Where is it safe to travel? 7 ideas to escape on vacation

Some habits are hard to break – but that doesn’t seem to be the case when traveling.

The habits of travelers are changing – quickly and en masse. People are bypassing big cities in favor of smaller destinations that attract fewer tourists, and outdoor activities like hiking and biking are attracting more interest than before.

To avoid the crowds while enjoying the great outdoors, here are seven things to consider once you are safe to travel again.

Normandy, France

France has been the most visited country in the world for years. Travelers congregate in inland Paris, on the French Riviera in the south, and in the country’s world-famous wine regions, which are spread across the bottom two-thirds of the country.

But what about the north? Regions along the English Channel such as Normandy receive a small fraction of French tourists, making them ideal for travelers wanting to experience the country and avoid large groups.

Although Normandy is relatively calm, the Mont Saint-Michel, a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey less than a mile (1.6 km) from mainland France, is packed with people.

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Normandy is popular with World War II history buffs who tour the iconic D-Day beach invasion sites, as well as their cemeteries and monuments. Others are drawn to the beach towns of Deauville and Trouville, the cobblestone streets of Honfleur, and the majestic tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel.

As in much of France, the food is another draw. Normandy is famous for Camembert cheese, Calvados liqueur and Tarte aux Pommes (apple tarts).

The “other” islands of Greece

According to the World Bank, Greece received around 10 million tourists a year in the mid-1990s. By 2019 that number had more than tripled.

According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, five regions accounted for 88% of all overnight stays in 2017, namely the South Aegean, Crete, the Ionian Islands, Central Macedonia and Attica. Almost half of all hotel rooms are in Crete and the South Aegean Islands, with the latter including popular destinations of Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes.

Travelers can escape the crowd by choosing a Greek island like Lipsi, which receives far fewer tourists than Santorini or Mykonos.

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Makis Bitzios, general manager of the Greek tourism consultancy Remake, said that tourists are highly concentrated in the most popular Greek islands and many others have far fewer tourists, including Iraklia in the Cyclades archipelago and Lipsi in the Dodecanese.

“Both islands are very beautiful, without the crowds, very authentic and not as well known as many other Greek travel destinations,” he said.

Central Vietnam

Many international tourists to Vietnam travel north to Hanoi and Halong Bay or south to Ho Chi Minh City.

Those who venture into the center usually head to Hoi An Old City, the dazzling hotels outside Da Nang, or the historic sites of Hue and My Son.

The Anantara Quy Nhon Villas are an all-villa resort in the south-central coast region of Vietnam.

Courtesy Anantara Quy Nhon Villas

A few years ago, a small number of resorts were betting that travelers would be drawn to the sleepier parts of Vietnam.

Anantara, a luxury brand from the Minor Hotels Group, was one of them. It opened the Anantara Quy Nhon Villas in 2018 as the first international five-star hotel in a part of Vietnam that received few international visitors.

The resort has 26 ocean view villas, each with ocean views and private pools.

The brand opened another location, Anantara Mui Ne, four hours east of Ho Chi Minh City.

“Both Anantara Quy Nhon Villas and Anantara Mui Ne are in remote locations and in their own gated locations that offer peaceful experiences but are close to local locations,” said Pieter van der Hoeven, Regional General Manager of the CNBC brand Global Traveler by email.

Another inland attraction is the colossal Son Doong Cave. First explored in 2009, only 1,000 travelers are allowed to explore each year. This is a limit to protect the cave, which is believed to be one of the largest and most magnificent in the world.

Kagawa, Japan

Not to be confused with Kanagawa, the popular coastal prefecture south of Tokyo. Kagawa is Japan’s smallest prefecture by geographic size. At about 724 square miles, it’s about two and a half times larger than New York City, yet is home to less than 1 million people.

Kagawa is located on Shikoku Island and receives a small number of Japanese tourists. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, fewer than 550,000 of the nearly 32 million international tourists to Japan went to Kagawa in 2019.

Travelers looking to tour feudal castles, temples and gardens and want to eat udon – the famous dish is closely linked to the prefecture where the noodles are made from locally grown wheat – can check out the village of Urashima.

Urashima Village is a secluded inn with three private buildings (one of which is called “Silence”) overlooking the uninhabited Maruyama Island.

Courtesy Urashima Village

The small luxury inn opened in January and offers guests the chance to work in peace, kayak in the sea and explore the country by bike.

The inn, manned by a concierge team and a private chef, overlooks the uninhabited island of Maruyama, which, according to low tide, guests can enter twice a day if an “underwater road” appears at low tide.

Dandenongs, Australia

While Melbourne receives the lion’s share of awards (and tourists) for the Australian state of Victoria, there are numerous destinations outside of the city that deserve recognition.

One such place is the Dandenongs, a serene mountain range of bucolic bed and breakfasts, forest gardens, and family-owned restaurants.

Less than an hour from Melbourne, the Dandenongs Ranges are a mountainous area with great food and small town friendliness.

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Upscale homes are available for rent at Valley Ranges Getaways in Sassafras, one of the region’s most popular villages. Another visitor favorite, Olinda, sits just two miles down the road. Both are lined with craft shops, antique shops, and restaurants serving local wine.

Travelers can head to Healesville Sanctuary for an up-close look at wombats and kangaroos, or pre-order tickets to ride on Puffing Billy, a preserved open-car steam train.

New Mexico

Travelers to and within the United States may want to skip the coasts in favor of the American Southwest this year.

According to the data company Statista, New Mexico is the seventh most populous state in the United States, with an average of 17 people per square mile. Nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, the state has national parks and Aztec ruins, wonderful caves, and rugged red and white desert biomes.

Some of the most luxurious hotels in New Mexico, such as the Inn of the Five Graces and the Hotel St. Francis, are located in the capital Sante Fe, which has a population of 85,000.

Ghost Ranch near Abiquiú, New Mexico, is an area with an eclectic mix of former residents, including dinosaurs, Spanish settlers, and artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

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However, the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Sante Fe sits on 57 acres outside of town. Guests stay in suites and freestanding casitas, which means “little houses” in Spanish, with south-western decor and wood-burnt, Pueblo-inspired kiva fireplaces.

Overlooking the Rio Grande River Valley and the nearby Jemez Mountains, the resort features a year-round pool, outdoor fire pits, and an adventure center that offers hot air balloon rides, horse riding and white water rafting, and cultural tours to Ghost Ranch, or organizes Bonanza Creek Ranch where films like “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Wild Hogs” were filmed.

Saba and Saint Eustatius

With the Caribbean islands typically averaging over 30 million international travelers a year – a number not counting cruise line passengers – the number of international visitors visiting the small Caribbean islands of Saba and Saint Eustatius might just be a rounding error.

Both islands are special municipalities in the Netherlands and, according to the Dutch government agency Statistics Netherlands, each receive fewer than 10,000 tourists per year by air.

Saba and Saint Eustatius (shown here) are part of the Netherlands Antilles and provide a secluded escape for hiking, diving, and immersion in ecotourism.

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A third of visitors come from other islands – namely Aruba, Curaçao, and Saint Martin – with at least another third including travelers from the United States and the Netherlands.

On Saba, Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa received a Travelers’ Choice Award from TripAdvisor at Mountaintop 2020, while Saint Eustatius (also called Statia) offers home rentals that range from modest bed and breakfasts to three-tier villas on Airbnb.

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