camp, jobs, travel tips, writing

88 Things Every Camp Staff Member Needs to Know

In the last issue of Camp Business Magazine, I shared 88 of the many things I’ve learned while working on staff at several camps. If you’re in the middle of summer camp or considering doing something like this in the future, get a step ahead by learning these tips!

(If you want to read the published article, check out the May/June 2018 of Camp Business here.)

Getting the Job

  1. Camp is a wonderful gateway to a variety of jobs.

  2. You definitely shouldn’t get a camp job just for the money, especially since it’s pretty easy to find better-paying jobs. But since most of your expenses are covered, it’s a good job to work at while saving up for college, travel, or another big expense.

  3. Even if you have a specific position at camp, you may still sometimes find yourself doing things that weren’t mentioned in your job description.

  4. When you work together, eat together, play together, and live together, a sense of community is bound to form.

  5. The work you do can leave an eternal impact.

  6. Lots of camps experience this form of natural staff recruitment: As campers, young people see how fun it is to work at camp and wish they could do all the crazy things that their goofy counselors do. Many decide to apply once they are of age.

  7. Do you know someone who works at a camp? This can be advantageous in so many ways. They can give you tips for how to fill out your application or what to say in your interview. Ask if they could provide you with a reference. Some camps that have difficulty recruiting enough staff offer a refer-a-friend program to current or former workers. They’ll get a gift card or another bonus when you join the team, making this beneficial for both of you.

  8. You can also use traditional job search methods, like Craigslist and job boards, to try to find a camp that’s hiring.

  9. If you’re considering working at a camp, but cringe at the thought of being surrounded by a dozen kids at all hours of the day, don’t worry. There are many hats you can wear while working at camp, and counseling is an optional one.

  10. Working at camp can be advantageous for all ages and all walks of life.

  11. Camp can be a lifelong career!

  12. Plan ahead and apply early.

  13. Some camps are old-fashioned, while others are up-to-date on the latest technology. This means that figuring out how to apply is kind of like a scavenger hunt. You may find an application online, or you may have to snail mail your resume to the camp’s address.

  14. Camp requires sacrifice, and for some it takes more than others.

  15. You might be stuck with roommates you don’t know, which could turn into a positive or negative experience.

  16. Time is a major commitment. Camp takes up most, if not all, of summer, and it’s often more than a 40-hour workweek

  17. You’ll often miss out on sleep, alone time, and even bathroom time.

  18. Camp work is truly not for everyone.

  19. Camps aren’t limited to summer.

Packing

  1. You want to be prepared, because missing even one key item could leave you miserable. You don’t want to face mosquitos without insect repellant, or the sun without sunscreen, or Bible camp without a Bible!

  2. Overpacking will lead to what’s known as “stuffocation”: too much stuff crammed into tight quarters.

  3. Your roommates won’t appreciate your belongings overflowing into their space!

  4. Many camps will mail you a packet of onboarding information. Or, if the camp’s in tune with the 21st century, it can be found online. This packet might go over the camp rules, employee information like how you’ll get paid, and maybe even a map of the camp property. But the most important part of this packet is the packing list.

  5. Who said you had to keep things in a suitcase? Most big-box stores sell dresser-style drawers made entirely of plastic. These are about as lightweight as a suitcase, but so much more organized and better-looking.

  6. Regular bedding is a lot easier to clean than a sleeping bag.

  7. If you think you might get cold at night, flannel sheets are great.

  8. Find out what kind of decorations you’re allowed to have. (You may be limited, since nails, tacks, and adhesives can ruin walls.) Even a simple poster can brighten up a room, provided it’s in good taste.

  9. Camp bathrooms are used by a lot of people, and often don’t have much room to keep your toiletries.

  10. You should make sure to bring kitchen supplies especially if you’re on a special diet that calls for eating differently than what the camp will serve.

  11. If you wear a uniform at camp, you’ll probably only need a couple other shirts to wear while sleeping and on your days off.

  12. Camp clothes should always be practical for the environment.

  13. But be sure to pack at least one nice outfit. You’ll end up in a situation where either you use it, or you wish you brought it!

Child Wrangling

  1. Working at a kids’ camp is about the midpoint between being a babysitter and being a parent.

  2. If you’re a counselor, see if you can get a list of names of all your campers, before camp starts if possible.

  3. Prioritize learning real names over camp names. That’s the name you’ll need in the event of an emergency, as well as the one they’re most likely to respond to when you’re calling them.

  4. Start by learning the troublemakers’ names first. They’re the ones you’ll have to call out the most!

  5. When you’re in charge of campers, you’re really on the clock 24 hours a day. But hopefully you can take at least a few of those hours to sleep.

