“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…”
I can hear Perry Como crooning those familiar words now, evoking images of that Norman Rockwell family gathered round the holiday table, turkey steaming, silver gleaming, family smiling … The idea of home for many of us evokes thoughts of comfort, welcome, love and belonging. Or it should, in an ideal world. But the reality of going home, especially during the holiday season, may be very different.
Expectations often don’t match the inevitable reality: while you may be yearning for ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’ the fact is, those relatives you don’t get along with the rest of the year are unlikely to make a miraculous change for a day or two. Maybe your children have fledged the nest and won’t be home this year. If they’ve married, they may be spending the holidays at someone else’s home. Perhaps this is the first holiday you’re facing after the death of a loved one. The thought of going through the motions in the midst of grief holds little appeal.
Whatever the circumstance, there are occasions when you may not feel like singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Bing Crosby. Spending part of the season far from stressful settings may be just the gift to give yourself … Or, you may wish to pack up the family just this once and go some place more restful, without all the hassle and hoopla — at least not any that you have to host and clean up after!
If you’re feeling impulsive, last-minute deals at the holiday season are often available to fill cancellations or leftover space — it’s worth a few Google inquiries, if you’re in the mood to mosey. So, whether it’s this year or another, here are five holiday travel ideas to restore body, soul or both.
I have to admit it: last year, my traveling to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to see polar bears in the wild was motivated not only by a 10-year anniversary but by a fear that soon the animals could be gone. I go to see glaciers because I’m afraid we’re losing them. And this coming January, I’m returning to Yellowstone National Park to try to photograph our nation’s wolves before they almost completely disappear in the Lower 48 — again.
You could call me an “extinction tourist.”
I’m far from unique. In fact, today people are traveling in ever-greater numbers to see what they think could quickly vanish from the Earth. While just a few years ago travelers might have endeavored to tick off all seven continents or Africa’s Big Five wildlife species, today there’s a certain “cred” given to those who see the landscapes, animals and plants that are just managing to hang on. And tour providers are tapping into that desire with their marketing messages. “See [fill in your favorite endangered animals] before they’re gone!”
But should tourism companies use threatened species as marketing tools? Given our ability to tune out ads, does that minimize the dire circumstances that these animals and environments are now in and dilute the attention that conservation messages might have been able to muster?
The benefits of green spaces and natural settings are becoming more apparent all the time: reduced stress, depression and feelings of aggressiveness; an increase in overall happiness; faster post-operative recovery; a decline in ADHD symptoms in children — all of these outcomes have been verified when people spend time in nature. The outdoors make us happier, cause us to be kinder and can even give us bigger brains.
While you could say these kinds of benefits are priceless, there’s a new trend afoot. By assigning a monetary value to natural elements in a healthy environment, it is hoped that governments, businesses and others in positions of power will come to see that protecting nature makes good financial sense.
This concept of pricing ecosystem services and natural features — and allowing them to be bought and sold — is gaining wide acceptance among conservationists. But could this approach end up obscuring the unquantifiable, soul-restoring advantages of natural places and put them at even greater risk?
As Julio hauled the net into our skiff, we spied a green sea turtle ensnared in the mesh. In this case, we were happy to see our captive: Julio is the Magadalena Baykeeper on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and part of his job is working with Grupo Tortuguero — the world’s foremost sea turtle conservation group — to capture, study and release endangered turtles in order to help ensure their future.