Around the World in 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences

Extraordinary Travel Experiences

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Inside: 30 extraordinary travel experiences to help you plan your own Bucket List adventures!

People often ask me, “Hey Jenny, what are your favorite places around the world?

And I definitely do have a shortlist of favorites.

But to me, travel is about so much more than just places on the map. It’s about travel experiences. Extraordinary. Travel. Experiences.

It’s about people and cultures; animals and nature. And getting a unique view of the world whether on land, underwater or in the air.

I’ve never had a “Bucket List,” per se, but after 10 trips around the world, I’ve been fortunate to experience dozens of brilliant moments in faraway places (and even a few close to home).

Many that I didn’t even realize were on my wish list until after the fact. 

Since this website is all about carving 30 days out of your life to take the trip of your dreams, I decided to share 30 of my most personally memorable travel experiences from around the world.

I adored them all, so I couldn’t possibly rank them in order of favorites.

Instead, I’ve presented them (for your convenience) just like my RTW trips – beginning in the US and traveling in an eastward direction around the world.

Travel Experience Essay

Simple Disclaimer: “Extraordinary” obviously means different things to different people so I will stress that this is simply a list of destinations and travel experiences that have been personally meaningful to me. It is, of course, by no means intended as the top 30 places to go or things to do. But I do hope that you’ll find at least one new travel adventure on my list to add to your own.

So grab your passport, here we go…

1. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway – California, U.S.A

A few years ago, after wrapping up up a business trip in San Francisco, I took a few days to make one of the world’s most iconic drives down the legendary Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles.

Driving the PCH Big Sur California
Big Sur, California

The PCH hugs the California coastline from San Francisco to Los Angeles passing such scenic spots as Monterey, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara, to name just a few.

It was a trip I’d always wanted to do and there was simply no good reason why I hadn’t done it yet!

So after a day enjoying San Francisco, I headed out along the PCH to Big Sur, a 90-mile stretch of untouched, ruggedly-beautiful coastline known for gravity-defying bridges and inaccessible stretches of golden sand.

I stopped for the night in Monterrey rising before dawn to make the “17-Mile Drive” through the exclusive coastal resort of Pebble Beach, home to the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, five-time site of the U.S. Open. The next night I booked a beachfront hotel in Santa Barbara before continuing on to Malibu for a morning hike.

When I finally reached LA, I spent my final afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier before flying home.

While it certainly wasn’t my most exotic destination, this road trip holds a special place in my heart because it’s just a classic slice of Americana.

Read More: The PCH in 25 Breathtaking (& Bizarre!) Stops You’ll Adore

2. Dolphin Trainer-for-a-Day – Roatan, Honduras

I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins.

I mean, who doesn’t? They’re adorable!

But I craved more than the basic “group swim/dolphin kiss” experience. And I always worried about whether the dolphins were happy and well-treated at some of the places I’d seen in my travels.

Anthony's Key Resort Roatan Honduras
Training dolphins in Roatan

But while planning my summer trip around Central America a few years ago, a keen reader alerted me to the Dolphin-Trainer-for-a-Day experience offered by Anthony’s Key Resort in Roatan. I knew immediately that this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.

More than two dozen Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins make their home at the 2-acre Bailey’s Key natural lagoon facility that is part of the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS) within Anthony’s Key Resort.

The dolphins at RIMS are not captive in a man-made pool but free to roam the expansive lagoon. Some even leave the facility regularly to participate in the resort’s dolphin show or accompany dive groups but they always return of their own free will.

I spent the day working with Trainer, Christine, and more than a dozen fun-loving dolphins, all eager to interact and practice behaviors with us. I helped prepare their meals, assisted in their healthcare checks, and spent plenty of time just goofing around with them (as it turns out, dolphins are pretty goofy).

At RIMS, if the dolphins don’t want to interact, they don’t and no one makes them. All of the dolphins are free to do as they please which makes it all the more special when they choose to interact with you.

It was truly a remarkable travel experience that I will always remember.

Read More: Roatan, Honduras: Dolphins, Diving & Underwater Dating Dilemmas

3. Island-hopping with the Kuna Indians – San Blas, Panama

It’s not easy to get to the San Blas Islands…but it’s well worth the effort.

Made up of 365 perfectly palm-fringed dots of white sand in a turquoise sea, chartering a sailboat is the best way to explore this remote island group.

But it’s not just the islands that will wow you, meeting the indigenous Kuna people is an experience unlike any other.

When my friend Shannon and I visited last summer, we charted a sailboat owned by Denny & Becky, an American couple who’d been sailing the islands for months.

On our last night, we went ashore to one of the Kuna family islands to grill out with another family of cruisers. In the San Blas, indigenous Kuna families live on many of the islands, and the family living on this one was known to be friendly to cruisers.

As Denny, Shannon, and I took a walk around the tiny island to see the huts where the family lived, one of the women motioned eagerly to my camera.

Kuna San Blas Islands Panama
Kuna mother and daughter, San Blas

Due to the language barrier, we didn’t understand what she wanted until she ran into one of the huts and returned with an old, worn family photograph that was clearly a cherished possession. We managed to decipher that she wanted me to take their pictures so they could see the image on my camera’s digital display.

