I was 24 years old when I lost my first real job.
I had zero savings, and my unemployment benefits ran out quickly, so I did something practical: I booked a flight to Nairobi.
Three weeks after my arrival in Africa, I climbed to the edge of a volcano that had just erupted near the Congo-Rwanda border, and urinated into a lava flow. Turns out, it was kind of like pissing into the wind. The yellow stream instantly vaporized and covered me in a pee soup fog.
My companions unzipped as well, and soon we were all convulsed in laughter about a piss none of us would ever forget.
I would go on to find other jobs, but I never did piss quite like that again. Travel upends the ordinary; it forges bonds. It’s an enabler of boundary-breaking sex, but it also brings on other sorts of climaxes.
On another trip, backpacking in the Colorado Rockies, my friends and I burst out on top of a ridge across the valley from Vail and were treated with a spectacular view of the jagged peaks of the Gore Range; we dubbed it the “Gore-gasm.” And it was an epic one.
Travel memories are my most precious possessions. No, I can’t store them in a bank account. But I am the sum of my travels, and my balance sheet is overflowing.
I’ve had great work experiences too, but none of them compares with watching hippos make hippo love in a muddy stream that ran past my tent in Kenya.
These kinds of experiences not only make me rich spiritually but also provide me with a form of health insurance, says Jim Petrick, Ph.D., a professor in Texas A&M’s department of recreation, park and tourism sciences.
“Science shows us that travel brings enormous benefits— in relationships, in education, for your health,” he told me. “Doctors ought to prescribe it.”
No need to risk a co-pay on that one. You can fill your travel prescription on your own, and it’ll be the best medicine you ever take. So keep reading: These seven adventures can define your life and even have the potential to make you a better man.
(We can also help you Dodge a Tourist Trap. We polled readers about their favorite U.S. destinations, and then asked some plugged-in locals—including guys like Cameron Crowe, Emeril Lagasse, and Lukas Nelson (son of Willie)—to reveal their greatest hometown secrets. Now when you blow into town, you’ll know exactly where to go.)
So make plans to fill up your life with them. Otherwise you might just piss it away.
1/ The Gasoline Getaway
Before there’s a woman in your life, there’s usually a car.
And there are those so-called friends of yours. Neither will be in it with you for the long haul, but both might survive a road trip you’ll remember fondly, after bigger commitments and car payments take over.
When you’re with a lover, Petrick observes, you’re often being someone you’re not. Not so with your pals. “You can fart more and burp more,” he says, and those are only two benefits.
The prime one: You can be your true self, Petrick says. It’s the ultimate freedom. And this might be your last chance to enjoy it fully before weighty responsibilities dominate.
That’s why that beater car will remain your favorite, and maybe you’ll look up those guys again 20 years later and retrace your early wanderings, turn by carefree turn, to figure out where the road got all forked up after you returned home.
(Don’t forget the tunes. We’ve done your homework for you and found The 25 Best Road Trip Songs Ever.)
RELIVE THE RUSH It’s never too late to hit the road. Four pals driving in four-hour shifts around the clock can leave Boston Friday night and have Sunday dinner in Banff, Alberta, a destination that proves God is a Canadian.
2/ The Sexcation
It could be the sex talking, or she might be an actual keeper. You won’t really know, will you, until you bust that relationship out on the road?
“Research has shown that couples report having more sex and better sex while on vacation than in their everday lives,” Petrick says.
Plus, a relationship road trip is kind of a mini-marriage, pitting the two of you against the world. It’ll reveal what you really want to know about her: If you have to spend the night in the car, can she deal?
When you watch the sun rise gorgeously over Frenchman Bay from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, does she swoon with Down East delight? In other words, is she able to take the successes as well as the failures in stride? If so, then maybe you two can copilot more than a car.
If not, hey, at least there was the vacation sex. In the tent. In the rain. (She will sleep in a tent, right?)
MAKE IT COUNT Set the GPS for her hometown, then yours. Swim in the pool where she was a lifeguard; hike to the hilltop where you made out with your first girl. That’s how you merge story lines while collaborating on your own.
3/ The Foreign-Capital Freak-Out
When I told Petrick about my fondness for flying to unfamiliar cities and eating weird food, he offered an explanation: “You’re an allocentric traveler, in it for the novelty and risk.”
This past summer I combined both on the same plate in Nice, France, where I consumed raw beef with a raw egg cracked on top of it. (Take that, FDA warnings!)
Tantalizing oddities are available in any world capital, from a language you don’t speak to a metro system that delivers you where you don’t want to go.
