Need a little inspiration for your next vacation, either real or imagined? SmarterTravel’s editors have crisscrossed the planet, visiting dozens of countries on every continent—and these are the spots they’ve declared the most beautiful places in the world.
The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
“Antarctica feels otherworldly. It’s devoid of human life, with an almost eerie emptiness in places—no manmade buildings, no power lines, no planes flying overhead, and no lights. Simultaneously, it teems with natural life, from penguins calling for their mates in a cacophony of sounds to fur seals lurking below the surface waiting to pounce on their next meal. All that against a backdrop of towering mountains, brilliantly blue glaciers, and an unpolluted sky—I’ve yet to find anywhere else on earth that can compare.” — Caroline Morse Teel, Principal Editor
“Like all the towns in Andalucia, Granada is something special. The architecture, the food, and the people all make for a memorable trip. But the real gem in Granada is the Alhambra. Climb up the steep, skinny streets of the Albayzin neighborhood to the Mirador de San Nicolás and watch the sun set over the Alhambra. It’s been (accurately) called ‘the most beautiful sunset in the world’ and is one of those magical experiences that will stay with you forever.” — Noemi de la Torre, Senior Photo Editor
South Island, New Zealand
“My then-partner (now husband) and I were reduced almost to speechlessness during a road trip around New Zealand’s spectacular South Island. ‘Wow,’ I said as we rounded a curve and a crystalline lake spread out before us. ‘Wow,’ he echoed a few minutes later as the late-day sun cast a rosy glow across hulking mountains capped with snow. Glaciers, fjords, beaches—the South Island has it all, and it’s all stunning.” — Sarah Schlichter, Deputy Executive Editor
Krka National Park, Croatia
“Krka National Park was supposed to be a small pit stop on my guided trip to Split, but it ended up being the highlight of the week. Rivers and streams crisscross the ground beneath you as you navigate the forest on elevated wooden pathways. The entire journey has a deep stillness to it, with only your own footsteps and the sounds of water and bird calls to interrupt. Finally, at the end of the walk, you’re greeted by a picnic ground surrounded by tiers of beautiful waterfalls. The views were stunning and, on the way out, I got to visit a family of wild kittens—so it was probably the best day ever.” — Carol McPherson, Video Editor/Creator
Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada
“The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia haunts my dreams in the best possible way. I only spent two days there, but even that short amount of time earns it a spot at the top of my list. This picture was taken after a short flight from Vancouver Island to the tiny wilderness lodge of Nimmo Bay. It was an intoxicating blur of dense temperate rainforest hikes, paddling bays so still that my kayak seemed to skim above the clouds, and rushing waterfalls that exhaled the rainforest into the sea.” — Christine Sarkis, Executive Editor
Haputale Tea Country, Sri Lanka
“The most beautiful places are always the ones that photos inevitably can’t do justice. And for me, that paradox always brings to mind Sri Lankan tea country. I took a rickety train ride to Haputale in monsoon-season rains, snaking through verdant slopes and misty gorges made even more dream-like by the drizzle. As if the postcard-esque viaducts and Nine Arch Bridge along the way weren’t enough, meeting Haputale’s local tea pickers in a cloud forest precariously perched at 7,000 feet above sea level certainly was. From the foothills of Agarapatana Plantation I was gobsmacked by the views, which only grew more dream-like as we ascended to the peak to enjoy many fresh cups of tea, served with roti and sweets, overlooking the cloud cover that would occasionally break to reveal miles of rolling greenery below. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to walking into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book and staying a while.” — Shannon McMahon, Editor of News and Features
Tayrona National Park, Colombia
“Many of the world’s most beautiful places come with crowds of tourists and lines that you have to wait in; it’s rare to find that true sense of unspoiled beauty. And when you do, it’s often far, far away from the beaten path. But you’ll usually find that it’s the search that makes the final destination worth it, and that’s exactly the case with Tayrona National Park in Colombia. A trip here makes you feel like you’re on your own journey of youthful exploration in Lord of the Flies. Hours from the vibrant city of Cartagena sit miles and miles of coastline where the Sierra Nevada foothills kiss the Caribbean coast. Find relaxation in the secluded coves and lagoons, or trek in the rainforest to ancient Taryonan ruins. To get here, find the beach city of Santa Marta and then make your way via bus to the forest. There are plenty of hidden retreats and treehouses to stay at, where inviting hammocks swing in the wind waiting for you. There’s nothing quite like following a winding path in the rainforest that suddenly ends with golden sand and open ocean.” —Ashley Rossi, Senior Editor
How can America, home of the KFC Double Down, Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, and Carl’s Jr. Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, not have these amazing foreign fast-food chains within its borders? Here are 10 delicious and forbidden fast-food chains that we wish would move stateside—ASAP.
Editor’s note: This story was researched and written before the current COVID-19 pandemic. While we look forward to traveling again soon, we recognize that the most important thing we can all do right now is to stay home. For the most current information about COVID-19, check the CDC website.
With active volcanoes, Maya ruins, and extensive coastlines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, Central America is an idyllic destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Given the region’s history of political instability, many foreigners are wary of visiting, wondering if Central America is safe, and end up missing out on the cultural, historical, and culinary richness of the seven countries that comprise it.
But while these fears are justified in some cases, you shouldn’t judge an entire region by its news cover. Not every country in the area is experiencing conflict, and while caution is always advised no matter where you travel, you certainly won’t be stepping into the war zone Central America is often made out to be.
To help you have an amazing—and safe— trip, we have compiled a list of the four safest countries to visit in Central America.
Costa Rica wins over the heart of every visitor with its “Pura vida” philosophy. The entire nation exudes a relaxed vibe that calls you to breathe in and enjoy life—something that’s not too difficult to do here. During your time in this mesmerizing country, you can watch sea turtles hatch on quiet beaches, climb the Arenal Volcano, or see monkeys and jaguars at the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Often considered a pioneer of eco-tourism, Costa Rica takes great pride in its natural resources and its status as a megadiverse country. In fact, 98 percent of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, and 26 percent of its territory is made up of protected natural lands. Because of this natural richness, the country attracts intrepid adventure travelers who come to surf tall waves, zipline through canopies, rappel down waterfalls, and white-water raft down swift rivers.
As for safety, foreigners usually don’t have much to worry about. The Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the 33rd most peaceful country in the world. For comparison, the U.S. is ranked at 218. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives it a level 1 warning, making it safer than Spain and Italy in the eyes of the U.S. Basically, you should exercise common sense precautions like avoiding dark streets at night and hiding your valuables.
Costa Rica takes such pride in its commitment to peace that it doesn’t even have an army. As if that weren’t enough, it is considered one of the best countries in Latin America for LGBTQIA travelers, given locals’ open-minded attitudes towards sexual diversity and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Ready to book your tickets yet?
If you judge Panama by its rankings on the Global Peace Index and the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory, you’ll soon be at ease. The former ranks Panama at 47th, and the latter suggests a level 1 advisory. Do keep in mind that certain areas should be avoided, including the Mosquito Coast, and the Darien region along the border with Colombia. Again, normal safety measures are recommended to avoid being pickpocketed or mugged, particularly in urban centers.
Now that you know Panama is much safer than most people believe, you should also know that it is much more interesting than most people imagine. In fact, many people simply know Panama for its famous canal, which continues to be a tourist attraction but which is not by any means the only thing the country has to offer.
Sure, take a scenic flight over the canal to see it for yourself, but also allow some space in your itinerary to swim with whale sharks in astonishing Bocas del Toro, or to soak up the metropolitan glitz of Panama City. Adventure travelers will also find plenty of thrilling activities, like hiking through cloud forests, watching the migration of humpback whales in the Pacific, and climbing the country’s highest point, Baru Volcano.
The best part about Panama? It seems like tourists have yet to wise up about it, so you can enjoy small village beaches and forest treks without hordes of Instagram-hungry tourists.
