Monthly Archives: October 2013

Why The World Heritage List Should Be On Yours

What do the Great Pyramid, Great Barrier Reef, and Great Wall of China all have in common, besides the title “great”? Interestingly, it is the same thing they have in common with the Tower of London, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Give up? They are all considered World Heritage Sites, a designation by UNESCO-the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Regarding the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s stated goal is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” In layman’s terms, it seeks to preserve the most meaningful, historic and naturally beautiful places on earth. And while the list’s occupants such as the historic center of Rome, or the Galapagos Islands may be familiar to most people, their status among the world’s premier destinations may be relatively unknown.

When it comes time for me to begin considering ideas for a trip—also known as: always—my first order of business is to peruse a given destination’s World Heritage Sites. It’s been my experience that in the 66 WHS I’ve visited (out of 981 total worldwide) every last one was worth the trip. Most are no-brainers. I mean, who doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal when in India? But there are lesser-known sites that were like finding hidden treasure. A case in point is the Goreme National Park, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This unique collection of troglodyte dwellings and surreal rock-formations is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever heard of—let alone visited. So as a rule of thumb, when considering a destination, always check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites within striking distance. Your photo album will thank you for it.

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

To find a complete list of World Heritage Sites along with more information, you can log onto the official web site at http://whc.unesco.org. There is also a fantastic unofficial site at www.worldheritagesite.org where travelers the world over post their comments, observations and words of wonder at these bright spots on the world map. After perusing them yourself, you just may be so moved with appreciation to include one or two of these World Heritage Sites on your next trip at home or abroad.

Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Tell me about it!

Categories: Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me The Toilet Paper

Indoor Plumbing-My Personal Preference

Indoor Plumbing-My Personal Preference

I’ve always considered myself as being born too late. In my head I had always romanticized the exploits of explorers from the days of Columbus when falling off the map was considered a high-probability outcome, to the “gentlemen explorers” like Shackelton on his Antarctic quest, to Stanley & Livingstone and other such adventurers seeking the headwaters of the Nile. But now, with middle-age looming on the horizon and enough experience in my rear view mirror to weigh the facts, I’m happy to say: I am soooo over it.

 

Why the change? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s my predilection for indoor plumbing. Or perhaps it’s my deep-seated aversion to malaria. Perhaps it’s even due to my personal preference to not go years without informing my loved ones back home that I’m still alive. Yes, as awesome as it must’ve been to be the first to discover all those empty spaces on the map, I’ll be the first to admit that I like being able to walk onto a plane, sit down, eat a meal of mediocre but generally parasite-free food, ‘ease nature’ at 30,000 feet (while admiring toilet water in that amazing shade of blue!) then stand up again to walk out onto a different continent mere hours after I left. Had such an option been available to Vespucci, I’m inclined to think he’d take it.

 

Yeah, I’ve gone soft. While generations before me were learning valuable survival skills like hunting, navigation, and animal husbandry during their formative years, I spent mine using a controller to guide an Italian plumber from castle to castle in search of a princess held captive by overgrown turtles (“Sorry Mario, but our princess is in another castle”). And now, with leaps in technology, I can do even more than that while being whisked off to exotic locales where basic plumbing and sewage may be lacking but everyone’s got a cell phone. Think of what THAT would have meant to early explorers (Stanley, with his Bluetooth: “Livingstone, can you hear me now?”)

 

While such days of adventures seem really cool now, all it takes is to read up on the realities of such journeys to make the rest of us feel contented that such realities are not ours as we take in the planet from air-conditioned vehicles. As a case in point, narratives such as “The Lost City of Z”, detailing early explorations of the Amazon Basin, and “River of Doubt”, recounting Teddy Roosevelt’s harrowing expedition along the river that now bears his name, do nothing to make me wish I had gone along. Clouds of swarming insects day and night, a lack of food, trudging through territories of hostile natives—I have no problem limiting myself to reading about it.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no wuss that can’t handle some deprivations, or is shocked by the underdeveloped conditions of the Third World. Sometimes I even like being stripped of modern (American) comforts so long as the experience immerses me in the culture. But at the end of the day (or week) I am quite content to return to drinkable water that I don’t have to boil first, posting my pictures on Instagram, and the option of having some authentic pad thai within a reasonable drive. It don’t feel like I’m asking for too much.

 

For anyone interested in an entertaining read that echoes the same principles I just expounded, I suggest taking a look at the memoir “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria,” by Eve Brown-Waite (www.evebrownwaite.com). Not only is it really witty, but her reactions to life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador & Uganda resonate with the best of us, and only go to prove my point.

 

So while I may call upon my own head the ire of hard-core travelers with this post, I just have to be honest. I like the convenience of modern travel. I like the convenience of modern communication. And what I really, really, like, is not having to make in the bushes. For that, I apologize to no one. If you feel the same, leave a comment. It will make for interesting reading in the bathroom…

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Make Two Weeks Last Forever

Two weeks. Whether you look at it as 14 days, 336 hours, or 20,160 minutes, it still amounts to the same thing–the average vacation time of the American worker. So how can you make the most of that short span of time away? Or in other words, how can you make two weeks last forever?

The good news is that barring an extreme misfortune, such a goal is very much within reach. It costs nothing aside from a little effort and initiative, and carries the promise of a big payoff in the end. The key lies in four main areas of consideration.

Have A Plan

Plotting the course between Turkey & Greece

Yes, something so simple as having a plan can greatly affect the outcome of a trip. That’s not to say that you’re better off with a prison-style regimen. The point is, having a general idea as to what you hope to accomplish is essential to reaching your goals. Even with a knowledgeable travel agent, you should do some investigation yourself. Between the internet and a plethora of guidebooks available, you should have no problem researching your destination. Equipped with a working knowledge of what, where, and how, its time to move on to the next step.

Document Thoroughly

Speak softly, but carry a big telephoto lens

Speak softly, but carry a big telephoto lens

Sadly, many enjoyable details are lost in the frenzy of a vacation. This tragic loss can be greatly reduced with only a little self-discipline and something as simple as a pen and some paper. In addition to taking pictures or video, not to be forgotten is the timeless art of journal writing. Having a firsthand account of each day’s activities will pay rich dividends years later. Write as little or as much as you’d like–just be sure to record the details along with your feelings at the time. Down the road, having those facts along with your photos will help you better recall the experiences.

Explore!

Exploring the South African Bush

Exploring the South African Bush

When traveling, it is important to remember this important fact: The whole reason you left home was to experience something new. While there is a genuine need for common sense and caution, your vacation is not the time to be ultra-conservative. Tourist traps are fine, but the real story of a destination lies behind the souvenir shops. Get out there and mingle with the locals. Try their food if it is safe to do so. It is that kind of cultural immersion that will mean the most to you when all is said and done, and you can’t put a price on the enrichment such interaction will bring to your life.

Reflect And Re-Live

So it’s over now. You’ve traded your swimsuit for a business suit and are headed back to work. But your trip doesn’t have to end there. The beauty of travel is the accumulation of experiences–and experiences, when preserved, are immortal. Don’t just put those photo albums in the closet–keep them handy and go through them often. Personally, I like to review my journal on the “anniversary” of trip. I enjoy the subtle satisfaction of saying: “A year ago today I was in Tahiti. Two years ago Vienna,” and so forth. Doing so keeps the memories alive and gives you the opportunity to savor the flavor again. It also serves to whet your appetite for your next jaunt into the big wide world.

These are just a few ideas as to how to make your vacation last despite the hectic pace of everyday life. Holding on to such experiences will impress them further into your mind and heart, serving to remind you of what it is you’re working for. So the next time you go, remember to formulate your plan, have the courage to explore, document thoroughly, then reflect on the experiences had. Doing so will make those memories eternal—even if they’re acquired only two weeks at a time.

Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , ,

Introduction To Travel Philosophy

When it comes to travel, clichés abound. I’m not going to repeat them here, but suffice to say they all have one thing in common: they reflect their originator’s travel philosophy. What I mean by the term travel philosophy is the mindset, or attitude of the traveler—an abstract, ethereal concept that is far deeper than the act of simply moving from one place to another.  A business person may travel around the globe, visiting city after city, but that has very little to do with a mindset. They travel because they have to, and the act, while necessary, is no more remarkable than your average commuter that day in and day out travels to a city that they never get to enjoy. Yes, what I ‘m speaking of is the deliberate act of traveling to acquire an experience: seeing new things with one’s own eyes and gaining the subtle nuances of firsthand exposure that cannot be successfully transmitted by any form of description.

It is with this definition in mind that I introduce the subject here on my blog. I do so because without establishing the WHY, the WHERE and HOW are diminished, and essentially without context. So here is a few basic tenets of my own travel philosophy, and perhaps they just might coincide with some of yours.

1) Travel To Experience Something New

Driving on the left, from the right side of the car

Driving on the left, from the right side of the car

If I wanted everything to be just as it is at home, I would never have left. Travel exposes a person to different ways of doing things—some better, some not—but nine times out of ten it simply comes down to being different. Whether driving on the left side of the road in New Zealand & South Africa, taking a nap in the middle of the day in rural parts of the Mediterranean, or the traffic free-for-all of India, these variations on a theme (namely: what you’re used to) enrich a person’s life for the better—if only to help one appreciate what they have.

2) People Are People

Disembarking along the Yangtze

Disembarking along the Yangtze

On a Yangtze River cruise I was introduced to this important fact. Our tour group was taken to a school in Wanzhou, China where children were instructed in Chinese acrobatics. While being seated for the performance, my father and I were separated from our group and sat down among the local farmers. As these kids flipped, twirled and balanced enormous vases on their noses, what struck me the most was the reaction of the audience. We all gasped at the same parts. We all expressed sounds of admiration at impressive feats. We all laughed and applauded at the same things. That’s when it truly struck me on a level that I’ve always known but never clearly saw until that moment. We are all the same. We all want the same things. We all have the same hopes and fears. (Don’t worry, I won’t break out into “It’s A Small World”). There is no reason to hate people of other races or nationalities because people are people—even if they’re in China.

3) Sense of Place

The Loud & Traffic-filled streets of India

The Loud & Traffic-filled streets of India

To me, it’s not just being able to have another stamp in my passport and add another pin to my wall map that inspires me to travel (though I do enjoy those things). For me it is being able to comprehend what a given location is like—or sense of place—that brings me great satisfaction. As a kid I used to watch Met games in my parents’ bedroom and spin my dad’s globe to see where my finger would land. Not only did I learn a good deal about geography, but it also led me to wonder what these places with such exotic-sounding names were really like. Once I became of age to travel about the globe freely, I took great pleasure in transforming these names on a map to a real image in my head. I no longer see them as just labels with vague images to go along with them.

I no longer see: ‘Italy’, but I relive the musty smell that permeates the old buildings. I smell the fresh basil in the terraced gardens. I feel the pebbles under my feet as I stand knee-deep in clear water. Similarly, I can no longer see a map of India without hearing the incessant beeping of horns, smell the smoky smell that is everywhere and the resulting haze that makes all structures on the horizon appear as if seen through gauze. That’s a sense of place, and that’s what I am always looking for.

In summary, these are just a few of my basic philosophies as to why I travel. I will add more in the times to come. But for now I’d love to hear your own thoughts on what moves you to travel—not just move from one place to another. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Categories: Anecdotes, Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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