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The bucket list: What's next?

The bucket list: What's next?

In the past couple of years I've been fortunate enough to do a lot of the things that have long been on my travel wish list. I've trekked up the Inca Trail to Peru's famed Machu Picchu, welcomed the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, sped across the Bolivian Uyuni Salt Flats in a 4x4 to a salsa soundtrack and jumped off a mountain in Rio de Janeiro to paraglide - heart in my mouth - down onto São Conrado beach. I've motorbiked up Vietnam's stunning Hai Van Pass and jumped from a rickety ship into the jellyfish-heavy waters of Ha Long Bay, sipped a cocktail in Hong Kong's Ozone Bar, basked in the turquoise Kuang Si waterfalls of Laos, sand-boarded down the massive dunes of Huacachina - Peru's startling desert oasis - and partied on Bangkok's notorious Khao San Road.

And still my wanderlust has not been sated.

Around two weeks after returning from my seven-month stint abroad - tanned, exhausted and with a LOT of washing to do - I was ready to dust off my big red backpack and head back to the airport. But before I slip my flip-flops back on, I need to think carefully about my next destinations.

So, what's next?

While I don't think my bucket list will stop growing any time soon, these are the destinations I hope to visit and the things I want to do over the next couple of years:

  1. Cuba

    Following The Revolutionary Trail

    Cuba, following the revolutionary trail

    Cuba is top of the list as the country's fast-evolving relationship with the US means that there is a sense of urgency to visit for those who want to get a glimpse of the old Cuba, before Americanisation and big brands start to influence the nation's culture and aesthetics. I've always wanted to walk down the colourful streets of Havana as 50-year-old Cadillacs wind their way by before indulging in some Cuban rum and a cigar.

    Following the Revolutionary Trail is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the island's rich history - and there are many tour groups that offer this sort of trip. Or you could attempt it solo: while it is vital to be cautious on the roads of Cuba, on which there are many poorly-maintained highways and vehicles, the nation makes for a relatively safe destination, with crime levels low.

    Morro, Santiago de Cuba

    On the Revolutionary Trail I'd want to start in iconic Havana, allowing myself a few days of sightseeing and soaking up the vibrant atmosphere. From there, I'd travel to Santiago de Cuba. Many travellers opt for home-stays around this area, which involves living with a Cuban family for a short time to learn first-hand about the local way of life. This is a popular area with tourists, as it is the location of El Morro Castle and Moncada Barracks, which saw the first attack by Fidel Castro against Batista's troops.

    Trinidad, Cuba

    Bayamo - where the Cuban national anthem was penned - and a trek in the national park Pico Turquino to Castro's secret base, would also be on the itinerary. Before heading to Cuba's gorgeous beach resorts for some much-needed relaxation, I'd also venture to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trinidad, and Santa Clara, to visit the Che Guevara Museum and memorial. The rest of the trip would be spent lounging on one of the country's famed white-sand beaches and reading books from or about the country, such as Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire, Pedro Juan Gutierrez's Dirty Havana Trilogy, and Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas.

  2. Croatia

    A sunny road trip up the glittering Dalmatian Coast

    Croatia, a sunny road trip up the glittering dalmatian coast

    Croatia has really grown in popularity as a destination over the past couple of years - and I want a piece of the action. The big attraction to Croatia for me is its stunning scenery: the verdant mountains rising from glittering, turquoise waters; the expanses of burnt orange rooftops atop the gleaming white towns that spring up around coastal coves. From its harbours, peppered with brightly-painted boats, to the fairytale waterfalls of the enchanting Plitvice National Park, and finally Dubrovnik: a marble city so striking it's often used as a backdrop to TV shows and films - most notably Game of Thrones.

    Dalmatian Coast

    I want to explore Croatia by car: road tripping up the Dalmatian Coast, stopping for a few nights at the old towns of Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir and Zadar, and catching ferries out to the islands of Hvar and Brac before leaving the coast road and taking to the highway to visit Plitvice National Park. Then I'd motor all the way up to the capital of Zagreb. I just need to ensure I can bag myself a travel companion with a driving licence!

    Brac Beach

    Flexibility and the ability to get myself around are going to be paramount on this trip - I'd like the option to stay extra nights in places I'm particularly enjoying, stop on the side of the coast road to tuck into a scenic lunch, and pick up some Brac olive oil or Pag cheese at road-side markets.

