Have you been following the buzz around Lonely Planet’s list of best places to visit in 2016?
You totally should be!
Each year, the travel guide giant does us all the favor of advising where we should travel in the New Year. So, we decided to check in with our favorite traveling couple, Darek and Ilona, to see what they think about the list.
The verdict? They’re pretty big fans! Their home country of Poland made the list, as did several of the spots they’ve visited in years past. Want their help deciding where you should visit next year? Here’s what they had to say!
1.) Were you surprised to see Poland on the list of best countries?
Ilona: Maybe not surprised, but definitely happy! I grew up in Krakow, in the old city center that’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Poland stretches from the mountains to the Baltic Sea, so even though it’s not a very big country, there’s really something for everyone.
Darek: Yes and no—if we’re talking about history and ease of travel, I’m definitely not surprised. Poland has a very rich history, with plenty of centuries old monuments, castles, cities, and more, although some of them were destroyed during World War II.
2.) What should we see in Poland, and what makes the country unique?
Darek: So, of course, I would recommend seeing Southern Poland where you can hike the Tatra and Bieszczady Mountains. Northern Poland has some amazing places too, like the Mazury Lakes.
Ilona: Agreed! The Tatras are more challenging, and Bieszczady has this atmosphere of nobody being around but you. I’d also recommend the Baltic Sea—even though it’s usually quite cold, it’s still really nice—the Malbork Castle, and the Crooked Forest. No one knows why the trees grow crooked there, it’s crazy! What makes Poland unique? It has a lot of history, and it’s really cheap, since we still don’t have the Euro.
Darek: And the food! Bigos (hunter’s stew), golonko (ham hock), pork steak, pierogi (dumplings) and lots more. And it all goes really well with beer, which should only cost you about a dollar.
3.) You and Darek visited Japan last year—do you think it deserved its spot on the top 10 list?
Ilona: Definitely YES! It was my first country in Asia and I was enchanted. Its culture and history are completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been before, and I was really surprised by how polite everyone was and how clean the cities were. There are two stories I always tell about Japan:
First—we couldn’t find a trash can in Tokyo for hours, but we didn’t see any trash on the street. Crazy! And second—I left a small bottle of hand sanitizer in a restaurant once, and a lady ran after me for two blocks to give it back me. It was super polite and I was shocked that people like that still exist. I just loved it.
Darek: Of course it does! You can learn about their history of samurais, ninjas, shogun, and more, eat fresh sushi, and did I mention the whiskey? Amazing. I’d also highly recommend the Japanese Alps, the northern island Hokkaido, and the cherry blossoms in the South if you’re there in the spring.
Ilona: Japan really has everything, and it’s so accessible and so unique. You’ll feel like you’re on a different planet.
5.) What was your craziest experience while traveling in Japan?
Ilona: I wouldn’t say it was crazy, but we definitely had a lot of difficulties with language. Google Translate became our best travel buddy.
Darek: I think the craziest experience was the trains. I knew that Japan was famous for its bullet trains, but I was in shock when I boarded the first one. They gain speed so seamlessly and quietly, that in a few minutes you’re traveling almost 200 miles per hour without even noticing it.
Ilona: We took a train from Kyoto to Osaka just to have dinner—it took us less than 20 minutes.
6.) You’ve lived in the US for many years—and have traveled quite extensively here! What are some of your favorite spots?
Darek: I’ve been to more than 20 states in the US, but obviously I love mountains—for me, flat is boring—so Montana is one of my favorite spots. It’s the fourth biggest state but almost nobody lives there. You can travel for hours and see no other cars or people
Ilona: Only bears.
Darek: Yes! I went hiking in Glacier National Park once and saw a grizzly bear just ten feet away from me. Montana is rich for its wildlife, mountains, lakes, hiking trails—and countless mosquitos.
Ilona: Also the national parks in the Southwest. Don’t try to see too many in one week, but there are a lot of amazing places in that region.
Darek: And we definitely recommend leaving your car in the parking lot to explore them by foot.
Ilona: Agreed! The Grand Canyon from the rim is nothing in comparison to what it’s like when you hike down.
7.) What advice would you give to travelers who are visiting the US?
Ilona: Go to visit the national parks and just get lost. Obviously bring a GPS with you so you can find your way back, but leave your car behind, take a random trail, walk, explore, and just feel the place.
Darek: Try not to visit everything in one trip, unless you’re long term traveling for a year or more. The US is a big country, and you just can’t see it all in a few days or weeks. Focus on one area, stay there, and explore. Prepare yourself ahead of time with a Lonely Planet guide before your adventure starts!
8.) Are there any countries you’ve visited that you think should have made the top 10 list, but didn’t?
Ilona: Greece! I’ve been there twice and I still want to go back again. The history is incredible, the people are nice, the food and the weather are great—but what I like most is the blue and white architecture. It’s beautiful.
Darek: I’d say Ecuador. You can explore the jungle, lie on the beach, learn about Incan culture, and hike to the top of one of the world’s highest volcanoes, Cotopaxi, at 19,347 feet. I tried my luck there, but the weather didn’t cooperate. I have to go back and summit that monster!
Ilona: I think Lonely Planet did a great job putting this list together. I hope that next year we will visit at least one place from this list!
Which places do you want to visit in 2016? Let us know in the comments!