The start of each new year is a great time to revisit and update your Travel Bucket List. So, what are those travel dreams & desires that have been tugging at your heart, saying it’s time to start planning to make them a reality?
We all have those desires – whether it’s visiting exciting international destinations or simply taking a fun road trip to a nearby state to visit friends or family, while seeing cool sights along the way. Travel Bucket Lists are very personal – they are for what “rings YOUR chimes” – not mine or someone else’s.
This Bucket List blog post will focus mainly on international travel, highlighting 16 ideas from great trips I’ve taken. I hope some of the experiences might resonate with you – and possibly inspire you to add them to your own personal travel wish list.
Getting Started – Create or Update Your Travel Dream List
Pull out a Map of the World and start making (or updating) your Travel Bucket List. Where are all the places & countries that excite or fascinate you? Where do you have a burning desire to visit? They can be destinations that you’ve read about, learned about on a travel show, or have been highly recommended by friends. Write them all down, grouping them by continents and/or regions.
They can be places or sights like Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s Coliseum, England’s Stonehenge, or riding a gondola through the canals of Venice. Perhaps, it’s visiting India’s magnificent Taj Mahal or Bangkok’s ornate Grand Palace or Germany’s “fairy tale” Neuschwanstein Castle (photo to right). It could also be visiting Japan during Cherry Blossom time or touring Europe’s festive Christmas markets!
Next, review your long list & prioritize them into your top 5-10 travel desires. That way, you can focus time and energy (and budget) on “manifesting” travels to your top choices. I like to go through my master list each year and update my priorities for the next 3-5 years. It’s always fun to see which destinations are now rising to the top #1 or #2 spot.
Look for Trips That Combine Your Desired Places & Your Passions
In addition, what are your favorite hobbies, passions, or interests? Do you enjoy history and/or learning about other cultures? Do you love being out in nature and/or doing sports like hiking or skiing? Do you love taking photos, such as landscape/nature photography? Ideally, you can combine your different interests and passions with travel to some of your wish-list destinations.
Here are some examples to get you thinking:
- Taking a cooking class in France or a painting workshop in Tuscany
- Bird watching in Costa Rica, the Peruvian Amazon or Uganda
- Visiting Guatemala on a textile-focused tour to learn about the art of Mayan weaving
- Seeing the magnificent “Big 5” animals on an East African Safari
- Cycling in France’s Loire Valley or through Vermont during Fall Foliage
- Trekking in Nepal, Hiking in New Zealand or in Argentina’s Patagonia region
- Scuba diving in Belize or on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
- Going on a Spiritual Tour – or spending time in an Indian ashram or Bali yoga retreat
- Visiting Ireland to research your Irish roots and perhaps visit some long-lost cousins
- Start on your goal to visit all the best U.S. national parks
- The List goes on and on…
HERE ARE 16 GREAT BUCKET LIST EXPERIENCES
I’ve chosen Some Great Ideas From Bucket List Travels I’ve Personally Taken & Have Loved! Each section includes a link to blog posts I’ve written about that particular destination or experience to tell you more.
Experience the Thrill of an African Wildlife Safari
An African Safari is truly one of life’s grand adventures – so special & unique! It feels amazing being out in the majesty of Africa’s vast landscapes, seeing magnificent wildlife up close & personal.
The “Big Cats” (lions, leopards & cheetahs) have always been my favorites. However, I’m still enamored by all the animals – the elephant herds, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, zebras, impalas, wildebeests, baboons and so much more. And let’s not forget all the beautiful & exotic birds.
I’ve enjoyed quite a few multi-day African wildlife safaris – in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. I’ve found each game drive (even at the same safari camp) to be very different & such fun. You never know what incredible animal sightings your wonderful local guides will find for you!
Read Blog Post: My African Safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta – Why So Special
Walk Spain’s Famed Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Route
Walking the centuries-old Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route through Spain’s beautiful countryside has become very popular in recent years. The lure of the Camino attracts a virtual United Nations of people from around the globe, thanks in part to wonderful movies like The Way (which starred Martin Sheen).
