This summer I found what may very well be my new favorite company. They make products that have made my travel life and even my home life better on a day-to-day basis. They’re called Lake Livin’ but I’ve taken their products to the pool, to the bay, and even to places that don’t even have bodies of water!
It all started a few months ago when I dropped my phone in the toilet. AGAIN. Most of the phones I’ve owned have been lost due to some sort of water damage. I tried to dry it out and keep it overnight in rice, but since I had already cracked the screen last year while backpacking in Thessaloniki, there was no hope. I used this opportunity to get a phone upgrade. Later on, I went to Eddie Bauer and discovered that they had waterproof phone cases on clearance. I bought one, but it was impossible to use my phone while it was in this case. I’m so glad I found Lake Livin’, because their phone bag keeps my phone safe while still being able to call, text, take photos, and browse the internet!
But it takes more than one product to make a good company.
Ever since getting my new car, I’ve enjoyed exploring more places. The problem is I didn’t have a good place to set my GPS. I wanted to keep it next to the clock, but it slid off too much. The Lake Livin’ non-slip dash mat has been like having an extra set of hands in my car! I mostly use it to keep my gate opener in place because I have a hard time finding anywhere else, and also for my GPS when I use that.
Whether at home or away, the Lake Livin’ ringer tee has been pretty awesome to me. The first time I wore it, I actually got compliments about it from someone waiting in line behind me in the store! One of the places I recently wore my Lake Livin’ tee was on my trip last week. One morning I took pictures with it in the back of my hostel. Can anyone guess where I was?
With flights increasing in price every year, it’s becoming harder to afford to visit faraway destinations. However, there are so many great destinations which are only a couple of hours away on the plane and won’t break the bank. Here are some countries you need to visit for your next holiday that are only a short plane ride away.
One great country you need to visit for your next holiday is Portugal. It’s around three hours flight from London. It boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Millions of people go to the Algarve and stay in popular areas such as Vilamoura and Albufeira. You can enjoy delicious seafood here and take part in an array of different water sports. Also, a lot of people also visit Lisbon, which is the capital of Portugal and has some great culture and history as well as beautiful beaches. Here is more things you can do in the capital, including visiting the great shops, and restaurants.
Another top country you need to visit for your next holiday is Italy. It’s only two hours on the plane so it won’t break the bank to visit. It’s one of the most popular countries as it has so much to see and do. A lot of people visit Rome, the capital of Italy, to visit the Colosseum and the Vatican. Others visit gorgeous Venice where you can enjoy a gondola ride. It’s worth visiting if you love the cuisine. You can also enjoy a lovely coffee as there are so many different types such as a cappuccino and espresso. You can also visit the Italian lakes for classic Italian holidays. It’s a stunning area which has beautiful lake views.
An additional country you need to visit for your next holiday is France. It’s less than two hours plane ride away, or you can even get the Eurostar across to the capital in a couple of hours. Paris is the most popular area you can go to in France, it’s the city of love, and there’s so much sightseeing you can do. You should take photos next to the Eiffel Tower, and you should also go for a boat ride down the River Seine. Also, if you are a fan of Disney, you should to Disneyland Paris to enjoy some great rides and get some great photos with your favourite characters! Other amazing places in France to visit include Nice, Lille, and Provence.
Another amazing country you need to visit for your next holiday is Greece. It’s less than four hours plane ride away to get to mainland Greece. It’s full of stunning history and beautiful beaches. The food is also amazing, and you will love all the different meat you can try. You should also visit the islands such as Kos, Corfu, and Crete if you are looking for a great beach break. Here are some of the best things to do and see while you are Greece.
Don’t forget to add Spain to your list of top destinations to visit that are only a short plane ride away! You can visit the beautiful islands of Majorca, Menorca, and Ibiza for a great beach break. If you want a short weekend away, why not head to Barcelona for a fantastic long weekend.
