Dinosaur Trips Origin Story

Digging Up My Dinosaur Past

I was a dinosaur-obsessed kid. When one of the questions asked at my kindergarten graduation of each student preparing to go into the first grade was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer was: archaeologist.

It was 1990 and I was 6 years old, so I – like many people in a pre-Jurassic Park world and especially those who couldn’t really read yet – didn’t even know the word paleontologist at that point. So I went with what I knew.

And what I knew was that I wanted to dig up dinosaurs. That much I was certain of and I thought nothing could knock me off that path. Not even not knowing the word paleontology.

Flash forward some two decades later and low and behold… I got a job as a travel journalist?

So, What Killed The Dinosaurs For Me?

I stuck to my dinosaur obsession throughout elementary school, so much so that as a student I was asked to present about dinosaurs to the Grade 2 class every year. I was extremely proud of this. I absolutely loved sharing my enthusiasm for dinosaurs with others.

However, as happens to so many dinosaur-obsessed kids, by the time I started high school it became apparent that being interested in dinosaurs and fossils was going to get me mocked. Since there was already enough of that going on, I gradually abandoned dinosaurs and paleontology as an interest. Instead, I dove deep into typical teenage stuff like sports, movies, and music. All obsessions that would stick with me as dinosaurs simply faded into my past. 

Dinosaurs Come Roaring Back

It was only in my late 20s that my curiosity around dinosaurs, fossils, and the world of paleontology began to make a comeback. An evolving internet made it a lot easier to learn about new discoveries being made in the world of paleontology. I was thrilled to discover just how much – thanks in no small part to the popularity of the Jurassic Park movies, as well as numerous other factors – interest in fossils and paleontology had surged in the intervening years. Suddenly it was a golden age of paleontology! 

Thousands of previously unknown dinosaur species had been discovered. Staple species from my childhood didn’t even “exist” anymore! Incredible advances had been made in how we studied dinosaur fossils. Multiple new generations of paleontologists were challenging our whole approach to dinosaur research. We had even confirmed what killed the dinosaurs! It was exhilarating. 

But for me, it was still just a curiosity. Paleontology was simply something that was fun to learn about in bite size chunks through social media and podcasts. I had an exciting career in the travel industry going for me. I was getting the chance to explore and experience places all around the world that I once thought I might never get to see. I wasn’t sure where dinosaurs were supposed to fit within all that.

And through the years, it’s been a really fulfilling run in the travel business so far. I’ve had the chance to work with and for trip designers, tour operators, travel agents, tourism offices, non-profit organizations, tourism sustainability organizations, art collectives, Indigenous associations, conservation initiatives, animal rights groups, and journalists from all around the world. I’ve learned so much about the ways we can explore and experience this world from all of them. And it was while working in the travel and tourism industry that the idea for Dinosaur Trips was first hatched. 

The Dawn of Dinosaur Trips

While doing some research for a tourism project, I found myself going down a rabbit hole (or an oryctodromeus hole, if you prefer) on the dinosaur museums and paleontology sites across Alberta, Canada. Then I expanded my digging to across North America. And then beyond that to places like Germany, Scotland, Argentina, South Africa, the United Kingdom, China, France, and more. I couldn’t believe how much more to see and experience there was than I’d ever realized.

This all got me excited about the prospect of first re-visiting Alberta; this time to explore the province walking in the footsteps of the dinosaurs. There was only one problem. My wife, Tarin, was never going to go for it. She did not share my revitalized interest in dinosaurs, even though she always politely and patiently listened to me talk about every new dinosaur fact or fossil discovery I stumbled upon online. Still, convincing her that we should go to a place called the Badlands for a week to look at fossils and nerd out on all things dinosaurs was unlikely at best. 

But it got me thinking; I wonder if there’s a travel company out there that can put together the kind of vacation that explores an awesome destination through the lens of paleontology, but while still ensuring that all their guests have an incredible overall travel experience. The kind of trip that’s enjoyable for everyone; even those not quite as excited about dinosaurs as the rest of us (I mean everyone likes dinosaurs at least a little, right?).

I found nothing. Despite my travel industry connections, I couldn’t find anyone putting together the kind of dinosaur-focused vacations and holidays I was looking for. 

It was at about this time that I read paleontologist Steve Brussatte’s fascinating book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World’ for the first time and a whole planet of paleontologists and incredible characters from the world of dinosaur research was revealed to me. I was all in. It was clear there was a world to be explored with dinosaurs leading the way. Someone just needed to put it all together. 

A Dedication

I had excited conversations with Tarin about the potential for this new idea. She encouraged me to take the leap and finally combine one of my fascinations with my professional life. Still, creating and running a travel company seemed daunting. Was I really the right person for this? I was comfortable in my travel and tourism consultancy role and my life in Toronto. Why shake that up?

Tragically, Tarin unexpectedly passed away in 2021 and life as I knew it broke into a million pieces. One of the last great conversations, of which we had so many in our 15 years together, was about Dinosaur Trips and looking to maybe make the company a reality. We were both excited about the possibility.

But in the wake of her passing, I shelved the idea all together for a while. It was only in the healing / grief process that I re-committed myself to turning this dinosaur holidays and vacations company idea into a reality. All purpose had been drained from my life when I lost her. I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I needed to find something to believe in again. I needed a new mission. Something to pour my time and energy into. Something to get me back out into the world.

I don’t know if there are many travel companies out there that are dedicated to someone. But I came into the world of travel and tourism as a writer (which is why this is so long, my apologies), and writers get to dedicate the things they make to the people they love. So, Dinosaur Trips is dedicated to Tarin. It comes from my commitment to her to keep going, to keep finding more things to get excited about in life, and to share that enthusiasm with others. 

I can’t wait to share Dinosaur Trips with you all, too.


A man sits on a stone wall overlooking Prague

Zach Vanasse (he/him) is the Founder & Director of Dinosaur Trips. You can email him here.

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