There are only a handful of job titles that seem to elicit universal career envy. MaSovaida Morgan has one of them. The Nashville local is Lonely Planet's destination editor for South America. Yes, it's her job to research travel destinations every day and discover far-flung pockets of paradise to share with those of us at home who are dreaming of an exotic vacation.
So far, the intrepid traveler has hiked through the Andes, learned the traditional Rapa Nui dance in Easter Island, and even ridden a sky bike in Equador, peddling on a wire 200 feet above a river gorge. Yes, if there's one person who's skilled to dish travel advice, it's her.
Given her enviable day job, we were curious to find out what destinations appear on the travel pro's bucket list. So we asked her: What are the greatest places in the world you've visited, and what are the top spots you can't wait to see? Curious to see what's on a Lonely Planet editor's bucket list? Take a look…
Iceland has been steadily growing in popularity as a top bucket list destination for good reason. Of all the places in the world Morgan has visited, she recommends the Nordic island nation as a top spot. "When I visited in 2013, I was astounded by the landscapes that teem with a lively energy despite their characteristic vastness," she tells MyDomaine. "I loved how serene and accessible everything felt there—the quirky but calm and creative local culture in Reykjavik is welcoming and inspiring… and they make a legit hot dog!"
Only have a few days to spare? Morgan says there's one activity you must do. "The highlight was waking up in the middle of the night to take a bus outside of the city to photograph the northern lights, freezing our butts off on the side of a hill where, according to Icelandic folklore, trolls are known to dwell."
Easter Island, also known Rapa Nui, was high on Morgan's list of places to see for years, and she jumped at the opportunity to travel to the Polynesian island for her job. "I never actually thought I'd get the chance to see this remote and enigmatic island," she says.
"It's as wild and fascinating as people make it out to be, but there's another side of Rapa Nui that is often eclipsed by the Moai and the mystery of the island's beginnings: The cultural memory that perseveres in the tightly knit locals' reverence for roots steeped in rich Polynesian traditions," she explains. "The island itself may not be very big, but the hearts of the people here are huge."
Her top memory from the trip? "True story: I had dinner with the 88-year-old king, and he gave me a smooch on the face. … Kissed by royalty—another life goal unlocked."
"Morocco always seemed like a very dreamy, romantic and almost languid destination to me, though I had to recalibrate that notion for a bit when I arrived in Marrakech," says Morgan. "The frenetic pace propelled me through the bustling streets with wide eyes… and a dwindling balance in my checking account—the shopping was unbelievable. Those initial musings of Morocco did eventually manifest when we moved along to the seaside town of Essaouira and then to the Sahara, where we rode camels and camped in Berber carpet tents."
Naturally, as Lonely Planet's destination editor for South America, Morgan is a font of knowledge about what to see and do in Brazil. On her first trip to Rio de Janeiro, she tells us she was instantly taken by the beach culture, and the locals' refreshing take on body confidence. "Ipanema Beach is famous for its beautiful scenery and beautiful people—the iconic view of the coastline is exactly what I imagined it would be before I got there," she says.
"While I initially thought I'd feel intimidated and self-conscious around women wearing such tiny bikinis, I actually found myself at ease in what turned out to be a very body-positive environment to me: People of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds congregate at the beaches in Rio, and being comfortable in your skin no matter what you look like is part of the carioca culture," she tells us.
The dramatic terrain of Patagonia calls to Morgan, as it does to so many travelers looking to hike through the rugged mountain ranges and tick Perito Moreno Glacier off their bucket list. While the stunning shelf-like glacier is a popular attraction, she has her sights set on Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at South America's southernmost tip, shared by Chile and Argentina.
"There's something tremendously alluring to me about the idea of traveling to a place known as 'the end of the earth,'" she says. "The drama incited by the name alone—which translates from Spanish to 'Land of Fire'—is enough to arouse anybody's inner adventurer. How can a land of extreme cold have anything to do with fire? Perhaps it's the intrigue that comes with a history of shipwrecks and failed missions, or literal fires built by the indigenous peoples to find warmth in such extreme conditions."
If your dream vacation involves wandering cobblestoned old towns and taking a dip in the azure blue sea, Morgan says there's one place you must see in 2017: Croatia. "People are finally catching on to Croatia—thanks, Game of Thrones," she says. "Passed between the hands of different kingdoms for millennia, Croatia is a confluence of Europe's complex past and the rich cultural legacy each empire left behind. A vision of ancient walled towns and the deep azure of the Adriatic have beckoned me since 2002, when I heard about the seaside adventures a friend had there while traveling around the region."
"I've never met anyone who didn't have a strong opinion about the notion of visiting Antarctica," she tells MyDomaine. "Imagining its extreme remoteness and teeth-chattering cold is either completely cringe-worthy or awe-inspiring—for me, it's the latter. Every journey to this land has to be earned by a voyage treacherous to varying degrees that are dependent on Mother Nature's temperament; weather dictates all flight and sail schedules here. But the seventh continent's stunning nature and elemental forces make for one hell of a wanderlust cocktail, consumable only by the hardiest of travelers."
The professional traveler might have visited more exotic destinations than many of us could ever dream of, but she admits there's one place she's yet to tick off her bucket list. "Of every beach paradise I envision, the Maldives is the top destination to make all of my inner mermaid dreams come true," she says. "The white-sand beaches are some of the finest in the world and can be found on almost all of the country's 1200 islands, which also form an incredible underwater world: The diving and snorkeling are known to be magnificent thanks to the rich coral, caves, and variety of fish, turtles, rays and sharks.
The top allure of this tropical nation? "Word on the street is that the water is so warm, you don't need a wetsuit… but mermaids don't need those anyways. What I might need, however, is the indulgent luxury of one of the countless exclusive resorts—especially if I make it to (and survive) Antarctica."
Tell us, what's on your bucket list?
This post was originally published on August 29, 2016, and has since been updated.