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The Adventures of Your Life
Your entire life should be an adventure, full of all the surprises, new experiences, and unpredictability that the idea implies. But you can't just wait for the excitement to come to you. You need to go after it, do some planning, even schedule your spontaneity. As paradoxical as it may seem, the best things happen when you put yourself in the right places at the right times with the right people. The possibilities are endless, but with the pages ahead, you'll be off to a running start.
Coming of Age
MIND YOUR GAP YEAR (17-18 Years Old)
The classic post-high school journeys of self-discovery are, of course, buying that Eurail Pass and taking off for Europe, or, failing that, driving the Interstates and blue highways in search of the heart of America. Nothing's wrong with either. But if you're the sort who insists on doing something unusual, now is as good a time as any to take a year to wander the entire planet, aka "do the circuit." Leave the comforts of the developed world behind for a wider-ranging trek in South America, Africa, South Asia, or all three. "Go beyond the places where you've got your life in order and discover the excitement of the unfamiliar," says Geoff Dyer, the well-traveled author of Yoga for Those Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. "You need to stay away long enough to feel homesick, and then longer to overcome the homesickness." If Mom and Dad are (understandably) squeamish about such a grand itinerary, there's at least as much to learn on a structured trip closer to home, especially one run by an organization like NOLS or Outward Bound. A skill like wilderness medicine or white-water paddling will serve you much longer than the buzz from an Amsterdam hash bar.
Be a Lifesaver
Even if you don't dream of patching blisters for K2-scaling team members, the skills learned on a month-long Wilderness EMT course ($2,510; www.nols.edu/wmi/courses) will keep you (and whoever's lucky enough to accompany you) safe for a lifetime's worth of adventure travel. NOLS's Wilderness Medical Institute offers its courses just outside Yosemite National Park and in Lander, Wyoming, near the Wind River Range. "The course teaches tremendous self-reliance, and students learn as much about themselves as they do about medicine," says Daniel DeKay, who's been leading the EMT course for WMI for 15 years. "It takes a certain level of maturity and commitment to be prepared for the course, but I have had students tell me, 'I became an adult during this course.'" After passing four written tests and a practical exam, you'll become a certified EMT and can work on search and rescue teams, on ski patrols, or as a mountain guide. You'll have the sweetest summer job of anyone in your college class.
Take the Lead
Most of Outward Bound's 650 programs are month-long summer excursions in North America, but its wildest trips are reserved for those with more than just a month to devote to the backcountry. Their 50-day Patagonia programs ($6,695; www.outwardboundwilderness.org), which run between November and March, will earn you academic credit for mountaineering and sea-kayaking before you've spent a single day in a college classroom. Students must be 18 to enroll, and many of those on the course are college-age, giving recent high school graduates an opportunity to interact with their soon-to-be peers. Instead of chemistry and calculus you'll study glacier travel, route finding, snow and ice climbing, minimum impact travel, and crevasse rescue. You'll climb Cerro Tronador (11,450 feet or 3,490 meters), the tallest mountain in the region, and work closely with locals to build houses, dig potatoes, and provide multicultural experiences for area high schools. The final exam: a student-led expedition that tests you on all the skills you have learned.
REAL WORLD EDUCATION (18-23 Years Old)
Is there anything you can't earn college credit for nowadays? Skiing in Utah? Trekking in the Himalaya? Studying lemurs in Madagascar? There's no other time in life when an inquisitive spirit will not only take you to far-flung places, but also earn you credentials, both in and out of the classroom. (Outside of class it's just called cred.) Survey your options at your college study abroad center, but also check outside organizations, such as World Endeavors, which can provide excellent placements for willing collegiate explorers. If you can't escape for even a semester, we've also got some options for challenging spring breaks. So whether you decide on a weeklong paddling trip in Mexico or a summer jaunt to Slovenia, aim high (i.e., less Cancun, more Chiapas).
"Change your world" is the motto of World Endeavors, an organization that specializes in matching students with study abroad programs and overseas internships ($600 and up; www.worldendeavors.com). "Most people are interested in volunteering with children, and Nepal and Costa Rica are our most popular countries," says founder Tom Peden, 34. "The biggest beneficiary is the participant. Students return inspired, more eager to participate in and contribute to a bigger world." Applicants must be 18 years old.
