Help Me Plan My 40th Birthday Trip (Please)

On 23 August 2011 by Jessica

I’m turning 40 soon. By which I mean in about six months. Which gives me just about enough time to plan a big trip for my birthday… If only I knew where I wanted to go.

This is why I’m asking for your assistance.

My birthday is on February 25, which means I’m sort of thinking about the Southern Hemisphere. I’m a Euro-phile, and my only Southern Hemisphere experience is Australia and New Zealand way back in 1992. This, my friends, is not going to help me pick a vacation destination.

What I’m hoping for in a vacation spot is listed below. What I’m hoping you’ll be able to do, oh Person Who Knows Continents I Do Not, is look over this list and say, “Oh, such-and-such country/region/city would be perfect.” I’m open to just about any suggestion destination-wise, although I’ve been eyeing maps of Central and South America primarily because the airfare wouldn’t be as monstrous as it would be if I wanted to (for instance) re-visit New Zealand. I’ve even considered going back to Scotland or France or going to a new-to-me country in Europe, such is my love of the Old World, so I’m really all ears at this point.

Many thanks, in advance, for your help.

40th Birthday Trip Wish List

  • food – This isn’t “oh, I hope they have food there,” it’s “I want the food to rock my world.” Also, I should note here that I have a stupidly sensitive gastro-intestinal tract, so if the food is extremely spicy or prone to making even hearty travelers sick I’m not going to be a happy camper.
  • wine – I’m not so into wine that I’ll chase it down, but wine-producing regions tend to also be foodie regions & gorgeous-scenery regions. And I’m good with all three of those things.
  • history – I’m not a history geek, but I love places where I can walk on streets that people have walked on for centuries. I’m not so into museums that I have to visit every single one in a city, but I do like museums showcasing local history, art museums with good guides, and churches. I’m a heathen, but boy-howdy do I love big, old churches…
  • scenery – I’m open to your interpretation of what’s pretty to look at. I’m a fan of city views as much as rolling hills and coastlines. I just want to be able to look out a window and sigh now and then.
  • festivals? – Is there anything going on over the weekend of February 25, 2012 in your chosen destination that I should know about? Something I’d want to seek out, or avoid?
  • not super hot/humid – I don’t deal well with high heat or humidity (I get ill, which is no fun anytime, least of all on one’s birthday), so if a destination isn’t super hot and humid that’s a very big plus in my book.
  • not strenuous – I’m not going to hike the Inca Trail for my birthday. It’s not going to happen. I would be willing to take the train up to Machu Picchu, but that’s about it, people. I will, however, walk all day long around a city or town or go for day hikes.
  • not beach-oriented – I can’t really be out in the sun much, so any spot that’s known for being the kind of place you kick back on a beach with a book isn’t going to work for me. Coastal places are fine, as long as the beach isn’t the only thing to do in town.
  • 1-2 weeks – I’m undecided as yet whether it’ll be a one-week trip to just one city or a two-week trip to a larger area, but if a destination “requires” a month in order to really “do it properly,” that may not work.

Oh, and if you happen to know of a kick-ass hotel in your chosen destination where I should really plan to wake up on my actual birthday – something with the kind of view that might make me weep with joy, for example – that’d be great to hear, too. I’m usually a 1-2 star hotel cheapskate, but I’m willing to splurge a little for a few days on this trip.

Please leave your suggestions as comments below. I can’t wait to hear what y’all have to say…

photo by David Reber’s Hammer Photography

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12 Responses to “Help Me Plan My 40th Birthday Trip (Please)”

  • I’ve never been to Brazil or Argentina, but from what I’ve heard, both would fit your criteria.

  • I went to a friend’s birthday party last night here in Portland, at one of the other people at the party was the woman who has written the book – quite literally – on Buenos Aires & Argentina: LP’s Argentina/BA writer. So, perhaps that’s a sign.

  • Okay, joining this party VERY late (jet lag’s a b@#%$), I would have said Barcelona fits the bill…but now I’m just wondering: Can I come with you to Buenos Aires?!

    There’s a street art tour I’ve been wanting to take, we could go wine tasting for a couple of days, I love Ryan’s suggestion of a side trip to Usuhaia, and really — where else are you going to find so many Italians outside of Italy?

    South America is #1 on my list of go-to places for 2012, so I’ll join everyone else here by saying thumbs up on BA. In the meantime, here’s my Argentina binder for a little research brush-up: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/index.php/2009/08/20/twt-travel-binder-argentina/ (xoxo)

  • Argentina – & Buenos Aires in particular – has been high on my list for a long time, but then someone told me it’d be hot as Hades in February, so I wondered if that might not be such a great idea… I’ll have to check weather averages for Feb/Mar & see what they say – but I love that so many of you are on the same page with BA. 🙂

  • Following Adam’s lead the city that meets ALL of your criteria and I believe would make for an amazing 40th is Buenos Aires. I suggest spending the entire 2 weeks in/around there. You can take tango lessons, explore the unbelievable cuisine and history, and walk to your heart’s delight.

