As the year winds down, people often ask me where Canadians went on vacation, and what destinations will be "hot" in the new year.
Canadians travel frequently but when it comes to knowing where we went and where we're going, it's not rocket science. In fact, dozens of organizations conduct surveys on the subject. But like on election day, when voting is the only poll that matters, the only surveys that provide a comprehensive snapshot of our actual cross-border movements are the ones done by Statistics Canada.
Statscan knows when -- and how -- we leave the country, where we go, how long we stay, when we return, and approximately how much money we spend while we're away.
And while complete statistics for 2012 won't be released until next year, and I can't rank the Top 10 destinations with 100% certainty, I am pretty confident we have, and will, remain true to form in where we went and where we will go in 2013. As a nation, we are quite loyal and our Top 10 foreign destinations have not changed much in the past decade. Barring war, political upheaval or major natural disasters in those places, they likely won't change much in 2013 either.
The United States will remain No. 1. It was No. 1 when our dollar was worth 65¢ US, and now that the loony is on par, almost par, or above par, the number of trips south of the border has soared to some 20-million-plus per year.
Our top states, are -- predictably -- border states and sunshine states: New York, Florida, Washington, California and Michigan in that order. Visits to New York, Washington and Michigan tend to be one to three-days, while visits to California and especially Florida are much longer.
As for the rest of the places on our Top 10 list, sometimes their rankings change but the destinations themselves remain pretty much the same.
Sun destinations continue to be wildly popular with Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic being Canadians' fave places to hit the beach.
These are accented by our favourite European destinations -- the United Kingdom (always in the top five, even when the British pound is much higher than it is now), France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
China is our preferred Asian destination, and the only country from that part of the world to make into the Top 10.
While our destinations may not change, we can certainly change up what we do while we're there, so here are a few reasons to visit our favourite foreign countries next year:
Why go: Florida will celebrate 500 years since its discovery by Juan Ponce de Leon with a year-long, statewide party. Thousands of events are planned as well as special tours, exhibits, entertainment, battle reenactments and heritage trails -- native American, Spanish Colonial, French, Black, Civil War, World War II, Jewish and Cuban -- to follow. As well, Disney World's new Fantasyland -- the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom's history -- is creating a big buzz in the Orlando area. See visitflorida.com and disneyworld.com.
Why go: Because it's (still) there. Now that the Mayan meltdown has passed, plan a visit to coincide with one of the country's many fiestas or Carnaval (Feb. 6-12 this year) when there are street parties, costume parades, music, dancing, food, fireworks and exhibits in many towns, including tourist hotspots such as Cancun, Cozumel and Mazatlan. See visitmexico.com.
Why go: Besides its pristine beaches, Cuba is perhaps best known for its music and its cigars. The Habanos Cigar Festival, Feb. 26-March 2, sees experts and aficionados from 70 countries gather for such activities as seminars, visits to cigar factories, tastings and a master-class in cigar-rolling. After, relax on some of the best beaches in the world. See gocuba.ca.
Why go: Carnaval celebrations in the "The D.R." date back to the 1500s with most regions of the country hosting festivities every weekend through February. El Carnaval de la Vega is the largest, with the selection of Miss Carnaval Vegano, the crowning of a festival king, costumed parades, etc. See godominicanrepublic.com.
Why go: Because England's big year is over. Countries that host Olympics often experience a slump in tourism right afterward so look for good deals in 2013. While there won't be that "Jubi-lympic" buzz, there is always something worth doing in the U.K., including professional sporting events from tennis at Wimbledon to horse-racing at Ascot, major exhibitions, music and literary festivals, such as the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, which will host 67 events from Sept. 13-22 celebrating the author and the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. See visitbritain.com.
Why go: There is never a bad time to go to France but 2013 will be particularly good for art lovers. The 2nd Normandy Impressionist Festival will see more than 600 cultural events -- major art exhibitions and performances (music, dance, literary, theatre) in towns most closely associated with the groundbreaking painters. Events take place from April 27 to Sept. 29 in Rouen, Caen, Le Havre, Fecamp and Giverny, where you can also visit the home of Claude Monet and visit the gardens where he painted his famous Water Lilies. From June 6-16, the Armada festival will bring tall ships from around the world to Rouen. See franceguide.com.
