Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.
Yeah, ok we get it. Our friends quote this to us after bad breakups, therapists line their office walls with poster versions, and parents pin it to their Pinspiration boards the world over.
But deep down, it’s all a lie. Everyone knows the first day of the rest of your life is New Year’s Day.
Sure, it doesn’t really make sense. After all, man is the one who invented dates in the first place. We all know we can try to change on any given day of any given year – it’s just that waiting until the New Year has become a psychological thing. It’s a symbolic fresh slate. An acceptable time to start over. Lists, goals, and resolutions have been paused in limbo for months, eagerly waiting to come out of the woodworks the moment the final ball drops.
Sitting up there with spending more time with family, quitting smoking, and ditching the donuts is..…traveling more.
I’ve had a few friends and readers express this desire to me throughout the closing days of 2015. One ardent friend even made the declaration as early as April. I remember at the time rather sardonically replying to her in my head (or maybe even aloud) something like you do realize there are 8 months left to travel during this year, right? But like I said – it’s all psychological.
These wanderlust revelations always head down the same road towards the inevitable final question of So, where should I go? After attempting to answer this multiple times over, I reflected back on my 9 years of travel and compiled a list of my favorite destinations coupled with my favorite time to visit.
I found that when you go is often just as important as where you go as the time of year you visit can make or break your trip. So from Verona to Budapest, Fraser Island to Maine, Reykjavik to the Douro Valley and beyond, below is a list of some of my favorite time and place combinations – a travel destination for every month of 2016.
January – London, United Kingdom
With layer upon layer of history intricately woven round the bends of the renowned River Thames, London has manifested itself into one of the foremost culturally significant destinations since the Romans first laid the foundation some 2000 years ago.
- Free museums and galleries stand proud around every corner.
- London’s plethora of green parks and spaces make it the greenest city of its size in the Europe.
- Its multiculturalism results in incredible ethnic cuisine (especially when it comes to Indian food).
- The English social scene revolves around cozy pubs – some of which date back to the 1500’s.
- The shopping is not only exquisite but so are the buildings they’re housed in.
- It’s the premier theater destination in the world rivaled only by New York City.
- Its underground music and nightlife scene.
Why Go in January:
- Most sites remain open year round.
- There are far fewer tourists so you can enjoy the sites without massive crowds.
- Accommodation is at its cheapest.
- There’s a quiet beauty along the Thames River in areas like Hammersmith when the trees are bare and the sun reflects off the cold waters.
- You can find peace at places like Chiswick House and Gardens where you’ll most likely be able to wander completely alone during this month.
Know Before You Go: The weather can at times be wet or monochromatic with its fog but on the days when the sun shines, it’s absolutely stunning. Dress warmly as there will be a chill in the air.
Favorite Off-The-Beaten Path Areas: The riverbank neighborhoods of Hammersmith, Chiswick, and Richmond; the lively nighttime scene in the areas of Clapham and Shoreditch.
Insider’s Secret: If you show up to the box office the day of a theater show, you can normally score any unsold tickets for very cheap. They try to get rid of empty seats so you often end up with outstanding orchestra seats. I saw the Book of Mormon from the 3rd row and only paid 27 pounds. Note: this gets hard to do if you’re more than 2 people and wish to sit together.
February – Verona, Italy
Being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet isn’t the only reason Verona’s known as the city of love. It’s as romantic as any city can possibly be with 2,000 years of architectural history on display around the curvatures of the Adige river. A Roman arch bridge connects the riverbanks, piazzas sprawl out from narrow alleyways, bell towers kiss the sky, Romanesque and Gothic churches abound, and there’s no shortage of elegant building facades to gaze upon.
- Its 2000 year old Roman amphitheater that’s now one of the premier opera venues in the world.
- Its old Roman forum where modern Veronans continue to gather to this day.
- Refreshing alcoholic spritzes.
- Its compact size makes it easily navigable by foot.
- Postcard-perfect views along the river.
- Its plethora of pedestrian-only cobblestone streets.
- Delicious risotto and polenta dishes.
Why Go in February:
- When the snow falls in a city as old and beautiful as Verona, it’s like being in the world’s most charming snow globe.
- The Verona in Love! Festival near Valentine’s Day – heart streamers hang upon street lanterns, market stall vendors arrange their booths to line around the edge of a giant red heart, Verona in Love is projected on building facades, tourist sites are discounted for couples, and there’s a huge celebration that ends with a countdown culminating with Italians screaming Baci! Baci! (kiss! kiss!) – that’s when the cannons start shooting out heart-shaped confetti to rain around the hundreds of couples making out in the center of the piazza.
