Tag Archives: day trip

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!

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Six Summer Faves

Since this week marks the start of school for my area, I decided to reflect on my own summer. While I didn’t have any big trips planned and faced some difficult challenges, it turned out all right!

I decided to experiment with a different type of travel this year. Instead of taking time off work, I utilized my days off for maximum adventures. This mostly involved weekend road trips. Although my per-day costs of travel mostly increased with this style of trip, I wasn’t losing money by not going to work. I was also motivated to pack more into each day of these shorter getaways. As a result, here are my top six favorite trips of this summer!

6. Southern Oregon Staycations

5. Lava Beds National Monument

 

4. Bend, Oregon

3. Eugene and the Oregon Coast

2. Redding to Tahoe, California

1. Lion Sleepover at Wildlife Safari

Even though my schedule changes at the end of summer, I’m still determined to travel. I especially want to since it’s hard to travel in Oregon right now- everything’s up in smoke! Recommend where I should go next in the comments.

On the Hunt for the Mysterious Bill Cipher

This winter, when I didn’t have the money, the warmth, or even the desire to travel much, I went on more virtual adventures. I read lots of books, and I caught up on some great TV shows. I finally finished what I thought was the greatest cartoon of all time, Phineas and Ferb. I was actually pretty sad when I finished the final episode. Those boys and their pet platypus knew how to make the best of each day and circumstance, and were able to have so many adventures! I was able to turn some of the show’s situations into real-life experiences, such as going to Mount Rushmore, dressing up as Perry the Platypus, and of course, climbing up the Eiffel Tower! Would I ever find such an inspiring cartoon again?

I did. And I didn’t even have to look outside of Disney. It was called Gravity Falls.

I first heard about Gravity Falls before it came out in 2011. All I knew was that it was about boy/girl twins and took place in Oregon. I was moving away from Oregon at the time, and combining the fact that I did not want to miss Oregon with the fact that I would not have access to cable, I did not watch Gravity Falls at the time. I actually forgot about it for awhile, but it had a way of finding me. Just a month before the series finale, I got hooked and binge watched every episode. I was looking forward to the finale just as much as the long-term Gravity Falls fans.

In February I watched the series finale, and then tried to move on with life.

Then came Easter.

Before heading to church on Easter Sunday, I was inspired to write a travel article. This one would be about places around Oregon that had a Gravity Falls-style feel. Of course one of those places would be the Oregon Vortex, a house of mystery that even the producers admitted they visited and took inspiration from for the show’s “Mystery Shack”. In fact, if you type “Gravity Falls, Oregon” into Google Maps, it will take you to the Oregon Vortex! Wanting to make sure that little fun fact was correct before I incorporated it into my article, I plugged it in and watched it zoom into my neighboring town of Gold Hill. But then, I noticed something interesting off to the side of the screen.

A marker labeled “Bill Cipher Statue” had been placed there. At first I thought it was really cool. Since Bill Cipher is the main antagonist of Gravity Falls, maybe I should head over there after church to see it for myself, take some pictures, and add that into one of the destinations in my article. But as I read the reviews, it seemed like they were all joke reviews and no one had actually been there. I did some further research.

At the end of the series finale, the post credits were slightly different, including a brief filmstrip of (spoiler alert!) Bill Cipher after he had turned to stone in the episode. I didn’t read too much into it, as the grainy film made me think it was just really good animation. But I didn’t realize with the brief clip that it was indeed a lifelike statue, and that there were ciphers in this episode that got the internet buzzing with the belief that this statue of Bill Cipher was somewhere out there, and it was up to us fans to find it!

Other than a clue about it being “beyond the rusty gates”, the only hint in the show to its location was that there was a fern nearby. Ferns don’t grow just anywhere, so that was actually a better hint than the gate!

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It’s a rusty post for a gate! The gate itself was actually torn off and down the hillside a bit.

I actually searched for the Bill Cipher statue in this location three separate times. Although this location was on BLM land right across the street from the Oregon Vortex, the problem was that there was private property blocking off a direct path. That meant I had to drive several miles up the road, and then swing back around until I reached some logging paths. (It was encouraging to go from a fern-free Gold Hill to a hillside covered with ferns, though!) I got out and started hiking these trails, but never made it to the GPS coordinates of the alleged Bill Cipher statue.

