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5 Epic Trips That You Should Experience Once in Your Lifetime

From thrilling safaris to sublime stays in far-flung locales, these tours bring the pinnacles of international travel to life.

A stunning view from Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

A stunning view from Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Courtesy of Alexander + Roberts

For travelers looking to take their next adventure to the extreme, pull out all the stops, and experience the vacation to end all vacations, you’ll want a trusted local to help you along your way. When you travel with the United States Tour Operators Association‘s network of tour operators, you’ll have a wide range of devoted experts at your side to help you take your trip to the max, all while taking care of all the little things so you don’t have to, including transportation, accommodation, entertainment, plus the added security of USTOA’s $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program.

With such knowledge, security, and accountability at hand, you’ll have more freedom to explore the far ends of the earth, whether it’s exploring South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania with a safari across the vast African plain or living like royalty on a tour through India. Of the many USTOA tour operator member tours available, we’ve chosen five truly extraordinary dream trip-level experiences to help make your future fabulous journey that much more feasible.

Safari in style through Southern and East Africa

A moment in time captured on the Maasai Mara<br/>

A moment in time captured on the Maasai Mara

Courtesy of Alexander + Roberts

From Cape Town to the Serengeti, the culture and wildlife of southeast Africa is beyond description. World-class wineries, migrating wildebeests, the elegant colonial estates of Stellenbosch, seemingly limitless species prowling the 12,000 square miles of Serengeti National Park, and more fill this part of the world with life-changing surprises and unspeakable beauty.

Traveling from Kenya to Tanzania, and from Zambia to South Africa, you can discover enough disparate cultures and complex histories to demand years of experience to fully grasp. If you don’t quite have that much time, Alexander + Roberts offers their 23-day Wings Over Africa safari, providing insight into the history, culture, and nature that makes these four countries so memorable.

Starting in an Edwardian chalet on the banks of the Zambezi River and ending with a thrilling safari ride in the Serengeti, this trip strikes an ideal balance of wild and refined, historic and mythic. You’ll also get to see the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, pair a hot air balloon safari with a champagne breakfast at the Maasai Mara, then connect with some Maasai villagers to gain perspective on what life is like for members of this indigenous tribe.

In addition, you can look forward to enjoying the amenities of a private villa amid the Fynbos landscapes of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and bask in the might of Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on earth. You’ll also embark on a cocktail cruise, partake in a game drive in Chobe National Park, visit the Cape Point Lighthouse, gaze upon the majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro, and savor farm-to-table cuisine paired with the finest in local wines. With more than three weeks to explore across such a large and diverse land, your days will be rich, varied, and marked by friendships you’ll have for a lifetime.

From Africa to Antarctica and including all the other continents in between, Alexander + Roberts has been elevating travel experiences since 1947. Offering private, tailor-made tours, plus solo traveler packages in addition to their premium small group tours—which don’t exceed 16 guests—the New Hampshire-based tour operator follows a “Without A Crowd” ethos to provide excellent value and even greater attention to detail for travelers who aren’t content with experiencing only the ordinary.

Experience the full range of Japan’s beauty

A calm moment captured in a Tokyo alleyway

A calm moment captured in a Tokyo alleyway

Courtesy of EF Go Ahead Tours

Japan is a land of contradictions, from its ancient temples and tranquil forests to its futuristic metropolises and legendary nightlife. To help get the most out of this rich, complex culture, EF Go Ahead Tours’ fills their 14-day Japan Adventure: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo travel package to the brim with thrilling experiences throughout the tiny, fascinating island nation.

Starting in the historic town of Osaka, you’ll be able to taste local specialties at Kuromon Ichiba Market, marvel at Osaka Castle, then get to know your Tour Director and fellow travelers with a family-style welcome dinner. In Hiroshima, you’ll visit the precise site where the atomic bomb was detonated in World War II, then meet a Legacy Successor, a local trained to pass on stories of such survivors.

