If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to never take human connection, time with family or the privilege of travel for granted, ever again! I know for myself, my new life motto will become, “just take the trip.” Admittedly, trip enquiry has been rather quiet (unsurprisingly) for the coming months. As we edge closer towards fall and news of a possible second wave hands over our heads like a threatening thunder cloud, travellers are re-thinking their usual sunny winter escape plans. However, I am noticing an uptick in requests for destinations that promise wide open landscapes, or deeper connection with cultures (my favourite), and what my clients consider unusual or what I like to call, far flung destinations. Now is the perfect time to finally draft a blueprint for that epic travel experience. The one you’ve been dreaming about, the one you pinned to your vision board, or put off, the one you’re saving up for. And if you don’t have some dreamy storied land to keep you motivated throughout your work day but know that you need an adventure when you feel comfortable enough to pack a suitcase again, I have a handful of far flung destinations that may inspire you to start planning.
If deeper cultural connection is what you seek, consider spending some time with the Indigenous Sami of northern Finland. In and around Lapland, some 2600 Sami people make their living raising and herding reindeer, supporting themselves through farming, hunting and fishing along the coast and through the fjords. The Sami speak a language that belongs to the Uralic linguistic group, the same group that includes Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. Lapland is idyllic not only to experience life with an indigenous people’s but also to experience life in land of the midnight sun, which means sleeping under the stars as the Aurora Borealis snakes across starried skiles; Or visiting the one and only true home of Santa Claus, (yes, this is the big guy’s real home); Or getting your wintery adrenaline fix by going dog-sledding or taking an epic snowmobiling tour.
Uganda is one of the most underrated African nations; It’s natural beauty, biodiversity, cultural diversity, hospitality and lack of tourism crowds make it an ideal destination to explore in the next two years. Affectionately known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, Uganda is a Utopia for nature lovers from all corners of the globe, but it shouldn’t be a quick trip, there is far too much to explore. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is home to several mountain gorilla families. In Queen Elizabeth National Park you’ll find tree-climbing lions, and in Kibale National Park, just east of the Rwenzori Mountains in southwestern Uganda, more than 1,200 East African chimpanzees call this region home. While Uganda is still one of the most popular gateways to visit the mountain gorillas, due to the expense and limitation of gorilla permits as well as rigorous conservation efforts, you’re not going to experience tourist over-crowding like you would in South Africa, Kenya or even Botswana. Uganda is also home to some 50 different cultural groups that speak 50 different languages, one of the world’s largest exotic bird populations and with Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the south, it’s location makes it perfect for a multi-country expedition.
The Galápagos Islands
185 years ago, on board the Beagle, a very young Charles Darwin spent 5 weeks collecting samples and documenting his observations in the Galapagos Islands. Those few short weeks inspired Darwin to write what was arguably the most important (and most controversial) academic book ever written. The Galapagos, a collection of 28 volcanic islands islands, is located at the confluence of three ocean currents, creating unique on-land and marine ecosystems because of varying degrees of cold water. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this far flung destination is home to Giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies and 17 other marine and avian species not found anywhere else on earth. There is a wide array of itinerary options from shorter 4-5 day cruises, to longer 10-14 day expeditions around the islands. It of course depends on how much time you have, but more importantly, the number of islands you want to explore and what sort of budget you’re working with.
Papua New Guinea
Any anthropologist worth their salt has visited, studied and experienced the uniqueness of one of the world’s most rural nations. As a budding anthropologist, Papua New Guinea has long been on my wanderlist for a number of reasons, linguistic diversity being one. Much of the population lives within indigenous communities, it is one of the most culturally diverse places on earth and over 850 languages are spoken here! Located just north of the Australian mainland but just south of the equator, despite it’s small geographic size, you can still find 200,000 species of insect, somewhere between 11,000 and 20,000 species of plant and over 650 resident bird species. Papua New Guinea is not a destination for the luxury seekers. Nearly half of the country lives without running water and electricity (especially in the most remote locales), and wifi is a pricey luxury. However, for those true explorers, Papua New Guinea offers a rare opportunity to experience, participate in and be welcomed into some of the world’s oldest, most performative and most fascinating ways of being. Papua New Guinea does have a reputation of being an unsafe place, but like most places, it’s the capital that hosts the most crime. This trip takes careful planning and not somewhere I would recommend travelling independently without having some solid plans in place to not only ensure your safety, but more so, the quality of your experience.
