As much as I budget and save for my travel experiences, that doesn’t prevent sticker shock when I’m on a trip. The expense of paying for everything from daily meals to museum entrance fees can at times be staggering. Not all travel is expensive though and some of the best experiences are free.
A few years ago, Richard Louv wrote an intriguing examination of modern American society called Last Child in the Woods. In the book, Louv discusses what he calls nature-deficit disorder, the dramatic decrease of children’s exposure to nature in the United States.
The United States has a remarkable history of conservation and many of the traditions which we take for granted, such as the National Park Service, were revolutionary concepts that have been copied by countless nations around the world. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the modern conservation movement in the United States, there is concern that the resources we are lucky enough to call our birthright, are being ignored by many Americans.
For more than a decade, visitation numbers at America’s National Parks have been dropping steadily. At first glance, the numbers are encouraging, around 280 million visitations in 2010. Impressive until you peel back the numbers and realize that this includes everything from people driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival attendees. The actual number of people who hike, boat, fish or paddle is much lower, and that number is not increasing.
I’m not sure for the drop in numbers, but it’s disheartening. I’m just as guilty as anyone about not visiting our common inheritance nearly as often as I should. I was reminded of the fun and inherent adventure of outdoor pursuits on a recent trip to Hawaii. It wasn’t a National Park, but I spent an afternoon hiking and exploring the backwoods of Lanai and remembered how much fun this free activity can be. I felt like a kid again, eager to see what was around the next corner and wondering how much wildlife I would encounter that day. At the end of the hike rather, than just exhausted, which I was, I was also energized. It was a natural high resulting from pretending, just for a few hours, to be an intrepid explorer of ages past.
So many times I get caught up in exotic or urban travel and many times, I am sorry to say, I don’t even consider exploring natural wonders on my trips. Not only are these outdoor activities a lot of fun, but they’re perfect for the budget traveler. While there are park admission fees and the necessary lodging expenses, the overall cost of the trip is much cheaper than many other vacation options. It’s also healthier, spending the day outside feeding the childlike curiosity found within all travelers.
The ability to venture out and explore nature is found around the world of course, and is a tremendous resource for any traveler no matter where they go.
Even though I don’t have kids, I hope that parents everywhere consider trips that involve the outdoors, not only to share with their children the importance of conserving the resource, but the role it plays in living a healthier, more well rounded life.