The Optimistic Traveler
Travel Adventures after Cancer

Empowered Living after Breast Cancer

My friend Gai Comans, who is a 14-year survivor of breast cancer, is hosting a great telesummit about empowered living after breast cancer. She has some really great speakers lined up! Check it out here:

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Spring is in the Air!



In Love and Dancing around the World

Posted in active travel, healthy travel, travel  by shari

The story of my friends Sebastien and Cecile —
Cecile had two dreams: dancing and traveling the world. So her boyfriend Sebastien decided to grant her wishes! They spent six months, traveling and dancing in exotic places around the world. Oh, and Sebastien threw in a marriage proposal to top it off!

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Don’t Let High Altitude Get You Down!

Guides on the Inca Trail trek love to tell stories of strong young marathon runners who had to be carried off the trail on a porter’s back –because they were overcome by altitude sickness! Gradual acclimatization to altitude is important if you are traveling to high altitude areas. Some people are laid low by Acute Mountain Sickness, while others are fine – susceptibility is individualized. This can be mild and transient, or so serious as to require emergency treatment and evacuation to lower altitude. Age and physical condition are NOT predictors of AMS, although paradoxically, the elderly often fare better than younger travelers. Sometimes, even people who have been fine on previous high altitude travels become very sick on another trip. You could be lucky and not have any trouble with altitude, or you could get really, really sick. AMS can ruin your trip (or even your life) if you don’t take precautions. More information here:

• Signs and symptoms of altitude sickness can include fatigue and weakness, headache, GI upset including loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, breathlessness or difficulty breathing, and insomnia or frequent waking during sleep. Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema, both of which constitute life-threatening medical emergencies. Get help if you become extremely ill at altitude!

• If at all possible, plan your itinerary so that you have a gradual increase in altitude, instead of starting out at high altitude. At 8,000 ft. (2438m.) altitude, some travelers will have some mild signs of altitude sickness. After a few days at this altitude, you can move up to 10,000 ft. or so. You might notice some increased signs of altitude sickness, but these will be milder than if you had started at the higher altitude. Continue to gradually go up in altitude every couple of days. Remember that when mountain climbers do an ascent, the do it in time-consuming stages to lessen the impact of altitude.

• Plan your trip so that you will be able to take it easy during altitude acclimatization, if necessary. You may need to rest much more than usual. During this time, avoid alcohol and smoking. Eat lightly – your meals should be more carbohydrate-based, which is easier to digest than protein.

• Consider taking preventative medication, such as acetazolamide (Diamox). This is a prescription medication that not everyone can take due to other health conditions, so your doctor should approve its use. Diamox helps speed up your body’s adjustment to altitude, and it also used when serious AMS symptoms develop. There are other medications that show promise to help altitude acclimatization, but they aren’t proven yet.


Hiking Poles Now Allowed in Carry-on

Posted in travel  by shari

The TSA (US) has just announced an easing of some of the restrictions for carry-on items on flights.

In addition to small folding pocket knives, sports equipment such as ski poles will be allowed in carry-on baggage. Ski poles are nearly identical to hiking poles, so presumably hiking poles will also be allowed.

In order to fit into carry-on luggage, hiking poles might have to be disassembled. They will unscrew at the “joints” into several shorter pieces.

Remember that for the Inca Trail, hiking poles must have rubber tips. These can be purchased in outdoors/camping stores where the poles are sold.

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The Inca Trail — are you up for it?

The 4-day Inca Trail in Peru inspires adventurous trekkers to follow in the footsteps of the original Incas through the Andean mountains, to finally reach the mysterious sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

Problems in the past with overuse and damage to the trail have led authorities to impose a 500 person per day limit on the trail, and to require that trekkers travel with approved agencies. Most Inca Trail agencies will include tents, three hot meals a day, paid trail fees and entry to Machu Picchu, as well as guides and porters. In the “high season” of travel — June, July and August — treks should be booked at least five months in advance.

