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10 Impossibly Amazing Trips of a Lifetime

Afghanistan Bhutan Egypt Iceland Libya New Zealand Papua New Guinea Chad Luxe Travel Insider Guides
by Jason Wire Oct 7, 2011
If your travel fantasy involves heli-surfing, diving between tectonic plates, or super remote islands, it might be time to get a new fantasy.

YOU KNOW THE TYPE: weeks unshaven, bloodshot-baggy-eyed, malnourished, overstuffed backpack, gleefully counting passport stamps and eating a bread sandwich.

The budget traveler.

Poor schmuck.

So wide-eyed and naive to the world, believing they’re ‘exploring the world’, when really they’re just covering already-tread, tourist-trashed ground.

You, on the other hand, are not limited by the boundaries of ‘budget’. You have options. You have equity. A checking balance that matches your phone number. Or, perhaps, a very large credit card bill.

Either way, a great deal of the world is off-limits to those who can’t afford helicopters, private jets, and the services of survivalists in good diplomatic standing with indigenous tribes. Whether you’re booking on a Black Card or taking out a second mortgage, here’s 10 adventures that might require a few shots of liquid courage before clicking ‘Add to Cart’.

1. Traversing the deserts of Egypt

Why it’s impossible: Few places are left in the world that have yet to be mapped, but not even bedouin nomads are interested in venturing too far out into this part of the Sahara. The last explorers of note here arrived during World War II, and the extreme heat, scarce resources, and absurd lack of cell reception means you’ll need a guide, heat-proof all-terrain transportation, and a lifetime supply of sweatbands.

Why it’s amazing: Just because it’s a place that nature has basically banned all living organisms from doesn’t mean it isn’t insanely beautiful. Mountain ridges of blindingly white crystal calcite populate the area, and you’ll see rock formations defying the laws of physics, balancing precariously in the middle of a scorched plateau like inanimate street performers on Mars.

How to get there: Epic Tomato hooks it up with your own personal Dune Sea captain, along with your very own hellfire-proof Land Rover.

2. Diving between tectonic plates

Why it’s impossible: When your first step is to find a gap between tectonic plates, hopefully the rest of the instructions aren’t too long. Aside from the fact that there are very few places where diving between Earth’s crust is even possible, you’re not likely to find a place with enough visibility to make it at all worthwhile.

Why it’s amazing: There is, however, one fantastic option: Silfra, Iceland. Thanks to the frigid Arctic temperatures, you’ll enjoy unsurpassed visibility beyond 100 meters while floating through an underwater canyon that divides the North American and Eurasian plates. Obviously, this is not for skin divers.

How to make it happen: A small number of companies run expeditions here, but Dive.IS is the most experienced.

3. Entering the “Dead Heart of Africa”

Why it’s impossible: With a nickname like the Dead Heart of Africa, Chad’s not doing much to attract tourists. When I asked my friend, a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, what the worst possible assignment would be, Chad was at the top of his list. And then you’ve got The North Face sponsoring a trip to Chad’s Ennedi desert, where the world’s greatest climbers summited desert pillars that no human has ever climbed before.

Why it’s amazing: Like most desert expeditions, the draw here is remoteness, isolation, and solitude. Yet Chad’s lack of popular appeal comes from a lack of attention and infrastructure, not a lack of attractions. The martian-like landscapes of the Ennedi, the oases in the middle of dead sand — while far beyond the budgets of hostel rats, they’re enough to prompt a complete overhaul in your understanding of nature.

How to get there: Undiscovered Adventures organizes long tours through a solid chunk of Chad.

4. Heli-Surfing

Why it’s impossible: Things you’ve never said: “Yeah, so, I’m just gonna jump outta this here helicopter, on my surfboard, and ride this massive swell on into that remote beach over there.”

Why it’s amazing: You can spend weeks looking for the perfect barrel to shoot, and come up empty. On your trusty flying steed, however, it’s all but guaranteed that you’ll find plenty of gently cresting velveteen super-chutes to blast through by your lonesome.

How to make it happen: Black Tomato has the helicopter and the know-how. At the rate you’ll pay, staying in their private beachside villa is really a negligible cost, so treat yourself.

5. Getting to the most remote inhabited island on Earth

Why it’s impossible: If you haven’t heard of Tristan da Cunha, don’t feel bad, because its 270 citizens — living on the the most remotely inhabited island on Earth — probably don’t know your name, either. It’s about as centrally located in the south Atlantic as it gets, over 1500 miles from the nearest human stettlement, and the closest piece of land is called “Inaccessible Island,” if that tells you anything. The only way in or out is with an expensive ticket on one of the few fishing boats or polar research vessels that stop by to make sure it’s still around. Adding to that, you need to directly email the Tristan government with the purpose of your trip. You’ll need to be more articulate than “I just want to see the most remote humans on the Earth.” You probably wouldn’t be the first, though.