- You can stay at a five star hotel for the price of a 2 star.
- Extremely few tourists. I pretty much had the entire Roman coliseum to myself.
Know Before You Go: Plan for minor transportation delays and changes. Due to snow patterns, my train was rerouted through a different station on the way from Florence and my flight on the way out of Verona was also delayed 3 hours.
Insider’s Secret: Forget the pizza and pasta – in Northern Italy it’s all about the risotto so don’t leave Verona without trying some.
March – Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s total population caps at around 330,000 and the capital city of Reykjavik holds approximately 40% of it. Despite its compact size, this coastal city is remarkably cosmopolitan with a multitude of museums, a rich literary history, a past that reaches back to the Viking age, a modern day art and sculpture scene, and a lively nightlife culture. Sitting amidst a country that’s still in the process of its own creation, the capital is within easy reach of glaciers, volcanoes, national parks, black sand beaches, geysers, and geothermal pools.
- Reykjavik can easily be traversed via foot, bus, or bike.
- Icelanders are among the friendliest people in the world.
- One of the most eco-conscious cities in the world – 100% of its electricity comes from renewable sources.
- Icelandic water is the best water ever. Seriously – The. Best.
- An outdoorsmen’s paradise with its close proximity of places to go trekking, horseback riding, snorkeling, glacier hiking, and more.
- The majority of the population speaks English. The majority also believe in elves.
- Its energetic nightlife scene.
Why Go in March:
- Northern Lights! Northern Lights! Northern Lights! It was the most spectacular display I’ve ever seen. Dancing pink, green, and purple lights covered the whole sky only 20 minutes outside the city center and lasted for over an hour.
- Less tourists.
- There’s enough daylight for exploring, yet the sun won’t keep you up all night like in the summer months.
- While chilly, the weather is milder than you would think for this time of year. NYC is colder than Iceland during March.
- It’s still considered the ‘shoulder season’ so prices are cheaper.
Know Before You Go: Keep an eye out for the Easter holiday – many restaurants and bars in the capital close down over these dates. Also, most items in Iceland are imported which means they’re crazy expensive so buy any gear (boots, sweaters, hiking pants, jackets, etc.) you may need before leaving home.
Favorite Outdoor Activities: Hiking the Sólheimajökull Glacier and seeing the Northern Lights.
Insider’s Secret: Outside the city center and off the suburb of Seltjarnarnes is a little island called Grotta which provides a spectacular landscape for photographs with its picturesque lighthouse that’s well worth a visit.
Posts on Reykjavik: Iceland: An Unlikely Winter Destination – written for Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.
April – Fraser Island, Australia
The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island is a host of diversity where one minute you’re in the rainforest and the next you’re swimming in gin-clear lakes. Foray out a bit further and you’ll find mounds of sand dunes, natural water-filled rock pools, colored cliffs, shipwrecks, and miles upon miles of coastline.
- Roaming, wild dingoes mean lots of opportunities for the dingo at my baby quotes.
- Isolated stretches of beach.
- 40 of the clearest lakes you’ve ever seen.
- One of the best places for pitching a tent and sleeping beneath the stars.
- Activities for all ages – both for the adventurous and the less-adventurous spirits.
- Its eco-friendliness.
Why Go in April:
- Cruise its 75 miles of coastline without another car in sight.
- Tour buses are fewer and far between.
- Unbeatable weather with endless sunny days and clear nights. Never was I cold nor did I break a sweat.
- As I’m not a huge planner, I found I was able to do everything I wanted to without booking in advance. I was even able to secure the jeep the night before.
Know Before You Go: If you plan on renting a jeep (I HIGHLY recommend this over a tour) make sure you have a confident driver. The interior roads can be treacherous and bumpy with cars coming from both directions. There were also times when we had to drive through waves that butted against the car and there are narrow stretches between the sea and big piles of rocks that can at times be dangerous. Never drive during nightfall or through certain stretches during high tide.
Favorite Sites on the Island: The Champagne Pools, Eli’s Creek, the Maheno Shipwreck, and the views from Indian Head.
Insider’s Secret: Renting a jeep or driving your own vehicle (must obtain a permit for this) allows for more freedom while exploring the island. You can also bring camping gear and set up your tent on designated grounds.
Posts on Fraser Island: 10 Reasons to Rent a Jeep on Fraser Island, Australia
May – The Douro Valley, Portugal
Tucked away in the distant reaches of northern Portugal, this historic and lesser-known wine region rests upon a dramatic landscape wrought with sloping valleys, slanting hills and pared by the Douro River that sinuously drifts between them. With a history of wine production spanning 2000 years, this once remote area continues to preserve and sustain its authentic character. Discovering the traditions of the sleepy hilltop towns of the Douro Valley is an unparalleled experience.
