There are inevitable pledges that come with every new year — we vow to get healthier, be more organized and perhaps call or visit our parents more often, among other things.
Just as many of us are also determined to fill up our passports and round out our digital scrapbooks with memories from around the world. The best part about travel is that there are no rules. And everything counts.
From low-budget overnight solo staycations to multigenerational, multi-stop adventures lasting months at a time that burns through a lifetime of savings, you can feed the travel bug in your own way.
Here are 22 top places to visit to add to your 2020 travel bucket list, in absolutely no order whatsoever:
Architecture nuts will want to devour Madrid. Foodie heaven can be found in free tapas across the city. And there’s no shortage of art and dance for culture aficionados.
Stay somewhere central like the Iberostar Las Letras Gran Vía to make the most of your time in this historic city. Eat Iberico ham at every opportunity and go to the oldest restaurant in the world (Restaurante Botin). Be sure to see a flamenco show (Cardamomo is the most popular) and visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which isn’t as well-known as The Prado but easier to digest in a few hours. Finally, find some Spanish extra-virgin olive oil to bring home. You won’t be sorry.
There’s more to Ibiza than clubbing, even if that’s how this Balearic Island is best-known. It starts to quiet down in September when the weather is still good for daily dips in the Mediterranean. By the end of October, however, there are only a handful of hotels that remain open. Don’t miss Es Vedrà — the third-most magnetic place on earth next to the North Pole and Bermuda Triangle — and the walled city and UNESCO World Heritage Site called Dalt Vila. Also, nab a reservation for El Bigotes well in advance to enjoy one of only two daily seatings to sample the local fish stew.
Pro Tip: stay in the smaller towns like Santa Eulalia — especially if you’re no longer in your 20s — and travel into the party.
Barcelona (especially Barcelona!)
Barcelona brings together the history of Madrid with Ibiza’s famed nightlife and adds a beach within walking distance of its downtown core, Plaça de Catalunya at the top of Paseo de Gracia. Barcelona has it all — and it feels like its own country within Spain thanks to its strong Catalan roots.
Hop on (and off) the Barcelona Bus Turístic to get your bearings when you arrive. There are free walking tours, like Runnerbean Tours, for every corner of the city every day and the Gaudi architecture tour in particular shouldn’t be missed; just take a few Euros to tip the excellent guides. Check out one of the world’s oldest food markets, Le Bouqueria. Visit the Sagrada Familia, but get tickets to go inside, too (it’s wildly different than its extraordinary exterior). Go to La Barceloneta Beach and find “The Fish.” And wind your way through the labrynth that is Barcelona to eat at El Xampanyet.
Take a Quebec road trip that goes from Montreal to Mont-Tremblant and Quebec City to Charlevoix. Eat all of the poutine La Belle Province can throw at you while you’re there.
In the warmer months, go paddleboarding along the St. Lawrence, ride bikes through 10 kilometres of Tremblant’s backwoods; pass through Kenauk Nature Resort and explore its many lakes by kayak or canoe; do a food tour of Montreal with Spade & Palacio; stroll through Old Quebec City and then go in search of Montmorency Falls; drive around Baie-Saint-Paul and cross to Isle-aux-Coudres on the free ferry.
If you visit in winter, you can learn to ski/board or put your expertise to the test at Le Massif, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Tremblant or more than 65 other dedicated ski hills. Go snowmobiling on some 6,000 kilometres of trails throughout the province. Or try any number of other cold weather-friendly activities, like electric fat biking, dune-buggying, horse-sledding (yes, that’s a thing), snowshoeing, tubing and more.
Psssst! Here are some insider tips for a Tremblant winter stay.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
European capital cities are always pretty special, but Amsterdam is downright surprising. Just don’t call it Holland.
It rivals Venice for its extensive canal system, actually has more bikes than people and has been a trailblazer for cannabis users and sex workers. Don’t miss the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, the Red Light District, a guided boat tour and the local food — herring. The tulip fields are only a 20-minute ride out of the city and a springtime must-do. There’s so much more to Amsterdam than just weed, but fear not…you can find plenty of that, too.
