Why We Love Returning Home

Anyone that loves to travel, and of course anyone that hates traveling, can tell you how good it feels to finally be home after a trip. No matter how pleasurable the trip, most of us love the feel of coming home. The question is, why? Why after 1 or 2 or 3 weeks in paradise do we like being away from paradise and back in the place we wanted to escape from only days before.

Well, I am here to explain it to you.

First, there is the Buddhist reason. In Buddhism, there are three forms of suffering (in Sanskrit “dukkha”). There is true suffering, or pain. This is also called the suffering of direct cause, or the suffering of the five aggregates since it is what you perceive with your five senses. You hit your finger with a hammer, a loud noise hurts your ears, a bright light pierces your eyes. That is pain.

There is the suffering of impermanence or change.  This is humorously referred to as “who moved my cheese”. You reach for your cheese and it is not there. Who moved my cheese? For a moment there is a feeling of annoyance, discomfort…even suffering. Even the best planned change, with the best possible outcome, generates a moment of suffering. Even when the change is for the better, with a wonderful outcome, there are still moments of suffering in the process. Those episodes of suffering might not be agonizing. They might only be minor annoyances, but they happen.

Then, there is all pervasive suffering. There are many explanations of all pervasive suffering, but the idea is that essentially everything we do in this life causes us to suffer in some way. Even those things that we consider pleasurable are in fact suffering. Let me give you a couple examples. What is your favorite food? What is that one thing you like the most.  That one thing that you will always get for dessert (when you allow yourself to eat dessert). I will tell you that for me it is chocolate. I have a particular affinity for Oreos®. Give me a package of Oreos and a half gallon of milk, and both will disappear. What is yours? Cake? Mac & Cheese? A thick, medium-rare steak?  Whatever it is, now imagine if you were limited to eating only that one thing for the rest of your life. If that one food truly gave you pleasure, you would never grow tired of it, it would never upset your stomach, and you would want it every day, forever.  We know that is not the case, therefore, it is not giving true pleasure. Trust me, I have felt really crappy after eating a pound of Oreos, but I do love them so. Now, imagine your favorite vacation activity…sitting on the beach, hiking in the mountains, visiting remote places and interesting people. Now imagine if sitting on that beach was the only activity you were allowed to do…EVER. Trust me again, it would get old. It would become suffering at some point.  After so long, we would beg for the suffering of change just to avoid our supposedly pleasurable activity. It is not really causing pleasure if it eventually causes us to suffer. It is a type of suffering which only in our delusion is pleasurable. That is one possible reason we like coming home. We need the change.

Then there is a more mundane reason. No matter how great the trip, there are some things that are simply not the way you have them at home. The food is not the same, the toilet is not the right height. Some nights the bed is too hard or too soft. The pillow is just not like the one we have at home. No matter how much fun you are having, these things occur. And don’t get me wrong, in most cases these things are of minimal importance compared to the great things you are doing on your trip, but we still love getting back to our favorite pillow, our perfect mattress, and the toilet with the TP that hangs on the wall in just the right spot.

For those of you that found the Buddhist reason a bit odd, you will really like this. I have my own version of “string theory” and it has nothing to do with quantum physics. Carlos Castaneda, in his book “The Teachings of Don Juan”, told of the time that a Yaqui medicine man helped him find his “good spot”. Supposedly everyone has one, but not everyone is lucky enough to kind it. Here is how the book described it…

While you remain rooted to your “good spot” nothing can cause you bodily harm, because you have the assurance that at that particular spot you are at your very best. You have the power to shove off anything that might be harmful to you.

My good spot, my sitio, is the Pacific Northwest. It took me 40 years, and many cycles of coming and going to figure it out. When I leave it, even for a short time, I feel the string grow taut.

Now, let me take this idea one step further. Once you find that spot, you are connected to it as if by an elastic string. When you are on the spot, the string is not loose and you feel at home, but as you move away from your spot, the string becomes taut and is always trying to pull you back. The further you go from your spot, both geographically and mentally, the tighter the string and the greater the pull to return. The tension in the string is uncomfortable, therefore we feel good when we release that tension.