Yet another wonderful but often overlooked country in Central America, Belize is impressively diverse for its tiny size. The English-speaking country boasts jungles riddled with Mayan ruins, the second largest reefs in the world, and idyllic islands scattered along its coast.
Divers absolutely love Belize because of the diversity of its reef, but also because of its famous Great Blue Hole. This underground sinkhole is the largest of its kind, and is equally impressive from above and from underneath the water’s surface. In fact, the great conservationist, explorer, and diver Jacques Cousteau included the “hole” as one of his favorite diving spots on the planet.
Even if you’re not a big fan of diving in a dark, seemingly unending ocean abyss, the Belize coastline offers plenty of opportunities for swimming in warm waters, paddle boarding, and kayaking through mangroves. One of the best things to do is to simply lay in a hammock with a bottle of cool beer in your hand and enjoy the sun kissing your skin.
The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives Belize a level 2 warning, which is the same level as countries like France and the U.K. That said, increased precaution is recommended, since its proximity to Mexico inevitably makes it part of Central America’s drug route. The south—where many of the country’s Mayan ruins lay hidden by the jungle—is of particular concern, so we recommend researching before planning a trip, or going with a trusted tour company.
LGBTQIA travelers might want to rethink a trip to Belize, as locals tend to have a more conservative mentality and may even be hostile to non-heterosexual couples.
Like Belize, Guatemala has a level 2 warning from the Department of State. Certain areas present an increased level of risk, specifically the areas along the drug trade route. It is recommended that travelers do research before deciding their itineraries, particularly if they plan to go to remote regions that are not as frequented. Again, visitors looking to explore natural or rural areas might want to consider using a trusted tour company with local guides.
Once you have taken the necessary precautions, don’t even consider missing out on picturesque Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, this well-preserved colonial town is one of the most beautiful towns in Latin America. Cobblestoned streets and colorful balconies are perfectly complemented by the volcanoes that surround the town, providing breathtaking views from almost any street.
Another must-see destination in Guatemala is Lake Atitlan, one of the most important in the region. If you want a simple thrill, you can hike around the lake and enjoy the invariably impressive views it provides. Those with a harder adrenaline addiction can opt for more extreme activities, like paragliding over or scuba diving.
No history or Indiana Jones lover can afford to skip out on the mighty Tikal National Park, the former capital of the Maya Empire. Surrounded by the jungle that once hid it, Tikal boasts the tallest existing pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, and is considered one of the most important archaeological treasures of the continent.
If this doesn’t seem like enough, you can also ride through the canyons of Rio Dulce, learn about Afro-Guatemalan culture at Livingston, explore the caves of Verpaces, and delight your taste buds with the country’s rich culinary tradition.
We may be safe at home right now, but we’re already dreaming about our next vacation. At these dreamy digs on some of the world’s best beaches, you can sink your toes into warm sand and find your ideal place in the sun. Divide your time according to your own rules: Learn to paddleboard or parasail, reel in a magnificent fish, or simply lie back and adjust your hat as the sun moves across the sky. Read on for 11 out-of-this-world beachfront resorts to add to your bucket list.
LUX South Ari Atoll, Maldives
LUX South Ari Atoll is the only hotel on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu. Pristine beaches and crystal clear water are steps away from the thatch-roofed suites. Looking for a retreat? Pamper yourself in the ocean-view spa. Want a more active holiday? LUX South Ari Atoll is a prime spot for snorkeling and whale-shark spotting.
Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles
This dreamy beachfront resort is located on a private island in Seychelles. Six Senses Zil Pasyon has 30 villas to choose from, each with stunning vistas of the ocean and surrounding islands. Book a spa treatment and soak in the beautiful landscape of this sustainable gem.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Bali
Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay has done a great job of integrating elements of Indonesia into this hotel—from the lobby to the villas modeled after a Balinese home. Discover the island’s cultural heritage through onsite artist workshops and take a tour of the resort’s temple with a high priest.
Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand
Vana Belle is all about privacy, with 79 suites and villas all tucked into a secluded cove over Chaweng Noi beach. Each suite and villa has a terrace with a private pool and stunning views of the beach or of the lush rain forest.
Ocean Club Resort, Turks And Caicos
Even though the Ocean Club Resort is packed with things to do, the best one might be to do nothing at all. Of course, you can scuba or snorkel to see yellow tangs, parrot fish, and turtles, go bonefishing, or arrange for the resort to drop you off on one of the 30-plus deserted islands in Turks and Caicos so you can spend the day Robinson Crusoe-style. Or, simply sleep late. Think about reading a book. Order a drink. And watch the sun set.
The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas, Jericoacoara, Brazil
Malhada Beach was named one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by the Washington Post. Make the most of it at The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas. This exclusive boutique hotel has only six rooms, so you’ll be able to truly get away from it all.
Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius
Experience tasteful paradise at Le Touessrok, a resort that cuddles up to Trou d’Eau Douce Bay in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It has all the requisite amenities: nearby reefs for diving and snorkeling, southern trade winds for sailing, and ample turquoise waters for swimming and admiring.
Travaasa Hana, Hana, Hawaii
Maui’s Road to Hana is as famous as its beaches. A journey to Travaasa Hana, which sits just off that road, leads to an older, quieter Hawaii, complete with waterfalls tucked into lush forests. The original Sea Ranch Cottages opened here in 1947 and became a favorite retreat for generations of travelers seeking barefoot elegance. Today, Travaasa runs the resort in the picturesque Hana community, where Hawaiian culture is still the focus. Daytime activities include outdoor yoga classes, horseback rides, spa treatments, and Hawaiian cooking classes. You won’t miss the glitz of the more populated beaches.
Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Seek out this untouched escape, where golden beaches and turquoise waters sit adjacent to coastal forests, a silvery lake, and a wetland park. The five-star eco Thonga Beach Lodge makes the most of its natural setting. It’s the ultimate beach safari, located just south of Mozambique’s fabled sands on the western edge of the Indian Ocean. The lodge sits in a dune forest overlooking a pristine beach. During winter, you can spot nesting turtles and whale sharks.
Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, Motu Tevairoa, Bora Bora
You won’t want to cross Bora Bora off of your bucket list after spending a few days at The Pearl. It’s worth returning to again and again. The full-service resort sits on one of Bora Bora’s islets, facing the main island. The peaceful retreat stuns with 360-degree vistas. Keep it calm by spending your days snorkeling in the crystal-clear water, hiking up a tropical mountain, or sailing on a catamaran.
Biking in New York City is a magnificent thing and a terrifying thing and a thrilling thing and an infuriating thing. I’ve had my bike for four years now, and almost immediately upon buying it my relationship to the city changed. Instead of moving here and there underground — enduring the overcrowding, the train delays, and the angst — I could now get around in the open air. Underground, you have no sense of the place in between the places you love. They are points of interest connected by nothing more than a color-coded line. And yet: Up there (or down below, depending on which line you’re riding), there is certainly life.
At the beginning of the outbreak in NYC — when the cases were rising by the thousand every day, when the virus seemed to suddenly be everywhere — I dialed my outdoor activity down to zero. I stocked my cupboards with a 30-day supply of food in case I had to officially quarantine myself. I ordered indoor workout equipment. I began a seemingly endless routine of streaming TV shows in quick succession. I swore I would make progress through the backlog of books that I’d bought for now cancelled trips. I promised to do yoga. But none of those things really came to fruition. Instead, a deeply seeded inertia began moving from inside out — my small joys evaporated, my rituals went dark. What was happening was mourning, really — mourning the loss of motion that had supplanted my less-healthy coping mechanisms from so many years ago.
