World's Weirdest Vacations
Lying on the beach, skiing in the mountains, hunkering down in a cozy bed and breakfast… All of these are sworn-by vacation ideas. And yet these trodden treks -- so trustworthy in their ability to offer a distraction from the norm -- have been the fall-back option for so long that they've consequently become as habitual as our regular lives. In an effort to reignite the excitement of impending vacation time, some travelers have gone in search of not only the new, but the downright bizarre. Here are some of the world's weirdest vacations:
[See a photo recap of the World's Weirdest Vacations]
Stay on the Plane
There are three major components to the perfect vacation: what you do, what you eat and where you stay. When it comes to traveling, finding the perfect hotel is key. But these days, it seems that travelers are looking for hotels to play a greater role in the overall vacation experience and provide more than just a bed and basic cable. People want pizzazz, a demand to which some hoteliers are rolling their eyes and saying, "Why don't you just get back on that plane… Here, we'll help you." That's the theme of one of Stockholm, Sweden's quirkier places to stay. In some ways, the Jumbo Stay is like any other hostel, except that it's housed within a Boeing 747 airplane. Opened by hotelier Oscar Diös in 2008, this converted jumbo jet features 27 rooms (76 beds) and a cozy little café. The massive plane sits permanently on the tarmac at the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport (ARN), just a 10-minute walk from the check-in counters.
Recent guests rave about this hostel's "cool" factor, claiming that it's THE place for aviation buffs to stay. Although we don't doubt it, the thought of spending a large portion of a vacation on an airplane seems somewhat paradoxical. Planes are often crowded, cramped and (unless the in-flight movie is Oscar gold) boring. It's understandable why everyone is pushing to get out the door as soon as the gate is in sight; in fact, the whole point of boarding an aircraft is to get off it again. But if flying is your favorite part of traveling, by all means, this is the hotel for you.
Tour a Nuclear Disaster Site
On April 26, 1986, a power outage at Chernobyl's Reactor Number Four resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. An attempt to restore activity to the reactor set off a series of explosions, resulting in a dark cloud that snowed radioactive ash over what is now the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. More than 300,000 people were forced to leave their homes, and, according to the International Herald Tribune, approximately 4,000 deaths can be attributed to the accident. The Ukrainian government is opening Chernobyl to the public in 2011 (25 years after the explosion). On a guided tour (starting at $200 per person), you'll get the chance to scope out Reactor Number Four, Rossokha Village (the vehicle scrap yard that now includes the emergency vehicles used during the explosion) and the nearby village of Pripyat, which was abandoned by its about 50,000 residents during the fallout.
Sure, there's a strong historical draw to touring Chernobyl, but the thought of strolling around a nuclear wasteland seems slightly disturbing, especially since most of the area (especially Pripyat) remains in the same haunting condition in which it was left a quarter of a century ago. But Chernobyl isn't the only tourist attraction with a tragic past; other popular sites to visit include Auschwitz and Ground Zero. As travel writer Simon Calder says, "tourism is tragedy plus time."
Vow Not to Speak
One of the main reasons people take a vacation is to escape from their noisy hectic lives. One of the best ways to do just that is to take a meditative holiday. Spiritual tourism isn't a new phenomenon; according to the World Tourism Organization, as of 2007, approximately 600 million voyages were made in search of a religious experience. Half of those were made to India and the Far East. And that should come as no surprise: those regions are said to have more spiritual instructors than any other, not to mention an abundance of peaceful temples and meditative resorts.
But for some, routine rumination just isn't enough. If that's the case, the International Dhamma Hermitage in Chaiya, Thailand has just the ticket: A 10-day soul-search at the Wat Suan Mokkh forest monastery, located about 400 miles south of Bangkok in the Thai jungle. According to the program's website, "The retreat allows us to withdraw from our usual activities to a quiet and secluded place and devote our time to study, contemplation and meditation." But here's the kicker: you must take a vow of silence. Leaders of the International Dhamma Hermitage believe that silence is key to "getting you in the right frame of mind for meditation." Understandable, but anyone who's ever attempted to sit with a bunch of people and not speak for an hour (let alone 10 days) can tell you that it's not an easy feat. Although the hermitage does not specify the consequences for breaking your vow of silence (for any reason other than an emergency), we can imagine that they're not pretty. Just one question, though: what if you're a sleep-talker?
Visit the Kingdom of Little People
Disney World, SeaWorld, Six Flags… All great family getaways. There's no doubt that, despite the chaotic atmosphere and the overpriced snack stands, a theme park vacation is a must-have experience for every child and thus, every parent. These days, there seems to be a park to suit every interest, from chocolate to construction, Jesus Christ to Dolly Parton. But just when we thought that every void had been filled, the Chinese pulled a fast one with the 2009 opening of Dwarf Empire, an amusement park catering to -- and almost entirely staffed by -- little people.
Perched on a hilltop in Kunming (about 1,758 miles southwest of Beijing), this small troupe (whose members all measure four feet or shorter) functions as a true kingdom, complete with an emperor and a parliamentary government. According to Travel and Leisure, "The park … gained worldwide media coverage for employing many of the country's height-challenged, who traditionally have had a hard time finding work. Thanks to the park, many of China's dwarves are now gainfully employed as everything from janitors to crown-wearing empresses." The employees all live and dine together on-site in exchange for performing costumed expositions like break-dancing performances and gourd-instrument concerts for hundreds of curious tourists.
Swim with Pigs
We've all heard that swimming with dolphins is nothing short of unforgettable, but swimming with pigs? While the Bahamas have been a favorite swimming spot among such celebrities as Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage, these serene, sandy beaches are also popular paddling grounds for porkers. No one's really sure how the pigs ended up here. As Caribbean Travel + Life writes, "Common theories are that they're shipwrecked cargo from a supply boat or brave escapees from a neighboring islet." No matter how they ended up here, these seafaring swine are always more than happy to greet visitors, who are encouraged to feed the pigs and even dive in with them.
Those of you who aren't fans of livestock shouldn't worry -- the Bahamas are not overrun with piggies. Rather, anyone looking for a swimming buddy will have to venture out to the Exuma Cays, a string of more than 360 islands located south of New Providence Island. Many visitors head to the Exumas by boat just to experience some quality time with the pigs. There are several tours that include this one-of-a-kind experience, although recent visitors highly recommend Robert's Island Adventures.
Prepare for Take-off
In 1873, author Jules Verne told the story of Phileas Fogg's attempt to travel around the world in 80 days. Unfortunately, we don't all have that kind of time. However, we have more to work with these days than just trains and steamboats: now we have space ships.
That's right. For several million dollars, you can orbit Earth in the new CST-100, a craft specifically engineered for space tourism. According to Space Adventures, a company working to open space travel to private citizens, "Orbital spaceflight is one of the most exhilarating experiences known to man. When you reach Earth orbit you are traveling through space at over 17,000 miles an hour, and are over 200 miles above the earth surface." Programs like the Suborbital Spaceflight and the Lunar Mission will offer earthlings with deep pockets the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their planet from a perspective that only 500 or so other people (and a few monkeys) have witnessed. Participants will train alongside real astronauts before bidding Earth goodbye and traveling upward into the Last Frontier. Sure, launch is still a few years away (Space Adventure says the CST-100 will be ready to go in 2015), but there's already a waiting list. As with every vacation, it's best to book early.