It’s been awhile since I last posted a personal blog update… Nearly a year! Yet despite a global pandemic, that didn’t crush my adventurous spirit. It just changed some things about my life… a lot!
I wanted to update everyone who lands here on what I’ve gotten to do over the past year. At the end, YOU will get to decide which of my adventures I’ll blog about next!
About one year and one week ago, I moved to the Kansas City area after a short stint in Colorado Springs. I ended up spending four months working at a camp on the Missouri side, using my days off to explore downtown KC and take day trips to the Ozarks, Silver Dollar City, and Marceline (the boyhood home of Walt Disney).
South Road Trip
Exactly one year ago, I was planning a work-sponsored trip that was completely unrelated to work, other than the fact that I would be road tripping with two of my coworkers. But since we were going on our workplace’s dime, we drove down to Joplin to see a waterfall, and then saw some real waterfalls crossing into Arkansas. From there, we saw the original Walmart, camped at Beaver Lake, drove by the Duggar’s big house (and they drove by us in their van!), visited Cathedral of the Ozarks, then drove into Oklahoma where we stayed at an amusement-park-turned-summer-camp and visited The Gathering Place in Tulsa.
More Road Trips
I left Kansas City due to a job offer in San Diego. I split that move into two road trips: First a Christmas road trip along Route 66, into Texas and New Mexico for the first time, where I spray painted in freezing weather at Cadillac Ranch, saw the Grand Canyon, and experienced all that Vegas had to offer even in a pandemic. I spent a few weeks for Christmas with my parents in Oregon, then drove down the coast to the great San Diego area.
Surrounding San Diego
Since then, I’ve been exploring America’s finest city… and beyond. Besides hiking trips outside the urban area and day trips to places like the Padres game, Old Town, Seaworld, and the beaches, I’ve gone further with an overnight trip to California Adventure, hiking in San Clemente, camping in the desert, and even solo tripping to Mexico a few times!
The Why and How Behind this Travel
Although I’ve been working at the same place since January, my job has changed since then. I’m working at a conference center and am now long-term instead of my original temporary plans. As program manager, summer camps were extra hectic, and now I’m looking forward to a season of administering the outdoor science school, among other responsibilities.
Now that you’ve read all this, what do you want to hear more about? Do you want to learn how a single woman can feel safe crossing the southern border alone? Or how Disney’s home in Missouri relates to his legacy resort in California? You could be wondering why a non-fangirl visits so many celebrity homes. Maybe you need a bucket list for a city you’re visiting… would that be for Colorado Springs, Kansas City, or San Diego?
What will my next post be? Tell me in the comments!
What do you do when you want to travel, but can’t? A staycation, of course! But without a theme or a plan, a “staycation” can devolve into little more than a Netflix binge. With the government shutdown and no tourist places open right now, I had to take travel matters into my own hands. I ended up having a pretty fun camping trip in my yard. You can try these ideas while you’re quarantined, or come back to this post anytime for staycation ideas that won’t break the bank.
Pitch a Tent
What’s camping without a tent? Okay, you may choose to use an RV or camper instead, but choose something that will get you in a different element, at least for the night.
If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can post online and perhaps one of your local friends will let you borrow theirs. If not, get creative! If it’s warm enough, you could sleep in a hammock or on an air mattress on the lawn. If the back seat of your car folds down or you have a truck bed, that can make a great sleeping area- make it cozy by filling it with pillows and blankets. Even a living room camp out can be a fun experience for families.I remember years ago, some coworkers and I got really creative and saved a bunch of cardboard boxes that were destined for the recycling bin. We turned that into a makeshift outdoor village, and a couple of us were brave enough to spend the night in it! (You can read that whole story in my first book, Uncommon Adventures.)
