Category Archives: Bucket List

4 of the Best National Parks in the US that Hikers Must Visit

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.

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Image of Grand Canyon

 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

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!

Back… to the Future!

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Back in April, I got to visit one of the most iconic locations where Back to the Future was filmed. As you can see in the photo above, this place is often written off as a large empty parking lot at a mediocre mall. But for me, I could see the places where Marty skateboarded to the Twin Pines sign (which warped into a Lone Pine sign by the end of the movie), where Doc introduced his latest invention of a time machine, and where the Delorean took its maiden voyage back to the future.

Although the mall scenes only appeared in the first movie of the trilogy, something very significant happened in the sequel. Doc and Marty travel from 1985 to 2015. More specifically, they travel to October 21st, 2015. Of course many people across the country and around the world are celebrating this day in history, or should I say this day in future? Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, California, better known to fans as the Twin Pines/ Lone Pine Mall, had to jump on board with the festivities. The photo below was taken today, in the same place as the photo above. Check out the cool mall sign!

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This month the mall added a Twin Pines sign in the same spot it is seen in the movie. But that’s not all. If you look down at the parking lot (just as Marty did in the movie), you’ll see a peculiar white truck parked down below, likely surrounded by people taking pictures with it. This is Dr. Emmett Brown’s truck that he uses to transport the Delorean time machine to the mall parking lot for a test drive in the movie.

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I was very thankful to have this unique opportunity on this special day. It wasn’t even the reason I went to California to begin with. I originally wasn’t even supposed to leave Oregon until tomorrow, but plans changed and things just happened to align! If you’ll be in the area, Puente Hills Mall has the sign and truck free for fans to view through the weekend.

Liked this post? Answer one of the following questions:

1. Did you do anything special for Back to the Future Day?

2. Have you ever visited a movie prop or set? What was it?

3. What do you think the future will be like in 30 years? Will we finally get flying cars and hoverboards?

Mediterranean Trek by the Numbers

Ninety-two days
Seven countries (well, eight if you count USA)
Fifteen hostels
Six shirts
Twelve socks
Five long-distance bus rides
Nine days of train travel
Six flights
Eighty filled journal pages

Countless people met
Countless memories made
Countless sights seen
Countless delicious Mediterranean treats
Countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences
Countless lessons learned
Countless reasons to go back

I’m home now. You just got the Mediterranean Trek by the numbers, but so much of what happened simply cannot be quantified, and maybe not even described. I’m not sure how this trip impacted my life, but it did. I’m not sure how this journey will affect my future, but it will. I’m not sure what I feel now that it’s over, but I am here and ready to start new adventures!

Hipster Pope

My sister constantly tells me that I’m not a hipster, and can’t even begin to understand “her” type. But with my Facebook feed and online news feed blowing up with people analyzing what the Pope said while visiting the United States, even she will have to admit I’m “hipster” in at least one way.

I saw Pope Francis before it was cool!

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I didn’t necessarily start the trend. On the contrary, I was just one of tens of thousands. I didn’t even realize that the Pope was coming to America until just a few days before he left for Cuba. But I saw him a week before anyone in the USA did. All I had to do was go to The Vatican.

I first learned about Vatican City when I was in sixth grade. The religious connotations didn’t matter much to me at the time, but I made it my goal to someday go to the world’s smallest nation. When I got to Rome three weeks ago, the person checking me in asked, “do you want to see the Pope?” Um, sure! I hadn’t really thought of that as feasible, but she told me that all I had to do was show up at the Vatican on Wednesday morning.

So when Wednesday morning came, I excitedly walked all the way across the city and entered the fifth country of my Mediterranean Trek. When I got there, the event was already in progress. I’m not sure it it’s officially considered a mass, but there was singing, Bible reading, and a couple people spoke, one of whom was Pope Francis himself. I got my bag searched at the country’s entrance (which I learned when I returned another day is not an everyday thing, it’s just for the Pope’s safety when he’s so close to so many people), and I found a good place to stand. If you make a reservation ahead of time, you can get a seat that’s a little bit closer. But the standing room was nice and open, and there were jumbotrons so that you could see everything that was happening onstage.

After the service, most people left, but none of the Vatican’s attractions, such as St. Peter’s Basilica or the temporary exhibit, opened up, and security was still tight. I decided to stick around to see if something else would happen. Over an hour later, one of the seating sections was emptied out and some of the rowdy, Argentina-national-anthem-chanting crowd had moved there, so I got up closer to the basilica, too. Finally, Papa Francesco appeared again and waved at us all as he rode away. Soon after, the Basilica entrance opened up, and I was able to walked by the stage and see the chair where Pope Francis had sat that morning.

