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The desire for bigger, more extravagant trips has never been greater. In 2022, Google searches for epic destinations skyrocketed, purse strings loosened and recruitment of travel experts reached record numbers.
Now more than ever, travelers are planning and fine-tuning their dream trips, with many booking them months — or even years — in advance. In fact, 55% of travelers planned to book a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in 2022, according to data from American Express’ 2022 Global Travel Trends Report.
At TPG, we’re all about seizing the moment (bring on those last-minute flight deals), but we are also firm believers in the adage: so many places, so little time.
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Limits on time and resources, as well as looming health considerations for some, mean that a well-conceived game plan will help ensure you experience the places, people and cultural attractions on your bucket list at the optimal time.
Everyone’s fantasy travel list is different. There are no hard and fast rules as to which places you should visit and when. Depending on which types of trips you’re hoping to take, you may find that with some careful planning and forethought, they can be tweaked to cater to your individual needs, circumstances and desires.
However, there’s no denying that some trips are best enjoyed at a certain phase of life. It’s not hard to understand why backpacking around Southeast Asia has become a rite of passage for travelers in their 20s, while spiritual journeys and cruises are no doubt ideal for those over 50.
To embrace the current mood for planning and provide some inspiration and helpful tips, we’ve come up with our top three destinations for each decade of your (adult) life. Read on to see which places you should visit as you reach each decade milestone.
Colombia has all the magical realism you’d expect of the land that inspired acclaimed novelist Gabriel García Márquez.
One of South America’s most diverse destinations (and the second-most biodiverse country on Earth) Colombia provides a rich (and at times dizzying) initiation into the wonders of Latin America. An ideal destination for intrepid 20-something travelers with lots of time on their hands, the country packs cultural attractions, outdoor adventures and spectacular scenery into a relatively compact, accessible area.
Between jungle-fringed Caribbean and Atlantic coastlines, you can climb snow-capped mountains, eat gourmet cuisine in rainbow-hued colonial cities and explore the mystical archaeological ruins of Ciudad Perdida.
The highlight for most travelers, Cartagena, is the nation’s crown jewel and contender for the most romantic city in South America. Meanwhile, Medellín draws digital nomads to its world-class restaurants, dazzling architecture, bold community projects and compelling street life.
With interregional buses, cheap domestic flights and an array of affordable accommodations, budget travelers can explore widely and comfortably.
Related: Being the Points Guy: How to book a trip to Colombia using points and miles
For 50 years, Interrail has been a rite of passage for travelers in their 20s. During the golden age of the gap year, Europeans traveled wild and free across the continent, bedding down at hostels and pensions as they spent weeks or months exploring the continent’s cultural riches, majestic landscapes and compelling history.
Interrail inspired generations of travelers, helping shape the idea that travel was as much about the journey, mishaps and culture shock as it was about checking off must-see sites and landmarks. Times have changed and borders have been redrawn, but the essence of Interrail endures.
There are all kinds of Interrail pass options available, depending on how long and far you wish to travel. A Global Pass, which provides unlimited travel across 33 countries for three months, costs 677 euros (about $675). The cheapest Global Pass allows you to travel for four days in any one-month period for 185 euros ($184).
Rich in history, cultural diversity and natural beauty, Vietnam beguiles and confounds in equal measure. It offers a compelling war history; an architectural timeline that spans French colonial mansions, Chinese temples and glass and steel skyscrapers; enigmatic Indigenous cultures and downright bizarre street life — just crossing the street in Hanoi is a test of faith.
Vietnam’s topography ranges from the heavenly to the surreal with jungle-fringed beaches, 400-million-year-old karst mountains, intricate cave systems and the verdant rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. Over the last decade, the country has become a haven for adventure seekers who come to motorbike the switchbacks of the Hai Van Pass, trek through the Indigenous heartland of Sapa, dive among kaleidoscopic fish at Nha Trang and rock climb at Lan Ha.
