It’s been awhile since I last posted a personal blog update… Nearly a year! Yet despite a global pandemic, that didn’t crush my adventurous spirit. It just changed some things about my life… a lot!
I wanted to update everyone who lands here on what I’ve gotten to do over the past year. At the end, YOU will get to decide which of my adventures I’ll blog about next!
About one year and one week ago, I moved to the Kansas City area after a short stint in Colorado Springs. I ended up spending four months working at a camp on the Missouri side, using my days off to explore downtown KC and take day trips to the Ozarks, Silver Dollar City, and Marceline (the boyhood home of Walt Disney).
South Road Trip
Exactly one year ago, I was planning a work-sponsored trip that was completely unrelated to work, other than the fact that I would be road tripping with two of my coworkers. But since we were going on our workplace’s dime, we drove down to Joplin to see a waterfall, and then saw some real waterfalls crossing into Arkansas. From there, we saw the original Walmart, camped at Beaver Lake, drove by the Duggar’s big house (and they drove by us in their van!), visited Cathedral of the Ozarks, then drove into Oklahoma where we stayed at an amusement-park-turned-summer-camp and visited The Gathering Place in Tulsa.
More Road Trips
I left Kansas City due to a job offer in San Diego. I split that move into two road trips: First a Christmas road trip along Route 66, into Texas and New Mexico for the first time, where I spray painted in freezing weather at Cadillac Ranch, saw the Grand Canyon, and experienced all that Vegas had to offer even in a pandemic. I spent a few weeks for Christmas with my parents in Oregon, then drove down the coast to the great San Diego area.
Surrounding San Diego
Since then, I’ve been exploring America’s finest city… and beyond. Besides hiking trips outside the urban area and day trips to places like the Padres game, Old Town, Seaworld, and the beaches, I’ve gone further with an overnight trip to California Adventure, hiking in San Clemente, camping in the desert, and even solo tripping to Mexico a few times!
The Why and How Behind this Travel
Although I’ve been working at the same place since January, my job has changed since then. I’m working at a conference center and am now long-term instead of my original temporary plans. As program manager, summer camps were extra hectic, and now I’m looking forward to a season of administering the outdoor science school, among other responsibilities.
Now that you’ve read all this, what do you want to hear more about? Do you want to learn how a single woman can feel safe crossing the southern border alone? Or how Disney’s home in Missouri relates to his legacy resort in California? You could be wondering why a non-fangirl visits so many celebrity homes. Maybe you need a bucket list for a city you’re visiting… would that be for Colorado Springs, Kansas City, or San Diego?
What will my next post be? Tell me in the comments!
Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.
My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.
I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:
How are you?
Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.
So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!
The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.
Thanks for understanding.
We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.
I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.
With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.
Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.
As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.
The Hills Are Alive
While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.
Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.
The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)
The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.
Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.
Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.
YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.
Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!
Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.
Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.
Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.
More Music with Mozart
Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.
After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.
There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.
I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!
The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.
I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.
I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.
Relating to the Von Trapps
On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.
In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)
The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!
It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!
It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.
The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.
This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.
Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.
Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.
Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!
I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.
Now that it’s November, we are in the month that I’ll get to take my first trip to The Bahamas! I’m counting down the days both for this cruise and my 2020 backpacking trip around Central Europe.
If you’re new to this blog or haven’t been following this series, you can click here to find out how I got this incredible deal on a cruise to The Bahamas. I write up a recap as each month passes, so that you can see my travel savings progress and get some tips for how you can save, too!
Travel Agents Aren’t Helpful
Although I booked the cruise months ago, not all the pieces for this trip happened all at once. Later, we booked plane tickets. My mom and I decided to catch a flight that arrived in Florida the day before the cruise departs, so we knew we’d eventually need to book a night at a hotel.
Then, the airline we were taking there decided to cancel our flight.
