How Traveling Can Make You Smarter

We all travel for different reasons. Some of us are on a plane every other week traveling to a new destination for work; others might set foot on an aircraft once in their lives. Whether we’re journeying to an event on a whim, or to get out and explore new things, traveling is one of life’s great joys, allowing you time and resources to do fun and exciting things while working to better yourself as a person.

While it may seem too good to be true, scientific studies are pointing to the fact that traveling might actually help make you smarter as well as being a great way to relax and unwind. How does travel make you smarter, you may wonder? This “magic” happens in a number of mind-opening ways…

You meet new people

No matter what  you do in life, you’re going to meet new people. Some of those people might go on to completely change your life for the better; others may change it by being challenging in ways you never anticipated.  Regardless, the people we encounter, both positive and negative, help shape us into who we are. If you travel, the number of new individuals you may encounter increases exponentially.  Travel puts you in the perfect position to meet new people and expose yourself to new perspectives and ideas.  Using public transportation, walking city streets, staying in someone’s Airbnb rental exposes you to encounters with locals.  If you only travel with tour groups you might not get the advantage of meaningful time with locals, so consider your travel goals before booking.  We tend to form ideas and opinions about people from other places based upon relatively little information, while spending time in their country and enjoying authentic conversations with locals allow you to form opinions based upon first hand information.  You may be surprised what you will learn about other cultures and their historical experiences.  You may be surprised what you learn about yourself.

You try new experiences

When you spend all of your time in the same place, you may have moments feeling you are in a rut!  When you aren’t undergoing any new experiences, how can your brain expand? Traveling is one of the best ways to shake up your routine and force yourself our of your comfort zone. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s difficult not to try new experiences since everything there is new and foreign to you. While this might seem frightening, look at it as an opportunity to grow as a person and broaden your perspectives.  Your memory will retain the experience better if you involve as many of your senses as possible…that means smell the smells, hear the sounds, and generally eat all the spaghetti you can!

You learn how to take care of yourself

Chances are that, as an adult, you’re quite good at taking care of yourself already because you have a set routine that you live by. When you go to a new place, there is no “routine” for you to live by, meaning that it’s up to you to make sure you get yourself fed and somewhere to sleep. You also learn how to take care of yourself in a spiritual sense — you learn how to let go of the daily stressors you feel and focus on what really matters.  What places are you drawn to?  Places to relax and read, think?  Or places that challenge you physically?  Places where museums and historical sites are abundant?  Think about why you tend toward certain destinations and what that suggests about who you are.  Observe how you plan and execute your travels and what that says about who you are.  Learning more about ourselves is a gift we give those around us:  authenticity.

You Read, You Visit Museums, You Attend Local Events

The richest education is to pair research/reading with “hands on” experience.  That once a year “field trip” you had in grammar school was just a taste of what getting out of your easy chair can do for your brain.  Pack your Rick Steves but also pack The Agony and the Ecstasy for your visit to Rome and Florence, or whatever nonfiction or historical book will expand your experience at your destination. The more you direct a concert of research with travel goals, the more you might possibly feel the music playing on the wind that knows no boundaries:  the human race needs every member united to create peacefully abundant histories, because we are all more alike than different.  Our hearts all reach for the same things like love and understanding.  Peace.  Make your quest to “be smarter” via travel a humble endeavor to discover how learning goes hand in hand with compassion and forgiveness, trust in science to keep our planet healthy, and spiritual faith to uplift our souls and keep our vision clear.

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See the World’s Most Beautiful Places by Drone

There is so much splendor to be behold in the world today, but not without the costs that accompany it. While you can always watch videos of people’s trips online, they’re all-too-often filled with shots of friends and family members while excluding the content you actually want to see: the landscape. Luckily, with the rapidly rising popularity of drones, it’s now easier than ever to get your hands on some high-quality footage of beautiful places from the air, providing an aerial view of some of the loveliest places on earth. Let’s take a look at the top five most beautiful places on the planet through the lens of a drone.

Kauai, Hawaii

This Hawaiian island is breathtaking in all regards. While it makes for a sometimes expensive travel destination, its glory and splendor is not  restricted solely to those who have a plane ticket.  Soar through tropics more breathtaking than you could have ever imagined, and take a bird’s eye view of this gorgeous U.S. state with otherworldly beauty. Kauai is the most magical of the Hawaiian Islands, I believe, having lived there at one time and returned often to relish in the most beautiful beaches, one after the next.  If it starts raining at one beach, just pack your things and drive 10 minutes to the next beautiful beach in the next climate zone.  But if you can’t touch the sand yourself, soar over the glory of the island through the lens of a drone.

