Travel Farther To Be Happier, Says Science

In a new study conducted at the University of Vermont, researchers have discovered that the farther you are from home, the happier you are. The BBC reports that social scientists mined data from 37 million geotagged tweets sent by 180,000 people to determine the correlation between happiness and travel, in a science that The New York Times calls “twitterology.”

Tweeters’ happiness was determined by the frequency of positive words (“beach,” “beautiful,” “amazing,” etc.) and negative words (“no,” “can’t,” “never,” and so on) in their tweets. Some words carried more positive or negative weight than others. The researchers then compiled the data to give a measure of happiness based on a scale they call the hedonometer.

As it turns out, the farther people had traveled from their centralized location, which the researchers took to be the average between work and home, the happier were their tweets. Moreover, those who traveled farther afield on average were happier than all the others.

Despite the seemingly obvious correlation found in the results, the study pointed out that happiness might simply be correlated to a higher socioeconomic status. Those who can travel far and wide usually have the money and time to do so, after all.

But there’s also the question of whether we really are tweeting our genuine feelings when we’re traveling. Personally, I’ve never seen someone say that they are “col” – crying out loud – in my feed, while the lol-ers run rampant. I’ve met travelers who have been hit by cars, had every piece of their gear stolen and who have been caught in natural disasters, and they tend to put a positive spin on it, at least in social media. And just glance at the examples of the “13 Travel Tweeters That Drive Us Crazy” to witness the unmitigated affected gaiety. But we know that happy people deal with hardships better, so perhaps this preponderance of positivity is support for the findings after all?

[Photo Credit: nan palmero]

Knocked up abroad: international travel with a baby

This is the third in Knocked Up Abroad‘s guide to traveling with a baby. Before you go, see tips on planning travel and flying with a baby.

So you’ve decided to travel abroad with your new family addition, well done! You’ve chosen the best baby-friendly destination, packed light, and even survived the long flight. Now that you’re on the ground, possibly recovering from jet lag and hopefully learning new foreign phrases for “what a cute baby!,” how can you ensure you and your baby have a fun and relaxing vacation? After five countries in under four months (several of them without other adults), I can say it mostly comes down to attitude and planning. Here are my tips for international travel with a baby:

-Don’t expect the world to cater to you. The most important thing to bring on a trip with a baby is the right attitude. If you travel expecting every restaurant to have a baby-changing table in the bathroom (which they probably won’t, especially in Europe) or that public transportation should be stroller-accessible, you can be sorely disappointed. Keep your expectations low and get creative. I’ve changed my baby on many toilet seat lids, on top of and even in sinks (stuff your diaper bag in to make a flat base), and occasionally in her stroller. Allow yourself to be surprised by people, too. In New York, I was prepared to carry my stroller up and down stairs at some subway stops by myself, yet I was helped by strangers every time. A restaurant owner in Italy set up a makeshift table on top of their deep freezer when she saw me struggling to change the baby on a sink top. Look at inconveniences as part of the adventure rather than a sign you should have stayed home.-Plan your logistics carefully, and then let the rest of your plans go. As noted previously, it pays to do your research before departing. Each day of your trip, plan out where you want to go, how to get there, and what you might need but realize that you might not do any of it. In Malta, there was a wine festival in the next town with cheap tastings and free food, but a cranky baby meant we stayed within walking distance of our apartment (good thing too, or we could have missed a great parade). In Slovenia, we had to make a detour back to our hotel after a diaper incident meant I had to strip my baby down to just her winter coat and diaper. Babies can be unpredictable, so you may need stop at a cafe to feed a baby, take an extra walk around the block before bed to soothe crying, or go back to your room early when the weather turns bad. While combination transit or tourist passes might be a good value, they won’t be if your baby won’t go in a museum without screaming or prefers an open-air stroll to a bus ride.

