My favorite place to be is outside. In fact, I have a t-shirt that says, “Visit Outside – Where real stuff happens,” and I honestly couldn’t agree more. There is something centering about breathing fresh air, being warmed by the sunshine, not constantly looking at my phone, and quite often, becoming physically active too. It’s real & it keeps me sane. I’m not just saying that either. There have been several scientific studies that outline how important spending time outside is for your overall health, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. I believe our souls need it. We need to feel connected to the “real” things of the earth.
As we all know, this year a lot of people’s regular travel plans have been interrupted. Consequently, it seems more people have turned to doing things outside. This has caused the not-so-surprising phenomena of our National Parks, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management areas seeing increased attendance. In fact, as one who loves camping, I was kind of dismayed when throughout the summer, I couldn’t find places to camp because SO MANY others also had the same inclination. In spite of my wanting to go & not having a place to go, in general, I feel this is a good thing. I feel as we actually get outside & learn to appreciate the natural world, we will take better care of it & preserve our beautiful places for future generations.
However, I’ve noticed there is a significant learning curve when it comes to how you approach exploring our public lands. I agree with Michael Frome when he said, “A national park is not a playground. It’s a sanctuary for nature & for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.” Don’t get us wrong, some of the most fun I have ever had has been exploring these places. However, there is a right way & a wrong way to enjoy our public lands & unfortunately, the more people that enter into those beautiful places, the more likely those places are of being damaged due to the ignorance of the masses, who are often only aware of the next great Instagram shot they want to take. So, let’s talk about a few very simple ways that you can respect & protect our beautiful places.
One of the biggest mistakes I see from novices of the outdoors is not being prepared for the environment they’re entering. These beautiful places are not Disneyland. You can’t just run to the next churro cart & buy a snack & some water when the mood strikes you. You need to be willing & able to take care of yourself in the environment you’re entering. If you don’t know how to do that, it is your responsibility to educate yourself BEFORE you go. A few things I can guarantee you’ll need anywhere you go: Lots of water, food, good footwear, appropriate clothing & an understanding of your limits. Just a few weeks ago I was hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park. Our group had stopped about halfway through our 5-mile hike for a snack. A volunteer ranger came by & started praising us for our snacks. She told us her job is to hike around looking for people who didn’t come prepared and essentially save them from themselves. She had a huge backpack on which she told us had water, electrolyte drinks & snacks for those that didn’t prepare themselves in advance. You do NOT want to be the person she has to rescue. There’s no need for that. Know your limits & be prepared for your environment. These beautiful places can leave you battered & bruised (or worse), if you’re not prepared.
Leave It Better Than You Found It
It’s snack time! As previously mentioned, eating and drinking, especially outdoors, is so important. It can literally save your life in some of the unforgiving environments our beautiful places are found. Do you know what is also important? Cleaning up after yourself! That means everything. Fruit snacks wrapper? Take it with you. Orange peel or apple core? Take it with you. Empty water bottle? Take it with you. Literally everything. Take it with you. Not only that, but I challenge you that if you see someone else’s trash around, do the world a favor, and pick it up. There is nothing more disappointing than going into a pristine place to find that someone decided to leave a trail of trash for everyone else to deal with. Don’t be like that.
Best Not to Make Your Own Trail
Our beautiful places are that way because the touch of humans has been limited. On all public lands, the governing entities have often worked very hard to build trails so you can enjoy what the area has to offer in a way that is safe for you & the environment. When you make your own trail & take a “short cut” between switchbacks, or you wander off the beaten path, you could potentially be destroying fragile ecosystems while also putting yourself in danger. Not only that, but your bad example will inevitably lead to more people following you & perpetuating the problem. Pay attention to where you are walking & make the conscious choice NOT to make your own trail. If you need examples of why this is important, go ahead and do an internet search for accidents in Yellowstone when people go off the trails. Then you’ll get it.
No One Cares that You Were Here
“This place is amazing! I want people to know I was here! I’m going to scratch my name into the wall.” That’s dumb. Honestly, no one cares that you were here. In fact, most of us would like “here” better if we didn’t know you had already been. Take a picture & move on with your life. “But everyone is doing it!” Also, dumb. I think there is a “jump off a bridge” analogy that would work well here. Most people probably wouldn’t spray paint a wall when they’re traveling, but are you aware that scratching your name into the rocks, trees, bridges, benches or walls is just as bad? Even stacking rocks along a trail is vandalism if they aren’t being used as an official trail marker. Vandalism takes many forms and many tourists excuse their behavior because others have done it too. For example, here in the western United States, we are lucky enough to have beautiful Native American artwork from thousands of years ago both etched & painted onto rock faces. It’s a wonderful thing to see, but nothing ruins it like the words “S & A 4ever ‘18” scratched into the rock right next to it. Well, but there’s also a “Wanda was here 2006” scratched right next to it, so it must be ok, right? WRONG! Two wrongs don’t make it right, it just means there are multiple people who left their brains home and who are selfish enough to ruin culturally significant sites for their own pride. It is wrong and you are literally ruining these significant & beautiful places for no reason. Please, stop.
As previously mentioned, I’m a huge advocate for everyone getting outside & loving the beautiful places all around us. So, by all means, go & explore our public lands that belong to all of us. I only ask that you don’t treat them like a playground or theme park while you’re there. Enjoy, but think of how you can make it better. Think of how you could share your experiences without putting yourself & the fragile ecosystems at risk. Get out. Breathe. Explore. But be smart about it. Become a protector of our beautiful places.
As a travel agent, we are often asked, “Is travel insurance worth it?” Like so many things in life, the answer to this question depends on a lot of factors & is ultimately a personal choice that you as the traveler will have to decide. However, there are some basic guiding principles that can help you determine if it’s right for you & the specific trips you’re taking.
As with most insurance, travel insurance is to help cover the unexpected. No one expects to break their hip riding a bike around the Bahamas, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects their otherwise healthy spouse to have a heart attack & die in the tulip fields of the Netherlands, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. No one expects to have their luggage arrive four days late to their week-long vacation, but does it happen? Unfortunately, yes. Life is unpredictable & sometimes just plain messy. Consequently, a little bit of planning & research can go a long way to giving you peace of mind when you travel, so let’s talk about what you should be looking for.
First, as you explore travel insurance options, I would suggest that you look at the coverage you already have. You may be surprised what is already covered under the insurance & credit cards you already carry. For example, many car insurance companies will cover rental cars too. If that is the case, buying the extra insurance when you rent a car may be redundant. Additionally, a lot of major credit card companies have basic travel protection included if you use that card to pay for your trip. What are those details? Is it enough to cover the full cost of your trip? You may also be surprised what is considered “in” and “out” of network for your health insurance. If you’re going to a neighboring state, it’s possible your medical needs would be covered. It is also not uncommon for any medical emergency to be covered by health insurance even if you are out of network, but still in the country. Point being, there are a lot of existing protections that may already cover what you need. Become informed on your existing policies so you do not waste money purchasing redundant coverage.
Second, consider how much money you are spending on your trip & how much of that is non-refundable. Would you feel comfortable losing that money if something came up that prevented you from going? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. This becomes especially relevant for international trips since they tend to be so much more expensive than domestic trips. Additionally, consider if you broke your hip in the Bahamas, and you’ve already determined your normal insurance doesn’t cover anything out of the country, would you have enough money to pay for the care you’ll need and potentially the medivac helicopter home? If the answer is no, then travel insurance is probably a good option. When you consider these types of things, ask yourself if you can afford NOT to buy travel insurance. Once again, if the answer is “no,” then travel insurance is probably a good idea.
Next, read the fine print in the travel insurance policy before committing to it. If you’ve done your research about what existing coverage you already have & you’ve determined you want the extra security of a travel insurance policy, make sure it actually covers what you’re hoping it covers. Most travelers will buy a policy in conjunction with their airfare, hotel or cruise package. This is certainly not a bad option, but the plans tend to be pretty basic with several stipulations to qualify for reimbursement. Typically, these policies will cover delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage & basic emergency medical. Is that enough? Only you can determine that.
What you may not realize though is these built-in policies are not your only options. You can buy travel insurance on your own & quite often, even tailor it to exactly what you need & want. Based on what you choose & the overall cost of your trip, those things will determine how much your travel insurance will cost. You may not even have to look very far. It is not uncommon for employers to offer travel insurance through the same and/or partner companies of those that provide your existing insurance. My point is, you have options & can certainly receive the coverage you need if you do your research.
Finally, if you’re going to purchase travel insurance, do it well IN ADVANCE. If you purchase it in conjunction with a travel package, most often you will have until your final payment is made to add it, but after that final payment is made, you’re out of luck. If you’re buying it separate from your package, it is recommended that you purchase it within 10-15 days of booking your trip, or the prices may go up and/or the coverage will be limited. That being said, there are some options that allow for coverage to be purchased up until the day before you travel, but you will pay a pretty penny for it. Additionally, don’t think that you can buy it after a trip-cancelling event has already happened. They always ask for documentation with your claim, especially if it’s made soon after coverage is purchased, & if they feel you are trying to “work the system,” they will not pay out. It’s really just best to do your research & purchase it well in advance of your actual trip.
No one likes to think about all the bad things that could happen, but as with so many things in life, if you plan for the worst, but expect the best, you’ll always be prepared & have peace of mind knowing you’re protected. Ultimately, the only person who can decide if travel insurance is worth it, is you. Trust me when I say it’s worth doing your research so you can make informed decisions.