Bookmark these action-packed itineraries.
Exploring far-flung places, immersing yourself in diverse cultures and venturing out of your comfort zone on a life-altering trip may be the best form of education. From hiking to Machu Picchu to navigating hair-raising turns along the Pacific Coast Highway, enriching adventures in unfamiliar locales offer profound experiences that shape your perspective of the world – and yourself. But while embarking on an epic journey has an unmistakable appeal in your 20s, when you hit the 30-year mark, suddenly your tastes, time constraints and career demands can get in the way. That's why there's no time like your youth to see the world. Keep reading to discover thrilling trips that inspire a lifelong curiosity and wanderlust.Kauai, Hawaii
Getting a postcard-worthy photo of Kauai's captivating surf, scenery and dramatic cliffs isn't the only reason to plan a trip while you're young. Alex Howard, managing editor of the U.S. edition of Lonely Planet magazine, highlights kayaking the Na Pali Coast as an especially formative experience. "Regularly hailed as one of the best kayaking trips in the world, this route takes paddlers past the iconic, fluted coast of Kauai, best known for its cameos in films like 'Jurassic Park' and 'King Kong,'" he says. With the reputable outfitter Napali Kayak, you can take a guided 17-mile tour (starting at $225 per person) or paddle on your own among the mighty 3,000-foot cliffs.New Zealand
New Zealand's rugged and diverse landscapes – punctuated by alpine ridges, volcanoes and sandy coastlines – are the stuff of dreams. You might recognize some of the spellbinding landscapes, such as Wellington and the Southern Lakes, from your favorite "Lord of the Rings" films. For an unforgettable, adrenaline-fueled adventure, visit Queenstown, which draws daredevils far and wide with active adventures such as hiking, whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. On Intrepid Travel's 11-day New Zealand South Island Explorer itinerary (from $3,115), you can scale the Franz Josef Glacier, marvel at Aoraki/Mount Cook – the tallest peak in the country – and paraglide, kayak, bungee jump or mountain bike in Queenstown, among other pursuits.Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru
Sure, it's a legendary UNESCO World Heritage Site that merits a visit at any age, but your 20s offer the opportunity to easily hike the Inca Trail (the highest point sits at more than 13,800 feet) and marvel at the 500-year-old temples, structures and ancient ruins while you're able-bodied. The Lost City of the Incas offers plenty of archaeological gems to explore, from the photogenic Temple of Three Windows to Huayna Picchu, a pyramid-shaped mountain framed by jaw-dropping emerald peaks in the backdrop. For a mix of heart-pounding hikes through misty forests and exploring the ruins of the Sacred Valley, consider booking a seven-day Inca Trail tour (from $1,149) with reputable small-tour operator G Adventures.The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway is a mind-boggling experience, says Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel outfitter Black Tomato. The legendary seven-day, 5,772-mile journey from Moscow and Vladivostok weaves through seven time zones, stops at 120 locations and rolls past breathtaking backdrops, from Lake Baikal to the Ural Mountains. Aboard the Golden Eagle, a high-end private train, you can explore the Kazan Kremlin complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admire wooden architecture in Irkutsk, Russia, and tour a national park and steppes in the countryside in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on a 15-day trip (starting at $15,895). For a more cost-effective journey, book a 17-day Trans-Siberian journey with G Adventures (starting at $3,699).Alaska
With inspiring landscapes, impressive wildlife and ideal viewing locations for spotting the northern lights, Alaska often tops adventurous travelers' bucket lists. Howard highlights bear-watching at Katmai National Park and Preserve as an especially formative travel experience. "Every summer grizzly bears descend on a river in Alaska's Katmai National Park to feed on spawning salmon," he says. "The bears wait in the shallow rapids to snatch them out of the water – and sometimes pluck them from the air as the fish jump over the 6-foot falls," he adds. And the trip is about as off the grid as you can get. "The only way in or out of Katmai is via floatplane, giving this remote adventure a typical Alaska flair," he adds.The Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway
This iconic cliff-hugging route along California's Highway 1 is a rite of passage for nature lovers and road-trippers. And chances are, after admiring the cinematic coastlines, crashing waves and twisting turns in their natural grandeur on the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you'll be awed and inspired to return. Along the way, take a detour at the Avenue of the Giants – home to towering redwoods – and cruise along Big Sur's rugged 90-mile coastline. Stretch your legs at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which boasts marked trails, redwood grove forests and the photogenic McWay Falls for memories (and pictures) to last a lifetime.Guatemala
For an eye-opening adventure, "explore the ruins of El Mirador," Howard says. The ancient Mayan settlement is tucked in Guatemala's Petén jungle, and "the largely unexcavated Maya city of El Mirador awaits exploration," he adds. Along the journey, "you'll pass through one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world, although this two- to three-day hike isn't for the faint of heart," he adds. The site dates back 2,000 years and boasts spectacular wildlife in the Mirador Basin, including jaguars and colorful birds, such as the Caribbean dove and the hooded oriole. Consider making the village of Carmelita your home base, or make the 40-mile pilgrimage to Tikal, where you'll find ancient temples and pyramids and a mix of affordable hotels and inns.Patagonia or the Atacama Desert, Chile
Patagonia or the Atacama Desert, Chile
Trekking to wind-whipped Patagonia on the southern tip of South America offers the chance to explore untouched landscapes filled with magnificent glaciers, snow-capped peaks and turquoise lakes. But if you've already gone horseback riding, glacier trekking or fly-fishing in Patagonia's surreal setting, venture to the Atacama Desert, which boasts amazing landscapes that are "the stuff of dreams," Marchant says. The Atacama brims with salt lagoons, otherworldly backdrops and volcanic structures that beckon to thrill-seekers. Highlights include the El Tatio geyser, the wind-carved sand dunes in Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and Coyote Lookout. Consider staying at Explora, a luxury, all-inclusive outfitter that offers guided hikes, horseback riding and other excursions, along with an on-site observatory for stargazing.Scandinavia
If you're a cold-weather sports enthusiast, few experiences can match dog-sledding in Scandinavia, where you can "take in the wintry landscapes from the reins of a dog sled," Howard says. While you can book a daytrip dog-sledding excursion in places such as Tromsø, Norway, "the real adventure happens during multiday trips in the remote Svalbard and Finnmark regions in the frigid north," he adds. On National Geographic's nine-day Sweden: Dogsledding to the Icehotel round-trip tour from Stockholm (starting at $8,795), you'll explore snow-capped peaks, lush forests and frozen rivers across Sweden's Lapland region. Other trip highlights include meeting with a reindeer herder and staying in Jukkasjärvi at the Icehotel, which is composed of crystal structures, ice and snow.Mexico
A mecca for foodies, art enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, Mexico City offers plenty of world-class attractions, from the Frida Kahlo Museum to the Palace of Fine Arts. But if you're longing for more adventure, explore lively destinations across the country, from Oaxaca to Playa del Carmen on a snorkeling, swimming and hiking adventure. On Intrepid Travel's 15-day Mexico Unplugged tour (from $1,161), you can cross Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca and the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá and Playa del Carmen off your travel list and immerse yourself in vibrant landscapes and cultures. Highlights include exploring Oaxaca's vibrant markets, snorkeling in cenotes in Playa del Carmen and savoring spicy staples like El Yucateco hot sauce in Merida.Japan
Exploring Tokyo's fast-paced city streets, futuristic skyscrapers and dynamic food, fashion and design enclaves is a not-to-be-missed experience. After crossing Tokyo off your list, you'll want to discover deep-rooted cultural traditions, from authentic tea ceremonies to jaw-dropping temples and hiking trails in Nikko, Kyoto and beyond. With G Adventures' nine-day Japan Express itinerary (from $1,440), you can enjoy a blend of adventure and cultural enrichment. On the trip, you'll explore Nikko's storied Buddhist temples and shrines. Plus, you can immerse yourself in Kyoto's famed Gion district, where you'll find geishas and traditional teahouses – and enjoy a soothing dip in an onsen (a hot springs bath).Amsterdam
