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What Kind of Footprint Will You Leave: Travel Perspectives

30 Apr

As I prepare to set off to Puerto Vallarta to the North American Travel Journalists’ Association Conference in a few days, I am reminded that travel is all about how we perceive the experience and how each of us sees our role in those moments we spend where ever we land.

sand for macromondya

We do leave footprints where ever we go. Think about it. Our presence at any particular place at any particular moment in time, changes that place — just our presence leaves a mark. It really doesn’t matter whether we consciously set out to make a difference or not, like it or not, we do.

For me, this is the cool part. The tone of the change I make is, for the most part, in my control.

I believe there is a very fine line that separates expectations and entitlement and that can be summed up in how I view my role in the moment.

Do I see myself as a guest or a consumer? If I am willing to remove my own humanity from the situation, I will most certainly remove all human elements from the encounter. What a tremendous loss.


My latest trip, a volunteer stint with Global Volunteers to work on St. Lucia for a couple weeks, altered my perception of what being immersed in a culture means for me.

It was a volunteer trip and I expected to contribute. At some point in the first few days I made a huge shift in my thinking – a mental pivot from giving to serving.  No sharing of my vast experience. No being the expert.  Just listening and trusting that I would know what to do.

I know that at the NATJA Conference my partner in crime, Lois, and I will learn so much, be treated like royalty, and we will see the cream of what the area has to offer in addition to meeting some pretty amazing travel journalists and magazine publishers. We will be learning about tourism and the role we play as writers in promoting the industry. We are dining at the best local spots, swimming with dolphins, being pampered at the spas, visiting the most amazing historic cultural sites (and YES there is rock art to explore) and so much more.

Yes, we are truly excited and grateful for the opportunity to experience all of this! Here is the thing and why I am so glad we are going…. We both understand the value of tourism to survival in many parts of the world. It provides jobs and self-sufficiency and hope on so many levels. Tourism is the backbone of many economies and supports generations of people both directly and indirectly.

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Communities are about its people and its culture. I am honored to promote people and to be an invited guest.

As I write about the experience and share with you along the way I know I will keep this in the front of my mind:

My actions, my posture, the tone of my voice, and the tenor of my interactions all combine to define the mark I leave on the world. I will leave a mark – what kind of mark is up to me. 

For the record, Lois and I find ways to find light and laughter in the most mundane or even trying situations so this sweet trip should be an absolute riot!

We will both be using #NATJAPV15 if you want to follow us the laughter trail on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Maybe on Google + if we think of it :)!

All aboard!!!


From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Daily Inspiration & Forming New Habits

26 Feb

It takes two weeks of repeated practice to establish a new habit.

Good thing because I absolutely love, and want to make a habit of, sharing a message of the day with those I am working with each and every day as we are doing each day to start our morning meeting for the St. Lucia Project.

We are taking turns sharing thoughts — some are quotes from others, some are our own thoughts, and some (those shared by the one who just can’t leave well enough alone…me) create a variation of the two.

Here are a few of our thoughts from this week and a few photos.



Challenges are what makes life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.  Joshua J. Marine



Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for your uniqueness on this Earth, you would not be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in world come about. So be that one person!



We spoke yesterday about not knowing what you can or might just love to do until you try. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you expand your horizons and your possibilities. 

I am the keeper of the Journal for Team 32 — it is my responsibility to make sure that everything gets typed in and turned in at the end of the trip. Last night as I was putting in the entries from earlier in day, I read through all the Message of the Day entries. Oh my how we have evolved and oh my how it shows in what we choose to share each day.


From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Little Things Catching My Attention

25 Feb

My entry from Monday, February 23 recapping my Friday activities as part of St. Lucia Project Team 32.

“Friday was a bit disjointed for both Barbara and me: RCP had planning meetings and the Primary School was pretty consumed with Independence Day activities. When I arrived at the school all of the children were outside, many dressed in the patriotic colors of the St. Lucian flag. The children answered questions, read passages about historical events, and several teachers spoke about national pride and patriotism. It was fascinating and uplifting to hear and feel the depth of the passion behind the words. There was one thing from the morning session that stuck with. One of the teachers asked the students to name patriotic acts—specific things that citizen might do to show they love their country. The first answer? Vote. It felt like the perfect answer and one I wished that every child would give, everywhere, first.Flag_of_Saint_Lucia

Chemida brought Barbara over to help at the Primary School so we got organized and started down our long list of students to see, ready to have a full day of one-on-one sessions in both literacy and math. On the way to meet Dan and Chemida for lunch, I snapped photos of the route we walked, the houses and buildings on the way, and an awesome pile of nuts drying in the sun. The little things continue to catch my attention. The father holding his child’s hand. How warmly people greet each other. The produce on the tables in the street. The detail of the braids and the care placed in the ribbons and clips in the girls’ at the Primary School’s hair. The trusting reception I continue to get from just about everyone I speak to—especially the children at the school.P1160801

When we got back from lunch Barbara and I found out that there was a competition—game show quiz style and all about Independence Day—that started at 1:15 and lasted the rest of the day. We went in and watched for a while as proud students representing the four “houses” in the school answered questions based on facts about St. Lucia.  I just love the national pride and deep understanding of the island’s history that is taught in the schools….

