It’s that time of year again, when we look ahead to a year of travel. On this week’s episode of Unpacked by AFAR, editorial director Sarika Bansal chats with deputy editor Tim Chester and freelancer Ashlea Halpern about our annual Where to Got in 2023 list.
- 2:38: Introductions and how AFAR creates its annual Where to Go List.
- 5:30: The places having a moment
- 21:51: Giving back to destinations as we travel
- 32:05: Family travel
- 35:28: Where our editors are traveling next
I’m Sarika Bansal, editorial director here at AFAR. And this is Unpacked, the podcast that “unpacks” one tricky topic in travel every week. And this week, we’re talking about everyone’s favorite subject: Where to Go Next.
AFAR has put out a Where to Go list almost every January since we launched in 2009. In more recent years, the pandemic deeply affected those lists. In 2021, we wrote love letters to 12 places we were dreaming of as borders remained mostly closed. In 2022, we created an ambitious list of 39 places that we were stoked to visit as the world reopened. But this year we wanted to go deeper on fewer destinations—the ones that really captured our attention.
In this spirit, I’m joined today by two incredible travel experts who helped make this year’s list possible: Tim Chester, a deputy editor at AFAR, and Ashlea Halpern, a freelance travel journalist. Tim and I reached out to reporters and writers around the world for destinations they think are having a moment. We ended up with a Google doc that was nearly 150 pages long and included destinations from the Arctic Circle all the way down to South Africa. After months of research and debates, we finally winnowed it down to 12 places.
You can see the entire list in our Winter 2023 print issue of AFAR (on newsstands now) and online at afar.com/wtg2023. It includes cities like Bangkok, Baltimore, Bergamo, and Brescia, as well as more rural getaways like Transylvania, Tasmania, and Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park. We offer ideas for every type of traveler, whether you want to bicycle along Prince Edward Island’s new Island Walk, eat seafood and listen to music in the Brazilian city of Salvador, or appreciate art and architecture in the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah.
Today I’m going to be talking with Tim and Ashlea about all of the places on our list, what we learned about them, our predictions for the year, and, of course, where we’ll be traveling next.
So let’s get going.
Sarika: Thanks. All right, well, hi everybody. I’m really excited to be having this conversation. I would love to hear from both of you, where you are in the world and how it’s going.
Tim: Thank you for having us. I’m Tim Chester. I’m based in an area called Thousand Oaks, which is a suburb of L.A. It’s very, very wet at the moment. I’ve been with the AFAR for four or five years now, based in Southern California.
And as you can tell, I’m a Brit, which can surprise some people when they meet me for the first time.
Sarika: How long have you been in California?
Tim: I moved here six and a half years ago from London.
Sarika: Nice. How about you, Ashlea?
Ashlea: So I’m based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where it’s about minus 400 degrees right now. My husband and I moved here in 2018 after traveling full-time for four years. We were all over during that period. And before that we were in New York City for about a decade.
Sarika: Cool. And I didn’t mention that I am based in Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve been here for about five years and I’ve been with AFAR for about a year and a half now. I think one of the first issues actually that I worked on when I first joined was our Where to Go issue for 2022. And, you know, that was a very different Where to Go list than this year’s in that it was a full issue takeover.
It was 39 places of where to go around the world. It got very intense because it was a lot with a very small team, and this time around, I think for several reasons, we wanted to make it a tighter list.
Tim, you and I were both involved in the development of it, so do you wanna talk about how that was for you?
Tim: Yeah. I think part of the reason we had 39 places was we were just so excited, as the pandemic was evolving and places were beginning to open up to flag all these great places that we thought people could travel to. It felt like so much possibility.
So by contrast, this time round, we focused on just 12 destinations. Each of these places has many reasons to visit, and we wanted to give them the space in the magazine to showcase the beautiful photography and really dive into why you should go to these places. So how we went about finding the list: I suppose I could talk about the where to go process. It takes many, many months to come up with a list of just 12 places.
Last year we started sourcing pitches from all of our writers and editors across the globe. Back in late spring, early summer, we must have had at least a hundred ideas and pitches from people. And so those are all put into a huge Google doc on a spreadsheet.
