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Whitehorse has hundreds of kilometres of marked trails for hikers, bikers and paddlers – making it perfect for those keen on nature.Lumir Pecold/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

We’re at the dawn of a new year. And with that come the resolutions: drink more water, find a new job, take an epic bucket list trip. You know the ones – Paris, Machu Picchu, Tokyo et cetera.

But perhaps it’s time to let go of the traditional idea of what those trips should be, as so many classic bucket list destinations have become a victim of their own popularity.

“Overtourism is a big challenge and not only takes away from the experience for visitors, but has negative impacts on local communities,” says Toronto-based Tom Smith, vice-president of sales and marketing for North America at Intrepid Travel, a certified B-Corp company. He points to Venice, Italy, which has been inundated with tourists, and Dubrovnik, Croatia, where fans of the Game of Thrones series are making life noisy for residents. And let’s not forget the environmental toll.

This doesn’t mean we can’t explore the world. We just have to rethink how we do so.

“I think travellers should make peace with the fact that many of these Insta-famous destinations are not as grand as they appear online,” says Jordana Manchester, a senior travel advisor with Tripzter Travel who lives in Squamish, B.C. “And there are many lesser-known sites, landscapes and towns that are just as significant culturally and historically.”

While it can be hard to resist a spot flooding your feed, try looking beyond what’s trendy, experts say.

“Just be open to destinations that aren’t being thrown at you,” says Winnipeg-born Cari Gray, chief executive officer of Gray & Co., a luxury travel company. “Look at Sicily, which got hammered this year because of The White Lotus. Sicily’s a massive island. You don’t have to just go to Taormina or Noto. There’s lots of other parts. … And if you like Sicily, you’ll probably like Puglia. Or go a little bit farther afield and try places like Sardinia or Corsica.”

The United Nations World Tourism Organization agrees with this line of thinking. Ensuring “that every country can harness the potential of a thriving tourism industry” is one of the goals of an initiative it launched this fall, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. The Tourism Opens Minds pledge encourages industry leaders to “promote new and underappreciated destinations” and consumers to be “open-minded to new cultures and destinations.”

If you do have your heart set on a popular choice, approach it creatively. Plan for a longer and richer stay that allows you to connect more with the local community. Or travel in the off-season.

“There are still ways to see almost anywhere differently,” Gray says. Sticking with the Italy theme, she gave this example: “In Venice, stay out on an island as opposed to the historic centre. … Go beyond where the gondolas go.”

For Manchester, the focus should be on exploring destinations that have been hard-hit economically, whether that be from the pandemic or from natural disasters such as wildfires. “That is, if you want to be a more conscientious traveller.”

If you’re concerned about the environmental effects of jet-setting, opt for planet-friendly options such as flying direct, renting an electric vehicle and choosing destinations, hotels, restaurants and tourism providers that truly care about the Earth.

Intrepid, for example, has carbon labelling on many of its itineraries. Similar to nutritional labelling, it shows the total amount of C02 emission per person per day, so travellers can make more climate-conscious decisions. “We do offset all those emissions on the customer’s behalf, but we’re very well aware that offsetting is not the only answer,” Smith says.

And here’s an idea: Reduce the number of big trips you take in a lifetime. Look for destinations closer to home. Who says a bucket list trip needs to include a long-haul flight?

“In the post-pandemic era, travel has already taken on a new meaning for most folks,” Manchester says.

Need some inspiration? Turn to a travel advisor and tourism boards, sleuth the internet and/or read our three experts’ top picks below.

Where to go in Canada


Manchester believes we ought to direct our tourism dollars to communities that need them most. “This past summer was the worst wildfire season on record for this country,” she says. “Every single province and territory were affected, but the Yukon was undoubtedly one of the hardest hit.”

But for now the threat is over and, according to Manchester, Whitehorse is a “jaw-droppingly beautiful part of the world that is both underestimated and underappreciated.”

That includes the dining scene: “For a town with a modest population of almost 30,000 people, the food scene is vibrant and diverse,” she says. “Everything from Caribbean, Japanese and Italian to well-known local dishes like Arctic char and buffalo can be found on menus across the city.” Award-winning restaurants and bars include Antoinette’s, Wayfarer Oyster House and Woodcutter’s Blanket. When it comes to where to stay, the travel advisor suggests Raven Inn Whitehorse and Edgewater Hotel.

