Professional writers and photographers aim to maximize their travels – and novices should too. Plan carefully, and any trip will yield a bounty of articles and photos.
If you’re seeking ideas for a Big Trip that’s beyond the mainstream, here are some great round-the-world destinations with fantastic potential for both scribes and snappers. Having experienced all these places in the last three years, I can guarantee you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy for months to come. And you’ll have fun too.
(Where possible, don’t spend every night in hotels. Rent an apartment for a few days and you can also write a ‘Live Like a Local’ article.)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
One of the world’s best-value travel destinations at this moment, Buenos Aires is South America’s most sophisticated city. Take a tango lesson…explore the colorful port quarter of La Boca…see who else besides Evita is buried in Recoleta cemetery…check out the San Telmo antiques market…hunt down the perfect steak…go clubbing in Palermo…join the cafe society…experience a local soccer match…kayak the waterways of the Rio del Plata. Short side trips could include a visit to a ranch or the beaches of Mar del Plata. For a longer add-on whilst in Argentina, you could tour the Mendoza vineyards, head south into the wilds of Patagonia or visit the colonial northwest around Salta.
Bullfights, flamenco and ice-cold gazpacho. Free bar snacks called tapas — how many different ones can you sample? Sugar-cube houses with courtyard patios and terraces hung with vines, honeysuckle and jasmine. Although Cordoba, Seville and Granada are the stars of the Andalucian show (you could do a whole article on ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ alone), numerous small towns and villages throughout Andalucia also invoke the glory days of Moorish Spain. Spare some time to hike the Alpujarras, the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains…then head down to the coast to see why the Costa del Sol is one of northern Europe’s favorite vacation destinations.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
Silk-making, silverware, hand-painted parasols. Teak furniture, celadon pottery, even elephant-dung paper. The center of Thailand’s crafts industry, Chiang Mai offers boundless opportunities to cover shopping and import-export opportunities. (The city’s mammoth Night Market deserves an article to itself.) What else can you photograph or write about? Well, how about Thai food (both eating and cooking courses)…or encounters with hill tribes…or elephant conservation…or traditional Thai massage…or whitewater river rafting…or jungle-trekking…or a side trip to the notorious Golden Triangle. And that’s just for starters! You’d probably start your Thailand trip in razzle-dazzle Bangkok — and that steamy city has the potential for a shed-load of articles too.
Can’t decide whether the charms of la belle France outweigh those of bella Italia? Then visit Corsica, birthplace of Napoleon. Although this little-known island belongs to France, its nearest neighbor is Italy. You get the best of both worlds: excellent food and wines, great summer weather, hiking trails with mesmerizing scenery, and towns steeped in vendetta history. Plus a sea that shimmers peacock blue. If I had to pick a favorite place in the Mediterranean, Corsica would be it. Ajaccio, Bonifaccio and Calvi make three interesting bases to discover the island – if you’re looking for an entanglement with a handsome brute wearing a kepi, Calvi is still home to an outpost of the French Foreign Legion.
GREEK ISLAND HOPPING
In toytown harbors, weather-beaten fishermen repair bright yellow nets. Donkeys clop down steep alleyways and wayward goats try to scrabble up into olive trees. White houses cascade with jasmine, cats doze away on terraces and ‘ya-yas’ (wizened old ladies) sit in doorways shelling peas and exchanging gossip. And the Aegean Sea is as idyllic as in Homer’s day: mother-of-pearl at dawn…deep blue at midday…shot-silk at twilight. Of Greece’s hundreds of islands and islets, 166 are inhabited – so you won’t be short of places to write about. If somebody put a gun to my head and forced me to choose one single destination, I’d go for Crete, the country’s largest island. You can wander the ruins of Knossos (home of the legendary Minotaur), hike the Samaria Gorge, and visit Spinalonga — this was Europe’s last leper colony.
MARTINIQUE & GUADELOUPE – THE FRENCH WEST INDIES
Combining small island charm with Caribbean chic, Martinique and Guadeloupe are the two main islands of the French West Indies. Odd though it seems, these two islands are as French as Provence. Islanders carry French identity cards, use Euros, and fly tricolors from town halls. Although you’ll come across beach shacks, free-ranging hens and throbbing zouk music, you’ll also encounter six-lane highways, nudist beaches, manicured golf courses and stylish marinas. Fishing, sailing and diving opportunities are incredible: off Guadeloupe’s western coast is the Jacques Cousteau Marine Reserve – an underwater realm of corals, sea sponges and tropical fish.
MEXICO’S COLONIAL HEARTLANDS
Visiting Mexico’s colonial cities is like falling through a crack of time into the 16th century, the heyday of the Spanish Conquistadores. Don’t miss the creepy mummies of Guanajuato, the opal sellers of Queretero, or Zacatecas and its silver mines. (When I was in Zacatecas you could go dancing in one of the mines — and I also stayed in a bullring that’s now a hotel.) There’s also the quaint art-and-crafty town of San Miguel de Allende; Dolores Hidalgo, birthplace of Mexican independence, and Morelia home of the Museo del Dulce. This candy museum showcases over 300 varieties, many the original recipes of nuns. Here Mexican food is aimed at Mexicans, not gringos — as well as sampling the restaurants, you might want to take a short cooking course too. You can also factor in spas, horseback-riding and great buys in leather.
Auckland, the ‘City of Sails,’ and picture-perfect islands like Waiheke. Maori culture, hot sulfur springs and 30 feet high geysers at Rotorua. Green-lipped mussels and whale-watching. The vineyard trails of Blenheim where you can buy wine at the cellar door. And definitely spend a few days in Queenstown. On the South Island, this alpine resort is NZ’s ‘Adventure Capital.’ Madmen — and women — come to indulge in thrill therapy that includes sky-diving, hang-gliding, canyon swings and bungy jumps. There’s lots of gentler pursuits too: gold-panning, horseback-riding, vineyard visits, and golf. Plus you’ll find day excursions into mountainous Fjordland with its glacial lakes or around locations where the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was filmed. In Kiwi summer (winter in the northern hemisphere), there’s skiing too.
Shared with the independent sultanate of Brunei, northern Borneo encompasses the Malaysian states of Sarawak (The Land of the Hornbill) and Sabah (The Land Below the Wind). The island is home to southeast Asia’s highest peaks, oldest jungles, and the white-sand beaches of the South China Sea. To get the most from a trip, spend time in both Sabah and Sarawak. For me, Sabah was characterized by mountains, snorkeling adventures, and ‘the People of the Forest’: silky-haired orangutans. Sarawak has more in the way of jungle, longhouse settlements and Iban warriors. Look out for the blue tattoos on the fingers of Iban village elders – these indicate your hosts enjoyed a spot of head-hunting in their youth. (And I don’t mean the kind of head-hunting that goes on in corporate circles!)
THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS AND EDINBURGH
With many local Highland Games scheduled, late summer is the perfect time to visit the Scottish Highlands. (Watch the caber tossers and shot putters and you’ll discover the real truth about what Scotsmen wear under their kilts!) Discover the intricacies of Highland dancing – and try the steps yourself at an evening ceilidh. Stay in a castle hotel for a luxury experience…go golfing or try your hand at salmon fishing…sample Scottish culinary delicacies. Tour the whisky distilleries. Follow in the footsteps of Shakespeare’s King Macbeth to Birnam Wood and the haunted castles of Cawdor and Glamis. Take the ferry to the holy island of Iona and nearby Hebridean islands such as Rhum – you’re certain to spy seals. But spare some time for Edinburgh too — I can promise you the Scottish capital has at least a week’s worth of stories.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]