As I get older, I’ve noticed that my own personal travel style has evolved over time. From a fearful newbie who didn’t really know what was ever going on, to someone who is now comfortable being almost anywhere in the world. As I’ve gotten older I’ve also evolved from a budget student traveler to a luxury traveler, but one who enjoys immersive experiences. Many times this means adventure travel and while in the past I’ve called myself a luxury adventure traveler, that’s probably not quite accurate. What is accurate is that I love new and heart-pumping experiences and more often than not, these easily fall into the category of adventure travel. Of everything I’ve done around the world, I thought I’d share some of my favorite adventure travel experiences. They’re representative not just of one particular place and time, but of the destinations and how you can find transformative experiences no matter where you go. They also prove, I think, that adventure travel is about much more than getting just a quick thrill. It’s about pushing your comfort levels and hopefully learning a lot more about yourself in the process. Simply put, they are transformative experiences that leave us much better people than before we took the plunge, the leap or closed our eyes in advance of that next great adventure.
Coasteering in Wales
At first the adventure sport of coasteering seems like the bad result of a drunken wager gone wild. But it’s not and even more surprising, it’s insanely popular and a lot of fun. Coasteering is defined as “a physical activity that includes movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surf boards or other craft. It can include swimming, climbing, scrambling, jumping and diving.” It sounds great in the middle of a hot summer, but I was there in March when the water temperatures were anything but encouraging. Located along the Irish Sea, the beauty of Anglesey can’t be denied though and I soon found myself lost in the beauty of the craggy landscapes surrounding me. The extreme experience was just as advertised and not even my two wet suits could fully keep the freezing waters at bay. In spite of the conditions though it was fun, a lot of fun and diving along the coast, swimming across the white-capped waves and pushing myself in ways I didn’t know I could was as personally gratifying as anything I have ever done. Ultimately, that’s the real thrill of adventure travel; pushing one’s comfort zones in ways you didn’t know possible.
Diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa
One of the main draws in this part of South Africa, Hermanus is a cute beachside town with great shops and restaurants and during the season is one of the best places in the world to watch whales, either on a boat or right from the shore. For something a little different though, head half an hour south to Gansbaai, home of another iconic South African adventure activity – diving with Great White Sharks. Now, this is where you have to be careful. Not all tour operators are created equal and in order to help preserve the species it’s vital you choose one that is ethical and contributes to the well being of the sharks. The best one out there in my own opinion is Marine Dynamics. The leader in shark dives, they’re also a leader in the conservation movement and frequently work with institutions around the world to study the sharks’ unique behavior in the waters just off the coast. Join Marine Dynamics for a Great White Shark dive experience and boat out close to the famous Shark Alley where the sharks have been known to breach the water as they hunt seals. There is nothing like getting into the water with these beautiful animals and I still count it as one of my favorite experiences of all time.
Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia
In a country and even entire region where adventure travel reigns supreme, it was exceptionally hard to narrow down all of the experiences to just one. But upon reflection there is just one, I think, that best captures the spirit and energy of Australia – diving along the Great Barrier Reef. One of the primary reasons why I wanted to visit Queensland was to experience the Great Barrier Reef. It’s long been on my own travel bucket list, and even though I’d visited Australia a couple of times before, I never made it to the Reef. Luckily, the years of anticipation were worth it and seeing one of the world’s truly great natural wonders was everything it promised to be and more. I experienced the reef in a few different ways several times throughout my trip, it’s just that big, but my favorite way to enjoy the mighty reef was through a scuba dive. This wasn’t just any scuba dive though, it was my first attempt and I was pretty nervous. I love snorkeling, but the thought of breathing underwater freaked me out to be honest. It was a mental hang-up and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to shake it. But there I was, at the Great Barrier Reef and I figured if I was going to try it anywhere, that was the place. And I’m so glad I set aside my fears and gave it a chance. I traveled out to the Reef with the company Cruise Whitsundays, and their team of expert divers were all used to first-timers like me and showed more patience than I’ve seen any tour operator show in recent memory. It was thanks to their insistence and instruction that I was able to literally take the plunge, my fears instantly vanishing as soon as I was underwater. I’ve snorkeled all over the world, but the Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. The sheer abundance of fish and coral in every color of the rainbow was extraordinary and I could’ve spent hours exploring it to new depths while scuba diving. This is just one of those once in a lifetime experiences that aren’t only nice to do, I think they are important to do.
If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had. We forget about the small inlets and villages forgotten to time. It was an important moment as it put into context what I do now for a living and how it isn’t just part of my life – it IS my life. This quest to seek new answers and discover new things will never end, just as that horizon in Antarctica seemed to have no boundaries.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
I love wildlife experiences and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was one of my all-time favorites. I call this a luxury adventure travel experience not because of cost or even accessibility, but because just how remarkable it is. There I was in the water as hundreds of whale sharks swam by, feeding upon the flotsam and jetsam of the sea as they did so. Their size was incredible, that of a car and I felt instantly and incredibly small as these graceful giants lumbered past. Even though I knew they were harmless, I couldn’t help but feel anxious as the gaping maws barreled straight for me. It was an extraordinary moment that every adventure traveler should try at least once.
