Israel, saving money, travel tips

Time for Another Travel Savings Challenge!

Several years ago, you followed along as I recorded my savings leading up to a trip to The British Isles followed by a cruise to The Bahamas. Now, it’s been two years since I’ve been outside of North America. I just got confirmation that I’ll be heading to a new country very soon, so it’s time to start another savings challenge!

But first, let me tell you a little bit about the trip I’m going to take. It’s not the kind of trip I normally go on. In fact, it’s different from any other trip I’ve ever been on or will ever take in my lifetime! In February, I applied to Passages, a leadership program that takes college students to Israel. I had heard about Passages years ago, but did not fulfill the requirement of being a college student at the time. This year, I’m back in college and just barely squeaked by with the upper age limit, so it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

Photo by Haley Black on

One of the greatest parts about Passages is that the trip is heavily subsidized. Israel is an expensive country, and while I’ve always wanted to go there, I didn’t know how I could do it on my backpacker budget. However, there are still associated fees, but the cost of my trip should come in under $2000. (I normally wouldn’t pay this much for a 9-day trip, but the retail value would be over $5000!)

I got my acceptance letter on Friday, March 25th, with the stipulation that I had to send in my program and administrative fees by April 1st. That only gave me one week to earn and save that money! So instead of giving you monthly updates, I will be giving you weekly updates on how my savings challenge is going. Even after the April 1st deadline, I will still be saving money for my pre-trip expenses and Israel lunch money.

Here are a few ways I plan to enact my savings challenge:

  • Because a lot of my 2021 salary was socked into retirement funds, the majority of my trip expenses can be paid with my tax return.
  • I set up a Facebook fundraiser so those who want to support this mission financially can do so.
  • I switched to a high-yield savings account (HYSA) where I get a weekly payout. Even though that’s usually under $2, every dollar counts!
  • I’ll likely do some no-spend challenges, where I set a length of time where I can only spend on necessary bills and travel expenses. Instead, I’ll walk around, eat out of my pantry, and find ways to entertain myself that don’t cost a dime.
  • When I do have to spend, I’ll look for ways to save, such as promo codes, coupons, and price comparisons. (Example: I need to get a filling before the trip, but I’m going to drive the 30 miles to the Mexican border to get it done there instead of paying extra for a dentist in California.)
  • I’m not doing any freelancing right now due to work, school, and now the added responsibility of the pre-trip educational course, but if a doable opportunity comes up, that money can go toward the trip.
  • There’s sure to be more… but you’ll have to read my weekly updates to find out what they are?

What’s your best tip for how to pay for a big trip on short notice?

travel tips

Camping Tips To Keep You Safe In The Wilderness

Camping is a great way to get back to nature and enjoy the outdoors. However, it’s important to remember that when you’re camping in the wilderness, you’re completely exposed to the elements. If you’re not prepared, you could easily find yourself in danger. The following blog will discuss some tips for staying safe while camping in the wilderness!

Photo by Nathan Moore from Pexels

1) Don’t Venture Too Far From Your Campsite

One of the most important things to remember when camping in the wilderness is to not venture too far from your campsite. Once you’re more than a few hundred yards from your tent, it can be very easy to get lost. If you stick to trails and well-marked areas, you’ll be much less likely to get lost and end up in danger.

If you do find yourself getting lost, don’t panic! Stay calm and try to backtrack your steps. If you can’t find your way back to your campsite, find a high point and look for any landmarks that can help you orient yourself. Once you have a general idea of where you are, you can start heading in the right direction.

2) Be Careful With Fire

Another hazard to be aware of when camping in the wilderness is fire. If you’re not careful, a small campfire can quickly get out of control and destroy acres of forest. When building a fire, make sure to clear away any leaves and twigs that could catch fire easily. Keep your fire small and contained, and never leave it unattended.

If you find yourself in an area that’s on fire, don’t try to outrun the flames! Instead, look for a body of water such as a lake or river to take refuge in. The water will help protect you from the heat and flames.

3) Pack The Right Gear

Another essential tip for camping in the wilderness is to make sure you’re packing the right gear. Depending on the area you’re camping in, you might need special equipment such as a bear horn or snake bite kit. If you’re unsure of what to bring, it’s always best to consult with a local ranger or visit before heading out into the wilderness.

In general, it’s a good idea to pack plenty of food and water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, and warm clothing. By being prepared, you can help reduce the risk of running into trouble while camping in the wilderness.

4) Be Aware Of Your Surroundings

One of the best ways to stay safe while camping in the wilderness is to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Pay attention to the animals and plants around you, and look for any potential hazards. If you see something that doesn’t look right, trust your gut and avoid it.

