The most dangerous place to vacation might be here

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By Christopher Elliott

Can we talk about the most dangerous place to vacation? It’s not necessarily some far-off banana republic immersed in a civil war. It can be right here, in your own backyard.

I should know. Since watching the Summer Olympics, my three little daredevils (ages 11, 13 and 16) have begged to visit Brazil. They managed to persuade me to go to Kenya last year, but we canceled our trip to Turkey because things were getting blown up at the airport. In the meantime, my kids insisted I drive to Laramie, Wyo.

Why? Tornados, that’s why!

We’d heard about a series of EF3 twisters packing 150 mph winds that touched down near Laramie. And since we were living in Fort Collins, Colo., only a one-hour drive, they had to go.

Alright, time out. You don’t want to rush into harm’s way, especially when you’re on vacation. And you definitely don’t want to become one of those “disaster” tourists who parachutes into impoverished places to witness human suffering. But a little danger can spice things up. I highly recommend it, as I noted last week.

My secret? Check out a destination that only looks dangerous when you’re traveling with kids. Do something adventurous but relatively safe. And put a little thought into the exercise.

Erysse Elliott crosses a street in Laramie, Wyo. Alas, we saw no tornadoes when we visited.
Erysse Elliott crosses a street in Laramie, Wyo. Alas, we saw no tornadoes when we visited.

A not-so-dangerous road trip to Wyoming

Laramie is a quiet town in southern Wyoming, but it’s even quieter in the summer when the University of Wyoming (UW) isn’t in session. It does not have a reputation as a most dangerous place to vacation. I thought about my kids’ request to visit Laramie and quickly agreed to it.

First, the odds of seeing another EF3, not to mention being sucked into one, were remote. I mean, really remote. But this was also an opportunity to show the kids a fun Western town and whet their appetite for attending a school like the UW. Plus, Laramie is the home of one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, Sweet Melissa Cafe. (Yes, they have vegetarian restaurants in Wyoming.)

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Our visit to the Gem City of the Plains went better than I could have hoped. We stumbled upon the Historic Ivinson Mansion and caught a tour of its one-room schoolhouse. We played frisbee on the vast lawns of UW and then cooled off at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum. And we enjoyed vegan enchiladas at Sweet Melissa’s.

OK, it wasn’t perfect. The kids were looking for extreme weather, and the best they could do was a late spring heat wave. But hey, if the Weather Channel can encourage tourism, why not?

Iden Elliott scales the cliffs in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo. It looks scary, and it was.
Iden Elliott scales the cliffs in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo. It looks scary, and it was.

The most dangerous place to vacation isn’t so dangerous

Optics are important, especially for kids. See my son, Iden, sitting on the cliff? I took that picture in January in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo. He looks like he’s scaled a sheer rock face with no gear. Truth is, the ground is just below.

What’s my point? People want to feel as if they’re in danger even when they’re perfectly safe. It’s part of the thrill of getting away, and photos like this are the trophies they bring back.

Rest assured, Iden made it back without a scratch that day.

Iden Elliott at the top of Lookout Bowl at Sun Valley. It's steep -- but survivable.
Iden Elliott at the top of Lookout Bowl at Sun Valley. It’s steep — but survivable.

Iden also made it to the bottom of Lookout Bowl in Sun Valley, a black diamond run rated “most difficult,” this March. Sure, it looks as if he’s about to plunge down an ice wall in his skis, but Lookout Bowl is a pushover compared with the Wall in Kirkwood, Calif., an almost vertical run where, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll fall the entire way down. And Iden, my most aggressive skier, does laps on the Wall whenever we’re in Kirkwood. Nah, he’s just showing off. (Related: How to take a vacation in your hometown.)

Get the adrenaline going, and the rest will take care of itself

So here’s my travel advice, which I credit to my friends at the Canopy Tours NW course in Camano Island, Wash. If you make it look scary, maybe make it feel like you’re putting your life on the line (literally, in the case of ziplining), you’ll receive a nice shot of adrenaline. The rest will take care of itself. (Here’s what you need to know about travel health and safety.)

For me, a morning spent zipping through the trees in Washington State, hanging by nothing but a harness, is plenty of danger. To add to the excitement, we ziplined on an afternoon when a source was trying to sue me. Between zipping, I spoke with my lawyer. Don’t worry, the lawsuit didn’t go anywhere, but it was like a vial of epinephrine to an already fast-beating heart. I sure picked the wrong day to go zip-lining.

Then again, maybe it was the right day. In other words, go somewhere that looks dangerous but isn’t. Do something dangerous-looking, but safe. Get your head into the game, too. You’ll come back alive and have a few thrilling stories to tell your friends.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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