The Camino’s many routes ultimately lead to the lovely city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. There, the bones of the Apostle St. James (Spanish name – Santiago) lie in a crypt in the city’s magnificent Cathedral.
The wide spectrum of walkers (“pilgrims”) do the Camino for many different reasons – religious, spiritual, life transitions, adventure-seeking, time in nature, etc. The most popular route – the Camino Francés (aka French Way) – starts in the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees.
I’m proud to have walked the entire 480-mile Camino Francés. However, I did it in two parts (in 2016 & 2018) – in what I like to call my “half & half” Caminos. Fortunately, there is no “one right way” to walk the Camino – you can do it all, any part or just the final 100 km (60 miles) from Sarria like many 1st time pilgrims do. The Camino is an amazing (albeit challenging!) experience that my blog post details.
Read Blog Post: Spain Camino #2 – Highlights of Another Grand Pilgrim Adventure
Click for Link to Spain Blog Page With More of My Camino Blog Posts
Have Fun & Improve Your Spanish at a Guatemala Language School
Have you ever thought it might be great to take language classes in a country you’ve been wanting to visit? In fact, learning a language through a travel experience is so much more fun & rewarding than just sitting in a classroom back home!
I enjoyed two wonderful weeks in Guatemala, taking Spanish language classes. My first week was spent in the charming colonial town of Antigua & the second in beautiful Lake Atitlan. There, I also enjoyed a home stay with a local family, immersing myself in their lovely culture and enjoying tasty home-cooked meals.
Never fear, it’s not all classroom learning (which is 1:1 with your own instructor!). There are fun activities & field trips for students in the afternoons, opportunities to volunteer (like I did!), as well as free time to explore local sights on your own. This is the best of language immersion.
Read Blog Post: My Fun & Rewarding Spanish Language School Experience in Guatemala
Dive or Snorkel on Australia’s Magnificent Great Barrier Reef
Australia’s legendary Great Barrier Reef is on the bucket list of most scuba divers and avid snorkelers. As a certified diver, I was thrilled to learn I’d be able to experience the Reef’s crystal-clear waters when I signed up for a 3-week tour of Australia with friends.
From Port Douglas, we enjoyed a full-day excursion out to the Agincourt Reef, a series of ribbon reefs on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. A fast 100-passenger boat took us to Quicksilver’s very cool “activity platform” where we spent 5 delightful hours in gorgeous warm waters filled with shallow coral reefs, great for both snorkeling and diving.
That day, while my friends snorkeled, I enjoyed two great scuba dives under the guidance of a delightful dive master. I also had my photo taken (right) with “Chunk” – a huge & adorable blue & gold Napoleon fish (aka Maori wrasse). Chunk loves to hang out by the platform, making friends with all the divers and snorkelers.
I went back to the Agincourt Reef the next day on one of Quicksilver’s dedicated dive/ snorkeling boats to get my final Great Barrier Reef fix. We did three dives in different locations with a lunch break in between. It was wonderful! So, whether you’re a scuba diver or someone who loves to snorkel in beautiful tropical waters, don’t miss this experience when in Australia.
Read Blog Post: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – A Bucket List Experience For Everyone
Peru’s Mystical Machu Picchu
A visit to Machu Picchu, a beautiful citadel high up in the Peruvian Andes, is on the “Must See” list of most serious travelers. Long designated as a World Heritage site, it was voted in 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. And deservedly so!
I’ve had the great fortune of visiting Machu Picchu twice. First, I hiked the “classic” 4-day Inca Trail in 2002, culminating in a dramatic sunrise entry into Machu Picchu. (photo on right) The second visit was on a volunteer trip to Cusco nine years later. I was delighted to find that Peru’s “Lost City of the Incas” was just as magnificent the 2nd time!
