June 17, 2024

I Grew up Going on ‘Extreme Travel’ Family Trips and Don’t Regret It

  • I was lucky enough to go on a few not-so-stereotypical family vacations growing up. 
  • These “extreme” trips included activities like hiking with gorillas and whitewater rafting. 
  • I’ve always been an anxious traveler, but these trips taught me to embrace taking calculated risks.

By all accounts, I am a nervous traveler and I never quite feel safe until I return home. 

This is true, despite the fact I grew up with parents who — when it was financially and logistically possible — enjoyed taking me and my siblings on not-so-stereotypical family vacations.

With “extreme” tourism getting more attention lately in the wake of the Titan tragedy, I’ve reexamined some of the vacations my family and I took. I’ll be the first to admit that some of our trips could be considered risky — and while I spent a good amount of our vacations feeling petrified, looking back I don’t have any regrets.

I was always the most anxious on our ‘extreme’ family vacations

So just how “extreme” were these vacations, you ask?

Well, let’s see…

There was the year we traveled to the Okavango Delta in Botswana and went canoeing in waters frequented by hippos. That was around the same time I learned that hippos — not lions or leopards, as I would’ve expected — are considered to be one of the deadliest large land mammals on Earth; according to BBC Wildlife Magazine, they cause roughly 500 deaths on average each year. The same source says they can be “very aggressive” and have a tendency to charge at and capsize boats.

There was the summer we went to Peru, trekked to Machu Picchu, and ended the trip with some whitewater rafting. While this may not be as perilous as canoeing alongside hippos, whitewater rafting can cause injuries including cuts and scrapes from collisions with rocks. Fatalities are thankfully very uncommon, but they aren’t unheard of, as data from over the years cited by TripSavvy shows. Still, knowing what could happen if I fell out of the raft at any given moment terrified me and I only felt relief once we’d made it into calmer waters.

Not to be forgotten was the trip to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where, on a hike to see the gorillas in their natural habitat, I got momentarily dragged through the bush by a silverback gorilla. 

The author standing metres away from a gorilla in Rwanda.

The author standing metres away from a gorilla in Rwanda.

Maria Noyen/Insider

From my memory, the entire incident lasted less than 10 seconds and was over as soon as a guide was able to make noises that encouraged the creature to let me go.

That said, I do remember standing up, wiping mud off my pants, and promptly bursting into tears — much to the amusement of my own family who stand by their account that they were very concerned at first until they saw I’d gotten away unhurt. I’ll just say our recollections differ.

Before each of these trips, I was always the first to voice concerns about the risks we were all taking.

I’d read articles on the activities we’d signed up for, which of course would petrify me, and deliver the information to my parents. Call it naive, but I genuinely thought I could change their minds so we could stay in the safety of our home.

These moments led me to take more calculated travel risks as an adult

Don’t get them wrong, my parents never booked a vacation without thoroughly taking our safety into account.

They were the ones who did the real research, sometimes months of it, to make informed decisions about whether or not we should go on a vacation in the first place. I, on the other hand, would relentlessly scroll the internet for any information on all the ways we could die before these trips. 

But I will say that my fear of doing things that have the slightest bit of risk attached to them has subsided.

I’m still a nervous traveler, but I’ve gone on to take trips of my own where I’ve said “yes” to experiences I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for these family vacations.

The author has done shark cage diving in South Africa.

The author has been shark cage diving in South Africa.

cunfek/Getty Images

As an example, years of watching “Shark Week” content has instilled a deep fear in me of what lies beneath the oceans and yet in the past five years, I’ve been been cage diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa (twice).

If anything, growing up in a family with an appetite for “extreme” travel has made me less afraid of adventures and pushed me to understand that just because bad things happen, it doesn’t necessarily mean they always happen or will happen to me. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s important to consider the worst-case scenario, but it’s equally important to know that when the best-case scenario is the most likely outcome, it’s worth taking a chance for.

And ultimately, travel, in any capacity, comes with risks. 

But thanks to my parents, I’m not going to let fear stop me from seeing the world and making memories out of the moments where I feel most alive.

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