Archive for the ‘Adventure Travel’ Category

Extraordinary Ecotourism: How To Make This An Earth Day To Remember

April 21, 2010

earth day ecotourism adventuresSitting here on the eve of Earth Day’s 40th anniversary, I know you’re already being bombarded with endless suggestions on how to mark the occasion, from local Earth Day celebrations designed to raise awareness of the planet’s plight to simple environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes you can make to show Mother Nature some love.  Unfortunately, based on prior experience, I also know that most of our friends and neighbors are likely to have forgotten all about the subject by this time next week.

Which is why I’m suggesting that you spend just a few minutes on this Earth Day considering a handful of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that offer the opportunity to feel like you’re really giving something back to the natural world.  There are any number of organizations that could use your help with ongoing research projects based in some of the most fascinating—and, in many cases, drop-dead gorgeous—spots on the globe.  The fact that these ecotourism expeditions also qualify as truly extraordinary experiences you’ll be talking about for years to come, well, that’s just a bonus.

To point you in the right direction, here’s a look at two reputable operations that offer a wide range of ecotourism adventures you’re bound to find both rewarding and fun:

Earthwatch Institute

Founded in 1971, this international non-profit organization pairs volunteers with scientific field researchers working on wildlife conservation and related projects.  They offer a broad array of intriguing hands-on programs, ranging from helping Peruvian ecologists study pink dolphins in the Amazon jungle to working to reduce the decline of cheetah populations in Namibia.

Responsible Travel

As one of the first companies to promote the idea of environmentally-friendly travel, this decade-old operation offers one-stop shopping for literally thousands of remarkable ecotourism programs.  With this many offerings to choose from, there’s a good chance you’ll find something of interest, from observing whale sharks in the Seychelles to doing population surveys of elephants in South Africa’s Tembe National Park.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Bush Planes and Brown Bears

Thailand’s Tiger Temple

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Adventures In Aviation: Zeppelin Flights

April 7, 2010

zeppelin flights san franciscoIn a world where many people have come to view flying as an ordeal to be endured, there are still lots of us for whom the act of leaving terra firma behind remains an adventure to be savored.  If you’re one of us, you owe it to yourself to book a seat on the first zeppelin to take to the skies above the U.S. in more than 70 years.

The company responsible for the zeppelin’s return to America, Airship Ventures, offers one- and two-hour flight-seeing tours around San Francisco Bay in the 246-foot helium-filled Eureka, as well as occasional cross-country flights as they reposition the zeppelin for tours in southern California or Monterey (if you have your private pilot’s license you can even take a turn at the controls). Between the zeppelin’s gentle flight characteristics—three 200-horsepower engines in rotating nacelles allow pilots to make this 747-sized airship hover, climb, and descend like a helicopter—and its huge panoramic windows, there simply isn’t a better platform for airborne rubbernecking out there.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer rarity of the experience.  The Eureka is the largest airship in existence and one of only three zeppelins operating anywhere in the world, facts that should earn you some bragging rights back home.

Ultimately though, all that grown-up appeal vanishes the moment you climb aboard.  From aerial views of Alcatraz and the city’s dramatic skyline to an amazing Golden Gate fly-by, even serious “been there, flown in that” aviation geeks (umm, like me for instance) are likely to find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass like wide-eyed 10-year-olds.

In the end, it’s this sense of wonder that makes these zeppelin flights such an extraordinary experience.  Even for all those poor jaded folks who insist they don’t like flying.

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Full Of Hot Air: How To Be Part Of A Mass Ascension At The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

High-Flying History: Take Off In A World War II B-17

Lindbergh’s Legacy: Powered Hang-Gliding Flights Above Lucky Lindy’s Maui Home

Pony Express Redux: How You Can Saddle Up To Ride Horseback In The Hoofprints Of History

April 5, 2010

Pony Express horseback rideHoof-beats ring out in the night as the trail-hardened Pony Express rider approaches the lonely Nevada waystation.  In one fluid movement he leaps off his tired mount, grabs the mail pouch stuffed with urgent letters from points east, vaults aboard his fresh horse and is off again at a gallop before the cloud of dust he’s stirred up even has a chance to settle.

