Rome – Phuket – New York. Sure, they're great places, but it can hardly be said that you're treading your own path when visiting. Undoubtedly, there's a certain appeal to those off the beaten track experiences that offer authenticity and the unexpected in equal measure.
So, if you're an avid traveller and you've ticked off the big-ticket items from your bucket list or are looking for somewhere different to spend your holidays, here are our top ten destinations you've (probably) never heard of, but should definitely consider for your next trip.
Nestled near the top of the country, this archipelago of stunning islands has been a top summer hotspot for Norwegians for decades. The word is just beginning to get out to the rest of the world about this amazing place, which boasts 24 hour days of sunshine in the summer months. Yes, you can hike a mountain at 2am with clear blue skies above you. Best of all, the Norwegians have a law called "the right to roam", which means you are free to walk and camp literally anywhere in the countryside (even on private land) as long as you are 150m from an occupied dwelling. Visit before the crowds take over.
This is a capital city, so perhaps you have heard of it – but it's unlikely to top your 'must see' list. However, Mongolia's capital is a vibrant, bustling place where goths and mining executives, and Buddhist monasteries and skyscrapers, peacefully coexist. The pumping nightlife also helps make this such a great destination, as do the many day trips. If you can swing it, the best time to visit is during Naadam, a three day sports festival where Mongolians compete in the traditional sports of archery, horse racing, and wrestling, to a rapturous crowd.
MOSTAR, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
A part of the former Yugoslavia, today Mostar is a destination that is totally safe, yet still manages to retain a 'life on the edge' vibe. Perhaps it is the fact that since 1664, young men have been jumping off of the city's most famous site – the Stari Most bridge – into the freezing river below, in the hopes of impressing the most desirable ladies. The super cool and politically charged street art also helps, as do the abandoned buildings including a former bank-turned sniper's tower and deserted airline hangar.
Truthfully, half a dozen Turkish cities could make this list (Pamukkale is another contender), but Bodrum is probably the pick of the lot. This seaside resort town mixes the influence of both the European and Asian influences on Turkey, to offer a perfect blend. By day, the most common sound is the call to muezzin reverberating from the many beautiful mosques, whereas by night its thumping house music as the party city comes to life. It's a curious juxtaposition, yet somehow it only adds to Bodrum's charm.
Having once been declared 'The Most Dangerous City in the World' while Pablo Escobar was in full flight, you might want to hold off telling your Mum about this one until you're safely back home. In reality, though, the city has now totally cleaned up its act and aside from a few dodgy spots, it's extremely safe. Despite being a relatively small city, it has a brilliant nightlife (especially on the weekends), with the drink of choice being an aniseed-flavoured shot nicknamed guero. By day, there are endless options including salsa lessons, day trips, and, yes, Pablo Escobar tours.
It's another capital – but had you heard of it? The Guardian certainly has – they called it 'the weirdest capital city in the world'. This is perhaps because this city is only a smidgen over 20 years old and is essentially the vanity project of lifelong "Leader of the Nation" Bakytzhan Sagintayev. And 'Leader of the Nation' likes his buildings over the top. The skyline features an astonishing array of buildings, such as a vase-shaped monstrosity that Sagintayev allegedly designed on the back of a napkin at dinner. At night they're lit up with an audio-visual spectacular – because why not? Go for the strange buildings, stay for the great nightlife, kind hospitality and fun desert day trips.
You might have seen "the swing to the edge of the world" on Instagram. It's located in Banos, Ecuador, and is honestly a tad overrated. Luckily, the rest of the city isn't. It's packed full of adrenaline activities like skydiving and canyoneering, as well as slightly more sedate options like thermal pools and spa treatments. It's best explored by renting a four-wheeled buggy, which are available all over the place. It's also a great place to find bizarre and interesting souvenirs to take home, just be prepared to haggle the price down.
PLAYA TAMARINDO, COSTA RICA
Once a quaint fishing village nestled on the coast of one of the most picturesque nations on the planet, for over 25 years Playa Tamarindo has been welcoming surfing enthusiasts to its coasts. With them, they have brought shops, bars and other attractions, but through it all its retained its laidback attitude and approach to life. From the beaches, you might catch creatures including howler monkeys, dolphins and whales, plus there's a wildlife sanctuary where you can see sloths, crocodiles and tropical birds.
You may have to be prepared to forego some of the mod cons of home, but it's all in the name of a true African adventure. If South Africa is considered a 'beginner safari destination' then Tanzania is level expert. The best home base for the safaris is in the town of Arusha, which is in striking distance of the famous Serengeti National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. After your safaris, be sure to spend at least a couple of nights in Arusha itself and pop into the bar at 'Snake Park'. This is a legendary establishment where traveller's stories get more embellished with every drink.
THE PLAIN OF JARS, LAOS
Everybody loves a good ancient mystery, which is perhaps why so many tourists flock to Stonehenge, or perhaps to Easter Island. Far, far less known, yet just as enticing is the mystery of the Plain of Jars in South East Asia's Laos. Scattered over an immense area, lie hundreds of enormous "jars" that date back from at least 500 BC. No one knows why they are there, or who put them there. Anthropologists think they may have been funerary towers, while Laotians have their money on giants who used them to brew rice wine. Whatever the answer, they're a fascinating sight – as is the rest of Laos.