Some of us have probably suffered from buyers remorse at some point in life. We shell out big bucks for the latest consumer gadget, and then become wracked with guilt when we question whether we really needed that brand new iPhone or big screen 3D TV. The dawning realisation that we can’t really afford the darn thing doesn’t help either. There’s one thing you should never feel bad about spending money on, and that’s international travel. Seeing the world opens your eyes and your mind, and while you might have read about the Berlin Wall or The Eiffel Tower and certainly seen pictures of these things, you can’t put a value on the feeling of amazement when you see these things in real life for the first time. There are so many wonderful countries and cities in this world that it would take several lifetimes to see them all, but there are a few places we feel are extra special and should definitely be put on a “Must See” list.
It’s now a “special administrative region” of China, but remember that Hong Kong was part of the British Commonwealth until 1997. The city island has a unique blend of Chinese influence and colonial history that makes for a truly unforgettable visit. It can be quite overwhelming for the first time visitor – the skyscrapers are so concentrated that it seems like Hong Kong is a city that goes on forever. To get a sense of the immense metropolis, catch a ferry across the harbor or take a trek into the hills (Violet Hill is great for hiking). Be sure to check out the goods on offer at the Temple Street Night Market too.
Separated from England by a land border that seems fairly arbitrary, Scotland has a culture that is influenced by their southern neighbors and yet remains entirely their own. The stereotypes aren’t as evident as you might think – you could spend years in Scotland without seeing anyone playing the bagpipes, although you can buy haggis at the supermarket as well as seeing a few men wearing kilts. There is a warmth to the people, and they actually call you ‘laddie’ or “lassie.” If pressed for time, spend your Scottish holiday in Edinburgh which is prettier than Glasgow (sorry Glasgow). Go whiskey tasting along the many outlets on the Royal Mile but be careful if you plan to drive – the free samples are very generous!
The Cuban dictatorship made the island nation seem like the USA’s naughty neighbor, but the old wounds have more or less healed and visitors can now take advantage of this vibrant hub. There’s so much packed into this tiny country, and most visitors will arrive in Havana, the capital and largest city. Cuba has so much to see and do that it’s a good idea to actually take in the sights with a Cuba group tour that allows you to see the country, and then go back to any places you might want to see in greater depth. Can’t you just imagine yourself sipping a spiced rum before going down to watch salsa musicians play a spontaneous street concert?
New Zealand has an exotic feeling for many visitors, largely due to the fact that it’s so far away from the rest of the world. This small, sparsely populated country can be explored within a week or two and it’s striking to see how quickly the landscape changes from green fields, to volcanic plateaus, to snowy peaks, to deserted beaches. The huge variations in the landscape are probably due to the fact that New Zealand was pushed out of the sea by a series of volcanic eruptions – and there are still many active volcanoes in the country. You should try to spend a few days in Wellington, the capital city, which has more bars per person than New York.
Iceland also felt like it was far away from the rest of the world, even though it’s just a short flight from Europe – a flight which is easier than it used to be now that a number of discount airlines fly to the country. Iceland is a great place to go and be alone and think. There’s a sense of peaceful isolation that moment you leave civilisation (and Reykjavik, the largest city, has just 120,000 residents). In the winter, you might even be able to see Polar Bears. They’re not native to Iceland, but are occasionally able to walk across from Greenland when the ocean freezes.