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450 at the height of the Inca empire and abandoned a century later. Its mountaintop location on a narrow ridge surrounded by lush green mountains is absolutely breathtaking! Located at 8,000 feet of elevation, Machu Picchu overlooks the winding Urubamba River some 1,500 feet below.
If possible, be sure to opt for an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes (the gateway town below) so you will have more time to explore Machu Picchu – plus you’ll be able to do it during non-peak hours with less crowds. In addition, there are other wonderful sights to experience in Cusco & the Sacred Valley which will likely be on your Peruvian trip itinerary.
Read Blog Post: Machu Picchu – Experience Peru’s Magical “Lost City of the Incas”
Click Here to Read More of my Peru Travel Blogs
Be Awed by Iceland’s Magical Northern Lights
We’ve all seen those mesmerizing photos of colorful Northern Lights dancing playfully in the night skies. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably thought I’d love to see those beautiful lights one day.
Luckily, two of my close friends had a strong burning desire to see the Northern Lights – so they zeroed in on Iceland as the place to cross this item off their bucket list. When they asked me to join them, how could I possibly say no? Besides seeing the Lights, Iceland is a cool place to visit.
However, I learned that viewing the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) is definitely not guaranteed. In fact, during Iceland’s viewing season of the Lights (generally September to mid-April), you need a lot of factors to align to successfully see them. Many people come to Iceland (especially on shorter stopovers) and never get to see the Aurora.
On our 5-night Iceland trip in March 2016, we signed up for a “Northern Lights” hunt each night (starting at 9pm). And, just when we feared we would strike out, we had a glorious “out-of-this-world” Lights show on our final night in Akureyri in the north. It was magical! One of the women in our group kept exclaiming “Wow – this is Phantasmagorical!” And she was right!
Read Blog Post: In Search of Iceland’s Amazing Northern Lights
Click Here to Read More Iceland Blog Posts
Visit the Galapagos Islands – Walk or Swim Among Incredible Animals
The world-famous Galapagos Islands are the ultimate “natural zoo.” There, the most unique animals on the planet exist, totally free and fearless of man. There are prehistoric-looking iguanas, 150-year-old giant land tortoises, adorable blue-footed boobies & other exotic birds, and abundant marine life.
Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos’ amazing flora & fauna (wildlife) and natural beauty of its volcanic islands are the star attractions. It is particularly known for Charles Darwin whose visit to the islands in 1835 led to his landmark theory of evolution by natural selection.
I enjoyed a wonderful 5-day/4-night Galapagos “expedition cruise” on a 100-passenger ship, the largest vessel allowed in Galapagos National Park. Each morning and afternoon, we had “excursions” to different islands & landing sites, led by one of the ship’s six naturalists.
Our ship would anchor off-shore and we would travel to the island by 14-passenger zodiacs (dinghies) for a mix of “wet” and “dry” landings. We also snorkeled four times in clear tropical waters, swimming alongside green sea turtles, darting Galapagos penguins, and sea lions. It was all an amazing & unique “bucket list” experience!
Read Blog Post: Visiting Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands – An Out of This World Experience!
Track Rwanda’s Endangered Mountain Gorillas
Imagine the thrill of coming face-to-face in Africa with one of your closest primate cousins, high up in Rwanda’s mountainous forests. It was Dian Fossey of “Gorillas in the Mist” fame who first studied these magnificent creatures. Currently, the total endangered mountain gorilla population is estimated to be 1,063 individuals.
Having never lived in captivity, mountain gorillas are only found in a small area of Central-East Africa. On a 2013 trip to Uganda & Rwanda, I enjoyed two different & wonderful gorilla tracks – one in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park & the other in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
In gorilla tracking, a small group of 8 visitors (led by special ranger/guides) head off each morning into the forest to look for their assigned “habituated” gorilla group. Special trackers leave earlier to find the group, knowing where they were located the afternoon before.
