Where should I go for my Big Four-Oh?
Leah Walker April 1, 2014

I’m not one of those women who treat their age like some sort of state secret. I don’t get offended if someone asks how old I am, and I certainly don’t lie when answering. I don’t have an issue with aging, per se. Frankly, I look at aging this way: It beats the hell out of the alternative.

Leah 40 Birthday6Cheers to 40, y’all.

The sun is setting on my third decade. In August of this year, I turn 40. Normally I’m not big on celebrating my birthday–dinner with friends or family, but nothing too elaborate. After turning 16, 18, and 21, I just haven’t seen the point in all the hullabaloo of a massive celebration. However, for some reason 40 feels different. I want to do something sort of epic.

Leah 40 Birthday5A low-key celebration is more my style, but not this year.

For the last seven or eight years, I have vowed that for my 40th birthday, I’d be at the August 16 running of the Palio in Siena, Italy. This bareback horserace between the city’s contrade has been going on since the 1500s. I’m enamored with the tradition and all the merriment surrounding it. Also, how can you go wrong with Italy? The super Tuscan wines…the Nutella…the homemade pasta…the catcalls…the festivities…it’s enough to make me squeal with delight, and I’m so not that kind of girl.

Leah 40 Birthday1

I don’t need much for my 40th, but maybe a Cartier tiara or two.

Alas, August is a tough time in Europe for a travel writer, or really anyone for that matter. Since the entire continent goes on vacation during August, availability is low and prices are sky high. To add insult to injury, hoards of people from the rest of the world also descend upon Europe. I’ve not totally abandoned my dream of a Palio party, but I’m also thinking about possible other options. After all, I have a to-do list with 100+ items, many of which still need crossing off.

There’s literally a world of options at my feet. But even with that knowledge, my first instinct is to go back to Paris. I can’t help it. Paris is intoxicating and invigorates me like no place else. I feel a certain connection to the City of Light that I can’t quite explain. If I could, I’d curl up into a ball and live in the arms of Paris for all eternity.

Leah 40 Birthday4My 39th birthday was spent in Austin with my best friends from college.

Dramatics aside, I really want to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing my 40th birthday itinerary. In order to do that, I thought I’d solicit your advice. Obviously, I’ve not been to every place in the world, nor do I know about everything on earth that’s totally awesome, so your ideas would be extremely helpful.

Leah 40 Birthday3

Wine and Cuban cigars…sometimes it’s the simple things in life worth celebrating.

I’m open to any continent and almost any country. {I will go ahead and put the kibosh on Somalia before anyone suggests it.} I’m notorious for my hatred of cruises, but I’d even consider that if it were not one of those massive boats with hairy back contests. The trip could focus on food, wine, adventure, beaches, mountains, culture, cities, volunteerism, or any combination. I may take the trip alone, or I may not. Frankly, I don’t want that figured into my decision-making process.

So, what do you think, my fellow wanderlusters? What should I do for my big four-oh?

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for five years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.


  1. I think 40 deserves something epic. Safari and wine in South Africa.Blue Lagoon, waterfalls and volcanoes in Iceland, explore the fjords of Norway. Bear watching in Alaska. 40 is worthy of a huge celebration!

  2. The Caribbean is in low seasons using August! I down to aruba or Antigua for a tropical celebration, all the islands have low rates then and the hurricanes come mostly in September altho there is a risk. Aruba curacao n bonaire are out of the hurricane belt zone.

    1. You’re absolutely correct! I always overlook the Caribbean. Hurricanes are pretty rare in August, so it would be lovely.

  3. May I suggest the Southern Hemisphere? It’s a good way to avoid crowds. However, it’s winter time. Maybe visiting the wine regions of South Africa, Chile, Argentina or New Zealand? Australia sounds like a good choice too.
    Whatever you decide to do, have a great time!

    1. All of these are great suggestions. I’ve done New Zealand, but I’d love to go back. I think you’re really on to something with these places. 🙂

  4. You must go somewhere in Africa!!! (This would obviously have to be my response!) South Africa would probably be ideal for you with the wine, food, adventure, beaches, mountains, culture, cities, hahaha, it has it all and more! You could do a safari and live it up for 40. My favorite country in Africa is Botswana, though, so if you want a little more African flavor head there, but it’s a bit different than SA. Either way, I know you’ll fall in love like I did!

    PS I am totally with you on the age thing – embrace it!

    1. I absolutely knew you’d suggest Africa. I am determined to get there in 2014. I think you’re right on the money by suggesting South Africa. I’d love to see more of the continent, but it’s a great place for me to start.

  5. You are right in avoiding Europe in August. I made that mistake once and learned my lesson. I was actually in Sienna a couple of days after the Palio and it was pretty empty. (I have a habit of missing big festivals by a couple of days.)

    I say pick someplace that you have not been before that is high on your list.

  6. I spent my 40th in my own little bubble where it didn’t happen… Actually that day didn’t happen for several hundred other people either – I flew from Santiago to Auckland, taking of at 23:30 on my birthday eve and landing at 03:45 on the day after. It just didn’t happen.
    The people at LAN were completely disinterested though – no upgrade, not even an extra glass of wine!

