The idea that travel is not about the destination but the journey may be hackneyed, but it’s also valid. Or at least half valid. Does it really have to be one or the other? These spots might be hard to reach and far off the beaten tourist path, but sometimes getting to the ends of the Earth (or just the end of an island) is as exciting as being there.
Madagascar is one of the world’s most biodiverse islands—about 92 percent of Madagascar’s reptiles, mammals, and plants exist nowhere else on Earth, which makes it an enticing trip for nature lovers. But the island, located off the coast of Mozambique, presents its fair share of logistical problems: Few airlines fly into the country, and once you arrive, it’s tough to get around—many roads are difficult, windy, and rough. The island’s lemurs, unique geographical formations, and giant, fantastical trees are more than worth the trouble though.
An autonomous Danish territory, Greenland is located close to Iceland but extremely difficult to access from most other parts of the world. Cruise ships can get to the island, but for a real adventure, hop a flight from Iceland or Denmark to one of the few populated coastal towns and explore from there. Arctic weather conditions—most of Greenland is covered in ice year-round—prevent easy transportation, and roads are nonexistent throughout much of the country, so be sure to leave plenty of leeway to get from place to place by ferry, chopper, or plane. Catch a glimpse of a glacier before it disappears, or go on an expedition to check out the newly inscribed UNESCO farming landscape of Kujataa, which highlights age-old cooperation between Inuit and European Norse settlers and the earliest introduction of farming to the Arctic.
Republic of Sakha, Russia
The coldest inhabited region in the world recently went viral after temperatures got down to -88.6˚F in January. A visit to this remote Russian federal subject is the perfect challenge for travelers seeking extremes or wanting to see what it’s like to live in permafrost. Although road availability is next to nil for most of the year (and highways are even carved on ice seasonally), you can travel to the capital of Yakutsk from Moscow by plane. Come summer, when temps warm up, catch a seasonal flight to Kamchatka, where you can get even cozier at natural hot springs.
Albania isn’t as remote as some of the other spots on this list, but it’s certainly underrated by U.S. travelers, especially as a beach paradise. No airlines based in the United States fly there directly, but an increasing number of European carriers land at Tirana International Airport Mother Teresa. Hop on a bus to Tirana, then another to Sarandë (another coastal town), and then another local bus to Ksamil, one of the most popular towns on the 225-mile coastline known as the “Albanian Riviera.” Or rent a car and make the roughly five-hour drive yourself. If you want to escape fellow sunbathers, catch a boat to the Ksamil Islands. If you’re tired of beaches, check out Blue Eye, a natural spring of unknown depths and intense cerulean color, and be glad you’ve made the trip.
Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Some of the Scottish isles get their fair share of tourists—maybe even too many, especially on islands like Skye, where infrastructure hasn’t caught up to its surging popularity. But just beyond, the Outer Hebrides consists of the major islands of Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra. Ferries arrive at various ports regularly, but if you want to really make an entrance, buy a Loganair ticket from Glasgow to Barra and land on the beach itself during low tide. Quaint villages, lots of greenery, and excellent bird-watching make for a peaceful vacation on all the islands.
Until last fall, the only way to get to the island of St. Helena, located in the South Atlantic and where Napoleon spent his final days, was to sail for a week on the royal mail ship that departs from Cape Town. Now, the South African airline AirLink offers a weekly four-hour flight from Johannesburg, making it easier to visit the island and hang out with Jonathan, the (reportedly) 185-year-old tortoise, or hike Diana’s Peak.
Pitcairn is known as one of the islands where mutineers from the HMS Bounty (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) settled. Today, only about 50 people live there, and they are hoping to get some visitors. Board the quarterly shipping/passenger vessel from Mangareva in French Polynesia for a four- or 11-day trip. Astronomy lovers will find themselves in terrestrial heaven in Pitcairn—the island’s dark skies offer some of the best views of the cosmos. They’re so stellar, in fact, that the islanders are shooting to land Pitcairn on the designated Dark Sky Sanctuary list, which only three places worldwide occupy.