Many people put off traveling until they’re retired, thinking they’ll have more money saved up by then to afford it. But the truth is, traveling doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. Many places require physical endurance, from climbing the ancient steps of the Acropolis to hiking the rocky Inca city of Machu Picchu, in Peru.
“Our advice for any bucket-list traveler is to do the most difficult destination as early as possible,” said Matthew Ma, co-founder of the airfare deals site The Flight Deal. “We have seen older travelers have a harder time keeping up.”
None of us are getting any younger, so why put your dreams off? We’ve rounded up 50 destinations to inspire you to fill up your passport, none of which will break your budget or land you in debt. (You can check how your habits are affecting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com. Reviewing your scores won’t hurt them one bit and is a great way to manage your finances.)
Be sure to also check out our roundups for great airline miles cards and hotel rewards cards, which can help you put your spending to use. Just remember not to go overboard so you don’t lose your earnings to high interest or rack up unwanted debt. The last thing you want is to return home to an eye-popping credit card bill.
Now, read on for our top destinations to visit before you turn 50.
The 49th state is the last frontier in North America. With fewer than 800,000 people living across the state’s more than 660,000 square miles, it’s one of the easiest places in the world to quite literally get away from it all. One option for visiting is by taking an Alaskan cruise, as you’ll get to see several places throughout the state. If that’s the route you take, make sure you read up on these 10 things to know before you book a cruise.
2. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires has it all, from splashy street art and graffiti to upscale white-tablecloth restaurants. If the sensual moves of the tango don’t get you, the buttery steak surely will. (Don Julio Parrilla serves some of the juiciest steaks we’ve had in our lives.)
3. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
If you make it to Australia, it’s easy to spend all your time at the country’s pristine beaches, especially around Sydney or Brisbane. But if you’ve gone to the effort of taking that lengthy flight from the U.S., you might as well spend a couple of days venturing around the country’s hot, red center, where Uluru rises more than 1,000 feet out of the desert.
4. Napa Valley, California
Grab your fellow wine geek and head to the valley in the beginning of harvest season, when the cabernet, chardonay and pinot grapes are picked. A bike tour is a great way to take advantage of the area’s rolling scenery.
5. San Francisco
Come for the photos of Queen Anne houses (as seen in the “Full House” opening credits); stay for excellent espresso at Four Barrel Coffee and some of the best Chinese street food. Bringing coffee back home? Here’s why that’s a smart decision.
The laid-back home of the late Leonard Cohen has design-forward shopping, cheesy poutine and some of the best bagels outside New York City. What more could you want? (Well, besides warmer weather.)
Montreal and Vancouver may get all the love, but Toronto is becoming a premier Canadian city in its own right. Hit the Junction, a former industrial area, for hip bars, live music and coffee shops. Then marvel at the reopened Queens Quay on Lake Ontario, in the Harbourfront neighborhood.
8. Guizhou, China
As the province slowly opens to tourism, visitors will soon have a chance to stay in high-end hotels like the Guiyang Resort while taking advantage of itineraries that bring them closer to the country’s authentic hill tribes.
9. Viñales, Cuba
Commercial flights from the U.S. have made Cuba more accessible, which is a good thing because this luxuriant valley offers so much to see. A Unesco World Heritage site dotted with pastel-colored bed and breakfasts, Viñales offers mogote climbing, a family-run botanical garden and tobacco farms where you can learn how some of the world’s finest cigars are made.
10. Copenhagen, Denmark
There’s a reason the country is frequently recognized for being the happiest on Earth. One look at its beautiful waterfront, a taste of its delicious pastries and an evening spent watching the fireworks in Tivoli, and you’ll want to call Denmark home, too.
11. Brno, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic’s second city serves up world-class cuisine that ranges from French and American to Japanese and Italian cooking. Coffeehouses like Cafe Mitte beckon guests from neighboring Prague and Vienna to wind down after a long night of partying.
12. Giza, Egypt
For nearly 4,000 years, the wondrous shape of the pyramids of Giza have fascinated travelers. As the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, the massive tombs are utterly awe-inspiring.
13. Athens, Greece
The economy is in crisis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here. Avant-garde performances, hip hotels and bustling cafés are just a few of the reasons to visit the mythic Greek capital.
