FROM ONE SISTER TO ANOTHER
Athens, Greece is one of the world’s oldest cities is embedded with sordid history and thrilling mythology. Here are just a few intriguing facts that you may not have known.
ATHENS IS EUROPE'S OLDEST CAPITAL CITY
Athens’ origins date back to 3,000 B.C. To put its age into perspective: the first permanent settlement in the United States (St. Augustine, Florida) wasn’t founded until 1565!
ATHENS HAS THE MOST THEATRICAL STAGES IN THE WORLD
It’s understandable that the Greeks take theater very seriously, as the tradition of theater dates back to the time of Athens’ first democracy – so much so that Athens is home to 148 theater stages, more than the West End and Broadway combined.
A WOMAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TODAY'S SIDEWALKS IN ATHENS
From the late-19th century to the 1990s, the sidewalks of downtown Athens used to be paved with marble. Athens’ first female mayor, Dora Bakoyannis, decided to give the city a much-needed facelift in 2003, as the marble had aged and would get slippery on rainy days. While some of marbled sidewalks are still in place, Athenian roads and walkways were modernized, making the entire city more accessible for everyone – just in time for the 2004 Olympics.
IF IT WEREN'T FOR AN OLIVE TREE, POSEIDON MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE CITY'S PATRON
According to mythology, Athena and Poseidon competed for the title of the guardian of the city. They each offered a gift to gain favor of its people and the gods, but Athena’s olive tree was deemed more valuable than the salt water spring given by Poseidon, so her name was given to the city-state.
ATHENS HAS IMPLEMENTED EVERY FORM OF GOVERNMENT
Inhabitants of Athens have experienced life under democracy, capitalism, socialism, monarchy and communism.
Voluntourism is not a new travel niche despite the fact that many are not familiar with the concept. In essence, voluntourism is the act of doing volunteer work in the community where you're vacationing.
By no means is this an essay on the pros and cons of such work; rather, I'd like to discuss what's involved so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it's right for you.
WHERE CAN I VOLUNTEER?
Just about every state in the United States and every country in the world have volunteer opportunities. That doesn't necessarily translate into "voluntourism" opportunities. You can help with conservation and clean water projects, disaster response, work with animals, marine life and wildlife, and teach children in indigent communities. If you're a licensed healthcare practitioner, you can use your medical skills in communities where accessing healthcare is difficult. You can participate in faith-based programs around the world or even help with research in less developed countries. Honestly, I spent a lot of years wanting to be a "foster mother" for a baby monkey - until I realized they were going to strap the monkey to me for 6 weeks with no breaks. The point is this: no matter what type of volunteer project you want to do, you can generally do it while vacationing somewhere.
WHO CAN VOLUNTEER?
Adults and children can volunteer but most often, children 10-12 and under are not permitted due to safety issues. Very often, church groups will formulate a specific faith-based mission trip, or healthcare workers and organizations will create a medical mission. There are many opportunities that offer family-based programs so that multi-generational families can participate. Very often, mature adults choose this type of vacation and with their years of expertise, skills and knowledge in so many fields, they are invaluable to the communities in which they serve.
HOW MUCH TIME IS DEVOTED?
If your entire vacation is devoted to volunteering, then you're likely working 8-12 hours a day on behalf of the charity. If you're truly vacationing but want to give a little time, there are organizations that will arrange this for you depending on where you're going and what you'd like to do. It's important to remember that voluntourism is not about you and your convenience - it's about serving the needs of the community that you're in.
WAIT...IT'S NOT FREE?
Voluntourism is not free. In fact, if your entire vacation is based on volunteering, you may pay just as much as you would for a different type of vacation. This is because the charitable organizations do not have the financial resources to pay for your accommodations, food and other expenses. That is your contribution on top of your time and labors. Most people that I know who have "voluntoured", have raised at least part of the the money through friends, family and colleagues.
