorgeous Spanish moss trees, and plenty of US history.
3. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is an Eastern European gem that deserves more recognition. Seeing the Hungarian Parliament building lit up at night is more than enough reason to head to Hungary (it was constructed with the viewer's eye in mind).
Also read: The Thermal Bath Experience in Budapest
Malta is an often overlooked European country as it is a small Mediterranean island off the south coast of Italy. Maltese is the official language, though a majority of the people speak English. Don't let its small size deter you though - there are a number of activities to occupy your time, including diving, a trip to the blue lagoon, or wandering around the streets of Mdina, a medieval walled city.
China's tourism continues to be on the rise, which is no surprise. Try Beijing or Shanghai for a big city feel or Macau for a taste of "The Vegas of the East." For a not-so-typical experience, head to the countryside for a more immersive and rural feel or the islands for a tropical vibe.
6. New Zealand
For adventure sports and scenery that is beautiful beyond comprehension, add New Zealand to your 2015 travel list. Spend time on the north island for volcanoes, mountains, forests, and beaches or on the south island for hiking, winter sports, and rafting.
The Maldives are supposedly offering more budget-friendly opportunities, which is exciting for backpackers who have dreamed of this formerly "luxe only" destination. With turquoise water and white sand, you'll never want to leave this Central Asian paradise.
Spend some time wandering Transylvania this 2015. Picturesque castles, including Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle!) and Peles Castle await, in addition to other things to do, like spending some time on the beaches of the Black Sea Coast.
Spanning over 2,600 miles of coastline, Chile offers something for any traveler. If you're looking for mountains, the city, the desert, or even the natural wonders of Patagonia, you'll find it all in Chile.
Many say that Iceland and New Zealand are similar in a number of ways, due to their remoteness, natural beauty, and opportunity for adventure. For Iceland, however, make sure you try gourmet hot dogs, take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, or go to Gullfoss Waterfall. If you have the time, take a road trip on the "Ring Road," a popular, circular route around the country.
Is traveling expensive? It can be, but it doesn't have to! Instead of getting discouraged immediately after checking the price of flights, start to think outside the box when it comes to planning your next trip. If your dream destination is somewhere warm on a beach, look into Southeast Asia - there are hoards of beaches there. If it's classic European architecture, check out the castles and cathedrals of old-world Eastern Europe. If it's something adventurous or outdoors-y, look into Central or South America. For somewhere totally exotic and different, head to Central Asia.
Below are a few destinations around the world on a budget that will still satisfy your desire to travel that won't drain your bank account. This list can help get you started when thinking about where to go!
Also read: Where To Find Cheap Flights
Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.
Countries in Southeast Asia are extremely inexpensive to travel to. This region is often called a "backpacker's paradise" due to being safe, cheap, and with multiple countries that are easy to get to. Get started with a Full Moon party in Thailand, waterfalls in Laos, pristine beaches in Cambodia, delicious fusion food in Singapore, or bright green rice fields in Indonesia.
For an Eastern Asian adventure without the Tokyo price tag, head to South Korea. Sing karaoke, eat Korean barbecue, and take trips through the lush countryside to see this stunning country.
Eastern Europe and The Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegonia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania
This region of Eastern Europe is far cheaper than its western counterpart. While London and Paris are amazing cities, you can find accommodation for days in parts of Eastern Europe that cost the same as one night in the former two. You'll get a more in-depth experience and set foot in parts of Europe that many travelers never get to. The castles and architecture are gorgeous, too!
Istanbul is one of the most interesting cities in Europe, partially due to its influences with both the West and East. It's really cheap, and the farther east you go, the cooler it gets. Hot air ballooning in the Cappadocia region is a popular activity these days, as is taking a cruise along the sparkling Mediterranean Coast.
Greece is a European country that many people assume is outrageously expensive but is far more affordable than you'd think. Read the Greece section on this post for more reasons why.
Morocco tends to be more on the inexpensive side for tourists, especially if you're getting there from Western Europe (in which case, it will seem very inexpensive). Avoid tourist scams to save your money, and enjoy the beauty and exotic flavor of this country.
If you can get to Madagascar, you'll notice that prices are on the lower range for accommodation, transportation, etc. You never know, it could be worth it to see the Avenue of Baobabs in person, where baobab trees reach heights of about 100 feet.
Peru has Machu Picchu which is already awesome, but you'll also find jungles and beaches in this South American country. Go to Lima or Cuzco for a city vibe, or head out to Lake Titicaca to marvel at this huge lake that sits over 12,000 feet above sea level.
