resources, travel tips, writing

Pro Packing Tips

The following is something I wrote as a sidebar to an article that will appear in the Summer 2016 issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, titled “Summer Shopping”. Since the article itself will have even more tips for shopping and packing for your travels, I suggest getting a free subscription by clicking here!

 

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I’ve impressed many TSA agents with the way I pack. Most of the time, I manage to bring everything I need in just my carry-on luggage, including when I spent three months backpacking Mediterranean Europe last summer! I’d like to pass on a few of my pro tips with you.

-If you’re flying, look up the exact carry-on limits for your airline and country. While all have size restrictions, there may or may not also be a weight limit.

-Because you can only carry on liquids in 3.1 oz. containers that fit in a one-quart bag, try to find solid alternatives for your liquid toiletries. There are soap bars, deodorant bars, lotion bars, and even shampoo bars! If you end up needing to bring a lot of liquid product, pack it in your checked luggage.

-Keep your clothing compact and wrinkle-free by rolling each item up.

-Stash your undergarments in baggies. This will help keep your suitcase organized and could save you some embarrassment if a TSA agent has to search your belongings.

-Wear your bulkiest clothing on your flight days to save more suitcase space.

-Always remember to stay hydrated, especially while traveling! You’re allowed to bring an empty water bottle through TSA security, and then after the checkpoint there will be plenty of drinking fountains to fill up at.

-Most importantly, never pack more than you can carry!

Medford Airport to Mediterranean

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Accommodations, resources, Travel Life

Essential Things to Consider Before Buying an RV

Since I’ve been considering RV living for quite some time, (it’s even on my bucket list!), I think this information will help both people like me and those interested in using a recreational vehicle for… well, recreation!

Traveling in an RV has to be one of the best ways to see the US, as well as the rest of the world. It appeals to a lot of people who want the freedom of camping but with a bit more comfort. An RV gives you transportation and accommodation all in one, so you don’t have to worry about booking hotels or even finding restaurants. You can plan your trip by choosing the places you want to stop, never having to see the same place twice. However, it’s not for everyone, and you shouldn’t jump straight into buying an RV. Before you make a decision, consider these important factors.

File:RV Camper at North Toledo Bend State Park.jpgSource: Alex Demyan

Will You Enjoy the Drive?

Before you go ahead and buy an RV, you have to decide if it’s right for you. Some people enjoy the journey while they’re traveling, but others want to get from A to B as soon as possible. If you don’t like taking your time to move from place to place, you probably won’t like traveling in an RV. And if you don’t enjoy driving, it’s probably not a good idea to get behind the wheel of one. If you’re not sure whether you would like it or not, there’s one simple solution. You should start by hiring an RV so you can test it out. You can try the lifestyle of living on the road and stopping at various locations. You might discover that you love it, or it could leave you feeling disappointed. You won’t know until you try.

Who Is Coming Along for the Ride?

It’s essential to consider who is going to travel with you in your RV. Some people travel alone with a small trailer and enjoy their own company. Others go as a couple, particularly retired couples who love having adventures together. You can also travel as a family, with the kids, dog, and maybe even the cat in the back. It’s important to think about who’s coming with you because you’re going to be stuck with them. Although you can go and do your own things when you stop, it’s difficult to get away from each other when you’re driving. You need to think about how much space you need, as well as what facilities matter to you.

Are You Interested in Long or Short Trips?

An RV can take you almost anywhere, from the next town over to all the way across the country. If you rent an RV, you can drive one anywhere in the world. You should think about whether you’re interested in going on long or short trips in an RV. Of course, if you’re planning on long ones, you might enjoy shorter trips in between your epic journeys. It’s important to think about this because it could influence the type of RV you buy or rent. A smaller one with fewer features might not be suitable for people who want to go on longer trips.

Size and Budget

It probably won’t surprise you that the size of an RV affects its price. The bigger you’re looking at, the more expensive it’s going to cost. You have to consider how much you’re willing to spend, how much space you need, and how long your RV will last. There are several types of motor home you can look at. At the top of the scale, you’ll find huge Class A motor homes, which many people will only dream of owning. They can cost as much as a house, and with good reason. They can have several slide-out sections to maximize spaces and lots of amenities. Some even have space for a car inside them.

