Hokkaido Island, Japan

Each year, we choose our top destinations that offer exceptional experiences at an incredible price. From the icy fjords of Alaska to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the here are our top choices.

 Durban, South Africa

Durban, South Africa / michaeljung/iStock

While Cape Town and Johannesburg receive an ever-increasing influx of tourists in 2020, the country’s third largest city of Durban remains an underrated locale with plenty to do that won’t break the bank — especially compared to its more popular counterparts. Located in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region, this hidden gem boasts so much more than just a stunning coastline. Catch a game of soccer or cricket at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, an architectural masterpiece built for the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Views of the city atop the massive structure via SkyCar are unparalleled; and for adrenaline seekers, this is the location of the Big Rush, the world’s tallest rope swing at 262 feet. Back on the ground and close to the stadium is the newly revitalized and artsy Station Drive Precinct, where you can grab some food at S43, which features pints from the adjacent craft brewery That Brewing Company. Another popular, yet more classic, hub in Durban is Florida Road — a street that houses some of the town’s most well-loved cafes, galleries and boutique shopping, along with historic Edwardian-type buildings throughout. Some argue that this is the best place to get Durban’s famed dish “Bunny Chow”, which is a loaf of hollowed-out bread filled with delicious curry (no bunnies were harmed in the making). Evergreen in the area’s allure is its gorgeous so-called “Golden Mile” of beaches — which in reality stretches nearly four miles, although the “Golden” part is accurate due to the sparkling sand. Along the beach is one of the city’s main attractions, uShaka Marine World, which features the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere and a water park, just to name a few attractions. For a more elevated visit, head up north to the Umhlanga area for a stay at The Oyster Box Hotel. These luxe digs boast a pristine beachfront location, world-renowned eats, and awe-inspiring design (hello, iconic lighthouse and Indian Ocean views from the pool). Of course, a trip to Africa wouldn’t be complete without a safari, which Durban provides plenty of access to. A few hours from the city lies the Hluhluwe IMfolozi Game Reserve — Africa’s oldest wilderness area, and perfect for a day trip to see the Big Five.  

2. Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson, Mississippi / SeanPavonePhoto/iStock

Named for President Andrew Jackson, this small-scale capital makes for a lovely (and historical) destination. In 2017, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened alongside the Museum of Mississippi History, which explores the state from prehistoric times to present day through its many galleries. The Civil Rights Museum unpacks the state’s complicated past and highlights the struggle for equality and freedom. On the flip side, the dining scene in Jackson is top-notch, with everything from hole-in-the-wall gems to white-tablecloth restaurants, often found in Jackson’s Fondren district. It might be best known for Brent’s Drugs, an old-school luncheonette that was featured in The Help. Or — come sundown — for its evening persona: Brent’s Apothecary, where you’ll slip into the back of the building to find a swanky cocktail bar. Just across the street is Saltine — located in an old schoolhouse, serving a fine selection of oysters and ramen. There are bakeries, coffee shops, and tony boutiques, too. Plus, a beloved favorite: Walker’s Drive-In — which isn’t a drive-in at all, but a restaurant that’s known to serve some of the best food in town. Meanwhile, a testament to Jackson’s growth can be found at The Westin Jackson, which is first Westin in the state, and home to a fine spa and nods to Mississippi’s music heritage; legendary guitars of famous musicians line the walls that guests can rent. There’s also the Fairview Inn — the quintessential Southern mansion — its Library Lounge has a fantastic cocktail list with Mississippi literary ties throughout. 

3. Hudson Valley and the Catskills, New York 

Catskills, New York / lightphoto/iStock

Those unfamiliar with the expanse of land above New York City may be surprised to learn that a region of Upstate New York with serene rolling mountains is only an hour-and-a-half or so away from Grand Central. In the Hudson Valley and Catskills, travelers will also come across charming pedestrian-friendly small towns, all with the artistic appeal found in trending neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Roll that in with top-notch dining, an expanding microbrewery scene, art institutions like Storm King Art Center, historic treasures like Lyndhurst Mansion, and dozens of sustainable farms, and you have yourself one of the most exciting emerging destinations in the U.S..

No car? No problem. Much of the Hudson Valley and Catskills is easily reached via train or bus. Beacon, a charming artist community, is only an hour-and-a-half from Grand Central Terminal. The MTA offers round-trip Metro North travel paired with tickets to renown DIA : BEACON from $40 per person. Further up the river, the historic Mohonk Mountain House offers transfers from the New Paltz bus station for overnight guests. Midweek winter stays are available from $235 per night, and includes buffet breakfast and lunch, and à la carte dinner. In summer 2020, families will have a new reason to travel to the region: Legoland New York Resort opens to the public on July 4. From $63 per person, visitors may spend the day exploring 50 kid-friendly rides, shows, and attractions.

