Adventures Are In

By Robert McGarvey

Everybody’s talking about adventure travel but, know this, “adventure” is a term that varies in meaning from canoeing down the placid Russian River in California’s Wine Country to finding a way up (and, hopefully, down) K2, the 28,000-foot mountain (currently claimed by Pakistan) that’s widely reputed to be the world’s most vicious climb. Another variable: the quality of the provider, says Nathaniel Waring, president of adventure packager Cox & Kings ( It’s critical to pick a provider carefully because “you’re putting your life in these people’s hands.”

By comparison, it’s a snap to arrange a golf and spa incentive package – sure, things can go wrong but, with adventure travel, when things go really wrong, people die. Even without that melodramatic extreme, it’s a bummer to arrange a trip that’s ruined by sprained ankles, aching muscles, and still more physical ailments. That’s why it’s imperative to “choose a provider with real care,” says Waring.

How to do that? Ask lots of questions. Among the key questions to ask: “How long has the operator been in business?” and “How long have the guides been leading these trips?” Why? Because, experienced operators, in all adventure travel fields, excel at quickly sizing up a group and tailoring a program to match realities. Another must: “Ask for references. It always surprises me how rarely people do that,” says Waring.

A rule of thumb with corporate groups: think “soft” adventure, meaning activities that may be strenuous but don’t require pretrip training. Real hard-core adventures – the mountain climbs and distance biking jaunts – typically require three to six months of rigorous pretrip training to get in good enough shape to comfortably complete the outing. Always ask organizers what kind of conditioning is required of participants and when the answer is “lots,” look elsewhere for your adventure packages.

Another factor: “People often overestimate their conditioning,” says Waring – but no incentive travel organizer wants to send top-producing salespeople on an adventure trip that’s sure to bash their self-esteem as they wrestle with the reality that they just aren’t as fit as they believed.

The bottom line: When organizing adventures, stick with soft outings that allow optional add-ons for hardcore adrenaline addicts.