7 mins

21 big trips we’re dreaming of

Super size me! Take one of these 21 big trips in 2021 (when we’re allowed) and meet tribes, spot rare creatures and cycle through mountains

Alhambra in Granada, Spain (Shutterstock)

1. Travel South America overland

See incredible landscapes in South America (Shutterstock)

See incredible landscapes in South America (Shutterstock)

Got annual leave to burn and a love of all things Latin? Now’s the time for that South American odyssey. Whether you choose to hop around on public transport, board an overland truck or do a mix of both, the route options are almost infinite; expect border hold-ups, landslides and bumpy roads, serendipitous encounters, warm camaraderie and breathtaking diversity. Allow six months to make a comprehensive circuit, taking in everything from Colombian coast to Amazon jungle, Inca ruins, Andean highlands, Argentinian pampa and Brazilian carnival spirit.

Or how about… Cairo to Cape Town, another continent-spanning adventure, doable in around four months by overland truck or reeeally long cycle (the annual Tour d’Afrique covers 11,000km).

2. Climb Kilimanjaro the slow way

Kilimanjaro (Sarah Baxter)

Kilimanjaro (Sarah Baxter)

Summitting Africa’s highest peak is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, so do it properly. Rather than rushing to the top (and risking not making it at all), use the Northern Circuit route, which spends nine days on the mountain (as opposed to a more common five or six), allowing more time for acclimatization. The Northern Circuit is by far the quietest trail too – around 2% of Kili climbers use it – but has one of the highest success rates and arguably the best views: starting from the westerly Londorossi Gate, the route heads clockwise around Kili’s little-visited northern slopes to approach the 5,895m summit from the east, looping right around the mountain.

Or how about… Morocco’s Mount Toubkal (4,167m) or Argentina’s Aconcagua (6,962m) are classic trekkable highs. For an offbeat option, try Pakistan’s Rush Peak (5,098m) – on a clear day, K2 can be seen from the top.

3. Flee to the South Pacific

Ahu Akivi, Easter Island (Shutterstock)

Ahu Akivi, Easter Island (Shutterstock)

There’s getting away from it all. And then there’s the South Pacific. These far-flung specks scattered across the biggest ocean are about as remote as it’s possible to get. So, when borders reopen, escape from everything on an ambitious island hop. Pristine Palau is a diving paradise. Samoa is renowned for its authentic Polynesian culture – locals still live by Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan Way). Kiribati, in particular, is one of the world’s most isolated countries – take flights and ferries between the nation’s 33 atolls to swim, surf, explore Second World War history and join locals for botaki (feasts).

Or how about… St Helena – while the South Atlantic island’s become more accessible since the opening of its airport in 2017, it remains a most isolated and intriguing outpost.

4. Campervan across the USA

Monument Valley, Arizona (Shutterstock)

Monument Valley, Arizona (Shutterstock)

After a long period of confinement, the idea of hitting the open road has never seemed more appealing. So plot a motorhome road-trip in the USA to combine freedom of exploration and the safety of your own space. The country is ideally set up for this; as well as RV parks with all mod-cons, there are thousands of free campsites strewn across the country’s federally-owned wildernesses. These sites can be rustic but offer legal wild camping in mind-blowing locations. Pick your route to suit your interests – lakes and mountains? National monuments? Movie locations? – set your GPS to ‘avoid highways’ and off you go.

Or how about… Norway – with its combination of natural drama, excellent roads and enshrined allemannsretten (the right to roam), it’s an RV-ers dream.

5. Take a philosophical journey in Japan

Nara, Japan (Shutterstock)

Nara, Japan (Shutterstock)

Heaven knows we could all do with some emotional succour right now, so to take your next trip to a higher spiritual level, try Japan. Learn about its concepts of wabi-sabi (acceptance of imperfection) and onkochishin (finding new wisdom in old ways). Then try Zen meditation at a Kyoto temple, follow the Kumano Kodo pilgrim trails, join Mount Yoshino’s yamabushi priests for morning meditation, converse with monks at Nagano’s Zenko-ji, walk amid the Shinto shrines of Ise and calm yourself with a spot of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) in a country over two-thirds cloaked in trees.