    Plus, then a couple days trips to explore Montevideo and up to the falls (this will be longer than 1 day). My suggestion, settle into the city and absorb it. Let it get into your skin and I can assure you it will be a 40th that will change your life.

    Who knows, you may decide to never leave. Plus, if you do go let us know and we can connect you with friends that just moved to Seattle after 5+ years there.

    I cannot wait to hear the results.

  • What about San Pedro de Atacama? It’s the desert, in the summer, but it’s not humid and it gets cool at night. the sun is strong, but everyone understands you can’t be out in it all day. It has salt lakes, geysers, flamingos, pretty lagoons, hot springs, walks, hikes, amazing stargazing, and trips to old places that have a gazillion year old churches. It’s touristy, and four days is probably plenty, but you can spend the rest in Santiago. This is Chile, of course! There’s very good food available in San Pedro, but with the altitude and dryness, you might find you don’t want to drink much. For the part where you’re in Santiago, we can get you to some wineries.

    Plus you’d have me to visit! Any takers?

  • Jess, Japan doesn’t quite hit all your criteria, however it wd. Be a fabulous choice. If you go there, go to Kobe and Nara. Serious history there that even makes Europe feel young in comparison, let alone the US.

    I also second the vote for Portugal.

    Later, J

    • Oops, I meant to say Kyoto, not Kobe! February is sunny and dry, generally. Temps would be mid-to upper40s probably. Sunset around 5 pm I’d guess. Beginning March 1 there is a major ceremony involving burning torches in an ancient wooden temple and a well in Nara that is probably really a sight to see. And you could stay at a traditional Japanese inn for your special night(s).

      J

  • Your description is practically screaming Buenos Aires. Let’s take a more detailed look:

    * Food is not only good, but very cheap relative to the US. Multi-course meals for $15-20. It’s insane.
    * I don’t drink much wine, but even I indulged in Argentina. It’s that good.
    * There’s abundant history and culture to keep you busy at sites and in museums the entire time, if you like.
    * The scenery in BA is okay, (it’s a city, after all) but for some really breathtaking views I’d recommend a couple day side trip down to Ushuaia. Absolutely stunning.
    * The weather will be on the hotter side, but tolerable.
    * BA isn’t beach-oriented, but if you wanted a day or two of beach time Uruguay is right next door and has ample gorgeous coastline.
    * There’s a lot of opportunity for side trips in the region to get a nice mix of city and countryside.

    So that’s my recommendation for you. I’d also consider:

    * South Africa (two weeks- mostly Cape Town, Garden Route and Durban)
    * Hong Kong (I’m biased but it really does have everything- much more than most travelers give it credit for)

  • Wow, Josh, that is quite the response. Well done! He has some great suggestions, so those are tough shoes to follow.

    If you’re going to stick to Central or South America (I know you didn’t say that, but let’s just assume, shall we?), I am going to second Josh and say Argentina. It’s developed enough to where you shouldn’t any tummy problems, and traveling around is pretty easy, even without much Spanish (though it obviously helps). Depending on what you decide as far as length will depend on where to go. Buenos Aires is a must. It’s an amazing city, and one of the few that I feel I could pick up and move to tomorrow. It’s massive yet chill and laid back, the people are awesome, the food is fantastic (if you’re a meat eater–vegetarians beware), the wine is even better, there’s history, culture, markets, museums – you name it, BsAs has it. I can’t speak highly enough about it. There are several barrios (like the boroughs of NYC) that are all completely unique to each other much like NYC. Add to it that it’s extremely cheap, and you just can’t beat it.

    From there, you have tons of options. You could always head to Iguazu Falls as it’s really, really amazing. Makes Niagara look like a leaky faucet. Short flight from BsAs, long bus ride (overnight). It should be a pretty good time to go as it will be end of summer there.

    You could also head over to Bariloche, which is just in a marvelous setting overlooking a lake with mountains in the backdrop. The food is incredible, and if you have a sweet tooth, the chocolate and ice cream is oh so good. Dulce de leche ice cream FTW!!! A few hours south by bus is a little hippie town called El Bolson, which is super cool, really laid back, and beautiful. They have a three times a week market that is incredible if you’re a market kinda gal. Great handmade goods and even better food. I can still taste the homemade jams and waffles with fresh berries on them (I have pictures, just ask if you want more convincing). Super cool little place where you can totally chill out or do some hiking and bike riding if you’re up for it. Buses go daily to and from Bariloche, so an overnight trip or couple days wouldn’t waste much time.

