You’ve seen Paris, you’ve seen Rome. You’ve taken tropical trips to the usual suspects and maybe even backpacked a few places with the “cool kids.” So, where should you go next? Now that you’ve been to a few of your must-see places, it’s time to take a chance on some lesser-known destinations. Rather than choosing your next vacation based on the place itself, make your decision based on what kind of vacation you’re looking to have. Whether it’s a certain climate, budget or activity you’re looking for, we’ve got several suggestions that will simplify your decision-making process. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by choosing one of these hidden gems for your next trip.
TROPICAL ON A BUDGET
Hawaii isn’t typically considered an affordable place to live or visit. But with a little ingenuity, this Pacific dreamland can become a reality for even the stingiest budget traveler. One of the easiest ways to cut travel costs during your Hawaiian vacation is to backpack your way across the archipelago. Hawaii is full of great hostels where you’ll meet plenty of other adventurers. Besides, when your days are filled with hiking, surfing and chasing sunsets, you won’t spend much time in your room anyways. To fully embrace the tropical wonder of Hawaii, take it one step further and reserve a campsite. You’ll save money and get to fully appreciate the beauty of Hawaii day or night.
One of the main reasons that makes Puerto Rico one of our top affordable tropical getaways is that American citizens don’t need a passport to enter the commonwealth. Right away, you’re already saving money on document costs. It’s also fairly easy to fly into this Caribbean locale, with regular flights from Florida, Texas, and plenty of other American airports. Despite being a territory of the United States for over a century, local culture maintains its own identity as a vibrant melting pot of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino influences. Natural disasters have left the island battered and bruised in recent years, but Puerto Ricans are more motivated than ever to welcome outsiders with open arms.
Similar to Puerto Rico, the Philippines have had a complicated history regarding autonomy. The stunning islands are often overshadowed by their Asian Pacific neighbors like Bora Bora and Tahiti. Budget-conscious travelers should note that the Philippines are one of the most affordable places to travel, even by the already fairly modest South Pacific standards, without skimping on experience. Here you can dive, climb, swim and soar across crystal clear waters and rugged mountains. Filipino cuisine has a reputation that precedes itself, so be sure to pack your appetite!
No matter what time of year you visit, Finland is an epic country to find rest and relaxation away from others. Whether you take a plunge into the chilly waters of a frozen lake or retreat to the confines of one of the world famous saunas, Finland has mastered the art of “self care.” Maybe that’s why it’s often called “the happiest country in the world.” Be dazzled by the Northern Lights or hit the slopes to clear your mind. If you’re looking to be especially solitary, all of Finland’s activities are perfect for a solo trip, too.
Finding solitude in Georgia may be as much spiritual as it is physical. Though the capital city of Tbilisi is full of energetic cafes, markets and nightlife, the people of Georgia have deeply devout histories that continue today. It’s impossible not to notice the spiritual, meditative and reflective connection between the impactful landscape and its people. Georgia is home to the Caucasus mountains, where visitors can hike through gorgeous scenery and explore ancient monasteries. Some mountain towns are so remote they don’t even have roads and the country takes great pride in sustainable tourism. Georgian culture is full of warmth and joy; don’t be shy about refilling your wine glass or enthusiastically applauding after a performance of polyphonic music.
Lord Howe Island, Australia
You’ll have to take a quick plane ride or catch your own charter to access Lord Howe Island, located roughly 400 miles (700 kilometers) off the coast of Australia. Since visitor numbers are limited for environmental protection purposes, the island is virtually never crowded. Take in uninterrupted views on mountainside hikes or have the undisturbed beaches all to yourself. If your goal is to see or interact with as few people as possible, this is your dream vacation.
Sable Island, Canada
Deserted islands aren’t made just for tropical climates. Not far off the Canadian coastline near Nova Scotia lies Sable Island. You might find more wildlife than human company, since this Canadian National Park is home to wild horses, grey seals and a wide variety of bird populations. The wind-swept terrain is otherworldly and a great place to embrace solitude.