Obviously, the Kuna don’t get the opportunity to see images of themselves very often so this was a big deal.

I eagerly nodded my agreement, and the women sprinted into the huts to put on their Sunday best for photos. They came out pulling traditional tops on over their heads as they ran. They gathered in various groups for photos: mother and daughter, younger kids, older kids, sisters, daughter with her doll, etc. Then we did individual shots of each person.

Each time I took 3-4 photos and then they rushed over to me to view them on my camera. The smiles of wonder that lit up their faces as I scrolled through the photos made my heart soar. Especially the youngest children who I suspect had never seen an image of themselves.

I was thrilled to have made them so happy but I would have given a million dollars for access to a printer to print them all out on the spot.

Luckily, Denny was later able to print the photos and take them back to the island! He said the family was absolutely overjoyed. It warms my heart to know my photos are probably displayed prominently around those huts as we speak.

It’s the kind of feeling that makes travel immensely meaningful to me and just another reason why I never tire of the journey.

Read More: Kokomo, Kuanidup & the Kuna Yala: The San Blas Islands of Panama

4 . Swimming with Sea Turtles, Sea Lions & Sharks – Galapagos

Visiting the Galapagos is one of those “Bucket List” experiences that’s on almost everyone’s wish list.

Exploring by cruise ship is the most popular way to see these rugged islands but I discovered that less expensive, land-based trips can be equally rewarding.

While staying on the island of San Cristobal, I took a full day snorkeling and wildlife spotting trip off the coast.

Sea Turtle Cristobal Galapagos
A sea turtle off the coast of Cristobal, Galapagos

Anytime you get in the water in the Galapagos you’re immediately joined by sea turtles, sea lions, and often sharks (whether you see them or not) and on this day we saw all three.

Swimming among sea turtles and sea lions is an awesome experience, they truly have no fear of humans and their natural curiosity often brings them in very close to check you out.

Though, I admit I could have done without the curiosity of the circling hammerhead and blacktip sharks easily visible 20 feet or so down below when we stopped at Kicker Rock…but it’s all just part of the Galapagos adventure!

Read More: How to See the Galapagos Islands on a Budget

5. Hiking Machu Picchu Mountain – Machu Picchu, Peru

Located on a mountain ridge soaring almost 8,000 feet above sea level, the “Lost City of the Incas” is considered one of the world’s most enigmatic ancient sites.

Its cascading terraces of perfectly-cut stones stand as a legacy to the architectural genius of the Incas. A completely self-contained city, invisible from below, the cloud-shrouded ruins managed to remain undiscovered for hundreds of years.

Machu Picchu Peru
My view from the top

Whether you make the arduous, 4-day hike up the Inca Trail or simply take the train from Cuzco, your first glimpse of Machu Picchu is likely to be a magical experience.

Though my tightly-scheduled itinerary on RTW #2 didn’t allow time for the Inca Trail, I did manage to get in a great hike when I arrived at the site early on my second morning.

People line up at dawn for the 400 daily spots to hike the often-photographed Huayana Picchu, (pictured) but I decided to take a different path (okay, I admit, it was kind of an accident).

While looking around for a higher vantage point for photos should the sun decide to make an appearance through the morning rain clouds, I stumbled upon a trail that turned out to be the lesser-known Machu Picchu Mountain.

It was a challenging hike and I was on the trail all by myself (which concerned me a little) but just when I reached a clearing at the top, the sun rewarded my efforts by breaking through the clouds revealing a perfect bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu way below.

From that vantage point, I felt like I had it all to myself and it was a moment to remember.

Read More: Machu Picchu at Last

6. A Luxurious Stay in Torres del Paine – Patagonia, Chile

The vast majority of visitors to South America’s picturesque Patagonia region spend their days hiking through pristine mountains and glaciers and their nights roughing it in makeshift campsites.

But as I learned on my visit to the region, there is another way to experience the wonders of Patagonia. NO. CAMPING. REQUIRED.

I kept the hiking but traded the tent for a few nights at explora Patagonia’s plush Hotel Salto Chico.

explora patagonia chile
My beautiful room at explora Patagonia

Set on the shores of Pehoé Lake with a show-stopping view of the famed Cuernos del Paine, this über-green property enjoys an unsurpassed natural backdrop that boasts dramatic views from every window.

Expert local guides led explorations within the park each day for hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife spotting. It was a glorious four days in arguably the world’s most incredible national park.

Read More: The Best of Patagonia in Luxury (for the Camping-Averse)

7. Whale Watching in the Iceberg Graveyard – Antarctica

It was Day 6 of my Antarctic Expedition on Round the World #8. We boarded a zodiac for a cruise through the “Iceberg Graveyard” at Pleneau Bay and it turned out to be my favorite afternoon of a wildly incredible trip.

The zodiacs glided silently among iceberg sculptures the size of city blocks, each a stunning work of art more impressive than the last. Adding to the adventure, the risk of a potential calving at any moment without warning.