It’s also important to make noise while you’re hiking through the woods. This will help scare away any wildlife that might be lurking nearby. And if you do come across an animal, never approach it! Give them plenty of space and wait for them to move along before continuing on your way.

5) Know Your Limits

It’s essential to know your limits when camping in the wilderness. If you’re not an experienced camper, it’s best to stick to well-traveled trails and areas that are easy to get to. And if you’re planning on hiking through rough terrain, make sure you’re physically prepared for the challenge. It’s always better to err on the side of caution than to put yourself in a dangerous situation.

6) Have A Plan

Before heading out into the wilderness, it’s essential to have a plan. You should know where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, and what you’ll need to bring with you. By having a plan, you can help reduce the risk of getting lost or running into trouble while camping in the wilderness.

If something does go wrong while you’re camping, make sure to let someone know where you are and when you expect to be back. That way, if you don’t return on time, they can send help.

7) Be Prepared For Weather Changes

The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to be prepared for changes while you’re camping in the wilderness. Bring extra clothing and supplies in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. And if you get stranded due to bad weather, make sure to stay warm and dry until help arrives.

In conclusion, following these tips can help you stay safe while camping in the wilderness. By being aware of the hazards and being prepared, you can reduce the risk of running into trouble. And if something does go wrong, don’t hesitate to call for help. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can ensure that your next camping trip is a safe and enjoyable one.

travel tips

Thirty-Three Nifty United States

Did you have to learn the names of all 50 states when you were a kid? In my elementary school, one of our favorite songs was “Fifty Nifty”, where we sang all the states in alphabetical order. As an adult, I’ve met other adults from other schools who also still know “Fifty Nifty” by heart. While I’m not going to sing it to you, I am going to list all of the states from my home country and tell you a bit about which ones I’ve been to.

Alabama- Haven’t been there yet.

Alaska- I’d love to, but it’s difficult to get there.

Arizona- I don’t remember my first time in Arizona because I was a baby. Apparently, I went to the Grand Canyon then, but visiting again when I was 29 was much more memorable. Other than Mexico, it’s the closest out-of-state destination from where I currently live, so I’ve also been just to see random roadside attractions.

Arkansas- I took a “get to know you” trip with two coworkers when I worked in Kansas City. We decided on Northwest Arkansas because it was somewhat nearby, yet none of us had been there before. I was pleasantly surprised that “The Natural State” lives up to its name.

California- I currently live here! I also lived here between the ages of one and three. And because I have lots of relatives in this state, and California itself is a good vacation destination, I’ve spent a lot of time throughout my life in this state.

Colorado- Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of living there, particularly in Colorado Springs. I visited a couple times as an adult to places like Boulder, Denver, and Estes Park, but in 2020, I got to temporarily live my dream by spending a month in the Springs. 

Connecticut- Nope, haven’t been there.

Delaware- During my high school’s East Coast trip, I rode a bus through a small part of Delaware while going between DC and Philadelphia. I don’t even know if that should count. What do you think?

Florida- Every kid’s dream: I got to go to Walt Disney World. In fact, I went to Walt Disney World four times before taking a Florida trip to someplace other than Disney. As it turns out, Fort Lauderdale is a great place to kick off a cruise vacation.

Georgia- I’ve made plans, but none of them have stuck yet.

Hawaii- I went to Oahu when I was nine and Maui when I was twenty-eight. I think I preferred Maui, just because it wasn’t as much about city life as Honolulu was. Each day, I took a trip to a different part of the island that provided diverse landscape.

Idaho- I’ve made the joke that Idaho doesn’t exist. However, for a nonexistent state, I’ve been there a few times, mostly on choir tours or other road trips. However, I’ve seen very few potatoes there.

Illinois- My experience with Illinois has mostly been just driving through. However, on my last drive through Illinois, I spent a jam-packed day in Chicago, doing everything from seeing my reflection in the Cloudgate Bean to standing on the see-through 103rd-floor ledge of the Willis Tower.

Indiana- Illinois was often paired with Indiana for driving through. So I’ve mostly made roadside attraction stops in this state, such as the park where Johnny Appleseed was buried.

Iowa- Because I’ve lived in both Nebraska and Missouri, Iowa has made it to my list. The two most memorable parts of Iowa were the amusement park Adventureland and the sculpture park in downtown Des Moines.

Kansas- Even though I lived on the Missouri side of Kansas City, I had to drive through Kansas state to get just about anywhere. We always cheered whenever we crossed back into Missouri. It’s not too exciting of a place, and the time I crossed the entire state in one day was probably the most exhausting day of my life.

