Featured Post

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Heart Travel: The Video Edition

Greetings, Young Lovers.
Here is my Valentine's Day segment which aired on NewsChannel 8 in Washington, D.C. Enjoy and XOXO.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

9 Things to Know Before Visiting Jerusalem

With so much to see and do in Jerusalem, one can easily be overcome. To make the most of your visit to the Holy City, follow my travel bible.

1. Plan to spend several days in Jerusalem. On Day One, wander without a map and without an agenda. It is only by navigating the maze that is the Old City that you will learn how to get around.

2. If you want to access the Temple Mount, and are not a Muslim, visiting times vary (but are usually restricted to three hours in the morning and one in the afternoon). The site is closed to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. Non-Muslims are not allowed in the Dome of the Rock (see photo) nor the Al Aqsa Mosque. The main security entrance to the Western Wall is also the main entry point for non-Muslim Temple Mount visitors. The line for the Temple Mount is on the far right-hand side of the sidewalk. As the line moves slowly, get there at least 30 minutes early.

3. The only time to see the interior of the 12th-century Church of St. James in the Armenian Quarter is at 3 PM daily, when religious services are held.

4. Try to time your visit to Jerusalem so that you are there at the start of Shabbat. The Jewish Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday night. And that's when the Western Wall is transformed. Thousands of worshipers come to celebrate, commune, and pray. Do note, if you do come to the Western Wall area on the Sabbath (between sundown Friday night and sundown Saturday night), you are not allowed to take photographs.

5. If you can’t visit during Shabbat, go for a Monday or a Thursday. Those are the days reserved for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the Western Wall. So again, you have a hub of religious activity and fervor.

6. Go up ‘oer the ramparts of the Old City. Built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the XVIth Century, the ramparts built atop the city walls circumnavigate the city. However, you can't circumnavigate the city in one shot, as access to the ramparts by the Temple Mount is closed. As a result, there are two possible routes for a Ramparts Walk: The northern route, from Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate or the southern route, which begins at the Tower of David and ends at the Dung Gate.

7. Go down below and explore the tunnels under the Western Wall Plaza. A 90-minute tunnel tour reveals hidden layers of history, including large blocks of the Western Wall. Advance reservations are required, but they can be made the same day.

8. There are several hostels that were originally designed to lodge pilgrims to the Holy City. Today, whether you are a religious pilgrim or merely a curious one, you can stay for a song at places like the Lutheran Guesthouse; the Austrian Hospice (complete with a café serving Viennese treats); and the low-budget Armenian Hostel (located smack dab on the Via Dolorosa). Or choose from two dozen other Christian guesthouses.

9. Like any crowded city, if you look like a tourist, you will be a target for hawkers and potential “lovers” (particularly if you are a Western female). I find that walking purposely, dressing modestly, and using abrupt, dismissive but polite no thank yous in the native language fend off most unwanted advances.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Heart Travel

For those of you who watched my Travel Love Guru segments on television this week, here are links and information for the getaways and gizmos mentioned.

Valentine's Day/February Romantic Getaways in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay

The Four Seasons Baltimore

Colonial Williamsburg Romance Getaways and Historic Homes

The Goodstone Inn

Gizmos and Gadgets

Instead of paying inflated prices for a bottle of wine during your Valentine's Day getaway, BYOB and inflate a Vinnibag. Its compressed air chambers will keep packed bottles intact and packed clothing dry. $28

If you are rolling in a carry-on, you can't get more stylish than this bag from the performance-driven Tumi Ducati Evoluzione collection. $545 at www.tumi.com or Tumi stores.

Looking for a little his and hers action this Valentine's Day? What about matching high-end Royce Leather travel accessory bags? Made with fine grain Nappa leather, both versions have a waterproof lining and separate zipped compartments for liquids. His comes in black and tan ($115) and Hers comes in pearl pink, blue, green, and black ($95). Look for them on Amazon or at Brookstone stores.

A less expensive his and hers option is this red High Sierra Pack-N-Go Duffel . The duffel doubles as a backpack, and its carrying case transforms into a toiletry pouch. It's available at luggage stores and many major retailers, including Macy’s. $25-30

These little lunch carriers by KoKo will drive any girl cuckoo or to coo-coo. Adorable exteriors are teamed with insulated linings to keep hot things warm and cold things cool. And what else is cool--each bag comes with its own matching cutlery set. $20 For store information, go to www.cosmoda.com. In Washington, DC, Koko products can be found at Frager’s Hardware (Capitol Hill), Home Rule Inc (14th Street, NW), and Johnson’s Florist and Garden Center (Upper NW).