And as if skyscraper, iridescent-blue, death-defying icebergs weren’t visually dynamic enough, the humpback whales came out to play.

We watched as a humpback whale teased us above the surface before diving for up to 7 minutes and emerging on the other side of an iceberg. It was humpback-hide-and-seek at its finest and I could’ve played all day.

Whale Watching Pleneau Bay Antarctica
Whale watching in Antarctica

But the most dramatic moment came near the end of our cruise as a whale glided right next to our zodiac and just as he was about to show his flume (the money shot in whale photography) the iceberg next to us calved!

The deafening sound of splintering ice breaking off and crashing into the water diverted everyone’s attention as we audibly gasped, hardly knowing where to look it was all so exciting! Whales diving, icebergs calving, it’s an Antarctic wonderland!

This, I realized, was exactly what the Antarctic was all about. This is why people brave the elements to come here. This is why it’s worth the significant expense. It was simply magical.

This one was truly a Bucket List adventure!

Read More: Expedition Antarctica: Why it’s Worth Every Penny

8. A Soak in the Blue Lagoon – Iceland

Located 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, Iceland’s most famous attraction, the Blue Lagoon, is a steamy combination of mineral-rich freshwater and seawater from deep within the earth, naturally heated to between 98-102 degrees Fahrenheit.

The milky-blue waters flow over vast black lava fields giving the whole place an other-worldly feel. The futuristic-looking Svartsengi geothermal plant in the distance adds to the cosmic effect.

You really do feel like you could be on another planet.

Blue Lagoon Iceland
Blue Lagoon, Iceland

When I visited Iceland in late summer, a chill in the air signaled fall weather just around the corner making the hot-tub-like waters even more difficult to leave. The mineral-rich mud is said to have a healing effect and many bathers slathered it on their face and arms as they relaxed in the steaming lagoon.

A soak in the Blue Lagoon was one of the many highlights of my 30-day trip around Europe and my first visit to Iceland.

Read More: Iceland: Geothermal Wonderland

9. Touring Auschwitz & Birkenau – Poland

It was perhaps the most moving travel experience I’ve ever had.

During a visit to nearby Krakow, Poland, I spent an afternoon touring the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The gas chambers and crematoriums of the two camps could accommodate thousands per day and operated at full capacity from 1942 up until its liberation in January 1945.

Birkenau Poland
Tracks entering Birkenau

It is a place that everyone should have to see once in their lifetime. It’s the only way to really appreciate the magnitude of the cruel brutality perpetrated on the millions who died here and the few who survived.

There are no words.

The emotional impact of visiting a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau is indescribable. You can read the history and know the terrifying story but standing inside a gas chamber and walking in the footsteps of those who perished there transcends anything that can be gleaned from a book or a movie.

I will forever see those dead-end train tracks in my mind. It was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Read More: Awed by Auschwitz

10. Driving the Amalfi Coast – Positano, Italy

It was late January, 2009, and I was three stops in to my 4th annual trip around the world.

For my Europe stop that year, I chose a region of Italy that I had always dreamed of visiting, the Amalfi Coast.

There are few stretches of coastline more spectacular than Italy’s Amalfi Coast and the striking village of Positano is perhaps the region’s shining star.

It was the middle of winter and many of the hotels were closed, so I stayed in nearby Sorrento and took advantage of the local bus (which doubles as a school bus that time of year!) to visit Amalfi and Positano.

Positano Italy
Positano, Italy

While Amalfi was lovely, it was the beauty of Positano that really captured my heart.

I wandered the twisting, narrow, staircase-like streets discovering new wonders around every corner. I spent a lazy afternoon soaking in the town’s gravity-defying architecture from a hillside cafe and gazing out at the sea from the beach of Spiaggia Grande.

Perhaps the best part was that the entire town was completely absent of tourists, a rare opportunity to enjoy Positano as the locals do.

Perhaps John Steinbeck said it best in his 1953 when he wrote, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Read More: Positively Perfect Positano

And more recent: The Best of the Amalfi Coast in 4 Amazingly Affordable Days

11. Floating in the Dead Sea – Ein Bokek, Israel

At more than 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on the surface of the earth. The quantity of water that evaporates from the sea is greater than that which flows into it, resulting in its excessive salinity (8 times that of the ocean).

While its salinity cannot support the existence of life, the mineral-rich black mud and bromide-laden air make it a major destination for those seeking its healing properties earning it the nickname, “the lowest health spa in the world.”

But for those not in need of healing, it’s the perfect place to test out the famously effortless “Dead Sea float.”

Ein Bokek Dead Sea Israel
Floating in the Dead Sea

When I visited the Israeli resort town of Ein Bokek on RTW #3, I finally had my chance to try it out.

When I stepped into the mineral-rich water up to my shoulders and lifted my feet off the seafloor…I bobbed to the surface like a cork.

A strange sensation, to be sure, but definitely an experience that’s Bucket-List-worthy.

Read More: Doing the Dead Sea Float in Israel

12. Hiking to the Monastery – Petra, Jordan

Inhabited since prehistoric times, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra has been described as “a rose-red city half as old as time.

