I’m an island girl at heart. Friends always say they couldn’t reside on an island full time, but I’m pretty certain I’d do just fine living it up in a secluded Maldivian atoll or kicking it somewhere dreamy in the Caribbean.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite tropical spots visited. Even though I was flying solo back then, my 2007 jaunt to the Maldives and its network of resorts and islands scattered throughout some of the most gorgeous water you’ll ever see still ranks up there as my top trip of all time. I loved the people, I loved the food, and I loved the ocean life. In fact, the Maldives are responsible for me getting over my fear of the water and diving right in—quite literally.
Not only is the Maldives an amazing spot for dolphin and whale shark sightings, it’s also one of the best places to learn how to dive, which is exactly what I did during my five-night stay there, despite my initial hesitation. Eight years and hundreds of dips later, I’m extremely grateful to the divemasters who challenged my ego by daring me to dive (they said, “what, are you chicken?” which has been known to get me every time).
But there are plenty of islands closer to home that I love nearly as much (not quite … but almost). Take Grand Cayman, for example. Having only previously visited via 3,000-person ship, I had long written it off as “just a touristy cruise port destination”—until I was summoned there for on assignment in Grand Cayman last fall and realized I was wrong. So wrong.
It’s gorgeous, it’s diverse. Service is friendly, and the people genuinely care about the ecosystem, as evidenced by the Legends & Lions lionfish awareness week and course I took during my stay. Most of all, and most importantly, it felt safe.
I was traveling solo but never felt alone because people were so friendly and open. One Swiss man who had emigrated to the Caymans 25 year prior took a seat beside me at the bar on my final night on the isle and bought us a round of drinks. “Have you noticed what makes Cayman so unique?” he pressed.
Thinking it was a trick question, I countered: “What do you think makes it special?”
He took the bait. “There’s no distinguishable cuisine—we’ve got an international blend of foods from all over. There’s no native music, like other islands such as Jamaica has. But by God, it’s one of the safest places you’ll ever visit. No one bothers you, no one tries to peddle cheap tourist trinkets on you, no one wants to harm you.”
And in a single paragraph, he summed up what I’d tried so hard to put my finger on during my week there. He was right. You won’t find anyone soliciting services on Seven Mile Beach—no $5 foot massages, no opportunities to pose with their pet monkey. From the time I climbed into my rental car and took to the left side of the road—full of roundabouts and not always well marked—I never worried that someone was going to run me off the road or that I was going to veer off course.
The roads on Grand Cayman were a breeze to navigate, surprisingly. I didn’t get lost once, even though the maps on my iPhone didn’t work while I was there. I was traveling alone, yet never felt uneasy, not even late at night when returning to my hotel under a cloak of darkness.
I found St. Kitts, which I also visited in 2014, to be similar in feel, though topographically, a very different landscape than the Caymans.
This time, I was with friends, and everywhere we traveled on this 68-square-mile spit of land, people were ready to lend a hand. I never felt like a tourist about to be taken advantage of.
There weren’t shacks peddling airbrush eyesores. There were very few chains of any kind. It felt authentically Caribbean in the best possible way—and it wasn’t crowded in the slightest at that.
After all, if I’m going to leave my life behind for a tropical existence, I want it to look drastically different than my current one.
And for that reason, I think I could go live in any of these places—the Maldives, the Caymans, St. Kitts—if even just for a year or two. (As long as SVV and Ella can come with me, of course.)