Episode 06: It’s not easy being green

We’ve all seen the signs in hotel bathrooms – if you want to be environmentally friendly, hang your towels up when you are done and the housekeeping staff won’t wash them. This is just one program that many hotels utilize to be more ‘green,’ and it has the additional benefit of saving them money as they have to do less laundry. What about other green activities that hotels are doing? Are there programs we don’t know about as consumers? How do they communicate with us about what they are doing? Do travelers even care? My guest today is Rawan Nimri, a Ph.D. student at Griffith University in Australia. Her research focuses on understanding tourists perceptions of the things that hotels are doing to be green, and she’s made some fascinating discoveries about the effectiveness of hotel’s communications about them:

Traveling with kids is easy!

Alright, maybe I should have said ‘Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be painful.’ Every year, families have to make tough decisions about what to do with their limited vacation days. From a 30 minute drive to a nearby park for a hike to a trans-Pacific flight, parents decide whether or not to travel with their children for a variety of reasons. For many, it can be a hard decision. A lot of parents dread traveling with kids or avoid it altogether, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

My wife and I recently traveled to Germany and Switzerland with our 14 month old son, Jack. We’ve taken Jack on more than 10 flights since he was 8 weeks old, ranging from 30 minutes to 12 hours. We’ve driven him across the country and back (well not quite all the way, but  Arizona to New Jersey is pretty close!). During these travels we’ve learned a ton about traveling with kids, but certainly can’t say we’ve experienced it all. So I put out a call on Facebook and Twitter to family and friends asking: “what is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to other parents traveling with their kids?” I’ll give a breakdown of the responses later in this article, but first I want to address a common theme: A lot of parents said something to the effect of, “Its a trip with kids, its a vacation without them.” Without getting deep into a discussion about the definitions of trip and vacation (academics love that shit), I’ll start by saying that this sentiment is shared by a LOT of parent travelers, but not by me. I’m not saying people shouldn’t travel without their kids – of course, ‘escape’ is one of the main reasons people travel, and many parents justifiably need an escape from parental responsibilities every now and then to maintain their sanity. My own take is that you can have your kids with you and still ‘escape.’  It really boils down to your traveler personality, which plays an important role in your expectations for your travels. Let me explain.

Expectations

If you’re expecting to have the same experience when traveling with children that you did when you were traveling without them, you will probably disappointed. This is something that a lot of parents brought up in their responses as well. Travelers with differing travel personalities are divergent in their expectations for what a vacation is. For those travelers who view vacation as sitting on the beach or by the pool having everything taken care of for you and blissfully unaware of whatever responsibilities you may have left at home (The Trip Doctor Traveler Personality Quiz calls these travelers ‘Relaxers‘ or ‘Daytrippers‘), then traveling with kids is probably less appealing to you. That’s because traveling with kids can be very uncomfortable. Kids (young kids especially) can get thrown out of whack if you change time zones, have no sense of what is culturally appropriate, and generally don’t do very well when confined to small spaces like a car, train, or airplane for long periods of time. Throw in different foods than they are used to and a schedule that likely deviates from their norm, and you have a recipe for cranky kids. The thing is, some people don’t mind it as much as others…and some even thrive on the chaos (The Trip Doctor Traveler Personality Quiz calls these travelers ‘Explorers‘ or ‘Trendsetters‘). This is not to say that 100% of Relaxers or Daytrippers wouldn’t enjoy traveling with children or 100% of Explorers or Trendesetters would – these are simply tendencies that these personalities usually have (If you’re an Adapter, you could really go either way!). Knowing your traveler personality and adjusting accordingly is one of the best things you can do to manage expectation of travel with children.

Regardless of your traveler personality, there are some great travel experiences that you can look for to make travel enjoyable for both parents and kids. A private tour of a fancy wine cellar? Probably not the best choice. An 8 course prix fixe dinner that will probably take 4 hours? No kid is going to enjoy that. Here are some better suggestions:

  1. Go hiking. Can be done in nature or cities. If you don’t have a backpack for your little ones, you can get one fairly inexpensively and it will change your world. Added benefit that being outside all day tires kids out so they nap/sleep well.
  2. Go to a zoo or aquarium. Zoos and aquariums have the double benefit of being interesting for kids and also featuring learning components to teach them about ecology and biology.
  3. Go to a museum that has a good interactive element. Children’s museums are great, but a lot of other museums are stepping up their game with augmented reality and learning games for kids, too!
  4. Go camping! Camping doesn’t even have to be in a tent…there are great options for every budget with RV Rentals, fully furnished or rustic cabins, or even hut to hut hikes in the mountains.
  5. Theme parks. Disney World isn’t for everyone, but theme parks are designed with kids in mind and usually do a great job of keeping them engaged all day.
  6. Check out the local library. Aside from having some super cool culture/ architecture/design for adults to check out, libraries usually have a great areas for kids to play and learn.