Situated between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, the vast city was quite literally carved into the sheer, dusky-pink rock face by its industrious Arab inhabitants more than 2,000 years ago.

I kicked off Round the World #5 in Jordan and arrived at Petra after a 4-hour early morning bus ride from Amman.

As you enter through the Siq – a narrow gorge almost a mile long with dazzling colors and rock formations – you catch your first glimpse of the magnificent Treasury.

Monastery Petra Jordan
The Monastery – Petra, Jordan

But to get to the real prize, you’ll have to earn it.

Wind your way through the rest of the city in the morning hours but save the shade of the afternoon for attempting the hour-long hike up 800 steps to the Monastery.

The beautifully-carved, massive building is stunning; the doorway alone is the size of a house. It’s a grueling hike in the desert heat but worth every single step.

Read More: The Ancient Charms of Jordan

13. A Camel Ride Around the Pyramids – Giza, Egypt

Egypt’s largest pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. An estimated 30,000 workers built the pyramids at Giza over the course of 80 years.

A visit to the pyramids lives up to all the hype and merits a spot on any “Round the World” itinerary. In fact, it was perhaps the place I was most looking forward to seeing on my first trip around the world.

I skipped the group tour, hoping to really delve into Egyptian history by hiring my own personal Egyptologist for the day.

It was an incredible day visiting the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Khan el Khalili market, and the magnificent Cairo Museum but the highlight was definitely the Pyramids.

Pyramids of Giza Cairo Egypt
Giza Plateau, Cairo, Egypt

And it’s the best place in the world to satisfy your camel riding curiosity (if you have any).

Yes, it’s total tourist kitsch…but a “Lawrence of Arabia-style” camel ride through the sandy dunes of the Giza Plateau with the awe-inspiring golden pyramids in the distance is an experience not to be missed.

Though, fair warning, camels are MUCH taller than horses and not nearly as friendly. Despite my particular camel’s generally grumpy attitude and limited interest in taking direction for photography, it was one of my most memorable travel moments.

Read More: Cairo on Camel Back

14. A Night at the Burj Al Arab – Dubai, U.A.E.

File this one under most luxurious travel experience!

Situated on its own man-made island in the Arabian Gulf, the decadent Burj Al Arab is often referred to as the “World’s Only 7-Star Hotel.”

Designed to resemble a billowing sail, the Burj dominates the Dubai skyline with its distinct architectural style. With just 202 multi-story suites and a brigade of highly trained butlers tending to your every whim, a stay at the Burj Al Arab is the ultimate travel indulgence.

I’d seen the Burj Al Arab in glossy travel magazines for years and I just knew it had to be part of my first RTW trip.

Of course, since the rooms come with a price tag as extravagant as the service, one night was all I could afford…but what a night it was!

Burj Al Arab Dubai
Burj Al Arab, Dubai

From the Rolls-Royce airport pick-up to the full-size Hermes bath products, it is perhaps the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending the night.

My two-story suite was enormously opulent and my butler was so eager to help I struggled to think of anything he could do for me (what the heck are you supposed to do with a butler, anyway?).

The Burj Al Arab is a mecca for the rich and royal and it’s the best place I know to feel like a princess…even if it’s just for one night.

Read More: Decadence in Dubai – The Burj Al Arab Hotel

15. A Day at Victoria Falls – Zambia/Zimbabwe

They call it the “Smoke that Thunders” and if you’re lucky enough to catch your first glimpse of it from the air you’ll understand why.

Thanks to a major flight delay in Madrid, I almost didn’t make it to Victoria Falls at all on RTW #8.

But the travel Gods were on my side that day and after a frantic connection in Doha, I stepped off a plane the next morning in Livingstone, Zambia on a beautifully sunny African day.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe
Rainbow over Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Though I booked a hotel on the Zambian side, I chose to visit the falls from the more scenic Zimbabwean side.

I had just one day to see the falls and what a magnificent day it turned out to be!

After an easy crossing over the Zimbabwe border, I wandered the trails of Victoria Falls National Park from the Devil’s Cataract to Horseshoe Falls.

The combination of sunshine and smokey mist from the falls created more rainbows than I’ve ever seen in one place…perhaps even in one year. So close it seemed you could reach out and touch them.

It was a stunning display of nature’s power and I’m so thankful that I was able to see it.

Read More: Lucky in Livingstone – A Visit to Victoria Falls

16. Sunset from Table Mountain – Cape Town, South Africa

The most recognizable landmark in Cape Town, Table Mountain towers over the city offering spectacular panoramic views.

Unfortunately, it is often covered by a line of clouds known as the “tablecloth.”

But on a clear day, there are two ways to the top: the aerial cable car (complete with a rotating floor) or, for the more adventurous, a 3-hour strenuous hike up a challenging, rocky trail.

Sunset Table Mountain Cape Town
Sunset from the top of Table Mountain

While visiting Cape Town on RTW #1, I landed on the first day to clear skies over the mountain and I knew this could be my only chance to make the hike (it was, by the next day the tablecloth was firmly entrenched and didn’t retreat for the remainder of my stay).  