Or how about… The Camino de Santiago – 2021 is a holy year, likely to draw many pilgrims; join them on the popular Camino Frances route, or find solitude on a little-walked alternative such as the Camino de la Plata, which approaches Santiago de Compostela from Seville.

6. Immerse yourself in indigenous Australia

Traditional Aboriginal art (Dreamstime)

Traditional Aboriginal art (Dreamstime)

Interested in human history? Then plunge its depths. Indigenous Australians are thought to have roamed the country for around 50,000 years, the oldest known civilisation on the planet. To engage with Aboriginal groups now, on sensitive, ethical tours, is to reconnect with ancient times, when people lived in harmony with the earth. Visit Arnhem Land, in north-east Northern Territory – this vast, rugged swathe of verdant rainforest, savannah woodland, soaring escarpments and saltwater crocs is only accessible with permission from the Yolngu, the traditional landowners, and is rich in rock art sites.

Or how about… Ethiopia – some of the earliest remains of human ancestors have been discovered here while fascinating living cultures abound, from the ancient Christian practices of Lalibela to the tribes of the Omo Valley.

7. Cross Canada

Athabasca Glacier (Dreamstime)

Athabasca Glacier (Dreamstime)

Go WIDE Cross Canada It’s no mean feat, traversing the world’s second-largest country, but there are multiple ways to achieve it, depending on your time limits and spirit of adventure. Boarding The Canadian train, which runs Toronto-Vancouver, is an easy way to watch most of the nation roll by, over four days. A drive from the fishing villages of Nova Scotia to the BC coast, via Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, First Nations sites and endless prairie, could take a month or more. Hiking the 27,000km Great Trail – which connects all 13 provinces and territories – will take considerably longer…

Or how about… Slicing across Russia, the biggest country of all, aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway – it’s a seven day, 9,257km journey from Moscow to Vladivostok.

8. Eat through Italy

Gelato (Shutterstock)

Gelato (Shutterstock)

Italy rewards those who travel at a gentler pace – especially those who like to travel through their stomachs. This is the home of the Slow Food movement, which encourages the embracing of, and gorging on, traditional, regional cuisine, following recipes passed down from nona to nona. Explore with your tastebuds to see how the menu changes between areas, or even villages. Or stay in one region – perhaps Piedmont (birthplace of Slow Food), Emilia-Romagna (ragù, balsamic, prosciutto) or Puglia (the epitome of cucina povera) – and enrol in a cooking school to learn some skills for yourself.

Or how about… Andalucía, Spain – walking between the white villages and jámon producers, the sun-scorched slopes and tapas bars, makes for a delicious dawdle.

9. Train to be a ranger in South Africa

Bird life near Table Mountain, South Africa (Shutterstock)

Bird life near Table Mountain, South Africa (Shutterstock)

To fully immerse yourself in the African bush, to better understand what makes the lion roar and the springbok spring, how to retreat from a charging rhino and identify animals from their poop, enrol in safari school. Prospective rangers and interested amateurs alike can sign up for bush skills training at game reserves throughout South Africa. The serious could aim for a Field Guide Association of Southern Africa Grade 1 qualification, which gives insight into everything from astronomy and ecology to tagging and conservation. Shorter options include a six-day Wilderness Trails course, which is all about connecting meaningfully with the bush.

Or how about… The Scottish Highlands – learn outdoor skills closer to home, from glen navigation to spoon whittling, wildlife tracking and campfire cooking.

10. Trace the Silk Route

Discover China's Silk Road (Dreamstime)

Discover China's Silk Road (Dreamstime)

There’s no one Silk Road, so plotting an adventure around this legendary trade network is both challenging, inspiring and liberating. Simply, start in Istanbul and pick your own way east. You might delight in the cities of Uzbekistan, do some browsing at Kashgar’s Sunday market, trace Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway, hike up into the little-trodden mountains of Kyrgyzstan, follow bits of China’s Great Wall or seek out old bazaars and caravanserais strewn across Central Asia.

Or how about… Sailing around the world. No yacht, no problem – earn a basic sailing qualification for the chance to become a crew member on a circumnavigating vessel.

