What do we think of when we create our bucket lists? Do we conquer fears? Do we seek new experiences? Are these things unattainable in our present lives? No matter what you write down, I believe bucket lists are special because they represent potential. No matter what your present state is, your future is still wide open. I spoke to some of my fellow world-class travelers to find out where they’ve been and what they think you should see. This isn’t your average catalog of bucket list ideas. It is a collective of offbeat travel destinations from real people who started off with an idea– just like you. I hope this will inspire you to seek transformative travel across oceans, rainforests, and beyond your wildest dreams.
Getting Lost in Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida, the “Lost City”
Sometimes, it’s a better experience to get lost than to get led, to explore rather than listen to an explanation. Which is why I think Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida is a better experience than visiting the Disney-fied circus that Machu Picchu has become.
The trek to Ciudad Perdida is three arduous days of hiking, sleeping in hammocks, getting bitten by bugs and avoiding snakes that the guide said were “a little bit poisonous.” But the experience bonding with global backpackers in a communal setting more than made up for the sweat and scrapes. Ciudad Perdida itself is just a few walls and village sites, a poor architectural comparison to Machu Picchu. But the absence of grandiosity is its attraction, as I found, walking just a few steps off the trail and getting utterly lost in the sound-absorbing jungle formerly known as “the green hell,” with nearby villages little changed from ancient times.
Mimi of The Atlas Heart
Finding a Ruin Bar in Budapest
Finding the quirky side to Budapest was one of the things that most endeared me to the city. The ruin bars are the places to go for those looking for an alternative night out in the city. As the name suggests, they’re bars located in random ruins around the city. The one I went to looked like it was in an old communist house. Since it was in a crumbling interior, there were plenty of rooms, nooks, and crannies to explore. There were four different bars throughout the house, TVs playing random scenes, chill indie music, and hookah everywhere. At one point, I was sitting in the front of a car from the 1960s that had been cut in half. It is still to this day one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. Most of the ruin bars are nondescript and don’t advertise where they are, so part of the adventure is actually finding one, down dark alleyways or getting lost around the city.
Spending the Night at a Mayan Village in the Yucatan of Mexico
We spent an amazing night, staying in a Mayan Palapa (cottage) in the jungle of the Yucatan. This moment has stayed with me, because it involved me stepping out of my comfort zone to try something a little more rustic. We were even invited to a local birthday party, ate traditional Mayan food, and had our own cleansing ceremony with a shaman. The next morning, we rode a horse-drawn cart on an old railway line to visit far-flung cenotes. Nothing about the experience was ordinary and we learned a lot about the Mayan way of life.
Bowling in North Korea
Bowling is not the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions North Korea. The media have created a gruesome image of that mysterious country in the minds of most people, but if you’re reading this, then most likely you’re more open-minded than most.
Not only do we recommend traveling to North Korea and experiencing what’s hidden behind the curtain of mystery for yourself, but also we recommend mixing in with the local crowd among the bowling alleys. We found that the place can get quite crowded and it’s easy to celebrate each other’s bowling victories with the bowling neighbors. For us, it was the place where we had a chance to see how locals enjoy their free time and to communicate with some.
Swimming at the Natural Hot Springs – Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca
I’ve been many places in this world, and Hierve el Agua is special. It’s a natural hot springs/rock formation in rural Oaxaca with pools that have been eroded out of the rock and incredible, expansive views of the valley. Half the fun is the difficulty of getting there (if you don’t do a tour it requires multiple bus/taxi transfers) and the fact that it’s hidden at the top of this random valley. A magical place to bring a picnic, the camera, and enjoy the day.
Getting massaged by the Blind at Omamori Spa in Hanoi
This is one of the most unusual experiences you can get in Hanoi. Not only did we get an incredible massage for less than €15, but we were also supporting an amazing cause. Omamori Spa on Hang Bun Street and Huynh Thuc Khang Street is run by a social enterprise called Blind-Link who offer employment to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Our masseuses were visually impaired and their touch was phenomenal, they had such an awareness of the body and were sensitive to our aches. It’s a massage like no other and was without a doubt the best one I’ve had in my life. Mom and I felt like jelly afterward!
Street Racing Mario Kart in Tokyo
There have been recent crackdowns on go-karting in the streets of Tokyo and word on the street is that go-karting and Robot restaurants might soon be a thing of the past. Who doesn’t want to relive their childhood memories of playing Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo…but in real life? I’ll never forget the moment I was going 90km per hour on the highways of Japan dressed up as Mario! Now is the time to do it before it’s too late.
Scuba Diving the World’s Deepest Indoor Diving Pool in Brussels, Belgium
When my husband and I were looking up things to do during our stint in Brussels, we expected waffle making classes, events in Grand-Place, and Belgian chocolate tours galore. Scuba diving was not on my radar. We’re avid divers who’ve enjoyed dive meccas all over the world, from the Caribbean to Thailand, but Belgium had certainly never been added to our list.
