For the past two and a half years, most of my time has been spent abroad: living, vacationing, backpacking, working. In all, I’ve been to 41 countries. Some have been great. Some have been boring. Some have been shocking.
Below are my 15 favorite places in the world, presented in order. This list is not scientific at all. I asked myself questions such as “How much would/did I enjoy living there?” “How much do I want to go back?” and “How blown away was I by it?” and ordered my list loosely based on the answers.
These are not the “best” places in the world. These are not even places I recommend visiting the most. They’re merely my personal favorites — the locations that mean the most to me and that I enjoy the most. Take that for what its worth.
15. Prague, Czech Republic
Of all the European cities completely overrun and gutted by tourists, Prague is my favorite. I figured I’d kick this list off with a backhanded compliment. But really, when you wade through the overweight British girls on their gap year, Prague’s Old Town is charming. Its vistas are beautiful. And its culture is a nice blend of the best of East and West. Prague is backpacker and tourist hell at times, particularly in the summers. But if you’re willing to get a little adventurous, to stray off the beaten path, to lean into the language barrier and try your luck out in the outskirts of town, you’ll be rewarded with friendly locals, beautiful women, underrated food, and some strong nightlife. Just don’t go to the strip clubs, they’re scams. Wait, what am I saying? Strip clubs everywhere are scams.
14. Beijing, China
The only reason I even stopped in Beijing was because it was the cheapest hub back to the US from Thailand. I had little interest in the country but I figured I may as well stop and see the Great Wall and Forbidden City. Call it a moral travel obligation.
To my surprise, I really liked it and I will go back to China one day. I’m not sure when, but I will go back and I will spend a lot of time there. The culture fascinated me. The city fascinated me. Everything’s new and exciting there, not just for you, but for the locals as well. It feels like a social explosion is happening there. And I’m not sure what it is about former communist countries, but it feels like there’s a sense of community in them, even among strangers, that we lack in the West. I can’t put my finger on it, but perhaps that’s why I want to go back.
13. Jerusalem, Israel
Israel is perhaps the most fascinating place I’ve ever been which I don’t intend on ever going back to. Israel is intense, too intense if you ask me. I have nothing against the people and have no position in their religious/political quagmire. I just don’t like going to a shopping mall full of civilians with rifles strapped to their backs.
But that wasn’t even the most intense part. Jerusalem. I’m not religious and not Jewish. But I was still floored by the historical relevance of the Jerusalem. Not even floored, but awed, dumbstruck, mystified. It’s the cradle of civilization. And it only takes a stroll through the Old City to understand why this is the most politically contentious place on Earth: three of the world’s major religions have some of their most holy locations within a couple miles of one another. It’s an amazing disaster, and I mean that in the best way possible. You can be at the Wailing Wall, the final remaining part of the temple of David, and then a few blocks away is where Jesus Christ was crucified, and then around the corner is where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, and a stone’s throw away is the Dome of the Rock, one of the most holy mosques in the world… all while meandering through limestone paths built by the Romans over 2,000 years ago.
Jerusalem kind of ruined me for a lot of other tourist sites in the world. After Jerusalem, so many places feel insignificant or historically unimportant by comparison. For instance, my trip through Baria Gotica in Barcelona was a snooze, “Oh, this fortress is only 1,000 years old? And those old Roman ruins were built in 500 AD? Oh, OK, where do we eat?”
12. South Beach, Miami, USA
South Beach is one of two places in the US that doesn’t feel like it’s part of the US. It also arguably has the most beautiful women in the US (there’s a strong argument for New York City; LA is flat-out overrated, in almost every way imaginable).
The first time I traveled to South Beach, I was young, broke, and dressed like an idiot. I hated it. The second time I traveled to South Beach, I was a bit older, had money, and dressed very well. I loved it. Like it or not, status plays here. South Beach is like a slice of Europe and a slice of Latin America smashed together on a tropical island made of American excess. Great music scene, perfect weather, gorgeous beach. One of the few cities in the US I’d consider living in permanently.
