Give an adventure: Our top picks for experiences you can gift

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of experiences. And this gift-giving season, we encourage you to give them without hesitation—you might just change someone’s life (or at the very least, their weekend.)

In this strange season of rampant consumerism, it can be easy to forget that experiences have been scientifically proven to bring us longer-lasting benefits than stuff.

After all, a new travel neck pillow is nice, but it isn’t going to change your life (but if you’ve found one that has, let us know). That’s why you always hear people referring to their “life-changing experiences” and never their “life-changing travel pillows.”

So instead of buying material goods, consider gifting your loved ones a private cooking class via Skype with a Michelin-starred chef from Singapore, or a wilderness survival course, or even a mystery flight. Here are our editors’ top picks for experiences to gift this holiday season.

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Walking the world: Is this the most adventurous way to travel?

Walking has the power to connect people and cultures in a fast-paced world. Featured contributor and long-distance walker Leon McCarron, whose latest book charts his 1000-mile walk through the Middle East, explores this primal pursuit.

In almost every aspect of life, from news to travel, we live in an era of instantaneity. So choosing to move at just about the slowest speed that exists for an entire day—or a week or a year—might seem unusual at best, and downright counterproductive at worst.

So why do we walk? We go for fresh air, or to keep healthy, or simply to release endorphins and improve our mood. We walk to clear our heads, and take a break from home or the office. In some places, we might walk instead of taking a car but it’s rare, for most of us anyway, that we walk as an actual method of transportation.

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Trump’s war on public lands: What to know and how to fight back

Where will Trump’s attack on public lands end? Here’s everything you need to know about the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante land grab, and how you can help protect these sacred national monuments. 

A drive down a dirt road that threatened to bottom out my Kia Soul and one single day hike through a narrow canyon; the walls looking like massive sculptures of red and tan clays, the cottonwood trees’ leaves a brilliant yellow.

That’s all it took for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to carve a permanent space in my mind as a place I wanted to explore time and again. But unless I move to Utah and devote myself to Grand Staircase full-time, I’ll never know it as deeply as I would like: The National Monument is huge.

Or, make that, was huge; 1,880,461 acres huge, to be precise. On December 4, President Trump issued a proclamation slashing Grand Staircase’s size by half while also decimating Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah, by 85 per cent.

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Is this the best island in the world for stargazing?

The stars over New Zealand’s Great Barrier island are 10 times brighter than those over Europe. Emma Thomson turns her gaze upwards on the world’s first Dark Sky Sanctuary island.

“It’s estimated that in Europe you can only see 500 stars with the naked eye, but out here you can see 5,000,” says local stargazing guide Hilde Hoven. ‘Here’ is Great Barrier Island—New Zealand’s sixth-largest, a 30-minute flight northeast of Auckland—and in August of this year, it was designated the world’s first ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary island.’ There are only two other Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world—the Cosmic Campground in the US state of New Mexico and Chile’s government observatory at Gabriela Mistral—but Great Barrier is the first island to gain that same status.

Until three months ago, Aucklanders escaped here on weekends to indulge in bush walks, wildlife, and white-sand beaches. But now something altogether brighter has taken the spotlight.

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Conquering the world’s most dangerous road (on a mountain bike)

Bolivia’s Death Road might be famous for claiming 300 lives a year, but writer Andrew Fenton finds tackling it on two wheels can offer travelers far more than just bragging rights.

From the moment you arrive in La Paz, Bolivia, it’s the question on every traveler’s lips: ‘Have you ridden Death Road?’

In every bar, there’s at least one adventurer in an “I Survived Death Road” T-shirt, explaining how they’d hurtled down a mist-covered mountain track on two wheels, a few feet away from a deep abyss.

“Hundreds of people die on the road every year!” they tell you.

Incredibly, it’s almost true: The narrow, cliff-hugging Yungas Road, from the mountains near La Paz to the Amazonian rainforest, really did used to claim more than 300 lives a year. Its reputation stretches as far back as 1937, when boy reporter Tintin jumped clear at the last moment after his car plunged over the road’s edge in Tintin and the Broken Ear. And the legend only grew when the Inter-American Development Bank called it ‘the world’s most dangerous road’ in a 1995 report.

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Inside Ilulissat, Greenland, the iceberg capital of the world

Ilulissat, Greenland. The land of icebergs, Inuit traditions, sled dogs, sea birds and Santa Claus. Follow photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström’s journey through the ‘iceberg capital of the world.’

The eerie crackling of breaking ice. The crushing sound of iceberg meeting iceberg—slow moving giants the size of five-story buildings. The howling of sled dogs piercing through the silent night. Greenland awakens all your senses and its jarring landscapes continue to awe travelers willing to brave chilling sub-zero temperatures.

How was I lured here? A book.

It was an intriguing tale of the first African ever to set foot on the world’s largest island, back in the ‘60s. A few years ago, I’d poured through Togo-born Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s book, An African in Greenland. Fascinated by his journey, I vowed to follow in (some) of his footsteps and see those same icebergs that had first intrigued him some 50 years ago.

So here I am, 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, heading towards Ilulissat. Formerly known as Jakobshavn, the name “Ilulissat” means “iceberg” in Greenlandic Inuit—and the town is fittingly called the “iceberg capital of the world” (although, Newfoundland, Canada, with its Iceberg Alley, claims the same moniker.)

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Beyond Middle-earth: What is New Zealand’s secret power?

Yes, The Lord of the Rings films delivered an enormous surge of travelers to New Zealand in the early 2000s. But tourism here has been booming since the 1980s—for a very good reason.

Some would blame the hobbits. When you consider the popularity of this modest little island, it’s easy to assume it’s all the fault of those hairy-footed characters that so famously rove New Zealand’s wilds. Even Elijah Wood, The Hobbit himself, once declared: “There’s a real purity in New Zealand that doesn’t exist in the States. It’s actually not an easy thing to find in our world anymore.”

So why not attribute the country’s fame to a huge film franchise and some mind-bendingly beautiful scenery? Ever since the first The Lord of the Rings film was released in 2001, tourists have been flocking to New Zealand to experience Middle-earth, to see if the real place could possibly match up to the beautiful images on screen.

Spoiler alert: It could.

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