Remember that you are generally going to be in indigent communities where 5-star hotels don't exist. Don't expect fancy or upscale...you'll be lucky to find moderate conditions. You'll probably find yourself in a hostel-type bunk bed, lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, or in a basic bed with a monkey strapped to your chest (sorry - I had to!). Bathrooms are shared spaces and food is generally served through donations from the local community. That's not to say there are not luxury voluntourism opportunities - there are, but you'll have to look for them.
I can't tell you if voluntourism is right for you. And, since I have not vetted any of the agencies out there that specialize in this travel niche, I can't tell you which one is better than the next. What I can tell you is that if your generous heart wants to do something different on your next vacation and volunteering is in your blood, this may be a perfect option for you. Who knows? It could be the most rewarding thing you've ever done.
I am asked about group airfare on a daily basis by clients who are traveling in groups. In very rare instances, group airfare may be the way to go, but for the most part, we're not big fans for some very important reasons.
EVERYONE HAS TO FLY THE EXACT SAME SCHEDULE
If we reserve group airfare, everyone in the group has to fly the exact same schedule with no deviations. That means Sally cannot fly in a day earlier and Sandy cannot stay two days longer. It also means that Sally and Sandy have to leave from the same airport and return to the same airport on the exact same flights, even if one lives on the West coast and one lives on the East.
EVERYONE HAS TO FLY IN THE EXACT SAME CLASS OF SERVICE
Sally prefers to fly in Business Class but Sandy wants to fly in economy. We can't do that with group airfare. Everyone flies in the same exact class which generally means the entire group is going to fly in the economy cabin. If someone in the group insists on flying in Business, they are actually removed from the group and pay the published price at the time of the booking. This also can impact meeting the need for a minimum number of travelers.
THE GROUP NEEDS A MINIMUM NUMBER OF TRAVELERS
In order to confirm group airfare, there needs to be a minimum of ten travelers - flying the exact same schedule in the exact same class of service. This can be a disadvantage when you don't meet the minimum and, if anyone changes to published airfare in order to upgrade their seats.
YOU DON'T GET TO CHOOSE YOUR SEATS
The purpose of group airfare is to secure space and so that everyone pays the same price. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick your seats....period. Further, the seating available for group airfare passengers is the least desirable on the plane. The airline will seat you wherever they want to even if it means breaking up couples and families. We have seen many times where a husband is seated in the window seat of row 12 and the wife is seated in row 24 in a middle seat. Despite all efforts, the seats stand where they have assigned you.
GROUP AIRFARE COSTS MORE!
Most people think that group airfare is cheaper than published air, but in truth, it's the opposite. The airline is holding seats for your group that may or may not be filled, leaving the airline to scramble at the last minute to try and sell those seats. There is a price to be paid for that!
Travel advisors have access to consolidator fares for international flights which can save you a lot of money when they are available. We also know many of our clients like to use points to purchase their airfare. In essence, group airfare is not a win for most clients but we'll be happy to help you get the best bang for your buck when looking at flights for you.
Let's face it. The last 18 months have not been very kind to anyone. Between the drastic ways in which our lives have had to change during the pandemic to the regular stressors of life in general, we've all been struggling to keep our heads above water. Now, as everything begins to open up again, we're finally acknowledging that we are just exhausted...and that fatigue goes way beyond the norm. I don't know a single woman who hasn't been thinking she would like to run away all by herself and just have some alone time.
SO HOW CAN TRAVEL HELP?
TRAVEL REMOVES DISTRACTIONS
Regardless of where you travel to, traveling without your entourage can remove the distractions of day-to-day stressors. When you travel with other women, you're away from the daily tasks that you must accomplish, away from the guilt that not accomplishing them imposes on your psyche, and away from those who don't mind asking you to do "just one little favor". Traveling with friends allows us to be free of the demands that can cause us to be resentful or even angry. When the distractions are gone, even if only for a short time, you are allowing yourself to engage in self-care.