A compromise, perhaps?

To me, the happy medium solution to the traveling with or without children question for all types of travelers is to travel with children, but schedule some days or evenings without them by hiring a local babysitter. It can be difficult to find a babysitting outside of your normal area (its hard enough finding a good babysitter in your home town!), but there are some resources out there available to help you:

  1. Ask your social network – chances are you know someone who knows someone who has raised a kid in the place you’re going.
  2. Ask your hotel concierge or AirBnB host. They will often have pre-established relationships with trusted sitters in your destination.
  3. Utilize a website like care.com that is designed specifically for this purpose.

Chances are, you’ll be able to find a suitable sitter using one or more of those resources, and can schedule some time away from the kiddos to have your escape.

Some specific tips from seasoned parent travelers:

When I put out the call to my social network asking for “the biggest piece of advice you’d give to other parents traveling with their kids?” I got a ton of great answers. I found all of the answers valuable in their own way, so I’m going to include them all here, with those that had multiple similar responses first:

“Be FLEXIBLE. Expect the unexpected.”

“We discovered the power of a dollar store calculator. He’d push buttons on it for long stretches of time. We had them everywhere. Highlights magazine has a book for kids under 2 called Hello that worked well for us too.”

“Extra time for everything, snacks, and bring familiar creature comforts. We took the boys everywhere we could and now they are super easy and fun travelers.”

“Nurse or feed milk or something on takeoff and landing. Get a sling or kid backpack and leave the stroller at home.”

“Bring a tape dispenser. It’s hours of fun on a long flight (or at least minutes).”

“Hold off on naps so they’re really tired when you get on the plane or in the car so they sleep!”

“We found getting our kiddo his own seat and using a low profile car seat (Diono makes a travel one) on the plane was so much easier than keeping him on the lap. He couldn’t squirm when he was strapped in! And it was comfortable as well as familiar.”

“Don’t plan connecting flights if you can help it.”

“Oh, and i know kids can be “lap children” until the age of 2, but really thats BS. After they can walk it turns into a mini wwf wrestling match in your lap. Just buy an extra seat and save your sanity.”

The bottom line

Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With some planning, preparation, adjustment of expectations, and luck, traveling with your kids can be just as enjoyable as traveling without them. They might not remember the trip, but the memories you make together will last a lifetime, and there are always pictures…like the one up above of my family and I.

Cuba is risky and uncomfortable…and that’s a good thing?

Conventional wisdom would say that the people who are most likely to travel somewhere in the world are those who think it is enjoyable, pleasant, or fascinating. In a recent study, my colleagues and I discovered that might not be true for certain destinations at certain points in time. We recently asked 758 people from the United States about their attitudes toward Cuba and whether or not they planned to travel to Cuba within one year, five years, or ten years. The findings from our study surprised us, until we started thinking about them in the context of traveler personality. Before we get into the results, a little bit of background is needed to understand why we did this research.

Over the past decade, there have been a variety of changes to the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Shortly after US President Barack Obama took office in 2008, the administration eased a variety of restrictions on Cuba, and allowed US citizens to travel to Cuba for a variety of reasons, including religion and education. Over the next several years, the warming relationship between the US and Cuba resulted in continued easing of restrictions and eventually non-stop flights and even cruises between the two countries were resumed. However, travel restrictions remain in place, and only travelers from the 12 specific groups including family trips, business travel, research and educational activities, and humanitarian projects may travel to Cuba without the need for a special license. My colleagues and I thought this topic would be interesting to investigate further, as fully opening travel from the United States to Cuba would likely have a significant impact on Cuba. So – we decided to examine what types of people might be interested in traveling to Cuba from the U.S. – not just now, but into the future.