Easily the best choice for year-round sunshine, Aruba sits below the hurricane belt and enjoys upwards of 360 days of sun per year. No wonder they call it One Happy Island.
Here, you’ll quickly learn that being “dushi” is a good thing and that trees really can grow sideways because of strong winds. Aruba is activity heaven — from jeep safari tours and windsurfing to SeaTrek and SEABOB (and other underwater adventures) to beaches that cater to even the smallest kids thanks to sandbars that go on and on. Make sure you have the catch of the day at Zeerovers.
A seven-mile beach? Check. Mind-blowing jerk chicken? Check. Breathtaking sunsets? Check. You’ll be hard-pressed to find this trifecta of tropical perfection anywhere else. Oh, and there’s also Red Stripe beer and reggae on repeat. Beaches Negril offers families one of the best spots to create a home away from home and experience all of this and more.
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
Grace Bay boasts one of those beaches that is the stuff of vision boards. With crystal-clear turquoise water that gently laps the whitest, most powdery sand, you may just have an out-of-body oh-my-God-is-this-really-happening? moment. Or two.
Warning: so will your wallet.
And while Beaches Turks & Caicos is an option here (and one of the only all-inclusives in Provo if that’s your jam), The Somerset and Ocean Club West are also excellent spots to rest your head. Snorkelers can head to Coral Gardens with their own equipment and snorkel right off the beach — no expensive snorkel tour needed — and SCUBA divers can hook up with Provo Turtle Divers for outstanding small-group dives. Canadian-owned Sharkbite and Coco Bistro shouldn’t be missed for lunch and dinner, respectively.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Sure, you can head out to swing from the mountaintop at Montaña Redonda (and you should, even though it’s technically closer to Miches) or try rolling your own cigars (success not guaranteed), but families flock to Punta Cana for beach worship. Many of the beaches that had sargassum issues last year are now in the clear, and resorts like Club Med Punta Cana have systems in place to keep it at bay.
The other bonus when you stay at Club Med, other than the 10-minute ride from the airport? Circus school. You can legitimately learn how to do the flying trapeze in between sun sessions.
Thirty-five miles off the coast of Honduras, Roatan is still an extremely affordable vacation option in the Caribbean. It’s a diver’s paradise, with about 130 dive sites, some of the best visibility and water so warm you won’t even need a wetsuit most days. Adventure enthusiasts can also conquer wild zip lines that stretch through jungle canopies every shade of green.
There’s also plenty of R&R to be had in Roatan, and you won’t have to wander much beyond the West Bay area to find it.
Save Chicago for nice weather so you can take advantage of its walkable footprint. Explore The Windy City and find Millennium Park (where you can see The Bean, The Crown Fountain and Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion); Navy Pier, where you can take a ride on the Centennial Wheel; Art on theMART, a projected and interactive art installation that starts after sundown; and wander up and down the Magnificent Mile.
But if you happen to find yourself there with rain or snow in the forecast, get thee to the Willis Tower Skydeck, Field Museum or the Art Institute. Just add deep-dish pizza and all will be right in the world.
Hit JoJo’s Milk Bar for insane, boozy milkshakes.
Here are 11 super-fun things to do with kids in Chicago.
A bunch of places in Vermont
Vermont is great in the summer and all, but it really steals the show in winter with some of the east’s best snow and terrain that’s skiable well into late spring.
Spend a night or two in Burlington — the only major city in, well, pretty much the whole state — have dinner at The Farmhouse, stock up on snacks at Trader Joe’s and learn about Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen. Then hit the road with your skis or board and experience the likes of Smugglers’ Notch, Jay Peak, Stowe Mountain Resort, Sugarbush and Killington.
If you’re a Sound of Music fan, be sure to stop in Stowe at the Trapp Family Lodge, which is owned by the 10th child of Captain Von Trapp (the third between he and Maria and the only one born in the United States after feeling Austria) along with his children. Have the beer and cheese soup. You can thank me later.
Should you find yourself summering in Vermont, do a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, drive out to Bingham Falls to swim in very cold but exceptionally clean waterfall-fed water and check out Boyden Valley Winery.