This is a weekly occurrence every Wednesday morning. Just a day or so later, I switched to another Rome hostel. Someone there told me that the Pope also gives a message every Sunday that he’s in town. It wasn’t as formal as Wednesday, but rather just a 15-minute speech given from his window. That sounded interesting! So on Sunday, I walked back to the Vatican. Since I guess his window is far enough to make it difficult for assassins, there was no bag check at the border this time. It was also less crowded, and the seated section was closed off since you couldn’t really see the window anywhere but from the standing area. I wasn’t really sure which window he would appear at, but a few minutes before the scheduled time, someone opened a window and hung a banner out of it. Right on time, Papa Francesco appeared, waving back to the thousands of people below!

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As he spoke, I took pictures of him in his window and got a better look from the jumbotrons (to make sure it really was him), but didn’t really listen to the message. One benefit that the Americans had over me is that they could hear him speak in English, which doesn’t happen in the Vatican! I am very limited when it comes to Italian, mostly just knowing food words, but all I really know is that Pope Francis was not telling us what he was going to eat for lunch! He spoke very eloquently and didn’t really use any simple words that I could make out. Sometimes people would cheer about what he was saying. I wasn’t sure what to do. Had he said something that I would also cheer for, or did he say something that was completely against my personal beliefs? I don’t really know for sure, but just having the rare opportunity to see the world’s most famous living religious leader was amazing!

I went to Vatican City two other times. While there, I enjoying the country’s other offerings, like climbing to the top of the cupola, straining my neck to admire the Sistine Chapel, and seeing a museum featuring many past Popemobiles. These were all great experiences, but there was something extra special about being there with the Pope! My last full day in Rome was a Sunday, but sadly, Papa Francesco had already made his way to Cuba. I attended an international English-speaking Baptist church that morning instead, and after the service when I headed over to the Vatican for one last goodbye, the nation was eerily empty.

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I’m not Catholic so I obviously don’t support everything that the Pope says or does. But I am a Christian and I think that he and I have a few of the most important beliefs in common. But I didn’t write this post to make any political statement. Besides, like I said, I really don’t know what he was talking about in the two occasions I visited him. All I know is that I got to see Pope Francis before most other Americans, and that makes me pretty hipster!

Have you ever seen the Pope, whether it was recently in America, previously in Italy, or even just on TV? What European celebrity would you like to meet?

How I Spent Ten Days in Paris (and How I Did It On a Budget!)

It´s time to announce my first stop of my Mediterranean Adventure! I don´t know if you can actually count Paris as Mediterranean, but it has been a place that I´ve always wanted to visit! Here are a few things I did, and also how they didn´t cost me an arm and a leg!

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I Stayed in a Hostel I chose to stay at the BVJ Champs-Elysees Monceau because it was the closest hostel to most of the attractions I wanted to visit. Plus, it was one of the few Parisian hostels that offered free breakfast! Sure, this hostel had its downsides. It was once the mansion of famous Parisian painter Henry Gervais, which was super cool, but the downside of that was that since this historic high-ceiling mansion couldn´t undergo too much remodeling, everything echoed at all hours of day and night. But I think the good definitely outweighed the bad as they offered free detailed city maps, free big breakfasts, free WiFi, and plenty of opportunities to meet other travelers!

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I Climbed the Eiffel Tower I saved hours of time with this by choosing to climb- yes, actually climb- the Eiffel Tower instead of taking the elevator up. The two elevator lines stretched across the entire base at all hours of the day, but the lines for the stairs were virtually non-existent. Not only is this a great way to save time, but it saves money, too. A ticket for the stairs is 5 euros, but after convincing the ticket salesman that I was indeed under 25, I got in for just four. You see the same sights anyway, which are incredible! Plus you sound pretty cool for saying you actually walked up all those steps! The stairs ticket allows you to the first and second levels, but you have to take an elevator to the top level. I chose not to do this. For one, the line to buy this ticket was incredibly long, but also because Paris is so flat, you don´t get to see much more from up there.

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I Smiled at Mona Lisa and Waved at Venus de Milo The Louvre is huge! I spent the first several hours inside the museum simply wandering from room to room and marveling at all I found. But of course, there is one thing that most people come to the Louvre to see. Everyone wants to see Mona Lisa smile! It is totally worth seeing and snapping a selfie with, but beware: it involves waiting in a crowd of hundreds and you really have to push if you ever want to get to the front, where Mona Lisa is several feet away and protected by thick bulletproof glass. By the time the security guard forces you to leave, you are really sweaty, but it´s probably not just your sweat! I am totally glad that I saw her, but I´m okay with never going through that ordeal again!

