Outdoorsy Releases Generations in the Wild: The 2024 U.S. Family RV Travel Report

Teens drop tech and look to faith for meaning during family road trips. Baby Boomers beef up multigenerational camping plans this summer. Economic constraints and appetite for travel push GenZ to search for free campsites. Demand for developed campgrounds booms.

Outdoorsy, a leading outdoor travel and accommodation marketplace recently released Generations in the Wild: The 2024 U.S. Family RV Travel Report. The company’s inaugural independent research explores motivations behind travel, benefits of time on the road, and cultural values restoring human relationships across four generations of RVing American families.

“This independent research was deliberately designed to span not just generations, but to represent Americans from all walks of life who seek the benefits only the outdoors can provide,” said Outdoorsy Co-Founder Jennifer Young. “Resoundingly, every group acknowledged that RV travel provides a powerful way to strengthen family bonds, reconnect with themselves, and draw closer to their faith.”

Spending time in nature at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notably, Outdoorsy’s survey found that today’s always-on work culture is negatively impacting young families on the road—cutting into quality time and reducing enjoyment for GenZ parents in particular. GenZ is most likely to take work on the road with 74 percent saying they work at least sometimes during a trip and 96 percent of those who do reporting that their work hours negatively impact their time with family. By comparison, GenX has a healthier work life balance with only 53 percent reporting that they work during family trips.

“Creating time for a digital detox is closely correlated to better reported trip outcomes, but we found that only one in five families will always take the time to do so,” said Young. “However, we discovered that disconnecting from tech isn’t the only way to reliably improve your summer vacation. Our research showed that parents who involve their children in every aspect of trip planning—from meal planning to destination selection to activity mapping—report improved journeys across almost every metric.”

Families with children who are highly engaged in trip planning report lower stress (+21 percent), an increase in positive attitudes (+12 percent), and increased excitement (+16 percent). Families who engage their children in every aspect of trip planning are also more likely to report strengthened faith after a trip (65 percent vs. 39 percent) and a higher likelihood of tech-free time (66 percent vs. 52 percent).

Spending time in nature hiking Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional key findings from this year’s report include:

  • GenZ: The changing face of RV travel: The youngest generation of RVers are notably different from their peers. They’re the most likely to travel with the majority (65 percent) saying they plan to take at least five RV trips this year. However, this cost-conscious generation is also the most likely (47 percent) to seek out free RV accommodations this year signaling that this cohort especially is feeling the strain of inflation. This group also tends to stay closest to home with an average trip length that is 100 miles less than that of older generations.
  • Developed campgrounds are the most in-demand in 2024: This year, developed campgrounds are in high demand with 83 percent of families preferring their RV campground to be packed with amenities like showers, pools, biking paths, pickleball courts, and more.
  • RV trips reduce tech time and increase spiritual connectedness for teens: Nearly half of all teens (48 percent) report reduced screen time during family RV trips and the vast majority (88 percent) report at least some level of spiritual connectedness with more than half (59 percent) engaging in prayer, reflection (34 percent), and reading sacred texts (21 percent) during family RV trips.
  • Baby Boomers beef up multigenerational camping plans this summer: In their youth, Baby Boomers popularized backcountry camping. However, over time they fell into travel patterns that were less likely to include outdoor experiences. Now that they’re entering their retirement years, they are much more likely to turn to RV trips as an affordable means of travel that can include their children, grandchildren, and extended family. Three fourths (74 percent) of Baby Boomers will include their adult children in their next RV trip and 31 percent will include their grandchildren.
  • Millennials: The experience-first generation: This formidable travel group started the trend of investing in experiences instead of things and their desire to fully lean into family travel shows up in a variety of ways. Seven out of 10 Millennials say RV trips are an important time to disconnect from technology and this generation is less than half as likely to always work while traveling as their GenZ counterparts (11 percent vs. 26 percent) signaling they have a better handle on work/life balance.
  • Nearer, my God, to thee: RVing families tend to be highly religious or spiritual with 96 percent of parents and 88 percent of teens reporting at least some connection to faith or spirituality. 82 percent of religious families report being Christian. And although teens are less likely to say they’re very connected to religion or spirituality, they’re just as involved (and in some cases more involved) as their parents in spiritual pursuits while in nature. 

