destinations, resources, saving money, travel tips

How to Save Big Money in Rome

While planning a European trip to a different destination, I was recently contacted by a fellow magazine editor asking about money-saving tips for her upcoming trip to Rome. I realized I hadn’t shared much about my time in Rome. Although it was over three years ago, I spent nearly three weeks there and have a lot to say about it! So instead of just telling her how to save on her trip, I thought I’d share my tips with everyone!

See the Free Sights

You don’t have to pay admission to see beautiful and historic masterpieces. Rome has many piazzas, each worth exploring. Even for attractions you have to pay for (such as the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo), you can still get pretty good views from the exterior. Here are a few of my favorite free sights:

Trevi Fountain Restoration, Rome, Italy
The Trevi Fountain was undergoing restoration while I was there, so they set up a little pool so we could still make our wishes and throw coins.

Trevi Fountain: Technically this isn’t entirely free since you’re supposed to throw two coins in. (I tossed in two one-cent coins to make it as cheap as possible!) But this is definitely one of the must-see Italian statues.

scala sancta rome italy
People praying their way up the Scala Sancta

Scala Sancta: This “Holy Staircase” was imported from Jerusalem and believed to belong to Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ would have walked these steps several times on the day of his crucifixion. Tradition is to pray as you climb these steps on your knees, and anyone is invited to participate.

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy
Just a few steps of the entire staircase… it’s huge!

Spanish Steps: No matter how exhausted I was, it was always worth climbing the massive Spanish steps. This is also a good place to sit, eat a snack, and people watch. Being a popular tourist area, you can hear many languages spoken and get a glimpse of all the stunts put on for tourists (“floating” people, rose selling, etc.)

Bocca Della Verita
Close call with the Bocca Della Verita

Bocca Della Verita: The “Mouth of Truth” is an ancient piece of art that supposedly bites off the hands of liars. When I stuck my hand in, I said: “you will bite my hand now”. I think it was too confused to know what to do.

Villa Borghese Map, Roma Italia
So much to do… and I love that the park is heart-shaped!

Villa Borghese: This giant park definitely has some fun things you can pay for. I ended up renting a Segway here. But it’s also a good place to have a picnic, overlook the city, and go up to the zoo entrance. (The zoo has an admission fee, but they have a few free displays before the ticketed area.)

Stay in a Hostel

You can get a downtown hostel for around 20 euro, depending on location and time of year. I ended up staying in three hostels during my time in Rome. I wasn’t thrilled with the first one. I loved the second one but it was small and only had a few days of availability. I finally settled into the third one. Since hostels can be so diverse, make sure to carefully read the reviews on a website like Hostelz.com. (Fun fact: I wrote the description for Italy and many of the Italian destinations on that website!)

Try to get a reasonably-priced hostel that includes breakfast to save even more money. Breakfast can include a lot of things, such as breads, spreads, juice, and croissants, but my favorite hostel breakfast treat was cookies. Yes, they have cookies for breakfast! While you’ll want to eat out at least a few times in Rome, it’s also an experience in itself to visit a grocery store like the locals. See what kinds of things the other shoppers buy, and then head to your hostel’s kitchen to try your hand at an authentic Italian meal!

Walk

Walking by Tiber River, Rome, Italy
Carrying a backpack meant I could spend the whole day out and about, like walking along the Tiber River

Rome has a subway system, but not one worth getting excited over. Due to the buried historical artifacts under Rome’s surface, it would require too much expensive excavation to build a subway that takes you everywhere you want to go. I only rode Rome’s subway once (and only because someone handed me a free ticket), and it was overly crowded. Street traffic and taxi prices are even worse.

What’s a better solution? Walking! Most Rome sights are all within a few miles of each other. As you walk from one place to another, you’ll likely find dozens of other interesting stopping points along the way. Some ancient artifacts and ornate architecture are just casually located throughout the city.

