It's time to think outside the compass. For fabulously wealthy adventurers tired of earth-bound experiences (private island getaways, exotic safaris or sorties on the family Gulfstream) an entirely new, albeit absurdly expensive option has materialized: journeys up into space, or down into the depths of the ocean.
Man's quest to push the envelope in search of the wild beyond is now just a bank transfer away, thanks to a new crop of outfitters and companies for whom no sojourn is too far or too wide. So choose your direction: up or down?
The most talked-about and touted is, of course, Virgin Galactic, the sub-orbital collaboration between Burt Rutan, the American aerospace engineer and Virgin founder Richard Branson, who summed up his vision for the future as one where "most people's grandchildren should be able to go into space."
With eyes fixed on the cosmos, these two men have a goal of flying six passengers at a time to the edge of the atmosphere (or 100 kilometers above the surface of our planet). They hope to start operating in a year's time, and the price of admission is $200,000. According to the company, they've already received partial or full deposits from more than 150 people, with another 30,000 expressing serious interest on making the journey.
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Virgin's not alone in the suborbital flight space, with more than a handful of outfitters plying this market. Space Adventures, which already has commitments from more than 100 people, made its name by striking a deal with the Russian Space Agency to fly tourists aboard Soyuz TMA-9 rockets to the International Space Station.
The world's first female space tourist, the Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, reportedly paid $20 million for her groundbreaking 10-day trip with the company. Space Adventures also offers trips on MIR I and MIR II submersibles, which National Geographic and director James Cameron have also used.
At the other end of the extreme travel spectrum, the ocean continues to attract high-monied interest, as witnessed by the handful of firms offering deep-sea dives. Deep Ocean Expeditions specializes in trips to the wreck of the the Titanic, as well as the unexplored seabed of the Arctic Ocean, some 13,500 feet below the ice.
The company also has bespoke trips to the Azores hydrothermal vents, which have been called the birthplace of life on our planet, as well as less extreme dives to the tropical wonders of Papua New Guinea's Solomon Sea. Prices range from $38,900 for the Titanic outing to $95,000 for the North Pole (not including airfare).
Dubbed Mystery Island, the still-secret site will spread over 225 acres and comprise 24 underwater suites, each submerged in 40 feet of water. The facility will also include a revolving restaurant and bar, a spa, and 27 over-water bungalows with see-through floors. The price: $15,000 per person for seven days, which includes two nights in a beach villa, two nights in an over-water bungalow and two nights in an underwater suite.
And Dubai, naturally, has plans for its own underwater hotel. Set for completion in one year, Crescent Hydropolis will complement the firm's Hydropalace project in Qingdao, China, which is scheduled to open in 2009 and will be in waters that are 50 to 65 feet below the surface of the Yellow Sea.
Read on to see the latest extreme travel excursions above the atmosphere and below the ocean surface.