Treks can take 1-3 hours (or more!) through steep mountainous terrain & dense forests to find the gorilla group. Once you arrive, you’re allowed 60 glorious minutes to observe the gorillas up close. The group will likely be eating (bamboo is a favorite!), playing, sleeping, or grooming each other. After taking a short snack break, you hike back out. It’s an exciting & rigorous adventure – and so worth it!
Read Blog Post: Tracking Rwanda’s Endangered Mountain Gorillas – An Amazing Experience
Take A Cruise to Antarctica’s Amazing “White Continent” & Fall in Love with the Adorable Penguins
If you ask anyone about their Antarctica travels, you’ll usually elicit a response like “OMG, the trip was out of this world” or “It was the most amazing experience, unlike anything I’ve ever done!” Now, having taken my own “expedition cruise” to Antarctica in 2017, I would heartily agree!
I knew Antarctica would be pretty, but I was astounded by its pristine grandeur & stunning beauty. Plus, Antarctica is teeming with fascinating wildlife – including many different types of penguins, seals, seabirds and whales. Not surprisingly, penguins are the favorites of most southern polar visitors. Certainly, the always adorable penguins stole my heart!
The Antarctic Peninsula offers a wide variety of interesting landing sites, which are visited on morning & afternoon excursions by zodiac. Travelers can visit different penguin colonies, former and/or current scientific research stations, old whaling stations, refuge huts (now restored), or take short hikes to viewpoints.
So, yes, Antarctica is the ultimate bucket list experience! However, before becoming a “polar veteran,” I had a lot of misconceptions and/or “no-conceptions” about travel to Antarctica. That is why I wrote the “Ten Things” blog post (link below). For example: #3 – It Wasn’t Nearly as Cold as I Expected – Anyone Can Do This if I Can! So, check it out & maybe you’ll feel called to pay a visit to the “White Continent”!
Read Blog Post: Traveling to Antarctica: 10 Things That May Surprise You (Pleasantly!)
Click Here to Read More Antarctica Blog Posts
Visit the Australian Outback & Legendary Ayer’s Rock (Uluru)
Visiting Australia’s Outback – and its fascinating Red Centre – is on many people’s travel wish lists. Years ago, I remember being dazzled by photos of a HUGE red rock – Ayers Rock (now called by its indigenous name Uluru) – rising dramatically out of the Central Australian desert and thinking “Wow, Someday!”
Made of sandstone, Uluru is about half a billion years old. Standing 348 meters high (1,142 feet) with a circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 miles), it is indeed huge! Uluru is particularly stunning around sunrise and sunset, when the golden light makes the rock’s reddish colors come alive.
Archaeological evidence shows that Aboriginal people have inhabited Central Australia for more than 30,000 years. The Anangu are the indigenous people of Australia’s Western and Central Deserts. Uluru’s local Anangu community, the Mutitjulu, are traditional owners and now joint managers of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with Parks Australia.
On my 3-week Australia tour, we spent 1.5 delightful days in the area. We took walks around Uluru & the nearby Kata Tjuta National Park (steep red rock domes). We visited the very interesting Aboriginal Cultural Centre & enjoyed a special gourmet dinner out in the bush with sunset views. We got up early to witness a beautiful sunrise over Uluru from a special viewing area. All were fun & very unique Outback experiences.
Read Blog Post: Australia’s Fascinating Outback & Red Centre / Visiting Ayers Rock
Tour Havana – Cuba’s Colorful & Vibrant Capital
I spent 2 weeks in Cuba in 2009 on a “legal” tour. What a thrill to pay a visit to this most fascinating, unique & somewhat “forbidden” Caribbean island nation. When you think of Cuba’s capital of Havana, what colorful images come to mind?
There are certainly the classic American cars from the 40’s and 50’s – some run down & others shiny and beautiful, used for ferrying tourists around the city. Architectural gems include the many pastel-colored colonial buildings with ornate wrought-iron balconies in various states of disrepair.