I seem to be on solid ground with the principal and am loving the one-on-one sessions with the students. Dan continues to be an inspirational rock star. And Barbara seems to be feeling more at ease with her role and appreciate the work she is doing with RCP. Bring on week 2 with all its bumps and disruptions! We are ready!”



Changes, Cultural Adjustments, and Wardrobe Malfunctions

18 Feb

First, a couple puzzles from the photos I have taken so far on our volunteer trip to St. Lucia. I am not allowed to take photos in the village where we are working yet — it is essential that we not look like tourists but become part of the community as best we can. Starting on Thursday I will be able to snap a few photos so much more to come!

We have had to do some serious shifting and paying attention to the details has been critical. Before talking about those shifts, here are two Find the Difference so you can work on paying attention to the details.  Can you find the three differences in each of these?

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!


Find three more differences in this one!


The Catholic Church in Anse La Raye originally built in 1796 but rebuilt several times over the years.                  They are one of our hosts for this project.


Now a peak into the first few days our #AdventureInService.

One of the first things stressed in all the material we received from Global Volunteers before leaving for our trip to work on the St. Lucia Project is be prepared to expect the unexpected.

We were ready to shift gears and pace. We were ready to roll with the punches as things came up and were fully prepared to be alert and to be ready to think on our feet.  We were even prepared to accept and work within a whole different set of cultural norms — even those that made us uncomfortable (and there are a few).

We were completely prepared to serve the local community — not teach or lead but do what needed to be done to best support.


The foundation of Global Volunteers 12 Essential Services project. The idea is that if you take care food and health and support children psychosocially, you can raise the IQ of a nation….

What we did not expect, however, was to change assignments after we arrived in Anse La Raye — especially when that assignment changed required completely different clothes to be appropriate and respectful!

Two weeks before we left, our assignments came via email along with very specific, culturally appropriate clothing requirements. Dan was going to be working in the Primary School and I was assigned to the Earth Box project. There is a dress code for volunteers who work in the schools so we took great pains to prepare Dan’s clothing so he was dressed appropriately.

I was going to be digging in the dirt and working with local mothers setting up Earth Boxes so each could have a variety of fresh vegetables at their own homes and available to them at the Catholic church in a space where the grounds have more than a few square feet to spare. All I needed to worry about was that I had simple clothing, not too tight, and pants that covered my knees.

When we arrived, we found out that the supplies for Earth Boxes were not there…. No seedlings. Not enough peat moss…..  So I was reassigned to…the Primary School!

The amazing project leader helped me fix the wardrobe failure (that is a long story for another day) and we again shifted! We are now better prepared and are expected more unexpected things.

My comfort zone is expanding every day in so many unimaginable ways!!

Travel Teaches

29 Jul

Mark Twain on travel

Photo Walks: Stories the World Tells When You Pay Attention

11 Jul

Sometimes my husband and I set out on a photo walk with no expectations — just see what we can find when we open our minds to paying attention to the details and open our senses to experiencing what is going on around us.   Recently we knew we set out to find very specific details.

approach to Gilla Bend site

The approach to the site…. Do you notice anything yet?

Above is the approach to the Painted Rock Petroglyph site.   If you look closely you can see some etching on the rocks.  Some ancient some not so ancient….  Now a closer look at that rock.

Petroglyph 3

 My initial reaction was disappointment and file this supposed spectacular native American site under “People can be real idiots”.   But after some thought, a quick attitude adjustment and a bit of research, both 1879 and 1907 have historical significance in the area — a different history but history none the less.  We pressed on and look what we found….

petrogly[h 4

Oh my….

And around the next corner….

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Oh the stories on these rocks…. staggering

We have been to quite a few Native American sites across the southwest.  Some absolutely breath taking but we have never seen a site where the carvings tell entire stories.   We follow the story of a hunt and the sun rising/seasons changing and a child growing up…all documented in stone more than 2,00o years ago.   We did not have a modern translator or a book to guide us — the stories were right there for us to see.   No doubt about it….


Here are a few more images from this wonderful Hohokam site.  Enjoy, appreciate, and learn from the stories.  What do you see in these?

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Don’t forget to pay attention to the stories the world has waiting for you — right in front of your eyes.

Great Brains Don’t Just Happen: Dreaming of a World….