Of course, since we’d already paid, they automatically booked us on another flight. The problem was, it would be a day later, so we wouldn’t get to Florida in time to board the ship. My mom called and had them change it to the day BEFORE the original flight. So that’s how we ended up making plans to spend Thanksgiving in Florida! (Do they serve flamingo there instead of turkey?)
The benefit to that was we each got $100 travel credit with the airline. So I guess I’ll soon have another trip to plan!
Now that we had to book two nights at a hotel instead of just one, my mom suggested that we visit a travel agent at AAA. I don’t know if I’ve shared this here before, but the one other time I met with a travel agent at this company, I ended up spending more on a Niagara Falls Pass than if I’d just bought one at a tourist info center when I got there. So I didn’t have a good feeling about seeing another travel agent.
I should’ve trusted my gut.
We gave the travel agent our requirements for a hotel, and everything he showed us was NOT what we asked for. All of them were too far away from the area we wanted to stay in, or too expensive. I thought maybe that’s just what the going rate was, but I was still skeptical and wanted to do my own research at home.
Does this mean I should become a travel agent? Maybe. But the sad thing is, even when you do pay upfront for a service like you do with AAA, travel agents are still looking for the biggest commission possible. Do your own research to find out what the best deal will be for you instead of them.
What to Do in Florida
Having a beach-side hotel pretty much takes care of our entertainment needs while we’re in Fort Lauderdale. So the only other expenses to consider are food and travel (from the airport and then to the cruise port). I’m covering all that for free with Swagbucks.
On Swagbucks, I got free gift cards to a few restaurants in walking distance from the hotel. I also got a free Uber gift card. I’d recommend this site as a way to earn some extra money and cover some costs of any kind of trip you’re planning. They have free gift cards for airlines, cruises, restaurants, gas stations, and more!
Speaking of camp, I started back up helping at weekend retreats. That’s been a fun way to spend my weekends and reduce my expenses. (Free travel!)
I worked a few extra shifts, which will help fund my European adventure. And there’s some more exciting things in the works for my work. I can’t share them with you yet, but I should be able to by next month’s update!
My biggest goal is to make sure I have a great time at the end of the month as I leave for my trip! The cruise goes into December, so I will not be giving a December update. I am choosing to not use WiFi on this trip, partly to cut costs and partly so I can be in full break mode. And I won’t have as much savings updates to tell you because I’m not going to be miserly on this trip! But don’t worry, this website has lots of other travel content for you to read, and I’ll probably make a few more posts until then.
I’m working on a launch for my next book. It’s more a niche audience, just people who work at or are interested in working at camps. But I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from beta readers in the professional camp industry, so that’s encouraging.
As far as Europe goes, I still have a lot of planning to do for that. I have a rough itinerary, but a large part of that depends on if I’m accepted into the Diverbo program. I have yet to hear from them, but I loved my time with them in Spain and hope to continue this voluntourism in Germany. If/when I’m accepted, I’ll start booking hostels. Here’s hoping!
Oh, and Christmas is coming up, isn’t it! I guess I have some shopping and preparations to do!
I started this blog when I first had the inkling that I wanted to backpack across Europe. A year later, that dream became a reality. But I wanted to take my time exploring, so I planned to see Europe in (at least) three trips: one trip for the Mediterranean, one for the British Isles, and one for Central Europe. My first trip trekked across the Mediterranean four years ago, and just this past May, I got to see a few pieces of the British Isles. I didn’t want to wait another four years to see Central Europe, but I certainly didn’t expect it to come this soon!
Ever since I scored a $30 flight from Dublin to London for my last trip on Kayak, I’ve loved playing around with that site. In addition to regular flight searches, you can input your home airport and see the cheapest options for flights in various destinations around the world. With more typical flight searches, when you select the dates, the calendar will show days in green, yellow, and red, based on how much flights cost on that particular day. You can also search up to three days before and after your intended departure dates to see if it would be a better value to leave earlier or later. I like to play around with these features just for fun, and just the other day, it happened to find me a $524 round-trip flight to Munich!
Yes, that’s a real-price $524 flight. No frequent flyer miles. No credit cards. No hacks at all. A true $524 US dollars.
