Extreme Vacations

The summer is here and the travel bug has been biting everyone. Roads and airports will soon be packed with vacationers, and beaches, resorts and theme parks are ready for the tourist season. But for some folks there's no fun in those places. While people might still want the same things - relaxation, adventure or love - nowadays a summer trip's got to be further, faster or just plain freakier. Vacations ain't what they used to be, writes Steve DeBretto.

For the person who has everything

Theme vacations have always been popular. Once upon a time, buying a fantasy trip might have meant a weekend learning to ride horses with cowboys, or a ticket for a sightseeing flight over the Grand Canyon. But anybody can do that. Why not be the first of your friends to get a ticket to the edge of space?

Incredible Adventures, a travel agency based in Florida, sells package vacations for people whose idea of fun is a little more extreme than the average person's. They'll send you to the edge of the atmosphere in a Russian Mig-25 fighter plane traveling nearly three times the speed of sound. Throw in a few months of cosmonaut training for an even better package and it will set you back a mere $180,000. Incredible Adventures, by the way, is also hoping to find "space tourists" for orbital flights around the Earth costing between $15 and $25 million. Ready to sign up?

If you want to stay a little closer to Earth but still feel that rush of adrenaline, Thrillseekers Unlimited will let you step into the shoes of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger and get blown up, kicked, punched and shot at. Actually, you'll be in no more danger than the actors are during their Hollywood film shoots. Thrillseekers takes action film fans on a five-day course to teach them skills like shooting automatic weapons, fighting and stunt driving, so they can ham it up just like their favorite action heroes.

Relax? Never!

Ah, summer! Lazy days on the beach, drifting off to sleep to the sound of waves? Picnics? Fishing?
No way! Push-ups? Marching? Men in uniforms screaming? Now, that's more like it! For people with the desire to get fit, but without the motivation to do it on their own, "boot camps" take all the relaxation out of your free time. The military started boot camps: six to eight weeks of grueling physical training to get new recruits in shape before they began their combat training, but now civilians don't have to miss out on the fun. Non-military boot camps give busy working people the chance to wake up at 5:00 a.m. and report to fitness training, rain or shine, to whip themselves into shape. Ready to enlist?

Children who've been eating a little too many sweets had better be careful, because their parents can send them off to the same type of place. "Weight loss camps" are America's answer to the growing obesity problem the country faces. These camps advertise themselves as fun places where healthy food, sports and an outdoor lifestyle help young campers shed unwanted kilos and trouser sizes. If carrot sticks and a 10 km run sound better to you than chocolate and a good movie, you just might enjoy one of these camps. The problem is, most of the kids who need to go aren't interested in any of those things. They became overweight by eating unhealthy food, sitting in front of the TV and getting up only to change the PlayStation game. And they like it that way.

But if you're the complete opposite of the physical types that could actually enjoy fitness camp, you might want to consider ten days where you'll do absolutely nothing. At California's Vipassana Center, you can meditate for 10 interrupted days. Beginning at 4:00 each morning, "students" at the center are woken and encouraged to meditate in complete silence, avoiding speaking to, touching, or even making eye contact with those around them. This meditation is supposed to bring inner peace to those who do it long enough. According to the center's advertising, one of the suggested tactics to finding inner peace is to focus on "the natural reality of the ever-changing flow of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils." The days are split between solitary silent meditation in your room and group silent meditation in the hallway, thinking about the air going through your nose.
As a former English language teacher in Poland, I'm jealous I didn't come up with the Vipassana center's curriculum. Why didn't I think of those techniques when coaching my students through difficult pronunciation? "That schwa sound is still a little off, Tomek. Try focusing on the natural reality of the ever-changing flow of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils."

Summer lovin'

Way back when, kids went to summer camp. And when they weren't swimming, swatting mosquitoes or burning hot dogs over a fire, they fell in love. Maybe they'd steal their first kiss or get their heart broken for the first time.

Today it's not just kids that get to have all the fun. Summer is when Americans spill out of airplanes onto the sunny beaches of Jamaica and head to a resort where "naughty is nice." The Hedonism clubs advertise themselves as romantic getaways for couples or singles over 18 years old, but what goes on inside sometimes looks like it's designed more to break up marriages than add spice to them. Unlimited alcohol and nude beaches are the order of the day, and at night the disco hosts pajama and leather parties. Cocktail, anyone?

But when it comes to wild vacations, we Americans should try taking a page from the Italians. A study last fall reported that nearly three million Italians told their friends they went on holiday even though they didn't go anywhere at all. Lying was less embarrassing than admitting they couldn't afford a trip. Some of them even got fake tans and studied brochures from where they didn't go so they could "come home" with good stories.

Buon viaggio!