At the Paramount Theater in Denver, 1,900 people fill every seat to see the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival. For many, catching the film tour is a yearly tradition. The event stems from an outdoor/adventure film contest held each November in Banff, Alberta. Winning films are selected to go on tour over the next few months, attracting big audiences of active adventure-seeking types in cities and towns all over the U.S., Canada and internationally.
These sell out every year
I am a newcomer this year. Like an amateur, I only bought a ticket for one of the two nights. Now I know that these collections of films are worth the full two-night binge viewing. Over three hours, I was transported to Mexico, New Zealand, the American Southwest, China, Antarctica, Bolivia, California, and a funky ski town in Canada. It was the perfect vicarious travel and adrenaline fix. My favorites:
The Last Ice Merchant
Taking place near the great Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, The Last Ice Merchant shines. It was different in that it wasn’t about white westerners doing extreme sports in far-flung places. Rather, it looked at the life of a local hielero (ice merchant), who still practices a dying trade. He ascends the mountain to collect pieces of glacier, then transports and sells it in town. Modern refrigeration has made his livelihood obsolete, but this endearing old man in his sixties still carries on for a few loyal customers, preserving the trade as the last of his kind.
I AM RED
This short won me over because it hit closest to home. It was expertly shot all along the Colorado River, with sweeping footage from throughout the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Male and female voiceovers take on the perspective of the endangered river. Of all nine films from the evening, I AM RED was the only one to cover a conservation issue. Surprising, given the nature-mindedness of the filmmakers and fans. Although a bit overdramatic, the environmentalist message rang clear.
The Last Great Climb
This film makes my list for its incredulity factor. I just couldn’t believe it. Even though I saw it documented on film, I couldn’t believe the climbers took on this surreal summit in the depths of Antarctica, or how cold it was (reaching -30 degrees celsius), or how they scaled so much sheer vertical rock face, or that they actually summited. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how they were capturing the whole thing on film. The Last Great Climb stretched my imagination about 21st century frontiers, pioneers, and the edges of what’s possible.
March 20th will mark my second anniversary of living in Denver. Two years in one place is a personal record for me since I graduated college eight years ago. The rootedness has been great, but now I’m seeing signs that it’s time to pack up and do some more longer-term travel.
Expired! Time to renew
I didn’t have a passport until age 20, when I studied abroad in college. Once the Pandora’s box of world travel opened, I filled all the pages of that passport and eventually needed an insert of additional pages. Lately, though, it’s been almost a year since I used it last, and it’s getting dusty. It’s about to expire! Unacceptable. Time to get it renewed and break it in.
Tucumanas in Bolivia
I’ve never been much of a cook or a foodie, and being home makes me even less fired up about food. My eating habits have become a predictable routine. I’ll go to the grocery store and buy the same things every time. I’ll eat out at the same spots. My taste buds have given up. Appetite has left the building. I’m hungry for local discoveries in distant places like pupusas in Guatemala, pinchos in Spain, and tucumanas in Bolivia.
Not getting any younger
High Car Mileage
This winter in Denver has been snowier than last, and I’ve become more reliant on my car. Meanwhile, my sister just returned from the Peace Corps in Zambia, where she didn’t drive for over two years. I miss not needing a car. I miss my daily subte ride in Buenos Aires, my bicycle commute to the university in Mallorca, and wandering around Mendoza on foot. I miss overnight buses to new foreign cities. My aging Subaru agrees that I should give it a rest and and go travel.
Rusty Language Skills
My to-do list for practicing Spanish here at home:
1) Haunt La Rumba salsa club
2) Hang out with friends from Spain and Latin America
3) Look up my favorite Calle 13 and Jarabe de Palo songs on YouTube, con letra
4) Read aloud from the pages of Isabel Allende, Vargas Llosa, and Garcia Marquez
5) Watch Motorcycle Diaries or anything else starring Gael Garcia Bernal
But these items don’t always get done, and it’s just not quite the same as traveling to where Spanish is needed.
My comfort zone
In the winter, I have a ritual where I’ll take long, elaborate bubble baths after a day of adventuring outdoors. I fill the tub with almost-too-hot water and a squeeze of aroma-therapeutic gel. I sink in. Submerged up to my nose, I just float and think about my nice friends and family and job and hobbies and life here in Denver. Ahhhh. So comfortable. I could stay here forever. Then the water starts cooling down. Add more hot? Keep soaking? No. Time to drain the water, have a cold rinse, and get back out there.
