Beachfront breakfast (228325)
Credit: Megan Pinckney photo

The start of a new year is always exciting. The feeling of a fresh start or new beginning gives us an excuse to self-reflect and set personal goals. Many choose to make resolutions regarding health through things such as diet and exercise. But what if this year you made a different kind of resolution, something that would be just as stimulating to your mind and body as signing up for a gym membership? 

This year you should make a resolution to see more of the world. You should explore places, near and far, that are unlike any other place you have ever been. Experiencing different cultures, while feeding your brain new sights and sounds, will expand your ability to think critically and add validity to your opinions. 

If given the opportunity, you should try to get somewhere new every couple of months. And although it would be great if that “someplace new” were a village somewhere in Europe, that just isn’t realistic. Instead, I challenge you to explore cities in the U.S., as well as around the world this year. Here are 12 places you should visit this coming year!  

1. New Orleans, La.

The city of New Orleans is always a great time! If you’re ever in the mood for a weekend-long party and unique cuisine rooted in tradition, make your way down to the bayou. Plan to go during early spring to enjoy beautiful weather (summers can be unbearable) and less of a crowd.

Where to eat brunch: Stanley’s

Located on the corner of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, Stanley’s is the perfect place to start the day before exploring Nola on foot. The service is quick and the food is exceptional breakfast food at a fair price. My favorite dish is the “eggs Stanley,” which is basically just eggs Benedict, but with cornmeal-crusted oysters and Creole hollandaise (http://www.stanleyrestaurant).

2. Laguna Beach, Calif.

This southern California town is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet, relaxing weekend on the Pacific coast. Within a 20-minute drive, you’ll find a couple of wineries, several great local restaurants and hundreds of places to witness the perfect sunset.

Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Of course, Ritz-Carltons are known for their exceptional service skills and their attention to detail, but what makes this cliffside property the exceptional choice is that it is bursting with a variety of ways to witness that Orange County sunset (http://www.ritzcarlton.com).

3. Aspen, Colo.

Colorado is filled with tons of great ski villages and cities, and yet one remains the most popular among those who seek luxury. Aspen offers a variety of high-end designer boutiques within one cozy village. Its access to private property rentals on exclusive trails also makes it appealing to those seeking to customize their experience.

Where to eat lunch: The White House Tavern

Located at the foot of a major ski-lift within the village of designer shops is this quaint local eatery that is usually packed but well worth the wait. I recommend the deviled eggs and the crispy chicken sandwich (http://aspenwhitehouse.com)

4. Lake Como, Italy

About two hours north of Milan sits a modest lake that is home to dozens of small villages. Every image you take, rather on a boat rides or walking down a street, will be one worthy of a postcard…or a post on Instagram.

5. St. Thomas, U.S.V.I

This U.S. territory is perfect for a weekend getaway. Its tropical beaches, smaller resorts and unique local restaurants are just a few reasons why no one can go to St. Thomas just once.

Bar to visit: Soggy Dollar Bar

Located a short distance away from the island of St. Thomas is Jost Van Dyke, an island located in the British Virgins Islands. There you’ll find one of the coolest bars in the world. Named for the currency used by its patrons, because the only way to the island is by walking in the surf, this bar is the originator of the Painkiller, which is now served all throughout the world. (http://www.soggydollar.com/).

6. Orlando, Fla.

Sure, Orlando is mostly just famous for its abundance of adventure parks, but visiting these parks as adults really is an entirely different experience.

Which park to visit: SeaWorld

If you have seen, or even heard of, the documentary “Blackfish,” then your reservations against SeaWorld are completely understandable. However, SeaWorld is much more than its Orca shows. Yes, there are some incredible shows that unfortunately use large mammals as props and entertainment, but it is also home to the tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster in Orlando (https://www.seaworld.com).

7. Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is filled with extraordinary sights and one-of-a-kind experiences. Whether you’re riding an elephant through the jungle, or shopping in a boat on a floating market, you are bound to encounter

something memorable.

Where to stay: Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

Acclaimed by many to be one of “the best hotels in Southeast Asia,” the Mandarin Oriental provides you with the tools to have the best possible experience during your stay in Bangkok. Their dock on the Chao Phraya gives you access to a world through the eyes of its natives, and the concierge has tons of great ideas on how to get the most out of your days (http://www.mandarinoriental).

8. Charleston, S.C.

This small, historic city has found a way to merge the necessities of the new millennium with the ambience of a 19th century Southern port city. In preserving that charm, Charleston has been able to conserve dozens of historic sites and give visitors a chance to reflect on our country’s history. But the trip doesn’t have to be just a lesson on history. Restaurants and chefs are part of the growing food scene, and they continue to win leading industry awards.

Where to stay: Grand Bohemian Charleston

Located in the heart of downtown and walking distance from several shops and restaurants, this hotel is the perfect home base for a weekend in the Holy City. The décor is modern and chic, yet cozy, and the rooftop provides access to a hip pool and views of the skyline.

Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.