    Believe it or not, in our 3 months in Argentina, we shamefully did not go to Mendoza. That is another obvious option for wine. We did, however, visit Salta and Cafayate in the northwest, and I can’t say enough great things about both. Again, the food was just fantastic in both, and Cafayate was one of our favorite stops on our entire trip, not just in Argentina. A cute, tiny little town with wineries in and around it, with mountains and a terrain similar to the American Southwest in the surrounding areas. Awesome. It’s typical to rent bikes and ride from winery to winery, which obviously makes for a fun time.

    I think a really awesome trip would be to fly to BsAs, stay there for a bit (depending on if it’s a week or 2), then fly to Salta, stay there for a few, rent a car and drive to Cafayate (the drive is stunning – we took a bus because of budget constraints, but I would imagine that road-tripping through this area would be amazing!). Then either fly to Iguazu before heading back to BsAs or just head back to BsAs (not aware of your budget, so flights could obviously get pricey).

    I have tons of information on my world travel for couples site, so just holler if you want me to send you some links. And obviously just shoot me an email, give me a call if you want to know more! Happy planning, and I can’t wait to see what you decide.

  • Jessica,

    1. Ok, after reading your qualifications the first place that popped into my head was Barcelona, so to satisfy your Europhilia that is my first recommendation Barcelona/Spain…if you decide on more than a week, then I will push for Morocco

    2. I haven’t been to much of central/south america (except for Bogota), but my suggestions for Southern Hemisphere would be Argentina for Buenos Aires. Weather should be good. Won’t be middle of summer, more like end of summer August/September type feeling for us in East Coast, cooling temperatures. Also, considered to be a lower season (peak I guess would be december/january). Flights are far (10+ direct) and could cost well over a $1000. It is NEXT on my list of places to go far (I have europe in december january but after I am going there). Food is supposed to be awesome, plenty of historical sights (even some jewish ones), relatively safe for a south american country, european feel (what could be better). So Argentina is my suggestion. Also, if you want you can hit the beach and ski all in the same country! Since you know i’m a flashpacker, I would recommend doing both Peru (fly to lima make your way down for machu pichu) and Argentina if you were doing say 10 days…5 in each…also you could get to machu pichu early on your birthday and apparently it has a great view!

    3a. For really really far away, I have two suggestions: Vietnam/Cambodia. For two weeks you could easily see several cities in Vietnam and then do a side trip to Angkor Wat (that would be a great sunrise for your birthday). Plenty of history, beaches aren’t a necessary, weather will be perfect, not high season, not strenuous (in fact travel is very slow moving)…downsides: while there are plenty of bland foods, I worry for the local spices in the foods you may eat…also, it could be humid, but I think in february humidity should be way down…i was there in May/june and it was brutal and according to wunderground.com under historical data humidity doesn’t appear to be so much…another downside is cost of flights, that could be high…you would have to probably stopover or connect in hong kong or KL or somewhere in SEA…

    3b. Japan…everything hits your fancy except for weather…it could be cold… flights have been dropping since Haneda has been up and running and there is way more competition going to Japan…Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima…not sure there is more history in any other country in the world except for maybe China, Turkey, and the countries that make up mesopatamia (middle east, persia, greece) and ok rome! Japan is also pricey but manageable and there are a lot of 1-2 star hotel options…Food great, not strenuous with plenty of mass transport etc…

    4a. Southern Africa: If you did a 7-10 days, I would recommend South Africa. Weather should be perfect, plenty of wine, great food, scenary, not strenuous, not beach oriented…lacking: history…I didn’t walk around feeling the same history feel I get in Europe and places in Asia…There is more recent history than anything, but apparently the first humans came from there so thats history! Wine great…you could do a safari at Kruger…Cape Town supposed to be great in late summer…stellenbosch, joburg…downside – slightly dangerous (I didn’t feel that unsafe but never know).

    4b. Eastern Africa: You could easily find a 10-14 day tour for eastern africa and see all the great wildlife…downsides cost of flight, tour and it could be hot, but not that humid(need to double check), you may need a yellow fever vaccine and have to take malaria prophalaxis.

    In summation, my number one suggestion would be Argentina and I think Peru (machu pichu would be great for your birthday morning)…Weather, scenary, history, wine, food, not strenuous, not majorly beach oriented, not super hot/humid, can easily be done in 10-14 days…Only thing, is I don’t know about festivals, and cost of flights could be a little high.

    Hope this helps!

    Josh Epstein

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