anywhere but here

Best Places to Travel in 2021

If, you know, we can.

By Allison Williams December 31, 2020

If mothballs were still a thing, these suitcases would be full of them.

Man, I miss travel. The novelty, the discovery, the people...not to mention the perspective on how Seattle fits into the rest of the world. Grounded since early March, we're all itching to book an exotic vacation. Will that happen in 2021? It's hard to say, though vaccine distribution plans suggest we may be free to roam by the middle of the year.

But if 2020 taught us anything, it's to not make solid plans. Here are my travel resolutions for 2021, ranked in order from most conservative—if the pandemic doesn't slow at all—to the most optimistic.

1. Revisit Seattle on Repeat

Call it quarantine's silver lining: This past year has been about reconnecting with our home city. Stay Healthy Streets opened more miles for urban hiking, and outdoor strolls were one of the only reliably safe activities. I've walked through new neighborhoods all year, enjoying Seattle's unique (and sometimes baffling) architecture, street art, and landscaping—but dozens of new hidden corners remain. The CD is next on my list. See also: Seattle staycations.

2. Stay Outdoors

Barring the most restrictive weeks of early spring, the naturally distanced pastimes of hiking, biking, and boating have been allowed, even encouraged, during our plague year. Many of us chose to live in the Pacific Northwest precisely because of the access to natural spaces, so I'll spend much of 2021 on a Snoqualmie Pass ski slope, an Olympic National Park hiking trail, or pedaling (...slowly) around Lake Washington.

3. Eat Local as a Non-Local

The city of Seattle has been quick to support our struggling restaurants, but the eateries in tourist towns don't have hordes of bored work-from-homers to place delivery orders. As I did last year, I'll get meals to go from some of my favorite small-town food spots during day trips. The signature blackberry pie at Copper Creek Inn is just as dreamy in a takeout container, and Old Schoolhouse Brewery burgers in Winthrop are perfect picnic fare for the town's riverfront parks.

4. Head Homeward

The one place I desperately want to visit? Olympia. No, not for the many attractions of our capital city (though they are numerous; don't sleep on the liquor store–slash–shooting range)—because it's where my extended family lives. Right now a weekend in my parents' spare bedroom sounds more luxurious than a beach in Cabo. When travel picks back up, the rush of family gatherings will reveal what we missed most in 2020.

Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation needs no false praise.

5. Salute Northwest Resilience

The Makah Tribe, located on the very Northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula, shut itself to visitors in March and hasn't reopened, a move that seems to have saved it from the ravages of Covid-19 (other Indian reservations fared much worse). When Neah Bay announces it's welcoming visitors again, I'll happily spend part of my 2021 travel fund at the rugged outpost: Hobuck Beach Resort to watch local surfersMakah Museum to view priceless historic artifacts, and the tribal recreation pass to grant passage to Shi Shi Beach, one of the Pacific's finest.

6. Kick Back at Sea-Tac

No matter how many Sub Pop stores it offers, Sea-Tac Airport inevitably feels a little like purgatory. But after a year without Concourse A's endless, marathon-length moving walkway, it sounds genuinely thrilling to grab lunch from the Great American Bagel Bakery, plop down on a molded vinyl chair, and stare at the departures board in anticipation. Destination? Anywhere really, as long as it involves a takeoff. Plus, I want to see (and use!) that new International Arrivals facility.

7. Appreciate Idaho

Back in January, I thought 2020 was going to be the year I finally explored Idaho's quieter corners, beyond just Boise and Sun Valley. Its natural places boast evocative names: Hells Canyon, Craters of the Moon National Monument, River of No Return Wilderness. But relatively lax mask mandates and the resultant virus surges—which flooded Spokane hospitals—kept me away from the state, even for outdoor activities. Here's hoping we can get in sync with our easterly neighbor in 2021. 

8. Embrace the East

Like visiting family, connecting with friends on the East Coast is at the top of my wish list for 2021—travel that's more about the who than the where. But as much as I yearn to embrace pals three time zones away, hold their new babies, and get the gossip too salacious for Zoom, I also yearn for the kind of travel that puts Seattle in stark relief. New York's ubiquitous bagels, Nashville's live bluegrass, North Carolina's barbecue...the originals remind us that everywhere isn't the same, even after a uniformly horrifying year.

9. Cross Borders

Oh Canada, my not-home but favorite land. The international border has been closed to tourists for months; the phrase "meth lab in the basement" has been bandied about to describe our relation to Canada, though both countries are undergoing pandemic surges. When it reopens, I'll high-tail it to the crossing north of Bellingham, where a border agent once cracked Dumb and Dumber jokes under the maple leaf flag. First stop: Richmond's famed Chinatown, rumored to have even better dining than Vancouver's own district. Maybe a surf retreat in Tofino. Definitely a ski trip to Whistler, if the snow lingers long enough. Perhaps even a place high on my life bucket list: Haida Gwaii.

10. Disappear in a Crowd

Let's go full-bore fantasy and imagine health officials give the green light to mosh pits and buffets again. I'll hop a train to Portland—no car needed, since I'm staying right in the middle of things (maybe the new Jupiter Next hotel on Burnside). I'll share a soaking pool at Knot Springs and join the floating dance floor at the Crystal Ballroom, no matter who's playing live. I'll browse new Italian food hall Cooperativa, then seek out the hidden Hoxton Basement Bar, one of Portland Monthly's best new drinking spots. In short, I'll gleefully bump elbows with the rest of humanity. Other people, new people: Now that sounds like a vacation.

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