ALTITUDE is the first problem trekkers face. Over the years, many well-conditioned athletes have had to had to turn back from the trek — or even be carried out — due to altitude sickness. The trail starts at approximately 8,400ft. elevation, not too bad. Then trekkers climb uphill until they reach Dead Woman’s pass on midday of Day 2, at about 13,800ft. This tremendous increase in altitude over a short period of time can be a recipe for disaster. Many trekkers are faced with symptoms of altitude sickness, becoming very short of breath and fatigued, with headaches, loss of appetite and maybe other symptoms. The best advice is to spend several days at gradually increasing altitudes, and in fact, many trek agencies require their clients to spend at least two days in Cusco (11,000ft.) before starting the trek. And even better, is spending a few days at a lower (but still high) altitude before arriving in Cusco. For many, this means staying in the Sacred Valley of Peru, between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Some trekkers take the prescription medication Diamox (acetazolamide), which helps speed up the body’s adjustment to altitude. Some also advocate drinking coca tea, which will be available all over Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

STEPS are the second problem trekkers face. A lot of that trail is stone steps (both up and down) built by the original Incas into the mountainsides. Training for the trek should include a lot of work on the quads — hill running, stair steppers, squats, or even real stairs (think office building or parking garage). Hiking poles definitely help, and they ease the stress on knees. Training should also include walking or running. However, hikers in less than outstanding physical condition have successfully completed the trek. And age is not a factor, just condition (and the altitude adjustment, of course). Some hardy children of 10 or so have done the trek, as well as spry 70-year-olds.

CAMPING is an issue for some trekkers. You will definitely be camping out on the Inca Trail — there is no lodging at all, no fancy hotels, no quaint B&Bs, not even any barebones hostels. You will be sleeping on the ground, in a tent. A silk cocoon sleeping bag liner adds a few extra degrees of warmth and makes turning over in the bag much easier, plus it feels so luxurious. Most trek agencies will give you a 4-person tent for only two people, and the porters will carry the tent. With most agencies, porters will carry sleeping bags, mats and personal gear only if they added at the time of booking, with extra fees.

FOOD & WATER are concerns for many. Most trek agencies provide three hot meals a day (cooked on a propane stove carried by a porter!), plus several snacks. Water is always of concern in Peru. Tap water is not potable, and stream water in the wild may carry parasites, bacteria or viruses. Many agencies will boil extra water at each meal and then cool it for drinking. Bring your own reusable water bottle or Camel-Bak to refill. If the trek agency does not boil water for drinking, you can bring water purification tablets or use a Steri-pen, which effectively purifies your water with UV light.

CLOTHING for the trek is often a question for trekkers. The best solution is to wear layers. Regardless of the time of year, mornings will be chilly, midday may be warm (especially if the weather is sunny), and evenings will cool off a lot. You need to be able to adjust the layers according to temperature. A wicking t-shirt is a good base layer, followed by a synthetic hiking shirt, lightweight fleece and shell jacket. Synthetic hiking pants are preferable to jeans (which take a very long time to dry if they get wet). You should always bring rain gear, but even a lightweight plastic poncho will do. Hiking boots will provide good grip in wet conditions, and can possibly prevent a sprain, although some hikers wear trail runners or even running shoes. Always bring a hat and sunglasses for sun protection.
ALSO BRING: sunblock lotion, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (yes!), insect repellent (“Off” towelettes work & are easy to carry), a headlamp (toilet blocks have no electricity), money to tip porters & guides and lastly, your camera!
Hiking the Inca Trail gives memories of a lifetime. With a little planning, you can have a great trek. Just do it — you know you want to!

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Travel Style: Independent or Tour?

Machu Picchu Arriving at Machu Picchu When planning a trip, consider what style fits you best. Some travelers, especially those who are planning international travel for the first time, find the prospect of travel without a group daunting, maybe even downright scary. But it doesn’t have to be. Group travel (tour groups of 25 to 50 people) suit some people. And some people would rather stay at home than join a group of that size. Consider: Do you need someone to make all of the arrangements for you?  Or would you prefer to customize your itinerary to what you what to see & do? Some random thoughts might pop into your head, like: How do I make the travel arrangements? How do I know what I’m getting? How do I make bookings? Will I get lost/scammed/robbed? I had these concerns, too, but we really didn’t want to be herded around as part of a large group. We wanted a more personalized trip. In this day & age of the internet, self-planned travel is often as safe & secure as a prearranged tour. With all the myriad travel websites and forums now available, you can research a good itinerary, find good hotels & restaurants, and find all the travel connections you need. You can find reviews of all these & recommendation by travelers who have been there. And you can get a heads-up on what to avoid. The websites will give you the general information, and the forums will give you more specific information from the travelers themselves. Some of my favorite travel websites and forums include: Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, Virtual Tourist, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Igougo. On another post, I will discuss researching airline fares & schedules online. I used these websites and travel forums to book a successful 2-week trip to Peru. We had exactly the itinerary we wanted, the hotels we wanted, and side trips as we pleased. This was our first trip to South America. Everything went off without a hitch, and we had a wonderful time. And no, I am not fluent in Spanish or Quechua!

