My Top 10 Travel Destinations

“Of all the places you’ve traveled to, which is your favorite?”

Uhh, whoa, talk about a tough (and rather unspecific) question!

But it’s one that has been coming up a lot lately and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never really had a good answer for it.  It’s not that I had never pondered the question before–I can generalize for days (I prefer South America to SE Asia, for instance, or I can name my favorite countries)–but I had never gone any deeper to figure out which specific cities I truly loved…until now.

Of course, there can’t be just one favorite.  I’ve now traveled to 17 different countries outside the US and more cities within those countries than I care to count.  This may seem like a paltry number compared to other devoted travelers, but its still enough to require some serious deliberation to determine my top picks, let alone one unrivaled favorite.

Once I really thought about it (without the pressure of someone waiting for an immediate answer) I was able to narrow my list down to the top ten more easily than I expected; however, they appear on the list in no particular order, and there’s no definitive #1…sorry!  They may have a number of things in common (a nice climate or lots of great restaurants, perhaps) but my affinity for each of these places extends beyond the surface.

Each of these destinations, more than any of the others I’ve traveled to thus far, have evoked strong emotions in me; I felt a distinct energy–a vibe, a pulse, a heartbeat–that gave me life.  I reminisce about each of them and feel that unmistakeable pang of longing in my stomach to relive the experiences I once had there.  Travel has me wrapped around its little finger, I tell ya.

So here you have it, folks…

My Top 10 Travel Destinations (So Far)

Sydney, Australia

Without a doubt, Sydney will always hold a special place in my heart.  Before I first met her back in 2009, I had only barely crossed US borders into Canada and Mexico, so you could even say I lost my traveling virginity to Sydney.  It was my first intercontinental flight and my first real unchaperoned travel experience.  And what’s not to like about Sydney?  It comes with all the perks of being a major metropolis (i.e. food, nightlife, and entertainment), and it’s simultaneously crawling with curly-haired surfer types.  Win-win!

SydneyCollage

New York, New York

I’m going to be really honest with you guys and let you in on a little secret…when I’m not in the US, I get more nostalgic for New York City than for ANY other place.  I’ve never missed my hometown like I miss New York, I’ve never missed Berkeley like I miss New York, and I’ve sure as hell never missed Connecticut.  Period.  I spent one year of my life in the Big Apple and I’m still not over it.   My inability to move on can only mean that it’s my life’s greatest love story, right?  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the same way about another city, and honestly I’ll be incredibly surprised if I do.  If you’re not sure what I’m going on about or what’s so amazing about this city, I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it to you.  You may just have to go and see for yourself.

NYCCollage

Chiang Mai, Thailand

This one seems like a no-brainer…how can you spend fifteen months in a city like Chiang Mai and not grow attached to it?  The answer is: you can’t.  The Thailand chapter of my life feels like quite a long time ago now, but I’ll never lose the sense of independence and self-confidence that I discovered by moving there.  More about why I love Chiang Mai here.

CMCollage

Bali, Indonesia

This one might seem like a cliché, and it kind of is.  Everyone loves Bali, or at least everyone I’ve ever discussed it with.  This easy-going island has so much beauty packed into a relatively small place.  I vacationed there while working in Thailand and got my Open Water Diver’s certification with my amazing friend Marlies as my instructor.  Diving on a WWII shipwreck at Tulamben was the buttercream icing on THAT life-goal cake.  When I returned to Chiang Mai from that trip I was glowing with happiness and a beautiful tan.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.

BaliCollage

Washington, DC

In the handful of times I’ve been to the “other” Washington, I’ve grown to really love it.  My country’s capital possesses a unique combination of rich history and youthfulness.  It attracts the intelligent and the passionate, the people who are intent on becoming tomorrow’s change-makers.  A trip to DC never fails to leave me feeling inspired to make my own mark on the world.

DCCollage

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur was one of the first cities I visited as a true solo traveler, and before arrival I was in a full-on panic.  After arrival, however, I felt slightly foolish for letting my fears get the best of me.  The city was easy to navigate with public transportation, and after a few days I even felt comfortable walking around alone at night (gasp!).  I loved the eclectic mix of cultures and that whenever I needed respite from the heat I could just duck into one of the city’s gajillion malls.  I swear, that city is half mall…another reason for a shopaholic like me to love it.

