Find adventure, or you might forget your vacation


I will definitely forget about the hotel I stayed in the night before I watched a volcano erupt.

Reventador Volcano in Ecuador - I actually saw that! (Copyright Jeff Cundith 2013)

I will remember the way the flaming rocks jumped out of the crater, then dropped and exploded when they smashed into the side of the volcano. I will also remember the thrill I felt as I watched, but I won't remember the pool at the hotel the night before had a waterslide. Similarly, I must have stayed in a hostel and had dinner somewhere the night after white water rafting in western Panama. I can't remember a single detail about my food or lodging, but I retain a clear image of a sloth hanging high above the river. That's because adventures have all the factors necessary in forming long-lasting memories.

We all have occasional adventures during our regular routines — weekend excursions, exploring unseen parts of our towns and cities, meeting new people – but we often do our most extreme adventuring when we travel. Whether we're traveling for vacation or for an extended gap, we want something different and exciting and memorable. And it turns out that adventure has all the ingredients necessary to form a lasting memory.

According to Scientific American, memories are most likely to form when a person is experiencing something interesting, novel, or emotionally intense. Little wonder then that we remember adventurous vacations so well – they are packed with novel and emotional experiences.

Doing something adventurous also has physical rewards.

Our body releases several chemicals that make us feel good when we attempt something unusual and thrilling. Adrenaline prepares us for potential danger, dopamine flows when we try something challenging, and endorphins maintain our endurance. This explains the giddy feeling you get after wading through a bat cave or rappelling down a waterfall. These are also healthy, natural sources for these feel-good chemicals.


And it seems more and more people are interested in adventure while they travel.

According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with nearly 42% of 2013 travelers saying adventure was the purpose of their last trip, compared with just 26% in 2009.

This is particularly applicable to 20 somethings. According to research by Skidmore Studios, 78% of young adults are looking for a "thrilling and active vacation," as opposed to something chill or lazy.

Thrilling and active, however, doesn't mean you have to ice climb at 10,000 feet or sky dive to remember your vacation - the umbrella of "Adventure Travel" is much more inclusive. Hiking, biking, kayaking, surfing, and snorkeling are some of the many activities adventurous enough to create lasting memories. Eco-tourism and cultural tourism are also critical components of a complete adventure travel trip, and are increasingly popular as more travelers try and make their trips more culturally responsible and sustainable.

The author resting during a hike in Ancash, Peru

This is again particularly applicable to young adults. According to a 2016 Expedia study, authenticity is a priority for Millennial travelers, who want to balance visiting classic, iconic destinations, with getting off-the-beaten-path. For example, I remember riding in a dugout canoe to an indigenous community in Panama much more vividly than I remember riding on a tour boat in the Panama Canal. The Canal may be more iconic, but the canoe ride had a more potent combination of the factors necessary in forming a lasting memory (interesting, novel, emotionally intense).  

Adventure travel also doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune traveling abroad (though I would argue that traveling abroad doesn't have to cost a fortune!) — there are 59 National Parks in the United States, 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and almost every region in the country has its own unique micro-culture. 

For example, as a child of the northeast, parts of Louisiana felt like a different country to me, stirring up the same feelings of novelty I've experienced in destinations abroad that many would consider more "exotic."

Whether you are rafting a river or watching flaming rocks fly from an active volcano, you are ensuring that you will feel good in the moment and remember the experience for a long time. So get out there and make memories that are sure to last.