This Thanksgiving, I’m going on an adventure in Colorado’s alpine backcountry. While most of America will be gorging on food and football in their family’s homes, I’ll be beginning a four-day hut-to-hut trip in the Elk Range of the Rocky Mountains (near Aspen). I’m joining three hiking friends and ten strangers for an outdoor Turkey Day complete with a traditional feast that we’ll be packing in.
I’ve written before about Colorado’s amazing hut system, which I experienced for the first time this fall with an unforgettable trip to the 10th Mountain Division Hut. When the opportunity arose for a longer four-day trip, I had to seize it. Here is the itinerary:
Wednesday: Optional: Spend the night in Glenwood, Carbondale or Aspen and meet at the trailhead at 9:30am
Thursday *Thanksgiving Day*: Meet at the Wooly Mammoth car pool lot across from the Conoco at 5am, transfer gear and leave by 5:20. Arrive at the Ashcroft Trailhead by 9:30am. Hike to the Green Wilson and Tagert huts; +1,800’ and 5.3 miles. This should be fairly easy so we can take our time in order to arrive at the hut by 3:30pm.
Castle Peak summit, view of Conundrum Peak (our plan for Friday)
On this day the day the group will be divided. Some people will be planning to hike up Castle and Conundrum peaks, weather/conditions dependent. Others can hang out, go hiking, sledding, igloo-building, etc. Make sure someone else knows where you’re going if you wander off. Everyone can party it up on this night as we can all sleep in a bit.
Get up, have breakfast, pack up and leave the hut by 10am and hike to the Lindley hut. If we stick to the roads, it will be approximately -1700’; +800’; 5.0 miles. If we cut off the corner by bushwhacking through the woods, we can cut that down to approximately -1400’; +800’; 3.0 miles. Keep in mind bushwhacking is significantly more difficult and time-consuming than the roads but it’s also more adventurous. Party again!
Get up and hike back to the cars. We can stop for lunch on the way home.
Just another Colorado sunrise
In addition to the traditional objects of my gratitude (a big loving family, amazing groups of friends new and old, fulfilling work, good health, an education, a place to call home, all the material trappings I need, etc.) I’m adding a few less-traditional items to my thanks-list this year:
For travel-minded people like me, money and savings are only as good as the adventures that they afford. Maybe this orientation will change over time as full-on adulthood sets in with all its obligations and unforseens. But no matter what stage of life I’m in, I think I’ll always tend toward the values of minimalism, frugal living and new experiences over nice things.
I don’t make piles of money in the field of travel media and communications. In fact, I’m relatively low-income by American standards. Yet I do manage to avoid debt, break even every month, live abundantly and even save up for future trips. Here are a few of the ways I save money at home so that I can get ahead and go abroad:
A library is a beautiful thing
1) Use the Library
In my home city of Denver, I benefit from an awesome public library system. It’s impressively complete in its catalog of books, music and DVDs. Lots of my friends pay monthly for things like Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime, cable TV, TiVo, etc. I don’t subscribe to any of those. I just log on to the library website, search for the item I want and request it to be sent to the branch near me. Yes, sometimes I have to wait a few weeks for especially popular new releases, but it’s worth it. Added bonus: the borrow-not-buy system is perfect for commitment-phobes like me.
Staying stocked up
2) Eat In
In the 1.5 years that I’ve been working from an office, I’ve probably gone out to lunch 10 times or less. Regular meals out (even the ones under $10) have a way of multiplying monthly food expenses. By choosing the grocery store over bars and restaurants, I’ve gotten my average meal cost down to about $2. Added bonus: by eating in almost all the time, the occasional meal out feels like more of a treat!
3) Secondhand First
I was popping tags from Goodwill way before it was cool. One of my favorite pastimes while living in Guatemala was to scavenge the world’s clothing discards (yes, that’s where a lot of it ends up) for hidden treasures. At this point, at least 90% of my clothing is secondhand. Beyond clothes, I’ll look for a gently-used version of anything on my wish list before searching for it new. Thrift stores, garages sales and Craigslist have saved me a pretty penny on outdoor gear, furniture and housewares. Added bonus: I’ve had fun adopting thrift as my “look” — it’s called shabby chic.
My low-budget steed
4) Fire the Car
When I realized that I would have a 24-mile commute to work and back each day, I knew I’d have to find an alternative to driving. That kind of mileage in heavy traffic would drive me, my aging Subaru and my gas budget insane. So I got serious about bicycle commuting and public transportation. With my year-round bicycle and light rail combination, I usually manage to keep my gasoline bill down to one tank a month. Added bonus: regular bike riding keeps me active and fit, precluding the need for a gym membership.
