The World’s Healthiest Cities

So how do you decide what a healthy city is?  Usually, like BBC Travel, you use a few figures to find out such as the pervasiveness and ease of use of the mass transit system, access to greenery, and available healthcare.

Singapore ranks in the healthiest cities to live in.  With a low infant mortality rate, high life expectancy, and one of the best healthcare systems in the world, Singapore is certainly one of the best cities in which to live.  With strict anti-littering and even anti-spitting laws, Singapore runs a tight ship.  There are numerous gardens and parks as well as a mass transit system that carries 2 million people to and from work each day.  Singapore also has focused on being a biker-friendly city as well as promoting a good balance between work and recreation in daily activities.


Tokyo is rated the number 2 healthiest city by the Guardian in 2012.  The greenhouse emissions in Tokyo are significantly lower than in most Asian cities, and the public transportation is legendary.  In addition to the implementation of universal health insurance in 1961, strong family and communal ties keep the life expectancy very high at over 84 years old.

Perth is Australia’s and one of the world’s healthiest cities.  According to women’s health, Perth is near the best city for healthy eating, mental wellbeing, life satisfaction, and mental health.  Perth is near plenty of beautiful Indian Ocean Beaches and actively supports outdoor activity.  There are bike shelters at many of the train stations to allow people to bike to the Transperth, Perth’s wonderful public transit system.

Brazilian Riverboats

In Manaus, Brazil during the 2014 Fifa World Cup, tourists are discovering the joys of riverboat travel.  The tiny Amazonian city in Brazil wi5458692082_0959db5ce8_zll be home to four of the World Cup games, but is very remote.  While speedboats and cars may be a faster mode of travel than the riverboats, they lack the same authentic allure.

The Almirante Barbosa is an example of a typical riverboat.  As it travels past breath-taking views, the Almirante Barbosa holds dozens of passengers sleeping in hammocks.  The weather, rocking motion of the boat and drum of the motor are masters at lulling a tourist to sleep.

The Almirante Barbosa and other boats like it are the lifeline of this part of the Amazon.  In addition to passengers, they also carry staple goods to the isolated villages that are impossible to reach by any other method.

These wooden riverboats are ambling and very slow-moving.  A trip that takes a motorboat about 4 hours will take one of these riverboats about 18 hours to make.

Though they are not the speediest method of travel through the Amazon, they do give a traveller the opportunity to take in the local scenes and wildlife as well as a window into the cultures of many of the towns along the Amazon.

The charm of these riverboats lies in the lazy pace, lazy passengers, and ample time to take in the scenery.  Before boarding, it is advisable to bring a hammock as room aboard these vessels is quite sparse and hammocks are often even stacked in tiers, like bunkbeds.  On the dock, Hammocks are sold and you can find any variety you want from $5 to about $100.

People leave the comfort of their hammocks towards sunset, when they relax with a drink in hand and watch the scenery flow by.  While on board you get an idea of what life looks like in the Amazon such as floating houses, bars and general stores.  All in all, taking a riverboat through the Amazon is a great way for tourists to become better acclimated with the jungles of Brazil.

Traveling in the New Generation

According to The Atlantic, the millennial generation, defined as people between the ages of 16 and 34, has a insatiable hunger for travel when compared with older generations.  The Boston Consulting group held a study that found millennials to be more interested in travel than other generations by almost 23%.  About 20% of all travelers, according to the United Nations, are people, which means that there are about 40 million young travelers.  Since 2007, there has been an increase in tourism revenue by almost 30%.

This generation is also changing the standards of travel.  Rather than a quick enjoyable vacation, most young travelers are leaving on longer trips trying to have more meaningful experiences.  These people are, more often than not, traveling to some remote location rather than an established tourism hub.

With the advent of travel planners and tools, young people are finding that long-term travel is cheaper than they previously expected.  Rather than saving up for an uncertain trip in an uncertain future, people are starting to jump for the chance to travel rather than wait.

A huge factor in this change of attitude towards waiting for a more prudent time to take a trip is that confidence in future stability is at a low for recent years.  In 1983, 88% of private-sector workers had benefit coverage for retirement.  Now, it is under 33%.

The companies offering pensions has fallen by 80%.  Americans are no longer confident that they will receive financial support as they age.  90% of miimgresllennials believe that Social Security benefits will be reduced when they are of the age to collect, while over 50% of those people don’t believe Social Security will exist at all.