Now, if you live in Europe, or even on the East Coast of the US, this may not seem like such a great deal. But it is a big one for me! My last two Eurotrip flights have been around $1500- nearly triple this! My local airport is pretty small so there are limited options. And being on the west coast, $600 is usually only enough to fly within the continent. Also, this isn’t some budget airline. I’ll be flying both ways with Delta, an airline that includes most flight perks like meals and entertainment. I flew Delta on my first trip to Europe, and it was way better than American Airlines!
Where am I Going?
Obviously, I’ll be going to Munich. This is my first time doing a round-trip flight to Europe instead of open-jaw, so I’ll be seeing Munich twice! (Typically I fly open-jaw so that I can go into one country and leave from another without having to worry about getting back to the original airport. But in this case, flying out of a different airport would have added several hundred dollars to the cost of this flight. So I’m okay with making this backpacking trip a loop route!) I haven’t seen any of the Central European countries at all yet, and in addition to Germany, I want to visit sites in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. I’d also like to visit the tiny countries in this area if I can afford it, Liechtenstein and San Marino. If I go to San Marino, that means I’ll be returning to Italy too!
So far, I’ve been researching Munich and side trips, Interlaken, and Salzburg. I’ve looked up other cities and regions, but with these three I’ve done enough research that I could go there tomorrow. I’ve found hostels to stay in, sights to see, and food to eat. I also applied to volunteer at a Diverbo program in Germany, which altered my last trip!
How am I Affording It?
In the past, international trips have been a once-every-few-years treat. But now, in a twelve-month span of time, I have the privilege of going on three international trips! My last Europe trip to Ireland and England was full-cost, but I was able to coupon my life ahead of time to cancel out the expenses. I’m continuing couponing for my next trip to The Bahamas, but the reason I booked that trip at all was that I was able to get the cruise for free. Obviously, the reason I booked this flight to Germany semi-spontaneously because of how low the airfare was.
Last night, I looked at the cost breakdown of my flight, and guess what the base fare was? Eleven dollars! There’s a $350 carrier-imposed international surcharge, and the rest of the cost is taxes and fees. I don’t know how Delta can afford to transport someone nearly halfway around the world and back for $366, but that’s the kind of deal I like. And I’ll be getting Delta Skymiles for my next two trips too!
The flight was a good deal, so now the task is to find good deals within the continent. I’ve been looking up hostels that have included freebies. Many include breakfast, one includes dinner, and a couple include a free visitor’s pass to the city. If I’m accepted into Diverbo’s program, that will be one cost-free week of travel, cultural exchange, and delicious food! Since the time of year I’m going is the shoulder season or off-season for many destinations, accommodation prices do seem to be lower. But I’ll still need to save up some money, right?
My rough budget right now for the total trip is $4000. I’m almost done couponing to The Bahamas, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to coupon an additional $4000 on top of that, even if I do have five months until my departure date. Instead, I’ll be looking into extra work I can do, like:
Book Sales: I’ve published two books so far, with another coming in November. I may release an additional book or two before leaving to Europe. Here’s my Amazon Author page so you can keep up-to-date with books I’m releasing. I’m hoping this trip will inspire ideas for more books to come!
Swagbucks: I use Swagbucks for a bulk of my couponing, but this website also offers other ways to earn money. Another way I like use Swagbucks is to use it as my search engine, and I get paid just for looking things up that I’d otherwise Google for no profit. I can also take surveys, watch videos (some may even help me with travel planning!), and even play games! Join me on Swagbucks so we can earn together!
Writing: I’ve written dozens of hostel reviews for Hostelz.com. It doesn’t cover the cost of travel, but it sure does help! I used to do a lot of product and accommodation reviews. I don’t do that much anymore, but I may do a couple on this trip if I feel it would be something beneficial to you readers. There’s also normal writing for normal magazines, and, like I said before, maybe another book!
