Harbin Ice Festival in China

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Last year around this time, in an effort to transcend the Typical Travel Bullshit™ of mainstream industry publications I don’t care to name again, I published a list of destinations beyond the pale of most others you’d find online. The response was amazing—tens of thousands of page views and a guest spot on HuffPost Live, to name a couple highlights—but this year, I’ve decided to one-up myself.

Indeed, the purpose of this list is not only to highlight the best places to visit in 2016, but the most unforgettable activities to partake in once you arrive. Let me know on social media or in the Comments section which one(s) you plan to visit first!

Need help planning the ultimate 2016 adventure? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

Freeze Your Ass off at a Manchurian Ice Festival

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China

When: Until February 25, 2016; or starting again in late December

Why: Each year, the festival’s sculptors create a veritable city out of ice and snow, one that lights up at night in dozens of brilliant colors. With temperatures as low as -40ºC (don’t worry, that’s part of the fun!), it’s the world’s ultimate winter wonderland.

How: Fly nonstop to Harbin via Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo and dozens of other Asian cities.

More info: You’ve Never Seen Winter Like This Before

Ride a Boat Through a Lake Filled With Lotus Blossoms

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Red Lotus Sea, Kumphawadpi Reserve, Udon Thani, Thailand

When: Before the end of February

Why: The otherwise unremarkable Lake Hong Nan, located just south of Udon Thani city, fills to the brim with bright pink lotus blossoms, creating one of Asia’s—and the world’s—most beautiful spectacles.

How: Fly from Bangkok to Udon Thani, then get a taxi from your hotel to the lake (ideally no later than 5 a.m.) to catch sunrise.

More info: The Pinkest Place on the Planet

Learn to Ski—or Don’t—in the Swiss Alps

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Engelberg, Obwalden, Switzerland

When: Before Easter or after U.S. Thanksgiving

Why: It’s never too late to learn, and if you’re going to attempt to ski at 30 like I did, you might as well go to the best place in the world for it. If you fail (I mostly did), there’s a super fun sled track made of solid ice that’s way harder to suck at.

How: Drive or take a train from Zürich, Geneva or anywhere else in Switzerland.

More info: Me and the Mountain

Take a Walk Through a Real-Life Jurassic Park

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica

When: All year

Why: I’m not being hyperbolic: The scenery here looks like Jurassic Park! And that’s before you even get to the 300-foot waterfall.

How: If you’re driving, take a day trip from San Jose; if you take a bus, plan to spend the night.

More info:  Jurassic Park is a Place on Earth

Experience This Place Before Everybody Else Does

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Cuba; specifically Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Baracoa

When: All year

Why: Although Cuba’s been “open” to non-Americans for decades, most stay in the capital and the (terrible) beach resort of Varadero. Unless Marco Rubio makes it to the White House in November, further normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will mean more Americans exploring Cuba, which means fewer opportunities to wander off the beaten path.

How: Fly to Havana from Canada, Mexico, Europe or limited U.S. gateways; travel on Viazul buses.

More info: Two Weeks in Cuba: A Sample Itinerary

Explore the World’s Most Chinese City—It’s Not in China

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Taipei, Taiwan

When: July to September ideally, but most of the year is fine

Why: The government of Taiwan (i.e. the Republic of China) backs up its claim to being the legitimate Chinese nation with a capital city that modernity with tradition better than anywhere on the mainland.

How: Fly nonstop to Taipei from dozens of cities in Asia, Europe and North America.

More info: The Real China?

Visit the Home of Facebook’s Most Quoted Poet

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Konya, Turkey

When: All year

Why: Turkey’s been an “it” travel destination for many years, but most people avoid the conservative interior part of the country, barring Cappadocia. The highlight of Konya is the Green Mausoleum, dedicated to Sufi poet Rumi, whose words you’ve almost certainly seen in your Facebook feed.

How: Fly nonstop to Konya from Istanbul.

More info: Turkey Astonishing Green Mausoleum

Eat Yourself Sick With Japanese Street Food

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Osaka, Japan

When: All year

Why: Japan’s third-largest city often gets the shaft, but it’s arguably home to the best food—and, especially, street food—in the country. Local favorites like takoyaki octopus fritters and gyoza dumplings are all over the city, but start at Dotonbori pedestrian street, pictured above, to save your sanity—and to enjoy grilled crab (kani) from a street stall.

