Humblebrag – Dealing with Travel Envy

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The other day, I was discussing recent vacations with a few colleagues over lunch. At one point I mentioned a boat trip that we took, “while we were on a family safari in Nepal.” There was silence for a few seconds, then someone said, “that phrase must win everytime, unless you’re talking to someone who’s been to the moon.” I thought about that reaction for a few days. Had I been trying to “win” the conversation? Had I unwittingly fostered travel envy? Was I humblebragging?

It’s easy to say that I don’t keep score or try to “win” by having the most extravagant travel stories. It’s harder to examine this claim from a detached position and determine if that’s really true. Here are a few things to consider when you are faced with travel envy.

Travel Envy – Made Worse by Social Media

Safeguard Travel DocumentsSocial media sites are full of carefully curated photos and posts about sun-drenched beaches and pristine hiking trails. Everyone tries to put his best foot forward and show the glamorous side of life. This is even more pronounced with travel writing, where one’s job is to highlight reasons to travel and the best places to go.

This is going to inspire some people and frustrate others. A few might even get depressed, worried about how they can’t live the lives that they see portrayed online. You can’t control how other people feel. You can control what you put out into the world and your motives for doing so.

Examine Your Motives for Travel

Why do you travel? What drives you? Make an honest assessment of why you travel. For me, that’s an easy question to answer. I’ve always been driven by a sense of wanderlust and a desire to see the world. I realize it’s impossible to see all of the world. One could spend a lifetime in one country, whether it’s Germany or India, and still not see everything.

Because of this, it’s pointless to keep score. There is no way to “win” this competition because it’s not a competition. But that doesn’t make me want to stay home and not travel. It makes me joyous to know that there’s always going to be some new place or experience to look forward to. Where, how, and how long to travel are highly personalized questions.

Examine Your Motives for Discussing Travel

Why do you discuss your travels? In the instance that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we were discussing things we’ve done on vacation that were risky. The boat trip definitely fit that description. So upon reflection, I still don’t think my comment was a #humblebrag.

It is useful, however, to think about those comments before you say them. Ask yourself, “am I trying to top the last thing that was said?” If so, maybe you just keep listening instead.

Looking back, there are times that I have bragged about travel, like the Twitter post below.

This conversation served to remind me to check my motives.

Have a Sense of Humor

No matter what you say, there’s always a chance that someone will be offended or envious. As I noted before, you’re not responsible for the reactions of others. You can help defuse any tension, however, with a good sense of humor or a self-deprecating remark. In my case, it’s far cheaper to get to Katmandu than Kansas given that I live in Singapore. I explained as much, and that went a long way towards defusing the awkward moment.

Have you encountered travel envy? How did you deal with it?

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Himalayan Trek

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I’m glad my phone tracks the number of stairs climbed, because I lost count after the first hour. I had read voraciously to prepare for our family’s Himalayan trek. Everyone mentioned the scenery. Very few mentioned the stairs. According to my phone, we climbed around 163 flights of stairs each day. That’s the number of floors in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I guess that’s fitting since we were in the Himalayas, the tallest mountains in the world.

Getting there

Most Himalayan trek routes last for a week or more. The route to Annapurna base camp can take 3 weeks. We didn’t have that kind of time, so we did a short trek – just three days. Based on a friend’s recommendation, I booked the trip through Bold Adventures Nepal. They provided us with a guide and two porters and made all of the arrangements.

We flew from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a 20 minute flight that saves you a grueling 8 hour drive. Plus now we’ve flown on Yeti Airlines, so that’s good.

It still took 3 hours on the road from Pokhara to get to Kimche, the starting point for our trek.

Life on the Road

Daily chicken delivery

We walked for three days, up mountains and down mountains. The first day’s climb took us to Ghandruk (elevation 2000 meters), the capital of the Gurung people. Gurungs are a minority ethnic group in Nepal. Ghandruk is a popular stop on the trekking circuit because it offers good views of Annapurna and other mountains.

Most of the Nepalese in the Himalayas live in villages where there are no roads. Everything gets carried there by mule train or on someone’s back.

We began to notice that prices increased as we went higher. A bottle of water that was 50 rupee ($0.50) in Kimche might be 200 rupee ($2.00) in Jhinhu. That’s understandable since someone had to haul it up there and haul the empty bottle back down.

Mule train

We left Ghandruk after an early breakfast and set out for Jhinhu. Distances between towns are measured in time, not miles. It’s a four hour walk to Jhinhu, up and down mountains. The reward was a natural hot springs where we could soak our sore muscles and relax.

Our porters carried some of our gear, though I carried my own pack. Time became elastic as we slowly climbed. My sons were the only children that we saw on the trail. I guess most people don’t bring their kids. I’m not sure why.

