To a new breed of thrill-seekers, travel means venturing to the edges of the earth—and beyond
| Credit: NASA/Tsado-Tom Stack/Auscape

The future has arrived, and it's even wilder than we imagined. These days, travelers with a heightened sense of adventure are bypassing generic vacation spots, and instead exploring the farthest, funkiest, most exotic destinations on the planet. Their motto: "The harder it is to get there, the more we want to go." So what's at the top of the list?Here are eight of the most eyeteeth-worthy destinations. Next up: Mars . . .

Riding a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole: old hat. Riding a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole, then taking a submersible 14,500 feet to the ocean floor: now you're talking. If everything goes as planned, the first-ever submarine descent to the underwater pole will take place next summer.
Zegrahm DeepSea Voyages, 800/628-8747 or 206/285-4000, fax 206/285-5037;; 14-day trip $50,000 per person.

With the end of the border dispute between Peru and Ecuador, the path has been cleared for the first-ever commercial rafting trip along this river's entire length—from the peaks of the Andes to South America's largest petrified forest.
Mountain Travel-Sobek, 888/687-6235 or 510/527-8100, fax 510/527-7710;; 10-day trip $3,450 per person.

How low can you go?Starting this year, all the way down to the wreck of the Bismarck, which sank in 1941 in three miles of water off the coast of Ireland. The pride of the Nazi fleet was discovered via remote vehicle in 1989, but had never before been visited by manned submarine.
Zegrahm DeepSea Voyages, 14-day trip approximately $37,500 per person.

If you want serious desert, you're talking the Sahara. Next February, Mountain Travel-Sobek stages an unprecedented jeep safari from Timbuktu along an ancient salt route to Taoudenni, and then across Mauritania through rugged, empty nothingness to its capital, Nouakchott, on the Atlantic coast.
Mountain Travel-Sobek, 21-day trip $5,390 per person.

Until NASA cools off from Dennis Tito's slight and lets the rest of us escape the earth's atmosphere, Space Adventures, which brokered the Tito deal, is offering the next best thing. Zero-gravity flights aboard Russian cargo jets, underwater neutral buoyancy sessions at the Russian space-training facility in Moscow, and rides to the edge of space on supersonic Russian fighter jets are up and running.
Space Adventures, 888/857-7223 or 703/524-7172; zero-gravity flight $5,400 per person, neutral buoyancy session $6,995, edge-of-space flight $12,995.

Now that Europe has lifted its restrictive measures against Muammar al-Qaddafi's rogue state, it's becoming something of a hip destination for Euro curiosity-seekers. Major airlines are running regular service to Tripoli, where the Malta-based Corinthia group is scheduled to open a 300-room high-rise luxury hotel next autumn. A word of warning: Americans aren't supposed to go to Libya, and U.S. passports are officially invalid there.
Corinthia Hotels International, 356/233-141, fax 356/239-732;

Even the ends of the earth aren't the ends of the earth anymore: these days, some 13,000 travelers a year tramp across Antarctica. To add a little edge, sign up for a 16-day meteorite hunt on the frozen wastes with Apollo astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the 12th man to walk on the moon. It won't be warm, but you just might discover evidence of extraterrestrial life. Which would be cool.
Space Adventures, 16-day trip $44,000 per person.

Abercrombie & Kent's 17-day tour starts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the only national capital whose suburbs consist of tent encampments. Guests spend three days pony-trekking in the Hövsgöl Lake region, sleeping each night in a ger, the traditional felt tent of the steppe. Then it's south to the Gobi Desert for a camel ride around the Moltsog Els sand dunes.
Abercrombie & Kent, 800/323-7308 or 630/954-2944, fax 630/954-3324;; $6,540 per person.