Over Tourism in Wild Places

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

While we had started the day as one of maybe three or four boats in the canal system doing tours, numbers quickly increased about an hour and a half into the tour. Not only did the additional boats make the canal more crowded, but larger groups of snorkelers, with what seemed like less instruction, swarmed the area. To add insult to injury, a large group of kayakers also flooded the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the now frightened young manatee.

We were snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida in what had been established as a nature preserve among the outskirts of the city. We had showed up at 6:30 a.m. so we could truly enjoy the animals at a calm and less-crowded time. We were lucky until 9:00 a.m. when the crowds arrived.

My group was instructed to return to our boat at this time, trying to allow others to see the animal, which we had been lucky enough to encounter, but back on the ship we saw the problems with popularity.

Much like the rest of tourism sites the world over, manatees and other wildlife encounters are having a moment in the limelight, that also means that areas get overused. While our selected tour company has been working for decades to create a more sustainable experience, even pairing with the University of Florida to restore sea grass in the canals due to climate change, they can’t control the populations of tourists that come into the area. While most companies will limit sizes of groups, a lot do not, and that means more money for the company, but not the best situation for the animals or natural areas.

While manatees and their habitats are cared for and many of the springs have been closed in the past, there often isn’t a way to monitor or control the use in an area in times that are open to the public. Even the boat captain informed us that when other canals close to public use more people descend on Crystal River and other areas for things like kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. This makes already operating tours more crowded, and the animals are more consistently with people.

Florida is not alone in their wild tourism boom. Many National Parks in the United States, State Parks, reserves, and other areas of the world are feeling overwhelmed with tourism. The animals that rely on natural areas are no doubt losing habitat and safe areas to exist. We lose wetlands and hidden areas for animals to escape into. While traveling opens our eyes to so much, are we also killing that which we love?

As humans we have developed around 75-80% of the land in the world, with a large portion of that happening in the last century. Blame overpopulation of humans, and development, and consumerism. All of those things have tipped the scales. In the last 50 years or so travel has began to greatly impact the story as well.

My grandparents would lament trips to Yellowstone in the 1970s and how crowded it was. Today they would be shocked that the 2.5 million visitors they were part of then have swelled to over 4.1 million annually since 2015. On one hand it’s great that more and more people are in love with the wild open and stunning landscapes that lucky people have known and loved since childhood, on the other hand, the droves have a negative impact on the landscape. Sometimes it is misinformed tourists “rescuing” a baby bison, other times it is litter that kills animals who eat it, sometimes the amount of people alone are the problem.

As in so much of what I write, and my actions, I attempt to be mindful of what my actions and words do to those places and people around me. In caring for the natural world I love, I think it’s important to acknowledge my own negative impact in the environment. I love visiting wild places and animals in a way to better appreciate and love the world I live in, but my existence changes the landscape. However, I know there are ways to help.

  • Go in the off or shoulder seasons – I despise heavy crowds at Disney, the beach, and anywhere else. Living next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I avoid the park from May to October because of the swarms of tourists that are in the area. I follow this practice elsewhere, and I make a heavy effort only to visit places when numbers are lower. This decreases the day to day pressure of areas, city or wild, to make it better for every living thing.
  • Research companies and their values – For any animal or wild tour I do a lot of research before selecting a company. This is rooted in concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. For example, when we went dog sledding, I selected a company that adopts dogs for their tourism work, and then finds home for the dogs when they retire. All the dogs we met were well fed, happy, and totally goofy. However amazing the experience was, their welfare was absolutely vital for our selection. I have also learned bag things about companies and will not visit them again after a visit, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm. Mistakes will happen, learn from them, vow to do better.
  • Talk to experts, read work from experts – Signs in National Parks are there for YOUR safety as much as for the animals. Listen to rangers and experts when they tell you not to leave toothpaste in your tent, or to stay on the trails. There is method to the madness and it keeps things nice for everyone else.
  • Vow to Fight Animal Cruelty – do your research on this, and ask a lot of questions. While it may seem like dolphins are happy with swimming excursions in a pool, the truth is that the industry is soaked in blood (I don’t say that jokingly). Elephants are a prime example, and there is a lot of debate on what are acceptable versus cruel interactions. You won’t be perfect at this, just ask questions, do research, try to understand the complexities.