Now – back to those interesting findings. We asked people about their positive and negative attitudes towards Cuba, their perceived control over whether or not they could visit Cuba, and whether their social groups would approve of them traveling to Cuba. We created three models to see if those things differed in predicting whether someone would travel to Cuba within one year, five years, or ten years. When we created our models, there was one particular finding that stood out.

Cuba is scary, uncomfortable, and risky…and thats a good thing?

We found that thinking Cuba was scary, uncomfortable, and risky was actually a good predictor of someone wanting to travel to Cuba within one year. The opposite was true for wanting to travel to Cuba within 5 years or 10 years, where thinking that Cuba was enjoyable, pleasant, worthwhile, satisfying, fascinating, and authentic was a good predictor. Initially, this finding didn’t make sense. Why would someone want to travel to Cuba if they thought it was scary, uncomfortable, and risky? It turns out that this finding makes sense when you think of it in terms of your Traveler Personality

There is a small portion of the population (in The Trip Doctor Traveler personality quiz they are called ‘Trendsetters’) who like to be uncomfortable, and a small portion of the population who likes to be extremely comfortable (called ‘Relaxers’). The vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle – meaning they are willing to be a little bit uncomfortable but not too much. This may provide an explanation for those people who thought Cuba was scary, uncomfortable, and risky – they may actually find those attributes appealing in a travel destination.

But why, then, is that not the case for wanting to travel to Cuba in 5 years or 10 years? We think that might have to do with how people perceive Cuba will change if it is fully opened to travelers from the United States. There is a term called ‘McDonaldization’ that essentially refers to when a travel destination is transformed to look like every other similar travel destination through the development process. Right now, Cuba is unique in terms of its travel image for Americans. Many think of the old cars, historical buildings, cigars, and rum. If Cuba were to evolve to include massive resorts and other tourism amenities Caribbean travelers would find familiar, it is likely those ‘Trendsetter’ travelers would seek out other destinations across the globe and make way for less adventurous travelers to visit Cuba in much greater numbers.

 

 

Episode 05 – Film tourism

What do Iceland, New Zealand, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mount Airy, North Carolina have in common? They’re all popular film tourism sites. A big portion of Game of Thrones was filmed in Iceland, The Lord of the Rings films were shot in New Zealand, Breaking Bad was filmed in Albuquerque, and Mount Airy has transformed itself into Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. Film induced travel is big business, and a lot of destinations across the globe are cashing in…but how do you know which ones are legitimate and which ones are not being entirely truthful about their silver screen pedigree? My guest today is Dr. Stefanie Benjamin, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee. She has been researching film induced tourism for the past several years, and has some great tips for finding the real deal and being a good tourist if you want to check out the filming locations of your favorite movie or TV show.

Take a vacation from your vacation

Many of us have an extremely limited number of vacation days, so it can be tempting to squeeze as much into your trip as possible. That may not always be a good thing. In fact, on trips longer than a week, I recommend taking at least one day off mid-trip to give yourself and the rest of your travel party some down time to rest and relax. On longer trips you can sprinkle in even more rest days. This is especially important if your trip involves a great deal of sightseeing, including time waiting in lines, on your feet, and walking from place to place.

Think about your day to day activities – most people don’t have lives where they are on the go for hours on end every day for multiple days in a row. Those who are are often very stressed, which can lead to getting sick. The same thing applies to travel, only there are additional things to think about:

  1. If you’ve flown to your destination, you’ve probably been exposed to a whole host of germs and spent time in the very dry recirculated air of an airplane.
  2. Jet lag. If you’ve traveled a significant distance, your body takes time to adjust to a new time zone, leading to lower quality sleep.
  3. You’re probably eating and drinking things that you wouldn’t normally eat and drink at home – even if its just in greater amounts because you’re in vacation mode.
  4. You’re not sleeping in your own bed – sleeping in unfamiliar places can lead to lower quality of sleep for many.

What to do on your day off?