This winter, when I didn’t have the money, the warmth, or even the desire to travel much, I went on more virtual adventures. I read lots of books, and I caught up on some great TV shows. I finally finished what I thought was the greatest cartoon of all time, Phineas and Ferb. I was actually pretty sad when I finished the final episode. Those boys and their pet platypus knew how to make the best of each day and circumstance, and were able to have so many adventures! I was able to turn some of the show’s situations into real-life experiences, such as going to Mount Rushmore, dressing up as Perry the Platypus, and of course, climbing up the Eiffel Tower! Would I ever find such an inspiring cartoon again?
I did. And I didn’t even have to look outside of Disney. It was called Gravity Falls.
I first heard about Gravity Falls before it came out in 2011. All I knew was that it was about boy/girl twins and took place in Oregon. I was moving away from Oregon at the time, and combining the fact that I did not want to miss Oregon with the fact that I would not have access to cable, I did not watch Gravity Falls at the time. I actually forgot about it for awhile, but it had a way of finding me. Just a month before the series finale, I got hooked and binge watched every episode. I was looking forward to the finale just as much as the long-term Gravity Falls fans.
In February I watched the series finale, and then tried to move on with life.
Then came Easter.
Before heading to church on Easter Sunday, I was inspired to write a travel article. This one would be about places around Oregon that had a Gravity Falls-style feel. Of course one of those places would be the Oregon Vortex, a house of mystery that even the producers admitted they visited and took inspiration from for the show’s “Mystery Shack”. In fact, if you type “Gravity Falls, Oregon” into Google Maps, it will take you to the Oregon Vortex! Wanting to make sure that little fun fact was correct before I incorporated it into my article, I plugged it in and watched it zoom into my neighboring town of Gold Hill. But then, I noticed something interesting off to the side of the screen.
A marker labeled “Bill Cipher Statue” had been placed there. At first I thought it was really cool. Since Bill Cipher is the main antagonist of Gravity Falls, maybe I should head over there after church to see it for myself, take some pictures, and add that into one of the destinations in my article. But as I read the reviews, it seemed like they were all joke reviews and no one had actually been there. I did some further research.
At the end of the series finale, the post credits were slightly different, including a brief filmstrip of (spoiler alert!) Bill Cipher after he had turned to stone in the episode. I didn’t read too much into it, as the grainy film made me think it was just really good animation. But I didn’t realize with the brief clip that it was indeed a lifelike statue, and that there were ciphers in this episode that got the internet buzzing with the belief that this statue of Bill Cipher was somewhere out there, and it was up to us fans to find it!
Other than a clue about it being “beyond the rusty gates”, the only hint in the show to its location was that there was a fern nearby. Ferns don’t grow just anywhere, so that was actually a better hint than the gate!
I actually searched for the Bill Cipher statue in this location three separate times. Although this location was on BLM land right across the street from the Oregon Vortex, the problem was that there was private property blocking off a direct path. That meant I had to drive several miles up the road, and then swing back around until I reached some logging paths. (It was encouraging to go from a fern-free Gold Hill to a hillside covered with ferns, though!) I got out and started hiking these trails, but never made it to the GPS coordinates of the alleged Bill Cipher statue.
The first time I had come alone and unprepared, and it was going to get dark soon.
The second time I went with my mom, and while hiking she made me realize that we should have bear spray and maybe a larger hiking group.
The third time my dad joined us, and we made it a little farther than I did the first time, but we realized that if there was a trail going to the statue area, it would have to wind for several miles on steep mountains. The trail we thought might lead to it was very overgrown, and we had a hard time imagining Hollywood crew lugging a stone statue this entire way.
So I gave up for awhile, but whenever the opportunity presented itself, I kept my eye out for something unusual in the woods. Like I went on the Bigfoot Trap hike a couple weeks ago, and instead of looking for an ape-like creature, I was looking for a triangular one among the ferns.
Last week, a global scavenger hunt for Bill Cipher officially began. It’s already gone through Russia, Japan, and parts of the US, so it’s pretty fun to follow as a virtual adventure. Unfortunately, the next clue has come to almost a standstill as it’s been stuck in Los Angeles for four days now, but I have a feeling that it will pick back up soon. I also have a feeling that the hunt will pass through Gold Hill, either as a clue or (hopefully) the final stage that leads to the statue. And I’ll be shocked and impressed if it’s in the same location I thought it was in this entire time! I guess I’ll just have to wait until a clue leads to my area, and then I’m ready to jump on it!
