With the start of a new year comes new hopes, dreams, resolutions, and plans. For those of us who prioritize travel in our daily lives, we ponder the question, Where to next?
It’s fun to look ahead and daydream about the possibilities. Maybe relaxing on the beach? Possibly scheduling a trek in the mountains? Perhaps visiting a cultural site that is at the top of the travel wish-list? We all travel for a variety of reasons, and as indie travelers, we are always on the lookout for new and unique destinations and experiences.
For the sixth consecutive year, we put together our list of Top Indie Travel Destinations. Throughout the years we have employed a variety of tactics to come up with our lists – check out other travel lists to see what’s hot, keep an eye on what’s going on around the world (big upcoming events, currency stability – or instability, etc.), ask our readers, discuss and debate within the company.
This year we used a variety of the above tactics to come up with our list for 2013, but with two exceptions. First, we avoided reading other lists. We wanted a fresh perspective, so even though it has been difficult (I love these lists, too!), I have ignored literally every other Top Destinations of 2013 travel list that I have come across. Second, we purposely chose not to highlight any of the cities or countries on our previous lists from the past five years. Those were are two starting points.
As the leaders for indie travel, we hoped to craft a unique list that really appeals to you, our readers. So we asked our Facebook fans and Twitter followers, kept up on current events, and talked amongst ourselves. When we narrowed our list to 10, we got in touch with travelers who have recently been to each of these destinations and asked for travel tips and advice for each place.
Lists like these are meant to be fun and serve as inspiration to help get you out on the road and explore new places. This is by no means the definitive list of places you have to go in 2013. If you’ve been reading BootsnAll over the past week, we’ve republished all of our previous Top Destinations list from the past 5 years (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), and even though some of the original reasons we chose these may be out of date, we’re sure you can find some information to entice you to head to any of the destinations we’ve suggested.
Maybe you’ve already been to a lot of these places. Perhaps some of these cities and countries are already on your list of places you want to visit. What we hope as you read this list is that it gives you some new ideas. That the proverbial light bulb goes off in your head and you say to yourself, “I’m going there!”
10. Puerto Rico
For the first time, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted for the island to become the 51st US state in the November 2012 elections. While much still has to happen for Puerto Rico to officially join the United States, nothing has to happen to visit this beautiful Caribbean island.
Many backpackers scoff at the idea of traveling to the Caribbean as they often have the misconception of it being nothing but all inclusive resorts and little culture. Katrina Balcius, who has been to Puerto Rico on two separate occasions in the past couple years, disagrees with this idea. ”Puerto Rico is the perfect place for the person who loves tropical destinations like Hawaii – but hates the tourists and how expensive it is. The person who likes adventure and to be in a culturally stimulating country – there’s so much variety! Puerto Rico is cheap, so if you are on a budget – it’s great. You are guaranteed to meet locals who are more than happy to show you their country – the way travel should be. ”
Rent a car and drive around the Island. Go to the small towns where there aren’t many tourists. - Katrina Balcius
It’s perfectly safe to rent a car and explore the entirety of the island. Puerto Rico is a haven for anyone who loves the outdoors. There are white sand beaches to lounge on, but travelers can also swim, snorkel, scuba dive, fish, golf, zipline, horseback ride, kayak, and more.
When to go: If you’re looking for the best weather, then winter (December – March) is the time to go as it rains least, but as with all ideal weather situations, crowds follow. While prices are a bit higher, they are still affordable. It’s not difficult to find accommodations for under $100/night. Mid April to June is shoulder season, and while the chance of rain rises, it’s still nice out, and the crowds grow considerably smaller.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Puerto Rico.
- “The San Sebastian Festival in January is straight up party time. Everyone is laughing, dancing and singing in the streets of Old San Juan – pure joy. ” - Katrina Balcius
- “The Bio Bay is an absolute MUST! And make sure to do a little research on the moon calendar. You want to take the tour when the moon isn’t out so its more vibrant (seriously worth it). “ - Katrina Balcius
- “Rent a car and drive around the Island. Go to the small towns where there aren’t many tourists. Spending a week in Jayuya made my trip. Meeting locals and discovering what they enjoy doing in their country is the way to go.” - Katrina Balcius
For more on traveling to Puerto Rico, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out our Puerto Rico Indie Travel Guide
- Read Finding the Independent Caribbean
- Find a flight to Puerto Rico
9. South Korea
When it comes to travel in Asia, stalwarts Thailand, India, China, and Japan usually get the most pub. Newcomers like Laos and Myanmar have been getting more popular over the years as well. But why do so few people talk about South Korea as an indie travel destination? When travelers typically hear or read about South Korea, it’s about teaching English. But there is so much more to travel in S. Korea than teaching English there or visiting Seoul. In fact, that’s one of the major benefits of traveling here.