Since I’m talking the outdoors, here are a few related articles:

Spending time in nature at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Methodology

The results of the first Outdoorsy U.S. RV Family Travel Report are based on a total of 3,200 surveys completed among a random sample of U.S. families and a corresponding sample of n=400 teens. Within the sample of families, quotas were established for each of the four primary census regions: Northeast (n=800), Midwest (n=800), South (n=800), and West (n=800). Overall, a sample of n=3,200 U.S. families is associated with a margin of error of +/- 1.63 percentage points and a sample of n=400 teens is associated with a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points. All surveys were completed only via an outbound solicitation sent to a randomly selected cross-section of families. The sample of respondents was statistically balanced to ensure that the results are in line with overall population figures for age, gender, and ethnicity. Some results may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

Spending time in nature at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About Outdoorsy

Outdoorsy transformed access to the outdoors with the launch of its RV and campervan rental marketplace in 2015 and expanded to offer marketplace insurance in 2018. Today, Outdoorsy’s partnership with its hosts has resulted in over 7 million travel days through RV rentals that are available in 4,800 cities across North America. Outdoorsy’s marketplace, insurance, and retreats provide life-changing financial benefits for RV hosts and retreat communities and offer guests the trust and guidance they need to enjoy memorable rustic travel experiences. Outdoorsy’s team is inspired by a mission to restore our relationship with the outdoors and each other by inviting guests to Live Outdoorsy.

Worth Pondering…

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is a society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Spending Time in Nature Just Might Save the World

Nature is not a refuge—it’s a forge that transforms us

Spending time outdoors can serve as a forge that brings out the best in us.

Nature transforms us

What’s come down are medical studies showing time in nature does a multitude of good things for our health. Add to that the brainwave studies showing the benefits to our mental health. Top it off with the sociological studies showing time in nature leads to increased creativity.

Improved health and creativity are just what the doctor ordered.

In sum, we now have the science to justify it: nature is a forge in which much-needed world-saving values are brought to life.

Ajo Scenic Loop in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still stuck in the old paradigm

While our appreciation of what nature does for us has evolved, the way our culture looks at time spent in nature, unfortunately, is still much the same. Despite what we know about the benefits of spending time in nature, our culture still views time spent there as passive. It’s often spoken of as a retreat or escape.

Our attitude reflects the society we grew up in. “Nature is so relaxing.” “I go hiking to get away from it all.” “The outdoors is my happy place.” We hear these phrases. The problem is that they’re limiting. They pigeonhole nature and the role nature can play for us.

Even though we now have awe theory and forest therapy, even though we know about the three-day effect and have books like The Awakened Brain and The Comfort Crisis we’re stuck in the old paradigm that defines time in nature is a form of recreation—and holds that the real work takes place when we’re sitting at a board meeting or behind our laptops.

It’s not nature that needs to change, but us.

Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The new paradigm

These are dire times and the old paradigm of nature as recreation no longer makes the cut. If we as a species are to shift onto a less self-destructive path, we need to access the values-shifting awarenesses nature can provide.

If the next generation is to care about protecting the natural world, they need to have had positive experiences in it. If these changes are to come about, we need to value nature more broadly and spend time in nature with broader intentions. We need more access to green spaces for those who live in cities. Nature needs to be more than a place to relax. And, so of course, it’s not nature that needs to change, but us.

We need a new paradigm. We need a new story to tell ourselves about nature and the time we spend in it.

Simply put, we need to embrace the idea that nature isn’t so much a place to retreat and relax but rather a forge that can transform us.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the good of the people

The idea that spending time in nature can lead to personal transformation is not new. Far from it! Seers and prophets have been going out into the wild since the beginning of human civilization. When they went, they weren’t going on vacation. They weren’t sipping mai tais by a pool.

Native Americans—and many other indigenous cultures—had a tradition of the vision quest in which young people on the verge of adulthood would go out into nature alone in order to experience spiritual growth.

Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux tells a story from his childhood in which a tribal leader welcomes a group of young men back from a scouting mission with the words, “Whatever you have seen, maybe it is for the good of the people you have seen” (Niehardt 65).

Those simple words signify recognition of what the young people did and its importance. The young people left the community and went forth into the wild. Their purpose was to see. Their seeing was beneficial not just to themselves but to their community. It was “for the good of the people.”

