The February Digest: a huge leap in the leap year

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Take your love travelling this Valentines Day

Dear readers,
It’s the leap year with February having an extra day. For those constantly on the go and those who love to travel, an extra day in a year comes as a boon. We are launching our monthly digest from this month onwards, which will carry special and offbeat stories each month for you to make some plans for that month. This month, the editorial focus is on space travel and ecotourism, which is close to my heart.

As we travel, we have to be careful about the footprint we leave behind – which would also become heritage and legacy soon. With more and more people around the world becoming conscious of this, there is an increased amount of respect for cultures, and for the environment in general. People are worried about the footprint they would leave behind. Naturally, as one becomes conscious about the well-being of the local people in the areas they travel to, one becomes more tolerant of their culture and heritage, leading to more responsible travels.

Here’s to taking a huge leap in eco-travel in the leap year. I hope you enjoy reading the February Digest below.

Yours truly,
Arunima



It’s Valentine’s Day – take your love out to travel (your second love)
With Valentine’s Day knocking at your door, the best way to sweep your partner off their feet (quite literally) is to travel with them and have the time of your lives.

If you are looking into domestic travel destinations (in India), you are in luck as February is the ideal time to visit any destination across the length and breadth of the country. Some of the options you can explore include spending a romantic night in an igloo under the star-studded skies of Manali after a day of skiing and snowball fighting, going for scuba diving and snorkelling in the Andamans, indulging your taste buds on a food tour while fort hopping in Rajasthan, or connecting yourselves with nature while trekking through Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Watching the sunset together makes for one of the most romantic outings

International travel options include skydiving and dune bashing in Dubai, taking your partner on a shopping spree and closing the day with a kiss atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, going for snowboarding and later spending the night huddled up by the fireplace in Switzerland, witnessing nature’s own exquisite light show, the Aurora Borealis, in Norway, catching some epic surfs or going cage diving with sharks in South Africa, or simply impressing your inner children with a tour of Disneyland in California.

Richard Branson’s space travel venture – beyond the known frontiers
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the late Stephen Hawking had said, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.” With Virgin Galactic set to put space tourism on our bucket lists, it is fair to say that business magnate Richard Branson could be a step closer to fulfilling Mr Hawking’s prophecy.

Space travel not just for scientists anymore; Virgin Galactic’s reusable, suborbital spacecraft on static display at the Farnborough International Airshow, UK, in July 2012

Virgin Galactic has been at work since its founding in the year 2004 to help give civilians like you and me a taste of space. They have developed high-end spaceships and specialised spacesuits for passengers. However, the taste would come with a $250,000 hole in our pockets for a flight that would last only 90 minutes. It is said that the flight would briefly escape the Earth’s atmosphere and reach an altitude as high as 82.7 kilometres, scraping through outer space, before returning to Earth. With the vision set to become a reality tentatively by 2023, the vision is to not only make space travel a reality but to further research efforts as well.

However, space travel is not only for the filthy rich, but it is also for those who have nerves of steel because it involves a lot of risks and not meant for the faint-hearted at all. We have to wait and see how it evolves at Virgin Galactic. As they say, you cannot sail unless you leave the harbour – for those who love to live on the edge, this sure is something that would be a chance of a lifetime.

View of the Taktshang monastery in Paro, Bhutan, with prayer flags and a prayer wheel in the front; the cool February air BECKONS travellers

Bhutan – make your February worth remembering
We would like to feature Bhutan in our February Digest and in our special tips to travellers as this is one place that leaves you refreshed and asking for more. Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, (officially) the Kingdom of Bhutan is a paradise in every sense of the word. Landlocked between north-east India and southern China, Bhutan is a fast-developing country which is equally known for its natural beauty and for its economic freedom, peace, and almost negligible levels of corruption.

The country of nearly 7,50,000 people has witnessed a surge in tourism only in the past seven years as many of the visitors are flocking to the various monasteries in search of inner peace and wisdom like that of its monks. Culturally rooted in Buddhism, Bhutan has emphasized the preservation of its traditions and beliefs even in the face of rapid westernisation.

In Bhutan, you are forbidden to climb up to high peaks as it is believed that is the seat of their ancestral spirits who must not be disturbed. Men and women are required to do to work wearing traditional clothes. These are just some of the ways it preserves its ancient culture, customs, and traditions.

Giant Buddha Dordenma statue in Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan

For those looking to explore the country, there is no dearth of options. Quaint towns and the Karbandi Monastery in Phuentsholing, the Takin Reserve, Kuensel Phodrang (Buddha Point), and the Giant Buddha Dordenma Statue in Thimphu, the mesmerising and unspoilt valleys of Punakha, the Tiger’s Nest and the Taktshang Monastery in Paro – Bhutan has something in store for everyone.

The emergence of ecotourism – caring for the environment creates a healthy one
With the popularity and accessibility of travel increasing day by day, the questions of sustainability and preservation are also becoming undeniably important. The answer to these questions lies in ecotourism – which just means responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education”.

Ecotourism is a way of establishing a symbiotic relationship between travellers and their destinations, wherein the former get to experience the beauty and hospitality of their destinations and, in return, they help preserve the environment by not leaving harmful footprints behind. In a way, it can mean being more compassionate and kind when you travel and clean up after yourself so that the environment and ecosystems can breathe easy.

Natural diversity the new mantra; ecotourism gains ground in the new millennium

With these definitions, it is easy to see why ecotourism has become the need of the hour with pollution and global warming threatening to destroy sensitive environments across the globe.

While governments are using ecotourism as a way of helping conservation efforts, many private companies like Airbnb have been also taken initiatives in this direction and are doing their part by sponsoring sabbaticals in association with governments for select individuals to natural environments (where they can not only experience the raw beauty of the habitats but also exert efforts into preserving them). 

Tips for foreign travel in summer 2020: book and plan early to avoid disappointment
The summer of 2020 is almost here and that means it is time to get your travel plans for the summer in place. Whether you are a planner or simply a doer, you must get your bookings done in advance in order to reap multiple benefits irrespective of whether you are looking to explore hidden gems in the nooks and crannies of India or wishing to go international.

Travel planning is quite stressful but, on arriving at your destination, the sheer joy your family experiences makes it worth it

Planning your travel can be quite stressful as well, considering you have an annual travel budget you have kept aside and need to fit in the whole family’s travel in that. You have to coordinate it with your spouse’s annual leave (and yours of course!), not to mention apply for leave at school or plan during the children’s summer vacations. But with so many people travelling during that time, the ticket and hotel prices usually skyrocket for the summer – thus putting a huge dent on your savings – and also causing more stress! But once you and your family arrive at your chosen destination, the sheer joyful squeals of your children are enough to take away the stress of those arduous planning months.

If you haven’t decided where you are going to go, now is the best time to get started because, the sooner you decide, the more fulfilling your travel experience will be. This can be as simple as going to Google Flights to explore the price graphs for various destinations and turning on price alerts to stay updated, or by watching YouTube travel videos and Vlogs to get the much-needed inspiration.

Once you have zeroed in on a destination, make sure to book your mode of travel and hotels. This helps you avoid sudden price surge, overbooked last-minute flights, wait-listed trains, and disappointing hotel rooms. By choosing to book well in advance you get to have more options of everything, avail offers such as “buy now pay later”, the best accommodations at the cheapest rates, some travel agencies even offer free child places on early bookings, but the best part is you get enough time to prepare for your trip – from shopping to approval of leave applications at work.

This article, although a part of the monthly editorial digest, has contributions and inputs from the blogging team.  

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