What Adventure-Seeking Travelers Want in a Vacation

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Adventure travel and its enthusiasts have changed. While bungee jumping off a bridge, or rafting through churning whitewater still deliver thrills that draw adrenaline junkies, more and more adventure followers these days seek transformative experiences, according to research by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and East Carolina University. ATTA defines a transformative experience as one that promotes personal growth and change.

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Mountain biking was cited by 81 percent of New Adventure Traveler survey respondents as an activity in which they’re interested when on an adventure-travel vacation.

When research collaborator Dr. Paige Viren surveyed National Geographic Adventure magazine subscribers in 2008 she found “risk and competence” ranked high for these travelers. In describing why they chose certain trips, respondents used words such as “risk,” “hardcore,” “extreme,” “danger” and “power.”

In 2015, Dr. Viren and Dr. Alison K. Murray, East Carolina University, surveyed a similar sample of more than 1,000 Outside Magazine subscribers and their vocabulary changed. The respondents rated “life-changing experience” and enjoying “personal growth and challenge” as top motivators for their selection of outings. For respondents “being in a natural environment,” “learning,” “meaningful experiences,” and “being in a new culture” superseded risk as an element of adventure.

ATTA’s results have interesting ramifications for the adventure travel industry. Future ATTA reports may provide information on how or if outfitters are changing their products to add meaningful experiences that allow an understanding of culture and take place in a natural environment.

It might be that the bungee jumper would choose bouncing off the 364-foot high Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River that separates Zambia and Zimbabwe, followed by a safari. Or, the safari could come first and the drop and dangle would be an add-on. The whitewater rafter might select a Costa Rica trip because it comes with the chance to experience another culture instead of a paddling outing in Utah.

Top 10 Motivators for Adventure Travelers

1. Transformation, cited by 359 respondents

2. Expanded worldview, cited by 260

3. Learning, cited by 222

4. Nature and discovery, cited by 188

5. Mental health (escape and renewal), cited by 152

6. Fun and thrills, cited by  142

7. Connection (bonding/ meet new people), cited by 83

8. Meaningful stories (experiences to remember), cited by 55

9. Physical health (exercise/strength), cited by 54

10. Unique experience, cited by 37

ATTA’s List of Adventurer’s Top Destinations

1. New Zealand, 62 percent

2. Australia, 60 percent

3. South America, 54 percent

4. South Pacific, 51 percent

5. Western Europe, 50 percent

6. Central America, 49 percent

7. Central Europe, 44 percent

Activities Sought by the New Adventure Traveler

1. Hiking, 90 percent

2. Backpacking, 87 percent

3. Trekking, 86 percent

4. Kayaking (sea/whitewater), 85 percent

5. Rafting, 85 percent

6. Climbing, (mountain/rock), 84 percent

7. Mountain biking, 81 percent

8. Scuba diving, 80 percent

9. Caving, 79 percent

10. Camping, 78 percent