This morning I decided to crunch some numbers and find out how many different hostels I’ve stayed at in my lifetime.
Twenty two. And then I made a booking for my twenty-third hostel this morning.
Because I hear a lot about the benefits of a Hostelling International membership, I wondered how much money I could have saved in my past twenty-two hostel visits if I had the membership.
Way less than twenty two.
Out of the twenty two hostels I have stayed at, only two of them were HI (Hostelling International) hostels. The hostel I booked today also happens to be HI. Hostelling International memberships cost $18, but can result in discounts on stays. There are plenty of reasons I have chosen independent hostels over HI hostels most of the time:
-There are way more independent hostels than HI hostels. Hostels are rare in the United States and any rural area. HI tends to have hostels in most big cities, but even then they’ve let lots of cities slip through the cracks. My first hostel trip was to Nashville, and it seems like Hostelling International doesn’t even know that the entire South exists!
-Other hostels have been better located. Last year I was making a hostel reservation during my trip to Europe and thought I found a pretty good HI hostel in Florence. However, when I looked up more information on it, I realized the hostel was outside of the city! Since my goal was to explore the city on foot, this was not an option.
-Other hostels have been cheaper. Most HI hostels accept non-HI members, but add on an extra fee. Even without this added cost, I’ve found independent hostels in the same area that are a comparable price or possibly less expensive.
-HI hostels are not necessarily a quality guarantee. There are a few requirements for HI hostels to be part of this network. However, these are requirements that most travelers have come to expect from a hostel, so most hostels will offer the same features anyway. And if there’s any questions, the hostel website and review sites can give more than enough insight.
So why did I ever stay in HI hostels? Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on them. I enjoyed the time I stayed in both of them:
The main reason I stayed one night at HI Chicago was because it was the closest hostel to the bus station that had availability during the busy Labor Day weekend! Since I was moving at the time, I had a lot of luggage to drag with me, so walking to my hostel was not an option, and I didn’t want to spend too much on cab fare. This is actually a very centrally located place to stay, and the jumbo-size hostel had some nice amenities. Since I only stayed one night, the extra charge didn’t set me back too much, and definitely not enough to justify buying a membership.
The main reason I stayed one night at HI Sacramento is because it really is the only hostel in California’s capital! I reserved a private room since I was using this as an opportunity to introduce my mom to hostelling. Our room was probably around the same price as a cheap motel in the same city, but we did have some features here that we may of not otherwise been able to enjoy- such as free breakfast or staying in a historic mansion! The parking fee plus the non-member fee did add to the cost, but again, staying only one night was not enough the justify the cost of being a member.
Why I’m Staying in an HI Hostel on my Upcoming Trip
I reserved a HI hostel because it was the only hostel in the city that provided parking, which is incredibly important for a road trip! It was also in a good part of town, unlike others that may have been cheaper (or not). And because it’s located on a National Park Site, they state that they aren’t allowed to charge an extra fee to non-members. So even though I’m staying more than one night, an HI membership wouldn’t even save me a penny!
I’m not against Hostelling International, and it’s possible that I may even get a membership one day if it ends up being worthwhile. But for now, I’ll enjoy being an independent traveler staying at hostels independently!
Do you think an HI membership would be worth the cost? Have you ever been an HI member?
In light of recent events, I’m going to postpone my original posting plans and spend today talking about Nice, France.
On this day exactly one year ago, I was spending my final day in the United States before embarking on a three-month journey which I’ve come to refer to as my Mediterranean Trek. My first destination actually was Paris, France, which made the attacks late last year feel more personal and devastating. After Paris, I spent a few weeks in three cities in Spain before returning to France, this time through the southern part and to Nice.
Nice is a beautiful city with exquisite art, architecture, and natural beauty. Like Paris, they also have a Notre Dame Cathedral near the center of the city, which I loved seeing lit up at night. I even attended an evening mass there. (Though since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what they were saying!)
