Now that we’ve got our ideal luggage in order and a few Grown-Up Spring Break ideas, next on our travel list is lining up some super bucket list places for our next substantial sabbatical style vacation.
Itchy-footed as the Handled team are, we’ve never felt a shortage of daydream-worthy places to travel. So, in coming up with this Bucket List, our minds went to the unusual and unexpected. You know, the underrated or lesser known travel destinations that people aren’t yet talking about but, boy, if our spidey-senses are right (and they usually are) they will be – and we’ll have ticked them off the list before the crowds have a chance to form!
1. Instead of Thailand – Try Out Laos
It’s only been about 30 years since Laos opened itself up to tourism, which means that while the beautiful towns and villages are accustomed to accommodating Western travellers, it’s still relatively sleepy and untouched compared to the more popular spots in Southeast Asia.
Our first stop? Luang Prabang. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, Laos’ most visited city is 700 metres above sea level at the meeting of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers.
It’s not just the fragile French architecture, royal palace, shining ancient temples, and all-encompassing natural beauty that make it a Bucket List destination. We’re in love with the thriving yet quiet local culture of the area.
2. Instead of Tuscany – Make it to Matera
The undiscovered feeling of Matera won’t last much longer. Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 and was just confirmed as the European Capital of Culture for 2019! History buffs will adore this town – it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history, dating all the way back to the Palaeolithic period!
We’ll be honest, Matera isn’t the easiest spot to get to, though in our minds, that’s part of what makes it so special. The area is generally accessible by both train and local airlines from Bari (in the heel of Italy’s boot). It just takes a bit more effort to get to Matera itself.
Rocky terrain means that exploring by foot is the best way to enjoy the limestone grottoes that make up the sassi, or ancient neighbourhoods. From the remains of Neolithic cave dwellings, to 17th and 18th century cave palaces, Matera is caves upon caves upon caves – from your BnB to restaurants to the art museums!
Just because Matera is ancient doesn’t mean it hasn’t experienced its fair share of contemporary influence. Modern accommodation and dining are the norm, even if they are set in – you guessed it – caves. And, since we always travel by taste bud, we have it on good authority that the food in Matera rivals any of the Southern Italian delicacies in the more visited neighbouring towns of Puglia.
3. Instead of Bali – Head to Lombok
Listen, we love – loooove – Bali and would go back in a New York Minute. But if we’re being honest, the increasing tourism has tempered our enthusiasm just a little bit. That’s where Lombok comes in. Since it’s the ‘island next door,’ you could start your surf tour with Bali breaks in the dry season (April – October) and hop over to Lombok through the wet season (November – March) for your own version of an Indonesian Endless Summer.
While surfing might have been the original tourist attraction, there’s lots of other reasons to visit Lombok. Trekking Mount Rijani, the second largest volcano in Indonesia, is a highlight, especially with its stunning crater lake, Segara Anak. Lombok’s waterfalls and travel-friendly towns of Senggigi and Kuta, each of which have beautiful accommodations, beaches, and restaurants, are high on our list too. Of course, we couldn’t imagine a trip to Lombok without exploring the culture, dance, markets, and cuisine of its indigenous Sasak people.
Lombok is a predominantly Muslim island, with Hindu influence from Bali to its north. The beauty of both mosques and temples dot the island, and the harmonic sound of prayer periodically fills the air.
4. Instead of Kenya – Make Way for Malawi
Founded in 1964, Malawi possesses all of the qualities of youth. It’s friendly, open, and vibrant. We hear that the people are so friendly that it’s common for locals to smile and wave to visitors, calling out welcomes in their native Chichewa, as if they’re old friends – even in the capital city of Lilongwe.
As a young nation, Malawi also a somewhat undiscovered gem in the heart of Africa. Our opinion? Malawi a perfect spot for peace, quiet, and incredible self-drive road trips, mountain biking and horseback riding excursions, and traditional home stays.
While the country itself is landlocked, its extraordinary freshwater source, Lake Malawi, boasts pristine gold sand beaches and is home to more than fish species than any lake in the world – between 500 – 1,000 of them! It is, thankfully, also a well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Malawi also has numerous rehabilitation parks for big wildlife, including the world-famous Majete Wildlife Reserve, where you can see the Big Five wildlife (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo) without the incessant 4×4 brigades you find in other more popular destinations.
And, obviously, we couldn’t go without visiting the local markets and tasting all the delicious local cuisine! In a country as warm-hearted as Malawi, sharing a meal is a must.
5. Instead of England – Seek Out Scotland
More specifically – we’re excited about the lesser visited yet cosmopolitan city of Edinburgh. When it comes to the United Kingdom, London gets all the press. And, while Glasgow may be Scotland’s largest city, nothing beats the quirky charm of the country’s capital – Edinburgh.
A calmer place to visit as far as cities go, Edinburgh is known as the epicentre of traditional Scotland culture. You might recognize some of the landscape from the Hogwarts scenes in the Harry Potter movies, and really – what could be better than the rolling Scottish hills, or stunning castles and gardens? We’ll tell you!
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Botanic Gardens are just the beginning. The history of Scotland is also found in the nooks and crannies on the winding streets of Old Town.
Our goal? To plan our trip in August, during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The biggest arts festival in the world, the 2018 Fringe spanned 25 days and featured over 55,000 performances across more than 300 venues!
We’d book our dinner reservations super early too, since Edinburgh is known for having the most Michelin-star rated restaurants outside of London. If you love to travel by taste bud as much as we do, then this trip makes fine-dining resos a must. But don’t worry if your trip doesn’t line up with Fringe. There’s world-class comedy clubs and late night pints all year long especially on pub-centric Rose Street. In Edinburgh you’re always in for an amazing trip filled with Scottish tradition and heritage!
Have you been to any of our under-the-radar travel destinations, yet? We’d love to know which ones you’ve experienced, and which ones are top of your list.