Categorized | Travel

Demystifying Adventure Travel

Posted on 29 September 2008

The term adventure travel gets tossed around so much these days, it’s in danger of becoming a cliche. But what exactly is it? Luckily, you don’t have to go careening down a 540-foot drop on snow skis, brave the oxygen-deprived elevations of Nepal’s Mt. Everest or risk your life rafting the roughest passage of the Colorado River to consider yourself an adventure traveler. Sure, the above examples represent the ultimate adventures for most people, but the elements that make travel adventurous are purely a matter of personal choice. To find out what constitutes adventure travel, I polled some of the most experienced travelers on the planet – travel writers.

What is Adventure Travel?

According to Karen Berger, hiking expert for and author of eight books, including The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion (Countryman Press), there are several degrees of adventure travel, but all share a common trait: they take you out of your comfort zone.

Berger defines soft adventure as something that is marketable to the average person, like walking in England or cycling through Burgundy. “I think in many cases, a day of soft adventure ends with a night on a soft mattress,” she quips. Other adventures are well beyond the ability of the average person, notes Berger, like climbing Mt. Rainier, or hiking the 200-mile John Muir Trail, but they aren’t “true adventure” because they’ve been done too often; the paths are too well trod.

True adventure, says Berger, is when there is so little information about a place that you are surprised and must make your own path. “The fewer guidebooks, the fewer people who have gone before, the less you know, the more likely you are to have an adventure,” she says.

Katharine Fletcher, a travel writer based north of Ottawa, Canada and author of Historical Walks: The Gatineau Park Story and Quebec Off the Beaten Path, (The Globe Pequot Press), says she considers adventure travel to have an outdoor twist. “For me, it’s travel that is directly targeted at getting outdoors, in nature, off-the-beaten-track, and challenging myself in some way,” says Fletcher, who recalls the time she flew by beaver plane to a remote backcountry section of the Northern British Columbia Rockies for a wilderness horseback riding adventure.

“Adventure is a state of mind,” says Fletcher. “There is exhilaration, a sense of being excited about personal epiphanies and discoveries that puts the ‘adventure’ into this type of travel.”

So does that mean you have to ditch the creature comforts of home and embark on a life-endangering outdoor experience to have an adventure? Not necessarily, says Berger, who has hiked more than 16,000 miles on 5 continents. “Despite all my wilderness adventures, I would have to say that maybe my biggest adventure ever was my first trip to Europe at the age of 23. I had no idea what I was doing, had only $15 a day to spend, and went mostly to cities and towns. But everyday brought something new and unexpected that I had to figure out how to cope with.”

Are You Cut Out for It?

When planning an adventure trip, Fletcher advises travelers to consider the following:

  • Your level of fitness and personal health. If you are going to be climbing a mountain, have you trained properly and for a long period of time? If you’re a diabetic, for example, it might not be wise to venture into the wilderness for four months without a medical back-up plan in case something goes wrong. Research the outfitters you will be using. Make sure they are reputable and know what they are doing. Talk to others who have journeyed with them. Ask if the guides seemed competent.
  • Realize that by embarking on an adventure, you are also agreeing to accept risks. You cannot always expect guarantees of personal safety.
  • Self-knowledge is critical. Knowing your limitations may make the difference between life and death.

How adventurous your travels become is a matter of personal taste and ability. But tempered with good judgment, adventure travel can take you farther physically, mentally and spiritually than you’ve ever been before.

So go ahead, break out of your comfort zone, take a walk on the wild side, plan your trip of a lifetime, but remember, an adventure is something you create.

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