For a more outdoorsy getaway, take a scenic road trip up to the Catskills, for prime hiking, skiing, and rock climbing. No need to rough it though — the Catskills are home to plenty design-forward boutique hotels and vacation rentals. Scribner's Catskills Lodge, a rustic property in the heart of the region, has rooms from $180 per night in winter. The North Branch Inn, respectively named for the town it’s located in, is situated on seven acres in three country-chic buildings. Book a cozy room from $210 per night, and have a go at the hotel’s vintage bowling alley. 

No matter which part of the Hudson Valley and Catskills you choose to visit, one thing’s certain — the region is quickly gaining popularity. Plan a trip in 2020 before the masses catch on, especially in the winter off-season, to take advantage of affordable rates. 

4. Alaska Cruises

Alaska cruise / virsuziglis/iStock

In 2020, the Alaska cruising season will stretch from mid-April to early October. During that time, 21 cruise lines will deploy 43 ships to sail the region, for a combined capacity of over 78,000 passengers. That’s great news for travelers looking to cross the Last Frontier off their bucket list. Whether a lower-cost mega ship suited for all ages, or an intimate expedition ship with as little as 62-passengers is more your speed, deals and value abound. 

At the time of publication, the cheapest fare for a 7-night voyage comes in at $375 from Un-Cruise Adventures — and that gets you an oceanview cabin. Carnival, Princess, and Holland America all have fares under $600 per person for 7-night sailings. Even coveted balcony cabins — ideal for admiring incredible scenery as it passes by — are available from $669 per person on Carnival Spirit. 

Those who enjoy the finer things in life, luxury lines have plenty of high-value perks available, including complimentary cabin upgrades, hundred of dollars in onboard spending credit, waived gratuities, even free excursions and all-inclusive fares. Learn more about cruising Alaska here.

5. Guyana

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana / D-Arnaud/iStock

If you love wildlife, nature spotting, and history — and you’re looking for a new, under-the-radar destination to discover — then Guyana is the perfect place for you to visit. And, starting April 2, 2020, JetBlue will begin operating direct, daily flights into the country from JFK. The tiny nation borders Suriname in the east; Brazil on the south and southwest; Venezuela in the west; and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. And, while 90% of the population live in or near the capital of Georgetown (where visitors fly into), the real treasure lies outside the city limits. It’s here where you’ll find tons of wildlife (think 900 species of birds, jaguars, giant anteaters, crocodiles, and more) -- all of which roam among miles of rainforests and savannahs. Whether you prefer birdwatching or shopping, the destination offers so much to see, do, and explore. Highlights include Guyana’s National Park (it’s here where you can pick grass from the ground and feed them to manatees) , along with the country’s Botanical Gardens and Zoo (great for birdwatching and admiring tropical floral and fauna). For a bucket-list-worthy experience, embark on a visit to Kaieteur Falls, one of the tallest and most powerful waterfalls in the world. In terms of lodging, there are accommodations aplenty: all at affordable prices. Stylish properties like King’s Hotel and Residences and Cara Lodge are both under $150 a night. If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, consider a stay at the rustic Caiman House (rates from $115 per night including meals), where you can take a night ride to monitor the  Black Caiman — a species of large crocodile — led by UNESCO researchers. Are you convinced yet? 

6. Hokkaido Island, Japan

Hokkaido Island, Japan / thanyarat07/iStock

Hokkaido should most definitely be on your 2020 bucket list. It’s the second largest island in Japan and is best known for amazing skiing, incredible nature (hot springs, volcanoes, caldera lakes, geothermal springs, and mountains). And, while Hokkaido is great any time of year, it’s especially beautiful in winter, when the whole island transforms into an idyllic winter wonderland. Warm up with piping-hot ramen served with giant crab and consider timing your visit to the Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place in the island’s capital, Sapporo. The city is famous for its beer and ramen (it’s considered the #2 ramen hotspot in the world after Tokyo). This summer, Sapporo will host several Olympic events, including the men's and women's marathon, men's and women's 20 km race-walk, and men's 50 km race-walk. Alternatively, if you’d rather visit  after the snow melts, plan a trip in the spring or summer where you can experience several different “super blooms,” which paint the land vibrant colors and include lavenders, cherry blossoms, and tulips, among other flowers. While the trek from Tokyo to Hokkaido is long, it’s completely doable and insanely affordable. First, you’ll take a four-hour train ride to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From there, you can transfer to the Hokuto limited express, which takes you to Sapporo in about three-and-a-half hours. The entire trip costs around 27,000 yen (about $247) but it is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass, one of the greatest bargains in travel. Adult rail passes start at 29,650 (approx. $272) for a seven-day pass, 47,250 yen ($433) for a 14-day pass, and 60,450 yen around ($555) for a 21-day pass. If you don’t mind spending a little extra, you can fly to Sapporo from Tokyo for as low as $52 depending on the season. 

7. Northern California’s Inland National Parks

Lassen Volcanic National Park / MBRubin/iStock

Whether you’re a visitor or a local, Northern California offers plenty to see, do, and discover for people of all ages. We recommend exploring the region by car and starting your trip in Redding, which serves as a perfect launch point for your adventure. The city is about 150 miles from the ocean and is around three-and-a-half hours from Reno or San Francisco, two-and-a-half hours from Sacramento, and about two hours from the Oregon border. Here, you’ll find national parks, forests, miles of hiking trails, a half-dozen beautiful lakes, tree-covered mountains, wineries and breweries. Must-visit stops include the Turtle Bay Exploration Park (which includes botanical gardens, a museum, and an arboretum) — making it great for kids of all ages — and the 30,000-acre Shasta Lake. For spectacular waterfalls and bucket-list-worthy views, head to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which is ideal for kayaking, fishing, and birdwatching). Other highlights include the 129-foot-tall Burney Falls, Shasta State Historic Park, and Lassen Volcanic National Park (which features covered volcano peaks, colorful geothermal areas, meadows of flowers, and crystal-clear lakes; come in the winter for free snowshoeing). Additionally, at Lassen Volcanic National Park, you’ll find the Painted Dunes: a picture-perfect landscape of red and orange hues covering the rolling hills. In actuality, these dunes are comprised of multicolored pumice fields, which were formed by oxidized volcanic ash. After all that time spent outdoors, you’ve certainly earned a drink (or two). Redding is home to a bustling craft brewery scene along with around a dozen wine tasting rooms (we love the family-owned Moseley Cellars, where you can purchase a bottle of vino for around $10). At the end of your busy day, retreat to your hotel room, which you can score for under $100 a night.

8. Brisbane, Australia 

After years of being overshadowed by more celebrated Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s third largest city is finally enjoying a moment to shine. Thankfully, however, Brisbane’s under-the-radar nature still translates into great value for travelers. Many of the best things to do around town are completely free, including visiting the world-class Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art and relaxing at Streets Beach, the country’s only urban, man-made beach. Free and inexpensive public transportation options abound, including the CityHopper ferry service, a great way to enjoy views of the Central Business District’s rapidly changing skyline while crossing the Brisbane River. Queensland’s capital has welcomed five new 5-star hotels (both big names like The W and boutique properties like The Fantauzzo) in the past few years, after a decade without any luxe openings. And the city just keeps getting better, with more upscale brands like Rosewood and The Ritz-Carlton moving in soon. Meanwhile, new riverside entertainment developments are giving the city a whole new life. Howard Smith Wharves, home to an array of the city’s hottest restaurant and bar options, opened earlier this year and Queen’s Wharf is set to debut by 2023, complete with an eye-catching tower reminiscent of Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands. Brisbane Airport isn’t missing out on the action either, with aviation capacity set to double with a new runway opening in 2020. Flag carrier Qantas will launch new non-stop routes to Chicago and San Francisco this coming spring, making this dynamic metropolis easier to reach than ever. 

9. London, United Kingdom

London's Bankside neighborhood / Moussa81/iStock

It’s not just steadily improving exchange rates that’s making us look to London in in the near future — though the prospect of spending less on vacation certainly helps. Some new flights — including new routes on Delta into Gatwick Airport in 2020 and the long-teased entry of JetBlue into the transatlantic flight market in 2021 — has us excited for new and hopefully less expensive ways to get there. Our eyes are especially glued to the Bankside neighborhood, and other spots in South and East London that are suddenly home to new skyscrapers, boutique hotels, and tech startups. And even if you’re venturing into one of its more well-trod neighborhoods, this world-class city is never a bad idea.

10. Norway, Scandinavia

Norway, Scandinavia / Mumemories/iStock

Yes, the kids in your life may be begging to visit Elsa and Ana’s homeland, but this wild Nordic country is so much more than the stuff of animated dreams. A renewed interest in Viking history, a burgeoning culinary scene — eight restaurants here now have Michelin stars — and unparalleled natural sights that get better as the weather gets colder are just a few of the reasons to venture to Norway in 2020. Plus, thanks to ubiquitous and easy-to-use public transportation, reaching all corners of the country, from sophisticated Oslo to the pristine Arctic to the most rugged parts of Fjord country, is manageable on your own. Outdoor enthusiasts especially should head here for big thrills. Think night skiing on the shores of a fjord, sleeping under the stars in a modern treehouse, or cliffside hiking with incredible views.
 

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