Travel has the power to change the way you see the world. Certain destinations tend to change you, to alter the way you feel about the world, and sometimes even the way you feel about yourself. Sometimes these life-changing places are the ones you would expect, and others are more personal to your “life journey.”
1. Denali National Park, Alaska
The 92-mile road that runs through Denali National Park journeys across a subarctic landscape unparalleled in North America. Golden eagles fly overhead, caribou climb ridges and grizzlies lumber across the tundra. Crowned by the mountain that gave the park its name, the protected wilderness stretches over six million acres, an area the size of a small European country. But it’s easy to lose yourself in a landscape untouched by the passage of time, in a space so big that anyone would feel small.
2. Drakensberg, South Africa
The otherworldly landscape evoked by its Afrikaans name, Dragon Mountains, needs no digital assistance. Jagged escarpments, sheer cliffs and snowy winter peaks are a storybook setting that “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson would love. The Zulu name Quathlamba, or Battlement of Spears, sums up the actual look of the mountains. People have admired their mystical quality for thousands of years, evidenced in the collection of San rock art hidden away in caves and shelters throughout the region.
3. Bagan, Myanmar
One thousand years ago, this city ruled a Southeast Asian kingdom that showed its wealth by building 10,000 Buddhist temples along the Irrawaddy River. More than 2,000 remain. Unlike in Cambodia, where giant groups come to explore Angkor Wat, Bagan remains a quiet experience where locals in sandalwood makeup and longyis show off the sights. There are no mega-hotels, no big resorts, just a slip in time to an Asia that no longer exists in many other places.
4. Holi Festival, India
In spring, the Hindu festival of colors explodes in the Indian temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan. The free for all of powder and colored water leaves everyone looking like human jellybeans. The festival has spread around the world but retains special significance here at the spot revered as Krishna’s birthplace. It’s a celebration of spring, but to truly take part means embracing the holiday’s spirit of forgiveness of others and oneself.
5. U.S. Highway 1 Along the Pacific Coast
There are few more iconic American travel experiences than a road trip, and few more spectacular roads to choose than U.S. Highway 1 up the California coast. Parts of the route are instantly familiar from movies and commercials. Sharp twists, dramatic cliffs and powerful bridges make for an exhilarating drive without a chase scene or a romantic romp. The full drive runs nearly 600 miles from San Diego to north of San Francisco. Don’t plan to race through it. There are a lot of stops along the way.
6. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Diving or snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef makes the world seem even bigger than it already does. The 2,900 reefs that form the Great Barrier comprise billions upon billions of tiny living creatures, coral, which together have built something visible from space. It’s something to do sooner rather than later. The authority that manages the reef says warming ocean waters have caused huge swaths of coral to bleach out.
7. Kyoto, Japan
Japan’s sleek high-speed trains and LED-lit streets take a back seat in Kyoto, the old imperial capital of pagodas and temples, where a tea ceremony can last for hours. Casual visitors can contemplate life’s mysteries while strolling along the Philosopher’s Path, which runs under cherry trees and near shrines and temples. Really embracing mindfulness and meditation means going on a retreat at one of the Zen temples, like Shunkoin.
8. Forbidden City, Beijing
Touring a capital’s old palace can feel like part of a travel checklist, a sight to be seen and ticked off. The Forbidden City, formally known as the Palace Museum, is different. Both the largest and most visited palace complex in the world, it operates on a scale that’s hard to imagine without walking through its many pathways and penetrating the layers upon layers of grandeur. A center of power for nearly five centuries, China has invested heavily in re-establishing it as a symbol of the country’s historic might and prestige.
9. New Orleans Jazz Fest
Nowhere is New Orleans’ food and music on finer display than at the Jazz Festival, which pulls in big-name performers and small-town gospel choirs with equal enthusiasm. Food areas spill out across the grounds with boiled crawfish and softshell crabs, gumbo, and strawberry lemonade. It can be a bit gluttonous, for the stomach and the ears, in the best way. The Jazz Fest is about celebrating life’s pleasures and overcoming its obstacles.
10. Wimbledon, London
As the oldest, and arguably most prestigious, of tennis’s Grand Slam tournaments, Wimbledon is undoubtedly one of the world’s great sporting events. With its fiercely maintained traditions, freshly cut grass courts, players dressed all in white, ivy covered walls, Wimbledon is an exemplar of a certain type of old school Britishness. For tennis lovers, this is heaven. Even for those with a passing interest in a sport, Wimbledon is a way of giving a nod to old traditions, sort of playing at Downton Abbey, while exploring the many vibrant kinds of modern Britishness that London offers.