Do a Google search for “30 before 30” today and you’ll get 313,000 results (coincidence?) containing never-ending lists of bucket list experiences that everyone should supposedly have before turning 30.
Some of the suggestions are pretty reasonable (plant a tree, meditate and set a morning routine), some will require a little bit more effort (run a marathon or learn a new language) and some are just ridiculous (“Carve your name into a tree!”… Do you people hate the planet?).
A lot of these “thirty before thirty” lists are heavily focused on travel experiences, like watching the ball drop in New York City’s Time Square on New Years Eve, taking a tango lesson in Buenos Aires, Argentina or swimming with sharks in the Bahamas. However, these kinds of lists never really appealed to me, as I’ve never been interested in visiting New York City (living there is another story!), I can only travel to South America during their winter, and I don’t believe in baited shark dives.
This got me thinking about a different kind of travel experiences to have before you turn thirty list… one that was flexible, customizable and open to interpretation. With that in mind, I thought about my own most memorable and life-changing travel experiences, and what elements of those experiences weren’t tied specifically to one destination, but rather to one new way of looking at the world around me.
The result? This list of “ten before thirty” – ten bucket list travel experiences that I would encourage everyone to have before they turn thirty… or forty… or fifty… in a way that makes sense according to their home base, interests, budget and experience level.
How many of these ten travel experiences have you had? Let me know in the comments!
A Spectacular Beach
Nothing compares to jumping straight into the sea and finding that the water is almost as warm as a hot-tub. I grew up swimming in the freezing Pacific Ocean, so my first trip to the Caribbean (on the amazing island of Roatan in Honduras) was absolutely life-changing. The water wasn’t just warm – it was calm, clear and clean. I could spend hours every day swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving, breaking occasionally to re-apply (reef-safe!) sunscreen and relax in a hammock underneath a palm tree. A beautiful beach getaway, whether it’s in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia or even the Indian Ocean, helps you connect with nature while getting active and boosting your Vitamin D levels. Before turning 30, take a trip to the tropics – stay in an all-inclusive resort if you want someone else to handle the details, or look into a locally-owned hotel (like my favorite, Cocolobo, on Roatan) if you want to take in more of the local culture.
Beachy Travel Tip! Always research the water quality and swimming safety reports before booking a beach trip! For example, I recently visited Sayulita, Mexico, which has a gorgeous two-kilometer stretch of beach… that is great for surfing, but usually too dangerous for swimming due to the strong undertow. Fortunately I knew this before I booked my trip, but I talked to other travelers who were surprised by the red flags along the shore.
An Archeological Wonder
I’ve seen some pretty great Greek temples in my life, though none of them have actually been in Greece. Many years ago, when I was living in Turin, Italy, I traveled south to the Amalfi Coast region and visited Paestum, where three Greek temples are beautifully preserved (and almost completely free from tourists during my spring visit). More recently, I traveled to Armenia (including the stunning Tatev Monastery, at the end of the world’s longest dual-track cable car!) where I visited the Garni Temple, a Soviet reconstruction of a Greco-Roman temple that stood on the same site from the first century through to an earthquake in the 1600s.
Whether it’s an obscure Greco-Roman-Soviet temple or something more well-known, like the ruins of Pompeii in Italy or Machu Picchu in Peru, visiting an ancient archeological site is a must-do before you turn thirty. If you’re feeling old at twenty-nine, imagine how old the Great Pyramid of Giza must feel (four thousand, six hundred years, in case you were wondering…). I’m joking, but when you’re faced with a structure that is thousands of years old, that is still inspiring awe in visitors and drawing crowds from across the globe, you’ll be forced to consider your own legacy and what you want to leave behind for generations to come. Are you passionate about planting trees? Have you already dreamed of writing a novel? Will you be the one to finally find a cure for cancer? As you stand before thousands of years of history, make a commitment to yourself to achieve your own version of greatness.
A Linguistic Mystery
If you’re anything like me, you’ve always got a million different ideas running through your brain. I’ve never been able to fully disconnect and turn off that voice in the back of my mind that’s simultaneously telling me that I need to mop the kitchen floor, solve global poverty, get to bed before midnight, stop eating dairy and yes, finish that blog post.
