Find Adventure in a City


By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Mauricio Lima.

There’s a whistling in your ears, the tips of your fingers and toes tingle, and fireworks dance in front of your eyes. The sensations build and your heart beats into a crescendo as the solid ground falls away from your feet.

You can’t tell if you’re flying or falling.

Actually, it’s neither. You haven’t plunged off a bridge, bungee in tow, or jumped out of a plane. You’re in the middle of New York City, the neon lights of Times Square buzzing just a few blocks away, suspended in a “floatation tank” that is nestled deep within the Blue Light Floatation Center.

The bathtub-sized pool brims with a foot of solution containing a high enough concentration of salt to effortlessly float your body. It’s maintained at exactly skin temperature so that users can’t feel the liquid lapping against them. Zero sound and light in the room create an experience known as “complete sensory deprivation.” Allegedly it triggers deep relaxation, meditation, and, sometimes, hallucinations.

It’s professed to be intense, exciting, and transcendent.

As the floatation tank proves, adventure travel is not reserved exclusively for the outdoors and there are other city-friendly activities that will satiate even the hardest adrenaline-junkie’s cravings. For instance, have you ever wanted to escape a room for fun?

In 2007, the founder of a company devoted to organizing “immersive and adventurous puzzle events,” called SCRAP, sat listening to a friend talk about her recent obsession with online escape games. She loved them so much, Takao Kato thought he’d try turning one into a reality. Thus was born the first official “real escape game,” in Kyoto, Japan.

The game is simple. A group of friends are confined to a room. They have a certain amount of time to escape it, which they do by solving a series of puzzles that challenge their minds, bodies, or both.

Escape rooms spread like wildfire and are now in major cities throughout Europe, like Budapest and Amsterdam, as well as Asia, Australia, and the US. Variations include detective stories, murder mysteries, and, of course, zombies.

At under $30 per person to play, Escape the Room NYC is currently the number-one recommendation on TripAdvisor’s local list. If puzzles aren’t your kind of fun, how about trying an adventurous dinner?

The whirling, turning economic cogs of any self-sustaining city are always in part powered by its food scene. With the likes of Wylie Dufresne, Anthony Bourdain, and David Chang whipping up edible art, it’s no wonder the dining experience has evolved from an occasion to an event.

But if you thought that event was tame, think again. There are certain types of meals that are enjoyed around the world, but can be deadly if served incorrectly. You may have heard of the fatal pufferfish, or Japanese Fugu, whose body contains enough neurotoxin to kill 30 people, but when prepared properly, is considered a delicacy. If the chef cleans the fish correctly, you live. If they don’t, you die slowly by asphyxiation resulting from a paralyzed esophagus.

More common in the states, and especially popular in New York City, is the blood clam. The clam contains a high concentration of its namesake and can therefore carry several viruses deadly to humans, like hepatitis and typhoid fever. If you can get past that, though, according to The Times they are delicious.

Or, should you be wary of ingesting something potentially life threatening, another option is immersion theater. When the company Punchdrunk opened their London run of a first-of-its-kind theater experience called “Sleep No More” in 2003, they didn’t know it would hurtle immersion performance into the public sphere.

“Sleep No More” is fairly famous–the show has been on the cover of Vanity Fair and appeared in publications like The Times and The New Yorker. The basic gist of “Sleep No More” is the “audience” wanders around a hotel that’s been transformed into the set of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Actors recreate the story in live vignettes that occur on a loop throughout the space during a three hour period; participants may watch, wander, touch, and explore at will.

More than a decade later, there are iterations across the US, including Boston, San Francisco, and New York, and the company continues to create new projects in a similar style.

In most major cities, there are literally hundreds of other immersive theater experiences. You can even kick it up a notch with less mainstream, sometimes a-tad-outside-the-law shows called trespass theater, which can take the form of interactive performances, art installations, themed events, and more.

Take “trespass theater artist” Jeff Stark, for example. From Oct 14 through Nov 1 of 2014, Stark directed an art experience called “The Dreary Coast,” which ran along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. Written and directed by Stark, the work re-envisioned Dante’s tour down the River Styx, drawing together classical mythology with contemporary elements like black metal music. Participants were lead along the canal via an aptly decorated boat to discover “eerie truths of the underworld.”

The easiest way to find out about these more hush-hush events is to search local blogs and social media for locals touting their whereabouts, as they are rarely advertised.

If all this doesn’t scratch that adventurous itch, you can always fashion a zip line across the skyscrapers of Panama City like daredevil cinematographer Devin Graham (or “DevinSuperTramp” as he’s known on social media) did in 2014… but we don’t recommend it.

For more on adventure travel be sure to tune into BTR’s travel podcast Twenty-Something Traveler!