Where to Go in 2021. It might be more appropriate to ask Should I Go in 2021?
And if so, How Exactly Do I Go? Because 2021, while imbued with hope, is still an unknown. Lockdowns, border openings, and the vaccine (oh, the vaccine) remain in flux. In a time when so much remains uncertain, there are some things we know to be true. The pandemic revealed a world without travel. We learned what we took for granted, what we missed the most, what we longed to see again. And we know we will go when the time is right. Here, you’ll read about 12 places we’re dreaming of right now: A journalist longing to return to Ghana; a novelist’s dream of following, slowly, in the footsteps of her favorite adventurer in Greece; an activist’s desire to travel intentionally and conscientiously in Vietnam. We’re leaving aside the “how” of travel for now—that will come, with time. Because as Desmond Tutu wisely said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Here’s to a brighter 2021. —Aislyn Greene, senior editor, December 2020
Tibet by Roland Watson-Grant
For many years I have heard you, calling across the 9,000 miles that separate me from Lhasa and my ultimate Buddhist pilgrimage. I first heard your gongs in a gallery in Kingston, Jamaica, and in the traditional music wafting from a teahouse in Port-of-Spain. I have felt your presence at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, where candlelight bounces off the brass skin of bodhisattvas on display.
Still, it is not enough. I want to journey for 33 hours to feel your full embrace. I am a man snagged on the hands of a corporate clock even while working from home. One day, travel will again be my escape from the samsaric wheel of Zoom meetings, phone calls, and quarterly board reports. I long to be in Tibet, where there is food for the body, mind, and Buddhist soul.
I wish to see the Himalayas, its head crowned by clouds. I will reach you through Nepal, birthplace of the Buddha, to ascend the steps of Potala Palace greeted by the om mani of chanting monks. I would love to sit among your people in a smoky Lhasa restaurant, listening to storytellers serve up tales as heartwarming as your yak noodle soup and steaming butter tea.
Or maybe I will arrive through China, curving along the ancient Tea Horse Road to find Xiangcheng, a mountain valley town famous for Tibetan street food. Narrow is the road that leads to heavenly momos packed with yak cheese.
But your embrace eludes me. Your borders are currently closed. Group Visas and Entry Permits from China are mandatory along with quarantines and masks. So in the meantime, I will make plans. Ask a monk on the mountain to hang a prayer cloth and release my wishes into the wind. See you soon.
Yours for many lifetimes,
Roland Watson-Grant’s first novel, Sketcher (Alma Books, 2013), has been translated into Spanish and Turkish. Watson-Grant was short-listed for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and is the recipient of a Musgrave Medal in his home country, Jamaica.
Uzbekistan by Sarah Khan
My father, the unofficial family historian, can trace our ancestry back 40 generations and across nine modern-day countries, including Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India, and the United States. I’ve lived in or traveled to many of those places: I grew up in Saudi Arabia, I’ve been to Spain and Turkey, and I return to India every year. But one thread of my heritage has always felt enigmatic: What, I wonder, were the lives of my ancestors like in 16th- and 17th-century Uzbekistan?
I had lofty goals of tracing the footsteps of that branch, the Rifaees, in 2020, when I started plotting a family trip to Samarkand and Bukhara, both prominent stops along the Silk Road. Landlocked Uzbekistan was, for centuries, a vital hub for Islamic scholarship and culture, and its location drew travelers from across the Muslim world—including many who, like my ancestors, decided to stick around for a few generations.
I sketched out a dream itinerary, based on years of late-night research. I’d take my parents to the imposing Registan Square in Samarkand at sunrise, to see the morning light gild the turquoise tiles of the three grand madrassas, or religious schools. We’d pray in the Bibi-Khanym mosque, once the largest in the Islamic world. There’d be a break to try pumpkin manti—traditional stuffed dumplings—at a rooftop café overlooking Bukhara’s Po-i-Kalyan complex. We’d search for references to our ancestors in madrassas and necropolises, looking for any clues that could help us see them as more than just names on a family tree. I figured out all this detail before I’d even booked a flight—and then the pandemic put the brakes on my Uzbek aspirations.
