10 travel experiences for 2021, chosen by the editors of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

From stargazing tours in the Namib Desert to shepherd’s hut stays in Lancashire, the editors of National Geographic Traveller and National Geographic Traveller Food share the experiences at the top of their travel wish lists.

Published 22 Dec 2020, 08:05 GMT, Updated 23 Dec 2020, 12:16 GMT
Huge skies and big, empty landscapes don’t get more superlative than in Namibia, where Africa specialist &Beyond offers the ...

Huge skies and big, empty landscapes don’t get more superlative than in Namibia, where Africa specialist &Beyond offers the chance to admire the night skies with a resident astronomer.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Astronomy in the desert, Namibia 

Connor McGovern, commissioning editor, National Geographic Traveller

I’ve become far too well acquainted with the interior of my London flat this year, so it’s no wonder I’m longing for huge skies and big, empty landscapes. They don’t get more superlative than in Namibia, where Africa specialist &Beyond offers the chance to admire the night skies with a resident astronomer in the Sossusvlei Private Desert Reserve. Zero light pollution makes for world-class celestial sightseeing in this corner of Southern Africa, and all that desert seclusion and open space will make my home seem as far away as the stars twinkling above. 

2. Working sheepdog experience, Lancashire

Jo Fletcher-Cross, contributing editor, National Geographic Traveller

As many of us pivoted to working and socialising from home in 2020, Cronkshaw Fold Farm attracted worldwide attention by offering up its goats to join in video meetings. After a very happy family quiz in which we were joined by the lovely Elizabeth (whose bio claimed ‘impeccable video call etiquette’ and ‘on-point glossy coat’), I became a bit obsessed with this working farm, dreaming of a stay in its guest hut with panoramic views over the Valley of Rossendale. There’s a hammock on the veranda, a sofa in front of the fire and even a hot tub. My favourite ‘extra’ is that you can book a working sheepdog experience to learn about the history of the breed, watch them work and see the younger ones being trained. Best of all, it ends with tea and biscuits in the barn and a chance to pat the very good dogs.

3. Total eclipse at the end of the world, Antarctica

Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller

As highlighted in our recent Best of the World list, there’ll be a solar eclipse over Antarctica for only the second time in human history, in December 2021. Having made several trips within the Arctic Circle and along the Northwest Passage, the southern pole beckons. And to see it during such an elemental show is surely the ultimate antidote to a year of lockdowns and low spirits, a once-in-a-lifetime sight that should, for a while at least, allow the wonder of the natural world to eclipse mortal anxieties. I’ve travelled with Hurtigruten into the Norwegian Arctic and I’d love to sign up for one of its Antarctic eclipse sailings, where a professional astronomer will be on board.

Read more: Searching for Snow Hill, Antarctica's most elusive island

Nothing revives cooped-up bones better than volcanic hikes and hot spring soaks.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Hiking and hot springs, Japan 

Stephanie Cavagnaro, deputy editor, National Geographic Traveller

Being sequestered in a city for the best part of a year has left me craving wild, wide open spaces. Nothing revives cooped-up bones better than volcanic hikes and hot spring soaks — and KAI Kirishima, opening in January 2021, has the remedy. Located on Japan’s southernmost island, Kyushu, this mountainside ryokan will sport views of the active volcano Sakurajima. Boot up and explore Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park’s moody mountains and piercingly blue crater lakes, before heading hotel-side for the outdoor onsen, set serenely in a silvergrass meadow.

Read more: Hot springs and healing waters in Japan's onsen capital 

5. A culinary road trip through Central Asia

Farida Zeynalova, assistant editor, National Geographic Traveller Food

I’ve always wanted to eat my way around Central Asia, and that longing was intensified by two things this year: firstly, our inability to travel and, secondly, the release of Caroline Eden’s new book, Red Sands, filled with recipes and stories from the region. The Stans are known for their mesmerising landscapes and historical cities, but I’m most interested in their nomadic and Turkic-influenced cuisine — particularly the dishes of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Whether it’s chomping shashlik kebabs in Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar, filling up on samsa from Almaty’s street vendors, or lapping up platefuls of plov in a family home in Samarkand, I have every intention of making the next year a delicious one.

