By this time, you’ve probably seen at least one of them: the annual “Where to go in [insert year]” lists from every travel publisher, newspaper, magazine.
Some people get grumpy about them, argue that one place is less worthy than another, wonder why their favorite spot got passed over, or quibble with the overly pithy descriptions of complicated places.
The NY Times’ annual 52 Places to Go list is deliberately not a ranked “best” list, it’s a “starter kit for those interested in travel,” as NY Times Editorial Director for Special Projects Dan Saltzstein describes it. But that doesn’t stop people from wondering why Colonial Williamsburg and Huntsville, Alabama sit on a list with Tahiti and Munich.
It’s not just an impulse. Half of all Americans don’t have a passport and a large majority of those who do have only ever traveled to Canada or Mexico. The list speaks in part to those people. https://t.co/2XbbrqgyHlNY Times Editorial Director for Special Projects Dan Saltzstein (@dansaltzstein) January 9, 2019
Our take on travel lists: Have fun with them.
They often hold little surprises that you’ll store in the back of your mind for later, and they nearly always have beautiful photography. Why not enjoy them for what they are?
But here’s something you should probably never do: Look at dozens of them like we just did.
With the exception of the Airbnb list, which looks at places with increased bookings to spot trends, or the HomeAway top five, which represents real bookings, the lists start to look both scattershot and biased towards certain types of places for certain types of travelers.
That’s not to say there aren’t some trends and areas of agreement across the list. Here’s a quick synopsis of the US destinations showing up on multiple Top 2019 Destinations lists published so far:
- Places in New York State — 11
- Places in Tennessee — 7
- Beachy places in Florida — 6
- Houston, TX — 5
- Puerto Rico — 5
- Hawaiian Islands — 4
- New Orleans — 3
- Places around Puget Sound — 3
Take what you will from these numbers. Maybe it’s a standout year for New York State — there’s lots going on in NYC as always, and there’s undoubtedly some Marvelous Mrs. Maisel-based interest — or maybe the fact that most major publishers and PR firms are based in New York has something to do with it. It’s hard to say.
Perhaps the most sensible advice came from veteran travel writer Robert Reid, who re-upped his top destination recommendations from 2015:
- A gravel road
- Some place new and near
- Your travel wishlist from when you were 12
We’ll let him explain:
Summary of the 2019 “best of” lists we looked at:
Airbnb: Great Smoky Mountains, TN; Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley, NY.
Architectural Digest: Savannah, GA; Napa Valley, CA.
Bloomberg: Houston, TX; Savannah, GA.
CNN Travel: Grand Canyon, AZ; Hawai’i Island, HI; New York City, NY.
Condé Nast Traveler (with a single “l”): Grand Canyon, AZ; Puerto Rico; Houston, TX.
Condé Nast Traveller (with a double “l”): New Orleans, LA.
Fodor’s: Bears Ears National Monument, UT; Puerto Rico; Nashville, TN; Detroit, MI; Rapid City, SD; Hawaii; Bywater District, New Orleans, LA.
Forbes: Fort Lauderdale, FL; Santa Fe, NM; Nashville, TN; Fort Collins, CO; New York State; Jackson Hole, WY; Winston-Salem, NC; Lancaster, PA; Palm Springs, CA; South Dakota; Baltimore, MD; Charleston, SC; Colonial and Greater Williamsburg, VA; North Adams and Williamstown, MA.
Frommer’s: New York State; Memphis, TN; Hollywood, CA; Olympic National Park and Sequim, WA; Virginia.
GayTravel: New York City, NY; San Francisco, CA; Miami, FL; Palm Springs, CA.
HomeAway: Maui, HI; Miramar and Rosemary Beach, FL; Panama City Beach, FL; Gulf Shores, AL; and Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN.
Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel: Cities: Seattle, WA; Miami, FL. Regions: the Catskills, NY. Best Value: the Great Smoky Mountains, TN; Houston, TX.
National Geographic: Kansas City, MO; Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, NM; Oakland, CA; South Walton County, FL.
New York Times: Puerto Rico; Santa Barbara, CA; Williamsburg, VA; Las Vegas, NV; Huntsville, AL; New York City, NY; Orcas Island, WA; Wyoming; Los Angeles, CA; Houston, TX; Columbus, OH
Smarter Travel: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Buffalo, NY; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Asbury Park, NJ; Berkeley, CA; Asheville, NC; New Orleans, LA; Portland, OR; Scottsdale, AZ; Nashville, TN.
Town & Country: Napa Valley, CA; Park City, UT; The Berkshires, NY.
Travel+Leisure: the Adirondacks, NY; Grand Canyon, AZ; Hudson Yards, New York City, NY; Houston, TX; Jackson Hole, WY; Montecito, CA; Puerto Rico.
U.S. News & World Report: Yellowstone, WY; Grand Canyon, AZ; New York City, NY; Yosemite National Park, CA; Maui, HI; San Francisco, CA.