By guest blogger Roger Herst
You don't travel to the Canada's high Arctic without a good reason. Aboard the Akademik Iofe, a converted Cold War Soviet spy ship, my enthusiastic shipmates and I headed north from Resolute Bay into the Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Aboard are professional photographers, geologists, meteorologists, zoologists, professors, writers and just plain lovers of the polar regions. The majority had been to the Antarctic, a large land mass at the South Pole surrounded by water. The opposite north pole is quite different. Here at the top of the planet is ocean covered with sea-ice but surrounded by land.
I joined this band of brothers in order to tweak my latest novel, No Land too Desolate, a geo-political thriller set in this semi-frozen region, populated by Inuit in scattered in distant villages. These hardy people once derisively referred to as Eskimos still maintain their traditional hunting-fishing cultures, surviving in bitter sub-zero cold without sunlight for four full months of the year. The best and only time for those of us from warmer climates to visit is during the summer when the days are long and the sun never dips below the horizon. Don't dream about the legendary northern skies. There's no darkness to view these heavenly bodies.
In the course of our short trip, it's hard to observe the effects of global warming, though experts who keep annual statistics are unanimous in their evaluation. Each winter the sea ice is thinner and each summer a great deal less survives exposure to sunlight when cold once again heralds the coming of winter.
We travel to shore twice a day to explore the tundra aboard Zodiacs. Near glaciers one can witness calving as tons of ageless compacted snow and ice tumble into the sea. This material is 100 million years old. As this ancient ice floats beside my Zodiac I snatch a hunk to nibble in my mouth, without doubt the purest water I have ever tasted. Small air bubbles trapped in this ice have survived from earliest geological time. In my mouth I sample oxygen and nitrogen older than the air breathed by Abraham 1600 BCE or by an ancient Pharoah, 2500 BCE!
My fellow explorers and I feel privileged to be here, realizing how we live only on the skin of this vast planet. Mother Earth doesn't belong to us. We are only visitors who like the native polar bear and walrus come and go, leaving this eternal legacy to future generations.
Roger Herst is the author of several novels, short stories and scholarly articles. He is an ordained Rabbi with a doctorate in Middle Eastern History, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and the Hebrew Union College. He is an avid tennis player and musician. There’s nothing outdoors he doesn’t love.
August 19, 2009. Photo by Roger Herst.
By guest blogger Clark McCann
Looking straight down between my knees 6,000 feet to the blue expanse of the Frazier River, I catch a sudden gut-shot of vertigo and fear. Reality check: I’m a mile in the sky, borne forward by a soft paraglider wing that can fold up like a cheap suit when struck by turbulence. I suck in a couple of deep slow breaths, steady my gaze on the distant horizon of snow crusted peaks, and the queasy moment passes. "Okay, you wimp," I tell myself. "You paid for this ride, now enjoy it!" I lean back in my padded harness, comfortable as an easy chair, and look up at my beautiful red wing, inflated with air, bearing my weight—and life—through the winter sky. I make a slow turn to the right to look back at the sheer icy face of Mt. Cheam, where minutes before I had taken off from the gentle south side, turned back across the ridge, then flown out over the magnificent Frazier River valley. Below was a checkerboard of green pastures, in the distance lakes and mountains, as pretty as any landscape in Switzerland.
Less than four hours before I’d left Seattle by car with a half-dozen paragliding fanatics, led by Marc Chirico and his wife Lan, all of us eager to fly off of 7,200 Mt. Cheam in British Columbia. Among us were seasoned veterans with more than a thousand flights, as well as beginners, like me, with less than 100. One brave girl had just seven solo flights. Marc and Lan run Seattle’s most respected paragliding school and have trained hundreds of pilots over the last decade. Located at the foothills of the Cascades in Issaquah, the school sits at the foot of Tiger Mountain, one of the best paragliding sites in the Pacific Northwest.
Driving straight north to Bellingham we crossed the Canadian border at Sumas, then headed East on Highway 1 along the Frazier River. Near a town aptly named "Hope," we climbed aboard a small helicopter that ferried us up to the summit of Mt. Cheam, three at a time. The ride was spectacular, and harrowing, as the chopper ducked around swirling clouds and looked for clear air and a level spot near the summit to set us down. Once on the mountain, we found ourselves in a cold, alpine environment. I was worried about the clouds and poor visibility. What if we get socked in and we can’t fly off and the chopper can’t pick us up? My fears subsided as the mists rose in the warming sun and we caught a window of clear skies to launch from the steep snow slope.
Now, relaxing into my flight, I’m amazed by the smooth air—not a ripple of turbulence. I indulge myself with a series of lazy turns to better admire the view and still arrive at our grassy landing field with plenty of altitude. After a soft touch-down, we give each other high-fives and head to the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs for beers and pizza.
Too exhilarated to drive back, some of us elect to spend the night at the resort hotel, spending hours outside in the warm mineral waters, talking and reliving our winter flying adventure.
If you’re interested in group paragliding, and live in the Seattle area, contact Marc Chirico at Seattle Paragliding for tips, lessons, training and more. For reputable schools in other parts of the country, contact the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Contact the Harrison Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia for more information about accommodations.
Clark McCann is a Seattle area freelance writer and adventure sports enthusiast.
April 16, 2008
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
Germany is a wonderful place to visit for anyone who loves art, architecture, culture and history. It's also a bike rider's paradise. On a group trip with your friends, family or wedding party, there's plenty to do and see in every region of Germany.
Bike, Art and Culture - Here are some ideas for places to visit with a focus on art and architecture. You can tour these areas by bike (it's easy to rent bikes locally) or by car:
Focus on Art - Muenster and Kassel:
- If you and your group of friends or family members love contemporary art, there’s a "solar art eclipse" taking place in the Westphalia region (until the end of September 2007). In Kassel, documenta 12, a prestigious, contemporary art exhibition—like the Venice Biennale—takes place every five years and the Muenster Sculpture Project takes place every 10 years—see them both now! (Trains linking Muenster and Kassel take about two hours.)
- Muenster is a lovely town with cobblestone streets, historic buildings and charming churches. The Sculpture Project is not in a museum but strategically-placed throughout the town. You can tour the sculptures with a knowledgeable guide on a bike or walking tour. Even when the Sculpture Project is not taking place, it’s worth a trip to Muenster. This university town is full of pubs, restaurants and year-round cultural events. Be sure to sample some local beer at Muenster’s oldest brewery, Brauerei Pinkus and enjoy regional specialties at the oldest restaurant, Gasthaus Leve. In the surrounding countryside of Muensterland, there are 100 castles to be viewed on a bike tour or by car.
- Hotels: In Muenster – Stadthotel; Hotel Feldmann. In the countryside - Hotel Hof zur Linde; Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege. In Kassel – During documenta, there are special hotel package deals.
Focus on Industrial Design - The Rhur Region:
- The Ruhrgebiet area has transformed sites from its former industrial past—steel mills, coal mines, gas tanks--into incredible venues for art exhibitions and other leisure and cultural activities. As a result, the area has been named European Capital of Culture 2010.
