9 Ways to Get Most Out of Your International Travels

International travels are one of the best ways to learn about the world, and about different cultures. That is, if you are open to new experiences, meeting new people, understanding different cultures.

Of course you can just stay in a resort, and expect everyone to speak your language and cater to your taste.  You are paying for it, after all.  But in that case why leave your own country at all? The resorts are the same everywhere.  And, if that’s the way you travel, this article is not for you.

But, if you are like me, and travel to expand your horizons, to understand others, read on.  I’m going to share some tips I picked up from my own international travels.

1. Go during off-season, if possible

There are a few reasons you might want to do this.  First of all, your airfare will be cheaper, and in general your money will go further, wherever you are. This might be important, especially if you are on a budget.

More important though, you won’t need to deal with too many tourists. You will have a chance to enjoy the place, and connect with locals. You’ll get a chance to understand the place better, since most well-known destinations have a different dynamic during tourist-season.

Lake Moraine. Banff NP
Lake Moraine, in Banff National Park, is teaming with tourists in high season. But in early June, we encountered fewer visitors.
2. Learn at least a few words of the language people speak there

Today, no matter where you go, you will find people who speak English to one degree or another.  You’ll get by, no matter what. However, locals appreciate it when you try to speak their language.

Even if you mispronounce words, they will smile at you and correct you or just acknowledge that you said it wrong but they still understand what you mean.  If they don’t they will always switch to English, but you’ll make friends by trying. As a bonus, you will probably get better service in most hotels and restaurants as well.

3. Stay in smaller, locally owned hotels, away from the tourist zones

Like I mentioned before, if you plan to stay in a touristy resort, why are you traveling far from home anyway? By staying in locally owned hotels, you help their economy and have a chance to experience life like the locals. As a bonus, it will cost you a lot less. Local hotels have more personality, even if they are not quite as comfortable. How much time do you plan to spend inside your room anyway?

We made some very good friends in Mexico when we first decided to stay in a local hotel.  We spoke a very broken Spanish, they spoke mainly Maya, and broken Spanish in addition to some English.  Between the three languages we managed to communicate quite well, we ended up learning some Mayan and they learned more English from us.  It was a fun learning experience, which we would have missed out on if we stayed in some resort on the Riviera Maya.

Hotel Sac-Be-Coba
Hotel Sac-Be, a local family owned hotel in Coba, Quintana Roo.
4. Eat where the locals eat

When you want to eat, follow the locals. They know the best restaurants, where you will get the best food, for the best price.  Of course, it will be authentic, local fare. Try it.  In my experience, even one of my pickier child always enjoyed a good meal in small, local restaurants.

5. Walk through the town or area you are visiting

Walking through new places is the best way to get a feel for the place, to understand the landscape, and the environment around you. You might  find unexpected places, small museums or local stores that you didn’t know existed.

Or you might find yourself in nature, in unique environments, very different from your own, surrounded by vegetation or critters you’ve never seen before.

Turda Gorge, Romania.
Crossing a footbridge through Turda Gorge, Romania. the place is home to plants and animals tha you can’t find anywhere else.
6. Use local transportation

To understand the people, to feel at home in a new place, use local transportation.

When my older kids were little, we took them to Puerto Vallarta. Of course, if you’ve had any of my articles, you know that we didn’t stay in the tourist zone.  Instead, we found a hotel in the center of the city.  When we wanted to go to a different beach, we took the local bus.  We were the only gringos on that bus.  Though people eyed us with curiosity, everyone was pleasant to us.  The kids, five and three at the time, loved the experience.

And then again, two years ago, we took a bus through Europe.  Most of it was easy, but one part of the trip was a true adventure, when the “real” bus broke down and they crammed us all in a small shuttle-size bus.  We spent ten hours on it, driving in the middle of the night, through towns and country side.  Ok, so it was a bit scary and not the most fun I, or any of us, experienced. But it was still a learning adventure, and no one got hurt in the process.

6. Don’t be afraid to get lost

This might be scary for some, but getting lost in a city is the best way to understand it. I’ve never been in a place I haven’t gotten lost at least once.

I don’t mean try to get lost, but don’t be afraid to wander around, even if it takes you off the beaten track, or in unknown places.

