Category Archives: saving money

Being Money-Smart And Efficient: Things To Consider

They say “More money, more problems”, but not having money at all is much more of a problem compared to the alternative. Sure money isn’t everything, but it doesn’t stop it from being something, and in the kind of society we live in, and the way things run, let’s just say a lack of money will not be doing you any favors. There’s no need to tell you this though, if you are over the age of 5 and reading this, you probably know that. The world is brutal in its current form, and unless someone comes and overhauls how everything works in its entirety, this is the kind of thing we have to deal with. So, without further ado, let’s look at some ways  in which you could improve your money management, and make the most of your money and savings.


Image source: Pexels

Always prepare for the worst

As you already know, life is full of twists and turns, working in funny ways and more often than not, throwing several curveballs at you when you least expect it. While living in constant fear of the worst is not the healthiest way of going about life, you should at least be mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario. Living from paycheck to paycheck can only take you so far, and in case some unexpected expenses happen to come your way, you might just find yourself in a rather unfortunate situation. Nothing wrong with splashing out some cash every now and again, without it, the average working person would probably fall into a state of deep depression, but try and leave some money as backup in case anything ever goes wrong. Could be some sudden car repairs, maybe hospital fees, or even a rent increase. You never really know, and spreading your savings thin can prove to be your shortcoming.

Keep tabs on your expenses

If you find yourself broke near the end of the month and without the faintest idea of where your money has disappeared off to, you are probably in the same situation as most of the average working population. It’s easy to suddenly realise that you’ve been spending way more than you should have on minor things like an extra snack for lunch, or just a quick coffee and panini at the coffee shop. At that point, you had some minor comfort food during the month, and not really much else, but you find yourself back at square one on the first of the month, as if you’ve worked the whole month for no reason other than to survive. It might seem somewhat depressing to think about, but if you do not actually gain anything tangible from a working month, that is essentially just a month of your life down the drain. It is a good practice to make yourself a spreadsheet which records all your money coming in and out, showing where your money went. With one of these at your disposal, it is much easier to objectively look at your spendings and see if the random spendings are actually necessary, and if it’s really worth spending over 200 a month on coffee and bagels. Much easier to put things in perspective like that is it not? Look at where most of your money is going, if it’s something which could be considered useless, see if you can cut down on it. If not, go to the next big spender and try the same thing. By the time you go through the whole list, chances are you will have at least a decent chunk of money you know you is actually possible to save next month.


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Set goals for yourself

This nicely integrates with the spreadsheet method, making it much easier to find tangible goals to head for. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things you need to do in order to not overstep your budget. Denying yourself all those things during the month just to save a measly few hundred, might seem rather grim, so let’s just try and set some realistic goals at first. Rather than promising yourself that you will “spend no money at all!”, just try and ease yourself into a slightly more money-efficient lifestyle. Instead of buying lunches every day, try to get packed lunches from home. Get smaller coffees from Starbucks rather than the Grande Latte you are used to, it be better for your wallet and your health. Try to eat out less often, instead, spend on grocery shopping and cook at home, cooking at home is probably better for your health as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your savings aren’t going to get better overnight either. Have patience.

Try to deflate your bills

Other than just moving somewhere far out of town where everything is cheaper, there are solutions to this, which do not require you to make up the rent difference with costs of your daily commute. You can try and be a bit more money-smart like in the good ol’ days, fix leaky taps which buff up your water bills. Instead of cranking up the heating, put on a sweater or a few more layers just to be safe. Turn off all electronics for the night rather than leaving them in “standby”, yes keeping them powered even if they do nothing at the time still costs money. Do not leave your lights on when unnecessary, remember to turn them off when going out or just when it’s actually bright out. The sun has been doing a pretty good job of providing light to most of the earth so far and you can safely rely on it, at least for now.

Shopping online

Online shopping has taken civilised world by storm with it’s efficiency and availability of items which might just so happen to be out of stock in your local branch of whatever shop you might want to buy from. This is not limited to extensive online clothes shopping or importing things from overseas, but even your daily grocery shopping from the supermarket. By now, probably all of them have an online counterpart with next-day or even same-day delivery, making it a handy and efficient alternative to standing around in queues waiting to be served by someone while the groceries you bought already defrost in your bag. Of course, if you have a local farmer’s market or something along those lines, then no online supermarket is going to replace that. Getting quality produce and veggies which actually have taste to them is a thing that most large markets seem to be lacking for now, so just stick with going to the market if you want to buy some truly quality products.


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Ask the internet for help

It might be a bit weird mentioning this since you are already reading this article, but the internet is a seriously powerful source of knowledge on just about every topic in existence. If you want to further expand your knowledge on money-saving tips or maybe just look for inspiration, it is worth taking a look at blogs which publish content on those exact topics. PersonalFinance-Online.com, much like the name might suggest, provides a series of different articles focused on being money-smart, if you are already reading this, chances are you would be interested. If you want to find something on a more specific topic, then there’s is nothing which can hide from a few searches in your search engine of choice. It’s about time to make use of the internet in a productive fashion as opposed to just watching an endless stream of cat videos online. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, no one said the two are mutually exclusive.


Image source: Pexels

Motivate yourself

If you find it hard to meet your monthly saving goals, it might be due to a lack of motivation. Saving money for the sake of saving money can feel very unrewarding in itself, and unless you have something to put that money towards, you might as well not even have it in the first place. Of course, the security of knowing you have something “just in case” is not to be overlooked, but that’s not how the human mind works for the most part. We seek gratification for our efforts on a regular basis and it might be hard to convince yourself that “It’ll all be worth it in 20 years time”. Think about what you want to accomplish, and work towards that goal, be it buying a house, starting a business, having an amazing wedding, or buying the car of your dreams, we all need that carrot on a stick to keep up going through everyday life. Don’t be afraid of dreaming big either, even if something might seem way too far out of your current saving capabilities, no one is to say that you will not end up with a much better and well-paying job within the foreseeable future. When you look back, you will be thankful to your past self for saving, and making your new and updated goals, which more suited towards your new earnings, much easier to achieve.

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Travel: It Doesn’t Cost The Earth To See It

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Traveling is an experience that everybody should make a priority on their bucket list. And you shouldn’t just go on the same old vacation to some sunny resort at a popular destination. Obviously, relaxing vacations are fun and you should allow yourself the luxury of getting a tan on a lounger from tan to time. But there’s so much to see in the big wide world that it seems a shame not to explore. Of course, your financial situation might be holding you back. But it doesn’t have to cost the earth to see it. Here are some ways to make travel more affordable.

Make a budget.

Before you go on your travels, you need to make a plan. Whilst that may sound boring, it’s important that you’ve thought about the financial element of your proposed trip so that you can be sure you’ve got enough money to cover everything. Once you’ve calculated the costs, you can figure out whether it falls within your affordable limits. But you shouldn’t have to compromise. You might need to raise additional funds if your budget won’t quite cover everything you want to see and do. Perhaps you have family or friends who are willing to help you out (especially if they’re traveling with you).

Of course, the thought of owing money to loved ones might make it hard for you to enjoy your travels even if they’re happy to give you a fair amount of time to pay them back. Whilst your credit score might not be great if you’ve struggled with your finances in the past, that doesn’t mean borrowing money is completely off limits. You could check out companies such as Evolution Money for secured loans that use your house as collateral. There’s always a way to prove you’re financially trustworthy in order to get the funds you need for your travels.

Visit public sites.

Of course, it isn’t too hard to find cheap flights with a quick Google search. If you wait for the right time of year then you’ll be able to find good deals to all those destinations you’re desperate to see. Still, the journey is only part of the cost of a vacation. You have to think about the costs that’ll be incurred whilst you’re traveling. When seeing towns or cities on your travels, you should strive to visit public sites for a free experience. Museums are obviously a good place to start; you’ll get to learn something about the culture and history of the place you visit without putting a dent in your wallet. National parks are also well worth visiting; you can’t put a price on seeing mother nature.

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Work on your travels.

Finally, one of the best ways to afford your travels is to make traveling part of your career. You could become a tour guide in one of your favorite cities in the world and you’d never have to leave there. You could even work on a cruise ship if you’d rather be on the move and constantly traveling to new places. Not only do you get to see beautiful countries all over the globe but you get to be part of a friendly family of cruise ship workers who travel with you. Of course, there are numerous career opportunities all over the world; you could even look into volunteering abroad because many charities will cover your travel expenses.


Ednote: Just enjoyed a great, budget-friendly Thanksgiving day trip. Went with my family to snowshoe Crater Lake National Park- can’t wait to tell you about it!

No-Spend September Staycation

After my August Adventures, I decides to take a month off of traveling. Why?

-I may have overspent on travel.
-My car needed a break. It seemed to be racking up mileage very quickly this summer.
-With a slight change in work, I knew it would be best to tighten my budget during the transition time.
-There were a few projects near home that I needed to eventually get to.
-I needed to reemphasize that there are so many adventures to be had in your own backyard!

So how did I spend a month with zero dollars in my travel budget?

I thrift shopped.

Ebelskiver
In September I bought two ebelskivers, polished them up, and sold them for a nice little profit.

Thrift shopping is my favorite kind of shopping! It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. Even though there were a couple times I walked out of the store empty-handed, it was still worth it to see new stores and the kind of things that were on sale. Since the first weekend of September is the official yard sale weekend in a couple cities near me, I spent half a day checking out yard sales in a rich town and ended up getting some great deals!

Although my initial secondhand purchases were funded by my shopping budget, the things I ended up buying saving or making me more money than I had spent on them. At the yard sales, I bought a pasta cooker and a popcorn air popper. I’ve already used the popper tons to make batches of delicious, healthy popcorn for just pennies. I haven’t used the pasta cooker yet. However, since it doesn’t require electricity, I know it will come in handy while camping and even saving energy at home.

My goal with going to actual thrift stores was a little different. I decided to start flipping cast iron cookware. So even if the pieces were caked-on or rusty, I took them home, restored them, and then posted them on local Facebook sales groups. I sold two cast iron ebelskivers!

I loved the library.

Reading
One of the library books I read in September.

I usually visit the library at least once a week anyway, but this month the library allowed me to fully enjoy my time at home. I explored the DVD selection for some new interesting movies to watch. I also wanted to watch a couple TV series, despite the fact that I don’t have cable, Netflix, or Hulu. (I do have PureFlix, which I watched a few movies with.) Although these shows weren’t in stock at my library, I was able to request several seasons from other libraries in the county. I had them shipped to the library closest to me, so I didn’t have to burn gas going to out-of-the-way places.

Of course, libraries have more books than DVDs, and I enjoyed reading a lot of those too. I call reading an adventurous book a “bookation“, since I can deeply explore a new destination from my own home. (This often backfires, since I usually end up wanting to visit the destination described in the book!)

I went geocaching.

Bench Geocaching
Can you find the geocache in this picture? (Hint: look for a piece that sticks out.)

Another adventure was to be had right outside the library! I used to be really into geocaching, but I haven’t done it in over a year now. Since September was about exploring new things closer to home, I realized geocaching was a wonderful way to do this. All this time, I’ve been walking by a bench outside the library, and never realized there was a micro geocache attached to it! Although I only ended up geocaching once, I have a list of other caches to eventually get to that I found on geocaching.com.

I took two-hour vacations.

Hammocking
Hanging in my hammock on Roxy Ann Peak

Have you ever gotten off of work, only to have another job, appointment, or commitment to get to just two hours later? You don’t want to get there ridiculously early, but since you live a half hour away, it’s not worth going home during that time, either. What do you do? I’ve started filling that time with something I call “Two-Hour Vacations”. (Exact time may vary.)

Ever since I got a hammock, I learned that I can relax and vacation just about anywhere. I took my hammock to several different parks in the area. I even did a hike and hammock on a mountain up the street from where I work. When I babysat this month, we’d often go to playground. If they were conveniently located, I would sometimes choose a playground I hadn’t been to for a long time.

Not all my two-hour vacations were outdoorsy. Last week I had to go to Grants Pass, and was there for about an hour with nothing to do. Since this city is the home of the famous Dutch Bros, of course there was a coffee stand on the same block as me. (Thankfully I had an old Dutch Bros gift card with me, making this an essentially free experience!) As mentioned above, sometimes these two hours were spent enjoying the thrift store or library. Even church is a free experience that is beneficial, relaxing, and can fill one or two hours. And as I’ll mention below, this isn’t limited to regularly-scheduled church services.

I attended a retreat.

Stephanie Strom
Stephanie Strom was the speaker at this September retreat

My mom’s church offered a free one-day women’s retreat mid-September. I signed up to go. Although you could buy a boxed lunch and purchase books from the speaker, that was completely optional. It was fun to spend time with hundreds of other people and be inspired by the presentations.

I entered travel contests.

Anita Renfroe
I entered a text-to-win contest that appeared on this screen. (I didn’t end up winning that one.)