For those first few weeks, I was terrified to get on my bike. The paths along the waterfronts and over the bridges — the safest to use because they are generally guarded and separate from street traffic — were packed with like-minded people. Everyone needed a break from the tedium and claustrophobia of their tiny New York apartments. But in a city of 9 million, when everyone wants to go outside for just an hour or so a day, it’s impossible to safely stay away from anyone else. Those waterside bike paths fill with other bikers and joggers and pedestrian overflow from the sidewalks. You are only ever inhaling the exhalations of others. Who knows who has coughed just a few feet ahead of you? What pathogen is riding that breeze?
The crowds weren’t surprising — I had avoided those officially scenic bike routes before COVID for the same reason. I also knew that crowded streets were far less likely — even in good times — if I biked away from the river and deeper into the boroughs, which I’d done a few times over the years.
From my apartment, I went east, first across Bed-Stuy and then into Bushwick — that part I was certain about. After those neighborhoods, I knew was Queens, but I had no clear plan other than my sense of direction. Keeping track of my right turns and my left turns as necessary, I cut a crooked route that more or less became a long loop. I crossed streets I hadn’t heard of before — ones that bore the old names of the city. the Dutch ones like Onderdonk and Himrod. I passed small, beautiful parks with greens lined by cherry trees and magnolias. Panaderias with open doors revealing cases of pan dulce. Retail relics like the Liberty Department Store on Myrtle, its big red sign visible from blocks away. The scent of pastries coming from Grimaldi’s Bakery. In some places the huge old tenement buildings pressed almost right up to the street. In others, pretty brick row houses with bay windows sat back quietly from the road. Old Jewish synagogues. Massive churches. Pentecostal storefronts. Flower shops. Botánicas. VFWs.
When I got home I mapped my route to track the miles I’d logged. But really, I’ve always had a fascination with maps — drawing them and poring over road atlases as a kid, and staring at them for untold hours as an adult traveler in anticipation of a trip. From what I could tell, I’d cut across Bed-Stuy and Bushwick into Ridgewood. While I was familiar with certain parts of these neighborhoods — I live on the western border of Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant is in Bushwick, and I’d gone to queer parties at venues in Ridgewood — my experience of them had, of course, been segmented. New York, as it always does, rendered these places as little satellites connected by underground tunnels. Your own interests in the context of regular life determine your internal map of the city, and this map is, by nature, exclusionary. The thing travel has always stirred in me, it seems, is forcing an acknowledgement that the fabric of any place is a more wholistic thing.
I expanded the map to see what was beyond Ridgewood. There was a belt of cemeteries to the southeast, with Highland Park and Cypress Hills beyond it. To the northeast, Glendale, Middle Village, and Forest Hills. Each afternoon or evening when I left my house on my bike, I went farther. I noted how the scenery changed. How the apartments shifted from massive apartment blocks in Bushwick and Ridgewood to single-story row-houses in Glendale to beautiful brick Tudor buildings in Forest Hills to the mansions of Highland Boulevard in Cypress Hills. You could see the character change in the businesses too: Italian bakeries and civic organizations along Myrtle Avenue in Glendale; Mexican speciality shops in Ridgewood; Dominican and Puerto Rican flags in Bushwick. The reggaeton, the trap, the bachata, the screeching wheels of the elevated trains, the nonstop sirens of our moment.You can see the neighborhoods that the city cares for and the ones it neglects — old-growth trees lining some streets and others without a shred of green.
The pleasure in all of this is the sense of discovery, which, of course, isn’t discovery at all. It’s happening upon a place that has been there all along and which, now known to you, can bring something into your life. You find these places at street level, not online. You get the texture and the sound and the sight all at once, without filters — no mitigating reviews of those who’ve already been; no curation by what photographs nicely; no algorithms trying to feed you what the computers think you’ll enjoy most. Like when travel is at its most perfect, when the serendipity hits just right. You stumble upon a place or a person or a thing that you’ll come to love. You catch a vibe.
If I happen to be biking a street I’ve already seen, I’ll go faster. Once I’ve hit the unknown, I slow down. I make mental notes of the places I’ll come back to when they’re open again. When I feel I’ve gone far enough, I turn around and try to untangle the streets, making my way back home. In my body, I notice some of the same feelings I’ve had when aimlessly wandering cities on other continents: that little clench in the gut that’s thrilling, the moment when you aren’t exactly lost, but when you’ve come to understand that you’re surrounded by newness, or at least something that is new to you in the most foreign way. This is the feeling that took the place of all of my worst habits. I suppose it saved my life.
For the foreseeable future, none of us are going anywhere. And so, the light at the end of the tunnel is that maybe these small shops, these bakeries and restaurants and cafes, will be there on the other side of this. And that until I can fly away from New York City, I’ll make do on my bike and the thrills that are here that I’d never thought to find.
Come with us on a meditative walking tour of Paris. Starting at a small, peaceful park, we’ll take a walk to a cafe. Along the way, we’ll wander from the Left Bank over the Ile de la Cite, along the Ile Saint-Louis, and across to the Right Bank.
We’ll pass gardens, parks, and bistros, cross bridges, and soak up the springtime splendor of Paris. We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in, close your eyes, and imagine yourself exploring the City of Light.
Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.
Vacations are going virtual … for now. So dust off your empty suitcase, pour a drink of choice, and virtually travel with us to your dream destination.
An arts and culture haven in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is sharing food, music, and outdoor activities you can experience in your home.
Recipes to make at home include this quick and classic vodka martini from the Martini Workshop Lounge at The Foundry Hotel: A twist on the classic vodka martini, Workshop Lounge’s Martini features floral notes from the aromatic mixture of Hendrick’s Gin. In a shaker, add ice, 3/4 oz. dry vermouth, and 3 oz. Hendrick’s Gin. Mix well, strain, and pour the drink into a martini glass. Garnish with an olive.
Head Down Under without the long flight by immersing yourself in Tourism Australia’s 360-degree aquatic and coastal experiences on YouTube. See the waves roll in along the Great Ocean Road, watch the sun set over Sydney Harbour, discover the rugged scenery along Tasmania’s Three Capes Track, and more.
The fan-favorite hotel and resort chain has tons of online content with its Club Med at Home program. From yoga routines to hotel virtual tours to quizzes to kid’s activity plans, there’s plenty to do. You can even sign up for a weekly newsletter filled with more ideas and activities.
From the bustling streets of Prague to kayaking in Cesky Krumlov, there are a variety of virtual experiences available for the Czech Republic’s UNESCO Sights, monuments and museums, as well as its arts and culture, like the Czech Opera. Other ways to virtually experience the Czech Republic are through this curated reading list or take a quiz about which castle in the country you should live in.
Head to the Sunshine State, virtually that is. Visit Florida has compiled a range of virtual vacations, from aerial views of the beach to underwater videos.
Bring the magic of Orlando to your home with dozens of virtual experiences hosted by the city’s tourism board. Online experiences range from streaming IMAX films, virtual go-karting, and floating down a lazy river.
Naples just launched “Paradise in Place”, which is a collection of resources from area webcams to Facebook Lives of the town’s zoo.
St. Pete is also joining in on the travel-from-home fun by sharing local recipes, live beach webcams, music, and an augmented reality virtual art tour from the Salvador Dali Museum.
Head to the vineyards in France, climb the Eiffel tower, tour the Louvre, and more from your computer screen with Explore France’s roundup. The tourism board has also curated book and movie lists to keep you further entertained.
For the true history buffs, you can take an online course through The Great Courses and learn more about the country’s fascinating history and cultural treasures.
Transport yourself to the Hawaiian Islands with online experiences like a virtual field trip of the Battleship Missouri Memorial or learn how to traditional dance with the Polynesian Cultural Center. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and you can find interactive exercises and commemorations online, here.
While Jamaica can’t bring its sun, sand, and surf to you, it can help you bring the vacation spirit home. Start out by recreating this traditional Blue Mountain Coffee body scrub at home, courtesy of Playa Hotels & Resorts: “Combine 1/2 cup ground coffee, 1/4 cup cold-pressed coconut oil, and one drop of your favorite essential oil. Apply 1/4 cup coffee oil to the entire body, using strong circular motions to assist the stimulation of blood flow. Use drops of the coffee oil under the eyes and place iced cucumbers on the eyes for added benefits. Rinse and enjoy.”
