Archive for the ‘Affordable’ Category

Extraordinary Event: RoboGames Gives You The Chance To Say “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto”

April 23, 2010

RoboGames Domo Arigato Mr RobotoFor those of us who grew up on sci-fi movies and television shows like Forbidden Planet and Lost In Space, the idea of a world full of robots seems like some far-off fantasy.  Which is precisely why this weekend’s RoboGames—a three-day event certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s largest open robotics competition—seems like such an extraordinary experience.

This six-year-old San Francisco-area geek-fest features the highly imaginative creations of individuals and teams from more than 20 countries, competing in dozens of events ranging from soccer to sumo.  The stars of the show, of course, are the battling bots that come in sizes from 5.3 ounces to 340 pounds.  But there’s a more civilized side to the event as well, including robots who make music and mix a mean cocktail.  There’s even a chance to meet techie celebrities, including MythBusters wiz-kid Grant Imahara.RoboGames robotics competition

For an entertaining look at what to expect, check out CNet’s great RoboGames audio slideshow.  And if you go, remember to say thanks—or should we say domo arigato—to all the automatons you meet.


Shuttle Launch Sideshow: The Next Best Thing To Blast-Off

Spain’s La Tomatina Festival


5 “Prudent” Ways To Blow Your Tax Refund

April 16, 2010

how to spend your tax refundNot that you could tell it from the checks I had to write to the U.S. Treasury yesterday, but the Internal Revenue Service says the average American’s tax refund has actually grown by about 10 percent compared to last year.  Which means there will be an awful lot of folks with an extra $3,000 or so burning a hole in their pockets over the next few months.

Now, I understand that prudence probably dictates it’d be wise to bank all that dough for a rainy day.  But, honestly, that doesn’t sound like very much fun now, does it?

So here’s my compromise: Five affordable once-in-a-lifetime adventures you’ll be talking about from now till next April 15th:


Fun With Fossil Fuels: Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise

The BIG Picture: Website Offers Easy Way To Create 360-Degree Scrollable Panoramic Photos

April 9, 2010

As someone who’s had more than his fair share of truly extraordinary experiences, I can tell you virtually all of them share one recurring problem.  Namely that they’re filled with amazing moments that typical digital photos just can’t do justice.

Easy way to create panoramic photosWhich is why I found myself intrigued by the free browser-based digital photo app just introduced by the folks at  While it’s still a work in progress, the website makes it ridiculously easy for even the least tech-savvy traveler to create surprisingly high-quality, full-screen scrollable panoramic images without the need for special cameras, tripods, or software.

Just shoot a series of pics with any digital camera—even the one in your cell phone—taking care to keep part of the previous frame in each new shot.  Then go to the website, upload the photos, and the app creates seamless panoramas in about five seconds that allow you to drag your cursor across the image to peruse views up to 360-degrees.  From there, the app lets you share them with far-flung friends and family members via email or Facebook or even embed them in your website or blog.

While no technology can ever replace the feeling you get when you’re right there in the middle of a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the immersive images this simple app lets you create may be the next best thing.


Going Postal?: New App Lets You Mail Actual Postcards from Your iPhone

Summer Travel Gear: Rugged New Point-n-Shoot Camera Can Be Dunked, Dropped

Horsing Around: How You Can Ride Into History With Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

February 27, 2010

Buffalo Bill's Wild WestWhen I read that today was William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s birthday, it made me wonder whether anyone out there was still putting on the kind of Old West extravaganzas this larger-than-life showman made famous in the waning days of the American frontier.  What I discovered will surprise city slickers and delight all those folks for whom cowboy skills are much more than just quaint historical relics.

You see, it turns out that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West is currently gearing up for its 39th season full of trick riders, fancy ropers, stagecoach robberies, Native American dancers and much more.  Modern-day impresario Montie Montana Jr. says he likes to think of this blend of history and theater as the kind of show old Buffalo Bill himself would be putting on if he were still with us.

While that’s all well and good, what makes this such an extraordinary experience is the fact that Montana holds open tryouts the morning of every performance.  Virtually everyone who turns up can earn a spot in the over-the-top grand finale of that night’s show, while a lucky few may be offered a permanent spot in the show’s internationally touring cast.

To find out where you can see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—and possibly audition for what’s sure to be an unforgettable moment in this living-history spectacle—check the show’s online calendar.

More Cool Stuff:

3 Family-Friendly Living History Adventures

Cool photos of the original Buffalo Bill

Blown Up: Indoor Skydiving Offers A Much Saner Alternative To The Real Deal

February 23, 2010

Indoor Skydive--Las VegasAs I look around this tubular chamber, a random thought occurs to me:  Aren’t rooms with padded walls usually reserved for crazy people?  Before I have a chance to consider what lying spread-eagled on the wire mesh floor of a two-story padded room says about my mental health, the gentle breeze generated by the giant fan beneath me quickly builds to hurricane force.  And suddenly I find myself flying.

