It’s practically a daily occurrence to have someone ask me where I love to travel to the most, so I knew it was only a matter of time until my editor did the same. What a question. How can a mother choose her favorite child? That being said, while I might not be able to pick one particular destination, I can easily select eight spots around the world that I love to pieces and would go back to in a heartbeat.
We all have our travel niches. Some travel in search of their next dose of adrenaline, others want to visit locations steeped in history. As a perpetual traveler who loves food, has a passion for nature, and is mildly obsessed with wildlife, my adventures tend to center around places with unique local cuisine, crazy landscapes, and interesting animals (with bonus points if those animals can fly and even more if they can’t but still have wings). With that criteria in mind, it’s easy to see why I find the following destinations so bucket worthy.
1. The West Coast, New Zealand
As an America expat in New Zealand, I’ve been just about everywhere in this country, but the South Island’s wild west coast keeps calling me back again and again. The nation’s least-populated region, the west coast has crazy views, big mountains, stormy coastlines, and an abundance of birds like the Fiordland crested penguin, the second-rarest penguin on earth, which can occasionally be seen waddling around these isolated beaches at sunset. While the food situation is less than ideal due to the region’s remote location, the coast makes up for it with charm and beauty, especially around the rugged beaches near Punakaiki. For a uniquely kiwi experience, stay in one of the coast’s many baches, small, rustic cabins and huts found on the country’s coast. My absolute favorite is Woodpecker Hut (from $250), which is hidden among the flax bushes overlooking a secret surf beach near Woodpecker Bay. The off-the-grid cabin comes complete with a wood-fired hot tub and is one of the best spots to hide away and relax on the islands.
2. Asturias, Spain
There’s no doubt that Spain’s best-kept secret is Asturias, and here I am blabbing to the world about how awesome this rugged region is. About as far off the beaten tourist path as you can get, Asturias runs along the country’s northern coast and is filled with pleasant seaside villages complete with cute fishing boats, colorful house shutters, and even more colorful locals, who are always willing to show off their cider-pouring skills (trust me, it’s an art here). The area’s main hub is the picturesque town of Oviedo, located some 15 miles south of the Bay of Biscay. Inland Asturias is flanked by a stunning mountain range, the 8,000-foot Picos de Europa. It was the very heart of Christian Spain a millennium ago, but today it’s an incredible wilderness area few outside of the country even know exists. Don’t miss out on hiking up to the Covadonga Lakes or walking along the Ruta del Cares, a tough six-and-a-half-mile trail in Picos de Europa National Park, for some of the best views of the mountains.
3. Canggu, Bali
I’ve only recently discovered the incredible vibe that permeates this seaside expat hot spot on Bali’s southeastern coast. Normally, I shy away from places where my fellow foreigners congregate. But by happy chance, Canggu called to me, and I answered. Originally not much more than a bunch of rice paddies, the village now boasts a hip café and bar scene that can only be described as millennial catnip. Vegan acai smoothie bowls, anyone? From the amazing vegetarian dishes at Shady Shack to the epic chef-concocted lunches at the Slow to watching the sunsets from Old Man’s, there’s no shortage of amazing and iconic spots to park yourself. Home to entrepreneurs, surfers, and generally happy folk who aren’t in a hurry, Canggu often sees travelers visit and never leave. Hotel Tugu Bali (from $250), a luxury property that’s been there long before the expats descended, is a must-do splurge for those seeking a bit of Balinese opulence.
4. South Georgia
I wonder what it says about me that one of my favorite places on earth has no permanent human residents. On South Georgia, a far-flung subantarctic island 1,300 miles off the east coast of Argentina, elephant seals, albatross, and king penguins rule supreme. You must have a tough stomach, a keen sense of adventure, and relatively deep pockets to be able to afford a spot on one of the expedition ships bound for the island, such as Peregrine Adventures’ purpose-built vessels, which run a few trips to the polar region each austral summer (November to March). Because South Georgia is even farther than the Antarctic Peninsula, the trips there take longer and start at around $10,000. But your newly emptied bank account and the seasickness that will have your head buried in a bucket along the way will both be worth it as soon as you set foot on land and are surrounded by half a million penguins with no fear of humans and visiting albatross colonies so packed you can’t see the end of them. The mind-boggling scale of the island’s wildlife is thanks to intensive predator control and serious biosecurity rules, making it one of the best places on earth to see polar creatures.
5. Hong Kong
This city has a special appeal, thanks to its fascinating history and culture. It’s also a great introduction to traveling in China without getting thrown off the deep end in a country of 1.3 billion people. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one reason to visit: to eat everything. Dumplings, steamed buns known as bao, egg waffles, wontons, egg tarts, noodles, and that weird coffee-tea hybrid called yuanyang—Hong Kong has it all, and with so many hole-in-the-wall restaurants, dingy back-alley noodle shops, and modern-fusion haunts to explore, I’m never bored. In fact, it’s home to my favorite restaurant in the world, Little Bao, which makes (you guessed it) bao burgers.
6. Margaret River, Australia
Trust me: skip the easier, eastern tourist traps of Sydney and Melbourne and head due west to Perth on your next adventure Down Under. Once you’ve arrived in the Western Australia capital, be sure to visit Rottnest Island, just off the coast, to take a selfie with the quokka, an incredibly cute, incredibly tiny marsupial native to the area. Then grab a car and hit the road with your mates for the 170-mile drive to Margaret River, a wine-growing region with perfect cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc grapes and a strong foodie scene anchored by the epic Gourmet Escape, a ten-day festival that celebrates this state’s culinary landscape. Speaking of landscapes, the area around Margaret River is big: big beaches, big views, big skies. Don’t skimp out on a visit to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, or get your inner Instagrammer on at the Injidup Natural Spa.
I’d bet my life that most of you can’t find it on a map, let alone spell this Central Asian nation’s name correctly on the first try without looking. But as a melting pot that blends Chinese Muslims with post-Soviet Russians, Uzbeks, and of course the local Kyrgyz people, Kyrgyzstan should be on everyone’s bucket list. As soon as you land, you’ll be smacked in the face with such a range of chaos and culture that you can’t help but be swept up in the mayhem. Give yourself time to visit the eagle hunters, ride horses, and stay in yurt camps outside the main city of Bishkek, where nomadic culture still thrives, and be sure to try the cold, spicy noodle dishes for which the country is famous; they can often be had for less than a dollar, though it’s best not to ask what meat is included. More than 90 percent of the country is mountainous, so it’s easy to get way off the grid.
This city is the main stopover between the South Pacific and basically everywhere else on the globe, so I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years transitioning to and from my various travels. And though I tend to stay away from big cities, I weirdly love it here. Dubai is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, and it knows it. Instead of roughing it in search of unique adventures, as I would elsewhere, when I am in the Sand Pit, as expats call it, I indulge in its unashamed opulence and just plain pamper myself after the 17-hour flight from New Zealand. I book myself into one of the thousands of fancy suites, like those at the Jumeirah Al Qasr, go to the spa, shop, and binge on yummy Middle Eastern treats like kunafah, a cheese pastry soaked in syrup, and the rice dish known as machboos. When you’re perpetually on the road or in the air, sometimes you just need a holiday doing nothing in a city that never sleeps—and Dubai has that in spades.