These days, we’re awash in travel images, as everyone longs for the time when we’re all exploring this vast world again. Glimpses continue to flood our social media feeds, reminding us of the places we once roamed and showing signs of hope and encouragement — beautiful cues of what’s waiting for us, with open arms, once it’s safe to travel again.
At Travelzoo, we challenge our photo team every week with this goal in mind: to compel our members to look closely, pause mindfully and mentally escape their everyday with the images we publish. The hope is that we will inspire each of you to not only continue to dream about traveling but, to prepare yourselves — mind, body and spirit — for what’s next once you step outside.
We’ve curated a special list of our favorite photos from the Top 20 over the years. From the joy and enlightenment found at India’s Holi Festival to the curiosity written all over the face of Peru’s friendliest alpaca, join us on a visual vacation.
If you time your trip to India correctly next year, you might be lucky enough to catch the sacred annual Holi Festival, which commemorates the end of winter. (Who doesn’t want to celebrate that?) Expect bonfires, dancing and rainbow-hued powder during this festival of color.
India is home to an astonishing two-thirds of the world’s tiger population, with more than 50 total national parks and reserves playing home to the revered cats. For additional exploration, we recommend the “Golden Triangle,” a route connecting three popular cities, which also showcases a diverse landscape and unbelievable architecture, including the famed Taj Mahal.
Since social distancing is now en vogue, the remote wilderness of Namibia might be the best place to go off the grid. Your only companions may be the diverse wildlife such as cheetahs, lions, rhinos and gemsboks (above). Otherworldly landscapes are the country’s other signature — towering sand dunes, soaring canyons, charming coastal villages and even a petrified forest.
Paris is well known as the place that inspired Hemingway and Balzac and the official backdrop for some of the best love songs and culinary experiences in the world. Her streets overflow with culture, art, and history but, there’s a certain charm that transcends the clichés.
France’s capital is more than 2,000 years old and you can feel every bit of history while traversing cobblestone alleyways and admiring the fossils that are Paris’s cathedrals. Part of the fun of Paris is getting lost in the moment, finding something beautiful waiting for you around the next corner or down the next rue. When your adventure is up, you’ll always have the Eiffel Tower guiding you home.
In autumn, harvest season makes its debut and Napa Valley’s lush grounds pop with vibrant fields of fruit. Travelers journey here to revel in the crisp weather, majestic fall scenery and, of course, the bounty of wine. Not only can you sip vino, you can stomp grapes in a barrel, learn the ins and outs of winemaking and attend a variety of outdoor festivals.
Napa Valley’s six Michelin-starred restaurants please the most refined palates, while more casual eaters may opt for a romantic outdoor picnic. While there are charming bed-and-breakfasts to be found, we are drawn to the region’s collection of 5-star hotels with over-the-top amenities. We all deserve some pampering, so picture yourself snuggled up by a marble fireplace or relaxing in a personally drawn bath, to end a day of traipsing through the vineyards.
Peru’s Machu Picchu
Approaching this 15th-century stone city feels almost spiritual. You’re surrounded by sage-green Andean peaks, cloaked in mist, as Machu Picchu’s stepped terraces and walled temples come into view. This Incan citadel is impressive for a multitude of reasons, but we’re most fascinated with the fact that it was built without mortar. Many people opt to hike in this region — not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the panoramic views are breathtaking.
It’s difficult to distill the Caribbean into one brief paragraph. Each island, from St. Thomas to Barbados, Grenada to St. Kitts, has its own landscape and culture. One thing all the islands have in common — a relaxed “linger here, stay worry-free a while” vibe. (And, who couldn’t use that right now?)
The waters along Grand Cayman are warm and clear enough that snorkeling becomes second nature. Leafy mountain peaks tower over the beaches in Saint Lucia and Martinique, while the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) have a desert landscape reminiscent of Arizona. The friendly attitude of Jamaicans welcomes visitors who find local delicacies like jerk chicken, banana bread and (of course) rum widely available to enjoy. Explore it all at your own pace — you are, after all, on island time.
Every traveled mile in Morocco, from the coastal towns, to the Sahara Desert and the Middle Atlas Mountains is brimming with history and age-old traditions. The country’s Berber, Arabian, and European influences can be seen in the architecture of ancient palaces and mosques. The exotic spices in the colorful bazaars help to inspire the amazing teas that are part of a ceremonial custom that signifies hospitality and friendship.