Yet, much to our delight, there it was: Nemo 33. Not long after, we found ourselves visiting the gigantic dive waterpark. The deepest section of the pool plunges all the way to 113 feet, and it contains 660,000 gallons of water in total. We spent the afternoon swimming around, peeping through the pool’s windows at the patrons enjoying the dive shop’s restaurant, and exploring an underwater world in a place we never expected to find ourselves scuba diving.
The beauty of travel is finding the unexpected–the kinds of things that stop you in your tracks with surprise and delighted awe–and this was one of those moments for me.
Hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but nothing pushed me as hard as hang gliding. Putting your faith in your instructor and simply running off the edge of a mountain? Yes, please! You take off from around 520 meters, and the main instruction – “just keep running!”. You run until you’re flying, and then the biggest battle is the lack of control, and once you get over that, and realize what you are doing, soaring hundreds of meters above one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Wow.
About 15-20 times a year you get warm winds from the ocean, it’s possible to be lifted above the take-off point. This was one of those times, I was lucky, which gave me a flight time of 17-18 minutes rather than the average 7-8 minutes. We were even higher than the epic Pedra de Gavea and could see as far as sugar loaf. Words really can’t do this view justice.
Going to All Four Walt Disney World Parks in One Day
Walt Disney World is known for being the happiest place on Earth and I definitely don’t disagree. I’ve been going since I was a little girl and I enjoy it so much that I even did an internship there in 2012. There are four main parks and so much to do in each one that you could go every day for a month and still not have experienced everything. With this in mind, my younger brother and I decided to save some money by grouping all the parks into one day instead of buying multi-day passes. We were able to snag fast passes, which allow you to skip certain lines and we agreed on the order that we would park hop.
We began our day at the Animal Kingdom as the park opened followed by EPCOT, Magic Kingdom and ending our day at Hollywood Studios. We did this because it was the last year (2015) for the holiday lights at Hollywood Studios. We spent a total of 16 hours riding rides, watching parades and shows, eating ice cream and walking so much our feet felt like they would fall off at any moment. We also laughed until we cried, danced like no one was watching, had our stomachs fall out of our chests on rides, and sang Christmas carols while watching the most incredible light display I’ve ever seen.
Everything we experienced on this day were things that we had both done so many times before, but what made them a memorable experience was the fact that we were doing it together. It was a fun bonding experience for my brother and I and we still talk about the time that we literally ran to the Magic Kingdom so we wouldn’t miss the 3 o’clock parade. To me, a memorable experience doesn’t have to be something that has never been done before, but something that has special meaning to you whether it’s hiking a mountain or riding all of your favorite rides in a theme park.
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
Sliding down an active volcano on a makeshift toboggan is truly a once in a lifetime experience because there is only one place in the world with the ideal conditions to do it: Cerro Negro near Leon, Nicaragua. The novelty, the idea of danger, and the sheer ridiculousness of the whole concept are what makes the experience so unique and memorable. Once you book your tour, hike up the ash-ridden volcano, and put your jumpsuit on, it’s all up to you to control your board. Go as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable and try not to wipe out. Everyone should experience this because I guarantee that it will be one of the most unique things they have ever done.
Cycle around the Aran Islands in Ireland
When I made my almost three-week itinerary for Ireland and Northern Ireland, I didn’t think I was going to squeeze in the Aran Islands and was a bit bummed, to say the least. However, once we were actually on the ground in Ireland, we knew this was an experience we can’t pass up so we rearranged our entire itinerary to fit a day trip to Inishmore – the largest of the three islands. A day trip can easily be done from either Galway or Dingle – we took a ferry from the latter. You know the phrase – “Sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination”? Definitely true in this case – although, the destination was wonderful. The ferry ride was not for the faint of heart though.
Once we arrived at Inishmore, we collected our bikes and proceeded to ride around the island. Definitely, take the ‘seal colony’ route as you can see seals as they come up at low tide to sunbathe. I’m a bit of a cow fanatic, and Inishmore was where I got to get up close and personal with all the cows I wanted. The Aran Islands definitely feel like you stepped back in time with rock fences and small population and it really gives you that Irish feel. I would highly recommend a trip to the Aran Islands but leave a few days in your schedule instead of one so you won’t feel as rushed. Don’t forget to check out the Cliffs of Moher and the town of Dingle should you do this day trip from there.
Todd of Todd Hata
Frogging, Alligators, and Eating in the Louisiana Bayou
Everyone goes to Bourbon Street when they visit New Orleans, but not as many people wander outside of the city. My friend Shannon who grew up in the Bayou showed me a real local experience that I’ll never forget. We visited a tough alligator wrestler who looked like someone from WWF and was on the TV show “Swamp People”.