-Find favorite rest stops. When you need to take a time out from exploring to feed or change your baby, there can be some comfortable places to stop that exist in nearly every destination. Museums and large hotels tend to have nice bathrooms, sometimes with changing facilities. Large baby stores may have a private nursing room or a place to change the baby, plus plenty of gear and gadgets if you need them. Pharmacists generally speak English and carry nearly all of the necessities. At night, however, you may have to be creative again. I tend to visit the same cafes in Istanbul again and again not just for the food but for the bathrooms, the waiters who rush to coddle and play with the baby, and comfy seating while I feed her.

-Breast is best when traveling. While it’s a personal choice how you feed your baby, if you can and want to breastfeed, there is evidence both anecdotal and scientific to support that breastfeeding is preferred while traveling. According to the CDC, it provides needed immunities, nutrition, and hydration for the baby. Even if the mother gets traveler diarrhea, breastfeeding can help to protect from contaminants and rehydrate the baby. It’s also convenient: perfectly packaged, the right temperature, and nothing goes to waste! Nursing mothers may still want to carry a manual pump and store a spare bottle or two. So far, I’ve found every country to be friendly to breastfeeding mothers, though I carry and use a scarf for modesty and spit-up. La Leche League has resources in many countries if you need help, check their map for local groups.

-Document your baby’s trip. It goes without saying that you’ll take plenty of photos and perhaps journal, blog, or tweet your trip, but it helps to document the more mundane activities too. When my baby was born, I got a set of cute notebooks to help me keep track of her feeding and sleeping schedule and diaper changes. I maintained it faithfully only for the first month or two, but now try to revive the records when I travel. Especially if you’re dealing with a big time change, it can help you to figure out how the baby is adjusting by keeping track of how often they eat and how long they sleep at a stretch. It’s also useful when deciding how many diapers to buy so you don’t get caught short or hauling around a mega pack. In the event that your baby gets sick (fingers crossed that they don’t!) during or after your trip, you can tell the doctor if anything is out of the ordinary and help pinpoint causes. You don’t need a fancy notebook either, you can jot down notes on the back of a museum ticket or restaurant receipt while you’re making a pit stop.

-Pack “in between” clothes. If your baby has clothes that he is about to grow out of, bring them along on your travels. If they have only one or two more wears left in them, you won’t mind if they get left behind in a hotel room, will have less to launder or carry, and you’ll probably take many photos of your baby so you can remember a favorite outfit before it gets too small. Keep a spare in your diaper or day bag in case of a changing emergency.

-Know your conversions. Do you know your baby’s weight in kilograms? Does 39 degrees sound hot or cold to you? If you’re American, you probably suffer from the disadvantage of not knowing the metric system used by the rest of the world. You’ll need to know measurements when buying diapers as size numbers might change between countries. My baby was born weighing 3.4 kilos (about 7.5 pounds) and wears a size 2 Pampers in every European country, but wore a size 1 in the same brand of American diapers. In case of a fever while traveling, you should know what temperatures require a visit to a local doctor or just a dose of Children’s Tylenol (which is called Calpol in many other countries, by the way). This info is all online, of course, but it can’t hurt to jot it down in your wallet just in case.

-Carry lots of bags. One of the more useful items to pack and/or collect on your trip is bags disposable, resealable, and reuseable. Bottles can be kept clean and stained clothing can be kept separate from the rest of your stuff in a Ziploc bag (bring a stash from home, they are harder to find in some countries). Supermarket store plastic bags are useful for laundry and diapers until you can deal with them properly. You’ll be going to the store more than usual for baby supplies, and many countries don’t supply bags for free, so bring your own reuseable tote for groceries, carrying gear from your luggage on an outing, or bringing souvenirs home. Bags are useful even without a baby but can also make a huge difference if you have a wet baby miles from your hotel.

What are your secret weapons for traveling with a baby? Leave us your success stories (and mistakes) in the comments.

