Travel, the way we see it, is about adventure, the kind you’re never going to find while sipping a daiquiri at an all-inclusive beach resort. These trips–from camping in a Colorado snow cave to scuba diving in Burma–will earn you bragging rights and possibly even a few bruises.
THE WILD SIDE
Spying on elephant seals in California
More than 20,000 elephant seals, weighing as much as 7,000 pounds each, haul themselves onto San Miguel Island twice a year–to birth pups in winter, shed skins in summer. You can hop a boat bound for Cuyler Harbor and take a ranger-guided hike to Point Bennett (14 miles round-trip), where observation points get you within 20 to 30 yards of the playful mammals. Island camping is allowed by permit, but for ultimate comfort, sleep on a live-aboard dive boat. Who: Truth Aquatics, 805-9621127. When: Best viewing, April-August and December-February. How much: $75 roundtrip transport; $125 per night on board. Travel advisory: The 4-hour crossing can be cold, rough and windy come winter.
Photographing polar bears in Canada
Just before the Hudson Bay freezes, polar bears lurk on the shores near Churchill, Manitoba, eager to hunt for seals. That’s when you have a chance to shoot (with a camera, of course) one of the world’s largest accessible concentrations of the white wooly bears. A professional wildlife photographer will be on hand to hone your camera skills and help you capture the moment. Who: Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, 206-463-5383. When: October. How much: 9 days, with bunkhouse, $3,295. Travel advisory: Pack enough film, 5 to 20 rolls a day, and extra batteries (to replace frozen ones).
Tracking snow leopards in Ladahk, India
To study the population of endangered snow leopards, volunteers hike through the Himalayas at about 15,000 feet to find signs of the big cats (like claw prints and droppings), document the habits of their prey and interview villagers about their livestock practices and the impact of predators on their lives. This information is shared with the International Snow Leopard Trust to aid in implementing plans to save this creature. Who: Earthwatch, 800-776-0188. When: July-August. How much: 17 or 32 days, $2,495 or $4,990 (all expenses, including airfare, are tax-deductible). Travel advisory: For experienced backcountry campers willing to rough it for a cause.
Climbing in New Hampshire
It’s not called the Granite State for nothing. New Hampshire is home to classic rock cliffs, and at International Mountain Climbing School climbers of all levels can hone their skills. Beginners learn to belay, rappel and tie knots; intermediates work on anchor systems, route finding and multipitch ascents and descents; advanced climbers practice crack and corner climbing at the 5.7 to 5.11 level. Who: International Mountain Climbing School, 603-356-7064. When: Open year-round. How much: 2 days, from $220; 3 days, from $330. Travel advisory: Foliage season is popular, so book early if you want to go in the fall. Read more