Booking a bucket list adventure tops a growing number of travel to-do lists. As we emerge out of a multi-year pandemic that’s inspired a lot of pent-up wanderlust, however, it’s not just the adventure that we crave. It’s adventure with an adrenaline rush.
“When most people think of adventure, they might think of someone hanging off a cliff,” says Steven Murphy, a seasoned traveler who’s spent more than 20 years in the adventure travel industry and has numerous trekking expeditions under his belt. “But it doesn’t have to be like that. Thrills come from trying something new, going someplace different, getting out of your comfort zone. That can come whether it’s at the end of your street or 10,000 miles away.”
For travel thrills that’ll take you beyond your street (but perhaps not as far as 10,000 miles away), we tapped the expertise of Murphy and Rachel Jordan, who both work for Club Adventures, a small-group adventure travel company owned by AAA that offers more than 1,000 guided itineraries to satisfy all levels of thrill-seeker. “Every person is going to have a different perspective on what makes a ‘thrill,’” says Jordan, alluding to Club Adventures’ diverse spectrum of organized trips.
Although what’s deemed thrilling will be unique to each person, of course, the sensation it inspires is the same: an exhilarating feeling that tethers you to the present and reminds you what it’s like to be truly alive. May these suggestions inspire a trip that’ll do that for you.
Go on glacier walks, hike atop waterfalls, soak in thermal lagoons. Photo courtesy of Klikk/iStock.com
The immediate appeal of Iceland is in its pristine, expansive landscape that beckons exploration. You can hike, bike, and horseback ride alongside dramatic waterfalls, fjords, glaciers, and extraterrestrial-looking terrain, or find that thrill while soaking in a geo-thermal lagoon surrounded by ethereal beauty. And you can do it all while enjoying a country with solid infrastructure and where English is widely spoken. “Iceland has the advantage of being an adventurous and exciting setting that also feels safe, modern, and accessible,” says Murphy.
Explore this exotic landscape with ALL the senses. Photo courtesy of Ugurhan
Live out Lawrence of Arabia fantasies in Morocco. Some brag-worthy opportunities that await in the red sands of the Sahara: camel rides, four-wheel drive adventures, sandboarding (surfing on sand), and camping under the stars. But physically active adrenaline rushes needn’t be the core adventure here, as Jordan can attest. “When I traveled there, I dove into the foodie scene by trying my hand at cooking tagine, tasting local olives, savoring mint green-tea, and dining at a campfire in the middle of the Sahara,” she says. “It was the epitome of cultural adventure. I was stepping out of my comfort zone in a new way, and I was getting just as much out of Morocco as someone who may have chosen a more ‘adrenaline-filled’ path.”
A long scenic bike path winds through the valley in this National Park. Photo courtesy of John Worthy/iStock.com
Many Americans have rediscovered a love for the outdoors at national and state parks in recent years and want to experience them in unique ways. According to Jordan, one of the most intimate ways to get an immersive experience in nature without completely roughing it: hop on a bike. She recommends Cycle Utah: Bryce & Zion National Parks for a guided, bike-centric journey that wows with Southwest scenery of canyons, sandstone cliffs, and sprawling forests. It comes complete with overnight hotel stays, meals and an always-available support vehicle for those times when you’d rather sit back and cruise on four wheels.
Cinque Terre, Italy - Scenic view of marina In colorful fishermen village Vernazza, Liguria. Photo courtesy of emicristea
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
Travelers who don’t want to be led around Europe’s iconic cities by a tour guide flag are seeking out more intrepid and original ways to visit, says Murphy. To satisfy this approach, he recommends experiencing Italy’s Cinque Terre, a renowned region of five stunning coastal villages, with an organized itinerary that includes several modes of travel that go well beyond the typical tour bus: Cinque Terre: Hike, Bike & Kayak.
A little closer to home, you can enjoy a similar smorgasbord of outdoor activities while traversing the great outdoors exclusively—sometimes even venturing into areas where (gasp!) Wi-Fi doesn’t work. Jordan says domestic itineraries such as Colorado: Hike, Bike, Raft & Kayak are seeing an increase in bookings because people are craving active trips that keep them outside, experiencing natural settings by land and water. “You’re doing all the things on this trip,” she says.
Tourists trekking for Gorillas with their guides in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Grant Thomas
UGANDA AND RWANDA
If you really want to get off the beaten track, step into the world of mountain gorillas—safely and respectfully, of course. “Staying in the bush camps is an adventure in itself,” says Murphy of the accommodation arrangements while on guided gorilla treks based in either Uganda or Rwanda. Expect the journey to be strenuous and humid—but culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime payoff that you’ll be reliving for years to come.
View of Phuyupatamarca ruin on the Inca Trail to the ruins of Machu Picchu with Amazon Jungle. Photo courtesy of tr3gi/iStock.com
Murphy calls the Inca Trail one of his favorite treks in the world, but he says to not discount the adventures that await in the rest of Peru. “It’s really a destination worth seeing because it offers so much,” he says. Beyond the world-famous, six-day mountain hike that leads to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, Peru boasts desert, jungle, beach, mountain, and cosmopolitan opportunities that can roll into one amazing adventure vacation. Something many don’t realize: You can explore parts of the Amazon River, which originates in the Andes Mountains of Peru, while here.
Polar expeditions to Antarctica, long the domain of research scientists and the insanely wealthy, are becoming more accessible to everyday folks—those who are willing to splurge anyway. While Murphy notes that costs have come down considerably in recent years, expect starting prices at just under $10,000 for a bucket-list journey that’ll bring you close to penguin colonies and whales while navigating the seas of a frozen, other-worldly landscape. Plus, you’re not far from South America’s Patagonia region; so, adding a mountain trek to your adventure is not out of the question for those who want to really put their endurance to the test.