Despite its rising popularity as a travel hot spot, Vietnam remains one of the world’s most enticing destinations for budget travelers. Luxurious hotels, indulgent spa treatments and, arguably, the best and most complex food in Southeast Asia can all be experienced on a shoestring budget. You can travel with relative ease and comfort for $50 per day and splurge on a $100 five-star hotel when the mood takes you.
The ultimate honeymoon dreamscape, French Polynesia’s otherworldly beauty is seared in the collective consciousness. This heavenly collection of 118 islands and atolls ringed by coral reefs is synonymous with the image of luxurious overwater bungalows strewn across a crystal-clear lagoon.
Many would claim that Moorea, with its lushly forested ridges and aquamarine lagoon, is the most beautiful island in the world. The remote Marquesas Islands are steeped in legend and lore, and far-flung jewels, such as Maupiti and Huahine, summon images of old Polynesia and American writer James Michener’s mythical Bali Hai.
Active travelers can surf at Teahupo’o on Tahiti, dive and snorkel with manta rays and yellow-tipped sharks on Bora Bora, sail the tranquil lagoons of Raiatea (French Polynesia’s boating capital) or visit a vanilla plantation on Taha’a.
French Polynesia never fails to disappoint at any age, even when traveling with young children, but the castaway fantasy, unbridled indulgence and unencumbered relaxation make it especially appealing to well-heeled, celebrating couples.
Related: Well worth the wait: Air Tahiti Nui to French Polynesia in premium economy
One of the finest destinations in Europe for active travelers, Slovenia has long been one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. Majestic peaks, emerald green lakes and a picturesque Adriatic coastline set the stage for epic hiking, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, rafting and spelunking adventures.
In hilltop towns and villages, there’s a grandeur and cosmopolitan vibe that belies the small scale of this former Communist outpost.
Slovenia works its magic on travelers who are comfortable exploring without a fixed box-ticking itinerary. Not to mention, the country’s lack of large crowds (unlike other spots in Europe) means your euros will go much further.
Ljubljana is a charming, welcoming capital city full of elegant architecture, restaurants and cafes. Less than 45 minutes away, Lake Bled is simply stunning (kayaking or swimming to its fairy-tale islet, framed by the Julian Alps, reveals some of Europe’s most captivating panoramas).
For avid hikers, the Slovenian Mountain Trail extends for more than 362 miles and is every bit as awe-inspiring as the iconic peaks of the Swiss or French Alps.
Featuring cosmopolitan cities, boho beach towns, epic outdoor adventures and dramatic scenery, Australia is a playground for time-rich, thrill-seeking travelers looking to combine bucket list outdoor experiences with world-class cultural pursuits.
Melbourne and Sydney are among the world’s great lifestyle cities, rounding out high-octane activities with vibrant art scenes, eclectic dining and the irrepressible verve that characterizes the land Down Under. Beyond New South Wales’ spirited cities, travelers can explore waterfalls, bushlands and mountains preserved by 200-plus national parks.
With laid-back beaches, buzzing coastal towns and unspoiled islets, Queensland lives up to its tourist moniker as the “The Sunshine State.” Every itinerary should feature the Great Barrier Reef — Australia’s “Blue Outback” and one of the world’s seven natural wonders — as well as beautiful Uluru, which has a powerful effect on all who visit.
Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia
One of the world’s most authentic safari destinations, few places inspire awe and wonder quite like Kenya.
As one of life’s greatest travel indulgences, a safari needs careful planning, know-how and a healthy budget. The average cost for a high-end safari lodge exceeds $1,200 per person, per night.
Since most flights from the U.S. take more than 20 hours, it’s well worth saving up your points and miles for business-class seats — unless you don’t mind paying out of pocket. The good news is that if you choose the right safari lodge, every detail is planned to a tee.
The emblematic savannah of the Masai Mara forms the nation’s most prized game park, which is populated with 450-plus animal species, including the iconic Big Five. Since the 1980s, it’s been hailed for its conservation efforts.