Roseate spoonbills in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature helps us save ourselves from ourselves

It’s a small shift—thinking of nature as a forge rather than a retreat—but it makes a big difference. I’m reminded of the well-known Thoreau quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

Wildness and wilderness can strengthen and preserve us. I have no doubts about that. But the bulk of the world seems to have little interest in wildness. How then could the wildness be important to the world or have a chance of saving it?

The solutions to the problems of today are unlikely to spontaneously show up on the screens of our cell phones. The solutions might just manifest themselves when we’re out in nature, however. This is because nature is a rich source of complexity, mystery, and inspiration; nature is a bottomless well, a source that counters and supplements all that is human.

In light of the new paradigm, in light of what we now understand in terms of how crucial nature is to our health, in light of our dependence on nature for everything from new medicines to new technology, and in light of the popularity of rewilding now—more than ever—we can see Thoreau’s words as being amazingly prospicient.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

Over the course of history, our preoccupation with technology has led humanity to stray from nature but if we’re to survive and if our planet is to thrive (some would say survive) we must ever circle back. And so the time ahead may later in history be seen as the great circling back—a time when people rediscover the power of nature to strengthen our bodies and nurture our spirits. A time when we acknowledge that to be the best versions of ourselves, we need nature—and that nature is an inexhaustible source of new understandings.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

7 Essential RVing Tips for the Perfect Road Trip + Resources

From proper maintenance and packing to route planning and emergency preparedness, these tips and resources will help you have the perfect road trip

RVing is a great way to explore the country and have a unique and flexible vacation. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-time RVer, there are always new things to learn and tips to make your road trip even better. 

In this post, I’ll cover seven essential RVing tips to help you have the ultimate road trip. These tips will help you enjoy the perfect road trip from start to finish! I’ve also included helpful resources related to the tips to help get you on your way.

Camping at River Run RV Park, Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Properly maintain your RV before hitting the road

Before you set out on your road trip, it’s important to make sure your RV is in good working order. This means regular maintenance and upkeep, such as checking the tires, brakes, fluids, and other crucial systems. 

Neglecting maintenance can lead to costly breakdowns and other problems on the road. It’s a good idea to do a thorough inspection before you leave. Check all the systems and make any necessary repairs or replacements. 

You should also bring along basic tools and supplies in case you need to make any minor repairs on the road.

Checking the water and waste management systems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Rio Bend RV Park and Golf Course, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Pack smart

One of the joys of RVing is having all the comforts of home with you on the road. However, this also means that you’ll need to bring everything you’ll need for your trip.

To avoid forgetting important items, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of must-have supplies and check them off as you pack. You’ll want to bring items including a first aid kit, tools, cooking equipment, and any personal items you’ll need.

It’s also important to think about how you’ll store and organize these items in your RV. Storage bins, drawers, and other organizational tools help keep everything in its place and easy to access.

Everything parked on board? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Stay healthy and comfortable on the road

One of the keys to having a great road trip is staying healthy and comfortable. There are several things you can do to help ensure that you feel your best while RVing.

One important aspect of staying healthy is eating well. It can be tempting to rely on fast food and convenience items while on the road but these options are often unhealthy and can leave you feeling sluggish. 

Instead, try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome foods. You can also bring along healthy snacks such as nuts or fruit to munch on while you’re driving.

Horseback riding in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, be sure to take breaks to stretch your legs often and to stay active while camping.

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Check tires for age and wear © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Prepare for emergencies and unexpected situations

Even with the best planning, there’s always the possibility of something going wrong on your road trip. That’s why it’s important to be prepared for emergencies and unexpected situations.

One way to do this is by creating an emergency kit for your RV. This should include basic supplies such as a flashlight, first aid kit, and tools as well as any specific items you might need such as spare fuses or a fire extinguisher.

It’s also a good idea to have a plan in place for common RVing emergencies such as a flat tire or breakdown. Know where you can get help and how to contact roadside assistance.

With a little preparation, you’ll be better equipped to handle any unexpected challenges that come your way.

Wright’s Beach RV Park, Penticton, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Driving a motorhome on Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Practice safe driving habits

Driving an RV can be different than driving a regular car and it’s important to be aware of the unique challenges and responsibilities that come with it. One of the most important things you can do to ensure a safe road trip is to follow the rules of the road and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

This includes things like observing the speed limit, using your turn signals, and paying attention to other drivers and pedestrians. You should also be mindful of your blind spots and the length and width of your RV as it can be more difficult to maneuver than a smaller vehicle.