  6. Night and morning routines help establish a daily rhythm and set the right kind of mood for the time of day.

  7. Homesickness is bound to happen. And like a disease, it can quickly spread to more campers.

  8. Treat campers with special needs like the other campers as much as their disability allows. They are more than their disability.

  9. On the first night at camp, make sure that every clothing tag, toiletry, and book has a first and last name somewhere on it.

  10. Keep your eyes open for former campers when you’re out and about.

All Fun and Games

  1. Games may not seem as important as other aspects of camp. But in reality, games are an excellent skill-building opportunity, can open up conversations and teambuilding with campers, and are even a great marketing technique as campers will tell their friends about the fun they had.

  2. If there is a game or another activity that you don’t like, that’s okay. But campers should never be able to detect a hint of your animosity toward it.

  3. Teamwork is an important part of camp.

  4. If your camp has low ropes, a challenge course, or other teambuilding activities, try to do that with your team as soon as you can.

  5. Just about every activity can be more fun when done in the dark with glow sticks.

  6. Night hikes are a fun, educational, and memorable experience for all ages.

  7. The typical recipe for s’mores includes marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, but don’t feel limited to that. Get creative with your substitutions and add-ons. The options are limitless.

  8. You can make indoor smores using chocolate syrup and marshmallow crème- this is a good option if you don’t want kids messing with fire.

Work Perks

  1. Camp provides you with an “outdoor education” of sorts. It’s a great time to learn a few nature facts you might have missed in school.

  2. If you have a fear of heights, you’ll probably have several opportunities at camp to challenge this fear.

  3. Camp would be the best place to wait out an apocalypse.

  4. Due to remote locations and other circumstances. the internet connection and cell service aren’t always the greatest, and some camps still don’t offer any connectivity at all.

  5. Going unplugged is good for you. It helps you become more mindful of your surroundings and what you’re doing. You get to live in the present. You get to learn to enjoy the silence.

  6. Camp can energize you by making you feel more useful, but it can zap your energy just as easily.

  7. It can be hard to get enough sleep, but try to the best you can. Be strict about enforcing quiet times, as it’s good both for you and the campers.

  8. You work an active job, so you probably won’t need to get up two hours early to go jogging.

Camp Crushes and Courtships

  1. If you work at a coed camp, a couple crushes are bound to arise among your coworkers, or even involving yourself.

  2. Many camps have adopted the “No Purpling” rule because the pink people at camp and the blue people at camp should not be close enough for their colors to blend. (For the record, the “No Purpling” rule also implies no “hot pinking” or “baby blueing”.)

  3. Although you’re probably sleeping in separate buildings from the opposite gender, you do spend most of your waking hours with your coworkers at camp. Because of this, you may feel closely connected to your coworkers, and at a faster pace than connections like these normally take.

  4. One problem with beginning a relationship outside of your normal environment is that it can be difficult to transfer this new romance back into your normal environment.

  5. If you have a significant other for a camp coworker, it shouldn’t be obvious to your other coworkers. Treat everyone equally, and don’t put anyone in the position of your third wheel.

  6. If you don’t want to deal with guy-girl drama, or you want to avoid the temptation that can come with coed camps, it might be advantageous for you to look for a camp that’s just for your gender.

  7. Camp provides a relationship benefit even for those who don’t end up in a relationship: You have the opportunity to observe the opposite gender act in ways at camp that you may not see in other environments.

Avoiding the Health Center

  1. If you see a safety hazard, either fix it or report it to someone who can.

  2. Make sure to remind your campers to take their meds when they’re supposed to.

  3. If you can handle it, offering to clean up vomit can be a big help. Yes, it’s gross. No, it probably isn’t in your job description.

  4. Make sure water is readily available.

  5. Wearing helmets on the rock wall and not diving in the shallow end applies to everyone, not just kids!

  6. One of the best things you can do is take care of your own health. Set a good example when it comes to wearing sunscreen, drinking water, and staying on trails.

  7. Ideally, all camps should provide all their staff with CPR and first aid training, but if camp doesn’t provide this, you should take it upon yourself to sign up for a course before the camp season.

  8. Traditionally, “camp food” meant cheap, tasteless bulk food. If that’s what you’re picturing, you’ll be glad to know that fewer and fewer camps are dishing up these mystery meals.

  9. If you have any concerns for your own personal health, call ahead of time to see how camp can accommodate you.

  10. It can be difficult to work at camp while simultaneously dealing with a health concern like diabetes, epilepsy, or asthma. But it’s certainly not impossible.

  11. Get to know your camp’s protocols. Follow the rules, even when no one’s looking.

Camp in Real Life

  1. Camps often hire on-call or part-time staff to help in the kitchen or with activities during weekend retreats throughout the year.

  2. Many leadership and office staff work year-round, so you could land a full-time camp job if you want to work through every season.

