Going on vacations is fun, and more than 40 percent of American adults fly on leisure trips each year, according to the U.S. Travel Association. A lot of those trips are to visit friends and family, or to go to theme parks and resorts. Those can be memorable and enjoyable experiences. But instead of going on the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland, gambling in Las Vegas, or playing hearts with cousin Ethel again, why not go somewhere different this year? If you've read books such as Paul Theroux's "The Old Patagonian Express" or Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," you know that going someplace challenging and immersing yourself in a totally new, unfamiliar culture can be a transcendent, even life-altering experience.
For one, going to new places means learning how to interact with whoever you meet. "I'm not afraid to travel to the most remote places in the world, not if there are human beings there to meet," Gilbert wrote in "Eat, Pray, Love." "People asked me before I left for Italy, 'Do you have friends in Rome?' And I would just shake my head no, thinking to myself, 'But I will."
So this year, why not plan an adventure journey somewhere? One intriguing trend is volunteer vacations, where you spend a week in some exotic location, helping scientists save endangered sea turtles or helping out at a children's clinic. (Check out Volunteer Guide). If money is tight, look online for volunteer opportunities right at home that might offer the same kinds of activities. Or make it a point to attend a local festival celebrating a culture you're unfamiliar with.