The job market for millenials has also been especially bad.  Many who have had trouble finding jobs decide to travel in order to take a break and see what extra-local possibilities they may have.

Travel has become an outlet of fulfillment for much of today’s youth.  Rather than stick with a job they hate, or continue searching fruitlessly for one, millenials have started to take long-term trips of fulfillment.

Travelling in Mallorca

The citizens of Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean, are fed up with a lack of decency shown by tourists. The new law proposes fines for indecent attire in the capital, Palma.

Though CNN reports that beaches are still a safe-haven for those tourists with distaste for covering themselves, officials maintain that they are sick of seeing unmentionable parts that would be concealed in any civilized part of the world. According to the deputy mayor, he knows of no “upscale resort town that allows this practice.”

A view of the beaches of Palma

A view of the beaches of Palma

This law is part of a greater movement on the island to tackle “anti-social behavior” on the island. Though no detailed plan has been revealed as to the punishments proposed for the “exhibitionists,” certain newspapers have expressed a fear that unwitting tourists will become financial victims of this so-called “Bikini Ban.”

The citizens of Mallorca are empowering their own sensibilities in this law. This law is part of what is being called the “good citizen plan,” and is part of a series of acts that will promote more socially responsible behavior. Though many natives have expressed a distasted for what they call “letting it all hang out,” the law will not apply to boardwalks or side streets adjacent to the beach.

Mallorca is a popular destination for many from Northern Europe, where the climate is less conducive to visiting a beach, let alone wearing a bikini. Though the law states that nobody can be “naked or nude” in public places “devoid of superior clothing,” the practice will be hard to implement on the foreigners who flock to the island to escape the dreariness and down coats they make use of at home.

This “Bikini Ban” will enforce clothed visitors in establishments in the city, while attempting to maintain beach comfort. You will still be able to get a tan on the beach or quickly run and grab refreshment, but will no longer be forced to suffer the consequences of other people’s lack of vanity.

Tunisia Tourism Expected to Rise

Tamara Hillstrom tunisia toursimMany American’s think of Tunisia as a dangerous place, but there are signs that perspectives may be shifting. There have been a number of terrorist attacks in the country, including one on the US embassy there in 2012, but the country is undergoing monumental changes to increase political stability and increase security. Will this be enough to encourage a tourism industry? Many Tunisians are banking on it.

USA Today reports that tourism is expected to rise sharply in Tunisia, an industry that has been more or less dormant since their revolution during the Arab Spring. With revolution has come social and political freedom, and that is giving citizens hope that they can overcome economic struggles. And they are officially ready to welcome travelers.

Shop owners in the old quarter of Tunis, the country’s capital, are desperate to have tourism return. Before the revolutions, the massive Mediterranean coastline was full of popular beach resorts in close proximity to ancient ruins and beautiful desert landscapes. Dougga, a northern village, is considered by UNESCO to be the closest thing to antiquity-like daily life in Northern Africa, and also a big draw for curious foreigners.

A couple months ago Tunisia received a shout-out from Condê Nast Traveler, calling them the next big travel destination. Reasons cited were the optimism and diversity. While these qualities aren’t usually cited as vacation makers, they are notable in light of other nearby Muslim countries. But don’t worry, there’s also a vibrant nightlife where non-muslims can partake in alcohol and dance until the morning.

The country’s tourism minister, Amel Karboul, has predicted they will receive seven million tourists this year, which would be a record. The hope is that Tunisia’s boast as the first democracy in the Arab world will help to attract travelers hoping to be a part of an historic event. The tourism industry in Tunisia employs over 400k people, and accounts for 7.5% of GDP.

Despite the national feeling of change and progress, Tunisia still has to battle with some harsh realities. Terrorism is still a problem there. Militant attacks continue, and they are constantly facing travel warnings issued by the western world. A suicide attack last year near a beach hotel in a tourist resort town doesn’t make for good press. Future attacks, including kidnappings, are possible, and even expected.

With continued work, though, Tunisia will most likely be grow the number of tourists, which could in itself even play a role in helping to shape the future of the country. Perhaps once the country feels the positive economic impact of tourism, unrest will decline in a more substantial way.