  3. There are many differences between camp in summer and the rest of the year. It’s typically toned-down, being less of a crazy place and more of a place to find rest and recharge. The atmosphere is definitely different.

  4. Working at camp is no vacation. But it can provide skills that help you enjoy travel more.

  5. You might be able to benefit from employee discounts on camp stays.

  6. Many camps offer staff reunions that allow their seasonal alumni to return in the off season to catch up on life.

  7. Even if your camp doesn’t offer staff reunions, it can still be beneficial to visit your former camps.

  8. Camp provides many positive, happy memories. But these experiences can sometimes bring hurt and heartache as well.

  9. Even in tough times, a camp community will help each through it.

  10. Camp can open doors not only at work, but also in extracurricular and volunteer activities.

  11. Your time at camp will prepare you for a whole slew of opportunities, wherever you go.

  12. Summer ends, the campfire goes out, and campers leave. The turn of the seasons at camp demonstrate how fragile and fleeting life is. But we are working for something far greater than that.

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Accommodations, camp, resources, road trip, travel tips

Exploring Oregon: On the Road with Lewis N Clark

Over 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark took an incredible expedition to the Oregon Coast. Their journey reshaped America as they explored new places. A couple of weeks ago, I also took an adventurous journey to the Oregon Coast. While Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are no longer around to guide me on my travels, this trip was made easier with Lewis N. Clark!

There are plenty of hotels, guest houses, and AirBnBs in every town along the Oregon Coast, but to get the full experience, camping is a must. There are camps near each of Oregon’s coastal towns. Camping frees up money that you would have spent on accommodations to do other fun things, like shop for handmade candy, buy a craft straight from an artist, eat at a local restaurant, or put a little extra gas in the car for more adventures. Plus, camping near the coast is an experience in itself; the sounds, the sights, and the smells are all wonderful.

Unfortunately, there are downsides of camping, especially if you’re trying to cram as much as possible into a short trip. Setting up and tearing down a proper campsite can take up to several hours! With this road trip, I only had a day and a half before I needed to get back home. My itinerary included stops in Roseburg, Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach, Brookings, and the Redwood Forest. Even as much as pitching a tent would mean that I’d have to miss out on adventures in some of these places. So what did I do? Set up camp in my car!

If you drive an SUV, van, or some other vehicle where you are able to stretch out, you can actually transform your car into a cozy home away from home. I’ve done this several times before. I always make sure to bring some sort of padding, a sleeping bag, and a sheet that I can hang up to block out the windows. This time, I also brought along Lewis N. Clark. Their new BeWell Ultimate Comfort Set was small enough that it hardly took up space in my car, but unfolded to include everything I might need for my night away. Inside this pack, I used the blindfold to sleep in darkness, the earplugs to sleep in silence, and the travel blanket when my sleeping bag just wasn’t warm enough. The carrying case even inflated into a pillow. Although this was my first time using this Lewis N. Clark BeWell Comfort Set, it certainly won’t be my last. It’s going on all my trips with me! I can especially see it being useful for long plane flights.

In addition to the comfort set, I also brought along the new Lewis N. Clark self-inflating travel pillow. It’s a smaller pillow that can be made even smaller as you deflate it into its stuff sack. This little pillow added some extra comfort and support while car camping. During the day, it also helped support my neck or back as I drove long distances. The shape of this pillow was especially beneficial in providing comfort.

If you’d like to see more photos of my Oregon Coast Car Camp-out, check out my Instagram. To get these and other great Lewis N. Clark travel products, go to lewisnclark.com.

How do you make your adventures more comfortable?

I was provided with the above mentioned Lewis N. Clark gear for review purposes. No other compensation was made.

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!

resources, saving money, travel tips

11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards 

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

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

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

Plan your costly attractions around free times.

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

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

Make a bed in the back of your car.

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

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

Help others for airline perks.

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

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

Use free toilets.

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

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

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

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

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

Find mistake fares and airline sales. 

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

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

Fund your trip with gift cards.

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

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

Check the fine print on coupons.

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

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

Visit your library before leaving.

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

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

Double up on freebies at events.

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

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

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

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

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

resources, travel tips, writing

Pro Packing Tips

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medford Airport to Mediterranean

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

Traveling Can Be Green, Too!

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

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

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

Green Accommodation

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

Green Packing

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

Green Transportation

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

Green Eating

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

Green Entertainment

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

Green Shopping

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

Making Liquids TSA-Friendly

If you’ve flown at all in the past ten years, you’re probably familiar with the rule for liquid carry-ons: you can fill a one-quart or one-liter plastic zip bag with containers no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100 mL). With this kind of restriction, is it really possible to take all your toiletries without checking your luggage? I am, and I’ll be gone for three months! Here’s how I’m making it happen:

Toothpaste

3oz toothpaste

A lot of toothpaste tubes are actually perfectly fine to take in your carry-on. Remember that the TSA limit for liquid carry-ons is 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters)- that’s a lot bigger than most things labeled as “travel-sized”! If you’re going on a week-long trip, one of the free sample-sized tubes that they give out at the dentist office will work fine. (If you run out of toothpaste early, cut open the tube for about an extra day’s worth of toothpaste.) If you need more toothpaste for longer trips or because you’ll share with others, look among the normal-sized toothpaste instead of the travel section. I found a three-ounce tube, so I’m set!

Soap

dr bronners soap

Many travelers swear by Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap. I do take a small bottle on most of my trips because it the condensed formula lasts a long time, but it’s not exactly my favorite. I don’t use Dr. Bronner’s at home because it’s not as effective as other soaps and tends to leave a residue, especially when being used as a shampoo substitute. Instead, I use my Dr. Bronner’s once every few days and supplement with a solid bar of soap. The kind I use, both at-home and on-the-road, is a natural oil-based soap made by a company that gave me extras since I was the last customer just before it went out of business. So while I unfortunately can’t recommend a specific kind of bar soap (and I’ll sadly have to find another supplier when I run out of my last few bars), there are plenty of bar soaps out there for you to find one that perfectly suits your needs. I bring a family-size bar and cut it into chunks as I go so that only one small piece is wet. As a bonus, soap bars are like an air freshener for your suitcase!

Insect Repellent

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If you like to use the aerosol cans of bug repellent, it could be confiscated, even from checked luggage. I prefer to use DEET-free spray, comes in a spray bottle instead. I wanted to use up my almost-full bottle of spray that I currently had, but when I checked the label, it was marked as four ounces. Yes, I think companies purposefully make four-ounce bottles a better deal so they can charge you extra when you have to go back and buy a 3.4-ounce bottle! Instead of paying for an extra bottle of repellent, I instead decided to pour it into a travel-sized bottle. I do this with other liquids all the time, but this was the first time doing so with a spray bottle. Sure, I could just pour it into an ordinary bottle and rub the repellent on like a lotion, but I’m pretty sure it’s sold as a spray because that’s the way it’s most effective. Fortunately, I had a travel bottle that had the same exact size of opening as the original bottle, so I could just pop the original spray mechanism on the new bottle. Since this bottle was smaller, I had to trim down the hose so that the lid would fit on. Because I was afraid this might leak, I cut a small circle of plastic, poked a hole in the center, and slid it onto the hose before twisting the bottle shut. (You can put a piece of plastic underneath any liquid lid to prevent leaks, but unless it has a hose like it did in this case, you’ll have to remove it before you use it.) I also put a piece of cotton next to the nozzle to absorb any leaks, but so far not a single drop has leaked, and I packed this over a week ago!

Sunscreen

sunscreen

For my eighteenth birthday, a friend gave me a Mary Kay travel kit for my birthday, which included two small empty bottles that I could fill with my own liquids. However, my bottles have outlasted their production, because Mary Kay no longer sells these. (But I recently found another brand of bottle, and I may like it even better. Just keep reading for a few more sentences and you’ll find out what it is!) For the past several years, these bottles have been filled with things like shampoo, conditioner, soap, and even liquid deodorant at one point in time. I think this is my first time packing sunscreen in them, though.

Since I burn easily and will be outside quite a bit, perhaps one small bottle of sunscreen won’t be enough. I recently bought a sunscreen stick to supplement this liquid. I found it at an outdoor supply store in the fisherman’s section. Of course, hats and sleeved shirts help keep the harmful rays away, too!

Shampoo

gotoob shampoo

Many travelers don’t take shampoo at all since it’s provided in just about every single hotel room on the face of the planet. But some people have a specific brand that works best for them. And hostels are usually a toss-up in whether or not they provide shampoo. Plus there are other forms of accommodation, like camping and rentals where you definitely shouldn’t count on this. So while I’ll always jump at the opportunity to use free shampoo and conditioner, I am bringing something for those times when it’s not around.

Now I can share my latest discovery in the world of traveling with liquids! I recently got a GoToob, and it’s filled with a shampoo and conditioner combo to start out my trip. These are travel bottles made out of silicone, which means more flexibility and less possibility of damage. (But if they are damaged, they’re covered by a lifetime warranty!) While I still love my plastic bottles and will continue to use them for liquids that aren’t silicone-compatible, GoToobs are my new go-to travel bottle, and I don’t see myself pouring shampoo into any other container! Although the bottle size ranges up to 3 fluid ounces, I downsized to just two ounces because that bottle includes a suction cup, perfect for sticking on the wall of a shower that lacks soap dishes! And since GoToobs are food-safe, towards the end of my trip I may wash out the remaining shampoo and fill it with a delicious Greek or Turkish condiment to take home with me! As I travel, I will compare the silicone GoToob to its plastic counterparts and keep you updated on which works better!

Laundry Detergent

homemade laundry powder

When I read about other long-term carry-on-only travelers discussing how they pack sample-sized detergent, I have to laugh. They do know laundry soap comes in powder form too, right?

Even if you’re hand-washing, as long as you use warm water, powder soap will dissolve enough to be just as effective as liquid. The only problem with laundry powder is that it tends to look… well, suspicious! I don’t pack any kind of powder in a plastic baggie, since people automatically think “drugs” when it’s packaged like that. I put it into Snapware containers and make sure it’s clearly labeled. Technically, anything that you repackage needs to be labeled, but at least with most things you can tell what it is by sight and smell. Since powders look suspiciously like something else, it would be suspicious for a TSA agent to get close enough to smell what it is!

By the way, I bring a homemade laundry soap that’s so condensed, only one tablespoon is needed for a full load. You can find recipes like this online, but I’ve made a few tweaks for maximum effectiveness and traveler-friendliness. Would anyone be interested in getting the recipe for this or any of my other homemade travel toiletries?

Other Liquids to Take

tsa quart liquid bag

I got a free sample-sized bottle of mouthwash that I’m taking with me, but if you don’t have room or don’t want to buy a miniature bottle, this certainly isn’t a necessity. I am also bringing along tea tree oil. These typically come in small bottles anyway, so there’s no need to transfer packaging or look for something specifically travel-sized. The most important liquid might be hand sanitizer! I’ve been carrying the same little bottle around for over a year and can easily refill it from larger bottles of hand sanitizer. Hey, with as popular as hand sanitizer is, it can even be refilled for free along the road by using sanitizer stations at schools, hotels, and other public places. All together, all the liquids easily fit into the TSA carry-on-approved one-quart bag!

This post was made possible by HumanGear, the newest sponsor of the Mediterranean European Trek! They provided products to use on my trip, but all opinions are my own. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on different HumanGear products!

resources, travel tips

What’s Your Go-To Travel Gear?

Do you have any travel gear that you can’t leave home without?

A few weeks ago, I was at the yearly yard sale for a local outdoor store. I was hoping to find some good deals on gear to take with me when I travel. Not only did I find that, I found Lewis N. Clark!

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Lewis N. Clark has just about everything a traveler would need, whether a thru-trail hiker or an urban adventurer. At the sale, I picked up several of their products, including a side release buckle strap (to keep contents of my bag in one place) and a dual converter kit (to safely charge my electronics). Later at home, I went onto the website and found dozens more Lewis N. Clark products that my store didn’t have!

I was excitedly anticipating the day that my box from Lewis N. Clark would arrive. The delivery truck just couldn’t come fast enough! When it finally did come, I tore open the package to find the following:

Lewis N Clark folding brush with mirror

Folding Brush with Mirror– My current hairbrush is almost the size of my entire forearm! There’s no way that would be practical for living three months out of a carry-on bag! I considered taking a flat, wide-tooth comb until I found out that Lewis N. Clark has this folding brush with mirror! The bristles and mirrored-handle fold in, making this easy to fit in your pocket or the palm of your hand. I remember having a travel brush similar to this when I was a kid, but it was a cheap version and every time I folded it, more bristles popped off. The Lewis N. Clark brand is a much better quality made with more durable materials, so I have no worries with this being my only hairbrush for three months!

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CamPack Towel– I have to admit, I have been eyeing those super-absorbent compact travel towels for a long, long time! For the past several years, whenever I needed to take a towel on a trip, I would bring either a hand towel or a turban towel, and just use that after showering. While that took up less space in my suitcase than a normal towel, it took them a long time to dry, and I would sometimes have to transport a partially-moist towel that would end up making everything in my suitcase smell a bit akin to mildew. I’m excited to have the CamPack Towel now because not only are they quick-drying, but they take up only a tiny bit of suitcase space- much less than even a hand towel! In fact, it doesn’t have to take up any suitcase space since it comes with a bag and carabiner that I can clip to the outside of my backpack. I got the blue towel that’s medium-sized, and noticed that, when folded in half diagonally, it makes a decent headband, too!

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Latex Clothesline– In most of my extended travel (meaning about two weeks usually), I would stay with a friend or relative for at least a couple days, and I would just do my laundry using their washer and dryer. With shorter trips, I’ve simply been able to pack enough clothes for the entire trip. I don’t know many people living in Europe, and I certainly can’t take three month’s worth of clean clothes with me! (I don’t even have that many outfits!) I may use a laundromat or a hostel coin-operated machine a time or two on my trip, but those can be expensive and I would much rather spend my money on more adventurous endeavors. To keep clean and save money, I will wash my clothes in the sink or shower using my condensed homemade laundry powder, wring them out, and then hang them on this latex clothesline, which can be strung outside, in the bathroom, or across my bunk. And I don’t have to waste precious suitcase space by bringing clothespins. The braided latex will pinch clothes into place. When combined with my moisture-wicking and quick-drying clothing, I won’t have to worry about wet OR smelly clothes!

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No-Jet-Lag– This is not a Lewis N. Clark product, but parent company LCI Brands also distributes No-Jet-Lag. These natural-ingredient pills claim that when taken on flight days, they can remedy one of the biggest problems that can spoil a long-distance trip. I’ve never jumped more than three time zones at a time while traveling, but even a couple hours difference takes some getting adjusted to. With a nine-hour difference on the way there, and a ten-hour difference on the way back, I will really be putting No-Jet-Lag to the test! While I haven’t tried it yet, I’m sure that twenty-five years of positive reviews means that it really works!

Make sure to check back here during my trip so you can see how this travel gear is working for me. But until then, why don’t you try it out for yourself? You have the opportunity to win a Travel Prize Pack containing these four items in this CONTEST! Edit: Congratulations to the winners who were notified 21st of June, 2015! 

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Lewis N. Clark provided No-Jet-Lag, CamPack Towels, Latex Clotheslines, and Folding Brushes with Mirror for the purpose of review and giveaway. All opinions for these and other mentioned items are my own. 

Foodie, health, travel tips

Tea: A Drink With Jam and Bread… and Everything Else!

I only drink soda on rare special occasions, and I can’t stand the taste of coffee. And even though I live in and I’m going to land that is famous for its vineyards, I’ve never tried wine. Most of the time I drink water. It’s a healthy habit that has allowed me to save up money for travel, but I do enjoy drinking other beverages too, especially if they also have health benefits. I don’t typically drink tea because even the decaf kind has enough caffeine to affect me. But I absolutely LOVE the naturally caffeine-free goodness of herbal tea. There are a few brands of herbals that I’m partial to, including Celestial Seasonings, whose factory I toured last September. But on this upcoming trip, I’m dedicating all my tea drinking to Traditional Medicinals!

Traditional Medicinals shipment box

Traditional Medicinals is a brand that I know I can truly stand behind due to several of its ethical practices. Many of their products are organic, GMO-free, fair trade, and/or kosher. They practice environmental policies such as using recycled cardboard for their boxes, utilizing renewable energy in manufacturing, and providing compostable bags. But best of all, each flavor of herbal tea is made not only to be delicious, but to promote a particular health aspect as well!

box of Traditional Medicinals herbal tea

Bringing medication along with you is important on any trip you take, since you’ll be exposed to a new environment, new altitude, new foods, and new water treatment. Medication is especially important when going overseas since things can be dramatically different and you may not be able to get the same sort of medical care internationally. I already have ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, and vitamins packed up to go, but I also figured I would need to get some more medications for things like stomach upset, nervousness, and immunity. Now don’t get me wrong, I will take medications when I need to, but I don’t really have any idea of what exactly goes into a pill. So if there is a natural substitute that does something similar, I’d much rather take that! With Traditional Medicinals, I was able to shrink down my medicine bag, and bring yummy tea instead!

Ginger Aid Traditional Medicinals

The herbal tea I wanted most was Ginger Aid. Ginger Aid obviously tastes like ginger, which has qualities that can help ease digestive pains. I need to focus on promoting good digestion even at home since I seem to be more sensitive than most. When going to new countries, eating and drinking new things, and having new experiences, I am more likely to get stomach upset or nausea. So it’s great that I’m bringing two boxes worth of Ginger Aid. It has been of benefit for me in the past, so it’s now an invaluable part of my health and travel arsenals!

Traditional Medicinals herbal tea- ginger aid, echinacea plus, chamomile with lavender

Another helpful tea for travel is Echinacea Plus. Echinacea is a type of flower with qualities that promote immune system health. Whenever I feel a cold or other common illness coming on, I grab the Echinacea Plus right away. I used to get several colds a year. This past winter, I didn’t get a single one! (And with the few I had the year before, I immediately went to the Gypsy Cold Care!) Echinacea can’t prevent the common cold (nothing really can), but supporting your immune system means that your body could be stronger in fighting off illnesses. I’m taking sixteen tea bags of this along with me to help my body with whatever it may come up against.

