Tag Archives: travelling

Why Are We a No Vacation Nation?

Americans On Vacation – A Rare Event

 

Why Are We a No Vacation Nation?

Our German, Japanese and Australian counterparts get four weeks off per year, guaranteed.

And Finns, Frenchmen and Brazilians get a whopping six weeks off, guaranteed.

The reason why?  Their governments mandate paid time off by law.

How much do we Americans get off per year?   A shamefully under-used two weeks off per year.

Unguaranteed.

That means the U.S. is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave, according to a report titled “No-Vacation Nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Our Inability to Escape and Unwind

Our chances to escape and unwind are gruesome.  For example:

  • Only 57% of us use our entitled vacation days compared with 89% of French workers, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
  • U.S. employers discourage us from taking off more than a week at a time.
  • If we do take a vacation break, we are still expected to check in electronically around the clock.

Vacations Threatened by Economic Crisis

Since the economic crisis has hit, it’s gotten worse.  Fearing layoffs and a faster work pace, many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office.  If they do take time off, they’re anxious that they’ll appear uncommitted to their job.

Ironically, if we need to be good at what we do, unplugging helps us:

  • Gain new insights
  • Live in the present moment, good for mental health
  • Jump back in renewed and excited

Let’s Take Back Our Vacation Time

October 24th is Take Back Your Time Day.  According to National Coordinator John de Graaf, it’s not an issue of staying competitive.  He says we’re the most competitive country in the world yet Sweden, which offers five weeks of paid vacation, comes in second.

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

While our international counterparts take their (deserved) time off, returning tanned, rested and ready to kick butt, we stay trapped behind, fearful that time off means time out of the office, permanently.

What do you think?  Why are we a no vacation nation?

Why Vacations Are Good for You and Your Brain

She’s Improving Her Brain

Why Our Brains Need Vacations

It’s no joke that as women travelers we can be derided for taking time off to experience the world.

But taking off on a vacation from work and family is imperative.  As women, we need to be good to ourselves, to refill our creative wells.   Brain research tells us so.

Here’s why traveling is so good for you and our brains:

  • You can gain new perspectives to handle life’s challenges
  • You can become more creative with one simple trip away

Simply, tearing yourself away from emails and computers screens to experience the new and unfamiliar brings better creative thinking and new perspectives.

And you don’t even have to travel far to achieve it.  Even holing up in a nearby vacation home to catch up on books to read does the job.

But recent brain research shows that to really make your brain happy, to re-boot in  from stress, there’s one way of doing it best – travel internationally.

Why World Travel is Best

Landing and immersing yourself in a new culture gives you new creative thinking skills.   Whether in the Italian foothills or on an Asian beach, you’ll learn about a whole other set of social norms and customs.  Handling new languages and currencies, tasting a new cuisine or learning about another religion brings you a better sense of understanding yourself.

Best of all, you become intensely aware, taking note of new faces, things and events around you.  Free of your everyday routine, you become like a child again, fully engaged in discovering the new and different.

And you lose yourself in the present moment, a state of mindfulness.

What are you thinking about in the present moment?  How the blue seawater glints in the sun? The temple monk’s lovely smile?  The fiery burst of flavor from that paella?

Your brain loves this.

Why World Travel Makes You More Creative

Detaching from the familiar gives you a whole new perspective on your everyday life, according to research at Northwestern University.  And pulling away from your close perspective at home brings in new creativity.  Living in mindfulness is relaxing and allows your brain to do its job better.

And that is why world travel is so exciting.  Your brain is firing new synapses.  Your brain likes getting a workout.

It’s why Gauguin found French Polynesia so enticing for his work.  It’s why Hemingway took off for Paris to heal from his World War I trials and ended up writing “A Farewell To Arms.”  It’s why you need a vacation.

What do you think?

Three Best Reasons to Go to Belize Now

What You Need to Know About Belize Before You Go

If you’ve decided on Belize for your next adventure, you need to know several things:

Belize is tough to get to.  Air schedules are not kind to the Belize-bound nor are the fares in the cheaper range.  American Airlines routes you through Miami, even if departing from the West Coast.  One friend took a cheap flight to Cancun, Mexico and drove to Belize.