29 May

One of my favorite poets died yesterday. Woven in the flurry of memorial and tribute to truly creative and expressive people like Maya Angelou, is a story of life — one where a brain grows, develops, wires, re-wires, and adapts. Lurking beneath the surface we can find those factors that allowed this extraordinary brain to generate the work of this extraordinary person — a body of work that will outlast all of us.

I talk, a lot, about how to maximize well developed brains. Be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful and you continue the nourishing cycle that supports long-term brain functioning.

Here is what we don’t talk about enough…. What happens when a brain, from moment one, does not have the needed stimuli and nourishment to grow and develop? How many creators of spectacular written imagery like Maya Angelou or artistic visionaries like Judith Baca, creator of the Great Wall in LA or musicians who paint scenes with words and melody like Joni Mitchell never had the chance to develop because no one helped them nourish their brains?

That happens. A lot. All over the world. I started thinking about a conversation I had a couple months ago with Michele Gran from Global Volunteers.  Her organization is on the ground floor of a movement to change a condition.  The shift is this — create an environment where brains have the opportunity to reach potential and not  “by limiting factors that limit the growing mind.”  Here is that position – in a 100 second video.

As with just about everything else, once the process has started, we all have choices and we all have a path we walk.  What Michele and I spoke about was changing that basic condition and providing the building blocks for choice to take hold and that conversation changed how I viewed my role in all of this.

We can’t all do this kind of life changing work but we can all  find a way help in some small way to ensure that the next Maya Angelou has the building blocks for the brain she needs to make every life she touches better.  Find how you can make your impact.

Serving Your Purpose Is Good For Your Brain

23 May

I am a bit of research geek… I know and completely own that fact.  In most cases I try to keep the “statistically significant” talk to a minimum but this is one of those incredibly cool instances where science meets happiness and the result just might be the best reason to talk about how “finding and living your purpose” can create a path to better thinking — in scientific terms!

Link in the Chain

The stronger the link, the more powerful the message

Did you know that leading a purposeful life could help head off cognitive decline and potentially reduce your risk of developing symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease?

A study done as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, examined how the positive aspects of life might keep dementia at bay – the goal was to actively look at “happiness, purposefulness in life, well-being and whether those kind of concepts are associated with a decreased risk of dementia,” in concrete, measureable terms.   Guess what researchers found?   People who reported that they lead a purposeful life (scored 4.2 or better out of 5 on the purpose-in-life measure) were about 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who scored lower….

Carl tall trees

Grow strong roots, stand tall, and cover yourself with awesomeness :)!


Summary of findings in US News & World Report

If that is not a good enough reason, let’s look at what it means to live with a purpose from an every day brain health perspective.

  • When you do something meaningful to you, you feel good.  When you feel good your brain releases that nourishing trifecta of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) among other happiness related chemical and electrical reactions.
  • When you feel accomplished — like you have really contributed to the greater good – notice that your respiration is more even and your stress levels (and therefore your biological stress reactions) reduce.
  • Finding your purpose is a learning and exploring process that requires actively using so many areas of your brain.  You are looking at how you want to live from an intellectual, emotional, and solution oriented perspective.   In order to do that, you must use every higher-level cognitive process and give those rational thoughts emotional value.

One last reason to live a purposeful life – something my mom taught me and that carries me through.  The balance of the world is very delicate and how we live our lives can change that balance.   Always give more than you take and whenever possible, leave each place you go and person you meet a little better for you being there.    It is the right thing to do for the right reasons at the only moment in time (NOW).

bailey rainbow

Spread your light everywhere you go.

For fellow research nerds, here are some more studies linking how we live our lives with how well our bodies age!

Positive Benefits of Positive Thoughts and Actions on Health From University of Wisconsin – Madison Institute on Aging:

On the Power of Positive Thinking From the Carnegie Melon University:

A little less geeky perspective from the Mayo Clinic:

Leaving Your Mark on the World: Projects Close to Home

13 May

The world is so full of need. Providing a way for people to lift themselves up and empower them to live a healthier, more productive life is so important, and something that helps us all “Be” better.   When I think of volunteer travel, I imagine working in a community in some far off country where people, living in third world conditions, desperately need a helping hand.

It might surprise you that you don’t need a passport to find a worthwhile, life changing volunteer vacation that will help you lift up others, travel, develop a deep appreciation for another culture, and experience new ways of looking at life while you find and serve your purpose. Yes, there are places in the US that lack essential services for their residents, particularly their children, to thrive, and those communities need our help as well.


There are many volunteer vacation options and projects in the US. It is so important to find the right match for you, your interest, your travel needs, and your health status.  Check out for an extensive listing and to match what you are looking for and what you need with a project.