Extra Hours: Unless I get a part-time online job, I won’t be able to work for an hourly wage in Europe. That’s fine for me; it means my time can be better spent exploring. But until then, I can trade time for money by accepting extra hours. I am trying to balance that better right now, though. I worked a lot of extra hours in the summer, and it did take away from my time working on my book business. I need to prioritize books because, even though that’s less lucrative than my hourly work, it has the potential to become more sustainable. But when I can, I will take on an occasional extra shift. And you’d better believe that I’ll be cashing in all my paid time off when I head to Europe!
Now it’s your turn… help me plan this trip! Do you have any must-see sights in Central Europe? How about money-saving tips? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate your thoughts into this trip!
The Lloyd Center is a shopping mall, movie theater, and more. A unique aspect is the indoor “ice” skating rink, right in the middle of the shopping center. But my favorite part is the free and plentiful parking. Of course, the parking lot and garage are only meant for patrons of the mall or theater. I went on a quick walk through the mall and later went to the movies (more on that later), but I did go for a walk while my car was left parked there, and all was good.
Portland has a lot of bridges spanning the Williamette River. One of my favorites is the Steel Bridge. It’s got a lot of great views (including the famous “Made in Oregon” neon sign), but I didn’t realize just how great it was. I walked on the pedestrian walkway alongside the car and train lanes on my way into Downtown Portland. But on the way back, I discovered that there was a lower level just for pedestrians! My trip to London inspired me to love and explore different levels of bridges (I went over, across, and under London Tower Bridge), so getting a different perspective of the Steel Bridge was great.
Keep Portland Weird
I traveled to Portland a lot more as a kid, and it definitely wasn’t as weird back then. I blame the TV show Portlandia for encouraging this subculture. I definitely came across some people living out the “Keep Portland Weird” motto as I strolled through Chinatown, which was capstoned when I finally saw this slogan on the side of a building. It’s right across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts, another Portland must-do. However, I decided to skip the doughnuts this time because I had other eating plans.
I don’t eat at restaurants much, mostly because I’d rather spend that money on travel. But since I was already traveling, I decided to spend some money on a unique dinner. Portland has a lot of options for that. I ended up deciding on Teote, because I love Latin American food. I got a delicious vegetarian plate. They have a few locations throughout Portland. I decided to eat at the “Teote Outpost” location, which is inside the Pine Street Market. This was partly because it was easy to incorporate into my walk, and partly because there was more I wanted to do in this unique food court.
Wiz Bang Bar
I’ve never had Salt & Straw ice cream. This is really crazy, because many people know me as the traveler who eats lots of ice cream. So obviously, the unique flavors of this Portland-based ice cream company were calling my name. However, instead of going to a Salt & Straw shop, all of which were a bit out of the way from all my other plans, I went to Wiz Bang Bar. This is owned by Salt & Straw, but instead specializes in unique soft serve. I sampled a couple unusual flavors and decided to get honey lavender soft serve with cookie dough in a waffle cone. There was a lot more to see and eat at Pine Street Market, but I was already getting full and had more to do, so I took my cone to my next stop.
World’s Smallest Park
Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning about unique Guinness World Records. One record, the world’s smallest park, was in my home state, but I never ended up visiting it until this trip. Mill Ends park started out as a hole in a street median where a light pole was supposed to go. When left abandoned, a journalist started turned it into a little park. Features vary from time to time, but all that was there during my visit was a small tree. A small park only requires a short visit, so I was soon on my way again.
Many people travel to Oregon thinking that Portland is the only thing to see (newsflash: it so is not!!!), but they at least take a day trip to see Multnomah Falls and other waterfalls along The Gorge. I’ve enjoyed lots of waterfalls, but these ones were unique! This piece of art took up the entire park block. I could jump from platform to platform over the water, and I even found a hidden path to get behind one of the waterfalls. This was super fun, but wasn’t the end of my time in Portland parks, or even the end of my time with water features!
In contrast with the world’s smallest park across the street, the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is huge! There’s a lot to see and do along this park, but I mostly wanted to enjoy my time strolling along the Williamette River and to try not to get attacked by a goose. I sat by the fountains and walked the entire length of the park until I was back at Steel Bridge, which I crossed and headed back to the final event of my time in Portland.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The reason that inspired me to take this trip to Portland was an event that you can participate in a theater near your own hometown… but you’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving. I was invited to attend an advance screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, based on a true story about an unlikely friend of Mister Rogers. (It was coincidental that in the movie, this friend was named Lloyd Vogel, and I was watching it at the Lloyd Center!) Tom Hanks did an excellent job portraying the beloved children’s show host, and I was glad I brought a spare napkin from my meal at Teote, because this movie evoked all the feels! And don’t think that just because it’s about Fred Rogers that it’s for kids. In fact, adults will get a lot more out of this film. I hope you go see it, and have a beautiful day in Portland or whatever neighborhood you explore next!
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is about a reporter who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers. I wish he were still alive because interviewing him would be a dream come true for me! But I have had the opportunity to interview dozens of inspiring living role models, like Bethany Hamilton, Sadie Robertson, and more. These interviews will be featured in Girls Who Change the World, which releases October 1st. Click here to preorder Girls Who Change the World!
As a US American citizen, it’s not always easy to hop across the pond for European adventures. So when I can find a European experience in my own country, I’m all for it!
There are a lot of Stonehenge knockoffs in the United States. I regret not having a car while living in Nebraska, because it could have taken me to see Carhenge. There’s also a Foamhenge in Virginia and Alabama has its own fiberglass “Bamahenge”. But nearest me is the Stonehenge of Maryhill, Washington. It’s just across the Oregon border, making it easily accessible by both states. After I visited Multnomah Falls, I headed further east for this next stop.
Since I got to visit the real Stonehenge while in England this past May, it was fun to compare the original stones with this full-scale replication.
Me with the Heel Stone at England’s Stonehenge
England: Part of the enticement to Stonehenge is that no one knows for sure how it was made or what it was used for, though we do estimate it at being 5000 years old. Many theories for its purpose have been presented over the years, but currently, there is strong evidence suggesting it was a sort of calendar device, due to its specific alignment with the solstices.
The Heel Stone at Maryhill’s Stonehenge
Washington: One hundred years ago, England’s Stonehenge was believed to be used for human sacrifice. So when the founder of Maryhill’s Stonehenge wanted to build a memorial to the recently-deceased of World War I, he thought about the sacrifice these soldiers gave and thought Stonehenge would be fitting.
A replica of what may have been used to transport the heavy stones of Stonehenge
England: Perhaps Stonehenge’s biggest mystery is how the builders obtained the stone from 200 miles away, without any modern machinery. Erecting this circle would have been difficult as well.
If it’s made of concrete, should it be called Concretehenge?
Washington: Originally, the plan was for this memorial to be made of local stone. But building a Stonehenge out of stones proved to be difficult even in more modern times, so they switched to concrete. The concrete doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as the original stones, but they tried to improve the appearance by using foil to create a crumpled texture.
England’s Stonehenge with a visible attempt to keep the ruins intact
England: Stonehenge is in ruins; there’s no doubt about that. I visited midday, so I was able to walk around the path, admiring the stones from a bit of a distance. There are special sunrise and sunset tours that allow visitors to walk into the inner circle, but they still cannot touch the stones. Many pieces have fallen and some are missing.
Can you picture the original Stonehenge looking like this one in Washington?
Washington: My favorite part about this Stonehenge is that it was an opportunity to see what Stonehenge was intended to look like. At a mere century old, the preserved memorial shows the Stonehenge with all of its transepts intact. Best of all, you can get up close and personal with this Stonehenge. Spend as much time as you want walking through the inner circle, and even touch the “stones” if you want. No special tour necessary.
England’s Stonehenge as seen from the road
England: Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains. Although its mostly surrounded by farmland (sheep get to spend more time viewing Stonehenge than humans do), it is visible from the throughway. To walk around Stonehenge, though, you’ll need a ticket before taking the bus ride from the parking lot to the stone circle. Since I’m not comfortable driving in England (or really any foreign country), I took one of the many bus tours that stop at Stonehenge.
Washington’s Stonehenge as seen from the road
Washington: Fortunately, I am comfortable driving in most of the United States, which is good because I’m unaware of any busses that stop here! Parking was free and right next to Stonehenge. This Stonehenge is also conveniently located off a highway, though you have to drive a mile or so down country roads before it becomes visible. It sits atop a hill, with a gorgeous view down to the Columbia River and the surrounding farmland. Instead of sheep, these farms are for orchards and wind power!
A prehistoric re-creation at the Stonehenge visitor center in England
England: The visitor experience at Stonehenge has really improved with the addition of a visitor center. This museum has videos, artifacts, and replicas of past life in the area. There are also bathrooms, a gift shop, and a cafe. I took the advice of some other travelers who said I shouldn’t take such a long bus ride from London just to visit Stonehenge. So I found a bus trip that also included an extended stop in Bath.
War Memorial next to Washington’s Stonehenge
Washington: There was a little building at the site entrance, but it wasn’t open at the time so I don’t know what lies inside. There was a flyer that listed some interesting events, and there were port-a-potties on the side of the building. Although there weren’t restaurants, there was a picnic table where I enjoyed a snack I brought. There’s also a soldier memorial to remember the wars that have happened since this Stonehenge was erected to commemorate WWI. I also don’t think you should make this trip just to see this Stonehenge. Across the river bridge is The Dalles, Oregon, which leads into the high desert. I also included Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake National Park, and a few state parks on this weekend trip.
One other big difference between the two Stonehenges was the crowds. One had hundreds of visitors while I was there, while the other only had a couple visitors at a time and I even got to spend some time all alone there. I bet you can figure out which was which!
Have you ever visited a replica of a landmark from another country? Tell me about it in the comments; I’ll probably want to see it too!
Whether you’re in the US, Europe, or anywhere else in the world, you can turn little attractions like this into real adventures! Learn how in my brand-new book, Uncommon Adventures, available in paperback and Kindle ebook
Although I’ve lived in various places across the United States, most of my life has been spent in Oregon. So it might be surprising that I had never been to one of Oregon’s most popular attractions, Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is a tall waterfall in The Gorge of Northern Oregon, just off of the I-84. One of the reasons I hadn’t been to Multnomah Falls was because I had only been on I-84 twice. Both times I was merely a passenger on a bus so I didn’t have control over where we stopped, though on my second trip I at least got to see the upper part of Multnomah Falls from the highway.
But this summer, I wasn’t able to get out much. My last overnight camping trip was in June, and I ended up sick the entire time. Other than that, I went on a few short day trips and housesat a little, but for the most part, I was choosing to put in extra hours at work so I would have more money to spend on travel later. Of course, part of that work involved releasing my new book, Uncommon Adventures! Anyway, when I had a rare free summer weekend, I knew I needed to pack in as much adventure I could, and that would mean a visit to a place I’d never been before!
I learned a lot on my visit to Multnomah Falls, and now you can get a look at the inside scoop!
Parking is Limited
As a top Oregonian attraction, the parking lot just can’t be big enough in the tourist season. Several websites said that there is typically no parking between 11 and 4 on most summer weekends, and some visitors recommended getting there by 9:30.
My original plan was to leave on Friday and find an inexpensive Airbnb to stay in somewhere south of Portland. Then I could easily arrive at Multnomah Falls on Saturday morning. But when I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to stay, I decided to save some money and stay in my own home that night. However, Medford is nearly five hours away from Multnomah Falls, so by 4:15am, I was cruising up the freeway! So worth it, though. I arrived at the big parking lot that’s centered in the middle of Highway 84, and got the first spot in the lot.
After hiking to Benson State Recreation Area (more on that later), I saw their parking lot jam-packed, mostly from visitors who were walking to Multnomah Falls from there. And it was a $5 fee to park there! If you can’t park at Multnomah Falls, there are lots of nearby state park sites that you can go to instead, but most of them have a day-use fee. I returned to the free Multnomah Falls parking lot at 1pm to grab my packed lunch, and every space was taken. Signs were posted that both parking lots were full. When I left for the day at 4pm, the parking lot was open again, but still mostly full. My parking space was taken literally as soon as I pulled out!
There are Three Falls Viewpoints
Most people visit Multnomah Falls from the viewpoint at the base. If you look up a picture of Multnomah Falls on the internet, it’s almost guaranteed that the top results are all taken from this viewpoint. But in those pictures, you’ll see the bridge that separates the upper fall from the lower. Getting to the bridge is just an easy, uphill, paved walk, and many people head up there to see the falls up-close. If you’re up for a bit of a longer and more strenuous hike, you can visit the top of the falls. It’s a steep mile with lots of switchbacks, so not as many people were up at this viewpoint.
Unless this is just a quick roadside stop (which it shouldn’t be if you can avoid it) or your physical ability doesn’t allow it, make an effort to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Not everyone has the opportunity to hike up Oregon’s tallest waterfall. I saw lots of retirees and families on this hike, some even carrying toddlers on their backs. So while it is exhausting, it is doable for most people. Once you reach the top, you can relax there for awhile. Take some pictures on the viewing platform, or admire how calm the Multnomah Creek is before it turns into a roaring waterfall. Then you can either head back down the way you came, or continue further on the less-explored part of the trail.
Multnomah Falls Isn’t the Only Waterfall
There are three other waterfalls in this park. You first have to hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, but if you choose to continue up the trail, you’re in for some real treats.
There are three waterfalls upstream that are all relatively close to each other. This is part of an extensive trail system. If you decide to hike beyond the waterfalls, there are lots of mountain trails you can go on. I chose the five-mile loop to Benson State Recreation Area. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost because whenever I came to a fork it the road, there was a signpost saying which trail was which. I also got a free map from the Visitor Center before I headed out, which was where I found out that this large loop trail even existed.
But as the visitor center volunteer told me, I didn’t have to hike the entire loop. I could have hiked to the waterfalls and then turned around. I decided to take it one step at a time. At first, my goal was just to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Then I decided to check out the other waterfalls. It was there that I decided I might as well go all the way. I was rewarded. The forest was beautiful, and I spotted more waterfalls as I entered Benson State Recreation Area. While this state park has a $5 entry fee if you come by car, entering on foot is free!
The Cookies are HUGE!
I packed a lunch and plenty of other food for the road trip, but you can also eat at Multnomah Falls. There’s a sit-down restaurant and a few snack bars. Snow cones and soft-serve ice cream were two popular choices, but I decided on a cookie for a waterside snack. They were four dollars (which was less than most other snack options), but they were humongous, so it turned out to be a great deal. You could even split this dessert with all your road trip companions. I did this trip solo, though, so I was in for a delicious sugar rush!
You Can’t Stay the Night
Overnight parking isn’t allowed. Despite its name, the Multnomah Falls Lodge has a visitor center, gift shop, restaurant, and bathrooms, but no sleeping quarters. Thankfully, there are lots of nearby state parks where you can stay affordably.
I ended up staying the night at Memaloose State Park. Like many of the other local state parks, it’s situated on the Columbia River with an overlooking view of Washington State. It is a bit further than other campgrounds like Ainsworth, Government Island, or Viento, but I was heading east for the next stop on my trip, so it served as a good midway point. If you can’t find an available campsite from Oregon State Parks, check if there is any availability at the nearby Washington parks.
Overall, It’s a Great Experience
I loved my trip to Multnomah Falls, and I’ll stop there again whenever I pass through the area from now on. Some people stay for less than an hour, while others stay all day. I enjoyed the natural setting for about seven hours, though I could have easily made this stop longer or shorter. But I had been up since the middle of the night, and I still had a bit more driving to do before I reached Memaloose State Park. Besides I wanted to be rested up for the next leg of this road trip? Any guesses where it is? I’ll reveal my next stop later this week, or you can find out the answer by following me on Instagram.
Have you visited any waterfalls before? Which has been your favorite?
A trip to the Parthenon…what does this make you think of? For most, that would involve heading to Athens, Greece. That was one of my Parthenon trips. But my first Parthenon trip happened three years before I ever even set foot in Europe. And my last Parthenon trip happened over three years after I left Greece. What an uncommon adventure! To understand the full significance and beauty of this historic architecture, I believe it requires three trips to three different countries.
Nashville: Discovering the Former Glory
While not a primary reason to visit Tennessee, I loved visiting the world’s only fully intact Parthenon and saw it almost every day while in Nashville. While it doesn’t have millennia-old history or fine material craftsmanship, this is one of the best places to go to visually learn about the Parthenon.
The exterior is a spitting image of the Parthenon in its glory days. You can walk around and see each piece of art. You can even walk up and touch the columns or sit on the steps, something you absolutely cannot do at the Acropolis. Another thing you can only do here is step inside the Parthenon. While the lower levels definitely look modern-day, the top level features a giant statue of the Greek god Athena, the namesake for Greece’s capital. While a similar statue used to be housed inside Greece’s Parthenon, no one knows what happened to that behemoth. So not only is this the only place where you can see the Parthenon in its intended glory, but also the only place to see this statue and what it looked like inside.
At the time of my visit to Nashville, I had never been to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to Greece in my lifetime, but I recorded in my travel journal that if I did make it there, I might be disappointed at the real Parthenon.
Athens: The Real Deal on Location
A few years later, I found myself in Greece! And I recorded in that travel journal that I wasn’t sure if I liked the Greek or American Parthenon better.
The center of Athens is the Acropolis, and the centerpiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the original. It’s a special experience to be able to walk among the ancient buildings atop this mountain. The ruins are preserved as best as possible there, but the art is better kept in a different home. Just downhill, the Acropolis Museum recreates the Parthenon indoors with the friezes displayed in their original order. Other Acropolis archaeological finds are on display here as well. But not everything from the Parthenon is housed in this museum.
The Parthenon is in ruins, partially because of its age, and largely because of an explosion when it was being used to store British military ammunition. If you speak to a local Greek about the Parthenon, they will be sure to include blaming the Brits. Not only for the explosion, but also because they “stole the original art off the Parthenon and refuse to give it back”. The Greeks’ relationship with the British might be strained because of this, but for me, this international argument was mostly just a call for me to take another trip.
London: Rounding Out with the Lost Art
After seeing the Parthenon in Athens, my next trip to Europe had to involve Great Britain. While an expensive city, London can be done on a budget, especially when you visit the free museums! One of the best museums (that also happens to be free) is the British Museum, oddly named since it consists entirely of artifacts taken from other countries. An entire section of the museum is devoted to ancient art from Athens.
Stepping into the Greek section of The British Museum almost felt like being teleported back into Greece. The room appeared to be the Acropolis turned outside-in. Each end of this room displays the Elgin Marbles, the statues that originally adorned the Parthenon. They are displayed in the same order as they were intended to be, so you can easily imagine the Parthenon’s roof topping just over their heads. Other statues are bookended by this art, along with a message of the United Kingdom’s stance on why they believe the Parthenon pieces in their collection should remain under their care.
The British Museum had a lot of other fascinating artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone. London itself had even more to offer. But the feeling of being among the Parthenon’s marble statues was uniquely satisfying. After many years and a worldwide search, I had finally come full-circle with seeing every element of the Parthenon that began with an unlikely trip to Nashville.
Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:
Taking a Walking Tour
I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.
Visiting the White Tower and City Walls
As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.
Having a Rotunda View
I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.
Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.
I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.
These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?