Let These Daredevil Adventure Travel Experiences Inspire Your Next Trip
Thrill-seeking jet-setters, this one’s for you.Read More
You learn a lot about someone when you ask them about their favorite type of travel. Some jet-setters adore a relaxing beach getaway, while others prefer exploring cities with a jam-packed itinerary. Certain travelers are partial to visiting the same destination on repeat, and some never want to see the same location again. There's a travel option for everyone, whether you're into beaches, forests, mountains, snow, road trips or anything in between. And let's not forget about those thrill-seeking travelers, who are always on the hunt for their next daredevil adventure.
I consider myself to be a relatively adventurous traveler (it's something of a necessity when travel writing is a big part of your job), but I'm definitely not an *adventure* traveler. Yes, there have been adventurous moments—I've flown in a hot air balloon in the French countryside, gone zip-lining over a 500-foot drop in South Africa and also (very much accidentally) gone swimming with a highly poisonous sea snake—but I don't actively seek out adventure trips. Also, if I'm being entirely honest, the latter two adventurous moments were entirely the result of peer pressure that I'm quite happy I acquiesced to in the end.
Perhaps that's why I'm so interested in what drives those adrenaline-loving jet-setters to constantly seek out their next adventure travel experience. The Observer spoke with travel lovers about their most adventurous, daredevil moments that you can book now—everything from jumping into the Antarctic Ocean, biking down an active volcano, flying an open cockpit prop plane, to sleeping next to hyenas and more.
1. A polar plunge in Antarctica
Few destinations come with immediate bragging rights for travelers in the way that Antarctica does. "For me, going to Antarctica was the equivalent of going to Mars—it's so remote, there's nothing there," travel and lifestyle writer Rana Good, who spent 10 days in Antarctica in December 2021 as part of a media trip with an expedition company, told Observer. "How many people can say they've been there? Of course I was going to go."
I met Good on a press trip in Ireland, and she was the only journalist among the (quite well-traveled!) group who could declare that she had visited all seven continents. "A lot of places are more accessible than they used to be," Good pointed out. "Antarctica is one of the few places that are still truly challenging to go to, though it's also one of the most prohibitively expensive," as the average cost per person is around $10,000.
The mere journey to the continent is an adventure in and of itself. It took Good, who is based in New York, over four days to finally reach Antarctica, including 48 hours through the notoriously turbulent Drake Passage.
While some travelers are content with the daily excursions spent both on land and in a Zodiac boat cruising around, taking in the penguins, seals and many an iceberg, Good opted to experience the frigid Antarctic Ocean herself—twice. "The craziest thing I did there was the polar plunge," Good said. "I jumped in the water! When you jump in, you wear a harness—there could be a small current, and it's hard to swim when it's that cold—but I had to do it twice, because when I was jumping, they were holding the rope too tight. I fell in face first—I was so embarrassed, but I just jumped into the Antarctic Ocean twice. I learned my ego is bigger than my ability to feel pain!" Good shared the belly flop on TikTok, and it was rather well-received. "It has 14 million views on TikTok! That's an entire country's population," she exclaimed.
"It was so memorable, and I feel really privileged to have that experience. I posted a lot of content on social media, and people were like, 'I want to go there so bad.' Now, having been, I wanted to communicate how important it is to preserve this area, and how this places exists, and we need to treat nature better." So, what's next after seeing seven continents? "I want to go to the North Pole," Good said. For those that want to embark on a similar adventure, you're in luck—Good joined the trip with Atlas Ocean Voyages, and the company offers quite a few special packages to Antarctica throughout the year.
2. Mountain biking down an active volcano in Ecuador
"I wouldn't classify myself as someone that naturally seeks out adventure travel," Caroline McKay, the founder of creative agency Caro., admitted. "Although, it never hurts to get a thrill every once in a while or have a travel experience that pushes you out of your comfort zone." That very much resonated with me personally, which is why I was particularly fascinated by McKay's journey mountain biking down an active volcano.
"In early 2020, right before the world shut down, I went to Ecuador to celebrate one of my best friend's weddings. She grew up there, and the week before the wedding, she wanted us all to experience the natural beauty of Ecuador and some of her favorite places. We arrived late in Quito, and the next day all headed to the volcano, Cotopaxi, where we mountain biked down what is considered the second tallest summit in Ecuador." Oh, and FYI—this is an *active* volcano.
"Going in, I felt as though I was a strong biker, but quickly realized that with sliding sand like mud, unexpected rocks and steep inclines, perhaps my Citi Bike experiences in New York City weren't doing me many favors," she said. McKay wasn't the only one, as the group ended up with a not inconsequential number of injuries. (Don't worry, everyone was fine.)
"It was equally an exhilarating and exhausting experience, with a lot of injuries in the group, but we all made it and after a few hours of biking, there was no better feeling than looking back up at the beauty of the volcano in the distance," she said. While the excursion was something of a departure from McKay's usual travel itinerary, she was pleasantly surprised.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," she declared, "and the experience definitely made me want to seek out more adventure in nature when it comes to travel." She does have some advice for anyone contemplating following in her footsteps, though: "Don't hop off a plane and go straight to the top of a volcano—allow yourself to adjust to the elevation first!"
3. Sleeping outside with hyenas and lions in the Namibian desert
"I'd absolutely say I'm an adventurous traveler," actress and animal activist Nicole Patrick (who, full disclosure, is a close friend) declared. "I don't enjoy going on vacation and just sitting on a beach—I need a thrilling moment to make it memorable. I like to explore." It wasn't surprising, then, that Patrick, a longtime animal lover (she's the co-founder of pet adoption tech platform Rescue Spot), decided to spend a month in Africa in 2017, working in carnivore conflict mitigation and animal conservation at a large wildlife sanctuary in Namibia.
