Posted by: jowanderer | August 4, 2008

11 holidays to solve a mid-life crisis

From
July 27, 2008

11 holidays to solve a mid-life crisis

Ditch boring holidays – here are a host of adventures that remind you you’re still alive


Cowboys Galloping Horses in Field, Oregon

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Try some deep breathing. Counting sheep actually works. Or maybe get up and get some milk. Then grab a pen and scribble down a few resolutions, so you can forget all about it and get back to sleep. In the morning, you can revisit your late-night To Do list and get started. Number one: “Get new life.”

The life crisis. Some people believe it’s a fictitious creation of our neurotic modern era; others point out that, for example, the Mongols only started tearing chunks off Asia when Genghis Khan was a bored, restless fortysomething who’d felt the spark go out of his marriages. One thing’s for certain: concoction or reality, there’s a lot of it about.

The classic panic used to take place in male midlife – at the point when men realised they were never going to beat Bjorn Borg or sleep with Felicity Kendal, and responded by buying an E-type Jag, flirting with the typing pool and making prats of themselves to Staying Alive.

Nowadays, everybody’s at it – female immunity seems to have broken down, and the quarter-life crisis (twentysome-things realising their careers have started with a breakneck sprint in entirely the wrong direction) can feel little less than epidemic.

Then there are those empty-nesters catching a whiff of mortality and plunging into a frenzied bid to tick off every item in those silly books with titles such as A Million Things You Have to Do Before You Die! Forever!

Everybody calm down. The answer almost certainly doesn’t involve leaving your clothes in a carefully folded pile on the beach. Your best crisis-busting bet might well be to start planning, and saving, for one almighty, life-affirming, grind-justifying, grin-guaranteeing holiday – something big enough to stick in the calendar months in advance, and think about it every day till it arrives.

So, here they are, then: trips so spectacular that when you get back, that rut won’t feel anything like as deep as before.

CYCLE THE WORLD’S HIGHEST ROAD

A lot of people work through their life crises in Lycra – here’s how to do it in style. Setting off from the lush, alpine valleys of Himachal Pradesh and ending on the parched plateau of Ladakh, this is a lung-busting, nine-day, 270-mile epic ride across the rooftop of India.

There’s nothing technical here (only 35% off-road, the rest on hard-packed gravel), but, as you’ll be crossing the two highest road passes in the world, you’ll want to work off some of that middle-age spread before you take to your pedals. Following a spectacular rollercoaster of a road – clear of snow for only four months a year – the trip crosses five main passes, including the Taglang La (17,324ft), camping in remote, uninhabited valleys normally visited only by yak herders. Once in Leh, it’s back on the bike for the 26-mile, 6,880ft ascent to Khardung La (18,380ft).

Details: Redspokes (020 7502 7252, www.redspokes.co.uk) has 16 nights from/to Delhi for £825, including transfers to Manali, flights back from Leh, support vehicle, guiding, most meals, and a mix of hotel/camping accommodation; bike-hire is £90. British Airways (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com) has flights from Heathrow to Delhi from £522 return.

RIDE WITH LIONS… OR NOT

Ask any safari operator for the best guides in Africa, and two names will pop up like meerkats on red alert: PJ and Barney. Riding-safari specialists in the Okavango Delta since 1986, this husband-and-wife team run trail rides through the Moremi Reserve, camping in an area of the delta teeming with lions, elephants, buffaloes and more than 400 species of bird. You’ll be riding with the wildlife for four to six hours a day. “Riders must be able to gallop out of trouble,” state their trip notes – blimey.

If something a little more “City Slickers” is what you’re after, head to Wyo-ming and break in your jeans driving herds of cattle on the 45,000-acre TX Ranch, roping calves, telling stories round the campfire and sleeping under the stars. You’ll have to relax – your Blackberry won’t work out here, cowboy.

Details: for Africa, In the Saddle (01299 272997, www.inthesaddle.co.uk) has eight-day (seven nights) rides from £3,541pp. The price includes all meals, transfers, guiding and flights from Heathrow with British Airways and Air Bots-wana via Johannesburg to Maun. For budding Billy Crystals, Ranch America (0845 277 3306, www.ranchamerica.co.uk) has 10 days at the TX Ranch from £1,954pp, including flights from Heathrow, all meals, accommodation and equipment.

DRIVE ROUTE 66

Seriously, why not? Sometimes a trip is a cliché because it’s great, and this is one of those. Chicago is a lovely place to see off the jet lag, and while you might question your own sanity during the first few days (“Oklahoma City looks oh-so-pretty” is just a flat-out lie), the rest of this old 2,400-mile highway to the West Coast is a mix of striking, wide-open scenery, fading Americana and, particularly in New Mexico, a fresh generation of artsy new-age communities.

You also get to party hard in Las Vegas, see the Grand Canyon and relax in California. One word of warning, though – the full midlife Monty, of renting an old Cadillac for the trip, is profoundly unwise: Arizona without air conditioning is cruel and unusual.

Details: why try and cram this into two weeks? Take three, and enjoy it. Complete North America (0845 263 7100, www.completenorthamerica.com) has a 21-day itinerary, with car hire, motel accommodation and flights from Heathrow to Chicago and Los Angeles, from £1,864pp, based on two sharing.

SWIM THE INNER HEBRIDES

Ferries are for wimps. Swimtrek holidays are all about proving you’re still a fine physical specimen, and doing so in spectacular surroundings. Best of all, its swimming holidays should inspire you to take plenty of mood-lifting exercise before the departure date, to make sure you stay in the water and out of the support boat.

The British Virgin Islands, the Greek Cyclades and the Dalmatian coast are some of the more tempting options on its island-hopping menu, but for the full, cold-water shock to your world-weary heart, the five-day trip around the Inner Hebrides will act like 700 volts of defib delight.

Kicking off with a trifling half-mile swim north from Islay, the late-summer trips then cross the towering Paps of Jura by foot, before swimming and trekking via a string of tiny isles and bone-white beaches to Croabh Haven, overnighting in hunting lodges and camping in wild glens along the way. Average daily swim: two miles. Average daily companions: otters, seals, golden eagles and dolphins.

Details: Swimtrek (020 8696 6220, www.swimtrek.com) has the five-night Inner Hebrides trip, departing from Port Askaig on Islay, for £525pp, including all meals except two dinners, guiding and support. There are only two places left for this season, but, frankly, you’ll need the practice.

SAIL TO THE AZORES

Wind in your hair, sun on your face, 120ft up the rigging of a 16-sail tall ship as it cuts through the Atlantic – you couldn’t get further from the daily grind if they confiscated your mobile phone (not that they’d actually have to, being this far from the nearest phone mast).

The retracing of the classic eastern Atlantic trade route is no picnic, either: four hours on, eight hours off, with plenty of night watches and rigging duties to keep your mind off things back home, this is a stunning, two-week, 1,200-mile escape, with dolphins, whales and phosphorescence trailing in your wake.

Details: Classic Sailing (01872 580022, www.classic-sailing.co.uk) has 10-14 nights from Portsmouth to the Azores for £380 (this is last season’s price; this year’s is yet to be confirmed), full-board; no previous experience is required. Ebookers.com has flights with TAP Portu-gal, back from Ponta Delgada to Gatwick via Lisbon, from £210.

TAKE THE KIDS TO ’NAM

One considerable source of ageing angst is the narrowing of travel horizons once parenthood heaves into view – to go from hopping the globe to booking the same cottage in Cornwall every summer can be quite a grump-inducer. So, revive your old wanderlust – and watch your kids’ minds broaden by the day – with a family adventure to Vietnam.

Travelling by train and junk, this KE Adventure itinerary includes homestays with hill tribes, a child-friendly sea-kayak outing and a few bite-size jungle treks, with cultural and wildlife experiences to boot. Plus, quite sensibly, it finishes with a spot of bucket-and-spade on the beach.

Details: the two-week tour departs over Christmas and next Easter, and is suitable for children of six and up. The trip costs £845 per adult or child, with KE arranging return flights from Heathrow from £600 (01768 773966, www.keadventure.com).

RAFT INTO AFRICA

If you really want to get deep into Africa – Ethiopia, to be precise – you ride the Omo. Right at the point where a holiday meets an expedition, the 25-day journey along the great southern Ethiopian river should satisfy anyone who thinks their life is running short on adventure (and don’t worry: if you don’t have the annual leave for that much drama, you can cut it in half).

The upper river is rough rafting, with thrilling rapids and tight gorges tearing through dense, wildlife-packed jungle, while the lower river is real Dr Livingstone stuff, gliding along miles of wilderness, past hippo pools, monkey colonies and rare, isolated tribal villages. Is life good enough yet?

