Guest post by Lola Mendez
For the last five years, I’ve been on a continuous trip around the globe to support my work as a travel journalist. Some locales I couldn’t have placed on a map a few years ago, while others I had dreamed of visiting my whole life. I’ve been fortunate to visit 64 countries so far, many for several months at a time. Each place has a special spot in my heart, but these are my top five destinations.
I’ve been visiting family in Uruguay my whole life and am now living here due to the pandemic. The weather is perfect for beach-going from November to March with over 400 miles of coastline that’s mostly undisturbed, even in the large cities of Montevideo and Punta del Este. Visit Uruguay in February to take part in the longest carnival in the world.
There are endless valleys of verdant land to hike and a few waterfalls. The wildlife here is extraordinary, from wild boars to rheas. Birders flock to Uruguay to spot all sorts of colorful species.
The wine culture runs deep, and there are many beautiful vineyards—called bodegas—to visit. Marijuana is legal if you prefer herbal substances.
The beauty of Uruguay is the slow pace of life. This isn’t a country where you’ll have a gigantic bucket list of things to do. Instead, you can go with the flow and slowly make your way around the country.
Uruguay isn’t a tropical destination. In the winter months, you’ll want to pack a warm coat, scarf, and hat. In the summer you don’t need much more than a swimsuit and sandals.
Papua New Guinea
By far the most fascinating place I’ve ever visited is Papua New Guinea. Over 800 recorded tribal groups inhabit the island, many of which maintain ancestral cultural traditions in their day to day lives. Communities in Mount Hagen, East Sepik, and Tufi have collaborated with local eco-lodges to share their unique cultural heritage with travelers and in return finance their villages and conserve their traditions through tourism profits.
Papua New Guinea is still seen as a destination reserved for intrepid travelers, as it receives less than 100,000 visitors a year. The tourism infrastructure is lacking for those who like to organize their trip, but many responsible tour operators create culturally immersive and safe itineraries such as Trans Niugini Tours, which helped me organize my 2019 visit.
Papua New Guinea is a conservative country. Travelers should dress accordingly to respect the local culture. Both women and men should wear long pants and shirts that cover their shoulders and midriffs.
In 2017, I spent six months in India and dream of returning every day. I even have a 10-year tourist visa! Choosing a favorite place is difficult, but if I had to declare one, India would easily take the honor. The massive subcontinent is home to numerous cultures, religions, dialects, and customs.
I spent the majority of my time in Rajasthan as I was working with a women’s empowerment organization in the blue city of Jodhpur. Udaipur stole my heart, and I dream of returning one day for an extended period. The pace of life is a bit slower here, even the cows seem to enjoy strolling along the city’s small lanes and basking in the sunlight. There are several lakes in Udaipur, many of which feature grand palaces.
Palolem in south Goa is another spot to check out. The bohemian beach enclave is home to some of the kindest people I have ever met. The bay-like beach boasts many colorful vegetarian eateries, yoga studios, and thick coconut palm groves. It’s very much so a “no-shoes-no-problem” idyllic place.
Part of the fun of visiting India is indulging in beautiful Indian clothing. Pack basics you can layer with local clothing styles. Be sure to save plenty of space in your backpack to bring back beautiful Indian textiles as keepsakes.
The first non-western country I visited was Morocco. I had the chance to go three times while living in Europe in 2016 and was able to see a significant amount of the country. Morocco is jam-packed with important history, natural beauty, and some of the best shopping in the world.
Most Moroccan itineraries take travelers to Fez, Marrakesh, and Merzouga—which are all phenomenal places—but there’s so much to see in the country. Camp in the Sahara Desert with Khamlia, a social enterprise. For a laid-back souk experience, visit the coastal town of Essaouira. The blue city of Chefchaouen is not to be missed.
Morocco is warm most of the year, but be sure to check the weather to see if you’ll need a light coat. It’s best to pack layers as the temperature can drop at night, especially in the desert. Be mindful of wearing conservative clothing to respect cultural norms.
And finally, we come to my favorite part of Europe, the Balkan Peninsula. In 2016, I spent a long summer traveling slowly around the region and was shocked at how few tourists I saw. The Balkan country I’m most eager to visit again is Bulgaria.
The beautiful capital city of Sofia is culturally rich and is a growing digital nomad hub. History nerds will love to discover Plovdiv’s 8,000-year reign while wine lovers won’t want to miss the vineyards in Melnik. Melnik 55 is still one of my all-time favorite wines! I didn’t have the chance to visit Bulgaria’s beaches, so don’t make the same mistake and make sure to spend at least a few days enjoying the Black Sea in Varna.
Like most European countries, it’s fine to dress in Bulgaria as you would at home. If you’re going to be walking around the country’s historic cities, you’ll want to pack a sturdy pair of walking shoes or sneakers. Pack light layers for summer and warm accessories for winter.
Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist. She's a full-time globetrotter who travels to develop her own worldview and has explored over 60 countries. Passionate about sustainable travel, she seeks out ethical experiences that benefit local communities. You can follow along on her responsible travel blog MissFilatelista.com, and on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.