Tips for easing into solo travel

Since 2012, Kristin Addis has been traveling the world. More often than not, she’s solo.

The former investment banker decided to sell her belongings five years ago and hit the road. She since has lived in silence at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, trekked to see gorillas in Uganda and hiked on glaciers in Patagonia.

For Addis – who blogs about her experiences at bemytravelmuse.com, and wrote a book on traveling solo, “Conquering Mountains: How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly” – traveling solo is easier than negotiating with a travel companion.

“You make all the decisions,” she says. “You get to just wake up that day and say ‘I want to go somewhere.’ Or ‘I really like it here, I think I’ll stay five more days.’ And you don’t need to ask anyone if it’s okay with them.”

Plus, she says, traveling alone is a great way to learn about yourself and put your skills to the test.

“You’ll become so much better at problem solving, because you learn very quickly that there is absolutely zero point in sitting around crying about it,” she says. “Because no one is going to come fix it.”

Here are her tips for traveling solo.

Start small: If you’ve never traveled by yourself and are considering a lengthy solo trip, it might help to test the waters – and calm anxious friends and family members – by going on a small trip first. “If you’re going to go on a big solo trip, your friends and family might be trying to talk you out of it. [A smaller trip] is a good way to show them, ‘Hey I can do this just fine,’ ” Addis says.

Choose a social (but not romantic) destination: If you’re concerned about getting lonely, Addis suggests visiting a place that’s popular for solo travelers, such as Southeast Asia, Central America or South Africa. There, you can meet people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom are also looking to connect with others. Whatever you do, Addis says, avoid places that are known for being particularly romantic. “I would pick a part of the world where it’s not going to be all honeymooners,” she says. “As a first-time solo traveler, that can be kind of tough.”

Talk to the locals: Want to know the must-see/must-eat spots in a town? Ask someone who lives there. If you’re shy about striking up a conversation with a stranger, Addis suggests heading to a local pub or getting involved in an endeavor where you might meet others, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, surfing or hiking.

Connect using technology: Addis says that she knows many people who use the app Tinder when they travel and specify that they’re a tourist and looking for people to hang out with (rather than looking for a date). Accommodation options such as Airbnb.com and Couchsurfing.com can also be a good way to meet locals (and save money), and sites such as mealsharing.com and eatwith.com offer the chance to break bread in a local’s home. Meetup.com is a site that connects like-minded people in cities around the world for an array of interests – including biking, spirituality, art, yoga, games and drinks.

Get psyched for dinner: Even after five years of traveling the world on her own, dining solo still gets to Addis. “That never gets easier,” she says. Sometimes, she’ll head to the bar at the local hostel and see if there are other travelers interested in going out to eat together. Other times, she’ll feast on street food or grab something on the go. Or there’s always the bar option within a restaurant, where it can be easier to strike up conversations with other diners and the bartender. A number of times, she says, as she was reading a book in a restaurant, other solo travelers spotted her and asked if they could join. “The cool thing is if you’re traveling in a place that attracts a lot of other travelers, there will be other people also by themselves. That’s what really surprised me, how many other solo travelers there are out there,” she says.

Choose places where the dollar is strong: Since you’re not splitting costs with another traveler, solo travel can get expensive. Opt for places where the dollar is strong. It’s a good time to book a trip to Canada, for example, where a U.S. dollar equals about $1.32. The Singapore dollar has fallen in recent years, and your dollar will exchange for about $1.38 in Singapore. Addis adds that by traveling to economically developing areas, such as Costa Rica, Cambodia, Bali and others, you can really stretch your cash. “It’s amazing how your money doubles or triples in value,” she says.

Use common sense when it comes to safety: Addis is asked about safety a lot. Her advice: “The things that you do at home to stay alive make a lot of sense abroad.” Don’t drink too much, don’t walk by yourself at night if it’s not safe, don’t be afraid to splurge on Uber (on which information is recorded and your journey will be tracked, unlike in a cab), and trust your intuition. She says that when traveling solo she sometimes feels safer than when she’s with others. “The great thing about traveling alone is that you’re hyperaware. Nobody is distracting you,” Addis says. “A lot of people think this makes you a target. I find I’m able to say yes more. When locals notice me by myself, they tend to want to take me under their wing or invite me to a meal with their families.”

Give yourself permission to take a trip: Addis says that she encounters a lot of misconceptions about solo travel. She says that people assume solo travelers don’t have friends, or that they can’t travel alone if they have a partner and/or kids. She says that traveling alone is an empowering and enlightening experience, and encourages everyone to do it: “It’s all right to go off and do your own thing even if no one around you understands or agrees with it. You really just get one chance at life. You don’t need to wait for somebody to come with you.”

Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter at @K8Silver.

Six Beach Reads

Why settle for beach reads in spirit when you can read literal beach books? From harrowing accounts of 100-foot rogue waves to James Bond’s inception in Jamaica, here are six nonfiction books set in or near the ocean. Whether you read their maritime subject matter while relaxing on the sand or in your own home, these books are guaranteed to take you out to sea.

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TheWave.jpeg 1. The Wave: In Pursuit of Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

Casey brings you so close to the ocean’s most fearsome monsters you can feel the salt spray on your face as fear pumps through your brain. These beasts are not flesh and bone, however, but massive and nightmarish extensions of the sea itself: rogue waves. Reaching nearly 100 feet into the air, these vicious claws are waiting to scrap humanity from the ocean’s surface. By alternating between the scientists who study these phenomena and the big wave surfers who ride them, Casey delivers scenes of both harrowing action and fascinating research.

