Where to go for the Big 4-0?

I’ve been 38 years old for a little more than four months and already I’m planning what to do for my 40th birthday. About three years ago, I told my husband, “When I turn 40, I don’t want a big party or anything like that; I want to take a BIG trip.” Traveling to a country I’ve not yet visited is my idea of a good time, more fun than any party could be. At the time I made that statement, I really did not have a specific country or region in mind. I’m closer to the big 4-0 now and, while I still haven’t made a final decision on where to go, I have narrowed down the field – but I’ll still need your help.


Thingvellir, Iceland by pocius

The first memory I have of wanting to visit Iceland is from the seventh grade. The Reykjavik Summit was taking place at the time so our teacher presented us with Iceland-related lessons. Pictures of the unfamiliar yet stunning landscape drew me in then, and as the years went by and I learned of the country’s geothermal features and fishing culture, Iceland skyrocketed to the top of my travel bucket list. But my birthday is in February; do I really want to go to Iceland in February? I’m not afraid of cold temperatures and snow – I’m a lifelong Chicagoan, after all – but will it be completely inhospitable?


in little desert middle of mongolia : mongolia 2010 by tripflyin

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. There is this running joke in my Italian-American family that, unlike everyone else, I’m actually Asian. The claim is based primarily on my physical appearance, and it’s completely inaccurate, but everyone gets a good chuckle from it nonetheless. A certain family member, who shall remain unidentified (cough*Dad*cough), narrowed down the land of my alleged Asian ancestry to Mongolia. So now I want to go there. It’s not really because that’s where my father jokingly insists I’m from, but because I’m absolutely intrigued by the lifestyles of the nomadic peoples, and by the striking beauty of the rugged landscape. Further, in my early 20s, I fell in love with fly fishing and later on learned that some of the world’s best streams are in Mongolia. Can I see myself spending my 40th birthday wearing Neoprene waders, knee-deep in an untamed Mongolian river, trying to land a legendary Taimen? You bet your creel I can.


‘An Equestrian Nation’, Argentina, Chascomus, Field of Horses by WanderingtheWorld

Mine is a new love affair with Argentina. It started with a crush on Patagonia but the more I learned about the food and the wine and the culture, it became a full-on obsession. For my 40th birthday, I dream of learning to tango in Buenos Aires, followed by an incredible steak with chimichurri sauce, washed down with bottles of Malbec. I want to spend days exploring the Mendoza wine country and then the rest of the time traversing Patagonia. Far-fetched? Unrealistic? I’d like to find out for myself.


Castle on the hill by macieklew

This has everything to do with the accent, the kilts, the castles, and Kevin McKidd. Plus, it’s the one place on my list (maybe besides Iceland) that I would be comfortable bringing my daughter to. Because when I do take this 40th birthday trip, I plan to go for a long time. This isn’t going to be a standard 1 ½ – 2 week vacation, and I don’t know if I can leave my daughter for any amount of time longer than that. Plus, as a three year old in her “princess phase”, my daughter is obsessed with castles, so I imagine Scotland would be a fairy-tale dream come true for her.

Now this is where you come in, dear friends and readers. Have you been to Iceland, Mongolia, Argentina, and/or Scotland?

Would you recommend I celebrate my 40th birthday in one of these places?

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40 Responses to Where to go for the Big 4-0?

  1. Laura Raffae June 8, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Dying to go to Iceland, Argentina and Scotland. You know if you choose Scotland my favorite is right next to it! You could see Ireland and Scotland. I’d also love to go to Iceland and Argentina. I don’t know if I would choose Iceland in February though. Seems to me it would be a little toooooo cold but then again i don’t know. So my vote is for a Scotland/Ireland combo. Ireland has castles too!

    • Francesca June 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Ireland also is on my list, as is England. I haven’t ruled out doing a 40th birthday tour of the UK. I imagine if I choose Scotland, that’s probably what will happen!

  2. Steve Z June 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Of the four, I’ve only been to Scotland and highly recommend it.

    • Francesca June 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      Do any fishing in Scotland, Steve?