  3. Myanmar

    The one that got away

    Myanmar, the one that got away

    During my seven months of travelling last year, I could quite easily have visited Myanmar (formerly Burma), having spent significant amounts of time in both Thailand and Laos. However, I just sort of never really got around to it, and I've been kicking myself ever since. This is now one of my biggest travelling regrets, and I intend to rectify the situation just as soon as I have the time and budget to return to Southeast Asia.

    I'm pretty sure by this point that Southeast Asia is my favourite continent in the world: it's certainly the one I daydream about most. While it can be challenging to travel through at times, this makes the experience all the more rewarding; and the people, scenery and history more than make up for any trials you face along the way.

    Paya that draws Buddhist pilgrims from far and wide

    Myanmar is another country that is quickly changing and modernising, but for now it remains a relatively slow-paced nation with surreal scenery and an affinity for tea left over from its British colonial days.

    I want to base my itinerary around travelling between Myanmar's main cities and towns: Yangon, with its "winking wonder" Shwedagon Paya that draws Buddhist pilgrims from far and wide; the "hill station" of Pyin Oo Lin for an insight into the country's colonial past; the "temple town" of Bagan boasting over 4,000 sacred stupas; and Mandalay - the undisputed cultural capital.

    Fisherman in Inle Lake Region

    That said, in order to gain some sort of understanding of the culture in Myanmar - a nation with more than 100 ethnic groups - any traveller must venture past built-up areas, interact with locals and see how they live. One of my must-dos is visiting the Inle Lake Region, with its stilt-house villages, marshes and numerous stupas. I'd also want to embark on a trek across the pine forests of the Shan Hills, which contain scores of minority villages, and take a trip down the Ayeyarwady in an old river steamer.

  4. The Philippines

    Sun-worshipping, zip-lining and trekking the Chocolate Hills

    The Philippines, sun-worshipping, zip-lining and trekking the Chocolate Hills

    Boasting 7,000 islands, this sandy paradise is known as a haven, perfect for any sun-worshipper.

    My dream trip to the Philippines would be made up of exploring a selection of these islands in a bid to discover deserted coves and lagoons where I could enjoy the waves and the sun in peace. If I was feeling adventurous enough I'd like to set up camp near a beach, waking up to the sound of the tide going out and soaking up psychedelic sunsets each evening.

    The islands of the Bacuit archipelago, with its jagged limestone cliffs, make up one of the Philippines' most unspoilt treasures. There's also plenty of water sport opportunities, with rafting and wake-boarding a common activity of choice, while divers flock to its crystal clear waters to enjoy the flora and fauna of the seabed.

    The Philippines has much more to offer than its idyllic coast

    While a haven for beach-lovers, The Philippines has much more to offer than its idyllic coast. The nation's lush landscapes mean that almost anywhere you look offers breathtaking hiking routes up to spectacular beauty points. I'd be particularly keen to visit the world-heritage site of Banaue, which is famed for its organic rice terraces which were installed 2,000 years ago by the Chinese. While a hotspot for tourists due to its close proximity to Manila, there are plenty of options to take the road less trekked here by hiking out to nearby villages amid the dramatic scenery.

    The Philippines also just happens to be the unofficial zip-lining capital of the world, and the island of Bohol offers this and many more adventure sports to the travellers that make the journey. Trekking in the jungle against the unique backdrop of the "Chocolate Hills" before jumping into some adrenaline-packed activities would be an absolute must-do.

    Chocolate Hills, The Philippines

    The capital of Manila - the so-called "pearl of the orient" - would undoubtedly feature on my itinerary too. A true Asian metropolis where shantytowns sit alongside modern malls and a growing indie art scene, there is no doubt much to be learned from soaking up the manic atmosphere and embarking on a city tour here.

  5. The Maldives

    Unrivalled luxury in paradise

    I'm saving this one for a milestone birthday...

    The Maldives, unrivalled luxury in paradise

    Most of my travels are relatively action-packed and I really get a kick out of feeling like I've learned a lot about a country's history and culture, so I'm more likely to be found trekking around remote villages or eating an anonymous dish on the side of a city street than ordering cocktails at a beach club. However - that's not to say I don't enjoy that too: I spent a whole month doing it on Bali.

