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As I’m writing this, snow wraps the Irish countryside in a thick white blanket. Four-foot long icicles hang outside my window, I’m wearing ski pants indoors–and cabin fever set in around a week ago.

If I had a magic carpet, I’d let it whisk me back to the balmy warmth of Palawan in the Philippines. I can still picture the little garden bar where bats fluttered through the trees at night…the tiny islands of Honda Bay and their glistening platinum beaches…the coral gardens where I went snorkeling.

Yes, it’s the time of year where I think about where I’ve been, where I’m going next–and also those dream destinations that get my heart racing.

I’m sure you do, too. But writers need to balance wish-lists against the places most likely to excite a travel editor. So, if you can find a timely hook for your pitches and stories, all the better.

From global events to happenings in your own back yard, it’s always worth checking upcoming anniversaries and special celebrations. Readers (and editors) love to hear about them.

For example, did you know that 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg? Or that Turku in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia share billing as Europe’s 2011 ‘Capitals of Culture’? Or that the Berlin Wall was erected 50 years ago, on August 16th, 1961?

Another idea. Can you tie in any “set-jetting” with your travel plans? New movie releases often inspire wanderlust–and travel stories. I don’t know how many stories have been linked to blockbusters like the Da Vinci Code, Under The Tuscan Sun, and Eat, Pray, Love–but it’s a lot.

*NEW ZEALAND: HOBBITS AND RUGBY

In over 20 years of travel writing, New Zealand ranks as one of my best ever trips–and I hope to return later in 2011. From exploding geysers to bungy-jumping, Maori culture and whale-watching, it has the lot. Chuck in Christmas parties on the beach, (it’s summer “down under” right now), and there’s no story shortage.

Sports fans should time a visit for Kiwi springtime and the Rugby World Cup (Sept. 9 September to Oct. 23). If you’re not a rugby fan, it’s impossible to convey what this means–but it’s a stellar international event for those who are. In conjunction with the tournament, the nationwide REAL New Zealand Festival–the biggest event the country has ever seen–will showcase the best of Kiwi arts, culture, food, and wine.

Much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed among the storybook scenery of the Southern Alps. And the furry-footed ones are now back. The two-part Hobbit movie, due for release in 2012, will help rekindle interest on Middle Earth.  So, I expect huge interest in New Zealand for the next couple of years.

*HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ITALIA

Think of sunflowers, truffle fairs, and history at every turn. Think of glorious Rome and the Renaissance art treasures of Florence. Think of pizza from wood-fired ovens, ruby-red Chianti, and pistachio ice-cream…

Whether you’re a travel writer or simply traveling for the fun of it, you can never go wrong with Italy. Or its dolce vita. There always seems something lacking in my life if I don’t make a trip to Bella Italia at least once a year.

But although Italy seems to have been around forever, that’s not so. Until 1861, it was a patchwork of city states, principalities, and kingdoms. There will be nationwide events this year to celebrate the Unification of Italy and the country’s 150th birthday. Party central is the city of Turin–it was unified Italy’s first ever capital. Although selling stories on Italy is never difficult, “Italy’s 3 capitals” would make a good story-line–after Turin, Florence held the title for four years.

*SRI LANKA, THE PEARL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN

Being something of a masochist, I rather like the sound of Ayurvedic treatments that include fire and blood-letting with leeches. After all, who couldn’t sell a story on that! But the island of Sri Lanka also entwines elephants and jungle monasteries with seductive beaches, pilgrimage mountains, and lost-in-time cities that go back 2,000 years and more.

Shaped like a teardrop falling from the Indian subcontinent, the land of the blue water lily is definitely on my wish list–the hook is that it’s a new destination for many. Thanks to a quarter-century of civil war, Sri Lanka has been off the mainstream travel map for years. But the conflict is now over and tourists are coming back. As yet, they’re mainly British–once known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a former British colony with lots of reminders of the colonial era too.

*INCA EXTRAVANGANZA: MACHU PICCHU AND PERU

The Nazca Lines…Cuzco and the Sacred Valley…women in bowler hats. And, of course, Machu Picchu. Although “the Lost City of the Incas” was never lost to the local people who lived around it, the rest of the world didn’t know of its existence until 1911.

