For the first time, our annual list of favorites consists of all overseas destinations. Last spring, after four years touring the U.S., we traded our RV for backpacks and set out to explore the rest of the world. While circumnavigating the globe—a first for us—we found ourselves in some pretty amazing places. Here is a list of our favorite destinations from our fifth full year of fulltime travel. Where applicable, the destination header links to the original blog post on the topic.
We arrived in George Town, Penang, with high expectations and rumbling bellies. Our expectations were set by the countless articles we had read describing this small island city as the foodie capital of Malaysia. Some folks went so far as to crown George Town’s street food as the best in all of Asia, which is high praise considering how outrageously delicious we found northern-Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
Our empty stomachs, meanwhile, were the result of a strategic decision to skip lunch on our way into town. We were so eager to get started we wanted to hit the ground chewing.
And while we came to George Town hungry, we didn’t land blind. Before arriving we read extensively about what to eat in this provincial capitol. Somehow, though, none of the articles we devoured told us anything about when to eat. It’s almost like they withheld the secret decoder ring to the city. Even after a week of trying, we never did figure it out.
Shannon and I have never been big consumers of packaged tours. But that’s not because we’re too travel-snobby for them. We really do believe there are tons of great reasons to take a packaged tour, and we don’t generally look down on people who utilize them (except when they exhibit symptoms of “Tour Brain“).
Mostly we don’t use tours for our personal travels because we prefer to do our own thing, at our own pace, and on our own schedule. That’s not really possible as part of a group so we tend to avoid them.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed another problem with group travel. As I recently watched waves of cruise and bus crowds wash into place after place, clog streets and cafes for a time, and then roll out again like an ebbing tide, it occurred to me that tour members must experience every destination while standing amongst an an omnipresent horde.
Not only do they step off the bus as one giant mass of humanity, but their transport often arrives at exactly the same moment as every other bus is unloading its own payload of packaged tourists. It’s a recipe for instant mayhem at every stop. And that seems like something every tour participant must necessarily endure.
I guess that’s why we hear so many people complaining about crowds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The great thing about tour groups is that they eventually go back to their buses.
We’ve found that a side benefit of our style of slow travel is that we can usually outwait the masses. Instead of day-tripping into a place with everyone else, we’ll stay at least overnight and oftentimes longer. That way we can enjoy the destination before everyone else’s bus rolls into town and then get to toast them a joyous bon voyage as they leave.
We island hopped through Southern Thailand, but our favorite stretch of sun and sand was landlocked Railay Beach, located on a dramatically gorgeous peninsula cut off from the rest of the mainland by soaring limestone cliffs.