File:'06-'07 Ford E-350 (1-800-RV-4-RENT).JPGSource: Bull-Doser

If your budget is more modest, you’re more likely to look at travel trailers and fifth wheels. These hitch onto trucks and SUVs to make transporting your RV easy. You could even get a pop-up trailer, which is lighter and more compact. Another option to consider is sport utility RVs, which are sometimes called toy haulers. They have space in the rear where you can fit a motorcycle, canoe, or even a small boat. If you’re on a tight budget, you might even consider a truck camper. It goes in the bed of your truck to give you features such as a kitchen, shower, and bedroom. However, it’s much cheaper than a motorhome.

Maintaining an RV

It’s essential to remember that owning a motorhome isn’t just a one-time investment. They need to be cared for, which also costs money. If you think that keeping your car maintained is expensive, you could be in for a shock if something is wrong with your RV. Luckily, just like with your car, you can learn to take care of your RV on your own. You don’t necessarily need a mechanic to help you out. Using sites like http://www.stlrv.net/st-louis-rv-parts-for-sale, you can buy any parts you need. You can save a lot of money by doing the work yourself. Finding someone to fix your RV can be difficult because they need to have space for it. If you do want a professional to repair it, look for somewhere that specializes in motorhomes.

Other Running Costs

Maintenance of your RV isn’t the only expense you need to be concerned about. You need to consider other costs too. Go to http://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/ to see some of the extra costs involved. For example, there’s the price of fuel. How many miles per gallon are you going to get from your motorhome? You also need to think about where to park your RV when you’re not driving it. There are lots of homeowner’s associations and the like which do not allow you to park a motorhome. You can find a specialist place to keep it, but you will have to pay a monthly fee. Then there’s insurance, which will cost you more if you have a larger RV. Plus, you might want to stay connected while you’re on the road. You could be paying for things like satellite or wireless internet so you can make phone calls and watch TV.

There’s a lot to think about before you start traveling in an RV. It’s not all about the travel itself, and it’s important to keep finances in mind.

jobs, resources, saving money, Travel Life, writing

Transitioning to Travel Life

I’m going to guess that most people reading this don’t get to travel like it’s a full-time job, likely because they have a full-time job. However, many travel bloggers you can find on the internet do get to travel full-time, or at least most-of-the-time.

I am not one of those bloggers.

Although I was basically jobless for the three months I backpacked Europe (I made a little from freelance writing, but probably under $100), I have spent the rest of my adulthood scheduling travel around work. If I didn’t work, I couldn’t travel.

Now I’m thinking that most of you readers can relate to me better.

Most of the best travel blogs out there are written by people who travel like it’s their job, because it IS their job. When they go over how they manage things, it’s a little hard for the rest of us to relate.

I’d like to try something on this blog over the next few months that I’ve never seen successfully completed on other “indie” travel blogs. Instead of waiting until I am successful to tell you about my success, we’re going to start with explaining what I’m doing right here, right now.

Web Marketing for Booking Site

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I booked this stay at Sacramento International Hostel through Hostelz.com!

I got my newest job just a week ago! I now work for Hostelz.com as a web marketer. I’ve written hostel reviews and location descriptions for this site for years now, so it’s nice to finally work for them for more substantial pay. The biggest advantage of this job is that while the company is based in Texas, I’ve never been to Texas and won’t have to go there for any work reasons. I can work from anywhere that I can connect to the internet. Another advantage is that part of this job involves visiting travel blogs that I may have not noticed before, so I’m getting some new travel information. Of course, there are downsides, but they’re pretty typical of location-independent work. One thing I’m not sure is an advantage or disadvantage is that I only get paid for completing something. The downside is that, unlike most jobs, I don’t get paid to take breaks. The upside is I have more control over how much I make.

Travel Blogging

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While travel blogging doesn’t earn much, the perks are nice, like getting to review this Ellie Claire journal on my Mediterranean Trek!

This is still definitely more of a hobby, but I try to monetize when I can. For over a year now, I’ve included affiliate links to Hostelz.com, and recently when I’m trying to earn extra money with Swagbucks, although these haven’t been too successful yet. (But I do appreciate when you go through my links to book- it earns me a bit of money with no extra cost to you!)

