After the year that was (and wasn’t), those of us with itchy feet and cabin fever can rest assured that travel abroad in 2021 is starting to look like a safe possibility again. It’ll just come with some new norms and safety protocols.
Responsible and ethical travel with the consideration of local and indigenous populations whose homes we visit, the natural environment and our own health and wellness are major focuses for many looking to go abroad again.
Although it’s not all immediately possible, we’ve taken a look at some top trending destinations to get inspired by and perhaps book a tour in 2021 and beyond.
1. New Zealand
New Zealand remains the gift that keeps giving, with jaw-dropping landscapes, a laid-back attitude, and blend of Kiwi and Maori culture to appreciate.
Explore the North Island for the bustling art and food scenes of Auckland and Welington, geothermal hot springs in Rorotua, and the setting of the Lord of the Rings movies come to life in Hobbiton. South Island is home to majestic mountains, dramatic fiords, and some of New Zealand’s best beaches.
The two-island nation has impressed the world with the speed and efficiency of its handling of the pandemic. Because of their swift and effective action, the country is now effectively back to regular life. This is definitely one to bookmark for the next few months though, as international travel is only gradually opening up starting with particular travel bubbles.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in New Zealand
2. Costa Rica
Some time in Costa Rica will definitely appeal to many people’s renewed focus on physical, spiritual, and mental wellness at home and overseas. Yoga retreats? Check. Lush rainforests? Done. 800 miles of coastline on two oceans to surf, snorkel, and explore? Sorted.
If you’re not outdoors seeking all the adventure then you can immerse yourself in the life and culture of Costa Rica. Head to the capital city San José for history, architecture, and art or to plantations all over the country to learn about and try the best cacao and coffee.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Costa Rica
3. Sri Lanka
One of the Indian Ocean’s lesser-known gems tucked just south of India, Sri Lanka is a surprisingly diverse and attraction-packed island given its small size. Think, some of the best tea in the world, pristine sandy beaches, scenic train rides, and lots of elephants!
The south of the island is most popular with visitors for snorkeling, surfing, and charming towns and cities. If you’re looking to enjoy some stunning scenery and travel the local way, take the train from Kandy to Ella which glides past rolling hills and tea farms. For some personal time with elephants, leopards, and more wildlife, Yala National Park is a top choice to take a safari.
The north and center of Sri Lanka are home to epic historical sites like the UNESCO world cultural heritage sites of the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the epic rock fortress and palace at Sigiriya.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Sri Lanka
4. United States
The dominance of the road trip and of experiencing our own backyards in new ways shows no sign of slowing down in 2021, no matter where you live. Given how vast and varied the United States is, there is no shortage of landscapes, cultural experiences, history and adventure to explore.
Alaska’s glorious cultures and landscapes are the perfect example. Kenai Fjord National Park is the state’s smallest park but promises spectacular hiking, camping, and helicopter flights over the majestic Harding icefield. Alaska is also one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, all year round – head to either the Far North or Interior regions for the best show.
Even more opportunities to embrace the outdoors await in Maine and Vermont all the way across to Lake Tahoe, which is a firm favorite amongst skiers and snowboarders (and those just there for the hot tub!).
Travel-Inspiring Tours in the United States
The ‘Pearl of Africa,’ as Uganda is affectionately known, has quietly been stepping out of the shadows of its better-known safari destination neighbors Kenya and Tanzania as well as Rwanda in recent years.
The country is the home of the source of the Nile River which flows out of Lake Victoria (Nalubaale locally), over 150 other scenic lakes, mountains including the snow-capped Rwenzori range in the west, and one of the highest number of bird species in Africa.
And of course, the primates. Take a trip into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track the endangered mountain gorillas and Queen Elizabeth National Park to see some chimpanzees in their natural habitat.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Uganda
6. South Africa
South Africa is a delight whether it’s your first or your twelfth trip to the country. Its vastness and diversity in cultures, cities, wildlife, and natural wonder make it a great place to experience repeatedly – there will always be more to see.
Ocean-lovers are spoiled for choice with 1770 miles of coastline touched by both the Atlantic and Indian oceans where surfers, divers, whale-watchers, and sunbathers alike find their bliss practically all year.
Although Kruger is the best-known game park for safaris, there is even more to see at Addo Elephant Park, Kgalagadi Reserve, and Sabi Sands to name but a few. Get into the local art, fashion, music scenes of Maboneng in Johannesburg and central Cape Town or stroll through Durban’s warm streets and art deco architecture.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in South Africa
The enchanting Thailand proves time and time again why it remains such a popular country to visit and experience with a vibrant blend of food, history, nightlife, beaches, and overall adventure. It’s an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys perusing street food markets, serene moments at Buddhist temples, diving or snorkeling in crystal waters, and of course making friends in the ‘Land of Smiles’.
Throw yourself into the fast pace of Bangkok and Chiang Mai or take it easy on some of the most picturesque beaches and warm water in the world on any one of over 1000 islands. And then there are the famous full moon parties every month. Head to Koh Pangan or Phuket for a party or Samui for more laid back luxury.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Thailand
Delectable food, wine, rugged coastlines, beautiful architecture, and lots of charm await all travelers to Portugal. The capital city Lisbon is a maze of chic cafes and stunning viewpoints on the many hills. Porto, although known for port wine, is also surrounded by the beautiful Costa Verde and is a history-lover’s dream with a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, Oporto, at its heart.
For some of the best beaches on Portugal’s over 1000-mile coastline, head to Algarve’s idyllic shores hugged by dramatic cliffs, the pristine stretches of sand around São Pedro de Moel, or live the island life on the majestic Azores and Madeira archipelagos.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Portugal
Tucked between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia has had a steady gain in travelers’ appreciation over the years for its fairytale landscapes, laid-back towns and cities, and hearty, flavorful food.
The iconic Lake Bled with its enchanting central island makes many hit-lists with good reason. Lovers of the outdoors are covered with even more beautiful lakes, many walks and hikes on and off the Slovenian Alps, and jaw-dropping valleys to canyon and kayak through. Pamper yourself at the cozy spas and health resorts powered by the healing waters of thermal and mineral springs all over the country.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Slovenia
Japan, the small but mighty island nation admired by many, is a once-in-a-lifetime trip abroad for many a traveler. Set to be the host country of the 2020 summer Olympics before the global pandemic hit, the home of manga, sushi, kimonos and so much more is expected to host the rescheduled games in July 2021.
If sports are not your selling point, perhaps the cities will be. Tokyo, most people’s gateway into Japan, never fails to leave visitors in awe, from the neon city lights and signs to the iconic Shibuya zebra crossing and the dining, nightlife, and fashion to die for.
Venturing out of the main cities in Japan opens up a world of wonder from soaking in a naturally-heated outdoor bath at an onsen to catching the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring or paying your respects at a shrine or temple.
Travel-Inspiring Tours in Japan
With the vaccine to Covid-19 becoming a reality, it may be time to start thinking about where your first stop will be post-quarantine. Will you head to a game reserve in Uganda, a beach in Thailand, or the forests of Slovenia? Whichever tour you choose to book, you’ll be sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.
This post is updated annually, and it was most recently revised in December 2020.