Having a zero-dollar travel budget doesn’t mean not traveling the world! A couple months ago, I decided to start entering more travel contests. Giveaways pop in my social media every now and then (and if you click on them a lot, the online algorithms will show you more similar contests!), so I decided to take advantage of any that had a remotely interesting prize. This month I entered contests for several all-inclusive vacation packages. I haven’t heard back from any of those yet, but here’s hoping!

To balance those out, I entered some smaller contests as well. These weren’t necessarily travel prizes, but could ultimately save me travel money since I could pack them or spend less money at home by using them. I got a couple small free prizes this month. My second favorite prize was Thieves essential oil. (I’ll probably use all the oil at home, but the small bottle is perfect for travel toiletries!) And my favorite prize was…

I went to a comedy show.

Anita Renfroe Selfie
Part of Anita Renfroe’s show included a bit of poking fun at millennials. So during intermission, this millennial asked her for a selfie.

The furthest I traveled this month was to Klamath Falls. It’s nearly two hours away, but I could still make the journey and stay under my gas budget for the month. I decided that this trip would still fit into my staycation goal since I won tickets to see comedienne Anita Renfroe. (The only thing I knew about her was that she performed the YouTube hit “In the Muthahood”.) It was definitely worth it. I even got to meet her during intermission! Like the retreat I went to earlier in the month, I made this cost-free by ignoring the sales table and bringing my own food and water bottle.

 

What do YOU do to make your time in and around home feel more like a vacation? Let me know in the comments!

11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards 

Do you love the idea of getting flights, lodging, ground transportation, meals, and attractions for free or steeply discounted? Who wouldn’t want that! This is what makes travel hacking so enticing. But this can be too daunting when it comes to churning credit cards and running up a big bill. 

Never fear, there are plenty of travel hacks where owning a credit card is completely optional! Below are credit-free hacks based on my personal experience, as well as a few collected from others in my travel networks.

Last trip of the summer with a free trip to Lava Beds

Plan your costly attractions around free times.

I wish I would have kept records of how much I have saved with this one simple hack; it’s probably hundreds. In Madrid, I waited to visit the art museums until after 5pm, when they are free. I happened to be in Athens for a national holiday I didn’t even know about, yet celebrated with free admission to all the ruins, including Acropolis. I’ve had even more success stateside. I planned my San Francisco schedule around free admission times to Golden Gate Park’s attractions, found a rare free day to visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and I have gone on several trips to various National Park Sites on their free entry days. Just last month,  I was spelunking in over a dozen lava tubes at Lava Beds National Monument, and it only cost me the gas to drive there!

Camp in your car, even in Amish country! My Explorer in Holmes County, Ohio.

Make a bed in the back of your car.

When I first visited the Subaru dealership, I brought measuring tape with me. I wanted to make sure I was able to lay down in the trunk with the back seat down. If you road trip in a van or SUV, this could be a comfortable and cheap option for overnights. For me, I started doing this as a kid. Before getting my own tent for Christmas, I would often choose to sleep in the back of my dad’s Jeep Cherokee during family camping trips. My first car was a 2000 Ford Explorer. I bought it for about $1750, and made a large portion of that back in savings by sleeping in it at free campgrounds and WalMart parking lots. Since then, I’ve learned to fit an inflated air mattress in the back, how to make temporary privacy curtains, and that my favorite free spot to stay the night is casinos that allow RVs overnight. Just a few steps away, I have access to bathrooms, WiFi, and security!

Before arriving at Disney World that day, I responded to a medical emergency on my plane and got a free snack box. Apparently even more snacks were justified

Help others for airline perks.

Back when I was an EMT, I helped out with someone having an emergency while boarding our plane. Had this person stayed on the flight, the crew would have offered to refund my ticket to sit with her. Although this didn’t happen, a flight attendant gave me one of those super-expensive snack boxes I would never afford to buy myself. Megan Parsons shared, “this couple asked if they could help me because I am flying alone with a baby. I said yes and their boarding position jumped significantly.” Obviously opportunities like these don’t always arise, but it always helps to keep an eye out!

Even in Europe, you can find public toilets (and bidets!) for free

Use free toilets.

“Go when you can, not when you must.” I heard this from a NYC tourguide ten years ago, and it’s stuck with me as a useful, albeit awkward travel motto. Of course needing to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available can result in ruined clothes, laundry expenses, smelly luggage, and embarrassment. I’ve pointed several visitors to free bathrooms in a small tourist town near where I live, and look out for free restrooms while I travel. This tip is especially useful in areas where most public toilets cost money, since they’re still usually free at restaurants, paid attractions, churches, trains, and porta potties. (Bonus tip: always carry a pack of travel tissues. Your stall may be out of toilet paper, and in some countries the stalls don’t always have toilet roll holders!)

I even brought Laduree macarons home from Paris in my carry-on so my family could taste them.

Get free food and drinks in the airport with this simple tip.

We know that the shops and restaurants in airports are overpriced. But do you know how to get food and drinks past TSA security? More and more people are realizing that you can bring an empty bottle and fill it with water once past security, instead of dropping several dollars for a disposable plastic bottle. (If you do forget your water bottle, some airport fast food places might give you a free water cup.) You can add single-serve flavor packs if you wish. As for food, it’s totally okay to go through security as long as it doesn’t contain many liquid-based components. (Mustard on a sandwich should be fine; a heavily-frosted cupcake is a no-go.) You don’t even have to fit your food in your carry-on or personal item as long as it’s consumed before boarding. 

I planned my entire Tennessee trip around a good airline deal.

Find mistake fares and airline sales. 

Stephan Mark Smith shared, “Check each day until you find a mistake fare.” While I personally have yet to find a mistake fare, I did take advantage of a cheap airline sale a few years ago. As long as you’re not too picky about your destination, you could plan a great trip around a cheap flight!

Last year I found a gift certificate on Groupon to take my family to Trees of Mystery

Fund your trip with gift cards.

Just about every aspect of travel can be paid for with a gift card. If you have partially- used gift cards lying around, get creative and brainstorm how they can be used towards upcoming travels. For everything else, check out Swagbucks. Many people think of this site as a rebate program. But I promised that none of these travel hacks require a credit card, and this one doesn’t have to, either. On Swagbucks, you can earn points by watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, and my favorite, using a search engine. These points then translate into gift cards for gas, hotels, cruises, restaurants, Groupon, and more. You even get free points just for signing up!

Do an online search before booking tickets or making a reservation. You could find steeply discounted prices to places like Wildlife Safari.

Check the fine print on coupons.

