(1) Snaefellsjokull, Iceland
Get totally transcendental atop a volcanic glacier—then ski down it.
The cratered peak of Snaefellsjokull is most famously recognized as the gateway down in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, but these days the glacier is known for a different kind of descent. Ten months of the year (the glacier is closed in January and February), intrepid alpine skiers flock to this inactive volcano for nine-plus miles of uninterrupted glacial terrain, ending in greenery, fantastically bizarre lava formations, and an arctic-tern colony in the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi. A ski lift will take you up partway, but the only way to the top is via snowmobile and a little ice climbing. Mystics believe the mountain is a healing source of “energy radiation” on par with the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. True or not, the view from the top, a seemingly endless stretch of snowcapped peaks and foamy ocean, is transcendental. As Verne put it, “Where the earth ended and the sea began it was impossible for the eye to distinguish . . . I wholly forgot who I was.”
(2) Yap, Micronesia
Dive with mating mantas.
The warm crystal waters of Yap (a tiny group of islands in the Pacific between Guam and Palau) are filled with the kind of exotic sea life—testy mandarin fish, leaf fish, ghost pipefish—that gets even a hardened scuba diver’s oxygen tank pumping. But between January and April, when the mantas arrive to mate, that scenery goes off the charts. Set yourself at one of the observation stations at the bottom of the Mi’l Channel and watch as the sea above you fills with the swooping giants (their wingspans reach up to fourteen feet) that glide like kites through the water in search of a partner (Yap Divers; 800-348-3927).
(3) Bray, England
Eat snail porridge and bacon ice cream.
No one loves an excuse to travel more than a foodie, and this year’s pilgrimage of choice leads not to France, or Spain, or Shanghai, but to the obscure British hamlet of Bray, 40 minutes by rail outside of London. This is the home of the Fat Duck restaurant, run by an earthy, obsessive, endlessly inventive Englishman named Heston Blumenthal. Part classicist, part innovator, part country gourmand, Blumenthal makes ice cream out of smoked bacon and eggs, and supplements his langoustine lasagne with deposits of pig’s trotter and truffles. The Fat Duck is that rare thing in the world of haute cuisine: a place for effete food snobs who actually like to eat (44-1628-580-333).
(4) Tokyo, Japan
Spend every last penny—and feel good about it.
You can barely turn a Tokyo corner without bumping into an architecturally marvelous luxury-goods bastion (the glass-diamond bubbles of Herzog & de Meuron’s Prada store alone are worth the trip), but it’s not just the complete collection of big brands that makes this the shopping capital of the world. Labyrinthine department stores like Tokyu Hands, Mitsukoshi, and Matsuya are overflowing with affordable, uniquely Japanese little goodies and gizmos, and then there are homegrown superbrands like Uniqlo (dirt-cheap stylish basics) and Muji (ultraminimalist everything). It’s easy to do nothing but shop for a week—and still feel like you’ve soaked up the local culture.
(5) Boca Paila, The Yucatán
Get one-up on your fly-fishing buddies—forever.
They’re strong, they’re silent, and they’re incredibly elusive—which is why bonefish are the saltwater fly fisher’s most desired quarry, and Boca Paila, at the very bottom of the Yucatán’s Mayan Riviera, his paradise. It’s hidden in the middle of a 1.3 million–acre nature reserve, and the only way in is a seven-mile dirt road so rutted, bumpy, and slow that only true lovers of isolation would ever brave it. Which means that as you’re casting your eight-weight line for skittish bones in the lagoon’s turquoise water, you’ll probably be entirely alone—just as it should be (four-night, three-day package, meals and guide included, start at $1,668; 800-245-1950; bocapaila.com).
(6) Kerala, India
Glide through the forest on a houseboat.
A few miles inland from the crowded, touristy beaches of Kerala lies a network of villages linked by palm-fringed lagoons, estuaries, canals, and deltas. Rent a fully staffed kettuvallam along the boat jetty in Alleppey town and let your crew row leisurely around the waterways. In any direction, you’ll find dense palm groves, Chinese fishing nets, lushly green paddy fields, and sleepy, water-bound villages where you can bargain for souvenirs boatside. Park for the night near Pathiramanal Island, populated by rare, migrating birds; wake up early the next morning so you can see farmers working the flooded fields and ducks being herded by locals in small canoes, while you sip your steaming sweet-and-strong milky coffee and eat fresh mango, pineapple, and papaya.