Ask Amanda: Long Haul Health

An old sorority friend of mine came to visit from ye olde London last week, and she had a very urgent #AskAmanda question – how can you possibly stay healthy on (and before/after) long-haul flights?

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I’ve definitely touched on healthy air travel before, as well as how to get through a bout of travel without getting sick, but I’ve never specifically touched on long-haul flying (which I’ll define here as 8+ hour flights with at least three time zone changes) and how it can mess with even our best healthy intentions.

First of all, prep it up.  As they say, failure to plan is planning to fail, so as soon as you are aware of your travel plans, start to conceive your strategy.  Figure out when/where you’re going to eat your meals (on the plane?  before you travel?  upon landing?), what hours you’ll need to sleep on the plane to minimize jetlag on arrival, purchase your in-flight support items (such as a neck pillow, travel moisturizing mask, reusable water bottle, water pills, and compression socks), where you’re going to sit (I always choose an aisle seat near the restrooms so I can stretch and “go” as I please) and what you’re going to wear for both comfort and necessity (if you’re not going straight to work upon landing, why not go straight to the gym – and wear activewear on the place so you can?).

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Second, commit to finding the best quality food possible during your travel.  Crappy airline snack boxes are less-than-tempting when you’re packing a decent salad from Au Bon Pain in the terminal; bringing your own food from home to avoid sodium-and-carb filled airplane food is extra credit.  If you absolutely can’t plan ahead for your food, at least try and switch your airline meal – you can often pre-book low-sodium, low-calorie, or vegan meals, all of which will save you tons of unnecessary junk in your system.

Next, once you land, don’t immediately plunge into full vacation mode, especially if you’re traveling for work (which is, let’s be honest, the opposite of vacation). Google search your new surroundings for the terms “salad” or “healthy restaurant” or even “best healthy food” and commit to eating at least one vegetable-heavy, clean meal per day while traveling.  And guys – hydration could not be more important on flights like these.  Stick to a 2.2-3 liter per day habit, and again, get that bathroom-adjacent seat.

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Fourth, stick as closely as possible to your normal routine.  If you’ve found weight control success using protein shakes, stick that powder in a Ziploc and make yo’ shakes in your new locale.  If you’re a runner, make sure to bring along your running shoes and gear, and ask your hotel concierge for a safe local route (rather than saying “I didn’t know where to go!” and skipping the whole thing).  Pack your vitamins and supplements, continue your intermittent fasting window, sleep as close to your normal hours as possible, and don’t overdo it on booze or unnecessarily indulgent food (wine and dessert with clients is ok…if it’s not three evenings in a row).

Finally, plan for a glorious return.  Even with relatively healthy habits, long-haul travel and its associated time changes, dietary changes, and often-harried schedules can leave you frazzled the moment you reach home.  Put together a little detox routine (mine includes as much sleep as possible, a deep tissue massage for my swollen lower limbs, a short run or yoga class, and a giant dose of green vegetables) that you always have to look forward to as a re-energizing and relaxing treat.

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For those of you who regularly travel long-haul – how do you recuperate and recharge?

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Ask Amanda: Weighty Issues

I was going to hijack my own post this week to talk about my fury over the post-Superbowl Lady Gaga body shaming, but you know what?  It’s still too soon.  I’m going to let that one simmer in the pot for a while before I just let the vicious a*sholes that broke her down have a piece of my (rational, inclusive, empowered) mind.

But I digress.

Today’s post is about something near and dear to me: the idea that you can get fit anywhere, anytime, and at any price point.  I recently opened two private fitness studios in Singapore – a small boutique gym called Fit N’ Fresh and a one-on-one transformation and weight loss institute called DISCREET – both of which are premium (read: not inexpensive) facilities.  That being said, I am a huge believer in bodyweight (equipment-free) workouts, and it is in fact on those workouts that I built my business back in 2009.