And what a cast of interesting historical characters including Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, there are the famed Cuban cigars, plus a vibrant arts & music scene – like the ballet & Buena Vista Social Club.
But it’s the incredibly friendly Cuban people who will steal your heart! They are creative and spirited, despite their ongoing tough economic challenges. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 60 years since the U.S. imposed the Cuba trade embargo. Even today, travel to Cuba can be quite challenging, especially for Americans & independent travelers. But there are many rewards if you get the chance.
Read Blog Post: Photo Essay: Havana Cuba – Colorful, Vibrant and Alluring
Witness Incredible Victoria Falls in Southern Africa
Three of the largest & most famous waterfalls in the world are Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, and Iguazu Falls (South America). So, I was thrilled to pay a visit to my first major waterfall on a trip to Southern Africa in 2014.
As one of the World’s 7 Natural Wonders, Victoria Falls is an absolute “must see!” The Falls and the mighty Zambezi River straddle the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Victoria Falls was truly dazzling with its 350-foot drop into the first gorge and the incredible mile-wide curtain of cascading white water.
There is no better way to appreciate the absolute immensity of the Falls than by a fun 13-minute “Flight of Angels” helicopter ride for an unforgettable aerial view. However, it’s still impressive to view the falls from ground level. A picturesque path inside Victoria Falls National Park offers more spectacular close-up views of different sections of the Falls.
Read Blog Post: Fly Like An Angel Over Africa’s Spectacular Victoria Falls
Spend Time in a Sahara Desert Camp / Ride A Camel on a Pristine Sand Dune
When I signed up for a tour of the fascinatingly exotic country of Morocco (also long on my bucket list!), I was particularly excited by the chance to spend 2 nights at a Saharan desert camp and experience my first ever camel ride.
Turns out, our visit to Morocco’s Sahara Desert region was clearly a trip highlight for everyone. There were so many fun, unique, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences – including camping under the stars in luxury tents (yep, glamping!) and watching a beautiful sunset from atop a sand dune.
And our camel ride on magnificent & pristine sand dunes was a blast! Each group of 3-4 camels were tied together & led by a barefoot Moroccan cameleer walking in front. For almost an hour, our camel caravan of 14 traveled up and down orange-colored sand dunes, affording great views & interesting camera shots.
Initially, some of our group thought the camel ride might be “hokey,” but it turned out to be great fun – and everyone agreed it was downright cool! There in Morocco’s Sahara region, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect first-time camel ride.
Read Blog Post: Morocco: My Thrilling Sahara Desert Camp & Camel Ride on the Dunes
Trek in Nepal’s Majestic Everest Region – Land of the Sherpas
Trekking in Nepal had been on my “absolutely must-do someday” list for well over 20 years. I longed to see the Everest region of the Himalayas with its incredible mountain scenery. Plus, experience the rich culture of the Sherpa people, with their roots in Tibetan Buddhism.
That became a wonderful reality in 2012 when I embarked on a 9-day Nepal trek with a group of adventurous friends. Our particular lodge-to-lodge trek on the main trail between cool Sherpa villages stayed at lower altitudes (under 13,000 ft). This was clearly more fun than the longer, more grueling, high-altitude (17,600 ft) Everest Base Camp treks many choose to do.
There were so many amazing & unique experiences – crossing prayer-flag-lined suspension bridges, visiting Buddhist monasteries and a local market, drinking in a tea house with our fun Sherpa team, watching the movie “Into Thin Air” in Namche Bazaar, and line-dancing with local women in Thame. We also enjoyed lunch at the home (photo above) of our wonderful Sherpa guides (husband Pemba & wife Nima)
To clarify, trekking in Nepal just means hiking – not technical mountaineering. Phew! Plus, thanks to a team of local porters who carried our duffle bags, we only had to carry light day packs. And yes, one more BIG highlight – we were beyond thrilled to get an early morning clear sky view of Mt. Everest in the near distance! Truly, it all added up to a “trip of a lifetime!”
