10 Life-Changing Trips to Cross Off Your List in 2018

Shake up your routine and step out of your comfort zone on the trip of a lifetime.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Life-Changing Trips to Cross Off Your List in 2018

Gorgeous red grapes ready to harvest at early morning with dew drops over the fruits.
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Garzón, Uruguay

If you're goal is getting off the grid and sampling top-notch wine and cuisine, slip away to Garzón. The tiny town in southeast Uruguay was transformed when billionaire Argentine businessman Alejandro Bulgheroni opened Bodega Garzón, a sustainable 205,000-square-foot LEED-certified winery. The winery boasts a food partnership with acclaimed international celebrity chef Francis Mallmann (you might recognize him from Netflix's "Chef's Table"). After sampling tannat – the classic Uruguay grape the country is known for – retreat to the upscale Posada del Faro, a hotel along the beach ideally located near the winery. Another must-see is El Garzón, a hotel and restaurant where you can savor specialties such as burned pears and veal milanesa.

Portas do Sol in Lisbon, Portugal.
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The Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain

Divided between Lisbon, Portugal, and the southern and western tips of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula is famous for its proximity to the Pyrenees, along with its imaginative and flavorful gastronomy. One of the best ways to experience all that the area has to offer, including its famous cathedral architected by Antoni Gaudí, is cruising with the luxury boutique ocean liner Windstar Cruises. On an eight-day sailing (from $2,699 per person), you can visit Lisbon, Málaga (the birthplace of Pablo Picasso), Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca – without having to unpack your bags. Other highlights including touring the Alcázar Palace in Seville and exploring the Alhambra, the storied UNESCO World Heritage Site with Moorish influences.

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Mexico, Baja California Sur, La Paz, wooden boardwalk at blue hour
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La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

During the migrating season – from December to April along Mexico's 775-mile Baja California Peninsula – whales travel about 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to the warm, calm waters of La Paz. At this picturesque beach town, gray whales and sea lions can often be observed. Snorkelers also tend to flock to the nearby Isla Espíritu Santo, and divers venture to the Sea of Cortez. Back on land, La Paz offers a lively seaside promenade, striking architecture and noteworthy museums, such as the Museum of Natural History and the Whale Museum.

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These enriching trips deliver life-altering experiences.

At the start of each calendar year, jet-setters resolve to travel more, shift their perspective and cross new and exciting destinations off their bucket lists. From far-flung isles in remote corners of the world to vibrant metropolises, the possibilities can seem limitless. That's why we've narrowed down 10 inspiring places where you can immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, otherworldly landscapes and exhilarating adventures that allow you to get out of your comfort zone and get a fresh outlook on life. With that in mind, bookmark these 10 transformative trips for 2018.

Bhutan

This remote country in the Himalayas was inaccessible to international visitors until the '70s. Buttressed by Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Burma, the still-undiscovered country offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for travelers with its rugged landscapes, filled with pristine valleys, mountains, forests and rivers. If you're looking to splurge, retreat to the Six Senses Bhutan, a luxury hotel slated to open in summer 2018 that will put an emphasis on wellness, hospitality and local heritage. During your visit, make sure to discover hidden gems in the touted happiest place on earth – based on the country's gross national happiness index – like the rice paddies and undulating hills in the countryside and the vibrant bazaars in Thimphu.

Skellig Michael, Ireland

Otherwise known as Great Skellig – and the backdrop for Jedi Master Luke Skywalker's hideout in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" – the island near County Kerry in southwest Ireland has seen a substantial uptick in visitors since the film debuted. The otherworldly UNESCO World Heritage Site is hard to reach, but that's part of its appeal. Once you get on the island, you can marvel at a centuries-old monastery and admire the fascinating and diverse seabird species on the island, including kittiwakes and puffins. After making the pilgrimage to the spellbinding isle, unwind in nearby coastal hot spots, like County Kerry, renowned for its craggy sea cliffs, storied stone walls and jaw-dropping scenery.

Cognac, France

You may associate Cognac's picturesque region with its namesake brandy, but there's plenty more to experience aside from top-notch tastings. Stroll along its narrow streets and admire medieval framed houses, modern restaurants and the storied warehouses filled with cognac. A must-visit is the Louis XIII de Remy Martin, where you can sample a glass of the vintage brandy. Then pop over to the Château Royal de Cognac, where you can take a guided tour the State Room, where King Francois 1 once hosted guests, before touring the Château cellars and enjoying a guided tasting. Book a tour with outfitter Bordeaux Excellence to fully appreciate the spirit without sweating the logistical details.

