12 Offbeat Travel Ideas For 2013

valetta maltaMy annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to reflect on all the places I visited during the year and plot out where I want to go in the New Year. 2012 was a banner travel year for my family because we put all of our things in storage for five months and traveled extensively in Europe and North America. We gorged ourselves on donuts and thought we got scammed in Western New York’s Amish Country, learned how to flatfoot on Virginia’s Crooked Road, were heckled and intimidated at a soccer game in Italy, and drank homemade wine with the only two residents of the village of San Michalis, on the Greek island of Syros.

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For those of you who have made resolutions to hit the road in 2013, here are 12 travel experiences and destinations, most of them a little or very offbeat, that I highly recommend.


amish donuts12. Donut Crawl in Western New York’s Amish Country

Unlike Lancaster County and other more well known Amish areas around the country, Cattaraugus County’s Amish Trail is a place where you can experience Amish culture, and let’s be honest here – candy and donuts – without all the tourists and kitsch. I love the Amish donuts so much that I went in January and again in July. Because there aren’t many tourists in this region, you’ll find that many of the Amish who live here are just as curious about you as you are about them.

11. Soak Up Colonial Era History in Marblehead, Massachusetts

I’ve been visiting family members in Marblehead for nearly 20 years and I never get tired of this beautifully preserved, quintessential New England town. Marblehead gets a steady trickle of day-trippers from Boston – but don’t make that mistake – book a B & B in this town and dive into one of America’s most historic towns for a full weekend.

10. Save The Turtles, Eat the Fish Tacos and Ride The Waves in Safe, Scenic San Pancho, Mexico

If you want a low-key beach vacation in Mexico but aren’t into big resorts or large cities, look no further than San Pancho, which is only an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. It’s about as safe as Mayberry, and you can volunteer to help preserve marine turtles, eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever had and surf and frolic on a huge, spectacular beach.



sicilian man in gangi nicola seminara9. Visit Gangi, Italy’s Most Charming Hill Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Italy is filled with enchanting hill towns, but many of them are besieged with tourists. If you want to check out a lovely hill town in Sicily’s interior that hasn’t changed much in centuries, check out Gangi, where you’ll find everything you could want in an Italian hill town: a perfect central piazza, a medieval street plan you will get lost in, and perhaps the world’s best gelato at the Seminara Bar (no relation to me).

freiburg germany8. Eat the Real Black Forest Ham in Historic Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg is a gorgeous, highly underrated city in Germany’s Black Forest region that is a pedestrian and gourmand dream. Here in the U.S., companies can get away with calling any old ham “Black Forest ham” but in Freiburg, you can sample the real deal and you will taste the difference.




7. Discover Old Time Music on Virginia’s Crooked Road

Southwest Virginia has a 253-mile music heritage trail that’s a glorious little slice of Americana where you’ll find terrific homespun music played by passionate locals who have Old Time Music in their blood. Don’t miss venues like the Fries Theater and the Floyd Country Store and bring your dancing shoes.




enzo ferrari museum modena italy6. Check Out Evita Peron’s Ride at Italy’s New Ferrari Museum

I’m not even a car buff, but I loved visiting the new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, a picture-postcard small city in Emilia-Romagna, near Parma, that doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as it deserves. The museum pays tribute to the founder of Ferrari, who was born in the house next to the museum, and the automotive heritage of the Motor Valley, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati and other companies that make vehicles suitable for rap stars, professional athletes and others who like to be noticed.




5. Eat at the World’s Best Greek Restaurant in San Michalis, Syros, Population:2

Syros is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos but it gets only a tiny fraction of the tourists and I’m not sure why. It’s a gorgeous little island, with a thriving port, great beaches and To Plakostroto the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to, located in a striking, end-of-the-world village where you can see six neighboring islands.




4. Experience Bluegrass Nirvana at the Rosine Barn Jamboree in Kentucky

Every Friday night from March through early December, local musicians gather to jam at an old barn and general store in Rosine, Kentucky, the tiny little town where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music was born. This might be the best free music jam in the whole country and best of all, the regulars are the sweetest people you will ever meet.




samos3. Patmos & Samos Not Santorini and Mykonos

I’m obsessed with the Greek Isles. If I could spend my holidays in just one place anywhere in the world, it might be here. But I get a little frustrated by the fact that most Americans visit only Santorini & Mykonos. Both places are undeniably beautiful, but there are dozens of less expensive, less crowded islands that are just as nice. Patmos and Samos, in the eastern Aegean, are absolutely gorgeous and aren’t as crowded or expensive. Samos is known for its wine & honey, while Patmos is home to one of the most interesting monasteries in Greece.




obama pasticciotto2. Eat an Obama Pasticciotto in Italy’s Heel

The fact that Salento, a peninsula in Italy’s heel, has a chocolaty, gooey desert named after President Obama is just one reason to visit this very special but relatively off-the-radar part of Italy. Lecce is a baroque dream, a lively place with a great passegiata, unforgettable food and wine, very friendly people and fine beaches in the vicinity.




1. Make Friends in Valletta, Malta

I had but one day in Valletta and I spent a big chunk of it trying to track down a retired Maltese civil servant who chided me for misrepresenting the country at a school model U.N. in 1986, but I saw enough of this city to want more. Valletta is a heartbreakingly picturesque port, with gently decaying sandstone buildings, warm people, dramatic Mediterranean vistas and artery-clogging pastizzis, which were my favorite treat of 2012.

