Not to wish our lives away, but 2018 is winding down, and we can't help but look forward to next year. What new adventures will fill our calendars? What new trends will sweep the globe? What little hideaway will emerge as the new 'must-see'?
With help from wide-ranging experts, we've put together a list of pretty good bets for your 2019 getaway. Some of them are old favorites; some have yet to emerge as top-tier destinations. But all of them are worth putting on your to-do list come the new year.
Nestled between Colombia and Peru on South America's Pacific coast, Ecuador is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries -- boasting more than 100 species of hummingbirds alone. Nature lovers won't be disappointed by a visit to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in the Amazon; there you'll see everything from ocelots to piranha (don't go for a dip).
Ecuador also owns the famous Galapagos islands, almost all of which serve as a wildlife reserve. Unfortunately for those who would follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, the Galapagos archipelago is remote (more than 1000 miles west of the South American continent). For this reason, it's both difficult and expensive to get there, though it certainly can be done.
The good news is there's plenty to do on the mainland, from visiting volcanos to lounging on Pacific coast beaches. And travelers especially rave about Ecuador's capital, Quito.
Mark Berman of the travel blog South American Postcard has been roaming the continent since 2008. He has nothing but kind words for Quito. "I've been there several times," he says. "The climate is nice and the city has a fantastic historic center with many old churches and buildings. Ecuador in general is quite affordable for budget travel, you can travel for around $30USD per day per person."
So if you're looking for someplace lush, diverse, and affordable in 2019, consider Ecuador.
Increased investment in Cuba's tourism sector -- including a sudden proliferation of high-end hotels in and around Havana -- tell the story of a country in transition. Cuba is known for being a blast from the past, not just because of its Communist regime, but because of the architecture, the cars, the laid back attitude of the people. Havana in particular looks like the set of a film set in the late 50s, and I mean that in the best possible way.
But exposure to the world tourism market, the money and foreign influence that comes with it, is starting to change Cuba bit by bit. Some people think that if you want to see the "old" Cuba, the authentic Cuba, before it becomes more self-consciously touristy, this may be the time to go. There's also always the chance Americans could be barred from visiting at all in the future.
One great option is to visit Cuba via cruise ship. If you're interested in reading more about that, check out 7 Great Cuba Cruises Happening In 2019.
3. The Philippines
The Philippines isn't necessarily the first destination that comes to mind when you think about visiting Asia. It's not as famous as Japan or Thailand, but it has its own bag of tricks to offer tourists -- especially if you're in search of a good beach or three. Plus there's always something new to see, since the country consists of more than 7,000 islands. So you may find yourself longing to go back again and again.
Bob Bales of The Traveling Fool has visited the Philippines many times and has some words of wisdom for those interested in making the trek.
"The beaches on the island of Palawan are fantastic," he says, "but there are several secluded out-of-the-way beaches if you want to get away from everything. If you are a history lover, there are several places around Manila to include: Fort Santiago, The American Military Cemetery, and the island of Corregidor. On the Island of Cebu there are a lot of places of historic significance."
Another sight worth taking in are the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, a fascinating collection of more than 1,200 conical hills of grass and limestone. (In the dry season, the grass browns -- hence their name.)
"One of the best places I visited was Bantayan Island," Bob Bales adds. "There were very few tourists and it was a great place to just relax, explore the island, and talk to people."
The Philippines is also noted for the friendliness of its people and the richness of its cuisine, which has been influenced by Indian, Chinese, and Spanish traditions.
Portugal's tourism sector has been burgeoning in recent years. In 2017, the total number of foreign visitors grew by an unprecedented 12% to 12.7 million, bumping tourism up to comprise 10% of Portugal's (generally listless) economy. Even so, it's unlikely we've seen the country hit its ceiling in terms of popularity with travelers. It's still probably one of the better value-for-money destinations in Western Europe.
Portugal wears its 900 years of history on its sleeve; cities like the capital Lisbon and Viana do Castelo are replete with architectural reminders of the country's splendid past. There are also plenty of beaches and (somewhat surprisingly, perhaps) golf courses if the outdoors are more your thing. But several experienced travelers think the real gem of Portugal is the northern city of Porto.
Travel expert Beth Reiber of TravelReiber sings the city's praises. "As soon as we arrived in Porto, I knew it was the town for me," she says. "It's dramatic, with steep hills, medieval houses, gorgeous architecture, the Doro River, and port! I walked around mesmerized... To me, it rates as one of the great cities of Europe, right up there with Paris, Budapest and Vienna."
Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now adds that Portugal's food is underrated. "The one thing you must have is a pastel de nata," she says, "a custard tart that was invented in a monastery (of course, you can't eat just one...). In Lisbon, most tourists line up at Belem, but my favourite is Manteigaria. It's where the locals go. The fish is very fresh in all of the restaurants and you should also try the octopus. The food and wine are excellent and surprisingly affordable."
Here's one that's an old favorite at this point. Vietnam has emerged from obscurity and tragedy as one of the most talked-about tourist destinations on earth. Even remote, lesser-known corners of the country see their share of foreigners these days.
There's plenty to see and do, of course. If you like motorbiking, you can rent (or buy) a bike almost anywhere. Bikes are the most popular form of transportation in Vietnam, and a wonderful way to see the country from the perspective of locals -- if, unlike me, you're not afraid to ride one! There are plenty of beaches if you're looking for a more relaxing time, some of the best including Nha Trang and Phu Quoc. If you're a foodie, you should also consider taking a cooking class. Vietnamese food is uniquely excellent, fusing local delicacies with Chinese and French influences.
Kathy Marris, blogger at 50 Shades of Age, thinks Vietnam is the top country travelers should visit in 2019.
"The cities are frantic and overpopulated," she says, "but fascinating; its history is heartbreaking; the beaches are pristine and relatively uncrowded; their ancient old towns are charming; the people are friendly and accommodating; the northern mountainous regions are exquisite, and Halong Bay hauntingly beautiful."
Well, it's easy enough to say you should visit India. But which India? There are so many to choose from. Ian Breslin from Global Gallivants has a recommendation on that front.
"We have travelled extensively to find a location that's affordable, safe and above all, value for money," he says. "We believe that Goa fulfills this ambition, especially South Goa towards the area of Palolem and Patnem."
Goa is one of India's smaller states, a little blip on the west coast, about halfway down the subcontinent. Formerly colonized by the Portuguese, it has a population of less than 2 million today. By Indian standards, that makes it a virtual wasteland. But in terms of the experience it offers tourists, it's anything but.
"We have researched this area and believe for 6 months of the year (from November to April) there isn't a better location to set up a base," Ian Breslin adds. "Being just a one-hour flight from Mumbai airport, and with flights costing around £20, you will be hard-pressed to find a better alternative. From friendly locals to chilling amongst the palms and an array of foods, this is paradise on the cheap."
We hope this list gave you some inspiration to start planning next year's journey. Happy trails!