Experts give advice on sorting the best from the rest, writes Stephanie Holmes.
As we reach the end of another year and enjoy a restful (hopefully), sunny break away from work, overseas holidays are often far from our minds. But now's a great time to be thinking ahead for 2019.
Whether you want to beat the crowds, find an undiscovered gem, or get the best value for your big trip, booking in advance can really pay off. But with a whole, wide world out there, where should be on your must-visit list? I've called in the experts to help.
TOP DESTINATIONS FOR 2019
1 Japan has been rising in popularity and it's set to reach fever pitch in the next 12 months, with the Rugby World Cup kicking off on September 20. Tickets and accommodation packages may well be sold out now, and those that are left are bound to be incredibly expensive, especially for the final matches. For more affordable options, plan your visit around the early rounds, and stay in a location not hosting a match.
"The cities that are hosting games will be top of the visitors' list," says House of Travel's product and channel director, Dave Fordyce. "But Japan's got such an interesting mix of culture, tradition and regionally diverse cuisine, we envisage Kiwis will also travel further afield."
2 With years of political instability and safety issues for foreign visitors, Egypt has been off many travellers' radars. But James Thornton, Intrepid Travel's CEO, says that has started to change. In 2018, the adventure travel company saw 130 per cent growth for Egypt bookings, and they're expecting that rise to continue in 2019.
"There are rumours that the renovated Great Egyptian Museum will open next year, and with crowds still small at the Pyramids, now is a great time to go," Thornton says. "Egyptians are known for their hospitality and travellers can expect a warm welcome back."
Those who like to time a trip around a festival should mark August in their diaries, and plan a trip to The Catskills in New York State, says Lonely Planet's Chris Zeiher. The region will mark the 50th anniversary of the famous Woodstock Festival, with a hotly-tipped line-up for a commemoration concert. No acts are confirmed as yet, but there are rumours of a diverse range of acts, from Santana and Bruce Springsteen, to Daft Punk and the Weeknd, to Ariana Grande and Pink. You can bet it will be an epic celebration, no matter who is on the bill, so music fans should take a leap of faith and book flights and accommodation well in advance.
4 Germany's super-cool capital, Berlin, is also celebrating an important anniversary in November, marking 30 years since the Peaceful Revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall. "Rather than simply marking the anniversary, 2019 will be a year of reflection and conversation around the positive impact this event had on, not only the nation itself, but also greater Europe," Zeiher says.
No word yet on whether David Hasselhof has been booked to perform.
5 Southeast Asia will continue to be a popular getaway for Kiwis, with a range of destinations topping 2019 wishlists. Sri Lanka is top, after being named by Lonely Planet as the No. 1 destination for travel in 2019. With the global focus such an accolade brings, it's better to head there sooner rather than later. Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, is Webjet's top-trending destination for 2019, with searches up 62 per cent. "This destination is proving particularly popular with 25- to 44-year-olds, who are seeking out 'luxe-adventure' trips," says Webjet country manager Dave Galt.
If social media feeds are anything to go by, pretty much everyone in New Zealand knows someone who went to Bali this year. And why not, it's a fantastic and easy getaway for Kiwis, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. If you don't want to be bumping into your neighbours or your boss while you're on holiday however, try Nusa Penida, an Indonesian island with the beauty of Bali but without the crowds and rapid development.
This is one of Booking.com's top 10 emerging destinations for the year ahead, based on year-on-year data for international bookings, with the site's users endorsing Nusa Penida for snorkelling, beaches and nature. They're picking it as a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
Europe is ever-popular for Kiwi travellers but those looking for somewhere new or with fewer crowds should turn to Portugal, says Fordyce. "Its food, history, beaches, authentic villages and surrounding wine regions offer all the merits of Europe, but with an exclusive feel."
7 Antarctica is a dream destination for many, but it doesn't need to stay that way. Peregrine Adventures' Asia-Pacific regional director Brett Mitchell says the continent is not only for "the rich and retired".
"With voyages more affordable than ever, price isn't the barrier it once was," he says. "Plan well ahead, choose a sustainable travel company and keep an eye out for early-bird sales.
"Flight paths are direct, with frequent flights from New Zealand to Argentina, which means visiting the final frontier could be closer than you think."
8 Cruise holidays went from strength to strength in 2018, with a number of new ships and a lot more variety in terms of itineraries, affordability, and types of cruise. Fordyce says some of these new options challenge people's preconceptions.
