We often get asked “What’s your favorite place out of everywhere you’ve traveled?” and it is such a difficult question to answer because we tend to find things we enjoy in all of the places we visit! That being said, after 15 years of travelling together, there are definitely places that we remember more fondly than others. In this post, find out which 15 destinations are our favorites so far!
Here is the list (in alphabetical order):
- Aix-en-Provence, France
- Austin, Texas
- Bali, Indonesia
- Big Island, Hawaii
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Cusco, Peru
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Okanagan/Similkameen Valleys, British Columbia
- Portland, Oregon
- Galle, Sri Lanka
- Sedona, Arizona
- Sumba Island, Indonesia
1. There’s more to France than just Paris : Aix-en-Provence, France
We hadn’t planned on visiting Aix-en-Provence but when we booked a mistake fare on British Airways in Premium Economy to fly to MRS – Marseilles from YVR – Vancouver and back for $400, we decided Aix would be our home base and we are so happy we did. We rented an automatic car and spent 5 days touring around the countryside and beaches in between leisurely walks in Aix-en-Provence town visiting markets and just absorbing the small town charm you will find here. We also sampled some of the best cheese and olives we’ve ever tasted, had fun visiting wineries, drank rose, spoke French and baffled staff by our accent that was not Quebecois or Maritime, swam in the Mediterranean, and enjoyed the bucolic landscape. Overall, this was the French experience we wanted to have in France.
2. BBQ, Beers, Campfires and Toobs: Austin, Texas
Over the years, Austin has become one of our favorite places to visit for a short weekend getaway; it has a good balance between the stereotypical honky-tonk vibe you expect in Texas with lots of live music, a vibrant and emerging food scene, and plenty of things to do outside almost year-round. It was also very easy for us to visit Austin when Alaska Airlines used to operate a red-eye flight from Seattle, making it our favorite mileage run. Part of our enjoyment in Austin was staying at Lone Star Court, a boutique hotel that captures Austin’s spirit with the rustic honky-tonk vibe; there’s live music, fire pits, an outdoor pool, picnic tables and rocking chairs. Part of the fun has also been seeking out delicious BBQ and so far, we’ve been to 6 of Texas Monthly’s Top Barbecue Joints. We have also been introduced to river toobing down the Comal River in New Braunfels to cool down in the summer.
3. We’ve been here more than anywhere else: Bali, Indonesia
At the time of writing of this, we have visited Bali 5 times and are planning our 6th visit this fall despite how negatively we feel about overtourism while realizing we are also part of the problem. Bali was one of our favorite spots on a 3 month long around the world trip we took in 2010 due to how beautiful the scenery is; from Mount Agung’s imposing but subtle presence, to the lush greenness of the rice fields, the temples that dot the coastline, the stunning sunsets, and the scattered offerings that you encounter everywhere, it’s a place that overwhelms the senses. We also have the memory of getting caught in a rain storm in Ubud in the middle of a festival of sorts where elephants were walking down the street, people were playing drums while singing and laughing and jumping into puddles. We also facilitated trips to Bali for family members, and Max’s mom who was a vegetarian, enjoyed the babi guling (suckling pig) at Ibu Oka so much, she eats meat again! We also really like warm weather and find the heat and humidity in Bali enjoyable. Compared to other places we have visited in Southeast Asia, the food scene here is also a lot more interesting and we also really like the spicy flavors of Indonesian food and its sambals. For us, we can fill our days very happily by biking through the countryside, eating delicious meals, walking through villages, enjoying the coastal sunsets, relaxing in a pool villa, and getting caught in the middle of random festivals where there is so much joy and happiness.