For the ultimate safari experience, choose a lodge located on a private conservancy so you can experience incredible wildlife spotting from your private deck. While it may be hard to pull yourself away from your accommodations, be sure to venture out in the company of your chosen lodge’s expert naturalists, who can guide you to all of the best spots for prime views without crowds.
Try to time your trip to coincide with the Great Migration, when more than 2 million wildebeest migrate across the Serengeti and Masai Mara in what is undoubtedly the world’s most spectacular wildlife event.
Related: Everything you need to know about going on safari in Africa
The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring attractions. Nested amid soaring Andean peaks, the mythical Lost City has been full of awe and mystery since it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Famed for its spectacular panoramas, the well-maintained, 26-mile trail to the site takes four days to complete. Dotted with Incan ruins, the path from Ollantaytambo has been a popular trek for gap year backpackers for decades — and we certainly wouldn’t discourage that timing.
Witnessing the world’s most famous archaeological site in your 40s has its merits, though. Unassuming Aguas Calientes is the launch pad for budget-conscious adventures, but if you have the means, several upscale lodges, such as Belmond’s Sanctuary Lodge, allow unrivaled access to the site, a more characterful aesthetic and luxury amenities.
For families, Machu Picchu is an incredible shared experience that lives long in the memory bank. The abridged two-day Inca Trail hike can be tackled with active kids who are at least 10 years old. Arriving at Inti Punku (Sun Gate) and staring down at the stone terraces and mist-shrouded peaks fulfills the lost world fantasies of even the most tech-centric tweens and teens.
Known as the “Switzerland of South America,” Costa Rica endures as one of Latin America’s most thrilling adventure travel destinations. Famous for its staggering biodiversity and varied topography — rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes and wild coastline — the country beckons to nature-loving families with older children.
Raft the Class III and Class IV rapids of the Pacuare River, hike through lush primary forests, traverse the suspended bridges of Monteverde’s Sky Walk and come face to face with monkeys, toucans and sloths.
Sheltered coves and rugged, jungle-fringed sands extend the length of the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Surfers ride the world-class breaks of legendary Witch’s Rock, while novice wave riders flock to Tamarindo for consistent, gentle waves and a laid-back vibe.
For couples looking to unwind and rejuvenate, Costa Rica’s wellness resorts brilliantly channel the national motto, “Pura Vida.” Acclaimed wilderness lodges immerse families with budding naturalists in the wonders of the rainforest. One of the best ecolodges on the continent, Lapa Rios Lodge, is located on the remote Osa Peninsula, a bastion of biodiversity and sanctuary for Costa Rica’s critically endangered jaguar and tapir populations.
Home to primal landscapes populated with charismatic wildlife and cities shaped over centuries by distinct cultural influences, the “rainbow nation” exhilarates even the most world-weary traveler.
Without a doubt, Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and its must-see sights and experiences can be appreciated by travelers of all mobility levels. Take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, explore Cape Malay culture in the Bo-Kaap enclave and visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years.
A coastal drive along the Western Cape culminates with the best land-based whale watching in the world in Hermanus. Meanwhile, bustling Stellenbosch combines outstanding viticulture, Cape Dutch architecture and magnificent scenery — all of which are best experienced with a private guide.
A safari is a linchpin for most itineraries (as it should be). An early morning game drive through Kruger National Park, a world-renowned wildlife destination in northeastern South Africa, should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Spending an afternoon watching elephants congregate around a watering hole from your private deck is a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
When money is no object, the private reserve of Sabi Sands is the pinnacle of the luxury safari experience, with acclaimed lodges such as Singita and Londolozi channeling eclectic styles from plush colonial suites to rustic Afro-chic accommodations. They come complete with impeccable service, resort-style amenities and some of the best wildlife viewing on Earth.
Related: Safaris, cities and lots of elephants: How I returned to South Africa this year using points, miles and cash
Big Sky Country captures the imagination with its unexplored wilderness, off-beat frontier spirit and cowboy lore. It encompasses three of the nation’s most cherished national parks — Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton — where ancient glaciers, 100-foot-tall geysers, serrated mountain ranges, rock wall canyons and pristine alpine lakes await adventure-seeking travelers.