Much of Nice’s art was related to other famous pieces around the world. I found decorated architecture that was made by Gustave Eiffel himself! I also found replicas of statues outside of France, such as Michelangelo’s David and The Statue of Liberty. Of course there was some completely unique art with unique history in Nice as well.
Old Town is a big tourist attraction to visit, but I went to an even older town and headed to the northern part of Nice, where I ended up walking along some ancient ruins!
But the best reason to visit Nice is for the beach lining the Promenade des Anglais. While the beach itself isn’t very comfortable for sunbathing (it’s made of chunks of rock instead of sand), the Mediterranean Sea is so blue and perfect for swimming in! And while it is a strenuous hike, going to the top of the hill to overlook the city is definitely worth it!
I missed Bastille Day in France by just a couple of days, but I did get to attend a French event that is known around the world. I wrote an article for TravelingMom with tips based on my experience witnessing the final stage of Le Tour de France. I sent it in for publication before news of the most recent attack broke out, but I do hope that Le Tour enthusiasts are kept safe and that it doesn’t deter anyone from watching the race in person. I think one of the best things we can do after an attack is show that we are not afraid, and getting involved in Le Tour de France is just one way to do it! Click here to read my tips for watching the final stage of Le Tour de France in person.
And you’ve also seen pictures of me that look like this:
The obvious similarity between these two photos is that I have awesome selfie skills, but do you see the big difference? Yep, I’m a part-time glasses wearer!
When you see a picture of me not wearing glasses, it isn’t because I’m wearing contacts. I’m nearsighted so I need to wear my lenses for activities like driving, but the rest of the time my vision is good enough that prescription eyeglasses are optional, depending on whether I want to be able to make out the details in my sightseeing. I’ve actually never worn contacts; glasses seem so much more traveler-friendly!
Contacts require a lot of equipment: several spare lenses depending on how long your trip is, plus contact solution in a bottle that is probably too big to qualify for a carry-on liquid! They also take time to put on that could be spent enjoying travel. I really like how glasses can just be carried around in their lightweight case and thrown on as needed. Unfortunately, there are downsides to traveling with glasses too. One is a style issue. Your glasses will stand out too much if they don’t match the style of the clothes you’re wearing! I’m also afraid of losing or breaking them. My health insurance only covers one new pair of glasses every few years, which allows no leeway for a spare. That’s what led me to search for cheap glasses online.
I found a solution to my vision problems with GlassesShop! Well, I guess my optometrist was the one that found the solution, but I just took the prescription I was given at the doctor’s office and used it to order a second pair of glasses online. The folks at GlassesShop offer kind customer service, a wide variety of frames to choose from, lenses for both customized prescriptions and sunglasses, and discounts! (Keep reading for a free coupon code!) Because these glasses ship from China, there’s not as quick of a turnaround as you can expect from your neighborhood optometrist, but that’s a small price to pay for such a big savings! The retro-looking cateye glasses I chose arrived recently, and I’ve already gotten so much use out of them!
My cousin got married in June, which meant a lot of miles and hours driving along the I-5 to get to Southern California and back. I tried my GlassesShop glasses when it was my turn to drive, and they worked great. I love how I can now alternate my glasses to best match my dress. I may even end up getting another pair from GlassesShop because they’re so cheap! And I’ll let you in on a little secret to make them even cheaper: use the coupon code GSHOT50 at checkout to receive 50% off eyeglasses or sunglasses with free lenses (sales frames excluded).
Do you wear glasses? Even if you only wear sunglasses, tell me how you travel with them!
Please note that I was provided with a free pair of glasses for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made. The above information is my honest opinion about my new glasses.
New York City vacations are amazing experiences. But why have the same experience as everyone else? Don’t let your vacation be a carbon copy of someone else’s. Take the time to plan out a unique vacation that will make you feel like a real New Yorker.
Research its secret attractions
When people plan a visit to New York City, they usually place some pretty predictable things on their itinerary. They plan to go to the top of the Empire State Building (or the Rockefeller Building so they can see the Empire State). They put a visit to Liberty Island or Ellis Island on the list. They’ll write down “walk along Brooklyn Bridge” and “stroll through Central Park”.
