We all have our bucket list destinations. Greece, Australia, London, New York. But what about dream activities? Erin Bender of Explore With Erin has traveled the world for the last five years, seeking out the most unforgettable experiences along the way. On top of that, she’s gathered the expert opinions of our other Gnational Gnomads to bring you the “best of the best” bucket list activities you need to try at least once!
People often ask me what my favorite country is. My answer is always the same. I don’t have a favorite country, I have favorite experiences. Across 76 countries and nearly 20 years of travel, I have certainly come across some unique experiences that I will never forget. Here are my favorite bucket list activities — along with a few ideas from my fellow travel loving friends.
Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
I’ve hot air ballooned in several places around the world, but nothing will ever compare to Cappadocia. The unique landscape is almost moonlike and foreign, while watching 80 or so balloons float high into the air at sunrise is captivating and exciting.
My bonus tip: follow that incredible hot air balloon ride with a stay in a cave hotel. Not only is it a neat experience, but you can also get a second view of the balloons the next morning and watch as they float into the colorful sunrise.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
These giant friendly sharks off the coast of Cancun are like buses in the ocean. Even though their mouths are bigger than your head, you are in no danger swimming along these beauties (even my 6 and 7-year-old children did it).
A tour boat can take you out to the perfect spot to jump in and swim beside these magnificent creatures. You will never forget this moment. Sharing the water with these gentle giants makes the ocean seem that much safer and that much more beautiful. Bonus, the water in Mexico is always the most delightful temperature.
Husky Sledding in Finland
Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of the Finnish forest wonderland, covered in white snow. And the best way to see Finland is on a sled ride through the forest while being pulled by very excited huskies.
Whether you choose to be the driver standing on the back or the passenger tucked in on the sled with a warm blanket, the ride is exhilarating either way. Bonus tip: you’ll stay much warmer by using the jumpsuits provided by your tour guide.
Float in the Dead Sea in Israel
I always thought it was crazy when people said you could float in the Dead Sea in Israel. I mean, you can float in any pool or sea, right? I was so wrong! This truly is a completely different experience. I’m talking full-on floating with arms and legs in the air, unlike anything else you’ve done. And on top of that, you can cover yourself in the vitamin-enriched mud for one of the best facials of your life.
But there are so many experiences I have yet to have! So, I asked my fellow Gnomads to fill me in on their favorites to give you the best of the best for your own bucket list.
Heli Hiking in Canada
“A worthy experience you never knew you needed on your bucket list is heli hiking. You’ve probably heard of heli-skiing before, but hiking is an equally intense and memorable experience. Here I’m crossing the Mount Nimbus via Ferrata with Canada Mountain Holidays (CMH). After we reached the end of our hike, a helicopter swoops in to pick us up and we return back to the lodge for stories in the hot tub, a delicious dinner, and drinks by an open fire. Now that’s living!” — Joe Miragliotta of Joe’s Daily
Horseback Swimming in Jamaica
“One of my favorite experiences that I’ve had was horseback riding through the Jamaican hills that led into a swim – still on horseback! The horseback ride and swim in Montego Bay, Jamaica was spectacular and definitely a must-do when visiting the island. It starts off with a tour through the farmland narrated by a guide. Afterwards, it’s time to go swimming on horseback. In the water, the horses all stay in one line, with guides nearby. I could feel the rocks and sand underneath the horse’s hoofs. At times, it felt like he was slipping on them, but at all times I felt safe. I just wanted to hug him the whole time he was taking me through the Caribbean Sea. Horseback ride and swim in Jamaica should be on everyone’s bucket list!” — Pattie Cordova of Living Mi Vida Loca
African Safari in Zambia
Who doesn’t have an African Safari on their bucket list? You will after you hear Susan’s bucket list activity.
“One of my most amazing bucket list experiences was going on safari in Zambia. Located in the southern part of Africa, Zambia shares Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe and is home to four of the “big five” African animals — lions, elephants, leopards and water buffalo. I saw all four and so much more on my first day in Zambia (I love zebras and giraffes). The night safaris were the highlight for me, watching the animals come out in the moonlight and being able to spot them in the infrared light of our guides.” — Susan Lanier-Graham of Wander With Wonder
Burning Man in Nevada, USA
“Burning Man. How does one describe this week-long arts/hardcore party event held every year in Nevada’s Black Rock City desert? Truly, it cannot be contained or explained by words and pictures alone. It’s something you have to experience to understand… or believe. For one week, some 75,000 costume-clad visitors travel from all over the world to celebrate humanity, creativity, music, nudity, charity and chemically induced happiness, celebrated to the beat of throbbing techno. This inhabitable desert wasteland devoid of all animal and plant life, is transformed into Nevada’s third largest city. It has its own post office, medical center, coffee shop and, in this gift-based economy, the neon city functions like a bizarro, Mad Max version of the real world.”— Julie Dimon of juliadimon.com
Cliff Diving in Thailand
Free climbing over the ocean and high-diving down? Yes, please! HoneyTrek gives us the details.
“Everyone loves a good karst mountain, dripping with stalactites and sculpted with caves, but no one more than your inner rock climber. Railay, Thailand has more than 700 routes bolted into the crags, plus sea cliffs perfect for deepwater solo: free climbing over the ocean and high-diving down. Sail to the base of the craggy cliffs and swim toward the ultimate free climb. Pull yourself out of the water and Spiderman up the limestone face. Choose your handholds wisely — there are no ropes, and the sea is your safety net. While scaling the walls, be sure to pause on the ledge and take in the view of the tropical islands. When you’ve gone high enough, turn around and cliff jump into the turquoise sea.” — Mike and Anne Howard of HoneyTrek
Stay in a Bedouin Camp in Jordan
“I enjoyed the thrill of marking off a bucket list item when I took a trip to Jordan, specifically Wadi Rum. After a “wild ride” on the ancient Hejaz Railway train, I had the joy of spending the night in a Bedouin camp. The ride was wild because we were “captured” from the Jordan Hejaz Railway train during a re-enactment of the 1916 attack on the train during the Great Arab Revolt. The train “scene” was a story out of the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia! We were then whisked away to a Bedouin camp where we devoured tender lamb cooked in a pit in the sand and locally brewed tea, while a blind man played his pear-shaped oud! The scene was surreal! The following morning at 5 a.m., we woke up to ride camels out into the desert of Wadi Rum for sunrise. This is a bucket list activity I will NEVER forget!” — Cacinda Maloney of Points and Travel
Swim in Arctic Frozen Waters in Finland
“The Sampo is the only icebreaker in the world dedicated as a tourist attraction. This mighty icebreaker takes passengers around the northern Gulf of Bothnia (part of the Baltic Sea) out of Finnish Lapland. Once on board the Icebreaker, passengers are given a presentation of the ship and a guided tour takes them to the massive engine room, as well as the bridge. Before returning to port, the ship stops for about an hour to allow passengers (who want to take part) a chance to don an arctic dry-suit and jump into the frozen waters. This is an extraordinary experience… being able to step off the ship in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by frozen sea. At the stern of the ship, an opening in the water greets those in their dry-suits with an invitation to jump in and swim around.” — Mike Shubic of Mike’s Road Trip
What’s on your bucket list activities dream list? Let me know in the comments below, so I can start planning!
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