Ride by high-speed bullet train to Kanazawa, a city surrounded by sea on one side and the Japanese Alps on the other. Travel to Takayama and the Alps where you can unwind with a sake tasting, a guided visit to one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and a dip into the onsen—hot springs—which hold an important place in Japanese society. In Kyoto, you’ll hike up to Fushimi Inari, the Shinto shrine made famous by its iconic red gates and experience a guided Zen meditation session and tea ceremony in a Buddhist temple.

Meet with a tea master and learn of the sacred gestures and implements used in this sacred ceremony in Tokyo, enjoy a guided tour through the Tsukiji fish market, visit the country’s oldest temple in Senso-ji, and so much more. You’ll also have the option to add on four additional days delighting in the tropical beaches, wartime history, and underground caves of Okinawa before returning home.

That add-on Okinawa extension is just the hint at the flexibility, sustainability, and convenience afforded to those who choose to travel with EF Go Ahead Tours. A mainstay in the travel industry for more than 55 years, EF Go Ahead offers travelers the choice of a wide range of travel styles, whether with new friends in small groups, old friends in private tours, or solo. With their parent company, EF Education First, EF Go Ahead works with Tour Directors and travel experts with a lifelong, informed relationship with each destination to ensure that every trip is meaningful, life-changing, and accessible for all.

Delve into India’s gilded history

Jaipur’s Amer Fort is ornate to the extreme

Jaipur’s Amer Fort is ornate to the extreme

Courtesy of SITA World Tours

India is a country in Technicolor, overloading the senses with natural beauty, mouthwatering cuisine, and amenities fit for royalty. Looking to take advantage of the very finest this country has on offer, SITA World Tours designed a 13-day India in Luxury adventure to impress even the worldliest traveler.

Arriving in Delhi, the capital of India, you’ll visit the impossibly ornate Akshardham Temple, plus important historical sites including Humayun’s Tomb, Qutab Minar, and Birla Temple. You’ll also visit the 16th-century Agra Fort, the famed Tomb of Akbar, and the iconic Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Above the pink city of Jaipur, the mountain fort of Amer pops in colors rivaled by its terrestrial counterpart, Jaipur’s “Palace of Winds,” known locally as Hawa Mahal.

Beyond these jaw-dropping urban monuments, you’ll also see some of India’s most precious natural assets, including a tiger safari at Ranthambore National Park, plus a visit to Elephanta Island, whose famous caves contain unforgettable 6th-century carvings and sculptures. Closing out your trip in Mumbai, you’ll visit the Gateway of India, the Hanging Gardens, the Jain Temple, and much more. Between these architectural wonders and the elegant accommodations awaiting you at the end of each day, it might be difficult to go home.

Of course, stylish hotels are only one part of the five-star features included when traveling with SITA World Tours. Exceeding expectations since 1933, the award-winning, Los Angeles-based company boasts completely customizable tours to more than 100 of the world’s most appealing destinations, each complete with 24/7 customer support and the backing of USTOA’s $1 million Travelers Assistance Program. With SITA, travelers can count on stress-free bookings, high-value luxury, and thoughtful, knowledgeable staff on hand to make each trip extraordinary.

Discover your Celtic pride in Scotland and Ireland

Edinburgh offers Georgian architecture, wild nightlife, and a warm welcome

Edinburgh offers Georgian architecture, wild nightlife, and a warm welcome

Courtesy of CIE Tours

For two neighboring nations united by language and history and divided by as few as 12 miles of ocean, Scotland and Ireland offer travelers two distinct experiences. From the lochs which feed Scotland’s distilleries to proud folk music traditions found in Ireland’s cozy pubs, there are millennia of recorded, living cultural history to enjoy. With their seven-day Scottish & Irish Sampler, CIE Tours delivers travelers to the most popular destinations in the British Isles, and to the off-the-beaten-path sites that highlight those little things setting Scotland and Ireland apart while making them special in their own way.

Your trip will begin in Edinburgh, where you’ll explore the classic architecture of the city, from the medieval structures of Old Town to the ornate Georgian palaces of “New” Town. While there, you’ll have time to ignite your senses with a distillery tour and Scotch tasting, followed by a visit to the iconic Edinburgh Castle, where you’ll see the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Heading west, you’ll have lunch at the 16th-century Culzean Castle, a cliffside beauty overlooking the coast from which you’ll then embark on a ferry for Belfast. Continuing along the Nine Glens of Antrim, a picturesque region marked by rolling greenery and coastal views of the 60-million-year-old Giant’s Causeway, you’ll make a lunchtime stop at Crosskeys Inn, the oldest thatched roof pub in Ireland.

