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Destination: New Zealand

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Last year, in preparation for a wanderlust-sating trip to Eastern Europe, I asked the wanderlusts among our readers about the wildest places they had been. We got some great replies -- McMurdo Station in Antarctica, Namibia's Skeleton Coast and the unforgiving wilds of Burma, to name just a few -- but because my trip to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary never materialized, they did nothing but aggravate my desire to travel to far-flung places.

In a few weeks, we'll finally be remedying that. It's not as unusual a destination as it once was, perhaps, but according to friends who've been there recently, that makes it no less spectacular: New Zealand. Over the past few days I've read the Lonely Planet guidebook cover to cover (I love those things -- sometimes I even buy them for places I'm not going, just to fantasize), and I've been trying to sort through the five billion things there are to do, see, hike on, jump off (or out) of, rappel into, and swim in to try and fit everything into what now seem like two woefully inadequate weeks in country. And I need your help!

What's unmissable? What's unusual? What's the coolest thing you've seen or done in NZ?

In the meantime, all I've got to go on is my dry old guidebook. So far, it's got me thinking you'd all be wise to take out an insurance policy on my life right about now -- apparently Kiwis have a zeal for more than just land -- they also love to throw themselves off of bridges and out of planes, fly down slot canyons in jetboats at breakneck speed, and roll down grassy knolls inside plastic balls. It's called zorbing (and it's actually quite safe):

Also, I'm starting to think my wife is going to ask me to jump out of a plane -- does anyone care to share their skydiving or bungee jumping stories with the rest of us?

(Above photo of NZ's Great Barrier Island by Doug Dillaman, a friend of mine in Auckland.)

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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