Life-changing travel experiences
25 must-try adventures to make you see the world anew, from finding your feet on the dancefloors of BA to taking on a pilgrim trail
1TRAVEL ALONE SET OFF ON A SOLO ADVENTURE
No compromises, no limitations, no back-up. Travelling by yourself can be daunting but empowering; there is no greater freedom. You’ll have to rely on your own wits, but you can do whatever you want – and you might discover more about yourself along the way. Where? Newbie solos can play it safe in regions well set up for travellers: Englishspeaking Australia ( pictured) and New Zealand; laid-back South-east Asia; South America’s ‘gringo trail’. Frenetic India or lesser-trodden West Africa or Central Asia provide bigger challenges. Take our advice: Stay open to other people – put that book down, choose a seat at the bar, strike up conversations. Who knows what might happen? But remember to have fun.
2 TRAVEL WITH STRANGERS TAKE A PUNT ON PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW
Our best friends don’t necessarily make our best travel companions – it can be more fun and less fractious to join like-minded strangers instead. So sign up for a small-group trip, especially one with a clear focus. Sharing a particular interest or goal – whether that’s a physical challenge or a shared love of opera – will help you and your new travel-mates bond. You may even make new friends for life.
Where? Small-group trips probe all corners of the globe; they’re especially useful for taking the hassle out of travel to remote or bureaucratic destinations. Enjoy the team spirit of a Kilimanjaro climb ( pictured), the cheerful camaraderie of a hands-on Outback camping trip (perhaps overlanding across the Kimberley in rugged Western Australia; see p126) or the mutual appreciation of an expert-led art tour in Italy.
Take our advice: Be ready to compromise – if you accept a group trip won’t be 100% perfect, you’ll definitely enjoy it much more.
3 TAKE A SELF-PROPELLED JOURNEY FEEL THE FREEDOM OF TRAVELLING UNDER YOUR OWN STEAM
You experience a place differently when you travel more slowly. Travelling on foot, by bike or in a kayak, you see more, soak up more; you can access out-of-the-way places, meet more local people. There’s also a sense of freedom in being in charge of your pace, detours and destination. It’s more the kind of travel associated with early explorers, with a sense of discovery to match.
Where? A continuous long-distance hike delivers a big buzz, so maybe try England’s spectacularly undulating South West Coast Path or Patagonia’s W Trek. Novice cyclists should consider a flat, traffic-free ride such as France’s château-dotted River Loire or New Zealand’s Otago Central Rail Trail, or maybe channel Canada’s early gold-rush prospectors by canoeing the Yukon River.
Take our advice: Look into companies that transport your luggage while you undertake your adventure, so you can travel lighter.
4 GO EPIC ON YOUR DOORSTEP PLOT BIG ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME
You can enjoy world-class experiences without even leaving the country. Not only is there plenty of great stuff here, there are ways of making even the everyday seem like an adventure. Add a twist or head a little out of your comfort zone and even the streets you know best can blow your mind.
Where? Your doorstep. Wild camp atop the nearest hill ( pictured), take a hike after dark, paddle your local river, cycle the edge of your county – microadventures are everywhere!
Take our advice: Try something you’ve never done before – maybe your first wild swim, 50km hike or nocturnal wildlife stakeout.
5 DO SOMETHING AFTER DARK CHALLENGE YOUR SENSES BY EXPLORING AT NIGHT
Whether you’re on a walk, dive, drive or safari, everything feels different when the lights go out. Your senses become more alert, familiar objects feel alien, different animals come out to play and you get a new perspective. It can also be a little bit scary – but it’s no bad thing to spook yourself.
Where? Night safaris in African game parks ( pictured) yield a different crew of creatures. Good spots for night dives include Hawaii’s Kona coast (for manta rays) and the Maldives.
Take our advice: If you’re afraid, look for guided activities – for example, the Sierra Club leads evening hikes in LA’S Griffith Park.
6 DON’T JUST VISIT, ENGAGE BECOME PART OF THE COMMUNITY
By getting involved with local life – whether that’s signing up as a volunteer or spending time in a family home – you’ll be viewed less as a tourist, more as a fellow human being. This means gaining a more authentic cultural insight; you won’t learn only about a destination’s landscapes and architecture but also about the people who make it tick.
Where? Volunteering opportunities are worldwide, but it pays to seek a cause you’re passionate about and a project where your presence is helpful. Alternatively, trek with Berbers in Morocco, stay in a ger ( pictured) with Mongolian nomads or book into a casa particular (homestay) in Cuba.
Take our advice: If staying with a family, know the local rules – what you should wear, how to eat. It’s respectful to know the social norms, such as the local word for ‘thank you’.
