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Every travel media brand comes out with its annual recommendations on where to travel in the year ahead. The biggest list of them all, both in size and mainstream impact is the New York Times‘ annual “Places to Go” list. This year the size of the list has ballooned to 52 places. It’s up every year over the last few years: there were 31 picks in 2010, 41 in 2011, 45 in 2012, and 46 last year.
For the average reader of the New York Times, lusting over all of these places far and wide — plus some in our own backyard — the giant list overwhelms. From a media perspective, this is more of a shock and awe strategy to get maximum impact, namely pageviews and share-ability.
As the normal working humans who can probably only afford to go on maybe one big trip a year, these big lists are of little use when it comes to making a shortlist. Or even making one choice on where to actually go.
Which is where we come in: as extensive world travelers ourselves who are immersed in the world of travel every waking minute, one of the questions we here at Skift get pretty regularly is which places would we go to this year? Specifically, which one place would we recommend out of these big lists? Which is the one, the most soul satisfying?
Since the New York Times already did the legwork, let’s stick with their list and come up with the one. We are eliminating all the mainstream cities on the list, no one goes to cities for the one big trip of the year, most of them are done as extensions to business trips, or around some event, or over a long weekend. Some of the offbeat cities or regions in countries like Japan, Brazil, or others may be worth thinking about, but are they really trips of a lifetime? Then countries like Seychelles are too pre-packaged for us. The Albanian coast is a close contender, but the Times‘ description underplays the frustrations of everyday travel in Albania.
If the progressive traveler of today is moving towards experiential deeper and more immersive travel experiences, then there is really only one contender that mixes offbeat and adventurous enough — that’s the key, goal is not to be frustrated with the difficulties of travel with too offbeat — but still doable as independent travel, with the self-sufficiency that would be tough to get anywhere else, with landscapes that you may not find anywhere on this list, with imprinted-on-your-synapses-for-life vistas that would light up the feed of even the worst Instagrammer on the planet.
So here’s that one choice, the #6 on Times’ list: Namibia. It ticks the boxes on all fronts: not a zoo of tourists but well-developed tourist infrastructure nonetheless, not the eye-gouging, overly packaged safaris and lodges of some of the other big game countries in Africa (here’s looking at you, South Africa), and eco-friendly conservation movement that has actually been successful (the Times’ short profile lists the achievements on that front), an open country in all senses of that phrase where you can visit with a good conscience, and amazing-and-diverse-landscapes, with the red-sand coastal Namib desert which is unlike almost any other desert landscape you’ve been to.
Specifically, we would recommend a self-drive safari through the giant country, preferably over two weeks or more, but ten days would work in case short on time. Self-drive is difficult in best of times in Africa, both from the accessibility of the routes and the safety perspective. Luckily the well developed tour agencies and the circuit means you can mix independent travel with some of the pre-planned tours, which makes for the right mix.
We can keep talking about the country, or point to some videos that would make it clear what it means to do a self-drive circuit across parts of the giant country. Here are three videos that encapsulate the experience well.