If you have a large yard or property area, then you probably have several choices for a flat surface area that would make a decent tent space. Pick an area that will give you a scenic view. But if you live in an apartment, don’t despair. You can still pitch a tent on your porch or balcony if you have one of those, or perhaps a shared communal yard. Going back to camping in your living room, you could do that with just sleeping bags on the floor, but popping up a tent inside can add some extra fun.
Build a Fire
I’m lucky enough to be staying at a place with an outdoor fire pit and pre-chopped wood. But even if you don’t think you can build a fire where you are, you may be surprised! You can collect kindling from moss, leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other things that fall off trees. You can even order firewood online to be shipped right to you. While you’re ordering firewood, consider adding an outdoor fire pit to your basket. That makes for a safe and easy place to start a fire. Check your local burn laws if you’d prefer to build a fire ring, or make use of the charcoal barbecue you already have.
Indoors, you can use a fireplace, or make an imaginary fire. Back in first grade, my class had an end-of-year “camping party” where we decorated the classroom ourselves, and then sat around a “campfire” that one kid made out of paper to tell stories. If you’re lacking kids or creativity, just look up “yule log” on YouTube or a streaming service.
There are several ways you can build a fire. My two preferred ways are tepee and log cabin, both of which are built to look exactly as the name implies. If you build a tepee, put kindling in the center of the area that you plan to set up your logs around. If you build a log cabin, you can put kindling in the center after you’ve built the walls. (Note on kindling: this is a good opportunity to make use of that junk mail and other paper waste.) Once you light the fire, keep an eye on it. Feel free to tell stories and sing songs around the campfire!
Cooking outside can be as easy as roasting sausages and s’mores over a campfire, or you can turn it into a complicated craft. But before we get into food, let’s start with what to cook on.
If you can start a fire as aforementioned, that can be both a fun and challenging way to cook. Of course, if you have some sort of barbecue, that makes for an easier way to cook out. Also consider building a solar oven, which could be constructed using materials found around the house. (I made my last solar oven out of a shoe box, black paint, a thick piece of clear plastic, and some reflective shipping insulation.) Most camp recipes that you make outdoors can be modified for a standard kitchen, but if you’re camping indoors, it’s a fun novelty to roast a mini marshmallow on a toothpick over an unscented candle or a lighter.
My family has been celebrating with a “Fire Friday” every week of quarantining together. Since I don’t eat hot dogs, when they roast those, I’ve put chicken sausage on a roasting stick. We’ve also made “hobo meals” by putting meat, veggies, and seasonings into a foil packet and sticking that on top of the coals. If you get really creative, you can make almost anything. I remember some of my camp coworkers once stuck leftover personal-size pizzas on their roasting stick and cooked them over a campfire. I’m looking forward to a pizza cooked in cast iron. And don’t forget dessert! Last week I made an easy dump cake in a dutch oven over the campfire coals.
Get Immersed in Nature
A camping staycation may be just for one night, but you can include camping activities during the daytime too. Go for a hike, or at least a walk around the neighborhood. Look for wildlife around your home. (I’ve been seeing lots of lizards lately.) Just one look on Pinterest can give you lots of camp-themed ideas, such as:
Play board games (Doing this with my family recently led to a very interesting story that I’ll share someday!)
Read books or magazines
Create and compete in a scavenger hunt
Send out postcards (bonus if you make them yourself)
Play with glow sticks
Tie-dye shirts, pillowcases, or bandannas (especially fun if you use squirt guns)
Play yard games
Plant potted seeds or bulbs
Race in an obstacle course
Journal or write
Just take a look around your house and see what supplies you can creatively use for a fun and memorable camping experience. The other day, I got a delivery that was kept cool with dry ice. I decided to use the blocks of dry ice to make smoke, to make metal scream, and to flash-freeze a variety of foods. The point of a camping staycation is to have fun and take a break from the normal.
What is your favorite camp-themed activity? Share in the comments below!
Want more camping and staycation ideas? I’ve written a couple books on the subject that I think you’ll find useful:
Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.
My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.
I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:
How are you?
Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.
So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!
The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.
Thanks for understanding.
We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.
I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.
With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.
Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.
As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.
The Hills Are Alive
While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.
Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.
The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)
The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.
Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.
Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.
YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.
Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!
Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.
Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.
Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.
More Music with Mozart
Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.
After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.
There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.
I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!
The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.
I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.
I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.
Relating to the Von Trapps
On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.
In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)
The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!
I use travel prep as an opportunity to do some minor upgrades in my life. I just ordered a new phone. (My current one cracked on my first day in Dublin and I haven’t replaced it for the past eight months.) And I typically get a new credit card too. Prepaying for transit and accommodation for my trip allows me to easily reach the minimum spend to get sign-up bonuses.
I signed up for my first Capital One card on my trip to the British Isles. That was a Savor card, and I really enjoyed the sign-up bonus, free currency conversion, and cashback, among other benefits. But that one was Mastercard, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa. It also had an annual fee.
That’s why I was excited that Capital One Quicksilver (which is a Visa card) had no annual fee and 1.5% cash back for every purchase, plus a signup bonus after you spend $500. It also has the benefits you can find in every Capital One card, like not freezing your card just because you’re in a different country. My experience has been that Capital One is very traveler-friendly.
I’m not as deep into the rabbit hole as many credit card-hacking travelers, but I do take advantage of the perks when I can. Unlike others, I typically prefer cards that have cashback bonuses instead of airline miles or hotel points. With cashback, you know exactly what you’re getting. With “miles” or “points”, the values of these pseudo-currencies can change on a whim. Plus, with cashback, I can use my reward to pay for whatever I want. I can use cashback for bus trips, meals, gear, or even paying my bills when I’m back at home. This allows greater freedom than being tied to a certain airline or hotel chain.
I try to get more than 1% cash back on every purchase I make. That’s why I like how Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back across the board. While making purchases for this trip, I’ve been using the Swagbucks shopping portal for their partners at online stores like Tracfone and Hotels.com. Then I get a percentage of cash back from Swagbucks in addition to the cashback offered by the credit card company. It’s like getting a 3-10% discount without having to clip coupons or scour sales!
Nowadays, it’s so easy to sign up for new credit cards. I remember when I had to go to my bank every time I was interested in changing my spending medium. Just go to the website and sign up! This is a big advantage when you want to use a bank that doesn’t have a physical location near you. I’ve done all my Capital One banking exclusively online, which makes it simple to keep tabs on how much I’m spending. And by monitoring my spending and saving, I can redirect funds to things that are more important to me (like trips).
It only took me a couple minutes to apply for Capital One Quicksilver online. The hardest part was deciding which credit card I wanted to get next, but I guess I already did that legwork for you!
Making Your Credit Card Work for You (and not the other way around)
As our society becomes more and more cashless, I’m assuming most people reading this already have at least one credit card. And it’s obvious that I’m encouraging you to sign up for another one. (You should always travel with at least two credit cards in case one gets lost, stolen, or frozen.) I think credit cards have a lot of benefits that paper money doesn’t, like theft protection, spending reports, and, of course, cashback and bonuses.
However, I don’t think EVERYONE should get a credit card. If you’re in debt or struggle to pay on time or in full, then, by all means, get rid of your credit cards! Cashback and bonuses are only useful if you’re not paying late fees and interest. If you’re not in a place where you can be smart with a credit card, go all Dave Ramsey and focus on managing your money in more physical ways.
If you have a track record of being responsible with money and paying bills on time but don’t yet have a credit card, this might be a good time to consider building your way to an excellent credit score. Apply for a credit card and you can literally fund your next trip or any big monetary goals you have!
Do you use a credit card to help you travel? What do you think are the biggest advantages/disadvantages?
Disclosure: This is not a paid ad. I do get a signup bonus for the first five people to use this link and qualify for Quicksilver card, but no other compensation has been or will be made. I just get excited about credit card benefits that travelers can take advantage of!
