Avid traveler Rocky Babson was tired of his regular trips to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. So when he read about Incredible Adventures, a company that offered the chance to fly a real L-39 fighter jet in Burbank, Calif., he immediately booked a trip to the West Coast.
Babson was paired with a Hollywood stunt pilot who flew the plane at 500 miles an hour along the coastline and through the desert. The highlight of the trip was when they hovered 20 feet above the Mojave Desert and then shot up straight like a rocket to 20,000 feet.
"I'm a self-described adrenaline junkie, and I was looking for a different kind of travel experience," says the 39-year-old attorney from Atlanta. "The body rush I got is unlike anything I have ever experienced," he says.
Thrill-seekers like Babson need vacations that kick it up a notch.
"Adrenaline-based adventure travel used to be a very specialized market," says John Clifford, president of International Travel Management, a luxury travel consultancy in San Diego. "But with reality shows like "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race", which show everyday people, not stunt men, taking part in this [adrenaline adventure], it has become more mainstream."
Incredible Adventures, located in Sarasota, Fla., specializes in high-adrenaline adventures. It started in 1993 with one offering, but now has 30 categories of adventures, which can be customized to a client's interest. Besides flying a fighter jet, options include Corvette racing, high-altitude sky diving and diving with sharks.
Jane Reifert, president of the company, says her primary client base is stockbrokers, investment bankers and lawyers looking to maximize their down time.
"People are working more than ever these days and want to take the most advantage of their vacations," she says. "They want to pack in a lot in a short amount of time, and doing something adrenaline-based lets them do that. The trips can be a week long, but you can also do them in a weekend."
One of the most popular adventures the company offers is diving with sharks in the Bahamas. Guests depart on a boat from a marina on Grand Bahama Island and take a two-hour ride to Tiger Beach, an area known for its heavy shark population. Though you don't need any diving experience, a certified dive instructor is on hand to help you as you climb into a cage and become submerged in water. As you breathe through an air hose connected to the boat, you'll come face to face with tiger, lemon and hammerhead sharks.
For those who prefer to stay on land, Black Tomato, a London company that offers bespoke extreme adventures, has a week-long biking and ice-climbing trip to Bolivia. Travelers start the journey with a day of mountain-bike training at the Bolivian National Championships downhill race course. They bike on a mountain road with 800-foot drops and another road with a 14,000 foot drop—one of the steepest downhill mountain bike roads in the world. The ride starts at the top of the Chacaltaya Mountain and descends into the dense jungle at the foot of the Zongo Valley.
Another day of training precedes a two-day ice climb up Huayna Potosi Mountain, which reaches a peak of 20,000 square feet.
Tom Marchant, founder of Black Tomato, says his company has doubled in growth since it started two years ago and now does 1,000 customized trips a year.
"The people who take our trips are mainly hedge funders or bankers in their 20s and 30s who don't have tons of free time and want to do something that is going to blow their minds with the spare time they do have," he says.
If you're willing to trek to New Zealand to quench your thirst for a thrill, you can go cave tubing in the Ruakuri Caves in the country's Waitomo region. Also known as black-water rafting, cave tubing is unique to New Zealand and uses an inflated rubber inner tube as a flotation device.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company offers a half-day journey that takes you into these dark caves. You'll be lowered into them on ropes, climb into your cave tube and explore this underground universe. Riding on high-speed rapids, maneuvering through tight crevices and going down waterfalls while surrounded by hundreds of glowworms on the limestone walls is all part of the fun.
Some companies offering adrenaline-inducing travel only arrange the adventure for you. If you book one of Incredible Adventures' offerings, for example, you'll pay for the cost of the adventure, but must arrange your own hotel accommodations.
Other companies, such as Black Tomato, offer packages which include hotel, airfare, meals and guides. The all-inclusive trip to Bolivia costs $4,000 a person, but the average price someone can expect to pay when booking a trip with the company is $6,000.
Taking a vacation that's going to get your adrenaline pumping may not be cheap, but you'll be rewarded by knowing you're only one of a handful of people in the entire world who got to experience what you did.