Mountaineer summits Everest, tweets from the top

Yesterday we mentioned that the Sherpas had finished fixing the ropes to the summit of Everest, clearing the way for all the commercial climbing teams to soon follow. We predicted that the big push to the top of the mountain was still a week away, but a British climber took advantage of good weather and empty slopes, to rush to the summit yesterday. Once there, he not only savored the view from the highest point on the planet, but he also took time to send the first ever tweet from the top of the mountain.

Mountaineer Kenton Cool, who climbs with the Dream Guides company, set off for the summit two days ago, not long after getting word that the Sherpas had finished the route. He reached the top at 7:30 AM local time, notching his ninth successful climb of the mountain. Cool was sponsored by Samsung on this expedition and he used one of their smartphones to send the following tweet from the summit:

“@KentonCool: Everest summit no 9! 1st tweet from the top of the world thanks to a weak 3G signal & the awesome Samsung Galaxy S2 handset! @samsunguk”

Cool was able to send his tweet thanks to a 3G cell tower that was installed near Base Camp last fall. That tower has provided very spotty service to the climbers this season, but is still a marked improvement over years past when only expensive satellite phones were able to provide any kind of communications from Everest. The tweet is also excellent advertising for Samsung’s Galaxy S2, allowing the Brit to give his sponsor the recognition that they were surely looking for.

Does anyone else find it annoying that climbers can now make phone calls, send texts, and tweet from one of the most remote places on the planet, while I still get dropped service on my nightly commute home?

Social Networking and Travel: Do’s & Don’ts

People are more connected than ever before. Between Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, Flickr and all of the other social networking sites out there, you no longer need to leave your house to interact with friends and strangers (looking at you, Chatroulette). Social networking sites are also becoming key tools for travelers as they both plan and enjoy their trips.

However, like any new medium, there have been growing pains. Anyone who has seen their Twitter feed clogged by constant foursquare check-ins knows that some people overuse social networking. These sites (and the new ones that are launching nearly everyday) are here to stay and are valuable resources for travelers. That said, we all need to help the medium mature so that we can stop being so annoyed by people who are oversharing and start engaging in constructive, entertaining and educational dialogue.

With that goal in mind, Gadling has compiled this guide to using social networking as a travel tool. This should eliminate any confusion and help quiet down those who are abusing their newfound connectivity.Updates

Do let people know you’re alive: Rather than sending out mass emails saying, “I’m OK,” you can now utilize your Facebook and Twitter accounts to let people know that you haven’t been swallowed by a sinkhole. A moderate numbers of updates per day lets people keep tabs on you and know that you’re thinking of them along the way. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, along with the eruption on the Icelandic volcano, have shown that connectivity can be critical to helping people when disaster strikes.

Don’t give up-to-the-minute updates: If people are more aware of what you are doing on the other side of the planet than they are with what their roommate is doing on the other side of the wall, then you are updating too often. Add something to the discourse rather than just trying to be omnipresent. Put down your iPhone, step away from the internet cafe and go live your life. You can’t share stories with people if you don’t first create those stories.


Do give people a peek: Posting a few pictures along the way helps people share your excitement and see places through your eyes. Photographs also act as proof that you are indeed where you say you are while helping to tell your story in under 140 characters.

Don’t give it all away too quickly: No one wants to see your grainy, dimly lit cameraphone photos of what you claim is steak tartar but looks like a watercolor painting of vomit. If you can’t get a good shot of it, don’t share it (suggested by @Ellsass).

You don’t need to share every picture you take while you are still away. Save your full photo upload to Flickr, Picasa and/or Facebook for when you return. If you’re spending hours uploading and tagging photos, you’re missing out on experiences and memories (and more photos) while your trip is still happening.

Lastly, don’t feel as if every moment of your trip needs to be documented and shared. Gadling’s Sean McLachlan advocated going so far as to leave your camera at home.


Do ask for tips: Utilize Facebook and Twitter to find out about local attractions and restaurants before you hit the ground. Gadling’s Jeremy Kressmann touched on this previously when discussing place-dropping. Asking for advice on what to see and where to drink before arriving gives you with more information than guidebooks are often able to provide. Heck, I crowdsourced looking for suggestions before writing this post.