The other art on my must-see list was the Venus de Milo. There is also a pretty big crowd around this one, but because it is a sculpture, you can see it from all angles. You can also get much closer to her! When I didn´t feel like being in a crowded room, there were plenty of places around the museum where I was the only one around. Eventually, the Louvre outlasted me, and I left much of the museum unseen. So I may go back there someday, but I´ll pass on the Mona Lisa!

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I Saw Vincent Van Gogh and Other Art While the Louvre is great, I preferred the Musee d´Orsay simply because it was less overwhelming. I still got tired at this museum, but this place actually had napping couches! I don´t know if they were intended for napping, but the unique octopus-like couches on the top floor opposite the clock had one-person seats that made you practically lay down, and I was not the only one who took a quick snooze there! But seriously, the art is great. There is a small Statue of Liberty made by the same person as the original, and a self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh!

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I Took a Sewer Tour Yes, it smelled. But this was probably the most unique attraction I visited! Paris has a very old sewer and water system, and it´s amazing that it was created progressive enough to hold up all these years. Plus, I´m really thankful that Paris has this so that the Seine is no longer full of waste!

I should mention how I could afford all these museums and attractions. I actually did not pay an admission fee for anything in the city other than the Eiffel Tower! The rest was covered by my Paris Museum Pass. I picked up a four-day pass for €55 at the airport´s visitor center. They also sell passes for two or six days, but I found four days to be the perfect amount. I got to do everything on my must-see list, plus I had a little time to discover little-known features, such as the sewer! As a bonus, the pass allows you to skip the line at most attractions, especially beneficial for long lines at popular places like the Louvre!

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I Hung Out at the Arc de Triomphe I think the best views of Paris are not found from the Eiffel Tower, but rather from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is situated in the center of the largest roundabout you´ve ever seen! But I didn´t have to worry about crossing this nearly lawless route. There is an underground tunnel at the end of the Champs Elysees that goes under all that traffic and ends up at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. It´s free to stroll around the base or admire the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can buy a ticket to take the long spiral staircase to the top, or just wave the Museum Pass and get in for no extra cost.

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I Strolled the Champs-Elysees (and learned how to pronounce it!) This could be an expensive endeavor if you don´t do it right. I did spend a little money at two different places. The first shop I bought from was McDonald´s, of all things! But this McDonald´s has a special McCafe where you can get what I think are the best macarons in Paris. I know this because I also bought a raspberry macaron from Laduree and did a comparison.

Besides sampling the local cuisine, my favorite thing to do on the Champs Elysees was visit the multiple auto showrooms. Even if you aren´t that interested in cars, these places are a sight to see. One showroom had movie cars from Jurassic World. Another had an attraction that gave you the illusion that you were standing on the ledge of a skyscraper! A couple of them offered free photo booths. Other favorite places to window shop at included Sephora, A&F, and The Disney Store. As long as you´re just marveling at the size of the store and not picking up items to buy, the Champs Elysees can be an inexpensive experience!

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I Took Two Guided Tours Using a walking tour company called DiscoveryWalks, I had the opportunity to explore the Notre Dame and Montmarte regions very in-depth. The local tour guides will tell you secrets and show you places you won´t find in any guidebook! They also give you practical tips, like where to fill up your water bottle for free. (The green fountains aren´t just for decoration!) The DiscoveryWalks tours I chose were tip-based. After how wonderful both guides were, I wished I had brought more money in my daypack to tip with! The only thing that these guides (both male) weren´t good at was rocking the company´s pink vest. They both expressed how awful the color was and took it off as soon as the tour begin. Maybe sometime down the road, DiscoveryWalks can adopt a more masculine color!

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I Saw Notre Dame from Top to Bottom Most people want to visit the top of the Notre Dame because they know Quasimodo had great views. Some people go inside the free cathedral. Even fewer explore the depths below that show the remains of an ancient city. I actually didn´t know that crypt existed until I saw it listed on my Paris Museum Pass! I did have to wait in line for about an hour to get inside the stairwell that goes to the bell tower. I think it was worth seeing the bells up close, and getting a completely different view of the city. But I think my favorite part was going inside the actual cathedral. It looks like a long line to get inside, but it moves quickly. Inside you´ll find lots of art and relics, most of which you can photograph! And for those of you who have watched the Disney cartoon, I do have to tell you this: as I was walking off the island that Notre Dame is situated on for the last time, I realized that I had completely missed my opportunity to yell “SANCTUARY!” So if any of you go there, will you do me a favor and shout that for me?