Finally, for something cozy and soft, the SeV Chloe Hoodie, lined in hot pink, will warm any woman's heart. Features include plush fleece cuffs with thumbholes and a dozen no-bulge pockets (with one especially designed for lipstick and another for an iPad). It's available at www.scottevest.com for $90.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Crazy Travel: Are You a Road-Tripping Deviant?

As I begin my exploration into mental health and travel, there are so many paths from which to choose. As I mentioned in a previous post, place-related ailments, such as Jerusalem Syndrome and Paris Syndrome, fascinate me for some crazy reason. But given that the majority of us are unlikely to fall prone to such maladies*, perhaps we best embark on the journey elsewhere.

Let's start, instead, with a quote I discovered while reading boatloads of backgrounders about Jerusalem Syndrome and related psychological disorders. The research comes courtesy of the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

But, if I may, a slight digression--when reading the faculty roster, I was thrilled to note that said list includes one Dr. Yaniv Belhassen, whose research interests include “Deviant Behavior and Drug Usage in Tourism” and “Ideological Manifestation and Consumption in Tourism”. Holla…or should I say “Challah”? Have I found the Holy Grail or what?

Back to our tale, my little teacups. After finding my U. of Essex grad school beanie, I donned it before ingesting Dr. Belhassen’s Cannibis Usage in Tourism: A Sociological Perspective and his Drugs and Risk Taking in Tourism (and one more digression before continuing: I would like to note truthfully that I may be the only person who didn’t inhale. Really…just ask my college boyfriend if you can track him down).

Okay, full disclosure out of the way, let’s go back to that aforementioned yet unmentioned-to-date quote mentioned at the beginning of paragraph two (lesser minds may need to get high to understand that sentence). Cannibis Usage cites a sweet guy named Hirschi, who says “every one of us is attracted to what is considered deviant behavior. However, the fear from social sanctions deters us from acting upon such temptations.” EXCEPT…as one Dr. Bellis writes, “individuals abroad are often free from the social constraints of work and family….” Therefore, Dr. Belhaussen and Cannibis co-authors Carla Almeida Santos and Natan Uriely conclude, “The notion that while on vacation individuals feel that they are free from norms that govern their daily life is quite familiar..."

Next up in Cannibis is a heady dude named Shields, who defines travel as a “liminal zone” --"an area where ‘social conventions…are relaxed under the exigencies of travel and of relative anonymity and freedom from community scrutiny’.” In non-academic terms, the straight dope is that we are all prone to going a bit crazy when traveling.

I myself am certainly not immune to travel-induced crazy (see right). However, I will plead the Fifth in terms of the specifics of my own deviant behaviors while on the road. After all, my journalistic integrity and objectivity must not be questioned. However, I should very much enjoy hearing about yours. Not, I should emphasize, in a voyeuristic sense, but merely as a journalistic/academic exercise. Now, I realize such a request is unlikely to yield results unless anonymity is protected. So, please feel free to use a secret e-mail address from which to share your heteroclitic travel proclivities.

*undocumented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)/the American Psychiatric Association's standard reference for psychiatry

Friday, January 20, 2012

Crazy Travel: Place-Related Syndromes

As I will be referencing various place-related syndromes in some of my pieces on mental health and travel, here’s a brief primer. More in-depth features on each specific syndrome will be written soon--please grant me a bit of writer’s asylum.

The big kahuna is Jerusalem Syndrome. The malady is reported to impact some pilgrims to the Holy City, and is characterized by religiously-themed obsessive ideas or delusions (thinking one is the Messiah or feeling the need to shout verses from the Bible), or by psychotic behaviors ranging from ritual bathing to compulsive fingernail and toenail cutting. Although it may affect those of any religion, Scandinavians and American Protestants seem particularly susceptible. Some psychologists say Jerusalem Syndrome is a unique illness, while others say it is merely a symptom of pre-existing mental conditions.

If you are on a tour of Jerusalem, beware of the following behaviors from members of your group, as cited by one Dr. Gregory Katz in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2000.

Stage 1- Afflicted tourist becomes nervous, agitated and tense.
Stage 2- Tourist splits away from the tour group.
Stage 3- An obsession with cleanliness.
Stage 4- Sufferer prepares a long white robe.
Stage 5- Person begins to sing psalms, Bible extracts or religious songs.
Stage 6- Person marches to a holy place in Jerusalem.
Stage 7- Person starts delivering sermons on any mount.

Meantime, Paris Syndrome is a transient condition, most often suffered by the Japanese, during visits to the City of Light. It was first widely reported in Nervure, a French psychiatric journal, in 2004. About 20 Japanese tourists a year are affected by the condition, which is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and sweating, among others. According to the authors of the Nervure study, Japanese are particularly prone due to language barriers, culture clashes, travel exhaustion, and a pre-idealized image of Paris, to which the reality does not mesh.

Finally, Florence Syndrome, better known as Stendhal Syndrome, is a condition named after the 19th-century French author, who was overcome by the beauty and breadth of Renaissance masterpieces during a visit to Italy. Nowadays, what is considered a psychosomatic condition is marked by symptoms including rapid heartbeat, weak knees, dizziness, fainting, and confusion. It is said to happen when individuals are exposed to art that is profoundly alluring or uncommonly comely. But given that the affliction is primarily the bane of middle-aged British women, perhaps it is exposure to, ahem statuesque exposure, that sets off such carnal responses.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crazy Travel

It seems we live in an age of specialization. The jack of all trades and mistress of many is increasingly undervalued. To wit, even though I have covered travel for 25 years (I started very young) and I know a lot about a lot (if I do say so myself), it's not enough. Seems expertise isn't valued unless billed very specifically--family travel expert; tennis travel ace; hotel industry hot shot; nude travel maven, etc. I have frequently covered all of the above (although I suppose it is somewhat oxymoronic to "cover" nude travel), and likely have far more knowledge than many of the so-called experts with blogs devoted to a particular proposition. Nonetheless, my expertise is left under-appreciated.

Finally recognizing that you can't fight City Hall (despite the best efforts of Occupy Wall Street),  I decided the beginning of the new year was a fine time to establish a singular specialty. Not so easy, my friend, as  much of the travel world is plucked over. But then, after a spate of visions about phenomena like Stendhal's Syndrome, Paris Syndrome and Jerusalem Syndrome, something clicked.  "Why," I said to myself (not that I really talk to myself...okay, I do), "maybe I'll become an expert in travel and mental health." After all, people frequently say I'm crazy. Plus, is it delusional to explore why sojourners so often succumb to the artistic beauty of Florence with hallucinations and quivers? Or why American and Scandinavian pilgrims (usually Protestant, according to the research) turn into raving lunatics in Jerusalem? Or why Japanese people are especially prone to depression in Paris? I will explore all of these issues in later columns, mes amis.

But let's start at the very beginning, with a phenomenon known to travelers since time immemorial. Said phenomenon--Travel Stress Syndrome.  To intelligently discuss, let me refer to a "Travel Mental Health Checklist-Travel Stress" developed by the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (it's based in Britain, hence the "ll").  Parenthetically, but without parentheses, IAMAT also provides a travel checklist for psychosis, but I realize it would be crazy to start with that.

So, here was go. As we all know, travel is always stressful to some extent. Even the most experienced traveler gets annoyed at the airport; is flummoxed by foreign fare; and becomes rattled by reversals in routine. And certainly, no one is insulated from culture shock (or culture schlock, as the case may be for travelers heading to Disney World or shopping areas around any major tourist attraction).

According to IAMAT, travel often exacerbates mental health problems. And even those with no prior experience with mental illness could develop panic attacks, anxiety, et al, due to travel stress. In order to circumvent such mental ills, IAMAT offers the following suggestions:

1. Before you leave, assess your travel plans and change them if needed to minimize your stress levels.
    Dr. Laura's interpretation (no, not that Dr. Laura)   Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport; don't overschedule your days; and don't try to see too much in too short of a time.
2. If your expectations are not met, find non-confrontational solutions to improve the situation.
    Dr. Laura's interpretation: Don't yell at the airline agent o the front desk clerk; cast aspersions at your neighbor on the aeroplane; or pick a fight with your tour guide.
3. Take the time to enjoy the people, new sights, sounds, smells and experiences when in country. Be present and try to live in the moment. Know your mental and physical limits.
    Dr. Laura says, "Amen, IAMAT."

IAMAT also offers suggestions on dealing with more specific issues, ranging from culture shock to the aforementioned psychosis. We shall check in with some of those issues in upcoming posts.