Go to Church

Pope Francis in the Vatican
The closest I got to meeting Pope Francis

When in Rome, it doesn’t matter if you normally go to church. Going to church here is a must-do. Of course, you’ll have to visit the Vatican, the world’s smallest country and headquarters of Catholicism that just so happens to be encased inside Rome. When the Pope is in town, he speaks on Wednesdays and Sundays. Go to both if you can, as they are different experiences. When the Pope’s not speaking, go inside St. Peter’s Basilica. You could spend hours there! Vatican City also offers admission-based activities such as climbing to the top of the Basilica (take the stairs to save on the elevator fare) and the Vatican Museums (plan an entire day here and don’t just visit the Sistine Chapel!)

Outside of the Vatican, there are still plenty of other churches that are worth stepping into. They’re all open most of the day to visitors, and can be a welcome cooling-off point during warm months. I made a point to stop inside every church I passed, and I was never disappointed.

Although most churches in Rome are Catholic with services held in Italian, I did end up attending a Sunday morning Protestant service held in English. In fact, it turned out that the pastor was from Oregon like me! Rome Baptist Fellowship is a centrally-located international gathering of travelers, expatriates, and even locals gathering together, which was a fun experience.

Stop at the Palatino

Palatino, Rome, Italy
I spent at least as much time at the Palatino as I did at the Colosseum- so much to walk right up to!

This is more of a time-saver than a money-saver, but you want to make your time in Rome count! Don’t wait in a long line to buy a ticket at the Colesseum. Instead, head over to the Palatino, an attraction in its own right lurking in the shadows of the more famous attraction. Buy a ticket and enjoy the sights there, and then head over to the Colesseum and skip the line there. Tickets are good for both attractions, but for some strange reason, many people skip the Palatino.

Tour with Rick Steves

Rick Steves Audio Tour, Jewish Ghetto, Rome, Italy
With Rick Steves coming through my ear buds, even this street sign in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto had an interesting history behind it!

If you like guided group tours, Rick Steves probably has the best ones out there. I prefer to travel solo, but Rick Steves still played a major role in much of my European travel. If you download the free app, you can access tons of audio tours and more advice for your travels. In Rome, I took audio tours through places like the Jewish Ghetto, the Colesseum, Heart of Rome, and Trastevere, just to name a few. I discovered a lot of interesting things I would never have noticed on my own.

At night, I would often fall asleep in my hostel dorm with my earbuds in, listening to Rick Steves tell a story about one of his European adventures or interviewing another travel expert. It made me excited to wake up the next morning and explore Rome more!

Eat the Lunch Specials

Italian Pasta in Trastavere, Rome
Course 2…

I was told by multiple people to go to the Trastevere area for lunch. Or, if you like eating dinner at an American time (like 5) instead of an Italian hour (like 9), lunch specials can still apply. At most of the restaurants in this part of town, you pay a fixed price and then get to choose what food you want for each of the three courses off a special menu.

Trastevere is an interesting part of town not for its famous attractions, but because you can get a taste of what life in Rome is really like. Burn off your lunch calories with a walk around these cobblestone streets. Since it’s located on the Tiber River, walk along there too. There are sometimes special events along the river, such as a Nutella street fair that I happened to find there! That resulted in a free Nutella snack that I saved for another meal!

To save money at nearly any meal, drink water! And not the bottled kind. Rome has safe drinking fountains throughout the city where you can fill up for free.

Eat Gelato

Fassi Gelato, Rome, Italy
Move over, Baskin Robbins with your 31 flavors… there were so many unique flavors at Fassi!

You can’t go to Italy without indulging in gelato. It was a great snack, dessert, or sometimes even a meal-on-the-go! My favorite gelateria was called Fassi. It’s a little ways away from most tourist attractions, so the price is lower and you know you’re getting the real deal. A hostel roommate introduced me to this place, and in return, I introduced several more roommates. Now I’d like to introduce everyone to Fassi!