4. Detachment from the rest of the world: Big Island, Hawaii
We love every single Hawaiian Island and consider Hawaii an overall favorite but decided to narrow it down for the purpose of this post. It wasn’t necessarily love at first visit for us when we visited the Big Island the first time but as we have become more seasoned travelers and have dug deeper, it has become our favorite Island. With 10 of the world’s 14/15 climate zones on the island, it’s has very diverse landscapes; there are rainforests, lava fields, deserts, good food, and different types of beaches. We’ve hiked through green valleys, lava fields, and have swam/snorkeled in achialine pools, making it paradise for those who like to explore and wander the outdoors. Compared to other Hawaiian Islands, it is also less crowded and touristy, making it more enjoyable and low-key. The Westin Hapuna has become our favorite place to stay due to how quiet it is and having access to two of the best beaches on the island. Another good thing about beaches in Hawaii is that there is no Sargassum seaweed! When you’re on the Big Island, you can’t help but feel very detached from the rest of the world due to how remote and large it is.
5. Late Nights, Parrilla and Malbec: Buenos Aires
We have been really lucky to spend time in Buenos Aires twice since 2015. As early risers, we have no choice but to adapt to the local late night culture and take it easy in the morning before starting walking excursions through the various neighbourhoods in the city. Since I really like red wine, Buenos Aires has been a fun city to drink wine paired with food grilled on the parrilla such as steaks, provoleta (grilled provolone) and choripan (chorizo on a bun with chimichurri). Jason occasionally has a glass of wine but he’s usually drinking craft beer and they have decent options in BA. We also had the chance to stay at Poetry, an apartment-style hotel built in 1911 that has since been restored. Located in Recoleta, we felt as though we were living in Buenos Aires and spent many nights just sitting on our rooftop patio with candlelight. They also had a beautiful rooftop garden at Poetry and we got to pick kale and make a salad. We also have fond memories of stumbling onto the Defensa Street Sunday Market on our way to Banco Rojo to try their famous deep fried lamb empenadas which remain one of the best things we’ve ever eaten to this day.
6. Less Pad Thai, more Larb Gai: Chiang Mai, Thailand
We fell in love with Northern Thai food by Portland’s Andy Ricker (Pok Pok) and decided to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand’s largest city in the north for the first time in 2008. Since then, we’ve been twice more and what keeps us coming back is how nice of a city it is and how easy it is to get around and how less crazy it is here than Bangkok. We have also found it easier to step outside our comfort zone and the touristy spots to enjoy Thai food than other spots in Thailand. One memory that comes to mind is when we took a tuk tuk to a restaurant specializing in larbs (meat salads) that only had a menu in Thai and how we managed to order, pay for, and enjoy our meal. We have also market hopped to try and find the best sai ua (Northern Thai style pork sausage) and have come to the conclusion they’re all good due to the fresh ingredients! We were also really lucky to stay at 137 Pillars House, a beautiful colonial era boutique hotel that remains in our top 10 list of favorite hotels.
7. Enchantment at high altitudes: Cusco, Peru
Cusco is pretty enchanting to walk through due to its architecture and vistas, if you can handle climbing stairs! Due to its remoteness, there is still traditional Andean life here that you can experience through the markets. We came to Cusco after a trip to Machu Picchu and are very happy we had a couple of days to explore. In some ways, we enjoyed just walking around exploring Cusco more than Machu Picchu. If you’re an aviation geek, landing and taking off at CUZ – Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport is a must, as this airport is only VFR (Visual Flight Rule) and offers stunning scenery. Here is a link to our video of taking off from Cusco Airport.
8. Our life in Vancouver in a tropical setting: Honolulu, Hawaii
As perpetual sun chasers, Honolulu/Waikiki has become our most visited destination for trips ranging from 24-72 hours because there is a lot to do and see here. We can understand why Waikiki is a polarizing destination because it is different than how people imagine Hawaii to be; it’s a big city with freeways, high-rises and crowds, similar to Miami. For us though, we’ve found hikes and beaches to shake off the cold weather and grey day blues we experience too often here in Vancouver. Just a 40 minute drive away is uncrowded and pristine Lanikai Beach, where you forget about Waikiki. We also stay further away from the craziness of Waikiki for a more relaxed and serene setting, with great views of the sunset.