Why it’s amazing: There are actually quite a few super-remote islands in the world — the Pitcairns, for instance — but Tristan is the top, and it was only discovered about 500 years ago by the Portuguese explorer named…wait for it…Tristan da Cunha. The lifestyle here is as self-sufficient as it gets: every family farms their own food, livestock numbers are strictly controlled, and no outsiders are allowed to settle or buy land. The main source of foreign income, aside from a lobster factory, comes from the sale of domestic postage stamps to overseas collectors.

How to get to Tristan da Cunha: If you can make it to Cape Town with plenty of money and extra time, here’s the shipping schedule that tells you what you need to know.

6. Sailing around the world

Why it’s impossible: Aside from a very sturdy boat, you’ll need a child prodigy’s worth of experience to keep you alive sailing the circumference of the globe.

Why it’s amazing: It’s possible to lap Earth in just two flights (it’s probably possible in one, but you wouldn’t see much, would you?), but going around the world really requires seeing it at ground level, and by that I mean sea level.

How to make it happen: The Clipper Round the World is a yearly race that pits complete amateur sailors against each other, and with a little training, you’ll be taught to hold your own on the high seas. Yes, people have died, lost limbs, and the girl I met who did it told a story about her mast getting snapped in half off the coast of Indonesia. But if you’ve got the guts — and around $20,000 — the high seas are yours.

7. Skiing the entire freaking world

Why it’s impossible: Because without your own helicopter and private jet, you’re not gonna make it to Chamonix, Turkey, the Himalayas, Japan, Alaska, British Columbia, Greenland, and Sweden in less than three weeks.

Why it’s amazing: 8 countries and 3 continents, in about 17 days. You’ll basically ski every possible type of world-class powder, and in places like Japan and Greenland, you’ll be heli-skiing where very few have even regular-skied.

How to make it happen: Momentum Adventure has the tools to pull it off — but you’ll be footing a bill as epic as the journey.

8. Trekking the jungles of Borneo

Why it’s impossible: Borneo is the third-largest island in the world, covered mostly by a rainforest so thick that light doesn’t reach many parts of the ground. It’s also the third-highest island in the world, and Hugh Low, the first explorer to reach the summit of Mt. Kinabalu, the island’s highest mountain, said that the peak was ‘inaccessible to any but winged animals.’ It was only recently taken on by the world’s greatest climbers in 2009.

Why it’s amazing: Borneo’s list of superlatives also claims the world’s oldest rainforest — over 70 million years older than the Amazon. And no matter how ground-level your thought process may be, it’s nearly impossible to think of Borneo’s indigenous tribes that live today as they did centuries ago as anything but foreign; this adventure makes the contact.

How to make it happen: Again, Momentum Adventure comes through with the tools in all the right places for this one, whether you want a more “relaxed” jungle trek or an intense set of climbing and adventure options.

9. Whitewater Rafting in Bhutan

Why it’s impossible: Any country that keeps close tabs on its “Gross National Happiness” is probably also keen to keep a distance from a culture that loves misery as much as the Western world. To ensure a slow, internal development, outside of the influence of I-need-stuff culture, the Bhutanese have set up a considerable mountain of red tape to wade through to get there. Everyone who isn’t a citizen of India or Bangladesh has to apply for a visa up to 30 days in advance, and prepay for everything through a limited amount of government-controlled tour companies. Sorry, no hitch-hiking here.

Why it’s amazing: Aside from its own self-imposed air of mysteriousness, Bhutan lies in a green section of the Himalayas with an equal amount of soaring altitudes and low-lying forests. Many opportunities exist for adventures, such as whitewater rafting the country’s world-class rapids that are only now becoming known to the rest of the world.

How to get there: Bio Bio Expeditions will take care of all the paperwork, take you to even-lesser-explored parts of Bhutan’s countryside, and toss you in the whitewater.

10. Going backcountry in Afghanistan

Why it’s impossible: Perhaps not impossible, but impossible to justify the risk to your loved ones. Despite the ongoing war, travelers like Matador editor-at-large Daniel Britt go and come back unscathed (with impressive photographic evidence) — but this is not the tour to book at 4am after putting away half a bottle of Jack.

Why it’s amazing: Remoteness, inaccessibility, and high threats of danger make this enticing, but the chance to subvert the 24/7 news’ Big Brother Reminder that Afghanistan is the 10th circle of hell on Earth — that’s the real value here.

How to get there: The UK-based Wild Frontiers can make it happen, taking you through the backcountry of Afghanistan and its ever-unconsidered neighbor, Tajikistan, on a 30-day trek.

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