Another important aspect of safe driving is being prepared for any adverse weather conditions that you might encounter. Make sure to check the forecast for your route and adjust your driving accordingly. 

Driving a motorhome on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Respect campsite rules and neighbors

One of the keys to a pleasant RVing experience is being a good campsite neighbor. This means respecting the rules and regulations of the campsite and being considerate of others around you.

Some ways to be a good campsite neighbor include being mindful of noise levels, keeping the campsite clean, and respecting the privacy of others. You should also follow the rules of the campground such as any fire regulations or pet policies.

By showing respect and consideration for others, you’ll help create a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone at the campsite.

Camping at Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Dyke Road, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Plan your route and make reservations in advance

One of the keys to a successful RV road trip is proper planning. This includes mapping out your route and making campsite or RV park reservations ahead of time. By planning your route, you’ll be able to choose the best roads for your RV and avoid any potential problems. You should also consider the length of your drives and make sure to take breaks as needed. 

I’m a believer in the 330 Rule. It says, “Stop when you have driven 330 miles or it’s 3:30 in the afternoon.”

When it comes to campsites, it’s also a good idea to book your spots ahead of time, especially during peak season. Unfortunately, ever since the pandemic, it has been much harder to get last-minute reservations. In fact, getting reservations is one of the big RV travel difficulties these days. In a pinch, you can overnight at different businesses and locations.

Colorado River along Utah Scenic Byway 279 near Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfect road trip helpful resources:

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Doctors can now prescribe access to nature with the Parks Canada Discovery Pass to patients through the national nature prescription program

Imagine going to your doctor and, instead of a prescription for some named or generic pharmaceutical, you instead receive a prescription for a 30-minute walk in nature. This is not actually that far-fetched. Put down the Prozac and pick up your walking shoes.

Enjoying nature at Devonian Gardens Botanical Park near Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paracelsus, the 16th-century German-Swiss physician, wrote: “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” He could not have imagined the advent of the Smartphone, nor a 24/7, digitally enhanced, Instagram-able world.

Enjoying nature in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much has been written about the evils (and glories) of technology but the resulting dissociation from our natural surroundings leaves us emotionally and physically worse off. We are bereft of nature. Our bodies—and our minds—need nature. And there is hard science to prove it.

In fact, there is enough science about the health benefits of nature to get the attention of the medical profession. Nature as medicine. Just don’t tell Big Pharma.

Enjoying nature in Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canada is famous for its pristine waterways, soaring snowcaps, and beautiful forests from coast to coast to coast. Thanks to a new partnering agreement, health care professionals in four Canadian provinces can now prescribe time in the national park system to boost people’s mental and physical health.

Related Article: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Parks Canada is collaborating with a program called Park Prescriptions (PaRx). Doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals who register with the program can prescribe nature—and even a Parks Canada Discovery Pass—to their patients.

Enjoying nature at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature,” Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, said in a written statement.

“This exciting collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for how we treat mental and physical health challenges and couldn’t come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives.”

Enjoying nature at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx is an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation, driven by health-care professionals who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature. Featuring practical resources like quick tips and patient handouts, its goal is to make prescribing time in nature simple, fun, and effective.

Each prescriber who registers with PaRx will receive a nature prescription file customized with a unique provider code and instructions for how to prescribe and log nature prescriptions.

Enjoying nature at Banff National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parks Prescriptions began as a grassroots movement in the United States over a decade ago. We are proud to be Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.

Related Article: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Parks Canada has provided 100 adult Discovery passes this year and will reassess this number in future years. An annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass covers admission to more than 80 destinations for 12 months. The pass sells for $72.25 and provides unlimited access to national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites for 12 months. The park system is already free for anyone 17 and under.

Enjoying nature at Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The BC Parks Foundation is the official charitable partner of BC Parks and the provincial park system. It launched PaRx—Canada’s first national nature prescription program—in November 2020 in British Columbia. In 2021, it expanded the program to Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Enjoying nature at Brae Island Regional Park near Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association, it has garnered widespread enthusiasm across the country with over 1,000 prescribers registered. Doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals are able to add Parks Canada Discovery Passes to the doses of nature they prescribe.

Enjoy nature at Sunshine Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Until now, the nature prescriptions revolved around working out what kind of nature time people should consider, and not something tangible like a park pass. For now, only people in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario are eligible for the Parks Canada passes but the PaRx hopes to expand to Quebec, Alberta, and New Brunswick soon and eventually roll out in every province and territory.

