My blog has seen a lot of changes over the years, usually reflecting how my own travel style has slowly evolved. From budget to luxury, from adventure to, well, not so adventurous, no matter what, my writing has always been a direct reflection of how I like to travel at that very specific moment in time. I was reminded of these changes recently on a trip and it made me start to think about how I have changed over the years. I really did used to be an adventure traveler, but age, injury and shifting interests have all conspired to create who I am today – someone in between adventurous pursuits and a person who also enjoys the quieter side of life. Regardless of those natural proclivities, one thing I always try to do when I travel is to push myself. I try to get out of my comfort zone whenever I can because I know that it’s only by being slightly uncomfortable at times that we learn and grow from the travel experience. We become more self-assured, stronger and overall better people when we push the envelope. With all of that in mind, today I want to share some instances when I left that trusty comfort zone and had an amazing experience in the process.
Spending the Night in a Yurt
I’m not a camper by nature and roughing it for me usually entails a hotel without AC, but I think it’s practically criminal for any traveler to visit Kyrgyzstan and NOT spend at least one night in a yurt. The people in this part of the world were nomadic for most of their history and at the center of that existence was their home, the yurt. Even Kyrgyzstan’s flag pays homage to this history with the design at the center of the yurt featured prominently on the national standard. For me though, spending the night along the pristine waters of Lake Issyk-Kul, listening to the waves lap up on shore as I slept in my yurt was just something I needed to do. I’d spent the week prior learning everything I could about this amazing country, but I needed that time getting closer to it in this very unique way so that I could walk away not just knowing, but understanding.
I am not what you would call an adventurous eater, far from it. The list of things I won’t eat is much longer than foods acceptable to me. From fish and seafood to most vegetables, I’m very particular when it comes time for dinner. In recent years though I’ve tried to be more open minded when I travel, within reason. This has, perhaps not surprisingly, led to many fantastic foodie discoveries as I slowly but surely become more comfortable with new and sometimes bizarre foods. Perhaps the greatest change is my slow acceptance of fine dining. In the past, I’ve avoided the fanciest of restaurants because they rely heavily on both fish/seafood and vegetables. I just never thought I’d enjoy the experience the way it was meant to be enjoyed and so I have very carefully avoided some of the world’s best restaurants. Thanks to a few specific instances though, I have come to the realization that yes, I can enjoy fine dining within reason, even if it means eating that mushroom or worse, a shrimp. While I haven’t always enjoyed these culinary adventures, I have always walked away proud of myself for trying something new and pushing myself well beyond my comfort zone.
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.
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 Sharks
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.
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.
Remote Hut in Finland
For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I usually tend to visit though when it’s cold outside, but cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi, deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams, but it’s also home of Santa Claus. But it wasn’t meeting Santa that was the real joy of my time in Lapland, it was heading out into the wilderness and enjoying a night in the forest just as the Finns do. Along with some new friends, we trekked to the middle of nowhere deep in the heart of the woods to a remote cabin where the heat was wood fired and the running water nonexistent. Not my typical travel experience, the evening of laughing, eating and enjoying nature was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time. Add in the classically Finnish experience of spending hours in a traditional wood-fired sauna, and it’s an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.
What are some travel experiences you loved, even if you weren’t sure at first?