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Escape Magazine

Escape Magazine article - April 1999

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Kathy Singleton took one look at her itinerary for a three-week trip in New Zealand, and her eyes popped out of her head. The 46-year-old Colorado resident had unwittingly signed up for a multisport adventure outing and discovered that her trip's menu of activities read more like the scorecard for an adventure race than a vacation: trekking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting and horseback riding, with a little caving and glissading thrown in for good measure. "I love the outdoors," Singleton recalls thinking, "but I'm no triathlete."

A week after returning home, Singleton now laughs at her pre-trip jitters. "It was an amazing experience. So much variety. I still can't believe how much we did, and we never felt rushed." Not only did Singleton and friends enjoy all the sports their Active Adventures New Zealand tour promised, but they even started creating a few of their own. "We were kayaking in Milford Sound when a pod of dolphins showed up," says Singleton. "We started riding the wake." Dolphin surfing became a bonus activity during this eventful swing through New Zealand.

Multisport trips, which combine several activities into one action-packed tour, are the latest phenomenon in adventure travel. It's the answer for anyone who wants to squeeze every ounce of experience and electrolytes out of their vacation. If numbers are any indication, it's the right answer, too. Multisport journeys have become one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. At Backroads, the adventure giant, multisport departures increased by 60% in 1998 - and the company has since added 12 more of the trips to its new catalog.

What's the appeal? Variety, for starters. With the help of a precision timetable, a slew of high-tech gear and expert leaders (and maybe an extra cup of coffee every morning), a multisport adventure delivers far more diversity in a short amount of time than, say, a typical trekking or biking tour. As in Singleton's case, a three-week trip can become a smorgasbord of once-in-a-life-time activities. "One day I was rafting down the Clarence River; the next day I was pedaling through a flock of sheep in the mountains and galloping on horseback down a secluded beach," she says. "I couldn't have done half the things we did if I'd planned it myself."

The smorgasbord approach multiplies trip highlights for any given destination. On a Backroads Wyoming outing, for instance, travelers are treated to a taste of the best road and mountain biking, river rafting and hiking in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. And the logistics of getting all these pieces together are out of your hands. "It's more complex from a gear and scheduling perspective, but it's well worth it," says Backroads guide Christopher White. "I love leading the Yellowstone trip because it's so exciting for everyone. We get to do the best of everything for a week."

For most travelers, it's the only way to take their favorite sports on the road without the hassle of schlepping gear all over the world. "We do a lot of biking, rafting and hiking at home," says Rob McAlister, who decided to take his family on a trip to Belize, "so we definitely wanted an active trip." They got one. On a nine-day tour with Slickrock Adventures, the McAlisters went biking through a tropical rainforest, hiking to Mayan ruins, rafting a Class IV river, paddling an underground stream and sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving along the world's second largest barrier reef. McAlister could have added windsurfing to the list, but he opted for a training session on a hammock instead.

If this all sounds like a trip for Type AAA personalities only, as the McAlisters learned in Belize, smart operators schedule enough hammock time (or an equivalent) so that travelers won't need a vacation when the vacation ends. "We never had to get up at four a.m. or finish late at night," says McAlister. "Everything was set up so it was easy to go from one activity to the next."

The combination of go-go-go and rest-rest-rest can result in a somewhat schizophrenic balance of hard play and hedonism. A long day on difficult single-track might culminate with a stay at a luxurious jungle lodge complete with cocktail hour and five-course dinner. This philosophy of extremes has struck the right chord for travelers who like the rewards of a rigorous day with a soft landing at the end of the trail.

Susie Anderson and Mike Richardson found the combination a perfect balance for their honeymoon trip. They didn't want the typical newlywed beach package ("We'd get bored."), but neither did they want to rough it on a trekking or camping tour. They settled on a multisport trip to the Yucatán. "It was the right amount for a relaxing, active vacation," reports Anderson. "Hiking and biking allowed us to get off the road and see the country the way we wanted to."

Multisport trips fall into two general categories. Some, like the New Zealand and Belize jaunts, specialize in variety, stacking half a dozen different activities into a typical itinerary. Other outings, like the Backroads Yucatán trip, take a lighter approach. By toning down the activity load, these trips aim to provide a little more time for each of them.

