Every year Lonely Planet releases a list of its top ten countries for travel. While they always throw in a gem or two, the majority of their picks are usually based on an increase in the ease of travel or a particular destination’s momentary popularity. This year is no different with Chile getting top billing because of new non-stop flights from Melbourne and London, and South Korea settling in right behind as a result of the upcoming Winter Olympics.
For a guidebook that got its start detailing the lesser known areas of the world, they sure seem to like to hit the popular places. Not that there is anything wrong with traveling to tourist saturated markets, but if you’re looking to get out there on your own, avoiding crowds often leads to more fulfilling cultural exchanges. People’s interactions tend to be more genuine when you are not viewed as just another walking dollar (or bitcoin). However, avoiding other tourists often means going to countries that are either lacking in tourist infrastructure or suffering from some form of turmoil. Frequently, though, these concerns are overblown, and there is usually more than enough safety and comfort to keep most travelers satisfied. So without further ado, I present my five picks for independent-minded travelers in 2018.
I’ve written (and talked) a lot about Myanmar, and for good reason. There is simply no other place on earth like it. Still emerging from decades of isolation, the country is only slowly catching up to the globalized world that we inhabit. Offering ancient temples and a welcoming culture that seems to have been frozen in time, Myanmar is really a trip of a lifetime. The recent tragedy involving the massacre and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya has seen tourism to the country plummet, but this hasn’t affected the security situation for foreigners since the conflict zones are restricted and heavily guarded anyway. And while there is a moral argument for boycotting Myanmar, personally, I find engagement to be the better way to change hearts and minds.
Right now is probably the best time to visit Turkey in years. Once one of the hottest travel destinations, its proximity to Syria, the downing of a Russian jet, several terrorist incidents, and an attempted coup have turned a lot off people of to this fascinating country. Turkey, however, remains stable and safe, but without the crowds. No longer does one have to wait in long lines to see some of the world’s greatest cultural heritage like the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque. Turkey’s Cappadocia region has cheap hotels and empty trails, which only add to the serenity of this remarkable place. But the country is once again filling up, fueled this time by an increase in German tourists. So hurry and go before you have to elbow your way through Cappadocia’s underground cities!
Forget Morocco! Tunisia is the place to go to experience North Africa. From its medieval Kasbah to the timeless sands of the Sahara, Tunisia offers, in a relatively compact area, excellent opportunities for whatever your taste may be. Tourism here has also suffered since the country kicked off the Arab Spring in 2011. Later, a few high profile terrorist attacks have made a recovery slow and difficult. The country though is mostly stable and lacks the touts and unrelenting harassment that makes Morocco insufferable. The ability to wander alone through the razed city of Carthage and the Roman ruins built on top of it is in itself worth the trip.
I generally hate visas. But Paraguay may be the exception. Its insistence on reciprocity has stifled its tourist industry, and while that may not be good for the country, it does allow the odd foreigner to have a wonderfully genuine experience with a unique culture. Paraguay doesn’t have a lot of must-see attractions per se, but what it does offer is a friendly people proud of both their Spanish and Guaraní roots. Throw in some Mennonites living in the desert and untouched battlefields from one of world’s least talked about wars (The Chaco War), and you won’t regret going.
While the Eastern part of the country is off-limits to all but the most intrepid explorers do to an ongoing civil war, Ukraine is largely stable and secure. That’s not to say this country isn’t a bit rough around the edges; however, that is part of its charm. Ukraine offers beauty (Lviv & Odessa) and grit (Kiev & Pripyat). Unspoiled by the mass tourism that seems to be everywhere these days in Europe, Ukraine is the kind of place that grows on you. You may wonder why you came here, but you’ll also ponder why you miss it so much once you leave.