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Your Travel Bucket List: The Ultimate Trips to Take Before You Die

Stop using precious vacation days for the same old, been there-done that trips. There's a big world out there filled with adventure, and we want you to see and do it all. Some of our suggestions will take you a little further out of your comfort zone than you're used to, while others fall into the "I can't believe I haven't already made time for Disney World" range. Sure, some of these experiences may take almost a lifetime of saving to afford, but you can't take your money with you anyway. Read on for our ultimate list of 20 trips to take (and where to stay) before you die. 

1. See the Northern Lights in Iceland

The Frost and Fire Hotel
The Frost and Fire Hotel

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon that occurs when charged sun particles collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. The spectacular and elusive light show is most likely to happen near the North Pole -- and often in the middle of the night. Nature's most revered light show draws travelers out of their beds and into Iceland's frosty landscape. Frost and Fire Hotel provides an excellent outpost for watching the lights, and an outdoor pool and geothermally heated hot tubs take the chill off. 

Where to Stay:

2. Sleep in an Overwater Bungalow in Bora Bora

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Celebrate your honeymoon (or anything, really) like an A-list celebrity in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. If the incredible beauty and exclusivity of the islands is good enough for stars like Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux and Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, then it's good enough for us. The Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora offers their world-famous overwater bungalows on a private motu and a massive infinity-edge pool with luxe cabanas. You may need to get married twice, just for a reason to come back. 

Where to Stay:

3. Photograph the Pyramids in Egypt

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World which is still standing. Enough said. The pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza are about 30 minutes from the upscale JW Marriott Hotel Cairo. There's an artificial beach and three pools for cooling off after a day spent exploring in the Egyptian sun. 

Where to Stay:

4. Spot Wildlife in the Galapagos

San Cristobal
San Cristobal

The Galapagos' isolated terrain and unique ecosystems make it home to diverse plant and animal species that can't be found anywhere else on earth. Here, humans' needs take a backseat to animals. Turtle reserves, lava tunnels, nesting grounds, and dive sites peacefully coexist with a small development of island towns that provide the basics for nature lovers. The Finch Bay Eco Hotel provides all-inclusive packages that can include snorkel equipment and kayaks. It's the only beachfront property in Puerto Ayora, but be sure to watch out for nesting iguanas -- they have the right of way. 

5. Trek Machu Picchu in Peru

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Built in the 1450s during the reign of Incan emperor Pachacuti, Machu Picchu was either a country estate for the emperor, or an important place of worship. Either way, hiking Machu Picchu is an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Trekkers can traverse the Inca Trail or take an alternate route. Either way, you'll encounter awe-inspiring views, diverse plant and animal life, and rich cultural heritage. Casa Andina Standard Machu Picchu makes a convenient starting point with a full-service Peruvian breakfast and rooms with flat-screen TVs and rainfall showers -- perks that even the emperor didn't have. 

Where to Stay:

6. Visit the Gods in Athens

Electra Palace Hotel Athens
Electra Palace Hotel Athens

Athens is a modern and cosmopolitan city that still lives in the past. It's home to dozens of ancient monuments that honor Greek gods. The Acropolis and Parthenon are easily accessible in the center of the city, and teem with ancient ruins. The Theatre of Dionysus is on display behind the walls of the Acropolis. Electra Palace Hotel Athens has some of the most stunning views of the Acropolis from the rooftop restaurant and pool. Seriously, even Athena would be jealous of how beautiful this hotel is.  

Where to Stay:

7. Go Topless in Miami

The Standard Miami
The Standard Miami

The Standard Miami was seemingly built as a place to celebrate being young and beautiful. The truly bold can go topless by the gorgeous ocean-facing pool, or disrobe entirely in the mud lounge. Many guests stay here for the spa: features include a Turkish bath, a steam room with aromatherapy, a Finnish sauna and cold plunge, a saltwater infinity pool, and a clothing-optional mud lounge with algae-based mud. A number of wellness offerings range from astrology to sound healing. There's also a hot tub and the opportunity to rent paddleboards from an adjacent dock. Who wants to deal with tan lines anyway? 

Where to Stay:

8. Eat Sushi in Tokyo

Odaiba
Odaiba

Tokyo has one of the best restaurant scenes in the world and it's entirely possible to eat very well in the city without sampling any raw fish, but why would you want to? There are over 5,000 sushi restaurants in Tokyo and sushi consumption is an art form, found everywhere from conveyor belt joints (which don't require any Japanese language skills for ordering) to three-star Michelin restaurants presided over by kimono-clad servers who attend to diners' every need. Tsukiji fish market is one of the largest wholesale fish markets in Tokyo and a popular tourist attraction. We suggest trying sushi at any of the nearby restaurants. Conrad Tokyo is about a 20-minute walk from the market and the hotel has several upscale restaurants, including sushi. 

Where to Stay:

9. Take a Selfie With Mickey Mouse in Orlando

Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Orlando
Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Orlando

Walt Disney World is the largest theme park attraction in the world and draws kids of all ages who want to experience "The Happiest Place on Earth." A stay at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge comes with free shuttles and extended hours to access the parks -- making it easier to meet Mickey Mouse. 

Where to Stay:

10. Get Tipsy at Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street

When Fat Tuesday rolls around, there's no better place for parties than Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans is the street's swankiest hotel, and it allows guests to choose their own party adventure. Throw beads to parades of people from a street-facing balcony or get a room in the back of the hotel to sleep off your hangover. Live jazz bands and a vibrant pool bar scene keeps the party going until the wee hours. 

