Authentic Adventure Travel

Renata Faeth

“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!” Hamid, the Club Adventures’ tour guide, roused his 16 American travelers from midday naps as the minivan pulled into a rest stop outside Marrakesh, Morocco. It was day nine of an 11-day journey through Morocco’s rugged mountains, desert, limestone river canyons and the famed Road of 1,000 Kasbahs, where activities such as a sunrise camel ride and tea with a nomadic Berber family provide visitors with the sort of “I’m not in Kansas anymore” experience they imagined.

Hamid’s spirited wake-up call and easy banter was a traveler’s perfect antidote to any uneasiness.

Among the guests was AAA Minneapolis travel advisor and intrepid globe-trotter Chris Anderson. No stranger to roads less traveled, Anderson has soloed his way through countries like Indonesia, Armenia, Suriname and remote corners of Croatia, so the notion of joining a group to wander through Morocco with a local guide was hardly intimidating. Yet, he notes, “I often had a slightly unsettling sense of the unknown, a feeling I get when I’m a little out of my comfort zone—not so much fear as an awakening of my senses. This is what an adventure should feel like.

Cultural Immersion and Authentic, Local Flavor

Club Adventures

A new travel company recently launched by AAA, Club Adventures strives to offer unique experiences like this in global destinations such as Peru, East Africa, Japan, Iceland, Bali, Vietnam, Nepal and many others. It fills a void for AAA, where—until now—travel advisors have often been left with piecemeal planning strategies to the very destinations that require the most care.

Club Adventures manages the details, offering three- and four-star boutique hotels, local guides and quality immersive experiences independent travelers love to stumble upon—though usually through extensive research or random luck. Most importantly, travelers don't need to worry about all the unknowns, such as total trip cost or transportation time between stops.

AAA’s travel companies embrace cultural immersion and authentic local flavor, weaving it into their guided itineraries to replace souvenir stops and preplanned photo opportunities of past decades. Long road trips on busy highways are as passé as the smoking section. Instead, days are filled with winery visits, home-cooked meals, and in Anderson’s case, an encounter with snake charmers in Place Lahdim, a square in the ancient Meknés Medina. These are the discoveries that help shape our view of an increasingly interconnected world bursting with color, natural beauty and diversity.

Planning Your Adventure Travel Trip

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations

Millennials may be the original drivers of the adventure travel business, pushing the envelope with higher risk excursions like bungee jumping and river rafting, but active travel with a connection to nature and local culture is trending across all age demographics.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations draws travelers willing to ditch their rental car to walk or bike in scenic, regional-focused itineraries throughout six continents. Consider these popular samples: a bike and boat combo along the legendary canals of Holland and Belgium, a meander through farmland and bucolic villages dotted with historic windmills, or a ramble on foot through the English Cotswolds, where scenery such as thatched-roof cottages, grazing sheep and narrow stone bridges that connect medieval streets and market squares unfold like a Jane Austen novel.

This is what travelers want, says VBT’s national accounts manager Glenn Letch. “Our guests are returning to areas they’ve briefly visited in the past with a desire to enjoy them in a more active, less traditional way, so we craft our tours with expert local guides and smaller, more intimate groups. One needn’t be a super athlete, nor does one need a traveling companion. Solo travel is a rapidly growing part of our brands as our guests take comfort in knowing that every aspect of their trip is safe, enjoyable and interactive.”

According to Letch, avid travelers are living longer and healthier lives, so they’re better equipped to explore on the seat of a bike or in a pair of hiking boots. Nevertheless, all VBT tours are rated to accommodate the activity levels of their guests, ensuring a comfortable journey from start to finish.

A trip leader accompanies all tours, and support is included throughout the journey for shuttle service, baggage transfers between hotels, and emergency travel service. A major game changer: Electronic Assist, or e-bikes allow riders to ease up when necessary, so they have more energy throughout the day’s journey. And speaking of energy, VBT provides the fuel. Most meals are included, too; travelers enjoy a hearty breakfast, picnics (tour dependent), snack stops, cocktail gatherings and group dinners featuring tantalizing local cuisine. River and sea exploration is a burgeoning business, too.

