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4 Travel Destinations That Will Earn You Street Cred At Home

Sure. You can call it a right-of-passage to spend spring break in Cancun, or maybe Daytona or Negril. And it can be an eye-opener to spend a weekend letting your vices run wild in Amsterdam. Travel is all about experience and the above mentioned places are guaranteed to provide more than enough material for some travel stories to tell your buddies when you get home.

But the problem with many of these well-trod destinations is that any stories you bring home have been told before. Youve already heard five different versions of the one night stand in Cancun with the girl whose name you cant remember; or the special cookies you had at an Amsterdam coffee shop.

But what about coming home with some new material? There are plenty of places out there that offer just as much in terms of experience as the over-traveled tourist routes. You might hear about them in passing; maybe from a moneyed jet setter or a diplomats spoiled, E-popping kid. These are places that are exotic, not in the palm trees and tropical-fruit-in-your-cocktail way, but in the Hemingway and Graham Greene way. Places normal people dont necessarily go because they are a little bit wild, in reality or in reputation.

Here are four such places. Head to one of them and youll be oozing street cred upon your return. (Or, at the very least, youll have something to talk about with that drug-addled diplo-kid who has been to half the cities in the world).

1. Cartagena, Columbia.

Columbia brings to mind blurry videos of rebel-held hostages and violent gun battles between drug cartels and the police. A recent ceasefire put an end to most, but not all, of the violence and the kidnapping. Cartagena, a city on the countrys northeast coast, saw little violence during past bloodletting. It boasts a diverse (and beautiful) population, and a heady mix of sultry weather, white sand beaches, sexy salsa clubs, hip restaurants and hint of the raw edginess of the countrys other major cities. The 16th century architecture (this was one of the first ports of call for Spanish conquistadors) might seem out of place next to the omnipresent percussion of salsa or afro-Caribbean music, but it all combines to make the atmosphere a hell of a lot different from your average Caribbean vacation spot. And you probably wont mind the Shakira wannabes shakingeverythinglate into the night at the hotspots in the citys Old District.

2. Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesias much maligned capital is not on many tourist to-do lists. Young bucks looking for a good time usually opt for the steamy go-go bars and nightclubs of Southeast Asias other mega-city, Bangkok. If flesh is what you are looking for, Jakarta has a scene similar to Thailands City of Angels. Itsjust not as out in the open. But the legitimate party scene in Indo is one of the finest in Asia. The citys young good-time girls and boys head to neighborhoods like Kemang, where top DJs spin and everybody seems to be on the prowl. In fact, many Indo-based DJs, like Jakartas Media Distorsi, are regionally famous and grace the stage at clubs in Singapore and BKK. It all adds up to a neat little party package, wrapped up in the raw street life and unpredictability.

3. Beirut, Lebanon

Yes, Beirut, Lebanon. This city was once the capital of cool in the Middle East. It was a mostly secular society that was blown to pieces by decades of civil war. But the scene regained some of its heat after the fighting died down in the 1990s. Shooting with Israel and armed factions within the country still flares from time to time, making Beirut the most dangerous place on my list. But the city still has its charms. It remains a mainly secular place with a Mediterranean vibe and a happening club scene. Its one of the only places in the Middle East (outside of Israels club capital, Tel Aviv) where you can chat up women without breaking some sort of harsh moral code. Venues with names like Taboo and Acid are filled with the gruff glamor that made this THE place in the 1950s and 60s. If the shooting ever stops for good, Beirut might see its second renaissance.

4. Guangzhou, China

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing? Guangzhou is the bad boy of Chinas cities. It is geographically far enough away from Beijing to call at least some of its own shots. The city is the very definition of the new China. Uncontrolled development, a feverish nightlife and a massive, sprawling city with cool corners waiting to be found. A large population of Westerners (businesspeople taking advantage of the citys vibrant economy, mostly) assures the nightlife has a bit of Bangkok naughtiness in it. Expat bars, like The Cave, have floor shows and plenty of on the game females. But the legit nightclub scene is surprisingly sophisticated. Many dance clubs in Beijing and even Shanghai try to ape western culture, but fail because of their NSYNC-dominated play lists and pimply, uncoordinated clientele. Guangzhou, perhaps because of its proximity to Hong Kong, has a clue. The citys upwardly mobile young professionals know how to party.

The four above destinations are by no means a best of list. But, as alternatives the travel routine, they beat many droll trips that consist of visiting museums and taking photos of really old buildings. And, youll be able to drop them into the conversation casually, like a true jet setter.

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About Josh Lew Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.

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