Because there isn’t a ‘tourist trail’ or even a clear list of must-dos in Korea, the indie traveler is free to form their own itinerary and truly can discover Korea on their own terms. – Lauren Fitzpatrick
Because it’s not as popular with westerners as other Asian countries, you may often feel like you are the only light-skinned person around. Jordy Arrufat Agramunt, who visited Seoul in November 2012, says, “If coming from North America or Europe, you will be surprised to see that many people are not used to seeing visitors from these parts of the world, as most tourists to South Korea come from China, Japan, or South East Asia…This is what I loved the most about going to South Korea…the feeling of being a kind of pioneer.”
Lauren Fitzpatrick, who lived and worked in South Korea from 2010-2012, agrees, saying, “Visitors to Korea will be welcomed and encouraged to partake in all Korea has to offer – natural beauty, spicy food, traditions, language, and culture. It’s been overshadowed by China and Japan for so long that it’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists…Because there isn’t a ‘tourist trail’ or even a clear list of must-dos in Korea, the indie traveler is free to form their own itinerary and truly can discover Korea on their own terms.”
When to go: Fall and spring are the best times to visit weather wise as summers tend to be wet and winters cold. Though summers are rainy, that’s the time when most Koreans head out on vacation, so it will be crowded and necessary to book travel and accommodations in advance in the more popular areas. If you’re into skiing and snowboarding, though, winters are a great time to visit the mountainous areas of South Korea.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about South Korea.
- “The temple experience in Bongeunsa…I would reccommend it to anybody interested in a foreigner friendly way to introduce himself in Korean Buddhism. The staff are volunteers who explain how the temple works, they serve you tea the traditional way, teach you how to make paper lotus flowers, and you end with a meditation session.” - Jordi Arrufat Agramunt
- “And do not miss the seafood….Buy it fresh and alive in Busan or Seoul fish markets and get them cooked in any of the restaurants close to the market.” - Jordi Arrufat Agramunt
- “Festivals: Koreans have annual festivals year-round all over the country. Some are fairly well-known, like the Lantern Festival in Seoul or the Mud Festival in Boryeong. But there’s also the Trout Festival in Pyeongchang, the Rice Festival in Icheon, and the Andong International Maskdance Festival. These are a great place to try local food, play games, and try your hand at local activities, like making rice cakes or weaving rope out of straw.” - Lauren Fitzpatrick
- “Seasonal Street Food: If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Korea’s ready for you. In the summer, try patbingsu ((팥빙수), a traditional dessert made with shaved ice, red bean, fruit, and syrup. Sounds weird but I love it. In the winter, look for hodu kwaja (호두 과자), tiny round pastries filled with a red bean or walnut paste, cooked to order. Equally delicious is hotteok (호떡), a hot pancake filled with a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar. “ - Lauren Fitzpatrick
- “Visitors to Korea will be welcomed and encouraged to partake in all Korea has to offer – natural beauty, spicy food, traditions, language and culture. It’s been overshadowed by China and Japan for so long that it’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists, but with natural wonders like Jeju Island, it won’t be hidden for long.” - Lauren Fitzpatrick
- “It’s surprisingly easy to get around Korea, even if you don’t speak Korean. Accommodation is plentiful in the form of inexpensive ‘love motels’ or saunas, and a traditional meal out – side dishes and all – could run you as little as 5,000 won (less than $5). Because there isn’t a ‘tourist trail’ or even a clear list of must-dos in Korea, the indie traveler is free to form their own itinerary and truly can discover Korea on their own terms.” - Lauren Fitzpatrick
For more on traveling to South Korea, check out the following articles and resources:
- Read our South Korea Indie Travel Guide
- Find a flight to South Korea
- Read about 5 Off the Beaten Track Spots to See in South Korea
8. Sri Lanka
Ever since their civil war ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been getting more and more popular in the travel community. It’s still not a full blown, crazy-popular tourist destination like Thailand, but it may not be long before it is. If you go now, there are still plenty of unexplored places, especially in the north, to have a great indie travel experience.
