Archive for January, 2010

Welcome To The Jungle: These Survival Classes Include Lots Of Tasty Grub(s)

January 30, 2010

Wilderness survival schools

Looking for lunch in all the wrong places!

While searching out and reporting on novel once-in-a-lifetime adventures is both my passion and my profession, there are honestly some experiences I’m all too happy to leave to someone else.

Like my friend and fellow travel writer Bob Howells, for example, who decided it might be fun to spend a week learning traditional survival skills from a native guide in the depths of the Amazon jungle.  The results were equal parts amazing and amusing as the hero of our story, equipped with little more than a machete and a smile, slowly came to understand what the brochure actually meant when it promised “rustic accommodations and lots of tasty grubs” (see for yourself at

While you and I may never find ourselves eating wriggling larvae in a Peruvian rainforest, I’m convinced anyone who likes to venture very far off the beaten path would be wise to learn a few basic wilderness survival skills.  If you’re up for the challenge of learning to live off the land, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) can take you into that uncharted territory both literally and figuratively.

The school’s motto is “Know more, carry less,” and that’s just what you’ll do as you and your instructors head off into the southern Utah outback packing nothing more than a blanket, poncho, water bottle and knife.  You can choose from hard-core BOSS Field Courses that last from one to four weeks, somewhat less physically-demanding Explorer Courses, or a wide range of Skills Courses designed to teach you everything from fire-starting sans matches to traditional hunter/gather techniques.

Though your adventure will be anything but cushy—BOSS says participants frequently lose up to 30 pounds during their month-long Field Course—that may be a small price to pay for a truly extraordinary experience that leaves you feeling you’re ready to handle anything Mother Nature throws your way.

Related Experiences:

Mud, Sweat & Gears

In A Tight Spot


Three Places to OD On Chocolate

January 28, 2010

Chocolate Experiences

Too much chocolate? No such thing!

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I got to wondering whether it was actually possible to have too much chocolate.

Well, I did a little digging and found these three extraordinary experiences that will let you test that theory—I know, tough job, but somebody has to do it—by sampling a ridiculously wide range of indulgences produced from the seeds of the lowly cacao tree:

A Chocolate-Covered Month

Hershey, Pennsylvania—the self-proclaimed “Sweetest Place On Earth”—is offering hundreds of chocolate-themed activities this February, ranging from family-friendly Chocolate Lab experiences that allow you to whip up your own tasty treats to romantic multi-course chocolate-themed dinners.  To say nothing of the Spa at the Hotel Hershey, where you can wallow in signature treatments like the Whipped Cocoa Bath that sound good enough to eat.

China’s Chocolate Wonderland

This new Beijing attraction promises to be every bit as over-the-top as the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.  The 215,000 square-foot temperature-controlled indoor theme park opens tomorrow showcasing all kinds of chocolaty goodness, including scaled-down chocolate replicas of the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors.  Best move fast if you hope to see it, however, as this real-life Willy Wonka fantasy shuts down for the season in April.

Will Walk For Chocolate

To say the folks at New York Chocolate Tours are a little obsessed with the stuff might actually be an understatement.  They offer nearly a dozen walking tours each week that allow guests to sample the exotic delicacies of some of the Big Apple’s best gourmet chocolate purveyors.

Related Experiences:

The Original Chocolate Factory

New York Chocolate Show

Famous Fat Dave’s NYC Eating Tours

Finances, Fitness, And Fear: Overcoming Obstacles Between You & Your Next Big Adventure

January 26, 2010

How to pay for your dream tripIf you’ve been putting off your next big adventure because of the steep price tag, you might want to take a minute to check out this great post on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog.

The reason I bring this up is because “I can’t afford it” is one of the most common objections I hear when I ask people what’s keeping them from making their dream trip a reality.  But personal experience has taught me that this issue of finances—along with two other frequently-cited deal-breakers I call fitness and fear—are a lot easier to overcome than most of us might believe.

To illustrate my point, I thought I’d take a minute to gently poke holes in each of these excuses in the hope that you won’t let them stop you from having yourself a truly extraordinary experience in the months to come:


I’m a firm believer in the idea that you don’t need to have been born independently wealthy to live a life filled with remarkable adventures, you just have to be a little more creative when it comes to achieving your goals.  For example, if you lust for one of these posh around-the-world-by-private-jet tours but shudder at the price tag, do a little digging and you’ll find you can arrange your own itinerary using a round-the-world ticket on commercial airlines for a fraction of the cost.  And if it means you have to keep driving your old car for another couple of years to pay off your trip, I’m betting you’ll find the life-long memories you bring home will make this small sacrifice seem well worth it.