North America in general can get pretty pricey, but if you want to go to the US, shave down the cost of seeing big cities in different parts of this large country by driving instead of flying. This will significantly cut down your costs and allow you to stop at unexpected spots on the way! Popular routes include:
-Historic Route 66 (California-Arizona-New Mexico-Texas-Oklahoma-Missouri-Illinois)
-Deep South (Louisiana-Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia)
-Pacific Coast Highway (Washington-Oregon-California)
-California to New York
-I-90 (East-West interstate highway along northern states)
-Southwest loop (Los Angeles-San Diego-Phoenix-Grand Canyon-Zion NP-Las Vegas)
Panama If you're craving Central American beaches but aren't digging the idea of Costa Rican prices, go a little further south to Panama. Rainforest, tropical birds, beaches, diving, and surfing are a few of many great things to see and do in Panama.
Oceania & The Pacific
Islands: Fiji, Northern Mariana Islands
Aside from Australia and New Zealand, which are both notorious for being pricey, look into islands in Oceania. Fiji is a great alternative to the Caribbean if you're looking for a beach getaway. Also check out some other islands, such as the Northern Mariana Islands - Saipan is on the US dollar and is relatively inexpensive (read more about Saipan here and here)!
Three amazing countries. Three very different countries. But they all hold high spots on my travel bucket list. Here's why:
Thailand is the top destination for travelers to Southeast Asia. It's been called a "backpacker's paradise" due to being very inexpensive, in close proximity to neighboring countries, and endless things to do. From the white sand beaches to the jungle, to the bustling city of Bangkok, so much draws me to "the land of smiles." And the food! My mouth waters every time I read about or see photos of authentic Thai food. I already love the Americanized Thai food I eat at home, so I can't imagine the deliciousness of authentic Thai food. And as someone who enjoys sun and warm weather year-round, Thailand sounds like the perfect paradise.
Other blog posts about Thailand to check out:
11 Reasons Why I Love Thailand by Nomadic Matt
I Choose Travel by Heart My Backpack
Koh Samui Nightlife, Waterfalls, and Burlesque by Hippie in Heels
I've had a number of friends who rave about South Africa from their travel experiences or time spent living there. The beauty of Cape Town I see in photos never ceases to amaze me and hiking Table Mountain is a dream of mine. I'd love to take a hot air balloon ride, visit Johannesburg, and go on safari to spot wild animals that I've only seen in the zoo as a child. The South Africans I've met have been nothing but extremely friendly, and I'd only expect the same when visiting the country firsthand.
Other blog posts about South Africa to check out:
Must-Dos For Any South Africa Trip by Go Seek Explore (guest post)
My First Time On Safari by World of Wanderlust
I've been trying to plan a stopover in Reykjavik with Iceland Air so many times while going to Europe, but wasn't able to make it happen due to various reasons. The isolated northern island country has always intrigued me. What are the people like? What do they do in their spare time? A friend recently had a quick stopover in Iceland and her photos of all the natural beauty made my wanderlust for Reykjavik even stronger. Oh, and seeing the Northern Lights would be pretty cool too.
Other blog posts about Iceland to check out:
37 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Iceland Right Now by Bored Panda
Have you been to any of these countries? I'd love to hear your stories and travel tips!
Enjoy this guest post from my friend Aryn who went on a South Africa tour in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Kruger National Park. From spotting elephants on safari to hiking iconic Table Mountain, Aryn recounts her experiences and shares her "musts" for any trip to Africa's most southern country. My very first time outside leaving North America was on a trip to South Africa the summer before my senior year in high school. I’d been to Vancouver, BC up in Canada before but this was my first big trip – and without my family.
I didn’t really know what to expect traveling abroad. I thought there would be a lot of culture shock but there really wasn’t. Instead I was greeted by a country rich with history. I quickly learned that South Africa’s unique diversity was something to be admired (lots and lots of different foods!) and that everyone had a story.
Here are a few of my most memorable experiences from South Africa.
After a long flight from London Heathrow we landed for our first official day in Johannesburg. Initially, it was like any city that I’d seen on TV (keeping in mind I’d never actually been to New York City either). There were lots of cars and people everywhere. But as we began to drive to our hotel I started to notice some differences. The place we were staying was a four star hotel (not many Marriotts or Holiday Inns) but the drive there from the airport you saw everything close to poverty: displaced migrants from Zimbabwe setting up makeshift homes from scrap metal on swamplands; lots of children just out and about. It felt so weird to just get on a bus and go back to a hotel and remain separated from everyone on the other side of the glass. So maybe that was my culture shock moment.
Within the next couple of days we learned more about South Africa’s suppressive history and visited the Apartheid Museum.
In 1950 racial segregation between white South Africans and nonwhite South Africans (a majority of the population) became legal when the National Party gained control of the government and began to rule with intense white supremacy. The legislation of this was called apartheid.
As we walked into the museum we saw different artifacts from the apartheid. I recall the arches above the doorways to the exhibits labeled as “whites” and “non-whites” – from the start it was clear that this was the theme.
