What takes a vacation from merely memorable to truly once in a lifetime? Are there travel destinations that will change the way you see the world? In a word, yes. They say travel is one of the greatest teachers in life, and the following 14 locales lend credence to that notion.
There’s something inherently magical about staring up at the vastness of the night sky, and no such experience is as magisterial as witnessing the Northern Lights. Because this natural event can be unpredictable (another part of its charm), plan your trip during optimal conditions: a clear sky and colder temps. The trek is totally worth it — it’s impossible to question the wonder that exists in the world when you’re in the glow of the Icelandic night’s dancing lights.
2. Charleston, South Carolina
There are plenty of reasons to visit Charleston, but the most impactful way to view the Holy City is through the lens of history. I recommend taking the Slavery to Freedom tour at Magnolia Plantation — an exploration of five historic slave dwellings dating back to 1850 — during which you’ll be reminded of the vital role African-Americans and Gullah culture have played in the development of beautiful cities like Charleston and of the country as a whole. Other local plantations, including Boone Hall, also offer a glimpse into time in America’s past. For a comprehensive history, head to the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston.
3. Australian outback
In the Australian outback, the open spaces never seem to end — they stretch on seemingly forever in a wide expanse of red rocks, dense brush and brown land. It’s so big that, even when you’re traveling with a group, a sense of solitude pervades you. Whether you spend your visit hiking around Uluru, marveling over Aboriginal art at Arkaroo Rock, catching a huge barramundi or simply enjoying a hike, you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for others and for solitude.
4. Easter Island, Chile
Nearly 2,300 miles from Chile’s mainland, Easter Island is a remote gem. Besides, you know you’ve always been curious about what those gigantic moai statues look like in person! The towering statues truly are awe-inspiring, not to mention entirely mystifying. No one knows why the ancient people of the island created them or why they ultimately tried to destroy them. One thing’s for sure, though — being in their presence is a humbling reminder of how small we all are in the sweeping scope of history and how much we still stand to learn.
A hundred years ago, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the very first man to reach 90 degrees south — also known as the South Pole. And while his trek and the trek of many explorers after was extremely dangerous, this iconic locale is now much more accessible to those with a pioneering spirit. Among the options are eco-tours, during which you can assist with global warming research, as well as cross-country ski excursions. A bit pricey perhaps, but what better place than the relatively untouched expanses of Antarctica to foster your appreciation for the natural world?
6. Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the birthplace of theater, the Olympic Games and democracy. Spend some time visiting the ancient ruins of places like the Acropolis, Parthenon, Herodus Atticus Theater, Dionysus Ancient Theater and the Temple of Zeus — and much more. Best of all, they’re all connected by a walking path that takes you through modern areas for shopping, food and museums between ancient stops. Just a few days in this historic city will leave you amazed at how very similar (and different) things were so very long ago.
7. Tehran, Iran
The capital city of Iran, Tehran is a stunning cosmopolitan city packed with museums, parks, restaurants and more at the foot of the Alborz mountain range. But perhaps one of the biggest draws proves to be the city’s breathtaking architecture. Among it Azadi Tower, pictured here, which is widely considered the symbol of Tehran. Other must-see sites include the Tehran City Theater, designed by architect Ali Sardar Afkhami; Baharestan, the historic Iranian Parliament building; the senate of Iran, considered one of the most technically challenging structures in Iran; and striking Rashkan Castle.
8. The Galápagos
Few places in the world capture the imagination and the wonder of the natural world like the Galápagos Islands. Nearly two centuries after Darwin first studied life there, this biologically diverse area remains a hub for important biological research. Visitors are treated to wild sights like giant tortoises grazing, penguins and sea lions frolicking in the surf, and thick-bodied iguanas sunning on the molten rock.
9. Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks
Panoramas like the scene above are the standard when you visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks so, if you can pick your jaw up off the floor long enough to travel, this trip will afford you one of the most breathtaking experiences of your life. If you live in the States, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton will make you appreciate the diversity of terrain and the splendor that exists here — not to mention well up within you a desire to preserve and protect the wild we have left. To that end, you can sign up to help reverse the annual wear and tear from the park’s 2.9 million annual visitors while you’re there. Think staining picnic tables and repairing sidewalks.
10. South Africa
A symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, Robben Island served for much of South Africa’s apartheid history. The site held political leaders — most notably Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars at Robben Island. The area now acts as a popular museum and tourist destination, where former inmates walk guests through tours of the old cells.
11. Yerevan, Armenia
The capital of Armenia, Yerevan is the largest city of the country as well as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. The sweeping vistas of Mount Ararat alone will amaze you, but it’s the Matenadaran archives that will really leave you in awe. First referenced by fifth century A.D. historian Ghazar Parpetsi, the Matenadaran is a repository of the the world’s richest collection of ancient manuscripts — a total of 17,000 manuscripts and 30,000 other documents spanning the subjects of history, geography, grammar, art, philosophy and science. You’ll never look at the written word the same way again.
12. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
It’s one thing to view a gorilla through the planed glass of a zoo enclosure — it’s another entirely to see the impressive creatures at home in their natural habitats. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to nearly half of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas, who cannot live in any zoo across the globe because they don’t survive in captivity. At Bwindi, the success rate for sighting these majestic beasts is 90 percent. Pretty impressive, given their numbers have been hunted down (outside of the preserve) to less than 1,000 worldwide.
13. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Will viewing the Grand Canyon from atop profoundly affect you? Yes, absolutely. But there is nothing like a whitewater descent of America’s most famous landmark from below. Rafting the Colorado River in and of itself is a test of endurance and strength — a highly rewarding one — and rafting it through the Grand Canyon is what the expression “trip of a lifetime” was coined to describe. Camping on the riverbanks under the star-sprinkled skies at night is icing on the cake.
Dubbed the Land of the Thunder Dragon, the colorful Bhutan is the only Buddhist kingdom in existence. Although it intentionally limits tourism (so as not to spoil the pure quality of the place), travel to this sacred corner of the world is possible and highly worth the legwork. Once there, you can bask in the peace of a people who measure their success by a national “happiness” quotient, gaze upon monasteries carved into mountainsides and marvel at the sheer overwhelming beauty of the Himalayas. After spending time with the semi-nomadic Merak people, who make a quiet living herding sheep, you may return home a far more content person.
This post was sponsored by Arm & Hammer™ Truly Radiant™ Toothpaste & Spinbrush™.