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Vacation adventures that won't scare your budget

Vicki Hendricks lives for adventure.

She has trekked by dog sled through Finland, skydived over the Spanish countryside, collected exotic bugs in Peru and hung out with hippos in South Africa.

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The Hollywood, Fla.-based novelist spends her days teaching creative writing at Broward Community College and crafting sexy hard-boiled mystery novels around equally adventurous heroines.

In her free time, you'll find her scuba diving or skydiving in some far-flung corner of the world, often on a shoestring.

"I'm always looking to go cheap," she laughs. "I don't have to go cheap as much as I used to, but I traveled for years with almost no money and now I still do it out of habit."

Knowing where look, who to ask
Hendricks is adept at finding the maximum rush for minimum bucks.

Take skydiving. With some 500 jumps under her harness, she's well versed in the sport and knows all the insider tricks. To plan a trip, she starts at Dropzone.com, a worldwide Internet skydiving guide, e-mails the skydiving center nearest her destination and packs her 'chute.

"You can just arrive there, maybe spend $5 a night to bunk there, and they usually have restaurants and bars and everything you need," she says. "You may be in a room with four or six people, and they're not fancy and it's probably coed.

"Skydivers are usually really cheap and poor because they spend all of their money skydiving. Some people actually spend their lives going from one drop zone to another and follow the seasons."

Planning some adventure trips yourself can be cost-effective and easy. But wise travelers also recognize the value of expert help.

When the call of the wild bid her to trek Finland by dog sled, Hendricks called Buz Donahoo, an architect who founded Condor Adventures of Winter Park, Fla., in 1973 as a way to support his own travel habit.

"They're good values," she admits. "The Finland trip was about two weeks long for about $4,000 including air. We had five days in cabins with rented dog sleds and guides. You had to dig out the outhouse at night, and there were no showers. We spent two nights in a resort with hot springs, a night in the ice castle, did some snowmobiling and swam off an icebreaker in these big rubber suits. There was a lot involved in the trip.

"I just like variety. I like to wing it. But I would probably not have found the ice castle or the dog sled guide. That's a little difficult to figure out. This way it came out really well and easy to do."

Adventurer, know your limits
Even arriving at a good working definition of adventure travel, much less saving money on it, can be problematic, according to Carole Lierman, meetings and incentives manager with Doug Fox Travel in Seattle.

"Adventure travel is very subjective. What one person considers adventure, another doesn't," she says. "For some people, a trip to Costa Rica and staying on the beach is adventure travel. For others, it's biking through the cloud forest and doing the rain forest on your own."

Because most of us prefer the beach and a book to the rigors of mountain biking, actual adventure travel is a relatively small niche in the travel industry. Limited demand translates into smaller vendors whose stability sometimes gives travel agents sleepless nights.

 
 
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