6. Riding the rails in pursuit of pasta, Italy

Glen Mutel, editor, National Geographic Traveller Food

One of the few silver linings of the past year was being able to spend some time cooking with my eldest daughter. And while her tastes are forever adapting, for now her favourite cuisine is Italian. While it’s nice for us to cook together, I’m itching for her to try the real thing. So, in 2021 I’m going to indulge in another passion of mine and take her — and her little sister — on the sleeper train, from Paris to either Venice or Florence. Overnight rail services are enjoying an unexpected resurgence across Europe, with several new routes recently announced, so if our first experiment is a success, there’ll be plenty more to follow.

Read more: Learn to cook like an Italian in these four culinary hotspots

7. Local life in the frozen north, Norway & Sweden

Maria Pieri, editorial director, National Geographic Traveller & National Geographic Traveller Food

There’s a series of new, small-group adventures called Local Lives by Discover the World that aims to uncover the essence of the Nordic lifestyle in Arctic Europe, focusing on the island of Senja, in Norway, and Swedish Lapland. I like the idea of experiencing another way of life, of stepping into someone else’s shoes. These trips are led by passionate locals looking to introduce visitors to the culture and traditions of the wild and beautiful places they call home. Activities aim to immerse visitors in nature by trying out forest bathing, ocean harvesting, cookery classes, fika (a snack of coffee and cake), wood-fired saunas, ocean bathing, open-fire cooking and much more. Sounds idyllic to me. Where can I sign up?

A series of new, small-group adventures called Local Lives by Discover the World aims to uncover the essence of the Nordic lifestyle in Arctic Europe. 

Photograph by Getty Images

8. Cheering on the Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Pat Riddell, editor, National Geographic Traveller

Reports of the death of Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest footballers of all time, in November, was accompanied by news footage of his former team, Boca Juniors, paying tributes to him. It again stoked my urge to visit Buenos Aires, home to the team, their yellow and blue ‘La Bombonera’ stadium, and their legendarily raucous crowds. Tickets for a match might be notoriously difficult to come by but that’s not going to stop me trying. And with numerous other top teams in the capital, and stadium tours available, catching a game isn’t an impossible undertaking. Throw in the classic Argentine lures of steak, Malbec and tango — plus the city’s more surprising, modern sides — and it’s a post-pandemic plan to dream of.

Read more: How Argentinians bring fun and flamboyance to football

9. Road-tripping in the Westfjords, Iceland

Nora Wallaya, assistant online editor, National Geographic Traveller & National Geographic Traveller Food

Having longingly gazed out of windows at the same London neighbourhood (albeit a lovely one) for much of this year, I'm craving otherworldly landscapes — so it has to be Iceland for 2021. Road-tripping its famous Golden Circle Ring Road (plus the new Ring Road 2, which incorporates the lesser-visited Westfjords region) has been a long-standing fixture on my travel bucket list. From geysers and glacier caves to volcanoes and lava fields, it’s a geological wonderland I can’t wait to explore — and I’ll cross my fingers for whale sightings, too.

Read more: Stories from the Arctic Coast Way, Iceland's epic new road trip

10. Quad biking across the Makgadigadi Salt Pans, Botswana

Amelia Duggan, acting deputy editor, National Geographic Traveller

Legendary Kalahari bolthole Jack’s Camp has been newly renovated for 2021 and, after a year largely spent indoors and anxious, I can think of nothing more soul-soothing (and, admittedly, self-indulgent) than dropping my bag in my tent then riding out into one of nature’s greatest wonders on a quad biking tour. The Makgadigadi Salt Pans were once the site of the world’s greatest inland sea; today, the cracked, baked earth shimmers with salt across an inhospitable area of 10,000sq miles. This humbling, ancient landscape has occupied my daydreams for months. The stars, the meerkats, the campfires. It sits firmly at the top of my wish list.

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