You may have also noticed that I recently posted my first sponsored post. FatJoe contacted me a few months ago asking if this blog would be willing to host sponsored posts. My initial reaction was worrying that I would end up trapped posting subpar content advertising things I didn’t care about. But when I found out that I had control over what I could accept and that they would only submit things to me when they knew they were relevant for this site, I became more willing. Having only received one post from them over the past few months proves that they know their clients well, but resulted in only a few dollars coming my way.

It’s been somewhat profitable to guest post for other travel blogs. I recently was published for my third time on Travel Fashion Girl. I try not to write for free on blogs unless I can tell it will greatly help with networking. I think TravelingMom has potential for this. I’ve also joined a few travel writing networks such as The Aspiring Travel Writer, which has helped a lot with motivation.

While travel blogging hasn’t done much in terms of finances, it has always been nice to have sponsors!

Non-Travel Writing

summer 2016 announcement
I’ll get to West Monroe, Louisiana eventually. But getting to interview Duck Dynasty stars may be the next best thing.

Who said the digital nomadic life had to be entirely travel-based? While I do write a lot online about travel, much of my writing is about different topics. Some of the recent work I sold will be used in Devozine and Young Salvationist.

I am also the editor of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, a free magazine for teens. I’ve been working on it for five years as a labor of love, but I’ve been making connections for advertisers and review products. More recently, it seems like it will become more successful financially! As a bonus, I’m able to rework some of my content from this magazine for others. (Anyone want to buy an interview with Duck Dynasty stars John Luke and Mary Kate Robertson?)

Still Working Locally

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Sometimes you can even find faraway lands locally. How about this Japanese garden in Lithia Park?

All of the above is nice, but I’m not ready to leave local work yet. I did, however, leave the job that took up most of my time a week ago. I’m still doing childcare and working at the Magdalene Home.

Right now, I’m not willing to give up local work because of its many intangible benefits! It keeps me better connected and involved in the community. My hours are flexible enough that I can still travel. And of course, it’s nice to have a semi-regular source of income.

And What About Traveling?

Medford Airport to Mediterranean
My backpack and I are always prepped for any adventures offered!

When I moved back to Oregon and started planning my European trip, I thought travel work would go right in hand with actual travel. Not so! Although I haven’t read any other travel bloggers admitting it, I think the secret to location-independent work is to make sure it works at one location before throwing travel into the mix.

So I haven’t done much travel lately, except for local day trips. I do want to make sure that my above location-independent jobs (especially Hostelz.com) are a viable source of income and keep my interest over the long term. Since my disposable income isn’t much right now (mostly because I bought a car), I’m having extra fun researching ways to travel for even less, or maybe free! But just in the past 24 hours, I’ve already started planning two different trips that I can take thanks to this kind of life!

As I continue transitioning to a more travel-oriented life, what details would you like to learn? 

faith, interview, resources, writing

Three Things to Read


I can’t wait to share what adventures I’ve been up to lately! But my computer is in the repair shop, so until I get it back and can share the photos I took, here are a few things that can take up your reading time.

Packing for a Bus Trip?

Overnight Greyhound Bus
Good Ol’ Greyhound

This is my second time being published on Travel Fashion Girl. I wrote a packing list for long-distance bus travel. It seems like lately I’ve been writing a lot about long-distance bus travel. The last time I rode a bus was in August, going from Barcelona to Nice. (Well, I guess I rode Istanbul’s city bus in October, and while it seemed like it took forever to get across that city, I’m talking about true long-distance bus travel!) But between July 2014 and August 2015, I rode the bus a bunch! I took a bus trip to Niagara Falls, rode the Greyhound across America, and used Eurolines bus service instead of Eurail for my first month in Europe.

Meet an Italian Girl!

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This is me in Italy, but I’m not an Italian girl. 

I actually wrote three articles for the April/May issue of Pristeen Magazine. While it’s a fashion-based magazine, I got to write more about adventure-based things. My first article on page 10 is “Who in the World is Fanny Crosby” a historical figure I look up to. But the really exciting stuff starts on page 56. I wrote about my experience in Italy for the “Around the World” column. Then I interviewed Osayi, a 17-year-old from Rome. Although I haven’t personally met Osayi, it’s possible that we were in the same church service once! I got connected to her by e-mailing a pastor at an English-speaking church I attended in Rome. You can read all about Osayi, Rome, and all of Italy by reading Pristeen for free here!

Travel the World, Then Change the World!

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I took a day away from my Niagara Falls trip to serve at an inner-city ministry.

I don’t always write about travel. But I do believe that travel is one way to help better understand the world, and therefore know how to change it. Some of these principles are applied in each and every issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which you can subscribe to for FREE! As Girlz 4 Christ’s editor, I love submissions from how people are impacting their communities. In the past issue, I got to write an interview with actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff, a documentary review and interview with an adopting family, suggestions for those times you have to stay put but want to take a “bookation”, and a collaboration of five previous cover girls to celebrate the magazine’s fifth birthday. I’m working on the next issue which will feature a famous Christian on the cover, and even include some adventurous articles inside!

health, resources, travel tips

“Cuppow!” My New Supertraveler Catchphrase

When I first heard the word “Cuppow”, I imagined Batman and Robin fighting off a bunch of villains, but right when they were about to punch, this word “Cuppow!” flashes across the screen. I quickly learned that it means something else entirely, but it’s still associated with superheroes of travel in my book.1461471558967240997310

Cuppow is changing the way that I drink liquids. It’s a drinking lid that looks a lot like what you’d find topping your cup at Starbucks. Cuppow is different in that its purpose is to reduce plastic consumption and keep cups and lids out of landfills. This lid attaches to a canning jar (both wide mouth and regular size Cuppows are available), and provides you with a unique beverage container!

My favorite part of the Cuppow is that I’m spilling much less often than when I just carry around an open cup. I’m a klutz! But with my Cuppow and attached Mason jar, I’ve been able to stay well-hydrated and spill-free in the following locations:

A trip to Gold Beach

Driving to and through Wildlife Safari

-About a dozen Grants Pass jaunts

Just about anywhere I go in my new car– where I definitely don’t want any spills or leaks to ruin the exterior!

-All the time at home- now I can have a cup in the living room, kitchen, or bedroom without spilling all over the floor like I tend to do!

I really like that the Cuppow is sneakily encouraging me to keep healthy. It’s increased my daily water intake, and I’ve also used it to consume herbal teas. (And okay, maybe I used my Cuppow to drink hot chocolate once… or three times.) Now that the weather’s warming up, I’m excited to use it to transport smoothies. No matter what I drink from my Cuppow, it will always be a little healthier to drink from it since it’s BPA and BPS free. The healthy aspects extend to the environment since Cuppows are made in the USA out of food grade recycled materials and a portion of the proceeds go to charities.

The strength the stop spills in their tracks, the portability to go anywhere, and the power to save the world from disposable waste… who is this superhero? Cuppow! Click here to get your own supertraveler! 

 

I was provided with a complementary Cuppow for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made. I just genuinely love my Cuppow!

Accommodations, Carry-On Toiletries, culture, Foodie, health, resources, souvenir, travel tips, voluntourism

Traveling Can Be Green, Too!

Happy Earth Day! Most of what I write here is creative ways to travel that will save you green. But in honor of today’s holiday, I’m going to shift gears a bit and talk about another way to save the green.

Many environmentalists frown upon travel as it causes greenhouse gases and a bigger carbon footprint. True, carbon costs associated with travel can be astronomical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cleaned up and greened up. Since Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd, here are 22 ways you can make your travel more green!

(Bonus: In addition to saving the green for the environment, many of these will save the green in your wallet, too!)

Green Accommodation

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Share your campsite to make an even lower impact!
  1. Stay in Hostels Staying in a hostel dorm with others requires less square footage and encourages community. Hostels also often tend to buy in bulk and cut out worthless amenities, so you won’t create excess waste with miniature shampoos.
  2. Go Camping Get in touch with nature, and then be encouraged to preserve it! Any kind of camping is probably helpful for the environment, but you can take it a step futher with primitive camping, where you won’t have electricity hookups, WiFi, or possibly even flushing toilets!
  3. Stay with Friends Instead of creating a demand for a temporary place to sleep, go somewhere that’s already being lived in. Your friends will probably equip you with the same shower, dishes, and bedding they always use instead of providing disposible or temporary supplies like a hotel does.
  4. Don’t Request Sheet Changes Unless Absolutely Needed In your own home, you probably realize that washing sheets from just one bed is enough to load an entire washer and dryer. Save the water, soap, gas, and electricity by skipping sheet changes. You don’t replace your sheets at home every day, do you?