My interests revolve around brain development and Global Volunteers, a US based nonprofit I discovered while exploring volunteer vacations, shares that passion.  This organization just gets it that if we create an environment for people to grow and thrive, that, by itself will allow more brains to reach their potential and people to contribute to the world on a deeper level.  Brains need good nutrition, stimulation, social interaction, and purpose to feed the chemical and electrical systems that fuel neuron growth.

global volunteers logoGlobal Volunteers crafts projects that focus on helping fill areas of need – in particular those that help lift the community as a whole and build healthier, more productive community members.  When I spoke the founder Michele Grand, last month, we talked about how each of their projects around the world, zeroes in on those essential services people need to thrive.  That is a concept and focus that I believe will enable us all to leave our positive lasting mark.

Let’s look at a project on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana facilitated by Global Volunteers.  This is an isolated community with huge holes in essential services needed to build strong, productive brains.  Global Volunteers, under the guidance of community leaders, created an immersive program that allows small groups to spend a week working in the early childhood center or the assisted living facility or the community college or the care center or other areas where the need is great.   Mentor, build, share knowledge, and enhance your own brain health by serving your purpose in a challenging, fulfilling, social environment…. How great is it that you can contribute on such a meaningful level using all those skills that you have accumulated over the years?  DIGITAL CAMERA

The fact that Global Volunteers understands that Baby Boomers are the both the now and the future of meaningful volunteering just seals the deal for me.  Looking for a meaningful way to spending some time leaving your mark on the world?  Check out the Global Volunteers projects all over the world!

I have not been compensated by Global Volunteers in any way — just given the gift of one of the co-founder’s time to talk about building better brains globally!

Baby Boomer Travel: San Diego Travel & Adventure Show

31 Mar

amtrak with loisI spent the weekend exploring the San Diego Travel and Adventure Show.  Saturday I went with my friend and writer extraordinaire, Lois, from the widely acclaimed blog Midlife at the Oasis.  We were looking for interesting and purposeful travel opportunities for our generation, and unique trips and products to share with our audiences.  We found some great stuff, hatched a few ideas, and hope to bring some valuable information to those who read our writing.

 On Sunday, I went back looking for things more focused on brain healthy travel and I found some volunteer travel opportunities for Boomers but mostly in places where even the vendors did not know they were sitting on a golden opportunity.

First, a bit about the show as a whole.  For a first time show, this was an amazingly well done event!  Yes, this is just a new location for the Travel and Adventure series (they also have shows in Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, DC, and Philadelphia) but any challenges that come with putting on a big event at a new venue were overshadowed by the quality of the exhibitors and presentations.   Both days, the aisles were packed, the booths were all swamped, and there was standing room only at many of the presentations I attended.

In a nutshell, here is what I walked away with.    The volunteer / adventure travel industry (at least what was represented here) is not marketing to the Baby Boomer market – they are focused on young people looking for something meaningful and challenging to do – mostly gap year students and pre-children twenty something couples looking to take advantage of those moments to go and be before their lives change.

Crowd outside Travel ShowThat, in my opinion is a huge missed opportunity and there is an enormous hole in that line of thinking.  We, Baby Boomers, as a massive group, are looking for ways to enjoy our lives, see the world, experience different cultures, and make a contribution in the process.   Those of us who live and work in the US don’t have 8 weeks or even a month to participate in meaningful projects and really want to maximize the one or two weeks we can get away.

Yes, Road Scholars – formerly known as Elder Hostels — was well represented and had all kinds of information about their many educational trip offerings.  And yes, Road Scholars does the whole international education and lifelong learning thing for mature adults incredibly well – they have been practicing since 1975.   And yes, they now have even added some more physically challenging trips that include a bit more adventure.   If your primary purpose is life-long learning (a noble purpose and one that we all should aspire to) exclusively and you are a “mature adult”, Road Scholars has great options. Check them out.

I am not quite at the mature adult stage (getting there) and since I don’t have lots of time to travel, my goal is always to maximize how I spend my leisure time.  I want to be able to make a difference where I go in the short amount of time I have.

Maybe this experience sums it up.   I was caught off guard when after I described my focus on the Baby Boomer market to one of the Adventure Travel companies, the lovely young woman pointed to the “Classic” and “Comfort” sections on their sheet of offerings because the level of difficulty was always “minimized”.  After a deep breath, I suggested a trip specifically for Baby Boomers writers who could help them figure out how to capitalize on this great market opportunity, and, after she took a deep breath, she seemed to get it.

DSCN0014We all need to take a deep breath and figure out how this generation of doers and change makers can really make a difference in our leisure time.  With that goal in mind, I started a new section on Cranium Crunches website:   Find Your Purpose.    Together, let’s explore how to challenge ourselves to be and do more while we maximize all our moments so we can live a more purposeful life.



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