For many of us, this quarantine period has been a sobering time to step back, check in with ourselves and take a look at the freedoms we once took for granted. Jumping onto a budget flight for a city break might once have been possible, but for the next year or so, foreign travel will have to be carefully weighed up and planned against the various risks and social distancing responsibilities we must be following.
Despite this, we will get past this and slowly but surely, travel restrictions will ease and communities that rely on tourist spending will be able to recover their businesses and livelihoods. With greater attention to the impact of our travel (not just in terms of public health, but also climate change and social and cultural repercussions), travel may start to look very different in a post-Covid-19 world.
We are moving into a new age of travel, and with this comes a responsibility but also a freedom as we welcome the positive impacts of mindful travel and closer connections with local businesses and communities. With this in mind, here are our top 10 recommendations for a few travel destinations that could make an exciting trip once travel bans are lifted. Some are up-and-coming on the tourist trail; some are regions that vitally need visitors to make up for the economic impacts of lockdown, and some are inspiring examples of sustainable tourist initiatives.
Kigali - Rwanda
Almost three decades on from the genocide that caused unimaginable loss and suffering, Rwanda is slowly starting to heal and open up its borders to foreign visitors. From a non-existent tourist industry, government initiatives and huge collective efforts have brought the country onto the global sphere as an ideal holiday destination. Now one of the safest countries in Africa, expanded airlines and other tourist infrastructure has Kigali (the regions' capital) ready and waiting to welcome tourists. Fascinating initiatives include the monthly 'cleanup day', where all Rwandans are legally required to spend a day cleaning up the city's streets, as well as the complete banning of single use plastic bags.
Baku - Azerbaijan
Whilst neighbouring regions in Europe have been crippled by tourist numbers, Azerbaijan has long struggled to grow a tourist industry at all. Despite this, in recent years, thanks to various initiatives, numbers are slowly rising. As an ex-Soviet Muslim country, Azerbaijan constitutes an incredible melting pot of cultures, with its unique blend of Middle-Eastern, Russian, European and Central Asian practices making for a fascinating cultural tapestry. Baku is the largest city and capital of the country, and invites thorough exploration. Striking modern skyscrapers nestle between dazzling mosques, Soviet architecture and ruins of ancient castles and fortresses, firing up the imagination for this city's turbulent history, and daring you to get lost.
Tokyo - Japan
Since the postponing (and likely cancellation) of the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan in particular has been hugely hard hit by the financial losses attributed to current travel bans. In the past few weeks, articles have gone viral indicating that the Japanese government are working on plans to majorly subsidise tourist costs for any visitors that plan on making a trip in 2021. Though this may only apply to domestic tourists, these initiatives point to a growing concern as to the state of Japan's tourist economy, and will likely mean that any visit to Japan in 2021 will be eagerly welcomed by hotels, tours and tourist spots alike.
Alaska - US
Due to its incredible natural scenery, Alaska has always been near the top of any list when discussing excellent eco-tourism destinations. For those looking to discover incredible scenery and get out into nature whilst minimising their carbon footprint, there is a wide selection of eco-lodges, sustainable tour companies and hiking roots to choose from.
Sumatra - Indonesia
Sumatra has made a huge name for itself over the last decade, thanks to its commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability initiatives. With some of the last known wild habitats of Orang-utans threatened from deforestation for palm oil, eco-tourism has become a major tool for preservation funding and education. Tourist agencies like Sumatra EcoTravel offer visitors a wide range of exciting excursions and orang-utan sanctuary visits, as well as accommodation in environmentally friendly eco-lodges.
Luang Prabang - Laos
Unlike other destinations on the South-East Asia backpacking trail, Luang Prabang has managed to distance itself from the hedonistic 'moon-parties' popular in other regions. Thanks in part to partnerships with international NGOs, Luang Prabang instead focuses on rural excursion tours, allowing visitors to check out traditional handicrafts such as pottery and weaving and learn more about the diverse ethnic groups and cultures of Northern Laos. In the middle of the town, an Ethnology museum presents exhibitions about the history of the area and offers an opportunity to purchase local crafts.
Kathmandu - Nepal
Following the devastating 2015 earthquake, Kathmandu is another region actively attempting to boost visitors numbers and rebuild its prosperous tourist industry. Official government initiatives like Visit Nepal 2020, though sidelined by the virus, have been working hard to present some of Nepals most exciting celebrations and festivals to an international audience. By rebuilding a tourist industry almost from scratch, Nepali officials are working to create a more sustainable, more eco-conscious and safe programme of tours and packages. For trekking routes and climbing destinations, measures allowing for the impacts of climate change are also being implemented.
Ljubljana - Slovenia
Another up-and-coming destination the tourist trail, Ljubljana offers all the delights of a European city break, with a fraction of the crowds. Boasting a wide array of local museums, dazzling churches and romantic canal-ways and bridges, Ljubljana is a true European hidden gem. Take a stroll amongst the cobbled streets, dine al-fresco in the evenings, and make sure to tie in an excursion to the picture-perfect Lake Bled and the spectacular Predjama castle.
Valencia - Spain
Why not take a relaxing holiday to the next level with a wellness retreat? A growing number of tour companies are reinventing the 'package holiday' to match willing travellers with a sustainable and local holiday experience. Responsible Travel, for example, offer this affordable 6 day yoga retreat package in sunny Valencia. Packed with daily yoga and meditation classes, nutrition and philosophy workshops, and delicious vegetarian meals, visitors can focus on truly unwinding whilst socialising with other likeminded travellers.
What list could possible be complete without mentioning the hottest travel destination in the world right now? Perhaps for its strict limitations on tourist numbers and hefty daily visa fees, or because of its various titles as the happiest and only carbon negative country in the world, Bhutan has quickly risen to becoming the ultimate dream destination for any keen traveller. Emphasising 'high value, low impact', visitors are guaranteed a dazzling experience, the jewel being the gravity-defying Paro Taktsang "tigers nest" monastery. A visit to Bhutan is to step into a world completely removed from Western hotel chains and fast-food outlets, with locals still required to wear traditional Bhutanese dress. As globalisation seeps into every corner of the world, Bhutan remains one of the last to hold out, and it is the chance to glimpse a society like this, even if just for a few days, that makes Bhutan worth its huge entry cost.