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Back in 2011, I started tracking all of my travels on a calendar. After each trip, I would mark the dates on my digital calendar, and set the event to repeat yearly. Each year, I could see where I had been the year before – and over the course of the decade, I soon realized that I had traveled almost every day of the year – and a surprisingly diverse number of places across the globe. (Especially once I became a professional/full-time traveler!)

Now, I’ve set one of my 40 Before 40 goals to try and finish the calendar, so that I’ll be able to look back on any given day and have fond travel memories. To mark the end of the 2010s, I decided to look back and list the most impactful and inspiring places I’ve been. Hopefully some of these places will inspire you as you start booking your own trips in the next decade.

1. London

  • Year I first visited: 2011
  • What makes London special: history, Harry Potter, Home

Obviously, London is my #1 destination from my 2010 travels – and if you haven’t been yet, now’s the time to add London to your 2020s travel bucket list! Why do I love London so much? It’s the history, the buildings, all the sights… even the food (yes, there’s more than fish and chips!). Since my first trip to London in 2011 – my first international trip ever! –, I’ve visited almost a dozen times and even lived there for a year. It’s zero surprise that it’s #1 if you’ve ever met me and asked about my favorite travel destination.

I get so excited when someone tells me they’re visiting London for the first time that I hardly know where to begin in helping them get excited about all they’ll see… but here are some of my favorite posts to inspire you:

2. Seattle

Sunset over Puget Sound, Seattle
  • Year I first visited: 2012
  • What makes Seattle special: weather, football, the Great outdoors

Like London, Seattle is one of those places that you might not think qualifies for this list – didn’t she live in Seattle? you think. That doesn’t count!

Actually, I only considered moving to Seattle (from London) after I visited for a weekend in 2012. I can’t remember why I took that trip to Seattle, but it ended up inspiring some of my favorite things about the city: culture and nightlife, the rainy weather (like London), beautiful natural scenery, and enthusiasm for the Seattle Sounders (the European football team).

If you can’t make it to London in the next decade, Seattle is my #2 suggestion because it has some of the things I love about London – and plenty that’s unique and worth enjoying on their own. Here are some of my posts to continue inspiring you:

3. Jordan

  • Year I first visited: 2016
  • What makes Jordan special: hospitality, culture, Ancient sights

In the last decade, I’ve been to four continents and over 30 countries – and some of them were waaaaay more adventurous than others. When I first visited Jordan in 2016, it seemed like one of those places – until I got there and realized how special it is.

While there are certainly adventurous activities you can enjoy in Jordan, what I love the most is the culture and history – and the night sky. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m guiding tours in Jordan in the 2020s. My March tour is already sold-out, but keep an eye out on Space Tourism Guide for new dates in late 2020 and beyond.

4. Alaska

Valerie in Alaska
  • Year I first visited: 2014
  • What makes Alaska special: home, wide open spaces, nature

Again, you already know I lived here – so why is Alaska on the list? Well, first of all, I officially moved out of Alaska in 2007. So in the 2010s, I’ve never actually lived in Alaska – but I have visited several times, including 2014 on my first ‘solo’ trip back to my home state.

While growing up in Alaska I didn’t realize what made Alaska special and so worthy of people’s bucket lists. Now, however, I totally get it, and I feel fortunate that I can travel back so frequently (some trips in the works for 2020 already!) and share my knowledge about planning your own once-in-a-lifetime trip through my various Alaska blog posts.

5. Elqui Valley

  • Year I first visited: 2019
  • What makes the Elqui Valley special: the night sky

I’ve never written about the Elqui Valley here on my blog, but don’t let that deceive you: it’s well-earned the #5 spot on my list. After all, the Elqui Valley is one of the great dark sky locations in Dark Skies – and it was the first place I saw the southern night sky. I was utterly mesmerized by the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds, and the fact that the constellations I recognized were all upside down. That kind of ‘first-time’ experience is one you can only have once – well worth the trip!

Since I know some of you are pretty jazzed about this astrotourism thing I write about from time to time, I recommend researching the Elqui Valley to plan a trip in the 2020s. Here’s a guide I put together on STG if you’re keen.

6. Kennedy Space Center

  • Year I first visited: 2014
  • What makes Kennedy special: NASA

Keeping in the nerdy space category of places-that-made-me-who-I-am and bucket-list-places-for-you-in-the-2020s, Kennedy Space Center is one of those. I first visited in 2014 as part of a NASA Social program, and was fortunate to see a rocket launch while I was there. Specifically, I watched a ULA Delta IV Heavy carry the Orion spacecraft on its EFT-1 flight… and I’ll never forget the heart-rumbling vibrations and sense of awe watching that rocket defy gravity.

