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7 Epic Trips to Plan a Year in Advance

Put these bucket-list journeys on your calendar now.

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Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

Running off on last-minute trips is thrilling, but some of life’s finest journeys are worth the wait. Experts even say the anticipation of a long-planned vacation can sweeten our day-to-day lives, extending travel’s fun across weeks and months. That’s a good thing because—for reasons ranging from far-off locations to limited availability—these epic trips are ones you should start planning well in advance.

Whether you’re into watching herds of wildebeest thunder across the Serengeti or want to learn some samba steps in Rio, they’re the adventures of a lifetime. So start dreaming (and planning) now.

1. Watch East Africa’s Great Migration

East Africa’s Great Migration wildebeests.
Seeing wildebeests in real life is epic indeed.Photo Credit: GUDKOV ANDREY / Shutterstock

Kenya and Tanzania

When wildebeest herds travel between Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the earth shakes under their millions of thundering hooves. This is one of the world’s greatest mammal migrations, and an awe-inspiring natural wonder. The wildebeests’ journey lasts all year, but you need to be in the right place at the right time to catch the sight. Safaris book quickly during the peak season.

From December through early March, you can usually spot baby wildebeest—and the lions that hunt them—in the southerly Serengeti as the animals feed on nutrient-rich grasses. August and September, meanwhile, bring the herds deep into the Masai Mara, where they contend with crocodiles on dramatic river crossings.

2. Follow the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

A hiker takes on the Inca Trail in Peru.
A hiker takes on the Inca Trail.Photo Credit: sharptoyou / Shutterstock

Peru

You can take a bus or train to Machu Picchu, but start planning now if you want to complete the classic Inca Trail route that leads from Piscacucho to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Why? Partly because the number of hikers is strictly limited by the Peruvian government to preserve the ancient Inca roadway. But partly because the 4-day, 3-night trek is strenuous and requires a climb to 13,780 feet (4,200 meters). For that reason, it’s a good idea to start physical training months before your start date.

3. Go to Walt Disney World® Resort

Walt Disney World® Resort's entrance in Orlando.
Expect palm trees and fountains when you visit Walt Disney World® Resort.Photo Credit: Mia2you / Shutterstock

Orlando, Florida

The world’s largest amusement park is the stuff childhood (and adult) dreams are made of, but securing key reservations requires a bit of planning. That’s especially true if you’re going with a group or during peak vacation times. Plan to use the Disney® Park Pass system to book tickets, choosing from single-day and multi-venue “park hopper” options. If your trip overlaps with a special event, such as Disney®’s annual Christmas and Halloween bashes, you’ll also need event tickets to access the park. Some non-Disney® activities near Orlando should also be booked in advance, such as tickets to NBA games, Universal Orlando Park, and LEGOLAND® Florida Resort.

4. Cruise to the Galápagos Islands

A woman enjoys a cruise of the Galápagos Islands.
The otherworldly rock formations of the Galápagos IslandsPhoto Credit: Stacy Funderburke / Shutterstock

Ecuador

The Galápagos’ 19 islands and surrounding marine reserve are a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, and unique plants and animals in the isolated region helped shape the theory of evolution. Trips to the Galápagos by boat are all about experiencing the natural world here, but it’s important to book well in advance if you’re hoping to go during the warm, sunny months between December and May. It’s the most popular time to visit and coincides with peak conditions for both diving and snorkeling.

5. Celebrate Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

A spectacular, colorful performance at Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.
Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is a mega spectacle.Photo Credit: T photography / Shutterstock

Brazil

Spending Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is a chance to join one of the biggest celebrations on the planet. The city dons its sequins and feathers for the 5-day holiday, featuring parades, lots of dancing, and endless “blocos,” street bands that function as major party starters. Advanced planning can get you sought-after hotel locations in Rio’s southern zone, and comfortable grandstand seats for the big parade. Since airfare tends to skyrocket as the event nears, Carnaval experts recommend booking at least six months ahead of time.

Related: How to Experience Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

6. Hike the South Island’s Milford Track

A hiker explores the rainforest along South Island’s Milford Track.
Exploring the verdant rainforest along South Island’s Milford Track.Photo Credit: Gerry Bishop / Shutterstock

New Zealand

In a country full of spectacular hiking trails, New Zealand’s 33-mile (53-kilometer) Milford Track is the most famous of all. It links up a series of remote huts along beautiful Milford Sound, where soaring cliffs meet a fjord home to dolphins, penguins, and seals. Plan at least a year ahead of time if you’re hoping to walk the hut-to-hut route during the October through April hiking season. If you can’t get hut reservations, you can still experience the landscape on day tours of Milford Sound featuring hiking, kayaking, and small boat cruising.

7. Drive Iceland’s Ring Road

A car drives along Iceland's Ring Road in the direction of snowy mountains.
Snow and water along Iceland's iconic Ring Road.Photo Credit: b-hide the scene / Shutterstock

Iceland

This is one of the best road trips on Earth. Wrapping all the way around Iceland’s perimeter, the spectacular 825-mile (1,328-kilometer) Ring Road leads to some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes. While some travelers take in the Ring Road in just four days, it’s ideal to set aside a week or more to explore the major sites along the way. Highlights include Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, and the geothermally active Lake Mývatn, where visitors can steam year-round in natural hot pools.

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