How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2769
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?

 

 

 

Monarch Butterflies at Risk

One of the themes of this New Zealand adventure is species at risk. It as though all of the “sky is falling” warnings of those enviro “Henny Pennys” are finally coming home to roost. As I travel I am encountering fewer birds that before, and therefore fewer penguins. I was hoping to see a Kea on my southern sojourn, but alas, friends say that their range has contracted to Arthurs Pass.

Monarch butterfly populations are crashing in North America, and it seems they are in the southern hemisphere as well. We can do more than wring our hands or just wish for a different outcome. We can plant the species of native plants we know provide food and shelter for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects.

IMG_9384
Swan plants at Paripuma in Blenheim, NZ

Whilst I was in Blenheim I learned about the swan plant, the preferred plant of the Monarch butterfly in New Zealand. Similar to the milkweed in North America, it has a milky substance in its stem and flossy flowering pods. The plant is the preferred place to leave its eggs or form a chrysalis.

IMG_9385
Many plants attractive to pollinators also appeal to humans.

My experience with planting milkweed seeds in my home garden has been one of frustration. They never seem to germinate. This year I was able to transplant some dormant milkweed from a native plant garden about to undergo renovation. So far they are slow growing but responding. None of mine look as magnificent as Rosa Davison’s swan plants. Also, if you want to do the Monarchs a favor–stop or greatly reduce using any chemicals including fertilizer in your garden.

monarch

In California you can visit a special grove in Pacific Grove where the Monarch’s overwinter. Their numbers have been shrinking. Similarly in New Zealand, Butterfly Bay in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour is an overwintering site. They have also seen a dramatic decline in butterfly numbers.

You can learn more about planting a pollinator garden for butterflies, or donating to promote butterfly habitats:

North America—Xerces Society http://www.xerces.org/monarch

New Zealand–Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust http://www.monarch.org.nz

Pacific Grove in Winter

IMG_6765
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.

IMG_6760
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.

IMG_6764
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.

IMG_6792
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.

Crazy Concentration of Little Libraries

Staying on the Monterey Peninsula and need something to read? Head to the corner of Short and Granite Streets in Pacific Grove for the craziest collection of little libraries. There is one on every corner, plus a children’s, YA, and non-fiction little library.

You can also leave behind a book you’ve finished. If you are looking for something new or a cup of coffee, head to The Bookworks at 677 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove.

Entering into Pacific Grove Life for 3 Days

IMG_5216
I was driving home from the grocery store and I spied this garden as I drove by. I parked nearby and walked back to take some photos. The homeowner was at the mailbox so I asked permission to take photos. Cindy invited me to get a closer look.

I used to live in Pacific Grove in the mid-80s. A lot has changed since then, and at the same time it is still a delightfully “normal” place to visit. The neighborhoods and downtown on Lighthouse Avenue are charming. It is bounded by Ocean View Avenue with a rugged and beautiful coastline. I prefer to stay here over any other part of the Monterey Peninsula.

IMG_5219
Cindy and her family moved here in 1987 and incrementally created this garden over the years. They don’t have a backyard, but we agreed that we typically only use one or the other. This is better allocation. 

In the past I have stayed at motels and hotels. This visit I am with my daughter and her family so we rented a home. We looked on VRBO and Airbnb and we found the 2 bedroom 2 bath home we are renting on Airbnb. It has been more comfortable than 2 hotel rooms and about the same price.

  • We can cook meals.
  • There is a living room where Calvin can make play with his toys (and make a mess).
  • We can play dominoes at the dining table and laugh without worrying about waking up a sleeping toddler.
IMG_5218
Cindy even invited me to come in to the house to see her paintings. I shared some of my favorite artists on Instagram. We had a great conversation.

There is a debate raging about the phenomenon of vacation rentals and how it is changing the neighborhoods and city finances of Pacific Grove (PG). My daughter saw a sign for Measure M. I did some research and learned that Monterey and Carmel have tight restrictions on the vacation rental market and PG does not. Also residents have been complaining about over-concentrations of homes for short-term rent for over 3 years and the city council had not taken any action. I had noticed that many of the motels and hotels had vacancy signs, which is uncommon in my memory. There is usually some kind of conference going on at Asilomar or tourism that keeps them near full.

We were walking on Asilomar Beach with Calvin and a dog and then another 2 year old and her dad joined us. We did the usual back and forth about the kids and then he asked where we were staying. We admitted that we were staying in a home nearby. He shared his frustration with the vacation rental situation. “They aren’t paying the taxes they owe the city.” He also alluded to the partying and recently moving from Nashville, which was a party town, he was hoping to escape that scene. Sarah and I weren’t quite sure what his point was as we haven’t witnessed anything but deer roaming the streets and senior citizens power walking in the neighborhood. I mentioned that my neighbor has dedicated his investment property (across the street from me in Midtown Sacramento) for AirBnB rental. People are coming and going during the week and weekends. They typically empty a lot of “bottles” into the recycling, but to be fair, they have yet to disturb anyone.

IMG_5220
Not all people in Pacific Grove are this friendly, nevertheless if you stay open, you are more likely to have a great experience and possibly meet a kindred spirit.

As a consumer of temporary housing when I travel, I appreciate the range of choice available today. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the challenges it creates, especially in housing markets where rentals are already scarce and prices are rising. I also remember the signs posted in Venice, Italy protesting Airbnb and the perceived effect that it was pricing “real Venetians” out of Venice.

