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Thursday, August 17 Living

More and more adventurers are packing their bags in search of one-of-a-kind experiences

Sure, sipping a mai tai poolside is decidedly relaxing for many people, but what if you want a more memorable sojourn?

You are not alone. Once the province of adrenaline junkies, survivalists and high-end travelers, adventure travel has been a growing segment of the market for about 10 years, as the idea of what constitutes such an escapade has become simultaneously broader and more customized. Today, adventurers range from those who want to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, to those who want to bike through some sheep in Ireland.

“If you are in the middle of the Arctic with a wild polar bear walking up to you, or you are at Yellowstone (National Park) in the winter and you are seeing Old Faithful go off in the snow, or you are on a bus with tank tracks instead of wheels — these are all experiences that are out of the ordinary … and they make you feel as if you are seeing something for the first time, because you are,” says Jeremy Palmer, during a phone interview from his New York City office. He is a senior vice president at Tauck, a Wilton-based operator of guided tours and cruises. “It checks that box of doing something new and feeling adventurous.”

Tauck has offered trips to exotic and not-so-exotic locales for 92 years —including its present-day offerings of more than 150 different tours to 80 different countries across all seven continents. For instance, one can book a 12-day safari through Botswana, South Africa and Zambia — one of its more popular African adventures — or partake in a small ship cruise around Iceland, one of the top adventure destinations in the world. In both cases, the experience is made more unusual by a partnership with wildlife documentary makers BBC Earth. Travelers may get to see what moves in the night on the African plains with thermal cameras normally used by filmmakers and watch exclusive films on the natural history of Iceland.

As global tourism infrastructure opens up, giving people from around the world more and more access to remote places, it pushes seasoned travelers to seek out ever more unusual and exciting experiences. Those in the been-there, done-that group are seeking new frontiers off the beaten path, something survey takers revealed in a recent poll conducted by international travel agency Virtuoso. They want immersion and interaction, and authentic experiences that result in some cultural, social or educational understanding. This trend has been a significant driver for Tauck and others.

For more than 50 years, Connecticut Audubon Society’s EcoTravel division has been a go-to for birders, looking for hotspots near and far. However, as tastes have changed, so too has the travel agency’s offerings. As guests traipse about to spot those feathered finds, they also are exploring cultural and historic sites, and staying in places that are off-the-beaten trail.

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“We’ve always wanted to provide these memorable, amazing and incredible experiences,” says Priscilla Wood, who has been the sales and marketing manager, as well as tour guide for EcoTravel since 2007. But, as travelers have looked for more immersive and interactive experiences, the trips — led by staff and volunteers — have grown.

Among the more popular EcoTravel forays is a boat trip along the Amazon River, which brings guests to remote areas of the rainforest. They spend the trip on a small expedition vessel from which they disembark to explore locations with local naturalists who serve as guides. For those who would rather not cross the path of a tarantula or have little interest in looking for caimans, this might not be the trip for you. But, adventure can mean many things to many people.

For instance, as you are filling that life list with a sighting of Blakiston’s fish owl during a jaunt to Japan (which EcoTravel has planned for January), you might also be notching a mark on the bucket list as you visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

In the end, an adventure carries with it some sense of intrigue, a chance to rub elbows with the locals, physical exertion and, often, a trip to a distant land — at least “distant” relative to your day-to-day existence. Wood recalls leading a trip to Ireland that had the group hiking up Knocknarea Mountain to get to the legendary Queen Maeve’s tomb.

“The hike to her tomb is pretty intense,” says Wood of the more than 1,000-foot summit. Reaching the top is both a feeling of accomplishment and an unforgettable experience of seeing such an ancient structure.

Such experiential opportunities show no signs of losing popularity. The Seattle-based Adventure Travel Trade Association, in its 2017 Industry Snapshot, reported that ecotourism and cultural and culinary opportunities were among the most in-demand adventure activities. The cost of these experiences can vary, though plan on several thousands dollars, and more as locations get more remote and itineraries more customized.

As to who is going out on these treks, Palmer says although Tauck’s travelers tend to skew toward those 50 and older (with the exception of the family adventures), it is an all-ages phenomenon. “In terms of the sense of doing something that is exciting, exotic and adventurous, there is a fundamental human motivation of wanting to be surprised and delighted and to see something you haven’t seen before. And that is as powerful, and maybe even more powerful, as you get older.”

chennessy@hearstmedia.com;

Twitter: @xtinahennessy

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