Whatever the real reason, those of us that travel, even very short distances, know that feeling as we sink into our couch or bed, turn on our TV, or eat a meal at our table. Coming home is a wonderful feeling…until it is time to go again.

rsz_mouse

Categories: Advice, General, Spiritual | Leave a comment

When Did Flying Become a Pain?

Let me say right up front, I have always loved flying. Whereas my mother is terrified by the simple idea of it, I have reveled in the experience since my earliest days. However my attitude has changed somewhat and I am not sure if it is me that changed, or the experience itself.

Like most people who love to travel to new and exciting places, I love the planning and fantasizing about the trip to come. I love getting up early and catching the shuttle. I even get a kick out of security and hanging out in the airport. Layovers are just mini-vacations in a new city. Airport food sucks, and it is too expensive, but I still enjoy eating in an airport (there are exceptions…Gatwick). But somewhere along the line, the actual flying part has become less enjoyable. It could be that I am just getting old and sitting for hours is more of a chore than it used to be. It could also be that flying itself has become a pain.

I will admit that there is a huge chasm between the US domestic flight experience and the typical international experience. Even the US airlines manage to create a more enjoyable flight when it involves taking off in one country and landing in another. That said, let’s focus on domestic travel…and since most people will never fly first class, let’s talk about the dreaded “coach” class.

Let’s start off by calling a spade a spade…this is second class travel. No more pillows. No more blankets. The same mediocre food (I am being kind here) that used to be free, now costs you extra…no cash, credit cards only please. Many airlines are now selling  legroom. This is nothing more than an admission that the standard 2nd class seat is only suitable for kids and those adults never selected for the basketball team in PE class. Less room for carry-ons. This happened because flyers are trying to avoid a separate budget line-item for checked bag fees. The fix? Simple…fees for carry-on bags of course. First, they incentivize us to use carryon instead of checked bags. Then they incentivize us to leave stuff at home. What they are really doing is incentivizing us to take the train. That is quite a business model.

Where are the movies? I am of the opinion that some movies are only 90 minutes long because that allows them to fit in a two hour flight. When was the last time you had a 2 hour, domestic, 2nd class seat that included a movie?  If you can’t make us comfortable, at least distract us.

OK…so my rant is done and I am still as willing as ever to climb on a plane. Why the hell is that? Because it is not flying I enjoy, it is traveling.  Because the moment I step off that flight in India, or Chile, or Nepal…the bad memories of the flight seem to fade away. The airlines are obviously pumping some type of drug into the A/C system that dampens our short term memory and allows me to conveniently forget the crick in my neck, the bad food, and the cramps in my legs. Could they possibly increase the dosage so I can forget the flight entirely? Where is that comment card?

Categories: Flying (general), General, Rant | Leave a comment

Sticker Shock – Shame on you Frontier

I have to admit I have not flown much in the past six months…a couple trips from Seattle to California. That did nothing to prepare me for the shock my wallet felt when I recently flew from Seattle to Denver on Frontier Airlines.

Let me start by saying I was not the one paying for this trip, but when I travel I try to treat my customer’s money as if it were my own. The price of the ticket was reasonable…a couple hundred dollars. When I went to check in, that is when the pain began. I logged in and began the checkin process. I noted that no seat assignment had been made and clicked to select a seat….FIRST SHOCK. Cha-Ching, $8 to select a seat. Make that $20 to select a seat with extra leg room. Holy shit are you kidding me? That was actually the least of the shocks I was to receive today.

Next…how many checked bags? One bag, $20…no big deal. That is pretty standard. However, if you fail to pay for that one bag during the checkin process, the price goes to $25 at the airport. Again, no big deal. This was only an overnight trip…no checked bag required. I like to travel light. One small carryon would do me. What’s this? Any carryon that won’t fit under the seat is $30. Don’t pay online during checkin and arrive at the ticket counter with a carryon…$35. Make it all the way to the gate without pre-paying for a carryon and that bag will cost you 50 f&@$ing dollars. Arrive at the gate with a bag that needs to be gate checked…you might as well plan on giving up your first born.