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Gilded.jpg 2. Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort by Deborah Davis

Few beaches have ever seen more influential souls on their sand than those of Newport. The Rhode Island city was the place to summer for the Gilded Age’s wealthy elite, and what the Astors, Vanderbilts, Belmonts, Oelrichs, Havemayers, Drexels, et. al. did on vacation set the pace for the rest of the country. Davis takes you inside their luxurious manses to reveal a byzantine world of social graces and opulent parties, highlighting iconic families’ origins.

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PirateHunters.jpeg 3. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

Kurson is no stranger to underwater adventure tales. His book Shadow Divers chronicles a group of wreck divers’ efforts to identify the remains of a U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, and while the dives in Pirate Hunters are not nearly so dramatic, the Dominican setting and subject matter prove more romantic. Respected British captain-turned-pirate Joseph Bannister was legendary for fighting off two British war ships, but his name—and the final resting place of his ship, the Golden Fleece—had fallen from history in the centuries since that battle. In Pirate Hunters, Kurson follows John Chatterton (one of the Shadow divers) and John Mattera as they search for Bannister’s lost ship—and with it, historical context for the man who captained her.

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SoulOfOctopus.jpg 4. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

Part memoir, part scientific exploration, part philosophical musing, Montgomery’s book offers a portrait of an unusual subject: the octopus. Montgomery’s work as a naturalist belays her sharp observations, and her writing successfully tackles the more mysterious aspects of her cephalopod subject. From her first interactions in aquariums to donning scuba equipment to see the creatures on their own terms, Montgomery’s narrative is equal parts science and poetry.

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Goldeneye.jpeg 5. Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker

A sexist dinosaur? Sure. But still the ultimate template for the summer beach read book hero? Absolutely. James Bond is a more complex literary character than he’s given credit for, and Parker’s history of Bond creator Ian Fleming’s love affair with Jamaica gives the island nation its due in the spy’s creation. In the crystal clear reefs—and the tumultuous dissolution of the British Empire in an unremitting tide—Parker finds Fleming’s true motivations for creating Bond under the Caribbean sun.

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HeartOfSea.jpeg 6. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Philbrick’s book—which has since become a mediocre movie—tells the true tale of the Essex’s crew, who had to navigate thousands of miles of Pacific ocean after their ship was sunk by a sperm whale. Philbrick is a master of the historical narrative, writing expertly researched books that practically hum. You’ll learn everything you could ever want to know about whaling and be inspired by the same harrowing horror which sparked to life one of literature’s greatest monsters, Moby Dick.


B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayis, and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, his work can be seen in Hazlitt, Sports Illustrated, The Chicago Reader, VICE Sports, The Creators Project, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.

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47 Meters Down Movie

Just as we’re getting a rash of shark sightings off the coasts of California, “47 Meters Down” is hitting theaters.

It almost didn’t. The thriller about two sisters, Mandy Moore’s Lisa and Claire Holt’s Kate, whose Mexican vacation turns nightmarish when the shark cage they’re diving in slips its cable and hits the ocean floor some 150 feet below, was originally called “In the Deep.” It was just about to go straight to home video when its original distributor, The Weinstein Company’s genre division Dimension Films, sold it to Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios (literally; trucks carrying the DVDs and Blu-rays to Walmarts all over the country had to be recalled).Claire Holt and Mandy Moore on set making "47 Meters Down" (Courtesy photo)Claire Holt and Mandy Moore on set making “47 Meters Down” (Courtesy photo)

Which was a nice surprise for Moore, who currently stars on the beloved new NBC series “This Is Us,” and Holt, the Australian actress best known for portraying the less-than-lovable Rebekah on the CW’s “Originals” and “Vampire Diaries.” Deserved, too; they literally put their lives on the line to make this movie, so the results should be seen on a big screen.

“The thing we were a little apprehensive about but also excited about the challenge of was, we were doing everything you’re not supposed to do,” notes Holt who, like Moore, had never scuba dived before getting a few quick lessons for the “47” production. “Even though we were acting, we were doing really quite dangerous stuff and no one had really done that before. We spent eight weeks hyperventilating, no one really knew what that would do or how that would affect us. It was certainly nerve-wracking, but I think we found our rhythm and managed to survive it.”

“There was a lot to take into consideration in terms of physicality, like how we were overextending ourselves and acting underwater,” adds Moore, the former teen singing sensation who additionally notes that they had to pass a two-hour insurance physical before being permitted to make the movie. “When I read the script I went, Wow, I’ve never seen a movie like this before that takes place primarily underwater. In that sense, we were kind of guinea pigs. No one knew what effects eight weeks every day, under water, would have on our eardrums and lungs.”

Most of that business was conducted at The Underwater Studio in Basildon, England, the director Johannes Roberts’ (“The Other Side of the Door”) native land. He’d stay above the tank the actresses and their rusty cage were submerged 20 feet deep in, giving directions via large underwater speaker. Holt and Moore wore big diving masks with radio connections they could speak their lines through, but that could only be heard topside and by each other. The crew in the tank filming them had to communicate by other means.

“We developed this sort of underwater sign language with the camera crew, It was almost unspoken by the end; we could just read where they were going and kind of what they needed,” Moore explains. “It became easier as we went along. Because so much of it was when we were in close-up and it was just our eyes, it was pretty easy for them to say you’re gonna look over here or over there.”

All the Great Whites seen in the movie were computer generated. However, as any modern movie actor will tell you, they as well as the digital artists need something on the set for eyelines to follow and animated creatures to be properly placed within the frame. There was a bright idea for doing that in the Basildon tank, but like many a bright idea . . .

“We had a shark surrogate for a moment, then quickly realized it was a mistake,” Holt reports. “I guess it was a plastic shark head that a lovely fellow called Brian would swim around attached to. They used it sometimes for the CG, just so they could have a reference, but at other times they thought it would help our performance. It didn’t. We’d just laugh. So most of it was done with our imaginations.