Another Italian treat you must try in Rome is tiramisu. For both gelato and tiramisu, I’d recommend seeking out a dessert at least once a day and trying a new flavor each time!

save big money in rome

Thinking back to my time in Rome is making me realize that despite spending a few weeks there, I left so much of it unexplored! Do you have any money-saving suggestions that I missed? Help my friend out by leaving them in the comments!

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Accommodations, camp, destinations, Foodie, resources, travel tips

Caving, Camping, and Cooking

A few years ago, I took a camp cooking class at my local REI. The class instructor asked everyone what their cooking experience was at camps. As I thought back to the camping I had done, I realize I had mostly gone to restaurants or otherwise eaten cereal or other easy-to-make things. I had to tell him I didn’t really have experience, despite all the camping I had done.

Ever since then, I decided that I wanted to explore different ways I could cook at camp. My most recent camping experience was at Oregon Caves National Monument. While I had hiking, camping, and caving, I also got to enjoy delicious food thanks to Mountain House!

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I arrived at Cave Creek Campground, the rustic campground that is part of the Oregon Caves National Monument, on a Friday. I spent the afternoon setting up camp and enjoying the camp amenities. My campsite was right next to the creek! After a few hours of exploration and relaxation, it was time to start making dinner, which turned out to be relaxing as well!

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I decided to make chicken and rice. Now that sounds like it would be difficult to make at a campsite, but Mountain House made it super easy. Mountain House is a maker of freeze-dried camping food. They’re actually also based in Oregon, so it only felt right to use them on an Oregon camping trip! (Though I’m sure they’d be delicious no matter where you are.) Here’s all I had to do:

Step one: Boil water.

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Step two: Pour some water into the packet.

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Step three: Zip up the packet and wait a few minutes while it “cooks”.

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Step four: Enjoy! While this meal is tasty as-is, it’s also totally customizable. I decided to slice up a tomato and add that to the mix.

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After that, all I had to cook was the mandatory things that you have to cook for every camping trip: s’mores!

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Even the next morning, breakfast was simple, filling, and amazing. Mountain House makes breakfast meals as well, and I had those meals on both Saturday and Sunday morning.

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I spent most of Saturday away from the campground. The main attraction of Oregon Caves National Monument is about four miles uphill from the Cave Creek Campground. I went up there and opened and closed the caves that day! I took the first tour of the day, which told of all the stories about the cave held. And then I took the last tour, which was candlelit!

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In between those two tours, I went hiking, visited the visitor center at the Chalet, and took a guided tour of the Chateau.

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Because there weren’t any fires allowed in this area, I enjoyed some of the snacks I brought, and I got a little meal at the 50s-style diner in the Chateau. However, after the last tour when I went back to camp, I was craving another Mountain House meal!

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As I was camping, I realized that it was a great way to save money. My campsite only cost $10 a night, which is only a fraction of the price of a room at the Chateau! Because of that, I was able to take two tours, and I still had money left over for future adventures. Cooking my own food is something that always saves me money, whether I’m camping or at home. Mountain House made that easy to do even at a basic campsite. All I needed was hot water. (If for some reason you can’t get hot water, I tasted it before it was cooked. Trust me, it’s still good!) Even though I was eager to devour all of the Mountain House meals that I brought, if for some reason I wasn’t able to eat them, no worries. They’re good until 2048!

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(In case it wasn’t obvious, Mountain House provided me samples in order for me to write this post. No other compensation was made.)

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Have you ever camped at a National Park or Monument? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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Accommodations, culture, destinations, Foodie, Hawaii, hike, resources, saving money, souvenir, Things to Do, tour, travel tips, Walk

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

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!)

Some links are affiliates. All links are personally recommended by me!

Gear

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.

Accommodation

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.

Transportation

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.)

Activities

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!

Food

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?