I have been in business for quite a few years now and understand the pressure airlines are under to make money. What I don’t understand is there lack of savvy when it comes to people. Most of us are willing to pay a reasonable price for a ticket, but the people I know hate to be nickel and dimed. It just feels sleazy. When I arrived in Denver the urge to take a shower and clean the greasy Frontier fingerprints from my backside was overwhelming.

Thank goodness they waived the fees for air during the flight. I had forgotten to bring my own SCUBA tank and my credit card was begging for mercy.

Categories: Flying (general), Rant | Leave a comment

Add-A-Day: The Road to Paradise (Mount Rainier National Park)

Rainier-8837

On a clear day, views of Mount Rainier dominate much of western Washington. You see it when you fly into Seattle. You might see it from your hotel room. However, until you stand some place where you need to tilt your head back to see the top…you have not SEEN Mount Rainier. It makes a great Add-A-Day trip if you are in Seattle.

You can drive from downtown Seattle to Mount Rainier in about 2 ½ hours. Even if Paradise was not the prize at the end of the road, the drive itself is spectacular and winds through some of the best scenery western Washington has to offer. Between the towns of Eatonville and Paradise (Paradise lies on the southern slope of Mt Rainier) the naturephile will be in heaven. They named it Paradise for a reason.

As you approach Paradise (doesn’t that just sound magical) you will drive through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains where every turn in the road shows you another dramatic view of the mountains, pine and cedar forest, or beautiful mountain meadows. Paradise sits at 5420 feet and receives 53+ feet of snow every year. Despite that, the road is kept open year round. From Paradise you can simply soak in the grandeur that is Mt. Rainier or you can head out on the trails to explore the surrounding area.

The time of year will dictate how you approach this trip, but should never stop you from going. During the late summer, wild flowers go crazy on the mountain and the weather is often beautiful. During the winter the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, but don’t let this stop you. Even when you can’t see the top, you can feel the presence of the mountain in your gut.

Check the weather before you go. As with most large mountains, Mount Rainier creates its own weather and sun in Seattle means nothing on the mountain. While summer days can be warm, don’t count on it. At over a mile above sea level, Paradise can go from warm and dry to cold and nasty in a heartbeat. Even in the cold and nasty…it is still Paradise.

Don’t be afraid to visit Mount Rainier during the winter. The road is open and if you are unaccustomed to seeing snow piled 15 feet high, that alone makes it worth the trip. The weather is less likely to give you great views of the mountain during the winter so it is up to you to decide.

 

Optional Side Trip (Northwest Trek Wildlife Park)

You can easily make an entire day of the visit to Mount Rainier, but if the weather is nice and you really want to fill up the day you might consider a stop at Northwest Trek. The park is in Eatonville and on your route between Seattle and Paradise. Plan 2-3 hours to see the assortment of wildlife the park offers. A narrated tram tour of the free-roaming area allows you to see bison, Roosevelt elk, moose, mountain goats and other native animals, up close in their natural habitats. A self-guided walking tour along the paved trails in the core of the park provides the opportunity to see grizzly bears, wolves and more in naturalistic exhibits. If you are here during the months when the clocks are set to Standard Time, you might want to skip this side trip in order to get to Mt Rainier with enough daylight to fully enjoy it. Adult entry fee is currently $19.75. Ages 5-12 is $12.25

 

Lunch or Dinner

As you pass through Ashford, WA, you will find Alexander’s Country Inn & Restaurant. If you are here during the summer, this is a great place for lunch. Their fresh trout, homemade bread, soups and blackberry pie make this a great place to experience some of the best of the Northwest. During the winter, they are open for dinner only (usually 3PM – 7PM). Check the restaurant website for hours and full menus.

 

Getting There

As stated above, you can drive from downtown Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park in about 2 ½ hours. You will want to stay off of Interstate 5 south of Renton as the traffic can often be bad. The route shown by Google Maps (CLICK HERE) is a good one. If you don’t feel like driving, there are a number of companies that run day trips to the mountain. You can find information about them HERE

 

One Possible Itinerary

8:00 AM – Depart Seattle (Use Google maps for the best route). You will want to avoid I-5 south of Renton)

9:30 AM – Arrive at Northwest Trek. If you do nothing else, take the tram ride. During the winter months you might want to skip this in order to have enough daylight once you arrive at Mt Rainier

12:30 PM – Depart Northwest Trek

1:30 PM – Arrive at Alexander’s Country Inn & Restaurant. If your stomach can wait this long, a stop at Alexander’s is heartily suggested for lunch. Check the restaurant web site or call for hours. During the winter months they don’t open until 3PM.