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Yeah, just parking in the middle of nowhere to look for a scary statue!

The first time I had come alone and unprepared, and it was going to get dark soon.

The second time I went with my mom, and while hiking she made me realize that we should have bear spray and maybe a larger hiking group.

The third time my dad joined us, and we made it a little farther than I did the first time, but we realized that if there was a trail going to the statue area, it would have to wind for several miles on steep mountains. The trail we thought might lead to it was very overgrown, and we had a hard time imagining Hollywood crew lugging a stone statue this entire way.

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It sure was a beautiful hike, though, that even most locals don’t know exists!

So I gave up for awhile, but whenever the opportunity presented itself, I kept my eye out for something unusual in the woods. Like I went on the Bigfoot Trap hike a couple weeks ago, and instead of looking for an ape-like creature, I was looking for a triangular one among the ferns.

Last week, a global scavenger hunt for Bill Cipher officially began. It’s already gone through Russia, Japan, and parts of the US, so it’s pretty fun to follow as a virtual adventure. Unfortunately, the next clue has come to almost a standstill as it’s been stuck in Los Angeles for four days now, but I have a feeling that it will pick back up soon. I also have a feeling that the hunt will pass through Gold Hill, either as a clue or (hopefully) the final stage that leads to the statue. And I’ll be shocked and impressed if it’s in the same location I thought it was in this entire time! I guess I’ll just have to wait until a clue leads to my area, and then I’m ready to jump on it!

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Until then, I’m going to be real observant whenever I hike near ferns!

Two Days, Two States, Two National Park Sites!

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

Saturday: Lava Beds National MonumentDSCF5020

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

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

Sunday: Crater Lake National ParkDSCF5042

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

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

Where to Next?

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

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

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

10 of My Thoughts

  1. Earth Day is coming up, and I have some activities planned for the days surrounding it. I think I will have a special “Earth Day Weekend” on this blog. So that’s something you can look forward to!IMG_20160318_144303_610
  2. I’m in a new job right now. Plus, I didn’t quit any of my other three jobs! I have no idea how long I can last like this, but the job has given me a new perspective on life. The training took place in my next county over, so on some days I took advantage of the surrounding activities like a covered bridge, a ghost town, an old-fashioned pharmacy soda shop, and even lower gas prices! I should write a post about the ghost town. Now that I’m on the job, I may occasionally have opportunities for local work-sponsored adventures! That’s cool, but I mostly just wanted to explain my lack of posting over the past few weeks.033
  3. It’s free entrance week at national parks across the US! Last year I went to Crater Lake. I may have a chance to go somewhere on Sunday, but I am working a lot and already have big plans and Saturday, so even if I can’t go to a national park, I’d like to at least get the word out. My sister went to Crater Lake for free this past weekend, so maybe I can live vicariously through her.DSCF4995
  4. Should I build a tiny house? I’ve been thinking about it ever since I saw two in the Pear Blossom Parade a couple weekends ago. Still on the fence about it.IMG_20160401_122620_395
  5. What is my next adventure? When will it take place? I’m already pretty sure that the next BIG trip will be a cross-country road trip,but I have no idea when. I guess I’d have to end a couple jobs before I could do that! Or maybe, since my writing projects have been more successful lately, I could build that up into my main source of income. It would be so much easier to coordinate travel then! But as for now, every hour of work means more bucks in the bank for a future adventure.IMG_20160412_141837_028
  6. I recently took an adventure in the three hours I had between a staff meeting and more work. It’s surprising what you can do in a short amount of time when you balance plans and spontaneity just write! I headed over the the funky town of Ashland and picnicked in Lithia Park. I walked around to take in the art and culture before heading over to the Dagoba Chocolates factory. Since I had never been there before, that was the main point of this trip! I sampled about 20 of their delicious, quality chocolates. And I may have possibly bought a chocolate bar.. or two!IMG_20160417_114342
  7. I went geocaching this past weekend. It’s been almost a year since my last time, and it’s good to be back! I took two kids with me for their first geoadventure. We only found two of the geocaches we were looking for, but they were new ones for all of us. Plus they were both big enough to have treasures to trade!DSCF5010
  8. In whatever spare time I do have, you can often find me hiking around Oregon. But there’s a purpose behind this. I am looking for the Gravity Fall’s Bill Cipher Statue IRL. Supposedly placed in the woods of Oregon by the Disney Channel show’s crew, many people are looking for the exact location. As a native Oregonian with some experience treasure hunting in the woods, I do hope to be the FTF (first to find)!
  9.  Update on my car: still enjoying the new car smell! But I have definitely broken it in with all that I’ve been up to.IMG_20160306_104536_731
  10. I’m so happy for the warmer weather! It’s hard to find an abundance of adventures that can be done while it’s cold and wet outside. Although I do love a trip to the science museum, I’m looking forward to more coming up!