But you don’t need to be in prime shape to marvel at “America’s best idea.” Glacier National Park’s rugged landscapes are accessible to all travelers thanks to its sublime 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, one of America’s most scenic drives.
Montana is also an ideal destination for a multigenerational trip. Stay at a luxurious dude ranch, such as the highly lauded Mountain Sky Guest Ranch (which sits 30 scenic miles away from Yellowstone’s north entrance) to enjoy guided national park excursions, as well as a plethora of on-site activities, including horseback riding, hiking and fly fishing, that will keep younger family members entertained. The ranch’s signature Yellowstone horseback ride gives families young and old the chance to view the park’s famed boilings and bubblings from the saddle.
An enigmatic fusion of East and West, Japan never fails to ignite the senses. Within the space of a few blocks, the infectious dynamism of fast fashion and flashing neon advertisements gives way to the Zen calm of stone gardens, Shinto shrines and traditional tea ceremonies.
Japan’s favorite rituals are panaceas for travelers in their 50s. Hot spring baths promise rejuvenation and cure-alls for every ailment, cherry blossom season is as much a philosophical musing on the cycle of life as it is a gorgeous natural show and catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji from the window of the Shinkansen inspires the awe that has captivated poets for centuries.
There’s a serenity to Kyoto, with its ancient lantern-lit streets, jewel box temples and the finest ryokan (traditional inns) in the country. Tokyo is always racing toward the future, offering its famously frenzied Shibuya crossing, insatiable appetite for technology and unabashed consumerism. In fact, the latter has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other global city — 226, to be exact — giving even the most dedicated foodies reason to proclaim the city as the best destination for sushi.
Nestled beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at an elevation of 7,000 feet, the New Mexico capital has become a haven for travelers in search of spiritual fulfillment. Shrines, sacred ruins, New Age institutes and yoga centers offer healing and enlightenment for travelers at a crossroads in life.
As one of the world’s greatest art centers, Santa Fe is celebrated for its rich tricultural heritage (Puebloan, Spanish and Anglo-American), vibrant arts scene and striking adobe architecture. Galleries and artisan studios line Canyon Road, and open-air concerts at the world-famous Santa Fe Opera draw opera devotees from all across the globe.
Santa Fe’s mystical desert landscapes are immortalized by the late painter Georgia O’Keeffe, the “Mother of American Modernism.” The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, housed in a former Baptist church, holds the world’s largest repository of the late artist’s works.
The city has also become a mainspring for innovative Southwestern flavors and cuisine. A major destination for foodies, it hosts dozens of food festivals, events and winery tastings each year. Not to mention, some of the West’s most acclaimed restaurants can be found here.
Related: Escape on a budget: 13 domestic destinations with an international feel
A European river cruise provides less mobile travelers the chance to experience Europe’s most celebrated attractions in an intimate setting without needing to unpack more than once. From the comfort of your private deck, you can simply relax and take in the changing scenery. Expect Gothic church spires rising above medieval neighborhoods, families shopping in colorful Sunday markets, art nouveau mansions lining river banks and animals grazing in rolling fields.
Smaller river ships place you at the heart of ancient towns and cities where you can explore destinations at your own pace or choose to join a guided tour. Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, check out world-class museums and galleries, dine on local cuisine or just settle into the rhythms of local life for a day.
Weeklong cruises along the Danube and the Rhine are among the most popular itineraries, but there are countless options and combinations to consider, including themed sailings, such as AmaWaterways’ “Melodies of the Danube,” which focuses on the river’s poetic, artistic and musical inspirations.
The most exclusive cruises offer five-star services and amenities (think: suites decorated with bespoke furnishings, cuisine crafted by award-winning chefs, private butlers, beautiful spas and movie theaters) across the board. Many provide exclusive excursions, too, such as private ballet performances in palaces, while others allow for more active pursuits like cycling through the tulip fields of Holland.