She also notes that Whitehorse has hundreds of kilometres of marked trails for hikers, bikers and paddlers – making it perfect for those keen on nature. The northern gem is the “gateway to the Yukon,” Manchester says, as visitors use it as a starting point for outdoor adventures across the vast mountainous territory. (If you go, there are many direct flights available, including from Vancouver, Edmonton and Victoria.)

Finally, she recommends the Adaka Cultural Festival, a seven-day summer celebration of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon. Previous event programming has included film screenings, craft workshops, dancing and drumming.

Fogo Island, N.L.

What’s on someone’s bucket list when they’ve travelled extensively? “I think what they’re doing on Fogo is so globally exciting,” Gray says. “Their foundation and views towards responsible travel. … We should all support that as much as possible.”

Gray is referring to Fogo Island – off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland – and Shorefast, a Canadian social enterprise founded by eighth-generation Fogo Islanders in order to rebuild the local economy after the Atlantic cod fishing industry collapsed. The organization runs Fogo Island Arts, a residency-based venue that plays host to artists from around the world, as well as Fogo Island Inn, the award-winning hotel and restaurant, where 100 per cent of revenue surplus is reinvested into the local community.

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Fogo Island is off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland.ALEX FRADKIN/Supplied

Nights at the inn start at $1,975; if you’re travelling on a budget, research Airbnb and cottage rentals. Gray also recommends Fisher’s Loft Inn near Trinity, a worthy stop on the way to or from Fogo Island.

You can typically fly direct to Gander, N.L., from major Canadian hubs – including Toronto, Montreal and Halifax – and then it’s an hour drive to the ferry. “Getting there is a journey,” Gray says. “But most great places tend to be this way.”

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find much to explore, such as seven hiking trails ranging in difficulty, museums such as the Marine Interpretation Centre and Old School House Museum, the annual Brimstone Head Folk Festival held every August, shopping spots including Mona’s Quilt & Jam Shop, as well as Fogo Island Workshops. (Love the furniture and textiles at the inn? This is the place to buy them.)

And don’t miss all the wildlife. “People love interesting animals and creatures,” Gray says. “There are so many moose in Newfoundland. Plus, puffins, cod and the kissing thereof.”

Cape Breton Island, N.S.

Smith says that the interest in exploring Canada’s vast outdoor landscapes, thanks in part to the pandemic halting international travel, has remained strong over the past few years. However, he says that the East Coast is often overlooked.

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Cape Breton.Supplied

A great place to start is Cape Breton. The main hub there is Sydney, approximately 400 kilometres northeast of Halifax. From there it will take about an hour to connect with the scenic 298-kilometre Cabot Trail loop around the island, which takes about five hours to drive. However, you’ll want to make plenty of stops, so don’t plan to do it all in one day. “It is your backdrop for countless active adventures,” Smith says. “Like hiking, cycling, kayaking and even surfing.”

On a recent visit, Smith was struck by the incredibly rich Mi’kmaq history and culture on the island. They are the largest First Nations group in the Maritimes, and visitors can explore their traditions through classes on beading and how to make dream catchers, and allyship and cultural awareness workshops.

“There’s obviously a lot of reclaiming of history and storytelling that’s going on,” Smith says. “This past summer was the first time I explored Canada’s East Coast … and along with hiking, learning about the Mi’kmaq people was a real highlight for me and my tour group.”

When it comes to where to stay, Ceilidh Country Lodge and Auberge Gisele’s Inn are on Smith’s list.

Where to go in the United States

Hamakua Coast, Hawaii

Whenever Hawaii comes up in Manchester’s circle of friends, most talk about Maui’s beaches and Kauai’s mountains. “And while I love those parts, the island of Hawaii holds a very special place in my heart, especially with the recent wildfire damage this past summer,” she says. (Maui is still in recovery after this year’s devastation in the historical town of Lahaina).