Enjoying nature in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2022 than being able to give the gift of nature to my patients,” said PaRx director Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician. “There’s a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety, and I’m excited to see those benefits increase through this new collaboration.”

Enjoying nature in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Participating prescribers who can prescribe a Parks Canada pass are asked to prioritize patients who live close to national parks, historic sites, or marine conservation areas, and who could benefit from it the most.

For years doctors have discussed the healing qualities of nature and in 2006 a group of doctors in Albuquerque, New Mexico launched Prescription Trails, the first nature-prescribing program. Other programs launched soon afterward, and in 2019, Betty Sun of the Institute at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy said there were 71 programs of this nature operating in 32 different U.S. states.

Enjoying nature at Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature prescriptions were one of the top eight global wellness trends in 2019 and are cropping up around the world. Countries such as the United Kingdom are now investing in park prescription pilots to help tackle mental and physical health problems and the resulting strain on their health care systems and economies.

Related Article: Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Enjoying nature at Banff National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx was recently recognized by the World Health Organization in its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health where it was featured as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health—one of only two case studies cited from North America.

Enjoying nature at Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Research shows that children and adults who are more connected to nature are not only more likely to work to conserve it but also engage in other pro-environmental behaviors,” said Lem. “I like to think that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re making the planet healthier, too.”

Enjoying nature along the Fraser River in Hope, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PaRx has been endorsed by the BC Family Doctors, Saskatchewan Medical Association, Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba and Ontario College of Family Physicians. It offers practical, evidence-based online resources like quick prescribing tips and printable fact sheets, plus a green-time target of “two hours per week, 20+ minutes each time.”

Related Article: Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

As Canada grapples with the ongoing pandemic, it’s a critical time for health care professionals to promote the mental and physical health benefits of heading outdoors.

Enjoying nature near Valemont, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Our goal is to make sure that people who need it can get out easily and affordably to benefit from the healing power of nature,” said BC Parks Foundation CEO Andy Day. “So far, through the generosity of our donors and partners, we have provided free trips and nature therapy sessions during the pandemic to health care workers, seniors, refugees, and vulnerable youth. It’s been incredibly inspiring to see the impact nature has on people.”

Worth Pondering…

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.

—E. O. Wilson

The Power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can improve both mental and physical health

Mindfulness is a key component of many meditative and contemplative practices and it can also be an illuminating approach to everyday life. To be mindful is to focus our awareness and attention on the experience of the present moment. We can be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions; the natural world and our immediate environment; the people around us; and other parts of our lives.

On the road to Peralta Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A huge body of research now shows that mindfulness can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It improves our focus, resilience, and memory, and it has a whole host of health benefits including increased immune function and powerful anti-aging properties.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

On the trail at Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices encourage us to slow down and notice what we can be directly aware of at any given moment. A recommended way to begin is to sit in a quiet place and notice the movement of our breathing. By bringing mindfulness to this one simple and flowing experience, we may be able to temporarily let go of our habitual thinking, daily narratives, and worries.

On the trail in Lake County, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with formal meditation practices, we can be mindful in our everyday lives. Eating a meal, walking, driving, and other seemingly mundane tasks are all opportunities for mindfulness. The more we ground ourselves in the present, the more fully we can experience being alive.

Related: Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

On the Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why is mindfulness so effective? In a world that’s hectic and fast-paced, it’s beneficial to stop and re-center by noticing what’s around you.

Hiking the lava fields, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I often find myself stuck in one of two places. I am either ruminating on a past—perhaps revising what I had seen and done and trails hiked on past snowbird travels before COVID. Or I am desperately concerned about and planning the future—what if I’m no longer able to drive my motorhome or what if someone I love gets really sick?

Relaxing at Racoon State Recreation Area, Indiana

It’s easy to spend the majority of a day doing what’s been described as “rehashing the past” or “rehearsing the future.”

Related: Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

The biggest problem with rehashing or rehearsing is that those thoughts are often a source of stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness can become a powerful antidote. Spending time each day meditating and grounding ourselves in the present has been tied to less stress, fewer unwanted thoughts, heightening creativity, encouraging appreciation, and combating overall mental and emotional fatigue.

Along the byways of Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness practices have also been found to reduce stress, boost immune systems, and improve brain functions.