Now, I’m not saying that you should avoid all of those things. After all, most New Yorkers have themselves done these things several times. And, having done them all myself, I can attest to the fact that they are awesome experiences. But if you want to really get into the city, then you should take a look at some of its more secret attractions. Put some of those on your to-do list instead!
Rent a place for your vacation
When people start booking vacations, they usually look immediately to hotel rooms. After all, hotels are one of the best things about a vacation, right? They’re one of the things that really let you break away from your everyday reality.
But if you want to feel like a true New Yorker, you should get a taste of what it’s like to actually live there. And that means renting a place out during your stay. This gives you town own space, away from other hotel guests. It also gives you your own kitchen, which will give you a chance to cook your own meals! Have a search for your vacation rentals in New York City.
Strange but true: a lot of people see taking a cab everywhere they go on vacation as a natural part of the vacation. It’s considered a “treat” to themselves; being driven around privately to whatever destination they need to get to.
It’s nice, for sure. But not only is it expensive; you’re also missing out on one of the quintessential New York City experiences. When you’re riding on the city’s subway system – the Metro – you get to experience so much of what makes the city unique. All you have to do is search for “New York City subway” on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. Loads of unique characters come to the subway to do various performances pieces. Trust me: people-watching on the Metro is a fascinating experience!
One of the best things to do in New York City is to check out its underground comedy scene. These performances tend to be grittier and more down-to-Earth than that of the bigger names you can see at Madison Square Garden. These comedy clubs are a great way to meet people if you’re feeling in a social mood.
Well, reading this collab post certainly makes me want to go back to New York City- it’s been over nine years since I went on a class trip there! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last couple of collaborative posts… I’ll be back later this week with some new content!
The US is a vast and varied country. There is a lot to see and do. A lot of people that live here love to camp and explore the great outdoors. There are a lot more national parks and reserves to see than you might think.
So if you are planning a hiking trip, where are the best places to visit? It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you are coming from abroad. Locals have friends and family recommendations that they can go on. So if you are coming from abroad, I have got some advice for you. First of all, check out a page like https://www.trails.com/toptrails.aspx. It is a great place to start. It will narrow down your search of the areas you want to be in and the distances that you want to travel. Remember if you are coming from abroad, you need to have the necessary visas in place as you plan your trip. You will most likely need an ESTA visa for the time you are on vacation. You could look at https://www.official-esta.com/our-services for any questions that you might have. But anyway, here are a few of my ideas to help get you started on deciding where to go.
I think one of the most obvious hiking trails that are known worldwide is the Grand Canyon. If you have never been in your life, it needs to be on your bucket list! There is so much to explore, and it is a stunning area of the world. It is a mile deep which is pretty epic to hike in. You can also hike around the top of it, too.
Zion National Park, Utah
There are a few awesome national parks in Utah. One of the best has got to be Zion National Park in southern Utah. There is a river that runs through it which is great if you feel the need to cool off a little. The river leads to an area called Emerald Pools that is full of waterfalls. It is a beautiful area to hike.
Yosemite National Park, California
This national park is set in the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the park most known for its giant, and I mean giant, Sequoia trees. The ancient trees stand proud, and it is pretty epic that you can close to such historical lifeforms. It isn’t too far from Sacramento and San Francisco in California. So if you do want to experience some of the USA’s great shopping and burgers, you can while you are close by!
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
This park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is one of the greatest national parks on the east coast. The forests are lush, and it is full of amazing flowers all year long. There are of course streams and rivers that follow along the hiking trail. It is one of the prettiest national parks that you could visit.
Hope you enjoyed this collaborate post! While I have only seen a couple of the parks listed above, stay tuned as I return to some of my favorite national parks and visit new ones, too!
As both an avid traveler and the editor of a magazine for teen girls, I do have to be sensitive to the fact that teens are pretty limited when it comes to travel options. Even though I think my teen years involved more travel than most, I couldn’t do much more than family vacations, school travel, and youth group-sponsored trips. Designing my own adventures was basically impossible. However, I still want to encourage wanderlust and give a sense of adventure to the girls I write and edit for.
