Archive for March, 2010

Cool Camps (Part 1): 7 Summer Camps So Fun They’ll Make You Wish You Were A Kid Again

March 31, 2010

There are more than 12,000 summer camp programs in the U.S.  Most of which are designed to fill their campers’ days with activities that haven’t changed much in decades.

Summer camp culinary skillsThe seven summer camp programs featured below are another story altogether.  While their themes run the gamut from filmmaking to fine cuisine, the one thing they all have in common—other than the fact that a lot of adults will wish they could sign up—is the fact that they offer kids a chance to actually live out the kind of extraordinary experiences they thought were only possible in movies, TV, and video games:

Feel The Force

This three-day Jedi Experience, held in conjunction with a traveling Star Wars exhibit, gives younglings a chance to learn the ways of the Jedi, build their own lightsaber, and more.

The Big Boom

Older teens can have a blast at this Summer Explosives Camp designed to introduce them to university degree programs that will allow them to blow stuff up for a living.

Rock The House

These week-long Power Chord Academy camps give young rockers a chance to write songs, perform on stage, lay down studio tracks, and even star in their own music video.summer camp rock band

Lights, Camera, Action!

Aspiring filmmakers attending Pali Adventures’ Film Institute will get the chance to write, direct, shoot, edit, and premiere their own short-feature.

Fashion Designer Dreams

Teen fashionistas will flip over these five-day FashionCampNYC programs that let them experience all aspects of the fashion business, from working for style magazines to designing for the runway.

Now You’re Cookin’!

When the budding gourmets attending the Kids Culinary Summer Camp of Vermont aren’t learning serious kitchen skills, they’re off enjoying tasty field trips to local bakeries, cheesemakers, and restaurants.

Burn Rubber Baby

summer camp motorsportsThose video arcade driving games will look like child’s play once kids have the chance to spend time behind the steering wheels of Camp Motorsports’ scaled-down race cars and dune buggies.

For a seemingly endless list of other interesting summer camps for kids, check out MySummerCamps.comAnd tune in next time for a rundown of grown-up camps that prove kids don’t always have all the fun!

MORE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES:

Civil War Adventure Camp

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

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Tour de France Tours: These Cycling Adventures Will Make You More Than Just Another Spectator

March 29, 2010

Tour de France toursWhile most of my cycling these days is limited to Spinning class at the gym, I totally get the attraction of a challenging bike ride.  Not to mention the desire to have a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the process.

Which got me wondering if there was a way that hardcore cyclists like my friend Julie—a die-hard Tour de France fan whose idea of a good time is grinding out a 50-miler before lunch—could combine these two passions into one extraordinary experience.

Following my curiosity lead me to Robbin McKinney, a man who’s been leading cycling trips to Europe for 20 years.  For the 2010 Tour de France—which many sportswriters believe may be Lance Armstrong’s last—McKinney’s company Great Explorations is offering two different adventures that allow serious pedal pushers to be more than just passive spectators at the world’s most grueling cycling event.

The Alps tour—McKinney’s favorite—runs July 8-15 and includes the chance to ride legendary Tour de France routes including the 21 hairpin turns of the Alpe D’Huez.  Their Pyrenees program, which runs July 19- 26, offers an opportunity to be there for the event’s exciting conclusion, as the riders circle Paris’ Champs D’Elyssees before crossing the finish line.

Tour de France Cycling tourNo matter which Tour de France program you sign up for, you’ll have a choice of several daily rides—many on the same roads the peloton will be passing over just hours later—plus special behind-the-scenes access at the start or finish lines and prime viewing locations for several important stages.  Not to mention great meals at quaint local bistros, wine tastings, and swanky spas.

SPECIAL DEAL:  Call Great Explorations at 800-242-1825 to book your Tour de France trip by Monday April 12th, and you and a friend will each receive a $250 discount when you mention XTRORD.com.

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Amazing Race, Leisurely Pace: CompetiTours Offers A More Challenging Way To See Europe

A Mondo Motorcycle Tour: 248 Days, 30 Countries, 1 Extraordinary Experience

An Extraordinary Life: Hobo Nora Chucks “Normal Life” For The Adventure Of Full-Time Travel

March 26, 2010

Since deciding to chuck all the trappings of a so-called “normal” life back in 2006, Nora Dunn has been traveling the world and chronicling her experiences on her blog The Professional Hobo.  Seeing as how this is an extraordinary experience an awful lot of people aspire to, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the full-time vagabond life Nora’s created for herself to see what we can all learn about living out our dreams:

Hobo Nora Vagabond

Hobo Nora

What prompted you to do this? Does this lifestyle choice reflect a deeper philosophical outlook?