11. Sydney, Australia
Of the English-speaking countries, Australia is my favorite. I really feel like Australia is what the US should have been, were we not so fat or superficial and didn’t spend 1/3 our money on a military instead of health care and education. Australia’s great. They’re like England without the self-loathing and bad weather. They’re like Canada without the snow and ice. They’re like New Zealand without the hobbits and sheep. But before all of my Australian readers start to get a big head, keep in mind that being the best of the English-speaking countries to me is like winning the Special Olympics, you’re still culture-less and a bunch of binge-drinking retards. But at least you get to have perfect weather, great beaches, clean and modern cities, and raging nightlife while you do it, unlike the rest of us.
So why Sydney? I love big cities. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t been to Melbourne yet. Everyone tells me that Melbourne is better — it has more art, more culture, nicer girls. Whatever. Sydney treated me pretty damn well. Wonderful city and I have wonderful friends there as well. All of the amenities of a world class city without many of the drawbacks you get in places like New York and London.
10. Hong Kong, China
If cities were people, Hong Kong would be a rich Wall Street guy with sweat stains and an Asian fetish. Hong Kong has by far the highest population density in the world. Imagine if Manhattan was a gigantic hill and every building was twice as tall. Throw in some sky bridges and the longest escalator in the world and you end up with the most urban environment on the planet.
There are so many young western expats living in Hong Kong, you forget that you’re in Asia at times. The island has everything you could want back home — great restaurants and night clubs, big career opportunities, over-educated single 20-something women — while the mainland still delivers the cultural diversity (or insanity, depending on what you’re going for) that you come to expect from Southeast Asia. I could live here.
9. São Paulo, Brazil
You have not met urban sprawl until you’ve met São Paulo. Most people think of São Paulo as Rio de Janeiro’s fat, ugly cousin with an urban-planning problem. And I guess they’re right… but that’s not all São Paulo is. Most people don’t enjoy São Paulo because they drop in for a few days, find out that it’s almost impossible to get anywhere, spend a fortune on the most basic amenities, can’t find anything interesting or fun to do because they don’t know any locals, realize no one speaks English, and quickly leave annoyed and slightly broke.
If they stayed longer, they’d realize a few things: São Paulo has the best night life in South America (yes, better than Buenos Aires). It has the best food in South America (yes, better than Buenos Aires). It has some of the most beautiful and educated women in South America (yes, better than Buenos Aires). And it’s within a day-trip of a number of great beaches (unlike… *drumroll* you guessed it, Buenos Aires).
You just have to know the right places, which in a city so large, is not easy. São Paulo requires an investment of time, energy and money: three things most foreigners won’t be willing to put in. And I’m fine with that — happy about it, even. The city remains fairly unscathed by the hordes of backpackers, resort-goers and sex tourists which populate Rio. And now that I’ve put the time in to learn the city and meet some special people, I’ll gladly go back.
8. Berlin, Germany
Best nightlife in the world, hands down. And if you don’t agree, please tell me of another place where you can leave a club at 9AM and have there still be a line to get in.
Berlin is almost like its own country, it’s as culturally diverse as you’ll find in the world. From what I understand, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the real estate market clusterfucked itself. The amount of land doubled over night. Rent prices plummeted, and swarms of artists, musicians, and performers came from all over Europe to live cheaply and lay the foundation to the neo-bohemian smorgasbord of culture you find there today. I imagine the excessive partying came with them.
(Sidenote: Berlin is also a great biking city, which wins big points from me.)
(Another side note: Berlin is home to the scariest bouncer I’ve ever seen in my life.)
