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13 Bucket List Trips to Plan a Year in Advance

These fabulous bucket list destinations span the globe from Asia to Antarctica but have one thing in common: You should book your 2021 visit now.

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travel concept. overhead view of map, camera, compass, toy airplane, glass of water, and notebook with travel, Getty Images

Plan your travel wish list

Right now, while we patiently wait at home until we’re able to travel again, there is no better time to daydream about our perfect getaways. The time is now to plan the bucket list trips we can’t wait to embark on…next year. In fact, these dream vacations actually need to be booked a year in advance; so for travel in 2021, you’ll need to start planning right now. Find out the best bucket list idea in every state.

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olympic rings on display in tokyoCarl Court/Getty Images

Watch the Olympics in Tokyo

By this point, you’ve already heard that the Tokyo Olympics have been moved from 2020 to July 2021. To be able to witness all of the amazing athletes reaching for their goals in person, you need to book way in advance to secure venue tickets, accommodations, and snag airfares at the best price—like as soon as you’re done reading this. However, even if the Olympics aren’t on your “must-do” list, visiting Tokyo in 2021 is still worth planning in advance to experience the dazzling Spring Cherry Blossom Festivals which were postponed in 2020, or, if you love Disney, to be one of the first to experience Pixar’s new Toy Story Hotel near Tokyo Disney Resort. Want to explore more of Japan? Join a Vacations By Rail Best of Japan train tour with guides that lead you around the wonders of Tokyo before you speed off in a Bullet Train to Kyoto to visit iconic temples and the famous geisha district, and end in scenic Osaka. Speaking of Disney, these are the VIP Disney adventures you should take once in your lifetime.

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Swim with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands

Known for its crystal clear waters and incredible wildlife found nowhere else in the world, the Galapagos Islands are a bucket-list destination that tops many travelers’ lists. Guests spend their days getting up close and personal with sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and giant sea tortoises by kayaking, snorkeling, and diving with the area’s fish, penguins and docile sharks in the year-round warm waters. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are extremely remote, so you need to make reservations far in advance of when you want to travel, especially if you want to experience the islands on an intimate ship where you won’t be with the crowds such as Quasar Expeditions. Its two ships, the M/V Evolution and M/Y Grace (a wedding gift from Aristotle Onassis to Prince Rainer and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco) accommodate between 16 and 32 passengers, for a true bucket list experience that also feels safe and secure. Find out more unique cruises to add to your bucket list.

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anantara golden triangle jungle bubblesvia

Sleep with elephants in the Golden Triangle, Thailand

Is your bucket list to get close to elephants? We mean really close to elephants? Then you’ll want to start making plans to visit the dense jungle of northern Thailand where the only jungle bubbles in the world are located. The transparent domes at Anantara Golden Triangle in Chang Rai allow you to get closer to elephants than you would have ever thought possible; you’ll sleep just a few feet away from the gentle giants and can watch the all-night from your transparent dome that looks right into their home. There are only two of these unique overnight accommodations, so if your bucket list wish is to sleep with the Elies, you’ll need to book well in advance. Read what it’s really like to spend the night with elephants.

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nighttime aerial view of the world expo at dubaivia

Explore the World Expo in Dubai

The World Expo, billed as “The World’s Biggest Show” was supposed to be held in this modern desert destination in 2020, but don’t worry, all of the fantastic innovations from across the globe are now scheduled to be held a year later, October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, so you can plan your bucket list trip to Dubai for next fall. And the sparkling oasis in the Arabian desert, where nothing is done in moderation, will be ready to put on the glitz when you finally arrive, whether its the famous Friday brunches, views from the tallest building in the world, the largest fountain show on the globe, decadent shopping, indoor skiing, or even riding a camel in the desert. If you can dream it, it probably already exists in Dubai. Nowhere else can you visit a palm tree-shaped island, but stay there, too. You’ll want to check into exclusive Anantara the Palm Dubai, where you can stay in the only overwater bungalows in the UAE while taking in the views of the Arabian Gulf and the sparkling cosmopolitan skyline just beyond. Amazingly, these bucket list trips cost less than a Disney vacation.

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Immerse in national parks

After a spring stuck indoors sheltering in place, finding wild outdoors to visit is going to feel even more important when you’re booking next year’s vacation, and there will be no better time to visit bucket list options such as The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks. America’s park system is a national treasure, but like all treasures, the jewels are highly sought after. Prime lodging options at America’s most popular parks need to be booked eight months in advance, including The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park; El Tovar at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon National Park; Many Glacier Hotel and Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, according to the National Park Service (NPS). These national parks are so far off the beaten path they’re practically hidden.

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Glacier gaze in Antarctica

Maybe, with all that’s been going on in the world with COVID-19, you’ve been daydreaming about getting away from people, like really, really far away from people. Then you may be interested in planning a trip to the southernmost point on the globe: Antarctica. You’ll find an otherwordly landscape of glaciers, snow, ice, and penguins. The only people you’ll encounter are the ones you’ve braved the notorious Drake Passage. We recommend the expedition yacht Scenic Eclipse. It only sails with around 200 passengers, has spacious suites instead of regular staterooms, and so many luxe amenities you may not want to leave your room to see the penguin rookeries (although you really should, especially since the ship has both a helicopter and submarine to survey the area with). Because there is an abbreviated season to sail in Antarctica due to weather conditions, you need to book well in advance to get a berth during the November to March availability. Here’s a look at what it’s really like to visit Antarctica.