Even though reasonably priced flights from Los Angeles to Belize City, via Houston, on Continental Airlines, can be found, you may have an inconvenient 6:30AM departure.

Belize is a Caribbean nation stuck inside Latin America.  The former British Honduras (pop. 300,000), Belize’s Creole population is English-speaking and identifies with its Carib Indian, African, Rasta/Jamaican and Spanish bloodlines with a splash of Mayan.  And the country exists (sometimes warily) next to its Latin neighbors, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.  In fact, squabbles over borders and access to the Caribbean Sea with Guatemala only recently calmed with a solid treaty.

Expensive to get there but reasonable once you are in country.  The Belize dollar is tied to a valuation of half of the American dollar.  So transportation and tours are reasonable, such as the 45-minute, $20 water taxi from Belize City to the Caribbean isle of Caye Caulker.

 

Best Reasons to Go To Belize Now

Belize offers so much for explorers.  Here are the three best reasons why you should go now:

  1. A wondrous array of Mayan ruins, many recently discovered within the jungle growth, with astounding histories.  In the inland Cayo District town of San Ignacio, you can explore the Cahal Pech Archaeological Site or ride horseback to Xunantunich, another Maya archaeological site.

 

  1. Eco-tourism hostelries and jungle lodges in Belize offer abundant hiking and butterfly farms in preserved rainforest, tube caving adventures, or canoeing rivers teeming with toucans and jaguars.  Wander the Rainforest Medicine Trail at Chaa Creek to learn about the herbal medicines growing in the rainforest called “bush medicine,” used by local healers still today.

 

  1. Home to the second largest reef in the world, Belizean cayes and clear water are prime for all ocean sports, sailing, diving, snorkeling.  San Pedro town on popular Ambergris Cayeis the dive and water sports capital.  Some, such as tiny Caye Caulker, have no cars, using bicycles and golf carts as transportation.

 

So explore this different corner of Latin America, where the people are Creole, your rice and beans arrive with coconut shavings and the sun washes massive Mayan plazas.

 

5 Surprising Discoveries About Belize

As I crisscrossed this Latin American natural wonderland, I made some surprising discoveries about adventurous Belize as an optimal destination for women travelers.  Read on.

Sleepy Caye Caulker on the Caribbean Coast of Belize

Belize is Safe for Traveling Women

1. Belize lacks the machismo culture of Latin America, identifying more with its Creole identity and British pedigree as the former British Honduras.  On Caye Caulker, I met a young Australian woman traveling alone who marveled at the difference as she traveled overland from Mexico to Belize.  From the adventure center of the Cayo District in eastern Belize to the Caribbean cayes on the coast, I felt perfectly safe, night and day, using a traveler’s necessary sense of caution, of course.

Avoiding Belize City at any time of day is a good idea as there’s no tourist infrastructure there anyway.  Most travelers ride cabs between the international airport and the water taxi landing or come in or out by shuttle from the inland.

Belize Is An English Speaking Nation in Latin America

2.   A traveler who only speaks English pointed out to me how much easier it is to get around, read signs, or strike up conversations with locals, making Belize an easy destination if you lack Spanish skills.  Though English is officially spoken in this British Commonwealth nation, you’ll also hear Creole, Low German from the Mennonites, Chinese from the shopkeepers, and even Mayan.

Jamal from Pacz Tours in San Ignacio, a typical kind-hearted Belizean.

Belizeans are Kind-Hearted, Friendly and Helpful

3.  After I dropped my digital camera into the drink before canoeing into Barton Creek Cave, I was devastated.  Back at Pacs Tours, my tour arranger, Jamal, heard my plight and simply said, “I know who can fix it.”

He headed next door to a clothing store in downtown San Ignacio where a fix-it man sat at a card table, tinkering on the town’s electronic devices and computers.  Mr. Fix-It deftly popped open my camera’s housing, wiped off the droplets and dried the interior with a borrowed hair dryer.  Disaster averted.  Thanks to the kind-heartedness of Jamal, a typical Belizean.