In the 150 years since the first horse and rider left St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1860, the Central Overland & Pike’s Peak Express Company—better known as the Pony Express—has become an undeniable legend of the Old West.  What few people realize, however, is that each year a dedicated group of volunteers gives horse lovers and history buffs a chance to saddle up for a firsthand horseback experience of what this incredible 10-day journey from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California was really like.

  • PONY EXPRESS—BY THE NUMBERS
  • 24: Hours per day the original mail pouch was kept moving.
  • 12-15: The number of miles the average horse was ridden at a full-on gallop before being swapped for a fresh mount.
  • 75-100: Number of miles each rider covered in one shift, though one rider covering two back-to-back stages was not unheard of.
  • 20: Number of pounds each mail pouch weighed; also the weight of the rider’s other equipment including  a water sack, bible, and two pistols.
  • 125: Maximum weight of the rider in pounds.
  • 18: Number of months the Pony Express service actually ran before being made obsolete by the telegraph.

As it turns out, there are actually several ways to participate in the National Pony Express Association annual re-ride of the entire 1,966-mile route.  Anyone can pay $5 to send a commemorative letter along in the ail pouch—a relative bargain, considering it’s the same price the original Pony Express charged 150 years ago—or attend some of the dozens of events along the eight-state routeTo be one of the 500 or so riders who annually recreate the ride of the Pony Express, however, you’ll need to become a member of the organization.

To learn more about this unique but short-lived chapter of American history, check out the National Park Service’s Pony Express National Historic Trail website, which has lots of info on the route and its history, including details on historic outposts that can be visited by car, 4WD, horseback, and hiking.

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Wagons West: An Authentic Wagon Train Adventure

Horsing Around: How You Can Ride With Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Tour de France Tours: These Cycling Adventures Will Make You More Than Just Another Spectator

March 29, 2010

Tour de France toursWhile most of my cycling these days is limited to Spinning class at the gym, I totally get the attraction of a challenging bike ride.  Not to mention the desire to have a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the process.

Which got me wondering if there was a way that hardcore cyclists like my friend Julie—a die-hard Tour de France fan whose idea of a good time is grinding out a 50-miler before lunch—could combine these two passions into one extraordinary experience.

Following my curiosity lead me to Robbin McKinney, a man who’s been leading cycling trips to Europe for 20 years.  For the 2010 Tour de France—which many sportswriters believe may be Lance Armstrong’s last—McKinney’s company Great Explorations is offering two different adventures that allow serious pedal pushers to be more than just passive spectators at the world’s most grueling cycling event.

The Alps tour—McKinney’s favorite—runs July 8-15 and includes the chance to ride legendary Tour de France routes including the 21 hairpin turns of the Alpe D’Huez.  Their Pyrenees program, which runs July 19- 26, offers an opportunity to be there for the event’s exciting conclusion, as the riders circle Paris’ Champs D’Elyssees before crossing the finish line.

Tour de France Cycling tourNo matter which Tour de France program you sign up for, you’ll have a choice of several daily rides—many on the same roads the peloton will be passing over just hours later—plus special behind-the-scenes access at the start or finish lines and prime viewing locations for several important stages.  Not to mention great meals at quaint local bistros, wine tastings, and swanky spas.

SPECIAL DEAL:  Call Great Explorations at 800-242-1825 to book your Tour de France trip by Monday April 12th, and you and a friend will each receive a $250 discount when you mention XTRORD.com.

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Amazing Race, Leisurely Pace: CompetiTours Offers A More Challenging Way To See Europe

A Mondo Motorcycle Tour: 248 Days, 30 Countries, 1 Extraordinary Experience

An Extraordinary Life: Hobo Nora Chucks “Normal Life” For The Adventure Of Full-Time Travel

March 26, 2010

Since deciding to chuck all the trappings of a so-called “normal” life back in 2006, Nora Dunn has been traveling the world and chronicling her experiences on her blog The Professional Hobo.  Seeing as how this is an extraordinary experience an awful lot of people aspire to, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the full-time vagabond life Nora’s created for herself to see what we can all learn about living out our dreams:

Hobo Nora Vagabond

Hobo Nora

What prompted you to do this? Does this lifestyle choice reflect a deeper philosophical outlook?

