Most Americans get just two lousy weeks of vacation. One of those is usually blown up with family obligations. So if we're lucky, we get just one week to throw off the shackles of our desk jobs and embrace adventure. Given the pressure of planning a vacation in just the right place at just the right time for just the right budget, it's no wonder more than half of us end up with unused vacation time at the end of the year.
Let us alleviate that pressure. Simply bookmark this article and head to each of these five cities for an amazing adventure vacation. When a city gets featured in Lonely Planet's "The Cities Book," you know it's worth your precious time.
If mountain biking or hiking jaw-dropping trails is your thing, book your trip to Anchorage. Because the city is so close to mountains, glaciers, and lakes, you can spend your days enjoying nature and your nights enjoying the local music scene with a cold microbrew in your hand. Your hotel room will be literally 20 minutes from the Alaskan wilderness.
Lonely Planet recommends visiting in summer. That's when the skies are clear and the city's flowers are in full bloom. On the other hand, if you make it there in winter, you can catch the Northern Lights and enjoy snow sports. We'd personally book a trip for the Fur Rendezvous Festival so we can check out the ice sculptures, carnival, and hockey games. The world-famous Iditarod dog sled race also starts in Anchorage at the beginning of March every year.
Look one way and you'll see all 4,170 feet (1,270 m) of Mount Wellington (Kunanji). Turn around and you'll see the beautiful blue harbors below. Against that backdrop, you can cruise the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), sample foods from the Salamanca Market, and load up on craft whiskeys, gins, and beers.
At night, treat yourself to a ghost tour of the Penitentiary Chapel. How many other cities offer mountain hiking and surfing within a stone's throw of world-class wineries? Lonely Planet says there is no bad time to visit. Just book the cheapest plane ticket whenever you can go and enjoy's Australia's second-oldest city.
With a nickname like "The Doorway to the Himalaya," you know you're in for adventure in Kathmandu. Lonely Planet says a perfect day here involves wandering the medieval alleyways of the old town, ducking into hidden bahals (courtyards) to find decorated Buddhist memorials, secret temples, and ancient statues.
Kathmandu offers four Unesco World Heritage sites within the city, and even gives you a glimpse of the Himalaya as you're flying in and out. While you're there, knock back some tongba (millet beer from the Eastern Himalaya) and try to keep your dignity while dodging monkey swarms at the sacred stupa at Swayambunath.
Most Westerners probably have no idea what to expect from Rwanda, but Kigali is clean, safe, and beautiful. It's called the Land of a Thousand Hills, which means incredible views (and sore legs) for visitors. Rwanda is fast on the rebound from 1994's genocide, but visitors interested in the story can delve into that history at the moving Kigali Memorial Centre.
When you visit, Kigali offers the chance to get up close and personal with colobus monkeys or mountain gorillas on safari. If that's on your bucket list, you'll want to go between mid-May and September, or mid-December to mid-March. And if the city's hills aren't enough of a climb, you can hike up Mount Kigali for incredible views.
The city also offers vibrant nightlife, especially in the district of Remera. We can only imagine how fun it would be to check out the Rwandan pop music dance scene at the Black & White Club. Need another enticement? English is the official language of education, so you should have no trouble communicating.
La Paz, Bolivia
The top of the world is a great place to find adventure, and La Paz delivers. The world's highest city offers sprawling markets, hot springs, and a vibrant social scene.
You can take a mountain bike down the World's Most Dangerous Road: a 40-mile (64 km) ride with a nearly 12,000-foot (3,600 m) vertical drop if you make a wrong turn. You may want to keep a hand on those brakes, though — the road claims an estimated 300 lives and 26 vehicles every year. (If you want to enjoy the views without the threat, La Paz offers a cable car to see the incredible heights.)
When you've got your adrenaline fix, you can chill at the main drag: the Prado. On Sundays, traffic is restricted, so the sidewalks are packed with balloon and candy sellers, along with people renting kites, bikes, and toy cars. At night, you can dine on llama medallions with mushroom sauce, or drink maté, an herbal tea made from the coca leaf to help you battle altitude sickness.
If the threat of biking off a cliff or suffering from altitude sickness has you worried, La Paz has you covered. Just go to the Mercado de Hechicería (the Witches' Market) to pick up a protective talisman or herbal potion. Be sure your potion is less than three ounces if you'd like to fly home with it.
Need More Ideas?
Let's say sprawling mountains or death-defying bike rides aren't your thing. Maybe you'd like to explore the best cities for bookworms, music, wine, food, or architecture. Lonely Planet has 20 different lists to suit any traveler in their incredible coffee table book: "The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World." It's more than 400 pages of gorgeous photos and in-depth city profiles, so you can get a flavor for where you're traveling before you end up there.
Each city is profiled by its people, food scene, and the best time to visit. Of Curiosity's home base, Chicago, the book says our people are known for being pragmatic and open-minded (true), our food is noted as unpretentious (also true), and the best time to visit is June-August (again, true). "The Cities Book" also dishes on a city's weaknesses. Yes, it nails Chicago on our cold winters (guilty as charged), high sales tax (10.25 percent — yes, really), and our insane wind storms (visit when the book suggests, and it's not a problem).
The book also includes a "perfect day" itinerary for each city, so your vacation couldn't be easier unless a native literally led you by the hand.
"The Cities Book" is the kind of thing you want to put on your coffee table so every guest in your home will flip through it and talk about where they've been and where they want to go. Even Cosmopolitan suggests travel as the best go-to conversation topic on a date. So having "The Cities Book" in your home is a guaranteed way to say, "Yes, I'm a sophisticated world-traveler who appreciates the finer things in life, like complex wine, cheeses that don't come pre-shredded in a bag, and handsome coffee table books that dazzle the eye and delight the mind." (Don't say that out loud. Just let the book do the talking for you.)