There are a huge number of things to do on your day off from your travels. My first recommendation is of course, stay in or head to a coffee shop and read a good book. Bonus points if you read a book that takes place in your travel destination (side note – this is one of my favorite ways to get to know my destination before and during my travels) – especially a good fiction or historical fiction that paints a picture of your destination through various sets of eyes. However, reading a book isn’t for everyone – and there are plenty of other things to do. Here are some suggestions on how to occupy your time:

  1. Write letters or postcards to friends and family – and put them in the regular mail. I know I know – mail can sometimes be slow and arrive after you’ve already returned home, especially on shorter trips. But, there is just something about returning to old school travel tradition that gets me nostalgic. Plus, I’ve never met anyone that didn’t like getting a postcard or hand written letter in the mail.
  2. Go to a local gaming cafe. Even if you’re not a ‘gamer,’ going to a gaming cafe to plug in and zone out for a little while can be a lot of fun. You don’t even have to play the latest first person shooters – many gaming cafes have classics that will take you back to your early days playing Pong/Burger Time/Super Mario/Pacman in the basement with your friends and family.
  3. Go to the movies. Movie theaters are popular across the world, and in most cases you’ll find the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Bonus points if you can find a movie that is dubbed or has subtitles, as this is a great way to learn a few words in a new language – especially if you’re seeing a movie you’re already familiar with. You can also look for theaters that are running local films, which is another great way to learn about your destination.
  4. Spa day! What better way to rest and relax than to head to a place that is designed for just that. While a spa day can also be considered a traditional tourist activity, it also provides some excellent downtime for weary travelers. The great thing about spas is that treatments can vary greatly across the globe – don’t be afraid to try something new. One of my favorite vacation from my vacation days was when I got an olive oil and sea salt massage in Sienna – definitely something I wouldn’t have tried at home!

The bottom line

This combination of factors can lead to serious travel fatigue and put you at higher risk for getting sick – something nobody wants during their trip. Taking a day off during your travels, whether it is at the beginning of your trip to let your body adjust, or midway through to help you recuperate – your body and mind will thank you. One of my favorite activities to do on my day off is to find a cozy cafe, quiet library, or sunny park and spend some time with a good book. You might even find that spending downtime in ‘regular’ places will show you how locals go about their every day activities as well – providing an authentic experience and helping you get to know your destination a little better at the same time. Of course, you can always take your off day to the next level and book a massage, spa treatment, hammam, etc., but you certainly don’t need to spend money to relax during your travels.

learn more

Start with my travel planning strategy guide to help you book all the elements of your trip – booking your travel a la carte means you can schedule a rest day into your travels wherever you see fit!

Episode 04 – How and why we learn when we travel

People travel for all sorts of reasons. To escape, to relax, to impress, or to learn. This episode is all about how and why we learn during our travels. From elementary school class trips to study abroad, educational tourism focuses on learning while traveling, but where do the benefits to students really come from? Do regular travelers gain the same skills as students during their travels? My guest today is Dr. Matthew Stone, an assistant professor at Cal State University Chico. Matthew has researched education and tourism over the past several years, and he has made some interesting observations about what travelers and the tourism industry can do to promote learning while we travel.

Intentional Travel Spotlight: WWOOFING

Have you ever wanted to harvest wine grapes in Napa Valley? Press olive oil in Italy? Milk a cow in Maine? WWOOFING can take you there.

WWOOFING stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” or “World Wide  Opportunities on Organic Farms” depending on who you ask. Regardless of what exactly the acronym stands for, WWOOFING is an excellent way to travel intentionally. As we’ll talk more about later, intentional travel is any travel done with the purpose of having positive outcomes for yourself and your destination. Lets talk about some of the main points of information you’ll need if you’re thinking about being a WWOOFER:

  1. WWOOFING involves staying and working on an organic farm somewhere around the world.
  2. You live with your host on the farm. Stays vary from as short as two days to as long as six months.
  3. You are expected to work around 4-6 hours per day on the farm in exchange for your room (and sometimes board).
  4. There are an incredible number of things you could do on the farm, from milking cows to planting a field to harvesting grapes.
  5. To find a WWOOFING experience in the destination of your choice, head to the WWOOF International or Federation of WWOOF Organizations website.

WWOOFING became a thing in the early 1970s in England when a woman named Sue Coppard organized travel for people who lived in the city to stay and work on organic farms in the countryside. Fast forward from humble beginnings to the year 2000, when the first International WWOOF conference was held with representatives from 15 countries. These days there are myriad WWOOFING organizations across the globe, and many more that operate outside of the formal structure provided by WWOOOFing organizations in varying countries. As the number of travelers who care about being sustainable grows, WWOOFING has grown in tandem.

