When our editors got into a room to hash out our top travel picks for 2009, we realized just how much the economic, social, and political changes of 2008 have sculpted the travel landscape for the coming year.
The rising cost of air travel, the global economic crisis, and the fluctuating dollar made once-popular destinations in Europe out of reach for many of us. New hotspots, like South America, emerged, as their exchange rates offered visitors more bang for their buck. Heightened interest in going green meant more focus on eco-friendly tourism and great-outdoors vacations than ever before. And lets not forget the historic presidential election of Barack Obama, which has sparked Washington, D.C.,s massive resurgence as a tourism destination.
Underpinning all of this, however, is a renewed emphasis on great-value vacations something we at ShermansTravel know all about. Our editors brought their dollar-savvy expertise and collective travel mileage to the office globe to cast a wide net of places to go in 2009, nearly all of which offer a good degree of affordability in addition to unique, memorable travel experiences. So get out and explore these 29 places before the crowds do . . . in 2010.
Roamed by the feral Tasmanian Devil and the spotted-tailed quoll, Tasmania is, at least in part, an untouched wilderness spanning rainforest, beaches, high mountain plains, and lakes sailed by black swans. Historic towns, fertile farmlands, and pleasant cities also add to its charm, belying a darker side of the Australian island's history, when the land doubled as a detention center for convicts. Travelers head here to experience ultimate adventure and breathtaking scenery.
Why Go In 2009: The value of the Australian dollar is at its lowest in five years and is predicted to fall even more within the next few months bad news for Aussies, good news for U.S. travelers. Now is the time to take advantage of the plummeting Australian currency and to see the primordial beauty of Tasmania without breaking the bank. Worried about the long flight? Don't be. In September, Qantas Airways unveiled its new fleet of spacious A380s the largest commercial jet in the world making the transpacific distance seem a little less difficult; note that a domestic transfer to Tasmania is best routed via Melbourne.
2. Austin, Texas
Austins superlative live music scene may have made the city famous, but this hip Texas capital citys quirky charm extends far beyond its melodic beats. Largely enriched by the dynamic energy of the homegrown University of Texas, Austin boasts the Lone Star States best cultural offerings, with numerous galleries, museums, and music venues (more than 100 in all!) alongside some more unexpected attractions like the summer congregation of some million bats by the Congress Avenue Bridge without sacrificing its appealing small-town feel. Combine that with more than 300 sunshine-filled days a year, and its little wonder that Austins consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the U.S.
Why Go In 2009: Sure, traveling abroad can be a pricey venture in these trying economic times, but who says you need to leave America to escape it? Austin, whose unofficial motto is Keep Austin Weird, offers the American traveler a rare U.S. city vacation destination thats devoid of the cookie-cutter commercial strips found nearly everywhere else in fact, all chain and big-box stores (think McDonald's and Walmart) are pleasantly absent from the downtown area, giving way to hundreds of sensational local businesses that can only be experienced in Austin. What's more, some exciting new music festivals are slated for autumn 2009: Look for the Texas Wine & Song Festival in October and the punk and indie rock Fun Fun Fun Fest in November.
3. Cappadocia, Turkey
Located in the center of Turkey, approximately 450 miles from Istanbul, Cappadocia is a Salvador Dali painting come to life. This bizarre, lunar-like landscape is dotted with extraordinary fairy chimney rock formations, dramatic gorges, troglodyte houses, subterranean chapels, underground cities that once sheltered early Christians, and exquisite hotels carved out of the areas abundant soft stone. Make pottery in Avanos, go wine-tasting in Urgup, and rise with the lark and take to the skies in a hot-air balloon for a bird's eye view of Goreme National Parks dramatic valleys and conical rock formations.