“Sometimes we’d look at a rock,” Holt helpfully adds.

“I think under water, it’s easier,” Moore muses about acting against elements that aren’t physically onset. “When you’re above ground and someone is like, ‘Godzilla right now is outside that window,’ it might be a little more difficult to conjure up than when your underwater with the constant movement and the amplified sound of you’re breathing. It wasn’t hard to imagine yourself under water; you were actually there.”

And boy, were they in it. Cinematographer Mark Silk, who directed the underwater photography for “Captain Phillips,” had the effectively bright idea of filling the tank with ground-up broccoli to approximate the look of a tropical sea. And of course, it was a major effort for actresses and crewmembers to surface, doff and reattach all of their diving gear whenever nature called, so one just did what one does when out in the open ocean.

“Listen, we aren’t ashamed of that!” Holt insists. “When you gotta go, you gotta go. There was chlorine, broccoli, a lot of crewmembers’ pee in there. It’s good for your immune system!”

Still, smelly.

“The weekends, I would take multiple showers and still not be able to rinse the broccoli smell out of my hair,” Moore reveals. “We really committed for this film.”

She’s joking, but they really did.

“I don’t think either of us realized how physically taxing it was going to be,” Moore admits. “Just all that time under water, even just the littlest movements or seemingly simple days . . . we would get out at lunchtime and I’m usually not a napper, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. You just expend so much energy, and there was so much screaming and hyperventilating and fast movements. It was exhausting physically, and emotionally too, in a way that I didn’t expect.”

However, it was also crucial for the actresses to remember they were artists and not just performing sea mammals.

“We were conscious of making sure the film had levels, that it didn’t just live in a space that was heightened and fearful,” Holt points out. “There had to be moments of calm and connection. We wanted to give those heightened performances in the moments that required it, but also give these characters time to just be. It’s natural that humans go through a roller coaster of emotion when faced with a crisis.”

“And her character really pointed out that, in order to survive, we’d have to calm down and have these shallow breaths to not go through our air as quickly as we might,” Moore adds.

Both women say the effort was more than worth it, though neither has put a regulator in her mouth since. And they’re more than pleased that, in the shark tank known as the entertainment industry, their movie is getting a theatrical release.

“You never know,” Moore laments. “It’s such a crapshoot in this business, whether or not movies are going to get released. I had three failed pilots in a row and was reconsidering what I was going to do with my life when ‘This Is Us’ came my way.”

“I just shot a pilot that didn’t get picked up,” Holt chimes in. “That’s the nature of the business.”

As to whether our increased local shark consciousness will help sell tickets, Holt’s philosophical.

“I just think it’s a very real concern of a lot of people,” she says. “Anything that people respond to or connect with or are fearful of, hopefully they’re interested in engaging in. We’d never want shark attacks, but it’s a real thing, it’s frightening, and people respond to that.”

No more SCUBA diving after 2050

Fijian dive sites still teem with beautiful fish and coral.

Lauren Mowery

Fijian dive sites still teem with beautiful fish and coral.

Yesterday, Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. Donald Trump — not all Americans. In fact, the majority of the U.S. wanted to remain in the accord. Politics aside, while nobody yet knows the true impact of this potentially fateful decision, scientists have already modeled a variety of detrimental repercussions from preventing a global temperature increase of 2 degrees. In some areas of the world, the effects of climate change are real and evident. Consider our ocean reef systems.

As a 17-year open water diver certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), I’ve witnessed the rapid degradation of our coral reefs. Gray, broken, and dead. Dwindling schools of colorful fish. Increasingly, that description fits a large number of dive sites around the world. Last month, I dove in the Bahamas. Not long after, Nevis. After we surfaced near St. Kitts, the dive master admitted nearly 80% of the surrounding coral was declared lifeless. Confirming these anecdotal impressions was the recent news about the Great Barrier Reef: In the last two decades, the 25 million-year-old ecosystem has bleached to the point of fear for its total and complete extinction.

Twenty. Years.

While the ramifications of a dying ocean far outweigh the interests of a sport, the question should still be asked: what will happen to SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving if our coral reefs are dead?

I contacted the PADI organization for their thoughts on the looming crisis. Divers serve as one class of guardian to our aquatic habitats, bearing witness to changes while vested in their protection. I connected with Dr. Drew Richardson, President and CEO, PADI Worldwide. He’s been with PADI for thirty years, diving since 1971. “I’ve been lucky enough to have dived on all continents and both the Arctic and Antarctic polar ice environments. I love the adventure and exploration diving offers” he said.

I posed a few questions in the interview, touching on dive community responsibility, science and innovation, and great places to still experience the beauty of our underwater world. Fortunately, the answers aren’t as gloomy as you’d expect. I’ve published the interview in its entirety, below.

Climate change, ocean warming, acidification, and bleaching events are killing our reefs. Given the current pace of decline, what do you think is the future of the sport?

Unquestionably, there are serious and formidable issues threating the world’s coral reefs. That said, I’m a firm believer in engagement, problem identification and mitigation. My life philosophy is to remain optimistic and focused on a “future hope”. In my mind, there is no other option. Hope is the anchor to the soul. The danger is that we lose hope, or we feel like there’s nothing to be done.

In the wake of our 50th anniversary at PADI, we have deepened our commitment to ocean health and conservation. Our 25 million divers across the planet are becoming active as a force for good and driving towards a healthier planet and healthier reefs on local, national and international levels.

The PADI organization is committed to being a global force for good. We are passionate about creating a preferred view of the future in healthier oceans.

As the largest diver training organization in the world, PADI has the reach and influence to mobilize divers to be citizen activists. We train one million new divers each year across the planet who can engage in strategic alliances, have a powerful voice and get involved in real solutions to drive change.

