Travel

The 18 Best Places for a Big Trip in 2018

Deyan Denchev/Shutterstock
Deyan Denchev/Shutterstock
Deyan Denchev/Shutterstock

Don’t get us wrong: We love Instagram. It’s inspirational, revelatory, and just so darn addictive. But therein lies the danger. Before you know it, just about every place in the whole wide world ends up on one almighty, must-see bucket list. Suddenly you’re booking flights to some Japanese hinterland just because that unicorn cookie looks extra delicious in X Pro II, or road-tripping a thousand miles off-course to visit your sort-of-friend’s sort-of-friend in Arkansas purely to see their photogenic pumpkin.

You don’t have all the time in the world, nor all the money. Realistically you have the funds and vacation days to make one or two epic trips happen this year, max. What you really want to know is where to go right now (or at least, this year, because we all know last-minute flights can be a killer). We pressed our globe-trotting writers for their tips for a single, blowout trip in 2018. These are the places that are at the top of their game this year, whether it’s down to a flashy one-off event, crazy low flight prices, or just because the rebels are finally giving it a rest. And don’t fret, they’ll all make a good ‘Gram, too.

Flickr/Peter Clark
Flickr/Peter Clark
Flickr/Peter Clark

New Orleans, Louisiana  

NOLA’s anniversary year will be a party 300 years in the making

Sure, New Orleans is in a perpetual state of celebration, but a party that only comes once every 300 years is going to be especially rowdy — like, downing hurricanes on a fan boat with Coach Orgeron bellowing “go Tigers!” rowdy. Every single festival this year will get a tricentennial upgrade. Mardi Gras floats will retell the founding story of Nouvelle-Orléans; Jazz Fest will have a lineup for the ages; and at no point should you skip the ongoing exhibition Prospect 4, a treasure map of murals and sculptures raising the city’s up-and-coming arts profile beyond the blur of purple and green fleurs-de-lis.

Even if you’ve come for beads and gumbo in years past, expect to see New Orleans from new perspectives. The Mississippi River is now dotted with riverside pocket parks, replacing the warehouses and railroad tracks that once blocked the view. The North Rampart Street cable car line has been extended to get visitors beyond the French Quarter into the Bywater district. Even Bourbon Street has gotten itself a $6 million facelift, and if a street that odorous can clean up for a good anniversary party, the least you can do is répondez, s’il vous plaît. Sean Cooley

Rickson Liebano/Moment/Getty Images
Rickson Liebano/Moment/Getty Images
Rickson Liebano/Moment/Getty Images

Russia

The unlikely World Cup hosts will respect that you actually made the trip, you badass

If there’s one reason to visit Russia in 2018, it’s the World Cup. “But hang on,” I hear you say, “didn’t the US fail to qualify after losing to the Caribbean’s 12th most-intimidating soccer powerhouse, Trinidad and Tobago?”

Exactly. Just think, this the first time in over 30 years that Americans can go to a World Cup and not be surrounded by other Americans. For once, there will be no misplaced confidence, overtime heartbreak, or idolizing of beardy bald guys. All of which means you can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle, or pick your favorite team based purely on the snazziness of their kit or your granny’s penchant for brooding Latin American types.

The biggest matches will be played in Moscow, but take the train to St. Petersburg instead — the tournament coincides with the city’s White Nights, a period of round-the-clock daylight when the parties never stop and there are fancy concerts and ballets every evening. Or mix it up and head for a smaller city: Summer hotspot Sochi hosted the Olympics in 2014 and still has the blinged-out infrastructure to prove it, while Yekaterinburg and Volgograd are steeped in bloody, Soviet-era history. You may know Russia as the surname of the phrase “colluding with,” but in the even bigger picture, it’s a scandalously beautiful land, full of people who will respect your chutzpah when you arrive ready for the games. — Jonathan Melmoth

Flickr/Jose Luis Canales
Flickr/Jose Luis Canales
Flickr/Jose Luis Canales

Iceland

Remote terrain and raw beauty await, once you slip past the crowds in the capital

Yes, the secret is out about Iceland and its gobsmacking Ring Road. In 2016 this country of 330,000 inhabitants hosted something like 1.7 million tourists, more than triple the visits of 2010. Certain attractions are being trampled beyond sustainability — blame Game of Thrones if you like — and politicians have suggested imposing limits on tourism to protect the environment. Translation: 2018 may be your best shot for a cheap WOW Air flight, or whatever fresh promotion Iceland Air is running. The window on the sheer raw openness of the place may be closing.