Though at times along the hike I questioned my decision to forgo the cable car – especially when I reached the top and saw all of the other sunset enthusiasts enjoying picnic baskets of wine and cheese brought up on the cable car- in the end, it was the best way to the top.

Because when you spend hours hiking to enjoy a perfect (and my first) African sunset, it is all that much more rewarding.

But now that I’ve checked the hike off my list, next time I’ll take the cable car…and bring wine.

Read More: Cape Town, Fabulous Cape Town

From RTW #2: Back to Africa – Cape Town, Part Deux

From RTW #9: The Township Legacy of Cape Town

17. Lion Encounter – Mauritius

Mauritius is a beautifully diverse, culturally rich island nation sporting a variety of luxury resorts and sandy beaches.

You could easily spend your entire stay there relaxing on a lounge chair next to the sparkling emerald sea…or you can take a walk on the wild side and visit Casela Nature Park.

One of only three locations in the world (the others are Zambia and Zimbabwe) where you can get up close and personal with lions in their natural habitat, Casela offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to “Walk with Lions.”

While the lion walk activity was completely booked up while I was there on RTW #7, I still had the opportunity to experience the lion encounter alternative.

Lion Encounter Casela Nature Park Mauritius
Getting up close and personal with a white lion at Casela

Without a doubt, this was one of the most exhilaratingly-terrifying experiences of my life. Just me, a trainer, a photographer, and more lions than I could comfortably keep track of – alone in the enclosure.

But obviously, I got out alive and with a great photo op (though after watching the Tiger King documentary, I probably would have skipped this particular activity if I had it to do over again).

It was an incredible adventure and sometimes I still wonder…was anyone really keeping a close eye on those lions in the picture behind me?

Read More: Mauritius: Lions, Beaches & Peaks…oh my!

18. Seaplane Flight over the Maldives

Made up of hundreds of tiny, idyllic atolls scattered across an endless expanse of Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a tropical paradise right out of central casting.

No matter where you’re heading when you touch down at Malé airport, you’ll need a boat or a seaplane to get there because even the airport is on its own tiny island.

By far, the best and most popular way to travel through the Maldives is by seaplane.

In fact, it’s your only option to reach many of the top resorts. But this is one pricey airport transfer that’s worth every last penny.

Seaplane flight Maldives
Seaplane views over the Maldives

At takeoff, the propellers whir drowning out any attempt at conversation. Soon, the views below of vibrant reefs encircled by halos of turquoise sea (with a palm-shaded spit of sand thrown in sporadically for good measure) will make you forget that your island-attired pilot isn’t wearing shoes.

It’s all just part of the paradise experience in this tiny island nation. Because when you visit the Maldives, getting to your hotel is half the fun.

Two of my favorite properties for a Bucket List stay in the Maldvies – the W Retreat & Spa Maldives and the new St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort.

Read More: Where are the Maldives? (& why you should go now!)

19. A Scenic Flight over Mount Everest – Nepal

My second day in Kathmandu started out pretty much the same as the first.

Up at the break of dawn and off to the domestic airport hoping the weather would be clear enough for my scheduled scenic flight over Mount Everest.

The day before, I’d waited hours only to be told the low visibility conditions would mean just seeing the tips of the mountain range. The airline presented three options: take the flight, get a full refund or come back the next day, and hope for better luck.

I elected to come back and try again and was so glad I did!

Immediately upon arrival the next day we were ushered directly to a waiting aircraft – there was a break in the clouds and it was now or never.

Mount Everest Nepal
The summit of Mount Everest, Nepal

As we flew over the spectacular snow-capped Himalayan mountain range, our flight attendant carefully pointed out each peak that came into view and we even took turns visiting the cockpit for the pilot’s panoramic view.

When the M-shaped peak of Mount Everest finally appeared I was speechless.

I cannot believe people actually climb this mountain (not me, I know my limits!). But I had always dreamed of catching a glimpse of this legendary peak and on this one perfect day in Nepal I got to do just that.

It was the flight of a lifetime.

Read More: The Kathmandu Krush

20. Tiger’s Nest Hike – Kingdom of Bhutan

The 8th century Taktsang, or “Tiger’s Nest” is a highly revered Buddhist monastery built into a sheer cliff face at a dizzying height of 9,678ft.

It’s the landmark of Bhutan and likely the only photo you’ve ever seen of this tiny Himalayan kingdom.

For years I’d seen photos of that stunning monastery in the clouds and always dreamed of seeing it for myself. So, on my summer trip around the Himalayas, Bhutan was near the top of my list.

Tiger's Nest Monastery Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

On the morning of the hike, we arrived at our starting point at the base of the mountain in Paro Valley. Over the next 3 hours, we ascended more than 2,000ft from our starting altitude of 7,500ft on steep but well-trodden trails.

Navigating from one mountain to the next (where the monastery is located) involves a significant descent, a bridge crossing, and then a final ascent back up the stairs leading to the monastery.

It was a beautiful but challenging hike. Colorful prayer flags were strung all along the trail and they increased in number as we neared the monastery.

