All the places in the world you never considered happen to be the most refreshing destinations to visit.
1. Jeju, South Korea
I was on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam when I had first heard of a place called Jeju. Jeju is one of the natural wonders of the world (as is Ha Long Bay) located in South Korea. It is most notably known for its waterfalls, Hallasan mountain (the highest mountain in South Korea; also a dormant volcano), rock formations, black pork and seaweed, and even an outdoor museum called Loveland. I had no plans to visit, but a few weeks later when I ended up in Seoul on a whim, out of pure curiosity I googled flights to Jeju Island and found a one-way for $12. Twelve bucks and four days later, I was on a flight to Jeju. While I essentially went into this sporadic trip with close to zero planning, the one thing I wish I knew was to rent a car. Jeju is a small island but the public transportation is questionable, and it takes a long time to get from Point A to Point B. I ended up spending a fair amount on taxis and wasting a lot of time waiting for busses that took much longer to arrive than I had anticipated. This led me to having to pick and choose what it was I would do in my short time there, and ended up missing out on a lot of the good stuff. I can say, it became very apparent why it’s a natural wonder of the world. Jeju is a stunning island with a diverse ecosystem, not to mention some of the best orange juice I’ve ever had in my life, and prettiest views I’ve seen at Seogwipo. I’d love to go back with a proper itinerary.
2. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
In 2018, when I had sporadically booked a roundtrip from New York City into Berlin and out of Munich, I decided to cram a short venture into Prague, Czech Republic within my journey. While googling “Things To Do in Prague,” I came across a day trip to Kutna Hora. As I researched this mysterious place that never has filled my Instagram feed before, I learned it was a UNESCO world Heritage Site, only about a forty-five-minute train ride from Prague. The main attraction is Sedlec Ossuary, a chapel filled with human skeletons due to the rise in people wanting to be buried there after it was deemed “The Holy Soil.” Aside from Sedlec Ossuary is St. Barbara’s Cathedral, the Bohemian Museum of Silver, Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, and a quiet little town with colorful houses and medieval architecture. While I only spent one day here, I ended my day at a restaurant eating goulash and drinking a pint of Kozel.
3. Parma, Italy
Only a short ride from Milano Centrale lays the wonderful world of Parma. In forty minutes, you can transform yourself from the fashion capital in all of Europe, perhaps the world, to one of the best yet quietest food destinations you’ll ever step foot in. I had been to Italy six times before stepping foot in Parma, and in fact, my very last day there is when I finally made my way over, simply out of boredom of being in Milan for too long. It’s no surprise that I love Italy not only for its architecture, rich history, and my personal ancestry, but for its food. It seemed obvious to head to Parma; the origin of Parmesan Reggiano and Parma Ham. I spent a singular Sunday there, and while Sunday admittedly was a poor day of the week to venture out (90% of businesses were closed), roaming the quiet streets of this quaint little town gave me a different feel for Italian lifestyle. And yes, I had the best cheese and ham of my damn life on this quiet little Sunday of mine. I’d be interested to go back and spend a bit more time in this Italian town.
4. Taipei, Taiwan
Often overshadowed by Japan and China, Taiwan seems to be a destination no one is really talking about. I was four months into a backpacking adventure and had just completed six weeks in Japan. I decided to make one last final stop in Taiwan before heading to the Middle East. I landed at Taipei international airport, and while waiting to go through passport control, I saw a sign that said, “Taiwan: the heart of Asia.” I remember skeptically thinking, “Is it really, though?” After exiting the airport, I jumped onto the metro and was immediately impressed with both its efficiency, and the fact that they don’t use paper cards, but a little reusable coin instead. Taiwan was beginning to win points. I only spent three days here and it was seventy-two hours jam packed with eating some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life, shopping in the Ximen district (think Harajuku) but costing a fraction of what its Japan counterparts did, walking around crowded night markets and trying anything from coagulated duck blood to stinky tofu, and even going to upscale cocktail bars. Not to mention, Taiwan is considerably progressive in comparison to the rest of Asia. They are the first and only country in Asia where gay marriage is legal. I highly recommend adding Taipei to the top of your bucket list if you’re looking for a lesser visited destination with the same amount of thrill as a popular one.