Then head to the kitchen to whip up some jerk pork chops using the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall’s recipe. Here’s what you’ll need: one ounce pimento seeds (all spice), 1 1/4 ounces Scotch bonnet pepper, 1/2 ounce fresh thyme, nine ounces onion (chopped), three ounces fresh garlic (peeled and chopped), 3 1/2 ounces fresh ginger (peeled and chopped), three ounces scallion (green onion, chopped), a pinch of chopped bay leaf, 1 1/2 ounces brown sugar, a pinch of ground cinnamon, a pinch of ground nutmeg, six ounces soy sauce (low sodium), two ounces olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of black peppercorns, and one ounce of white distilled vinegar. Got the goods? Now follow the instructions: “To prepare your Jerk marinade place all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and liquefy. Pour in a jar with a closed lid and keep it refrigerated. This marinade will last you a very long time as long as you keep refrigerated. Bone-in pork chops should be marinated 24 hours in advance with the marinade that you prepared the day before. Using a BBQ smoked grill, grill each chop for approximately eight minutes. Cover grill in between to obtain that awesome island smoke flavor.”
For a more visual taste of Jamaica, you can also check out the live stream at Rick’s Cafe. Things are pretty quiet right now, but you still see the sea sparkle and the breeze ruffle the curtains.
You’ll likely recognize many of Ireland’s landscapes from your favorite movies and TV series like the Star Wars series and Game of Thrones; now the country’s tourism board has curated entertainment experiences featuring Hollywood and the Emerald Isle.
Virtually experience this exciting destination with a variety of VR experiences on the region’s YouTube channel, like Chinese New Year and even jump off the world’s tallest bungee jump (from your computer, of course).
This historic European nation has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to bring you Heritage Malta Virtual Tours. Right now you’ll find more than 25 sites including museums, temples, forts, archaeological sites, and three of the country’s UNESCO Heritage sites, including the capital of Valletta.
Listen and eat like you’re in NOLA, from home. The city’s tourism board has a list of museums and other learning centers that are offering virtual experiences, like the Audubon Nature Insitute and the National WWII Museum. You can also take a virtual cooking class (or order a cookbook), a full list of participating chefs can be found here. Or, listen to a live stream of some jazz (or other local NOLA-based artists and bands).
Nashville’s tourism board, Visit Music City, has put together an entire portal of virtual experiences called “Visit Nashville from Home.” From a virtual tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery to a weekly radio broadcast of The Grand Ole Opry, you can have your Tennessee whiskey and listen to some honky-tonk tunes all from your couch.
Check out the full list of virtual attractions in Nashville here.
Leave it to New York City to put its entire city online. NYC Go has a list of seemingly endless virtual experiences that you can find online. From live streams of performing arts and Broadway shows to genealogy discovery lessons with Ellis Island, you’ll find the complete list of online activities here. You’ll find us virtually exploring the New York Botanical Garden and taking a free ballet class with the New York City Ballet on Instagram.
NYC-boutique hotel brand Arlo Hotels is hosting virtual programming like Monday Movie Nights, Tuesday Tutorials, a Weekend Reads book club, and more on its Instagram Live channel. NYC residents get extra perks with free delivery from Harold’s and different menu combos.
For those who want to experience the City of Brotherly Love, check out the tourism board’s roundup of activities to experience Philadelphia from Home. Virtual activities include the Philadelphia Zoo, dozens of museums, and curated playlists on Spotify featuring local and legendary artists.
Visit Portugal has a variety of ways that you can explore Portugal from home, including reading lists and dozens of videos on its YouTube channel as a part of its #CantSkipHope campaign. Pour yourself some port wine and enjoy the views.
Escape to the Caribbean with Puerto Rico’s virtual weekend getaway. Each weekend the tourism board is lining up virtual activities like salsa dancing, cocktail making, and cooking classes. Stay up to date on what’s planned by following @discoverpuertorico on social media.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Velas Resorts is virtually offering classes and workshops for the next 40 days to help share Mexico’s culture and experiences with you at home. Join here and on social media for activities like a Mexican toy workshop, resort-chef led cooking classes, hotel-style bed making, yoga for kids, massage lessons by the resort’s massage therapists, and more. Follow hashtag #BetterTogether on Velas Resorts’ social media channels for more info.
A handful of the city’s museums and animal attractions have made their entertainment accessible online. Families and kids will particularly find many of the streams exciting, like access to The DoSeum, San Antonio’s children’s museum, as well as the city’s zoo. Additionally, the San Antonio Museum of Art has put its entire collection online, free of charge. The museum is also offering virtual storytime and lesson plans that are free for educators.
Sonoma County has been creative in the ways it’s bringing wine-country living into homes around the world. Inman Wines is hosting Meet the Maker happy hours, Belden Barns is launching a virtual tasting series on Sundays, and Kendall-Jackson is hosting virtual wine tastings via Instagram (or watch anytime on its IGTV channel), and has a playlist inspired by harvest time.
Sonoma is a family-friendly place, and that’s on full display in the way that kids can visit virtually right now. Safari West is posting videos to its Facebook page, Charlie’s Acres is running virtual animal visits on its social channels, and the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County is offering toddler activities on its Instagram page. The Museum of Sonoma County even has a virtual Escape Room experience.
If St. Lucia has been on your bucket list, as it is on ours, head there virtually with the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority’s “7 Minutes in Saint Lucia.” You’ll find experiences like yoga at the Pitons, tropical cocktail making, hiking the Tet Paul Nature Trail, and Caribbean cooking classes on Instagram @TravelSaintLucia, twice per week.
The Monteverdi Tuscany is introducing a new streaming music program to benefit the many musicians the hotel has worked with over the years through its cultural programming. Enjoy its efforts to help locals while you’re stuck at home.
The virtual performances have already debuted on the Monteverdi Tuscany Instagram account @Monteverdi_Tuscany featuring a tenor and a violinist of the Metropolitan Opera. Both artists are sharing their memories of performing at the property and performances recorded separately in their homes.
#VirtuallyVancouver (hosted by the tourism board) rounds up a variety of armchair activities to explore the Pacific Northwest city. Take a virtual tour of the cherry blossoms with a series of Tree Walks, view the live cam at the Vancouver Aquarium, view an entrant film for VIFF (Vancouver International Film Festival), and plenty more.
Our sister site is hosting hundreds of virtual tours, both free and paid, for you to explore from your couch for the ultimate armchair travel. From 360 videos to virtual cooking classes to guided museum tours, the tour-booking site has everything you could possibly dream of virtually doing, all in one place.
Experience a Viking cruise from your television with Viking’s launch of Viking.TV. In addition to housing onboard content, the cruise line is hosting live content with experts and cultural partners each week. Tune in for Museum Mondays, Resident Historian Tuesdays, Wednesdays with Music, Guest Speaker Thursdays, Fridays at Home at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey fans take note!), and Wellness Weekends, as well as daily conversations with the executive vice president, Karine Hagen. You’ll also find suggested reading lists, music playlists, and film recommendations for popular itineraries, so you can start daydreaming about your next cruise vacation.
Virtual Disney World
Experience the thrill of dozens of Disney World rides on YouTube. From classics like Splash and Space Mountain to even Monorail rides, it’s the perfect way to recreate your postponed Disney vacation. The Virtual Disney World YouTube channel (not affiliated, sponsored, or endorsed by the Walt Disney Company) notes that the 360-degree videos are best experienced with a VR headset or a smartphone with a virtual headset, such as Google Cardboard or Samsung VR, and recommends using the YouTube app for the full 360-degree experience.