As for the future of the sport of scuba diving, I feel there are strong tailwinds which will drive future growth in scuba diving. These include a growing middle class, a strong interest in adventure/action sports, strong global tourism trends, and environmentally conscious millennials to name a few. We are all about a future of engaging millions of new divers, training them well to be confident and comfortable divers, encouraging and enabling them to seek diving adventure and exploration of the planet’s underwater realm and paying it forward as good stewards of ocean and marine life health.

Baselines on coral reef communities may shift due to a variety of drivers, but there will be a strong and growing interest in underwater exploration and immersion- it’s a transformational and life-changing personal journey that we look forward to offering up to the planet for decades to come.

Diving the Blue Lagoon in Fiji.

Lauren Mowery

Diving the Blue Lagoon in Fiji.

What can divers do to help, whether in their personal lives or within the framework of the sport?

Loads. Start with the “man in the mirror”, stay informed and do what you can to make the world a better place and become a more powerful catalyst for change. We already are seeing this in thousands of individuals on a local level and we are helping to get their messages out. All of us who care about these issues can amplify engagement efforts to support life below the waters of this world and support initiatives which promote the sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. We encourage divers to align with like-minded business and organizations. The diving community will become powerful change agents who share a like-minded love, mission and passion to be a force for good and tackle and mitigate the problems which threaten our ocean planet.

Local fishing practices and pollution are other contributors to reef decline. What can divers do to positively impact those practices?

Stay informed, get engaged, initiate conversations and educate others about the issues. We all can make informed choices about how we live our lives, what we eat who we do business with etc. We can support set asides, marine protected areas and hope spots and support sustainable development and life practices. Support the development of social norms and institutions that allow the responsible management of reefs. Policy-makers might help local communities and people live with reefs sustainably, and encourage people to be more invested in their local reefs. We don’t get to live in an ideal world, we live in this one.

You’ve likely read about 3-D reefs. What’s your thought on how quickly those can be created to contribute to reef health and regeneration? What else may help, if anything?

I love the innovation and hope that is driving this initiative. Artificial reefs have been around a long time with mixed success. Time will tell if 3-D reefs can help restore on any longer-term or mass scale.

What dive areas are still in good shape for viewing colorful fish and a lively reef?

There are hundreds across the planet. As for tropical marine ecosystems-places like Palau, Sipadan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Caribbean Bonaire, Saba, much of the Bahamas, Las Rocas, and many areas in the Red Sea and the Maldives. There remains much beauty to be seen.

When she’s not in a vineyard or the ocean, Lauren Mowery covers drinks, food & adventure/luxury travel. Follow her around the world on Instagram and Twitter.

Two Caribbean Islands among best dive resorts

Diving at Jade Mountain. (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)

Surrounded by clear, warm water and coral reefs teeming with aquatic life, the Caribbean has long enjoyed a reputation as a diver’s paradise.

But just how well does it stack up on the world stage in terms of pairing professional dive facilities with luxury lodges dishing out the royal treatment to guests?

Pretty well, according to Fred Garth, a 30-year journalist and editor of adventure travel magazines, who has served as editor of Fathoms, Scuba Times, Skin Diver, and Guy Harvey magazines.

In a recent article penned for CNN, Garth picked 10 of the most exclusive scuba hideaways on the planet, and the Caribbean scored twice with St Lucia’s Jade Mountain and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Petit St Vincent Resort.

Here’s what he had to say about each:

Jade Mountain (St Lucia)

Jade Mountain (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)

The extreme vertical architecture of this resort mirrors St Lucia’s famously steep Gros and Petit Piton mountains.

Architect-owner Nick Troubetzkoy employed bridges, towering columns and balconies to blend into the natural surroundings. The results are sprawling views of the Caribbean Sea and the sky-scraping green Pitons that rise proudly out of Soufriere Bay.

At Jade Mountain, living areas have just three walls. The fourth has been replaced with a private infinity pool and an expansive view that gives “open air” a whole new meaning.

The resort looks down over St Lucia’s Marine Park, where both beach and boat dives are easily accessible. The island’s marine ecosystem is home to more than 100 species of fish and most diving is in the 20- to 130-foot range.

The rocky underwater terrain is full of multi-coloured sponges and corals and a favourite hangout of peacock flounders, octopus, needlefish, lobsters, moray eels and other typical Caribbean fish.

 

Turtle sightings are frequent when diving at Jade Mountain. (Photo credit: Jade Mountain)

Petit St Vincent Resort (St Vincent and the Grenadines)

Some of the accommodation at Petit St Vincent Resort (Photo credit: Petit St Vincent Resort)

Anyone with 56 very close friends (Facebook doesn’t count) can book what Petit St Vincent calls a “full island buyout.” That reserves all of this 115-acre island’s 22 one-bedroom cottages and two-bedroom beach villas. The homes are scattered along the bluffs and seven perfect beaches, ensuring privacy even among good friends, just in case anyone needs some alone time.

For diving, Jacques Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel, has made Petit St Vincent a kind of second home. The dive school bears his name and follows the Cousteau legacy of exploration and conservation. Dozens of excellent dive sites are minutes away or just a few miles north around Union and Mayreau Islands.

Besides Sail Rock, which is reserved for advanced diving when weather conditions allow, most of the diving is easy enough for beginners. Divers will encounter moray eels, lobsters, nurse sharks, sea fans, colourful sponges and corals in typically warm, clear Caribbean water.

Preparing for a dive. (Photo credit: Petit St Vincent Resort)

Jade Mountain and Petit St Vincent Resort are in good company among Garth’s remaining picks: Qamea Resort and Spa (Fiji); Misool Eco Resort (Indonesia); Kia Ora Resort & Spa (Rangiroa, French Polynesia); Lizard Island (Australia); Mnemba Island (Tanzania); Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru (Maldives); Crusoe Island Lodge (Chile); and North Island (Seychelles).

