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.
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.
“Have you ever traveled around another country alone?”
According to a dating website’s statistics, this travel question actually says something about relationship potential.
In my experience, here’s what I’ve found: I’m drawn to people who can relate to the kind of solo travel that I’ve done. Data agrees. The fascinating OKCupid blog, OKTrends, crunches vast pool of dating profile data. In a post about good first date questions, they identified three very telling questions that, when agreed upon, correlate with long-term relationship potential. #2 is strongly travel-related and #3 is loosely travel-related:
I’m a clear no-yes-yes, but my definite answers to these questions only yield bigger questions. Does deep solo travel turn us into a sort of sub-species? Are we only dateable among ourselves? How seriously should I take this data?
If nothing else, I’ve learned this: the question “have you ever traveled around another country alone?” makes a good starting point for any conversation about love and travel.
I’m a fool for travel, so it figures that some of my all-time favorite movies are stories about a journey. Now that I’m rooted down in Denver for a while, one way I get my travel fix is through movies that vicariously take me away.
I do love foreign films set in far-away places around the globe, but those aren’t necessarily travel stories. For this list, I thought about movies that capture the ethos of travel itself. No matter how many times I’ve seen these, I’d watch all of them again any day of the week. In no particular order, here are my top travel movies:
The Spanish Apartment
I trace my travel habit back to an undergraduate semester in Mexico, which might be why this ultimate study abroad flick has been on the top of my charts for years. A lesser-known movie (at least in the U.S.), I have assigned it as required viewing for many a couch surfer and roommate abroad. The story of a household of unruly young foreigners in Barcelona is almost a little too reminiscent of my time at Finca Ixobel and Yoga House in Guatemala, Adan’s apartment in Mallorca, Spain, and the volunteer house where I lived in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Equal parts travel story and love story, Before Sunrise is my all-time favorite portrait of travel romance. The whimsy, the spontaneity, the fleetingness of it – anyone who has fallen in love on the road can identify with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters as they spend one is-this-really-happening evening together in Vienna. Luckily there’s a sequel, Before Sunset, made ten years later to answer some of the open questions from Before Sunrise. But, as in real life and travel, the beauty is in the story’s lack of resolve.
Up is perhaps the funniest, most imaginative, bitter-sweetest, and most poignant Disney/Pixar cartoon I’ve seen. Adventures ensue when a crotchety old man and an earnest boy scout take off in a house attached to innumerable balloons. The story paints travel as a personality trait in people – while the old man himself is an archetypal homebody, his dear wife was adventurous since childhood and he honors her biggest travel dream even after she’s gone.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
In this classic John Hughes comedy of the 80′s, Steve Martin and John Candy play reluctant travel companions thrown together for a rocky journey while trying reach home for Christmas. As their anecdotes, mishaps, and forms of transportation start piling up, the film keeps you laughing and maybe even thinking about the serendipitous role of strangers in transit.
The Darjeeling Limited
This is one of Wes Anderson’s lesser-loved films, but I give it full credit as a travel tale. The story of three angst-ridden brothers hoping to bond on a train trip in India, it taps into so many of the expectations, ironies, and disappointments of travel, complete with Anderson’s unmistakable colors-and-symmetry cinematography and tragicomic flavor.
I watched this with my parents on my mom’s recommendation, which biased me against it from the start (we have almost no overlap in tastes for anything). Yet this movie had something for both us – a pilgrimage along Spain’s Camino de Santiago to one of the world’s top religious destinations for her, and a whole laundry list of travel themes for me: the seeking of absolution through travel, the forged camaraderie of strangers-turned-travel-companions, and most of all, the search for understanding between settled-down parents and their travel-oriented children.
Into The Wild
The true story of Christopher McCandless, a bright college graduate who sought enlightenment, a clean break from his fraught family, and an alternate route outside of society’s confines. His searching takes him, reborn as “Alexander Supertramp”, across the U.S. and into the fateful wilds of Alaska. I tear up at this movie every time, partly because he dies, but mostly because its themes of solitude, loneliness and solo exploration never fail to resonate.
Joe Versus the Volcano
I have to admit, I haven’t seen this movie since childhood, but it was always a go-to when my sisters and I earned the rare trip to Blockbuster as kids. A very young Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star as rom-com protagonists seeking a way out of a soul-less existence, which leads to a volcano on the verge of eruption on a tiny tropical island. The movie offers more stereotype than insight about remote island culture, but I did learn at an early age that the best treatment for a “brain cloud” is to seek adventure.