And then we as editors try and whittle that down. And [look for destinations] that ideally will cover a big geographical spread, and a number of types of places from cities to outdoor adventure. We’re trying to appeal to a broad range of travelers.
And then finally through lots of discussions and conversation, we get that down to the final 12.
Sarika: For sure. It was a very, very big Google doc that we were going through. I do wanna touch on two things that you mentioned. One is, all of the places that we chose definitely are having a moment this year. There is a why now hook. Cuz sometimes I look at these lists and I’m just like, why? What are the reasons these places are chosen? I think that that was an important, differentiating factor for us. And the other thing you mentioned was how there are a lot of cities in this list, and I think that was something that was very different from last year because of the pandemic and how it’s been evolving.
Even when we did feature cities, we featured ways to enjoy them in the outdoors and the open air. And I think that being able to instead talk about places that you could enjoy for their culture, for their music and other things that I think a lot of people have been really missing over the last few years felt really important.
Tim: Definitely. You’ve mentioned before that in previous years’ lists, there was a focus on the great outdoors and social distancing. And this one was a little bit more about coming together in cultural spaces and over a meal in a restaurant or at a concert, a gig.
In terms of the why now, I think in some places there’s an obvious raft of new hotels or the restaurant scene is taking off with new chefs and some of the others—Graz in Austria is a good example—where there’s just a sort of spirit of entrepreneurship and community and there’s a vibe that’s evolved over several years and it, and it kind of coalesces into a moment. Why should you go now is a big factor in our thinking.
Sarika: Absolutely. And Ashlea, we’re so lucky to have you join the team to edit 6 of the 12 stories. So just wanna hear from your perspective how this process was.
Ashlea: It was really fun. I wasn’t involved in selecting the 12, so I didn’t have to deal with the unwieldy Google doc with hundreds of ideas. I just got to find out what the places were right away and then jump into learning, in some cases, about places I thought I knew well. Because I’ve lived in some of them and others I’d never heard of—and I’m bound to butcher the pronunciation on when we start talking about the actual list, even though I practiced.
It’s always thrilling to find out new things to do in places, but like Tim said, reasons to go beyond, you know, just there’s XY new luxury hotel in this place. In some cases it’s a lot more subtle. It’s a really ambitious community-oriented tourism launch, say, or a country saying, you know what, we’re gonna recalibrate. We shut down during the pandemic. We’re gonna think about how we want to exist in the world moving forward and how we wanna advertise ourselves globally as a destination and what kind of traveler we want to bring in and how we want that traveler to engage with us and our people and our entrepreneurs while they’re here.
And that, I think, is always exciting to hear about.
Tim: I’m curious, where was it that you thought you knew, and it turned out you learned a lot more about from the list?
Ashlea: Well, I was in Bangkok. We were based over there for a while. We’ve used it as a base when we were traveling throughout Asia extensively. There’s just so much new stuff has opened there since the pandemic and a lot by young Thai creatives, which is fantastic to see.
And also the Great Lakes. I live near a Great Lake now and I just did a two-and-a-half-week road trip that visited four out of five Great Lakes. Elaine Glusac—who’s based in Chicago, but grew up outside Detroit on Lake Michigan—reading her accounts of the Great Lakes. Here’s the world’s largest freshwater system, yet so many people overlook it and it’s right in our backyard, at least for readers who live in America. That’s amazing. And it really opened my eyes to some of the opportunities on those lakes.
Sarika: Yeah. I loved how in that piece she was able to talk about the natural beauty of it as well as what it means culturally and, there are so many towns and cities and they’re all very different from each other. Even though you can class them all together as the Great Lakes, they all have such distinct personalities. Gosh, I feel like she was able to do that justice in the piece. That really gave me a lot of wanderlust.
Tim: And there are a lot of cruising opportunities there, too?
Ashlea: That’s right, that’s right. You even have, I just read the world’s longest cruise is starting in Duluth, Minnesota, and it’s Viking and it’s gonna run all the way down to Antarctica. And it’s so cool that it’s starting up there on the Great Lakes going down through a number of the Great Lakes.
