Lonely Planet writers on the first place they want to return to

Lonely Planet writer MaSovaida Morgan in Bali. Image courtesy of writer.

Thirteen Lonely Planet writers reflect on their current  isolation, and reveal the one destination they are longing to get back to when this all ends.

Bali by MaSovaida Morgan

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MaSovaida Morgan in Bali where opportunities for both chilling and chasing adventure abound

After more than two years of living completely nomadically, I’ve been quarantined with my brother and sister-in-law in Washington DC since the beginning of March. Up until then, I had been taking back-to-back guidebook authoring gigs with Lonely Planet to maintain my wanderlusty lifestyle. Being quarantined has given me the opportunity to get plenty of rest...but recreation? Not so much! That’s why the first place I plan to travel to after the world opens back up is Bali, where opportunities for both chilling and chasing adventure abound. 

Whether you want to laze by a pool or on the sand, find some serenity at the many Hindu temples nestled in nature, hike up a volcano before dawn to see the sunrise, surf legendary breaks, dance the day away at beach clubs, or indulge in killer retail therapy, there are ample avenues for both recharging and revelry here. And then there’s the incredible food – both traditional Balinese fare and the westernized, Insta-worthy variety – made with gorgeous local produce, plus all the fresh juice you can drink (I’ve been known to knock back at least three watermelon with ginger per day). A trip to this paradise ASAP will provide everything my body, mind, and soul have been craving.

Reunion Island by Fabienne Fong Yan  

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Fabienne Fong Yan: 'My roots impact my destination choices'

After two years in Vietnam, I moved to Amsterdam in January this year for a job opportunity. Coming to Europe was a way for me to be closer to my family. I was born and raised in Reunion Island, a small French territory in the Indian Ocean and the easiest way to get there is on an 11-hour flight from Paris.

Having lived a nomadic lifestyle for the past five years, on three different continents, I have started to realize how much my roots impact my destination choices, and I can see how the island’s multicultural heritage, the immigration history of my Chinese family, but also the isolation and complex relationship between France and its former colony are less-known aspects I could explore to understand better what moves me.

That’s why when it’s finally safe to move freely again, I will definitely go home.

Lithuania’s Curonian Spit by Anita Isalska

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Anita Isalska outside Trakai Castle in Lithuania

I am hunkering down in Wales until the US lifts its travel ban and I can return home to California. Being landlocked here, my imagination is transporting me to calm seas – specifically the Curonian Spit.  There’s a supreme stillness about this peninsula, which splinters off from western Lithuania’s coast. With ghostly birch trees and folkloric carvings, the entire Curonian Spit has a mystical air. 

The tree-lined trails are a dream for cyclists. In my mind’s eye, I’m pedalling past jaunty, jewel-like houses in towns like Nida and Juodkrantė, drinking in the scent of the sea. I can picture my last Lithuanian sunset so clearly. I sat overlooking the water from a tiny outdoor bar. Pearly clouds hung in the sky, coppery light danced across the sea. When travel resumes, I’ll be off to watch the sun melt into the Baltic sea, with a glass of cider raised in salute.

Botswana by Anthony Ham

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Anthony Ham longing for the skies of the Kalahari in Australia

From my home-office here in Melbourne, Australia, the wide, open spaces of Botswana in southern Africa seem like a very long way away. Difficult as it can be to imagine when the most adventurous expedition I’m allowed is a trip to the supermarket, I long for the big skies of the Kalahari. From where I write, I can see the sky, but only through the clutter of trees and fences and neighbouring buildings. 

Little surprise, then, that I often find myself day-dreaming that I am standing on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, staring at horizons that seem to go on forever. Or my mind wanders into the fertile terrain of the Okavango Delta, looking for big cats while elephants and giraffes forage nearby. And just as much as the landscapes and the wildlife, I long to see my Botswanan friends, especially among the San, the indigenous people of the Kalahari. There would be no finer way to celebrate a return to normal life than to pass an evening around the campfire with my San friends, listening to their stories, hearing lions roar in the night, and knowing that, once again, all was right with the world.

Westfjords, Iceland by Belinda Dixon

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Belinda Dixon, nothing beats a soak in a Iceland geothermal pool

I was due to research in Iceland this summer for Lonely Planet. And as worlds contract my spirit returns to those broad fjord views. To me they spell freedom, peace, space. In Iceland in summer, time seems elastic. The Westfords are so far north the sun doesn’t really set, bringing apparently never-ending days. So you always seem to have time to pitch your tent at 10pm, go for a late-night fjord-side stroll, soak at midnight in a geothermal pool. It’s an illusion of course; even magical Iceland has days with only 24 hours. But it also gifts us a reminder of just how much we can achieve.