The Motorcycle Diaries
South America in the 1950′s. Gael Garcia Bernal. Adaptation from the memoir of a revolutionary whose ideas were shaped by his travels. Spanish language. A soul-stirring soundtrack including an Oscar-winning song by Jorge Drexler. Youthful abandon. Indigenous peoples. Social issues. A haunting montage of photography from the original journey. I could keep going, or just say that there’s really nothing I don’t like about this film. The Motorcycle Diaries evidences the transformative power of travel.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen’s absurdist take on the human condition is set in Spain in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The story unfolds around two American women who spend a summer vacationing abroad, where Jane Austen-style propriety collides with Shakespearean mid-summer farce and folly. A love square emerges, with Penelope Cruz as an unforgettably tempestuous tortured artist. Favorite travel theme in this one: how quickly the bubble bursts once you reach the airport.
Have you ever felt that zing of exhilaration after booking a flight? Noticed that tingle of excitement while researching hotels? Has the plan for your next vacation ever helped you through a particularly gray day? As it turns out, this pre-trip anticipation actually does more to boost happiness than the trip itself.
According to a Dutch study on travel and happiness, tourists gain the most satisfaction from travel during the pre-trip phase. Anticipation, it seems, is a more powerful factor of travel happiness than the actual travel experiences or recollections of them.
Packing always piques my pre-trip happiness
Happiness in looking forward
What makes the pre-trip phase the happiest? I’ve noticed that, for me, trip planning is the purest phase of travel. Fueled by imagination and fantasy, it is the most resilient against reality and circumstance.
The during-trip phase is more delicate. Anything can happen to jostle the positive mindset: culture shock, homesickness, relational problems, weather conditions, and safety and health issues. Flights get delayed. Blisters form. Items disappear. It rains. We all have fail stories of bubbles burst during travel.
During-trip happiness is easily clouded
What about post-trip happiness? It’s fragile too – subject to the stress level of the trip. On a scale of “stressful” to “very relaxing”, the subjects of the study who rated their trip as “very relaxing” were the only group to report post-trip boosts in happiness, while those who rated their trip as “stressful” were actually less happy post-trip than the non-vacationers. Then there’s return to routine, work, responsibility, and catch-up. An overwhelmed inbox is enough to kill a good post-trip buzz.
Maximize your travel happiness
The study’s findings present a challenge: how can travelers gain more evenly distributed gratification from a trip – beforehand, during the experience and once they’ve returned? Here are a few tips:
Departing from the during-trip phase, landing in the post-trip phase … and still happy
• Plan a few short breaks each year rather than one big vacation. This way, you can benefit from the pre-trip “high” more often.
• Book your trip well in advance rather than waiting until the last minute. This way, you get a longer anticipation phase.
• Start packing your suitcase early. Simply making lists and gathering your travel items can do surprising things to your endorphin levels.
• Look for best value rather than lowest price. Booking the cheapest flights and lodging can add to stress and mishap during the trip.
• Manage your expectations. Fantasy is fine, but when you’re visualizing your trip, mix in some reality and rough patches. This will make the during-trip experience less subject to disappointment.
• Document the trip. Post photos, make a scrapbook, edit your video footage, write notes and tell stories. This way, you can preserve some of the happiness for years to come.
• Look forward to the little things. Happiness is not our lives or trips themselves but rather our thoughts and perceptions of them. Anticipation is a rich source of happiness, so if there are no big travel plans in the works, think smaller. Organize a day trip, a party, or even a good meal. You may get a vacation-sized dose of happiness in the process.
This article originally appeared on adventure.travel. To read the full post, click here. December, 2012.
Each year on June 24th, one of the largest and most colorful celebrations in Latin America erupts on the cobbled streets of Cusco, Peru – a colonial city at 11,150 feet above sea level and gateway to the legendary Machu Picchu. The Inti Raymi festival attracts foreigners and Peruvians alike with a re-enactment of a sacred Inca solstice celebration.
For the event, a cast of hundreds will dress in full regalia to welcome the return of the Father Sun, or “Inti”. The day is filled with Andean music, parades, ceremonies in the ancient Quechua tongue, and a culminating display in the fortress ruins of Sacsayhuaman in the hills above the city.
This article originally appeared on Matador. To read the original post, click here. October, 2012.
Inside the travel industry, a place is not a place — it is a “destination.” An organized trip is not a trip — it is a “tour product.” For travel tradespeople, part of the job is to get familiar with the destinations and tour products that we handle. This is the perk of our work, a tradition known as the familiarization trip, or “fam trip” in travel-speak.
Essentially, there are two kinds of fam trips. The most common kind (let’s call it type I) is a travel company-hosted trip for its owners, staff, and agents to learn a destination. These trips are usually heavily discounted or entirely compensated by the company, minus airfare. Type II is a state-sponsored variety, where a country’s ministry of tourism will host a handful of travel specialists as part of a larger destination promotion campaign.