Share Your Virtual Vacation or Travel Inspiration With Us:
Are you itching to travel? So are we … that’s why we started the #GoLater campaign on social media. We want to see which destinations YOU are dreaming of. Head over to our Instagram channel (@smartertravel) to learn more.
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As countries lock down in an attempt to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists have canceled their trips and citizens are being told to stay home. The destinations below are usually swarmed with tourists crowding for a good view, trying to get that perfect photo. Today they are largely empty. Streets are deserted, metro stations quiet, shops and cafes closed. These images of empty cities offer a different view that we don’t often, if ever, see—and despite the circumstances, they have a certain melancholy beauty.
A police officer stands in front of the Spanish Steps on March 12, 2020.
New York, New York
Times Square stands mostly empty on March 21, 2020.
Madrid’s Puerta del Sol is deserted on March 15, 2020.
A lone tourist sits in an empty Trafalgar Square on March 23, 2020.
Piazza del Duomo is shuttered in Florence on March 24, 2020.
Few tourists gather around the Eiffel Tower on March 17, 2020.
Old Town Square is empty in Warsaw, Poland.
Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate is void of tourists on March 21, 2020.
A railway platform is empty for Janata Curfew in Kolkata on March 22, 2020.
The typically busy streets of Amsterdam are nearly empty on March 7, 2020.
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Editor’s Note: This snapshot of life in Italy under COVID-19 lockdown comes from Nancy Raff, an American expat who has lived in Italy for nearly a decade, and who shares her experiences of life in a small Tuscan village on her website and weekly newsletter.
I love Italians. But I’m falling more head-over-heels each day of this coronavirus lockdown witnessing their magic—which is unfolding with a certain Italian flair.
There’s pride in the air about doing this extraordinary thing for the common good. Marry that with an insatiable need to connect and some creativity, and touching things happen. Right now there’s a 70 percent approval rating for what the Italian government is doing—and 70 percent of Italians agreeing on anything is a miracle.
I am particularly amazed given that almost everyone I know has a small business with no income stream right now, and none for the foreseeable future as everything is closed except for grocery stores and the pharmacy. This lockdown hits particularly hard because the Italian culture is the opposite of staying home alone: It’s all about cheek kissing, loads of touching during even the most casual conversations, and crowding into coffee bars to exchange gossip.
Different countries handle lockdowns in their own way, with some novel ideas to burn off stress and connect. But I wanted to share a few things that have happened this week in Italy.
The Stay-at-Home Flash Mobs
My Italian friends are sharing videos from all over the country, and the streets are truly filled with music. Ideas come up on social media encouraging people to open their windows at coordinated times to sing. Songs have ranged from the national anthem to a popular 1970s pop song, to a locally popular ballad. This usually happens at six in the evening, and sometimes our village bells ring and ring in solidarity. I dare you to watch some of these short videos and not cry. Or this one, of people dancing in their homes, and not smile.
Tonight we turned on flashlights and waved them from our windows at 9 p.m. People were waving their lights back and forth and calling out “ciao!” across our small valley.
A Milanese friend says that everyone goes to their windows and applauds at noon in honor of the medical community and support staff who haven’t left hospitals in weeks. People are also lighting candles and putting them in windows in appreciation.
“It Will Be Fine”
Kids all over the country are creating drawings of rainbows with the phrase “Andrà tutto bene,” or “it will be fine,” and placing them in windows. It warms the heart.
#iorestoacasa posters are the other signs you see around, both online and on houses: The pledge means “I stay at home.”
Life at the Grocery Store
The stores let one person in at a time, allowing time for them to put on plastic gloves that are provided by the entrance, and for the first customer to get well into the store before they let in the next person. The two times we’ve gone everything was fully stocked, EVEN TOILET PAPER. The staff wore masks, as did all but a very few customers. The checkout lines have demarcations on the floor for keeping a “distance of security” between people. Our experience shopping has been calm and orderly. It seems like people feel that the fundamentals—food, fuel, trash pickup—are under control and they don’t need to hoard.
Life at the Pharmacy
Pharmacies are one of the best things about Italian life. It’s the first line of defense for all matters of health, with smartly trained pharmacist/doctors to consult about minor health issues, to do small procedures, and to give prescription medicine if they deem appropriate. Only two people at a time can enter a pharmacy. The counter is cordoned off so all customers stand over a meter away from the pharmacist and register. The best thing is that they have contracted a local lab to make hand sanitizer—which is pretty impressive with there being only two in the area.
Online School, So Far
My friends’ kids who are continuing school online seem to be enjoying it. My friend in Milan said her daughter gets up every morning and gets dressed for online school. Her athletics teacher is even holding remote yoga classes, requesting that students get on their mats in front of their camera.
Signs of Italian Pride are Growing
People are starting to hang Italian flags from balconies. And this display from the air force with the sound track of Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma, “let no one sleep,” is moving. And not in a chest-bounding, nationalistic way: Italians rarely think of themselves as a unified country except for during the World Cup, so this kind of display is extraordinary.
Italians Are Keeping a Sense of Humor
There are all sorts of different memes that I particularly love, playing on Italian women’s devotion to salons, and hair removal in particular. The salons are, of course, all closed. The memes show what Italian women will look like when the lockdown lifts (which was originally said to be April 3, but clearly no one knows.)
We’re All in This Together
I wanted to close with something circulating on Italian social media:
“This is an opportunity to turn an emergency into an opportunity of solidarity and unity. Let’s change the way we see and think. I will no longer say ‘I’m afraid of this contagion’ or ‘I don’t care about this contagion,’ but it is I who will sacrifice for you.
I worry about you. I keep a distance for you. I wash my hands for you. I give up that trip for you. I’m not going to the concert for you. I’m not going to the mall for you.
For you who are inside an ICU room. For you who are old and frail, but whose life has value as much as mine. For you who are struggling with cancer and can’t fight this too.
Please, let’s rise to this challenge!
Come together…nothing else matters.”
I feel an overwhelming sense that we are alone in our homes, but all in this together. And I am proud to be a part of it.
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Nancy Raff moved from California to a small village in Tuscany with her family eight years ago, and lives full-time in Italy running her creative agency and sharing Italian adventures, destination advice, and recipes at itch.world. Follow her on Instagram at @itch.world.
If you use Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare services while traveling in new places, there are a few specific safety tips you should keep in mind to avoid dangerous situations. Uber lists some of these on its website under Rider Safety Tips, but the list is incomplete. Here’s what you need to do before, during, and even after your ride to ensure rideshare safety for you and others.
Rideshare Safety Tips for Travelers
Make these 11 rideshare safety tips part of your routine, whether you’re traveling around your hometown or in a new and unfamiliar destination.
Share Your Trip
When traveling alone, especially at night, always share your trip with others. It’s the easiest and quickest way to let someone track your whereabouts in case something happens during your ride. The person you share your trip with will get a notification to their phone and be able to follow along via GPS. To do so, hit the “Share trip status” option with Uber and “Share ride details” with Lyft.
This is an often overlooked part of rideshare safety, but an important step to take once your ride is complete. Post-trip, make sure to rate your driver and leave helpful feedback so you can keep good drivers on the road and bad ones off.
Keep Your Personal Info Confidential
There’s no harm in exchanging pleasantries with your driver, but avoid giving him or her any personal information, like how long you’re traveling for, where you live, your phone number, or any other contact information.
Request Your Ride While Inside
If you can, request your ride while indoors to avoid lingering outside too long with your phone out, which may attract thieves or pickpockets.
Confirm Your Driver and Car Before Getting In
There are some reported cases of scammers posing as rideshare drivers, so always confirm the license plate and name of your driver before getting in, and check their appearance against the photo in the app. And, if you’re getting picked up in a popular area, like an airport, this will also avoid accidentally taking someone else’s ride.
Pro tip: Always ask a driver for the name of the passenger before you get in the car instead of saying your name first. This way, you can be 100 percent sure that person is your driver.