An Amish Mennonite Homestead in Lower Barton Creek in eastern Belize

The Mennonites Grow Belize’s Food

4.  Is watching an Amish Mennonite buggy negotiate San Ignacio’s unpaved roads or observing a barefoot Amish woman working in a long dress and white cap in the tropics seem incongruous?

Yet these are the scenes of everyday life in rural Belize.  Low German-speaking Mennonites feed Belize from their organic homesteads, producing most of the country’s eggs, dairy and produce as well as building most of its furniture.  After migrating in the 1950s, the Mennonites still remain insular and the government honors their refusal to pay taxes or serve in the military.

Belize is a Tropical Rainforest and Caribbean Wonderland

5.  Where else can you explore Mayan magnificence in monuments and history as well as chill to the sounds of reggae on a white sand Caribbean beach?

Belize offers two kinds of vacations.  In the Mayan Mountains, fall asleep to jungle chatter in an eco-lodge after exploring crystal caves full of Mayan artifacts or climbing a pyramid.   Then head to the Caribbean coast where white sand cayes, such as Ambergris Caye, offers island resorts, mojitos at sunset and snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the Belize Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest.

Got any more ideas about surprising Belize?  Let everyone know in the comments section below?

Quick Belize Packing Hints

First in order, pack light!

As an ideal spot for vacations for women, Belize is a safe and casual place that’s gone troppo.   But pack your stuff into a hardy roller with study wheels for handling cobblestones, busted up sidewalks or, if you’re visiting an island with no cars, just bikes and golf carts, on white sand roads.  Just like Caye Caulker.

But here’s the deal.

I’m challenging myself to pack for the entire trip only the bare necessities in a 20″ carryon by Travelpro.  As Travelpro’s tagline states, it’s the choice of flight crews and frequent travelers.  And I always secretly envied the way flight crews jauntily march through the terminals looking all pulled together with their study rollier behind them.

Plus I’ve always wanted to see how I could handle a full-on international trip with one teensy bag.  Wish me luck.

 

The Travelpro Walkabout Lite 4 20″ Exp Wide Body Spinner

$101.99

www.eBags.com

Yes, it’s tiny.  Dimensions?  20″ x 16″ x 9″.

But the most exciting thing about this carryon is that it’s a spinner!  For easy gliding on the tarmac.  And it meets another requirement for any new piece of luggage.

It’s Not Black!

It’s blue so I actually stand a chance of locating it amid a sea of black cases in baggage claim.  And when you’re dead tired from a rough trip it can be next to impossible to distinguish your bag.

Can it all fit in there?

Belize Demands Packing For Beach and Rainforest

Belize demands packing for the beach and the rainy forest.  We’re going to the adventure center of Belize in the Cayo District for horseback riding to Mayan ruins and cave canoeing.  So we’re talking heavy shoes, long sleeves and pants for the rainforest.  And bathing suits and sarongs for the island part of our travel program in Caye Caulker.

So I’m stuffing this bag just the basics:

  • 1 Light shirt
  • 1 breathable t-shirt
  • 1 tunic and capris for going out
  • 1 breathable, long-sleeved insect repellant shirt
  • 1 pair breathable, insect repellant pants
  • 1 pair breathable, insect repellant cargo pants
  • 1 dress, Little Black
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 1 sarong (my Hotel Bora Bora sarong, of course)
  • A snorkel (Just the snorkel!  I have a thing about rental snorkel gear on my face – ick)
  • 2 pairs of flip flops, one flat, one that’s a higher platform style
  • 1 pair of comfy shoes for hiking
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 1 pair of water socks – don’t want to harm the coral heads of Hol Chan Marine Reserve
  • Sunscreen for both face and body
  • My Waimanalo baseball cap from Oahu (Google it)
  • Electrical appliances in Belize are exactly the same as in the U.S. so I can pack a hairdryer
  • Yoga pants, shirt and pashmina wrap for plane ride
  • Toiletries, make-up, hair accessories, vitamins, etc.
  • iPad for the plane
  • Bose® IE2 Audio Headphones – ditto
  • Digital camera with back-up battery, charger and extra storage card

 

Design Meets Chaos

So I assembled the above and carefully folded it all into the bag.  And it all fit.

I did use the expansion zipper to increase the bag’s 9″ width.  I stuffed important documents, such as passport into the outside zippered pocket and my shoes into another larger one.  Everything is sturdily built about this bag and the zippers are no nonsense.  For dressier trips, it has a small suiter set up which can be unzipped and removed.  The panel of the suiter that’s left has a strap for strapping in the donated school supplies I was bringing down for Caye Caulker’s Ocean Academy school.

In all, this carryon is well-designed and thought out.  In fact, I’m going to give a Travelpro suitcase away during the Passports With Purpose fundraiser.

And I’m happy to report that this little case made for a happier, more comfortable Belizean adventure.

How about you?  Got a great suitcase that makes the grade?

Riding Horseback to Mayan Ruins in Belize

Setting Off From Hanna Stables on San Lorenzo Farm’s 400 Acres

Setting Off From Hanna Stables in San Ignacio

In the upcountry Cayo District of adventurous Belize, I chose a wild adventure involving a half-day trek https://web.archive.org/web/20111113183706/http://www.travelgearforwomen.com/?p=1015by horseback to the great Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (pronounced shoo-nan-too-nitch), meaning “Stone Maiden.”  I arranged my unconventional tour of this great ancient Mayan ceremonial center through Pacz Tours in San Ignacio in eastern Belize.

A spring foal warily watches as we stride by.

We set off from Hanna Stables on San Lorenzo Farm in the upcountry Cayo District in eastern Belize with horseman Santiago Juan, a Belizean of Lebanese and British descent whose family had settled here in the 1920s.  We passed through the pasturelands of his family’s 400 acres where they run cattle, run a dairy and grow corn and beans.  As well as horse breeding.

Pasture soon turned into a jungle trail.

Soon we enter a fairyland of rainforest, surrounded by butterflies, orchids, and chattering birds.  This jungle trail gave way to the Mayan village of San Jose Succotz on the banks of the Mopan River.

The Hand-Cranked Ferry Across the Mopan River

The hand-cranked ferry across the Mopan River.

Riders and horses had to board this ancient, hand-cranked ferry to ford the river and head up to the limestone ridge where Xunantunich stands.  No worries, though, because of Santiago’s expert horsemanship, our mounts quietly stepped aboard.

Our noble aquatic equine companions took this hand-cranked river fording in stride.

 

Magnificent Xunantunich

A national symbol, El Castillo is as high as a 13-story building.

We head up a steep, 1 mile track to the limestone ridge where Xunantunich stands.  After dismounting amid the roar of howler monkeys in the canopy above, we climbed up to the main plaza to take in the Mayan splendor.

Xunantunich’s one square mile consists of six plazas and more than 26 temples and royal palaces.

This important religious center has stood on this flattened hilltop on a limestone ridge since 400 BC.

The climb to the top is steep and daunting and well worth it.

Don’t ascend this Mayan monument if you have any fear of heights.  The steep climb rewards your ascent with panoramic views of the Mayan monuments and the Mopan River Valley.

Security atop El Castillo overlooking the Guatemala border.

Atop El Castillo, Belize’s second highest pyramid, we can see across the rainforest into Guatemala.  Belize and Guatemala are unfriendly neighbors because Guatemala had always believed that Belize is a part of that country.  But Belize, the former British Honduras, strongly disagrees.

An important frieze used to encircle El Castillo; this is a preserved section on the pyramid demonstrating its former location.

A visitor’s center built by the Getty Foundation covers the Mayan magnificence of the famous hieroglyphic frieze that used to circle El Castillo, depicting jaguar heads, human faces, and royal religious rituals.  There’s also a scale model replica of Xunantunich as well as exhibits on its history as a power player in Mayan politics.

The Black Orchid, the national flower of Belize.

Back to San Lorenzo Farm

Those howler monkeys were still roaring as we remounted and headed back to Hanna Stables.  We rode back through the Mayan village of San Jose Succotz, about seven and a half miles west of San Ignacio, which is the adventure center of the Cayo District and the Mayan Mountains.

Back at Hanna Stables, our mounts get their reward in the thick grasses of Belize.