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Travel Advice

Machu Picchu’s Uncertain Future

by Elena on February 13, 2010

Peru Machu PicchuA couple weeks ago, floods and mudslides forced over 3,900 tourists to flee the area.  Most were flown out by helicopter because the flooding destroyed the trail system that people use to go to and from Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.Peru Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu remains closed to tourists and will stay that way until the Peruvian government can rebuild the rail system.  Machu Picchu already had a weakened structure, growing more weak with each of the thousands of tourists who wander on top of its stones each year.  The flooding will undoubtedly affect the tourism economy.  Peru officials are worried about these effects, and they are already lowering prices trying to lull tourism back to the country.

The fact that people lost their homes, livelihoods, and businesses is enough to bear, but the effects will be even harder to recover from if tourism doesn’t pick up eventually.  It is a sad truth that locals who depend highly on tourism will be affected the most, at least the most directly.

One of the reasons I avoid writing about such tragic events is because my words always seem trivial compared to the events themselves.  Rick Steves does a great job with this sort of commentary such as his response to the earthquake in Haiti and his commentary on the poverty in Haiti even before the disaster struck, but not all of us have that ability.

Having been in Peru less than a year ago it is extremely sad to see the same places I visited destroyed.  Again, this is an egocentric feeling that displays how the places you visit form a personal connection with you always.  The footage of the wreckage, as well as a post from Uncornered Market, inspired me to go through my pictures of Peru.  The photography section is back up with pictures from Peru, including Machu Picchu.

Images via: The Sacramento Bee



Aventure At Any Age

by Elena on February 8, 2010

Adventure Into Your Old Age NYTimes

Image via: NY Times

The stereotype for hostel life and adventure travel usually entails a large group of fresh-faced kids in their twenties with an oversize backpack peaking over their heads.  Backpacker life is changing, however, like Nomadic Matt discusses in his post about backpackers turning into flashpackers.  In the past you may have been lucky to have more than one computer available at your hostel, but now more and more hostels are coming equipped with computer rooms and free wifi.  The customers at hostels also reflect the change in travel culture.  Most people will be carrying around some fancy gadget in order to document their trip and keep in touch with family and friends back home.  At your next hostel take a look around you.  Yes you will undoubtedly see the bearded American guy in Birkenstocks, and the ridiculously in shape Aussie guy signing up for a biking tour, but you will also see some other people and they won’t be in their twenties.  People’s priorities are changing and more and more ‘grownups’ and active seniors are deciding to travel later in life.

There are organizations that are capitalizing on this trend (as smart companies always do) and providing services to older travelers.  Exploritas and Overseas Adventure Travel cater to this specific clientele.  In the New York Times article Seeing Old Age as a Never-Ending Adventure, they interview people like Tom Lackey who at 89 years old wing walks, where he straps his feet onto the top of a plane’s wings while in flight.  How many twenty year olds do you know that do that?



Travel Won’t Answer Your Problems

by Elena on January 21, 2010

Travel With Red UmbrellaI met with an old friend this week.  We sat over a western omelet, fulfilling the ritual catch-up, reminiscing about the past and predicting our future.  It is interesting when you meet with someone after a long period time of being apart, especially if that person knows you well.  In a way they can gauge how much you’ve changed, or how much you’ve stayed the same.

Like some people, he thought vacation was going to be his escape, maybe even a small answer to all his frustrations and worries.  He learned quickly that this wasn’t the case.  He had been looking forward to his trip and when his expectations didn’t live up to reality, he was inevitably disappointed.  He returned home, back to his routine, spending hours and days in his place of  business, disillusioned by his travels.

This got me thinking about the expectations we have when go abroad.  If you’ve traveled a lot you may start to feel overwhelmed.  Churches and cathedrals all start to look the same and you may even begin to get a little pretentious.  My vacation spot is way better than yoursI went to Machu Picchu way before it became one of the New 7 Wonders. Long term travelers can also be perceived as running away from responsibilities, problems, or the ‘real’ world.  People may ask what exactly it is that you are looking for or running away from.  These are difficult questions to answer because we all travel for different reasons and in different ways.  Because of limited vacation time, most Americans travel for short periods of time.  Some of us may want to get drunk in Cancun, while others want to climb mountains, learn a language, or live abroad.