2:30 PM – Depart Alexander’s for Paradise

3:30 PM – Arrive Paradise. Under normal conditions, it is only a 35 minute drive from Alexander’s to Paradise, but if you make the trip in that time then you are driving too fast and not stopping often enough to get the full experience. If you happen to be here in the winter, you will arrive just before sunset. That does not leave you much time to look around, but it is a great time to be on the mountain. As the rest of Western Washington is slipping into darkness, Mt Rainier is just beginning to shine. If you are here during peak season (July/August) you will have plenty of daylight. Mid-summer sunset is around 9PM. The mountain will be in sunshine later than that.

5:30 PM – Depart Paradise. Retrace your steps in returning home. If you wish, you can return to Seattle via I-5. Northbound traffic at this time of day is not that bad.

8:00 PM – Arrive Seattle

 

More Information

Mode of Transportation: Automobile or bus
Trip Type: Independent or hired group tour
Best Time to Visit: July-August
Trip Time: 8-12 hours
Route: CLICK HERE

Expenses:
Entry Fee Rainier National Park: $15/private vehicle
Entry Fee Northwest Trek Wildlife Park: Age 13 to 64 – $20, Age 5 to 12 – $12.25

 

The National Park Service does a great job with the website for Rainier National Park. Here are some links from that site:

About Paradise
About Mount Rainier
Lodging in the Park
Planning your Trip to Rainier National Park

Categories: Add-A-Day, Road Trip, Washington, Washington | Leave a comment

The Concept of “Add-A-Day”: Changing the Feel of Business Travel

SanFran-6433I used to travel for business…a lot. When people ask me about my travels I can rattle off a long list of places I have been. When they ask what place I enjoyed the most, I used to have no answer. Like many business travelers, I have been all over the world and many times saw nothing except airports, hotel rooms, and the venues where I was speaking. That sucks. That really sucks. I once traveled to Paris and the only memory I have of the Eiffel Tower is the bottom third of it as it passed by the window of my taxi on the way to the hotel…at nine o’clock at night…after a 12 hour flight. Under those circumstances, you might be able to say you had been to the Eiffel tower, but that is a lie of omission. It is similar to the guy I used to see at my gym. He would arrive every day at 6AM, sleep on the couch in the locker room for an hour or two and then leave. I know he must have gone to work each day, telling his colleagues he spent 2 hours in the gym that morning.

As I got wise to the reality of business travel, and found myself dreaming more and more of that mythical, month long, perfect vacation that occurred all too infrequently, I made the decision to add a little vacation to each of my business trips. It seemed a good way to get my vacation fix. It would not cure my addiction, but it might allow me to stay sane until the next time I could enjoy a real vacation.

I started by trying to cram more and more stuff into each day. I would get up earlier. Try to see some sites after each day’s meetings. I never really saw or did all that much. I found myself more exhausted than normal and despite seeing a little more, it was not adding significant fun to my life. It occurred to me that even though it was not always feasible, many of my trips could be extended by a day without any serious disruption to either my life or my work. Notice I list life and work separately here. That ability to separate the two is essential if you are going to implement “Add-A-Day”.

What is Add-A-Day? The concept of Add-A-Day is simple. Rather than making each day longer, I started adding a day at the beginning or end of my business trips that was exclusively non-work. I don’t mean half-a-day. I don’t mean hoping that you can get out and enjoy the “overflow” day you scheduled in case the meetings ran longer than expected. I mean adding one day to your trip that is exclusively, and without negotiation, to be used as your mini vacation. That day is not an extension of your business trip. It is a short vacation that just happens to be adjacent to that business trip.

