Put down your juicy novel and get out of the poolside lounger. This summer we're pushing you out of your comfort zone. These 10 epic trips, from the Grand Canyon to Tanzania, take you to awe-inspiring settings, give you intimate encounters with majestic wildlife, and introduce you to people who live on next to nothing. By journey's end, you're sure to see the world with new eyes.
(Photo: Captain Barry King)
Sail a Schooner Along Maine's Coast
The Trip: The Maine Windjammer Association's weekend and weeklong cruises take you outside Wi-Fi and cell-phone range to help you kick your texting habit and reconnect with family. Under the guidance of a captain, you'll work as a team to sail one of the association's eight ships, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. It's an experience that feels a bit like summer camp, with incredible stargazing and the chance to see whales and porpoises as you navigate uninhabited islands, going ashore for campfires and beachcombing.
How It's Life-Changing: The wind, the tide, and your captain's whim dictate each day's schedule and destination, which forces you to let go of any control-freak tendencies and really relax. On the schooner Isaac H. Evans, fun activities (including hunting for pirate-themed treasure, hauling lobster traps, and cranking ice cream) have made some kids fall in love with sailing and return later as crew members.
Tash Rabat Yurts (Photo: Pieter Schepens via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Travel the Old Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
The Trip: This trip of a lifetime leads you through two countries that otherwise might not be on your travel radar. In Kyrgyzstan, Wild Frontiers Travel introduces you to locals and their ways of life on the mountainous Old Silk Road. Trek a challenging high-altitude pass, ride horses, and camp beneath the stars in traditional yurts. Then you'll fly to Uzbekistan to see the remains of an old caravanserai (roadside inn) along the Silk Road route. Browse a bazaar and meet silk weavers and knife makers still plying their wares in a city adorned with grand mosques and mausoleums.
How It's Life-Changing: Your perspective shifts when you spend time with the nomadic mountain people and gain insight into life as a shepherd or eagle hunter. Staying in yurts along your journey and living as a local brings you back to the basics. Feel a sense of accomplishment after tackling the Ton Pirival pass at an elevation of about 13,450 feet.
(Photo: Elevate Destinations)
Work with Kids in Haiti
The Trip: Hoards of emergency volunteers came and went after Haiti's catastrophic 2010 earthquake, but this Elevate Haiti volunteer project lives on. The 10-day experience on the island of Ile a Vache, a 30-minute boat ride from Port-au-Prince, allows you to help with long-term rebuilding. In a workshop similar to a summer camp, you'll boost kids' leadership skills and English fluency, teaching through sports, poetry reading, and other personal interests. You'll also work alongside locals to build a new school and spend time off exploring beaches and nearby islands.
How It's Life-Changing: For some, seeing one of the poorest countries in the world evokes pity. But Elevate Haiti volunteers see the need and feel a calling and a sense of responsibility to make a difference. So strong is the rapport among alumni that many of them keep in touch long after their projects are over.
(Photo: CaptainOates via flickr/CC Attribution)
Island Hop by Bicycle in Scotland's Outer Hebrides
The Trip: This 174-mile guided mountain-bike ride along the Hebridean Trail with Wilderness Scotland weaves its way across seven islands in a weeklong adventure off the remote northwest tip of the U.K. Blazed in 2012, the trail follows ancient wilderness paths and rolls into little villages where proud Gaelic-speaking islanders live steeped in tradition. You'll see the Callanish Stones, a prehistoric Stonehenge-like grouping of rock monoliths. You'll ride up to six hours a day for a week, hopping islands with your bike on a rigid inflatable boat. Post-pedal pints are part of the daily ritual.
How It's Life-Changing: The first couple of days can be a shock for leg muscles, but soon you realize you're no longer constantly watching for the support van to show up for a snack break. You've got this. Finishing it is a huge achievement that you owe to the cleansing island air, mesmerizing views, and camaraderie among riders.
(Photo: Felix E. Guerrero via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Practice Yoga at an Ashram in India
The Trip: For nourishing your soul and raising your consciousness, few spots can top the Himalayan Yog Ashram in the Himalayan foothills on the banks of the holy Ganges River. This ashram-stay program, suiting both beginners and yogis wanting to deepen their practice, follows a disciplined schedule of healthy meals, yoga, and meditation. More than a physical workout, the program is a holistic approach to an Indian yogic lifestyle, one that includes space and time for reading, reflecting, and hiking to the nearby waterfall. You can also choose a purification/detoxification or anti-stress program with relaxation and massage treatments as well as life-coaching sessions.
