Travel opens you up to so many incredible experiences, and while there’s a whole lot more of the world I’d still like to see, and this is certainly not the definitive list of best travel experiences, I’d like to share with you some of my most amazing experiences and those I think deserve a spot on every traveler’s bucket list.
1. Watch The Sunrise In A Really Special Place
One of my most memorable sunrises was on Mequfi Beach at the end of a trip through the Quirimbas Archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the north-eastern coast of Mozambique. My husband and I had traveled the 68 miles of the archipelago by plane, sailboat, traditional dhow (wooden boat), and helicopter. We’d spent 2 weeks on the journey and Diamonds Mequfi Beach Resort was the final stop on our itinerary. Keen to savor our last few hours of beach time before flying home, we were up early and down on the beach just as the sun’s first rays of light started to peek over the horizon.
2. Do Something That Terrifies You
After it takes a 360-foot tumble over Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River squeezes through a narrow gorge where it boils up into the biggest, and arguably best, white water rapids in the world. This is not for the faint-hearted, and an average level of fitness is required, but if you are feeling brave this really can be an adventure of a lifetime. I have done this trip numerous times and it’s definitely something I would recommend.
Pro Tip: The best time to raft the Zambezi is when the water levels are lower and more rapids are accessible, from August to mid-October. Go with a good operator like Bundu Adventures.
3. Laugh When You Get Caught In A Well-Known Tourist Scam!
Rome is an expensive city. Even a double room in a moderately priced hotel can be pricy. Traveling to Rome as a family with small children, we found the best value accommodation was one of the many convents that take in paying guests. Traveling on a budget and trying to economize wherever we could, we caught the train from the airport into the city. With our luggage and two small children in tow (one in a pushchair), we made the classic rookie mistake – we asked a local taxi driver how much he would charge to drive us to the convent. He named an exorbitant price. Some haggling ensued. Beating him down to a price that wasn’t quite so eye-watering, we climbed into the taxi. He drove for minutes, and around the corner pulled up outside our destination! An expensive lesson learned. All we could do was laugh!
4. Climb A Mountain
Climbing mountains is something I have been doing for years. I’ve climbed them, guided them, and taken my husband and my children up them. I’ve also taken clients on trips they tell me have been life-changing experiences.
If you are looking for an achievable, yet challenging, mountain to climb, let me steer you towards Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, where I have been guiding regularly for years. Whether you’ll rate a climb up Africa’s highest mountain a great “travel experience” depends entirely on when you’re asked! Ask a climber making the final push to the summit and they’ll probably say no! At that moment it’s a tough, cold, nauseating, exhausting hell. But ask them 6 hours later, when they’re grinning from ear to ear, standing on the roof of Africa, and their answer will definitely be different.
5. Fly First Class
I’d love to say I have flown in first class, but that wouldn’t quite be true! Years ago, traveling from South Africa to Australia, I got as close to flying first class as I am probably ever going to get. Our travel agent made a mistake with our booking. When the plane touched down in Perth en route to Sydney, my husband and I got off with all the other passengers for a short layover before reboarding. We were surprised to see our boarding passes had us in new seats. In first class! We said nothing, grabbed a glass of champagne from the hostess, and sat down. The hostess, surprised to see us, asked to see our boarding passes. And that’s when the mistake was noticed. We were on the wrong plane; our travel agent had accidentally booked us on a later flight to Sydney! We were allowed to finish our champagne, and then quickly ushered to a pair of empty seats back in economy. Our time in first class was lovely while it lasted!
6. Take An Epic Road Trip, On A Road Less Traveled
The 800-mile, 8-day drive from Kathmandu in Nepal to Lhasa in Tibet, along the China-Nepal Friendship Highway is a seriously memorable road trip. It takes you past the highest peaks of the Himalayas, pristine alpine lakes, incredible Buddhist monasteries, and surreal landscapes.
Pro Tip: The China-Nepal Friendship Highway closed after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and is now only open for goods transport. The route currently being used is along the Pasang Lhamu Highway, a rough route only advised for very intrepid travelers.
