13 Amazing Trips to Take Before You Turn 40

back view of man sitting on jetty at Lake Idro in Lombardy, Italy at morning twilight

Westend61 / Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, reaching the age of 40 isn't the end of the world. Far from it. In fact, 40 is often a point in our lives where we begin to find peace and balance. It is an age where we still have the energy and exuberance of youth, while gaining the wisdom and empathy that only comes with age. Because of this, it is a time to be celebrated and not dreaded.

Believe it or not, learning to embrace life in your 40s can actually begin in your 30s. Travel can play a major role in that, helping to shape our outlook on life, while feeding our need for adventure. It helps to get us out of our comfort zones and provides us with opportunities that we may not have ever had a chance to experience otherwise. It can broaden our horizons, create lasting memories, and introduce us to lifelong friends. It also has a way of keeping us young—or at least young at heart.

With that in mind, these are the destinations, trips, and adventures that you should experience before you turn 40.

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Swim with Whale Sharks in Baja

A man swims alongside an massive whale shark

Secret Sea Visions / Getty Images

Gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks are some of the most peaceful and docile creatures that you could ever hope to encounter. Sometimes reaching as much as 30 feet in length, these sharks are actually the largest fish species known to exist. They also happen to be quite friendly and accommodating to humans, allowing us to swim alongside them while they feed in warm waters across the globe. There are a number of places that you can go to enjoy this amazing experience for yourself, but one of the best is in Baja, Mexico, where the whale sharks are plentiful and easy to spot.

Baja Adventures is one of several travel companies that offer visitors a chance to get up close and personal with these creatures.

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Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Machu Pichu

TripSavvy / Chris VR

Machu Picchu is easily the most-visited tourist destination in Peru. Anyone can take the train to get there, but adventurous travelers know the best way to reach the ancient Inca fortress is to hike the legendary Inca Trail instead. This trek is usually four days in length and wanders through the Andes Mountains, passing through the famous Sun Gate for an early morning arrival on the final day. While en route, the trekkers experience incredible landscapes, other ancient Inca sites, and lovely remote campsites. The finish line is pretty spectacular too.

G Adventure has long been an expert in organizing Inca Trail treks.

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Visit Yellowstone National Park

Steam coming out of geysers in Yellowstone

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Yellowstone National Park is one of those destinations that you can visit a dozen times and still not get the chance to see everything that it has to offer. An amazing combination of breathtaking landscapes, otherworldly geothermal activity, and a spectacular array of wildlife, no two visits to the park will ever be the same. Visitors can catch the Old Faithful geyser blow its top, go backpacking deep into the wilderness, or spot Yellowstone's famous wolves in their natural habitat. They can also go for a paddle on Lake Yellowstone, stay in the famous Yellowstone Lodge, and watch massive herds of bison wander through the "Serengeti of North America." This is the quintessential site for the grand family national park vacation and for good reason.

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Spot the Northern Lights in Arctic Europe

Northern Lights

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

The aurora borealis—aka the Northern Lights—is without a doubt one of our planet's most spectacular natural phenomena. There are a number of places around the world where they can be seen of course, including Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. But Arctic Europe is an often-overlooked destination for experiencing the aurora in all of their glory. Norway, Finland, and Sweden all provide amazing backdrops to this celestial light show, with fantastic food, culture, and other outdoor adventures to take part in when you're not standing outside in the dark looking up at the sky.

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Dive the Great Barrier Reef

A sea turtle glides along the Great Barrier Reef

M Sweet / Getty Images

Located along the coast of Queensland in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system on the planet. That also means it is home to a dizzying array of sea life, including numerous fish species that come in nearly every color of the spectrum. This makes it one of the most popular diving destinations on the planet, although it also happens to be fantastic for snorkelers too. Truly one of the great natural wonders on Earth, every adventurous traveler should experience this amazing place at least once in their lives.

Down Under Cruise and Dive has a number of Great Barrier Reef tour options out of Cairns.

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06 of 13

Learn to Surf in Nicaragua

Beach scene in Nicaragua with surfer silhouetted at sunset
adamdodd / Getty Images

Thanks to its laid-back culture and opportunities for adventure, Nicaragua has earned itself a spot on the list of must-see places in recent years. It also happens to be one of the best places in the world go to surfing, while still managing to be very beginner-friendly. In fact, thanks to its consistent waves and beautiful beaches, it is a top-notch place to learn how to surf, while absorbing the local culture at the same time. Less crowded and more affordable than Costa Rica, this is the recommended destination for a Central American getaway.

