Transform yourself by hiking to the base camp of Mt. Everest, driving an Indy racing car 175 mph, helping with fair trade development in the Amazon rainforest, touring the underwater wreckage of the Titanic, or maybe taking a leisurely walk in space.
One of the fastest-growing types of travel is experiential travel. Also called “transformational travel,” experiential travel adventures are offered by everyone from National Geographic, the brand synonymous with adventure, to leading traveling companies, such as Abercrombie & Kent and Butterfield and Robinson. Major outfitters, like REI and EMS, also offer experiential travel adventures.
Through National Geographic Expeditions, you can experience an 11-day “Moroccan Odyssey” from Casablanca, Marrakech, and Fez to the Sahara; a 9-day dog-sledding (yes, driving your own team of Huskies) journey across Sweden’s Lapland region to the famous Icehotel, which is rebuilt anew every November by artisans and artists; or, a 14-day Mongolian horseback trek, an experience through which you can be moved by Mongolia’s nomadic way of life.
No one mixes adventure with luxury better than Abercrombie & Kent. This year, the company is featuring their 50th anniversary African safari in Kenya, where the company was founded. Some of their other travel experiences include “Classic Antarctica,” where, over 14 days, you can discover the world’s last frontier, and, “Splendors of the Nile,” a 14-day trip along the Nile, where, for four days, you can cruise the Nile on their Sun Boat IV, offering “true pharaonic style.”
Butterfield and Robinson, famous for their bike tours, offers several bike and walking trips, including “Provence Biking,” a 6-day biking adventure that begins in the pastoral Lure Mountains and concludes in sunny Avignon.
For the service-seeking traveler, the St. Bernard Project offers a “volunteer vacation” rebuilding houses in New Orleans, and Kaya Responsible Travel has a myriad of volunteer travel opportunities, from working with disabled orphans in Peru, to contributing your efforts to fair trade development and agroforestry in the Amazon rainforest.
REI and EMS, two outdoor lifestyle leaders, also offer experiential travel programs. With REI Adventures, you can kayak and snorkel in the Galapagos Islands, or, with their “Everest Base Camp Trek,” hike with a Sherpa staff to the base camp of Mt. Everest, at an elevation of 18,190′. Closer to home, EMS offers a 7-day backpacking trip in Alaska’s magnificent Denali National Park and Preserve, home of 20,230 ft. Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America.
New Zealand boasts the highest boat ownership rate in the world, and no wonder, as it’s one of the most desirable sailing places in the world. Bay of Islands, a company in New Zealand, offers crewed yachts from 35-80′, enabling you to completely relax and get the most out of your sailing adventure.
And, no world-class sailing itinerary is complete without an excursion in the Greek Isles, which many believe to be the world’s most beautiful islands. G Adventures offers “Greek Isles Sailing Adventure: Athens to Kos,” a coveted 22-day sailing excursion aboard a 50-foot yacht that includes the Aegean Sea, Athens, Cyclades Islands, Mykonos, Santorini, Dodecanese Islands, and Kos.
The Romance of Rail Travel
If you’re in Paris and wish for an extended adventure, one would be hard pressed to exceed the wonderment offered in “Paris-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul,” the 6-day signature journey aboard the famed Venice Simplon Orient-Express, which Vanity Fair calls “the train against which all other luxury trains are measured.”
The Trans-Siberian Railway, the world’s longest, is the venue for Trans-Siberian Experience’s “Classic Dr. Zhivago” offering, a 16-day excursion from Beijing to Beijing. The trip includes some special Zhivago-related visits in and around Perm, the real city fictionalized as “Yuriatin,” and the city where Pasternak lived and drafted the novel.
Extreme Travel Experiences
Shark Cage Diving KZN, located on the coast of shark-teaming South Africa, provides experiential travelers with an opportunity to swim with sharks using a “soft cage.” Or, if you’d like to go a bit deeper, say 12,500 feet, Titanic Expeditions offers a 16-day adventure to explore the wreak of the RMS Titanic inside a MIR submersible vessel.
Andretti Racing’s “Mario Andretti Racing Experience” provides you with an opportunity to drive an actual Indy racing car over a 1½-day period, and reach an amazing speed of 175+ mph. This experience includes a driver’s meeting, training & instruction, and graduate certificate.
For those seeking an extreme experience, there is “Extreme Seal Experience,” which is run by former Navy Seals who provide you with an authentic 14-day Navy Seal training experience, which includes intensive weapons and close quarters combat training, as well as rappel, fastrope, helo sniping, and different climbing techniques.
Finally, if you don’t mind heights, Space Adventures can provide you with an unmatched, 16-day experiential travel opportunity in the International Space Station. In preparing for the company’s “Orbital Flight” experience, which includes an opportunity to perform a spacewalk, you’ll receive full astronaut training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, which is located about 15 miles east of Moscow.
Preparing for your trip
With Butterfield and Robinson’s experiential trips, activities are divided into three different activity levels (easygoing, moderate and challenging). For trips involving easygoing and moderate activity, you may want to start walking and biking a few weeks before your trip. If your trip involves challenging activity levels, you may want to start a pre-trip exercise program a few months before your embark.
However, for strenuous trips, like REI’s “Everest Base Camp Trek,” you’ll need to consult with the company to see what the specific physical requirements are for each trip. For extreme experiences, such as “Extreme Seal Experience,” for example, your physical training goals (not requirements) are indicated on their web site, which include: Body weight bench press — you should strive to get around 20 reps; body weight dead lift, 20 reps; body weight squat, 20 reps; and, pull-ups, 20 reps. Whew!
Before you go
Whatever your preferred experience may be, it’s always recommended that you see your doctor before embarking on any experiential travel adventure, particularly if you’re taking an international — or even an outer space — one.
Need some gear for your transformative journey? Check out Real Altitude.
Photos: courtesy of National Geographic.