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Robert Young Pelton's Travel Tips

Pelton's World: Members Only Travel Clubs
No secret handshake necessary: Robert Young Pelton infiltrates the world's great travel clubs—and shows how you can, too.   Illustration by Asaf Hanuka
Illustration: Robert Pelton
At the Adventurers Club the central raison d'être seems to be drinks at the bar and manly camaraderie.

As I leaped onto a Tajikistan-bound bus departing from the central square in Samarqand, Uzbekistan, I expected a lot of things: sheep (mainly), crates of onions, and some grizzled Tajiks. But as the doors swung open, I was stunned to find the bus filled to the gunwales with American and Canadian retirees. For a little baksheesh, the aged but intrepid group had arranged a cross-border hop to get trophy stamps in their passports, lunch, a lightning tour of an obscure archaeological site, and then make a speedy return to the comforts of a hot water-equipped hotel before dark.

"We're members of the Travelers' Century Club," one very blue-haired lady told me. The members of this group, it turned out, were country counters, bound by a mutual devotion to (or obsession with) reaching as many locations around the globe as they could. And theirs is just one in a vast pantheon of travel clubs.
From the ubiquitous Rotarians to the more obscure Mormon nudist travel club, there is, literally, a travel club for everyone. And, though their missions are different, they have one common denominator: like-minded travelers with a shared special interest. Here are some of my favorites.

The Adventurers Club
With its headquarters in Chicago, the Adventurers Club
(, founded in 1911, boasts a membership of mountain climbers and polar adventurers, military men and big-game hunters. The decor is pith helmet-chic and the central raison d'être seems to be drinks at the bar and manly camaraderie. Admission requires recommendations from members. To get one, show up at a club function and rub elbows with whoever's within reach. My advice: Try breaking out a signature toast, "To provide a hearth and home for those who left the beaten path and made for adventure."

Sample Adventures: Parachuting to the North Pole, climbing Mount Everest, hunting Africa's big five, treasure hunting in the Bahamas, retracing the path of Lewis and Clark (on foot).

Royal Geographical Society
Once the haunt of Sir Richard Burton, David Livingstone, and John Hanning Speke, the Royal Geographical Society (, founded in 1830, is still on the cutting edge of exploration. The club puts out a very good monthly travel and adventure magazine, Geographical, and its Expedition Advisory Center will answer questions posed by those hoi polloi interested in mounting expeditions of their own. If you make it over to its headquarters, in London, sneak a peek at an oxygen unit from Hillary's Everest expedition. Also, don't miss its library; the collection of explorers' journals, maps, and books is second to none. With so much for an annual fee of just $155, the RGS is the only club I belong to.

Favorite Expeditions: Ascending Mount Everest, crossing the Sahara by Land Rover, unsupported polar navigation, mapping unexplored caves, searching for new species.

The Explorers Club
The focus for the 3,500 or so members of the Explorers Club
( is not travel so much as scientific exploration; since 1904, EC flags have circled the moon and graced the top of Mount Everest and the Titanic. At its appropriately plush and venerable digs in Manhattan, members gather for scientific and adventurous presentations (I've stood at the lectern myself). Once a year, the club puts on an exotic-foods dinner, complete with toasted scorpions and grilled rattlesnake, and recently its president, Richard C. Wiese, had a hyperbaric chamber installed in his office to pad his chances of summiting Mexico's 17,343-foot (5,286-meter) Iztaccíhuatl. The only hitch is that joining ain't easy. You need to be active in exploration research or have a background in scientific exploration, and you need two club members to write letters about how remarkable you are.

Most Illustrious Speakers: Buzz Aldrin, Jane Goodall, Thor Heyerdahl, Sir Edmund Hillary, Bradford Washburn.

The Frontline Club
Less a travel club than a watering hole for those returning from travel, the London-based Frontline Club ( was founded by Vaughan Smith, a legendary freelance combat cameraman. There, you can eat, drink, and attend presentations with a veritable who's who of combat journalists, within walls hung with war-torn flags and bullet-riddled helmets. There's nothing like it in the States, but any interested investors can contact me
( I've been dying for a place to hang my carved skulls, defunct grenades, and all the other junk my wife keeps telling me to get rid of.

Deadliest Places to Cover: Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, the Philippines, Russia.

Robert Young Pelton is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places.

Photo: Cover

Pick up the February 2006 issue for 36 amazing Hawaiian adventures, the most spectacular treks in Australia, 11 weekend escapes near you, and more.

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