How could simply tuning into your thoughts and feelings lead to so many positive outcomes throughout the body? Researchers believe the benefits of mindfulness are related to its ability to dial down the body’s response to stress.

Along the boardwalk at Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chronic stress can impair the body’s immune system and make many other health problems worse. By lowering the stress response, mindfulness may have downstream effects throughout the body.

On a Hyannis Harbor Cruise, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because mindfulness is so helpful at easing negative and stressful feelings, it can contribute towards us living healthier, happier lives. It may even slow down the aging process because while stress has the side-effect of speeding up our biological clock, mindfulness can help to slow it down.

Related: Camping Benefits Mind and Body…Here Is How

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study from Stanford University, a 90-minute walk in a natural area was shown to lower the risk of depression and one survey found that 65 percent of people who put away digital devices while on vacation enjoyed their way more (not surprising, right?). But where can you go to truly unplug? Turns out, that’s the easy part. I’ve got some ideas to get you started. Stay tuned for a follow-up article.

Relaxing at Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the quotes below, practitioners discuss the essence of mindfulness and its myriad benefits.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
—Henry Miller, writer

Walking the trails at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness… It [is] the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought.
—Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk

Exploring Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
—Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist monk and author

Along Champlain Canal, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are… It is called mindfulness.
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher

The Reason for Which You Wake up in the Morning

Ikigai essentially means the reason for which you wake up in the morning

In an earlier article, I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods.

Hiking Silly Mountain Park near Apache Junction in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Japan, the secret to living a longer, happier, and more fulfilled life can be summed up in one word: Ikigai. In Japanese, iki means “to live” and gai means “reason”—in other words, your reason to live. This ideology dates to the Heian period (A.D. 794 to 1185), but only in the past decade has it gained attention from millions around the world.

Woven together, these simple life values give clues as to what constitutes the very essence of ikigai: A sense of purpose, meaning, and motivation in life.

On a scenic drive near Hemet in California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For years, researchers have tried to find the reasons behind a long and healthy life. While the answer is likely a mix of good genes, diet, and exercise, studies have suggested that finding meaning in life is also a key component.

There’s no single way to find your ikigai but you can start by asking a few simple questions: What makes you happy? What are you good at? What (and who) do you value? What motivates you to get up in the morning?

Related: Getting Back to Nature: How Forest Bathing Can Make Us Feel Better

Hiking near Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finding joy in the small things—the morning air, a cup of coffee, or the ray of sunshine—should be part of what motivates you to get up each morning.

Recent data reveals that people in the U.S. can expect to live an average of 78.7 years.

Bird watching at Crystal River in Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These days, screen-addicted Americans are more stressed out and distracted than ever. And there’s no app for that. But there is a radically simple remedy: get outside.

Nature can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression—and even prevent cancer.

Hiking Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Japan’s scientists are in the vanguard of knowing how green spaces soothe the body and brain. While a small but impressive shelf of psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety, and depression, and even boosts empathy, scientists in Japan are measuring what’s actually happening to our cells and neurons.

According to Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, the average American spends at least eight hours a day looking at some sort of electronic screen. Then we try to relax by watching TV. Bad idea.

How to have a healthier, happier old age and how to apply it to their own lives

Enjoying nature at Bernheim Forest in Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exercise in green space

Trees produce phytoncides which help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost immunity. The microbes in forest soil have been found to reduce depression and may contribute to the health of our microbiome. A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits, but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month while a short afternoon run or walk somewhere green means better sleep at night.

Related: Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

Wawasee Lake near Syracuse in Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Read books

Although reading is sedentary and solitary, frequent reading has been linked to a longer, healthier life. A Yale study of 3,600 over-50s found that reading increased longevity by almost two years; readers of books outlived readers of newspapers and magazines. While those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week lived longest, the researchers said: “30 minutes a day was still beneficial”. Meanwhile, every expert seems to recommend reading as a means of getting to sleep.

Hiking lava fields in Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep learning

Old brains are just as equipped to build new neurons and synapses as young ones. But this process works best when we repeatedly force ourselves to learn new things. The brain loves novelty: crafts, games, even cooking from a new recipe trigger the creation of neurons but the more complex and more difficult the new activity the greater the rewards. Choose something that also involves social interaction and a bit of movement.