- The river-hugging train ride from the city of Porto to the towns in the Douro Valley is one of the most scenic in the world.
- For that matter, taking a boat up the Douro River is one of the most scenic boat rides in the world.
- Port wine tasting at one of the many quintas dotting the valley.
- The sheer beauty and greenness of the vineyards.
- Each quaint train depot you pass will leave you charmed by its characteristically Portuguese blue-and-white-tiled decorative mosaics.
Why Go in May:
- The weather is unbeatable with the gleaming sun and cloudless skies. It’s warm yet not sweltering.
- It’s still before the busy season which means less tourists (are you sensing a theme here?). The largest group I toured a vineyard with capped out at 3 people!
- Hotel prices – though not at their lowest – are still marginally cheaper than in the summer months.
Know Before You Go: Look into renting a car (if you don’t want to spend a load of money on private taxis). I found myself restricted to certain vineyards due to being sans vehicle – though it was still an incredible trip and can be done without one.
Favorite Town: Pinhao
Insider’s Secret: There’s more than just port wine in the Douro Valley. In the far northern reaches of the area, there’s Foz Coa – a cave with over 5000 prehistoric rock carvings dating back to the Upper Paleolithic age (circa 22,000 BC!).
Posts on the Douro Valley: The Port Wine Tradition of Portugal’s Douro Valley
June – The Pacific Coast Highway, California, USA
One of America’s most beloved drives, the Pacific Coast Highway stretches along California’s central coast and allows for a variety of interesting stop-offs from state parks to golden mountains; eclectic roadside attractions to mansions in the sky; fairytale towns to surfer hotspots; and much more.
PCH Road Trip Highlights (route from LA to San Francisco):
- Hiking, camping, lookouts, and basically any and everything in Big Sur.
- Hearst Castle.
- The wine tasting rooms of Santa Barbara.
- The artisan shops and independent galleries in the cute town that’s so charmingly named Carmel-by-the-Sea.
- Dramatic cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean.
- The birds and sea lions of Point Lobos State Reserve.
Why Go in June:
- Far less traffic with long stretches of nothing but the open road.
- Less tourists (if you can’t tell by now – I HATE crowds) in all the attractions along the way.
- You don’t have to book accommodation or buy tickets for any sites in advance. After all, aren’t road trips supposed to be about freedom and spontaneous whims?
Know Before You Go: This month is infamous for it’s “June Gloom”. The mornings can be laden with dense fog. It’s best to have lazy mornings in whichever town you’re visiting and hit the road around 1 or 2pm as this is when the haze will start to lift. The Pacific Coast Highway is better with short one or two hour driving stretches anyway. There are so many cool little stop offs that are worth visiting so it’s preferable to give yourself at least 7 days to explore.
Favorite PCH Stop Offs: Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Santa Barbara
Insider’s Secret: For the best view, take the highway from the North to the South as you’ll be in the lane closest to the coastline. It’s also handy to do this route with someone you can take turns driving with. The roads can be dangerous so you shouldn’t take your eyes off them in order to try and see the viewpoints – you’ll want to be in the passenger seat for parts of the drive. If you are traveling solo, there are plenty of stop off points where you can pullover to take photographs or just soak in the ocean views.
July – Surry, Maine, USA
Characterized by miles of coastline, pebbled beaches, fresh lobster shacks, thick forests, and sheltered inlets – the small New England town of Surry, Maine is an idyllic haven for those wishing to escape city life.
- Hiking and outdoor activities in nearby Acadia National Park.
- Fresh lobster straight off the boat.
- Whale-watching excursions.
- Less than an hour’s drive from the bustling summer village of Bar Harbor.
- Watersports from boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, jet-skiing, and more.
- The beauty of nature, the great outdoors, and unrivaled sunsets.
- Friendliness of the heavily-accented locals.
- Whoopie pie.
Why Go in July:
- The 4th of July holidays are always best celebrated in the Northeastern United States and Maine is no exception.
- Maine can be chilly year round but July offers the best of both worlds as it’s warm enough to sunbathe yet the nights are cool enough for a sweater and a bonfire.
- Blueberry season opens up which means blueberry pies everywhere.
Know Before You Go: Always bring a sweater and jeans – there’s never been a night in Maine when I haven’t needed them. The summits of the mountains also can get quite nippy so a light athletic jacket will come in handy.
Insider’s Secret: Surry is a local area with houses all along the coast where there’s also a multitude of family vacation homes (I stay with a friend every summer who has a house there). There are not many hotels so it’s best to check on vacation rental sites or on AirBnB for a place to stay in Surry.