Chamomile with Lavender Traditional Medicinal herbal tea

The last kind of herbal tea I’m packing is one that I had never tried before, so I decided to make a cup of it to enjoy as I sat down and wrote this post. It’s called Chamomile with Lavender. Both of these floral ingredients are known for their calming qualities. They’re also good for digestion and aromatherapy. As I tore open the tea bag, I could tell right away that this smelled really good, and I couldn’t wait to sip it! But Traditional Medicinals prints the proper instructions of how to make the perfect cup of tea on each box. That includes covering the cup to let it steep for ten minutes before squeezing the tea bags out and enjoying the drink. Wow, that was delicious, and I already feel a bit calmer!

one quart bag of herbal tea

Herbal tea, particularly Traditional Medicinals, has so many benefits, but I have noticed one problem. The cardboard boxes that the tea bags come in may be environmentally-friendly, but they aren’t packing friendly! To remedy this, I transferred the tea bags into a not-so-eco-conscious plastic baggie to prevent liquid damage and keep everything compact and organized in my suitcase. When packed like this, they don’t take up much space at all.

herbal tea in a mug

Tea is one of the easiest things to make while on the road. If you get tea in packets like these, you don’t need any special equipment. You can choose to bring your own travel mug, or you can probably borrow a mug from any type of lodging you stay at. Most lodging includes a coffee maker, microwave, or teapot to make hot water with. I’ve even filled my mug up with free hot water at places like convenience stores and bus stations. Tea goes great at any meal and just about any food, and that echos throughout the world! In Canada, I remember sipping tea around a breakfast table with Europeans and Asians. In Peru, tea was commonly served with dinner and dessert with the idea that the hot water and herbal qualities could aid digestion. With it being so easy to make tea just about anywhere in the world, the only difficulty will be choosing just one of the many flavors!

Overall, I think herbal tea is a near-necessary item to take on extended trips. I’m so glad that I have Traditional Medicinals to sustain me through my travels!

I am happy to include Traditional Medicinals as the newest sponsor of my European excursion! Traditional Medicinals provided the mentioned tea for the purpose of reviewing. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was made. 

Suggestions for the Travel Industry, travel tips

Tales of a Tall Traveler

I’m six foot one. And I’m a traveler. These two things don’t typically work hand-in-hand.

Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture!
Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture! (And I was only sixteen here!)

Wouldn’t it be great if tall people could travel without running into any height-related problems. Wouldn’t it be great if travel-related companies could expand their reach by better catering to the tall population? If so, take note! Here are six things I can’t stand as a tall traveler, as well as ways I try to deal and simple ways the travel industry could help.

HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.
HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.

I Can’t Fit in Twin Bunks! Actually, the only beds that are truly long enough for me are XL twins and California kings. Since I have never owned either of these types of mattresses, I have gotten used to curling up in order to sleep. But there are definitely times when I toss and turn and just want to stretch out in bed. There are two things that REALLY help in this case. One, having plenty of space above me. It seems like when I’m on a bottom bunk, the top bunk is only two feet above my head. If I’m put in a top bunk, the ceiling is only two feet above my head. I really appreciate dorm rooms that take things like sitting up in bed into account by ensuring that the ceiling is high enough and using beds with ample headroom. The other thing that really helps is not having any sort of blockade at the end of the bed. If I need to stretch out my legs, I’m okay with my feet hanging off the edge. What I’m NOT okay with is if there is a wall on both sides of the bed. I slept in an RV for a month where the length of my bedroom was exactly one inch shorter than I was. Even though I still had a twin bed when moving into my next place, the freedom to hang my ankles over the end of the bed made all the difference. If hostels offered XL twin mattresses, I would be willing to pay a little extra for that luxury.

Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.
Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.

I Can’t Fit in Coach Seats! I’m not sure how I’ve made it through every flight I’ve ever been on. I guess that’s why I only fly when it’s the only reasonable option. I got a tip from another tall person before to request an aisle seat so that you can stretch out your legs in the center aisle of the plane. I do this whenever I’m going somewhere without a view (otherwise being cramped in a window seat might be worth it), but there is the drawback of people walking down the aisle who step on your feet and flight attendants ramming into your legs with the beverage cart. When boarding buses, I hope and pray that it will be empty enough that I can get two seats to myself, and therefore sit kind of sideways. I’ve never had a plane ticket where I was able to choose the economy plus seats with extra leg room (or even an emergency exit row), but if buses offered the option of paying extra for more leg room, I would definitely take that into account. Trains of course are a problem as well, but on one leg of an Amtrak ride, the woman sitting next to me got us switched from seats in the middle of the car to seats in the front of the car. Not having a seat in front of me did provide a little extra leg room, and there was even a bar sticking out of the ground so we could still put our feet up. However, the train probably bothers me the least since you can always go to the observation or dining cars.

Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet's leg room,  the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!
Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet’s leg room, the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!