At that time, outdoor bootcamps were still very up-and-coming, and my business partner and I were determined to offer safe, effective, creative outdoor workouts – using absolutely nothing but our clients’ own bodies.  We wanted to redefine the concept of “exercise” not as something you do for a half an hour within four walls, but as something you practice in the pursuit of making your body a functional machine – no small feat, to be sure.

My personal training clients’ top excuses for not working almost undoubtedly fall into one of the following categories: no time, no space, no gym access (this includes the recurrent excuse of “travel,” which never ceases to frustrate me since I’m pretty sure you didn’t forget to pack your own human body on your trip), and/or not sure what to do when they’re on their own.

I’m gonna give you an early Christmas present and solve all of these at once.  BEHOLD:

AMANDA’S BODYWEIGHT EXERCISE BUFFET

Buffet, you say?  Yep, I’m talkin’ about a full feast of fitness, ripe for the picking – so pack up your plate if you wish (i.e. try all ten exercises) or pick & choose the faves that are right for you and your ability level (i.e. choose five and repeat them) and get ready to sweat it out in ONLY TWENTY MINUTES – no matter where you are in the world.  Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, resting for 15 seconds before moving onto the next exercise. Repeat the set (two total rounds) for the full 20-minute challenge.  

Easy, right?  Talk to me after it’s over. 😉

BURPEES.  My absolute favorite full-body bodyweight move and silver bullet of trainers everywhere, this one attacks all your major muscle groups while building cardiovascular endurance and warming you up (and um…don’t forget the push-up at the bottom, ok?).

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A REAL burpee includes a push-up (4).  Otherwise, it’s just a squat-thrust.

PUSH-UPS.  The best part of a burpee is the push-up, amirite?  Ok, maybe you hate me now.  But given that there’s literally hundreds of push-up styles, they’re one of the most versatile bodyweight exercises available.

SQUATS.  Like push-ups, there are about a thousand varieties of squats in the world, and lots of them don’t involve a lick of equipment – so push that booty back, get those quads ready, and work all the big muscle groups of your lower body in one swoop.

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LUNGES.  Speaking of…um…swooping?…lunges are another fantastic way to work the legs without any weights or equipment.  Step ’em forward, move ’em back, go sideways, or even jump it out – you’ve got so many ways to get lean, toned legs from this single move.

PLANK-UPS.  Perhaps the distant cousin of the push-up, plank-ups are often an easier movement for beginners and a great twofer when it comes to working arms and core at the same time.  Caveat: you gotta keep your hands under your shoulders and your butt out of the sky to make this one work (see form below):

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Butt down, hands under the shoulders.  Check yo’ self.

KNEES-TO-ELBOWS (three ways).  Traditional knees-to-elbows means connecting the knee to the elbow while holding a plank position (shown below).  I also count bicycle crunches as a variation on knees-to-elbows since the twisting and core engagement is similar, and it’s an easier modification for folks that need to build core strength.  And if you want to amp it up a bit – try mountain climbers, the plyometric version of this move.

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Try to actually contact the elbow with your knee if you can.

BACK EXTENSIONS.  We all get so caught up in training the front side of the body (think six-pack abs, a nice rounded chest, bulging biceps) that we forget that the back side is actually what takes the brunt of our poor posture, constant sitting, and core instability.  Whether it’s Superman holds, swimmers, or prone rows, integrating spinal strengthening movements into your bodyweight program is a necessity.

JUMPING JACKS.  Laugh all you want (but not at its extensive history), but this cardio move gets the heart rate up, shakes out the lactic acid from the limbs, and tones up your calves by hopping lightly and continuously on the toes.

REVERSE CRUNCHES.  Another one with lots of variations (leg drops, hip lifts, toe touches, and decline bench drops are a few of my faves), the reverse crunch works the rectus abdominus (lower abs) while allowing the neck to rest comfortably.

