Bored to tears by the thought of another day at the beach? Seen Paris, Rome and Tokyo ... twice? Skied the Rockies, the Alps and even the Andes? Then maybe you're ready to sleep underwater or in a hotel made of ice, visit North Korea or outer space, or embark on any one of the other unusual travel experiences we have compiled here.
Our list is not for the faint-hearted. Some destinations are so new that you can't even get there yet: The world's first luxury underwater hotel is not scheduled to open until the end of 2008, and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic won't be taking tourists into space until 2009. North Korea, on the other hand, is here today but could be gone tomorrow, at least in the form of an isolated dictatorship.
One emerging trend: "reality travel." Whereas much of the travel industry focuses on whisking customers into a fantasy land, reality tour operators take the opposite tack, escorting tourists into Brazilian slums and South African townships. If you come across crime lords or open sewers, well, that's part of the point. Some call it voyeuristic, but proponents argue that reality tours bring much-needed revenue to poor neighborhoods, and that the best ones are sensitively handled. For instance, some tour operators, like Reality Tours and Travel, which takes visitors to Mumbai's Dharavi district, ban cameras.
For those who want to engage even more with local communities, there is so-called "voluntourism." Operators like Volunteer Adventures will send travelers abroad — even those with only a week or two to spare — to teach English, share job skills or work on environmental conservation projects.
The consultancy Euromonitor International explains the reality trend in its Travel Market Global Trends Report for 2006: "The well-traveled — in particular, those with a cash-rich, time-poor profile — are demanding more intense experiences. This has given rise to an increasing demand for 'holidays with an edge,' also known as 'safe danger' tourism."
Or not so safe. One guidebook writer, Robert Young Pelton, specializes in travel advice for the war zone-bound, although major tour operators haven't ventured that far. If you're interested in recent conflicts, Lonely Planet's "Blue List: The Best in Travel 2007" may be for you, with information on post-war destinations, including Sarajevo and Rwanda.
Unusual, though, doesn't have to mean harrowing. Many of the destinations on our list are safe and child-friendly. After all, kids of all ages will enjoy staying in a tree house perched high above the jungle floor, or in a room built entirely of ice and snow.
At least two companies are betting on travelers' desire to stay under the surface of the ocean. Bruce Jones was inspired to start Poseidon Undersea Resorts, which is building an underwater resort in Fiji, after amassing 20 years of experience building tourist submarines and witnessing their enormous popularity. He says 30,000 potential customers have already expressed interest in the Fiji resort. Rooms there will be 70 percent made of transparent acrylic, so guests really get that aquarium feel. Meanwhile, another company, Crescent Hydropolis, is competing to get the first luxury underwater hotels up and running, with resorts planned for Dubai and Qingdao, China.