Natalie Lyall-Grant, who is back in Sri Lanka for the fourth time since 2006, has seen both sides of Sri Lanka – pre-war and post-war. She says, ”Sri Lanka is a destination bursting with personality and adventure. This isn’t a club med style vacation, it’s a place of discovery, new friendships, and intrigue. With its long and complex history, extraordinarily friendly people, and the kind of scenery that re-defines your view of beauty, this is a country that knows how to take your breath away, and it will do so repeatedly. ”
This isn’t a club med style vacation, it’s a place of discovery, new friendships, and intrigue. – Natalie Lyall-Grant
When to go: Sri Lanka is like many other tropical destinations in that seasons are split into two – rainy and dry. It’s also similar to tropical destinations with a complicated weather system impacted by two different monsoon seasons. The southwestern half of the island sees rain from May to August with the dry season from December to March. In the north and east parts of the island, rain falls from October to January while the dry season runs from May to September. October and November can be rainy throughout Sri Lanka.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Sri Lanka.
- “Make friends with the locals. It will change your whole experience. Sri Lankan’s are both friendly and hospitable and are much more adept at showing you the lay of the land than your lonely planet guide!” - Natalie Lyall-Grant
- “Eat EVERYTHING. Sri Lankan cuisine is diverse and delicious. Eat the street food, eat at someone’s home, eat the ceremonial food, eat the coastal catch, eat at the tourist places, eat at the non-tourist places, eat brunch in five star hotels, eat the fusion food in the fancy restaurants, eat the snacks sold on the train. Try, try, try and then when you shake off your food-coma, try more!” - Natalie Lyall-Grant
- “Embrace the pace of life. Move slowly: lie for days on a beach, take a relaxing stroll in the mountains, take enough time to get to know the villagers and pick up some of the language, get an Ayurvedic massage to un-knot all your tension, unpack your backpack for a bit. Sri Lanka isn’t a place to rush. “ - Natalie Lyall-Grant
For more on traveling to Sri Lanka, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out our Sri Lanka Indie Travel Guide
- Read How to Eat Like a Local in Sri Lanka
- Find a flight to Sri Lanka
Tuvalu made this year’s list for a few reasons. We were initially interested in Tuvalu because it’s one of those island nations that may not be around in fifty years because of rising sea levels. Then we started looking into the country itself, and we were fascinated. Then we talked to people who have been there, and we were sold!
Any country that is in the middle of the South Pacific, completely cut off from most of the rest of the world, and has “one main road…in addition to the runway, which is used for recreational purposes when landings are not scheduled” (Wikitravel), is going to pique our curiosity.
Its remoteness (and price!) ensures that only the most persistent travellers ever make it to the islands, ensuring that those that do make it find a beautiful group of islands full of friendly, hospitable, and genuine people. – Andy Browning
Andy Browning, who just spent the last year living in Tuvalu, says, “Tuvalu is an example of how the Pacific used to be before the resorts opened and the tourists started to flood in. Its remoteness (and price!) ensures that only the most persistent travellers ever make it to the islands, ensuring that those that do make it find a beautiful group of islands full of friendly, hospitable, and genuine people. Also it’s fantastic to watch someone’s face when you tell them you’re going to Tuvalu!”
Though he loved his time there, Andy stresses how important it is to really think about why you want to go to Tuvalu. It isn’t for everyone. ”Of the few tourists that I met whilst in Tuvalu there were a couple who were unhappy and frustrated at the lack of activities, or things to see – particularly after forking out for such an expensive plane ticket – If you’re looking for long white sandy beaches, jungles, mountains, water sports (other than snorkeling and fishing), backpacker hostels with a party vibe, lots of things to see/do/visit, then there are other Pacific islands which will serve you much better; however, if you are looking for a unique location and you don’t mind just chilling out with a book in the sun, having a kick around with the locals on the runway, or just wandering up and down the island, then there is no better place in the World to just sit back and relax.”