- In Essen, the Zeche Zollverein, a former coal mine, is now a UNESCO world heritage site and a vibrant arts center with space for emerging artists and an outstanding showcase for design at the Red Dot Design Museum. You and your group can hike or bike around the site as well as have a great lunch in the Zollverein Casino.
- In Oberhausen, the Gasometer at CentrO used to store gas for the steelworks. An installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude made the site popular for unique art exhibitions.
- Other cultural highlights in the area include Essen's Folkwang Museum (its fabulous collection is currently in the Villa Hügel). In Duisburg, stroll along the lovely Inner Harbor. The Lehmbruck Museum is a must-see, then head for Landscape Park on the grounds of the former Meiderich Ironworks, now an entertainment and recreational center. The Ruhrgebiet tourism office can help arrange tours for your group. If you'd like to discover the area on your own by bike, the RuhrTalRadweg is a signposted trail or your group can do an organized bike tour.
- Hotel: Castle Westerholt is a lovely and convenient base to use for visiting the region.
Focus on Medieval Architecture – Lower Saxony:
- The Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) region of Germany is a treasure trove of half-timbered architecture (similar to Tudor style with strips of horizontal, vertical and diagonal wood framing on the houses). One of the most picturesque spots is Hannoversch Münden, located at the juncture of three rivers—Werra, Fulda and Weser—it has over 700 half-timbered buildings centuries old. The town is on a few incredibly scenic routes that your group can tour via bike or car including the Fairy Tale Route and the Framework Road.
- Hotels: Try Hotel Alter Packhof.
Focus on Modern Art and Architecture – Düsseldorf:
- Düsseldorf: Although people often come here on business, anyone who loves art and architecture should definitely put Düsseldorf on their travel itinerary. First, it is situated on a lovely stretch of the Rhine River lined with magnificent buildings such as Neuer Zollhof by Frank Gehry and William Alsop's Colorium that have made Media Harbour a hot spot for architecture. Next, Düsseldorf has outstanding museums (Kunst means art): the Kunst Palast features old masters, contemporary art and a fantastic glass collection. K20 displays 20th century masterpieces and K21, cutting-edge contemporary art of the 21st century, while KIT (Kunst im Tunnel) is a unique exhibit space for emerging artists and the Hetjens Museum features ceramics.
- After all that museum-hopping, you and your group of family and friends might need to recover with a cold brew. The best place to taste test Düsseldorf's famous Altbier is in Altstadt, the charming old section of town with more than 260 bars and restaurants.
- If you like, do some designer shopping along the tree-lined boulevard Königsallee and have a tasty meal in one of the all-glass restaurants along the riverside such as the Cafe Curtiz or the Lido with a view of Media Harbour.
- But don't leave the area without a visit to the splendid Insel Hoimbroich, art pavilions in a nature preserve and the adjacent Langen Foundation, a stunning museum for Japanese art designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando.
- The Düsseldorf tourism office can arrange any kind of biking, city or cultural tour for your group.
- Hotels in Düsseldorf: Lindner Hotel Rhein Residence; Sir & Lady Astor Hotel; Carat Hotel.
- Arrival: All the above regions can be easily reached from Düsseldorf. Delta, LTU and Lufthansa have direct flights from several U.S. gateways, as well as flights to Berlin. In Germany, there's an excellent train network between cities; you can even get your tickets before you leave through RailEurope.
Focus on Culture and History - Berlin:
- No trip to Germany would be complete without visiting Berlin. Not only is it a major European city, its also become a trendy spot for contemporary art. East and West Berlin now form one huge, fascinating urban scene. But you can get anywhere in a jiffy in the excellent subway system (U-Bahn and S-Bahn). If your group prefers biking, there are several biking tours or you can just rent a bike and pedal around on your own.
Sightseeing highlights include: The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by internationally-renowned architect Peter Eisenman. Sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand, with landmark status, have become a canvas for modern graffiti art. There are museums galore and contemporary art lovers can tour hot, new galleries with Go Art! Berlin.
- For an authentic cabaret experience, spend an evening at the Bar Jeder Vernunft. For trendy nightlife, the East Berlin neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are the new hip spots, filled with twenty-somethings partying to all hours at the clubs.
- Classical music fans will also be in seventh-heaven here as there are three opera houses and eight symphony orchestras; the Berlin Philharmonic is considered one of the world's best.
- Berlin even has two zoos—one in the East and one in the West. In fact, your group should spend some nights in a hotel in East Berlin and some nights in West Berlin to fully experience this marvelous city.
- Hotels: In East Berlin - Juncker's Hotel, a small, friendly place with great breakfasts; in West Berlin - Steigenberger Hotel, a pleasant spot in the heart of the shopping district.
The tourism offices in all these places can help you arrange any kind of group trip—city tours, bike tours, museum visits. Almost everyone in Germany speaks English and those that don't will still make every effort to help you. In Germany, it isn't just the art and culture that shines, even the sparkling-clean restrooms are impressive! So, no excuses. Get your group organized for a great journey to Germany.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
See How to Organize a Group Garden Tour as part one of a two-part series.
Doing a garden tour with family or friends is a nice activity for all ages; and there are gorgeous gardens across the globe. Have a look at these sample garden tours to whet your appetite for plants, flowers, shrubs, and all things botany:
Philadelphia: Gardens Galore
- Philadelphia is famous for its annual Flower Show in early March but in the greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area there are more than 25 beautiful public gardens to visit. They range from the historic Bartram Gardens to the Chanticleer pleasure garden to the rare tree specimens at the Morris Arboretum and gorgeous plantings at Longwood Gardens.
- If you'd like an extra special, private tour of these exquisite gardens and the area's cultural and historic treasures, contact: Philadelphia Hospitality. Or, if you'd like to do a tour on your own, several hotels offer special garden packages. For more information, contact: http://www.gophila.com.
Washington State: Celebrate spring
The right mix of climate and soil has made Washington State a wonderland for flowers. Each year during peak bloom season, festivals are held throughout the state to celebrate the glorious variety of flora. You can walk through tulip fields, visit lavender farms, stop at nurseries and get gardening tips from professional growers.
- Over 500 different species of rhododendrons grow wild in Washington State (it’s the state flower). To see how remarkable these shrubs can look, visit the annual Rhododendron Festival in May.
- Some fifty varieties of lavender grow on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. In July, at the annual Lavender Festival, you can go into the fields to pick your own lavender.
- At the annual Tulip Festival each April, garden lovers wander through colorful tulip fields larger than those in Holland and visit display gardens and greenhouses. If you find a few favorites for your own garden, you can have bulbs shipped home.
England: Britain in bloom
England is a divine location for garden lovers because of the wide variety of garden design styles (formal, informal, etc.). You can attend the Chelsea Flower Show in May or the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July, when the perennials and roses are at their best. Be sure to include stops at gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley gardens—240 acres with model gardens offering planting ideas.
- In the Cotswolds, visit fine gardens such as Sudeley Castle with radiant old-fashioned roses, parterres and colorful herbaceous borders and Hidcote's classic English garden "rooms" with different color schemes and planting themes.
- Southern England has fabulous historic and romantic gardens such as Vita Sackville West's Sissinghurst Castle Garden with color-themed garden rooms; plus, Hever Castle, complete with romantic moat, maze, Italian gardens, classical statuary and fine topiaries.