Adding a day to your trip is simple and will make your life better, once you get over the mental hurdles and follow the three rules of Add-A-Day. First, you must somehow truly accept the notion that a day here and there without working will not kill your business, your partners, or you. To the contrary, it has been well documented that people who are happier and more relaxed function better at work. You will more than make up for the missed day by the increased productivity you will experience in the days that follow. Second, to get the true emotional benefit from your Add-A-Day, it must be completely sans work. Learn to let it go. If you are standing in Paradise, Washington staring up at the wonder that is Mt. Rainier, you can’t expect any benefit from that if you are emailing your office about the meeting scheduled for next week where you will be negotiating the big contract that will force you to work 80 hour weeks for the next 3 months. Don’t do it. Third, a good Add-A-Day takes some planning. You can’t just leave a free day in your calendar and expect fun and interesting stuff to happen to you. It don’t work dat way. The only thing worse than not having an Add-A-Day is having one and wasting it by doing nothing. You need to “make it so”.

Try it just once. Find out that the world will not end and that you are capable of setting aside one day to unwind in some of those great places you are visiting. Then, when someone asks you about your favorite places and things to do, you will have an answer for them.

Categories: Add-A-Day, Advice, General | Leave a comment

Boeing 787: The Air that You Breathe

Boeing_787_first_flightThere has been a lot written about the new Boeing Dreamliner (787). While the high tech carbon fiber construction, production delays, and problems with the lithium ion batteries have been getting all the news, this plane actually has some features that benefit your health and comfort.

Anyone that flies much is aware that the air in a jetliner is dry…very dry. In fact, the humidity is typically between 3 and 5%.  This leads to rapid dehydration and the drying of the nose and throat. The moisuture in our nose and throat is the first line of defense against airborne infections. Take that away and you are more susceptible to respiratory infections. There is a reason that we often get sick after that 8 hour flight returning from vacation. Another difference in the air is the air pressure. The dreamliner is expected to run about 12%. On board most airlines the air pressure is equivalent to an altitude of 8000 feet. Most of us don’t notice it when we are just sitting around, but if you run up and down the aisle a couple times you would quickly be out of breath. That low air pressure is also partially responsible for that wiped out feeling you have after very long flights. It forces your pulse rate higher. Next time you are on a plane, check your pulse. Even just sitting in your seat it will be elevated as you body tries to deal with the lower air pressure. The air pressure on the 787 is maintained at about 6000 feet.  Still higher than most of us are used to, but not nearly as bad.

A side benefit of the higher air pressure in the 787 is that the air is recycled more frequently and therefore filtered more frequently. There is also a new gas filter that removes odors more effectively than the standard high efficiency particulate filters which make up the only filters on most planes.

This article is mainly about the air, but there are other advantages to the Dreamliner: 60% less noise, much larger windows…that you can actually dim, and on longer flights, the lighting inside actually simulates the passage of the day with varying color and brightness. No more of the simple off after takeoff and back on before landing.

Categories: Flying (general), Health | Leave a comment

Yellow Fever – Be Aware, But Not Afraid

During the 19th century, Yellow Fever was considered one of the most dangerous infectious diseases in the world. Today, with a readily available vaccine, the typical traveler has very little to worry about. That does not mean you can ignore the disease. Not only does some risk still exist even if you are vaccinated, but there are mandatory immunizations required by some countries. Safe traveling means being aware of your surroundings at all times and the existence of disease is one component of those surroundings.

About Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever is virus found in tropical regions of the world; primarily central Africa and the northern two-thirds of South America. There have been only rare cases in the United States. However, it is spread by certain species of mosquito and last month one of those species (Aedes aegypti) was discovered in Fresno, California. This could be another example of global warming enabling species typically found in the tropics to journey outside of their normal habitat. Even though Aedes aegypti is present in Asia and the Middle East, the disease does not occur there; the reason for this is not known. The World Health Organization estimates there are 200,000 cases of the disease every year (almost entirely in the unvaccinated population) with 90% of them being in central Africa (See the CDC maps). It is responsible for nearly 30,000 deaths each year. Persons infected with Yellow Fever often exhibit flu like symptoms such as fever, chills, anorexia, nausea, muscle pain, backache and headache. Most time these symptoms are self-limiting and last only 3-5 days. However, there is a more virulent form of the disease that can cause liver damage, bleeding, and death.

