Most of us never lose that child’s desire for excitement and new experiences, but we come to believe that adventures are too expensive, too dangerous, or too physically demanding for us. As a consequence, we grow accustomed to comfort and safety, willing to get our thrills secondhand through screens. We become afraid to dare.
Thankfully, opportunities to see new places, learn new skills, and gain confidence in our abilities are more plentiful than ever. Aspiring explorers of every age and physical condition can find exciting vacations in countries from America to Africa, in the mountains and on the oceans, in luxurious surroundings or rough bedding beneath the stars.
Possible adventures await in every corner of the globe. Here’s how to find yours.
There’s an Adventure for Everyone
There’s an adventure out there to suit every person. Yours could be enjoying the great art decorating the halls of the Louvre or hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail. You could find adventure while searching for ancient relics on an archaeological dig or bird-watching in the jungles of Costa Rica.
Some sites are accessible to everyone, while others require a medium level of fitness and stamina. Adventure doesn’t have to involve rigorous physical activity. Passengers on an African safari can experience as much of a thrill as scuba divers on the Great Barrier Reef or rock climbers in the High Sierra.
Adventure vacations provide a variety of choices for the modern explorer. In addition to choosing whether to go alone or with your family, you can elect to join a guided group or arrange your own itinerary. Some adventures are designed for adrenaline junkies, while others aim for relaxation. Best of all, you can go on the trip of a lifetime without busting your budget.
Some of the vacations on this list are suitable for travelers of all physical levels and ages, while others require certain levels of fitness. We’ve identified tour companies recognized for their expertise and client satisfaction for each vacation. Note that some tours and expeditions may not be available year-round.
Walking & Hiking
Walking tours are done over man-made, improved surfaces of concrete, gravel, or sand; hikers follow unimproved, rougher natural trails. Trekking is a long-distance version of both lasting more than a week. Trips are classified by the level of activity required:
- Easy. Walks of two to six miles over a gentle terrain with minimal elevation changes of up to 750 feet are considered “easy.” Travelers typically complete the journey within four hours.
- Moderate. More active walkers pursue longer distances, up to 10 miles, through hilly terrain and elevation changes up to 2,200 feet. The trip is designed to be done within six hours.
- Challenging. Only the very fit should attempt this 6-to-14-mile walk through rugged mountains with sustained ascents and descents up to 4,000 feet. A reasonably fit person will take up to seven hours to complete the trip.
There are spectacular walk and hikes in almost every country in the world. The following locations are especially worth putting on your list.
1. Scottish Highlands
This dramatic landscape contains ruined castles, enchanted lochs, great glens, and lonely moors. Best suited to moderately fit adults and teenagers, this route has plenty of camping sites, hostels, and B&Bs along the way.
Recommended Tour Company: Absolute Escapes
2. The Canadian Rockies
The river valleys among the towering granite peaks of two major mountain ranges are teeming with wildlife. Walkers are sure to see elk, bighorn sheep, and deer, with bear and moose sightings probable. Campsites are available in the public parks but fill up quickly in the short season when walking is possible. For most, a guided tour is the best option.
Recommended Tour Company: Backroads
This landscape of snow-capped Andes Mountains, lush forests, and brilliant glaciers is in the southern region of Argentina. According to Fodor’s Travel, few places on earth can “match Patagonia for its diversity of scenery.”
Recommended Tour Company: Responsible Travel
4. Dana to Petra, Jordan
This trek through the rock-strewn desert of Jordan encompasses 5 to 6 hours of daily walking over mostly flat ground, with occasional ascents and descents of 0.5 to 1.0 miles. Most nights are spent in tents or sleeping under the stars, eating delicious native meals prepared by the trek crew. The payoff is a day in Petra, a World Heritage site with tombs and temples cut into the red sandstone mountain.
Recommended Tour Company: KE Adventure Travel
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Bike tours are classified by activity level, ranging from 1 (a distance of 8 to 22 miles over two to three hours with grades up to 1,000 feet) to 4 (48 to 70 miles over five to seven hours, with elevation changes up to 4,400 feet). Most tours provide electric-assisted vehicles for those who are less fit. Tours also offer catered meals and comfortable rest stops.
Mountain biking requires riding off-road, usually over rough terrains on specially designed bikes. Trips often include steep descents and rugged climbs. While some companies offer tours for beginners, most cater to experienced mountain bikers.
There are popular biking routes in most countries, including:
5. Moab, Utah
Trails named Slickrock, Porcupine Rim, and Klondike Bluff attract mountain bikers from around the world to this city amid America’s most scenic parks. Take a different path each day and return to the town for comfortable lodging and fine dining.
Recommended Tour Company: Sacred Rides
6. Loire Valley, France
A favorite biking area for families, this area offers beautiful chateaus, castles, and the country’s most prestigious vineyards. Tours are available around a central town or from one location to another. Most trips are considered “easy,” and e-bikes are usually available.
Recommended Tour Company: Biking France
7. California Wine Country
Tours include the green vineyards of the Napa and Sonoma valleys and paths through the soaring redwood forests on the Pacific Coast. Rest stops include wine tastings and gourmet meals while staying in the premier hotels and spas of Northern California.
Recommended Tour Company: Backroads
Canoeing, Kayaking & Rafting
Depending on your fitness level and desire for excitement, consider one of the following if you prefer an on-the-water adventure trip.
8. Yukon Territory
Begin your eight-day expedition on the Yukon River near Whitehorse in Canada and paddle 30 miles through the wilderness that attracted gold prospectors from around the world. Led by an experienced professional guide, participants can fish for salmon and eat their catch each night on the shorelines within sight of black bears, moose, and beavers.
Recommended Tour Company: Kanoe People
9. Tiputini River, Ecuador
Travelers over the age of 18 disembark from Quito, Ecuador and canoe for five days into the spectacular Amazon rainforest, camping each night and sharing gourmet dinners prepared by local guides. Expect to see monkeys, caimans, and colorful exotic birds of all types. Fish for sharp-tooth piranhas and drink the native beer, chicha. You will need immunizations for yellow fever and Hepatitis B before leaving the States.
Recommended Tour Company: Lonely Planet
10. Grand Canyon’s Colorado River
Raft 188 miles through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a trip of six or seven days interspersed with time to explore the ancient geological wonders and the ruins of the country’s first inhabitants, the Anasazi. The tour includes over 60 whitewater rapids for those over the age of 12 who are in good health and reasonable physical shape. Falling into the water is possible, so you must be able to swim to safety.
Recommended Tour Company: Arizona Raft Adventures
Climbing & Mountaineering
If you’ve already experienced rock climbing in an indoor gym, you may be ready to tackle the outdoors in a beginner’s tour, where you can learn and practice rock movement skills, rope work, and using climbing equipment in a beautiful natural setting. Experienced rock climbers can try the more difficult ice climbing. If you’d prefer something that involves less skill but is equally demanding, try mountaineering and backpacking.
Rock climbing and mountaineering tours are available for all levels of experience, so it’s essential to select a program that fits your capability. Most destinations are ranked from “easy” for beginners to “tough,” which involve long days in isolated areas at extreme altitudes. Be sure to check with your tour company to understand the requirements and risks you will face on your climbing vacation.
Those new to the sport might wish to start with one of these tours.
11. Backpacking in the High Sierras
This six-day trip begins in Bishop, California and ends at the Mosquito Flats Trailhead. It covers three high passes of 11,000 or more in the John Muir Wilderness Area. While trips include meals, participants are responsible for their own camping and climbing equipment, such as tents, sleeping bags and pad, eating utensils, and backpacks.
