I’ve long complained that “where to travel next year” lists are completely arbitrary and that you are better off throwing a dart at the map of the world to find your next destination to visit, even if the odds are your dart will end up landing in some remote spot in the middle of the ocean.
The Independent has an excellent take on why you should take these sort of lists with a grain of salt and explains some of the decision making that goes into making them and why that matters.
The past few years, I’ve posted lists that were generated randomly and last year I let an AI do it. This year, I decided to come up with a where-to-go list that is half decided by ChatGPT and half chosen randomly. Can you tell which is which and would you want to go to any of these places?
Atauro Island, Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is one of the newest and least visited countries in Southeast Asia. Blessed with stunning natural beauty, one of the best areas to visit in the country is Atauro Island, a small island off the coast of Dili, the capital city. It’s a paradise for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts, as it boasts some of the most biodiverse marine life in the world. You can swim with dolphins, dugongs, whale sharks and hundreds of colorful fish species. You can also hike to the island’s highest point, Manucoco Peak, for panoramic views of the ocean and the mainland.
Known for its dramatic landscapes, diverse wildlife and ancient cultures, the southern African country of Namibia is home to the Namib Desert, one of the oldest and driest deserts in the world. One of the most iconic and photogenic places to visit in that desert is Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan surrounded by towering red sand dunes. It is especially enchanting at sunrise or sunset when the dunes change colour. It’s also where you can climb some of the highest dunes in the world, such as Big Daddy or Dune 45, or explore the nearby Deadvlei, a surreal landscape of dead trees against a white clay pan.
Tbilisi, the capital and largest city of the Caucasus country of Georgia, is a vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis that offers a mix of old and new, from ancient churches and fortresses to modern skyscrapers and art galleries. You can stroll along the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, visit the Narikala Fortress and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, soak in the sulfur baths or enjoy the nightlife in its many trendy bars and clubs.
Spain’s 17 autonomous regions each have their own culture, art, architecture and cuisine. Instead of trying to experience them all in one visit, focus your attention on Andalusia, a region in the south that was once ruled by the Moors for eight centuries. It is home to some of the most stunning and iconic landmarks in Spain, such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba and the Plaza de España in Seville. It’s also known for its flamenco music and dance, its tapas and paella dishes and its sunny and warm climate.
Vilnius, the capital and largest city of the Baltic nation of Lithuania is a charming and friendly place that has a UNESCO-listed Old Town, where you can see the Gediminas Castle, the Cathedral Square and St. Anne’s Church. It’s also a city of contrasts, where you can find modern skyscrapers, art galleries and hip cafes next to medieval buildings, monuments and churches. As a bonus, you can also visit the Uzupis district, a bohemian neighborhood that declared itself an independent republic in 1997 and has its own constitution and flag. Just avoid the temptation to get a stamp in your official passport.
Albanian Alps, Albania
If you love hiking, nature, and adventure, you will love the Albanian Alps. This stunning mountain range is part of the Dinaric Alps that stretch across the Balkans. You can trek through scenic valleys, forests and lakes as well as visit traditional villages where you can experience the hospitality and cuisine of the local people. Don’t miss Theth National Park, which is home to outstanding wildlife and cultural heritage sites. The best time to visit is from May to October, when the weather is mild and the flowers are in bloom.
Nordland is a county in northern Norway with some unforgettable landscapes and attractions. You can marvel at the majestic fjords, mountains and glaciers, or enjoy the sandy beaches and islands along the coast. Depending on when you go, you can also witness the midnight sun or the northern lights. It’s a land that is rich in culture and history, with ancient rock art, medieval churches and museums to explore. One of the region’s highlights is to explore the Sami culture, who are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia.
Emilia-Romagna is a region in northern Italy that is famous for its food, art and music. It’s where you can taste some of the world’s best cheeses, meats and pasta dishes, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, and tagliatelle al ragù. It’s also where you can visit some of the most beautiful cities in Italy, such as Bologna, Parma, Modena and Ravenna, all of which have an embarrassment of architecture, museums and monuments to appreciate. If you’re a music lover, Emilia-Romagna is also blessed with numerous festivals, concerts and opera houses to enjoy.
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, Scotland
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is a region in southwest Scotland that is home to the country’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This means that it is a place where people and nature coexist in harmony, with a focus on conservation, education and sustainable development. You can explore gorgeous landscapes of forests, moors, hills and coastlines, and discover the wildlife, plants and geology that make this region unique. You can also visit the charming towns and villages, such as Kirkcudbright, Ayr and Dumfries, where you can learn more about the history, culture and literature that make this region special.
Pompeii is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. It was a Roman city that was buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. Today, you can walk through the streets and buildings that have been preserved by the ash and lava for centuries. You can see how the ancient Romans lived, worked and played in this city that was frozen in time. Be sure to visit nearby Vesuvius National Park, where you can hike up to the crater of the volcano that destroyed this ancient city.
Where do you want to go?
Did you figure out which was chosen by AI and which was random? To make it easy to go back and look, the first five were random and the next five were AI picks. What I find interesting is that the random ones had a bit more variety and the AI ones were all European destinations so clearly there is some kind of inherent bias at work.
As for which ones were worthy of visiting, I’d say they all sound pretty darn interesting and I’d be happy to go to any of them. But then again, just about every place is intrinsically interesting for some reason or other so don’t overthink things when you’re choosing a place to go. If there’s somewhere in the world that has always piqued your interest, then go there because you want to, not because someone else recommends it!