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I Visited Other Historic Cathedrals, Too I probably could have spent my entire time in Paris just cathedral hopping! Actually, I´ll probably visit lots of cathedrals throughout Europe if they´re half as good as the ones in Paris. As wonderful as the inside of Notre Dame was, it wasn´t nearly as exquisite of that of Sacre Couer. I also attended mass twice in Paris, once at Notre Dame, and once at a little historic cathedral on the same hill as Sacre Couer whose name escapes me. I´m not Catholic, and I don´t speak French, so I was pretty lost during both French-speaking Catholic masses, but the people there are very welcoming of everyone. It´s also easy to take a hint from everyone around you if you sit in the middle or the back of the sanctuary and just stand, sit, or kneel when everyone else does. You could try to sing or respond with everyone else if you´re ambitious. Even when I had the words in front of me, I usually ended up just moving my lips.

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I Relaxed Like a Parisian at the Parcs There are so many parcs in Paris! Of course, the most popular ones among travelers are those surrounding the Eiffel Tower. But after getting tired of being asked to sign fake petitions there, I went out and explored the other parcs. In these parcs, you´ll see the locals getting together and lingering over a picnic. At one parc, I sat down to eat a crepe nearby a group of young Parisians. After I finished, I walked around the Sacre Couer, walked down to Moulin Rouge, met up with a DiscoverWalks group, toured with them for nearly two hours, and ended up at the same parc I had eaten lunch at. Guess what? That same group of Parisians was STILL THERE enjoying lunch!

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I Ate a Lot of Crepes Other foods consumed included quiche, baguettes, and croissants, but my favorite was definitely crepes. There are street vendors all over Paris who sell these wonderful creations, and they can be eaten for snack, dessert, or even a meal! My favorite spread on the crepes was Nutella, but the cheese was also delicious. I tried to buy crepes from vendors who would pour out crepe batter and cook the crepe right in front of me. There was just something more authentic to that than eating the mass-produced packaged crepes.

I ate a crepe on most days, but there were also a few times when I went grocery shopping. That was an experience in itself! My favorite store ended up being a chain called Monoprix. They bake their bread and pastries right there in the store. If you buy a food that needs to be heated, you can even use their microwave! I mostly just bought Nutella and produce.

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I Went to Disneyland Paris It´s the most magical place on Earth! Well, it is in Europe at least. After going to all the Disney parks in the United States (save for California Adventure), I wanted to live as a Disney fan in another country. Disneyland Paris consists of two parks: the classic Disneyland, and Walt Disney Studios, which is most like the Hollywood Studios park in Florida.

You may be wondering how Disneyland  could possibly fit into budget Paris. A day at Disneyland Paris is actually cheaper than a day at the original Disneyland. I wanted to get a Disneyland Paris Express ticket. Not only does this include entrance into both parks, but also offers bussing to and from several locations in Paris. If you live in the USA, you can buy one of these tickets online for $135. But when I went on the French version of their website, I noticed that they sold this same ticket for €99. That´s a lot cheaper! In order to get the lower price, I used the French version (translated into English, of course) and entered my hostel information when it asked for an address. You print the ticket from your e-mail anyway, so it doesn´t really matter what you enter for the address. After I bought this, I didn´t buy anything else from Disneyland. I brought my own snacks to sustain me, and I even got a free souvenir by asking at Guest Relations!

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I Took the Plane, Bus, and Subway I didn´t take the subway until my very last day, when I had very few other options to get to the bus station. I was a little nervous since it was my first time riding any subway. I was confused when buying the ticket and had to get some help, but after that, it was almost as if I´d been riding the metro for years! It´s only €1.80 for most of Paris. Places outside of the city limits, like the airport and Disneyland, do cost more. To save money coming into Paris from CDG, I found a bus service called EasyBus, which is the absolute cheapest way to get from the airport into Paris! I also took the Disneyland Paris Express bus to get to and from Disneyland. But other than that, I did everything on foot. Yes, it was exhausting, especially considering Paris´ unexpected heat wave. However, this way I was able to experience so much more of Paris that most tourists miss! It saved a few Euros to boot!

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I Saw the Last Leg of Le Tour de France! When I found out when Le Tour ended, I decided to stretch my time in Paris just so I could catch it.I was curious what the best place to watch it from was. I even asked on traveler forums, and most people responded with snotty things like “just watch it on TV” or “the best place to see it from is inside your hotel room”. NO! It was absolutely amazing to see it from nearby the Arc de Triomphe. It was amazing just in itself to see that roundabout free from traffic! But seeing a bunch of guys bike around the Arc several times is not all that there is to do. Before the final stretch begins, there is a women´s version of Le Tour de France, which is just as exciting to watch. Between races, there is a sponsor parade with some pretty crazy vehicles! And during Le Tour, when you can´t see the cyclists in person, there are several screens situated around that stream the race live. However, I think my favorite part was going through the street fair. Companies were giving away delicious samples like crepes, oysters, fruit, breads, and Paris Cola. I shouldn´t have even bothered to pack a lunch!