Where to Stay:

11. Dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Qualia Resort
Qualia Resort

The Great Barrier Reef is so big that it can be seen from outer space. The underwater ecosystem is home to countless sharks, dolphins, turtles, sea plants, and colorful fish, making the reef a magnet for professional and amateur divers. Excursions to Great Barrier Reef dive and snorkel sights can be arranged from the Qualia Resort, which also has a private beach and resident wallabies. Unfortunately, as sea temperatures rise, the coral is dying at a rapid rate, so it might be best to bump this trip to the top of your list before it's too late. 

Where to Stay:

12. Drive the Amalfi Coast in Italy

Santa Caterina Hotel
Santa Caterina Hotel

The Amalfi Coast has been dubbed the "femme-fatale" of Italy. The stretch of coastal road from the shoreline in Sorrento south to Salerno is curvy, gorgeous, and can be deadly. Hairpin turns and steep cliffs make for unbelievable scenery and some white-knuckle driving. We suggest making a pitstop at the Santa Caterina Hotel for uninterrupted sea views and a super-chic pool built into the cliffs. Oh, and there's a free shuttle to Amalfi if you can't stomach getting behind the wheel again. 

Where to Stay:

13. Smoke a Cigar in Havana

Havana
Havana

Cuba recently became a more viable option for United States visitors, and the island's colonial architecture, incredible music scene, and white-sand beaches are not to be missed. Some of the favorite tourist pastimes are a bit cliche, but we're not going to blame you for taking pics of vintage cars and smoking cigars. The historic Hotel Telegrafo is within walking distance to Old Havana attractions and you can buy rum and cigars on-site. 

Where to Stay:

14. Pay Homage to Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

Museo Frida Khalo
Museo Frida Khalo

Frida Kahlo is the embodiment of Mexico and visitors should pay homage to her life and art at her former home, which is now a museum. The quaint blue house (that she shared with partner Diego Rivera) showcases her paintings and traditional Mexican-style wardrobe. Light a candle in her memory and then check into Las Alcobas Mexico DF for modern creature comforts, such as designer rooms and a spa that uses local products. We like to think Frida would have approved of the traditional Mexican food at the hotel's Dulce Patria. 

Where to Stay:

15. Walk the Great Wall of China in Beijing

Photo courtesy of Richard Thomas via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Richard Thomas via Flickr

You're going to need a good night's sleep and a big, hearty breakfast buffet before fighting the crowds and tackling the steps and steep terrain of the Great Wall in Beijing. The Rosewood Beijing hotel provides just the ticket, along with a chic pool and luxe rooms that are soundproofed against the constant hustle and bustle of the city. And, if finding a reputable tour guide or accurate information on how to access the wall is proving too difficult with China's notoriously bad internet, the concierge staff is available to lend a hand. 

Where to Stay:

16. Sleep in a Castle in England

Langley Castle Hotel
Langley Castle Hotel

Unless you were born a royal, chances are you haven't spent the night in a castle. The upscale Langley Castle Hotel is housed in a genuine 14th-century fortress complete with numerous medieval features, such as seven-foot thick fortress walls and suits of medieval armor. Four-poster beds and cavernous bathrooms will make anyone feel like a royal for the night. Of course, if you really don't want to pay to be treated like royalty, Prince Harry is still single. 

Where to Stay:

17. Hike a Volcano in Hawaii

Summit, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
Summit, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii is likely on your bucket list for a lot of reasons -- surfing, snorkeling with turtles, and swimming under waterfalls -- but one of the more unusual opportunities that Hawaii affords is volcano hiking and seeing lava flow. As of May 2017, it's possible to see the ocean entry of lava flow (when the weather cooperates and park rangers allow it) on Kīlauea volcano. Volcano House is the only hotel or restaurant located inside the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is a two-hour drive from the volcano, but the luxury resort offers beach access and fine-dining, plus a world-glass golf course.

Where to Stay:

18. Get Lost in a Souk in Morocco

Riad Tamarrakecht
Riad Tamarrakecht

Marrakech offers a feast for all five senses and there's no better way to see, hear, taste, touch, or smell the city than by getting lost in its winding maze of shops, restaurants, and people that make up the souks. The Riad Tamarrakecht provides a nearby respite from the occasionally overwhelming city with a colorful courtyard and small plunge pool, plus a rooftop terrace with a Berber tent. 

Where to Stay:

19. Climb to the Top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel
Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel

More than seven million people visit the Eiffel Tower per year, and you should too. The iconic structure is very much a part of the Paris experience and provides sweeping views of the City of Love. We recommend you go to the third floor via the elevator, and then descend the tower via the stairs located on the second and first floor. Visit twice -- once in the daytime and then again at night when 20,000 lightbulbs twinkle. The Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel is just one block from the landmark and offers balcony views from some of its rooms. 

Where to Stay:

20. Go on a Safari in Africa

andBeyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp
andBeyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp

Luxury and safari aren't two words that usually go together, but the andBeyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp manages to combine glamorous tents and access to wild elephants, lions, leopards hippos, buffalo, hyenas, zebras, cheetahs, crocodiles, and giraffes. It's located in the Okavango Delta region (known for wildlife) and the hotel offers safari-goers all-inclusive meals and a large communal pool. Guests spend their days photographing game from canoes and walking through the bush.

Where to Stay:

Now, watch our video on bucket-list trips to take before you die.

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