How It's Life-Changing: The heightened awareness you learn will help empower you to make changes and live more intentionally with joy. You experience how healthy eating makes a tremendous difference in body, mind, and soul.
Mongol Horse Trail (Photo: martin_vmorris via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Ride the Mongol Horse Trail
The Trip: It's said that Mongolians were the first to tame horses on the country's vast, treeless steppes where large herds roamed, and this summertime trip takes you there. Not for the faint of heart, In The Saddle's Mongol Horse Trail expedition leads you over steppes, into forests, and across rivers. As you walk and canter, you'll see sweeping views of a countryside where there are no fences, no tracks, and no power lines. The only signs of life are the local herdsmen you meet along the way. Camp along rivers, then load your luggage into the yak cart towed by one of the crew.
How It's Life-Changing: Riding for days without seeing anyone gives you time to unclutter your mind and find solitude. When you do come across a ger, a tent-like Mongolian home, and meet people with a simple lifestyle, it makes you evaluate what matters most in life.
(Photo: Winky via flickr/CC Attribution)
Kayak with Orcas in British Columbia
The Trip: Each year from mid-July through mid-September, hundreds of orcas return like clockwork to the Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island to feast on salmon. Most tourists witness the spectacle from large tour boats, which foster a sense of security but also of separation. But in a kayak, you're among the pod at eye level. A hydrophone will allow you to hear the pod communicating just beneath the water's surface. You'll likely spot porpoises and bears, too, on Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc.'s four-day or six-day trips as you paddle, camp, and hike this wild coast.
How It's Life-Changing: When a whale or dolphin looks back at you, the closeness inspires a feeling of intimacy and oneness with the ocean. It's humbling to see a six-foot dorsal fin lift out of the water next to you before the massive creature dives and swims beneath your little boat.
Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: National Park Service)
Help Maintain Trails in Grand Canyon National Park
The Trip: While the summer tourists ride mules to the canyon floor or hover above in helicopters, you can see the Grand Canyon from an entirely different perspective: as a volunteer caretaker. American Conservation Experience runs Conservation Vacations that allow travelers to participate in environmental restoration projects usually reserved for AmeriCorps members. You'll work eight-hour days with your group to remove invasive species, repair fencing, and maintain the trails. There's plenty of time in the evening to explore the park or hang out at the group campsite with fellow volunteers.
How It's Life-Changing: You have access to awe-inspiring areas of the park that aren't on tourist maps, and after working to improve them, you appreciate this national landmark even more.
(Photo: La Escuela del Sol)
Avert a Midlife Crisis in Costa Rica
The Trip: In Costa Rica's adventure capital Montezuma, La Escuela del Sol is proof that it's never too late to pursue a passion and even make a career out of it. Here you can study fire dancing with a Cirque du Soleil artist. Or, train to be a certified yoga instructor, get your scuba certification, or earn college credit for Spanish classes. The school's surfing courses are popular, too. Stay in a private room or get into the campus vibe and be paired with a roommate.
How It's Life-Changing: At the end of your vacation in this tropical paradise, you return to the real world (or not) as an entirely new version of you. During your courses, you connect with others from different countries and professions who, like you, are at a crossroads in life and vowing to make a change.
Masai Mara Wildebeest (Photo: Wajahat Mahmood via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Help Conserve Wildlife in African Game Reserves
The Trip: On this 27-day Masai Mara Conservation and Wildlife Safari with Acacia Adventure Holidays, not only do you get to check off "Seeing the Great Migration" on your bucket list, but you also get to volunteer in Kenya's famous Masai Mara National Reserve during its peak. Spend the first 14 days helping out with lion research, collecting data, and learning about local conservation. During the second half, you'll head to Tanzania for game drives in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater and stay on the island of Zanzibar.
How It's Life-Changing: Nothing can prepare you for an up-close experience with Africa's majestic wild animals. Whether you happen to witness the birth of a giraffe or the thundering of thousands of wildebeest, you never forget that feeling of connection to the natural world.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Summer Trips That Will Change Your Life.
(Lead Photo: Fred Leblanc)