For some people, the ideal vacation consists of sitting by the pool – or on the beach – with a fruity drink in hand and not a care in the world. For a certain segment of the population, however, that's the definition of hell.
Adrenaline junkies live on the edge — and often like to lean over it. And these days, there are plenty of businesses willing to court them. But while bungie jumping and sky diving might have scratched that itch a few years ago, today's thrill seekers have a variety of options.
Incredible Adventures has been luring extreme thrill seekers for 19 years, offering packages that range from exploring the ocean floor to flying in a MiG-29 jet fighter in Russia.
All totaled, the company offers over two dozen adrenaline-pumping vacation options. Beyond fighter jets and personal submarines, the company can also help you spend the day in the boots of a firefighter (complete with entering a burning building and using the jaws of life), skydive in front of Mt. Everest, and train with a former Israeli special forces officer as a tactical operative.
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"It's life changing," says company president Jane Reifert. "We say these people become our friends for life because we have helped deliver a dream. We form this bond with these people, because for many it's been a lifelong dream to do these things."
Incredible Adventures' clientele tend to be entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers — pretty much anyone in a job that requires a Type-A personality, says Reifert. People who live on the edge in their professional life don't often want to sit idly by in their down time.
They also tend to be wealthy. Prices for the expeditions range from $375 (to swim with sharks) to $95,000 (for a suborbital flight).
Spaceflight is actually a thrill ride that has become more and more popular in recent years. Since 2004, Zero Gravity Corp (Zero-G) has been helping people defy the laws of gravity.
The company does contract work for NASA and other educational and research outlets, but has flown over 300 public flights and given over 7,000 people the opportunity to experience weightless conditions. Flights cost just shy of $5,000 each – plus tax.
Company officials note their customers often say they'd rather spend that money on a memory than on something tangible.
"I think people are leaning more towards experience as opposed to materialistic things," says Krysta Cossitt, operations manager at Zero-G. "You get a lot of people who join us who have it all, so why not do something more experience based? They give it to themselves as a birthday gift or graduation present."
How about a trip to outer space?
If weightlessness isn't enough, Sir Richard Branson is just about ready to take you to outer space. Virgin Galactic's "Spaceship Two" has been cleared for test flights and is expected to begin commercial flights in 2013.
More than 520 people have already signed up for the two-and-a-half hour flight that will take them 62 miles above the earth. The price tag for that journey? $200,000. (It's worth noting that the wait list for Virgin Galactic is already longer than the total number of people who have been in space since the first trip in 1961.)
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Of course, for those who prefer to stay earthbound, there are plenty of other options. You could go Yak Skiing in Tibet — or dive with a Great White Shark in Mexico.
Or, if speed is your need, you can strap into the driver's seat of a Nascar vehicle and drive at speeds of 170 mph or higher. The Nascar Racing Experience travels to roadways around the country, including Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte and Las Vegas, letting between 80,000 and 100,000 people per year get in touch with their inner Kyle Busch for prices ranging from $365 to $3,000.
"The majority of people come out and do this and think 'We're going to check this off our bucket list'," says Bob Lutz, president and CEO of Nascar Racing Experience and Mario Andretti Racing Experience. "But once they drive the race cars, it's addictive. We get a lot of repeat business."
Lutz also founded his chief competition – the Richard Petty Driving Experience – in 1993 and has watched the thrill-seeker business market evolve. And while there are substantially more opportunities for people to peer over the edge, he thinks the thirst for unique experiences like race car driving and other adrenaline-fueled activities is on the rise.
"There are more opportunities, but people are more adventurous now," he says. "I'm really seeing our customer change. When I first got into this biz in 1990 … there were concerns that we were going to run out of race fans to market this to. As the business grew and we added more locations and more people came through, though, it started branching out and attracting thrill-seekers, rather than hardcore race fans."
While there's plenty of adrenaline-fueled fun in the U.S., most companies that cater to adventure seekers note that if you're looking for terrestrial extreme fun, you'll often have to leave the country.
"You can do more outside the country in terms of high adrenaline because of the legal climate," says Reifert. "The U.S. government tends to regulate the fun out of things. You can't buy a ride in a fighter jet in the U.S. It's illegal. You can do more to attract sharks in the Bahamas. You can skydive in front of Mt. Everest in Nepal, but you can't get a permit to do that in front of mountain here in the U.S."