Related: The 10 most exciting new river cruise ships of 2021
The inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and an ecological treasure, Ecuador’s famed Galapagos Islands are known for their endemic, fearless wildlife. The archipelago’s extreme isolation (596 miles off the coast of Ecuador) defied human settlement until the 19th century. And as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the national park continues to preserve flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth.
Tourist activity is restricted to 60 designated visitor sites spread across the 19-island archipelago. During excursions on land and at sea, you’ll encounter sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies that remain nonchalant and at ease in the presence of humans. Creatures will perform, mate, sunbathe, dance and swoon before your very eyes. It’s an experience that few travelers will ever forget.
The best way to access the sites is via a cruise boat or, for those who struggle with seasickness, day trips from hotels on inhabited islands. While you can certainly pull off a last-minute trip, deciding among the hundreds of cruises and itineraries requires careful consideration and planning.
From calving glaciers to whales breaching alongside a Zodiac, few places inspire awe quite like the Last Frontier. With its vast scale and raw, intimidating landscapes, Alaska can be a challenging place to visit at any age.
Opting for a seven- or 14-night Alaska cruise itinerary affords the same close encounters with Alaska’s signature landscapes and cultural sites but with greater ease, comfort and luxury.
As one of the world’s top cruise destinations, there are ships and itineraries for every type of traveler. Classic itineraries venture through the Inside Passage to western Canada, stopping at Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Strait Point and Victoria, British Columbia, while smaller ships such as those from Lindblad Expeditions have the flexibility to change course to follow a pod of whales or access more remote locations such as Wrangell, one of Alaska’s oldest communities.
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean offer resort-style amenities and around-the-clock entertainment that cater well to multigenerational travelers. Depending on the cruise you choose, you’ll have access to casinos, shows, lavish spas, amusement park-style activities for kids and a wide selection of dining and drinking venues.
And both Holland America Line as well as Princess Cruises combine time sailing with overnight stays that trace the route of the Klondike Gold Rush or visit four national parks: Glacier Bay, Denali, Kenai Fjords and Wrangell-St. Elias.
The U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are especially enticing beach destinations for senior snowbirds due to their diversity and logistical ease (no passport required).
St. Thomas, the West Indies’ busiest cruise ship harbor, is home to Magens Bay, which is frequently cited as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches thanks to its whispery white sand and azure waters. After a day at the beach, sift through designer boutiques, fashion emporiums and jewelry stores that dot the picturesque harbor of Charlotte Amalie.
Charter a yacht or take the ferry to idyllic St. John, an unspoiled haven of coral sand beaches, fragrant pine groves and lush rainforests. Preserving some of the Caribbean’s most breathtaking landscapes, Virgin Islands National Park extends across practically the entire coastline. For active travelers, St. John offers some of the best snorkeling, fishing and sailing in the Caribbean.
A major health and wellness destination, remote St. Croix is the island trio’s cultural heart, offering a bohemian, multicultural verve that inspires its moniker, “cultural callaloo.”
Related: 9 amazing places to use points for a trip to the Caribbean
Blessed with cultural riches, extraordinary landscapes and tantalizing cuisine, Italy can take a lifetime to fully appreciate. The birthplace of the Renaissance and home to more UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites than any other country, Italy’s cultural preeminence is without peer.
From churches and museums filled with masterworks — Michelangelo’s David, the Sistine Chapel frescoes, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and more — to archaeological remains spanning 2,700 years, the country’s antiquity is palpable wherever you travel.
Italy’s gorgeous landscapes provide the perfect complement to its cultural cachet and live-in-the-moment street life. Within a few hours’ drive, you can go from Alpine peaks and glacial lakes to white sand beaches ringed with coral and rolling Tuscan hills where emblematic cypress trees stand sentry.
Whether it’s to rent a villa in Tuscany for a multigenerational summer vacation, take in the spectacular views of the Amalfi Coast, sail down the Grand Canal in Venice or stand awestruck before the ancient monuments of Rome, Italy is a place you can visit multiple times yet never get enough of.
Featured image by guenterguni/Getty Images.
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