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Pack Light: Travel Happy

Posted in boomer travel, travel, travel light  by shari

After having my luggage lost 3 times in 3 years, I decided it was time to try traveling with carry-on luggage only. After all, I had come back from trips having worn 1/2 of what I took — maybe I could narrow it down to taking only the things I would actually need, and have no worries about lost luggage. Plus, lugging heavy suitcases around is no fun. And now, airlines are even adding extra fees for checked baggage. So, as an experiment, I packed for a 2-week trip to Spain, using carry-on only.  It worked great! Secrets: *Really, really think about what you need on the trip. Before you pack, spread everything out that you intend to pack  & consider if it is essential or not.  You don’t need a new outfit for every day. Remember — you’re traveling, not in competition for “best-dressed.” *Layer your clothing as temperature & weather conditions dictate. Even for cold temperatures like those found at 14,000 ft. on the Inca Trail in the Andes, you don’t need a heavy jacket — you just add layers. Then, when you are in warmer climates, shed some layers.  For example: CoolMax t-shirt, long-sleeve base layer, synthetic roll-sleeve campshirt, lightweight zip fleece, GoreTex or similar shell, synthetic hiking pants (lots of pockets). This will be enough for temperatures near freezing. *All clothing should be mix & match, easy care. I like synthetic fabrics often found in outdoors/adventure stores and online. CoolMax and similar wicking fabrics will keep you comfortable in all kinds of conditions, and are quick-dry if you wash them, and don’t really wrinkle. Ex Officio even makes quick-dry underwear you can wash at night in your hotel room & wear in the morning. Favorite brands include: LL Bean, Ex Officio, Columbia, North Face, Mountain Hardwear. Travel catalog/websites like Magellan’s & LL Bean Traveler have a lot of selections. Women can also look to stores like Chico’s and Coldwater Creek for travel-worthy clothing. *Pack one lightweight dressy option, only  if you know you will need it. Men can usually wear a nice sweater, lightweight fleece or campshirt, in all but the fanciest restaurants. Women can pack a lightweight top and “travel pants,” made of a great no-wrinkle fabric. *Wear your bulkiest items on the plane, like hiking shoes, jacket, etc. Less to carry this way. *Minimize the toiletries  & put all the liquids/gels (3 oz. or smaller)  in a quart-size Ziploc bag, kept in a handy place for the airport security check. Other toiletries can be kept in another bag in your suitcase. *For a travel tote, use a small daypack — which you will be happy to have when you are at your destination. Women, don’t bother with a purse. *Bring a small container of laundry detergent & a travel clothesline. Do a little bit of laundry (underwear, socks)  in your hotel sink each night. This way, you don’t need  to pack 14 pairs of underwear for a 14-day trip. *Choose flexible, lightweight luggage. I like Rick Steves 21″ roll-aboard,  with wheels,  so I don’t have to lug the suitcase if I have a ways to go to my hotel. Any other ideas for packing light?

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Optimistic Traveler: What’s in a Title?

Posted in adventure travel, boomer travel, travel  by shari

Optimistic: It’s been said that optimists look at life from a “glass half full” point of view, whereas pessimists look at life as a “glass half empty.”  I am strongly in the “glass half full” category.  And, I notice how lovely the glass is.

I’ve alway approached life with a somewhat postive outlook. Then, nearly five years ago, I was diagnosed with a potentially aggressive cancer. As expected, my reactions were all negative, with feelings of fear, anger, despair, and doom.

Sometime during the course of my 18 months of rigorous treatment, I noticed a distinct change in my attitude towards life. I felt stronger than I ever had before. Without my conscious efforts, I turned to making the best of the life I have now.

Alex Linley, a prominent scholar in the field of Positive Psychology, identifies this as “growth through adversity.” I felt stronger, kinder, and paradoxically more in control of my life than I ever had before.

Traveler: I have loved to travel my entire life. I remember the excitement of getting into the car, seeing different sights along the highways, then stopping at a new place, with strange smells and exotic views.

I often joke that my brothers and I  grew up in the backseat of the car. Read the rest of this entry »