TRAVEL HELPS US TO STAY MINDFUL
When we try to meditate, or stay in the here and now, all of life's distractions and voices are circling around us, making it very difficult to stay focused. Traveling naturally lets you stay in the present. You're thinking about the sounds of the waves, the breeze in the mountains, the delicious cuisine you're sampling, and enjoying the people around you. Your senses are revitalized and in turn, you feel a sense of peace. Mindfulness is an immediate benefit of travel because you're thinking far less of the past and not worrying about the future.
TRAVEL ALLOWS US TO ENJOY
When was the last time you found yourself unabashedly and enthusiastically enjoying the moment? If you're like most of us, it's probably been awhile. When you travel, especially with a group of like-minded women, you will likely find yourself laughing when you least expect it. More, you'll realize that you've been savoring the small, precious moments of the day - something we don't usually take time to do when we're living in our regular lives.
TRAVEL RELEASES ENDORPHINS
Interestingly, a Cornell study showed that the anticipation of a trip leads to longer-lasting happiness. That means that planning the trip can do as much to boost your mood as the actual trip does! In essence, traveling promotes activities (physical, emotional and mental) that in turn produce mood-boosting endorphins and ultimately, reduce long-term stress and anxiety.
TRAVEL REVEALS WHAT IS POSSIBLE
When you travel with other women, you take time to relax and make your experience "all about me". You're physically moving, even if its just with a walk from your room to the beach or a city-street stroll. You're emotionally satisfied because you're living in the present moment, getting ready to enjoy what is right before your eyes. Your mental health is better because you're not as stressed, anxious or depressed. You are seeing what is possible when you take time for YOU. These are the days that can replenish your soul and rejuvenate your body and mind.
Take some time to care for yourself. Remember, you are worth it!
Stacey Ray is the founder of Sisterhood Travels and Groupit Travel. She is an industry-wide influencer and specializes in hand-curating luxury itineraries for groups.
Geothermal power is a clean source of renewable energy. In Iceland, they're blessed with an abundance of naturally-warm sources of water. And they've definitely learned to love it!
What is geothermal water?
Geothermal water is heated naturally beneath the earth's surface. Often in Iceland, as in other places, it rises naturally to the surface, bringing with it a high mineral content. It's then distributed and used for heating homes, schools, greenhouses and pools. There are two tectonic plates meeting below the surface of Iceland; the North American and Eurasian plates have a turbulent meeting point. That geological friction creates heat which then results in an abundance of geothermally-heated water. The earth heats the water all by itself.
What are the healing powers of geothermal water?
Soaking in these waters is good for the mind, body and soul. Here are some reasons why it feels so good:
1. The Skin
Our bodies are covered in a protective shield that's also porous. Skin absorbs what surrounds it, the good and the bad. The waters of Sky Lagoon contain minerals that can detoxify and can help remedy skin ailments. So soaking can be beneficial to your skin. Coupled with the signature Sky Body Scrub at The Ritual at Sky Lagoon, your skin will feel fresh, clean, and be aglow!
2. The Heat
The warmth of hot water can help alleviate pain sensations. Science has shown that soaking in hot water blocks pain receptors in bones and muscles. You'll experience heat during a number of the steps in The Ritual. Each is specifically aimed to promote wellbeing.
3. The Good Vibes
While it's tempting to drift into a serene solitude while soaking in geothermal warm water, it's also a great place to connect with others. Iceland's hot pools have served as a form of community for hundreds of years. People gather in the warmth to visit, catch up, share and collaborate. And we all know how important it can be to our wellbeing to stay connected to others. After The Ritual, relax with friends and share the feeling of wellness.
4. The Relaxation
Soaking in warm water can be deeply restorative. It can help reduce stress, bring a sense of peace and serenity. And by combining a warm soak with a cooling experience like our cold plunge, you're upping your chances of a great night's sleep. The seven-step Ritual at Sky Lagoon is optimized to promote relaxation and rejuvenation.
5. The Clarity
The heat of our water combined with minerals helps release nasal and lung congestion in powerful ways. You'll emerge breathing clearly and deeply. Take a deep breath!
This blog is courtesy of Sky Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland