A "soft" adventure seems a contradiction in terms, but that is the newest trend in the burgeoning adventure travel business.
It's an opportunity to go to the world's remote and wild places, to explore on foot and in canoe, the way hardy trekkers do. But roughing it is kept to a minimum.
"A lot of travel agents kept telling us, 'Your trips are too difficult for the average person,' " says Nigel Dabby, vice president of Sobek Expeditions Inc. of Angels Camp, Calif., a major outfitter of international adventure tours. " 'Give us something easier.' "
As a result, Sobek has put together "soft" adventures in Nepal, Zambia and Peru. They are trips off the beaten track "that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or health."
Until this year, Sobek has catered primarily to travelers who like their adventure "exciting and rough," says Dabby, including strenuous climbs into the high mountains. "That's our definition of adventure."
The new trips are not so "elitist," he says. For them, adventure can also be defined as "seeing the most-exciting places you can see." Hiking and other outdoor activities are included, but they are kept at an easy-to-do level.
An example is the 12-day "Nepal Annapurna" trip, departing most months from now through the end of 1985. To most Americans, says Dabby, Nepal is "the other end of the world." However, most nights are spent in comfortable hotels, and no experience in mountaineering or trekking is necessary.
The trip includes sightseeing in Kathmandu, a flight over the Himalayas and a three-day, two-night camping trek at the base of the spectacular Annapurna range. On those days, hikers will walk about six to eight miles at a relaxed pace, with time to take photos and sip tea in Nepalese villages en route.
The famed Sherpas serve as guides, and Nepalese porters will carry all luggage and camping equipment. The two nights are spent in tents, sleeping on foam cushions. The porters set up camp, and meals are prepared by the tour staff. The trek ends with a short ride in a dugout canoe.
A stay in a jungle lodge in Chitwan National Park, home of the rare one-horned rhino, is also part of the itinerary. Here travelers will scramble aboard elephants for a half-day's tour of the park through fields of tall elephant grass. Rhinos, the sloth bear, tigers, leopards and 250 species of tropical birds are among the wildlife that may be seen.
The maximum size of each tour is 16. Depending on the month of departure, the cost ranges from $1,999 (Aug. 3) to $2,449 (October to December, 1985). The rate, based on double occupancy, includes round-trip air fare from California, lodging, equipment, entrance fees and most meals.
For more information: Sobek Expeditions Inc., Angels Camp, Calif. 95222, (209) 736-4524.
* HOLIDAY BARGAIN: The Christmas/New Year's holiday season may be a bustling time for many individuals, but it can be a very slow season for big-city hotels because business travel drops.
As a result, many hotels offer substantial savings on both weekday and weekend rates from about mid-December to early January. When making a reservation, be sure to ask about holiday packages.
The hotel savings can be especially good in New York City, where regular weekday rates are generally high. New York in any season can be exciting -- theater, music, restaurants, museums, shops -- but the city is particularly attractive dressed in holiday trimmings.
Among the hotel packages:
* The Hotel Beverly, a small, predominately suite hotel at Lexington Avenue and 50th Street, offers its holiday rates daily from Friday, Dec. 21, through Sunday, Jan. 6, at a substantial savings over its usual midweek rates.
A one-bedroom suite (bedroom, living room with convertible sofa bed and kithenette) goes for $89 a night for two during the holidays, and the rate includes a continental breakfast. One child under 12 is free, and a second child or additional adults, $10 each. The regular daily rate is $150 to $175 a night.
"Junior" suites, with kitchenette, are $70 a night for two, with continental breakfast. The usual rate is $109 to $129.
* One of New York's largest hotels, the Sheraton Centre on Seventh Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets, is advertising complimentary champagne and caviar, as well as bargain rates, for guests staying between Friday, Dec. 14 and Friday, Jan. 4.
The holiday rate for two is $79.90 a day, including a coupon for one complimentary bar drink per person. One or two children 17 and under stay free. The regular daily rate is about $100 to $135.
* The New York City Visitors Bureau publishes a free directory of bargain packages available at city hotels throughout the fall and winter. These are mostly weekend packages, except for the holiday season.
The bureau also offers a "Winter Wonderland" brochure describing free and low-cost activities in the city. For example, many museums offer free admission one afternoon or evening a week. Half-price Broadway and Off-Broadway theater tickets can be purchased on the day of the show at the TKTS counter, Broadway and 47th Street.
For more information, contact: The New York City Visitors Bureau Information Center, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, N.Y. 10019, (212) 397-8222.
* FRANKFURT FLIGHT: Washington travelers bound for West Germany will soon have the option of flying nonstop from Washington/Dulles Airport. Currently, all scheduled flights to West Germany include a change of planes or stops in New York or Europe.
Pan Am has announced the new daily flight to Frankfurt, and return, beginning April 28. The eastbound flight will originate in Miami; the return will stop in Washington en route to Miami.
The additional flight, says the airline, reflects "Pan Am's optimism that European travel demand will remain robust well into the peak 1985 summer season."
* SHOPPER'S WARNING: If you buy something abroad, carry it home with you, especially if it's glass.
That's the advice being offered at the Italian Government Travel Office in New York, which says it has a file of "horror stories" of valuable items damaged or lost in shipping.
In the case of expensive works of art, replacement may be impossible. A refund can take up to a year or more (or never) and involve time-consuming correspondence with the foreign shop.
For their protection, says a spokesman, "We urge most people to carry rather than to ship."
* MARYLAND CLASSICS: A new series of books focusing on Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region, the Maryland Paperback Bookshelf, has been inaugurated by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
The purpose is to make "timeless and classic books" about the state more widely available, says the publisher. The books will be reprinted "as they appeared when first published many years ago."
The first three books in the continuing series:
* "The Bay," by naturalist Gilbert Klingel ($8.95), first published in 1951. It is a study of the precarious ecological balance of the Chesapeake Bay, and won the American Museum of Natural History's John Burroughs Medal as the best nature book of the year.
* "The Amiable Baltimoreans," by Francis F. Beirne ($9.95), first published in 1951. It is an anecdotal history of the city and its people.
* "Tobacco Coast," by Arthur Pierce Middleton ($14.95), first published in 1953. Middleton, a retired director of Colonial Williamsburg, writes about the impact of the Chesapeake Bay in shaping the society and economy of colonial Maryland and Virginia.
The series is available in bookstores, or may be ordered directly from the John Hopkins University Press by telephone, (301) 338-7864, with a Master Charge or Visa credit card.