Until then, Iceland is the ultimate wellspring for powerful nature odysseys. Ethereal landscapes, each infused with evocative folk legends, await at every bend of the road. Cosied up by its lonesome at the top of the Atlantic, the unique scenery of this Maine-sized island is ever changing, both subtly and in literal volcanic explosions — spreads of rock and glacier shift and reshape amid fresh ice formations and irregularly tempoed geysers. There’s a reason movies love filming here: the place is endlessly cinematic. Go afield of Reykjavik to the active volcanic playground of the north, or compact geological smorgasbord of the west. It’s all red-hot here, even where it’s frozen. — Barbara Woolsey

Jesse Kraft/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jesse Kraft/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jesse Kraft/EyeEm/Getty Images

Colombia

Catch the authentic South American experience before everyone else arrives

Just a few years ago, Colombia ran one of the world’s boldest tourism slogans: “The only danger is not wanting to leave.” It was a brilliant play, an elephant-in-the-room allusion to how many Americans presume, wrongly, that “Colombia” is synonymous with “kidnapping.” Slowly, Americans have come to realize that one of the most beautiful countries in the Western Hemisphere is also one of the safest, and that trips here are a chance to live well for almost nothing.

The cities are spectacular, cosmopolitan. Look for modern urbanism in Bogota, the beaches and history in Cartagena, and epic parties in Medellin. Airbnbs that look like million-dollar Miami condos can be had for $150 a night, complete with drivers and maids. Gourmet meals are under $50. Nights out are a song. The Colombian coastline is also world-class, whether it’s the classic Caribbean beaches in Barranquilla, or the unheralded Pacific Coast.

Cheap flights from South Florida have been common for a while, but this year Avianca just launched nonstop service from Boston to Bogota, with plans to expand to more Northeastern cities. Which will mean more tourists, and soon a totally different experience — look no further than Mexico and the DR for proof of that. So see the raw, authentic Colombia while you can. In another couple of years, you might not recognize it. — Matt Meltzer

Paul Biris/Moment/Getty Images
Paul Biris/Moment/Getty Images
Paul Biris/Moment/Getty Images

Malta

A stunner of a cultural hotspot prepares for a year of Mediterranean parties

You’ve probably seen Malta before, whether you knew it at the time or not. It’s a Game of Thrones stalwart, with sites that have doubled as the Red Keep and seen more than their fair share of mock sword-fights. But when the novelty of pretending you only speak Dothraki has worn off, you’ll find there’s much more to it. The European Commission has named Valletta, the capital, a European Capital of Culture in 2018, and there are over 400 celebratory events planned throughout the year — expect acrobatics, choral singing, and orchestral ensembles (although not all at the same time).

This being the Med, there’ll be plate-loads of superlative seafood to sink your teeth into, along with the national dish, a red wine rabbit stew called stuffat tal-fenek. The archipelago has notes of Sicilian, North African and English colonial culture, but plenty of its own quirks too. When a local challenges you to a game of boċċi, don’t go thinking you played the same thing in Italy/an outdoor bar in Brooklyn. The Maltese use cylinders instead of balls. Ever tried throwing a misshapen can of corn towards a target? No, because that would drive you insane. The Maltese, they don’t mess around. — Jonathan Melmoth

Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Highway 1, California

America’s quintessential coastal road trip is back after a year of punishing landslides

Start by basking in the Malibu sun. Though it may be tough to leave, good things await. Head up Highway 1 to hit some stunning landscapes and prime beaches (Pismo Beach is a good first stop). Cliffs, sun, waves, repeat.