Anything is possible … for 30 days
5) Give Things Up for 30 Days
In January, I began a yearlong series of 30-day challenges. I’ve done several kinds of them for numerous reasons, but some of the challenges have proven to be quite thrifty. I gave up alcohol for a month, which probably saved at least $50. In March, I gave up my daily coffee. I gave up driving completely for the month of June. Added bonus: once a habit like coffee is broken (or at least curbed), the savings are ongoing.
Bottom Line: To Lower Costs, Cut Yourself Free
There are quite a few other actions I could add to this list, but it really comes down to adopting a new mentality. Detach yourself from the constant acquiring and upgrading of things. Get more connected with the people and resources around you. Embrace pooling, borrowing, exchanging, upcycling, repurposing and DIY. Eliminate clutter and frivolousness. Simplify your material wants and needs. Added bonus: not only will you save money for travel, you’ll also be less beholden to your belongings and therefore more free to go!
When was the last time you wrote a postcard? Received one? For me, it hasn’t been lately or frequently enough. In today’s online world, the postcard is losing ground to cheaper, more instantaneous and farther-reaching units of communication. It now competes with text messages, tweets and status updates. It can’t keep up.
Yet, the personal postcard will never lose its appeal. There’s nothing quite like receiving a small piece of paperboard art with a handwritten note on the other side. I’ve found that imagining the recipient’s reaction to a postcard I’ve sent is just as fun as receiving one.
Postcards are a genre, and some turn out better than others. Here are my tips for writing a more picture-perfect postcard while traveling (or even from home).
Collect physical addresses
Before traveling, make a Facebook post asking your friends to give you their home addresses if they want to receive a fun piece of mail. Ask people individually too. As responses roll in, copy/paste them into a Google document so you have access to them wherever you are.
If you want to keep the postcards a surprise, find an indirect way to get the addresses you’re targeting. Say you’re looking up directions, ask a family member, or check a wedding invite list.
Pick your postcards wisely
Postcard-browsing is one of my favorite activities while traveling. I love perusing the stacks of icons, attractions and natural landscapes. Dazzling photography. Cheesy typeface. Lots of sunsets. Look for local artists and photographers to support, and try to choose truthful images that resonate with a sense of place.
Practice your handwriting
Before you start writing on postcards, warm up your penmanship on a piece of scratch paper. Make sure you know every letter of cursive if you plan to use it. Write “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Twice. Use a nice fine-point pen — it may enhance your handwriting.
Say only one or two things
Postcards are the tweets of old: they’re exposed to the public, and message length is limited. Do not try to write more than a couple sentences on a postcard. If you feel a letter coming on, find a full page of paper and an envelope. A postcard is not the place for it.
Got a case of postcard writers’ block? Here are a few ideas:
Write the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the place
Write what the place’s tourism slogan is, then write what you think it should be
List the best and worst part of the trip so far
Use multiple postcards for a several-part message
Make a really bad pun
Photograph your postcard before you send it
Postcards don’t leave a copy of themselves in a ‘sent’ folder. They’re ephemera. But if you’re really happy with your postcard, take a picture of it — both sides. Down the line, you’ll be glad you did. If you’re on the receiving end, keep it around awhile. Postcards make great bookmarks and mirror decor.
Last weekend, I was asked in two separate conversations: “So, what’s your country count? How many countries have you visited?”
A new color for every country visited. Note: this is not my back
This was not the first time I’ve heard this question, and it won’t be the last. In travel banter, number of countries is considered to be a good proxy for well-traveled-ness. World travelers tend to keep a running tally.
On the spot, I added up my countries visited. The total came to 23. Compared to the general population, that’s probably above average. But within travel culture and for someone who has dedicated her adult life to travel, it’s pretty low. For me, it’s just right. Here’s why I’m okay with my modest number.
I’m a country monogamist
On every trip abroad that I’ve taken, both long-term and short-term, the trip has been focused on one country. I trace that trend all the way back to my first world travel experience – a semester abroad in Mexico. I was based in Puebla and traveled around every weekend. By the end of semester, I had seen more of the country than most Mexicans have.
Ever since, that has been my style. I’m a one-country-per-trip kind of gal. My trip to Guatemala was about Guatemala, both times (although I did swing down into Nicaragua and El Salvador the second time). Uzbekistan, Ecuador and Iceland: when it was you, it was only you.
Maybe I’ve missed out on covering entire continents using the hit-it-and-quit-it approach to countries. But if I were a country, is that how I’d want to be treated? No. I’d want travelers to stay long enough to remember my full name and maybe even my currency and capital city for years to come.
