Revolution Chasers Redefine Adventure Travel

PHOTO Travelers like Ali Caldicott see countries in turmoil as irresistible adventures.
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Forgive travelers like Ali Caldicott who see countries in turmoil as irresistible adventures.

Egypt, Somalia, Afghanistan, take your pick. The bigger the upheaval, the more tempting, as far as these adventure travelers are concerned.

"Curiosity, mainly," Caldicott, 33, said matter-of-factly, explaining his risky travel preferences.

Among his destinations, which he has charted in a series of books from some of the world's most difficult locations: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, parts of Colombia and Myanmar, to name a few.

"I wanted to see and experience for myself places I'd read about and seen on TV … experiences are the true wealth of a fully lived life," he said of encounters that included a run-in with Afghan Taliban who he believed were trying to break into his hotel room.

"It can be very easy to come up with reasons why we can't do things or can't go to certain places, but my attitude has largely been one of why not just go?"

Caldicott navigates a world where travelers are more tempted to run toward the kind of civil unrest that has shaken the Middle East and Africa this month, instead of away from it. But the pursuit of authenticity and an outsize tolerance for risk can become a dangerous mix, hence the need for U.S. State Department travel warnings and an industry's worth of cautionary travel books and blogs.

It's a combination that requires discipline and self-awareness, a well-traveled college president warned.

"When it comes to risk, I believe that various people, because of various things in their lives, have different levels of risk they are willing to engage in," said Roger Casey, president of McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., and a media studies expert who has traveled to 70 countries himself.

"I have to emphasize that people know where the boundaries of risk are for themselves. I think you have to be really careful in these environments when you don't have enough knowledge about the culture itself."

The defining moment for Caldicott is when he's "genuinely uncertain about how or if you will ever come out in one piece on the other side. I had that sensation in all those places," he said of facing the Taliban, in particular, as well as witnessing a violent earthquake in the mountains of Pakistan.

He said he also found his way to Venezuela in 2002 during the attempted overthrow of President Hugo Chavez and to Budapest during a similar uprising.

Meanwhile, the U.K. resident who's currently in Colombia counts Yemen among the countries on his to-explore list; where the government is waging its own battles against protesters.

But even Caldicott has his limits, resisting any urges to set out for Egypt and warning would-be revolution chasers to think twice, if not three times.

"It sounds like some sort of adrenaline entertainment, like when people stop to gawk at car crashes," he said. "But you're bound to stand out as an outsider and your presence might in the end be counterproductive if exploited in the wrong way."

Unlike Caldicott, Joey Tafuro, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, is relatively new to daring adventure travel, spending his final semesters in college planning his most risky travels so far. So the response from his family and friends when he discussed the plans didn't come as a complete shock.

"Watch out for pirates," one family member told him.

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