Tour Hearst Castle, then continue on towards the real showstopper: the Central Coast. In 2017 landslides made travel trickier; until the state can build over one particularly epic stretch of sloughed mountain, you’ll have to make the occasional detour. But the big revival worth seeing is the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, rebuilt after a section washed away in early 2017, and many local businesses that had been forced shutter for months have reopened. Take in stellar views from the famed Bixby Bridge (you saw it plenty this past year in Big Little Lies) or just stop at virtually any point to be bowled over alongside other slack-jawed sightseers. Find the hidden, purple-sanded Pfeiffer Beach, and sit a spell.

Ogle houses you’ll never be able to afford in Carmel-by-the-Sea, then stop off at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Grab a seaside bowl of mouth-melting clam chowder (with a Lagunitas, naturally). Ramble over to River Road in Salinas for stellar, underrated wineries with the requisite beautiful views. Do some people watching in Santa Cruz before rolling into San Francisco. Then be sad you can’t afford to stay. And hey, if you can make the drive in late July, to coincide with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, all the better. — Kylie Maxcy

foto-select/Shutterstock.com
foto-select/Shutterstock.com
foto-select/Shutterstock.com

Hamburg, Germany

A low-key bohemian destination has added a world jewel for music lovers

Oh, what most cities would do to be a bit more like Hamburg. It’s got a grungy, industrial past, night clubs in converted warehouses, and bohemian flea markets in the artsy Sternschanze quarter — basically everything on your hipster-leaning wishlist. Among the narrow canals and red-brick lofts of the UNESCO-approved port district (Speicherstadt), there’s even a uniquely eccentric tourist attraction: Miniatur Wunderland (loosely translated as “Miniature Wonderland”). Inside, you’ll find the world’s longest model railroad (there’s 10 miles of the stuff), teeny-weeny cities, and over 260,000 figurines. Go on, count them.

And then there’s the recently-opened Elbphilharmonie concert hall. It may have arrived seven years late and gone 10 times over budget, but you’re just learning about it and didn’t pay for it, so what do you care? Architects Herzog & Meuren have managed to create something that looks magisterial and sounds like a dream. The crystalline exterior is drawn into meringue-esque peaks, while inside, rippling ceilings and honeycomb walls make for warm, velvety, pin-sharp acoustics. And if that starts to feel too stuffy, just head two miles west to the still-standing Indra club, where a few lads from Liverpool first sported their mop-tops and sang “Love, love me do.” — Jonathan Melmoth

Jan Cattaneo/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jan Cattaneo/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jan Cattaneo/EyeEm/Getty Images

Jordan

Be among the first travelers to walk in some of the world’s most legendary footsteps

One of the world’s great walks is now yours to saunter, pilgrim. The newly formalized Jordan Trail is a sequence of ancient trade routes running 400 miles across hillside forests, sizzling deserts and blockbuster mountainscapes on its way from the Roman ruins of Um Qais to the glittering waters of the Red Sea. The whole thing takes nearly seven weeks to complete and runs through in 52 communities along the way, so you can meet the locals and ask them really nicely to fill up your water bottle. Each night, you’ll bed down at a traditional guesthouse, homestay, or under the stars at a Bedouin campsite.

If your vacation allowance won’t stretch that far, choose one of the eight sections to tackle, with the help of a local guide and an obliging camel. First-timers should go for the six-day chunk from the rose-stone wonders of Petra to the caverns and canyons of Wadi Rum. You’ll be following in illustrious footsteps: legend has it this very route was walked by Jesus, Moses and Mohammed, in between miracles. Oh, and Harrison Ford too, of course. After you, Junior. — Jonathan Melmoth

John Steele/Getty Images
John Steele/Getty Images
John Steele/Getty Images

Seoul, South Korea

The world’s top party city will be feeling a Winter Olympics buzz

Take your mind off the Korea dominating the news cycle, the one with the rockets and the propaganda and the guy with the weird hair who hates our guy with the weird hair. Instead focus on South Korea, where PyeongChang will host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Scope out the host city if you must; but consider instead a frisky nearby megalopolis — just 90 minutes away via a shiny new high speed rail — that may be most equipped to handle a massive influx of hot, young human specimens.
 
