The world is so full of wonder. With UNESCO sites, charming cities and spectacular beaches in every corner of the globe, it’s hard to know exactly where we want to travel next. In a world of chaos, it’s tempting to return to old faithfuls or stay put and explore Canada's wonders for a guaranteed good time, but there’s something to be said for throwing ourselves in at the deep end and taking the trip we’ve been toying with for decades. This year, we’re laying down the gauntlet and setting the groundwork for those light-up-your-soul experiences that you definitely don’t need to enhance with an Instagram filter.
Luckily, there’s more than one way to fill up our cups and check off our bucket lists. Whether you’re visiting the relics of ancient worlds and civilizations or seeing the animal kingdom up close on safari, these legendary trips will load up the memory bank and provide dinner party anecdotes for the rest of your days.
It’s time to pull up a spreadsheet and give those travel dreams a deadline. Make a plan, build a budget and begin mapping out the trip of a lifetime. We’ve provided some vacation inspiration and whittled it down to 10 envy-inducing, otherworldly adventures that your bank balance will get over but your heart may never recover from.
10 bucket list ideas
1. Seeing the big five
Tanzania; South Africa
Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Nature Reserve in South Africa, and the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania are some of the best places for spying wildlife. Serengeti National Park is also home to the annual Great Wildebeest Migration.
Once upon a time, hunting Africa’s big five was the thing to do — thank the stars we’ve moved past that and now realize the captivating beauty of seeing these majestic creatures thriving in their natural habitat. Take a guided safari tour into one of Tanzania’s or South Africa’s national parks or game reserves during dry season to watch in awe as lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo gather to drink at the watering hole. The experience will leave you marvelling at the wonders of nature and our beautiful planet.
2. Machu Picchu
Urubamba Province, Peru
Yes, you could climb bigger mountains, but if you want the glory — and a top-notch Instagram photo among its ancient Incan terraces — Machu Picchu in Peru is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The four-day hike 2,430 metres above sea-level sounds daunting, but you don’t really need to train for the 46-kilometre Classic Inca Trail Route. Altitude sickness is the biggest threat, so ideally spend some time at a high elevation ahead of the hike. Our favourite part? While you’re panting for breath, porters will already be at camp preparing a lights-out meal. When you reach the top, the backdrop of the Peruvian Andes will negate any aches you’re feeling. If you can tear your eyes away, get your passport stamped before you depart.
3. Great Wall of China
Huairou District, China
Hung Chung Chih
Stretching more than 21,000 kilometres over peaks, through deserts and along coasts, the Great Wall of China tops many people’s bucket lists. However, at peak season, that means tourists — a flood of them. To avoid milling crowds spoiling your trip to one of the world’s greatest wonders, skip the restored Badaling section and head to the quieter Mutianyu portion. Here, you’ll find sprawling vistas of the Chinese countryside (which is particularly stunning in autumn), cable cars and chair lifts to the top of the Wall, and an exhilarating toboggan ride back to the bottom.
4. Easter Island
Rapa Nui, Polynesia
Amy Nichole Harris
Few places are more shrouded in mystery than Easter Island, a remote speck of land deep within the southeastern Pacific Ocean. More than 1000 ancient rock statues erected on the island, called moai, have been both marvelled at and studied for decades. A trip here is like a voyage to the old world; learn about the fascinating history of the Rapa Nui people by hiking to spectacular archaeological sites like Ahu Tongariki, a row of 15 moai with intricately carved facial characteristics. Recoup from your spelunking on Easter Island’s beautiful white sand beaches, and with excellent seafood in Hanga Roa, the island’s main village.
5. Hot air ballooning
Hot air ballooning might seem like a daring feat — especially for those who are less than comfortable with heights. But in the early morning, when the sun is just peeking over the horizon and the basket is gently floating in the blissful calm, it’s a serenity unlike any other. Cappadocia, Turkey, is often touted as the world’s best spot for ballooning for its dramatic landscape and excellent flying conditions. The undulating scenery morphs from vineyards and orchards to rippling ravines, valleys and the famed “fairy chimneys,” towering rock formations that change colour when the sun sets. Witness it all on this magical, high-flying ride.
6. Route 66 road trip
Illinois – California, U.S.
Nyokki via Shutterstock
If you’ve still got a full wallet of vacation days to spend before the year is over, consider an epic two-week Route 66 road trip. Arguably one of the most famous roads in the world, it starts in Chicago, concludes in Santa Monica, spans more than 3,900 kilometres and passes through eight states. Route 66 has earned acclaim for its varied farmland and desert scenery, but the real draw is the immersion the road offers in small-town America. It was formerly the most travelled route between the Midwest and the West Coast in the 1950s and 1960s: many of the businesses along the way continue to be relics of that time period.
7. Glastonbury Festival
benny hawes via Shutterstock
If you’re driving to Glastonbury from London, make a pitstop around the two-hour mark for a slice of history. Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone circle monument built in 3000 B.C., sits on Salisbury Plain. Take a short detour for a proper snoop around, or if festival traffic is bad, enjoy the view of the ancient dominoes from the gridlock.
Glastonbury Festival, in operation since 1970, is rarely listed among the global canon of thrill-seeking pursuits. However, one could argue that sharing a porta-potty with 200,000 people in the middle of summer is the greatest adventure of all. If you can hack tent-pitching, not showering and huge crowds, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most incredible community experiences on Earth. The Pyramid Stage has hosted the likes of Elton John, Beyoncé and Radiohead, but the headliners are almost secondary to the other stages, art installations and revelries waiting to be discovered. Competition is rife: tickets to the epic five-day music festival at Worthy Farm in Somerset, England, sold out in 22 minutes last year. Pre-register, form a ticket syndicate (you can buy up to six tickets at a time) and pray the festival gods bless you.
8. Polar bear viewing
chbaum via Shutterstock
A town on the fringe of the Arctic, Churchill, Manitoba, has become synonymous with one of nature’s most stunning creatures: the polar bear. In October and November, residents practically share their town with the fluffy white mammals. You might even bump into one on the street during a stroll back to your hotel. To see the bears in their natural habitat, several Churchill tour companies offer buggy rides out onto the breathtaking Manitoban tundra. They offer the safest way to get up close and personal with the adorable-but-unfortunately-deadly land carnivore.
9. Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
Various marine parks, Belize
Luiz A. Rocha
Dwarfed only by its Australian counterpart, the Belize Barrier Reef is just as jaw-dropping. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Belize’s Barrier Reef is approximately 300 kilometres long and hosts a dramatic range of ocean life. Snorkel here and you might spot dolphins, sea turtles, nurse sharks, manatees and even the occasional whale shark. If you’re brave, you can swim with these gentle giants at the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes. Find dozens of snorkel or scuba spots along the reef, all of which have protection measures to ensure the reef stays healthy for generations to come.
Ma'an Governorate, Jordan
The depths of the Jordanian desert hold one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — Petra. This lost city was built in the third century B.C. by the Nabataean people. Explore magnificent treasuries, tombs, monasteries and theatres carved directly into remote sandstone cliffs. It’s a place you have to witness with your own eyes to fully grasp its magnitude. As the city stretches for more than 60 square kilometers, prepare for your Petra adventure to include lots of walking. Or, hire a camel, donkey or horse to help you explore each site.