The closest I’ve come to a completely blank mind has been when I’ve traveled to countries where I can’t read the local alphabet, like in Armenia (shown above – where the signage is in both Armenian and Russian). It’s amazing how much your mind slows down when you’re not absorbing any of the written word around you. Before you turn thirty, you should travel to a place where you can’t speak or read the local language. You’ll get a break from the constant information overload that we face every day, and you’ll also get to have a little fun communicating with nothing more than dramatic gestures and a smile.
An Inexpensive Capital
A quick Google search reveals the sky-high average daily travel costs in some of the world’s most famous capital cities. For a basic private hotel room, inexpensive restaurant meals and daily use of public transportation, you can expect to spend:
- $160 USD per day in London, England,
- $170 USD each day in Paris, France,
- $200 USD per day in Washington, D.C., United States, and
- $220 USD every day you spend in Singapore.
Fortunately, you can visit world-class capital cities on a budget. Just skip the expensive capitals listed above, and swap them out for a cheap city break in an affordable capital city.
On the other hand, look at my favorite budget-friendly capital cities:
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia usually costs about $50 USD per day,
- Bucharest, Romania is only $55 USD per day, and
- Mexico City, Mexico can be explored for $75 USD per day.
Travel to these cities, or other similar capitals, before turning 30, and you’ll still be able to experience all the excitement of a vibrant capital city without breaking the bank.
For example, did you know that Bucharest is often called “Little Paris”? It is full of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, pretty urban parks and even its own “Arc de Triomph!”.
Similarly, Kuala Lumpur shares a lot of the multiculturalism that makes Singapore so exciting (as evidence, my favorite hotel in the city, the Doubletree Kuala Lumpur, has an included food court-sized breakfast buffet with full Indian, Malaysian, Chinese and Western “restaurants” inside!) but costs are generally 75% lower than in their neighbor to the south.
And keep reading for more about why I love visiting Mexico City!
A Luxury Getaway
Before turning 30, you have got to spend at least two nights in one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. For me, it was the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, Germany which is famous both for being a high-society hangout during World War 2 and for being the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing…
Personally, I would happily spend a week in a cheap hostel dorm room if it meant I was left with enough money in my travel budget to splurge on a luxury hotel room at the end of my trip. Personally, I look for luxury hotels that offer amazing breakfast services (the breakfast at the Adlon Hotel is famous for it’s champagne service, local honey assortment and cooked-to-order dishes… though it can’t compare to the €600 room service breakfast option I saw on the in-room dining sheet!) and that have indulgent spa facilities that are accessible to guests. However, you’ll want to splurge on the things that matter most to you, so it might be the pillow menu (with ten pillows to choose from!) at New York City’s Benjamin Hotel or the dedicated hangover concierge at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans, who will expertly guide you through the morning after a night of Mardi Gras parties.
Luxury Living Tip: Staying in a fancy hotel for two nights or more will give you time to experience more of the amenities that they offer. A one-night stay is usually too short to really indulge.
Your Ancestral Homelands
Somewhere in Austria, there is a small village (population: 900) that shares my last name. Growing up I didn’t even know this village existed (certainly nobody in my family ever mentioned it, and it wasn’t even mentioned in the family history book that my grandparents had compiled and self-published in the 1990s) but one day, in the late 1990s, when I was mindlessly Googling my own name, I discovered the town that undoubtedly gave me my name. A decade, two flights, one train ride and two bus rides later, I found myself in the village that shared my name.
I’d sort of expected the villagers to descend from their little white houses, clanging bells and maybe popping bottles of local red wine, but my arrival was met with no fanfare. Regardless, I’d never felt more at home than I did in this little village. I was really surprised by how significant this travel experience felt to me, even though there wasn’t really anything to “do” or “see” in this little slice of the Austrian countryside. Your “homeland” doesn’t have to share your name, but hopefully there is somewhere on the planet that you feel connected to through your heritage, whether it’s because of your family, your culture, your experiences or something entirely different. Find this place before you turn thirty, and visit while you’re still young enough to let that experience shape your future.
Image via US Library of Congress
Your Childhood Dream Destination
When I was a kid, there used to be an event called The Great Canadian Geography Challenge (edit: apparently it still exists!). Much like a spelling bee, this was an annual school-based contest that challenged young people to share their (generally, useless) knowledge about world geography. One year I won my school’s contest and then promptly got my butt kicked at the provincial level, getting eliminated first in my heat and never getting the chance to meet Alex Trebek (of Jeopardy fame) at nationals.
