This chilly season is also traditionally time for “What’s hot?” lists for the new year: “Hot” people, “hot” events — and, in the world of travel, “hot” places to visit.
But wait just a minute. Not everyone is interested in visiting the latest trendy and crowded vacation spot. Some travelers, this one included, sometimes prefer to explore the undiscovered places, the forgotten destinations, the off-the-beaten-trail getaways.
So what are some interesting and cool, but not “hot,” places that travelers should consider in 2018?
Although it's one of the biggest cities in Europe, the capital of Hungary is often off the radar of American travelers, said Ike Reynolds of Reynolds Travel in the Polaris area.
“People who visit Budapest just love it,” Reynolds said. “It’s a different world.”
“There are an endless amount of things to explore” in Budapest and Hungary, said George Kun of George Kun Travel in Dublin.
“It’s very safe, English is spoken quite a bit, it has a wonderful history, and the value for the dollar is still good there,” Kun said.
“And a lot of people don’t know that Hungary has an incredible wine region,” he added.
“I’ve taken four groups of 200 people each, and almost every one said something like, ‘I would have never picked this destination before, but now I can’t believe how great it was.’”
“I would be comfortable saying (Budapest) would blow you away and exceed your expectations,” Kun said.
“Portugal is very hungry for tourists and has been investing a lot of dollars to get people’s attention,” Kun said.
Highlights of the country include not only the capital, Lisbon, but also less-well-known stops such as the Atlantic coast resort town of Estoril, Kun said.
“Estoril has all the bells and whistles that a lot of tourists would look for,” he said.
“The coast of Portugal is beautiful to explore, and Estoril is wonderfully located with great hotels, a big casino for those who like that action, and wonderful beaches.
“Porto is also a wonderful Portuguese town. People who like wines know it’s the home of port wine. Most people know only seven or eight ports, but actually there are over 200 varieties — the town actually has a port wine museum.”
The tiny island in the chain between the Virgin Islands and Venezuela is often overlooked by Caribbean travelers, but that’s probably a mistake, said Elizabeth Blount McCormick of Uniglobe Travel Designers in German Village.
“Hotels there are very affordable,” McCormick said.
“Dominica is not overly developed,” she said. “It’s a very good destination for adventurous types who enjoy hiking and nature” and aren’t so concerned about nightlife or luxury accommodations, she said.
Some sites on Dominica were damaged by Hurricane Maria, but the island is making a quick recovery, according to its tourism office.
Often considered the most natural of the Caribbean islands, Dominica has lush rainforests, colorful tropical reefs and even a boiling lake, naturally heated by volcanic action.
“I’m a huge fan of the region around Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper,” Reynolds said.
“Sometimes I think the Canadian Rockies are even more attractive than the U.S. Rockies. Every turn you take brings you to a picture stop.”
And although the American dollar and Canadian dollar were equal in value in 2013, today $1 American buys more than $1.25 Canadian.
“That’s a big difference,” Reynolds said. “Canadian travel is a bargain right now.”
Helen Mount, a travel agent with AAA Ohio in Westerville, suggested a Canadian Rockies rail tour.
"We have people starting in Banff, going by rail to Vancouver and then getting on an Alaska cruise," Mount said.
"Talk about beauty!"
And when you return, your Rocky Mountain stories will be different from those of your American friends, Reynolds said.
Most travelers know about the legendary wine region of California, but many probably fear that recent fires have shut down the wineries or marred the valley’s beauty.
Not so, Kun said.
“The Wine Country fires were so much in the news that people are uncertain what they’d find there now,” he said.
“It’s going to take time for word to get out that it’s business as usual.”
In the meantime, informed visitors might benefit from deals and discounts from businesses looking to lure back reluctant tourists, Kun said.
“If you’re looking for a place in the good ole U.S.A., the California wine regions are still delightful,” he said.
“When you go into the heart of Napa Valley, you’re still going to have a totally wonderful experience with wonderful food and beautiful vineyards. It’s not a burned-out ghost.”
“People think about this part of Colorado, and they usually think about snow,” Mount said.
“They don’t think of it as a summer destination, but Breckenridge is a beautiful, charming town all year round,” she said.
“There’s the beautiful mountain scenery, and you’ve got hiking and mountain biking and all the summertime outdoor sports,” she said.
And accommodations are often cheaper in the summer in traditional ski destinations such as Breckenridge, she added.
Travelers who’d like a taste of Africa but also want to hang out on the beach should consider this country on the Indian Ocean, McCormick said.
“Travelers know that beaches are all different, and that beaches in the Caribbean are different from those in Europe — and also those in Africa,” she said.
“This is a different way to enjoy that relaxing beach atmosphere, but experience the culture” of a place unfamiliar to most Americans, she said.
Travelers looking for a less-than-exotic family getaway should consider southwestern Missouri, which includes the country-music resort town of Branson, Kun said.
“Branson isn’t for everybody, but a lot of people love it,” he said.
In Springfield, visitors will also find the brand-new Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium, Kun said. The site includes immersive dioramas and galleries that take visitors up close to big game and other mammals and let them explore the undersea world with aquariums holding 35,000 sea creatures, including a 300,000-gallon “open ocean” aquarium.
Kun also recommends the nearby Silver Dollar City, an Ozarks-themed amusement park.
“Right now, it’s a family wonderland with 6.5 million Christmas lights, a parade, a lot of shops, a train ride and live holiday entertainment,” he said.
Visitors can fly into Springfield-Branson National Airport, or just load the family into the van and drive, Kun said.