7 GET JOIN CROWD CAUGHT THE UP IN FESTIVAL FEVER
While escaping from the masses is often a good thing, sometimes it’s better to join in. There’s nothing quite like being swept up in a great gathering – you’ll see the local people letting their hair down, performing old rituals, cooking up specialities and honouring their saints, relatives, spirits or samba bands. Noisy, hectic, messy mayhem? Quite possibly. Informative fun? Hell yeah!
Where? It’s best when you happen upon a local knees-up, but you might want to plan ahead to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to ‘play mas’ ( joining a masquerade band) at Trinidad Carnival, get paint-splattered at Holi in India ( pictured) or booze it up at Munich’s Oktoberfest.
Take our advice: Hook up with a local who can fill you in on the event dos and don’ts.
8 EYEBALL AN ANIMAL GET UP CLOSE TO THE MOST IMPRESSIVE SPECIES
Coming face to face with a big, beautiful, powerful creature will put you firmly in your place. Also, the best wildlife experiences often happen in the most beautiful spots. Prepare to feel awed, vulnerable and humbled – and maybe even question your responsibility to the planet.
Where? Head to Rwanda or Uganda to track mountain gorillas, spot tigers in India, look for jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal, cruise Svalbard for polar bears ( pictured) or snorkel with whale sharks in Western Australia.
Take our advice: Appreciate little critters, too – a good guide will point out smaller, equally enthralling wildlife wonders.
9 MAKE A PERSONAL PILGRIMAGE FOLLOW YOUR PASSION, WHATEVER IT MAY BE
For some, it’s saying a prayer in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica. For others, it’s eating a peanut butter-and-bacon sandwich by Elvis’s Graceland grave. We all have our passions – follow yours.
Where? The Camino de Santiago ( pictured) is the classic pilgrimage trail, but you might find more spirituality on the UK’S St Cuthbert’s Way or the Via Francigena to Rome. Music fans might like to hit the Blues Highway from Nashville to New Orleans, while bookworms could follow in Phileas Fogg’s footsteps.
Take our advice: Don’t be dissuaded. If you really want to visit the childhood home of every Beatle, just go ahead and do it.
10 LEARN SOMETHING NEW EXPAND YOUR MIND WHILE YOU TRAVEL THE GLOBE
Studying while you’re overseas could change your life – maybe you’ll enjoy your PADI course so much that you’ll ditch your day job to become a diving instructor. Even if it doesn’t, it will give you new, potentially useful skills, whether they be conversational French, bread-making or salsa dancing. Chances are you’ll gain a deeper insight into everyday life, too.
Where? Learning a language in a country in which it’s spoken is more beneficial and fun – try Spanish lessons in Guatemala or a combination Portuguese-and-samba course in Brazil. Learn sitar-playing in India, cowboy skills in Montana or gelato-making in Italy.
Take our advice: Stay with a local family during your learning holiday, so you’re fully immersed in the language and culture.
11 TRAVEL SLOWLY RELISH RATHER THAN RUSH
Heed the words of Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow, who writes: “The Slow philosophy is… about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible,
instead of as fast as possible.” Apply that to your travels: linger longer in one place rather than dashing from spot to spot; eat sustainably, regionally and seasonally; take the time to chat, absorb, walk and explore. It can lead to geographically limited but arguably more enlightening experiences.
Where? Plan a glorious culinary break in Italy’s Piedmont region ( pictured), HQ of the Slow Food movement. Alternatively, cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage, walk between villages in the Indian Himalaya or hire a city apartment for a fortnight to blend in locally.
Take our advice: Trust in serendipity – put the guidebook and smartphone down for a while and just see where life takes you.
12 SEEK SPIRITUAL OUT A PLACE VISIT A SITE THAT WILL SUCCOUR YOUR SOUL
‘Spiritual’ means different things to different people. It might mean worshipping a deity at a temple or even immersing yourself in the wilderness, so that you feel a connection to nature. Some places just have a way of seeping into your being; of making you ask new questions about yourself, about others, maybe even human existence as a whole.
Where? Choose a site filled with devotees, such as the ghats (riverside steps) of India’s holy city of Varanasi or the temples of Kyoto, Japan ( pictured). Or seek the spirituality of nature on a stroll around Tibet’s Mount Kailash or a camp-out at Australia’s Uluru. Take our advice: Remain respectful. Don’t cross off-limits areas and ask if there is a dress code or if an offering is required.
13 GO ON A MASSIVE JOURNEY DON’T JUST SETTLE FOR A QUICK GETAWAY – EXTEND YOUR TRAVELS
A two-week trip provides a fantastic dose of otherness. So just imagine how much better it might be to go for longer: a month, six months, six years! Extended travelling doesn’t just mean covering more ground, it provokes an all-round attitude shift. You can ultimately move more slowly and take more detours; you’re also forced to cope with catastrophes and, at times, even boredom. Eventually, though, you will start to forget the stresses of home and sink into a different mindset. It’s the ultimate freedom.