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Fly to a beautiful overwater bungalow for only $279 R/T

Daydreaming about a getaway to an overwater bungalow suspended over cerulean water?

You don’t need to tap your retirement savings for a trip to some far-flung, ultra-luxury property in the Maldives or French Polynesia.

As Coastal Living points out, there are plenty of sublime overwater bungalows closer to home than you might imagine. And it only takes a few hours to get to them from several U.S. cities. Best of all, you can fly to all of these overwater stays for less than $400 round-trip. You’ll still need to pay for the bungalow, but cheap airfare will get you half way to total relaxation.

From white-sand beaches in Mexico to underrated destinations in Central America — and one very glamorous Caribbean retreat — these overwater bungalows leave nothing to be desired.

Fly to Azul Paradise in Panama for $368 round-trip.

According to Scott’s Cheap flights, flights to Panama are seriously on sale right now, with fares starting at $368 round-trip this summer. Travelers can leave a early as late May from Boston, Las Vegas, and Orlando, and stay in one of 10 intimate bungalows at Azul Paradise, in Bocas del Toro. Panama City is just over three hours from Orlando, with short, hour-long regional flights to archipelago’s main village, Bocas Town.

Visit the Rosewood Mayakoba for $279 round-trip.

New York area travelers can fly to Cancun in four hours, and be immediately transported to a white sand paradise.

Courtesy of Rosewood Mayakoba

Deluxe Overwater Lagoon Suites at the Rosewood Mayakoba — about a 40-minute drive from Cancun in Riviera Maya) — are ultra-modern and suspended over a freshwater lagoon.

Check out Jamaica’s new overwater villas for $379 round-trip.

A collection of new Over-the-Water Villas at the Sandals Royal Caribbean is probably going to change your entire outlook on all-inclusive resort stays. Nightly rates are high, but they’re completely all inclusive (even your cocktails, golf outings, and scuba diving). And this summer, flights to Montego Bay are available for only $379 round-trip from Atlanta.

Fly to Belize for $346 round-trip.

In about seven hours, you can be in the beautiful Central American country of Belize.

Courtesy of Cayo Espanto

Two properties with overwater bungalows really shine here, including the one-bedroom villa with turquoise shutters at Cayo Espanto and the five stilted bungalows at the private island resort, Thatch Caye.

Diving for Coral Conservation

The town of Chichiriviche de la Costa is a small gem on the Venezuelan coastline, set in a tranquil bay where a freshwater river runs through the mountains and empties into the sea. The locals live in the hills just above the beach, consisting of a few hundred people whose income is derived from fishing and local tourism opportunities. Coral reefs live on both sides of the bay, accompanied by a wide diversity of marine life. A variety of medusa and sea sponges frequently attract Hawksbill sea turtles which are commonly found feeding on the beach. Upwellings occur twice a year, providing important phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms which entice various species of sardines and herring. In turn, cetaceans and whale sharks are commonly seen during September through March each year. Unique marine life including frogfish, sea horses, crustaceans, nudibranks, mollusks, sea cucumbers, crinoids, sea stars, anemones, tunicates, clams, oysters, and sea urchins are also common to Chichiriviche’s waters. Not surprisingly, the bay and nearby coastline are excellent for scuba diving and snorkeling, with easy access from the beach.

 

The unparalleled beauty and vibrant sea life of Chichiriviche continue to draw crowds of beach-goers and marine enthusiasts to its coastline. However, short-term visitors have little awareness of the importance in preserving the beach and ocean environment, resulting in negligence and pollution. Venezuelans traveling from Caracas, a mere two-hour drive from Chichiriviche vacation right on the beach and unknowingly interfere with marine life. For example, the bay is a vital nesting site for turtles but with the increase in beach activity, lights and noise, their presence has greatly diminished. Coral reef species like Acropora palmata are critically endangered due to the impacts of rising sea temperatures and the river discharging contaminants into the ocean.

Interest in diving, in particular, has led to the opening of two scuba diving schools. The scuba divers are passionate about their local marine flora and fauna and work with the local community to become better stewards of their environment. However, inexperienced scuba divers with poor buoyancy control break the few surviving corals.

BIOSub is a group of Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) students blending marine science and conservation with underwater activities (SCUBA diving, freediving, spearfishing), while supporting biological research projects. BIOSub in collaboration with CECOBIO, both extension groups from UCV’s Faculty of Science, are currently designing a conservation project aiming to improve the general value of Chichiriviche’s coral ecosystem. Rubén Niño is currently studying Biology at UCV and fell in love with coral reef freediving. Working at one of Chichiriviche’s local dive centers has given him a unique perspective on coral reef ecosystems underwater and local activities on land. One of his goals is designing sustainable fishing techniques while educating locals, divers and tourists to become more aware of the environment and in turn, care about it. He remarks;

“Many experienced divers say Chichiriviche’s coral population has diminished dramatically in time from a combination of environmental conditions and irresponsible fishing and diving. If we don’t act now, all of those beautiful dive sites will be gone in the near future, but we still have time. Education is the key to conservation.”

Strength in Awareness 

The connectivity of Hope Spots has remarkably established an important link with Choroni, a neighboring community, also a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Marco Caputo, a Marine Biologist from Choroni joined forces with a conservationist from Chichiriviche, Gabriela Chirinos, to educate their residents about the Hope Spot. The two experts led a lively discussion on their collaboration with Mission Blue, Choroni’s successful sea turtle project, and a discourse on coral reefs. Hosting the event at a dive school garnered interest from over 30 people including members of the National Guard. The outcome resulted in future plans for local residents to become more involved in their Hope Spot while strengthening relationships with the diving community.

