For the second year running, I apologize for gross misrepresentation. Despite the fresh-faced headshot that appears above this column every week, the reality – as you'll see from this summer 2014 photo of me skulking among the gravestones of London's Highgate Cemetery – is much more grizzled and grey.
But let's sidestep the underlying vanity and address the Crusoe-esque beard for what it clearly is: a sign of the wisdom I hope I've accrued from writing almost 50 Travel Concierge columns this year. And it's not just volume that's whitened my whiskers: 2014's questions have been more varied than a beer list in a Brooklyn hipster bar.
I've learned where to find motmots in a column on the world's top birdspotting destinations; where to head for the best pastries in Paris (especially raspberry passion fruit éclairs); how to escape the megamalls on a visit to Dubai (that seafood shack off Jumeirah Beach Road looks tasty); and where to set sail for feline-hugging Cat Island if you're aiming beyond Tokyo on a trip to Japan.
Topics like this are often popular – even with armchair travellers – but columns on Canada triggered this year's most frenzied feedback among readers. I've looked at everything from the country's best hiking trails to our coolest train routes and from our favourite campsites to the most enticing destinations for last-gasp homegrown summer trips.
The most popular Canadian topic, though, was where to vacation in winter without strapping on the skis. And while I skated across the regions singing the praises of cold-season festivals, stormwatching beaches and fleece-clad Northern Lights areas, dozens of readers chimed in with everything from their favourite warm-up spas to top outdoor hockey tourneys.
Columns about the United States – from lesser-known wine regions to New York comedy clubs – were almost as popular. And while overseas hot topics from how to visit Angkor Wat without the crowds to tackling Munich's Oktoberfest without falling over also triggered many comments, columns on how to travel (rather than just where) were also keenly followed.
Tracking down experts with road-tested experience – and the kind of why-didn't-I-think-of-that advice that can make or break a vacation – I covered burning questions such as how to travel successfully with teens; how to plan a first-time home exchange; and – this one was especially popular – how to orchestrate a multigenerational holiday that keeps everyone happy.
I'd like to thank the more than 125 experts from around the world who contributed their sage advice for readers in 2014 – especially for graciously answering my questions at very short notice. From guidebook authors in Australia to food bloggers in Italy and from musicians in London to steely calved hikers in South America, they've been the lifeblood of this column.
But they're not the only essential contributors.
If you follow me on Twitter (@johnleewriter), you'll know that every week I post the question I'm working on and appeal for tips from all comers. Every week, I get up to 50 replies – many of which run online or in print alongside the resulting column. For me, this interaction is the most enjoyable part of the process and I heartily encourage you to come on board.
I'd also urge you to think up a question you'd like me to tackle in 2015. If you're planning a trip next year – perhaps you're mulling a new destination, aiming to explore Canada or considering couchsurfing for the first time – why not send me a query via Twitter or at the e-mail address below?
If possible, I'll take it on and hunt down some expert advice for you. I might even pack my bags and cover it on the road myself – especially if anyone wants to know more about those hipster bars in Brooklyn. For now, though, here's to a great travel year ahead – and a rich crop of beard-greying questions to come.
OUR READERS WRITE
Guidance on how to evaluate reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor etc. @KarineAlden
What about the best value destinations for Canadians in 2015 given the drop of the dollar? It came to me after reviewing my credit card statement after a weekend in Portland – ouch. kattancock
Where in the Arab Spring countries is it safe to travel, and what's the best focus & bargain? Desert and old towns in Tunisia and Morocco or antiquities and Nile in Egypt? Carol Bradley
I want to know how best to experience Oscar weekend in Los Angeles – two months and counting! @Tours_By_Locals
How do you convince a partner to become a traveller when they neither have a passport nor want to leave Canada? @mirandasyndrome
How to score cheap airline tickets from Vancouver. Or weekend getaways from Vancouver. @tinalovgreen
What are some effective ways to keep the 'post-vacation buzz' going to sustain the experience after we get home? @WaywardOllie
Perhaps issues re: the visas required to travel and how best to obtain them. Sometimes they can be quite costly. @Chiqee
My wife and I are hoping to travel to Chile or Argentina and hoping to combine city-life experiences with hiking in the Andes. Can your readers recommend bus-accessible destinations for non-guided day hikes and/or overnights to mountain huts? Bob Armstrong
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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