Why is WOOFING a type of intentional travel?

Intentional travel involves any travel that revolves around having positive impacts in your travel destination on purpose. There are plenty of trips where we unintentionally have good impacts – we do things like spend money at local businesses or have positive social interactions all the time. Intentional travel involves planning trips where those positive impacts are the focus of the trip.

There are a great deal of positive impacts that come from WWOOFING for both the traveler and the farm host. Economically, the benefits of tourism tend to be focused on urban areas and tourism enclaves near natural resource attractions. WWOOFING helps bring those benefits to rural farm areas where they would normally not be found, helping spread the economic love around. In terms of interactions, the WWOOFING experience is just about as authentic as it gets – spending time on the farm creates excellent opportunities for organic (pun intended) interactions between hosts and guests, as well as among guests from various places.  Those who undertake WWOOFING experiences usually leave their trips with knew knowledge that they may find surprisingly useful in their every day lives – there are many a story of WWOOFERS returning home to start gardening in their own back yards. Finally, travelers who spend time WWOOFING often leave with a greater appreciation of where their food comes from and the hard work it takes to raise and harvest much of what we consume. In a time where much of the food in grocery stores comes pre-packaged in single serving sizes, learning more about food systems is increasingly important.

The bottom line

There are an incredible breadth of options when it comes to WWOOFING, and travelers of every personality type can likely find something appropriate. Some farms are more rustic than others, so be sure to do your homework when it comes to the experience you are looking for. More adventurous travelers might be interested in jumping head first into an experience with livestock, while those who are a little less sure about staying on a farm might go for an experience at a vineyard or orchard.

Learn More

If you’re interested in WWOOFING, your first click should be the WWOOF International or Federation of WWOOF Organizations website. If you want to learn more about planning a trip that includes a WWOOFING experience, head over to my travel planning strategy guide. If you want to learn more about tourism impacts and sustainability, head over to my page on impacts and sustainability.

Episode 03: The ethics of involving animals in tourism

In our travels around the world, we are liable to encounter animals in a variety of ways. Sometimes, they’re the main attraction. Zoos and aquariums are built around featured animals for the public to see. In other instances, animals like horses, camels, or mules are used as transportation to and from our primary destination. Yet still, sometimes animals are the centerpiece of culinary tourism experiences with iconic dishes like foie gras, osso buco, and blue crab boils drawing tourists from across the globe. The thing about animals in tourism, however, is that nobody has asked them if they want to participate. In this episode, The Trip Doctor interviews Dr. Carol Kline, an associate professor at Appalachian State University. She recently edited a book called Animals, Food, and Tourism, and is a co-founder of the website Fanimal.co, a membership site for animal lovers to laugh, learn, and make a difference. In this interview, we’ll be discussing the ethical implications of involving animals in tourism and what you can do to be a better consumer of animal based tourism experiences, as in many cases the experience for the animals involved can be extremely negative.

Episode 02: Do anticipated social media likes influence where we travel?

Think about the images you’re bombarded with every day on social media. Chances are, you’ve got friends, family, and random celebrities constantly posting pictures of themselves in larger than life travel destinations across the globe, doing anything but the mundane tasks we all engage in during the vast majority of our days at home and work. It turns out, people may actually be traveling to those destinations we see on social media specifically because they think you’ll like their posts. In this episode, The Trip Doctor interviews Dr. Bynum Boley about his findings from a paper titled: “Social return and intent to travel” in the journal Tourism Management. In this study, Dr. Boley asked the question: does the number of likes or comments we think we’ll get on a picture of our travels influence the places that we go? It turns out, it does.

Episode 01: Looking for the truth in AirBnB reviews

So – you’re booking a trip, and have decided to use AirBnB to find your accommodations. You put in your destination, your dates, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you need; and you get back a couple of places that all fit what you’re looking for. You’re trying to decide which one to pick, but almost all of them have a slew of 5-star ratings. How do you know which place is going to be the best? It turns out, review comments may reveal more than the 5-star ratings that each of these properties has. In this episode, The Trip Doctor interviews Dr. Camilla Vasquez about her article titled: “If nearly all Airbnb reviews are positive, does that make them meaningless?” in the journal Current Issues in Tourism. In her analysis of the language people use in their AirBnB reviews, she made some interesting discoveries.