There's nothing wrong with the classics, but there are some pretty underrated destinations that don't get nearly as much attention as they should! Here are our top 5. Their charm and restorative qualities may just surprise you if you decide to go exploring.
1. The Philippines
The Philippines is anything but a small country, with a population of 103 million people living on more than 7,000 individual islands. Despite having gorgeous beaches, reefs, volcanos, and historical landmarks to check out, it seems that travelers often choose Thailand or Indonesia over the Philippines.
You'll get great value for your money in the Philippines and a large part of the population already speak English, which makes this country a relatively easy travel experience for most Americans.
A couple highlights that are worth exploring are the Chocolate Hills, a series of unusually symmetrical geologically formed mounds with green grass growing on them, and the impressive Banaue Rice Terraces which were carved from mountain ranges nearly 2,000 years ago.
Perhaps it's time to give the Philippines some serious consideration for your next trip! Though if you do, you want to stay far away from any criminal activities; the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been known to use violent methods against perceived wrongdoers. You'll also want to research which regions of the country you'll be visiting. Some are much safer for tourists than others.
2. Gdansk, Poland
Dating back a thousand years, Gdansk is one of Poland's oldest cities and holds a special place in the country's history. It was the location of the start of World War II and also the place where Communism in Central Europe started to crumble. (The port of Gdansk was the heart of the Solidarity movement, led by the electrician/activist Lech Walesa, which nearly overthrew the Polish government in 1981-83 and ultimately came to power after the collapse of the USSR.)
Beyond its impressive history, Gdansk actually has a number of large beaches that stretch along the coast, such as Stogi Beach with its white sands, expansive views of the sea, and calm, peaceful aura.
History will definitely be the draw for many visitors, though, and the historic city center along with its fantastic museums will not disappoint. The Amber Museum is located in an old prison building and houses some captivating amber pieces including jewelry and even a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
The Solidarity Museum is also to be found in Gdansk, which is dedicated to the aforementioned labor movement. If you're a history buff or a lover of freedom, you cannot miss this monument to civil disobedience in the face of Communist tyranny.
No To Cyk is one of the top bars in the city. It reflects the town's communist history in a trendy way, and we recommend grabbing a drink here yet another journey to the past.
Tourism is definitely an important industry in the South American nation of Bolivia, but compared to its neighbors Peru, Chile, and Brazil, it's still extremely underrated. It brought in roughly 900,000 visitors in 2016, while these other countries had numbers ranging from 3.7 million to 6.6 million.
While beach lovers might be disappointed with the lack of sandy shorelines and lapping waves, it has some other pretty amazing features -- like the world's largest salt flats measuring an immense 10,582 sq km and sitting 3,565 meters above sea level. The flats are completely covered in salt during dry season while in the wet season they have a thin sheet of water over top. They make for some spectacular photos, as the shallowness of the lake allows visitors to walk or even drive through it with ease.
Bolivia has seven World Heritage Sites, including the silver mines of Potosi, not to mention its powerful volcanoes, blood-red lakes, and lively inhabitants.
4. Nara, Japan
Most people interested in traveling to Japan focus on Tokyo or Kyoto. While Nara is often overlooked, it has much of the same tourism activities as Kyoto but without the overwhelming crowds.
Nara has a number of beautiful gardens, ancient Buddhist temples, and shopping areas like Naramchi, an old neighborhood with wooden townhouses transformed into cafes and restaurants.
The deer of Nara Park have been designated a national treasure, and for good reason: there are over 1,200 free-roaming deer in the park, and they've become a symbol of the city. The park will allow you to get up close and personal with these tame creatures and explore scenic sights throughout.
Nara has also staked a claim as the birthplace of sake, so of course, you'll find many excellent sake bars that do their city proud.
Want to read more about the land of the rising sun? Check out 5 Once-In-A-Lifetime Adventures To Try In Japan.
5. Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a rapidly growing travel destination with a nearly 300% year-over-year increase in tourists from 24,000 people in 2015 to roughly 74,400 in 2016, according to the World Tourism Organization. It's still got nothing on South Africa's massive 10 million per year, but it's an up-and-comer and worthy of your attention!
With its breathtaking beaches, friendly people, and traditional lifestyles, Sierra Leone has a lot to offer visitors. Lumley Beach and Cotton Tree, a local symbol of freedom from slavery, are two landmarks worth seeing for yourself.
Wildlife is a prominent feature of Sierra Leone, and the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is one of the top choices for seeing the local primate inhabitants. The Sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates endangered primates and offers twice-daily tours for visitors to see chimps frolicking through their leafy, waterfall-framed environment.
Sierra Leone has a bloody history, but the situation has stabilized considerably in the last decade and a half. Hopefully, it will stay that way.
These destinations are slightly off the beaten path in comparison to the Parises and Mexicos of the world, but they'll give you memories that last a lifetime!