Where would you go if you could go anywhere?
April 25, 2016 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to travel to anywhere in the world in the next year, with a significant chunk of my plane ticket & lodging paid for by my employer. It's an anniversary perk and intended for personal relaxation and self-reflection. I've never traveled outside of the US. I want to go EVERYWHERE. And I will, eventually! But I have to pick SOMEWHERE to go first. Where would you go if you were me? More about me under the fold.

My travel wishlist basically includes the whole rest of the world, seriously. But here are some things that might help narrow it down:
  • I love great food, drink, and coffee
  • I love biking and it would be neat to travel somewhere I could explore partly by bike
  • I'm fascinated by public transit and urban infrastructure
  • I don't drive at all
  • My enjoyment of the arts trends more toward theater, music, and photography than paintings and sculptures
  • I care more about experiencing everyday life in a new-to-me place than I do about seeing famous landmarks
  • Somewhere on a coast would be neat, I grew up on the ocean and would love to see other seas
  • I'm up for traveling to different places within a larger region, but not the sort of trip where I spend every other day traveling to somewhere different
  • I'd like to go somewhere that will inspire me to start learning a language other than English or French, but wonderful English-speaking places are OK, too
  • For this particular trip, I'd prefer not to go somewhere I risk getting thrown in jail if I wear a low-cut shirt or my tattoo happens to peek out from under my clothes, or might get beaten up if I hook up with a fellow girl and kiss her in public (I don't know how to make this sound less judgy and inflexible than I know it sounds)
  • I'm otherwise pretty confident about being a woman traveling solo
posted by rhiannonstone to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Stockholm ticks a lot of those boxes - non English (though everyone there can speak it), good cycling, good public transport, beautiful archipelago, lots of art, etc.
posted by twirlypen at 8:34 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

For how long?
posted by vunder at 8:34 PM on April 25, 2016

A full week at least, maybe closer to two. Not more than two weeks.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2016

Yokohama, with a Japan Rail pass. Spend a weekend at an onsen, explore town, hiking/biking in Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures.
posted by ctmf at 8:40 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pretty sure they won't let me in an onsen with my full-back tattoo? This was an issue for traveling friends as recently as a year ago.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:42 PM on April 25, 2016

I found the food amazing, the people friendly, and the sights, culture & history incredible in the major cities of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Croatia.

As a first timer in Europe, I had no trouble navigating the cities by public transit, and getting from one place to another between the different countries, and encountered no issues as 1/2 of an lgbt couple in any of these places. Feel free to memail me specifics or recommendations,, I've got lots :)
posted by wats at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2016

Amsterdam. I haven't been there, but they are all about cycling. A week or ten days could easily be spent with a base in Amsterdam without much need to travel too far beyond.

Where you travel within the US? And what kind of food do you like?
posted by bluedaisy at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Barcelona? Though really, I like Madrid.
posted by vunder at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Seconding Amsterdam, a great beginner-traveler city.
posted by lois1950 at 8:45 PM on April 25, 2016

I feel like Amsterdam/the Netherlands in general would be a great fit for this:

- One of the most bike-friendly cities in the world
- The Netherlands as a whole has fantastic transit and trains and you can 100% get around with no driving
- The Amsterdam canal infrastructure is great, and if you want to look at something totally different, you could take a day trip to Rotterdam which was 99% destroyed in WWII by German bombing and has been completely rebuilt
- If you get out of the center city/red light district, you can spend plenty of time exploring everyday life in the Netherlands
- The country borders the North Sea and also has that interesting dike stuff going on
- Extremely LGBT-friendly
- Basically everyone in the Netherlands can speak English, but you can of course learn some Dutch if you'd like

I like Dutch food, but I will admit that in the pantheon of great world cuisines it perhaps isn't in the top 5. But you're not far at all from Belgium (mm, mussels, chocolate, beer, waffles, fries) and France. (And Dutch herring and stroopwafels are delicious.)

On preview bluedaisy and lois1950 have beat me to it!
posted by andrewesque at 8:46 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Everything about your descriptions is telling me Tokyo.

I cannot think of a place that's as good value, especially when you have flights and accommodation paid for, that also ticks so many of your boxes: amazing coffee culture and gastronomy, a paradise for public-transit lovers, the ultimate modern city in so many ways, a city of neighbourhoods where daily life is not hidden away, safe, friendly, English-speaking to enough of an extent that it's not an issue if you don't really know much Japanese, and tattoo-friendly onsen definitely exist.
posted by mdonley at 8:48 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Barcelona is awesome and ticks everything including the language thing although it's not too intimidating.

I find Adelaide to be GLOR-I-OUS and your worst cup of coffee there might be better than your best in some other places. Not a super strong food tradition (like Barcelona) but plenty of great food to be found! On the coast and compact enough to be mostly accessible by bike, beaches available by public transit, wineries, breweries.
posted by ftm at 8:52 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you've never left the US, and you are a transit nerd, I think London is a fantastic start.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:54 PM on April 25, 2016

I think everyone needs to see Paris at least once.

