Why We Love Eco-Adventure

by Eileen Loh

When I chat about eco-adventure trips I’ve taken — and some of the dangerous and uncomfortable situations that, accordingly, I’ve found myself in — I get a common reaction. “Ohhh,” the other person will say. “You must be fearless.”

Landscape of a forest

I can understand the error. After all, someone would have to be fearless to seek thrills in places where nature can severely screw you up or take you out. Substitute the word “stupid” for “fearless” in that last sentence, and that’s the other way people commonly react toward adventure travel abroad.

Those who enjoy eco-adventure do feel fear, and that’s part of the ‘adventure’ bit. Now that I’ve experienced both controlled thrills (roller coasters, horror movies) versus uncontrolled thrills (dangerous trekking; proximity to wild animals) I recognize the huge gulf of difference between the two. Give me a mountain over a roller coaster any day.

I don’t encourage anyone to go looking for danger, but in any eco-adventure abroad, chances are you’ll find it whether you go looking or not. In many countries, highly visited trekking, climbing, or spelunking areas (even in national parks) do not have Western safety amenities like hand- or guard-rails, marked trails, steps, or rangers who block off unsafe areas before the park opens in the morning. Which means: you very much are expected to proceed at your own risk.

It’s quite possible you’ll get in a situation where one slip, misstep, or failure to hang on could result in a bad injury at best. Pair this with the fact that, in many countries where this is true, there will most likely not be a medi-vac team a cell phone call away, ready to airlift you out of whatever jungle, river, mountain, or island you are on.

During those times, you are suddenly very aware that your life is entirely in your own hands. If I don’t get myself through this, the voice in your head is saying, I could die. Of course there’s fear — sometimes intense fear — and it would be a type of luxury to let fear take over; but if I don’t get myself through this, I could die is what wins, and so you keep moving. One reason we pursue insane outdoor adventure travel is that there’s something sacred about the stark realization that you, and only you, are in control of your destiny. Time slows to a crawl as you focus your entire body, mind, and soul in getting yourself to the other side.

A man and a woman on an elephant ride

Adrenaline propels you, and what comes after is the thrill. But this is different than the roller-coaster thrill; this is much more profound. Part of it is the knowledge that you really can depend on yourself to get through a very dangerous and, let’s face it, fearful situation. After all, the first thrill any of us ever really feels is the thrill of self-reliance.

The other part is the humility of knowing that, as badass as you are, Mother Nature can crush you at any given moment — and she could easily have done it this time — but she didn’t.

This time.

Five Things To Bring On An Eco-Adventure Trip

1. High-SPF (30+) Sunblock Stick. 

Keep in your pocket for lip protection throughout your trip, and you can use it on the rest of your face and exposed skin for that one time you run out of sunblock. ‘Cause there’s always that one time.

2. Footwear You Know. 

Do not wait until your trip to “break in” a new pair of hiking boots, trail runners, sports sandals, water shoes, or even insoles or arch supports. The difference between a comfortable pair of shoes and an excruciating pair is two full weeks of wear with lots of motion and action. This will tell you whether those shoes are really “waterproof” or merely “water-resistant,” for instance. In this same vein, blister-proof socks (from running or hiking suppliers) are a godsend.

Elephant ride

3. All-Over Rain Gear. 

A waterproof jacket’s a clear necessity, but don’t overlook lightweight rain pants, to wear under or over regular pants. Having a dry upper torso is great, but if you’re wet and shivering from the waist down, you’re still miserable.

4. Gloves With Grip. 

To protect the hands from cold and from cuts, burns, or blisters. Situations that can damage your hands come up unexpectedly, and being able to stop and pull on a pair of grippy gloves can prevent future aggravation, injury, and Band-Aids.

5. Hat That Blocks Both Sun And Rain. 

A lightweight sports cap with a removable neck shade will work, as will a safari-type hat. Pro tip: A strip of sunburn down your neck is not fun. Wear the damn neck shade.

If you think you're prepared for a thrilling and unforgettable experience, check out the directory for eco-adventure programs for a list of exciting trips from around the world!