Back in the capital, you’ll visit Titanic Belfast, an important, immersive monument and museum devoted to the memory of that fated ocean liner and Northern Ireland’s proud maritime industry set at the very shipyard where the Titanic was built. After a tour of Hillsborough Castle, the Northern Irish home of the British royal family, your group will continue onward to Dublin, starting with a thoroughly Irish evening of dinner and entertainment at Taylors Three Rock, a traditional, thatched-roof pub featuring a hearty, multicourse meal served alongside rousing song and dance certain to light up the night.

Upon arriving in downtown Dublin, you’ll explore O’Connell Street, the River Liffey, and other historic sites with a local guide by your side to help illuminate some of the city’s most compelling narratives. Following a visit to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, which celebrates the journey of the 10 million intrepid Irish women and men and the indelible influence they have on the world into which they ventured, you’ll have plenty of free time to explore Dublin on your own before embarking upon your own safe passage back home.

CIE Tours works tirelessly to ensure that traveling with them translates to good value, good stories, and good times. Their “All-In Inclusive Advantage” means that all activities, transportation, and entertainment, plus most meals, are baked into the price upfront. Founded in 1932 in Ireland, the tour operator focuses their efforts on fun, educational tours across in-demand, fully customizable locales throughout the British Isles, Iceland, and Italy with a company-wide commitment to social, economic, and environmental responsibility. Whether you opt for their Scottish & Irish Sampler, venture out on an independent trip with your own storytelling chauffeur, or some combination therein, you’ll have the support and flexibility included in all their travels, with travel protection up to 24 hours before your trip and dedicated staff on call to see to all your wants and needs.

Let Finland and Norway inspire you

View the Aurora Borealis up close from Finnish Lapland

View the Aurora Borealis up close from Finnish Lapland

Courtesy of Insight Vacations

The far north of Scandinavia is a steady source of awe, with its rugged, otherworldly landscapes and an Indigenous culture that remains relatively unchanged even as its southern neighbors evolved into hubs of modernity. For those looking to experience the awe-inspiring majesty of Norway and Finland, Insight Vacations offers a Northern Lights of Scandinavia Tour, featuring 10 ench anting days of natural wonders, inimitable culture, and plenty more magical experiences in between.

From Helsinki to Oslo, your voyage will feature plenty of urban exploration, with stays at the hyper-contemporary GLO Hotel Art, visits to the Oslo Opera House, and a whole lot more. Traveling hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle to Finnish Lapland, you’ll sample local caviar, visit one of the world’s first ice hotels, and witness the dancing colors of the phenomenal Northern Lights from a charming cabin at Aurora Village, whose heated glass roofs grant an unobstructed, unforgettable view of this phenomenon from the warm comfort of your bed.

Traveling to the island of Tromsøya, you’ll also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter a reindeer camp where members of the Sami tribe will welcome you with fireside folk songs, tales of their history, and lessons in sustainability, before closing the night with a hearty, traditional meal. The past and present, all rolled into one.

With more than 40 years spent providing travelers with such transformative and premium travel, Insight Vacations remains committed to connecting their clients with their next great domestic or international experience. Each trip with Insight Vacations comes with a dedicated Travel Director, who ensures that your travels are as seamless and stress free as possible while being with you on every step of your journey, working in tandem with local specialists to provide deeper insight into each destination through first-hand knowledge. With their expertise, you’ll experience a different kind of tour, including sustainable MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, high-style hotels, and thoughtfully curated dining experiences which come standard on every trip. Whether you’re traveling in a group, with your friends on a personalized journey, or on your own, Insight Vacations will work tirelessly to ensure that it’s one for the ages.

With the guarantee of safety and sustainability behind you, traveling with one of USTOA’s member tour operators allows you to go far beyond the ordinary and expected in the world’s most monumental destinations.

United States Tour Operators Association
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