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Bedazzled by the Taj Mahal in India

Tigers, the Taj Mahal, and the Pink City of Jaipur—oh my! All this and even more exotic and spectacular sights are why India tops so many travelers international bucket lists. To see the country in safety and comfort with expert guides, you need to travel with a tour. To find the best one, at the best time (roughly September to March when the weather is most agreeable), booking a year in advance is the only way to be assured of a spot as is the case with India experts Micato Safaris’ journeys. Their Soul of India itinerary. The trip takes a maximum of 12 guests, so you’ll have an intimate experience and don’t have to worry about being tightly packed into a tour bus, while visiting Ranthambore (tigers!), Varanasi, “The Triangle” of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Find out more one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.

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Explore the Desert Dunes in Namibia

Namibia, which forms the border of southwest Africa, has some of the most spectacular and mesmerizing scenery anywhere on the globe. Here you’ll find the glowing red sands dunes of Sossusvlei National Park in the Namib Desert, the eerie stark Skeleton Coast dotted with shipwrecks and the animal-thronged plains of Etosha National Park in the north known for its theatrical sunsets. “Namibia is one of the world’s true wildernesses,” say the travel experts at Jacada Travel. “It’s one of the least densely populated nations on earth, with limitless horizons and endless sand dunes, as well as an oasis of fascinating wildlife as well ancient culture.” Safari lodges here often have just a handful of rooms, such as Wilderness Safaris’ Hoanib Skeleton Coast, where you’ll see both the eerie remnants of shipwreck remains and noisy colonies of Cape fur seals as you drive along the dunes and spot deserted adapted animals such as lions and elephants.

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Watch the sunset in Santorini, Greece

The Greek Island of Santorini is one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful islands, with whitewashed towns, technicolor sunsets, and breathtaking cliffs. With glittering oceans and its reputation for dazzling panoramas and volcanic-sand beaches, it’s hardly surprising the island is at the top of island lovers’ bucket lists. But if you’re dreaming of turquoise water and romance-steeped landscapes of the Greek islands, you’ll need to start planning for next summer now. According to Purely Diamonds, 64 percent of engaged couples had to postpone their wedding, and honeymoons this year. So, you’ll need to get your reservations in early for the world’s most secluded island spots for a romantic getaway.

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Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

Set high amongst the Andes mountains in Peru, it’s an adventure just getting to Machu Picchu. Built-in the 15th century, this ancient Inca site draws tourists from all over the world to visit. Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is on the wish list for many people. This 26-mile trail that leads to the ruins of the ancient city of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world, is one of the most popular hikes in the world. Every traveler who visits these spectacular ruins must be accompanied by a guide and have a permit, which, for the most popular times sell out eight months in advance. So if climbing to the top of this sacred mountain UNESCO World Heritage Site is at the top of your list, you’ll need to book almost a year in advance. Find out 13 unique travel experiences that put all-inclusives to shame.

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Say “bonjour” to the South of France

The French countryside is known for its fields of fragrant lavender, weathered farmhouses, incredible country cuisine, flowering fields, and lush vineyards. While Paris may get all the glitter, the south’s dual gems of Provence and the French Riviera are where those in the know go to enjoy the summer sunshine, putting it at the top of many summer destination wish lists, which is why planning a year out is necessary, whether you want a villa to share with family and friends, or if you’re looking to tuck away in fashionable French boutique hotel for your countryside holiday. In Provence, Hôtel Crillon Le Brave sits far from the hustle and bustle that descends on the region every season with a setting overlooking the surrounding vineyards and the picture-perfect Provençal countryside. There are just 16 guestrooms and 18 suites, so booking far in advance is a must, as is booking a treatment at the stylish spa set in a former 18th century vaulted stone sable.

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Go on a safari in Botswana

Botswana is one of the penultimate destinations for wildlife viewing in Africa; if seeing the big five of safari lore (rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, and water buffalo) is your travel wish, this friendly and incredibly safe country is your dream come true. Botswana is vast, in fact, 38 percent of the country is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife areas, and much of it is so remote that the only way in is by tiny, buzzing aircraft (usually just six seats), so there are no last-minute reservations possible. Safari company Natural Selection has a number of camps and itineraries that are designed to take travelers deep into these remote places far away from the crowds. Two areas not to miss in Botswana include the iconic Okavango Delta and majestic Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Natural Selection offers stylish camps within these regions that are full of adventure, wildlife, and one-of-a-kind experiences, that all give back to conservation projects and local communities at the same time. Find out more of the most popular travel destinations in Africa.

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bedouin tent desert camp majilisvia

Camp in the sand dunes in Abu Dhabi

Enjoy a magical journey to the desert underneath a canopy of stars with Qasr Al Sarab‘s new desert Bedouin Night Camping Experience, where you can spend the night in Bedouin-style tents deep among the dunes when you travel to your dream destination next year. This remote destination feels like a fairytale, especially since guests can choose to arrive by camel transfer to the romantic camping site (or opt for an adrenaline rush 4×4 drop off). You’ll be welcomed with traditional Arabic coffee and dates before you sink into your remote tent overlooking the dunes. Dining includes an authentic Emirate dinner in the Hadheera (Arabic dining area), plus you’ll get the chance to enjoy archery, falconry, learn about hunting, and go dune bashing in the remote desert. Check out these unforgettable, and affordable bucket list trips that won’t break the bank.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches, and everything in between.