Day Trip on the I-5

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

Stop One: Spider Cars, Wolf Creek

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

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

Stop Two: Seven Feathers, Canyonville

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

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

Stop Three: Wildlife Safari, Winston

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

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

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

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

Stop Four: Noah’s Ark, Winston

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

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Glass Float Treasure Hunt

This past weekend, I was finally able to get some real use out of my new car! Sure, I’ve taken it to work and to run errands, but it’s about time that it got to go somewhere fun out of town. And for about sixteen dollars in gas (which was the only expense of this trip), my friend and I were able to spend a fun and adventurous day looking for glass floats in Gold Beach, Oregon.

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Last year, I saw a TV ad from Gold Beach tourism. They announced that every week between February and April, they hide over 100 glass floats along their coast for visitors to find. If you find one, you get to keep it AND enter a drawing for a free weekend trip! I wasn’t able to make it out to Gold Beach last year. However, after deciding to buy my car this month, I began coordinating schedules with friends to find a time to head out to the coast. Steph and I both had time off this past weekend! (She was even the photographer of all these images because I forgot my camera and my cell phone was acting up over the weekend.) We headed out on Saturday morning.

My car’s maiden voyage was a success. I learned a few new things about it, like where to pop the gas door, how to play music through the stereo with an auxiliary cable,  and how to spray wiper fluid on the front windshield. The drive to the coast is beautiful. There actually isn’t a direct route west to the coast. Directions to Gold Beach led us into California and through the Redwood Forest before heading back up along the coast, which always makes for a beautiful ride. Along the way, we saw lots of interesting things that we made note of to stop by on the way back.

It was past lunchtime by the time we made it to the coast. We considered the restaurant options, but decided to just eat what we had packed. We parked at the Gold Beach Visitor’s Center, which has a picnic area, bathrooms, and an information building. Inside that building, we were given a map outlining the perimeters for where the floats were placed. After eating, we started traipsing through the tall grass. We figured it was most likely in this area, because the tide covered most of the sand, and floats are not hidden anywhere that would cause them to be swept into the ocean. We looked under driftwood, in holes, and between rocks, to no avail. We saw other people searching, but no one who actually had found a float. After this hunting method resulted in only finding garbage, we decided to walk down to the jetty, which was a boundary on the map. We hoped that the further away we got from the Visitor’s Center, the more likely we would be to find something.

On the walk there, I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment. I knew the chances of us finding a float were slim, so I considered the alternatives. If we gave up, we could go shopping at some of the stores in town. If we spent at least $25 at certain stores, we just had to bring the receipts in to the Visitor’s Center and get a glass float from there. But that didn’t sound like as much fun as finding one on the beach for free. Fortunately, a glimmer of red caught my eye. It was a glass float!

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Not only did I find a glass float, but we ended up finding several all within a few minutes! The treasure hunt rules ask participants to only take one per person, so we left a few of them for others to find. Steph ended up with a small teal globe. I picked my favorite, a larger blue one. We slowly headed back to the Visitor’s Center (stopping to admire the beach and shoot photos on the lighthouse). The staff at the center told us that they were impressed that we were able to find even one that day as we filled out our contest entry forms.

It hadn’t seem like we walked that far (until the next day when my legs were sore), and it also didn’t seem like we had been beach combing for that long. But we had walked several miles, and were out for about three hours! I didn’t realize this until we hopped back into the car and saw the clock saying it was 4:30. But we still had enough daylight to see the things we wanted to see on the way back.