Read Blog Post: Trekking in Nepal’s Himalayas & Everest Region – What’s It Really Like?
Experience the Thrill of a Glacier Heli-Hike in New Zealand
My 3-week New Zealand travel itinerary – filled with many great outdoor adventures – included a “Heli-Hike” in South Island’s Glacier Country. You may ask what exactly is a heli-hike? Simply, it’s hiking and exploring a beautiful glacier, led by a professional guide.
And what a blast it was! Part of the thrill was actually getting to the Fox Glacier. I loved the 4-minute scenic helicopter flight, which shuttled the full group of 22 heli-hikers (4-5 people at a time) up and onto the glacier. Once we had all collected, we put on our crampons (my first time!) and headed off in smaller groups with our guides.
For 2.5 fascinating hours, my group followed our adorable Aussie guide Jake in single file as we walked carefully around the glacier, with Jake pointing out the many features of an active glacier – like pristine blue ice, deep crevasses, flowing streams and open caves. It was a great opportunity to safely feel like a “Mountaineer for a Day!”
Read Blog Post: New Zealand’s Fox Glacier Heli-Hike: A Breathtaking Adventure
Go Shark Cage Diving in South Africa with the Great Whites!
Okay, I’ll admit this final “bucket list” experience is not going to appeal to most people. But I promise it’s truly not as scary or dangerous as it may sound. I may be adventurous but I’m certainly not crazy!
The “Great White Shark Capital of the World” is located in Gansbaai, South Africa – just a 2.5-hour drive from Cape Town. This is where TV’s famous “Shark Alley” is filmed. So, when I found myself back in South Africa in 2014 with a free day to spare, I knew this was my chance!
Turns out, the “shark cage diving” experience with Great White Shark Tours was incredibly fun, definitely exhilarating & totally safe! The shark cage is tied up next to the boat and your head is above water most of the time. When sharks swim past, you simply hold your breath and go underwater for a few seconds to take a closer look.
The blog post & photos will tell you much more. Be sure to read to the end so you don’t miss the amazing “Grand Finale” video of a great white shark in action! As you’ll see, I have a “front row seat” to the experience. Yes, it was another unforgettable travel memory!
Read Blog Post: Shark Cage Diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa – Wow!
FINAL RECAP / RESOURCES
Here’s a Summary List of the 16 Bucket List Travel Experiences Just Shared
- Experience the Thrill of an African Wildlife Safari
- Walk Spain’s Famed Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Route
- Have Fun & Improve Your Spanish at a Guatemala Language School
- Dive or Snorkel on Australia’s Magnificent Great Barrier Reef
- Visit Peru’s Mystical Machu Picchu
- Be Awed by Iceland’s Magical Northern Lights
- Visit the Galapagos Islands – Walk or Swim Among Incredible Animals
- Track Rwanda’s Endangered Mountain Gorillas
- Take A Cruise to Antarctica’s Amazing “White Continent” & Fall in Love with the Adorable Penguins
- Visit the Australian Outback & Legendary Ayer’s Rock (Uluru)
- Tour Havana – Cuba’s Colorful & Vibrant Capital
- Witness Incredible Victoria Falls in Southern Africa
- Spend Time in a Sahara Desert Camp / Ride A Camel on a Pristine Sand Dune
- Trek in Nepal’s Majestic Everest Region – Land of the Sherpas
- Experience the Thrill of a Glacier Heli-Hike in New Zealand
- Go Shark Cage Diving in South Africa with the Great Whites!
- Simply google “Bucket List Travel” – and the results will keep you busy for a long time!
- Check out the famed book – 1,000 Places to See Before You Die – by travel writer Patricia Schultz. I’ve heard Patricia speak at travel shows. She’s wonderful & knowledgeable – and the book is filled with great ideas.
COMMENTS: What are some of the top destinations or experiences on your Travel Bucket List right now?
HAPPY TRAVELS IN 2023 & BEYOND!