I once retweeted a Bootsnall tweet that said, “Anyone who ‘does’ a country didn’t really do anything at all…”
I thought about the way people recap their multi-country trips through Europe, Southeast Asia or Latin America. “First we did Costa Rica, and then we worked our way down to Panama and Colombia, and kept moving south because we were flying home from Buenos Aires and we really wanted to do Ecuador, Peru and Chile along the way.” Can’t we think of a better verb here? How does one actually “do” a place? In the same way that Debbie Does Dallas? I’m confused.
Travel is not a contest
The same Bootsnall tweet linked to a tenet of an indie travel manifesto. “Private transformation over social status and bragging rights.” Well said.
I like going back to places
Country counters, bent on their mission to score more points, have trouble justifying a return to past places visited. I like finding reasons to go back. In the same way you can’t really “do” a country, I think you can never really be “done” with one either.
After that semester abroad in Mexico – the trip that awakened the traveler in me – the next trip I took was to Mexico. I was back within a year to visit. One of my dream trips is to return to Puebla in 10 or 15 years with my study abroad friends, retrace our steps, re-create photos, and wax nostalgic about what we remember and what has changed.
Domestic travel is unaccounted for
I’m from the United States, a country that is very big, beautiful in its diversity, and worthy of a whole lifetime of travel. Exploring my own home state of Colorado has kept my wanderlust in check for an entire year and counting. Outside of Colorado, the year I spent in Vermont and my six-week jaunt in the Pacific Northwest are among my all-time favorite travel experiences.
Traveling in my own home state of Colorado
The time I’ve spent seeing the States hasn’t done anything to increase my country count, but it has still shaped me, challenged me and gratified me as a traveler.
Next big trip: 8-day brewery tour by bicycle from Fort Collins to Durango, Colorado.
Number of countries I hope to visit in my life: who’s counting?
You know what makes me happy? I mean, besides travel? Learning about the psychology of travel and its relationship to happiness. All “science of happiness” literature really fascinates me — I love any attempt to quantify something as subjective and capricious as human happiness.
I’ve written about measuring life satisfaction by country and the Happy Planet Index as a Travel Guide, and I’ve also noted how looking forward to travel boosts your mood. Most recently, I’ve come across a survey by G Adventures about how important travel is when it comes to happiness. Of the 2,321 people surveyed, an impressive 71% agree that traveling is more vital to their happiness than retirement, having a baby, buying a car, getting married, being promoted, and purchasing a home. Here’s the infographic:
Of course, it’s important to note here that this study isn’t scientific research. It’s a survey done by the marketing department of an adventure travel company. Still, I think it does a good job revealing how powerful travel really is as a source of motivation and fulfillment in life.
Other interesting findings from the study: traveling is more important to women than men. While men prefer to travel with their other half, women ranked “friends” as their ideal globetrotting companion. Family members are the least popular people to travel with and a surprising eight per cent of people in a relationship prefer to travel solo.
When asked what aspect of travel makes respondents most happy, “new experiences” topped the list, followed by “culture” and “meeting new people”. Australia and New Zealand are the most desired destinations and nearly half (46%) of those surveyed enjoy engaging in active experiences when travelling.
Ever since people became aware of the depleting state of our planet’s environmental resources, many have been inclined to support the Green movement. In everything we buy and in every activity we engage in, we try to be more conscious and responsible about the effects of these products and our actions on Mother Nature.
Travel is no exception to this consideration. Ecotourism is one of the most active campaigns nowadays, and as a result, travelers now choose natural areas which advocate environment conservation. These locations are found to be exceptional due to their sustainable practices, including energy reduction, water preservation, and recycling methods.
According to the Huffington Post, if you decide to go eco-traveling around the US, the following activities will be worthwhile: volunteer vacations, visiting animal shelters, staying at an eco-hotel, biking, volunteering on a farm, going to a national park, hopping on a train, and taking an eco-friendly camping trip. All of these and more can be done in Colorado. This state does not fall short when it comes to places for eco-travel. After discovering scenic and eco-friendly Colorado attractions via Lonely Planet and confirming your flight through dialaflight.com, plan your itinerary for a more fulfilling experience.
Here are a few suggested destinations for your Colorado eco-trip:
Winner of the top Tourism for Tomorrow Conservation Award, this is one of the greenest ski areas in the world. It’s the first ski resort in the US to build green buildings, and also the first that purchased wind power for its electric consumption needs. In an effort to protect mountain ecosystems, it fully utilizes renewable energy resources.
This city is an advocate of clean air—the government promotes the B-Cycle program, which rents out bicycles to put them within reach for more people. The city is also pet-friendly; it was voted as the best place to have a vacation with your pet.
Crested Butte, CO
Coined as Colorado’s Wildflower Capital, this place offers nature trips such as climbing, hiking, kayaking, and fishing. Local tours have visits to organic farms and natural biology laboratories. Tourists flock here for the annual Vinotok Fall Harvest Festival.