Don’t become a puppet: There’s no need to turn your trip into an entirely interactive experience decided by your followers. Do you really need to ask your virtual friends, “Should I have the flan or the poached pears?” Ask your waiter for some real-life advice. Or just follow your heart (er, stomach). Ask some locals in person while you are there. People discovered local secrets and hidden adventures long before the internet was created. Don’t turn over every facet trip over to crowdsourcing (but definitely order the poached pears).


Do check in and leave tips: Including tips on foursquare regarding the food at a restaurant, where to find the door to a speakeasy or what rides had the shortest lines at the amusement park actual make the service a real tool for travelers.

You should also check to see if anyone you know is at that location at the same time so that you can meet up and enjoy some time together in person.

Don’t link your foursquare and Twitter accounts: Sending all of your foursquare check-ins directly to your Twitter feed? I hate you. Your followers hate you. Stop. Unless you are adding some detail to your check-ins (i.e., “New bar with fantastic whiskey selection”), you’re just broadcasting your life and hoping that someone cares. People can follow your movements directly on foursquare if they so choose. Clogging people’s Twitter feeds just to overshare is sad.

Speak for yourself

Do let people know what you are doing: Updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed to let people know where you are and what you are doing is OK so long as your don’t mind people being able to track you down. You’re responsible for what you put out there.

Don’t reveal details about your friends: Just because you’re OK with your parents, employer and everyone else who follows you knowing that you are “so wasted” at Hooters doesn’t mean that everyone who is with you is as comfortable broadcasting that information. Don’t include other people’s names (or aliases) unless they approve of you doing so (suggested by @thecitizeNY).

Dealing with companies

Do follow travel-related businesses: With the list of airlines, hotels and tourism bureaus on Twitter growing exponentially, it’s becoming easier to seek out deals, navigate through problems and speak with customer service representatives. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about traveling with Twitter and looking for deals. By following these travel businesses online, you can take advantage of sales and voice your complaints when companies fail to meet expectations.

Don’t publicly attack them: If you have a substantial issue with a company, it’s best to reach out using traditional methods. Speak with someone in person if you are at a hotel or airport. Call their customer service numbers. Send them an email or letter. Only if they fail to respond or truly let you down should you seek to contact them via their Facebook page or Twitter account. Going off on a rant or tweeting about them incessantly tends to make you look like a lunatic rather than a victim.

At some point, you need to put your phone away, leave your wifi enabled hotel room and actually do something. Cut the cord (or leave the cloud, so to speak) and enjoy your time with the people who are there with you in real life. Or just be alone. There’s a time to share and a time to live. Knowing the difference will help you enjoy your trip and keep your online followers from deserting you.

There are definite advantages to traveling in the age of social networking. You can find deals, stay connected and share your experiences from anywhere in the world. But without boundaries, we all must suffer through cults of personality. We all want social networking to reach its full potential as a travel tool. We just don’t want to have deal with so many travelers who are complete tools.

This is by no means a definitive list. What did we leave out that you’ve learned from your own experiences with social networking and travel? Share your thoughts on all things connectivity in the comments below.

You can follow Mike Barish on Twitter, Gadling on Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook and the rest of the Gadling crew on Twitter.

Blog it or Facebook it or Tweet it or … – Road trip tip

Let friends and family share in your road trip adventure by posting details along the way via your blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media site. People at home are curious about your adventures, and seeing your update may trigger a memory or suggestion they have to improve your trip.

With a smartphone such as the Apple iPhone, Motorola Droid or Research in Motion’s BlackBerry, it’s a snap to post a status update of your trip or take and upload a photo or video of a roadside attraction. Smartphone Facebook apps and apps such as Bloglive make it easy to upload your content.

Of course, don’t do any of this while driving. Wait until you’re stopped, or have a passenger do the posting.