If you’ve resolved to make 2017 a year of travel, there’s no reason to visit the same places as everyone else. Follow the lead of Lee Abbamonte, who at 32 became the youngest American to visit all 193 United Nations member states, and is just six destinations shy of completing an even more select list of 325 territories, islands and lawless enclaves maintained by the Travelers’ Century Club. “I’m just a regular guy that does cool stuff.” He shares with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some of his favorite off-the-radar destinations.
Expect to find yurts, yaks and adventure at this legendary central Asian nation. “It’s one of the most beautifully deserted places in the world. There are few paved roads outside of the capital,” Abbamonte says, although that city, Ulaanbaatar, is worth visiting too. “You can take advantage of some primitive tourism now, as opposed to waiting until the Four Seasons builds a desert resort.” visitmongolia.com
Although overshadowed by Dubai and Abu Dhabi, this Persian Gulf country offers visitors a wide variety of experiences, from luxury resorts to desert excursions. There’s also the port capital city of Muscat, a thriving urban center with a colorful souk, mosques and museums. “They have great beaches and incredible wadis (valleys). It’s a place that’s good for every budget,” Abbamonte says. omantourism.gov.om
Dewey Beach, Del.
When Abbamonte was a student at the University of Maryland, he discovered the appeal of Delaware’s beach towns, particularly Dewey. “I’ve been going there for the last 20 years every summer,” he says. “You can walk everywhere. The town’s a mile long. There’s live music every night. It’s a great place to get away.” beach-fun.com
This southern African nation is an Abbamonte favorite. “It’s the most beautiful country in Africa — and I’ve been to them all. Highlights range from safari excursions to the world’s largest sand dune. And the appeal continues after dark. “It also has the most amazing night sky you can see anywhere.” namibiatourism.com.na
Too often travelers flying into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport immediately head east to Dallas, forgetting all about Fort Worth. “It’s not on people’s radar. It’s a modern city with old-school Western ties. You get the world’s largest honkytonk, but there’s also great food,” Abbamonte says. “They also have a world-class museum district that nobody seems to know about.” fortworth.com
The natural scenery makes this South American nation a must-visit, Abbamonte says. “The Salar de Uyuni salt flats are one of the most unique places in the world. And some of the natural lakes at about 18,000 feet altitude are shockingly gorgeous.” Plus, there’s the fun of hanging out in La Paz, the world’s highest capital city. bolivia.travel/en
For mountain bikers, rock climbers and hikers, there may be no better destination than this outdoor recreation hot spot in southeast Utah. Moab’s close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and within striking distance of many other recreation areas. “You can do tons of adventurous activities. It’s kind of become a base camp for those rugged outdoorsy people who want to make a living but want a real life too,” Abbamonte says. discovermoab.com
Kiawah Island, S.C.
While tourists love Charleston, Abbamonte suggests traveling past the historic coastal city and heading to Kiawah, a luxury getaway with pro-rated golf courses, tennis and sailing. “It’s really a recreational heaven and a golfer’s paradise. It’s not cheap, but it’s absolutely fantastic.” kiawahresort.com
Head to the South Pacific to find the best scuba diving in the world, Abbamonte says. And that’s just the start. The island’s fresh seafood and scenery outshines anything you’d find in the Caribbean. “It’s wild. It’s the Pacific like you want it to be, out of a James Michener novel.” pristineparadisepalau.com
While hardly undiscovered, many winter travelers forget about the incredible scenery and snow sport opportunities found just north of the border. “It’s close to home — the most beautiful place in Canada and possibly in North America,” Abbamonte says. He particularly loves Jasper, which offers easy access to hiking, winter activities and après-ski nightlife. “It’s a winter wonderland.” But he also enjoys the big-city appeal of Calgary. travelalberta.com