5. Sofia, Bulgaria
I was in Budapest scanning FlixBus, trying to decide what my next destination would be. I might as well have spun a globe and have my finger land on Bulgaria. It is a place I’ve never thought twice about or knew too much, but being so nearby with a few days to kill, I thought, why not? I took my overnight bus from Budapest to Sofia, arriving early in the morning. I grabbed an espresso, jumped on the tram (the wrong tram, nonetheless), and when I tried to ask the driver if this tram was going to where I was headed, he ignored me and closed the door. Some stereotypes are true, and Eastern Europeans being a little more stoic and a bit colder than their western counterparts is one of them. I laughed it off and eventually made my way to the right tram, finally arriving at one of the only hostels in Sofia. While I do my best to avoid tours in general (personal exploration is my go-to), I had no clue what to do here, so decided to last minute join the city’s free walking tour. I will say, it was my first time doing a free city walking tour and it did not disappoint. I learned so many random facts about Bulgaria and its history that I found it to be incredibly informative and worth it. Later in the day, I ordered some lamb, Bulgarian yogurt, and Rakia, a Bulgarian liqueur that is boozy to say the least. Bulgaria gave me more than I bargained for in the best way possible, and while the city of Sofia is charming as ever, I think a few days suffices for enough time here.
6. Maafushi, Maldives
A visit to those crystal-clear waters in the Maldives is probably on every traveler’s bucket list. The problem is Maldives is one of the most expensive destinations one could dream of, and it’s essentially in the middle of nowhere making for an often long flight with a hefty price tag. I have searched for flights to The Maldives several times, thinking of combining it with a trip to either India or Sri Lanka, but once I realized how expensive a hotel is there, I had just accepted it wasn’t going to happen. That is, until, a girl informed me of a local island called Maafushi. Maafushi is a thirty-minute boat ride from Male, and hotels can be as low as $40/night. Realizing I may actually be able to make my Maldives dreams come true, I researched a little bit more before finally booking a ticket. I booked a few nights at Reyva Inn for $37/night and I truly could’ve been fooled. It was a decent hotel with a giant room and comfortable beds. I got in late at night and was starving, and a guy who worked at the front desk walked me to a store to buy some local snacks. Poor planning on my part, however, because I was there during Ramadan and Maldives is the only other nation along with Saudi Arabia where practicing Islam is mandated by law. Since I was staying on a local island during Ramadan, most restaurants were closed during the day, and there was a complete and total ban of alcohol on the island. The alcohol thing didn’t bother me so much (and if you truly feel the need to drink, there are speed boats that take you to a “party boat” about ten minutes from Maafushi). I continued to go back to this place called Suzy’s Café, and when I had finally met Suzy herself, she invited me to a sundown dinner of chicken biryani with her and her family. I joined them the next night for their nightly meal and it was a memorable experience that I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed at a fancy resort island. Maafushi still had all of Maldives’ expected activities: snorkeling, diving, dolphin watching, etc. The beaches were still lined with palm trees and the water was still remarkably clear. My time in the Maldives ended up being both unexpected and affordable. If you have a bucket list destination that you think you may not be able to afford, get creative with how you travel, and you may end up just as surprised as I did.
7. Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece
It’s safe to assume we have all seen the beautiful picturesque white houses located in Santorini, Greece. Those houses are in a neighborhood called Oia, a touristic destination filled with the finer things in life: boutiques, top-notch restaurants serving fresh seafood, cozy bars overlooking the coastal cliffs of Santorini. However, staying in a villa or even a half-decent hotel comes with a price tag. I knew I wanted to visit Santorini when I went to Greece in July 2017, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in the middle of Oia due to the influx of tourists at that time of year. I opted to stay in Perissa, about a forty-five-minute ride from Oia. It is most notorious for its volcanic black sand beach and local cheap eats. I was in Santorini for five days which, in my opinion, was sufficient. In fact, only one of those days did I make it over to Oia, and since I didn’t rent a vehicle of any form, I managed to figure out the bus and it was a quick, easy, cheap ride. I stayed directly on Perissa Beach, and every morning I would grab breakfast and a frappe from a local café which granted me all-day access to a beach chair. I continued to order Greek wine and anything from calamari to fresh feta with tomatoes and cucumbers as I sat there, all without breaking the bank. One day, I decided to go scuba diving at Santorini Dive Center. Perhaps the best part of staying in Perissa was a tiny hole-in the-wall bar called Atlas Bar and Café, where everyone who worked there was an expat but had made Santorini their home. The owner was incredibly friendly and charged next to nothing for some ouzo and Mythos. My experience in Santorini would’ve been entirely different, and more expensive, had I opted to stay in the touristic area of Oia.
Kaitlyn has been traveling internationally for ten years.