On the third day we walked to Siwai and met our car. Just a quick 3 hour drive back to Pokhara, which was starting to feel like a metropolis compared to the villages we stayed in.

Though we did see the mountains from the trail, one of the best views we had was from the roof of the Pokhara airport.

Going back

The stereotype of someone doing a Himalayan trek is a young twenty-something or a retiree, and that’s understandable. They’ve got time. I would love to go back to Nepal and do a longer trek. Take my time and relax. Enjoy the scenery more. Drink more tea. Live more simply. And someday I will.

Himalayan teahouse
The clouds are hiding the mountains above this simple teahouse.

 

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Bad Travel Day

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I’ll put the disclaimer up front – this is a rant. I’ve had lots of glorious travel days, full of soft-focus sunsets and sweeping orchestral music. Every once in a while, though, the odds are not ever in your favor and you end up with a bad travel day. This was mine.

Potential cure for a bad travel dayI suppose I was asking for this, since my last post talked about the illusion of control. That illusion was shattered last week when I tried to get home from a business trip.

Meetings ended a day early, so I switched my flights to come home a day early. So far, so good. I arrived at the airport at 8 am for a 42 minute flight to Newark. As we taxied to the runway, I smiled at the pink flamingos that someone had put in the grass at the far end of the runway. Cute, I thought. Then the captain announced that due to a mechanical issue, we were returning to the gate. Still not a bad travel day, just a temporary delay. We de-planed and waited for an update.

The updates trickled in throughout what became an eight hour delay. I could have driven to Newark twice in the time that it took to not fly there. To make things worse, this was not a large airport. Roughly the size of my high school. Entertainment and food options were limited. To say that I’d missed my connection to Hong Kong was something of an understatement. We finally arrived long after dinner time.

The airline put me up in a hotel near Newark. Thanks to the efficiencies of the New Jersey highway system, we passed the hotel twice in the shuttle bus before finally turning into the driveway. After a fitful night’s sleep, I schlepped my stuff back to the airport to try again.

I will hand it to the airline staff though. They were patient, courteous, and helpful. I appreciated that and I tried to show that appreciation by being courteous in return. Even on a bad travel day, keep in mind that the staff are not to blame.

 

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Dangerous Travel With Kids

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Our four-wheeler slipped and slid on the monsoon-soaked dirt road. I laughed nervously and gripped the door with white knuckles. As we came around the corner, we saw burning tires blocking the narrow road. That’s when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have brought my kids on this trip after all. Is it ever acceptable to expose kids to dangerous travel?

How do you quantify danger? What risks are acceptable? Do you take more risks traveling solo than you do with your kids?

I thought a lot about these questions this summer when I took my kids to Nepal. It was the height of the rainy season, which made the steep mountain roads seem especially treacherous. Almost every day I would read about a vehicle that slid off the road and fell hundreds of feet somewhere in the country. The incident with the burning tires was resolved peacefully, but not before we sat for a few hours on the road waiting.

As I reflected on these worries, I realized that what I was missing was not safety, but the illusion of control. Going about my daily life back home, I delude myself into thinking that I can control the threats that my kids face more easily than I could on this trip. In reality, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children in America. There’s no guarantee that we would have been any safer on a road back home.

This is not to say that you should needlessly expose your family to foolish risks. Often though, we exaggerate risk when we are outside our comfort zones and minimize it when we are in our comfort zones. Do your research, take precautions, but don’t let fear paralyze you into not traveling.

Weighing the risks against the benefits of the trip, I’m still glad we went.  We’re going back to Nepal in a few weeks – not during the rainy season.

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Fly With Infants – Guide to Bringing Baby on a Plane

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fly with infants
Image courtesy of Tropical studio via Adobe Stock

Anxiety about traveling internationally with infants is fairly common. Traveling with babies can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Here are some common questions and answers about how to fly with infants.

These days there are a lot of code-shares where you book a ticket with one airline but the flight is operated by a different airline. When you fly with infants, pay attention to the rules of the airline that is operating the flight. Those are the rules that will apply.

Fly with infants – How young is too young?

Babies should not fly until they are one week old. Some doctors discourage long flights with children younger than three months old. That’s partly because the recycled air in the cabin is dry, making it difficult to keep young infants hydrated. The recycled air can also be a problem because young infants have low immunity.

In general, babies and infants will be fine on the flight as long as you keep them hydrated. The change in air pressure during take off and landing can be painful for them. Fluids during that time can help because the swallowing action will help to equalize their ears.

The Transportation Security Administration specifically allows formula, breast milk, and juice for infants or toddlers. There may be additional screening measures to clear you through security, but these items are allowed. You can check the full TSA policy on this here.

How far you’re willing to fly with an infant depends on you. Extremely long flights can be difficult because of changing diapers in cramped airplane bathrooms or the need for a lot of supplies.

