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June 2006

Find Solo Time on Group Trips

Need your space when traveling en masse? Socialites and introverts alike all need a little solo time to recharge. Here are easy ways to politely find your own space while still enjoying the group parties, meals, events, activities, and hoopla.

A family reunion, bachelor party, or weekend getaway group agenda doesn't always have to be your agenda. One thing rings true on group trips, especially family reunions. There can be a lot of hanging out time or slower pace in doing things to accommodate for the slowest group member and herding the troops. After a couple of days, finding ways to get some personal space is just fine. Good friends or family should understand. Many will likely copycat your actions (or have already scheduled solo time for themselves). It's quite natural.

So, take that leap. Get the most out of any group vacation by returning relaxed (not revved) using these tips, ideas, and resources.

  1. iPod independence: Bring iPod, put earpieces in ears, close your eyes and tune out others and into yourself. Shuffle or create a travel play list ahead of time. Play list ideas:
    i. songs that inspire you
    ii. songs that fit the mood of the destination you're visiting
    iii. work-out songs for running along that Caribbean beach
    iv. comedy acts downloaded
    v. walking tours downloaded (see podcast tours below)
  2. Podcast tours are a growing trend in travel sightseeing, a new way for individuals to absorb the rich history, culture, and get insider tips for exploring. Gadling also agrees: have iPod, will travel.
    i. Lonely Planet – free, regular podcasts
    ii. Soundwalk – off the beaten path urban tours, must be purchased and downloaded to computer one by one
  3. Journal. Who wouldn't respect your request for a little alone time to jot down memories, thoughts, rants, raves of the trip?
  4. Arts and crafts: Draw, paint, knit or whittle. So much scenery, so little time. So many crafts to make, as well.
  5. Comforts of home: Bring at least one comfort of home along on your trip… animal slippers, aromatherapy candle, your favorite bubble bath, nail polish for painting your toes or nails (men, feel free to do the same if that’s your bent)
  6. Books: Most people bring books for plane rides, down time between transfers, and down time in general. A basic for down time which can double as nap time if you read with sunglasses (no one will be the wiser if you position your book and head on a pillow just so). How about books with Sudoko, crossword puzzles, and other mind games? Or are you the trashy romance novel type? John Grisham or Michael Crichton fanatic? See also Gadling's recommendation of classic books available in audio format for iPods.
  7. Dog therapy: When retreating temporarily at any group event, nothing's better than throwing a stick for a dog or taking pouch for a walk. Your companion doesn't require conversation and will be loyal all day.
  8. Yoga or jogging: Yes, two polar opposites on the yin yang spectrum of energy, but both can give you the same thing – time to yourself while staying fit.
  9. Just say NO. While the main objective of any group trip is to be together, taking time for yourself shouldn't catapult feelings of guilt into your conscience. Learn the delicate art of politely declining for certain activities.
  10. Space out. Walk the city, beach, destination and let your thoughts and imagination be your guide. One of the most relaxing elements of travel can be finding quiet time to ponder your current situation (career, lifestyle, health, relationships) or simply letting go of it all and fully immersing yourself in the now to contemplate lapping waves, patterns in the sand, or the origins of Pina Coladas. Our uber tuned-in lives taking over every waking moment (even podcast tours can be invasive if your vacation goal is to fully relax without much stimulus).
  11. Contact home base. Step away from the group to stay in touch with kids, family, others at home. Lifehacker comments on a USA Today article that highlights how easy it is becoming to call home from abroad. Even if you’re traveling in the U.S. with easy access to a phone, you may be able to use "an urgent phone call" as an excuse to duck out of a group event. The group can head off for hiking that day while you meet up with them after a tall, cool beer and the paper.

Any other ways to step aside from group gatherings to recharge with solo time?


Adventure Travel, Risks and All

Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.

Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner in small-ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek (operating since 1969), writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.

These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).

For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?


Traveling Baby Supplies

Parents can spoil themselves when traveling with infants or toddlers by renting baby supplies, such as cribs, jogging strollers, gates, baby rails, rather than lugging them through airports or hassling with them en route.

Baby's Away is a site that seems to simplify family travel involving young kids. While it may not solve all your problems ("Are we there yet?") perhaps it can be another stress-reducer for traveling families. You can rent supplies from numerous metropolitan and resort locations throughout the U.S.