My parents are the reason I travel: They carted me all over the world growing up, and thanks to them, some of my earliest memories are of scampering down airplane aisles. I had envisioned this Uzbekistan adventure as a way to say thank you for passing the torch, that now it’s my turn to take them around. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that the next flight is no longer something to take for granted—and once it’s safe to venture out again, this long-overdue holiday is something I won’t put off any longer.
Award-winning travel writer Sarah Khan has lived in five countries on three continents. You can find her byline in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Saveur, and many other publications. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @BySarahKhan.
Vietnam by Sally Kohn
How does an American travel responsibly in Vietnam? It’s been on my mind this year, a year when many of us are thinking more deeply about the effect we have on the places we visit. I passed through Vietnam briefly almost 20 years ago, but I’ve always wanted to spend a month in the country, savoring spring rolls while skipping about between historic temples and palaces, preferably via bicycle or moped. But if I aspire to be an American with a conscience, which feels more essential now than ever, should Vietnam even be on my vacation radar? How can I do the relaxing, vacationy things and, simultaneously, reckon with such a complex, often brutal history—one that my own nation helped create?
To avoid Vietnam—to avoid the discomfort of history and spend my money elsewhere—feels problematic, too. So in 2021, once the country has reopened to foreign visitors, I’d like to face U.S. history and plan a responsible trip, in every sense of the word.
I’d start in Ho Chi Minh City (and importantly, would call it that rather than its French imperial name, Saigon). I’d tour the War Remnants Museum, which up until 1995 was called the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.” I’d spend a day with Tiger Tours to learn more about the war from the Vietnamese perspective. And I’d stay at the Myst Dong Khoi, part of a small, locally owned group of boutique hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.
I’d go to Da Nang, the coastal city where U.S. troops first landed, and visit Son My, where American troops massacred more than 500 villagers in one of the bloodiest events in the war. There’s a memorial there, as well as the ruins of an ancient temple. Throughout my trip, I would eat at small, family-owned restaurants, which grew out of postwar economic reforms that made it possible for many Vietnamese to open their own businesses in this still-communist nation.
And yes, eventually, I might go to a beach farther south near another coastal city, Cam Ranh, maybe stay at the Anam, another Vietnamese-owned luxury resort. There, I might relax into the soft sand and swaying palms—but I’d think about the American military personnel who once sat in the same spot, against the backdrop of ruination. There is no escape from history. Sometimes travel, when our minds are most open, is the best way to connect with it.
Ghana by Heather Greenwood Davis
“I can take you to your people.”
The phrase was uttered by the elder who had taken my hand shortly after I arrived in a small Ghanaian village in 1997. And though the words were simple, they pointed to a difficult fact: Black people displaced from their homeland by slavery had been severed from their ancestral roots. Now that we were back to visit, those who’d never left the continent could see in us connections we still couldn’t see in ourselves.
My role on this trip was as a reporter. I was sent by my newspaper to accompany a group of Black teenagers who had won the trip as part of an essay contest, and I’d heard this phrase spoken to others in the group many times. Those who heeded the call were walked over to a nearby courtyard and introduced to someone who looked just like them, each time finding an unexpected resemblance through some distant lineage. Now, it was my turn.
The trip was my first to the continent. It was also my first international assignment. I didn’t want to screw it up. I was wary of personal moments that might distract from my perceived professionalism. And so I didn’t follow that woman to “my people.” More than 20 years later, I’m still haunted by that decision.
In 2019, hundreds of thousands of Black people participated in Ghana’s “Year of Return,” an invitation to Black people from across the diaspora to return to the country and reconnect with their heritage, 400 years after the first slave ships left the country’s coast. I watched online as they visited the slave dungeons and historic villages I had seen on my own visit. Those memories flooded back—as did that offer of connection that I’d politely declined.