Between free travel gear and free souvenirs, this hack has saved me a lot of money, and provided me with wonderful things I never would have gotten if I had to pay for them! I ignore most coupons because their stipulations require me to buy something I don’t need. But years ago, while backpacking Nashville, I found a coupon that offered $3 off at a local candy store- no minimum purchase!  I even surprised the cashier when I got a $2.50 nut log for free. Since then, I stay on the lookout for coupons offering free food, free souvenirs, and free gear. I also like stores that allow coupon stacking or using coupons on already-discounted items. My favorite coupon right now is the $10 rewards coupon I get from Eddie Bauer twice a year. I have to spend at least $10 to get $10 off, but it’s still a good deal for useful gear and clearance items!

Books make wonderful cheap, unplugged entertainment for camping trips. And that’s just one free thing you can get from the library!

Visit your library before leaving.

A library is more than books. When planning my trip to Europe, I learned about Rick Steves, and wanted more of his advice than what was offered online and on PBS. I went to the library and found his Europe Through the Back Door guidebook as well as a few seasons of his show on DVD. Of course my rental time wasn’t long enough to bring these with me in Europe for 90 days, but I could take notes on the most useful information for me. For shorter trips, a borrowed library book is great for downtime, as long as you make sure not to lose it. With a lot of weekend road trips I’ve been taking lately, I enjoy getting an audio book or two from the library to listen to in the car. I’ve also taken periodicals from the free magazine rack. Your library may have other perks that benefit travel as well.

Soda was just one of many sponsor freebies at Paris’ Tour de France street fair!

Double up on freebies at events.

Some of my favorite travel memories have been at free local events. I went to some of these at the advice of a local person or fellow traveler. Others I stumbled onto completely by accident. Either way, you’re likely to find a free concert, play, or street fair, especially in large cities. Not only is the event free, but you can often double up on freebies at events like this since the sponsors often give free items away. This could mean food, apparel, pens, and other items that make excellent souvenirs.

Upsides of a totaled car: massages, rentals, cash for a new car…

If something goes wrong, cash in on all you can.

I definitely would not recommend getting into a car crash as a way to travel hack. With recent personal experience, it’s a hassle, it’s costly, and it can ruin the joy of travel, at least temporarily. But if something like this does happen to you, milk it for all it’s worth. My favorite car crash perk has been the free massages and chiropractic adjustments, especially helpful since my health insurance ended just a couple weeks after my crash. You can enjoy this benefit even if you were only a passenger in a crash. When I got my rental car, I planned a weekend getaway to Redding, California. While I paid for the gas, the rental was covered by insurance, and it didn’t add mileage to my own car. Speaking of mileage, since my car was totalled before its warranty ended, I got most of it refunded. While each situation differs, look into what’s available in the event of an unfortunate incident involving a car, plane, hotel, restaurant, event, or attraction. Don’t be demanding or threatening, but be sure to get what you’re owed.

What travel hacks have you done? Let me know in the comments!

Road Trip Weekend, Part 3: Explore Old Places in New Ways

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ve shared a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Friday gave advice on things like how to meet your role models on the road. Then on Saturday, I shared tips for overcoming fear and having fun. Today brings us to new places never mentioned on this site before, as well as a few that we mentioned recently. But all these places will be explored differently.

I made it all the way through June without going on a single overnight trip. You could say I was having road trip withdrawals. After getting my new car, I was really itching to put some pavement behind me. I looked at my next weekend, and my only commitment was a chiropractic appointment on Saturday morning. I couldn’t change it to an earlier time, and I didn’t want to cancel it, so I wasn’t sure if travel would be a possibility that day. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided that I’d just work some travel around that.

There was an interesting-sounding hostel in Eugene, Oregon that I had never stayed at before. On the morning of, there was only one bed left to book, which just so happened to be in the female dorm. I quickly got ready (not packing much at all), made a rough plan of stops I would make, and headed off to the chiropractor. The doctor typically asks if I have anything exciting planned for that day, so it was nice to go in and tell him something interesting for a change!

Seven Feathers
Leaving Seven Feathers… after about five minutes!

My first stop was at Seven Feathers. I’ve only stopped there once, and that was back when my sister was underage, so I never actually walked through the casino part of the resort. However, I didn’t gamble. It was just a quick stop to use the bathroom, get on the WiFi, and take a picture with the world’s largest cast iron eagle.

Eugene Whiteaker Hostel
The front of the hostel. My room is the one with the balcony!

After a couple more hours of driving up the I-5, I checked into Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel. While on the medium-to-small side as far as hostels go, this became one of my top hostels in the character and comfort categories.

Owen Rose Garden
Flowers coincidentally matching my shirt.

I didn’t stay long, however, because I only had the afternoon to explore Eugene. Thankfully, everything I wanted to see could be access from the Eugene Riverwalk, which was just a few blocks from the hostel. Before I got on the trail, I smelled the Owen Rose Garden.

Eugene Riverwalk
On the Riverwalk, which went by parks, businesses, and natural areas.

After walking towards downtown for a bit, I came across a planet. Saturn, to be exact. This was a good sign, since my goal was to make it to the sun. Okay, maybe I should explain. The city of Eugene displays a lot of permanent public art.  One of those is a scale model of the solar system. The sun, moon, and all the planets (including Pluto!) are all the correct size and distance from each other… if they shrunk to a billionth of what they actually are! While I would have loved to see Neptune and Pluto, they were miles away from the other planets distributed through a park and along the Riverwalk. After Saturn, I had to walk quite a bit further before I reached Jupiter. Then it would be a long time before I saw Mars.

UO duck walk
Following the footprints to University of Oregon. Go Ducks!

But before I saw the small planets, I made a stop at University of Oregon. I didn’t end up in the central part of campus, but I enjoyed walking through an art department. Due to summer break, it seemed like a ghost town. If you want to visit Eugene for the culture, I would recommend going during the school year!

Peace Pole in Garden
One of the U of O student gardens had a peace pole.

I should mention how beautiful the parks lining the river are. It’s neat that even a semi-large city like Eugene purposely sets aside prime locations for the public to enjoy. At one point, I was walking through a forested area! It was a long walk of many miles, but the beautiful urban nature and finding the planets kept me going. On my way back, I even walked further than I needed to so that I could see Uranus!

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The sun in comparison to the moon and Earth.
Back at the hostel, I ate, relaxed, and did something artsy for the first time in a long time. Most importantly, I rested up for an even bigger day following.

Hostel Bunk
Despite me supposedly booking the last bed, I ended up with just one roommate in our four-bed dorm. That meant no one on my top bunk!

On Sunday morning, I got ready, enjoyed the free hostel pancakes, and looked up where I needed to go that day. It all started with over an hour of driving to the Oregon Coast. I headed up to Yachats to begin my day at Thor’s Well. I had seen pictures of this blowhole online over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to see it for myself. Most of the pictures online were taken at high tide, which just could not work with my itinerary that day. But it was still a fantastic sight when I saw the water shoot up from the ground. And I had the added advantage of being able to walk right up to it!

