Let’s face it, some of us are wired to always accept the biggest challenge, the longest trail, the most extreme rapids, the highest peaks and the most rugged terrain. Some people are not built that way, but on occasion, they feel an urge to drink from the adrenaline cup that adventure junkies desire. The good news is that adventure travel is a broad spectrum. Many excursion outfitters now offer scaled-down experiences for those who are not ready to fully commit to an extreme activity.
I’ve recently returned from Iceland where I drove ATVs across rugged lava fields and barreled up muddy mountains with a steep vertical assent. I trekked glaciers filled with declivitous crevices and shifting ice beneath my feet. I even circled an erupting volcano from above so close that I could peer down the crater into the cauldron of exploding magma.
While on my expedition, I occasionally observed participants in these activities hesitating, not listening and not preparing for the adventure ahead. As a result, some of these people got hurt, some of them got in over their heads ruining any chance they will try something adventurous again and some of them frankly put others in danger.
No matter where you land on the spectrum, adventure travel is about two things: the thrill and safety. Here are 5 tips to ensure a safe, successful and enjoyable experience on your next adventure.
1. Know your limits – We are all built with an internal alarm system. You KNOW whether a level of discomfort is just nerves and excitement or if your body is alerting you to NOT do something. There is a distinct difference and you should listen to it. Ignoring the red flags is a sure-fire way to psyche yourself out and end up hurting yourself or someone else.
A few years ago, I decided to take a recommended bike trip down the Mt. Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. The trip sounded right up my alley, but the moment I peered straight down at the first pass with a 10,000 foot drop next to the road, I froze. THAT is the moment I should listened to my body’s internal alarm. Instead, I hopped into the lineup regretting that decision ever since. I was the gal initiating the enormous gap between the front part of the line and the back. I was convinced I would never stop in time to make the approaching hairpin turn and I would die riding straight off the edge of the volcano. At the first stop, I got off the bike realizing that my fear was actually putting those behind me in danger. I was not going fast enough for the others control their bikes. It was a lovely scenic ride down the volcano in the van and it was an important lesson. Know your limits and do not be embarrassed to bail on something that truly frightens you.
2. Listen to your guide – I cannot stress this enough. Your guide is the expert. If he/she tells you to walk single file or to step a certain way — do it. If he/she tells you NOT to do something -don’t do it. It is a rather elementary concept, but many people simply don’t listen. If you need instructions repeated or clarified, ask. In many cases understanding these instructions can literally mean the difference between life and death as most guide instructions are for safety.
3. Pay attention to your surroundings – The moment I stepped onto a glacier for the first time, I was mesmerized and lost in the sheer magnificence and beauty of nature. I think it is important to pause sometimes and just soak in the moment. But, make it only a moment and snap back to reality. Whether you are on a glacier, ziplining, whitewater rafting, hiking or in any way engaging in adventure in the outdoors it is essential to pay attention to your surroundings. You can only control what you do or don’t do – mother nature controls the rest. Complete awareness of yourself and your surroundings keeps you focused on your activity and doing it properly.
4. Fuel-up – Adventure activities require energy, strength and endurance. It is important to fuel your body before your activities and stay hydrated during them. If I’m heading our for a long day, I eat a breakfast rich in protein with some grain bread and I keep a power bar in my bag. I keep a bottle of water with me at all times. What you put in your body fuels your brain and your energy level. You need both to perform at peak levels.
5. Try something new – Take adventure activities one step at a time. Start at a level that is comfortable and work your way up to more extreme activities. This way, you continue to expand your experiences, while at the same time enjoying them because you are not in over your head.
Adventure travel is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Every country features unique terrain and activities allowing for full adventurous use of the surroundings. But, these experiences are not automatic. It is important to remember that extreme activities require active participation. Following the simple tips I mentioned above will go a long way in helping you try things you never though you would and help keep you safe while doing them.