You can do so, so much without ever setting foot near the typical tourist points. Skip the Louvre and just wave at the Eiffel Tower. Take the Métro to a different arrondissement or remote museum in the morning and then spend the day walking home via backstreets. Snack at every bakery and bistro that catches your eye along the way. Holy crap now I want to go back.

(Then, if you have time, TGV it to Barcelona for a weekend).
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:09 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Spain! Spain! Spain for everything you said!
posted by Toddles at 9:14 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

You need Barcelona big time.

You could probably doing some mountain biking around Montserrat, the mountains behind the city, and all around the city itself. If you go in the summer, there are excellent music concerts on the beach and a lively food culture.

The train up to Figurez or Girona is a quick trip and has beautiful stretches overlooking the Mediterranean.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:20 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

N-thing Japan. I live in Tokyo and Japan will blow your mind. It fits all your requirements too.
posted by banishedimmortal at 9:37 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fly into Bangkok and spend a week taking water taxis between the dreamy little cafes nestled in narrow alleyways, dodging sunbathing cats in your path. Eat genuinely excellent street food all you want without worrying about getting sick, go to world-class shopping malls or tiny designer's boutiques or cheap teen knockoff fashion stalls. Then rent a bike and go on a weeklong bike tour to Ayutthaya and points beyond, taking frequent breaks at roadside tea stands in cities and in the ruralist of places, and staying in comfortable, affordable hotels every night, then taking the train back to BKK (with bike as roll-on luggage, I think) to get home.

Edited to say: bike touring can seem daunting if you've never done it before, but Thailand is the most perfect of places to start, and there are a few local tour operators who can rent you everything you need. MeMail me if you have any questions!
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:38 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

New Zealand or Iceland.
posted by jbenben at 9:57 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

What time of year will you go? Many places have a particular time of year it's awesome to visit, and that can break the degeneracy.
Eg Copenhagen is lovely in July, but Paris is full of tourists and hot then.
posted by nat at 10:05 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

"I'm fascinated by public transit and urban infrastructure"

... London. The underground was completely amazing to me, and all those buses whizzing around at peak hour in such tiny streets. And I think everyone should tour the Tower of London at least once in their lives. I had no idea. I thought it was just ... a tower.

Otherwise, of the places I've been, Amsterdam is my favourite. The people are so friendly, relaxed, most spoke English fluently and were welcoming and interested in my travels and origin. And it's extremely bike friendly.

Berlin was cool too if you're into seeing some WW2 and Cold War history.
posted by Diag at 10:24 PM on April 25, 2016

Oh goodness, I lived in Japan (and have also been to parts of Europe and China) and came in to say Japan!!! Watch Lost in Translation for a taste. It ticks all your boxes. You will have an amazing time.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:18 AM on April 26, 2016

N-thing Barcelona which kept running through my mind through every point of your checklist.
posted by like_neon at 2:19 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in Amsterdam, and it hits most of your requirements, but you don't specify weather preferences. It's very hard to predict what the weather will be like here (today it snowed! in late April!), and even though cycling around the Dutch countryside is glorious when it's warm and sunny, it's a little less fun when you have surprise hail showers every twenty minutes.

It's still a really awesome city, but if you'd like somewhere with guaranteed nice weather, you might need to look elsewhere.
posted by littlegreen at 2:49 AM on April 26, 2016

I live in the Netherlands and agree that it meets your requirements, but littlegreen is right that the weather can be hard to predict. May through September is a good period; I'd avoid October through April unless you really don't mind the cold and damp, and I definitely wouldn't do January or February because it may snow.

Anyway, you can easily travel within cities and between cities in the Netherlands by bike. There are tons of companies that offer tours, both guided and self-guided. A beach that's very easy to reach without a car is Scheveningen, which is a short tram ride from The Hague's central train station. Others are mentioned here. You could also head down to the province of Zeeland, which is gorgeous, though sparsely populated by Dutch standards. I think a week is too long to spend in Amsterdam alone; I'd also at least visit one of the other major cities (Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague), do day trips to smaller cities (such as Haarlem, Gouda, Delft, or Nijmegen), and/or spend a day someplace semi-rural like De Veluwe.
posted by neushoorn at 3:28 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amsterdam, London, or consider an organized tour of French wine country by bike. You bike with a dozen other people from little hotel to little hotel and eat and drink along the way. There's a chase truck that carries tired riders and their bikes and emergency M&Ms. You could do a few days in Paris to scratch the urban itch and then go bike the countryside.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:49 AM on April 26, 2016

Another vote for Amsterdam! There is no city like it.

You can take the train to Brussels, which is an amazing and interesting city. After Brussels, go to Bruges, which is enchanting (and there's a French fry museum!).