El Amor de Patricia – Hope Transforms Lives

This video from El Amor de Patricia highlights the sponsor program, along with interviews with many of the proud participants.  Becoming a sponsor has enriched the lives of the donor while at the same time changing lives in Guatemala.

Travel Industry Thrives

Tamara Hillstrom travel industryOne of the first sectors to see an early comeback after the recession was the travel industry.  The global economy got a solid boost from travel.  Last year travel and associated industries accounted for nearly 10% of the global economy & workforce, which amounts to almost $7 trillion, employing well over 250m.  In a recent article from the NY Times, David Scowsill was interviewed.  Scowswill is the president and chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Scowsill remarked that the travel industry grows over 1% faster than the world’s economy at large.  Expectations is that this year growth will be 4.3%.  A lot of this growth is in Asia.  It used to be that Europe and the US were the strongest travel industry areas, but predictions have China overtaking the US in 2027 as the world’s largest travel and tourism economy.  That’s not to say that US travel is down, just that the global balance is shifting.

This shift is a direct result of the number of people moving into the middle class in the east.  Ernst & Young recently claimed that nearly one billion people will be in the middle class in China in 2030.  On top of that, the Chinese government has made tourism a key part of their economic growth.  They have made federal investments in high-speed trains, massive hotel complexes, and large airports.  At the time of this writing, there are 69 large airports in construction in China.  The goal is to make every Chinese citizen less then 90 minutes drive from an airport.  Outbound travel from China has doubled, with 100 million people making an international excursion last year.  That figure can be expected to double again by 2020.

The countries most visited are, in order, France, the United States, China, and Spain.  France has a staggering lead, with 83 million visitors in 2012, compared to the United States with 67 million.  China and Spain each had 57 million.

One of the major inhibitors of continued growth is that nearly three fourths of travelers have to go to an embassy in order to travel internationally.  Travelers going to Europe, if they can’t get a Schengen visa that allows them to visit a selection of 25 European countries, must go to the UK consulate to pay and be interviewed for a second visa.  That’s a lot of facilitation necessary for a simple holiday jaunt.  Some countries like Mexico have very low restrictions…if you’re allowed in the US, you’re allowed in Mexico.

Best Travel Destinations in Central America

Tamara HillstromWhen traveling to Central America, there are an overwhelming amount of activities that one could do. Here are a couple of the top priority spots and activities that one should consider when exploring this vast array of countries.

The Panama Canal, first opened in 1914, is 80km long and allows ships to pass from Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. The most popular area to see the canal is at the Miraflores Locks.

Panama and Costa Rica are known for their coffee, and the coffee plantation tour is a great way to see how the beans are gown, picked, and ground.

Panama, Belize, and Honduras all have beautiful coastlines with beautiful coral reefs filled with a variety of colorful fish. This makes scuba diving and snorkeling a very popular endeavor.

Takal in Guatemala is one of the most impressive Mayan ruins in the region. Copán in Honduras and San Andrés in El Salvador follow closely behind.  Pyramids, wall carvings, and ancient columns make for a great historical excursion.

Also in Guatemala, most tourists visit Chichicastenango, which is the largest native market in Central America. This is a great place to assimilate to the native culture of Guatemala and purchase authentic cheap food.

In Honduras, the biggest carnival in Central America, La Cieba, fill the streets with dancing and festive attire. The bars and clubs are filled with the carnival party mindset.

The canopy tours of Central America are a very popular way to see the magnificent rainforest. The canopy tours take you on a zip line through the rainforest where you’ll see a diverse wildlife of jaguars, howler monkeys, tropical birds, and large lizards

La Libertad in El Salvador is home to some of the best surfing in Central America. With a beautiful beach, killer waves, and endless seafood barbeque this spot makes for a great vacation destination

Ometepe Island in Nicaragua is the world’s largest volcanic island in a freshwater lake. The main hub for tourists is in Moyogalpa with an abundance of restaurants and hotels. Also the Cascada San Ramon is a beautiful waterfall that can be reached by an adventurous four-hour hike.

Last but not least, what is sunny Central America without the beaches? Some of the best beaches in Central America include: Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Samara in Costa Rica, West Bay Beach in Honduras,  Ambergris Caye  and Placencia in Belize, Barra de Santiago in El Salvador, Bocas del Torro in Panama,  San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua,  and Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Common Sense While Traveling

Tamara Hillstrom common senseWhen you travel, you have to employ common sense. Every once in a while we hear a story of a traveler meeting some terrible unfortune that seemingly could have been avoided had they been employing common sense. A story about common sense and traveling was recently posted on USA Today, and it got me thinking.

