Relaxing in a luxury train’s dining car as it rumbles through the Andes while enjoying a meal cooked by one of the world’s top chefs, bumping into an elephant on the way to breakfast in the heart of Africa, and skimming across the icy waters off a remote Russian peninsula to get up close to walruses and brown bears.
These are just some of the experiences in store once you take the plunge and book that bucket-list trip you’ve been dreaming about.
After a lifetime of deferred gratification while you attain important qualifications, clamber up the career ladder and raise the kids, it can be difficult to believe you really can cut loose and explore the world. To be, as they say, footloose and fancy free.
The benefits of delayed gratification
The joy of travelling later in life is that you have the financial wherewithal to do it in style, coupled with a wealth of lifetime experiences that enhance everything you see and do. Like backpacking but much more rewarding. And comfortable.
For a trip to truly qualify as being bucket-list worthy, it should not only be of a certain duration – the longer the better; visit a certain number of destinations – the more the better; and be far flung – the farther-flung the better.
It should also touch something deep inside you, be a truly evocative and immersive experience. Threading a theme through your itinerary will add texture to the journey and let you discover more about your lifelong interests such as food, favourite authors, architecture, history or sport.
High-altitude cooking lesson in the Andes
One of my most special experiences was the luxury train trip through Peru on the newly launched Belmond Andean Explorer (Belmond was once the Orient-Express company).
We were captivated by watching the mighty Andean condors riding the thermals that soared up from the depths of Colca Canyon that plunged 4160m below us. Delighted when the train stopped atop a lonely mountain pass and world-famous chef Diego Munoz gave us an open-air demonstration of how to make ceviche. And fascinated to learn about life on a floating reed-island in Lake Titicaca.
Lions and lakeside ‘chimping’ in the heart of Africa
Nothing can quite prepare you for Africa. And those lucky enough to visit once often find themselves returning time and time again. The wildlife is obviously the initial attraction but there’s something elemental about the high skies, richly coloured earths and golden light that sets aglow something deep inside us.
I was lucky enough to stay at Nomad’s Chada Katavi camp, where at nighttime our cosy slumbers were lightly disturbed by the distant roaring of lions and an elephant trumpeting.
On my way to breakfast one morning the elephant that had been rustling around in the trees behind my luxuriously appointed tent emerged, stopping me in my tracks until he turned and strolled away.
Then a few days later we travelled by dhow to Greystoke Mahale on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, where we slept soundly in lakeside huts after a day spent “chimping”, Greystoke’s word for searching and observing some of our closest relations.
Whiskery walruses and gushing geysers
Expedition cruising is luxury cruising’s wilder, shaggier sibling. While perfectly comfortable and with plenty of excellent food, the emphasis is on accessing distant places rather than non-stop pampering.
That was why 10 years ago I booked myself on a voyage to the Land of Ice and Fire: the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia’s Far East. Zipping into remote bays on small inflatable craft we saw walruses huddled together on a rocky beach and bears clambering up grassy slopes.
Stepping ashore, we visited remote communities, including a gathering of nomadic reindeer herders and a sparsely inhabited island with military installations left over from the Cold war. And flew inland on an ageing military helicopter to the Valley of Geysers (no jokes please!), with some 90 geysers and hot springs.
A bucket-list trip is the one you’ve been mulling over on lengthy commutes, sketching out over a lifetime of dreary pointless meetings, and fantasising about at the end of routine annual holidays that are all too short.
Sometimes daydreams are destined to never be realised. But if it’s all possible, bear in mind a wise saying of German theologian Martin Luther, “How soon ‘not now’ becomes never,” and start making plans straightaway.
And a little extra
Others I am keen to sample are a South-American food safari, such as the Classic Safari Co’s “Gauchos and Gastronomy” extravaganza hosted by celebrated Australian chef Christine Manfield visiting Chile, Argentina and Peru.
Or a Captain’s Choice around-the-world journey by private jet, with exclusive experiences in eight destinations, including a gala evening on the Great Wall of China, a descent into a dormant Icelandic volcano, and dining under the stars in Samarkand’s majestic Registan Square.
And for something more intimate down at sea level, a South-East Asian luxury river cruise on a Pandaw small ship, a replica of one of Burma’s original Clyde-built steamers, handcrafted in teak and brass. Their ultra-shallow drafts allow passengers to access areas that larger vessels can’t reach.