Tag Archives: event

5 Vacation Activities You Should Try At Least Once!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Fall Foto Fun

I’ve been enjoying the fall colors and associated activities over the past few weeks! Before the constant rain started, I decided to take my last mud-free opportunity of the year to hike Table Rock and see the foilage from above.

I went to the pumpkin patch twice this year. On my second trip, I decided to get a blue pumpkin, which I never had before. The following days were all pumpkin-themed. I roasted the seeds from my pumpkin, baked cookies and cheesecake brownies from canned pumpkin, and carved the pumpkin in a park under the colorful leaves of a tree.

Last week was the first Friday of the month, which called for an evening trip to Ashland for the First Friday Art Walk. After that I headed down the street to Southern Oregon University, where I joined a haunted tour. But the most incredible thing I saw happened before all that: I parked my car at Lithia Park, and saw these trees between the duck pond and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

If you want to see more of my pics, be sure to follow me on Instagram. I’m @jessicalippe.

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!

Roars and Snores and So Much Mores!

Last weekend, I went camping. With lions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road Trip Weekend, Part 1: Meet a Favorite Speaker

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ll be sharing a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Today, I’ll be catching up with a road trip along the Southern Oregon Coast. 

At age 13, I was introduced to a magazine that just about every Christian millenial girl read: Brio, published by Focus on the Family. In each issue, the “Dear Susie” column answered reader questions with the magazine’s editor, Susie Shellenberger. Susie also contributed other articles on a variety of topics like sex, drinking, and knowing whether God is real.

Although Brio is back in publication now, it did close down in 2009 along with just about every other Christian girl magazine facing the recession. Susie Shellenberger decided to start her own magazine, and my first published article appeared in the first issue of Susie Magazine. So it’s realistic to say that Susie Shellenberger was a major influence in me becoming a writer and editor.

Fast forward to April 2017. I had no idea this would be my last month with my very first Subaru. But when Susie Shellenberger posted on Facebook that she would be speaking in Brookings, Oregon that weekend, I knew I wanted to meet her there! After a couple messages back and forth, I discovered she would be speaking at a women’s conference as well as several church services and events.

AirBnB Boat Brookings Harbor
A glimpse of just one boat in Brookings Harbor. Keep reading to find out more about it!

I decided that if I could find an affordable place to stay Saturday night, I could attend the Saturday evening service and at least the first Sunday morning service, possibly the second service if I thought I could get back in time to start my 3 o’clock work shift. Most coastal hotels are pricey, and the only Oregon Coast hostels are in the northern half of the state. Since it would be rainy and chilly, I wasn’t up for camping. So I decided that, for the first time ever, I would make a reservation on AirBnB.

Once lodging was figured out, I started getting really nostalgic about my teen years. Brio was a part of my teen life, as was Lake Bradley Christian Camp, a retreat center in Bandon-by-the-Sea. I spent summers in high school working there. Although Brookings is the closest town on the Oregon Coast from my house, maybe I could take a longer route and drive up to Bandon first.

And if I did that, I would go up the I5 until I got off around Roseburg. One of my high school friends lives in Roseburg now, so I decided to see if she would want to meet up Saturday morning. She recommended a coffee shop for us to meet up at.

Cranberry Sweets Cheese Fudge
If you visit Bandon, Oregon, make sure to sample your way around the Cranberry Sweets store. Definitely make sure to ask for a piece of the cheddar cheese fudge!

With a rough plan in place, I headed out on Saturday morning. I felt kind of bad only spending about a half hour in the Roseburg coffee shop, but there was a lot to pack in before the service started at 6pm! From Roseburg, I went to Bandon to walk around Old Town and drive by Lake Bradley and other old familiar sites.

Then I headed South. I wanted to see the Prehistoric Gardens, but didn’t have much time, nor did I want to pay the admission fee. But there are two life-size dinosaurs to take pictures with in the parking lot. I also stopped at Gold Beach, hoping to find a glass float this time, but was unsuccessful once again.

Prehistoric Gardens Apatosaurus
Was so glad that my favorite dinosaur was one of the ones visible from the Prehistoric Gardens parking lot.

