How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

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This view of Rangitoto from St. Heliers Bay is always happiness-inducing.

The travel writing world is continually creating lists of where you should travel next. Barcelona, Morocco, Cape Town, or Singapore? It is too hard to decide, so you decide to go to Hawaii, again. (Or in my case New Zealand.) Vacations days are few and travel can be expensive, so it can feel like a big risk to try something like a safari in Kenya.

My recent New Zealand vacation is the first overseas trip where I have listened to podcasts everyday along the way. (I figured out how to download them on the podcast app Breaker when I have wifi access.) And on the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR “You 2.0: Decide Already!” Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness Harvard Professor, I learned why we might hit repeat instead of trying something new.

Imagine a future event, such as where you will live in retirement. Many of my friends have made decisions recently about retirement living with either a decision to stay in their long time home or a decision to move. One couple chose a active senior community with a beautiful apartment and lots of community activities and space; another couple chose a smaller but still gracious water adjacent apartment walking distance to many of their favorite places; another couple chose to stay in their longtime home but hire repairmen instead of the usual DIY. Each seems very happy with their choice. In each case it seems that they selected something not so distant from what their lifestyle was already because they were already happy.

When we think of the future we tend to focus on a few key details; and only one or two of the many, many details that are part of the experience. So they might notice the square footage of the apartment but not how many other apartments are on the floor and the number of daily interactions that it implies, or the pet policies and how that might impact you. I was impressed that the apartments in Meadowbank allowed a 90 day-no risk trial period. The community-oriented lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t get on with your neighbors it’s better for everyone if you opt out, rather than remain unhappily. I recently met a very lovely, cheerful 96-year old who exercised the opt out clause because she was being bullied at the senior community she tried.

Fortunately travel isn’t as high stakes as retirement living. Nonetheless, it is a real drag if your limited vacation time and savings involves a dud tour with obnoxious people. All the research might have pointed to an enjoyable experience, but we don’t know who we will be when we experience that event; imagination rarely matches the experience; we underestimate how much we’ll change. This happened to me when I tried to recreate the first Tour de France experience I had on Thomson bike tours . My experience with the group I traveled with in the Alps was so much fun, and a two of the couples were going to go on the Tour d’Italia. Alas the chemistry wasn’t the same within the group and I ended up counting the days till I was traveling on my own again. I enjoyed Venice even more for being free from the oppressive group dynamic. Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 12.06.05 PM

Don’t rely on imagination; look for data. Gilbert recommends finding measures of the happiness of the people doing what you think you might like doing.  I have also found it really helps to know yourself and correctly apply the data to your situation. If you despise crowds then going to one of the “top 10 travel destinations” is probably not a good fit unless you can travel during off-season.

This Global Citizen ranking equated happiness with values I share: “What stands out about the happiest and most well-connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said report co-editor John Helliwell, referencing New Zealand. “After the 2011 earthquake and now the terrorist attack in Christchurch, with high social capital, where people are connected, people rally and help each other and [after the earthquake] rebuild immediately.”

Gilbert also highly recommends using surrogation, that is relying on other people’s experience as a guide for your own. There are many platforms now that facilitate this: Yelp, Trip Advisor and others. Just remember even crowds can be biased; but you may share those biases. They are not perfect tools; however, GilbertTrip Advisor can round out your imagination and give your more detail to consider. Maybe the experience you were thinking of adding to your itinerary based on a friend at Book Club’s recommendation is panned on-line by someone who found it claustrophobic. And you get claustrophobia. 

Gilbert gave the example of choosing a movie–people prefer relying on the trailer over more detailed reviews by people who’ve seen it. We like to “trust our gut” because we live in the illusion of diversity (we are all so unique), when in reality, the reviews are a more reliable guide.

There is also a role in making a commitment to increasing our happiness. We think we’ll prefer keeping options open, but Gilbert’s research says committing to your choice will result in greater happiness. And we like a little mystery and surprise–not a a lot, just a little.

I choose New Zealand again and again. Similarly my adult children and I choose Monterey get aways every year, because I trust my own experience more than any travel writer’s opinion. I always have a wonderful experience when I go to New Zealand and I can create new adventures there so I still get some variety. I know that what makes me and my children happiest is beach access, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Gianni’s pizza. We are perfectly right to book another condo in Pacific Grove or Monterey. To put a cherry on top, add some mystery–new restaurants, or new beaches–and the research says you will be even happier.

This is what the research says. What’s your experience?

 

 

 

Pacific Grove in Winter

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Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA is popular with families and others year round.

I received the Monterey Bay Aquarium e-newsletter announcing the Member’s Night and made a hotel reservation right away. I figured that on a random Saturday night in January it would be quiet. While it is less busy than this last weekend with the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach, it was still lively.

Traffic on Saturday was congested at various points between Sacramento and Monterey. I reached Monterey in time for a late lunch at Gianni’s Pizza in New Monterey. I checked into my hotel (not worth mentioning) and walked to the Pacific Grove coastal walk for some fresh air. It was beautiful at Lover’s Point.

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Beach 1: the family beach

The first Lover’s Point beach is the most protected and perfect for families with young children. The water is c-c-c-old but there is plenty of sand. This beach is also closest to a snack bar and coffee shop.

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Beach 2: Good for body paddling out to the surf.

The second beach at Lover’s Point provides access to the surf if you are interested in paddling out or surfing. The first two beaches have stairways to make access easier.