  3. Mark June 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    I guess it is all spelled out for me. Anyone know of any contests I can enter for trips to these places?????

    • Francesca June 8, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      I know you’re not complaining….

  4. Karen Murtagh June 9, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    My order for you:

    It would have been MIAS but for the Lucia factor and even as cute as she is that couldn’t beat out how cool it would be to go to Mongolia.. You’ll be 40. Do an extreme country. Easy to tackle places like Scotland and Argentina when you’re actually old.

    • Francesca June 9, 2012 at 9:02 am #

      I like the way you think, Murtagh. My original thought about a 40th birthday trip was in line with your reasoning: I’m turning 40 – a major milestone; celebrate it by doing something/going somewhere major, or extreme as you say. And going to Mongolia in February would be quite extreme!

  5. I'd Rather Be In Iceland June 9, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Iceland in February would be fine – although you don’t actually have to go ON your birthday for it to be a birthday trip. The weather is rarely snowy (although it was last year) and you would have daylight from about 9:00 – 18:30 at that time of year.

    • Francesca June 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

      Thanks for the info and for stopping by! Of course I don’t HAVE to take a 40th birthday trip on/over my actual birthday, but I’d prefer to do it that way. I think it’d be more exciting, make it feel more “real”.

  6. Jetting Around (@jettingaround) June 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I have yet to visit the places you mention, but I know that Argentina and Scotland are very, very high on my list. That would be my recommendation then! 🙂

    • Francesca June 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

      Valid reason, Pola! Thank you!

  7. Jill June 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    People in Mongolia nurse their kids until around age 9. No joke. I would be a little freaked out by that, but I’d still go there. I’m voting for Mongolia.

    • Francesca June 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

      And you know this because…?? Just kidding. Interesting factoid, though. I had no idea. Thanks for the vote!

      • Jill June 11, 2012 at 8:51 am #

        I read a blog post about it. Mongolia’s national sport is wrestling, and apparently the best wrestlers are the ones that were nursed till they were 6. So, if you go there, be prepared for lots of boob sightings, hahaha! Still though, Mongolia seems like an amazing place; you need to visit your people. =)

        • Francesca June 11, 2012 at 9:21 am #

          Wow, that’s pretty amazing! And yeah yeah yeah… I know all about going to visit “my people” 😉

    • Francesca June 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

      Tee hee… and someone found my blog by searching “mom mongolia big”.

  8. Traveling Ted June 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    I have never been to any of these five amazing countries, but my vote would be for Mongolia. It would be the country I would most enjoy reading travel blogs about. All the other countries I have read some stuff about, but I have seen very little about Mongolia. I had no idea it was known for its fishing. I have learned stuff about Mongolia from you already, and I would love to learn more from your blogs if you visited.

  9. Francesca June 10, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Ted, your comment is reason alone for me to choose Mongolia. Thank you for the kind words. I hope I do get to Mongolia one day so you and others can learn more about it from my trip reports.

  10. Amber Roth DeGrace June 11, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    I don’t think you can go wrong with any trip anywhere, but I understand you want to do something special for your 40th! I’m also thrilled you’re embracing age for what it is – just a number, nothing more. I think you should make a trip to my neck of the woods (or me to yours) so we can discuss ideas further and in detail! 🙂 xo

    • Francesca June 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      So true, Amber. And I’m all about embracing 40 as nothing but a number. It is the new 30, after all 😉 I think a trip to PA to see you definitely is in order! You and the family are more than welcome to visit us, too; we have plenty of room!

  11. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) June 11, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I say that you can’t lose with any of them, but I’ve only been to Scotland of the ones you’ve listed. I loved it there and was supposed to go back this summer and spend time in the countryside visiting friends. As things go, I am having to put it off until 2013. I love Scotland and Scots. Any place that created Gerard Butler must be kick ass, right?

    • Francesca June 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      I completely agree, Leah. Scotland is even higher on my list because of our pal Gerry and my boyfriend, Kevin McKidd.