I would make a different choice today. The pandemic has reinforced the importance of relationships in my life. Older and slightly wiser, I see the opportunity I missed. I wasn’t ready then, but I am now. When it’s safe, I will go back. This time I’ll take my kids. I’ll show them the door of no return, where enslaved Africans last glimpsed their homeland. I’ll also introduce them to Ghana’s waterfalls, national parks, white-sand beaches. And most important, I’ll introduce them to the people who are impacting the aesthetic of everything from fashion to music on a global scale. We’ll pop into traditional villages in places like Kumasi, but we’ll also marvel at the stilt homes in Nzulezu and the skyscrapers in Accra. This time, I’ll focus on my own experience. And when a hand is offered, I’ll be ready to grasp it and let it lead me home.
Grand Teton National Park by Kelly Dawson
I’m an explorer of the great indoors. If anyone was prepared to stay inside during a global pandemic, it was me. But I also crave adventure, and I cherish what it means to wonder and to try.
I have cerebral palsy, which might explain the irony of being a wanderlusting homebody. As a child, I scraped my knees out in a world not built for me and learned that home didn’t have as many restrictions. But my mom wanted me to have an after-school activity, so she found a horseback-riding team made up of nondisabled and disabled children. Being outside, high up, moving at a blur-inducing pace was thrilling. I’ve never forgotten that sense of freedom. Now, after months spent indoors as a high-risk individual, riding is what I imagine doing most.
I picture meandering through Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park on a four-day excursion, stopping only to camp under the stars. I’d be wearing jeans, a shift from my current uniform of sweatpants, and my legs would curve over the sides of a horse navigating rocks and streams. I’d listen to the sounds of birds overhead as a crisp breeze sends the scent of wildflowers through the air, and I’d breathe it in while admiring the park’s namesake mountains scraping at the sky. Mostly, I’d relish a setting where time doesn’t pass painfully slowly or incomprehensibly fast. Those peaks and valleys are just there, as they have been for more than 15,000 years, unmoved by human chaos.
Before now, I prioritized livelier destinations—ones with crowds moving through markets and museums and concert halls. Maybe a horseback trip isn’t a new idea, but it feels like the most restorative. I want a slow place to get me back up to speed. Luckily, Grand Teton National Park promises a wide-open adventure, but with plenty of sitting.
New Orleans by Kristin Braswell
The sticky heat that rises from the sidewalk has never deterred me from fulfilling my New Orleans cravings: For the last several years—until 2020—I’ve made an annual pilgrimage for the crispy fried chicken doused in Crystal hot sauce at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, charbroiled oysters bubbling with Parmesan and butter at Drago’s, steaming po’boys with fried catfish at Parkway or Adams Street Grocery, a muffuletta that I can barely fit into my mouth (still, I make it work) at Verti Marte.
My love for New Orleans is a sensory addiction that began with taste—those bayou flavors were first introduced to me in Los Angeles by my grandmother Gwendolyn, who learned from her mother Emily, born in New Orleans. No matter what kitchen I am in, the deliberate stirring of roux to create gumbo invokes a yearning for the place that is a symbol of my family’s great migration West, of flavors and oral histories passed from mouth to mouth and onto plates.
I know that my great-grandmother’s life in New Orleans was nothing like my annual visits full of freedom, Pimm’s Cups, jazz, and fried foods. I know that her sacrifices, like those of many New Orleanians, exist far beyond the noise and neon signs of Bourbon Street, in deep backwoods and near lakes, between the walls of shotgun homes. Those sacrifices can be seen on sunken houses that still read “SAVE US!” years after Hurricane Katrina, on streets with second line parades, where life and death are equally celebrated.
I will return as soon as I can: to honor my great-grandmother’s memory, to dance and sing with the brass bands, to celebrate the flavors that have become tradition to me each visit. Until then, despite distance, my memories sustain me—they make New Orleans so real, I can taste it.
Kristin Braswell is a writer and entrepreneur committed to changing the world through travel. She has visited more than 20 countries, creating lasting memories with people and places that inspire her brand, CrushGlobal. Follow her on Instagram @crushglobal.
Mexico City by Ernest White II
At the beginning of July, the streets of Mexico City were quiet. Restaurants had just been given the permission to offer indoor dining, and my friends and I walked through the Roma Norte neighborhood in search of seafood. We skipped across multilane thoroughfares where just four or five cars were stopped at traffic lights, as we talked loudly in English and Spanish, our voices echoing in the empty streets.
