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    Scuba Diving: A Risky Activity and a Revelation

    ***This post was written by guest blogger, Erin D. who frequently shares her experiences living life as a true 'leisure nut!****

    Up until recently, I assumed that before they allowed you to strap a tank on your back and throw on some flippers, you had to go through hours upon hours of SCUBA classes. Since you were about to partake in, what some might consider, a risky activity, I figured that instructors would thoroughly go through everything, from the names and purpose of each component of the gear to how to properly breathe to ensure you wouldn’t pass out….or die.  And I’m sure that some places do this.  Actually, it’s even possible that I was being told that during my first pool practice dive, however, I will never actually know.  As I was getting ready to dive into the water, my instructor was giving the group a lesson on breathing and the hand signals…in Spanish.  

    All of my friends that have gone diving had told me it was going to be an amazing and surreal experience.  Most of them have actually become certified while in other countries, and because of this, I figured that there wouldn’t be any issue with having my first dive in Colombia.  However, unlike my friends, I was actually going to be diving in a country where they really don’t speak much English.  Like, most people don’t even try a little.  I had started to notice this in the first few days of the trip, while my travel companion and I were trying to get directions to our hotel and when placing orders at restaurants.  The Colombian people we encountered were extremely friendly and I could tell that they wanted to be able to communicate with us; it was just not happening.  But surely, the SCUBA instructor would speak English, right?  Nope.

    When we booked the dive the day before, we spoke (in English) with a dive master at the SCUBA center.  He walked us through what we would be doing the next day, regarding what time we needed to be there and the possible locations we would be diving. Everything seemed fine.  Arriving the next morning was a different story.  

    The previous day’s English-speaking divemaster was not going to be joining us for this trip. The new instructor only spoke Spanish, but I was assured by another first-time diver (who spoke a little English) that everything would be okay.  So we all jumped into the pool and began to learn the process, first with the instructor teaching everyone else, and then with my new friend attempting to translate to me.  It’s also worth noting that my travel buddy was SCUBA certified and didn’t need to take the pool course, thus not being able to help instruct me.  The first time I went under, I knew that I was probably going to have issues, having only half understood the half of the lesson that was being relayed to me. Fortunately, I made it through the pool dive without issue and actually felt ready enough to give it a go.

    The ocean was a different story.

    Once we jetted out to our first dive site and got our gear on, I knew that this was going to be a huge test for me.  I hate being out of my comfort zone, and this was so far beyond that realm.  There also wasn’t really a way of turning back once we were in the open ocean.  Sure, I could have just decided to not go and let my fear get the best of me, but I figured that I’d paid already so why not just give it a try?  Ready to go, I held onto my mask and did my best Navy SEAL impression as I fell off the boat, tumbling flippers over tank. Aside from the initial shock of it, I was okay.  But now came the hard part: I was going to have to rely on the hand signals that I learned to make sure I didn’t die.

    The instructor led us over to the anchor line, which we were going to use to descend. Because he knew I was nervous, he sent the others down first and waited to guide me down.  Once they were all waiting below us, he held my hand and started to lead me under slowly, constantly using the hand signals to make sure I was alright.  About five feet below the surface, everything finally hit me.  I began to panic and the instructor could see it in my eyes.  He led me back up and waited for a few minutes until I calmed down.  Not wanting to wimp out (or waste the money), I eventually indicated I was ready to try again.  So we slowly descended into the water.  This time around, I didn’t panic.  I actually had a revelation that helped me through the process: While this is a risky activity and I could either get hurt or die, it actually wouldn’t be a terrible way to go, surrounded by beautiful fish and coral.  Morbid, I know, but it helped.  

    Throughout the afternoon, I was actually able to maintain a sense of calm, despite knowing that this could have ultimately been my demise.  The second dive of the trip was not nearly as bad, and I was able to swim around a sunken ship, a sight I realize I would have never seen if I allowed my fear to take over.  

    Since Colombia, I have gone on one more dive trip while in Greece, where the dive master (and all of the other divers) spoke English.  And this time around, I was actually able to retain some of the information the instructor was going through before the dive.  Although, I am still amazed at how little they actually tell you before throwing you off a boat.

    5 Things to Consider Before Traveling Alone

    ***This post was written by guest blogger, Erin D. who frequently shares her experiences living life as a true 'leisure nut'!****

    As someone who hates the idea of simply going to dinner by myself at the bar down the street from my apartment, many of my friends were shocked when I told them I was going to be going on a 10-day solo trip.  I always believed that the most fun could be had when you travel with a significant other or friends, and I thought that traveling by myself would be pretty boring.  It also didn’t help that the idea of being alone while in a foreign country immediately made me think of the litany of terrible things that happen to women traveling abroad on their own.  They made Hostel and the million Taken movies for a reason, right?

    But nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot.  I’d had friends tell me about their amazing experiences while traveling, and realized it had been too long since I had my passport stamped.  Without a significant other or friend to tag along, I booked my tickets and started to plan my trip.  And now, as I fly back to the states after 10 days in London, I am realizing that there are some things to consider before embarking on a spontaneous solo trip.

