You’ve got to get your stats from somewhere, and based on the top 5 most popular episodes of the podcast, we reckon these destinations are right on the money as places to visit in 2020. Plus, we hear from world nomads about where they plan to travel in the new year.
00:43 Number 5
02:08 How does this destination differ to Spain?
08:30 Number 4
11:51 This part of the country is not easy to relocate to
18:26 Number 3
23:31 A daily tariff is charged for visitors to this destination – is it worth it?
28:35 Hot topics in travel in 2019
29:28 Number 2
34:10 This destination is very much undiscovered
38:03 Flipping a coin to see who gets to announce the number 1 destination
38:19 Number 1
43:08 Would you agree with Jess’ point about this country?
48:30 Checking in our world nomads
“…they are incredibly, incredibly hospitable and thankful, and just unbelievably welcoming, let's say. It's very hard to buy your own meal there sometimes.” – Tim
” The longer you spend here, the more you start to see the differences. Like the food is slightly different. The attitudes and way of life are different.” – James
“It's the people. The people are really... They're very genuine, but also how the culture is built. It's very much based on sharing, on having time for people.” – Nicole
“I think that it's generally been quite well preserved, but not in a museum sort of sense. They're not being forced to maintain any kind of traditions. It's not super contrived. This is just the way that things are.” - Alex
“If you're new to traveling, the stares can be a bit off putting, but actually once you start talking to the locals, you realize that actually they're just intrigued. They want to know your story. They want to know what you're doing in their part of the world.” - Jessica
Nicole Roodenburg is from Colourful Ecuador Travels. They organize everything around Ecuador and the Galapagos and really believe in what the country has to offer.
Jessica Vincent is a travel writer and photographer specializing in cultural and immersive travel in Central and South America. Her passion is telling long-form, investigative travel stories about the people, places and cultures that make our world so special. Read her story about exploring Belize’s forgotten south and follow her travels on Instagram.
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Kim: Stay right there. This is our final podcast for 2019. And we've taken away any stress that planning a destination to visit may cause, by putting together a list of the top five countries to travel to, in 2020.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the WorldNomads' podcast, delivered by WorldNomads, the travel lifestyle and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast. It's everything for the adventurous, independent traveler.
Kim: Hi, it's Kim and Phil with you. And look, it might be slightly loaded, as these top five destinations are based on the most listened to episodes of the WorldNomads' podcast.
Phil: You've got to get your stats from somewhere. We reckon these destinations actually are right on the money, so let's get into it.
Speaker 2: Number five.
Phil: Counting backwards, and coming in at number five, is Portugal or Portugal. It's got sunny Summers, and mild Winters, and the streets are filled with beautiful facades. Portugal is just a few hours flight from most of the European cities, so it's really easy to get to. And whether you visit to hit the beach, or cycle through the parks and reserves, it's the perfect outdoor destination.
Kim: Well in that episode, we spoke with James Cave. He grew up in Portugal and runs the blog, The Portugalist.
James: I did a blog post recently about all the different events in The Algarve, and there was just so many. And so many small little ones. Especially small little food festivals. There was one for snails, one for a certain type of sausage. There's one for sardines. And these are dotted throughout the year.
James: There was one really, really bizarre one that was the Festival of the Pine cone, where people go on this big long walk to another town and shout, "Long live the pine cone", in Portuguese as they leave, and ring the church bells, and go to the next town and have lunch and come back. And that seems to be the whole festival.
Phil: A lot of people probably wonder how different Portugal might be from its much larger neighbor, Spain. Is there a lot of difference?
James: Yeah. Yes, yes and no. I mean to us, as English speakers and non-Mediterranean people, it can feel like they're very, very similar. But you don't want to say that to a Portuguese. And the longer you spend here, the more you start to see the differences. Like the food is slightly different. The attitudes and way of life are different.
James: Spain's quite a happy and noisy country. Portugal's a little bit more conservative, and they tend to be a lot quieter, a lot more sort of introspective. They have this thing that's very important to Portuguese culture, called [Sudad 00:02:57], which is... It's a difficult thing to explain, but it's wishing you were in another place basically. Wishing you were in another place in your life somewhere in the past, or sometimes even in the future, and just feeling a longing for that. Which sounds a little bit like depression to the rest of us, but it's just a key heart of the Portuguese sort of mentality.
Kim: So quiet and introspective. Is that why it's, and I did not realize this, known for its yoga retreats?
James: Recently, there's been a lot of different types of tourism starting up, and yoga is one of them. Surfing holidays is another. Often people come to Portugal to learn a new skill. To learn to paint, or to go on a walking holiday. And I think this type of tourism is quite good. It's quite small, but it's usually a lot more responsible, a lot greener. And I think probably a very good thing.
Kim: Yeah. I'm just sort of trying to paint this picture I guess, and it may be incorrect, of it being this fabulous place that you visit. If you want, this holistic experience.
James: It sort of exists. It exists in little patches. So for example, the Monchique, which you're talking about, is this mountainous part of The Algarve. It has these healing springs, and it's a beautiful area for walking. Then maybe the next couple of times along will be quite touristy, but then you head on to the Western Algarve, and you'll start to find more smaller, quieter towns and more of a... What you're saying, they're sort of holistic accommodation or holistic retreats. So it's sort of dotted around at The Algarve, and dotted around the whole of Portugal.
