By Everett Potter for USA Today Online | Posted: August 24, 2015
What is adventure travel? Depending upon whom you ask, the answer might be surfing off the coast of Peru, biking in the South of France or taking a hike with the kids in Acadia National Park. What’s clear is that it means something different for every traveler. Here’s a rundown of five myths about adventure travel.
1. Adventure travel means jumping out of planes and swimming with sharks.
While the broad definition of adventure travel can mean risky activities, most of the time it’s used to describe more manageable physical pursuits, like walking, hiking or sea kayaking.
“In fact, 90% of adventure travel is soft adventure,” says Rob Rankin, founder of Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland, which takes people hiking, horseback riding and sea kayaking on the West Coast of Ireland. “A large part of a proper adventure is in fact meeting the locals, through the activity and experiencing local culture.”
Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Tourism Association (ATTA), says that their research has shown that “most travelers view adventure travel as a trip that has a mix of culture, nature and activity. So this means that there is a whole range of adventure trips, from very serene to very extreme. I think we used to look at travel like a light switch, it's either on or off in regards to adventure. The truth is that it's more like a light dimmer and there is a whole range that can be on the dial. Walking castle to castle in Scotland could be adventure for someone while tracking snow leopards in winter in Ladakh could be for someone else.”
In the end, most tour operators will tell you that adventure is a very personal thing and that everyone defines it for themselves.
“For me personally, adventure travel means anything that pushes your comfort zones, challenges you to stretch yourself do things you haven’t done before, and invites you to be spontaneous, resourceful and creative,” says Michael Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures. “While most people think of (it) as jumping out of planes, diving with sharks, or climbing a fourteener (14,000 foot peak) in Colorado, those are not the only forms of adventure travel. Of course, adventures can be of the physical variety, but they can also be cultural, social, spiritual, emotional and mental.”
2. Adventure travel is expensive.
It doesn’t have to be. The key is to be smart about where to spend your money. Stowell of ATTA says that “we hear the opposite myth from some people as well, that adventure travel means down and dirty and cheap, like backpackers through Southeast Asia. Just like the activity level, there is an entire range of adventure travel options. It can be very inexpensive and it can be very luxurious on the opposite end. Like most truths, the majority of the trips are somewhere in the middle. There's a time and a place for different types of adventure travel. Sometimes I want to camp, sometimes I want to stay in a tented camp.”
While there are plenty of luxury trips for those who want it, many tour operators keep an eye on costs by staying at modest hotels and eating at local restaurants. Trish Sare of Bike Hike Adventures says that “most of our adventures are using our own muscle power, the most cost-efficient way to travel. We’re not being shuttled around from place to place in luxury sedans or big buses. As these amazing adventures rely on the most basic forms of transport, they are very economical, all things considered.”
3. Adventure travel is risky and dangerous.
It can be, but the most risky and dangerous aspect of all can be the training, safety and skill level of the tour operator organizing the river rafting, bungee jump or climbing expedition that you’ve just signed up for.
“The key is to work with a travel company that understands and implements Western safety standards,” says Rumit Mehta, founder and CEO of Immersion Journeys, which offers trips in Africa and Asia. “We have strong relationships with in-country outfitters who have been selected based on stringent safety requirements.”
Risk and danger may be in the eye of the beholder, but frankly, they may also be a key part of a marketing plan.
“Most physical adventures, especially those run by high-quality operators, are more about the perception of risk and danger than they are about actual danger itself,” says Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures. “Adventure operators make a living off of the perception of danger in their activities and people sign up to challenge themselves. The reality is that for the legitimate adventure operator, running a rapid or skydiving can be as safe as driving a car, and maybe even safer.”
4. Adventure travel requires you to really be in shape.
You’ll likely be happier on your biking or hiking trip if you’re in decent shape, but before you undertake a grueling training regimen, consider where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
“Some adventure activities do require a level of fitness but most are accessible with a moderate level of fitness,” says Rankin of Vagabond Adventures. “A good adventure provider will assess your fitness and produce activities to suit you.”
Many adventure tour operators will also suggest a sensible fitness regime to start before you come on their trip. Some readily categorize the strenuousness of their trips into definitions as simple as “easy,” “moderate” and “difficult.” These terms don’t tell the entire story, since one man’s “easy” is another man’s “moderate”, but they do offer benchmarks when choosing a departure.
“Since there are a whole range of choices in adventure travel, pick the one that fits you or perhaps challenges you,” says Stowell of the ATTA.
5. There’s really nowhere left to discover.
It may seem that in this day of Instagram and Facebook that every corner of the globe has been visited and discovered. That said, there are places that are off the radar and beg to be explored. Mehta of Immersion Journeys singles out Sri Lanka, which was a no-go zone until the country’s civil war ended seven years ago. Now this tropical paradise is beckoning intrepid travelers.
“It has eight World Heritage sites, it can be crisscrossed by a train dating from colonial times and adventurers can conjure the nostalgia of sophisticated rail travel,” Mehta says. Itineraries in Sri Lanka “include hiking ancient hills that are home to world famous tea estates.”
Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures cites the Balkans, singling out “Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, emerging adventure destinations that perfectly fit the new definition of adventure travel. They offer almost virgin physical activities combined with largely unexplored cultures, foods, and people.”
In the end, “it’s so personal," says Stowell of ATTA. “I believe amazing experiences of personal discovery can be had in heavily visited destinations like France or Italy just as easily as lightly trod destinations like Greenland, Xinjiang, or Bhutan.”