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Travel Buzz
The Softer Side of Adventure
By James Shillinglaw

Adventure is one of the hottest categories of travel, but it doesn’t always have to be about bungee jumping, swimming with the sharks or rappelling down clis. Indeed, there are many “soft” adventures that are no less thrilling and exciting. Better yet, these soft adventures are much more accessible for travelers of all ages and levels of physical fitness.

A “soft” adventure can be anything that takes you out of your comfort zone to some degree and changes you in some way, according to Jeff Russell, VP of innovation for G Adventures, a leading adventure tour operator. For some people just going to an exotic country is adventure travel, he says.

In general, soft adventure is a category of travel that focuses on experiencing local cultures and wildlife, as opposed to an activity based adventure like trekking and cycling. At the same time, says Russell, it is also defined by travel that is somewhat more active but with a softer landing around it, in terms of accommodations, meals and amenities. 

For example, you could take a safari in Africa, cruise through the Galapagos, or engage in cultural experiences like a local cooking class or a homestay.

“In reality, all of the safari experiences we promote would be considered soft adventure,” says Susannah Zani, product planning manager for African Travel Inc., which offers inclusive tours to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Kenya and Egypt.

“Safaris are low risk and don’t require physical fitness, but they do take you out of your elements,” Zani says. “While we do have bungee jumping on some programs and hiking in the mountains during our gorilla experience in Rwanda and Uganda, the majority of safaris experiences that we o?er would be considered soft adventure.”

Of course, there is also the question of just how old and physically fit you need to be to engage in soft adventure activities.

“Some of our tours require a significant fitness level, while others require no more physical fitness than going on a package holiday or cruise,” says Russell. “We’ve also found that age really doesn’t matter when it comes to adventure travel. It’s more about the mindset of the customer and what they are looking to get out of their travel experience."

Zani says you don’t have to be completely fit at all to do nine out of 10 safari experiences, as long as you can climb into a Land Rover. Perhaps the most extreme trips are gorilla safaris in Rwanda or Uganda, where the hikes can be longer, up to several hours, because the goal is to walk until you find the animals.

There are misconceptions about what type of experiences suit certain age groups, according to Russell. For example, the cycling trips in G Adventures’ active product line are very popular with the 50-plus market.

Russell says G Adventures has trips geared towards first-time travelers looking to see a region’s major highlights, tours that take people of? the beaten path to experience key destinations from a new perspective, and others, like National Geographic Journeys, that take customers to the heart of unique places while taking the sting out of travel by offering comfortable accommodation and private transport.

Zani says a safari generally involves a drive in a vehicle in the morning and afternoon experiencing the wildlife, and in most cases there’s the option of going on a walking safari. Other programs o?ered by African Travel include a visit to the wine country or a city walking tour in Cape Town, as well as a cooking class or a meal with the locals to learn about their culture.

According to Russell, the most popular soft adventure destinations G Adventures o?ers are Peru, the Galapagos Islands, India, Costa Rica and South East Asia. “With iconic sites, beautiful landscapes, exotic wildlife, distinct cuisines and friendly locals these destinations have all the ingredients for a great adventure,” he says.

Examples of some of G Adventures “soft” adventure travel experiences include India by Rail, Amazon Riverboat Adventure in Peru, Tanzania Safari Experience, and Costa Rica Adventure. The India by Rail tour, for instance, uses trains run by the national rail system and customers get to travel across the country like the locals do. 

G Adventures also offers di?erent service levels and travel styles for different tastes and budgets. For example, its YOLO tours are geared towards 18-30- something travelers, and can include overnights in campsites and hostels. National Geographic Journeys, on the other hand, are built to appeal to a more mature audience with higher-end accommodation and more inclusions.

“What is consistent across all our travel styles is that we look at accommodation as more than a place to lay your head,” says Russell. “As such, we use local and family-run hotels and choose accommodations with local charm and character as often as possible.”

All G Adventures small group tours are led by one of what the company calls its CEOs, who are there to run the tour and serve as the guide. G Adventures also intentionally includes a bit less than a traditional group tour would, according to Russell, because it believes the more that is included in a tour the more cookie cutter the whole experience becomes.

African Travel’s soft adventure itineraries are quite “soft” when it comes to accommodations. “Most of our accommodations are four and five-star, though we can customize anything,” Zani says.

What should you look for in a “soft” adventure travel experience? You want to have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and landscape instead of experiencing the destination from the window of a bus. In the end, find a trip where you actively participate in the adventure as opposed to just being a bystander.

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