Kentucky- I only barely crossed the Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky border, but I had a great experience at the Creation Museum. Although that was my main destination, I also had fun horseback riding and sleeping in a bank vault!

Louisiana- Haven’t been there.

Maine- Nope, not yet.

Maryland- I can’t tell you much about my time in Maryland, because it was the same bus trip that brought me through Delaware. We did stop at this big rest area, though.

Massachusetts- It’s on my list of places to go.

Michigan- Despite having several housemates from Michigan, none took me to their home state.

Minnesota- I went out here three times for work trips when I lived in Nebraska. Once was just passing through on the way to Wisconsin, but the other two times were for recruiting events at Crown College.

Mississippi- No, but for some reason it was important I learned to spell it.

Missouri- My first time in Missouri was for a weekend conference. Somehow, we made it to Kansas City without ever touching Kansas state. I never would have guessed that I was going to move to Kansas City, Missouri nine years later. During my time living there, I saw a lot more of the state, but it was short-lived as I decided to move after only four months.

Montana- I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park. My sister has lived in Montana for years, and someday I need to visit her there.

Nebraska- I lived in Fremont for two years while interning, and later media managing, at my first year-round camp job. The first year, I was without a car, so my travel was limited to the mercy of coworkers willing to drive. I saw quite a bit of Omaha and a few other spots around the state, though.

Nevada- I’ve been to Reno a few times, and Las Vegas once (or twice if you count when I was two years old). But mostly, my time in Nevada has been just driving through dry, barren landscape. 

New Hampshire- I haven’t seen much of New England, including New Hampshire.

New Jersey- When my 10th grade class visited New York City, we stayed in New Jersey. Not much to recall about the state itself other than a standard hotel room and lots of traffic.

New Mexico- When I moved back west after my short-lived time in Missouri, I drove through New Mexico via Route 66. Okay, it was actually Route 40, but I did pull off to see several Route 66 attractions. 

New York- My school took a trip to New York City in 10th grade. That was a whirlwind of sightseeing. Quite a few years later, I rode a bus to Niagara Falls with a transfer in Buffalo. I think I enjoyed my time in Niagara Falls better, but it may be because I didn’t get to plan my own Manhattan schedule.

North Carolina- I’ve applied for a few jobs here, but never got to the point of visiting.

North Dakota- Nope. 

Ohio- I moved to Ohio sight unseen. To this day, I make fun of how terrible a place Ohio is, but there were a few things I liked about the state, especially interacting with the Amish in Holmes County. This was also the first time I worked at an outdoor education camp, which really shaped what I’m doing career-wise today.

Oklahoma- I’ve been twice within four months of each other. The first was an introductory trip with my new coworkers, where we stayed at an old west retreat center and played at The Gathering Place. The second time was when I was leaving that job, but because I was only driving across the panhandle in the snow, I didn’t do much sightseeing at that time.

Oregon- I’ve spent more time here than any other state or country. I was born here, I went to school here from preschool through community college (fun fact: my preschool and my college were located just three blocks away from each other, but they didn’t exist at the same time), and of course, I enjoyed all kinds of road trips through the scenic landscape. I always enjoyed driving down the coast, but there was plenty to do inland as well. 

Pennsylvania- Although I haven’t been able to spend the night in this state, I’ve seen quite a decent portion of it. My 10th-grade class drove through here between DC and New York and spent a day in Philadelphia. I also rode a bus along Lake Erie.

Rhode Island- Nope. It’s not even an island.

South Carolina- I haven’t been to the Carolinas.

South Dakota- This state is famous for Mount Rushmore, which is where I went my first time to this state. A short time later, I was back in South Dakota for a music festival. This was all during the first month of living in Nebraska, so I thought I’d visit South Dakota a lot while living there. However, I never visited again.

Tennessee- I took a trip to Nashville (and a couple surrounding towns) and Martin. This was the first place I ever stayed in a hostel, and now, I can hardly remember how I traveled without hostels!

Texas- I stopped in Amarillo overnight. I bought spray paint, ate Texas BBQ, and the next morning, I legally vandalized Cadillac Ranch. I was surprised to learn that spray paint doesn’t work too well in below-freezing temperatures. Yes, in Texas, which I always pictured as a giant hot desert, there was snow on the ground and temps in the twenties!

Utah- What a salty place! I could tell when I crossed the border between Nevada and Utah because the landscape went from brown mountains to white salt flats. I camped on the Salt Lake and floated with the brine shrimp. The next day, I went into the city and saw Temple Square.

Vermont- I haven’t seen it.