Recommended Tour Company: American Alpine Institute
12. Taos, New Mexico
This popular winter skiing area is also one of America’s most visited rock climbing regions, with surfaces and ascents for every level of skill and spectacular scenery. Expert rock climbing guides teach beginners the basics of scaling multi-pitch granite cliffs and hone the skills of more experienced climbers. Introductory skills include basic knots, belay and rappel techniques, climbing communication, safety procedures, and movement on rocks. Classes occur on a daily basis and lunch is included.
Recommended Tour Company: Climbing School USA
13. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
While experience is not necessary, good health and fitness are requirements for this trip since you’ll be climbing to a peak of 19,336 feet. While there are many different ways to the top, most prefer the Western route that’s less crowded and more scenic than others. It also provides ample time for acclimation, which is important since the oxygen at the top is about half of sea level volume.
Expect to spend 11 days in Tanzania, including nine days ascending and descending. Travelers stay in customized all-weather tents with a private toilet tent at each stop and hot meals provided by the camp’s chef.
Recommended Tour Company: Thomson Treks
Skiing, Snowshoeing & Dog Sledding
Some might prefer their adventure during the winter months when they can view wildlife frolicking in an icy landscape and end each day with a hot drink, a warming spa dip, and a night in a cozy lodge. Many winter expeditions combine Nordic and cross-country skiing with options for snowshoeing, ice skating, and dog sledding.
The distance and altitudes covered each day are designed for all activity levels. Proper dress – waterproof shoes, pants, jackets, and gloves – is essential since your days will be spent outside in below-freezing conditions for hours at a time.
Spectacular tours for all levels of experience include:
14. Yellowstone & Tetons
This journey begins in Bozeman, Montana and ends in Jackson, Wyoming, traversing through the western edge of Yellowstone Park. You’ll see erupting geysers, including Old Faithful, in the midst of snow-covered meadows. Herds of bison forage in snowy landscapes, sometimes followed by hungry gray wolves. Activities including snowshoeing, dog sledding, and ice skating are perfect for families and adults.
Recommended Tour Company: Backroads
15. Achen Valley, Austria
Based in Achenkirch, this tour features cross-country ski instruction each morning and daily loops through the Karwendel Alpine Park Nature Reserve. Some prior experience with cross-country skiing is desirable as participants will learn a new technique using shorter skate skis.
Tours don’t begin until January to ensure adequate snow. Guests who prefer independence will enjoy the flexibility of the program, including busing to Innsbruck for a day of Nordic skiing.
Recommended Tour Company: Responsible Travel
16. Sushana River, Alaska
You can tour Denali National Park with trips ranging from overnight to 10 days long and accommodations ranging from backcountry cabins to winter camping for hardier guests. Orientation and training allow guests of various experience levels to mush their own sleds along the historic Stampede Trail in the shadow of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.
Recommended Tour Company: Denali Dogsled Expeditions
Nature Trips, Safaris & Geographic Expeditions
Adventures and one-of-a-kind experiences don’t always require extraordinary effort, skill, or risk. For many, adventure means a trip beyond imagination, venturing to places of profound beauty, ancient mysteries, or those rarely touched by time.
The following trips are on many people’s bucket lists and will awe the most discriminating traveler.
17. Tanzania’s Great Migration
The bi-annual migration of giant herds of zebra, gazelles, and wildebeest to and from the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in Kenya is one of nature’s greatest shows on earth. No one knows how long it will be before the spectacle disappears like the herds of buffalo that once moved across the prairies of the western United States. Visitors take in the sights from multi-seated trucks to ensure everyone has a good view and stay in lodges and tented camps with catered meals.
Recommended Tour Company: LandLopers
18. Galapagos Islands
The inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, these Ecuadorian islands are considered one of the world’s premier vistas for wildlife viewing. The three main islands – Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela – offer budget to luxury accommodations, often combined with a private yacht to allow island hopping. Most tours include meals, naturalist guides, and opportunities to kayak and snorkel.