Phil: What's Kim expressing? What's the word? [Sour dad 00:00:05:07]. What was the word? Was she expressing it as longing for a type of Portugal that doesn't really exist there?
James: Quite possibly.
Phil: I think she's nailed it.
Kim: After talking to Sandra, and she's suggesting the place as being loved to death. I just want to make sure, Phil, that everyone knows that there is a quiet corner where you can do a bit of omming. Okay?
Phil: Okay. All good.
James: There has been a lot of tourism to Portugal, over the last few years. Is that what Sandra is talking about?
Kim: Yes, she says that Portugal is embracing it, but at the same time a lot of the businesses get frustrated by the number of tourists.
James: Lisbon, in particular, and Porto have had huge numbers of tourists over the past couple of years. The city is really, really quite small, and not able to cope with it. And Lisbon was very badly managed, in terms of just the number of people that they allowed to rent out apartments on Airbnb. And so it's created this housing crisis, where people are moving out... Or the Portuguese people are moving out of the cities, out of the city center, because landlords are renting their properties out short term instead. So, yeah, that is definitely happening in parts of Portugal.
Kim: Yeah, just on the public transport, I've read that they try and encourage tourists or travelers to stay away from it, in the peak hours of the morning and the evenings, so that workers can get to and from work without any hassle.
James: Yeah. Well, I mean if you think of Lisbon. I don't don't know if you're familiar with it, but the quintessential type of public transport here, is these tiny little wooden trams. They're really, really beautiful and entertaining if you're a tourist, but if you live here, for a lot of people, that's actually how you've got to get to work or go to the shops or whatever.
James: The route near me, for example, tram 28 is probably one of the most beautiful tram routes, or public transport routes in the world. But I've taken it once since I've been here, because I would just never get on it. Like there'll be queues of maybe 200 people at the peak hour of the day.
James: So one thing on the blog, that I'm working on at the moment, is trying to encourage people to walk that route, or to do it slightly differently, both for the sake of people living here but also for themselves as well. You know, you don't want to spend an hour or longer waiting to get on public transport.
Phil: Hopefully the city officials are addressing this though. I mean it sounds like a pretty bad problem.
James: Yeah. They're starting to slowly. I mean Portugal's very, very dependent on tourism and the things get done very, very slowly here in a lot of cases. [inaudible] I don't know, I think it's quite a unique situation for Lisbon and Porto, that the effects of tourism has been so noticeable. For whatever reason, people all in one go, started coming and writing about it, and sharing about it on social media. And it just all took off at the same time.
Kim: Thank you, James. And just to remind you, we're counting down a list of the top five countries to visit in 2020, based on the most listened to episodes of the WorldNomads' podcast.
Kim: Phil, an exact science.
Phil: Better than any.
Speaker 2: Number four.
Phil: Coming in at number four is Ecuador. And in that episode, we discuss the Galapagos Islands' plastic ban, its waterfalls, whales, stunning hikes, going commando and traveling light.
Kim: One of our interviews was with Nicole Roodenberg. In fact, I think you did this one when you went to-
Phil: To Edinburgh.
Kim: To Edinburgh. You did. She's from Colourful Ecuador Travels. And you asked Nicole what the best thing about Ecuador is.
Nicole: It's the people. The people are really... They're very genuine, but also how the culture is built. It's very much based on sharing, on having time for persons. If somebody has $1, they will buy a beer and they will share it together. It's not about a very selfish culture. It's just about life.
Nicole: For me, that is what makes me happy in life. Of being able to have the time to share. By not being busy now with what I'm actually going to be doing tomorrow, in a couple of hours. So also to have this thing that you can basically do what you want to do at that moment.
Nicole: So for example, when we have a busy day in the office and we say, "Let's just go out, the whole office, for karaoke." Everybody can. Even if we say it's at two o'clock in the afternoon, a few phone calls are made to parents and grandparents and boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives, and it's five o'clock we're all singing karaoke.
Nicole: So that's a bit of how the spirit is basically of living there. It's not the most efficient culture in the world. And we might... If we would be working in Europe, we would do with a lot less people, but we have fun. There's a genuine happy vibe always everywhere.
Phil: And so how... Is it one of those countries where the majority of people live in the capital? Or is it spread?
Nicole: It's quite spread out. The capital is Quito, so that has about two million people. And so Guayaquil is the biggest city of Ecuador. It's one of the most ... predominantly productive city. It's based on the coastal area. So there, it has about two and a half million people. So those are like the two main areas where people live. In total, we have 13 million people all living within Ecuador. A lot more of Ecuadorians living outside of Ecuador.
Nicole: But after a Quito and Guayaquil, like the big cities Cuenca and that's about 500000. So it goes down.
Phil: I heard you speaking [inaudible] I heard you speaking the other day about... There are what, four or five regions of the country?
Phil: Just take us through those.
