I class once in a lifetime trips as experiences that require quite a bit of time or money or both and therefore you’re only likely to do them once.
That’s not to say you can’t go back if you loved it so much the first time. And why not! Suck the juice out of this beautiful and fascinating world we live in as much as you can for as long as you can!
Over the last 11 years I have been lucky enough to experience quite a few once in a lifetime trips, like the time I bumped into Mark Zuckerburg on the Great Wall of China, or the time when a Delhi train scam almost killed my sister, or even the times I encountered sharks at the Great Barrier Reef and in the Pacific Ocean in French Polynesia.
But even though I have been fortunate enough to see so many amazing sites, the world is a huge and exciting place with so much more to do and see!
Here are 10 phenomenal once in a lifetime trips I personally can’t wait to take and that I hope inspire your own wanderlust! Add these beauties to your bucket list!
1. Zhangjiajie National Park, China (inspiration for Avatar)
Avatar is one of my favorite movies of all time and although I’m certainly not expecting to come across the Na’vi or the tree of souls on my trip, I would love to see the spectacular mountains which inspired the floating rocks in the movie.
What gives the Zhangjiajie mountains their beauty is their pillar-like formations and sheer majesty. The ‘Avatar Hallelujah Mountain’ stands at 3,540ft!
The Best Way to Experience the Zhangjiajie Mountains
There are varying ways to experience the national park and I want to try them all!
The Baillong Elevator (translated as ‘hundred dragons sky lift” – love that!,) is 1070ft and the world’s tallest lift! Once at the top the views of the park & Hallelujah mountain are said to be stunning.
Then you can hop on one, if not all of the 5 cable car rides around the park, exploring the Huangshi village, The Tianzi Mountains, and the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge at the Tianmen Mountains, the longest and highest glass bridge in the world!
Sounds like fun to me (she says until she gets there!)
It’s a bit of a trek to get there. The most common route is apparently to fly into the city of Changsha and get the train to the town of Zhangjiajie, then get a bus or a taxi from there to the park.
But however you get there, this is definitely a lifetime experience worth adding to your bucket list!
2. Take an Expedition Trip Through Antarctica
Photo by Danting Zhu on Unsplash
I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the cold. On most of my social media profiles it says ‘chasing the sun around the world’. Nuff’ said.
However, a dream trip that’s been on my bucket list forever is an expedition to Antarctica.
I’m imagining the majesty of the icebergs, the landscapes, and the huge waddles of penguins.
I guess I’ll just have to wrap up warm!
The Best Way to Experience Antarctica
Apparently the best time to visit is from October to March and it’s important to jump on an expedition trip rather than a cruise. A cruise is what it says on the tin, it cruises by.
An expedition trip explores the area, giving you the opportunity to get off and walk amongst the penguins and seals and enjoy the immense white vistas around you!
You can also jump on a little dinghy and explore sculpted icebergs, and get up close and personal with whales!
And for the more adventurous (and weather hardy) amongst us, you can even camp overnight, go paddle boarding or head off on a sea kayak!
Not sure I fancy camping, but hey, when in Rome as they say!
Accessible from Buenos Aires, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile, (which would also be pretty awesome places to visit), the most fun sounding route to Antarctica departs from Ushuaia, Argentina (3.5 hr flight from Buenos Aires).
From there you jump on a boat that over a day and a half, takes you through the Drake Passage, a 1000km body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.
Alternatively, you can fly direct to an island adjacent to the Antarctic peninsula from Punta Arenas.
What an adventure. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
3. Fly Over the Fairy Chimneys, Gerome, Cappadocia, Turkey
Photo by Burak Arslan on Unsplash
Most definitely a bucket list destination, I first saw these on an episode of ‘The Silk Road with Joanna Lumley’ and instantly fell in love with the fairy chimney rock formations she got to explore.
The result of ancient volcanic eruptions coupled with millennia of erosion, the fairy chimneys were originally huge rock structures formed by the hardening of the volcanic ash, which left behind a softer more malleable rock called tuff.
At some point during the Roman period, persecuted Christians made Cappadocia their home and built a network of caves, churches, stables and living quarters all dug into the rock.
In the Joanna Lumley episode, you saw evidence of where kitchen pots would have been placed, horses would have been secured and an ancient rolling security door, which could be used in the event of an attack, giving the Christians time to flee to freedom through caves and narrow passageways.
How Best to Experience the Fairy Chimneys
These days as tourists, we get to explore these magical caves by foot or we can jump in a hot air balloon and view their unique beauty from above.
Of course I’ll be doing both!
4. Dune Buggy Around Huacachina, Peru
Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash
Number 4 in my list of breathtaking once in a lifetime trips takes us to Peru!
