Graduation — from high school, college, or a specialized trade school — is an individual accomplishment that many families love to celebrate together. While parties and bashes are common, so too is hitting the road to celebrate academic success and the transitions that lie ahead.
If a simple, ho-hum road trip just won’t cut it, read on for nine stand-out destinations for parents (and grandparents!) looking to fête their grads with the grand adventure of a lifetime. We promise that the memories made will be unforgettable. After all, we all know there’s no better education than travel!
1. African Safari
Many of us dream of going on safari in Africa. Having the chance to see the world’s most majestic animals in their home environment is irresistible for many travelers, and is so special that the experience seems tailor-made for a graduation trip.
Safari means “long journey” in Swahili, and while arduous in terms of planning and travel, those who’ve been on one know there’s nothing like going on a game drive to see the “Big Five” — elephants, leopards, buffaloes, lions, and rhinos. Knowing which animals you’d like to catch glimpses of will help dictate your eventual destination, as will the time of year and budget, of course. The Serengeti in Tanzania, Kenya’s Masai Mara, and Kruger National Park in South Africa are all accessible and popular spots for first-time safaris.
Another perk of taking on a safari: accommodations will vary greatly, and that’s a good thing. Whether you want to rough it, glamp, or stay in posh surroundings, you’ll find something for every vacation style. Word to the wise: research is everything when it comes to planning a safari. This is not the kind of trip to leave to chance, and you’ll want to take all details into account, from wardrobe and vaccinations to ground transportation and park entry. Not sure where to start? Check out this guide about how to choose the best safari.
2. Grand European Tour
Embarking on a multi-city, multi-country tour of Europe has been popular for generations. While it can be tempting, don’t bite off more than you can chew! Consider cities that are well-connected by rail or regional airline to make the most of your time in each place. London–Paris–Amsterdam is a great choice, with great and direct train connections. We’ve also enjoyed an Eastern European swing combining Vienna and Budapest, again quite close to each other and accessible with several solid transportation options. A United Kingdom holiday or a combination of Spain and Portugal also packs a lot of vacation punch.
Give yourself enough time in each place to really explore and absorb each country and region’s culture and cuisine. Museums in Europe are a must — and city passes which combine admissions can be real time and money savers. And don’t forget the content boasts some incredible natural wonders as well — from the Mediterranean coast to the Alps. There’s going to be something for everyone in Europe — you can’t go wrong.
3. Galápagos Cruise
The small, pristine island chain made famous by Charles Darwin is a dream vacation destination. The Galápagos are far-flung, some 600 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific Coast, and feel much like Jurassic Park come to life, especially when you catch a glimpse of their resident giant tortoises lumbering through the fields. The highlands are lush, the beaches stunning, and the small towns quaint and quiet.
A cruise of the island chain will take the guesswork out of a graduation trip, and allow you to see different species and experience different landscapes, both above and below the water. The cruises will also handle most if not all of your meals, as well as snorkel and scuba gear upon request. It’s a great way to experience a number of the islands without having to worry about accommodations or transportation between islands.
Pro Tip: Don’t sleep on Quito. Ecuador’s capital city is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chances are you’ll fly from here to reach the islands anyway, so plan to spend at least a couple of days exploring.
4. Costa Rica Celebration
Another terrific spot for biodiversity fans — and much easier to reach than the Galapagos — is Costa Rica. This small central American national punches above its weight when it comes to things to see, do, and experience. Exploring a rainforest? Check. Hiking a volcano? Check. Relaxing on the beach? Check. Spectacular snorkeling? Check!
Costa Rica is one of those magical destinations that appeals to both thrill-seekers and those truly looking to relax and unwind. The resorts range from luxe to budget. It’s also a short flight from the southern U.S. and is in the Central Standard time zone, so no jet lag is required to make you feel like you’re a world away. That’s a win in our book!
5. Go Whale Watching
Paddle enthusiasts know there’s nothing like hitting the open water and connecting with nature in a remote, majestic setting… while keeping comfortable and cozy of course! If the graduate in your life loves kayaking and is up for adventure, consider an all-inclusive trip to British Columbia for an unforgettable experience. There are several outfitters that offer such tours in the sounds around Vancouver Island.
You’ll be surrounded by the lush rainforest, and each day head out for paddle adventures where you might very well glimpse otters, whales, seals, bears, and all sorts of birds. Some tours offer luxe glamping at a base camp, others set up camp on a different beach each night. All are remote, offering you a chance to truly unplug for a few days.
Keep in mind, these trips are only offered during the summer when the waters around BC are navigable… so this would make the perfect holiday in sandwich in between graduation and starting that first job!
6. Explore Down Under
With its own distinctive mix of wild, untamed lands, thousands of miles of coastline, brilliant barrier reefs, cosmopolitan city centers, plus koalas and kangaroos (whew!), Australia is a destination unlike any other — making it perfect for an unforgettable family trip. You’ll need a good amount of time to travel here and really dig in.
Sydney is a great starting point for any Australian adventure with its museums, sites, and of course, world-famous Bondi Beach. From there a 3-hour flight will land you in Cairns, close to the Great Barrier Reef. Grab another flight 2-hour flight to Brisbane, where you can visit the world’s largest koala sanctuary. Got longer? Tack on Adelaide and perhaps Uluru. Yes, you will be on the go. Yes, it will all be worth it!
7. National Parks Sampler Tour
OK, so what if you don’t want to leave the United States? No worries! A bucket-list tour of some of America’s best-loved national parks, elevated by posh stays and experiences, could fit the celebration bill nicely. An itinerary connecting Glacier to Yellowstone and on south to Grand Teton is unforgettable and can include paddling, hiking, and of course, gazing at those iconic hot springs. A grand loop of Utah’s big five: Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef national parks is also doable — depending on the time of year — and will offer you jaw-dropping views. Further east, a swing through Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave national parks will give you selfie-worthy vistas both above and underground!
No matter where you roam, you’ll want to book accommodations as far ahead as possible for the best options inside the parks and out.
8. Big Island Adventure
If your gang is a more adventurous bunch, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous setting than Hawaii’s Big Island. From its famed black, white, and even green sand beaches, the majestic and active Kilauea volcano, and the sometimes-snow-capped Mauna Kea, the topography of the place is breathtaking. Here, you can tour a coffee farm, snorkel clear and gorgeous waters, chase waterfalls, and see some of the most spectacular sunsets on Earth. It’s simply paradise, and would be any graduate’s dream trip.
9. Finding Your Roots
Last but not least, if you truly want to make your grad’s celebration a family affair, consider heading to a spot that’s of genealogical significance. Reconnecting with your roots can be a powerful experience, especially when multiple generations are involved. Interlacing your family tree with celebratory travel plans packs a powerful emotional punch, no matter where in the world that travel might take you. Having a couple of goals for the trip — perhaps to see the church where an ancestor was baptized, or to learn more about a region of the world where a branch grew out from — can make it all the more meaningful.
Pro Tip: You’ll obviously want to consider the graduate’s preferences when putting together a trip of this type. But knowing ahead of time that this can be a delicate balance — especially if the physical abilities of those in your group are varied — will truly make the holiday a success. Take all travelers into account, and make sure there are options and excursions for everyone.