In life, there are vacations and there are destinations. Simply put, there are some seriously stunning places you should absolutely see before you turn 50. And while this phrase may seem dramatic, everyone can agree that there are just some certain life-changing experiences that shouldn't wait. "Don’t ever put off travel or you risk never going," says Carey Malloy, director of brand marketing for Orbitz and CheapTickets. "There’s always a reason not to go, but the rewards of going, and the experiences travel can bring to your life, far outweigh an excuse not to go."
For some in their 20s and 30s, traveling is more than a hobby; it's a lifestyle. "Millennials especially are all about having authentic experiences when traveling," mentions Melissa Postier, director of brand, PR, and social for Hotwire. "The top destinations we’re seeing encourage visitors to connect with the culture by immersing them in rich history and opportunities to engage with the locals."
Another reason to vacation within your first few decades? You're probably in the thick of your career or family-raising years, a time when you really need a periodic escape (far before retirement). "It can be so important to take intentional breaks from stress before your 50s," says Sarah Stocking, Lonely Planet destination editor to Mexico and California. "In fact, more and more of us are seeking new kinds of breaks because focusing on health and wellbeing creates changes that last long after the vacation is over.”
And that's not to say that there aren't plenty of incredible experiences to be had after a certain age. There certainly are. But, why not get a head start in packing in memorable moments right now? Ready to pack your bags? Ahead, the travel experts at Lonely Planet, Hotwire, Orbitz, and CheapTickets share their picks for the most beautiful places to visit before you turn 50. Whether you've always wanted to take a safari through the Serengeti or you're still dreaming of a trip to Paris, it's time to move these destinations higher up on your bucket list.
“Calistoga, California has got to be one of the most gorgeous places in the world," gushes Stocking. "Wake up early and take in the sunrise from a hot air balloon — you’ll see what we mean by 'gorgeous' soon enough." For those needing a refresh from the daily stresses of life (and work), she says to come here and unplug for a detoxing retreat. "The hot springs there have drawn visitors since the Wappo people built sweat lodges over steam vents 8,000 years ago," she explains. "Check yourself in to Indian Springs (featured in our new book, Wellness Escapes) for a mud bath and mineral water soak, followed by a deep tissue massage you’ll be dreaming about for months afterwards.”
Cordillera Blanca Mountains, Peru
The Cordillera Blanco Mountains, part of the Andes mountain range, are described as "devastatingly beautiful" by Bailey Freeman, Lonely Planet's destination editor to South America and Antarctica. "What’s amazing about this place is that you can see so many different types of terrain, even on a single hike. Grassy plateaus dotted with shaggy Peruvian cows; rocky, snow-covered cliffs; shockingly blue glacial lakes — it’s all here."
For young adventurers looking to explore faraway lands, this under-the-radar spot is a gem. "Peru is a favorite on the travel circuit, but people usually head south to the Inca ruins. While those are spectacular in their own right, the northern part of Peru has a special, larger-than-life quality that’s completely captivating." As a bonus, she adds, "the crowds are also much fewer in comparison.”
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Call it cliché, but the Grand Canyon is a must-see national treasure for a reason. "I’ve visited destinations in the past with high expectations that weren’t always met," says Malloy. "But walking up to the edge of the Grand Canyon and peering out [is a memory] that will stay with me forever." These kinds of awe-inspiring experiences help shape your perspective; and that shouldn't wait until you're 50. "[It's] more beautiful and breathtaking than any photograph you could ever see," she recalls, adding, "you can’t even begin to understand the natural beauty unless you see it for yourself."
Redwood Forest, California
"The rugged coastline of Mendocino county in California offers up a historic experience for visitors that will thrill at the steep ocean cliffs, dramatic surf, and foggy redwood forests," says Postier. Jason Heidemann, the lead content specialist for Orbitz, agrees. "A journey to the Redwoods begins by crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco ... before reaching the tallest (upwards of 30 stories) and most majestic trees on earth, some of which are as old as 2,000 years," he says.
He also notes that the sheer vastness of the natural scenery will leave you breathless. "Driving the two-lane Avenue of the Giants provides the thrill of a lifetime" he says, adding that visitors should also make time to check out the scenery up close. "The Redwoods done right includes both inland and coastal hikes."
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
For those with wild side and a truly adventurous spirit, Heidemann recommends the Serengeti in Tanzania. "[It] offers a fascinating ecosystem almost completely unfazed by humanity," he says. "[It's] the stuff of wild dreams to most North Americans." However incredible, being this close to nature isn't for the faint of heart. "In late winter, hundreds of thousands of zebra, gazelles, wildebeests, and other plain game make their annual 'Great Migration' across the plains. Thwarting their efforts are predators including lions, cheetahs, leopards, and crocodiles, plus ravenous scavengers like hyaenas and vultures."
And visitors be warned: There are no five-star amenities while you're in the middle of the wilderness. "Safari days are extremely long and creature comforts when you’re out in the bush are few and far between," he says.
The city of lights, romance, and some of the world's best art is another dream destination that's always talked about, but refrains from being overrated. "Few big cities captivate quite like Paris," admits Heidemann. "It’s a paragon of sophistication and style that is unrivaled elsewhere." He says first-timers must make their inaugural stops at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, "but the best way to explore the city is to ditch your itinerary and instead wander the city via bike, foot, or Metro, eating and idling as much as possible along the way."
His suggestions? "Nab a croissant and coffee for breakfast in the Marais, do a long bistro lunch near the Canal Saint-Martin, and end with a brasserie dinner on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Repeat the next day, but change all the locales. That’s perfect Paris." Sure, folks 50 and older can savor the all that Paris has to offer ... but why would you wait?
If you're craving a taste of la bella vita, there's no better place than Tuscany. Wine, food, history, architecture, and the rolling Italian countryside make this region — which includes Florence and Pisa — a beauty-seeker's dream come true. Malloy describes "driving through Tuscany at sunset, with vineyards as far as you can see," and in the nearby towns, you'll find centuries of art, architecture, and culture steeped in tradition.
Plan on hitting up hot spots like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Galleria dell'Accademia (home of the statue of David), then take a boat ride to Elba, a nearby island with white sand beaches. Along the way, you can duck into shops for pasta, pizza, cappuccino, and of course, you can drink vino to your heart's content. This is living, and it's something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.