BIOsub, in particular, is leading efforts in coral and algae research, beach clean-up activities, and training and educating locals about diving. Exciting plans are also underway for a Reef Check representative to train a team of local divers on how to monitor their reefs through data collection and surveys.

Gregg Magrane, one of Chichiriviche’s Hope Spot champions exclaims;

“Conservation is a strategy for sustainability and generational justice, namely a sense of fairness for future generations. In our conservation efforts, we are in the process of increasing the consciousness of the tourists, divers, fishermen and local inhabitants. We feel making everyone aware is the best way to ensure the environment is not destroyed. Our Hope Spot nominations have given us concrete foundations to go forward with this ideal and with preserving healthy marine environments for Choroni and Chuao and Chichiriviche de le Costa.”

https://youtu.be/lwyKrYJiemY

Rebreathers have plusses, but know before you go – FlKeysNews.com

The diver silently was hovering in the hazy distance — no apparent movement — no bubbles coming from his regulator.

The image came into focus as the group of newer divers I was guiding got closer.

The diver was Carsten Huppertz, head captain at Florida Keys Dive Center, who holds an impressive list of diving instructor ratings, decked out in a rebreather, shiny “bailout” bottle and stylish black dry suit.

My thoughts leapt to a scene from a secret agent movie where the hero climbs out of the water, sheds his scuba gear and dry suit and then walks into the bad guy’s cocktail reception with his hair perfectly in place and not a wrinkle on his tuxedo.

After the theme from the James Bond movies finished playing in my head, I checked on my divers flapping through the water and made the underwater turn back to the dive boat.

“Who knows, maybe I will get to see Halle Berry climb out of the ocean,” I thought.

In 1943, Jacques Cousteau and his partner Emilie Gagnan co-invented a demand valve system that supplies divers with compressed air when they breathe. The exhaust gas is discarded in the form of bubbles; this is called an “open-circuit” system, and has become synonymous with what many know as SCUBA, an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

The standard scuba setup has worked well since the advent of recreational diving.

It turns out, however, that rebreathers have been around longer than better known open circuit scuba gear. Henry A. Fleuss submitted a patent in 1878 and the rebreather was used two years later to close some crucial valves in the Severn River.

Since the days of Cousteau, most recreational scuba divers have used: a mask to enable them to see underwater; a tank containing compressed air (regular filtered air, not oxygen); a scuba regulator, which provides air at the appropriate pressure needed at different depths; fins to swim efficiently in the water; exposure protection (wet suit) to keep them protected and warm; a dive knife to be used as a tool – not a weapon; a depth gage and timing device (both of which are now available in underwater computers); and a compass for navigation.

Added to this are a buoyancy control device (BCD) to help divers float at the surface or to maintain neutral buoyancy underwater (like a fish), and lead weight to help counteract the buoyancy characteristics of their bodies and wet suits.

As Bob Dylan sang in 1964, “The Times They Are A-changin‘.”

With decreases in cost and difficulty of operation, rebreathers, once the realm of military and highly-trained specialty technical divers, are becoming increasingly popular with recreational divers.

A major benefit of a rebreather is longer dives, because a portion of the gas supply is reused, than when using open circuit scuba tanks.

Rebreathers are great for photography because they don’t frighten fish with exhaust sounds. And, they deliver warm, moist breathing gas and a more optimum gas mixture for divers on extended and deeper dives.

There are three basic types of rebreathers: oxygen rebreather, semi-closed rebreather, and closed-circuit rebreather (CCR). Some experts and manufactures differentiate the types into two or four. Halcyon, a dive equipment manufacture, lists oxygen, active addition, semi-closed passive addition and fully closed. ( http://www.halcyon.net/en/gear-up/rebreathers/rebreather-types)

The difference in the method rebreathers operate is the manner in which they add gas to the breathing loop, and control the concentration of oxygen in the breathing gas.

Generally, the breathing loop includes a carbon dioxide (CO2) absorbent canister, a way to add fresh oxygen needed by the diver, and a design to ensuring that gas circulates in one direction. A single fill of a small gas cylinder or cylinders and CO2 scrubber can last, depending on the model, from one to six hours; and, gas duration on a rebreather is nearly independent of depth allowing a diver to spend more time at the deepest portion of a dive.

Rebreathers can be more expensive to purchase and operate than a traditional regulator, BCD and scuba tank setup.

Additional training is also required to use a rebreather, even if you are already a certified diver.

Several dive organizations teach rebreather and technical diving. One of the oldest and largest is Technical Diving International (TDI): https://www.tdisdi.com/tdi/who-is-tdi/.

Another, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), is the largest trainer of recreational divers. Its site relating to rebreathers can be found at: https://www.padi.com/padi-courses/rebreathers

The PADI Rebreather and Advanced Rebreather Diver courses use type “R” units to introduce divers to rebreather diving within recreational dive limits. These units are electronically controlled and provide a backup for all the major systems, which simplifies training and use.

According to PADI, type R rebreathers, which specifically are “suited for recreational diving”: will not operate or will warn the diver if the canister is missing; provide electronic prompts for the predive check; provide automatic set point control; estimate scrubber duration; and, have warnings for low or closed gas supply.

They also display low battery life and high or low PO2 (percentage of oxygen); include a “black box” data recorder functions in the electronics; and; have a display warning system in line-of-sight during normal diving.

PADI’s more advanced Tec CCR courses teach technical divers how to use type “T” closed circuit rebreathers beyond recreational dive limits. (For a list of requirements for type “T” rebreathers see: https://tecrec.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/type-t-rebreather-specifications-v1-4.pdf

The Keys is fortunate to be home to Georgia Hausserman, an expert in the field of rebreather training. Georgia is a member of PADI’s Technical Diving Division and Rebreather Advisory Team, and has helped develop an instructor and instructor trainer base for PADI’s rebreather and CCR programs.