I think this is a fun icebreaker to do with adventurous people. Unless you’re a flat earther, we’ve been confident for hundreds of years that the world is round. Yet the phrase “four corners of the Earth” still gets used. But those four corners are different for everyone. So what are your four corners?
In the comments, tell us the farthest you’ve traveled North, South, East, and West. It’s okay if the don’t all sound impressive. Up until a few months ago, the furthest north I’d traveled was Seattle, Washington. That’s just one state away from me! I had been to Canada, but the part I went to (Niagara Falls) was still further south than Seattle. Remember that this isn’t a competition. It’s just an opportunity to get to know about other people’s adventures and maybe get some inspiration for your next trip!
Here are my four corners of the world:
North: Northern Ireland
What four corners of the world have YOU traveled to? Drop a comment so we can all get to know each other better.
The Lloyd Center is a shopping mall, movie theater, and more. A unique aspect is the indoor “ice” skating rink, right in the middle of the shopping center. But my favorite part is the free and plentiful parking. Of course, the parking lot and garage are only meant for patrons of the mall or theater. I went on a quick walk through the mall and later went to the movies (more on that later), but I did go for a walk while my car was left parked there, and all was good.
Portland has a lot of bridges spanning the Williamette River. One of my favorites is the Steel Bridge. It’s got a lot of great views (including the famous “Made in Oregon” neon sign), but I didn’t realize just how great it was. I walked on the pedestrian walkway alongside the car and train lanes on my way into Downtown Portland. But on the way back, I discovered that there was a lower level just for pedestrians! My trip to London inspired me to love and explore different levels of bridges (I went over, across, and under London Tower Bridge), so getting a different perspective of the Steel Bridge was great.
Keep Portland Weird
I traveled to Portland a lot more as a kid, and it definitely wasn’t as weird back then. I blame the TV show Portlandia for encouraging this subculture. I definitely came across some people living out the “Keep Portland Weird” motto as I strolled through Chinatown, which was capstoned when I finally saw this slogan on the side of a building. It’s right across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts, another Portland must-do. However, I decided to skip the doughnuts this time because I had other eating plans.
I don’t eat at restaurants much, mostly because I’d rather spend that money on travel. But since I was already traveling, I decided to spend some money on a unique dinner. Portland has a lot of options for that. I ended up deciding on Teote, because I love Latin American food. I got a delicious vegetarian plate. They have a few locations throughout Portland. I decided to eat at the “Teote Outpost” location, which is inside the Pine Street Market. This was partly because it was easy to incorporate into my walk, and partly because there was more I wanted to do in this unique food court.
Wiz Bang Bar
I’ve never had Salt & Straw ice cream. This is really crazy, because many people know me as the traveler who eats lots of ice cream. So obviously, the unique flavors of this Portland-based ice cream company were calling my name. However, instead of going to a Salt & Straw shop, all of which were a bit out of the way from all my other plans, I went to Wiz Bang Bar. This is owned by Salt & Straw, but instead specializes in unique soft serve. I sampled a couple unusual flavors and decided to get honey lavender soft serve with cookie dough in a waffle cone. There was a lot more to see and eat at Pine Street Market, but I was already getting full and had more to do, so I took my cone to my next stop.
World’s Smallest Park
Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning about unique Guinness World Records. One record, the world’s smallest park, was in my home state, but I never ended up visiting it until this trip. Mill Ends park started out as a hole in a street median where a light pole was supposed to go. When left abandoned, a journalist started turned it into a little park. Features vary from time to time, but all that was there during my visit was a small tree. A small park only requires a short visit, so I was soon on my way again.
Many people travel to Oregon thinking that Portland is the only thing to see (newsflash: it so is not!!!), but they at least take a day trip to see Multnomah Falls and other waterfalls along The Gorge. I’ve enjoyed lots of waterfalls, but these ones were unique! This piece of art took up the entire park block. I could jump from platform to platform over the water, and I even found a hidden path to get behind one of the waterfalls. This was super fun, but wasn’t the end of my time in Portland parks, or even the end of my time with water features!