Details: the full 25-day trip (running next in October) costs £2,495pp; 12 days on the upper Omo is £1,295, while 16 on the lower is £1,895, with the rafting specialist Water by Nature (01226 740444, www.waterbynature.com). Flights are extra: BMI (0870 607 0555) has fares from £519, from Heathrow to Addis Ababa, in October.

CONQUER THE HIMALAYAS

Nothing short of a spacewalk can equal the view from a Himalayan summit. Rising 21,246ft above the Mera glacier in northeastern Nepal, with views from the top of a Who’s Who of Himalayan icons, including Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Kangchenjunga, Makalu and Cho Oyu, Mera Peak might read like something you need a beard and frostbitten feet to attempt, but actually any determined walker can knock it off if used to hard days out in the Lakes or the Highlands.

Yes, certain stretches require an ice axe, crampons and rope, but Jagged Globe – the most successful UK operator on Everest – doesn’t even demand previous ice-axe/crampon experience, deeming it “recommended… but not mandatory”, building in a glacier-skills training session before the two-day summit bid from base camp. A magnificent 19-day trek, with huge summit views, it’s a life-changer.

Details: Jagged Globe (0845 345 8848, www.jagged-globe.co.uk) has 24 days for £2,465pp, including all meals on the fully guided, portered trek, and two nights, B&B, in Kathmandu, plus guides, porters and flights from London to Kathmandu (via Doha). Three-day Introductory Scottish Winter Climbing courses (recommended) cost £385, half-board, including equipment.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ECUADOR

You don’t have to ice-skate across Siberia to relocate your mojo: just helping others less fortunate than yourself usually does the trick. With nearly 250 two-week to 12-month volunteer projects world-wide, Gap Year for Grown Ups has a huge range of opportunities for inspiration-seekers, from football coaching in Mozambique to orang-utan conservation in Borneo. Ecuador has one of the best projects, teaching English and working with street kids in Quito.

Details: Gap Year for Grown Ups (01892 701881, www.gapyearforgrownups.co.uk) has two weeks in Quito for £499, four weeks for £649, or four weeks including two weeks’ Spanish tuition for £999. All prices include meals, accommodation and support; flights from Heathrow, with Iberia via Madrid, are from £750.

One for the man in search of a Boy’s Own

SKI TO THE NORTH POLE adventure, this. There are many ways to prove you’ve still got the Right Stuff, but skiing to the North Pole takes some beating. Throw in an 80lb sledge, temperatures touching -30C, a polar bear or two, and if this doesn’t get your testosterone pumping again, it’s time to hit the Viagra.

Frankly, just getting to the start is adventure enough, flying in from Long- yearbyen on Svalbard to an abandoned ice floe one degree south of the North Pole. From here, it’s 65 miles of serious slog – skiing, crawling, sometimes even paddling, for eight or nine hours a day across the last degree north, camping for 10 days with just 6ft of pack ice between your tent and 2½ miles of Arctic Ocean. Anyone over 60 need not apply; basic cross-country experience essential, mas- ochistic tendencies a bonus.

Details: the next trip – organised by Borge Ousland (www.ousland.no), the first man to reach the North Pole solo and unsupported – from/to Longyear-byen (April 14-25, 2009), costs £16,300, full-board, including flights, guiding and all equipment except clothing. Trailfinders (0845 050 5892, www.trailfinders.com) has flights from Heathrow to Long-yearbyen (via Oslo) with SAS from £275.

WALK THE BEST OF BRITAIN

With so many miles of long-distance path tracing across the UK, picking the most spirit-soaring, mood-enhancing option is a difficult call – until you remember the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Following 170 miles of the most beautiful cliffs, dunes and beaches on Europe’s Atlantic seaboard, this path will lead you towards stiff breezes and wildlife encounters, plus a muscular heart and a firmer backside.

If you take two weeks (and, if you want to make life easier, snip off the less spectacular very southern section) and put in between four and six hours of walking a day, that’ll leave plenty of time for rest, swimming and refuelling, while ensuring you come home looking healthy, hearty and triumphant.

Details: Contours (01768 480451, www.contours.co.uk) will arrange B&Bs and transport your luggage between them while you guide yourself each day. The 15-night option is £870pp; for a one-week section it’s £410pp.

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