Gary Mace, who with his wife Brenda own and operates Conch Republic Divers, holds rebreather instructor certifications with PADI and the International Association of Nitrox and Technical divers (IANTD).

According to Mace: “Rebreathers are a wonderful tool when used properly within a diver’s certification level and experience. I’ve got friends who have explored shipwrecks down to 340 feet for up to an hour using this technology, which would be very difficult or impractical on open circuit.”

As with any type of diving, when diving with a rebreather, you should make sure your gear is in good working order and properly checked before each dive. You only should dive to the limits of your training and be conservative in your dive(s). Don’t let the pressure of “getting one more dive” or another person’s urging influence your decision to dive.

Upper Keys dive shops providing rebreather training include Conch Republic Divers (http://conchrepublicdivers.com/) Rainbow Reef Dive Center ( http://www.rainbowreef.us/) and Horizon Divers (http://www.horizondivers.com/).

A comprehensive list of diver certification agencies is available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diver_certification_organizations#Technical_diving_certification_agencies

Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 30 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier five years ago, where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

https://youtu.be/TIzgbPF3lb0

Turneffe Island Resort

Picture this: You are stranded on a deserted island.

What are three things you would wish for?

While a toothbrush, food and water might be high on the list, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you were thinking along the lines of:

  • A luxurious, outdoor infinity pool
  • Gourmet meals prepared daily
  • And, of course, access to world-class scuba diving around The Great Blue hole

If your list consists of these three things (or something similar), then I’ve got great news…

Welcome To Paradise

Turneffe Island Resort in Belize is the perfect vacation getaway for thrill seekers and family and friends looking to kick back and relax. Nestled in “paradise,” Turneffe Island Resort is a private Island located off the coast of Belize, just 30-miles from the world-famous Great Blue Hole.

The 14-acre getaway houses 22 guestrooms, creating an intimate and uninhibited atmosphere. While the resort isn’t new (it’s actually 15-years-old), the property has just undergone some major renovations. The results are breathtaking, with entirely upgraded rooms, a luxurious spa, an outdoor bar by the pool, along with a gourmet dinning room with daily meals prepared by experienced chefs.

Turneffe Island Resort
View from above of Turneffe Island Resort

Luxury aside, this private resort is also known for its world-renowned scuba diving, fly fishing, snorkeling and breathtaking views. Turneffe Island Resort would be considered paradise for vacationers looking to really explore the Caribbean Ocean.

And with all-inclusive resort packages starting as low as $2,090 (per person), vacation goers can experience the “private-island life” at affordable rates.

Here are 5 highlights that I got to experience during my visit to this tropical paradise:

#1. Scuba Diving

Turneffe Island Resort
Scuba Diving at Turneffe Island Resort

With six dive masters, thirty-two diving sites and fifteen dives per week, Turneffe Island makes for the perfect scuba diving destination. Guests are able to dive deep down into some of Belize’s most lucrative depths and caves. Real thrill seekers even have the chance to dive 130 feet deep inside the Great Blue Hole to get glimpses of stalactites and rare sea creatures.

#2: Snorkeling

Turneffe Island Resort
Snorkeling at Turneffe Island Resort

I am by no means a pro at snorkeling, but I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to snorkel the perimeter of The Great Blue Hole at Turneffe Island Resort. Located on a geological wonder – the coral island of Little Caye Bokel – Turneffe sits at the southern elbow of the Turneffe Atoll.

A natural wonder formed centuries ago, Belize’s Turneffe Atoll was previously an oceanic mountainous peak. Over time, the peak sank to the sea floor, leaving a coral reef around its perimeter. Today, the Turneffe Atoll is the one of the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in Belize.

I felt like I had just stepped out of Finding Nemo after spending a few hours snorkeling around the island. I got to see fish I never knew existed, along with brightly colored coral and sea plants.

#3: Fly Fishing

Turneffe Island Resort
Fly Fishing at Turneffe Island Resort

I was thrilled when I found out that Turneffe Island Resort offers guests an extensive fishing program that includes the choice of four fishing boats, four experienced fishing guides and six fishing flats.

Turneffe has become famous for its fly-fishing, attracting anglers from around the globe. The fishermen on board help ensure that guests catch impressive fish like mackerels, snappers, permits, tarpons, and the occasional mighty bonefish.

Turneffe’s fishing program is also known for its “catch and release” policy and takes pride in respecting the Turneffe Atoll bioregion.

#4: The Helicopter Ride

Turneffe Island Resort
View of The Great Blue Hole from above

One of the most memorable activities during our stay at Turneffe Island Resort was the private helicopter ride. The views from the helicopter were absolutely breathtaking. Seeing the Island from above was a completely different experience. The ocean below appeared turquoise, mixed with shades of blue, and you could really get a clear glimpse of The Great Blue Hole.

The helicopter ride also made for a great photo op, as guests are allowed to take pictures during the tour. And for people with a fear of heights, I must admit that it’s not as scary once you are off the ground. In fact, I was so preoccupied with the views that I forgot about my fear of flying. The helicopter ride is a must!

#5: The Spa

Turneffe Island Resort
The Spa at Turneffe Island Resort

Finally, one of the main reasons we decided to visit Turneffe Island Resort was to relax on a private island in the Caribbean. After all of our activities, I decided to end the trip with a 90-minute hot stone massage at Turneffe’s spa.

Turneffe’s spa is situated in a villa overlooking the Caribbean Sea. There are two professional massage therapists and guests can choose from 12 different treatments (mani and pedis too!), along with a daily special. The massage oils and lotions were extremely calming and smelled like heaven. I had fallen asleep by the end of my massage, overcome with the feeling of inner peace and calmness.

