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7 Bucket List Trips You Can Start Planning Now

People in a safari vehicle taking pictures of a mother elephant and her two babies.
Thomas Dekiere/Shutterstock

Traveling might still be a ways off for many people, but there are some trips you can (and should) start researching now. These seven bucket list vacations are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for most, so you’ll want to plan now to make sure everything goes smoothly.

You can start researching and booking the trips below up to a year in advance, and you’ll be glad you did! The more you can preplan, the more smoothly things will go on your trip, so you’ll be sure to have an experience to remember.

An African Safari

A male and female lion and a safari jeep in the background.
Ana Gram/Shutterstock

An African safari is a bucket list vacation for many people. It’s a unique way to see a variety of wildlife, while feeling like you’re on a different planet. For most travelers, a trip to Africa means coordinating multiple long-haul flights and figuring out how to get to remote destinations from the airport.

You’ll want to schedule at least two weeks of vacation to account for the long travel times and the extensive landscapes your tours will be covering. Put in your vacation request early to make sure you get the time off from work that you’re hoping for.

Availability is another reason to plan early. Many safaris operate in small groups, so that luxury tour you’ve been eyeing may only have 20 or so spots available during any given time period. This is a trip you want to be perfect, so book your tour 6-12 months in advance, especially when traveling during the summer or holidays.

If there are certain animals you want to see on your trip, you’ll need to research when you are most likely to see them in the wild and plan around that time period.

Vaccines are also required for some countries. Several African countries require proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine for entry. You’ll want plenty of time to find a clinic and schedule the shot in advance of your trip.

Machu Picchu

Llama standing at Machu Picchu.
Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

In an effort to preserve the natural landscape and ruins, Peru only allows 500 visitors per day on the Inca Trail. This includes tour guides and porters, which brings the number of tourists down quite a bit. Tours and passes sell out 8-9 months in advance during the high season, so book early to secure your spot. A larger number of tourists are allowed to visit the ruins (sans Inca Trail hike) each day, but those spots can fill up, too.

There are two main ways to visit Machu Picchu: Hike the Inca Trail or take a train from Cusco directly to the famous ruins. If choosing the former, you’ll want to train for the multiday journey by hiking regularly for several months beforehand. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete, but the trip will be significantly easier (and more enjoyable) if you’re in good hiking shape.

In both cases, you will want to plan some additional time in Peru to adjust to the altitude. The elevation of Cusco (the closest city to Machu Picchu where most tours depart from) is over 11,000 feet above sea level.

Altitude sickness can quickly ruin your trip, so plan to arrive in Cusco one or two days before departing on a tour or for the ruins. If you want to take a multiday tour through Peru, research until you find a company that allows plenty of time for you to acclimate. You should also check out these other ways to avoid getting sick while traveling.

A Cruise of Antarctica

Cruise ship in Antarctica.

An expedition to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many travelers, and it should be planned at least one year in advance, if not more. For starters, you’ll want to secure a spot on the cruise ship you want to take. You’ll be spending 6 to 24 days on it, so make sure you select a ship with all the amenities and comforts you desire.

You’ll also need to book early to get a coveted middle-of-the-boat room, which is smoother in the rocky seas. These cruises usually don’t hold many people and only run during certain months of the year. Most sell out 9-12 months in advance.

This life-changing trip is also one of the most expensive you’ll come across. Plan on spending about $10,000 per person, depending on the length and type of accommodations. This expense doesn’t include getting to the southernmost tip of Argentina, which can also be costly.

Planning well in advance will give you time to save some extra money. You might be able to find some last-minute deals for flights, but book in advance to save the most money on the cruise.

Gorilla Trekking

A mother and baby gorilla in the jungle.
Kiki Dohmeier/Shutterstock

Trekking through the jungle to see gorillas in the wild will be one of the coolest things you’ll ever do in your life. You can only do it in three countries (Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo), and only a small number of people are allowed to hike per day.

Additionally, each traveler must secure a permit for each day they want to see gorillas. Although most tour companies will help you acquire these, they are in high demand and sell out months in advance. If you aren’t flexible with your dates, book your tour 6 to 12 months ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Similarly to a safari, you’ll need to plan a multi-flight journey to get to one of these eastern African countries. Consider building in some extra time on your trip to recover from jet lag before you head out to see the wildlife.

Disney World

Entrance to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FLorida.
Jerome LABOUYRIE/Shutterstock

If it’s your first time visiting, you’ll want to start planning your Walt Disney World trip about a year in advance. Popular hotels and tours (like feeding rhinos in Animal Kingdom) sell out that far in advance.

You’ll also want your entire plan solidified at least six months in advance to book popular restaurants. Reservations can be made 180 days in advance, and some of the most popular dining experiences (like eating inside Cinderella’s castle) are gone within minutes.

Planning early also gives you more opportunities to snag a discount on your trip, which will help offset the exorbitant costs that often accompany a visit to WDW. Disney will usually honor new discounts even after you have purchased full-priced tickets.

It’s not uncommon for a Disney World trip to leave you completely exhausted at the end (especially if you’re traveling with a baby or toddler). You might want to plan a day or two of extra time off at the end to recover at home before heading back to work.

European Christmas Markets

Christmas market in Prague.

Every year after Thanksgiving, dozens of cities across Europe set up giant Christmas markets in town squares and public parks. No one does Christmas quite like Europe, so this is a great trip for fans of the season. To avoid record-high plane tickets and hotels, book as much as you can early to get a good deal and stay within your budget.

Need some suggestions? The celebration in Basel, Switzerland, is often referred to as the best of the best. The entire town seems to be draped in twinkling lights and the streets are lined with dozens of pine trees. You can check out some other Swiss sights while you’re there.

Vienna, Austria, is another must-see destination that features delicious treats and activities like workshops and a carousel. The country is very safe and a great destination for a trip with kids. Virtually every country in Europe has some sort of Christmas market, so you have plenty of options to choose from.

A Cruise of the Galápagos

Five sea lions on the beach.
Brendan van Son/Shutterstock

Similar to other tours, only a limited number of people can visit the Galápagos Islands at a time to protect the vast array of wildlife and endangered species there. Book a year in advance to make sure you get the ship and all the stops you want. You’ll want a small cruise for a more intimate experience, and these often sell out six to nine months in advance.

These cruises can also get pricey because of the remote location and limited access. While you can plan a trip on your own, it can be difficult finding lodging and transportation on and between the islands. A cruise gives you more time to enjoy the flora and fauna by snorkeling, bird-watching, hiking, and more. Be prepared to see iguanas, penguins, sea lions, and flamingos, to name a few.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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