I am a full-fledged, certified, accredited late bloomer — at least when it comes to travel.
Sure, as a kid, my family traveled a bit, but usually to and from the same familiar places. We lived in Rhode Island, and every winter made our way back and forth between Stowe, Vermont, to ski nearly every weekend (and some weekdays when my parents were feeling particularly generous about skipping school to shred). We made the occasional trips to Florida and even took a cruise or two to the Caribbean. But it really wasn’t until I started writing here at Travel + Leisure that my airline miles started racking up.
In 2017, at the age of 32, I wrote my first story for Travel + Leisure, and since then, I’ve crisscrossed the globe, accruing passport stamps from some 40 countries in my passport. However, over the last five years, I’ve learned that you don’t need to skip over the international dateline to have a life-changing journey.
If this job has taught me anything, it’s that adventures can be big or small, but no matter the size, it’s crucial to have them because they shape who you are — especially in your 30s.
Your 30s are a time of explosive personal growth. You know more about who you are and what you want than you did in the decade before. If you’re fortunate, you now have a career (freelance, full-time, or otherwise) that allows you to have a little spare change in your back pocket and at least a few vacation days to burn. But, if you don’t know where to go, I’ve got you. Here are 11 destinations that made their mark on me in my 30s and spots I think everyone in their 30s should travel to.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park is criminally underrated. Somehow this spot doesn’t get the hype of more well-known national parks but packs just as much of an awe-inspiring punch as places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. It’s rugged and serene, quiet and striking, and absolutely massive. Badlands clocks in with more than 240,000 acres, making it an ideal place for solitude and contemplation. Come camp in the unique geologic formations, and if you visit in summer, head to the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater in the evening for a ranger-led stargazing class, so you know what you’re looking up at each night.
Your 30s are the ideal time to either learn to ski or level up your game, and there’s no better spot to do just that than Vail. The mountain town is both a chic destination and home to some of the most pristine skiing (on-piste and off) in North America. Come here to test your mettle on the slopes, or do as I did and take a lesson to hone in on your ski and snowboard game. You may think you know it all in your 30s, but it’s never too late to learn something new. Just make sure to book a hotel with a spa (like The Sebastian Vail) to indulge in a massage après-ski.
Joshua Tree, California
Sometimes in your 30s, you just feel like you need to escape this planet for a day or two. That’s exactly what you can do by visiting Joshua Tree, California. Home to the national park by the same name, this town is otherworldly with martian landscapes dotted with puffed Joshua Trees, and thanks to its eclectic and eccentric local scene that places value on finding inner peace over anything else. This can be experienced firsthand with a simple hike through the park or by visiting local destinations like The Integratron, which regularly hosts public sound baths and mediation events. Again, it’s a stellar spot to camp but is also home to some intergalactic-ready Airbnbs.
The Overseas Highway, Florida
Taking a road trip in your 30s is a must. While there are stretches of road across the nation that can do the trick, none are as beautiful as the Overseas Highway. The 113-mile highway runs from mainland Florida down through the Florida Keys, taking drivers over 42 bridges hovering over crystalline waters. Though not wildly long, the route should take you at least an entire day, if not more, because you absolutely should stop and linger along the way. Don’t miss Bahia Honda State Park, located on mile marker 37. The largely uninhabited island is untouched and is a perfect place to take a dip in the gin-clear waters to try and spot a fish or two. Then, continue on your journey to Key West, where you’ll find great food, stunning hotels, and even better company.
New York, New York
A city escape should be high up on your travel list in your 30s, so why not do it in style by booking a getaway to the city that never sleeps? New York City is a tried and true classic when it comes to urban adventures, and now’s the time to just lean in and let yourself be a tourist. Go ahead, tour the Empire State Building. Take a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty. Walk through Central Park. Hell, get a Magnolia Cupcake if you want. These things are all popular for a reason. Want to lean all the way in? Book a room at one of the city’s hot new hotels (The Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad, perhaps?).
Friendly reminder: It’s ok to recharge a little in this decade. Whether you need some time off from your job or your family duties, or just some time to reconnect with yourself, your 30s are a great time to plan a trip to Sedona. It’s a destination of immense beauty thanks to its famed red rock formations (make your way up either Bell Rock or Cathedral Rock for some of the best views this side of the Mississippi), as well as plenty of hotels and retreats that will cater to your desire to find the balance. Find peace at The Wilde Resort and Spa, which is home to a full-service spa that promotes spiritual growth, or the L’Auberge de Sedona, which offers immersive wellness classes and workshops like Introduction to Crystals and Meditation.
Hawaii is a perennial favorite destination no matter your age, but rather than follow the crowds to the Big Island or Oahu, in your 30s, it’s Kauai or bust. As the archipelago’s fourth largest island, Kauai still provides plenty of space to roam, but with fewer crowds. It’s also known as the “garden isle” due to its lush vegetation, which you’ll likely recognize from movies like the entire Jurassic Park franchise. Come sit by the beach and dip your toes in the crystalline waters, hike through the forest, and if your budget allows, splurge on sailing the dramatic Na Pali Coast. Then, rest your head at a resort like Timbers Kauai at Hokuala’s or grab a vacation rental.
Congratulations, you’re old enough to drink — and then some. If you’re going to imbibe, make sure it’s the best stuff in the country, which can be found tucked away in the Sonoma wine country enclave of Healdsburg. The quaint town doesn’t draw the same crowds as Napa, which is exactly the point. It’s a spot where you can head out to taste wines from smaller producers, including Vérité Winery, which specializes in European-style wines, and DaVero Farms and Winery, a leader in biodynamic production. Or, roll right out of bed at hotels like Montage Healdsburg, which sits on 258 acres, including vineyards (the grapes grown on-site go into wine produced at Aperture Cellars, just down the road).
Big Sky, Montana
If you need an all-seasons escape destination to add to your decade of travel, look no further than Big Sky. In the summer and fall, visitors can take to the trails for hiking and biking adventures, seeking out vistas that will be burned into their memories forever as they watch the leaves change. In the winter and well into spring, it’s a skiing destination with impressively soft powder. It’s also a place where unique opportunities abound, including night skiing by headlamp and dining by candlelight in the 100-year-old Lone Mountain Ranch. It even has a brand-new hotel, the Montage Big Sky, in case you’re looking for a luxury stay.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There are good times, then there are great times, and New Orleans more than delivers on the latter. New Orleans is a destination that surrounds you, hugs you, and burrows into your soul, even if you stay for just a day or two. It’s a place rife with culinary adventures, musical offerings, and just the right smattering of witchcraft to keep things interesting. Come for the party to end all parties, Mardi Gras, or truly any other day of the year to experience a similar level of revelry. Find tons of charm at The Chloe, a boutique hotel housed in a 19th-century mansion that also has a private pool for when you need a solo dip.
Last, but certainly not least, is your hometown. Going home in your 30s is a lovely choice because it shows you how much you’ve grown and allows you to experience the place you grew up in a whole new light. It’s a time to reconnect with old friends, family, and places that mean a great deal to you then, now, and forever. For me, this means a trip home to southern Rhode Island to dig into delicious seafood at the Matunuck Oyster Bar and surf at some stellar breaks in Narragansett (sorry, but the surfer and Rhode Island code say I can’t tell you anything more about the specific locations of great surf breaks, but if you ask around, a local may be willing to help). And it means staying overnight at my parents’. And when that becomes too much, book a stay at either The Shore House in Narragansett for a boutique getaway or Ocean House in Westerly for the five-star treatment.