dream vacations

Test your survival skills in the totally off-grid Bushmasters course. Photo courtesy Bushmasters.co.uk

Adventure travel used to be the sole domain of adrenaline junkies with wild beards and "Sorry, we're closed for the next three months" orthodontists with a Backpacker mag subscription. These days? Ditching maid service and swim-up pool bars for a trip that gets you off the grid is in vogue and easier than ever. There's a trip for almost any whim you can dream up: Want to volunteer in Africa? Sleep in a room with a giraffe? Done and done. Here are nine vacation ideas for you to mull over before penciling in your time off.

Type 1: Totally disconnect
We hate to admit it, but sometimes the best part of a vacation is sharing those envy-inducing photos on Instagram and watching the likes roll in. Stop the madness and fully immerse yourself in an experience with a vacation that literally forces you to get off the grid—no cell-phone service, no electricity, no direct line between you and whatever emails can wait until you get back. Pack a one-two punch and learn some survival skills while you're at it: Now that's a double-tap-worthy trip.

Book it: Bushmasters Jungle Survival Trip, starting at $2,900 per person; bushmasters.co.uk

Type 2: Help out a good cause
If getting your hands dirty for the greater good is your motivation for taking a few weeks off, consider a volunteer trip that blends service with sightseeing. Help the Reef Ball Foundation plant concrete balls on the ocean floor—they'll serve as the foundation for future reefs—or donate your time to helping out at a school in Uganda that serves parentless children, where you'll help with construction projects, community gardening, and AIDS awareness programs. Paying to work never felt so right.

Book it: Nyaka School, rates vary; nyakaschoolorg

surf school

Learn a new skill, like surfing or mountain biking, in almost any country you can think of with popular adventure schools built for dream vacations. Photo courtesy Safari Surf School

Type 3: Learn something new
If your gym-work-sleep routine is getting stagnant, shake things up by learning a new skill on your vacation at one of the many outdoor-adventure schools across the globe. Master the duck dive, learn how to pedal down a swooping single track, or finally learn what the heck "belay" means. Bonus points if you can do it somewhere with a breathtaking backdrop (as long as you can, you know, catch your breath—no one said this trip would be easy!).

Book it: Safari Surf School, starting at $1,450 per person; safarisurfschool.com

Type 4: Stay closer to home
No passport? No problem—there are plenty of destinations that warrant a little vacation time in our own backyard. If you have some experience around horses, check out The Hideout in Wyoming, a working, adult-oriented 100-year-old cattle ranch where advanced riders can roam through hundreds of thousands of acres outside Yellowstone National Park. Speaking of parks, there are 58 national ones, hundreds of state options, and plenty of recreation areas out there, so you're bound to find your adventure in one of them. Hike through the iconic Zion Narrows in Utah, heli-ski Nevada's Ruby Mountains, or surf The Wedge off Newport Beach, California. If you really want to make a trek without going international, plan on kayaking through Alaska's Glacier Bay, where you can cruise past glaciers and weave your way closer to a pod of whales.

Book it: Alaska's Glacier Bay Cruise, starting at $1,895 per person, rei.com/adventures


Get up close and personal with gentle giants like elephants and whale sharks. Photo courtesy Elephant Nature Park

Type 5: Find a new favorite animal
Whale sharks are protected in Honduras, and Utila is one of the few places you can see the massive fish year-round. Book a stay with Deep Blue Utila to scuba dive, and keep your fingers crossed for a glimpse of the gentle giants. If waking up with a giraffe peeking through your curtains sounds like a dream come true, spend a night at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, a historical building where a herd of giraffes greets visitors in the mornings and evenings. The experience at the Elephant Nature Foundation in Thailand is no less rewarding, though don't expect turndown service: Volunteers shower in huts in exchange for getting up close and personal with Asian elephants. (You might even get to scrub one down during bath time!)

Book it: Elephant Nature Park, rates vary; elephantnaturepark.org

Type 6: Face your fears
Earn your bragging rights with a high-adrenaline jaunt that will put you face to face with your fears. Zimbabwe offers bungee-jumping excursions for anyone seeking a rush; you'll dive off the Victoria Falls Bridge and plummet toward the bottom of one of the world's largest waterfalls. If you're looking to get close to wildlife, book a one- to three-day stay with Great Alaska Bear Camp, where you can get familiar with hungry brown bears as they overdose on salmon and teach their cubs how to fish. (It's not unusual to spot at least 20 of the massive mammals in mid-August.) There's even a "Cage of Death" in Australia that allows you to hover in a glass case feet from deadly saltwater crocs. For the ultimate predator-prey experience, though, it's off to South Africa, where you'll chow down on continental breakfast before slipping on a wetsuit so you can be lowered underwater in a special shark cage. Once the great whites arrive, you'll know if the bagels and cream cheese were a good idea.

Book it: Shark Cage Diving Trips, prices vary; sharkcagediving.net

Patagonian Expedition Race

The ultra-demanding Patagonian Expedition Race is called the “last wild race.” Photo by Alexandre Buisse

Type 7: Push yourself
If you have more race bibs tacked to your bulletin board than you can count, why not push your limits on a world-class vacation? Sign up for the eight-day jungle obstacle-course race, Race2Adventure, in Guatemala (each day is capped off with some R&R, like volleyball games and hikes around Mayan ruins), or the grueling Jungfrau Marathon, a 26.2-mile uphill run through the Swiss Alps. And if any event can call itself "the last wild race," it's the Patagonian Expedition Race, a 10-day endurance competition that pits coed four-person teams from around the world against each other for a sea kayaking/hiking/mountain biking sprint across the wilds of Chilean Patagonia.

Book it: Patagonia Expedition Race, starting at $1,200 per person; patagonianexpeditionrace.com

Type 8: Get chummy with the locals
If the thought of traveling like a tourist makes you cringe, opt for a full-on cultural immersion for your next vacation. Volunteer your time in Bangkok with Cross Cultural Solutions, working to improve education for children, and you'll be sent on a scavenger hunt through the city, where you'll figure out how to hail a tuk-tuk, light a lotus candle in a Buddhist temple, and make purchases at an open-air market. Or spend 10 days among the indigenous tribes of Nagaland in Northeast India, called the "land of festivals," where you'll learn the local customs, drive through isolated mountains, and even get some face time with the headhunters of the Konyak tribe. Not ready to fully dive into a culture? Rent a room in a local's home using Airbnb and get to know your hosts for a insider's take on where to eat, play, and explore.

Book it: Nagaland Tour, price upon request; thegreenerpastures.com

space adventures

If you’ve got the cash, they’ll take you to space—but when you see your bank account, you might beg to stay in orbit. Photo courtesy Space Adventures

Type 8: Hand over your life savings
Whatever you can dream up, you can experience—so long as you have the funds to pay for it. There's the morbid Ultime Réalité, a French experience wherein your fork over a grand to be taken, bound, gagged, and imprisoned for four hours, or the incredibly demanding skydive over Mount Everest, a fall that requires four days of hiking just to get to the drop zone. (There are only four excursions per year and the drop alone will run you $14,000; call before you submit your applications to find out if they’re still running jumps.) For the ultimate in out-of-this-world adventure, shovel over $110,000 and take a trip into suborbital space to watch life on Earth pass by as you gaze into the blackness of space (and watch your bank account hit rock bottom).

Book it: Space Adventures, starting at $110,000 per person; spaceadventures.com

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