Shopping

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 to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

How do you lower the price of an expensive destination? Let me know in the comments!

travel tips

5 Vacation Activities You Should Try At Least Once!

Life is all about trying new experiences and getting to know new people. You can’t have a fulfilling life, if you don’t live it in a fulfilling way. This means soaking up every opportunity and every chance you get to do something amazing, something different to the day to day mundane. Going on vacation is a luxury in life that many people never get to experience until adulthood, so when you do get to have the chance to get away, you should say a resounding ‘yes’ to every new experience that comes your way.

The most popular time of year for a vacation is whenever it happens to be warm, and no matter when you go – somewhere in the world will be warm at that point. If you want to go away and really enjoy your vacation, there are some activities you should make a point of seeking out and doing. Call it a vacation bucket list, if you must, but either way, we’ve got five activities that you absolutely have to tick off while you’re on your next sunshine break.

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Boat Trips. Whether you’re a boat owner who loves the water, or you’re hiring one for the day, you need to get on the ocean and experience the world at a different pace. Take a cooler and a picnic basket and find out where you can buy the best boat umbrellas. Wind-stable Finbrella purchases mean that you can take that boat to the ocean and spend the day out on the water. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once!

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Open Air Concerts. Going on vacation means trying something new, right? Well, make sure your head somewhere with an open-air concert on offer and dance the night away under a blanket of stars.

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Sunrise Yoga. Whether you’re on vacation or not, you should still keep up with your health and fitness. Counteract those dancing nights with cocktails and burgers with early morning sunrise yoga. Getting onto the beach when the sunrise peaks over the edge of the ocean, breathing in the clean air and getting in touch with yourself? Yep, that’s what vacations are about.

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Diving. Above the ocean level is endless blue sky and sunshine. Below? Below is the quiet tranquillity of the sea and all the marine life you could imagine. So, don your diving suit and get under the water for an experience that feels other-worldly.

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Taste The Rainbow. Whenever you are exploring somewhere new, you need to look at the food on offer. You’ll find far more exotic options on offer on vacation, so you need to get stuck in and try it all! That dish that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before? Go and buy it. That weird coloured fruit? Take a bite. It’s all about the senses on vacation and you need to indulge yours.

Going away and trying new things gives you the chance to enjoy life from a different angle. That’s an angle you need to learn to enjoy!


PS– Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow US readers! How are you celebrating today?

Accommodations, destinations, Nonprofit, tour, travel tips

Roars and Snores and So Much Mores!

Last weekend, I went camping. With lions.

Despite being only about an hour and a half away from my home, I felt as if I had somehow been transported to an African safari. I rode around in safari trucks with guides who knew a lot about the dozens of animals we passed. And before falling asleep in my tent, I listened to the carols of a pride of lions.

In reality, I was at Wildlife Safari near Winston, Oregon. I’ve been to this drive-thru safari experience a few times, but that wasn’t in the plans for this trip. I was there to take part in Roars and Snores, which involves a sleepover inside a lion enclosure, plus a jam-packed itinerary for animal enthusiasts. The event description on their website was somewhat vague, so I knew I was in for a weekend of surprises!

I arrived at Wildlife Safari an hour before Roars and Snores began. This was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the free Safari Village, which has a petting zoo, taxidermy room, and dozens of animals you can’t see in the drive-thru safari. There’s also an overlook to the lion enclosures, where I saw staff setting up for the night’s experience. Then I went to the gift shop to check-in. I was told to have a seat in the restaurant where guests would soon enjoy dinner and a presentation.

The barbecue-style dinner was delicious, with enough food and variety for everyone to eat as much as they wanted. Several zookeepers showed us slideshows about two animals we would see that evening: lions of course, and also bears. I learned a lot about these beasts, like how lions “carol”, which is a sort of role call using roars.