Singapore is almost too perfect. Everything is spotless. The buildings are modern and gorgeous. Everyone is friendly and helpful. Everything is orderly and there’s no crime. Walking around it, you almost wish you could see a semi-toothed homeless man peeing in the street and laughing about it. Just once, so you’d remember that, oh yeah, the world is shit and we’re here to suffer through it together. But in Singapore you’ll never see it. You’ll never see bars on store windows, or police cars checking suspicious alleys, or even gum stains on the sidewalk, or anything but the perfectly clean, the educated and friendly.
I won’t bore you with the history lesson, but I find Singapore’s system fascinating. Chewing gum laws aside, they rate among the best in the world in wealth, education, health and quality of life. They really do have something special there. Staying there is a joy. The people, the food, getting around, all of it. The nightlife isn’t crazy, but it’s quality, with beautiful locals and a surprisingly large amount of international models. The catch is it costs slightly less than the GDP of Ghana to live there. No seriously, Singaporeans laugh at New York and London prices. $25 for a mixed drink, $30 for a casual dinner (for one). $200 a night gets you a small, basic hotel room. If you go, I hope your wallet is fat.
6. Ibiza, Spain
OK, imagine Las Vegas, except it’s on a small island in the Mediterranean. Then replace the cheesy casinos with crazy beach parties, make the clubs the best and biggest in the world, and then fill it with drunk English kids and beautiful Spanish people. Take that, make it 20 times more awesome and that will give you a vague idea of what Ibiza is like.
Ibiza is where I fell in love with electronic music. We had been flirting for a couple years and had a few flings together, but in Ibiza we consummated our relationship. We’ve been happily together ever since.
After Ibiza, anything else referred to as a “club” feels like a parody, like a cheap knock-off of the real thing. The clubs in Ibiza are indescribable. They’re not clubs, they’re an experience. Rope dancing strippers who play saxophone solos over house music, hip hop performers walking on glass bridges above the dance floor, a club with a wind tunnel built into it, the best DJs in the world spinning every night from 2AM until 9AM, drunk Eastern European women running around on the beach topless, ecstasy pills that cost less than a Red Bull Vodka — OK, I’m going to stop there before my lawyer emails me.
5. Medellin, Colombia
Medellin is known for two things: drug cartels and beautiful women. Fortunately, the drug cartels left and the women stayed.
Despite being relatively safe and pleasant now, most people are still terrified of Colombia. I’m living in Medellin at the moment, and I’ve now heard all of the (unfunny) jokes about kidnapping, coke binges, armored cars, getting robbed, etc. I get where people back home are coming from, but if they came down here and walked around they would feel stupid pretty fast. It’s really nice here. The quality of life to cost of living ratio is the one of the highest I’ve found anywhere. Just tonight I described the penthouse apartment I’m moving into next week to a friend on Facebook. When I told him how much I was paying, he took a moment to respond, and then said, “Sorry, I just passed out when I read that number. What the fuck am I still doing here?”
The culture here is surprisingly warm and welcoming. It caught me a bit off-guard, but it’s not unusual for the locals to come over and chat you up during dinner, to buy you a beer and excitedly practice their English with you, or to even invite you to their homes for a barbecue on a random Sunday. And no, I never got mugged, drugged, or robbed accepting any of these invitations, nor has anyone I’ve met here.
4. St. Petersburg, Russia
I love Russia. The food is terrible. The weather is terrible. Nothing works. The service is horrible. People are rude. It’s always cold (it snowed in May when I lived there, MAY!). And everything is overpriced. But I love Russia and desperately want to go back.
Why? The culture. I am enthralled by Russian culture, hypnotized by it. Anyone who’s read my book knows I’m big on honesty. And not just, “Oh, tell the truth, kind of” type of honesty — but painfully real, unpleasant yet necessary honesty. Russians say what they feel and don’t really give a damn who it offends or upsets. And as a Westerner, once I became accustomed to it, the clarity felt amazing, as if I had gone my entire life without ever actually communicating.
It’s not easy to get used to though. Russians are not impressed with frivolities. The fact that I was attempting their impossible language and could even communicate a bit meant absolutely nothing to them. My travels impressed few of them. They were primarily interested in two things: my ideas and my feelings.
