Essential Travel Experiences You Need Before You Die

Traveling affords us experiences and adventures that cultivate who we are. Check out these travel musts before you die!

I love to travel. As a child, my lower-middle-class parents could not afford vacations, so we rarely left our 2-bedroom home. In fact, we only took one vacation my entire childhood to my aunt and uncle’s house in another town. We stayed with them and their youngest daughter for a few days. It was a wonderful experience, but it was limited.

Besides that, my parents bought a camper when I was a teenager that we stayed in on many weekends. The campground is in the same town we lived in, but it was always nice to get away. When I graduated high school, I didn’t have funds to go to college, so I decided it was time to travel.

I signed up for a mission trip in Mexico. At 17, I hopped on a bus and headed to El Paso, Texas to meet the group. It took me 4 days to get from north central Indiana to the southern tip of Texas, but that trip will forever be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

After arriving, our group rode a bus to Chihuahua, Mexico where I stayed for months. I returned the same way I arrived: on a bus. It took 3 days to get back to Indiana. I stayed for one day before taking a bus to New York City. I worked as a nanny in New Jersey and spent some time (attempting) acting in New York before flying back to Indiana.

Since that time, I’ve let the travel bug take me to many places with different people, using various modes of transportation with interesting situations. Those experiences have led me to encourage my own children to travel often and make sure they take the following trips in their lifetime.


There are certain places we should all stay in at some point in our lives to understand our culture and that of others.

Your own city

When you stay somewhere (other than your house) in your city, you get to see it in a different light. This doesn’t mean spending the night at your best friend’s house in high school (although I firmly believe in that experience, too). This means renting a hotel room in your town. Take your city in as a visitor would.

Another city in your state

There are benefits to staying in other cities within your state, but it’s a trip everyone should take at some point. As a child, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Portland, Indiana. I lived in a more urban area, but they lived in a very rural area. It was a different culture within my same state, which gave me a stronger idea of our statewide culture. Try a city that is unlike your own.

Another state

Staying in another state gives you a taste of other cultures, personalities, and perspectives. I remember being on the east coast where there was an air of power and confidence, but when I stayed with a friend on the west coast, there was a sense of calm and freedom. I was very uncomfortable with the calm and freedom, but the power and confidence helped me grow at the time. Find out what each state has to offer or is most known for and try it.

A big city

Big cities (NYC, Chicago, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta) are scary places, but they teach you about who you are and who you can be. When you have to figure out a bus schedule or hail a cab, you learn to become more self-sufficient. I remember a trip another student and I took to The New York Times in college. My boss was this young kid who was the paper’s editor when I was the layout editor. He was arrogant and thought he should do everything. But when it came time to hail a cab, he couldn’t do it. Having experience doing it, I confidently stood in front of him, hailed the cab, and put his chauvinistic ego in check. You learn a lot about yourself when you stay in a big city. Make sure you’re staying safe.

A small town

Small towns are great places to get to know what makes people and places unique, special, and quiet. When I met the father of my kids, he took me to visit his family in Bugtussle, Kentucky. I didn’t think he was serious when he told me about it, but sure enough, it’s a town. I sat on the front porch of his aunt’s place with his granny and fell asleep. I was a high-strung young woman with massive anxiety, but the calm and peace that I felt in that space was amazing. Check out a cabin, VRBO, or AirBNB if you don’t know anyone you can stay with, so you can experience the peace in a small town.

Another country

If possible in your lifetime, I highly encourage you to visit another county. Experiencing American culture is one thing. We’re all different, but we have some shared cultural expectations. When you stay in another county, you learn how different the American culture is from other cultures, and you have to acclimate some to that other culture. I lived in Mexico at 17 and traveled to Italy at 37. The experiences were vastly different for a variety of reasons, but they both taught me about respecting other cultures and other traditions. Spend as much time in popular places as you do in lesser-known areas.


There are many people who we should travel with in our lives to help us understand those around us.


Most people travel with their parents in their youth. That’s a beneficial experience because we get to see our parents in a different light. When we visited my aunt and uncle as a child, I remember my mom smiling and laughing, and my dad allowing me to wander. They seemed different. They relaxed and let my aunt and uncle take care of things. I was able to see my parents as people instead of as my parents. Take your parents on a trip as adults when you can manage!


Traveling with your children is painful, but it’s also an experience that every parent and child should have. Parenting is the hardest job that ever existed, and as a mom of 4, I understand (and respect) why my parents only took us on one vacation in our lives. Still, I believe it’s important to take trips with your children. I took my kids on many trips, but the most memorable one was their last Christmas at home. We drove from Indiana to Florida. We stopped a few times along the way, but we spent time at Universal Studios. It was the most fun trip we’ve ever had as a family. My kids still talk about that trip, but they talk about the trips to hotels in other states just as much. Don’t feel like you have to go big on a trip with your kids and if you have more than one, take your kids on trips together and separately. 

Significant other/spouse

When you travel with your significant other or your spouse, you find out a lot about them, which is why I believe it’s important to travel with your significant other before they become your spouse. The first time I traveled with my (now) husband, we took our kids to the caves in Kentucky and then onto a beautiful chateau on Kentucky Lake in Tennessee. I drove, and he took thousands of pictures. He had traveled to other places before, but he either took a plane or had to drive, so he didn’t get to experience the wonders of the road. In the caves, he took more pictures because he was fascinated. When it came time to take the kids fishing, he let me fish and took care of line after line for the kids. We were already in love, but that trip showed me a different part of him that I hadn’t seen before. Plan a trip for you and your significant other to give you a better idea of who you’re committing to.


A guy, girl, or friend’s weekend is a necessary trip for everyone to take before they die. Often, these trips are around an event (a birthday, a wedding, a death), but these trips are essential to anyone’s self-discovery. I’m very limited on how many friends I have, so I haven’t been on a quality friend’s trip, but I’m very much looking forward to one soon. I was able to go with a friend (and his college friends) on a skiing trip. It was an interesting trip, but it taught me a lot about myself. I didn’t fit in with his group at all, so I had to acclimate in some ways. Friends tend to be the people we can be ourselves around, which is why a friend’s trip is so important. Consider making your friend’s trip an annual adventure.


Taking a trip by yourself is incredibly important. As someone who has traveled alone extensively, I believe you can learn more about yourself when you’re traveling alone than you can from home, surrounded by others. When you travel alone, you are the sole person responsible for whatever happens. You can talk to whoever you want. You can eat whatever you want. You can do whatever you want. I value my trips alone, and my husband and (sometimes) my kids respect that I am better when I take these trips. I’m also a grown woman who can do what I want. Try a trip alone soon even if you’ve taken one before.


Traveling means trying different modes of transportation at times, which shows you a lot about the human spirit.


A good road trip is healthy. When you take a road trip, you get to see the good, bad, and ugly in people. There’s a sense of exhilaration in rolling down the windows, cranking up the music, and letting your hand fight the wind. Make sure you’re mentally prepared for such a trip.


Flying is an experience that comes with intense anticipation. You’re always waiting on the next step. Airports are intimidating as well, but it’s a mode of travel that everyone should experience in their lifetime. You get to see how people handle stress, which gives you insight into the human psyche. Try a short trip in an easy-to-navigate airport for your first trip.


Trains are an interesting means of travel. In the states, they aren’t used as much for travel as they are in European countries. Trains are fast and give you more comfort and isolation than most other modes of transportation. Consider a personal car for the first time.


Subways are similar to trains but because they’re underground, they seem a bit more shady. Subways are found in larger cities, and unlike other modes of transportation, subways seem to have the largest variety of people on them. Homeless folks sit alongside professionals. This diversity on the subway is both intriguing and intimidating, but it’s an experience worth having. Travel during the day with a friend for the first time.


Taking a bus or a trolley is different from the big yellow school bus of your youth, but they both teach you much about people. Traveling by bus or trolley shows how people respect one another. If a young person is sitting and an older person is standing, it might appear that the younger person is healthy but disrespectful for not giving up their seat for someone who appears less healthy because of age. Neither of these things have to be true, but the actions and reactions of people are interesting. Be prepared for the dynamics of people if you step on a bus!


Perhaps one of the best experiences you can have when traveling is going with someone local. Cab drivers and locals are perfect guides for your traveling experience. You get one-on-one attention from someone who knows the area. You can ask questions and learn about the area while you’re on your way to your destination. Save up because cabs can be expensive.


Finally, there are a few situations that everyone should consider having to challenge themselves and build your character.

Living someplace

One of the most beneficial experiences someone can have is extending a trip to actually live in another place. My experiences living in Mexico and on the east coast in my youth helped shape who I became. My kids and I lived for a year in another city in our state, which helped me value my hometown even more. It’s easier to see what you want when you can see what is being offered.

In someone else’s home

Staying in a hotel, cabin, or the like is nice, but it’s also beneficial to stay in someone else’s home. When you stay in someone else’s home, you lose a bit of the freedom you might have in other spaces. That helps us distinguish between being a polite houseguest and being who we are.


Backpacking and camping are two rugged situations that challenge us. My husband and I backpacked across Italy on our honeymoon to experience all that Italy had to offer. It was exhausting, amazing, and exhausting. It challenges you to determine what is important and essential versus what is a luxury.

Do it

Speaking as an experienced traveler, traveling teaches us more about who we are, who we want to be, and who we are perceived as than sitting at home ever could. My experiences traveling have shaped me into the woman I am today. Consider trying these travel opportunities to discover your true self.

Categories: story-telling, personal development