For an unforgettable vacation, try something new

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By Christopher Elliott

If you want your next family vacation to be unforgettable, try something new.

Get out of your comfort zone. Shoot arrows at a balloon. Plummet down an Olympic ski jump with only a parachute to stop you. Feed a dangerous animal.

It will leave a permanent — and, I’m pretty sure positive — impression. And I know because I’ve tried it and my kids tell me that I should do it more often. I would, but I can only take so much excitement.

But first, let’s talk about “why.” When something exciting happens, it creates a vivid flashbulb memory that can last a lifetime. These memories have the potential to do much more than illuminate the memory of your last trip; they can define it. Choose the right one, and you create an unforgettable vacation.

Shooting balloons with Sandy

The closest my 11-year-old daughter, Erysse, has ever come to a bow and arrow is watching a Hunger Games movie. So when I told her we were visiting an indoor archery range called Flight Archery Studio on our recent visit to Hailey, Idaho, she just shrugged.

But the moment she clutched a wooden bow, she was hooked. I think I know why. It’s that sensation of releasing the bowstring and an arrow launching toward your target at 150 m.p.h. — and then hitting your target. Extra points for the bullseye.

An unforgettable vacation, tray something new. Christopher Elliott, author
Erysse Elliott with the results of her target practice. If they make another Hunger Games sequel, she wants to be in it.

After a few rounds of practice, Sandy, the owner, offered my daughter a challenge: Can you hit a small balloon in the middle of the target and make it pop? That clinched it. For the next hour, she sent a barrage of arrows at a cardboard wall, trying to “kill” the balloon. No luck.

“Dad,” she begged the next day, “I want to go back. I can hit the balloon!”

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And so we did. And this time, my daughter was mentally prepared. (How do you even mentally prepare for something like this? Had she watched The Lord of the Rings on her phone that night? Who knows?)

She aimed at the target, released the bowstring, and …


And then again: pop, pop, pop! She must have destroyed half a dozen balloons, one after another.

“She’s a natural,” said Sandy.

Archery is a fun father-daughter bonding experience, and an unforgettable vacation activity. But if you want to feel as if you are cheating death, you have to take a plunge.

For an unforgettable vacation, try something new.
Aren Elliott takes a plunge off the “Monster” zipline at Calgary’s Olympic Park. Yes, they really call it the “Monster” zipline. And yes, that’s a parachute behind him.

Calgary’s “Monster” zipline

About halfway through a recent road trip across Canada, we decided that we needed a break from the museums and walking tours. The kids were restless. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next vacation home.)

This intermission involved a lot of adrenaline. Remember the 1988 Winter Olympics? Imagine a zipline strung down the old 90 meter jump at the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Imagine also that you’ll reach speeds of up to 75 m.p.h. — so fast that you need a parachute to stop you.

Do you know what you feel like at the top of the ski jump tower, which also happens to be Calgary’s highest vantage point? If you answered “fear,” then that describes three members of our family. Except for my thrill-seeking daughter.

“I want to go first!” she said.

And so they strapped her in, and she pushed herself into the void. (Related: How to avoid a bad vacation start.)

I was second. The ride was insane — a rush of speed followed by a sudden stop. My advice? Deploy your parachute early.

The rest of my family followed and, thankfully, they all survived. But I’m even more impressed by the memories that survived. Whenever we talk about Calgary, or even Canada, the kids bring up that ski jump zipline. It scared the heck out of them. Yet another flashbulb memory that defined their trip.

Iden Elliott feeds a hungry ostrich at OstrichLand USA -- very carefully.
Iden Elliott feeds a hungry ostrich at OstrichLand USA — very carefully.

Feed the ostrich, but mind your fingers

A different kind of thrill awaited us on a recent visit to Buellton, Calif., about an hour north of Santa Barbara. That’s where I found an unlikely attraction called OstrichLand USA. Its main purpose, it seems, is to bring you as close as possible to these aggressive birds without losing a finger.

You don’t want to mess with an ostrich, even if it’s to try something new. When you see one up close, you’ll understand. It stands seven feet tall, can run up to 45 miles an hour and is ranked as one of the most dangerous birds in the world.

“We provide a way for you to be up close and personal with these big birds and safe at the same time,” OstrichLand promises. Here’s how they do it: When you buy your admission ticket in the gift shop, they hand you tray of ostrich food. The ostriches remain behind a wooden fence. You extend the tray toward the bird — carefully — and then it swoops down and feasts on the pellets.

Do you have to guess who tried to feed the ostrich first? That’s right, my daughter. But her two older brothers quickly joined. As far as I can tell, they still have all of their digits. The trays worked. Thank you, OstrichLand.

On your next trip, do yourself a favor. Don’t do the same old same old. Try something new. You’ll never forget it.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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