Happy Travels!

Hiking Tips for Northern Colorado

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Travel, United States

We get a lot of tourists to our part of Colorado and for good reason. We’re neighbors with Rocky Mountain National Park, we have some fabulous white water rafting, and we’re enroute to many other natural wonders. That being said, many people hit the Rocky Mountains without much knowledge or understanding of safety and comfort. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you safe, and happy when you hit the woods.

Happy Travel!

Happy Travels!

Take Time to Enjoy Travel

adventure of the week, europe, France, italy, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I see this same scenarios time after time in my job:

My client wants to travel overseas and check off some places on their bucket list. They have one week, three kids, and they want to cram as much culture in their little brains as they possibly can. They want to see ALL of Italy in a week.

My client is taking his dad to Europe, his dad is 80 years old, they want to see ALL of Europe in three weeks.

I research their top places and assemble a schedule that I think is ideal. I find options that match their budget, and activities that all extra time if someone needs a break or a coffee or if a train is late. The savvy travelers agree to my suggestions. The wild ones try to break records, or so it seems, on how many countries they can visit in no time.

While a week, or three weeks seems like a long time, the truth is there will never be seeing ALL of anything in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. It is literally impossible to see everything Rick Steves tells you to, or eat at every Michelin restaurant. It’s just not something that can be done. Besides, the best travel experiences are the unexpected, the moments when nothing was planned, and the stars seem to align. It’s when you actually take time to ENJOY traveling that good things come together.

My favorite meals, or my most loved memories don’t come from the days I planned out hour-by-hour they are finding randomness on this planet we call home. Sometimes it has been a funeral procession or a wedding. Other times it has been making friends with a child or getting lost on a side street. Sometimes it was simply sitting in a train station and people watching while I ate a sandwich. I saw the Queen of England when I just wanted to enjoy being in London in a park. I made friends while hanging out at pubs and hostels. I have always fallen in love with cities I never expected to, or never planned to originally visit.

When one takes time to slow down and breath in their time in a new location, then one REALLY understands the heart and soul of why people travel. It’s a cafe in Paris, or a bakery in Dublin, and taking the time to eat a pastry or drink a cup of coffee. It is a club in Edinburgh or a pub in London that opens up conversation and connection. It’s never when you have museum after museum planned. It’s never when you follow a massive group from sea of people to sea of people. It is always the in between.

As I have seen more and more of the world over ten years I have moved from racing to one place and another, and instead I have craved more of the in between. When I mentally picture a trip back to Paris, I see a mosey instead of a rush. When I mentally picture a visit to China, it’s sitting on the Great Wall and listening to others speak in awe. I imagine crying at finally seeing the Pyramids of Giza and sitting in the sand as I feel the centuries of life in front of and around me. I want the cups of teas and messy foods as much too. I want making friends and photographs of new connections too.

So, dear reader, slow down your plans. See two cities instead of five. See one less museum, and add in a park. Walk everywhere you can so that you can absorb the essence of what is around you. Speak to everyone you can so that you know the people better. Try new foods that would otherwise freak you out. Most importantly, live it all, as much as you can.

Happy Travels!

Planning for the Unknown

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, France, italy, mexico, Nebraska, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

We live in an exciting time of where we have endless information at our fingertips through social media, news sources, books, and endless other methods. At any given second I can go on my phone or online and see what is happening in many areas of the world. In real time I can explore what is happening at a place I plan on visiting.

This is awesome and equally problematic.

From a travel planner perspective, we use the most up to date, thorough and well-researched information at our disposal. Coming from reliable sources like travel guides, national tourism boards, official websites, rail aggregators and other “first hand” knowledge sources. For the rest of the public, their perspective on a new place comes from a video or social media post, perhaps a news article from a well-reputed magazine. Guess what fails to be in the articles and videos? Thorough information on how to get to, explore, or enjoy a specific region.

No doubt this is not a problem that content creators have to fix alone. Because when well-meaning Conde Nast makes a list of places to see before 2020, they don’t expect people to just cherry pick and randomly show up to Machu Picchu. They do think that people research or look into the complexity of getting to Machu Picchu on train, or foot, or bus. But many don’t, because in our world of instant gratification people don’t always understand that other parts of the world have more layers to their exploration.