9. Not like other big cities: Istanbul, Turkey
Compared to other big cities we’ve visited, Istanbul was so different and to call it exotic might be cheesy and stereotypical but it really is! The architecture, the culture, the setting, and the landscape were unlike anything we’d seen or experienced before and to this day, we still consider it one of the most unique cities we have ever visited. We still remember the dizzying effect of hearing the call to prayer for the first time, felt joy and awe when taking the ferry to Kadıköy as seagulls followed the boat and people would toss pieces of simit to feed them, ate a delicious balik ekmek (fish sandwich) prepared on a fisherman’s boat by the Galata bridge, tried boza (a fermented wheat drink) and kaymak (clotted cream made from buffalo milk served with honey), and just wandered the streets of Cihangir and Besiktas reveling in “huzun” like Orhan Pamuk probably did. Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish author who captures aspects of Turkish literature no one else can and we got to visit the museum dedicated to his novel, The Museum of Innocence. Max felt such a deep connection to Istanbul and its streets and culture due to Orhan Pamuk’s books and we’d joke about looking for “the other Orhan” as we spent hours walking the streets.
10. Unexpected surprises: Mexico City, Mexico
We had put off going to Mexico City for a long time due to fears based on what people said and the media portrayed but decided to spend a couple of nights as we travelled between Sayulita and Playa Del Carmen/Tulum since we were connecting in Mexico City. We will always remember landing and seeing hundreds of purple trees decorating the city landscape in March as it was the magical time of the year the jacarandas were in full bloom. Reminiscent of the film “Roma”, we stayed in Roma Norte at Ignacia House, an old house that has been renovated and named in honor of the housekeeper who worked there. We pretty much just walked around eating as many tacos al pastor as we could exploring various neighbourhoods and doing our best to speak Spanish. If anything, visiting Mexico City showed us a different side of Mexico as a country and we are proud to tell the haters and skeptics we love Mexico City.
11. Good things grow in British Columbia: Okanagan/Similkameen Valleys, Canada
Home to stunning scenery, outdoor recreation and known for its wineries and fruit orchards, the Okanagan Valley is just a 5 hour drive east of Vancouver and one of our favorite road trips due to the spectacular scenery you see along the way. You often have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not staring at a painting due to how beautiful the landscape is. In addition to the natural beauty, this is the land of agricultural bounty and we remember how exciting it was to be in Keremos at the peak of cherry season where the town is full of fruit stands. This year, we’ve been very lucky to discover Farmersdotter, an organic farm with guest suites in Cawston as it makes exploring the stunning yet lesser known Similkameen Valley easier.
12. Urban Hiking: Portland, Oregon
Like Austin, Portland is also one of our favorite places to visit for a short weekend getaway, especially in the summer. It is just so easy to get around in Portland without a car and is best enjoyed walking or biking. From outdoor adventure within a few hours, greenery and parks within the city, a thriving craft beer scene, a thriving and trendy food scene, urban wineries and vineyards that specialize in Pinot Noir, an eclectic community of hippies and hipsters…and everything in between, we always run out of time to experience everything there is so see and do in the city and beyond. Since we appreciate high quality food that’s affordable and casual, enjoy sampling craft beer at breweries and the annual Oregon Brewers Festival, and like staying at boutique hotels, Portland is a place that feels like home to us.
13. Haunting: Galle, Sri Lanka
Haunting, is one way to describe the opening scene of No Reservations Sri Lanka in which Anthony Bourdain’s ominous monologue is set against an auspicious backdrop focused on his train journey as colorful images of life in Sri Lanka are interjected. When we visited Sri Lanka, we followed in Bourdain’s footsteps by staying at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo and also took the train to Galle. It was emotionally difficult to visit Sri Lanka due to the recent civil war and its end which seemed to have brought peace to the teardrop shaped island but recent terror events have made opened up old wounds. One of the memorable meals we had was at Nuga Gama, a Sri Lankan dinner buffet at the Cinnamon Grand hotel where the food is cooked by women from the village in their style and served in Sri Lankan clay pots. This hotel was bombed in the most recent attacks. We would like to go back to Sri Lanka due to how beautiful it is but we are unsure right now. Until then, we have the memories of Sri Lanka, a place we visited due to a cheap business class ticket. Sri Lanka is a place that broke our hearts as it also filled them with joy and love.