There are many things to do in Peru, like hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, head to the rainbow mountains, see the sacred valley, get lost in the colca canyon, and more.
Once we get there we’ll probably stay a while and do as many of them as we can.
However, I really fancy experiencing Huacachina. A desert oasis in the Southern end of Peru not far from the coast, it sounds like a fun place to visit.
How Best to Experience Huacachina
Firstly, it’s a village with a huge natural oasis at it’s centre completely surrounded by huge sand dunes.
If that’s not enough, for the adventurers you can go sand boarding or dune buggying, head to the seaside town of Paracas and see some wild penguins and sea lions, go on a Nazca lines flight (one of the most famous historical sites in Peru) or sample the local wines at the Pisco Vineyard (oh yes!)
Or you can simply climb the dunes and watch the most beautiful and unforgettable sunsets over the desert.
It sounds like bliss! Also any place that is the result of a legend sounds worth exploring to me!
The Legend of Huacachina
Source – https://www.huacachina.com/info/
It is said that the oasis originated from the tears shed of a maiden from the town of Tacara who mourned the death of her beloved, a young Inca warrior. After crying for days and nights, the lagoon was created, until one day before nightfall a warrior passed through the lagoon and saw the girl.
Feeling observed, the young woman threw herself into the water to hide for hours until the warrior left and when she tried to leave she realized that she had transformed into a mermaid. The girl’s name was Huacachina.
The legend says that every night of the Full Moon, the young woman leaves the lagoon to continue crying to her beloved dead in the war.”
5. Witness the Great Migration at Serengeti National Park
Photo by Jorge Tung on Unsplash
Going on safari has long been on my bucket list. However, I don’t just want to do an African safari, although I’m sure that’s an amazing experience.
No, I want to see masses of Wildebeest galloping across the planes, fighting crocs in the rivers and desperately trying to outrun the dramatic meal time attacks by groups of lions!
I want the immersive Lion King experience!
The good news is, it’s available (at a price).
How Best to Experience The Great Migration
Most tours start at around $9k per person but that includes full board, safari tours and experiences and transfer flights (not international flights).
An example trip might be starting in Kenya, heading to the Masai Mara for a few days, then onto Tanzania to spend a few days on the Serengeti, followed by a big 5 safari!
Unfortunately, due to climate change, the rains are not as predictable as they used to be so the migration times are more variable.
Plus the wildebeest can just wander about at the water’s edge for a couple of weeks before crossing so there’s definitely some luck involved.
August is generally considered the best time to witness the river crossings, however there’s a chance you could see thousands of wildebeest stretching as far as 40km anytime from May.
Alongside the galloping Wildebeest, you may also encounter elephants, hippos, zebra and giraffes as well as apex predators including lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas.
Hakuna Matada! When can I go?
Due to the unpredictability of the weather and the inability to control the behavior of wild animals, a lot of this trip relies on luck. Hence why this is on my list of once in a lifetime trips.
6. Scuba Dive the Cancun Underwater Museum
One of my more unique once in a lifetime trip ideas is The Cancun Underwater Museum is the brainchild of a chap called Jaime Gonzalez Canto, the director of the Cancun National Marine Park.
With the goal of saving nearby local coral reefs, damaged by tourism, he wanted to create a man-made area of ph-neutral concrete structures, with some well placed corals, to draw tourists away, mainly from the popular Manchones Reef.
Unfortunately artificial coral gardens take years to flourish, so after some lengthy research he found artist & sculptor Jason Decaires Taylor, already experimenting with underwater sculptures in the Caribbean.
They teamed up to create what is now called MUSA and in 2010 opened the ocean doors to an initial installation of almost 500 statues!
How Best to Experience The Museum
The main collection is called Silent Evolution and includes some 450 statues which over the last decade have become a haven for corals and marine life.
There is also a submerged Volkswagen beetle now covered in plants and underwater life and other scenes and collections created by a variety of artists.
There are a couple of sites, one recommended for scuba diving as the statues are between 8 – 10m and one for snorkelers, with statues sitting at 2 – 4m.
In my experience if the waters are clear and it’s a bright sunny day, you’d likely have no problem snorkelling and seeing the statues at 8-10m. It’s just not that deep.
There’s also a glass bottom boat tour if you don’t fancy venturing into the water at all.
The pictures of this hidden gem look amazing and as a diver, I can’t wait to get my scuba gear on and go exploring!
Plus I’ve never been to Cancun, or Mexico for that matter, so this one is definitely in my top 10 bucket list trips!
7. Take the Trans Siberian Express from Moscow to Mongolia
Mongolia Photo by Vince Gx on Unsplash
A good friend of mine took this once in a lifetime trip solo a few years back and ever since hearing her amazing stories this has been one of my top ten travel bucket list items!