Like any good history geek I love researching an answer for myself or my clients. I look at the stories that made up a place. I look at train schedules. I call locals to get information on schedules that I can’t find online. I look at sunset and sunrise times to explain to a client when they can get that perfect view. I check weather patterns to explain what they should pack. I love this research. Granted, I get a little more in the weeds than is necessary, thus, I encourage you to find a balance as you set off into the world.

Here are my tips for researching unknown place.

  1. Go to the library or book store and buy the most recently published guide on the area that you are interested in.
    • Pro-tip: ask the bookstore clerk if an updated version of that guide is coming out BEFORE you travel and ORDER it so that you have the best vetted information for your actual trip.
  2. READ the crap out of that book. Make copies, take pictures with your phone, make notes. Learn everything you can so you know what needs to be done when you’re boots on the ground in Argentina headed to Patagonia.
    • Pro-tip: I use sticky notes in a color coordinated pattern to mark places of interest or areas I am headed to. That way I know where to get information quickly. For example, I will use a large sticky note to mark a region and write the name above the edge of the page. Then I know green stickies are dining in Delhi, pink are activities, etc.
  3. Ask Around to people that travel and see if someone you know has been to such and such place and ask them for recommendations. This might save you time, money, and stress when you know someone else was able to enjoy the same vacation or trip you were planning.
    • Pro-tip: vet all the information you get to make sure it’s accurate and safe. Make a list of suggestions and then read up on what your friend/family suggested.
  4. Read reviews with a grain of salt. Reviews offer TRUE experience feedback, but remember that people are more likely to complain online versus compliment so sometimes complaints will reflect a slanted view, good or bad, of a company.
    • Pro tip: if you see complaints ask yourself if it matters if “the room is small” “if the restroom only had a small shower” or if “the price was insane” because sometimes what bothers someone else will not matter to you.
  5. Utilize hotels and locals by asking questions on dining, activities, weather, and how to enhance your vacation! No one knows better than locals on where to eat, drink, and enjoy your best life.
    • Email your hotel, tour guide, or organizer well in advance so that you have time to get a response and make arrangements to enjoy the best parts of wherever you are going.
  6. Plan for emergencies and extra time. There is nothing more frightening to me than having someone with a schedule that has no extra time built in. Why? Because if one thing goes wrong, like a train delay or a volcanic eruption (true experience from yours truly) you won’t have any time to make up for time lost. I always suggest having at least one back up flight or one back up train between you and when you need to be somewhere. YES you may have more wasted time, but you WILL be less stressed about your travels. Cool bonus: people watching is always enjoyable.
    • Pro-tip: don’t cram everything into one trip. Pick your favorite options and stick to a simpler plan. You will feel less stressed and exhausted, and when you slow down truly magical things happen! There is a reason why EVERY tour company offers some free time on varying days and afternoons because they need extra time for the unplanned and everyone needs to slow down.
  7. Teach yourself the customs, some key phrases, social norms, and other details before you go. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than thinking you have pissed someone off or that you are awkwardly getting through life. Read up on dos and don’ts and mentally note how to behave.
  8. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh off your mistakes, learn as much as you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, things work out and you always have a phenomenal time!

HAPPY TRAVELS!

Winter Fun – Colorado Style

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Environment, family, food, outdoors, Scotland, Travel

Colorado is shockingly mild in the winter months. Sure we have days or weeks of bitter cold or 6 feet of snow every year or two, but for the most of the winter, it’s not bad. This means that we get spoiled with having great days to play outside in the winter. While we can’t do all of the fun that summer usually brings, we have the option to play in the snow without being totally frozen. Of course, this can mean some innovation.

Between Dog Sledding and Ice Castles in late January we visited a family friend’s property. This Scottish-born gentleman has a nice spot of land outside of Breckenridge in a town that barely exists on the map (if a few houses along a dirt road count as a town…they do in Colorado anyway).