Keukenhof, The Netherlands

Keukenhof translates to ‘kitchen gardens’ as it was originally constructed to grow herbs for use in the castle of Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut. Now, with the floral arrangements and fields displayed for tourist view, it looks more like the kitchen of nature herself, concocting all sorts of stunning blooms and blossoms. And of course, being in Holland, there are more tulips than you could possibly imagine. The gardens are only open between mid-March and mid-May, with the best time to see the tulips being mid-April, weather permitting.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

This surreal landscape is one that you won’t find anywhere else on earth. During the rainy season, this salt flat turns from a barren plain to gigantic mirror, reflecting everything standing on it perfectly below.

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Travel to Vietnam through a bird’s eye view with this incredible drone footage of the vertical rice terraces that cover the Muong Hoa Valley just below the Chinese border. Although the area is becoming increasingly industrialized due to the influx of tourists, those visiting Sa Pa are likely not trying to stay in the town for too long before they venture out into the lush rice fields and view the spectacular scenery.

Technology has opened the joy of seeing most anything in our world from the comfort of your couch.  Use remote viewing for pleasure, but keep your suitcase packed because there is nothing like taking your own two legs for a walk where the smells and sounds and thrill of discovering what is around the next corner fills your every cell with glee.

Delicacies Around the World

Food plays a hugely important role in the culture of many different countries and regions, much of which is markedly different than the food we eat here in the United States on a daily basis. In the US, we’re fond of foods like hamburgers, sloppy joes, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, french fries, hot dogs and pizza, many of which may be considered strange in another country. So it comes as no surprise that there are foods in other regions and other countries considered to be delicacies that would turn many a stomach here. Let’s take a look at some of the strangest delicacies around the world, even though their best use might be as a torture for the bad guys in a James Bond movie…

China: Bird’s Nest Soup

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of this dish before, but what you may not have known is that this dish is actually made using the nest of swiftlets. Before you imagine a bowl full of roughage and underbrush, be aware that swiftlets primarily build their nests using their own saliva. These nests are then carefully plucked from the nooks and crannies where swiftlets build them and, when they’re dissolved in water, become jelly-like and are used to create bird’s nest soup.

Korea: Sannakji aka Live Octopus

This particular dish is not for the faint of heart. Sannakji serves the recently severed arms of long-arm octopi seasoned with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Although the octopus is dead and the tentacles have been severed, the complexities of the octopus nervous system means that the arms continue to move and the suction cups on the arms are still active. The challenge with consuming this dish is that, once you start, the suction cups on the tentacles will start to stick to your teeth, the roof of your mouth, and essentially anywhere else they can grab. Chew carefully — choking on the suction cups causes a number of deaths each year in Korea.

Japan: Fugu aka Pufferfish

If you’re feeling especially bold and adventurous, trying Japanese fugu might make it onto your list. Made from the incredibly toxic pufferfish, this dish contains the poison called tetrodotoxin — which is 1,250 times more powerful than cyanide— and can very easily kill the eater if not prepared properly. This is why, in Japan, only licensed chefs are authorized to prepare fugu, and you should always make sure you’re eating it at a licensed restaurant as there is no known cure for the poison.

Mexico: Escamoles

This Mexican delicacy also goes by the name insect caviar, and for exactly the reasons you’re probably thinking. Escamoles are the light-colored ant eggs that are collected from the root systems of the agave plant — the plant used in the production of tequila. They can be eaten raw though they’re typically fried with butter and spices and eaten in tacos, though they can be eaten alone as well.

Hotels vs. Hostels vs. Airbnb

One of the biggest considerations to keep in mind when traveling is that you need a place to stay each night of your journey, lest you leave yourself vulnerable to the elements by deciding to sleep under the stars because you did not book ahead. Shelter is hugely important, especially when you’re staying in an unfamiliar place, but how do you know what option will be the best for you? When it comes to finding hospitality in a foreign country, unless you have relatives or friends with whom you can stay, travelers today typically have one of three options: hotels, hostels, or Airbnb.

Each of these temporary housing measures offer different pros and cons depending on the traveler, so doing your research ahead of time is going to be key in determining which is right for you. Luckily, I’ve compiled a list of the benefits and disadvantages to each type of lodging to help you plan your trip easily.

Hotels:

For the longest time, before the internet, hotels were the standard for travel lodging. You stayed at hotels because they were the safest means of temporary housing and offered the security of being backed by a business.

Many people still choose hotels, due to both their convenience and the amenities they have to offer. Do you like the option of complimentary breakfast? Is access to a fitness center or housekeeping services important to you? Would you prefer having your own private space? If all of these are the case, then staying in a hotel will likely be the best option for you. Even if the cost is a bit steeper, it comes with perks to help make your stay more enjoyable.  However, when I have researched travel housing for a number of cities, often the reviews online through Travelocity (for example)  show hotels in price ranges of $100-200/night to have much worse reviews than Airbnbs that give more for less money, and have five star reviews.  Be sure to check out hotel reviews online before you book there!

Hostels:

Hostels have gotten a bad rap for the perception of their lack of sanitation and the potential danger that could befall a guest at once, but hostels are actually an extremely cost-effective means of lodging for the busy traveler and have improved from what we used to consider a hostel twenty years ago.

If you’re looking for nothing more than a room to rest at night, hostels are a great option for you. They don’t offer a whole lot of privacy, as hostels are typically communal spaces, but they do offer exactly what you need for the price. Many offer lockers for secure, personal storage so you don’t have to worry about theft.  I am over 50 and have enjoyed trying out hostels later in life than most people.  Just be sure to check the reviews.  I have found reviews to be right on when it comes to travel lodging whether in hostels, hotels, or Airbnbs.  If you have never stayed in a hostel before, I suggest you make your first stay in one at Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage Hostel in London, England.  This will totally turn you on to the pleasures of hosteling, swipe away any fears, and show you it is possible to travel inexpensively and still have great comforts.

Airbnb:

This newer form of lodging offers some incredible opportunities for travelers to live as locals and have immersive experiences wherever they’re staying. While there are numerous lodging sites — like HomeAway and FlipKey — Airbnb is by far and wide the most expansive. It offers over 600,000 listings spanning 192 countries.

Airbnb is much harder to succinctly define than either hotels or hostels, because it is a much broader offering than the others. Booking an Airbnb location can mean booking anything from a single room in an apartment to an entire penthouse or home, depending on your preference. It’s also a reasonably-priced expense, because most of what you spend goes to the owners, rather than being pocketed by a third party.

Airbnb is my first choice for travel lodging.  Check it out at Airbnb.com.  If you wish to participate, you will put up a nice profile of yourself (or family) and use the very user-friendly links to select locations and housing options.  I love the maps they provide as I can book places near friends or special events easily, and I have had fabulous experiences at every single Airbnb I have ever used, and I have lost count:  France, New York, Spain, Italy, etc.

For example, it is possible to get a great studio in Italy for $600US a month!  A hotel would be at least twice that and possibly not as nice.  I just spent 38 days in Europe because Airbnb cut my costs so much, and I had wonderful places to stay, generally ranging from $30-60 per night, depending on whether or not I chose a private room/bath or had a full studio apt to myself.  Because you review the hosts and housing and the hosts review you on the website, you can’t go wrong choosing a place accessing this online information.  

Be careful to read all the detail about your prospective Airbnb, for example, many places in Europe might be up 5 flights of stairs with no elevator, or too far from public transportation meaning you would have to rent a car.  Take your time to choose the place that has all the details you like, and then book.  Your care to make a good choice in advance pays off to give you a carefree vacation experience.

Couch Surfing:

I know a number of people who are “couch surfing” to have travel lodging.  Go online and check this out, it may be for you or maybe not.  It costs little to nothing, and all I can say is that I am not planning on trying it, but know others who have used it successfully.

HAPPY TRAVELS!  MAKE IT HAPPEN!

The Great American Eclipse

Fans of cosmic phenomenon are likely already anxiously counting down the days until August 21, 2017, the date of the Great American Eclipse.

The Great American Eclipse, starting around 11:35 am, will be a total solar eclipse visible from one coast to another, starting in Oregon and tracing across the country down to South Carolina.

Why is this such a big deal?

Eclipses themselves are not particularly rare phenomena — Total solar eclipses occur about once every 18 months, meaning that every decade sees about 3.5 solar eclipses somewhere on the planet. However, total solar eclipses that are visible from particular locations are much less common. This will be the first time since February 26, 1979 that an eclipse will be visible within the continental United States. It will also be the first time since June 8, 1918, nearly a century, that a total solar eclipse will be visible from the west coast to the east coast of the U.S..

There are three different kinds of eclipses:

  1. Partial Eclipse
  • This occurs when the moon and the sun cross each other’s paths indirectly. The result is part of the sun being eclipsed by part of the moon, with the sun resembling a third-quarter moon.
  1. Annular Eclipse
  • The annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too far away from the earth to block out the sun entirely, so while it does pass over the surface of the sun and obstruct a portion of it, it doesn’t totally eclipse it.
  1. Total Eclipse
  • This occurs when the moon is close enough to the earth that, when it passes by the sun, it obstructs it completely — only the corona of the sun is visible.

This particular eclipse is a total eclipse, meaning that, while it’s in peak position, the sky will look much like it does at twilight: much darker and much cooler as the light and warmth from the sun are being obstructed.

If I’m not in the direct path, will I see anything?

The line that cuts across the country from Oregon to South Carolina shows the path along which the total eclipse can be seen. Although those in the direct path of the eclipse will be the ones able to see a total block of the sun, many people across the country will still likely be able to see a partial eclipse.

REMEMBER: Looking directly at the sun can cause serious eye damage!

Here’s Advice on How to Safely View A Solar Eclipse:

Best Off-Season Destinations to Travel this Summer

With summer in full swing, many people are associating the word ‘vacation’ with beaches, water, and tropical getaways, but there’s so much more to summer travel than hitting the coasts. If you aren’t the biggest fan of the summer’s sweltering temperatures and you’re looking for somewhere to escape to, off-season summer travel destinations might be a good pick for you.

Off-season travel doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to enjoy the full range of experiences and adventures that your destination has to offer; rather, off-season travel means that you’ll be able to enjoy your destination without the throngs of tourists you typically see during peak seasons. This means your trip will likely be a bit more private and could possibly mean you have easier access to typically crowded sites. To beat the heat and get the most out of your summer vacation, consider journeying to one of these great off-season destinations.

New Zealand

As it’s located in the Southern Hemisphere, the summers in the United States are the winters in New Zealand meaning the weather will be colder and you’ll likely hit rain, but don’t let that discourage you! New Zealand can be an expensive destination, but if you visit there from June through August, you’ll find costs to be much lower. One of the most expensive aspects of visiting the country is the cost it takes to actually fly there, but in the off season you can get tickets for much cheaper than if you were to visit during peak times.

Bonaire and Curacao in the Caribbean

While this destination won’t help you escape the heat during the summer, the Caribbean is a summer off-season destination for another reason: June through November is hurricane season. The uncertainty of the weather during the summer can make traveling here a bit risky, but if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with good weather you can get an amazing Caribbean vacation for a steal. The trick here is to stay below the ‘hurricane belt’ and travel to some of the southernmost islands, where you’ll have a better chance of avoiding hurricanes altogether.

Belize

Before you start worrying about the temperatures in Belize, the fact that our summer is their ‘rainy’ season, or the likelihood of hurricanes, take a deep breath. Yes, the summer months are the rainy season in Belize, but this doesn’t mean that it rains constantly from June until November; in fact, their rainy season is actually considered to be their ‘green’ season due to the lush flora present across the country. The temperatures during this season are actually quite comparable to those in the United States, too. Finally, while hurricanes are a concern, Belize typically experiences hurricanes between August and October, so if you plan your trip early — or late enough– you should be fine.

Cathedrals, Art, and the Crucified Christ: Summer 2017

GlendaGerde-1I have been sitting in cathedrals:  London, Barcelona, Madrid, San Lorenzo, the Vatican, Assisi, Milan,  Como, Venice, Lyon, and Paris.  The Cathedrals are usually at the top of hills, of mountains, generally placed in the best location for real estate in each town…views from and to, stone and rock embedded grand piazzas at their entrances that beckon crowds to master a stroll, a conversation, a prayer, a meal, a selfie on ground that holds solid the steps of previous pilgrims, and history.

I have been walking aisles of European art.  The art is displayed in careful and delicate precision on grand walls sometimes gilded in gold, or pasted with ornate wallpaper, in palatial halls or museums, protected by guards, ropes, surveillance cameras, your ticket and high security screening through metal detectors, bags x rayed.  The art is carefully lit with artificial and natural lighting, the room temperature is controlled, and photos, if even allowed, may not flash.  At the Louvre, soldiers patrol with what looks like AK47s.  

The prominent theme in this country to country diorama of marble and paint is Jesus Christ.  

The statues: he carries his cross, apostles frame him, he is cradled in Mary’s arms, the saints are martyred because they believe.  The paintings: his nailed feet, his side is pierced, his first century support group prays at his feet, he is a swaddled lowest-income baby come to change our programming.

Not solely my observation.

GlendaGerde-4The crowds, the millions, stand in line for their tickets, go in, pause, walk on, pause, stop, snap a photo.  In some places it is shoulder to shoulder, camera over camera, you breathe in what they breathe out.  In cathedrals they light candles, like me.  There are covered heads, uncovered heads, religious and non.  You try to pin down the language of the people in the hats next to you, their whispers sometimes coherent and sometimes not, you smile at them.  The German is wearing a yellow sweater today, the Frenchwoman a black skirt, the Indian couple are draped in purple.  The babies in strollers have chubby legs and universal drooling grins.

I am in a bar somewhere, lost at present in Lyon, having a pot of English tea with milk and sugar and recharging my phone to venture another google maps effort to navigate the winding sometimes-named French streets like a modern woman.  The taxi driver outside smokes a cigarette, not waiting for me.  The wood floor of this old establishment is old, uneven, planked, worn, and shredding.  I kick off my walking boots and feel God under my feet.  A mosquito tires of circling English tea and flies away to stick itself on the yellowed wall.   The tea is delicious, the real thing, made of fresh black tea leaves.  The milk and sugar, well, no sacrifices here.  This sunny French day was made for another 5 mile walk on my European vacay. If I rub my feet on the floor, I will indeed get splinters.  Maybe something should be done about this floor, it could be somebody’s cross to bear.

The story of Jesus, whether you believe it as a bastion of your faith as a Christian or not, was not fake news.  One man lived a life of absolute love, forgiveness, compassion, and integrity that he remains the most admired hero.  He showed us how to live in the best possible human spirit, and that dying, even if it is a crucifixion, can be noble.  He took it all on his shoulders — the worst of mankind – the tendency to gossip, fear, point the finger, alienate, obstruct, gather in mass hysteria, lie, advertise false promises, bleed meaningless twitter into a coliseum of character degradation and eventual public slaughter.  He showed us how to be human in an animalistic environment created by people when they may have no wise leadership at the helm of their culture, their society, their workplace, their family, their minds.

Who will disown a “story” told and retold in an obvious synthesis of art and architecture that has compelled and inspired humankind for hundreds of years?  Jesus was crucified so we don’t have to be.  He showed us, guess what, there is Life after crucifixion.

America has seemed to become one big coliseum, hasn’t it?

If it’s getting to you, I recommend a trip to Europe’s cathedrals and art museums.  The Bigger Picture offers some salvation, relief.

In a society that is fractioned apart by politics with a chaos-driven president, where “anything goes” under the guise of “free speech” and so barbarism is tolerated, where an uncensored worldwide web is controlled by a room of a few men who have not been vetted or voted on by anyone, where short-wave thinking that has no half-life whatsoever—with the push of a cell phone key — now makes major policies and directs international markets and threatens actual, yes, nuclear war, where children are not protected by the humility and selflessness of adults but are instead daily victims to the dearth of protections in the blaring bru-ha-ha of the ‘money=success’ American lifestyle and media, where you end the day checking 10 phone apps for GlendaGerde-2“information” while the pot of water you were boiling in boils over and you are too mesmerized to feel it…isn’t it time to take another look at Jesus?

The ice is melting, and we still have no defense against a meteor.

We still know Too Much, and Too Little, all because of that apple.

I hiked my way up a relevant elevation gain to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.  The ornate church is more imposing because it rests at the highest point in Lyon, lording over the land like the stateliest of grand lighthouses.  “Come,” it says.  There, Jesus, pierced in his side, confronted me.  

I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

I lit another candle for my son, and took another picture of this lit prayer.   I sat in a pew and waited.

I waited and waited until I was done waiting, my prayer deep within the hardwood spine of the wait itself.  My candle, part of a choir.

As I was leaving, I popped up my neon green umbrella under a light drizzle and retied my neck scarf.  A handsome white-haired Frenchman in an official-looking red jacket struck up a conversation in French.  I told him I spoke a little French and he told me my accent was very good.  As I set off down the hill, my eyes were wet like my umbrella.

GlendaGerde-3So anyway, now I am lost and in a bar where an irritating song is playing and the tea’s gone cold, my phone is charged, and my pink-socked feet are pushing back off a scraggly wood floor into my laced up boots.  I end up giving up on Google, which has taken me in circles, I walk a few blocks and then use my humble French to ask a pharmacist to call me a taxi.  Soon I am back at the hostel reading an international adventure by Clive Cussler and breathing like a free woman, all because of art, cathedrals, and Jesus Christ.

What are you waiting for?