Actually, I think there’s suddenly renewed attention on this area that has been overlooked for far too long. And it’s really cool to see these ships which are equipped with scientific equipment, the way some of the Antarctica expedition ships are reporting back and helping scientists with climate change studies, for example, or looking at the fish populations in the Great Lakes.
And it’s nice to see that undercurrent of research, combining with your regular leisure.
Sarika: I love how it allows travelers to just have such a deeper, richer understanding of a place beyond just, you know, this is a place where I can take pretty pictures and have nice memories with my family or friends, but to actually really deeply engage in a place, which is something that, of course, is important to AFAR and especially to the Where to Go list.
What were some of the other places that were especially exciting for both of you to work on?
Tim: I really enjoyed working on the piece on Transylvania in Romania, which was written by Keith Drew, who’s an old colleague of mine from Rough Guides. We both used to work at the Rough Guides Guidebook company in London. Obviously, everybody knows that area from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but Keith paints a very different picture of a place full of wildflowers, alpine meadows, historic homes that date back to the 12th century. And there’s actually a really ambitious rewilding project happening there.
They’re trying to create what they’re calling the European Yellowstone, which will cover nearly 618,000 acres, across the Southern Carpathian Mountains. I just had to hide my credit card and passport when I was reading because it sounded like a great place.
Ashlea: That’s at the top of my list in reading the package too. I didn’t work on that story, but I have some Romanian heritage and my husband and I have been talking about combining a Poland and Romanian trip. He’s half Polish and I’m half Romanian, and, you know, that piece definitely is pushing us over the edge for maybe booking in 2023.
Sarika: Oh, that’s amazing. I feel like that piece particularly got beyond stereotype when you think of Transylvania because of Dracula, you end up thinking of these dark, really big houses and just to even know that there is so much wild space and so much wildlife as well. That was very eye-opening to me.
Ashlea: In terms of eye-opening as well, I edited the piece about Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates, and I thought that was fascinating. It’s a place I’ve never been; like the writer points out, it’s completely overshadowed by its neighbors Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It doesn’t have the biggest, tallest, you know, grandest, most epic superlatives that those two cities have yet.
It has this quiet art scene, art and architecture that’s really starting to bubble up to the surface. And 2023 marks the 15th Sharjah Biennial as well as the Sharjah Architecture Triennial. And the triennial in particular has stuff that actually goes on year round.
So you can do architecture tours. They take you to everything from lesser-known neighborhoods to modernist bus stations. I just found it all really intriguing. And I have a shopping problem and want to go and spend all my money in every souk anywhere in the world. So that’s kind of at the top of my list too.
Sarika: What was great about that is that I feel like when people think about the UAE in general, it is that glitzy, glammy really biggest, tallest sort of stuff. And Nicola did such a good job also of talking about some of the more impressive parts of Sharjah in that way.
And also these souks and the kind of more everyday sorts of places as well as the art and architecture. It just painted such a well-rounded picture of what visiting an Emirate could really be like.
Tim: One of the pieces that you edited, Ashlea, that has inspired me to visit is the Salvador in Brazil piece. I used to be a music journalist and, just the descriptions in writer Kayla Stewart’s article about the samba and the photo we have in there of the drum team marching through the streets.
It just seems like a really fun, vibrant city to immerse yourself in the music.
Ashlea: Absolutely. During the pandemic they had the City of Music of Bahia open in that city. And it’s a museum that has more than 800 hours of music people can delve into to learn more about the genres and sub-genres and the Afro-Caribbean history there. It’s really rich and also food.
I think if you’re into music or you’re into food, this is a place you’re gonna want to go and to be able to celebrate the Black heritage of this area. This is a part of Brazil that is 80 percent Black or mixed race. And you see that everywhere you go here, from the names of the streets to the musical celebrations to, of course, the food. And one of the dishes specifically she recommended, I believe it’s pronounced moqueca, it’s a traditional seafood stew and that sounds incredible.