Don’t panic if you get lost, even if you don’t speak the language of the place you are in. Take it as an extra adventure. You are in no rush, and when you eventually find your destination, you’ll have a better understanding of the place.

Prague
Prague, a city where it is easy to get lost, but even easier to find your way.
7. Go With the Flow

Don’t rush through things.  If the museum you wanted to visit closes before you get there, you can try again the next day. Find something else to do in the meantime. You might find something unexpected and even better than what you planned. Unexpected things always happen.  You should have a plan, but be flexible with it.

On my very first time in Yucatan, I ended up stranded on a beach.  We had car trouble and my husband had to go back to Cancun to the rental place. I did not speak a word of Spanish, I didn’t know anything about the place. Still, to this day I think of that time as one of my best adventures. I was a lone gringa, on a trail used only by locals, in Mexico. Still, I knew I was safe. The rest of our trip got delayed by a whole day.  Bu tin the meantime I had an unexpected adventure.

8. Pick up a souvenir from a local artisan

I’m sure you’ll want to pick up souvenirs, most people do. Make sure you buy it from a local artisan. It will remind you of your trip, and you will help the locals.

9. Don’t forget to take plenty of pictures 

Your photographs will be the best reminders of your international trip, as well a great opportunity to share your experiences with your friends.

Prague
Picturesque Prague.

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How to Use Essential Oils for Healthy Travels

Essential oils are my magic potions.  They are my go-to remedies for anything from bug bites to cold and flu, from cleaning to a great-smelling home.  I also have my travel pack with the most essential oils that help me stay healthy while on the road.

It wasn’t always the case. During most of my international travels I have gotten sick by the time I reached a destination.  It usually happened on long flights, when I was traveling across the Atlantic, from the US to Europe.  Though I usually didn’t let it stop me, it did slow me down and on occasion. Once I even missed out on meeting up with an old friend because I was too sick to talk to anyone.

Learning About Essential Oils
A few years ago, I discovered essential oils. I am a reader so of course, the first thing I did I bought a book about them.  Although I can find any information on the web these days, I need to have a physical book for reference.
 
I learned about the oils and their uses from the book.
 
At first I only used them in a vaporizer to freshen up the smell in the house or to help me relax before bedtime.  I have a vaporizer in everyone’s bedroom. I like to use lavender in mine every night.
 
When anyone from the family shows the first signs of getting congested, I use eucalyptus oil.  It always helps. An idea to do this during travels?

 

Use an Inhaler as Decongestant during Travels

Use the eucalyptus in an inhaler.  Better yet, I found that a combination of eucalyptus and peppermint works faster.  Now I made a few for everyone and I carry one with me everywhere I go.   Flu and cold season is upon us.

To make the inhaler, add a few drops of eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils to the bottom of an inhaler.  I found that 4 drops of eucalyptus and 4 drops of peppermint work great. Put it together and use it any time you feel congested.  It should last about two months.

Natural Headache Remedy Using Essential Oils

I get headaches very often, especially when I travel.  Because of this, one of my main combinations, one that I use every day, is a headache remedy. It works every time, especially if I apply it as soon as I feel a headache coming on.  My friend used it once as well when we were out together and we both experienced the onset of a headache.  The culprit was a very strong smell in closed quarters at a zoo.  My remedy worked for both of us.

I made two different ones, to see which ones works better. As carrier oil, I used grapeseed oil, as usual. I mixed it all in a roller bottle (you can buy a set here).

I learned the combinations from my books: DYI Aromatherapy, published by Rockridge Press Berkeley, California, with a Foreword by Lea Harris, certified clinical aromatherapist.
 
At the onset of a headache, I roll the blend on my forehead, on the back of my head at he hairline and behind my ears.
Keep the Germs at Bay During Long Flights

During our travels, we inevitable get exposed to germs.  Especially if we fly.  I don’t remember a flight anywhere when I didn’t hear at least one person in my vicinity coughing.

But my family loves to travel, we don’t mind flying.  I usually get everyone lots of Vitamin C before air travels, to get our immune systems in top shape.  It works most of the time.

With the essential oils, I have another options.  The newest one I learned from Andrea Butje’s Aromahead blog.  She shows us how  to make an inhaler with germ-fighting essential oils, here.

I made one for my upcoming travel to Europe.  I’ll let you know how it works.

Travelers and Essential Oils – The Story of Thieves’ Oil
You know how I always say that traveling makes us smarter, teaches us a lot? Turns out that travelers were the first ones to use essential oils to fight germs with success.
 
Some of the first travelers were merchants by default.  How else would they be able to wander the world, and still be able to survive? 
 
Back in the 1400s the black plague decimated the population of Europe. The dreaded disease was killing thousands and the physicians of the day had no way to stop it.  
 
Merchants had no way to make a living. No one had the means to trade or buy goods. So they resorted to other means of living.
 
No one noticed what happend to them, or where they went. But officials noticed that a band of thieves was robbing plague victims. How did they do it? How did they not get sick? No one could figure it out. The plague was so contagious that anyone even close to a victim would get sick and die.  
 
The thieves were finally caught. Though they got sentenced to be hanged, the judge offered them a deal. They could walk free in exchange for their secret. How did they stay alive and healthy around plague victims?
 
Of course, the thieves took the deal, who wouldn’t? 
 
As it turned out, they were merchants, spice and perfume traders, who often walked the Silk Road.  By trading essential oils, they understood their properties. So they figured out a  combination that would keep them safe from the dreaded disease.  
 
Of course, they shared the recipe in exchange for their lives.  They might have shared it anyway.  Centuries later it became the base of what is today known as Thieves’ oil in aromatherapy.

 

 

Using the Thieves Oil Formula for Travel
The whole story might be fiction, or a legend, where only some of the facts are true.  
 
Whicever way it came to be, the combination known as thieves’ oil works like magic for killing all kind of germs.
 
I use the formula to make my household cleaner (it not only works better, but kills more germs that Lysol – and it smells great!). I also make a germ-fighting “magic potion” that I always rub on our feet at the first sign of us getting sick. It works. I tried it, both with my kids and myself.  If used right away, we don’t even get sick, or if I use it “too late” the flu or cold that gets us, is gone in two-three days the most.
 
But I’m talking about travel, right? I have a roller bottle I filled with a combination of Thieves’ Oil and a carrier, like grapeseed oil.  I take it everywhere we go.
 
You can buy pre-mixed Thieves oil, or you can make your own.  If you are new to essential oils, buy a pre-made mix.  I buy my essential oils from Plant Therapy, but there are many reputable companies you can use.  Do you research, we all have different preferences. 
 
If you want to make your own, you can find the formula in any aromatherapy book or on the blog of most companies. Make sure you get it from a certified aromatherapist. You’ll need clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils to make it. 

 

My Stay-Healthy Packing List for Travel

My travel packing includes a few essential oil blends.  Since I store them in bottles of 10ml or less or inhalers, I don’t have an issue with any of them when flying. Here’s my list:

  1. ten-ounce roller bottle of essential oil headache remedy
  2. one germ-fighting inhaler
  3. one decongestant inhaler
  4. ten-ounce roller bottle of antibacterial “magic potion” aka Thieves’ oil

11 Reasons to Visit a National Park

A National Park or Nature Preserve is one of the best places to visit, no matter where you live.

In the US, an area designated as National Park has either scenic, scientific, cultural or historical significance.  It is the same in other countries, though they may be called Nature Preserves instead of National Parks.

Crater Lake NP
Crater Lake National Park (c) Jeff Fromm

Designating an area as a National Park or Nature Preserve protects it from future development. We preserve some of the most beautiful, and most fragile ecosystems or historical sites for the enjoyment of future generations.  In this day in age when everywhere I look, I see unending development, I find hope when I step in a National Park.

Why should you visit national parks and preserves, you might ask.  I’m glad you asked. I’m dying to give you a list.

1. Animal Encounters in a National Park

Most of us live in cities, where we rarely see wild animals, or any kind of animals unless we have pets. But in a national park, no matter when you go, you will almost always see at least a few animals who share the park with you.

Elk on the side of the road in Grand Canyon NP
Elk on the side of the road in Grand Canyon NP

We see deer in most parks we visit, just about every time we go. During one of our visits to the Grand Canyon National Park, we saw an elk grazing by the road.

By far the most animals we encountered in one trip was in Banff National Park.  We even saw a grizzly bear, right by the road. According to the park ranger, who was on the premise, to make sure people leave the bear alone and no one gets hurt, it was a “teenage bear” wandering off away from his mother.

Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park, Canada
Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park, Canada. (c) Leanne Fromm

I got pretty close to a porcupine, following my youngest daughter, on the shore of Lake Louise.

Porcupine in Banff National Park, Canada
Porcupine in Banff National Park, Canada

During the week we spent there, we had daily encounters with bighorn sheep.

Bighorn Sheep in Banff National Park, Canada
Bighorn Sheep in Banff National Park, Canada
You Might Even See Endangered Species

As we were driving out of Sunset Crater Volcano National Park, my daughter Karen suddenly exclaimed:

“It’s a pronghorn sheep! Wow! I can’t believe I’m seeing it! It is an endangered species!”

I caught a glimpse when I looked over, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“Maybe it is a deer.”

“No, Mom. I know what I saw. It was a pronghorn sheep. I know my animals.”

She does.  She plans to become a wildlife conservationist, she’s been studying wild animals in zoo camp ever summer, and that’s all she reads about. Yes, I did believe her.

Luckily, a few feet ahead we had an opportunity to stop at a pull-out.  The two animals were fairly far from us by then, but we got the binoculars out, and we worked the zoom on the camera.

Pronghorn sheep in the meadow
Pronghorn sheep in the meadow.

She was right, of course.  We saw a couple of pronghorn sheep grazing in the meadow just outside Sunset Crater.  The female was following the male, and they were moving in our direction.

We spent a good half hour watching them, as they made their way in our direction.  Eventually they walked farther into the distance in disappeared from our view in the tall grass.  Understanding that we were watching endangered animals made us enjoy the encounter even more.

2. Learn About Different Ecosystems

Each National park protects a different, most of the times, very fragile ecosystem.  The visitor centers are great places to stop and learn about them, then it is a treat to walk on the trails and experience what you have learned.

What is an ecosystem, you might ask. You’ll learn the answer and a lot more in any Visitor Center of a National Park.  A very short answer: an ecosystem is a community of all living things (plants, animals, organisms) and their environment (soil, rocks, sun, weather, atmosphere) in a given area, interacting with each other.

Each National Park protects an ecosystem, some of them very different from each other. You’ll find forest, desert, grasslands, aquatic (both freshwater and marine) ecosystems within the National Parks.

3. Understand Earth’s Formation and Geology

How do canyons, rock formations, mountains form? Instead of reading about it, you can see the answer for yourselves when you visit a National Park like the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Sunset Crater or Crater Lake.

Walking the rim trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon gives you a glimpse of how the different layers of rocks formed the Earth’s surface.  The exposed rocks themselves are a visible geologic record of what was going on over 500 million years ago on our Earth. For a great learning experience, stop at each level on the interpretive trail, and read about the layers at different levels.

Grand Canyon NP
Grand Canyon NP

In Bryce Canyon you understand a newer geology.  You see, how the soft rocks, like sandstone are eroded, forming exquisite natural sculptures, named hoodoos.  You also gain an understanding of how the same formations get eroded over time, forming a lower whole.

Bryce Canyon NP
Bryce Canyon NP

Visiting Sunset Crater, or Mt St. Helen’s gives you a glimpse of the volcanic activity that form mountains.

In Sunset Crater you have the opportunity to walk on lava rocks or sand, and marvel at the way that new vegetation grows, new forests form.

Sunset Crater National Monument
Sunset Crater

At Mt. St Helen we witnessed an eruption a few years ago.  As we entered the park’s Visitor Center, we noticed a note saying: “Contrary to general belief, Mt St Helen is erupting right now.”  As we watched in the distance, we could see smoke coming off the mountain top, and we watched the seismograph record small earthquakes.

4. Learn About and Understand Human History

The first National Park set aside to preserve “the works of men” was Mesa Verde.  Walking through the ruins of an ancient civilization gives you a better understanding of mankind, of the way our ancestors lived in different environments.

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park

Chaco is another great example of this kind of park in the US, as well as Aztec, Wupatki and a lot of others scattered through the Southwest and beyond.

Chaco National Park
Chaco National Park

5. Unplug from Electronics

The lodges in the national parks don’t have televisions.  In most places within the parks you won’t have cell connection either, or it will be very poor.  The wi-fi works sometimes, but you can’t count on it either all the time in all of the parks.

This gives you a great opportunity to connect with your family or companions.  You might want to read a book, draw sketches or write in a journal.  Clear you mind from the constant buzz of electronics.

6. Teach the Next Generation About their Heritage and the Importance of Keeping Our Environment Clean and Protected

The Junior Ranger program for kids is a great way to get the younger generation involved in preserving the environment around them, and learning about it all, as well as about history. They enjoy getting a badge after completing the booklet and learning answers to questions they might not know they had.

As Junior Rangers, they lead the way in cleaning up the pristine forests.

Years ago I hiked up to a pristine lake in Washington (State) with my oldest two kids who were preschoolers at the time.  They were still new to the Junior Ranger program, just got their badge in Mount Rainier National Park. We took it slow and made it to the top of the mountain.  On the way, they picked up every single gum wrapper, plastic bag, tiny piece of paper, and anything human-made that did not belong in the forest.  Let me just say, my backpack became a garbage bag by the time we got back to the parking lot.

We felt good, they felt good, and knew that they made a difference, however small.  They must have saved at least one bird or animal that might have ingested some of the wrappers or plastic pieces.

7. Enjoy Nature Around You – Go camping in a National Park

You can camp in virtually every National Park, and enjoy the surroundings.

One of our favorite spots to camp is in Sunset Crater National Park, in the Lava Bonito Campground.  We use a tent, but the campground is designed to be both tent and winnebago-friendly with hookups.

No matter how you do it, camping in a National Park brings you closer to nature, giving you a better understanding of your surroundings.

The best part of camping in any National Park? The night sky.

8. Learn About Astronomy

Far from the light pollution of cities, the parks feature some of the best night sky views on the planet.  Many times we got up in the middle of the night to look at the Milky Way outside our tent.  We see it so clearly, I understand why my ancestors called it the Road of Warriors (Hadak Útja) or why the Ancient Maya called it the Celestial Monster.

It is hard to fathom our place in the Universe, but watching the clear skies in a National Park, we understand it all, we see it with our own eyes.

Chaco National Park, for example, has an observatory, to enjoy the night sky and understand its significance. The campground in Chaco is right by an alcove of ancient ruins.

In Bryce, one of the exhibits in the Visitor Center compares the night sky in cities, smaller towns and the park.  After understanding the difference, you’ll want to go outside in the middle of the night to see it all.

9. Improve your Health

In a National Park you will have to hike at least.  Even the shortest walks will improve your health, since you are outside, in nature, far from pollutants of the cities.

You will improve your mental health by doing the outdoors activities in the Parks. Researchers established a link between outdoor activities and decrease of depression, and stress-related illnesses.

10. Protect and Support Your National Parks

The National Park System celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2016.  But the first National Park was established well before that day.  Do you know which park was the first?

Yellowstone became a National Park on March 1st, 1872. By the time the Park Service was established in 1916, the “Organic Act” that President Woodrow Wilson signed was protecting 35 established National Parks.  Today, we have over 400 parks, protecting and preserving different landscapes.

They offer us a glimpse into the beauty of our environment, a place to see wildlife and experience nature first hand.  In our day-to-day stressful lives they offer an oasis of calm and relaxation, a way to unwind and remember what really matters.

Make it a point to visit a National Park next time you have a chance.  In addition to learning a lot, you’ll know that you are contributing to protecting the environment.

11. Find Your Own Reason

Every one of us has a personal reason above and beyond the obvious.  Find your own.

Many parks offer horseback rides on their trails, if it is something you like to do. You can even ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon if you’d like that experience.

If you are a rock climber, you’ll find opportunities to climb in some parks, Zion among them.

You can ride your bicycle in most parks.  At the Grand Canyon, and most other parks, you can rent a bike as well, if you didn’t want to cart around your own.

I’m sure you can come up with many more reasons to visit a National Park if you think about it.  No matter the reason you end up there, you’ll always have a great time in any of them.