In contrast with the world’s smallest park across the street, the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is huge! There’s a lot to see and do along this park, but I mostly wanted to enjoy my time strolling along the Williamette River and to try not to get attacked by a goose. I sat by the fountains and walked the entire length of the park until I was back at Steel Bridge, which I crossed and headed back to the final event of my time in Portland.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The reason that inspired me to take this trip to Portland was an event that you can participate in a theater near your own hometown… but you’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving. I was invited to attend an advance screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, based on a true story about an unlikely friend of Mister Rogers. (It was coincidental that in the movie, this friend was named Lloyd Vogel, and I was watching it at the Lloyd Center!) Tom Hanks did an excellent job portraying the beloved children’s show host, and I was glad I brought a spare napkin from my meal at Teote, because this movie evoked all the feels! And don’t think that just because it’s about Fred Rogers that it’s for kids. In fact, adults will get a lot more out of this film. I hope you go see it, and have a beautiful day in Portland or whatever neighborhood you explore next!
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is about a reporter who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers. I wish he were still alive because interviewing him would be a dream come true for me! But I have had the opportunity to interview dozens of inspiring living role models, like Bethany Hamilton, Sadie Robertson, and more. These interviews will be featured in Girls Who Change the World, which releases October 1st. Click here to preorder Girls Who Change the World!
A trip to the Parthenon…what does this make you think of? For most, that would involve heading to Athens, Greece. That was one of my Parthenon trips. But my first Parthenon trip happened three years before I ever even set foot in Europe. And my last Parthenon trip happened over three years after I left Greece. What an uncommon adventure! To understand the full significance and beauty of this historic architecture, I believe it requires three trips to three different countries.
Nashville: Discovering the Former Glory
While not a primary reason to visit Tennessee, I loved visiting the world’s only fully intact Parthenon and saw it almost every day while in Nashville. While it doesn’t have millennia-old history or fine material craftsmanship, this is one of the best places to go to visually learn about the Parthenon.
The exterior is a spitting image of the Parthenon in its glory days. You can walk around and see each piece of art. You can even walk up and touch the columns or sit on the steps, something you absolutely cannot do at the Acropolis. Another thing you can only do here is step inside the Parthenon. While the lower levels definitely look modern-day, the top level features a giant statue of the Greek god Athena, the namesake for Greece’s capital. While a similar statue used to be housed inside Greece’s Parthenon, no one knows what happened to that behemoth. So not only is this the only place where you can see the Parthenon in its intended glory, but also the only place to see this statue and what it looked like inside.
At the time of my visit to Nashville, I had never been to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to Greece in my lifetime, but I recorded in my travel journal that if I did make it there, I might be disappointed at the real Parthenon.
Athens: The Real Deal on Location
A few years later, I found myself in Greece! And I recorded in that travel journal that I wasn’t sure if I liked the Greek or American Parthenon better.
The center of Athens is the Acropolis, and the centerpiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the original. It’s a special experience to be able to walk among the ancient buildings atop this mountain. The ruins are preserved as best as possible there, but the art is better kept in a different home. Just downhill, the Acropolis Museum recreates the Parthenon indoors with the friezes displayed in their original order. Other Acropolis archaeological finds are on display here as well. But not everything from the Parthenon is housed in this museum.
The Parthenon is in ruins, partially because of its age, and largely because of an explosion when it was being used to store British military ammunition. If you speak to a local Greek about the Parthenon, they will be sure to include blaming the Brits. Not only for the explosion, but also because they “stole the original art off the Parthenon and refuse to give it back”. The Greeks’ relationship with the British might be strained because of this, but for me, this international argument was mostly just a call for me to take another trip.
