As we wander towards winter (there’s even been a dusting of snow in places recently), also comes the long nights, dark days, and blustery weather. The kind that gets everyone in a funk.
Hence why I thought we could talk a bit about some happy places to visit.
There are several happiness indexes but I’ve chosen to go with the one that resonated most with me and had detailed, understandable data, and that was the Happy Planet Index (HPI). They measure things “that matter to us and that matter to the planet” – as you can imagine, there are plenty of folk who dispute their findings.
Nonetheless, the list provides us some wonderful travel ideas. Most of the top countries are in Central America. Here are a few of the highest ranking happiest countries in each world region, based on the HPI, in order in which they appear on the list overall. The HPI’s assignment of regions is a little weird, so I use more commonly recognized names as well.
Translation: My list is unscientific, and intended to highlight some great, happy destinations, not to debate the happiness of one locale over another. 🙂
Central America: Costa Rica
Costa Rica tops most of those happiness lists, and for good reason: it’s a clean, safe place; people who visit there love it, people who live there love it, and they’re kind to their environment. They should be – Costa Rica has more biodiversity than nearly anywhere else on the planet. I’m glad they’re protecting it.
Happy Travel Ideas: Samasati was voted one of our most inspirational places. But you can just relax on a beach, or go zip-lining in the rainforest. This country has it all.
I love Southeast Asia, but its’ hard to pick a favorite. Vietnam wins the happy race, though I suggest you read our Vietnam at a Glance before traveling to understand this diverse country. Whether it’s the wonderful bays and beaches, or exploring some of the exciting cities (with world class restaurants!), Vietnam has something for everyone.
Happy Travel Ideas: Touring the Mekong Delta by boat takes top marks, but an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay is also spectacular.
South America: Colombia
Colombia (note the second “o” – not Columbia) has taken a bad wrap, but you can still have safe and enjoyable experiences in this country as long as you don’t stray off the beaten path. Bogota is the capital city where you’ll have good food and good nightlife – I hope you like to salsa dance!
Happy Travel Ideas: Compare the colonial ambience of Cartagena with the unique vibe left by the ancients who once lived in Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín.
Middle East: Saudi Arabia
These days there isn’t much to be happy about in the Middle East, but with superb airline service now in and out of the region, there are plenty of places to get excited about – these are the world’s oldest countries. Getting a visa for Saudi Arabia is required, but it can be worth it to explore archaeology, or just relax at once of the resorts around Taif. Prepare for culture shock!
Happy Travel Ideas: Visit the Rub al Khali – an almost mythical desert.
South Asia: Bhutan
Tucked away in the Himalayan mountains, Bhutan is almost hidden, and they’d probably like to keep it that way – it’s often compared to the mythical Shangrila, with its pristine environment, and strong Buddhist culture. Mountain trekking is popular, though difficult.
Happy Travel Ideas: Try to visit two of Buddhism’s most sacred sites in Bhutan: the cave of Kurje Lhakhang and the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery.
East Asia: China
A vast and bustling country, China continues to evolve as its prominence in world economics has brought it a great deal of wealth, which has left to many things, including more tourism infrastructure. The 20 Things I Learned Traveling In China by reader Monica Wong is probably a good thing to read before a visit to this sometimes-strange country.
Happy Travel Ideas: Be inspired by the warriors of Xi’an, spend the night on the Great Wall of China, or try the lengthy excursion to visit the waterfalls and multi-colored ponds of Huanglong.
I chose the photo above – some ties from a souk – because it reminds me of one word that describes Morocoo: colorful. The people, the earth, the food, the shops – all are so colorful and vibrant. You can enjoy so many experiences in this country – coastal, relaxed resorts or the bustling cities.
Happy Travel Ideas: Don’t miss the world famous Djemaa el Fna and Medina souks.
Eastern Europe: Moldova
I have to giggle because when I hear the name Moldova, I think Eurovision Song Contest. (If you aren’t familiar – they have had some noteworthy entries.) The tiny country is land-locked and tucked away here you’ll find some fantastic wineyards (I tasted the wine at a travel conference once – it was delicious), and some picturesque scenery. Take note there are many scams operating in this country so it’s best to travel with a reputable agency, like our travel concierge.
Happy Travel Ideas: Go wine tasting, of course, see the opera, and go see the incredible caves of Orheiul Vechi.
Central Asia: Tajikistan
If you happen to plan to travel the silk road, which passes through many of the ‘stan countries, don’t miss the friendly folk in Tajikistan. There’s a lot of misconceptions about these countries, but I think with proper planning, they’re perfectly fine adventures. There is also a lot of great food to be had.
Happy Travel Ideas: My friends Audrey and Dan from Uncornered Market suggest the Pamir Mountains are wonderful. If they say go, you go.
Whether it’s Stockholm or heading up into the wilds of the North, Sweden is a superb country, one of my favorites in Scandinavia for the yummy food and the unreal scenery. The country has untouched forests and lakes so blue you can’t believe it.
Happy Travel Ideas: Visit in summer and stay up to watch the sun “set” every so gently around 3AM and then rise back up. Incredible.
Western Europe: The Netherlands
Ah, of course my former home makes the HPI list, because I have to say the lifestyle is one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever seen. Most folks think about the legalized drugs and prostitution, whereas I think about the incredible canalside cafes and restaurants, friends laughing around tables full of locally made beers and snacks, picnics in the rain, bright orange everything. You can’t help but smile in this small country.
Happy Travel Ideas: Rent your bike, and then head out into the outskirts, such as Amsterdamse Bos (“Amsterdam’s Forest”). Or take the train to a smaller village and bike. You’ll feel care-free.
North America: Canada
Last but not least is Canada, which is one of my favorite countries, and a very happy place indeed. Whether it’s Banff (with that damn squirrel), or the incredible hospitality of Nova Scotia (visit Guysborough!), Canada is awesome. Watch the snow fall in the winter, go taste the maple syrup right out of the tree, or people watching in the country’s cosmopolitan cities.
Happy Travel Ideas: Our friends Dave and Deb share some dream adventures in Canada, province by province, a great place to start. I’d also suggest taking one of VIA Rail’s amazing trains. The classy comfort and amazing views that roll by are bound to put a smile on your face.