The best birthday gifts aren’t things, they’re experiences. And while you might be getting things from your friends and family, don’t forget that it’s okay to treat yourself to a birthday present every few years – in particular, for the big ones.
Whether you’re turning 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60, there’s a great destination waiting to be discovered. Here are our favorite countries to visit to celebrate a big milestone.
When You Turn 20
Your twenties are about finding yourself. Most people get out of high school and haven’t traveled internationally, so it can often be an eye-opening time to explore.
Wherever you decide to go, you should prepare yourself for a bit of culture shock. Don’t look at it as a scary thing, look at it as an exciting thing. Place yourself in a new situation that you’re unfamiliar with, with new challenges and new perspectives, and get lost in it all. To quote Anthony Bourdain:
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
Where to visit
Our travel editors recommend visiting somewhere completely different from where you grew up. Try to find a destination with a different culture, different religion, and different cuisine. Vietnam, Colombia, Peru, and Bali are all great starting points. But if we had to pick one destination to recommend for someone celebrating their 20th birthday, it would be in the Land of Smiles: Thailand.
1. A New Culture
Thailand is likely very different from where you grew up. It’s a land of new sights, new smells, new food, and new adventures.
2. Friendly People
Thailand is nicknamed the Land of Smiles for a reason. The people are extremely friendly, willing to lend a hand to a lost traveler or provide a recommendation along the way. And while they practice a religion and speak a language that may be foreign to you, English will get you by in almost all situations. This makes it perfect for someone looking for a new experience, without being too overwhelming.
3. The Price is Right
Your dollar likely goes a long way in Thailand. Let’s face it: when you turn 20, you don’t have the most disposable income. This makes Thailand a great destination for budget travelers who want to maximize their travel dollars.
4. It’s a Whole Lot of Fun
No one ever came back from Thailand and said they had a boring time. You’re going to meet plenty of other amazing travelers your age in Thailand, which just adds to the experience.
When You Turn 30
Hopefully, by the time you’ve turned 30, you’ve seen a bit of the world. 30 is a great age for a big trip. You’ve likely got a bit more money, a bit more wisdom, and a bit more confidence that you can navigate the world on your own.
Where to visit
The world is your oyster at this point. If you don’t have kids yet, consider celebrating 30 by taking a trip that might be a bit more difficult with children. For this reason, we recommend spots like Jordan, China, bucket list trips like climbing Kilimanjaro, and our favorite destination to celebrate 30: India.
It’s bustling with life. India is best done in parts – start with Northern India and experience the famous Golden Triangle – Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. We’d also recommend visiting Jodhpur (the blue city) and Varanasi, the religious center of the country. Other reasons to visit in your 30’s:
1. You’ll Learn Things That Will Stay With You For Years to Come
Anyone who visits India will learn a lot about themselves, why not learn when you’re young so that you can keep that wisdom with you for years to come. There are very few places in the world that can teach you about perspective like visiting India will.
2. Luxury Isn’t Out of Reach
If you need a break from the crowds, it doesn’t take much to get into some really nice accommodations in India. We’d recommend alternating your lodging between chain and boutique hotels, depending on your travel style.
3. If Not Now, When?
Traveling to India is kind of like skydiving. It’s one of those things that travelers often say they’d like to do, but never get around to doing. You need to take the opportunity while you’re young and able. Otherwise, in your later years, you could convince yourself the trip is too daunting.
When You Turn 40
Celebrate your 40th birthday by visiting somewhere at the top of your bucket list. That destination that’s been calling you but has somehow escaped you for 40 years. Don’t take anything for granted – if you want to see a country, go now. It could be a family holiday, a solo trip, or a couples trip – just make sure it excites you. 40 is a big birthday, you deserve a big trip.
Where to visit
The destinations that sit at the top of your bucket list could vary wildly from the norm, but most people have France, Spain, Australia, or Japan near the top. If you ask travel agents or others who have traveled extensively, one country comes up over and over again though. For 40, we recommend visiting New Zealand.
Why New Zealand?
It’s far away, it’s enchanting, it’s elusive. New Zealand is a world away from ordinary, and the perfect place to celebrate a big birthday.
1. The Wine
If you’re not celebrating your 40th birthday with a nice glass of wine, you’re not doing it right. Do not pass go – head back to 30 and start over. New Zealand is home to some of the most amazing wines in the world. Indulge a little.
2. The Distance
That might sound like a negative to you, but remember: good things come with a bit of effort. New Zealand is another one of those places that can escape North American or European travelers just based on the distance alone. Don’t fall into this category. Use 40 as the justification for sitting on a 17-hour flight. It goes by faster than you’d think.
3. It’s Breathtakingly Beautiful
Bring your camera. Better yet bring your camera, your iPhone, your GoPro, and your drone. You still won’t be able to capture the beauty of Milford Sound.
When You Turn 50
They say life doesn’t start until after 50, so turn up the experiences and celebrate with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ve likely put a good amount of effort into raising kids at this point, it’s time to focus on yourself for a change on this vacation.
Where to visit
When we say once-in-a-lifetime, we mean it. Aim for experiential travel here. Some choose to stay on a stilted hut in Bora Bora, others rent a ski-chalet in the Swiss Alps, but for us, there’s one experience that stands out above the rest: a South African Safari.
Why South Africa?
The southernmost country in Africa has something for everyone, especially if you love wildlife.
1. The Big 5
You can still see the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, cape-buffalo) on safari in South Africa, which is one reason tourists love to visit. Leopard is typically the toughest to spot, so keep your eyes peeled.
2. The Water
From Cape Town you can take a day trip to Gansbaii and take a whale watching adventure you won’t soon forget. For the dare-devils, you can even go shark cage diving.
3. The Sunsets
There is no sunset in the world like the ones you’ll see in South Africa. When you’re on safari, it’s typically to stop for a “sundowner”, a drink to enjoy while you watch the sun go down. Pro tip: have a gin and tonic – the tonic keeps the mosquitos away.
When You Turn 60
60 is time to treat yourself. If you love food, go on a culinary adventure. If you love sights, book a guided tour. If you love the beach, book a relaxing vacation getaway. If you love all three, there are a few places to consider.
Where to visit
Vienna and Budapest are great places to spoil yourself, and Japan is certainly an exciting place to visit. But if you want to see the sites, taste amazing food, and relax all on the same vacation, one destination stands out above all the others: Italy.
Whatever your speed, Italy fits. It’s great for active travelers, beachgoers, and food lovers alike. From top to bottom Italy has something for everyone, whether you want to marvel at the past during a tour of Venice, Rome, and Florence or take a much needed time out in the Amalfi Coast.
1. The Food
The pasta, the pizza, the seafood, the tiramisu. Go on a diet before you visit Italy because you’re sure to come back 5 pounds heavier…if you’re lucky!
2. It’s Easy to Get Around
Flights, trains, and bus transfers are all easy to navigate in Italy. Flying into Florence or Naples and out of Rome or Venice is a sinch.
3. It’s Great All Year Round
Whether you’re visiting in the offseason, the shoulder season, or the summer months, Italy is great year-round. The beaches in the south are colder in the offseason but there’s much more room (and phenomenal savings).