Look, you and I may never have the physical stamina it takes to summit Mount Everest.  But if you’ve always wanted to take a classic walking tour of the English Lake District and you never hoof it farther than from the parking lot to your desk in daily life, hitting the gym for a few months to get in shape seems like a small price to pay to make that happen.  Also know that many tour operators are happy to make alternative arrangements for guests who feel they may not be up to the more strenuous portions of any given trip.


Finally, let me assure you that I know a thing or two about overcoming fears.  To use a dramatic example, the first time I did a tandem skydive, the jumpmaster had to practically pry my fingers off the plane’s dash after he opened the door at 14,000 feet.  Once I flung myself out that door however, my fear was replaced by a sense of unbounded joy as I reveled in a sensation that was more like flying than falling.  And, in my experience, this is exactly how fear works: As soon as you make that leap, you realize that the very thing you’d been so intimidated by actually turns out to be a heck of a lot of fun.

Related Posts:

Give Me Reality Any Day

Do It Now!

Want Your Share Of The New California Gold Rush?

January 23, 2010

Extraordinary Experience: Gold Panning Adventure

Panning for gold in Woods Creek

There are certain moments in history I would love to have been present at.  Not the least of which is the frosty morning of January 24, 1848 when carpenter James Marshall found those first few gold nuggets just downstream from the sawmill he was building on American River.

That’s because it was this chance discovery that started the California Gold Rush.  An event that quite literally made the Golden State what it is today.

But you probably knew that already, didn’t you? Well here’s something you might not know:  There’s still plenty of gold in the cold, clear creeks of those Sierra Nevada foothills, just sitting there waiting for someone to take it home.  And with gold prices at record highs, there’s no better time to go out and get your share.

Whether you decide to make your search for the shiny flakes a leisurely family outing or a serious full-time pursuit, the folks at Gold Prospecting Adventures in the tiny village of Jamestown, California can set you up with all the tools and instruction you need.  But one word of caution based on personal experience: Once you see those first flakes show up in the bottom of your pan, you’re liable to get a little excited.  And it’s this sense of exhilaration that I’ve found gives new meaning to the term gold rush!

More Extraordinary Experiences:

Gem Hunting In San Diego

Why Just Read About History When You Can Live It?

January 21, 2010

Family wagon train adventuresWhile you don’t necessarily want to see your kids jumping out of airplanes (at least I don’t), there are still an awful lot of extraordinary experiences that are decidedly family-friendly.

I was reminded of this while helping my son with his history project this week.  Despite the fact that he goes to a great school with some really innovative teachers, I was struck by how even the most creative approaches can still make the subject seem way too abstract to really grab and hold kids attention.

Which is why I thought I’d take a minute to turn you on to three remarkable adventures that are pretty much guaranteed to make those history lessons come alive for both you and your kids:

Civil War Adventure Camp

Civil War Adventure Camp

This 18-hour overnight experience at Virginia’s impressive Pamplin Historical Park starts with you and your young’uns choosing up sides in the War Between The States and ends with a Bang! as everyone gets to fire a period-correct muzzleloader.

Wagon Train Ho!

While moving hasn’t gotten much easier in the last 150 years, these multi-day wagon train adventures in the shadow of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons will give you and your kids a real feel for what an epic journey it must have been for all those folks who packed up their lives and crossed the continent in covered wagons.

Eat Like A Pilgrim

While walking through Plimoth Plantation will give your kids a fascinating look at how those first European settlers they’re learning about in school actually lived, these 17th-century theme dining events where everyone gets to eat with their fingers are likely to be the one part of the trip they’ll remember for years to come.

3 Ways To Sleep Cheap

January 19, 2010

In the two decades I’ve spent traveling the world to dig up new and unusual experiences for my readers, I’ve spent the night in everything from ridiculously expensive hotels where my personal butler left plush slippers next to the bed each evening to low-budget motels with filthy orange shag carpet so gross I was afraid to take my shoes off.  And here’s what I learned:  That it usually doesn’t make much sense to shell out a ton of dough for a room where all I’m going to do is sleep and shower.

Fortunately for frugal types like me, there are more affordable lodging options out there than ever before.  Which brings me to a trio of intriguing hotel alternatives I’m looking forward to trying out on my next trip:couch surfing

With more than 1.6 million members in 230 countries, chances are pretty good that this website can help you find cool people who’ll be willing to put you up for a few nights and maybe even show you around town, all for free.

Hosteling International

While many hostels still attract large numbers of young people, these shared accommodations aren’t just for kids anymore.  And the prices are hard to beat: A recent search of the organization’s San Diego hostels turned up dorm-style rooms for about $20/weekend night and a private room and bath for less than $50.

