I think a lot of us could use some travel therapy right now - a chance to truly escape the barrage of bad news, the natural disasters or even broken relationships.
Not sure what travel therapy is? Well, traveling is the therapy - it can soothe the soul and bring enlightenment, but mostly, it opens up an entirely new way of looking at the world. It can change your perspective on life, and sometimes even change your life entirely, in ways you never thought were possible.
While the destination in itself doesn't always matter, there are some that do truly provide the ultimate escape, allowing you to forget about your worries, break away from the daily grind and the chaos of the modern world. Perhaps you'll connect with nature, discover an unknown talent, or even find the meaning of true happiness.
Research has found that traveling actually boosts levels of perceived happiness, lifts one's mood, lowers the risk of depression, decreases stress hormones and even reduces blood pressure to help you live a longer, higher quality of life.
What does travel therapy mean to you?
Whatever the answer is, these destinations are likely to provide the getaway you've been desperately in need of.
There are many spirit-renewing places in Ireland to spend time in. Visit Newgrange, a short drive north of Dublin and you'll experience Europe's oldest megalithic site. It's at least a thousand years older than the Giza Pyramids. Venturing inside enlightens the soul, no matter what your faith.
Head to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, accessible by ferry or plane. It's home to one of the finest Celtic stone circle forts in all of Europe, Dun Aengus. Lie down on the soft grass at the edge of the nearly 330-foot-high cliffs and gaze out at the Atlantic - the dramatic cliffside location, the desolation, the ancient stones, all make this spot incredibly unique.
Visit the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer, for an especially tranquil experience. Wander around the maze of paths that wind through old stone walls, with holy wells, castle ruins, rare plants and birds spotted along the way.
Isle of Islay, Scotland
The southernmost isle of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides offers an especially serene, magical beauty, as well as lush scenery that includes idyllic stretches of sand that sit at the edge of brilliant azure waters. An enchanting energy is often sensed here, by both locals and visitors, especially while walking over the hill to view Loch Finlaggan. There are also multiple spots that are known as “natural power places," along with numerous ancient relics spread across the picturesque landscape.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu has long been considered a place of power. This mysterious "lost city" is truly special - in fact, its original inhabitants believed it was the true center of the universe. Those who live in this region today emanate faith and wisdom that often leaves visitors with a profound sense of significance in the world.
Sedona, Arizona is known as a 'thin place,' where the veil between spirit and flesh, life and death, is believed to be more permeable. It's considered a spiritual power center as the power that emanates from the multiple vortexes in the area is said to produce some of the most remarkable energy on Earth. Some say that you can actually feel it, but whether or not you believe they actually exist, there is one thing that’s undeniable, people are drawn here for something more than just its incredibly stunning beauty
Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico
Officially designated a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town, in 2006 by the Mexican Tourism Secretary, magical is most certainly the word that best describes it. Every time I've traveled here, I leave with a sense of feeling renewed. Located just off the Pacific coast, about 50 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, it boasts a natural oasis of palms and lush fruit trees along with endless stretches of golden sands that are often empty, even during the peak of the busy season.
In town are nearly an endless number of outstanding eateries, many serving dishes based on fresh, local ingredients like organic produce and seafood. Browse through the art galleries and small local shops tucked between old brick colonial buildings. The 1733 mission Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos not only offers stunning views of the Valle de Pilar and the ocean, but if you time it right, you can take in the scene with a backdrop of beautiful song that carries from the church, floating through down the hill, across the palms and out to the sea.
We're told the world is a scary place. That there are terrorists or drug cartels waiting, just outside of airports, hotels and so on, ready to rob, kidnap or kill us in other countries. And when that's not the case, we might be told it's dirty, or people will be rude to you because you're an American.
Only a little over one-third of Americans have a passport, compared to nearly three-quarters of Australians and Brits. Much of the reason behind that is fear (and lack of funding, of course).
If fear has been holding you back, you should know that much of the world is quite safe to travel in. In fact, in rankings based on "crime/homicide rates and drugs and crime, likelihood of terrorism and terrorism casualties, police force effectiveness, costs of security within the country on business, reliability of protection services, rates of property crime and violence," as SafeDestinations.com notes, it's the U.S. that looks a lot more scary, ranking at No. 73 of the safest countries to travel, below Albania, Bahrain and Kazakhstan. View the entire list here: Safe Countries For Travel
Are there any surprises? Which countries did you think were probably safest, and which did you think would be more dangerous?
