Sanity in the Age of Cornavirus

We’ve cancelled our trips, pulled the plug on Spring Break and hunkered down at home — all about the same time our college-age kids have returned to nest. Now, to add insult to injury, our access to the gym is gone and stress is on the rise. But just because your go-to spin class is no more and boot camp is a thing of the not-so-distant past, doesn’t mean you can’t salvage your exercise routine. Online workouts and outdoor activities mean all you need is a yoga mat and a Wi-Fi signal to maintain your sanity.

Here are a few options that will keep your heart rate up, your Vitamin-D in rich supply and your outlook positive.

Online Fitness Classes — These do-at-home classes let you break a sweat in the protection of your own casa. Sessions are updated weekly and often short and sweet at a very manageable 30- minutes. Think trainers-to-the-stars like Tracy Anderson, or even live stream workouts from gyms like Planet Fitness.

Namaste-at-home — Yoga is one of the best streaming workouts available. Online options like Glo and Yogis Anonymous feature guided instruction at a variety of levels, flows and time lengths. It’s a great way to experience some of the country’s best instructors and some new styles you may have been dying to try.

Pilates and Barre in the Living Room — These full-body workouts focus on specific muscle groups and tighten those hard-to-tone places. Best of all, the online options let you tailor your workout to fit your available time, skill level and equipment options.

Peddle Power — Outdoor cycling is not only great exercise, it’s also an easy way to maintain social distancing in the process. Grab your bike, hit the nearest trail and peddle your stress away.

Walk it Off — As long as you keep at a safe distance, there’s no reason you can’t pull on your tennis shoes and pound the pavement. Download a new upbeat playlist or a podcast you’ve been dying to listen to so you’ll stay motivated and enjoy your time in the sunshine.

Dog Park Party — Grab your pooch, who undoubtably needs to get out as much as you do, and hit the dog park. Just remember to avoid times when the park is crowded and be conscious of maintaining the 10-feet distance from your fellow dog lovers.

Non-Active Pursuits — Because mental health is as important as physical health, here are a few options to help maintain sanity and fight off the boredom:

  1. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  2. Stream a program you’ve been dying to watch.
  3. Plan a trip that you’ll take when the crisis ends. Research the places you’ll go, the restaurants you’ll visit and where you’ll stay. After you’ve mapped out the fun, make a promise to yourself to go.
  4. Read a book that has a happy ending to lift your spirits.
  5. Order a decadent dessert (to-go or from a delivery service) and enjoy it without any guilt.
  6. Hit the water by taking a boat outing or a SUP adventure.
  7. Take a scavenger hunt of the coolest murals in your area. It’s also a great way to ramp up your image on the gram.
  8. Send the kids out back with popsicles and an inflatable pool for some peace and quiet. Or, if it’s still cold outside, set up a tent in the living room.
  9. Learn to make a signature drink.
  10. Take an online cooking class.

Why Fall Travel is on the Rise

Cooler temps and brilliantly-colored landscapes have travelers ready to pack their bags this fall. Many are looking to save money, avoid crowds and increase the bang for their buck. According to the Chicago Tribune, traveling between Labor Day and Thanksgiving has become increasingly popular thanks to the favorable weather and better values. In fact, it’s on the rise with Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z vacationers alike.

Fall travelers are most likely to travel domestically, often by car or on discounted airlines which report an increase in fall searches of 26% over last year. Pinterest confirms this seasonal spike with searches nearly doubling in 2019.

The Tetons in the fall. Photo by: Coffee.

While U.S. travel is preferred, you can’t rule out spots like Mexico City, Bali and Ho Chi Minh —’s top three trending destinations.

Another indicator to watch is the jump in adventure travel that’s been building throughout 2019; according to it’s up 65% this year.

While Baby Boomers and leaf-peepers continue to dominate the market segment, Millennials are also choosing autumn travel to connect with culture and enjoy new experiences, versus traditional sightseeing. On the other hand, Gen Z travelers are most often looking for a deal.

