When the world’s borders finally open up again, this much is clear: travel will be a priority, if not the priority, for many around the globe. Having been cooped up in our homes and largely confined to our close communities for roughly a year and counting, those privileged enough to have the means will be flocking to destinations both near and far, desperate to relieve the curious thrill that comes with immersing yourself in an entirely different culture.
While we’re all waiting with bated breath for pre-pandemic travel to resume, there’s nothing to say that we can’t start planning ahead. A recent United States-based study conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research and commissioned by various travel companies revealed that 97% of those surveyed feel happier when they have a forthcoming trip planned; while 71% of respondents reported having more energy when they have a trip slated for within the next six months. Indeed, the anticipation and hope of eventual travel – much as with any positive event on the horizon – can help with boosting our moods in the midst of quarantine fatigue by giving us something to look forward to.
Which begs the question: where should you plan on going first? Due to differences in the efficiency of the vaccine rollout and pandemic management among countries, a certain degree of social-distancing measures will likely still be in effect for quite some time. Hence, you’ll probably want to avoid big cities and popular spots that will be overrun with tourists – perhaps in favour of someplace with wide open spaces where you can take in the full majesty of the natural world.
To that end, check out our suggestions for remote, off-the-beaten-track locales that offer an ideal antidote to year-long cabin fever, and go ahead and start making plans for your future visit.
1. Faroe Islands, Denmark
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway, the self-governing Faroe Islands is a cluster of 18 volcanic lands spits that has somehow managed to fly under the tourist radar. Its stunning landscapes include verdant valleys, cascading waterfalls, craggy mountain formations and rocky coastlines, which makes it an ideal destination for hikers, bikers and general nature enthusiasts. The islands are linked by a series of subterranean tunnels and bridges, so you can travel between them with ease, and we suggest visiting between the months of November and February for a chance to glimpse the famed Northern Lights. Fun fact: sheep outnumber the residents here by around 18,000 (70,000 sheep to to 52,000 people).
2. Coober Pedy, Australia
You can’t get much more remote than the middle of the Australian Outback, and nestled deep in the heart of all that rust-red desert is Coober Pedy: a South Australian underground settlement known for its opal mining industry. Some 150 million years ago, the area was covered by the ocean. As the water gradually receded, silica materials were left behind, which gradually solidified into the iridescent gems that can be found today. The town is further located near two stunning natural attractions: the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, a rugged and expansive stretch of sandstone tablelands that’s an Aboriginal Heritage site; as well as the Anna Creek Painted Hills, a series of tiny mountains peeking out of the seemingly endless flat desert plains.
3. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
New Zealand is famous for its jaw-dropping natural beauty and large swaths of uninterrupted landscapes. And with a population of less than five million spread out over 268km², you’ll have your pick of isolated spots to commune with nature. You’ll find some of the most spectacular landscapes at the 1.2 million hectare Fiordland National Park in the South Island. The varied terrain consists of everything from ancient rainforests and alpine peaks to mystical valleys and otherworldly fiords, and is home to all manner of flora and fauna, including penguins, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and, yes, plenty of sheep. Avid hikers can check out the Milford Track, which has a one-way length of 53.5km and takes roughly four days to complete.
4. Boulder, Utah, United States
When it comes to the United States’ desert landscapes, there’s plenty more to see than the Grand Canyon. Avoid the tourist crowds by hopping on a domestic flight to Salt Lake City and taking the roughly five-hour-long road trip to Boulder, a tiny town (the population numbered 270 as of 2019) that cradles some of the country’s most devastatingly beautiful red-rock scenery, and is so remote that it was the last US town to still have mail delivered by mule. A drive along The Burr Trail will yield plenty of canyons, ridges and rocky vistas, while the dramatic terrain of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park are both within driving distance. And if you’re hungry, you can stop by the restaurant Hell’s Backbone Grill, which was previously shortlisted for a James Beard Foundation Award.
5. Ladakh, India
Known for its varied natural terrain – including jagged mountains, sprawling valleys and placid lakes – Ladakh is a tranquil paradise that feels like a whole other world compared to the cacophonous streets of cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. It’s a great spot for bikers, hikers and trekkers looking to explore some of the lesser-known trails in the region, and there are also plenty of colourful gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) in the area that you can visit. Of particular note is the Thiksey Monastery, the largest in central Ladakh and situated on top of a hill. On its grounds stands the Maitreya Buddha statue, which was installed to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s visit in 1970. Don’t leave without sampling a cup of the local specialty: rich and slightly salty yak butter tea.
6. Siargao, Philippines
The Philippines is known for its many islands with pristine beaches and azure waters to match. If you want to avoid the crowds at hotspots such as El Nido and Boracay, you can consider a trip to Siargao in the southeast province of Tacloban. The small teardrop-shaped destination is known as the country’s surfing capital. It boasts the legendary surf break Cloud 9, a right-breaking reef wave that is the site of the annual Siargao Cup, as well as the serene Sugba Lagoon for those who prefer to bob around or swim in the sea rather than carve the waves. Other must-see places on the island include the Tayangban Cave Pool, which offers a mix of caving and cliff-jumping; and the Magpungko Rock Pools that provide epic panoramic ocean views.
7. Svalbard, Norway
This may not quite be the destination for travellers seeking warm and sunny climes. One of the northernmost inhabited locales in the world, Norway’s Svalbard is situated roughly midway between the northern tip of Norway and the North Pole. Historically a whaling and coal mining town, Svalbard has a population of just under 3,000, with individual settlements accessible via snowmobiles, air transport or boats (there are no roads connecting them). In terms of terrain, Svalbard is dominated by Arctic landscapes, with around 60% of the area being composed of glaciers. Arctic foxes, polar bears and Svalbard reindeer are just some of the creatures you’ll find here, along with a whopping seven national parks.
8. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum – also poetically known as the Valley of the Moon – is a sprawling desert valley and Unesco World Heritage Site located in southern Jordan. While it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Jordan, the country as a whole still pulls far fewer crowds compared to its neighbours such as Egypt and Israel. You can book a tour to travel via camel through some truly stunning landscapes, including canyons, sandstone rock formations, ancient temples that have been subjected to the wear and tear of the elements over the years and mountainous terrain. Two must-visit sites are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom rock formations, which jut out of the ground in majestic fashion; and the Khazali Canyon to check out the petroglyphs carved into cave walls.
9. Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
The Uyuni Salt Flat’s white and arid surface is truly a breathtaking and otherworldly sight. Once upon a time, it housed a prehistoric lake that eventually dried up, leaving behind the over 10km² of panoramic salt formations that persist till this day (it’s estimated to contain 10 billion tonnes of salt in total, of which less than 25,000 tonnes are harvested each year). The salt flat is also home to several species of flamingos and functions as a major transport route across the Altiplano region of Bolivia. However, due to its arid and inhospitable climate, you won’t find much in the way of vegetation. Various movies including The Fall (2006) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) have also been filmed here.
10. Lanai, Hawaii
While tourist flock to Waikiki Beach, you can ditch the main island for Lanai. As the smallest of the publicly accessible inhabited Hawaiian islands, it tends to fly under the radar compared to its flasher neighbours such as the Big Island, Kauai and Maui – but that certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t much to see and do here. The island’s nickname is the Pineapple Island, a nod to its history as it was once was home to a plantation that produced 75 per cent of the world’s pineapples. Pay a visit to Shipwreck Beach, where you’ll be able to glimpse the wreck of the YOGN 42 vessel offshore; and while away entire afternoons at the many beaches and scenic lookout points across the island. Do note that given the lack of paved roads throughout Lanai, you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle (and a good sense of direction) to get around.
Given that most of these destinations are not accustomed to receiving large numbers of tourists, do pay extra mind to practicing sustainable and ethical tourism while you’re there and remember to always be respectful of local customs and cultures.