You also might be surprised to learn that many Europeans I've met are actually afraid to travel in the U.S. because of gun violence and other issues.
It's time to give up that notion that we can only travel safely at home - the key, no matter where you travel, and whether or not you travel alone, is to follow a few common sense safety tips.
The first thing you should do, even before purchasing those airline tickets, is to check for travel warnings, alerts and particular requirements in your desired destination by visiting travel.state.gov. Here you can also learn about local customs and laws, medical care and visa requirements. Some foreign destinations require you to have certain vaccinations, so you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of time to take care of that in advance, if necessary.
Make copies of important documents
Make electronic copies of all your important documents before you leave, including a copy of your passport, visas if necessary, driver’s license, medical insurance card, travel insurance and immunization record, if applicable. By scanning these items you can email the file to yourself so you can access it easily on the road should any of the paperwork become damaged or misplaced.
What not to bring
Although it’s a good idea to avoid bringing valuables no matter where you go, it’s especially important when heading to poorer countries where there may be a greater threat of having items stolen. There’s really no need to bring all of that shiny, sparkling jewelry with you anyway. While you may think you look like an icon of style, to con-artists and criminals, you’re a great target. If you must bring it, keep it in a hotel safe and take it out only for special occasions.
The key is to not look like a tourist, but to be confident, and fit in with the local crowd as much as you can – it makes for a more authentic experience too.
Research your destination
Before you go, take time to get to know your destination by doing some research online. Find out if there are any areas you should avoid. You may also want to review a map of the area to make it easier to get your bearings when you arrive. Take note of the nearest U.S. embassy and carry those contact details with you, in English as well as the local language in case of emergency.
Be aware of common scams and be prepared for pickpockets
Before you go, do some research into common scams – for example, in Rome thieves may try to distract you by offering to take your photo with a parakeet, once the bird is on your shoulder, they’ll make off with your purse or wallet. Pickpocketing is common in many big cities around the world, which means you should never keep anything in your back pocket, like your cell phone, hotel room keys or wallet. Women should keep their purses around their neck, and not over their shoulder.
Give Someone a Copy of Your Itinerary
At least one person back home should have a copy of your itinerary. Then be sure to update them by email, social media status updates, or phone, so that they know you're safe and happy. If for some reason they don't hear from you, they'll at least have an idea as to where you last were and where you're headed.
Get a Global Data Plan For Your Phone
Being able to use your phone while you're abroad is a great way to stay safe - you'll easily be able to use it if you get lost, for example - and you'll also be able to stay in touch with people back home easier too. These days staying connected is cheaper than ever before, so there's no reason not to have a working cell phone with you.
Listen to Your Gut
If it doesn't feel right don't do it. Your intuition is one of the best things you have when it comes to staying safe.
Following these tips and simply using common sense, can help ensure that you enjoy the best possible, incident-free experience.
One of the most common reasons not to travel, other than money, is not having someone to travel with. Many people think solo travel would be boring, lonely or even unsafe. But that's far from the reality.
I've traveled with friends, family, and partners, and I've traveled alone many times. In the process, I've discovered the benefits of traveling solo far outweigh any of the negative aspects.
Freedom. Solo travel means freedom. Freedom to do what you want when you want. There are no compromises that need to be made. You won't have to worry about missing that sight you always wanted to see because you're stuck in some shop while your travel buddy searches endlessly for that perfect outfit or souvenir. And what happens when the person you're traveling with has a completely different idea of how they want to spend their days? Going alone allows you to indulge in total selfishness, and a little of that can definitely be a good thing.
New people. When you're traveling alone, you're much more likely to meet new people and perhaps even make new friends. When you travel with others, you usually stick together, which makes you less approachable, as well as less likely to wander away and introduce yourself to someone else. Many of my favorite people were met because I made an effort to start a conversation with them, or was simply more open because I was on my own. It's a great way to enjoy a more authentic travel experience and even get in on insider tips too.
Resting without guilt. Travel can be exhausting. And sometimes, it can even make you cranky, especially if you've gotten lost countless times or had to endure any of those other inevitable bumps in the road. It's those moments that all you really want to do is absolutely nothing. When you're alone, you can.
