The older I get, the more I want to be outside. I do not understand the source of this phenomenon, but I highly recommend everyone get outdoors. The regional culture of Wisconsin encourages getting out and playing in our beautiful woods and lakes. It goes beyond that though. I have started planning entire trips around outdoor activities. In addition, I hunt down a hike or park even on urban adventures. There is a sense of urgency fueled by the “use it or lose it” motto of aging. Research is starting to show the multiple benefits of outdoor exercise and play.
So Let’s Go Learn Things Outdoors……
When exploring outdoor activities it helps to divide ideas into the level of physical strenuousness. While I believe that it is essential for everyone to spend time in nature, I do understand that some activities require more physicality than others. So this category will fall into the more “extreme” in physical and/or skill requirements.
- SCUBA diving. Of course diving is at the top of my list. For the last 14 years we have been planning our trips around diving. Many people think this activity is beyond them, but I would encourage anyone in good health to try this activity. Diving has changed my life in so many ways. It has certainly given me a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. My observation skills are finely honed from diving. Underwater, the massive wildlife and the minute critters are all fascinating. On a larger scale, my sense of personal responsibility for our planet has dramatically evolved. I worry about our plastic consumption, I am increasingly uncomfortable with wildlife in captivity. Planning dive trips is multi-faceted and will be an entire post coming soon. Suffice it to say, that the destinations are almost always a paradise.
- .Skiing. This is an activity that I have never conquered. As a young adult I injured my knees and have never wanted to risk further injury. But I know that this is a hugely popular outdoor adventure for young and old. Just like the diving, the locations are spectacularly breathtaking. There are different kinds of skiing and ways to compromise for physical limitations. I will never downhill ski and have found cross-country skiing frustrating, but I do love to snowshoe. Often ski areas will have snowshoe trails available. The crisp cold air is exhilarating and good for you.
- Motorcycling. I realize not everyone will embrace motorcycling, but I must admit I love seeing the countryside from the back of a motorcycle. It is a way to experience sights, sounds and smells up close and personal. Today’s ever present GPSs makes it easier than ever to find the backroads.
Get Outdoors with Moderate Activities
- Hiking can be the entire focus of a trip like a trip to Zion National Park, but it also can be included on the itinerary for any destination. Every trip, whether urban or remote, we search out an opportunity to get outdoors and absorb the scenery. Even when visiting cities there are self-guided walking tours and often a hiking trail somewhere nearby.
For instance even in the surreal urban setting of Las Vegas there are wonderful hiking trails a few miles outside of the city.
- Biking is almost as versatile as hiking. Most urban settings now have bike rental systems scattered across their city. Trails are not always multi-use so be sure to check that bikes are allowed. Even in the winter the fat tire trend is spreading and looks like a blast. Last summer when we circled the Utah National Parks we ran into a group of bikers with Trek Travel. A travel group putting together great trips on Trek bikes. I was ready to jump in right then and there. Providing Trek bikes, support and individualized experiences this group looks wonderful.
- Kayaking/Canoeing/SUP. Of course these activities require some water. If you are near water, there is no better way to experience it than to be on the water. The stand-up paddle boards are all the craze right now. They are great exercise and very Zen. My watercraft of choice is the kayak. Like hiking, you can find extreme experiences, if you want, or relaxing drifts, and anything in between. The water wildlife you can experience is priceless. We have kayaked with manatees, alligators, egrets, sandhill cranes, eagles and loons. The list goes on. I love being on the water when I get outdoors.
- ATVS I admit ATVs are not always environmental friendly but I do love them. So we all have our vices eh? We only rent ATVs occasionally and when we do we stay on designated trails. The sensory experience is similar to motorcycling but even more intense. It is fast and bumpy and dusty and amazing! The great thing is that you can explore areas that would be miles of hiking or otherwise inaccessible. ATVs are popular in the spectacular setting of Sedona, AZ and Moab, UT considers itself the “extreme sports” capitol of the country.
Learn to Love Our Planet
I hope I don’t seem hypocritical talking about loving the Planet right after owning up to my vice of ATVs. As SCUBA divers we learn the fragility of nature and this carries into every encounter with nature. I choose not to delve into environmental politics, but I do take my personal responsibilities to nature very seriously. The truth is that the more you get outdoors and experience it, the more you learn to respect and protect it. Therefore I beg you to get outdoors, for your own health and for the health of our Planet.
There are many agencies and NGO’s that offer what has been labeled eco-tourism. One overarching agency is UNESCO, the science and education arm of the United Nations. You will often see a site with a UNESCO designation. Below is their mission statement:
UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. It strengthens the ties between nations and societies, and mobilizes the wider public so that each child and citizen:
• has access to quality education; a basic human right and an indispensable prerequisite for sustainable development;
• may grow and live in a cultural environment rich in diversity and dialogue, where heritage serves as a bridge between generations and peoples;
• can fully benefit from scientific advances;
• and can enjoy full freedom of expression; the basis of democracy, development and human dignity.
As you can see this organization covers a lot of important concepts. Recently we visited a couple of UNESCO designated sites on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. I do appreciate the work they do. We were traveling with Red Travel Mexico a tour group committed to sustainable travel and eco-tourism. RED Travel designs unique experiences that create sustainable employment opportunities in rural communities, and that contribute to the conservation of species and habitat in natural protected areas in Mexico.
When setting up your itineraries, try to research and find eco-friendly agencies. As divers we will leave an operator if they are not respectful of their own underwater resources. There are many ways to be eco-friendly in your travels. That should be an upcoming post. But for now just remember to be aware of good practices. The hikers mantra is best:
There are so many ways to get outdoors and learn about the flora and fauna of a region or even your backyard. I believe it is as important to discover the natural environment of a destination as it is the history and culture. They all play together.
- National Parks
- State Parks
- Botanical Gardens
Get Outdoors with Multi-Generations
Finally, I want to encourage you to get outdoors and grow but also help the next generations get outdoors. We live in a world that is increasingly crowded and plugged-in. Ironically, we are less connected with humankind and nature than ever before. It is essential for their health and well-being to get outdoors. It is also imperative for the health and well-being of our Planet for the next generations to learn to love and protect it.
- Take your children and grandchildren on a hike.
- Volunteer yourself and your children for a clean-up day at your local park.
- Help kids to develop observations skills by looking, listening and smelling everything they encounter outdoors.
Be sure to check out all the posts in The 12 Days of Travel Themes;
Part 1: Culinary Tourism
Part 2: Fairs and Festivals
Part 3: Historic Destinations
Part 4: Museums
Part 5: Boozy Trips
Part 6: Get Outdoors
Part 7: Agritourism
Part 8: Urban Adventures
Part 9: Scenic Road Trips
Part 10: Literary Travels
Part 11: The Arts
Part 12 : Oddities
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Wonder is best learned from the young!