Xplorie Story: Simon Says, “Live A Better Life”

Hello, we are Brenda and Matt Jones from Omaha, Nebraska, proud parents of Simon, Lily, and Theo. This past summer, as fate would have it, we became the first family to book on Xplorie.com. With Xplorie, we took a vacation to Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. Our vacation challenged us and brought our family together. By zip lining, whitewater rafting, horseback riding on the beach, shark fishing, and, of course, eating ice cream, we found transformation and inspiration. This is our Xplorie story.


This past spring, Simon, our oldest son, who had been bravely battling cancer for four years, turned 18 and graduated high school.

Soon after graduation, however, Simon’s health quickly deteriorated. On June 27th, he passed away.

Simon was full of adventure. During the final years of his young life, he helped others, faced his fears, and spread his message to “Live a Better Life.”

The previous summer, Simon was given the news that his cancer had returned and he was given a year to live. So we decided to build a bucket list of adventures. We took a trip from Omaha to Los Angeles. We went surfing, white water rafting, zip lining, and mountain climbing. Simon jumped from an 80-foot cliff into water. Simon parachuted out of an airplane and jumped off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. These brave actions meant more to Simon than simple adventure. At first, Simon didn’t feel that he needed to do anything spectacular. But then he realized that he could use his adventures to spread the word about childhood cancer. During Simon’s bucket list trip, he was interviewed by several reporters, who then created TV stories and newspaper articles that promoted childhood cancer awareness.

Before the trip began, on his own, Simon had been writing a blog on Facebook entitled Simon Says: Live a Better Life. And he decided to blog about his adventures. Simon said, “Despite having cancer, I can do extreme things. I can show people that you don’t have to be limited by your struggles.” Since Simon had been writing about this message already, it was a natural fit. Everything started falling into place as it was meant to be. Simon documented our trip on his blog. And after the trip, Simon wrote inspiring posts at least once a month.


On July 1st, we had a Celebration of Life service for Simon.

Over 350 people attended and we all celebrated Simon’s life and message.

Afterward, however, we quarantined ourselves in our house. During those first days, we didn’t want to talk to anybody or do anything. We cried and mourned together, but then we decided, as a family, that we needed to honor Simon with an adventure.

Of course, we had no plans for a vacation. With everything that had happened with Simon, we hadn’t had a chance to think about anything else. Because we had nothing ready, we needed to act fast. So along with Lily, who is 21, we began searching all over the internet trying to figure out where we were going to go and what we were going to do.

When we started planning our vacation, Simon’s adventurous spirit was heavy on our minds. We wanted to honor Simon and we asked, “What would Simon do?” With this intention, we decided that St. Simons Island in Georgia would be one of our destinations, but we also wanted to stop in the Great Smoky Mountains along the way.

As we searched the country via the internet for a place to stay, we decided that Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was a perfect place for our family to rent a cabin in the woods, reconnect with one another, and have exciting experiences.

While searching, we found a few cabins on different websites. We found one cabin in a great location, and one cabin that wasn’t exactly where we wanted to be, but it came with free activities. We soon learned that this was the Xplorie program.

We thought, we really would like to do these activities, so we looked up Xplorie directly. On Xplorie.com, as we were searching after midnight, we discovered the cabin that we liked in the location that we wanted could be booked right on their site. It included all the activities we wanted and it was cheaper. We thought, this is a no brainer. We’ll book through Xplorie.

Little did we know, Xplorie.com had just launched their site that allowed cabins and rooms to be booked, so by chance, this was how we became the first family to book directly through Xplorie.com.

It really intrigued us that the house came with activities, things for you to get out of the house and go do together as a family. This was a great compromise with Theo, who is 12 and loves extreme sports just like his older brother.

Theo wanted to go to waterparks and amusement parks. So when we saw that the cabin had the opportunity for whitewater rafting and zip lining, which were things that we’d done on Simon’s bucket list trip, we thought this is perfect. These are the things that Simon loved and we all love. Let’s go. We can stay in the woods and quietly reconnect as a family, and we can be adventurous as well. There was also free ice cream!


On July 7th, we drove from Omaha to Gatlinburg, and our adventures began right away.

Booking activities was extremely easy. We made one phone call and Xplorie took care of everything. We didn’t have to deal with the activity providers directly. We literally booked all our activities in a matter of minutes.

When you book through a third party, you’re sometimes worried if they will really have your reservation. But we didn’t have any trouble. Every activity provider was very familiar with Xplorie and the process was very, very smooth. We just showed up and had a great time.

We’d been whitewater rafting before, so this was our first activity. The rafting company was only a half hour from our cabin. We loved our raft guide. He told jokes with Theo and related to everyone in the boat. There was even a portion of the trip where everyone who wanted to plopped right into the river. For about five minutes, everyone cooled off in the calm water and then the guide pulled us back in. We really enjoyed the trip. Afterward, of course, we went and got ice cream together at Mad Dog’s Creamery, a tradition we continued each day during our entire time in Gatlinburg.

The next day we went zip lining, which, because we had to ‘brake’ ourselves, was especially intimidating. With Simon’s illness, my wife Brenda developed slight panic attacks, and braking yourself requires you to reach behind you with a padded glove and grab a hold of the cable to slow yourself down.

On the first practice zip line, Brenda got stuck hanging in the middle of the air and the guide had to rescue her. Brenda thought, this is it. I’m done. I’ll just go to sit in the van. I’m good. But the guide said, “Why don’t you ride with me?”

The guide, for the next four zip lines, attached his harness to Brenda’s. He let Brenda ride with him and he did the braking part. This made the whole adventure much more enjoyable. The guide was an amazing young man, who could’ve given Brenda a hard time, but instead recognized her fear and really helped her through it. By the last two zip lines, Brenda could brake herself.

We shared Simon’s story with our guides. It was a beautiful place to be and they were wonderful people to be with. Sometimes we take guides for granted, but these zip lining guides were amazing. For them, it wasn’t a paycheck. They truly enjoyed what they did and they helped every single person through their fears.


Simon loved the ocean.

So to complete the trip, we went to the ocean. We planned to go to Saint Simons Island, Georgia, and Cape San Blas, Florida. After having such a great experience with Xplorie in Gatlinburg, we wanted to book with them again. We called Xplorie directly and asked, “Is there anyone in these areas that you work with?”

Since Xplorie had been around for 20 years, they had great connections. We leveraged Xplorie and stayed with their participating partners. In Florida, we went horseback riding on the beach and took a shark catch and release trip, which was amazing. Once again, we worked with Xplorie’s incredible partners who loved what they did and showed us a great time.


We had a wonderful experience with Xplorie, and we wish to continue our partnership with Xplorie to spread Simon’s message of Living a Better Life.

As we establish and grow the Simon Says Foundation, and inspire people to face their fears with courage and faith, we know that Xplorie is a perfect partner.

Xplorie gives people the opportunity to enjoy life, but “Live a Better Life” means something different to everyone. You need to discover what it means to you. Simon wanted us to live life fully and that’s what we did on our vacation with Xplorie.

To keep Simon’s spirit alive, and honor him, we must continue to see life’s struggles, not as a burden, but rather as a way to help us live more fully.