It’s not about ticking countries off a list. You can’t ‘do’ a place. Travel is about so much more than counting passport stamps – it’s about experiencing new cultures, exploring nature’s bounty and getting miles out of your comfort zone...
Nevertheless, it can be fun to tally up your adventures to appreciate just how far you’ve gone. Inspired by the new edition of The Travel Book, we asked a gaggle of travel-mad Lonely Planet staff to do just that.
Orla Thomas – Features Editor for Lonely Planet Traveller Magazine
Countries visited: 34
Favourite countries: USA, Spain, Japan
I travel because… Away from home, everything – from road signs to what snacks people are eating – suddenly becomes fascinating. It’s so much fun to have every day feel like a series of mini-adventures.
Travel highlight of 2016: I visited the Latvian capital of Riga during the depths of winter when its cobbled streets are dusted with snow. It was absolutely freezing, but one evening I found the best place in the city to warm up. Tucked into a basement in the old town, Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is a traditional tavern that hosts weekly folk dances. Though I planned only to watch, over beers I got chatting to one of the band members – a charming violinist and former Eurovision star – and she convinced me to take a turn around the floor. It was full of young people who knew all the moves, but they were extremely patient with the mal-coordinated novice in their midst. Mercifully the steps were quite repetitive, and I had more fun than I could have thought possible!
Next on my travel wishlist: Austria and Kenya
James Kay – Editor, lonelyplanet.com
Countries visited: 47
Favourite countries: Costa Rica, New Zealand, India
I travel because… It frees my mind. The brain shifts into autopilot in a familiar environment; I suppose that's just the way we're designed. Travel isn't the only way to jolt yourself back into manual, but it might well be the most enjoyable method.
Travel highlight of 2016: Island-hopping in Bohuslän, West Sweden, edges out stiff competition to top my list this year. I just adored the laid-back atmosphere of this region, which stretches from Gothenburg up the coast to the border with Norway. It's a beauty parade of fishing villages cum summer resorts – Lysekil, Smögen and Fjällbacka among them – that share a distinctive look and feel: red wooden huts, pink granite boulders, deep blue sea.
Up near the border, you can catch a ferry to the car-free Koster Islands, which lie at the heart of Kosterhavet, Sweden's only national marine park. I joined a kayak tour of the archipelago at dusk, which is a magical time of day to explore the tiny islets and secret bays uninterrupted by a single sound apart from your paddle entering the silky, clear water and the occasional sea bird flying home to roost.
Next on my travel wishlist: Namibia, Madagascar, Alaska
Gemma Graham – Destination Editor for Northern Europe
Countries visited: 25
Favourite countries: Norway, Lithuania and Rwanda
I travel because… For me, travel is the best way of offsetting the stresses of living in a busy city. My favourite destinations are places where I'm surrounded by nature, and that needn't be in a far-flung land (although that always seems more adventurous); it could be a day trip to the countryside just a few hours' train ride from home.
Travel highlight of 2016: I'd count the experience of taking an aerial safari in a six-seater plane over the Greenlandic ice cap as the travel highlight of a lifetime. I'd hiked on the ice cap the day before and been in awe of its perspective-shifting vastness then, but witnessing it from above was genuinely breathtaking. The endless jagged white expanse stretched out beyond the horizon and then hundreds of kilometres more, interrupted only by the piercing blue of crystal-clear meltwater lakes. Looking down, I felt like a giant and a tiny, insignificant creature at the same time. Having experienced somewhere so remote, stepping off the plane at a very busy Heathrow was quite a shock to the system.
Next on my travel wishlist: Japan, Canada and Iran
Tom Hall – Editorial Director
Countries visited: 57
Favourite countries: Slovenia, Iceland, Tanzania
I travel because… Everything about travel is exciting. The movement, sense of discovery and constant promise of what might be round the next corner. There's nothing better than the chance to meet new people and see incredible things.
Travel highlight of 2016: I thought I knew Italy well, then I spent a week exploring Lazio, a province that hides in plain sight just north of Rome. It's home to painted palaces, precariously-balanced hill towns and the ancient ruins you'd expect. All come with the bonus of much sparser crowds than you'd find in Rome or Umbria and Tuscany in the north. This being Italy, fortifying espresso and unbeatable gelato were never more than a few steps away. I was travelling with my family, and having this retinue in tow meant we were thoroughly spoilt by everyone we met.
Next on my travel wishlist: Bulgaria, South Africa, Faroe Islands
Jane Atkin – Community Manager
Countries visited: 39
Favourite countries: Australia, France, Turkey
I travel because… Travel dissolves you. Away from the safety of your routine and known streets and neighbourhoods you need to rebuild yourself. It forces you to remember where you're from and work out what it is you really need to be happy.
Travel highlight of 2016: Spending seven days in a country and not seeing a single selfie stick is one of the benefits of visiting Europe's least visited country, Moldova. Days were spent dodging geese, donkeys, and potholes to see monasteries perched high on remote rocky ridges rising from starkly beautiful landscapes. Patchy internet access meant evenings given over to appreciating Moldovan wine and suffering from social media withdrawal.
Getting even further off the beaten track, visiting Tiraspol, the capital of Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Transnistria (a tiny strip of land between the River Dniester and the eastern Moldovan border with the Ukraine) was a CCCP fetishist's fantasy writ large. It's like travelling back in time 20 years into the last outpost of the Soviet Union. Statues of Lenin. Soviet stars. Cyrillic signage. Magnificent.
Next on my travel wishlist: Russia, Jordan and Ecuador
Matt Phillips – Destination Editor for sub-Saharan Africa
Countries visited: 61
Favourite countries: Namibia, India, Ethiopia
I travel because… I’ve long had an interest in the unknown – sometimes it scares me, sometimes it excites me, but I always choose to step forward regardless. In the end, I find out as much about myself as I do about the destination.
Travel highlight of 2016: Looking back at my favourite travel experiences of 2016 reveals more of a running theme than a single highlight. In January it was racing up the crest of the largest sand dune in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park. In April it was scrambling up the steep, rocky flanks of Le Morne Brabant in southwestern Mauritius. And in July it was getting up early one morning to trail run the length of the Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy.
It seems my ultimate 2016 travel highlights were from well-earned, heart-pumping highs. The views down from each may have been so very different, but they were all equally staggering.
Next on my travel wishlist: Madagascar, Iceland and Cuba