11. Track snow leopards in India

A snow leopardess with her cub (Shutterstock)

A snow leopardess with her cub (Shutterstock)

Up your animal game by setting your sights on spotting one of the world’s rarest creatures. It’s thought only 5,000 or so snow leopards exist in the wild, across Central Asia. But heading into certain areas, at certain times, with great guides and expert trackers, ups your chances of a glimpse. Winter expeditions into Ladakh’s Hemis National Park are especially good; while there, you might also see Asiatic ibex and Himalayan wolf. Mongolia’s far-far-faraway Khovd province and the Darvaz range of Tajikistan are remoter alternatives.

Or how about… The Brazilian Pantanal, the best place to see the mighty jaguar.

12. Spot blue whales in Sri Lanka

A whale off Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

A whale off Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

Super-size your forthcoming travels by focusing on the planet’s biggest creatures, in a country of modest proportions but enormous diversity. Sri Lanka has lush tea plantations, Buddhist culture, colonial remnants, ruined ancient cities, idyllic beaches, high peaks and national parks teeming with life. It also happens to be one of the best places to glimpse blue whales. Cruise off Mirissa between December and April and you have a high chance of seeing these 30m-long leviathans close to shore, as well as sperm, humpback and Bryde’s. These dry season months are ideal for looking for leopards in Yala, too.

Or how about… The Azores are also excellent for spotting blues – the whales migrate past the Atlantic archipelago each spring.

13. Celebrate the arts in Austria

Vienna State Opera at night, Vienna, Austria (Shutterstock)

Vienna State Opera at night, Vienna, Austria (Shutterstock)

Music can move us like little else; it transcends time and language, and can transport us to new worlds even when we’re stuck at home. But it’s also worth travelling for. Last year would have marked the 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival, one of the world’s most glorious galas of performing arts, held in the city of Mozart’s birth (and, of course, the city of The Sound of Music). The planned centenary celebrations have been rescheduled for the 2021 edition instead – due to be held 17 July- 31 August – alongside a matchless programme of opera, orchestras, drama, church choirs, chamber concerts and more.

Or how about… Hitting the American South – Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans – to take a legendary road-trip through the spiritual home of blues, jazz, country, rock ’n’ roll and soul.

14. Cycle the length of New Zealand

A cyclist in New Zealand's Southern Alps (Shutterstock)

A cyclist in New Zealand's Southern Alps (Shutterstock)

Discovered a love of cycling during lockdown? Then take your new hobby to the extreme by riding an almighty trail – like top-to-tail in New Zealand. The Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail is a network of 22 Great Rides, totalling 2,500km. Piece some of them together, with joining bits in between, and you could pedal from Kaitaia, at the north of North Island, to Bluff at the south of the South. Alternatively, tackle a few sections – perhaps start with the flat, traffic-free Otago Central Rail Trail (152km) before building up to tougher rides, like the Alps 2 Ocean, a 322km adventure from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the Pacific.

Or how about… Western Australia’s Munda Biddi Trail, a 1,000km off-road in-nature cycle trail from Mundaring to Albany.

15. Appreciate Moorish architecture in Granada

Alhambra in Granada, Spain (Shutterstock)

Alhambra in Granada, Spain (Shutterstock)

Safe to say, we’re all pretty fed up with our own four walls by now. If only we had these walls… Granada’s Alhambra Palace, built largely between the mid-13th and mid-14th centuries, is the pinnacle of Moorish artistry, an exquisite confection of glazed tiles, geometric carvings, delicate marquetry, fine stucco, intricate muqarnas (honeycomb-like vaulting), tinkling fountains, marble patios and glittering pools. Every nook, niche and cranny of this Spanish palace-fortress displays some sort of architectural flourish, while the air is scented with jasmine and orange trees. To visit is to refresh your view of interiors entirely, and to be wowed by the beauty of what humankind can achieve.

Or how about… Palermo, Sicily, which – given its strategic location in the middle of the Med – has long been a fascinating fusion of cultures and artistic styles.