14. Family Vacation: Sedona, Arizona
I (Max) have been to Sedona twice, both to visit my family who like to winter there. We were really excited when my mom and step-dad invited Jason, my sister and I to join them for Christmas one year. Sedona is a 2 hour drive north of Phoenix making it a quick enough road trip with nice scenery along the way. The landscaped consists mostly of red butte rocks, canyons, and forest which make it a nice place to hike. On Christmas morning, Jason and I hiked up Cathedral Rock and pretty much had the place all to ourselves. The first time I hiked up Cathedral Rock, I was alone and decided to turn back due to my fear of heights and it was nice to share the experience with Jason and get to the top. Sedona is a special place for us due to the time we spent with family there and how nice it is for long hikes, beer crawls, wine tastings, and evenings by the fire.
15. Pasola, Ponies, and a Luxury Villa: Sumba Island, Indonesia
Just a 1 hour flight away from Bali is Sumba Island in Indonesia’s southernmost province of East Nusa Tenggara. At the time we visited, there wasn’t much else on the island for tourists other than the award winning Nihi Sumba resort. We got to stay here for 3 days and experience Sumba Island, a place that has only started to see more visitors in the last 5 years or so. Part of what left such a lasting impression of this experience is how beautiful and how untouched the scenery is on the Island, how different the culture is and how we were welcomed to learn about it, while also being able to retreat back to our luxury villa to relax. We will always remember the Sumbanese Storytelling by the fire when Max told us more about Pasola, the children who taught us Bahasa at the Sumba Foundation school, the walks down that long stretch of beach we had to ourselves, and watching the sunset from our villa in a place we didn’t know existed until it popped up on an airline employees travel website.
It was really difficult to come up with the list and it is one that we’ve been working on for months now. Part of the fun was reliving some of our best and worst travel memories to write this post.
We’ve also learned that there is no one way to visit or enjoy a destination, other than staying true to yourself and what you enjoy and that if you can’t find something enjoyable about each place you visit, you need to look/try a little harder!
One memory that came back was our encounter with an American businessman at the lounge in Le Meridien Hotel Taipei. He asked us if we were visiting for business and was so surprised when we told him we went out of our way to visit Taipei for pleasure; his exact words were something along the lines of “You went out of your way to come here? There’s nothing here!”. In the end, we had so much fun in Taipei sampling weird food, trying to communicate with nice people, and our infamous Mos Burger adventure…we would go back and explore more of Taiwan for sure.
Different places will appeal to other people and it’s all about what you find and the memories you make! We’re so thankful that we’ve had the chance to visit so many different places as a result of our mileage runs to maximize earning points as we may not have sought them out otherwise. And this, is pretty much the essence of what WeLeaveToday.com is all about; enjoy each place for what it has to offer no matter how long you’re there for!
Do you ever get asked what your favorite place is? Do you like unsolicited feedback about where to travel? How do you chose where to travel to?
- Sargassum Seaweed in the Caribbean: Will it ruin my beach vacation?
- Travel Advisory for Mexico – A Vacation Horror Story
- Overtourism: Did “Eat Pray Love” Ruin Bali?
- Tips: Planning a 1 Day Trip to Machu Picchu
- Plan: The Maldives on a $500 budget per day
- Texas Travel Guide: Austin, Dallas, and Beyond
- Planning a Hawaiian Vacation: Oahu vs Maui
- Sri Lanka Travel Guide; Colombo, Galle, and the South Coast
- Parrilla in Buenos Aires: Get Your Meat On
4 thoughts on “Top 15 Destinations in 15 Years: Our List”
I love this post! What a great idea, I keep thinking how hard it would be to come up with just 15 places so I’m impressed! I too would likely include the Big Island, Cusco and Chiang Mai, such great areas – and obviously I’m biased to Portland 🙂 A few of these are certainly on my list to get to eventually (Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Turkey).
I also certainly agree that some destinations I’ve really liked, others have hated or thought were really boring (like Bangkok or Brisbane). I think it’s more about who you’re with and what fun memories you create, no matter how small, not just about the “tourist attractions.”
Thanks Erin! We also feel that the places you visit help you enjoy other places too. We debated about adding Vancouver but since we live here, we decided not to!