Recommended Tour Company: GalapagosIslands.com
The fourth largest island in the world, located off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is the home to plants and animals found nowhere else. There are over 100 species of lemurs, 300 species of birds, and 260 species of reptiles, including the smallest chameleon in the world. The island has more than 14,000 species of plants, 80% of which can only be found here. Tours typically require a minimum of 10 days, and travelers stay in comfortable hotels each night.
Recommended Tour Company: Rainbow Tours
20. Costa Rica
This Central American country is one of the most beautiful places on earth. With coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, its landscapes include jungles, beaches, mountains, and volcanos. The animal and plant life is diverse and colorful. With more than 640 species of birds, four species of monkeys, and two types of sloths, it’s not surprising the country was dubbed “the most biologically intense place on Earth” by National Geographic. Visitors typically stay in luxury hotels and have multiple options to customize their daily expeditions.
Recommended Tour Company: Zicasso Handcrafted Travel
21. Route 66 Motorcycle Tour
The iconic American roadway Route 66 has drawn more than its share of adventurers, desperadoes, and dreamers since it opened in 1926. Coupled with the mystique of the modern American cowboy, the black-jacketed biker on a Harley, this guided 15-day, 2,000+ mile journey from Chicago to Los Angeles attracts motorcyclists from around the world. Travel in a group of 8 to 12 riders on two-lane roads on rented two- and three-wheeled Harley Davidson models while spending each night in a comfortable hotel. This tour is for adult, experienced motorcyclists.
Recommended Tour Company: Panam Holidays Inc.
In addition to the adventure vacations listed above, intrepid travelers can elect to experience:
- The Life of a Cowboy. Cowboys and horse wranglers are among America’s greatest mythic heroes. City slickers can experience the daily lives of real cowboys – riding horses, herding cattle, and sleeping in bunkhouses – in the mountains and valleys of working ranches from Arizona to Wyoming.
- Being the Captain of Your Own Ship. Experienced sailors can charter sailing ships and boats of all sizes and sail the seas around the world. The Caribbean is a favorite sailing ground with easily accessible islands, tranquil coves and inlets of clear blue water for scuba diving and snorkeling, and delicious meals of freshly caught seafood.
- Memorable Fishing and Bird Hunting. Some of the best experiences in my life were sharing week-long vacations with my teenage son fishing for trout in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming or hunting dove on a Mexican ranch. You can fly fish on a Montana mountain stream for rainbow trout, troll for marlin off the coast of Cape Verde, or free dive for Dungeness crabs in Puget Sound. Dedicated bird hunters annually flock to Argentina for dove, South Dakota for pheasant and grouse, and the Chesapeake Bay for ducks, teal, and geese.
Things to Keep in Mind
To ensure a trouble-free, enjoyable vacation, keep the following factors in mind as you plan your trip.
1. Your Budget
Adventure trip costs vary widely based on destination, accommodations, and expected services. Select a trip you’ll enjoy without having to worry about its impact on your lifestyle or savings. Open a new savings account with BBVA Compass and start stashing away money each month. Before you know it you’ll have enough saved up.
2. Your Physical Condition
Some destinations require coping with extreme temperatures and varying altitudes. Travelers with a chronic physical condition or disability should ensure that the expected itinerary, accommodations, and foods won’t create or exacerbate health issues or preclude participation in a majority of the activities.
Tours to see wildlife and historical places typically occur in nations poorer than America. Many are subject to infectious disease outbreaks that can compromise a traveler’s security and safety, and medical facilities can be remote or incapable of handling certain emergencies. Review the availability, accessibility, and capability of medical services during your excursion.
3. Your Fitness Level
Adventure trips may require an extended period of continuous effort in uncomfortable environments with minimal rest periods. Be sure that you’ll be able to handle the regular physical tasks of the tour.
4. Your Skills
Some excursions require a minimum skill level to enjoy. Being comfortable in the water and being able to swim easily is essential if your trip involves being in or around water. Nordic and cross-country skiing typically requires practice to be minimally competent, as does rock climbing and mountain biking. Trekking or working on a ranch may require working with or riding large animals such as horses, camels, donkeys, and cattle.
