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Skiing in Antarctica. Dinner with the pope. Illegal border crossings? Extreme adventure tourism is hitting new heights.

It’s easier than ever to visit some of the world’s most inaccessible places — if you can afford it.

High stakes, big checks: the rise of extreme tourism
Reporter Spencer Buell explains the rise of extreme tourism for the super rich and how trips are becoming more dangerous.

When Boston’s big-spending travelers reach out to Kristin Chambers, they’ve typically already seen it all.

Skiing in the Alps? Safaris in Tanzania? Yacht trips to Italy’s Amalfi Coast?

Check, check, and check.

Even visits to glacier-strewn Antarctica aren’t as glamorous as they once were, now that plenty of average folks head there by cruise ship each year.

For the truly restless, a popular new trip the upscale travel consultant has arranged takes clients to a remote camp of futuristic space pods on a sheet of ice near the South Pole, a place only reachable by private plane.

At $150,000 per person for a week in the bitter cold, it isn’t cheap. But that’s “extreme tourism” for you.


“There’s always those that are really looking to up-level and go where almost no one on Earth can go,” said Chambers, who runs the Newbury Street firms D.A. Luxury Travel and TRAVELLUSTRE. “They’ve been super successful in their careers. They’ve accomplished, accomplished, accomplished. So, what’s next?”

A growing and sometimes controversial industry exists to provide exclusive, expensive, and dangerous travel itineraries to the world’s wealthiest would-be explorers, people who seek to push the boundaries and embark on journeys to the ends of the earth, the edge of space, or the bottom of the ocean.

Last week’s tragic loss of five people aboard the Titan submersible — a vessel that, for $250,000 per person, brought travelers 12,500 feet underwater to the Titanic wreckage — has brought renewed attention to these out-of-reach opportunities and exposed the risks and ethical concerns involved.

Despite the dangers, such trips have been growing in popularity for years, as previously unthinkable treks become more accessible to anyone with deep enough pockets.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin routinely brings paying customers to near-space for a rumored $1 million. Climbers are flocking to Mount Everest in record numbers, with some paying six figures for “fully custom” experiences. And amateur adventurers can now get to the North and South poles in just days — a trip that would take months a few decades ago.


Submarine trips deep underwater have been offered not just to the Titanic, but also — for three times the price — to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the oceans.

“The more technology improves, faster and faster, and the desire and the will exists to do these more extreme trips, I think they’ll be more prominent and prevalent,” said Leora Lanz, assistant dean at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration. “People want to make sure that they do things that have great meaning. For some, that’s extreme travel.”

The Titan submersible imploded on a dive to the Titanic last week. Uncredited/Associated Press

It’s also, at its core, a competition.

Modern adventurers don’t just want to scale Everest anymore. They also tackle the “Seven Summits,” a series of trips to the tallest peaks on every continent. Then both poles. And then the “Second Seven,” the world’s next-highest peaks, just to be in even more exclusive company.

Eric Larsen, a seasoned adventurer who offers tours to the North and South poles, trips that start at $50,000, is familiar with the clientele that’s drawn to these exclusive voyages.

“It’s a pretty specific demographic,” he said. “It attracts a lot of very focused, affluent, goal-driven people. It’s a community of people who want to be the most elite.”


Most, he said, are men between the ages of 40 and 60. Having amassed large fortunes, they’re competitive by nature, and impressing — or besting — their peers is an increasingly difficult challenge.

“There’s a desire to be unique and distinctive from everyone else. That’s where you get into this race to do all these things,” Larsen said. “They’ve got something they’re trying to prove.”

But Larsen worries that something is lost when modern navigation and aviation make visiting the Earth’s farthest reaches as convenient as booking a dinner reservation — albeit a very expensive one.

At the highest tiers, he said, adventures just aren’t what they used to be.

“If you go to space, are you an adventurer because you sit in a rocket and get flown there?” he said. “We have these new ways of adventuring, but we’re still using this old lexicon.”

If anything, the increased accessibility to extreme vacations over the past two decades has fueled a rush to up the ante, said Shannon Stowell, chief executive of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, a business group whose members include OceanGate Expeditions, the company that launched the Titan sub.

Dog-sledding tours in the tundra — some including helicopter trips mid-journey to luxe hotels — are popular in elite circles. So are chopper-bound journeys to Antarctic mountains for skiers who want to “ski down slopes that literally no one has ever skied before,” Stowell said.


The more unattainable the itinerary, the more valuable. And that doesn’t always involve putting their lives on the line.

“It’s more the rarity than the risk,” he said. “I know a travel agent who gets people dinner with the pope.”

Sometimes, though, the requests leave him speechless. One client said she wanted to travel to Mexico, then link up with a smuggler and illegally cross the US border, just for the thrill.

“We gave that a hard ‘No,’” Stowell said. “We said, there’s no way we’re going to be involved in anything, first of all, illegal, and second, insane.”

Among ecotourists, people who use vacation time to appreciate and learn about the natural world, extreme trips are on the rise, too.

In the waters off South Africa, Australia, and Mexico, researchers have embraced offering dives with great white sharks, trips that can cost $2,500 per person.

The market for those adventures has “exploded in the last 20 years,” said Greg Skomal, shark expert and marine biologist at the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries.

There are debates over its effects on the environment, he said, including worries it will habituate sharks to humans. But Skomal said demystifying sharks is a noble goal, even if the experience isn’t available to the average traveler.

“Exposing people to educational experiences like that helps them learn to respect and enjoy the ocean, and it fosters conservation,” he said.

Extreme tourism “attracts a lot of very focused, affluent, goal-driven people. It’s a community of people who want to be the most elite,” said expedition leader Eric Larsen.Eric Larsen

Still, extreme tourism in increasingly far-flung natural environments poses some concerns, said Lorri Krebs, executive director of the Center for Economic Development and Sustainability at Salem State University.


She has seen TikTok cliff jumpers who find abandoned quarries or other off-limits areas deep in the wilderness and film themselves leaping into the depths below on parachutes or bungee cords.

When accidents happen, rescue efforts in these remote regions — as demonstrated by the search for the Titan — can be a major undertaking.

“The cost of recovery is huge in those situations,” Krebs said. It can also be harmful, particularly when “the culture of extreme tourism brings people to fragile habitats, the places that are most at risk.”

Krebs worries about where the drive to explore more exclusive corners of the globe might lead. And she frets that sometimes it’s all to score points, be it at the world’s most exclusive cocktail parties, or on Instagram.

“It becomes, ‘Can I be the first? Can I be the only?’” she said. “The quest to be in that small percentage of people is what they’re after.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Shannon Stowell’s last name was incorrect on the second reference. The Globe regrets the error.

Spencer Buell can be reached at Follow him @SpencerBuell.