Written by: Heather Mikesell
When most people think of vacation, it often involves laying by a pool or on the beach sipping a fruity cocktail. Relaxation takes center stage. However, for some, it’s an opportunity to learn a new skill, to test themselves either mentally or physically, or indulge in a favorite activity, such as surfing, scuba diving, or rock climbing.
“Adventure is usually always at play in my travel plans,” says Meagan Drillinger, founder of Vaera Journeys, retreats designed for entrepreneurial women. “Rarely do I plan a vacation where I sit on a beach and do nothing, though I love those vacations, too. But mostly, adventure comes in leaving everything unscripted. Either I’m buying a one-way plane ticket, or I’m making the road trip route up as I go.”
For Chicago-based travel writer Wendy Altschuler, adventure is part of her job description. “I focus mainly on adventure and the outdoors,” she says. “Hiking, mountain biking, surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, ziplining—these are all great ways to learn about and discover diverse ecosystems. Whether I’m chasing a story, seeking a new thrill, or traveling with my family for fun, playing outside is always a part of my plans.”
The entire family can get in on the adventure with a visit to Skamania Lodge in Stevensen, WA, which features Zipline Tours on seven ziplines that traverse over a rainforest canopy of Douglas firs. For those who want to challenge themselves, the Aerial Park provides the perfect setting to get past a fear of heights with 19 platforms and 22 elements of varying degree and difficulty to test your abilities.
“If you’re trying something for the first time, consider utilizing the expertise of an educated and vetted guide,” says Altschuler. “Locals, who live and play in the destination you’re visiting, will be your best resource for not only learning a new skill but also for giving you valuable context for the environment you’re exploring. It’s a Fast Pass for adventure!”
At Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu, HI, the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience lets you learn from the island’s best surfers, those who know the breaks and will guide you every step of the way. It doesn’t get much more adventurous than surfing the world-famous North Shore’s swells with a pro. If surfing isn’t your thing, consider taking to the skies with the Turtle Bay Exclusive Multi-Island Experience, which will have you soaring along the coastlines of Oahu, Moloka’I, Lana’I, Maui, Kaho’olawe, and the Big Island in a helicopter. A cliffside Champagne toast and stunning waterfall picnic round out the adventure.
While adventure can mean different things to different people, it’s often a journey into the unknown or experiencing an activity involving an element of perceived risk. “I love adventures that scare me a wee bit,” says Altschuler. “Perhaps it’s a challenge that I’ll need to train for to ensure that I’m fit enough. Maybe it’s a completely new activity that I’m not sure I’ll enjoy. Putting myself in fresh situations, where I have to do the research and hope for the best, really excites me.”
At The Inn at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, experienced rock climbers can challenge themselves to Barney’s Wall, an advanced climb with breathtaking waterfall views. If climbing or bouldering sound a bit too intense for your skills, consider hiking Dragon’s Tooth, a 5.7-mile roundtrip trail for adventurous hikers. There is also McAfee Knob, one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail. The 8.3-mile trail leads to a natural rock ledge over the scenic Catawba Valley. For bike lovers or those preferring a paved path, the Huckleberry is a 5.8-mile trail that runs from the heart of Blacksburg to the New River Mall.
For Will McGough, a Colorado-based writer for Backpacker and CNN, adventure often takes us out of our comfort zone, but it also reinforces our desire for it when we return. “There’s nothing better than going out for a long hike and coming back to a comfy hotel room that you now appreciate even more because you’ve spent the last three hours stomping around in the forest, muddy and sweaty and hungry,” says McGough. “Getting out into nature reminds us of our place in the greater natural world and provides balance to our travels and inner-lifeforce. It keeps us active and fit and gets us excited for dinner, because we’ve got calories to replace—you can’t beat guilt-free eating. For me, adventure provides this balance and creates a joyful, well-rounded travel experience.”
Swimming with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Keys is one adventure sure to inspire joy. At Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key, FL, guests can take part in the Dolphin Connection program. The resort is the only one in the mainland U.S. that offers dolphin viewing on site as well as a variety of interactive experiences for every age. With the Dolphin Discovery, you can hug, splash, and play with the dolphins, even swim into the lagoon for some special interactions with them.
For a truly immersive adventure, you can join the Dolphin Connection team and become an actual trainer for a day. If that sounds a bit too adventurous, you can opt for Dockside Dolphins, which lets you get up close and personal from the resort’s dry training docks. With a host of dolphin encounters available, you can essentially choose your own adventure, while also learning about the conservation efforts of Dolphin Connection and more about these extraordinary creatures, such as groundbreaking discoveries related to their behavior, reproduction, and the effects of pollution.
When deciding on your next adventure, McGough suggests starting slow and small. “I see a lot of people try to jump right into big adventures—high intensity hikes, choppy boat rides, all-day bike rides in hot weather—before they are ready for it, and in those cases, it backfires,” says McGough. “They go too big, have a bad time, and then get discouraged and pledge never to do it again. Don’t make this mistake.”
Instead, he advises you to start where you are. “Adventure can be whatever you want it to be, and it can be anything that gets you moving and out into nature—casual beach walks with coffee in hand, wandering city strolls, or paddleboarding on a lake,” says McGough. “Come to terms with where you are, and most importantly, what you need to feel fulfilled. Some people won’t be satisfied unless they summit a mountain; others will be pleased with a mellow bike ride on the beach path. Don’t succumb to ego by thinking you need to set a world record in your adventures—unless, of course, that’s precisely what you need. Organized tours are great for beginners because the guides will ensure your safety and provide context to what you are seeing and experiencing.”
It’s also important to remember that travel often provides its own unexpected adventures when delayed flights and missed connections require us to be flexible and adapt to the unknown. Fortunately, those unplanned adventures are usually temporary. Ultimately, travel pushes us beyond our limits and challenges us to try new things.
“I love learning about why a specific hobby becomes someone’s lifelong passion,” says Altschuler. “If I hear about a thrill seeker who is all about scuba diving, for example, and will travel the globe to explore new seas, well then, I want to try it too. I’m not an armchair tourist, I’m an in-full-color curious traveler. I don’t need to excel brilliantly at everything I try, but I want the experience, the feather in my cap.”