If the idea of spending time in yet another generic hotel is unappealing, check out this online marketplace that allows individuals to rent out their spare room—and sometimes their entire house or apartment— to out of town guests at very affordable rates.

Sasquatch Sightings

January 15, 2010

Is it just me, or have there been a lot more Bigfoot sightings lately? From starring roles in television commercials to this guy who thought it’d be funny to don his Sasquatch suit and startle a few unsuspecting hikers, it seems like the legendary ape-man is getting more media exposure than he’s seen in decades.

While this famous footage definitely set the hook in me back in 1967, I’m not ready to declare that bigfoot exists.  That said, I’ve also spent enough time in remote corners of this country to believe there are still plenty of places where the big hairy lout could be hiding.

And it’s that sense of possibility that makes the expeditions put on by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Association sound like such fun.  The organization runs dozens of outings each year and, despite the fact that the group has limited the slots available to outsiders for 2010, it’s still possible to earn a place on the team if you can bring some useful skills to the effort.

If you do get to tag along, there’s obviously no guarantee you’ll spot one of these elusive creatures in the wild.  Even so, I’m told enough participants have reported seeing, hearing, and smelling things that can’t be rationally explained to make me want to add one of these trips to my list of extraordinary experiences.

Related Experiences:

Less mysterious wildlife encounters

North America Bigfoot Search

These Ghost Tours Are The Real Deal

January 13, 2010

If the number of “ghost hunter” shows on television is any indication, interest in the paranormal is at an all-time high.

But what if you wanted to get up off the couch and actually experience some of these unexplained phenomena for yourself? Well, thanks to my specter-savvy friend Karen Jeffries at New Orleans’ Dauphine House Bed & Breakfast, I’ve found two groups of experienced paranormal investigators that will actually allow curious amateurs like us to tag along on their field research outings.The real ghostbusters

If you’re eager to jump right in, I’d suggest booking a spot on the two-night New Orleans event the members of Southern Ghosts have planned for the weekend of January 29-31.  You’ll get to spend the night exploring two of the Crescent City’s most haunted hotel properties as the team’s paranormal investigators and psychics attempt to document and communicate with the spirits that still call them home.

The second group, Nightwatchers Investigations, has more than a half-dozen events on their 2010 schedule.  High points include visits to the legendary Wild West dance hall/gambling den/bordello known as the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona and the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, the property that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.

Both groups come highly recommended, so it’s really just a matter of picking the location you find most intriguing.  Whichever trip you settle on, I think it’s safe to say you’ll find being right there in the middle of these spine-tingling experiences beats the heck out of sitting at home and watching them on TV!

Related Experiences: Overnight at The Myrtles Plantation

List of other paranormal groups

These Volcano Tours Will Have You Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

January 11, 2010

Volcano ToursWhile I don’t necessarily consider myself a thrill-seeker, I can’t deny that I occasionally find myself irresistably drawn to certain experiences that have at least some element of danger to them.

This character flaw may help explain why reading a short blurb on Volcano Awareness Month in Hawaii immediately sent me scurrying off to find out how I could live out my dream of getting up-close-and-personal with an active volcano.  Which is how I found the folks at Volcano Discovery, a group of trained volcanologists who organize tours to some of the world’s most active eruption zones.

If this sounds like fun to you too, you’ll find a complete list of their upcoming tours here.  Me, I’ll be trying to figure out how I can clear my schedule to go on their 26-day Round The World Volcano Tour this spring!

Related Experiences:

While You’re In Hawaii: Goofy Foot Surf School

Take A Bite Out of The Big Apple With Famous Fat Dave

January 8, 2010

Just heard an interview with the wife of the late New York Times food writer R.W. Apple Jr. where she told the story of how, on a trip to Singapore, her husband once ate 25 meals in a single day. A feat which immediately conjured up visions of the famous “I couldn’t eat another thing” scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (if you have both a strong stomach and a warped sense of humor you can watch it here).

Famous Fat Dave

Former pickle-monger Famous Fat Dave

It also reminds me of the cold winter’s day my wife and I spent eating our way through all five boroughs of New York City with part-time cab driver and full-time foodie Dave Freedenberg, a.k.a. Famous Fat Dave.  Our four-hour tour saw us scarfing down a wide range of unique local delicasies, from chicken and waffles in Harlem to gourmet hot chocolate in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

While it’s unlikley you’ll be able to squeeze two dozen meals into one day, Dave’s tour will give you an unforgettable taste of the kinds of great eateries New Yorkers love and out-of-towners rarely discover.  It’s an extraordinary experience I highly recommend, whether it’s your first visit to the Big Apple or your fiftieth.

Related Experiences:

New York Chocolate Show

Custom Perfume Experience