A hotel security worker in New Orleans says that every night there are 25 to 30 doors left open when guests go out. That’s right. They leave their door not only unlocked, but OPEN. Guess what happens? They get robbed. And for what? So the guest didn’t have to bring a key with them when they went out, whether for the night or a quick errand. It’s the number one way people get robbed at that hotel (which is a major chain, by the way).

A corporate director on Long Island, NY reported that many guests leave electronic equipment around public areas of hotels, including the pool area. Someone who leaves a $600 iPad by the pool thinking it will still be there when they get back are not thinking clearly. Would they do this while in their hometown? Many are then shocked that the hotel accepts no responsibility for the device, left out in the open.

An airline worker claims she could fill a book with the lack of common sense on airplanes. People ignoring and intentionally disobeying signs, or walk around, eyes glued to their smart phone. An adventure guide from West Virginia actually logs the common senseless events, including visitors trying to touch lethal snakes and plants after they’ve been told how dangerous they are. Adventurers on vacation stand way too close to crumbling cliffs, and wander off alone into jungle areas. Some people actually try to feed crocodiles by hand!

When we’re traveling, we’re a little more exposed than normal. This requires us to have a heightened alertness to protect ourselves from elements we’re not use to facing. Thieves and burglars target travelers, and many vacations include situations that are more precarious than they outwardly seem – such as a cruise, hiking, or visiting a very busy city.

Maybe it’s the way we can travel without much planning or education because of the technology we keep on ourselves at all times. Or maybe it’s the seeming ease of modern travel, where it seems nothing could go wrong. Or is it a sense of entitlement? That some of us just think nothing bad should or can happen to them, not while they’re on vacation! A survival instructor thinks one of the facts is survival shows, which glamorize dangerous situations, shown being executed by trained experts.

I only wish the best for people while traveling, and hope to see less and less of these stories of foolishness while on the road. Common sense goes a long way.

Americans in Cuba

Tamara Hillstrom CubaVisiting Cuba is on a lot of bucket lists, but the decades-old embargo & travel restriction between the island nation and the United States has made checking that one off illegal.  At the same time, there are a lot of Americans who support the embargo, hoping that being cut off from the business and tourist benefits from the US will help topple an anti-democratic regime.

During his first term, President Obama opened up the borders slightly, allowing ‘people-to-people’ travel between the two countries.  This has allowed select thousands of Americans to legally visit the island for the first time in a generation or more.  This article about the effects of the decision tells the story of Americans and Cubans warming up to the idea of another.

A Philadelphia-based organization called Friendly Planet Travel has been promoting legal tours of Cuba, and distributed over 400 multiple choice surveys to Americans making the trip.  The results?  A large number of travelers believe US-Cuban relations should be open.  That might make sense, as these are not Cuban hard-liners scheduling trips to the Caribbean nation.  But there’s something more going on in these survey results that are worth looking at.

One interesting finding is how most people feel about Raul Castro’s government before they leave and after they return.  Before leaving, nearly half of the travelers felt the Cuba’s government was a ‘repressive Communist regime that stifles individuality and creativity.’  After they returned, only 20% felt the same way.  What’s more, after the return, the new most-popular opinion, held by a third of travelers, that the Cuban government is ‘a failing government that is destined to fall.’  Bleak, but not quite as energetically negative.  And nearly 90% of respondents said their trip has made them more likely to support ending the embargo.

Taking a harder look at these trips, though, is important.  These tourists are not seeing the entire country.  Travel within the country is not restricted as it is in North Korea, but there were no reports of meeting dissidents, or feeling the real brunt that Cuban economic policies have had on everyday life.  In fact, tourists travel on air-conditioned buses and sleep in luxury hotels.  Reports of expensive beans and the fact that adhesive bandages and other goods can be hard to find aside, travelers are seeing Cuba at its best, the way the Castro government wants it to be seen.

Only time will tell what impact, if any, these trips will have on relations between the two countries.  At the very least, the people of the two nations are reporting that they are enjoying the cultural exchange that is occurring.