Photograph by Krista Rossow, National Geographic
Photograph by Krista Rossow, National Geographic
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Have you found insight on your journeys?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Konnichiwa! I just returned from Kyoto, where I walked 20,000 steps in a single day and found serenity sitting beside the 15th-century karesansui (“dry landscape”) rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. The garden imparts a precious Zen Buddhist lesson: Slow down, focus, absorb. See externally and internally.

With Japan in mind, I was delighted to receive an email from reader Salena Parker, of Denton, Texas. Responding to my question What can you learn traveling while female? Parker wrote that she found revelation at Itsukushima island (pictured above). “The Great Torii of Miyajima is a tall and regal architectural marvel with a withered, vermillion hue decorating the pillars being lapped—almost tenderly—with water from Matsushima Bay,” she writes. “The shrine and torii gate were erected in homage to three sister deities of the sea.”

Parker notes that torii gates serve as a bridge from the human world to the spirit world. “While I stood near the torii, I realized that there were very few moments in the past where I would consciously seek out the histories or voices of women overseas,” she wrote. “I'm currently making a conscious effort to seek out the travel narratives, stories, and mythology surrounding women and our gender.”

Revelation is all around us—not only at Buddhist gardens and Shinto shrines. Where have you found spiritual and philosophical insights on your journeys? Please tell me—I’d love to know.

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Today in a minute

Countdown to overtourism: Do you think you’re planning to travel to where everyone else is, too? One crude shorthand check may be to look at Google’s top travel search destinations of the year.

Here’s the list:

10. Costa Rica
9. New York
8. California
7. New Orleans
6. Alaska
5. Mexico
4. Las Vegas
3. Bora Bora
2. Japan
1. Maldives

Are you an ego tourist? The holidays bring out these inconsiderate, wasteful, and rude people, USA Today reports. Inexperience often brings out anxiety, frustration, armrest wars, and lashing out in the cheap seats. But front-of-the-plane privilege is horrible, too, a culture of entitlement exacerbated by loyalty programs. One travel expert’s advice for the rest of us: bring ibuprofen, to deal with the inevitable headaches.

Does the bus stop here? If you are talking about some of the most stunning natural attractions of the West Coast, the answer, surprisingly, is yes. I’m impressed at how easy it is to get from Portland to Cannon Beach by bus, or from San Francisco to Muir Woods. Best deals: $4.25 to get from downtown L.A. to Malibu; $3 on two buses to Second Beach, site of one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The nation’s Christmas tree: President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant giant sequoia in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks as the nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. The decision came at the urging of local officials who held the first holiday program under the tree on Christmas day the year before. The tradition continues today with an annual holiday “Trek to the Tree,” which is decorated with a wreath placed by park rangers. That’s according to Atlas of the National Parks, by Jon Waterman.

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Mapping the canyons: 150 years ago, John Wesley Powell launched his wooden boat from Green River Station, in the Wyoming Territory, in the first scientific study and expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers. Powell and his men traveled for three months to the confluence of the Colorado and Virgin rivers in present-day Nevada. The team navigated treacherous whitewater and lost supplies—and emerged alive, despite news reports to the contrary.

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The big takeaway

Overheard at Nat Geo

Yum: There are some flavors you remember long after you return from travel. For Nat Geo’s Emma Safford, it was a home-cooked meal with a family in Puerto Varas, Chile. “I indulged in curanto, a traditional dish of shellfish, meat, and potatoes. I’ve never eaten so much!” Safford said. For Eric Rosen, a culinary memory formed after the main course in Denmark: “One of the desserts I ate at Geranium in Copenhagen—a miniature tree of dried prunes with a rose made of wood sorrel drizzled with pine syrup—was like biting into a Scandinavian autumn morning.” Danny Bellish can’t forget the two-euro gyros while honeymooning on Greece’s Naxos Island. “Imagine the juiciest chicken or lamb you’ve ever tasted, fire-roasted, laid on a pillowy pita, and topped with all the fixins—plus French fries!” Catch other behind-the-scenes Nat Geo stories on our podcast, Overheard. Subscribe here.

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Come back tomorrow for Victoria Jaggard on the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

One last glimpse

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Subtle: A shadow of a man holding a bicycle is cast on a wall near the Zambezi River. The 1996 photo was hugely popular when posted nearly two decades later on the old Nat Geo Tumblr account, called Found, where it drew more than 100,000 “notes.”

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . A note: The Atlas of the National Parks is Copyright © 2019 National Geographic Partners, LLC.