After everyone was stuffed, we walked it off on the way  to the nearby lion enclosure. The keepers explained how they don’t train Wildlife Safari’s animals to do tricks like a circus might. However, they do need to train the creatures in some ways to make sure that they stay healthy. For example, we got to watch the lions mimic their trainers by lifting up their paws, and that way they could be inspected for injuries. Each lion who did this was rewarded with raw meat kebabs. However, no one at Wildlife Safari forces the animals to do anything. These snacks were a good encouragement to get inspected and go into their nighttime shelter, but if a lion chose not to do this one night, then the staff would record this and try again the next day, but otherwise let the lion be.

Since these aren’t truly “trained” lions, we got to see some of their wild instincts up-close through the safety of a fence. When the lions saw the children in our group, or even adults squatting down, they would pace in front of that person. In the wild, lions often go after smaller prey because it’s a more guaranteed victory for them. But some of these lions’ habits weren’t the same as a wild lion. In this pride, a female was in charge. Typically a male would be the head of a pride, but since the two adult male lions were rescues, the females had more skills. The adult males are also kept separate from the cubs so that a male cub doesn’t try to overpower an adult male like they often do in the wild.

After the lions went to bed for the day, we hopped on the safari trucks and headed over to the bear enclosure. On the way, we passed through parts of the African and North American sections of the safari, so we got to see several species along the way. When we got to the bears, I watched them eat watermelon, play with boxes, and take their medicine. It was a great experience, but I hope I don’t get that close to a bear in nature!

By the time we were bussed down to the lion enclosure with all of our camping gear, it was getting dark. I don’t think I’ve ever set up my tent after sundown before, but it was accomplished! We were rewarded with a campfire and s’mores. Maybe the event should have been called Roars, Snores, and S’mores!

I really liked how the staff thought of everything to make the stay as pleasant as possible. Besides dinner and s’mores in the evening, ice chests full of beverages were available. This was especially helpful since I had left my water bottle in my car parked a mile away. An outhouse was places in our lion enclosure to use at night, but there were a few opportunities to use the Safari Village restrooms before that. (As a note, Safari Village is really cool after the park closes and the usual guests have left.) Even a continental breakfast was provided, which wasn’t mentioned in the information online.

Although this event is called Roars and Snores, neither of those happened until after I had crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. Lions use their roars as a way to keep track of everyone else, so when one lion roars, the others roar back. When the lions listen to this “carol”, they are able to tell if someone is missing, or if a stranger participated in the carol. They did this roll call (or is it a “roar call”?) several times at night before the roars of the lions were replaced by the snores of the other campers.

I awoke the next morning to more lion carols- quite the alarm clock! I got ready foe the day, tore down my campsite, and leisurely enjoyed the continental breakfast. Two African cranes noticed that all of us humans were caged up and walked over to the outside of our fence. It was like they had gone to the zoo to see the people exhibit!

Our first activity that morning was to go inside the enclosure that the lion cubs would use that day. We took cardboard boxes, spritzed them with perfume, and placed them around the enclosure. Apparently lions love playing with boxes and the scent of perfume interests them, but I think it also helped that the keepers placed meat in some of them! Once we were all safely outside of the enclosure, the lions were released and had a blast!

The last activity of Roars and Snores was with a big cat that can’t even roar. Everyone had the opportunity to get their picture taken with a cheetah. 

It’s hard to believe that thia all took place in less than 24 hours- they packed a lot into this short vacation! If this sounds like something you would like to do, check out Wildlife Safari’s website regularly for announcements about upcoming Roars and Snores sleepovers. They also sometimes offer an event that includes dibner for both you and the lions, bur without the campout. Your group could also book a private event that includes a lion encounter. Even if none of these are available for the date you want to visit, I’m sure you’ll still have a great time at Wildlife Safari at the drive-thru or in an animal encounter. 

PS- Discounted tickets are often available on Groupon, good for either drive-thru admission or an elephant car wash!

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip, saving money, travel tips

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.

Sea Lion Caves
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.