Wear Your Seatbelt
Just because you’re in someone else’s car or riding in the back seat doesn’t mean you’re at less of a risk of being in an accident. Always buckle up—drivers appreciate it. Under Uber’s description of “Your Rating” you’ll find that wearing your seatbelt is listed as an item that helps your passenger rating.
Sit in the Back Seat
If you’re traveling alone, always choose the back seat. According to Dave Sutton, spokesperson for Who’s Driving You?, a public safety campaign from the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association that promotes for-hire vehicle safety, “Many of the incidents that we’ve seen … have happened to passengers riding up front.”
Check Your Driver’s Rating
Both Uber and Lyft allow passengers to rate drivers on a scale of one to five Always double-check that your driver has prior experience and a rating as close to 5.0 as possible (over 4.8 is generally pretty good). Uber and Lyft may deactivate drivers whose ratings fall below a certain standard.
Never Pay Cash
A driver should never ask you to pay cash for your ride. Both Uber and Lyft give you an option to tip through the app after your trip, so there’s no need to have your wallet out during a rideshare.
Know Your Surroundings
If you’re in an unfamiliar city or area, make sure to track your route on your own maps app to ensure the driver is following the correct route. If you’re getting picked up from the airport, be sure to follow the prompted instructions when you open the rideshare app.
This also goes for the neighborhood and time of day you’re requesting a ride. Be smart and aware of open businesses around you and avoid calling rideshares alone late at night. If you’re getting picked up from a bar or restaurant, pay extra attention to these tips.
Call for Help
Both Uber and Lyft have emergency buttons that let you call 911 directly from the app if something goes wrong. The apps will display your current whereabouts so you can share them with the dispatcher during your call.
Sweaty, squinting, and red-eyed, I exited the cool waiting room’s automatic sliding glass doors. I got in the DiDi rideshare car outside the international clinic, preemptively thanked the driver, and opened my heavy paper bag of new medications: antibiotic eye drops to use every five hours, saline solution to use every six, antibiotic tablets and painkillers to take every 12, and cough medicine for whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. A receipt listed the out-of-pocket prices of my bloodwork appointment plus the medicines: $3,000—which I luckily didn’t have to pay thanks to the travel insurance that covered my unexpected need for healthcare abroad.
Pulling away from the small storefront of the Nanjing international clinic, we idled in traffic about a block away. I stared up at a behemoth building, a black glass skyscraper marked by red neon Chinese symbols that flashed and changed on its glass every several seconds. The parking lot was jam-packed with both cars and people.
“What’s this building?” I asked my local guide, who was accompanying me in the back seat. “A movie theater?”
She looked at me and smiled slightly: “That’s the hospital.” I felt my swollen eyes widen, and redirected them to my bag of medicinal loot.
I don’t recommend getting sick in China (as I did in mid-2019). But if you’re going to come down with bronchitis and a bacterial infection on vacation, somewhere with ample tea and warm hospitality is not a bad place for you to be. I unequivocally do recommend, however, having travel medical insurance—preferably from a company with a user-friendly app you can pre-download on your phone. It’ll afford you the luxury of entering and exiting a clinic to see an English-speaking doctor abroad in a fraction of the time that a 3,000-bed hospital would ever be able to see you.
How to Find the Right Healthcare Abroad
Because I have a medication allergy, I felt it was crucial I saw an English-speaking doctor so I could be confident in the prescription I received. While navigating the many international clinics in the college city of Nanjing, I learned a lot about how to responsibly find covered healthcare abroad. Here’s how to purchase and navigate medical travel insurance, find a good doctor or clinic, and ensure you won’t be stuck with the bill.
Researching your insurance options and purchasing medical travel insurance coverage for your specific needs is the first step to being able to find healthcare abroad, and there are a number of things to consider. If you’re going to be participating in adventure activities like kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking, make sure you purchase a policy that doesn’t exclude “dangerous activities.” Travel insurance policies with good medical coverage will also include worst-case scenario expenses up to and including emergency medical flights home and repatriation of a body, which would otherwise cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.
You’ll also want to know the general state of medical services in your destination so you can make an informed decision in an emergency. For example, I knew public hospitals in China often have hours-long wait times, so instead I pounced on an available appointment at a private international clinic that my insurance covered.
If you aren’t familiar with the country you’re visiting, the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see what type of medical services will be available to you once you’re there. Select your country and look for the “Health” section. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has destination-specific health information, and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides free destination-specific health information as well.
Know Your Medications
Knowing the generic/medical names of common medications can be helpful when you’re talking to a doctor about your prescriptions or hunting for over-the-counter remedies in a foreign country. Many doctors abroad speak English, but they might not know what the brand-name medication you take contains since it’s not available to their patients. Keep in mind the following generic medication names in case you need to purchase them from a pharmacy:
Bayer, others= aspirin
Pepto-Bismol= bismuth subsalicylate
Antacids= calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
Choose a High-Tech (and 24-Hour) Medical Insurance Provider
Keep your standards high when it comes to purchasing travel medical insurance—you are paying for it, after all. Straightforward insurance that gets you healthcare abroad doesn’t need to be pricey to come with a high-tech app and 24/7 support: It’s easy to weigh options and seek out one that has both thanks to search-and-compare options like SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.com. (Also note that, like most private insurance companies in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover healthcare abroad.)
The specific insurance provider you choose will probably depend on your preferences and possibly your home location, but there should be options available that have high-tech features like an app no matter where you are. My coverage for healthcare abroad was with GeoBlue, which offers an app with covered doctor listings by country and fast 24/7 phone support. If you have a credit card that offers travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure it offers the medical support you could need; if it doesn’t, buy your own separately.
The CDC lists some resources that can help you locate a doctor abroad, and states that the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination should also have doctor recommendations. But the only way to see a list of providers in your destination that are covered by your insurance is typically via the medical insurance company’s app or customer service line—which should offer 24/7 contact, in case you’re visiting somewhere with a tricky time difference. International travel clinics are usually named as such, and when in doubt you can call the office to confirm; those with bilingual doctors typically have an automated recording that will prompt you to select a language.
Payment Approval and Proof of Insurance
Approval of funds from your insurance company can be referred to as “direct payment approval” or “direct deposit approval,” and you might need this authorization sent before you even set foot in a doctor’s office. It guarantees that the insurance company will pay the provider directly so you don’t have to. Whether or not you’ll need one varies depending on the destination and type of doctor/clinic you’re visiting, but it was necessary for me in China—so I was happy to have an insurance provider that was readily available to confirm coverage to the clinic I was visiting, especially because it was 2:00 a.m. at home at the time of my appointment.
You’ll probably also need proof of insurance. Keep your insurance card, or at least a digital copy of it, handy in case you need to provide a policy number or contact info to the office you’re visiting. Many clinics require both proof of insurance and an accompanying payment approval before letting you see a doctor. And if direct payment isn’t required or doesn’t occur via your insurance provider for the healthcare you received abroad, you’ll likely need to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can—don’t wait too long to file one and risk finding out you’ll be billed.
Know It’s Worth It
Travel insurance can feel like a waste of money if you don’t end up using it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future. The slight chance that you might need emergency or even routine healthcare abroad makes travel medical insurance a necessity for every international trip. No one can anticipate if and when they’ll have a medical emergency, and not having coverage when you need it can be the difference between going on vacation and letting a doctor’s visit put you into debt.
How much of your precious vacation time are you willing to sacrifice to traffic congestion? That’s a question you should ask yourself before booking a rental car in any of the following cities, which have the worst traffic in the U.S. according to a study by INRIX, a “leader in mobility analytics and connected car services.”
The Worst Traffic in the U.S. Is In…
INRIX reports that the most traffic-congested city in the U.S. is Boston, where drivers lose an average of 149 hours a year to congestion. Things aren’t much better in Chicago, where commuters slogged through 145 hours of congestion each year.
