In ELLE.com’s series Unexpected Expert, we’re going straight to the source to find out what’s actually worth your hard-earned cash.
The current coronavirus pandemic has rendered many of us homebound, acutely aware of the dangers of getting on a plane, taking a vacation, or even wandering into a nearby store. But in our days of lockdown, we can still hope and plan for future trips ahead. To get some inspiration, ELLE.com spoke to Lexie Alford, who traveled to 196 countries by the time she was 21 years old, setting a new Guinness World Record for the Youngest Person to Travel to Every Country.
“My style of travel involves getting as far away from capital cities as possible to connect with the natural environment and culture in the most genuine way possible,” she says. “Over the past few years, I’ve developed an affinity for offbeat places. [These places] will be perfect for maintaining social distancing when travel opens up again, and it’s a great way to support smaller local economies.”
Below, Alford shares a few of her recommendations for travelers looking for an experience just outside the typical tourist destination—once it’s finally safe to travel again.
“When people think of Indonesia, their minds usually go straight to the only island they’ve probably ever heard of: Bali. Bali is a very touristy place, but it’s touristy for good reason. The lush jungles, rice terraces, rushing waterfalls, and world-class surfing at a cheap price are enough to attract anyone. What I found most interesting about Indonesia is that there’s even more beyond the typical destination. From Java to Derawan, Sumatra to New Guinea, it’s impossible to run out of new places to visit, and there’s plenty of space to get away from the crowds on these isolated island paradises.”
“As an avid diver and wildlife enthusiast, I couldn’t leave Ecuador without a trip to the Galápagos Islands. To walk or scuba dive around these islands is a chance to go back a thousand years in time. On land, you can see the famous blue-footed booby and lazy seals lounging in the sand. Under the crystal clear water, you can dive with a frenzy of hammerhead sharks. The most refreshing part of visiting the Galápagos was realizing that Ecuador truly understands the importance of protecting its ecosystem. The rules here are strict and the wellbeing of the wildlife comes first. Of course, like everywhere, it is not perfect and there is still work to be done, but I couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity to experience such a well-preserved landscape.”
“Sandwiched between some of Asia’s most-visited countries, Thailand and Vietnam, lies a country that’s commonly overlooked by the average backpacker. Exploring the country’s cultural capital, Luang Prabang, for a few days was a highlight of my trip. Situated on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is a perfect place for kayaking and waterfall chasing. Also, if you wake up early enough you can, respectfully, catch a glimpse of the orange-robed monks walking in silence to collect alms from devotees on their way to pray at one of the temples in the city.”
“Visiting this tiny island in the South Pacific turned out to be one of my favorite memories from traveling solo. I remember waking up way too early and driving past stunning waterfalls in the lush jungle to get to To Sua Ocean Trench before any other tourists arrived. I climbed down a slippery ladder and dove into the crystal clear salt water. I spent time exploring the little caves to the sides and discovered one of them led back to the ocean. I soaked in the silence until it was broken by the sound of rain. If it’s genuine peace and isolation you’re after, look no further than Samoa.”
“On the brim of the Arctic Circle lies an otherworldly island which emerged from the ocean tens of millions of years ago. Throughout the landscape, you’ll find everything from volcanoes and hot springs around every corner, to frigid glacial lagoons and vast snowy peaks. Sunsets last for more than an hour and waterfalls pour out of every cliff. Known as ‘the land of fire and ice,’ Iceland has incredibly diverse terrain; it was the closest I’ve ever felt to being on a different planet. There’s plenty of space to roam without a soul in sight.”
“I felt very intimidated about visiting Pakistan, until the moment my passport was stamped into the country. Since the country is still developing infrastructure for tourism, locals haven’t become jaded to foreigners with cameras, unlike countries such as Italy or Japan. Also, traveling to countries like Pakistan after quarantine will give a much-needed boost to the local economy. During my trip, I found myself exploring a region in northern Pakistan called Gilgit-Baltistan. Taking 4×4 rock-crawling jeeps up the so-called ‘most dangerous road in the world’ was a pure adrenaline rush. You also can hike deep into the wilderness to catch a glimpse of the infamous ‘Killer Mountain’ from the aptly named Fairy Meadows.”
“There’s nowhere else in the world that has a more well-preserved history than Egypt. I’ve visited the country many times, and I can never get enough of the place because every time I learn something new. The history of ancient Egypt has fascinated me since I was a little kid and being able to visit places like Abu Simbel, the Valley of the Kings, and looking into the faces of real mummies in the Egyptian Museum is like stepping through time and into the past. Visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza is essential, but my favorite pyramids are located only a little further outside of Cairo and chances are you can have them all to yourself.”
Check travel.state.gov for any advisories about international travel during and after the pandemic.