9 life-changing travel experiences you need to book this year
Eager to fill your friends with travel envy? Try these once-in-a-lifetime money-can-buy trips, says Sarah Marshall
Everyone has a wish list of destinations to tick off, but these days, travel isn't simply about the choice of location.
Real adventures are shaped by experiences - encountering local people, grappling with tricky terrain and witnessing once-in-a-lifetime events.
Sometimes these are all down to serendipity, but why take the chance when you can buy a dinner party anecdote in a neatly arranged package?
Whether it's learning to live on Mars or hanging out with an Amazonian tribe, these are the 2019 bucket list 'must-dos' that'll earn you serious bragging rights.
1. Dine underwater in the Maldives
The trend for sub-surface activities has been gaining pace in this Indian Ocean paradise, and you don't even have to don a tank and a mask to take part. The latest marine opening is H2O, the restaurant at new five-star resort You & Me by Cocoon, opening in the Raa Atoll on February 1. Diners will have a 360-view of the reef and its inhabitants, without even getting their hair wet.
How: Rooms start from around €390 on a B&B basis. Visit youandmemaldives.com. Fly to the Maldives via Dubai or Abu Dhabi with Emirates or Etihad.
2. Be the guest of a Brazilian tribe
The Amazon rainforest is home to many indigenous tribes, some completely cut off from the Western world. For a few months of the year, the Kayapo Warriors welcome visitors to their camp in the southern Xingu river basin of Brazil, an area they've fought hard to protect from loggers, ranchers and gold miners. During a stay, learn how to apply colourful body paint, explore rivers in search of otters and discover life disconnected from modern development.
How: Abercrombie & Kent offers a nine-night trip from £4,945/€5,470 including flights, transfers, accommodation and some experiences. Visit abercrombiekent.co.uk.
3. Train like an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center
Ever imagined what it might be like to live on Mars? A new immersive experience at Florida's famous astronaut academy offers tourists an opportunity to join a training programme designed to prepare participants for the Red Planet's harsh environment.
How: Aer Lingus flies to Orlando and Miami. Using NASA science, the five-hour Astronaut Training Experience costs £139 per person. Visit KennedySpaceCenter.com.
4. Sip champagne and fine dine in an ice cave
There's no risk of room temperature bubbles with The Blue Room experience, available at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler. A scenic helicopter ride takes guests to Canada's largest, southernmost ice field, where they head to a shimmering blue ice cave for a five-course meal served with Krug.
How: Head-line Mountain Holidays offers the six-hour experience from £11,600/€12,830 (for two). Available year-round. Visit headlinemountainholidays.com.
5. Create your own 007 adventure in Thailand
He may be battling international crime networks, but James Bond always seems to swan through the most sophisticated locations while he's at it. Inspired by 1974 film, The Man With The Golden Gun, Layan Residences by Anantara, in Phuket, have come up with a blow-the-budget holiday fit for an MI5 agent. Join a cruise around Phang Nga Bay, where key scenes were filmed, hone Ninja skills with a private Muay Thai boxing lesson, and take an opportunity to handle the actual golden gun during a wine tasting - with an empty cartridge, of course.
How: A two-bedroom Layan Residence costs from €1,845 per night, including live-in butler, complimentary mini bar and breakfast. Visit anantara.com.
6. Picnic on a vanishing island
Only accessible for two hours a day before the tide washes it away, Jarada Island promises visitors a true castaway experience. Guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain can sail over for a lavish lunch of Bahraini dishes, enjoyed while seated on traditional woven floor-cushions. There's plenty of time to relax and savour the surroundings, before the island vanishes into the Arabian Gulf.
How: Rooms start from £338 per room per night. Visit ritzcarlton.com/en.
7. Experience an eclipse in the Atacama Desert
In July this year, skies will fall black over Chile when the sun temporarily disappears from view. One of the best places to observe the phenomenon will be this northern desert region, one of the driest places on earth, famous for its stargazing.
How: Nuevo Mundo (nuevomundo.ie) specialises in South American holidays. Select Latin America has a four-day Glamping Experience from La Serena to the Elqui Valley, timed to witness the eclipse, costing from €3,445pp ex. flights. Visit selectlatinamerica.co.uk. For more travel options to Latin America, visit lata.travel.
More: Southern Star: Chile
8. Play cricket in the Himalayas
Indians are famously good at cricket, so you'll need to sharpen your bowling skills to compete in a special tournament organised with local communities 2,000m above sea level. Held annually to celebrate the end of spring harvest, the event is now open to tourists. Between June 2 and 15, guests of Village Ways can take part in five morning cricket matches in the Saryu Valley.
How: A 10-night Himalayan Village Cricket Tournament holiday costs from £1,113/€1230pp from the UK (two sharing), including accommodation, most meals and transfers. For parties of four or more, the price reduces to £883/€977pp. Flights to Delhi extra. Visit villageways.com.
9. Workout with a celeb trainer in LA
If 2019's life goals include shaping up like Jennifer Aniston or Bradley Cooper, this special access experience could be the ticket. Take part in a private session with one of Hollywood's top personal trainers, who will do their best to make you red carpet ready and devise a personalised programme to continue at home.
How: Fly to LA with Aer Lingus, or Abercrombie & Kent offers a 15-night tailor-made Classic California itinerary from £5,395/€5,970pp, including flights, transfers, accommodation and some experiences. Visit abercrombiekent.co.uk.
Read more:50 best holidays for 2019: Get your trips started here!