Like a penchant for good wine and refined home décor trends, traveling tastes change and mature with age. While a solo backpacking adventure may have great allure in your 20s, it can sound downright exhausting in your 30s. Likewise, going all-out on an extravagant trip to Alaska to see aurora borealis might be more within reach after retirement than when you’re saving for your first home.
So which experiences belong on the ultimate bucket list of a lifetime? Here, we've pinpointed the vacations that are best suited to every decade of your life. Not only will they reveal the person you truly are (a solo sojourn in your 20s is a must), but they're also the best strategy for a happy and fulfilling life (studies confirm experiences will make you happier than possessions).
Keep scrolling for three life-changing experiences to have in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.
There’s something liberating about packing your bags, jumping on a flight, and arriving in a new country solo. You’ve spent your teens abiding by school rules, and now it’s time to go it alone. Nervous? That’s totally normal. Traveling solo will force you to meet new people, problem-solve, and discover what you’re really like under pressure. Among our list of the best destinations to visit as a lone female traveler are Stockholm and Québec City. Add these hot spots to your list for a safe first solo experience to build confidence.
Learning to orient yourself in a new city is a challenge, and it’s inevitable that you’ll lose your way at some point. Don’t stress—getting lost in a foreign city is an experience every traveler should have. Whether it be in a sprawling souk in Marrakech, Morocco, or wandering the whitewashed streets of Santorini, Greece, getting lost is a humbling experience that will make you realize how vast the world is and how much there is to see and explore. It’s also a great way to stumble upon a non-touristy sight off the beaten path.
Get Lost in a Foreign City
Push Your Physical Limits
Your 20s are all about pushing the limits, so a physical challenge should be high on your list of must-do experiences. Make the most of your fitness and try an activity that requires energy and endurance. Up to the challenge? Try the 16-mile, 12-hour hike to iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, or venture to Laos in Southeast Asia with the Gibbon Experience to trek through the jungle and rice paddies for a chance to spend the night in an open-air treehouse.
Follow Your Taste Buds
Traveling the world broadens our appreciation for different cultures and their unique cuisines. Follow your taste buds and plan your next trip based on a country’s culinary offerings. Not sure where to start? Stop by Le Sirenuse’s La Sponda restaurant in Positano for Michelin-starred Italian cuisine, or check out Chiang Mai, Thailand, to peruse the local markets and indulge in the region’s famous noodle soup, khao soi.
Buy Your Dream Décor From the Source
You’ve graduated from a college dorm to your first apartment, and now it’s time to upgrade your décor. Your 20s were all about decorating your apartment on an IKEA budget, but now that you’ve got some savings in the bank (if you didn’t spend it all on that solo trip), you can invest in a statement piece. Let your interior style guide your next vacation, whether it be to wander the markets in search of an authentic rug in Fez, Morocco, or explore the streets of Lisbon for hand-painted ceramic tiles.
Spend an Entire Paycheck on Vacation
You’ve spent your 20s working hard to build a career, and if you’re lucky, you’ve built a nice nest egg. We’re all for being financially responsible, but while you’re young and carefree, now’s the time to book the vacation of your dreams. Go all-out on an island honeymoon, or indulge in some “me” time at a resort.
Courtesy of Wolwedans
Travel encourages us to keep learning and embrace change, and your 40s are the perfect time to explore a different culture. Seeing the Serengeti is a popular bucket-list item, and for good reason: The vast, dusty plains scattered with lions, zebras, and bathing hippopotamuses are a stunning sight to behold. Accommodation varies from basic campgrounds to envy-inducing villas like Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, a private retreat with panoramic views of the African nature reserve.
Book a Wellness Retreat
By now, you’ve learned that there are two types of trips: exhilarating adventures that can leave you craving a vacation when you return home, and the type that is dedicated to complete relaxation. Research suggests wellness travel is on the rise, as American working professionals look for unique ways to spend their hard-earned time off. Whether it be a beachside yoga retreat in California or a meditation course in India, this is one bucket-list experience that will leave you feeling completely rejuvenated by the time you return to the office.
Take a Grown-Up Gap Year
Extended vacations aren’t just for college graduates—lately, we’ve seen a rise in professionals taking a grown-up gap year. It makes sense; you’ve spent decades building a successful career, and now you’re in a position to delegate tasks to a team. Europe is the perfect place to go on a sabbatical, and Iceland is trending at the moment, thanks to affordable direct flights. Be sure to add the Blue Lagoon to your bucket list before jetting off to explore Iceland’s Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark.
Book an All-Inclusive Holiday
Courtesy of Belmond
Sometimes you just want to go on vacation and have every detail taken care of. After all, you’ve spent decades working hard—you’ve earned it! See Budapest from the comfort of your own suite aboard a boutique cruise of the Danube River, or splurge on an all-inclusive boat tour of New Zealand’s picturesque Marlborough Sounds.
Try Slow Travel
Slow travel, the practice of exploring one country in depth and taking the time to visit local towns and countryside, is starting to gain popularity among experienced travelers. A perfect vacation after retirement, slow travel is a great way to explore one destination in detail. Hire a car and drive the Italian coast or explore quaint villages in Slovenia.
Tick Off Your Top Bucket-List Item
If there’s an item on your bucket list that you haven’t had a chance to cross off, now’s your chance! Among your list of must-see phenomena should be Aurora Borealis, a stunning light display created by charged particles colliding in the Earth’s atmosphere. If you can’t make it to Alaska to witness the lights, you’re in luck: According to reports, the Northern Lights could be brightest this week and light up the night sky as far south as Washington, Wisconsin, and New York.