How: Fly nonstop to Osaka from anywhere in Asia, many places in Europe, Los Angeles or San Francisco; take a Shinkansen from Tokyo.

More info: Elizabeth Gilbert Should’ve Come Here

Hear Both Sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Story

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea

When: All year

Why: The only way to (attempt) to understand the most important conflict of our times is to see it for yourself—and to see both sides. A trip to Israel without a trip to Palestine (or vice-versa) is pointless.

How: Fly to Tel Aviv, then take trains and buses within Israel; use a service like Abraham Tours to explore the West Bank.

More info: 30 Pictures That Will Make You Want to Visit Israel; Postcards from Palestine

Drive Amid the Glaciers of the Canadian Rockies

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Canada’s Icefields Parkway, between Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta

When: All year, but autumn is particularly lovely

Why: Glaciers, mountains and, potentially, fall colors—what more reason do you need? Add in friendly Canadians and adorable roadside wildlife and…well, if you’re not convinced yet, you never will be.

How: Fly to Calgary, then drive to Banff; or fly to Edmonton, then drive to Jasper. I recommend sleeping in Banff, and driving up and down the parkway as a day trip, but you could sleep in Jasper and go at a slower pace instead.

More info: The Ultimate Alberta Road Trip

Share Rum and Tall Tales With Papa Zouk

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Antigua, Caribbean

When: All year, but avoid hurricane season (May-October) if possible

Why: As one of the lesser-visited islands of the lesser Antilles, Antigua is filled with characters, first among them a German expat who serves up what is perhaps the best seafood—and rum—on the island. After a day on Ffryes Beach and sunset at Shirley Heights, enjoy dinner at Papa Zouk’s Fish and Rum—and keep an open mind.

How: Fly nonstop from U.S. gateways like Miami, New York or Charlotte; or from London.

More info: 30 Pictures That Will Make You Want to Visit Antigua

See Different Colors of the California Coast

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route, in San Luis Obispo County 

When: All year

Why: California’s big coastal cities—and Big Sur—get all the love from tourists, but the state’s central coast is where the magic is, from the unique farm-to-table cuisine on offer at the Gardens of Avila, to America’s answer to the Rock of Gibraltar—and the Pacific’s best oysters—in Morro Bay, to towns like Cambria, Cayucos and Ragged Point.

How: Rent a car in San Luis Obispo; stay in Morro Bay or Avila Beach.

More info: The Purple California Beach That Wasn’t

Get Lost in the Mists of the North Atlantic

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Essaouira, Morocco

When: All year

Why: Morocco is uniformly magical, but the cool breezes, misty ambiance and crazy quantity of seagulls you find as you explore the medina of Essaouira, perched on the shores of the North Atlantic, is one of the most unique places not only in Morocco, but on the planet.

How: Take a bus or grand-taxi from Marrakech.

More info: The Misty Medina on the North Atlantic

Fist Bump Obama Before He Leaves the White House

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Washington, D.C., USA

When: All year, but spring (cherry blossoms) and autumn (colors) make for the best photos

Why: Although you’re unlikely to meet POTUS himself, D.C. is one of America’s most captivating cities, from monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, to neighborhoods like Georgetown and Dupont Circle, to a diverse ethnic tapestry that spans from Ethiopia to Turkey and everywhere in-between.

How: Fly nonstop to Reagan National (DCA) from anywhere in the U.S.; to Dulles (IAD) from anywhere in the world.

More info: Tell Me I’m Your National Anthem

Capture the Colors of Autumn in the Japanese Alps

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Central Honshu, Japan: The Nakasendo Trail; Takayama; and Shirakawa-go

When: November

Why: The only thing more magical than walking along an ancient Japanese trading route? Doing it as thousands of trees—and indeed, the entire Japanese Alps—blaze in bright colors all around you.

How: Buy a Japan Rail Pass and visit HyperDia.com to plan your train routes.

More info: Japanese Gothic

Take a Terrifying Road Trip Under the Northern Lights

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016
 

Where: Iceland’s Ring Road; in particular, the country’s East Fjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula

When: December, January or February

Why: Most travelers visit Iceland in the summer, but the Northern Lights aren’t the only reason to take a road trip in winter. The glistening snow cover is gorgeous and the pastel light is priceless, but the true highlight of Iceland during the colder months is the abject—and, sometimes terrifying—solitude you enjoy here.

How: Fly from the U.S. or Europe to Reykjavík; rent a car at the airport.

More info: Terror and Piety in Iceland

About The Author

is the author of 766 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Loose Translations December 28, 2015 at 9:18 am

Unexpectedly Alberta may in fact be my favorite destination from your list. Your photos were absolutely stunning 🙂
Out of curiosity, would you be able to name your favorite place from your travels this year ?

Robert Schrader December 28, 2015 at 9:22 am

That’s really difficult to say! I would tend to say Iceland, since it was the most recent, but now that you mention Alberta, it was very beautiful AND my sister was there…

LeticiaTechSavvyMama December 28, 2015 at 11:05 am

Loved spending time with you in Konya even if we didn’t get to hot air balloon in Capadoccia! Maybe in 2016! Wishing you a fabulous new year filled with more incredible adventures!

Laura December 29, 2015 at 10:53 pm

I completely agree that no visit to Israel is complete without a visit to the West Bank and the best way to learn anything is to go directly to the source. However, if I may add that I just recently visited Israel and the West Bank in September and October and I did so independently, without a tour. It’s much cheaper (the West Bank is so cheap), you have your freedom and it’s safe for tourists. Go to Hebron in the West Bank, where you can really see and feel the tension. This should be done as a tour, so you can actually talk to the locals and hear their stories. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d get as much out of it if you went to Hebron solo. You can take a day tour to Hebron from Ramallah.

Andrea @ Green and Turquoise December 30, 2015 at 3:51 am

That’s a great bucket list to try on!
A bunch of these are already on mine and the others…are there now! I’ll definitely be adding Bajos del Toro and Havana, they sound exciting and your photos are great.
Cheers to an amazing 2016!

gusto travels December 31, 2015 at 2:06 am

who doesn’t want try all of that in your list. I wish I could. But I will definitely be visiting the boat ride through the lake filled filled with Lotus. Am pretty sure my wife will love it. thanks for the tips and wish you a very happy new year

Miles of Happiness January 4, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I sooooo want to go to Harbin! But not this year… I’m stuck in Japan :p

Robert Schrader January 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

Have fun 🙂

Robert Schrader January 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

Thanks very much 🙂

Robert Schrader January 6, 2016 at 11:21 am

Thanks for the feedback! Going on a tour provides you a personal experience, which in my experience is difficult to achieve independently, to say nothing of your increased potential for security screenings when traveling independently.

Robert Schrader January 6, 2016 at 11:22 am

You too! Have fun at CES!

Kuwait Solutions January 8, 2016 at 4:33 am

I highly recommend travelers to explore Sarajevo, marvellous beauty and very safe & affordable.

Jessica Voigts January 11, 2016 at 6:41 pm

All of these sound incredible. But the Rumi? Yes, please.

Robert Schrader January 13, 2016 at 7:29 am

It was amazing! Although I was jealous of all the other groups.

greymaker January 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

Any time I hear about Japan, it seems synonymous with Tokyo, like that’s the only place that exists there. Judging from the picture, though, Osaka looks just as big and like there’s just as much going on there. I’m a big fan of sushi, so I’d like to try it sometime there, get away from california rolls for a moment. Though it DOES look pretty cramped on the street….wouldn’t wanna drive there!! Though with a Lyft and Uber promo code, that won’t be a problem!

Joanna January 28, 2016 at 8:32 am

I’ve just returned from Cuba and I am already ready to go back. Such an amazing country with so many things to offer. It was like a step back in time. I hope that once the embargo is lifted the country will stay the same, but unfortunately, I doubt it.

The Idyll January 29, 2016 at 7:42 am

I found Konya to be an incredibly interesting city! Combined with a trip to Cappadocia and Antalya, I felt that I got a broader sense of what Turkey’s all about. Great list!

Robert Schrader February 8, 2016 at 8:13 am

Isn’t Konya great?

Robert Schrader February 8, 2016 at 8:13 am

Let’s just be thankful we both went beforehand!

Robert Schrader February 8, 2016 at 8:16 am

Osaka is a hidden treasure!

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