  12. Raul June 11, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Francesca, all very fine choices. Some thoughts come to mind… Go to the furthest, most different one for the 40th and save the “easiest” one for your 70th! Argentina is wonderful with the tango and the beef but, in my opinion, when it comes to Patagonia, Chile beats it by a good bit! Mongolia is also on my list but it may be an easier trip for you since I imagine it is just a tad cooler than Chicago! Seriously, I plan to see it when I take the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow heading east – you can get off in Mongolia or keep going to China. Mongolia would be my final stop choice. And, then, overall, the one that gets my vote for you! Can’t wait to read about it! By the way, I have been waiting for my 40th birthday for years and have a few more years to go 😉

    • Francesca June 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      Very funny, Raul! I like your reasoning, though, that I should go the farthest for my 40th. I would love to ride the Trans-Siberian railway one day!

  13. Mendharawa Dorji June 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Come celebrate your BIG 40 in Bhutan! Since you don’t want a big bash, how about opting for a quiet evening spent with takins or just being among the clouds in the Himalayas. 🙂 For any information, email Bhutan Phoenix Tours at bhutanphoenix@gmail.com

    • Francesca June 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      I would LOVE to spend my 40th – or any birthday – in Bhutan! I’ll be getting in touch with you 🙂

  14. D.J. - The World of Deej June 12, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    If it were my choice, it would definitely be Scotland…but I’m a huge golfer. I’m sure there’s more than golf there though, right?:)

    • Francesca June 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      I’m sure, DJ. I am so NOT a golfer but I want to go to Scotland anyway, even though my reasons are a bit superficial (see comment above re: Gerard Butler and Kevin McKidd 🙂 )

  15. the lazy travelers June 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    this might be the hardest decision ever? we’ve been on a scotland kick lately, but you can’t go wrong with any of these.

    • Francesca June 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

      lol… right? Hardest decision ever. I guess it’s gonna come down to how much fundage is available when it comes time to book.

  16. The World Wanderer June 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    All of these places are so wonderful, I don’t really know how to choose! Honestly, I’ve been dreaming of Argentina for a while now and have heard so many wonderful things. “I dream of learning to tango in Buenos Aires, followed by an incredible steak with chimichurri sauce, washed down with bottles of Malbec. I want to spend days exploring the Mendoza wine country and then the rest of the time traversing Patagonia.”<—- how could you go wrong? I don't think there's a more perfect place to celebrate!

    • Francesca June 14, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

      You do bring up a good point. And having my words presented back to me makes it really hit home. Maybe Argentina is the winner…

  17. mrsoaroundtheworld June 13, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Ohhhhhh decisions, decisions! I found your options fascinating, to be honest – I would say, have a nice sexy trip to Argentina, include a bit of tango in Buenos Aires and a bit of polo watching and those fab haciendas!

    • Francesca June 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

      Ooh, Mrs. O, I like the way you think! I think I’m due for a “sexy trip” 🙂 And polo watching?? Is polo a big deal in Argentina?

  18. Kieu ~ GQ trippin June 16, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    I have yet to visit any of the countries you listed except for Buenos Aires, Argentina and absolutely loved it! I think celebrating your 40s abroad in any of the ones listed will be a memorable time. Personally, I’ve been itching to go to Iceland. 😉

    • Francesca June 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

      I know, Iceland! It just seems so… otherworldly? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it appears to be quite different than anyplace I’ve seen so far.

  19. Candice October 10, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    I highly recommend Argentina. I’ve been there twice and just love it. You can take a hydrofoil to Punta Del Esta, Uruguay for the day also. (Love Uruguay and easy to combine with Argentina). Burnos Aires is definitely a sexy place – at night visit the malanga’s, Tango shows and fun bars.

    I love Iceland but don’t really consider it a “big” trip. It’s only 5 hours from NYC (yes, I know you’re in Chicago) and such an easy trip to do for a long weekend. And yes, the geography there is so unworldly. Absolutely amazing.

    Also, are you bringing your daughter or going only with your husband? If you’re bringing your daughter I’d say Iceland or Scotland. If you’re going as a couple, I’d say Argentina.

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