Virginia- My 10th grade class spent some time in Alexandria. It was mostly because it was cheaper to stay here than in DC, but we did some tourist things in Virginia as well, including a downtown ghost tour, Arlington, and Mount Vernon.

Washington- I visited the Oregon border town of Vancouver (not Canada) when I had relatives living there. Later, this was the scene for the first out-of-state trip I took without family, when I was twelve and went on my first choir tour. One of our tour stops was Seattle, which is still a city dear to my heart.

West Virginia- I’ve been to every state surrounding West Virginia, but not West Virginia itself.

Wisconsin- I went to two different camp conferences in two consecutive years, both in early March. One was in Lake Geneva, and I had to borrow shorts because it was so warm. The other was in the North Woods, which was so freezing and deep in snow that I walked on the solid lake!

Wyoming- I’ve been to Yellowstone, and this was also a state I visited twice while moving cross-country (one move in either direction).

As a bonus, I’ve also been to Washington, DC. As mentioned in conjunction with other states, this was part of my 10th grade East Coast school trip. Ever since then, I wanted to go back and spend more time on my own with the things that would interest me.

There you have it. I’d like to start working on getting to the other seventeen states on this list, because it would be really nifty if I could get to fifty!

camp, hike

Night Hikes: 5 Fun Activities to Try

This is an article I wrote that was recently published in Camp Business magazine that has gained popularity there. Although written for camp professionals, any adventurer can try these fun activities!

Night hikes are pretty common for stargazing, but what if it’s a cloudy night? Don’t worry—there’s plenty to do in any kind of weather—as long as it’s dark!

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Aitormmfoto

First, here are some night-hike rules:

  1. No flashlights or lights of any source are to be used. While a light helps to see the small area that it illuminates, allowing our eyes to adjust to the minimal lighting in our surroundings actually allows us to see more of what’s around us. (If needed, the hike leader can bring a small red light.)
  2. Keep quiet. Night-hike leaders can decide how “quiet” they want campers to be, but the quieter they are, the more they will hear in nature.
  3. Listen carefully. Not only will hearing instructions help to stay safe on the trail, but those who are not listening may miss out on some cool information and activities!
  4. Stay on the trails. Of course you’ll choose a trail that’s not near a cliff for safety’s sake. A fairly flat trail with minimal holes or rocks works best. For hikers with concerns about running into predators, reassure them that if you stay on the trail and all together, these things won’t want to bother the group.

Deer Ears

Materials: everyone needs their own set of hands and ears

Talk about all of the nocturnal creatures and crepuscular creatures (that means animals that are most active at twilight) the group can think of. Whether bats, coyotes, deer, or rabbits, many of these animals have something in common: their ears! Their ears are big so they can hear better, which compensates for their reduced ability to see at night. Their ears also often can move independently. That means they can focus their ears the same way to hear better in that direction, or they can point them in opposite directions to hear more of their entire surroundings.

Create your own “deer ears” by shaping your hands around your human ears. Test the hike participants’ hearing by walking around them while saying nursery rhymes and see if they can tell what you’re saying. Change one or two of the words and see if they notice.

Colorblind Test

Materials: small squares of colored paper

Many people are surprised at the realization that they are colorblind in the dark. This is a good opportunity to talk about two of the photoreceptors in our eyes: rods and cones. Rods help us see in low-light situations, making them important for night hikes. And cones help us see color. This experiment will help hikers tell if their cones are being used at all during the night hike.

Give each hiker a small piece of colored paper. Ask them to guess what color they think it is, and then put it in a pocket or safe place so that they don’t litter on the trail. When they return to camp, they can take their paper out in the light and see if they guessed the color correctly.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / IgorKovalchuk

Eyepatch Story

Materials: lighter, optional candle

Another experiment to show how night vision can be affected starts off with acting like pirates—no “aargs” or “ahoys” necessary! Have every hiker make an “eyepatch” with one of their hands covering the eye of their choice. With their uncovered eye, they will look at the small flame while you tell a story like this:

“Long ago, when pirates ruled the seven seas, there was one pirate captain who liked to pillage and loot just as much as the rest of them. But he noticed a problem. The crew on his ship liked to do their raids at night, because the townsfolk were often asleep and it was easier to get away. Even when they fought enemy pirates, they preferred nighttime because they had developed a strong sense of night vision … at least until the cannons went off. Whenever a cannonball was launched, a bright light from the cannon flashed and temporarily blinded every pirate who saw the light. While they waited for their eyes to readjust to the darkness, they were susceptible to enemy takeover. But this was a smart pirate captain; he probably went to (insert your camp/outdoor education program name here) when he was a kid, where he learned a few things about night vision. So even though he had two perfectly-working eyes, he decided to wear an eyepatch over one of his eyes, night and day. That eye under the eyepatch became well-adjusted to the darkness. Whenever he saw a cannon flash during a night raid, instead of being blinded, he simply switched his eyepatch over to his other eye. Then the eye that was still adjusted to the darkness could still see well, and he could overtake his enemies. Now, wait until I extinguish this flame, but when I do, you’re going to move your eyepatch to your other eye and look around. You can keep switching from eye to eye to see what a difference this small flame made on your night vision.”