Book a stay at the Rapture Surf Camp to begin honing your surfing skills.

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Swim in the Centoes of the Yucatan

Woman floating in an open cenote in Tulum, Mexico
jopstock / Getty Images

Thanks to its unique limestone landscape, Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is home to some incredibly interesting geological features. Not the least of these are the cenotes, which are underground pools of water that number in the hundreds. Once thought to be the gateway to the underworld by the Mayan civilization, these subterranean waterways are an exhilarating place to go for a swim. The water itself is cool, crystal clear, and inviting, while the underground chambers that surround them range from intriguing to eerie. Either way, it is an experience that can't be beaten.

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08 of 13

Mountain Bike Down a Volcano in Ecuador

A snowcapped volcano with clouds driffting by and a road running into the distance
Kraig Becker

Mountain biking is one of the more popular adventure sports in the world, and for good reason. It gives riders a chance to get off the beaten path and explore remote settings from the comfort of their bike, while often providing an adrenaline-inducing experience at the same time. Such is the case in Ecuador, where travelers can get the chance to ride down the side of an active volcano. The trails are usually clearly marked, easy to follow, and not lacking in thrills. You'll bomb down a semi-technical path that provides plenty of speed and heart-pounding action, all the while with a massive, snowcapped mountain looming overhead.

Take an exciting ride down Cotopaxi courtesy of Happy Gringo.

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Sail the Galapagos Islands

A large marine iquana walks along the beach towards the ocean

Juergen Ritterbach / Getty Images

Another classic travel destination, the Galapagos Islands are well known for their beautiful waters, excellent diving and snorkeling, and numerous animal species that are found nowhere else on Earth. From giant sea tortoises to unique birdlife to the only swimming iguanas in the world, there is always something unique and interesting to be seen here. A combination of wildlife spotting and aquatic adventure, this is a destination that will stay with you long after you've gone home.

Plan a small-ship Galapagos cruise with Uncruise Adventures.

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Raft the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Rafters floating down the Grand Canyon.
Draper White / Getty Images

Whitewater rafting has been a staple of adventure travel for decades, and there are few better places to do it than in the Grand Canyon. Whether you're looking to hit the water for a few hours or for a few weeks, there are tours that can accommodate your needs. While the ride can be a fast and furious one, you'll still have time to soak up the incredible scenery during the more tranquil sections of the trip. Having been carved by the Colorado River during the course of 5 million years or so, the Canyon is considered one of the top natural wonders of the world and is a destination that everyone should see at some point.

OARS offers some of the absolute best Grand Canyon river adventures in the entire travel industry.

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Climb to the Summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

Sunrise on Mt Kilimanjaro

TripSavvy / Ivey Redding

A true bucket-list adventure, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a test of stamina and perseverance. The tallest free-standing mountain in the world isn't all that technical, but its 19,341-foot height still tests hikers with its altitude. Reaching the summit is a milestone and powerful moment for many travelers, who relish standing at the "Roof of Africa" while taking in the views that such a lift place explores. If you want to experience the famous "Snows of Kilimanjaro" however, you may want to hurry. The glacier on the summit is retreating at an alarming rate.

Tusker Trail is far and away the best operator on Kilimanjaro, having led climbers to the summit for more than 40 years.

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Catch the Sunrise in the Rose Red City of Petra


TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

With its rich culture and long history, the country of Jordan has a lot to offer any traveler. The desert of Wadi Rum is vast and beautiful, the Dead Sea is unique and mysterious, and the city of Amman will delight with its cuisine and culture. But no visit to this country would be complete without a stop in Petra, an ancient site that rivals the wonders of Egypt in terms of its grandeur. Here, travelers will discover an entire ancient city to explore, with some of the most unique and beautiful architecture imaginable. And if you arrive before dawn and await the first rays of the sun, you'll come to understand why Petra has earned the moniker of the "Rose Red City."

Flash Pack offers an excellent, all-encompassing journey throughout Jordan that includes a visit to Petra.

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Go on an African Safari

A male lion standing up in the brush

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

The classic African safari just might be the earliest form of adventure travel. Even now, in the 21st century, it remains a truly outstanding travel experience. There is nothing quite like following a herd of elephants through the forest or watching the sunset over the savannah while a pride of lions goes on the prowl. Add in opportunities to see giraffes, zebra, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, and a host of other creatures, and you have the makings of a truly marvelous trip. The top safari destinations include the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, as well as Kruger National Park in South Africa. For a more off-the-beaten-path option, plan a visit to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, or Liwonde National Park in Malawi. Either way, you can't go wrong.