They say how you spend New Year’s Eve is an indication of how you’ll spend your year. So if you devote yet another December 31 to avoiding your more unusual relatives at the annual family party, the forecast for the following 12 months isn’t looking great. Instead, why not start the year as you mean to go on: with an adventure?
With hopes of inspiring you to see in the New Year somewhere new, a selection of Lonely Planet staff share the stories behind their best NYE on the road, from climbing sacred peaks to sleeping on train station floors. As these travel tales show, a New Year’s Eve away from home may not always go according to plan, but it is likely to result in a night you won’t forget.
An image of Adam’s Peak at night captured from a distance. The illuminated walkway up the mountain is making a light trail that spirals around the mountain, while the rest of the image is dark.
Rosie saw the first dawn of the year from the summit of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka © Darshana Abraham / 500px
Watching the sunrise from Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
Because my boyfriend and I are peak party animals we actually had a really early night on December 31, 2018; but, in our defence, we did have a 2am wake up call scheduled in, followed by a gruelling three-hour hike up Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada), a sacred mountain in Sri Lanka, in an effort to see the first sunrise of the year from its summit.
We started our climb in the pitch black, and – wrapped in countless layers of clothing – followed the throng of pilgrims winding their way up the illuminated stone steps to the mountain’s crest. We reached the top at around 5:30am, just in time to see the first dawn of 2019 creep inch-by-inch up over the misty hills. It was a totally euphoric experience that I will never forget, and sharing it with the crowd of pilgrims and sprinkling of travellers from all over the world made it even more special.
– Rosie Anness, Senior International Licensing Executive, @rosieanness
Running out of steam in Brussels
Aged 21, me and four friends made an impromptu decision to get the Eurostar to Brussels to see in the New Year. We didn’t book a hotel, because we were utterly convinced we’d be able to find enough all-night party venues to see us through until our return train at 6am.
While many metropolises boast the evocative tagline of ‘the city that never sleeps’, the Belgian capital rather seems to enjoy its rest, and we ran out of bars and beer money at around 2am. We wandered over to the town square and paid brief homage to the Manneken Pis – the famous statue of a boy urinating into a fountain – and exchanged good-natured New Year greetings with some locals, similarly the worse for wear. By the time the clock chimed three we’d officially run out of steam, and spent the remainder of our visit asleep on the train station floor.
– Orla Thomas, Features Editor of Lonely Planet magazine, @OrlaThomas
A kangaroo peeks over the crest of a grassy field in New South Wales, Australia. In the background another hill is visible, covered in forest.
Barbara marked the beginning of a new millennium in the wilds of New South Wales © Barbara / Lonely Planet
Finding love in the bush in New South Wales, Australia
I wanted to spend the Y2K New Year away from the city, so I attended a ten-day meditation retreat set on the side of a mountain among hectares of bush and wildlife in New South Wales, Australia. Hundreds of others had the same idea, many from around the world. On New Year’s Eve, the retreat, which had been going for several days, paused to allow for the kind of party a new millennium deserves, which in this case meant an eclectic mix of people, languages, food and music.
In the wee hours, stumbling through the dark forest to my tent without a torch, I ran into an Italian man in the same predicament, so we stumbled along together. When we finally reached our tents, we noticed an open space lit by the crescent moon a little distance away, so we kept on walking. With the Milky Way twinkling above and the sound of the ocean below, we talked until the kookaburras heralded the rising sun, whose light revealed kangaroos quietly grazing in the grass around us. It felt quite magical and auspicious, and I guess it was; this coming New Year my husband and I will be celebrating not only a new year but also 20 years together.
– Barbara Di Castro, Image Research & Licensing Manager.
A firework show with added bang in Varnado, Louisiana
Years ago, when I was married to my first wife, we went to her parents’ home in Varnado, Louisiana, for the holidays. Varnado was a town with about 550 or so residents at the time, and one traffic light. Lots of the residents were relatives of my wife: her Uncle Scrap was the town’s mayor, his brother, Uncle Vanial (immediately identifiable due to the hoof-shaped scar on his forehead from being kicked by a mule), ran the town library, and Uncle Tommy was a professional race car driver who also happened to throw the best New Year’s Eve party in town, complete with thousands of dollars of fireworks.
The year that we attended, Uncle Tommy came to me and said he wanted to do something special for his new family from New York City. Apparently fireworks weren’t good enough for this, so he actually produced gunpowder and piping and began to set off the fireworks using these new ‘ingredients’. The result was an explosion so loud it literally shook the ground, and it set off about a dozen rockets of all sorts all at once. It was so close to me that it was at once both terrifying and amazing! It’s a New Year’s Eve I will never, ever forget.
– Jim Brody, Managing Director of Destinations, @JBSenseOfPlace
An aerial view of the crowds of people attending the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach, Thailand. The beach is completely swamped by people, with lasers and lights painting the crowds in different colours.
Kat spent one memorable NYE at Thailand’s infamous Full Moon Party © 4FR / Getty Images
Dancing until (a revelatory) dawn in Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand
Many moons ago I welcomed in a new year at a Full Moon Party on the beach in Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand. Say what you will about this infamous event, but we had one hell of a night, dancing on the beach under the stars, covered in fluorescent paint.
We were still dancing as the sun came up, which I’d envisaged as a perfect start to the New Year. However, what I remember is suddenly becoming aware of how terrible everyone looked, and thus having to acknowledge how terrible I must also look. Being hit by the realisation that it’s much less fun dancing in the daylight than the dark, we decided it might be time to head home. My final memory of the night is taking one last look out towards the sunrise, which was partially obscured by a wall of men standing in the shallow waters, urinating into the sea. We made a quick decision that we needed to move on before our next beach day.
– Katharine Nelson, Head of Marketing, @hikat
Meeting the burger-eating champ of Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Soppy story alert: I met a beguiling gentleman on a trip to the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc on a break from my teaching duties in Hanoi, who stood out due to his humour and manners, as well as a brilliant red burn and his title as the ‘burger-eating’ champion of the island.
After we connected online and got to know each other, he asked me if I’d like to go on a date if he ever returned to Vietnam. I said yes, not imagining I’d meet him again. Six months later he flew from Ireland to Hanoi for New Year’s Eve, and as we toasted the new year with my Hanoi family on the roof of a posh restaurant, we shared our first kiss. We are now married, and live in Dublin and, as far as I know, he remains the reigning burger-eating champ of Phu Quoc.
– Karen Henderson, Senior Editor, @karenleeh1
A firework display lights up the night sky. Below, and closer to the camera, silhouettes of a number of people, watching the show, are visible.
The firework display in El Calafate left a big impression on Piers, when it finally got going © Melanie Bechard / EyeEm / Getty Images
A case of delayed gratification in El Calafate, Argentina
December 31, 1999, I stood with most of the town on the lakeshore of El Calafate, Argentina, awaiting midnight fireworks from an islet just opposite. We started the countdown. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
…nothing. No fireworks. Should we have cheered? Was that it – was it midnight? Watches were examined. The crowd muttered, confused.
Then someone official spoke up, explaining that the mayor had just got married on the stroke of midnight. Naturally he didn’t want to miss the fireworks, so they would start shortly. Angry boos rang out from the beer-fuelled crowd. A bottle was thrown. Realising they might have a mob on their hands, the pyrotechnicians started quickly lighting fireworks. As the first explosion lit the sky, the dry grass of the island caught fire. The blaze spread quickly, sending the fireworks up rapid-fire before it. The lake glowed orange in the flames. Above, the sky was a booming mass of colour and light. Best NYE ever.