Granted, the concept of “indoor skydiving” may seem a bit loony in its own right.  But the fact is this is about as close to the exhilaration of free fall as a relatively sane person—herein defined as anyone with more sense than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane—is ever likely to get.

When my friend Todd and I decided to give the sport a whirl we headed to Vegas Indoor Skydiving, one of only a handful of places in the U.S. that make these 120 mile-per-hour vertical wind tunnels available to the general public.  Our instructor K8 (her spelling, not mine) started out by showing us a short video that demonstrated proper body-flight technique, the hand signals we’d use to communicate, and—most importantly—how to tuck-and-roll properly to guarantee a safe landing on the chamber’s well-padded rim if we found ourselves flying out of the airstream.

After getting us decked out like escapees from some low-budget sci-fi flick in brightly-colored flight-suits, helmets, and goggles, the three of us headed for the wind tunnel.  Once inside, K8 had me lie face down on the trampoline-like wire mesh in the center of the chamber as she signaled the wind tunnel operator to crank up the huge fan in the building’s basement.

As the wind speed approached 75 miles-per-hour I was literally blown up, with K8 stepping in with an occasional tug on a sleeve or pants leg to keep me positioned in the center of the airstream.  Once I started to get the hang of flying sans aircraft, I was able to stand on the rim of the chamber and dive head-first into the airstream in a move not unlike Superman taking flight.

While most of this operation’s customers are satisfied with a couple of three-minute flight sessions, I flew for a total of 12 minutes as Todd took his sweet time snapping photos.  Then it was his turn to fly with K8, whereupon he quickly decided that this off-the-wall form of flight is a lot harder than it looks.

Having done a couple of tandem skydives I can tell you that, while this indoor version of free fall lacks the full-on sensory overload of the real deal, the overall experience is pretty darn similar.  It also happens to be the best way I know to get a taste of skydiving without making folks think you’ve lost your mind.

The Ultimate Thrill Ride: Tandem Skydive

List of Other Indoor Skydiving Centers

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

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

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.

5 Affordable Gifts You’ll Never Have To Return

December 17, 2009

In my recent Black Friday Blues post, I suggested a few extraordinary experiences that I thought would make great gifts.  The kind of remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures that I know from personal experience will flat-out blow your giftee away.

After giving it some more thought, however, it occurred to me that some folks might be put off because they automaticaly assume that it must be too expensive.  Something that actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

To prove my point, I’ve put together a list of five extraordinary experiences with price tags under $100.  Add the fact that these gifts will be remembered long after every other present under the tree has been forgotten and they look like downright bargains:

For Speed Freaks:

A ridiculously reasonable entry fee will get your giftee the chance to put the pedal to the metal on the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to earn a permanent place in the land-speed racing record books.

For Big Kids:

If there’s a big kid (um, like me for example) you’re your holiday shopping list, chances are they’ll love the idea of spending the night in their very own treehouse.

For The Athletic:

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, athletic types can get a taste of one of the events most extreme sports with the public skeleton rides offered at Park City’s Utah Olympic Park.

For Music Lovers:

There is absolutely no better (or more authentic) place to experience the infectious joie de vivre that good Cajun music inspires than the Saturday morning party at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana.

For The Outdoorsy:

If you know someone who’s happiest when they get a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the natural world, a wild cave tour of Mammoth Cave should make them downright giddy.

The One Creature Every Animal Lover Must Meet

December 10, 2009

Everyone thinks of Florida as all warm and sunny, all the time.  And while that’s largely true, the nights around the sleepy coastal town of Crystal River can get downright nippy this time of year.  Which is exactly why the next few months are such a great time of year to visit, especially if you’re an animal lover.

You see, those chilly evenings make the many warm springs around King’s Bay a magnet for manatees.  Because sea cows can’t take the cold any better than I can, they return from their daily foraging to spend the night here in waters as clear as any swimming pool.

Which is where my friends at Bird’s Underwater come in.  Owner Bill Oestrich and his crew run three-hour manatee snorkeling tours that let you get some quality face-time—and I’m speaking literally here—with one of the sweetest wild animals you could ever want to meet.

Now, I’m not normally prone to gushing about cute and cuddly animals, but I’ve done this several times now and have found swimming among these remarkable creatures to be one of my all-time favorite extraordinary experiencesRead the story of my first manatee encounter on and you’ll see what I mean.