The Trans Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world extending for 9289km from Moscow to Vladivostok and crosses 7 time zones! (Russia is HUGE!)
Built between 1891 & 1916, the railway system has since added connecting lines going into Mongolia, China and North Korea and has plans to connect to Tokyo.
The trip I’m particularly attracted by is the Trans Mongolian line (although the full Trans Siberian line also sounds pretty exciting, I wonder what’s in Vladivostok?).
The trip starts and ends in Moscow and then makes its way to Siberia’s Irkutsk and the mighty Lake Baikal. From there you switch from the Trans Siberian line to the Trans Mongolian line and head off to the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bataar.
How Best to Experience the Trans Siberian Railway
If you choose to take a tour on a luxury train or simply book a multi stop trip, there is a lot to see along the way,.
Firstly Moscow! The Kremlin, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral. Can’t wait!
Then on route, you can stop at;
- Kazan – to see the Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Yekaterinburg – the capital of the Ural Mountains, a natural border between Europe & Asia. If you head to the city obelisk marking the geographical border you can literally stand with one foot in Europe and another in Asia.
- Novosibirsk – situated in the heart of Russia, you can head to Lenin Square and visit one of the largest opera houses in the world. Also take a selfie with the statue of Lenin, in front of the Opera House.
- Irkutsk – known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’, this busy city (one of the largest in Siberia), houses multiple museums, art galleries, plus you can explore the classic wooden architecture, walk along Karl Marx Street or head to the busy 130th district for drinks and dinner.
- Lake Baikal – the deepest lake in the world which holds 20% of the world’s freshwater. Known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’, this UNESCO world heritage site is also home to freshwater seals and loads of fish you’re likely to find cooking in the local restaurants!
Ulan Bataar – The Capital of Mongolia!
Here you can visit the Gandan Monastery, Chinggis Square and the Genghis Khan statue, head out to Terelj National Park to take in a local Naadam festival, maybe even go on a Gobi desert tour or stay overnight with a local family in a Mongolian Yurt (as my solo travelling friend did) and see them in action in their natural habitat.
With so much to do and see, you’d likely need anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months to take it all in.
I’ll be sure to share photos and videos of this once in a lifetime trip when we go!
8. Marvel the Majesty at Victoria Falls
Photo by Datingjungle on Unsplash
Who fancies steadying themselves on a precipice and staring directly down into a 100m flow of thundering water?
Sounds like an amazing once in a lifetime trip right?
Unfortunately the only time you can swim the Devil’s pool at the top of the Victoria falls is in low season when the water levels are at their lowest.
Otherwise it’s too dangerous. We don’t want anyone falling over the edge!
So visiting Victoria Falls is a bit of a toss up between adrenaline pumping excitement in a natural infinity pool staring imminent death in the face, or the equally adrenaline pumping views of the falls at their highest water levels, throwing over 17million cubic feet of water over the edge every minute!
Personally, if I’m going to go all that way, I think I’d rather go in high season between February & July, when there’s as much water as possible!
If you time it right and are prepared to stay a while, go in Jan to submerge yourself in the Devil’s pool & engage in other activities like water rafting, then stay through Feb to see the rising waters.
Or similarly, go in July to see the high waters and then stay through August to do the other activities.
Best of both worlds!
How Best to Experience the Victoria Falls
The falls are part of the Zambezi River which creates a border between Zimbabwe & Zambia. The falls straddle both countries, which means you will need visas to cross via the Victoria Falls bridge.
Locally known as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (which means the ‘Smoke that Thunders’), the Victoria Falls are the biggest falls in the world!
The bulk of the falls lay on the Zimbabwe side, which therefore has the best views. Plus most of the hotels are within walking distance and Victoria Falls town is apparently well worth a visit.
However, as long as you have the correct visa, you can easily cross over into Zambia to see the views from that side and get closer to the falls. There are paved pathways right alongside the waterfalls and the infamous Knife Edge Bridge!
Be prepared to get wet!!!
Also if you stay into low season, you can head down to the Boiling Pot. A massive whirlpool at the base of the falls.
There are helicopter rides, microlight flights, sunset boat tours, ziplining and apparently wild elephants roaming around!
It’s both a nature lover’s paradise and great for adrenaline junkies!
So much to see and do. I can’t wait to tick this one off my bucket list!
9. Old City, Jerusalem
I wouldn’t class myself as a particularly religious person.
I went through a stage in my 20’s when I became a born again Christian and belonged to a local church. But after months of feeling extreme guilt every time I had a glass of wine or the fact I was co-habiting with my boyfriend I started to have doubts.