While PyeongChang is the quieter sister town with modernized ski resorts, you’ll come to Seoul for the soju, stay for the bulgogi, then stay even longer for a 3am visit to the pyramid-shaped sauna at Dragon Hill Spa. Channel South Korea’s feel-good vibes and make quick friends of strangers at a karaoke spot or noodle bar around Hannam. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself clinking beers with Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, or a group of Canadians who want to show you how much momentum it takes for a stone to reach the house in, uh… curling (pretty sure they’re talking about curling). Sean Cooley

Jason Sawicki/Moment/Getty Images
Jason Sawicki/Moment/Getty Images
Jason Sawicki/Moment/Getty Images

Turks and Caicos

Getting to unspoiled luxury dives is finally down to non-ridiculous prices

Scuba divers can sometimes find cheaper flights to the South Pacific for a world-class dive vacation than to the crystal-clear waters of the Turks and Caicos, thousands of miles closer. But late in 2017 Southwest Airlines began service to Providenciales, and now flights that routinely topped $750 can be had for under $300. Suddenly the white sandy beaches of Grace Bay and the abundance of marine life along the wall at West Caicos are within reasonable reach.

TCI is still not a cheap place to visit. But if you’re planning one big trip this year, at least you can save on the airfare, leaving plenty in your budget for daily dives in what many call the best locale in the Caribbean. Even if you can’t afford the four-star resorts like Grace Bay and the Ocean Clubs, you can find reasonable rates at Beaches and Club Med, and there are no shortage of off-site dive shops that run trips cheaper than they do on-property. The summer’s hurricanes left only minimal damage, and unless you had your heart set on chicken at Chinson’s — which is temporarily closed — pretty much everything you’d want  is open and waiting for you. You and all the money you saved on the airfare. — Matt Meltzer

Newcastle/Shutterstock
Newcastle/Shutterstock
Newcastle/Shutterstock

Nashville, Tennessee

The Music City has swiftly become America’s sports trip of choice

You visit Nashville to be entertained, whether it’s listening to a band at the Ryman Auditorium or witnessing the fabulous freak show of bachelorette parties taking over Lower Broad honky-tonks for Fireball shots and make-out sessions with strangers. Increasingly, though, the main attraction is three sporting venues that all funnel into the party zone. This year, when your favorite NFL or NHL team plays in Nashville, you owe it to yourself to make it a full-on trip.

Blame the upstart Predators making it to their first Stanley Cup Finals in 2017. Thousands of hockey fans overflowed into the streets around Bridgestone Arena in the summer, and the national hockey press noticed the sea of gold. Since then, the Preds have become everybody’s second-favorite team behind their hometown crews. The Titans made the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2008, but there have been plenty of seats available for visiting fans at Nissan Stadium. Fans know it, too: One two-sport weekend, a tsunami of Chicagoans hit town, and — legend already has it — drank the bars dry before beer could be delivered on the following Monday.

First Tennessee Park hosts Triple-A Nashville Sounds baseball and the city’s new USL soccer team, Nashville SC. Won’t be long, though, before Nashville will make the leap past minor-league soccer. The MLS recently chose Nashville out of a dozen cities for their next expansion team, despite Nashville’s late entry to the selection process. The beautiful game recognizes a beautiful venue when it sees one. — Chris Chamberlain

Quality Master/shutterstock
Quality Master/shutterstock
Quality Master/shutterstock

Cape Town, South Africa

The world’s most beautiful coastal city is primed for animal lovers to pay a visit 

“Cape Town’s on my bucket list, and I’ll also do a safari in Kruger,” says everyone always, and for good reason. The Mother City is hands-down the most dazzling coastal metropolis on the planet, with its dramatic seaside mountains, white sugar shorelines, and bangin’ restaurant scene, while the sprawling Kruger National Park brims with megafauna. You can even get partway between them on a sweet-ass train ride, sipping all-you-can-drink South African wines and discussing Mandela or Paul Simon or penguins.