August – Dublin, Ireland
Nowhere is personality on display more than in the city of Dublin with its many colorful Georgian doors, its pubs filled with charismatic and convivial locals, its generations of creative musicians and literary types, and 1000 years of history lying on its sleeve.
- Its impressive library inside Trinity College.
- The infectious congeniality of the Irish.
- Pubs, pubs, and more pubs.
- Its imposing medieval architecture.
- Its rich literary heritage.
- Easy access to a variety of day trips including Blarney Castle, Bunratty, the town of Cork, the Wicklow Mountains, etc.
Why Go in August:
- Being one of the busiest times of year means you’ll meet people from all over the world.
- Bars and pubs are at their liveliest and continue the party well on in to the early morning.
- The weather hovers around the mid-60’s with stunning sunny days.
- All attractions are open.
- The Liffey Swim – watch the swimmers take to the water in this historic race which first commenced in 1920.
Know Before You Go: August is in the middle of tourist season and attractions can become quite crowded. It’s best to go first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. I often found that many sites were less crowded when I went 30 minutes prior to closing. Most places only close the doors at closing time but will let you wander for awhile if you’re already inside.
Insider’s Secret: At times outside of the school’s term, Trinity College opens up its dorm rooms to travelers seeking accommodation. It provides for a unique stay right in the center of the city.
September – Monaco
Glitz and glam are the themes of this tiny principality. Nestled along the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco is a place people go to see and be seen – the glitterati sip cocktails onboard their megayachts, the wealthy shop the prestigious labels of the Cercle d’Or, and celebrities dine at the most exquisite Michelin Star restaurants.
- Ample opportunities for celeb spotting.
- Its sweeping views of the blue waters of the western Mediterranean Sea.
- As the country is built up on cliffs, escalators have been added so you’re calves don’t die from too many steep hills and stairs.
- Its fresh seafood is a gastronomical delight.
- Doubling your money at the fashionable Monte-Carlo Casino (if you’re lucky).
- The succulents at the Jardin Exotique de Monaco.
Why Go in September:
- With the Monaco Yacht Show taking place this month, the harbors are filled with the world’s largest yachts.
- Its at its liveliest as visitors enjoy the last remains of the summer season.
- Temperatures hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit allowing for perfect swimming conditions.
Know Before You Go: Watch out for the Monaco Yacht Show which is held in September. Accommodation prices skyrocket and you must book months in advance. Don’t count on being able to hit up the superyacht show without parting with a couple hundred Euros.
Favorites of the Area: Plage De La Mala and the French town of Eze – just a quick train stop away.
Insider’s Secret: There’s a coastal walk from Monaco to Plage De La Mala which takes a little over an hour – but man is it worth it. Breathtaking views of the Riviera accompany you along the way and culminate with yet another gorgeous view (pictured above). There are two lounge areas and bars in the cove that serve seaside drinks and food. You can then take the train back into Monaco.
October – New York City, NY, USA
New York City is where every contradiction seamlessly merges together in an almost unnatural sync that’s echoed in its protean neighborhoods, culturally varied residents, and its evolution and acceptance of new norms. It’s so much more than a check-off list comprised of Times Square, Grand Central, art museums, Broadway shows, and trendy restaurants. It’s an ever-changing place that no one can ever truly know – but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun to try.
- Its melting pot of cultures.
- One of the world’s best foodie scenes and a nightlife that doesn’t stop.
- Cheap taxis, ease of public transportation, and an overall flat city that makes for easy walking.
- Its world-class art collections and museums.
- Its cultural and hip outer borough neighborhoods.
- Riverwalks and strolls through green parks.
- Iconic skyscrapers mingle with historic buildings.
Why Go in October:
- Mild, pleasant weather and mostly sunny skies.
- Many tourists come in August and September for the final days of summer and then a new flock will arrive for the holiday season in November and December – this means October is fairly light when it comes to crowds.
- The changing color of the leaves in Central Park.
- The Thompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade is the cutest thing you’ll ever witness as hundreds of dogs parade around in the most creative costumes you’ve ever seen.
Know Before You Go: Check the weather. 90% of the time it’s absolutely stunning but 3 years ago there was one day in October when a freak snowstorm hit. It’s rare but it could still happen so it’s better to be prepared.
Favorite Off-The-Beaten Path Sites: Too many to count so I wrote a whole post on it – 150 Things Locals Do In New York City.
Insider’s Secret: Locals (like me) HATE Times Square. We avoid it like it’s a brightly-lit plague of death.