ISOMETRIC HOLDS.  Isometric exercises mean you hold a contraction for a specified period of time (rather than the contract-release pattern of traditional exercises).  Planks are perhaps the most diverse of this group for their many variations, but glute bridges (below) and chair sits are just as effective – as are the more advanced hollow holds (if you’re seeking six-pack status, this one is a must).  If you choose this type of exercise, try and hold it for 45 seconds straight – no cheating!

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Booty booty booty booty poppin’ everywhere.

So there you have it, folks – ten exercises, twenty minutes, zero equipment, and one hundred percent effective.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t mention pull-ups, triceps dips, step-ups, box jumps, or a host of other very functional exercises that I also use on a daily basis – the answer is because they all use equipment (even simple stuff, like benches or chairs) and I wanted this piece to be LITERALLY about what you can do with your own body – and not a thing more.

All it takes to get – and stay! – in shape are consistency, determination, and focus.  There are no excuses – only priorities.  Make yours getting in a workout today.

Did I miss one of your favorite at-home exercises?  Share with me in the comments!

Ask Amanda: Fly Away With Me

I just checked in for the first legs of what is about to be an absolute whirlwind of flights – Singapore to Melbourne to Adelaide on the first leg; Adelaide to Bali to Singapore to San Francisco to Phoenix on the return.

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God, I hope not

Whew.  I’m already exhausted and I haven’t even left (or packed, but that’s another story).

That said, with all the air travel I do (and the propensity toward colds and flus this time of year), a loyal #AskAmanda reader asked me how I possibly manage to stay healthy through the festive season – and I admit, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Some of these are going to be a bit redundant from the last time I wrote on this topic, but there’s more to staying healthy while traveling than just popping Emergen-C (though I do recommend it) and a lot of it bears repeating.

First off, prep yourself for your travel plans.  So many people get swept up in the holiday season and don’t pack or prepare for what’s ahead – which ends in a lot of stressed-out rushing, last-minute forgetful packing, and utter exhaustion before you even hit the security gates.  Be thoughtful with your packing, choose comfortable clothing (and if you tend to swell like me, compression socks and loose pants) for the flight, toss an empty water bottle in your bag for some in-flight hydration, and take the time you need to actually get to the airport, no stress – believe me, it helps.

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Second, arm yourself with nutrition.  Skip the over-salted, under-nutritious airplane and airport food and bring yourself a nice bag of nuts, homemade sandwich, and bottle of water so you don’t starve or dehydrate on those oh-so-dry airplanes.  If you wanna get really fancy with it, wrap up some hummus and crackers, or even slice some fresh veggies for a quick in-flight crunch (and feel victorious while everyone else is wrestling open a laughably tiny peanut bag).

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Third, focus on hand washing and sleep, in that order.  The moment you hear someone with a hacking cough or wet sneeze on the plane means you’ve probably already come into contact with something they’ve touched or breathed on, and it should be a red alert to jump up and wash your hands (or in a pinch, use hand sanitizer).  Most of the common colds and flus can be combatted with this simple act, yet it’s the thing so many travelers forget to do that leaves them landing with a sniffle of their own.  And I know it’s easier said than done, but SLEEP – sleep! – if you possibly can.  Close your eyes, breathe deeply, use a neck pillow, do whatever you gotta do so that you don’t arrive at your destination a wacked-out, sleepless mess.  (Ladies, throw a nice thick face cream on before you doze for an extra spa-like bonus as you catch your crucial zzzs.)

And finally – don’t forget to move.  The aforementioned hand washing is a great excuse to get up from your seat, and when you do, take yourself through a few easy stretches to encourage circulation, keep your muscles active, and maintain mobility so that you don’t land feeling stiff and tired.  I always grab an aisle seat to make getting up as easy-peasy as possible, and my average rate of standing movement is about once per hour (believe me, on these 17-hour long-haul direct flights, even that seems like a feat!).

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The long story short of it is this – with some simple planning, healthy eating, comfy clothing, and basic moving, you’ll avoid the common travel bugs lurking within those big metal tubes, and ensure that your Christmas is a happy and healthy one.