As we walked back to the car, Sarah and I discussed our conversation with the local who is going to vote to limit vacation rentals to the coastal zone (1 mile from coastline) and the business district. He wasn’t unfriendly, just frustrated. We wondered if we shouldn’t have rented the home we are staying in, and decided that we were unaware of the controversy, we are in the coastal zone, and it isn’t illegal. We’d like to come every year, so we’ll have to think through our options next year. Also, does Airbnb pay the local transient occupancy tax or expect hosts to do so?

IMG_5238When I lived here in the 80s, the prices were climbing well beyond the ability of people mostly working service jobs to afford to buy. Then the problem was that some of the supply was taken off the market by people who could afford to buy a second or third home on the Peninsula. They only spent a few weeks a year in Carmel or Pebble Beach and this had a ripple effect in the entire housing market. The Airbnb phenomenon makes it possible for upper middle class people to buy a vacation home and afford it thanks to additional rents.

It is complicated. When Airbnb started I thought it was restricted to host-occupied residences. It was both the attraction and the turn-off. I prefer a hotel to a Bed & Breakfast because I prefer to be left alone. Now it has become a platform for entrepreneurs with enough cash to invest in a dedicated vacation property. I use ride sharing services and appreciate the greater availability of cars where I am, the app’s easy way to pay, but it has not been so great for taxis. A lot of these apps disrupt the existing order of things and create new opportunities for consumers and the industrious. Hopefully Pacific Grove will find the right balance.

Monarch Butterflies Find Sanctuary

IMG_2915You may know that the Monarch Butterfly migrates thousands of miles in it’s life cycle. The caterpillar needs milkweed for food, the adult needs groves of pine, eucalyptus and cypress for overwintering. Their habitats have been reduced, chemicals in our environment threaten them, and their numbers have greatly diminished across the USA.

IMG_2916For several decades one town, Pacific Grove, California, has taken special pride in their protected Butterfly Sanctuary and the thousands of Monarch butterflies that arrive from October to stay until January or February. The peak time to see them–especially in clusters of a thousand or so–is around US Thanksgiving.

IMG_2922The sanctuary is an easy walk from the main street in Pacific Grove (Lighthouse Avenue). There is parking and it is wheelchair accessible. Although there is an incline from one end to the other. There are fun activities for children and plenty of benches for all ages. And there is no charge for entrance.

IMG_2921We took a picnic lunch and sat among the trees watching the butterflies dance high in the air among the tops of the trees. Occasionally one would drop down closer to us and alight on a branch and then we could try for a photo. It would have been more dramatic if we’d been able to see the clusters, but this was also relaxing and fun. We read the well designed signs to learn more about the butterflies and gained a new appreciation for these beautiful insects.

Pacific Grove is on the Monterey Peninsula and an easy activity to plan as part of your next visit. It is walking distance from Asilomar and just off 17 Mile Drive near the entrance to Pebble Beach.

 

24 Hours in Monterey, California

I had a little less than 24 hours in Monterey on a Wednesday-Thursday. Monterey takes some effort to get to since you have to get through San Jose traffic. Every time as I approach the peninsula I wonder if it really is worth it–and then I see the Monterey Bay and ‘yes!”

Ever since I saw my friend Jen’s photos of the penguin parade at the Monterey Bay Aquarium I have been hankering to visit. I lived in Pacific Grove in 1984-5 and when I return I like to eat at my favorite restaurants and check out favorite beaches and walks. A lot has changed in 30 years so some flexibility is needed.

I was driving up from Bakersfield after a business meeting, so I got there too late to eat at my favorite dinner place SandBar & Grill on Wharf #2. I checked into the Lone Oak Lodge on north Fremont Street. It deserves the good reviews it received on Trip Advisor: clean, comfortable and spacious in a good location for under $100 a night. After a long day of driving I was ready to stop. I made a cup of decaf with my in room coffee maker and checked my email on the free wifi.

After a great night’s sleep I checked out by 8:30 so I could try a new breakfast place, LouLou’s Griddle. It is located on the same wharf as the SandBar & Grill. It was a beautiful, brisk morning. The wind was already blowing so I was relieved to find hot coffee and a seat at an inside table. It is a popular place and once you taste the food it is obvious why. The food is excellent in addition to the classic diner charm in a great location.

I returned to my car and headed to Pacific Grove to enjoy the ocean views at Lovers Point. Pacific Grove was originally a Methodist church camp with many of the smaller homes built as cabins. Lovers Point was Lovers of Jesus Point. There is a trail and walks from Asilomar to the Aquarium in New Monterey. The views are incomparable with opportunities to see otters and other sea life.

I like shopping in the Pacific Grove village. Over the years some things have stayed the same, like the classic post office and library, and other things have changed. Holman’s Department store closed. You can still buy books at the Book Works shop. I discovered a new shop Tessuti Zoo with unique gifts and colorful crafts made by the shop owner.

I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a couple of hours of fun. (more to follow) I walked around Cannery Row and a ways down the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail. Next time I’ll explore bike rentals at Adventures By the Sea bicycle rentals at 210 Alvarado Street. You can cycle over 3.5 miles to Pacific Grove via Cannery Row.

I was ready for lunch around 1 p.m. and I really craved Gianni’s Pizza. Alas, they are only open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So I circled back to Vivolo’s Chowder House that I passed at 127 Central Avenue. It was a happy discovery. It looks unimpressive from the exterior but it is elegant and the clam chowder deserves its local favorite status.

I debated doing more in Monterey, but the traffic is always miserable going through San Jose at rush hour. I decided to drive back via Santa Nella so I could see how full San Luis Reservoir is and enjoy a less stressful drive. The reservoir is completely full and the hills are the greenest I’ve seen in 7 years.

All together a very happy adventure.