If smashing frontier taboos is your jam, then seek no further. Who knows, you might just help with conservation and contribute to the sum of human knowledge while you’re at it. And if you don’t happen to have huge wads of spare cash or corporate sponsors at the ready, you can always dream.
1. International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is permanently crewed by up to 12 professional astronauts but tourist trips there are organised by Space Adventures. Chances to go to the ISS are made possible by spacecraft already scheduled to launch or on completely private missions. As well as 230 astronauts, so far seven private citizens have visited Earth’s only permanent outpost, all of them through Space Adventures, arriving via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Visitors, who may or may not have a scientific background, can spend around 10 days in space, during which time they are free to join in with a choice of mission programs, including science education, ongoing human factor research or commercial activities.
The ISS’s interior is similar in size to a Boeing 777. It circles Earth in low orbit, travelling at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 km per hour) around 250 miles up. Earth’s rotation means the ISS is constantly travelling over a different bit of the planet, giving weightless guests an extraordinary and ever-changing view.
Richard Garriott, game-developer and son of a NASA astronaut, became the sixth private ISS space guest and spent 12 days in space in 2008 with the aim of promoting space travel. He said, “Looking out the window back at the Earth from space over a period of time, really changes you at a very deep level.”
2. Deep deep down
Fewer people have been to the deepest parts of the ocean than to space and more of the moon has been surveyed than the ocean floor. If the recent Titan submersible catastrophe has not put you off, it could still be possible to arrange a deep sea experience through EYOS. For more than twenty years, EYOS has managed hundreds of dives to the Titanic, as well as carrying out scientific surveys on sea floor openings and assisting with crewed dives to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Located in the western Pacific, the Mariana Trench has been designated a US national monument since 2009. It is the deepest oceanic trench on Earth and its maximum known depth, known as Challenger Deep, is about 11,000 km or nearly 7 miles down.
Named after the god of the underworld and once thought to be lifeless, with pressure over 1000 times that at sea surface level, the sunless Hadal Zone has now been shown to be full of plankton, colourful rock formations, exotic species – and, devastatingly, plastic bags.
3. Heli-ski Antarctica
Any trip to the seventh and most inaccessible continent on Earth is not for your casual snow enthusiast, but heli-skiiing takes it one step further. Various companies offer experiences in this polar wilderness, where one of the challenges is the brutal and ever-changing environment. Helicopters drop participants at one summit, picking them up later to move on to the next. Ice cliff climbing, crevasse abseiling and kayaking past immense icebergs can also be part of what must surely be one of Earth’s ultimate adventures.
Geordie MacKay, co-founder and CEO of Pelorus describes the privilege of being able to get up close and personal with some of Antarctica’s most famous residents:
“For decades it’s only been explorers and scientists who have been able to see these penguins (. . .) but what Pelorus does is enable anyone without any training to go (. . .) It’s a truly humbling experience, and completely respectful to these majestic creatures. And then within a very short space of time you’re back in a heated environment having a gin and tonic (. . .) That’s what really sets us apart in such a hostile and remote environment: being able to have the logistics to pull that off and take people back in comfort and safety.”
4. This place is a dump
Landfill communities around the world are among the most harrowing and rewarding places to volunteer. While you might be discouraged by accusations of “white saviour complex” or the Christian affiliations of some groups, many such projects have no government funding and are completely reliant on volunteer donations.
As well as programmes such as VFV in the Phillipines, one possibility is to work with Extreme Response, an organisation committed to breaking cycles of generational poverty in Quito, Ecuador and elsewhere. Its Quito Dump work includes a women’s support network with two weekly meetings focused on exercise, nutrition, counselling, skills training and business support. A Dream Center for children also offers volunteers the chance to make a difference.
5. Krubera Cave, Abkhazia
Abkhazia is a partially recognised independent state, occupied by Russia and still considered by the Georgian government and nearly all United Nations member states to be a sovereign territory of Georgia. If geopolitical tensions, crime, civil unrest and landmines are not enough reason to be cautious, Krubera is also known as the most dangerous cave in the world.
Formed by water eroding limestone for millennia, it is not yet fully explored. At over 2 km (1.4 miles) deep, it is riddled with complex chambers and passageways, as well as stalactites, stalagmites, and flooded “sumps” or dangerous low pressure zones. Encounters with rare species of spiders, scorpions, and beetles are also a possibility.
Specialist equipment, including tents and breathing apparatus, and meticulous planning are required for any attempt at a descent of this cave, known as Everest. Impassable corridors, steep passages, flood risks and the sheer remoteness of the cave, whose entrance is at an altitude of 2,256 metres (7400 feet) make the chances of rescue slim.