Thor's Well
A beautiful blowhole by the name of Thor’s Well.

Thor’s Well was the only planned attraction of this trip, but there was more to see on the Central Oregon Coast. While I’ve been to much of the Oregon Coast, I’m most familiar with the Southern part since it’s the most accessible from my home. I think the last time I was on the Central Oregon Coast, I was in middle or elementary school!

Heceta Head
Hiking up to Heceta Head Lighthouse.

It was surprising how many stops I ended up taking just between Yachats and the neighboring town of Florence. There was Heceta Head Lighthouse which I of course had to tour, which was right next to a beach that was perfect for eating lunch at. Then I decided that, while expensive (at $14 a head!), I should check out the Sea Lion Caves.

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See the sea lions?

In the past, when I told a former coworker about my solo travels, she would say that the only solo trip she’d ever done was driving out to the Sea Lion Caves by herself. That was what sold me on going here, just following in her footsteps I suppose. I was surprised at how many other people traveled out here; some were even from other countries! After entering through the gift shop, I ended up on a trail outside facing the Pacific Ocean. To the left, there was a lookout point where you could look down and see dozens of sea lions enjoying the sun and sea. Then to the right, there was an elevator that went deep down into the cave.

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Inside the cave. If you look closely, you’ll find sea lions on the rock in the middle of the water.

The cave had a looping video, skeletons of sea lions, and informational panels about the different species. Of course, there was an opening to look into the part of the cave where the sea lions were, all piled on a rock. It was fairly distant, and at first I was a little disappointed in this place when you can see the San Francisco sea lions a lot closer, and for free. But then I found out that the staff member overseeing that area had a pair of binoculars that she loaned out to visitors, and she had plenty of stories to tell about the sea lions that I could now see up-close!

Sand Dunes
I watched some sandboarders play around on this dune for a bit.

I stopped for some s’mores flavored ice cream at a Florence ice cream shoppe called BJ’s, and then went behind the Fred Meyer to enjoy the sand dunes. (I wish I brought a sandboard or toboggan!) I continued driving south. I got a tip when planning for my NorCal road trip to San Francisco last summer that, if you go on a one-way trip along the West Coast, make sure you go south. That way, your side of the road has better views of the ocean. Good advice!

Coast Mirror
Mirror selfie! (With a lighthouse in the background!)

I stopped at another lighthouse (though the tour was too expensive for this one) and an ocean overlook. I even went on a little nature walk through a patch of darlingtonia, which is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I tried stopping at an old favorite coffee shop in Coos Bay, but it was closed by the time I got there. Finally, I made it to Old Town Bandon.

Old Town Bandon
My booth at the Mexican restaurant overlooked all the boats in the harbor.

I enjoyed many of the same places as I did the last time I stopped in Bandon, including the delicious Cranberry Sweets. But for some reason, I was craving Mexican food. Maybe it was because a favorite place to go when I worked in Bandon was El Jalepeno, a restaurant with big, unique, tasty burritos. Sadly, that closed down years ago. So I searched on my GPS to see if there were any Mexican restaurants still standing in Bandon. There was, and it just happened to be in Old Town! I walked there and enjoyed a feast. I think it was my first time eating solo at a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and it was a revelation to realize that I could double-dip my chips in the salsa!

Kissing Rock
The sun setting over Kissing Rock in Gold Beach.

With a full belly, I pondered where to go from here. Everything south of Bandon would just be a repeat of my trip to Brookings a couple months prior. It would be faster to head back to the I-5, but that would also be a repeat but with less scenery. I decided to take the long way home so that I could enjoy more of the coastal views. Most of it was drive-by enjoyment, such as through the Mount Humbug and Prehistoric Gardens area. But I did make a quick stop at Kissing Rock in Gold Beach as the sun was setting. I even stopped at Oregon’s highest bridge, which I’ve driven over several times but never actually stopped to look at. I took an even longer break in Brookings so I could explore Azalea Park, which was too rainy to enjoy the last time I was there. When I was a kid and camped near Brookings, the Azalea Park playground was like a castle. I played on it for a few seconds for old time’s sake, but was now more impressed with the garden and the capella.

Capella
Inside the Azalea Park Capella

After that, it was a dark, eerie-but-fun drive through the redwoods. I work the overnight shift between Sunday and Monday, and I made it there with ten minutes to spare!

Other than Yachats, I had already been to all the towns that I stopped at on this road trip. Yet it felt like an entirely new experience. Enjoying different attractions or seeing the same attractions in different ways (such as different times of day or even different ages!) made it a whole new experience.

Have you ever visited a destination more than once? What felt different on subsequent trips? Let me know in the comments!

This trip was made possible because I found a reservation for Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel on Hostelz.com. I recommend Hostelz.com to find the biggest selection of hostels out there. Click here to save money on accommodations while simultaneously helping this site!

16 Trips of 2016

I thought I dropped the ball when it came to travel over the past year. But after doing the near-mandatory end-of-year reflection that we should all do, I discovered that I did go on quite a few fun adventures. I may not have blogged about all these trips (hmm… maybe a New Year’s Resolution?), but I did spend the year doing other projects that cut into my time on this blog. I’m especially grateful that 2016 brought me a new car to take my adventures in, as well as a variety of jobs to keep them funded. So without further ado, here are 16 trips I took in 2016.

1. Festival of Trees

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This is actually a nearby annual event held in Medford, Oregon, but something I never got to see before. I was hoping to go on some sort of Christmas trip this December, such as going to the coast to see the light displays, but I also wanted to use my funds to buy some nice Christmas gifts. I was pleased to find out that the Magdalene Home got tickets to the Festival of Trees’ Night of Giving, and especially pleased that it fell on a night that I worked! So I ended up getting to see some beautifully decorated trees and doing some fun Christmas activities… and getting paid to do it!

2. Wilderness Trails

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I got to go to Wilderness Trails twice in 2016: Once for Valentine’s Day weekend, and again in October. (As you’ll see below, this is one of several trips I took more than once!) This was a mountain trip that I spent $0 to take. 2016 was definitely a year of budget travel for me, but no money doesn’t mean no fun! I went for free because I was volunteering as a leader for girls’ camps. We stayed in the lodge, played in the snow, and did fun camp-style activities. I was actually planning to go to Wilderness Trails for their open house today, but unfortunately I was struck with the flu a couple days ago and still need to recover from that. But with a work schedule change, I am planning to attend more camps next year!