I imagine it’s always hard to really understand the Civil Rights era in America because growing up in the nineties I never knew differently. But because Apartheid in South Africa had only ended in 1994, the memories of oppression were still fresh.
The museum was especially powerful, highlighting the famous protests of young students against the government, the segregation of everyday life, and the violence that took place for almost half a century.
Why it’s a must: The Apartheid was a big piece of South Africa’s history and explains why the country has been so late to develop and the characteristics of its population. For me, visiting the Apartheid Museum was as powerful as visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
Kruger National Park
After about four days in Johannesburg, we began moving our way north to Kruger National Park. I think it’s just about everyone’s dream to go on safari in Africa. And it totally was. Because it was Southern Africa’s winter, we lucked out our entire stay there.
We arrived to the Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and I must say it wasn’t anything like I expected. We stayed in cabin tents on the residential grounds of the private reserve area of the national park and there were even wild hogs (so cute!) running about.
Most of our time at Hoyo Hoyo was spent on safari. Our first time we saw a pride of lions feasting on wildebeest and we started every morning with a sunrise safari to not only catch the morning sun – cue the “Circle of Life” – but to spy on giraffes and elephants.
My experience on the safari was nothing short of incredible. There were guides to take us on bush walks, educating us on the different plants and tracking patterns of the wildlife in the park. On one drive we actually got out of our jeep and stalked a pregnant leopard on foot!
Why it’s a must: Come on. It’s an African safari. There is nothing cooler (or more ethical, I might add) than seeing animals in their natural habits. No less seeing animals you only dream about in the movies. While I was there I tried some ethnic foods such as impala and various types of native fruits – food I’d never have anywhere else.
After leaving Hoyo Hoyo we drove back to Johannesburg (a killer 8-hour drive through the South Afrin countryside – at least we got to see sites like God’s window and stand at the top of some beautiful cliffs) to fly out to Cape Town.
Random: I will say right now that the first time I tried any type of curry was on South African Airlines. And it was pretty darn good.
When we arrived in Cape Town, I realized that the city was just as beautiful as I imagined it. Again, the city has so much history but it also laid claim on some devastatingly beautiful landscapes. During our time there we visited Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela served his nineteen years. But my favorite was the outings we went on outside the city.
The morning we went to Table Mountain we took a cable car to the top. I mean, you knew when you were looking at it days before from below that it was pretty far up. But when we got to the top you could literally see everything from above, like Robben Island, the beautiful ocean, the city, and other parts of the coast.
It was an awesome feeling up on top of the world – at least that’s what it felt like. During the 2010 World Cup I remember seeing all the media shots of Table Mountain and it brought back a lot of (windy) memories.
Cape Good Hope
One of my other favorite parts of our time in Cape Town was driving up the coastal region to Cape of Good Hope. Cape of Good Hope, while it is commonly mistaken as the southern most tip of Africa, it has always been a point of significance for sailors, mainly because of its beauty as they begin to round the coast. Again, hiking up in this area was absolutely beautiful, especially with panoramic views.
How often do you get to see penguins in AFRICA? I didn’t even think that this was a possibility. But then again I didn’t even realize that June was Africa’s winter. So when we arrived at Boulders Beach to see some penguins, I was nothing short of amazed.
Why these were a must: The entire country of South Africa is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It was kind of refreshing to be so close to the ocean after spending a whole week inland. The sites are breathtaking and you really see why so many people fall in love with Africa’s coastal cities.
But… What I wish I had done…
If I could go back to South Africa there’s no question in my mind that I would go back on safari and return to Cape Town. But I’d also do the following:
Great White Shark cage diving – When we were in Cape Town we went on a boat ride to Seal Island. Little did I know that very close to there are the most Great White Shark-infested waters in the world. As naïve high schoolers do, we joked about dangling our cameras over the side of the boat, not realizing that there was the possibility of Great Whites roaming the waters below. Now, as a huge fan of Shark Week (go figure after that story, right?) I think after that experience all I’ve ever wanted to do was go back and get in those waters right next to those sharks. So ever since shark cage diving in South Africa has been at the top of my bucket list.
Wine tasting in Cape Town – Though I wasn’t old enough to really appreciate the countryside in South Africa, I’ve become well aware since that they have some pretty awesome vineyards producing some pretty savvy wines.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden – At some point in our time in Cape Town we decided pretty early on that the last thing we wanted to do was go see some flowers. So we didn’t. Looking back now, if I went back with friends or loved ones, I should’ve went. As a twenty-something I definitely think I have a bigger appreciation in exotic blooms and finely landscaped gardens.
I don’t know why it always seems so corny to me when I think it but I often return to the thought that I left my heart in Africa. Maybe it was because it was so long ago and high school Aryn had much more trivial issues that those of my 23-year-old self. But it was a truly amazing experience, especially for my first time outside of North America. But there’s so much of the continent that I am so excited to explore.