We humbly suggest that you do this soon, though, and brace to help conserve water. An unprecedented drought has the city so thirsty its fair residents will soon be queuing at 200 police-monitored checkpoints for water rations. The good news is that for the nearby Stellenbosch wine country, drought means stressed-out grapes, which tend to produce some exceptionally complex wines.

As for the wildlife, the time to spend your money (which likely will go far in SA; the rand is crazy cheap lately) to see the world’s most awe-inspiring animals is also now. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and especially rhinos are all under threat of being poached out of existence, basically so a bunch of dudes in Asia can feel masculine by bathing in ground-up horns. If you go, keep your showers short and take pics so the next generation can see what a white rhino looked like. — Ashley Harrell

Marcelo Rodriguez/Shutterstock.com
Marcelo Rodriguez/Shutterstock.com
Marcelo Rodriguez/Shutterstock.com

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico’s capital-turned-city-state is American eaters’ cheapest, fastest epic getaway

By any measure, Mexico City’s had a rough year. A traumatic earthquake on the anniversary of 1985’s devastating tremblor left residents and tourists shaken, and Trump’s State Department delivered a bitter early Christmas gift with an official travel warning barely two months later. But chilangos (unofficial demonym of CDMX citizens) are nothing if not resilient. Led by a courageous and adorable rescue dog, reconstruction started almost before the shaking stopped. Now the pace of life in the capital has mostly returned to its hectic, frenzied, and delicious normal.

The city formerly known as Distrito Federal is a heterogeneous mixture of European and indigenous Mesoamerican, of rich and poor, of spotless colonial boulevards and dingy side alleys. The best thing to do in Mexico City, though, might simply be la comida. Splurgeworthy, international-class restaurants exist beside greasy street meats of every description. Drop into world-renowned Pujol for a Michelin-starred feast (seated reservations need to be made a few months in advance, or just eat at the bar), then enjoy a postprandial aperitif in the form of a high-class tipple from Mezcaleria Los Amantes. Or keep it cheap with the CDMX-original tacos al pastor, available in just about all of the city’s innumerable taquerias and food carts, washed down with handmade mezcal from divey Pulqueria la Nuclear. Either way, at the end of it, you’ll be fat, happy, delirious, and like this whole city, ready to keep on rocking. — Conor O’Rourke

EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images
EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images
EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images

United Arab Emirates

A wild synthesis of tech innovations, advanced architecture — and awesome rollercoasters

The future came early in the nerve center of the Middle East, where Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become laboratories for superlative attractions and revolutionary architecture. UAE strikes a profound intermingling of tradition, modernity, and sheer excess; even the most tech-smart millennial tourists will feel as if they’ve wandered into a sci-fi novel. Rainfall from engineered clouds. A man-made archipelago shaped like a world map. Now there’s talk of hauling an Antarctic iceberg over to supply drinking water. The Burj Khalifa, as tall as two Empire State buildings, might as well be a relic.

The UAE is closing in on finishing lots of projects for mad-flaunting at World Expo 2020, so 2018 is your chance to get a good peek before. The Louvre Abu Dhabi launched in November, while Dubai has erected a 500-foot-tall picture frame; soon, the world’s largest Ferris wheel and a new artificial peninsula will come online. After a 2017 that saw Dubai open the world’s largest indoor theme park, the country is gaining on Florida as a theme-park capital. Look for the multi-billion-dollar Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi to land later this year. — Barbara Woolsey

Tilman Ehrcke/Shutterstock.com
Tilman Ehrcke/Shutterstock.com
Tilman Ehrcke/Shutterstock.com

Ireland

Flights are cheap, craft whiskey is exploding, and you probably have relatives there

The Emerald Isle is always a charmer, but there’s an extra mischievous twinkle in its eye this year, so pack your bags and get to the airport before your mother finds out where you’re going. Craft whiskey distilleries are sprouting up across the land, including Slane Castle in County Meath, Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, and Dublin’s very own bourbon-maker, Pearse Lyons. Add to that a booming bar and restaurant scene in the capital, and you have yourself a very merry time indeed. By day, visit the newly opened Irish Emigration Museum to find out how St. Patrick’s Day became America’s favorite holiday, or head out of the city for wet and wild coasteering — a combination of climbing, jumping, and hoping nobody hears you squeal each time you hit the sea.  