7. Spend Time With The Locals
I traveled with Indian friends to Kodenchery in southern India, where they were taking part in a white water kayaking competition. Not knowing the front end of a kayak from the back, I wasn’t actually taking part in the competition but was somehow persuaded to take on the role of commentator. Kodenchery is not on even the most adventurous traveler’s paths, and I was quite a novelty standing on the river bank, microphone in hand, doing my best to describe the action taking place in the river below. I learned a handful of useful phrases from friendly locals and when I was at a total loss for words, one of the local teachers stepped in as my translator. I somehow made it into the local newspaper and onto the local TV news! I’ve never forgotten my weekend of celebrity in the backwaters of south India.
8. Sleep In A Tent
I’ve slept in many tents in my time, and have many fond memories. My husband, on the other hand, is not a keen camper, only sleeping in a tent when absolutely necessary. Of all the tent experiences I have subjected him to, he tells me the most memorable is waking up one morning in a tiny, ice-covered tent in Ethiopia’s remote Bale Mountains on a trek through to find the endangered Ethiopian wolf.
9. Sleep On A Boat
My husband and I were traveling to Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains National Park, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, to trek with chimpanzees. Most tourists coming to Mahale fly in by charter flight. We decided to travel by boat up the lake from Zambia, spending 3 nights on the MV Liemba, a WWI German gunboat that was converted into a passenger and cargo ferry. We’d managed to secure a “first-class cabin,” which consisted of a rickety bunk bed, a plastic garden chair, and a broken fan — I wouldn’t recommend the trip to any other than the most stoic of travelers. Most of the passengers didn’t have cabins, instead sleeping on the deck. The shared bathroom facilities left a lot to be desired – my husband caught typhoid on the journey home!
You might not want to choose this boat, but find a boat that suits you, and spend a few nights aboard.
10. Eat Street Food
Street food comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. My “sweetest” street food memory is piping hot, fresh jalebis in India. It was a chilly early morning and I was walking, with a friend, through the narrow back streets of a tiny town in the Indian Himalayas, when we came across a guy deep frying these delicious sweets at a makeshift stall on the side of the road. Jalebis are a distant cousin to the donut, with a flour batter, deep fried in circular shapes, and soaked in sugar syrup or honey – they are delicious.
11. Visit An Iconic Site And Appreciate Seeing It In Person
The Eiffel Tower, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Grand Canyon – there are so many iconic sites around the world that deserve a place on your travel list. For me, it’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Growing up in Sydney, I never appreciated “the bridge” and must have crossed it a thousand times in my youth, never giving it a second thought. What makes you appreciate it though is climbing to the top! Dressed in a camouflage climbing suit, you, and your trembling knees, climb 1,332 steps to reach the top (burning 504 calories on the way!). At the top, you are rewarded with astounding views over the city. The view is particularly magical at dawn, watching the bustling metropolis come to life far below.
Pro Tip: book your climb with Bridge Climb Sydney the climb will cost you around $128.
12. Sip Cocktails In A Rooftop Bar With A View
There are a million places around the world to sip a cocktail from a rooftop bar with a view. My special place is the chic rooftop bar at Upendo House, in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It overlooks the azure ocean and the historic House of Wonders (built by the second Sultan of Zanzibar in 1883 with a door so wide he could enter the house riding on the back of an elephant!).
13. Swim In Infinity Pool With A View
Everyone loves an infinity pool. My most memorable is the pool at Africa Bush Camps, Bumi Hills, Zimbabwe, which hovers on the edge of a cliff, looking out over the vast and shimmering waters of Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake, below.
14. Visit Somewhere With A History So Deep You Will Never Truly Understand It
Lalibela in northern Ethiopia is a place where I’ve stood in awe at the history around me. Known for its distinctive subterranean churches, many of which are joined by tunnels carved out of rock during the 12th and 13th centuries, Lalibela is still a pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians today.
15. Take Local Transport
My first encounter with public transport in India was taking a sleeper train from Delhi to Dehradun (the gateway to India’s famous hill stations). I was alone and had never been on an overnight train before, let alone one in a different country. I boarded the train just before midnight. Within minutes, my fellow passengers had taken me under their collective wings, finding my berth, teaching me how to fold down my bunk bed, and introducing me to their families. As the train pulled out of the station, in unison they opened their picnic containers full of home-cooked food and offered me all kinds of delicious treats. I’ve never felt so instantly and completely accepted by a bunch of total strangers.