Why go: Art, history, culture, warm people, excellent food and wine ... one hundred visits are not be enough to discover all of Italy's charms. Every trip should include a few "must-sees" and some unstructured time to enjoy the lesser-known villages that are the true heart of this magical, sometimes chaotic, land. Major events take place everywhere. Venice alone claims Carnevale (Jan. 26-Feb. 2), the Venice International Film Festival (Aug. 28-Sept. 7), the Venice Biennale (June 1-Sept 24), and Regata Storica (Sept. 1), which includes a historical water pageant complete with 16th-century-style boats and gondoliers. See enit.it.
Why go: Oktoberfest may be Germany's signature event but arty, edgy Berlin is home the country's most inclusive happening. The Carnival of Cultures, from May 17-20, celebrates the capital's ethnic diversity with a massive street festival, performances, exhibitions and more. Elsewhere, expect music in the streets and in the concert halls as Germans celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Richard Wagner. See cometogermany.com.
Why go: Keukenhof is a must-do for plant-lovers. The eight-week flower extravaganza in Lisse is a riot of colour that sees 700,000 bulbs and flowers -- tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies, and more -- blooming in gardens and pavilions. This year's theme is United Kingdom: Land of Great Gardens, and a mosaic of Big Ben and Tower Bridge will be created from 60,000 bulbs. Time your visit to coincide with the Flower Parade (April 20) which travels 40-km from Nordwijk to Haarlem. Elsewhere, the 400th anniversary of Amsterdam's canals will be celebrated. See holland.com.
Why go: Extend the holiday spirit by heading to China for New Year celebrations (also called Lunar New Year or Spring Festival), which will usher in the Year of the Snake. A bit like our Christmas and New Year's holidays rolled into one, it's a 15-day celebration with the actual New Year starting Feb. 10 this year. Chinese custom demands the New Year is a time to clean house, both literally and figuratively. So in addition to sweeping bad luck out the door with the dust, making offerings of food and incense to your Kitchen God, and gathering for a family feast, it's also a time to reconcile, forgive grudges, and wish happiness to all -- good advice for people across the globe. See tourismchina.org.
Where to go next
The travel experts at Fodor's have released their "Go List" of destinations they believe will be hot in 2013.
The setting of the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad, New Mexico's largest city has been in the spotlight. It offers great value and family friendly fun. Top attractions include the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October, the BioPark (with aquarium and botanic garden), wineries, and spectacular pueblo architecture.
This lush, volcanic archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic is known for whale watching, hot mineral springs and quaint seaside towns. Each of the nine islands that make up the Azores has its own unique identity but because of its off-the-beaten-path status, prices are still reasonable compared to other European destinations.
Often overlooked, this island gem off Italy's southern coast offers visitors an authentic Mediterranean experience with turquoise blue grottoes, medieval ruins, gorgeous white sand beaches and mouthwatering seafood. Many local farmers run B&B agriturismos, where visitors can enjoy a real slice of Sardinian life.
Once called Burma and isolated from the rest of the world for more than 50 years, Myanmar has only recently opened up to foreigners. The southeast Asian country is still largely untouched by tourism, and travellers can cruise aboard the Orient Express on the Irrawaddy River and experience traditional Buddhist culture.
With the recent release of the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, images of New Zealand are once again everywhere. The ravishing Kiwi landscape is a fine stand-in for author JRR Tolkein's Middle-earth, and fans can immerse themselves in breathtaking vistas, as well as sample excellent wine and try adventure sports like trekking, bungee jumping, zorbing and more.
This tiny country offers the best of Central Europe: The snow-capped Alps, the scenic Adriatic Coast and lush green spaces. Wineries are sprouting up like wildflowers in the foothills of the Alps, so go now before it gets picked up on the tourism radar.
-- The complete Fodor's 2013 Go List is posted at fodors.com/go-list/2013.