"I work with animals in the United States, but mostly dogs and cats, and I wanted to have a real, firsthand experience with lions, cheetahs and other endangered species," she explained. "In Namibia, we all lived in tents with no electricity—our neighbors were wild baboons that liked to steal our clothes, face products and anything else they could find. You never knew if you'd walk home at night and see your tent had been ransacked by the baboons; it was always a guessing game of who would be next."
"We took care of all the animals that were there, including cheetahs, elephants, lions, wild dogs and meerkats, either for longterm sanctuary, like people's pets who were no longer able to live in the wild, or rehabilitation, to go back into the wild. We fed them, gave them their meds and focused on enrichment." Even the simplest everyday chores on an animal sanctuary require a level of adventure. "Just cleaning the cheetah enclosures was a scary thrill; you're picking up all these bones and have wild cheetahs watching you and ready to attack at any moment—we were with people who had been trained, but all you had to protect yourself with was one little stick. It was honestly thrilling to be in such close proximity to these truly wild animals," she shared. Then, of course, there were true adventure moments, including spending the night with hyenas and lions.
"We had a project tracking spotted hyenas in the Kanaan Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park," Patrick explained. "Hyenas can be incredibly dangerous—they're not an animal you really want to encounter in the wild. We did an overnight trip trying to set out a food trap for them; you leave a big animal carcass by a video trap. We knew the hyenas were in the area, and spent the night in an on-ground leftover concrete water tank, just waiting for the hyenas to come." Spoiler alert: the hyenas did, indeed, come, and yes, everyone made it home safely.
The conservation group also protected the sanctuary from poachers. "All these animals were worth a lot of money to poachers, so every night, three people would need to watch the entrance of the sanctuary. You spend the entire night above the lion enclosure on this uncovered platform, with the lions staring up at you." She'd also happily do it all over again. "I wasn't nervous at all! If anything were to happen, at least I knew I was having a once in a lifetime experience, doing something I loved! I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but the next trip I really want to go on is to help with the bear sanctuaries in Eastern Europe, and my dream is to go trekking for the red pandas in Nepal, in the Himalayas."
4. Taking a helicopter ride to a polar bear den and spending the night underneath the northern lights in the Canadian wilderness
When it comes to bucket list experiences, seeing a polar bear up close and personal has to be high on the list. Natural Habitat Adventures offers quite a few trips that are perfect for thrill-seekers, but how could you beat a polar bear expedition in Canada, all while exploring the isolated backdrop? Aside from spending time on the custom Polar Rovers (which are essentially fancy heated bus-like vehicles with special decks and viewing spaces) in order to get an up close and personal (well, from a safe distance) with the polar bears, the seven-day Nat Hab wildlife adventure also includes a helicopter trip to a polar bear den and dog sledding through the boreal forest. Depending on the time of year, you also spend a night in the Aurora Domes, where if you’re lucky, you’ll get a view of the northern lights, for a truly magical experience
5. Flying an open cockpit stunt plane in New Zealand
"I moved to Sydney, Australia after college," travel writer Paul Jebara (who happened to be present during my aforementioned zip-lining moment) told the Observer. "One of my trips down there was a camping bus tour around the South Island of New Zealand. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, but I didn’t go bold there with bungee jumping or skydiving. I think it was more of a budget thing at the time, but I always go for adventure! "
"I saved all that—unintentionally—for my last stop at Abel Tasman National Park, where I was presented with opportunities to sky dive or fly in a stunt plane. I had never heard of an excursion like this before, so I did the latter—in an open cockpit two-seater stunt plane, flying over the stunning tropical coastal landscape. It was just me and the pilot—he was flying in the back seat, but I was given control over the control stick."
"At his instruction, I would pull it back and we'd fly upside down, turn left to roll, then go right to complete a figure eight in the sky. It was wild," he said. "We were probably only up in the air for just 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity—and I'd definitely do it again!"
While you sadly can no longer do this exact experience in Abel Tasman National Park, you can book a very similar activity (complete with driving your own plane) in Wanaka, New Zealand.
6. Traveling to the northernmost point on the entire planet
Ever wanted to reach the northernmost point of the planet? Well, now you can, thanks to Ponant. The luxury yacht expedition company is another great one to know if you’re big on these kinds of adventure trips, and among their *many* thrill-seeking trip options is a 16-day adventure to the Geographic North Pole. It’s definitely a journey in itself to even start the trip; you’ll board the ship in Longyearbyen in Norway, and after a stop in Spitsbergen, you’ll sail along ice floes for a few days—it’s not easy to navigate this part, which is part of why it’s so difficult and such a rare experience to actually reach the North Pole. Yes, this is an extremely pricey adventure (starting rates begin at just under $42,000), but aside from major bragging rights and being able to say that you’ve been to the northernmost point on the planet, you also get to see some truly stunning vistas, as well as natural wildlife in the region, including walruses, Arctic foxes and, of course, polar bears.
When it comes to activities, you’ll also have the option to take that polar plunge or put on a drysuit (it’s an entirely waterproof, thermal protecting piece of clothing) where you can simply float among the ice. Kayaking, fishing and hiking are also offered, but surely the most exciting is that you can help set up a research station on an ice floe, as well as contribute to actual scientific research, whether it’s collection water samples or assisting with wildlife notes.