Green Packing

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Unless you need a Delorean because you’re going on a time-travel vacation, don’t pack enough to fill a truck.
  1. Bring Your Own Toiletries in Reusable Containers I’ve shared some of my favorite travel toiletry containers here before. Whether you use my recommendations or not, siphoning toiletries from bulk containers into smaller, reusable containers is much better than purchasing one-time bottles from the travel section of superstores.
  2. Lighten the Load with Carry-On Only No matter which mode you travel with, you’ll always save fuel if you take a lighter load. I backpacked the Mediterranean for 92 days with just a carry-on! I think going on a weeklong vacation with only a carry-on is a piece of cake.
  3. Borrow or Buy Used Travel Gear There are some items that may be necessary while traveling, but useless in everyday life. If you absolutely cannot go without it, ask your friends, family, and social media followers if you can borrow their tent, or ice chest, or lawn chair, or… you get the picture.
  4. Do Laundry Effectively If you need to do laundry on your trip at all, first see if there is anything you can wear more than once between washes. Bring your own eco-friendly soap instead of the single-serve packets found at the laundromat, and try to line-dry your laundry, even if you have to do so indoors.

Green Transportation

Rafting
You could travel by boat for a really fuel-efficient getaway. But if going by raft, you may get wet!
  1. Carpool If someone else is available to travel with you, going in one car instead of two will cut your emissions in half. Better yet, if you’re both licensed drivers, split the driving time to help keep alert and avoid accidents.
  2. Take the Bus or Train I love both of these options! You get to see so much more of the country, and reap the benefits of extremely low passenger miles per gallon! Trains are often a vacation in themselves, and long-distance buses make travel available to all income levels!
  3. Walk or Bike Everywhere at Your Destination Make a point to do this everywhere you go, even if it means staying closer to the city center. I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on if I took cars or city transportation everywhere I’ve been.
  4. Don’t Fly First Class I’ve flown first class one time, and it was WAY overrated. Flying in coach means that the seating allows for more passengers to fly (and thus cuts down on emissions per person), plus lowers the waste of beverage cups and snack wrappers.

Green Eating

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My take-away container was already full when I bought these in Paris. But I could recycle the cardboard and bag!
  1. Pick Restaurants that Serve Local Food You’ll get a better sense of the local cuisine and prevent excess trucking and shipping of food.
  2. Become a Vacation Vegetarian I’m not saying you have to give up meat. (Not everyone can!) But try to select veg options in your travels. Besides the environmental advantages, vegetarian options often cost less, and you will be less exposed to those icky stomach bugs that travelers fear.
  3. Bring Washable Dishes or Stay Somewhere that Offers Them It’s not that time-consuming to wash your dishes after eating instead of throwing them away.
  4. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle!) Vacations tend to make me thirsty! Instead of buying drinks everyday, I’m saving my wallet, my waistline, and the Earth with a reusable bottle.

Green Entertainment

Love Locks Paris
See those love locks at practically every major attraction? Skipping this activity will reduce the waste of the lock and packaging, reduce the pollution caused when the key is tossed into the water, and reduce the repairs needed on the structures that are getting vandalized and weighed down!
  1. Recycle Ticket Stubs (or Use an eTicket) These are usually recyclable, but rarely do people think to recycle them!
  2. Visit Local Parks Fresh air, green plants, and a free place to explore the local culture. What’s not to love?
  3. Borrow Books or DVDs for Downtime Sure, you could buy a paperback for those times you need to relax. But many hostels, and now even some hotels, offer lending libraries or book/movie exchanges. Reduce the demand for new materials, and lighten the weight of that carry-on you brought!
  4. Visit Ethical Attractions What you define as “ethical” is ultimately up for you to decide, but consider how workers are treated, how animals are used, how waste is disposed of, and how guests can contribute to the community.

Green Shopping

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Arnold Schwarzenegger bought this bear statue as a souvenir of his time as governor, but then left it at the California State Capitol! I guess he couldn’t even fit it into his suitcase.
  1. Avoid It Why do you need a tacky souvenir (that’s probably not even made at your destination), when there are more effective, and more eco-friendly, ways to capture your memories? One of my favorite mementos are my travel journals. Photos are another great option, or if you absolutely want to buy something, send yourself a postcard or letter from your destination.
day trip, resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips, Winter

Day Trip on the I-5

Although I am from Oregon, I can’t stand the rain! That makes coming up with day trip ideas complicated. But yesterday, my sister Jen and I took a very fun day trip along the Southern Oregon I-5. Since the majority of what we did involved being either indoors or in the car, the rain didn’t bother me at all!