- These garden tour companies offer excellent itineraries: Coopersmith's; Brightwater Holidays.
France: Vive les fleurs!
France is a dream destination for glorious gardens. Everywhere you turn, there's another botanical beauty--from the Bagatelle Gardens in Paris, filled with irises and roses, to the formal gardens of Versailles and the world-renowned gardens of Claude Monet at Giverney in Normandy. In the Loire Valley, Villandry is thought to be one of the most beautiful and authentic Renaissance gardens. On the French Riviera, the Rothschild's Villa Ephrussi, with its seven distinct gardens, is a must see and in the south of France the terraced gardens at Chateau Val Joanis are a visual wonder.
- For an extra special French garden experience, try this for your group: The Prieuré d'Orsan is a spectacular, recreated medieval garden on the grounds of a restored, 12th-century monastery (now a 7-room boutique hotel). In addition to staying at the hotel and visiting this magnificent garden, you can also take gardening and cooking workshops. All the meals are prepared using herbs, vegetables and fruits and other ingredients fresh from the garden. This is a not-to-be-missed experience.
- These garden tour companies offer excellent itineraries: Jeff Sainsbury Tours; Brightwater Holidays.
Morocco: Everything's coming up roses
- If the desert is the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Morocco, you’ll be surprised that some of the most gorgeous roses bloom in the fertile Dades Valley. The Rose Festival of El Kelaa in Ouarzazate province celebrates the flower harvest in mid-May. This event dates back to the 17th century, when roses were brought to the Dades Valley of eastern Morocco by pilgrims returning from Mecca.
- In this magnificent setting, the rose crop is celebrated with music, folk-dancing and singing, handicraft exhibitions, banquets, flower-decked floats, the selection of a "Miss Rose," camel-rides and an excursion down the valley of roses.
The Caribbean: Garden jewels
Several Caribbean islands are a floral paradise. Jamaica’s botanical gardens are a showcase of showy, exotic plants. You can visit them all--Hope Gardens, the Goodson Garden, Cranbrook Flower Forest and Shaw Park Gardens.
Cruises: On-shore gardens
If you love gardens and cruises, here's a way to combine the two:
- Spring Pilgrimage: Relive the glory days of steamboating with a trip down the Mississippi River. Along the banks lay the beautiful gardens and plantations of the Old South. During "Pilgrimage Open House" in the spring, local garden clubs host tours of lovely homes and gardens.
- Dutch Bulbfield Cruise: There are few things more beautiful than the Dutch countryside in bloom. Cruise along the Rhine and Waal rivers and connecting canals, past historic towns such as Amsterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Utrecht, Dordrecht and Delft. Springtime in Holland means flowers galore. On this cruise, you'll visit the world famous Keukenhof gardens, with over 6 million tulip, daffodil and hyacinth varieties on display, and the grand Het Loo Palace, considered one of Europe's finest formal gardens.
Final thoughts on visiting gardens:
Booking an organized garden tour is a wonderful option. The tours are led by horticulture experts, everything is arranged for your group and you stay in lovely accommodations. But, these tours can be a bit pricey. (They range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars per person. However, most garden tour companies will give a price break if you are booking for a group.) So, in addition to selecting a garden destination, you need to factor in your group's budget.
You can always book rooms at a centrally-located hotel or resort in your preferred area and arrange day trips on your own from there to the various gardens. However, plan it so that wherever you go, a garden trip will be a delightful experience for everyone in your group. And when at a family reunion, destination wedding, weekend getaway, retreat, and so forth, don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
It's no shock, but sooner or later we all had to realize the best global places to visit would be discovered by more tourists and eventually get overrun, threatening the natural charm and character of area and/or the site itself.
Such is the case with some of the World Heritage Sites in Asia and elsewhere. Booming global tourism industries are meeting the increased demand for travelers to go the distance and see something extraordinary. At a cost. National Geographic Traveler created their own rating of World Heritage Sites based on sustainable tourism.
Top 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:
- Norway's West Fjords (rating 87)
- France's Vezelay (rating 81)
- Spain's Alhambra and medieval Granada (rating 81)
- New Zealand's Te Wahipounamu (rating 80)
- Mexico's Guantajuato (rating 80)
Bottom 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:
- China/Tibet's Potala Palace, Lhasa, and environs (rating 46)
- Italy's Venice and its lagoons (rating 46)
- Ecuador's Galapagos Islands (rating 44)
- Panama's Portobelo-San Lorenzo (rating 41)
- Nepal's Kathmandu Valley (rating 39)
Every traveler should read the full list and consider the impact of flocking to see an international treasure. Then do what you can to support improvements, if possible. It's sort of a macro-economic tragedy of the commons. Food for thought.
Kristin C. shared this comment, "A sensitive and well-thought out approach needs to be adopted when tackling issues like world heritage sites slowly being ruined due to an excess of turism. No doubt, it's a well timed step to come out with a list of such sites and directives on how to adopt sustainable tourism to help protect our global heritage. Thanks. We agree!
There has been an increasing interest among travelers in having meaningful and impactful experiences during their trips, along with a noticeable shift towards more responsible and sustainable forms of tourism. This includes a desire to engage in activities that positively contribute to the local communities they visit. Consequently, volunteer vacations, also known as voluntourism, have become a significant segment of the travel industry.
Voluntourism is particularly popular among younger travelers, including Millennials and Gen Z. These groups often seek experiences that are not only unique but also allow them to give back to communities or causes they care about.
The variety of volunteer opportunities available worldwide—from wildlife conservation to teaching, healthcare, and community development—makes it an attractive option for a wide range of travelers with diverse interests and skills.
The rise of social media has played a significant role in popularizing voluntourism. Travelers often share their volunteer experiences online, inspiring others to engage in similar activities.
While volunteering on vacation is popular, it has also faced scrutiny and criticism. Concerns about the sustainability and actual impact of certain volunteer projects have led to calls for more ethical and responsible practices in voluntourism.
Several group travel companies are known for leading voluntourism trips, offering a range of experiences in various parts of the world. These companies often stand out for their commitment to sustainable practices, community engagement, and providing meaningful volunteer experiences. Some of the notable ones include:
Projects Abroad: A leading organization in volunteer travel, Projects Abroad offers a wide range of opportunities, including teaching, medical work, conservation, and more, in various countries around the world.
International Volunteer HQ: Offering affordable volunteer travel experiences, IVHQ has a wide range of projects, including teaching, wildlife conservation, community development, and more, in various destinations.
Global Vision International: Known for its focus on impactful and sustainable volunteer projects, GVI offers projects in wildlife conservation, education, and community development in multiple countries.
Plan My Gap Year: Specializing in gap year travel, PMGY provides a variety of volunteer opportunities in areas such as teaching, wildlife conservation, and medical work in various countries.
Earthwatch: Earthwatch can customize trips to fit the needs of your group. Help sustain the environment by working with scientists on expeditions in the field. Group leaders go for free (on select expeditions with 6 or more people going).
Habitat for Humanity: When you volunteer with Global Village, you will learn about adequate and affordable housing needs from the local community’s perspective and will also contribute to safe and affordable housing solutions.
