Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, AFAR is continuing to cover the world, because while you may not be traveling right now, there’s always room for inspiration.
While countries in Europe and the Caribbean are slowly (and shakily) reopening for travel this year, Google searches for 2021 travel have increased by 124 percent since March, indicating that many people are getting an early start on 2021 trip planning. Luxury travel company Kuoni analyzed Google search data in all languages to identify the destinations that people are most interested in visiting next year.
The map below shows the destination that each country is most eager to visit, based on Google searches for “[destination] 2021” and “[destination] holiday 2021.” On a global scale, the most popular 2021 destination is the United Arab Emirates, followed by a three-way tie among Qatar, Canada, and the United States.
Google trends show that U.S. travelers searched for the following five countries the most when considering 2021 trips:
These destinations have long been on AFAR’s radar in the form of travel guides and long-form articles. As we ponder future international adventures, we took a look back at the stories that most vividly evoked the spirit of these five places. Some tales inspired us to book a trip, others made us nostalgic for past lives; all have us yearning to travel again.
Chris Colin’s story about renting a friend in Tokyo fascinated me from the get-go. The series of encounters with platonic pals for hire inspired my introverted self, not to replicate the experience, but to explore a place where enough people found themselves at the intersection of busy, shy, and lonely that such a service could fuel a successful business. That specific cultural fascination got me on the plane, but everything else I saw while in Japan—temples tucked between city blocks, pristine convenience stores that defy every 7-Eleven stereotype, vending machines dispensing cans of hot coffee, old women chatting in onsen locker rooms—had me planning my next trip before I’d even left. —Nicole Antonio, managing editor
Read Chris Colin’s full story: The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo
I’ve wanted to hike the Kumano Kodo, Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage trail, since the moment I read this line in Peggy Orenstein’s story: “Kumano is in the heart of Japan’s holiest region, the cradle of its creation myth.” There is something in the Kumano’s mix of spirituality, forebodingly steep trails, and quiet inns ready to refuel hungry travelers that calls to me. My sister had a similar reaction. Twice now we have tried to answer that call—and both times life has had other plans. COVID-19 threw up the latest roadblock. Yes, I’m disappointed that I’m not hiking through “sleepy farm towns and forests of cedar, cypress, and bamboo, over mountain passes, across rivers, and past waterfalls” this summer as I had hoped. But if anything, quarantine has deepened my hunger to visit. If dreaming of a destination is an important part of planning a trip—building a bond, understanding your intent—then the Kumano Kodo is the destination with which I’ve had my most extensive long-distance relationship. Here’s to 2021 being the year we finally meet IRL. —Aislyn Greene, senior editor
Read Peggy Orenstein’s full story: Escape From the Modern World on a Pilgrim’s Path Through Japan
Like AFAR contributing writer Emma John, I first went to Venice when I was about 13. Though I didn’t have a cool single woman as my chaperone, I do remember visiting the Doge’s Palace and Piazza San Marco and the island of Murano with my family and being struck by the glamour of it all. The wending canals, the majestic cupolas—people had garages for their boats! When I returned to Venice last spring for a couple of days before boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, I did not have a teenaged travel companion in tow, as Emma did. But I discovered that, no matter my age, the allure of the place had not changed. I got lost. I sat in cafés to drink espresso and write postcards. I walked all the way to the tip of the island and just listened to the water lap against the pier. I let myself be enchanted by the vaporetti and notice the soft hues of blue and terra-cotta that appeared in myriad ways around the city. My favorite moments were, as Emma’s young charge Niambh remarks, “wandering the streets without a plan, discovering things.” —Sara Button, associate editor
Read Emma John’s full story: Why Did I Bring a Teenager to Venice?
In my two years living in Greece, I was the recipient of two things more than anything else: food and philoxenia—hospitality, or a kindness shown to strangers. (Often, the two went hand in hand.) When I joined AFAR, I was thrilled to find that we’d commissioned Anya von Bremzen to write about both of these factors for a feature in 2017. In her piece, Von Bremzen visits neighborhood after Athens neighborhood—including one of my favorites, Exarcheia—describing the meals she’s eating and the ways she’s seeing philoxenia manifest. By the time you’re done reading, I guarantee you’ll be happier (and hungrier) than you were when you started. —Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor
Read Anya von Bremzen’s full story: Why Athens Is Where It’s At
When I traveled to Ireland years back, I was with a long-term (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend, and our relationship was on the rocks. The weather was like a bad metaphor for our unraveling—the off-and-on rain a symbol of my off-and-on tears. And yet, we couldn’t deny the absolutely stunning setting that served as the backdrop to our impending doom. The elation we experienced upon seeing the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher for the first time, the undeniable joy brought on by giddy inn hosts foisting homemade crumpets on us at tiny bed-and-breakfasts along the way served as such pleasant and welcome escapes from the tension. I will always remember a place so beautiful that not even hurt and heartache could detract from its beauty. For that reason, Chris Colin’s ode to why Ireland is an ideal destination for experiencing deep emotions hit frighteningly close to home. Just because you are sad when you travel somewhere does not make the place sad. In many ways, it makes it more meaningful. —Michelle Baran, travel news editor
Read Chris Colin’s full story: Why Western Ireland Is the Best Place to Be Sad
After studying both Ancient Egyptian religion and Islam as a double religious studies/journalism major in college, I daydreamed of seeing the Giza Pyramids and experiencing modern Cairo in real life. But graduating at the tail end of the 2008 recession meant epic international trips weren’t exactly in my budget. Then Egypt joined the Arab Spring movement in 2011 and ousted president Hosni Mubarak, making a trip there seem even less likely. So when AFAR sent photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz to capture Egypt’s rebound for its January/February 2019 issue, I knew it was time to go before the crowds returned in force. (In 2018, Egypt’s international tourism arrivals jumped nearly 37 percent to 11.3 million visitors up from 8.3 million in 2017.) His photos of just a handful of tourists at the Sphinx, hazy sunset walks in Cairo, and a peaceful Nile river cruise were enough to convince three friends to join me last September for a 10-day trip where we experienced all of those things. Though the new Grand Egyptian Museum wasn’t open in time for our visit (it’s been delayed again to 2021 due to coronavirus), the trip played out even better than I imagined it while sitting in a classroom 10 years ago. —Lyndsey Matthews, destination news editor
See Mustafah Abdulaziz’s full photo essay: Egypt Rising