Just so you know, I was not sponsored or comped for anything I did in Paris. I had to fund all my time in Paris completely on my own. If I can conquer Paris on a budget, I know that you can, too!

Fast Friday Thought

Having dreams and goals are exciting, but making a commitment toward them? That’s a big deal.

I made a commitment today.

I bought a plane ticket. First stop, Paris!

It seems so unreal. Yet, this means my Mediterranean Europe Backpacking Adventure will now actually become real.

Whoa.

Question: What backpacking or European advice do you have to share? Anything helps!

Happy Hot Air Balloon Birthday to Me!

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My family happened to be vacationing in Walt Disney World when I turned 18. That day, as a newly minted adult, I took a ferry to Downtown Disney in hopes of experiencing something only adults could experience- signing my own liability waiver! I wanted to ride the then-new “Characters in Flight”, a giant tethered helium balloon. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed due to the wind. But as a left Florida that year, I was determined that I would eventually be able to have lots of non-airplane flying experiences… and also sign lots of liability waivers!

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About a year later, I went to a local hot air balloon festival. It was there that I got to take my first tethered hot air balloon ride. After signing my waiver and waiting an hour in line, the ride lasted maybe three minutes, and gave me a great view… of just the field where it took place! It was well worth the $3, but it was only an adventure appetizer when I wanted a dinner buffet.

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For three years now, I’ve decided to do something adventurous for my birthday. After meeting up with my family at Disney World (for the fourth time), or taking a bike trip around Columbus that ended up with me suspended on a high wire, I was looking for something that would be even better this year, especially since I was spending my first birthday at home since age 19. My plan actually wasn’t on my bucket list, but probably should be: go paragliding! I called a local paragliding guide and made plans for my birthday weekend.

On Thursday night, I received a message from the pilot with some bad news. The mountain that gliders have used for years belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, and somebody complained about the property’s use. That means all paragliding in the area will be shut down for at least six months. And of course it had to happen right before my birthday weekend! I still wanted to have some high-flying fun for my birthday, but would I be able to get anything arranged in just one business day?

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Referring to my Travel Bucket List, I picked out the ones that would be able to be done in the area and started scouring the internet for contacts. On Friday morning, I got two responses. One was from a helicopter service that offered me a one-hour flight for just $1500 (yeouch!), and the other was from Daybreak Ballooning that, while not cheap enough to be a regular activity, was WAY more affordable and worth every penny for this special occasion. So at 6 am Saturday morning, I was all set for my first real hot air balloon adventure!

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My friend Steph had agreed to accompany me on this ride, and my parents came to watch our take-off. But first we watched the crew set up. The first thing they did was figure out the wind pattern using what is probably the best instrument in the business: an ordinary helium party balloon. Fortunately, we had great weather conditions. We then went out to the soccer field of Jewett Elementary School for set-up. First, they took out the three-person basket, and then they spread out the envelope (the actual balloon part). Using a fan, the envelope slowly began to take shape, and eventually, some heat was added.

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Steph and I got into the balloon with our pilot Drew, and went over, like, two safety rules 1. You can hold onto something if you want to as long as that something is not the fuel line, and 2. Don’t get out of the basket for any reason unless you’re told to. Then with few pumps of heat, we lifted off!

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How do you describe the view? We were hovering over Central Point, which I lived in from age 3 to age 15, so I was very familiar with the town and many of its buildings, but I never saw any of them like this before! (Google Maps would be better if it was taken from a hot air balloon’s point of view!) Of course, when you’re up in the air, the first thing you want to try to find is your house. We were a little too far away to find my current house, so I instead tried to find my childhood home. I found Central Point Elementary, where I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then peered into the suburbia beyond that to see if I could spot the street.

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I did find a corner market that’s about a block away from the house. While I didn’t exactly see that house in the air, I did take lots of pictures of the area so maybe I can zoom into the photo later to try to find it.

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It was kind of fun to spy on other people’s houses, too. I now know where to go if I ever feel like crashing a pool party!

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Some people were outside and, when we were low enough that they could see us in the basket, we’d wave at each other.

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One home had a super-cool large tent that you could practically live in.

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And then there was this one house that had a bus in their backyard!

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But more fun than looking at houses was looking at buildings that I knew about. Besides my elementary school, I got aerial shots of the other two elementary schools (including the one we launched from), as well as my high school. My middle school is on the outskirts of town, so it was harder to see that one, but eventually we did get close enough to take a few pictures.

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Another thing that was neat to see was the churches.

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For awhile, we were hovering in one spot above the McDonald’s. My parents had told me that they were going to eat breakfast there after we launched, and I was able to spot their car in the parking lot.

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We floated over the main street and saw many of the local businesses. In the distance, we could see the interstate, the Family Fun Center, the Jackson County Fairgrounds, and the mountains. We even saw the Medford Airport and watched a plane take off!

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One thing I hadn’t thought about until this morning was that hot air balloons can’t really control where they’re going. The crew was on the ground chasing us and keeping in contact during the entire flight, but toward the end, they were essential in helping us get a place to land.

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Pilot Drew had pointed out some of his common landing sites early in the flight, such as all the different school soccer fields, and even some power line-free residential streets, but the wind ended up taking us toward a wheat field. Of course the chasers had to ask the farmers if it would be okay to land there, and we really didn’t want to make crop circles on the wheat, so we headed to a farm road that split up two of the crops. And then I was offered the opportunity to play pilot!

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Okay, so all I really did was pull the trigger that made the fire whenever the real pilot told me to, but it sure was an experience! At that point we were also getting lower, and I mean really low, to the point that we could probably reach out and touch the wheat. (I was probably more nervous flying at that point than I would have been at our highest altitude!) Fortunately, no wheat was harmed in the making of this birthday experience!

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Our pilot threw a tether out to the crew member so that we could make sure we landed right between the two fields, and after bouncing a couple times, we were back on solid ground. For a few minutes, we just stood in the basket while the balloon deflated enough (that is where the don’t-get-out-of-the-basket-without-permission rule really comes into play, because one less body of weight could make it take off again!). We then got out as everything was taken apart and returned to the trailer. Steph and I then hopped in the car with the crew and we headed back to our starting point. But the fun wasn’t over yet!

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When we returned to the elementary school, we met up with my parents and then gathered at a picnic table that the crew had set up. While we were munching on the treats, Drew explained that, since it was our first flight, he would tell us the history behind hot air balloons and the traditional after-flight champagne toast. Ballooning was first done in France in the 1780s, before any other human-carrying aircraft was even though of. It started out by carrying a few animals, then someone took a tethered flight, and finally, they were brave enough to try a real flight. During one of the early flights, a balloon had to land on farmland. The farmers, having never seen anything like this before, thought this smoke-causing contraption must be a demon or something equally evil and vicious. To prove that they were just ordinary Frenchmen, the balloonists offered a very French-like peace offering: a bottle of champagne.

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In our correspondence beforehand, I had noticed on the website that champagne was served, and being a teetotaler (who tried champagne once and found it awful), I mentioned it was not necessary. But we were still able to carry on this tradition using sparkling cider instead. But first, Steph and I had to participate in another tradition of drinking “champagne” without your hands while kneeling on the ground and a traditional prayer is said over you that includes sprinkling!

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We all chatted for a little bit longer, asking any last burning questions we had about flying hot air balloons. Then we all thanked each other for the part we each played in making this event happen, and I got a few birthday wishes as we left. Even though it was a day before my actual birthday (which is today), this was a great start to a birthday weekend!

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Have you ever flown without an airplane? Have you ever wanted to? What would you like to do for your next birthday?

Street Fairs and Roadside Attractions

If you haven’t read about the previous days of my road trip through Northern California and to the desert, you may want to catch up on those first. After those two legs of the trip, the next several days were spent at my grandmother’s house in Southern California, but we took little day trips from that location.

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On the day we got back from the desert, we took a walk around downtown Upland. This is the town where my mom grew up, but little did we know that the city was having a celebration for her homecoming! Okay, it wasn’t really for her, but Upland was having their annual Lemon Festival the weekend we were there. The next day, I went there for a little longer to enjoy the sights and street food (including, of course, lots and lots of fresh lemonade!).

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Chick-Fil-A exists within an hour of places I’ve previously lived, such as Nebraska and Ohio, but there is not Chick-Fil-A in Oregon. When we found out that there was one right in my grandmother’s town, I just had to take my mom out for her first-ever spicy chicken sandwich!

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On Sunday, we hopped in the car and went to City of Industry. This little side-trip took a lot of convincing, but my mom finally agreed to it. Our first stop was this guard rail:

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What, you don’t know what this guard rail is? What if you pictured part of it turning into a big sign with a digital clock and the writing “Twin Pines Mall”, or perhaps “Lone Pine Mall”?

Okay, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future (or didn’t pay attention while watching it), you won’t know what this is, so I’ll tell you: this is the location where they shot the mall scenes in the first movie of the Back to the Future trilogy. Yes, this is the parking lot where time travel took place!

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In the above photo, you can see some fence-type thing (not sure what that’s called?) in the background. It’s location didn’t make much sense, unless it was put there to prevent movie fans from driving 88 miles per hour!

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Since Back to the Future Part 2 involves a trip to 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to see a location from the movie this year. Hey, it was even on my Travel Bucket List!

While researching the Back to the Future mall parking lot on Roadside America, I noticed another interesting location just a mile away. So we drove up to it and found this:

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Wait, McDonald’s isn’t an attraction! Ah, but this one is.

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This particular McDonald’s has never turned on their range. They refuse to serve the public. In fact, it’s surrounded by a security fence! That’s because this is not McDonald’s restaurant at all. Instead it is a McDonald’s set, the place they use to film all the McDonald’s commercials! Below is a sign on wheels, so they can position it to wherever the best lighting and scenery is.

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Next to the fake McDonald’s is a big warehouse with the McDonald’s logo. It’s funny since I’ve never really thought about commercials like this having props or costumes, but I guess they need this large of a warehouse to store that kind of thing!

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Of course, all the gates were closed and I’m sure there was no lack of security cameras and burglar alarms, but I have read that on days when they film, they sometimes have customers pull up to the drive-thru and begin honking their horn due to lack of service! I’m not sure if that’s legitimate though. This McDonald’s is pretty out-of-the-way in and industrial area and even has signs stating it’s not real!

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Our final roadside stop before leaving grandma’s house to continue our road trip was right on one of America’s most famous roads. When visiting my grandmother, you can’t avoid driving on Route 66. (Even though I didn’t realize it was actually Route 66 until I was about eighteen!) So while I haven’t really traveled on Route 66, I am very familiar with a several-mile stretch of it. And with that familiarity, I am going to assume that the best place to eat in all of Route 66 is right here:

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Locally-famous Vince’s has delicious spaghetti, as well as garlic bread, cheese bread, soup, and salad. It was a delicious way to cap off all the things we saw in the street and alongside the road!

While these days were jam-packed with roadside attractions, I’ve been to other interesting places that I love as well. What roadside attractions have you visited? Are there any that are on your bucket list?

Back on the Blog!

Has it really been a month and a half since my last time sharing with you? Well, I’m back and with some good news:

It’s May!

I will confess, winter is by far my least favorite season. I am always up for travel, but it just doesn’t seem as fun if I can’t play in the sun. So I tend to save my trips until the weather gets warmer, usually in April. But May is my official kick-off for travel season. My birthday is on May 10th, so I typically like to celebrate that by doing some sort of crazy adventure. And then the adventures just continue from there.

The biggest reason I didn’t blog during April was because I was trying to jam-pack a whole lot of travel into just a few weeks. While that was tiresome, it does come with a reward as you will soon get to hear about all of the following:

What’s the view from the other Table Rock?

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What to do on the Oregon Coast when it’s too cold to get into the water. (And it’s almost always too cold!)

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Can you wear shorts in the snow while at Crater Lake National Park?

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Weird wonders of Union Creek.

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How to turn a giant sundial into workout equipment.

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How to under-dress to go to the California State Capitol. (When you typically overdress every other day!)

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How to introduce your mother to the wonderful world of staying in hostels.

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Where to find these prehistoric pals.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert.

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Why what appears to be an ordinary mall parking lot was probably the best, most outatime attraction!139

Why what appears to be a typical McDonald’s doesn’t allow people to buy burgers… and is surrounded by a security fence!

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Where the best place to stop is in the limited miles I’ve traveled on Route 66.

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What these rocks are and where to find them.

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What to do (besides gamble) in The Biggest Little City in the World!

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Stay tuned as you’ll hear all the details!

What are you most interested in reading about? 

Travel I Can Cross Off My Bucket List

Yesterday, I posted my current Travel Bucket List. However, while I’m looking forward to hopefully accomplishing all those things in the future, I think it’s important to also look back on previous accomplishments. While I don’t plan every single trip around my goals, once I have a trip planned, I try to take advantage of any opportunities available to apply that trip to working towards a goal. I often accomplish several goals in one trip, which is why you’ll see that I have often done several goals at the same time. Here are some things that are no longer on my bucket list, because I actually did them!

1. Go to Chicago. (September 2014)

2. Eat pizza in Chicago. (September 2014)

3. Go up the Willis Tower and stand on the Skydeck. (September 2014- Okay, I’m done with the Chicago goals!)

On the Willis Tower Skydeck...before eating pizza...in Chicago.
On the Willis Tower Skydeck…before eating pizza…in Chicago.

4. Live away from the Pacific states. (August 2011)

5. Visit Amish Country. (October 2013 in Holmes County, plus two other trips within the following year)

6. Go to the Creation Museum. (March 2014)

Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem
Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem

7. Vacation in Hawaii. (April 2001, Oahu)

8. Go to Walt Disney World. (May 1999, plus three more times, all in May during my birthday!)

9. Bike around a major city. (May 2014, Columbus)

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

10. Be in two places at once a la A Walk to Remember. (March 2013, Nebraska/Iowa, also internationally in July 2014 at New York/Ontario)

11. Visit a different country. (December 2005, Mexico; July 2007 in Peru was the first time I stayed the night inside the country)

12. Visit a different continent. (July 2007 and August 2009, Peru, South America)

Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru
Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru

13. Visit Canada. (July 2014, Niagara Falls)

14. Go on a mission trip. (July 2007, Posada de Amor in Peru, plus several other trips after)

15. Go to Seattle. (March 2004 was my first trip)

16. Go to Nashville. (September/October 2012)

In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville
In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

17. Go to Niagara Falls. (July 2014)

18. Take an overnight train trip. (December 2011, from Nebraska to Oregon)

19. Go on a cruise. (December 2005, California and Baja)

20. Support overseas orphans. (Not including Latin American mission trips, I’ve sponsored Nelly in Zambia since 2013.)

Nelly, the teenager I sponsor through Every Orphan’s Hope

21. Fly first class. (January 2013, from Denver to Omaha)

22. See Mount Rushmore. (August 2011)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

23. Be in the nation’s Capitol. (June 2007 in Washington DC, also in Peru’s capitol of Lima in July 2007 and August 2009)

24. Go to New York, New York. (June 2007)

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On a class trip to the East Coast

25. See historic Philadelphia. (June 2007)

26. Travel out-of-state without my parents. (March 2003 to Washington, and many, many, many trips since!)

27. Travel by myself. (This one’s ambiguous: in 2001 I flew by myself but was picked up by family at my destination, in August 2011 I moved to Nebraska for an internship, in September 2012 I went to Tennessee for two weeks but one week was spent with a friend, in August 2013 I took a solo road trip to get to Ohio for my new job… if none of the previous count to you has having traveled by myself, then I definitely took several trips over the past year that would certainly count!)

In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska
In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska

28. Drive more than an hour. (First time was February 2013 from Twin City area in Minnesota to somewhere in Iowa)

29. Drive the entire way on a road trip. (First time was August 2013 from Fremont, NE to Marengo, OH)

30. See a Great Lake. (First saw Lake Erie November 2013, within the next several months also saw Ontario and Michigan)

Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago
Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago

31. See the Atlantic Ocean. (June 2007)

32. Go to Colorado, but not just inside an airport. (October 2011, Estes Park, visited twice later on)

33. Buy a car (August 2012, bought a y2k red Ford Explorer, sadly sold August 2014)

My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)
My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)

34. Go to Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful, see large wild animals, and stand on the Continental Divide. (July-ish 2002?)

35. Take a tethered balloon ride. (July 2010)

36. Sleep (inside a car) in a Walmart parking lot. (September 2013)

37. See Multnomah Falls. (September 2014)

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Northern Oregon

38. Go on an extended whitewater rafting trip. (May 2011, Rogue River)

39. Take a trip with only carry-on luggage. (September/October 2011, Tennessee, and nearly every trip ever since!)

40. Ride the Greyhound. (July 2014, and again in August/September 2014)

Good Ol' Greyhound
Good Ol’ Greyhound

41. Go waterskiing/wakeboarding. (July 2004 was my first waterski attempt, July 2006 proved more successful and was also my wakeboard introduction)

42. Sleep all night in a hammock. (July 2012, at the top of a 60-foot tower overlooking the Platte River)

43. Stay in a hostel. (September 2012, Music City Hostel in Nashville; hostels are now my favorite accommodation!)

44. Attend a Christian music festival. (September 2011, Lifelight South Dakota)

Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert
Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert

45. See The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (June 2007)

46. Visit the three main countries that make up North America. (Started at birth in the U.S., ended in Canada July 2014)

47. Hike from base to summit of a mountain. (The tallest so far was Harney Peak in South Dakota August 2011, but was preceded by Mount Humbug and both Table Rocks in Oregon)

This building is at the very top of Harney's Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there
This building is at the very top of Harney’s Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there

48. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside-down. (May 2003, Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster, and of course with visits to more “adventurous” theme parks like Six Flags Marine World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Adventureland, I’ve been on dozens more)

49. Be invited to a movie screening before it comes to theaters. (July 2011 for Courageous; I’ve also gone to Grace Unplugged, Moms’ Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall)

50. Become a travel writer (started professionally writing November 2008!)

So there you have it: my top 50 travel accomplishments! I’m looking forward to adding more to this list!