Nicole: So we divide the country a bit in four regions. We have the Sierra, we call it. It's the Andean region. So it's everything to do with the mountains. We have a whole Andean spine going through the whole of Ecuador. Basically from the border of Columbia to the border of Peru. We call it The Andes. So this is beautiful snow caps, volcanoes, villages. There's a lot of indigenous people living there as well. We have colorful markets, but also the capitals and the colonial centers.
Nicole: We have the Amazonia, so that's a jungle area. The whole Amazon basin. We don't actually touch the Amazon. That's one of our biggest frustrations. They say that the Peruvians took it away. So that's a bit of neighbor resentments in that parts. There's the whole Amazonian basin. So it has everything that we call the jungle area.
Nicole: We have to coastal plains. So that's the part mostly going up to the coast, and that's the whole Pacific coast. And then Galapagos. It's a separate region for us as well. So those are the four ones. Like the Amazon, the Sierra...
Phil: Let's start with the big one. The Galapagos. All right. Now, is it heavily protected?
Nicole: It's heavily protected in a way that it's not easy to move there. It's part of Ecuador, but it's considered a complete... We have a special regiment that goes there. So there are your special laws for the part of the Galapagos. There are special labor laws as well, like how much you pay people. For example, salaries in Galapagos are 75% higher than the mainlands. That's by law. So the minimum wage in Ecuador at the moment is 385, and in Galapagos it's 575.
Nicole: So that's already a difference. And you have to be galapagueños to be able to live there. Becoming galapaguenos, you can be born there or you can marry into it. That's the only way basically you can get it.
Nicole: And then as an Ecuadorian, or if you have a valid working visa, you're able to go and work there if you are allowed to by the governments. So it means basically as a Galapagos company, you can apply for it. You can say, "Okay, I've looked between all the galapagueños that live there, and there's none that fit my description. I need, for example, marine biologists with so many years of experience in researching turtles. I have this person." And then they tell you how much time they are authorized to do it. It's normally maximum a year, and you can extend it up until five times. So that's the maximum.
Nicole: So that's one of the ways that they're trying to protect it. Because, in the past, especially with the tourism industry growing a little bit, there were people moving there and then starting to work, especially as waiters and receptionists. Because also the guiding part is heavily protected. You can only become a Galapagos National Park guides if you're are a galapagueños. So that takes the level of the guides sometimes down quite a bit. So a lot of, for example, companies that want to have a really good nature experience, they send both the biologists and the Galapagos National Park guys to deal with the park [inaudible 00:13:42].
Phil: And what about just as a visitor though? If you...
Nicole: As a visitor, you are allowed to come for 60 days a year. That's the maximum you can stay there.
Nicole: So they put in some new laws that were put into place in May, and they're actually going to be effective in November. So that changes the whole rules on plastic. There are no plastic straws allowed. There's no plastic... If you want to... No plastic containers. So if you're going on a boat excursion, you will get normal plates and everything. There's nothing that can be thrown away, and no plastic bags. So you're not even allowed to bring your shoes in a plastic back. Nothing that is plastic, that can only be used once. So that's the biggest change. And the law is going to be effective on the 1st of November.
Nicole: And one of the other things that you cannot go without, an itinerary. So you already have to have a plan, and that you're staying in the legally approved hotels. Because other forms of accommodation also took a flight, of people just staying in people's houses. And that is not the idea. The idea is that the National Park also regulates older hotels, that are approved to be in the Galapagos National Park in the residential areas basically, because only 3% of the Galapagos National Park is actually allowed to be lived at. Which are the four towns that we actually have, and a couple of the Highland parts where there is some farming allowed.
Nicole: And they control how they do their waste management, how they do their water management. So all sorts. Also to keep everything at low control. They have now installed... You cannot travel there, and just see what kind of hotel that you're going to book when you're arriving.
Phil: What's your favorite part outside of The Galapagos?
Nicole: Actually, for me, there are places above the Galapagos within Ecuador. There are parts cooler. There are parts we call the paramour, which is above the three and a half thousand meters. So you have the most amazing landscapes. So if you drive, for example, from Quito to Tena... Tena is one of the easy accessible jungle towns. You go from 2800 meters up to 4500 more or less, by the roads. And it just gives amazing landscapes with... We call it Baha. So it's like grass and with lakes everywhere, and then you go all the way down to the jungle.
Nicole: So the nice thing around Ecuador, is just sit in a public bus, or go and drive with somebody in a car, and just look out the window, because it changes. Every five minutes, you have a different view. And so the Patama would be one of it. You have, near Cuenca, if you drive from Cuenca to Guayaquil, you have El Cajas. It's a national park, and it's actually one big lake and there's moss on top of it. So you can walk on it.
Nicole: It's meters wide, moss. So you walk on top of it, and you walk through this forest, and it's like a whole fairy tale that came alive. There are beautiful, beautiful lakes and little trees, and you can see the rabbit, the foxes, different things around. They make beautiful hiking there.
Nicole: So that is really, really great. There are some areas where you have just waterfall after waterfall. There are also parts where you have very turning, winding roads. So every time you look like there's like another turn in the roads, and you see another five waterfalls coming down. So those are beautiful.
Nicole: And of course the whales. Every summer, I do try to go, because it's just one of the things that you'd... Like you're... I was there a couple of weeks ago, and just from the beach you could see the whales jump. They're so big. Like it's always an amazing thing. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen them. This whole bus size animal coming out of the ocean. It's wonderful.