United Planet: United Planet will partner with your group to design a volunteer experience that offers cross-cultural field experience and that is built specifically around your group's interests, goals and budget.
Responsible Travel: Responsible Travel maintains a catalog of over 100 volunteer travel options covering everything a wide range of activities and trip durations.
So find a cause you believe in, choose an area around the world to explore up close, and give your time and talents on the vacation of a lifetime. Plan the trip with family members or other band of like-minded folks and the trip will be even more memorable.
Finally, we really appreciate the thoughtful comments we've received on this article:
Will V. wrote to share, "As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I believe this is an excellent trend in travel. However, sometimes the cash-costs associated with voluntourism seem (to me) to be inflated. In the same way that buying 'green' or recycled goods should bot be more expensive than buying 'regular' items, I don't think the costs for doing good work should increase your vacation. Once travel operators can figure out how to make money AND encourage their visitors to do some good, I think we''ll see this trend explode. Then, all we have to worry about is whether the 'good deeds' vacationers are doing are what's best for the locals!"
An anonynous reader, wrote, "Philanthropic Travel is an alternative to Voluntourism for families who desire an authentic cross cultural connection with locals and the humanitarian outreach projects that enhance those locals lives. Many travelers prefer not to use their time in a foriegn country while sleeping in spartan accomodations Peace Corps style. Instead, they are choosing to enjoy the experience, accomodations, ambience and cuisine they expect while dedicating a morning or afternoon to personally connecting with the people their generous tax deductible contributions will support. Philanthropic travelers have funded in projects like these in Zambia, Burma, Tanzania and elsewhere in the developing world."
And Andy W.B., who works for Global Visions International, reached out to share more details about GVI's programs: "We send out approximately 1,500 volunteers per year on a variety of responsibly run projects and expeditions. These include programs in about 30 countries, with themes from teaching in indigenous communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia to wildlife conservation in all the same areas. Examples include working with orangutans in Sumatra, desert elephants in Namibia and vervet monkeys in South Africa alongside teaching programs all over the world from Ghana to Nepal, Guatemala to Peru and even unique and extensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) programs run in Tulum, Mexico."
Article updated November 2023.
Ecotourism is a growing trend in travel. As our world shrinks, thanks to globalization and population expansion, sustainable travel naturally tags along as people want to help preserve communities, native habitat, and the little creatures that inhabit the planet.
Step out of the ordinary and raft down a river, tour a village, meet the locals, and touch nature without leaving too much of a mark. Here are a few eco-friendly tours and organizations to get your green trip with friends or family started.
- Conservation International and ResponsibleTravel jointly launched an initiative to get travelers off the beaten path in a sustainable way by promoting community-based tourism. Here are two wonderful examples of how this program is helping travelers see the real Ethiopia or tour Thailand via locally arranged tours. They offer tours in many other countries as well.
- Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation, an organization solely dedicated to marine ecotourism and habitat preservation, has naturalists aboard every snorkeling cruise, whale-watching tour, and other water activity. Great for families who seek to add a little education to their adventure and enlighten the kiddies.
- Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism and one of the best places to see nature's bountiful biodiversity. Ergo, there are several ecotour operators of choice. A few that look appealing are Adventure Life, and customized adventure tours from Southern Explorations.
- Sierra Club has outings across the U.S. and Canada. Outdoor adventures such as kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rafting, sailing, biking, and specific family adventures are all done in an eco-friendly manner.
- Volunteer through Earthwatch Institute to help scientists in the field across the world do research that helps preserve habitat, animal species, and local cultures. This organization is a leader in sustainability, but there are plenty of volunteer vacation opportunities where you can make a positive impact while traveling.
With recent arrests of terrorists plotting to target flights from London to the U.S., there is a temporary code red on flights from London to the U.S. and temporary code orange for flights into the U.S. What does it mean for travelers to travel under a code red or orange?
Smarter Travel gives insight on deciphering the codes. Here are airport security short-term changes known to be in effect:
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is prohibiting all liquids, hair gels, and lotions in carry-on baggage within the United States. This includes coffee, soda, and even contact solution.
- Essential liquids, such as baby formula, are being allowed.
- No carry-on baggage is being allowed on any international flights.
- Expect severe security delays at the airport. Television news reports are putting some security line wait times at one to two hours long.
USA Today's blog Today in the Sky gives a run down of the various airline policies for handling the temporary security situation. American Airlines canceled six flights today, United revised its ticketing policy to give travelers a break in changing travel plans and re-booking seats, and other airlines alert travelers to give even more time at airports for tightened security measures.
Homeland Security issued a release about cooperating with Britain to ensure traveler safety and stated, "These measures will continue to assure that our aviation system remains safe and secure. Travelers should go about their plans confidently, while maintaining vigilance in their surroundings and exercising patience with screening and security officials."
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
When planning a family reunion or wedding, taking over a small resort for your exclusive use works wonders. Certain criteria apply to site selection: The resort (or villa or hacienda or block of rental homes) should be a superior facility, offer sumptuous food, non-intrusive service, first class accommodations, and a secluded setting away from distractions.
There are a number of properties around the country (and the world) that exemplify such high standards. Here are tips on how to research your group's idyllic casa away from casa:
Look for places that have the feel of a private estate, an ambience of another time and place and are so well run that you (the planner) can relax and enjoy yourself as well.
Pick a spot with a distinct change of atmosphere to reinforce the concept of getting away from it all. Also, make sure it's the type of place where guests are pampered and made to feel special. You can feel the difference in the level of relaxation for guests when a resort is reserved for your group's exclusive use.
Small resorts with a residential feel and hotel amenities work best for groups of friends and/or family. The sense of being on a private estate helps people let their guard down and unwind, fostering camaraderie—the reason you all wanted to get together in the first place!
Prep Steps Before You Go
Before your group arrives, send the property a detailed list of a) The names of all the people in your party, b) The names of people sharing rooms and c) Of those sharing rooms, which ones require a double bed or two single beds.
Charm also has its downside. In a hotel, most rooms are uniform but in an estate or hacienda, every room is unique, both in size and decoration. Make your guests aware of this beforehand so cousins don't get miffed because one has a nicer, larger room.
If the property offers activities (such as horseback riding or tennis) or has a spa facility (with facials and massages), check if these services need to be booked in advance. If so, let your guests know and provide a way to tally who wants what when - before you arrive!
If you are going to a resort outside the U.S., make sure everyone has a valid passport (and remembers to bring it).
Recommended Haciendas in Chile and Mexico
Hacienda Los Lingues in Chile: Hacienda Los Lingues is about an hour south of Santiago in the heart of the wine-producing Cachapoal Valley. It's one of Chile's oldest and best-preserved estates and the same family, whose home it's been since 1599, now runs it as a hotel. The debonair Don German Claro Lyon and his family are your delightful hosts.
If you're looking for old-world, South American charm, the Hacienda Los Lingues is the spot. Shaded verandas lead to 18 rooms and suites furnished with heirloom antiques, family photos and memorabilia.
Activities for groups: a) wine tasting - there's a lovely vineyard on the property and day trips to local wineries; b) horseback riding - the stable of "Aculeo" horses, related to the famed Lipizzanas, is world-renowned.