London: Rounding Out with the Lost Art
After seeing the Parthenon in Athens, my next trip to Europe had to involve Great Britain. While an expensive city, London can be done on a budget, especially when you visit the free museums! One of the best museums (that also happens to be free) is the British Museum, oddly named since it consists entirely of artifacts taken from other countries. An entire section of the museum is devoted to ancient art from Athens.
Stepping into the Greek section of The British Museum almost felt like being teleported back into Greece. The room appeared to be the Acropolis turned outside-in. Each end of this room displays the Elgin Marbles, the statues that originally adorned the Parthenon. They are displayed in the same order as they were intended to be, so you can easily imagine the Parthenon’s roof topping just over their heads. Other statues are bookended by this art, along with a message of the United Kingdom’s stance on why they believe the Parthenon pieces in their collection should remain under their care.
The British Museum had a lot of other fascinating artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone. London itself had even more to offer. But the feeling of being among the Parthenon’s marble statues was uniquely satisfying. After many years and a worldwide search, I had finally come full-circle with seeing every element of the Parthenon that began with an unlikely trip to Nashville.
Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:
Taking a Walking Tour
I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.
Visiting the White Tower and City Walls
As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.
Having a Rotunda View
I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.
Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.
I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.
These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?
I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.
What I Did With My London Pass
I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:
Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
Tower Bridge (normally 10)
HMS Belfast (normally 16)
The View from the Shard (normally 32)
Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
Royal Mews (normally 12)
Kensington Palace (normally 20)
City Cruises (normally 19)
The Fan Museum (normally 5)
Cutty Sark (normally 15)
Royal Observatory (normally 16)
National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)
Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.
Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.
What About Other Cities?
The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.
To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.
How to Save Money When Buying the Pass
The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)
However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.
For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.
If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.
You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.
One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.
But Is It Really Worth It?
If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?
As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.
There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.
In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.
Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.
Hawaii is known as an expensive vacation destination, and the island of Maui is no exception. However, my sister and I recently returned from eight nights on this tropical paradise, and we did it on a budget! If you’d like to see Maui, Hawaii without the typical price tag, take a few of our tips.
(Note: Although we did get good deals on our flights, airline tickets involve too many factors, such as season, origin, and personal resources. I’ve decided that, because all the variables that went into our flights probably can’t transfer to yours, to leave this expense out. If you want to save money on flights, there are plenty of articles out there dedicated to just that!)
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For the most part, I just used what I already owned to pack my bag. In Hawaii, you can wear shorts and swimsuits year-round, but I also packed a rain jacket for the unpredictable weather changes as well as leggings and a long-sleeve because I wanted to hike Haleakala with its cold summit. Since most of the clothes were compact, it was easy to fit everything into carry-on luggage and not have to pay for a checked bag.
One thing I did need to buy was razors. I ordered a starter pack from Dollar Shave Club, which included a handle, four blades, and some travel-sized toiletries, all for $5. Better yet, I took advantage of a Dollar Shave Club deal on Swagbucks, so I was paid back in rebates.
One item I knew I’d need, but didn’t have was a snorkel. I decided to just rent one in Hawaii. However, before going to the snorkel rental shop, we stopped at a grocery store. There I found snorkels for the same price as a one-day rental. Since my sister and I both knew we’d be snorkeling multiple days, we bought these and made our money back with our first swim. I snorkeled a total of three days and saw some incredible sea life, making it a worthwhile purchase.
We rented dorm beds at Maui’s Banana Bungalow Hostel. This was by far our biggest expense on the island, and one of the most expensive hostels I’ve ever stayed at. But the $51.40 per night was much more reasonable than any Maui resort or vacation home. I suppose the only cheaper option would be camping, but that is only available in remote areas, and I wanted to be close to the action. Plus, the hostel offered more than just a bed to sleep on. Banana Bungalow provided other money-saving measures that I’ll explain through the rest of this post.