3. WWII Valor in the Pacific Site

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In Northern California (and I mean REALLY northern, so far north that Oregon is only a couple miles away) lies the remains of a Japanese segregation camp from WWII. The National Parks Service now hosts Camp Tulelake as well as a nearby museum. I went to the museum in August, and stopped by the camp in September. This WWII Valor in the Pacific site is also just down the road from one of my most-visited 2016 destinations…

4. Lava Beds National Monument

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This spot has become my favorite getaway- I visited Lava Beds three times in the past year! The first was actually a spontaneous trip. My friend and I were planning a trip to the coast, but when I picked her up that morning, we changed our minds to take advantage of the free National Parks admission day. In fact, I went to quite a few National Parks Sites this year, and all of them were free either because I went on a fee-free day, or they were always free. I got more skilled at spelunking through the lava tubes with each subsequent trip. The second time I brought a helmet, and the third time, I attached a headlamp to that helmet. And although I visited during three different seasons, inside the caves, I enjoyed the same temperature year-round. I even got to spend the night at the campground on one of my visits, which was a good use of my new car and new hammock!

5. Table Rock

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I didn’t get to hike up Table Rock as much as I would have like to in 2016, but perhaps that’s something I can change in 2017. But I do love living in an area where I can see this marvelous natural feat every day! The strenuous hike up is a good workout, and is rewarded by a bird’s eye valley view at the top!

6. Crater Lake National Park

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I also got to visit this National Park three times in 2016, and each time was like visiting a new place! The only thing that was the same was the deep blue lake. During my visit in April, it was actively snowing. I only got to see the lake for a few minutes total because the fog kept it well-hidden. The second visit in August was completely clear. We drove around the lake and hiked some forest trails. The road around the lake closed up by November because the snow was back. Because the snow season just started, though, there was less of a pile-up. I also brought kids with me this time, so the highlight was playing in the winter wonderland.

7. Lassen National Volcanic Park and the Pacific Crest Trailimg_20160826_135223

Thanks to the movie “Wild”, the popularity of the PCT has increased in the past couple years. I actually didn’t see this movie until just a couple of weeks ago when I borrowed it from the library, but I knew early in the year that 2016 was the year I wanted to hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail. (Just a day hike, though!) I assumed I would be hiking in Ashland, the closest PCT access point from my home. But as summer wore on, that didn’t happen. Finally, in late August, I took advantage of the National Parks Service’s 100 birthday and took a road trip to National Parks Sites with free admission that weekend. This was my first visit to Lassen National Volcanic Park, and I loved seeing the centerpiece volcano and the up-close volcanic activity. But the highlight was discovering that the PCT went through this park. Although it was a long hike just to get out to the PCT, I was glad to have that accomplished.

 

8. Sundial Bridge

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After visiting relatives in Northern California, I made sure to stop in two places that I always try to visit when driving through California: Corning’s The Olive Pit, and Redding. I like Redding because of its iconic Sundial Bridge. (It’s also home to Bethel Church, which I’ve never been to but think I should go sometime in 2017!) It was just after nightfall by the time I got there, which rendered the sundial pretty useless, but it was beautifully lit up. I accidentally visited the Sundial Bridge later that month. I didn’t expect my route home from Lassen to go through Redding, but when my GPS took me there anyway, I decided to stop by. Since it was earlier in the evening, this time I got to see more of Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

9. Rosie the Riveter

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To be honest, I didn’t know this place in Riverside, California existed until shortly before I left on this trip. I still didn’t even know what to expect until I showed up. But since I was trying to collect as many National Park Site passport stamps as I could in 2016, I decided to stop by. It’s unusual to drive up to an industrial center to visit a National Park Site! But this is one of the locations that so many “Rosies” of WWII worked. They even had some real-life “Rosies” there the day I visited!

10. San Francisco

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This was my “big” destination of the year! San Francisco is one of the closest major cities to my home, yet I had never been there before (unless you count a layover in the airport and seeing the tiny Golden Gate Bridge from my airplane window). I rode the cable car, saw the houses from Full House and Mrs. Doubtfire, walked around the piers and Fisherman’s Wharf, drove and biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, went to the Walt Disney Family Museum, and visited all of the National Parks Sites!

11. Point Reyes National Seashoreimg_20160802_083213

My summer beach trip ended up being the chilliest trip of the whole year! I’m glad I decided to spend a night here before heading into San Francisco, even though I never knew this giant seashore existed before planning my city trip. I drove out to the famous Point Reyes lighthouse, stayed in the hostel, and walked barefoot in the sand.

12. Avenue of the Giants

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This was another close-to-home destination I had never experienced before! The night before, I drove south through Redwoods National Park, and stopped at Trees of Mystery to see their Paul Bunyan and Babe statues. (I didn’t actually tour the Trees of Mystery, but for Christmas I got my entire family tickets to this attraction, so that’s something that will definitely be done in 2017!) Then I spent the night in my car at a casino parking lot that offered free camping. That allowed me a full day to leisurely drive through the Avenue of the Giants and stop at each kitschy tourist trap. I drove through tree trunks, sat in the living room of a house made of one giant log, and even enjoyed the natural aspects of redwoods with a free tour at Humboldt State Park.

13. Southern California
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With most of my relatives living in Southern California, I’m actually kind of surprised that I only ended up there once in 2016. But my cousin did have a beautiful wedding in Dana Point, followed by a fun reception in Newport Beach. My mom flew down early to help my grandma pack and prepare to move later in the year, but since my dad and I only drove down there on an extended weekend, we unfortunately didn’t have much time to enjoy the area, not even this gorgeous beach that we could see from the wedding locale. Still a very worthwhile trip!

14. Golden Ghost Town

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There were a couple of weeks when I went to training classes in Grants Pass. I tried to take advantage of the longer commute by exploring the area around it. I visited a few historical places, the highlight being the ghost town of Golden, Oregon. The buildings are adorable, the historical markers are informative, and the surrounding area is beautiful and full of God’s creation!

15. Wildlife Safari

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Last Christmas, I got my sister two tickets to Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. In March, she decided to use them for a sister outing. It was a little scary to see giant beaks near my new car! It’s been years since I last went to Wildlife Safari, and this was the first time I could remember when we were allowed to open the windows and interact with most of the animals. Of course we enjoyed plenty of other things on this daycation!

16. Gold Beach

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February doesn’t sound like a good time of year to go to the Oregon coast, but Gold Beach has a good way to bring tourists in. Each year from February through April, volunteers hide glass floats along the coastline for a treasure hunt. If you find one, you get to keep it! It was a new experience for both me and the friend I took, but I think it’s something I’ll be doing for years to come.

