My 5 Favorite Places I Visited For The First Time In 2016

I travel differently than most — for me travel is more about the journey than the destination, as I’ve explained in a previous post. However, that’s a function of “my job” (if I can even call it that) and the niche I’ve carved out, and that I simply think there’s more value I can add talking about airlines and hotels than destinations.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy seeing new places, as I absolutely do. I often don’t get to visit places for as long as I’d like to, but I’ve made an effort to see as many places as practical in 2016.

2016 was a great travel for year for me, especially as I got to take some unforgettable trips with Ford.

With that in mind, I figured I’d briefly talk about my five “favorite” places I visited for the first time in 2016. Before I share the list, let me share a bit of background on my selection process:

  • These are all places I visited for the first time in 2016
  • I’m not using some strict or objective criteria here for deciding which I liked “most;” rather I’m just basing it off my general feelings of places, in some cases because I had no expectations going in but was pleasantly surprised (in other words, I’m not suggesting #1 is a better place than #5, but rather that somehow the experience has stayed with me more).

With that in mind, here are my five favorite places that I visited for the first time in 2016:

1. Svalbard, Norway

Longyearbyen, located in Svalbard, is the world’s northernmost city. It has long fascinated me for a variety of reasons, though I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. In summer there’s 24 hours of daylight, while in winter there’s 24 hours of darkness.

Ford and I had the most amazing time in Svalbard, and I can’t recommend it enough. This trip really made me realize how much more I like traveling to nature than cities. While the area relies almost entirely on tourism nowadays, there’s something magical about taking a cruise at midnight where you feel like it’s noon, or visiting an abandoned Russian mining town that now only has a handful of inhabitants.

Svalbard - 9

Pyramiden-Svalbard - 12

2. Luang Prabang, Laos

We recently visited Cambodia and Laos, and I was especially impressed by Luang Prabang. As I write about it, it’s tough to put into words what made it so special, because it’s not that the city has a countless number of tourist destinations that you can’t miss.

Instead the town was just beautiful. It wasn’t overrun with tourists, felt like a mix between Southeast Asia and France, had a spiritual and peaceful vibe, and had beautiful opportunities to enjoy nature, from playing with elephants to cruising down the Mekong.

luang-prabang-monks

luang-prabang-mekong

3. St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia is a place that has interested Ford more than me, though over the summer we visited both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Both cities are charming in their own ways, but St. Petersburg must be one of the most incredible cities in Europe. The architecture is the most impressive of any European city I’ve visited, with historical buildings on just about every block.

St-Petersburg-Russia - 4

St-Petersburg-Russia - 9

4. Cartagena, Colombia

Rightly or wrongly, we all have some continents we like more than others. South America is probably the continent that interests me the least, though in fairness I’ve had limited experiences with it. Earlier in the year I had the chance to visit Cartagena, Colombia, which was stunning. The people were friendly, the food was great, and it was so beautiful to walk around. Actually, when I visited Havana I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to Cartagena, except I preferred Cartagena in so many ways.

Cartagena-2

5. Baku, Azerbaijan

I visited Baku with Tiffany in October, and unfortunately I had a horrible cold while we were there. We were only there for a couple of days, so when you add in my cold, our sightseeing was limited. Despite our limited exposure to the city, there was something about the place that fascinated me. I’d love to return at some point.

Baku-Azerbaijan

Bottom line

The above are the places I visited for the first time in 2016 that fascinated me most. That’s not to say that I didn’t love many of the other places I visited, though.

I’d love to hear where you guys most enjoyed visiting in 2016!

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. My favorite new place was Tallinn. Favorite repeat was St. Petersburg.

    Lucky, do yourself a small favor – if you indeed cherish nature more than cities, never let miles and points interfere with your trip decisions. No doubt, the best nature destinations are a miles and points desert, but I suspect your readers will appreciate the occasional report from a cabin in the woods, an Air B N B bungalow on a remote beach, etc.

  2. I understand what you say about LATAM. However, there are SO many incredibles places there….
    One of them is the incredible Patagonia in the south of Argentina/Chile. I can´t just say how amazing it is. Pictures, as it usually happens, don´t do justice. Also the Iguazú Falls, and countless other places

  3. Favorite new place was Australia. I relied heavily on this blog to plan the trip and was able to book business class award tickets on Virgin Australia plus two free nights at the Park Hyatt plus a few other award nights. But the real highlight was staying at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley. If nature is truly your thing, I think you and Ford would LOVE it. Kangaroos/wallaroos/wallabies everywhere, plus wombats and glowworms. (And we got our fourth night free with the Citi Prestige, yay.)