With its lenient, laissez-faire attitude, legendary coffeehouses and infamous Red Light District, Amsterdam has long been saddled with a risqué reputation. But for history buffs, culture vultures and thrill-seekers, the city and surrounding countryside offer a one-of-a-kind adventure amid striking canals and scenic cycling trails. You can pedal your way to Dutch beer institutions like De Blauwe Parade and In de Wildeman. And for a more action-packed trip – or if you need a break from museum-hopping – explore the city's top outdoor attractions. Book a tandem riding experience on the Amstel River, canoe in Waterland nature reserve north of the city or a take a guided four-hour countryside cycling tour (starting at $40) with reputable outfitter Yellow Bike.India
From palm-studded landscapes to verdant jungles to iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites (we're looking at you, Taj Mahal), India lures world travelers of all kinds. On Intrepid Travel's 11-day Indian Getaway tour (from $637), you can stand in awe and snap photos of Agra's must-see site – the Taj Mahal – before checking out the Hall of Mirrors and catching a memorable sunrise along the sacred Ganges River in Varanasi. Other highlights include exploring the village of Tordi Garh and taking a walking tour in Jaipur to admire eye-catching architecture, including the Royal City Palace, the Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal. For less activity and more sand and surf, head to Goa, where you'll find idyllic beaches and a mix of upscale and budget-friendly accommodation options.South Africa
A trip to South Africa might seem out of reach, but with dynamic and captivating landscapes – from penguin-ringed coastlines to breathtaking national parks to unspoiled coral reefs – fascinating cultures and rare wildlife-viewing opportunities, the country is a must-see for any global citizen. On G Adventures' 16-day Cape to Kruger Adventure (from $2,464), you can form lifelong memories as you take a guided safari drive in Kruger and Addo Elephant national parks, where you can spot elephants, lions, leopards and other wildlife, hike or bungee jump in Tsitsikamma National Park and visit Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland. If time permits, tack on a few days in Cape Town to hike Table Mountain and admire the penguins at Boulders Beach.Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia's arresting scenery and world-renowned sights, from the alluring beaches of Thailand to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, has long lured 20-somethings – and for good reason. Whether you want to backpack across top destinations, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, and stay in inexpensive hostels or join an organized tour, there are plenty of ways to experience must-see attractions and breathtaking landscapes on a shoestring budget. On the 18-day Discover Southeast Asia tour from Bangkok to Siem Reap with G Adventures in partnership with National Geographic Journeys (from $3,899), you can float along Ha Long Bay, visit the Angkor Wat complex on a guided tour and attend cooking classes in Chiang Mai, among other memorable experiences.Nepal
If you've always dreamed of marveling at world's highest peak – Mount Everest – it's hard to imagine a more exhilarating trip than visiting the Himalayas. With high-altitude conditions, the physically demanding journey is not for the faint of heart – or an inexperienced hiker. But if you have the strength and stamina, G Adventures' 15-day Everest Base Camp Trek (from $1,317), which starts and finishes in Kathmandu, is the adventure trip of a lifetime. Along the way, you'll wander past lush rhododendron forests, glacial moraines and tiny villages. Best of all, you can immerse yourself in Nepalese culture as you soak in breathtaking natural beauty in the Himalayas.The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China
Taking in the grandeur and majesty of the Great Wall of China is an unforgettable experience. While you will have to take a long flight to reach Beijing, you'll be glad you made the pilgrimage as you traverse the spectacular structure and take a sky-high cable car ride ascending the mountains. Of course, you won't be able to tackle the entire 5,500-mile structure, but with a guided expedition like G Adventures' 10-day Walk the Great Wall of China Tour (from $1,399), you can view spectacular angles along the Mutianyu and Crouching Tiger sections of the wall on challenging hikes and explore tucked-away villages along the way.Brazil
Party-loving Carnival revelers, white-sand beaches and emerald mountains may come to mind when you think of Brazil. But beyond Rio, there are plenty of natural wonderlands beckoning to adventure-seekers. Marchant likens the Pantanal and its sprawling wetlands to "the younger brother of the Amazon." Among the marshes, you'll find "incredible landscapes and amazing vegetation," he adds. The UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches across more than 70,000 square miles and boasts remarkable array of wildlife, including howler monkeys, alligators and jaguars. The Pantanal is an ideal place to fulfill an Indiana Jones–style adventure, Marchant adds. With G Adventures, you can embark on a 13-day round-trip adventure from Rio that includes spots in the Pantanal and the iconic Iguazú Falls (for $2,999).Iceland
