Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travel Trend Tuesday: War Tourism – Dangerous or Enlightening?

Every time the news comes on these days, there is another story about the horrors in war-torn areas of the world: Israel and the Gaza Strip, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq. These places are in the midst of violence, corruption, destruction and terror. People tuning in around the world – myself included – witness the abhorrence in these countries, and the idea of visiting them moves to the far reaches of our minds. At least for most of us. For some extreme souls, traveling to these countries, especially during war and terrorism, is worth the risk.

A tourist tank in Afghanistan. Credit: Todd Huffman/Flickr
According to Wikipedia, War Tourism is recreational travel to war zones for sightseeing and superficial voyeurism. This is a growing trend in the industry that brings travelers to countries and regions impacted by conflict. These danger zones may not be the soul focus of the trip, but they are part of the package of experiences people get in those countries. It's a new way to see the turmoil. You are no longer hiding behind a television screen, the battles are there in front of you. The area is interesting for people, they become a part of what is happening there, and then they take that experience home with them with unparalleled anecdotes and images to share.

Apparently, this kind of tourism isn't new. It dates back as far as the Civil War – possibly further –  when armies were trailed by spectators. But those incidents were most likely due to people living nearby coming out to watch the battles taking place on their doorsteps. Today, it's more commercialized, more formal. And the internet makes it much more accessible.

The trend is an extreme breed of adventure tourism, which is a type of travel that involves exploration and sometimes risk. For the most part, adventure travel may be any activity that includes two of these three components: a physical activity, a cultural exchange and engagement with nature. Adventure tourism has grown by an average of 65% annually since 2009, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and it is estimated to be worth $263 billion. Now, that category has also grown to include more dangerous trips to war zones and areas of political asperity.

If you're interested in participating in this kind of travel, there are plenty of companies that cater to thrill-seekers, offering itineraries and guided tours to some very offbeat and macabre regions. This article in The Atlantic lists many willing to take travelers to high threat areas or offbeat destinations around the world.

The interesting thing about these kinds of trips is not just that they are considered dangerous, there's no doubt about that, but that they uncover what's going on for people interested in the world around them. This is the world we live in, and fear of that keeps us in the dark about what these countries are all about, their culture, their economies, their beliefs and their attractions. I know it's difficult to imagine walking around areas like these, but there is something to learn from the experiences, and those willing to take a risk can come away with much more than they ever expected.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fitness Friday: The Rise of Wellness Travel

Vacation is becoming less about just taking a trip somewhere and more about the bettering of oneself through travel. It's not just about getting away for a week or two, relaxing on the beach and taking a break from the stress of every day life–though it is healthy to do that every once and a while. Now, people are taking active steps to wellness while simultaneously enjoying a different destination.

Fitness and wellbeing trips are on the rise, as more and more people take advantage of their time off to get in some much needed exercise. The fact is, most people want to work out, be active, relax, detox, but schedules are so packed with work, social events, family obligations, there's really no time in our everyday lives to get in that well deserved massage or five-mile run (unless you only want to get three hours of sleep).

Vacations provide a set amount of uninterrupted time that you can use to your hearts content, and many people want to maximize it so they can come back feeling rejuvenated. This trend will continue as increasing numbers of people adopt wellness lifestyles that they will want to incorporate into travel. No matter what your intentions–weight loss, stress management, getting in touch with nature, improved levels of fitness or just reconnecting with yourself or your family–there are places and tour packages out there, and many more will be popping up.

Many hotels already offer elements that cater to wellness travelers, such as fitness centers and spa treatments. But recently, major hotel brands have created themed hotels designed specifically for this kind of travel, such as InterContinental Hotel Group's EVEN Hotels, which just launched this year.

A number of start up tour companies have come onto the scene, ready to provide you with one-of-a-kind experiences that will not only get you moving, but will also introduce you to a variety of destinations. If you're looking for a heart-pumping adventure, you can try Discover Fitness and Travel, which takes travelers on bike tours through exotic locations. The tours make stops at local villages, where riders can enjoy city markets and discover the local culture.

As this kind of travel becomes more popular, people will begin to seek out new and exciting locales for their vacations. Yes, you can still have a wellness trip in California or Florida or along the shores of New England and in the deserts of Arizona. Those are all great places for those looking for a budget friendly option. But Gen Xers and aging baby boomers who have more disposable income are eager to go places that really get them away from it all. If you want a place where you can completely unwind, head to Oman, where you can relax and get in touch with nature in the mountains or along the sparkling beaches. Want to detox or enjoy some great yoga? Check out Thailand. Ever considered a trip to the Himalayas or Malaysia? Maybe you should, since these are great places known for their healing practices and connection to nature.

Wellness travel has become more than just a temporary fix, it's turning into a long-term solution to living sedimentary lives. They are no longer a quick weekend trip to the spa or a hiking adventure in the mountains. These trips are turning into annual, week-long excursions where travelers can truly better their bodies and minds, and come back with results that will last much longer than the tans they would have gotten lying on the beach.