Tim: She also writes about the shrimp-stuffed black-eyed pea fritters, which also sound great. Going back to what you were saying about places where you can really dive into music, it wasn’t on our list, but I went to Nashville a couple of months ago and they recently opened National Museum of African American Music, and they have these amazing screens with headphones where you can choose an artist and then go through this network of influences, peers and people they’ve influenced.
I spent many hours there, basically just standing there listening to music. And would recommend that if you’re ever in Nashville,
Sarika: I love how specific that was. Going to that museum in Bahia, I could imagine really learning about something and getting so deeply immersed in it. I was glad that we also featured not just Salvador as a place to engage with Black culture but also domestically Baltimore, which has a couple of really cool openings and things going on.
Ashlea: I edited the piece about Baltimore and Lexington Market; it’s built as the oldest, continuously operating public market in the country. So it goes back to 1782, but in the last year they’ve had a $45 million renovation. They have more than 40 stalls in there, and half of them are Black-owned.
They still have incredible places, like you can get your famous crab cakes from Faidley Seafood. There’s a husband and wife–run Sunnyside Café for breakfast and Black Acres Roastery, which is Black-owned. It also has these 16-foot-tall murals painted by a local artist, and then photographs throughout the market by Shan Wallace, which depict Black food culture. So that’s a really cool, big, important opening in Baltimore.
And they also have an arena that has undergone a $200 million renovation. Pharrell and NBA player Kevin Durant are behind it. And so that’s gonna reopen just in time for college basketball. And then I think Bruce Springsteen has a big show there in April.
A lot of reasons to go to Baltimore right now.
Sarika: Which other ones were you both especially inspired by on the list?
Tim: I really enjoyed Debbie Olson’s piece on Prince Edward Island, the Canadian province. It’s a great option if you’re into hiking or cycling. They just opened a 435-mile route that covers the entire island. Debbie makes a lovely case for traveling more slowly and thoughtfully and meditatively, and just taking your time.
Also intrigued to see what the fish and chips is like there, cuz obviously that was a big staple of my diet growing up. And she claims it’s one of the best, if not the best, lobster rolls she’s ever had there. So, another foodie meets some sort of exercise type trip.
Sarika: Although I will say on the exercising it is quite flat like the Camino in Spain, which this was modeled after, so I think it is definitely a lot more accessible to a wider range of travelers and it is, of course, shorter than the Camino in Spain. Also for anyone who’s read Anne of Green Gables, it’s just a way to bring all of that to life and actually see a lot of the places where the book is based and really experience PEI to its fullest.
Tim: You could definitely do bite-size chunks of it. The route around the capital Charlottetown, and you could cycle out or walk out to the Sand Dunes and visit Prince Edward Island National Park, and they’ve got some churches that date to the 1800s. There’s a sort of interesting, not roadside attractions, but I suppose pathside attractions: They have the world’s largest handheld egg beater and various other curiosities like that.
Sarika: I mean, that’s worth the trip alone, really, seeing the world’s largest egg beater. Speaking of oddities, editing this list was the first time I’d heard of the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. The name sounds very simple, but it sounds absolutely wild.
Ashlea: That was Tim’s piece he edited. But I did a three-week road trip around Tasmania in 2015 and it’s still the best road trip I’ve ever done. And the Museum of Old and New Art, or Mona for short, has been around as long and has been just as controversial for as long. I remember going there and one of the pieces was just a fishbowl with a live goldfish and a knife in it and that was the whole piece. And everyone was so upset about it because what if the goldfish touched the knife? And that’s the kind of art that that place lives to spark discussion around. It’s such a fascinating place and Tasmania is just like, spread my ashes there. It’s the most beautiful place on Earth.
And you will hear Australians kind of like, you know, they talk about it the way sometimes we may maybe make fun of parts of the South or something like that. And it’s really unfortunate because they’re missing out in their own country, on like one of the greatest places on Earth. But I will be quiet now cuz it wasn’t my piece.
Tim: I like Mona’s tagline on their website, drink beer, eat cheese, talk crap about art. Sounds like a good way to spend an afternoon. Very few people from the mainland visit. It’s surprisingly quiet there, right?
