2019 was a huge year for travel. Instagram feeds all over the world were chock-full of pictures with people exploring all corners of the globe. Families went to Europe. Friends frequented Asia. Acquaintances adventured to the Caribbean, and hopefully you got a chance to get out and explore too. With the world growing more and more connected every year, travel is getting easier and more accessible to people of all kinds, regardless of where you are and how much you’re willing to spend. And as more and more people are getting out and traveling to new places, more and more destinations will finally reach the rest of the world’s radar in the new year. Check out our top 5 picks for travel in 2020, and see why we think they should be at the top of your bucket list.
Hugely popular, very affordable, and environmentally stunning, Vietnam has been rising in the ranks in more recent years as the newest Southeast Asian hotspot. Overflowing with lush jungles, picturesque beaches and limestone cliffs, it has all sorts of landscapes and environments packed into one very travel-friendly country. Get an open bus ticket from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, and drive up or down the coast, hitting up cities like Dalat, Hue, Hoi An, and Nha Trang on the way. In each of these pit stops, you’ll find deeply remote forests, ethereal caves, and cliffs and canyons ripe for the climbing. Be sure to detour to Sa Pa and Halong Bay when you reach the north so you don’t miss what’s considered the top two highlights of the country.
2020 is a prime year to visit Vietnam purely because of the effect tourism is having on the country. All along the coast, more stylized, western accommodations, restaurants and boutiques are popping up, pushing local businesses and cultures aside for the sake of tourism. Even just a few years ago, Vietnam was still largely unexplored by most western tourists. Since then, it has begun an overhaul of its tourism industry, and it shows. Much like how Thailand has fundamentally changed to suit its tourists, Vietnam is slowly following the same path. You’ll want to experience the beautiful culture and sobering history that this beautiful country has to offer before mass tourism hits.
Indonesia, one of the lesser known Southeast Asian countries, is likewise an appealing destination for backpackers who want to save with cheap round trip flights to get there and really engross themselves in an authentic experience. And we’re not talking about Bali. Less popular than its Sumatran and Balinese neighbors, Java is a beacon of traditional Indonesian culture and life in a country that’s also quickly changing to suit its tourism industry. The people are friendly, the food is legendary, and the nature proves jaw-dropping. Java lends plenty of adventurous pursuits like the overnight hike to Kawa Ijen (the Ijen Crater), a quick drive from Banyuwangi. Additionally, the world famous Mount Bromo is right next door in Malang, and makes for a compelling sunrise perch and day trip. If you truly want to get off-the-beaten-path and be the only tourist in town, check out some of the cities and towns on the eastern coast. You’ll be amazed at the hospitality and friendliness of the locals, all while getting the opportunity to feel off-the-grid.
Java makes for an ideal 2020 destination for a few major reasons, beginning firstly with its authenticity and deep cultural respect, and secondly for the price. Indonesia is so affordable as the currency exchange rate is favorable to the American Dollar. Delicious meals can be as cheap as $1; hostels, clean, boutique ones, can go for as little as $5, and buses, decent ones, can cost just $3. Also, forget expensive flights, because you can reach Java easily by catching a plane to Bali and taking a one-hour ferry from the island’s western coast. It’s a pretty accessible and very budget-friendly destination for people looking to escape the classical whitewashed tourist spots.
You May Also Like: Don’t Make These Mistakes When Planning Your Solo Travel Adventure
On the opposite side of the globe, there’s Bolivia. Similarly underrated, Bolivia is rarely on most travelers’ bucket lists, primarily because they don’t know much about it. Bolivia is only one of two landlocked South American countries, perhaps best known for its Salt Flats. The Uyuni Salt Flats are at the southern tip of the country in the altiplano, the high-altitude desert that straddles Bolivia and Chile. In the wet season, the Salt Flats look like a perfectly still mirror on the ground, seamlessly reflecting the sky. In the dry season, they look more like a colossal white plain made of salt, with small island outcroppings dotting the horizon. While both seasons are optimal to see at the Uyuni Salt Flats, there’s also so much more to Bolivia than the Salt Flats. In the north, you have the complete opposite climate, the Amazon Rainforest and the Pampas wetlands that surround it. Steamy, muggy, and overflowing with wildlife, the Bolivian Amazon offers you the same incredible flora and fauna as other South American countries, but for a much cheaper price tag.
If you travel to the western edge of the country, you’ll have the opportunity to see Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Grab a ferry and head over the border into Peru if you like, or just stay on Isla del Sol and relax in this spectacularly unique high-altitude lake. Bolivia is an ecologically rich country that is strategically located. It is genuinely perfect for a trip that involves both hot and cold climates. Even two weeks in Bolivia isn’t enough time to see everything this Andean country has to offer. 2020 will be a great year to travel to Bolivia since it’s just now being discovered as a popular backpacking spot. There are enough hostels and comforts being developed without overcrowding and removing the tourist from the local experience.
Like most other destinations on this list, Guatemala is an often overlooked stepbrother of a more well-known country, Costa Rica. Largely overshadowed by other Central American hotspots, Guatemala is a stunning locale bustling with the same exact draws of its popular neighbors, but for a much cheaper price tag. Flights to and from Guatemala City are generally pretty inexpensive. Once you get there, your wallet won’t be hurting thanks to yet another favorable exchange rate.
Check out the Tikal Ruins in the east. Arrive for sunrise for the best opportunity to hear the howler monkeys wake up. Tour the grounds alongside some wildly friendly Central American coatis (sort of like long-nosed raccoons). Then head west to Antigua and hike Volcan Acatenango, a dormant volcano that overlooks the much more active Volcan Fuego. After that, collapse in a hammock along Lake Atitlan to rest those tired feet, or head over to Semuc Champey to see some of the country’s most beautiful and famous crystal-clear tide pools. Guatemala has a lot of character in a very small expanse of space, making it perfect for a short one-week trip. It’s also very close to the U.S., so it’s a conveinent option for a vacation that doesn’t involve a lot of travel time.
Practically different in every way from the other countries in this list, Japan is an absolute must-see destination that we predict will be getting a lot of press in 2020. In fact, it’s trending right now; You can hardly open your Instagram without seeing someone visiting Japan. A country with an etiquette and cultural system all its own, Japan has a beautiful ability for maintaining its tradition and heritage, all while developing modern technology at a breakneck speed. You can visit a hundred year old Buddhist shrine and use a toilet with a seat warmer, all in the same day.
Spend a few days in Tokyo enjoying the city’s uniquely clean and streamlined subway system, and then grab the Shinkansen (using your previously-purchased JR pass) to some outlying rural destinations. Take a bike tour of Kyoto exploring the city’s shrines and food scene. Hike to the Kegan Waterfall in Nikko. Hakone, a mountain resort town just an hour from Tokyo, offers gorgeous 360 degree views of Mount Fuji, and brims with traditional Japanese onsens (hot springs). Do your best to visit in either the fall or spring to catch the foliage or the cherry blossom bloom, but be warned. It will be crowded.
All of these countries, vastly different in geography and culture, are excellent choices for a vacation in the upcoming year. 2020 will no doubt be a year when travel will become easier and more affordable. It will also become a priority in the lives of people who reject a 9 to 5 workday in favor of getting out of town. You won’t regret those unpaid vacation days or missed conference calls in these destinations for the new year.