Prevention

Prevention comes in two forms: avoiding mosquito bites and vaccination. The standard methods are effective for avoiding being bitten:

  • Use insect repellant with DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants. Apply insect repellant to your clothes too.
  • Be especially careful at dusk and dawn when mosquitos are most active
  • Use insect netting on your bed if available
  • When possible sleep in air conditioned rooms with screens on the windows

 Vaccination

Anyone over 9 months of age should be vaccinate at least 10 days prior to traveling to a high risk area in South America or Africa. The vaccine provides protection for about 95% of people and according to the WHO, a single vaccination provides life-long immunity. The vaccine is a “live virus” that has been treated to avoid causing actual infection. However, as with any live virus vaccine, there are risks and only those likely to be exposed to the disease should be vaccinated. There have been rare cases of deaths resulting from the vaccine. The cost of the vaccine in the Unites States ranges from $60 – $80. I have heard it is free of charge if you happen to be in Buenos Aires.

Immunization Requirements

Besides the obvious benefit of being protected from the disease, certain countries require immunization before they permit entry. Other countries require proof of immunization if you arriving from a high risk area of the world. For country-specific information see the CDC’s site (CLICK HERE).

To Learn More

The CDC and WHO make huge amounts of information available on this disease. Here are some resource for those wanting to know more.

Yellow Fever Fact Sheet – WHO

Yellow Fever – Wikipedia

Infectious Diseases Related to Travel (Yellow Fever) – CDC

Travel Vaccines and Malaria Information, by Country – CDC

Yellow Fever Vaccine – CDC

Categories: Advice, Health | Leave a comment

That 5 Hour Flight Can Cause You Problems

We all know that being a couch potato, day, after day, after day, will have a negative impact on our physical health. We need some exercise to stay healthy. However, even for those of us that stay physically active, short periods of total inactivity can be problematic. Those 5+ hour flights, the all-day automobile drives, and the wonderfully lazy days aboard the cruise ship can be an issue, especially for the older traveler.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”. There is more than a little wisdom there. Staying active is the key to staying healthy…even over the very short term. There are some fairly simple tricks you can use to avoid the issues of short term inactivity while traveling. Let’s put together a plan for dealing with the two most common problems.

  • Dehydration: Every time you exhale, water leaves your body. Very dry air can make increase this effect. Of course this happens in the dessert or at very high elevations, but the air in most commercial airliners is very dry too. This means that you lose water much faster than you normally would, but since you are probably not being cooked by the sun you are less likely to notice.  By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, and even a minor amount of dehydration can lead to headaches, muscle cramps, irritability, and lack of ability to concentrate.  Particularly in those over the age of 50, moderate dehydration can lead to loss of appetite, delirium and increased risk of urinary tract infections. Preventing dehydration is pretty simple in most situations…drink more. The problem is, the circumstances often work against you. Here are some simple things you can do to avoid dehydration.
    • Make sure you start your trip hydrated. Start drinking additional fluids the day before you leave. Most people are slightly dehydrated first thing in the morning. Start your day with something to drink.
    • If you are flying, get to the airport early and leave some time to get something to drink.  Non-caffeinated drinks are preferred, but even caffeinated drinks are better than nothing when it comes to staying hydrated.
    • If you are driving, take a bottle of water in the car and stop to get more before it is all gone.
    • If you are flying, buy a bottle of water once you get inside the security area in the airport. Remember, you can’t bring beverages through security. If you don’t want to buy water in the airport, bring an empty bottle from home and fill it up once you are through security.
    • Always drink with every meal.
    • When flying, always accept and drink the beverages offered while in-flight. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendants for more.
    • Don’t drink alcohol in excess. This actually makes dehydration worse.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be a very painful and potentially life threatening situation where clots forms in the large veins of your legs. These clots can then break lose and travel to your lungs. That would be very bad. DVT can develop as a result of sitting still for a long period of time.  The reason for this is that your heart is not the only part of your body that pumps blood. The muscles in your lower legs contribute to the pumping action when you walk. If you are sitting, that action does not occur. There are some simple things you can do to significantly reduce your risk.
    • Do not become dehydrated (Notice a pattern here?)
    • While sitting in your seat, tap your feet. This simple motion of moving your feet causes the calves to contract and helps force blood out of your legs and back to your heart.
    • Get up and walk around at least once every hour. If you are driving, pull over and walk around your car a few times. If flying, getting up is a lot easier to do if you have an aisle seat. If you are drinking enough, that will keep you running to the bathroom.
    • While sitting in your seat, press your feet to the floor for 5 seconds and then lift them off the ground for 5 seconds. Repeat this 5 times every hour.
    • If you are able to take aspirin, take a baby aspirin (81mg) about 30 minutes before leaving. There are risks associated with aspirin use, so ask your doctor if you have any concerns.
    • Do not cross your legs. If you are flying coach this won’t be an issue (when was the last time you had room to cross your legs?)
    • Stretch your legs whenever possible. This is much easier if you keep the space at your feet clear. Don’t have bags at your feet.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of getting older is that your risk of various problems increases. If you are like me, this won’t stop you from doing the things you want to do, but it should make you do them a bit smarter.