Host to not one but two Winter Olympics, Lake Placid is a year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Ski at Whiteface and ice skate on Mirror Lake in winter. If you happen to be there during the annual Holiday Village Stroll in December, it’s an unforgettable weekend for kids up to about age nine or 10. Try bobsledding on wheels speeding down an Olympic track or go rafting in the Ausable Chasm if you’re spending part of your summer in Lake Placid.
Eat at Big Slide Brewery or pick up the apple strudel that will change your life at Bluesberry Bakery. Around the Lake has the best coffee on the main strip, while the unicorn hot chocolate from the breakfast club, etc. wins for most creative hot beverage.
Forget The Alamo — San Antonio has much more to offer.
The Hyatt Regency San Antonio is in a stellar location, smack in the middle of River Walk. And River Walk is, in and of itself, enough of a reason to spend at least a long weekend here. You can walk for hours in what’s considered a public park but appears more like a winding path-like network that strings together hotels, restaurants and shops.
Do the once-a-day handheld morning lantern tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns, hit up the Pearl Brewery area (where you should eat at CURED), take the Alamo Trolly Tour and get tickets far in advance for Mixtli (an award-winning restaurant located in a converted train car that seats just 12 guests each night).
You’ll be vibing on San Diego within hours of arriving. It’s one of the most laidback cities in the States and has more variety than may initially meet the eye, including an incredible collection of great restaurants.
If you don’t rent a car, use the Old Town Trolley to get you to some of the area’s best spots, like Mount Soledad (with views of San Diego from 866 feet above sea level), La Jolla to see the caves and sea lions, Pacific Beach and the unparalleled Coronado Island, where I highly recommend the thrice-weekly walking tour.
Jeju Island, South Korea
One of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature, Jeju-do features South Korea’s highest mountain — a dormant volcano — at its centre. It’s also home to beautiful beaches and the famous Korean mermaids, the haenyo divers, who have made a living for centuries harvesting conch and octopus, diving up to 65 feet into cold water without any diving equipment beyond goggles and weights.
And they’ll soon be gone. There are only around 4,000 remaining haenyo women and they will probably be the last generation.
Palawan, The Philippines:
Two decades ago, I discovered a tiny island in The Philippines called Boracay. It was $15 a night for the ritziest lodging and most of the tourists were dive bums. There wasn’t even a dock for the boat that brought us there; we had to get out in the water with our bags hoisted above our heads to keep them dry. Alas, it became overrun and built up. There’s even a Shangri-La there now.
Which is why I don’t have Boracay on this list.
Today, Palawan feels very much like Boracay did back then. And the government has strict rules about who can buy and develop property there, keeping it authentically Filipino. From its underground river in Puerto Princesa to best-in-class diving in El Nido, this is definitely one of the top places to visit in 2020!
The Sheridan Beach Resort is gorgeous and sits on a stunning stretch of beach. It’s not the cheapest joint in town, but it’s devoted to sustainability and mixes a mean mango daquiri.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Admittedly, I don’t have as much intel on the Whitsundays because I haven’t been. Yet. After seeing it splashed across Instagram a few years ago from a friend Down Under, it’s taken top spot on my I’m-going-there-the-second-I-win-the-lottery list, knocking an African safari down a peg.
Made up of 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are the stock photos used when you Google “best beaches on earth.” They’re the ones with marble-effect sand that swirls into ombré turquoise hues. They’re the ones that leave your mouth agape, forging a retirement plan that somehow involves a swimsuit and the Whitsundays.
Whitehaven Beach is considered by many as the world’s best beach, so I don’t know about you, but I’m starting there.
The Maldives are another one on my personal travel bucket list, because it may very well disappear within the next few decades thanks to global warming. It’s an Islamic island nation in the Arabian Sea known for watersports, beach culture and clean air. But with the majority of its islands sitting only a metre or two above sea level, they’re very much at risk of being swallowed up by rising tides.
So dream big in 2020, and make at least one of your travel goals happen.
All photos except the header image in this article are courtesy of Andrea Traynor / mommygearest.com