I was on the brink of my 30th birthday, running a successful financial planning practice in Toronto when a long string of illnesses finally made me realize I was burning the candle at both ends.  One day while feeling especially trapped by the super-busy lifestyle I’d created, I thought “I just want to retire!”

I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to climb mountains. I wanted to do humanitarian work.  There was so much I wanted to do, I didn’t even know where to start.  But the one thing that I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to be able to do half those things on my list if I waited 30 years for a more conventional retirement to get started.

What kind of resistance did you encounter once you decided to do this, both from others and from the voice in your head?

For as long as I can remember, the voice in my head  had been telling me I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.  So when I made this decision, it was finally happy!

As for everybody around me, I encountered almost unanimous support. There were some people who just couldn’t understand why I’d want to sell everything and travel the world, but the most common reply was “Oh wow! I wish I could do that.”

How has the reality of this experience measured up to your expectations?

Measuring any of my experiences that way is pretty difficult.  I “expected” Costa Rica would be my first destination, and I’ve yet to make it there.  Instead, serendipity has led me to new places over and over again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My life is constantly evolving and it actually exceeds any expectations I could have set going in.

What has been the best part of the experience so far?  What has been the worst?

Some of my best and worst experiences have been one and the same. Twice in two years my boyfriend Kelly and I found ourselves caught up in natural disasters, including the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar) and the worst bushfires Australia has ever seen.

But even though these might seem like negatives, they actually became high points as we spent our time volunteering full-time with the relief efforts.  To fully understand what I mean, you can read the complete stories of our efforts with the Burma cyclone relief and the Victorian Bushfires on my blog.

You’ve been in Australia for some time now—do you still consider yourself a wanderer or have you begun to settle down, maybe without realizing it?

Hobo Nora full-time travelComing off the cyclone relief efforts in Burma, the Victorian Brushfires, and a week in the hospital with Dengue fever was all pretty exhausting, so we’ve been happy to stay in one place for a while.

Right now, Kelly has been lured in by a rewarding job that will mean using this area as a home base for a bit.  But I’ll be doing some solo traveling around Australia, New Zealand, and Europe and will return just in time for both of us to uproot completely and find a new place to explore next year.

What advice would you have for someone who was thinking about following a similar dream?

Do it! Okay, for a minute, I thought of leaving it at that, but here are a couple of more specific pointers:

  • Put your financial house in order before setting out. Juggling debt on the road is hard, unless you have enough money coming in to both make those payments and pay for your travels.
  • Speaking of money, you need to find a way to earn a location-independent income if you want to make long-term travel financially sustainable.  Once you figure this out though, you’ll have the freedom to live—and work—just about wherever you want.

You can also follow Nora’s exploits on Twitter @HoboNora.

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Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives!

March 24, 2010

Trolling around the internet last week, I noticed that today is Harry Houdini’s birthday.  Which got me thinking about the state of “magic” in our culture and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In an era of computer-generated trickery ranging from software-doctored photos in magazines to entire computer-generated worlds in movies like Avatar, the idea of someone performing old-school prestidigitation seems almost quaint.  Just the same, anyone who’s ever been wowed by updated versions of these traditional magic acts as performed by the likes of David Blaine or Penn & Teller understands that there’s some part of the human psyche that truly enjoys the experience of being mystified by illusions so finely crafted and deftly executed that the word magic definitely seems to apply.

Whether you’re an aspiring professional magician or just a curious amateur looking to pick up a few simple tricks to amaze and amuse friends and relatives, I think you’ll find these two annual events to be true extraordinary experiences:

Society of American Magicians Annual Convention

June 30 – July 3, 2010; Atlanta

Founded in 1902, Harry Houdini was the longest-serving president of this organization whose members include everyone from Siegfried & Roy to David Copperfield.  Their annual get together includes special programs for young magicians, a circus sideshow-style midway, contests, and nightly gala performances.

International Brotherhood of Magicians Annual Convention

July 6-10, 2010; San Diego

With 12,000 members in 73, countries, the I.B.M. is the world’s largest organization for professional magicians and amateur enthusiasts. Their four-day convention includes lectures and workshops taught by internationally known magicians, a dealers area where you can try and buy some of the latest tricks, and several large-scale nightly magic shows.

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There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

A Visit To Hollywood’s Magic Castle

Into The Blue: 7 Of The World’s Most Unique & Unforgettable Diving Adventures

March 22, 2010

World's best dive tripsIf you’re a scuba diver, it’s a pretty safe bet that you spend a fair amount of time dreaming of new underwater worlds to explore.  The problem, of course, is that with so many spectacular dive sites around the world, you may have a hard time deciding where you want to go next.