    1. Ahhh….the good ol’ International Date Line. It’s been a crux to be before. I’m not surprised on the upgrade, or lack there of. Takes a miracle these days to get one.

  7. I started to comment yesterday and then decided to wait until I could come up with something clever. Twenty-four hours have passed and I remain unclever. This is like the statement “what do you get someone who has everything.” I know you haven’t been everywhere, and you in fact have a long list of places you still want to go. Here’s the thing: I don’t believe birthdays or anniversaries are big moments that require an even bigger celebration than usual. It gets built up and then even when it’s fabulous, it fails to meet expectations. Is there a destination or thing that has inspired you, maybe a place you’ve already visited that actually exceeded expectations? For my 40th I want to spend a week exploring Normandy, France. I’ve been there. It exceeded expectations. I want to go back, and I think a week being able to explore a place with no concerns of having to see something spectacular, just what makes me happy, that will work. Maybe it is Paris for you.

    1. You make great points, but I always have the highest of expectations for all of my trips. I guess it’s just a matter of me deciding where I want to celebrate. No matter where I am, there will be no big party. Though being surrounded by the Big 5 might be just enough to make the day slightly more memorable. 😉

  8. May I suggest Iceland? I was there a few years ago and is quite relaxing and rejuvenating. The scenery is like nowhere else and the natural wonders that are scattered all over the country are worth it alone. Two things that are awesome, checking out the Blue Lagoon Spa and wandering around downtown Reykjavik.

  9. That is a tough call. On one hand you feel like you should do something new and exotic, but on the other hand, familiar favorites beckon. How about you do both? Do a week in Paris combined with a week in Morocco or something like that.

  10. It’s great that you are looking at aging that way! I don’t understand why a lot of people are obsessed about staying young. It’s all a part of life!

    I’d suggest you go to somewhere relaxing first before heading out for an adventure 😉

  11. paris in august?? you know paris is our #1 always, but france is no place to go in august–the entire country is on vaca and everything is closed.

    now, tell us more about this cruise with the hairy back contest.

    1. I kid you not. I’ve been on a cruise that advertised this contest. AND, it was packed around the pool. Seriously gross.

  12. First, I want to write that I love your take on aging. I am a three-time cancer survivor and every single birthday is a gift denied to many. I make a HUGE deal out of my birthdays every year because they are a huge deal. So good for you for making 40 epic (I am getting close).

    So many amazing places to go. I, too, am notorious for my hatred of cruises so I will not suggest that. I am also notorious for my dislike of Paris, so I am going against what some others have written here. UGH I do not suggest Paris (so cliche’, sorry. And dirty, and smelly and the food in Belgium is so much better anyway).

    Icelandic road trip, hiking, biking and exploring or Africa – celebrating turning 40 under the stars on a beautiful African night with just the sound of nature around you… OR wine tasting in Chile while stopping in Patagonia. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

    No matter where you are in the world, cheers to you for celebrating yourself and the gift of another birthday. Even if you do choose Paris. 😉

    1. Three time cancer survivor before the age of 40…wow! I have the BRCA gene and have lost many family members from cancer, so I suppose that’s where I get this attitude. I really like the idea of Africa, but love the idea of wine tasting in Chile with Patagonia. That might be the ticket.

  13. …and the choice of where to celebrate your big four-oh iiiiiiissssss Tanzaniaaaaaa! climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or view the wildebeest migration -a wonder of the world,-or go for a safari…

  14. If you haven’t been there already, then can I suggest Slovenia? It’s absolutely beautiful, relatively small, wine tasting, Lippizzaner horses, some of the best prosciutto and gelato in the world, Julian Alps, caves, the stunning Lake Bled and one of the most charming capital cities in Europe AND the people are lovely!

    1. I’ve heard wonderful things about Slovenia. I think it totally needs a visit from me. Thanks for the suggestion.

  15. Leah,

    I am now 40 days from my 40th. Where did you end up going and what do you recommend for a dude who always travels with his family. I’ve cruised the Caribbean the last two years and visited all over. Sadly, very little is exciting to me in Jan.
    Can you make any suggestions?


    1. I wound up getting an apartment in Paris for the month of September. It was grand! Maybe just head to the Southern hemisphere?

  16. I to am turning 40 in January and have been looking for something epic myself after years of low-key birthdays, which is how I found this article.

    Since mine is in Jan I’ve been thinking going to Seychelles for some beach time and water activities and possibly follow-up with a trip to the mainland for a safari. Curious what your thoughts are on this type of vacation or if you’ve got other ideas for something that could be amazing, but still has some down-time for relaxation.

    In August i’d suggest Iceland or the Fjords of Norway as those are summer vacation places on my to-do list if you want to do something new. Central and southern Europe is great but crowded making it less then ideal in August. I enjoyed Bali last year which was a nice mix of culture and nature and beaches and the year before I was in Thailand and saw the phi phi islands and the beaches of Phuket. If you’re more into the idea of wine i’d suggest Chile/Argentina, personally I want to get to peru and see Machu Pichhu.

    Good luck wherever you decide to go.

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