While Kennedy is great for a visit any time because you can do awesome things like meet astronauts and see the Space Shuttle Atlantis, planning a trip to try and see a launch is definitely a bucket list trip. Just be flexible in planning in case the weather isn’t conducive and they scrub the launch for a day or two.

Actually, Kennedy Space Center is back on my list for the 2020s – I think it’s gonna be one of those places-to-be as astrotourism continues to gain public interest.

7. Universal Studios

Hogwarts magic!
  • Year I first visited: 2014 (Orlando), 2017 (Hollywood)
  • What makes Universal Studios special: Harry Potter

Shifting gears to one of my other super-nerdy loves, I wanted to include a destination on this list that shows I’m not all high-and-mighty about cultural experiences being the only ‘real’ way to travel. I totally get what makes amusement parks like Universal Studios a crowd-pleaser. If you’ve never been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando or Hollywood, it’s time to get some magic in your life!

I first visited Orlando in 2014 (right after the Orion EFT-1 launch at Kennedy that I mentioned above) and I went with Mr. V to Hollywood in 2017 for my 30th birthday. Yes, I decided that the best way to mark that milestone was by dressing up in my Slytherin garb and waving my wand at the magical windows of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. If you’ve never done it, the 2020s are a good time (or you could bring the kids or grandkids if it’s more their style).

8. Dubrovnik

  • Year I first visited: 2016
  • What makes Dubrovnik special: family heritage, food, history

When Mr. V and I set out for our seven-month journey in 2016, we decided to spend a few weeks in Croatia – where my dad’s family is originally from. Little did I know that I would fall in love with it (so did Mr. V) and we’re considering it as a stop on our honeymoon as we plan that for next summer.

Arguably one of the best parts of visiting Dubrovnik for a month was that we developed a regular habit of popping down to our local beach and taking a dip to cool off. While Croatia might not seem like a a far flung beach destination (one of the trends in Expedia’s 2020 Travel Trends Report), it’s hard to resist that special Adriatic blue once you see it with your own eyes, and there are some fantastic beaches around Dubrovnik.

9. Oregon

  • Year I first visited: 2017
  • What makes Oregon special: the total solar eclipse

I debated putting Oregon on this list, because the reason I put it on my list is more about the specific experience I had there than the destination itself. Then again, booking a trip for a specific event or activity that only happens once a year (Oktoberfest – #15 – or St. Patrick’s Day) or once in a lifetime (a festival lineup or total solar eclipse) is a perfectly valid reason!

I have visited Oregon many times (having lived in Seattle and now living in Northern California), but I specifically included it for the two days Mr. V and I spent there for the total solar eclipse in 2017. It was a lot of logistics and an an uncomfortable night spent sleeping in the back of a jeep – but totally worth it for seeing one of the experiences on my bucket list.

So rather than saying you should book a trip to Oregon because it’s on this list – this is the placeholder to remind you that the 2020s is when you should book a trip for one of your once-in-a-lifetime bucket list. The future isn’t guaranteed – don’t put your travel dreams off forever!

(Also, total solar eclipses are amazing, so plan a trip to see totality in 2024 when it next happens in the U.S. 😉)

10. Rothenburg

  • Year I first visited: 2016
  • What makes Rothenburg special: fairy tale buildings, history, food

Another spot from our 2016 trip, Mr. V and I both agree that Rothenburg ob der Tauber is like a fairy tale in real life – and we’re keen to make it back for a longer stay someday soon.

Located on the Tauber river in Germany, Rothenburg seems trapped in time. Nestled safely within her old town walls, most of the buildings in Rothenburg are either historic or done in the historic half-timbered style. It’s become such a popular spot that many tours make a day-trip stop here! Give yourself more than a day to enjoy all the small town has to offer: cozy dining, the night watchman’s tour, and strolls along the cobbled streets from city tower to cathedral and everywhere in between.

11. Houston

  • Year I first visited: 2017
  • What makes Houston special: NASA

Did you know that Houston is the fourth-largest city by population in the U.S., and the most diverse in the whole country? I’ve been fortunate to visit Houston twice in the 2010s: first in 2017 for a NASA Social at Johnson Space Center, and again this past summer (2019) for the Apollo 50th Anniversary celebration.

