Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Experience Wonders Down Under in Australia
With its vast landscapes, vibrant cities, and unique wildlife, Australia is a continent-sized country that demands an epic journey to fully explore. Planning a trip down under is a travel dream for good reason - this island nation packs in wonders galore. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Red Center, Australia brims with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
One of the best ways to take in the wonders of Oz is to road trip between its famed cities. Starting in artsy Melbourne, rated one of the world's most livable cities, you can take the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles limestone stacks. Continuing west, hit up vineyards in Adelaide before arriving in Perth, where you can catch a wave at one of the city's stunning beaches.
Next up is a flight to Darwin, the gateway to Australia's Top End. From here, you can visit massive Kakadu National Park with its Aboriginal rock art and wetlands that teem with crocs and birds. Then it's on to the Outback for a 4WD adventure through Red Centre highlights like Uluru and Kings Canyon. No tour of Australia is complete without exploring the ancient landscapes and Aboriginal culture of the country's heartland.
After experiencing the Red Centre, fly to Cairns, the launching point for the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkeling or diving the reef's vibrant corals and sea life is a must. You can also sail to secluded islands and rainforests along the reef's northern stretches. End your Aussie adventure in lively Sydney, squeezing in a trek across the iconic Harbour Bridge, a surf session at Bondi Beach, and dinner with views of the Opera House.
What else is in this post?
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Experience Wonders Down Under in Australia
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Marvel at Mystical Angkor Wat in Cambodia
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Trek Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Safari Through South Africa's Kruger National Park
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Road Trip Iceland's Ring Road
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Cruise Norway's Fjords on the Hurtigruten
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Backpack Through Southeast Asia's Best Destinations
- Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - See the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Marvel at Mystical Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Rising from the jungles of northwest Cambodia, the sprawling ancient city of Angkor dazzles with over 1,000 temples dating from the 9th to 15th centuries. The crown jewel is the magnificent Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Exploring these mystical Khmer ruins is like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie - except it's all real.
The sheer size and scale of Angkor Wat will simply blow you away. The main temple complex spreads over 400 acres with each building perfectly aligned to honor Hindu cosmology. Intricately carved bas-reliefs depicting ancient battles and divine beings adorn the sandstone walls. It's easy to lose several hours wandering the upper and lower levels, gazing at the haunting faces of bodhisattvas and apsaras that peer back at you through the centuries.
Beyond Angkor Wat, epic temples dot the jungles throughout the Angkor Archaeological Park. Bayon, with its serene smiling faces, and jungle-strangled Ta Prohm that starred in Tomb Raider are absolute must-sees. For a change of pace, travelers can cruise on jade green Tonle Sap lake lined with stilted fishing villages.
With new zones of Angkor still being uncovered today, it's worth spending several days here to properly appreciate these engineering marvels from the mighty Khmer empire. Guides are invaluable for providing context and navigating the sprawling site. Whether you go by bike, tuk-tuk, or private car, bear in mind that distances between temples are significant, often requiring half hour drives.
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Trek Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
With its mountainside Incan citadel and jaw-dropping vistas, the Inca Trail rewards hikers with a lifetime of memories as it winds through the Andes to end at the magnificent Machu Picchu. Ranking among the world's classic treks, the centuries-old Inca Trail allows modern-day adventurers to follow in the footsteps of emperors.
While visiting Machu Picchu itself provides an amazing experience, hiking the Inca Trail is the only way to truly approach the "Lost City of the Incas" as its discoverer Hiram Bingham did in 1911. The sense of anticipation builds with each mile walked as you get closer to beholding the perfectly preserved ruins surrounded by soaring jungle-draped peaks.
The four-day Inca Trail trek may be challenging, with high passes reaching 13,800 feet, but the spectacular views make the effort worthwhile. Traversing Incan paving stones, you'll pass other fascinating archaeological sites like Winay Wayna, an agricultural terracing complex. Nights are spent camping under the stars.
Porters carry your gear while expert guides educate you on the history, culture, and wildlife of the Andes. Remember to look up from the trail now and then to spot the iconic Andean condor gliding overhead. The camaraderie of sharing the journey with fellow trekkers from around the world adds to the experience.
Reaching Inti Punku, the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu, as the morning clouds clear is a truly magical moment. You'll finally stand in awe of the magnificent lost city that you worked so hard to reach. Having taken the journey slowly on foot allows you to better appreciate the grandeur of Machu Picchu.
With permits limited to protect the Inca Trail, booking six months in advance is essential. While trekking permits and organized tours aren't cheap, it's worth the cost for memories of a lifetime. As one seasoned trekker put it, "Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the most rewarding travel experience of my life. The views were unbelievable, and finishing at Machu Picchu after 4 days of hiking was such an accomplishment."