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We didn’t stop in the nearby coastal town of Brookings, but as we drove through it, we got a good look at the sinkhole that’s slowly taking over the highway. That was pretty scary! We also drove over Oregon’s highest bridge and saw a huge herd of wild elk. Our first actual stop was near the redwoods, on a nature trail with carnivorous plants called Darlingtonia (pictured in the marsh above).

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The second stop was just a couple of miles down the road at a waterfall. I would tell you what this waterfall was named, or really any information about this waterfall, but I can’t. There were no signs or plaques, so it’ll just be called “The Waterfall We Saw On the Way to Gold Beach”.

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There were several other places worth seeing through the comfort of the car window. If you’re visiting from further away, some of them may be worth stopping at, but we’ve grown up with the sights of the giant redwoods and the mountain roads that twist, turn, and tunnel.

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While I’m not sure if we’ll be so fortunate in each finding a glass float in the future, I do hope to do this again and encourage you to try it out, too! Click here for more information on Gold Beach’s annual three-month treasure hunt!

Some Instadventures

Is “instadventures” a word yet? If not, it should become one! And its definition would be

noun: an adventure as seen through Instagram

Anyway, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve practically fallen off the face of the social media planet since my Mediterranean Trek. But as I wrote recently, I’ve promised to post a photo during every day of Lent. Have you seen what I’ve been up to over the past week?

I got an awesome new road-trip-worthy car…

…I received a letter from Juliet

…I briefly traded my new SUV for a 15-passenger van as I spent the weekend at Wilderness Trails…

…and today, I went on a fake road trip in my driveway!

Okay, that last one only left me craving for adventure, but maybe I’ll get to take a real roadway getaway soon!

So check me out on Instagram every day through Easter, and discover more #Instadventures! (Oh wow, I should add that hashtag too!)

 

 

Happy Hot Air Balloon Birthday to Me!

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My family happened to be vacationing in Walt Disney World when I turned 18. That day, as a newly minted adult, I took a ferry to Downtown Disney in hopes of experiencing something only adults could experience- signing my own liability waiver! I wanted to ride the then-new “Characters in Flight”, a giant tethered helium balloon. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed due to the wind. But as a left Florida that year, I was determined that I would eventually be able to have lots of non-airplane flying experiences… and also sign lots of liability waivers!

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About a year later, I went to a local hot air balloon festival. It was there that I got to take my first tethered hot air balloon ride. After signing my waiver and waiting an hour in line, the ride lasted maybe three minutes, and gave me a great view… of just the field where it took place! It was well worth the $3, but it was only an adventure appetizer when I wanted a dinner buffet.

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For three years now, I’ve decided to do something adventurous for my birthday. After meeting up with my family at Disney World (for the fourth time), or taking a bike trip around Columbus that ended up with me suspended on a high wire, I was looking for something that would be even better this year, especially since I was spending my first birthday at home since age 19. My plan actually wasn’t on my bucket list, but probably should be: go paragliding! I called a local paragliding guide and made plans for my birthday weekend.

On Thursday night, I received a message from the pilot with some bad news. The mountain that gliders have used for years belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, and somebody complained about the property’s use. That means all paragliding in the area will be shut down for at least six months. And of course it had to happen right before my birthday weekend! I still wanted to have some high-flying fun for my birthday, but would I be able to get anything arranged in just one business day?

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Referring to my Travel Bucket List, I picked out the ones that would be able to be done in the area and started scouring the internet for contacts. On Friday morning, I got two responses. One was from a helicopter service that offered me a one-hour flight for just $1500 (yeouch!), and the other was from Daybreak Ballooning that, while not cheap enough to be a regular activity, was WAY more affordable and worth every penny for this special occasion. So at 6 am Saturday morning, I was all set for my first real hot air balloon adventure!

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My friend Steph had agreed to accompany me on this ride, and my parents came to watch our take-off. But first we watched the crew set up. The first thing they did was figure out the wind pattern using what is probably the best instrument in the business: an ordinary helium party balloon. Fortunately, we had great weather conditions. We then went out to the soccer field of Jewett Elementary School for set-up. First, they took out the three-person basket, and then they spread out the envelope (the actual balloon part). Using a fan, the envelope slowly began to take shape, and eventually, some heat was added.

