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Wacky Races, Extreme Ironing and the Journey of a Lifetime

The beaten track has indeed been thoroughly beaten and the standard backpacker route is well ingrained into everyone’s holiday. We all come back with the same stories of Full Moon Parties, photos of elephant-riding and dozens of temples. Interrailing across Europe, busing it through Australia and New Zealand, and American road trips: it’s all been done before and it sometimes seems that the originality has disappeared from travelling. However, a bit of digging and exploring shows that this is not the case. Depending on your travel preferences, there are still adventurous and original ways to traverse the globe…

For the Racing Enthusiast

The Mongol Rally sees teams of reckless thrill-seekers kitting out the cheapest, most deliberately inappropriate vehicles they can find, to race across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain and dangerous roads. Starting in Europe, the finish line is 10,000 miles away in the Mongolian capital of Ulaan Bator, and the journey is no mean feat.

The event organisers, ‘The Adventurists’, rigorously enforce the vehicle requirements, stipulating that cars must have an engine capacity no larger than 1.2 litres and motorbikes cannot exceed a power of 125cc. The challenge is to make it, preferably alive and with an intact vehicle, to the finish line, with teams free to choose what the organisers call an ‘un-route’; that is, any route they want to take, be it through Eastern Europe and across the vast expanse of Siberia into Northern Mongolia, or along the wild and unforgiving roads of Central Asia. This is no conventional race, but a daring cross-continent adventure, with no support teams or any form of backup once you set out.

The rally, which begins in July and ends in August, is held in the name of charity, with each team needing to raise £1000, which is then donated to the official rally charity. In 2012, the rally was held for The Lotus Children’s Centre Charitable Trust, an organisation that provides help for abused and abandoned children.

If a 10,000 mile ride to Mongolia sounds too much for you, then ‘Student Adventures’ run a shorter challenge from Kent to Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The drive takes teams through seven countries in seven days, with competitors passing through France, Belgium, Lichtenstein, Italy, Slovenia and finishing in Slovakia. This year, the event is being run from 31st July to 7th August.

At each city along the way, teams are delivered a daily challenge, which according to Student Adventures, will test each team’s “ingenuity, map reading skills and ability to barter in a foreign language”. There are prizes for the team that wins the most points on each day: the most points overall, the best decorated car, and the team ‘least likely to make it’.

There is a registration fee of £99 per team and a fundraising target of only £100, which, depending on your choice, is donated to either The Prostate Cancer Charity or the VSO, an independent international development group.

Richard Collett

For the Intrepid Investigator

If you like the sound of travelling with a circus around Mexico or herding cattle along ancient droveways in Madagascar, whilst recording your entire experience for the BBC, then ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ might just offer you the much needed funds and opportunities to realise your dream. Funded by the Royal Geographical Society and the BBC, ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ offers a £4000 grant to anyone with a unique and inspiring journey that they wish to undertake. This grant is a great opportunity to think way outside of the proverbial box and offers the perfect excuse to undertake a wild adventure. The only catch (if you can even call it one) is that you’ll be expected to make a BBC Radio 4 programme about your experience, for which you’ll receive professional training beforehand; the perfect combination for any budding journalists out there. With the deadline for applications in September this year, there is still plenty of time to wrack your brains to plan the most original and enlightening adventure possible, whilst brushing up on your radio voice.

For those with a desire for more than just an unusual adventure, the RGS ‘Go Beyond’ bursary, run on behalf of Land Rover, provides one lucky team of applicants with a £15,000 bursary and a Land Rover Defender to undertake a geographical journey. This challenge is not for those who wish to party their way around the globe, but will offer any intrepid and inquisitive travellers the chance to really get their heads stuck into a contemporary geographical phenomenon. Previous winners have spent 12 weeks travelling across the globe learning about the realities faced by those who live along fault lines, and another team traced the coastline that could emerge as a result of sea level rise and discovered the consequences for those whose livelihoods would be engulfed. Although the 2012 deadline has now passed, this challenge requires careful planning and must pose a unique question, one for which a Land Rover vehicle is crucial for investigation, so starting now for the 2013 grant might just be the trick to planning a route that will go well beyond the usual tourist trail.

Claudia Baxter

For the Downright Weird and the Incredibly Determined

Imagine yourself standing firm, bracing the icy cold wind that stings your face as you look out over the impossible ascent that you have just haphazardly clambered up. Picture yourself fearlessly teetering on a rope, which hangs ominously between two red sandstone rocks in the middle of the desert. Feel the sensation of jumping out of a plane, with the force of gravity making it hard to breathe and your body limp as it gives into the hopeless freefall. Now re-imagine all these things and put an iron, an ironing board and your favourite Friday night shirt into the picture. This pretty much sums up extreme ironing, the craziest way to get the best press on your laundry.
This is just one of many bizarre ways that people traverse the world and thrive in the unconventional; like Matt, the guy who danced around the world. He got paid by the company Stride Gum to go to 39 countries, over all seven continents in six months, just to enact a bad arm-flailing dance in front of poignant backdrops. The result is a YouTube video with nearly seventeen and a half million hits and a very happy Matt. While Matt has been gleefully bopping around the world, others have been embracing a mission of blood, sweat and tears across the world’s most testing terrains by traversing the world using only one mode of transport. In 2007, a very determined Mark Beaumont cycled around the world in 194 days, covering 18,296 miles and crossing 20 countries, obliterating the previous record by 81 days. This extraordinary feat took green travel to a whole new level and makes the cycle up Derby Road seem like a walk in the park. So if you are a fan of a crease-free shirt, multi-cultural dancing or like slipping into Lycra for some intense pedal-pushing, then combining this with some of the world’s most breath-taking sights and experiences just seems, well, logical!

Sarah Hughes

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