Which U.S. cities were the worst? According to the 2019 Global Traffic Scorecard, the 10 most congested American cities, and the number of annual hours lost to congestion (read: stuck in traffic), were:
Boston – 149 hours
Chicago – 145 hours
Philadelphia – 142 hours
New York City – 140 hours
Washington, D.C. – 124 hours
Los Angeles – 103 hours
San Francisco – 97 hours
Portland, Oregon – 89 hours
Baltimore – 84 hours
Atlanta – 82 hours
Note that the cities were ranked not only by total hours lost to congestion but also other factors such as the cost of congestion per driver.
For travelers, there’s a clear link between congested cities and popular tourist destinations. You’ll want to consider timing your sightseeing to avoid rush hour and using public transportation (or walking) instead of driving while on vacation in these cities.
INRIX also identified America’s most congested roads, and the I-5 in Los Angeles between the I-10 and the I-605 took home this dubious honor. Los Angeles also claimed the number two spot, with the stretch of the 101 between the 134 and the 110. New York City’s Brooklyn Queens Expressway and I-95 claimed the third and fourth spot, and Atlanta’s I-85 rounded out the top five most congested U.S. roads in 2019.
The Worst Traffic Cities in the World
If you think Boston’s delays are bad, you might want to give Bogota and a miss. The Colombian capital was the most congested city in the world, with drivers sitting through a whopping 191 hours of delays a year. Other traffic-choked cities around the world include Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Istanbul, and Sao Paulo, with annual hours lost to congestion topping 150 in each.
Do you take local traffic conditions into consideration when choosing trip destinations?
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider travel abroad, and has banned arrivals from the entire continent of Europe.The below story is based on a 2019 survey of travelers and safety statistics from 2018.
Americans consider Australia to be the safest country for them to visit, according to travel insurance provider Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s annual survey findings. Data identifying the safest countries for U.S. travelers were developed out of the agency’s “State of Travel Insurance” survey of thousands of consumers last year as well as destinations’ local crime rates, terror threats, social welfare, and the State Department’s safety rating.
Seven of the top 10 “safest” destinations (in Americans’ eyes, at least) are in Europe, two are major Oceania nations, and one is an East Asian country. Two nations that made the list are destinations that many travelers should reconsider traveling to for now, according to the CDC, due to the COVID-19 epidemic impacting them both heavily: Italy and Japan. (See our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s breakdown of airlines’ waiver options during the epidemic.)
It’s also worth noting that, despite being a devastating event this winter, Australia’s wildfires have since been controlled, and are an event the country sees annually to some degree. “Any destination—even the safest place on Earth—can be struck by a natural disaster,” Berkshire Hathaway said in the report. “That’s why it pays to insure all your major trips.”
For each destination, the rankings often reference the Global Peace Index created by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which combines factors like crime, incarceration rates, militarization, and social welfare.
The ‘Safest’ Countries According to Surveyed Americans
Here are the safest countries for Americans according to the study as well as how they compare to U.S. State Department recommendations.
Australia rose from the number two spot it held last year thanks to very low rates of violent crime, political instability, and militarization—reflected in a good Global Peace Index rating. The State Department says it’s also at its safest level one rating, meaning that travelers should exercise normal precautions, with the exception of areas affected by bushfires and accompanying air quality issues being considered level two areas (exercise increased caution). After bushfire season, though, the best way to help Australia recover is to visit.
Sweden enjoys a good position on the Global Peace Index based on low crime rates, high levels of political stability, and low levels of political violence. As with other northern European countries, the main warning for pricey Sweden is usually that you’ll need lots of money to visit. The State Department puts Sweden at a level one rating, which is the safest.
3. New Zealand
“Like Australia, New Zealand ranked highly with Millennials in the Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection survey. In fact, it was Millennials’ choice as the safest destination on the planet,” the study said. “It’s not just American travelers who think highly of New Zealand. It also scored well in the Global Peace Index, the UL Safety Index, and the Global Finance Index.”
The Netherlands scored high for all measures and was particularly well liked by older travelers. It’s a repeat contender, having tied for the number five slot last year alongside Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the State Department raised the Netherlands’ alert to a level two (exercise increased caution) in July 2019 due to increased terror-attack threat.
Another newcomer to the study, France is a favorite among younger travelers. “It’s very clear that Millennial American travelers love France,” the study said. “They put it third overall for safety … a significant improvement over last year’s rankings.” Participants noted that Paris’ Metro usually has an increased police presence compared to other cities. The U.S. State Department has rated France at level two due to “terrorism and civil unrest.”
Iceland enjoys a top Global Peace Index rating as a result of very high marks for safety, social support, and political stability. One of the main problems you’ll face in Iceland is overtourism—the result of the fact that so many people agree it’s a great place. The State Department says it’s at level one.
Ireland, last year’s winner, has been bumped down significantly. But it’s still low on terrorism, political violence, and militarization. “The country remains extremely popular with affluent Millennials and older travelers, and it scores very well in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index,” Berkshire Hathaway stated. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.
A nation that hasn’t made many “safest places” lists since its economic downturn slowed tourism in the last decade, Greece earns its spot “thanks in part to affluent Millennials, who consider Greece one of their safest destinations,” said Berkshire Hathaway. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.
Berkshire Hathaway’s study credits Japan’s ratings with broader improvements ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, as well as “good scores in the Global Peace Index and the UL Safety Index.” The State Department gives Japan a level two travel advisory level for increased caution pertaining to COVID-19.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, is considered the nation’s cultural and economic center, with an abundance of museums and galleries, incomparable shopping, iconic beaches such as Copacabana, and, of course, the epically festive Carnaval. Rio is also home to a travelers’ bucket-list mainstay: the massive, art deco-style Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado.
But is Rio de Janeiro safe to visit? Unfortunately, the Rio crime rate is fairly high. Violent crime is a “frequent occurrence,” according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), while street crimes such as pickpocketing and purse snatching are “a constant concern,” happening all over Rio at all times of year. The 2016 Olympics actually exacerbated the Rio de Janeiro crime rate, though the city did see a reduction in shootings in 2019.
Rio crime, then, is to be taken quite seriously. “Criminals [in Rio] most often target their victims due to perceived wealth and lack of awareness,” according to OSAC, so it’s wise not to flaunt what you’ve got and always to appear alert and engaged with your surroundings.
If you are considering a trip and find yourself wondering, “Is Rio safe to visit?” read on for important advice on Rio de Janeiro safety.
Tips for Rio de Janeiro Safety
Is it safe to travel to Rio de Janeiro? That depends on where you go. Areas to avoid in Rio de Janeiro include Rocinha, Vila Mimosa, most of the city’s north zone, its favelas, and their neighboring areas including Del Castilho, Cascadura, Bangu, and Pavuna. Keep in mind, too, that even the safest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro can turn dangerous after dark.
Taking a cab in Rio? Make sure that it’s official and licensed by checking to see that it’s yellow with a blue stripe and red license plates; otherwise, you risk getting into an illegal or pirate taxi.
Keep away from Rio de Janeiro’s dangerous favelas; tourists who have wandered into these slums of Rio have ended up shot. Know where you’re going at all times, check maps, and don’t go down any unpaved or cobbled streets.
A key element of being able to stay safe in this iconic Brazilian city is knowing which areas to avoid in Rio de Janeiro, as well as which are the safest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. If you’re looking to sidestep Rio crime, stay away from Rocinha, Rio’s largest favela, where recent drug-related violence has been so severe that the military has needed to get involved.
It’s also wise to steer clear of Vila Mimosa, which is notorious for prostitution, as well as the city’s north zone, its favelas, and their neighboring areas including Del Castilho, Cascadura, Bangu, and Pavuna.
There are also certain areas in Rio that are safe to wander around in during the day—but where things change after dark. These include Centro, where nighttime muggings are common; Santa Teresa, where driving can be dangerous and it’s easy to end up in a violent favela; and Botafogo Beach and Flamengo Park, which are adjacent to each other and have a large population of people living in poverty, so thefts and violence spike at night.
