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Pursuing Passions in New Places

Adventure travel isn't just for youngsters

By Stephanie Oswald | May 23, 2012

Tuscan cooking classes? Check.

Bicycle tours through French wine country? Check.

After your language immersion course in Barcelona, your Spanish is muy bien.

And after getting your PADI scuba certification, you still take the occasional plunge.

Now what?

If you’re ready to dive into even more adventure, there’s a whole world of new opportunities in which to pursue your passions or pick up a new one.

Tour operators from Bozeman to Bilboa to the Kazakh steppe are facilitating travel experiences for those who've been there, done that or who want to kick up the excitement level a notch: You can hang-glide over the Pyrenees, go dog-sledding in Norway, work with puffins in coastal Maine, take a glassblowing workshop in Venice or explore the Montana wilderness on horseback. You can even experience life as a cosmonaut — in Russia.

Marsha Lamb wanted to celebrate turning 60 in a special way, so she did her research then flew to Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont., and saddled up for a three-day, 62-mile, all-women ride called Klicks for Chicks. The event required determination, a healthy spirit for adventure and an appreciation for the finer things in life. For Lamb, it was the perfect way to revive her lifelong but neglected love for horseback riding. 

Denise Banks and her husband, Jim, had dedicated years to taking care of their special-needs son, but once he was ready to make the transition into a group home, they were determined to make up for lost time. Dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle was something she had always want to do, and when she discovered a program that included a Norwegian “seafood safari” — hunting for king crab wearing extreme survival suits — she jumped at the chance. After more than two decades of bottling up her passion for intense outdoor activity, she was raring to learn how to mush across the Norwegian tundra.

More Mature Adventure Travelers

Douglas Grimes, president and founder of MIR Corp., has been helping people like Lamb and Banks combine travel with the pursuit of passion since 1986. Most of his clients are over 55, and there’s been a huge uptick in the number of clients over 70 in the last seven years. 

“Boomers have a drive for self-improvement,” Grimes says. “They come from a work-centric era, and the natural extension of this is, ‘How can I grow, learn more, expand my knowledge?’ even outside of work.” And now, with empty nests and retirement savings in place, they’re ready to get off the grid, get their hands dirty and live out their global dreams. 

Teri Benincasa, host of the syndicated Boomer Radio Show, refers to her audience as “perpetual adolescents who don’t do retirement.” They yearn for travel that will reconnect them with forgotten passions. Rather than just tour a winery for the wine tasting, they help with the harvest. Same thing for art galleries: They don’t just admire the art — they sign up for studio classes on Impressionist painting. 

So whether you’re looking to revive a childhood obsession, live out a fantasy or find a new way to experience long-held passions, there’s something exciting out there just for you.

Make Fantasy Travel a Reality 

MIR Corp. has responded to the quest for mind-expanding vacations with trips to iconic destinations across Russia and Asia and such emerging destinations as Ukraine and the Balkans. One of its newest programs brings travelers inside the Russian space program

Participants in this weeklong vacation live like the cosmonauts, with up-close VIP viewings of once highly classified training centers. On top of that, they participate in intense training sessions that include zero gravity experiences conducted on the same craft that actual cosmonauts train on. Space explorer wannabes tackle G forces and fly like Superman with arms stretched out. The program culminates in ringside seats at the launching of a manned Soyuz rocket.

This heady program, which isn’t cheap (about $14,000 per person), seems to attract highly educated people. The first group was organized by the American Museum of Natural History, the second by Harvard Alumni Travel, and the third had participants from MIT Travel and Princeton’s alumni travel program. As one participant attempted to sum up his experience: “There are no words to describe the most exciting trip I have ever been privileged to be part of.”

The Coolest 'Second Childhood' Trip

Whether it’s a love for horseback riding, sports, dance, food, music or theater, reviving a passion from one’s formative years as an adult can be a transcendental experience. This is not about passively watching a Broadway show or ballgame, though. This kind of trip is all about pushing your physical and mental limits. You can brush up on your scout skills at “survival camp” in California, learn to play the violin at “string camp” or discover the joys of tango in the dance halls of Buenos Aires. 

Put any visions of standard coach tours aside; these trips transport participants by Land Rover, motorcycle or even camel. For Marsha Lamb, it was on the back of a golden buckskin horse. “This ride was about performance and resiliency,” she says of her Klicks for Chicks weekend. “I recently faced some health challenges, and now I take extra satisfaction in the kind of physical activity that proves I’ve still got it.” 

Lamb says that there was a reward that went beyond the fun and thrills of the ride, and even the camaraderie with the other women: "I found amazing affirmation for who I am and what I have accomplished.” 

Old Passions Get a New Attitude 

A trend among adventure travelers is reconnecting to old passions, sometimes deeply buried. An art lover might sign up for a glass-blowing workshop in Venice, or an outdoorsman may follow a fly-fishing trail along the rivers and streams of western North Carolina. Mary La Creta, who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, had long harbored the desire to help endangered species. 

At age 58, La Creta was intrigued by a brochure that came in the mail for an Audubon Camp program that included wildlife study and habitat restoration on Hog Island, Maine. When she told her daughter Katie, who was away at college, about it, Katie told her: “Mom, this is your Nike moment. Just do it.” 

Although the stay-at-home mom says she had always let her husband take the lead on family travel plans, she now felt like it was her time to seize the moment. 

Although she was a little tentative when she first arrived, she quickly got into the swing of things: banding birds and clearing paths with biologists and conservationists. "It was a priceless experience," Lamb says. She has since returned six times and credits that original trip for pushing her outside her comfort zone. Her environmental adventures on several Maine islands have included observing herons, conducting a gull census and clearing litter from puffin nesting areas.

Tips for a Successful Trip

Wherever and however you decide to follow your adventurous heart, there are a few simple ways to keep the logistics in line so you can focus on your passionate pursuits. 

  • Read the fine print on your itinerary regarding what’s included in the rate, how much downtime is built in, and what your food and drink options are. Watch out for potential add-ons that could sharply increase costs.
  • Purchase trip insurance. The cost (a percentage of the value of your trip) is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
  • Be honest about your abilities. Even if you grew up surfing or riding horses, be respectful of the passage of time. If appropriate, refamiliarize yourself with the skill that you’ll need before you leave.
  • Do your homework. This is especially important if your journey centers on the historic aspects of a region. Sailing along the coast of Dubrovnik will be more memorable if you’re not buried in the guidebook while there. Some tour operators even provide a reading list in advance.
  • Keep a journal. Everyone eventually forgets the details, and because travel opens minds, a journal is a great place to catch the thoughts that come as you pursue your passions in new places.

Stephanie Oswald, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and television correspondent, is also the co-founder and editor of Travelgirl magazine.

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