What are your tricks and tips for travel?  How do you arrive feeling refreshed and relaxed?

Beachin’ in Boracay: A Memoir

Folks, it’s been over two months since I had one of the most epic vacays of my life – and if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you got to see up close and personal some of the absolutely incredible moments I was able to spend (along with my wonderful travel companion and fellow blogger Justin Walter from Around the World with Justin – check out his post on our trip here) in Boracay, Philippines.

Let’s be real: I think we could all use a little beachside throwback in the depth of winter.

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Our first day in paradise

Here’s the thing about Boracay – location is everything.  Like, all the things.  You need to be centrally located (Station 2 is my personal reco), and you sure as heck want to be directly on that long stretch of beautiful white beach (aptly named, White Beach).  We were lucky enough to enjoy a sponsored stay on one of the only resorts in the area that spills out directly from the lobby onto the sand – The District.

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Unedited gorgeousness that is The District

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Not even kidding that this is #nofilter on White Beach

You guys, The District is The Sh*t.  From the moment we checked in, we were greeted with the utmost in friendly service and professionalism – every staff member made sure to say hello, ask how we were doing, and make sure we we comfortable throughout our stay.  Nothing felt forced, and every interaction was pleasant and easy.

Oh, and did I mention our actual room?  Take a look around this baller suite:

The bed was so comfy it was damn near impossible to get up each day (but hey, those beach chairs don’t fill themselves) except for the siren call of the delicious (included!) breakfast.  Mangoes do not get fresher than this, my friends – and again, the service at breakfast (including the action omelette and noodle stations) was impeccable.

But let’s not get hung up on staying inside the hotel.  The amazing beach chairs were our favorite places on property, and also where we spent most of our lazy, luxurious days – drinks in hand, sunscreen on, in and out of the bath-warm water all day long.  There are kayaks, jetskis and stand-up paddleboards to rent (beach staff will arrange it for you at a very reasonable cost) – that is, again, if you can get up out of your lounger.

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In the epic words of 311, “I’ll be here awhile…ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

At some point you start to feel guilty from all the luxury, but The District has you covered on that, too – they’ve got a full service gym that is cool, clean, and wonderfully equipped – a little bit of heaven for a trainer like myself, who actually likes working out on vacay.

The daytime in Boracay can only be beat by one thing: the nightlife.  As soon as the sun starts to set (which it does, early, in the winter), the island starts to liven up.  We watched the sunset each night from our perch atop the Star Lounge restaurant, over freshly grilled seafood (or, like my friend Justin, some less ocean-y options), delicious wine and cocktails, and chilled-out music – absolute paradise.

The District is right in the middle of all the nighttime action – steps from D’Mall (tourist trap but must-see scene nonetheless), amazing clubs like our fave Epic, and all the cool local beachfront action (I bought these delicious garlic peanuts from a beach seller for about 50 cents and it was the perfect boozy snack before bed).

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I’m not drunk, you’re drunk

Our stay was only a weekend, but it will last in my memory forever – it is far too easy to fall in love with the slow-paced beach lifestyle, amazing scenery, and warm service that characterize both Boracay and The District.  We cannot wait to come back and walk into this lobby again soon…

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For more information: The District Boracay
T: (63 2) 234.9058  |  T/F: (63 2) 234.5917  |  M: (63 917) 7737572
Email address: reservations@thedistrictboracay.com

Small Space Circuits: The Vacation Workout

As a trainer, I am constantly combating excuses about why a client “can’t” work out.  I don’t have time, they say; I’m not a member of a gym, they wail; I never know what to do on my own, they claim.

What if I could solve all of those issues with just one simple (but tough!) workout?

I recently had the opportunity to go on a river cruise down the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam with AmaWaterways.  The cruise itself was amazing (and highly recommended), but being a river vessel, the gym space was limited – as was my time, since part of the reason one goes on vacation is to experience another culture, not to spend hours working out.