It was jarring at first and somewhat uncomfortable. I fell back to the classic English-speaking habit of wiggling my way out of honesty with sarcasm and jokes. Of course, none of the Russians laughed. But pretty soon I began to open up and appreciate it. When my Russian teacher calmly told me my answer was stupid, or when the guy at the gym told me I was trying to squat more than I should be — it stopped stinging and I began to appreciate the authenticity. And once I appreciated that, the other side of Russian culture opened up: the passionate, fun-loving, crazy, side of the culture; the common camaraderie I hadn’t quite experienced before; the “well, we may fucking die tomorrow, so let’s do it anyway,” attitude that went against more or less everything I grew up considering. Don’t get me wrong, Russia’s a pretty screwed up place. But the day-to-day communication there, once you get used to it, is like a drug.
3. Phuket, Thailand
I love Thailand for all of the same reasons most people love Thailand: the friendly culture, the great food, the full-body massages, the insanely cheap prices and some of the world’s best beaches. But there’s something about Phuket that I can’t get enough of, and no, it’s not the bar girls or night life. In fact, out of the top 10 places on this list, Phuket is the only place where I don’t enjoy the partying or night life. It’s disgusting. And I don’t like Thai women.
When I was a teenager, my mom fell in love with Jamaica. She had been all over the world, but for whatever reason, she kept returning to Jamaica — Negril, specifically. She spent a large portion of the next six years there. After a few days in Rawai, a small town at the southern tip of Phuket, I skyped her and told her I think I finally got it. There’s no logical explanation as to why I like Phuket or Koh Phi Phi so much. But if someone said I had a week to live and I could spend that week anywhere I wanted, I’d probably spend it on Phuket, motorbiking across the island from beach to beach, stopping at little bars and restaurants along the way, getting lost in the trees and sand until I was gone.
2. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Most beautiful city in the world. Best beach city in the world. Best culture in the world.
People are either a Rio person or a São Paulo person. Going purely on your eyes and your senses, it’s impossible to imagine why someone wouldn’t be a Rio person. The place is like the Angelina Jolie of metropolises. Brazilians tell me that Rio is great to visit, but bad to live in. I’m apt to believe them, except most of those same Brazilians are from São Paulo. Granted, Rio lacks a lot of the culture, night life and education of São Paulo. But the richer neighborhoods and tourist areas by the beaches are excellent places to stay, and I imagine with enough time one could find things to do regularly.
Regardless, for a vacation, Rio has everything you could ever want. Beaches, food, tourist sites, fun activities, bars, ridiculously good-looking people. I loved it there and can’t wait to go back.
1. New York City, USA
When I was 16-years-old, I went to New York City for the first time. I immediately fell in love with Manhattan and promised myself that I’d live there one day. I still haven’t, but in the dozen or so times I’ve been back since, I’ve made the same promise. There’s an energy to that island that you don’t feel anywhere else in the world.
Manhattan is noisy, crowded, preposterously commercial, and very American. Yet, it doesn’t feel like the US. It feels like its own country. When I was there a few weeks ago, I must have heard at least 10 languages spoken at one point or another during my time there.
Manhattan has the best of every culture represented. Chic Venezuelan food in the East Village before a live theatrical performance by an Argentinian troupe, French cuisine the next night before hitting a club to dance to dub step until 4AM on a Wednesday. Manhattan has anything you want, whenever you want it. It has every scene you could be into — whether it’s pretentious hipster rock, cocaine-addled fashion shows, head banging black metal concerts, quiet jazz lounges, after work happy hours, drunken Irish pubs with shitty folk music — you name it, you can find it in New York, and likely any night of the week. That goes for food, music, performances, hell, even people. Where else could I chat with an Ethiopian women about what it’s like to live in another country while on my way to meet a Brazilian girl for lunch at a favorite Thai restaurant? That’s right, nowhere.