There’s a big reward waiting for you in retirement: you can finally go on those trips you’ve always dreamed of, without having to worry about running out of vacation days or coming back to piles of work and an annoyed boss. Whether you want to explore never-inhabited corners of the world or visit the cradle of civilization, if you have the time, we’ve got some ideas. These are the trips we editors fantasize about taking when we retire—and that you could take today.
See the world’s southernmost continent
Take a 24-day voyage of discovery through Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands, taking in the area’s natural wonders and the creatures that call this icy corner of the world home. Departing from Buenos Aires, Argentina (if you're taking the National Geographic Explorer ship), or Santiago, Chile (for the National Geographic Orion ship), you'll stop at spots first visited by legendarily intrepid explorers like Ernest Shackleton. While on Zodiak tours and kayaking, look for humpback whales, thousands of king penguins, herds of enormous elephant seals, and the largest albatross colony in the world. And with nearly 24 hours of daylight at this time of year, you'll have plenty of time to absorb it all.
National Geographic Expeditions; departing in February and November 2016, from $22,430
Take a luxury train trip to view the country’s highlights
Spend 12 days aboard the Deccan Odyssey train—an eminently comfortable way to visit India’s greatest cultural centers. Starting in Mumbai, it will take you across the subcontinent, with stops in cities like Jaipur and Delhi, where you’ll explore ancient temples and grand palaces. Expect a visit to the Taj Mahal, a boat trip on Lake Pichola, and a stop at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, a complex of largely unexcavated historical sites that include an early Hindu hill fortress and the remains of the 16th-century capital of Gujarat.
Cox & Kings; departing regularly from October 2015, from $7,910
Kayak with whales in Baja California
In isolated Magdalena Bay, off the southern Baja California peninsula, gray whales migrate every winter to calve in a vast lagoon sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by barrier islands. Here, fit visitors can watch whales, sea lions, and dolphins while sea-kayaking for several hours a day in the company of a marine biologist. Nesting shorebirds are also on view, in the mangroves and high dunes of the Sonoran Desert wilderness. On Baja’s eastern coast, along the Sea of Cortés, empty shorelines and azure coves are backed by the towering peaks of the Sierra de la Gigante. Scientists consider this international biosphere reserve an ideal spot for close encounters, and the kayaks provide an unrivaled "sea-level" observation platform. Several different whale-watching kayak trips are offered, but a standout is the eight-day Sea of Cortez blue whale trip.
Sea Quest; departing dates from November-May upon request, from $1,399
Explore the Amazon and follow Incan trails
A motorized dugout canoe on the Madre de Dios River takes travelers to the Manu Wildlife Center, a private rain-forest camp within a 4.6 million–acre UNESCO biosphere reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. Climb a canopy platform to catch glimpses of brilliant macaws. Join naturalists on expeditions in search of giant otters and black spider monkeys. Then shift gears and head to another remarkable realm on an invigorating four-day trek along lesser-known trails in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Bilingual guides lead this high-altitude walk through colonial Andean villages and untrammeled vales dominated by soaring mountains and ice-blue lakes. After visiting Incan ruins, including Phuyupatamarca and mist-shrouded Machu Picchu, linger overnight in the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel before returning to Cuzco on the eight-day Marvels of Peru tour.
Latin Excursions; departing dates upon request, from $5,495
Immerse yourself in imperial treasures
Begin in Moscow with a viewing of jeweled Easter eggs and regal ball gowns at the Kremlin, and then journey back even further in time, to 12th-century Russia, with a driving tour through rustic Vladimir and Suzdal, in the Golden Ring. Once the home of 15 monasteries, Suzdal still has five—you can visit them all—and the town’s kremlin too. As the final stop of the 10-day Hidden Russia trip, fly to St. Petersburg and see the stars of the Mariinsky Ballet company perform in the neoclassical theater built by Catherine the Great. Take a tour of the Grand Palace of Peterhof and explore the treasures hidden in the Hermitage’s off-limits storage rooms.
Exeter International; departing monthly, from $7,975
Learn how to make your own royal cuisine
While enjoying the luxury of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, try out the daily classes at the hotel’s Lanna-style cooking school (pictured above), focusing on the distinctive dishes of this northern city, a favored summer retreat of Thai royalty. When the cooking class ends, you can also take an optional fruit-carving session to learn this traditional Thai skill. Leave a fruit offering at the little spirit-house outside the traditional teak pavilion before preparing curry noodle soup with chicken and dry-spiced pork with pickled garlic. Help harvest rice in the paddies surrounding the resort, and then donate it to the monks at nearby Wat Pa Dara Piram, one of Chiang Mai’s more than 300 Buddhist temples. Rise early one morning to visit the "wet market" stalls crowded with spices. Take a riverboat to the Four Seasons’ tent camp in the Golden Triangle, where mahouts (drivers) teach guests how to ride friendly elephants along jungle trails.
Four Seasons; packages from $660 per night
North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East
Follow in the steps of ancient traders
Retrace the silk roads and caravan routes of the world’s first merchant princes to magnificent Byzantine cities and remote Saharan outposts, sailing the Nile aboard a custom-built cruiser and sleeping in the Sahara in desert-tented camps along the way. In Egypt, accompanied by seasoned Abercrombie & Kent guides, you’ll descend into the tombs of Nefertari and Seti I, and visit the Giza Plateau and the Museum of Antiquities. Feast Bedouin-style in the Jordanian desert; marvel at Petra, the lost city of Nabataean traders; explore biblical sites in Israel. Then it’s on to Morocco, where you can check out the medieval medina in Fez, and the famed markets of Marrakech.
Abercrombie & Kent; departing monthly, from $6,995 for a 12-day itinerary