One fun thing about working in the adventure travel industry is that I get to encourage people to travel. I get to play travel’s advocate. Part of my task is to stir the wanderlust in others.
How to awaken the inner traveler in tied-down family and friends? Make the case for world travel. Here are a few gift ideas for putting a sense of adventure in a box and wrapping it with a bow.
Nothing ignites the travel imagination like a real, physical map. A world atlas makes great coffee table literature, or go for a personalized world map for the wall where your recipient can mark travels with color-coded pins.
Ultimate map gift: a light-up globe to illuminate a front window with the soft glow of electric travel.
2) Fair Trade Goods
A handcrafted item always has a story to tell, especially if it’s a fair trade product that creates meaningful livelihoods for the people in the world that need it the most. Think of fair trade as a preview of what you can do when you travel abroad – you can go visit villages, meet the local artisans, have real in-person exchanges and come back with the goods as mementos.
The best thing about a fair trade gift is that it counts twice: your recipient gets a cool little item, and the artisan gets a little economic empowerment. Check out Gifts with Humanity for some beautiful ideas.
I finally got some compact binoculars for my recent trip to Ecuador, and now I’m a believer. My only regret is that I didn’t travel with them sooner. While a camera is key for capturing travel memories to relish in the future, binoculars are about intensifying the present moment and zooming in on its rich detail.
So how do binoculars inspire travel? Assuming the recipients eventually get bored with using them at sporting events and for spying on the neighbors, they’ll want new landscapes to scope out. What is there to see through mega-lenses, if not the world?
4) A DIY Travel Kit
Get creative and package your own travel kit. It took me years of long transit sessions on planes, buses, boats, and trains to refine my “sleep anywhere” carry-on kit. The kit contains an inflatable travel pillow, a travel towel that doubles as a blanket, ear plugs, a black-out sleep mask, and usually some Tylenol PM, Nyquil or whatever the local version of over-the-counter nighttime medicine might be. Everything fits perfectly into this quilted pouch that my aunt made. Patent pending.
Package travel toiletries, travel first aid, or your own assortment of hero travel items. Ideal for the first-time traveler abroad.
5) The Gift of Gab
World travel and foreign languages go hand-in-hand. Both can be very daunting. Give your travel-shy loved ones a vote of confidence by getting them started on the basics of a new language. Find a good phrasebook for their region and language of interest, hook them up with some classes, or go all out with Rosetta Stone. Maybe someday they will be thanking you in tongues on a postcard from far away.
In the house where I was raised in Denver, Colorado, my parents planted three aspen trees that sprouted up alongside their kids. Maybe this is why I have a sisterly love for them. Or maybe it’s because aspen trees are an endemic part of Colorado’s alpine landscape. Here are a few more things about aspen trees that make them great:
Each fall, Colorado’s aspens show their deep dedication to yellow. The effect might seem a bit monochromatic to some, but I think the charm is in the unison. Entire swaths of yellow take over the mountainsides, conspiring against the green of the pine trees around them. For a full-on autumnal aspen experience, step inside an aspen grove during peak foliage. Look up and twirl. You will lose yourself in the vivid gold coinage of leaves.
There is no such thing as a lone aspen tree. This is because they reproduce in clonal colonies, much like mushrooms. Each individual is one of many clones sprouting from one interconnected root system, which outlives each individual tree. A grove of aspen trees is actually one huge organism.
In the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, a group of 47,000 aspens are all clones of a single root system. Nicknamed “Pando,” it is considered by some measures to be the largest, oldest, and heaviest organism on earth.
The leaves of aspen trees know how to dance. They follow the lead of the breeze in the spotlight of the Colorado sunshine in a choreography that only nature could think up. In the autumn comes the grand finale – the leaves finish their quaking act with a fanciful confetti party as they finally break free and float to the forest floor. Latin name of the North American aspen species: Populus tremuloides.
Their light complexion
If pale is beautiful, then aspen trees are the runway model of deciduous trees. Thin, lithe and fair complexioned, it’s almost like they’re posing for the photographers and artists they inspire. Designers capture their speckled white beauty in rustic chic décor. My favorite example is the upscale Beatrice and Woodsley restaurant in my South Broadway neighborhood in Denver.
Their affinity for altitude and sunshine
Aspen trees don’t like the shade, which makes them well-suited for Colorado’s abundant year-round sunshine. They prefer drier climates and cooler nights, and thrive elevations of 5,000 feet and higher. As a sun-seeking mountain lover myself, I can’t argue with their climate tastes.