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Steph and I got into the balloon with our pilot Drew, and went over, like, two safety rules 1. You can hold onto something if you want to as long as that something is not the fuel line, and 2. Don’t get out of the basket for any reason unless you’re told to. Then with few pumps of heat, we lifted off!

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How do you describe the view? We were hovering over Central Point, which I lived in from age 3 to age 15, so I was very familiar with the town and many of its buildings, but I never saw any of them like this before! (Google Maps would be better if it was taken from a hot air balloon’s point of view!) Of course, when you’re up in the air, the first thing you want to try to find is your house. We were a little too far away to find my current house, so I instead tried to find my childhood home. I found Central Point Elementary, where I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then peered into the suburbia beyond that to see if I could spot the street.

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I did find a corner market that’s about a block away from the house. While I didn’t exactly see that house in the air, I did take lots of pictures of the area so maybe I can zoom into the photo later to try to find it.

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It was kind of fun to spy on other people’s houses, too. I now know where to go if I ever feel like crashing a pool party!

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Some people were outside and, when we were low enough that they could see us in the basket, we’d wave at each other.

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One home had a super-cool large tent that you could practically live in.

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And then there was this one house that had a bus in their backyard!

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But more fun than looking at houses was looking at buildings that I knew about. Besides my elementary school, I got aerial shots of the other two elementary schools (including the one we launched from), as well as my high school. My middle school is on the outskirts of town, so it was harder to see that one, but eventually we did get close enough to take a few pictures.

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Another thing that was neat to see was the churches.

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For awhile, we were hovering in one spot above the McDonald’s. My parents had told me that they were going to eat breakfast there after we launched, and I was able to spot their car in the parking lot.

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We floated over the main street and saw many of the local businesses. In the distance, we could see the interstate, the Family Fun Center, the Jackson County Fairgrounds, and the mountains. We even saw the Medford Airport and watched a plane take off!

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One thing I hadn’t thought about until this morning was that hot air balloons can’t really control where they’re going. The crew was on the ground chasing us and keeping in contact during the entire flight, but toward the end, they were essential in helping us get a place to land.

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Pilot Drew had pointed out some of his common landing sites early in the flight, such as all the different school soccer fields, and even some power line-free residential streets, but the wind ended up taking us toward a wheat field. Of course the chasers had to ask the farmers if it would be okay to land there, and we really didn’t want to make crop circles on the wheat, so we headed to a farm road that split up two of the crops. And then I was offered the opportunity to play pilot!

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Okay, so all I really did was pull the trigger that made the fire whenever the real pilot told me to, but it sure was an experience! At that point we were also getting lower, and I mean really low, to the point that we could probably reach out and touch the wheat. (I was probably more nervous flying at that point than I would have been at our highest altitude!) Fortunately, no wheat was harmed in the making of this birthday experience!

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Our pilot threw a tether out to the crew member so that we could make sure we landed right between the two fields, and after bouncing a couple times, we were back on solid ground. For a few minutes, we just stood in the basket while the balloon deflated enough (that is where the don’t-get-out-of-the-basket-without-permission rule really comes into play, because one less body of weight could make it take off again!). We then got out as everything was taken apart and returned to the trailer. Steph and I then hopped in the car with the crew and we headed back to our starting point. But the fun wasn’t over yet!

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When we returned to the elementary school, we met up with my parents and then gathered at a picnic table that the crew had set up. While we were munching on the treats, Drew explained that, since it was our first flight, he would tell us the history behind hot air balloons and the traditional after-flight champagne toast. Ballooning was first done in France in the 1780s, before any other human-carrying aircraft was even though of. It started out by carrying a few animals, then someone took a tethered flight, and finally, they were brave enough to try a real flight. During one of the early flights, a balloon had to land on farmland. The farmers, having never seen anything like this before, thought this smoke-causing contraption must be a demon or something equally evil and vicious. To prove that they were just ordinary Frenchmen, the balloonists offered a very French-like peace offering: a bottle of champagne.