And, if looking for a destination wedding spot, you can get married in the estate's beautiful, traditional Chilean chapel. You'll feel as if you're on the set of some fantastic South American movie.
Hacienda Temozón in Yucatan, Mexico: In the early 1990's, abandoned (and formerly luxurious) haciendas from the economic heyday of the Yucatan region around Merida, were restored and converted into luxury hotels. Hacienda Temozón, about a half hour from Merida, is the grandest of three newly-restored properties, now part of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
As a result, you get the best of both worlds: a sense of the affluent lifestyle enjoyed during the economic boom and lovely, modern amenities. Much of the original décor, such as intricately-decorated floor tiles and beamed ceilings, has been preserved in the 28 elegantly-furnished rooms and guest quarters.
Spacious gardens, a spectacular swimming pool, and spa make this an ideal place to relax. It's also an excellent base for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Yucatan peninsula and the surrounding Mayan architectural sites.
There is also a 17th-century church on the property, ideal for weddings.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
August 3, 2006
Beloved by beach buffs, honeymooners, surfers, and cruisers, the Mexican Riviera — that scenic stretch of coastal communities between Mazatlán and Acapulco — entices more and more travelers to its sun-drenched shores each year.
It's the West Coast's Caribbean — a hot, bright cure for the winter blues and blahs, where visitors can reliably expect temperatures in the 80s all year long. Mexico's Pacific Coast is also starting to rival Hawaii as a fashionable wedding destination, and couples wanting beachside betrothals can choose from a low-key village celebration in Zihuatanejo to a swank hotel gala in Puerto Vallarta.
This prime swath of real estate bordering the jungle-clad Sierra Madre range began booming in the 1970s, when the country's government began a push for tourism along the Pacific coastline. Acapulco started even earlier, attracting affluent jet-setters to its spanking-new hotels in the 1950s; however, Puerto Vallarta lays claim to catching the eye of the average tourist, who arrived in droves to the site where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a film and a tempestuous home in the city's cobblestoned hills in 1963. In contrast, Mazatlán's popularity grew gradually as travelers discovered the beach appeal of this working seaport. Most representative of the tourism push are the sister towns of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Only four miles apart, they couldn't be more different. Zihua maintains its fishing-village charm by government mandate: building codes are strict and therefore development is minimal. Ixtapa, on the other hand, was born fully fledged as a resort, and vacationers are beginning to flock to its high-rise hotels, trendy restaurants and bars, and the latest in water-sport thrills.
Today the Mexican Riviera sees thousands of cruisers arrive daily to its ports. But for groups vacationing sans big ship, the best way to visit is to fly in and rent a car or hire one of the plentiful taxis, many of which double as tour guides. Activities and excursions continue to burgeon as local entrepreneurs find new and novel ways to show off their region's charms. And then there's all that sand, sun, and sea.
Puerto Vallarta: The place to be in PV is on the malecón, a palm-lined beachside promenade punctuated by whimsical sculptures by various Mexican artists. From the walkway's southern end, cross over to the zócalo (town square); in sight is Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, whose gilded crown replicates that of Mexico's 19th-century Empress Carlotta. By leg power or taxi, climb the steep, narrow cobblestoned streets of the city for a glimpse of Casa Kimberley, once Liz Taylor's hideaway, and vistas of red-tiled roofs overlooking the bay. For kids, there's Splash Water Park for all things aquatic, from water rides to sea lion shows to dolphin swims. A short drive south leads to Playa Mismaloya, filming location for Night of the Iguana and now a popular site for weddings.
Mazatlán: Travelers into history should make Mexico's largest port their base camp, where they'll find nearly 500 architecturally significant buildings to admire, and most within the city center. Among them: the 19th-century Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with its twin yellow spires and baroque interior; the 1874 Teatro Ángela Peralta, a lavish Italianate theater still in use today; and the restored townhouses surrounding Plazuela Machado. Hire a taxi or stretch the legs on a walk out to Cerro del Vigía for far-reaching vistas and a view of El Faro Lighthouse, whose altitude is second only to Gibraltar. Mazatlán Aquarium treats the curious to a peek into Mexico's underwater world, with a sea lion show and tanks of sharks, eels, and other ocean denizens.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Laid-back Zihuatanejo offers few attractions, and that's the way residents and repeat visitors like it. Ideal for an intimate wedding group, Zihua offers sun, sand, and serenity on gentle beaches wrapped around a protected bay. Stroll Paseo del Pescador, a colorful bayside promenade with open-air restaurants and vendors; head away from the waterfront and experience a friendly town sans glitz and hype. A walk down Las Gatas Beach leads to El Faro Lighthouse and panoramic views. In contrast, Ixtapa is where the action is — mostly on the wide beaches and in the hopping nightclubs. Families can swim with dolphins at the Delfiniti Dolphinarium and enjoy the wave pools and water slides at Magic World aquatic park.
Puerto Vallarta: Forty miles of white-sand beaches serve as languid launching points for parasailing, banana boating, water skiing, jet skiing, and surfing. To the south is Los Arcos National Underwater Park, a prime spot for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving amid granite rock formations. The jungle's proximity to the city means that visitors can make like Tarzan by launching from a rope into a deep pool and zipping along cables set high above in the treetops at Canopy El Eden, setting for the film Predator. Great for groups are golf and mountain biking and hiking tours; in winter, whale-watching excursions sail in search of migrating humpbacks. Year-round, party cruises abound; more demure groups may opt for a sunset dinner cruise.
Mazatlán: Along with 10 miles of beaches offering the usual sand-and-surf sports, Mazatlán's waters are known for sportfishing and nature cruises — two activities perfect for groups. Glide through mangrove estuaries to spot herons, bitterns, and the elusive roseate spoonbill, or try a hand at reeling in marlin or sailfish (catch-and-release is the general rule). Take a kayak or a boat ride to snorkel the calm waters surrounding Isla de Venados, or join a horseback tour on Isla de la Piedras. Body surfing is big at Playa Olas Altas; Playa Bruja, north of the city, has the waves to host an annual surfing tournament. Hardy souls can take guided hiking trips into the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo's most popular beaches, playas Principal, La Ropa, and Las Gatas, offer palapas with hammocks for lazing and gentle waters for swimming and snorkeling, the latter best at Las Gatas. Anglers can hook up with a local guide to go panga fishing for roosterfish or head into deeper waters for marlin, sailfish, and bonita. On Ixtapa's two-mile-long Playa el Palmar, windsurfers, paragliders, jet skiers, and water skiers ply the waters. Golf enthusiasts can make tee times at Palma Real or Marina Ixtapa golf clubs, both of which offer group discounts. Canyons and reefs at dozens of local dive sites beckon to scuba divers, while Ixtapa Island's fragile coral reef lures snorkelers. Smaller beaches offer their own charms, including horseback riding through coconut plantations at Playa Linda.
