Take the road less traveled, from volunteer vacations to family adventure tours.

Anna Williams

Go on a Volunteer Vacation

These companies offer unique opportunities to leave your mark on the world. (All programs offer weeklong options and longer-term commitments.)

Cross-Cultural Solutions: Care for the elderly in Russia or assist shantytown residents in Salvador, Brazil. The company has staff in each country to help facilitate the 1- to 12-week trips (crossculturalsolutions.org).

Global Citizens Network: Volunteer in Guatemala, Nepal, Tanzania, and other far-flung places, or volunteer in the United States. Paint homes with the Navajo Nation in Arizona or restore a community center in the Appalachian Mountains (globalcitizens.org).

Globe Aware: Make adobe stoves in Peru, assemble wheelchairs for land-mine victims in Cambodia, or build libraries in Vietnam (globeaware.com).

Tour a Winery

Here's how to make the most of a visit:

Call ahead. Many vineyards have specific protocols about how and when you can visit.

Schedule your meals. Food in wine regions can be difficult to find. You don't want to pair your delicious Malbec with a stale gas-station sandwich.

Go beyond the vineyards you know. Why spend time tasting something you are already familiar with? Seek out a smaller, lesser-known vineyard.

Ask for the "cellar door" tasting. Winemakers (or other employees) will take you through the wines individually, often showing you the vineyards and giving you other VIP treatments.

Have an exit plan, be it a taxi or a car service. What's worse than downing wine with a bad sandwich? Having a Breathalyzer test for dessert.

Find a Bird's Eye View

Hitting up city hot spots also means you can spend hours standing in line. Try these alternatives:

  • Instead of New York City's Empire State Building, try the 22,000-square-foot rooftop garden at 230 Fifth Avenue (230-fifth.com), which offers a triple shot of sights―the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Statue of Liberty―plus apricot mimosas and beef sliders. Or try the Top of the Rock, a 70th-floor observatory in Rockefeller Center (topoftherocknyc.com).
  • Instead of going to the Skydeck, at Chicago's Sears Tower, try the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center (signatureroom.com). Order a Sidecar martini, then take a seat near the window.
  • Instead of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, try zooming 640 feet in one of the world's fastest elevators (it takes only 38 seconds) to the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower (tourmontparnasse56.com).
  • Instead of taking a ride on the London Eye, try the 183-acre Greenwich Park (royalparks.org.uk), situated on a hill overlooking Saint Paul's Cathedral and the Thames.

Find a Tour That Meet Your Needs

Adventure Tours:

  • G.A.P. Adventures: Try anything from a sailing trip to kayaking in Patagonia (gapadventures.com).
  • Mountain Travel Sobek: Options span the globe―there's ice climbing in New Zealand and a "first-timer's trek" near Mount Everest, in Nepal (mtsobek.com).
  • Intrepid Travel: This company introduces you to local culture (you often stay with families in foreign countries) and caters to travelers who like adventure but may not be ready to skydive (intrepidtravel.com).

Culinary Tours:

Hiking And Biking Tours:

  • VBT Bicycling Vacations: These global vacations are rated by difficulty (vbt.com).
  • Backroads: Bike the Natchez Trace, in Mississippi, or volcanic slopes in Hawaii (backroads.com
  • BikeHike Adventures: Trips come in four fitness levels (bikehike.com).

Family Tours:

  • Thomson Family Adventures: This company plans family tours across the world, with activities like horseback riding and nature tours of the Galápagos. The staff also arranges for your kids to have pen pals in the country they visit (familyadventures.com).
  • Adventures by Disney: The company offers guided tours of countries from Costa Rica to China. Trips are based around fairly large hotels and kid-friendly activities like zip-lines through the rainforest (abd.disney.go.com).