Stop One: Spider Cars, Wolf Creek

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They’re bugs that are also bugs! This wasn’t a stop as much as it was a drive-by photo op, since these art pieces are on private property and meant to be viewed from the road. But it sure was nice to take a break from the interstate for a couple miles and catch unique scenery!

By the way, I found out about these bugs from RoadsideAmerica, which I often use to find fun stops on the way to a bigger destination.

Stop Two: Seven Feathers, Canyonville

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Seven Feathers had five different restaurants! Only one was open for lunch on Sundays, so we enjoyed fried-pickle-topped sandwiches at Cow Creek Restaurant. In front of Seven Feathers is the largest bronze casting of an eagle in the world.

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Although Seven Feathers is a casino resort, we didn’t go there to gamble. When we entered, there was a blue line in the carpet separating the casino area from the restaurant entrance, which minors are not allowed to cross. Because Jen recently turned twenty, I had to tease her by showing off how I could go across the blue line!

Stop Three: Wildlife Safari, Winston

This was the goal of our trip! I had given Jen a Groupon for Wildlife Safari as a Christmas gift (they’re still available on Groupon if you want to snag one!), and she finally had the opportunity to use it! Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, is a drive-thru animal park. I’ve only been to one other animal safari (in Ohio), but Wildlife Safari is definitely unique in its own right. First, it is the only drive-thru safari in Oregon. It also has more unique animals, as opposed to mostly farm animals like at many locations. Best of all, it’s certified by animal welfare groups, so I can go here knowing that my experience won’t be detrimental to the animals.

The drive takes you through three regions: Africa, The Americas, and Asia. I went here a few times as a kid, and I don’t remember being allowed to roll down car windows back then. This time, we were told at the entrance that windows down and seatbelts off were totally okay, as long as we didn’t get out of the car! This meant that some animals (especially the large bird species, like ostriches, emus, and rheas) would come up and poke their heads in to check out my car’s interior. Since there were wild animals, we got to see some of them fighting, and we may have cheered two bison on in their head-butting! No worries, though. Dangerous animals such as bears and big cats were separated from cars with fencing.

After our drive through, we went into the Safari Village. Up to this point, this had been a great rainy day trip (which was good since it was pouring buckets all day!). Safari Village is mostly outdoors, so we got a bit cold and wet, but we made the best of it. There were several animals here that were not part of the safari drive, which were fun to see. For kids (and kids at heart!) there’s a children’s petting zoo which has the standard goats and miniature horses, but it also has a black-tailed deer with a unique coloring: it’s white with brown patches! My favorite area was the Australia section. That wasn’t a continent included on the drive-thru, so it was cool to see the wallaroos, black swans, and kookaburras there. (Speaking of Australia, the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin has visited Wildlife Safari and documented it on his show! His wife, Terri Irwin, is from this area.) However, I think the highlight of Safari Village was meeting Pancake the cheetah up-close! While warming up in the gift shop, Pancake and the trainer walked in, followed by Pancake’s companion dog. They were raised together since they were a cub and puppy, and as such treat each other like siblings. (Jen and I also saw this phenomenon at the Colombus Zoo a couple years ago.)

At Wildlife Safari, every ticket is good for two drives through the safari. I think this is a great idea because we got to see and interact with some animals that were hiding during our first drive. Unfortunately, the one animal I was hoping to see that we didn’t see either time was the giraffe. We asked about it, and apparently they really don’t like the rain. I don’t blame them! But I think going on a rainy day ended up being a good idea, because the crowds were minimal and most of the other animals have no problem getting rained on.

Stop Four: Noah’s Ark, Winston

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Wildlife Safari was definitely the highlight, but we had one more place to stop by in Winston. Noah’s Ark is located just across the street. It’s hard to miss since the building is shaped like a big boat and surrounded by wooden animals! They offer a restaurant and tour through Biblical history, which I may take advantage of in the future. But with an all-day excursion, we mostly just wanted to see what it looked like. It had a nice view outside and a decorated bookshop inside. After that, we headed home in the rain!

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Books, culture, destinations, resources, souvenir, travel tips, writing

What to Expect with a Letter to Juliet

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Before even watching the movie “Letters to Juliet”, I was excited to go to Verona as part of my Mediterranean Trek. So I planned out my visit to this city mainly by borrowing the movie from a friend. The only mistake I made was that I booked a mere two nights in Verona, leaving me with just one full day to experience all that this quaint city has to offer.

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My first night in Verona was spent arriving by a delayed train, then struggling in the dusk to find where my BnB was before finally giving in and taking a cab, so I didn’t see much in the midst of that stress. I started the next day bright and early with a walk to Juliet’s courtyard. This is what you see in “Letters to Juliet”, and it’s the perfect place to write a letter to Juliet! Because I got there early enough, there were only a few other people there. I found a quiet place by the grafitti wall of love to write my letter. In the movie, you can see women sticking their letters into the cracks of a wall. You can still do that, however, to make sure that a secretary of Juliet receives your letter, there are better practices in place now. The best thing to do is stick your letter in the red mailbox. Alternatively, if you go inside the house, you’ll find computer kiosks where you can e-mail her!

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go inside the house at the time, so I headed over to the area where you can find Juliet’s tomb. It turns out that you can get a discount by getting a combination ticket to Casa de Giulietta and the museum with her tomb, so I did that. The tomb was the best feature of the museum it’s housed in, but there are other art and artifacts to enjoy as well.

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I eventually went back to the house, Casa de Giulietta. Inside were a lot of artifacts from some of the Romeo and Juliet movies, such as costumes and a prop bed.

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But the best part of the Casa was getting to stand on Juliet’s balcony, and pondering “Wherefore art thou?”

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While foot traffic inside the Casa wasn’t so bad, the courtyard was getting jam-packed with tour groups and other visitors. Here’s a tip: If you want a truly magical and meaningful experience with Juliet, go in the morning before the day trippers roll in!

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I went to the courtyard for a third time in the evening, and it was even more crowded then! But this is when I enjoyed putting my own graffiti on the wall entering the courtyard. I’m not a vandal, it’s actually encouraged!

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In another spot of the courtyard is the only place in Europe where it’s actually encouraged to place a love lock, as it will eventually become a part of an art piece. (But seriously, don’t put a love lock anywhere else! I saw locks on every fence and bridge in every city I went to, and it just looked inconsiderate and trashy.)

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There are a lot of other things to do in Verona, such as go to the Arena, walk by the river, or explore the castles. I did some of these things, but since none of them are directly related to Juliet, I’m going to fast forward to today.

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I had heard it would take a long time to get my letter back from Juliet. I was hoping it would arrive to my house around the time that I came back from the Mediterranean, but such was not the case. I kept it in the back of my mind, and thought about it sometimes when I went to get the mail. But today, I was totally not expecting it!

I opened the mailbox and grabbed the letters out. One had an Italian postmark, and the return address said it was from “Club di Giulietta”! I squealed in excitement. I scared my dog by my squealing. I hope the neighbors didn’t hear me squealing. I raced back to the house so I could carefully open the envelope.

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I don’t remember exactly what I wrote to Juliet, but it was a decent-sized letter that could be summed up as “where is he?” I was honestly just expecting the response to be a canned sentence on an index card. I was surprised at how much thought was put into the letter I received! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the letter.

“Finding love isn’t easy. In fact, it should be something they teach in school along with how to manage your finance and finding a job that you like.”

“Some people fall in love quickly- others warm to it slowly. But there is one common thing about it- that love doesn’t happen if you don’t take action.”

“Take the plunge- and live it, not dream it.”

By the way, while I would definitely encourage a trip to Verona if you can, you don’t need to go there in order to get a letter from Juliet. Just send your letter to:

Club di Giulietta
Corso Sant’Anastasia, 29
37121 Verona, Italy

In an age where it’s rare to receive a beautifully handwritten letter, it’s even more special to receive one from a fictional character!

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resources, saving money

How to Travel with Free Gift Cards

I’m in the beginning stages of planning my next big trip. This time around, I’m challenging myself to see how much of a quality trip I can obtain for free. And now, I am pursuing that goal in part with the earning site Swagbucks. (If you are not yet a part of Swagbucks, click here so you can sign up. Both of us will earn a sign-up bonus if you do!) So, what can you get for free with Swagbucks? Well, basically anything related to travel!

Free Attractions 

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You probably already know that Groupon offers great deals on travel and attractions. It’s not uncommon to go to the site and find deals for 50% off. But what if you could use Groupon to get 100% off? You can with Swagbucks! Use your earned points to buy Groupon gift cards, ranging from $15-$100.

I just quickly visited the Groupon site with my Oregon zip code, and in return I was offered a ton of travel deals! Steep discounts on hotels in popular tourist cities, half-price admission to various animal encounters. and deals on water activities like whale watching or white water rafting were just a few. If you need clothing or food for a trip, Groupon has offers for that too.

You can also use Groupon to earn swagbucks! If you’d like to purchase a Groupon, purchase it through Swagbucks’ site. For Christmas, I bought my sister a Groupon to a local attraction. By using Swagbucks, I got back 7 points for every dollar I spent. This is a fantastic deal, as most of the shopping deals only return 1-3 points per dollar!

Free Gas and Auto Repairs

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The Rewards Store on Swagbucks as an entire category labeled “Gas Cards”. Click on it and you will see gas cards for several different companies in various denominations. If you’re going anywhere that involves driving, gasoline seems like an expense that you can’t get out of. But if you use your swagbucks to get one of these free gas cards, that’s one expense you can eliminate!

Need to change your oil or have some other work done on your road trip car? You can take care of this too! Next to the gas cards, you will find some gift cards for Jiffy Lube.

Free Food

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Restaurant.com seems to be a popular way to get discounted dining lately. It is kind of like a Groupon site specifically for local restaurants. Also like Groupon, you can turn Restaurant.com from a good deal into a free deal by using your swagbucks to buy a free gift card.

If you don’t have enough swagbucks to get a Restaurant.com gift card, you can purchase one through swagbucks and earn 12 points for every dollar spent.

For specific restaurants, you can trade swagbucks for gift cards to places like Starbucks, Burger King, Cold Stone Creamery, Panera Bread, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s, just to name a few. Would you rather shop for groceries than eat out? Swagbucks has you covered. Get a free gift card to Sam’s Club, WalMart, or Whole Foods

Free Outdoor Activities

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If you like outdoor adventure or simply more rugged travel, then you have at least stepped inside a store such as REI, Bass Pro Shops, or Cabela’s. Guess what? You can earn gift cards to all these places, plus other companies like Columbia or Foot Locker, and sport quality gear on your next outdoorsy trip.

Free Travel-Specific Gift Cards

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How does free airfare, hotels, or cruises sound? Okay, it may take a long time to earn enough swagbucks to get a completely free rate, but these gift cards will at least bring in a nice discount!

Currently the only airfare gift cards are from Southwest. For cruises, you can choose from Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises. Hyatt offers gift cards for their hotels, and you can also get gift cards for travel sites such as Hotels.com and Orbitz. The hotels brands offer a special deal even if you purchase the gift cards in cash. Earn between 1 and 3 points for every dollar spent when you order through Swagbucks.

Free Money for Anything

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Everything I’ve mentioned above makes up for just a tiny part of what is free for the taking at Swagbucks. You can also buy gift cards for clothes, beauty supplies, and even charity donations. I think they can pretty much cover any expenses associated with travel, but we all know that sometimes, there are those random expenses that just pop up. That’s where cold, hard cash comes in. You can use Swagbucks to purchase PayPal gift cards.

When I get PayPal money, I immediately transfer it to my bank account. Then I use my rewards credit card to pay for things, and pay off the credit using the money I got from PayPal. That means I’m getting money back for spending money that was essentially free to me anyway!Travel Free Gift CardsHave you ever earned or gotten something for free? Share about it in the comments!

interview, resources, travel tips

Ask Me a Question

I can’t believe my 91-Day Mediterranean Trek is almost complete! In just two weeks, I will experience what will literally be the longest day of my life as I add ten hours to my day while going back to Oregon.

Several of my friends who are inspired to travel have sent me messages saying they have questions for me. Before this trip, I would ask others in various online travel groups for advice and logistic information. Since I realize that answering questions about my personal experience can help multiple people, I decided to have an FAQ on this blog!

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Go ahead and ask me anything. You can either leave it in a comment below or send a private message to me. At the end of my trip, I will post an FAQ with answers about my Mediterranean Trek!

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Can’t wait to hear what you have to ask!

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