"Travellers seeking intrepid holidays without the uncertainties of adventurous travel are taking cruises for off-the-beaten-track experiences," he says. "Both P&O and Princess Cruises have developed attractive itineraries to places such as New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, so there are plenty of opportunities for Kiwis to discover exciting new places close to home."
And the new ships keep on coming — 2019 will see the launch of Royal Caribbean International's Spectrum of the Seas (4246 passengers), Costa Cruises' Costa Smeralda (5200), MSC Bellissima (4415) and MSC Grandiosa (4827), Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Encore (4000), Princess Cruises' Sky Princess (3660), Carnival Cruises' Carnival Panorama (3954), and Viking Cruises' Viking Jupiter (930).
9 More hot tips from Booking.com users are places you may have never even heard of, including Samarkand, Uzbekistan; Ouarzazate, Morocco; Palomino, Colombia; Mestia, Georgia; and Ksamil, Albania. Our pick of the bunch is Bacalar, Mexico, which they have tipped to become the next Maldives. This beauty is on the southeastern coast, close to the Belize border, and is a haven for swimmers. The Lake of the Seven Colours has clear, fresh water and is ideal for diving and snorkelling. Bacalar also has beautiful white-sand beaches and an abundance of seafood
WHERE TO AVOID
With "overtourism" affecting cities like Venice, Barcelona, Santorini, savvy travellers are realising the importance not only of where they go, but also where they don't go.
Although it's important to be aware of your burden on the world as a traveller, you don't need to stay home altogether.
"For me, it's not where to avoid, it's when," says Intrepid Travel's James Thornton. "I'd avoid tourist hotspots during peak season. Not only can you beat the crowds, you also help the local communities by keeping people employed throughout the year."
He gives Italy as a prime example. "The winters are mild, but the food and wine is always good, making it the perfect place to visit during the off-season."
You can also look to "second cities", sharing your tourism dollars around a country, not simply supporting the already over-subscribed perennial favourites. For example, instead of heading to London, why not try Birmingham, which Expedia's Kelly Cull says is growing in popularity with Kiwis who are keen to avoid "the hustle and bustle, particularly during peak seasons".
Leeuwarden, in the Netherlands, is a good alternative to Amsterdam, according to Booking.com users. It's full of laidback Dutch charm, with museums, great shopping districts and food hotspots, but without the out-of-control stag and hens' parties you see in Amsterdam. Leeuwarden was endorsed by the site's users for its old town, city walks and shopping.
Another European alternative is Slovenia, which has a similar feel to Croatia but hasn't quite hit the same tourist radar . . . yet. Lonely Planet's Chris Zeiher says the country "boasts everything you want from a continental experience . . . and all without the annoying crowds or hefty price tag."
MAKING THE MOST OF NEW ROUTES
New Zealand has been blessed with new ways to escape the country this year, with airlines launching routes that will gain in popularity in 2019.
The most recent was Air New Zealand's direct flight from Auckland to Chicago, which not only gives Kiwis the chance to visit this fantastic city, it also opens up more of the US and eastern Canada.
Virgin Australia have given us a new option for hopping across the Tasman, too, with its new service from Auckland to Newcastle, NSW. The city is best known for coal and motorsport but there is plenty to attract non-petrolheads — it's the gateway to the Hunter Valley, which Victoria Courtney, Flight Centre NZ general manager product, says is "a relatively undiscovered part of New South Wales and a fab spot for a long weekend."
Money saving tips for 2019
Right, got all those destinations saved on your wishlist? The next question is how you're going to afford it all. Travel is, of course, a luxury and can sometimes feel unachievable when there are so many other demands on your family and finances.
But there are ways to make travel more affordable, for example, choosing a destination where the Kiwi dollar is strong.
"South America is a great option for Kiwis in 2019," says Expedia's Kelly Cull, who notes our dollar is performing well, especially against Brazilian and Argentinian currencies.
You can also reduce the cost of a holiday by making some small sacrifices.
"Kiwis can save $210 per night, on average, in Oahu, Hawaii, by opting for a 3-star hotel over a 4-star," says Cull. When you consider that you'll spend most of your time away from your hotel room anyway, booking something more basic is actually a very sensible option that can pay dividends.
Another hot tip is to look at new entry points to your chosen destination.
"Many Kiwis have wised up to the fact that airports such as London Gatwick, Dublin and Paris have lower airport taxes," says Flight Centre's Victoria Courtney.
She points out that we may see airfares climb again in 2019, due to rising oil prices and higher costs for airlines, particularly on long-haul routes.
"Our advice to travellers is that it always pays to lock in airfares as soon as possible, as the cheaper fares tend to sell first, often leaving only more premium offerings available closer to departure date."