Where? Everywhere! Maybe attempt a round-the-world trip, stopping off in Asia, Australia and the USA. Or perhaps focus on one region, such as India by rail ( pictured), overlanding in South America or walking across the whole of Europe.
Take our advice: Don’t over-plan – things will always go awry in some way. Have a basic itinerary, but allow wiggle room for spontaneity and cock-ups.
14 GO FAR FROM ANYWHERE TRAVEL SOMEWHERE TRULY OFF THE GRID
According to a 2018 Ofcom report, Brits spend an average of 24 hours a week on the internet. Just think how you
could be spending that day. Take a digital detox by going completely off-grid; travel somewhere wild and remote to free yourself from the online world and enjoy engaging with the real world instead.
Where? Tourists aren’t allowed online in North Korea. Or feel your own insignificance in an enormous wilderness such as the Canadian Yukon, the high Himalaya, the Namib Desert ( pictured) or the Amazon.
Take our advice: You can find internet access in even the most unlikely places these days, so self-discipline may be required. At least disable social media and leave your phone for emergencies only.
15 TRAVEL CREATIVELY TURN YOUR JOURNEY INTO A MEMORABLE PIECE OF ART
We all like taking holiday snaps, but how about taking your creativity a little further? Write a blog or travelogue, paint a picture, pen a song or make a video about your trip and it will force you to look at everything differently; to consider other angles and perspectives; to really look. Plus, you’ll have a unique souvenir at the end.
Where? Book a trip specifically focused on a creative pursuit, such as an art safari in Malawi or a travel-writing retreat in Spain. Or perhaps try making a short film of a long-distance cycle trip across Asia.
Take our advice: Don’t get hung up on quality, just create. Write, sketch or compose whatever comes into your head – you can edit it into perfection afterwards.
16 BE WOWED BY NATURE DELIGHT IN THE PLANET’S MOST DAZZLING SPECTACLES
For all humankind’s incredible inventions, there are many natural phenomena that knock them all for six. No movie special effect can match seeing first-hand the magical sky-dance of the aurora borealis (or aurora australis – if you’re in the southern hemisphere), the ethereal glow of bioluminescence, the flash and fury of a lightning storm or the rage of a tornado. Witnessing any one of these will make you bow down to Mother Nature.
Where? For aurora thrills, head to the light-pollution-free, less cloudy parts of the Arctic Circle – Abisko in Sweden, Finnish Lapland ( pictured). For bioluminescence try visiting the lagoons in Puerto Rico and Tobago.
Take our advice: Increase your chances of sightings with planning and research: bioluminescence is brighter around a new moon; aurora regions issue forecasts predicting the likelihood of displays.
17 FOLLOW AN ANCIENT TRAIL FEEL THE FORCE OF OUR FOREBEARS
Tracing the routes of erstwhile explorers, emigrants, merchants, monarchs, pioneers and pilgrims offers a connection back to the past. Following their formative footsteps brings the history of the world to life, and can imbue your modern-day travels with greater meaning.
Where? Hike Hadrian’s Wall ( pictured) or the 15th-century paving slabs of Peru’s Inca Trail, or even cycle graffitied concrete remains along the Berlin Wall Trail. Plot an overland expedition along the Silk Road or from St Louis to the Pacific in the wake of Lewis and Clark, whose 1808 expedition first opened up the western USA. Or just bag a flight to the ultimate explorer homage: the South Pole.
Take our advice: Read up before you go, and know how to recognise a strip lynchet (earth terrace), Roman road, Neolithic tomb or a caravanserai (old inn).
18 DO SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME INVIGORATE YOUR TRAVELS BY DOING SOMETHING NEW
Don’t go back to the same old places in the same old ways. Head to a country you’ve never visited, use a mode of transport you’ve never tried, eat a dish you can’t pronounce – and have the time of your life.
Where? The travelsphere is always dreaming up adventures. Try stand-up paddleboarding in the Greek Islands ( pictured), fatbiking over the UAE’S dunes or using an app such as Eatwith to join a dinner party in Paris.
Take our advice: These days it’s easy to find unique experiences. Follow local bloggers/ papers on social media to see what’s new.
19 SCARE YOURSELF PUSH YOUR LIMITS FOR THE MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES
Leaving your comfort zone is how you learn and grow – you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of. Travel encourages such boundary pushing, and can build confidence. Embrace it!
Where? Arachnophobes could sleep in a hammock in the Amazon. Heights-haters could walk across a glass suspension bridges in China ( pictured). You could even cage dive with great whites off South Africa.
Take our advice: There’s no need to utterly terrify yourself – pick a challenge that will ultimately give you a buzz, not a coronary.