Sea Lion Cave
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!

Accommodations, destinations, faith, Foodie, health, road trip, travel tips

Road Trip Weekend, Part 2: Leave the Comfort Zone

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ll be sharing 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! Yesterday, I shared a coastal road trip built around meeting my favorite speaker. Today, I’ll tell how a road trip allowed me to face my fears and overcome pain. 

Exactly one week after my car was hit, I was still overcoming fears that were brought on the night of the crash. Since I was turning left when it happened, I had to psych myself up every time I needed to turn left. (I have heard of people who make three rights to avoid ever turning left, but I knew right away that I didn’t want to live in fear or make big adjustments to my life from one crash.) I was already starting to overcome my fear of the intersection where it occurred, since I drove through it almost every day. Because the driver that hit us was from California, to be honest I was a little nervous about California drivers.

Thankfully, my car insurance provided a rental car for one month. It was a blue Hyundai Sonata. I took it one one road trip during the time I had it. Within the first five minutes of that trip, I decided that Sue would be the perfect name for this car. Sue Sonata was my Sue-bstitute for my Sue-baru. But that road trip involved a lot more than just naming a car.

I had been considering taking a road trip all that week, but wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I was still in a lot of pain, not to mention the mental obstacles that come with driving long distances so shortly after an emotional crash. So when I decided on Saturday morning that I should face my fears and have some fun along the way, I was scrambling for where to go and places to stay. Several ideas I had resulted in finding no nearby accommodations that were both affordable and available, but I eventually found an AirBnB in Redding, California.

Redding has been a stop on several of my trips, but never a destination. I’ve enjoyed several walks across the Sundial Bridge and around the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Park. In middle school I even had fun on a Girl Scout trip to the Redding Water Slides. But one popular thing to do in Redding,  especially for Christians, is attend a worship service at Bethel Church. That would be at the top of my to-do list for this trip.

Redding is about three hours away from my home in Southern Oregon. Since I didn’t leave until after lunch on Saturday, I only had the late afternoon and early evening to spend in Redding. I started out by checking into my AirBnB. The hosts attend Bethel, and many of their other guests also come primarily to attend Bethel, so they gave advice on when to leave in the morning. I was surprised that people are waiting to get into the sanctuary over an hour before service starts! I also learned that the 8am service was the least crowded, so I set my alarm to get up for that.

Then, I headed off to explore Redding. The waterslides weren’t in my budget, but I still enjoyed the (very Northern) California May weather by going to the local YMCA, which has both an indoor and outdoor pool. At the time, I had a membership to my local Y, which allows for free access to just about any Y location in the world. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have a sauna, though. The Ys near me have them, and since I hadn’t started chiropractic work yet, the heat was really helping my injured shoulder and other sore muscles. But I still got a decent workout in.

Next, I headed to 7 Eleven with a popcorn bucket. It was Bring Your Own Cup Day, after all! I try to take advantage of good deals like this, no matter where I am. It’s just one way to enjoy yourself while still saving money for travel.

I must confess: when traveling, I often replace a meal with ice cream. The Slurpee wasn’t filling enough for a meal, so I dined on Rita’s ice and custard. The last time I ate this was when I lives in Ohio three years ago, so it was definitely a treat.

Then, I attempted to spend the evening in Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was really crowded. I realized that there was a rodeo going on next to the park, and attendees were parking miles away since the nearby lots were full. I had no interest in attending the rodeo, and I didn’t want to walk so far just to get to the park, so I left. I wasn’t that upset for a few reasons. I had already been before, I might be able to go after church the next day, and my AirBnB had a great view of the Sundial Bridge from the back patio. I spend some time looking over the cityscape while munching on my giant Slurpee.

I spent the quiet evening trying to write and learn about Bethel. Other than hearing the occasional Bethel Music song on Christian radio, I didn’t know too much about the church doctrine or leaders.

