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The destinations we’re missing — and how to get a taste of them at home

Go behind the scenes with National Geographic Traveller’s intrepid team. We’re inviting you to stay inspired as we toast our favourite destinations, spill the secrets behind our top trips and evoke the sights, sounds and flavours of each place

Published 9 Apr 2020, 09:00 BST
Customers at Salmon Guru

Madrid's cocktail bar Salmón Gurú is trippy riot of neon pop art, animal prints and plush upholstered chairs, with rooms themed around Berlin, New York and China. 

Photograph by Ben Roberts

The borders may be shut but there’s no lockdown on our memories, our daydreams or our ability to journey vicariously through the written word. As such, National Geographic Traveller’s editors have been busy reminiscing about their favourite destinations. Join them in a toast to their wish-I-was-still-there places and learn how they’re indulging their nostalgia for exploring the great, wide world while staying firmly indoors.

Madrid — Connor McGovern, commissioning editor
My trip to Madrid last year wasn’t my first time in the Spanish capital, but it was when I started to get what makes the metropolis tick. By day, I explored museums and churches, wandered through sun-drenched barrios and cooled off in leafy parks. By night, however, I discovered an entirely different side the city: I squeezed into raucous bars that have barely changed in a century, got a taste of its exciting cocktail scene and mopped up the night’s excesses with a late-night plate of churros. It’ll be a while before I can take in the nightlife in Madrid again, so for now I’ll make do with Spain on a screen. The city is the backdrop to a number of films by legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, whose work which captures all the hedonistic, zeitgeisty vigour of Madrid in the 1980s, when the city was rediscovering itself after the Franco dictatorship. With so much time on my hands, now’s probably the time my work my way through his filmography — cocktail in hand, of course.

Dive into Madrid’s vibrant nightlife scene here.

Miami — Pat Riddell, editor
Just over a year ago, I was stomping the streets of Miami. I’d love to say I was kicking back on Miami Beach, but, instead, I managed to walk around 30 miles in four days to discover the charms of Florida’s best-known city. And what I found was a dynamic, multicultural, multifaceted metropolis that is — with the exception of this temporary pause — fully geared up for the 2020s. I’m currently dreaming of Cuban sandwiches in Little Havana, wandering the never-ending street art in Wynwood, and late-night drinks in South Beach. Miami Vice — either the 1980s TV series or the 2006 film — is the obvious place to reminisce; despite glamorising the city’s gritty reputation, it was the catalyst that kick-started its current renaissance.

Follow us into the streets of the Magic City here.

Borneo — Charlotte Wigram-Evans, content editor
Last year, I spent a week with the Kelabit tribe in Bario, a tiny cluster of villages hidden deep in Borneo’s eastern Highlands. As well as learning about village life and exploring some of the 600sq miles of rainforest on their doorstep, I spent long evenings cackling around a campfire. The Kelabits’ sense of sarcasm is unparalleled, and their dry wit — paired with an incredible warmth for strangers — has left me longing to return. For now, I’ll be making do with recreating the cocktail we drank together: liquified pineapple, crushed ice, mint leaves and a lot of white rum, but when we can travel again, you’ll find me laughing in the jungles of Borneo.

Taste the planet’s sweetest pineapples with the Kelabit tribe here.

San Francisco and Northern California — Sarah Barrell, associate editor
Last year’s Northern California road trip left a retinal imprint: 1,800 miles of volcanic national parks; glacial mountains; and surf-worn bays strung behind towering walls of redwood. That a glossy city like San Francisco punctuates this wild west is, on every visit, a soul-lifting surprise. California’s urban powerhouse still feels like pioneer country, a place of ‘can do’ shaped by those that have. To keep its freaky spirit alive, I re-read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (the recent Netflix reboot is saccharine-satisfying) and Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in part a love song to San Francisco’s Big Sur coast — both books best accompanied by a mezcal and a fish taco. The taste of California, for me, always recalls the state’s Mexican roots.

Sit down for a chinwag with some of San Fran’s pioneering locals here.

Malawi — Amelia Duggan, acting deputy editor
My daydreams often set their scene in Malawi, the country where I accidentally ending up spending two months in 2018. I’d headed to Southern Africa to travel and write, intending to quickly take in Malawi and then backpack overland — south, or perhaps west, or whichever way the wind was blowing — and eventually fly home from Jo’burg. But Malawi, with its welcoming people, laid-back lake beaches and storied national parks struck a chord with me; the lure of nations unseen couldn’t tempt me away. And so, I stayed on longer and longer, spending time in villages and eventually ending up camping at a music festival. To conjure that place and time, I sometimes read back my feature (forgive a writer this indulgence), which includes tales of my safaris and exploits on a castaway island. I also find myself listening to some of the Malawian bands I was introduced to, like the Black Missionaries, who you’ll find on Spotify. As a treat, I’m planning to watch Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, based on the remarkable true story of a Malawian teenager who built a turbine to save his village during severe drought.

Get lost in Malawi’s wilder-than-wild safari parks and lofty tea plantations here.