Bolivia

Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flats have long captivated visitors. Covering more than 4,050 square miles at roughly 12,000 feet above sea level, the salt flats were formed by prehistoric lakes. To experience the otherworldly landscape in all its glory, consider staying in a hotel composed of salt, where everything – from the walls to the furniture – are made with salt blocks cut from the flats. And if you're interested in capturing a special photo of this surreal backdrop, visit during the rainy season (December to April), when you can catch sight of the salt flats' captivating mirrored effect, when it's hard to tell where the sky ends and land begins.

Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

If you're looking to get away from it all for some much-needed R & R on an out-of-the-ordinary and inspiring tropical retreat, it's hard to match the seclusion of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. On the tiny, tucked-away island of Canouan, you'll find unspoiled coral reefs, top-tier spas and upscale hotels. Reachable by flight from Barbados, St. Lucia or Grenada, the Pink Sands Club on the island's northeast coast offers an abundance of wellness amenities, from guided yoga classes to facials at the on-site spa. Plus, the property boasts a championship 18-hole golf course and a wide range of activities, from organized snorkeling and diving excursions to expert-let hikes to Mount Royal.

Venice, Italy

Each year, 30 million tourists descend upon Venice – and for good reason. From Piazza San Marco to its legendary Grand Canal, Venice charms visitors with its enchanting gondolas, winding passageways and old-world scenery. While there are plenty of classic landmarks to cross off your list, including Saint Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace, don't overlook the hidden treasures in this canal-laden city. Visit the Rialto Bridge to catch a memorable sunset, watch a performance at the Teatro La Fenice and make your way to the Bridge of Sighs. And for an upscale stay, consider checking into the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa near the Doge's Palace. Combining modern surroundings and unique excursions for guests (think lace making and glass blowing), the property blends contemporary accents with old-school glamour.

La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

During the migrating season – from December to April along Mexico's 775-mile Baja California Peninsula – whales travel about 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to the warm, calm waters of La Paz. At this picturesque beach town, gray whales and sea lions can often be observed. Snorkelers also tend to flock to the nearby Isla Espíritu Santo, and divers venture to the Sea of Cortez. Back on land, La Paz offers a lively seaside promenade, striking architecture and noteworthy museums, such as the Museum of Natural History and the Whale Museum.

Garzón, Uruguay

If you're goal is getting off the grid and sampling top-notch wine and cuisine, slip away to Garzón. The tiny town in southeast Uruguay was transformed when billionaire Argentine businessman Alejandro Bulgheroni opened Bodega Garzón, a sustainable 205,000-square-foot LEED-certified winery. The winery boasts a food partnership with acclaimed international celebrity chef Francis Mallmann (you might recognize him from Netflix's "Chef's Table"). After sampling tannat – the classic Uruguay grape the country is known for – retreat to the upscale Posada del Faro, a hotel along the beach ideally located near the winery. Another must-see is El Garzón, a hotel and restaurant where you can savor specialties such as burned pears and veal milanesa.

The Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain

Divided between Lisbon, Portugal, and the southern and western tips of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula is famous for its proximity to the Pyrenees, along with its imaginative and flavorful gastronomy. One of the best ways to experience all that the area has to offer, including its famous cathedral architected by Antoni Gaudí, is cruising with the luxury boutique ocean liner Windstar Cruises. On an eight-day sailing (from $2,699 per person), you can visit Lisbon, Málaga (the birthplace of Pablo Picasso), Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca – without having to unpack your bags. Other highlights including touring the Alcázar Palace in Seville and exploring the Alhambra, the storied UNESCO World Heritage Site with Moorish influences.

Adelaide, South Australia

South Australia offers an idyllic mix of top-tier wineries and alluring outdoor attractions. The capital, Adelaide, has become a rising creative capital with its burgeoning bar, cafe and culinary scene. When you're not checking out the city's noteworthy museums, such as the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum, sample the city's complex wines. Approximately 60 percent of all exported Australian wines come from South Eastern Australia, including the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. If you're craving more adventure, head to Adelaide Hills to hike through verdant forests, venture to Kangaroo Island, where sea lions are often spottedb or check out Cleland Wildlife Park, an area filled with dingoes, Tasmanian devils and koalas.

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