When we finally arrived at the entrance to the monastery, aching legs, and ailing lungs were all but forgotten. It was absolutely magnificent.

The next day it was time to move on to Thailand but the soul-cleansing spirit of Bhutan, a nation that measures life by Gross National Happiness, will stay with me forever.

Read More: Himalayan Happiness in the Kingdom of Bhutan

21. Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

For many years, tourism to Myanmar was roundly discouraged since tourism dollars primarily supported the corrupt government.

But in May 2011, popular Burmese opposition politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, expressed the opinion that responsible tourism to Burma should be encouraged in order to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment.

Today, Myanmar’s doors are finally open and many travelers are getting their first glimpse into the beauty of this long-suffering nation.

Bagan Myanmar
The epic sunset views from Shwe-san-daw Pagoda

I couldn’t wait to see Myanmar and planned three stops in the country – Yangon, Mandalay, and the temple-laden city of Bagan.

In the mid-9th century, Bagan was a central powerhouse under King Anawratha and as many as 13,000 temples and stupas may have once stood on this windy plain stretching 26 square miles.

Bagan’s reign of power ended in 1287 and today just 2,200 temples remain in various states of preservation. I spent the day visiting dozens of temples and saved Bagan’s top attraction – sunset from the Shwe-san-daw Pagoda – for last.

Foreign and Burmese tourists alike make the steep climb up Shwe-san-daw to gather at the small landing atop the “sunset temple” each night. From the top, a panoramic view over thousands of temples as they blaze orange with the sun’s setting rays.

It’s a sunset view that hasn’t changed in centuries and one of the most unique I’ve ever seen.

Read More: The Temples of Bagan

22. Morning Alms – Luang Prabang, Laos

Situated along Mekong River, the colorfully-serene city of Luang Prabang has emerged as the most prominent showpiece in a country only open to tourism since 1989.

This former Royal capital remains the main center for Buddhist learning in Laos and though tourists have discovered this Asian gem, they are still greatly outnumbered by orange-robed monks.

There’s a spiritual charm to this small town and I was instantly taken with it when I arrived on RTW #6.

Morning Alms Luang Prabang Laos
Morning Alms, Laos

But to experience the real heart of the local culture in Laos, you’ve got to get up pretty early.

Just before dawn, the streets are lined with local residents awaiting the daily procession of monks for morning alms.

As the sun rises, hundreds of monks emerge – seemingly out of nowhere – to fill their alms bowls. In less than an hour, they disappear as quickly as they appeared.

Witnessing the beauty of this tradition in Laos was one of my most awe-inspiring travel moments.

Read More: Destined for Laos

23. Sunrise at Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

RTW #4 – Cambodia: It’s just before 5:00am as I sit in total darkness in an auto-rickshaw bouncing along a jungle road toward the ancient temple of Angkor Wat. Our lone headlight is the only light to be seen for miles on a road that didn’t exist only a few years ago.

The air is thick with humidity, even at this ungodly early hour.

Finally, the rickshaw stops.

Though I can hear people talking, I can see nothing in the inky darkness. Completely disoriented, I ask my driver which direction to walk. He points right and I spot bouncing beams of light coming from smarter tourists who thought to bring flashlights.

I choose a bouncing light and follow it down a long stone path. Hopeful that the owner knows where he is going.

Suddenly, the light veers off down stone steps to the left. Other lights mill about in confusion. Some continue straight while others follow stairs to the right. I have no idea which direction is best but decide to follow my original leader, he has gotten me this far. 

We continue through grass, eventually coming to a spot where other bouncing lights blend with voices in the dark. My phone’s glow illuminates a stone wall next to a body of water where others are already sitting. I grab a spot and settle in for the show.

In the darkness, we wait. With nothing else to do, I look up and am rewarded with a night sky blanketed with stars.

Sunrise Angkor Wat Cambodia
Sunrise at Angkor Wat

With the painstaking anticipation of a child waiting for Christmas, the ebony sky lightens just enough that I can make out the outline of the enormous stone towers of Angkor Wat.

Over the next 30 minutes, the sky develops into an increasingly vibrant swirl of brilliant pinks and blazing orange as the sheer Khmer genius of Angkor Wat is revealed to the patient crowd assembled.

I smile at the realization that the viewing spot I selected blindly couldn’t be more perfect.

It is a sunrise of epic proportions over a temple that has mastered the art of making an entrance.

Read More: Sunrise at Angkor Wat

24. The Great Wall all to Myself – Beijing, China

Like a giant dragon, the Great Wall winds its way more than 5,000 miles across China’s northern border.

Constructed primarily during the Ming Dynasty, the Wall was originally built to protect the empire against intrusions.

Today it is one of the world’s most famous historic attractions and one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”

Several of the most-visited sections of the Great Wall are within an hour’s drive of Beijing. Though tours are readily available, the best way to see the Wall is to hire your own cab for the day.

But if you want to beat the tourist throngs at this popular world monument, you have to get up pretty early in the morning.