The landscape of the property hearkens to the dramatic hillscapes of Northern Scotland and while I talked with the owner and his lovely wife I learned that they chose the spot for that very reason. In fact, the snowy blanket that covered the hills was almost identical to that of what I saw in the area surrounding Glencoe four years ago.

Add to the landscape a homemade bar inside of a shed, as anyScottish transplant would have, and a fire pit, some beers, and a fewsnowmobiles and we had a winter party.

Only around 9,000 feet above sea level the weather was manageable, but chilly with a high humidity. Thus, a fire was built, via gasoline and broken pallets. We made beer slushies with the snow, and sippedcool ciders. The snowmobiles were taken into the hills and onto a small frozenlake, that perched delicately on the edge of the property. Avoiding unsettlingthe ice fishers we ran snowmobile circles on one part of the lake, draggingpeople behind on skis, snowboards, sleds, and a precarious pink flamingo tube meant for a more casual swimming pool life.

While the snowmobiling was fun, as any action sport is, thebest part was meeting new people and talking over a drink. It was great to talkwith friends new and old about their memories and new stories. My husband’sfamily is always full of laughter and love and a good tale or joke. While theydon’t always agree on politics and lifestyles, they always agree to love eachother and have a good time, which is something anyone can get behind.  

Sláinte!

Ice Ice Baby – Dillon Ice Castle

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, History, outdoors, Photography, Travel

The city of Dillon, Colorado along with a handful of other cities around North America have welcomed the magic and whimsy of #IceCastles the last few years. The company creates elegant magic with their ice castles creating spires, spikes, fountains, slides, and other intriguing icy creations.

With our Dog Sledding trip in late January, it felt naturalto add on an adventure to an ice kingdom! We decided to visit the whimsy atnight where thousands of lights brighten the structure creating a surreallandscape.

1896 Leadville Ice Castle

The castle, much to my surprise, was less of a “brick andmortar” structure of castles in the past, such as the one that used to take up residence in 1896 in Leadville,Colorado.

Yet, through better methods, less work intensive, and moderntechnology the creators of Ice Castles has built a masterpiece of art that resemblesnature versus the palaces of old England. The Dillon castle is made of layersand layers of ice crystals that droop elegantly together to make a spindledfortress. Reminding the viewer of candle wax, the castle is almost haunting inits design, as if some fantasy’s Ice Queen had designed the elements.

Almost gothic, but celebrating natural artistry, the castlesoffer a glimpse into something otherworldly and full of inspiration. Elementsthroughout offer play in the form of slides and selfie spots.  While other details inspire wonder in roomswith fountains and thousands of icicles. Regardless of what you want from thetrip, bundle up, and enjoy yourself!

Make Sure You’ve Got the Docs

adventure of the week, Allergen-free eating on the road, Caribbean, colorado, Colorado Events, europe, Florida, France, Iowa, Ireland, italy, mexico, Nebraska, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

So many times I hear this classic “I didn’t know I needed a Visa”.

Here is the truth, you ALWAYS need a Visa.

“What?” You ask. Because in London they stamped your book and you were free to go as a US citizen. This is totally true, but that stamp, at customs and border, was your visa. No pre-registration and paperwork needed. Just the stamp.

Here is the thing though, sometimes the stamp doesn’t happen. And a big reason is that your passport may not have at least 6 months left on it for you to enter a specific country. Or more depending on where you are headed. In fact, many airlines won’t even let you board the plane if your passport is low on time. Meaning that week in Paris may be thrown away if you’re not prepared. This happens a lot.

Now for countries where you need advance permission, it’s vital to learn who needs what and what is needed. Meaning: countries like China may take longer and need you to buy plane tickets before you travel. Vietnam only takes a few days to process. Some countries only need a form when you land and a $50 fee. Just make sure you find out and find out at least a month or more in advance so you have time to plan.

Where do you find these details? Embassy websites and through the US state department’s website on travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html

Don’t forget to also check warnings on places you are traveling to. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

Even consider registering with the state department in case you go missing. https://step.state.gov/step/

Other needs? Check with a travel agent or specialist that can at least point you in the right direction. Read a travel guide on your preferred country and ask around to others that have been to such locations.

Most of all, plan ahead, and have fun!

Happy Travels!

