We’re big believers in the old adage that experiences are far more valuable than material things.
But we’ve also traveled enough to know that there are certain products that help make travel easier and more enjoyable. This year alone we’ve sampled over 100 different pieces of travel gear.
What follows is our unbiased (i.e. unpaid) reviews of the 30 Best Gifts for Travelers for the 2015 Holiday season, broken down into sections that appeal to different budgets.
Louie Psihoyos changed my life.
I’d known about the importance of ecotourism and conservation since 2000. But it was Psihoyos’ 2009 directorial debut, The Cove (which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary) that showed me the difference solid storytelling could make in confronting complex environmental issues. Along with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, The Cove made me want to write stories that truly mattered.
Now Psihoyos (a veteran National Geographic photographer who co-founded the non-profit Oceanic Preservation Society) is back with an essential documentary six years in the making. Racing Extinction follows the director and his passionate team of activists as they expose two major threats to endangered species around the globe– climate change and the international wildlife trade.
Once again Psihoyos and Co. put themselves in harm’s way in pursuit of their story, going undercover to bust an illicit ring of wildlife traffickers in China. Once again they offer long-term sustainable solutions to devastating problems, educating Indonesian villagers on the economic benefits of conserving Manta Rays rather than killing them and educating viewers on lowering their carbon footprint. The results are informative, inspiring and way more thrilling than the new James Bond flick.
I was honored to have a chance to speak to Psihoyos a few weeks before Racing Extinction makes its December 2 premiere on the Discovery Channel.
It’s a chilly October morning when we head out with Captain Chris Ludford of Virginia Beach’s Pleasure House Oysters. We step onto his boat loaded with oyster cages, colorful baskets, and various other tools of the oyster farming trade, sitting on massive coolers made to keep his harvest fresh for the local farm-to-table restaurants that serve them.
There’s a crisp breeze and clear blue skies as we pass by Pharrell Williams’ palatial summer home and cross the gaping mouth where the Lynnhaven River feeds into Chesapeake Bay. It’s only 8AM and, other than a few squawking Gulls and Cormorants resting in the shallows at low tide, there’s not a single soul within sight. It’s a tranquil, picturesque scene.
But as we struggle to wake up while nursing huge cups of steaming hot coffee to ward off the chill, Captain Chris– a full-time firefighter who has been fishing these waters since he was a kid– has already been out for hours, and is clearly pumped to show us his passion project.
Ireland isn’t nicknamed the Emerald Isle for nothing. This vibrant green country is known for its undulating hills, giant peaks, and dramatic coastline, making it one of the best places in Europe to get outdoors and enjoy nature.
I fell in love with the Emerald Isle in May 2015, while researching for my print guidebook A Year in the UK and Ireland. As an avid hiker, I knew I would adore it, but what I didn’t realize was how much of a mark Ireland would leave on me, an impression that I’m sure will last a lifetime.
These seven eco attractions are the best things to do in Ireland to get you in touch with its strongest asset– its wild, untamed, and jaw-dropping natural scenery.
Trekking to see the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda was one of those “bucket list” dreams we never imagined would come true. Even now, a month after we visited Volcanoes National Park, it feels strangely surreal, like something we saw in a movie long ago.
We’d been to the park the previous day to do a Golden Monkey trek, so there was lots of build-up and anticipation: waking up at the crack of dawn, arriving at the park to see hundreds of hikers, porters and guides milling about, watching a traditional troupe of Rwandan singers and dancers perform, and splitting off into groups to get instructions before heading into the forest.
We’ll have the full story about our mountain gorilla trek (including our insane guide, Françoise, who worked as a porter for Dian Fossey back in the ’80s) coming next month, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Fossey’s death.
But for now we wanted to share this handsome little fella– the very first gorilla we saw as we turned a corner in the thick underbrush and entered a clearing our trackers had made. He was sitting right at eye level in some shrubs, just a few feet away from his mama. She kept a watchful eye on the 3-month-old, but seemed completely unconcerned by our proximity.
But the baby? He was FASCINATED by our camera. He gradually moved closer to get a better look, those wide eyes full of curiosity and wonder. Several times he leaned forward and pounded his little chest, and I had to stifle my laughter in an effort to stay quiet.
After showing us who was boss, the baby gorilla sat back down and started eating the greenery that surrounded him. As he briefly looked up towards the sun, we snapped this photo, which proved to be my favorite by far of the hundreds we shot on that magical, memorable day in the mountains of Rwanda. –Bret Love
If you enjoyed our Baby Gorilla photo, you might also like:
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PHOTO GALLERY: The Beauty of Galapagos Birds
PHOTO GALLERY: The Ansel Adams Wilderness by NatGeo’s Peter Essick
PHOTO GALLERY: Our Top 20 Photos of 2014