This jewel of the Caribbean explodes in vivid color, recalling the inspiration behind native son Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism. Cartagena’s painted colonial architecture bursts with bougainvillea, setting the stage for a thriving shopping and dining scene, set within the 16th-century walled city (itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Just as unique is its location, sandwiched between the adjacent late-night hipster neighborhood Getsemani and the beach-lined, Miami-esque towers of Bocagrande. Throw in the tropical offshore Rosario Islands and you’ve got an unforgettable long weekend.
The Great Wall of China
This is one spot where Great might be an understatement. When the sun rises above this 5,500-mile barricade, those on the eastern end will see dawn break a full 80 minutes before those on the western tip. It’s impossible to step atop the Great Wall and not think about what humanity is capable of. Today, you can walk along its snaking curves, climb its peaks to stone guard towers and peer out at rolling hills from narrow windows, just as watchmen did centuries years ago.
If you’re a thrill seeker and find yourself in the small village of Mutianyu (2 hours north of Beijing), you can ride up the Wall via gondola or chairlift and use a twisting, 5-minute alpine slide to get back down.
The land of fire and ice is an island of extremes — which makes it a photographer’s dream. If Iceland were a TV channel, the programming would be a mixture of Winter X Games, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Vikings and Scandinavian HGTV. But as much as we’d binge that channel while stuck at home right now, Iceland is better in person, where the dramatic landscape pops in front of you — the jagged cliffs, the volcanic soil, the black sand beaches, the expansive ice fields — all of it named with a mixture of vowels and consonants that will challenge any spellchecker.
This is a water-world — where you can hike on the frozen kind of millennia-old glaciers, pose by (or even behind, in some cases) the surging kind with roaring waterfalls and rushing rivers, relax in the steamy kind in spa-like lagoons and marvel at the bubbling kind in spewing geysers. And, just a 4-hour flight from the East Coast, it’s one of the first places we’ll be going back to — save us a spot in line for the lobster soup.
If you’ve met anyone who’s traveled to Vietnam, there’s a good chance they gush about it. The scenic and cultural beauty feels like something out of a movie back lot — from the rice fields of Sapa (pictured) to the 1,600 islands and islets of Ha Long Bay to the glowing lanterns bursting with color across the streets of Hoi An. Not to mention a “foodie” trip to a country that rivals France, with some of the most memorable meals you’ll ever have on vacation. We recommend the street food of Ho Chi Minh City, best explored on the back of a scooter. But while the list of reasons to visit Vietnam can become endless, in truth, it’s the people — their smiles and warmth will make you fall in love with the place.
The Azores Islands
A few years ago, thanks to new direct flights from the U.S., we fell head over heels in love with the Azores Islands — and that love is still going strong. These nine islands are hidden in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and are home to some of the most awe-inspiring views we’ve ever encountered. They’re still largely untouched and provide a natural experience that’s hard to find elsewhere (you won’t find giant chain hotels or restaurants snagging the best views).
The Azores is close enough to the East Coast to justify a long weekend (just a 4.5-hour flight) but, with activities like soaking in lush thermal hot springs, swimming with dolphins, wine tasting and hiking through tea plantations — it’s enough to feel totally off the grid.
Filled with rugged splendor, our largest state was made for adventure. More than 50% of Alaska is comprised of national forests and wildlife refuges. Whales, puffins and moose are all possible sightings when you’re exploring near the state’s capital, Juneau. Small fishing and lumberjack towns dot the coastline and are models of industry, with jagged mountains, lakes and pine trees as backdrops. If you cruise Alaska’s fjords, expect to be awakened by a gentle waterfall alarm clock, juxtaposed by the crack of powerful glaciers (which can be seen up close from your ship). Alaska exudes vigor. It presents a lesson that even when times may be tough, we dig deep for strength and perseverance.
History and culture buffs, along with anyone looking for ethereal photo ops, likely has Egypt on their bucket list. An Egyptian adventure kicks off with the exploration of ancient monuments that survived the ages, including the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx and the sacred tombs in the Valley of the Kings. We also recommend stargazing or sandboarding in the desert, hopping aboard a Nile River cruise and unwinding on the pristine Giftun Island, home to crystal-clear waters.