    1. Parlez-vous Anglais? - Not wanting to add the stressor of a language barrier, I picked an English-speaking country as my first solo excursion.  While English is becoming more prevalent in most countries, I felt that it would be too difficult to go somewhere and not know what everyone was saying...and not have anyone with you to help you figure it out.  However, now realizing that there are a multitude of different apps and software for language learning or translation, I might try a non-English speaking the next time around. I’ve actually recently started teaching myself French (with the help of Rosetta Stone) and think, despite being known for romance, Paris would be a great place to visit by myself.  Although it’s more likely I’ll test out my newfound French skills in Montreal first.
    2. To book or not to book? - Being conscious that I would be footing the entirety of the bill for this trip on my own, I tried to not be too picky when it came to booking hotels. I used to find hotels in three parts of the city, giving myself more exposure to different areas and hotel options.  One of the main things I found when I was looking for rooms was that there were many (at least in the price range I was in) that had shared bathrooms or twin beds.  While I can deal with a bitty bed, I made a point to not book any places that didn’t have en-suite bathrooms, fearing a National Lampoon’s European Vacation-esque encounter with a stranger while in the tub.  I also found that I got some great rates if I booked a couple days before I needed the reservation.  Sure, it’s nice to not have to worry about moving around every couple days or making a new reservation because your current hotel stay is almost up, but it’s also nice to be able to spend the money I saved on the room for more important things… like a pint of lager.
    3. Excuse me, but do you have WiFi? - Technology is seriously amazing.  Almost everywhere you go now, there is WiFi.  Walking around London, my phone was constantly trying to hook up to different free networks, allowing me to access maps and train schedules on the go.  However, I also found that there are some cheap data-only SIMs that will allow you complete mobile access throughout your trip.  For just a few quid, I was able to get a SIM and a gig of data, and the only real issue I had was figuring out where to get the card (I’m sorry, but what’s a “news agent” and where do I find one?).  For reference, it’s best to look into carriers and prepaid options in the country you are going to visit before you head out on your trip.  I would have never guessed that a place called “Carphone Warehouse” would sell mobile plans…. I also checked my American carrier to see what my rates would be if I used my SIM while abroad.  Although a bit more expensive, I did use this option a few times to avoid the hassle of switching out my SIM and dealing with a new foreign phone number.  I mean, I couldn't risk losing all my WhatsApp messages, right?
    4. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice.  But really, which train takes me there? - Once you figure out your data situation, make sure you know where you are going.  Google Maps has a feature that allows you to download a map area and pull it up while you are offline.  I found this to be really useful at times when I just needed to figure out which street I was on or an easy way to get from point A to point B.  I also found that apps like Citymapper are great when it comes to navigating a new city’s transit system.  It not only gave me really in-depth directions (including which part of the train is the best to sit on), it also showed (accurate) times when the trains would be arriving. I am seriously in love with this app and am a bit disappointed that I really have no use for it at home in Boston.
    5. Can I get a latte, your WiFi password, and the code to the bathroom? - For most people, vacations are about food and the best places to eat.  For me, it was finding a coffee shop that served multiple functions: cheap food/coffee, internet access, and a restroom.  Spending as much time walking around the city as I did, I was constantly ducking into a Starbucks or Pret A Manger to refuel.  And since many of the toilets around the city require payment (which is insane to me), this was also an optimal time to relieve my bladder.  I don’t really have any suggestions for apps or things to consider on this front, although I’m sure that there is money to be made on an app that maps out free (or just nearby) toilets.  

    Besides this, you will also want to download travel guides and look into some of the events that will be taking place while you are on your trip.  In the end, I found that traveling by myself was actually just as fun as traveling with other people.  It made me be more social and step out of my comfort zone.  I absolutely recommend going somewhere by yourself at some point in your life.  

    If Gaming is Wrong, Then I Don't Want to be Right

    This is not to say playing video games should consume your entire life or take away precious time with your spouse, children, friends or your job.  However, contrary to popular belief, playing video games is not always a bad thing.  In fact, in many ways, and according to multiple scientific studies, gaming can actually be a very positive thing!

    Let’s start by taking a closer look at some of these recent studies - and with any luck, by the end of this article, you’ll be sufficiently convinced (if you weren’t already) that a little gaming will make a big difference.

    For example, in 2015, The Journal of Neuroscience determined that playing games in 3D Virtual Environments “may provide meaningful stimulation to the human hippocampus” which is responsible for episodic memory! In yet another study from 2012 looking at the effects of gaming on overall health, “video games improved 69% of psychological therapy outcomes, 59% of physical therapy outcomes, [and] 50% of physical activity outcomes”.  

    Here at Leisure Nut, we are major proponents of responsible gaming.  As many of you already know, playing video games, among other benefits, can provide relief from the stressors of daily life, including your job.  So next time you simply need a day to yourself, grab the Xbox controller, a slice of pizza, your favorite Leisure Nut tshirt, and play away!