We could debate the merits of visiting South Korea during its hosting year of the Winter Olympics, or we could drill down to find the very last hillside village in Italy unexploited by the marauding snap of the smartphone, but why not spin the globe in a completely different direction and fill our 2018 travel bucket lists with some of the world’s truest wonders that are, for the time being, obscure dots on the map.
Pitcairn, Pacific Ocean
Often considered the most remotely inhabited destination in the world, Pitcairn—with its mere 45 inhabitants—floats on an endless see of blue about halfway between Tahiti and Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. Settled by a handful of mutineers from the infamous HMS Bounty (immortalized in Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s colorful novel Mutiny on the Bounty), the island has never had a single aircraft land on its craggy ridges.
This British Overseas Territory is the Everest of island destinations; prospective visitors will have to voyage on the day-and-a-half boat journey from the closest airport—Mangareva, a tiny island in French Polynesia’s Gambier archipelago.
There’s a shortlist of upcoming cruises that are briefly docking for a little looksee, but if you’re in it for the long haul, so to speak, then you’ll need to book one of the berths available to travelers on the Claymore II, a shipping freighter, for a chance to experience one of the most pristine places in the world.
Perhaps Churchill, a subarctic settlement in northern Canada, has beeped on your radar in the past for its polar bear viewing opportunities aboard modified tundra buggies.
But the real draw is its summertime season when around 60,000 beluga whales enter the Hudson Bay to swish through the (relatively) warm waters and birth their young. Around 4,000 cetaceans swim to the mouth of the Churchill River and its eponymous shipping town where visitors can kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and even snorkel with the friendly creatures—it’s a GoPro user’s fantasy come true.
Frontiers North can get you there, including the domestic flight transfer from more easily accessible Winnipeg.
Ogasawara Islands, Japan
We tend to think of Japan as a warren of elaborate history or austere modernity, but could the Land of the Rising Sun also possess the most idyllic beaches in the world?
Accessible only by a full-day-long boat ride from Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands (also called the Bonin Islands) could be considered Japan’s Galapagos, as the remote archipelago fosters a unique selection of flora and fauna both above and below the waves.
Head to Kominato or Kopepe Beaches on main-island Chichi-jima to find the perfect seascape of Hawaiian blue, but without—ironically—the legions of Japanese tourists.
Saint Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
Lost in the South Atlantic, St. Helena is so remote that it was chosen as the locale of Napoleon’s bitter exile; he died there in 1821. The scraggly bump in the sea, a British Overseas Territory, had seen only boat traffic until the British government built an airport in 2016.
Dubbed by some as the most useless airstrip on the planet due to the strong oceanic winds that often prevent planes from achieving a safe landing, it welcomed its first commercial flight (from Johannesburg) in October of this year with a promise of more airborne passengers to come.
The 18-month wait time between the airport’s completion and its first legion of visitors has given the locals—known as Saints—time to create some infrastructure, including a handful of small, purpose-built hotels.
Instagram loves its “abandoned porn” and there’s no better site than the desolation of a once-thriving Russian mining town.
Shivering above the 79th parallel on the Norwegian-owned island of Svalbard, the city offered the West one of the only glimpses through the cloak of the Soviet Union. As such, it became the poster child for communist ideals, and although it underperformed as a mining venture, the snow-swept community received ample funds to keep up with the Joneses—the Norwegian settlements next door.
After a series of unfortunate events, including a plane crash killing roughly 10% of the population, the outpost folded in 1998. Citizens abandoned the community rather quickly, and today the remains are quite literally frozen in time—Pompeii-style—with plates on the tables, instruments in the community center, and shrubbery in the dining hall.
Norwegian offers direct flights from Oslo to the town of Longyearbyen, from which you can access the ruins.
Egypt is eking its way back on to the tourist trail after years of political turmoil and transportation catastrophes amplified over social media. In 2017, its vicious persecution of gay men also garnered deserved international outrage.
But why get in line under the smog-ridden Pyramids of Giza, when there’s a quiet place further up the Nile with twice the amount of tombs and temples than Egypt?
The name Sudan may be synonymous with the civil unrest that tore a border between its northern and southern parts back in 2011, but vast recesses of the nation are an archaeological wonderland of the so-called Black Pharaohs; the faithful Kushite subjects of Egypt who carried on the banner after the kingdom collapsed.
At Meroë, the final large-scale burial site erected by the Black Pharaohs, over 200 pyramids still remain vividly depicting life around 3000 years ago when the sandy depths of the Nile beds were once fecund fields of green. Wild Frontiers and several other esteemed operators, connect the country’s varied sites through guided tours.
Catastrophic storms pummeled the Caribbean during the final months of 2017, but there’s been a dedicated push by the tourism industry to get the region back on its feet as fast as possible using very same the tourism dollars that put these resort islands on the modern map in the first place.
"Voluntourism" opportunities are available in destinations such as Dominica, but there are also plenty of places still proffering the perfect Caribbean vacation of your dreams.
With major hubs like Puerto Rico and Sint Maarten still severely hampered by infrastructure issues, 2018 is a great time to try one of the lesser known islands nearby. Saba, with its pristine reef and steep volcanic cone, is primed for the curious traveler, promising Caribbean vibes of yore with its uniform Dutch-style abodes (think white-walls, red roofs and plenty of gingerbread trim) and 1,800 friendly locals.