Being popular hasn’t changed much since high school; you are a sought after commodity from fashion to friends to social prowess. It’s not too different in travel. Popular travel destinations are so sought after that they tend to be crowded, expensive, and filled with an excessive amount of gift shops with the exact same products. However, it is possible to break away from the ‘in-crowd’ and find alternatives to these popular destinations that will save you money and give you a much more enjoyable experience. Why not be a leader instead of a follower? Get out ahead of the travel trends and be the person who introduces these wonderful places to your (envious) family and friends!
Or…maybe you don’t tell a soul so that you can keep it all to yourself!
Skip New Zealand and go to Great Bear Rain Forest
For North Americans, a trip to New Zealand is often a bucket list item, however you spend a majority of your time on a plane trying to get halfway around the world. But there is an alternative nearby that is so remote and beautiful, most of it can only be reached by boat, float plane, or helicopter. Located on the British Columbia Coast between Vancouver Island and Southeast Alaska the Great Bear Rainforest is filled with western red cedar, hemlock, and spruce forest that runs 250 miles down British Columbia’s coast. Whales, dolphins, sea lions, wolves, and bears thrive in sea and forests – a wildlife haven. But it doesn’t stop there, the area is full of fjords that snake through mountains rising from the sea. Picturesque waterfalls, and rivers run through the world’s largest expanse of coastal temperate rainforests. As soon as our float plane landed at Nimo Bay my jaw dropped and I thought…this is Canada?! It reminded me of New Zealand, but it was so much easier to get to!
What to do there: Whale watching (you can see Orcas!), bear viewing (you may even see the rare spirit bear), visit the local communities that exist on the water, heli-fishing, hiking, kayaking, relax, swim in waterfalls, and get back to nature. You can even unplug and stay in luxury rustic resorts in the area serviced by float planes.
Skip Waikiki and go to Molokai
You know of Oahu’s Waikiki beach, but if you aren’t into big crowds and manufactured experiences, then the little Hawaiian island of Molokai is the polar opposite. Unlike Waikiki, Molokai is rarely heard of – or understood. Molokai is slow, it’s not touristic, and it’s the original Hawaii; if people are looking for tours, resorts, and decadent restaurants – they won’t find it here. In fact, the island only has one hotel.
What to do there: You can hike, kayak, visit Kalaupapa National Historical park via mule, fish, and have huge beaches all to yourself! If you want to get a different view of Hawaii, meet locals, slow down, and experience the real culture of Hawaii, then this is the Hawaiian island for you!
Skip Tuscany and go to Costa Brava
“Costa Brava…huh…where’s that?“ is the normal reaction I get when I start gushing about my favorite region in Europe. We’ve been hearing about Tuscany for years, and tourist flock there every summer to the point where it’s overcrowded, but if you are looking for the ‘next Tuscany’, then head to Spain’s Costa Brava region (north of Barcelona). The region’s variety rivals anything Italy has to offer – landscapes, culture, food, beaches, mountains, farms, medieval towns, castles…a bit of everything!
What to do there: I recommend renting a villa in Cadeques or outside of Girona, rent a car, and then exploring the Pyrenees regions with hiking, and hot air balloon rides. Then head to the little beach towns to find hidden beaches, windsurf, dive, visit galleries, and walk the Camino Ronda coastal trail. And don’t miss the tiny little quiet medieval towns where you’ll likely find a Michelin star restaurant!
Skip Banff and go to Canmore
The whole town of Canmore is sort of like a sister – it’s the sister that no one notices. Canmore lives in its big sister’s shadow; a big, popular, sister named Banff. The two towns are only a 20-minute drive apart, but for some reason, Banff gets all of the attention from the tourists. Maybe because it’s in the National Park, it has 3 ski hills, and beautiful Lake Louis. But Canmore is quietly existing in the shadows where most people don’t notice it, but it has so much more to offer. Most of the people who work in Banff actually live in Canmore, so it has a really great community feel and a thriving art scene. This is where ‘real life’ happens in Alberta.
What to do there: Banff may have downhill skiing, but Canmore seems to have everything else in the winter adventure lineup, starting with the Canmore Nordic Center for cross country skiing and fat biking, the best dog sledding in the area, snow shoeing trails, ice climbing, caving, and a thriving local art community and galleries.
Skip the Galapagos and go to Wrangel Island
While everyone is racing to the Galapagos, I recommend you head North – waaaayyy North. Located above the Arctic Circle, Wrangel Island is a wildlife haven – in Russia. So it’s not quite the warm waters of the Galapagos – but it is less touristed and has amazing wildlife and culture. In 1881 John Muir described Wrangel Island as a “grand wilderness of untouched freshness, a severely solitary land in the topmost, frost-killed end of creation”. The island is the world’s largest denning ground for polar bears in the winter, and it houses the largest population of Pacific walruses, and the only snow goose nesting colony in Asia. It is home to snowy owls, muskoxen, arctic foxes, and reindeer as well as large populations of lemmings and seabirds. And, it’s an adventure to even get there; you can only arrive there by ice breaker ship in the summer when the days are long and the ice is breaking up.
What to do there: Take pictures of wildlife and learn from scientists and experts about global warming, polar bears, walruses, and remote arctic living. These expeditions will take you out via zodiac rafts to the island to explore on foot this untouched wilderness.