More travelers want to be active on vacation: 5 free ways

What do you do on vacation?

Some people just want to lie on the beach and read a book while sipping a piña colada to decompress from their busy work lives.

But more people want to be active, explore and have a bit of an adventure. In fact, more than 90% of travelers participated in an activity during their last trip, according to travel research firm Phocuswright (see its tweet below).

Phocuswright defines “activities” as tours, attractions, events, activities (excluding dining and shopping) and transportation that travelers spend time and money on while traveling.

The global travel activities market represented 10% of the global travel market in 2016 — more than the rail, car rental and cruise segments, according to Phocuswright.

Phocuswright chart of activities share of travel

And the global travel activities market is growing fast — faster than the overall travel industry — and Phocuswright expects it to reach $183 billion in bookings by 2020.

Phocuswright global activities bookings

So, what do people most like to do when they travel?

Hiking is a top activity, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). Travelers also like trips with an “environmentally sustainable” element and family or multigenerational travel. I wrote an article on multigenerational travel in January for The Dallas Morning News.

Being active on your vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are five free or inexpensive ways to explore and stay active:

Free tours: Many U.S. cities offer free walking tours — either guided or self-guided with brochures made available at a library or visitor center. Many organizations, such as San Francisco’s nonprofit City Guides, are led by volunteers who accept donations. FreeTour and Free Tours by Foot offer free or low-cost guided walking tours of many U.S. and European cities. These tours are a good way to meet locals of a new city or country as well as fellow travelers.

Universities: Many universities offer campus tours to the public, not just prospective students. Stanford University, for instance, offers a free 70-minute, volunteer-led walk daily at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In addition, some colleges have free offerings, such as campaniles, nature trails and art museums. I wrote a blog post “How to make college tours fun” last year about some of these offerings at California universities.

Mobile apps: Many apps will act as your tour guide just about anywhere. The free Field Trip app uses your phone’s GPS to find cool things wherever you are worldwide — from temples and museums to restaurants and shops. The Historypin app (all free) offers planned excursions and vintage photos of your location with information and an interactive map — all through crowdsourcing.

Bike share: Many cities offer bike (or scooter) share programs that are inexpensive. It’s an easy way to see a city, but stay active.

Airbnb Experiences: In addition to home rentals, Airbnb a few years ago began offering activities offered by locals of a destination. Recent top-rated experiences ranged from snorkeling in Merida, Mexico, for $41 per person to a traditional Thai Yantra tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for $82. Since 2016, Airbnb has expanded its Experiences to more than 1,000 destinations.

Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon

This spring not only brought May flowers, but it produced wonderful waterfalls thanks to record rainfall and snowfall across the country, including California, Oregon and Washington.

All of that water makes for roaring waterfalls. It’s amazing to hear the awesome power of Mother Nature as water cascades down a cliff or hits rocks below with a thunderous crash.

The Columbia River Gorge

I recently drove along the stunning 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway, which is a tourist destination in itself. I decided to check out Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural site in Oregon with some 2.5 million visitors a year.

Historic Columbia River Highway

The Columbia River Gorge is made for waterfall lovers (see map above), with Multnomah Falls being the most famous of several that are free to visit. Multnomah Falls is the nation’s second highest year-round waterfall at 620 feet tall: The upper fall plunges 542 feet and the lower fall plummets 69 feet with a 9-foot elevation drop in between.

Eons ago, lava and mudflows from volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range formed the Columba River Gorge. Remnants of these flows can be seen today in the gorge, including the cliff of Multnomah Falls.

Waterfalls are just part of the Columbia River area’s rich history — from American Indians and explorers Lewis and Clark to French Canadian trappers and missionaries. The Oregon Trail ended at The Dalles at the eastern end of the steep gorge, which was impassable.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is a 45-minute drive east of Portland, Ore., on the stunning Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. It takes about 15 minutes less if you stay on Interstate 84 the whole way.