After several hours of driving and sightseeing, I finally arrived at my AirBnB near Brookings Harbor. For being my first AirBnB experience, it provided an unbeatable experience. I stayed in a sailboat that circumnavigated the world! During check-in, the owner told lots of stories that led to how this boat ended up in his front yard, surrounded by remains of another boat.

Because of these stories, check-in took longer than expected, so afterward I rushed across town to Brookings Nazarene Church. Susie’s message that night was about cemeteries and castles, which caused us to think about which of those two options we were currently living in, and which one we would rather be. I was thankful that it was a fairly small church, because that meant I had the opportunity to spend some time with Susie afterward!

Susie Shellenberger
Me and Susie. I’m holding the first issue of Susie Magazine, which contains my first published article!

That evening was spent listening to music and watching the sun set over the sea from the top of my AirBnB boat. I woke up to the sound of rain. After lounging around the boat a bit more, I headed back to church.

There were two Sunday morning services. The first was a repeat of Saturday night’s, but I still gleaned more from it. The second service was about sanctification. I wish I could have stayed even longer, but I had to leave right after the second service to make sure I arrived at work on time that afternoon. However, I had a lovely drive through the Redwoods on the way! Looking back, it’s bittersweet that it would be my last long drive with that car. It would be totaled a few weeks later. But at least it left on a high note!

Question: Have you ever traveled to see a specific person? If not, who would you want to see on your travels?

AirBnB
Inside the AirBnB boat. Behind me is a map of the route it took when it circumnavigated the globe.

I enjoyed my night on the boat, and it only cost $50! Click on this affiliate link to get $40 off your first AirBnB stay!

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!

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

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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

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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

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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.

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!

An Invitation to the Mediterranean

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Two days after returning home from my 92-Day Mediterranean Trek, I invited some people over to my house for a Mediterranean Night. This involved a potluck of Mediterranean or European-inspired foods (many of which were left at my house and made delicious leftovers for the next few meals), and also featured a slideshow with over 200 of my trip photos. (This didn’t seem like many compared to all the photos I actually took!) It was a fun way to show and tell my experiences with many people who would be questioning me about my travels anyway. And while it just took place in a living room, it kind of felt like I was back in all those exotic cities, but this time I had friends and family right alongside me!

We discovered the evolution of the bridges over the Seine River and debated the merit of Love Locks.

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We laughed at how Disneyland Paris portrayed our American culture in It’s a Small World After All.Small World Disneyland Paris

We cringed in disgust from stories like how this horse statue in Madrid was once accidentally a death trap for birds! Horse Statue Madrid

They watched as I learned how to properly carve ham right off the leg…even if I didn’t want to eat it!Ham Cutting La Alberca

We questioned why this cathedral in Barcelona keeps 13 geese in the courtyard and whether or not the legend behind it is true.

Geese Barcelona

We marveled at the scenic landscapes of every city, and even the world’s second smallest nation of Monaco!

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We were fascinated how places like Verona could just casually house so many millenia-old buildings and artifacts!

Verona Ruins

We shared a sunset over Venice.

Venice Sunset

Pinocchio and Gepetto’s workshop came to life to us in Florence.

Wooden Workshop Florence

We wondered why the Leaning Baptistery of Pisa doesn’t have the same fame as the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Pisa Baptistery Church Tower

We were in awe of so many magnificent pieces of art. (I had never pictured Mary or Jesus as being blonde before!)Blond Virgin Mary

We questioned if the guards at Athens’ Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was really a reverent location or more of a fun tourist stop.

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We learned that Thessaloniki has its own leaning church akin to Pisa’s!

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And we finally left Europe with a boat ride to Asia in the intercontinental city of Istanbul.Istanbul Europe Asia Divide

I know I couldn’t invite that many people into my parents’ living room for a night of personalized armchair travel, but over the next several weeks, I would like to invite everyone to journey with me for the inside experience of backpacking the Mediterranean, just like the ones mentioned above. We’ll explore each city together and have some fun along the way. Will you join me in reliving this Mediterranean Trek?

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?