Arts and Culture
Puerto Vallarta: More than 30 galleries and civic buildings around the city showcase local and international works of art, many of which can be found on a stroll through El Centro, the heart of PV. History buffs will want to visit the Museo Arqueológico and Museo Río Cuale for their collections of pre-Columbian artifacts. Plays, dance, and open-air movies take place regularly at the Cuale Cultural Center, as do theatrical productions at the Santa Barbara Playhouse on Olas Altas. At the malecón's Los Arcos Amphitheater, mariachi and ranchero grupos perform regularly; come evening, it's a popular place for socializing and listening to local musicians.
Mazatlán: Arts lovers will want to time their visit to take in a performance at the ornate and historic Teatro Ángela Peralta; events include ballet, opera, concerts, and movies. Fiestas full of folkloric entertainment take place weekly at the Hotel Playa Mazatlán and El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel's La Pergola Theater. Shoppers seeking authentic wares should avoid the touristy jewelry and souvenir stores — far better are the covered Mercado Municipal and open-air shops of Old Mazatlán, particularly on Saturday nights, when Plazuela Machado becomes the weekly Artisans' Bazaar. The Museo de Arqueológia and Museo de Arta exhibit local artifacts and artworks, respectively; the latter can be purchased at the nearby Galería Nidart.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Neither fishing village nor resort community have yet to develop an arts scene; still, there are a few places not to miss. In Zihuatanejo, the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande exhibits pottery and stone artifacts, maps, and murals dating from or illustrating the earliest peoples along this part of the Pacific. Behind Zihua's Paseo del Pescador lies the Mercado Turístico de Artesanías, an open market with more than a hundred vendors selling genuine crafts and goods. Bargaining is welcome. (A smaller artisans' market is on the main boulevard in Ixtapa.) Many of the hotels in Ixtapa host folkloric fiestas and dance performances.
- Sayulita: Barely developed surfing beach less than an hour north of PV, with kayak and board rentals and beachside restaurants.
- Yelapa: Rustic, laid-back beach community in a lush cove with waterfalls, accessible by boat, water taxi, or mountain bike tour from PV.
- Copala and Concordia: Historic colonial towns anchored by cathedrals, one built in 1740, the other a century earlier; about an hour from Mazatlán.
- Teocapán: Fishing port rife with wildlife on the verge of ecological preserve designation, 75 miles from Mazatlán.
- Laguna de Potosi: Ecological preserve 15 miles south of Zihua, a birdwatcher's and kayaker's paradise.
Mexican Riviera Events Guide and Calendar
- Banderas Bay International Regatta Sails fill the horizon off Banderas Bay during the day; at night, parties and performances abound, March.
- Festival Cultural de Mayo Concerts showcasing pop, symphony, mariachi, and other styles of music, plus art, ballet, and theater, often around mid-May. Read more about Cinco de Mayo history.
- Old Town Art Walk Meet local artists and view their work, alternate Wednesdays from late October to mid-April.
- International Puerto Vallarta Sailfish and Marlin Tournament Anglers compete for big-ticket prizes as they cast for marlin and other game fish, mid-November.
- Puerto Vallarta Cup Golf Tournament Amateur golfers from around North America vie at Vista Vallarta Golf Course and El Tigre Golf Club, mid-November.
- Puerto Vallarta Film Festival Contemporary films, documentaries, and luminaries from the Americas, mid-November.
- International Festival Gourmet Vallarta Taste specialties whipped up by international master chefs during a week in late November.
- Carnaval One of the world's largest pre-Lenten celebrations, with parades, fireworks, and dancing in the streets, late February or early March.
- Festival Cultural de MazatlánPerforming arts, exhibitions, literary readings, film, and more at venues in Old Mazatlán, mid-October through mid-December.
- International Amateur Golf Tournament Amateurs compete for prizes during this golf tourney at the El Cid Golf & Country Club for a week in November.
- Mazatlán Billfish Classic World Billfish Series Pacific division championship. Big fish, big prizes, for a week in November.
- Zihuatanejo Sail Fest Regatta held for charity during a week of events such as beach games and a chili cookoff, in early February.
- Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival Musicians performing classical, jazz, traditional, blues, folk, flamenco, and rock during a week of guitar virtuosity, in March.
- San Jeronimito River Regatta Music, food, and racing pangas, kayaks, and rafts on this river near the town of Petatlán just south of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, in October.
- Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Total Tag & Release Tournament Fly-fishers and conventional anglers reel for prizes at inshore and open ocean locations, in early November.
By guest blogger John George
Oh, the tension. It's a four year cycle, and I've been riding it since it was at the low point in 2002, just after the US lost to Germany in the quarters.
It's hard for most Americans to understand the tension that builds as the World Cup approaches. Soccer is a European thing. It's a South American thing. It's even an African thing. It's far from being baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet. Back in 2005, while 99.9% of the country was watching the AL beat the NL for the tenth time running in the All-Star game, I was with a dozen soccer buddies and chewing my nails. Would the US get a result in Costa Rica (even a tie would be good) and actually qualify for the tournament?
But it's not just tension. It's passion. Being a soccer fan is something that permeates your entire being. Supporting the national team goes without thinking. And after the great run by the US in 2002, I just couldn’t suppress the idea of going to Germany for the 2006 tournament. So I scored some tickets, made plans with my roomie to visit a friend in Geneva and booked an expensive flight.
I arrived a week into the tournament and a day before the US/Italy game in Kaiserlautern. Changing trains and cramming into to progressively more crowded cars – fun times. The last leg was standing room only, but it was nothing like the bedlam of the stadium.
Kaiserlautern was teeming. It took us 40 minutes to fight the crowds, get around the stadium, through the gates and to our seats. Then we had 90 minutes of standing and yelling with 50,000 fans. I've been to a lot of US games, probably 15, but I've never been surrounded by so many US fans. It was intoxicating (and it wasn't just the effects of the rosé!) The cheers were all new to me, but, you know, it's all pretty easy. Clap ten times in a simple pattern then yell "U.S." Repeat repeatedly. Whistle when Italian players fall down (which was often). Do the wave when the game gets slow. Our section was nearly silent when Italy scored, and I felt the stands move when the US got a tally. Huge cheers when an Italian got thrown out. Then booing at the ref when each of two US players got a red card. The last 20 minutes were pandemonium and the tension peaked. If they US could hold on for a tie–a valuable tie–they could still become world champions. And they did hold on. That 1-1 tie gave the US the slimmest hope that they could advance to the knock-out round where anything can happen.
That hope dissipated before I got my voice back. The US lost to Ghana five days later in Nurnberg – another raucous event– and was eliminated from the World Cup. The tension was gone. I could just enjoy soccer for the next two weeks and tour Switzerland and environs without all that pesky worry about how the US will do in the next game. I could just enjoy the tournament in bars and pick a new team to support as the last one was eliminated–which was often as I generally root for the underdog.
With the Cup now over, the four year ebb and flow of tension is rising again. Qualifiers start next year. And so does the nail biting. I'm already starting to wonder how South Africa will compare in 2010.
John's lifelong passion for soccer is equalled only by is passion for outdoor recreation that doesn't require a lot of expensive gear, catching bands while they still play in small venues, and consuming cold pilsner (or rose'). He still plays recreationally when his knees allow.
With Al Gore's new documentary on global warming, an inconvenient truth indeed, people are privvy to evidence of this phenomenon known by scientists for years. Even some non-tree huggers admit that we all contribute in some ways to the effect.