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Visiting Cuba on the QT – Part 1

So, you want to go to Cuba?

The entire population of planet Earth is permitted to hop on a plane and visit Cuba anytime they want, except for citizens of the United States. For them, things are a bit more complicated.

Let me start off by saying there is a legal way for US citizens to visit Cuba. Authorized “Travel Service Providers” are companies licensed by the U.S. government to conduct such tours. These tours are often very nice, but are limited by the current regulations of the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) in what they can offer. For the average American, the most common type of trip is known as a “people-to-people” tour. Such trips require a license issued by the OFAC and the itineraries (reviewed by the OFAC before a license is issued) must involve a “full schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.” The regulations go on to say that authorized activities by People-to-People Groups do not include “tourist activities” under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which prohibits the OFAC from licensing travel-related transactions for tourist activities. Traveling to Cuba when the purpose of travel is to engage in tourism is never authorized.

If taking a structured “people-to-people” tour is what you are looking for, and money is not your first concern (these trips can be expensive), you can stop reading now and call an authorized Travel Service Providers who can hook you up. It is estimated that up to 400,000 Cuban Americans will legally visit Cuba each year (there is a special license for them to visit family members) and another 50,000 Americans will visit as part of other licensed tours. A complete list of authorized travel service providers can be found by Googling “list TSP”.
However, if a structured trip is not for you…if you are a bit of maverick and prefer to actually engage in “tourist activities”…if you are willing to take some small amount of risk…there is another option.

The Current Reality

Before we get into the how-to of visiting Cuba on the QT, let’s make sure we understand the current reality and the law.
Technically, it is not illegal for U.S citizens to travel to Cuba. It is however illegal to spend any money that might end up in the hands of the Cuban government unless you have an OFAC-issued license. Even authorized travelers to Cuba are subject to daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban “souvenirs” or other goods into the United States, with the exception of information and informational materials. This might seem to be a loophole that would let you travel there for a day and return without breaking the law. However, at least two problems exist. First, unless you plan on swimming to Cuba (watch out for the jelly fish), getting there will almost certainly result in some money finding its way into Cuba hands. Part of your airline ticket goes to paying Cuban government fees. Second, when you leave the country (even if you are swimming) you must pay a $30 departure tax. While some people try to argue that there are ways to legally travel to Cuba without the required OFAC license, it is unlikely the US government will agree with that.
This means that traveling to Cuba without the required license is a crime. Committing any crime involves certain risks. The law permits the US government to levy criminal fines up to $250,000 USD, civil fines up to $65,000 per violation, and jail terms up to 10 years for doing this. Don’t despair… the news is not all bad.

Getting to Cuba is easy. The US government takes no direct action to stop you, and the Cuban government welcomes you (and your money) into their country. Upon your return to the United States is where possible issues will arise, but that is why you are reading this. What these issues are, suggestions for avoiding them, and how to deal with them if you fail to avoid them can be found in the Returning to the USA section of this booklet. Smile, this is going to be fun.

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