How to Get Around Safely in Rio de Janeiro
How safe is Rio de Janeiro for tourists to navigate? Again, that depends on how you handle yourself and how you opt to get around.
There are lots of taxis in Rio, and using them can be relatively safe, though you’ll want to make sure that any cab you get into is licensed and metered—and that you call a taxi in advance or use a taxi app rather than hailing one off the street. To save yourself the risk of entering one of Rio’s many illegal or pirate taxis, only use yellow cabs with a blue stripe and state-issued red livery license plates, and never agree to pay your fare in advance of your ride, unless it’s at the airport’s licensed taxi desk.
Taking taxis is always preferable to taking Rio’s mini-buses, which host lots of crime and are unregulated. The metro, on the other hand, is considered a safe way for travelers to get around Rio de Janeiro, although tourists should always be alert for petty criminals, as they’re common on all forms of public transit in Rio; keep in mind that they often work in groups. Women should consider using the system’s women-only cars during crowded periods.
Wherever you are in Rio de Janeiro, always keep your bearings, plot all your routes in advance, and know exactly you are—especially in relation to your hotel. If you’re using GPS, make sure that the route doesn’t veer you into a dangerous favela. Don’t dress like a tourist, either—only wear beachwear at the beach, and leave all valuables at your hotel (or at home), bringing along only what you absolutely need.
Most places in Rio accept credit cards, but if you find the need to carry cash, stay away from shady-looking ATMs, using only those that are in reputable locations, like a bank or your hotel. One common form of crime in Rio de Janeiro are “express kidnappings,” during which a victim is forced to withdraw money from an ATM machine that they were just seen using, or taken around to different ATMs to withdraw money for the kidnappers; usually the victims are let go after the cash is stolen. This is yet another reason to avoid ATMs if at all possible.
If you’re in Rio to party, that’s great—the nightlife here is some of the world’s best—but proceed with caution and don’t lose sight of the fact that Rio crime is a real concern, especially after dark. Stay in the popular areas, don’t wander off by yourself, watch how many caipirinhas you’ve consumed, and never leave your drink unattended.
Keep in mind, too, that Rio de Janeiro does experience occasional natural disasters, including floods, mudslides, and major storms. If you find yourself in the midst of one of these events, head to higher ground and heed officials’ instructions. It’s also worth noting that the Zika virus is still a concern throughout Brazil, so take every precaution to protect yourself against mosquito bites while in Rio.
Favelas in Rio de Janeiro
Favelas are Rio’s neglected slums on the outskirts of the city. Violence within them is ever present and growing, thanks in large part to organized crime that centers around drug trafficking in Brazil. Travelers who have accidentally wandered into Rio’s favelas have gotten shot and injured.
Tourists in Rio, then, are advised not to go down unpaved, cobbled, or narrow streets, as these may lead into a favela. Check a map of the city that shows where Rio’s favelas are located (there’s a good one here), but if you’re unsure, ask at your hotel or inquire with local authorities.
Rio de Janeiro’s government began a “favela pacification program” to bring favelas under police control, but results were mixed. Unfortunately, they are still dangerous places with an increasing amount of violent crime, so travelers should steer clear. Though favela tours have become more popular as a safe way to learn about life in these areas, the U.K. government says they are best avoided.
You could spend hours daydreaming about the world’s best beach destinations. But how do you choose one that’s right for you?
The following list can help. All of the beaches below offer exceptional beauty, clean sand and water, and nearby tourist infrastructure—and many of them are trending upward in traveler popularity.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.
“Provo” is the picture-perfect Caribbean destination, one that’s been discovered but not overrun. There are clear turquoise waters, coral reefs for snorkeling, and soft white sand where you can beach comb for miles without encountering crowds. Groove to ripsaw music with the locals and savor conch fritters and jerk chicken at the outdoor island fish fry on Thursday nights.
Where to stay: The Oasis at Grace Bay offers rooms, suites, and villas just a short walk from the soft sand of Grace Bay Beach.
Find your beach nirvana on the southern peninsula of Bali, where scenes from Eat, Pray, Love were filmed. Spirituality infuses many aspects of daily life here, so expect encounters with local traditions that prompt a little soul searching.
Among Bali’s best beaches are Kelingking Beach, which requires some 500 steps to access (but don’t worry, the jaw-dropping views from above are worth it); and Gunung Payung Beach, one of the island’s hidden gems.
Where to stay: Highlights of a stay at the dreamy Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa include the warm, friendly service and the infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
Maui is among America’s most iconic bucket-list beach destinations. Its beaches—including Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua Beach—consistently rank among the best in the world. And what Maui lacks in affordability, it makes up for in beauty and novelty far beyond the perfect palm-fringed beaches.
Experience fire dancing at luaus, sunrise hikes to dormant volcano summits, and countless waterfalls along the curvy drive to Hana. And it’s now a little more affordable to get there: Southwest started regular service to Maui (and other Hawaiian destinations) from select West Coast cities last year.
Ringed with silky white sand, Grenada, the Caribbean’s “Spice Island,” even smells like paradise with all the nutmeg grown here. While you can find cruise passengers and hawkers if you go looking for them (at Grand Anse Beach, for instance), the beauty of this island lies in its quieter corners, including Morne Rouge Beach, the underwater sculpture park, and rainforest trails.
Grenada tourism is on the rise, with growth in visitor numbers over the past couple of years.
A 21-island archipelago and natural UNESCO World Heritage site 224 miles off the northern coast of Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is home to three of the world’s top-ranked beaches. One of them, Baia do Sancho, topped Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in the world.
The archipelago limits the number of visitors to protect its delicate ecosystems and wildlife. Those lucky enough to experience Noronha’s secluded beaches will see crystalline waters flanked by reddish sand, volcanic cliffs covered in lush vegetation, and dramatic sightings of the local spinner dolphins.
Where to stay: Rooms at Pousada Del Mares are simple but comfortable, with a location near restaurants, beaches, and shops.
White sand as soft as powdered sugar brings spring breakers and retirees in droves to Clearwater Beach, where restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops vie for space within sight of the calm waters. Clearwater made Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in America.
The 2018 release of the Mamma Mia! sequel brought the buzz back to the magical Greek Isles, where the storyline is set. Crete isn’t as popular—or pricey—as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still offers plentiful sun, sand, and history.
You can split time between the island’s rich culinary culture, ancient ruins, and alluring beaches. Laze in sheltered coves or on the top-rated Elafonissi Beach, a nearly mile-long protected stretch of white sand with shallow turquoise lagoons and sea turtles.
In between adventures such as swimming in waterfalls, hiking to the summit of Gros Piton, and kayaking to Pigeon Island, you can relax on St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches. Traveler favorites include Anse Mamin and Jalousie Beach.
Secluded and romantic, the 115-island Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, has a mystical draw. Seychelles’ beaches, including Anse Lazio on Praslin Island, are among the most photographed in the world.
Anse Lazio is a sweeping white crescent framed by granite rocks and tropical rainforest. It’s isolated but worth the effort to get to Anse Lazio, where solitude and nature reign. Or hop a 15-minute ferry from Praslin Island to La Digue to see the stunning pink sands of Anse Source d’Argent.
Where to stay: Hotel Cote d’Or overlooks a stunning white beach on Praslin Island and offers activities such as canoeing, beach volleyball, and even archery.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach is one of the most family-friendly and affordable beach destinations in the U.S. Here you’ll find 60 miles of sandy shores with nonstop fun for kids, plus reasonably priced condo-style accommodations that parents love.
There’s always something happening in Myrtle Beach, from the opening of new restaurants and breweries to special events year-round.
Where to stay: One of the newest hotels in town, South Bay Inn and Suites, is an ideal option for families with its indoor water park and convenient boardwalk location.