Why Go In 2009: Most American tourists are still reluctant to venture beyond Istanbul and Turkeys Mediterranean coast, so go now before word spreads that Cappadocia has reached beyond backpackers and archeology buffs to appeal to a more luxury-minded set. The Serinn House, a boutique design hotel in Urgup with just five rooms (when was the last time you stayed in a WiFi-equipped cave?), opened in early 2007. Also, due to the favorable exchange rate (though Turkey aspires to adopt the euro and join the European Union, the Turkish lira will remain in circulation through 2009), Turkey is both exotic and affordable.
4. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Founded in 1521, San Juan is not only the political and cultural capital of Puerto Rico, but it's the United States' very oldest city. At turns charming and gritty, historical Old San Juan and the sugary, resort-laden Condado and Isla Verde beachfronts woo visitors moving away from the sand, urban sprawl and factories dominate. Combine your trip with escapes to off-the-coast islets like Vieques and Culebra for a truly unforgettable Caribbean experience.
Why Go In 2009: When it comes to quick, affordable beach and cultural getaways, few destinations rival San Juan, which is less than a three-hour flight from Miami or under five hours from New York. Combine short flying times with cheap flights low-cost carrier JetBlue offers non-stop service from several East Coast cities (with a new D.C. route launching in December), while American Airlines operates its Caribbean hub there, making for competitive pricing. Whats more, no passport is required for travel and with the historic district of Old San Juan delivering a winning combination of European culture with Caribbean charm, it's a chance to indulge in an affordable taste of Europe right here in the Americas.
5. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Most visitors to Zimbabwe come solely with a visit to the Victoria Falls region in mind the tourism hub of the country, its developed infrastructure and special tourism police make it a comfortable and secure base for tourists. Nestled on the country's border with Zambia, visitors come to the area to ogle the largest waterfalls in the world (twice the height of Niagara), and for the highly accessible wildlife viewing and safaris along the Zambezi River. Adrenaline junkies can explore the terrain from atop an elephant or a white-water raft, or take things down a notch while perusing the local craft market or kicking back at colonial-style luxury lodges.
Why Go In 2009: While Zimbabwe's volatile political situation may deter some visitors, the recent runaway inflation of the Zimbabwean dollar has translated to bargain rates and reemerging tourism around Victoria Falls. Instead of going on safari in South Africa, where costs can approach $1,000 per night, try Zimbabwe, where the same experience is priced at half the cost and the U.S. dollar is the currency of choice. Expect five-star accommodations at three-star price tags don't miss luxurious newcomer, Wild Horizons Sanctuary Lodge (opening in May), or the February reopening of the upscale Bumi Hills Safari Lodge at Lake Kariba.
6. Willamette Valley, Ore.
Located about an hours drive south of Portland and spread out on the banks of the Willamette River, this up-and-coming wine region has been making waves of late in wine glasses across the nation. Billing itself as the "place for pinot, this slumbering grapevine district is home to more than 200 wineries, most of which beckon visitors with tasting rooms and even eco-wine tours. Visitors can also opt to take in the vineyard-covered landscape from a hot-air balloon ride, trot along farm-dotted trails on horseback, or take home a one-of-a-kind find from one of the many antique shops.
Why Go In 2009: Although enthusiasts forecast that this area will be the next Napa Valley, the less-commercialized Willamette Valley remains for now a much more affordable vino-centric destination than its southerly California neighbor. Plus, new developments are on the horizon for those looking for an alternative to the areas charming B&B circuit in August, for one, the regions first luxury inn, The Allison Inn & Spa, will be unveiled, featuring extras like a restaurant dishing out regional cuisine and a working vineyard.
Montenegro has come a long way since its shaky days following Yugoslavia's breakup. With medieval cities and ancient monasteries, over 200 miles of coastline, a plethora of beaches, soaring Dinaric Alps, four national parks, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this gem of a country often overshadowed by fashionable neighbor Croatia offers travelers a spectrum of outdoor and cultural experiences at much more reasonable rates.
Why Go In 2009: Currently ranked as the second fastest growing tourism market in the world (falling just behind China), youll need to head here fast, before rates rise to match Montenegro's mounting popularity. Luckily, travel will be easier than ever as of June 2009, when Montenegro Airlines expands its service to Tivat via London Gatwick. Meanwhile, Aman Resorts is slated to celebrate the opening of its newly branded Sveti Stefen island resort, a former fishing village and modern-day celebrity retreat that closed for the Aman takeover and luxury makeover last year. This highly anticipated development has consequently sparked other luxury hotel negotiations in the region (the Four Seasons among them), as well as the pending transformation of Tivat's Port Montenegro into a marina for mega yachts.
8. Salvador, Brazil
Brazil's third-largest city, Salvador is often called the "soul of Brazil" for its colorful open-air markets, religious festivals, Afro-Brazilian cuisine, Samba and Reggae music, and friendly residents. Once a hub for the slave trade, the city exhibits strong cultural ties to Africa. Home to a number of museums, parks, architectural highlights, and golf courses, Salvador is also ideally situated along Todos os Santos Bay, perfect for working in some beach lounging, visiting "barracas" (beach bars), or surfing. Each year, the citys massive Carnaval celebration rivals that of Rios, drawing some two million people to party in the streets for miles at whats billed as "the world's largest festival.
Why Go In 2009: If youre looking for a fresh perspective on Brazil and/or have been priced out of Rio, Salvador is the perfect Brazilian-city-and-beach-vacation alternative. Rios Carnaval may get most of the worldwide acclaim, but Salvadors version not only offers better overall value at lodging and restaurants, but one giant street party to remember with celebrations along the beaches, music and dancing throughout the city, and a wild float-speckled main parade. Whats more, getting there is easier than ever, courtesy of American Airlines' new non-stop routes to Salvador via Miami. The city is also a port of call that's growing in popularity on great-value South American cruise itineraries from companies like Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises.
9. South Korea
In just two decades, South Korea has emerged as a stable democratic country with big ambitions. The bustling megacity of Seoul embodies the nations new spirit, where towering skyscrapers and posh department stores are interspersed with venerable imperial palaces, traditional teahouses, and centuries-old Buddhist temples. Ancient Gyeongju, meanwhile, offers a glimpse into Koreas 5,000 years of history, and was ranked in 1995 by UNESCO as one of the worlds ten most historically significant places. Nearby, a sunrise climb to the temple-topped peak of Mt. Tohamsan reveals the origin of the countrys moniker, Land of the Morning Calm.
Why Go In 2009: The South Korean won has lost more than 30 percent of its value against the dollar since just one year ago, giving the American traveler plenty of purchasing power of particular interest for shoppers looking to pick up brand-name consumer electronics and designer fashions in Seoul. Whats more, the number of international tourists boomed some 12 percent between 2007 and 2008, a trend thats inspired hotel chains like Wyndham and InterContinental to expand their presence in the country in 2009.
10. Tel Aviv, Israel
Fabulous Tel Aviv, dubbed the Miami of the Mediterranean, is easily Israels coolest city. Trimmed with gorgeous beaches, loaded with Bauhaus architecture, and populated with smartly dressed locals with a fierce appreciation for art, cuisine, and nightlife, Tel Aviv is the hedonistic antidote to historic, heady Jerusalem, which, even at just one hour away, is a world apart in every respect. Indeed, while Jerusalem is all about the past, Tel Aviv is Israels definitive 21st-century flag-bearer, with a regular rotation of new restaurant, hotel, and bar openings, and a superb design-forward sensibility thats altogether unmatched in the Middle East.
Why Go In 2009: Tel Aviv turns 100 in April 2009, making it older than Israel (which celebrated its 60th in 2008). While the city never needs an excuse to party, visitors can count on an amped-up centennial schedule with eight months of festivities culminating in December. The line-up features fun events like a centennial photo shoot of thousands on the beach in April; a flower carpet in Rabin Square in September; and an international film festival hosted by the Tel Aviv Cinemateque in November. Keep abreast of event schedules at tlv100.co.il and book your room now; the citys best hotels are bound to book up fast.