In honour of the new year fast-approaching, we’ve been talking about what 2016 will bring for travel. The word on everyone’s lips? Adventure. After all, what says new year, new you, more than getting out of your comfort zone and pushing the boundaries of what travel traditionally means? And if you’re in need of a little inspiration on how to get you heart pounding, pulse racing and fulfil your thirst for thrills, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are seven of the greatest adventures we’ve experienced first-hand on our travels:
White water rafting in Tennessee, USA
Experienced by: Helen Winter
There’s something about jumping into a rubber raft with five people and navigating yourself through turbulent waters, each swirl trying to catch you off-guard. I was standing on the muddy banks of the Tennessee River, framed by postcard-like pine trees that stand like spectators on the side, reflecting in the undisturbed flow. Normally a sight like this would relax me, but my buoyancy aid, helmet and giant paddle were all signs that there was something exciting downriver. Clambering onboard our bouncy dinghy, it wasn’t long before the rapids were lifting us out of the water and crashing us back down again. Teamwork took over: we followed instructions to paddle left, paddle right, and lift our paddles in the air. After a brief detour from the raft and into the river, I felt the ache of my face – strained from the chilly waters and from laughing so much – and relaxation swept over me as the raft bobbed onto calmer waters, as if nothing had even happened.
Make it happen: Discover Tennessee on our Best of the Deep South Journey.
Climbing in Laos
Experienced by: Chris Steel
The combination of the jungle humidity and the absence of a distinguishable track already had my T-shirt soaked through – and I hadn’t even got into my climbing harness yet. The three Laotian guides that led me through the dense Vang Vieng jungle seemed not to even notice the giant centipede that scuttled over a log as we passed by. When we reached the sheer rock face I was convinced this experience couldn’t be any more like an Indiana Jones movie – that is, until one guide paused to shoe a large snake away. “Poisonous?” I asked, frantically checking my shoes were empty. “It wouldn’t kill you,” I was comforted to hear. All thoughts of killer wildlife disappeared when I started to climb the towering limestone karst and the view of the undulating countryside slowly revealed itself. As I neared the top I stopped to let the view of miles of emerald rice fields distract me from my shredded hands. This was the first time I had ever climbed on real rock and I will never forget it.
Make it happen: Learn more about Laos and the rest of our Asia Holidays here.
Swimming with whale sharks in Caribbean Mexico
Experienced by: Alexandra Gregg
Nothing could prepare me for the sheer scale of the whale shark. I’ve snorkelled before, charting some of the world’ best-known reefs, but this was something else. Here, two hours off the coast of Cancun, there wasn’t a piece of brain coral or a parrotfish in sight. It was just our tour group, the boat and the deep blue sea, full of inquisitive mantas beneath us and three 12-metre whale sharks in front of us. Our skipper spotted a fin, yelled at us to get in the water and, after hastily shoving on flippers, mask and fins, we were in, face-to-giant hoover mouth with these gentle giants. We swam alongside one for 30 seconds before it motored off with ease, disappearing into the murky plankton-filled darkness. It was the most thrilling half a minute of my life.
Make it happen: Speak to an Expert today about booking your Beach Escape to Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Skiing down a black slope in Austria
Experienced by: Tess Watkins
As a fearless and adventurous 16-year-old, I couldn’t wait to hit the slopes on a ski trip to Salzburg, Austria. The couple of falls I experienced – including an embarrassing tumble from a ski lift – did nothing to knock my confidence. My wish for higher and faster slopes was granted when we got stuck at the top of a mountain during a blizzard. With the lifts suspended thanks to dangerous winds, we had no option but to tackle a black slope. I will never forget standing at the top of that peak, peering over the terrifyingly steep piste we needed to navigate. At that moment my confidence wavered. But with a few encouraging words from my instructor, along with the realisation that there really was no other way down, I inched forward. The icy wind sliced my face, snow swirled ahead and the vicious gales threatened to throw me off the precipice as I sped down… but I’d never felt more alive.
Skydiving from 15,000ft in Queenstown, New Zealand
Experienced by: Dominique Kotsias
For someone who’s afraid of heights, the thought of a sky dive literally brought tears to my eyes and sent shivers down my spine. It was clear blue skies that day, apparently the best conditions for hurling yourself out of a plane over Lake Wakatipu. My tandem partner knew how scared I was (I think the sobbing gave it away!), and being given oxygen at 12,000ft was terrifying to say the least, but from the second I was thrown out I realised why doing one of the highest sky dives possible was a must: the FREEFALL! We plummeted sans parachute for 60 glorious seconds: the best 60 seconds of my life. The buzz was incredible and my fear was quickly replaced with adrenaline. I realised that if I were to die in that moment I wouldn’t care, it just felt so good. A minute passed, the parachute ejected and I had the chance to soak up the incredible scenery below me. I never wanted it to end.
Make it happen: Discover Queenstown – New Zealand’s adventure capital – on our Best of the South Island Journey.
Death Road bike ride in La Paz, Bolivia
Experienced by: Becky Greaves
Staying in the high-altitude city of La Paz (4,000m above sea level), means you’re fairly breathless all the time. But nothing took my breath away quite like doing El Camino de la Muerte – the Death Road Cycle. It’s an extraordinarily scenic 37-mile downhill bike ride, tumbling from an altitude of 4,500m to 1,600m on a single-lane gravel road. Danger-wise, there’s the barrier-free 500m sheer drop to your left, not to mention the possibility of ploughing into oncoming traffic. To say I was nervous was an understatement. In my head I’d planned to crawl the whole way down, but as the ride began I started to relax. Relaxation quickly turned to enjoyment and I soon found myself careering down the hill with joyous abandon. Thankfully I made it to the end without injury along with the majority of my party, save one unfortunate Italian who got a severe case of gravel rash. That said, even he had a huge grin plastered across his face at the end, and we all celebrated with a swim in the river and several large beers.
Make it happen: Speak to one of our Travel Experts about visiting Bolivia, or explore more of the continent on our South America: Southern Highlights Small-Group Journey.
Microlighting over Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
Experienced by: Angela Griffin
Watching the spray emanating from the mighty Victoria Falls – known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ – is impressive, even from ground level. But, for a bird’s eye view with a difference, I chose to see it by microlight, essentially a bicycle with wings. With my heart in my mouth and my fate in the pilot’s hands, we soared through the smoke, taking in the dramatic views of Victoria Falls Gorge zigzagging into the distance. I noticed a trail of flattened trees, the tell-tale sign of elephants, and sure enough we soon spotted a wandering herd. In fact, we were surrounded by wildlife – crocodiles basked by the Zambezi River, zebras casually strolled through the grasses and birds glided all around us. It was an exhilarating experience, and one I shall definitely be telling my grandchildren about.
Make it happen: Book your flights to Africa with one of our Travel Experts today.