When to go: Tuvalu is warm and rainy year-round. The rain is at its heaviest from November to February, while cyclone season lasts until April. Winds die down from May to October, and while it still rains, it’s not as heavy as the other months.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: Since Tuvalu doesn’t see many tourists in a given year, Andy is the only person we found who has been there. Here are some tips and advice from someone who spent an entire year living and traveling around Tuvalu.
- “My two month stay on the outer islands was a real highlight, being somewhere so remote and cut off from the outside World is a fantastic feeling (no internet, no phone singal, limited electricity), and being able to get stuck in with the local culture was a dream.”
- “Get yourself in the lagoon! It’s almost impossible to describe quite how blue the lagoon in Funafuti really is, but its the perfect place to cool off after a day of walking up and down the island – get yourself a snorkel and check out the old sea plane jetty, or speak to one of the locals and get out in a boat for some real snorkelling or a spot of fishing on the reefs. Go for a swim by the Alpha Pacific jetty in the late afternoon and play football on the beach with the kids, chew the fat with the locals, or just watch the spectacular sunsets.”
- “Eat some raw fish – most of us have had sushi or sashimi before, so why not try something different? How does raw Tuna heart sound? Or perhaps a breakfast of raw flying fish?”
- “Hire a scooter and cruise up and down the island – it doesn’t take long, but hiring a scooter for the day is a brilliant way of exploring all the little nooks and crannies Funafuti has to offer, just don’t ride it on the runway – it’s illegal!”
For more on traveling to Tuvalu, check out the following articles and resources:
- Read the Tuvalu Indie Travel Guide
One of the largest cities in the world, Istanbul has a history and culture matched by few others. While much of the rest of the world has seen slowing economies over the past five years, Turkey has not only weathered the storm but thrived. Though their economic growth slowed in 2012, it was the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2011 after China.
What does this mean for travelers? While a good economy does mean rising prices, Istanbul is still rather cheap considering its status as a world class city. Similarly sized cities around the world that have the history, culture, and sites that Istanbul does are still considerably more expensive.
Bazaars and haggling are a HUGE part of Middle Eastern culture, so as touristy as something like the Grand Bazaar may seem, it’s not a touristy activity. – Annie Shustrin
Annie Shustrin, who visited Istanbul in October this past year, says, “Istanbul is capital of Turkish culture and Turkish history. There are so many things to do in this city and so many different areas. Some parts of the city are very European, some are very Middle Eastern. You’ll get a bit of everything. You can still find good deals on hotels if you look around .”
When to go: The peak travel season in Istanbul is summer time (June – August), but the weather can get hot and the crowds fierce. Instead consider waiting until the fall (September – November) when the heat cools and the crowds diminish. Prices also fall a bit as well, particularly on accommodations. If you want to brave colder weather, along with lower prices and even fewer crowds, then winter isn’t a bad time to visit.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Istanbul.
- “Cruise up the bosphorous. On a sunny, this affordable boat ride on the water gives you a wider view of the city’s expanse and also is a good excuse to drink cay (tea) and sit down (after walking around all day).” - Annie Shustrin
- “Go out, late, in Beyoglu. There are tons of tradition meze restaurants, bars, clubs, and cafes all centered around Istiklal Caddesi – the area’s main walking thoroughfare. It’s a really lively and fun scene, though a little overwhelmingly crowded at times.” - Annie Shustrin
- “Visit the Grand Bazaar and buy something. Anything. Bazaars and haggling are a HUGE part of MiddleEeastern culture, so as touristy as something like the Grand Bazaar may seem, it’s not a touristy activity – though you may find a lot of tourist goods.” – Annie Shustrin
- “Drink cay. Turkish coffee may be more popular in the west, but Turkish culture is built on cay (black tea). You drink it out of a tiny shotglass-like cup on a tiny tray. its usually served with a sugar cube or two and mini-spoon for stirring. Cay is always inexpensive so its easy on the wallet.” - Annie Shustrin
For more on traveling to Istanbul, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out the Istanbul Indie Travel Guide
- Read Eat Your Way Around Istanbul: 10 Dishes Not to Miss
- Find a flight to Istanbul
There has been much political instability in Madagascar ever since they gained their full independence back in 1960. The past few years have seen much of the same, but we’re hoping that 2013 is different. Though they have been postponed before, presidential elections are scheduled for May of this year.
