Utah, three in the morning at 9,000 feet, and approximately 40 degrees. There I was, lying on the ground. No tent. No sleeping bag. No flashlight or electronics. This is my vacation? (This was only the first night?)
I had, in fact, taken vacation to attend a weeklong, minimalist outdoor survival course in Boulder, Utah. As I stared into an amazing, star-filled sky, huddled in the dirt next to a complete stranger (known as a "cuddle puddle"), I realized that sleep was not going to come. Shivering, I decided to get up and try to warm up; I started doing squats, push-ups, and lunges in the dark.
Some people like to take the same style of vacations when they finally get to take those precious few days off they get every year. Instead of the same ol’, why not get outside of your comfort zone and take an "adventure vacation"? A beach vacation is a great way to relax, recharge your batteries, and brace yourself for the return to the daily grind. An adventure vacation, on the other hand, will push you past your limits; you will return home knowing yourself better, and you might even find out what you are capable of.
There are many groups out there that create a safe environment where you can still push the limits:
Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS): Survival-based, these physically demanding experiences range from three to twenty-eight days. I did the seven-day field course and lost ten pounds.
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS): You can get credit for these courses; they even offer a gap year program.
Outward Bound: Outdoor leadership programs for youth and adults.
Want to go it alone? There are multiple trails out there, where you can jump on, get out, and explore; yet almost always run into other folks with the same mindset. Some examples include the Continental Divide, Colorado Trail, and Appalachian Trail.
Adventure is not only hiking and camping; there are multiple options out there from kitesurfing to skydiving, scuba diving, canyoneering, zip lining and so on. When you choose an adventure overseas, take into consideration that some countries do not have the same safety standards as their more developed counterparts.
If you plan on an adventure vacation, double-check that your travel insurance policy covers your activity of choice. Per the RoamRight Adventure policy: Benefits will be paid up to the plan maximum, if You become injured while participating in any of the following sports: mountaineering where ropes or guides are normally used (15,000 feet limit), parachuting, bungee jumping, snowmobiling, scuba diving involving underwater breathing apparatus, jet skiing, water skiing, snow skiing, spelunking, parasailing, and snowboarding.
So, how did the rest of my "vacation" go in the hills and canyons of Utah? The final day ended with a 14-mile, overnight hike, which was one of the most peaceful, surreal, enlightening, and you might even say spiritual experiences that I’ve ever had. Plateaus and foothills were silhouetted by the stars off in the distance, while the sound of coyotes making the most of the night were a little too close for comfort. Hours after sunset, we wandered into the campsite, dropped a blanket down by the fire, tried (and then failed) to stay awake to watch the sunrise. Once the entire group had made it to the site, we loaded into a van and drove back to the main lodge for a traditional sweat lodge ceremony to sweat out the week and reflect upon our journey, followed by our first real meal in a week.
I still have the walking stick I found along the trail; looking at it now as it leans in the corner reminds me of the week I spent eating dandelions and starting campfires with a stick. Now when I hike, looking at my pack and deciding what goes in it is completely differently now; it is rare that anyone has a lighter backpack than I do when we head out on the trail. I also know what I would do if I became stranded in the woods. These are unique experience, life-changing moments that all make adventure travel so very worthwhile.
When was the last time you went outside your comfort zone on vacation?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
Travel insurance for trips to national parks: Why is it
Former travel disaster, now a serial traveler, travel safety advisor, and author of The Travel Safety Handbook. Poster boy for learning from others mistakes. Now I provide travelers with the tools to focus on their travel goals; I advise business travelers,prepare study-abroad students and equip families with the knowledge to return home successful with memories that will last a lifetime, not horror stories. Follow JC on his blog at Travel-Safer.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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