Paradise Found

Photo Credit: Noa Enav
The sunset on Turneffe Island Resort captured by Noa Enav

Overall, my experience at Turneffe Island Resort was truly unforgettable. From the activities, to the lodging, to the meals, this private Island really is a slice of paradise in Belize that everyone should experience.

Being stranded on a deserted island really isn’t so bad after all!

https://youtu.be/Xb0V_sqq038

VR Travel

World travel can be expensive. But you can experience exotic locales in immersive virtual reality for little or no cost at all. With Samsung Gear ($99) or Google Cardboard ($8), any iPhone or Android smartphone can be turned into a virtual reality device.

Content for tourism is one of the first categories to really take off in VR, allowing you to experience being there without really going there. VR travel apps can both help you experience a place—or a specific resort, city, museum, hotel or cruise ship—before you take the plunge. Or, it can replace actual travel altogether if you’d rather experience a place vicariously.

Here are our favorites for where to take your first virtual trek.

YouVisit

Want to experience a sailboat cruise off the coast of Croatia? YouVisit is one of the best-designed apps dedicated specifically to virtual reality tours. In addition to thousands of travel destinations, they also feature college campuses, businesses, hotels and restaurants. The tours include 360-degree video as well as 360-degree interactive panoramic photos. Navigate by looking, no buttons or controllers necessary.

Free on Android, iOS and Gear VR

Dive with sharks on Discovery VR.

Google Street View

This VR app supports both iOS and Android devices, which means you can literally go pretty much anywhere in the world—though, unfortunately, you have to take off the headset to interact with the app. Plus the app is free on both Android and iOS.

There’s also an unofficial StreetView VR app, also free, for the Gear VR, by YoutopiaVR, which pulls in Google Street View data. The app has a great navigation interface: You just tap to skip ahead to the street you’re on, or do a long tap to bring up the map. You can zoom in and out and jump to anywhere in the world, or click on the microphone and say the name of a place and you are there. Say “Eiffel Tower,” for example, and you’re transported to the spot, above Paris, looking down. It’s awesome.

The app also has a voice-enabled group functionality, so you can virtually visit places with your friends. Now if I only had a friend with a Gear VR, I could try it out.

Travel virtually with a friend with StreetView VRPhoto courtesy of StreetView VR

Discovery VR

The virtual reality studio from Discovery Networks specializes in you-are-there extreme experiences such as scuba diving in shark-infested wrecks and and flying through a remote canyon on a zipline. The app itself isn’t available on Gear VR, but some of the content can be found on Gear VR’s Milk VR and Hulu VR video apps.

Free on Android and iOS.

Jaunt VR lets you tour Machu Picchu from your living room.

Jaunt VR

One of several VR studios to emerge over the past few years, Jaunt VR has a selection of incredibly high-quality travel VR videos including Nepal, Machu Picchu, Syria and Jerusalem. Travel is just the beginning at Jaunt, which also includes VR films, music and sports.

Free on Android, iOS and Gear VR.

Ascape lets people upload their own VR travel pieces—or check out destinations they’re considering.

Ascape Virtual Travel & Tours

Ascape is all about finding inspiration for travel. The service has more than 100 virtual tours of gorgeous destinations around the world including resorts, cities and experiences. Navigate by touching the screen, so be prepared to access the phone frequently. If you’re a virtual auteur, you can become a producer for Ascape, and make money from your own videos.

Free on Android and iOS.

Samsung Milk VR

Primarily a movie app, Milk VR also offers immersive video tours, such as Chicago, romantic Italy, New York’s Times Square and many more. However, only the Gear VR version of the app works with a headset, specifically the Gear VR headset. Unfortunately, the standard Android version does not support Google Cardboard viewers, but simply shows a video that allows you to look in different directions by turning the phone or swiping the screen.

Free on Android and Gear VR.

YouTube

All YouTube videos are playable in immersive virtual reality on Android phones – search for your destination and “360” or “vr” or filter for “360 videos.” Then look for the cardboard symbol at bottom right or behind the three dots setting symbol at top right. Traditional videos are shown on giant private movie screens, while 360-degree videos are shown in immersive virtual reality. On Gear VR, the work-around is to use the Samsung Internet browser app and surf over to the YouTube site. There is no iOS support yet.

Free on Android.

Orbulus

Combines crisp 360-degree panoramic images with sound loops to create a “frozen moment in time” effect. Orbulus videos include the ability to experience New Year’s fireworks on Hong Kong Harbor, a view of the Northern Lights and even the ability to stand on Mars. Navigate by looking, no buttons or controllers necessary.

Free on Android and iOS.

Sites in VR

Panoramic photos of of landmarks from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Kuwait, Yemen, Macedonia, Holland, Belgium and France. Very user-friendly interface but the photos themselves are not interactive. Navigate by looking, no buttons or controllers necessary.

Free on Android and iOS.

Flickr VR

Experience 360-degree Flickr photos in immersive virtual reality on your Gear VR headset. Not yet available for iPhones or Androids yet, but you can check out the Orbulus app instead.

Free on Gear VR.

Single destination apps

In addition to the apps above, many developers are releasing virtual reality tours for individual destinations. You can see Tokyo, London, Cyprus and even Paris. Maybe a trip to the Big Apple is something you’ve dreamed of—or the Caribbean is more your speed. To find others, search for the name of your destination and the keyword “VR” in your app store. Plus, here are a few more to get you started for your next virtual escape:

United Arab Emirates

Liege Cathedral, in Belgium

Neon Museum in Las Vegas, NV

(Free for Android too)

Museo Maya de América

Toumanian Museum in Armenia

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