(This article was recently post in USA Today)
Travel is changing the world rapidly, and your bucket list should transform with it. Tourist-packed sights are the new normal in many places, thanks to expanding affordable air routes. Expand your bucket-list travel beyond the typical tourist favorites with these underrated islands, countries and cities around the world.
The gateway to Europe, Portugal isn’t just an affordable alternative to glitzy metropolises like Paris. It’s also an understated bucket-list travel destination home to both awe-inspiring natural wonders and culturally rich cities.
Bustling Lisbon’s mosaic-paved squares, hilly streets and world-class cuisine make it a must-see and must-taste — try the vinho verde, bacalao and pastel de nata while you’re there. Then head to Porto for coastal charms that include cobble-stoned neighborhoods, colorful boats, the port wine scene for which it’s named, and the famous Hogwarts-inspiring bookshop, Livraria Lello. Find your way to sea cave-dotted Lagos, or head west to the Azores, the Portuguese island chain in the middle of the Atlantic. Portugal may be a small nation, but it’s the perfect place to pack in colorful culture and outdoor adventure.
If the word “Minnesota” doesn’t spark thoughts of brewery-hopping, outdoor adventure, live music and historic art, then it’s time to get acquainted with Minneapolis. Discover bucket-list travel in an unexpected — and easy to reach — U.S. city when you visit sights such as the the rushing Minnehaha waterfall, try some of the best beers in the U.S., explore green parks and shorelines like Chain of Lakes, and take in famed art museums in the larger of Minnesota’s Twin Cities on the Mississippi River. The food and craft beer scene here are on the rise, and Minneapolis has a beloved live music and cultural scene to boot — Seventh Street Entry’s First Avenue music venue has been a favorite among locals and visitors alike since 1970.
For a South American escape without the built-up hotels and tourist hordes, head to lesser-known Bolivia. From glassy lakes and vast salt flats to mountain ranges and dense rainforests, Bolivia’s varied terrain and climate zones mean you can experience every type of adventure activity, or stick to the environments you like best. The unique culture, wildlife and festivals mean you can explore pre-Incan ruins, spot monkeys in the national parks, and dive into cultural events like Oruro Carnival, which is recognized with a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity designation.
The Balearic Islands of Spain are the perfect alternative to the overrun Greek isles and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Party-centric Ibiza is the most famous of the Belearic Islands, but for a true bucket-list travel escape, choose the island of Mallorca instead. Palma, Mallorca’s capital, is famous for architectural delights like Moorish castles and Gaudi works that echoes the architect’s Barcelona masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. Explore cultural sites, lounge on idyllic beaches and revel in Spain’s vibrant nightlife.
Newly visitable Sri Lanka has been a bucket-list travel spot in-waiting since its decades-long civil war ended in 2009. The island nation known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean is a triple-threat destination, with safari drives, tea plantations and white-sand beaches beckoning visitors from around the world. Enjoy Indian-influenced seafood; learn about the local Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim communities; and spot elephants and jaguars in Yala National Park. The Sri Lankan people are eager to share their customs and are easily accessible if you opt for a local-led tour like Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventure Sri Lanka, which includes cooking classes in family homes.
Texas is having a moment, thanks to evolving cities like diverse Houston — a newly bike-able hub that’s dotted with beer gardens, museums, manicured parks and dining options rivaling those in packed cities like New York and Los Angeles. Houston is affordable and undiscovered by most tourists, with a walkable downtown historic district (Market Square) as well as a Midtown rife with high-end eateries and breweries.
Head to Karbach Brewing or Saint Arnold to taste Texas-style beers, then traverse downtown on a BCycle bike for just a few dollars, bop around the Museum District’s 19 institutions, or head west to the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park for an inspiring water monument unlike any other. Food offerings and beer gardens here are often al fresco or New Orleans-influenced, and Houston has been called the most diverse city in the nation — making it a unique Texas hotspot.