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7 Activities for the Backpacking Adrenaline Junkie

Michael Catford

Adelaide SA, Australia

I’m far from hardcore, but I generally enjoy the feeling of a racing heart and clammy hands. Adrenaline is Mother Nature’s drug, served up for free when you place yourself in the right situation. Never do I feel more alive than when I’m going fast, falling from a height, or using mum’s good fabric scissors to cut up chicken like an absolute madman.

I also like to travel on the cheap, and over the years, I’ve found that plenty of backpackers share my penchant for adrenaline. Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure that both things require. Perhaps I’m drawn to people that are a bit too much like me. Perhaps we’re all just idiots.

But there’s one big issue that comes with being a backpacking adrenaline junkie: exhilarating activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, and throwing diamonds at peasants are all very expensive (to the hostel set, at least). Luckily, there are more than a few ways to get a delicious dose of adrenaline for cheap, or even free, while on the open road. Let’s take a look at 7 heart-pumping activities that’ll only cost you an arm and a leg if you do them badly.*

*Seeker is not liable for any bruises, breaks, amputations, or deaths that might result from these activities. Nothing is more fun than getting home alive, guys.

Hurling yourself off of a cliff

Cliff diving at Kande Beach, Nkhata Bay, Lake Malawi, Malawi.

A high dive into a body of water: the bread and butter of thrill seekers everywhere. No matter where you are in the world (unless it’s the Sahara), there’ll more than likely be some sort of cliff jumping option near you. Locals are your best source of info, followed by the internet.

Before you jump, remember to check the water depth. Once upon a time, I was cliff diving in Portugal and decided to jump on nothing but faith and a quick visual check. As it happened, my feet hit the bottom before my head went under. No damage was done, but if my spine was angled one or two degrees differently, it could’ve been very bad. Cliff jumping isn’t as enjoyable when you’re in a wheelchair, folks.

We recommend: diving into the cool depths of Lake Malawi.

Hiking along steep mountain ridges

W-Trek to Lake of Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chilie.

Hey fellow kids, looking for a cool and rad way to get your blood pumping? Why not try walking? If 20-year-old me had asked for excitement and been offered a hike, he would’ve vomited. Happily, 30-year-old me boasts more maturity and a stronger stomach. As it turns out, hiking can be a brilliant source of adrenaline, provided you choose your walk wisely. A good hike will have a handful of the following:

  • Steep ascents and descents
  • Unfenced cliff edges
  • Water for swimming and diving
  • Close encounters with wildlife
  • Raw, natural beauty
  • Opportunities to climb vertically
  • Angry farmers

I once hiked a route called the W-Trek in Southern Patagonia. Apart from angry famers, it featured all of the things listed above, plus a rotten rope bridge and an avalanche: adrenaline at every turn from nothing more than a stroll.

We recommend: climbing the W-Trek in Torres del Paine National Park.

Scaling up rock walls and super tall trees

Rock climbing with a view.

The young thrill seeker generally gets their start by finding a big old tree and climbing to the top. In excellent news, it turns out this cheap thrill is every bit as fun for an adult! Climbing to a height, whether on a tree, a cliff face, or anywhere else, is an exhilarating and deeply satisfying experience. It’s also (usually) free, as long as the ascent in question is open to the public.

Pro tip: Before you go up, have a plan to come down. What I didn’t tell you about my almost-paraplegic Portuguese experience is that cliff jumping was the last remaining option, because I’d stupidly cut off my only descent.

Pushing the limits with mountain biking

Cliff drop off on Death Road in Bolivia

Why walk when you can ride instead? There’s nothing like the thrill of going fast on two wheels while knowing that one false move can send you flying. And hiring a bike is one of the easiest and cost-effective activities at a backpacker’s disposal.

While it cost a bit more than your average bike ride, my most adrenaline-inducing pedal was Bolivia’s famous Death Road between the capital of La Paz and the Amazonian town of Las Yungas. This road got its name by claiming the lives of around 300 people each year, until another (far safer) road was constructed in 2006. The original road is now used almost exclusively for mountain biking, and the unfenced vertical drops will have you wondering whether the deaths were the result of a fall or an adrenaline overdose.

We recommend: cruising through the lush hills of Ubud, Bali.

Jumping off of buildings to get from Point A to Point B

Urban parkour/ free running, in Taipei, Taiwan.

While running from point A to point B as quickly as possible has been around since we were throwing spears at antelope, parkour, or free running, brings this carnal training into the modern world.

The aim is to get from one point to another without the help of any outside assistance or equipment (so yes, fellow tight-arses, parkour is free) in the most efficient way possible. These points could be anywhere — in the middle of a city, a national park, an abandoned train yard — and running, jumping, climbing, swinging, vaulting, rolling, and crawling might be utilized to complete the task. A lot of training is necessary to get good, but if you ask me, there’s no better use of a backpacking adrenaline junkie’s time.

Pretending you’re a modern day Tarzan

Rope swinging over still waters.

Find one of those dead, boring bodies of water that isn’t surrounded by cliffs? All is not lost. It’s time to use those tree-climbing skills to rig up a swing. A thrill for the price of a stick and a length of rope; it’s a sales pitch that’s hard to turn down. Rope swinging can be made as tame or as wild as you like, and can quickly turn into edutainment as you work out the physics necessary to achieve the biggest possible swing. Learning and fun? Sign me up.

Spending a night alone in the woods

You’re lost in the woods with only a paperclip, a compass, and a can of baked beans at your disposal. And you very intentionally put yourself in this situation.

Survivalism isn’t a pastime for the faint of heart. While the term is usually used to describe the type of people who hoard powdered milk to prepare for the collapse of civilization, thrill-seeking survivalists instead see it as the ultimate test of their mettle. It involves preparing for emergency situations by actually living those situations and most commonly looks a stranded-in-nature type thing, which you might have seen tackled by famous urine guzzler, Bear Grylls. At the most extreme end of the scale, survivalism should only be attempted by people with the proper training, and a backup plan should always be made. But on the plus side, you don’t spend much money drinking river water, eating bugs, and sleeping in caves.