I spent all of last year travelling. And I don’t mean weekend getaways and a big Euro trip travelling. I mean living out of a suitcase, losing track of how many flights I’d flown that month, and having to take my washing to foreign laundromats kind of travelling. If you’re keen for your own gap year or just want to know where to spend your precious leave, I have some hints for you.
I went all over the world and tried everything new I could. One week I was diving in the crystal-clear water of a cenote in Tulum. The next I was in a helicopter listening to the Indiana Jones soundtrack on a headset as we swooped over the Grand Canyon.[related_articles]60340,56377[/related_articles]
But I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this for some background. Because I’m about to share, out of all of my travels, the five spots that stuck out. And now that you know my picks are out of too many countries to even count, that should give them some credibility. So, here goes:
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Boars darting between trees. Deer on the beach. And the largest lizards in the world, Komodo dragons, roaming free on the islands. Komodo National Park really was something else.
To get here, take an hour-long flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, the main gateway to the park. Word of advice: don’t stay long on the mainland. Instead, hop on a liveaboard (a boat you eat and sleep on), and cruise the national park islands.
Stop at Padar to hike up to its incredible viewpoint, Komodo and Rinca to see the dragons, and anchor in the middle of nowhere out at sea to dive with the Mantas.
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Not heard about Bacalar yet? You will soon.
Just a two-and-a-half hour drive from Tulum (or five hours from Cancun), the town is home to stunning, Desktop wallpaper-worthy Seven Color Lagoon. Experience its 60km-stretch by boating, swimming or kayaking.[related_articles]69734,65685[/related_articles]
When you’ve tired of the water-based activities, cute cafés, hip hostels, and jaw-dropping cenotes await.
I’ll admit that my trip to Sapa, a town in northern Vietnam, didn’t start off great.
In fact, after taking a night bus up from Hanoi and being dropped there at 6am, with only a fake North Face jacket from a street stall to keep me warm in the below-freezing weather, I was cursing myself for having booked it.
Even more so when half-way through my day-long hike through the barren rice fields, I slipped and fell in the icy mud.
Fast-forward to the next day when my group blew off our second day hike to spend the morning at a spa we’d found instead. Sinking into a hot water bath, steam fogging up the windows that looked out at the fields, I was more than glad I came.
Hot tip: visit between March and May if you want to see the paddies at their prime.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
I thought I knew Croatia. I mean, I’d never actually been. But doesn’t everyone feel like they know it after seeing all the Sail Croatia photos flooding Instagram?
Then, I finally visited last year. And while I did see that that side of it – the islands and the beautiful towns Split and Dubrovnik – I also saw its national park side.[related_articles]68519,67468[/related_articles]
Plitvice Lakes with its winding forest walkways and turquoise waterfalls was absolutely breathtaking. I spent two days there, and wish I could’ve spent more.
Krka National Park was equally gorgeous, but, being far easier to get to from Split (I took a public bus that took 1.5 hours), it was far busier than Plitvice, which is a 3.5-hour bus ride away.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
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As an American living in Australia for the past decade, I had forgotten how charming my home country’s beaches can be.
American flags flapping off one-storied beach homes. Souvenir shops with cheesy magnets bearing the town’s name. And open-air bars with live music, plastic cup Margaritas (free-poured, of course), and too many motorbikes out front to count.[related_articles]25417,70968[/related_articles]
New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where I visited, was all of those things. South of Daytona, it’s known in the US for its laidback vibes and pounding waves. (And for being the shark capital of the world, but maybe I shouldn’t mention that.)
Funnily enough, though it was just under a four-hour drive from Miami, where I’d gone to uni, I hadn’t ever visited back then. Which just goes to show that no matter where you are, it’s still worth exploring your own backyard.
(Lead image: Plitvice National Park, Croatia, Melinda Nagy / Shutterstock)
Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance travel writer. She grew up going on trips to India and Europe on school holidays, and hasn't stopped travelling since.