KLCollage

Tel Aviv, Israel

Whenever people ask me what Tel Aviv is like, I respond with: “It’s like a mix between New York and San Francisco.”  The Mediterranean climate is mild year-round and people are constantly walking or biking to get where they need to go.  It has gorgeous beaches and palm trees.  But at the same time, it has that slightly-dirty feeling that I typically think of as uniquely New York (hot garbage smell in the summer, anyone?).  The nightlife is a little grungy and there are certain streets that you always avoid because they are all-too-often used as a public urinal.

TelAvivCollage

Medellín, Colombia

If you think I’m crazy for naming Medellín one of my favorite destinations or for traveling to Colombia in the first place, I’m here to set the record straight:  Colombia.  Is.  Safe!  It’s no longer a country ravaged by cartel terrorism, and paisas (Colombians from Medellín), especially, want the rest of the world to understand that.  Medellín is thriving like never before and the energy is palpable.  Did I mention the temperature hovers around 75º Fahrenheit (aka perfect) pretty much all year?

MedellinCollage

Cusco, Perú

After spending nearly 5 weeks in Cusco in October and December of last year, I really felt like I knew the city well.  I even had people stop me to ask for directions on more than one occasion (including a few instances of other travelers asking me in broken Spanish–I must have really looked like a local??).  I had my favorite cafes and restaurants (so many amazing restaurants!), I knew the quickest way to get where I needed to go, and I would always run into people I knew while out and about.  It started to feel like a home away from home.  I’ll always feel a close connection with this former Inca capital…and if you want my restaurant recommendations, just ask!

Cusco Collage

Montañita, Ecuador

There’s a reason I have almost no photos from my time in Montañita, and it’s because I was too busy enjoying myself to play tourist.  This little beach town on Ecuador’s southern coast has a laid-back yet high-energy atmosphere by day and a lively party scene by night.  It’s definitely too small to keep a city girl like myself entertained for longer than a week at a time, but I could definitely make a habit out of visiting this lovely little spot.

Montañita CollageHonorable Mentions: 

Port Douglas, Australia

4850_806968825853_6645114_nBuenos Aires, Argentina

IMG_7883San Francisco, CA

980217_10102113192287523_482195549_oLuang Prabang, Laos

156471_10101186256199873_374024887_nHow does my list of favorites compare to yours?  

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About Leah Davis

Hey! I'm Leah. I'm a solo traveler letting my heart lead me around the world, one country at a time. I've taught English in Thailand, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, gone skydiving in Argentina, and marveled at the ruins at Machu Picchu (twice!). I love maps, strong coffee, good wine and warm climates. For even more travel talk and inspiration, you can follow my adventures on Twitter or Instagram.
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13 Responses to My Top 10 Travel Destinations

  1. Sara Louise says:

    That is an incredibly fun and impressive list!
    I can never answer that question either, it’s like apples and oranges. I like different places at different times and for different reasons but a quick top three for me; London, Rome, Madrid 🙂

  2. Jason says:

    Nice list!

    If I had to pick 10, right off the bat (as I’m going to make myself do), I would choose (also in no particular order….although I think, I think, I think I can say Punta del Diablo is my very favorite place without feeling too much hesitation), they would be:

    1. Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.
    The only place I have spent time on my travels where I truly wished I had money to invest in property somewhere and started racking my brain thinking about people I could ask to lend me the money at little interest because I felt so confident it would grow and equally confident that my investment would be safe from government land-crabs, value-destroying conflicts, etc. I spent a couple of months in a cabana with a kitchen and bed that overlooked the Atlantic and a backyard that led right into the forest for an exceptional price with the life of my life and leaving was impossible. Since The Economist named Uruguay its country of the year in 2014 and the country has garnered all sorts of international press given its small size and geopolitical weight, I think I can kiss my chances of investing there anytime soon goodbye, but if you like really laid-back places with so much beauty around that you can hardly handle it, get to the Uruguayan Riviera ASAP!

    2. The Annapurnan Himalayas, Nepal.
    I’ve spent a month trekking through the valleys of this region on two occasions in the last four years, and my tear ducts activate thinking about the beauty, serenity, and bliss that I feel inside and all around me when I am there.

    3. Tulum, Mexico.
    While Haad Yuan and Buffalo Bay (ca. 2010) in Thailand come close, the beaches of Tulum are still my favorite (I think it’s the fact that I can reliably expect to be able to bodysurf in the waves crashing into them, no matter when I visit!). Tulum might even make this list if it didn’t have a too-cool-for-school artists’ scene with artists who are truly supported by travelers and locals alike and Mayan ruins on the perfect beaches I just described. My only beef with Tulum is that it is hardly budget traveler-friendly, at least compared with most of the other places on this list.