Authentic Cultural Immersion Travel

UnCruise Adventures

A small ship cruise company, UnCruise Adventures offers wilderness and wildlife voyages to destinations like the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. Plus, it emphasizes sustainable tourism and offshore excursions that inspire descriptive words like “transformative” and “unforgettable” in their travelers’ journal entries. Their colorful brochure describes flocks of pelicans skimming the water in tight formation on Panama’s Mogue River, the barking sound of sea lions by the hundreds on Isla Rábida in the Galapagos, and the thrill of having dinner interrupted by the sight of a sea otter and a baby resting on her belly, gazing in through the dining room window. One gets chills reading this stuff—imagine experiencing it firsthand.

In honor of her birthday, Susan Thompson, AAA Eden Prairie Branch Manager, experienced her own travel adventure by jumping off the back of a boat into an ocean. She checked that off and more on UnCruise’s Unveiled Wonders, Costa Rica and Panama Canal cruise, snorkeling the blue waters of the Pacific, kayaking around deserted islands, and hiking in unspoiled eco-parks, including a trifecta of rain, dry and cloud forests.

Hurtigruten Expedition Cruises

Long known for their voyages along the narrow waterways and breathtaking fjords of Norway’s coast, cruise company Hurtigruten is broadening their expedition footprint. Their vessels are showing up in adventure hot spots like Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic Circle (fun fact: 250 polar bears call Svalbard home).

The company’s biggest push is to the wildly scenic Antarctic, where they’ve added a second ship and creative excursions like an “Amundsen Night” camp-out under the stars for travelers looking to expand their portfolio of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The outing—which honors the spirit of the great Norwegian explorer and heroic leader of the first South Pole expedition, Roald Amundsen—provides campers with comfortable, high quality cold weather equipment and the thrill of a midnight hike under the stars to a nearby penguin colony, weather permitting. It’s just one night, and not far from the ship, but how many of us can say we pitched a tent and slept outside in the Antarctic?

Adventure Cruises to Antarctica
Boulders Beach, South Africa. PHOTO CASEY ALLEN/UNSPLASH

Discoveries and Experiences Just Outside Your Comfort Zone

Travelers eager to see and do things without sacrificing comfort and safety are driving the adventure travel market further. Eric White, National Accounts Director for Club Adventures, recently explored Peru on their 10-day Ancient Peru itinerary. Definitely not roughing it in the remote Amazon jungle, they rode a motorized canoe down the river to their accommodations, a cluster of individual huts with private bathrooms, just a short walk to a main lodge. There, the dining room featured chef-prepared regional specialties, and the lobby offered free Wi-Fi for posting photos to prove that everything really happened—the hike up to Machu Picchu, the stand-up paddle boarding on Piuray Lake in the Sacred Valley, and countless encounters with wildlife, including monkeys, giant river otters, piranha and even a sloth, peering out from her hiding place in the evening twilight.

Trip planners at Club Adventures also know that seeing exotic animals in their natural habitat helps people appreciate their existence in a world that faces serious environmental challenges. The nine-day Authentic South Africa journey combines three days in stunning Cape Town with both land and marine safaris. Day one features a Cape Malay cooking class and dinner, and from there travelers peel away discoveries, like the view of both the Atlantic and Indian oceans from Cape Point, encounters with penguins, great white sharks and whales, and a search for cheetahs, lions, elephants, leopards and more on two and a half days in a private game reserve.  

And there’s always room for more adventures. As AAA Northeast freelance writer Colm Ashe puts it, “Club Adventures is an open book, but the story is yours to write. The programs are powered by the idea that travel is not about the moments spent moving, but the moments that move us.” As Chris Anderson describes the tickle of mint leaves tucked under his nostrils to ward off the pungent odors of the Fez Tannery, the splendid view of the great Marrakesh plains from Col du Tichka pass in the High Atlas Mountains, and the delightfully unsweetened taste of sfenj, a Moroccan doughnut, he inspires us to chart a course of our own in search of discoveries and experiences just outside our comfort zone.

Planning Your Trip

Get more inspiration and find an adventure travel expert: Wellness & Adventure Travel Experiences