Confidence. If you're shy and/or anxious about travel, traveling solo can really help you break out of your shell and become more confident. Yes, at first, just the thought may conjure up a panic attack, but once you do it, you realize you can, and your confidence continues to build. You can practice breaking out of your shyness without worrying about making a fool out of yourself, because it doesn't matter - who are they going to tell? The whole office? Your neighborhood back home?
You become a better problem solver. When you're traveling with a friend or family member and face a challenge, you may get used to relying on them when something goes wrong. Taking a trip on your own means you'll have to figure it out yourself, which further builds confidence, and helps you to become a better problem solver in many other aspects of your life.
Simple planning. Planning a trip on your own is infinitely easier than trying to coordinate flights, accommodations and so on, with one or more other people. And then there's the budget aspect too, it's a lot more difficult when you have to accommodate another's priorities. Maybe you'd prefer more upscale lodging and eating simply, or vice versa?
While there are many positives that come with having a travel companion, traveling solo is really something everyone should try at least once. Who knows, you might just find you prefer it!
If you need some ideas when it comes to solo-friendly places, check out 24 Stunning Destinations Ideal For Solo Travel.
One of the main reasons people hesitate to travel is the expense - and, airfare is often one of the most significant factors, which is why I'm often asked, "How do you find the cheapest airfare?"
Unfortunately, there is no one "magic trick" to doing so. It does take a lot of work, and knowledge of how the system works too, but these tips can help you score a better price on airfare.
Book Well In Advance
If you try to book your flight at the eleventh hour, it's going to cost you a lot more, there's just no way around it. Flights are the priciest within two weeks of the date you plan to fly, but it’s usually better to book well in advance of that, especially if you're going to travel internationally. At the same time, you can't book too far ahead either. The "sweet spot," if you will, generally falls between six and eight weeks of the date you plan to travel, for domestic flights. It's a little more complicated for international flights - for Europe, booking 4 to 5 months out, and if you plan to go to Asia, Africa, the Middle East or the Pacific, the ideal time to book is typically 6 to 9 months in advance.
Cheaper Times of the Year to Travel
The price also depends on what time of the year you plan to travel, and if it falls around a holiday. If you want to fly during a holiday period, you’ll often need to book your airfare even further in advance, and you're unlikely to find a bargain.
Flying to the Caribbean can be pricey during the winter, as that's when everyone in colder climates wants to make an escape, but if you go in the summer, or during hurricane season, it's a whole lot cheaper. In most places around the world, however, summer is the most expensive time for airfare and accommodation. Do some research to find out the peak, shoulder and low season for your desired destination - airfare is typically cheapest during the low season, followed by the shoulder and peak season.
The Best Flight Search Engine
Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no one flight search engine that is always going to give you the best price. That means that it's going to take some time to score the lowest airfare. You’ll need to search a number of different sites, every day, and even at various times of the day, if possible. Start by researching airfare on the major sites, like Travelocity, Google Flights, Kayak and Skyscanner, so that you'll have an idea as to what the "typical" airfare might be. Then compare those airfares to the same flights on the airlines' websites - there are some that guarantee the lowest fares if you purchase directly.
You may need to check airfare directly for low cost, budget airlines, as they often aren't included in those travel search engines, such as Frontier, Southwest and Spirit Airlines in the U.S., and European budget airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet and Norwegian Air. Just remember that many of these airlines, while offering much lower airfare, not only come with few frills but often require all sorts of fees in addition to the cost of the flight. You might have to pay for to get a seat assignment, or to check your bags, for example - some even have fees for carry-ons these days. That means it's essential to total up all of the costs before comparing to the other airlines to be sure you're getting the best deal.
The key to all of this is really time - you need to make the time and effort if you're hoping for the lowest possible price.
As mentioned in my last post, I'll be visiting Greece in September, with a short stay in Athens followed by 10 days on Naxos and a few days on Santorini. Choosing where to go among some 230 inhabited islands isn't easy, but I did learn a lot during my research which I wanted to share with you.
While there is no one perfect island for everyone, the best to visit really depends on the type of traveler you are and what you're hoping to experience.
For me personally, the top priorities are the chance to get to know the locals with a more authentic stay rather than spending my time in a touristy resort, as well as scenery, historic sites and outdoor activities. Nightlife and shopping definitely aren't priorities for me.