  4. My new favorite place I visited in 2016 was the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Simply breathtaking views and unbelievable food.

  5. My favorite was Malaysian Borneo. The place that surprised me by how much I liked it was Prague (I generally don’t care much for the “prettiness” of Europe, and also tend to prefer nature over cities)

  6. Favourite new places in 2016:

    The lava lake at summit of Mount Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo
    Esfahan, Iran. (The rest of Iran was also excellent, but Esfahan was the highlight.)

  7. My favorite places were everywhere that everyone has already mentioned, plus a few that haven’t been said yet. Surprising to see how poorly traveled the commenters on this post are!

  8. I’m waiting for the usual trolls to gasp with shock because they think Lucky only stays inside the hotel when he travels and otherwise lives inside a plane. “But you’re not REALLY a traveller because you haven’t backpacker through the jungle and been kidnapped by insurgents” etc

  9. Wow. This post made me realize that 2016 was an especially dull year for me. I just wasn’t able to travel that much. I was able to explore the KSA (I’m based in Jeddah half the year) a bit more in 2016; the highlights being the wild baboons near Taif and the extraordinary Jenadriyah Festival, which was an enormous amount of fun. Had to go to Lagos, Nigeria for two days: I discovered that it’s not as dreadful as people think but it also wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped (the food, in particular, was utterly forgettable). I did buy a wonderful painting from a street artist, though.

    But..yeah..a big yawn overall for 2016. 2017 is shaping up to be a bit more interesting. I’m really excited about going to an art fair in Bamako. And I’m in talks with a Dubai-based tour company about traveling to Syria. This was something I wanted to do in 2016 but my employer forbade me to go. I’m hoping to sweet talk my way into going this year. I’m also off to Prague in February with hopes of attending the opera. And Siem Reap, though I’m not at all excited about that. Las Vegas is also in the cards; I love Vegas (go ahead, roll those eyes) and am so looking forward to a weekend of craps, massages, dinners at Twist, and a night at Absinthe.

  10. Favourite new in 2016: Iceland, Slovenia and Burma. Favourite repeat: London, Beijing and Milan

    Thanks, Lucky, for the inspiring post! Just made me realise what an awesome travel year it’s been!

  11. New places for me this year were Belize, Iceland, Mexico City, Jordan, and Erbil. I really enjoyed all of them except Erbil (the economy there is in such bad shape because of the war with ISIS and the refugee crisis). The ATM cave in Belize is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, Iceland is as incredibly expensive as it is beautiful, Mexico City was incredibly alive, and Jordan combines breathtaking nature and history in the same places (Petra, Wadi Rum, Dead Sea).

    Out of that group, Mexico City is the place that I can’t wait to visit again.

  12. My most fave place that I visited last year was the Philippines. I love Batanes and Palawan. Batanes is simply gorgeous, teeming with life, culture, breathtaking views and the most awesome island people ever. Palawan is simply heaven on earth. Sadly, it is becoming very touristy but you’ll still find that special place where you are in your own little heaven.

  13. Totally agree with the first comment: “…your readers will appreciate the occasional report from a cabin in the woods, an Air B N B bungalow on a remote beach, etc.”

    My favourite place to visit in 2016 was a remote island in Tonga called Ha’apai, perhaps the best place in the world to swim with whales.

  14. my new city experience this year would be marrakech, madrid, lisbon and athens

    lucky, would you be reviewing the south east asia + aman trips? or is that going to be exclusively for you and ford to keep in your memory + heart

  15. It was a big year for us and I loved it all. Antarctica and the Taj Mahal created lifetime memories. Addionally, the UAE and Oman were extremely thought provoking. We loved being able to go to the British open also.

  16. Great list – I have been to Luang Prabang and St. Petersburg and loved both. I liked Luang Prabang because it seemed a lot more laid back and peaceful than Vietnam, where I had just arrived from. It was picturesque, there was no hassle and just a really relaxing place. Also really enjoyed St. Petersburg, it had a really nice outdoor cafe culture.

  17. My favorite place in 2016 was New York City. It’s basically the only place a I traveled to and hadn’t been. I liked it.

    Thanks to Lucky and this blog, I will take my first international trip in 2017 to Europe and to Mexico for the first time.

    Then Australia and Russia in 2018 for the World Cup.

  18. My top five first for 2016: (1) Annapurna Trail Nepal, (2) Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Peru, (3) the Strait of Magellan/Punta Arenas, Chile, 4) Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile, and (5) Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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