Materials: Wintergreen Lifesavers

If you’re in a location and season where you can observe fireflies or glow worms, enjoy this bioluminescent part of a night hike. Even if you can’t experience naturally occurring bioluminescence, you can always have fun with triboluminescence!

Using Wintergreen Lifesavers, instruct hikers to get in groups of two or three and have everyone take turns crunching one of the mints with their mouth open. (If anyone has braces or other concerns about their teeth, they can get in a larger group of people and still suck on the mint if appropriate.) Hikers should see sparks coming from their partners’ mouths. While not fully understood by scientists, this triboluminescence experiment will nevertheless be the highlight of the hikers’ night!

Reflection Time

Materials: None

If you are blessed with a clear night sky, it’s nice to take a moment to look at the stars. Ideally, instructors should be able to point out one or two constellations, or at least explain what phase the moon is in. Yet nothing beats enjoying this special moment, even if it involves looking at a cloudy sky or off into the distant city lights.

Find a hill or clearing where hikers can spread out. Ask them to not talk to anyone else for at least two minutes, so that they can listen to and absorb the nature around them and reflect on their time at camp. For Christian camps, this can be a sacred time of prayer.


Jessica Lippe is the program manager at Pine Valley Bible Camp and the author of The Ultimate Survival Guide to Working at Camp. Visit her website at

travel tips

First Thrills at The Emperor: SeaWorld San Diego’s Brand-New Coaster

I am a thrill ride junkie. The week I turned eight, my family went on our first trip to Walt Disney World. In the Tower of Terror picture that you can see as you exit through the gift shop, everyone else in the elevator (all significantly older than me) looked terrified. My dad and I were the only ones laughing. The week of my thirteenth birthday, I rode it thirteen times. This trend continued when I celebrated my most recent birthday last May with a trip to Disney’s California Adventure. I rode their version of Tower of Terror, now retrofitted to be Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, three times to celebrate my three decades of living.

But the birthday celebrations didn’t end there. I gave myself a really cool birthday gift: an annual pass to SeaWorld. I live less than an hour up the road from SeaWorld, so I was excited to use this pass to the max for unlimited entries. SeaWorld San Diego has several thrill rides, plus all the rescued animal exhibits that they’re famous for. The annual pass is a great deal even for budget travelers because it pays for itself on the second or third visit. I chose to buy the Silver Pass, which includes extra perks such as free parking, monthly freebie gifts, and in-park discounts.

Because I’ve used my pass dozens of times, I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth from it. But it got even better.

This past week, I was invited to the opening reception of SeaWorld’s newest roller coaster. The Emperor, named after the penguin, was amazing! It started out by loading in the large, roomy coaster car. Then the floor dropped out beneath us and we steadily glided up a big incline. That was a great opportunity for fantastic views of San Diego. When we got to the top, we could tell we were about to go down an incredibly steep incline. But just as we started to drop, we stopped. The hang was only for a few seconds, but it was the perfect amount to build anticipation while viewing the layout of SeaWorld, Mission Bay, and the Pacific off in the distance. Then it was time for the thrills!

This is the second coaster at SeaWorld San Diego that goes upside-down. The other, Electric Eel, had definitely been my favorite ride up to this point, but there’s a good chance that Emperor will take over! I didn’t count how many loop-de-loops we made, because we were going at such high speeds, there wasn’t much of a chance to think.

Pretty soon it was over. I grabbed a churro and from the nearby food cart was ready to ride again! (No, I’ve never gotten sick from roller coasters.)

While being one of the first to ride Emperor was fun, I did more during my time at SeaWorld. I also rode Electric Eel a couple times that day. I often ride Manta, Journey to Atlantis, and the Bayside Skyride. And I love seeing the shows! The daily shows include Dolphin Days, Sea Lions Live, and their educational Orca Encounter. But one of my favorite encounters, which is also the most popular due to being situated right at the entrance, is the cleaner fish touch pool, where cleaner fish always come swarming to my hands and remove the dead skin cells!

What’s YOUR opinion on roller coasters? Do you have a favorite theme park ride? Tell me about it in the comments!