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BootsnAll's Best 10 Destinations For Indie Travelers In 2012 (PHOTOS)

Posted: 12/31/11 08:00 AM ET

As the year draws to a close, it seems appropriate to begin thinking about where to travel in 2012. At BootsnAll, we've always been fond of pushing the envelope a bit when it comes to the places we go -- we tend to look past the usual tourist hotspots in favor of destinations that are a bit more off-the-beaten-path, a little less-visited and slightly more adventurous.

Most of the 10 spots on our list for 2012 were chosen because there's something special happening next year (or that just happened) that makes now an ideal time for indie travelers to visit. But you can be an indie traveler anywhere. It's not about where you go, how much you spend or for how long you travel. It's about how you travel, what you do and how you learn from and interact with the destination's people, culture and traditions. What's more, there is so much of the world to see that it's simply impossible to say that any 10 places are the only places you should go next year.

When it comes to these lists, no matter how much research goes into them, no matter how objective we try to be -- taking into account upcoming events, cost of visiting and appeal for indie travelers -- it's never going to be the definitive list of exactly where you should go next year. And it's not meant to be. Instead, it's meant to provide you with ideas and inspiration, and get you thinking about where you want to travel next year. We think the places we picked are great, but even if you pick a totally different destination, what matters is that you're going out to see the world.

So, without further ado, here are our recommendations (in no particular order) for 10 of the best destinations for indie travelers in 2012.

How many of these spots will you add to your 2012 must-see list? How many of these places have you already visited? Tell us in the comments.

10. Havana, Cuba
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While it's still illegal for most US citizens to visit Cuba (or rather, visiting isn't illegal, but spending money is), the restrictions on travel have been eased as of late with the expectation that the travel ban could be lifted as early as next year. Maybe the bragging rights of having visited Cuba diminish a bit when it's not illegal for US citizens, but the appeal of the country remains as high as ever -- though it might not for long.

Cuba has long been a beach destination for travelers from other parts of the world, yet many people insist that the country will become instantly Americanized and commercialized once the travel ban is lifted. They fear the old-world charm will quickly be pushed out by McDonald's signs and mega all-inclusive resorts. For now though, there are beautiful beaches to enjoy, rum and cigar factories to tour, colonial architecture to admire and plenty of salsa dancing to do in Havana.

Several companies offer tours, but American travelers coming to Cuba independently have a bit more work to do. You'll need to either take a charter flight from a city like Miami or LA (flights will also soon be offered from Chicago and Atlanta) or first fly to somewhere in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean before continuing to Cuba. You'll also need to plan ahead and bring with you all the money you'll need, as you won't be able to use your American ATM or credit card in the country, and American dollars are not accepted. Still the extra effort is worth it to experience a place that seems frozen in another time.

When to go: To escape the northern winter, visit from December to March, but be prepared for some cooler nights. Summers are predictably scorching and see the most tourists. April-May and September-October offer pleasant temperatures (though more rain in the fall) with fewer crowds.

Indie travel tip: Staying in casas particulares (private homes that offer accommodation) and eating in paladares (restaurants in private homes) can help you keep the cost low, experience more of the real Cuba and avoid putting money into the hands of the government.

Get more tips for getting to Cuba and other hard-to-visit places.

Photos by: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
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