Life-Altering Vacations to Take Before You Die 

posted: 10/27/16
by: Katie Morton
Couple looking over a stunning glacial view in British Columbia, Canada

"Adventure is a path. Real adventure--self-determined, self-motivated, often risky--forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind--and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white." - Mark Jenkins

Cage Dive with Great Whites in South Africa

A photo posted by Janie B (@lajanieb) on


It's easy to be intimidated (putting it mildly) by an animal with 300 razor sharp teeth. But having the opportunity to see this famously misunderstood species in its natural habitat is a life changing experience.

On the southwestern coast of South Africa, not far from Cape Town, you can spend several hours hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures vulnerable to extinction. Armed with a thick wetsuit and some weights, your guide will instruct you when a Great White is approaching. You'll push yourself underwater and look straight ahead to catch a glimpse of this truly breathtaking animal.

Be forewarned, cage diving isn't the most glamorous excursion--be ready for some serious rocking and ice cold water!

Behold the Magical Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis (aka, the Northern Lights) has been described as ethereal, spiritually moving, and possessing an otherworldly beauty. The Northern Lights can be viewed from several locations--from Canada to Alaska to Northern Scandinavian. The latter boasts the longest Northern Light viewing window, with possible sightings from late September to early April.

Here are some top hotels, which offer Northern Lights tours and packages. One resort, the Kakslauttanen, offers clear-glass igloos for optimal nighttime viewing from the comfort of your own suite.

Revel in the Awe-Inspiring Grand Canyon

The sheer grandiosity of the Grand Canyon is rumored to inspire tears in those who see it for the first time. The Grand Canyon's 230 million-year-old limestone cliff rims cut through the high desert of Arizona to reveal the nearly 2 billion-year-old (!) base.

A trip to the Canyon can be as physically challenging as any endurance event, offering hiking, mule trekking, and white-water rafting, or as historically and spiritually engaging as a trip to a temple. For more on touring the Grand Canyon, visit the US National Park site.

Dive at the Spectacular Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world for a reason--the jaw-dropping coral reef is the planet's largest, spanning nearly 1,300 miles along the coast of Queensland.

The reef is home to hundreds of coral species, as well as more than one thousand species of fish and rays. These animals live in harmony with a visual symphony of marine wildlife, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sea birds, and shellfish. June and August are the best times to dive, as the ocean temperature is a pleasant 70 degrees and the weather is usually sunny.

For detailed information on planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, check out US News & World Report's Travel comprehensive profile on where to stay and how to get there.

Embark on a Food Tour of Italy

For some travelers, the only way to truly experience their foreign location is by delving into the local cuisine. There's probably no better place on earth to sample the vibrant local flavor than in Italy. There's a reason Italian cuisine is one of the world's most beloved; dining in Italy on the lush fare can be a transcendent experience.

To whet your appetite, check out the Travel Channel's culinary tour of Italy from Tuscany to Sicily. If you're more of an active participant in the kitchen, then Coastal Living's Cooking on the Amalfi Coast is a must read.

Cruise (or Run in!) Icy Antarctica

Antarctica may be the last truly untouched piece of land on our increasingly crowded map. This vast frozen continent has never been permanently colonized by people. Due to its foreboding, arctic climate, this icy wilderness landscape is only accessible to travelers between the months of November to March.

Currently, the only way to see the awe-inspiring solitary face of Antarctica is via commercial ship. Your Antarctic adventure will bring you face-to-face with sea lions, all types of penguins, and floating icebergs the size of six-story buildings.

For more information on Antarctic cruise travel packages, visit Quark Expeditions. If you're a runner who likes super human challenges, then maybe the Antarctica Ice Marathon is for you.

The magic of an epic travel experience is the phenomenal memories you make while there. No matter which travel path you follow, you'll return from your bucket list vacation with the memories of a lifetime.