Sarika: It just seems like a place that there’s just so much experimentation. With art it’s completely irreverent, but also just with food and drink and so many ways as well to engage with the Indigenous culture, which is so great, especially considering Australia’s history. To be able to really celebrate Indigenous culture in Tasmania is, I think, just very important for any traveler to be able to do.
Tim: Definitely, and it’s only an hour-and-15-minute flight from Melbourne. So an easy trip if you’re out that way.
Actually, what sort of places did you stay in when you visited?
Ashlea: Oh gosh. Well, we were renting a lot of Airbnbs at the time and kind of making our way. We did a huge loop around the island, starting in Hobart and going north along the eastern coast from there. And then looped around. It was an old pump house. It might just be called the pump house that has an incredibly long pier that goes out on a lake and you wake up in the morning and there’s just a fog sitting on the lake, and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and you kind of are because you’re in a forest on an island at the bottom of the world.
And that’s an incredible feeling. I would go back there in a heartbeat and tell everyone I know who goes to Australia: Take as much time as you need to make sure you can visit Tasmania. Quit your job if you have to. It’s worth it.
Tim: This piece was written by our digital content director, Laura Redman, and I think she’s planning to spend a month in Australia this summer. The photo of Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula makes it look stunning.
Ashlea: And that’s such a great hike. Almost half of the island is part of a national park or a World Heritage area, so it’s protected.
One thing though, don’t go there expecting to see a lot of Tasmanian devils. They’ve had a lot of issues with the population. There’s been illness in the population that they’ve been trying to recuperate from. And I think I had this impression when I first got there that it would be just everywhere. There’d be, you know, Tasmanian devil crossings in the streets.
Sarika: I actually fully expected that there would be Tasmanian devils, so I appreciate your clarification on that.
To kind of step up a level: Of course, AFAR is so interested in how travelers can really be aware of sustainability when they travel places and think about how they can use their time ethically when they’re traveling to new destinations.
Just wondering if there’s anything in this list that really stood out to you in that regard about how travelers can be more thoughtful when they are actually getting up and using the wanderlust we create to plan a trip to any of these places.
Tim: I think the piece on Ruaha National Park, in Tanzania by our hotels editor, Jenn Flowers, is a good example of that. Most people head to the Serengeti, so just by visiting this area, you’re going somewhere that’s less touristed and supporting areas that are not overwhelmed.
She writes about the relationship between the Wildlife Research Institute there and the safari lodges and visitors can get involved with citizen science projects and help with data collection from camera traps. It’s a short piece, but it offers an insight into how travelers can be involved.
Ashlea: I was really intrigued by Cambutal, Panama. There’s a community-based model down there, so this is at the tip of the Azuero Peninsula. It’s in Los Santos, which is already one of the country’s least visited provinces, and there’s only one main road heading all the way south, 228 miles from Panama City.
And then you get this tiny town that sits on the shores of a volcanic black-sand beach. It’s surrounded by waterfalls and jungles. There is a new company there called Azuero Adventures, and it was founded by Brian Goldner. He was born in Panama. And he hires all local guides, local everyone to showcase this incredibly beautiful and largely untouched area, right near [Cerro] Hoya National Park.
It’s 80,000 acres. There’s no direct road entry. So his guides bring people in on horseback, or a 4x4 vehicle. But horseback is their main way to get in there. And you see the great green macaw. You see Azuero spider monkeys and other endangered species.
Really, really small scale right now. And I think that’s so wonderful and they want to keep it that way. And they want to keep the focus on the community and make sure everything they’re doing and everything that they take their guests to who are already gonna be probably pretty mindful travelers if they’re there in the first place, really showcases the nature and the community in this place.
Sarika: Yeah, I love that. I think that just thinking about how your presence as a traveler can actually benefit a place and it is such a two-way street. It’s often easy to just think about what you’re getting as a tourist going to a place. And when you’re going to a place like Cambutal, going to a place like Hoya National Park, you’re actually helping participate in research, you’re helping give jobs to a community that may not have them otherwise, and really just participate in economies that you’re not part of on a daily basis. Another one that I think does that well is the Brescia and Bergamo, which were voted as the Joint Capitals of Culture in Europe. They were hit so hard during COVID, and it’s amazing to see how these cities have been revived and recovered post the pandemic.
