The top destinations of 2018 are out. Go forth and travel and come back a better person. It is time for all of that #newyearnewme bullcrap. Make yourself new with a little culture.

La Paz, Bolivia

By EEJCC - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50659880
By EEJCC – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

La Paz is trendy like Austin, Texas, but with more soul (sorry Austin). First cool point: The transit system is in the sky. A system of aerial trams, Mi Teleférico, carts passengers around the city in minutes with the added bonus of beautiful views and literally gliding over traffic.

Second cool point: the foodie scene is exploding. Co-creator of Noma (yes that Noma) Claus Meyer opened the restaurant Gustu in 2013. That was the beginning of haute-couture-like food marching its way through the city and revitalizing the vibrant cuisine.

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The contemporary art is scene is practically on fire it’s so hot and luxury hotels are dotting the beautiful landscape– both of which are further cool points for a city that flies low under the tourist radar.

Dundee, Scotland

Photo by Dave Conner.
Photo by Dave Conner.

For starters, the brand-new museum of design looks like a monolithic post-modern concrete ship. The exterior is enough to make any visitor curious about the contents. And the museum isn’t the only new addition that’s putting Dundee on the map.

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Dundee is an up-and-coming destination with revitalization projects that bring Scottish culture and art to the fore. For decades, this port town was the underdog in Scotland, having suffered for years from a decline in available industrial jobs. Despite the stereotypes, it’s always had a vibrant art scene with plenty of theaters, museums and galleries to explore. If that sounds boring– well it shouldn’t. Dundee hosted the infamous #twonightstand installation and the art scene continues to push for surprises.

And dear Lord the food. Parlour Café makes new dishes every day based on what’s locally available. The results are f—— fantastic. There are also authentic kebab stands and some of the best fish and chips you’ll ever munch on.

Tbilisi, Georgia

By Scoundrelgeo - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52076647
By Scoundrelgeo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

No, not the American state. Georgia is a complicated country, to say the least. It isn’t even named correctly, locals call their country Sakartvelo, and no one is really sure if it’s part of Europe or Asia.

But confusing cultural identities aside, Georgia, and its major city Tbilisi, are original and fun– if entirely confounding.

The sprawling town makes no sense. Any directions and any sense of direction are haphazard at best. The locals are friendly and always ready to offer guests a drink of chacha– liquor with the alcohol content of rocket fuel.

While exploring the labyrinth of twisting streets you might stumble upon KGB, a restaurant with the tagline “We’re still watching you.” There are also plenty of low-key bars to slowly drink yourself silly in and hear local gossip in a mix of English, Georgian and Russian.

The luxury travel scene is slowly growing here with a few restaurants that garner international acclaim. But the heart and soul of this city though is unlike anything else.

Djibouti

By Tyke - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3425385
By Tyke – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3425385

You’re forgiven if you don’t know where this small country is located. Djibouti is a tiny country in east Africa, and a good descriptor for this country is intense. Black lava fields surround one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, Lake Assal. Strange salt formations seemingly grow out of the ground around the lake and locals stick cow skulls into the water so that they become covered in white salt.

Some of the landscape looks absolutely alien from the volcanic activity that happened long before humans moved in.

Another draw of Djibouti is swimming with whale sharks. Ever see graceful photos of divers next to giant gentle fish that are softly spotted with light beautiful patterns? They’re probably cuddling up to a whale shark– the largest living shark species in the world. Whale sharks feed on plankton and will sometimes let divers hitch a ride on their dorsal fins. Djibouti is a hotspot for whale sharks from October to Feburary.

While Djibouti is hitting the radars of the seasoned travel community, it isn’t a destination for tourists. Visitors need to do their research and understand that they will encounter extreme poverty and conditions that many travelers would not consider safe.

Still, this country of wild landscapes is up-and-coming and devoid of contrived tourist attractions.

Seville, Spain

It’s Spain, so you know it’s going to be beautiful. I could gush about the architecture, the open squares, the cathedrals and monuments– all of it heart-achingly beautiful– but you know that already.

What you don’t know is that Seville has the stars aligned for an amazing year. New public transit is available, there are art installations across the city for months on end thanks to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Baroque painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and the city is home to a real-life Game of Throne set– the Alcázar of Seville, a cathedral that was transformed into a castle in season five of GOT.

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Along with the obvious accolades, Seville is, as described in a New York Times article, “Vibrant and Seductive Seville, Easy on the Wallet.” It’s all the rich culture you could want and afford on a budget.

Oh, and of course, don’t forget the food. Frequent the cafés and bars, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to. Eat tapas and eat it often. Turn down nothing. Your travels will leave you enriched.

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After reading books about far off places as a child, Vivian was hooked on travel writing. She traveled during her college years and wrote about wine, oil painting and wild hogs. She's planning her next adventures and writing about anything and everything travel related.

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