From I-84, you can see the top part of Multnomah Falls, but it’s worth the 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls for a stunning view. Tilt back your head in a vertigo-inducing move to see the clifftop from which the waterfall drops in two tiers. Picturesque Benson Bridge spans the falls in the middle of the two tiers.

Multnomah Falls' upper and lower tiers
Benson Bridge spans the middle of Multnomah Falls’ two tiers: The upper tier is on the left and the lower tier is on the right. (Photos by Sheryl Jean with BeFunky)

Built in 1914, Benson Bridge is named for Simon Benson, a wealthy Portland lumberman who owned the falls in the early 1900s. He gave Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which later gave ownership to the U.S. Forest Service.

For a closer view, walk a quarter mile on a paved trail to the 45-foot reinforced-concrete arched bridge 105 feet above the lower Multnomah Falls. As I stood there last month, spray from the falls covered my face.

A U.S. Forest Service ranger told me that Multnomah Falls and other nearby falls were as powerful as she had ever seen them. Unlike many other falls, Multnomah Falls doesn’t dry up in the late summer because it’s fed by an underground spring augmented by spring snowmelt, she said.

If you want to hike further, a steep paved trail leads to a fenced platform above Multnomah Falls. A section of Larch Mountain Trail from Benson Bridge to the top of Multnomah Falls is closed indefinitely because of falling rocks and a dangerous overhang.

Another interesting feature is the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, a Cascadian style stone-and-wood building built in 1925 and designed by Portland, Ore., architect Albert E. Doyle. Today, it houses the U.S. Forest Service Information Center, a restaurant, café and gift shop.

Visitors at Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Visitors vie for the best view of two-tiered Multnomah Falls. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Continue reading for more waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and a list of the top 10 national parks with splendid waterfalls.

Continue reading Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon

“Flat white” and “long black:” Aussie cafe culture has its own language

Like surfing, Australia has a strong coffee culture.

It also has its own coffee language.

When I saw “flat white” and “long black” on a cafe menu during a recent visit to Australia, I had to ask for a description. After reading this post, you won’t have to do that.

Australia’s large Italian, Greek and other immigrant populations have influenced its coffee culture. So, Australian coffee tends to be good and strong — just the way I like it.

The country’s cafes often have full menus that serve good food. Some are small and intimate; others are large and lofty. They’re popular meeting places — even at night.

Australia coffee
Cafes pop up everywhere — such as this one at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

This is not a post of best cafes because there are too many. Independent cafes (or small coffee chains) grace nearly every corner of big cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney, and small towns. Many local cafes also roast and distribute their own coffee. Just explore.

So mate, here’s a glossary to order coffee in Australia.

Espresso or short black: This is a shot of strong Italian coffee called espresso.

Doppio: This is a double shot of espresso.

Long black: This is a double espresso with hot water. It’s called an Americano in the United States.

Macchiato: A shot of espresso is served with a small amount of frothed milk. It’s small and strong, like an espresso.

Latte: This is a shot of espresso mixed with foamy hot milk. It’s usually the milkiest option.

Flat white: This might be the most Australian coffee drink. One shot of espresso is mixed with steamed hot milk. A barista in Melbourne described it to me as a latte without the foam.

Cappuccino: In an Australian Cappuccino, the espresso is dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder before frothy steamed milk is added. It’s a milkier version of Cappuccino.

Mocha: A latte with chocolate.

Market Lane Coffee in Melbourne, always has a line. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)


Traveling abroad for spring break? Follow these health and safety tips for smooth sailing

Sun and surf are top priorities for many people who travel to exotic locations for “spring break. But health and safety risks may lurk behind the scenes in some countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several tips to help ensure smooth sailing before, during and after spring break.

Before your trip

  • Vaccines or medicines may be recommended depending on your destination. See your doctor or a health care professional at least one month before you depart for an international trip.
  • Check the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories and alerts by country. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program in case of an emergency.
  • Pack a travel health kit with items you might need on your trip, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and condoms. If you forget something like sunscreen, you probably can buy it at your destination, but medicine brands, dosage and quality may differ. Bring written prescriptions.
  • Many health insurance plans don’t cover medical care in other countries; check yours. Consider buying trip cancellation, travel insurance or travel medical insurance, especially if you will be going to a remote place.

During your trip

  • Be careful when tasting local food and drink. In developing countries, eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot: son’t eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can peel them; drink bottled, sealed beverages; and avoid ice since it’s probably made with tap water.
  • Use insect repellent and other measures to prevent insect bites that can cause diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever and Zika.
  • Practice sun protection. Remember you can get a sunburn when it’s cloudy. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Choose safe transportation, wear a seat belt and be alert when crossing the street. Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among healthy travelers.

If you get sick or injured while traveling and need immediate medical attention, contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in that country to help find medical services.

Specific health risks

Zika: Many popular spring break destinations in the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico have a risk of Zika. Because the virus can cause birth defects and is spread by mosquitoes and sex, travelers to at-risk areas should prevent mosquito bites and use condoms during sex. The CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with a risk of Zika. Check the CDC’s Zika page for information by country.

Yellow fever: Brazil has an ongoing yellow fever outbreak, so travelers should check the risk level at their specific destination. Get a yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before travel (only certain U.S. clinics offer the yellow fever vaccine; find a clinic near you) and prevent mosquito bites, which is how the virus spreads.

Flu: Many countries have reported widespread flu outbreaks. Get your annual flu shot at least two weeks before a trip. During travel, wash your hands often and avoid people who are coughing or appear sick.

Measles. There are outbreaks in popular places such as Brazil, France, Greece and Italy. Make sure your MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is up to date.

Norovirus: Outbreaks of this virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, have been reported on cruise ships. Wash your hands frequently and practice safe eating and drinking habits during on-shore excursions.

Hepatitis B: Avoid getting tattoos or piercings abroad to prevent infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Use condoms to reduce your risk.

After your trip

If you don’t feel well after your trip, contact your doctor or a medical professional. You may have picked up a virus or infection. The CDC provides a list of travel medical clinics.

Don’t let a preventable illness or poor planning ruin your trip or your return home.

Note: The featured photo at the top of this blog post is by Oliver Sjöström at The image is publicly available on Pixels.

Why few blog posts? Gone traveling

You may have noticed a dearth of posts on this blog lately.

Call it an occupational hazard: I’m traveling to gather more fodder to post. (Can you guess from my photo where I am?)

A busy itinerary leaves little time for blogging. And I’m without Wi-Fi service for long stretches — even in today’s connected world. Remember when social media didn’t exist (gasp)?

Being unplugged can ne good for the body and soul. One study shows that using light-emitting electronic devices before bedtime may harm sleep patterns, health and performance. Other research found that the presence of a cell phone is distracting and decreases attention and task completion.

Look for upcoming posts of my adventures here.

6 smart money tips for traveling overseas

You plan to travel overseas because it’s off season and exchange rates for the U.S. dollar are favorable, but you haven’t dealt with foreign currency for a while.

Don’t worry. Here are six tips, based on my travel experience, to help stretch your dollars.

1. Ditch foreign transaction fees: Before your departure, check if your credit card charges you a foreign transaction fee on any purchase overseas. If it does, consider switching to one that doesn’t charge such a fee or applying for one to take instead. Several credit cards, including Citi Premier Card and Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, don’t charge a foreign transaction fee. The Points Guy website just wrote about this last month. Give yourself enough time for a card to arrive by mail.

2. Chip it: Make sure your bank card has a chip (most cards should by now)  and and you have a four-digit PIN number, which is what is used in Europe.

3. Be safe: To avoid theft or unauthorized use of your debit or credit card number, make sure to keep your cards safe and protect your PIN number from being seen by other people — even at U.S. airports.

4. Wait to get foreign currency: Given the prevalence of ATM machines at airports and the broad acceptance of credit cards, you don’t need to exchange dollars into the foreign currency of the country you’re traveling to before you get there. You can wait until you arrive at your destination and use a bank ATM at the airport or other location, not a money change center. If you feel more comfortable with some some foreign cash in hand, just exchange a small amount before your departure.

5. Convert money in bulk: Try to estimate how much money you’ll need and change it all once to avoid multiple bank fees and fluctuations in the exchange rate that may not be in your favor.

6. Pay in local currency: When using a credit or debit card in another country, if you’re given the option of paying in US. dollars or the foreign currency, choose the currency of the country where you are to avoid paying extra fees.

In Europe, for example, the dollar is enjoying one of the best exchange rates to the Euro in two years. On Tuesday, you would have received 0.88 euros for $1. For more information on the strong dollar, read my blog post from December.

Chaco is worth the trek for solitude, serenity and beauty

Some sites are treasured for their archaeological or historical significance. Others gather a cult following because they’re off the beaten path.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico is all of that — and more.

Chaco kiva
Chaco is famous for its “great houses,’This is one of the giant kivas at Chaco. (Sheryl Jean)

The canyon site, which dates back more than 1,000 years, was a center of ceremonial, trade and political activity for the ancestral Pueblo peoples in the Four Corners region.

Chaco recently made news headlines because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management planned to sell oil and gas leases that include land near Chaco and other American Indian sites on March 28. The BLM earlier this month deferred the sale of about 1,500 acres near Chaco in New Mexico.

Tribal leaders, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers opposed the BLM’s plan to auction land for oil and gas exploration within 10 miles of the Chaco site, citing an unfinished land management plan about how deep horizontal fracturing would affect the area.

Chaco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains some 4,000 archaeological sites and 1.5 million artifacts and documents, though a fraction are accessible to the public. It’s best known for its “great houses,” or kivas, public buildings that are the largest and best preserved prehistoric architectural structures in North America.

Why visit

During two visits to Chaco, I’ve been enchanted by the solitude, peacefulness and beauty of the desert. Even my 15-year-old nephew thought it was cool.

The massive buildings show off the architectural, astronomical, engineering and social achievements of the ancestral Pueblo people from the 9th to 13th centuries. Chaco’s setting also is spectacular: beautiful sandstone mesas, buttes, canyons and desert vistas from its elevation of 6,000 feet or higher.

Excavations started in 1896 by Richard Weatherill, who also excavated the nearby Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Chaco became a national monument in 1907 and a historic park in 1980.

All of the park’s structures have been preserved, but not reconstructed. They truly are ruins.

What to do

Follow the 9-mile, paved Canyon Loop Drive to visit the park’s five major sites. You can drive it, but consider walking or bicycling it. From the loop road, short self-guided, gravel trails (from a quarter mile to 1 mile) lead to the ruins. Highlights include:

Pueblo Bonito: This is the most important cultural site in Chaco Canyon. Pueblo Bonito was the center of the Chacoan world the most important cultural site in Chaco Canyon, which once covered parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. It was built in stages from 850 AD to 1150 AD. It was five stories high and had more than 600 rooms.

Chaco doorways at Pueblo Bonito
A visitor walks throught the aligned doorways of Pueblo Bonito, which at one time had over 600 rooms. (Sheryl Jean)

Chetro Ketl: This is the park’s second largest Chacoan great house. The site, which covers more than 3 acres, includes a great kiva and elevated kivas. An elevated plaza stood 12 feet above the canyon floor.

Casa Rinconada: The house and nearby small villages existed alongside grand public buildings like Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. Don’t miss the great kiva.

Una Vida: This Chacoan “great house” is a large multi-story public building with a great kiva. Don’t miss the petroglyphs above Una Vida. You also can see rock art on the Petroglyph Trail. Tip: Bring binoculars.

Una Vida petroglyphs at Chaco

Climb the Una Vida trail to see these petroglyphs. (Sheryl Jean)

Other activities, such as guided tours and night-sky programs, depend on the season and staffing. Four backcountry hiking trails range from 3 miles to 8 miles round trip.

It’s remote

On both of my visits, I could count my fellow visitors on my hands. For me, that’s part of the allure — to wander through these well-preserved ancient ruins practically alone.

Just over 55,000 people visited Chaco in 2017. In comparison, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation’s most visited national park, received just over 16 million visitors that year.

Part of the reason for few visitors is that Chaco is remote and hard to reach. The park, which sits in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash, is about a three-hour drive from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. The last stretch is along a badly rutted dirt road (20 miles of that coming from the South on Highway 57 or 13 miles approaching from the North on County Roads 7900 and 7950.

Map of Chaco Culture National Historic Park
(Google Maps)

If you want to stay in the park, you must camp. Other accommodations are in towns, such as Aztec, Cuba, Farmington and Grants, about 1.5 hours to 3 hours away.

The area is prone to unpredictable weather and seasonal flash floods, and GPS may not work. Heading north out of the park in summer 2017, I got stuck waiting for a flash flood to end.

Don’t late that deter you. Chaco is definitely worth exploring.

Chaco campground
At Chaco’s campground, you’ll sleep next to mesas and ruins. (Sheryl Jean)

Business or pleasure? Travel trends for 2019

Do you plan to travel more or less this year?

Your answer may depend on whether you travel for business or pleasure.

Regardless, both types of travel within the United States are projected to slow in the first half of this year after 2018’s growth outpaced 2017.

Total U.S. travel is expected to grow 2.4 percent through June, compared with growth of 3.6 percent in December, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Why? A slowing global economy and volatile financial markets present the biggest risks to the short-term travel outlook, said Adam Sacks, president of research firm Oxford Economics’ tourism economics group. Oxford conducted this research for the USTA.

It’s just business

Most growth over the next six months will come from domestic travel (projected to grow 2.6 percent) vs. international travel (projected to increase to 2 percent). And most of that domestic travel growth  will come from the business side (+3.4 percent). Leisure travel is expected to grow about 2.2 percent.

That continues a trend from last year, when business travel within in the United States saw its best year since 2010, according to the USTA.

Let’s play

Still, certain segments of the domestic leisure market will get more attention than others.

Here are some leisure travel trends from a recent study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Outside magazine and East Carolina University:

  • Adventure travelers seek novel experiences, embrace challenges and want to have a positive impact on the places they go.
  • Personal wellness as a travel experience will continue. This may include yoga retreats, “digital detoxes” and nature immersion.
  • International travel will continue to surge, helped by fast and easy digital research and booking. International tourist arrivals rose 6 percent to 1.4 billion in 2018 from 2017, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
  • Expect more global destinations to launch measures to combat overtourism. In the last couple of years, places including Italy’s Cinque Terre and Peru’s Machu Picchu, began limiting visitors, offering safety education, asking visitors to sign tourism pledges and implementing taxes or fines to protect their landmarks, support local infrastructure needs and encourage better visitor behavior.

Read other blog posts I’ve written about travel trends.

5 tips on how to make travel with multiple generations of family more fun

Have you ever traveled with your family? What about with three or more generations of your family?

Whether that sounds like a dream or a nightmare, such multigenerational travel is a hot travel trend.

Read my article in The Dallas Morning News published on Jan. 8, 2019, to learn more about  multigenerational travel and five tips to smooth sailing with your family.

Yes, tasting olive oil is a thing in California

California is rich in places visitors can tour and taste their products — wineries, breweries, cheesemakers and chocolate. Now, you can add olive oil to that list.

Many businesses in Northern California (and other parts of the state) make extra virgin olive oil, an industry with roots dating to the late 1700s. Northern California production has seen a resurgence since the early 1990s.

Read my article in The Dallas Morning News published in December 2018. It focused on McEvoy Ranch (in featured photo), tucked into the rolling hills of northwestern Marin County near the Sonoma County border. The 550-acre ranch, which is about 40 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles west of Napa, has been open to the public since 2015.