20 SLEEP UNDER THE STARS STARE UP AT THE HEAVENS TO RESET YOUR WORLD VIEW
There’s nothing like contemplating the huge, dark unknowableness of the universe for putting us in our place. It’s a reminder of how teeny-tiny we are. It’s also healthy to get away from light-polluted civilisation, not to mention how magical it is to lie back and be dazzled by a billion stars.
Where? Official International Dark Sky Reserves – such as Jasper in Canada or Namibia’s Namibrand – are a good start. Wild camp on Exmoor, spend a night with Bedouin in Jordan’s Wadi Rum ( pictured) or splash out on a five-star safari lodge that has four-poster beds you can wheel outside.
Take our advice: Download an astronomy app such as Night Sky to help you identify the stars. Consider coordinating your sleep-out with the next meteor shower.
21 ABANDON YOUR INHIBITIONS GO ON – THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!
Us Brits can be a reserved bunch. But away from the social conventions and judging eyes of our brethren, why not loosen up a little? No one knows you, after all. So go for that skinny dip, shake your stuff at the local festival, sing like no one’s listening in that packed karaoke bar. Set yourself free!
Where? Swim naked on the azure-lapped beaches of the Greek isles. Steam in a Japanese onsen (clothing not allowed). Dance outrageously at a Rio Carnival bloco (street party), learn how to haka (war dance) in New Zealand or hit Havana’s salsa clubs.
Take our advice: While it’s good to let go, be sure not to break any laws at the same time. Not all beaches welcome birthday suits...
22 SAVE A SPECIES HELP CONSERVE WILDLIFE (AND CHANGE MINDS LOCALLY) BY PAYING THEM A VISIT
The rallying cry of many conservation organisations is that animals are ‘worth more alive’. Prove that’s true by going to see the species that need help. Your presence – and pounds sterling – can help convince local communities and governments that there is value in protecting habitats. Tourism can be a powerful force in providing the kind of incentives that may turn hardened poachers into potential tour guides and threatened landscapes into national parks.
Where? Spotting turtles in Tortuguero, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, can have huge local benefits. One year of turtle-based tourism here can generate around US$6.5 million (£5m), says the World Wildlife Fund. Alternatively, spend your days looking for elephants ( pictured) in Africa. According to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a live elephant is worth US$22,966 (£17,750) a year to the local economy through eco-tourism.
Take our advice: Do your research and use guides and companies that offer sustainable and responsible animal interactions.
23 TRAVEL FOR THE GREATER GOOD PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE IT’S NEEDED, WHEN IT’S NEEDED
After a natural disaster or terrorist attack, an entire country is often struck off the travel map. Sometimes the Foreign Office (FCO) warns against returning – and these warnings should be heeded when in effect. But sometimes it’s only media hype that keeps travellers away, which can leave local people dealing not only with the initial disaster but loss of livelihood, too. By visiting such places, you might have to cope with a less-than-perfect infrastructure but you’re also assured the warmest of welcomes.
Where? Dominica, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands hit by 2017’s devastating hurricanes; earthquake-recovering Nepal ( pictured); rebounding Egypt and Tunisia, most of which is now off the FCO no-go list.
Take our advice: Don’t go back too soon – in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, your presence may be more of a hindrance.
24 ACCEPT THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS TRAVEL WITH AN OPEN MIND AND AN OPEN HEART
Listen to news reports and it’s all doom and gloom, but head there yourself and you discover overwhelming hospitality, with people who have little giving so much. Learn to accept it graciously, and pay it back in turn.
Where? Iran ( pictured) and Sudan, both renowned for being ‘dangerous’, are also well known for their amazing hospitality.
Take our advice: Learn a little local lingo, so you can converse with your hosts – even if it’s only ‘thank you for my eighth cup of tea’.
25 AND FINALLY, TRAVEL MORE! GET AWAY AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
Nothing opens your mind, broadens your horizons and revives your body and soul quite like travel. Exposure to new sites, societies and experiences is formative in the best of ways, we believe, so do it as often as you can. Forgo buying designer shoes and fancy meals and save for trips instead – when you look back years later, you’ll surely have far fonder memories of your time spent abroad than of a half-forgotten pair of Gucci brogues. Find creative ways to carve out more time or money for travel, or simply squeeze in little microadventures where you can. Negotiate a four-day week, so you can set off on mini-breaks; stockpile holiday for a big trip; work out of a campervan while you’re on the road; or maybe housesit for locals when they go abroad. There’s always a way! Where? Everywhere!
Take our advice: In between trips, be sure to travel vicariously – look out for news of various travel talks and events (see p17), watch the many TV travelogues that arrive on our screens every season and, of course, read Wanderlust!