When you bump into giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies while strolling the sand, it’s no ordinary beach vacation. And the extraordinary is what visiting the Galapagos is all about. Spot unique species, snorkel with sea lions, hike a volcano—life as you know it seems very far away.
Transformative trips like following in Darwin’s footsteps expand your global perspective and prompt you to reevaluate what really matters. Some life-changing trips are about visiting an iconic place in person. Others make their impact through authentic experiences, local connections, and cultural insights.
“A person cannot have a trip of a lifetime unless they open their mind,” says Thomas Stanley, COO of luxury trip planner Cox & Kings, The Americas. “The most thrilling locations can fall flat without the willingness to be spontaneous. It is exceptional moments—seeing a cheetah being born, a true lifetime friendship being established across languages and cultures—that make travel great.”
On Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, for instance, you can base yourself at a working vineyard, indulge in ice cream topped with shaved truffles, meet with local winemakers, and learn how to properly taste olive oil—with the help of bespoke tour operator Tasteful Croatian Journeys. Travel companies can be instrumental in getting you insider access, but the right attitude toward the new and unknown is at least as important.
Katrina Garnett, a California-based entrepreneur who, with her family, has traveled to many of the spots on our list, adds that grand, once-in-a-lifetime trips “allow us to stretch, go beyond limits and face fears—or conquer them.” During one South American journey, one of her children faced his fear of heights during an Amazon ziplining experience—“and came back with a big grin, and no more fear of heights! Families that travel together develop lifelong bonds that don’t easily happen any other way.”
No matter what your reasons for traveling, our slideshow is sure to inspire at least one life-changing journey. Just bring your camera—and a willingness to let go.