Girls Getaways Go Glossy

Ladies, this bud(get)'s for you. There's a lot of buzz lately about Budget Travel's new magazine for ladies only. That's right, men. Step aside. This doesn't mean women don't adore traveling with you - it just means quality girl friend time is like nothing else; so when women gather in giggly gaggles or small, serious groups, the travel industry takes notice and rewards women with a nice glossy periodical to peruse for travel ideas. (A higher end magazine for "savvy, sexy, and sophisticated" women "and the men who travel with them" is Travel Girl.)

Budget Travel's 40 Best Girlfriend Getaway Packages is an enticing start for their launch. Summer 2006 edition is on newstands now or available for online order after May 23 (I can hear the clip clop of heels and shuffling of hiking boots now). My guess is this magazine will attract working women, college chicas, and a range of ages alike.

Men: who knows? You just might find your girlfriend becoming more passionate about travel (and life) on her adventure away with the girls, which should spilleth over to your relationship. Concerned about couples traveling separately on vacation? Here are tips on how healthy it can be.


Most Memorable Beaches

Who doesn't dig beaches? They vary by destination (Hawaiian sand and rock beaches vs. Caribbean powdery white beaches) and season, even from vacation to vacation. Depending on who you're traveling with (group of friends, family or college pals) you get (and likely want) different things from each beach trip.

Beaches that stick out in my mind as personal favorites hold their titles from the experience of the visit - some for fond memories they conjure up, others for sheer beauty, and still others for a desire to return to the sights, foods, and local culture surrounding the shores.

A few of my memory-making beaches to whet your summer appetite include...

First Beach, Olympic National Park
Why? I've had great conversations with family members and enjoyed spotting eagles from shore. Just spotted about 10 adult and adolescent eagles recently!

Red Beach on the Greek island of Santorini
Why? It was my second trip abroad and my friends and I had this beach all to ourselves in the spring; gorgeous, crescent-shaped beach that took a mini-hike to get down to the water's edge. We spent an afternoon reading by the water. (Hint: Only way to get this popular beach to yourself is to go off season and non-peak hours.)

Monterosso, Italy
Why? Cinque Terre is one of my favorite areas of Italy (made famous to most Americans by Rick Steves) made doubly delightful with family and friends. More people with whom to sip wine or limoncello (local lemon liquor). Mmmm.

West side of San Juan Island, Washington State
Why? It's where you can (environmentally responsibly) sight Orca whales. While visiting the island with friends, we drove around and stopped when we spotted approximately 50 at once. Gorgeous and a rare treat to see so many (now endangered) Orcas together.

Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Why? Snorkeling there is a wonderful treat - so much just under the surface very close to shore so it's great for all ages, family, etc.

Isla Baru, off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia
Why? Tiny droplet of an island (as part of the Rosario Islands Park) with shallow shorelines for swimming in bathwater temperatures. On my tour, we were served grilled fish and veggies from the locals. I highly recommend tours that take you to multiple outer islands off of Cartagena. It's an authentic Caribbean experience.

Here are (secret) coastal finds and Best American Beaches by Gadling.

What beaches serve as fond memory-makers for you?


Group Dynamics on Escorted Travel Tours

By guest blogger and professor Hazel Warlaumont, Ph.D.

Thinking of an escorted travel tour?  Sharing pleasurable and positive travel experiences with others can bring lasting memories . . . and lasting friendships! Researchers investigating group dynamics agree that group synergy; that is, increased benefits from a group experience, can far surpass the experience of acting alone. Escorted tours not only have economical and practical advantages, but they can satisfy members' interpersonal needs such as inclusion and the need to develop close, caring relationships by sharing interests in common.

But horror stories abound from seasoned travelers and tour guides who relate unpleasant situations that can create tension and even ruin a trip. When you get 35 people from different backgrounds and often with different agendas in close quarters for the first time, there's bound to be some tension. Understanding how groups interact and process a new group situation can help alleviate many of the difficulties and make group travel work for everyone.

Stages of group dynamics on travel tours:

Getting oriented
Upon meeting for the first time, tour members enter the orientation phase of the group interaction process. Members naturally feel some primary tension marked by the expected uncertainty of meeting for the first time. This often happens on the first night when many tour directors gather their flock for a welcoming dinner or reception. Tour members tend to be polite and formal with one another and do their best to avoid controversy. They engage in surface-level chit-chat during this period of "social reconnaissance" while they get a sense of each other's interests and personalities.