My lockdown sees me tucked away in an English village. As I take my daily allocated exercise, I’m more intensely aware spring is bringing fragrance, flowers, and warmer, longer days. I long for those light-filled, apparently endless Westfjords nights, and I know someday I’ll all be able to travel there again.

Georgia by Akanksha Singh

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Akanksha Singh in Georgia, she had planned to be there this month

I'm currently in lockdown in Delhi at my parents' home. We'd recently just returned from a family holiday to Portugal when India went on lockdown.  Like many people, I initially thought COVID wouldn’t impact me. I’d planned to be in Georgia in May. 

It was just one of those places that instantly charmed me when I first visited last year in the winter. So much so that when I came back , I kept my Georgian Lari, wanting to go back as soon as possible. It’s not often you can drive from snow-capped peaks to beaches within a day. I was just so enamoured by the food, the wine, the people, the history, the countryside—I can’t believe it’s not overrun with tourists. 

Pakistan by Marco Ferrarese

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 Marco Ferrarese twirling with the Shias of Sehwan Sharif  in rural Sindh.

I’m sitting in a hotel room, forced into quarantine in Kuala Lumpur after a four-months jaunt across the bottom end of South America. For me, the pandemic has changed everything, ripping my family to shreds in Italy, locking me up in a Peruvian mountain town, and turning a life of never-ending travel into a sour afterthought.

Inshallah, when I’ll be able to do what I love the most again, Pakistan is the place I want to return to. I visited twice, and I can’t forget the infectious benevolence and hospitality of the Pakistanis — from the Ismaili Muslims of the Hunza Valley to the Punjabis of Lahore, from twirling Sufis to the desert-dwellers of Sindh, the people of Pakistan are always ready to delight their guests beyond belief.  Pakistan both tickles Central Asia’s belly with its crown of majestic snow mountains, and dips its gypsy toe rings into the Arabian Sea. To me, Pakistan is not a country, it’s a state of mind. And if you like the rough travel of old, like me, you won’t have it any other way.

You may like to read: 'Will we ever make it back?' Returning home to grieve following COVID-19 loss

Panama by Rosie Bell

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Rosie Bell on Panama's San Blas Islands 

Having swapped London’s Tube for the tropics, I’ve been living in Panama for the best part of three years. Everything about it appeals to me. I can’t get enough of the music, food and pace of the capital. During the week I can entertain myself with a rainforest hike or lunch on juicy octopus at a rooftop lounge facing the bay. On weekends, life can slow to a crawl at one of many paradise beaches; we’ve got our pick of two coasts, after all. In my heart, Panama is home.

In March I made a pit stop to Buenos Aires on my way to London for a series of weddings, when suddenly the world caught fire. That pitstop has, therefore, become a bit more permanent than I’d envisaged, and the weddings have sadly been called off. Buenos Aires is far from the worst place to be stuck in limbo. I have a roof over my head and the mild autumn breeze keeps me company on my balcony where I practically live. Nevertheless, I long to stroll along the cobbled streets of Panama’s old town, run into a familiar face and embrace them, if I may.

Raja Ampat in Indonesia by Mark Johanson

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Mark Johanson on a visit to Raja Ampat in November 2017

Like most people enduring an urban lockdown in a high-rise apartment building, my dream is to get back into nature. I’m based in the Chilean capital of Santiago and tend to work between the Americas and Southeast Asia. Generally, when I’m in Asia I miss Latin America and vice versa, so perhaps it’s only fitting that I’m fantasizing about returning to the remote Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat, off the west coast of New Guinea.

The name Raja Ampat literally translates to “Four Kings” in honor of the four main islands in the chain: Misool, Waigeo, Salawati and Batanta. Misool has a fortress of towering formations that rise out of the sea like shards of green glass. Waigeo is teeming with birds-of-paradise. Meanwhile, there is a dizzying array of dive sites off Salawati and Batanta, which lie in the Coral Triangle right at the heart of the so-called “Amazon of the seas.”

Someday, post-pandemic, I’ll plot my return to once again swim off its bone-white beaches, sleep in its overwater homestays and enjoy its vibrant culture.

South Africa by Travis Levius

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Travis Levius in Camp's Bay Cape Town, on one of five trips to South Africa

I am currently laying low in Atlanta, enjoying my time with family and indulging in American junk food that I’ve missed while traveling,  but everyday South Africa is on top of mind.  A friend of mine evangelized to me for years about South Africa’s “magnetism” before my first visit in 2014. Turns out he was right: I became spirited away by Johannesburg (one of the coolest cities on the planet) and Cape Town (one of the prettiest cities on the planet) at an instant. 