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The beautiful cruise ship AmaDara

Because I had the benefit of traveling with a fitness-minded friend, I recruited her to partner up with me and we committed to 20 minutes of exercise on “most” days.  I designed a short, high-intensity workout to keep both of us active and strong without wasting our precious cruising hours.

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Ready to work out!

Get ready – this one’s a toughie, as there’s not much rest and there is much running/cardio.  Feel free to modify the workout if you have access to equipment (i.e., run on at treadmill if you have one, jump rope if you brought one, add weights to your squats if you have some) – but know that you don’t need a speck of stuff to get your sweat on with this routine.  Let’s go!

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Fitness room onboard the cruise ship AmaDara

SMALL SPACE CIRCUITS

Warm up with 1-2 minutes of easy cardio, like jogging, jumping jacks, or cycling.

Next, alternate 2 minutes of high-intensity cardio (like sprinting, jumping rope, or burpees) with 2 minutes of full body exercises (listed below), continuing for 5 rounds.

Rest 30 seconds between each 4-minute round, finishing with a 1-minute plank after the fifth round.

Cool down and stretch for 1-2 minutes.

2 MINUTE RUN / 1 MINUTE PUSH-UPS / 1 MINUTE STEP LUNGES

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMP ROPE / 1 MINUTE TRICEPS DIPS / 1 MINUTE SQUATS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS / 1 MINUTE BICYCLE CRUNCHES / 1 MINUTE PLANK-UPS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE JUMPING JACKS / 1 MINUTE KNEE-TO-ELBOW PLANKS / 1 MINUTE SQUAT-KICKS

REST 30 SEC

2 MINUTE BURPEES / 1 MINUTE SUMO SQUATS / 1 MINUTE V-UPS

REST 30 SEC

1 MINUTE PLANK

One more step – pat yourself on the back for having a) worked out on vacation and b) made it through a really tough 20 minute effort.  Now bon voyage!

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Vietnam ahoy!

Lessons Learned in Transit

My dear readers!  As I noted in my last entry, I have not forsaken you – I’ve just been traveling, recovering, and reestablishing my routine post-travel – which has taken about a full week to process.

That said, the travel in question was both far-flung and exotic – IMO, the best kind of travel.  My husband and I honeymooned in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai/Abu Dhabi).

Hey look! It’s the Maldives! Everyone always asks me where they are.

The first question I got when I told people this travel plan was where the hell are the Maldives?, followed by why the hell are you going to Sri Lanka?  Both are legitimate questions, I guess, but I think that any good trip has a good mix of leisure (i.e. the white sand beaches and water villas of the Maldives) and adventure (i.e. a leopard safari in Sri Lanka).  Too much of either is a recipe for either boredom or exhaustion…

…which brings me to today’s blog topic – lessons I learned while planning and executing a major trip like this.  There’s a lot we did right, but as with anything, a lot we could’ve done better.  I want to share my best advice with you guys so you can make your next trip stress-free and smooth sailing.

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Seaplane tickets – booked by the resort, ready upon arrival, and handed to us over a nice cool drink in the airport lounge. VIP!

Use a travel agent.  I know what you’re thinking – this isn’t 1998, and we have the internets now.  But when planning something complicated like a multiple-stop, multiple-destination flight itinerary, seaplanes, safari resorts, and a whole host of other variables, you want someone else doing the gruntwork.  Sure, you might pay a bit more, but premium service (like personalized pickup at the airport, “VIP” transit perks like expedited customs and private vehicles, and even a free honeymoon dinner at our resort) can be the difference between feeling relaxed and at ease versus confused and rushed.

