• Donna Zabel

Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2021--and a few runnerups

It is November 2020--we all have cabin fever, many borders remain closed, airline schedules change by the day, cruise predictions change by the hour. Still, even a total lockdown can’t stop us from dreaming and planning.

Where do we want to go in 2021? After reading what the “experts” have to say, what information my travelers request, what some of my most trusted suppliers are saying, and then adding my own biased opinions, I’ve come up with a current (current as of Thanksgiving 2020) Top 10 list for destinations in 2021, and a few places that didn’t quite make it into the Top 10 but are worth considering.


First, the TOP 10


1. Mexico—any part of Mexico that has a beach is on every major list. Whether you prefer Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Los Cabos, Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya, or Puerta Vallarta doesn’t matter. It’s all about sun, sand, surf, friendly people, great food and drink, and usually a short plane ride. While some borders remain closed, the beautiful resorts of Mexico provide a warm and welcome holiday retreat.


2. Maldives—for the ultimate ocean getaway, the stunning Maldives has it all and has shot to the top of many Top 10 lists. The snorkeling and scuba diving rank as the best in the world. With flights on Emirates, Qatar, and Singapore Airlines, it is now easier to get there.


3. Italy—first to lockdown, among the first to reopen, Italy still struggles, but it’s return as a travel hotspot is assured. It’s the country that we return to again and again. I’ve lost count of my own trips, yet cannot wait to get back. (See my Travel Tale blog for some stories.) History, food, wine, spectacular mountain scenery, medieval towns, beautiful lakes and beaches, unique shopping—what’s not to like?


4. Thailand—from temple-riddled Bangkok to Phuket beaches to the tribal north, Thailand is both exotic and accessible, with some of the friendliest people to be found anywhere. In the past Americans of all ages have flocked to Thailand, and I expect to see travel there picking up soon.


5. Canada—we sooo want our neighbor to the north to welcome us back. There are no oceans to cross, no language barriers to overcome, and so much to see and experience. Plus, Vancouver is a major gateway to Alaska. What better way to restart travel than with a weekend getaway to Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver? Or Lake George or the Canadian Rockies with wonderful parks?


6. Japan—more accessible than ever, with many new flights added just before Covid lockdowns, the islands of Japan enchant everyone. With increasing hotel space, enviable infrastructure, never-ending sights to experience, new tastes to explore, there are many reasons travel Japan was rapidly increasing before Covid and will again.


7. Australia and New Zealand—the only reason “down under” doesn’t rank first is the travel time from the US. And being currently a “no-go” for Americans. It’s not fair to list two very different countries together, but travel from the US often starts in one and end in another. With our common language (well, almost), and some shared history, look to see travel expand exponentially once the borders open. Australia is as big and diverse as the US, and the New Zealand nation of Hobbit land and spectacular scenery should climb to the top of desired destinations by late 2021. (See my posts from trips to both countries in early 2020.)


8. French Polynesia—who hasn’t dreamed of a Tahitian sunset, with garland-clad women swaying hypnotically on a sandy beach? Air Tahiti Nui and United Airlines have made arrival easier and several small cruise lines are reintroducing their famous trips. It is the ultimate romantic experience.


9. Croatia—Croatia? How did that end up on a Top 10 list? This delightfully beautiful country, nestled along the spectacular Dalmatian Coast, has become a favorite international destination. Red-roofed Dubrovnik is only one (although the largest) of charming Roman and medieval cities. Through much of the pandemic Croatia managed to safely keep its borders open, welcoming Americans to this often-under-appreciated corner of Europe.


10. Greece—the perennial favorite has been struggling to keep tourism open, hoping to see American return soon. Everyone loves Greece—it is accessible, the food is delicious, the ancient ruins a part of our history, and the people always ready to party. Expect to see several cruise lines reintroduce ever popular island-hopping later in 2021.


While the above Top 10 are all wonderful destinations, there are other wonderful places that may, as we continue our dreaming and planning, emerge as favorite vacation spots. My list includes:


Oahu/Maui—as we ease back into travel, our own bit of paradise is gaining more and more attention. You’ll have to cross an expanse of ocean, but no passport is required. With new protocols in place, Hawaii is ready to have everyone appreciate our own island paradise.


Punta Cana—the all-inclusive resorts of the Dominican Republic should never be overlooked as a wonderful escape for weary Americans.


Spain—a favorite that possibly should be in the Top 10. Choose from bustling cities with incredible architecture, or famous historic sites, or beautiful beaches. Plus, the delicious food and drink. Take it all in with an extended trip around the Iberian Peninsula.


Iceland—the country of fire and ice, so popular just a few years ago, is poised for a repeat performance. Having largely escaped the scourge of Covid, Iceland is busy adding more reasons to experience this unique destination.


Alaska—with scenery reminiscent of Norway, plenty of local history and culture, the best salmon and halibut in the world, Alaska is a must-see for everyone at least once.


Dubai—the postponement of Expo 2020 was a blow, but only temporarily. The massive amount of new developments I witnessed in November 2019 speaks to the Emirate’s commitment to the future of travel to the region. It’s a unique experience, and more accessible than many people realize.


Keep dreaming and planning and remember 2021 will be a New Year!

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