Coupled with the fact my congregation believed wholly that repenting on your deathbed was a more effective strategy to enter to heaven, (even if you had been a murdering rapist), than simply living an honest, upstanding and christian life, I realised church wasn’t for me.
Since then I’ve swayed back and forth, hoping desperately there is something more, but mainly settling for the fact that it’s highly unlikely.
However, this does not mean I’m not fascinated by the story of Jesus, the persecution of the Jews and the history of all religions and how they affect our lives today.
In fact, if I could have my school days again I think I would have chosen theology, given the influence religion has over so many of our world issues.
Anyway I digress.
The Old City of Jerusalem sounds like an incredibly fascinating ancient city to explore and has been on my bucket list forever.
How Best to Experience the Old City
Divided into four uneven quarters, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter, the city is steeped in holy history.
The Muslim Quarter is the largest and most populous and according to reports is more bustling than the other quarters full of markets & restaurants.
The Christian Quarter is in the Northwestern corner of the Old City and contains the Via Dolorosa (way of suffering), which takes you on Jesus’s journey from being condemned to his crucifixion.
There are 14 stations which highlight places along the way, including where he fell, where he met his mother and finally onto The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered by many as Christianity’s holiest place, where he was crucified and laid in the tomb.
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest of the quarters and although the Armenians are christians, they remain independent, proud of their Armenian heritage.
The Jewish Quarter has a very rich history and houses the Western (otherwise known as the Wailing) Wall. Also important to Muslims it’s known as the Buraq Wall in Islam.
In Judaism it’s holiness comes from its proximity to Temple Mount, a hill just behind the wall, known to the Jews as ‘Mount of the House of God’ and Muslims as ‘the Noble Sanctuary’, and which houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
When you get to the wall, you can write a prayer or a gratitude note and squeeze it into one of the crevices within the wall. Then back away slowly facing the wall, immersing yourself wholly in the holy experience.
Without doubt one of the most important cultural & historical places to visit in the world if you want to broaden your mind!
10. Bitcoin City, El Salvador (when it’s built)
Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash
Number 10 of my unique ideas for once in a lifetime trips is a little left field. But you can’t have a list of natural and historical wonders without also looking to the future.
In November 2021, El Salvador’s President, Nayib Bukele, a staunch supporter of the future of bitcoin and the leader of the first country in the world to introduce Bitcoin as legal tender, announced plans for the creation of an entire city based around the cryptocurrency.
Funded by a $1billion Bitcoin bond the city will be built along the Gulf of Fonseca at the base of the Conchagua volcano to take advantage of the country’s geothermal energy.
Laid out in a coin-like circle, and featuring a central plaza showcasing the Bitcoin symbol, it’s residents won’t have to pay any income, property, payroll or capital gains taxes, with the goal of attracting foreign investment.
It would house residential areas, malls and a port and in Bukele’s words, will have access to “digital education, technology and sustainable public transportation.”
The city would also have zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Raising money via a ‘Bitcoin bond’, users will be able to invest amounts as small as $100 to contribute to this futuristic idea.
As the value of Bitcoin rises, bondholders will be paid dividends on their investment, plus have first dibs at applying for residency.
Samson Mow, the Chief Strategy Officer of Blockstream, the company managing the Bitcoin Bond, is bullish about the future of El Salvador and believes this project could propel it to the ‘financial centre of the world’.
I have no idea if or when it will pan out, but in these tumultuous days of change and technological advancement, anything’s possible!
Once in a Lifetime Trips Summary
That about wraps up the 10 unique & breathtaking once in a lifetime trips I’m looking forward to taking around the world.
There are so many more bucket list dream destinations I could have included!
Experiences like floating in the dead sea, ski-dooing to the Northern lights, scuba diving in the Galapagos islands, whale watching at Vancouver Island, camping out in the Sahara desert. Check this post for a list of 101 Travel Bucket List Ideas for more information on those experiences and more.
But for this post, I just wanted to include the top 10 once in a lifetime trips that are at the top of my bucket list right now!
I hope they’ve inspired you to start putting your own list of once in a lifetime trips together! Don’t let finances stand in your way. There are tons of ways to earn income passively and make your dream trip a reality.”
As I write this I’m sitting in a beautiful house in Phuket, Thailand where we settled for a few years to see my daughter through school.
I’ve been very lucky to have been able to continue my travels during school holiday periods all the way up to the start of the pandemic in 2020 and I cannot wait to start traversing the globe once again.
Sure, it’s going to be more complex post pandemic, however, that should mean fewer tourists at some of these amazing sites and a better experience overall!
If you love to travel and are also looking forward to exploring the world, be sure to bookmark this blog, my Instagram and my TikTok so I can take you on my journey’s with me and help you to put together your top 10 list of bucket list trips you’d like to take!
Thanks for reading!