Tim: Yeah, there’s a lot going on in both and a new cycling route between the two, 47 miles past Lake Iseo. The other one that I was thinking about was Graz in Austria that I mentioned earlier, where there’s this community spirit and local residents have been opening up the front of their homes to sell their own products—homemade soups and crocheted lampshades and drinks.
Just a very modern spirit of entrepreneurship in a historic city. And an easy way for travelers to spend their money in the right places and support local communities and get to meet people. There’s a lot of social enterprise there as well. There’s shops that are helping young people find employment and, yeah, a lot happening in that place.
Sarika: Great. Maybe we can transition to talk about more generally 2023 travel. What’s on the books for both of you and if there’s any trends that you are seeing overall with travel in 2023?
Ashlea: After the Southwest debacle, I think there’s going to be a surge in sales of Apple air tags, personally. That’s my big prediction.
Tim: Definitely. That whole Southwest thing, people are gonna expect disruption. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the extreme weather we’ve got here in California at the moment. I think that’s gonna increasingly play a part in people’s travel plans. Our readers, I think, are always interested in more experiential travel, travel that gives back and ways to engage more with local communities. I’m researching a piece for the magazine, a page called AFAR Answers, which is about how to make sure your travel money is spent in the right places, choosing locally owned hotels, going through tour operators that employ locally and train and empower the communities that you’re visiting.
So I think people are more and more interested in that.
I would definitely advocate a lot more for traveling in the shoulder season. I’ve taken a few trips recently between Thanksgiving and the holidays. [I] went to Fiji last December in that period and a couple of years ago visited Aspen and both places were so quiet compared to how they would’ve been a week or two earlier or a week or two later.
Ashlea: I think with travel coming back in full force and the popular places remaining as popular as they’ve always been, I definitely would advocate for finding other times to go if you can get away. I’m a huge proponent of sort of embracing the secondary and tertiary cities. Even if you choose only the second or third most populous or most popular city in a country, you’re gonna have an incredible experience. If for no other reason because so many people will be like, how did you get here? Why are you here? And you’ll get a more local experience. You will have an opportunity not to be so inundated with other travelers and tourists in the places you go.
And, I think, at least in my experience, locals are often tickled by that. If you show up in a place that often gets overlooked because it’s not the Abu Dhabi or Dubai. They are really tickled by that and they want to show off the best of what they have.
Sarika: I had that exact experience a few years ago. I went to Italy. I was there for my cousin’s wedding. And the trip that I planned included going to places like Bologna and Modena and Puglia, and this was the height of summer. So of course it’s like the height of tourism in Italy.
And when I met everyone for the wedding, everyone else had gone to the usual suspects, to the Rome, Venice, Florence, and were telling me stories about all the lines and how they weren’t able to get in to see anything. A lot of them were traveling with kids and they were just like, it was hot and they were just in a line.
And meanwhile, I felt like we had the entire run of this beautiful old university in Bologna, all to ourselves. I experienced a lot of what you’re talking about where you just talk to Italian people who are just so thrilled that you’re there and often just are more excited to engage with you.
Ashlea: For sure we had that experience in—we spent a week in Surabaya in Indonesia, and it seemed like we’d been the first Americans to land all year there because everyone was like, did you get lost on the way to Bali? And it’s like, no, we’re here to be in Surabaya. And people were so stoked and I loved that.
They were excited for us and we were excited for them, and we had an amazing trip because of it. And when you read things like, the Louvre just said they’re cutting attendance, they’re gonna cap it at 30,000 people a day. Like, oh my goodness, I wanna go somewhere that gets 30,000 people a month or a year.
Sarika: I think that actually is a lot of our list, you know, was very consciously trying to pick places that were the secondary, tertiary places. The Ruaha National Park in Tanzania is a really fantastic example of that, it’s located in the southern part of Tanzania. Most people go to the north where Arusha is and the Serengeti.
