Putting the Adventure Back into Travel: In the First Part of This Month's Special Report, Christian Amodeo Traces the Origins of Adventure Travel and Speaks to a Number of Tour Operators about What It Means Today. Then, in Part Two, He Examines Some of the Most Popular Adventure-Travel Activities and Presents an Extensive List of Useful Contacts

By Amodeo, Christian | Geographical, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Putting the Adventure Back into Travel: In the First Part of This Month's Special Report, Christian Amodeo Traces the Origins of Adventure Travel and Speaks to a Number of Tour Operators about What It Means Today. Then, in Part Two, He Examines Some of the Most Popular Adventure-Travel Activities and Presents an Extensive List of Useful Contacts


Amodeo, Christian, Geographical


There you stand, soaked to the skin by raindrops the size of golf balls, your feet slowly sinking into a muddy riverbank. You look down with disdain upon a bamboo raft that your guide assures you is your only way out of the jungle. You're tired, your feet ache and that leech bite on your call is still oozing blood. Among the party there is talk of crocodiles. You stare into the swirling brown water and say to no-one in particular. "I could be on a sunny beach right now."

An adventure is, by definition, a risky undertaking, the outcome of which is far from certain, but what of 'adventure travel'? Holiday companies that have adopted this convenient label would be less keen to make use of such a definition--after all, fear of litigation and adverse publicity and the need to stick to their itineraries ensure that they want to keep risk to a minimum and the outcome pretty certain. But adventure travel has a long history, longer than that of the tourism industry itself.

Humans have travelled throughout history. Indeed, many would argue that our adaptability and readiness to move on to pastures new has been key to our survival and success as a species. And for much of our history, travel has been, intrinsically, an adventure.

Travel traditionally involved hardship--a military campaign or knightly errand. In fact, the roots of the word itself lie in the French travaillier--a travail, a painful or excessive labour or exertion. "The most exciting journeys are often those that are extremely arduous and expensive--the 'journey of a lifetime'," says philosopher and author Alain de Botton. "Nowadays, we ask, 'Where did you go this summer?' Hundreds of years ago, you'd only make one journey abroad in your whole life, if you were lucky. No wonder people got more out of the experience."

For many, that single journey took the form of a religious pilgrimage. In 1325, a 21-year-old man from Tangier set off on a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. Little did Ibn Battuta know, but that low-key departure was the beginning of a journey that would take in Egypt, Iraq, East Africa, India, China and much more. Ibn Battuta was an adventure traveller of the first and highest order--he didn't return home until 1349.

Different historical periods have formed their own unique concepts of travel. Where 18th-century travel was, to a large extent, "fuelled by scientific curiosity" according to Professor Roger Cardinal of the University of Kent at Canterbury, in the 19th century it was inspired by "an urge to transcend the familiar and the commonplace". Among the British, the Grand Tour was an epistolary experience wherein society's elite visited the classical sights of continental Europe. Accustomed to luxury in their everyday lives, many found the hardship of the road (and the bureaucracy) somewhat overwhelming. Crossing the Alps involved leaving the coach and mounting a mule or taking to a chaise a porteurs. So extreme was the environment that many travellers were forced to avert their eyes from what George Keate, writing in 1755, called the "vast profundity" beyond each precipice. Fortunately for Keate, his porters kept their eyes on what they were doing.

Another precursor to the adventure travel of today can be traced back, perhaps surprisingly, to the poet William Wordsworth. Wordsworth not only saw nature as being imbued with great spirituality, but also chose to experience it on foot. In the late 18th century, walking was viewed with suspicion--after all, gentlemen rode horses--but Wordsworth prided himself on his physical prowess, claiming to march at military speed. In The Prelude, which he wrote between 1799 and 1805, he posits physical exertion as a requirement for visionary experience.

The innovations of the Industrial Revolution--in the form of railways and steamships--opened up travel to more remote locations and to greater numbers of people. At the same time, they removed some of the adventure from the travel experience. …

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Putting the Adventure Back into Travel: In the First Part of This Month's Special Report, Christian Amodeo Traces the Origins of Adventure Travel and Speaks to a Number of Tour Operators about What It Means Today. Then, in Part Two, He Examines Some of the Most Popular Adventure-Travel Activities and Presents an Extensive List of Useful Contacts
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