"We want each ingredient to be at the absolute top end of what's available," says Glenn Rowley, director at KE Adventure Travel, which offers a Nepal tour with three activities. The 20-day package includes an ambitious trek in a little-visited Himalayan region, a white-knuckle whitewater descent of the Marsyangdi River and a mountain bike tour above the Kathmandu Valley. "It's just the right mix," reports Los Angeles-based Patricia Christie, who joined KE for the inaugural trip. "You get into a groove at something and you get to keep doing it, but you also see a lot of varied geography by switching sports."

Naturally, the physical demands are a consideration when planning this sort of trip. You don't need to be a fitness instructor, but it's worth checking out the particulars. Find out how many days are spent on each activity, what sort of equipment is included, and if you have to pay extra for rentals. Find out how many miles are covered per day. Are there qualified instructors for the technical portions of the trip? Are rest days scheduled? What are the options for participants who need a break or want to skip Class IV whitewater? Then ask yourself what your fitness level really is. Be honest.

Most multisport adventures are tailored to the moderately active, and, while it's best to do your own homework, operators usually go to great lengths to match clients with the right activity level. Some may go even further. Latitudes - a San Francisco based tour operator specializing in Asia, New Zealand and Australia - is collaborating with a local gym to create customized training programs for clients who sign up for a multi-adventure trip.

The constant change of pace itself may turn out to be a benefit for freshman multisporters. Kathy Singleton found the daunting variety of activities on her New Zealand tour to be a blessing in disguise: "We were constantly working different muscle groups so I never got very sore," she says. " It was like cross-training."

Of course, this can be an expensive way to cross-train, so remember that what you're paying for are experiences you can't create on your own. Look for outfitters that not only provide a late model mountain bike - in your size - in the deepest jungle, but can also offer offbeat activities that add to the overall diversity. For example, on a Burmese journey, Latitudes includes a unique sailing segment. You can also strap into a climbing harness for a rainforest canopy tour in Costa Rica (Active Journeys), saddle up for camel ride in Morocco (Backroads), or paddle an underground river by headlamp in Belize (Slickrock Adventures).

A whirlwind of activity awaits you, but it's all part of a simple theme. As every traveler knows, it's not just where you go, but how you get there.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Lean Review

    What an incredible trip! The itinerary has the perfect balance of activities to keep the trekking exciting but not too exhausting, and provides flexibility in the case of unexpected changes that may come up. The food was one of the highlights of the trip; there is nothing quite like setting up a picnic on the side of a mountain full of cheeses, meats, and other delightful treats. But what truly made this an exceptional adventure were our guides Phil, Andy, Jean Marc, and Jean Marie. Their energy, enthusiasm, and flawless teamwork provided the signature of an ACTIVE Adventure, and continues to make these trips stand miles apart from any other travel company. Though we started as 10 individuals, we quickly became 1 family. Thank you for another unforgettable journey; we look forward to the next one!
    Georgina Lean Review Image
    – California, United States
    Tour du Mont Blanc, July 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Annapurna Sanctuary Trek

    Great trip, well organized and guided. Our guide Amanda (Button) and Nepalese guide Shree were a lot of fun to spend time with. They managed the pace of the trek well and all came through with no problems. The weather this time of year turned out to be excellent. I'd do another trip with Active.
    Dick Lester Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    AST, October 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    It rocked!

    Awesome group trip, especially from someone who likes to do it on their own. Guides, travel arrangements, ease of it all was incredible-- perfect.
    Harold Johnson Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Condor, January 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    An incredible journey through a truly mystical land.
    Ramona Bosnyak Review Image
    – Alberta, Canada
    EBC, November 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 15867 reviews)

    Incredible experience

    We had an amazing time in the Galapagos!
    Everything was perfectly organized for us. All we had to do was show up - just as it said in the description of the tour.
    Our tour guide Zambo would always tell us well in advance what we would be doing on the next day, what we had to bring, what we should wear.
    The food was always organized for us; they would always ask us beforehand what we wanted to eat.
    Everywhere we went they were expecting us and everything went smoothly.
    Zambo was an amazing guide! He was extremely knowledgeable. He had an answer for everything and he was very patient with our kids. One could see that he enjoyed showing his home to us.
    The encounters with the animals were truly amazing. We saw blue footed boobies, frigate birds, hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, sting rays, penguins, hundreds of sea lions, sea iguanas, etc.
    The animals seemed at ease with the humans around them in some cases almost curious.
    Pirko Hamer Review Image
    – Sai Kung, Hong Kong
    Tortuga, April 2017

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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