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There were more adventures that 2016 involved, like seeing Franklin Graham in Salem, hiking to the Bigfoot Trap, Cipher Hunting, several trips to Jacksonville and Ashland, and perhaps a few trips that have currently slipped my memory. To get more ideas for past and future adventures, be sure to follow me on Instagram!

If you liked this post, check out the one I wrote exactly one year ago.

 

The Nearsighted Traveler with a Long-Term Vision

You’ve seen pictures of me that look like this:

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And you’ve also seen pictures of me that look like this:

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The obvious similarity between these two photos is that I have awesome selfie skills, but do you see the big difference? Yep, I’m a part-time glasses wearer!

When you see a picture of me not wearing glasses, it isn’t because I’m wearing contacts. I’m nearsighted so I need to wear my lenses for activities like driving, but the rest of the time my vision is good enough that prescription eyeglasses are optional, depending on whether I want to be able to make out the details in my sightseeing. I’ve actually never worn contacts; glasses seem so much more traveler-friendly!

Contacts require a lot of equipment: several spare lenses depending on how long your trip is, plus contact solution in a bottle that is probably too big to qualify for a carry-on liquid! They also take time to put on that could be spent enjoying travel. I really like how glasses can just be carried around in their lightweight case and thrown on as needed. Unfortunately, there are downsides to traveling with glasses too. One is a style issue. Your glasses will stand out too much if they don’t match the style of the clothes you’re wearing! I’m also afraid of losing or breaking them. My health insurance only covers one new pair of glasses every few years, which allows no leeway for a spare. That’s what led me to search for cheap glasses online.

I found a solution to my vision problems with GlassesShop! Well, I guess my optometrist was the one that found the solution, but I just took the prescription I was given at the doctor’s office and used it to order a second pair of glasses online. The folks at GlassesShop offer kind customer service, a wide variety of frames to choose from, lenses for both customized prescriptions and sunglasses, and discounts! (Keep reading for a free coupon code!) Because these glasses ship from China, there’s not as quick of a turnaround as you can expect from your neighborhood optometrist, but that’s a small price to pay for such a big savings! The retro-looking cateye glasses I chose arrived recently, and I’ve already gotten so much use out of them!

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My cousin got married in June, which meant a lot of miles and hours driving along the I-5 to get to Southern California and back. I tried my GlassesShop glasses when it was my turn to drive, and they worked great. I love how I can now alternate my glasses to best match my dress. I may even end up getting another pair from GlassesShop because they’re so cheap! And I’ll let you in on a little secret to make them even cheaper: use the coupon code GSHOT50 at checkout to receive 50% off eyeglasses or sunglasses with free lenses (sales frames excluded). 
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Do you wear glasses? Even if you only wear sunglasses, tell me how you travel with them! 

Please note that I was provided with a free pair of glasses for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made. The above information is my honest opinion about my new glasses.

 

Summer 2016: Adventures with Girlz 4 Christ

As both an avid traveler and the editor of a magazine for teen girls, I do have to be sensitive to the fact that teens are pretty limited when it comes to travel options. Even though I think my teen years involved more travel than most, I couldn’t do much more than family vacations, school travel, and youth group-sponsored trips. Designing my own adventures was basically impossible. However, I still want to encourage wanderlust and give a sense of adventure to the girls I write and edit for.

About two years ago, I attempted to start a travel section in the magazine called “Girlz on the Go”, which would have a feature of an interesting place and other articles containing travel tips. Unfortunately, it did not receive any positive response. Looking back, it wasn’t very realistic of me to suggest these things to teens and preteens. But I have since learned from my mistakes!

Summer 2016 Cover - real official

With the summer issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine that released today, I tried something a bit different. Instead of encouraging travel that probably isn’t attainable to the readers, I rounded up ways to make an adventure out of whatever they’re doing this summer. Since even those of us who are no longer teens can often feel “stuck” when it comes to travel dreams, I’d like to offer some of what is in the magazine here too.

-I’ve suggested it before, but attending church is something that can be done for free just about anywhere in the world! Even if you don’t regularly go to church, I’d encourage you to visit and get a new grasp of local culture where you travel, or even a different perspective of your hometown! Author Kristen Hogrefe explains four benefits of this practice in the issue.

-One of my favorite reasons to travel is that it helps me discover more about myself. Another way to learn more about ourselves is through counseling. Whether it’s for mental health management, planning out achievement potential, or something else, we could all benefit from adventures through counseling. The lovely Adelee Russell writes about her experience and gives tips on how to handle an adventure that can initially seem as scary as new travel!

-When I can’t travel, I still like to learn about culture! I connected with two international Girlz 4 Christ readers so that they could share their life with all the other girls around the world. One lives in Rome, and I actually attended her church when I was there last September, so it was a nice walk down memory lane for me. The other is from Australia, an area where I haven’t even come close to, but I want to go now more than ever!

-Another exciting interview I had the privilege of conducting was with John Luke and Mary Kate Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. They share tidbits of their life between Louisiana and Virginia. And since the theme of the interview was accomplishing goals, the advice they give can definitely apply to the goal of travel!

-Emily Joy shared how she connects with people from all over the world through her social media ministry, Encourage All. Just looking at her Instagram photos was inspiring enough!

-The more I travel, the more I consider how I can help the people in need around me. While voluntourism is a controversial topic, I definitely got some at-home training by watching Poverty, Inc.

-One of the fashion articles is actually just about how I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to Maui. I share how to shop on a budget, how to effectively pack, and how to make homemade, natural beauty treatments.

-When I’m not traveling, I take mental vacations largely by reading books. Scattered throughout the current issue are eight suggestions for your next “bookation”. These include books by Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family, a book by amputee Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, and even a book giveaway from Kimberly Rae!

-And because travel isn’t always smooth sailing, (in fact, life itself is rarely problem-free) Adelee Russell wrote another article about how to deal with those awkward and embarrassing moments.

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These are just some highlights of this jam-packed issue of Girlz 4 Christ. The magazine itself is very traveler-friendly: it can be accessed on virtually any device and subscriptions are free! Click here to visit the website and get this freebie!

 

PS- If you want to see other travel writing I’ve done recently, check out this post about Letters to Juliet in Verona, Italy!

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

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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? 

Two Days, Two States, Two National Park Sites!

It has been quite the weekend! In addition to Earth Day on Friday  and celebrating the entire weekend with Earth Day-themed posts, I was out celebrating nature as well! Just between yesterday and today, I took two trips, both to National Park Service sites. And one of them even called for hopping the border between Oregon and California!