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Safari Through South Africa's Kruger National Park
Few places on Earth can compete with South Africa's iconic Kruger National Park for an epic African safari experience. Spanning 7,523 square miles in northeast South Africa, Kruger provides an unparalleled opportunity to come face-to-face with the Big Five and so much more.
Seeing lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo roaming free in their natural habitat is a dream for many travelers. In Kruger, you stand a terrific chance of spotting all these legendary animals along with cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and hundreds of bird species. With Kruger offering one of the most diverse, intact ecosystems on the continent, wildlife viewing opportunities are incredible.
While you can drive yourself around the park's extensive road system in your own 4x4 vehicle, most experts recommend joining a guided safari tour. The experienced guides and trackers know the best spots for sighting elusive animals and share their extensive knowledge of the beasts' habits. They'll get you up close to the animals while keeping you safe.
Spending time on safari drives exploring different regions of the park is ideal for taking in the sheer diversity of landscapes – from rolling savannas to riverine forests to granite koppies rock formations. Sections like the central Satara area teem with antelopes, buffalo and lions who like to hunt around the open grasslands. Head north to Letaba for dense populations of elephants. And the thick riverine woods around Crocodile Bridge attract leopards along with massive hippo and croc pods.
While days are filled with adrenaline-pumping game drives, evenings often include traditional braais (barbeques) around a campfire under endless African skies. Swapping stories of sightings with fellow safari-goers brings the adventure full circle. From heart-thumping lion kills to baby elephant antics, there's always excitement to share. Comfortable safari lodges and tented camps within the park let you fall asleep to the wild sounds of hyenas, jackals, and hippos. Waking before dawn for the morning game drive beats any alarm clock.
Travelers describe Kruger safaris as the most thrilling yet serene experience imaginable. There's nothing more magical than watching the African sun rise over the savanna as lions begin stirring, hornbills take to the skies above your safari vehicle, and the scent of wild sage fills the air. Or quietly marveling at ancient baobab trees backlit by brilliant orange sunsets. It's nature's live theater show unfolding before your senses.
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Road Trip Iceland's Ring Road
With its stunning landscapes forged by volcanic fire, the Ring Road that encircles Iceland promises the road trip of a lifetime. This 828-mile route offers adventurous travelers unparalleled opportunities to experience Iceland's majestic natural wonders up close and personal along the way. From gushing waterfalls to otherworldly lava fields, prepare to be awestruck by the raw beauty.
Starting in Reykjavik, you'll head north through Borgarfjörður's verdant valleys dotted with tumbling waterfalls and quaint towns like stylish Stykkishólmur on scenic Snæfellsnes peninsula. Continuing along scenic fjords cut by glaciers, watch for puffins and whales. Detour down bumpy tracks to marvel at sights like thunderously powerful Dettifoss waterfall and crazy crater Lake Mývatn with its lunar landscapes.
The ethereal beauty of the remote Eastfjords tugs at the heartstrings with tiny fishing villages nestled under epic cliffs. Further north, get humbled by the vast empty expanses of the highlands desert interior, so remote NASA astronauts once trained here.
Descending to the North Coast, gear up for adventures like snowmobiling across mighty Langjökull glacier or diving the rift between continental plates at Silfra fissure. The thundering Godafoss waterfall and cosmopolitan capital Akureyri provide pleasant pitstops before reaching iconic Lake Mývatn.
After exploring Lake Mývatn's volcanic formations, push on to the Eastfjords for breathtaking vistas around every bend. Quaint villages like Seyðisfjörður and Borgarfjörður Eystri feel wonderfully remote, perfect for hiking and birdwatching.
Meandering south through verdant valleys back to Reykjavik, plan time to relax at the Blue Lagoon's geothermal spa to restore body and spirit after your epic Icelandic road trip adventure. With countless jaw-dropping sights, the Ring Road delivers the ultimate scenic drive.
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Cruise Norway's Fjords on the Hurtigruten
Cruising the majestic Norwegian fjords on the historic Hurtigruten cruise ships lets you experience these breathtaking landscapes in intimate style. Having plied these waters since 1893, Hurtigruten offers the best way to take in Norway's soul-stirring vistas of sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and deep blue fjords from sea level.
Unlike massive cruise liners, Hurtigruten's smaller expedition ships access the narrowest fjords along the rugged Norwegian coast. They dock right in the heart of charming coastal villages for an authentic local experience. While showcasing Norway's highlights, Hurtigruten also serves as a working ferry sailing from port to port. Locals depend on the ships for transport and to deliver supplies to remote arctic communities, just as they have for over a century. This voyage is part sightseeing, part history lesson.
