Lists get a bad wrap, especially in the realm of travel, where ditching set plans and itineraries can lead to the greatest adventures. But with a world this big and a life so short, you might want to set a few specific goals for yourself to chase. We cornered the 50 must-dos of America. Now it’s time to go global.
Yours are going to differ from the dozens of travelers we polled for this list. Would you rather free-dive a Caribbean shipwreck, or ride a mountain bike down Bolivia’s no-rails Road of Death? Which are you keener to drink at the source: Belgian Trappist ales, or peaty Scotches in the Scottish Highlands? Do you feel your soul stir when the beat drops amid laser-strewn fog at an Ibiza beach party, or after hiking, lungs burning, to a remote Bhutanese monastery?
Your answers are your answers, for sure. Just be sure to ask the questions, lest you let this whole life of yours flicker past without seeing some part of the world that truly moves you. You only have to go once, after all, to always have Paris and the same goes for the 49 other life-affirming moments and places around the world we’ve collected here.
Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Breathe in the smelly canals of Venice and linger after-hours in Piazza San Marco once the crowds have thinned. See the Pantheon in Rome and wish on a coin at the Trevi Fountain. Hit the museums in Florence and eat Parma ham in Parma. Marvel at the incomprehensible beauty of the Amalfi Coast and the Italian Alps and wander into tiny villages less-visited. You’re in one of the most delightful culinary and cultural centers of the world, so savor that sticky sweet limoncello to the end.
Few places on Earth are true paradises. The Caribbean — cerulean waters eternally warm and fecund, glistening shores, and effervescing people — makes the cut. It’s a universe unto itself, with but one true way to drink it all in: Channel your inner Jacques Cousteau, rent a sailboat, and sail your way around the tropical Elysium of islands. Start with the big three. The British Virgin Islands are sailing capitals of the world, packed with dive sites and idiosyncratic allures. Cuba, the land that only time forgot, remains charmingly antiquated. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the best snorkeling sites hugging the shores. And after that? The voyage is yours alone.
Taco Stall in Mexico City, Mexico
Eat a life-changing meal from a street cart.There is no better way to know a country’s cuisine than digging into a gloriously cheap, home-style meal served from a street cart or food stall. A handful of cities world-famous for their street food will easily hand you one of the most memorable meals of your entire life. Seek fresh shrimp cocktails in Cartagena, doner kebabs in Istanbul, jerk chicken in Kingston, soup dumplings in Shanghai, sugary churros in Mexico City, and deep-fried pork belly in Bangkok.
Discover the country where your family comes from
The American melting pot is all about cultural assimilation, but everyone traces back to somewhere — and that search for heritage can be powerful stuff. Prepare for overwhelming visceral pangs, whether you’re wandering the village your family was named after or savoring a dish your grandma used to rave about. Second-generation citizens, you’ll see your immigrant parents anew once you understand where they (and all their annoying/endearing quirks) come from. Even if you have to go back much further, steel yourself for echoes you didn’t even know were there to hear.
PAIHIA, New Zealand
Underrated among New Zealand’s abundance of rad nature is the magnificent Bay of Islands, in the North Island of New Zealand. The Western world met them in 1769 via British explorer Captain James Cook; they’ve been a sailor’s paradise ever since. The area proven to have one of the world’s bluest skies consists of 144 subtropical islands and miles and miles of undeveloped coastal beaches. Start in Paihia and charter a boat for some inter-island, dolphin searching or take a sail around the islands in a historic Tall Ship. Once you find a private cove, drop anchor for some afternoon snorkeling and a BBQ lunch on deck.