I was on the brink of my 30th birthday, running a successful financial planning practice in Toronto when a long string of illnesses finally made me realize I was burning the candle at both ends.  One day while feeling especially trapped by the super-busy lifestyle I’d created, I thought “I just want to retire!”

I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to climb mountains. I wanted to do humanitarian work.  There was so much I wanted to do, I didn’t even know where to start.  But the one thing that I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to be able to do half those things on my list if I waited 30 years for a more conventional retirement to get started.

What kind of resistance did you encounter once you decided to do this, both from others and from the voice in your head?

For as long as I can remember, the voice in my head  had been telling me I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.  So when I made this decision, it was finally happy!

As for everybody around me, I encountered almost unanimous support. There were some people who just couldn’t understand why I’d want to sell everything and travel the world, but the most common reply was “Oh wow! I wish I could do that.”

How has the reality of this experience measured up to your expectations?

Measuring any of my experiences that way is pretty difficult.  I “expected” Costa Rica would be my first destination, and I’ve yet to make it there.  Instead, serendipity has led me to new places over and over again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My life is constantly evolving and it actually exceeds any expectations I could have set going in.

What has been the best part of the experience so far?  What has been the worst?

Some of my best and worst experiences have been one and the same. Twice in two years my boyfriend Kelly and I found ourselves caught up in natural disasters, including the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar) and the worst bushfires Australia has ever seen.

But even though these might seem like negatives, they actually became high points as we spent our time volunteering full-time with the relief efforts.  To fully understand what I mean, you can read the complete stories of our efforts with the Burma cyclone relief and the Victorian Bushfires on my blog.

You’ve been in Australia for some time now—do you still consider yourself a wanderer or have you begun to settle down, maybe without realizing it?

Hobo Nora full-time travelComing off the cyclone relief efforts in Burma, the Victorian Brushfires, and a week in the hospital with Dengue fever was all pretty exhausting, so we’ve been happy to stay in one place for a while.

Right now, Kelly has been lured in by a rewarding job that will mean using this area as a home base for a bit.  But I’ll be doing some solo traveling around Australia, New Zealand, and Europe and will return just in time for both of us to uproot completely and find a new place to explore next year.

What advice would you have for someone who was thinking about following a similar dream?

Do it! Okay, for a minute, I thought of leaving it at that, but here are a couple of more specific pointers:

  • Put your financial house in order before setting out. Juggling debt on the road is hard, unless you have enough money coming in to both make those payments and pay for your travels.
  • Speaking of money, you need to find a way to earn a location-independent income if you want to make long-term travel financially sustainable.  Once you figure this out though, you’ll have the freedom to live—and work—just about wherever you want.

You can also follow Nora’s exploits on Twitter @HoboNora.

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Experience This: 3 New Books Guaranteed To Fuel Your Wanderlust

Hot Lead & Lipstick: Becoming An Outdoors-Woman Weekends

March 10, 2010

While I’m open to all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, there are some I’m just not physically cut out for.  Like these Becoming An Outdoors-Woman weekends, for example.  Fortunately we were able to persuade special correspondent Christina Newton to attend a recent two-day B.O.W. program and bring us this report:

Becoming An Outdoors-WomanLooking down the barrel of my 20-gauge shotgun, I track the fluorescent-orange disc streaking across the blue California sky.  Without hesitation I pull the trigger and—BLAMO!—the four-inch clay target is blown to smithereens.  As my classmates erupt in a spontaneous round of applause, all I can think is  “Dang, this is fun!”

You might wonder what an ordinary minivan-driving mother is doing here pumping these harmless skeet-shooting targets full of hot lead.  Actually, it was the promise of  just this kind of extraordinary experience that drew my friend Karen and I to this Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (B.O.W.) weekend.

These two-and-a-half-day sampler programs, which are held at locations throughout the U.S., are designed to introduce women of all ages and backgrounds to a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated outdoor sports.  Our B.O.W. weekend’s menu of available classes included everything from backcountry navigation using GPS and topographical maps to Dutch-oven cooking.

In fact, the most difficult part of the entire program was choosing which outdoor activities we wanted to try.  Ultimately, we ended up signing up for workshops that seemed like they’d be the biggest stretch for a couple of big-city girls.Becoming An Outdoors Woman

Like our archery class, for instance, where we got to enjoy the satisfying “thwap” as our arrows hit the target, even if they weren’t exactly bullseyes.  Or an introduction to fly-fishing session where, suited up in full gear, I waded into the river and landed my first leaf.  Or the twilight kayak paddle where we got to watch the full moon rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By the time we got to the skeet shooting range Sunday morning, I really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this outdoors-woman thing. At least until I reached into my pocket for a shotgun shell and ended up trying to slip my lipstick into the gun’s open chamber!

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In A Tight Spot: Wild Cave Tours Offer Glimpse Into Hidden Underground World

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Bungee Jumping Bonus: What One Young Woman’s Leap Of Faith Can Teach Us About Living Life To The Fullest

March 5, 2010

While this website is filled to overflowing with stories of  way-cool once-in-a-lifetime adventures, read between the lines and you’ll discover everything here is really intended to promote the larger idea that life was meant to be lived to the fullest.  Which is why I wanted to introduce you to Mary Thompson and let her tell you the tale of her first bungee jump.

In many ways her experience might not seem that unusual.  But what really impressed me is the way this plucky young woman didn’t let her fears stand in the way of having an extraordinary experience she’d always dreamed of.  Let me know in the Comments section below if there’s anything in here that you can relate to!

Bungee Jump New ZealandWhat made you want to do this?  Or, to put it more bluntly, what the heck were you thinking?!

I’m not exactly the typical adrenaline-junkie.  In fact, even though I have stuff like bungee jumping and skydiving on my life list, these things make me a bit nervous and I generally have to be talked into doing them.  While I never thought I’d actually do it, my boyfriend said he’d always wanted to try it so I figured, well, why not?  You only live once and you might as well do the things that scare you a little because they make you feel really alive.

Describe the safety precautions they take — did they actually make you feel more secure?

I researched bungee jumping in general and Taupo Bungy in particular beforehand and I knew they had a great record for safety.  The fact that I knew the general safety procedures by the time I got there also helped me feel more secure. I was still clearly nervous though, so the two guys who worked there started joking around pretending they didn’t know what they were doing.  Which made me laugh even as I was watching them double-checking everything.

Bungee Jumping Taupo BungyWhat was it like to stand on the edge?  Did you look down?

I was only on the edge for a few seconds, long enough to take a photo and count down to jump, but I was thinking, ” I can’t believe this!  I’m really going to jump!”  The only time I looked straight down was when I started to fall forward and by then I was committed!

Did you expect to hit the water?  What was that like?

I told them I wanted to hit the water with my hands, but they said that they couldn’t guarantee it.  I ended up going in up to my waist, which was fun even though I got water in my contacts that made my vision blurry for the first bounce.

What was the scariest part?  And at what point did it become fun?

The scariest part was standing on the edge because your feet are hooked together and the weight of the bungee cord feels like it might pull you off before you’re ready.  It really started to be fun after I bounced up out of the water because then you know it’s all going to be fine!

Now that you’re back home, how do you feel when you look at the photos and video of the experience?

The first couple of days afterwards I looked at them all the time because I still felt such a thrill from actually doing it.  Now I like to look at them because I’m proud of myself and they remind me that I can do anything!

What advice would you give someone who was thinking about doing this?Bungee Jump Adventure

On a practical level, tuck in your shirt unless you want to flash everyone watching you jump!  Other than that, I’d encourage anyone who wants to bungee jump to do it even if it seems scary.  For me, things like this are all about proving you can achieve anything you really want to, and actually doing it makes you feel great!

Mary Thompson is a freelance writer based in Memphis.  To read more of her adventures, check out her Life Is Awesome blog.  You can also follow her exploits on Twitter.

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Sailing Away: 2 Extraordinary Cruise Ship Alternatives

March 1, 2010

Royal Clipper Cruise ShipAs a general rule, I’m not a big fan of cruises.  The idea of watching the world pass by from atop a floating high-rise hotel, visiting over-commercialized ports-of-call with thousands of fellow passengers in what feels like an invading tourist army, and sitting through sequin-encrusted musical revues just isn’t my idea of a good time.

