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7 Travel Destinations That Answer the Call of the 'Wild'

7 Travel Destinations That Answer the Call of the 'Wild'

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Not everyone can quit their job to go on a solo lost-and-found journey like Cheryl Strayed, who chronicled her 1995 cathartic backpacking trip on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) in her best-selling memoir, Wild, now a Fox Searchlight production starring Reese Witherspoon, out this December. If only we could all squeeze in a 93-day, 1,100-mile trek from the Mojave Desert, CA to Portland, OR during a typical two-week vacation time! But while you may not literally be able to follow in Strayed's footsteps, you can forge your own adventure in the time you have. To find the trip that will challenge your mind, body, and spirit, look for a destination that both interests and scares you. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a huge part of reaching that breaking point that lets you rebuild yourself. (If a rugged adventure isn't really your thing, check out 5 Amazing Fit Trips to Take This Winter for a different kind of getaway.)

Oh, and you don't need to be an expert to dive into a totally wild adventure. In Strayed's case, she knew little about backpacking, wore boots that were too small, and over-stuffed her monstrous pack. Dare to test your limits and learn about yourself in the process on one of these seven challenging, but totally doable trips that include hiking, skiing and cycling excursions. Keep a journal, because who knows? Your experience may one day serve as fodder for your own memoir-turned-movie.

Photo: Getty Images

Patagonia, Chile

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This mythical-sounding place located at the tip of South America may seem too far and too pricey. But, Chile-based tour operator Fantastico Sur offers a 44-mile, five-day and four-night trek (from $445 per person) of the well-known “W” circuit, which literally traces the formation of a W in Torres del Paine National Park, the newly-crowned eighth wonder of the world (as of last November). That low price includes no-frills accommodations and shuttle service to/from the park, but no meals or a guide. You'll need to add $285 and $1040, respectively, for those amenities. Expect to be hiking anywhere from five to 12 hours a day, which will give you plenty of time to take in the humbling views of majestic glaciers, skyscraping peaks, and ice blue fjords.

Photo: Courtesy of Turismo Chile

Lander, WY

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Learn from Strayed's mistakes and become a pro before you go. Take the incredibly popular Intro to Backpacking course Wind River Wilderness at the National Outdoor Leadership School ($3,675 person), the Harvard of outdoor skills. The 13-day course features no more than 12 students (minimum age is 23), with two instructors who teach you how to explore approximately 40 miles of trails through the rugged, glacier-carved range. Channel your inner Bear Grylls and catch trout for dinner, then cook it over a camp stove under the stars. Other skills on the curriculum: how to use a GPS, read a map, conquer mountains, and sleep in a grizzly bear habitat.

Photo: iStock

El Camino de Santiago, Spain

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Nothing spells pilgrimage better than El Camino de Santiago. The world-renown route that stretches nearly 500 miles from southern France to Santiago de Compostela, the northwestern Spanish city where St. James is buried, has attracted millions since before the Middle Ages. Walking the spiritual trail could take up to two months to complete—or you can do a portion of it in nine days, eight nights with Country Walkers ($3,598 per person). The self-guided, award-winning tour, which averages five to nine miles a day, puts you on the best path to experience El Camino's highlights, including ornate Gothic cathedrals, medieval villages, sprawling vineyards and unique landscapes like the rugged Pyrénées. The nearly all-inclusive price is high, but you'll be thankful for the luxe accommodations to rest your barking dogs.

Photo: Getty Images

Northern California

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Strayed started her journey of self-discovery in the golden state, so it might serve you well, too. Backroads ($2,998 per person) offers a six-day, five-night all-inclusive hiking and walking tour from the secluded shores of Tomales Bay to the urban waters of San Francisco Bay. Every day, your three trip leaders will create an action plan that caters to your fitness level, whether you're a beginner or ready for Everest. Expect distance ranges from as little as 2.7 miles to as much as 15.2 miles a day for hikes that may take you through the stunning redwoods and lush fir forests to your farm-to-table dinner. (And next time you're on a hike, keep up your exercise routine with this Total-Body Hiking Workout.)

Photo: Getty Images

Costa Rica

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Maybe the biggest challenge for you is a digital detox. With Contiki's Costa Rica Unplugged (from $2,315 per person ages 18 to 35), you can easily fall off the grid—away from cell reception, satellites and even civilization—in the Central America's jungles, rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, coffee plantations and more. The guided, mostly inclusive 12-day, 11-night trip, offers lots of physical activities, like hiking, rafting, kayaking, waterfall rappelling, snorkeling, surfing and horseback riding. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to push yourself and grow. But above all else, this trip will allow you to escape your day-to-day, and that always puts into perspective what you want and need (or don't) in life.

Photo: Getty Images

Yellowstone National Park, MT

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The country's first national park, established in 1872, spans 2.2 million acres and is a no-brainer for a get-lost-and-find-yourself adventure. But rather than wait til next summer to watch Old Faithful erupt, consider joining Zephyr Adventures' five-day, four-night Yellowstone Multisport Winter Tour ($1,900 per person), which includes lodging, most meals, guides, van support and local transportation. The park is closed to traffic in the winter, so you will essentially have the place all to yourself—not counting its year-long residents such as grizzlies, wolves, and herds of bison and elk. Spend time cross-country skiing and/or snowshoeing through Aspen trees or ice skating on frozen creeks (you choose!) under an impossibly clear, big sky. You work as hard as you want to, so all fitness abilities are welcome.

Photo: Getty Images

Greenville, SC

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Hiking might have been Strayed's mode of transportation, but another activity, such as biking, might better evoke a pensive state of mind. If you prefer reflecting and taking in beautiful settings while on two wheels, this is the perfect cycling adventure: Trek Travel offers a Ladies Club four-day, three-night ride camp ($999 per person) along the breathtaking foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The all-inclusive package includes a 20- to 30-mile ride on the official race course of the USA National Championships with retired pro cyclist George Hincapie (a key domestique of Lance Armstrong during their Tour de France heyday). Don't worry, he won't race you, but maybe he'll let you draft off him during at least part of the challenging 345-mile ride, complete with 13,000-feet of climbing. (When you're done with your ride, cool down with The Best Yoga for After a Bike Ride.)

Photo: iStock

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