Group dynamics form
The second or conflict phase is often marked by some secondary tension when members become aware of individual differences within the group. This may take place during the next few days as members ease into the routine of traveling together. Tension during this period can come from a number of situations, some identified by people's behavior and key personality traits. For instance, tour members might encounter

  • the recognition seeker, who spends time boasting about accomplishments thereby distracting others from the travel experience;
  • a self-confessor might distract the group by disclosing personal problems and by using the group for personal therapy;
  • the special-interest traveler has an individual agenda and might try to steer the tour in that direction (wants everyone to go fly fishing as opposed to touring the local castle); and
  • the dominator refuses to allow others to express their opinions and dominates discussion.

Showing patience with this initial posturing and knowing it will diminish as the tour progresses, is usually a winning strategy.

Personal space
Tension during the second stage of group integration can also arise from perceived violations of personal space. Territoriality is a basic human need and excessive invasions of our space can create heightened arousal and anxiety that may lead to verbal and physical aggression. A tour guide told me on a recent excursion that she had witnessed pushing and shoving over seat and room assignments, and instances of some members leaving a tour because of space issues. While rare, these situations are often the result of insensitivity to another's need for personal space and the inability of the offenders to make a commitment to the group experience. Expecting and accepting that you may need to share space on the bus or at your table, is a soothing strategy here.

Harmony and group unity
With a helpful tour director, secondary tension can be alleviated and even prevented through effective leadership and establishing a protocol for touring. In most cases, this happens right away, allowing the group to pass into stage three, the emergence phase of the trip where members begin to feel harmony. Potential problematic members have backed down, sensing the disapproval and counter productiveness of their behaviors or attitudes, leading the group into the final or reinforcement stage. At this point, members bolster the group experience through favorable comments and positive reinforcement. The spirit of unity pervades and group members are jovial and focused on the purpose of the trip and the travel experience.

Lasting friendships through traveling together
Although many escorted tours experience some tension, the best way to handle it is to keep a positive attitude and allow each member some room for personal adjustment. Anticipating periods of conflict and knowing that in most instances, these situations will resolve themselves quickly, is probably a healthy strategy. Most tour directors and tour members will recognize the value of a positive climate and set this as the primary goal. In most cases, travel excursions result in very special bonds and lasting friendships among members for having worked through minor periods of tension, and from sharing the fun of traveling together.

Hazel Warlaumont is a professor of communication at Cal State Fullerton and the University of Washington, and draws from her teaching and travel experience to share some observations about escorted group tours.


Stress-Free Family Vacations for All Ages

What was your first vacation memory? Visiting grandparents in a distant city? Building sand castles on the beach with siblings and parents? How did the family vacation memories changes as you aged and now as you're an adult - perhaps with kids and/or nieces and nephews of your own? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids?

Family Travel Files offers some insights into making the family getaway stress free for parents, depending on the age of the kids. Infants, toddlers, teens all have different needs and interests. Here are some quick tips (below) from Family Travel Files's article on family travel phases and how to plan ahead to optimize the fun for everyone.

In general, less is more. Jam-packing too much into a travel schedule can ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Build in plenty of free time between activities, meals, group gatherings, and family reunions to walk around, soak in the scenery, relax, nap, read, and so forth.

Traveling with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old

  • Baby-proofing kit: Think about socket plugs, corner tabs, plastic glasses, room guards, nightlights and other typical portable protection devices.
  • Keep familiar scents: Resist the temptation to wash everything just before leaving home. Babies and toddlers are particularly comfortable with the smell of their things. They are also sensitive and often cranky when their own things, complete with odors, seem to be missing.

Traveling with kids ages 6 to 12

  • Pack a surprise: In case the plane is delayed or a child becomes ill along the way, pack a couple of vacation surprises well suited to alleviating boredom. Audiotapes from www.boomkids.com meet the boredom challenge for this age group.
  • Do less: One of the biggest challenges for vacationing families is learning to do less and enjoy it more. Often parents return to work feeling just like they need a vacation. They intended to relax and catch up on sleep. They intended to enjoy free time with the kids. Instead they found themselves over scheduled and in a self-created time crunch. Anyone in charge?

Traveling with teens

  • Pack less: This is a reality check. Teens want to be seen as cool by their peer group, yet not look obvious as they do so. The result is over packing. Why take one pair when six will do? Over packing comes from a lack of information about what is needed. Every family with teens should invoke the rule of all seasoned globetrotters: “Ye shall carry what you pack…all of what you pack.”  Given the security concerns that now exist, less is will be less hassle.
  • Determine who is in charge: Power struggles result when guidelines are not clear. Communicate expectations before buying tickets or making deposits.  If sleeping until noon is not option say so early. If every one gets to choose a favorite activity say so early. If in reality grandpa is in charge then do not keep it a secret.

Read full article from familytravelfiles.com here.

What do you think? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids? Was there an ideal age of travel for you? My favorite childhood vacations were spent at a lake with white sandy shores and tons of relatives for our family reunions. Lots of cousins to play with and plenty of munchies and scrumptious food to boot.


Virtual Adventure Travel

A college pal of mine is off on a 3-month African safari and emails a group of us every couple of weeks with stories from the field. While I hover over a keyboard living vicariously through his travels, he's out in the wild with his girlfriend on group tours, then traveling independently as a couple, then meeting up with friends. Basically, he rocks.

Here's what my friend recently did in Namibia, Africa while I surfed the net:

  1. "Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
  2. "...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
  3. "...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
  4. "...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
  5. "...visiting Etosha National Park (some animals seen: 2 elephants; 6 lions; 4 or 5 warthogs; tons of giraffes; tons of zebra; tons of wildebeest; tons of antelope; all kinds of birds including a bunch of ostrich, vultures, a stork, a goshawk, some kory bustards - the largest flying bird in Africa, and lots more)."

He surfs, too. But I admire his ability to plan, save money, and pick up and travel adventurously. Don't we all have at least one friend we live vicariously through? The guy or gal who one-ups us on adventure. We plan a multi-day hike while they zip through tree canopies and scuba dive with sharks. The travel bug is everywhere. If you don't have a friend like this, you can easily find a blog that speaks to your adventurous spirit.

Here are travel blog sites to peruse:

However the adventure traveler in you likes to play, TripHub's planning tools can be helpful in organizing a group trip geared around kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, scuba diving, or trekking in places where English is a foreign language.


Caretaking and Housesitting Vacations

Will wonders ever cease? I discovered a caretakers organization that prides itself on being the "number one" property caretaking source around. Caretaking in this context doesn't mean changing baby's diapers or live-in help for aging seniors; that's caregiving. Think travel, think vacation, think free. Can this be an actual industry?

If you've ever dreamed of playing host(ess) at a quaint inn, housesitting at a beachfront home, watching the condo and cat for someone who lives in a swanky loft with a cityscape vista, or being innkeeper for a small retreat center, take note.

Caretaker.org connects people willing to donate their time and sometimes skill or service with people in need of them. Families, couples, and individuals are all caretakers who travel for various lengths of time to plant themselves in a new locale and temporarily try on a new lifestyle. Free accommodations to boot. Of course, you'd have to figure out how to afford it. But if you apply for one of the caretaking "jobs" and time it with a family reunion in the same destination, in between jobs, or in an area where friends can easily visit for a weekend getaway, you just might have found nomadic nirvana.

If I find a European castle in need an innkeeper for a month, I might reconsider my current situation and start packing. Alternative travel. Gotta love it.

Or does this sound like pure hell? Anyone ever done a trip like this? Would you recommend it to others? Are there other sites or resources to find this type of opportunity?


Dogs - Love 'em or Leave 'em?

Whoever said you can't take it with you is NOT hip to the 21st century. It turns out you CAN take it with you - your pet, that is. Taking dogs along on vacation has turned into a "thing." I've recently read more articles on hotels that accept pets, leaving that play and movie You Can't Take It With You in the dust of yester-century.

Journey, a AAA membership magazine, had a cover story recently titled "Dogs on the Go: 4 Fun Destinations for Pet-Loving Travelers." And I've seen other stories elsewhere.

I'm a bit surprised at this phenomenon. Perhaps that's because of my No Pets Allowed lifestyle and homestead. I adore visiting my mom's dog (shown proudly in the photo after a day chasing balls and seagulls at the beach) and treat her as if she's my own kin, but not sure I'd be up for a hotel full of pets. Sounds too much like a Gary Larsen cartoon in living, panting, barking color.

What about bringing pets to family reunions? Or a trip with friends? How common is the pet travel wave?