The third beach didn’t reveal itself until I walked a bit further along the beach walkway and looked back. It is a sliver of sand between the rock face and the waves. It is a beach for teenagers and others who like daring each other to dash in the surf.

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Pacific Grove is a wintering site for a diminishing Monarch population.

Lover’s Point is the perfect destination for a family walk and picnic or a bike ride. There is some parking on the street and is a good stopping point if you are driving around the peninsula on the coast road. Or it can be a rest stop if you are walking from Asilomar to the Aquarium.

I decided one night is not enough to warrant .a 3.5-4.5 hour drive one way.  A sign of my age, sigh. When I was a teenager I would drive that much to spend the day at the beach. Then with children I needed at least an overnight. Now I want more than one night to recover and to justify the carbon footprint! One thing for sure, Pacific Grove is worth the effort even in the dead of winter.

Irresistible Sea Otters

otter-3As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I love the emails I receive reminding me of Sea Otter Awareness Week. I signed up to get an additional email everyday this week! Seven guaranteed smiles! I am willing to risk cuteness overload.

otter-1I have blogged about the sea otters before and their comeback on the Central Coast. But I was reminded of the role they play in our ecosystem when I read a story in Sonoma magazine about volunteer divers who are removing the sea urchins by hand from the kelp forests off the coast of Sonoma County to preserve the abalone population. Human beings are playing the role of the missing sea otter from the kelp forest.

Oh, the adorable sea otter is also a vital member of our coastal community. Is it imaginable that sea otters might expand their habitat to the North Coast?

To learn more about sea otters, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.

I Spy With My Little Eye a Whale

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Brie saw all of these species on her 3 hour cruise with Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Oh how I wish I could bear being on a boat in the sea! I get seasick even in a kayak on a bay. I really, really want to go whale watching. I am looking into it for my next visit to Monterey Bay. spying

You can see dolphins and whales year round in Monterey Bay. From April 1 to December 14 you will likely see the most variety of species including humpback and blue whales, maybe even orcas. In the winter you will see grey whales.

TripAdvisor suggests 5 star rated Discovery Whale Watch. They advertise a 3 hour cruise for $42 for an adult and a 4 hour cruise for $48.

My friend Brie went out on the bay with Monterey Bay Whale Watch (with her dog!). She loved it, but her dog did not. Their rates are comparable with other cruises. They also offer 8 hour cruises. Given the likelihood I will get sick, I am looking for the most whales in the shortest time!

Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson is highly recommended for anyone who loves the ocean or whales. I’ve been reading it while visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium every day. It explains the surprising evolution of whales and how they may have become gigantic in size.

Of course you cannot visit the aquarium on Cannery Row, or read the last section of Pyenson’s book without wrestling with the impact humankind is having on the ocean and on magnificent creatures like the whales. We have to come to grips with our insatiable consumption of petroleum, and its byproduct plastic, as well as curtail our fishing. Can we do it in time? Will it matter if the earth’s oceans continue to heat up?

I love the ocean and want to be as close as I can be without getting in it. Check out what you can do to love the ocean and reduce plastic pollution.

 

 

 

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!

 

World Penguin Day Today

Meet Monty and Poppy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These baby African penguins are not yet on exhibit. You can see the other penguins on the regular penguin cam.

The New England Aquarium in Boston, MA also has some little blue penguin chicks–from New Zealand! You can read more about it here.

Take a moment today to appreciate penguins as most species are threatened by food or habitat loss. Thanks climate change. And ride your bike or walk instead of driving your gas guzzler to give the planet a break.

Celebrating World Penguin Day!

20170330_100529The African penguins are on the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, past the top of the Kelp Forest and adjacent to the Splash Zone. The area was empty of people when I first arrived. I sat on the carpeted bench and watched as child after child discovered the exhibit. “Penguins!” they’d exclaim with the face lighting up. Many sea creatures scare people because they are potentially lethal–jellyfish and sharks–but everyone appears to find the penguins charming and funny.

The penguins at the Aquarium are fed daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. There is no special ticket required to watch the keepers feed them fish and answer questions from the audience. There are also interactive displays to expand your knowledge of penguins. African penguins are among the most threatened species because of their dwindling food supply and habitat, but the Aquarium stays upbeat.

The Aquarium is part of AZA Species Survival Plan, a zoological conservation program that is keeping endangered animals alive and maintaining their genetic diversity through collaboration and sharing of, in this case, the birds around the U.S. When I compare the rich, stimulation that African penguins have in the wild with the sterile, almost two-dimensional exhibit space, I have to remind myself how they can be ambassadors that inspire people to care about what is happening to these wonderful birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Need a penguin fix and can’t get to Monterey? Watch the live Penguin Cam!

Over in South Africa, an organization called SANCCOB is leading the way in studying, rescuing, and rehabilitating wild African penguins. Through their Chick Bolstering Project, SANCCOB biologists monitor African penguins in the wild and bring abandoned, injured or starving chicks in for care. Together with colony managers, they also rescue and hand-rear eggs that have either been abandoned by their parents or when the adult penguins were found nesting in areas outside of the protected colony area. Last year Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculturist Monika Rohrer journeyed to South Africa to volunteer with SANCCOB.  (from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website)

On quiet days when there are few visitors the penguins get to go for a stroll outside their enclosure. Watch the penguin parade.