While all three age groups express an interest in immersion travel — from local cuisine to hiking, cycling to seasonal festivals — their planning habits are different. Boomers are more likely to plan far ahead while Millennials and Gen Z vacationers are more spontaneous. According to, younger travelers are driven by last-minute promotions for short 3-5 day getaways.

A quickly-planned escape is highly likely for Millennials and Gen Z vacationers since many claim their decision to travel is based on compelling advertising. Some 72% of Millennials report travel decisions were influenced by some form of advertising and a whopping 90% of Gen Z travelers claim their desire is driven by social media.

Now that the kids are back in school, family travel has dropped off — making the autumn travel landscape much less crowded. Add to that the incredible deals at many high-end destinations and the increase in availability, and you have every reason to hit the road this season.

Why “undertourism” is on the rise

As the middle class grows in emerging markets, worldwide tourism continues to expand. So much so that many “bucket list” destinations are experiencing record numbers of visitors. That overcrowding not only impacts travelers’ chances to view the local landscape, it’s also taking its toll on the populations and natural resources of key must-see sites.

Cami Minaret in Kazakhstan. Photo By: Konevi

In the 1950s the tourism industry reported about 25 million arrivals across the globe. By 2018 that number had jumped to 1.4 billion, and according to the World Tourism Organization it will by upwards of 1.8 billion within a decade.

In the U.S., 60 percent of travelers claim overcrowding will significantly impact the destinations they chose within five to 10 years according to The New York Times. If that’s the case, just how can concerned tourists still experience the world without being part of the problem?

Here are five ways to fight “overtourism“:

  1. Instead of must-see sites, opt for less visited places. Still equally as interesting, lesser-known neighborhoods, restaurants and attractions offer the same cultural experiences without all the crowds.
  2. Travel during the quieter shoulder-seasons when smaller numbers mean greater access and better prices.
  3. Support visitor quotas in overcrowded cities and fragile ecosystems. By limiting the number of visitors, favorites like National Parks can preserve what was so great about them to begin with.
  4. Ask the board of tourism about positive-redirection options. By offering suggestions of lesser-known points of interest, they can control overcrowding in major hotspots and expand cultural experiences.
  5. Get on board with “first-chance” tourism destinations. By visiting destinations which are off the beaten path, travelers can disperse the number of visitors to a country while experiencing a rare travel gem before everyone else does.

Beyond avoiding the crowds, undertourism offers travelers authentic experiences, cheaper prices and a more relaxed vacation. However, the benefits to the destinations are even greater — from easing the pressures on natural resources to protecting the area’s cultural identity. Undertourism — it’s a win-win for all.

The Palace That Love Built

The legendary Pink Palace.

Today I found myself in the backyard painting studio of one of my favorite artists, Lynne Polley of Polley Creates It’s always a good day when I get to sit amidst the canvases and the creeping bougainvilleas and discuss creative ways to see the world. This latest project found us talking travel with Elizabeth Schneider-Peele, a concierge travel specialist with Global Medallion. I’ll be writing video scripts for her ultra high-end Florida tours. During the course of our discussion, Elizabeth asked me to name some of my favorite ‘secret’ Florida destinations or tell a little-known story of the state’s past — basically the stuff only us locals would know. Well, that got me to thinking about a tale I’d heard a long time ago and a special place known as the “Pink Palace.”

The Don Cesar is a luxury hotel on the sands of St. Pete Beach. It’s revered for white-glove service, pristine beaches and an iconic salmon-colored facade; but what many don’t know is the story behind the pretty exterior, a haunting legend of love and loss.

It began in the early 1920s when a young man named Thomas Rowe met a Spanish opera star named Lucinda while studying in England. The pair fell quickly in love and would dash off for clandestine meetings at a secret fountain known only to the two of them. To disguise their tryst, the couple referred to each other as Maritana and Don Cesar, the names of the lead characters in the opera she was starring in the night they met. But when Lucinda’s parents discovered the relationship, they whisked the girl back to Spain and Thomas was forced to return to America heartbroken. His letters would come back unopened, and in the end the only communication he would ever receive was a news clipping of her death accompanied by a note which simply read: “My beloved Don Cesar.”