Indie travelers who head to Madagascar will be greeted by a fascinating, unique, and curious culture. Because of its isolation from other countries, it has become a great place to go for plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. There are over 10,000 plant species native to Madagascar, 90% of which cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
I almost never feel like I’m competing with a crowd of tourists and like I’m always creating my own adventure, discovering things few people elsewhere in the world will ever see. – Jessie Beck
The local sites and wildlife are always a good reason to visit a country, but often indie travelers want more out of their trips. We hope to connect with the locals and really learn about the culture, and Madagascar really provides that opportunity, as long as you’re willing to open up.
Jessie Beck, who has been living, working, and traveling around Madagascar for the past year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer, says, “Malagasy are curious of foreigners and generally easy to befriend and quick to tell you anything you might want to know about Madagascar…All of Madagascar’s 18 regions are dominated by a different tribe, each with their own dialect, customs, art, music, and dance, and each with its own vibe. In short, Madagascar is more than just lemurs and baobabs.”
When to go: Madagascar has two distinct seasons, the hot and rainy season from November to March, and the cooler, dry season from April to October. The east coast of the island is hit hardest by the rainy season, and January to March sees the heaviest rainfall. The ideal time to travel in Madagascar is April and October/November.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Madagascar.
- “My favorite highlights have been rock climbing and trekking in Andringitra. At the park, there’s an intense, three-day trek to the highest peak in Madagascar, and a rock wall that’s so tall it takes two days to climb. Climbers have to spend the night on a cliff halfway up! It was beautiful landscape, blissfully remote, and had a lot of incredible people.” - Jessie Beck
- “I would encourage travelers to travel by land as much possible, whether in a public taxi-brousse or in a private car, because every region in Madagascar is so incredibly different and just a few hours in one direction can mean the difference between rolling highlands and desert; tropical rainforest and sandy beaches.” - Jessie Beck
- “Spend some time in Antsirabe – maybe I’m biased because I live nearby, but it is, without a doubt, my and my friends’ favorite city in Madagascar. It’s clean, bikeable, and there’s always live music somewhere on the weekends.” - Jessie Beck
- “It’s so undeveloped as a tourist destination that I feel like most interactions with the country are genuine and uncontrived. I almost never feel like I’m competing with a crowd of tourists and like I’m always creating my own adventure, discovering things few people elsewhere in the world will ever see.” - Jessie Beck
- “Definitely don’t shy away from learning about Malagasy culture.” - Jessie Beck
For more on traveling to Madagascar, check out the following articles and resources:
- Read the Madagascar Indie Travel Guide
- Read How to Be an Independent Backpacker in Madagascar
- Book a flight to Madagascar
If you only watch the news, you would think that the entire country of Mexico is a drug fueled warzone. While Mexico does have its issues (what country doesn’t, though?), most incidents of violence are isolated to very small areas. Mexico is a huge country – the 5th largest in the Americas and the thirteenth largest in the world – so to write off an entire country because of a few small problem areas would be ludicrous. Should travelers avoid the USA because of Sandy Hook school shooting?
We included Mexico (just like we have included “violent”countries like Colombia in our past lists) to encourage people to go. We want travelers to realize that the media is in the business of making money by getting viewers – and things like drugs and violence are what sells. We don’t suggest you ignore what’s going on – quite the contrary. Read and learn about the situation before going anywhere, and always keep your wits about you (this goes for when you’re at home and on the road). But don’t just write off an entire country because of what you see on the news. And with all the end of world nonsense behind us, Mexico will probably see a drop in tourism in 2013, so what better time to go than now?
Rachel Denning, who traveled around Mexico for four months in 2011-2012 with her family of five, explains, ”Despite the over-exaggerated media coverage, Mexico is a safe and lovely destination – ideal for first time travelers and families as well as the seasoned globetrotters. It holds countless wonders that would require years to fully uncover. Go to Mexico!”
