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5 Travel Destinations for Super-Adventurous Tourists

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There's no shortage of destinations for adventure travelers. Intrepid souls can cliff dive, rock climb, or trek across the desert. That's not enough for some folks' wanderlust, though. They want to venture to destinations that are downright terrifying for most of us. Here are just a few of the scary locales you can pack a bag for.

1. The Other Way to Get Shipped to Iraq

Most people would do anything they could to avoid seeing war-torn Iraq, but if the travel bug bites you, England's Hinterland Travel can probably arrange a tour of the country for you. Last month the New York Times reported that the first officially sanctioned tour of Iraq by Westerners since 2003 was underway. By working with the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Hinterland was able to take an eight-person group of tourists to see places most of us will only hear about on CNN, from Basra to Baghdad.

Heading into a war-ravaged country might not sound like your idea of fun, but if you're really set on taking in sights none of your friends have seen, this might be the way to go. Hinterland Travel is offering upcoming tours that include not just Iraq, but also northwestern Iran. Since these aren't exactly vacation hotspots, the three-week itineraries are pretty reasonably priced at just 1,900 British pounds plus airfare and meals. Of course, you'll be effectively uninsurable for the duration of this little jaunt, so you might want to bring some extra cash along in case anything goes wrong.

2. See Rumi's hometown in Afghanistan

Picture 17.pngIf you want to visit a nation currently at war but don't feel like making the trip to Iraq, then Afghanistan could be your dream destination. Whether you want to see the very recent effects of the military conflict in the country or take in the truly remote parts of its geography, there are tour companies that can make it happen. Afghan Logistics & Tours offers six, 10, and 15-day tours for Westerners to see what Afghanistan's like. The tours include visits to the Masjid Now Gumad, or the Nine Domes Mosque, one of the world's oldest mosques, and Balkh, home of the 13th-century poet Rumi.

But just how dangerous is it to visit Afghanistan? According to the tour company's site, it's not too bad if you stay in the right parts of the country. Then again, the company also seems to do a booming business in armor-clad Toyotas, so you might want to be a bit more cautious than usual if you book one of these trips.

3. Colombia's Gorgeous Scenery

Picture 16.pngMoving right on down the State Department's list of Travel Warnings, we arrive at Colombia. Although the State Department concedes that kidnappings have fallen from their peak earlier this decade and narco-terrorism isn't quite as bad as it used to be in urban areas, it still strongly advises against traveling to Colombia. In fact, it won't even allow its own employees to travel by bus or leave urban areas.
That said, for just $1600 per person a tour company like De Una can give you a three-week tour of Colombia that hits all of the country's natural beauty, involves whitewater rafting, and takes you to see coffee production. The upside is that you'll get to take in some breathtaking scenery. The downside? If narco-terrorists kidnap you, they're not likely to let you go anytime soon. Last summer the Colombian government finally rescued a group of kidnapping victims, including three Americans, who had been held for over five years.

4. Visit Sudan for the Pyramids

Picture 20.pngIt's no secret than things are tragically awful in Sudan, but that doesn't mean you can't still make it your vacation destination. Bestway Tours and Safaris offers a two-week tour of the country for $3180 per person. Although the nation is in rough shape now, it's got a long history that dates back for thousands of years. Sudan is still littered with Nubian ruins and pyramids, and these tours take in a lot of this ancient history along the Nile delta-- certainly fascinating for anyone interested in antiquity.

Even though this kind of tour mostly goes through the opposite side of the country from war-ravaged Darfur, the State Department still strongly advises against all travel to Sudan. The warning reminds potential travelers that both terrorists and the Sudanese government have a tendency to target Westerners for physical threats or seizure of property and financial assets. If you've got the cash and stomach for it, though, you can probably see some really terrific ruins and monuments.

5. Transylvania

Picture 15.png"Wait, there's no such thing as vampires."Â  Yeah, you're probably right. However, if they actually do exist, Transylvania seems like it would be the place to find them. That's why the Company of Mysterious Journeys offers several "Dracula tours" throughout the region that include all of the high points of the famous vampire's legend, including visits to Castle Dracula and a tour of places involved in the life of the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. The tours vary in length from a weekend to over a week, which would ensure that you get all the Dracula you can handle.

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One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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