In 1925 Thomas made his way to Florida and began what would be his life’s work, the “Pink Palace.” A tribute to Lucinda, the Don CeSar features a lobby courtyard and fountain which are exact replicas of the spot where the couple had met in London. The towering Spanish castle on the sea was Thomas’ eternal testament to his lost love.

Since his passing, staff and guests of the hotel have reported seeing a gentleman in an old-fashioned Panama hat and a white summer suit strolling the grounds. However, whenever he is approached, he quickly disappears. There are reports of mysterious knockings on the doors of the fifth floor where Thomas once lived, doors swinging open by themselves whenever a staff member approaches with a heavy load (a tribute to Thomas’ legendary hospitality) and even sightings of a young couple dressed in a white suit and a traditional Spanish peasant dress.

I can’t say if the stories are true, but I’d like to believe they are. I guess it really doesn’t matter. The Pink Palace remains one of Florida’s true treasures: a pampered playground that has hosted everyone from Presidents to gangsters to stars of the silver screen. In the end our continued infatuation with this tribute to old-world glamour and timeless luxury isn’t so hard to understand — after all, she was and is…a labor of love.

Patchwork Memories

As children we’d often curl up beneath a patchwork blanket sewn by my grandmother. The squares of wool were worn thread-bare with time and the clutching of little hands, each piece held together with an assortment of leftover yarn. Through the years there were several of these blankets, each one a different color and size depending on whatever remnants remained in the bottom of the fabric grab bag. As each new one took shape, me and my cousins would discover a cozy new spot to read, a blanket for our babydoll or the makings of a tent where we’d hideout together telling ghost stories.

Like grandma’s blankets, the fabric of my family’s simple lives were made up of a patchwork of memories and shared history that we now call heritage and at the center of it all were my grandparents. 

One of the earliest memories I can recall is from Goodwater, a tiny town in East Alabama where grandma first learned the story of Johnny Appleseed. Recounted for us as we snuggled under the comfort of a white, chenille bedspread, it came to represent the power of one and the limitless possibilities of a dream. I can imagine her packing up the story, along with her belongings, as she climbed aboard the City of Miami and road the streamliner south toward her future. It took a lot of guts for a small town girl to ride the rails until the end of the line but she had learned that small things could give birth to endless opportunities. From that solitary journey would come a career as a wedding gown seamstress for a Mrs. Burdine, founder of Burdines department stores, followed by a man she would later meet at a USO dance and three children who would begin the origins of what I now know as family.

Sewn into another corner of my childhood is the smell of fish frying on a stove in the garage and the pungent odor of coquina soup. Gathered from a day at the beach, it brings back memories of salty, sunburned skin stuck to the back of my Grandpa’s Vis-queen covered seats as we made our way home in an old Dodge Rambler. During the impatient lulls of those days on the pier he would tell us about the fish and the interactions of the things that lived in the ocean: survival of the fittest, symbiotic relationships and the order of the food chain. These were the lessons that taught me to appreciate that God created all things to work together.

Finally, tucked away in the recesses of the past are musty, old copies of National Geographic magazines. Leafing through those dogeared issues, sacredly preserved in a corner of the garage, was where I learned the wonder of a world that was larger than the four corners of my neighborhood. I often wonder as I write about places like Marrakech and Addis Ababa, Split and the Great Barrier Reef if these stories weren’t first born years ago sitting on a cold slab of concrete in a hot and humid Florida carport.

Before she passed, Grandma made sure each one of my kids had a patchwork quilt of their very own with their name embroidered in the corner. And even though the last one isn’t quite as big, thanks to the arthritis that had taken her hands, it’s no less special. I hope my children know the treasure those blankets hold. I hope that one day they’ll look back and remember the magical places they once escaped to inside those make-shift tents and the stories that were told beneath the warmth of the covers. Most of all, I hope they know that you can make priceless things from scraps and that sometimes there’s nothing more valuable than a gift that’s hand-sewn with love and worn thread-bare by the clutching of little hands.

Moscow Mules, An Ironing Board and Four Months of Skiing

Moscow Mules
The people you meet in Montana when sipping Moscow Mules…
Photo by Tracy Benjamin.