And those are also absolutely magical and breathtaking. And I’m not trying to take anything away from them at all, but I do feel like Ruaha sounds like just a completely different experience and to be able to stay at a place like a Asilia, which just opened, and to be able to help participate in research, that is such a different type of safari experience than you typically have where you’re just like, you know, shuttled into a safari vehicle, you go out for game drives, you come back, and that’s it.
Tim: I’ve been looking for popular places at unpopular times of year. So last year I went to Yellowstone National Park in March and Yosemite in February. So in the winter. And Yellowstone gets over a million visitors in July and something like 70,000 in March. It’s a very different experience.
There’s more bison than people. There are no lines of cars lining up to get photos. There are some challenges. Some of the roads are shut and we were with a tour group with Austin Adventures, so we had guides who could pivot when they needed to for due to the weather. But it made for a very different experience and very few people. Obviously we’re supporting gateway communities and towns like Gardner and Montana, we were there way out of season. So, there’s a positive impact as well there.
Sarika: Tim, I remember in one of your AFAR answers you also talked about visiting popular places at unpopular times of the day, which I thought was another kind of cool way to be able to experience a natural wonder or man-made wonder of the world.
Tim: Some of that, especially when I was in Rome, was based on having a newborn, so I was up before dawn, so yeah make the most of it.
Ashlea: How old is your child now? Two?
Tim: One boy is seven and the twin boys are three.
Ashlea: My baby’s about to turn one, in about two weeks and it’s funny how much of our whole life obviously was turned upside down, but how travel becomes filtered through the lens of your children. Not only what they can handle without having a meltdown, but just so many places I’m considering going that I never would have before, because I want to see him engage with it or see his reaction.
Tim: My wings were clipped by the pandemic and by three kids, so lots of road trips within a three-hour radius. But I can advocate for all kinds of parts of California that I may not have seen [otherwise], like the port towns of Oxnard and Ventura near me here and near where I live. It’s definitely something to be said for exploring a smaller area in more depth.
Sarika: For sure. I will say the most adventurous trip that we did, when my daughter was eight months old, we went to Mount Kenya, didn’t summit, cuz you can’t get to that altitude with a baby. But we did do a hiking trip around some of the lakes. We did have porters that helped us carry our stuff to make it possible.
So I do wanna shout that out for sure. But it was incredible because one day we hiked like 19 kilometers, mostly uphill. Our guides got lost on the way and by the time we got to the campsite, we were all a bit crabby and just looked over at my daughter. And she was just like, I mean, of course she was doing no work.
She was in the baby carrier the whole time. But she just had this look of just like awe and amazement on her face, and it just recalibrated all of us in such a nice way, we’re like, we’re all safe, we’re healthy. So what that we ended up walking a little extra because we got lost.
We are in one of the most beautiful places in the world and let’s just, drink that in. Having her there ended up actually being a really positive reminder of the power of travel and the power of beautiful places.
Ashlea: That’s so sweet. So my son, Julian, last month we took him to San Diego. It was his first flight from Minneapolis, about four hours. I’m not gonna lie and say it was easy; it wasn’t. My husband spent half of the flight just rocking him in the galley, trying desperately to get him to stop crying.
He’s teething really hard right now. But then we landed that day, we drove straight to La Jolla to the most beautiful beach. We put him down on sand his first time seeing the ocean, first time being on a beach or being able to crawl period that far because like I said, it’s minus 400 degrees in Minnesota right now so he can’t be outside crawling in the snow. And it just made it all worth it. All the horrendous moments of that flight just kind of evaporate. And you see him crawl across the sand and it’s like from this moment on you drank the Kool-Aid. You are going to be as obsessed with travel as your parents are.
Sarika: I love it. So tell me, where are you both traveling next?
Tim: So next month our company meeting is in Portland, Oregon. I went there 10 years ago, maybe, and cycled around breweries looking for sour beers. I’m looking to see how that’s changed. And then in March I’m heading to Belize to, hopefully, take a kayak on their barrier reef. Everywhere I go nowadays, I’ll try and find a kayak. So La Jolla, the sea caves there, the sea caves right near me here in California at the Channel Islands National Park are amazing.