    4. McLeod Ganj, India
    Waking up to pristine mountains after months of suffocating from heat and stench in the country-you-have-to-love-no-matter-how-much-you-may-hate-about-it India would probably be enough to make anyone believe his overnight train crashed and he was transported from his third-class sleeper cot to heaven, but I believe there really is something special about this place. Beyond, of course, the presence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and an entourage of peaceful and culinarily talented Tibetan exiles. There are also several great trekking opportunities around here!

    5. Pokhara, Nepal
    If you had told me this pit stop for trekkers pre- and post-journey and twice-annual mecca for those stuck on the Indian hippie trail who are forced to leave their adopted homeland for a month or two before returning would make a list like this a couple of years ago, I would have told you that you were crazy. But I just returned to Pokhara to have a nice place to work before and after trekking for a month and found it especially hard to leave, even for a country that is one of my favorites but has no destinations that made this list outside of honorable mention–Thailand. With beautiful landscapes, people whose warmth rivals that beauty, excellent food, and almost unbeatable prices, not much is missing here. + digital nomads who are used to subWesternstandard internet connections will be pleasantly surprised by how wired this place is.

    6. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Student city. Gateway to the Black Forest. The “California of Germany” according to something I read on Wikipedia in 2007 when I was planning a one-year stint studying abroad here that has since been removed. This place could not be more underrated, and I’m not complaining. But if you are visiting Germany and have some time in your schedule to play around with, book a train ticket or catch a Mitfahrgelegenheit ride here. Seriously!

    7. Luang Prabang, Laos. It’s a perfect city, really. Rich architecturally and in natural beauty, steeped in tradition, packed with no shortage of excellent chefs and masseuses, and clean, this is a city that grit-attracting backpackers will find refreshing and comfort travelers can appreciate.

    8. Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanco, Peru. This mountain range is one of my favorites, and the lakes (Lago Llanganuco and Lago 69, and many others if you trek into the Huayhuash region) are everything but real. There are hot springs all around; and, like in all of Peru, the food is magnificent.

    9. Lago Atitlan, Guatemala.
    Restorative yoga, I-feel-like-a-part-of-something-special swimming, and $0.20 tostadas on a deep prehistoric lake in a climate that changes but is rarely hot or too cold. These are the things I remember most about my time in the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan.

    10. Varanasi, India.
    If anything competes with Punta del Diablo for a place on my list, it’s Varanasi. See it for yourself, because I will only try to describe my experience here and why I think it is worth a visit by everyone with the means in every incarnation if I know you and you beg me.

    Honorable mention:
    1. Cusco, Peru
    2. Haad Yuan (and a few nearby beaches I won’t name ;)), Koh Phangan, Thailand
    3. Copan, Honduras
    4. Jaisalmer, India
    5. Seattle, WA, USA
    6. Denver, CO, USA
    7. New York, NY, USA
    8. Berlin, Germany
    9. Utrecht, The Netherlands
    10. Stockholm, Sweden
    11. Bergen, Norway

    Alright, I think you have inspired me to start a blog and make this my first post. Sorry for hogging space, and thank you!

    • LaMochilera says:

      Wow, amazing list!!! And I love the detailed descriptions, especially since they are mostly in regions of the world I have yet to travel to and you’ve painted lovely pictures of them. You have officially sold me on Punta del Diablo and I will be adding that to my list! And I was leaning toward Central America to begin my next journey, maybe I will have to start in Guatemala because this is the second mention in recent days of that beautiful lake you described.

      I’m in total agreement as well with both Haad Yuan and La Cordillera Blanca being magical places! Thanks for the reminder! Please do start that blog, you’d have a reader in me for sure! It sounds like you’ve got some stories that I’d love to hear! 🙂

      • Jason says:

        I’ve heard that flying into Guatemala City can be pretty cheap, but if you happen to find a steal of a deal into Cabo for the start of your next journey, I’d recommend booking it and heading south from there! You can catch an inexpensive bus directly from the airport to Tulum (1.5 hours). And bussing to Guatemala is fairly easy from there via Belize or directly from Mexico to Guatemala via San Cristobal de las Casas.

        Unless you are a super stir-crazy person who needs the fast-paced energy of a city to feel good about your life, I think Punta del Diablo is idyllic. I love city chaos and rural serenity almost equally (although the longer I travel, the more attractive I find peace and quiet…even if they cause me to relax to such an extent that the old ambitious over-achiever in me finds a touch unnerving). My boyfriend and I mused about how perfect it would be to split our time equally between PdD and NYC–best of both worlds, for sure!