    Sheer indulgence in the Maldives

    The first time I saw an image of a Maldives resort I remember being completely blown away that a place that looked like that - stilted bungalows, wooden walkways, cyan waters - could actually exist. I've spent time in places that have come pretty close to paradisiacal before: the idyllic island of Gili Air off the Balinese coast; a six-star hotel in the wealthy emirate of Dubai; luxury beach apartments on Koh Tao - but I feel like these levels of paradise would be eclipsed by the sheer indulgence of a visit to the Maldives.

    In the Maldives, each resort has its own private island. While a few years ago, there was no independent travel within the archipelago (you had to pick a resort and stick to it), these days you can stay nearer the locals and travel independently: a huge draw for travellers who don't love resort holidays.

    Ideally I'd spend some time experiencing the culture of the people who actually live on the coral islands, and then spend a week or so immersed in pure, unadulterated relaxation.

    Male, Maldives

    Admittedly, this would make something of a dent in my finances - but what's money in the bank compared to views like that?

  6. Iceland

    Northern Lights, geothermal springs and a quirky culture

    Iceland, Northern Lights, geothermal springs and a quirky culture

    While deliberately going somewhere colder than the UK for a holiday is against my travelling instincts, Iceland boasts some of the most striking panoramas in the world. Furthermore, I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights and take a toasty dip in a geothermal spa.

    Reykjavik, Iceland

    Just a few years ago, taking a trip to Iceland used to be a lot more expensive, but as more airlines have adopted routes to Reykjavik, it's much more affordable for budget travellers to jet off to the stunning island.

    Travellers gush about the breathtaking landscapes, and I'd want to visit as many beauty points as possible on this trip, as well as enjoying the spas and - of course - staying up to see the Northern Lights. Vatnajökull National Park covers a massive 13 per cent of Iceland and thanks to its contrasting white glaciers and black beaches would be a must-see. The Westfjords are more off the beaten track, with just over ten per cent of Iceland's visitors travelling to see the dramatic scenery, coastal fjords and traditional villages that are found there.

    Vatnajökull National Park

    However, it's not all about the great outdoors: Iceland has a fantastic mythological tradition, as well as a warm and artsy culture, and I'd definitely want to experience the live music, endless handicrafts and quirky bars of Reykjavik.

    I think Iceland would make a fantastic trip around Christmas: wrapping up warm and choosing original gifts for your loved ones from festive markets set in spectacular surrounds, before relaxing in a merry bar as live music plays in the background.

  7. Sri Lanka

    Safari, rainforest trekking and temples

    Sri Lanka, safari, rainforest trekking and temples

    According to a number of travellers I've spoke to, Sri Lanka is like a more tranquil, safer India. One day I would absolutely love to go to India, but I'd like it to be much safer for both women and travellers before I do. In the meantime, visiting the beautiful nation of Sri Lanka seems like a good way to begin exploring the region. But that's certainly not the only reason!

    Sri Lanka is home to a massive eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites

    The country is home to a massive eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and has as varied a landscape as you could hope for, as well as over 2,000 years of culture to discover. You can go on safari in its national parks or bask on a white sand beach, visit a myriad of peaceful temples or trek through a rainforest - all within a relatively small area.

    Travelling around in Sri Lanka

    Due to the fact that there remain relatively few tourists, getting around in Sri Lanka and finding accommodation may be more challenging than doing so in more well-trodden destinations. However, for putting this extra effort in the rewards are numerous: the country is home to many charming guest houses and the train lines snake their way between scenery so beautiful you'll do nothing but gaze out of the window.

    Who wouldn't want to visit?

  8. Costa Rica

    The adventure holiday dreams are made of

    Costa Rica, The adventure holiday dreams are made of

    Years ago I happened across a brochure for an action-filled jungle trek in Costa Rica - and I ended up going to Cambodia instead! I know - poor me! However, the idea of a trek among the beautiful rainforests, cloud forests and coffee plantations of the central American nation has never left me.

    Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

    While it's certainly one of the more expensive and time-consuming ideas on my bucket list, the outdoor adventure opportunities here are endless: from zip-lining through rainforests to trekking up volcanos, rafting on the foamy rapids to surfing off the beautiful coast.

    Rafting my way up in Costa Rica

    My Costa Rica dream involves starting on the Pacific Coast and making my way across the varied landscapes by foot, raft and bus, before ending the journey on a beach with the Caribbean Sea lapping at the sand.

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Caroline Howley

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