Luckily, as travelers, we can help. Think globally, act wherever we plant our feet. That extends to travel destinations. Ecotourism is a growing niche of the travel industry. Costa Rica was a pioneer in building a tourism industry that was founded on sustainability of its flora, fauna, and community.
The International Ecotourism Society offers the following basic principles that help define ecotourism so you can identify companies that practice the principle. This can serve as a checklist to find an ecotourism company or tour/activity when you plan your next trip:
- Minimize impact
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
- Support international human rights and labor agreements
Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation is a snorkeling, whale-watching, and ecotourism organization that serves as a shining example, living up to these criteria.
Of course, it can be hard to travel entirely with ecological matters guiding your vacation decisions. But rather than driving all over Napa Valley, why not consider doing a half-day bike tour? That day of not driving would cut down on CO2 emissions, which will likely save the planet. I'm sure of it. Plus, your vacation will be that much more adventurous.
Going along with my previous post on the rising nude travel trend, the next logical question is "where are the nude beaches?" since it seems like a natural combination - beach and bare buns. (Unless, of course, the subject makes you uncomfortable as hell and you'd rather go to your happy place and pretend you aren't intrigued. Understandable.)
So, how does one find these elusive edens of au naturel relaxation? A quick internet search can be enlightening (just maybe not at work). There are websites and online communities dedicated to the naturist lifestyle, with maps and guides to help you find your little slice of bare beach heaven.
We've compiled a list of the best U.S. beaches for naturists. Have a look. Then walk, don't run, to plan a trip if you dare to go bare.
Haulover Beach, Florida: A Floridian favorite for its white sands and welcoming atmosphere.
Black's Beach, California: A hidden gem beneath the cliffs near San Diego.
Gunnison Beach, New Jersey: The only legal nude beach in New Jersey, known for its friendly vibes.
Little Beach, Hawaii: A Hawaiian paradise on Maui, famous for its Sunday drum circles.
Baker Beach, San Francisco: Offers breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Moshup Beach, Massachusetts: Located on Martha's Vineyard, this beach offers a more secluded experience.
Collins Beach, Oregon: Nestled along the Columbia River, known for its laid-back atmosphere.
Blind Creek Beach, Florida: An undeveloped and serene beach on Florida's Treasure Coast.
Red Rock Beach, California: A small, hidden cove near San Francisco, known for its peaceful setting.
San Gregorio Private Beach, California: Located in San Mateo County, this is the oldest nude beach in the U.S.
Each of these beaches offers a unique experience, from the bustling crowds of Haulover to the tranquil shores of Red Rock. They are united by a common thread: the joy of enjoying nature as nature intended.
Remember to check local rules and regulations, as each beach has its own guidelines for nude sunbathing. And, as always, respect for others and the environment is paramount.
From the sunny coasts of Florida to the rugged shores of Oregon, the U.S. is dotted with havens for those who prefer their beach days au naturel. So grab your sunscreen (lots of it), and embark on a liberating journey. Happy sunbathing! 🌞🌴
E-gad! The world is really shrinking.
In the ever-evolving landscape of travel accommodations a new trend - the capsule and pod hotel - has been gaining traction. Originating from the space-efficient designs of Japan, these miniature marvels of the hospitality industry are redefining the concept of overnight stays for travelers. As urban space becomes increasingly scarce and the ethos of minimalism continues to appeal, these hotels offer a unique solution. They cater to those seeking convenience, affordability, and a touch of novelty in their lodging choices.
Capsule Hotels: A Japanese Innovation Goes Global: Capsule hotels, pioneered in Japan in the late 1970s, are characterized by their rows of small, bed-sized capsules. Initially targeting businessmen who missed the last train home, these hotels have grown to appeal to budget travelers and those curious about this unique style of accommodation. Brands like 9 Hours and First Cabin lead the way in Japan, offering basic amenities in a compact space. While the concept remains predominantly Japanese, it has begun to spread globally, with capsule hotels emerging in cities like Singapore and London.
Pod Hotels: The Western Adaptation: In the West, the capsule hotel concept has been adapted into what are commonly known as pod hotels. These include brands like Yotel and Pod Hotels, which offer slightly larger accommodations - akin to small hotel rooms or pods. These establishments provide a more upscale experience compared to traditional capsule hotels, with amenities like private bathrooms, convertible beds, and tech-friendly environments. Located predominantly in urban centers and airports, they target a broader audience, including tech-savvy travelers and those looking for a stylish, yet affordable, urban retreat.
Benefits and Appeal: The primary appeal of capsule and pod hotels lies in their affordability and efficient use of space, making them ideal for densely populated urban areas. They offer a solution for solo travelers seeking privacy and convenience at a lower cost than traditional hotels. The minimalist design and modern amenities cater to a younger demographic and those with a penchant for unique experiences. Additionally, their presence in locations like airports makes them a convenient option for transit travelers.
Challenges and Limitations: However, these accommodations are not without their challenges. The confined space of capsule hotels may not suit everyone, especially those prone to claustrophobia or requiring more personal space. Privacy can also be a concern, as some capsule hotels have less soundproofing between units. For pod hotels, while they offer more space and amenities, they still lack the full range of services of a standard hotel, which might deter those looking for a more traditional hospitality experience.
As travelers continue to seek new and affordable ways to explore, capsule and pod hotels are carving out their niche in the hotel industry. They symbolize a shift towards minimalist, efficient travel - a trend that resonates with the modern ethos of simplicity and practicality. Whether it's the bare-bones capsule in Tokyo or the tech-savvy pod in New York, these hotels are more than just a place to sleep; they represent a new chapter in the story of global travel accommodations.
I'm curious what others think of this. I can see it being useful for the business traveler, but I wouldn't want to stay in a shoebox while vacationing. I do have to admit, when having a long layover on international flights, it'd be nice to have a comfortable place to chill and take a nap.
Updated December 2023.
I can't think of a better way to give back to communities, society or the environment than by doing a volunteer vacation. I don't mean voluntarily taking unpaid days off (OK, those are often mental health days that we all need, but let's classify those as "personal care") but rather, vacations with a greater purpose where you volunteer for a cause while seeing the world.
Why bother? The benefits are immeasurable. You help a local community in need. You help scientists make progress. You gain insight into cultures and industries that would otherwise be hard to obtain. One of the most impressive volunteer vacations I've ever heard of was a co-worker going to Vietnam with a group to plant trees where landmines had formerly been. There are countless other ways to volunteer.
A friend of mine went on a couple of trips through Earthwatch, a non-profit that offers one-of-a-kind experiences where you do hands on field work to help sustain the environment. Hearing her stories inspired me. She went to Greece with a group of friends to preserve Greek ruins by documenting artifacts on an archaeological dig. Go her.
The idea stuck with me and I still plan to either go count butterflies in the mountains of Spain (I'm not making this up - scientists actually need this data to determine the health of a region's ecosystem) or help little baby turtles safely get to the ocean from their hatched egg on the beach (keeping animals of prey at bay).