You kayak into these caves. Some of them are the size of a coffin and you have to pull your way through. And the other ones are the size of a cathedral and it’s amazing. And I kayaked in the swamps of Louisiana last year. So yeah, basically anywhere I can take a boat.
Ashlea: I have to give a plug in the spirit of our Great Lakes piece for kayaking around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. You can dip in and outta sea caves and as long as the weather’s calm enough, it is incredibly beautiful, these sort of pink majestic sandstone cliffs.
Tim: Love it.
Ashlea: For 2023, I am in a couple of weeks, for my son’s first birthday, we’re taking him to the Maya Riviera in Mexico. We are starting a tradition in lieu of presents. Every year we’re gonna go on a family trip for his birthday. So we chose the first destination starting at age two. If he can articulate where he wants to go or at least point to it on a globe, we will try to make it happen.
And then I’m also in the process of planning a honeymoon plus one. My husband and I, we’ve been together 21 years, but we got married last summer and so we’re trying to figure out where is a great honeymoon with a baby. So we are right now between thinking of the Faroe Islands or Scottish Highlands, but we’re also looking at Oman, Lithuania, and Lebanon.
So if anyone has thoughts on what would make a fun honeymoon with a baby, I welcome it.
Sarika: So as we are wrapping up this conversation, I wanted to just thank you both so much for jumping on the phone and talking about the whole Where to Go list. You know, my role as editor was really trying to think about how do we make sure that we have as much wanderlust as possible in all of these places that really makes people wanna just read it and immediately turn to their partner and say, can we go here now?
Both of you did such a fantastic job with making that come to life. So wanted to thank you both for that and for this conversation.
Tim: Oh, thanks for having us and I would give big credit to all the writers as well. They wrote some beautiful pieces and really dug into the place and laid out why you should go there. If you wanted to go back to what we were saying earlier as well, another way to engage with these destinations, I think is that time-old advice of slowing down and not trying to cram too much in. A lot of these places warrant a decent amount of time. And they have a lot to offer and they’re not destinations you just fly into for 24, 48 hours and then zip back out again.
Sarika: Yeah, absolutely. I would say even some of the bigger destinations, like I think Bangkok is the best example of that as one of the world’s most visited cities. A lot of people do the 24-hour, 48-hour type of trips. I hope that our piece shows you that there is actually so much more to the city than the sort of usual suspects.
Ashlea: I beg anyone who is headed to Thailand, I totally get the desire to get through Bangkok as quickly as you can, get down to the Thailands or up to Chiang Mai, don’t do it. If you only give 24 hours or 48 hours in Bangkok, you’ll hate it. You’ll spend the whole time sitting in traffic. It is a city that deserves your time.
It deserves your love. It deserves an opportunity to show you how incredible it is. And I say that as someone who used to live there and goes back any chance I can get. And Kathryn Romyn, the writer of that piece, did an amazing job capturing that and capturing all the young Thai people opening cafés, galleries, bars, restaurants, just making this city a world-class destination unto itself.
So do a week there, then do your week in the Thai Islands. That’s my advice.
Sarika: I love it. How can people find both of you and learn more about all of the amazing work that you both do?
Tim: If anyone’s looking for me, I’m on both Instagram and LinkedIn. My profile is just Tim Chester, which is easy.
Ashlea: And I am also on Instagram. It’s Ashlea Halpern. I used to post a lot more, but now with a baby, I try not to overwhelm people with unsolicited baby photos.
Sarika: I think baby photos are always welcome, even if they are unsolicited.
Ashlea: I used to just put up my chihuahua. Now it’s the baby.
Sarika: Well, thank you both so much. This has been such a great conversation and I can’t wait to work together again.
Tim: Great, thank you.
Ashlea: Oh, thank you. It was great working with both of you. Have a good evening and good day. All right, bye-bye.
Thanks for listening everyone! If you want to hear more from me, you can find me on Instagram at @sarika008. And be sure to check out Ashlea’s website, minnevangelist.com. We’ll link to everything—including our Where to Go in 2023 list—in our show notes.
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This has been Unpacked, a production of AFAR Media. The podcast is produced by Aislyn Greene and Nikki Galteland. Music composition by Chris Colin.
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