Why Bolivia Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

amazon jungle Before traveling to Bolivia, I received mixed opinions on whether the country was a worthwhile destination to add to my itinerary. Because I wanted to find out for myself firsthand, I – thankfully – made sure I did. Now, Bolivia is one of my favorite travel destinations on the planet. Here’s why:

It Offers One-Of-A-Kind Adventures

Where else can you bike the world’s most dangerous road, explore the planet’s largest forest and hike the Earth’s longest continental mountain range all on one vacation? From La Paz, you can sign up to cycle the Death Road, a 43-mile narrow path with a steep drop-off known for being extremely dangerous. Bolivia also offers a gateway to the Amazon Jungle, and tours are often cheaper than from other countries. Once in Rurrenabaque, you can decide whether you want to go to The Amazon or The Pampas, which has excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, although it can be quite a harrowing experience. Additionally, the Andes Mountains run through Bolivia, and offer adventurous options like trekking, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, bird watching and more.It’s Budget-Friendly

Actually, it’s more than budget-friendly. To most Westerners, it’s downright cheap. Many have no problem traveling for less than $20 per day, depending on the activities done. With basic accommodation for less than $10 per night, local food for less than $1 and cheap transportation, you can spend a lot of time here for very little. For example, I actually complained once about having to pay $3 for a 20-minute cab ride. In Bolivia, that’s expensive. Moreover, one night a group of six new friends and I went to the Hard Rock Cafe, a more touristy option but also loved by locals, for a night out. All seven of us ordered food, drank cocktails nonstop and orders bottles of wine. At the end of the night, the bill was still less than $70 total.

locals in bolivia The Locals Are Friendly

Before heading to Bolivia, I was warned about dangerous locals who were out to get tourists. This, as usual, was advice given to me by people who had never actually visited the country. In my experience, most of the locals I met were extremely friendly and excited to get to know more about my culture. A bit of Spanish may be necessary for this, as many Bolivians don’t speak English. Even so, if you need help most locals will try their best to point you in the right direction. Of course, watch your belongings and use common sense; however, I traveled through the country as a solo female and made it through without a problem.

There Is An Undiscovered Wine Region

While most travelers are aware of the delicious vinos to be had in Argentina and Chile, Tarija in Bolivia features an undiscovered wine region. Surprisingly enjoyable, what makes these grapes unique is they’re grown around 6,000 feet in elevation. Head to La Valle de la Concepción, or Conception Valley, which features boutique vineyards and bodegas to partake in wine tasting. Don’t expect upscale and precise wine creations like in the more popular places like Napa and Mendoza. Bolivian vino is simpler and less structured, nothing too complex but drinkable and fitting with the country’s seemingly unpretentious, “anything goes” philosophy.

salar de uyuni You’ll View Unworldly Terrain

After journeying across the Soleli Desert, I am convinced Bolivia has the most unusual landscape on Earth. I witnessed hot pink lagoons filled with flamingos, sparkling yet toxic lakes, active and inactive volcanoes, enormous deadly geysers, surreal rock formations, an old train graveyard, smoking hot springs and the world’s largest salt desert, among other bizarre sights. From La Paz, I also went horseback riding through Moon Valley, which appears like a desert full of stalagmites and rainbow-colored mountains, reminding me once again how unusual yet beautiful the country’s landscape was.

You’ll Get High

In terms of altitude, Bolivia is a very high country. For example, at 11,975 feet, La Paz is the world’s highest de facto capital city. You’ll get to take part in some of the planet’s highest activities. Visit the world’s highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, at 12,464 feet, relax at the world’s highest beer spa in La Paz and take a cable car up to the tallest Jesus statue in the world, Christ de la Concordia, at 112.2 feet tall.

corn and potatoes There Is A Vibrant Culture

Indigenous culture is visible in Bolivia, and visitors can witness locals in time-honored dress, taste traditional foods and learn about ancient customs. Even in the big cities like La Paz, you’ll see locals dressed in a traditional pollera skirt and bowler hat. Visitors can sample cuisine that has been influenced by the Andes region, with ingredients like corn, potatoes and quinoa, as well as the arrival of the Spaniards, with staples like rice, chicken and pork. Cultural festivals, like the indigenous Carnaval in Oruro, Alasitas in La Paz and La Virgen de las Nieves in Italque and Copacabana are still celebrated. You’ll also encounter rituals done for Pachamama, or “Mother Earth,” who provides life, food and safety for the people. For example, when toasting with a drink, locals will usually pour a bit on the floor in honor of Pachamama. Moreover, you can head to the “Witches’ Market” in La Paz and purchase a mummified llama fetus. When locals buy a new home, they offer the item to Pachamama by burying it under the foundation for good luck.

Visible History Still Exists Today

Through architecture, storytelling, ruins and colonial towns you’ll be able to learn much about Bolivia’s history. One of the most famous historical cities in Bolivia is Potosi. Founded in 1545, the city held an abundance of silver and was once the wealthiest city in all the Americas. Sadly, Potosi’s isn’t the happiest of stories, as many indigenous people died in the mines working in unimaginable working conditions, which are still visible today. Exploring Potosi, you’ll take in colonial architecture, grand churches, industrial monuments, artificial lakes, a complex aqueduct system and patrician houses. This, combined with the fact it’s such a prime example of a silver mine in modern times, has put Potosi on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey]