Traveling and Your Health

Most people travel to either gain new experiences or enjoy some leisure time. But there is significant evidence that traveling is actually good for your health.

For the purposes of this post, health can be broken down into two categories – physical health and mental health.

Physical health relates to the health of your body. Mental health relates to the health of your mind.

So, how does traveling impact each of these?

Physical Health

You are often active when traveling, fitting in exercise that is atypical at your local gym. This can be as simple as long walks exploring new areas. Or, it can be the more fun experiences that occur through travel. Hiking. Snorkeling. Biking. Swimming. White-water rafting. Etc.

While all of these activities are fun, they are also forms of exercise. Thus, simply by engaging in activities while traveling, you are putting your body through some diverse exercises, which is good for your physical health.

Mental Health

Two words: stress reduction. Life can become incredibly stressful, whether it is chaos at home, work, school, or in your social life. Traveling is a way to get away from this stress. Whether it is touring famous places, or sitting on a beach, stress levels will decrease. If you want to learn more about why stress is bad for your health, click here.

Besides stress reduction, traveling has another mental health benefit; learning. It is no secret that learning is good for your mind, and if you need evidence, read this article. Traveling is without a doubt a form of learning. It may be learning about historical places or events, like when I visited Normandy, France, this past winter and learned about World War II (photo shown below). Learning can also just be witnessing foreign cultures and customs.

image1

Lastly, traveling makes people happy. Being happy is one of the most important things in life and for someone’s mental health.

So that’s it. Next time you need an excuse to take a vacation, use your health.

Advertisements

Traveling… Alone?

People have all sorts of travel companions. Family, friends, significant others, etc. What about traveling with no one but yourself?

I’ll admit it, when I first heard that people travel alone for leisure, I was surprised. I thought the idea sounded boring. Why travel alone when you can travel with friends or family. And if friends or family aren’t available to travel, wouldn’t it be better just to wait until you can do a trip with other people?

imgres

But upon further review, there are actually some great things that can come out of traveling alone. For some statistics on how often people travel alone, see the following article.

1. Only your schedule

Often when traveling, you have to make compromises with the people you are traveling with. You may want to eat at this restaurant, but no one else wants to. Or you may want to wake up early and get the day going, but everyone else wants to sleep a little longer. Regardless of what the conflict of interest is, this never happens if you travel alone.

When traveling alone, you do what you want, when you want. Thus, you never have to compromise on the things you are most interested in doing, but instead can do all of them.

2. Never wait for someone else

At times when traveling with other people, someone holds the group back. Maybe they are just tired, or maybe they just aren’t interested in what’s going on. Either way, if you travel alone, you only wait on yourself. You can do things at your own pace, and never have to worry if you are holding others back, or if they are holding you back.

3. Meet new people

At some point when traveling alone, you are going to talk to someone you don’t know, purely because you do not want to be silent during your whole trip. This could be asking someone questions during a tourist activity, or just talking to someone at a café or bar. Regardless, this opens the door to meeting new people, which can lead to hearing new stories, possibly helping you discover new experiences to try that you otherwise would not have found.

Travel and Sports

Every week, people travel the world following their favorite sports team. This can mean traveling just a few hours by car or train, or more ambitious trips requiring a plane ride.

These avid sports fans often find themselves in a new stadium, where you can never quite be sure of what to expect. I am fortunate enough to have been to many professional sporting events in my life, and have often found myself at a new stadium. What follows is a list of dos and don’ts if you find yourself traveling to a new sports stadium.

DO get to the stadium early. You never know what a stadium may have to offer in terms of activities, tailgates, or events surrounding the game. You don’t want to be in the situation of finding something interesting to do at a stadium, but then not having enough time to do it. If you’re planning on hosting a tailgate, even at an away stadium, make sure you check out this tailgate guide.

15790622-standard

DON’T take too many photos. While photos are obviously great to have for various reasons, recently I’ve noticed people uploading 50-100 photos from going to one sporting event. At some point, people are missing the game and the atmosphere just to take photos.

DO pick up tips from local fans. Whether it be information about the stadium or great places to grab food or drinks after the game, the home fans always know what’s best.

Camden-Yards-Bar-District

DON’T be too bold with your away fan gear. I’m sure hardcore fans will disagree with this point, and I’m not saying don’t wear any gear. However, showing up head to toe in your team’s gear and colors can be asking for trouble. Once when I was at an NFL game in the winter, someone I was with wore her warmest coat, which happened to be the color of the away team. We had snowballs thrown at us throughout the game, because home fans thought the coat indicated we were supporting the away team.

An Alternative To Hotels

The rapid advancement of technology has impacted many aspects of travel. One area in particular that has changed is where travelers can stay.

No longer are hotels the only option for places to stay. Technology has made websites like Airbnb possible. And with this possibility comes the option of staying in someone’s apartment or house, instead of staying in a hotel.

While staying in someone else’s residence may seem like an absurd idea at first, it actually can make a lot of sense. Here’s why.

1. It Can Be Cheaper

There is of course no guarantee that using a website like Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel. However, some people do offer very reasonable prices for you to stay in their homes, making them cheaper than a hotel room at times.

2. You Have More Perks

While hotel rooms are often comfortable and provide a suitable bed, TV, bathroom, and sufficient drawer space, an apartment or house has much more.

First, a full kitchen. While is may not mean much if you are only traveling for one or two days, this can be a great addition when staying places for a longer period of time. My family stayed in an apartment for a week in Paris this past winter (see photos below). We picked up some basic groceries on the first day, and just having the option of eating breakfast at home every once in a while was a nice change of pace from having to eat every meal out.

Besides a kitchen, small things like multiple bathrooms and showers, or a washer and dryer in the home, can be surprisingly useful and convenient.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 8.15.19 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 8.15.55 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 8.20.10 PM

3. New Experiences Await

Staying in someone else’s home leaves you without a concierge or other services a hotel may offer. This almost forces you to go out and explore the area around you on your own. This can lead to experiences you never would have had had you stayed in a hotel, such as finding different restaurants or shops.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

While considering staying in an apartment or house instead of a hotel may be a great idea, there are a few things to be aware of in terms of safety. On Airbnb or other websites you can check out reviews of the owner of the residence you are looking at, which is certainly something worth doing. In addition, you should research the area you are in to ensure it is safe.

Bike Sharing Systems And Traveling

If you have not noticed, bike sharing systems have been popping up in major cities over the past few years. In the last year alone I have seen them in New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Paris. For a little background on how bike sharing systems work, read the first paragraph of this article.

Bike sharing systems are a great option to have when traveling. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. They are a great way to see parts of a city

While I do not recommend trying to see large portions of a city via biking (if you are looking for a way to see most of a city, feel free to check out my article on bus tours), biking is a great way to see specific parts of a city.

For example, this past summer I used Chicago’s bike sharing system to explore the Chicago Lakefront Trail. Through this experience I saw the different beaches Chicago has to offer, the Navy Pier, and gained a better understanding of the city’s layout. As a bonus, I was treated to some sublime views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline (See Below).

IMG_1566

IMG_1632

IMG_1642

2. They are an efficient way to exercise while traveling.

It’s no secret that exercising while traveling can be difficult, annoying, or both. Biking is an easy solution to this problem. In my opinion, it is fun and relaxing to bike around a city. Before you know it, an hour has gone by, and you have gotten your exercise for the day. On the last night of my trip to Paris, I noticed that their bike sharing system had stations on the Seine River. I sincerely regret not being able to wake up early one morning and start my day by taking a bike ride on the river.

3. They operate the same way no matter where you are

Once you use one bike sharing system, you will know how to use one anywhere. Almost all of them have the same easy process of inserting a credit card, taking out a bike, and then returning a bike at any station. So even if you face a language barrier or cultural gap while traveling, a bike sharing system can be something constant that you are familiar with, and do not need assistance using.

Experiencing Local Culture As A Tourist

When traveling to a new place, it is hard not to play the role of tourist. Whether it’s not knowing your way around, or struggling with a language barrier, locals often look down upon tourists.

So how can you take a break from being a tourist and immerse yourself in local culture? Mix in with the locals. By finding some place, activity, or event that is operated by locals and attended by locals, you can experience the local culture not as a tourist, but as a participant helping create the culture.

For example, last summer I was in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean. On a Sunday night, my family went to a place called Shirley Heights Lookout, which overlooks Antigua’s English Harbour (more info on Shirley Heights can be found here).

Every Sunday, Shirley Heights offers Caribbean food, local music, and drinks. This is entirely run by locals, and also well attended by locals. The sunset was incredible, as you can see below, and the views were spectacular.

IMG_1487

Highlights from the food menu were Caribbean jerk chicken, fresh fish, and a wide variety of vegetables. Drinks included Antigua’s local beer, as well as a traditional Caribbean drink, rum and ginger beer. The live reggae band played for two hours, and many people danced the night away. And an added bonus of this whole experience: the entrance fee, food, and drinks were all very inexpensive.

antigua5

Shirley Heights was a perfect example of a way to experience local culture as a tourist. The key to this experience was the authenticity of the event. Shirley Heights was entirely controlled by locals, ensuring that any tourist experienced the event as a local. In addition, the attendance of many locals created the local environment that was completely different from a touristy environment. This enabled me to have a real Caribbean experience unique to Antigua.

Shirley Heights was what many people want from traveling; a new experience that they could not have at home. Opportunities like Shirley Heights are possible most places you travel, and it all comes down to finding an authentic event or activity which forces you to mix in with locals.

So don’t be a tourist the whole time you travel. Take a break and get a real taste of local culture.

Cruise Review

This past week I was on the Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship (see below), operated by Royal Caribbean International.

photo 3

photo 4

I went on the cruise during spring break with 12 of my friends (male and female) from college. The schedule of the cruise was as follows:

  • Day 1: Cruising
  • Day 2: Cruising
  • Day 3: Stopped in Port Canaveral, Florida
  • Day 4: Stopped in Cococay, Bahamas
  • Day 5: Stopped in Nassau, Bahamas
  • Day 6: Stopped in Key West, Florida
  • Day 7: Cruising
  • Day 8: Cruising

This was the first cruise I had ever been on, and my expectations were high. This post is a full review of the cruise experience I had, ranking categories from 1-10, 1 indicating extremely poor quality, and 10 indicating extremely high quality.