Houston is great for space enthusiasts – of course – but there’s plenty more to explore too. I particularly enjoyed mixing up the insanely cool science experiences with cocktails classes at Cottonmouth in downtown Houston , exploring green spaces like Buffalo Bayou Parkway, and visiting the obscure Museum of Funeral History to put it all in perspective.

12. Huntsville

  • Year I first visited: 2018
  • What makes Huntsville special: space, space, space

Houston may be known as Space City, USA – but Hunstville, Alabama is Rocket City, USA. The competition over which of these monikers is cooler is mostly friendly – but also fierce since there are amazing space experiences in both. Specifically, Huntsville is home to Space Camp and Marshall Space Flight Center.

I had the chance to visit and do both in October 2018… and it was easily one of the coolest travel experiences I’ve ever had. I loved it so much I half considered moving Mr. V and I here so I could spend every day in space-nerdy immersion.

I also like having Huntsville on my list because it’s a good reminder that ‘second’ and off-beat cities are equally compelling. You don’t have to just visit the biggest, best, and boldest to have an amazing trip… so put some off-beat options on your 2020 travel plans too!

13. Hawaii

April Recap - Pineapple Ice Cream in Hawaii
  • Year I first visited: 2019
  • What makes Hawaii special: wildlife, paradise

As part of their 2020 travel trends, Expedia shares that the Caribbean is full of hidden gems – and I agree, having made several trips over the past few years to cool spots like Jamaica, Aruba, Dominica, Barbados, and most recently the Bahamas. However, I’m also pretty partial to the Pacific – and there’s one main island destination for us out west: 🌴Hawaii🌴

From an error-fare to Kauai in 2013 to an island-hopping cruise in 2019, I’ve been fortunate to visit all of the main Hawaiian islands and can say that everyone can find an island they love in Hawaii. Oahu’s big cities, Maui’s chill vibes, and the Big Island’s dark skies and volcanoes… that’s just a taster, so maybe you’ll need to book a few trips to Hawaii in the 2020s to try them all and decide which island you love best.

14. Indianapolis

2020 Travel Inspiration - Indianapolis
  • Year I first visited: 2015
  • What makes Indianapolis special: Midwest hospitality

One last place I’ve visited and lived on the list… Indianapolis! I’ve put Indy on my list for business reasons: it was the very first destination that took a chance on me and hosted me as a blogger way back in 2015. I was really new and had basically no traffic, but was full of enthusiasm and excitement to share Indy’s story with my readers. For that reason, Indianapolis will always have a special place in my heart.

Indy should be on your travel list because it’s a good second-city option, there’s excellent craft beer, a fun semi-pro soccer team and triple-A baseball team, and homey Midwestern food a-plenty.

Bonus: if you were inspired to see a total solar eclipse from my brief description of it in #9, Indy should definitely be on your list for the 2020s. It’s smack-dab on the path of totality in the 2024 eclipse! (It’s also very likely where I will be on that day!)

15. Munich

  • Year I first visited: 2011
  • What makes Munich special: beer, pretzels, dirndls

On my first international trip to London back in 2011, I also tacked on a second destination: Munich, for Oktoberfest. It’s easy to fall in love with a city who hosts a great party, and I was smitten. So much that Mr. V and I met up with some of his friends for Oktoberfest during our trip around Europe in 2016, too. Now, I’m only semi-joking that I’ll head back again in 2021 to start a five-year habit of visiting Bavaria.

Like with Oregon/the total solar eclipse in #9, I personally find a lot of value in traveling for specific events, activities, or experiences. Expedia also says that booking activities like this can be the perfect compliment to your itinerary, and they named it one of their travel trends for 2020 too. So check your calendar for the 2020s – in addition to Oktoberfest in 2021 with me… are there any other events or activities you know you want to experience? 😉

16. Naples

  • Year I first visited: 2012
  • What makes Munich special: family heritage, food

I made my first (so far only) trip to Naples in late 2012. During the year I lived in London, I spent Christmas in Rome with a few friends, but unfortunately came down with the flu while there… By the time I got to Naples, I was deeply feverish and ill, and my memories of the city are vibrant and exhausting.

Despite this, one of the things I loved most about Naples was the feeling that I was connecting with my heritage, similar to Dubrovnik (#8). Part of my mom’s family is from southern Italy, and all those noisy dinners and hand gestures suddenly made sense as I wandered the streets of Napoli.