In my experience, one of the great things about going away is the feeling you get when you leave a place behind.  It isn’t completely rational, it’s probably not entirely healthy either, but there is nothing like knowing that tomorrow you will be somewhere new.  Not everyone will agree of course, but when you get that itch you will recognize it right away.

For this reason it is easy to think that once you’re gone all your troubles will be left behind.  Of course this isn’t always the case.  Similar to the way some people may find comfort in a brisk jog around their neighborhood, or more appropriately a couple pints of beer, travel comforts too, but as we know a carton of Ben & Jerry’s won’t get rid of the problem and neither will picking up and flying to the South Pacific.

Traveling isn’t always easy.  I’m not talking about a resort vacation with a massage therapist and daily yoga, that seems rather easy to me, but rather the decision to travel long term and see the world, often on a budget.  You won’t get the comfort and amenities of home and you will spend significant periods of time away from family and friends.  What travel can do, however, is bring you in contact with a different way of thinking.  Read Rick Steve’s Travel as a Political Act if you want to get inspired.  He talks about the ways travel can broaden your perspective and help you answer some of the pressing questions and problems you have back home.  Experiencing something outside of your comfort zone may be difficult at first, but it will teach you something.

Travel itself won’t answer your problems, but it can aid you in figuring out just what you want to do in life, what makes you happy, and what situations you can handle.  It can help you grow, and frankly, like a small carton of Ben & Jerry’s it can make you feel a hell of a lot better, at least in the moment.

Image via: alicepopkorn



Is Travel Good For Business?

by Elena on December 7, 2009

Antwerp Central Station, BelgiumWhile reading the innovation article that inspired the majority of my posts last week, I started to think about the connection between travel and growth in business.  It seems inevitable especially in our ever globalized business market.  Based on the findings in the innovator study, managers who have been on assignment abroad show about 7% higher market performance when they become CEOs, compared to the CEOs without the international experience.

One of the most powerful experiments innovators can engage in is living and working overseas.  Our research revealed that the more countries a person lived in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes, or business.

I am not a CEO of a major company and I cannot personally recount the truth of these statistics; however I do feel that they are reflective of the benefits of travel.  There are plenty of people who tell how travel has affected their lives.  There are thousands more people who, despite short vacation time in the US, are dreaming about their next vacation.  To some, travel is merely an escape from the rat race, but maybe it can be much more.

Rick Steves argues in his book Travel as a Political Act that travel can help us form our political opinion.  By experiencing the way other countries are run firsthand, we can eliminate past prejudices, assumptions, and fears.  We can even start to reshape opinions about our own countries.  In regards to business, this awareness can reshape the views of a company, as well as the assumptions of the way companies should be run.

Travel can help your professional career in many ways.  There is a reason many reporters and researchers go ‘in the field.’  There is invaluable information outside of your cubicle.  In this age, where the consumer has loads of products to choose from and thousands of outlets in which they get their information, it is much harder to get your customers to listen.  Marketers need to find innovative and unconventional ways to run successful campaigns.  Of course traditional advertising can be clever and effective (think of Geico’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’) but just because people remember that Maxwell’s is ‘good to the last drop’ or the McDonald’s catchphrase ‘I’m lovin it,’ doesn’t mean that they will drink Maxwell coffee or eat McDonald burgers.

Not everyone can live by gallivanting outside of the office forever, but when you get the chance it will create lots of opportunities that can spark new ideas and revitalize your career.

Image via: antwerpenR



People on the Lares Trail

by Elena on October 28, 2009


Before the foggy mist descended upon us and we fell asleep to the background music of Huayno, we stopped to set up camp near a house where some children were playing in the backyard.  They were shy at first, hiding behind a rock wall, and only popping over when they wanted us to play with them.  One thing you notice right away while talking to the children is the burgundy color of their cheeks caused by the harsh winds of the mountains.  Their skin is tough and bruised.  At night the temperature dip really low and remain the same in the mornings before the sun could rise above the mountains.  All the children have to walk to school, through the rocky terrain, a task that was so difficult for us, yet effortless for them, as they ran while talking and laughing.