The bar was full as we nudged our way to a stool; the sounds of Waylon Jennings spilling from the wooden stage across the room. Saturday nights are always busy along the Gallatin River. Crowds of locals mingled with would-be cowboys who’d donned shiny new boots and waitresses rushed by with plates of ribs one could only pray were meant for them.

After ordering up a Moscow Mule, I noticed the guy to my right. He was chatting with a younger fellow, but that’s not what got my attention. Besides his plaid shirt and friendly smile, he was wearing the most spectacular silver and turquoise bolo tie — the likes of which could only make sense in a place like Montana. 

“Hi my name is Matt,” he said, extending his hand for a friendly shake. 

After a few minutes of small talk I finally got the real story, the one that piqued my interest and convinced me to order up another mule and settle in for the tale that was sure to come.

“I’ve just spent the past four months traveling around North America and skiing,” he said with a grin. 

That’s right — the entire winter season while the rest of us were hustling at the bank or shuffling papers in some office this guy had been criss-crossing the Rockies in a Jeep with nine pairs of skis shoved in the back. Tell me how I get that gig?

His search for the ultimate powder had taken him from Aspen to Taos to Park City and beyond. The week in question he was carving it up in Big Sky before heading north to Revelstoke — the conclusion to a once-in-a-lifetime journey he’d been dreaming about for years.

In the back of that Jeep was an old ironing board that his wife had helped him fashion into a tuning station. He proudly showed me a picture on his I-phone of the make-shift invention. It was here that he tweaked his bindings and waxed the day’s pair of skis, allowing him total control of the ride to come.

That night as we sat there at the Gallatin River Grill he was nearing the end of the road. The snow was beginning to melt and the season was drawing to a close. Looking back, I asked him which mountain was his favorite. While he was quick to point out that the trip wasn’t over yet, he admitted to leaning toward Aspen, his home hill.

Maybe in the end that’s where we all end up, loving the places we know best, those slopes where we can read the mountain and where the snow feels the most familiar. Who knows though, maybe Revelstoke will be a game-changer. He’s promised to check in with me when he wraps up his travels in a few weeks. If things go as planned you may even see Matt in one of my magazine articles at the start of next ski season. If not, chances are pretty good you’ll meet him on some chair lift or coming down the backside of a hill when the flakes begin to fall again. And if not, and you’re lucky, you just may get the chance to chat over a Moscow Mule in a bar that overlooks the river in the shadow of a Lone Peak.

Mountain Mama

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” — John Muir

This week I’m packing my jacket and goggles and heading to the mountains for the last time this season. While everyone I know is slathering on sunscreen in hopes of the perfect spring break, I’ll be applying the SPF and praying for blue-bird days. If history is any indicator, somewhere between Bozeman and Big Sky, Montana my stress will begin to fade away with the rising elevation and the occasional sighting of bighorn sheep. This is it, my happy place. And despite the cost, the distance and the eternal layovers it takes to get me strapped into my skis, it’s worth it all for the promise of some great powder.

snow boarding

Although I make my home in the Sunshine State, like many Floridians I can’t wait for the snow to fall so I can hit the slopes. And I’m not alone. In fact, Florida is the second most important ski market in the nation. That’s why chances are when you’re chatting up the guy next to you on the chairlift, the odds are just as good he’s from Tampa as Telluride or Taos. 

However, most Floridians are overlooked when it comes to ski and snowboard editorial copy. And why wouldn’t we be? We live on a peninsula, at sea level, without even a hill in sight. However, we are hot! Not just uncomfortably warm but hair frizzing, feet-burning-on-the-sidewalk, “I can’t take another night of this heat” hot as hell! And while everyone is turning their sights to beaches and tropical getaways, we are dreaming of downhill vistas and ski chalets, snowball fights and s’mores around the fire pit — and that makes for engaged ski/snowboard readers.

So while this mountain mama is anxious to carve it up one last time before the snow begins to melt, I’m equally as excited to return with stories in my pocket for next winter. As an amateur skier, I’ve seen most of the American peaks and I love to tell the tales of all that’s happening on the mountains. Here’s just one example of a ski article I’ve written. Keep coming back to look for more.