The more things change, the more they remain the same is an axiom that doesn't apply to much anymore, especially travel. To be sure, mishaps like lost luggage and missed wake-up calls endure, but the issues confronting travelers and the places they elect to visit are rapidly evolving with the times. This reality is borne out by the results of T+L's 2004 World's Best Awards, our ninth annual survey. One can speculate about the reasons for the shift away from chains to smaller, independent properties and away from Europe to Africa: the thirst for unique and intimate experiences, changing perceptions about comfort and security. Whatever the genesis, this year's lineup of favorite hotels indicates a reconfiguring of taste, maybe even a new world order.

Some destinations evolve gently and predictably, like the Greek islands, which are most decidedly on the map this summer with the return of the Olympics to their original home. Our six writers paint portraits of places that are both foreign and familiar—sushi impresario Nobu Matsuhisa's first outdoor restaurant has joined the throngs of partygoers on Mykonos, while donkeys remain the only means of locomotion up the hills of Hydra other than by foot.

Also in this issue, editor-at-large Peter Jon Lindberg gives us "20 Reasons to Love New Hampshire," encompassing the eternal (lakes and mountains) and the up-to-the-minute (the Harvard Square ganache at L. A. Burdick in Walpole). And we celebrate America's national parks, repositories and symbols of our country's bounty. As Douglas Gantenbein points out, a troubling question has emerged: How will this heritage be preserved for future generations, with shifts in government policy threatening the parks' survival?

Change has long been a reality in Tokyo, as Ian Buruma recounts in his exploration of the lesser-known (and often underground) precincts of that modern metropolis. The city's name was Edo through the mid 19th century—a period famous for the stunning woodblock prints called ukiyo-e. The term loosely translates as "floating world" and describes a fluid society in which tradition yielded to fresh ways of seeing and living.

The realities in Libya, reports Sean Rocha, are harder to pin down. The United States recently eased sanctions imposed in 1980, and the country is now open to American travelers. Drawn by his family history, Rocha toured Libya at a moment of optimism, when Qaddafi appeared to have renounced terrorism. The week after Rocha turned in his piece, however, suspicions about Qaddafi's complicity in an apparent plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ruler were revealed by U.S. intelligence sources. So the adage about changing and staying the same may well apply here.

—Nancy Novogrod