First, decide what you hope to experience, and then consider what some of the top islands have to offer. To help you out, I've included a varied selection of some of the more popular isles recommended by other travelers, and a few lesser-known gems as well.
I'll start with Naxos, the island I chose to spend most of my time on during this trip. The largest in the Cyclades, it's said to be the best when it comes to experiencing authentic village life and outdoor activities like water sports and hiking. It offers classic Greek island ambiance, with whitewashed homes and Venetian mansions, and boasts long stretches of beach as well as mountain villages and ancient ruins. There are 46 traditional villages on the island, and each one has a bakery or cafe, as well as a square where locals sit around the tables sipping coffee and chatting.
Naxos also has a hilltop castle that dates back to the 13th century, and an archaeological museum. It doesn't get near as many tourists as some of the more popular islands like Santorini, and it's a lot more affordable too. I scored an apartment (Iliada Studios) with a kitchen overlooking the sea for only about $70 a night through Booking.com, and it has rave reviews.
Pretty much everyone has heard of Santorini, and most want to go, if they haven't already. It's a place I just couldn't miss, famous for offering some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. The sunsets are said to be legendary, while the caldera is filled with brilliant, clear turquoise waters and the villages cling to the tops of the cliffs. It is more expensive and more touristy, but it's also a must experience that's renowned for romance. As I'm going alone, that was actually a bit of a concern, but Santorini isn't just for couples, there is said to be something for everyone, including outdoor adventure and relaxation.
I chose Kalestesia Suites in Akrotiri for my stay - not cheap but for a panoramic sea view on Santorini, definitely a good value at under $200 a night.
Mykonos is often referred to as Greece's answer to Ibiza, but without the attitude. It's especially popular for its nightlife and beach parties. The island is also very busy in the summer months, when the narrow alleys are so packed with people they're nearly impossible to get through without flowing with the crowd.
The scenery is said to be gorgeous, with whitewashed houses and flowered balconies, windmills and churches.
Milos is for beach lovers, famous for having some of the best beaches of all the Greek Islands. The southernmost island in the Cyclades, it has more than 75 beaches of all different types and is also known as the island where the Venus de Milo was discovered. There are whitewashed Cycladic villages, outstanding cuisine, and jaw-dropping sunsets too. I came very close to choosing Milos, but looks like I'll be saving it for another trip.
Rhodes is for history buffs, jam-packed with historic sites like the Temple of Apollo and the Acropolis of Lindos. The Old Town is one of the best preserved in all of Europe, consisting of strong walls, a magnificent castle, lovely paths and elegant stone mansions. It's also quite picturesque, with the town of Lindos featuring sugar-cube-like houses that spill down to the glistening turquoise bay.
Nature lovers are drawn to Ikaria, which is mostly made up of a towering mountain. There are miles of hikes for enjoying the landscape that includes forest, rivers, lakes and farmland. After taking a trek you can even soothe sore muscles in the warm mineral waters of Therma.
Crete is one of the largest and most populated Greek Islands, offering a little bit of everything, including plenty of restaurants, shops and an exciting nightlife as well as historic sites and the opportunity for outdoor adventure like horseback riding and hiking.
Koufonisia is tucked between two larger Cycladic islands, Naxos and Amorgos, made up of two small islets that are separated by a narrow sea channel. One is uninhabited, and the other is home to a population of less than 400. Definitely my kind of place! Although I'm not going to be staying overnight, I do plan to take a sailing trip here from Naxos. Everyone walks or bikes as there are no real roads, but there are those famous whitewashed houses with blue windows. winding alleyways, flowery courtyards and blue domes, as well as a few restaurants and accommodation options. You can even camp on the deserted isle for free.
Have you visited the Greek Islands? Do you have a favorite? I'm looking forward to reporting back my experience, with lots of pictures included!
For a Fun, Affordable & Less Pretentious Vacation in the Colorado Rockies, Skip Aspen - Visit Leadville Instead
I returned recently from a short trip in the Colorado Rockies and I just had to share one of my favorite places to visit here with you. Just about everyone has heard of places like Aspen and Vail, but few seem to know about Leadville.
Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the country at an elevation of 10,152 feet, but that's not why you should visit. If you don't care about celebrity spotting or high-end shopping, and would rather enjoy a more laid-back, less pretentious, significantly more affordable destination in the Rockies, this is where you should go.