Belgium is wonderful and I found the people very friendly every time I've been.

Whatever you choose, bon voyage!
posted by Punctual at 4:12 AM on April 26, 2016

South of France. Start with Nice, explore along the coast. You'll want to avoid the time during the Cannes Film Festival.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:43 AM on April 26, 2016

Europe won't be that much of a culture shock if that's what your're after. Travel to Dakar, Senegal. It will probably be the most exotic of all the experiences suggested above.

The only thing is... same-sex public displays of affection will not go down well... in fact, people just don't kiss or even hold hands in public...
posted by Kwadeng at 5:34 AM on April 26, 2016

Europe feels almost too mundane for such an opportunity, which is why I think South America, and Buenos Aires in particular is the place to see. Same sex relationships are legal in the country, BA is very gay friendly. There's exciting food, coffee to die for, and a world class arts scene. It's bike-able, has great transit, the architecture is stunning, and you could easily hop a flight down to Ushuaia for a very memorable side trip.
posted by mal de coucou at 6:02 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Answering the question as posed--if I were told I could go anywhere, I would go to Antarctica! But it doesn't sound from your conditions that that kind of place is what you're thinking about.

Would you consider a large city in an unfamiliar continent? What about somewhere like Hong Kong? (I don't know about whether gay-friendliness is or is not an issue, though.)
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:12 AM on April 26, 2016

I was about to chime in with Hong Kong. The ferry system is delightful, and the variety and landscape and lifestyle on the different islands is interesting.

Though far less exotic, Vancouver ticks all your boxes.
posted by minervous at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2016

Go to France and bike the (flat, lovely, following a river) Loire a Velo trail, sleeping in cute BnBs every night and drinking wines on the way (it's winery country), an eat all the best food.

Takes just under two weeks, but you can go to Paris first and then only do parts of it (I did one week myself).


Previous mefi on it

posted by Sijeka at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want something more on the "relaxing" side than the "exciting" side, I think the Cinque Terre region in Italy fits all your criteria. It's on the coast, with great hiking views (some trails might work with a bike, but you'd have to research that because many have a lot of steps) and an interesting tiny-fishing-village version of "everyday life" to experience.
posted by randomnity at 10:40 AM on April 26, 2016

I just got back from a Hurtigruten Classic Roundtrip Norway cruise that was recommended to me on the green a couple years ago and it was one of the most incredible trips I've ever taken. You unpack once on the trip, it takes you all the way up and down the coast, and you can choose which excursions to go on, which range from exciting and athletic to low-key and relaxing. Plus they feed you the entire time and the food is good. It's not really like a standard cruise because you're on a working ship, it's pretty low-key and relaxing. I'd do it again.
posted by raw sugar at 11:25 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

New Zealand or Iceland.

posted by vignettist at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2016

Read Elisa's Bike Trip and see what you like. She did not go through Cassis which has all kinds of cycling and hiking and climbing and beautiful clear water, which is where, given your wishes, I would end up. Very queer-friendly, you can set yourself up in a gîte for far less than a hotel would cost: and you would learn French.
posted by jet_silver at 7:55 PM on April 26, 2016

Copenhagen / Denmark meets pretty much all your criteria
posted by watrlily at 8:08 PM on April 26, 2016

As a New Zealander, and based on your particular criteria, I wouldn't recommend coming here: it's a long flight and 1-2 weeks really isn't enough time. In addition, things are spread out - you'd want to go to a lot of different places and the best way to get around is by car, we don't have particularly interesting public transit, the live music/theatre scene is OK but nothing special. You're really only ticking the food/coffee, coast, and LGBT-friendly boxes.

If it were me, I'd be taking advantage of the fact that someone else is picking up the bill and go somewhere expensive. For me, I'd be therefore be looking at Scandinavia, which seems like it ticks a lot of your requirements (although I haven't actually been).

Of places I have been, I agree with the above recommendations for Barcelona, Amsterdam. If you had two weeks, you could spend one in Barcelona and surroundings, get a high-speed train to Madrid and spend another week in that area (that said, a lot of the attraction of those cities, for me, were the museums and art galleries).
posted by Pink Frost at 1:13 PM on April 27, 2016

Venice! Because it's expensive, it will be harder for you to visit without this subsidy later. There are plenty of cycling tours around Tuscany that would make a great extension too.
posted by bluesky78987 at 1:41 PM on April 27, 2016

Thanks, all! These are great suggestions, and very much in line with what my friends and family have suggested based on knowing me. Barcelona and Amsterdam definitely top the list of options for this first trip. Tokyo somewhere down the line, I think.

And just to clarify. the subsidy I get is the same dollar amount no matter where I go, so there's no incentive to maximize it by going somewhere as far away/expensive as possible. It does mean I'll get to take this trip about a year sooner than I'd be able to if I were saving up for 100% of it myself, though, and I am thankful for that.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:28 PM on April 29, 2016

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