You can take an Egyptian cooking class, visit the colorful street markets in Cairo or book a camel trek. End your trip with a few museum visits — we love the Grand Egyptian Museum, Coptic Museum and Nubian Museum, which showcase treasures from the past as well as stunning architecture.
New York City
The city that never sleeps is on veritable lockdown for the moment, but our memories of NYC aren’t of an empty Times Square. Instead, we relish the tastes: the bagels (it’s something in the water, they say), the folded pizza slice on a paper plate, the pastrami piled high on rye. At this moment, we pull strength from the city’s pulsating energy during happier times — the rattle of subway cars, the melody of chorus lines on Broadway, the “I’m walkin’ here!” attitude that permeates every nook and cranny of the five boroughs. We remember gazing up at canyon walls of concrete and steel (it looks so small in pictures), relaxing on a lazy day on Central Park’s Great Lawn, sharing stories and laughs during bottomless brunches with friends.
This is a city that has been bruised before by the attacks of September 11, but it’s never been beaten. New York City will come back again — and so will we.
We could easily have made this post “20 Travel Photos of Italy” — there are countless gorgeous images and Italy is perhaps one of the most iconic inspirational travel destinations there is. While visuals of the landscapes and vistas are certainly stunning, this one captured our favorite part about visiting Italy — the details. The lines and colors that make up the magnitude of the Duomo, the cuts and curves of marble that make up the David, the delicate frescos that cover soaring churches which have stood the test of time provide comfort in their resiliency. Italy is beloved by travelers and we know it’ll be there waiting for us when we return.
The Hawaiian Islands are heavenly and possess nearly every natural beauty imaginable, from massive volcanic rocks to serene sea turtles. The Cathedral Cliffs of Kauai, where earthy reds and neon greens tower into the clouds, is an ideal place for a sunset cruise. And on Maui, keep an eye trained on the coastline for majestic, migratory humpback whales (you can spot them more than half the year).
Roll down the windows for your drive to Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm on Haleakala, where a relaxing aroma lilts in the air and the views showcase farmland and the Pacific. Oahu, the most populous island, offers its own flavors and reflective opportunities — whether you want to hike Diamondhead, watch surfers on Waikiki Beach or drive to the North Shore for the creamy sweetness of shave ice.
Jump into a serene Bob Ross-esque landscape painting with a road trip through Ireland. The rolling hills of lush greenery (sometimes dotted with sheep) creates a backdrop for ancient, hard-to-believe-they-are-real castles. While the drive also meanders along breathtaking coastlines and cliffs. The Bunratty Castle in County Clare, the royal Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Killarney National Park and Cliffs of Moher on the Wild Atlantic Way are must-sees.
A portion of the southwestern corner of the country is home to a scenic route called the Ring of Kerry, which packs a snapshot of Ireland’s diverse geological scenes into a 179-kilometer (roughly 110 miles) loop. Cityscapes are equally present with similar memories to be made, like at the Guinness Brewery in the heart of Dublin, or the country’s oldest city of Waterford, which yes, is home to Waterford Crystal.
Last year, the Maldives proved to be a trending favorite destination among Travelzoo members and by the looks of its azure waters, it’s not hard to guess why. Made up of thousands of islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a honeymooner’s (or any-mooner’s) paradise — famed for its luxury resorts, overwater bungalows and meditative spa treatments. Looking for a bit more adventure? Snorkel over pristine reefs, swim with whales, sharks and mantas, and kite surf or parasail, for the serious water sport enthusiasts.
The Window Seat
There’s a strange romance travelers have with window seats — well, maybe it’s not so strange. It’s a view of our world we don’t get any other way and it provides both the excitement of a new adventure and the comfort of coming home.
Perhaps we’re waxing a bit more poetic these days since travel isn’t on the table but, this image reminded us of that moment in travel. You know, after you stress over last-minute packing, rush to the airport and contend with other travelers to make it to your flight on time — this seat, this view, is usually the first deep breath when you think, “Okay, here we go.” It’s that moment of pure possibility and potential (and let’s be honest, relief) that will be so much sweeter on our next adventure.