Phil: Tell us what it is you do? What your company does there? How people can get in contact with you?
Nicole: Okay. Well, I work for Colourful Ecuador Travels. We're a company that's inbound tourism. So we try... We organize everything around Ecuador and The Galapagos. If you want to go anywhere else, we'll refer you to other people, because we really love what we do.
Nicole: So, as a company, we really believe in what the country has to offer. So we organize the trips. We put together and connect both providers with the clients in general.
Nicole: And we've started also operating different parts of hotels. So we have a Casa Aliso. It's a small boutique hotel in Quito. We work together with Inti Sisa. It's an educational hotel. Or it's an educational center actually. And the hotel supports the whole part of the center in Guamote, which is about four hours from Quito.
Nicole: We have Me Gusta Galapagos. So we do Galapagos Island hopping in a different way. Also connecting the local providers. So that's... There are people... They're real situations, that they're people living on the Galapagos Islands. So it's also nice to support the local businesses, which is a way to do with a part of the islands hopping. And we also do volunteer work, and have a Spanish school in Quito.
Kim: Thanks, Nicole. And links to the top five episodes will be in show notes, of course.
Speaker 2: Number three.
Kim: Is Bhutan. Now we uncovered Bhutan's phallic obsession discovered-
Phil: Of course you did.
Kim: Yeah. Why the local pigs don't fly, but they do get high. And we asked Alex, a traveler with a blog called Lost With Purpose, if that daily tariff for inbound travelers is worth it.
Alex: So a lot of people cringe when you think of the... Or when you hear of the 200 to 250 a day fee. But it's not so much a tourist tax, as it is an all-inclusive fee. You're basically paying to go on a tour in Bhutan. And so the 250 a day, includes your accommodation, your transportation, your guide's fees, your foods, entry fees for wherever you're going that day, et cetera, et cetera.
Alex: And though it seems like a lot, especially relative to other countries in the region, what Bhutan is doing with that money is actually quite good. A good portion of that money goes towards sustainable developments within the country. So in building infrastructure, providing free healthcare and education for everyone. Stuff like that. So your money is not just disappearing into some deep, dark governmental pocket. It's actually being put to good use. And for the most part, covering basic tour expenditures.
Phil: Well, because Bhutan is one of the first countries, or maybe the only country that not only measures GDP, but it measures happiness. It has a happiness index as well, which is part of government policy.
Alex: Yeah. I mean how... Whether or not they actually measure happiness that much. Or not measure happiness, but hold it to that higher regard within the country. I'm not entirely sure about that. That wasn't necessarily so evident when I was there. I think people are generally somewhat content. Or they're content, but I wouldn't say that there's an immense amount of happiness within the country necessarily.
Phil: Oh, no.
Alex: It's more of a media spin.
Phil: Yeah. But at least it's on the radar of the government as one of the priorities that they want.
Alex: Yeah, I mean the government definitely prioritizes the important things. Like they do value the wellbeing of their people. Something that I really admire is that they put a strong value on maintaining forest coverage in the country. I believe it has to be a minimum of 60%, or something like that. And currently, it's around 70 something percent. So the government has the environment at the forefront of its plans.
Kim: Is Bhutan worth the money?
Alex: I think Bhutan is absolutely worth the money. If you have the money, it's worth the money. It's hard to find a country that's finding such a healthy balance between traditions from the days of yore, and modernity. Like more globalized aspects of culture starting to creep in. Like you'll see kids walking around in Nikes in the capital. Everyone has smartphones in the bigger cities.
Alex: But I think that it's generally been quite well preserved, but not in a museum sort of sense. They're not being forced to maintain any kind of traditions. It's not super contrived. This is just the way that things are. And because the government really puts maintaining its culture at the forefront of its planning, it comes off as quite authentic without being contrived. And so I think that itself makes it worth the money.
Phil: Yeah. I'm glad to hear you say that it's still authentic. But I do worry about it being kept to somewhere that's a privilege to go to, or somewhere that it's cast in concrete and never changes.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think travel is inherently a privilege, regardless of where you're going. It's a privilege not a right. And I think that if the cost barrier makes it a luxury privilege only, if that's what it takes to maintain the countries while being, then so be it.
Alex: And other countries in the region like Nepal or India, that are just totally overrun with backpackers, and some of them are culturally quite sensitive and others are just there to smoke as much weed as humanly possible, and bum around somewhere for as cheap as possible.
Alex: I think in a country like Bhutan that only has... What? 800000 people in the country, I think it's good to try and maintain a balance between foreigners swooping in and doing as they will, and the local population maintaining a normal way of life.
Phil: I guess what bothers me, is there's kind of a... Given that most travelers that go to Southeast Asia, it's a very Western thing to have the ability to travel in that way. And then as you say, swooping in in your elephant pants and smoking weed is one kind of cultural imperialism. But then it kind of bothers me that Bhutan... And it's... $250 a day, is a lot of money. So is that making it a luxury enclave, or a place only for the rich? I don't know. I feel... I'm conflicted by that.
Alex: Yeah. I was also quite conflicted about that, because I went to Bhutan as part of a sponsored trip. It was a place that I would never be able to go... Afford to go to, anytime in the near future. Possibly ever. But it wasn't really something that I questioned, because I understood that it was a matter of filtering out people who are less concerned about the country they're visiting, so much as just trying to check something off of a bucket list, or hit up every country.
Alex: And all of the tourism officials, and people in the industry that I spoke to in the country, they all agreed that they thought it was a very effective way of screening tourists. They said that all the tourists that they had were incredibly respectful of the local cultures, and much more engaged and interested in the country because of the effort and finances that they had to put forward to visit the country.
Alex: And they said that they weren't just getting immensely wealthy people. There are people who had been saving for years and years and years to go to the country. So it's not just an enclave for the rich tourists.
Kim: What sort of experience do you have once you there?
Alex: So once you're there, it kind of depends on where you choose to go. A lot of the people are just choosing to go to... They go to Thimphu the capital. They go to Paro to see the Tiger's Nest, which is the famous monastery up in the mountain side. They'd go to Punakha to see the one of the largest Dzongs, fortresses in the country. And so there it is a, "Show up, see the highlights, see a pretty fortress, see some fancy Buddhist things." Done and over.
Alex: But as the country starts to increase in popularity, and get some repeat tourists, more people are branching a bit further out into the country. Going to the far North or the far East.
Alex: I myself started in the South of the country, that very few people go to. People were really surprised to see foreigners there, to begin with. They're like, "Why did you want to even come here anyway?" And so there it was more like very quiet villages, really idyllic little picture-perfect houses on the mountainside, and a lot of rice terraces. And there was just... I mean a lot of my days were just wandering around and chatting with people that I encountered., Sometimes with a guide sometimes without.
Alex: For part of my tour, I had a private guide and he was basically... He was immensely flexible. He was like, "Okay, what do you want to do? We could do this, if you want to do this, so be it. Do you want me to come with you and translate? If you do, sure. If you don't, also fine, I'll see you later." So that was really nice and far more flexible than I had anticipated.
Alex: And then for the other part of my tour, I was with a larger group of about 10, 15 people. And we went to a Highland... The Royal Highlander Festival in Laya, which is Bhutan's northern-most settlement. And that was really wild, because there was a two-day track up to this small town in the mountains. And it was a festival to celebrate nomadic traditions and cultures in Bhutan. And so nomadic tribes from all over the Northern bits of the country came together to show off sports and dance, and other cultural activities. The King came.
Phil: I love how you just threw that away, "The King came."
Alex: By the way, I got to meet the King of Bhutan. He was the one who spearheaded this festival. He started it because he wanted to bring more attention to the Northern area of the country, and what better ways to do that than a festival. So he actually started this festival. And he makes the trek up to the festival himself, every year, on foot. Even though he's a King, he does not get helicoptered up. He walks up. And so he came to the festival for the first two days, to come and say hello and shake hands and greet the people. And so that was pretty wild.
Alex: He also looked like a Bhutanese version of Tom Cruise in Top Gun, because he had his hair slicked back and had Aviators on. He was just like so cool and charming, as he was gliding through the crowds. And so that was a lot of fun, because the tour group would just come together in the morning, have a little bit of a chat, have a bit of breakfast, and then we could just disperse and go off on our merry way, and do whatever we wanted during the festival, and then come back later.
Kim: What I loved about that story, was that straight away you separated the money from how a nomad wants to travel. Would you agree Phil?
Phil: Totally. Yeah. Absolutely.
Alex: The way you separate the money from how a nomad wants to travel? What do you mean?
Phil: I mean traveling responsibly, and being able to make your own choices, and then being able to connect with the people that you meet, is part of what being a nomad is about. What we believe at WorldNomads anyway. And it seems as though, that 250 bucks a day has melted away, because it's enabled this really special kind of travel.
Alex: Yeah, I'm like you. I don't want to have a super rigid, holding your hand, "We have to do X, Y, and Z. And if we don't, the world will end", kind of thing. Freedom and flexibility is paramount in any kind of adventure.
Kim: Thank you Alex. And before we hear what number two is, and number one of course, on the list of top places to visit in 2020, what were the bigger talking points around traveling 2019?
Phil: Yeah, look, undoubtedly over-tourism was one of the major stories, with many towns and cities putting up the shutters, or at least installing turnstiles, to try and keep the invading hoards out. Tourists go home, was heard more than once from Barcelona to Angkor Wat.
Phil: The other big news has to be the #flight shame, and the impact that that has had on passenger numbers in Europe. Where, of course, it's easy to catch a train instead of a plane. Look, it's sensible to reduce your own footprint as much as possible, but let's not forget that there are many, many positive benefits to travel. The breaking down of barriers, income to communities that desperately need it. So we think that while it's important to be accountable, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as far as that's concerned.
Kim: Nicely said, Phil. Well, let's get back to counting down a list of the top five countries to visit in 2020, based on the most listened to episodes of the WorldNomads' podcast.
Speaker 2: Number two.
Phil: Albania, pretty much undiscovered by travelers. Tim Neville, a freelance writer, he's been there a few times now. Tim?
Tim: I have, yes. I sort of stumbled into the place, and immediately realized I needed to head back. And I have continued to do that over the past maybe seven years or so now, I guess.
Tim: I think the thing that captivated me the most about the country, was how little people really know about the place. They have sort of the stereotypical notions of the place, I guess. And then you actually go there, and you realize how wrong a lot of those thoughts are, how beautiful the place is, how incredibly friendly the place is.
Tim: And the thing that's most surprising about this, is that it's Europe. So it sort of feels like Europe. The signs look European. Italy, you can literally see Italy across the Adriatic at night. And yet it feels so different from anything in Europe that I've ever, ever experienced.
Phil: Seven years. That's a long time Tim. The place must've changed in that time though.
Tim: For sure. Yeah. And that's the other thing that's so exciting about Albania, is that it has this crackle about it. You can go into cities, or go into villages, and feel the changes happening. It feels incredibly dynamic.
Tim: You know, I think every place in the world is going through changes. Of course, no place really ever stays the same. But something about Albania, just really... You could just feel this energy. Yeah, things are completely changing.
Tim: You know, the first time I went... The country's not that small, so... Not that large, I'm sorry. So it's pretty easy to get around. But I think some of the biggest changes you're seeing are along the coast. In the first time I went there, even then I was pretty late to the game, in terms of how much change is happening. But on that first trip, compared to the last trip, you can see a lot of development happening along the coast. And you've got to wonder if they're going to keep it under control, if it's going to get out from under them. And sadly there's a good argument to be made that it's getting out from under them.
Tim: Fortunately, at the same time, you can also highlight several attempts... Some really cool, cool things happening to try to maintain what's special about the country.
Phil: They're coming off a low base though. They were one of the poorest countries in the region for a while. So you can kind of understand why when the tourism money turns up, that they're going to grab it with both hands really.
Tim: Yeah, you can't really blame them. Of course not. You know, it'd be... I don't know what it'd be like. It'd be like, if I'd lived all my life on a dollar a day, then all of a sudden somebody's offering me a million bucks. Well of course, I'm going to take the million bucks. You know, if someone were to hand me a million bucks... I guess one of the reasons why I might have second thoughts about it, if I were Albanian, is because they have something there that no other European country has, that at least I'm aware of. And that is because they were so poor, and because they had this incredibly harsh dictatorship for so long. Nobody in or out for many years. And in a way, they're a little bit like a time capsule. They're a little bit like what the Adriatic coast used to be like before everything happened, let's say. So you have these pockets along the coast that are just like Italy, let's say, or just like Greece, but without the development. Where it's this naturally beautiful place.
Tim: And so, what's that worth? So those are the sorts of things that they're wrestling with. It's what makes it so exciting for a traveler right now.
Kim: At the start of the podcast, we mentioned that it appears to be undiscovered, and both Phil and I felt pretty guilty that we're sharing it with the rest of the world.
Tim: That it's still undiscovered? I would say that the word is definitely out about Albania. It's funny, I've had several people write me kind of out of the blue just saying, "Hey, we're thinking of going to Albania, what can you tell us?" Whereas before, I don't think... No... It's hard to gauge something like that. But you can tell that they're definitely welcoming more tourists. You see more things, more travelers. You see more services for them. It's still very, very much undiscovered or so.
Tim: And as far as like feeling guilty about that, I can understand that of course. At the same time, from the Albanian perspective, they're super excited to have people come to visit them. And in a way they can't... One of the most surprising things that I've seen over the years there, is how they can't quite really believe that people want to come see them. So there's still sort of this novelty aspect. Where you show up, and they're sort of like, "Wait, you're traveling around Albania. Greece is right there, right? And Croatia is right there, and Italy's right there, but you're coming to my country." So they have sort of this little bit of surprise in some way.
Tim: But they are incredibly, incredibly hospitable and thankful, and just unbelievably welcoming, let's say. It's very hard to buy your own meal there sometimes. Without a doubt, you sit down at a little seaside restaurant, and somebody's going to buy you a drink. It's incredibly friendly.
Tim: So in terms of whether you should feel guilty about getting the word out there or not, I think Albanians themselves would argue quite stringently with you on that.
Tim: You see obviously Turkish influences. The Turks were there for 500 years. So that's embedded itself in everything, from the cuisine to the architecture. Then you have that communist era. And unlike a lot of places in sort of ex-communist Europe, the Albanians have been a little bit slower, let's say, to rid themselves of some of that... Some of those landmarks and statues. And so you still get a good feel for what the place looked like.
Tim: Then of course it's... Everything's been painted. A lot of statues have, of course, come down. But you still get a good feeling what it was like under those days. Of course, it's very, very, very different. Very different. So I'm not trying to suggest that it's still like that by any means, but it is very eye-opening let's say.
Phil: That nostalgia for those Soviet symbols. It's like, "They're really cool now, but Jesus, we hated them at the time, didn't we?"
Tim: Yeah. And so that's something also that's really interesting. Is that there are no real Soviet symbols. The Albanians were their own thing, which makes them really interesting in my opinion. They broke ties with the Soviets. They broke ties with the Chinese. They, of course, courted both for a long time. But then they also broke ties with them. They hated the Yugoslavia regime.