I Can’t Wash My Hair! I can only think of one time in my travels that I thought the shower heads were at the perfect height so I would have no problem washing my hair. Oddly enough, that was in Peru, when I was at least a foot taller than most of the locals. Most of the time, the stream from the shower head doesn’t even get on my face. In the tub showers, I can usually back up and then bow my head so my hair will get wet. But this seems to be more of a luxury, as many showers in hostels and camps are boxed stalls where there’s hardly enough room to turn around, let alone squat low enough to get water on my head. This isn’t as big of an issue in my own home if my shower head is too low since I install one of those shower heads on a hose. That usually adds enough height, and if for some reason it doesn’t, I can take the shower head off the wall and adjust it to where it needs to be. I’m guessing accommodations wouldn’t want me to do even basic plumbing on their bathrooms though, but if lodging owners added these shower heads themselves, it would be a small one-time expense to pay for years of happiness from their tall customers. When designing or renovating accommodations, staff should also keep in mind that no one, regardless of height, wants to feel crammed in a bathroom. Allowing more room to move in the shower, by the sink (make sure the mirrors are set high enough!), and around the toilet (so legs don’t run into the wall or toilet paper holder) is a subtle yet effective way to make guests’ stays much more comfortable.

Me with my now-retired carry-on. I'm slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it's not because my backpack's heavy.
Me with my now-retired carry-on. I’m slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it’s not because my backpack’s heavy.

I Can’t Reach All Rolling Suitcase Handles! For years, I used the same little black carry-on rolling suitcase. I usually didn’t have to walk it more than around an airport, so I barely noticed that the extent of the handle was just a bit too short for my arm’s reach. When I started doing more backpack-style trips, this became more noticeable. Last year when I arrived in Niagara Falls, I had to walk just a little over a mile to get from the bus’ drop-off point to my hostel. About halfway there, my back felt so out of whack that I decided it was easier to carry it by hand for the rest of the way. I decided there was no way I was walking it across the border to Canada (I crammed everything I would need for those days in my backpack and begged the hostel owner to store my suitcase until I came back to America). I also decided I should probably buy a new carry-on before going on any more backpacker trips. Last fall, as I was researching suitcases online, I noticed that almost none of them had the specifications for how long the handle extended. I even asked that question on a few of the Amazon purchasing pages. None of the manufacturing companies even bothered to answer that question, and the community answers just said things that were of no help. Seriously, I got a response to the degree of “It’s pretty long. I’m 5’7″ and don’t have to hunch over or anything.” Without exact measurements, it was impossible to tell if someone six inches taller would still consider it “pretty long”. Having important stats like this could really help online luggage sales.

That's three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn't put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)
That’s three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn’t put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)

I Can’t Fit Into Traveler Clothing! This might be more of a “I can’t fit into ANY clothing” complaint, but at least with my day-to-day street clothing, there are enough stores and brands so I can shop around until I find the right fit. With fewer companies specializing in women’s travel clothes, I haven’t found any article that fits and flatters me just right. Many outdoor stores only carry up to women’s size 10 (US) in shoes and sandals, leaving me with the option to either risk ordering online or instead going with the clunky men’s shoes. I’ve had to go to plenty of water-based events where one-piece swimsuits were required. Since I have never found a one-piece that would fit me, this means I bulk up my bag with at least three different pieces of swimwear so that I would be modest enough. (My tummy shows even with tankinis.) Pants are too short, long enough shirts are too baggy… you get the picture. It can take hours of determined shopping to find even one piece that will sort-of work. I know there are high-fashion clothing lines designed for tall women, and all styles of clothing for tall men. I wish someone in the clothing industry would figure out that tall women like to travel, too.

The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people's heads)! The bad news: you'll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!
The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people’s heads)! The bad news: you’ll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!

I Can’t Avoid Hitting My Head on Things Suspended from the Ceiling! Yes, the dining room looks beautifully decorated with a glass chandelier. But it’s bad room feng shui to place it high enough to be out of my line of vision, but not so high that I won’t run into it with my forehead. And the antique doorway that hasn’t changed in 200 years? You must realize that the average person was much, much shorter back then. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to those tiny prop planes. Decorators and designers need to keep in mind that they are probably not the tallest people that will be in that area. For things that can’t be moved or removed, a warning, both in the planning guide and in person, would be appropriate. Someone yelling “Be careful! Watch out!” right before the incident (or worse yet, right after) is not responsible. I’m actually surprised I have never heard about a lawsuit over something like this. For now, I guess the best solution is to make sure I get plenty of calcium so that my cranium is strong enough to protect my brain from all these impacts.

The travel industry has found ways to better serve overweight people, short people, and handicapped people. Isn’t it about time that travel becomes inclusive to tall people, too?