Mexico City wasn’t the crackling megacity I’d fallen for on my first trip back in 2004. Then, the city’s arteries flowed with green-and-white VW Beetle taxis, the traffic a constant roar. As I explored the Bosque de Chapultepec, the Museo Frida Kahlo, the ancient pyramids outside the city, I made new friends: Mexican teachers, Guatemalan políticos (in one case, a política), Panamanian actors, Spanish entrepreneurs, U.S. journalists.
We’ve stayed in touch all these years. Even more than the tacos at Orinoco, my friends are the reason I visit Mexico City, the reason I’ve built a relationship with it. They are the reason I got on a plane in July, unsure of what I’d find. Mexico City was, in many ways, just another place rendered dormant by the pandemic, the electricity generated by some 21 million people turned down low. But “low” isn’t “off.”
Walking toward Contramar, Gabriela Cámara’s legendary seafood restaurant, we heard laughter through face masks and encountered new street art: a vintage automobile covered with lacquered flowers and ferns. We took selfies. The city simmered.
We ordered calamari at Contramar, where the always polite waitstaff wore face shields and latex gloves. In solemn recognition of the pandemic, we lowered our laughter. But we laughed, nonetheless.
The road to recovery won’t be swift. But I know I’ll go again next year, when Mexico City is amped all the way up: loud, lively, and full of love.
Ernest White II is a storyteller, explorer, and executive producer and host of television travel docuseries Fly Brother with Ernest White II, currently airing in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. He is also founder and CEO of Presidio Pictures, a new film, television, and digital media studio centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior/elder narratives. Follow him on Instagram @flybrother.
Ilha Grande, Brazil, by Negin Farsad
More than 10 years ago, I went with one of my besties, Anyeley, to Brazil. We travel really well together, which is a coup for wildly different people—Anyeley is an African American practicing Christian and I’m a secular Iranian American Muslim. At the time, we were single gals in grad school, which meant we traveled very cheaply. Despite having access to none of the luxuries of travel, we managed to have the time of our lives.
So when we’ve talked and dreamed about our first postpandemic trip, it’s to Brazil, and specifically, Ilha Grande, a paradisiacal Brazilian island off the coast of Rio. (Because of the many fun quirks of the Portuguese language, those words are actually pronounced “Il-ya Gran-ji.”)
But I imagine this time our trip would be a bit different. Now, we have the pressures of parenthood and money and facial moisturizing. We also haven’t seen each other in a year. Thanks, COVID! A trip to Ilha Grande would help us reconnect and recapture some of that energy from a lighter time, from our salad days.
The friendly, multigenerational island is small and walkable with unbelievably pristine beaches. (Fun fact: It’s walkable because they don’t allow cars.) It’s not a party island, though there is partying; it’s not a sleepy island, though there are plenty of ways to relax; it’s not an island propped up by festivals or by the wealth of a few. Ilha Grande is a destination that somehow provides you with whatever it is you want from it.
Back then, we wanted dancing and beaches. Like the implausibly perfect Lopes Mendes, a white-sand beach accessible by boats helmed by teenage boys who want to terrify passengers with their wave jumping. Everywhere we looked were mom-and-pop operations: small hotels and hostels, campsites, restaurants, fruit stands. Every day, there was snorkeling, and swimming, and dancing—so much dancing. People would dance at sunset along the island’s many, many beaches; they would break into dance along the pathways of Abraão, the colorful main town, at night.
At one point we walked into a bikini shop. We were looking for the famous Brazilian bikinis, which locals wear looking as comfortable as if they were in sweatpants. As the elderly shop clerk rang us up, she invited us to her Bible study that night. We took the Bible study flyer, and as we walked out, Anyeley was floored. “That’s what Christianity can look like,” she said. “You can sell high-cut bikinis and promote your Bible study at the same time—I love it!” I loved that too, the way the entire globe can shrink down to three very different people.
I wonder what our future trip will look like, when we have a chance to really HANG. Would we brush up against the issues that have divided the rest of the country? Or would we find bikini shops run by joyfully Bible-thumping Brazilians who could somehow bring us closer together?