5. Your Time Constraints
Depending on location and itinerary, tours can range from several days to several months. Some are available for specific seasons of the year, while others are available but change offerings. Be sure your desired trip fits your schedule and availability. That said, bear in mind that itineraries frequently change and may differ from the descriptions provided before the trip.
6. The Destination’s Culture & Living Standards
Many of these destinations are located in emerging economies and lack the accommodations and service levels Americans expect. Many are subject to political upheaval. Unreliable services, a different language, and different hygienic practices are standard. Anticipate the possibility of difficulty and be prepared with contingency plans.
Also, cultures vary around the globe, and behavior acceptable in one’s home country may be inappropriate in another. As a consequence, prospective travelers should research the laws and cultures of any nation they plan to visit to avoid misunderstandings and possible abuse.
7. Governmental Travel Requirements
When traveling across borders, you’ll need a valid passport. Many countries also require a visitor visa before entry. Be sure you understand any regulations that might affect your trip, including those regarding bringing any goods acquired while out of the country into the United States.
8. Required Vaccinations & Booster Shots
Identify and get the necessary vaccinations for your trip. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the latest information on vaccinations you will need once you have determined your destination. Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider at least one month before your trip to ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date and allow adequate time for any series of medicine to become effective.
9. Your Health Insurance Coverage
Be sure you understand whether your health insurance is applicable in the countries you plan to visit, as well as any restrictions or limits on your coverage. Determine whether your policy covers emergency transportation back to the United States in a medical emergency. You may wish to purchase additional insurance through a company like eHealth.
10. Your Expectations
Before selecting a vacation, clarify your expectations for the trip. Why are you going? What do you hope to see or do? How much physical risk are you willing to assume? Picking the ideal adventure vacation requires knowing what you want from the experience before you go.
11. Tour Operators’ Reputation
There are usually many different tour operators offering the same or similar experiences. Before selecting a tour, check the reputation and reliability of the operator with the Better Business Bureau. Check the operator’s membership in the destination country’s travel accrediting organization, as well as its license from the appropriate tourism board.
Be aware that tour operators and travel agencies appear and disappear frequently, and the quality of their services can vary significantly from one season to the next. Read previous customers’ online reviews, especially regarding the specific trip in which you’re interested. Finally, ask the provider for the contact numbers of recent clients and check with them about their trip experiences, if possible.
12. The Costs
Compare tour amenities and options to identify the highest value for your money. Accommodations can vary widely. To properly compare tours, confirm which items – such as extra meals, rental equipment, transportation, and transfer fees – are included in the fee and which are not.
13. Travel Insurance
Outward Bound Courses
Prospective adventurers who need specific outdoor skills or anticipate self-guided, independent excursions into wildness areas should consider attending an Outward Bound school. The American nonprofit organization was established in 1962 to reinforce self-confidence and character in middle school and older students through challenging outdoor programs. Since its beginning, the organization has expanded its programs to cover adults and veterans in 16 locations around the world, 11 of which are in America.
Courses range from 6 to 85 days and teach beginners the skills required to master everything from backpacking to dog sledding. Locations include domestic and foreign sites with climates ranging from snow-covered mountains to the deserts of the U.S. Southwest to Costa Rican jungles.
Before enrolling, consider that some people claim an Outward Bound course is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. It can be an adventure in itself.
Adventures teach us to be confident, decisive, and self-aware. Rather than being a slave to routine, we feel free and in charge. Best of all, we learn that we’re more capable than we thought.
True adventure should challenge your view of the world and your place in it. An adventure vacation teaches self-awareness, compassion, and humility. When you share an adventure with a fellow traveler, it forges lifetime bonds. Adventure sometimes entails risk and loss, but the greater risk is to spend your life not doing what you want, always walking the well-trodden path rather than seeing the places where no trails lead.
As the great American author and adventurer Mark Twain reputedly advised, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Are you ready for your next adventure? Where do you dream of going?