The most memorable experiences are often the ones you have to work for—such as trekking through glaciers or scuba diving in a blue hole thought to have been dug by the devil. Rejuvenate your bucket list with these 20 totally-worth-it travel ordeals. These experiences require dedication, motivation, and a bit of mind-over-matter thinking. If you are seeking a new adventure, you’ve come to the right place.
Trek up Mt. Huashan in China
Instead of heading up the mountain by cable car, you can opt to tackle what is reputed to be one of the deadliest treks in the world to reach the summit of this 7,000-foot peak— one of five sacred mountains in China.
Getting to the top is an ordeal because of the precarious planks that serve as walkways; renting a harness is a necessity for navigating the inches of footing. Scaling Mt. Huashan, just a couple hours’ drive from the city of Xi’an, should be added to your bucket list if your nerves can handle immense heights.
Raft through the Grand Canyon in Arizona
Anyone can see the Grand Canyon from above, but not everyone can say they have rafted down the Colorado River and experienced the Grand Canyon from below. If you’re an experienced rafter, forgo the expensive commercial tours and apply for an individual rafting permit through the Grand Canyon’s weighted lottery system.
Working up the waiting list is rumored to take several years, but this travel ordeal is worth it if it gets you paddling through this wonder of nature. The 277 miles of river provide access to side canyons, swimming holes, sandy beaches, and lots of water.
Spot a snow leopard in India
While there are no guarantees you will see a snow leopard in Ladakh, India, sightings are fairly common. Hemis National Park has become the go-to place to spot these magnificent creatures. It is home to about 200 leopards, and the local guides have gained an understanding of their habits—especially their routines in winter, when the snow leopards move to lower ground.
Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia
It takes six nights to cross the 6,152 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok on the world’s longest train ride. The Trans-Siberian railway is a unique adventure and includes connecting routes to Mongolia and China. As you chug across thousands of miles, you’ll pass by sights such as the Gobi Desert, Lake Baikal, yurt camps, camels, and more. Inside the train, you can expect a mix of cultures and, reportedly, a lot of vodka.
Hike the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska
Fasten your crampons and grab an axe for this icy adventure. If you have never considered climbing up ice, it is time to add it to the top of your bucket list, as the Mendenhall Glacier has been slowly melting since the 1700s.
Rent equipment with a private guide and head to Juneau, Alaska, for some glacier trekking. The view alone is worth braving the uneven terrain and slippery bedrock, but make sure to hire an expert guide who knows how to navigate this shrinking natural phenomenon.
Sleep on an uninhabited island in Scotland
Scotland has hundreds of islands, and in the northwestern Summer Isles, there is an uninhabited island called Tanera Beag. To get there, you have to kayak from the mainland with your equipment for the night.
Keep an eye out for seals and sheep, and then climb the small hill to pitch your tent and get the unparalleled views of the Assynt peaks that make this travel ordeal worth the trek. Tanera Beag is also home to a cave where you can climb the crag if that is more your style.
Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru
Skip the Inca Trail and head for a self-guided trek along the Salkantray Trail, or check out the ruins at Choquequirao or the Vilcabamba Traverse. Machu Picchu is more about the journey than the destination: you’ve no doubt already seen pictures and know what is waiting for you.
On the trek, you will discover the back roads of Peru as well as the wonderful local hospitality. Anyone can take a bus to the top of Machu Picchu, but trekking there and climbing to the top is an experience not to be missed.
Enter a volcano in Iceland
The Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland opened to commercial tours in 2012 despite last erupting over 4,000 years ago. You cannot enter the volcano alone: you must be part of a tour. The day begins with a short hike across a lava field, followed by your group descending into the crater via an open-elevator system.
The 400-foot descent takes six minutes to complete, after which you can explore the volcano on foot. While not the most strenuous bucket-list item on this list of adventures, it’s not every day you get to descend to the depths of a dormant volcano.
Climb Mount Everest in Nepal
The average cost to climb Mount Everest is around $45,000! The price for a supported climb can range drastically, depending on what is included (e.g., base camp tents, Sherpas, supplemental oxygen, food). Most climbers end their ascent at Everest Base Camp (17,600 feet), while more-experienced climbers will attempt to reach the summit. At over 29,000 feet high, Everest is the tallest mountain above sea level in the world.