When Anyeley and I inevitably go back, we won’t stay at a hostel, and we won’t be as brazen with our swimwear. But I know that in that casual Ilha Grandean way, the island will somehow provide us with a magical thing we need. Years ago, that was dancing and cute boys, but because we’ve been deprived of our togetherness, maybe this time around, togetherness is all we need. That and some terrifying wave jumps.
Negin Farsad is a writer, comedian, and actor based in New York City. She is also the author of How to Make White People Laugh(Grand Central Publishing, 2016). Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @neginfarsad.
Seville by Anya von Bremzen
In Jackson Heights, New York—my neighborhood, and one of the pandemic’s early epicenters—our early spring days were dark with trauma. Ambulances wailed outside my windows, the news was awash with scenes from overwhelmed Elmhurst Hospital a few blocks away, and I grimly counted my cans of beans, because even the bodegas were closed. During lockdown, I found comfort in mentally revisiting my favorite tapas bars of Seville. How I’ve missed those crowded tiled taverns, the countermen rasping out rapid-fire pregones (tapas recitations): oxtail stew, lacy fried fish, dusky curls of Ibérico ham. But the eats—¡delicioso!—weren’t the only reason I longed for Andalusia’s capital. Seville is Spain’s most compulsively sociable city, with its histrionic fiestas and religious processions and its ritual of the tapeo, the bar crawl that refuels the city’s community spirit.
In my fantasy tapeo, I start at La Flor de Toranzo in the historic center, trading confidences with strangers over icy Cruzcampo beers around the ’40s-era zinc counter. The signature tapa? Fresh-baked Antequera rolls mounded with anchovies under squiggles of condensed milk. From there, I squeeze onto a rickety stool at Casa Moreno, a spot hidden at the back of a grocery store. Manzanilla in hand, I take in the fearsome stuffed bull’s head on the wall above a tattered cabinet of rare sherries and wines, curated by Emilio Vara, one of Seville’s most beloved taberneros (barkeeps). Emilio’s “kitchen” is a single beat-up toaster oven churning out warm montaditos—small canapés—“plated” on squares of wax paper. Son of a well-known local journalist, Emilio pours his creativity into penning aphorisms on stickers—“Joy makes us invulnerable,” “Haste destroys all tenderness”—and into entertaining his regulars. A good tabernero, he says, is above all a psychologist.
For lunch proper—batter-fried bacalao, braised Ibérico pork cheeks—I finish at nearby stalwart Bodeguita Romero. Here the same elderly blue-haired widow shows up to eat every day at noon, smartly dressed and coiffed. The barrio bars of Seville, she once observed to me, are the city’s kitchens, its living rooms, its confession booths. Without this human connection—she gestured simply, proudly, around us—how would we ever survive?
EuroVelo 6 by Sebastian Modak
A few years ago, on assignment in Austria, I found myself on two wheels, rolling through bicycling heaven. Sixty miles west of Vienna, on a bike path along the banks of the Danube, the sun shone through wispy clouds onto terraced vineyards that stretched up the hills. I took a bite of an apricot, just picked from a small mound left outside a farm for passing cyclists. A sign indicated the route I was traveling: EuroVelo 6. I wrote it down—and promptly forgot about it.
Like so many others searching for ways to get out into the world safely, I fell more deeply in love with cycling in 2020. By summer, I was leaving my apartment in New York City for days at a time, panniers packed and my phone primed for navigation only. Then I started thinking bigger.
I thought of EuroVelo 6. It turns out, I had traversed less than 1 percent of a bike route that extends across 10 countries in Europe, from France to Romania, the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea. Could I really do all 2,765 miles of it, through burning sun and cold rain, going days at a time without even the hope of a shower? Before the lockdown, I’d have said, “No way.” Now I say, “Why not?” I researched each section: from the fully developed trail through the middle of France to the rougher portion—more dirt, less pavement—snaking some 700 miles from Budapest down into Serbia, then through Romania and Bulgaria, until it reaches the Black Sea.