Up before my alarm went off, I got ready, packed up, and headed off to Bethel. My plan was to attend two services back-to-back, and visit the Alabaster Prayer House. I had no trouble finding parking or a seat for the 8am service, though the front half of seating was already reserved.

While the song selection and pastor’s message were the same in both services I attended, there were still differences. The worship in the second service was more experiential, with flag wavers and more complex lighting. That service also had a baby dedication that seemed more like a walk down the red carpet. Instead of just one or two babies, there were over twenty being paraded by their parents as their names were announced and pastors lined up to pray for them.

The first service seemed more like a church service I would typically attend, but because of its smaller attendance, it offered something that the other one didn’t: the opportunity to wait in line after service to be prayed over for physical healing. I had heard about Bethel’s physical healing ministry on Saturday mornings, but didn’t think there would be the opportunity on Sunday. I am not sure if it was a normal thing or because the theme of the morning sermon was healing, but since I still had all the pain of a recent collision,  I decided to take them up on this offer! Unfortunately I didn’t receive immediate healing like some people do, but my chiropractor has been saying that I am recovering quickly, so maybe these two are connected.

Between services, I was hungry due to only having leftover Slurpee breakfast. So I headed to the church cafe, called HeBrews. I ate a muffin on the patio, then got into the line for second service. When I got into the sanctuary, I didn’t see any available seats. Lots of people were standing against the side walls, so I joined them. I later learned that these standing people could join live worship, but would then sit in another room while the service was streamed to them. I didn’t join them, however, because a woman came up and told me there was an empty seat next to her.

After the second service, I went to the greeters who welcomed first-time visitors. They gave me a calendar and a coupon to download free sermon, which I still haven’t taken advantage of.  Then I walked over to thw Alabaster Prayer House.  This was a cute little building offering communion, books, a fountain, and other resources that contributed to a mindful place to pray. Outside of that  was a garden that I decided to walk through, especially after looking down at the driveway and seeing all the cars coming and going as slow as molasses!

When I did leave, I headed over to Turtle Bay. One thing I have wanted to do here for a couple years now was hike the trails. So after the mandatory sundial selfies, I started down a trail, but stopped at a bench overlooking the water. A couple with a thick accent asked to sit next to me. It turns out they were from Paris, but were visiting Redding for several days to attend a Bethel conference as well as church this morning. So we talked about church as well as my trip to Paris two years ago. Then I continued down the path.

I saw deer and a lot of beautiful spots along the water before I ended up next to the freeway. I then turned and walked a path that had the freeway on one side, and a marshy preserve on the other- quite the contrast! I walked some on the other side of the water, but the scattered path, hot sun, and hunger eventually forced me to turn around.

Back on the road, I sipped some soup from a mug as I listened to music and enjoyed the forested Shasta Lake area. Soup was not appeasing my hunger, though. When I saw a sign for The Pizza Factory, I recalled how in high school my youth group once went there after a houseboat trip. I guess I was too busy remembering the past, because I missed the exit for it. Fortunately, there are three Pizza Factory restaurants along the NorCal I5. I stopped at the Weed one, which turned out to be the same one that my youth group had gone to anyway. I enjoyed a delicious taco pizza.

The rest of the drive home was pretty mundane, although I did feel a little accomplished safely driving past the town where the other driver in the accident lives. In just one quick weekend trip, I drove long distances, drove among many California drivers, turned left in plenty of intersections, started the physical healing process, and even enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t sure if I would get my car back, but it was even better to have my life back!

What fears have YOU overcome while traveling? Tell me in the comments!

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Bucket List, culture, destinations, hike, travel tips

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

The US is a vast and varied country. There is a lot to see and do. A lot of people that live here love to camp and explore the great outdoors. There are a lot more national parks and reserves to see than you might think. 