The beauty of the Cherohala Skyway in North Caro;ina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cultivate optimism

Studies have found that older people with a negative attitude to aging have worse functional health, slower walking speeds, and lower cognitive abilities than those with a more positive attitude. Negativity, unsurprisingly, puts stress on the body elevating cortisol levels which in the long term can impact heart health, sleep quality, weight, and cognition. You really are as old as you feel, it seems.

Worth Pondering…

Never forget your dreams.

—Corczak

How National Parks Saved Us?

Ready to get back into nature, visitors are overwhelming some U.S. national parks

“There is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires,” wrote that ultimate advocate for nature, Henry David Thoreau, in his famous 1862 essay, Walking.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. is home to 63 national parks and 423 National Park Service (NPS) sites and it took a global pandemic to make many realize just how fortunate we are to have them. With flights grounded and borders closed, many Americans are road tripping to find some of that wilderness inspiration. Americans have taken to the national parks this summer in huge numbers as they discover the healing power of nature for the very first time. As bucket-list trips across the world were canceled, Americans discovered tent and RV camping, hiking, sightseeing, and unwinding in their own backyards—and in doing so found that the trip of a lifetime is just a drive away.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2020 the world shut down, but something inside us cracked open. For the first time in decades, the natural world took priority over extraneous distractions. There was a collective urgency to return to nature. But instead, they’ve often confronted crowded trails, traffic jams, and parking nightmares. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the country’s most famous national parks are grappling with an increasingly unsustainable rise in visitors. Zion National Park, for example, saw nearly 676,000 visitors in June, topping the number during the same period in 2019 by a wide margin. In June 2019, the park saw 595,000 visitors. The number dipped in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic to about 377,000 visitors. Two other Utah parks, Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park saw their busiest June ever with nearly 110,000 and 190,000 visitors respectively. Arches National Park temporarily delayed entry almost daily because of high visitation volumes but at the time of writing the official data had not been released. Utah national parks have seen visitation rise steadily over the past decade with some parks seeing their average annual attendance nearly double.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maine’s Acadia National Park hosted nearly 1.2 million visitors through June of this year, a 33 percent jump over the same period in 2019, just before the pandemic. Watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain is a gorgeous view—so breathtaking that on some days, as many as 500 cars could be found vying for the scenic overlook’s 150 parking spots. In response, some of the most popular national parks have been forced to close their gates early in the day.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Watching the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain is a wonderful experience,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine at a Senate subcommittee hearing on overcrowded parks in late July. “Staring at the taillights of the car in front of you as you are trying to get up the mountain and find a parking place? Not so much.”

That competition has become more manageable since Acadia officials began using a reservation system in May.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marquee destinations like Montana’s Glacier National Park and nearby Yellowstone have seen the number of annual visitors double since 1980. Yellowstone saw 4 million visitors in 2019 and Glacier tallied more than 3 million. Like Acadia, Glacier also has implemented a ticketed-entry system for summer-season visitors seeking to access Going-to-the-Sun Road between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.

In 2019 alone, there were 327 million visits to U.S. national parks—or the equivalent of every American making a park visit, said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Concerns that U.S. national parks are being “loved to death” have been raised for years but 2021 seems to be emphatically underlining them. “The growth in visitor numbers poses “one of the greatest challenges (the National Park Service) has ever faced,” Kristen Brengel, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association, told the hearing.

U.S. national parks—“America’s Best Idea,” as Ken Burns referred to them in his 2009 documentary series—are doing what they were intended to do: provide memorable encounters with the often spectacular beauty and wonder of the natural world. Especially now, visitors can hardly be blamed for wanting to take a deep breath and soak it all in.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Out of the country’s 423 NPS sites half of the visits are taking place at 23 parks with the worst crowding at just a couple of dozen iconic places (think Yellowstone, Zion, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Arches, Rocky Mountain, Lake Mead). Visitors can plan a more pleasant stay at a lesser-known park. Following are 10 of the least visited parks along with the number of recreational visits in 2020. Each park offers a visitor center, hiking trails, and numerous opportunities to commune with nature.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National park crowding may ease in the future as other travel options open up. But lessons learned now can help parks improve visitor experiences. 

As Yogi Berra, famous for his terse and memorable expressions, would have put it, the last thing that should be said of these treasures is “It’s too crowded. Nobody goes there anymore.”

Worth Pondering…

National Parks are being “loved to death” and solutions are urgently needed to manage, disperse, and educate crowds while increasing access for all.

—Lebawit Lily Girma, travel writer