Often called the Big Island, the destination is the largest, as well as the second-most populated, of the state’s eight islands. Yet because of its intense rainfall, active volcano and relative lack of beaches and development, this island is less travelled, Manchester says. “Which in my opinion, makes it the ultimate destination for explorers. And one of my favourite parts there is the Hamakua Coast.”

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Often called the Big Island, the destination is the largest, as well as the second-most populated, of the state’s eight islands.Hawaii Tourism Authority

The Hamakua Coast, one of nine districts on the island, covers an 80-kilometre stretch of coastline along the northeastern side. “It’s dotted with waterfalls, tropical rainforests, sweeping valleys and artsy towns,” says Manchester, who suggests staying at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls or the Grand Naniloa Hotel.

Her top activity for visitors is to drive the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, a scenic 72-kilometre route that begins in Hilo, a town with views of two volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It ends at the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, which is not only a panoramic vantage point over the valley and sea cliffs, but also the childhood home of King Kamehameha I, the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. “It holds great political and religious significance,” Manchester says. Along your journey, she also suggests exploring ‘Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot ‘Akaka Falls and the 100-foot Kahuna Falls.

Central Coast, Calif.

Gray acknowledges she’s a tad biased when it comes to this pick, as she moved to California from Canada more than a decade ago. “Because of COVID-19, I’ve done so much exploring,” she says. “And few folks know about the Central Coast. Even people in California don’t know about it.”

Gray suggests heading to Morro Bay, a seaside city 175 kilometres north of Santa Barbara, to kayak with sea otters that “come right up to you.” The area is known for trails that overlook the city and water, Morro Rock – a 581-foot-high volcanic mound rising from the ocean – as well as the State Park’s Museum of Natural History, which has exhibits on Native American culture, geology and oceanography.

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The temperature range in central coast regions of California isn’t very extreme year-round.Gray & Co/Supplied

Gray also recommends exploring the Santa Ynez/Los Olivos area, 50 kilometres from Santa Barbara. “The biking there is the best in California by far … and the wines coming out of the Santa Ynez Valley are sensational.” (The area is home to more than 120 wineries, including Sea Smoke and Sanford Winery, Gray’s favourites.) Her hotel suggestions: the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.

Another highlight of the area: “Going out to the Channel Islands is really special,” she adds. The eight-island archipelago is accessible by boat or plane. Popular activities there include camping, whale watching, snorkelling, hiking and kayaking.

And the best part, according to Gray? The weather. “The temperature range isn’t very extreme year-round. If you stay close to the ocean, it goes from 15 to 30 degrees.”

Charleston, S.C.

“Charleston is known for its historic charm and character,” Smith says. “But what you may not know is it’s an important part of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a heritage trail created to recognize the important contributions made to American culture and history by Africans and African-Americans.”

For those wanting to learn more, he recommends a Charleston to Savannah tour curated by Black in Travel and Tourism and guided by the Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism. The tour visits Mother Emanuel, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the southern U.S., as well as James Island and Johns Island, for a traditional low-country lunch and sweetgrass-weaving workshop.

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Charleston is known for its historic charm and character.Supplied

Smith says that one of the main reasons he’d love to go to South Carolina himself is the cuisine. “There’s obviously a lot of seafood.” (Popular dishes in Charleston include shrimp and grits, garlic crabs and oyster stew.) “But there’s also some pretty innovative culinary creations due to the different backgrounds.”

Charleston is also known for its Museum Mile, a section of Meeting Street in the downtown core that has six museums (including Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the U.S.), five historic houses, four parks and several historic buildings, such as City Hall. In January, 2024, a US$35 Museum Mile Month pass gets visitors into 13 different sites. “Museums are a hugely useful tool in giving travellers a deeper understanding of the places they’re visiting,” Smith says.

When it comes to hotels, you can splurge and check into 86 Cannon Historic Inn or save at the local Homewood Suites by Hilton.

Where to go further afield

Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Manchester reveals she fell “madly in love” with Sri Lanka more than four years ago and has been keen to go back ever since. “It’s seen its fair share of troubles with a 26-year-long civil war, the Easter bombings and the 2022 political crisis,” she says. But, Manchester adds, it has still been growing in popularity, thanks in part to Lonely Planet naming it the destination of the year in 2019.

