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A Travel Writer's Bucket List


Written by
Haley Shapley

In the decade or so I’ve spent as a travel writer, I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the most amazing spots in the world, from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the geysers of Iceland to the undiscovered corners of our own country. The more places I see, the more I want to see — and in this line of work, I’m constantly hearing about more locations I just have to get to. My list is long and I add to it faster than I check things off, but part of the fun of travel is the daydreaming that comes along with it. Here are just a handful of the places I hope to get to someday.



For several years, this Norwegian archipelago has captured my imagination. I can’t say why, exactly, I feel drawn to visit, but I’m sure the ruggedness and remoteness play a role. After all, how many places are there where there are just as many polar bears as people, and snowmobiles are more common than cars? Svalbard is halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and the landscape is what you might imagine — ice fields and icebergs as far as the eye can see. I feel cold just thinking about it, but I also feel energized by the idea of exploring an area that’s still truly wild.  

Kayak with Beluga Whales

In fifth grade when we studied whales, I decided the beluga was my favorite. So when I heard that Quebec’s St. Lawrence River is a prime place to kayak with beluga whales, I knew I needed to add it to my bucket list. Throw in a little maritime scenery, some delicious French-Canadian cuisine, and the chance to spot other mammals (think porpoises and minke whales), and this promises to be an unforgettable adventure. Churchill, Manitoba, famed for its polar bears (and also high on my list!) is another fairly accessible spot where the belugas roam. 


Machu Picchu

As far as trips go, this is as classic as it gets. Peru’s Machu Picchu is certainly not an unknown destination, but here’s something I’ve learned from traveling — oftentimes, places are popular for a reason, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. No one I know who’s gone to this Incan archaeological site has come back disappointed. My plan is to hike my way there, although whether I’ll go for the quintessential Inca Trail or take an alternate route like the Salkantay or Lares Trek is still up in the air.

Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

A couple of years ago, I went heli-hiking in British Columbia with CMH, a company that pioneered heli-skiing. There, I was introduced to the via ferrata, which is a sort of combination of hiking and rock climbing that uses iron rungs and anchored cables to help people traverse mountains. They were popularized in World War I in Italy’s Dolomites, where soldiers used them to more easily cover the difficult terrain. Today, there are 200-plus via ferratas in the Dolomites, which makes it easy to link them together for multi-day trips, and you can follow some of those historic routes. 


Last year, I read The Geography of Bliss, a book about journalist Eric Weiner’s search to find out what makes some places happy (and others not). One of the stops on his journey was Bhutan, a country that measures its Gross National Happiness. It isn’t easy or inexpensive to get there, and for Americans, it’s a culture shock — which is one of my favorite things to experience when I travel. Weiner spends his time in the tiny Himalayan nation simultaneously awed and frustrated. But he emerges with this conclusion: “Bhutan is not Shangri-La, of that I am sure, but it is a strange place, peculiar in ways large and small. You lose your bearings here, and when that happens a crack forms in your armor. A crack large enough, if you’re lucky, to let in a few shafts of light.”

Cycle from Cairo to Cape Town

Ever since I visited Africa for the first time in 2013, I’ve been dying to go back — the nation of Namibia completely captivated me, and I’ve no doubt I’d feel similarly everywhere from the souqs of Marrakesh to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. If I ever had the time to get away, I’d love to pedal from Cairo to Cape Town, an option offered by Tour d’Afrique. Along the cross-continent four-month trip, riders experience everything from exploring the Pyramids of Giza to a boat trip on Lake Victoria to a safari in the Serengeti to relaxing on the beach in Malawi to cruising the Elephant Highway of Botswana. My head would be spinning and my legs would be aching, but I’m sure it would be an experience I’d never forget.   

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