Pay for a seat?

fly with baby
Image courtesy of Rafael Ben-Ari via Adobe Stock

Check the airline’s policy on this. Within the United States, infants under the age of two traveling without their own seat within the United States do not require a ticket. Bear in mind that a child without a seat typically does not have a baggage allowance (or carry-on).

All infants traveling internationally must have a ticket, even if no seat is purchased and they are traveling as a lap child. Some airlines require you to pay a fee for a lap child on international flights. On American Airlines, for example, this is 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes and fees.

You may use a child safety seat (car seat) if you have purchased a seat for your child. There are restrictions on which seats can have a car seat. Car seats cannot be used in exit rows or the rows adjacent to exit rows.

Bassinets

bassinet
Image courtesy of Igor Stepovik via Adobe Stock

Most airlines now have bassinets that can be attached to the bulkhead on international flights. They may not be used during taxi, takeoff or landing, or when the seatbelt sign is illuminated. Request a bassinet by contacting the airline directly.

The number of bassinets per plane is limited and they are on a first come, first served basis, so don’t make this the centerpiece of your plan.

Strollers

On American Airlines, small collapsible strollers up to 20 lbs may be stored in the overhead compartment. United Airlines and Delta require strollers to be checked at the gate. Strollers are not counted against your baggage allowance and airlines do not typically charge to check them.

For more info on traveling with kids, check out my book on the topic.

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Weekend Getaways from Houston

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Weekend Getaways from Houston

A while ago I wrote about weekend getaways from Washington, DC. Now we turn to weekend getaways from Houston.

Heading south is your quickest escape from Houston, although it means you won’t gain any time zone advantages (you won’t lose time either). Because of that, I’ve shortened the travel time. Here are a few easy weekend getaways from Houston that are all less than a four hour flight away.

© OpenStreetMap contributors

 

 

Nicaragua

Managua is just over three hours from Houston. There is much to see in this diverse country. One suggestion is Mombacho Volcano reserve, an hour south of Managua. The hiking trails on the volcano bring you to a cloud forest and a dwarf forest. Stay in Granada, half an hour from the volcano (book a hotel through Agoda). Quite a change from your average weekend in Houston, I’ll wager.

Costa Rica

Fly into Liberia and head to the beach. Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal are only an hour from the airport. Or travel a little farther south to Tamarindo. Check into a resort and dip your toes into the the warm waters of the Pacific.

Panama

Get a taste of history and visit the Panama Canal. Fly into Panama City, founded over 500 years ago. Explore the locks and then head into the tropical rainforests that surround the canal.

Jamaica

Ok, this one might require you to take a vacation day. There’s only one direct flight on Fridays to Montego Bay and it leaves at 10:30 in the morning. Still, you’re less than four hours from the sandy beaches. Leave the kids at home and stay at an all-inclusive resort like Sandals.

 

Banner Image courtesy of Sunny Studio via Adobe Stock.

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How to Safeguard Your Travel Documents

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Losing your passport while traveling will definitely impact your plans. Here’s how to safeguard travel documents to ensure that any disruption is minimized.

Safeguard Travel DocumentsMake copies (paper and electronic)

Start to safeguard travel documents before you leave on your trip. Make at least two paper copies of your passport. You should copy the information page and, if applicable, the visa page for the country that you’re visiting. Leave one copy with someone back home.

Keep another copy on you but separate from the passport. Consider exchanging a third copy with a travel companion. Finally, scan a copy as a JPG or PDF file and email it to yourself. If you use a cloud-based email service (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), you’ll be able to retrieve it from any computer.

This goes for any other documents you need while traveling, such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, or prescriptions for medication.

Safeguard Travel Documents from damage

Loss or theft is a top concern. We often don’t think about documents getting wet, dirty, or torn. Slip your passport into a small, re-sealable plastic bag to keep it safe.

Keep Your Passport On You

When traveling, keep your passport on you at all times. Be vigilant in crowded spaces. Carry it in a front pocket or travel wallet. If you’re leaving your hotel room but not the hotel (like going to the pool, for example), lock it in the room safe.

Report Lost or Stolen Documents Immediately

If your passport is lost or stolen, report it to the local police as soon as possible. Make sure you get a copy of the police report. Ask for a letter from the police confirming that you’ve reported the loss. Take these documents and your photocopy of your passport to the nearest embassy or consulate from your home country.

Your lost passport is an emergency to you. It is likely not an emergency to the embassy. 

The consular services at an embassy operate normal business hours. Don’t expect them to crank up the wheels of government on a weekend or holiday. You may have to call or make an appointment. Embassies can issue replacement passports, but the process may take a few days (or weeks), depending on where you’re from and where you are.

For additional tips on travel documents, check out the U.S. State Department website.

Read Travel With Kids to learn how to have a better family travel experience.

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Muscat – Things to Do in Oman’s Capital

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The history of civilization in Muscat stretches back into antiquity, with settlements dating back over 7,000 years. In the 18th century, Muscat was a major regional power whose influence reached as far as Tanzania. Today it serves as the fascinating capital of Oman. Here are a few things to do in this beautiful city.

muscat mosqueSultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos rose to power in 1970 and has ruled as Sultan of Oman ever since. The mosque that he commissioned can hold 20,000 worshippers. In additional to the sprawling grounds and impressive architecture, the mosque has two unique features. The first is a massive chandelier, the largest Swarovski crystal chandelier in the world. The second is the carpet that covers the floor of the main hall. It’s the second largest carpet in the world, weighing 21 tons. The carpet took 600 weavers four years to complete.

Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum

This museum houses a collection of military vehicles, weapons, and uniforms that trace Oman’s military history. It is also notable because of the location. The museum is housed in the Al Falaj Fort, a 150-year old fortress.

Muscat cornicheMuttrah Corniche

Stretching along the harbor, The Corniche in Muttrah borders Old Muscat. The souq, or market, here has been open for business for 200 years. Shops and stalls disappear into the darkness as alleyways meander away from The Corniche. The smell of frankincense and spices fill the air and silversmiths, tailors, and hawkers sell their wares. Muttrah Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, sits west of the souq and watches  over the harbor.

Desert safari – Beyond Muscat

Escape the city and explore Oman’s vast deserts for a day trip or an overnight camping expedition. Areas like Bawshar and A’Sharqiyah are easy to reach with a 4×4. Enjoy the solitude of the desert or the excitement of dune racing.

More information

To learn more about Muscat, visit Oman’s official tourism site.

 

 

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Are Budget Airlines Safe?

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Budget airlines offer significant savings for travelers, but at what cost? Several high-profile aviation accidents in the last few years may have you wondering if budget airlines are as safe as the major carriers.

Budget airlines are cheaper because they offer reduced services, amenities, and service. You may have to pay additional fees to check luggage, get a meal, or pick your seat. Major carriers include these features automatically but pass on the costs to you in the price of the ticket. Budget carriers give you a choice about whether to have those amenities. They don’t cut corners on safety.

budget airlinesAccording to the annual safety index of the world’s 60 largest carriers produced by the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre in Germany, several low-cost carriers (AirAsia, JetStar, and EasyJet) were rated safer than 2 of the major U.S. carriers.

So the short answer is – Yes, budget carriers are just as safe as major carriers. Airlines realize that accidents are going to have a significant impact on business. They may cut corners on meal service, but not on safety.

If you’re still worried, there are a few ways to research the airline in question. You could consult the EU Banned List to see which airlines are not allowed to operate in the EU. The FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment doesn’t apply to specific airlines, but instead deals with the Civil Aviation Authority in the countries that they are based in.

If you’re still nervous, maybe you should book your travel with a major carrier. Just realize that you’re going to pay more, and it’s not because they’re safer.

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Biscayne National Park – A National Treasure

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I love to travel overseas, but I don’t want to neglect the treasures that America has to explore right here at home. Today marks the 37 years since Biscayne National Park was created, so let’s take a look at what it has to offer visitors.

Biscayne National Park – History

Originally considered as part of the Everglades, Biscayne was designated a separate national monument in 1968 and re-designated a national park on June 28, 1980. Evidence of human civilization within the park borders goes back 10,000 years. Biscayne Bay has been home to Native Americans, pirates, and millionaires. Presidents have vacationed here and outdoor enthusiasts have long enjoyed its waters.

Nature

Biscayne National Park
Photo by NPS, public domain

Biscayne covers over 172,000 acres, stretching from Key Biscayne to Key Largo. Biscayne encompasses four distinct ecosystems; an offshore reef, coral limestone keys, Biscayne Bay, and the mangrove swamps along the shoreline. Biscayne National Park is home to several endangered species, such as manatees, hawksbill sea turtles, and American crocodiles. The park also protects hundreds of species of fish, crustaceans, and birds within its boundaries.

Activities

Biscayne National Park
Photo by NPS, public domain

Biscayne National Park is 95% water, so most of the activities require access by boat. There are campgrounds on Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key which are only accessible by boat. Canoeing and kayaking are popular, as are diving, snorkeling and fishing. Biscayne is home to the Maritime Heritage Trail, the only underwater archaeological trail in the National Park Service. This trail includes 5 shipwrecks that date back to the 1870s which divers can explore.

More information

Most visits to Biscayne should begin at Dante Fascell Visitor Center, 9 miles east of Homestead, Florida. For more information about the park, check out the National Park Service website.

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