While most Maui vacationers rent a car, here’s our big money-saving secret: we didn’t drive at all! The main reason I chose to stay at Banana Bungalow was because they offer different tours to different parts of the island each day of the week. I ended up going with them to several famous beaches, Haleakala National Park, and even the Road to Hana. Of course, the drivers/guides work for tips, but these tours were worth more than pricey commercial tours.
Since Banana Bungalow is near downtown Wailuku, we simply walked to town to eat good food and see some incredible sites. Iao Valley is in the rainforest about three miles outside of the city, so we hiked there one day. For other excursions that we took on our own, we utilized Uber and Lyft. As it was our first time using these rideshare apps, we got registration bonuses, and I also used my Swagbucks to get a free $25 Uber gift card. We would just compare prices between Uber and Lyft and go with whatever was cheapest for our situation. (Use Uber promo code jessical42262ue to get a $15 Uber ride for free! For Lyft, use promo code LIPPE15551 for a special discount.)
Thankfully, most of Maui’s attractions don’t cost a dime. All beaches are open to the public. Swimming is free. Hammocking is free. Hiking is free. Most parks are free. With the Banana Bungalow tours, we didn’t even have to pay for gas or parking. The only activity expense I had with these tours besides tip money was the national park entry fee into Haleakala.
Since my sister’s birthday was in the middle of our trip, we decided to celebrate at Maui Tropical Plantation. We originally weren’t going to take the tour and instead enjoy the free botanical walking paths and my gift to her would be a meal at the restaurant. But then we changed our minds on the restaurant and decided to eat from the less costly coffee and ice cream shops, so then my birthday gift to her was paying for the tram tour. It was $20 per person and included lots of sights, information, and fruit!
Admittedly, this was the most difficult category to keep on a budget, and I definitely made a few splurges. Most food in Hawaii is expensive, so I didn’t want to be paying exorbitant prices for the same food I eat at home. I also wanted opportunities to taste local cuisine. However, I did pack a variety of snacks so that I didn’t have to buy food in airports, and I used these snacks to supplement a couple of meals in Hawaii as well.
The hostel offered make-your-own pancakes every morning, so breakfast was covered. Often while cooking in the communal kitchen, others would make food and offer leftovers to everyone. There were even free shelves in the fridge and pantry, so that provided a few ingredients.
The tours stopped at grocery stores such as Safeway and Foodland so we could load up on reasonably-priced food. These stores have local, grown-in-Hawaii produce sections, so I focused my shopping there. We also bought fresh fruit at Maui Tropical Plantation’s market and packaged goods at an Asian market down the street from our hostel. We even got food at Costco. The restaurant menu had some different choices from our local Costco, but still had $1.99 pizza and $1.50 hot dogs!
We did go out to eat several times, but not to fancy sit-down restaurants. We happened to be in Wailuku during their First Friday street fair, so we loaded up on all kinds of local cuisine from the various food stands and trucks. We ate at food trucks and stands a couple other times, like on the Road to Hana where we split a roadside meal served on a banana leaf. (We passed on the banana bread when we realized it was from a bakery a block away from our hostel. We walked there the next morning and got the banana bread for a fraction of the price!) We also ate at a few walk-up restaurants. We even ate at McDonald’s, but I only ordered off their unique local menu. Spam and eggs, anyone?
I got a few mementos from this trip, mostly free. I wrote in my journal every day. I pressed a flower in its pages. I brought my National Parks passport so I could add a Haleakala stamp. And of course I took lots of pictures!
Toward the end of our trip we went to Lahaina, which was a good place for shopping. There were fairly good prices at ABC Stores, where I got chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a bracelet. Out of respect for preserving the natural beauty on Maui, I did not smuggle out any coral, sand, or rocks.
Maui did end up costing more than my typical frugal trips, but we were able to have a good time without breaking the bank. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy Maui on a budget, too!
How do you lower the price of an expensive destination? Let me know in the comments!