Breakout From Spring Break
Mexico's west coast is the best place to escape the fun-and-sun gringo hordes that descend upon the Yucatan each spring. British outfitter Journey Latin America ($1,100; www.journeylatinamerica.com) offers ten-day sea-kayaking trips along the Baja peninsula from La Paz to Espxritu Santo Island. When you're not paddling alongside blue whales and dolphins in the Sea of Cortez, you'll be snorkeling with sea lions and canyon hiking on remote islands. A portion of the trip fees go to Mexico's conservation department to help preserve the area's wildlife. If you can take a longer break, stay a few more days and dive near Cabo San Lucas ($125; www.amigosdelmar.com) with reef fish, stingrays, and whale sharks.
Spring Break II
There's no shame in cutting loose every once in a while. When a fit of rum-drinking and dancing until four in the morning does come on, you'll enjoy yourself most in a truly unspoiled setting. Ivan's Stress Free Bar and Campground ($35; www.caribbeancruisingclub.com/ivan), on the British Virgin Island's Jost Van Dyke Island, is precisely what its name implies: a place to pitch your tent on a white-sand beach next to a bar that's open 24 hours and works on the honor system (you keep your own tab). To get there, fly to St. Thomas and catch a ferry to the island.
THE EXPATRIOT GAMES (24-30 Years Old)
The average American believes that adulthood doesn't officially begin until age 26 (according to the National Opinion Research Center). You could take this as proof of an American epidemic of arrested development, or a sign of hope. It means that, post-college, you've still got time for unfettered exploration of the kind that mortgages, marriages, and credit card bills are not made. Your 20s are your best shot to live free, poor, and, ultimately, happy. "Just get out of here," commands writer and professor Bob Shacochis. "Turn your life upside down. Leave your comfort zone. Be bold. Go. Go. Go." Even if you appear directionless to worried parents and concerned friends, have faith that you're not. Author Daniel Mason, who spent a year between college and medical school studying malaria in Thailand, says, "Traveling teaches you that everything you studied in books isn't as distant from the real world as it may have seemed." His experience became the basis of his acclaimed first novel, The Piano Tuner. He suggests that you "look for something that will surprise you. It doesn't have to be far away geographically, but it should be something different." And something that gets you involved with the communities you visit.
"Nothing can happen to you if you don't leave home," says author Paul Theroux, who spent 1963 to 1965 in Malawi as a Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov) volunteer, an experience that he describes as the single most important of his career. "Those who never get up and go away learn very little about themselves." J.F.K.'s world-volunteer program is celebrating its 44th year and remains as vital a path to self-discovery as ever; currently more than 7,733 Americans are participating in programs in 72 different countriesfrom Bolivia and Peru to Mongolia and China. It's an especially good choice for those who would benefit from structure. "When I graduated from college," says Theroux, "I wanted to write, but had no money. The Peace Corps was a natural choice for me; I was looked after while getting the opportunity to experience a developing country. I went to Malawi, learned a foreign language, and fell in love with Africa."
You thought yourself a pro when you dodged that 9 a.m. Spanish tutorial sophomore year, but chances are you'll soon regret that your foreign vocabulary amounts to: "Donde está el baño?" World Teach, established in 1986, sends young people to small classrooms around the globe ($1,000; www.worldteach.org). "We have no specific prerequisites," explains admissions coordinator Molly Greene, who spent a year instructing in Ambato, Ecuador. "We look for bright, diverse, and motivated people, but they don't have to have previous teaching or language skills. We provide an intensive in-country orientation where teachers attend classes to learn their host country's language and are trained to prep their students for the TOEFL." With 13 different options, surely World Teach offers one country that grabs you. Maybe it's one of the five Marshall Islands? Altogether, they total only 74 square miles (192 square kilometers). Or if the thought of island fever makes you claustrophobic, consider China. delegating tasks. Not only will group travel be some of the most enjoyable of your life, it will also help build relationships that flourish when you're back at home.
Want to plan an insta-trip without any hassels? Pick up the April 2005 issue of Adventure.
From the print edition, April 2005
Rediscovering Libya: Writer Kira Salak explores the country's wonders
The Tsunami Volunteers: Writer Matthew Power finds a sliver of redemption in the disaster's wake. Plus, how you can lend a hand
Weird Science: Edward Norton talks about hermaphrodite frogs and a new NG TV series on PBS
Pelton's World: Fresh from the Green Zone, Pelton takes a cruise
100th Birthday: Explorer Col. Norman Vaughan's big plans
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