It's the time of year when people start thinking about travelling to hot countries - and not just on package holidays. We speak to inspirational women who are appearing at the Adventure Travel Show later this month about their amazing experiences on off-the-beaten track adventures around the world.

By Lisa Salmon.

When confronted by a naked madman brandishing a gun in a Siberian forest, most women would be forgiven for panicking.

But then pensioner Rosie Swale-Pope is no ordinary woman.

The gutsy grandmother, 63, was camping alone in the forest when she was faced with the escaped mental hospital patient - and instead of panicking, she calmly talked her way out of the terrifying situation.

She explains: "With men like that, it's rather like having to deal with bears and wolves - you're too frightened to panic, you have to keep calm because if you abandon your equipment you'll die.

"I just talked to him and pretended to be completely unfazed, and I got away."

The naked man with a gun story is just one of many amazing tales that Rosie and other adventurers including Atlantic rower Rachel Smith and model-turned-explorer Katie-Jane Cooper will be relating at the Adventure Travel Live show (January 29-31 at the Royal Horticultural Halls, London).

Many of Rosie's hair-raising stories come from the 21,000 mile solo run around the world that she started on her 57th birthday in October 2003.

She began planning her incredible five-year journey after the death of her beloved husband Clive from prostate cancer, with the intention of raising awareness of the disease.

Speaking with an energy and pace that would be impressive in a 21-year-old, Rosie declares: "I hope my grandchildren realise that you're never too old to achieve your dreams.

"Life is precious, however tough it is, and you can't just sit there because it's too short."

Rosie set off from her home in Tenby, Wales, pulling a cart containing her tent and equipment, and ran across Europe before traversing Siberia.

She then went to Alaska, America, Canada, Greenland and Iceland, before finally hitting the UK and home in August 2008.

She braved temperatures of -62C from the Baring Sea to the frozen Yukon River, and suffered frostbite in her foot in the Alaskan wilderness.

But frostbite wasn't going to stop this feisty lady - and neither were the wolves, bears, and wild dogs she met along the way, or even the man with an axe who jumped out of a forest clearing in the middle of the night.

"He was racing towards me waving an axe at one-o-clock in the morning. It was a bit unnerving," she says, with typical understatement.

One wolf put his head inside Rosie's tent, but she stresses: "Bears are much more dangerous, and you treat them like the naked man really - you have to just pretend that you're the boss."

Rosie, who's written a book about her run (Just A Little Run Around The World, published by HarperTrue in 2009, price £6.99), has no intention of the epic journey being her last - despite the fact that she had to complete the final 32 miles on crutches as she had two stress fractures of the hip.

Her life has been full of adventures - from sailing solo across the Atlantic to riding 3,000 miles down Chile on horseback - and she's currently planning her next mission.

Because she's "full of beans", she's planning to run 25 marathons in 25 days this April to raise money for children's hospices.

"I believe I'm only just beginning - I'm 63 but I honestly feel like I'm 36 or younger.

"In life you have to face things, and none of the things that have happened to me on my journeys are as bad as what you sometimes have to face in life."

One of the many things Rosie has faced was sailing across the Atlantic - which is what 40-year-old marketing manager Rachel Smith achieved with her friend Lin Diaby two years ago.

Smith had won 25 World and European medals in 10 years as a member of the British Dragon Boat Racing team, before changing tack slightly and racing across the Atlantic.

The pair did it in the Woodvale Challenge Atlantic Rowing Race, which is the same event that Ben Fogle and James Cracknell famously competed in two years before them.

The women spent a gruelling 76 days at sea, rowing 2,935 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua in a 23ft long boat with a tiny shared cabin. They rowed for two hours and rested for two hours in a shift system, and had a bucket for the toilet and another bucket as the sink.

"It wasn't a luxury cruise by any stretch of the imagination," laughs Smith, from Chester.

She insists there weren't many times when she was scared, and says: "Because you're out there in the middle of it all and you chose to be there, you can't really feel too sorry for yourself."

However, the epic voyage nearly ended in disaster when the little boat capsized after it was hit by a huge freak wave about 300 miles from the finish line.

Fortunately, the boat was self-righting, and although both women were thrown into the sea, they had harnesses and lifelines on and managed to get out.

Smith admits: "It was scary - there was nobody around and we had to sort it out ourselves.

"It really shook us up, although we weren't injured and we didn't lose anything important.

"After that, every time we got hit by another big wave sideways, it'd bring it all back to us and there'd be tears."

She admits there were low moments when she wondered why she was there - particularly when it was dark and raining, waves were crashing over the boat and they had aches and pains and even sores on their bottoms.

"It was times like that when I thought 'What am I doing out here?'

"But very quickly I'd just think that we'd planned for three years to be there, and we definitely wanted to do it.

"And then something good would happen, like we might see whales or dolphins, and that made all that horrible stuff go away immediately."

But she says it was definitely worth it in the end, when they won the Women's Pairs class, and raised more than £60,000 for the Breast Cancer Care charity.

She adds: "Rowing an ocean is an extreme thing to do, but everyone has something they'd really like to achieve, so don't think it's out of your grasp, whatever it is.

"It changes people's perception of you - probably because they wouldn't have done it themselves."

Model Katie-Jane Cooper, 30, would never have contemplated an adventure herself - until she met explorer Tarka L'Herpiniere.

Katie had enjoyed a successful modelling career for big names like Marks & Spencer and Alexander McQueen, and had been Cameron Diaz's body double in the film The Holiday, before she hung up her high heels and put on a pair of walking boots to walk the 2,600 mile length of the Great Wall of China with Tarka.

She says the 167 day walk was "a million miles away from my world of modelling, make-up, high heels and glamorous living," and admits: "I thought it would be a nice little jaunt into the world of expedition, but it was quite a test."

During the walk, which raised £4,500 for the Make a Wish Foundation, the couple had just three days off and spent the rest of the time walking 10 hours a day.

They crossed the Gobi Desert for three months, and, conversely, braved temperatures of -35 degrees Celsius, frostbite and exhaustion.

Katie nearly died of dehydration, and got decompression of the spine.

Nevertheless, she insists: "It was an incredible journey though, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

"It was hell every day, but I'm very grateful for it because I'm a new woman."

And the walk wasn't a one-off for Katie, who's since been on a number of adventures around the world. She is currently planning the three-year One World expedition, in which she and Tarka will travel from the geographic North Pole to the South Pole using only human power.

She adds: "I used to think that people who achieved these sort of things were born to do it, and were somehow different from me. But not any more.

"I couldn't have made a bigger jump coming from modelling to being an adventurer.

"Most people might think of adventurers as being someone like Sir Ranulph Fiennes - and then there's me."