Fortunately, there are a handful of dive trips that qualify as truly extraordinary experiences. The kind of once-in-a-lifetime aquatic adventures you’ll be talking about to anyone who’ll listen for many years to come.

So to give a little focus to your wetsuit wanderlust, I’ve pulled together this list of what many dive travel experts believe to be the world’s most over-the-top underwater experiences:

Pearl Diving

Divers have been harvesting pearls from the waters surrounding Bahrain for 4,000 years, and these trips to the local oyster beds prove they’re still producing some of the finest examples in the world.

Underwater Overnight

If you simply can’t get enough time beneath the waves, the Jules Undersea Lodge offers you the rare opportunity to actually sleep with the fishes.

Lost City of Atlantis

You may have thought that the story of Atlantis was a myth, but these dive tours will take you to explore manmade structures that some believe prove this legendary sunken city’s existence.

Graveyard Of The Atlantic

For history buffs and wreck diving aficionados, this area off the North Carolina coast offers a chance to dive on dozens of sunken vessels ranging from World War II-era freighters to the German U-boats that sank them.

Whale Sharks

The waters around sleepy Holbox Island, Mexico are home to one of the largest annual gatherings of the world’s biggest (and gentlest) fish, which gather here each summer by the hundreds.

Creature Feature

While there are lots of reasons to dive the warm waters off Key Largo, Captain Spencer Slate’s weekly subaquatic circus (starring barracuda he feeds fish held in his teeth and huggable six-foot moray eels) has to be seen to be believed.

Shark Diving

If climbing into a shark cage in the crystal clear waters off the California or Baja coast while being circled by great white sharks the size of compact cars isn’t exciting enough for you, well, I’m afraid you’re simply beyond help.

March Madness: These Basketball Fantasy Camps Keep The Final Four Frenzy Alive Year-Round

March 19, 2010

It’s that time of year again, when basketball fans everywhere—from Barrack Obama to Joe Sixpack—begin to get swept up in that annual springtime NCAA basketball binge known as March Madness.basketball fantasy camps

Now, even though I’m not a huge fan of college hoops, I have to respect any event that can generate such widespread enthusiasm that it actually causes a drop in the nation’s productivity.  That said, of course I’m also a big-time cheerleader for the idea of getting up off the couch to actually live out your dreams rather than just watch someone else having that same extraordinary experience on TV.

Which brings us to a couple of completely over-the-top basketball fantasy camp programs.  While these lucky campers may not be playing in front of Final Four grandstands packed with screaming fans, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll end up having nothing short of a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure:

Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School

Rub shoulders with Michael and his staff of legendary NCAA and NBA coaches at this three-day camp scheduled for mid-August at Vegas’ Mirage Hotel & Casino.  In addition to going one-on-one with His Airness in drills, you’ll play for glory in camp championship games and leave with tons of swag including autographed photos and a one-hour highlight reel on DVD.

Rick Barry’s Basketball Fantasy Camp

Want to know how this Basketball Hall of Fame member became the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA in single-season scoring?  Find out at this three-day camp set in the heart of California’s wine country as you work on your fundamentals under the watchful eye of Barry and other notable players including “Nate The Great” Thurmond.

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Here & There: These New Gizmos Allow Travelers To Be In Two Places At Once

March 17, 2010

Physicists who study quantum theory tell us that, under certain circumstances, it’s actually possible for sub-atomic particles to be in two places at the same time.  Until they’re able to scale this curious discovery up into a workable Star Trek-like teleportation device, however, I’m afraid we humans are stuck with our highly linear version of reality.Star Trek transporter

Fortunately, some smarty-pants techie-types have created two new products designed to offer ordinary travelers the next best thing to being both here and there at once:

LogMeIn Ignition is a handy application that allows iPhone and iPod Touch owners the ability to remotely access all the files on their home and work computers.  Simply install the free software on your Mac or PC, download the $30 app to your mobile device, and you’ll be able to view, create, and forward documents and emails from anywhere you can get a 3G cellular signal or wi-fi connection.

Vue Personal Video Network allows you to keep an eye on things at home or work from any location with a high-speed internet connection.  Set-up for both the two included wireless cameras and the browser-based viewer couldn’t be simpler, and you can add additional cameras (up to 50 total) at any time.  You can also record and save video clips, upload them to YouTube, and invite others to view a selected live video stream.