About two years ago, I attempted to start a travel section in the magazine called “Girlz on the Go”, which would have a feature of an interesting place and other articles containing travel tips. Unfortunately, it did not receive any positive response. Looking back, it wasn’t very realistic of me to suggest these things to teens and preteens. But I have since learned from my mistakes!
With the summer issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine that released today, I tried something a bit different. Instead of encouraging travel that probably isn’t attainable to the readers, I rounded up ways to make an adventure out of whatever they’re doing this summer. Since even those of us who are no longer teens can often feel “stuck” when it comes to travel dreams, I’d like to offer some of what is in the magazine here too.
-I’ve suggested it before, but attending church is something that can be done for free just about anywhere in the world! Even if you don’t regularly go to church, I’d encourage you to visit and get a new grasp of local culture where you travel, or even a different perspective of your hometown! Author Kristen Hogrefe explains four benefits of this practice in the issue.
-One of my favorite reasons to travel is that it helps me discover more about myself. Another way to learn more about ourselves is through counseling. Whether it’s for mental health management, planning out achievement potential, or something else, we could all benefit from adventures through counseling. The lovely Adelee Russell writes about her experience and gives tips on how to handle an adventure that can initially seem as scary as new travel!
-When I can’t travel, I still like to learn about culture! I connected with two international Girlz 4 Christ readers so that they could share their life with all the other girls around the world. One lives in Rome, and I actually attended her church when I was there last September, so it was a nice walk down memory lane for me. The other is from Australia, an area where I haven’t even come close to, but I want to go now more than ever!
-Another exciting interview I had the privilege of conducting was with John Luke and Mary Kate Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. They share tidbits of their life between Louisiana and Virginia. And since the theme of the interview was accomplishing goals, the advice they give can definitely apply to the goal of travel!
-Emily Joy shared how she connects with people from all over the world through her social media ministry, Encourage All. Just looking at her Instagram photos was inspiring enough!
-The more I travel, the more I consider how I can help the people in need around me. While voluntourism is a controversial topic, I definitely got some at-home training by watching Poverty, Inc.
-One of the fashion articles is actually just about how I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to Maui. I share how to shop on a budget, how to effectively pack, and how to make homemade, natural beauty treatments.
-When I’m not traveling, I take mental vacations largely by reading books. Scattered throughout the current issue are eight suggestions for your next “bookation”. These include books by Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family, a book by amputee Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, and even a book giveaway from Kimberly Rae!
-And because travel isn’t always smooth sailing, (in fact, life itself is rarely problem-free) Adelee Russell wrote another article about how to deal with those awkward and embarrassing moments.
The following is something I wrote as a sidebar to an article that will appear in the Summer 2016 issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, titled “Summer Shopping”. Since the article itself will have even more tips for shopping and packing for your travels, I suggest getting a free subscription by clicking here!
I’ve impressed many TSA agents with the way I pack. Most of the time, I manage to bring everything I need in just my carry-on luggage, including when I spent three months backpacking Mediterranean Europe last summer! I’d like to pass on a few of my pro tips with you.
-If you’re flying, look up the exact carry-on limits for your airline and country. While all have size restrictions, there may or may not also be a weight limit.
-Because you can only carry on liquids in 3.1 oz. containers that fit in a one-quart bag, try to find solid alternatives for your liquid toiletries. There are soap bars, deodorant bars, lotion bars, and even shampoo bars! If you end up needing to bring a lot of liquid product, pack it in your checked luggage.
-Keep your clothing compact and wrinkle-free by rolling each item up.
-Stash your undergarments in baggies. This will help keep your suitcase organized and could save you some embarrassment if a TSA agent has to search your belongings.
-Wear your bulkiest clothing on your flight days to save more suitcase space.
-Always remember to stay hydrated, especially while traveling! You’re allowed to bring an empty water bottle through TSA security, and then after the checkpoint there will be plenty of drinking fountains to fill up at.
-Most importantly, never pack more than you can carry!