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At Home Staycation

What Travel Editors Are Doing During Quarantine

As travel editors, we’re happiest plotting our next trip, charting out all our side trips, and then mapping out every meal. Give us some frequent-flyer miles to cash in and we’re in heaven. Now that we’re doing our part to stay home and flatten the curve, we’ve had to find other ways to occupy our time. Thankfully all our exploring has made us a curious bunch, so we’re using this time to test new recipes, learn a language, even try our hand at kombucha. If you’re a fellow jet-setter that needs ideas for quarantine activities, steal some of ours below. 

Baking Bread

Laura's Sourdough Bread.
Photo Courtesy of Laura Hinely

“Instead of photographing hotels all over the world right now, I’m taking pictures of golden, crusty loaves of bread, fresh from the oven in my small Brooklyn apartment. When I’m traveling, frequenting local bakeries is a number one priority. But right now, I have an unprecedented amount of time to perfect my own bread-making skills. During the first week of quarantine, my friend gave me some of her sourdough starter, so I feel connected to friends making bread from the same starter at the same time. Plus it gives me one less reason to go to the supermarket, makes me feel self-sufficient, and the rewards are delicious in the most comforting of ways. If you want to give it a go, I swear by this no-knead recipe from King Arthur Flour” —Laura Hinely, Senior Photo Editor at Oyster

Learning French

Drawing of the Eiffel Tower.
Captain Croes/Twenty20

“My happy place is sitting in a Parisian café, nibbling the corners off a croissant and listening to the murmur of French around me. Just hearing the trill of words en français makes my heart rise. Since I’m not going to La Belle France any time soon, I’m trying to bring it to me by stocking up my bathroom with French spa products, buying macarons, and taking French lessons through Babbel. May as well use this time to brush up a foreign language! Now I’ve used free apps before on my commute—they do a fair job of reminding you of basic vocab. But Babbel’s lessons have real depth to them, like I’m back in my high school French class when Monsieur Beeckman was grading my papers and playing “Joe le Taxi” for us. Babbel does cost money, one month starts at $12.95, but I’ve spent more than that on a bottle of Blanc de Blancs. Plus the folks at Babbel have extended a 50%-off offer to our readers. To stay entertained and engaged during quarantine for around six bucks? Well, as the French say, c’est formidable.” —Maria Teresa Hart, Executive Editor at What to Pack

Meditating

Meditation at home.
Lelia Milaya/Twenty20

“One thing that I’ve been prioritizing during this quarantine is my meditation practice. I try to start my day off with a 10- to 15-minute meditation and positive intention-setting (cut to me saying, “Today’s going to be a great day!” in the mirror), and then an hour of meditation at night, followed by journaling at least three things I’m grateful for. I’ve found that even just five or 10 minutes of focusing on my breath or scanning my body for sensations when fear comes up can have such a calming effect. And gratitude is truly the antidote to all negative emotions. While a 10-day silent meditation retreat was really what solidified my meditation practice, plenty of phone apps and beginner programs can be done from the comfort of your home. Apps like Headspace and Calm are popular for their huge variety of options, and I’m a big fan of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day guided meditation programs for beginners and long-time meditators alike.” —Lara Grant, Editor at Oyster

Playing Games With the Family

Man playing checkers.
Crystal Sing/Twenty20

“We’ve really leaned into multiplayer video games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo Switch, because we can all play together as a family. We are also playing a lot of board games, a favorite being Lost Cities by Reiner Knizia. It’s a family favorite and the exotic imagery gives it a little bit of a travel feel. And to really scratch that travel bug itch, we’ve been using our Oculus Quest VR headset to travel the world—so far we’ve explored Machu Picchu, kayaked with penguins in Antarctica, and taken some truly dizzying roller coaster rides, all from the comfort of our living room.” —Josh Roberts, Senior Executive Editor at Family Vacation Critic

Exercising

Home workout equipment.
Content Pixie/Unsplash

“I promise, I do my fair share of sitting on the couch, binging Netflix and Hulu and eating a ton of snacks, but one of the main things I’ve been doing during quarantine is working out. For me, getting out my excess energy means I’m less anxious, less irritable, and generally a better person to be around. Luckily, I was already working with a trainer on an online program. But even if I didn’t have her support, there are tons of free fitness streaming options and tons of fitness coaches posting home workouts on Instagram daily (two of my favorites are my trainer @emmabonoli and fitness influencer @aliceliveing). It’s incredible how many exercises you can do with your own bodyweight and limited gear. (Pro tip: If you’re currently looking for fitness gear and Amazon is out of stock, try Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods.)” —Liz Allocca, Senior Photo Editor at What to Pack

Reading a Mystery

Book laying on bed and woman holding a coffee cup.
JulieK/Twenty20

“I never leave home for a trip without a good book or three, but now that I can’t leave home, I’m still relying on reading to help me fill the hours. (Fortunately, I had just checked out half a dozen books right before my local library shut down.) The best one so far has been In the Woods by Tana French, the first mystery in a series about murder detectives in Dublin. I rarely read mystery novels, but this one is so beautifully written and tightly plotted that it sucked me in right away. It starts with three children playing in the woods, only one of whom comes out alive—and he has no memories of what happened. That child grows up to be a murder detective who finds himself drawn back to his childhood town to solve a new mystery … and, perhaps, his own.” —Sarah Schlichter Deputy Executive Editor at SmarterTravel.com

Making Kombucha

Klara Avsenik/Unsplash

“One of my favorite quarantine hobbies? Kombucha brewing! I’ve been hooked on the stuff ever since I first tried it at the San Diego Farmers’ Market years ago, and for the past several weeks, I’ve been missing my regular Trader Joe’s runs for a deliciously cold bottle. I found a Scoby on Amazon (you can also make your own), called my collection of Mason jars into duty, and converted my kitchen into a mini fermented-tea factory. It’s fun to play with flavors (ginger and turmeric are my favorites) and the bubbly finished product makes the perfect afternoon-pick-me-up.” —Anne Olivia Bauso, Editor at What to Pack

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Fashion & Beauty Packing Travel Technology

13 On-Sale Items to Help You Get Comfy While You're Stuck at Home

As proud globetrotters, we’ve never spent quite as much time at home as we’re doing right now. And truthfully, our digs could use a bit of sprucing up. If you’re looking to brighten and improve your home base too, there’s good news. Loads of sales are going on right now to help you stay connected, entertained, and ultra-cozy at home. Just keep in mind everyone is online shopping these days, so the sales we list below will sell out faster than a six-pack of toilet paper.

1. Fire HD 8 Tablet

Fire HD 8 Tablet (8" HD Display, 16 GB) - Red.

These days, screens have become our lifeline. If you’ve been making do with an old, out-of-date model (or worse—a cracked screen), upgrade to Amazon’s Fire and get back to swiping and tapping with the rest of us.

2. L.L.Bean Washable Wool Throw

L.L.Bean Washable Wool Throw, Plaid.

This L.L.Bean throw is everything we want in a blanket: It’s crazy-cozy, handsome, and machine washable. And since L.L.Bean backs everything they make with an astounding year-long return policy, we know it’ll hold up for the long haul.

3. UGG Fuzzette

UGG Fuzzette.

Looking to level up your slipper game? Ugg’s fluffy Fuzzettes are made with the coziest shearling ever, plus feature soles with traction for secure padding around the house. Pair them with the cozy knit joggers also on sale below.

4. Plantronics BackBeat GO 600 Noise-Isolating Headphones

Plantronics BackBeat GO 600 Noise-Isolating Headphones.

There’s never been a better time to invest in a pair of solid headphones. Consider them an audio cocoon. This pair from Plantronics have an outstanding price—even before going on sale—and we love their bright, cheery blue color.

5. Rose Bath Soak

FRENCH GIRL Rose Sea Soak Calming Bath Salts 10 oz.

Elevate your bath to the stuff of claw-footed, soaking tub dreams with a scoop of these rose-laced bath salts.

6. Nest Cam Outdoor Security Camera (2-Pack)

Nest Cam Outdoor Security Camera (2-Pack).

Expecting a lot of packages in the coming weeks? These Nest Cams can show you what’s going on outside your front door, and you can talk and listen to people through them, ensuring contact-less deliveries. Plus it can act as added security when you do get back to traveling.

7. Lightweight Compression Leggings

Mid-Rise Elevate Lightweight Compression Run Leggings for Women.

These days, we’re living in our leggings, and this pair by Old Navy delivers on everything we want: four-way stretch fabric, hidden zip pockets, light compression, and a crazy-cheap price. (Use the promo code HURRY.)

8. Apple AirPods With Case

Airpods with Charging Case.

Apple products rarely go on sale, so we’re happy to see $30 knocked off these earbuds of the moment, which reviewers rave are “worth every penny.” Charge them up and work your way through our favorite podcasts or audiobooks.

9. Dining In Cookbook

Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes: A Cookbook.

This debut cookbook from food phenom Alison Roman may be from 2017, but it is absolutely perfect for the current 2020 #StayHome moment. Her self-described “lo-fi” recipes are simple, unpretentious, and unbelievably tasty, with many starring freezer-friendly and shelf-stable ingredients.

10. GoWeave Essential Jumpsuit

The Japanese GoWeave Essential Jumpsuit

Say hello to the ultimate work-from-home uniform for casual professionalism. Everlane’s jumpsuit is made from 100 percent Japanese GoWeave fabric, a silk alternative that’s resistant to wrinkles—perfect for work days on the couch.

11. Levoit LV-PUR131 True Hepa Air Purifier

Levoit LV-PUR131 True Hepa Air Purifier.

If knocking out germs and other contaminants from your home has become a part-time job, you might appreciate the added security of a Hepa air purifier. (If you’re wondering, Hepa filters can theoretically capture Covid-19 particles. But consider it a bonus, since it’s no substitute for social distancing.)

13. Alphabet Embroidery Kit

Wool & The Gang™ Alphabet Embroidery Kit.

Planning on scrapbooking, knitting, and origami-ing your way through self-isolation? Allow us to suggest adding embroidery to your list of crafty conquests. (Use promo code VERYRARE.)

14. Eufy RoboVac

eufy [BoostIQ] RoboVac 30C, Robot Vacuum Cleaner.

Being home means you start to really notice those dust bunnies. And since your home may also be multitasking as an office, school, or day care, you’ll want to keep it tidy. Leave it to this handy, reliable robot vacuum cleaner, which reviewers rave is “life-changing.”

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At Home Family Travel Miscellany

7 Soothing Train-Ride Videos to Ease Your Mind

For globetrotters, there’s nothing better than hitting the road as you watch the scenery change around you. If you’re missing that open, expansive feeling, it’s time to climb aboard the YouTube Express! The videos we’ve rounded up below show real-time train trips as they pass through some of the prettiest terrain in the world. We’re talking Norwegian countryside, Swiss mountains, and English fields. The best part about these videos is how soothing they are—the landscape rolls by slowly, letting your mind ease into the gentle click-clack rhythm of a train trip. Our suggestion: Leave these videos running in the background to give a place to rest your gaze while working from home. They’re also a hit with train-obsessed kids (and train-obsessed kids at heart). Click on the links below and get ready to leave the station.

Golden Pass Route (Switzerland)

A plucky guitar provides the soundtrack to this stunning train ride through Switzerland. The Golden Pass route takes travelers on a weaving journey through the Alps right when the trees are bursting into their fall colors. A gushing river, A-line houses, and an atmospheric fog all add to the rich ambiance. As mountains open up to reveal sweeping valley scenes, the train window passes by the stuff of pastoral dreams.

Bernina Pass (Switzerland and Italy)

This video of the Bernina Pass between Switzerland and Italy shows more sweeping Alpine countryside, but this time we’re treated to the conductor’s view at the front of the engine. Snow-topped mountains and shimmering crystal-blue lakes dip in and out of the train’s view. Occasional tunnels drive everything into darkness, only to burst into full Technicolor on the other side, with blue skies and blankets of evergreens.

Gloucestershire (United Kingdom)

Relax and gaze dreamily out the window of this Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway train. The patchwork landscape beyond looks just like the picture on the top of a shortbread tin, and uplifting cotton-ball clouds unspool above. Fields, little houses, and church spires all make an appearance, and the soundtrack is just those train wheels turning over and over with their swaying rhythm.

Oslo to Bergen (Norway)

For pure winter wonderland magic, the Bergen Railway line can’t be beat. It moves from lakeside greenery into snow-blanketed stillness and back again. The view here is front-of-train (aka “cab view”), and the soundtrack is simply the wheels clacking along, with the occasional murmur of fellow passengers and train announcements, adding to the realness. Best of all, the train ride is over seven hours long, so you can click it on and let it run all day.

Toyosu to Shimbashi (Tokyo)

If you’re a fan of the towering skylines and streamlined architecture of Asia, this trip riding from Toyosu to Shimbashi will catch your imagination. Blocky skyscrapers by the waterfront dash out of view as this Yurikamome train pulls into futuristic white train stations. Adding to the commuter realism are the passengers ducking on and off the train, providing some fun people-watching. Gentle dinging, binging, and whooshing train sounds give the audio backdrop.

Port of Bar to Bijelo Polje (Montenegro)

Travelers that want to get off the beaten path will appreciate this video that pinwheels through the countryside of Montenegro. Train tracks loop around the craggy landscape ringed by deeply edged mountain ranges. Multiple tunnels thread through the mountains themselves, and all the while, the sky grows darker as streetlamps wink on.

Royal Gorge Route (Colorado)

America the beautiful, indeed: This trip through the Royal Gorge Route shows off Colorado’s geography at its most majestic. Pulling alongside the churning Arkansas River, these tracks skirt the rocky Grand Canyon. The train slips through some narrow keyholes of land on its way. And up above, celestial clouds in a perfect blue sky add to the postcard look. Halfway through the video, the train turns to double back for the trip home.

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Family Travel In-Flight Experience Miscellany Oddities

The Turbulent Rise and Fall of the Kiddie Wing Pin

How one mini freebie illustrates the story of the airline industry at large.

As a kid, I loved to rummage around the bottom of my father’s sock drawer, where, among the loose change and rolls of breath mints, he stashed his collection of little airplane wing pins. For decades, these were handed out as mementos to child passengers, but my business-traveler dad (ever a 10-year-old at heart) was never above grabbing one for himself. I found his collection of pins compelling then, and today they still fascinate me. In many ways, wing pins have been a weathervane of the airline industry, showing what direction the winds of change are blowing.

Aficionados can often recall their first pin. Tracy Stewart, Managing Editor of Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site), remembers the exact brand. “It was given to me by my dad. He gave me a Delta pin, and I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Likewise, Cameron Fleming, advertising copywriter and creator of the site Fly the Branded Skies, recalls his modest collection as a kid. “I would keep them in a jam jar. I had maybe 12.” As an adult, he now owns 636 pins, which are stored in an industrial filing cabinet and documented methodically on his site. Fleming is in good company. More than 1,300 eBay listings are currently selling junior wings, ranging from a plastic Western Airlines pin going for $2 to a 1940s United Airlines one for $125.

Three airline wing pins on a map.

Wing pins and commercial flight took off in tandem. As early as the 1930s, airlines gave out tiny metal airplane-wing pins to their youngest travelers—usually kids flying for the first time. In those days, these tiddlywink-type handouts were a huge badge of honor; only about one percent of Americans in the 1930s had boarded a commercial flight, and very few were children. “The Civil Aeronautics Board always had the final say in how much airlines could set seat prices,” Stewart says, “and you didn’t see a lot of discounted fares or even youth fares.”

In that era, air travel and the accompanying souvenir would have been quite exotic. “Having that Pan American ‘junior pilots’ pin on the playground would be quite something,” Fleming says. In terms of bragging rights, “it would be like you went to the moon.”

These wings became treasured keepsakes for kids, like baseball cards or marbles, and they fostered similar attachments. Some pins were marked “pilot,” “crew,” or “stewardess,” allowing children to role-play and recreate their flights during play-time. In those days many airlines doled out pilot pins to boys and stewardess ones to girls, proving that even 30,000 feet in the air, there’s still a glass ceiling.

Production of these “junior wings” or “kiddie wings” continued through the decades and peaked in the 1980s. Those years were also a boom time for air travel; propelled by the industry’s deregulation in 1978, the number of passengers doubled to 1 billion in the decade from 1975 to 1985. “Finally, airlines were able to set their own fares and they could be more competitive,” Stewart says. And with rising competition came the drive for airlines to set themselves apart. It’s in this moment “you start seeing airlines giving out lots of freebies like wing pins.”

Fleming also notes that wing pins were a way for new-to-market brands to legitimize themselves, essentially acting like wearable business cards. “It was a marketing symbol that the airline was open for business. Once it had the wings that it could give out to kids, it had arrived.” It also helped that new, cheapie plastic versions of these pins made significantly less of an impact on the bottom line than the costlier metal ones. At the high point, 73 airlines were doling out wings to their youngest clientele.

TWA Junior Hostess Wing Pin.

Of course, these were just part of a fleet of airline-branded items that included playing cards, matchbooks, and keychains. But kiddie pins were singular in that they targeted the next generation of travelers, which put them in an ethical gray zone. A 1978 report by the Federal Trade Commission, the same year as airline deregulation, confirmed that children under age 8 couldn’t differentiate between an advertisement and a personal message. This meant that children saw the pins as toys gifted to them, no different from a faux sheriff badge or secret decoder ring. As such, the pins fostered nostalgia as powerful as any other childhood plaything, but specific to an airline. This was not unlike the branded toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals, which kicked off in 1979. That pairing has met it share of criticism for using Disney characters, Beanie Babies, and the like to entice kids into a lifelong relationship with unhealthy food.

Fleming, however, doesn’t see pins as a “nefarious” act on the airlines part to hook the next generation. “I guess depending where you were in your development, it could mean a lot to you as a kid, and some of those residual feelings would carry on into adulthood.” But ultimately, he sees the pins as an excuse for playtime in a less-than-playful space. Stewart also thinks “it’s just a way of putting kids at ease,” and compares wing pins to a free lollipop at the bank. “For kids, it’s an act that helps soften up an otherwise boring, adult necessity,” he says.

Wherever they fall on a moral spectrum, wing pins have taken a nosedive since their heyday in the 1980s. The early 2000s was a low-point for pins; only around four airlines continued to dole them out. Once again, the pins reflected the larger turbulence in the marketplace. “In 2000, the industry was dealing with a bad economy—nine airlines went bankrupt—and then 9/11 happened and everything went down the tubes,” Stewart says. “After that, you start seeing successful budget carriers springing up. Legacy carriers were forced to mimic the model used by the low-cost carriers to survive.”

The rise of online flight shopping and easy price comparison tools drove a race to rock-bottom prices. With more and more price transparency, airlines couldn’t rely on emotional connections forged by kiddie wings and other paraphernalia to help sell tickets. Nor could they justify raising the price to absorb the cost of those branded items, when even a $10 difference could send travelers to the next airline on search results.

The heyday of wing pins was officially over.

Or was it? In the 2010s, airlines have again risen in profitability, and the wing pin has started to make a few glimmering reappearances. “Delta has them. United has them. American has them,” Fleming says, listing the wing pins that could be currently circulating somewhere above our heads. Delta, Fleming recalls, brought its pins back with a lot of fanfare. “They are so strongly associated with the golden era of air travel that bringing them back really does send a strong signal of company health,” he explains.

Virgin Atlantic Airline Wing pin.

Tellingly in these last few years, pins have popped up outside fuselage walls. On a flight back from London, I ran into a familiar sight: the wing pin. This time, it was being handed out in the airport terminal by a Virgin Atlantic rep next to a “selfie wall.” The pin, on a millennial-pink card, declared, “You’re a future flyer” and came with a postcard instructing travelers to snap a picture and post it with the hashtag #VirginFutureFlyers.

In a way, that’s a return to form for the wing pin. “What’s interesting about them is that they’re an invitation to participate in the brand,” Fleming says. “The idea that you can, on some basic level, be part of the crew is exciting.” Just like in yesteryear, these new wing pins are encouraging interaction, playtime, and “joining a crew,” though now all of that takes place in a virtual world.

It’s not surprising that, in our last decade, wing pins have left the current dreariness of the plane cabin and slipped down the escape ramp of social media. In the past, Stewart jokes, “You’d have a huge hulking seat, like a La-Z-Boy, and the flight attendant would be, say, carving a ham next to you.” Now he says, “the reality is that you’re trapped in a plane with very little legroom.” In other words, in the middle seat of economy, everyone’s wings are clipped. But online, the fantasy of jetting off into the sunset still lives on. And it’s on that runway that airline pins could take off again.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

Kaleidoscopes in Motion: Visiting Mexico’s Monarch Sanctuary


The monarch butterflies have no set flight pattern. Some dive-bomb from trees, others flutter down like fall leaves. Against the clear sky, whole colonies swish back and forth, orange marbles sent skittering across a tile floor. We think these things, but we do not say them aloud. We’ve been asked to stay quiet. It’s one of the conservation rules at Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

My husband, David, and I have come to do some major monarch-spotting. Twenty to 30 million butterflies migrate to this sanctuary between November and March each year. They’ve flown south to escape the North American winter in Mexico’s highlands, some traveling as far as 3,000 miles.

 

Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.
Only the Sanctuary’s guides are allowed to touch any of the monarch butterflies.

Our path to the monarchs isn’t short either. The summit is an hour’s hike, or 45 minutes on horseback. “Steep” and “strenuous” are words that autofill when you Google the park, so we opt for horseback, knowing we’ll still have to dismount and walk the last 10 minutes to the peak.

Through the Hotel Rodavento, we arrange a lift to the sanctuary and an escort, Alejandro. On arrival, David and I tumble out of the van and chase butterflies to a grassy divot. They lay in a sunbeam, occasionally taking a bobbing lap around our heads as we snap photos. Alejandro laughs, clearly thinking, This is just the parking lot! Wait until the forest. He arranges for our park guide, Gustavo, and three petite horses.

“Not to worry,” Alejandro jokes. “These are automatic horses.”

He’s not wrong. Riding skills are not required. The short mares can be mounted as easily as a porch swing, and the reins are handled by a señor who walks beside us.

Before we set off, we tour the spotless base camp, with its bathrooms, food stands, and tchotchkes like hats embroidered with plastic monarchs. But I’m eager for the real thing. We saddle up.

“Andale!” I shout.

 

The trail starts out paved and fenced, but reverts to a dirt path as we climb. Much of it is shaded by oyamel fir trees, the monarchs’ favorite hideout. Occasionally, a lemon wedge of sunlight breaks through the forest canopy and the butterflies cluster there. Gustavo, who leads our equine parade on foot, takes off his sombrero, fanning them off the path.

“We are custodians for these butterflies,” Gustavo explains in Spanish. “Imagine if we trampled over them!”

As the monarchs get shooed away, I’m struck by their fragility—they’re flimsy as two-ply Kleenex. How have they traveled the distance of a high-powered jet plane?

Our troop continues its ascent. Behind me, Alejandro calls a booming “buenos dias” to the people we pass—young sweethearts hiking, fathers and sons on horseback, and one executive-type taking a cellphone call mid-trot. Despite our differences, we’re all seeking this one wild marvel.

After 40 minutes, we arrive at what Alejandro calls our “horse parking lot.” We dismount and climb with Gustavo the rest of the way. It’s slow going, twisty and—as Google warned—steep. But the butterflies, just a trickle at the bottom of the park, flow freely around us.

Here Gustavo announces the final rule: We must whisper. No more booming buenos dias.

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Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

As we reach the top, the canopy of trees cracks open and daylight floods in, heating the powdery earth and infusing the air with a pine-needle scent. The flip-book sound of a thousand beating wings surrounds us. Monarchs are everywhere now, spilling from trees—swooping, falling, shimmering. Waves of them pinwheel through the sky, climbing up into blue infinity, before falling back down to earth in a whoosh. The four of us stand in silence, faces tipped to the sky. I feel the same awe I’ve had in grand cathedrals.

Alejandro reads my thoughts. He leans over to whisper, “You sense God is in this place.”

On our descent to base camp, Gustavo grows somber. “We’ve seen fewer and fewer butterflies,” he says, echoing what scientists have discovered: Monarchs have suffered an 80 percent decline since 2000. Global warming, as well as the loss of milkweed (the monarch caterpillars’ only food), are to blame.

“We can’t control climate change, so we try to control the little we can,” Gustavo says.

 

 

He tells me that because the butterflies arrive in November, during the Day of the Dead celebration, many believe them to be souls of loved ones returning. I can’t ignore the subtext: If these butterflies disappear, part of this country’s soul will be lost, too.

Back at base camp, we return our horses to their hitching posts, then head back. For the first mile, the butterflies surf the jet-stream peeling off our van.

At home months later, I spot a flattened monarch on the pavement and stop to wonder what else was stamped out.

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If You Go

Our writer’s tour was arranged through the Hotel Rodavento. Tours can also be booked through Viator, starting at $60, or on arrival directly with park guides. Fees for guides and horses are 250 pesos per person (approximately $13 USD). Note that park guides tend to speak limited English, and package tours have translators. The entrance/parking fee is 70 pesos ($3.50 USD), which is included in pre-booked tours. Clean bathrooms are on site with paid access of 5 pesos ($0.25 USD). Gift shops and food vendors are also on the grounds. Sturdy walking or hiking shoes are recommended.

[viator_tour destination=”5424″ type=”3-mod” tours=”9483P155,9483P141,3467P8″]

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Fashion & Beauty

How to Dress Like Meghan Markle When You Travel


Whether or not her title remains “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex,” Meghan Markle will always be the queen of stylish packing. Her whirlwind schedule—jetting off for an appearance on The Today Show one day, touring South Africa as part of a royal visit the next—would leave even the most frequent traveler fatigued and worn. But not Markle, who always looks pristine and put together with a collection of tasteful sheath dresses, belted coats, and darling hats ready to be called into service. (Who else can make a Philip Treacy fascinator look modern and fresh?)

Now that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are dividing their time between the United Kingdom and North America, you can bet she’ll be jetsetting with even more frequency. It’s a charmed life, one that can sound as unfeasible as finding a glass slipper. But even a commoner in coach such as ourselves can borrow some tips and tricks from Markle’s travel wardrobe and arrive looking like royalty.

Where Does Meghan Markle Travel?

meghan markle in new zealand.

Long before she had a royal title or a prince by her side, Meghan Markle was a globetrotter splitting her time between two countries: the United States, where she grew up, and Canada, where her TV show Suits was filmed. But that travel went into hyper-drive once she was pulled into royal duties. Dizzying itineraries of royal trips were added to her calendar, including a multi-stop tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and the Kingdom of Tonga. More recently, she traveled to South Africa on a 10-day trip as an ambassador of Buckingham Palace.

In between all that, Markle and Prince Harry have occasionally managed to slip away on trips like their three-day jaunt to Morocco, although their honeymoon was such enticing tabloid bait that they had to duck out of the country to an undisclosed location once the press got hip to their plans of heading to Namibia. But that’s exactly what you’d expect of a couple whose second date was followed up by a trip to Botswana.

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Meghan Markle’s Travel Style

Don’t be fooled by the open smile, the tousled hair, or the hugging—Markle may be the picture of warmth and approachability, but her travel wardrobe is polished, composed, and well considered. Markle doesn’t go for girly embellishments; you can forget about frilly collars, ruffles, or applique. Her staples tend to be serious, adult, and womanly. Picture belted sheath dresses, camel coats, navy blazers, black skinny jeans, and classic nude pumps. It’s a chic, no-nonsense look that lands somewhere between Hitchcock heroine and CEO.

Markle also avoids anything too clingy or low-cut, opting instead for structured pencil skirts, silk blouses, and sharp collars with a bit of architecture. Even at her most casual—sitting sideline at sports matches or traipsing through the countryside—Markle is always presentable in white button-up shirts, skinny jeans, or shirtwaist dresses. After all, being a royal role model is a 24/7 gig.

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Three Words to Describe Meghan Markle’s Travel Style

Streamlined: Busy prints? Embroidery? Lace overlays or big bows? No, thank you. Ever the modern royal, Markle is all about clean, tailored lines with no flouncy distractions. A sharp shift dress and a pointed heel are her default setting, and she loves throwing on a belted jacket or navy blazer to add a top coat of polish. Even her jewelry is kept to a minimum—typically just a thin gold bracelet, delicate drop earrings or studs, or a small pendant on a chain—proving what light packers have known all along: A tiny dose of sparkle is all you need.

Preppy: Don’t be fooled by articles that pigeonhole Markle as “avant-garde.” If you study her style, she’s a lock for the classic prepster. The trenchcoat dresses, denim jackets, striped shirts, and Le Spec sunglasses seem like a collegiate wardrobe that’s graduated to adulthood. We bet she learned to rock a white button-up and bun back in her Northwestern University days. And who else could pull off mini striped shorts with a white T-shirt and a matching blazer?

Ladylike: Clearly, Markle believes in the power of a form-fitting dress and towering heels to command a room. When she makes an entrance, it’s often in a belted sheath dress and nude pumps, a combo that she continued into her pregnancy, just relaxing the waist a bit to make room for England’s newest royal. Even her outerwear gets a feminine spin, with a belted silhouette. If Markle has a tomboy side, we have yet to see it.

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Three Colors That Meghan Markle Rocks

meghan markle in royal carriage with prince harry and kate middleton.

Navy: Navy gets a bad rap for being matronly, lacking the edginess of black or the boldness of royal blue. But on Markle, it’s polished perfection, complementing her dark hair and adding a hint of color without being flashy. As an evening dress, like the halter number she wore to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, it’s fresh and unexpected. Markle also isn’t afraid to mix black and navy, a color combo that was once considered a fashion faux pas. But as Markle proves, it’s worth rethinking stodgy old rules.

Cream and Camel: From the belted trench dress she wore to present baby Archie to the world to the camel coat she donned on her first royal Christmas service, Markle can’t resist anything in a beige or toffee hue. It’s a classic choice, and unsurprisingly, it goes well with navy. But Markle gives it a modern twist, whether that’s wearing it head to toe in one monochromatic shot or blending textures and shades, like the silky mocha-colored slip-skirt paired with a taupe turtleneck.

Emerald Green: Like many savvy travelers, Markle has built up a wardrobe full of goes-with-everything neutrals (beige, navy, black). Smart move, given that they can be worn and reworn in countless ways. But even Markle can’t resist busting out a bold hue, especially when the occasion calls for a splash of color. She usually opts for jewel tones like ruby red or bright sapphire blue, but we’re partial to her emerald green outfits, especially when she put together a deep green leather skirt with a fluttery green blouse, a look that’s pure money.

How to Dress Like Meghan Markle on a Business Trip

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A belted navy shift is straight out of Markle’s playbook, especially when it’s paired with nude heels. Keep the bling to a minimum with these delicate pearl-drop earrings, accented with teensy diamonds. A blush-colored pocketbook on a chain strap is both ladylike and practical. It’s a good dupe for the Stella McCartney clutch Markle carried around on International Women’s Day, but about an eighth of the price. If you’re stepping out for a power lunch, do as Meghan would do and throw on this belted camel coat to dash out in style.

How to Dress Like Meghan Markle While Sightseeing

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Even a duchess needs some easy-breezy outfits. A tie-waist shirtdress was Markle’s default look while touring South Africa, a climate that demanded cool, comfortable clothing that still looked pulled together. And she frequently paired her dresses with red Everlane flats, a notable departure from her usual heels, but all the better to tour Johannesburg comfortably. A sweet, sentimental necklace (maybe holding a photo of your sweetheart) helps with any homesickness. And a crossbody bag keeps your hands free, ideal to meet and greet locals.

How to Dress Like Meghan Markle for a Night Out

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Time to bump up the drama. Ditch the sensible neutrals and go for green. This floor-length emerald number has the Markle wow factor. But even though it’s eveningwear, it’s not entirely impractical: The wrap bodice lets you wear it in a variety of ways (V-neck, one-shoulder, strapless), increasing its mileage. We’d opt for halter straps—a Markle favorite. Nude sandals keep the focus on the dress, as do white topaz studs. With a swipe of lipstick and a metallic clutch, you’re ready to own the room.

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Maria Teresa Hart is the Executive Editor of What to Pack (a TripAdvisor company). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, and other outlets.

Categories
Booking Strategy

8 Bucket List Cruises Every Traveler Should Take

Avid cruisers seem to break down into two types: Those that gladly sail to the same sunny destinations again and again and those that have a bucket list of ports that keep getting more and more far flung. And while we’re happy to hoist a fruity drink with that first group, we’re proudly in the second, plotting and refining our bucket list of sailings. Like any good bucket list, ours is one part obvious checklist of must-see places and one part epic wish list of once-in-a-lifetime spots. And as a bonus, cruising often makes these remarkable places more affordable and accessible than other forms of travel. Take a look at our eight picks below.

1. Havana, Cuba

Heading to the Caribbean is the norm when it comes to cruising, with the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico in regular rotation. But it wasn’t until 2016 that Cuba was added as a stop. With this shift in travel restrictions, cruise travelers can now experience the rich cultural highlights—the food, the music, the architecture—that they’ve sailed past all this time. And in many ways, seeing Havana by cruise is the easiest way to access the city, as cruise lines can tackle the people-to-people paperwork that is required for Americans to come. It also lets U.S. visitors skip the complications of booking hotel rooms, which can be rather tricky and require more paperwork in the form of a voucher. Basically, with a cruise, you get all of the “bienvenido!” with less of the bother.

Our Pick: Norwegian Sky

2. Alaska

Many Americans are first introduced to cruising through a voyage to Alaska, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bucket list trip. The astonishing glaciers, impressive wildlife, and charming ports along the inside passage can hold their own against any remote international destinations. Watching glaciers calving (breaking off into the water) from the ship’s deck is a marvel even IMAXcan’t fully capture. And while the vistas are staggering, the price tag doesn’t have to be. Just about every mainstream cruise line like Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean all sail to the 49th state for doable rates. For those that enjoy their morning whale-spotting with a mimosa in hand, higher-end lines, such as Celebrity, also sail along this route.

Our Pick: Holland America’s Eurodam

3. Transatlantic

Once upon a time, transatlantic sailings set off from America to the Old World, giving a chance for high society to meet and mingle. (The Marilyn Monroe movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” gives a campy and spirited take on it.) Today, these sailings are still in effect, launching people across continents. For some, it’s a chance to savor more sea days and get quality time with the ship’s features—after all, those waterslides, rope courses, and climbing walls won’t enjoy themselves! But for others, it’s an opportunity to time-travel back to cruising’s glamorous yesteryear, when a sailing meant shuffleboard by day, and dinner and dancing by night. Either way, these voyages get to the heart of what cruising is all about: It’s a trip where the journey is the destination.

Our Pick: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 

4. The Mediterranean

Mankind has been sailing along Mediterranean waterways for centuries, and all that history is still visible in these atmospheric ports that hold castles, cobblestoned streets, and Roman ruins alike. Cruising here tends to be divided into two segments. Western sailings loop around northern Spain and southern France before finally circling Italy and often touching down in the iconic cities of Florence and Rome. Occasionally, these ships also hit Sicily or Corsica or come around the backside of Italy toward Venice. It’s a compilation of Europe’s “greatest hits.” And those looking for Volume Two of that experience can sail farther east, around the Greek islands, Croatia, even Montenegro, Slovenia, or Jerusalem. Can’t make up your mind? Longer sailings will cover the Mediterranean in a combination of western and eastern ports, giving you a deeper look into this area and its wide contrast in cultures.

Our Pick: Celebrity Silhouette

5. Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its natural beauty, its “aloha” spirit, and its sheer expensiveness. Seriously, a trip to the 50th state can kick you right in the wallet, with transportation, hotels, and food all sporting premium prices. That’s not to say a bucket list trip here isn’t worth the price tag. But in-the-know travelers have found a loophole: Seeing Hawaii by cruise makes it easy and even affordable to cover the islands. And no need to make a difficult choice between Oahu’s bustling arts and culture and Kauai’s lush vegetation when you can have both. Even better, some ships will let you see hard-to-reach areas. For example, the Pride of America sails by Nā Pali Coast State Park, offering a rare close-up of this wilderness park. The serrated green cliffs here, skirted with turquoise waters, resemble a tropical painting.

Our Pick: Norwegian’s Pride of America

6. Christmas Markets Cruise

Give us all the tinsel, eggnog, and carols—we love a good Christmas celebration. If you feel the same way, a Christmas market cruise could be a great way to experience Europe and your ultimate bucket list sailing. These river cruises typically set off either along the Rhine or the Danube, docking in cities known for their holiday markets. You’ll likely travel through Austria, Hungary, France, and Germany, among other countries. Handmade ornaments, mulled wine, and twinkling lights are all part of the appeal at each market stop. These voyages also let you catch a glimpse into how each local culture puts their own spin on the yuletide, whether it’s the marionettes of Prague or the spiced bratwurst of Cologne. If Christmas is not your thing, keep in mind that this route can be sailed any time of year, when these towns and cities still offer all of their cobblestoned European cuteness.

Our Pick: AmaWaterways AmaCerto

7. Galapagos

Every bucket list needs a wild-card pick, and for us, that’s the Galapagos. It’s an adventurous destination that makes people reconsider what a cruise can really be. And while there are a number of destinations that make excellent nominees for this type of trip (Antartica and Indonesia were two other front-runners), the Galapagos gets our vote thanks to its remote location, abundant wildlife, and comfortably warm temperatures year-round. Excursions and activities here range from strolling and snorkeling at a mild pace to hiking and rock climbing at a more ambitious rate. But either way, passengers can bump into sea turtles, penguins, and stingrays, making this trip practically a safari at sea.

Our Pick: Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Islander

8. Around the World

No cruising bucket list would be complete without the ultimate voyage: one that circles the globe. This once-in-a-lifetime trip tops the list for plenty of travelers—not just cruisers—but those flying from one congested airport to the next are going to find it far more unpleasant compared to the ones serenely coasting from port to port. Cruisers can test-drive the experience by booking a voyage that tackles just a section of the world atlas, say Miami to South Africa’s Cape Town in around 30 days. But those looking to lasso the globe could book a ticket for more than 100 days of sailing that will have them circling around five continents in the footsteps (or should we say propeller turns) of many world explorers before them.

Our Pick: Silversea Cruises’ Silver Muse

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—Written by Maria Teresa Hart

Smarter Travel’s sister site, Oyster.com, provides expert, unbiased hotel reviews with undoctored photos. Now Oyster has expanded to cover cruise ships, giving readers an honest, in-depth take on every ship before they board. Research your next cruise vacation with Oyster here!

This story originally appeared on Oyster under the headline, 8 Bucket List Cruises Every Traveler Should Take. It is reprinted here with permission.

Categories
Booking Strategy

5 Cruise Ships That Even Cruise Haters Will Love

Cruise travel attracts plenty of haters. Just ask Tina Fey, who skewered it in her book “Bossypants” by concluding, “Cruises were designed to make something unbearable—a two-week transatlantic crossing—seem bearable. There’s no need to do it now. There are planes. You wouldn’t take a vacation where you ride on a stagecoach for two months but there’s all-you-can-eat shrimp.” And that attitude is echoed by plenty of others who often dismiss cruising as loud and tacky, sleepy and staid, or totally divorced from their destinations.

If that’s your take on it, you may be surprised to learn that the cruise industry is pretty diverse, and there are all types of sailings, from refined trips with nary a poolside DJ in sight to immersive journeys that offer deep-dives into destinations to adventure voyages where you’re in a kayak more than a lounge chair. Take a look at the common gripes we hear about cruise travel and the ships that offer the perfect rebuttal.

Your gripe: Cruise travel is a dull snoozefest

Your antidote: Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas

If you’re afraid cruise travel will be little more than bingo, bridge, and the occasional crossword puzzle with sedate seniors, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas will blow your mind. This 2016 addition to their fleet is stuffed with so many attractions, it sounds like a theme park. A zip line, surf simulator, and multiple waterslides add to the high-energy atmosphere. For adults, the Bionic Bar, manned with robot arms, and the Rising Tide Bar, on an elevator platform, provide playful detours. Broadway-style shows, a casino, and even onboard ice-skating keep the good times rolling.

Your gripe: Cruise travel is noisy, gaudy, and unrefined

Your antidote: Cunard’s Queen Victoria

For some travelers, doing the Macarena poolside to thumping beats is their idea of hell on the high seas. If you’re among them and fear cruising is too loud and gaudy for you, allow us to introduce you to Cunard’s Queen Victoria. This ship represents a bygone area of ocean liners that some (falsely) believe disappeared with the Titanic. Activities here are also a throwback to the glamor of sailing’s yesteryear (ballroom dancing, shuffleboard, card games), and passengers enthusiastically embrace the dress code for dinner. Despite its retro appeal, Queen Victoria isn’t an aging antique. It received a $40 million revamp in 2017.

Your gripe: Cruise travel just scratches the surface

Your antidote: Viking Star

On some ships, passengers get a speedy glance at a port—if they disembark at all—before sailing on to the next spot without getting a real sense of the places they’re visiting. Viking Star represents the very opposite of this. Shore excursions are an essential part of each sailing, so much so that they’re included in the base rates. The result? This ship draws explorers looking to know destinations on a deeper level. And even onboard the Viking Star, passengers are treated to the line’s enrichment programming with lectures and destination talks that add another level of history and culture to each visit. Consider it a mini version of a junior year abroad.

Your gripe: Cruise travel is no-action loafing by the pool

Your antidote: UnCruise’s Safari Voyager

The name should tip you off to the fact that UnCruise is a 180 from most cruise associations. There’s no loud, resort-at-sea vibe; no pool; and no stuffy formal dining room. Instead, the ship is stocked with wetsuits, snorkel gear, and kayaks, all with the aim of getting passengers off the vessel and out on adventures. In many ways, Safari Voyager isn’t a cruise so much as a guided nature tour giving access to hideaways where guests can do jungle hikes, go bird-watching, meet local tribes, and enjoy any number of bucket-list experiences. The ship’s EZ Dock also allows passengers to disembark straight into the water for a quick swim or snorkel.

Your gripe: Cruise travel dumps you in a faraway port

Your antidote: Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre

One trend in the cruise world is mega-ships. These ginormous vessels often boast a capacity of 6,000 or more. And while they can definitely bring the fun, they can’t park in some of the smaller ports. Case in point: Most mainstream cruise ships pull up to Le Havre when “Paris” is on their itinerary, although the capital is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from the port. Not Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre. This nimble super-yacht can slip right into the actual port in Paris, a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. On top of that, this 128-passenger ship offers an intimate, boutique hotel vibe and tres chic decor. French films, Champagne receptions, and caviar tastings are regular occurrences, too.

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—Written by Maria Teresa Hart

Smarter Travel’s sister site, Oyster.com, provides expert, unbiased hotel reviews with undoctored photos. Now Oyster has expanded to cover cruise ships, giving readers an honest, in-depth take on every ship before they board. Research your next cruise vacation with Oyster here!

This story originally appeared on Oyster under the headline,Top 5 Ships for Cruise Ship Haters. It is reprinted here with permission.