Travel should transform. Choose your destination wisely, and then the voyage itself, the people you meet, the foods you sample, and the experiences you have will mean you’ve arrived in a whole new place—physically, spiritually, philosophically. This kind of travel isn’t exactly relaxing, but is mere relaxation ever really that satisfying? Our purpose here—on these pages, on this planet—is to squeeze the maximum amount of joy, hilarity, challenge, and accomplishment out of our allotted time. What better way to do that than to travel to places that won’t just be a change of scene, but rather, can provoke a change in you? Men’s Health accumulated 20 such transformative travel experiences. We handpicked 10 of our favorites from the list so check them out then visit Men’s Health to see the rest and start planning your trip. Maybe it’s time to get lost, and find yourself.
Paddle the Grand Canyon
Tackle 300 miles of some of the most powerful white water on the planet the old-school way, in a wooden boat.
Why: Spending 13 to 18 days navigating the Colorado River through the mile-deep canyon, gazing up at 2 1/2 billion years’ worth of the earth’s crust on a nimble dory that launches you off the lips of roiling rapids turns you into a geologist, a waterman, and a more humble human being.
Do it: 13 to 18 days from $4,270, oars.com/grandcanyon/dories. Raft trips are also available.
For the truest racetrack experience, skip the supercar challenges that cost thousands of dollars. Instead, hit the Bondurant Kart Racing School in Phoenix. You’ll spend the first part of your 4-hour session studying acceleration and braking strategies; then you’ll race around the track. These 200-pound rockets have six-speed transmissions and disc brakes, launch to 100 miles per hour in 6 seconds, and corner at 2.5 Gs.
Why: Apart from the thrill (and the sweet smell of burning rubber), you’ll learn skills that could make you a safer driver.
Do it: $425, bondurant.com
Master the Art of Grilling
Steven Raichlen, the author of Planet Barbecue!, teaches a 3-day barbecue course twice each summer at the five-star Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. To Raichlen, barbecue is more than just an American obsession with fiery regional rivalries. It’s a global cuisine. And his syllabus reflects that with recipes from Argentine steak houses, Thai street carts, and Korean BBQ joints.
Why: After Barbecue University, everything you cook on the grill—salmon, steak, vegetables, and desserts (like pear and raspberry crumble smoked in a cast-iron skillet)—will taste better.
Do it: $1,950, barbecuebible.com/bbqu
Catch and Grill Trout
Stalking, hooking, cleaning, and cooking your own trout is a rite of passage. The Ranch at Rock Creek, in southwestern Montana, is A River Runs Through It country and the place to hone your fly casting. Ride into the Sapphire Mountains, spend the afternoon strategically positioning your fly in the watery path of wild rainbow, brown, bull, and cutthroat trout, and then grill your catch whole over the fire.
Why: It’s the Western movie fantasy of horses, fishing, and mountains incarnate.
Do it: $800 a day for food, lodging, and guide service, theranchatrockcreek.com
Kayak with Blue Whales
The world’s largest mammal can reach lengths of 100 feet (think three school buses) and weigh in at 200 tons—more than an entire herd of elephants. Hundreds of these leviathans winter in the Sea of Cortez, at a preserve off Baja Mexico called Loreto Islands Bay Marine Park. It’s the only place in the world where you’re likely to be able to paddle with them.
Why: Sidling up to a submarine-size blue in your 17-foot Sea Quest Expeditions kayak will remind you of your place in the pecking order.
Do it: $1,000 for 6 days, sea-quest-kayak.com
Make Pinot Noir
Think you know wine? Wait till you’re standing among the vines at a Russian River Valley winery with a harvesting knife in your hand. Every September, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and Sonoma County Vintners join up with Relish Culinary Adventures to sponsor the 3-day Sonoma County Grape Camp. You’ll learn the entire winemaking process, from picking to crushing to blending, and go on tastings throughout the region.
Why: Anyone can make beer. You’ll gain a deeper insight into the art and science of what makes a great wine.
Do it: $1,750 per person per couple, sonomagrapecamp.com
Climb a Redwood
The 1,500-year-old, 300-foot-tall redwoods of California’s Humboldt County scrape the sky. But for conservation reasons, climbing them is illegal except by organized canopy tour. With North Coast Adventure Centers, you’ll shimmy up seven stories before spending the next 2 to 3 hours taking in an eagle’s-eye view of Redwood Park by zipline.
Why: It’s fun, and you’ll contemplate your own humble existence in the shadows of these giants that witnessed Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s arrival in 1542.
Do it: $65, northcoastadventurecenters.com
Camp on a Volcano
The mountain might rumble, hiss, and spew fiery boulders at any time, your shoes will probably melt, and you can roast a marshmallow at the 8,373-foot summit of Guatemala’s Volcán Pacaya. Most hikers do this trip in a day, but if you camp overnight on the volcano, you’ll hear the lava roll through the forest crunching vegetation, and see it light up the night sky without another traveler in sight.
Why: Where else can you walk up to globs of 2,000˚ F–plus liquid and see inside the earth’s core?
Do it: $70 for 2 days, oxexpeditions.com
Find Nemo (and His Supporting Cast)
The world’s second-largest barrier reef, off the coast of Belize, brims with so much marine life that scientists have identified only a fraction of the species living there. It’s home to the world’s largest West Indian manatee population, 500-plus species of fish, 65 kinds of coral, and a jamboree of sharks, turtles, and birds. It’s such a diverse ecosystem that it was named a World Heritage Site—and you don’t even need scuba gear to appreciate its splendor. Just bring a mask and snorkel.
Why: The 185-mile-long reef, considered one of the world’s seven underwater wonders, could soon go the way of Hanging Gardens of Babylon because it’s under threat from warming temperatures and ocean acidification, among other factors.
Do it: From $1,050 for 5 days, Slick Rock Adventures, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef Atoll, slickrock.com
Trek the Himalayas
Hike the 150-mile trail around the 26,545-foot shark tooth that is Annapurna, and do it the way a local would, by eating and staying at teahouses in Nepalese villages. Going without a guide lets you set your own schedule, so you can spend an extra day or two in favorite spots.
Why: Two reasons. First, large segments of the circuit are expected to be turned into roads in the next couple of years, adding unwanted company to the climbs up 17,000-foot passes and polluting the pristine Himalayan views. Second, every time you look in the mirror afterward, you’ll see the guy who trekked Annapurna without a guide.
Do it: For details on trip and route planning, pick up the bible of Nepal hiking guidebooks, Trekking in the Annapurna Region, by Bryn Thomas ($18, 4th edition).