We encountered lots of other people on the trail.  Our guide cautioned us on giving the children food, in particular candies which they frequently asked for.  There are not many available dentists and many of the kids have teeth that are rotting and falling out.  Try saying no to a bunch of wide-eyed children asking for something as small as a piece of candy.  It’s not easy.  I asked the kids what their names were and they surprised me with English names like Nelly and Roy here.  Our guide explained that many of the Quechua people started to name their kids after celebrities and popular Anglo names.  Nelly Furtado maybe?DSC00413

While the Quechua people do not wear wedding rings there is a way to distinguish who is married and who is single.  Men traditionally wear a hat with multicolored pieces of fabric hanging off the sides.  If the fabric is hanging on both sides of the hat it means they are married.  Their single counterparts have the pieces tied up in the back.  In the picture below you can see the bright colored hats.  These clothes made it easy to spot another person walking along the isolated trails.  The impressing part is that the dye and make the clothes themselves, using the various plants and wildlife found around their homes.Andean Town Meeting

Image via: quinet.

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Lares Trail

by Elena on October 27, 2009


Many people remember the experience of trekking to Machu Picchu as a mystical encounter, a way of getting in touch with yourself and taking in the energy of the mountains.  Not being completely in tune with nature myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I did know was that this trek was something I had to experience, a check off my proverbial list of things to do before I die.

We chose the Lares Trail, mainly because the more popular Inca Trail was sold out.  If you want to reserve tickets for the Inca Trail you must do so way in advance.  There are restrictions that only allow 500 trekkers per day, including guides and trekking staff, therefore it is harder to reserve a spot.  The Lares Trail on the other hand, has less people walking around on any given day.  It gives a somewhat more private feel to your tour.  It is very rare that we passed another group on our trek.  It literally felt like we were the only people trekking about.  Another draw of the Lares Trail, one that many of the tourist agencies emphasize, is the fact that this trail  takes you through the rural communities.  It is the ‘off the beaten track’ trek so to speak, that allows you to have a bit of contact with the Quechua people.IMGP5127

Day 1
Your guides will pick you up very early so make sure to get a good night’s rest.  We visited the town of Calca, a small town on the way to Lares Village.  The drive through the Sacred Valley to the village takes about 3 hours from Cusco.  The first stop was to the hot springs, which were essentially small man-made pools of hot water.  After we dried off we drove to the beginning of the trail in and had lunch.  Afterward we started the 2 1/2 hour trek to our campsite.  Here is where we met a few campesinos and the most adorable children playing around in their backyard.

Day 2
This is the longest day of the trail.  It was an approximate 7 hour hike to Cancha Cancha.  We ended up staying at a closer campsite because our group got altitude sickness and was weary from the hours of walking.  The highest point of the trek is Pachacutec Pass at 4,450 m (roughly 14,600 feet).  At this point you will see the snow capped mountains up close and personal, and will most likely feel the harshest effect of altitude sickness.

Day 3
This a welcomed day of walking downhill.  With each hour the effects of altitude sickness started to wear off almost instantly.  The walk will take around 5 hours (longer if you are suffering sickness like we were).  The trail ends at the village of Huaran where we stopped to eat lunch.  Then we took a van to Ollantaytambo, where we had to catch a train to Aguas Calientes.  We spent the night in Aguas Calientes at a hotel.  The biggest difference between the Lares Trail and the Inca is that the Lares Trail doesn’t end up directly at Machu Picchu.  The Inca Trail is the only trail that actually ends at Machu Picchu.  That is the one negative  factor about Lares.  The high of hiking and conquering the altitude is somewhat diminished after staying a night in a hotel room.

Day 4
Machu Picchu!  Wake up early.  The first bus up to Machu Picchu leaves before dawn.  We lined up at 5am to make sure that we were first online.  It may be a sacrifice to wake up at such a early hour, but it is worth it to arrive before all the crowds.  Although even at 5am there will be a line forming and much more people following after.


