It was never my intention to become Action-Adventure Girl. Despite being one of those rare individuals actually born in Manhattan, I have spent most of my adult life at a remove from sprawling cities, where every indulgence is a cell phone call away. But the wide-open spaces of my home are not just far from civilization because they have more than their share of cellular dead zones. My base is on the western edge of the Adirondacks, south of a barren plateau famous for its extreme snowfall and its populations of bald eagles, moose, and black bears. From here, I am often compelled to go to destinations even more remote—rain forests in Fiji, uncharted islands in the Palawan archipelago, Aboriginal camps in the Australian outback, villages in the Himalayan foothills. I like being the first one there. (Well, the first Western woman, anyway.) And my drive definitely stems from an abiding fascination with uncompromised cultures and landscapes, which often lack such rudimentary services as indoor plumbing or electrical outlets. Increasingly, it seems, others share the same interest—although unlike me, they aren’t always willing to sacrifice the comforts of home.
This has given rise to a subset of high-end hoteliers and outfitters eager to operate on the fringes of civilization, while still providing for every First World whim. It’s been 20 years since the first Amanresort opened on an isolated beach in southern Thailand. (These days, Phuket isn’t considered so remote.) Since then, the company has become a standard-bearer for what founder Adrian Zecha calls "sincere luxury," introducing the concept to tourism frontiers such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines (there are also resorts in more popular destinations, from the French Alps to the Caribbean). His fifth Bhutanese outpost, Amankora Bumthang, opened late last fall in the Choekhor Valley next to the Wangdicholing Palace. Essentially, Aman’s concept of comfort in a remote setting equals a generous amount of private square footage, curated artwork, sunken marble tubs, and spa treatments. Meals always have an indigenous flavor. "After a day of exploring," says executive director Trina Ebert, "we want our guests to have happy stomachs." Of course, now Amanresorts has plenty of competition—many others are also jockeying for the attention of adventurers who favor a soft landing at the end of their day.
West of the prime meridian, Explora’s Modernist hotels in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park and in the Atacama Desert have attracted upscale travelers to two of the starkest regions on the South American continent. The company recently expanded its portfolio offshore to the new 30-room Posada de Mike Rapu, which faces the blank Pacific on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), slightly south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Explora also has a Travesía (Spanish for "journey") tour to the Salar de Uyuni—one of the world’s highest salt flats—between Bolivia and Chile, although the tent accom-modation is more Orvis than opulent. Uncharted Outposts handpicks individually owned wilderness camps and outback stations from Namibia to Australia’s Northern Territory. All have an open-plan, rustic sensibility that inspires a desire for pith helmets and khaki garb with a thousand zippered compartments. Even so, the bars are stocked with chilled beverages (potable ice is itself quite a rare commodity in some parts of the world), and you’ll never share the infinity pools with submerged hippos or toothy crocs. One of its newest properties is the Nomad Tarangire Safari Camp, deep in a 1,000-square-mile national park among Tanzania’s central highlands. The look would appeal to anyone harboring fantasies of Arabian nights: arched bedouin tents, kilim rugs, Turkish brass lamps, Oriental throw pillows.
So how exactly do you get completely off the grid when it keeps expanding?Frankly, remoteness doesn’t always appeal on its own. One of my all-time favorite narratives is Roughing It, Mark Twain’s hilarious tale of a hapless tenderfoot who spends several years of "variegated vagabondizing" in the Nevada Territory, all the while encountering gold prospectors, polygamists, outlaws, coyotes, and other mythic phenomena of the Wild West. His account of crossing an alkali desert near Salt Lake under the midday sun says it all: "The poetry was all in the anticipation—there is none in the reality." These days, the focus has shifted to the Wild East. Catherine Heald, of Remote Lands, a custom tour company based in Manhattan that specializes in "tailor-made once-in-a-lifetime" trips to such emerging destinations as Borneo and Bangladesh, asserts: "Our goal is to get people into the places far beyond their comfort level. If you want a profound, life-changing experience, you need some difficulty in order to be moved emotionally."