Another friend of mine runs a non-profit that takes students to areas where social injustice has occurred to educate them on racial inequality via historical accounts by those who lived through them. Volunteers join her as escorts to help organize the group while on the road. Go them.
I volunteer for causes I believe in and donate money when I can. But I'm not surprised organizations have started soliciting volunteers to help fight noble causes on the ground or help with scientific research. And I'm not surprised that people are converting their hard-earned vacation time (and money) to improving society.
Globalization makes the world seem smaller (theoretically). And when the world shrinks, its needs become more real to us all.
Follow these simple guidelines and you're sure to dodge trouble and get a (figurative) U.S. governmental stamp of approval on your wedding certificate from another country.
The U.S. State Department recognizes that a marriage abroad is valid if you follow the country's laws in which you are married. No American diplomat or consular office representative need be present at the ceremony. If you have any questions, you should direct them to the attorney general of the state in which you and your spouse will reside. Big caveat: If you are applying for a foreign nationality of another country (naturalization) you may lose American citizenship status. See the U.S. State Department's rules on loss of U.S. nationality in the link below.
For more information on U.S. citizens getting married abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's site.
And, if you're planning a destination wedding within the U.S., this post is a good place to start researching the rules, regulations, and any necessary paperwork.
Ah, the delight of traveling abroad. Whether it’s a wedding in Mexico, exploring Europe with friends, or a family gathering in the Caribbean, your coolness factor may be at stake. Being "cool" (elusive and subjective as that may be, even in your home town) can shift dramatically when you’re lugging a backpack, staring at your phone for directions, Googling translations, and in unfamiliar surroundings.
A little advance planning and cultural sensitivity can go a long way. Here are tips for blending in abroad and getting the most out of your next international trip:
1. Step out of your glaring, white shoes and into stylish, yet comfy shoes (unless your podiatrist requires special shoes for your knees or back). For foreign city trips walking around in a nice pair of leather sandals or closed toed shoes makes all the difference. Nothing says "tourist" like bright, white sneakers.
2. Be culturally sensitive. You're on foreign turf. Respecting local customs and culture is a must. For example, find out if wearing shorts is acceptable or forbidden. And, when in doubt, cover your skin. I found this out the hard way in Israel when I was nearly tackled for wearing shorts in a church.
3. Learn 10 basic phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, passport, please…) in a language before traveling there. What better way to make the trip more exciting than practicing speaking a new language. Consider going beyond the basics and take a class in a foreign language for a few months prior to traveling. I've done this and it makes the trip all the more enjoyable (not to mention my travel pals appreciated my knowing how to quickly and politely ask where to find the nearest restroom).
4. Respect their language.
- If a foreign word sounds funny, don't laugh. When someone is communicating in their native tongue in their native country, remember who the foreigner is.
- Even in countries where English is prevalent, some people may not speak it. Best not to assume they do and politely ask if they speak English.
- If you're going to a country where English is spoken secondarily or a little, accents or local phrases can still throw you off. Be prepared to speak clearly and think of simpler or different ways to say the same thing, so they can respond to you in a different way. It's amazing how many things are lost in translation. Don't assume anyone speaks American slang, ya dig? For that matter, Americans have widely different pronunciations depending on their home region and you may have an accent to someone and not realize it.
5. Keep the volume down. Nothing makes me cringe more when I'm traveling abroad than hearing an obnoxious group of foreign travelers. Because I'm American, I'm especially sensitive to other Americans being insensitively loud. I distinguish from Canadian and British English speakers because they don't seem to be as loud, or perceived as crass as Americans. Keep it cool and use your "inside voices." Unless, of course, you're at a sporting event and the local team wins.
6. Absorb the culture using all five senses. Breathe in the air. Taste spices and culinary combinations. Step outside of your safe hotel and eat where the locals do. Don't ask the hotel staff where to go – they likely have a deal with a restaurant. Ask someone in a shop or just stroll the streets until you find an eatery filled with local patrons. Discover a tradition new to you but common to locals. Flamenco in Spain? Wine-tasting in Italy? Siesta in Mexico?
7. Study up on the city/region/country. Read books, look online and talk to anyone who's traveled there – get insights on best and worst experiences so you know what to do and what to avoid before you go. Even a little prep can help you avoid pitfalls, save you money or time, and make the trip more enjoyable.
8. Be sensitive with camera in hand. While the country may look like a fairytale to you, this is other people's home. If you take photos of people not in your group, be as inconspicuous as possible. If you sense someone is uncomfortable with your attention on them, take heed and respect their privacy.
9. Handle money matters smoothly. Don't fumble around with money or forget where you placed it and do the pocket pat. Organize your money and documents in private before you walk out in public. Buy a money pouch that can go around your waist and under clothing for your valuables like your passport and extra cash. Diversify with an debit card, credit card, foreign currency, and even old school travelers' checks. You can keep each of these in different locations (suitcase, socks, money pouch) for security.
10. Group travel abroad has its special consideration. By nature, you are likely a group of like-minded individuals excited for the journey and happy to be traveling together at last. It can be extra easy to be a little careless in group mentality. In addition to all of the above tips, if you're the trip planner, here are basics to prepare and share with the group:
- Provide links to trusted travel guides and resources for the region/country months in advance of your trip.
- Find out which languages are spoken and how frequently you can expect English to be used.
- Create a list of ten useful phrases or words in the country’s language such as: 1) Thank you. 2) Please. 3) My name is _____. 4) Where is a bathroom? 5) How much does it cost? And whatever else you think might be helpful for your group.
- Know your group – if they would get more excited about cultural icons than shopping, find out the operating hours and days of major sites. Nothing is worse than going to Rome to see the Sistine Chapel and being in town when it's closed. If you match your group to the activities, it’s more likely for people to be in awe of what they're doing/seeing – and be on their best behavior.
- Splurge on at least one exceptional meal that typifies the region. Prepare your group so they know what they can expect for the meal and why it is a local tradition.
Blending in doesn't mean being unauthentic or unoriginal. It simply means respecting other cultures, religions, beliefs, and living conditions. Through careful observation, you just might find an understanding not only of how people in other countries move, work, eat, talk, but how you cope and operate in unfamiliar territory. That alone is an invaluable life experience. And putting yourself at the mercy of foreign driving rules, customs, food specialties will inevitably also expand your horizons, giving you a greater appreciation for those who travel on your turf.
I also recommend reviewing these 10 tips for a safe trip abroad.
Among the myriad of things to consider when planning and booking a group trip, don't forget about safety. Before traveling abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's Web site for up-to-date information on your chosen country's travel policies, including vaccination requirements and more.
If you are traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department's has 10 tips for a safe trip:
Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.
Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, the U.S. Constitution does not follow you! While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
Make 2 copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.
If you plan to stay abroad for more than two weeks, upon arrival you should notify by phone or register in person with the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting. This will facilitate communication in case someone contacts the embassy looking for you.
To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.
In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.
If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy.
We always really appreciate hearing from readers! Stephanie B. wrote us to share, "Great idea about two copies of your passport (one left at home, extra copy with you)! Also, leaving an itinerary with a friend or family member is also great. Plus, don't forget to print out email confirmations for hotels, even if the charges have posted to your credit card account. (I recently learned this the hard way.)"
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