People are usually fairly curious about my job, which I can understand. It’s unusual and many people would call it a dream job. Along with that natural curiosity comes a lot of questions, mostly the same ones and at the top of the list is always “What is your favorite place?” It’s an impossible question and I have yet to come up with a great answer sadly, but today I thought I’d at least try to answer the question by sharing just some of my favorite places to visit. The truth is, I find value almost anywhere I go and while it’s true there aren’t too many places I want to revisit again and again, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love the travel experience. Anyway, here are seven of my favorite places; the list is NOT exhaustive and is in NO order, just some lovely places I strongly encourage everyone try to experience at least once in their lives.
At first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting Lantau Island and even the new PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the best emerging creative minds in the city. I love Hong Kong for all of these reaons, but also because it’s never the same city twice. It’s in a state of continuous advancement, replacing and rebuilding at a rate that’s hard to imagine. Plus, there are so many little nooks and crannies around town that it’d take a lifetime to discover them all.
I have no reason to have an emotional connection with Scotland. My family doesn’t have strong Scottish ancestry and yet, even as a kid, I’ve long been fascinated by the country. On my wall growing up weren’t Madonna or Michael Jackson posters, but a giant red and yellow flag of the Scottish royal standard. That’s weird, but it just proves for just how long I’ve been attached to this small and lovingly quirky country. That’s also why my first solo backpacking trip after I graduated from college was to England and Scotland, with a heavy emphasis on Scotland. While I enjoyed meandering through this beautiful country, it was Edinburgh that I loved the most. It’s a place of incredible beauty, meteorological phenomena like a cold summer’s day and where in the evenings you can find a corner pub packed with local musicians jamming with Celtic instruments and plenty of spirit. I wish I could say that since then I’ve been back many times, but it’s only been once in 20 years. That doesn’t mean I love it any less, instead I think it demonstrates just how strong my love for the city burns that it remains unquenched no matter how much time passes.
France (Paris and Beyond)
Emotions are a powerful driving force in travel and many times they dictate where we go and what we see and do. That’s one reason why France is on this list – a month living in Paris as a far too young 17-year old was a defining experience in my life. Ever since then I’ve adored Paris in a type of love reserved only for this city, but which is felt by millions like me around the world. While I like Paris, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live there, instead it’s the rest of this large country which has me so intrigued. While I’ve only spent a limited amount of time exploring France, what I’ve discovered in the process couldn’t be more different from the City of Lights. That’s to be expected I suppose, any major city will be more intense than its country cousins, but that effect seems somehow magnified in France. There seems to be two countries in one – Paris and then the rest of France. Both are great, but for my own sanity I think I would have to find a smaller, but not small, town to call home. La Rochelle, Avignon and even Lyon would be wonderful cities to live in, while still enjoying everything that makes France so very special.
Cape Town, South Africa
Calling the tip of Africa home, the Mother City is one of the most popular cities in the world for a reason, it’s amazing. Routinely named to the Best in the World lists, Cape Town is unlike any other city you’ve visited before. In a quirky mix of European and African sensibilities, it’s easy to forget that you’re in southern Africa as you stroll around this colonial city. Days could be spent exploring the historical and cultural treasures of The Mother City, as well as admiring the natural beauty that is all encompassing. From the omnipresent Table Mountain to Chapman’s Peak Drive, your jaw will drop many times as you survey the beautiful landscapes that define this area of South Africa. Travel umami is something that is impossible to define, but rather the combination of all elements of a destination that culminates in a sort of perfection that has to be felt to be properly understood. That’s Cape Town and that is certainly South Africa. Long before my first trip to Southern Africa I was told that there is something in the air, something that latches onto your soul and refuses to let go. I naturally didn’t believe them until my first time experiencing it firsthand and then I understood, I got what they were talking about – this special travel umami. That’s simultaneously my top reason why everyone should visit but also the only one I can’t prove. So just trust me, plan a trip and go, go see and feel and taste South Africa and then I dare you to come back and say I was wrong.
Germany is one of those stalwart champions of the travel world. It’s always there, it always has something fun to share and it’s so massive I rarely seem to visit the same places twice. Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, probably more than any other foreign country. Over those many visits I’ve seen a lot of this deceptively large country, from the always-edgy Berlin to those romantic Bavarian escapes that personify Germany for many of us. But it’s more than that makes me love the country – I think it’s the people who have won me over. Tolerating my poorly delivered German, I’ve always been treated kindly by locals no matter where I am, a cultural attribute lacking in many places I visit. Not only do I love the people and the width and breadth of things to see and do in the country, but it’s a place where I just feel comfortable. So yes, Germany has a lot going for it from the food, the people, its centrally located position and its willingness to allow all types of people, even myself, to call it home if they want to.
One of my favorite cities in the world just after a few hours of being there – some places you just fall in love with right away and for me that was Melbourne. Still, I felt like I owed it to myself to go back and confirm whether or not this love was for real, or just a one-night stand. On one of my trips to Australia I rearranged the schedule and frankly went out of my way just to have a couple of nights in beautiful Melbourne and you know what? It was totally worth it. I don’t know if it’s the convenient downtown core or just the surprising beauty of the city, but it all clicks for me and it’s not only a place I could visit again and again, but I know I could also happily live there. I’m not alone either; Melbourne frequently makes the top list of most livable cities in the world owing to this unique combination of beautiful neighborhoods, diverse activities and just overall charm.
I love Brussels and find myself returning time and time again, although always in December. Light rain and grey skies are normal in this part of Europe in the winter, but it adds to the spirit of the season. The highlight of spending time in Brussels around the holidays is the annual Winter Wonders Festival, the city’s Christmas market. The fun starts in the iconic Grand Place, which hosts a gigantic Christmas tree and at night features a light and music show that can’t be missed. It loops every 15 minutes, so don’t worry about missing it. From there follow your nose along the side streets and meander through the stalls that have a little bit of everything from hot mulled wine to snacks and of course gifts. My favorite spot is located in front of Church of St. Catherine where the majority of stalls are housed in addition to a Ferris wheel, ice skating rink and a rotating array of musicians. I’ve been twice and I would gladly go every year if I could. The festival is just a lot of good, honest fun and while the weather WILL be grey and cold, I think that only adds to the experience. While you’re in town be sure to see the other more famous sites like the Old Town, the Atomium and all of the delicious chocolate shops found around town.