Raft down the Zambezi River in Zambia
Time may be running out to raft along the Zambezi River, as there are potential plans for a dam project that would be completed in 2025. As part of your Zambezi River rafting experience, you can explore under the Victoria Falls, head down some seriously strong rapids, and camp overnight on nearby beaches. You will most likely pass by baobab trees, screeching baboons, and Nile crocodiles. It might just be the most intense river rafting experience in the world, so you do not want to wait too long and miss it.
Motorbike through Vietnam
If you have ever backpacked around Southeast Asia, you have most certainly heard of this bucket-list item. It is fairly common for travelers to rent or buy a motorbike in Vietnam in one of its major cities and make their way up or down the entire country. You can speed your way through, or you can stop at every city and village along the way. If the mainstream path is not your style, there are plenty of offbeat options to spice up your trip.
Climb the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park
The Half Dome trail through Yosemite is 16 miles long and ascends more than 5,500 feet. Once you have made it most of the way, the last 400 feet are so steep that the climb requires pulling yourself up along steel cables. Expect lots of steep stairs even before you make it to that final climb. Permits are needed to hike the trail, so plan this bucket-list item accordingly.
Dive Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas
Dean’s Blue Hole near Clarence Town in the Bahamas is more than 650 feet deep, with a visible diameter of roughly 80 to 115 feet. The local legend is that the hole was dug by the devil and that the devil will drag people into it.
If the thought of entering this blue hole does not terrify you, there are plenty of scuba diving and free diving activities that allow visitors to discover what lies below. Another famous diving site is Belize’s Great Blue Hole, which is 1,000 feet wide.
Climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
If you measure Mount Kilimanjaro from the base it sits on rather than from sea level, it is actually taller than Mount Everest. However, in terms of altitude, the summit of Kilimanjaro is only slightly higher up than Everest Base Camp.
Walking to the summit can take between five and nine days, but the trick is to go as slow as you need to go. Making it to the top of Africa’s tallest mountain is definitely a travel ordeal that is worth spending some extra time training for.
Walk across a frozen river in India
Make sure to bring your warmest jacket and a sleeping bag with you for this trek. Walking across the frozen river on the Chadar trek in Zanskar River Valley, India, requires trekking 65 miles in freezing temperatures. The trek is best done in January or February, with guided tours taking 22 days from start to finish.
Disrespectful tourists have been an issue in the past, so read up on local customs and be mindful of the environment. Legend has it that inconsiderate actions will drive Chadar’s benevolent spirits away.
Visit Okunoin Cemetery in Japan
In a tiny mountain village near Osaka, Japan, there is a cemetery with 200,000 ancient tombs. Scattered throughout a 1,200-year-old forest, Okunoin Cemetery dates back to at least 816 AD.
The town, Koyasan, has 117 temples and monasteries, and certain temples even permit visitors to make overnight stays. The cemetery itself is a mystical (and sometimes creepy) place to explore, but part of the adventure is simply getting there, a journey that requires taking several trains, a cable car, and a bus.
Climb Leukerbad via ferrata in Switzerland
If you have a problem with ladders, you might encounter some problems climbing the Leukerbad via ferrata. Completing a via ferrata is like a hybrid between hiking and climbing, because the face of the rock is equipped with metal plugs, steel cables, anchors, wooden walkways, and suspended bridges.
The Daubenhorn summit that towers over the Leukerbad area in Switzerland is 9,650 feet above sea level and is equipped with over 6,500 feet of steel cables and 700 feet of ladders. This man-made travel ordeal is worth it for the view of the Valais Alps and the challenge of completing the course.
Go diving in Mexico’s cenotes
The underground cave systems in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula make for a unique scuba diving adventure that is not for beginners. On some of the dives, such as the “Second Eye,” you can expect daylight and good visibility.
Other dives, such as the “Bat Cave,” take you to dimly lit or entirely unlit areas that require single-file swimming and can cause intense disorientation. The stalactite-filled caves are breathtaking, and their hundreds of bats are an added bonus to the adventure.
Climb the highest peak in every state
The difference between the highest peaks in Alaska and Nebraska is astounding. One requires endurance and training while the other requires a GPS and a few steps. While there is a certain thrill to be had in climbing the tallest peaks in the country, the real challenge comes from exploring the 50 states and seeing where these peaks lead you. This summit-seeking adventure can be completed gradually over the years, or you can tackle it all at once. The choice is up to you.
Mass space tourism is set to happen sooner than you might realize. A few incredibly wealthy individuals have already made it to space, but it’s been almost 10 years since the last time that happened. Now, several private companies are working towards providing galactic travel.
Trips into space will vary in length and cost, but you can expect to have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to cross space tourism off your bucket list.
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