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Blues Travelers: Memphis’ American Dream Safaris Offers A Chance To Really FEEL The Blues

March 15, 2010

Blues Tour American Dream Safaris

Tad Pierson

If you’re more than just a casual fan of the blues—someone who can trace the connection* between blues legends like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters, for example—sooner or later you have to make the pilgrimage to the land where this distinctly American art form was born.

While you could certainly explore the area on your own, I’ve discovered an alternative that will help you get a lot more out of your visit.  Namely a plugged-in local guide by the name of Tad Pierson, a one-man college of musical knowledge whose decades of experience can help you develop a much greater appreciation for the music and the landscape that spawned it.

Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel.

— Jimi Hendrix

Rather than being packed into a soulless tour bus and fed a canned recitation of local lore, Pierson’s Memphis-based American Dream Safaris offers tours designed to allow you to actually feel the unique vibe here from the back of his 1955 Cadillac.  His repertoire of excursions ranges from a three-hour “Greatest Hits” spin through the streets of Memphis to all-day expeditions along the deserted back roads of the Mississippi Delta.  Along the way you’ll be served up heaping helpings of everything from Elvis shrines to rocking gospel choirs to smoke-filled juke joints.Blind Lemon Jefferson 78

More than anything else, however, Pierson’s tours offer blues aficionados something as rare as an original 78 of by Blind Lemon Jefferson: A chance to have a truly extraordinary experience.

*Both were interviewed by and made their first recordings for American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax.

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WFO Weekend: Texas Mile Gives Lead-Footed Drivers A Chance To Feed Their Need For Speed

March 12, 2010

Texas Mile Event

Read through some of the extraordinary experiences featured here over the years and it’s pretty clear that I like fast cars and motorcycles as much as the next guy.  That said, I think anyone who’s dumb enough to do triple-digit speeds on public roads deserves to have their license yanked right out from under them.

Especially when you consider how many places there are where you can safely run your high-performance machine wide f@#!ing open without putting innocent lives at risk.  Like the Texas Mile, for instance.

This relatively low-key event rolls onto a deserted airport runway located two hours north of Corpus Christi March 26-28 for three days of tire-smoking good fun.  Cars and bikes compete in four classes, ranging from 130 MPH to 200+ MPH, to see who can achieve the top speed from a standing start over the mile-long track.  Like my experience with the USFRA’s 130 MPH Club on the Bonneville Salt Flats, it’s a simple premise but oh-so addicting!

To get a feel for one of the few places in the world where speeding is actually encouraged, check out this short video from the folks at SuperCars Exposed.

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Fast & Furious:  Frank Hawley’s NHRA Drag Racing School.

Fun With Fossil Fuels:  Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Hot Lead & Lipstick: Becoming An Outdoors-Woman Weekends

March 10, 2010

While I’m open to all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, there are some I’m just not physically cut out for.  Like these Becoming An Outdoors-Woman weekends, for example.  Fortunately we were able to persuade special correspondent Christina Newton to attend a recent two-day B.O.W. program and bring us this report:

Becoming An Outdoors-WomanLooking down the barrel of my 20-gauge shotgun, I track the fluorescent-orange disc streaking across the blue California sky.  Without hesitation I pull the trigger and—BLAMO!—the four-inch clay target is blown to smithereens.  As my classmates erupt in a spontaneous round of applause, all I can think is  “Dang, this is fun!”

You might wonder what an ordinary minivan-driving mother is doing here pumping these harmless skeet-shooting targets full of hot lead.  Actually, it was the promise of  just this kind of extraordinary experience that drew my friend Karen and I to this Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (B.O.W.) weekend.

These two-and-a-half-day sampler programs, which are held at locations throughout the U.S., are designed to introduce women of all ages and backgrounds to a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated outdoor sports.  Our B.O.W. weekend’s menu of available classes included everything from backcountry navigation using GPS and topographical maps to Dutch-oven cooking.

In fact, the most difficult part of the entire program was choosing which outdoor activities we wanted to try.  Ultimately, we ended up signing up for workshops that seemed like they’d be the biggest stretch for a couple of big-city girls.Becoming An Outdoors Woman

Like our archery class, for instance, where we got to enjoy the satisfying “thwap” as our arrows hit the target, even if they weren’t exactly bullseyes.  Or an introduction to fly-fishing session where, suited up in full gear, I waded into the river and landed my first leaf.  Or the twilight kayak paddle where we got to watch the full moon rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By the time we got to the skeet shooting range Sunday morning, I really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this outdoors-woman thing. At least until I reached into my pocket for a shotgun shell and ended up trying to slip my lipstick into the gun’s open chamber!

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