Before I knew what was happening, I was viewing an apartment to rent, which is when I realised Mexico has a sneaky way of making you dispense with all of your travel plans and holds you captive way longer than you intended. – Jo Fitzsimons
Once you get over the sensationalism and realize that the vast majority of the country is perfectly safe, you’ll open yourself up to a multitude of possibilities. A lot of the beaches get the pub, and rightfully so, but Mexico is also home to one of the world’s largest and most bustling cities in the world (Mexico City), plenty of history and ruins to see, explore, and learn about, and one of the best food scenes in the world.
Chelsea Perino, who took a 16-day trip to Mexico in late 2012 (and is already planning her next trip there), says, “Mexico has something for everyone – whether you are are a cultural site-seeker, a foodie, a disco maniac, a surfer, or a combination of all of the above like I am, you will enjoy Mexico. It is much more diverse that I realized, so I was able to get my cultural fix with museums, festivals, and historical sites, enjoy amazing food and authentic Mexican wine (which I never even knew about, but is actually a blooming industry), go to the beach and, of course, indulge in the festive nightlife.”
When to go: Mexico is a big country, so the weather varies depending on where you are. Generally speaking, the wettest and hottest season is from May to September. The further off the coasts you get, the more temperate it is, especially as you rise in elevation. Despite the weather, July and August, the holiday time between mid-December and early January, and the weeks around Easter, sees the most tourists.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Mexico.
- “Pick up a mask and go to see a lucha libre wrestling match. Cheering on overgrown men in vivid spandex and masks will surely be a highlight of your trip to Mexico.” – Jo Fitzsimons (traveled around Mexico for 5 months in 2012)
- “Headed to Monte Alban? After exploring the ruins, make sure to visit the city of Oaxaca and eat a tlyuda from the comedores in the central market.” – Rachel Denning
- “Challenge your taste buds – head to Oaxaca to try deep fried grasshoppers, mango doused in salsa and chilli powder and a shot of Mezcal to wash it all down.” – Jo Fitzsimons
- ” And while you are in Oaxaca be sure to try the 7 different types of Mole (my favorite was Mole Rojo, but they are al delicious, and I know because I tried each one). Also be sure to try the local speciality chapulines. Yes, they are indeed fried grasshoppers, and yes, they are delicious. Try the cacajuelas picantes – they are spiced with chile and salt and are really tasty. Also, there are two different sizes – the smaller ones taste better (and are easier on the eye haha).” – Chelsea Perino
- “If you go to ancient city of Palenque, watch out for monkeys. Afterwards, you can’t pass up a visit to Agua Azul, a series of cascading turquoise blue waterfalls, it’s one of the most surreal destinations in the world.” – Rachel Denning
- “Apparently Mexico City has the highest museum per capita of any city in the world, and I am a museum junkie, so I think I visited about 15 different museums and did not even scratch the surface.” – Chelsea Perino
- “Learn some Spanish. I know everyone says this, but seriously, it will make a huge difference, especially when you are outside of tourist areas. Mexicans have huge national pride and they respect you much more when you make an effort to speak in their language.” – Chelsea Perino
- People are SOOOOO unbelievably nice, open, generous, and truly inerested in knowing about you…I went from being a single girl traveling in Mexico alone, without a plan, to seriously considering changing my flight to stay longer because I have a social calendar that is too full to fit in everything that I have been invited to do.” – Chelsea Perino
- “During my first visit I had a wholly inadequate six weeks, and even before I left I knew I would have to return. On my second visit I intended to stay a month or two but ended up staying for five. Before I knew what was happening, I was viewing an apartment to rent, which is when I realised Mexico has a sneaky way of making you dispense with all of your travel plans and holds you captive way longer than you intended.” – Jo Fitzsimons
For more on traveling to Mexico, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out our Mexico Indie Travel Guide
- Read Everything You Need to Know About Traditional Mexican Food and Drink
- Read Why You Should Ignore All the Urban Legends and Take the Kids to Mexico
The situation in Israel is a bit different than that of Mexico. Israel does not have the vast size of Mexico, violence and instability has been a part of this area for thousands of years, and the situation escalated yet again in November 2012.
We honestly struggled with whether to include Israel on this list, but we decided to add it because of all the possibilities – of seeing and experiencing an area with a history like no other, and of learning about a misunderstood area of the world. Jenna Homeyer, who has been living in Jerusalem since August 2012 and plans to be there for about a year, says, “Israel/Palestine is a great region to visit because you can see some of the holiest sites to the three monotheistic religions…You will also be amid very different cultures between Orthodox Jews, secular people, and Muslims. You will also be in the middle of the rich history this place has and will be exposed to the political conflict that consumes media attention.”
It’s the Middle East – things will always seem unstable, especially the way western media presents things…but especially because of the recent developments, people should come to see what is happening in this region. – Jenna Homeyer
As with travel in any place as volatile as Israel, it’s essential to keep up with what’s going on and make an informed decision on whether or not you are comfortable visiting.
Homeyer also adds, “It’s the Middle East – things will always seem unstable, especially the way western media presents things. I have never felt unsafe in Israel/Palestine. Do read the warnings on the Sectary of State website, but especially because of the recent developments, people should come to see what is happening in this region.”
Jo Fitzsimons, who traveled throughout Israel for over a month in 2011, agrees, “Like other countries that come with a travel advisory, the risk of trouble in Israel is often specific and targeted. Keep up to date with the news and you can experience the rewards of this tiny country without getting close to the trouble that is so often covered in the media.”
When to go: The weather is best for travel in Israel in April/May and September/October, when the temperatures are mild. Mid-November to mid-March sees the majority of rain, and parts of the country can get quite cold. Summer can oppressively hot, especially in the south and Tel Aviv. Those areas in higher elevations can be a nice respite from the heat in the summer months.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Israel.
- “Work out the amount of time you want to spend in Jerusalem…and double it. There is so much to see, eat and drink. As well as the ancient sites, there is a very cool, modern night scene begging to be explored.” – Jo Fitzsimons
- “Dome of the Rock – make sure you know what time you can visit. They let tourists in only on certain days and certain times and only allow a certain number of people, so get there early to be the first in line.” – Jenna Homeyer
- “The reality is that the sheer significance of the country’s sights seems to outweigh the potential risk of outbreaks of violence. Visit now while the country is quieter than usual and before the mainstream glut of backpackers pick up the potential of Israel on their indie radar.” – Jo Fitzsimons
- “I also went on a great dual narrative tour with a tour company called Mejdi. This consisted of an Israeli and a Palestinian taking you around Jerusalem and explaining the history of the conflict – very informative and interesting.” – Jenna Homeyer
- “Always carry your passport!” – Jenna Homeyer
- “Go on a tour of Taybeh brewery only Palestinian brewery it’s in the town of Taybeh and you get to try sample on your tour, or if you’re here in October go to Taybeh’s Octoberfest! So much fun with a mix of German traditions with a Palestinian twist.” – Jenna Homeyer
- “Visit Bethlehem but go through the Checkpoint so you can experience what it’s like for Palestinians to commute.” – Jenna Homeyer
For more on traveling to Israel, check out the following articles and resources:
- Read our Israel Indie Travel Guide
- Read Why Israel and the Palestinian Territories Should Be on the Backpacking Trail
- Find a flight to Tel Aviv
Myanmar President Thein Sein has done a lot to turn the country around since taking office a few years ago. Freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship laws, and establishing a relationship with formerly exiled leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has meant an opening of the borders and a massive rise in tourism over the past few years.
A country that had very limited contact with the outside world for decades is now open for business, and lots of indie travelers are taking advantage. Andy Knight, who visited Burma in 2011, says, ”Burma is teetering on the precipice of incredible popularity. It’s got everything an indie traveler could want and more, and none of it is even close to becoming crowded. Go soon though, because it won’t be quiet for long.”
This idea of a country being ruined by tourism is an argument that has been had time and time again, and while we all prefer authenticity, fewer crowds, and less scams, Burma will still be an awesome place to visit in 10 years – it will just be different than it is now. The appeal of going now is obvious, as many project Myanmar will be the next Thailand (I’ll let you decide if that’s good or bad).
Burma is teetering on the precipice of incredible popularity. It’s got everything an indie traveler could want and more, and none of it is even close to becoming crowded. – Andy Knight
When to go: The ideal time to travel to Myanmar is between November and February. Rain has largely subsided and the heat, while still hot, is not as bad as the rest of the year. The heat rises in March, April, and May, and then the rain comes between May and September (the worst coming between July and September).
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about Myanmar.
