The Travel Hot List 2013

First published in the Skinny Magazine’s May 2013 edition and written with Ally Brown. Original article can be found here.

Still unsure of where to go this summer? Tired of the ‘beaten track’? Allow The Skinny’s travel experts to let you in on the hottest destinations every in-the-know traveller is whispering about in 2013

1. The Ancient Lost City of Chernobyl
Since it was discovered almost 30 years ago, historians and archaeologists have clashed over the purposes and meanings of this ugly lost city. Suggestions have ranged from the proposal that it was built by Oompa-Loompas settlers on the run from their tyrannical chocolatier overlords to the idea that the central Chernobyl facility was a highly sophisticated ray gun capable of seeing through women’s clothing and giving Communists cancer. The latest controversial theory goes that a lost people – ‘the Ukrainians’ – built a giant temple to their sun god, which was later destroyed by said huffy god because of its unflattering architectural features. In terror, ‘the Ukrainians’ abandoned their homes, which remain today as testaments to the horrific aesthetic tastes of their literally god-forsaken owners. Whatever the truth, you could spend weeks exploring the ruins of this once disgusting-but-populated citadel. What’s more, it’s so off the beaten path you’ll hardly spot another lifeform while you’re there.

2. Makhachkala
Follow in the footsteps of Cameroon star Sammy Eto’o, who visits Makhachkala every other weekend with an armed guard to play football 1,250 miles away from his home in Moscow, by giving the capital of Dagestan the briefest of possible visits. Just edging out star-struck (literally!) Chelyabinsk as Russia’s must-see destination for 2013, the charming capital of peaceful Dagestan was first propelled into the spotlight this year by the plucky exploits of Anzhi, the gazillionaire-owned local football team, and latterly as the home of Anzor Tsarnaev, father of angelic sons Damerlan and Dzhokhar. Described as ‘the friendly city’ by drunk local officials and large men holding rifles to your ribs, Makhachkala is best viewed on a breakneck tour in an unmarked car with specially-fitted windows that concludes, conveniently, at the airport.

3. Dubai
Some leaders of oil-rich countries squander their fortunate wealth on vote-buying gimmicks like state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programmes; but not Dubai’s! Dubai’s leaders built the biggest fucking thing in the world! The Burj Khalifa skyscraper towers 830m above the pittance-paid immigrants who built it in filth while their passports were withheld and are now kept well away so cleaner tourists, like you and me, can have their jaws physically towed downward by their necks as they crane backwards to not even see the top of it because of the scorching desert sun. The Khalifa is so big that the labourers can admire their handiwork even from their squalid distant ghettos (though they might have to squint a little to see the 150m-high dancing fountain).

4. Syria
If there’s one thing better than seeing the cradle of civilisation, it’s participating in its wanton destruction! Follow in the footsteps of pioneering American adventurer Chris Jeon, who spent his summer vacation fighting with Libyan rebels, by indulging in the hottest new trend in travel today: war tourism! You don’t need any knowledge of local politics to take part – in fact, it’s better to pack enthusiasm than understanding! And if you’re lucky, you can be partially responsible for overthrowing a tyrannical dictatorship in favour of a tyrannical theocracy! What’s more, relying on the hospitality of your fellow revolutionary fighters is a great way to save money: “I haven’t spent a dollar in weeks!” Jeon told the Christian Science Monitor from Libya.

5. Bouvet Island
Tired of people chiming in on your stories about the officially uncontacted Piriutiti tribespeople of Amazonian Brazil because they’ve hung out with them a dozen times? Sick of other expedition members wandering into your solitary Facebook profile pictures at Jebel Uweinat in the trackless Sahara between Libya, Sudan and Egypt? Well, Bouvet Island just might be the destination for you! Towering, volcanic, Norwegian-owned Bouvet Island is arguably the most isolated place in the world and has therefore remained way off the beaten shipping lane for other nauseating human ‘tourists.’ Indeed, its very existence between Antarctica, South Africa and the southern tip of South America is unknown to virtually all normal people. But with a climate where temperatures fluctuate between zero and absolute zero, and the chance to gaze at Bouvet’s famous funghi and moss on rocks, we really can’t understand why!