COMFORT AND CLEANLINESS – 9

One thing I had heard about cruises was how the rooms were small, claustrophobic, and uncomfortable. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. While the rooms were smaller than a standard hotel room, they were comfortable and had everything I needed. There was plenty of cabinet, closet, and drawer space, the bathroom was small but not crammed, and there was even room for a mini couch. The room attendant knew both my roommate’s name and my name on the first day, and cleaned the room twice a day, making sure to come when he knew we were out of the room.

The rest of the ship was kept very clean. Tables in the dining areas were wiped down almost immediately after a party was finished eating. Other public areas on the ship were also quickly cleared of any trash or glasses left behind. In addition, hand sanitizer was available all over the ship, with attendants often encouraging people to use it before meals.

All in and all, the cruise was very comfortable and clean.

FOOD – 7

The best part of the food on the cruise was the variety. There were multiple dining halls, a more formal dining hall, as well as a few restaurants with specific cuisines. The menu changed constantly at the dining halls, always offering different cuisines and many options. The menus also accommodated people who were vegetarian or gluten free.

The quality of the food on the ship was good, nothing more, nothing less. I was not expecting the food to be outstanding, since it was mass-produced. Some dishes were great, a few were mediocre, but the majority were good. You should not be expecting the best meals of your life on a cruise, but you should expect some quality food with all sorts of variety.

SERVICE – 9

The service on the cruise was fantastic. All of the staff were extremely polite and helpful. Whether it was questions about a boarding procedure, the schedule for the next day, or anything else, the staff was eager to help.

ACTIVITIES AND FACILITIES – 7

The variety of activities offered throughout the cruise was great. There were bingo games, art auctions, movies, comedy shows, musicals, orchestra performances, Ping-Pong tournaments, fitness classes, a belly flop competition, casino games, bars, and more. With different activities on different days, it was almost guaranteed that there were activities for any cruise-goer.

The facilities were either very good or below average. The theater where movies and shows took place was huge, with comfortable seats and plenty of room so that it was not too crowded. The casino was also pretty big, resulting in little waiting around to play table games. One example of the below average facilities was the pool. While I was expecting a big pool since the cruise had a capacity of over 2,000 people, it was quite small, with its size more appropriate for a backyard than for a cruise ship.

STOPS – 8

One thing I learned about going on a cruise is that the stops are the highlight of the trip. Because of that, it is necessary to make the most of these stops by getting off of the cruise for as long as possible.

The process for getting on and off the boat at these stops was often annoying and time consuming. People who were doing excursions usually departed first, so one day when the ship was scheduled to arrive at 9:00 A.M., I could not get off until 10:30 A.M. because I was not on an excursion. At another stop, everyone had to get cleared by United States Immigration Services before leaving the ship. This was conducted on the boat, and it only took a few minutes for officers to check a passenger’s passport. However, the waiting to actually see the officers took over an hour because of how poorly the process was organized by the cruise. This was very frustrating, as it took valuable time away from a fun stop.

The stops themselves were fantastic. There was always plenty to do, and a large variety of excursions were offered, which ensured any individual or group could find something fun. Most stops had easy access to tremendous beaches. This entirely made up for the annoyances mentioned above, because the experiences off of the ship completely overshadowed any earlier frustration.

photo 2

PRICE – 6

While the price of a cruise varies upon the ship, cruise line, room type, and more, you should know there are many hidden fees that come about. To learn how to best compare cruise prices, go here.

My cruise payment included the room and unlimited food. I expected to purchase an excursion or two, as well as maybe buy a few alcoholic beverages on board, but otherwise did not foresee many other costs.

How wrong I was. There was an automatic $12 gratuity charged each day, which meant almost $100 more added to the cost of the cruise. Then during the stop in Nassau, there was not too much to do besides look at local shops. This made it somewhat of a necessity to purchase an excursion, tacking on an additional $50-150 depending on what excursion a passenger wanted to do. As expected, alcohol on the cruise was very expensive, with an $8 bottle of wine costing $30 at dinner. But soda and sweetened drinks costed extra as well.  To obtain these drinks, a drink package had to be purchased, which cost a certain amount per day for an unlimited amount of drinks. However, you had to purchase the package for at least four days, so a beverage package would become a somewhat expensive investment.

Some activities on the ship cost money, and were at times shockingly expensive. For example, I wanted to play bingo one day. You had to buy a bingo card, and then the winner received a cash prize. I was excited to play, until I found out the cheapest bingo card was $32, which combined with a low chance of winning, seemed like a dumb price.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE – 8

Overall, I enjoyed the cruise. While the days spent cruising were not the time of my life, each of the stops were an absolute blast. Whether it was sitting on the beach, snorkeling, or spending quality time with friends, there was all sorts of fun to be had, which is always what I look for in a vacation. As a bonus, I experienced some things I never had before, which is one of the best aspects of traveling. The cruise, and thus my spring break, was something I’ll never forget.

photo 2 copy