Dog Sledding in Norway
I had been dog sledding once before, in Canada, but that experience only heightened my own personal excitement at joining another team of mushers in Norway. Dog sledding is a very big deal in Alta, it’s from this outpost town where one of tbe world’s great dog sled races, the Finnmarksløpet, starts and ends every year. Thanks to that race, and the rugged terrain surrounding the city, there are dozens of professional mushers who live around town, many of whom also open their doors to visitors allowing them a once in a lifetime opportunity to drive their own team of champion race dogs. I joined one of those outfits, Holmen Husky, which has a strong tradition of sled tours and even something they call the Husky Hotel. I wasn’t there for the evening though, just for one of their famous trips through the snowy woods. As the owner of three Huskies, part of me just wanted to play with the pups but unlike my sofa-lounging dogs at home, these are working dogs and all they wanted to do was run. And run they did, as I sat back in the sled the dogs took off, excited for their daily dose of much needed exercise. Unlike a snowmobile, a sled experience is almost completely silent, except for the huffs from the Huskies and the sound of the sled racing across the icy terrain. It’s a serene and beautiful experience, a way to be part of nature without feeling like you’re infringing upon it. It’s also the perfect introduction to Alta and the region’s traditions, so many of which seem to revolve around these amazing canine athletes.
Hot Air Balloon Safari in Tanzania
One of my favorite travel experiences of all time, this floating safari should be on everyone’s bucket lists. Getting up before dawn is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.
While I do enjoy some adventure travel, I also have a fear of heights, albeit a conditional one. I can look out from the observation tower of a massive skyscraper, but a 5-foot ladder at home sends me into a downward spiral of fear. It’s when the barriers are removed that I get really scared, but it’s a fear I’ve been trying for years to eradicate. The world’s highest bungee swing, tower walks, zip lines, you name it and I’ve tried it, which is how I found myself donning a bright red jumpsuit to prepare for one of the most hair-raising experiences I’d ever attempted – the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. In 2011, the CN Tower opened the EdgeWalk, allowing thrill-seekers the opportunity to walk around the outside of the Tower at a height of 1,168 feet. It’s the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free walk and I was slightly terrified. I’ve done quite of few of these extreme height experiences, and honestly speaking the EdgeWalk is the most professional operation I’ve seen so far. From start to finish, the staff take amazing care of guests and the safeguards are unlike anything I’ve experienced as well. The views from that height are stunning and it helped me appreciate the beauty of the city even more than I had before.
Kayaking Around Dubrovnik
The most visited city in Croatia, Dubrovnik never fails to disappoint, at least that’s been my experience. Sure, it can be busy at times but for me that has never detracted from the intrinsic beauty of the city – a town that seems trapped in a different era. The golden hues of the ancient stone and the astonishing views of the water and the red roofed buildings are all reasons to spend some extra time here and if you do, don’t miss the opportunity to see a different view of the city – from the water. Several companies operate kayak tours around the walled city of Dubrovnik, from a short paddle to all-day adventures. Setting out past the busy shipping lane, once I got close to the massive walls of the city I could see why no enemy ever invaded. Even though they were defensive in nature, one can’t also help but appreciate their beauty, especially on a beautiful day while you’re out getting some exercise. Little details that one would never notice inside the city suddenly become apparent from the kayak and for me, helped foster an even deeper love of the city. Plus it was just a lot of fun, so there’s that too.
Snowmobiling in Iceland
A couple of years ago my partner and I decided to try something a little different while in Iceland, snowmobiling. Normally when we visit the country, we drive around different regions, stopping periodically to explore and sightsee. Wanting to be a little more active than normal though, we booked an afternoon snowmobile tour on one of the country’s glaciers and the experience is certainly something I’ll never forget. Bundling up in more layers than I thought possible, the tundra buggy took us up to the hard to reach glacier and the freezing ice sheets of Iceland. Glaciers are strange things, always cold and always inhospitable, but possessing a type of beauty that is unrivaled in nature. That was our snowmobile course for the afternoon and while I’m not really a fan of the machines themselves, I can’t deny that the experience was exciting and fun. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a great way to experience a different side to a country I have come to love over the years.
Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Jordan’s largest reserve, Dana is a common stop for tourists to Jordan, either for the beautiful views of the mountains and valleys below or for a stay at the world-famous Feynan Ecolodge. Less common are those who, like me, tackled the daunting 16-kilometer trek through the valleys, starting at the visitor’s center and ending at the Ecolodge. I enjoy hiking, but due to some physical limitations I have to be careful about what I do and don’t attempt. Had I understood all that was involved with the rigorous hike, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it but, like all of these experiences, at the end I was thankful for having done it. An all-day trek, the trail takes intrepid hikers through valleys, up ridges and provides access to some of the most remote but beautiful areas of Jordan. You start to appreciate the beauty of the desert terrain and by the end of the hike, you feel like the night’s stay at Feynan is the best reward for all of that physical activity. This hike isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy premium outdoors experiences, there are few better in the world.