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In our correspondence beforehand, I had noticed on the website that champagne was served, and being a teetotaler (who tried champagne once and found it awful), I mentioned it was not necessary. But we were still able to carry on this tradition using sparkling cider instead. But first, Steph and I had to participate in another tradition of drinking “champagne” without your hands while kneeling on the ground and a traditional prayer is said over you that includes sprinkling!

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We all chatted for a little bit longer, asking any last burning questions we had about flying hot air balloons. Then we all thanked each other for the part we each played in making this event happen, and I got a few birthday wishes as we left. Even though it was a day before my actual birthday (which is today), this was a great start to a birthday weekend!

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Have you ever flown without an airplane? Have you ever wanted to? What would you like to do for your next birthday?

Street Fairs and Roadside Attractions

If you haven’t read about the previous days of my road trip through Northern California and to the desert, you may want to catch up on those first. After those two legs of the trip, the next several days were spent at my grandmother’s house in Southern California, but we took little day trips from that location.

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On the day we got back from the desert, we took a walk around downtown Upland. This is the town where my mom grew up, but little did we know that the city was having a celebration for her homecoming! Okay, it wasn’t really for her, but Upland was having their annual Lemon Festival the weekend we were there. The next day, I went there for a little longer to enjoy the sights and street food (including, of course, lots and lots of fresh lemonade!).

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Chick-Fil-A exists within an hour of places I’ve previously lived, such as Nebraska and Ohio, but there is not Chick-Fil-A in Oregon. When we found out that there was one right in my grandmother’s town, I just had to take my mom out for her first-ever spicy chicken sandwich!

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On Sunday, we hopped in the car and went to City of Industry. This little side-trip took a lot of convincing, but my mom finally agreed to it. Our first stop was this guard rail:

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What, you don’t know what this guard rail is? What if you pictured part of it turning into a big sign with a digital clock and the writing “Twin Pines Mall”, or perhaps “Lone Pine Mall”?

Okay, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future (or didn’t pay attention while watching it), you won’t know what this is, so I’ll tell you: this is the location where they shot the mall scenes in the first movie of the Back to the Future trilogy. Yes, this is the parking lot where time travel took place!

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In the above photo, you can see some fence-type thing (not sure what that’s called?) in the background. It’s location didn’t make much sense, unless it was put there to prevent movie fans from driving 88 miles per hour!

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Since Back to the Future Part 2 involves a trip to 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to see a location from the movie this year. Hey, it was even on my Travel Bucket List!

While researching the Back to the Future mall parking lot on Roadside America, I noticed another interesting location just a mile away. So we drove up to it and found this:

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Wait, McDonald’s isn’t an attraction! Ah, but this one is.

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This particular McDonald’s has never turned on their range. They refuse to serve the public. In fact, it’s surrounded by a security fence! That’s because this is not McDonald’s restaurant at all. Instead it is a McDonald’s set, the place they use to film all the McDonald’s commercials! Below is a sign on wheels, so they can position it to wherever the best lighting and scenery is.

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Next to the fake McDonald’s is a big warehouse with the McDonald’s logo. It’s funny since I’ve never really thought about commercials like this having props or costumes, but I guess they need this large of a warehouse to store that kind of thing!

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Of course, all the gates were closed and I’m sure there was no lack of security cameras and burglar alarms, but I have read that on days when they film, they sometimes have customers pull up to the drive-thru and begin honking their horn due to lack of service! I’m not sure if that’s legitimate though. This McDonald’s is pretty out-of-the-way in and industrial area and even has signs stating it’s not real!

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Our final roadside stop before leaving grandma’s house to continue our road trip was right on one of America’s most famous roads. When visiting my grandmother, you can’t avoid driving on Route 66. (Even though I didn’t realize it was actually Route 66 until I was about eighteen!) So while I haven’t really traveled on Route 66, I am very familiar with a several-mile stretch of it. And with that familiarity, I am going to assume that the best place to eat in all of Route 66 is right here:

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Locally-famous Vince’s has delicious spaghetti, as well as garlic bread, cheese bread, soup, and salad. It was a delicious way to cap off all the things we saw in the street and alongside the road!

While these days were jam-packed with roadside attractions, I’ve been to other interesting places that I love as well. What roadside attractions have you visited? Are there any that are on your bucket list?