- “Go to Inle Lake and walk on the floating gardens, smoke a locally made cheroot with a fisherman, and marvel at the only leg rowers in the world.” – Andy Knight
- “Ride your own trishaw through the Temples of Bagan and visit a “closed” one and try to persuade the gatekeepers to let you in. Just avoid the reconstructed palace site which was built by a Burmese tycoon with strong Junta ties.” - Andy Knight
- “Pick a random local restaurant in Yangon, grab a curry and make friends with the person next to you. You’ll be amazed at how much they already know about the outside world and how much they still want to learn.” - Andy Knight
For more on traveling to Burma, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out our Myanmar Indie Travel Guide
- Read Why Today Should Be the Day You Head to Burma
- Read 8 Reasons to Fall in Love with Burma
- Read Indie Travel in Myanmar for $45 Per Day
Many of the countries and cities on this list are here because of timeliness, with 2013 being a good time to visit for one reason or another. India’s inclusion on this list honestly doesn’t have much to do with 2013 being an ideal time to go. India is here simply because it’s the pinnacle of independent travel.
Beautiful and awful. Breathtaking and grotesque. Alluring and repulsive. There are very few places in the world that offer the contrasts that India offers. It can be amazing one minute and appalling the next, but one thing is certain, you’re sure to leave India with a different perspective – of both travel and life. What other country can have that kind of lasting impact on a person?
Aditi Bose, a local Indian who lives in Mumbai, says, “Each city has its own culture and ethos – it will teach you to keep your mind open and adapt as you go along.”
You must surrender yourself to India – try to control her and she will win, every time. For those who do this; however, their reward is to be lost and found in this most magical of places. – Shelley Seale
Keeping your mind open is something that Shelley Seale, who has been to India 7 times since 2005, agrees with Aditi, “India is…still not a country that many people travel to. It takes guts, an intrepid spirit, and a yearning for not-your-everyday-adventure…in short, all the things that define an Indie Traveler. You must surrender yourself to India – try to control her and she will win, every time. For those who do this, however, their reward is to be lost and found in this most magical of places.”
Writing about the sites and history is easy, and most travelers already know the highlights of this country. But it’s the people that make India what it is – all 1.2 billion of them. It’s a different life in India, one that is the polar opposite of what we in the western world are used to, and that’s what makes India such a great indie travel destination. You can learn so much about the country, its history, its people, and most of all, yourself.
When to go: India is a massive country, so the weather is quite different in the north than the south. There are three seasons in India – wet, cool, and hot. Generally speaking, November to mid-February is the best time to visit to get the best mix of dry and cool. The wet season can be a bit complicated as two different monsoons hit the country. From June to September, the Southwest monsoon hits the majority of the country, with the west coast being hit the worst. The Northeast monsoon comes between October and February. April and May are the hottest months of the year.
Indie travel tips from those who have been there: We asked readers, writers, and any traveler we came across to offer tips for visiting each of our destinations, and here’s what they had to say about India.
- “Visiting its many villages you will discover and understand simple living.” – Aditi Bose
- “First and foremost, when you arrive in India for the first time the top sightseeing thing to do is simply take it in! India is overwhelming, and the sights and smells and sounds are an assault on the senses. Once that has soaked in a little, I recommend taking a tuk-tuk ride, taking in a local temple, having a delicious cup of street chai, checking out the markets and just strolling the streets – in itself always an awesome adventure!
- “Once you visit you will know how different India is from the ‘received information’ – snake charmers are still there but that’s not all India is about.” – Aditi Bose
- “Although India is well known for its spiritual nature, the food, and the architecture and temples, many people are surprised at the other things to be discovered in modern India. It is a mecca for arts and culture, and the modernity and cutting edge that you will find in many places gives a wonderful juxtaposition between the traditional and the new, every single day. Its duality is part of its charm. India is simply the most alive place I have ever been, and that’s why I love it so.” – Shelley Seale
For more on traveling to India, check out the following articles and resources:
What destinations are on your 2013 travel list? Share in the comments
#rtwchat on Twitter
BootsnAll hosts #rtwchat on Twitter, a weekly chat covering a variety of topics to help you travel around the world. This week we used this article as inspiration. We do a live video during the chat as well, with BootsnAll CEO Sean Keener, editor Adam Seper, and a special guest. This week Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, joined us for #rtwchat. Check out the video below: