Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky to have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock-full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world.

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5 Scientific Reasons A Beach Vacation Is Necessary For Your Health

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014


By James Cave, Originally posted on Huffington Post

If you don’t already have a beach vacation planned, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols’s new book will make you seriously reconsider. Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In , On, Or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, And Better At What You Do (that’s the whole title) is the result of over 10 years of research that shows how looking at water, being around it or in it coaxes our brains into releasing happy chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Below, five theories from Nichols’s book that totally “blue” our minds:


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1. Water returns us to our natural state:

We’re connected to water from the onset of life. Babies’ bodies are 75 percent water. As we age, we become drier (only 60 percent), but our brains are still three-fourths water and even our bones are 31 percent water.

The brain, which rests in a kind of “clear, colorless cerebrospinal fluid” in our heads, reacts to water very fondly because, as Nichols writes, “our ancient ancestors came out of the water and evolved from swimming to crawling to walking. Human fetuses still have ‘gill-slit’ structures in their early stages of development,” and the water in our cells “is comparable to that found in the sea.”

This biological connection to water, Nichols told CBS News, triggers an immediate response in our brains. When you see or hear the ocean, he says, you know “you’re in the right place.”

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2. We’re more relaxed along the coast:

Look at the picture above. Beautiful, right? The very sight of it, it turns out, subconsciously calms us, and Nichols cites a study (“Functional Neuroanatomy Associated with Natural and Urban Scenic Views in the Human Brain: 3.0T Functional MR Imaging,” to be precise) that shows how areas of the brain associated with less stress and more empathy are activated when we look at nature scenes. While pictures of urban landscapes elicited activity in the parts of our brains associated with stress, participants who were shown nature pictures had heightened activity in the parts associated with “positive outlook, emotional stability and the recollection of happy memories.”

And when it comes to nature views, the coast wins. Another study, “Human Brain Activation in Response to Visual Stimulation with Rural and Urban Scenery Pictures: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study, shows that coastal images were more effective than other nature images in activating participants’ reward systems — “an area rich in opioid receptors that triggers feelings of wellness,” Nichols writes.

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3. Looking at pictures is good, but water is even better in real life:

While looking at pictures is one thing, it turns out the real-life natural world also wins over urban landscapes. Nichols references a 2011 study in which a smartphone app called Mappiness tracked the well-being levels of about 22,000 participants. The participants received random prompts to report how happy they were in that moment. According to the over 1.1 million responses that were sent in, not only were people happier when they were outside, they were 5.2 percent happier when near bodies of water.

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4. Water rejuvenates a tired mind:

In a section titled, “Water, Nature, and the Optimum Brain,” Nichols illustrates that we now have more screens to touch, social networks to update and websites to refresh, and our fatigued brains need to recharge. Water, he theorizes, helps that happen.

He references a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 1995, titled “Views to Nature: Effects on Attention.” Researchers wanted to find out whether or not dorm students with views of beautiful nature scenes would do better on cognitive tests that measured attention, visual scanning and motor speed, over students with more urban views.

“The dorm rooms were grouped by the views from their windows: trees and a lake, lawns and buildings, and brick walls and slate rooftops,” Nichols writes. “Students whose rooms overlooked trees and the lake not only performed better on the cognitive tests but also rated their ‘attentional functioning’ as more effective than that of all of the other groups combined.” The study found that, not only does nature rejuvenate a tired mind, but “an attention-restoring experience can be as simple as looking at nature.”

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5. Blue soothes:

Blue, it turns out, is the world’s favorite color. Nichols cites a 2003 research project that surveyed 232 people from around the world about their associations with various colors. Forty-two percent of men said blue was their favorite color, while 35 percent of the women surveyed said the same thing — a majority in both brackets.

Nichols isn’t surprised. We “evolved on a planet that is primarily shades of water and sky blue,” he writes, so it makes sense that blue stimulates a positive emotional response. He quotes neurosurgeon Amir Vokshoor, who explains that “the arousal mechanism stimulated by blue’s wavelengths correlates to the release of neurotransmitters thought to be associated with feelings of euphoria, joy, reward, and wellness related to the effects of dopamine.”

Nichols also cites a study in the journal Perceptual And Motor Skills, entitled “Effect Of Partition Board Color On Mood And Autonomic Nervous Function,” which found that we feel less fatigued and claustrophobic when we’re around the color blue.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with strudel

Friday, August 1st, 2014

- by Erin

The passengers on our upcoming Danube River Cruise will have the opportunity to taste local specialties of the region including crafted brews, indulgent chocolate and of course, homemade strudel.  In an attempt for everyone to get their fair share of pastry, we thought it was only fair to share a recipe for this delicious delicacy!

Apple strudel

STRUDEL PASTRY

INGREDIENTS

Pastry Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ stick butter

 

Stuffing for Pastry

  • 2 lbs. green apples, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 oz. cinnamon
  • 2 oz. raisins
  • 3 oz. sugar
  • 2 oz. dark rum
  • 1 egg yolk

 

PREPARATION METHOD

Sift the flour and combine with sugar and salt. Mix the egg and oil together, and them with the dry ingredients. Add the water to the dough a tablespoon at a time and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. Form into a ball and set aside, covered for 30 minutes. Take the dough and roll it out as thinly as possible in a rectangle on a lightly floured pastry board. Drape the sheet of dough over your hands and stretch, being careful not to tear it. Continue until the sheet of dough is very thin, always working from the middle toward the edges until it reaches 18″ x 14″. Lay the sheet of dough on a well-floured pastry cloth. Brush with melted butter. In a bowl, mix the apples, sugar, raisins, cinnamon and dark rum. Spread immediately on the dough. Form a long, tightly tucked roll. Press the ends and seal. Butter an 18” x 12” oven tray with raised sides and preheat the oven to 475°. Beat the egg yolk and brush over the strudel, and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 475° then lower to 400° and bake for 20 minutes. Lower to 300° and bake and additional 15 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a large serving tray. Pour the juice from the pay over the strudel and set aside to cool. Serve either hot or cold, and garnish with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes 10 servings

 

Greetings from the National Parks

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

- by Malori

Greetings from Colorado and Utah where we are visiting some of our country’s greatest treasures, it’s natural beauty. Our National Parks were created to preserve some of the most awe inspiring scenery anywhere. Our group of 18 Amazing Journeyers are hitting the open roads in search of America’s inspirational landscapes. Today we are in Moab, Utah where we visited our collective favorite, Arches National Park. We visited by day and hiked up to and climbed through several of the actual arches here. The red colored sandstone was nature at it’s finest! In the evening, we went back to an area called “Balanced Rock” to watch the sunset, and with the sun setting against the rocks, we observed the natural colors of the rocks changing from orange to “burnt orange” to red. The colors of the mountains in the background were purple and the clouds in the sky turned pink. It was so beautiful, we broke out singing, “America the Beautiful” together.

This morning, some of the group participated in an exhilarating Hummer Safari tour up and over the red rocks and to the face of the cliffs, overlooking the Colorado River below. The rest of the group choose a white water rafting adventure in the Colorado River, and most of the group escaped the 106 degree heat and jumped right in the water, swimming alongside of the raft.

Later, we visited Canyonlands National Park, another beauty in our four-National Parks Tour. The views and vistas were amazing, and the hiking at both of the National Parks in Utah were incredible.

Earlier in the week, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Denver and tomorrow we will be visiting Mesa Verde National Park.

The Amazing Journeyers who choose to come with us on this tour love seeing the majestic landscapes we have had the opportunity to visit.

New TSA security regulations

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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Is your cell phone charged?

It will need to be going forward. In order to continually protect US borders, TSA has added an additional security regulation at certain overseas airports on inbound flights to the US. TSA agents might ask you to power on any electronic or battery-powered devices in front of them that you bring through airport security, including cell phones, tablets, e-readers, laptops, etc. This is to demonstrate the item’s functionality. This new security regulation is focused on intercepting explosives that could be disguised as electronic devices. If you are asked to do this and your device does not have power, you will not be allowed to bring it through security.

Moral of the story – make sure all of the electronic devices are fully charged before you head to the airport.

Tips for sleeping at 35,000 feet

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

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With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, everything makes it tough to sleep on a plane – not enough legroom, people climbing over you, noise from movies and video games and screaming children., sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet.

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone – but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight.

Choose your seat wisely

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well, or how poorly, you sleep on your next trip. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket.

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the bathrooms where both noise (and odor) could be an issue.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane and sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there – and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

Cut down on your carry-ons

If you have two full carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag – a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you. Keep the items you stow in the seat back pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the caffeine

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

Blankets and pillows – stake your claim

There are never enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Bring a neck pillow

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows. Experiment a bit and see which ones will work best for you.

Free your feet

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your feet and wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Try a sleep aid

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on what drugs you should take as sleep aids. That said, here are a few products that have been used with some success:

Melatonin: This is a naturally occurring substance – it’s the compound that triggers our sleep patterns, and it’s as natural as eating. The level of melatonin in our bodies declines as we age; this is why older folks often sleep less as they advance in years. As it is a gentle approach, melatonin doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Dramamine: This motion sickness remedy is a pretty common over-the-counter drug, but beware; it will knock you out, and the advice not to operate heavy machinery (like, say, a car) is to be heeded. If you are on a shorter flight or need to be alert when you wake up, you may want to avoid this one.

Use headphones with discretion

Save yourself the $4 – $5 and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent fliers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Recline your seat – but be courteous

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seat backs will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table. Simple common courtesy applies here.

Make sure you won’t be disturbed

Notify your flight attendant that you want to sleep – that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

Stay away from the light

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight – all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When it’s time to wake up…

The worst part of sleeping is waking up. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to bright lights, luggage carousels and sunshine so bright you can hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination and walk off the plane fully awake.

Reaching your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a short and sweet nap or a full rack en route, always beats lurching around an airport tired and crabby. Grab your winks in flight and you’ll be a happier traveler.

 

Originally posted on Independent Traveler