When it comes to adventure, "there's no better place than Iceland," Marchant says. "You need to spend time trekking through the interior of Iceland," he advises. If you have a week, you can rent snowmobiles and glide over glaciers, Marchant adds. And of course, you can't miss out on classic experiences catering to intrepid 20-somethings, such as taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon or checking out the surreal Gullfoss (Golden Falls). For an epic, 190-mile drive, take the Golden Circle Tour, where you'll weave past the impressive dual waterfalls and Strokkur, a geyser that propels water 60 to 100 feet in the air. Howard highlights visiting a volcano as another must-do. "Visitors to the long-dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano descend almost 400 feet into the magma chamber, a giant cave full of fascinating rock formations," he says.The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef
This UNESCO World Heritage Site – a collection of about 2,900 unspoiled reefs comprising the planet's biggest coral reef system – is perhaps the world's greatest destination for marine life lovers. Start in Queenstown, Australia, (make Cairns your home base for bargain-friendly accommodation options) and then take an unforgettable diving or snorkeling adventure in the Cairns reefs, where you can spot humpback whales, sea turtles and colorful fish, or head to the Ribbons Reefs, a popular chain of reefs with the iconic Cod Hole diving site, where Maori wrasse fish and dwarf minke whales have been spotted. After all the activity, lounge along Whitehaven Beach's ivory sands.Mont Blanc, France, Italy and Switzerland
Mont Blanc, France, Italy and Switzerland
There are many reasons to embark on a high-altitude trek of a lifetime, but a main selling point is the alpine scenery – from spectacular glaciers to tumbling valleys to pristine meadows to Mont Blanc's towering peak, the highest in the Alps. And while the flight across the pond will cost you, you can experience the mind-boggling route on a stringent budget. With G Adventures' 10-day Trekking Mont Blanc tour (from $1,699), which begins and ends in Chamonix, France, you can wander past awe-inspiring glaciers by day and savor memorable meals in storybook Swiss and Italian villages by night. And though the hikes are long and physically demanding, you'll fill up your camera with spectacular photos.Utah
Utah's national parks are awe-inspiring. Whether you want to explore sand-carved deserts or crimson canyons, there are plenty of classic and off-the-beaten-path trails worth tackling. The Narrows in Zion National Park is a must-do, with its spectacular sandstone formations, hanging gardens and towering cliffs. However, the challenging trail is best-suited for experienced hikers, with about half of the journey spent traipsing knee-deep in the Virgin River. For a less challenging hike, consider trekking from Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch on a 1.6-mile journey in Arches National Park, where you can catch sight of the delicate and sprawling Landscape Arch amid sandstone structures and surreal junipers and pinyon pines.The Middle East
The Middle East
Broaden your understanding of different cultures by making the pilgrimage to the Middle East. If you've already marveled at the futuristic, glitzy and over-the-top gems in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Dubai Mall, to name a few – venture to Oman to discover stunning sand deserts, mountains and spectacular fortresses. Howard recommends driving past Oman's famous wadis, or ravines. "Wadi Ghul is known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia for a reason: the sheer cliffs regularly exceed 3,000 feet tall," he says. "Try the Balcony Walk along the rim to stretch your legs – and test your nerves," he says. At Wadi Ghul, adrenaline-pumping activities can include canyoning, biking and rock climbing, among other diversions.Portugal
Portugal offers plenty of storybook settings, from Lisbon, with its centuries-old architecture, terra-cotta buildings and ornate tiles, to Sintra, with its enchanting villas and rolling hills. But for an off-the-beaten-track trip, consider the less-visited Azores archipelago, where you can spend your days on whale-watching expeditions, hiking spellbinding cliffside paths and admiring volcanoes, before sitting back and relaxing on the picturesque beach. With Intrepid Travel's 10-day Azores and Mainland Portugal itinerary (from $3,180), you can take excursions to Pico de Pedro – Portugal's highest peak – and scale Capelinhos Volcano, among other invigorating activities. Best of all, Portugal's enchanting locales are as easy on the eyes as they are on the pocketbook, and affordable airfares on low-cost international carriers are easy to come by.Costa Rica