6. The Principality of Sealand
Populated by the Bates family and some pals, the Principality of Sealand is a vast and diverse land full of surprises located just off the coast of Suffolk. Boasting a geological history stretching all the way back to World War Two, the area now known as Sealand was first forged in a British factory as a sea fort for fending off German mine laying aircraft. After the war, the notoriously nomadic British navy moved on in search of new hunting grounds and Sealand was left to the forces of nature until 1967, when Prince Roy Bates and a band of family and friends declared it an independent nation. Sealand is rich in distinct landscapes: admire the expansive plains of the Lounge Room, marvel at endless ocean views from The Balcony, or if you’re feeling adventurous get off the beaten track for similar views at The Back Balcony. As for when to go, Head of Homeland Security Mike Barrington says Sealand is at its best in summer. He recently told the BBC: “It’s a cold, horrible place in winter.”

7. Guantánamo B.A.Y.
The most exclusive of Cuba’s many resorts, Guantánamo Beach And Yachting (B.A.Y.) Club lets its guests in based on merit rather than the depths of one’s pockets. Selfless research methods have found that the most effective ways to earn an invitation to Guantánamo’s world famous hospitality are to blog for assorted jihadi websites, or simply start your own terror cell. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for your VIP pickup service to come crashing through the door. Once in, having settled into your concrete suite and glimpsed the ocean through the razor wire, you’ll never want to leave (and that’s probably just as well!). Guantánamo’s personal transport services get our tick of approval for efficiency and value, with many guests reporting extended tours of North Africa and Eastern Europe being included before finally arriving in Cuba forever.

8. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Only ‘Great’!? Let’s try again with ‘Awesome’! This place is so off the physical map it doesn’t even appear on physical maps. It’s the product of an incredible environmental phenomenon, whereby millions of tonnes of plastic rubbish are recycled by the ocean into an island more than double the size of Texas. Visiting the APGP is an unforgettable experience: behold a riot of vivacious colours and violent aromas that will smack your senses silly while you battle sea sickness on the open ocean. Somewhere between Malibu Beach and Asia (we’re not sure, it’s not on any of our maps), we suggest getting there by small boat with a tiger, as demonstrated in that film.

9. Ciudad Juárez
Clamber over ancient Mayan ruins, relax with a cocktail on one of hundreds of beautiful beaches, explore the flora and fauna of some of the world’s most biodiverse jungles, and snorkel or scuba in crystal clear Caribbean waters in other parts of Mexico if you want to be surrounded by tourist scum. If you want to experience the real Mexico, try Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from the United States. So beloved by Mexicans it’s literally being fought over, you can’t help but enjoy the joie de vivre of a population seemingly living each day as if it’s their last. Soak up some authentic Mexican culture by enjoying a plate of ‘nachos’– a dish of Doritos covered in ketchup – for lunch before ye olde afternoon shoot-out show: just like in the days of the Wild West, only more exciting with UZIs and AKs.

10. Jupiter
Often overlooked by travellers on the long road to Saturn, Jupiter is an ambitious, up-and-coming destination with loads of atmosphere (if admittedly lacking in solid mass). Best of all, it’s off the beaten planet, so you’ll be experiencing it all with around half the tourists that you’d find on its more well-trodden neighbour, Earth. Marvel at the Great Red Spot, Jupiter’s legendary apocalyptic storm, as you’re torn so violently to death that your eyeballs end up 20,000 miles apart. What a way to go! For travellers with a lust for life, and time on their hands, Jupiter boasts 67 moons, all easily accessible for day-trips. Wonder about the possible existence of an ocean below Europa’s icy surfaces (-160 degrees Celsius, burrrrr!) and linger among the lava flows and sulphur fumes of charming moon Io’s volcanic hellscapes. It’ll be enough to have you singing Drops of Jupiter for the whole 13-month journey home.

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