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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
The world is a very popular place these days. At some destinations—Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice—it’s easy to feel that you’re sightseeing with some of the 1.4 billion other travelers in the world. But it’s not hard to sidestep the crowds and reduce your environmental footprint by traveling in the off-season, staying longer, and visiting well-managed destinations.
Our Best Trips 2020 special is packed with places that are not plundered by visitors. In some, like Quebec’s Magdalen Islands, wild animals (some 10,000 harp seals, such as the one below) outnumber wide-angle lenses. Our story highlights 25 relevant and rewarding places to visit in the year ahead.
For travelers, picking places (Tasmania, Tanzania, Tashkent?!) involves a complex matrix of choices. An increasingly important factor is among the hardest to measure: sustainability practices adopted to secure a brighter future for destinations.
On our Best Trips List 2020, the Maldives is heralded as an environmental protection trailblazer. This low-lying, 1,200-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean will soon be carbon neutral, but it will still be threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. It will take the world to protect these islands.
Would you pay more for a more sustainable vacation? Travelers are now considering this question and others (including their own carbon emissions) before choosing their next trip. In a National Geographic survey, consumers most familiar with sustainable travel are young: 50 percent are 18 to 34. A just-released National Geographic and Morning Consult poll says 47 percent of Americans would pay more for an environmentally friendly vacation (see chart below). The decisions these travelers make could radically alter the topography of tourism. Armed with the right information, their choices could improve the world for tomorrow’s travelers.
Today in a minute
Flipping the seasons: As South Africa prepares for summertime, it also is readying for tourists from up north. There are a number of reasons, including star-gazing, rafting, hiking, whale watching, and wineries, writes Gulnaz Khan. Are we forgetting something? Actually five things: lions, rhinos, giraffes, buffalos, and leopards.
‘Hurricane-proofing‘: That’s what Dominica is trying to do to its entire Caribbean nation. The twin catastrophes of Hurricanes Erika and Maria put the land, as its prime minister put it, on “the front line of climate change.” The country known as Nature Island is banning plastics, working toward a uniform building code, planning geothermal energy plants, and trying to move toward higher-end ecotourism, Sarah Gibbens writes.
Follow Thomas Jefferson: Well, at least follow the way his horse went, in this exploration of the Virginia Piedmont. Highlights of this road trip: thriving vineyards, tasty pies, and killer views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Planets before pilsner: Prague was the home of star-gazing revolutionaries Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, and traces of that illustrious past abound, from the Old Town Square’s giant astronomical clock to the domes of the Štefánik Observatory. "If you hunt for it," writes Alex Schechter, "a sharper image of choreographed skies and thrilling stellar discoveries comes into view, harking back to a time when humans were just waking up to the mysteries of our solar system."
Your Instagram photo of the day
All to yourself. Iceland has larger, more powerful waterfalls, but photographer Stephen Alvarez thinks Skógafoss is the prettiest. It is also one of the most visited. Late one night last spring Alvarez managed to find a rare moment alone after the crowds had departed. Iceland is a popular tourist destination and visitors now outnumber Icelanders by a factor of 12.
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Overheard at Nat Geo
¡Feliz cumpleaños! In-office birthdays often prompt memories of previous celebrations, and the not-that-long-ago 21st birthday of Nat Geo’s Rachel Brown, although far from home, sounded dreamy. “A palm-sized cup of canelazo in Quito’s amazing old town,” recalls Brown, a Travel producer here.“Sipping the sweet, hot drink on a cold cobblestoned street was the perfect way to celebrate a new city with new friends.” To hear other behind-the-scenes stories from National Geographic, listen to our podcast, Overheard. Subscribe here, or get tickets to our live podcast in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5.
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Come back tomorrow for Victoria Jaggard on the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.
One last glimpse
Puddled. Many photographers around Limassol, a city on the south coast of Cyprus, focus on Lady's Mile Beach, a long stretch of undeveloped seafront outside the town. But photographers for National Geographic, from the legendary Maynard Owen Williams to today’s featured photographer, Muhammed Muheisen, have focused on Limassol’s old town, which shines after a rain.
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!