16. Take on Bhutan's snowman

Punakha Dzong monastery (Shutterstock)

Punakha Dzong monastery (Shutterstock)

They reckon more people have reached the summit of Mount Everest than have done the Snowman Trek. Taking four weeks to complete, it’s one of toughest Himalayan hikes around, traversing an extraordinarily remote and pristine region – mountaineering above 6,000m is illegal in Bhutan, so many of the peaks beneath which you’re walking have never been climbed. The route is magnificent, crossing high passes, skirting the Tibetan border and encountering yak herders, Buddhist shrines and hardy villages... but few other trekkers.

Or how about… The Great Himalaya Trail – if time and fitness really are no issue, go for this 4,500km route right across Nepal; shorter sections are also possible.

17. Get multi-active in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park (Costa Rica Tourist Board)

Manuel Antonio National Park (Costa Rica Tourist Board)

There’s no need to settle on one type of adventure. Dial your escapades up to 11 on a multi-active trip that involves a bit of everything, from treks and climbs to pedals, paddles, swims, surfs, snorkels, spelunks and more. Costa Rica is supremely well set up for varied trips: its combination of excellent infrastructure and untamed terrain equals accessible adrenalin. You can even cross the entire (admittedly skinny) country under your own steam, combining hiking, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking to get from Pacific to Caribbean coast.

Or how about… Slovenia, where you can raft the Soca River, hike the Julian Alps, paddle on Lake Bled and bike all over.

18. Stay at home with the tribe in Ecuador

A woman selling traditional fabrics (Shutterstock)

A woman selling traditional fabrics (Shutterstock)

Fleeting glimpses of local cultures can be fascinating. But to gain a more thorough understanding, stay longer. You’ll be helping by ploughing tourist dollars into the local economy too. There are community-based ecotourism projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon that are well set up for visitors, and where you stay a week or more, sleeping in thatched huts, travelling by dug-out canoe, eating (and helping prepare) traditional foods, and learning about everything from jungle animals to medicinal plants and shaman rituals.

Or how about… Malaysian Borneo – stay with the Rungus or Iban, bed down in longhouses, gain cultural insights, drink rice wine.

19. Explore Iceland

A geyser in Iceland (Shutterstock)

A geyser in Iceland (Shutterstock)

While no two places are exactly the same, some are utterly unlike anywhere else at all – such as Iceland. This rambunctious, otherworldly young island continues its development right before your eyes: you can see its growing pains as the geysers belch, plates shift and volcanoes spew. Thus, planning a big trip here is a guaranteed break from the old routine. Hire a car or camper and circuit the whole country via the 1,300km Ring Road, stopping off to investigate bird-busy sea cliffs, weird lava flows, thunderous waterfalls, ice caves and glaciers, barely visited fjords and pitch-black beaches.

Or how about… North Korea – another candidate for ‘most unique’, albeit for very different reasons.

20. Safari in extra style in East Africa

See gorillas in the wild (Shutterstock)

See gorillas in the wild (Shutterstock)

Sometimes it’s worth splashing the cash – not for gold-plated taps in your hotel bathroom, but to access the most astonishing locations. For instance, you might pay more to stay in an exclusive lodge in a private conservancy in East Africa – perhaps on the edge of Kenya’s Masai Mara or adjacent to the Serengeti – but you’ll often get excellent game-viewing, greater privacy and the opportunity for more diverse experiences not allowed in national parks, such as bush walking, night drives, camel treks or bike rides.

Or how about… British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest – the best lodges in this mindbendingly vast tract of wilderness are not cheap but are supremely sited for wildlife encounters, including with rare cream-white spirit bears.

21. Head for the South Pole

Lemaire strait coast, Antarctica (Shutterstock)

Lemaire strait coast, Antarctica (Shutterstock)

Trips don’t get much bigger than travelling to the ends of the earth. Fewer than 500 people a year set foot on the South Pole itself – it’s possible (if pricey) to mount an expedition there, by plane or on skis. Alternatively, get close-ish aboard a cruise ship that crosses the invisible line at 66°S, entering the Antarctic Circle. Few vessels make it this far, but those that do have the chance to sail beneath the midnight sun, cross ice-littered Crystal Sound and squeeze through the narrow Gullet Channel to reach remote Marguerite Bay.

Or how about… The North Pole instead. Expedition cruises navigate to 90°N and let you disembark onto the nearest patch of ice.

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