It’s never too early to get your bucket list started
By Sarah Gold
If you’re in recovery, you’re probably already intimately familiar with the concept of climbing the mountain. Have you wondered, though, what it might feel like to stand on the crest of an actual physical peak? To look down over the landscape you’ve traveled through and track the long, arduous route that brought you to where you stand?
To almost anyone, the experience would be a thrill. But for you, it might seem more personal than that—almost like a topographical manifestation of your own hard-won sobriety. Most everyone loves to travel. But certain kinds of adventures—especially ones where we’re immersed in the beauty of nature or reminded of the extraordinary feats humans are capable of—can have a particular resonance for people in recovery. These trips can feel like more than just vacations; they can feel like personal validation of the choices we’ve made in our lives.
“Being sober is like being married,” says Steve A., whose company Sober Vacations International organizes group trips for people in recovery. “To keep moving forward, you need to continually push yourself, continually expand your horizons. Travel helps you do that.”
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of 10 remarkable, life-affirming, possibly life-changing travel experiences. None of them are especially convenient or easy on the wallet—but all are worth adding to your must-do life trips list.
1. Go climbing in the Alps
Although the major-league summits of the world (Everest, K2, Kilimanjaro) are best left to professional mountaineers, those of us who want to challenge ourselves at altitude can still tackle Mont Blanc (pictured above), the highest peak in Europe, which straddles the Alpine border of France and Italy. The eight- and 12-day guided hikes offered by Mountain Travel Sobek traverse the mountain’s lower regions well below its 15,782-foot pinnacle, so the adventure, while strenuous, is still on the softer side of hardcore. Trips start at around $3,800 per person. For more information, go to mtsobek.com.
2. Dine at a world-class restaurant
The only American chef to hold simultaneous 3-star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants, Thomas Keller dishes up supreme gustatory pleasure on both U.S. coasts. Reserving a table at either Per Se in New York City or The French Laundry in Napa Valley can take months, but either is worth planning a vacation around (and breaking the bank for). Keller’s elegant nine-course nouveau-American tasting menus change daily, but a few of his most famous dishes—like a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oysters and white sturgeon caviar—are available at both venues. Linger over your feast: This is a meal you won’t want to end. Check out perseny.com and frenchlaundry.com for more information.
3. Go on a real African safari
Encountering wild, exotic beasts in their natural habitat—safely, of course—is a dream many of us have had since we were kids, paging through our parents’ issues of National Geographic. On Micato Safaris’ 12-day Heart of Kenya & Tanzania itinerary, daily game drives through the famed Serengeti, Tarangire and Maasai Mara game preserves will bring you practically face-to-snout with elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, hippos, impala, hyenas and dozens of other creatures. If you’re keen-eyed—or just really lucky—you might even spot a leopard. Tours start at around $6,800 per person. For more information, go to micato.com.
4. Surround yourself with extraordinary art
Arguably the greatest of the world’s great art museums, The Louvre in Paris is home to a vast collection—more than 35,000 artistic works, including sculpture, paintings, drawings, textiles, ceramics and antiquities from both Eastern and Western ancient civilizations. Some of the most famous artworks ever created are housed here such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the ancient marble statue of The Venus de Milo. The sheer enormity of the museum can be overwhelming, so to make the most of your visit, learn the backstory behind these masterpieces and book a guided tour of the museum with the Parisian art-history experts at Paris Muse. Guided tours start at $135 per person. For more information, go to parismuse.com.
5. Get swept up in a spiritual service
Although there are many, many beautiful places of worship worth visiting around the globe (among them, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat), few actually conduct special services to welcome first-time visitors. An exception is the grand Abyssinian Baptist Church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, which, every Sunday at 11 a.m., holds a truly rousing, gospel-fueled service geared specifically toward curious day-trippers. Whether you’re religious or not, you’re bound to feel moved—even elevated—by the parishioners’ hand-clapping, foot-stomping, utterly joyful show of faith. To learn more about the church and its services, check out abyssinian.org.
6. Island-hop in the Caribbean
You can sample all the pleasures of the outer Bahamian islands—sunning on palm-fringed beaches, snorkeling in turquoise waters teeming with sea life, exploring historic port towns filled with charming restaurants and shops and relaxing as your crewed sailboat ferries you from place to place—on an Abacos luxury yacht charter from The Moorings. Your craft, a 46-foot catamaran, sleeps up to six people (not including your captain and chef), so you can bring your loved ones along for a private, custom-tailored booze-less cruise. Plan on $1,500 per day for up to six people to book this yacht. For more information, visit moorings.com.
7. Take the plunge
Not many activities embody the exhilaration of confronting fear head-on quite as literally as bungee jumping. There are canyons and gorges all over the world where you can hurtle into what feels like the void (and emerge in one piece); but for the ultimate bungee experience, go with the outfitters who pioneered the sport back in 1988: AJ Hackett Bungy (that’s the Down Under spelling for bungee), in Queenstown, New Zealand. Your choice of jumps ranges from the merely hair-raising (the 140-foot Queenstown Bridge) to the utterly insane (the 440-foot Nevis jump from a suspended cable car), but you’ll be in the hands of consummate experts. One plunge down starts at $115 per person. For more information, go to bungy.co.nz.
8. Explore an ancient kingdom
As jaw-dropping as Egypt’s Great Pyramids, Peru’s Machu Picchu or Greece’s Acropolis—only a lot closer—is the ancient Mayan ruin site of Chichén Itzá, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Covering about six square miles, the site—which housed a thriving Mayan city between the 5th and 11th centuries—contains dozens of amazingly well-preserved structures including towering stone temples adorned with carvings of ancient deities, celestial observatories from which ancient astronomers plotted the movements of the stars and planets and a sprawling ball court where a prehistoric version of soccer was apparently played. Most dramatic of all is the nearly 80-foot-high, four-sided, stepped pyramid known as El Castillo—a testament, even today, to the power of human ingenuity.
9. Attend the world’s premier sporting event
If you’ve ever caught a Cubs game at Wrigley Field or an NAACP Division I basketball matchup, you already know the thrill of sharing a beloved sport among devoted fans. That sort of flag-waving, cheering fervor, though, goes through the roof every four years at the Olympic Games, where fans converge from all over the world to cheer on athletes from their home countries. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what sport excites you; if you can get here (to London in summer of 2012 or Sochi in winter of 2014), you’ll find your tribe well-represented. For more information, check out olympic.org.
10. Help out children in need
Giving even a little of your time to children who are orphaned, homeless or fighting disease and poverty can make a difference in their lives—and in yours. Nonprofit organization Cross-Cultural Solutions operates volunteer programs in schools, orphanages, and daycare centers all around the world—including Morocco, Costa Rica, India and Russia—where you can arrange to spend as little as a week (and as long as you’re inclined). The programs aren’t free, and they may not make for the easiest vacation you’ll ever have—but they’ll likely be the most meaningful. Participating in the program runs around $1,950 per person. For more information, visit crossculturalsolutions.org.