Bonus for the East Coasters — did you know that there’s a fourth major airport in New York? Newburgh-Stewart is a former military base which is now hosting Norwegian Air flights to Shannon, in southern Ireland, and weekend-ready Dublin. OK, so it’s a bit further out of the city (90 minutes north of Manhattan), but the traffic’s better, the lines are shorter, and the tickets start at $99 each way. — Jonathan Melmoth

Miami2you/Shutterstock
Miami2you/Shutterstock
Miami2you/Shutterstock

The Florida Keys

Hurricane Irma blew away the tourists — and the islands would love to see you

If you were watching the news in September, you might have noticed the Florida Keys had a spite of rather nasty weather. The aftermath of Hurricane Irma left 20-foot piles of trees, refrigerators, sailboat hulls and RVs on the side of the Overseas Highway. It also made the drive through the Keys even more breathtaking than it already was. Yes, the destruction of mangroves and plant life is not a good thing, but the silver lining is unobstructed ocean views for nearly all of the three-hour drive from Miami to Key West.

Once in the Keys you’ll find the main attractions are all up and running, with far fewer people than usual. In Key West, you’d hardly know a storm passed through, yet places like Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Smathers Beach have a refreshing amount of breathing room. The bars along Duval Street feel almost like locals’ haunts, and the waits for breakfast at Blue Heaven are manageable. In the upper and middle Keys, dive and fishing charters are all at full speed, with plenty of spots to book and to cast for tarpon. A trip to the tip of Florida isn’t merely a bucket-list stop in one of America’s great natural treasures, it’s a form of on-the-ground hurricane relief. Even if social responsibility isn’t your top vacation goal, it’s still not a bad byproduct. — Matt Meltzer

Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock.com
Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock.com
Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock.com

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Art Basel and youth Olympics are set to hit into this sultry, sumptuous capital

There’s rarely a bad moment to hit BA — but 2018 will be the city’s star moment. To revel in the big daddy of art fairs, Art Basel, you normally have to splurge on the one-off events in Switzerland, Miami, or Hong Kong. But in 2018, the buddying up with Buenos Aires for a blitz of exhibitions and workshops by top-notch artists throughout the year and beyond. The headline acts hit the city in September for a one-week program curated by Cecilia Alemani (she looks after New York’s High Line, so trust). In October, you can try to spot the next Usain Bolt at the Youth Olympics. Soon after, the world’s dignitaries will arrive for the G20 summit, at a much slower pace.

Beyond the tentpole events, BA is a sizzling-hot city destination. Look for head-turning street murals, seductive open-air tango, and incredibly well-done steaks. The peso is at historic lows against the dollar. too, so you can get a whole lot more T-bone for your buck. — Jonathan Melmoth

Tonis Valing/Shutterstock
Tonis Valing/Shutterstock
Tonis Valing/Shutterstock

Mozambique

A newly constructed coastal highway will open vast expanses of nature to explore

If you’re seeking out a big, remote destination in the new year, a safari in habitually underrated Mozambique is your answer. This year marks the completion of the Lagoon Coast roadworks project linking neighboring South Africa to Mozambique’s capital Maputo and beyond. No more dirt-road slogs: Transport will be eons easier, especially handy with a coastline that’s nearly as long as the American East Coast.

Start on the faded Art Deco streets of Maputo. You’ll be greeted by fish market stalls where you can gather clams, squid, and the country’s legendary footlong tiger prawns, and have them grilled for you at a local restaurant. Drive up to Gorongosa National Park, one of the most diverse national parks in the world, housing lions, elephants, buffalo, wildebeests, zebras, waterbucks, and impala. Finish with a turtle tour in Kosi Bay, smack in the heart of southern Africa’s prime nesting area where, from November through mid-March, you’ll see loggerhead and leatherback turtles hatching on the beach and making their journey to shore as David Attenborough undoubtedly narrates it all in your mind.Sean CooleySign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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