This year—July 24 to be exact–marks the 100th anniversary of its discovery by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham. This is another wish trip for me. But I’d also love to go on the trail of Peru’s surviving Inca traditions for some “beyond Machu Picchu” stories.

*WEDDING BELLS IN LONDON

London–done to death? Some might think so, but not me. It’s iconic, exciting, always in travel fashion. It’s one of my old stamping grounds and I go back whenever there’s the opportunity. Whether it’s neighborhood markets, quirky shops, secret gardens, curry houses or historic pubs, travel editors never tire of running London stories. This year’s royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton will spark massive interest. And the 2012 Olympics ensures a future bonanza for even more of your stories.

Tip: Don’t play the tourist. Do things that Londoners do. Go to a soccer match. See a pub band at the “King Eddie” on Stratford High St. Eat Jamaican jerk chicken in Brixton or go Greek in Chalk Farm. Explore neighborhoods away from the center–places like Crouch End and West Ham. And don’t miss Hackney. With its fringe theater, jazz bars, and experimental artists, this inner city borough is the capital’s real cultural heartland for many Londoners.

*APOCALYPSE SOON? MEXICO OF THE MAYAS

The coming year will see a huge appetite for “End of the World” stories. According to Mayan prophecies, the world is due to grind to a halt in December 2012. It might be on the 12th, it might be on the 21st — it all depends on who is doing an interpretation of the Mayan calendar. Personally, I think it’s a load of tosh, but I wouldn’t say no to a trip exploring Mexico’s Chiapas Highlands.

I’d spend some time in the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas. If you’re on the craft and textile trail, its markets attract indigenous farmers and artisans from surrounding villages. One such village is Chamula whose church melds together Christianity and old Mayan rituals. Not too far away are the turquoise waterfalls of Aqua Azul, the ancient site of Tonina, and also jungle-buried Palenque. The “Jewel of Mayan Cities,” Palenque was a royal Mayan city and site of the mysterious Temple of the Inscriptions.

*FOREST FORAYS IN COSTA RICA

The United Nations has designated 2011 as the International Year of the Forest. That’s a great hook for stories about tree-house hotels and forest hikes, but if you get the chance, head to Costa Rica.

Around 20% of Costa Rica’s territory is made up of National Parks or Reserves including the Monteverde Cloudforest. Colleagues who have visited rave about its eco-lodges, canopy walks, and the stunning diversity of birdlife, everything from quetzals to scarlet macaws. There are volcanoes and dazzling beaches where turtles come to lay their eggs…the kind of place where it’s hard for travel writers to justify that what they do is “work.”

*THE LAST FRONTIER: PALAWAN, THE PHILIPPINES

When I visited Boracay, I thought I’d found the Philippine archipelago’s most beautiful island. But when I went back last year I discovered Palawan. Filipinos call this long, skinny island province “the last frontier,” and after the hubbub of the cities, that’s what it feels like. Peaceful. Unspoiled. No crass commercialism.

Aside from saying that Palawan is at the forefront of Philippine eco-tourism–and eco-tourism remains a buzzword–I can’t think of a timely hook for a travel writer. But you don’t always need one. Go simply because it’s gorgeous. Between the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea, Palawan is a realm of mountains, rainforests, caves, and one of the world’s longest underground rivers…of white-sand beaches, hundreds of jungly outcrops, and some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world.

And finally…

*CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE

Radioactive fallout and a nuclear disaster zone won’t be for everyone, but some writers specialize in disaster tourism. Using Geiger counters and feeding mutated catfish isn’t my idea of a good time, but the Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Ministry recently announced that the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is now officially open for tourism.

Non-official tours out of Kiev have been running for a couple of years, but the government calls these illegal. Apparently there’s a growing demand for trips around Chernobyl ghost towns such as Pribyat, so now “safe” official routes have been developed. However, Chernobyl is still heavily contaminated. And this is why it doesn’t top my wish-list.

[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.]

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