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Coffee break on safari with our non-safari attire

Read your itinerary.  Carefully.  Both Nick and I overlooked the fact that we were going on an actual wildlife safari – when we skimmed the itinerary, we more or less looked at the cities we were visiting and the hotel names and that was it.  We didn’t realize we were going for a full-on, tents-and-Jeeps safari experience until, well, we were in it – without proper clothing, shoes, hats, or cameras.  I ended up wearing my workout clothes (which got basically destroyed) and borrowing Nick’s shirt; he was in warmup pants and a baseball hat.  It was definitely not ideal safari attire, but we hadn’t realized the ins and outs of the (vast and long) itinerary (which listed the day as a “visit to a park”) until it was too late.  Case in point: read every single detail, ask your travel agent if you have questions, and make sure you’re ready for anything.  Speaking of which…

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NOT a tropical paradise, but it WAS my view for 31 hours.

Be ready for anything.  Yep, even on your honeymoon, things can go awry – I was definitely not ready to walk off the side stairs of a plane into three feet of snow and sit around the Istanbul airport for 31 hours.  Nope – I was dressed to waltz off a plane into the balmy tropical Maldives weather – but we got stuck along the way, and all I had to soothe myself was a (dying) Kindle and some contact solution.  I never thought we could get stuck for that long and didn’t bring closed-toe shoes, a change of underpants, or chargers for my electronics.  It was a tough test of our mettle and a frustrating loss of money (since weather-related delays mean no refunds), but having clean, warm clothes would have made a world of difference.

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Our stomachs were fully “healed” by the time we had to eat this magnificent Lebanese feast

Approach every experience with gratitude.  Besides the aforementioned delay, we also got a (brief) stomach bug that resulted in a day of puking and a couple days of “limited” eating and cold sweats – but we didn’t let it get us down.  We were so grateful to be where we were (Asia), doing what we love (traveling) that we just laughed through it – and when we look back at pictures of our amazing honeymoon, the bad stuff just disappears.  When you think about the privilege of travel – seeing new things, meeting new people, tasting new food, experiencing new cultures – all the annoying stuff just pales in comparison to the opportunities that travel affords.  It is truly the thing that makes me feel most alive.

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One of the three fish I caught!

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Modesty, thy name is abaya

Try new things.  Related to the above, we did a lot of stuff we’d never tried before – night fishing in the Indian Ocean (loved it!), Ayurvedic massage (never again), glamping (absolutely life changing), and stand-up paddleboarding (ok, we’d done that before, but never in the wide open ocean).  Whenever our tour guide or travel agent suggested something we were unsure of, we quickly answered “yes!” rather than “well, we don’t know…” to make sure we had the fullest, richest travel experience possible – and we had an even more amazing trip because of it.  Dance with the local Maldivian band, put on your abaya and check out the local place of worship, eat the cheeks off the just-caught barracuda – just say YES!  Most of the time you won’t regret it, and if you do, it’s not likely that you’ll be forced to do/try it again, so just go with it.

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My amazing scarf atop the Dambulla rock temple, Sri Lanka

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Gazing out into the ocean blue, Maldives

Finally, let your budget fly (relatively) free.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not rich, I’ve never been rich, and I don’t foresee being rich in the near future.  I also try not to be spendthrift.  But that being said, I am definitely one who will save up – and spend money on – experiences.  I balked at the idea of spending $34 on a hand-spun Sri Lankan silk scarf, but then I realized that I may never be back to this region of the country, $34 wasn’t going to break me, it would help the women who actually made the scarf, and it was damn beautiful.  So I bought it.  We didn’t want to get a (wildly overpriced) massage in the Maldives, but once we settled into the heated, plush massage beds overlooking the ocean with the sound of gently lapping waves lulling us into a sense of utter freedom and relaxation, well, the “sting” of the cost suddenly melted away.  If you spend your entire trip worrying about money, you’re never really vacationing – you’re just stressing about your everyday life in a place that looks different.  Save up, spend the money that it takes to experience life in new ways, and know that you can always tighten up the budget when you get back home – and back to reality.

What are your favorite travel tips, readers?  Where’s your next vacation destination?