Winter Hiking

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Travel

I have lived in Colorado and until last week I had never been hiking in winter. At least not in the traditional hiking meaning of the word. Sure I had trekked through knee high snow to feed animals or to clean off our deck. Sure I had braved snow and ice to walk a dog down gravel roads. Yet, I had never been on a hiking trail in winter.

I had not even meant for it to be a winter hike. I had actually planned on everything to be pretty dry and easy going. Maybe home to a few snow patches. Yet as I journeyed into higher elevations at Rocky Mountain National Park, I saw snow, and more snow, and ice, and wind, and snow pack.

It was soon I realized at around 8,000 feet that I would be hiking in the snow if I chose to go. I hesitated some, worried about my clumsy nature on ice. Yet, being stupid, or stubborn, or both, I pushed forward with my hiking plans.

Luckily I had packed extra layers and I was wearing my thick athletic leggings. I had well- treaded hiking shoes, and thick socks. I put on my layers, made sure my pack was good, and off I went.

The trail proved to be somewhat snowy, but easy to trek. The blowing wind and ice from the trees made the journey cold but manageable, and if anything the floating ice crystals added a majestic charm I did not expect.

The wonders of nature hit me, even in the cold, birds hoped between trees, chipmunks scavenged in bushes, and the pine, mud, and earth released their elegant perfumes.

I crunched along uphill for a mile before the Bierstadt Lake trail plateaued by the lake. It was here that the muddy trail turned into a wondrous winter land, where the sun played gleefully through pines and aspens. The wind made the fallen trees, the victims of strong winds, had leaned into each other creaking and echoing a haunting tune.

The lake walk loop offered a two mile winter walk that offered solitude and relaxation, a chance to think, dream, and feel grateful to my home by the mountains.

While I enjoyed just walking, I found that winter hiking was a much needed discovery compared to my summer and fall excursions. It was nice to have the stillness and solitude away from the summer crowds. It was glorious to feel a freedom only deep-seated trails offer. It was refreshing to breath in the scents of an ancient land, untamed and wild.

So, if you are thinking of a winter hike. Do it. Just be smart. Take warm clothes, gloves, hat, jacket, boots. Take water and matches. Take a solar lamp if you can. And bring an emergency device to try to reach help (cell phone). Tell people where you are going. And try to visit a trail that others are likely to be on. If you can, take a buddy, if you can’t, make sure several people know where you are going and when you should be back.

Happy Travels!

Victorian Horrors

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Travel, United States

This month has been a busy one, but I made sure I took some time to go to an event I had been longing to experience since I was 11.

When I was 11 my great aunt died right around Halloween. Saddened by her passing but overwhelmed with visiting family we somehow ended up at the 19th century home of Margaret Brown. AKA the Molly Brown House.

What I remember, apart from everything I saw on that tour, was all the magical looking Halloween decoration. The decorations were for their evening Victorian Horrors, and I knew then that I muse return for this experience.

Flash forward 16 years and I finally made it and it was worth the wait and the journey to visit. The Victorian Horrors tour delightfully blends the macabre nature of the Victorians, with many detailed decorations of bones and creatures, with the stories that made the time iconic. An actor a room shares a dark tale from their collection, and you are enraptured and transported to another time, and another world.

Table setting (from the Molly Brown House)

It’s well worth a visit or two, and best enjoyed with costume and some friends. If offered, don’t miss the free tarot readings, and fabulously kooky gift shop.

Happy Travels and Happy Haunting 💀🎃 👻

A Few of my Favorite Things (USA Edition)

adventure of the week, musings, Travel, United States

No doubt, when out in the world, there are differences along the way. The most noticeable for me tend to be food. Yet, when you go out and explore enough you start to realize the nuances of the world are just different.

  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Grocery Stores with EVERYTHING
  • Good, Cheap, Mexican
  • Decent Wi-Fi
  • Casual Outfits (I can wear pajamas to the grocer or coffee shop)
  • Hiking shoes as normal wear
  • A Website for Everything
  • Gym Clothes as errands clothes
  • Labels I can fully read (google translate helps with this) note: this is due to food allergies and specific needs I have for consuming things.
  • Halloween
  • Epic Wildlife

What are your favorites?