For world-class surfing, superlative wildlife-viewing and inspiring hiking trails, Costa Rica is an adventure and nature lover's playground. On G Adventures' 16-day Costa Rica Adventure Trip (starting at $1,463), your days can be filled taking surf lessons in the Manuel Antonio region, zip lining over Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, whitewater rafting in La Fortuna and exploring the nesting grounds of leatherback turtles at Tortuguero National Park. Craving more adventure? You can add on a canyoneering expedition to Arenal Volcano that includes exploring verdant rainforests (for $139). If you're looking to skim massive swells, consider booking a stay at Del Soul Surf Camp School, which offers lessons for all age levels for $60 per person.Morocco
Striking sand dunes. Desert fortresses. Lively souk markets brimming with lanterns, kaftans, and silks. Morocco is a study in contrasts, with camel trekking in the Sahara and bargaining with merchants in Marrakech's medina jockeying for your attention. It's hard to deny the appeal of Morocco for thrill-seekers looking for an outside-the-box adventure. On Intrepid Travel's 15-day Best of Morocco tour (from $1,115), you can meander through the spice markets of Marrakesh and the art deco buildings in Casablanca. Other highlights include driving among the sand tunes to the Sahara to take in the arresting scenery of the Todra Valley and exploring Essaouira, a lovely seaside city and gateway to the Atlas Mountains.France
Pedaling across France requires stamina and strength, but it affords one-of-a-kind experiences for wine lovers, foodies, Francophiles and culture lovers. On G Adventures' eight-day Loire Valley Cycling tour (from $1,449) from Blois to Angers, you can cycle past rolling vineyards, stop at a charming châteaux, explore lively markets, weave through tucked-away villages and enjoy a detour for a wine tasting. Each day, you'll cycle between 21 and 70 miles, making the expedition a challenge, and well-suited for outdoorsy types. For a more high-end cycling adventure, consider a six-night hiking and biking expedition with outfitter Butterfield & Robinson (from $4,795) that wanders past the Loire Valley's castle-filled routes and vineyards, with daily routes around 28 miles.Tasmania, Australia
One of the most rugged, beautiful and remote hikes on the planet, Tasmania's 40- to 50-mile Overland Track (within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area) rolls past UNESCO World Heritage sites, stunning lakes, dramatic mountains and impressive wildlife, including Tasmanian devils, wallabies and wombats. Get your heart racing as you take in striking scenes, such as Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair's memorable trails, where you'll find plenty of scenic and serene trails for self-reflection as you weave past rainforests, eucalyptus fields and pristine lakes. For more adventure, check out one Tasmania's other 19 national parks and storied sights, including Wellington Park and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler, British Columbia
If you love shredding powder, test your physical limits on the ski trip of a lifetime at Whistler Blackcomb. In your 20s – while you're still in peak physical condition – you can more easily navigate 200 runs (the double-black Spanky's Ladder is a crowd-pleaser), plunging vertical drops, challenging steeps and icy temperatures. Spread across more than 8,100 acres, the resort offers five terrain parks and other adrenaline-pumping winter activities, from snowmobiling to dog-sledding to snowshoeing. Best of all, after an exhilarating day on the slopes, you can check out the lively après-ski scene near the mountain, from low-key hangouts like Dusty's Bar & BBQ and Garibaldi Lift Co. to upscale high-altitude hot spots like Buffalo Bill's Bar & Grill.Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park, Montana
With snow-covered peaks, glacier-sculpted landscapes, more than 700 miles of horseback riding trails and iconic routes, including the famed 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park is nothing if not enchanting. And as an added bonus for younger travelers, there are plenty of affordable camping, cabin and hotel options. The park boasts 13 drive-in campgrounds, with prices ranging from $10 to $23 per night. Outside of the park, you can make Glacier Park Lodge your home base, or you can venture to nearby Whitefish, Montana, where you'll find plenty of breweries and distilleries. And no trip to Glacier National Park is complete without sampling legendary huckleberry pie at Park Café & Grocery, at the park's east entrance.Read More
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