Now having visited five times and encountering much more of the country since, I can always anticipate: enrapturing landscapes from the safari bushveld to the beaches; some of the world’s tastiest food; incredible value (craft cocktails for $4 USD, anyone?); a generally liberal and creative culture; and—despite the deep societal growing pains—a universal zest for life made apparent by the widened, welcoming smiles.  Until restrictions lift, I’ll continue to envision myself at a Joburg rooftop party during a summer sunset, blissfully swaying to deep house tunes with a chilled bottle of Savanna Dry cider in hand.  

Dominican Republic by Lebawit Lily Girma

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Lebawit Lily Girma:  heading right back to Santo Domingo’s Colonial City once Lockdown lifts

I’m sitting in my parent’s living room in suburban Maryland, staring out the window at a row of brown condominiums, with dense green woods in the distance.  I got stranded last month, on the heels of an incredible trip to Ethiopia; I’d even cut it short by 10 days to beat the increasing number of international border restrictions. I was eager to return to the Dominican Republic, my home as a travel writer and digital nomad.  

Minutes from boarding my first flight, I received a text message from my partner Luis: the Dominican government had just announced it was shutting  its borders. I was too late. My plans to fly onward to Santo Domingo two days later would never take place.  As soon as the lockdown is over? I’m heading right back to Santo Domingo’s Colonial City -  my lovely neighborhood packed with museums, art galleries, parks, sidewalk cafes, and walking distance to the waterfront Malecón boulevard. I can’t wait to sit on our rooftop and enjoy daily sunset views over the Caribbean Sea with Luis. For now, I get to enjoy them virtually.  

Costa Rica by Mark Eveleigh

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Mark Eveleigh: 'an overwhelming urge to return to this tropical paradise'

Living among coconut groves and rice paddies in rural West Bali, I have less reasons to complain about lockdown than many. Nevertheless, the last six weeks has been my longest sedentary period in more than a decade and, like many, I’ve been spending a lot of time pipe-dreaming the travelling to be done when the ‘world opens up’ again.

I first visited Costa Rica 16 years ago and have an overwhelming urge to return to this tropical paradise of volcanoes, jungles and wave-pounded beaches. I want to enjoy the typical Tico mood of relaxed hospitality that is the essence of their ‘Pura Vida’ (Pure Life) philosophy. Elderly people, in particular, have been so much in our minds lately and I wonder if it would be too optimistic to try to find some of the octogenarian friends I met in the rural communities of Nicoya Peninsula. Perhaps not because Nicoya is officially one of the ‘Blue Zones’ where – through a healthy country diet and family nurturing – people commonly live to spectacular old age.

Costa Rica is one of our planet’s most exciting wildlife hotspots. Only in parts of Africa is wildlife so spectacularly ubiquitous. I want to return to track jaguars and tapirs in Osa Peninsula where teddy-bear-parades of anteaters and coatimundis are so brazen that they bully you off the track. I plan to surf with dolphins at Pavones and watch turtle invasions again on Nancite Beach. I’d even be happy to have my breakfast stolen again by squirrel monkeys and be bombarded again with mangoes by bellowing howlers.

Chile's Lakes District by Bradley Mayhew

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Bradley Mayhew, his partner and puppy Dawa the last time they were together

Like so many people I've had my life put on hold since the Coronavirus lockdown. Returning from a Lonely Planet research trip to Sri Lanka, I was due to fly back to Chile to rejoin my partner and our new puppy, Dawa, when the Chilean government suddenly closed its borders. I've been treading water in UK transit ever since.

The Los Lagos region of south-central Chile is a world-class landscape of snow-capped volcanoes and glittering lakes, framed to the east by Andean granite and to the west by a wild Pacific coastline. Marking the northern end of Patagonia and its scenic Carretera Austral highway, it is the launch pad for a million hiking, biking, rafting and overland adventures. But that's not why it's at the top of my list of places to return to.

The last time I saw Dawa, a Pyrenean mountain dog, she was a tiny fluff ball. Now she's the size of a large sheep. The tinge of sadness that comes from being apart from my partner and seeing Dawa grow up without me is heightened by the existential pointlessness of being a travel writer in an age of no travel. For me heading back to Chile isn't just about travelling again, it's about restarting the best parts of my life.

Life After Lockdown: Lonely Planet writers reveal their next travel destinations

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“Her magic helps me stay positive”: how long-distance couples are coping during the pandemic

'Will we ever make it back?' Returning home to grieve following COVID-19 loss

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