The Scottish Highlands
Anyone else have a lifelong love affair with the dreamy landscapes of Scotland? Surely I can’t be the only one. In terms of getting away from it all, the Highlands are where you escape to be awed, inspired to write that novel you never thought you had in you, to hear bagpipes reverberate off of hillsides, to savour peaty sips of Scotland’s liquid gold and most importantly, to wander without purpose. With its endless castle ruins marking time past, and walking paths that snake through weeping glens, past forlorn loughs (lakes), and amidst towering mountains, the bitter winds of the Scottish Highlands may feel unforgiving at times, but you’ll never feel more alive or part of such an ancient and beloved set of traditions. When you first land in Scotland, it may be difficult to resist the urge to meander the medieval streets of gothic Edinburgh, or marvel at the modern-meets-industrial heritage of Glasgow, but if it’s isolation you seek, the Scottish Highlands are the perfect place to spend your nights cozied up in a charming thatched cottage and your days, trouncing through the mists in search of fairies.
Hill Country, Sri Lanka
How much do you know about Georgia? No, not the controversial American state, the spectacular country nestled between Russia to the north, and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south. If the answer is not much, don’t feel too badly. For whatever reason, Georgia is only just now creeping into the consciousness of travellers looking for far flung destinations. Georgia offers the wide-eyed wanderer historical complexity, language diversity, chiseled mountain scenery and an unmistakable sense of community. Georgia is one of the world’s oldest wine producers, most famous for its Saperavi wine, an acidic, Teinturier type grape, which is what gives the wine that deep red colour. Besides it’s 8,000 year old wine-making legacy, Georgia has a healthy number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, something you would expect from one of Christendom’s oldest countries. A blend of Russian and Persian architecture awaits you on the cobble-stoned streets of of the capital, Tbilisi. But if it’s wide open spaces and jaw-dropping scenery you seek, head up deep into the Caucasus Mountains for a village stay and enjoy sweeping views, a charming rural lifestyle that feels a touch medieval. Make sure to visit the 6th-century Jvari monastery and be prepared to enjoy unforgettable Georgian hospitality.
The Yukon, Canada
Unless you are Canadian, you may not be too familiar with the smallest of our Northern territories. If there is one thing Canada has in abundance, it’s endless landscapes and plenty of wildlife. These same landscapes are rich in myth, folklore, origin stories and a robust oral tradition stemming from our Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. The Yukon exemplifies a truly diverse blend of history and cultures, but is also home to a surprisingly diverse set of ecosystems. Lush Boreal forests to the south, unforgiving tundra in the north, towering mountain ranges, pristine lakes, and a so much wildlife, a trip to the Yukon will turn you into a nature photographer whether you planned on it or not. The Yukon is for the outdoors enthusiasts, the adventurers and it’s one of my favourite places to send my clients to see the Northern Lights, experience dog-sledding, go on canoeing and kayak expeditions and one of the best Canadian destinations to enjoy Indigenous and First Nations cultural experiences.
Jordan is the perfect far flung destination for post-pandemic travel. Jordan went into a swift lock down in February, has only seen 11 deaths, and currently has fewer than 185 active cases (which is fairly impressive with a population nearing 10 million). Entry requirements are extremely rigorous and will most likely, continue to be that way into next year. Which means, if you want to finally fulfill that dream of seeing the Lost City of Petra, glamp in Wadi Rum, sip tea with the Bedouins, snorkel off the coast of Aqaba or explore the Roman ruins of Jerash. And because of its proximity to Egypt and Israel, it’s fairly common to include all three if you have more than two weeks to spare. It will of course depend on how the two other nations fair after Covid, but if Jordan sounds enticing, the time to start researching and laying down the travel blueprint is now.
Bhutan is nation that has always captivated me for a number of reasons. First, because it’s such a mysterious nation, and second, because Bhutan focuses heavily on tourism management, making it arguably, one of the most naturally pristine places on earth to explore. The Bhutanese government requires 60% of the country to remain forested for future generations. As it stands right now, 70% is forested. Bhutan is not a destination for the budget backpacker (which is why the sustainable tourism model is so successful here). Travellers are required to pay a minimum tariff of US$250 per day. This all-inclusive tax includes accommodation, food, transportation, and an official guide, so it’s actually not out of the realm of possibility for anyone travelling on a moderate budget. What all of this translates into for the traveller is a more authentic cultural albeit, cultivated experience, less tourism density. Bhutan provides access to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring hikes through the foothills of the Himalayas, visits to truly pristine natural parks that haven’t been over-trounced by safari trucks and careless tourists, quiet temples that proudly showcase an ancient belief system, and a warm, welcoming and happy people that are proud to share their Shangri-La with outsiders.
Have a few more destinations to add to the list? Where would you go to avoid the crowds and get a little cultural perspective?