Posts on New York City: A Local’s Guide to Eating Your Way Through Chelsea Market, Springtime on Historic Stone Street, A Day in Red Hook, Brooklyn’s Isolated Neighborhood, 10 Reasons Living in the Financial District is Awesome, and more.
November – Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom
Located in central Scotland, the region of Stirling has a dense historical past that’s seen everything from Stone Age settlements to Scottish wars to established monarchies. The area holds an enchanting mix of old medieval villages and castles, natural lochs and rivers, Renaissance architecture, and cobblestone streets – all of which are set within a striking landscape where the rolling hills of the Lowlands rise to meet the mountains of the Highlands.
- Cheap, regular, and efficient bus service makes it easy to get from one village to the next without a car.
- Various trekking and hiking paths are within a stone’s throw of every town in the region.
- The Scottish hospitality is unmatched and it’s very easy to meet locals in Stirling.
- The area includes Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
- The walks between the villages are among the most beautiful in the world.
- Pretending to be Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
- Castles, castles, and more castles.
Why Go in November:
- Peace and solitude – this is one of the least busiest months to be in the Stirling region with little to no tourists around.
- You can wander castles alone. Seriously I had two medieval castles all to myself.
- Continuing on with the whole alone thing, I did not cross paths with one single human on one of my hikes. There’s nothing cooler than standing on a mountain peak with no one around.
- You’ll see Scotland the way it was meant to be seen – all moody and atmospheric.
- The one distillery tour I went on only had two other people on it.
- If you want to get to know the locals, this is the easiest time to do it. Mostly because they all want to stop to ask you “What the hell are you doing here in November?”
Know Before You Go: Visiting in November requires a bit of research – especially when it comes to accommodation. A lot of the smaller village hotels close on October 31st though you should be fine in bigger towns like Stirling City. If there’s a certain attraction you want to see, make sure it’s open as a lot of them are closed for the season. There’s still enough things to do and see but if you’re the type who likes to jam pack your days seeing every single site in the guidebook, then it’s probably best to visit in the spring or summer. November can also be wet so bring a rain jacket. It’s definitely worth braving the rain when the clouds break and the sun shines through to cast more rainbows over the city than you’ve ever seen!
Favorite Villages and Experiences: Hiking to Dumyat Summit via the hamlet of Blairlogie, touring the Deanston whiskey distillery, open mic night at The Settle Inn in Stirling, exploring the village of Bridge of Allan, seeing the castles of Doune and Stirling.
Insider’s Secret: Mandy, the local proprietor of the Curly Coo Bar in Stirling City Center, knows her whiskey. She can normally be found behind the bar so strike up a conversation and trust her recommendation on which label to drink. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
December – Budapest, Hungary
Rising from the ashes of a complex and conflict-ridden history, Budapest has transformed into the Paris of the East with its concert halls and theaters, cultural museums, emerging foodie scene, and a treasure trove of architectural elements that are riddled throughout the city.
- Hungarian red wine is among some of the best in the world.
- It’s efficient public transportation system.
- One of the cheapest European cities thanks to the weakened forint.
- Hungarians love to drink – clubs and ruin bars stay open ’til the wee hours of dawn.
- The beauty of the Old Town up on Castle Hill.
- Reflecting on the city’s war torn history at the WWII memorial – The Shoes of the Danube – along the banks of the river.
- Langos – a tasty street food consisting of dough topped with sour cream and shredded cheese.
- Art Nouveau architecture with its intricately decorated tiled roofs.
- Its thermal bath culture.
Why Go in December:
- Its Christmas markets seem never-ending as they continue on block after block. They are also much less crowded than the ones in other European capitals.
- Less tourists.
- Holiday lights are strung throughout the city making it quite the festive destination.
- You can make a game of trying to spot the Christmas tram – a tram whose exterior is completely covered in lights.
- It’s easy to dine at most restaurants without a reservation.
Know Before You Go: December can be quite gloomy during the day. Don’t expect any postcard-perfect daytime shots of the riverbank – though you can get some cool vintage-esque shots with the right filter.
Favorite Off-The-Beaten Path Sites: The bars and restaurants in District 11 on the quieter – and more local – Buda side of the river (and still a safe distance away from the touristy Castle Hill).
Insider’s Secret: Goulash was a traditional dish many years ago and all the guidebooks list it as a ‘must eat local dish’. Sadly this is now something the locals rarely cook or eat yet it stays on restaurant menus for tourists. For a more authentic local dish, try the chicken paprikash served over dumplings.
Posts on Budapest: Off the Beaten Path Experiences in Budapest, Hungary
What’s your favorite time and place combination? Let me know in the comments below!
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!