This article appeared in Tourism Review. To view the original article, click here. March, 2013.
Since the onset of tourism in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands in the 1970’s, small cruise ships have reigned as the classic mode for touring the unique archipelago. Nowadays, however, new and sophisticated hotels are making their debut as a worthy addition to the cruise experience. Galápagos travelers can now enjoy a land-based stay or a combination of cruise and hotel for the best of both worlds.
One thing I learned from my Tourism and Environmental Economics degree program is that hidden costs are everywhere. If the environmental consequences of economic activities were internalized into the cost of products, then the “true cost” of most things would be much higher – high enough to change behavior (i.e. discourage people from flying so far and so often). Essentially, we’re not paying enough rent to our ultimate landlord: the earth itself.
One way to correct this market failure is through legislation and taxes. But because climate change is still politically controversial, any real progress here will be too little too late. Another solution is voluntary carbon offsetting. The idea of an offset is a bit abstract. According to the Tufts University Climate Initiative, an offset is:
“A credit for negating or diminishing the impact of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide by paying someone else to absorb or avoid the release of a ton of CO2 elsewhere.”
Carbon offsets are imperfect, complicated, and highly debatable. Skeptics point out that they resemble the medieval Church’s selling of indulgences in the sense that they don’t actually require a change in behavior. In my opinion, in the absence of any real legislation/taxation that demands us to pay closer to the “true cost” for our flights and other inevitable emissions, carbon offsets are the best tool we’ve got for compensation.
Recently, I got a great deal on airfare from Denver to Iceland. At the price I paid, it makes perfect sense to make this long-haul flight for short-term travel, but it’s hard to justify from an emissions standpoint. So I decided to go shopping for carbon offsets – or as I see it, to voluntarily tax myself for my emissions.
As I started to research the best carbon offset companies, I narrowed it down to three different providers. By doing a three-way comparison, I got a better sense of how complicated of a calculation it becomes.
Three Uncertainties about Carbon Offsets
1) How much carbon your flight is emitting. As I compared estimates about how many tons of carbon my round-trip flight from Denver to Reykjavik would be emitting, all the carbon calculators came up with different amounts.
• Planetair calculated 1.01837 tons, with the option to account for high altitude emissions and the “climatic forcing” effect, which then doubled it to 2.03674.
So many variables are involved in this equation that it would be nearly impossible for a perfect calculation. It depends on things like number of passengers, the size of the aircraft, and the altitude of the flight. Long-haul and transoceanic flights reach closer to the stratosphere and have a more intense “climatic forcing” effect.
2) How much money it takes to compensate for emissions. Each of the three organizations listed above quoted a different amount for offsetting my trip.
• STI: $28.65 USD
• Offsetters: $38.08 USD for General Portfolio Projects and $57.11 for Gold Standard Projects
• Planetair: $59.74 USD (when using 2.03674 tons as the emissions calculation)
3) Where the money goes once you’ve purchased a carbon offset. The cost to offset emissions varies even more widely than the total gas emissions. This is because each business has different offset projects that it supports, which range from renewable energy research to energy efficiency programs and emissions reduction programs to sustainable development projects around the world. In my comparison, I looked for the kind of organization it is and whether or not their projects are held to third-party verification.
• STI is a USA-based non-profit organization.
“Sustainable Travel International and its partners are focused on increasing energy efficiency, reducing waste, reducing deforestation, and replacing traditional sources of fuel used for energy including coal, oil and natural gas, with clean and renewable sources like wind and solar power.
“Your offsets provide funding for new projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These are projects that, because of financial or technical barriers, would not and could not go forward without offset funding.”
• Planetair is a Canadian distributor of myclimate, a Swiss non-profit organization.
“myclimate’s projects reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions directly at the source. Additionally, the transparency of the project development process and the verifiable and measurable reduction of GHG emissions are myclimate’s highest priorities. myclimate only supports renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. All projects must produce demonstrable contributions to the sustainable development of their host communities.”
In the end, I chose the Offsetters general portfolio projects to offset my carbon emissions. I liked the visibility of projects by location on a world map. I browsed the projects by country, by type, and by standard. I learned new things about biogas, landfill gas capture, and other projects with answers to one of the globe’s biggest and most urgent problems.
Bottom line: Carbon offsetting is an imperfect solution, but it’s the best compensation we’ve got for unavoidable emissions. Even if it doesn’t change consumer behavior by forcing us to reduce our carbon-emitting habits, it gives us the opportunity to reinforce clean alternatives that actively address the problem in a measurable and verifiable way.