When the hit television series Lost made its debut several years ago, many viewers were exposed for the first time to an idea that's already caught on among travel enthusiasts: Adventure tourism.
During the first season of that airline-crash-survivors-on-a-deserted-island drama, one crucial plot point after another turned on the character of John Locke (named for the famous political philosopher), a wheelchair-bound working stiff who just happened to know a lot about surviving in the wild. As things turned out, Locke had been on that flight because he'd been planning on doing some wilderness tourism, but he'd been turned away by the adventure-travel company he'd contracted to take his trip to Australia with, due to his disabled status.
It was just another twist in the development of a new option for people who have already traveled the world, and are tired of having their tourist experiences spoon-fed to them in the form of a traditional package tour, standard group tour, or solitary tramp through the regional highlights mentioned in a Lonely Planet guide. After all, if you're going to travel, why not experience some things you'll never get to see at home? Why not, even, take a few risks?
Adventure tourism is any kind of travel that allows travelers to abandon their comfort zones. Such risk (real or perceived) may come in the form of athletic feats of camping, mountaineering, rafting or other forms of high-risk adventure, or even "heli-climbing": riding a helicopter part of the way up a remote mountain, then climbing the remainder yourself. It may also take the form of "zip-lining": the traveler dons a climbing harness which is hooked to a steel cable, then "zip" from one tree to the next. (It's like a more advanced form of playing Tarzan.)
Adventure travelers also ride hot air balloons over lion-filled African velds; go to Argentina to play cowboy; and get lost riding bicycles through the parts of Morocco where tourists rarely go. Much adventure tourism is also ecotourism--tourism in which travelers try to reduce their impact on natural resources and local culture. It makes sense: if you love visiting these places, why not make sure they're available for future travelers?
Due to its potential dangers--if danger weren't involved, it wouldn't be adventure tourism--adventure tourism is best taken up by in-shape folks with high levels of experience in traveling, hiking, and camping. (You do not, however, contrary to Lost, have to be among the non-disabled: more and more companies, answering John Locke's dilemma, have set up equal-access adventure travel plans for the disabled.) For your first adventure tour, it's smart to travel with an experienced outfitter, and don't aim too high!
While you plan, you can read up on adventure tourism in several magazines specifically devoted to it, as well as a number of recent bestselling books.
For the hardy, repeat-offender tourist who'd like to try self-planning a tour, here are some suggestions:
Most countries have websites (some government-sponsored, some not) dedicated to would-be foreign visitors, who provide, after all, enormous and much-needed economic stimulus to many countries' economies. Check for a section specifically devoted to Americans, or to English-speaking readers. Look for the same thing--experience working with Americans and readiness to deal with their concerns--when selecting a travel agent in the area you're visiting, something you'll need to do early on.
Watch out for travel scams--information on which is easy to find on the Web. Make sure to check message boards dedicated to adventure traveling, where such scams are often first mentioned. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Take your own safety seriously--and take seriously the fact that you're a representative of the US. Treat locals with politeness and decency, even when accidents happen and stress mounts. It's not just good manners--in the case of an adventure that gets out of hand, it could even save your life.
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