It doesn’t hurt that Naples has fantastic food, so even if you’re not Italian like me, it’s worth booking a trip (or add-on to your Italy itinerary).

17. Cancun

  • Year I first visited: 2014
  • What makes Cancun special: paradise, love

As I look back on this last decade of travel, one thing I’ve found is that I’m not only open-minded to new cultures and places but I’m also open-minded to new and different ways of traveling. I’ve done solo backpacking in Europe, traveled with friends, and booked group tours. I’ve explored from China to Chile, but I’ve also visited amusement parks and ‘tourist-y’ festivals and events. While we travelers might debate what counts as a ‘real’ travel experience, in some ways I’m very open to the binary value of any travel – it’s better to go than not go, even if where and how you go is quite similar to home. It’s still opening your mind!

To that end, I put Cancun on this list for two reasons. I made both of my trips in 2014: first for TBEX in September, and again in November with Mr. V on our first ‘big’ trip together. On that second trip, he and I got lost on the Yucatan, swam in cenotes, and said ‘I love you’ for the first time. How could it not make my list for that reason?

18. Cardiff

  • Year I first visited: 2012
  • What makes Cardiff special: solitude, stark beauty

Though I had already traveled a fair bit by the time I moved to London, I had never really taken a truly solo trip. On a Friday afternoon in November of 2012, I boarded a train and left town – completely on my own. I stepped off the train in Cardiff, stunned by the Welsh language (Doh! Wasn’t expecting that!), and spent the weekend exploring Cardiff totally alone. I listened to Fleet Foxes on repeat, made friends with a Welshman who taught me – tried to teach me – the rules of rugby, and marveled at Wales’ unique heritage through my own lens, unfiltered or fettered by anyone else’s opinion.

Needless to say, Wales holds a special place in my heart, in addition to being a beautiful and accessible offbeat destination that gets overlooked for most people visiting the U.K. I don’t see it on many ‘must-travel’ lists, but it should be – and hopefully will be on yours in the coming decade.

19. Bucharest

  • Year I first visited: 2016
  • What makes Bucharest special: culture, architecture, history

I’m not sure how many of the places on this list come from my extended trip with Mr. V in 2016, but Bucharest and Kotor (#20) are two of the most surprising ones – because they weren’t necessarily on our radar when we started planning. In fact, we only ended up in Bucharest because we ran a poll on Twitter asking where we should go for a few weeks while jumping in and out of the Schengen Zone.

During the three weeks we visited Bucharest, I was most surprised by how beautiful the city is. Being oriented to Europe from ‘the West’, I didn’t have any appreciation for the architectural styles and culture of Eastern Europe nor the heritage of the Russian and Soviet eras. Bucharest is a juxtaposition of those elements, with crumbling mansions and Brutalist housing blocks mixed with hidden beer gardens and a forward-thinking young generation. It’s somewhere I’m glad I’ve been, and I hope more people find the impetus to travel.

20. Kotor

View of Kotor
  • Year I first visited: 2016
  • What makes Kotor special: a secret hideaway

Phew! Last… but definitely not least: my 20th top destination from my 2010 travels (and hopefully just one more for your list of 2020 travel inspiration) is Kotor, Montenegro.

Kotor came onto my must-visit list when Lonely Planet named it at the top of their Best in Travel list in 2016. During our time in Dubrovnik, Mr. V and I decided to take a weekend trip. We boarded a bus, trundled across the Croatia-Montenegro border, and stepped off just outside Kotor’s Old Town walls. Over the next few days, we sampled Montenegrin cheese and wine, pet the revered cats of Old Town, hiked the walls to look out over the surrounding waterways, and explored those waterways by boat and kayak.

Since 2016, Kotor has been on more travelers’ radars, but it’s still far enough off most common backpacker and tour tracks that you kind of need to work to get there. That’s a good thing because Kotor has a real risk of being overrun and what makes it special lost. If you decide to visit Kotor in the 2020s, I recommend doing a minimum of two nights, and pay the tourist tax for an overnight stay. Rise early to explore before the gates open, and stay up late to enjoy open-air dining in one of the city’s many family restaurants. Inspired yet?

If you’re feeling like it’s time to book your first trip of the 2020s, I feel you! Check out Expedia to get started – they have flights, hotels, activities, and vacation packages if you just want to book it all and relax. What is the top destination on your must-visit list for the 2020s? Any of the ones on my list? Let me know in the comments!

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