More helpful tips:
The high season for all trails is from June to August.  If you want to travel at these times you must book in advance.  The rainy season is from November to March.  Keep in mind that the climate in the Machu Picchu area is warm during the day and cold at night.  The rainy season is the coldest and the ground will be wet.  One good point of visiting during rainy season is that there will be less crowds and the clouds that give Machu Picchu and the surrounding area the mystic quality will be prevalent.

Altitude sickness afflicts many travelers who aren’t used to the heights.  While being physically fit may not completely protect you from the effects of altitude sickness, it is important to be certain that you are able to do what is physically required of you.  You will be hiking for many hours for a couple of days.  The Salkantay Trail is said to be one of the most difficult because of the constant ascending and descending in the mountains.

IMGP5002Lares Trail Photo Gallery



The Wall Street Journal has declared the top cities for the Young and Restless. They dutifully noted that less people are moving around, no doubt because of the uncertain economy, but they predict that when things pick up, so will those young and restless souls looking for a new city to call home. These cities have a few similarities, for one they are big urban cities, with plenty of financial opportunities. People aren’t flocking to smaller, less pragmatic towns because of financial constraints, although Portland made the list, so the allure of the bohemian isn’t completely lost.

Washington DC – 1st Place (tie)

Youth Magnet Cities Washington DCNew job prospects in government, and an extremely popular president, are very appealing to young urban professionals looking to make a name for themselves. “In the eyes of some people, Barack Obama is America’s coolest boss.” Although the chances of overhearing political jargon during happy hour in D.C. is as high as overhearing financial musings over lunch in New York City, you need not work in politics in order to enjoy living in this town. While politics may rule, there are plenty of other factors that attract the upwardly mobile masses. In neighborhoods such as Adam’s Morgan you will find bookstores, bars, farmer’s markets, restaurants, art galleries, and coffeehouses; a far cry from the expanse of Capitol Hill.

Seattle, WA – First Place (tie)

Youth Magnet Cities Seattle Public MarketFor someone like me, who has been dying to visit this west coast city, I concur with Seattle’s inclusion on the list, mostly because of my own preconceptions. Seattle seems to be where the innovative (think Starbucks and Amazon) mix with their rugged, nature loving friends. Not to mention the beautiful terrain that lies just outside of the city. Of course there are a few disadvantages, although I won’t over saturate you with my complaints of constant rain and never-ending humidity. Ok and I admit, I also really want to see those flying fish at the Pike Place Fish Market.
Image via: Phil Roman

New York City- Third Place

Youth Magnet Cities New York CityNew York City is an obvious choice for many. The city attracts people from all over the world who have to live in this iconic city. It certainly lives up to the hype. Frankly it boggles my mind how so many young people, working on measly salaries (perhaps an entry-level media job or a waitress gig to pay for school) can afford to live in such an expensive city. I don’t know how, but I do know why. Because they love it. It is that simple. You have to live in New York City to truly understand the charm and madness that collide in these yellow taxi filled streets. There are some who complain about the noise and the frenetic pace, the ones who have told me that, ‘eh NYC just isn’t for me.’ This East coast girl tends to tune them out.

Portland, OR – Fourth Place

Youth Magnet Cities PortlandPortland is quirky and for lack of better terminology seems to be the ‘trend’ as of late. With good reason of course. There is a deeply rooted artistic scene in Portland that has been attracting artists and free spirits for quite some time. The unemployment rate (11.2%) doesn’t seem to bother these folks. The appeal is that it may be the anti-big city. There isn’t the frantic pace and the preconceived judgments about how much money you make or who you work for. It seems that Portland promotes a more laid back approach to city life, something that Pacific Northwest cities do so well.
Image via: egazelle

Austin, TX – Fifth Place

Youth Magnet Cities Austin DowntownWhen people talk about Texas, Austin always gets a lot of praise. Austin has a slightly cooler climate than other cities in the state, as well as a youthful culture. If the neighborhood has good bars, trendy restaurants, galleries, and good coffee, give it some time and the young and hip will soon follow.
Image via: Kafka0622