It should be unsurprisingly that someone who competed at geographic trivia as a pre-teen would go on to write a travel blog. What might surprise you, though, is how many of my adult travelers were influenced by my childhood forays into geography, either through preparing for the annual geography challenge, watching “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” (or, even better, playing the computerized version) or simply reading books set in exotic foreign locales. Before you turn thirty, try to capture some of that childhood wanderlust by traveling to a place that you could only dream about when you were young. For me, the dream was always riding the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia (a dream that recently came true – see my posts about planning my trip and where to get off the train) and visiting unrecognized territories (of which I’ve now visited a few, but can’t write about due to legal restrictions!). Your past self will thank you!
PS – Want to know the question that got me eliminated at the provincial geography challenge? Here it is, and don’t tell me that it’s not a stupid question. The exact phrase was, “This African ‘d’ means ‘gates of heaven’.” The answer was “Dar es Salaam”, but I still object to the phrasing of this question, as Dar es Salaam is a city, or “c”, and not a “d” just because its name starts with “d”. Tell me you agree!
A 21st Century Metropolis (Guardian series)
Mexico City’s population is rapidly approaching 25 million residents, meaning it has almost as many people as my home country (Canada). Before turning 30, you should take a trip to one of the world’s largest cities, like Tokyo (38 million residents), Jakarta (30 million residents), Beijing or Shanghai (both around 25 million residents), Sao Paolo (21 million residents) or Mexico City.
A trip to one of the world’s mega-cities is a bucket-list travel experience, especially if you’re not from a big city. There’s something amazing about being lost in a huge crowd, watching tens of thousands of people go about their typical routines, and remembering that you’re really just one out of seven billion. When you visit one of these big cities, try to get outside of the main tourist center and out to some of the districts where locals are going about their daily lives (for example, in Mexico City I always escape the area around the Zocalo for the residential districts of Roma and Condesa, and I also love heading to the suburbs around the Xochimilco floating markets).
Question! What’s the biggest city you’ve ever visited? Let me know in the comments!
Photo via 3mb.o on Flickr.
A Pastoral Escape
In contrast to the world’s mega-cities, the world’s cutest, tiniest and most picturesque villages are sleepy bucket list travel destinations precisely because they’re so small. Before turning 30, take a break from your hectic daily life and check in to a guesthouse or bed and breakfast in a countryside environment where life still bumbles along like it’s the nineteenth century.
To make the most of your rural retreat, try leaving your technology at home (or, at the very least, turning it off for most of the day) and getting some hands-on experience. Consider staying on an active farm where you can assist with caring for the animals or tending to the vegetables, or check in to a monastery (like the one shown above, in Suzdal, Russia) and join the monks or nuns for their morning prayers. There’s no better way to reconnect with yourself and the world around you.
Budget Travel Tip: A countryside getaway is a great option for budget travelers. You can often find small towns or villages within an hour or two of your hometown, so you don’t need to shell out for an expensive plane ticket. A few years ago I took a road trip around my own Canadian province, dining at truck stops and sleeping in small town motels, and it was fascinating to see how my almost-neighbors lived!
That Place You Always Said You’d Go If You Won the Lottery
You are never going to win the lottery!
So, are you never going to visit that place that you’ve always dreamed of visiting, or are you going to make it happen?
I have to confess that I didn’t manage to cross this one off of my to-visit list before turning 30. Even though India is a relatively inexpensive destination to visit, for many years I would only have been able to visit during the rainy season, and that never appealed to me.
I could have sat around and waited to win the lottery, but I decided to take a different approach. Four years ago I enrolled in my employer’s salary deferral program, and for the past four years I have been deferring 20% of my monthly salary in anticipation of taking six months off work (attached to my standard two months’ leave, for a total of eight months) and traveling the world. I will be thirty-five years old when I finally arrive in India this autumn, but I won’t have to worry about monsoons, I’ll have enough money to enjoy myself and I will know that my job is waiting for me when I get home.
You don’t have to enroll in a salary deferral program to visit your dream destinations. There are lots of other ways to travel the world: spending less money on other things, studying abroad, getting a job overseas or earning extra travel money by freelancing are all popular ways to turn travel dreams into reality. Just promise me that you will do something, today, that puts you one step closer to the Taj Mahal (or the Great Barrier Reef, or the Eiffel Tower… you know what I mean…).
Not included on today’s bucket list? Walking along the highway in high heels with a balloon bouquet. It was close, but that beach won out in the end!
If I missed anything other essential travel experiences, let me know in the comments!