“Places like the capital of Colombo, Galle and Mirissa Beach have seen a steady increase in tourists. Which is why I like to encourage folks to head north to Jaffna, former kingdom of the Tamil people.”

Manchester suggests visiting in late August to experience the annual 25-day festival at the Hindu temple Nallur Kandaswamy: “It’s one of the most ornate and colourful temples in the country.”

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Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.OscarEspinosa/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Whenever you decide to go, she advises hiring a local guide to take an in-depth tour of the 20-square-kilometre city. “I often suggest my clients just take a wander through cities on their own. But Jaffna holds so much historical, political and cultural significance … and learning about the conflict from someone who lived through it will give you unique insight.”

Another reason she loves it is the food. “Jaffna is where South Indian, Tamil and Sinhalese cuisines unite,” Manchester says. “There’s sambals, curries and market-fresh ingredients. … Eat absolutely everything.”

Her hotel suggestions include Fox Jaffna and Jetwing Jaffna. Both offer boutique-inspired stays without high prices.

Mallorca, Spain

“I feel like every Canadian I know went to Portugal this summer,” Gray says with a laugh. “And it’s wonderful … but I think people are looking for alternative destinations.” Instead, she suggests Mallorca, a Spanish island east of Valencia: “It’s a terrific little gem in the middle of the Mediterranean. … It’s an island big enough that you can go for a full week, if not more.”

Palma, Mallorca’s capital, has a large airport that’s easily accessible. “There’s a lot more direct flights. … You can fly direct from New York now and it’s very well-served through a lot of European gateways,” including London, Paris and Zurich.

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Mallorca is a Spanish island east of Valencia.Gray and Co

“The island is very cycling-friendly and has wonderful hiking paths,” she says. (Canadian Cycling Magazine called it “an island playground for cyclists.”) But there are great paddling, yachting and shopping options, too. “And the weather there, it’s kind of the California of Europe. … It’s good year-round.” Gray also shares that because of its location, a visit to Mallorca combines easily with a trip to another European hotspot such as Barcelona or Madrid.

As for hotels, Gray recommends Son Net and La Residencia. It’s worth noting that no new properties are on the horizon: In 2022, the Balearic Islands, which includes Mallorca and Ibiza, banned the construction of new hotels until 2026. And in Palma, Airbnb-style accommodations are prohibited. “Fortunately, the savvy locals know the importance of protecting the fragile nature, infrastructure and villages from overtourism,” Gray says.

Quarry Trail, Peru

“My personal love for the destination aside, Peru is finally seeing a strong comeback following the pandemic and political unrest there,” says Smith, who spent a few years living in the country.

When people think of Peru, they often dream of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains, and hiking the 43-kilometre Inca Trail to get there. But most people don’t know there’s another route: the Quarry Trail. “The visitor numbers don’t even come close to the Inca,” Smith says. It’s the difference of only a few hundred a year versus more than 75,000 annually.

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Trekking the road less travelled not only has a smaller environmental impact on the terrain, but more dollars are brought to communities that haven’t benefited directly from Inca’s tourism.Stephen Parry/Intrepid Travel

“This means visitors to the Quarry Trail have all that beautiful Andean scenery more or less to themselves – apart from the odd Quechan village or friendly llama.” A newly opened section of the trail, called Qory Sonq’o Hill, has views of three valleys, plus skeletal remains and tomb structures.

Trekking the road less travelled not only has a smaller environmental impact on the terrain, but more dollars are brought to communities that haven’t benefited directly from Inca’s tourism, Smith says. “I think it’s a huge advantage for travellers to meet communities for whom it’s a pleasure and a surprise to meet people, rather than feeling like they’re the next on the conveyor belt of tourists walking through a particular village.”

Two other bonuses: Many trekkers who have done both prefer Quarry over Inca in terms of scenery, he says, and you don’t have to book a permit in advance, as you do with the Inca Trail.

Important to know is that there are no hotels on the trail (only camping); the nearby stays Smith suggests are Tunupa Lodge and Tika Wasi Casa Boutique.

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