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Travel versus vacationing: Best not to mistake the two

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We don’t travel 2,000 miles or more just to eat at a new restaurant. Or do we?

Well, yes. Vacationing involves pleasant sights, new food, excitement, and relaxation. Vacationing is good for everyone, but not everyone is good with travel.

Seventh century Chinese monk Xuanzang was a traveler. He backpacked 10,000 miles from China to Pakistan in a trek for Buddhist scrolls that took him 16 years.

English adventuress Isabella Lucy Bird, during the late 1800s, managed to climb mountains, ford rivers, and cross burning deserts. Her travels took her to every continent, and every mysterious locale including the Australian outback, Tibet, Singapore, and the Sandwich Islands.

Traveling, you might say, doesn’t necessarily involve comfort. For young people, who haven’t had a lot of luxury anyway, traveling in the broad sense can be appealing. Hostels and train travel are romantic at age 19. According to Cassandra Michael, writing for goalcast.com, backpacking and adventure traveling provide an opportunity to grow. Michael says that travel enhances personality traits like courage and resilience.

One thing is for sure: If your next outing requires courage and resilience, you aren’t on vacation.

In her 2009 memoir, author Susan Jane Gilman writes of her harrowing experiences in China in 1986, a time when the country barely had seen a Western face. Gilman and a friend, both naive coeds fresh out of Brown University, faced hunger, sleeping rooms covered with cockroaches, and danger. They were so unprepared for their journey, one of the girls had a psychotic breakdown. In one simple experience, the two were famished and tried to order fare from a local booth. Since language was a problem, she held up two fingers. When she received seven portions instead of two, she was shaken to the core: Even finger counting was not the same.

For those who truly want to immerse themselves in local culture, travel can boost creativity and what he calls cognitive flexibility, according to Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School professor. Other travel experts praise the ability of travel to rewire the brain, boosting self-confidence and mood.

Unless, of course, one finds oneself in a hotel room covered with cockroaches.

Best advice on travel: Don’t over-romanticize. Be prudent and prepared. Don’t ever take chances with the local law.

Travel

Travel Bag: Garden tours dazzle the eye

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Photo courtesy of The Whitehouse.

We all look forward to a resurgence of beautiful blooms — particularly those who live in colder climates — and there’s no shortage of garden tours to help you get your fix.

If you want to make a vacation out of it and take a trip, Amsterdam hosts a tour in one of the largest flower gardens in the world, Keukenhof. Also referred to as “Garden of Europe,” Keukenhof is open March 21-May 19 this year.

More than 7 million bulbs will bloom this spring, according to the Keukenhof website, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips. A visit includes flower shows, inspirational gardens, art, a treasure hunt, petting farm, maze, and playground. There’s even free wifi at the pavilions around the park, and dogs are allowed as long as they are leashed.

If a trip to Holland isn’t doable, there are tons of local and regional garden tours, including:

Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 13-April 18 in Charleston, SC; various tours are available during those dates.

The White House Garden Tour, held in the spring and the fall. Dates are announced two weeks ahead of time, but are typically in mid to late April and late October.

Monticello, the plantation home in Charlottesville, Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Newport, Rhode Island boasts a number of gardens among its famed mansions, making for a fun house-and-garden tour.

And there are hundreds more, from those that require ticket purchases in advance to those one town over from you.

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Three steps to volunteer abroad

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Volunteering abroad can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It gives you the chance to make a positive difference while discovering a new corner of the globe. However, there’s a fair bit of planning involved. Here are three things you’ll need to do beforehand.

1. Plan your budget
Volunteering abroad can be expensive. You need to make sure you can afford the airfare, the cost of visas and vaccinations, and the cost of the placement itself, which typically comprises accommodation, food, training, local transport, insurance and background checks.

2. Find a good organization
There are many international volunteering organizations but not all of them are reputable. Make sure you do a lot of research before making any decisions. Check online reviews and, if possible, speak with people who’ve done the placement themselves. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, communicate directly with organizations, preferably by phone or in person, asking their representatives pertinent questions you’ve prepared in advance.

3. Look for a placement
Volunteering can be a great way to gain practical experience. It’s also a big asset on your university application or resume. And if the placement lines up with your skills and interests, it’s all the more useful. For instance, if you’re interested in teaching, think about working for a literacy program. Or if you plan to work in the veterinary field, look for a placement in which you rehabilitate animals back into the wild.

Once you’ve locked down your budget, found a great organization to volunteer with and uncovered a position that aligns with your interests and ambitions, all that’s left is to pack your bags and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.

Online volunteering
Did you know that you can do volunteer work for another country without having to leave the comfort of your own home? The United Nations Volunteers program allows you to make a positive difference from your computer, tablet or smartphone. For more information visit www.onlinevolunteering.org.

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Travel

Three tips for a successful first trip with your significant other

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Traveling with your significant other can be a source of both pleasure and tension! Because emotions tend to run high in new environments, you may discover a side of your partner that you didn’t know existed, especially if you don’t live together. In order to ensure the smoothest trip possible, follow these pieces of advice!

1. Define your expectations
What type of trip are you hoping for? Relaxing, or filled with adventure? Do you intend to stay in a luxury hotel or to rough it outdoors? Wake up at the crack of dawn or sleep in? Rush to not miss a beat or live in the moment? Plan your trip together to avoid unpleasant surprises while abroad, and always be ready to compromise!

2. Decide on a budget
Determine a realistic budget and decide who will be paying for what (lodging, food, etc.) before you leave! It’s also important to figure out your priorities: do you both want to devote a good portion of your budget to a single big activity, or would you prefer using that money to see and do as much as you can?

Hitting a few bumps in the road? Talk about it! Communication is vital, especially since you’ll constantly be in each other’s company and won’t have the means to relieve tension as you normally would at home. Learn how to put things into perspective. You missed your bus? The airport lost your luggage? There are worse things in life. Relax, breathe and make the most of the situation. You also might want to avoid putting half the blame on your significant other when things go awry.

Finally, don’t hesitate to meet other people and do certain activities separately. After all, back home, you’re not together 24 hours a day. You can reunite and share the details of your day over a romantic dinner come sundown!

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Seven hot island paradises to escape to this winter

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Aruba beach

Are you dreaming of sunshine and scenic beaches? Here are seven magnificent islands and archipelagos around the world that won’t disappoint.

1. Aruba: lounge on lovely beaches of soft, white sand, swim in “Conchi,” a natural pool formed by volcanic stone circles, go scuba diving and take in Oranjestad’s colonial architecture.

2. Guadeloupe: go hiking along the volcano Soufrière Saint Vincent, relax on white- or black-sand beaches amid beautiful scenery, enjoy authentic Creole cuisine and go dolphin or whale watching.

3. Martinique: bask in the sun on tranquil beaches, dive off of Diamond Rock, discover tropical flora at the Jardin de Balata and travel through gorges en route to a magnificent waterfall at Les Gorges de la Falaise.

4. New Caledonia: become acquainted with Kanak culture while you kitesurf on Anse Vata Bay, explore magical grottos and discover an array of spectacular landscapes including dense forests, immaculate beaches and turquoise creeks.

5. Phi Phi Islands: gaze upon the limestone cliffs, visit Maya Bay (made famous by the film The Beach), explore Thailand’s incredible snorkeling sites and party on the beach at night.

6. Maldives: stay in a villa propped up on stilts, fly over the isles on a seaplane, take part in your favorite aquatic sports and unwind on exquisite beaches.

7. Roatán: view Honduras’ marine life from a glass-bottom boat, see animals roaming free in Gumbalimba Park, lie on beaches with clear water and go zip-lining at Mayan Eden Park.

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Travel

Six dream destinations for some fun under the sun

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Are you longing to travel somewhere hot with plenty of sunshine? Do you daydream about finding the perfect ? Here are a few heavenly vacation spots to consider:

1. Hawaii. With gorgeous beaches, a national park featuring several volcanoes, breathtaking panoramic views, fascinating historic sites (like Pearl Harbor), and a vibrant cultural scene, Hawaii has something to please every type of traveler.

2. The Cayman Islands. Whether you wish to scuba dive in crystal clear waters, explore tropical forests, observe turtles, parrots and other exotic wildlife, or simply soak up the sun, this Caribbean paradise will not disappoint!

3. Jamaica. Visit the Bob Marley Museum, relax on white sandy beaches (perhaps a rum and coke in hand?), swim with dolphins against a beautiful backdrop, and paddle down the Rio Grande. Which will you do first?

4. Saint Lucia. Sailing, diving, hiking, golfing—there’s no shortage of activities on this beautiful island! What’s more, between botanical gardens and endless beaches, Saint Lucia has a unique way of charming travelers.

5. Florida. Between the Everglades, Orlando, Miami and Cape Canaveral, Florida has a lot to offer, from beautiful landscapes to exciting activities for the whole family.

6. Mexico. Whether you’re interested in a relaxing holiday or a cultural experience, Mexico—with its breathtaking beaches, ancient Mayan villages and colorful colonial towns—is always a sure bet.

So, which sun-drenched destination will you be visiting next?

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Travel

Six countries hiking enthusiasts will want to explore this winter

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National Park Torres del Paine, Chile. Azure Lake Pehoe at the foot of the magnificent snow-covered cliffs of Los Kuernos

Does your ideal vacation include strapping on a pair of hiking boots? Here are six compelling destinations that hikers will love. These places have trails galore and stunning scenery to boot.

On foot
It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Hike under the sun amid a lush variety of flora and fauna in:

1. New Zealand. Famous for Tongariro National Park—where you’ll recognize landscapes from Lord of the Rings—this island country has hiking trails for adventurers of all skill levels. The terrain? Rolling green fields, lush forests and volcano-covered deserts.

2. Chile. With its steep cliffs, immense glaciers, blue lakes, and diverse wildlife, Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park is without question one of the world’s most beautiful hiking spots. You have the option of doing either short day hikes or longer treks spanning several days.

3. Tanzania. Kilimanjaro might be a bit much for some but Tanzania has countless other less demanding—but equally inspiring—journeys to undertake. Steep escarpments, grassy ridges, dense forests, volcanic peaks and vistas of the Great Rift Valley, make for scenic trekking.

By snowshoe
Rather trek through a winter wonderland? Then grab your snowshoes and get yourself to:

4. Scotland. Pristine nature and diverse wildlife (such as reindeer and snowy owls) await you at Cairngorms National Park, which is richly occupied by scenic mountain paths.

5. Japan. The wide variety of snowshoeing paths in the Yatsugatake mountains—not far from Tokyo—lead you over volcano peaks buried under snow. For this trek, it’s a good idea to hire a guide.

6. Canada. Experience spectacular trails and stunning vistas at Banff National Park. This western wilderness lies in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, amid towering rock faces, deep canyons and dense pine forests. Finish your trek at Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, where you’ll be dazzled by blue-green glacial waters.

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