There are vacations, and then there are vacations that change your life for the better. Sure, you can sit on a beach and sip a chilled beverage. Why not step outside of your comfort zone and do something you can tell your children and grandchildren about?
Get some adventure in your life by taking one of these trips that will make you a better person!
Ain’t no way around it: Man has to be able to navigate a wine list, but there’s no need to become a master of wine here, so put down that 54-piece aroma kit, my son. An above-average fluency in grape varietals, wine regions and food pairings will really put a man at ease at the dinner table, and the best way to achieve that is full immersion. Organize a wine tour (or get a package deal) of a region that interests you and be sure to include both major producers and smaller, family-run vineyards. Eat the local food. Taste the full portfolio of wines (the word terroir will start to make sense).
Go here: Napa and Sonoma, CA; Columbia Valley, WA; Rioja and Basque Country, Spain; Burgundy, France; Central Valley, Chile.
In a perfect world, we’d all do a stodge in a restaurant kitchen and learn how to cook a piece of meat the right way every time, without pressing the skin between thumb and forefinger. The truth is that no cookbook — not even one by that old goat Escoffier — can teach you what experience will impart. A cooking tour is a happy medium: learn by doing without anyone yelling at you for forgetting to fire the souffles. Choose the tours that are less about sightseeing and more about technique, like hand-making pasta and bread, or sausages and charcuterie. Also, go somewhere that has relatively similar ingredients to your home state so the skills translate when you get back.
Go here: Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, Italy; Provence, France; Catalonia, Spain; Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico.
Car Racing & Test Driving
Wining and dining is well and good, but it won’t help you out much in a high-speed car chase. If you’re not trying to attack a convoy and steal a briefcase Ronin-style, the Better Man should at least know how to drive a standard and handle a car under adverse conditions. Car-racing schools and test-driving trips will get you partway there by exposing you to high speeds, challenging terrain and, in some cases, glamour.
Go here: NASCAR Racing Experience in Talladega; Bondurant School of High Performance Driving; Lamborghini tour in Italy.
Go here: All over the world with WWOOF, Natural Habitat Adventures; goat farms in India.
Here’s the thing about traveling by human-powered vehicle: You get a sense of the geography, you get in great shape, and you get a good tan. You become one with the terrain. This is true at home — a lot of U.S. cities are becoming very bike-friendly, with bike-share programs and dedicated paths — and on a vacation somewhere awesome. If you’re handy with repairs and good at planning, you can plan a cycling trip yourself. Otherwise, tour operators like Butterfield & Robinson and Patagonia Biking take care of details like food, shelter and navigation.
Go here: Patagonia, Nepal, Croatia, and Switzerland.
Adventure philanthropy is a new phrase for volunteering on steroids, often led by well-educated and experienced travelers. The idea is to pack an amazing expedition into the same fortnight as a project to help a local community, the type of thing old-school explorers like Sir Edmund Hillary were known for. Outfits like Roadmonkey — started by a former war correspondent for The New York Times — might take you to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and then into a village where you’ll build a school.
Go here: Peru, Tanzania, Vietnam.
Road Trip With The Bros
This may sound like a recipe for hooliganism, but if you surround yourself with the right people, a road trip with one or two of your best bros will strengthen your bonds and be a lasting well of memories. The soul of the road trip is few plans and less cash (if you’re staying in luxury hotels on your way to a surfing resort, that’s just called vacation), so pick a place that’s not a tourist destination and take a few weeks to explore.
Go here: The Mississippi Delta; Coastal California; Prince Edward Island, Canada; Mission Valley, Montana.
Language Immersion Vacation
Let’s call this a working vacation. The idea is this: You have a beginner’s knowledge (would you rather I called you a novice?) of German from college, but it’s only enough to get you in a conversation you can’t finish at the local beer hall. Going to the country alone for a few weeks and studying while there can be a gamechanger. Gregarious, self-motivated types might be able to get by without a course, but others will want to enroll in language-immersion courses upon arrival.
Go here: Language Immersion School in Veracruz, Mexico; Language Vacation in Berlin, Germany; Coeur de France in Sancerre, France.
Cliché or not, having a sense of heritage is an important part of being a Better Man. In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (a book that should be on every man’s shelf), Barnes tells Cohn, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” But if you travel with the intention of being fully with yourself, then knowing where your family came from is the best place to start.
Go here: The open road.
When it comes right down to it, even desk-jockey city dwellers want to know how to handle themselves in the wilderness. That’s because the skills translate anywhere, from helping you locate the north side when coming out of the subway to doing advanced first aid in an emergency. Just how gnarly the experience is depends on the program. At the entry level, there’s Outward Bound. The Boulder Outdoor Survival School will teach you the “old ways” of living. Or you could get serious and do a year in Patagonia with the National Outdoor Leadership School.