In 15 years of covering adventure travel for Travel + Leisure, I’ve found myself in some some fairly hair-raising situations, from bungee jumping off a platform in New Zealand to scuba diving in a cave filled with sharks off the coast of Burma. And while I've always loved the thrill of new experiences, I could never get over the horrible, gut-wrenching sensation that I would feel as my fear escalated toward panic.
What was this strange force that seemed to take over my mind? What was happening, I wondered, when I felt the grip of terror? As I began to research the questions, I learned that fear can manifest in many ways, but they all rely on the same underlying neurological system. Eventually, my exploration resulted in my new book, out this month: Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger.
Filled with real-life stories of people who have faced mortal danger and survived, Extreme Fear lays bare the neurobiological processes that underlie the sensation of intense fear and offers advice on how we can all better handle fear in our daily lives. And it makes a great holiday gift!
If you ask any of my closest friends, they'll tell you that, while I may be a spontaneous, even adventurous, person, I'm not much of an extreme thrill seeker. You won't catch me on any of the frightening rides we reported on last summer. Think you can convince me to jump out of a plane? Not a chance. And tethering myself to a bridge and hurtling myself off? You can't be serious.
That being said, I'm a little shocked by my intense fascination with a certain natural attraction: "The Devil's Pool" in Zambia. You can't even begin to fathom the magnitude of scariness/awesomeness that comes from this naturally formed pool of water. Enter YouTube:
I’ve always loved spelunking (a.k.a. cave exploring)—and not just because it’s a fun word to say (spe-lun-king!). Some of the coolest caves on earth happen to be in the U.S. (just check out Kentucky’s 367-mile-long Mammoth Cave National Park, or the stalagmite-rich Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico).
This summer, at a friends’ wedding in Central Oregon, my man-friend and I decided to take a break from the non-stop nuptial activities and do what we really wanted to do: crawl into a hole.
For years I wondered about the rusting, abandoned old hulk of a railroad bridge that spans New York’s Hudson River between Poughkeepsie on the east bank and Lloyd on the west, about 70 miles north of Manhattan. Like a stark stretch of fishnet stocking linking the two shores, the underdeck truss bridge, built in 1888, was devastated by fire in 1974. Left to deteriorate for more than 30 years, the bridge symbolized the decline of Poughkeepsie itself.
Going to Disney World but want a break from overflowing Orlando? The comparatively crowdless seaside town of Vero Beach is a two hours’ drive from O-Town’s attractions and offers up clean beaches and affordable places to stay. One, the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa was recently purchased by Kimpton, which means all those perks we love about the punchy hotel brand (kid-sized bathrobes, goodie bags, in-room goldfish)—along with a cocktail hour for adults and a pet-friendly policy—are now in effect.
No one who knows me would ever mistake me for a mountaineer. Though I’ve happily met all manner of challenges on flat ground (including Patagonian glaciers, Australian desert, and Costa Rican rainforest), high-altitude adventures have always set me whimpering.
So recently, I decided to test my fear of heights in the cushiest possible way: with a customized, weeklong guided foray into the Italian Dolomites.
Hoping to get rid of dated impressions and open up its programs to adults of all ages, the 34-year-old educational travel organization Elderhostel recently changed its name to Exploritas, a combination of the words ‘explore’ and ‘veritas,’ to promote their mission of pursuing “adventures in lifelong learning,” particularly among baby-boomers.
"Elder was kind of a turnoff for me, and I'm beyond living in dorms with a backpack on my back. . .That was kind of the vision I had of it. But when I started seeing the opportunities and talking to somebody who had done it, obviously it's not the case," Jack Pickard, a 62-year-old from Ohio told the Wall Street Journal.
When not out and about in the world, I am a modern armchair traveler—vicariously visiting the corners of the planet online. I’ve spent whole evenings in South America via GoogleEarth on my iTouch; am addicted to the TravelandLeisure.com and NYTimes.com slideshows; and check in on my bookmarked travel blogs with religious regularity.
Right now, TheAccidentalExtremist.com, a collection of tales of trips gone bad (or somewhat awry) by writers both amateur and celebrated, curated by adventure writer Christian DeBenedetti (with whom I worked at National Geographic Adventure magazine), has me hooked.
I just returned from my third trip to Monte Argentario, a dramatic peninsula two hours north of Rome on the Tuscan coast. My sister married a Roman who grew up going to a place called Cala Moresca (or the Moorish Cove), and he's since introduced us to the area, which is better known to Italians than to Americans. (It's a place locals save for themselves.) Here are some of our favorite stops, plus a couple new discoveries:
Back in May, my fiancé and I were all geared up for a trip to St. Martin—until, 24 hours before our flight—Dan realized his passport had expired. After spending a good hour researching expedited passport fees, and realizing there was no way we were leaving the country, I called Jet Blue and priced out fares for all of its beachy destinations—from Long Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Turns out sunny Orlando was the cheapest to fly to (by hundreds of dollars). We reserved a rental car, and the next morning we were off—with no hotel rooms reserved, much less an idea of where we’d end up.