Tim: So Albania was... In one of my stories, I call it the North Korea of Europe. And I don't think that's an exaggeration. Nobody was allowed in, nobody was allowed out. It was very tightly controlled. You could be arrested for wearing shorts in a city, because that's too bourgeois. You had that weird super oppressive government for a long, long time.
Tim: And so when you go around, you see this Albanian, this Hoxha... The dictator who ruled over the place for many, many years, was named Enver Hoxha. And so there was this Hoxha brand of communism, which was very Stalinesque, and very dark, and not a happy place at all.
Tim: So you have to... There is a little bit of a dark tourism element happening, that you can see. But what's super fun and interesting for me, and something that's led me to write about the place over and over again, is that you see these clashes between those dark days and this incredibly bright future, and... Not clashes, but those... Where these two are rubbing up against each other, and all the interesting things that they burble up when that happens. It's endlessly fascinating.
Phil: Cheers Tim. Should we flip a coin to see who announces the number one destination?
Kim: I think it's only fair, and I have the coin. Would you like...
Phil: Yeah, go.
Kim: Heads or tails?
Phil: I'll go tails.
Kim: All right, let's see if I can do this. How do you...
Phil: Can you actually flip it? Oh, give it to me.
Kim: I can't flip a coin.
Phil: All right, your call. I got it.
Phil: Heads it is. Of you go.
Speaker 2: Number one.
Kim: Belize is our most listened to destination episode. Often referred to as the jewel in the heart of the Caribbean basin. Known for the great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it, Phil, one of the top five scuba diving sites in the world.
Phil: And in that episode, we heard about Belize's deep South from Jessica.
Jessica: Well originally when I first did my research about going to Belize, I had never been there before. It was my first time. So I turned straight away to guide books, and online blogs to see what to expect, and to help me plan my two-week trip there. And almost everything talks about the North, the snorkeling. The Blue Hole, obviously, is really, really famous in Belize. And I didn't really hear anything about the South at all. So that interested me. And then I kind of dug deeper to see if there was anything worth seeing in the South. And it was all very limited, the information, basically.
Jessica: So it wasn't until I got to Belize, that I was able to explore the South. And it's very, very different to the North. You don't have any beaches. It's all mainly the activities on mainland... Inland sorry. So you won't see much of the sea. But it's in the South, where you get to do more of a cultural side of Belize, that you don't see as much when you're in the Keys for example.
Kim: And a lady commented to you, a local, that you don't see many tourists in that area.
Jessica: No. So the infrastructure in the South is... Well, there's just not a lot of infrastructure there. So when there's not much infrastructure, obviously there aren't as many tourists going there, because the transport is quite difficult to get down there. There are lots of bumpy roads. Sometimes no roads at all. And not that many affordable hostels.
Jessica: So, at the moment, the South is mainly visited by the more intrepid traveler. The one that wants to get off the beaten path. So, yeah... That was the first thing. I was the only visitor at that time, on that bus. And I did get a few stares and... But everyone was just intrigued. Just wants to know what I was doing there.
Kim: Isn't that nice? We've heard of that in a couple of podcasts recently. Bangladesh in particular. Just this lovely curiosity about why people are visiting.
Jessica: Yeah, definitely. And you can definitely feel that in Belize. That everyone's very... First if you're new to traveling, the stares can be a bit off-putting, but actually once you start talking to the locals, you realize that actually they're just intrigued. They want to know your story. They want to know what you're doing in their part of the world.
Kim: So you were on this bus heading to a home state? Tell us about that.
Jessica: Yeah, so I ended up getting a local bus to Punta Gord, which is the Southern most town in Belize. And then I got another... And it's all chicken buses in Belize. So it can be a very bumpy ride, especially in the South when there's no tarmac roads. So I ended up doing a couple of hours on that bus, and then the bus actually stopped halfway through and made us all get off. I'm not actually sure why. I never found out why, but that was the end of the road for that bus that day. And I ended up having to hitchhike a four by four pickup truck, that very luckily came past just half an hour after me waiting. And that car, very kindly, they took me to village where I was going to be spending the next few nights on a homestay.
Kim: Were you worried? There you are in an area where travelers don't normally visit, and you're not kicked off a bus, but you're forced to hitchhike?
Jessica: Well, yeah. My Mum and my Nan said the exact same thing. Like, "What are you doing?" But actually I'd already spent almost two years in Latin America, so I'm... Although Belize... Every country in Latin America is different. I did already feel quite comfortable. I'd been traveling for a long time. And also anyone who's been to Belize probably agree with me on this point, that you do feel very comfortable very quickly.
Jessica: Obviously they speak English there as well, and everyone wants to help you. So in that particular instance, I didn't feel uncomfortable at all. It was mainly all families around me, just doing their daily routine from town back to home. So, no, in that case, I felt pretty safe.
Kim: Well speaking of families, you arrived at your homestay, and you were greeted by a little boy that asks if you're Jessica. So where does the story go from there?