Great Wall of China Beijing
Just me and the Great Wall of China

On my visit during RTW #1, I arrived from Beijing by 8:00am (before the tour group buses arrive at 9:00am) and had the Wall entirely to myself for almost an hour.

It was a cold winter morning and I soaked in the incredible vistas around me marveling at my good fortune to enjoy it in peaceful solitude. I felt so small and so gloriously far from home.

But, as it turned out, this was more than an extraordinary travel moment, it was a life moment. Because as I stood there – taking it all in – I realized that this is what I was meant to be doing.

Traveling. Seeing the world.

My month-long adventure was coming to an end but I knew in that moment that I would take another RTW trip. And, more importantly, that I would try to inspire others to do the same. To seek out their own extraordinary moments.

And 10 RTW trips later that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Read More: Beijing & the Great Wall of China

And more recently: A Second Date with Beijing

25. Swimming with Millions of Jellyfish – Jellyfish Lake, Palau

Located in the western extremities of the Pacific Ocean, the Micronesian archipelago of Palau is a geological wonder.

Made up of more than 350 islands and atolls, Palau is internationally renowned for its marine biodiversity.

During my stay on the island, I hired a boat to explore the Rock Islands and visit the legendary Jellyfish Lake, where I’d read it was possible to swim with millions of iridescent (and harmless) prehistoric jellyfish.

Jellyfish Lake Palau
Jellyfish Lake, Palau

After a steep hike to reach the lake, my guide and I slipped on our fins and masks and jumped in.

Underwater camera in hand, we slowly moved toward the center of the lake. At first, I was disappointed; I couldn’t see much of anything in the murky green water.

But then as we neared the center of the lake, suddenly, they began to appear.

In minutes they were everywhere – pink blobs undulating all around me. Their size was startling at first, ranging from the size of your fist to the size of a basketball.

As I floated in the center of the lake, they innocently bumped into my arms and legs. It was impossible to move without touching one.

It was a surreal experience that can only be found in Palau.

Read More: Wowed by Palau

26. A Scenic Flight over the Great Barrier Reef – Australia

Stretching more than 1,600 miles along the eastern coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.

The nearby collection of islands known as the Whitsundays are a popular home base for visitors to the Great Barrier Reef. On the final day of my stay in the Whitsundays on RTW #8, I decided it was time for a splurge.

I booked a 1-hour scenic helicopter flight to get an aerial view of this incredible world wonder.

It’s impossible to appreciate the massive size of the reef system until you see it from above. As my helicopter flew low across the reef, sharks, turtles, and rays were easily visible from the air.

The highlight of the flight was a pass over the aptly-named Heart Reef – so perfectly formed it seemed almost man-made.

Heart Reef Great Barrier Reef Australia
Heart Reef – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The reef and the Whitsunday Islands (especially the swirls of Whitehaven Beach) are a stunning sight from the air and the flight was an awe-inspiring experience.

Read More: How to See the Whitsundays & the Great Barrier Reef (even on a budget!)

27. Bridge Climb – Sydney, Australia

Opened in 1932 and soaring high over magnificent Sydney Harbour, it’s one of Australia’s most recognizable symbols.

But the world’s largest steel-arch bridge is more than just a beautiful backdrop.

A climb to the top of Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge has been named one of the “Top 10 Biggest Adrenaline Rushes” in the world by Lonely Planet. It’s a Must-Do for most visitors to Australia.

Bridge Climb Sydney Australia
Bridge Climb, Sydney

In 1998, the opening of BridgeClimb made it possible for anyone to experience the thrill of a three-hour roundtrip climb to the bridge’s summit and the most spectacular view in Sydney.

Climbs take place every day of the year except New Year’s Eve (when the bridge serves as the base for a massive fireworks display) and in all weather except electrical storms or extremely high winds.

On my first trip to Sydney on RTW #2, I made the mistake of not booking in advance. It was totally sold out during my stay.

But on my summer trip around Oceania a few years later, it was the first thing I booked after the flight to Sydney. Despite the July winter weather, I was lucky enough to get a mostly sunny and warm day for my climb and it was a truly epic way to spend an afternoon.

Read More: Summering in Sydney

27. A Day Trip to Aitutaki – Cook Islands

With a vast lagoon rivaling Bora Bora’s – but with a fraction of the visitors – Aitutaki just might be the world’s most beautifully-remote island.

While staying on the main island of Rarotonga on RTW #6, I flew over to Aitutaki to get a look at this mythical Bali Hai for myself.

After a quick 45-minute flight followed by a Jeep land-tour of the tiny island, we boarded a traditional sailing craft and headed out into the seemingly endless turquoise lagoon.

One Foot Island Aitutaki Cook Islands
Approaching One Foot Island, Aitutaki

As the boat sliced through the crystal clear waters and glided past palm-fringed atolls I was completely in awe of the beauty surrounding me and wondered how I would ever fittingly describe this tropical paradise.

It didn’t even seem real.

My favorite stop of the day was the dreamily-exotic and nearly deserted atoll known as One Foot Island. It was the perfect place to laze on a powder-white beach or float in the knee-high lagoon.

But despite its castaway appearance, it was home to one top attraction – a small hut containing one of the world’s most remote post offices.

