The Anti-Gift Guide: Unique Travel Experiences Around the World
Yes, it’s latke & hot cocoa season. A time for exploring holiday markets, cozying up by the fireplace, and spending hours totally stuck on what to give that special someone. Though we all love a few gifts here and there, there are many studies that say giving and receiving material items may not be all that it’s cracked up to be…
So, put that typical holiday gift guide away. This year, in lieu of that, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite experiences around the world that we think you should add to the bucket list. Whether you or your friend are an adventurous backpacker, art & design junkie, or coffee lover, we’re sure there’s something on the list that’ll spark some ideas.
FOR THE COFFEE LOVER
The Colombian Coffee Triangle
Do you know where your cup of morning coffee is from? There’s a decent chance that it’s from Colombia — aka the third largest coffee exporter in the world. Most Colombian coffee comes from the Coffee Triangle or Triángulo del Cafe. While Cartagena has stolen the tourism spotlight in Colombia, the Triángulo del Cafe is definitely worth spending time in. Nestled in between gorgeous mountain ranges and the Andean rainforest, you can enjoy some of the tastiest, high-quality coffee while taking in the beautiful landscape.
This region is made up of three departments (areas), with the most visited cities being Armenia, Manizales, and Pereira. In more touristy spots, you’ll find that you’ll be able to communicate in English. But if you want the real Colombian experience, you should probably brush up on your Spanish — you may even get yourself invited to a private finca, or estate.
FC PRO TIP: Feeling adventurous? You can also go white water rafting in Montenegro or Calarca. Or zip lining through coffee plants!
MOST AFFORDABLE WAY TO GET THERE: Round trip flights from New York or D.C. to Medellin average around $400 — $500, though you can sometimes get lucky and find ones for less! From there, you can take a bus to one of the main cities like Manizales and Pereira. A bus ticket will cost you only about $10 — $20.
FOR THE CULTURE CONNOISSEUR
Markets, Cafes, and the World’s Oldest Library in Fez
In Morocco, you’ll be surrounded by a whirlwind of colors, scents, and different languages. You may be put to shame by multilingual Moroccans — but, you know, before you go, you could always brush up on your Arabic, French, or Spanish, since they speak all of these beautiful languages there.
While most people get stuck on Marrakesh’s touristic highlights, Fez is arguably the real cultural capital of Morocco. There are countless cafes and markets in the gorgeous city. Some of our faves are Cafe Clock, where people bring their guitars to play live music and the Medina of Fez, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you’ll find all the spices you’ve ever dreamed of. Fez is also home to the world’s oldest functional library, the Al-Qarawiyyin Library, which was recently restored.
FC PRO TIP: When you’re there, be sure to take a step back and notice the interesting juxtaposition of old traditions and new technology. Even areas of the city are divided into “Fez El-Bali”, or the old town, and “Fez Jdid,” the new town, based on different historical periods of construction and architecture.
MOST AFFORDABLE WAY TO GET THERE: Flights to Fez range from $700 — $1000. But check for cheaper flights from the states to either Marrakesh or Casablanca; because tourism there is higher, chances are, flights are bit cheaper! From those cities, it’s easy to catch a bus to Fez.
FOR THE ADVENTUROUS BACKPACKER
Hike & Chill in Yunnan
As soon as you step off the plane in one of Yunnan Province’s airports in Kunming or Lijiang, you’ll discover an entire part of China that you don’t see in Western media. You won’t find any smog or China’s infamous manufacturing plants here. Instead, you’ll enter into amazingly green mountains and breathe some of the cleanest air in the world.
Welcome to China’s most diverse province. Located in Southwest China, this area is home to an incredible mix of ethnic minority groups with rich heritage and beautiful landscapes with rolling hills. If you’re looking to be among diverse landscapes but also want to experience the vibrant culture of China, Yunnan is the perfect place to go. Two popular destinations are Shaxi, a small village known for its temples, monasteries, and markets; and Dali, a city with a beautiful old town, the Three Pagodas, and a tight-knit expat community. Want to see some glaciers? Head to Dêqên County.
FC PRO TIP: To get around, bigger cities in Yunnan are connected by bus routes — but avoid taking the train. We’re told it takes ages! Also, knowing Chinese will make getting around on your trip that much easier.
MOST AFFORDABLE WAY TO GET THERE: Alright, you’re going halfway around the world. Remember to book early. Flight prices are significantly lower if you book in advance. Chances are, if you’re traveling from NYC or D.C., you’ll have to connect through Hong Kong or Beijing. We did a check for flights, which can get as low as $670 (we’re serious!) between March and May, flying from NYC to Kunming.
FOR THE ADVENTUROUS BEACH BUM
Drive Down the Malecón
You just “have to go before it’s too late.” That’s what we’re hearing in the states now when Americans talk about Cuba. Cuba is changing — and fast. This is one of those travel experiences you’ll want to add to your bucket list asap. Havana is one of the world’s most amazing cities, full of beautifully decaying architecture, colorful buildings, and smiling people. And the Malecón is one of the most famous parts of the city; it’s the stretch of road right on the water.
If you want to save $$$ and are cool with not going in one of those souped up, iconic cars, you can actually just grab a normal taxi from Habana Viejo or Centro Habana to Vedado or Miramar. If you know Spanish (which we hope you do!), just say you want to drive around the Malecón to get there.
FC PRO TIP: Many people get caught up on the fact that it’s like stepping back in time to the 1950s. But don’t let that overshadow all the awesome, very current things that are happening. For a glimpse into the direction where Havana is headed, you should check out La Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a new art gallery and nightlife hotspot, converted from an old factory.
MOST AFFORDABLE WAY TO GET THERE: From New York or D.C., flights range from $200 — $350 on airlines like Jetblue, American, and Spirit. Just be aware that the visa situation is still a little bit sticky, depending on what airline you take! And be prepared to present any related paperwork needed.
FOR THE ART & DESIGN JUNKIE
Architecture, Art & Community in Berlin
Wir lieben Berlin :) Yes, we really love Berlin. Say hello to the cultural capital and liberal sanctuary of Germany. This city is also pretty damn weird — and in the best ways. Given its tumultuous history, especially during World War II, during which it was split into West Berlin & East Berlin, Berlin’s two regions developed very differently. In the West, you’ll find a lot of traditional European architecture, while in the East, you’ll enter into much more stoic, Stalinist structures.
Today, Berlin is home to countless artists and designers from everywhere around the world. You’ll find galleries in most neighborhoods; a few of our favorites in the favorite Mitte area are the Sammlung Boros, me Collectors Room, and Neurotitan.
FC PRO TIP: Given recent events in the states, you may be planning your exit. Well, good news is that Germany is one of the easier countries to apply for a visa…
MOST AFFORDABLE WAY TO GET THERE: Flights from New York or D.C. average around $350 — $600. We found some cheap flights via Norwegian Airlines from NYC to Berlin priced at $340 in March. And if you’re headed over there soon, you may want to brush up on your German…just saying.