Puerto Rico — Farida Zeynalova, contributing editor
My love affair with Puerto Rico started years before I set foot on the island. It was through its showbiz giants — Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Rita Moreno — that I became infatuated with Puerto Rico’s vivacious and diverse musical culture. When I visited for the first time last October, it didn’t disappoint: I explored the exuberant capital of San Juan and shook my bon bons to salsa and reggaeton in its myriad bars; visited all the shooting locations for the Despacito music video; and headed over to the city of Loíza to get to know the uniquely Afro-Boricua musical genre, bomba y plena. Until I can go back — and I will go back — I’m revisiting my original approach and experiencing Puerto Rico remotely through its arts. I’ll start by watching the 1961 classic West Side Story, the story of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City, then I’ll bounce around my room to musical odes to the island; Almost Like Praying by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Patria Borinqueña by bomba band Los Pleneros de la 21 are just a few favourites.

Feel the sun on your skin and hear the beat of the drum here.

Austin, Texas — Josephine Price, online editor
During life in lockdown, I’m missing people and noise. After growing up amid the madness of London, my travels have — more often than not — shown a yearning for remote destinations. Recently, they’ve taken me to the Atacama Desert, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, for example, and the thing I’m realising these days is that they were an escape from the noise I was so used to. But now that’s all I’m craving. I want loud, chaotic, busy and boisterous, and I want it all at once. I want to get lost in crowds and music and bars — and so I’ve been thinking a lot about Austin, which I visited this time last year. It’s an endlessly fun city that rotates around an obsession with food and music, and I want to be back there and be consumed by it all. To remedy this, I’ve been listening to a lot of music (very loudly) and I’ve found live sets to conjure up a slight sense of what I’m pining for. More generally though, I’m just throwing a lot of hot sauce on my food, Austin style. Bringing back sauces from destinations is something I always do, and using them is one way to get yourself quickly hurtling into delicious nostalgia. The Tears of Joy hot sauce has been a lifesaver in my lockdown kitchen.

Hustle, bustle, scents and flavours: tuck into a tale about Austin here.

Manchester — Nicola Trup, associate editor
Last year, I took a trip back to Manchester, the city I lived in for university and where, secretly, my heart still lies. Yes, it rains an inordinate amount (I used to wear wellies more often than not), but with its gorgeous redbrick architecture, fantastic food and unbeatable music scene, it’s a beauty all the same. It’s a place that crosses my mind often, as the friends I made on sticky dance floors and the lawns of pretty parks are still some of the people I’m closest to more than a decade on. And during this strange time, a big group of us are still getting together once a week — remotely, of course. While confined to my London flat, I’ve been escaping to Manchester via film (namely the fabulous 24 Hour Party People, about the city’s music scene in the 1970s-1990s) and radio (thanks to Greater Manchester heroes Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music). In the words of Mark Radcliffe, Manchester is “a city that thinks a table is for dancing on” — and once we’re free to roam again, I’ll be back on that table like a shot.

See the northern metropolis of Manchester anew here.

Costa Rica — Maria Pieri, editorial director
An introduction to Central America for my family of four took us from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific, via the capital of San José. We ventured through cloud forests, trekked to see volcanoes, hung around with sloths and watched turtles lay their eggs on the beach. My favourite moments: my son discussing snow with a guide who had only known rain; and my daughter remarking how animals were enjoying their own adventures while we partook in ours. Despite 6am starts, 6pm darkness, and never-quite-dry clothing, the trip proved to be quite the family adventure. Until you can travel there again, the easiest way to catch a glimpse of why it’s often cited as the ‘happiest place on earth’ is through a variety of films: the beautiful rainforest passed for Peru in the beginning sequences of Paddington; San Carlos featured in the novel-to-film production of Congo; and the beginning scenes of Suicide Squad were filmed around Sarapiquí and Pococí.

Escape to the jungle on an adventure to remember here.

Macau — Jo Fletcher-Cross, associate editor
After a few days of sightseeing in Hong Kong, I jumped on the high-speed ferry to Macau — a place I had no expectations of at all, really. Its facade of skyscrapers and glitzy casinos intrigued me as we approached, skimming over the South China Sea. It didn’t take long to discover that tiny Macau, is, well, bonkers. With its history as a Portuguese overseas territory, the huge, shiny hotels hide European-esque town squares and pretty blue-tiled villages, as well as Chinese temples and an atmospheric ruined cathedral. If I can get tinned tomatoes any time soon, I’m going to make African chicken — Macanese chicken curry with peanut, tomato and chilli sauce. I first tried the dish in the rustic surroundings of Restaurante Litoral, close to the beautiful A-Ma Temple, where I bought the prayer ribbons that now hang by my desk here at home. A highlight was a trip to The House of Dancing Water stage show; my daughter and I watched some clips online recently as she loves circus, and it reminded me of what a gorgeous, over-the-top, strange place it is. I’ll take her to see it in real life sometime soon, I hope.

Visit one of the world’s most curious corners, with this account of puppeteering prowess here.

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