Archive for the ‘Special Interest’ Category

Birdwatching Bonanza: How To Add 800 Species To Your Life List In One Trip

April 27, 2010

If you’re one of the millions of serious birders in North America, sooner or later you’ll find yourself running out of new indigenous species to add to your life list.  When you reach that point, you’ll want to check out the mind-boggling array of global birdwatching expeditions put on by the nice folks at Birdquest.

birdwatching tour birding life listThis 30-year-old British operation offers tours to just about any exotic birdwatching destination you can imagine, and a few you probably can’t (seriously, how many people do you know who’ve been birding in Djibouti?).  They bill their outings as “The Ultimate In Bird Tours” and, with regularly scheduled expeditions to all seven continents, it’s hard to argue that point.

Birdquest’s worldwide network of tour leaders include leading field ornithologists, professional bird artists, and authors of well-respected field guides for several prime birding destinations. This expertise generates impressive results for their guests, who often go home with hundreds of new additions to their life lists.

If you consider yourself a truly hardcore birder, however, you’ll want to check out Birdquest’s World Record Bird Tours.  On an upcoming “megaquest” to Kenya, for example, they hope to break their own record of spotting an amazing 835 species in one trip.  Wow.

Add encounters with a variety of non-feathered friends from polar bears to Sumatran tigers, and you have wildlife expeditions that definitely qualify for the title of extraordinary experiences.


Feathered Friends: Vermont’s British School Of Falconry

Bush Planes & Brown Bears: Get Up-Close-And-Personal With Alaskan Grizzlies


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

Adventures In Aviation: Zeppelin Flights

April 7, 2010

zeppelin flights san franciscoIn a world where many people have come to view flying as an ordeal to be endured, there are still lots of us for whom the act of leaving terra firma behind remains an adventure to be savored.  If you’re one of us, you owe it to yourself to book a seat on the first zeppelin to take to the skies above the U.S. in more than 70 years.

The company responsible for the zeppelin’s return to America, Airship Ventures, offers one- and two-hour flight-seeing tours around San Francisco Bay in the 246-foot helium-filled Eureka, as well as occasional cross-country flights as they reposition the zeppelin for tours in southern California or Monterey (if you have your private pilot’s license you can even take a turn at the controls). Between the zeppelin’s gentle flight characteristics—three 200-horsepower engines in rotating nacelles allow pilots to make this 747-sized airship hover, climb, and descend like a helicopter—and its huge panoramic windows, there simply isn’t a better platform for airborne rubbernecking out there.

Then, of course, there’s the sheer rarity of the experience.  The Eureka is the largest airship in existence and one of only three zeppelins operating anywhere in the world, facts that should earn you some bragging rights back home.

Ultimately though, all that grown-up appeal vanishes the moment you climb aboard.  From aerial views of Alcatraz and the city’s dramatic skyline to an amazing Golden Gate fly-by, even serious “been there, flown in that” aviation geeks (umm, like me for instance) are likely to find themselves with their noses pressed up against the glass like wide-eyed 10-year-olds.

In the end, it’s this sense of wonder that makes these zeppelin flights such an extraordinary experience.  Even for all those poor jaded folks who insist they don’t like flying.


Full Of Hot Air: How To Be Part Of A Mass Ascension At The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

High-Flying History: Take Off In A World War II B-17

Lindbergh’s Legacy: Powered Hang-Gliding Flights Above Lucky Lindy’s Maui Home

Cool Camps (Part 2): Why Let Kids Have All The Fun?

April 2, 2010

If you read Part 1 of this series, which featured seven way-cool summer camps for kids, you may have come away wishing there were a way us grown-ups could get in on the fun.  At least I know I did.

Camp Winnarainbow founder wavy gravy

Camp Winnarainbow's Wavy Gravy

Which lead me to put together this list of adult-only “camps” that’ll give the tweens and teens in your life just as many reasons to be jealous:

Hollywood TV Star Fantasy Camp

Get ready for your close-up as you play your part in this “made-for-TV” crime drama.

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp

Five days of jamming in laid back settings ranging from small combos to big bands.

Camp Winnarainbow

Run away to join the circus at this far-out program put on by hippie legend Wavy Gravy.

World Poker Tour Boot Camp

Raise your game to the next level at these two-day clinics taught by tournament pros.

Space Camp

Space Camp

Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, now you can at least train like one!

Bull Riding Camp

Here’s your chance to experience the longest eight seconds of your life from atop a rodeo bull.

CIA Boot Camps

Foodies can join Culinary Institute of America instructors for the tastiest “camps” anywhere!


Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Michael Jordan’s Basketball Fantasy Camp

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!


Civil War Adventure Camp

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

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.


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

Experience This: 3 New Books Guaranteed To Fuel Your Wanderlust

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.


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.

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.


Hit The Stage With Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

School of Rock Field Trip: Cleveland’s Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame

Fashion Designer Dreams: 4 Fab Ways To Make Your Fashionista Fantasies Come True

March 3, 2010

Not sure how to put this delicately, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t do fashion.  Unless, of course, you consider cargo shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops to be valid fashion statements.

That said, I have a niece who reads every issue of Vogue cover-to-cover and has even started sketching out and stitching up some of her own creations.  Add the success of long-running television series like Project Runway and What Not To Wear and I’ve come to realize that there are an awful lot of people out there who share her passion for fashion.Fashion Design Programs

Which got me to wondering if there was a way all these style-savvy folks could do more than just watch someone else bringing their distinctive designs to life on TV.  Programs that, unlike the many career-oriented schools out there, require commitments measured in days or weeks instead of years.

And to my surprise, I’ve found several extraordinary experiences that seem all but guaranteed to make anyone’s long-repressed fashionista fantasies come true:

Teen Fashion Camp NYC

This five-day “summer camp” in midtown Manhattan gives teens a chance to explore all aspects of the fashion industry while dreaming up and presenting their own unique “brand.” An advanced follow-up session offers an in-depth look at working for fashion magazines and designing for the runway.

Istituto di Moda Burgo

The haute couture capital of Milan, Italy provides a once-in-a-lifetime backdrop for these summer fashion design programs that feature individualized instruction from pros currently working in some of Europe’s trendiest design studios.  The best part is that classes are available for all levels of experience, from complete novices to working professionals.

Austin School of Fashion Design

No time for a drawn-out program of study?  Try this school’s series of adult-friendly four-day “crash courses” in everything from fashion illustration to basic sewing.  Also check out their one-day workshop on how to design, manufacture, and market your own collection.

M. Avery Designs

Located across the Hudson from New York City, these Bag Lab workshops make it easy for anyone to design and stitch up their own one-of-a-kind handbag. Can’t make the trip?  Send them sketches and notes on fabrics, detailing and the like and they’ll be happy to make your vision a reality.


The Nose Knows: Experience Olfactory Overload On This NYC Custom Perfume-Making Adventure