One of the world's most scenic ferry rides, this classic 12-day roundtrip from Bergen lets you wake up surrounded by majestic fjord scenery daily. In a cozy cabin on deck, you'll savor epic views that inspired ancient myths. Don't miss the Geirangerfjord, rated one of the world's most beautiful fjords, with its skyscraping rock walls, frothy waterfalls, and abandoned farms. Equally stunning are the raw towering cliffs in Trollfjord and great glaciers crumbling into the sea.
Between jaw-dropping landscapes, you can disembark in storybook villages like Ålesund with its art nouveau architecture and Trondheim, Norway’s Viking capital. The further north you sail, the more remote and wild the environment becomes. Keep an eye peeled for seabirds, seals, whales, and maybe even reindeer foraging along the shore. Nothing beats the scenic grandeur Norway's fjords offer.
Fellow travelers rave over their Hurtigruten fjord experiences. As one said, "This was the most gorgeous trip imaginable. I could sit watching the views glide by from the lounge or up on deck for hours. Every moment was incredible." Another shared, "We got to see Norway's epic scenery up close unlike large cruise ships. The smaller scale made this an unforgettable journey through Norway's fjords."
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - Backpack Through Southeast Asia's Best Destinations
With its affordable costs, fascinating cultures, and awesome natural beauty, Southeast Asia has long been a favorite backpacking destination for budget travelers. Thanks to plentiful local buses, trains, and no-frills regional airlines, it's easy to journey between the region's highlights without breaking the bank. For a life-changing adventure, backpack through these top destinations across Southeast Asia.
Vietnam is a must-visit thanks to the crazy energy of Hanoi, imperial architecture of Hue, ancient port of Hoi An, and pulsating Saigon. After perusing wartime sites, slurp steaming pho noodle soups. Intrepid travelers can journey between temples and vibrant cities by train or overnight buses. Outdoorsy types shouldn't miss Halong Bay with its jagged limestone islands jutting from emerald waters or the terraced rice paddies of Sapa.
Next door, Cambodia dazzles with the mighty jungle temples of Angkor. Beyond the magnificent Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm never cease to impress. Phnom Penh provides an eye-opening history lesson with its sobering Khmer Rouge sites while coastal Sihanoukville attracts beach lovers.
For jungle trekking and elephant encounters, northern Thailand is a favorite for good reason. Chiang Mai charms with its temples, cuisine, and artsy riverside vibe. From here you can easily visit hill tribe villages or explore national parks where you might ride elephants through the forest or bamboo raft downriver past colorful birdlife. And you can't miss Bangkok's electric urban energy and shopping.
Laos boasts natural beauty like the limestone karsts of Vang Vieng and ancient capital Luang Prabang with its Buddhist monks collecting alms beside exquisite temples. Myanmar dazzles with over 2,000 awe-inspiring pagodas scattered across Bagan. Yangon and Mandalay provide additional cultural immersion.
Lastly, don't overlook the islands of Southeast Asia. With endless white sand beaches set against lush jungle interiors, islands like Bali, Boracay, and Palawan top bucket lists. Whether you surf volcanoes in Bali, swim under waterfalls in the Philippines or dive Thailand's Koh Tao, you'll find your slice of paradise.
Dream Big: 5 Epic Trips to Start Planning for 2024 - See the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland
Under the sparkling Arctic skies, the elusive aurora borealis inspires awe and wonder. Among the best places on Earth to experience the magical Northern Lights is remote Finnish Lapland. With few crowds, limited light pollution, and frequent clear nights during the long winter, Lapland offers tremendous odds of glimpsing the auroras' mystical glow. For adventure-seekers wanting to see this celestial phenomenon in style, Lapland delivers.
While the Northern Lights occasionally appear further south, Finnish Lapland maximizes your chances of seeing them thanks to the lower latitude and longer winter nights. Auroras occur when electrically charged particles emitted from the sun hit Earth's magnetic field, creating stunning light displays. Though wispy green lights may materialize anytime between late August and mid-April, the peak season is October through March when the night skies stay dark.
Many travelers make Northern Lights viewing the focal point of their Lapland trip. From cozy wilderness cabins to bespoke Aurora campers to glass-roof igloos, a variety of accommodations cater to aurora hunters. Some lodges even have wake-up calls when the lights manifest so you won't miss the show. Of course, thermal gear is essential for crisp nights spent waiting for the sky's performance.
Beyond scanning the skies, Lapland offers heaps of alternative arctic adventures. Imagine whizzing through snowy forests on a husky sled, reindeer sleigh, snowmobile or fatbike. How about ice-fishing on a frozen lake? Or learning primitive wilderness skills from the indigenous Sámi during the day, then watching for auroras after night falls? Options abound.
For the ultimate indulgence, stay in a mobile Aurora dome camper or sleigh cabin. You'll drift off watching for the lights through your glass ceiling, then awake in an isolated winter wonderland. With guides doing the driving, you can fully experience Lapland's mystical atmosphere from the cozy comfort of your private Northern Lights chaser.