Luckily, a local on Rarotonga had told me to bring my passport when I visited Aitutaki so I was fortunate to depart paradise with a footprint-shaped passport stamp to remember it by.

Read More: Are the Cook Islands the Best-Kept Secret in the South Pacific?

29. Sleeping in an Overwater Bungalow – Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Perhaps the most iconic of all the Pacific islands, Bora Bora’s sparkling turquoise lagoon and soaring emerald peak seem plucked from an old Polynesian travel poster.

Palm-covered motu encircle the lagoon providing a base for the luxury resorts that pepper the island. Overwater bungalows reign supreme and offer oneness with Bora Bora’s spectacular natural environment.

Le Meridien Bora Bora
Overwater Bungalow, Bora Bora

Shallow lagoons teeming with colorful coral and tropical fish are the main attraction and there’s no better way to enjoy them than with a room built right over the action.

The ability to step out of your bedroom and jump directly into the lagoon is a unique luxury and I was thrilled to be able to experience it while staying at the Le Meridien Bora Bora (pictured here, note that they are currently closed for renovations but scheduled to re-open in 2022) and the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa.

Most bungalows also feature a lighted glass viewing panel in the floor – known locally as “Tahitian Television” – which allows you to view the underwater entertainment long after the sun goes down.

It was a terrific experience as a solo traveler (despite the cyclone in Bora Bora!), but even more special when I visited Moorea again with my husband on Round the World #10 – The Honeymoon.

Read More: Surviving Bora Bora – Sea Turtles & Cyclones

Read More: Forget Bora Bora – 3 Reasons Moorea is the Best of Tahiti

30. Sunset from Ahu Tahai – Easter Island, Chile

Just when I thought South Pacific sunsets couldn’t get any better, I arrived on Easter Island.

A short stroll from the main town of Hanga Roa sits a vast field where the ancient site of giant stone monoliths known as Ahu Tahai stands framed by the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean.

During my stay on RTW #7, I claimed a spot on the grassy hillside and settled in for the nightly show just as the sun began its dramatic descent.

sunset Ahu Tahai Easter Island
Sunset from Ahu Tahai

It’s amazing what a few moai can add to an already mind-blowing sunset. As the sky transitioned from brilliant blue to flaming orange before finally settling into the inky, star-studded purple of night, my mind wandered to the mysteries of this ancient Polynesian culture.

How did they transport the moai here…and why?

It’s a mystery that remains to this day but there’s one thing that’s certain, the sunsets are pure moai magic.

The best way to fully experience the unique culture of this incredible island is with a stay at the luxurious eco-resort, Explora Rapa Nui.

Read More: The Mystery of Easter Island

Wrapping up 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences

So, there you have it!

That’s my current list of most extraordinary travel experiences. I hope that in a few more years I’ll have 30 more amazing moments to write about.

That’s the beauty of travel, it’s impossible to see and experience it all…but, hey, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, right?

And if all these exotic destinations have inspired you to start planning your own Round-the-World trip, get the ultimate planning guide, “The Grown-Up’s Guide to Globetrotting.”

And for more Round-the-World planning inspiration, start here:

The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Round the World Trip of a Lifetime

8 Reasons to Stop Dreaming & Start Planning a Trip Around the World

How to Use Points & Miles to Redeem Your Round-the-World Dream

Why Every Woman Should Travel the World Solo (at least once!) & How to Stay Safe Doing It

How to Travel Around the World with Just a Carry-On: A Girl’s Guide to Traveling Light

Happy Travels!

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, fantastic article full of inspiring acitivies. I am definitely saving this article and adding some of the experiences to my bucket list! 🙂

  2. This is a really awesome page, Jenny! Wonderful experiences and well written. It’s definitely inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much, Brad! And thanks for sharing it 🙂

  3. My husband and I are traveling to Italy for our first time Sept 24th – Oct 9th. We are almost following your intinerary except backwards (Rome 5 nights, CT 2 nights, Florence 5 nights, Venice 2 nights). My question is in regards to staying in Florence vs staying in the Tuscan countryside. We love wine and food and not huge museum fans. I wonder if we will not get the same experience staying in Florence as we would in the countryside. We have a a ton of points with Westin so we were planning on Florence so we can use our points. Just curious your thoughts on that. Also if we stay in Florence should we rent a car for one day and drive ourselves around Tuscany? If so any recommendations on must see places? Thanks!

    1. Sounds like a fantastic trip! If it were me, I’d definitely prefer to stay in Florence since there’s so much more to do and see there. It’s just a lovely city and the Westin Excelsior is fantastic (that’s where I stayed when I visited), gorgeous views of the river and Ponte Vecchio. I rented a car while I was there and it wasn’t difficult at all to drive the surrounding countryside and over to Pisa to visit the Leaning Tower. Just driving through Tuscany is so beautiful and I’m sure there are lots of great vineyards you could also visit, though I didn’t have time to fit that in. I’ve always wanted to see Cinque Terre, I’m jealous! That’s one place that is still on my list. Hope you have an amazing time!

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