        Thanks for the encouragement. My bf and long-time travel partner is about to pack up his backpack for school in the City, and I have resolved to divert some of the time I typically spend with him to cultivating a blog as I continue to travel for the next year or so. If I go with this topic for my first post, I will be sure to give you credit for the inspiration 🙂 I’m looking forward to exploring your blog further, I like what I’ve seen so far! Happy working, planning, and saving for the next adventure to you–I must say that, in my opinion, WA State is a pretty nice place to do that. And a place I think I would probably be proud to call home (I’ve only been to Western Washington, but it is probably my favorite region in the States).

      • LaMochilera says:

        That’s so funny, I just met a girl who’s been living and working in Guatemala and she was trying to convince me to start my next travels there as well…maybe it’s a sign!

        Umm I totally relate to loving both city life and serene rural living, although for me I think city life would win out in the end. Splitting time between two locations would most certainly be the best case scenario, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that someday.

        And you are so right, being in Washington is lovely for now, while I get my head on straight and try to determine which direction my life needs to take from here. Where is it that you do call home? And where do you get to travel for the next year?

        Happy travels and [hopefully] happy blogging to you!

      • Jason says:

        I was born, raised, and educated in Arizona (Lake Havasu City, Phoenix, and Tucson respectively), so that was home until I set off three years ago. I’m more excited about getting to call NYC home in the coming years, however, than I’ve ever been about calling AZ home 🙂

        I will be in Thailand and Cambodia for the next month, and then I am spending a month hopping around in the States for weddings and visits with friends and family. Then after a month in NYC I’ll catch a flight to Sri Lanka to travel around there and the South of India for a few months. I haven’t made specific plans beyond booking that flight to Colombo, but I think I will spend 6ish months traveling around S and maybe SE Asia before moving to New York in the spring.

        And I’m making some headway on the blog! I’m just trying to get a dozen or so posts written and do some serious brainstorming and organization before I launch it so that I have some good base content to work with and content to post that will help me stay regular should I run into writing or motivational hurdles early on. Any tips? 🙂

        And Guatemala….I would take those signs without a grain of salt. Guatemala has a special energy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that energy manifests itself in subtle and less-subtle signs that pull travelers to its soil. Yoga instructors I met all over Central America flock to Guatemala for solstices (another coincidence or sign….I think its still the 21st in Washington State) and Easter to feed off of and contribute to that energy. And of course Guatemala’s reputation as being the cheapest country to travel in in Central America and one of the cheapest in the Americas (with some of the best food, provided you are a friend of the avocado because it infiltrates virtually every dish that is served there) doesn’t hurt. I say follow these signs!

      • LaMochilera says:

        Ok I’m starting to feel like we are kind of the same person. Living in NYC was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, you are absolutely going to love it there, and possibly never want to leave. And I’m kind of kicking around for the summer mainly to go to some weddings as well but hoping to get over to New York and down to San Francisco in the meantime.

        I never really set out to blog in any sort of consistent manner in the beginning so you are way ahead of me in terms of planning for content, good on ya! I’ve started doing it a bit more in the last few months though and it definitely does keep writer’s block at bay.

        And I might actually be the avocado’s best friend, I would put that shit on every meal if I could! That is one of the things I love about tropical countries. The avocados in Colombia were as big as my face. Maybe it’ll be the pull of the avocado that leads me to Guatemala in the end… 🙂

  3. hi leah, i just found you through alexinwanderland. great interview!! i have often pondered my own top 10 travel destinations list & it is SO. HARD. if pressed, i would say we dovetail with berlin, luang prabang, new york & san fran. and buenos aires, medellin & bali are on my bucket list!

    http://canadianinlosangeles.com/

    • LaMochilera says:

      Thank you! It was a fun interview, she really squeezed all the juicy details out of me.

      I am DYING to go to Berlin, it’s currently very high on my bucket list, along with several other European cities. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Anay Bhide says:

    Wonderful piece, I loved reading about your experience. Which is my favorite location ? hmm…… Each and every journey is close to my heart. I travel in India. Every destination I visited was a different experience. I love my family trips and trekking expeditions. Thank you, for sharing your experience with us. I had fun reading it.

    • LaMochilera says:

      I would love to travel to India someday! I’d also love to travel with my family one day (outside of the US)…that’s something else I’ve never done! Glad you enjoyed, thank you for reading!

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