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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
If you have 2020 vision, the road ahead should be in focus already. But some people—myself included—can use a little inspiration for our peregrinations. So I talked to my team of travel experts here at Nat Geo to collect ideas.
Travel editor Starlight Williams “has an aggressive plan to visit Cambodia, Laos (pictured above), Vietnam, and Thailand. I want to step out of my comfort zone and devour everything in my path. I may gain 20 pounds, but my heart will be full.” (By the way, here’s why Laos is the world’s next great foodie destination.) Anne Farrar, our director of photography, has a more serene scene in mind: “I’m seeking the magic of Yellowknife, Canada—the capital of the Northwest Territories—to experience the North and its northern lights. Bring on the cold!”
Adventurer Brooke Sabin told me “I just signed up for a scuba diving refresher course. My aim is to see the whale sharks and manta rays of the Maldives—one of our Best Trips for 2020.” Editor Anne Kim-Dannibale will be heading to Korea on a heritage journey. “I’m going back to Seoul with my parents to see my dad’s hometown.” For a glimpse of what makes Seoul so scintillating, check out this story by our writer J. Maarten Troost. And witty wordsmith Amy Alipio hopes to return to the Philippines. “My family normally sticks to the northern mountains, but it’s time to visit southern islands like Palawan that travel magazines keep raving about.”
As for me: I’ll make time for a heritage journey to my hometown, Toledo, Ohio, to eat the world’s best Lebanese food (outside of Lebanon). I’ll visit some Japanese gardens, including Zen zones in Portland and Florida. And I’m curious to see the end of the world (metaphorically speaking) in Patagonia—perhaps on a Nat Geo Expedition.
Where will you go in the year ahead—and why? Let me know and we will share your trip tips. Have a wonderful New Year and thank you for traveling with us!
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Today in a minute
Still time for Malanka: Still no New Year’s Eve plans? You’re two weeks EARLY for Ukraine’s joyful New Year’s Eve celebration, Malanka. Think dancing, donuts, and costumes of bears, goats and nurses, celebrated on the Julian calendar observed by Orthodox Christians. “Malanka brings everybody together,” Ilya Iliuts, from the western Ukraine town of Krasnoilsk, told Nat Geo in 2016. “If two people are having an argument, they become friends again during Malanka.“
Hello, llama: Among the advantages of Bolivia’s Isla del Sol, the biggest island of Lake Titicaca: Weathered ruins, waterside paths, terraced hillsides, the mythological birthplace of the Inca, and wandering llama and donkeys, writes Nat Geo’s Nathan Strauss. Another plus for those seeking to unplug: spotty or nonexistent WiFi.
Cross country—and back: A snowstorm and an all-night ride in the South were parts of reader Bonnie Muller’s 18-day round trip from Virginia to California. So, too, were Utah’s Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Big Sur. Catch tips from Bonnie and other readers here.
Rock-moving season: At Death Valley National Park, rocks as large as 700 pounds appeared to be moving while no one was watching, etching an eerie and inexplicable trail in the dirt as far as 1,500 feet, fueling a mystery that perplexed scientists for decades. In 2013, GPS tracking devices placed on the stones revealed melting ice in December caused floating ice floes to be driven across the water by wind, which shoves the rocks along the soft mud. That’s according to Atlas of the National Parks, by Jon Waterman.
Your Instagram photo of the day
A moment of peace: The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling was once known as a wild wall, as it stood unrestored from the 16th century. Now, however, much of it has been repaired and surrounded by tourist shops, with a cable car ready to whisk you to the top. The hard part used to be climbing to the best locations for sunrise or sunset. Now, says photographer Michael Yamashita, it's finding an angle to keep the hundreds of visitors out of your frame.
On our Instagram now: See how our photographers worldwide usher in the New Year in real time on our @NatGeo, Travel, Adventure, and Your Shot accounts.
4 places to go in January
Go now! Wooden barrel drums and brass bands. Macaws all over. Snow sculptures. Here are this month's picks by Nat Geo’s Starlight Williams:
1. Lamu Dhow Race, Jan. 1-2 (Lamu, Kenya): On New Year’s Day, locals and travelers gather around Lamu Island's coast—just off the northern coast of Kenya—to watch dhow boats cut through the Indian Ocean. After viewers spend the day cheering on their favorite teams, raucous parties are held all night long to celebrate the sailors.
2. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Jan. 5 (Heilongjiang, China): Visitors to China’s northernmost province can take in surreal ice lanterns and sculptures spread across four theme parks. Between taking in the designs, explore Harbin, the province’s capital, known for its Russian and European style architecture.
3. La Tamborrada, Jan. 19-20 (San Sebastián, Spain): Thousands of costumed chefs, milk maidens, and soldiers play wooden barrel drums and brass instruments for 24 hours for La Tamborrada. They march throughout the city, and at midnight, everyone gathers at the Plaza de la Constitución for the raising of the city’s flag and the San Sebastián March.
4. Mass of macaws (Tambopata, Peru): Flock to Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve to see hundreds of parrots, macaws, and other exotic birds dine at the Chuncho Macaw Clay Lick—one of the largest clay licks in the world. More than 20 species of birds visit this Amazonian area in January.
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Two last glimpses
Living with a volcano: Stromboli is beautiful. The Italian island is also one of the world’s most active volcanoes, having spewed fountains of lava almost continuously (below) for nearly 2,500 years. But people live there, and tourists climb the sides of the volcano, or go on boat trips offshore, like these students from Milan (above).