Nepal is nestled in a landlocked part of South Asia, full of extreme terrain and rugged landscapes. The country attracts backpacking trekkers and mountaineering enthusiasts in droves, but its culture is the dark horse attraction that provides visitors with an even more profound experience. Local cuisine is underrated and the history is rich with complexity. Take, for instance, the fact that over ninety languages are spoken across the country. Local customs are full of reverence and responsible travelers are welcomed with open arms.
For Mediterranean-like bliss with fewer crowds (looking at you, Italy and Greece) take the road less traveled to the Balkan state of Croatia. The country offers all of the quintessential experiences you’d expect of the region, from exquisite architecture to culinary delights such as vineyards, olive farms and fresh seafood. The people are incredibly friendly and the country, despite challenges from neighoboring governments, is uniquely independent. Croatia reflects cultural influences from a variety of ancient civilizations and has a year-round climate perfect for outdoor activities.
Malaysia: the melting pot nation in southeast Asia drawing inspiration from Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultures. It geographically comprises parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo. Malaysia has everything from lush, biodiverse rainforests to bustling metropolitan cityscapes. The multi-cultural, multi-racial population creates a dynamic, thriving nation full of diversity. Pack your appetite for this trip! One of the best ways to experience the many different cultural influences of Malaysia is to eat your way across the country.
The smallest of the Arab countries, Bahrain is the ultimate intersection of traditional customs and contemporary development. Bahrain’s national heritage trail includes stops at the Bahrain National Museum, Al Khamis Mosque and Bahrain Fort. Learn about how the country is working to re-establish itself as the world’s leading exporter of sustainable pearls and then venture out into the sparkling aquamarine waters for an adventure of your own. For visitors looking to dive into the multi-layered cultures of Arab nations, consider the Persian Gulf your oyster and Bahrain its hidden gem.
UNBELIEVABLE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
If you want to check “go on an African safari” and “hike Mount Kilimanjaro” off your travel bucket list, book a flight to Tanzania. This east African nation is home to the iconic Serengeti plains where the great migration, a masterpiece theater of wildlife activity, takes place each year. Trek across portions of Africa’s highest mountain, then explore the coastal vibracy found along the shores of Zanzibar. For the outdoor enthusiast that values indigenous tribal culture and epic African landscapes, this is your must-do vacation.
Like many of the places featured on this list, Uruguay is another destination often overshadowed by its neighboring South American nations. With a prosperous economy and high quality of life for its people, Uruguay is like an ultra-progressive American West meets Miami’s South Beach. Saddle up and learn about gaucho culture or take a dip in one of the various natural hot springs. It’s no wonder Anthony Bourdain considered Uruguay one of the most underrated and undiscovered destinations in the world.
Despite rotating occupations and waves of incoming refugees from neighboring lands, Jordan has maintained its own identity as a steadfast stronghold amidst Middle Eastern political fluctuations. Full of world heritage sites, ancient ruins and religious points of interest, there’s no shortage of impressive places to visit in Jordan and ways to see them. Venture along the country’s national long-distance trekking route, the Jordan Trail. Visitors can also float on the surface of the Dead Sea or go canyoneering in Wadi Mujib. Soar high in a hot air balloon, saunter along on camelback, or take flight in a microlight aircraft.
A water-lover’s paradise, Palau is somehow equally incredible by land and sea. For divers, Palau is the crown jewel of the Micronesia region of the western Pacific islands. And for those that prefer to stay closer to the surface, there’s no denying the beauty of the islands that somehow showcases both natural wonder and a haunting trail of human history. Outdoor adventurers can explore the orchid-laiden islands or dive through WWII-era wreckage. Perhaps what we love most about Palau is that all visitors are required to receive the Palau Pledge stamp of approval (literally, it goes in your passport)! The agreement encourages sustainable behavior and eco-friendly habits while visiting Palau.