After dark, we put on headlamps and went to the swamps to go frogging. The secret is to look for the white glow of their eyes (red glowing eyes means alligators) and use the pole and net positioned over the frog to get them to jump into the trap. We rounded out the day at a local Cajun restaurant with a mixed plate of good fried stuff– catfish, crawfish, alligator, frog legs, chicken wings, hush puppies, and boudin (sausage mixed with rice). Doing all of this may seem strange, but I thought the overall experience was pretty cool and one that everyone should try.
Hiking Through the Pyrenees in Andorra
Growing up, I can’t even count the number of countries that were never mentioned in my history classes. I distinctly recall that in my teenage years (what with the internet becoming a staple of our lives) I began to become increasingly fascinated with researching all that I was never taught about the world. Micro-nations like Andorra began calling my name, and the funny thing is, once you arrive in places like Andorra, you can’t believe the rest of the world didn’t also have it at the forefront of their bucket-list!
There was one particular sunny day in July when I found myself in the small mountain town of Soldeu. I ventured out into the Pyrenees and was quite literally at a loss for words. With the lighting as it was, the blues and greens were dazzling, and the water looked so crisp and clear, I dipped my water bottle in without a second thought (and didn’t get sick later!). It was a lesson for me that just because something isn’t on everyone’s radar, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on yours. I can rarely recall a better hiking experience anywhere, and the air was downright invigorating. If you’ve thought about visiting Andorra in the past, don’t forget to think about visiting in the future.
Motorcycling North Island New Zealand
Traveling by motorcycle for me is one of the most rewarding challenges I can think of. It’s a task that requires full attention, quick wits, and attention to detail. If any of these three details are compromised, the consequences could lead to some serious road rash. But the reward of where the bike will take you and what you will see is well worth it.
At the time, I had about one year of experience on motorcycles and an itch to explore new lands and I found no better way than to buy a motorcycle in New Zealand and just go. I think everyone should challenge themselves in one medium or another. It increases your self-confidence and ability to accept challenges in your everyday life. Have you thought about what challenges you can accomplish? Since then, I have tackled bigger challenges by circumnavigated Bali by motorbike and crossing the Czech Republic by bicycle and now, plans are in the works to take it a step further.
Hiking Montenegro’s Wild Mountains
Montenegro is one of Europe’s newest countries, having been one of the last countries to separate in the breakup of Yugoslavia in 2006. It’s overshadowed by its neighbor to the north, Croatia, which has become a holiday favorite. While some people are starting to visit the Montenegrin coastline, where I think the country really shines is its wild, untouched mountains and national parks.
Durmitor National Park in the northeastern corner of Montenegro is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The geography is insanely rugged and beautiful, having been carved from melting glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years. Hiking through, you’ll pass through landscapes that alternate looking like Iceland, Scotland, New Zealand, and beyond. You can do multi-day treks or do an epic one-day hike that brings you to the peak of Bobotov Kuk, the Durmitor range’s highest mountain at 2,525 meters. From the peak, you can see three countries all at once: Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbia. On the way back, you can stop by ice caves or the famous Black Lake.
This part of the world is still very much undiscovered and hiking there is something that all lovers of the outdoors should do!
Staying in Remote Jungle Hostels
Being completely immersed in nature at a remote jungle hostel is an incredible experience! Falling asleep and waking up to the sounds of monkeys howling, birds chirping and critters rustling through the jungle. You might see monkeys swinging through the air, toucans resting on the treetops or lizards scurrying across the ground. But be careful not to step on any giant toads in the dark.
What really makes a jungle hostel amazing for me is having plenty of hiking trails to explore. Lost & Found Hostel in Panama ticked off all the boxes for me as a hiking blogger with trails taking you to scenic viewpoints, swift rivers and secret caves. It is definitely worth the steep 15-minute trek with all your gear to get to this hostel. The treasure hunt here encourages guests to make new friends and have a great time hiking through the jungle to uncover clues to a puzzle.
I also recommend Bolita Hostel in Costa Rica to those looking for a more intense jungle hostel experience. It is located on the edge of Corcovado National Park (one of the most biologically intense places on Earth) and you need to cross two rivers to reach the hostel.
My one big recommendation for remote jungle hostels is, don’t hesitate to bring extra food and supplies. You just might fall in love with the hostel and end up staying there much longer.
Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc
I could never have fathomed how much a single trek could change the trajectory of my travel lust. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a famous world-class route that takes you through 170 kilometers (or 105 miles) through the legendary Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. This was the first long-distance trek I had ever undertaken and self-guided. I loved everything about it– from the cozy family-style refuge dinners to the international friends I befriended on the trail, to making the executive decision to abandon some of my belongings to lighten the load on my back.
Waking up each morning with the snow-covered Alps looming before your eyes has a way of tugging at your soul. The crunch of the icy ground below your feet as you cross faraway mountain passes and borders between countries are unparalleled. It was here that I discovered the potential of our strength. I would have never known this if I had only dreamt of it from a distance.
You’ve got places to go, people to see, and things to do! PIN THIS to your bucket list travels so you don’t forget.