5 Epic Trips You Can Plan and Book Years in Advance

These once-in-a-lifetime trips require careful advance planning.

Sunset at savannah plains in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya
Photo: Getty Images

What are your long-term travel plans? COVID-19 is not forever, yet for many it's still making it complicated to plan a faraway trip. So why not extend your horizons and allow yourself to think about the epic trips you want to take some day? Then get planning!

Here are six incredible once-in-a-lifetime trips you can research, plan, and even book years in advance.

How to Plan a Cruise Around Antarctica

Cruise ship in Antarctica
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

It's the coldest, most hostile continent on the planet, and yet ice-covered Antarctica is an absolute must on any travel wish list. It's expensive. Really expensive. Yet exploring the "Great White Open" is not difficult thanks to a cruising industry that has made one- and two-week itineraries routine. Generally booked at least a year in advance, cruises usually begin in the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia in Argentina. You then generally make stops at the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Shetlands, and the Antarctic Peninsula (the more you pay, the more places you visit and the longer the trip takes). At each stop you head out in a zodiac (an inflatable boat) to watch wildlife, reach land to snowshoe, or visit research stations, and even go polar diving.

The price is also determined by the luxuries on board the ship and the size of your cabin. This is not your average luxury cruise; expect scientific lectures and learning rather than buffets and bands. Choose an expedition vessel with a capacity of less than 250 passengers to limit the environmental impact.

How to Plan a Trip to Experience a Total Solar Eclipse

The sun emerges from behind the moon as people watch the total solar eclipse from El Molle, Chile, on July 2, 2019.
STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

Did you witness nature's greatest experience during the "Great American Eclipse" in 2017? Although the entire country saw the moon take a chunk out of the sun, only the 10 million or so clued-up Americans who drove into the "path of totality" stretching from Oregon to South Carolina witnessed the full experience.

What's the fuss about? And when is the next eclipse? During the few minutes of totality the world goes cold and dark only for those under the moon's narrow (about 70 miles wide) and fast-moving shadow. Most incredibly you'll see the sun's corona — its whispy, white, achingly beautiful outer atmosphere. You'll get the shivers. You may even sob.

The phenomenon next happens in Antarctica (just close to South Shetland) on Dec. 4, 2021. After that it's the whale shark-watching paradise of Exmouth Peninsula and Ningaloo reef off Western Australia's Coral Coast on April 20, 2023 before, once again, North America gets a turn. On April 8, 2024, a long, deep total solar eclipse unlike anything seen in North America for centuries will rip through Mexico (with Mazatlán being the prime spot), the U.S. (Texas to Maine — passing right over Niagara Falls) and Canada (Ontario to Newfoundland). Are you ready for the "Great North American Eclipse?" It's time to choose a spot.

How to Plan a Galápagos Islands Cruise

Tourists sitting in Zodiac boat are taking pictures of Darwin Arch in Galapagos Islands.
Getty Images

One of the best places to go for animal encounters, Ecuador's Galápagos Islands — visited by Charles Darwin in 1835, which inspired his theory of evolution — are home to some of the most unique species in the world. So how do you organize a Galápagos cruise to see sea lions, blue footed boobies, flamingos, penguins, and giant tortoises?

Tasked with protecting one of the planet's last remaining pristine wildlife refuges, Galápagos National Park keeps visitors off most of the islands, only allowing excursions to the likes of Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. However, with around 220,000 visitors per year, Galápagos National Park now also limits tourism numbers and the types of tourist boats that are allowed to operate in the area to avoid overcrowding. So be flexible with dates when booking, and know that most visitors come in July and August.

How to Plan an East African Safari

Lion near safari truck, South Africa
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An East African safari is a must-do at least once in your life, but if you're only going to go once there's a lot to pack in. For those after the "big five" (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), a visit to Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve is essential, of course, but don't overlook the plains of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania; together they make up the 11,500-square-mile Serengeti ecosystem.

It's through this vast corridor that the Great Wildebeest Migration of 1.5 million creatures take place, but it's an all-year event: the risky river crossings occur in July and August, while from January to March wildebeest calves are born in the southern Serengeti. The latter includes the incredible Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a large volcanic caldera teeming with wildlife.

Sunset at savannah plains in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya
Getty Images

Other game reserves, scenic stop-offs, luxury lodges, and add-on experiences are usually included to fill up (and add sparkle to) itineraries, which typically involve a driver taking you on a round-trip from Nairobi (Kenya) or Arusha (Tanzania). Hot air ballooning is an obvious example, but there's also the tempting prospect of a side visit to Rwanda or Uganda to trek to see mountain gorillas … not to mention plenty of other African countries to take a safari.

How to Plan a Road Trip on Historic Route 66

Drone view of American car driving in a straight road of the famous Route 66.
Artur Debat/Getty Images

Did you ever plan to motor west? The 2,448-mile journey from Chicago to LA along what's also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the "Mother Road," and "America's Main Street," is one of America's most iconic drives. Along remnants of a now almost obliterated historic highway, the original Route 66 — designated in 1926 — begins at a sign on Adams Street, Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, cuts through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.

Decommissioned in 1986, actually traveling on the original Route 66 means taking detours and can be long-winded (you can use Interstates to cut out sections and make up some time), but in any case this trip is mostly about the deliciously American towns, cities, and attractions along the way. Examples include the Route 66 Drive-in for 1950s-style movies in Springfield, Illinois, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and the bizarre Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Detours not counted, the drive takes about two weeks. Here's where and when to go and how much it costs to do Route 66.

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