Jessica: Yes, so I'm kind of standing around very awkwardly. I've just been dropped off in this town, and there's not a lot around. Just a few wooden huts, and not many people around. It was quite hot. So everyone was inside, or by the river, and suddenly this little boy... He's soaking wet. He's just run up from the river and he says, "Oh, is your name Jessica?" And then I said, "Yes." And he suddenly, very excitedly, just ran off and expected me, I guess, to follow him. So I did. I tried to keep up with him. And we went through the town, and he took me to... Well, at the time, I assumed it was going to be my homestay. And we went into his house. And in there, there were a lot of people in the house waiting for me. Because I'd arrived a little bit late, because of the whole thing with the bus. So they were all there expecting me. And that's where it starts.
Kim: So was this the house that you were staying in with all these people? Or were these just the neighbors that had come to welcome this lass?
Jessica: Yeah, so the homestays in this part of Belize... How they work is, instead of staying with one family, it's shared out between... I mean it's an extended family. The village, everyone knows each other anyway, whether they're cousins or equally just neighbors. It's all shared out. So that particular house is where I would eat lunch that day. But I actually stayed in several houses, and all of them pitched in because obviously resources there are quite difficult to come by. You know, this is quite a poor community. So for them to host the guests they need to share the burden, as it were.
Jessica: So, yeah, that was where I would stay at first, but I did move around to lots of different houses.
Kim: And what did you learn about the culture? Some of the traditions?
Jessica: Lots. Mainly the part I enjoyed the most was the cooking. I'm really into food and cooking, and so are they. The Mayans take a huge pride in their produce, in their cooking. Some of the traditions that they do, they practice in the kitchen, actually haven't changed much since the ancient Maya we're living here. So hundreds, probably thousands of years ago. So that was very interesting for me.
Jessica: We learned how to make tortillas by hand, which is actually a lot harder than I thought it was. Because you have to... So they grow the corn themselves, and you have to de-husk by hand. Which they were there for hours de-husking, and it's quite painful on your hands. So we did that for a few hours, and then you hand grind that into a corn flour, and then you can start actually making those. And they cook everything on an open fire, that's actually inside the kitchen. So it can get very, very smoky in there. And that's where they sleep as well.
Kim: Obviously, I'm guessing, you would recommend that someone traveling to Belize head South?
Jessica: Yeah, I would absolutely recommend it. Obviously, it's not for every type of traveler. If you're coming to Belize for a week of relaxation, and a bit of luxury and the blue seas... All of that, that's kind of synonymous with Belize, then of course, this might not be for you. But if you're interested in having a cultural experience, that really seems quite natural. It doesn't feel put on, because there aren't many tourists there yet.
Jessica: So, for example, I was the only one in the village at the time, so I had the undivided attention of the people there, and they genuinely wanted to share their culture. So if you're looking for an experience like that...
Jessica: And obviously, as I said before, they speak English. So this is a rare opportunity in Latin America to connect with people like that. Have a completely different way of life to what you might be used to at home. So, yeah, I would definitely recommend getting off the beaten track, making the bumpy journey. It's definitely worth it.
Kim: Thank you, Jessica. A beautiful sounding destination, which is now on our list. Or is it? Let's check in with our nomads to see what your plans are for 2020.
Paula: My name is Paula and I am 46 years old. I decided to do a midlife crisis trip going and volunteering in Ghana, to empower women in commerce. Then diving in the red sea, traveling through the land of Egypt and Jordan. Doing a layover in Qatar, to go through Sri Lanka. And after touring that country, doing an Ayurveda retreat for seven days, in trying to boost my confidence, and my love for myself.
Lisa: My name is Lisa Dorenfest. I'm a circumnavigating sailor, and world nomad. I'll ring in the new decade, sailing from Panama to Mexico's famed Sea of Cortez, as I start my second lap around the globe. I'll venture to new ports, and return to some old favorites with an eye to exploring world cultures deeply.
Lungi: Hi WorldNomads team. This is Lungi, in 2020 plans. My ultimate goal is actually, 2024 that I'm working towards, where I want to sail around the world alone.
Camilla: Hey WorldNomads, my name is Camilla, and in 2020 I'm going to a round the world trip of sorts, to over 20 countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. I've always been a traveler, and I was a third culture kid, so I was raised internationally. But this will be the first time that I'm taking a round the world trip of sorts, and doing it solo for the most part. So I'm pretty excited and nervous, but it's going to be a big adventure.
Camilla: And the reason why I want to do it is, one, because it's always been a dream of mine to do a round the world trip. And also because I'm in a sort of transitional phase of my life, and I am taking the opportunity to use travel as a way to help me figure out what's next.
Phil: An exciting 2020 ahead for some of our nomads, and we're looking forward to delivering you more incredible destinations including... Bulgaria is on the list, Kenya and Tunisia.
Kim: Yep. And amazing nomads like Lungi, who describes herself as a humble Zulu girl. She was afraid of the open sea. But, Phil, now she's an accomplished sailor, with an incredible story. We'll also have special episodes, as we said in our podcast last week. We're going to give you more audio, and we're going to take it on the road.
Phil: Fair enough.
Kim: Don't tell the boss. The special episodes will include Sarah's candid chat about what it's like to travel with an anxiety disorder, plus lots more, as we said.
Phil: All right. Final reminder for the year. To get in touch with us by emailing [email protected] In our first episode for 2020, we're going to Georgia. Not the state, the country.