The streets are lined with magnificent Victorian buildings and homes, in fact, 70 square blocks of the downtown area are designated as a National Historic Landmark. There are museums to explore, mines to visit, interesting shops and a few outstanding restaurants, including my new favorite, Treeline Kitchen which not only has incredibly delicious food, including lots of healthy options, but rooftop seating, live music and a fire pit. Afterward, you can enjoy a Guinness at the famous Silver Dollar Saloon, an authentic Irish pub that dates back to 1879, or O2 by Period Brewing, which serves up some fantastic creative cocktails as well as oxygen for those suffering from the high altitude, which can happen pretty easily when you go from sea level to over 10,000 feet.
Don't drink too much though, because getting out in the mountains is really a must. The trailhead to one of my favorite hikes is about a 30-minute scenic drive from downtown near Turquoise Lake via Hagerman Pass Road. In the summer, you'll be surrounded by colorful wildflowers and dramatic mountain peaks as you trek up to the ruins of Douglass City. It's hard to believe it was once home to eight saloons and a dance hall, complete with pianos - getting all of that up here seems practically impossible, but they did - and, you'll see multiple foundations that remain of the buildings that were once here.
Back in Leadville, you can also visit one of the most famous mines in the U.S., the Matchless Mine, which was estimated to have produced $7.5 million during the peak of mining operations. The crash of 1893 devastated the Matchless Mine and the once very wealthy Tabor Family who owned it. Upon Tabor's death, his widow, Elizabeth "Baby Doe" Tabor, returned to her home here where she remained in isolation until passing away in 1935. Today, you can tour her cabin as well as the hoist house and headframe.
If you're looking for budget-friendly accommodation, there are a number of them here, including Super 8, and even the historic Delaware Hotel has rooms that start under $100 a night. There are lots of Airbnb options too, from entire vacation homes to private rooms at the cozy Happy Hippie House - while it's 420 friendly, many guests come just to enjoy the fun ambiance, and it has a great location just steps from downtown.
So, what's next?
In just a little over a month, I'll be heading to Greece! Choosing which islands to visit wasn't easy, so in my next post I'll highlight some of the most recommended by frequent travelers to the Greek Islands.
If you've never booked and stayed at an Airbnb, it can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you aren't sure how it really works, but oftentimes, the experience can be significantly better than a standard hotel, and more affordable too.
These are just a few of the reasons to consider Airbnb for your overnight stays.
Typically, an Airbnb is going to give you a lot more space than the average motel room. While they can range from a private room to a luxurious home with multiple bedrooms, no matter which you choose, you'll probably get a better value. This can be an ideal way for a large family or a group of friends to travel, as you won't have to book separate rooms, but you'll still enjoy some privacy. And, when splitting the cost with others, you're likely to save quite a lot too.
In many destinations, especially in more remote places around the world, hotels are few and far between. Considering Airbnb opens up a lot more options, you may even be able to score that perfect apartment in downtown Dingle, Ireland, where you'll be steps away from a myriad of pubs and live music, or even a lavish vacation home on the California coast, for the fraction of the price you'd pay a hotel room located in a similar area.
A More Authentic Experience
An Airbnb often provides a more authentic experience that allows you to see a destination through the eyes of a local. In Todos Santos, Mexico, for example, I like to stay in Casita de Los Inseparables. As it's located on the hosts' property, it has the feel as if you're living like a local, while offering plenty of privacy and the benefit of enjoying all sorts of insider advice and tips as to what to do, where to eat and so on.
Airbnb owners/hosts are typically very helpful with recommendations, directions, and any information they feel may benefit you on your trip. Some, like Claude and Celia, the owners of Casita de Los Inseparables, are so welcoming, they may even invite you over for a glass of wine and a chat, or a game of backgammon.
Comforts of Home
While most hotel rooms don't include kitchens, there are many Airbnb options that have them. That means you'll get to save on dining out by shopping at the market like the locals, in addition to enjoying many of the other comforts of home as well, like a washer and dryer. You might even have your own private hot tub!
After spending much of her life in a cubicle, at 40-something K.C. decided to finally LIVE. Today, she is always on some sort of adventure, or writing about it.
She hopes her journey will inspire you to do the same.