According to a review in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, this is exactly the kind of exploration that may serve as a buffer against age-related brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. So by being stupid overseas, you could return home with a younger brain.
TALK THE TALK Prepare for your trip by listening to podcasts from Coffee Break French/German/ Spanish. If you can communicate with the locals in their language—even badly!—you’ll inherit a fund of goodwill.
That’s especially true in Italy, because no one ever studies Italian. A grateful Italian is like a godfather who never asks to be repaid.
4/ The Gathering
It’s just you and your wife now. Or you and your second wife. Or you and no wife. Or you and your boyfriend, because hey—turns out you’re gay.
In any case, your kids, now married with their own nuclear families, don’t visit you as much as you’d like. Spend their inheritance (if any) on a beach house in Kitty Hawk, or on a multifamily site in that big KOA near Lake Tahoe.
Book it in February for the following July; then casually mention that you’ve got the place for a couple of weeks and everybody is invited, free of charge.
“Having that whole group together is a real opportunity to access different parts of yourself,” says psychologist David Hauser, Ph.D., of the Family Institute at Northwestern University.
All the better if you have siblings you can stand. They knew you during all your life phases, notes Hauser, so they can help you make sense of the current one. Consider it beach-house therapy. Cheap!
RENT A MANSION Just enter your location on Airbnb’s site and select “entire place.” You’ll see lots of spacious options for any price range; plus, you’ll feel like part of a neighborhood.
5/ The Adrenaline Shot
Ordinary life can crush your balls. The answer: Just add adrenaline and an exotic locale. Oh, and the risk of bodily harm.
“Without risk, you can’t move forward,” says Richard Bangs, cofounder of Mountain Travel Sobek. “It’s where all sorts of new ideas and new concepts and discoveries take place.”
Nepal is one faraway option-it’s about as wild and beautiful and fantastical a place as can be imagined, both in landscape and philosophy. But so is a hunt-and-kill mission to Idaho. Or that Appalachian Trail trip you’re not fit enough to do right now but could be in a couple of months.
You can become a man again by pursuing an adventure that would have thrilled you as a boy.
(For more destinations guaranteed to test your mettle, check out our list of The 5 Most Dangerous Parks in America.)
CALL THE WILD When you approach old friends about taking an adventure, 99 percent of them will tell you they’re too busy at work, or their knee hurts, or they coach their kid’s soccer team and can’t possibly get away. But the 1 percent who do embrace such challenges will probably outlive those 99 percenters, so you’ll be set with travel companions for the rest of your long life. Find those guys.
6/ The National Park Pilgrimage
If you’re having trouble nailing down that cabin reservation at the national park of your choice, blame Ken Burns, whose 2009 series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea helped spike attendance by 10 million people.
“The national parks are the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape,” Burns says. “For the first time in human history, land was set aside not for kings or noblemen or the very rich, but for everybody and for all time, which makes all of us co-owners of some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth.”
Remember that if you have children: Fatherhood feels like an eternity, but it’s the most perishable of time frames. A timeless view like Yosemite Valley or the Great Ditch in Arizona? That’s unforgettable.
Knock off five parks in five years while the kids are still kids, and those trips will define “family” for them in the best possible way.
FIND YOUR OWN PATH The Grand Canyon is grand indeed, especially the wilder North Rim. But after you’ve seen it, head up to Zion National Park. Wading up the Virgin River with my wife and sons was my all-time greatest day out.
7/ The Reset-Button Journey
You may not have realized it when you were 24, but life is long and you’ll go through many stages and phases. After one of them ends abruptly with divorce, unemployment, a health crisis, or maybe even the death of somebody close, it’s time to explore what Petrick calls your “existential authenticity.”
Have you been contorting yourself into some artificial posture-the dutiful employee, the devoted spouse-for decades at a time? Wouldn’t it feel good to assume your natural shape for once? Travel is the ultimate mold breaker: You’ll never again see the people you meet, so you can be anybody you choose—even the real you, if that’s not too scary.
This kind of getaway can clarify which roles fit and which ones drive you nuts.
TRAVEL WITH PURPOSE If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, book an escape that includes a healthy shot of grunt labor. A site such as gviusa.com or elevatedestinations.com will serve up trips that kick you out of your head and into your body. Work on behalf of people, wilderness, or a cause. Of course, the main beneficiary will be you.
(Are you avoiding a big life trip because it’s too expensive, or you don’t want to wait in endless lines at the airport? Here’s How to Get the Upgrades You Deserve.)
Maintain Your Travelbuzz
Keep On Chillin’
Start Planning The Next One
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