Trekking, climbing and extreme backpacking are IN, explains Gemma Askham
Have you heard? Adventure holidays should be on your travel wishlist this year, and for a very good reason.
The blueprint for annual leave used to be: SPF, sunlounger and cocktails. Our bodies were out of office, yet our minds lagged behind. ‘I love sunbathing for a week, but can’t switch off from my phone or work,’ reveals Tori, a 29-year-old PR who’s one of an increasing number of women ditching beach holidays for adventure holidays and something more challenging. In her case, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, sleeping in sub-zero temperatures, miles from civilisation or Wi-Fi. Welcome to the new escapism.
Adventure holidays generally involve a connection with nature or culture, and/or a physical activity, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). In 2013, the sector was growing 65 per cent year on year, and has been since 2009*. Today, it’s women who are powering this movement in adventure holidays. Last year, the UK’s Adventure Travel Show had 18 per cent more female attendees than male. And adventure tour operators like Intrepid, REI Adventures and Flash Pack all report that around 60 per cent of their bookings are now from women.
‘Social media has given rise to the female daredevil,’ confirms Radha Vyas, co-founder of Flash Pack, which provides group adventures for solo travellers. ‘The “look what I did” post on Instagram beats any souvenir; people want to be travel trendsetters,’ says Vyas. It’s not just about ‘likes’, though: 62 per cent of British women say that being virtually connected via social media makes them feel safe enough to travel alone or take on new challenges**.
An increase in social-media activism has encouraged women to take adventure holidays for charity, too. ‘As awareness grows around gender inequality, mental health and domestic violence, women are determined to take action,’ confirms Mark Borton of Charity Challenge, which organises global fundraising expeditions. And you don’t have to be Bear Grylls. ‘Celebrities and influencers show that extreme challenges are achievable, and they’re inspiring more people to do something life-changing in their leisure time,’ says Borton.
Take a hike: the new adventure holidays
This collective ‘experience-first’ mindset is changing the way we deal with life curveballs, such as a break-up or job loss. ‘Many people suddenly single in their thirties choose adventure holidays to regain confidence or meet new friends,’ says Vyas. ‘After redundancy, some use the unexpected career break to take once-in-a-lifetime trips.’ It was a personal loss that inspired Lindsay, 36, to resign from her role in financial services and embark on a nine-month adventure across California, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. ‘My sister Madeleine died a few years ago, and I was one of her main carers. I was quite risk-averse before she died, but have learned not to put things off. I’ve since run down sand dunes, white-water rafted and cliff-jumped to recharge my mind.’
Recharging – from work, life, the claws of social media – is at the crux of the adventure travel trend. ‘Any activity that pushes you physically or mentally will distract you from the urge to check your phone and ruminate over work, forcing you to focus on the moment,’ says Vyas. ‘This is why people return feeling refreshed even though they haven’t sat still for two weeks.’
Adventure holidays to take in 2018
Women-only trips that combine adventure with skill workshops. ‘Cameras and canyons’ explores hidden Arizona with a National Geographic photographer as your tour guide and teacher.
Like AirBnb for campsites, you’ll find off-the-beaten-track spots in vineyards, ranches and nature reserves – all verified and reviewed by people who’ve been.
Offers 650 adventures, including ‘18-30s’ – trek-hard, party-hard trips for thrifty budgets. Plus 20 wildlife tours, such as watching polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, endorsed by primatologist Dr Jane Goodall.
Books trips via local agents for an insider’s experience. Panama’s ‘Power Women Adventure Tour’ combines nature exploration with volunteer work at a non-profit that helps women handle their finances and self-esteem.
Family-tailored hikes, bush walks and water sports – each adventure suggests what children’s age range it suits. New for 2018 are Belize, Kerala, a safari in Tanzania and winter mini-breaks in Finland’s north.
*According to ATTA and George Washington University. **According to Booking.com