Which makes it all the more surprising that I find myself drawn to these two remarkable “cruising” adventures.  Though they differ in scale, both offer a chance to have true extraordinary experiences that go way beyond simply oohing-and-ahhing at the elaborate ice sculpture anchoring a traditional cruise ship’s midnight buffet:

Tall Ships

While the region you’re traveling through is the most obvious attraction to any cruise, there’s a lot to be said for sailing aboard a ship that has its own unique appeal.  Like the 439-foot Royal Clipper, for example.  With its 42 sails unfurled from five masts, the world’s largest sailing ship is an imposing spectacle you’re not likely to see again anytime soon.  And if feeling yourself being carried along by the power of the wind isn’t enough of an adventure for you, there’s the chance to visit distinctly less touristy destinations and try once-in-a-lifetime on-board activities like climbing up to the crow’s nest to enjoy the panoramic view.

Small Boats

While the idea of chartering a sailboat and island-hopping through the Caribbean sounds romantic in theory, from a practical perspective the lofty price tag and steep learning curve put the experience out of many people’s reach.  Which is where the idea of being a crew member aboard one of the luxury sailboats that ply the waters of this yachter’s paradise comes in.  While you’ll need some sailing experience for most paying gigs, there are a few boats that will take complete novices who are willing to pay a reasonable daily rate and invest a little sweat equity by raising sails and pitching in with a few chores.  To learn more and get an idea of whether this affordable cruise ship alternative is right for you, check out this New York Times story of one such trip aboard the two-masted schooner S.V. Illusion.

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Making Waves: Take The Wheel While Sailing Aboard An Authentic America’s Cup Yacht

The Wildest Ride At The Winter Olympics

February 19, 2010

Utah Olympic Park Comet bobsled rideLet’s say you find yourself watching the opening rounds of the Olympic bobsled competition this weekend and thinking “Man, that looks like fun!” Well, here’s the cautionary tale of how you can experience this wild ride for yourself—and why you may not want to.

You see, I had the same thought when I visited Park City’s Utah Olympic Park last August.  When their PR person offered me the chance to try their Comet bobsled ride, well, I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough.

The park offers these rides year-round, though the number of public runs is limited during the winter months when dozens of world-class athletes use the mile-long track for training.  The modified 400-pound Comet sleds wrap a professional driver and three passengers inside a steel roll-cage as they go hurtling down through the track’s 15 turns in just under a minute.

While they tell me the ride is a little less extreme in the summer—the wheeled bobsleds only hit 70 miles-per-hour and subject you to 4 G’s on concrete—it was still the wildest ride I’ve ever experienced.  So much so that it actually made my Air Combat USA fighter pilot experience look downright tame by comparison.

Which is why you need to take the warnings in the Comet’s pre-ride video briefings seriously.  Even though I’m in pretty good shape, I walked away from this ride with a collection of physical complaints ranging from bruised shoulders to a sore lower back.

Though I’m now perfectly content to go back to watching the bobsled competition on TV, I can tell you those 60 seconds I spent watching the world go by in a serious bobsled-induced blur are something I’ll never ever forget.

More Cool Stuff:

VIDEO: Utah Olympic Park Comet Bobsled Ride

Bonneville Salt Flats: Utah’s Other Home For Those Who Feel The Need For Speed

A Mondo Motorcycle Tour

February 10, 2010

Long distance motorcycle touring Utah 1088Despite a bad wreck, I still love motorcycles with the kind of completely irrational passion normally reserved for sports teams.  And given the fact that bike sales have gone through the roof in recent years, I figure I’m not alone in this mania.

But here’s something few people understand: Even though we might all look the same to the folks trapped inside their shiny metal boxes, there are basically two distinct types of motorcyclists.

The first and by far the largest group generally likes to spend their time polishing chrome or going for a leisurely afternoon ride within a couple hours of home.  Then there are the folks for whom their bike is a sort of magic carpet, a two-wheeled ticket to adventure.

If you or someone you know falls into this latter category, Austrian tour operator Edelweiss Bike Travel is offering what can only be described as a true once-in-a-lifetime motorcycling adventure. Riders on the Discover Our Earth Expedition will travel to more than 30 countries on five continents over the course of 248 days, covering roughly 40,000 miles along the way.

This never-before-attempted tour is fully supported, but you’ll need to supply your own dual-sport bike and come up with the —gulp—$101,000 price of admission. While that isn’t exactly cheap, it sounds like a small price to pay for a truly extraordinary experience to me.

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