New York Times names 31 places to go in 2010

As the final weeks of 2009 stretch into the first few weeks of 2010, we see a lot of lists predicting the hot destinations for the next year or telling us where we should plan on going in the next 365 days. The New York Times recently put out their list, but unlike some lists that just seem to be composed at random, based on an individual’s personal travel wishlist, this list actually makes a lot of sense.

Rather than just naming the destinations, the NYT gives reasons behind each choice. For instance, Sri Lanka, where nearly 25 years of fighting has recently ended, seems poised to become a much more popular beach destination in the region. It also makes sense that Seoul, which has been named the World Design Capital of 2010 and is set to host hundreds of related events throughout the year, will see more visitors in 2010. The Times also makes the case for visiting Antarctica this year, as new rules governing cruise ship visits may make it more difficult and more expensive in the future.

Other destinations on the list include such destinations as Los Angeles Shanghai, Costa Rica, Istanbul, Colombia, and Nepal. On the list or not, where are you planning on traveling in 2010?

The world’s most bizzare spa treatments

I’m not not usually a spa kind of girl. I like the occasional de-stressing massage, pore-clearing facial or special occasion mani-pedi, but mud baths, seaweed wraps, and caviar scrubs just aren’t for me. Neither are some of the bizarre and ridiculous spa treatments Forbes Traveler has rounded up from across the globe.

A few actually don’t sound that unusual. A wine and honey wrap is supposed to help you sweat out toxins, a goat yogurt facial will help clear your skin, and the cactus puree used in a massage will help reduce the appearance of cellulite. But a few others sound so off-the-wall you have to wonder who would be foolish enough to try them out.

A “cedar enzyme bath” may be a clever name, but really all you’re doing is sitting in a big tub full of sawdust. Why not save yourself a hundred bucks and head down to the gristmill? And, seriously – heated golf-ball massage? I highly doubt there are any magical healing properties contained in a set of microwaved balls.

Treatments involving animals seem equally wrong. I have a fish phobia so I wouldn’t climb into a pool and let hundreds of tiny fish nibble the dead skin off my toes. And can someone please explain to me exactly what the benefits of a “snake massage” are?

And then, for the most absurd of First World problems, there are holistic treatments. Feeling out of whack with the lunar cycle? Try a lunar treatment, which promises to help your body align with the moon. “Virtual dolphin therapy” is equally suspect. As clients watch images of dolphins on tv and listen to sonar sounds in their headphones, hey can hold a sound wave pillow for internal healing.

As the article points out “Now, though it’s considered a luxury in Japan, spreading dehydrated nightingale droppings on your cheeks doesn’t exactly scream ‘beneficial’, but geishas have been looking up at the skies for centuries, and spa owners have taken note.” Wait….so geishas have been looking up at the skies and …what…getting pooped on? No, I think I’ll skip that particular treatment, thank you very much.

I’ve no doubt that certain natural elements can help alleviate pain, relieve stress and improve skin, but that doesn’t mean that all such products should be incorporated into spa treatments. A little common sense should be used when drawing the line between beneficial and, well, birdshit.

State Department website lists where American travelers have died abroad

The LA Times recently linked to a tool on the US State Department website that allows you to search by date range and country to find out where around the world Americans have died of “non-natural” causes.

The information goes back to 2002. No names or details of the deaths are disclosed, they are only reported as suicide, drowning, drug-related, homicide, disaster, or vehicle, air or maritime accident, and listed according to date. The disclaimer on the site states that the stats may not be entirely accurate however, as they only represent those deaths disclosed to the State Department.

So can this tool tell you where you should or shouldn’t go based on your likelihood of drowning, getting into an accident, or being killed as a tourist there? Not really. Circumstances of the deaths are, of course, not disclosed and there is no distinction between expats or people who have lived in the country for many years and those who are tourists visiting on vacation.

Even countries with high numbers of deaths shouldn’t automatically be crossed off your list. Mexico, for example, lists 126 American deaths in 2009. 36 of those were homicides. Sounds like a big number, but not as big compared to the 2.6 million Americans who fly to Mexico every year. As the LA Times points out, “the odds overwhelmingly suggest that your vacation will be nonfatal.”

Frommer’s lists Top Destinations for 2010

Frommer’s has just released their list of what they think will be the top destinations for 2010. Culled from the suggestions of industry insiders and readers, the list covers every continent, meandering from India to Hawaii, Argentina to Vietnam. Along with listing each place, Frommer’s has also given reasons why each one should be on your list of destinations for the coming year.

How accurate is the list? Last year, the top destinations predicted for 2009 included Washington, DC; Cartagena, Colombia; Istanbul; Cape Town; and Berlin, all of which were popular with tourists, as they have been for several years. Including Berlin may have been a no-brainer. As the 20th anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall took place this year, of course the city would be well-visited. Other locations predicted to be hotspots have remained in relative obscurity. How many people do you know who went to Waiheke Island (New Zealand) or followed the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama?

2010’s list will probably be equally hit and miss when it comes to predicting the hot spots for the year. Included on the list is the Big Island of Hawaii, which I recently visited. Frommer’s says the Big Island has everything you need but still retains an untouched feel, and I completely agree.

But other destinations might not rise to the top of many travelers’ lists. Frommer’s says Mexico City will be big in 2010, but unfortunately the city may still suffer from the after-effects of swine flu paranoia. Cuba, another location on the list, isn’t open to Americans yet, but may see an increase in tourists from other countries. And lesser-known destinations, like Kerala, India; Tunisia; and the Isles of Scilly in England may see a boost in tourism thanks to the publicity they receive from the list.

** Be sure to check out Gadling’s picks for the top adventure destinations for 2010. **

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Not-so Dangerous Destinations

“You’re going where?!” my father asked when I told him of my plans to go to Colombia. The Colombia he knows of, the one from the 1980’s, is filled with cocaine, street violence, and Pablo Escobar’s thugs. The country’s days as a dangerous destination are gone, but its stigma still remains.

Colombia isn’t the only now-safe country still considered by the masses to be too dangerous to visit. Forbes Traveler has put together a list of other destinations that aren’t as dangerous as you might assume.

Along with Colombia, the list includes places many experienced travelers wouldn’t think twice about visiting – Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia are all included – plus a few a little farther off the beaten path, like Haiti and Tajikistan. The list also includes two spots that become a lot more dangerous if you travel there illegally: Cuba and North Korea.

There’s no such thing as a completely safe destination, but still most of these spots have earned their reputations. At one point, they were lands of famine, war, and strife. Now they’ve become safer, though in some (like Haiti and certain parts of Colombia, for example) problems continue and there are still areas you should not venture.

If you plan on visiting one of these “not-so-dangerous places”, do your research and be sure you know what you are getting into. The bad reputation in some of these places can mean lower travel costs and few tourists, but there may still be an element of risk.