Saturday: Lava Beds National MonumentDSCF5020

For several weeks, my friends and I have planned to go on a trip to Northern California this Saturday. We were supposed to go to the Redwoods, but people and plans changed, so my friend Steph and I made a last-minute switch and headed to Lava Beds National Monument instead, which is east of the Redwoods in Northern California. Although both of us had been here many years ago, with the length of time since our last visits and flying by the seat of our pants, we weren’t sure what to expect. Yet we left incredibly impressed with all that there was to do!

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  • We admired all the volcanic rock we passed on the way in the monument.
  • We watched an informational video at the Visitors’ Center about the history of the lava tube formation and American Indian tribes that were forced out of this area.
  • A park ranger taught us about the white-nose fungus that is killing bats and quizzed us on our past caving experience to see if any of our clothes needed to be decontaminated. Once we passed, she gave us a caving permit.
  • We drove around the Cave Loop and stopped at any caves that were open. (Some were closed to protect the bats living inside.)
  • Since caves are 55 degrees year-round, I was glad I had left a coat in my backseat! We ended up getting warm from all the exercise we did, anyway.
  • Although the Visitors’ Center loans out free flashlights since battery-powered lights are required to enter the cave, we decided to use our cell phone flashlights just so we’d have one less thing to lug around. I learned that my phone flashlight turns on and off by shaking it. Typically I might think that was convenient, but it wasn’t so helpful when I stumbled around caves!
  • One of my favorite cave names was called “Hopkins Chocolate”, which is named because some of the lava coating inside looks like dark chocolate is dripping down the cave walls!
  • There were other neat-looking things in other caves. Some of the caves had what looked like moss growing on it. (Not sure if it was something living or just the way the rock was colored.) When scattered among the dripping moisture creating stalactites, shining a flashlight on it makes the green specks look like fool’s gold, and the white looks like specks of silver!
  • The next time I go, I’ll probably want to bring a helmet, a headlamp, and maybe gloves so I can go further into some of the lava tubes. Since we weren’t equipped, we decided not to go anywhere that required crawling, but there were quite a few areas that involved ducking down!
  • There were some nice places to walk, too! Both Steph and I really wanted to hike up Schonchin Butte, a .7-mile uphill trail that leads to a fire lookout. The lookout itself is closed for the season until tomorrow, but we got some great views!
  • Although there was so much more we could have done, we decided that the last activity for the day would be to walk around Captain Jack’s Stronghold. This was an area where the military fought against the natives to force them out of this area. Although the history is sad, it was neat to see some of the rock structures that they built that are still standing today.DSCF5028

Sunday: Crater Lake National ParkDSCF5042

I had so much fun on Saturday, I decided to continue the National Park and volcano-themed weekend my closest National Park, Crater Lake. Since this wasn’t as long of a drive, I decided I could make it to church (although I did attend the 9 am service instead the 10:45 service I normally go to), and then head out. With only slightly more planning today than yesterday, I ended up going alone this time. I went to Crater Lake almost exactly a year ago, and it was so odd to see how different it looked this year!DSCF5031

  • It was already a rainy day, and I was praying that it wouldn’t rain while I was at the park. That prayer was answered, but not in the way I expected! As I crossed the park boundary line, I noticed that all the trees were covered in snow. In fact, it was actively snowing most of the time I was there! It’s late April!
  • My first stop was the Visitors’ Center, where I watched the video about the surrounding nature and how Crater Lake was formed by a giant volcano eruption followed by years of collected rain and snowfall. I had to enter and exit the Visitors’ Center from the side entrance because the front entrance was covered with snow all the way up to the roof!
  • I then drove up to Rim Village (being careful in the Avalanche Zone), and parked next to the lodge.
  • After browsing the gift shop in the lodge, I went up to the top floor, which is supposed to have an observation window. Maybe it works on clearer days, but with all the snow and clouds, it was impossible to see the lake from here! Instead I read the museum-style informational signs.
  • I decided that the only way I would have a chance at seeing the lake was to walk through the snow myself. Fortunately, I still had my coat in the back of the car, although I definitely would have benefited from more winter gear!
  • I followed the others who were also outside to the farthest point that could be reached without crossing the safety line. As I looked out, I could barely see Wizard Island, the large island in Crater Lake. After a few minutes in the cold, the air cleared up for some precious seconds where we got to take pictures. It still didn’t display the bluer-than-blue color I’ve seen on sunnier days, though!
  • I warmed up in the lodge for awhile longer, when a park ranger told me to look out the window. You could barely make out part of the back rim, but he said that was the clearest it had been all weekend. Yesterday they basically couldn’t see the lake at all!
  • I went out to the safety line for one more photo shoot, but then decided to turn back and head home. In the summer you can usually drive around the whole lake, but since it snows year-round at Crater Lake National Park, they limit their snowplowing in the winter to only the roads to the South Entrance, Visitors’ Center, and Rim Village.
  • On the way back, I stopped for a short walk by Union Creek. My family used to go camping there when I was a kid. I walked by the Rogue River Gorge and saw the Living Stump!
  • My family had a dinner all together tonight, and since I knew my sister had gone to Crater Lake National Park last weekend, I asked her how well she could see the lake that day. She looked at me confused as she told me it was a perfectly clear day and that many of the visitors were wearing shorts! It’s funny how much the weather can change from one week to the next!DSCF5036

Where to Next?

Hmm…good question! I had been admiring the National Parks Passport for some time now, and finally decided to purchase one at Lava Beds National Monument. This is an informational book about all the National Parks in the United States. Every time you visit a National Park, Monument, or Historic Site, you can get a page of the passport stamped. Since I knocked out two parks in just this weekend, I already have two stamps! Now it will be used as encouragement to visit more National Parks.

The Oregon Caves National Monument is fairly close to me, so I may go there sometime soon. Of course, we need to reschedule our trip to the Redwoods that we had originally planned for Saturday! Although we were going for the Trees of Mystery and the Tour-Thru Tree, I can stop by a Redwoods National Park center for a passport stamp.

Although I would love to become a National Parks junkie, it was really only financially possible for me to visit two National Parks in just one weekend because it was part of National Park Week, and the National Park Service allowed all parks and monuments to have free entrance. Normally Lava Beds and Crater Lake each have a $15 entrance fee per car. I would definitely love to take advantage of the upcoming entrance days in August, September, November, or any of the other free days listed here. To save money on National Parks in the future, I may consider getting an annual pass (I can’t wait until I’m 62 and can get the discounted lifetime pass!), or I may try to find out which of my friends have a fourth-grade child, since a car with a fourth grader in it can enter National Parks for free! Some National Parks and Monuments are always free, which thankfully, the Oregon Caves and Redwoods both fall into the free category!