 

So if you are planning a hiking trip, where are the best places to visit? It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you are coming from abroad. Locals have friends and family recommendations that they can go on. So if you are coming from abroad, I have got some advice for you. First of all, check out a page like https://www.trails.com/toptrails.aspx. It is a great place to start. It will narrow down your search of the areas you want to be in and the distances that you want to travel. Remember if you are coming from abroad, you need to have the necessary visas in place as you plan your trip. You will most likely need an ESTA visa for the time you are on vacation. You could look at https://www.official-esta.com/our-services for any questions that you might have. But anyway, here are a few of my ideas to help get you started on deciding where to go.

File:Wolfgang Moroder photographer at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.jpg

Image of Grand Canyon

 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

I think one of the most obvious hiking trails that are known worldwide is the Grand Canyon. If you have never been in your life, it needs to be on your bucket list! There is so much to explore, and it is a stunning area of the world. It is a mile deep which is pretty epic to hike in. You can also hike around the top of it, too.

 

Zion National Park, Utah

There are a few awesome national parks in Utah. One of the best has got to be Zion National Park in southern Utah. There is a river that runs through it which is great if you feel the need to cool off a little. The river leads to an area called Emerald Pools that is full of waterfalls. It is a beautiful area to hike.

 

Yosemite National Park, California

This national park is set in the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the park most known for its giant, and I mean giant, Sequoia trees. The ancient trees stand proud, and it is pretty epic that you can close to such historical lifeforms. It isn’t too far from Sacramento and San Francisco in California. So if you do want to experience some of the USA’s great shopping and burgers, you can while you are close by!

 

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina

This park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is one of the greatest national parks on the east coast. The forests are lush, and it is full of amazing flowers all year long. There are of course streams and rivers that follow along the hiking trail. It is one of the prettiest national parks that you could visit.

 

Hope you enjoyed this collaborate post! While I have only seen a couple of the parks listed above, stay tuned as I return to some of my favorite national parks and visit new ones, too!

day trip, destinations, guest post, travel tips

Across the Ocean and Right Next Door

My recent guest posts took me all around the world!

Across the Ocean

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If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the United States, you may wonder if it’s worth going overseas to international Disney parks. Even die-hard Disney fans may want to stick to the original two! When I went to Disneyland Paris, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome!

My second article on TravelingMom has been posted! It’s all about what you can expect at Disneyland Paris! Click here to read 4 Reasons Why Disneyland Paris Should Be On Every Disney Fan’s Bucket List

Right Next Door

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Do you have a tourist attraction near where you live that you just haven’t visited yet? I’m not above playing tourist in my hometown. I’ve enjoyed historic Jacksonville, hiking places like the Table Rocks, and even Harry & David (although I enjoy that last one less since I worked there). But one attraction I just haven’t made it to is also one of the most widely known: the Pacific Crest Trail. I got to explain why in this collaboration with other travel writers. Do you think what I said was a good reason, or just an excuse?

I will try to hike the PCT soon. (Not the whole thing; just the part near me.) I’ll let you know what I think when I get there!

day trip, destinations, Foodie, voluntourism

Places Change

A little over a year ago, I made a stop at the historic Butte Creek Mill. It hadn’t changed much since it opened in 1872.

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But recently, I was driving through Eagle Point, and decided to make a quick detour to go by Butte Creek Mill. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Christmas morning brought many surprises as usual, but an unexpected and unwanted surprise was hearing the news that this beautiful historic mill caught fire. It was shocking to comprehend that something that had stood the test of time had so suddenly disappeared as it literally went up in smoke.

In the following weeks, residents from my area kept up on the news of what would happen to the site where Butte Creek Mill once stood. I was filled with hope when the owner announced that just enough survived to justify rebuilding and restoring the mill. However, it would take a lot of help. I made a small donation within the month of the fire, but after seeing the burned-down mill with my own eyes, I recently made another donation. You can help rebuild Butte Creek Mill, too! I look forward to the day when Butte Creek Mill once again resembles the top photo!