As I mapped it out, Europe was heading for yet another wave of COVID-19 cases, and Americans were still prohibited from traveling to most places. But what are pipe dreams if not delayed plans? Sometime in 2021, I will clear my calendar, get on a bike in Nantes, France, and ride east. I’ll be alone and outdoors, perfect social-distancing conditions. I wonder if apricots will be in season by the time I hit Austria.
The Mani, Greece, by Charmaine Craig
There’s something hallucinatory and steadying about Greece’s landscape, the elemental wind and dazzled light, its scoured crags and wine-dark sea (to use Homer’s phrase). My husband and I used to make regular pilgrimages to the Cyclades; then came the joyous upheaval of children, followed by years of unmooring—the passing of parents, half a dozen relocations, a devastating house fire, the uncertainties of midlife and marital strain.
And now the unsettledness into which we’ve all been thrown. I suppose it’s no surprise that I find myself fantasizing again about Greece, where the simplest things can seem so profound. Just to sit for a plate of horiatiki (salad) at a seaside taverna is to participate in a ritual seemingly untarnished by the passing of time. In particular, I’ve been thinking of the barren cliffs and vermilion-stoned villages of a region I never made it to, on the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese: the Mani. There, my favorite British adventurer built his home among olive groves confronting the expansive sea, as if to settle into permanent contemplation of eternity.
It’s easy enough to fly to now, but in 1951, when the late Patrick Leigh Fermor trekked there over the Taygetus range, the Mani was virtually inaccessible to outsiders. Fermor was a sort of Byronian 20th-century knight who had set out earlier, at age 18, to walk from Holland to Constantinople, sleeping in haystacks and carousing in beer halls and wooing a princess along the way. At one point in Mani, the chronicle of his Greek journey published in 1958, Leigh Fermor describes swimming from a fishing boat to the cave known as the entrance to Hades, a surprisingly serene experience.
What I dream of now is what Leigh Fermor called a “private incursion” into Mani: not a conquering of its Byzantine chapels or medieval embattlements or towering peaks, but a wandering along cobblestone paths and sun-bleached shores. Shores that hint at myth and perpetuity, in the way that only Greece can.
Charmaine Craig is the author of the novels The Good Men, a national best seller translated into six languages, and Miss Burma, long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.
Barbados by Korsha Wilson
The Bussa Emancipation Statue is unmissable. Located in the middle of a busy roundabout, it depicts a man in tattered shorts, his hands outstretched, broken chains hanging from the shackles on his wrists, and his eyes looking up at the blue Caribbean sky. Barbadian sculptor Karl Broodhagen created the piece in 1985 to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Barbados in 1834. When I first saw it from the window of a taxi in 2016, I was taken aback by its unflinching depiction of the brutal enslavement of a people. But it wasn’t melancholy—it was prideful. I wondered if Bajans, as Barbadians are also known, thought about that history as they zoomed by in their cars.
A locale shows its ethos in the details. During that trip, I saw how Barbadian culture has been shaped by enslaved Africans and their descendants. I felt it in the sway of exuberant soca music spilling out of cars and shops, at bars where locals and tourists talked and laughed over rums that were once produced by slaves on the island. I tasted it in the national dish: flying fish native to the waters around the island, stewed with tomato and onions. It’s served over cornmeal and okra cou-cou, similar to Southern grits—both inherited from banku, Ghana’s ubiquitous fermented cornmeal and cassava dumplings. When I ate the dish at Primo in St. Lawrence Gap, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I was experiencing, through these ingredients, the connection between all the places the transatlantic slave trade touched.
In the United States, as we continue to confront this country’s legacy of enslavement, I’ve thought often of Barbados and of the statue: It reminds me that it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge our history and face it squarely, so that we don’t repeat it. Sure, you can visit the island for the (excellent) rum bars and beaches, but the true magic of Barbados lies in embracing its entire story. For me, a Black woman traveler, my next trip to the island will feel like a return in more ways than one.
Korsha Wilson is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and host of A Hungry Society, a podcast that takes a more inclusive look at the food world. She’s obsessed with travel, negronis, and authentic Maryland crab cakes. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @korshawilson.