14. Santorini, Greece
Part of the Cyclades island group, Santorini has everything you could want from the setting of Mamma Mia: whitewashed buildings, towering cliffs and crowded villages made for Instagram photos. (Just be sure not to post so much you give any identity thieves ideas.)
The historic old city has been compared to New York in the ’80s, for all the right reasons. From trendsetting clubs to provocative art, Berlin is the capital of cool.
The Hawaiian capital is becoming a hotbed of culture, hosting its first Biennial, which will draw artists from across the Pacific Rim and feature its own talent, and opening artsy hotels like Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, which worked with local artists to conceive custom wallpaper and murals.
17. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s capital may be tiny (its population numbers 120,000), but its nature is mighty — with erupting geysers, extinct volcanoes and geothermal pools to start. Visit between June and August, when temperatures surge to highs in the mid fifties.
18. Galway, Ireland
The sleepy medieval city may not strike you as much at first. But after walking around the bustling Eyre Square, dropping into St. Nicholas’ Church and taking a relaxing cruise along the River Corrib, you’ll find it as charming as any city in Ireland.
19. Amalfi Coast, Italy
Glittering seaside towns, world-class cuisine and fragile cultural landscapes — Amalfi’s 13 municipalities were named UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1997 — make this region a must for any aspiring jetsetter.
20. Costa Smeralda, Italy
The crystal-clear waters off the north-eastern coast of Sardinia will make you want to stay there forever. Explore the fantastic coves along the eastern coastline and hitch a ride to the top of Monte Mora, where you can spot the islands of Tavolara and Caprera.
21. Kanazawa, Japan
Thanks to a bullet-train extension that shortens the trip from Tokyo to just 2 and 1/2 hours, the elegant city is seeing an uptick in tourism. A visit to what Travel + Leisure describes as “the old wooden teahouses of the Higashi Chayagai district” and the contemporary art museum are tops on our list, along with a stop at Omi-cho Market for some of the world’s greatest sushi.
22. Kyoto, Japan
Once Japan’s imperial capital, Kyoto is one of the few places in the country that was spared from heavy bombing during World War II. As a result, visitors can enjoy traditional architecture and historic castles and palaces that simply don’t exist anywhere else.
23. The Maasai Mara, Kenya
Dedicated to the conservation of African wildlife, the world-renowned Mara Conservancy is a sight to behold. Get a peek of resident lion prides, black rhinos, wildebeests and elephants; you can even go on a game drive in the Mara Triangle.
24. Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia
Make friends with the local wildlife — white-breasted kingfishers and humpback dolphins call this island home — then hike through the jungle, which is relatively untouched.
25. Valletta, Malta
To ring in its 450th birthday last year, the old Mediterranean city gave itself a new gate, a restored open-air opera house and a new parliament building, all designed by Renzo Piano, one of the world’s most sought-after architects.
26. Assateague Island, Maryland & Virginia
Camp out on the beach in the company of the wild horses that call this island home. Assateague is an affordable way to spend a few days sprawled out on the sand and is a short drive away from Ocean City, Maryland.
27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
There’s never a bad time to visit, and you can’t beat the currency conversion. El Arco, a natural arch rock formation that sits where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, is not to be missed.
28. Tulum, Mexico
The stylish beach destination may have lost some of its bohemian allure, but foodies can still count on Tulum to deliver Grade-A bars, eclectic eats and cute coffee shops.
29. Marrakech, Morocco
Winding alleys teeming with handicrafts and exotic cuisine are just two of the reasons Marrakech should be on your to-do list. The majestic 14th-century Ali ben Youssef Quranic school, once the largest Islamic study center in North Africa, is worth the visit alone.
30. Kathmandu, Nepal
Get high — really high — in the Himalayas, where the snow-shrouded treks are worth every hard moment.
The city’s edges bristle with the creative energy of young artists, and locals and visitors alike enjoy the soothing view from Nieuw Amsterdam. Visit Amsterdam proper if you want, but we’d prefer to avoid the tourists and order oysters at Café Modern instead.
32. Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
Carved by underground streams over thousands of years, these amazing caves are festooned with zillions of glow worms and some of the most spectacular rock formations you’ll ever see. Book a walking or boat tour to see it up close, and save up your energy for a guided horse trek above ground.
33. Pangalusian Island, Philippines
Take a sunset cruise or go for a night dive — anything you do on the water in this remote island in the Palawan archipelago is bound to be magical.
34. Lisbon, Portugal
Hipster hangouts, boutique hotels and breezy strolls along the Tejo River make the once-sleepy capital worth considering.
35. San Juan, Puerto Rico
On the undeveloped island of Vieque, you’ll find a mysterious bay that glows in the dark. Need we say more?
36. Moscow, Russia
Mother Russia is undergoing a food revolution, complete with inventive takes on Soviet food, folklore-infused dishes and frosty glasses of vodka. A late dinner at White Rabbit restaurant, where star chef Vladimir Mukhin made his name, is a must.
37. Glasgow, Scotland
The largest city in Scotland (and home to ’90s chamber-pop darlings Belle and Sebastian) feels suddenly chic thanks to a group young alums from the Glasgow School of Art who’ve peppered the city with stylish shops.
38. Pamplona, Spain
The capital of the Navarre region, in the northeast corner of Spain, inspired great affection in Ernest Hemingway, who visited Pamplona on nine occasions. Many of his favorite bars remain open, thanks to his novel “The Sun Also Rises,” which captured the spirit of one Spanish summer in the 1920s.
39. Trunk Bay, St. John
Who cares if the beach is crowded? This little corner of paradise, in the United States Virgin Islands, is lovely enough to make a postcard look like it was Photoshopped.
40. The Ice Hotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Sleeping on reindeer pelts in a hotel designed entirely of ice isn’t for everyone, but if you’re among the adventurous, it’s an amazing experience. You might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if the atmospheric conditions are right. (Pro tip: Skip the dog sled from the airport to the hotel and just take a car.)
41. Ticino, Switzerland
Home to medieval castles, world-class art exhibits and an array of options for hiking, the Italian-speaking canton is la dolce vita with an Alpine backdrop. Leap from the Ponte dei Salti into the glittering waters below, then make like the locals and devour a block of lasagna.
A little bit of Asia, a little bit of Europe and a rich, complicated history make Istanbul a fascinating place to visit. The imposing Haghia Sophia is an obvious stop, as are the ferries shuttling up and down the Bosphorus. Just try not to eat too much baklava.
43. Ko Phra Thong, Thailand
One of Thailand’s many attractions off the touristy beaten path, this largely deserted island features eco-friendly resorts and bungalows nestled in verdant gardens.
44. Udon Thani, Thailand
The northeast Thailand city is an industrial hub, but the Red Lotus Sea, a shallow lake dotted with thousands of red lotus flowers, will take your breath away with its beauty. Schedule a small boat tour to view it up close.
45. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
One of the most iconic places of worship, perhaps in the world, can be found here: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The final resting place of the man who conceived it, the first president of the UAE, the impressive mosque is one of the few in the region that is open to non-Muslims.
46. Park City, Utah
With the merger of Park City Mountain Resort and nearby Canyons Resort, ski buffs can get a pass good at both resorts and go wild on the slopes without paying extra. According to The New York Times, last summer Vail spent a whopping $50 million to seal the deal and pay for an eight-person gondola to connect the resorts.
47. Dalat, Vietnam
White-water rafting, mountain biking and golf are just a few of the outdoor activities that set Dalat apart.
Come for local beer at every bar and some of the best coffee shops around — seriously, don’t even bother with Starbucks. Seattle has tourist attractions like Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle, but if you’re wondering where the locals disappear to each weekend, head for the mountains, where you’ll find them hiking and climbing.
49. Washington, D.C.
With the recent opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, downtown D.C. is looking a lot more dynamic these days. A sprawling development called CityCenterDC adds to the appeal with apartments, condos, shops and restaurants, including Momofuku CCDC, the first U.S. location for the brand outside of New York.
50. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
After snapping a selfie with Old Faithful, see if you can spot any wild bears or bison. Be sure to visit the most photographed thermal feature of all, Grand Prismatic Spring.
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